Friday, 20 February 2009

February 2009, Week 8: The Reign Of Terror


  1. So we come back to earth with a particularly tetchy Doctor about to put Ian and Barbara off the Tardis insisting they are back in their own time. The emotions of this opening are well written and well played by the regulars. I really enjoy Ian manipulating the Doctor into coming with them to complete his 'researches' while Barbara fusses over him. A lovely start.
    From here we are thrown into the midst of the Reign of Terror of the title and a spy yarn in post revolutionary France. It is said to be the Doctors' favourite period of earth history but it's hard to see what the attraction would be. The story differs from previous historicals in that it has a couple of humourous characters but the majority are venal, acting purely from self-interest and fear. The tailor is quite willing to betray The Doctor for cash, girls hang out of windows and laugh at prisoners on their way to the guillotine, the gaoler tries to do Barbara a deal to make her stay more comfortable, and the scene where Robespierre is arrested is really brutal (despite the shot taking place off screen). This makes this perhaps the grimmest story we have seen thus far, heightened by Dennis Spooners clever decision to set a lot of it inside The Conciergerie Prison. In a story full of super sets, the prison is particularly impressive.
    Contrasting with the majority of supporting characters are two men who act from conscience. Jules, the man of reason, who saves innocents from execution because he can see what the anarchy will do to France. And Leon, the flipside, who knows that the abuses of the aristocracy and privileged have to end for the good of the people. The debate over the rights and wrongs is brought out by Barbaras reaction when told of Leons death at Jules hand, wonderfully acted by Jacqueline Hill. And I love Jules response. "You mourn the man, I killed what he represents".
    The regular cast are all good, with fine moments for Barbara and Ian. And Hartnell has fun play acting the role of Deputy and gives a great performance for the closing speech.
    One of the faults with the story for me is the supporting cast. No-one is terrible but also no-one really makes an impression. And Lemaitre seems to find it impossible to walk past a door without stopping. His lurking and rubbing of the chin I found irritating after a while.
    So, overall, this is a clever story with some good points and few bad. But it is solid and stolid and lacks the brilliant element that would take it to the next level for my tastes.
    From me 6/10

  2. Interesting to think now also about that start. At the time of writing it was not known whether the show would continue or what cast would be retained. Weird to think, isn't it, this could have been the end or close to it of our heros' adventures.

  3. I love Doctor Who.
    Always have. Ever since I was old enough to watch telly. I took it to just about be my favorite television show (the Prisoner being my ultimate).
    So, the reason I really did not enjoy Reign Of Terror is very very simple. Its NOT Doctor Who.
    It's a mediocre, ordinary, dull run-of-the-mill story set in the French revolution which could be ANY tv show.

    I don't hate the historicals. Far from it. Marco Polo and The Aztecs I loved very much, especially The Aztecs. But ROT is just so limp I had t force myself through it like a trip to the dentist.
    I mean, I didn't like Marinus, but at least I recognize its ambition and imagination.

    Apart from the dullness and ordinary nature of teh whole enterprise, i found the writing totally predictable and boring. the characters are French stereotypes, and yes, we are back to the annoying whining Susan, who seems like this limp moaning wretch of a girl throughout. it's a wonder Barbara didn't abandon her.

    So what did I like?
    er... pretty much nothing.
    I know all thi sounds harsh. and I need to repeat that I honestly want to like all Doctor Who. Regardless of setting or subject. ROT just did not work for me at all.
    It's a drawn out pantomime of a story, that is NOT my idea of Doctor Who.



  4. Historicals FTW!

    I really liked this one. Shading towards love. Shame on you, Dan Turner, shame on you.

    Still, vive la différence!

    Ian and Barbara's reaction on discovering they're not in their own time is sweet: "Are you disappointed?" They've accepted this life now, and grown to enjoy travelling to different times and places with the Doctor and Susan.

    Barbara Wright gets naked! Or down to her underwear, at least. OK, it's offscreen when she's changing into period clothes, but still. I'm just going to have to admit to my huge crush on Barbara.

    It's a bloody show, this, with the deaths of the aristocrats in episode one standing out particularly, and a lovely little cliffhanger - the Doctor's unconscious in a burning house, and everyone who can save him has been marched off to Paris.

    The Doctor's character is put to the test once more. Stopping for a quick sitdown next to a labour gang, he can't help but mouth off to the overseer, which gets him a stint of hard labour.

    Before you know it he's organising an escape - and he has to do all the hard work himself as well as the planning. There's a lovely moment when he spits on his hands to get a better grip on the spade he's about to slam into the overseer's head. Note that there's plenty of fit young men there, but it's the Doctor that has the courage to do the deed.

    Ian's jailbreak is very suspenseful - a lovely bit of directing - and then at the end we have a Grand Moff Tarkin moment where we reveal that he's been allowed to escape...

    Also of note in the jailbreak is Ian being clever enough to take the one door key off the keyring, and return the ring to the door so that no-one would know he has it.

    And that's what I love about this. Characters being smart.

    The Doctor makes a fabulous entrance again, wearing his enormous feather hat. William Hartnell is starting to make a habit of great entrances.

    Talking of smart, when the Doctor is dragged to see Robespierre, he neatly turns the talk to Paris rather than himself, thus deflecting any awkward questions that might lead to his discovery.

    Towards the end, Ian and Barbara perform in their best Mummerset accents while pretending to be innkeeps. Ooh arr, zirr.

    Two lovely lines of dialogue to carry us out.

    "I'm so sick and tired of death, Ian. We never seem to get away from it."

    "Events will happen, and we can't stem the tide... but at least we can avoid being carried away with the flood."

    Another winner as far as I'm concerned.

  5. Sign me up for the Pro Reign of Terror team because I love this one!

    The story owes more to Dickens and Orczy than history but who cares when it’s this much fun. Hartnell is at his very best throughout the six episodes and with hardly a fluff in sight. The sets are fantastic, the performances are good and the pace is spot on. This is how six-parters should be.

    For all the darkness of the subject matter Spooner manages to balance the tone with some lovely comic scenes and lighter moments.

    The Doctor is again shown to choose to stick around and help out, even if he doesn’t believe they can change history (On this point there’s some interesting chat about the nature of time, and WHY they can’t change things). In fact the Doctor is clever, charming and brave throughout this adventure. Even getting to play the action hero with a shovel.

    For me the first series ends on a real high point. Looking back over the series I think the historicals have been far more successful than the other stories. Whilst almost all were at least watchable, The Daleks was the only non-historical adventure that really impressed. I wonder if the next series will continue this trend…

    Best Bits;
    *) Ian’s escape from the Jail.
    *) The Doctor interferes in the chain gang.
    *) Barbara Wright = Man-nip.
    *) The brutality of Robespierre’s comeuppance.

    Less than best bits;
    *) Susan is back in gibber mode.
    *) BBC have lost two episodes.

    Better Than – Marco Polo
    Not as good as – The Aztecs