The Reign Of Terror

Doctor WhoOffended by Ian, the Doctor is determined to return his two passengers to their rightful place and time. But neither Ian nor Barbara is surprised to find that, while they have indeed returned to Earth, the TARDIS has put them in the path of history again, this time bringing them to the eve of the French Revolution. The time travelers stumbling into a farmhouse being used as a staging area for opponents of the Revolution, where they are captured by the Revolutionary soldiers – except for the Doctor, who’s left for dead when the barn is burned down. A scraggly youngster helps the Doctor to escape, but his companions are rounded up and scheduled for execution. Ian learns of the presence of a British spy among the Revolutionaries, and this knowledge saves his life; Barbara and Susan are eventually liberated by forces fighting against the Revolution. The Doctor adopts a disguise to free his friends from prison, but by the time he arrives, they have all already gone their separate ways; the Doctor tries to convince Robespierre to put an end to the executions, to no avail. Eventually, all four of the time travelers’ actions get them rounded up and returned to prison to await execution once more – unless, of course, their sentences are delayed by Napoleon’s uprising against Robespierre…

written by Dennis Spooner
directed by Henric Hirsch
music by Stanley Myers

Guest Cast: Pete Walker (Small Boy), Laidlaw Dalling (Rouvray), Neville Smith (d’Argenson), Robert Hunter (Sergeant), Ken Lawrence (Lieutenant), James Hall (Soldier), Howard Charlton (Judge), Jack Cunningham (Jailer), Jeffrey Wickham (Webster), Dallas Cavell (Overseer), Denis Cleary (Peasant), James Cairncross (Lemaitre/Sterling), Roy Herrick (Jean), Donald Morley (Renan), John Barrard (Shopkeeper), Caroline Hunt (Danielle), Edward Brayshaw (Colbert), Keith Anderson (Robespierre), Ronald Pickup (Physician), Terry Bale (Soldier), John Law (Barrass), Tony Wall (Bonaparte), Patrick Marley (Soldier)

Notes: The scenes of the Doctor making his way to Paris on foot are the first-ever location footage shot outside the studio for Doctor Who…but they feature not William Hartnell, but a costumed extra made up to look like him.

Broadcast from August 8 through September 12, 1964

LogBook entry & review by Earl Green

Review: The Reign Of Terror suffers from one primary problem – it should be gripping and exciting, but somehow, it’s a snoozer. Four of the six episodes still exist, so it’s not as if I’m having to watch an entire reconstructed six-part serial. 2/3 of the show is there – and it just doesn’t help. The idea of the Doctor butting heads with Napoleon is a fascinating one, but The Reign Of Terror barely does it justice. Pacing is what makes Reign a real terror.

The palace intrigue, so to speak, is at least carried off well…if somewhat tediously. After the events of The Aztecs, the Doctor’s attempt to sway Robespierre away from his spree of politically-motivated executions is a startling turnaround, but perhaps understandable when one considers that the Doctor’s friends (and his granddaughter) are at stake. Also, in terms of Doctor Who history, Reign is the first in a long line of a grand tradition – misadventures that start because the Doctor is trying to return one of his companions to their original place in time and space.

This six-part story wrapped up Doctor Who’s first season, and the show’s makers already knew they’d be back. The lengthy prologue at the end of part six – over an ahead-of-its-time moving starfield – promises that the next adventure would be Planet Of Giants. It seems as though, by the time the Doctor’s saber-rattling with the French Revolution came to an end, all involved knew that the TARDIS might be better used to journey to other worlds and other times. Historical adventures continued to be part of the show’s fabric for the remainder of the first Doctor’s tenure, but with twists to hook the viewers – all-out comedy (The Romans, The Myth Makers), the use of science fiction elements in otherwise historical situations (The Time Meddler), and even “evil twin” plot devices (The Massacre). The days of the straight historical story were numbered before the show was even into its second year.

This is a historical period that’s ripe for a revisitation via the TARDIS, but my only plea to whoever does it is…make it exciting.