‘THE REIGN OF TERROR’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Don’t Lose Your Head!
It’s ‘Les Misérables’ in ‘Doctor Who’!
‘The Reign of Terror’ is a six-part adventure featuring William Hartnell as the First Doctor with his companions Ian, Barbara and Susan. This was the finale to Season 1 of ‘Doctor Who’. It is also a gripping historical adventure set during the French Revolution (also known as ‘the Reign of Terror’).
I purchased this story on DVD in January 2013 to celebrate the First Doctor era in the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’. It was rightly timed when this story was released. I enjoyed watching this, especially as it’s now complete with two animation episodes like ‘The Invasion’ DVD before this.
This ‘Doctor Who’ story is by Dennis Spooner, who makes his first contribution to the series. Dennis would go on to be script editor of ‘Doctor Who’ for its second season. Here Dennis delivers a witty, sometimes humorous and sometimes dark tale set in this horrific and bloody time in Earth’s history.
The Doctor attempts to return Ian and Barbara back to their home time, after a recent argument in ‘The Sensorites’. Instead they end up in 18th-century France during the French revolution. When his companions are arrested and taken to Paris, the Doctor must rescue them before they get executed.
I must admit I didn’t know much about the French Revolution in history and I saw this story before I saw the movie ‘Les Misérables’ in the cinemas. But I enjoyed this adventure and found it interesting with its historical period setting. I enjoyed some of the humour that was added in by Dennis Spooner.
This story, although well-written, suffered problems behind-the-scenes. This related to the director Henric Hirsch, who was under pressure and collapsed during the making of the third episode. He also didn’t get on well with William Hartnell and this made the production process even more frustrating.
William Hartnell delivers an amazing performance as the Doctor. He gets to dress up in a brightly-coloured regent’s uniform to rescue Ian, Barbara and Susan. I like the Doctor’s determination to rescue his friends. He’s very fond of them and is different from who he was in ‘The Beginning’ trilogy.
The Doctor appears in location scenes and is played by another actor named Brian Proudfoot, who would go on to play the robot Doctor in ‘The Chase’. I was astonished and shocked at how violent the First Doctor can be at times, especially since he knocks out a road works Overseer with a shovel.
William Russell as Ian is equally good. I liked it when Ian and Barbara tease the Doctor in the TARDIS. Ian is shocked when he realises they’re in the French Revolution. He meets a dying man called Webster in prison who gives him a message. I also liked those action scenes with Ian in ‘animation’.
During the making of this story, William Russell took a holiday to France coincidentally. Therefore all of Ian’s scenes in the second and third episodes were recorded in advance on film. This is somewhat disconcerting, as Ian is rather separated from Barbara and Susan in the prison during those episodes.
Jacqueline Hill is lovely as Barbara. Barbara is the voice of reason and knows her history about the French Revolution. I liked it when she has scenes with Ian and the Doctor about changing history and also when she’s with Susan in prison. She looks lovely in her 18th century French clothes in the story.
Carole Ann Ford is good as Susan, although I don’t think she fares well like the other characters. She’s sad with Ian and Barbara leaving at the beginning. She’s worried about her grandfather when he’s inside a burning house. She also becomes ill when she and Barbara are locked up in the prison.
The guest cast are superb in this. There’s Keith Anderson as Robespierre; Tony Wall as Napoleon; Jack Cunningham as the jailer; James Cairncross as the mysterious Lemaitre; Roy Herrick as Jean; Donald Morley as Jules Renan; Edward Brayshaw as Léon Colbert and Ronald Pickup as the Physician.
The fourth and fifth episodes are sadly missing from this six-part story. But thankfully the story is now complete with two new animation episodes. I was excited and wanted to see more incomplete stories now complete with animated episodes since ‘The Invasion’. This was to be the first of many.
Although I enjoyed watching the animated fourth and fifth episodes of this story, I don’t think the animation is as good as ‘The Invasion’ animated episodes. I like the character designs of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan. The set designs are authentic and it helped to fill in the gaps during the story.
However I feel that the audio quality of these episodes varied at times. It was difficult to hear what characters were saying to each other. But Planet 55 does a pretty good job matching the animation to the audio soundtrack and I also understand that Big Finish had a helping hand in this production.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s the making-of documentary called ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’ featuring behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews with Carole Ann Ford, William Russell and production assistant Timothy Coombe. There’s ‘Robespierre’s Domain Set Tour’, looking on the scene set designs of the animated episodes; a photo gallery of the story and an animation gallery of the story.
There’s also a commentary on the first, second, third and sixth episodes with Carole Ann Ford, Neville Smith (D’Argenson), Jeffry Wickham (Webster), Caroline Hunt (Danielle), Patrick Marley (Solidier) and production assistant Timothy Combe, moderated by Toby Hadoke.
There’s also a commentary on the animated fourth episode, featuring archive recordings by Ronald Pickup, moderated by Toby Hadoke. And there’s a commentary on the animated fifth episode by missing episode hunters Philip Morris and Paul Vanezis, moderated by Toby Hadoke.
There’s also an info-text commentary option to enjoy and there’s a ‘Radio Times Listing’ PDF of the story. There’s also a ‘coming soon’ trailer for ‘The Ark in Space’ Special Edition DVD.
‘The Reign of Terror’ has certainly been an enjoyable story featuring the First Doctor team in the French Revolution. I enjoyed watching it to celebrate 50 years of ‘Doctor Who’ with William Hartnell’s era. It’s good to know that it’s now complete with animation to fill in the gaps of the story.
‘The Reign of Terror’ rating – 7/10
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