Well. What a place for the Doctor and his companions to land. Final story of the (transmitted, my friend Andrew put me straight) first Doctor Who season, and they arrive in the middle of the French Revolution. RIGHT in it. Sorry, was just dying to say that.
I avoid these periods of Earth’s history if I can. They are bleak and depressing, dangerous and all in black and white. I only had one black and white adventure – it was my first. Then I moved on from that! Colour suits me much better and I am surprised the Doctor hasn’t given colour a go to be perfectly honest.
Again, as appears to be the tradition, the first episode concentrates on the Doctor and his friends. They discover their surrounds, find a barn, a kid, and nearly get burned in the process. It’s a pretty good opening all told, but straight away we appear to be in for a bit of a grim tail. The sets, though limited, seem very authentic, and they found a good child actor there as well. Costumes look very good too, much more authentic than the Aztec ones.
People are already getting killed left right and centre, and Barbara, Susan and Ian are swept off to the Concergerie prison in Paris. The Doctor is saved by the kid. This is where the story goes a bit wonky. I understand that this was made in some very small studios, and the sets bear that out. The Paris streets are little more than alleyways, everything feels cramped throughout this story.
Also, the decision to set almost half of the six episodes inside a dirty old French prison may have saved a few pounds but does nothing to make the story exciting. I was expecting they would move on from there, but from episode two to episode six they keep landing themselves back in the prison. Susan is in fine whining, screaming and crying form, especially when confronted by rats that aren’t even there! It’s a mercy to the audience that she gets sick and barely features in the second half of the tale.
The writer, Dennis Spooner, must have been a fan of the Carry On films. He wrote a number of comedic characters into the story like the stupid-beyond-stupid jailer and the leader of the road gang who the Doctor smacks on the back of the head with a shovel in a surprisingly violent act. You wouldn’t catch THIS Time Lord being so brutal. Probably. Actually even my friend Andrew felt this was rather alarming and went a bit too far.
The Doctor though appears to enjoy the story enormously, changing into fancy dress and the like and impersonating a leader from one of the provinces. Dennis Spooner gave him plenty to do. Like Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head, this story is very British. Again it refers to the Scarlett Pimpernel – or at least people doing what he was reputed to have done in helping French Aristocrats to escape from France. I was watching on one of the DVD things and there were pointers and explanations shown at the bottom of the screen and it seems it must be fiction because many things didn’t actually happen, or at that time.
Then the strangest thing happens. The Doctor, his companions and the entire cast not to mention the sets are somehow changed into cartoons. It is not explained, nor is the fact that they change back at the start of the final episode. Why would this happen? What celestial force has the power to do such a thing? I was very confused.
In fact I had an adventure where I was turned into a cartoon, in a place called ‘Cartoon Land’. It was very unpleasant and I don’t recommend it. However, at least my head stayed normal!
‘The Reign of Terror’ had a lot of potential in my eyes, but it fell a bit short in the end. The sets were well done but the lack of space in the studio really hurt this story, it limited what the writer could do and where he could take the characters, and gave a very cramped feel to the story. Yet they still put a horse in the studio! It’s a barmy world sometimes!