Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Crusade

And we are back to the yo-yoing between Science Fiction and historical stories with David Whitaker’s ‘The Crusade’. Another hard story to judge really. The Crusades were a series of attacks from European powers, in particular England, to capture ‘the Holy Land’ in  the name of the Holy Catholic church. Brutal campaigns, they scarred the land and went a long way to destroying Christian/Muslim relations. Their affects are still felt today.

It is fair to say that this story could not be made in 2013, I think. It would certainly be very controversial. ‘The Crusade’ was made, however, in 1965, for a purely British (or at least Anglo-Saxon) audience. My good friend Andrew tells me that the first two seasons of Doctor Who were sold to many middle eastern countries, from where a lot of ‘missing’ episodes were returned. The exception is, naturally enough, this story. This is the only incomplete story from the second season, with episodes 2 and 4 missing. Less copies were made of it, so it was always less likely to still be in existence.
The Doctor, Ian and Vicki stumble into a battle!

Episode one, ‘The Lion’, was returned in around 2004 to the BBC archives. It has been the worst quality (picture-wise) episode I have seen. Good that it isn’t missing any longer, of course! They have recreated, rather well, a forest in the studio. The costumes and sets are very good in this story. I think it’s a well told tale as well, and especially well cast.
Julian Glover as Richard I.

The guest cast includes Julian Glover as Richard the Lionheart, and Jean Marsh as his sister. Then there is Bernard Kay returning as Saladin. Bernard Kay is one of the first actors to reappear in Doctor Who for a second helping (he was in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’, only a few stories earlier), but in quite a different guise in this story.
The director clearly could not find any Arabic actors. Poor Bernard Kay has more dark makeup on his face than the makeup crew knew what to do with. They managed to engage several African extras for the story, but all the main Arab speaking parts are sadly white actors with makeup. Today a horrifying thought, and looking at it it does just seem plain wrong. But it was the standard thing of the day – in times when one of the most popular shows on British TV was the Black and White Minstrel Show. Any review of this story, as I have seen on your Earth interweb, makes mention of this.
Bernard Kay, with dark make up, as Saladin.

I watched a reconstruction of episodes two and four, and they were quite effective in telling the story. Again we have a situation where the Doctor and his companions arrive, are separated and all they want to do is get back to the TARDIS. However, this story has excellent pace. It moves along well and introduces many interesting characters along the way.
Walter Randall as El Akir.

The subject matter pushes the boundaries in ‘The Crusade’. I felt ‘The Web Planet’ was really a story for children, whereas ‘The Crusade’ has a much more adult feel. If you knew nothing of the Crusades beforehand, you probably would be wondering what it’s all about. Then the themes are very confronting. Slavery is portrayed, and again Barbara is thrown into a situation where she is an object of sexual desire for the evil El-Akir, chillingly portrayed by Walter Randall.
A little light humour - Vicki is to become a strutting peacock!

In fact she ends up in a Harem – imagine the kids all asking their parents what that’s all about. I dark story, it has little of the light and humour of ‘The Romans’, with the exception of the Doctor fooling the merchant tailor and dressing Vicki up as a boy.

The final episode sees the Doctor about to be executed as a battle is about to begin – one that will not go well for King Richard the first. The Doctor and Vicki are suddenly reunited in the forest where they began their adventure with Ian and Barbara, quite by chance. As the Doctor is sentenced to die, Ian, who was knighted in episode two, whisks him away to the TARDIS and they escape. It’s a rushed and not very satisfying ending in a story that feels cut short – and that is in ‘The Crusade’s favour – it moves well. However, sudden escapes with no real conclusion to the Doctor and Richard the Lionheart’s storyline is rather unsatisfying. Barbara has escaped the Harem which is nice before anything nasty could happen to her, and the most satisfying moment is the death of El-Akir.
A great performance from Jean Marsh.

But in reflection the audience needs to ask itself if the Muslim characters have been treated fairly? El-Akir, and not Saladin is the true villain of the piece. Saladin is portrayed more justly but has little to do after the second episode.
At the time of the Crusades, this one occurred a good thousand years ago, Richard and his ilk believed they were right because they were Christian and Muslims were considered the infidel – now a word some Islamic Extremists use to describe others. However the crusades were about invading far off countries that really they had no right to.
I have no direct point here, but it’s something to think about. Think about today, and how this time in the world’s history has affected the world so many years later.
As a story, it’s a brave topic, well paced and acted, but all rather un-PC.
As a piece of TV in 1965, it is well done though.


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