Hello all, the Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm. Tonight we’re entering unknown territory, meaning Doctor Who never before seen by any of us! Always exciting! Let’s get to the synopsis…
Episode summary: First aired 8th August, 1964.
Two men move through a wood, keeping an eye out for pursuit. Shortly after they disappear, the TARDIS lands in the same place.
Inside, the Doctor announces he has brought Ian and Barbara home, though they are somewhat skeptical. Susan, upset that her friends might be leaving, runs out of the control room, into the ship. Although the Doctor wants them to leave immediately, Ian convinces the old man to accompany them outside, ostensibly to treat him to a farewell drink, but actually so the teachers can be certain of where and when they are before the Doctor leaves them.
The foursome leave the ship and see cultivated land. It could be England, perhaps…but when? After seeing some movement in the bushes, Ian captures a very dirty and frightened looking young boy who tells them they are in France, but runs off before answering any other questions. The Doctor is happy that he has landed the ship only a hundred or so miles off, given the distances involved, but Barbara wonders if they are a hundred years off as well!
The boy runs to a farmhouse and is let inside. A little later, the crew reach the same house and decide to explore, to try and figure out when they are. Everything is dusty and looks as though no one has lived there in years, but the Doctor and Ian find candles in candlesticks. The Doctor searches upstairs, while Ian takes downstairs.
Barbara and Susan discover a trunk containing clothes, which Barbara identifies as eighteenth century. Meanwhile, the Doctor, moving into another room, is knocked out from behind! The other three have changed into the clothes (the better to blend in as they make their way back to the TARDIS), when Ian discovers some documents, undated but signed. They appear to be travel passes, and Barbara recognizes the signature: Robespierre! They have landed during the French Revolution, specifically during the Reign of Terror!
Immediately, the teachers decide to find the Doctor and get out of there, even though Susan tells them that this is her grandfather’s favorite Earth period of history. They go upstairs to search for the Doctor. Ian tries a door which is locked (and behind which the Doctor is concealed) when he hears a scream from Susan.
The two men from earlier, Rouvrey and D’Argenson have the women held at gunpoint and capture Ian as well. They explain that they are travellers and almost convince the Frenchmen, but are undone when they say they are travelling alone, which the two know is false. Rouvrey demands to know which side they are on, the royalists or the commune. Barbara says that they are not on either side, they are not even French! Rouvray tells her that if she is to remain in France, she will have to choose a side, like it or no.
D’Argenson is increasingly nervous to the point of hysteria, just as the detachment of soldiers who were tracking the fugitives make their way to the house. Rouvray gives Ian a pistol, and tells him the soldiers are attempting to break their nerve.
Meanwhile, the Sergeant orders a reluctant soldier to guard the back of the house, telling him he could have a royalist all to himself. Gleefully, the solider agrees. At this point, D’Argenson’s nerve breaks and he runs out. Rouvray runs after him to try and protect him from the soldiers and almost does, using his authoritative manner to cow them. However, he then overplays his hand, saying no matter what uniform you put them in, a peasant was still a peasant. The “Peasants” then shoot both nobles dead.
The crew continues to search for the Doctor, not knowing that the soldiers have entered the house until all three are captured. The Sergeant and Lieutenant barely keep their men from killing them by speculating on a possible reward or credit if the three are brought to Paris to meet Madame Guillotine.
As Ian, Barbara and Susan are being led away, the Sergeant decides to set fire to the house and throws a torch into it. The farmhouse quickly catches fire. Susan becomes hysterical at the thought that the Doctor might still be inside, but Ian calms her by saying that he must have gotten out. The boy, emerging from the bushes, has seen the prisoners marched off and turns back towards the house.
Inside the locked room, the Doctor awakens to discover smoke beginning to pour in through the door. He sees it is locked, and bangs on it and yells to no avail. Finally, the Doctor slumps to the ground, overcome by the smoke….
What a marvelous cliffhanger! And a fantastic first episode from writer Dennis Spooner, who we’ll see again in the second season. Definitely a change of pace from “The Sensorites,” this week went from light and humourous to just plain shock as Spooner subverts what little format the show has had thus far by killing off the two people we’re led to believe the TARDIS crew will be following in this adventure. (The first time we’ve seen apparently major characters killed so quickly in a story, I think!)
One thing that our entire crew very much enjoyed, though, were the first TARDIS scenes and Ian’s hard-learned ability to play the Doctor’s vanity like a flute. His supposed logic–“You can come see us again, but what if we don’t see you for some time? Let us say goodbye over a drink!”–was a perfect way to convince the reticent Doctor to explore with them. Susan’s sadness at parting from the people who have become her best friends was well played too. But the crowning moment (and the culmination of the season, I think, even if it wasn’t originally planned that way) was the small conversation between Ian and Barbara, where both confessed that they weren’t all that disappointed to not have made it home after all. The adventuring has gotten into their blood!
That’s not to say they need have every adventure. When they discovered the blank passes and realized whose signature adorned them, Ronelyn piped up: “Ah, Robespierre. Robespierre?! Time to go!” We laughed, but that’s exactly the reaction Ian and Barbara both had. And we were as amazed as they were when Susan revealed this to be the Doctor’s favorite historical period! (Of course, we have seen evidence that Susan and her Grandfather have been there before…remember the book in “An Unearthly Child?”)
One of the fun things about this episode was actually the discussion that ensued afterwards with Schmallturm and me explaining some of the history of the revolution to Ketina. It’s nice when an episode prompts something like that–certainly showing that Doctor Who can keep its educational remit all these years later! To that end, I quite liked the characters of the nobles and especially the soldiers, showing us the bloodthirstiness that ran through the Reign of Terror as well as the arrogance that led to it. Very well done, I thought.
The production itself looked surprisingly good as well, especially given this story’s position at the end of the season–and an unplanned end as well. (I’ll talk more about it in the wrapup, I’m sure, but the originally scheduled break in production was after the last episode of “The Sensorites.” The popularity of the show led to the BBC adding six more episodes.) Although there was one point when Ketina swears she saw a fold in a backdrop in the forest, the sets are mostly quite good. (Indeed, Schmallturm and Ronelyn were briefly fooled by the opening shot of the episode, being sure it must have been shot in an actual forest!) The farmhouse is an excellent set and is very well matched by the model shot at the end. The burning model was, I thought, pretty convincing!
All in all, I enjoyed this episode a lot, as did my colleagues. We had quibbles (Ketina will mention a few of those below), but it was exciting to see Doctor Who we’d never seen before and gratifying to see that it’s of such good quality. I, for one, can’t wait until next week! But until then, I remain
The Good: As The Historian already mentioned, I too loved the scene when Ian convinces The Doctor to go with them to explore the area. Very well done. I also liked the discussion between Ian and Barbara just before they followed The Doctor and Susan down to the farmhouse. Lots of other good stuff – the farmhouse set, the confrontation and sudden deaths of the aristocrats hiding in the barn, the fire, etc.
The Silly: Things weren’t so fantastic this week that we completely lacked in silly, however. The music, consisting of stalking oboes that stopped just when they turned the lights on (okay, when they lit the candles, but there was definitely more than candle light). The “let’s put on these clothes we just found” from Barbara. Flashback to her impulsive behavior in the Aztecs. But, at least her character is consistent. The mob of soldiers actually saying “rhubarb rhubarb.” Seriously, Schmallturm heard one and then I heard another a bit later. And towards the end I’m sure I saw a set wall behind the trees.
And, the screams return – Susan is at it again! The Historian has apparently missed them. I had not.
I’m very much looking forward to this week. But I worry that the rescue from the guillotine, and the escape from the fire, will not be done well. I fear there will be a weak resolution as to how they are going to get out of this pickle. Crossing my fingers that I’m wrong.
NEXT WEEK: “GUESTS OF MADAME GUILLOTINE”
A quick P.S. from the Historian: Everyone reading this, please be on the look-out for a post in the next few days asking for opinions on the blog format and our reviews as we approach the end of the first season. I implore, I beg, please read it and respond! Thanks!