Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror

By Sophie Iles
So, time to try out something different. For the entirety of this series, I’ve been doing parts to talk about these adventures in Doctor Who. From today’s article, I will be writing just one article per episode. I want to talk about the full story and what I liked about it in more depth, instead of describing the episode which I found so easy to do with the other articles.
So, let’s go through the fine details of the Reign of Terror, and see from my perspective how we feel about the story, and as a personal note; what does the animated revisions bring to it.

What happens exactly?:

We continue the story after the end of the Sensorites, The Doctor in a very threatening way wants to drop Barbara and Ian off, believing that the TARDIS has landed in England, 1963. After some careful coaxing to the Doctor, the four of them decide to explore instead and they find themselves discovering France in the 18th century. After some I-told-you-so comments from Ian they explore a farm house, and that’s where things go from bad to worse. Not only is it 18th century France, it’s french revolution time. The gang get separated from each other when The Doctor gets knocked out and left to die in a the burning farmhouse, and Ian, Barbara and Susan are sent to the Conciergerie Prison in Paris to be put to the guillotine
The Doctor gets saved by a little french boy and he heads off on foot to Paris. Ian gets embroiled in a plot, being asked by a dying revolutionary to find a spy called James Stirling, an Englishman, spying on the French. The message is that he should return home with his information. He breaks out of prison when the jailer is summoned away by Lemaitre, a authoritative man in France. Meanwhile Barbara and Susan are sent to the guillotine but saved by two men, Jean and Jules, who take them to a safe house and intend to smuggle them out of France, but they refuse to leave without Ian. They still believe the Doctor to be dead. Meanwhile, the sneaky old man has been able to trick himself into getting the clothing of the one of the Regional Officer of the Provinces and tries to get his friends out of the prison — but they’ve already left in one way or another and instead he ends up being Lemaitre’s guest going to visit the Robespierre, The Tyrant of France. Lemaitre is very suspicious of the Doctor, considering the tailor he got the clothes from, has proof that he’s not the real officer.
Whilst all this is going on Jean and Jules are told by another revolutionary called Leon, who visits the house, that there’s a man asking for Jules in the inn. He flirts with Barbara a bit and promises a doctor for Susan because she’s coming down with a fever.
Meanwhile, the man in the inn that Jean and Jules find and bring back to the safe house turns out to be Ian, meaning Barbara and Ian are reunited. Ian explains why he had to find Jules, to pass on the information about James Stirling but Jules has never heard of the man and suggests Ian meet with Leon.
Ian does meet with Leon, but when he does, he’s captured. Leon has betrayed them and wants information. Not only that, but the Doctor, Susan and Barbara are sent too, also betrays them, so Barbara and Susan end up in prison again. Luckily for Ian Jules shows up and saves him, but they don’t know about Barbara and Susan’s fate.
The prison set seems to be a favourite, because The Doctor even stays in the prison with Lemaitre after their fun escapade meeting Robespierre where The Doctor was some how able to get out of that one without admitting he didn’t know anything about the province he was supposed to be representing. He’s reunited with Barbara, and Lemaitre spies on their reunion and conversation as he’s caught up on all the goings on.
Susan is still locked up, ill, but as Lemaitre has been summoned away to see Robespierre, The Doctor bamboozles the jailor so Barbara just walks straight out, but try as he might he can’t convince him to let Susan go. Lemaitre turns up again, and demands that The Doctor take him to Jules’ hideout and he’ll let Susan free.
When the Doctor and Lemaitre arrive, it turns out that Lemaitre is in fact James Stirling. That, and he’s been on their side the whole time, It was he who helped Ian’s escape and why he can promise that Susan won’t be harmed whilst in prison. Ian relays to him what he was told by the dying man that Stirling should return to England. When pressed further Ian also remembers the words, “Barras, meeting, and the “Sinking Ship,’ which turns out to be an inn.” Stirling asks them one more request: to stake out the meeting between Barras and his other colleague so then he can get the last of his information and sneak them all out of Paris together.
So, Ian and Barbara stake out the inn and listen to Napoleon and Barras have a talk about overthrowing Robespierre, which happens almost immediately. Once the message is passed on The Doctor goes into the prison to get Susan now that France is distracted. Finally everyone is reunited, taking a carriage to go back to where the TARDIS had been, outside of Paris.

What didn’t work

My main problems with this story, are the problems I have with most Who stories over four episodes. They seem to drag. I must say, after watching this again after having watched the Romans episode many times since. I find I love it the more I watch it (that being said, that happens any time I watch a classic who, this happened with both the Daleks and An Unearthly Child.) My main problem with this, isn’t actually the story, despite it dragging, it’s with the animation itself that they use to replace the lost episodes. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of using animation to replace the lost episodes. Those don’t know would be surprised to hear that I studied animation ten years ago, with the intention to work in the industry.
So when I started watching the Tyrant of France, my interest peaked; I found myself unable to enjoy it anymore because of it. Animations are a lot of money to make, and take a lot of time to produce. Yet, there were some badly chosen shots, angles and design styles for this. Even the first scene we see the Doctor with Robespierre and Lemaitre (aka Stirling) is a shambles. One of the first things I was ever taught when it came to speech in animation, was to focus on the action that’s being made so that you don’t have to worry if you animate the mouth shapes badly. With this situation, every word said was spoken on a closeup, and so every mouth was on display as it was lip synced terribly. That’s the first issue. When the original Doctor Who episodes were filmed, most of it was done with a locked camera. The acting was the focus, in and out of shot like a play. Fair enough, the team decided to play with the idea of close ups, but there’s no slow build up to those sort of things. All we see is close ups of people’s faces or the mid torso. It makes everything boring and then the animation mistakes are even easier to see.
I have never been so relieved to see live action again when the last chapter Prisoners of Conciergerie begins. Finally, I see everyone emote properly again, and it makes me long as a fan for Ian and Barbara’s reunion hug, and for Barbara fighting with Ian in regards to history books in fifth episode, A Bargain of Necessity. If anyone is keeping these to themselves, could you you please share?

What worked:

So, enough with the complaining, let’s get to the bits I did like.

I love the Reign of Terror. There’s lots going on and lots of threads to follow and as someone not actively knowledgeable about the French Revolution I felt I learnt something. I love historicals, and this was just that. I love how the classic series takes history head on, without any sort of alien threat. I love that, and that’s why they’re my favourites.Favourite moments have to be Barbara and Susan working hard to break out of jail despite everything seeming lost. Ian and Barbara pretending to be innkeepers and seeing Napoleon. Barbara as it always seems to be, gets the most to do and having the Doctor travelling on his own to Paris made for some interesting character moments with him that is only shown again in the same way in The Romans, funnily enough the same writer! I also love the sequence at the beginning of the serial with Ian and Barbara convincing the Doctor to check out the surroundings with them by suggesting ‘they go for a goodbye drink.’

All and all, Dennis Spooner does write all these characters well, I wish he’s written more episodes!
Next week, there might be another delay between articles because I’m going to be at LI Who. Personally, I can’t believe that we’ve actually finished series one of Doctor Who! It’s been one hell of a ride, and there’s so much more left to watch, so many new characters to meet, and even, sadly to say, characters to say goodbye too.

But as the Ian and the Doctor say during their last lines in The Reign of Terror:

IAN: And what are we going to see and learn next, Doctor?
DOCTOR: Well, unlike the old adage, my boy, our destiny is in the stars, so let’s go and search for it.
This week, there is a little doodle, once again guest drawn by the wonderful husband of mine Jame Iles, of The Doctor in his officers wardrobe! I’ll see you next time for the Planet of the Giants!

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