Doctor Who: The Reign Of Terror by Dennis Spooner (DVD review).

November 13, 2017 | By | Reply More

Trying to get Ian Chesterton (actor William Russell) and Barbara Wrightl (actor Jacqueline Hill) back to their correct time in 1963, the Doctor (actor William Hartnell) inadvertently arrives in France, the time of the French Revolution. Only they don’t know that when they investigate as they arrive in a forest. It was a good thing that Ian insisted the Doctor and Susan (actress Carole Ann Ford) to stay or things would have been far worse.

Mind you, that doesn’t stop the Doctor being knocked out when investigating an isolated house and Ian, Barbara and Susan being arrested by the citizen army and taken to Paris for summary justice and execution by Madame Guillotine. The isolated house left alight although the Doctor finds himself rescued by a local farm boy and has to make his way to Paris and has his own adventures.

When Ian is passed a message by a dying prisoner, he suddenly finds himself reprieved from execution, he can only watch as Barbara and Susan are taken off for their execution. Unknown to him, they are rescued and Ian gets an opportunity to steal his cell key to escape later. Although in safety, Susan has become ill and needs medication.

Meanwhile, the Doctor has arrived in Paris and swops his clothes so he can appear as a representative from the southern states to visit the prison only to find his companions gone and coerced into meeting Robespierre. Although his guise works, he finds he has to stay at the prison for one more day.

In short order, Barbara and Susan are recaptured and Ian out to deliver his message finds out who his enemy really is. Indeed, from here on there are spoilers, more so with the clever at the opening of the last episode that makes sense of some of the events in the preceding episodes.

Considering the budget at the time, this story holds up remarkably well considering how little you really see of France but just enough to give a flavour of the time period. Even back then, the BBC were extremely good at period dramas and although its pointed out in the audio commentary that the wall sets are not as good as they could have been back in the 425 line days and smaller sets, you tended to focus on the actors not the backgrounds.

‘The Reign Of Terror’ is the last story from the first season of ‘Doctor Who’ from 1964. With episodes 4 and 5 missing but dialogue intact, these have been remade in animation. Although there are far too many close-ups of the heads, when panned back, the scenery and lighting is actually very good, especially when you see these in the extras.

Watch out for Edward Brayshaw as Léon Colberrt, who later plays the War Chief in ‘The War Games’.

The extras are surprising considering the series age. A 25 minute ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’ with actors William Russell and Carole Ann Ford and then production assistant Tim Combe. I’d forgotten all about the stand-in while the Doctor walked to Paris but glad to get more information about director Henric Hirsch and his stress breakdown as well as William Russell having a week’s holiday during filming. Considering that this was the end of the first season, you do have to wonder why not wait a few weeks? What is inferred from the audio commentary was that the season might have ended but they were being prepped for the second season. 48 weeks filming a year makes today’s output look tame by comparison.

There’s a couple minutes looking around the animation sets, just a shame they aren’t shown more in the two animated episodes. The photo gallery is split between live and animated. What was surprising was seeing several colour photos when they were so rare at the time.

The audio commentary is a literal rotating door of actress Carole Anne Ford and then production manager Tim Combes in episodes 1, 2 and 6. Guest actors from Neville Smith (who played D’Argenon) in 1, Jeffry Wickham (played Webster) in 2, Caroline Hunt (who played Danielle Renan) in 3 and Patrick Marley (who played an unnamed soldier) in 6. All of these were small guest roles but as revealed over them, many of the bigger role actors are no longer with us. For episode 4, Toby Hadoke interviews Ron Pickup (who played the physician) who reveals this was his first TV role and didn’t return to the box until the 70s. For episode 5, Hadoke interview Philip Morris and Paul Vanezis about the problems in gathering missing ‘Doctor Who’ episodes. More amazing that in some countries, they think they are a medical programme. Makes me wonder if they made me stashed in documentaries than dramas abroad.

When I was young, I was less struck by the historical dramas than I was by the Science Fiction ‘Doctor Who’ stories. These days, I’m prepared to watch and it’s amazing how by focusing on their problems that the actual setting can be struck so much. There’s also a little thought that the Doctor left his own clothes in that time period but still had a second set and a spare ring for future adventures.

GF Willmetts

November 2017

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC. 1 DVD 148 minutes 6 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: about £ 6.00 (UK) if you know where to look. ASIN: BBCDVD3528)

cast: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill and Carole Ann Ford

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Category: Doctor Who, TV

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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