The Reign of Terror

According to Susan, the first Doctor’s favorite period in human history is the French Revolution.  It’s an odd choice, but, yet, coming from Hartnell’s Doctor, this doesn’t surprise me.  This is, after all, the man who acted like a giddy schoolboy because he had the privilege of being present at the burning of Rome.  He seems to love important historical moments, even bloody ones (or, at least he does in the stories written by Dennis Spooner).  “The Reign of Terror” features William Hartnell’s Doctor visiting the French Revolution with Barbara, Ian, and Susan in the final episode of Doctor Who‘s first season.

The Doctor masquerading as a Regional Officer of the Provinces.

The Doctor masquerading as a Regional Officer of the Provinces.

The story picks up right where “The Sensorites” left off.  The Doctor is still angry at Ian for commenting on the fact that the Doctor has no idea where the TARDIS is going each time he pilots it.  It’s true, but that probably annoys the Doctor all the more.  In a fit of pique, the Doctor declares that Ian and Barbara must leave the TARDIS, wherever it lands.  When he orders them out, he is convinced that he has successfully brought them home.  Barbara and Ian are not convinced; therefore, they gently nudge the Doctor into deciding to step outside of the TARDIS with them, just to be sure.

Once they leave the TARDIS, they discover that they are on Earth, but in France, not England.  They find a seemingly abandoned house and enter it, looking for clues as to what time period they have landed in.  Aided by Barbara’s remarkable ability to date clothing, and the fact that they find some papers signed by Robespierre, they soon realize that they have arrived in the middle of the French Revolution. They change into the clothing, so they will be less conspicuous as they head back to the TARDIS, but Barbara, Ian, and Susan are soon being held at gunpoint by two men, who have  knocked the Doctor unconscious.  Just as they appear to make headway with the strangers, the revolutionary guard shows up.  The two men were counter revolutionaries, who the guard promptly shoots.  The guards assume that Barbara, Ian, and Susan are  fellow counter revolutionaries and are taken prisoner, but, before they leave, they guards burn the house down, with the Doctor still inside.

Of course, the Doctor manages to escape.  He learns of the arrest of his companions, so he sets off for Paris to find them. The rest of the story consists of various members of the quartet being separated from each other and trying to find each other again, all while going in and out of prison (and trying to keep their heads!).

Barbara and Ian cajoling the Doctor into exiting the TARDIS with them

Barbara and Ian cajoling the Doctor into exiting the TARDIS with them

Although the premise is simple, “The Reign of Terror” is an engaging story.  The story is six episodes long, but it never gets dull. Problems that could be solved in moments in the new series are huge obstacles at this point.  The Doctor has no psychic paper to magically produce false papers, nor does he have a sonic screwdriver to simply unlock the prison cells.  Instead, he, Barbara, and Ian must think their way out of trouble.  When asked, rather sarcastically, if he thinks he’s clever, the Doctor very matter-of-factly replies, “With no undue modesty, yes!” And in this story, he’s absolutely justified in saying that because the Doctor really starts to demonstrate the cleverness that we associate with his many incarnations.

The Doctor seems particularly cantankerous in this story, which is interesting because he was particularly difficult off-screen during this story as well, since he did not like the novice director, Henric Hirsch.  At one point, the Doctor ends up in a work gang simply because he couldn’t seem to pass up the opportunity to insult the overseer.  His attitude, however, perfectly suits the identity he assumes a bit later in the story, that of a Regional Officer of the Provinces.  He is just haughty and condescending enough to intimidate people (although some  of the more clever can see through his disguise). Plus, he gets to wear a showy hat with large feathers! He also hits two people over the head during the course of the story, attempting to knock them unconscious.  This is the most active (and aggressive) the Doctor has been up to this point.

Barbara and Ian are clever as well.  They are separated from the Doctor and must try to avoid ending up at the guillotine, so they must do a lot of thinking on their feet in this story.  Barbara also makes a great point about seeing the humanity in all people, no matter what side they are on, instead of just seeing someone as an enemy. Being a history teacher, she can see that while the reign of terror was not a good time, the ideas behind it were important. She is not as quick to take sides as Ian, who very quickly becomes loyal to their new friends, who fall more to the counter-revolutionary side, although they claim to be seeking a middle ground. She is horrified by the violence from the revolutionaries, but, ever the sensible one, she does not want either side to see murder as the answer.  This episode points out a lot of the grey areas that exist in the struggle, and acknowledges that choosing a side in the struggle was no a black and white decision. This is especially seen towards the end, when the group that had been completely against Robespierre has a change of heart when they learn that Napoleon is angling to take over.

Unfortunately, Barbara is saddled with Susan for much of this story, which limits what she can do.  For instance, never one to be the damsel in distress, Barbara is constantly thinking of ways that she and Susan can try to escape from the prison, only  to have Susan give up every time. In fact, Susan is really nothing but dead weight in this story.  She is always ill and borderline hysterical.  I can’t think of one productive thing that she did in this story.  Her character showed a bit of development in “The Sensorites,” but she regresses back to an irrational child in this story.  It’s as if Dennis Spooner, like most writers, didn’t know what to do with her, so he just kept her in a cell or made her ill for the entire story.

Susan, once again, foiling Barbara's escape plan by being whiny

Susan, once again, foiling Barbara’s escape plan by being whiny

The supporting cast of the story is also a plus.  All of the actors do a great job in their roles, creating memorable characters.  Although famous faces, such as Robespierre and Napoleon make appearances, it is the less important players who carry the story.  The audience gets as caught up in the events, as the travelers do.

Finally, I thought it was interesting that this episode once again discussed the impossibility of altering the past.  Barbara has learned her lesson from the Aztecs and knows that the events unfolding around them will take their course; there is nothing that they can do that will change them.  As much as their friends want to stop Napoleon’s rise to power, they know that it is inevitable.  They even discuss how they could attempt to change the future and how their interference could be corrected.

Overall, I enjoyed this story a great deal.  I’m glad that they decided to animate the two missing episodes (even though I preferred the animation in “The Invasion”), allowing viewers to experience the entire story.  As I’ve mentioned before, I love the historical episodes, and this one, while not quite as good as “The Aztecs” (which is one of my favorite stories in the history of the series) is a well-written story.  The Doctor and his companions are cleverly woven in to the events of the times, even if Dennis Spooner’s trademark humor isn’t quite as evident in this story as it would be in the next series. Still, it is fun to watch William Hartnell ordering people around in an imperial manner. I wonder if that hat is still sitting around somewhere in the TARDIS…


Gallifrey One 2013

Before this year, I had always wondered: it worth traveling all the way to Los Angeles to attend Gallifrey One?  Gallifrey One, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the largest North American Doctor Who convention. While I’ve been to Chicago TARDIS a few times, I’d never actually made it to Gallifrey.   I always wondered if it was really that much better than Chicago TARDIS.  This year I made the trip out to L.A., and I can say that it was definitely worth it.

Sylvester McCoy during the open ceremonies

Sylvester McCoy during the opening ceremonies

Basically, Gallifrey One is Doctor Who heaven.  No matter what you’re interested in, you will find some panel or event that covers the topic.  I mostly stayed in program A, because I found it fascinating to hear the people both in front of and behind the camera talk about their experiences.  There are so many things that I could write about, but don’t worry, I won’t mention them all. I’m just going to share a few personal highlights of the weekend, or else this post will be as long as the ballad in “The Gunfighters.”

First, there was the North American premiere screening of the recently recovered “Galaxy 4” episode.  I’ll be writing more about this in another post, but it was great to see the lost episode with a crowd of Who fans, since watching episodes is usually a much more solitary event.  It’s not the best first Doctor story, but it’s still worth seeing.

There was a lot of interesting behind the scenes information that I learned during the convention.  In particular, I learned a few things about Steven Moffat.  Several people reference the fact that the show runners scripts are often late, which can lead to filming beginning without a script.  One of the guests even said that Moffat isn’t troubled by gaps in the logic of an episode: he simply says, “Oh, it’s magic,” or something to that effect. This really helped clarify the problems that I have had with some of the stories under Moffat’s tenure. They’re entertaining stories, but they don’t always hold up if you think about them (case in point: “The Angels Take Manhattan”).

Dan Starkey takes the stage

Dan Starkey takes the stage

It was also interesting to be able to put a human face to several Doctor Who monsters. The convention featured several guests who are the men and women behind monsters like the Silurians (Neve McIntosh and Richard Hope), the Sontarans (Dan Starkey), and the Daleks (Nicholas Pegg).  It was interesting to learn, for example, about how easy it can be for people to forget that there are humans inside the Daleks, or the difficulties of acting through a layer of latex. When I watch their episodes now, I notice more of the human qualities they give the alien they’re playing (well, maybe not the Daleks!).

I found every panel I attended interesting, but there were a few highlights. Sylvester McCoy’s panel was quite entertaining, as he very quickly hopped off the stage and roamed around the audience, taking questions and interacting (very humorously) with the audience.  At one point he was actually standing directly behind my seat, but it was, as at Chicago TARDIS, very difficult to get a picture.  I don’t think the man ever stops moving!  Mark Sheppard (who didn’t even have a moderator) and Ben Browder’s panels were also highlights.  They covered  topics far beyond their Doctor Who experiences and answered some pretty bizarre audience questions without missing a beat.

Deborah Watling and Frazer Hines at Gallifrey One

Deborah Watling and Frazer Hines during their first panel at Gallifrey One

However, my favorite panels were the ones with Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling.  Deborah Watling was a late replacement for Carol Ann Ford, and I’m glad she was added to the list of guests.  She and Frazer Hines have a great rapport; I could have listened to them banter and reminisce all day.  They told some great behind the scenes stories; for instance,  Frazer and Patrick Troughton enjoyed playing pranks on Deborah.  In particular, they seemed to enjoy embarrassing her by planting knickers on the set and identifying them as Victoria’s (when they were really supposed to be finding handkerchiefs).  They also teased each other into revealing amusing bits about their personal lives, like Deborah went on a date with a cyberman or what a ladies’ man Frazer was.  If you have the chance to see a panel with the two of them, I highly recommend it.  I got a feel for what it was like to be on the show in their era, and had a good time while doing it.

Michael Jayston, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, and Peter Purves

Michael Jayston, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, and Peter Purves

Finally, I noticed that the guests seemed much more accessible here than at Chicago TARDIS.  At Chicago TARDIS, you are always in a long line to get the person’s autograph or take a picture, so I would feel guilty for holding up the line to chat with the guest.  However, at Gallifrey, the guests are often just walking around, or giving out autographs in the dealer’s room for an extended period of time, so the line isn’t too long.  A personal highlight for me was meeting Dan Starkey and Perter Purves.  I was able to chat with both of them for a while, and I got a picture with Dan Starkey and an autograph from Peter Purves (and I didn’t call him Steven when I spoke to him, as I feared I might). I was able to learn things like Strax’s miraculous resurrection will be explained at some point, and that Peter Purves’ favorite story is probably “The Massacre.”

A great third Doctor cosplayer

A great third Doctor cosplayer

Essentially, Gallifrey One is a Doctor Who fan’s paradise.  For three days, I was immersed in classic and modern Who.  With the cosplayers, I was literally surrounded because you couldn’t look anywhere without seeing a Doctor, a companion, or an alien.  I was in awe of the detail people put into their costumes.  I didn’t manage to get any pictures of it, but just look for the Zygon who was at Gally, and you’ll see what I mean.  I’m already wondering if I can swing a return trip next year…

Lost Hartnell Stories: The Massacre

Although the episodes themselves no longer exist, I was able to listen to the audio of the lost Hartnell story “The Massacre” (originally called “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve”).  It was the fifth story of the third season and the Doctor’s only companion at this point is Steven (Peter Purves).  The final episode introduces the Doctor’s new companion, Dodo Chaplet (played by Jackie Lane).

The Doctor and Steven enjoy a drink in the tavern.

The Doctor and Steven enjoy a drink in the tavern.

The story takes place after the events of “The Daleks’ Master Plan.” The TARDIS materializes in Paris in 1572. When the Doctor figures out what time period he is in, he decides to visit the famous apothecary Charles Preslin.  After taking Steven to a tavern, the Doctor feels that there is no need for Steven to accompany him. He allows Steven to have some time to wander around Paris on his own, telling him that he is not to talk to anyone, lest he betray that he is not from the time period. They agree to meet back at the tavern in the evening.

Of course it does not take long for Steven to disobey the Doctor.  He does not have the money required to pay his bill, and a man steps in to help him.  The man is Nicholas Muss, and soon Steven has joined his group.  Nicholas and the others of his party are Huguenots, and it is through them that Steven becomes involved in the deadly conflict between the Huguenots and the Catholics.

A servant girl, Anne Chaplet runs into the tavern.  Since she is a fellow Huguenot, Nicholas and his friends hide her from the guards who are following her, but only Steven is curious as to why she is running. Thanks to Steven’s curiosity, the group learns that she works for the Abbot of Amboise and has overhead men discussing a Huguenot massacre.  Since the Doctor, who has been visiting with Preslin, has not returned, Steven agrees to spend the night in the home of the Admiral de Coligny, Nicholas’ master.

From there, Steven becomes involved in intrigues plotted by the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, and is suspected of being a spy by his Huguenot friends, while the Doctor is nowhere to be found.  Although the Abbot of Amboise does bear a striking resemblance to the Doctor…

I would imagine that Peter Purves is very disappointed that this story was lost, since this really is Steven’s big moment.  The Doctor is absent for parts two and three of this four part story, although he does play the evil Abbot of Amboise in several scenes (which I would love to be able to see).  The story really follows Steven’s adventures.  It actually allows Steven’s character to  develop more than any of the surviving episodes, as it becomes clear that Steven has a very strong sense of what is right and what is wrong and does not hesitate to become involved. In fact, Steven becomes so upset at the Doctor for not doing what he considers the right thing that he almost leaves at the end of the episode.

Steven and his Huguenot friends

Steven and his Huguenot friends

Steven’s anger is understandable when you remember that the previous adventure saw the first companion death on the show (Katrina) as well as the death of several other important characters.  Steven was already starting to question if stopping the Daleks was worth the cost in human lives.  Then, in this episode, the Doctor leaves, knowing that he cannot change the course of history, but all Steven sees is the Doctor doing nothing to prevent the slaughter of his newfound friends.  His anger is quite understandable, as he often does not seem to see the big picture.

The story is actually quite dark for a children’s program.  All of Steven’s friends are left to be slaughtered by the Catholics, although it is implied that Dodo is a descendant of Anne Chaplet, showing that she survived the massacre. There is also no comic relief to break the tension of the story.  I did, however, enjoy the mystery of whether the Doctor was impersonating the Abbot or if the Abbot just happened to look exactly like the Doctor.  That, along with the fact that these were historical events with which I was not terribly familiar, made it a rather suspenseful story.

When it comes to Dodo, I feel the less said, the better.   Seeing how she came to end up traveling with the Doctor did not make me like her any more.  In fact, it almost made me like her even less, as she seems to be the only companion not to notice that the TARDIS is larger on the inside.

Overall, however, I enjoyed the story.  It was a suspenseful, engaging tale, with many interesting supporting characters.  It’s incredibly well written. It also had a rare moment in which Hartnell shows a vulnerable side to the Doctor.  When he thinks that Steven has left him, leaving him to travel on his own, the Doctor takes a moment to reflect on all the companions he has lost.  It was a rather poignant moment, even if the appearance of Dodo did ruin the moment a bit.