Reign Of Terror – 1964 – S1 – E8/8

imageNumber : Season 1, episode 8 of 8.

Which One : Off with their heads!

Cast : The Doctor : William Hartnell
Susan : Carol Ann Ford
Ian : William Russell
Barbara : Jacqueline Hill
Robespierre : Keith Anderson
Napoleon : Tony Wall
Jailer : Jack Cunningham
Webster : Jeffry Wickham
D’Argenson : Neville Smith
Rouvray : Laidlaw Dalling
Lemaitre/James Stirling : James Cairncross
Jean : Roy Herrick
Jules Renan : Donald Morley
Danielle : Caroline Hunt
Léon Colbert : Edward Brayshaw
Paul Barras : John Law
Road Work Overseer : Dallas Cavell
Peasant : Dennis Cleary
Shopkeeper : John Barrard
Physician : Ronald Pickup

Written By : Dennis Spooner

Produced By : Verity Lamb

First UK Broadcast : 8 August – 12 September 1964.

Length : 6 x 25 minute parts.

Parts :
1) “A Land of Fear”
2) “Guests of Madame Guillotine”
3) “A Change of Identity”
4) “The Tyrant of France”
5) “A Bargain of Necessity”
6) “Prisoners of Conciergerie”

Plot : The Doctor attempts to take Ian and Barbara home to London, 1963 but winds up in the middle of the “reign of terror”, in 18th Century France – during the French Revolution.

Whats good : Quirky enough period piece. With enough twisty intrigue to keep proceedings interesting.

Whats bad : A little slow in places. Not really worthy as a season finale. The beeb wiping parts 4 & 5.

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Review With Spoilers : Reign Of Terror is the 8th and final episode of season 1. It covers Who’s take on French Revolutionary history.

The Doctor accidentally lands the Tardis in 18th-Century France. Whilst trying to take Ian & Barbara home to London 1963. Once here, they become embroiled in the revolutionist fervour sweeping the country and meet its Chief-Architect; Robespierre.

Reign Of Terror can best be summed up as one of the better period romps from Who’s patchy period-catalogue. Whilst it doesn’t quite have the action and immediacy of say; The Aztecs or The Crusade. It has enough political intrigue and plotting to make it a substantial enough plod through French history.

At times though, it does have the feel of an educational drama about it. The kind they might show in a school as part of a history lesson. In that regard, you can feel that Who is trying to be authentic, as much as possible – to the events and characters of history.

Who has to be commended for it’s ambitions for attempting to present a picture of 18th Century France, whilst on a painfully limited budget. It’s clear that using real Parisenne locations was out of the question – budget-wise; so we have to rely on some very generic looking studio locations to double for the real thing. Filled in with character exposition to fill in the missing blanks.

Although, we do have some actual outside connecting-scenes of the Doctor making his way to Paris, through the countryside. A rare thing in an era when even the outside scenes were shot in the studio due to the logistics of moving heavy 1960’s camera equipment about.

There is a good deal of memorable and fun moments for Hartnell to chew over, aswell and a decent share of humourous setups too. The Doctor manipulating the Jailer and the roadside slaver, stand out – amongst others.

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“We might not get back to the ship if Grandfather hears we’re in the Reign Of Terror…. …..It’s his favourite period in the history of Earth!” Susan

Ian and Barbara get a fair share of the plotline too but it is poor Susan who yet again is almost entirely written out of proceedings. Most of the episode, she spends laid low, with flu.

Reign Of Terror is a reasonably entertaining period romp, through a bloody and unforgiving time in French history. However, it is a shame we don’t actually get to see “Madam Guillotine”, who is talked about frequently but never seen.

What prevents Reign Of Terror from sinking into total Who period drama hell, is Hartnell’s sparky and humourous turn. Firstly as the Doctor and secondly, with all the pomp and regalia of a French General – whilst masquerading as a regional governor.

Hartnell mostly carries and connects all of the proceedings and without him, Reign Of Terror would be poor indeed.

Whilst it can’t be considered a classic or really even worthy of being a season finale. It does mark a high-point in the Who period drama back-catalogue. To be fair though, it is not a high standard to begin with.

🔵🔵🔵⚪⚪ (3/5)

Old Doctor Who