“The Reign of Terror”


First Doctor, Season One, Serial Eight

reviewed by Tom-Tom


At the end of The Sensorites, Ian and Barbara decided that they’d had enough of adventures and demanded to the Doctor that they be brought home. Well, they’re in Europe, maybe 200 years early and in the wrong country but, hey, that’s what you get with the Type 40 TARDIS, apparently. Try to get to London in 1963 and end up in Paris 1794. The companions make their goodbyes and take a look outside through the scanner to see a field. The Doctor, still crabby and sensitive about his inability to control the navigation on his TARDIS is eager to be rid of the meddlers whether it is the correct time or place. Chesterton, one of the pair of schoolteachers turned time travelers insists on having the Doctor check outside with them rather than just kicking them out the door.

Following an urchin who conveniently speaks English to a ramshackle hut, the travelers meet some revolutionaries who knock out the Doctor and hold the travelers prisoner until government forces come searching for them. A battle ensues and the revolutionaries are summarily executed and the travelers packed off to Paris leaving the Doctor in a burning house.

After being summarily sentenced to be executed everyone is frog marched off to prison. The Doctor escapes his fiery fate striding towards Paris to singlehandedly rescue his companions.

Overcoming some troubles on the way he arrives in the heart of the city. In a Third Doctor tale, some alien would be at the heart of the revolution perhaps a Sontaran or Zygon. Here we have just the French guillotining its citizens in droves everyday. Susan proves herself a wet blanket again screaming at rats and blistering her hands at the slightest physical labor. Thankfully those convenient French revolutionaries come to the rescue and free the women. Ian, ever the resourceful science teacher who is not afraid of rats or blisters makes well his escape from prison.

The historical narrative continues with episodes 4 and 5 being animated nicely in black and white. Robespierre is depicted as a conflicted individual with not the heart to execute people but being “forced to” out of his paranoid necessity. The companions hang out with the revolutionaries and the Doctor disguises himself as a governmental official and minces with heads of state and jailers. There are betrayals and secret keeping and trust and mistrust and it all gets very tiring as companions are captured, freed,  and recaptured. There are lines like, “Yes, you walked right into my trap, didn’t you?” and “If you disobey my orders, I’ll have you guillotined.”

If this episode achieves anything, it is bringing the First Doctor into a more positive light. Up until now, he has been the bringer of trouble, the weak link in the chain that the companions had to compensate for to get out of whatever situation the Doctor gotten them into. Admittedly, his overconfidence got them into this situation as well but he demonstrates, perhaps for the first time since the series began, that he does, in fact feel some responsibility for them and in fact cares for them if only reluctantly. The calling of everyone in France by the title of “Citizen” sounds eerily communistic as if the politics of the time of the making of the episodes seeped in to say Hello. There is some deep talk about the sides of revolution and who’s right or wrong dividing even Ian and Barbara. History proceeds and the lessons established in a previous serial “The Aztecs” prevail: you can’t change history. No matter what small ripples the Doctor and his companions form, the fate of history will always move inexorably forward.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s