Monday, March 14, 2011

"The Reign of Terror"

Aired Aug 8 - Sept 12, 1964

Episode 1 – A Land of Fear
Episode 2 – Guests of Madame Guillotine
Episode 3 – A Change of Identity
Episode 4 – The Tyrant of France
Episode 5 – A Bargain of Necessity
Episode 6 – Prisoners of Conciergerie

Story 8

Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Henric Hirsch


Synopsis

The TARDIS arrives in 1794 in the French countryside not far from Paris. Though the era is supposedly the Doctor's favorite in Earth's history, it's also one of the bloodiest periods following the French Revolution. Separated from the Doctor, the others get captured by soldiers and taken to Paris to be guillotined.

While the Doctor makes his way to rescue them, the others become entangled with a plot to overthrow the tyrant Robespierre masterminded by British spy James Stirling, who has been operating undercover as Lemaitre, governor of the Conciergerie Prison.

The Doctor poses as a provincial official, and has to match wits with Robespierre while Ian and Barbara are witness to a fateful meeting with Napoleon Bonaparte.


In the end, Robespierre is overthrown in part due to the efforts of Stirling. The tyrant is shot in the jaw and imprisoned while the Doctor and his companions slip quietly away. As the TARDIS departs, the Doctor tells his comrades:


Our destiny is in the stars, so let's go and search for it.




Analysis

The final story of the first season is an historical story, and once again it supports the popular fan theory that there wasn't a dud among the historicals. It doesn't match the wonderful atmosphere of Marco Polo, nor the complexity of The Aztecs, but it is well-done and full of great moments.

If the story does have one failing, it's the uncomfortable mixture of tones. On the one hand you have the fun of the Doctor's ruse to get clothes from the tailor, and the comedy jailer character. But this same jailer also intimates that he would give Barbara favourable treatment if she has sex with him. And all of this is set against an incredibly grim backdrop. The setting of the story is one of tyranny and bloodthirsty brutality, and the story doesn't shy away from that. So mixing that with light entertainment high jinks doesn't quite work.

However, all of the major characters are well-drawn and given plenty to do. The plot is interesting and executed well. There are a couple reversals of fortune that land characters back where they started, and maybe the story could have benefitted from being one episode shorter, but this doesn't really bother the viewer too much, as the story is fun, and the stakes are well realized.

All in all, The Reign of Terror is an enjoyable, if a tad underwhelming, end to a superb debut season for the series. Its wonderful ending leaves you anxious to see where else the TARDIS will take us in the years to come.

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