Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"The Crusade"

The Crusade

Story 14
Aired: Mar 27 - Apr 17, 1965

Episode 1 – The Lion
Episode 2 – The Knight of Jaffa
Episode 3 – The Wheel of Fortune
Episode 4 – The Warlords

Written by David Whitaker
 
Directed by Douglas Camfield

Synopsis

The TARDIS arrives in 12th century Palestine, currently in the grip of a Holy War between King Richard the Lionheart and the Saracen ruler Saladin.

Caught up in a Saracen ambush, Barbara is abducted by the attackers, while the Doctor, Ian and Vicki are welcomed at King Richard's palace in the nearby city of Jaffa. Ian is granted permission to ride off in search of Barbara as an official emissary, with the King knighting him Sir Ian of Jaffa, while the Doctor and Vicki stay behind and try to avoid getting involved in court intrigue.

King Richard secretly plans to arrange a marriage between his sister, Joanna, and Saladin's brother, Saphadin, in the hope of ending the war; when Joanna discovers the plan, she steadfastly refuses. The Doctor and Vicki flee the palace after making an enemy of the King's advisor, the Earl of Leicester, eventually reaching the wood where the TARDIS materialized. Ian is already waiting there with Barbara, having rescued her from the savage clutches of the Saracen Emir El Akir; however, the travelers’ escape is almost thwarted when the Doctor is seized by a party of English soldiers led by the Earl. Fortunately, they manage to escape to the safety of the ship by means of a ruse, the soldiers believing that the brave Sir Ian has been spirited away by sorcerers!


Analysis

Like all the historical stories so far, The Crusade is a highlight of the era. It is wonderfully written, full of interesting characters, sparkling dialogue and many wonderful moments. Of the four episodes, Episode 3 is a small masterpiece, with several scenes that pull off the amazing trick of making simple conversation absolutely riveting. All the performances are great, from the subtle work of Bernard Kay as Saladin, to the blustery bombast of Julian Glover. Jean Marsh brings her A-game to a relatively small role and even the smaller supporting parts are well-acted.

David Whitaker's scripts are bold and innovative in a number of ways. Firstly, it depicts the Muslim characters in a somewhat even-handed way. While some are evil (El Akir) and some are comedic types (the clothier, the bandit), it's also hugely refreshing how many of the characters are treated positively. Saladin and Saraphin are the two most radical examples; while they are enemies of the English, they are shown to be reasonable, noble, and in many ways, more rational and well-intentioned than Richard and his court. That would be hard to pull off today, let alone in 1965, and it is a real triumph of the script, direction and performances.

The other accomplishment of the scripts are their dialogue. Sections were famously written in iambic pentameter, and this serves to elevate the dialogue from the standard exposition-heavy style of Doctor Who to something a little more graceful.

Douglas Camfield directs the story with self-assurance, style and a real grasp of the importance of pace. It's no wonder why he would become a firm favourite of many production teams, as well as the fans. Indeed he is a strong candidate for the best director to ever work on the classic series.

The only let-down to the whole thing is the fact that so many plot threads get left behind. We never learn what happens to Sir William, for instance, and the major plot thread of Joanna's impending marriage to Saphadin is not resolved. Fascinating characters like Saladin and Saphadin are simply dropped, never to return, and that's a bit of a shame.

But by and large, one has to consider The Crusade as a worthy equal to other great historicals such as The Aztecs and Marco Polo.

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