Classic Doctor Who: Reign of Terror, Part 1

Classic Doctor Who (Classic Who episode list here, previous entry here, next entry here.)

Season 1, Story 8

Reign of Terror (Part 1, Episodes 1-3)


So, going in, I know this one is about the French Revolution. I also know it’s the first “season finale” ever for Doctor Who, even though season finales weren’t the thing then that they are now. Anyway, it’s the end of the first season. Wow, there’s so much more to go…and at the time, they had no idea if it would even continue. Wild.


When we last left our friends, Susan was feeling a little weird about always wandering around, and the Doctor was taking out his anger about this on Ian. He’s determined to drop them off at their next habitable stop.

Anyway, “A Land of Fear” opens with people wandering in a forest…no explanation. Oh well.

And there’s the TARDIS, looking slightly less miniature than it has recently, which is nice.

Ian and Barbara are weirdly ok with getting kicked out. Susan, though, does NOT want them to go. My head canon says that the Doctor has noticed that he’s getting attached to them and is trying to get rid of them before he gets more attached. That would explain the ridiculous excuse for getting angry that he came up with. And maybe he’s trying to resist the conscience-building effects they seem to be having on him? After becoming actually altruistic in the Sensorites experience, maybe he’s afraid of where this will take him?

Oh yeah, I forgot that Barbara and Ian actually WANT to go home. They’re showing more insight than basically any New Who companion—“the longer we leave it, the harder it’ll be.”

Yes, please make sure you’re where you think you are. The Doctor is really ridiculously convinced that he’s got it right, against the evidence of all previous experience. Ian totally plays him! Good thing the Doctor gets better at seeing through that kind of thing as he gets older. Although I DO wish he’d hang out with companions or former companions for drinks every now and then.

It’s never a rabbit, Doctor! Well, ok, except for that one time it was.

Ian’s caught a random grubby terrified boy. I keep expecting him to speak French, forgetting the TARDIS translation circuits.

The Doctor is totally fine with a mild distance error of reaching Paris instead of London. Thankfully Ian and Barbara are a little more savvy and know that distance isn’t the only potential error.

Is it NORMAL for people to stand that close to each other in this era of filmmaking? Because Ian and Barbara totally look like they’re about to make out. Which I would be totally ok with.

How would you NOT ship this?

They’re exploring a village, or at least a house, and ha, the Doctor wants Ian to look through the grimy window because Ian’s eyes might be sharper (and the Doctor’s admitting this). Actually-physically-old Doctor is so weird. Any New Who regeneration would already know what’s on the other side of the window.

Again, Ian doing the detective work that we’ll see from the Doctor in the future. “What do you think a candlestick like that’s doing in a place like this?”

Barbara the history teacher identifying the era by the clothes—also something we’ll see from the Doctor in the future, once he learns the history of basically every culture in the universe. Also, this trunk is suspiciously well stocked with things our heroes might need. …which actually makes sense if they’re right that it’s a “stopping off place” on an escape route.

“Signed by Robespierre;” finally they clue in, with an impressive “Oh crap” face from Ian.

Ha! Robespierre! …Oh wait…

So this would be the point at which you should boogie back to the TARDIS…which probably means this is the point where they get caught. Title drop!

Sure enough, the Doctor just got taken out. Ooh, putting on the period clothes!

Barbara and Susan tried to hide their jealousy that Ian got the most ruffles.

Ok, since when (and WHY??) is the Reign of Terror the Doctor’s favorite period in Earth history???

A reasonable man with a gun, and his annoying companion. Oops, Barbara lied to protect the Doctor and now these guys are even more suspicious.

Ghee-otine, not gill-otine, darn it. And seriously, the sidekick guy is terrible at hiding. You’re shouting, dude.

Here come the soldiers. Are they seriously playing La Marseillaise? I assume that’s the soundtrack, and not the advancing soldiers ACTUALLY playing it as they march. I know that’s not supposed to be a funny moment, but it’s cracking me up. Like…I don’t know…if they did an episode in the mid-1900s in the US and played Hail to the Chief every time the President walked in.

Convenient and highly unlikely decision on the part of the soldiers to not go in the house. These soldiers are asses to each other…I suppose this is supposed to represent the poorly disciplined commoners who have gained power? Not sure how I feel about that. “The intention is to break our nerve.” Well, it’s working on the sidekick.

Shouldn’t someone have checked on the Doctor by now? Ah, now they’re trying to.

Oops, freaked out sidekick heads out the door. Um, he’s just one guy, and you all have guns; why are you staring at him like you’re terrified of him?

Darn it, reasonable guy, why do you have to go out too? “You’ll listen to me!” Um, I can’t think of any idea why they would do that. …Except that it’s working. Well, until he shows off his snobbery. Hmph. Dead noblemen.

Ian is looking for the Doctor and is somehow completely unaware of the fighting below. It’s not like 18th-century houses were particularly soundproof; surely you had to have heard the gunfire?

Sigh, now they’re all captured. Well, except for the Doctor. Oops, burning the house down. Ah, he’s locked in a room. Seriously, those noblemen didn’t particularly deserve to live.

Hmm, random terrified boy reappears. Well, that’s nice.

Ok, Hartnell’s being REALLY dramatic here in his not-quite-death scene. Wow, fire over the credits! That’s impressive!

Flames…flames…on the side of my face…

More La Marseillaise to start the next episode, “Guests of Madame Guillotine.” Doctor still unconscious; here’s the guillotine. Well, that was quick.

Humans are disturbingly good at inventing death machines.

Snerk, French prison guard talks like a bad imitation of a pirate. Ugh, he’s flirting with Barbara. Well, maybe that’s her escape ticket. Or not, since she slapped him. I love it when Barbara goes badass, although it’s probably not a very good strategy in this situation.

The first injury of many for this guy.

Darn, they didn’t even show the Doctor’s escape! Finally somebody pronounces guillotine correctly. Well, Jean-Pierre is cute, and suspiciously well-informed. And hey, good for the Doctor, going to rescue his friends! Although I wonder if he would have rescued Ian and Barbara at this point if Susan weren’t with them? Doctor speaks French (I wonder if he’s getting translated into Celtic or something and the kid has no idea what he’s saying?).

Ha, the Doctor, just awake from nearly dying of smoke inhalation, striding across an open meadow with his cane. Well, that’s the kind of Doctor I’m used to.

Susan is getting seriously despondent without the Doctor. Yikes. Barbara, using her wits as usual; Susan…wow, shut up, Susan.

Meanwhile, Ian, who’s made friends with an injured cellmate, is thinking along the same lines as Barbara. Oops, cellmate is dying, actually…and he’s really an English spy? For a second I thought he was asking Ian to help France plot war against England, which would be hilarious. Instead, he’s asking Ian to find “James Stirling.” Ok, to the Google; was James Stirling real? Eh…possibly not.

Ian, repeating everything out loud, with proper diction. I hope no guards are listening. The Sign of the Chien Gris? The grey dog?

Back to the Doctor, who’s asking for directions. “You’ve come a long way?” “Yes, further than you would think.” I actually LOLd.

The Doctor WAS getting along just fine with this overseer guy; now he’s antagonized him. “I suppose you think you’re very clever,” the dude says. Well, yes. That hasn’t changed. Oops, asking for papers. Aaaand the Doctor’s now on pickax duty.

Barbara’s trying to tunnel out. Susan, for goodness sake, pull it together. Nearly caught; saved just in time by “LeMaitre,” who hasn’t appeared yet but is apparently important. Maybe that’s the jerk of a judge who sent them here?

Unless this is LeMaitre? Ian, getting sassy! And impressively dishonest. Well, kind of—surely instead of saying they didn’t talk at all, he could have just said they were talking about the now-dead guy’s injury or something? Anyway, this well-dressed guy who might be LeMaitre makes the jerk jailer very nervous, which is nice.

Susan’s scared of rats?

The Doctor’s holding up rather well on pickax duty. And he has a plan! …Involving the eclipse? Really? Again? And pickpocketing the guard; wow!

Seriously, has it never occurred to these guys to knock the guard over the head?

Aaah! Did the Doctor really just knock the guy out?!? With a pickax???

I don’t even know how to process this image.

I’m really conflicted. On the one hand, I’m pretty sure he’s knocked people out through other means even in the new series. On the other, it’s way more physically violent than he’s at all comfortable with later on.

And back to the casual strolling. Is he EVER going to get to Paris? Wait, did the pickax crew interlude contribute to the plot at all?

How is it still 5 km to Paris? I thought Jean-Pierre said it was only 4 in the first place?

Meanwhile, actually in Paris, Barbara and Susan are getting carried off to the guillotine! Typical, companions about to be killed at the cliffhanger…


On to “A Change of Identity.” Whose identity will be changed?


Is the Doctor FINALLY in Paris?

Random dudes we don’t know (do we?), apparently planning a rescue! Well, that’s nice.

LeMaitre calls the jailer, and LeMaitre makes the jailer so nervous that he LEAVES THE KEYS IN THE LOCK. Seriously? And the keyhole is conveniently located where Ian can just reach it.

Susan, still looking despondent. It’s hard to maintain sympathy for her. I think she’s still blue-screened from possibly losing the Doctor, which does actually make sense. But there’s no actual reason for her to be too exhausted to try to escape, when Barbara is holding up just fine.


Good thing these dashing men are here to rescue them (and…um…kill a lot of people), since Susan is COMPLETELY FREAKING WORTHLESS.

The Doctor has found a conveniently bloodthirsty tailor, and so far is managing not to ruin everything by getting pissed off at him. Meanwhile, Barbara and Susan are being cared for, so maybe Susan can finally get it together. She’s been so much stronger in other episodes that this is ridiculous.

Ian’s blindingly white shirt seems like it would be a liability in this escape situation.

Glow-in-the-dark clothing was the hottest new trend in the 1790s.

Most. Useless. Jailer. Ever.

LeMaitre…talking out loud…to Ian? Well, no…I guess he’s going to follow Ian?

Barbara and Susan’s rescuers are figuring out that someone has been betraying them. I’m not sure I can handle any more characters, so I hope it’s not yet another person. On the other hand, we also haven’t met any good candidates for the job of traitor.

Unless it’s this guy, Leon! Although he’s immediately in love with Barbara, so that seems a tad unlikely. Can’t tell if he’s smitten or menacing.

The Doctor has found a funny hat! That habit will certainly continue to come up.

I wear feathers; feathers are cool now.

And fake credentials! I’ve caught myself expecting him to pull out the psychic paper several times; I guess this is close enough. I suppose this is the change of identity referred to in the title.

“But when you’re assisted by idiots…” says the jailer. “Yes, yes, we understand each other,” says the Doctor. Snerk. Actually, your assistants AREN’T idiots, Doctor…but still, snerk. Oops, LeMaitre is presumably on to the Doctor, and taking him off to see Robespierre. Will the Doctor be able fake his way through that?

Meanwhile, Leon is still flirting irritatingly with Barbara. The first in a long line of Doctor Who companions whom EVERYONE has to fancy. She has the good sense to go to bed. Actually this is a lot like the Rose/Jack meeting, except Barbara’s way less susceptible. It…probably helps when you’re not being written by Moffat, admittedly.

Oops, somebody just turned up with the Doctor’s ring, claiming it’s evidence against “a traitor!” That must be the tailor, who apparently wasn’t as easily tricked as the Doctor thought. Cliffhanger!


Thoughts on this half of the serial:

I’m enjoying it, despite being a bit overwhelmed by characters. Barbara and Ian are being badasses as usual, and the Doctor has had some genuinely funny moments. Susan…sigh. Ok. It definitely makes sense that she would be freaked out at being separated from the Doctor, who’s her only family, her protector, and the only constant in her very rootless life. And as far as she knows, he’s almost certainly dead. So yes, she should be very upset. I get that.

But. BUT. This is the point where she should start drawing on some kind of inner strength. That’s just basic character development. When you’re separated from the mentor figure, it’s your time to shine. And we KNOW she has inner strength, because she’s displayed it repeatedly in other episodes. Instead she’s lolling about, literally physically collapsing, and emotionally falling apart so badly that it sabotages Barbara’s escape plan. I do not understand this characterization, and it BADLY detracts from her character. At this point she’s not even really sympathetic, just annoying.

Ok. Maybe she’ll improve; she has three more episodes to go. Onward! (Next entry here.)

5 thoughts on “Classic Doctor Who: Reign of Terror, Part 1

  1. Susan is very irritating isn’t she? Given that she’s a more experienced time traveller than either Ian or Barbara it seems more than a little strange that she’s acting like the young child she (presumably only?) appears to be.

    I always like to think that the reason Susan borrowed the French Revolution book in An Unearthly Child is because she wanted to read up on the era, given that it’s her grandfather’s favourite.

    The timescale in the second episode seems to be seriously out of kilter. Ian, Barbara and Susan are already in Paris when the Doctor emerges from the burning house. Unless they went by express carriage this doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

    Some stories with a couple of missing episodes (The Ice Warriors, The Invasion) can easily be enjoyed without them (a testament to how some stories are padded out, I guess). But I spent the best part of twenty years without the audios or recons of 4 and 5 so always had to jump from ep three to ep six.

    It was only when I got the DVD that I finally realised I’d been missing out on so much. Four and five are the absolute dramatic heart of the story (the first three episodes are a string of entertaining set pieces and character studies whilst the sixth veers off in a rather unsatisfactory direction). A shame that the two vital instalments are missing (and also that the animation is so hyperactive) but it’s still possible to get a feel for the major points of the story – especially the conflict between Ian and Barbara ….


    1. That’s a good point about the time scale in ep 2! I hadn’t caught that.

      Ha, yes, I’m sure that’s why Susan wanted that book. And given that she immediately spotted inaccuracies in the book, they must have discussed it a few times. Still leaves the question of why such a horrifically bloody time period is the Doctor’s favorite…


Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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