Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros try to keep their head as they examine this historical Who...
Doctor Who's first season was coming to a close when The Doctor, his granddaughter and their two semi-reluctant travelling companions touched-down in revolutionary France, whilst the original remit of Doctor Who (to entertain and educate in equal measure) was still being adhered to...
The year is 1794 and the TARDIS materialises in what appears to be England; Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) want to leave, but their plans to finally give up time-travelling with The Doctor (William Hartnell) and his granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford) are thwarted when they realise that they have landed in France at the height of the infamous Reign of Terror and the ensuing adventure sees the TARDIS crew imprisoned and coming face-to-face with the infamous Robespierre.
The opening of The Reign of Terror sees The Doctor and Susan getting ready to say their goodbyes, with our favourite Timelord showing a considerable amount of indignation at his time-travelling teaching assistants wanting to bail out now that they have apparently landed on present-day Earth. With The Doctor reluctant to even see them off, Ian and Barbara set about buttering up The Doctor, with Barbara almost draping herself over him (and Jacqueline Hill looking so cute doing so), almost trying to massage his ego to get him on-side, which was apparently the same approach that members of the cast and crew had to adopt when dealing with the often-grumpy Hartnell in real life.
Many Doctor Who fans site the period stories of the sixties (even though Troughton only really did one, The Highlanders) as the "dull historical ones"; it is pretty hard to deny that these history-based adventures have aged far better than their futuristic counterparts and the main cast preferred working on the historical stories, especially William Hartnell, who had something of a passion for history. It is understandable as to why the cast favoured historical stories over futuristic ones, as would be far easier to draw on their stage experience, particularly Shakespeare, and have a better handle on the drama, rather than playing a malevolent, xenophobic alien from the planet Zog.
The above is best demonstrated in a scene where The Doctor enters the establishment of a garment-seller and it consists of Hartnell trying to acquire a new set of clothes to masquerade as a high-ranking official; Hartnell's years of stage work comes to the fore here, as he seems to revel in something that harks back to his love of treading the boards, playing against John Barrard as the tailor who is suspicious of the mysterious would-be customer. The scene is humorous and well-played, with both actors bouncing off each other and Hartnell only fluffing a couple of times. He gives that particular duty to William Russell this time around...
That the Beeb does what it does best with The Reign of Terror, providing sumptuous costumes and sets augments the drama aspect, which in turn gets the cast to deliver their best - stick Hartnell in a hat, and he's happy. Dress Hill up in feathers and you have a revelation! Here, every costume worn by the cast has an authentic look to them, with Hartnell relishing the opportunity to wear period clothing. The sets are pretty impressive, ranging from the seedy country houses to squalid gaols to the luxurious residence of Robespierre, they all add to the rich atmosphere - although relatively cramped confines of the studio mean the safe-house that Susan and Barbara are sheltered in may very well have the smallest, yet most opulently decorated parlour in all of France.
You've got to feel sorry for Carole Ann Ford in this story; fresh from stretching her character a little - along with her acting skills - in The Sensorites, Susan is once again required to scream, get sick, twist her ankle at an inopportune moment, etc. There would be only two more stories to feature Susan and you have to wonder if the regressive creative steps her character has forced upon her in The Reign of Terror cemented her decision to leave. Susan started off as a mysterious and intriguing character in An Unearthly Child, but soon became a pain in the arse (or should that be ankle?) and more of a liability to the TARDIS crew, rather than a help; the fact that Susan spends a couple of episodes of The Reign of Terror afflicted with a nasty fever didn't do the character or the actress any favours.
As was the case with a number of sixties Doctor Who stories, the shooting happened to unfortunately coincide with one of the main members of the case, in this instance William Russell, being away on holiday; the potential absence of the show's action man was cleverly avoided by having William Russell shoot filmed inserts of his character to be used in the two episodes where he was not available. This action benefitted the look of the story, allowing for multiple set-ups and much snappier editing than it would have shooting these scenes on video - which would not have really been possible anyway...
Jacqueline Hill not only gets to look fabulous in period costume, but gets a couple of very strong scenes that show her skills as a dramatic actress, especially when Barbara is told of the demise of a man who is revealed to be traitor; Barbara enjoyed a brief moment of kinship with him prior to his premature departure from existence and the sound of anger and disbelief in her voice is powerful stuff, especially given that Ian had a hand in the traitor's death. Ms Hill had something of a raw deal as far as the original line-up was concerned, as you had William Hartnell as the lead, Carole Ann Ford as the young person the target audience could identify with, William Russell as the dashing go-getter and Jacqueline Hill was the other one. Ms Hill was given her chance to shine now and again (her commanding part in The Aztecs being a perfect example), but the role of Barbara was usually an understated one that never really got the respect it (or the actress for that matter) deserved.
As for the guest actors, future Rentaghost stalwart Edward Brayshaw materialises near the end of episode three and certainly makes his presence known, giving a performance - as the slimy Leon Colbert - that has most of the mannerisms and the cadence later seen in his appearance as The War Chief in The War Games, with that same measured, rhythmic vocal delivery and almost mechanical physical gestures. Jack Cunningham makes a good fist of his role as The Jailer - being the sort of contemptible, gruff plebeian who is probably secretly delighted by his own outward indifference to the suffering and misery being inflicted upon those who enter his jail. He's the sort of hissable villain who probably wasn't above gobbing into the food that he serves to the prisoners and Cunningham plays this character to the hilt, reminding the viewer of one of Peter Butterworth's earthier Carry On characters.
The story might be looked upon as being a little thin to spread over four episodes (the fact that the characters keep being captured and ending up in The Conciergerie is a good indicator), but things are kept bubbling away nicely, as writer Dennis Spooner always knew how to use humour to maintain interest during historical Doctor Who stories, with the scene that sees Hartnell roped into a chain-gang of tax-evaders being a good example, though The First Doctor still hadn't learned how to avoid whacking someone over the head in order to remedy a troubling situation.
One-shot Doctor Who director Henric Hirsch does a pretty good job of staging this story, but he suffered nervous exhaustion mid-way through, and was replaced - albeit uncredited - for episode three by John Gorrie (who had previously directed The Keys of Marinus); there aren't any radical stylistic differences between the five helmed by Hirsch and the one directed by Gorrie, so it all flows nicely. It's a pity that Hirsch didn't stay on and do more Doctor Who assignments, but it's more than likely that his mid-story meltdown seriously blotted his copybook with producer Verity Lambert, and shit-attacks like that really aren't tolerated in the television world.
The Animated episodes
This particular story suffered during the BBC's short-sighted purging of their archives during the seventies. Dupes of episodes one, two, three and six were returned to the BBC in the eighties from Cyprus (which had not screened the story, but had possession of copies that had came from Malta), and another copy of episode six had already been returned to the BBC by a private collector.
Episodes four and five, The Tyrant of France and A Bargain of Necessity, are still missing from the BBC's archives and these episodes have been animated for your viewing pleasure. This was a joint venture between Pup, Theta-Sigma and Big Finish, and the results are variable to say the least. Animating Doctor Who is always a subject that will be hotly debated amongst hardened fans; The animated episodes of The Invasion seriously divided opinions, with some of them enjoying the efforts, but with others seriously miffed at some of the liberties taken and some of the errors made (Zoe's incorrect outfit being the primary example).
Let's get the bad things out of the way - the most disconcerting thing about the animation style used here is that it in no way attempts to replicate the shooting style of the original episodes. Most of the shots are short, snappy and involve some sort of movement of the "camera", resulting in a blizzard of shots, many of which only seem to last a couple of seconds. It feels like the director in charge of organising the shots was on some sort of caffeine-fuelled Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder bender. We appreciate that having shorter shots creatively makes it easier to break down tasks for multiple animators and get the work done quicker, but not when it begins to compromise the original stylistic vision of what was originally filmed.
It is a great pity that the opportunity to animate two episodes of an otherwise complete William Hartnell story has been soured by the insistence on using modern filmmaking/editing techniques that are anachronistic to sixties Doctor Who and also happen to make the animated episodes stick out like a sore thumb when viewed with the surrounding existing ones. The other main problem is the freaky "glassy-eyed" look that most of the characters seem to have - the attempt at injecting a little more realism by having objects reflected in the eyes of characters only serves to almost hypnotically draw the viewer toward the peepers and detract from the story.
William Hartnell's animated likeness isn't that great, and when he is speaking, it only seems to make things worse - all of the other character look fine, but they really seemed to miss Hartnell's essence, appearing like the quintessential Les Dawson quip about his mother-in-law looking like a "bulldog chewing a wasp".
Now we'll move onto what's good about the animation - the representations of the characters are pretty impressive, with the cast being recognisable, especially Barbara and Susan; some of the rotoscoping (taking live-action footage and essentially "tracing" over it) injects a degree of life into some of the characters and the backgrounds of the "sets" are most impressive.
Rumour has it that this joint animation venture has been set up to possibly churn out several other animated episodes in order to present "complete" stories; it's a pretty safe bet that episode four of The Tenth Planet will also be animated in this style - we can only hope that the ADHD editing will be a toned down a little.
Though all of the surviving episodes were recovered from the same source, the image quality of the episodes is not particularly consistent, with episodes one and two faring comparatively poorly; heavy grain and a general lack of image detail (The lines across William Hartnell's forehead disappear into a mess of video noise) are the most notable problems. Things take an upswing with episode three, with a sharper image, more fine detail and cleaner look to the visuals, more in keeping with the average look of a restored sixties Doctor Who episode.
The animated episodes look fabulous, with the all-digital source providing a wonderfully crisp and vibrant image. The occasional example of banding does little to detract from these lovely transfers.
The audio for the surviving episodes sound pretty good, in line with the usual quality of Doctor Who in the sixties. Stanley Meyers' incidental music, which slyly uses portions of La Marseillaise, sounds perfectly fine.
The soundtracks used for the animated episodes came from off-air recordings made by Doctor Who fans. The overall quality is certainly a step-down from the existing episodes, but audio wizard Mark Ayres has done his best to piece together the best quality audio from the different audio recordings available. Sure, there are moments when the fidelity of the dialogue will take a nosedive and switch to an inferior source, but this only happens once or twice and won't detract from your enjoyment.
Don't Lose Your Head: Well, it was fairly likely that somewhere in the extras, the title of a certain French Revolution-set Carry On film was going to be employed somewhere. Directed by the ever-dependable Chris Chapman, this 25 minute examination of this rather-maligned Doctor Who story has the participation of regulars William Russell and Carole Ann Ford, who have some amusing little nuggets of information to share, with both of them starting things off by saying how much they prefered the historical stories as opposed to "mad sci-fi", to quote Ms Ford. The latter half of this enjoyable documentary is centered upon director Henric Hersch's breakdown mid-way through the story; Hersch didn't particularly endear himself to the cast (the fact that Hartnell was not particularly tolerant of foreigners didn't help matters), but when he collapsed, people seemed to rally round to get the production and Hartnell even complied when told to back off a bit. Carole Ann Ford appears very knowledgable about the production of this story, and along with Production Assistant Tim Combe, a detailed account of Henric's stress-related collapse is given.
The vivid recollection of the participants, coupled with the amusing use of a guillotine graphic that literally slashes its way across the screen in order to cut to another interviewee or another section of the documentary, which adds a bit of zing to the proceedings, not to mention the jaunty Parisienne music, which injects a distinctly European flavour, make this a fascinating examination of the production of one of the more maligned stories to emerge during William Hartnell's time as The Doctor. We won't blow all of the goodies for you, as in a time where spoliers jump out at you from all corners, it's best an air of mystery be maintained in order to get the most out of it. Suffice to say that we have another winner on our hands from the guys.
Audio Commentary: There might only be four of the six episodes in full existence, but there are no half-measures when it comes to the stacked audio commentary to be found here. Toby Hadoke holds out collective hands through as he takes us through The Reign of Terror, along with a varied selection of participants to map out the way, with Carole Ann Ford Production Designer Tim(othy) Combe Neville Smith (D’Argenson) Jeffry Wickham (Webster) Caroline Hunt (Danielle) and Patrick Marley (Soldier) for the surviving episodes, and Ronald Pickup (Physician) Paul Vanezis and Phillip Morris for the animated sections.
Hadoke sets the tone well when he points out that they are watching The Reign of Terror forty-eight years after it originally went out, eliciting groans from some, followed by surprised reactions from everyone when Smith reveals his jobbing-actor credentials by saying that he’d never seen it before, “I was doing something else…” he bluntly states, “I was working on something else. Five-fifteen it went out… I think…” Wickham had never seen the finished show, either, but is rather blunt when assessing his work on it. “I’m terrible,” the thespian confesses, “I don’t think I’m very good, and I don’t think I can say any more than that… I’ve been terribly bad quite often enough for that not to be an exception…”
Ever the anecdote-spewing scenery-chewer, Wickham also reveals the dangers of being unexpectedly called into the studio for a corpse-shot after a liquid lunch. “They said, would you mind coming back being dead,’” he recalls with a good dollop of relish. “So I went in, lay down on my bunk, they threw a sack over me, which they briefly pulled back, and then it was put back again… and some hours later, I woke in a darkened studio. I fumbled my way towards the green light over the exit, and thank God they hadn‘t locked the studio or I would have been there all night!”
The lovely Caroline joins the swollen ranks of those unnerved by their leading actor on the show, as she admits: “I was terrified of him… because he was very grumpy,” Hunt recalls, presumably from behind the sofa; “That’s what he seemed to be, very grumpy, and a bit scarifying, but I was pretty scared of everyone. I was a bit of a wuss, really”. Ford later reveals that her onscreen grandfather: “…Needed his ego stroked. He was a lot less secure [in his work] than people think. He needed to be told he was good.” Combe goes on to reveal a valuable tip that in order to make a grumpy Hartnell happy, all it required was sticking his name on the back of a bog-standard BBC chair. Has anyone though of trying the same technique with Christian Bale?
With a lot of actors not having that high opinion of the whole Doctor Who experience, it’s really refreshing to hear a noted thespian like Pickup recalling his enthusiasm when he got it. Literally fresh out of RADA, he was offered the three-scene role and couldn‘t accept quick enough: “Of course I’d like to do it!” Pickup fondly remembers. “So, out of the blue I was suddenly employed literally a week after I left [RADA]… and I sat there like I’d died and gone to heaven… seeing all these famous faces, particularly William Hartnell, whom as a kid I’d grown up with, y’know, going to the movies, seeing him play Sergeant-Majors and cantankerous folk of different kinds”. Surely many struggling stage-school grads are working on Voodoo dolls as we speak…
For the most of the missing instalments, we have two of the guys who have devoted their time putting right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that their next leap will be the leap home. Oh, bugger - wrong time-travelling TV show. Still, Paul Vanezis comes packing fascinating stories about the location of missing stories, with his Mediterranean mail-shot caper the standout. “I got two replies back from the about fifteen letters I wrote,” the raider of the lost archive begins. ”…and I got a reply back from Cyprus TV and they said ’yeah… we showed this in 1966, and we’ve got the following thirteen episodes’ and it was three of four episodes of The Aztecs story, all six episodes of The Sensorites, and episodes one, two, three and six of The Reign of Terror.” Vanezis might seem one of the selfless white knights of Doctor Who fandom, but he reveals that his motives weren’t quite as noble as you’d think. “I’m not ashamed to say that I approached it in an entirely selfish way,” he admits. “I wasn’t interested in getting them back for the fans. I just wanted to get them back for me to watch.” He points out [purely coincidentally] that the BBC had sent out telexes to various worldwide stations looking for them at about the same time, but that Vanezis’ Greek heritage might have been what to the Cypriots to dig a little deeper into the archives. Fellow Doctor Who rescuer Phillip Morris is philosophical about the possibility of other lost Doctor Who stories being out there somewhere, and closes out his time offering us fans hope, with the words: “Everything that can be done, I can assure absolutely everyone out there, it is being done.” There is some conflict about just who is responsible for bringing the episodes back from Cyprus, but Hadoke stress that “…Ian Levine’s contribution must not be downplayed…” and we heartily agree, as any man who can rescue The Daleks from the BBC incinerator with the same tenacity as Windsor Davies saving abeach ball from a fire deserves all the recognition he’s owed.
When brought on for the final instalment, Patrick Marley spends a lot of the time reminiscing about the majority of his career, with only a few instances from what he’s watching. Given that he doesn’t really do as much as the other cast members on this commentary, then we suppose it is almost understandable. In spite of remembering it well, working with Hartnell isn’t something he vividly recalls for the track, and the closest we really get is his current take on the First Doctor when viewing the playback. “Watching this now,” he musters about Hartnell‘s curious hat, “…one feels why doesn’t someone say ‘Hey, something awful’s landed on your head’”.
This is another thoroughly entertaining listen, with the addition of the guys out to save Doctor Who from the bad decisions of the BBC giving it an added dimension in time and space, and Hadoke is uniformly excellent in steering the conversations to keep them lively and informative. There aren’t that many stories left for release now, so relish the time these guys have to leave their experiences on the show for posterity. Wickham probably sums things up best when he notes that: “It was quite a happy experience altogether, and quite an adventure”. Surely many others would agree with him on that one.
Production Subtitles: Writing this review at around the time of the New Years’ Honours List hitting the news, it makes us wonder about the nature of awards and how they are handed out. There are some who manage to attain excellence at something only once, with that singular, splashy win affording them an honour purely for propaganda purposes, whilst there are others that spend their lives bettering the understanding and knowledge of a chosen field, to better both themselves and others. If the accumulation of facts for the good of the people is fit to bestow no end of plaudits, then those compiling the average Doctor Who Production Subtitle Track really should get themselves bigger mantelpieces.
One of the biggest sniggers generated from the naturally wry sense of humour interlaced throughout these tracks is left to be found without the need for signposting. At the point where The Doctor distracts a yokel by point out that an eclipse was due any second, our faithful information stream amusing notes: “An African-American mathematician named Benjamin Banneker recently [to the era of The Reign of Terror] confounded astronomers and racists when he predicted the American solar eclipse of 14th April, 1879 with unprecedented accuracy”. Now what would Eddie Booth have made of that…?
This isn’t the mere series of dry facts and figures it would have been in lesser hands, as accurate criticisms are made at some of the areas where things were lacking, and not just lazily relying on comments about the fraught nature of the production. At one key juncture, the theatre director Henric Hirsch’s choices generated through his unfamiliarity of television is brought to attention. “He found the business of drawing up each episodes’ camera plan an unfamiliar and unhappy challenge, and his manner when speaking to the actors won him few friends among the cast… most problematic of all was Hirsch’s relationship with William Hartnell [who] began to ignore Hirsch’s wishes, enforcing his own will on the playing of various scenes”. There’s more tension to savour, including Hirsch’s collapse!
The technical side of things is covered as thoroughly as the audience at the end of an episode of TISWAS, with fluffs noted for our delectation, be they left in or clumsily removed prior to transmission. Most notable in the latter category is the extraction of a few frames which were left black during the filming, probably due to a cross-cutting gaff in the gallery. With an eagle-eye on events, the track points out: “You will doubtless have noticed the male prisoner sharing the tumbrel with Barbara and Susan. He’s David Banville, and extra, and in all the confusion he seems to have vanished from the tumbrel. However, if you rewind for another look, you can see him scarper a couple of seconds after the technical glitch”. Accurate, informative and utilising the word “scarper” - do information tracks really get any better than this?
A look the anger generated within the Napoleon 1st Society by the fictitious plot which had the dictator plotting with others to overthrow Robespierre - Jesus, and people snipe at Doctor Who fan clubs - the rare scene where William Russell isn’t his usual line-perfect self, the notation of every single camera-break, major revisions in the script, small changes in dialogue prior to recording, things like Peter Walker being noted as the first child actor to appear in the show and the expected Cliffs-Notes surrounding the historical events depicted in the programme, it’s all here. You might even say that it’s all predictable in its thoroughness.
We always look forward to the Production Subtitles on Doctor Who releases, and this is no exception. With the missing episodes causing headaches all over the shop for those putting this little number together, then being able to afford Reign of Terror as in-depth a look as would be given to a story with the full compliment of episodes is a real achievement. As such, we recommend Nicholas Pegg for the highest commendation possible, and with the theme of the show, it might be most appropriate to suggest that he be given the Legion d'Honneur for his services to bettering the understanding of a most beloved of television show. Watch, learn and enjoy.
Robespierre’s Domain Set Tour: Now this is very interesting, as the animated nature of the missing stories affords a classic Doctor Who story something which could have never been given it otherwise. Yes, folks, it’s a digital set tour of the models created for the reconstructions, and this gives us the chance to travel back in time and explore the production design in a way that is utterly unique. There is a dynamism to the "camera” pans which make you appreciate the work put into both the new work for the DVD and the original efforts of Roderick Laing et al. Accompanied by almost spectral sounds and echo-chamber enhanced dialogue from the show, there is an incredible atmosphere which is really disconcerting, and quite beguiling.
Photo Gallery: Many colour pictures we haven’t seen before, as well as ones from the pages of Doctor Who Monthlies past to give a feeling of nostalgia so intense it’s comparable to the rush of Diver’s Delight. Divided into three rough sections, we get publicity stills, production photographs and set reference shots. It is of great interest that the vast majority of the publicity snaps are in glorious colour, making the most of the work put into the show, and we would hazard a guess that their prolific nature was so as to make it easier to sell the show to stations around the world. There is shot of the imprisoned Barbara and Susan where the photography, lighting and colours are so lush, the pose so suggestive that it really looks like some form of up-scale pornography!
Seeing Hartnell decked out in his outlandish garb without the constraints of monochrome is almost joyous, and we defy anyone to be anything other than knocked out by this excellent gallery. It’s a wonderful collection of images which prove to any doubters that there was much more to the production design of Doctor Who than the grainy, monochrome footage which survives for posterity and taken at face value shows. Accompanied by a certain piece of patriotic French music (we won’t say which, but it’s the one that Clark W Griswald is certain that “Pate Foie Gras” is part of the lyrics) and you’ll have a blast. Oh, and Google “Diver’s Delight” when you have a minute…
Animation Gallery: Here is a collection of the materials used to create the animated episodes, including “character sheets,” which is a set of various angles and expressions of the main cast to be use for particular emotions at dramatic points in the story. These provide an enticing look at the care taken to bring these episodes back from E-Space, the attic of a BBC technician or wherever the Hell they disappeared to, and are essentially a 2D version of the “turntable” models used in computer animation. We get a series of stills from the finished product, as well as some virtual set-photos. It’s a nice inclusion, and can only sharpen your appreciation of the work put into the reconstructions.
PDF Materials: There is more to this set of Radio Times listings than the usual collection of delightful stuff we rightly expect, and who wouldn’t want to read a small feature detailing the new story starting up? Said piece was clearly written when the show was still fresh and brimming with possibilities, with most of the previous tales of either highest quality or groundbreaking for UK TV, and you feel this from the prose used. Everyone was still intrigued about the whole premise and particularly the title character, described in this particular piece as: “…that strange old gentleman of uncertain age”. It must have been so damned exciting not to have had everything laid out on a plate in front on you, leaving viewers to glean little bits and pieces over time, experiencing the joy of assembling them all together? As expected, you also the listings to all six episodes, as well as the final one containing the very nice, widely-seen photo of Hartnell in his famous hat - you know, the one which wasn’t always around…
Coming Soon Trailer: Break out the bubbly - sorry, we meant the bubble-wrap, as The Ark in Space is coming back to DVD in a 2-disc special edition! The Fourth Doctor's classic story has a cool trailer that really gets you psyched-up to fork out for another copy of it.
Historical Doctor Who stories have had an unfairly bad reputation over the years; although The Reign of Terror was one of the last stories to be release on video and it is one of the last stories to be released on DVD, this does not mean that it is in any way a poor story. The Reign of Terror is an entertaining, at times exciting story that allows characters to breathe and the main cast are bolstered by an impressive supporting cast.
Whilst you have to applaud those responsible for including animated episodes to essentially complete the story, the animation style is going to seriously polarise Doctor Who fans.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 28th January 2013
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Don't Lose Your Head
Easter Egg: No
Director: Henric Hirsch
Cast: William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill
Length: 148 minutes
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