January 21: "A Bargain of Necessity" / "Prisoners of Conciergerie"

(The Reign of Terror episodes 5 & 6)

It's another animated episode, but thankfully this one seems to be edited a little less hectically.  "A Bargain of Necessity" has some nice moments: the fight between Jules and Leon sounds good (and the animation is quite good here, actually), and there are some more moments of comedy, such as when the Doctor convinces the jailer to let Barbara go so they can follow her but then insists that the jailer was supposed to do the following after she goes free.  And Barbara and Ian have a nice argument about the Revolution itself: "The Revolution isn't all bad, and neither are the people who support it.  It changed things for the whole world, and good, honest people gave their lives for that change," Barbara states.  It's a moment to reflect that, even though in this story we're ostensibly on the side of those fighting the Terror, not everyone who supports the Revolution should be automatically worthy of disdain.

But really, the most significant moment comes when we look in again on Robespierre.  "Mark my words, Lemaitre," he says; "if this plot is successful, tomorrow, the 27th of July 1794, will be a date for history."  (Of course, he should actually call it the 9th of Thermidor Year II, but never mind.)  It is indeed a date for history: we're going to witness the downfall of Robespierre.  But as far as our heroes are concerned, the more pressing problem is the Doctor's seeming betrayal of Jules to Lemaitre, which ends the episode.

But no, it turns out that Lemaitre is in fact the man Ian was told to find: James Stirling himself.  We're back on video for the final episode, and after a moment's readjustment to a shot language no longer like an action movie, we learn that Barrass is plotting Robespierre's downfall and Ian knows where he's going to be.  (And let's take a moment to address something often called a mistake but isn't: Webster tells Ian to look for Jules Renan at the sign of Le Chien Gris.  He does this, and in fact Jules' colleagues find him there -- off-screen and in a missing episode, admittedly, but still.  When exactly Webster told Ian about Barrass and the Sinking Ship is a different problem, but it's not that the name of the inn changed between episodes 2 and 6: they're two separate places.)  This means that not only do we meet Robespierre, we also encounter Barrass and Napoleon Bonaparte, as they plot out the future of France (in a meeting that almost certainly never actually happened) -- because if you're in revolutionary France, obviously you need to meet Napoleon.

Robespierre is taken away by soldiers. ("Prisoners of
Conciergerie") ©BBC
But the best part is when Lemaitre and Ian rush to the palace to help Robespierre; it's too late, obviously, but it does mean that Ian (and therefore the audience) is actually present for Robespierre's arrest -- we even hear the gunshot to the jaw.  It's the first time that the TARDIS crew has been present for a significant historical event, and it's quite fascinating to watch it unfold.  Really, this entire serial is quite good, even if some of the history is a bit suspect -- the period is quite effectively conveyed, even if it's mainly through a prison and a safehouse.  It's certainly entertaining, and it makes you want to learn more about the French Revolution -- quite a compliment indeed.

And finally, the episode ends with a conversation about how there's nothing the Doctor or his friends could do to change history, which leads into a rather sweet end-of-season speech about their destiny lying in the stars.  And that's how the first season of Doctor Who ends.