Season 1 (Jan 1 - Jan 21)

January 1: "An Unearthly Child" / "The Cave of Skulls" (An Unearthly Child 1-2)
January 2: "The Forest of Fear" / "The Firemaker" (An Unearthly Child 3-4)
January 3: "The Dead Planet" / "The Survivors" (The Daleks 1-2)
January 4: "The Escape" / "The Ambush" (The Daleks 3-4)
January 5: "The Expedition" / "The Ordeal" (The Daleks 5-6)
January 6: "The Rescue" / "The Edge of Destruction" (The Daleks 7 & The Edge of Destruction 1)
January 7: "The Brink of Disaster" / "The Roof of the World" (The Edge of Destruction 2 & Marco Polo 1)
January 8: "The Singing Sands" / "Five Hundred Eyes" (Marco Polo 2-3)
January 9: "The Wall of Lies" / "Rider from Shang-Tu" (Marco Polo 4-5)
January 10: "Mighty Kublai Khan" / "Assassin at Peking" (Marco Polo 6-7)
January 11: "The Sea of Death" / "The Velvet Web" (The Keys of Marinus 1-2)
January 12: "The Screaming Jungle" / "The Snows of Terror" (The Keys of Marinus 3-4)
January 13: "Sentence of Death" / "The Keys of Marinus" (The Keys of Marinus 5-6)
January 14: "The Temple of Evil" / "The Warriors of Death" (The Aztecs 1-2)
January 15: "The Bride of Sacrifice" / "The Day of Darkness" (The Aztecs 3-4)
January 16: "Strangers in Space" / "The Unwilling Warriors" (The Sensorites 1-2)
January 17: "Hidden Danger" / "A Race Against Death" (The Sensorites 3-4)
January 18: "Kidnap" / "A Desperate Venture" (The Sensorites 5-6)
January 19: "A Land of Fear" / "Guests of Madame Guillotine" (The Reign of Terror 1-2)
January 20: "A Change of Identity" / "The Tyrant of France" (The Reign of Terror 3-4)
January 21: "A Bargain of Necessity" / "Prisoners of Conciergerie" (The Reign of Terror 5-6)

January 1: "An Unearthly Child" / "The Cave of Skulls"

(An Unearthly Child episodes 1 & 2)

So here it is, the start of the new year and therefore the start of my Epic Doctor Who Viewing™.  It feels like it should be momentous somehow, the first step on a journey that will last well over a year: at least into April 2015 -- and that's if you don't include any spin-offery or things of that nature.  Yet in the end I simply pulled the DVD off the shelf, popped it in the player, and sat down to watch the first two episodes of Doctor Who: episodes 1 and 2 of An Unearthly Child (or 100,000 BC, if you prefer).  So much for pomp and circumstance.

Rewatching these episodes, it's striking just how good they are.  I'm having difficulty thinking of another series premiere that's as good -- the only thing that comes to mind is Futurama, which, it must be said, is in rather a different league.  "An Unearthly Child" has rightly been praised by others, but that praise is nevertheless well-deserved.  The script is intelligently written, drawing us skilfully from the every day of London 1963 into an impossible craft, with Ian voicing the audience's disbelief while the Doctor (somewhat snidely but perhaps not unjustly) tolerates his questions and skepticism -- but only so far.  But it's not just the script; everyone's doing their best, with marvelous acting and great direction -- the point-of-view shots of Susan as Ian and Barbara recall earlier events is really quite wonderful to behold.  Meanwhile, the sound design is fantastic, and I can only imagine what it must have been like to experience the title sequence for the first time, with its bizarre moving patterns and otherworldly music: it's really unlike anything else on television at the time.  An impressive 25 minutes.

Yet "The Cave of Skulls" is just as good.  They've decided to give the cavemen dialogue, which all the actors involved deliver with utter conviction; anything less and it wouldn't have worked, but here they get away with it with ease.  There also seem to be some sly parallels with modern society, particularly when Za stands on that central rock and makes, essentially, campaign promises, while pointing out that Kal will let them down.  It's very good.

This episode is very much about the cavemen and is primarily concerned with setting them up.  This means that there's not as much time with the regular cast, but they get some good material anyway.  Particularly striking is the way in which the TARDIS being stuck as a police box is handled; this could have been very clunky, but instead it's given to the Doctor as almost a throwaway line, before Susan explains a little further.  And it's only the second episode ever of Doctor Who, and we've already gotten the "Doctor who?" joke (twice, even!).

January 2: "The Forest of Fear" / "The Firemaker"

(An Unearthly Child episodes 3 & 4)

The drama which began last time continues here.  As before, the direction in both of these episodes is excellent -- shots like Za being attacked by the beast and the fight between Za and Kal are particularly well done.  And the actors continue to take things utterly seriously, which really helps.  This is a genuinely scary place, as alien and unknowable as anything the Doctor and his fellow travelers may encounter.  Anthony Coburn's script does a good job of highlighting this: the scene with Za remembering what Ian told him, while Hur fails to understand, is just one such example of the thought that's gone into things.

Susan gives Ian an idea ("The Firemaker") ©BBC
Really, these four episodes could be viewed almost independently, telling the tale of two teachers ripped from their own time and thrown into a terrifying situation in which they have to learn to work with their fellow travelers in order to survive.  It's not really what we would nowadays call Doctor Who, but that's a strength here: you get the sense that anything could happen afterwards.  Although let's get this "the Doctor is a selfish dangerous old man" stuff out of the way right now: other than that scene where he picks up the rock, Hartnell gives us a person who is desperate to survive but still somewhat compassionate.  He may not have wanted to help Za, but he did save Ian's life and apologize to everyone for getting them into trouble.  He's not the crusader for justice that we see later, but neither is he completely self-centered.

An Unearthly Child as a whole may not resemble the shape of things to come, but what we get is still a compelling piece of television, even 50 years later.  Anthony Coburn may have grown to dislike the show after his treatment on his next, unproduced story (sometimes called The Masters of Luxor or The Robots), but he should have been proud of what he helped create here.  A very impressive beginning.

January 3: "The Dead Planet" / "The Survivors"

(The Daleks episodes 1 & 2)

As I sort of implied last time, episodes 2-4 of An Unearthly Child often get a bad rap, with the claim being that they're dull and uninteresting.  I wonder if that's because people are -- subconsciously or otherwise -- impatient to get to this story.  Because as good as An Unearthly Child is, The Daleks (or The Mutants, if you really must1) is even better.

The first episode is an exercise in mood.  Other than a hand there's no one present besides the four travellers.  Consequently there's a real sense of character at work as they explore this strange (and utterly fabulous-looking) petrified jungle.  We're starting to get a greater sense of who these people are -- and this may be where the idea of the "selfish Doctor" comes from, rather than An Unearthly Child, as here he's completely determined to get his way and see the city, no matter what.  It's a strange, eerie place that the TARDIS has arrived at, with the design and the soundscape contributing to something special.  There are also some nice directorial touches from Christopher Barry -- everyone mentions the shot of Barbara putting her hand on the camera, making us the silent observers, but the use of angles and different props inside the TARDIS is also very well done, giving the Ship a sense of space even greater than in the first episode.  And then there's the cliffhanger, where something comes at Barbara.  I assume it was composer Tristram Cary who pitched that musical sting as the same as Barbara's scream, but regardless of who it was, it's a stroke of brilliance.

THAT cliffhanger. ("The Dead Planet") © BBC.
It's the next episode, "The Survivors", that introduces the Daleks, and what an introduction!  Totally alien-looking, not even recognizably a man in a costume, you can see why they made such a visual impact -- Terry Nation may have thought them up, but Ray Cusick came up trumps in designing them.  But in some ways, The Daleks may be the best Dalek story ever, and that's because they're allowed to be characters, rather than just an unstoppable force.  The galaxy-conquering race are nowhere to be found here; instead we get a race of survivors (as the title says) who are simply concerned with trying to leave the city they've been trapped in, at the cost of all others.  They'll kill if they have to, but they don't yet derive pleasure from killing for its own sake -- note the way they merely paralyze Ian, rather than just exterminate him (one of only two times we see this happen2).  Their motivation is simple and understandable, and that's what makes them compelling: the idea that they were once people like us who were forced into desperate measures to survive.  Meanwhile, the radiation sickness afflicting our heroes works to sustain the tension, adding to a sense of desperation: will Susan make it to the TARDIS and back before it's too late?  And will the Daleks let her keep any of the drugs?

Oh, but then some lightning flashes as Susan's about to leave the TARDIS.  I guess all the cliffhangers can't be winners.

January 4: "The Escape" / "The Ambush"

(The Daleks episodes 3 & 4)

Hey, look, it's another actor!  Before we've just had the four regulars and a bunch of people in not-obviously-human-looking costumes, but now John Lee appears as Alydon, one of the Thals.  He speaks with Susan a bit, but then later on we get most of the Thals as they discuss what they're going to do regarding approaching the Daleks.

This was a bit of a surprise to me, honestly; I'd forgotten the Thals (other than Alydon) made an appearance in "The Escape" (which actually aired fifty years ago today!).  But that's probably because, even though the Thals have been introduced, the focus of this episode is still firmly on the Doctor, Ian, Susan, and Barbara, and how they're going to escape (it's the title of the episode, so no spoilers there).  In some ways their escape is one of the most memorable parts of this story, as they trick a Dalek into entering their cell and then overpower it.  The script gives each person a significant part to play in their escape.  It's nice, thoughtful writing that shows that the characters haven't descended into stereotypes yet -- because no stereotypes have been codified yet.

The Daleks cutting their way in. ("The Ambush") ©BBC.
Their escape continues in the next episode (after the cliffhanger showed a glimpse of the Dalek mutant!), but here the Thals are given more development too.  I'm not actually convinced that it works that well, since we only get broad brushstrokes for most of the characters: Alydon is the strong one, Temmosus the na├»ve leader, and Dyoni the woman.  But really, they're only there to react to the TARDIS crew -- except that doesn't happen until later.  It's actually surprising how long it takes the Doctor and company to escape the city, yet it never feels like just marking time -- a tribute to the show's creative team.  (And while we're bringing them up, a moment to note just how fabulous the blistering of that wall next to Ian under Dalek fire is.)

The end of the episode is interesting: when the Thals do interact with the TARDIS crew, there's a bit of an argument against unyielding pacifism and an examination of racism (in Ian's words, "a dislike for the unlike"), but it all feels rather half-hearted.  There's a sense of "well, we tried" from Ian, but he's just as ready to leave as the Doctor is.  One could almost believe that this was the end of this adventure—after all, the previous locale only lasted about four episodes—until the cliffhanger.  But I wonder if any viewers were in fact momentarily fooled, since there's a distinct sense of unresolved business at the end of "The Ambush" -- the Daleks haven't been dealt with, just left in their city, and the Thals' future is still very uncertain.  Which means that, even before the revelation about the fluid link, it's fairly clear that our time on Skaro isn't over yet.

January 5: "The Expedition" / "The Ordeal"

(The Daleks episodes 5 & 6)

(Before we begin, a quick note to say how marvelous Chrissie's Doctor Who Transcripts is.  It's invaluable for double-checking lines and such.)

"The Expedition" starts with an interesting debate among the time-travellers: what right do they have to convince the Thals to abandon their pacifism?  It's actually Ian who's the most against trying, arguing that the fluid link isn't worth the Thals getting killed over, while Barbara is adamant that she wants to leave, no matter what would happen to the Thals.  Yet it's Ian who actually argues with them, taunting them into fighting for themselves, not just the TARDIS crew.  "All you're doing is playing with words!" Barbara exclaims bitterly, when Ian says that the Thals have to be willing to defend themselves, yet for Ian it's not just a matter of semantics: in his eyes, for the Thals to sacrifice themselves so that four strangers can leave would be immoral, but if they were to do it to secure their future from the Daleks, then that would be acceptable.  It's a surprisingly complex argument, and it makes this a lot more nuanced than a simple "let's go fight because we should" position.

The Daleks in their control room.  Note the unfortunate angle
on the photographic blow-ups. ("The Expedition") ©BBC
Good thing the Thals are ready to fight, because the Daleks have learned they need radiation to survive, so they're going to nuke the planet again.  There's some more great direction by Christopher Barry in this sequence -- the point-of-view of the sick Dalek, with the unfocused, swirling shot, is really effective.  The use of photo blow-ups, on the other hand, is rather less effective.  They juuust about get away with it when shot head-on, but then they switch cameras and catch them from the side, rather spoiling things.  Still, can't blame them for trying.

The actual expedition, into the swamps and mountains behind the Dalek city, runs the risk of dragging (and in that context, naming an episode "The Ordeal" leaves them wide open), but there's enough going on, both through action and suspense, that you don't really notice -- at least not when viewed episodically.  The bit where Ian gets each person over the chasm seems like it should be interminable, yet it works because we know that Antodus (previously established as the cowardly one) is going to have to make the jump too, and we don't know how he's going to manage it.  (And can I just say how much I love the part where, after Ian tosses the rope to him and he makes no move to catch it, Ian assumes the blame for a "bad throw" but then chucks the rope straight at Antodus's face?)  It's quite thrilling, and the fact that he misses, threatening to pull Ian down with him, makes for a literal cliffhanger.

January 6: "The Rescue" / "The Edge of Destruction"

(The Daleks episode 7 & The Edge of Destruction episode 1)

The end of the Daleks. ("The Rescue") ©BBC
And so with "The Rescue" (like The Mutants, a potentially confusing title), we come to the end of the adventure on Skaro.  It's a decent ending, but it must be said, the actual defeat of the Daleks is rather perfunctory.  One of them is pushed into what turns out to be the power supply for the Daleks, and so they all perish.  It's not exactly the most thrilling conclusion ever, but at least what we do get is competent, with some nice touches (there's a Thal climbing down a rope, in the studio!).  But before the Daleks meet their end, there are some interesting moments, such as the Doctor bargaining with the Daleks for his life and Susan's, in exchange for which he'll tell the Daleks how to build their own TARDIS.  With 50 years of hindsight it's incredibly odd, but even in context it still seems out of character, given his concerns with letting Ian and Barbara go free at the end of "An Unearthly Child" -- we have to conclude that this is a bluff to get free rather than a serious bargain.

Still, even with the ending, you can see why the Daleks caught on.  They're not only a masterpiece of design, but as I said earlier, here they're allowed to be characters, to have conversations with each other and experiment with anti-radiation drugs.  When they're going to flood the planet with more radiation, it's because they're concerned with their own self-interest rather than out of any sort of malice.  They simply consider themselves to be superior beings, and everything else as pests: consider the word they use, "extermination" (not "exterminate" quite yet).  It's now so associated with the Daleks that we've stopped thinking about what it actually means when they say it.  It brings to mind not just the Nazis (who aren't really as overt an influence on the Daleks here as they will later become, but there's still a hint), but the treatment of things less than them.  You exterminate bugs, not people.  It's a nice subtle touch, illustrating the mindset of the Daleks: killing the Thals to them is no different than stepping on a spider.

So they look great, they're written with care, and they sound amazing.  No wonder the public wanted them back.

The next episode, the start of The Edge of Destruction (aka Inside the Spaceship), is surprisingly paranoid.  We're now into episode (and thus week) 12 of Doctor Who, so we've had a chance to get to know the regular characters and how they behave, so to see them acting so oddly gives the episode an unusual sense of tension.  The suggestion that some sort of intelligence has entered the Ship and could be inhabiting Our Heroes is compelling, and the cast seem to play this angle up with relish -- watch William Russell at the beginning, in an unnatural daze as he tries to remember what's happened, or Carole Ann Ford's deep mistrust of Ian and Barbara throughout the episode.  Meanwhile, Barbara gets to lash out at the Doctor after he accuses the two schoolteachers (without any real evidence) of sabotaging the Ship.  "Accuse us? You ought to go down on your hands and knees and thank us!" she cries.  It's marvelous, especially since the Doctor refuses to be swayed by her outburst.  And while the music may be from stock, it's well chosen, adding effectively to the sense of foreboding.  The whole episode is thus very compelling, especially since we're not quite sure: is there something controlling the travellers, jumping from person to person to throw suspicion on all of them?  Or is something else going on?

January 7: "The Brink of Disaster" / "The Roof of the World"

(The Edge of Destruction episode 2 & Marco Polo episode 1)

"We have ten minutes to survive." ("The Brink of
Disaster") ©BBC
And so all the paranoia and danger was because of...a stuck button.  Not exactly the most thrilling revelation ever, is it? You can see what David Whitaker was going for, trying to subvert expectations and all, but still: a stuck button?

All right, so Whitaker might not have the most satisfying plot going, but to his credit, his characterization is very good.  He refashions their relationships under our nose, almost without our noticing.  By forcing the Doctor to have it out with the two schoolteachers, Whitaker makes them reevaluate each other's positions: the schoolteachers are going to have to rely on the Doctor, and he is going to have to trust them.  If they had stopped and worked together instead of giving in to fear and paranoia, they might have solved things more quickly.  And it's a nice touch how Barbara won't easily accept the Doctor's apology: he has to go and sweet-talk her to prove that he's sincere before she gives in.

But that's not the only relationship Whitaker has refashioned: he's also cannily changed the Doctor's relationship with the TARDIS.  Before the TARDIS was a machine, a fantastical machine that could take them anywhere, but still a machine.  But now there's a suggestion that the TARDIS may be alive in some way; the Doctor dismisses the notion, but the clues left by the TARDIS (which presumably include the way it's affecting the crew, given how out of character they were last episode) seem to suggest otherwise.  Obviously this notion will culminate 47 years later with "The Doctor's Wife", but the first hint starts here.

Next up is "The Roof of the World", the first episode of Marco Polo and, alas, the first of Doctor Who's missing episodes.  Fortunately off-air soundtracks exist for every episode, so I'll be listening to those while squinting at the telesnaps3 (as published in Doctor Who Magazine: The Missing Episodes - The First Doctor) for the next seven episodes.

Obviously we can't actually see how it looked, but given Waris Hussein's work on An Unearthly Child we can probably safely assume it was thoughtfully directed.  Certainly the telesnaps offer tantalizing glimpses of what it looked like: the waystation at Lop looks fairly lush in design, and the narration device of the map also looks wonderful -- you can't tell from what we've got here, but it seems like the sort of thing that would have an animated line showing the journey of Polo's caravan.

It's an interesting episode in terms of the script as well: it looks like it will be fraught with danger, but at just about every step this expectation is thwarted: the large footprint is really a man's footprint which has melted a bit; the travelers are in danger of freezing to death on the mountain, but they encounter people; it looks like they're going to be killed by said people, but Marco Polo an episode it looks like "The Roof of the World" will be full of action, but it's actually quite sedate.  We're meant to distrust the warlord Tegana, but his motivation appears to be that he believes that the Doctor and his friends are evil spirits.  But not only that, but Marco Polo has also denied them access to the TARDIS (leading to a very curious yet entertaining outburst of laughter from the Doctor) -- so it looks like even their potential allies are working against them.

January 8: "The Singing Sands" / "Five Hundred Eyes"

(Marco Polo episodes 2 & 3)

An Unearthly Child is in a bit of an odd position: in some ways it's a journey back in time, but it's to a place that virtually nothing is known about, and the people we encounter there seem more alien than like us.  This means that Marco Polo is the series' first real journey into history.  And so far it's a very entertaining tale: although "The Roof of the World" played with expectations a bit, "The Singing Sands" is filled with suspense, first with the sandstorm whirling through the camp (memorably brought alive, even on audio), and then with the sabotage of the caravan's water supply.  Meanwhile, the characterization of Susan is interesting, as she seems resolutely in teenage-girl-of-the-60s mode, with slang like "fab" and "dig it", yet the script has her reminiscing about metal seas on Venus and describing her language as how people talk "on Earth", as if she's used to being somewhere else. The chess game that Ian and Marco play is also good fun, with what seems to be foreshadowing from Tegana: "Marco, can you save your king?"  Oh! and an occurrence of the word "TARDIS" as a bare noun, when Barbara talks about how "TARDIS is the only home we have".  And it ends on a good cliffhanger, with Tegana taunting Marco Polo from the oasis.

"Five Hundred Eyes" is a curious episode: there's always been a remit for the show to be educational along the way, and this feels like the first real flexing of those muscles.  We learn about condensation, the Hashashins from the point-of-view of the Mongols (with a brief etymological detour about the word "assassin"), and even a little bit about quartz.  That part about the Hashashins is told by Ping-Cho, who spends a sizable portion of the episode in the telling, yet it remains engaging the whole way -- one can only imagine how it would be with the pictures intact.  It's interesting: there's a relaxed pace about the way John Lucarotti allows his tale to unfold, yet it never feels slow or dull.  Even when there's danger afoot, as with Barbara in the cave, it still seems quite content.  It's a sign of the confidence the production team has in the script, without a need to spice things up unduly.  The word is "self-assured".

January 9: "The Wall of Lies" / "Rider from Shang-Tu"

(Marco Polo episodes 4 & 5)

"The Wall of Lies" was directed by John Crockett instead of Waris Hussein.  Why does this matter?  Because as a result Waris Hussein had no reason to have the telesnaps for this episode: thus this is the earliest episode for which no visual record exists (unless that rumored recovery announcement of the entire story for its 50th anniversary next month is true; the words "yeah" and "right" spring to mind...).  But as noted before, we still have an off-air audio recording to enjoy.

The Radio Times cover for "The Roof of the
World" (from Partners in Time: 50 years of Doctor
Who Radio Times covers
©Immediate Media
Company Limited)
This seems to be a turning point for this particular story: before the travellers were free to accompany Marco Polo, and only his possession of the TARDIS prevented them from leaving.  But now Tegana has managed to turn Polo against them.  It's dramatic, yet still with the same relaxed confidence that permeates this serial.  The central problem has evolved from simply "how to get the TARDIS back" to "how to convince Marco that Tegana is plotting against him and Kublai Khan".

(Incidentally, do you suppose Tegana always intended to betray Kublai Khan, or that it was when he saw the TARDIS that the possibility of claiming it for Noghai came to mind, and that's when he set his plan into motion?)

In any event, "The Wall of Lies" sees the TARDIS crew at their lowest.  It's particularly interesting how, when they decide to kidnap Marco and force him to give the TARDIS key back, how black the Doctor's intentions seem: "I think by the time I've finished with that gentleman, he'll only be too glad to let us go."  It's a surprisingly dark comment, especially as it's about a man that the story has so far encouraged us to view in sympathetic light.

Fortunately for Marco, "Rider from Shang-Tu" (hooray! the telesnaps are back!) opens with a far different situation that results in a change of plans, as the caravan is attacked by bandits.  Continuing the educational theme, here we learn that bamboo explodes when thrown on a fire.  It's difficult to tell from the telesnaps how well the bamboo forest was realized, but the battle itself sounds exciting.  It also leads to an improvement in Polo's estimation of the travellers: he's not as trusting as he was initially, but he's relented somewhat from the treatment given last episode.

Other than the initial fight, this episode is more about treading water than advancing the plot much: there's no new treachery from Tegana and the titular rider only appears for maybe five minutes.  This episode then is actually set up to look like an escape for the Doctor and company, a chance to finally get to the TARDIS.  (Or just "TARDIS", as it's referred to again this episode -- I wonder if this happens in any other story?)  But like the last time they did this ("The Ambush", episode 4 of The Daleks), there's a sense of unfinished business -- Marco Polo hasn't arrived in Peking yet, and Tegana has yet to be unmasked.  Which is why it's not a total surprise when, just as it looks like they're all about to escape (with a scene inside the TARDIS, even!), Susan is grabbed by Tegana, just in time for the end of the episode.

January 10: "Mighty Kublai Khan" / "Assassin at Peking"

(Marco Polo episodes 6 & 7)

And they were so close!  Yet interestingly, Marco doesn't put the travellers under guard as he did in "The Wall of Lies" -- he must believe that without the TARDIS nearby, they won't be a problem.  There's a nice bit where Ian tells Marco the truth: that they're from a different time, not just a different place.  Marco won't believe him though, pointing out that Ian has lied before, and that provides enough doubt to deny them the TARDIS.

But really, the star of this episode is the titular character: Mighty Kublai Khan indeed!  When Polo's entourage arrives at Shang-Tu (which the map accompanying the CD helpfully notes is also known as Xanadu and thus (sort of) the subject of Coleridge's poem), we're treated to a marvelous performance, as Martin Miller provides an aging, human ruler.  It also gives William Hartnell the chance to indulge in a bit of comedy, as his pain from horseback riding leads him to uttering groans and aches almost in time with Kublai Khan.  "Do you mock our afflictions?" the Khan demands.  But it's not just comedy: their shared anguish allows the Doctor to become friendly with Kublai Khan and insinuate himself into his good graces.  It's a good move from writer John Lucarotti.

But if "Mighty Kublai Khan" was good, "Assassin at Peking" is even better.  Tegana admits his fealty to Noghai and his intent to help him take down Kublai Khan to both Ian and Ping-Cho, and they still can't get Marco Polo to believe it.  Tegana has been good before, but here he really enters the realm of "villain you love to hate", as his silver tongue also starts to convince the Khan that Marco isn't worthy of trust (using a little old-fashioned racism to boot).  It's really wonderful -- kudos to Derren Nesbitt's performance.

But this episode also has some more comedy, showing Kublai Khan as being somewhat henpecked by his wife the Empress -- yet still retaining a sense of authority when, say, dealing with Marco Polo and his perceived disloyalty.  Plus there's that great backgammon game between the Khan and the Doctor, and the fate of Ping-Cho's would-be husband.

The Target book (from
the TARDIS Data Core wiki
article Marco Polo
Yet although the Doctor and his companions work out Tegana's plan (and it's nice to see that they answer the question I asked last time about when Tegana developed said plan), this episode ultimately belongs to Marco and Tegana, as they duel in the throne room in Peking4. It sounds like a good fight, and the telesnaps offer some tantalizing glimpses.  It's also interesting how Tegana throws himself on a sword to avoid capture, rather than having Marco (who's really our hero for this tale) kill him.  (Nor is he shot with an arrow by Ling-Tau, as the Target novelization told me.  But sidenote to say that I adore this book as, although my family had a small handful of Target books, Marco Polo was, along with The War Machines, the first Target book I bought myself.)  In some ways, given what's happened before, the TARDIS crew's final departure is very abrupt: no thanks or well-wishes, just a quick dash out before someone changes their mind.  But it works.  And interestingly, there's no cliffhanger into the next episode; it's almost as if these twenty episodes comprised the first story for the Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian.

It's a really lovely tale, Marco Polo, and I've enjoyed it immensely.  I would absolutely love the chance to see this story on video (fun fact: Marco Polo was sent to more countries than any other missing serials), but even with just the soundtrack and telesnaps it's still easy enough to enjoy.  But next time it's back to video with "The Sea of Death" -- hey, our first "of Death" title!  This should be good.

(Final count for uses of 'TARDIS' as a bare noun (aka no accompanying 'the'): 4)

January 11: "The Sea of Death" / "The Velvet Web"

(The Keys of Marinus episodes 1 & 2)

The TARDIS has arrived on Marinus -- and Barbara and Susan have changed their outfits since the end of "Assassin at Peking" (so Missing Adventure authors take note -- Christopher Bulis has already taken advantage of this potential gap).  It's an odd episode, to be sure; there are some nice ideas from Terry Nation, like the acid sea which leads to a glass beach, but it's somewhat thwarted by the direction.  "The Sea of Death" feels rather loose because of this: there are an unusually high number of moments where characters are required not to see things that should be plainly visible to them until the plot needs them to: no one sees the first Voord on the beach, the Doctor suddenly sees submarines that have clearly been in front of him for some time, Ian somehow misses the whacking great building dominating the skyline for the first half of the's almost theatrical in this approach, but it requires a larger-than-normal amount of good faith to see things through.  Which would be fine if it weren't for the obvious errors and bizarre choices that are also plentiful: Hartnell's having a bit of bother with his lines while he's on the beach; a stagehand is visible through the first swinging door; a Voord is stabbed in the back despite being up against a solid wall -- this is just after George Coulouris as Arbitan appears to wander on set, look at Susan, and then wander off for no obvious reason; there's even a script left open and visible on the Conscience set!

This probably would be less of an issue if the script were up to it, but it's essentially marking time until it's time to send the travellers off on a quest.  So we have a number of Voord who lurking menacingly before they get killed, some exploration on a beach, and a plot dump by Arbitan explaining what's going to be happening.  It's functional writing rather than evocative.  Still, as I said before, there are some nice ideas: the trouble is that there aren't enough of them to paper over the other problems.  Even the TARDIS crew's agreement to look for the missing keys feels perfunctory.

Barbara destroys the brains ruling Morphoton.
("The Velvet Web") ©BBC
Fortunately, the next episode goes some way toward redressing the balance.  There's a lot tighter direction this time around, with the scenes from Barbara's point of view showing the city of Morphoton the way it really is worthy of particular praise. It's also interesting how the episode begins with Ian being the most suspicious of their hosts' generosity, yet ultimately it's Barbara who fails to be affected by the hypnosis.  And can we take a moment to acknowledge how gorgeous Katharine Schofield (Sabetha) is?

Really, if anything lets this episode down it's the nature of the overall story.  Because Terry Nation has crafted a quest epic, it means that we're only just starting to know a place when it's on to the next.  This just means that a) everything tends to be painted in broad strokes, with little subtlety; and b) the resolution of the problem is rather abrupt; it's great seeing Barbara smash up the brains, but it does feel a little sudden and therefore unsatisfying -- especially since they also need to spend time setting up the next episode, in a completely different location.

January 12: "The Screaming Jungle" / "The Snows of Terror"

(The Keys of Marinus episodes 3 & 4)

So last episode they had a fairly lengthy discussion of how the Doctor was going to go two jumps ahead and look for the fourth key; in other words, William Hartnell's on vacation for these episodes (the first time a regular's been given time off this way), which means it's up to Ian, Barbara, and Susan to carry the day.  Unfortunately, Terry Nation seems to think that Susan's only there to scream and act generally hysterical -- realistic, perhaps, but not terribly pleasant viewing.  So that leaves Ian and Barbara.

Really, though, "The Screaming Jungle" feels like pure pulp.  There's what seems to be an abandoned building in the middle of a thick jungle, and it's simply full of traps.  And they're not very exciting traps either.  Ian getting nearly cleaved in two is probably the best; his getting trapped behind bars isn't very exciting, while Barbara being trapped under a net as a spiked ceiling descends might have been better had it not been shot quite so undramatically from the side, showing a shaky board with obviously not-at-all sharp blades juddering down.  (I do have to say, though, that I quite like the idol with the obviously human arms that grab people.)  Then there's some guff about nature's "tempo of destruction" having been accelerated; this seems to mean that plants crawl around and smash windows and things.  Like I said, pure pulp.

The ice soldiers awaken. ("The Snows of Terror") ©BBC
Things get better in "The Snows of Terror", but that might be because the actors have someone to react to, rather than just some vines wrapped around a pole.  Francis de Wolff turns in a memorably creepy performance as Vasor the trapper.  He's thoroughly nasty, even at the beginning when he's ostensibly helping Ian and Barbara, but there's a nice turn of cowardice from him when fortune shifts against him.

Other than that, though, this is simply the next place on the quest list: we had a jungle, so the opposite is clearly a snow-blasted mountain range.  That said, there's clearly effort being put into the design side of things: the jungle set last episode was quite nice, and the ice caves here are really good.  It's just a shame that the script doesn't have the same degree of care.  To be fair, this was a serial written in a great hurry after another script fell through5; it's just a bit of a pity that you can tell.

January 13: "Sentence of Death" / "The Keys of Marinus"

(The Keys of Marinus episodes 5 & 6)

Well, this is more like it!  Maybe I'm just a sucker for mysteries, but the parts of this story that take place in Millennius are far more engaging than in the last three locations.  There's a sense of drive through "Sentence of Death", as the Doctor must prove Ian's innocence, lest Ian be executed for murder.  The fact that we go out and explore a bit as the Doctor and his team search for exonerating evidence and such means that Millennius feels more fleshed out than, say, Morphoton from "The Velvet Web".  We start to get a sense of how these people actually live, with hints dropped casually in dialogue and sets showing us apartments and such.

Of course, it's still a mystery that they have to get through in an episode and a half, which means that villains repeatedly start to utter self-incriminating statements before they stop themselves just to move things along.  Although I do enjoy Aidan's death as he starts to reveal his co-conspirators -- it feels an awful lot like Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald.  I'm not sure if it's an intentional reference or not, but either way it does add to the air of mystery.

Yartek, leader of the alien Voord. ("The Keys of
Marinus") ©BBC
Sadly, it does start to sag a bit in the second half of "The Keys of Marinus", once the real killer has been caught and they return to the island with the Conscience of Marinus.  Yartek, the leader of the Voord (remember them from "The Sea of Death"?) has taken over and is trying to disguise himself as Arbitan.  It's been noted before how Ian and Susan seem suspicious of him because of what he said, not because his head appears to have grown several inches under his hood, but to be fair it's not like Terry Nation knew what those headpieces were going to be like.  But even so, Ian tricks not-Arbitan by giving him the fake key from "The Screaming Jungle" -- except Ian wasn't convinced not-Arbitan was an imposter, so he potentially gave the real Arbitan the fake key.  Of course, he didn't know it would blow up the whole building when inserted, so we can probably excuse him.

The main problem with The Keys of Marinus as a whole is that it's too ambitious; it wants to be a globe-trotting epic, but there's not enough time or money to fully flesh out all the locations, so the production team has to spend a lot of time hinting at things.  To their credit, they do really quite an excellent job with what they've got, but that can't hide the fact that Terry Nation has to spend time establishing each new exotic location and not developing the ones we've already gotten.  It's not terrible by any means, but given what we've gotten from Doctor Who so far, its flaws become rather more apparent.

January 14: "The Temple of Evil" / "The Warriors of Death"

(The Aztecs episodes 1 & 2)

Standard and special edition DVDs
"But you can't rewrite history!" the Doctor exclaims to Barbara, halfway through "The Temple of Evil".  "Not one line!" It's at the heart of this story: can Barbara change the course of history and save the Aztec civilization from the conquistadors?

Let's back up a bit.  We've just left Marinus (as the opening moments helpfully remind us) and have now arrived in late 15th/early 16th century Mexico, in the heart of Aztec lands.  When Barbara is mistaken as the reincarnation of a high priest, she is revered as a god, and thus is a position of power to change history, to turn the Aztecs from their custom of human sacrifice.  She's determined to try, despite the Doctor's protests, and this is what drives things.

It's interesting: the main motivation of the others is to simply gain access to the TARDIS, which is locked inside Yetaxa's tomb.  If the travellers could gain access, they'd leave immediately, but they're forced to interact with Aztec society while they figure out a way in.  This has been happening before, mind; so far they've been denied access to the Ship by way of capture, a missing component/key, and a forcefield.  But this feels like the least contrived and thus most frustrating barrier yet: a stone door that they can't open.  So while they try to break in, Barbara is going to make the most of her situation, and try and change things.

In both of these episodes, we see Barbara try to prevent or change some aspect of Aztec culture (not just the sacrifice, but also smaller things, such as Susan's removal to a seminary or Ian's fight with Ixta), and each time it almost seems like she makes things worse: Tlotoxl, High Priest of Sacrifice, loses faith in her, and then Susan is separated from the others.  But still she refuses to give in.

Ian defeats Ixta with his thumb. ("The Warriors of
Death") ©BBC
Of course Barbara's not the only one with the good role: Ian ably acquits himself as he vies with Ixta for leadership of the Aztec armies.  The bit with the thumb is really lovely, and the unarmed fight that concludes "The Warriors of Death" is quite well done, especially for a studio session (the initial fight with Ixta and an Aztec warrior, in "The Temple of Evil", is also in studio and decidedly less impressive, since they have to be careful not to hurt anyone).  It's also interesting to see how Ian maintains the upper hand in the fight, doing quite well even after he's been scratched by Ixta.

The Doctor too gets some nice moments: his interactions with Cameca are especially noteworthy, being rather more flirtatious than one might expect.  "You're an old rogue," Barbara says after he mentions Cameca to her, and the Doctor doesn't deny it.  And I haven't even mentioned the guest cast yet, who all perform excellent work -- John Ringham is often singled out for his Richard III-like performance as Tlotoxl, but actors like Ian Cullen as Ixta and Keith Pyott as Autloc also deserve high praise for playing things with sincerity and conviction, making things very believable.  In their hands, and those of writer John Lucarotti, the Aztec world of Mexico is just as dangerous as Skaro or Marinus.

January 15: "The Bride of Sacrifice" / "The Day of Darkness"

(The Aztecs episodes 3 & 4)

Tonila and Tlotoxl test Yetaxa's divinity. ("The Bride
of Sacrifice") ©BBC
"The Bride of Sacrifice" is in fact Susan, who viewed an arranged marriage in Lucarotti's last serial and is now the subject of one.  Not bad for someone who's been on vacation for two episodes.  (Carole Ann Ford is included on pre-filmed inserts.)

There's a bit of a course change here, as the focus moves from trying to prevent the Aztecs' sacrifices to simply trying to get back into Yetaxa's tomb.  Which isn't to say that the issue of human sacrifice goes away; it's just not the main thrust of the drama any more.

Quick digression: there's an episode of Star Trek called "The Apple", where (putting it crudely) Kirk and his crew encounter a culture that they disagree with and force the natives to change their way of life.  This always sat poorly with me, partly because it's just assumed that Western European culture is the best, most "right" culture.  By contrast, here we get Ian arguing with Barbara about the Aztec culture of sacrifice: "You keep on insisting that Tlotoxl's the odd man out, but he isn't. ... You can't fight a whole way of life, Barbara."  It's recognition that the Aztecs don't want to be changed, that they're perfectly happy to continue human sacrifice -- indeed, as the Perfect Victim himself points out, "It is a great honor for me to be chosen."  And in fact it's the travellers who are being less than honest, portraying themselves as a goddess and her servants -- though it may have been a case of mistaken identity, they never disabuse the Aztecs of this belief.

But this is one moment in these two episodes: as noted earlier, we're now much more concerned with getting into Yetaxa's tomb.  This leads to some wonderful moments in the garden with Ian and the Doctor and then with Ixta.  And special mention must go to the lighting, which does a fantastic job of evoking a moonlit night, as well as giving the impression of water rising up around Ian at the cliffhanger to "The Bride of Sacrifice".  And if we're discussing the garden, we have to talk about the Doctor's inadvertent marriage proposal to Cameca: we get a great comedic look from William Hartnell when he learns what he's actually done by preparing cocoa, but afterwards he doesn't seem to be terribly upset at the notion and seems genuinely sad that he has to leave Cameca behind, even though he knows he must.  And it leads to my favorite moment of the story, where the Doctor puts down the brooch Cameca gave him, starts to leave, then turns and snatches it back before entering the TARDIS.  It's an understated and beautiful moment.

All this plus continued excellence from the actors shows why The Aztecs as a story is so highly regarded.  This is the only complete surviving 'straight' historical from the '60s (as opposed to, say, The Romans, which is largely comedic, or The Time Meddler, which is about someone attempting to change history), and one sometimes wonders if the high reputation the historical stories currently enjoy is due in no small part to how well this story pulls it off -- feeling nearly Shakespearean at times, as, e.g., Tlotoxl schemes to destroy Barbara or Ian announces that his and Ixta's next meeting will be their last one (as indeed it is, with a fight sequence shot on film that's far ahead of the stylized movement we got in "The Temple of Evil").  The Aztecs is magnificent.

January 16: "Strangers in Space" / "The Unwilling Warriors"

(The Sensorites episodes 1 & 2)

Well, it took 30 episodes, but we've finally gotten a glimpse of the future.  Yes, we had The Daleks and The Keys of Marinus, but those were set on other worlds, unrelated to Earth -- they were futuristic, rather than "the future".  "Strangers in Space" by contrast, is definitively set in the 28th century, with a spaceship and crew that come from Earth.  It's only a small glimpse (a mention of a lot of "air traffic" and that the southern half of England is all known as Central City, and then the design of the spaceship itself), but it's still something.

These two episodes are quite neat: admittedly, they might be a little slow, but the pace always feels measured, rather than dragging.  There's also the development of a theme: the crew (and by extension, the Doctor and company) are frightened of their fellow mineralogist John, and then again of the Sensorites, and in both cases it seems like this is largely because none of them have tried to talk to them; it takes Barbara and Susan talking to John to realize that he shouldn't be feared, and while the Sensorites still seem to pose a threat, Susan's act of communicating with them appears to reduce the tension somewhat.

The Sensorites themselves are (feet aside) rather wonderful designs.  It's really an excellent headpiece, looking alien yet not too abstract.  They're not the most threatening-looking creatures, but then the script drops hints that they're not supposed to be: "I think that they were as frightened of me as I was of them," Ian comments after holding them at bay with some sort of tool.  Indeed, one gets the impression that the Sensorites have been forced into menacing the crew and preventing them from leaving, and that it's not their preferred state of affairs ("Once before we trusted Earthmen, to our cost," comments one Sensorite) -- indeed, it would seem that the Sensorites are the unwilling warriors of the episode's title, rather than the crewmembers (as one might have surmised at the episode's outset).  There are also some nice educational touches, such as the discussion of a spectrograph, melting points for iron and molybdenum, and the bit about the contracting of the iris (as far as the Sensorites go, evolutionarily silly, as has been pointed out before, but not inaccurate based on what we're told).  And special note has to go to the direction of the beginning of "Strangers in Space", as the camera follows the TARDIS crew straight out of the console room and into the spaceship -- and then we cut to the side and see the police box, seemingly standing where the other camera just was.  It's a neat little bit of direction, and slightly surprising to see so early -- they're still trying to do things like this on Doctor Who now, and Mervyn Pinfield was doing it in 1964!

In fact, in many ways this feels a lot closer to the style of Doctor Who as we know it than anything that's come before it.  The Doctor's taken a leadership role, asking the right questions and showing Maitland and Carol that they can resist the Sensorites' control, while Barbara and Susan go off exploring the ship and, while they're threatened initially by John, they become proactive with John and befriend him, rather than needing to be rescued.  As much as people may not want to admit it, it's not too far of a stretch to see this as, say, a Matt Smith story -- the Doctor discovering that they needn't be as afraid of the Sensorites as they have been could just as easily be something that the eleventh Doctor would do as much as the first.  Before it's seemed as if this show could do just about anything.  That's admittedly still the case here, as the production team are just trying out a different style of script here -- there's nothing to say that this will set the tone for the show in the future, but with hindsight we can see the Doctor Who we know starting to really take shape.

January 17: "Hidden Danger" / "A Race Against Death"

(The Sensorites episodes 3 & 4)

Seriously, there's just something wonderful about the Sensorites.  The wizened head, with its wrinkles and wispy hair, combined with the all-over jumpsuits, makes them look very charming -- especially since, as we learn in these two episodes, the Earth people don't have much to fear from them.  Once again, communication is shown as the way to solve conflicts; once the Doctor shows that he and his friends don't wish to harm the Sensorites, things begin to go much more smoothly.

Jacqueline Hill is only around for the first half of "Hidden Danger" before she's gone completely, off on vacation while Barbara is left on the spaceship with Maitland.  Everyone else gets to venture down to the surface of the Sense-Sphere and enjoy the Ray Cusick-designed sets, with its nice non-angular lines informing the look of the place.  Meanwhile, William Russell gets to drink poisoned water and be sick for the entirety of "A Race Against Death" -- his death being the one the Doctor's racing against.  This seems to be the tipping point for the First Elder, the leader of the Sensorites, who becomes convinced that the humans mean them no harm, and he agrees to give back the Doctor the lock of the ship (removed in "Strangers in Space") in exchange for an antidote to the poison that's been afflicting parts of the population.

The Doctor instructs the Sensorite scientists. ("A Race
Against Death") ©BBC
Of course, you can't convince everyone, and in this case it's the Sensorites' City Adminstrator (as played by Peter Glaze) who is determined to prove that the humans are up to no good.  It's not the world's most subtle performance, but there's something marvelous about his rabid xenophobia, as he goes out of his way to be antagonistic, first trying to kill the humans by force before turning to subterfuge.  "We must match cunning with cunning," he says, still firm in his belief that the Doctor intends to poison the Sensorites with his so-called "cure", and this is what leads him to kidnap the Second Elder and take his place, allowing him more freedom to carry out his villainy.

And lest anyone still be unconvinced of the modernity of this story, note that once the Doctor develops the antidote, he's fulfilled his part of the bargain and can get the lock to the TARDIS back; he can leave at any time.  Yet he decides to go into the aqueduct where the poison seems to be originating from and try and remove the source, not because he has any external obligation to do so, but because it's the right thing to do6.  It's quite out of keeping with the previous stories, but not with the direction the current serial is taking -- nor is it out of keeping with the series as we now regard it.  The Doctor is slowly but surely taking steps toward becoming the moral crusader of later years.

January 18: "Kidnap" / "A Desperate Venture"

(The Sensorites episodes 5 & 6)

I have to say, for all his scheming, the City Administrator's not actually very good at being villainous, is he?  It's particularly entertaining how, after the accidental death of the Second Elder, his attempt to pin the blame on the Doctor falls apart in two minutes -- but as the Sensorite Nation is a society based entirely on trust, it makes sense that they would be lousy at deception.  Still, there's something about watching their conspiracy collapse after three questions from Ian that's tremendously fun.  Really, if it weren't for the Doctor, Ian, and Susan suggesting that the City Administrator replace the deceased Second Elder, he wouldn't have gotten anywhere.

Still, for all that, nothing much happens in "Kidnap" -- the kidnap itself is the cliffhanger of the episode -- and there's a bit of a sense of marking time.  But at least it does so enjoyably.  It's "A Desperate Venture" where things pick up.  And Jacqueline Hill's back from her two-week vacation, so we get everyone participating in the story again.

The Doctor and Ian encounter the source of the poisoning.
("A Desperate Venture") ©BBC
And the aforementioned kidnap of Carol is once again quickly foiled.  Once the First Elder suggests where they might have taken her, it doesn't take much for John to head in and rescue her.  Entertaining stuff, but the real focus of the episode is the Doctor and Ian's exploration of the aqueduct system.  It turns out that the three crewmen from the first expedition, presumed dead in the explosion that destroyed their ship and killed their fellow crew, are in fact alive and waging war against the Sensorites.  It's rather difficult, upon first seeing them clearly, to avoid thinking of Monty Python's various bearded and bedraggled characters (especially since the man called Number One bears a passing resemblance to Eric Idle), but that's hardly the fault of the production team.  Indeed, writer Peter R. Newman goes out of his way to give the three men a sense of dignity.  They're clearly insane, but it's not a cackling sort of madness; rather, it's simply a determination to destroy the Sensorites without considering why they're doing it.  In fact, the First Elder suggests it's inadvertently the fault of the Sensorites, since they most likely experimented with the thought transmitters and were driven out of their minds.  It's a satisfying ending when they're caught; none of them are killed, and there's a suggestion that they may be able to get help.  Sadly, however, at the conclusion of the story we're simply told about the former City Administrator's comeuppance rather getting to actually see it.  In this respect, the serial does disappoint somewhat.

Still, The Sensorites is a delightful story.  It might be a little long, but it rarely feels like it's dragging.  And the Sensorites themselves are really well done -- in a series that is occasionally xenophobic, it's refreshing to get an alien species that is so obviously sympathetic.  The story isn't terribly concerned with evil or danger, and there's hardly a cynical bone in its body.  It's a refreshingly charming approach to Doctor Who.

January 19: "A Land of Fear" / "Guests of Madame Guillotine"

(The Reign of Terror episodes 1 & 2)

When we left the Sense-Sphere last time, there was a cozy sort of feeling to everything (the Doctor's ill-tempered outburst at the cliffhanger not withstanding).  That sense continues in "A Land of Fear" for a bit, as Ian convinces the Doctor to come get a drink with him before he leaves forever (also allowing Ian and Barbara to make certain that they're actually back on 20th-century Earth).  But that atmosphere is steadily eroded away as the episode progresses, ending with two people dead and the Doctor lying unconscious inside a locked room in a burning building, while Ian, Barbara, and Susan are forcibly escorted to Paris, to be executed by the guillotine.  Yes, it's the French Revolution story.

What's remarkable about these two episodes is how brutal everything feels.  The soldiers are shown to be harsh and crude peasants, with the suggestion that they're acting out of feelings of vengeance and retaliation rather than any sense of duty.  We meet two aristocrats fleeing from Paris, both shown sympathetically, and they're both shot dead before the end of the first episode.  The cells are dark and dingy, and the jailer7 is vile and visibly fragrant (no mean feat to show in a purely visual medium), even as he describes himself as "an intelligent man" while leering after Barbara.  Barbara and Susan are stuck in a rat-infested cell after she slaps the jailer, so he's clearly not above retaliation either.  Meanwhile the Doctor's encounter with the overseer of a road crew along the way to Paris is also remarkably dark, even if it's largely played for laughs; only the sight of the overseer snoring at the end of the scene suggests that the Doctor has done anything other than kill a man to escape -- and note the relish with which the Doctor seems to bean the man with a shovel.  We're a long way from traveling with Marco Polo in his caravan.

But look! It's Doctor Who's first location footage ever, with Brian Proudfoot stepping in for William Hartnell, showing the Doctor striding across the countryside on his way to Paris.  It's not a huge moment, but it's noteworthy and does start to open the show up a bit, so that it doesn't feel quite as claustrophobic as it occasionally has in the past.  And Ian's entirely on film for "Guests of Madame Guillotine" -- looks like it's William Russell's turn to take two weeks off.  He gets to interact with dying British men and Citizens of the Revolution, while Barbara and Susan get readied for the guillotine -- another brutal moment, but an effective cliffhanger.

January 20: "A Change of Identity" / "The Tyrant of France"

(The Reign of Terror episodes 3 & 4)

Hey, it's Tom Baker's birthday today!  And my brother's!  Happy birthday to both of them.  Obviously I'm celebrating by continuing to watch The Reign of Terror...

"A Change of Identity" starts out feeling pretty hopeless, but things start to pick up once Jules and Jean rescue the prisoners being sent to the guillotine: namely, Barbara and Susan.  You kind of want to slap Susan as she stands there being useless and refusing to try and escape, but it turns out she's sick, so it's sort of okay.  Still, it seems less horrible once the two girls are away and safe in Jules' house.  Ian, meanwhile, gets to make his escape from the jail, while the Doctor gets to impersonate a regional officer.

Lemaitre inspects the Doctor's credentials while the jailer
looks on. ("A Change of Identity") ©BBC
This is very much a change of pace as we move from simple bleakness to a more adventure-style serial.  Barbara and Susan's rescue is quite well done, and their introduction to the people running the safehouse means we get a sense of those fighting against the Terror and the public executions.  But really, the star of this episode is William Hartnell, who as the Doctor cons his way into a position of authority (with an amazing hat to boot), only to be pulled in by Lemaitre, who insists on the Doctor accompanying him to meet Robespierre.

"The Tyrant of France" is an episode that no longer exists in the archive (other than a few seconds of off-air 8mm footage, which I duly viewed8), and there are no telesnaps to accompany the soundtrack.  However, the DVD provides animated versions for this (as well as the next episode, which is also missing).  These have to be regarded as a limited success.  The animation itself is actually pretty good, but the editing is incredibly frenetic, at one point changing angles 4 times in one line.  Doctor Who's not the most energetically directed show at the best of times, and The Reign of Terror is a pretty placid piece.  This means that the overall effect is very disconcerting at times.

It's somewhat sad, then, that our meeting with Robespierre comes at the top of the episode, while we're still adjusting to the different style, which means that the Doctor's meeting with this important historical figure is robbed of some of its impact.  (It doesn't help that the off-air soundtrack is noticeably problematic at this stage.)  But it's an interesting argument the Doctor has with Robespierre: "I mean, what can this reign of terror possibly gain?" the Doctor asks.  "For every opponent you put to the guillotine, two more will spring up!" But Robespierre has considered this: "Do you think I want this carnage?  Three hundred and forty two executions in nine days in Paris alone!  What a memory I shall leave behind if this thing lasts."

But beyond that, this episode is largely about two things: bringing Ian into Jules Renan's circle (William Russell being back from his vacation), and getting Barbara and Susan recaptured and sent back to the Conciergerie.  It's somewhat difficult to tell how effective the actual episode was with this, but based on the animation it seems like it did a reasonable job -- things never get too slow, and the bit with the physician is quite good.  And it's a good cliffhanger: Leon Colbert is a traitor!  Pity; Barbara seemed to be quite fond of him...

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.


1 100,000 BC is enough of a losing battle, but using The Mutants as the "real" name of serial B has the extra problem of also being the name of a Pertwee serial. In case you haven't noticed, I've elected to go with the most commonly used title (and the one these things are known as commercially). Don't worry, this argument basically dies down after the next serial.
2 Planet of the Daleks (in many ways a color remake of this story) being the other time.
3 People didn't have the ability to show people film copies of their television work back then, so if they wanted to keep a record of it they'd hire a man named John Cura, who would take photographs of the show as it was broadcast.  These photographs, called "telesnaps", are for many episodes of Doctor Who the only visual representation remaining.
4 The enclosed map also informs me (although it's not the first to do so) that the use of Peking is anachronistic: the capital at that time was known as Khanbaliq.
5 This was apparently The Hidden Planet by Malcolm Hulke; we'll hear more about him starting at the end of Patrick Troughton's run.
6 Thanks go to About Time, which first pointed this out to me.
7 The Target novelizations were designed primarily for a British audience, with British spellings.  It usually didn't cause problems, but I had no idea what the gaoler described in Ian Marter's version of The Reign of Terror was, other than that he must be important.
8 These can be found on the Lost in Time DVD set.  Why they're not on the actual Reign of Terror DVD, I have no idea -- but then it's also missing Carole Ann Ford's linking narration from the VHS, so maybe space was at a premium.