The end of the first season of is within our grasp. But we have one final obstacle to overcome: an incomplete story with a third missing from the archives. Cowards would probably skip this one but we’re in far too deep to turn back now.
A Land of Fear
I decide to stun Sue with a confession. Close friends should probably look away now.
Me: I’ve never seen this one before.
Sue spits a mouthful of hot coffee all over our kitten, Tegan.
Me: It’s not my fault! I didn’t even have a VHS player when they finally released this story. That and bits of it are missing, of course.
Sue: What do you mean, “Bits of it are missing”?
Me: Two episodes out of six – four and five to be precise – do not survive in the BBC archives. We’ll have to watch reconstructions of them, just like we did with Marco Polo.
Sue: Oh good. I liked that one.
The story begins with the Doctor in a foul mood, which is a shame because Sue was just beginning to warm to him. She can’t tell if his gruff threat to put Ian and Barbara off the ship is a full-on dicky-fit or just playful banter.
Sue: I don’t think Ian and Barbara want to go home just yet. Not really. I mean, what have they got to get back for anyway? A pile of marking? An Ofsted inspection? Coronation Street?
As Ian and Barbara debate this very issue, Sue is struck by the fact that Ian can’t stop glaring at Barbara’s breasts. And then, without warning, the playfulness that has been a hallmark of the episode so far, is suddenly replaced by confusion, bloodshed and horror.
Sue: If this was a new series episode, I would expect the revolutionary blokes to be the main allies who help us throughout the story. In this, they’re killed in the first few minutes. I still can’t get over how bleak this show was at the very beginning. No one seems safe.
As if to underline her point, the cliffhanger, where the Doctor is left to burn to death, is met with unequivocal praise.
Sue: Best cliffhanger yet.top
Guests of Madame Guillotine
Sue: Is this a recon?
Sue is thrown by the still image of a guillotine that begins this episode, and as she turns to question me, she misses the moment where it unfreezes and the guillotine comes crashing down. By the time she’s turned back to the screen, a hand-drawn map of Paris has replaced it and I can sense her mounting confusion. She looks disappointed when the images start to move again.
Sue: That little boy is really good. Does the Doctor come back for him? Does he become a companion?
Me: No. And isn’t the TARDIS crowded enough?
Sue: That’s a shame. He really brought out a really nice side of Hartnell.
As the Doctor begins his arduous journey to Paris, I ask Sue if she notices anything different.
Sue: Yes, we are outside for the first time. Real location filming. Nice. It’s just a pity that it isn’t really William Hartnell – his walk is much too spritely. Still, it does give the story a more epic feel, I guess. But to be honest, I prefer it when they were in the studio. It feels more honest, somehow.
When the Doctor gets himself embroiled in a dispute involving a chain gang, Sue is less than impressed.
Sue: You flaming idiot!
Me: Hey! He was trying to stick up for the oppressed. He was actually trying to be the good guy, just like you keep saying he should.
Sue: His only priority now should be getting back to Ian, Barbara and Susan. He’s a complete moron for getting involved in that stupid altercation. It’s not as if he was going to free the slaves, he was just being unnecessarily sarcastic. What a dick.
When the Doctor whacks the official over the head with a shovel, Sue is convinced that he’s killed him and she’s relieved when it turns out to be nothing more than harmless cartoon violence (which really doesn’t tally with the rest of the series so far).
Meanwhile, in Paris things are looking grim. There’s yet another hint of impending sexual violence (this time it’s a prison guard who can’t keep his eyes off Barbara’s breasts) and Susan has been reduced to a gibbering wreck. Sue, on the other hand, is doing just fine.
Sue: Poor Susan. She’s really bringing out Barbara’s mothering instincts. It’s a bit like Aliens, only it’s set in Revolutionary France.
I suggest that Susan could actually be hundreds of years older than Barbara. Sue asks me to provide some evidence for this, which, of course, I can’t.
Sue: That’s a great shot with Ian behind bars. It’s very cinematic. In fact, I’m really impressed with the overall direction. It’s a massive step-up from The Sensorites. Let’s crack on.top
A Change of Identity
Sue: Is that nose a special effect?
Me: It’s hard to say. It could be.
Sue: He must be from Bergerac. Everyone from Bergerac has a nose like that.
Me: Even John Nettles?
This time it’s Colbert’s turn to stare longingly in the direction of Barbara’s heaving bosom – “Form an orderly queue, gentlemen!” – and then we get into a debate about unwanted pregnancies and interfering with history. Sue would have come up with a cracking proposal for a Virgin New Adventure if this was 1994.
Sue: Hartnell is doing quite well in this one. He seems to be a lot more relaxed in the real world stories. It’s as if he can get a handle on what’s going for a change.
Sue feels that Ian is acting a little differently this week, too. He appears to have settled into the role of action-man adventurer and Sue believes that it suits him.
Sue: I have to say, the costumes look fantastic. Everyone looks great. I’m not entirely convinced by the Doctor’s hat, though. He looks like he’s got a dead chicken on his head. Look, you can even see its legs dangling down by the side of his neck…
Sue is amused when a real horse turns up in the studio, and she’s convinced that something has gone tragically wrong until it turns out to be a plot point involving a bad shoe.
The episode concludes with a close-up of the Doctor’s ring.
Sue: And that’s supposed to be scary, how?top
The Tyrant of France – A Bargain of Necessity
No telesnaps exist for this story and the recons I have at my disposal look terrible, bordering on the unwatchable. However, I did find a rather good version on YouTube that edits episodes four and five together very nicely indeed, and we decide to watch that instead.
Sue is enthralled by the reconstruction. She especially adores the moments where the limited stills suddenly lurch into life with snatches of jerky movement.
Sue: What amazes me is that not only did someone think it was worth filming a bit of Doctor Who off their telly with a Super 8 camera, the footage has survived and decades later we are watching it on our computer screen. That boggles the mind.
I explain to her that people were recording the audio soundtracks on reel-to-reel tape within weeks of the programme starting.
Sue: Wow. Now that’s scary.
We then engage in another lengthy discussion about the missing episodes, which continue to fascinate her, and it takes me an age to convince her that The Tenth Planet Episode 4 isn’t sitting in a car boot somewhere in Redcar. She has a friend with a massive collection of old film cans and she is already making plans to get her hands on a projector so she can go through each and every one. Just in case.
I am not making this up.
Sue: Somebody should make a really good documentary about the missing episodes.
Later that night, I screen the Missing Episodes documentary from the Lost in Time box set.
Sue: Like I said, somebody should make a really good documentary about the missing episodes. Sadly, as interesting as this debate is, we are losing track of the plot. Luckily, Sue manages to boil it down for us:
Sue: It’s basically a bit of a runaround where people get locked up, then they escape, and then they get locked up again. To be honest, it’s a bit slow. They could have wrapped this up ages ago. I understand why it goes on so long, and how it all boils down to simple economics, but it doesn’t half go on. And one last thing – why is Valerie Singleton doing the narration for this?top
Prisoners of Conciergerie
As bizarre as it may seem, Sue is disappointed when the pictures start moving again.
Sue: I’m getting a little tired of all these constant visits to the prison. It’s as if the writer doesn’t really care about the regulars and he just wants to tell his little story about the French Revolution. The Doctor is doing nothing. He just lets everyone talk and talk and talk.
Me: It doesn’t help that my knowledge of the French Revolution is a little rusty, thanks to my shoddy education. I’m guessing that children watching this back in the 1960s would have been taught this period of history on the national curriculum, so it probably made a lot more sense to them.
Impressively, Sue guesses that Napoleon is going to turn up long before I do. Like I said, education in the 1960s was so much better.
Sue: This isn’t children’s television. It’s a proper drama about politics and history. There’s nothing for the kids to latch onto here. There’s very little adventure or excitement and, as Barbara says, history has already been written and they don’t even bother to interfere with it. In fact, Barbara just laughs it off! I just don’t see where the drama is supposed to come from.
As the episode reaches its predetermined conclusion (including a horrific moment where Robespierre is shot in the jaw. It all happens off-screen but your mind fills in the blanks), our heroes finally make it back to the safety of the TARDIS. The season concludes with a touching speech from Hartnell, as the screen is filled with stars.
Sue: I liked the bit about them finding their destiny in the stars. Does that mean they’ve given up trying to get back to 1963? Have they decided to have some fun exploring the universe? I like that idea.top
The Final Score
Sue lets out a sigh as the credits roll. She’s not impressed with Dennis Spooner at all.
Sue: It looked great and it was very well acted but it was very slow. Towards the end, I found it difficult to care about anyone. And besides, if I want to see a revolution, I can just turn on the news.
And then Sue gives The Reign of Terror -
Me: Well, we successfully made it through the first season of Doctor Who. Congratulations. Many ‘proper’ fans haven’t done what we’ve just done.
Sue: How many seasons are left?
Sue looks crestfallen. She can’t believe that we are only 1/26th of the way through the experiment.
Me: Don’t panic. You can practically fit the last three seasons into Hartnell’s first. In the 1960s they were churning out episodes like there was no tomorrow. In fact, back in 1964, audiences only had to wait a few weeks until the second season started.
Sue: Really? So how long do we get off?
Me: A day. That seems fair.
Sue: Would you like me to sum up the first season for you?
Me: Go ahead.
Sue: It was all over the place. They were obviously just making it up as they went along but it was interesting to see how it all began. I’m actually looking forward to seeing how things develop once they settle down a bit. Hartnell is getting better, but he’s still a pain in the arse.
The experiment continues…top
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