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2x06. The Crusade
Writer: David Whitaker
Director: Douglas Camfield
Script Editor: Dennis Spooner
Producer: Verity Lambert

Synopsis: The TARDIS materializes in the Middle East during the 12th century, where the forces of King Richard the Lionheart are at war with the Saracens. Richard wants to make peace by arranging a marriage between his sister and Saladin's brother Saphadin, but she refuses, and meanwhile the TARDIS crew are split up and try to avoid incurring the hostility of either side.

Review: With the exception of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," the second season had been a mostly pedestrian effort so far, offering three mildly inventive but somewhat superficial sci-fi/adventure plots and one poorly conceived attempt at comedy. Fortunately, the series bounces back with "The Crusade," a nicely written piece of human drama and a refreshing sign of life for the historical format after the misfire of "The Romans."

The Doctor and his companions play something of a secondary role in terms of moving the plot forward: they're not protagonists so much as tour guides to the world of the 12th century. This turns out not to be a problem, however, because writer David Whitaker's guest characters are drawn well enough that I was content to sit back and watch their story unfold. The dialogue and performances are uniformly first-rate, and the production team has done a nice job of capturing the look and feel of another time and place on their limited budget. And I should emphasize that the TARDIS crew aren't completely upstaged: Barbara, in particular, shows real bravery and heroism, especially when she allows herself to be captured by the vicious El Akir rather than risk letting him discover Safiya in her hiding place.

I was somewhat worried when I sat down to watch "The Crusade" that it would show us uncompromisingly brave and noble Englishmen pitted against savage bloodthirsty Arabs, but Whitaker gives us a nicely balanced picture of the two sides. The leaders on both sides -- Richard for the English, and Saladin and Saphadin for the Saracens -- are growing weary of war and are open to the possibility of peace by way of an arranged marriage for Saphadin and Richard's sister Joanna. And while El Akir is certainly the villain of the piece, we see that the English are capable of warmongering and superstition (Leicester is decidedly cool to the prospect of peace and believes that the Doctor is a sorcerer), and Joanna's refusal of a marriage to a "dog" and an "infidel" is an honest portrayal of the prejudices of the medieval era. In the end, the attempts at peace are unsuccessful: there is a tragic air to Richard's reluctant resolve to try once again to take Jerusalem, a quest that we (and the Doctor) know will fail. As for El Akir, we see that his own subjects fear and despise him just as much as his English enemies, which both strengthens him as a villain and adds to the balanced portrayal of the two sides.

While "The Aztecs" used the historical format to explore the issue of interaction between two vastly different cultures, "The Crusade" tackles the slightly less nuanced but nevertheless compelling theme of the hard choices of war. Whitaker's script gives us leaders who, we sense, do not really want to be fighting each other, but find themselves doing so nonetheless, with no solution in sight that modern audiences would see as completely acceptable: we're likely to approve of Richard's desire for peace but not his attempt to coerce his sister, and we're similarly likely to approve of Joanna's resistance to the arranged marriage but not of the bigotry that leads her to refuse. Even Leicester, who is distinguished by his ardor for religious conquest and his hostility to the Doctor, comes off not so much as a villain but rather as a product of his times. The same goes for Saladin and Saphadin: they're eager for an agreement that might end the fighting and they treat Barbara well when she's in their custody, but they seem prepared to kill her if she proves not to be useful.

The restoration of "The Crusade" offers about all a Doctor Who fan could ask for: we get the two intact episodes, an introductory segment and narration to fill in the missing pieces by William Russell, in character as an elderly Ian Chesterton looking back on his adventures with the Doctor, and a soundtrack CD of the two missing episodes. (I'd advise having this detailed plot summary from the Doctor Who Reference Guide in front of you while you listen.) It's not quite the same as having the complete serial, but it's still enough for me to rank "The Crusade" alongside "The Aztecs" and "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" as one of the series' early standouts.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of four)

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