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1x08. The Reign of Terror
Writer: Dennis Spooner
Director: Henric Hirsch
Script Editor: David Whitaker
Producers: Verity Lambert & Mervyn Pinfield

Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives in France during Robespierre's Reign of Terror, and the time travelers soon become separated. Ian, Barbara, and Susan are arrested, while the Doctor heads to Paris and poses as a provincial authority to try to ascertain what has happened to his companions. Meanwhile Ian escapes and becomes involved in the plans of James Stirling, a British spy working to undermine Robespierre's regime, only to discover that they may have hastened Napoleon's rise to power.

Review: I'm briefly stepping out of chronological order here to comment on "The Reign of Terror," which has just now been released in incomplete form in the U.S. (The video contains episodes 1, 2, 3, and 6, with narration, stills, and audio clips filling in for the missing episodes 4 and 5.) While I won't be assigning a rating, I thought I'd write up a few thoughts on the available material before returning to my regular viewing order with, as it happens, another partially-restored serial, "The Crusade."

From what I did see, I had about the same reaction to "The Reign of Terror" that I've had to a number of other Hartnell serials: it's competent and reasonably entertaining, but nothing exceptional. It meets the "educational" requirement of the early historicals by importing a few basic facts about the French Revolution, and while the plot is a bit predictable (is there anyone who wouldn't have guessed that the Doctor and his companions would run afoul of the regime and get involved with counter-revolutionaries?), it moves along quickly enough to keep viewers from getting bored. But the episodes don't really explore the context of the Revolution, nor do they convey an impression of what it really would have been like to live through the Terror. Ironically, the human experience of life and resistance under an oppressive government was captured much more effectively in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth."

What makes "The Reign of Terror" so difficult to judge based on the available episodes is that this problem might well have been corrected in the missing episodes 4 and 5, in which the Doctor confronts Robespierre in person and a double agent is revealed among the counter-revolutionaries. Maybe those lost episodes better portrayed the fear and paranoia that French citizens at the time must have experienced, or effectively delved into the original causes of the Revolution and how what was ostensibly a liberation movement spun out of control and turned into something so bizarre and dangerous. Then again, maybe not. The handling of the situation in Episode 6, when Stirling realizes, in a classic "be careful what you wish for" moment, that he may have hastened the rise of an even more dangerous enemy in Napoleon, certainly shows that the creative forces behind this serial were capable of real substance. But I'm not comfortable judging the missing episodes on the basis of narration and plot summaries, and so I'll have to refrain from labeling "The Reign of Terror" as a success or a failure.

That said, "The Reign of Terror" is still worth seeing in its fragmented form. If nothing else, the interaction between the leads redeems the otherwise jarring final scene of "The Sensorites," in which the Doctor overreacts to a remark by Ian and announces that he and Barbara are no longer welcome in the TARDIS. In "The Reign of Terror," we see that he's trying once again to take them home rather than simply throwing them out, and he later calls them his "friends" and becomes determined to save them when they are arrested and taken to Paris. It's also of interest for those curious about the early historical serials, especially since there seems to be no surviving footage at all from "Marco Polo" and "The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve." This video release should simply be taken for what it is: a partial but noticeably incomplete reconstruction of a lost serial.

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