What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Reign of Terror,” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: The 18th Century

Place: Earth, France, during the time of the French Revolution.


1. “A Land of Fear” (Season One, Episode Thirty-Seven)
2. “Guests of Madame Guillotine” (S1, E38)
3. “A Change of Identity” (S1, E39)
4. “The Tyrant of France” (S1, E40)
5. “A Bargain of Necessity” (S1, E41)
6. “Prisoners of Conciergerie” (S1, E42)

Today’s Lessons

1. In the first episode of this serial, the Doctor is in a bit of a tantrum.  At the end of “The Sensorites,” Ian makes an off-handed comment about their futuristic human friends by saying, “At least they know where they’re going.”  The Doctor doesn’t like the implication of this statement at all.  He thinks Ian is making insinuations and spends much of the next landing trying to turn Ian and Barbara off the ship.  Despite Susan’s woe at their departure, the Doctor keeps making remarks, such as, “Oh, you’re still here?”  Ian and Barbara, unsure that the landing site is in fact the England of their time, wheedle the Doctor into exploration by appealing to his great knowledge, yen for research, and wisdom.  It’s funny: One is like a petulant child!

2. Ian makes the comment that at least the Doctor “tried” to get him and Barbara home, even though it was out of “bad temper.”  Is the implication that the Doctor isn’t trying to get them home?  As in: he wants them along for the ride, despite his grumpiness?

3. Susan offers this bit of information: “The Reign of Terror,” i.e. the French Revolution, is the Doctor’s “favorite period in the history of Earth.”  Uh….hm.  And: why?

4. The Doctor is affected by smoke inhalation, same as humans.  Fire is bad for most creatures of the universe.

5. The Doctor, after being rescued by the boy named Jean Pierre from the fire at the farmhouse, decides to walk the 12 kilometers to Paris, where Ian, Barbara, and Susan are being imprisoned prior to their inevitable beheading.  The Doctor stops to talk to a work foreman, and they get into a heated argument.  The foreman says to the Doctor, “I suppose you think you’re very clever.”  The Doctor responds, “With all due modesty…yes.”

6. The Doctor clubs the foreman over the head with a shovel!  When the foreman threatens the Doctor with his pistol and coerces him into work detail, the Doctor tricks the foreman into thinking he’s dug up buried treasure.  When the foreman, who is greedy, suddenly volunteers to do all the digging, the Doctor hits him over the head with his shovel, causing the workers to run away, now free, and the Doctor to continue his journey.  So much for not liking weapons!

7. The third episode of the serial finds Barbara and Susan being rescued from the guillotine by rebels, Ian escaping from prison, and the Doctor bartering for a new outfit, so he can pose as a French regional officer to try to order Ian, Barbara, and Susan out of prison.  The hilarious part about this is that his hat has an impossibly large plume of feathers on top of it.  I’ve learned nothing from this other than confirmation of what I already knew – the Doctor is a madman in a box, from One to Eleven (and beyond).

8. The fourth and fifth episodes of this serial are missing episodes.  Only audio and still photographs have been recovered, except for mere seconds of moving footage.

9. When Barbara argues with the Doctor about the best next step to finding Ian, the Doctor says: “Now, don’t you argue!  You know my plans always work,” or something to that effect.  Unless I heard him wrong…I would take exception to this assertion of the Doctor’s.

10.This serial might be interesting because of how involved each of the characters get in this particular slice of history – though wildly aware that they are in the middle of the French Revolution, each character takes an approach within the idiom of who they are.  Ian fights to save his friends, including those he makes along the way. Barbara’s compassion–particularly when she finds out that Leon, a revolutionary who flirted with her, was slain by Jules after the latter discovered Leon was a traitor and tried to harm Ian–overflows, and her frustration at the circumstances becomes an urgent plea to Ian to read his history books.  Susan is always the damsel in distress, though she isn’t without pluck (and she gets sick with a fever for no explained reason).  The Doctor, of course, tries to think his way out of tight spots.  Yet, the backdrop is always the Revolution and the stark reality of war and death; science fiction doesn’t even factor into this story.  Many of One’s episodes are characterized by subtext and social commentary, and this serial is no exception.

11. In an effort to rescue Susan from the Conciergerie Prison, the Doctor tricks the Jailer into thinking Susan has escaped by having her crouch down very near the door to her cell, only so he can hit the Jailer over the head with a bottle once the Jailer opens the door.  That’s two sneaky clubbing attacks that the Doctor has perpetrated in this serial with items that may not start out as weapons but certainly become such when the Doctor wields them!

12. In the last episode, after Lemaitre has revealed his true identity, and a plan is hatched to jailbreak Susan while Ian helps Lemaitre spy on Robespierre in the wake of finding out that Napoleon Bonaparte seeks high position within the French government, Barbara has a little chuckle.  When the Doctor asks her what is so amusing, she answers that it seems funny that so much feverish effort should be spent attempting to save Robespierre when history reveals that he will be beheaded on the guillotine anyway.  The Doctor reminds Barbara that history can’t be changed, and she admits she learned her lesson with the Aztecs, but the Doctor notes, “We may not be able to stem the tide, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop ourselves from being carried away with the flood.”  Arguably, avoiding adventures to dangerous parts of history might achieve the same effect, though.

13.  The ending quote from the Doctor for this serial and this season: “Our lives are important.  At least, to us.  But as we see, so we learn…our destiny is in the stars.  So, let’s go and search for it.”

14. This wasn’t my favorite of the serials.  I think my favorite so far is “The Keys of Marinus.”  Yet, it was a fairly thorough and amusing representation of a turbulent time in history – though everyone spoke with English accents.  Robespierre gets shot in the jaw before being escorted to prison, so it’s interesting to see that British TV in the sixties didn’t shy away from the gruesome.  The thing I enjoyed most with this group of six episodes is reflecting on how Ian and Barbara are schoolteachers, essentially living their lessons.  The early intrigue of the show is very much alive, and it’s no wonder “Doctor Who” has lasted for so long.

So ends season 1 – 42 episodes down!  600+ more to go, but the journey back in time is much like the journeys that the Doctor and his companions take in the TARDIS – it’s fun to be able to go anywhere, and it’s always bigger on the inside!

Next serial: “Planet of Giants” (Season 2, Episodes 1-3).


One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · January 18, 2014

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