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Recap / Doctor Who S1 E8 "The Reign of Terror"

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The Reign of Terror
Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Henric Hirschnote 
Production code: H
Air dates: 8 August - 12 September 1964
Number of episodes: 6
Episode titles: "A Land of Fear", "Guests of Madame Guillotine", "A Change of Identity", "The Tyrant of France", "A Bargain of Necessity", "Prisoners of Conciergerie"

"Death, always death! Do you think I want this carnage?"
Maximilien Robespierre protests too much

The one where the Doctor gets a silly outfit.

For the last story of Season One, we're back in history land with this adventure in Revolutionary France.

Moments after Ian offends the Doctor's Hair-Trigger Temper in the last episode, the Doctor unceremoniously parks the TARDIS and kicks Ian and Barbara out, despite Susan's protests. The two humans insist on at the very least checking to see if they're in contemporary England. As it turns out, they're not. It's 1794 during the eponymous Reign of Terror, and the TARDIS crew quickly find themselves involved in a Scarlet Pimpernel-style escape committee saving aristocrats from the guillotine, and are then captured by the French army. The Doctor is locked in a burning farmhouse, while Ian, Barbara and Susan are taken to the Conciergerie Prison, the first stop before the guillotine.

While Barbara and Susan are rescued en route the the guillotine, (after Barbara refuses to do you-know-what with the jailor in exchange for their safety), Ian is trapped in a cell with a dying member of La Résistance. He promises to honour the man's last wish to relay a message, and spends a few more hours locked up with a corpse before Lemaître, in charge of the prison, arranges for him to escape with the message he was been given by the dead man.

The Doctor, having been rescued from the fire by a young boy, walks to Paris from the nearby woods (briefly getting sidetracked by a random villain, whom he brains with a shovel) and barters his clothes and ring for an impeccable French official's outfit. Now armed with a silly hat and sash, he barges into the jail and starts a grand Bavarian Fire Drill. After a few episodes of involvement with the rescue group, the traitor among them is exposed, and all that's left is to help English spy James Stirling with a final piece of intelligence gathering before they can all escape. Ian and Barbara pose as innkeepers and observe a young artillery officer by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Much of the plot turns out to be a setup, and the Doctor quickly realizes that they're in the middle of history and that they can't interfere at all. They find themselves forced to stand by while Maximilien Robespierre gets violently shot in the jaw. The group retreats to the TARDIS, silly hat and all.

And thus ends Season One, with a nice view of the galaxy...

Ian Chesterton: What are we going to see and learn next, Doctor?
The Doctor: Well, unlike the old adage, my boy, our destiny is in the stars, so let's go and search for it...

The DVD release reconstructed the two missing episodes with off-air recordings of the original soundtracks and new animated visuals.


  • Battle Discretion Shot: The Doctor convinces the leader of the press gang he's in that they're digging up gold coins. While the man scrabbles on the floor, back turned to the Doctor, the Doctor slowly takes a shovel from another of the gang members and readies it. We cut to the face of the man whose shovel the Doctor took as he looks on in confusion, before suddenly wincing in sympathetic agony as the offscreen Doctor knocks the supervisor cold with the shovel. The man is heard snoring as the Doctor leaves.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: The Doctor, of course, with enough plumes in his hat to overshadow all of Broadway.
  • Big Bad: Maximilien Robespierre, as the leader of the Revolution which causes all the Doctor and company's problems (at least until the end).
  • Bookends: In the opening story of Season One, Susan was reading a book on the French Revolution. In the season finale, they actually visit it.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Changed My Jumper: The Doctor goes out of his way to obtain a député's (member of parliament) outfit as part of a bluff, attempting to trade his own clothes for one. He insists his clothes are more than high enough quality to swap, but the clothes merchant is incredibly confused by the style of them, calling them worthless and admitting he assumed they were cheap fancy dress. He does eventually get a fabulous outfit complete with a feathery hat and spends the rest of the story wearing it and ordering people about — a comment by Susan implies that this may be because he has a Foreign Culture Fetish for the French Revolution.
  • Cliffhanger: The first episode ends with the Doctor trapped in a burning building, fire licking the bottom of the credit scroll all the while.
  • Darker and Edgier: A very violent serial, with plenty of on-screen death, and Barbara being asked to have sex in exchange for her freedom (she's not impressed with the idea).
  • Failed a Spot Check: The physician does not notice Susan's Bizarre Alien Biology. YMMV, but considering that he sells her and Barbara out, maybe he wasn't giving her his full attention?...
  • Fake Shemp: The Doctor is played by a stand-in for the location shots of Paris. According to Carole Ann Ford, the man actually tailed William Hartnell to try and emulate him, much to the actor's annoyance.
  • Faking the Dead: The Doctor reports Lemaître, aka Stirling, shot.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Robespierre gets shot in the jaw, and spends the next few scenes being dragged around by his soldiers in absolute agony with one hand covering his face.
  • Godzilla Threshold: When Jules Renan learned that there was a good chance of Napoléon Bonaparte rising to power, the prospect so terrified him that he even considered the present madness under Robespierre preferable!
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Robespierre is shot in the jaw offscreen (in mid-sentence, even), and is seen clutching his jaw with his hand covered in blood for the next few scenes as he is dragged off by the mob who came to arrest him.
  • Historical Domain Character: Maximilien Robespierre, Napoléon Bonaparte.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Not said by name of course, but the four speculate what would have happened if they had tried to warn Napoleon about the future.
    Doctor: Well, I can assure you, my dear Barbara, Napoleon would never have believed you.
    Ian: Yes, Doctor, but supposing we had written Napoleon a letter, telling him, you know, some of the things that were going to happen to him.
    Susan: It wouldn't have made any difference, Ian. He'd have forgotten it, or lost it, or thought it was written by a maniac.
    Barbara: I suppose if we'd tried to kill him with a gun, the bullet would have missed him.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Barbara, a history teacher with a wide and extensive knowledge of even obscure points of the subject, completely forgets that medical treatment in the French Revolution was not as good as it is in 1960s Britain. A chunk of her plotline involves her trying to get Susan to a doctor, and she is shocked when the doctor just wants to put leeches on her.
    • Susan, who previously was shown to be easily scared but able to endure fear when she was forced to (see "An Unearthly Child", "The Daleks" and "The Sensorites") refuses to attempt to escape from a prison cell where she has been told she will be guillotined tomorrow, because there are rats in the cell that she is scared of. Even if that was a sensible priority for fear (even Phobias in the real world do not override known threats to life), this means she remains in the cell with the rats...
  • Ignored Epiphany: Robespierre has one in Episode 4.
  • Leitmotif: The obligatory first few bars of La Marseillaise.
  • Oh, Crap!: Jules when the Doctor enters the counter-revolutionaries' hideout, followed by Lemaître, whom they believe to be an enemy working for the Revolutionary government.
    Barbara: Lemaître!
    Jules: Your friend has betrayed us!
  • The Mole:
    • M. Léon Colbert, infiltrating the counter-revolutionaries on behalf of the Revolution.
    • On the other side, James Stirling infiltrating the Revolutionary government on behalf of the British government.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: None of the guest cast have accents. Most egregiously is the jailer, who is clearly from Oop North
  • Reign of Terror: The story is set at the height of the trope-naming Reign of Terror in 1790s France.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Naturally given the time period.
  • Rotoscoping: Used in some scenes of the animated Episodes 4 and 5 on the DVD release.
  • Sarcastic Confession:
    Ian: I flew here with three friends in a small box. When I left England it was 1963.
  • Smug Snake: The jailer, the road construction overseer...
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: One of the men come to arrest Robespierre shoots Robespierre in the jaw when he tries breaking him by talking.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Danielle is the only female among the 23 guest characters.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: The soldiers who pursue Rouvray and D'Argenson are little more than murderous thugs.
  • Sound-Only Death: D'Argenson is shot off-screen after he tried to run and the mob of soldiers surrounded him. This trope is averted with Rouvray.
  • Talking Your Way Out: The Doctor, posing as a regional official from a southern province, is taken to meet Robespierre. Robespierre asks him for a report on his region, but the Doctor turns the question aside by offering his thoughts on the situation in Paris first. Time for the meeting runs out before the conversation can come back to the original subject.
  • Title Drop: When Barbara and Ian realize they're in the middle of The French Revolution.
    Ian: Robespierre? Must be a... oh, wait a minute. The Doctor's put us down right in the middle of the French Revolution.
    Barbara: Yes. The Reign of Terror.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Robespierre.
  • The X of Y: Not only the story, but all six episode titles (give or take a "The")!

"Well, unlike the old adage, my boy, our destiny is in the stars, so let's go and search for it."