Weighing in at an impressive 800 episodes, Doctor Who has been entertaining audiences for the past 50 years. Yet, despite this vast backlog of content, I know next to nothing about the actual series. For that reason, I’ve decided to watch this unusual show from the beginning, to discover the source of its unique appeal. Come with me as I tackle this daunting sci-fi phenomena from the very beginning in The Complete Doctor Who.
Warning: the following contains spoilers.
Doctor Who: Serial 7 The Reign of Terror, Episode 2: Guests of Madame Guillotine
So, I’m just going to come right out and say it; this is not the Doc’s finest hour. Despite possessing a title that sounds like an Iron Maiden song, this week’s episode is kind of a snooze. It’s remarkably light on action, but what it does have in spades is walking, oh, and digging. Lots and lots of digging. You’ve been warned.
We begin where we left off, with the spy house engulfed in flames.
From there, we cut to a map of Paris, then a shot of a guillotine slamming down. We get a few paintings from the period with audio of crowds jeering laid over the background.
It’s actually quite effective, using creative, low budget techniques to build atmosphere.
Eventually we end up at Conciergerie Prison where Barbara, Ian, and Susan have been paraded before a magistrate who charges them as traitors and immediately sentences them to death.
From there, they’re led into a dungeon where Ian is locked up. Then, with him out of the picture, the jailer immediately begins hitting on Barbara.
“A lady like you shouldn’t be kept in this pigsty. Or course I have the keys. It wouldn’t be very difficult to keep a few doors open now would it?”
Then, in case she somehow missed the subtext, he adds, “It gets very lonely in here sometimes. Very lonely indeed.”
Having exhausted his charms he opts for some light groping, which earns him a nice slap across the face.
Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Mr. Jailer, who immediately locks both Barbara and Susan in a cell he keeps for his “special guests.”
Meanwhile, back at the burning house, we find the Doc laid out along the ground with the boy from last week leaning over him.
As the Doctor wakes up, we get some fantastic method acting from Hartnell who goes into a full-on hacking fit. He really sells it. It sounds so bad, I swear he was actually choking and they just began rolling cameras.
With his lungs clear of all that pesky smoke, the boy tells the Doctor that his friends have been taken to Paris to await execution and this is where we begin one of the episode’s recurring highlights, shots of cross-country walking accompanied by wildly inappropriate music.
Not exactly racing against the clock is he?
Back in the dungeon, Barbara finds some crowbars and starts trying to dig her way out, while Susan stands by as lookout.
Meanwhile, in an adjacent cell, Ian shares a conversation with his new roommate, who’s not doing well. It seems the dude went and got himself shot and now he’s slowly bleeding to death. Ugh, aren’t roommates just the worst?
The cellmate, who’s name is Webster, reveals that he is a British agent, dispatched to bring a fellow spy back with him to England and seeing as how he’s gutshot and all would Ian mind terribly taking over him?
He manages to give Ian the spy’s name, James Sterling, then promptly dies.
But don’t worry, there’s no need to get depressed because it’s time for another nature walk.
As he slooowly makes his way across a field, the Doctor comes upon a stout, bearded man overseeing a group of men breaking rocks. The overseer reveals that the workers are tax dodgers that have been put to work, then starts bitching about having to finish their digging project by tomorrow.
Despite the fact that he’s racing against time, Doc breaks out his legendary people skills, telling him, “If you were to expend your energy helping with the road instead of bawling and shouting at them every few seconds you might be able to get somewhere. Good day to you sir!”
Then the overseer, who is now thoroughly pissed, turns the situation back on the Doctor, demanding to see his papers. When he can’t produce any identification, the Overseer accuses him of tax dodging and puts him to work digging up rocks.
And hey, can’t get enough digging? Don’t worry, because as luck would have it, Barbara’s doing the exact same thing, trying to tunnel her way out of her cell, barely escaping notice when the jailer steps in to bring them food.
He notices the blankets she’s draped over the tools and walks over to investigate only to be called off at the last second.
Back in Ian’s cell, a uniformed man walks in, pulls the blanket off of Webster and asks how long he’s been dead.
When Ian doesn’t answer, Capt. Uniform gets rough, asking him if the man said anything before he died. Ian tells him no, but Uniform is skeptical and heads out to ask the jailer if he overhead them speaking. The Jailer says he heard voices, but couldn’t make out what they said.
Cut to, the Doctor digging through rocks with the other tax dodgers. But have no fear, ‘cause Doc’s got a plan and it goes like this.
Step One: Stare up into the sky and start freaking out over “an eclipse”.
Step Two: Steal a handful of coin’s from the overseer’s pockets when he comes over to investigate.
Step Three: Scatter coins in the area where you’re digging.
Step Four: Make an unconvincing claim that you’ve found treasure.
“I just found this coin down there. It must come from some hidden treasure.”
“More likely dropped by a passing traveler.”
“No, no definitely a hidden treasure.”
Step Five: “Discover” a second coin, causing the Overseer to start digging himself.
Step Five: And this is the important one. Grab a pick while the man’s back is turned, then use it to hit him over the head.
Standing over the now unconscious overseer, Doc retrieves his coat like a boss then engages in still more walking.
Back in the dungeon, Barbara and Susan are led out of their cell with the other prisoners. Ian is strangely absent from the group and when they ask about him, the jailer tells them that he has been crossed off the executioner’s list.
Then, as they’re all led out to the guillotine, we cut to Ian in his cell peering through the bars as his friends are paraded by.
I didn’t lie, did I? Lots of walking, digging, and very little else. I know you’re all as hooked as I am, so join me back here next time for episode 3, A Change of Identity.