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 3: A Change of Identity
Last time, the majority of our cast got themselves shipped off to prison while the Doctor took a scenic walking tour of France. Then, in the episode’s final minutes, Barbara and Susan were led out to the guillotine, while Ian looked on helplessly from his cell.
We open this week on a shot of a city street as the Doctor finally makes his arrival in Paris.
Then it’s off to another part of the city, where a pair of young men hover in the shadows, waiting to ambush the prison caravan on its way to the guillotine.
Meanwhile, back in the dungeons, everyone’s favorite Jailer shows up for his regular food delivery only to be by summoned by his Uniformed Superior. In his hurry, the jailer somehow manages to leave his entire ring of keys dangling from the keyhole of a nearby cell.
The Uniformed Man, who has been waiting all of twenty-three seconds, immediately snaps at the Jailer for taking so long.
When the Jailer points out that he was delivering food, Capt. Uniform screams and knocks the pair of bowls he’s holding to the floor, shouting, “The prisoner’s food is unimportant!”
So, what is important? Long lists of execution figures, which Uniform informs us will soon be examined by Robespierre himself. He’s also quick to add that if the records aren’t correct, the Jailer himself might find his way onto the list.
Now I’ve been fortunate enough to have never lived through a genocidal purge, so my knowledge in this area is somewhat lacking, but how exactly does one screw up a list of executions? Do you accidentally check the alive box by mistake? It seems pretty cut and dried.
While this is going on, we cut to inside of Ian’s cell, where everyone’s favorite man of action searches his surroundings for a way out. He notices the keys dangling from his cell door, steals the key to his individual cell, then sticks them back exactly as he found them.
Then, with that accomplished, he sits down to reward himself with a nice bowl of Parisian slop.
Back in the main area, Uniform is apparently pleased with the Jailer’s figures and promises to put a good word for him in higher circles.
Jailer’s feeling pretty good about himself. The right word in the right ear might mean bigger prisons and bigger prisons means bigger keychains. Oh, the possibilities.
Unfortunately that’s about the time he notices that his own keys are missing and races back to the cells. He finds them hanging from the door where he left them, never suspecting that they’re a single key short.
Well played Ian, well played.
Down in the streets, Susan and Barbara enjoy what may be the worst carriage ride of all time on their trip to the guillotine.
Fortunately, their journey is interrupted when one of the horses throws a shoe. Barbara plans to make a break for it but Susan’s not feeling well enough to move, so they just stand there hugging instead.
But then the two rebels from earlier show up, kill all the guards, and whisk the two of them off to safety.
With that settled, it’s back to the Doctor who continues wandering the streets. He stops in at a clothing shop and inquires where the newly arrested prisoners are taken.
Then, he starts rummaging through racks of clothes, discovering a Regional Officer’s uniform. Despite possessing no money whatsoever, he talks the shopkeep into giving it to him in exchange for the clothes on his back. The Shopkeep agrees on the condition that Doc throw in his ring. Doc agrees on the further condition that he be given parchment and writing materials.
Meanwhile, the rebels have succeeded in bringing Barbara and Susan to their safehouse. The lead rebel introduces himself as Jules and gives his partner’s name as Jean.
Jules says they’ll make arrangements to have the two of them smuggled out of France, but Barbara refuses until they’ve found the missing members of their group.
In the dungeon, Ian calls for the Jailer. When he doesn’t answer, Ian uses the key to unlock his cell and make a break for it.
On his way out, he stumbles on the Jailer, who is passed out drunk along the floor. Strike two Jailer.
As he escapes, the Uniformed guy secretly watches, in the hope that Ian will lead him to the British spy mentioned last time.
Back at the safehouse, Barbara and Susan use a map to show Jules where they were captured.
After hearing about the farmhouse, Jules asks them if they encountered two men and Barbara tells them of the two men that were shot during their capture.
Jean is worried about the soldiers discovered their escape route and believes there may be an informer in their group.
Then another rebel named Leon shows up with a message for Jule.
“There is a man. A stranger. He’s been asking for you.”
Which is apparently pretty important because Jules and Jean immediately head off to investigate, leaving Barbara alone with Leon.
Back at the prison, it’s dress-up time as the Doc strides into the dungeons wearing a full French uniform. And yes, it’s as fantastic as it sounds.
Show of hands who thinks this should become his regular look? Doc storms in and immediately begins dressing down the jailer, berating him for not providing him with an escort through the city.
Then he asks about Ian, Susan and Barb and is told that the two women were rescued and that Ian escaped.
As he stands there conversing with the Jailer, the Uniformed Man shows up and demands to see his papers.
After looking them over, Uniform says he’s going off to discuss execution figures and since the province Doc claimed to be from is going to be discussed, he should join him.
Then, a short time later, the shopkeeper shows up at the prison and gives the Doctor’s ring to the Jailer in order to rat him out.
Well, quite a contrast from last week’s snoozefest. There’s actually quite a bit going on here and the director does a solid job cutting between the various groups, while keeping the story moving. Plus, Hartnell with a cape! There might be hope for this storyline yet.
Tune in next time for episode 4, The Tyrant of France.