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 4: The Tyrant of France
Unfortunately, this week we’ve run up against the BBC’s regrettable junking policy once again, meaning that the video footage for this episode has been completely lost. The original audio survives though, so in lieu of the original video we have the next best thing…creepy ass animation.
That’s right, the entire episode has been recreated in animated form, which is a rather ingenious, if slightly off-putting, way of watching these missing episodes.
Apparently this is the standard BBC policy on serials missing two episodes or less, so we might as well get used to it since we’ll be running up against it a lot going forward.
With that out of the way, let’s rejoin the Doctor as he’s paraded before French Revolutionary figure and murder-enthusiast Maximilien Francois Marie Isidore de Robespierre.
The Uniformed Man presiding over Concierge Prison (who we FINALLY learn is named Lemaitre) presents Robespierre with the latest list of execution stats, which proves that, even in a state of homicidal anarchy, paperwork is still very important.
After approving the latest kill stats, Robespierre begins laying into the Doctor regarding the low execution numbers coming out of the province he is pretending to represent.
Now, nobody likes rudeness less than me, but considering Robespierre is the Casanova of killing, you might want to just shut and take the insult. The Doc, however, opts for a different strategy and immediately begins wising off.
“Oh you’ve reached that conclusion? Well, perhaps we have fewer enemies in our region and it may be that Paris can take an example from us.”
Then, as if that wasn’t enough, he begins questioning Robespierre’s entire methodology.
“What can this reign of terror possibly gain? For every opponent you put to the guillotine, two more will spring up.”
That’s about the time Lemaitre jumps in and points out that maybe now might be a good time for him to keep his mouth shut.
Strangely enough, Robespierre takes the Doctor’s side, insisting, “He is only warning me of the dangers I face.”
It seems that Robespierre, notorious tyrant, was strangely open to personal criticism. You learned it here first kids.
Then, as if to prove that he’s not THAT stable, he launches into a prolonged paranoid rant ending with a strange bout of self-pity.
Aww. Poor guy just needs a hug.
Lemaitre immediately jumps on the opportunity to leave, but Robespierre insists that Lematire bring the Doctor by the next day.
Meanwhile, back in the rebel’s safe house, Susan has been transformed into a Renaissance painting.
Whoops, seems to have mixed up my notes. Actually, she’s taken sick after her stint in the local jail.
Their rebel companion Leon suggests the possibility of bringing a doctor in to see her, but he says that it would be very risky.
Barbara insists that it’s a risk they’ll have to take.
Then Leon leaves to check on one of his fellow rebels, who is long overdue to return. As he departs, Susan wakes up long enough to point out that Barbara has the hots for him.
As Barbara takes Susan off to bed, two more of the rebels, Jules and Jean climb in through the window, lugging another man after them with a hood over his face.
They set their captive in a chair, then yank back the hood to reveal an unconscious Ian.
Back in prison, Lemaitre congratulates the Doctor on the positive impression he somehow managed to make on Robespierre.
Doc thanks him, then immediately tries to duck out of further engagements, insisting that he needs to return home.
Lemaitre won’t hear of it though and demands that the Doc remain onsite for their visit tomorrow.
Lemaitre gets the jailer (who is straight up asleep at his post) to make up a room for the Doctor, but before he leaves, the jailer tells Lemaitre there’s someone waiting to speak with him.
Lemaitre steps into one of the prison’s dark rooms for a meeting with the Shopkeeper who sold the Doc his fancy duds.
The shopkeeper reveals that the Doctor is a fraud. For some reason, Lemaitre insists on seizing the Doc’s old set of clothes before paying the man off and insisting he keep quiet.
Back at the safehouse, Barbara walks in on Jules and Jean and recognizes Ian seated in the chair
Ian is pretty shocked that she’s alive, given that last time he saw her she was being carted off to the guillotine.
Ian is also introduced to Jules, who questions Ian as to why he was wandering the streets looking for him. Ian tells him about his one-time cellmate Webster’s quest to find a British spy named James Sterling and mentions that the man dropped Jules name.
Unfortunately, Jules has no idea who Sterling is, but says that their friend Leon might know him.
We cut back to prison just long enough for the Doc to wake up and start bitching at the jailer about his room, before returning to the safehouse, where Jules receives a message stating that the physician refuses to visit them.
With Susan seemingly getting worse, the group decides that Barbara will take her to meet the physician at his offices in the city.
After looking her over, the Doctor (not be confused with the REAL Doctor) says Susan is simply suffering from a simple chill, then immediately begins asking questions about how she caught it. He notices the blisters on their hands, but Barbara manages to sidetrack him, asking if there’s anything he can give her.
The physician mutters something about “bloodletting”, then heads out into the city to pick up some leeches.
With him gone, Barb and Susan begin to feel suspicious. Plus, you know there’s that whole leeches thing. Yuck. They try to leave, only to find that the physician has locked the door from the outside, leaving them trapped inside his office.
The physician shows up at the jail where he immediately rats the two women out. The Jailer dispatches a bunch of troops to accompany him to the office, where they take the two of them back into custody.
At the safehouse Ian is getting worried about how long the two women have been gone. Jules promises to go check in on them, while Ian heads off for a late night meeting with Leon.
Back at the prison, Susan is placed in one of the cells, while Barbara is hauled off for questioning. She’s placed in a room where she finds herself face to face with the Doctor (the real one, not the one that gave her up. God, we really need to give this lead character a first name).
As the two of them begin talking, Lemaitre is shown listening outside the cell door.
Meanwhile, in another part of the city, Ian heads to an old church for his rendezvous with Leon.
After briefly introducing himself, Leon pulls a gun and signals for a detachment of soldiers to step out and take Ian back into custody.
Which means that after all that chasing around we’ve essentially ended up right back where we started. This arc’s on something of an unusual track, but I still kind of like it. This episode’s got a real crazy energy to it, with the cast escaping and reuniting, only to get themselves recaptured again. The script also does a solid job of selling the distrust permeating 18th Century France, where everyone is a potential informer.
As far as the animation goes, it certainly takes some getting used to. It heavily references the actor’s faces, so the likenesses are dead on, but it gets noticeably stiffer any time the characters start moving. Fortunately though, this is a pretty low-energy show, so it’s not terribly noticeable, plus, it does let them throw in some stylistic tricks like the light rays streaming in when Barb and Susan are arrested. Overall, it’s a pretty good workaround and a definite improvement over sitting through a naked audio recording.
Well, it seems like everyone’s in a pretty bad place right now, so tune in next time when the crew is forced to make “A Bargain of Necessity.”