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THE REIGN OF TERROR
Whoever says this is a comedy didn't watch this episode first! That's to say that this is cracking good TV and cracking good DW to boot. I've said it before and I'll say it again---DW lost something when historicals like this one went out the window for monsters, monsters, monsters. Well, in fact, there are more monsters in this episode than in all of KEYS OF MARINUS and THE SENSORITES put together, they all happen to be human. If ANYONE can be really scared of ANYTHING in DW, then this should be it: mankind at its worst.
The tension takes time to build as Ian and Barbara are told they are home as the Doctor last ep had a hissy fit when Ian suggested he couldn't get them home. Barbara and Ian charm the Doctor into joining them for a goodbye drink, which cheers Susan up no end. The much heralded goodbye scenes and character interplay around such happens here first. Also of note: when TARDIS appears, we DO NOT hear the familiar wheezing and groaning sound, just the hum for the interior on the exterior. It is also a strange appearing but the copy of this ep is not the greatest so...
For the first half, it would be not knowing where the travellers are that would make the tension and excitement build. Now knowing in our own POV it takes something out of it but not much. The same excitement happens almost each week in THE TIME TUNNEL until you find out where they are and then the story has to keep your interest. Here, the French Revolution isn't found out about until maybe about 15 minutes in or so and until that we have a boy Jean Pierre who seems afraid, an old abandoned house that the travellers take their timne to explore, a feeling that they are in the past but where? ABOUT TIME suggests that as soon as Ian and Barbara found out they were in France, they should have guessed, "Christ, it's the French Revolution." But all joking aside, this is quite good.
The music is one thing to notice. It has a special feel to it IMO and adds a sense of urgency to the entire thing. I don't understand why the travellers would want to change clothes in a house that might belong to spies. Or why the split up AGAIN but there you have it. The boy seems part of the people who are in the house and I don't believe this is ever discussed further. Is he a spy? A fugitive? For once Hartnell's wig is very noticable.
This is quite grim with Rouvray shot first and on camera--of course we see no blood but his going down is quite grim and violent...and why he tried to insult them...then despite what THE DOCTOR WHO REFERENCE GUIDE says...and only then does D'Argenson get killed...and I don't think he's gunned down...it looks like he's beaten to death but I thought --perhaps in the novel...he's stabbed. He earlier talked of his entire family being executed, even his young sister...and all of it is quite scary and grim and sort of sad. Next we have the fire and it does on forever actually but it's also quite scary...with the Doctor trapped upstairs. Of course nowadays that would be penny ante stakes for the Doctor and he's leap out from the third window and unharmed but here...it's quite scary to see Hartnell's Doctor covered in smoke and the fire taking out almost all of the house, coming out of the windows...and the fire even goes on, licking the bottom of the credits for half the end theme!
The solution to the cliffhanger is unfortunately spotlighted as Jean Pierre, the uncredited boy, is seen hiding in the bushes as Ian, Barbara and Susan are taken away by the Sergeant and his men but first we get an incredibly surreal look at Ian, Barbara and Susan as they look at the house burning for some time...worrying. Other than one lame unfunny joke about an eye patch wearing villain there is NO humor. Just a lot of talk of death, not finding home, being on one side or the other, and ...fire and more death. It is quite well done and scary and makes time travel not at all a happy affair.
One more thing that always struck me: WHY ON EARTH would the French Rev be the Doctor's favorite time period of Earth? Maybe he likes revolution? Maybe his people didn't really have any and he felt they needed to? Who knows but seeing all the death here makes one wonder if the DOctor is quite sane liking that time period?
A good ep and one that sets up the rest of the story well AND not the only grim ep of this story. It shows the historicals had merit as stories and adventures. Oh and THE TIME TUNNEL had a story called REIGN OF TERROR about Marie Antoinette.