Friday, September 25, 2009

"A Bargain of Necessity"

Hello everyone. The Historian here, along with the normal crew of Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm, for another reconstructed episode from Revolutionary France. One more week to go until the end of season one! Now, let's get to the summary!

Episode summary: First aired 5 September, 1964. Leon levels a pistol at Ian as soldiers file into the crypt. Ian tries to escape, but is cut off. Leon has him chained to a wall and demands to know what Webster told him. Ian refuses, and Leon goes away to give Ian "time to think." At the prison, the Doctor and Barbara are still delighted to see each other. Barbara asks how he escaped the farmhouse, but the Doctor tells her it would take too much time and asks how Ian and Susan are. She tells him Susan is also captive in the prison, and is recovering from her fever. Ian, she says, is back at the house of a man named Jules. She explains the situation with Jules, Jean and Leon, but we only hear this from the other side of the door where Lemaitre waits, listening. He is interrupted, just before he can hear anything important, by the Jailer, who tells him that Robespierre has sent word for Lemaitre to come immediately. On the other side of the door, the Doctor has come up with a plan and tells Barbara not to worry--his plans always work! The Doctor leaves and goes to the Jailer, discovering that Lemaitre is gone. He explains that he has found out that Barbara is a dangerous traitor and knows the identity of every other traitor in the country! If only they could get her to talk, but she would sooner die! He leads the Jailer to the idea (making it seem as if the thought had originated from the Jailer's mind) of leaving the doors open, hiding and letting Barbara escape. They will then follow her and arrest her. The Doctor is delighted with this idea! Some time later, Barbara does indeed wander out. Strangely, no one follows...Meanwhile, at the house, Jules arrives and discovers all three of his friends still gone. Distraught, he leaves again. In the crypt, Ian is still refusing to talk, although the guards threaten violence. Leon returns and tries to reason with Ian. The Revolution has known of Stirling's existence for weeks, though they don't know what he looks like or his alias, and Leon believes Ian has information that will help (though he also believes Ian doesn't know what Stirling looks like either). To try to get Ian to understand his apparent treachery, Leon explains how the Revolution has rid France of the "leeches" of the upper class. He is a true believer. Ian, however, still refuses to talk, so Leon resorts to threats of the guillotine. He demands Ian tell him how he arrived from England and who else he is working with. Warning Leon that he wouldn't believe it, Ian tells the man he flew to the country with his three friends in a little box and that when he left England it was 1963. Leon's temper frays and he pulls a gun...just as Jules bursts in and shoots a soldier down! A fight ensues, resulting in Jules shooting Leon down. He frees Ian and they flee the crypt. The Doctor, meanwhile, has found Susan's cell and the two have a joyful reunion through the door. It's curtailed when the Jailer approaches, shocked. He'd thought the Doctor was going to take soldiers and follow Barbara! Why my dear man, the Doctor says, I thought you would do that! The Jailer is terrified, believing Lemaitre will be furious that he'd let the woman go. Not only that, but the Doctor reminds the Jailer it was all his idea in the first place! Still, said the Doctor, it was a good plan. Perhaps if they were to release the girl...but no, the Jailer replies. Lemaitre gave specific instructions that if the girl's cell door was even simply opened, the Jailer would be for the chop. Meanwhile, Lemaitre arrives at Robespierre's office where the the statesman tells Lemaitre that he believes a prominent Deputy will be indicted the next day--27th July, 1794. He charges Lemaitre with spying on a certain Deputy, Paul Barras, who would be leaving Paris that night. When Lemaitre asks which Deputy might be indicted the next day, Robespierre reveals he believes it to be himself! On his way out of Robespierre's house, Lemaitre stops to say something very softly (which the viewers cannot hear) to a guard. Back at the house, Ian and Jules realize that they haven't much time; Leon would probably have told someone how to find Jules' house. Just then, Barbara bursts in and the three have a joyful reunion. Barbara tells Ian that the Doctor is at the prison, dressed as an official and ordering everyone about. Susan is still trapped there, but the Doctor has a plan to get her out. Then they must leave as soon as they can. Jules and Ian explain about Leon's death and Barbara does not take it well. She had obviously developed feelings for him. She exclaims that Leon was no traitor, he was simply on the other side. Waving aside Ian and Jules' explanations of the situation and of the Terror, she says that the Revolution is not all bad and tells Ian to read history sometime. Good people die on both sides and Leon was one of them. She then storms upstairs. Back at the prison, the Doctor tells Susan to crouch on the floor behind her door and not to move until it is time. He then calls to the Jailer, exclaiming that the girl is gone! The Jailer looks into the cell and unlocks the door. Not seeing Susan through the window, and at the Doctor's urging, he simply takes off looking for her. Susan opens the door and she and the Doctor start to escape...but are stopped by Lemaitre, appearing from the shadows! He has the returning Jailer (who tells him that all had happened as Lemaitre had foreseen) lock Susan back in her cell and takes the Doctor into the next room. The Doctor tries to bluster, but Lemaitre shows the Doctor a ring--the Doctor's ring, which the tailor had given to Lemaitre. The man reveals that he had known for some time that the Doctor was an imposter. The Doctor asks why he had not been arrested then, and Lemaitre replies that it is good to be able to call for favors, even from enemies. He has had something on the Doctor and he means to use it. The Doctor realizes this is why he had not been allowed to leave the prison the night before, but why had he been given his liberty that day? Because Lemaitre knew he would not leave the girl--his granddaughter, perhaps? The Doctor demands her release, but this Lemaitre will not do unless the Doctor takes him to Jules Renan's house. Realizing he is beaten, the Doctor agrees. At the house, meanwhile, Barbara has calmed down and wishes to apologize to Jules for her harsh words, but he is out looking for the Doctor and Susan. She understands that he had no choice in killing Leon, but tells Ian she is tired of always being surrounded by death. Jules returns, having found no sign of them, but he has left the door unlatched so they might come right in. Barbara tries to apologize, but Jules stops her. He understands, he says; he too admired Leon as a man, if not a comrade. The sides, he says, are so nebulous; he himself is no aristocrat, just a man of the "middle" who despises the idea of all order being thrown out. His fight is against the anarchy brought by the Reign of Terror. Still, he says, there are really only two sides, and he would hate anyone who betrayed his trust "like the devil." Just then, they hear the door open. It is the Doctor, but he has brought Lemaitre with him! Has he betrayed them?....

First thing's first: Here is the transcript for this episode.

Let me take a moment, before I get into the story, to talk a bit about the reconstruction. Something I find wonderful in a recon are the brief moments of actual footage and this episode had several, very obviously relics of someone pointing a camera (super8?) at a television screen. Just neat! And the syncing up with the audio was perfect. The only really weakness of this reconstruction, which couldn't have been avoided, was the fight scene in the crypt. This was, by necessity, conveyed with a lot of scrolling text. Even that, though, was impressive, since the team had almost no sound to build on beyond scuffling, a grunt or two and a shot, basically. I kept muttering, "Thank goodness for camera scripts, eh?" Some of the stills were also a bit overused, but I'd imagine the recon team didn't exactly have a choice about that either. (I believe Ketina has something to say below about Leon's still, for example.) Still, a very impressive job and one that helped us see the episode as best we could.

As for the story...well, let me start with the observation that just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, as Robespierre proves here. Yes, he was indicted on 27th April, 1794--his fall from power. On the one hand, you could look at what I wrote last week and say, but wasn't he justified in worrying about those around him? I'd still say no, since it was his repressive and bloody policies that had everyone in terror and led him to this point anyway. Still, something to think about, isn't it?

And speaking of something to think about, how about Barbara, huh? In her anger at Leon's death, she touches on something interesting: the difference between what one might call the short view (or, perhaps, living in the moment) with the long view of history. Because, by the latter, she is absolutely right, of course. Not everyone who supported the Revolutionary council/commune was evil, far from it! Leon was, as he reveals in his speech to Ian, a passionate patriot...from his point of view, just as much as "James Stirling," somewhere undercover, is for the British, or Jules is for his side. Ian, though, realizes that they are in the thick of things and can't really afford the long view at this point; in his words, they have "chosen sides," like it or not. I think, in a programme that deals with time travel, this is an important discussion to have, or important ideas to keep in mind at least. (Well, at least while we still have true historicals!) It's similar to Ian and Barbara's discussion in "The Aztecs," except there Ian was the one who could see the long view. In this case, I come down on the side of the short view, if only because our friends must, as Barbara herself realizes. Even though everything she says is right, she doesn't have the luxury to stand above the fray until she is back in her own time. (Or at least the TARDIS!)

And finally, after episodes of stalking in the shadows manipulating everyone, Lemaitre begins to play his hand! I'm reconsidering my view of the man; perhaps he is not the villain we took him for. Schmallturm, who has an interesting theory about his true motives, is pretty persuasive, especially since (as Schmallturm pointed out) we're almost out of characters who James Stirling might be. And Webster did say he would be found undercover in the government...and Lemaitre is Robespierre's's possible, and it does make almost all of Lemaitre's actions make sense....

It seems needless to say, but we're all still really enjoying this story. The writing is crisp, the tension (so important in a story set in this period) is palpable and the acting--in this episode at the least--is uniformly excellent. Well, verbally at least, since we had very little movement. And the end, with Jules' speech about traitors followed immediately by the Doctor's apparent betrayal, worked perfectly. It does, however, lead to my only quibble about this episode: how did the Doctor know how to find Jules' house? I suppose Barbara could have told him where it was during the part of their conversation that we didn't hear, but still. On the other hand, if that's my only quibble, you know this was a good episode indeed!

And next week, back to moving pictures, as we close out the first season of Doctor Who in style! Dennis Spooner Historical style, that is! Until then, I remain



Ketina here,

Reconstruction again this week, which once again makes doing a review rather challenging. Let's see...

The Silly:
The big tense scene at the beginning, where Ian was being tortured, was completely ruined by the repeated picture shown of Leon - Yes, Ian was tortured by Liberace!
We also commented quite a bit on the jailer being from the "north" part of France (heavy Northern English accent).
And The Doctor's fabulous outfit continues to be in play, but is not nearly as awesome due to the reconstruction aspect this week.

What probably should have been good, but was completely lost on me:
Robespierre's big announcement regarding the upcoming date, and his apparently accurate prediction that he would be indicted. As I know very little French history (Napoleon was the short guy, right?), I could only guess it was some big important event. As everyone in the room watching with me nodded at that point, I'm guessing it was indeed some big important historical moment. This is why I'm NOT The Historian, just the companion. :D

The Good:
The big reveal of regarding who exactly is James Stirling. Okay, so it hasn't quite been revealed yet, but (thank you clever Smallturm) we're pretty sure we've got it figured out. And knowing that, it's cool to look back on the entire story and have everything (or at least nearly everything) suddenly make sense. I don't want to say anything now, for the sake of spoilers and in case we are totally wrong about this. It would be so lame if we're wrong.

Scream count this week: Big fat zero. Susan, you're beginning to disappoint me.

Until next time,


The Historian again, with a quick note. We're almost to the end of the first season and, since I posted it, we have received exactly ONE response to our request for feedback. This is, to say the least, very discouraging. As I've said before, we put a lot of work into this blog and I know we have more than one reader. Please, please and please again, if you are reading this, take a moment and comment on this post or drop us an e-mail. (The address is in that post.) Love us, hate us, like us, loathe us, we want to know!




Friday, September 18, 2009

"The Tyrant of France"

Hello everyone, the Historian here, along with Ketina and our regular team of Ronelyn and Schmallturm, bringing you a review of another episode of this last story of the first season. This time, our episode is a reconstruction, once again from the fine folks at Loose Cannon Productions. And now, on to the summary!

Episode summary: First aired 29 August, 1964. The tailor tells the jailer that he has evidence of a traitor...and produces the Doctor's ring! Lemaitre and the Doctor arrive at Robespierre's office. The First Citizen looks over the execution records and then asks to be introduced to the stranger. Lemaitre introduces the Doctor as a visitor from the province he and Robespierre were to discuss, and the tyrant says he is unsatisfied with the number of traitors reported from the Doctor's "province." The Doctor replies that perhaps it is the number to be found in Paris that is the problem. A discussion ensues wherein Robespierre inadvertently reveals himself (to us and the Doctor, of course, not to one of the faithful) as a man whose paranoia is driving him to see traitors and enemies all around him. The interview ends with the Doctor storming out, though Robespierre commands Lemaitre to bring the Doctor to him the next morning. Back at Jules' house, Susan is still suffering from a terrible fever, dozing on and off. Barbara and Leon talk about getting her to a Doctor. Leon says he will arrange it, but he must be off. He tells Barbara they will meet again, soon, and leaves. Jules and Jean, having waylayed the man who had been asking about Jules at the inn, arrive, bringing the unconscious body with him. It is Ian! Back at the prison, Lemaitre tells the Doctor he has made a very favorable impression with the First Citizen and must return for another meeting in the morning. When the Doctor tries to demur, he insists and tells the jailer to make up a room (one of the soldier's rooms) for the Doctor. The jailer tells Lemaitre that someone is waiting for him. After he leaves, the Doctor tries to bluff his way out, but the jailer pulls a pistol, with apologies, and takes the Doctor to his room. Meanwhile, Lemaitre is meeting with the tailor, who gives him the Doctor's ring and clothes and accepts money in return. Lemaitre tells the tailor to speak to no one else of any of this. Back at the house, Ian awakens and is delighted to see Barbara alive, but is concerned to hear of Susan's illness. Discovering that his host is named "Jules," Ian questions him about the whereabouts of James Stirling. Jules knows nothing of this, so Ian tells him the whole story about Webster's dying request. Jules believes that Webster would probably have known Stirling by sight, but (as he must be using a nom de plume), Stirling could be anyone. Jean is uncomfortable with being "used" by the English, but Jules says that once the tyranny, with which both they and the English are at war, is defeated, there will be peace between the two lands. Jean leaves to begin the search for the Doctor while Jules decides to try and set up a meeting between Ian and Leon; the latter moves in many circles and could well know who Stirling is. Who knows, he could be Stirling himself! Barbara comes back into the room to tell them that Susan is worse; she must see a doctor soon. The next morning, the Doctor meets Lemaitre in the prison and complains of the terrible conditions of his room. Lemaitre merely says that this should be an eventful day for the Doctor! At the house, Danielle brings a message from Leon saying the physician will not come to see Susan, they must go to him. After some discussion, Barbara and Susan are sent to see the physician; two women together being less conspicuous than a man and a woman. Ian worries though--can they trust this doctor? At his office, he examines Susan and pronounces the diagnosis that she has a bad chill. He questions how she could have gotten it, obviously fishing for the fact that they'd been in prison, but Barbara puts him off. He tells them he must go out to get supplies--leeches, specifically. Both Barbara and Susan sense there is something wrong and try to leave, only to find the door has been locked! The physician has, of course, gone straight to the prison, where the jailer sends soldiers with him back to his office. Once again, Barbara and Susan are captured. Jules, meanwhile, tells Ian he has gotten in touch with Leon, who has requested Ian meet him at an abandoned church. Leon's message says he is not Stirling, but he knows where to find the Englishman. Ian is frantic for Barbara and Susan, who have been gone for some time, but agrees to go to the meeting while Jules searches for the women. Barbara and Susan are brought back to the prison and separated; Susan is thrust into a cell while Barbara is taken to be interrogated on Lemaitre's orders. In fact, she is brought into a room with the Doctor! Both react in shock and joy...reactions which are watched by Lemaitre from the shadows. Ian, meanwhile, has arrived at the deserted church and, per instructions, descends into the crypt where he meets Leon. After a momentary exchange, Leon pulls a gun on Ian and soldiers file in to surround him. "You've fallen right into my trap," Leon says...

As always for reconstructed episodes, here's the transcript of the episode, thanks to the Doctor Who Scripts Project.

This episode continued the development of what the team has found to be a very good story thus far. Obviously, our reactions are probably a bit skewed by the recon aspect, but I think it did a good job of conveying the story and action. On a technical level, the pictures were a tiny bit grainy--entirely the fault of our copy, I think--but the sound was quite good.

As for the story itself, in some ways it was a classic "move the plot along" episode. It's fairly obvious that the ultimate goal of this week was to set up a situation that would reunite the TARDIS crew. At the same time, though, the episode was filled with all kinds of wonderful bits and bobs. The interweaving themes of paranoia and opportunism running throughout Paris are extremely effective, especially when they can be combined into one character. While the tailor is an opportunist through and through, the physician is obviously someone who is trying to keep in good graces with the authorities, who he fears (when he asks the jailer for assurances that, if his information is wrong, he will not be held accountable for it, you can hear the terror in his voice). Opportunity and placation. The jailer, too, is thrilled with the Doctor's praise, but terrified of Lemaitre's disfavor (even though they are supposedly "equal citizens"). But nowhere are the two themes expressed so firmly in one character than in the Tyrant of France himself, First Citizen Robespierre. His conversation with the Doctor reveals a deeply conflicted man, one who believes he is Absolutely Right and, because of that, everyone will turn on him eventually. Somewhat paradoxically, he must reveal and execute the "traitors" who stand in the way of his great work, because, if he is stopped, than all the carnage will have been for nothing. The Doctor's disgust and horror is palpable and it is no wonder he strides out of the room in deep anger. Robespierre ultimately comes off as a bit of a pathetic figure, determined to "do right by doing wrong," to quote Ronelyn, who also mentions that this is a theme we will revisit again and again in the programme. It also once again reveals the depth of the Doctor's contempt for those who use somewhat mythical ends to justify means, and specifically those who refuse to acknowledge that fact. Robespierre cannot acknowledge that his means are wrong, he simply believes they are inevitable. It's a short scene, but a powerful one, and one that is absolutely central to understanding both the story and the Reign of Terror in general.

What else to say? The acting was, as usual, quite good--at least vocally. (Though the small bits of actual film were quite exciting when they popped up!) The story continues to jog along nicely, though a couple of the team were amused by the return of the "captured--escaped--captured" idiom. I didn't mind it much, since it's the most obvious way of getting everyone back together. Leon being the traitor was, of course, pretty predictable (in fact, I predicted it last week), but Ian's surprise was played nicely. After all, not only had he not met the man, he hadn't even been told (on screen, anyway) that there might be a traitor! After their place in the spotlight while Ian was confined to pre-filmed inserts, Susan and Barbara fade a bit into the background this week, though they did have that quite good scene in the physician's office. Barbara's ultimately failed attempt at trying to fob off the physician as to how Susan caught her chill was fun. And Lemaitre is shaping up to be a villain of the mastermind school; though Robespierre is nominally the most dangerous man in the story, it is Citizen Lemaitre who moves the plots and stands as the true source of fear for our friends. (Ronelyn points out that "Lemaitre" translates, basically, as "The Master." Hmmm......nahhhh.)

Well, I've been a bit verbose, so I'll end my section here. I'm looking forward to next week and our next reconstructed episode--the last of this first season. Until then, I remain



Ketina here,

Well, we're back to viewing reconstructions this week. The poor audio quality and grainy photos makes it challenging to write an unbiased review. And for this episode they kept showing this tiny amount of footage of a door opening that was used anytime that, well, a door was opened. A lot of doors were opened and closed this week! I found that silly and distracting, especially during the more serious moments of the plot. But this is all critiquing the reconstruction, not the actual episode itself.

Let's see... I enjoyed the Doctor's scene with Robespierre. The way he managed to keep the conversation away from the topic of "his region" was quite clever, although I was wondering why Robespierre didn't just extended the meeting rather than have them reschedule the next day. Ian's plot, regarding the dead British guy [Historian's Edit: I think she means Webster] I also continue to find interesting. That the man Ian was told to meet couldn't actually immediately help him keeps things interesting. So why would Ian be told to meet with this guy [Jules] if he couldn't actually help? It was a wee bit of a coincidence that the contact was at the same place as Barbara and Susan, but I suppose there weren't too many folks helping political prisoners.

Towards the end of the episode I got a 100,000 BC flash back -- they've all escaped from the prison only to all be thrown back into it again this episode! I hope it's not the Cave of Skulls all over again.

The identity of the traitor to the underground was also pretty obvious. It's always the cute guy, isn't it? [Leon] Is he working with the guy [Lemaitre--honestly, she asked me to do these edits] who let Ian go from the prison and brought the Doctor to Robespierre? Hopefully we'll find out next week. I really hope the outcome of this fairly complicated plot is satisfying. I worry we're going to have lose threads and unexplained bits. :S

No serious screams this week. If the physician had actually showed up with the leeches I'm sure there would have been. :D

Until next time,


Hello all, the Historian again, once again asking all of you reading this to PLEASE take a few minutes to click on this link and leave us a comment (or send us an e-mail) with your feedback about our first year, our blog, whatever. I know there are more of you out there; none of our "followers" have commented yet, for instance! It'll only take a few minutes of your time, at most, and it'll be of immeasurable help to us. Thanks!


Friday, September 11, 2009

"A Change of Identity"

Hello all, the Historian here. Thanks for joining Ketina, Ronelyn, Schmallturm and myself for this third episode of the last story of the season. Let's get to the summary!

Episode Summary: First aired 22nd August, 1964. Ian, helpless in his cell, watched Barbara and Susan led away to the guillotine! The Doctor arrives in Paris, finally. As Barbara and Susan are taken to the execution place in a cart, two men, Jules and Jean, wait in an alley. They are planning to rescue the prisoners, but Jean is worried that the two will be outnumbered as their third compatriot, Leon, has not arrived. Jules tells Jean not to worry as surprise is on their side. In the prison, the jailer is taking food to the prisoners, beginning with Ian. As he is about to relock Ian's cell, he hears the voice of Lemaitre who demands his immediate attention. The jailer can't pull the keys out while managing two more bowls of food, so he leaves them in the lock and runs off. Lemaitre is there to look over the record of executions and to take them to Robespierre. The jailer assures him all the paperwork is in order. Meanwhile, Ian has noticed the keys in the door. He reaches through his window and manages to pull the keyring out. He takes the key to his door off the ring and replaces the other keys, sticking one of them in the lock. He takes his food off in a corner, biding his
time. Lemaitre finishes reading the list and tells the jailer he has done good work and his name will be mentioned "in the right circles," then leaves. The jailer, remembering the keys, runs out and is relieved to see them still in the lock to Ian's cell. He takes them, not noticing one is missing. The cart carrying Barbara and Susan stops, the horse having thrown a shoe. Barbara realizes this is their chance to escape, but Susan cannot. Her head is splitting and she feels faint. Barbara tries to comfort her, knowing they are missing their chance. But Jules and Jean take this moment to attack! After a short battle, the guards are killed and the two rescuers take the women off to a safe place. The Doctor, meanwhile, has found a tailors shop. He enters and begins to deal with the shopkeeper, a man who is both obsequious and a big supporter of Citizen Robespierre's policy of executing traitors. The Doctor finds an official-looking uniform as well as a sash identifying an official of a regional province. What a coincidence, the Doctor says, as that is exactly what he is! He wishes to purchase the uniform and sash, but has no money, so he offers to exchange his old clothes (which the tailor dismisses as "fancy dress") for them. The tailor gives only one condition: the trade must include the Doctor's ring! The Doctor agrees, but only if the deal includes a pen, ink and paper. Susan and Barbara, with their rescuers, arrive at Jules' house. Here they meet Jules' sister, Danielle, and are told to share only their Christian names--no last names, so none can be given up under torture. Jules tells the women he will help them get out of France, but they protest that they cannot leave without the Doctor and Ian. Back at the prison, Ian sees his chance as the jailer is called away. He uses the key and lets himself out, sneaking his way along, only to discover that the jailer has already been knocked out! Not stopping to reconsider his good fortune, Ian leaves the prison. Immediately after, Lemaitre steps out of the shadows and muses that now he will find out whether Webster told Ian anything or not. Jules gives Barbara a map and she and Susan locate the house where they "stopped to ask directions." Jules is stunned; the house they indicate is a safe house on the route he uses to help prisoners escape. He asks if they met two men and Barbara tells him of D'Argenson and Rouvray. When asked, she says that the two were killed by the soldiers before she and her friends were captured. Jules says he will send someone to the house, both to look for the Doctor and to find out what happened, as well as sending someone to the prison to inquire after Ian. He says he will not rest until the companions have been reunited. When Jean is told of the safe route's compromise, he is convinced that they must have an informant in their company. Susan becomes even more feverish and nearly faints as Danielle takes her to rest. Leon, the missing third companion arrives and is concerned when he is told of D'Argenson and Rouvray's deaths, but he also tells Jules that someone at an inn near the prison has been asking after him. Jules and Jean leave immediately to investigate, leaving Barbara and the charming Leon alone. At the prison, the jailer (nursing a headache now) is confronted by the spectacle of a Regional Official--the Doctor, of course, who demands information on three traitors from his province who have been taken to this prison. After looking over the Doctor's forged credentials, the jailer tells him that the two women were taken to be executed, but were rescued. The Doctor manages to just barely hide his relief. The man, the jailer says, has escaped. The Doctor agrees that none of this was the jailer's fault (he is "surrounded by idiots") and turns to go, only to be stopped by Lemaitre who demands to see his papers. He seems satisfied with them, but insists that the Doctor should wait until morning to set out back to his province. In fact, Lemaitre says, he was just on his way to Robespierre's to discuss things that, coincidently, relate to the Doctor's supposed province! Seeing no way out, the Doctor agrees to accompany the official. Back at the house, Leon is charming Barbara and asks her where she comes from. England, she tells him, adding that that must make them enemies. No, says Leon, for it means she has no stake in what happens in France. At the prison, meanwhile, the tailor has demanded his way in, telling the jailer he has news of a traitor. For proof, he produces the Doctor's ring....

Well. As has been the case a lot lately, this is a really difficult episode to critique, as it's just quite good. True, Jean came off as a bit overly anxious (a note regarding Jules and Jean's scene in the alley below) and the tailor was a bit over-the-toppish, but the whole thing felt very solid. The sets and costumes were what, at the time and for a long time after, the Beeb did very well: Costume Drama! The acting was quite good as well, especially that of William Russell (the scene with Ian getting and replacing the key was a wonderful bit of tension in the middle of the episode, and, after his escape, his moment of discovering the unconscious jailer, thinking for a moment and then saying to heck with it and running was great. That this was all seemingly a grand plan of Lemaitre makes everything even more interesting.

A note about the scene with Jules and Jean in the alley: Jean is worried they will be too outnumbered as Leon hasn't shown up and he expects between four and six guards. Leon replied that he shouldn't worry as "surprise is worth three men." To which Schmallturm responded, "Well, there are two of if there are six guards, we might be screwed anyway..."

Barbara and Susan's side of the plot was interesting. Not only do we find out more about the people who smuggled Rouvray and D'Argenson away, but we're given more mysteries: Is there a traitor? Is it Leon (the obvious suspect)? And is the man asking about Jules actually Ian, which could make Jules the elusive James Stirling? And, of course, what's wrong with Susan? Some of us suspect the Plague, given the appearance of rats last episode, but I'm not so sure. Will she just get more ill and, if so, can the crew get together and back to the TARDIS in time to help her?

The Doctor continues to be, or be surrounded by, most of the comic relief, which is just fine given the seriousness of the rest of the story. And leave it to the Doctor to pass himself off as a blustery official, a bit full of himself and commanding others around him. That he is a bit hamstrung by the appearance of Lemaitre (shaping up to be the true villain of this story), who uses the Doctor's own cover story against him, continuing the trend of having the Doctor (too clever by half at times) hoist by his own petard! Whether Lemaitre suspects or not is unclear, but we'll presumably find out next week.

I also want to put in a quick word for the music. I like it very much; it does a fine job of setting mood and helping maintain the tension. I know Ketina is less impressed, but I think it helps the episode (and, indeed, all the episodes thus far) to chug along nicely.

Before I close my portion of the review, I feel I need to mention that the next two episodes will be reconstructions. As before, I haven't pre-screened them, so I'll be looking forward to seeing what happens next and how well the recon presents it. And, as before, I will link to the scripts on the Doctor Who Script Project so you can follow along! Until next week, I remain



Ketina here,

Scary, scary rain!

Seriously though, good stuff. This story has been quite good so far, making it challenging to review. I especially enjoyed the bit with Ian escaping the prison. There was terrific tension just watching Ian reach through the bars of his cell to get the keys out of the lock, with the chance that he would drop them, make noise and then get caught. Cool stuff for such a simple scene. It worked well in the episodic format that I don't think would have gone nearly as well if this was viewed in "movie mode".
I also really loved the bit where the Doctor is in the shop getting a new outfit. Hartnell's Doctor portrays arrogance well. A few lines were a bit flubbed, but nothing serious.

Digging for criticism, I thought the "outdoor" sets that take place in the streets of Paris were too echo-y. It felt like they were on a set and not outdoors in a street. And a little bit of the acting from various bit characters felt stage play to me, once again. But this seems to be a common occurrence in most of these early Doctor Who stories, especially in the historicals. And Susan was too whiny, but she's probably dying from the plague or something. At least she wasn't screaming again. :o
I'm seriously nit picking pointing all this out.

The silly: Yes, we definitely had some this week. The Doctor's ginormous plumed hat! Awesome! And very, very silly. It made the entire scene between the Doctor and the Jailer completely giggle worthy, which I'm sure was it's intention. The Historian assures me that the hat was period, but that doesn't make it any less silly. :)

Lots of fun! I'm looking forward to next week. Well, it is a reconstructed episode, so maybe looking forward isn't quite the right word, but still great story.



Hi all, the Historian here again, reminding you that we need your help! There are still three weeks until the end of the first season and we really need to know how we're doing. Thus far, we've heard from only heard from one of you (Hi and thanks again, Robin!), but we really need feedback. This blog takes a lot of work and the idea that we're throwing it out into a (near) vacuum is very discouraging. Please, if you're reading this, take a few minutes and click this link to leave comments and/or shoot us an e-mail. Thanks very much and we'll see you next week!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Guests of Madame Guillotine"

Hello everyone, the Historian here, along with Ketina and Ronelyn. We're coming to you a day early to continue our perilous journey through the French Revolution. Let's get to the summary!

Episode summary: First aired 15 August, 1964. The Doctor collapses to the floor, overcome by smoke in the abandoned farmhouse. Meanwhile, the soldiers have taken Ian, Barbara and Susan to Paris where they are taken before a judge and sentenced to death by guillotine. Until then, they are to be locked up in cells in Conciergerie Prison. Ian is thrust into his cell, and the jailer lets Barbara know he might help her escape if she is a little friendly to him. Barbara, unsurprisingly, refuses the disgusting man and he locks her and Susan into the worst cell he has. Susan is franticly worried about her grandfather, but Barbara assures her that the Doctor must have escaped the burning building. Susan turns on her, demanding some assurance, which Barbara cannot provide. Barbara insists he must have escaped and reminds Susan of their other escapes from tight spots, but Susan counters that they'd been lucky and perhaps their luck has run out. Luckily, she is wrong, as the Doctor has been rescued by the young boy the crew had met earlier. Helping the Doctor recover, he tells the old man that his companions have been taken to Paris to the prison. The Doctor thanks the boy, whose name is Jean-Pierre, and sets off down the road to help his friends. Barbara has meanwhile noticed that some of the stones are worn away by water passing beneath. Although Susan despairs, Barbara fashions a crowbar from the cell's bed and begins to work the stones free. In Ian's cell, we find he has been locked up with a fellow Englishman named Webster, who has been badly wounded and is dying. Webster, seeing Ian as a fellow countryman, tells of his mission: there is a spy among the French government, awaiting the time to finish gathering information and go home. The French, Webster says, will soon stop looking inward and turn out, trying to spread across the Channel. It is vital that the spy, named James Stirling, be returned to England before that can happen. Webster's mission had been to bring Stirling home and he now charges Ian with warning the spy before a trap can close around him. To find Stirling, Ian must seek out Jules Renan at the sign of Le Chien Gris. Webster manages to barely get this information out, then dies. The Doctor, in his journey, comes across a road crew supervised by a fat bully who constantly yells at them to work faster. The crew are made up of tax dodgers and the supervisor will be paid more if the work is completed on time. The Doctor, annoyed at the man's boorish behavior, suggests the work will go faster if the fat man will shut up and pitch in. In response, the supervisor demands the Doctor's papers and, when he is unable to produce them, forces him to become part of the work crew. In their cell, Barbara and Susan are making progress when they are almost caught by the jailer. Before he can discover their work, he is called away by the arrival of an official, Lemaitre, who has come to find out if Webster has broken. Discovering the man is dead, he asks Ian if Webster had said anything. No, says Ian, adding a biting, "Citizen." Outside the cell, however, the jailer assures him that the prisoners did speak, though he could not hear what they said. Lemaitre then takes Ian off the execution list so he might have the leisure of questioning him further later. The Doctor, meanwhile, has come up with a plan of escape, and the others follow his lead. He distracts the supervisor in order to steal coins from the man's pouch, then drops them on the ground and pretends to dig them up. When the greedy supervisor kneels down to try to dig up more "treasure," the Doctor hits him on the back of the head with the flat of a shovel! He then sets off again towards Paris. Susan continues to work on their escape when she sees rats coming through the wall, attracted by the food that had been brought earlier. Susan's nerves, already stretched, break and Barbara comforts her, giving up on the tunneling for now. Unfortunately, this is the moment when the jailer comes for them--it is time to meet Madame Guillotine. The Doctor is still 5km away from the city as Ian looks out his window and sees prisoners being led to the scaffold. "Barbara," he gasps, seeing her. "Susan...."

Once again, the team found itself at a bit of a loss, mainly because this episode was just tremendously solid. There are small points of contention, of course, such as the suitability of the lightly comic interlude with the Doctor and the road crew; I found that it lightened the mood wonderfully, very necessary in this very dark episode. And yes, the Doctor is the one to take a shovel to the head of the supervisor! Such violence!

Really, though, this story has been superb thus far, with strong moments for everyone in the cast. Susan's absolute emotional disintegration is fantastic; although Barbara attempts to console her, she clearly believes her grandfather is probably dead. The exchange between Susan and Barbara about how much of their survival has been down to luck and how much of it is due to the luck they make themselves was really nice. It's just amazing to see Susan, often an optimistic character, just fall apart like this, especially after her strength in the last story. The fear of losing her grandfather just devastates her and makes her question everything.

Barbara, of course, returns to her practical, problem solving self. She comforts Susan and tries to keep her spirits up (while her own are stretched thin, as revealed in her reflexive slap of the jailer) and, at the same time, figures out a way to try to set them free. Instead of despairing, she finds loose stones and fashions a crowbar. Smart and practical, we continue to love Barbara.

Ian, who the team occasionally dismisses, was quite good here as well. (Although it should be noted that it's pretty obvious, due to the change in film stock, that all of William Russell's scenes were pre-recorded and inserted, since he was on vacation for this episode's filming.) His conversation with the dying Webster, which could have been a bit agonizing, actually felt natural, as did his anger at the man's death (due, in no small part, to the neglect the jailer and officials had given to Webster's wound). But it is his confrontation with Lemaitre that really riveted me. His "No. Citizen." was delivered with the perfect amount of scorn and defiance. It might not have been the best move tactically, but it made perfect sense emotionally. And William Russell really carried it off beautifully.

The Doctor shines too, specifically in his scene with Jean-Pierre. His rationale to the boy--you risked yourself to rescue me, so you see, I must risk myself to rescue my friends--is a real indication of the Doctor as we will come to know him emerging. His comical scenes with the road crew work for the character too; as has been observed by many, the William Hartnell Doctor especially does not suffer fools gladly...and he still often finds that his disdain can get him into trouble. His cleverness in getting out of that trouble, though, provides delight--though I'm not so sure about the Doctor wielding a blunt object!

The writing of the story continues to be top-notch; Dennis Spooner might end up with John Lucarotti as my favorite first season writers. The only possible downside might be the extremely clichéd "disgusting jailer who makes advances to the pretty girl," but, even so, it's a cliché for a reason--it works. It's also worth noting, on a technical level, that this is the first episode of Doctor Who with any location filming: At certain points, we see the Doctor walking down country lanes on his way to Paris. Of course, the scenes weren't actually filmed in France...and that's not actually William Hartnell walking, but a double in a costume and wig...but still! Location filming!

Basically, I really enjoyed this episode, from the scene setting print at the beginning to the horror on Ian's face at the end....with one exception. Last week's cliffhanger was really exciting--the Doctor is unconscious, trapped in a fire! The only problem, for me, with this week's episode is that this great cliffhanger is resolved off screen. I mean, I understand why they did that. Dramatically, it adds to the tension (is Susan right? Was the Doctor trapped?), especially for people watching the episode back in 1964. Logistically, it would probably have been difficult to convincingly film a young boy dragging a full-grown man out through a fire. (Not to mention possibly breaking some kind of child endangerment law, if there were such things.) Still, it was a little less satisfying, not seeing a real resolution on screen. But that's a very minor quibble in what's turning out to be a very good story indeed!

Ketina has decided she doesn't have, in her words, "anything significant to add to your review" this week, though she did mention a couple of things in our discussion after watching. She said she found the cuts between Ian's scenes (with the more saturated-looking film stock), the location filming and the studio-shot parts a bit distracting, as she had no problems telling the difference visually between the three. (For example, between real trees and potted plants.) She also found the print used to set the scene at the beginning of the episode to be less than effective at setting the mood: "Too Monty Python," she says. She also found the road crew bits to be a bit too campy, but she agrees that the comic interlude was a necessary relief to break the tension of the rest of the characters being trapped in dingy cells awaiting execution. (Especially given the young audience the show was made for.) Ultimately, though, she joins me in thinking this was a fine episode and we're both very much looking forward to next week! Until then, I remain


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