Friday, October 2, 2009

"Prisoners of the Conciergerie"

Hello all and welcome to the last episode review for season one! Yes, the TARDIS Project has completed one-sixth of its mandate. Will we make it to the end? Well, I certainly don't know, but thank you for joining me, the Historian, and my friends Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm this far. And now, on to the summary!

Episode summary: First aired 12 September 1964. Ian, Barbara and Jules are at Jules' house. Suddenly, there is a knock on the door and in walks the Doctor...followed by Lemaitre! Jules accuses the Doctor of betraying them while Ian looks for soldiers, but the Doctor reveals that he and Lemaitre have come alone. He also says he had no choice but to bring Lemaitre as the official holds Susan hostage. Lemaitre tells them he has come unarmed and alone because he is James Stirling! Surely they must have assumed that Stirling would be in a high position of government, and surely Ian must have realized that someone had arranged for his escape! Jules asks why Stirling had not made contact with him, but Stirling replies that he had to be very careful who he could trust; it is for this reason he could not risk openly speaking to Ian in the prison. The Doctor impatiently demands Susan's release, but Stirling tells him to wait and he reluctantly allows the Englishman to continue. Stirling asks Ian what Webster said before he died. Ian replies that Webster told him that Stirling must return to England; they need his intelligence immediately. Stirling pressed Ian, asking whether Webster said anything else; Ian replies that the man had only mumbled something. Ian cannot recall what it was. Stirling tells them he had planned to return to England anyway, but only after completing one last mission. Stirling tells them all of Robespierre's fears of a coup and reveals that "Lemaitre" had been tasked with following a deputy named Paul Barrass to a secret meeting and learning what was discussed there. His plan is to take this final information back to London, as one of the people at the meeting could be the next ruler of France! Ian suddenly recalls that one of the words Webster muttered had been "Barrass," as well as the phrase "the Sinking Ship." Jules says that Sinking Ship is a name of an inn on the Calais road. Stirling immediately comes up with a plan: he and the Doctor (who may have been seen going into or out of Robespierre's office) would be known to Barrass, but Ian and Barbara would not. The latter will go to the inn and spy on the meeting. Once they have returned with the information, Stirling will use whatever influence he has left to get them all out of Paris. The two agree and Jules offers to drive them. Later that evening, as a storm comes up, Ian and Barbara pose as replacement innkeepers. (Jules has the real innkeeper tied up in the basement.) Barbara serves customers as Ian drills a spyhole from behind the bar into the back room. As the last real customers are about to leave, Barrass arrives. Barbara takes him into the back room and he orders wine for two. The last customers (including Jules) leave and Barrass' guest arrives, wrapped up so as not to be recognized. After he enters the back room, he removes his scarf to reveal...Napoleon Bonaparte! Ian and Barbara listen and watch through the spyhole as Barrass makes a deal with the Corsican: if the coup is successful and Robespierre is removed, Bonaparte, a popular army hero, will support the new government, becoming one of three consuls. However, if the coup fails, this meeting never took place. The next day, back at Jules' house, Ian and Barbara report all of this to Stirling, who is surprised, but not shocked. He knows of Bonaparte's ambition. He will not be content to be one of three. The Doctor interrupts and demands Susan's release. Jules says the meeting of Deputies will be almost over, which could mean that Robespierre has already fallen, thus bringing "Lemaitre's" usefulness to an end. Even Jules fears this; a military dictatorship could be even worse than the Terror! Stirling formulates a plan: he and Ian will go to Robespierre's office to see if the worst has happened and Robespierre is dead. Barbara and the Doctor will go to the prison where Barbara will wait outside while the Doctor secures Susan's release. Stirling and Ian will join them there. Jules, meanwhile, will procure a coach and pick the five of them up outside the Conciergerie. After the others leave to prepare, Barbara shares an almost-laugh with the Doctor: they are all rushing around to prevent something (Robespierre's fall and Napoleon's rise) that the four travellers know will happen! She knows they cannot alter history, having learned it from the adventure with the Aztecs. The Doctor agrees, but adds with a smile that, though they cannot stem the tide of history, they can keep themselves from being carried away with the flood! Meanwhile, Robespierre has retreated into his office, locking himself in and getting a pistol from a desk. But the soldiers are right behind him, mockingly calling to him to come out, then breaking the doors down just as Stirling and Ian arrive. Robespierre tries to talk his way out of the situation, but there is a gunshot and the Englishmen see him brought out, clutching a bloody jaw. There is nothing further now that Stirling can do; getting Susan out is up to the Doctor now. Outside the prison, the Doctor and Barbara have found a hiding spot out of the rain. The Doctor goes into the prison and confronts the jailer, calling him an accomplice of Robespierre's lackey Lemaitre! As his former soldier friends grab him, the jailer expresses his innocence, saying he was only following orders. The Doctor says he cannot decide whether the jailer is a half-wit (not knowing he was aiding an evil man) or a rogue, but the jailer continues to protest. The Doctor "decides" to accept the man's word and tells him to release the prisoners, clearing the cells for Robespierre's allies. Ian and Stirling join Barbara outside just in time to see soldiers arrive with Robespierre. They agree to take the Calais road, with Jules and Stirling dropping the travellers off at their designated point. Jules arrives with the coach. The Doctor manages to get Susan out just as soldiers, still mocking, bring the wounded Robespierre into the prison. Isn't it odd, the Doctor muses, that just yesterday everyone there was terrified of the man, but now they openly taunt him. The two leave, meeting the others outside. Jules tells them he will find Jean and then wait in the countryside to see what happens and who will rule. He expresses doubt when Ian tells him to remember Napoleon. What, the Corsican? he asks derisively. Stirling, meanwhile, is asking why Barbara and the others will not accompany him back to England. She tells them they must get back in their own way. As everyone boards the coach, Stirling wonders to Jules who they really are and where they might be going. Jules replies that he's not sure they know the answer to the latter, but, then, does anyone really know where they are going? After a coach trip, the crew arrives back at the TARDIS. Inside, they change out of their 18th century clothes and talk about how, even if they had decided to try to change anything, events would conspire to prevent the change from taking. Why, Ian says, if they'd shot at Napoleon, the bullet probably would have been deflected somehow! Or would it? But the Doctor, putting things into perspective, reminds Ian that their lives may unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but "they are important to us. But, as we see, so shall we learn." When Ian wonders what they will see next, the Doctor replies, "Well, unlike the old adage, my boy, our destiny is in the stars, so let's go and search for it." And off they go.....

And here we are! Not a bad ending to a very good story, and a fine ending to this first season! As the Historian, though, I feel I must point out that this is probably the least historically accurate episode of this story, if not the series so far, in its treatment of Napoleon. "The Corsican," as Jules terms him, did not rise to power after Robespierre's downfall; at that point he was still a relatively obscure officer. It was not until five years later, in 1799, that he was established as one of the consuls, after which, of course, he seized power...and the rest is history.

Now that that's out of the way, the team all really enjoyed this week, even if we were completely unsurprised by Lemaitre's reveal as Stirling. As Schmallturm said last week, we were running out of secondary characters! His identity does give meaning to all of his actions, meaning that hadn't been immediately clear. In retrospect, though, I'm only surprised we didn't suspect it from the first! Still, it is a bit surprising that the TARDIS crew and Jules accepted Stirling after a simple explanation; it probably helped that the Doctor obviously believed him.

In some ways, for me, this last episode was the least of the six that made up this story. It felt like there just wasn't all that much story left to tell once the crew was (almost) reunited and Stirling revealed himself. Still, it was great to see Robespierre's end; the Doctor's comment on seeing the First Deputy with a shot jaw being carted away by mocking soldiers was less pithy and more profound. Barbara's observations about history and their place in it in her conversation with the Doctor was also very good, reinforced by the conversation in the TARDIS between the four at the end. The very end, both the Doctor's comments and the blank starfield, did a wonderful job of bringing home the idea that the TARDIS crew are wanderers...but they wander together.

I'm not entirely sure what else I have to say; I'll be posting a wrap-up for this story sometime over the next week, as well as a separate post wrapping up Season One (and if you have any comments about the season, feel free to comment here or e-mail us at tadisproject at gmail dot com--and yes, that is not an error, there's no "r" in the "TARDIS" part of the address), so I'll try to leave some material for that! Until then, I remain



Ketina here,

This week started out with the resolution of the guess we made last week regarding the identity of one James Sterling. Yep, Smallturm was right, it was indeed Lemaitre. I was very glad when they finally left Jules's house, as it was the last time we would need to see the ever opening and closing door.

The bit with Ian and Barbara in the Inn I found quite fun. My only criticism was that Napoleon appeared too tall, but according to The Historian the height thing is a misnomer. [EDIT: Well, I said "myth;" "misnomer" isn't quite the right word.--The Historian] Again, I felt like I missed a lot during that scene as I know so little about French history.
Another cool scene when Robespierre was overthrown and shot, although proceeded by a silly moment as the rebels cry out about needing to break down already collapsing door. Props in this early Doctor Who stories continue to be fragile. Anyway, I thought Ian and Lemaitre's reaction when Robespierre gets shot was cool. They did such a simple job of indicating his facial wound by having the actor cover up is face with his hand, yet just that subtle act seemed quite horrifying.
I also enjoyed the scene where The Doctor is getting the last word with the drunken jailer "from the north". The scene stretched a bit long with The Doctor pacing, but I could easily imagine him thinking "have to come up with something clever now, so I can get Susan out of here... I'll buy some time to think by pacing!"

The second half of the episode [EDIT: She actually means the last five minutes or so of the episode, but it felt that long to her! --T.H.], however, did not go quite as smoothly for me. Susan's actual rescue by The Doctor was rather anti-climatic. And she spent pretty much the entire story either sick or in a prison cell. Although, not being much of a Susan fan myself, I suppose it was just as well.
That scene was then followed by pithy words from Lemaitre / Stirling. The "I don't think even they know where they're going" speech was just a bit too over the top for me. This was shortly followed by stock footage of their carriage ride, including the exact same stock footage reversed. Ugh! I am not liking any stock footage on Doctor Who - just get on with the scene already. Enough with the filler!
Then we get a final scene of The Doctor basically commenting on all of their adventures up until now, which is fine for a nice end of season moment. But did they have to show it over a stationary field of stars? Lame.

So to sum up - first half of the episode really good. Second half, from getting Susan out of the jail and on - very lame!



Hello readers, the Historian here again. We still haven't heard from any of you, bar one, insofar as our survey goes, and here we are at the end of the season. I can't begin to say how disappointing this has been for Ketina and myself, since we really honestly wanted to know what our readers (and I know you're out there!) think of what we're doing and what we could do better--or what we're doing wrong! There's still time, though; please, please, please, if you read this blog, click on the link and comment or e-mail us. This blog takes quite a bit of work; let us know it's worth it!


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