Thursday, May 20, 2010

"The Crusade" wrapup

Hello everyone, the Historian here. Well, I did promise the wrapup post would get written before the Project reconvened on 21 May...and it is 20 May, so I'm just barely making it. My apologies, everyone. I plead low energy and a busier life than usual. That being said...

One of the things I wasn't expecting back when we started this was how popular the Historicals would be with the Project personnel. Surprisingly, we sometimes seemed to like the historical stories more than (some of) the science fictional ones! But that streak seems to have come to an end with "The Crusade," which we found ultimately a bit disappointing. (As an aside, this is one of the few Doctor Who stories that I only knew through hearsay, never having read the Target book, heard the soundtrack, previously seen a recon, etc.) Well, let me qualify that: we definitely enjoyed the first three episodes, but the disappointment we felt after the wrapup of the final part coloured the whole story.

I've been trying to pin down precisely why the last episode felt unsatisfying. It's worth noting that this is the second story in a row where the Project team felt let down by a story's climax. In the case of "The Web Planet," it was a bad special effect combined with some writing that seemed more convenient than believable. In this case, although that formed part of our discussion, I think the problem was different. For three episodes, we were dazzled by wonderful dialogue and excellent acting and it wasn't until the climax that we realized that the Doctor and company...didn't...really do anything. The Doctor and Vicki are observers, they don't actually affect a thing that happens. Ian's part of the story seems particularly superfluous. In fact, the only thing he actually accomplishes is the delivery of Richard's letter to Saladin...and that takes place offscreen. The closest we get to a forward moving story from the TARDIS crew comes (unsurprisingly) from Barbara. Even so, she's more of a reactor than an actor in this story (although she definitely has her moments).

At this point, I think it's important to stress that "The Crusade" is certainly not a bad serial. We spent three episodes dazzled by David Whitaker's sparkling faux-Shakespearean dialogue, and there's no question that the acting was excellent from pretty much all concerned. In fact, it was all of this that distracted us from the fact that our protagonists really didn't accomplish much. I think the problem was the focus; in previous historical stories, the TARDIS crew were central to the story. Even if the actual events they participated in weren't at the very center of a period, our friends were at the center of events in their story. In this case, though, they're pushed off to the side. The story, where our attention was most drawn, was Richard, Saladin and the war, not the Doctor, Vicki, Ian or even Barbara. True, el Akir was a great looking villain, but he and his story don't feel very developed. (He is, as far as I can determine, completely fictional, unlike most of the other major figures in the story. In fact, as I was just excited to discover, a Google search for "El Akir" lists our post for "The Knight of Jaffa" as the fifth link on the first page of results!) Unlike other, similar characters (Tegana, say--remember him?), he doesn't interact with the story as a whole, remaining pretty much off to the side for Barbara's portion of the story. To be honest, except for his scar, there's really little to distinguish him from a sort of stock villain. When he dies, it feels anticlimactic. (Admittedly, this happens in a reconstructed episode, so it might have been more effective and exciting in the original.) Instead of a big struggle, Haroun just sort of sneaks in and stabs him. Ian isn't even involved, getting there just too late--which doesn't really give us any payoff for his side of the plot either. The whole thing just felt...beside the point. The first three episodes focused to a large extent on Richard, Saladin, Saphadin, Joanna...and, well, the politics of the Third Crusade. The last episode pretty much jettisoned that aspect of the story. Saladin and Saphadin don't even get screen time.

Ok, that became far too long a paragraph. (And I barely even touched on the actual history of the story!) But I hope you get the idea of what I'm trying to say. I'd be interested in hearing thoughts about this from all of you, if you've seen/heard/read the story. Or if you just have something you'd like to say!

Another thing I wanted to mention is that this serial is notable for being the first full story directed by Douglas "Dougie" Camfield, who would go on to be one of the most prolific Who directors of the '60s and '70s. He had been a crew member on "100,000 BC" and previously directed the fourth episode of "Planet of Giants," the one that got cut together with episode 3 to form that story's finale, but this was his first chance to put his stamp on a story from beginning to end. And, from casting to shooting scripts to scenery and costumes, this production is sumptuous, especially given the budget. From all reports, Dougie was loved by just about everyone he worked with and it's clear that he managed to coax wonderful performances from his actors. I'm looking forward to seeing how his style develops as we continue with the Project.

Before I get to the quick links to individual episode posts, I want to once again plug Loose Cannon Production's wonderful reconstruction. It's no exaggeration to say that Loose Cannon has helped make both our viewing of this story and, to a certain extent, the entire TARDIS Project possible. Go, order their "Crusade" recon--supplemented by the BBC's "Lost in Time" Hartnell DVD, of course! And, for those interested in more about the production side of things, here's the "Brief History of Time (Travel)" page for this story. And here's the BBC episode guide. And now, without even further ado....

"The Lion"
"The Knight of Jaffa"
"The Wheel of Fortune"
"The Warlords"

And there, at very great length, we have it! Come back tomorrow for the start of a new story, as the Doctor and friend find themselves in a different kind of adventure altogether...until then, I remain


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