You can probably already guess where this one is going, Constant Reader.
Oh look, there’s a guillotine on the cover. It’s a story about the French Revolution. Hence, a guillotine. I mean, of course.
The blurb on the back informs me that the French Revolution was “a time of great upheaval, bloodshed and terror”. Technically true, of course… if slanted. The inside blurb informs me that the Revolution was “bloodthirsty”. Inside the box, we have clearly abandoned all pretence of objectivity. Which is just as well, because any pretence of objectivity would be utterly hypocritical when talking about the Doctor Who story called ‘The Reign of Terror’.
Okay, onto the programme itself. As noted, the story is called ‘The Reign of Terror’. Just to hammer the point home, the first episde is called ‘A Land of Fear’. Because everyone in France was afraid.
There’s some rather charming interaction between the regulars at the start. The Doctor is in a huff and, convinced that he has finally brought Ian and Barbara home, attempts to haul them unceremoniously off his ship. They manage to charm him into coming outside to check that they really are in England circa 1963 before he zips off and leaves them. Ian flatters him and Barbara hangs on his shoulder, brushing imaginary spots of dust from his jacket.
They encounter a dirty-faced urchin out in the countryside. He is terrified of them, saying “I haven’t done anything wrong!”. It was a land of fear, you see. Fear. Got that?
The travellers soon realise that they’re actually in France of the past… which is confirmed when they almost immediately stumble into a safe house being used by the Royalist counter-revolutionaries. Upon Ian’s realisation that they’re in the time of the French Revolution, Barbara immediately responds with “yes, the Reign of Terror” because that’s all the French Revolution was. There was nothing else to it at all. That 11 month period sums up the whole thing.
The Royalists point guns at the travellers to begin with, but the leader, Rouvray (whose very name sounds a bit like the French word for ‘truth’), makes a little speech about trust and faith. It’s handy that he immediately decides to trust Ian, Barbara and Susan (the Doctor is lying unconscious upstairs) because the house is immediately surrounded by a bunch of Revolutionary soldiers, lead by a glowering Lieutenant and composed of rough, crude, vicious, sniggering, toothless, dirty thugs in Revolutionary uniforms. Rouvray attempts to outface them and, for a moment, it works. “You can put them in uniforms Lieuitenant,” he declares, “but they remain peasants underneath!” Yes, he actually says that. Heroically. This, presumably, is his explanation for both their viciousness and their natural inclination to obey any man of breeding who shouts at them loudly enough. The peasants overcome their inborn servility, however, and shoot him dead. They are practically drooling at the prospect of shooting Ian, Barbara and Susan too… until their Lieutenant reminds them that ‘Le Maistre’ (who sounds like the kind of guy who might tie James Bond to a chair and beat him on the balls with a tennis racket) might give them a reward for prisoners. …