Doctor Who: The Reign Of Terror REVIEW

Doctor Who: The Reign Of Terror DVD review: Vive la revolution!

Doctor Who "The Reign Of Terror".

“You’re looking somewhat drawn, Mr Hartnell.”


Release Date: 28 January 2013
1964 | PG | 148 minutes | £19.99
Distributor: BBC Worldwide
Director: Henric Hirsch
Cast: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford

This historical adventure, set during the French Revolution, makes you realise that the kids of 1964 were more genned-up than the adults of today. At least, it suggests that’s the case. “The Reign Of Terror” assumes its audience knows all about the Paris Commune, who Robespierre was, and that he ended up getting shot in the jaw. Nothing’s ever spelt out.

Some elucidation for the benefit of the historically ignorant would have been welcome, because “The Reign Of Terror” is really rather dull. The first episode has its excitement, ending with the Doctor trapped in a burning house and his companions threatened with decapitation. Sadly, while Madame Guillotine is name-checked many times, she never graces us with her presence. What follows is pretty dreary. With Ian, Barbara and Susan locked up as early as episode two, the story’s horizons swiftly contract, and scriptwriter Dennis Spooner falls back on that reliable Who staple: capture and escape.

There are a few points of interest: Who’s first use of location shooting, as a double for Hartnell wanders down country lanes, and a gobsmacking scene where he escapes from a work gang by cracking the overseer on the head with a shovel! Edward Brayshaw (later to become best known as Harold Meaker in Rentaghost) cuts a rather dashing figure as a counter-revolutionary, forever striking a dramatic pose. And there’s some amusement to be had from the Doctor’s mischievous machinations, as he impersonates a regional official in order to spring his companions from jail. Truth be told, though, the pimptastic plumed hat he dons as part of his disguise is the most memorable thing in the whole story.

Episodes four and five have been lost, so the gaps have been plugged with off-air audio recordings and black and white animation. These sequences are cut noticeably faster than the surviving episodes, and feature extreme close-ups of darting eyes and the like. In the absence of anything particularly interesting to animate – it’s basically people standing about in drab rooms talking – you can understand the decision to add a little extra zip. But it does mean that they don’t feel like a faithful reconstruction of what has been lost.

Extras:

The commentary has a constantly changing cast: Carole Ann Ford (Susan), production assistant Tim Combe, five bit-players (including Ronald Pickup, whose small role was his first acting job after leaving RADA), and two fans who discuss the search for missing episodes. Making Of “Don’t Lose Your Head” (25 minutes) quizzes Ford, Combe and William Russell, and focuses on Hungarian director Henric Hirsch, who got so stressed-out that he collapsed halfway through filming. Strangely, there’s no featurette on the new animation, just galleries of the character designs and a “set tour” of the backgrounds. Text commentary, Radio Times PDFs and a stills gallery complete the package.

Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman

Read our Doctor Who: A Big Hand For The Doctor review.
Read our Doctor Who: Destiny Of The Doctor – Hunters Of Earth review.
Read more of our Doctor Who DVD reviews.