A Land of Fear – 08/08/1964
Guests of Madame Guillotine – 15/08/1964
A Change of Identity – 22/08/1964
The Tyrant of France – 29/08/1964
A Bargain of Necessity – 05/09/1964
Prisoners of Conciergerie – 12/09/1964
NOTE: This review is of a “lost episode” that has been reconstructed through recorded dialogue and animation.
“Reign of Terror” is probably one of of not the most sophisticated episodes of Doctor Who yet. I’ve said before how the six-part episodes always fill me with dread as the show has a tendency to stretch plots out to the point of lunacy for the sake of budgets, but “Reign of Terror” actually uses this long long stretch of episodes to its advantage crafting a story that is rich with history, suspense, and intrigue… but Susan is still goddamn useless.
In “Reign of Terror,” the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Screamy McFaintypants find themselves in the middle of the beginnings of the French revolution and are almost immediately swept up in the events with the doctor’s companions being sent off to prison and the Doctor forced to assume the identity of a French autocrat to save them.
There are twists, turns, and complications through the serial but it never becomes trite or dull. The cliffhangers were all wonderfully executed, the danger always felt real, and the location shootings (a first for Doctor Who, if I’m not mistaken) only added to the richness of the episode.
“Reign of Terror” is dark as well… darker than anything that Doctor Who had done before. It’s violent, unflinching and brutal at times, but other times it’s overruned by ridiculous stock characters like the drunk jailer. While I understand the need for levity in the harshness, it makes the episodes terribly unbalanced at times.
Still, “Reign of Terror” is one of the most polished efforts from classic Doctor Who so far even with the interesting animated reconstructions that substituted episodes 4 and 5. I really enjoyed this historical misadventure.
Fun Fact: A design model of 16th century Paris was made for this story by designer Roderick Laing to help him in his work, which was later given to Carole Ann Ford as a present. Sadly, this unique piece of Doctor Who history now no longer exists; it was later accidentally smashed to pieces when her cleaning lady, whilst using a feather duster, knocked it off the top of the wardrobe where it was kept.
“Well, unlike the old adage, my boy, our destiny is in the stars, so let’s go and search for it…”
– The Doctor