As the curtain rises on episode one of Dennis Spooner’s “The Reign of Terror” (first broadcast on the 8th August, 1964) it seems as though 1960s schoolteachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and his colleague Barbara Wright’s (Jacqueline Hill) days of adventuring in space and time with a grumpy, flaxen-haired old alien and his oddball granddaughter are finally numbered. At the end of the last serial (“The Sensorites”) The first Doctor (William Hartnell) had proper got the hump with his two companions from Earth and has since resolved to take them straight back home -- if only in order to prove once and for all, in the face of insulting insinuations to the contrary, that he is fully in control of his police box-shaped time traveling craft. And the TARDIS scanner indeed seems to be displaying an contemporary Earth-like scene made up of verdant fields and trees as the episode opens, and despite Susan’s (Carole Ann Ford) protestations, the Doctor seems eager to be shot of his two unwanted passengers and is not even willing to venture out with them to thoroughly check the TARDIS’s exact location before leaving them behind: ‘are you still here,’ he mumbles absently to Ian while distractedly leafing through what one supposes could be the TARDIS’s navigational manual.
There’s an air of ‘so this is goodbye then’ about this marvellous opening scene inside the TARDIS console room, beautifully played by the ensemble cast: lots of hugs and kisses are exchanged between Susan and her former teachers, and an atmosphere of finality pervades, which induces Ian and Barbara to fawn over the petulantly gruff Doctor, Barbara lovingly smoothing his jacket and Ian patting him on the back while both ostentatiously flatter his ego, Ian even suggesting that he might like to accompany them to the nearest pub to say goodbye properly … just in case he and Susan never find time in their busy schedule to come visit them again in the future. It’s a touching display of fondness combined with regret that they’ll probably never be seeing these two strange beings ever again. There is also an intimate sense of trepidation that’s shared briefly between the two companions when they’re left alone in the TARDIS for just a moment while the now thoroughly mollified Doctor sets off outside with Susan to explore: what will life in contemporary Britain have in store for them now, in light of all they’ve seen and have since become aware of in the months since that fateful night on which they accidentally stumbled into a strangely humming police box in a junk yard on the corner of Totters Lane, and were then abducted and sent back to the dawn of human prehistory for the start of a bewildering series of adventures that have bnow rought them to this point?
While today, in 2013, we prepare for November’s coming 50th anniversary celebrations of the first airing of that beguiling TV moment, it’s odd to reflect that it could all have ended right here, for good. Of course, narrative-wise, it turns out that the Doctor’s calculations are slightly off after all (surprise, surprise), and although he has indeed brought Ian and Barbara back to Earth, they’re actually in Paris … in 1794 – at the height of the bloodiest period of the aftermath of the French Revolution, known as The Terror. The on-screen atmosphere of subdued reflection, and the acknowledgement by the lead characters that their experiences together could all be about to finish, do also reflect much of what was going on behind the scenes at the time, though, for the show was indeed facing a crossroads that could either make or break it. This was the last story to be aired before a scheduled six week break in transmission (and therefore the last story of what in retrospect we now call season one) while production continued with “Planet of the Giants”, and it wasn’t at all clear at this stage whether the show would be coming back at all for more than the six weeks already decided upon by the BBC’s powers that be. Indeed, the text screen production notes written for this DVD tell how producer Verity Lambert was seriously considering ending the show for good if she couldn’t get an agreement to extend the run for longer, as the series’ regular actors were already considering other offers of work as the uncertainty over the matter of the show’s long-term future continued to grow. Even if the show did carry on, there were memos flying around at the BBC during this period about reducing the number of regular companions, and, indeed, Carole Ann Ford’s days did turn out to be numbered: she would be leaving in two stories time, at the end of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, fed up with her character’s increasing irrelevance. If she needed any further proof of the truth of this, then this particular serial is sadly a perfect example of how the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan had degenerated as a character since the series’ inception, and was becoming increasingly side-lined by the show’s male writers.
Even if there was this unprecedented degree of uncertainty lurking behind the scenes in regard to the future of the show, this final story of the season also saw many firsts, and signals some important developments in the way the format was to be reconsidered from now on. There are several small but notable production firsts during this story. For instance, episode one features the first time we see the TARDIS actually materialise on camera, and it’s the first tale to feature outdoor location filming. Most significantly, this serial signals the beginnings of a new attitude towards the show’s historical stories. Ever since the start of series production, the show had been swapping its science fiction adventures with historical ones; and much as Terry Nation had defined how the early science fiction adventures would be handled with “The Daleks” and “The Keys of Marinus” (Peter Newman’s “The Sensorites” hardly made that much of an impression, let’s face it), so John Lucarotti’s two preceding historicals had played an equally important role in establishing how time travel and Earth history would be meshed into a mix that attempted to work as action/comedy adventure, while retaining the educational remit first envisioned for the show by BBC head of Drama Sidney Newman. “The Reign of Terror” was the first historical story written for the show by experienced TV writer and future DOCTOR WHO script editor Dennis Spooner, and saw the beginnings of an approach that held less concern with stringent historical accuracy, and instead placed more value on the entertainment side of the equation. Spooner conceived his surprisingly grim romp through Robespierre’s last days in charge of France as a spy story, much influenced by the recent success of the second James Bond movie “From Russia with Love”. Double agents, secret missions, cryptic messages and lots of intrigue dominate this version of the French Revolution, which is highly influenced by other classic literary interpretations of the era, both in terms of visual design and in content; in particular Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” is an important reference point, and even more obviously Baroness Orczy’s series of Scarlett Pimpernel adventures, which similarly concern an English spy helping French aristocrats escape the Guillotine in revolutionary France, have clearly been used as a jump off point for the tale that eventually unfolds across these six episodes.
Before any of this gets properly established though, the regular cast find themselves embroiled in a surprisingly tough, grim and unpredictable series of events, with violent death surrounding them on all sides and their own lives constantly in mortal jeopardy. The first two episodes seem to go out of their way to undermine the expected narrative routine whereby our heroes stumble into an adventure after first encountering some initially hostile locals who they eventually befriend and then seek to help in some way. “The Reign of Terror” seems at first to start off exactly like that: Ian, Barbara, the Doctor and Susan find an abandoned cottage and Ian rapidly realises that they’re not back home in 1960s London after all when documents found in the house mention Robespierre prominently in the text. He also gleans that the house is a stop off point in an escape route for fleeing aristocracy, full of conveniently fitting period clothes to help them blend in with their surroundings, and which are dragged from a trunk by the girls. When two counter-revolutionary fugitives turn up out of the blue -- D'Argenson (Neville Smith) and Rouvray (Laidlaw Dalling) – they are at first very suspicious of the TARDIS crew: the Doctor even gets knocked unconscious while exploring the upper rooms. But soon enough, the two hunted men realise our heroes pose no harm and befriend them.
The viewer naturally now starts to assume that these two are going to be important supporting cast members for the rest of the story, but no sooner does the thought start to form than the pair is brutally gunned down after a siege of the house by an ill-disciplined rabble of soldiers, who’ve evidently been searching for them in the surrounding area. This is not before we’ve been given enough backstory about how the frightened Rouvray’s family has previously been massacred during the campaign of terror that’s being waged across the country etc., for us to start to sympathise with them and understand how out of control is the nature of the paranoia and violence that’s been sweeping the land. Their pursuers, led by a flinty, unforgiving Lieutenant (Ken Lawrence) and his coarse Sergeant (Robert Hunter) -- who’s in command of a group of soldiers made up of resentful, hungry peasants in ill-fitting uniforms -- are in no mood for polite reasoning: before we know it Ian, Susan and Barbara have been lined up in front of an impromptu Revolutionary firing squad while the Doctor is left for dead in the burning remains of the torched cottage. The only reason the three companions are not executed on the spot is because the Lieutenant thinks he may be able to curry more favour with the Revolutionary Executive by taking them to Paris to be officially registered as having been executed!
In the following episode, Susan and Barbara will be ignominiously locked in the smelliest, rat-infested dungeon cell of the Conciergerie, and things look so grim and hopeless for them that Susan simply gives up immediately after complaining of feeling too ill to be able to continue with Barbara’s rather optimistic plan of digging their way out through the sewer system abutting the prison. In no time at all they’re being condemned to death without trial and driven through the streets of the capital on their way to an appointment with Madame Guillotine in a horse-led tumbrel, while bonneted harridans mock and jeer from the upper storeys of overlooking buildings, and withered old crones – Les infamous tricoteuses – sit clutching their knitting in corners, waiting for the latest show to commence. Thanks to set designer Roderick Laing’s evocative work, an impression is conveyed of a rather narrow and cramped backstreet Paris, absent its characteristic expansive boulevards; but this was a style choice forced by the limited dimensions of the notorious Lime Grove studio G which the production was stuck with for its first four episodes. Yet this whole section of the story does actually benefit from these mean conditions: the sets are beautifully but sparingly lit to create imagery with the dingy character of Hogarthian prints made flesh, enlivened by the inclusion of many macabre details supplied by some of the supporting characters and walk-on extras: in particular there’s a leering jailer (Jack Cunningham) who, even though we’re supposed to be in France, talks with a broad regional Yorkshire accent throughout -- the standard TV short-hand of the day for indicating that he’s a bit rough and can’t be trusted, and who proves it by trying to have his evil way with Barbara.
Besides the grimness of the first few episodes and the delight that is to be had in the multitude of black and macabre but nevertheless humorous details Spooner injects into the script, this last story of the season also sees William Hartnell’s Doctor in particularly fine fettle. The first Doctor gets the chance here to display almost every aspect of his aged character in a plethora of interactions with various personalities he runs into along his way. There’s a picaresque feel to his progress through this story: after being rescued from the burning house by a young beggar boy -- a scene which affords us the kind of pleasantly tender interaction between the old man and the youngster that, at this stage, is still a rarity in the development of the character of the Doctor as played by Hartnell -- the Doctor sets out on the long trek to Paris in an attempt to catch up with and rescue his friends. Here’s where that outside location work comes in: stuntman Brian Proudfoot was employed to dress up as Hartnell and take a leisurely stroll in long shot through some pleasant Buckinghamshire locations, cleverly picked by the production assistant because they suggested 18th century rural France with their lengthy lines of poplars lining the avenues, etc.
The Doctor we’re presented with in this story is the charming, wily, irascible, manipulative and sometimes slightly dangerous person first suggested by those initial first few episodes of the series back in November '63. A scene which transpires when his journey on foot takes him past a gang of road workers (tax dodgers, put to hard labour fixing the roads by the Revolutionary Government) being bullied by an slave-driving overseer (Dallas Cavell) is a case in point: it starts with Hartnell’s Doctor flattering the stout, bearded man with wit and charm when he wants some information out of him, but turns in a split second into him making a show of insult and rank abuse over the manner in which the overseer has been treating the workers placed under his command. The scene develops comically as the Doctor then finds himself made part of the same sweating, overworked road-works’ group when he can’t produce his identification papers, but this turns out to be a huge mistake on the overseer’s part when, after noting that he spends the majority of his time during each shift counting out his money, the Doctor contrives a scheme to free the other prisoners by pretending to find treasure in the patch of road the group has been forced to dig up, tempting the greedy overseer to bend over for a look. The original script, in having Hartnell’s Doctor then batter him over the head with a heavy spade, seems to suggest he’s actually the killed the man. Only the addition of comedy snoring on the soundtrack mitigates the force of what is otherwise one of the most violent acts ever seen perpetrated by the Doctor in any of his incarnations! There’s much more to come from Hartnell though, as, once he’s arrived in Paris, Spooner’s script next has him bargain his way into obtaining a uniform from a Parisian Taylor (John Barrard), that’s necessary for passing himself off as a Regional District Officer of the Provinces, complete with a ostentatiously over-the-top feathered hat which Hartnell manages to get away with by playing his scenes in it completely straight. The Doctor then spends much of the rest of the story running rings around the hapless jailer at the Conciergerie and ends up, in the words of Ian Chesterton, ‘virtually running the Revolution! … I just don’t know how he gets away with it!’
The main body of “The Reign of Terror” revolves around Spooner’s attempts to work a rip-roaring adventure spy story around a backdrop of hard fact. Ian receives a message from a dying counter-revolutionary called Webster (Jeffry Wickham) while imprisoned in the Conciergerie, and promises to do his best to deliver it; he must track down an English spy called James Stirling who is working under an assumed identity in the French Government, and tell him that he has been recalled to England. The contact name of one of the rebels -- Jules Renan – is his only clue, for he doesn’t know what Stirling actually looks like. To make matters even murkier a high ranking official of the Revolution called Lemaitre (James Cairncross) is already onto Webster, and suspects Ian of having received information from him. Susan and Barbara are seized from the guillotine by rebels who are part of a secret network that stages last minute rescues of the condemned as a matter of course and helps them flee the country. One of them turns out to be Renan, but it seems that there is a traitor in the group who is relaying sensitive information back to Lemaitre. The various escapes and recaptures, etc., that make up the majority of the contents of these episodes are made more interesting than they might’ve otherwise been by the various debates the story also hosts; from our time travellers’ point of view -- particularly Barbara’s -- the Revolution is a just cause and, despite the Terror, is vital in the development of the cause of Democracy. Yet circumstance places them on the side of the Aristocracy and those who find themselves positioned as enemies of the Revolution. When the charming aristocratic rebel Leon Colbert (Edward Brayshaw) turns out to be the traitor within Jules Renan’s group after having first rather swept Barbara off her feet with his aristocratic charm, he’s allowed some persuasive reasoning for his actions by Spooner’s script, but Barbara, in sticking up for him from the vantage point of history, is nevertheless forced to acknowledge that, had not Colbert been thwarted by Renan, Ian would have been forced to kill him instead, or else be killed by him! It’s a lesson in how events at the coarser grained level of individual participation in history might get lost in the bigger picture, which is in any case only visible in retrospect.
Having tackled some difficult historical conundrums and also included an unnecessary and stodgy historical digression over the fate of Robespierre (played by Keith Anderson), the final episode indulges in some flagrant pseudo-history that rounds off the spy story aspect of the tale nicely enough, but most definitely signals the start of a break with the show’s original educational remit by suggesting Paul Barras (John Law), the main leader of the Directory that took over after Robespierre was deposed and executed, was in cahoots all along with Napoleon Bonaparte (Tony Wall). The farcical final episode has Ian and Barbara posing as innkeeper and barmaid respectively, spying on a secret meeting between the two conspirators in the back rooms of a French Inn, during which Napoleon agrees to provide support for Barras’s take-over, even though there is no evidence for this alliance and such a meeting could never have happened because Napoleon was nowhere near Paris at the time.
The complications of the politics of 18th century Revolutionary France allow characters to change sides at the drop of a hat and the duplicity and deceit that are staples of the spy genre are well served by such labyrinthine manoeuvrings being inherent to this era. Spooner’s first story for the series is an entertaining costume spy caper, full of visual extravagance and clever shifts of perspective that keep the story moving in a delightful fashion, even setting aside the occasional missteps in pacing which appear to have found their way into the serial for the sake of still providing at least a semblance of the educational element originally required of the series as a whole. Under Spooner’s time as script editor, the historical stories would depart more and more from these aims and angle more towards pure entertainment, but “The Reign of Terror” is a transitional story that’s staged with aplomb despite the difficulties involved in the production. It’s always been hard to appreciate it fully before now, because two of the episodes of the six part adventure are still missing from the archive. BBC Worldwide Entertainment have in large part overcome that hurdle by repeating the idea previously used to bring the incomplete Patrick Troughton adventure “The Invasion” to DVD in 2006: that of animating the missing action to the existing soundtrack recordings of episodes 4 and 5. Planet 55 Studios, an Australian animation company, have used specially developed state-of-the-art 2D animation techniques to bring as much character to their realisation of these two missing episodes as possible. Of course, as full of character and atmosphere as the results of their endeavours are, they cannot hope to match the feel of the live action series and certainly don't necessarily follow the original camera scripts verbatum; but with the aid of rotoscoping techniques, among other newly self-developed ones, these superbly detailed animations come as close as technology allows to capturing the essence of the missing episodes and provide us with the best possible experience of the story we will ever have unless they actually turn up again in some far flung TV archive in the future.
This DVD edition of course comes with the usual commentary track and text production note materials, as well as a 25 minute ‘making of’ documentary featurette. This time all three extras are dominated by some rather dramatic behind-the-scenes events involving the serial’s director Henric Hirsch, who only ever directed this one DOCTOR WHO story. Piecing together the anecdotes and info provided from all the sources contained on this DVD, it feels like we still don’t quite have the full story exactly, and the director himself seems to have disappeared and has probably died since the last attempts to contact him. But what we do know is that the stress of trying to direct the show led to tensions with the cast (particularly Carole Ann Ford and William Hartnell) and to his eventual collapse during the shooting of episode three, requiring production assistant Timothy Combe to thereafter carry some of the load for the ailing director -- although no-one seems quite clear on who exactly took over from him for one episode while he recovered.
“Don’t Lose Your Head: The Making of the Reign of Terror” features interviews with Combe, Carole Ann Ford and William Russell, who set the scene as they relate how things didn’t get off to the greatest of starts with Hirsch, a Hungarian émigré used to the more leisurely pace afforded by theatre production than he was to the strains and rigours of ‘against the clock’ TV work, when the rehearsal rooms that were used to run through the script before recording started turned out to be draughty and leaked water whenever it rained. Both Carole Ann Ford and Timothy Combe also take part in the commentary track moderated by Toby Hadoke, in which Ford talks about her time on the show in general and how she felt like a pop star by this point, getting to appear on “Juke Box Jury” alongside George Harrison or members of The Kinks, and putting her foot in it by stating her opinion that all Beach Boys records sound the same. Combe mentions how Hartnell could be ‘very grand’ and stand-offish with the guest stars (although he helped Combe learn how to complete the Times crossword in their down time), but Carole Ann Ford always found him ‘adorable’. Joining Combe and Ford for commentaries on each of the four existing filmed episodes a different supporting actor has been selected from the sprawling cast that appears in this six-part story. Episode one sees Neville Smith, the actor who played the unfortunate D'Argenson, dropping in for a brief chat about his curtailed WHO appearance. He mentions that an earlier draft of the story had a greatly expanded role for his character but that it was eventually cut down to a few brief scenes before he’s callously murdered off-screen by revolutionary soldiers. Neville also later wrote the notorious Public Information Film “Apaches” (look it up on YouTube if you dare!), about a bunch of kids meeting a series of gruesome ends while playing Cowboys and Indians on some farmland, and Hadoke, as someone who remembers innocently stumbling across this disturbing bloodbath on TV one afternoon at an impressionable age, can’t resist digressing for a brief chat about it with its creator.
This episode also sees Combe talking about how it was still undecided in these early years of the show whether or not cod French accents should be used or not, and Carole Ann Ford indicates that all was not necessarily smooth running between herself and the director after he criticised her performance for being ‘too maudlin’. To be fair, the story doesn’t exactly give Susan the best role in the drama she’d ever had: she spends almost the whole story suffering from a mystery illness that induces such a lassitude that she can’t even be bothered trying to save herself from the guillotine, and is apparently content to give up and simply accept her fate. In later episodes she spends most of her time semi collapsed in a feverish heap, and a visit to a physician in episode four gets her and Barbara both captured again. Then all of a sudden, the illness completely vanishes in the last episode and we’re never given any real explanation as to what was supposed to have been ailing her to such an extent that it seemed life-threatening at one point. One can see why Carole Ann Ford was getting fed up with her lot, especially after the promising start she’d had in the very first episode of the first serial, when Susan came across as a strange and beguiling alien girl. Even in the story before this, “The Sensorites” it had been suggested that the Doctor’s granddaughter had an untapped ability to communicate psychically with some alien species; but with this story she’s back to being a whinny and annoying schoolgirl and even jumps up onto a bed at the first sight of a rat in her cell, at one point. Susan, it seemed, was always the character who was going to end up being a repository for male 1960s sexist attitudes about helpless females, and positioned as the maiden who’s role was to be the someone who is only ever there to be rescued by the others.
Episode Two sees Jeffry Wickham join the commentary crew to supply lots of lovely ‘luvvie’ anecdotes about theatre life, along with what must rank as one of the best behind-the-scenes tales from the making of 1960s DOCTOR WHO ever, when Wickham relates how he fell asleep and was left in a darkened studio after being called back from a rather lubricated lunch to play dead for the scene in which James Cairncross has to lift the blanket covering Webster’s lifeless face. Toby Hadoke inadvertently gives some insight into the married life of a Whovian when he reveals that his wife drove him out to the Buckinghamshire location, used for the brief shot in which Brian Proudfoot strolls along an avenue lined with poplar trees, as a special Birthday treat (It’s just round the corner from UNIT HQ in “The Three Doctors” apparently!)
Caroline Hunt is the guest star joining the conversation for episode Three. She plays Danielle, Jules Renan’s maid. Most of the discussion revolves around director Henric Hirsch’s collapse during the shooting of this episode, although Hunt also reveals that Hirsch made a pass at her at one point; ‘it was pointless really, because I’d already got the job!’ she exclaims. The tension with Hartnell, who could sense that the inexperienced director was finding things difficult and was himself made even more jumpy because of the situation, and the stress of the cramped filming conditions at Lime Grove -- made worse by the episode requiring the presence of a live horse and tumbrel on the studio floor -- eventually all took their toll. But although Combe believes that “The Keys of Marinus” director John Gorrie took over for the remainder of the episode, Gorrie himself denies he ever had anything to do with it. Almost everyone behind the scenes of this story was new to their jobs and quite inexperienced at the time, including to some extent Combe, so this must have considerably added to the pressure Hirsch felt himself to be under. The production notes with this episode are much more forthright in relating how the rows between William Hartnell and Hirsch degenerated into open quarrels. The director never worked again for the BBC after this, and ended up directing the ITV daily soap “Crossroads” before retiring to New South Wales in the ‘80s. Toby Hadoke seems to contradict some of the claims made against Hirsch by Carole Ann Ford (which are seemingly backed up by Hartnell’s difficult relationship with the director) by reading from a few of the many notes sent to the director by supporting cast members, saying how much they enjoyed the experience of being directed by him and that they hoped he’d get better soon. Caroline Hunt says this might have simply been ‘actor’s schmooze’ but Hadoke points out that it is quite rare to find such notes in the archive for other WHO serials.
The rest of the commentary team take a break for episode Four, which is a more generalised discussion with actor Ronald Pickup -- an acting veteran who came to prominence in the 1987 miniseries “Fortunes of War” but who started out on his TV career with this small role in DOCTOR WHO as a treacherous physician who turns Susan and Barbara over to the authorities. Pickup has also worked with Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker and David Tennant during his long and varied career and although he only has a small role in this serial, Hadoke manages to winkle out a host of anecdotes about his career and his memories of DOCTOR WHO. The discussion is not tied specifically to the on-screen events since the animated version had not been completed at the time the commentary recording was made, but anyone interested in archive TV from the seventies and eighties will be interested in what Pickup has to say here. The other missing episode features Hadoke talking to two episode hunters about the processes involved in tracking down missing episodes of archive TV shows. Paul Vanezis and Philip Morris discuss how the BBC archive came to lose so many episodes of DOCTOR WHO and how they first both found out about it in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine. Paul was involved in discovering the location of these four episodes of “The Reign of Terror” (later recovered by Ian Levine for the BBC) after some visiting relatives from Cyprus holidaying in the UK mentioned that they remembered seeing the show there in the 1960s. During the course of the conversation (which includes mention of the most recent episode discoveries: episode three of the William Hartnell adventure “Galaxy Four” and episode two of the Patrick Troughton story “The Underwater Menace”) both seem surprisingly optimistic that there is still much more out there waiting to be recovered.
The last episode sees Timothy Combe and Carole Ann Ford returning, this time in the company of Patrick Marley, the actor who appears briefly on screen in this episode as the soldier who shoots Robespierre in the jaw. Combe mentions how William Hartnell improved his behaviour after he was taken out to dinner to discuss the situation involving Henric Hirsch’s breakdown, in light of producer Verity Lambert deciding the director should stay on and complete his work on the serial. The production notes throughout these episodes (there are none included for the animated episodes) are full of information about various elements of the production ranging from Stanley Myers’ music to general studio info. After the trauma and difficulties of this production, Lambert was able to get production moved to BBC Television Centre for the final two episodes and although it would be some years before the programme moved there full time, this was the last time DOCTOR WHO had to cope with the notoriously cramped and over-heated conditions of the ancient Lime Grove Studios.
The disc also includes a picture gallery of production and behind-the-scenes stills which allow us to catch a glimpse of what the sets and costumes look like in colour. There’s an animation gallery and a virtual tour of the animated versions of the sets as well, plus PDF files of Radio Times listings and a hidden easter egg. Coming soon, we can look forward to a special edition re-release of the classic Tom Baker story “The Ark in Space”, trailed here.
“The Reign of Terror” is beautifully performed (particularly by Hartnell) and is full of warm wit and grim violence perfectly stirred into a well-proportioned pot of intrigue and adventure. After the refined, often stately work of John Lucarotti on “Marco Polo” and “The Aztecs” this marks the beginnings of a pronounced change in the show’s handling of historical adventures; one that would eventually lead to the pseudo history genre of story that’s much more familiar to us today. This DVD reconstruction reveals a compelling tale well told and enthusiastically acted by a great cast, and will delight a whole section of new fans that might never have bothered listening to the narrated soundtrack version otherwise.
Be sure to read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!