Wednesday, September 07, 2005

'The Reign of Terror'

6 episodes: 4 surviving

Thoroughly enjoyed this full-blooded historical romp through Revolutionary France. It is a great shame that episodes 4 and 5 no longer exist, as I was engrossed at the halfway point and no amount of linking narration from Carole Ann Ford with fuzzy clips and still images can recompense for missing out on the crucial 50-minute cranking-up of the action, leaving the final part somewhat high and dry. The 'look' and quality of the surviving footage also varied greatly from shot to shot, as if it had been cobbled together from various sources.

Nevertheless, this was another great period yarn, with an atypically high correlation with the actual nastiness of its setting: the revolutionary soldiers are vicious, taking sadisitc glee in shooting their captives in the first episode, and the roadworks overseer has an equally ruthless quality to him. The cells are dim and dirty, there is deceit and betrayal, and even Robespierre gets shot (in the jaw, off-screen) to the accompaniment of more laughter. There are well-realised characters like the grimly comical gaoler and British double-agent Stirling, and again it is a shame that we cannot see more development of the likes of Jules Renan and Jean; the character Leon 'disappears' before he can do anything intetresting while Robespierre himself barely gets a look-in. No less a figure than Napoleon Bonaparte crops up, but also gets less screen time than would perhaps be desirable - although it should be mentioned that, like Robespierre's, the diminutive Corsican's involvement in the scenario is historically inaccurate.

As per the norm, the central characters get split up and imprisoned, leaving the Doctor to do the legwork necessary to get them all out again on a route not headed to Madame Guillotine. William Hartnell really gets a chance to shine, the Doctor masquerading as a 'Regional Officer of the Provinces' in a truly fabulous outfit complete with enormous feathered hat! Manipulating everyone as he goes, as far as possible, he eventually secures his companions' safety, and all retire to the TARDIS for a elegiac fade-out against a background of stars to bring Season One to a close.


Episodes watched: 33
Episodes still to watch: 689

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