Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – The Reign of Terror (1964)

by Chad Denton

The Doctor lands the TARDIS somewhere, angrily telling Barbara and Ian that they’re now home and they must leave. The companions aren’t so sure, but to keep the Doctor from just abandoning them they try to soothe over his ego, with Ian convincing him to at least join them for a drink before they go. Finding that they’ve landed in the middle of a forest, they come across a boy with ragged clothes who tells them that they’re in France, near Paris. The Doctor insists that his landing of the TARDIS was still “quite accurate” – after all, it’s only a hundred miles or so – but Ian adds that they might also have the wrong when. Coming across a seemingly abandoned farmhouse, they learn bit by bit that they’re not only at the time of the French Revolution, but have landed at the height of the Reign of Terror, and that the farmhouse is actually a station on an “underground railroad” designed to help aristocrats and counterrevolutionaries escape the country. Everything comes together when the Doctor and the rest run into two aristocrats, who are being pursued by revolutionary troops. The aristocrats are killed trying to escape, while Ian, Barbara, and Susan are found and arrested by the soldiers. Meanwhile the Doctor is trapped inside the farmhouse, as one of the soldiers burns it down. The boy from earlier, Jean-Pierre, rescues the Doctor and tells him what happened to the others.

In Paris, Ian, Barbara, and Susan are all condemned to die under the guillotine without a trial; Ian and the women are taken to different cells in the Conciergerie. Barbara discovers a weak spot in the cell that might enable them to escape, while Ian shares his cell with a dying British spy who recognizes him as British and begs him to finish his assignment for him by finding another spy named James Stirling at the sign of Le Chien Gris (“The Gray Dog”) and giving him orders to return to Britain. After the spy dies, an official, Lemaitre, interrogates Ian about the spy and then marks Ian off the list of prisoners scheduled to be executed. On his way to Paris to save the others, the Doctor is drafted into a press gang because he manages to piss off the overseer and he isn’t carrying any identification papers (this was before psychic paper). Soon enough, the Doctor exploits the overseer’s greed to help everyone in the press gang escape. As soon as he arrives in Paris, the Doctor acquires the garb of a provincial officer. Susan and Barbara get a lucky break too, as they are rescued while being carted to the guillotine by Jean and Jules, two men in charge of the escape network the Doctor and the others stumbled across before. In the meantime, Ian succeeds in escaping on his own, thanks to, unknown to him, the unexplained intervention of Lemaitre.

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