Doctor Who #40: The Tyrant of France

"I could - and I shall - do great things for France. For too long the Nobility have kept our people to heel. And now finally, my world is at power, what happens? My colleagues, my trusted friends, plot for power!"TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 4 of The Reign of Terror. This episode is missing so I'll be watching Loose Cannon's reconstruction, like I did for the whole of Marco Polo (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Aug.29 1964.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor meets Robespierre, but is kept at the prison by Lemaitre. Ian is reunited with Barbara and Susan. The former is betrayed by Léon, and the girls by Susan's physician.

REVIEW: Spooner continues to insert nice little inversions in his script. We finally meet Robespierre, only to find out he's in the throes of terror too! You can't see it from the surviving stills, but he gets rather animated, worried about his legacy and yet unable to stop the massacre because of his paranoia (even though there seem to be more people plotting for him than against him at this point). It may seem strange that the Doctor tries to persuading him to stop the killings when they are a matter of historical fact - isn't this what he warned Barbara against in The Aztecs? - but I think he's manipulating the conversation to get himself thrown out before he's forced to talk about his "province" and show his hand. The ambiguity may be the result of the missing video. The other neat inversion, of course, is that in attempting to free his (already loose) friends from jail, the Doctor has become trapped there. What Lemaitre hopes to gain from not telling the Doctor he knows he's lying is left for another time (but see Theories).

In Les Miserables section of the script, coincidences continue to pile up. Rebels Jules and Jean find Ian lurking about (well, his dying cellmate did give him Jules' name) and hit him upside the head. He's happily reunited with the girls, who he must have thought dead. And they all must wonder if the Doctor died in that fire, even if not much fuss is made about it. They'll soon be reunited anyway. Barbara and Susan are betrayed by the physician treating the younger girl's mysterious illness (it was either that or leeches), and Ian is captured by Léon who, unsurprisingly, turns out to be the group's traitor. I sure hope Susan was wrong about the attraction between Barbara and that Judas.

THEORIES: Have you heard the one about Lemaitre being the Master in disguise? In the early 70s, when the Master was originally introduced, he would often show up in a story in disguise and using some form of the word "Master", either an anagram or in another language. "Le maître" is, of course, "The Master" in French. If Lemaitre is the Master, he doesn't show his hand, nor does the Doctor recognize him as a Time Lord. However, it could help explain why he doesn't actually arrest the Doctor when he sees the Time Lord ring. He just keeps him around. But why would the Master slum it in 18th-century France? He just likes watching executions? No, while Mark Gatiss would reuse the moniker for the Master in his Third Doctor novel, The Last of the Gaderene, not even continuity obsessive Gary Russell has tried to pin Reign's Lemaitre on the evil Time Lord. Because if there were a way to do so, I can assure you Gary Russell would have found it. Episode 6 will make the difficulties obvious.

VERSIONS: So the DVD release has animated episodes 4 and 5... I was rather a fan of the Flash animation style used in The Invasion, but this is a major step down. Yuck! (Note that is it NOT the style shown in the picture above!) I appreciate the sepia tone to denote its historical nature, but otherwise, it's an ugly and limited anime halfway between Miyazaki and the Gollum Doctor from Last of the Time Lords. I sometimes tries to do smooth 3D moves, but usually shows us close-ups where characters move their heads unnaturally. Occasionally, the sound is really bad, just like it was in the reconstruction, and the editing is frenetic, cutting too quickly between faces. And while I know Susan is supposed to be sick, does she HAVE to look like she's about to throw up half the time? I'm ready to say this episode gets a Medium-Low WITH pictures, instead of its original Medium. Because where it could have filled in the blanks - addressed some ambiguities, or shown Robespierre as animated as he sounded - they've done absolutely nothing with the material. People shuffling awkwardly in rooms, or worse, sitting awkwardly in rooms. A deep disappointment.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Despite having its moments, the plot provides another back and forth between freedom and the Conciergerie and serves as an appeal to tighten the stories to 4 episodes.


Toby'c said...

"You can't see it from the surviving stills, but he gets rather animated"

The DVD version of the episode certainly gets that across.

Siskoid said...


I plan to add a Versions entry once I watch it.


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