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Saturday, 3 September 2005 - Reviewed by Nick Mellish

When 'The Unquiet Dead' was first broadcast, it felt good, and it felt great. In short, it felt like Series One had reached its peak already, three episodes in. Of course, this was arguably not to be and later episodes proved themselves to be just as evocative in terms of appreciation, but despites this I still think that there is a strong case to be made for hailing 'The Unquiet Dead' as the best of the best in Series One.

'Doctor Who' has the most remarkable formula, in that it can dip in the past and future with equal ease and get away with it, and here is a good example of the show doing just that. If everything looked fine and dandy in 'The End Of The World', then things are positively glowing throughout 'The Unquiet Dead'. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper seem to be having a whale of a time prancing around (or, perhaps, swanning off) in Victorian Cardiff, and their enjoyment adds to the undeniably joyful ambience that presides over this episode.

Visually, everything simply feels Christmassy- the snow looks crisp and cold, the ghostly blues and red of the gaseous Gelth by contrast look so stunning against the dark and brooding backdrops that the episode as a whole is a veritable treat for the eye. When they said they were bringing 'Doctor Who' back, and they were going to try their hardest to make sure it looked great, I bet they had this episode in mind. In terms of looking so blissfully aesthetically pleasing, 'The Unquiet Dead' is not beaten throughout Series One.

Whilst I found Euros Lyn's direction a little stale in 'The End Of The World', here it looks truly brilliant. The exterior scenes sweep in and out and about, giving Cardiff a grand and appealing guise whilst the interiors are nicely contrasted between the large and comfortable main rooms where the richer reside, and the cramped relative squalor of the servants' whereabouts.

Just observe the difference between the grandiose wide shots of Charles Dickens' horse and carriage trotting down Cardiff, and the cramped tight shots of the smaller and more haunting cellar in Sneed's house. It's visual moments like this which set scenes far better than any dialogue could ever do, and full points must go to both Euros Lyn, and the unsung hero of the New Series, the Director Of Photography: Ernie Vincze BSC.

Murray Gold's incidental music for 'The Unquiet Dead' perfectly compliments the visuals and the tone of script, with the rousing music following the explosion of Sneed's house being the highlight of it. There is arguably too much music, but when it is as good as it is here, there is little room for complaints.

Mark Gatiss' script is thankfully every bit as impressive as the visual interpretation of his words. The dialogue literally crackles, with the interaction between the Doctor and Rose managing to perfectly capture the relationship thus far exclusively established by Russell T. Davies; their banter throughout is evocative of older Doctor-companion partnerships, whilst also managing to tie in with the new direction for such a pairing. The Doctor's comments concerning Rose's Victorian costume perfectly captures this, and that is merely one moment in a story full of such delights. For me, however, the stand-out moment has to be Rose's first footstep into Victorian snow; her acting, the direction, the music, the sound effects and Gatiss' expert handling of the situation is a real lump-in-the-throat moment. You suspend your disbelief- you believe you are there.

The plot in 'The Unquiet Dead' is great too. Zipping along at a pace hitherto unknown to 'Doctor Who', the plot manages to tell the story of an alien invasion attempt, the hierarchal status of Victorian England whilst also charting the re-birth of Charles Dickens' youth. Beginning 'The Unquiet Dead' with a sombre and depressive Dickens and ending it with a reinvigorated and blissfully optimistic one gives the episode as a whole the same sort of positive feel.

Gatiss writes for Dickens so well that you can see why Simon Callow seems as happy as he is to be playing the character. His writing for the other cast is superb as well. Gabriel Sneed and Gwyneth are both instantly recognisable and well-realised characters, and the pairing of the two of them works very well indeed. As well as Dickens' story, this is Gwyneth's also. Her journey from hapless Servant girl to Saviour of the World is both touching and natural, and never feels forced. If only all writers could pull off such feats with perfection.

Perhaps best of all is the fact that 'The Unquiet Dead' boasts- without a shadow of a doubt- one of the greatest openings to a 'Doctor Who' story ever: possessed dead body kills man by breaking his neck, knocks out an Undertaker then screams out her gaseous innards in a very real sense. Cue title sequence. Brilliant!

In all, it is hard not to see why all the fuss was generated over this episode. The acting is brilliant; the script is strong; it is visual stunning; the episode throughout is aurally pleasing too with every sound effect and musical note being perfectly placed in the overall scheme of things. When the TARDIS dematerialises at the conclusion, you can see tiny flakes of snow tumble off the windows of everybody's best loved Police Box. It's little moments like this- such tiny attentions to detail- which raises this high up in the pecking order of quality throughout Series One. The general consensus was correct- 'The Unquiet Dead' really is on par with as good as it ever got.

FILTER: - Series 1/27 - Ninth Doctor - Television

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Saturday, 3 September 2005 - Reviewed by Billy Higgins

One of the great things I'm finding about trying to reflect upon the new (although I suppose it's not actually "new" any more, is it?) series of "Doctor Who" after a second viewing of the episodes this summer is that my natural propensity towards objectivity isn't compromised.

As a fan, I would always want to like the show, rather as you will your sports team to do well (even when, like mine, they invariably don't) and to write about it in positive terms. Hey, I would try to find nice things to say about "The Creature From The Pit", "Nightmare Of Eden" and "The Horns Of Nimon" . . .

In my profession as a journalist, I suppose (albeit subconsciously) I try to look for a more-balanced view. In doing so, though, I have reached the objective opinion that "Series One" is a great piece of television! And, when the time comes to pick the juiciest plums from the individual stories, "The Unquiet Dead" must take high order up the tree.

At this point, it's worth making an observation about Russell T Davies's contribution to this third episode. I'm sure Davies doesn't need me (or anyone else) to defend him, but I have read some opinions suggesting his stories were the weakest of the series. I think the salient point to be made is that ALL the stories in the series were Davies's vision. It was his idea to take the Doctor and Rose from the far future, and plunge them back in time the next episode. Introducing Charles Dickens and the 19th-century setting was Davies's call, as was making the alien characters of gas.

It was a fairly-significant push in the right direction for the writer, and I believe it was a similar scenario for all the other non-Davies-penned episodes. Others contributed – greatly – but this is "Russell T Davies's Doctor Who" even if his name isn't listed as writer. That said, "The Unquiet Dead" author, Mark Gatiss, used the momentum from that push, and fashioned not only a terrific piece of "Doctor Who" but a great example of well-crafted TV drama in its own right.

Period costume dramas seem to be a speciality of the BBC, and this was no exception. You could almost feel the love of the costume and set designers pouring through the TV screen. To the viewer, this was 1869 on the screen. Job done. But could the script match the quality of the setting?

No doubts on that score. And, unlike the two episodes beforehand, "The Unquiet Dead" didn't feel as if it had too much to cram into the 45-minute format. It got off to a great start with the pre-credits sequence. The Gelth-ridden old woman, eerie white light pouring from her mouth, striding towards camera was an enduring image, not just of this story, but the whole series. This was a genuinely-scary scene, and there were a few in this story – fantastic!

The pre-credit scenes (another successful break with "tradition") have generally been of a tremendously-high standard – it's hard to believe many casual viewers wouldn't stick around on the basis of those first few moments, to see how the rest of the story panned out.

Simon Callow's portrayal of Dickens was predictably brilliant, and his early interaction with The Doctor in his carriage a beautifully-written piece, expertly delivered by Callow and Christopher Eccleston – two of the finest actors around. Gatiss (and Davies) must have been thrilled to have such artists bringing the words to live.

Not to be outdone, Billie Piper's Rose continued to bloom in a fabulous period costume, and her one-on-one scene with the ultimately-tragic Gwyneth was another example of the type of high-quality dialogue we have come to expect from this series – even just three episodes in. And Eve Myles as Gwyneth was so good, even in this exalted company, she nearly stole the show from the lot of them.

And then there was the Gelth. They may have sounded good on paper, but could have looked disastrous on screen. Cue shiver down the spine at the shimmering tin-foil aliens of "Invasion of Time"! However, another pat on the back for the visual effects team. I can't imagine this was a simple process, but they made the Gelth into convincing ghostly images without degenerating into cartoon – a fine line which they didn't cross.

The Doctor's over-eager willingness to "pity" the Gelth and use Gwyneth as a "bridge" to bring them to Earth was an example of how this incarnation of the Time Lord's judgement is more flawed than his predecessors. We come to learn in later episodes that his role in the Time War (although I hope we never find out exactly what that role was) has left him on a kind of guilt trip.

It's also interesting to note that again, it wasn't the Doctor who actually does the Earth-saving – Rose did the business in the first episode, and it was Gwyneth and Dickens this time. In fact, you could reasonably argue the Doctor was actually responsible for Gwyneth's death!

An early spoiler for "Series Two" suggests that Queen Victoria will feature, and it's good to hear these historical trips appear to have a role in the series's future. If it's anything like as good a journey as for "The Unquiet Dead", we're in for a great ride.

FILTER: - Series 1/27 - Ninth Doctor - Television

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Saturday, 3 September 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Was The Unquiet Dead ever going to be anything other than a massive success? A period setting that the BBC has managed flawlessly for decades, Simon Callow, and Mark Gatiss writing it; come on, it was a foregone conclusion!

One thing immediately striking about the opening of this episode is just how traditional it feels, establishing the setting and the guest characters before allowing the TARDIS to materialise. This is probably the best way to do things with the short episode format as the alternative of starting with the Doctor and Rose means that we have to take time to discover the setting at the same pace that they do, which takes time. It also gives us the sense of unknown, as an old lady's body mysteriously and terrifyingly comes back to life, as well as showcasing the brilliant period detail and flawless acting from the principal members of the guest cast. What's notable though (and I'm only saying this because I had Gatiss pegged as a comedy writer) is that while the episode is very witty it isn't actually funny; the wit is jet black and brings more of a gasp at its grotesqueness rather than a laugh. Also, the pre-titles sequence of the new series allows for a kind of mini-cliffhanger and nowhere is this used better than here, as the lady strides towards the camera streaming glowing gas from her mouth. It's almost enough to make you forget that the cliffhangers are largely missing from the series now.

The TARDIS scene after the titles shows the Doctor struggling to keep his ship from falling apart, which seems at odds with the much more controllable time machine that the new series presents. It is much more in keeping with the less predictable TARDIS of the original series, although the cynic in me says that Gatiss simply couldn't find a reason for the Doctor to actually want to go to Cardiff. Gatiss's traditionalist philosophy can also be seen from the slightly later scene where the Doctor stops Rose from going out in 21st century dress; it reminded me of Leela complaining about having to wear period clothing in The Talons Of Weng-Chiang and Horror Of Fang Rock. Although far from cosy viewing (you know, what with the walking corpses and all), The Unquiet Dead feels like 'real' Doctor Who (well, my definition of 'real' anyway) and therefore of all the episodes of the new series is the most oddly comforting. But maybe that's just me.

I'm not going to beat about the bush: Simon Callow as Charles Dickens is hands down the best guest actor in the new series. I put him up there with such original series luminaries (oh man, I love that word) as Ian Hogg in Ghost Light and Simon Rouse in Kinda. It’s a bit unfair really having his first scene opposite the stage manager as, while not exactly a bad actor, Wayne Cater just cannot cope up against such foil. It's like watching someone lay siege to a castle with a rolled up newspaper. That and his sideburns make him look like a hamster. However, this scene showcases Gatiss's clear love for the period he's writing about, with naturalistic but authentically Victorian dialogue (I know these things) and it's easy to see why he was the first person Russell T. Davies contacted to write the episode set in the 19th century.

The first sight of the Gelth is magnificent, a clear homage to Raiders Of The Lost Ark. It is this kind of effect where CGI is in its element; the smooth gloss it produces is appropriate for the effect it is trying to create for once, and there's no need to create a semblance of realistic organic movement within the swirling shapes, which is where CGI tends to fall down (see Spider Man). My only real criticism is that Gatiss gave them names far too similar to the comedy monsters in Red Dwarf, but that's hardly something I can hold against the episode itself. In terms of scariness the Gelth are too familiar looking to be truly frightening (Gatiss did say that their design was based on the traditional Victorian image of a ghost), but when on the other hand they come pouring out of a corpse's mouth...

The 'fan' scene in the hansom cab is fun but inappropriate in the circumstances really since Rose has been kidnapped. Still, it could be worse, Dickens's line of "what the Shakespeare?" is clever given that the now-antiquated phrase "what the Dickens" has its origin in Shakespeare (maybe someone could tell me which play). The zombies that attack Rose gurgle like drains in true George Romero style but on the whole the sound effects on this episode are outstanding, although not having a 5.1 surround system I can't fully appreciate the swirling sound of the Gelth whipping all around the room.

After this it gets very plotty, and this is really where Gatiss shines as a writer. He is able to combine characterisation and exposition together in a single line of dialogue, making the most of the 45 minute format. The scene where Rose and Gwyneth chat to each other in the parlour enhances both their characters at the same time as advancing the plot, and is one of my favourite scenes of the new series simply because it is executed with such virtuosity. For example, we get to learn about Gwyneth's life and character and also about Rose's world and her deceased father - importantly, we also get to see how she still makes mistakes through culture shock three episodes in. Three episodes in to her time on the show, Sarah Jane Smith was mucking in with the Exxilons like the best of them. This kind of scene shows us how much better paced this episode is than Rose and The End Of The World. Almost incidentally, and as a consequence of this characterisation, we learn of the rift and Gwyneth's psychic powers that govern the rest of the episode. In writing terms then, full marks for style and efficiency. Also it is interesting to note Gwyneth's observation that "you've been thinking about him [Rose's father] more than ever”, which is a neat pointer towards the revelation of Rose's whole agenda in Father's Day and shows how the episodes all link together. Following this, the revelations about the time war expand on this plot arc that trickles gently and subtly through the series. Russell T. Davies may be seriously lacking as a writer for the programme, but as a producer he can't be faulted.

The Gelth's betrayal is extremely frightening, and I found it genuinely unexpected. The zombies come out in force giving the audience its monster fix (again, a tradition), but how they ever thought they'd get away with a PG certificate is beyond me (then again, Pyramids Of Mars and Attack Of The Cybermen got away with Us so it's swings and roundabouts really). Unfortunately the Doctor's lack of involvement in the story's resolution (a trend of the first half of the series) doesn't truly satisfy, and how the dead Gwyneth is able to move and talk could do with more of an explanation. Usually I'm not to concerned with pseudo-authentic explanations for fictional, fantastical concepts but in cases like this where it really doesn't make much sense I feel we do need something.

The 'man reborn' coda is slightly cheesy, but I'll let it go as it's nothing terrible and this is a very good episode indeed. Its strengths are in its production and particularly the writing, as I feel that Euros Lyn is a slightly bland director, continually taking the path of least resistance (although nowhere near as ham-fisted as Keith Boak). I'll leave the episode with that beautiful image in my mind of the snow staying in a police box shape as the TARDIS dematerialises, before fluttering down to the ground - did I just call Lyn bland?

FILTER: - Series 1/27 - Ninth Doctor - Television

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Friday, 2 September 2005 - Reviewed by Eddy Wolverson

When this story was released on video in November 2003, I wonder just how many Doctor Who fans had actually ever seen it? It had never been released on video previously, or even broadcast on UK Gold because of the missing episodes. As I hadn't been born in the summer of �64, the anniversary release of �The Reign of Terror� box set was my first chance to get up to speed on the first Doctor�s exploits in revolutionary France. Whilst I can�t say that I was completely disappointed with it, as historical TV stories go I have to rank this as one of the worst. 

The bad? Well, nothing really happens� at all. Capture, escape, rescue; capture, escape, rescue. Only the angle about Stirling, the spy, managed to really grab my attention and the pay off to that was predictable and disappointing. Barbara and Susan are both used appallingly; Susan is scared of rats for heaven�s sake! I know she�s supposed to be a young �teenage� girl, but c�mon! She�s faced Daleks and Sensorites! Most disappointing of all though is the reconstruction of the missing fourth and fifth episodes. To be fair, we�ve been spoiled of late with superb efforts like �The Tenth Planet� and �The Ice Warriors,� and of course the Restoration Team had far less to work with here. The existing clips are used well, and combined with Carol Anne Ford�s narration they do bridge the gap satisfactorily� but not amazingly. Animation looks like the way to go for stories like this where there just isn�t enough photographic material available to make a good reconstruction. Of course, we won�t get that until the BBC have also sold us the soundtrack CD�

The good? William Hartnell is superb, enjoying his own private little adventure in episodes two and three. The plot may be absolute pants, but the Doctor is a laugh a minute. The scenes with the slave driver, the shopkeeper and in the prison are all absolutely priceless. William Russell is also impressive, as always. He�s very Ivanhoe in the story, every bit the dashing Saturday afternoon hero in his big French shirt. Moreover, I particularly enjoyed the opening episode, �A Land of Fear,� as it dwelt on the rift that developed between the Doctor and Ian during �The Sensorites.� It�s tantamount to soap opera! I can see why so many fans say that the 2005 series is more similar to Season 1 than to any other. Interestingly, I love the little scene where Ian and Barbara are actually quite glad they haven�t landed in sixties England; it shows just how much they are enjoying their amazing travels even if they don�t always show it. The final episode also has a nice, rather sentimental ending; the regulars are all friends again and are shown heading off into time and space for more adventures�

The verdict? Quite a touching end to the season, but nevertheless an end which just doesn�t cut the mustard when compared to the rest of the season. Just about worth the �20 for the VHS box set� although this cynic wouldn�t recommend forking out another fifteen notes for the BBC Audio CD!

FILTER: - Television - First Doctor - Series 1

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Friday, 2 September 2005 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

If �The Sensorites� has been relatively underexposed to fandom, then �The Reign of Terror� certainly has; with two of the six episodes missing, it has not only not yet been released on video, it has also not been repeated on UKGold. This is a shame, as it is a strong ending to the Season One. Several things are of note regarding �The Reign of Terror�. Firstly, it is the first historical not written by John Lucarotti, and Spooner�s different style is obvious, especially in the black humour on display (more on that below). Secondly, the series� first use of location filming gives the story a feel of scale and realism not yet seen in Doctor Who. Whereas �Marco Polo� gave us a journey, this was demonstrated via the use of maps and voice-overs, with the main events taking place at waystations and towns along route, all recreated as studio sets. �The Aztecs� on the other hand was localized to the Temple of Yetaxa and surrounding areas, thus avoiding the need to create a sense of scale. �The Reign of Terror� largely takes place in locations recreated by studio sets, but the location footage of the First Doctor (although not William Hartnell) walking through the countryside supposedly around Paris and the opening shot of a wind-swept forest, both help the viewer to believe that this is actually taking place in France, over a period of several days. This realistic feel is enhanced by the superb sets depicting various natural looking interiors, with the squalid cells at the prison looking particularly, and unpleasantly, real. The third thing of note about �The Reign of Terror� is the absence of a single main villain � whereas �Marco Polo� had Tegana and �The Aztecs� had Tlotoxl, �The Reign of Terror� has nobody to compare with either. The treacherous Leon Colbert is the closest we get, but he is little more than a plot device, and once his true allegiance is exposed, he is swiftly dispatched. Robespierre is more a historical background detail than a chief protagonist, and the only other candidates are the jailer and the imposing Le Maitre. The former of these is basically half-witted comic relief, and the latter is ultimately revealed to be an ally. Nevertheless, this lack of a key baddie is crucial to the success of �The Reign of Terror�, since the threat to the Doctor and his companions does not come from any one source; instead, they are under threat from numerous hostile parties, each with different motivations, from the aforementioned Colbert and the jailer, to the bullying manager of the road digging party who forces the Doctor to join them at gunpoint, or the physician who reports Barbara and Susan to the authorities in order to protect himself from the ruling regime. The shopkeeper who reports the Doctor to Le Maitre is a similar example, although he is also clearly hoping for the financial reward that Le Maitre provides. This results in a feeling of constant danger throughout, perhaps more so than in any previous Doctor Who story, since the Doctor and his friends do not know who they can trust. 

The comedy element brought by Spooner to the series is fairly restrained here, with that which is on show being fairly black comedy thanks to the overall feel of the story. The most obvious source of comedy is the stupid jailer, who is easily manipulated by the Doctor to great effect. This is helped by the fact that he is a well-realized character in his own right, concerned solely with his own survival and happy to change allegiances after Robespierre is arrested, in order to preserve his own life. His suggestion to Barbara that having sex with him will buy her freedom from the prison (probably a common enough event in real life at the time) gives him a unpleasant air beyond that lent simply by his job and his slovenly, unkempt appearance, and serves to destroy any sympathy that the viewer might otherwise have for him. This makes it all the more satisfying to see the Doctor making him look foolish. The second source of comic relief comes during the scene between the Doctor and the dig overseer. This is purely a comic interlude, serving no other purpose in the context of the plot except to show that the Doctor has not yet reached Paris. The Doctor easily outwits the man, and the bit where he picks the man�s pocket and then smacks him over the head with a shovel is one of my favourite scenes from the season. This is largely due to the expression on Hartnell�s face, as he spits on his hands, rubs them together and then brains the man with obvious relish. From a character point of view, it is interesting since it shows that despite the Doctor�s general tendency to avoid violence, he does occasionally resort to it, often with some glee. It shows the childish side of him, which offsets nicely his more serious side, even if it does set a rather bad example . All of this balanced by the bloodthirsty peasants who kill D�Argenson and Rouvray and who are obviously keen to see Ian, Susan and Barbara guillotined, and Robespierre being shot in the jaw to stop him talking to anyone in the final episode, which is extremely unpleasant.

The success of �The Reign of Terror� rests also with the quality of the supporting cast, all of whom are well characterised and well acted, from the buffoonish jailer, the initially intimidating but later dashing Le Maitre/James Sterling, the equally dashing Leon, the honourable Jules, the paranoid Robespierre, and even Napoleon and Barras who are only briefly in the final episode. Edward Brayshaw (later the War Chief in �The War Games�) is a particularly well-scripted character, genuinely believing in the revolution and passionately telling the captive Ian that he would understand how France had been prior to it. His obvious attraction to Barbara, which seems to be reciprocated, makes his death far more effective, since she is clearly upset by it and angrily tells Jules that not everyone who supports the revolution is evil. James Cairncross (later Beta in �The Krotons�) as James Sterling a.k.a. Le Maitre provides another great character, who cuts an imposing figure made all the more impressive by his ability to match wits with the Doctor. Even the boy who rescues the Doctor from the burning farmhouse at the start of episode two is reasonably well acted!

Finally, there are the regulars, who just about get equal exposure during the story (itself unusual in season one). Despite this, the Doctor manages to steal the show, not only out-witting both the overseer and the jailor, but also calmly disguising himself as a provincial regional officer and casually discussing the revolution with Robespierre, who would certainly have had him guillotined had he known that he was an imposter. It is also interesting to note that Ian and Barbara are clearly not very disappointed that they have not returned home yet, which is something that was picked up on at the end of �The Sensorites� � despite the dangers they keep facing, they are both enjoying their journey, and Susan is also obviously glad of their presence. We�ve seen the TARDIS crew develop to this point since the beginning of �100,000 BC�, through the mistrust and paranoia of �The Mutants� and �Inside the Spaceship�, after which they have steadily grown closer and become a tight-knit group of friends. The Doctor�s final line sums up the feel of Doctor Who by the end of season one � �Our destiny is in the stars, so lets go and search for it�. 

So overall, �The Reign of Terror� is a cracking story and a strong end to the season. My copy is the Loose Cannon recon, which is one of the best recons IMO and which I heartily recommend to anyone who has never seen this story. And hopefully the recently-announced First Doctor video box set will include the four surviving episodes and a Tenth Planet episode four-style recon of episodes four and five, bringing �The Reign of Terror� to a much deserved wider audience.

FILTER: - Television - First Doctor - Series 1

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Friday, 2 September 2005 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

Doctor Who ends its first season on a high note with the third historical. "The Reign of Terror" is a relatively new story for me. It was part of "The End of the Universe" collection in the US, which contained the last ten stories not yet released on VHS. The story itself is missing episodes 4 and 5 of course, so it hadn't been syndicated like the other Hartnell stories had back in the 80s. I enjoyed these four new Hartnell episodes tremendously, but also somewhat wistfully, since these were the last of the existing episodes that I had yet to see. Once I watched them, there were no more "new" classic episodes to experience, barring some more missing episode finds. 

Let me take a moment here to comment on the quality of the picture and sound. The tape opens up with the 40th anniversary montage, which for those who haven't seen it is a series of clips from throughout the show's history accompanied by the Orbital version of the Doctor Who theme song. It's a great little bonus, but it becomes immediately clear after watching and listening to this that the sound during the opening titles for the first episode are somewhat muffled in comparison. After awhile I didn't notice the decrease in sound quality, but the pictures are a different story. Despite a nicely cleaned up and VidFIREd picture, the story suffers visually from the fact that it's a suppressed field recording, meaning that while horizontal and vertical portions of the image look fine, diagonal lines are jagged, due to the fact that every other line in the picture is gone. This effect distracts badly from what is otherwise fairly good picture quality, though after the excellent Aztec DVD and the Sensorites VHS, the lesser quality of the Reign of Terror is pretty obvious. It does appear that the copy of "Reign of Terror" retained by the BBC is not as good as the quality of other stories from the same period in the show's history. It's a pity, but the story is still watchable, and better than a number of the old VHS releases which had no restoration at all done to them. I'm sure that for the eventual DVD release, technology will allow for further improvements. 

This story benefits greatly from the small amount of location filming afforded it. There's a bit of forest and field seen on the scanner screen at the beginning of the story, and some great scenes from part 2 where the Doctor is making his way up the road and across some fields as he walks to Paris. I believe this is the first time that Doctor Who left the studio, and it certainly opens up the scope of the story and helps to paint a more convincing picture of the setting. 

I'd forgotten how brutal the first episode really is. Set down in a calm bit of forest, there's nevertheless a sense of unease right off the bat. The gunshots and the ragged looking boy only raise more questions. Within a few minutes of entering the farmhouse, it's revealed in that the crew has been set down in the French Revolution, a nasty piece of history to be sure. The Doctor is clubbed on the back of the head and locked in a room. Then the soldiers turn up, and some pretty brutal events follow, including the gunning down of the two men that Ian, Barbara and Susan have just met. To top it off, the Doctor is left trapped in the burning house, overcome by smoke. 

The four regulars are again used well, with all four having their own plot strands. The Doctor in particular comes across very well. "The Sensorites" started the trend of the Doctor taking more of a central role in the story, and "The Reign of Terror" continues that trend. As the only one not captured by soldiers, the Doctor walks to Paris in the hopes of rescuing his friends. Lest we forget, he was prepared to abandon them several times at the beginning of this season. He's come a long way since then. The interlude with the work gang is hilarious, especially when the Doctor whacks the overseer on the head with the shovel. I laughed and laughed. And of course, the Doctor takes a pretty big risk in impersonating a regional official in order to bluff his way into the prison and hopefully rescue his friends. He's become quite an admirable figure, and it's a pity that his scenes with Robespierre are missing. 

Barbara and Susan are split up from Ian. I notice that Ian only appears on film for episodes two and three, so presumably William Russell was on vacation. Everyone else had their two weeks off, so now it's his turn. Unlike Susan in "the Aztecs", he still gets a good chunk of the action rather than a scene or two. Ian befriends the dying spy who shares his cell and learns some crucial information which he needs to pass on to James Stirling. He effects an escape from his cell, and delivers his message during the missing two episodes. Episode 6 allows him and Barbara to witness the beginnings of Napoleon's rise to power, and Robespierre's downfall. If time travel were possible, surely many of us would choose to witness great historical events like these, and it's enjoyable to see such a scenario played out. This is one of the advantages presented by the historical stories, and it's a pity that this type of story was dropped. 

Barbara and Susan spend episode two trying to escape, only to be taken to the guillotine. Barbara again impresses with her "never-say-die" attitude in the face of a pretty horrible death, and also in her compassion for Susan when the younger woman can't even find the strength to run for it during the trip through the streets of Paris. Barbara also gets a bit of a romantic subplot for the second time this season, but the object of her affections isn't as admirable as Ganatus, and is ultimately exposed as a traitor. 

The sense of danger is everywhere in this story. Until the refuge of Jules' house is revealed in episode three, there really is nowhere safe for the Doctor or his friends, and no one that can be trusted. "A Land of Fear" is a very appropriate title for episode one, and arguably applies to much of the story. Enemies are everywhere, from the deserted farmhouse, to the seemingly safe clothing shop, to the prison, and even on a country road miles from Paris. Even Jules' house hides a traitor who would sell out innocents to the revolution. A tense atmosphere is maintained throughout the story because of this, and it's only in the final few minutes of the episode that we can relax as our heroes make their escape in the carriage. 

Overall, I was very impressed by "The Reign of Terror", and by the first season as a whole. I can only judge the four existing episodes, but based on those I'd say that the story merits at least 8.5 out of 10, if not more. It doesn't quite hit the dramatic heights of "The Aztecs" or the sheer epic quality of "Marco Polo", but it's a good, tense and gripping historical. 

The first season itself generally maintains a high level of quality. It starts strong with "An Unearthly Child", introduces the alien monsters that would ensure the show's success with the Daleks, gives us three good, solid historical stories, and only drops a bit with the light adventure of "Keys of Marinus" and the uneven "The Sensorites". Only "The Edge of Destruction" stands out as an oddity, and it was a last minute filler. The first season was a fine foundation on which to continue the series.

FILTER: - Television - First Doctor - Series 1