Apparently season finales were not much of an event in 1964. The Reign of Terror was so boring I had to watch a couple of episodes twice because I fell asleep. I was never really interested in European history after the Middle Ages anyway. One thing I will say, though, is that this story is a bit darker than has been established thus far in the series. Despite that, it resorts to a strange lightness in certain parts. It makes the story feel a little uneven overall.
An indignant Doctor, who had vowed to a whiny Ian at the end of the last story that he would get them home to London, claims that he has done so. The picture of trees on the monitor seemed good enough to convince the travelers that they were indeed in London. Ian lures the Doctor out with the promise of a pint, and it’s a good thing. Otherwise Ian and Barbara would have been left alone in the woods where they found a dirty little boy that told them they were in France. They weren’t concerned with the kids dirtiness, for some reason. Apparently even in the twentieth century the British maintained a hatred of the French that included an assumption of poor hygiene and/or child care. Also, the French kid spoke English. In fact, everyone in France spoke English, without an accent even. This is starting to bug me.
The travelers find a farmhouse where we learn they have landed smack in the middle of the Reign of Terror (the Doctor’s favorite part of Earth history, apparently) and we witness what is (I think) the show’s first instance of human-on-human violence. Some rebels are shot and killed, and the Doctor is attacked and left for dead in a burning farmhouse. Dark times, indeed. Susan, Ian, and Barbara are imprisoned in Paris, later rescued from the guillotine and become part of the resistance, which is apparently housed in a shabby-chic mansion somewhere.
While all of this is happening, the most curious part of the story happens. The Doctor, who survives the fire, goes on a walk to Paris to rescue his friends. Aside from the absurdity of the 90-year old doctor walking all of this way (with his walking stick from the Kahn, I might add) in the summer hear, he is detained and forced to do manual labor. He makes some light-hearted jokes, then hits the foreman with a shovel! He become momentarily deranged, primarily out of concern for Susan. I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or horrified. But, nonetheless, he clobbers the dude, then walks off toward Paris to the beat of some sweet happy tunes. This whole sequence confused me — the darkness of murder, revolution and prison and the doctor is making jokes and clobbering to a lighthearted soundtrack? It was more than a bit odd.
Not as odd as the crazy hat the Doctor wore when he was pretending to be some mayor or governor or something to fool the jailers into letting his friends loose. We meet Robespierre and Napoleon (who is not nearly as grumpy as I would have expected). In the end, of course, Robespierre is removed from power, even though Barbara (AGAIN!) wants to change history and do something to stop Napoleon. I’m not even sure Napoleon played an actual role in the removal of Robespierre, but that’s what happens when you get your history education from a science fiction television show. Or, if I’m wrong, what happens when you don’t pay attention in your public education.
As the travelers leave France, the Doctor gives some monologue about travel and destiny and life. This did give the conclusion an air of season-finale and was kind of a nice touch. I would hope, though, that since the Doctor knows exactly when and where they were that he can get them back to London. I know he does by the second story of season 2, because the Daleks return. Before that, though, is Planet of Giants….after a reflection on completing season 1, I’ll be watching that. In the meantime, I’ll look forward to seeing how/if the show changes for season 2.