This is another story I’m rather ambivalent toward. Part of that comes from the BBC destruction of two of the episodes. And the audio that exists for episodes 1, 2 and 4 is quite bad. We are lucky to have it. The wikipedia tells me that it wasn’t found until the 1990s, so at least we have it. But that doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t really like the story very much.
The version that I watched opens with an old William Russell, acting as Ian, saying how he and Barbara didn’t tell many others about their time with the Doctor, but he feels he can trust us. This clip is in color and is apparently from a VHS release in the mid 1990s in which Russell tells the story of the missing episodes. He’s hanging out in some giant mansion we are to believe is his house. They must pay science teachers well in England.
After this intro (the rest of Russell’s descriptions weren’t included in the version I watched), we see the TARDIS appear in the forest outside Jaffa, which is apparently near Jerusalem. It is an historical story of the third Crusade and Richard I (the Lionheart).
I feel that it was meant to be educational, but I’m not sure how much education one could get…not that Wikipedia is the best source in the world, but the entry for Richard I does not mention Jaffa or that he tried to trade Joanna for peace. In the story of Dr. Who the city and her marriage are major plot points that in previous historical stories have been fictionalized, but left as semi-accurate nods. Such as Nero burning Rome or The Polo’s dealings with The Kahn.
At any rate, Richard’s forces are ambushed in the forest and The Doctor, Ian and Vicki take an injured man to the king. Barbara had been captured along with another of Richard’s buddies. Ian wants to rescue her, but Richard isn’t a fan.
Eventually, though, Richard sees the light and makes Ian a knight, Sir Ian of Jaffa. A big deal. Sir Ian then travels to see Saladin who is keeping Barbara. Now, a note about ole Barbara in this story. What a trooper. She escapes captivity three times in a four episode story. And she always does it pretty easily. Or at least it seemed that way just watching the still photo reconstructions. A grunt and a run and she was gone. She gets away and is helped by Haroun, a man whose daughter had been captured by El Akir, the Saladin’s goon. But, of course, she is recaptured by El Akir, the villain of the story, she escapes again only to hide in the Harem. This is also known as the room in which El Akir keeps all the hot women.
Ian arrives with the ridiculously giggling bandit Ibrahim, who had earlier tried to rob him. The two of them burst in just in time to rescue Barabara from the The Akir who is killed by Haroun. Oh, and Haroun’s daughter was conveniently a member of the Harem and tried to help Barbara escape.
The doctor and Vicki, branded as traders, escape Richard’s court and after Sir Ian convinces some guards that he will excute the traitorous Doctor, the escape into the ship. This is the best part of the episode. In the only known remaining footage of the fourth episode, the TARDIS lights go out and everyone is left in suspended animation. It’s wonderfully creepy and has me excited for the next story. But first, some thoughts on this one.
In short, it just didn’t do it for me. I kept falling asleep and I trouble hearing it. I’ve had this trouble before, but had no subtitles to fall back on. And the reconstructed episodes are a little difficult to follow at times. It just didn’t keep my interest. El Akir wasn’t a very compelling villain (not like Tegana of Marco Polo) and Richard, while well acted, simply didn’t appeal. My favorite character was Haroun. I like the resilience he showed and the dedication to finding his daughter. Not to mention being able to protect his younger daughter both from the soldiers and from the truth of what happened to her sister. I was also a fan of Barbara’s tenacity and escapability. But that was about as far as it went.
To be honest, I’m kind of tired of seeing Ian in fighting mode. I just don’t buy him as a fighter. He’s a bit of a wet blanket in my opinion. He learned to fight in The Aztecs, got some sword play in the Romans and shows off his skills now and then. But, seriously, he was a mild mannered Science teacher. Now he can be a gladiator and a valiant knight? I know knights aren’t all about fighting, but he does his fair share. And it bores me.
I think this story also may have suffered due to The Doctor’s somewhat limited role. He and Vicki were once again left alone together. The Doctor talked his way out of a jam, but this had none of the comedic flair of The Romans. One thing that this time alone with Vicki has shown us, though, is the development of their relationship. It is very tender and endearing. Their interactions are fun to watch as she teases him and he coddles her. The Doctor seems to be building upon the connection he made with Susan just before he left her in Future Earth. It’s as if their relationship continued to grow, but with Vicki instead of his actual granddaughter. It makes Vicki a likable character. She’s silly and sweet and I think much of that has to do with her time with the Doctor.
In the end, this just wasn’t a very good story, in my opinion. Dr. Who really seems to be at its best in actiony sci-fi stories. Unless the historical stories have something special, I think it’s time to consider leaving them behind. And this one just didn’t have anything special.