35 Stupid Things about
“The Reign of Terror”
(And 15 Cool Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 438
1. The view outside the scanner has fields and trees and looks a bit like Somerset. Then, according to the Doctor, it must be Somerset. Epic logic fail.
2. Ian wanders off into a field, collars a random urchin, and drags him back to the Tardis crew. And everyone's cool with this?
3. “I wonder why he was so afraid?” Susan says regarding the urchin. Probably because he'd just been questioned by a group of strangely-costumed lunatics who don't even know what country they're in.
4. According to “The Masque of Mandragora”, it's usual for the Doctor's companions not to question the “Time Lord gift” that allows them to understand the local language wherever they are. However, why doesn't the Doctor himself immediately realise they're in France when the urchin starts to speak, and later, why do we get random interjections of French into the mix, such as “Sacre bleu” and “Le Chien Gris”?
5. The French Revolution seems to be an obvious historical with which to end the season, since the first story had Susan criticising the accuracy of a book on that very subject. However, the spot was originally intended for a serial on the Spanish Armada, and, according to the infotext, “Whitaker proposed a variety of different historical topics, before Spooner settled on the French Revolution”.
6.Furthermore, the series' production block continued up to “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, meaning that it wasn't even considered a season-ender at the time; the six-week break between seasons was put in at the suggestion of Sidney Newman. And at that, his proposal was that the season was to have ended with “The Sensorites”.
7. When the Doctor lights the candles, the room is illuminated, but the light doesn't shift with him as he carries the candle about. It's almost as if he were being lit from above by some other source.
8. The costumes the crew have changed into in the farmhouse are visibly not the same ones they first picked up, meaning that there are several suits of clothes in the box, and making the finding of clothes that fit less of a coincidence.
9. Susan says that the Reign of Terror is the Doctor's “favourite period in the history of Earth”. Considering that this is the man who tried to brain a caveman with a rock, regularly attempts to assassinate his companions by leaving them in various inhospitable environments, and will later hit a road gang overseer with a spade, that's not too surprising.
10. The Doctor is also incredibly ignorant about the period, getting himself arrested as a vagrant for failing to realise that the laws of the time required identification papers.
11.The rampant class prejudice in this serial begins in episode one, with the portrayal of the French army as an undisciplined rabble of loutish peasants; in fact, by the summer of 1794, the same peasant army had won a series of dramatic victories against Austria, Britain, the Dutch Republic and Spain, and would go on to take over Holland itself by the beginning of 1795.
12. A single line from an unarmed aristocrat can stop the troop cold, because, of course, the working classes always bow to the natural authority of the aristocracy.
13. Spooner drawing on the World War II French Resistance for the plot of smuggling the aristocrats out of France also implies that the leaders of the French Revolution are akin to Nazis.
14. “You can give them uniforms, Lieutenant, but they remain peasants underneath!” We're just going to let this line speak for itself.
15. Meanwhile, for the other side of the story, we suggest you Google the terms gabelle (salt tax), taille (land tax), vingtieme (5% property tax), banalite (tax imposed on peasants for grinding flour, owning animals, and baking bread), corvee (forced labour by peasants), capitation (poll tax on all non-noble French people), and droit du seigneur (right of a nobleman to deflower any virgin on his estate before her wedding), and see how sorry you feel for the aristocrats now.
16. The composer for this serial, Stanley Myers, is known for scoring such films as My Beautiful Laundrette and Prick Up Your Ears, as well as composing the theme tune for Question Time and the guitar theme “Cavatina” from The Deer Hunter. Here he mostly just plays “La Marseillaise” over and over at different speeds.
17. “Lock them away! No, in there. It's the cell I keep for my special guests,” says the Jailer. The special guests are evidently a nest of rats, who are about to be treated to the sight of Susan repeatedly shoving her face between Barbara's breasts.
18. The infotext says that the actors mispronounce the line “le chien gres” (the earthenware dog) as “le chien gris” (the grey dog). In fact, they're clearly correcting it, as who ever heard of a pub named “The Earthenware Dog”?
19. Also, just to clear up a popular fan myth: “The Sinking Ship” is meant to be a different pub entirely.
20. It does seem a bit careless of the Conciergerie staff to leave a bloody great iron bar in a cell where anyone might use it in an escape attempt.
21. “Lemaitre” is French for “The Master”. Naturally, it turns out to be a pseudonym.
22. Confusion surrounds the identity of the person who took over directing when Henric Hirsch collapsed from exhaustion, but thus far nobody has named the most obvious candidate: Frank Cox, who had just directed two episodes of “The Sensorites”, and who documentably cast Ronald Pickup in this serial.
23. William Russell spent two weeks during the filming of this serial on holiday, in France. One wonders if he'd've gone to China if his holiday had come during “Marco Polo”, and what he'd've done if it had come during “The Sensorites”.
24. Webster, James Stirling, Jules Renan, Danielle, Jean, Leon, D'Argenson, Roubray, Robespierre and Barras are all variously connected to each other. The population of France was of course much smaller in those days.
25. Susan has the most variable fever in the history of medicine, going from languishing and moaning to the peak of health and back again in the space of a single scene. She will eventually recover without receiving any medical treatment whatsoever.
26.“She could have caught almost anything in that jail”. Could it perhaps be the French Disease?
27. “Don't you see, Susan? The longer we leave it, the harder it'll be” (Ian, episode one).
28. At no point in the story is the province the Doctor supposedly represents actually named, leading to some very awkward circumlocutions.
29. In the animated version of episode 4, the list of recently executed prisoners appears to have been written backwards.
30. Contrary to what Robespierre says here, Danton did not plan to restore the monarchy, and indeed was one of the main voices calling for the execution of Louis XVI at a time when most of the revolutionaries were ambivalent on the subject.
31. Ian is wearing a coat when he is brought to the house in the animated version of episode four, whereas surviving 8mm offscreen footage from this episode indicates that he was in shirt-sleeves at this point in the story. Still, it's more accurate than the cartoon episodes of “The Invasion”, in which Zoe wears the wrong costume for the majority of episode one.
32. Some of the cartoon frames reference the 8mm footage; however, this does not include any of the clips involving Ian.
33. “England is at war with the people ruling France, Jean.... When the tyranny ends, so will the war.” This implies that Britain was at war with France because they felt the French were being oppressed, and it had nothing to do with fears of the revolution spreading across the channel and deposing Britain's own aristocracy.
34. Anybody wanting to find the Doctor could do worse than follow the trail of destruction: burned buildings, assaulted foremen, robbed shopkeepers, insulted politicians, knocked-out prison guards, and, apparently, ostriches stripped of their feathers.
35. Leon is described as “a traitor”; however, he's supporting the legitimate French government, where Jules and Jean are working to bring back the deposed aristocracy. It's all relative.
36. Everybody keeps asking the Doctor how he escaped from the burning farmhouse, and he keeps refusing to say. If you'd missed episode two, you'd be one seriously frustrated viewer.
37. “If you'd known what France was like six years ago, before the Bastille, you'd understand” (Leon). “The revolution isn't all bad, and neither are the people who support it. It changed things for the whole world, and good, honest people gave their lives for that change” (Barbara). These two lines, one from a villain and the other from the woman who thought that having a polite word with the Aztecs would stop them sacrificing people, are the story's sole attempt at nuance.
38. And at that, Jules Renan later indicates he thinks Barbara said what she did just because she fancied Leon.
39. Lemaitre says that he will not release Susan unless the Doctor leads him to Jules Renan's hideout. The Doctor, apparently, complies. In 1963, though, the idea that the Doctor would consider betraying his other companions to save Susan would not have seemed surprising to the audience.
40. “I hate to see order thrown out of the window like so much dust. There can be no loyalty or honour where anarchy prevails.... There are only two sides today, Barbara. Those who rule by fear and treachery, and those who fight for reason and justice” (Jules). So, Jules thinks that a system based on the principle that the king and aristocracy were put in their places by God makes for more order and reason than an egalitarian democracy which wound up instituting universal male suffrage, liberating the Haitian slaves, developing the metric system and curbing rampant price inflation.
41. The cartoon is detailed enough that it reproduces the huge crack in the wall of the Jules' house set, caused by repeated scene-shifting.
42.For a long time, episode six was the only one which survived, meaning that the big reveal that Lemaitre is James Stirling was somewhat robbed of its drama.
43. “Have you any idea who Barras is meeting?” “No, but whoever he is, he could be the next ruler of France.” That's a bit of a leap of logic on Stirling's part.
44. It's been pointed out by many people that Napoleon could not have met with Barras at The Sinking Ship on 26 July 1794, and also that Napoleon was not in any way involved with the plot against Robespierre. But it's such a major History Fail that we're going to point it out again.
45. Furthermore, hanging the entire story on this meeting, which could not have taken place, retrospectively unravels everything that we have seen before right back to episode one.
46. Napoleon's rise to power actually took place five years later, and its causes were the incompetence of the Directoire government (of which Barras was a member), a miscommunication which led Napoleon to return to Paris from Egypt earlier than anticipated, and a coup engineered by five men, none of them Barras (who, although he then threw his support behind Napoleon, was arrested by the latter on general principles after he took power). So the idea of Barras as a kingmaker grooming Napoleon for government is extra ridiculous.
47. The government which followed Robespierre's, furthermore, was led by five Directors; the idea of three ruling consuls did not come into consideration until 1799, and furthermore it was initially brought in as a provisional measure rather than a permanent government.
48. One of the rules of the series at the time was that it was physically impossible for the travellers to alter known historical events. Apparently a rule which doesn't apply to the writers.
49. Though the whole idea is very “Great Man of History”, seeing as the travellers can go around braining random public servants and abetting the murder of republicans with complete impunity.
50. Doctor Who firsts for this story: the first location footage, the first child actor, the first visit to France, the first story to feature the Tardis visibly materialising, Ronald Pickup's first job after leaving RADA, the first actor associated with the series to die (Jack Cunningham, 1912-1967) and the first and last story directed by a Hungarian.
Many sources were consulted in preparation of this article, however, the authors would like to particularly acknowledge, and wholeheartedly recommend, Mark Steel's excellent book Vive La Revolution: A Stand-Up History of the French Revolution (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2006).