The Reign of Terror
The Reign of Terror was the eighth and final story of the first season of Doctor Who. It was the first story to use location filming, the first to feature a pre-pubescent actor in a speaking role, and the first to show the full-sized TARDIS prop materialising. It also heralded the arrival of writer and future script editor Dennis Spooner to the program. It is the only season finale not to have any science fiction elements whatsoever, apart from the TARDIS and its crew.
Amongst its most lasting narrative significance was Susan’s assertion that the French Revolution was the First Doctor’s favorite period of history. This was later remembered by Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat in their writing of the Tenth Doctor, who had a fondness for all things French.
Currently, the original master copies of episodes 4 and 5 remain missing from the BBC archive. However, the missing episodes have been reconstructed in animated format for the 2013 DVD release of the serial. Though the actual footage is yet to be recovered, both episodes retain the full-length audio soundtracks originally recorded during production.
Episode 1: A Land of Fear
The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arrive at a destination that the Doctor assures his guests is 1960s Earth. He intends throwing Ian and Barbara out there and then, but they butter him up and convince him that they should just check to see if he has been accurate in his landing of the craft.
When they leave the TARDIS it is clear that it is Earth but they note how dark it is and that there appear to be no street lights around. While Ian investigates he finds a small feral boy in the wood. After questioning, the boy informs the travelers that they are 12 km from Paris. The Doctor states that 100 miles [sic] from the intended destination — whilst not perfect — is pretty good. Before they can question the boy any more, he runs off. The foursome continue to explore and eventually find an abandoned house. They split up and explore it. Barbara, Ian, and Susan begin to suspect that the Doctor has not been as accurate as he imagined when they find 18th century furniture and clothes around the house. They also find fake papers, some of which bear the signature of Robespierre, the chief orchestrator of government during the Reign of Terror in the year 1794. They deduce the farmhouse is being used as a staging post in an escape chain for counter-revolutionaries. They put on some of the clothes so as to not look conspicuous to the others when they go back to the TARDIS. Ian goes to look for the Doctor, but as he leaves he is accosted by two counter-revolutionaries named D’Argenson and Rouvray. They hold a gun to Barbara, Ian, and Susan and try to ascertain if they are loyal to the revolution or are counter-revolutionaries like themselves. They ask if they are travelling alone. Barbara replies in the affirmative. Rouvray says that this is a lie as they have found the Doctor upstairs. They assure them that he is all right, but they are still hostile to the travelers.
The impasse is ended when a band of revolutionary soldiers surrounds the house and demands their collective surrender. Instead of storming the house they wait outside, counting on the counter-revolutionaries to lose their nerve. This ploy bears fruit when D’Argenson, who has seemed nervous from the off, gives himself up, thinking that his surrender will spare him the guillotine. Reluctantly Rouvray joins him. They are both killed.
The soldiers now enter the house and capture Ian, Barbara, and Susan, thinking they are counter-revolutionaries also. They inform them that they will be marched to Paris and the guillotine. The parting action of the soldiers is to set fire to the farmhouse — unaware the Doctor is inside. The travelers stare at the house as the roof falls in and the Doctor lies unconscious on the floor.
Episode 2: Guests of Madame Guillotine
Once in Paris, Barbara, Ian, and Susan are sentenced to death for being traitors to the Revolution. They are swiftly imprisoned, with Ian put in a separate cell from Susan and Barbara. Once Ian has been dispatched, the lecherous prison warden says that he would be able to help the two girls escape, but Barbara turns this down, sensing that he would ask for a little more than the “company” he says he seeks. Susan is distraught at their predicament and confides to Barbara that she is worried about her grandfather, fearing his death.
However, the Doctor is not dead. He was saved from the blaze by the young boy that they encountered outside the TARDIS. He informs the Doctor that his companions have been taken to the Conciergerie Prison in Paris. After thanking the boy, he sets off after them.
Barbara begins to plot a way out of their cell. She notices that the wall to her cell is wet and that means that there must be some kind of sewer system below the cell. She thinks that the moistness of the wall means that with a bit of time and effort she could be able to pry one of the bricks out from the wall. She sets about doing this using one of the planks of the bed as a primitive crow bar. Meanwhile Ian has been put in a cell with a dying man by the name of Webster. Webster is also English and with his dying breath tells Ian that he has been sent over from England to find a James Stirling who has precious information that will help England fight the inevitable war with France. Webster makes Ian promise to seek out Stirling and tell him to return to England. Ian promises that he will do so; Webster then dies.
The Doctor, on his way to Paris, encounters a chain gang. He asks the leader of the chain gang, who is aggressive and violent to the men he leads, whether he is on the road to Paris, to which the leader responds in the affirmative. The leader complains that his men are slow and that he has been ordered to finish this section of the road before tomorrow. The Doctor suggests that instead of being violent towards his men he should aid them in their effort. The leader responds badly to this, insists on seeing the Doctor’s identification papers and, when he can’t provide them, orders him to join in the manual work.
Back in the prison the girls are startled when they are almost discovered digging their hole. Their work is brought to a halt later when they discover that rats are coming in through the hole and infesting their cell. Because Susan is distraught at this, Barbara says they will stop. Over in Ian’s cell a nobleman named Lemaitre comes in and inspects the body of Webster. He orders Ian to tell him whether Webster said anything to him before his death. Ian tells the man that he didn’t, but the prison warden states he heard them talking. The nobleman takes Ian’s name off the list of people to be executed.
Meanwhile back at the chain gang, the Doctor has devised a plan whereby he will gain his freedom as well as the freedom of the other men. He creates a distraction for the leader by saying that there is to be an eclipse. As the leader looks to the Sun, the Doctor steals some money from the leader’s purse. As the men go back to their digging the Doctor hides some money in the soil and pretends to uncover it, saying that he has found buried treasure. The greedy leader begins to take over the digging, and whilst he is distracted the Doctor knocks him over the head, rendering him unconscious. As the Doctor moves on he passes a sign indicating he is 5 km from Paris. However, it may be too late as the prison warden comes to Barbara and Susan’s cell and informs them that it is time for their execution. As they are led out to the wagon to lead them to their death, Ian looks out of his prison window in shock.
Episode 3: A Change of Identity
By this time the Doctor has arrived in Paris and starts to track down his companions. Meanwhile in another part of Paris the wagon carrying Susan and Barbara halts temporarily to change horses. Barbara suggests that they could use this opportunity to run, but Susan has too much of a headache. Barbara seems resigned to their fate.
Luckily for them their transport is hijacked by two men, Jules and Jean, who kill the guards and spirit them back to their safe house.
Back at the prison the jailer is serving food to the inmates when he is called away by Lemaitre. In his rush to get to his superior he leaves his set of keys in the lock. While he is gone Ian finds the keys in the lock, reaches them through the grate, removes the key to his cell, and places another key in the lock. When the jailer returns he does not notice the difference and thinks he has got away with his forgetfulness.
The Doctor wanders the streets and comes across a clothes shop. He swaps all of his clothes, including his ring, for the clothes of a Regional Officer of the Provinces.
In the prison Ian takes an opportunity whilst the jailer is drunk to sneak out of the prison. As he does, Lemaitre is watching his every move. Once Ian has gone, Lemaitre speculates that his escape would be the only way to see if Webster had said anything about Stirling to Ian before he died.
Back at the safe house Barbara and Susan are told they will be given food and a place to rest, and then they will be smuggled out of France in the escape chain, but Barbara says they can’t leave France without the Doctor and Ian. Jules and Jean reassure her they will try to reunite the four travelers. When Barbara and Susan tell them how they came to be arrested they mention the house in the woods that was burnt down. This shocks the two men, who ask if D’Argenson and Rouvray were there. When the girls tell them that they were and that they were killed by the soldiers, Jules informs them that this house was being used as a safe house and that D’Argenson and Rouvray were people that they had saved. Jean and Jules speculate that there must be a traitor in their midst who is giving away the locations of their safe houses. At this point Susan becomes ill again and Barbara takes her to bed. Another counter-revolutionary, Léon Colbert, arrives and joins their company, quickly striking up a romantic flirtation with Barbara.
In his new guise of Regional Officer of the Provinces, the Doctor forces his way into the Conciergerie, but by the time he gets there he is informed by the jailer that all three have gone. The Doctor ascertains what has happened to his friends and is about to leave when Lemaitre arrives and insists he accompany him to visit First Deputy Robespierre to report on his province. Once he has gone, a messenger comes to the jailer to inform Lemaitre of something important. The jailer says that he cannot be interrupted as he is with Robespierre. The messenger says it’s important as he has proof of a traitor — as he says this, he displays the Doctor’s ring.
Episode 4: The Tyrant of France
Lemaitre takes the Doctor to an audience with the “Tyrant of France” himself, who appears as both a zealot and a psychopath with his constant talk of needing to increase the pace of execution. Little the Doctor can say to the contrary seems to have any sway, but by the end of the meeting Robespierre seems to have warmed to the Doctor and asks if he can return tomorrow.
Meanwhile at the rebel’s house Susan is still desperately unwell. Léon takes it upon himself to find a physician for her. This puts him in the good books of Barbara even more. Barbara and Susan are left by themselves as Jules and Jean are checking out one of their hideouts. They are shocked to see someone in there. Jules sneaks in and strikes the man. Little do they know it is Ian.
When the Doctor and Lemaitre return to jail, the Doctor tries to make excuses and leave, but a mixture of Lemaitre’s insistence and threats from the jailer force the Doctor to stay. When Lemaitre returns to his quarters he finds the shop clerk there who informs him of the true nature of the Doctor.
On returning back to their house with the prostrate body of Ian, Jules and Jean are shocked to find that the interloper is the friend of Barbara. Ian says that he was told to wait for Jules there in order to find the whereabouts of James Stirling. He is disappointed to be informed that Jules has no idea who Stirling is; however Ian is told that Léon may have more of an idea. Jules arranges a meeting between Ian and Léon. Danielle comes and informs the men that the physician will not visit the house for fear of retribution. It is reluctantly decided that Barbara should take Susan there.
On their arriving at the physician’s, he seems suspicious but willing to treat Susan. He leaves to get some supplies, and when a suspicious Susan tries to leave they discover that they have been locked in. The physician is a spy and has informed the soldiers of Barbara and Susan’s whereabouts. Before they know what has happened, they have been re-arrested and taken back to prison. Knowing full well the connections between his guests, Lemaitre summons the Doctor to interrogate Barbara only to eavesdrop on their conversation.
Whilst all this is happening Ian is going to meet Léon in an abandoned church. As he sees Léon he realizes that he is surrounded by soldiers and has likewise been betrayed.
Episode 5: A Bargain of Necessity
Léon explains that he has trapped Ian so as to extract information from him. Ian insists that he is no part of the protection ring that is run by Jules, but Léon does not believe him.
Meanwhile at the Conciergerie, Lemaitre’s plan to overhear information during the conversation between the Doctor and Barbara comes to fruition when he overhears Barbara whisper the address of Jules’ safehouse to the Doctor. Once Lemaitre has gone the Doctor convinces the jailer that Barbara is a powerful member of the protection racket and that she could hold the key to every rebel in France. He convinces the jailer that the only way to get this information from her is to allow her to walk free and follow her to her rebel alliances. The jailer unlocks the door, allowing Barbara to escape.
As Barbara leaves the prison for Jules’ house, Jules returns to find Barbara and Ian gone. Jules goes to the church where he knew that Ian was to meet Léon and finds him held captive. He takes the captors by surprise and kills them both so as to liberate Ian.
Back at the Conciergerie, the Doctor tries to trick the jailer yet again, suggesting that he allow Susan to go free in order to follow her, just as he did with Barbara. The jailer is reluctant to do this as he fears retribution from his superiors. These self-same superiors are in conversation with one another in Robespierre’s chambers. Robespierre tells Lemaitre that he suspects his deputy, Paul Barras, is planning to conspire against him in an upcoming convention. He asks Lemaitre to track Barras the following day to a secret assignation outside the city to gain more information on this.
Ian and Jules return to the safe house and are surprised to see Barbara, who informs them that the Doctor has infiltrated the prison and released her and is planning to do the same with Susan. Ian receives this news with great humor. Conversely, Barbara is disgusted when she hears that Jules has killed Léon , as she is unable to distinguish between the man and the deeds that he was committing.
Unable to play the same trick on the jailer for the second time, the Doctor convinces Susan that she should hide behind the door so that from outside the cell she would remain unseen. Once in position the Doctor pretends that she has escaped. When the jailer opens the door in shock to inspect how she exited the cell, the Doctor hits him over the head with a bottle. As Susan and the Doctor make their escape they are stopped in their tracks by Lemaitre who reveals to the Doctor that he has been aware of his duplicity from the start and has been orchestrating the successive release and recapture of his companions from the start. The Doctor denies that he is in disguise but is forced to take Lemaitre to the safe house as Lemaitre threatens Susan’s life unless he does so.
Barbara and Ian are waiting anxiously for the Doctor but are shocked when he arrives, not with Susan in tow but with Lemaitre.
Episode 6: Prisoners of Conciergerie
Lemaitre reveals that he has been orchestrating the releases and recapture of the Doctor’s companions since the beginning. When Ian questions why he would do this Lemaitre reveals he is in fact James Stirling. Stirling was placed deep undercover and was supposed to intercept Webster at the prison but was too late. Ian relays Webster’s message that Stirling should return to England immediately. The spy agrees but presses Ian for more detail on Webster’s last hours. Initially, Ian can’t remember any details, but when Stirling begins to talk about the fact he was called to follow Barras for Robespierre, Ian recalls the words, “Barras, meeting, and the “Sinking Ship.'” Stirling recalls that this is the name of an inn on the Calais Road and they realize that is where the conspiracy against the First Deputy will take place. It is decided that Jules, Ian, and Barbara be placed there undercover in order to gain information from the meeting.
Jules, disguised as a guest, and Ian and Barbara, disguised as landlord and serving-woman, are undercover at the inn. When Barras appears, he seems unsure at first but soon warms to the place. Eventually a young man enters, and initially Ian and Barbara don’t know who it is. However, they soon find out it is Napoléon Bonaparte. Through a hole Ian made in the wall, Ian and Barbara hear Barras seek to persuade the young general to take the mantle of leadership after the overthrow of Robespierre as one of three consuls. Napoléon urges Barras to topple Robespierre but warns him that if this fails to happen he will deny this meeting ever took place.
The following day Jules and Ian speed off to stop Robespierre’s imprisonment — an act which Barbara finds amusing because she knows history cannot be changed. By the time Jules and Ian get there, the coup against Robespierre has begun, and the tyrant has been shot in the mouth before being seized himself and sent to the Conciergerie.
While this is happening, the Doctor reaches the prison, where he outwits the jailer one more time by convincing him that Lemaitre has been captured as a traitor and that the jailer is an associate of his and will be soon thrown into prison himself. The Doctor then wins the jailer around by being lenient with him. He suggests that the prison be cleared in preparation for the huge influx of traitors that will be brought — ensuring that Susan is freed in order to escape with them. As they leave through one door, the bleeding Robespierre is brought in by another, his body broken and his rule ended. Soon, he will be guillotined himself.
The escape chain now demonstrates itself to best effect and smuggles several people out of Paris. Stirling will head for Calais and thence to England; Jules and Jean will lie low as they measure the future now that Robespierre has fallen; and the Doctor and his companions are to return to the TARDIS in the woods near Paris, reflecting on another brush with history and their role within it — especially the fact that history has a way of remaining resilient to human change and that their journeys in the future are up to the stars.