The Reign of Terror, The Time Meddler, The Celestial Toymaker

I had hoped that I would be writing up four Hartnell stories this weekend, rather than three; but because the thieves who stole my laptop have also got my DVD of The Web Planet, you’ll have to settle for this smaller selection.

The Reign of Terror: (, .com or audio – episode 4 and 6 of six are missing) This ended the first ever season of Doctor Who, back in 1964. It is a very straightforward historical story, with crew landing in 1794 and meeting up with Robespierre just before he is overthrown and guillotined (and in the last episode with a pre-imperial Napoleon Bonaparte). It’s six episodes, which is perhaps a bit long (too long for Carole Anne Ford as Susan, who spends a lot of time whining and a significant chunk of it off-screen), but it’s competently done. Hartnell is particularly good, doing the business of stepping in and taking charge – he looks fantastic in costume as the District Commissioner, and also escapes from the work gang with aplomb. The plot is of course nicked straight from Baroness Orczy (apart from the jailer who is the Porter from Macbeth) but as with Ian Marter’s novelisation, there is a very real sense of menace and terror in the air. And the music is generally pretty good, apart from the occasional annoying bit of comic xylophone.

This meshes nicely with the shifting relationship between the Doctor on one hand and Ian and Barbara on the other, plus Barbara’s romantic spark with the locals. At the start of the story he is throwing them out of the TARDIS (I haven’t seen The Sensorites, the immediately preceding story, so not sure what has led to this). But by the end they have all bonded again, and the final exchange between the Doctor and Ian is a treat, as the screen dissolves from the TARDIS crew changing out of their 1790s costumes into a receding field of stars:

Ian: And what are we going to see and learn next, Doctor?
Doctor: Well, unlike the old adage, my boy, our destiny is in the stars, so let’s go and search for it!

The Time Meddler (, .com), by contrast, ended the second season of Doctor Who in 1965. (I’ve done quite well on season-end stories, actually; see also The War Machines, The Evil of the Daleks, The War Games, Inferno, The Green Death, Survival and, stretching a point, The Five Doctors and Shada). It is another historical adventure, also written by Dennis Spooner, but of a very different kind. For the first time ever, we meet another member of the Doctor’s own race, the Monk, who is determined to change the course of history by giving Harold atomic bazookas to win the Battle of Hastings. Interestingly, although the Doctor mutters about this breaking the Golden Rule of time travel, he seems much more upset that the monk’s plans are in bad taste – a “disgusting exhibition”!

Locals and Vikings clash in a not especially original but at least not utterly stupid way. But Peter Butterworth as the Monk is very watchable, and his exchanges with the Doctor are great fun. The script is in general pretty good – I didn’t even notice that Hartnell was off-screen for the whole of episode 2. We also have Steven, who sneaked onto the TARDIS at the end of The Chase, being the first new companion to boggle at it in disbelief since Ian and Barbara right back at the beginning (Vicki takes it very much in her stride at the end of The Rescue). But then we all boggle in disbelief and shock when he and Vicki enter the Monk’s sarcophagus and find that inside, it is the same as the Doctor’s. Our hero is Not Alone.

No snappy dialogue to finish the story this time, but a nice set of arty film shots of Steven, Vicki and the Doctor’s faces over a star field, before the music starts.

The Celestial Toymaker (, .com) was the last Dodo story I had to catch up with, though I’ve decided to do further research before doing the long piece on her that I have vaguely planned. She, the Doctor and Steven are captured by the eponymous Toymaker, brilliantly played by Michael Gough, who wants to play games with them for eternity. The companions are challenged to a series of sinister games against the Toymaker’s minions; the Doctor has to play the Tri-Logic game (which is just a ten-piece set of The Tower of Hanoi) to its conclusion, and is made invisible (and at one point mute as well) by their fiendish host.

I had been very much looking forward to this one on the basis of fan lore and the fourth episode (which is on the Lost In Time collection), and was taken aback by just how negative Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles are about it in their book. In the end I come somewhere in between. The Toymaker’s means and motivation seem to me too arbitrary, not sufficiently rooted in their own reality let alone the reality of the established lore of the series. On the other hand the cast (and, four decades later, Peter Purves’ narration) give it all they can, and I felt swept along by the action.

There are some striking parallels with the penultimate Ninth Doctor episode, Bad Wolf. The TARDIS is invaded by an external force, its occupants (the Doctor, a male companion and a female companion) are made to participate in games in which their lives are at stake. The 2005 version is better in two ways (though I would make the same criticism about the means and motivation of the bad guys not being sufficiently clear). First, of course, the vastly greater resources available – it makes episode four of The Celestial Toymaker look like a cheap studio-bound set of recordings, as indeed it is.

The second point of comparison is perhaps less obvious. In Bad Wolf, the other participants in the games are fellow humans, thus subject to the evil gamesmasters in the same way as the Doctor and friends, and indeed people we can empathise with – be it the Big Brother participant who throws her lot in with the Doctor, or the Weakest Link participant who gets Rose zapped. In The Celestial Toymaker, it’s not entirely clear what the status of the Toymaker’s minions is. Steven thinks they should be treated as mindless, soulless enemies and simply fought with. Dodo is inclined to show them compassion as if they too are being manipulated. Is Dodo being weak, or is she in some basic sense right to recognise them as having their own potential for personhood too? The question is not satisfactorily resolved (and indeed not even very satisfactorily framed).

Thoughts on the Doctor’s past: I found it interesting that both The Time Meddler and The Celestial Toymaker featured people who had encountered the Doctor before, or at least knew of him by reputation. This happens several times in Season 3 – in The Savages, the Elders claim to have been following him for some time, and in The War Machines he wanders happily in and out of the British scientific establishment of 1966, though when last in London he was hiding in a junkyard. However, I don’t think it happens in any earlier story than The Time Meddler, apart from (of course) the Doctor’s relationship with Susan, and the returns of the Daleks in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Chase. I guess it is something you couldn’t do while Susan was still there, since then you would have to have expository dialogue of the lines of “Remember what happened when we were on the planet Quinnis?” But as far as I remember from the Troughton years, we don’t have any more of this sort of thing until The War Games establishes a whole culture for the Doctor to have come from. As I’ve said before, Season 3 has a bad rep among a lot of people but I am finding it very intriguing.

I now have only six Hartnell stories left to watch/listen to: Marco Polo, The Sensorites, Planet of Giants, the rest of The Web Planet, The Space Museum, and Galaxy 4. Watch this space.

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1 Response to The Reign of Terror, The Time Meddler, The Celestial Toymaker

  1. wwhyte says:

    I’m amused that you say Terminus is too long, when for me the one that’s too long is clearly Enlightenment. The entire first episode should be the pre-credits sequence, which is made even clearer when you consider that none of the human sailors play any significant part in the rest of the story. (And that the cliffhanger isn’t particularly exciting — it resolves a question rather than opening up more). Then we could have ten minutes of Episode 2 and get to Lynda Barron a bit before the half-way mark. That’d be fun.

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