Chapter 118. Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror (1987)

Synopsis: The TARDIS lands on Earth and the Doctor is keen to rid himself of the schoolteachers at last. Ian, however, wants assurance that the time is correct as well as the location. He’s right to be cautious as the travellers soon learn they have arrived in France in the 18th Century, when a bloody revolution is sweeping through the country. Separated from the Doctor, his fellow travellers Ian, Susan and Barbara are arrested and face execution, before they receive a surprising offer of help – and face betrayal from a new acquaintance.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. So Near And So Far
  • 2. Under Siege
  • 3. Prisoners Of The People
  • 4. The Diggers
  • 5. Liberty
  • 6. Sanctuary
  • 7. The Tyrant Of France
  • 8. Betrayal Everywhere
  • 9. Illusions Shattered
  • 10. A Hard Bargain
  • 11. A Glimpse Of Things To Come
  • 12. Escaping From History

Background: Ian Marter adapts scripts from a 1964 story by Dennis Spooner. The book was published 10 months after Marter’s death and 22 years and six months after the story originally aired, narrowly missing out on the record for biggest gap between transmission and novelisation by just two weeks. This followed The Sensorites on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.

Notes: The Doctor apparently has ‘sharp grey eyes’ (and is described as being a ‘Time Lord’!) while Susan is said (rather wonderfully) to have ‘Joan of Arc features’. The TARDIS scanner has a ‘telephoto’ setting. The Doctor has a normal body temperature of ‘sixty degrees fahrenheit’ (which is about 15 degrees celsius). Ian can speak basic, halting French, Barbara is a little better but of course the Doctor is fluent (so, no ‘Time Lord gift’ in play here). On hearing that the French Revolution is the Doctor’s favourite period of Earth history, Barbara realises that this was why Susan had wanted to borrow the book on that particular topic on the night that the two teachers were abducted. We’re reminded repeatedly of the teacher-pupil relationship between Barbara and Susan. Confronted by the innkeeper of The Sinking Ship Inn, Ian pretends that he and Barbara are a married couple (and a generation of fans experience a momentary glow of emotion). It’s Barbara, not Ian, who tells James Stirling about Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power as ‘one of three Consuls’, despite assuring Ian that she learned how impossible it is to change history during their encounter with the Aztecs. Once the travellers have made it safely back to the TARDIS, the Doctor tells the two teachers that their involvement in this period of history will have no effect:

‘The mainstream of history is fixed and immutable,’ he reminded them. ‘I think you’re all rather belittling the subject. Our own lives are important in themselves. To us, at present. As we experience things, so we learn.’

The Doctor’s final line on TV is removed here, replaced by an exchange where Ian asks where they’re heading next and the Doctor replied ‘Who knows? Because I certainly don’t!’

Cover: The Doctor in that famous tricolor-adorned outfit stands in front of citizens and a guillotine, in a painting by Tony Masero.

Final Analysis: Everyone expected Ian Marter to approach The French Revolution as if it were a Roger Corman adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe story. While there is a particularly graphic depiction of Robespierre being shot (‘blood, teeth and fragments of jawbone spurted out between his clawing fingers’), Marter is otherwise remarkably restrained. Here, without oily Cybemen to provide the gore, he instead dwells upon the expectorations of the characters: The roadside foreman spits into a hedge; the gaoler spits before wiping his nose on a sleeve; during the fire in the farmhouse, even the Doctor succumbs to ‘bubbling acid mucus’, which he spits out during ‘a spasm of nauseous coughing’. Marter spares us none of the squalid details of life in the past, where food is poor, medicine involves leeches and everyone’s rather smelly. Our regulars really suffer too, with abrasions to their hands and wrists from all the digging and being chained up. You have to wonder though – why would the Doctor consider a time of mass public executions his favourite period of Earth history? Maybe if Susan had actually brought back that book from school he might have known better…

2 thoughts on “Chapter 118. Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror (1987)

  1. I have a feeling the 60 degrees Fahrenheit body temperature thing was mentioned in a non-fiction book, possibly “The Making of Doctor Who” by Dicks and Hulke.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. By the way, I feel quite envious of the revolutionary-mob guy gesticulating at bottom-right of the cover, who has the really cool Target Books logo tattoo on his elbow. How forward-looking! (At first glance I thought it was blood!)

    Liked by 1 person

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