Doctor Who
The Reign of Terror

Starring: William Hartnell
BBC Audio
RRP: 13.99
ISBN 0 563 52342 5
Available 06 February 2006

The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara to Robespierre's Paris of 1794, where they discover the revolutionary Reign of Terror in full swing. Separated from each other and the Ship, the group find themselves caught up in the machinations of an English undercover spy as they struggle not to fall foul of Madame Guillotine...

The release of this double CD is something of a special occasion for me, since it contains the final two episodes of the original 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who to be commercially released by the BBC. Back in 2003, I was disappointed that the VHS release of this serial did not contain the soundtracks to the missing fourth and fifth episodes, The Tyrant of France and A Bargain of Necessity. Now at last we can hear them, though these vintage recordings are prone to dropout and bleed-through, as the sleeve notes are at pains to explain.

The story itself doesn't quite merit such celebrity, however. The tone of the narrative is uneven, with writer Dennis Spooner and directors Henric Hirsch and John Gorrie apparently undecided as to whether this tale should be humorous or gritty. On one hand we are have the over-the-top comic characters of the jailer (Jack Cunningham) and the avaricious road works overseer (Dallas Cavell), while on the other we vividly witness Susan's (Carole Ann Ford) horror and despair as she is imprisoned with Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), awaiting execution.

The plot drags, especially during the first couple of episodes. The end of part one is particularly prone to padding, with a long, dialogue-free segment dealing with the danger to the unconscious Doctor (William Hartnell), who is trapped in a burning building. Composer Stanley Myers (who went on to score several major movies, including The Deer Hunter) goes some way towards compensating for the story's slow pace. His incidental music often makes good listening, especially in this audio-only media, but it is sometimes a little too conspicuous.

The Reign of Terror veers away from the show's earlier remit of observing history but not interfering with it, as seen in Marco Polo and The Aztecs. Here the characters see Napoleon Bonaparte (Tony Wall) playing an entirely fictitious role in the fall of Robespierre (Keith Anderson). We also witness the first hints of historical/literary pastiche, of the type that would later be seen in full force in stories such as The Gunfighters, The Smugglers, The Highlanders and Black Orchid, as Spooner evokes the flavours of A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Carole Ann Ford narrates the story well, elevating the dull bits with a voice-over that always complements the tone of the scene in question, whether it is serious or silly. She is also briefly interviewed at the end of each CD, when she discusses the development (or rather lack of it) of her character, Susan.

Though it is no classic, The Reign of Terror does contain some good character moments, especially those involving the regular TARDIS crew, and Ford's narration only adds to this quality.

Richard McGinlay

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