In an effort to return Ian and Barbara back home to 1963 London, the Doctor lands the TARDIS in what looks like the countryside. But wrong time and wrong country – they have arrived just outside Paris in the Eighteenth Century during the French Revolution and they have arrived close to a farmhouse used to aid counter-revolutionaries to escape...
The Reign of Terror, written by Dennis Spooner, his first script for the show, was first broadcast between 8 August and 12 September 1964. It was the last serial of the show's first season, which had been running since the previous November. Two more serials were in the can, Planet of Giants and The Dalek Invasion of Earth, but the show took a seven-week broadcasting break (during which your correspondent was born) and those stories became the first two of the second season. Part of the show's initial remit was to be educational, and along with the futuristic stories, the Doctor and his companions had taken trips back into history, first visiting the the Stone Age, then dropping in on Marco Polo and the Aztecs and now the French Revolution.
Dennis Spooner (1932-1986), was a prolific television writer from 1960 up until the mid-80s. He is a key figure in Hartnell-era Doctor Who, becoming the show's second script editor, taking over from David Whitaker. He is known for his introduction of humour to the stories, but as I suggested when I reviewed The Romans, that reputation is sometimes deceptive. The Reign of Terror is a solid six-parter – all the better in that we can now see a reconstruction of its missing two episodes – which doesn't gloss over some of the historical realities of the time, though there were comments that it was a rather one-sided schoolbook account of the Revolution. Robespierre gets – historically accurately – shot in the jaw, though that happens off screen to keep it within the bounds of what was nominally children's television. Carole Anne Ford liked the historicals due to the opportunity to dress up, though you can see why she was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with her role as written. William Russell took a two-week holiday for episodes two and three, but is represented in his prison cell by film sequences pre-shot at Ealing Studios. Verity Lambert had her way and the production moved after four episodes from the tiny and very hot Lime Grove Studio G to the Television Centre Studio TC4. The second episode features the show's first-ever location shooting, with Brian Proudfoot doubling for William Hartnell walking down the nearest that England could provide for French country lanes. The music score is by Stanley Myers, his only work for the show, which incorporates several variations on La Marseillaise.
The Reign of Terror was a fraught production for its director Henric Hirsch. An escapee from then Soviet Bloc Hungary, he was primarily a stage director and due to cramped conditions, communication difficulties due to his limited English and strong accent, conflicts with the cast (Hartnell especially), not to mention a live horse and cart in the studio in the third episode, found the production particularly stressful. This led to his nervous collapse during the production of the third episode. The episode was completed, though no one is entirely sure by whom – either John Gorrie (who had previously directed The Keys of Marinus) or associate producer Mervyn Pinfield, with a lot of input from production assistant and future Who director Timothy Combe, though Hirsch is still credited. (It's reported in some reference sources that the episode bears no director's credit, but that isn't the case.) Hirsch returned to complete the serial with increased assistance from Combe, but The Reign of Terror was his only Who credit. It's also not correct that this was his last work for the BBC, as is claimed in the extras on this disc, as the IMDB records credits on single plays for the Corporation in the Wednesday Play and Theatre 625 strands. His later work was on the other side, including episodes of the ITV soap Crossroads up to 1973. He was thought to have died sometime after then, but as Toby Hadoke says in the commentary, in 1994 he was living in retirement in Australia, though it would appear that he has passed away sometime since.
The Reign of Terror was like most 60s Who, recorded on black and white 405-line two-inch quad videotape, with the 16mm-originated location footage played in during the studio recording sessions. Telerecordings on 16mm film were made for sales overseas, and eventually the broadcast tapes were wiped and used again for something else. The last broadcast of The Reign of Terror was in Ethopia in 1971, after which the telerecordings were returned to the BBC and junked during the 1970s. When Doctor Who Magazine in its 1983 Winter Special listed the surviving episodes, which was for many fans the time they realised exactly how decimated the show was in the archives, The Reign of Terror had been entirely lost, apart from a film copy of the sixth episode which had been returned to the BBC by a private collector. Copies of all the episodes except four and five were found in an archive in Cyprus in 1984. Sadly, the two missing episodes had been stored in a different part of the archive which had been destroyed by shelling during the 1974 coup in that country. On the VHS release of The Reign of Terror, Carole Ann Ford spoke to camera plugging the gap in the story, but for DVD, the earlier DVD release of The Invasion, episodes four and five are presented animated. Fortunately, due to the activities of fans with tape recorders, we have the soundtracks of every missing Who episode, and those off-air recordings serve that purpose here.
The Reign of Terror is released by 2 Entertain on a dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only. As usual for the range, there are option audio-descriptive menus. The story is split into three titles: the first three episodes in live action (73:30), four and five animated (49:58) and finally the sixth again in live action (25:07). As there is a Play All option along with the usual episode and scene selection menus, you may not notice this, but your player's timer will.
The four live-action episodes are transferred from the 16mm telerecordings, cleaned up and VidFIREd to restore a video look to them. The animated episodes retain the live-action opening credit sequence and have the final credits scrolling over a black screen. They also have additional credits for the animation and restoration. As always with VidFIRE, the results are certainly preferable to the raw telerecordings, though inevitably they look softer than original 405-line PAL would look – but as always this is as good as these episodes will probably ever look and kudos as ever to the Restoration Team. All the episodes are presented, correctly, in 4:3.
The soundtrack is the original mono, also restored. A change of ambience does make the fact that the off-air soundtracks are a generation removed from the originals, but that's picky of me. Short of a miracle happening and one of the missing episodes turning up, this is as good a way as possible of enjoying this serial again. Optional subtitles are provided for the hard-of-hearing for all episodes. The information subtitles, this time provided by Nicholas Pegg, are as invaluable as ever, telling you all you might want to know about this story and more besides, though they take a break for the animated episodes.
With six episodes to fill, the commentary faces the issue that most people involved with the production are no longer alive. However, most of those who are still living make an appearance, with William Russell the major absentee. Toby Hadoke moderates, and Timothy Combe and Carole Ann Ford are present for the four live-action episodes. Also appearing are actors who appeared in one episode only, and they contribute to the track for that episode. These are Neville Smith on the first episode, Jeffrey Wickham for the second, Caroline Hunt for the third and Patrick Marley for the sixth. These are informative chats, well moderated by Hadoke, with Combe having a good memory of this serial, made forty-eight years before the commentary was recorded. Hadoke digresses by asking Smith about Apaches the notorious public-information film about the dangers of playing on farms, which he wrote. The format changes for the two animated episodes. Episode Four features Hadoke interviewing Ronald Pickup, whose three-line role as the physician was his first ever professional role. He had just left RADA and was about to go into rep in Leicester, and had the job through his university friend Frank Cox, who had been a Who director by that point. Given that he is talking about an episode that does not exist and had not been animated by that point (presumably the soundtrack and stills were on hand), Pickup talks with fondness of his little piece of Who history for which he was paid all of £31. Episode Five is not scene-specific, as Hadoke talks to two experts on the subject of missing episodes and their recovery: Paul Vanezis (who located the episodes in the Cypriot archive) and Philip Morris, who now runs a company specialising in television archiving around the world. This was recorded just after two episodes were recovered in 2011 from a private collector and that find is discussed. You can see one of them (“Air Lock”, the third episode of Galaxy 4) on the next but one Who release, the special edition of The Aztecs.
“Don't Lose Your Head” (25:02) is the making-of documentary, and it is made up of the input of just three interviewees: Carole Ann Ford, Timothy Combe and William Russell. Much of this inevitably overlaps with Combe and Ford's contributions to the commentary track, but it's a solid run through of the story and its production and travails.
That's the main extra; the others are mostly galleries. “Robespierre's Domain” (2:45) is a tour of the animated sets, with extracts from the story's soundtrack. Then there is a self-navigating stills gallery (4:11) with some of the production photographs in colour, and similarly for the animation (3:40), including character sketches and model sheets.
The extras conclude with the Radio Times listings in PDF format and a Coming Soon trailer for the next DVD release, a Special Edition of The Ark in Space (1:02). There are no Easter Eggs on this release.