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Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror

William Hartnell    Unrated   DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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The TARDIS arrives near Paris during the French Revolution a time of great upheaval bloodshed and terror. Soon with the Doctor trapped inside a burning farmhouse Ian imprisoned and Susan and Barbara on their way to the guillotine it's clear this will be one of their most dangerous and exciting adventures yet "Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror is an episode of the Good Doctor from 1964--when Doctor Who wasn't always a strict sci-fi futuristic place to be. In fact, The Reign of Terror takes the crew of the TARDIS back in time to the middle of the French Revolution. The bloodthirstiness of that era is well captured, as most of the crew is immediately imprisoned and sentenced to die by guillotine. Luckily, the Doctor (the level-headed William Hartnell) is free to sneak about the French countryside to try to arrange his mates' escape. The Reign of Terror was once thought to be one of the "lost" Doctor Who episodes, but as the extras on this disc show, there was an international effort to find and recover it. And it was well worth the effort. The acting is more classic than cheesy, and the tension is well directed. Not many arrested in the French Revolution escaped with their heads still attached to their bodies, after all. Several cast and crew members join in the commentary, including Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Neville Smith, and Jeffry Wickham. The making-of documentary shows what efforts went into finding the appropriate period costumes and sets. And the animated design gallery is rightly praised by fans as a lovely extra that gives another artistic slant on the creativity behind the series and this episode in particular." --A.T. Hurley

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5.0 out of 5 stars Good doctor who without the techno March 22 2014
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
The story takes place during the French Revolution and gives you a bit of a history lesson. It's always interesting when the doctor puts a twist on things and they way the first doctor uses his wit. Don't expect any techno gadgets just classic doctor.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
48 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Story - But Not Much Science Fiction! Dec 17 2012
By Happy Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
The Doctor is trying to land in present-day England (1964), in another attempt to take Barbara and Ian home. Unfortunately, the TARDIS ends up in the French countryside. More to the point, it is 1794 France. The French Revolution is five years old and Madame Guillotine reigns.

In spite of finding period clothing to change into (Ian comments on Barbara's transformation with, "Hairstyle's a bit modern, but it's all right."), it doesn't take them long to get into trouble. Susan, Ian and Barbara find themselves arrested and taken to Paris, and the infamous Conciergerie Prison, to await their execution. They're told, "You will be guillotined as soon as it can be arranged." [Historical note: This is due to a new law that gives the authorities the right to execute not only without a trial, but based on suspicion only.]

The Doctor, fortunately, was separated from the trio and not arrested. He takes off down the road to Paris to rescue them. He meets a forced gang road work crew, and because the Doctor can't keep his mouth shut, he ends up being pressed into labor himself.

Fortunately, our travelers, in more than one place, stumble onto an escape chain. But it is not that easy to get anyone out of Paris, even with the chaos that is still France, and it will be a close shave (heh heh). Spies and turncoats from both sides operate on secrecy and paranoia. But how often do you get to meet a world figure such as Napoleon?

This is a review of the January 2013 1-disc DVD release of "The Reign of Terror", the first time the full serial has been released on DVD. It was considered a "lost serial" until the 1980's when copies of the video for episodes 1, 2, 3 and 6 were recovered from stations in Malta and Cyprus and a private collector. A VHS was released in 2003 with narration by Carole Ford (who plays Susan) linking episodes 3 and 6.

For this DVD release, however, the BBC is including animated versions of episodes 4 & 5. They did recover the full original audio of episodes 4 & 5, so the animation will be matched with the original voices of William Hartnell, et al. As Toby Hadoke says, in the Commentary: "A doughty fan with a microphone next to their telly recorded the sound track."

[Added after I received and watched the DVD:] I was pleasantly surprised by the two animated episodes. The animation is grayscale; I've added a still to this page as a Customer Image to give you an idea of how it looks. If you aren't going to go to the expense to get Disney-quality animation, then this grayscale animation is an elegant solution. It rather looks like a modern graphic novel. In particular, look at the characters' eyes. Whoever animated the eyes is a genius. Susan occasionally looks like a scarecrow and the Doctor like a wrinkled apple, but overall, I thought it was a decent effort. The sound on the two animated sequences still has a bit of the microphone recorded sound to it, and I had to turn up the volume a bit, but, overall, it wasn't a problem for me.

This is a decent episode of Dr. Who, which originally aired in August/September 1964. The show has six 25-minute episodes. I take a star off because there isn't much science fiction in the tale. This is just my opinion - it's a historical show and has nice twists and turns to the plot, but it's still not science fiction and the driving force behind the plot is that it is an escape thriller. The only science-fiction-y moment is when Barbara says that she learned her lesson about trying to change the future in "The Aztecs".

But there is a lot to like about "Reign of Terror". The sets are great and the atmosphere appropriately tense. There is some nice acting, and I particularly got a kick out of the jailer, a sodden bully who's alternately servile. He's humorous without meaning to be.

The attention to historical detail seems very good. For example, when Robespierre is arrested, he holds a hand over the lower part of his face. In real life, Robespierre unsuccessfully attempted to kill himself before capture, by shooting himself through the jaw (some believe he was shot by one of his captors). On the other hand, as revealed in the Info Text, Extra #6, the Secretary of the Napoleon I Society wrote a letter to the BBC stating that "Today's episode [#6] was, factually speaking, nonsense."

One thing I noticed is that I am not fond of this series' incidental music. That's a surprise for me, because usually I don't even notice the incidental music.

Extras on the DVD:
** Commentary on all six episodes, which I found great fun to listen to. It is found under the Audio Options Extra #5, but I wanted to describe it first. Moderated by Toby Hadoke, who is, once again, a fan extraordinaire with many facts at his fingertips. Commentators include Carole Ann Ford (plays Susan), Neville Smith (plays D'Argenson, the blonde panicky escapee at the farmhouse), Jeffry Wickham (plays Webster, Ian's English cellmate, who promptly dies), Caroline Hunt (plays Danielle, living at the safe house, her 1st job straight out of drama school), Patrick Marley (soldier on the left arresting Robespierre), Timothy Coombe (his first job after being promoted to production assistant) and Ronald Pickup (the physician who betrays Susan and Barbara, in his very first job on TV). In addition, Paul Vanezis and Philip Morris talk about the search for the missing episodes.
The commentary for the two animated episodes was recorded before the animation was completed, but the commentators did have the audio and photos to go by.
The commentators have a lot of fun together. Jeffry Wickam, for example, appears in only one episode, ever, of Doctor Who, and he's flat on his back dying in short order. Yet, "It absolutely amazes me that I quite often get people saying how enormously they admire my artistry as Webster."
In 1981, Dr. Who Magazine published a list of lost episodes. On his own, Paul Vanezis "started writing letters to television stations all over the world, hoping that some episodes might turn up." Though we may be unhappy with BBC's decision to destroy old footage, Phillip Morris reminds us that "General Hindsight never won a war."
Last but not least, at one point, Hadoke says to Neville Smith, "You're about to get rhubarbed to death." You have to listen to the commentary to find out what he was talking about!
[If you're interested, the sfx.co.uk website has an April, 2012, article that I found fun and interesting. It's about how some recent commentaries have been recorded for Doctor Who, including photos of studio sessions. You can find it by googling "Doctor Who: Recording The DVD Commentaries".]
1. "Don't Lose Your Head - The Making of the Reign of Terror" (25 minutes) Commentators are Carole Ann Ford, William Russell (plays Ian) and Timothy Combe. The filming had some low points, some of which can be summed up as The Curse of Lime Grove Studios. The studio was very cramped and very hot. So hot that a couple times the sprinklers came on in the middle of filming. The odd oblong shape made set design as well as camera placement difficult.
2. "Robespierre's Domain: Animated Backgrounds Tour" (4 minutes) While listening to audio from the show of action that takes place in the animated episodes 4 & 5, you are shown the animated backgrounds before the animated characters were added. All in black & white, of course, and quite atmospheric.
3. "The Reign of Terror - Photo Gallery" (4 minutes) A variety of stills are shown. There are color photos from rehearsals, and black & white stills from the show and as well as the empty sets. It's all accompanied by a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise.
4. "The Reign of Terror - Animation Gallery" (4 minutes) I found this very intersting. There are character studies, as a painter might make, with an actor's face from different angles. There are examples of where the animator started from a photo of an actor and then translated it into animation. There are examples where the animation started with a line drawing of the actor, and then filled out into the full animation.
5. Audio Options:
...A) Feature Audio (ie. regular viewing)
...B) Commentary
6. Production Info Text. This can be viewed only on the four non-animated episodes. Reviewers don't often mention the Info Text. Am I the only one who enjoys it? For example, at the beginning of episode 1 of "Reign of Terror", we see the "first ever on-screen materialisation [British spelling] of the full-sized police box prop". I liked the details on the differences between filming TV in the 60's, versus today. Some mechanical/actor/continuity/costume bloopers are mentioned, as well as historical tidbits: "Nearly three quarters of those condemned by the revolutionary tribunals were workers and peasants". And how about clothes hangers? When were they invented?
Director Henric Hirsch is mentioned many times in the commentary and other extras. He collapsed on the set, from nervous exhaustion, for a couple reasons combined. In the other extras, the unfortunate common view seems to be that "Reign of Terror" ruined Hirsch for any more BBC jobs. In the Info Text, however, it says that Hirsch went on to direct five other dramas for BBC.
7. PDF. On your computer DVD ROM, view the Radio Times Listings
8. Coming Soon Trailer. This is a GREAT trailer, scary and suspenseful, for "The Ark in Space", a superlative Dr. Who episode with Tom Baker.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thanks for the animation March 2 2013
By Jeffrey J. Lyons - Published on Amazon.com
I am glad that 2-Entertain has taken to animating a few classic Doctor Who stories because it allows fans of the classic series to still enjoy the stories from the past. As most classic Doctor Who fans know the BBC wiped many of the the stories from the Hartnell-Troughton years to save money. All of the audio exists thanks to fans who would plop their cassette recorders in front of the TV each week to to capture the original shows as they aired in the 1960's. The BBC did not have the same marketing attitude of US TV producers who kept a lot of old TV shows that some of us would like to forget. But it allowed these shows to continue on in syndication for years (and years and years).

The animation here is pretty basic and I think it is done in such a way to reflect the original version in its original concept. The story is more of an historical drama rather than Sci-Fi. Granted I would prefer if the original 'live' performances still existed but this is a fine substitution.

The DVD includes a "making of" documentary like the others. But we are talking about stories that are about a half-century old so, sadly, many of the original actors and crew behind this story have passed away. So instead of their input you get input from people who are knowledgeable about the inner workings of the BBC from an intelligent point of view rather than hands on.

I am a collector of these DVD's so this is a great addition to my collection. But for the average person this might be a little slow to watch.
18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Doctor Who at it's best!! Jan. 4 2013
By David F. Humphrey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I love this 6 part story because it is just history and not Sci-Fi. When Doctor Who started it was an educational program!! The Doctor and companions traveled back in time as a fun way for kids to learn and see historical events ie.: The Aztecs, the rein of terror in France, Marco Polo (which I hope will be next to be animated.) King Richard The Lion Hearted ect. ect., also to teach them a bit about science too which is why Willian Hartnel often times sounds like a college professor. This all stopped with the Second Doctor Patrick Troughton I believe The Highlanders where we meet long running companion Jammie McCrimmon was the last straight historic story with no aliens or monsters.

As for the BBC having found the original audio tracks for the 2 missing episodes (4. The Tyrant of France and 5. A Bargain of Necessity) it's thanks to kids who recorded the audio on reel to reels and the new cassette tapes that we have the audio. On of the bonus features for the Partick Troughton story The Invasion (The first Doctor Who to have animated episodes filling in the missing ones) goes into details about how they cleaned up and spliced together different audio sources to get the best quality they could. If you get the missing episodes cd set these home made recordings are the soundtrack you're listening too same with the loose cannon reconstructions

I say a giant three cheers to the BBC for working hard to satisfy the fans and get these lost storylines to us devoted fans I can't wait for more in the future!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great movie... glad to have it. June 1 2013
By J Mac - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I love all the Dr Who older movies, as well as the newer ones. Had this on CD, but it is much better having the images. Even though some are cartoons. Invasions also has cartoons, from having lost the films. This being the first Doctor, it is always
a favorite.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The reconstructed parts blew my mind April 23 2013
By Theodore Sammis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I have watched Doctor Who for years and while in High School my public television re ran every episode of the original series from start to finish. At the time I really enjoyed the First Doctor and especially the second - I hated that thier were missing episodes and read every Target novelization I could get my hands on. Reign of terror was not one. So When I got to see this it was such a joy to finally see some "new" classic Doctor Who. What I was not expecting was how well the animated reconstruction of the missing parts was done. I really hope they continue this trend and can fill in more of the missing shows in a similar fashion.
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