The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara materialise near
Paris in 1794, five years after the French Revolution. They
become involved with an escape chain rescuing prisoners from
the guillotine and get caught up in the machinations of an
English undercover spy...
so Doctor Who's video reign comes to an end. This two-tape
set contains the only remaining episodes left to be released
on VHS: parts one, two, three and six of The Reign of Terror,
episodes one and three of The Faceless Ones and the
opening instalment of The Web of Fear. Understandably
this is quite a bitty collection, but at least most of The
Reign of Terror exists, including its final episode.
The absent instalments of Reign are represented by
a short summary segment presented by Carole Ann Ford (alias
Susan), which was recorded a whole decade ago, when this story
was originally scheduled for release. The segment is supplemented
by audio excerpts, stills and cine-film clips, but I am disappointed
to report that, unlike the BBC's Crusade and Ice Warriors
box sets, there is no audio CD containing the soundtracks
of the two missing episodes.
Unfortunately this, the most complete story in the box set,
is also the weakest. The Reign of Terror veers away
from the "witnessing history without interfering with it"
remit of the earlier Marco Polo and The Aztecs
by showing Napoleon Bonaparte (Tony Wall) playing an entirely
fictitious role in events, and suggesting a flavour of A
Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel, but
it falls short of a full-blown literary pastiche, such as
The Smugglers or The Highlanders. The tone of
the narrative is a similarly middling affair. Writer Dennis
Spooner and director Henric Hirsch seem undecided as to whether
this tale should be comical or gritty. On the one hand, we
are have the over-the-top characters of the jailer (Jack Cunningham)
and road works overseer (Dallas Cavell), but on the other,
we witness Susan's despair while in prison and Robespierre's
(Keith Anderson) gruesome gunshot wound.
Whereas serials such as Marco Polo (recently released
on audio) defy the old generalisations about the historicals
being boring, this one reaffirms that impression. The story
drags along rather tiresomely, especially during the first
three episodes. The end of part one is a particular victim
of padding, with unnecessary cuts back and forth between a
burning building and the prone body of the Doctor (William
Hartnell) elongating the cliffhanger by a good minute or so.
Perhaps aware of the story's turgidity, musician Stanley Myers
attempts to compensate with his conspicuous score, but the
result is far too overstated.
Reign of Terror does contain some good character moments,
especially those involving the regular TARDIS crew, but it's
The TARDIS lands in Gatwick Airport in 1966. Polly witnesses
a murder and is then kidnapped by the perpetrator. After Ben
also disappears, the Doctor and Jamie discover that a great
many other young people have vanished...
The Patrick Troughton episodes on the second tape could give
viewers the (not unjustified) impression that the Second Doctor's
era was entirely composed of stories about alien invaders
trying to take over present-day Earth. Another commonality
between The Faceless Ones and The Web of Fear
is that they both deal with methods of public transport: air
travel and the London Underground respectively.
stories also boast excellent first episodes. The Faceless
Ones has a murder within five minutes of the opening titles
(our only chance to see Troughton's title sequence accompanied
by the original version of the theme tune) and a grotesque
alien arm within 20 minutes.
Episode Three allows us a chance to see what might have been:
Pauline Collins as Samantha Briggs, who was asked to become
a regular companion by producer Innes Lloyd, but turned the
offer down. Samantha is a very spirited character, who puts
on a brave front ("I've got somethin' in me eye!") as she
and Jamie (Frazer Hines) search for clues to the disappearance
of her brother.
film of Episode Three had suffered extensive damage, with
several burnt sections lost altogether, but the Restoration
Team have done a splendid job of patching up the gaps.
as a whole (the entire six-part story is available on audio
CD), the serial fails to give the faceless alien Chameleons
a convincing motivation for stealing the identities of their
victims. It also unceremoniously writes out the characters
of Ben (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills). However,
those factors don't affect the enjoyment of these two surviving
The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria find themselves in the London
Underground, the tunnels of which are being overrun by robotic
Yeti and a strange web-like substance...
Web of Fear gets off to an even better start than The
Faceless Ones. After a prologue sequence in which the
TARDIS gets caught in some space-borne web while a museum-piece
Yeti comes back to life, the time travellers arrive in London
to find the city deserted and under martial law. This episode
features some remarkable sets by David Myerscough-Jones, whose
re-creations of Tube stations and tunnels even managed to
fool the London Underground authorities (who assumed the BBC
had filmed there without permission). This is gripping stuff.
unlike previous collections of orphaned episodes, and indeed
the first tape in this collection, there are no presenters
or on-screen information to convey what happens during the
remainder of these two Troughton tales. However, the tape
concludes with a one-minute sequence comprising the surviving
scenes from the other five episodes of Web (which is
also available on audio CD and MP3-CD).
There is little to connect the two tapes in this compendium
of miscellany, but this box set is no less welcome for it.