BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage

Entertainment Cult

Contact Us

The Reign of Terror

Production Code: H

First Transmitted

A Land of Fear - 08/08/1964 17:15

Guests of Madame Guillotine - 15/08/1964 17:15

A Change of Identity - 22/08/1964 17:30

The Tyrant of France - 29/08/1964 17:15

A Bargain of Necessity - 05/09/1964 17:30

Prisoners of Conciergerie - 12/09/1964 17:30


The TARDIS materialises not far from Paris in 1794 - one of the bloodiest years following the French Revolution of 1789. The travellers become involved with an escape chain rescuing prisoners from the guillotine and get caught up in the machinations of an English undercover spy, James Stirling - alias Lemaitre, governor of the Conciergerie Prison.

The Doctor - posing as a Regional Officer of the Provinces - is twice brought before the great tyrant, Robespierre himself, and has to talk himself out of trouble. Ian and Barbara, meanwhile, have a close encounter with a future ruler of France, Napoleon Bonaparte.

As events reach their climax, Robespierre is overthrown - shot in the jaw and dragged off to the prison - and the Doctor and his friends slip quietly away.

Episode Endings

The Doctor lies unconscious in a locked room in a deserted house as fire spreads rapidly through the building.

In the Conciergerie Prison, Ian watches helplessly through a grille in his cell wall as Barbara and Susan are led away to be taken to the guillotine.

The shopkeeper from whom the Doctor obtained his disguise as a Regional Officer of the Provinces tells the prison jailer that he has evidence of a traitor - and holds out the Doctor's ring.

Ian meets Leon Colbert in the crypt of a disused church. Revolutionary soldiers suddenly appear, but when Ian turns to warn Leon he finds that the man is aiming a pistol at him. The traitorous Leon announces that Ian has walked into his trap.

The Doctor arrives at Jules Renan's house - but he has brought Lemaitre with him. Jules exclaims that the Doctor has betrayed them.

As the viewer sees an image of a spectacular starscape, the Doctor tells Ian that they must search for their destiny in the stars.


A Tale of Two Cities.

The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Dialogue Triumphs

Road works overseer : "I suppose you think you're very clever."

The Doctor : "Well, without any undue modesty, yes!"

Robespierre : "Death, always death! Do you think I want this carnage?"

Barbara Wright : "You can't influence or change history. I learned that lesson with the Aztecs."

The Doctor : "The events will happen, just as they are written. I'm afraid so, and we can't stem the tide. But at least we can stop being carried away with the flood!"

Ian Chesterton : "What are we going to see and learn next, Doctor?"

The Doctor : "Well, unlike the old adage, my boy, our destiny is in the stars, so let's go and search for it..."


The Doctor only admits to the TARDIS having displayed two 'minor' faults before [the failure of the chameleon circuit and the Fast Return switch jamming].

The French Revolution is the Doctor's favourite period of Earth history. As usual he has no money on him and is forced to barter with his ring.

Barbara once took a holiday in Somerset. Susan is terrified of rats.



The TARDIS Scanner


Paris and environs, July 1794.



William Russell appears only in pre-filmed inserts in the second and third episodes as he was on holiday during the weeks when they were recorded.

The second episode features Doctor Who's first ever location filming: some shots of the Doctor walking through the countryside supposedly toward Paris, with Brian Proudfoot doubling for William Hartnell.

This story was a replacement for a postponed and ultimately abandoned David Whitaker six-parter about sixteenth century Spain after the Armada, which was to have been directed by Gerald Blake.

As producer and story editor respectively of the 'Saturday afternoon serial', it was originally intended that Verity Lambert and David Whitaker should provide a replacement programme to run in Doctor Who's slot while it was off air for its between-seasons break. They were eventually spared this requirement and the slot was filled instead by repeats of a comedy series called The Valiant Varneys starring Reg Varney.


An elaborate model of Paris was constructed for the production but ultimately unused. It was later given to Carole Ann Ford as a present. (There was no such model. What Ford was given was a design model made by Roderick Laing to help him in his work.)


The hum of the control room can be heard in the forest before the TARDIS appears.

When the TARDIS finally materializes, it does so silently, and the flashing light shines through the windows. (From The Dalek Invasion of Earth onwards the TARDIS materialization is reasonably consistent. Deviations from the norm also feature in The Keys of Marinus, The Aztecs, Colony in Space, Planet of Evil, The Brain of Morbius and The Invasion of Time.)

The clothes found in a box in the farmhouse fit the travellers perfectly.

The dying Webster tells Ian of 'Le Chien Oris' and Jules Renan, but he remembers him talking of 'The Sinking Ship' and Barrass.

Renan has made a rule that the escape line works on first name only terms, yet he knows two of the people on it as Rouvray and D' Argenson.

The involvement of Robespierre (who never controlled the Terror) and Napoleon in this story is historically inaccurate.

Fashion Victim

Ian's comment on Barbara's hair: 'Hairstyle's a bit modern, but it's alright.'

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - William Hartnell

Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill

Ian Chesterton - William Russell

Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford

D'Argenson - Neville Smith

Danielle - Caroline Hunt

Jailer - Jack Cunningham

Jean - Roy Herrick

Judge - Howard Charlton

Jules Renan - Donald Morely

Lemaitre - James Cairncross

Léon Colbert - Edward Brayshaw

Lieutenant - Ken Lawrence

Napoleon - Tony Wall

Paul Barrass - John Law

Peasant - Denis Cleary

Physician - Ronald Pickup

Road works overseer - Dallas Cavell

Robespierre - Keith Anderson

Rouvray - Laidlaw Dalling

Sergeant - Robert Hunter

Shopkeeper - John Barrard

Small boy - Peter Walker

Soldier - James Hall

Soldier - Terry Bale

Soldier - Patrick Marley

Webster - Jeffry Wickham


Director - Henric Hirsch

Director - John Gorrie

Assistant Floor Manager - Michael Cager

Associate Producer - Mervyn Pinfield

Costumes - Daphne Dare

Designer - Roderick Laing

Film Cameraman - Peter Hamilton

Film Editor - Caroline Shields

Incidental Music - Stanley Myers

Make-Up - Jill Summers

Make-Up - Sonia Markham

Producer - Verity Lambert

Production Assistant - Timothy Combe

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - David Whitaker

Studio Lighting - Howard King

Studio Sound - Ray Angel

Studio Sound - Chick Anthony

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Writer - Dennis Spooner

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

As you would expect of Dennis Spooner, there are jokey characters (the jailer and the overseer who calls the Doctor 'skinny') and good dialogue. What is more surprising is the uncompromising nature of the story, in keeping with the historical period presented: the peasant-soldiers are vicious, the cells are dingy, and Robespierre is shot in the jaw off-screen.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The Reign of Terror is the first of the series' historical stories to feature some truly historic events: specifically the downfall of Robespierre in 1794 and the first steps on the road to power of the young Napoleon Bonaparte.

Perhaps conscious that the violent, bloody nature of the French Revolution might otherwise make for unduly grim subject matter for Doctor Who, Dennis Spooner has leavened his scripts with occasional moments of whimsical humour - something of a departure for the series - perhaps most notably through the essentially comic character of the jailer of the Conciergerie Prison. He has also avoided focusing on the executions themselves - the guillotine is seen only in a stock film shot. Instead, drawing inspiration from The Scarlet Pimpernel, he has woven his story around a covert organisation rescuing people from the guillotine and helping them to escape to safety in England.

The time travellers stumble upon this escape route shortly after the TARDIS arrives in France, when they come upon a secluded house that turns out to be the meeting point where fleeing aristocrats are given disguises and documentation to help them on their way. There they meet two such escapees, Rouvray and d'Argenson, who are subsequently killed when Revolutionary soldiers descend upon the house.

'There is excellent attention to detail in this scene,' noted Andrew Thomas, writing in the Premiere Issue of DreamWatch dated October 1994. 'The [soldiers' costumes] are authentic and demonstrate the kind of patched together helmets, "night cap" forage caps and uniforms typical of this period, which saw the clothing and armament industries of France overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of untrained conscripts forced into service in the Revolutionary armies. The "citizen's army" is also well brought to life, with one soldier sneering roundly at an officer, who has ordered him to cover the back of the house, "Cover it yourself - Citizen". He is persuaded to do his duty by reminding himself... "It's a long time since I had a Royalist to myself." That one line chillingly symbolises the class hatreds which erupted in France as the Revolution unfolded.'

Subsequently the action moves to Paris, where the viewer is introduced to some of the leading figures in the escape committee - Jules Renan, his friend Jean and their associate Leon Colbert. The portrayal of these characters, however, was rather less to Thomas's liking: 'The presentation of the Royalists as pipe-smoking, jolly good chaps - "Not all Frenchmen can allow innocent people to be led to the guillotine, Barbara" - and the Revolutionaries as foul-mouthed and stupid clearly [reflects]... Dennis Spooner's schoolbook vision of the events of the Revolution. Nowhere are there references to the bloody Royalist uprisings then going on in Brittany and the Vendée and the continuing threat from the none-too libertarian monarchs of Europe, just waiting to have another go at the Revolution after receiving a bloody nose in the days of its birth.'

Although there is some validity in this observation, it should in fairness be pointed out that Jules in one scene specifically states that he is not an aristocrat, and that when Colbert is revealed to be a traitor to the escape committee Spooner has Barbara challenging Ian over just such naÏve assumptions about the respective merits of the two factions: 'The Revolution isn't all bad, and neither are the people who support it... You check your history books, Ian, before you decide what people deserve.' The fact that Barbara has had a brief romantic association with Léon in no way diminishes the force of the point that she makes.

Characterisation is, in fact, one of Spooner's fortés, and of particular note in this regard are his depictions of Lemaitre (ultimately revealed to be the English spy James Stirling), Robespierre and Napoleon. Also well served are the four regulars; Tim Munro, writing in Star Begotten Volume 3 No. 3 dated Summer 1989, was particularly admiring of the treatment of the Doctor:

'Spooner covers every aspect of the first Doctor, allowing Hartnell to give one of his finest performances. We see his developing affection for the teachers... But we also see his pig-headedness; threatening to put them off the ship out of wounded pride...'

Production values, while not perhaps reaching the dizzy heights of the previous historicals, are generally good. Director Henric Hirsch found the production a stressful one (he reportedly collapsed in the studio before recording of the third episode, resulting in John Gorrie having to stand in for him), but this is not at all apparent from the finished product, which is very polished. There are good performances from virtually all the cast (a rare exception being James Cairncross, whose delivery of his lines as Lemaitre tends to be rather wooden); and Keith Anderson as Robespierre and Tony Wall as Napoleon are both deserving of special praise.

One of the less successful aspects of the production is Stanley Myers' incidental music, which tends to be rather trite and irritating, but even this has its admirers, including Munro: 'Stanley Myers' richly-textured and detailed music uses an unusually large range of instruments. His constant echoing of the "Marseillese" is effective, and there is a wonderful "Doctor theme", which blends oboe, flute and harpsichord.'

All things considered, The Reign of Terror rounded off the series' first season in fine style.

< The SensoritesFirst DoctorPlanet of Giants >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy