Doctor Who Sunday: The Reign of Terror

8 years ago
Sharona Lin

Doctor Who is one of the most iconic sci-fi series from British television, and has taken its place among other sci-fi giants such as Star TrekStar Wars and Battlestar Galactica.

And with the 50th anniversary fast approaching, what better celebration of Doctor Who can be had than to watch every single episode? Aidan and Sharona have taken on this mission. In place of your regular scheduled Doctor Who, every Sunday we’ll cover a Doctor Who Classic episode.

We’re well aware we’re out of our minds, but here goes…

Before this: The Sensorites

Season 1, Episode 8: The Reign of Terror


The Reign of Terror is the final story of Doctor Who’s Season 1, and is also the only season finale not to have any science fiction elements whatsoever, apart from the TARDIS and its crew. Two episodes of six are missing, and have been animated, but we watched it without animations.


To be honest, this episode didn’t really interest me. Maybe it was because The Sensorites was much more fun, or maybe it was because there weren’t enough beheadings – to be honest that’s all I really know about the French Revolution. Also, Marie Antoinette. It might have been because some of the episodes were missing. Luckily, four episodes are still intact, so it could be worse. The Reign of Terror is also the last episode of this first season of Doctor Who. It was only afterwards I realised it was the season finale, and it really isn’t obvious. Forget the flashy, huge spectacles that are modern Doctor Who finales, and prepare yourself for a story that literally has no sci-fi in it at all (save the fact that two aliens and two teachers from the 1960s are wandering around revolutionary France.)

DW Reign of Terror 3

In any case, The Reign of Terror is set in France during the French Revolution. The Doctor has promised to take the long-suffering Ian and Barbara home, and this time he makes it all the way to Europe. But not quite England, and not quite the 1960s, where they want to be. Instead, France. It doesn’t get better from there: the four have a penchant for getting separated, and the Doctor ends up travelling alone, while the others are put in prison as spies.

I’m not a French Revolution expert and on top of that, the historical episodes don’t interest me as much as the sci-fi ones (terrible costumes and all), so this episode didn’t really resonate with me. Napoleon does make an appearance, and the Doctor pulls that time-honoured trick of pretending to be someone he’s definitely not. He does it better in The Romans, just sayin’.

Anyway, this story is the end of the season, which is great, because now there are only 25 seasons left. Hooray!

DW Reign of Terror 5 Aidan

Finally we reach it. The end of the first season of Doctor Who. This is a fairly big moment, although there is one small problem – two of the episodes are missing. This, combined with the fact that The Sensorites was a stunning episode, make The Reign of Terror a slightly anti-climactic ending to the series. However, it is still enjoyable, and features Napoleon Bonaparte, so it isn’t all bad. And there are spies, traitors, counter spies, sleazy prison officers and the Doctor wearing fancy dress clothes, so all is not lost! It is enjoyable, if a slightly poorer, finale for the first season.

DW Reign of Terror 6

These early historical episodes of Doctor Who so far have tended to be more uninspired than alien stories, and The Reign of Terror is another unfortunate victim of this, although out of the historical stories so far it is one of the better ones. With their habits of getting separated, all the companions visit some form of aspect of the French Revolution – The Doctor for example impersonates an official from a distant district in the country, whilst Ian, Barbara and Susan experience the prison system, and then the counter-revolutionary movement. Barbara and Ian even come across Napoleon Bonaparte in their various exploits!

Historically, there are going to be problems with the depiction, although they did capture elements of The Terror which seem fairly accurate – for example, the fear. There were fewer mistakes in the lines of this story as well, although the graphics were again laughable. Then again, this was a cheap early 1960’s show that wasn’t exactly intended to last very long, so the strength of the show at this stage was not in the graphics, but rather in the stories. A good way to watch these early stories, if bad graphics turn you off, is to try and re-imagine how it would look with modern graphics – and a modern production team. Of course, it is also possible just to sit back and enjoy the shows as they are, acting mishaps and all.

Unlike Marco Polo, which has no footage left, the missing episodes still have a few scenes left. This does help break up the dull nature of the audio-only episodes. The story was enjoyable, just not as powerful as the alien episodes. Thus in conclusion, the end of Season 1 was slightly anti-climactic, and because of the missing episodes, you can choose to skip this story if you do not feel the strange compulsion to watch every episode.

DW Reign of Terror 1

Next: Planet of Giants

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