The Doctor attempts to take Ian and Barbara home, but instead they end up in 18th century France.
“Hmm. Still here?”
The TARDIS materializes on Earth. The Doctor, fed up with Ian and Barbara’s insinuations that he is incapable of controlling the TARDIS, tells the school teachers that they are home and they can now leave. What would you do? Having been on many adventures together up to this point, would you take The Doctor at his word? Would you assume that this is indeed your time and place? Ian and Barbara do not. Thus, they begin trying to charm The Doctor into staying just long enough to make sure it is 1960s Earth. Ian sweet talks The Doctor into going out for a drink, which surely wouldn’t take too much time out of The Doctor’s busy and important schedule. If not for this, The Doctor would have just left them. It is a good thing he didn’t.
The TARDIS crew discover that they are in a forest and upon finding a boy dressed in rags, learn they are in France. The Doctor insists that being in France instead of England is actually quite accurate when you consider the distances they have traveled in The TARDIS. But Ian and Barbara fear they are in another time as well. This soon becomes confirmed as they find an abandoned farmhouse with 18th century clothes and maps signed by Robespierre. Our heroes are in the middle of The French Revolution.
The house is actually a link in an underground railroad for people attempting to escape France. D’Argenson and Rouvray, two counter-revolutionaries, have been hiding in the house and confront The TARDIS crew, but the more level-headed Rouvray decides that our heroes are harmless travelers. He warns that if they wish to remain in France they will have to choose a side. Matters are complicated when soldiers enter the courtyard of the farmhouse manor. Ian is given a gun as he joins the men at the window. The soldiers are looking for the D‘Argenson and Rouvray. The men go into the courtyard and are executed. The soldiers discover Ian, Barbara, and Susan in the farm house and take them captive. Before leaving, the soldiers decide to burn down the house – with The Doctor inside! As the soldiers march the captives away, the boy in rags watches from the bushes. Presumably he is a guide on this underground railroad and he will most-likely play a part in rescuing The Doctor from the burning house.
This is the first non-Lucarotti historical. It is also the first script by Dennis Spooner, who will later become script editor for Doctor Who. Thus far, Spooner hasn’t eased us into the time period the way Lucarotti did. Perhaps, being in recent history, Spooner assumed there would be a basic knowledge of the Revolution, and maybe at the time there was. I have to admit that my knowledge of the subject is a bit rusty since I haven’t really done much in the way of study on The French Revolution since high school, and that certainly wasn’t as detailed as we may be getting in this story. But truth be told, The French Revolution is an extremely chaotic period of history. An entire society was completely uprooted in a brutal rebellion. Perhaps it would do us all a bit of good to review some basics at this point. The Reign of Terror in question was a period of The French Revolution where great violence and executions took place. These who were considered to be enemies of the revolution were often imprisoned and killed. These “enemies” tended to be French nobility and the Roman Catholic Church. To make matters worse, two political factions were struggling for power: The Girondins and The Jacobins. A Committee of Public Safety was established and Maximilien Robespierre was put in charge of this committee, whose mandate was to suppress counter-revolutionaries and raise a military. From what we have seen so far on The Reign of Terror, the soldiers are part of this army, an army composed of revolutionaries, many of whom were peasants with little to no military training. This tension is actually seen in the episode as they are quick to talk back to commanding officers and seem to obey orders so long as they are given good reason. Instead of executing Ian, Barbara, and Susan, they decide it would be more fun to see them killed by the guillotine. D‘Argenson and Rouvray were counter revolutionaries attempting to escape France because their lives were in danger under The Reign of Robespierre’s committee. Rouvray seems to have been an officer in the military at some point because he was able to confuse and command some of the soldiers.
Hopefully this is enough background information for the story. If more details become necessary, I shall attempt to do more research. I have to admire Dennis Spooner for choosing an extremely convoluted period of history for his first story. It may not have the sense of fun and adventure that Lucarotti brought, but it should prove just as educational, even if I have to put more work into finding historical details to round out my knowledge and enjoyment.