The Doctor meets Robespierre and Dennis Spooner moves his characters around like pawns on a chessboard.
“Even now convention member are at work plotting my downfall. But I will triumph even if I have to execute each and every one of them!”
The Tyrant of France is another lost episode. How disappointing to get three episodes in and have to go to a telesnap reconstruction. When I covered Marco Polo, I used the audio version released by the BBC. For this episode, I am using a reconstruction. What this means is a group of fans have used existing photographs from rehearsals or promotional still and synced these up with the existing audio. Any action sequences are typically described via onscreen text. Naturally, it isn’t as much fun to experience a story this way, especially if the story has existing episodes, but at least it is preserved in some form rather than lost completely. We Doctor Who fans are lucky that every episode exists in some form. Not every show from this era of television can make the same claim.
We finally meet the man behind The Reign of Terror, or at the very least, the man who will be the villain of this piece: Robespierre. He meets with The Doctor and Lemaitre at the beginning of this episode. Robespierre is portrayed as harsh, driven, and cruel. He sees anti-revolutionaries as a hindrance to the cause. He sees opposition around every corner. The Doctor tries to talk reason to Robespierre, helping him to see the futility of his executions and attempts to root out the revolutionaries. The Doctor is saved from spinning a tale about the province he is pretended to represent as Robespierre launches into a tirade about his work and those who oppose it. As The Doctor challenges Robespierre’s opinions, Robespierre interprets his words as affirmation, hearing only what he wants to hear. It seems as if The Doctor is prodding, ever so lightly, Robespierre to reconsider his actions. Has The Doctor reversed his view on changing history? Or is he, like Barbara, tempted to bring a positive influence to a beloved period of Earth history? The French Revolution is his favorite period, we are told.
Meanwhile, Susan appears to have become ill from something in the jail. Barbara convinces Leon to find a physician who will be discreet. Jules and Jean arrive soon after Leon leaves. They are carrying the unconscious and bound body of Ian.
The tailor from whom The Doctor traded his clothes meets with Lemaitre and accuses The Doctor of being an imposter. Lemaitre takes the evidence offered (the clothes and The Doctor’s ring) and pays the tailor, telling him to tell no one of this incident. So once more, he reveals a divided allegiance.
Ian comes to and is reunited with Barbara and Susan. He also finds he is with the men whom Webster asked him to find. Ian gives the message, which is meaningless to Jean. Unfortunately, Jean has not met James Stirling the spy. He posits that Stirling may have an alias that allows him to move freely. I think we can make a good guess who he may be.
Barbara and Susan are put into peril once more when the physician turns them over to the soldiers once more. This is our first clue that Leon may not be entirely trustworthy. We discover this as Ian leaves to meet with Leon at an abandoned church. Lemaitre has Barbara taken to be questioned…questioned by The Doctor The episode ends with Leon being revealed to be a French spy working to bring down the counter-revolutionaries.
There is a lot of movement in this episode. It seems odd that in the previous episodes there isn’t much happening, and this one we seem to have endless moving of characters from place to place. With regard to this type of movement and action, I’m not sure The Reign of Terror is paced well. Spooner obviously needed to do something to show us Lemaitre is a protagonist while Leon is not, and having the women recaptured was the simplest way of doing so. It isn’t unreasonable to have Susan grow ill from her time in the jail, but it seems to convolute the episode. While this part of the plot is a bit weaker, the revelation of Leon’s deception was handled well. We could have had more hints that Leon was James Stirling so that the shock was greater when he turned out to be a Revolutionary. Regardless, his position in the counter-revolutionary movement threatens to bring down the Parisian movement. Meanwhile, having no other character left, Lemaitre must be James Stirling. His work to reunite The Doctor and the companions, to save Ian when Webster died, and his hiding of The Doctor’s identity shows there is more to him than just being part of Robespierre’s council.
Again, a lot of things happened in this episode and a lot of people were moved around. Typically, this type of movement happens during the penultimate episode of a story. But we still have two episodes to go. Hopefully the pace will even out before the story ends. While Dennis Spooner is not a bad writer, the pace from episode to episode is quite inconsistent, and I hope that he improves this in future stories.