Ian is captured by Leon, who is preparing to take down the counter-revolutionary smugglers.
“You should know by now, young lady, that you cannot get rid of the Old Doctor as easy as that.”
Just as Robespierre hung over the previous episodes, James Stirling becomes the object of pursuit in this episode. Leon has Ian shackled and interrogated in his attempt to find and capture James Stirling, who Leon believes could work to destroy all the progress made by The Revolution. Too bad for Leon that no one knows the identity of James Stirling. During the interrogation, Ian becomes irritated and tells Leon that he is a time traveler. Jules chooses this moment to arrive and there is the finest shootout that a missing episode can provide.
Meanwhile, Robespierre finds position in danger as he learns of a plot in the council to bring an indictment against him. In his panic, he decides to move against the counter-revolutionaries in force. He urges Lemaitre to follow deputy Paul Barras to a secret meeting where he believes there is a plot to move against him.
The Doctor arranges for Barbara to escape the prison under the pretense of having her followed to the counter-revolutionary hideout. Barbara learns of Leon’s death at the hands of Jules. Here is where we have one of the crowning points of this story so far. Ian and Jules attempt to console Barbara of Leon’s death, but she will have none of it. She insists that while he was a traitor to Jules and Jean’s organization, Leon was a patriot to his beliefs. Both Ian and Jules have difficulty accepting this, but Barbara chastises them both, reminding them that The Revolution started for a reason and that good was accomplished for the world in spite of tyrants such as Robespierre. In a way, she is correct. The Reign of Terror was a horrific chapter of French history, but France is better for it. The Monarchy was corrupt. To say no good came from The Revolution because of Robespierre and The Reign is to dismiss as worthless all the progress made since then. This monologue by Barbara brings forth the uncomfortable truth that there are good people who are act based on their convictions on either side of a given cause and to merely dismiss those on the opposing side as evil just because you disagree with them is to not see the faces of those you fight against. Leon may well have been a good man, but he was fighting for the side that worked for Robespierre. Just a few years earlier, before Robespierre began his tyranny, Jules and Jean would have been working for the side of the Monarchy and the positions would have been reversed. Scenes like these are what really make watching Classic Doctor Who so enjoyable. It challenges ideas and notions, but it builds a case for them rather than just casting something as wrong.
Unfortunately, The Doctor fails to get Susan out of her cell. Both are captured almost instantly and Lemaitre takes The Doctor aside to interrogate him. He reveals that he never believed The Doctor’s story about being a provincial and we learn that he kept the information to himself so he would have evidence against The Doctor, forcing The Doctor to be his ally. Lemaitre makes a deal with The Doctor. He will release Susan if The Doctor will arrange a meeting with Jules.
I understand that the nature of BBC Drama in the 1960s made it necessary for The Reign of Terror to be a six part story. However, I think it would have been a very tight four or five parter. There is an excellent and exciting story at the core of these episodes, but some of the plotting is slow and arduous. Things pick up in this episode and we have perhaps the strongest part yet. Lots of action, intrigue, great character moments, and a bit of moralizing. A Bargain of Necessity vaults the quality of the story back to the standard set by John Lucarotti’s work. Having done my own research on real Reign of Terror to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of history, I can see evidence of Dennis Spooner’s research. It does get a bit heavy handed, however, when Robespierre mentions that “the 27th of July 1794, will be a date for history”.
So, yes! Back to form! I look forward to part six where we will conclude our time in France and look toward a major milestone for Doctor Who and for this blog: Season 2.