042 – Prisoners of Concierge (The Reign of Terror Part 6)

In which Robespierre finds all his plans come to naught and a certain diminutive general comes to power.

Yes, Mssr. Robespierre, sooner or later God will cut you down.

“Yesterday everyone lived in fear of that man, but today…. ”

Ah, yes.  Lemaitre is James Stirling.  And he is a darn good spy.  He prefers to work alone and he plays his cards very close to his chest.  But he is a good man.  Ian finally delivers the message to Stirling, that he must return to England.  Unfortunately, Ian cannot remember everything Webster said, but he does remember the words “Sinking Ship” and the name Barras.  As “The Sinking Ship” is the name of an inn (such an unfortunate name for an inn), our heroes plan to have Barbara, Ian, and Jules spy on Barras to figure out what his plot is.  Of course, the plot is to take down Robespierre, but what they didn’t foresee is that Barras was to meet with Napoleon.  Barras tells Napoleon of the plot to take down Robespierre, then proposes to put Napoleon into power to gain support from the public.  While this is a fun scene, the historical accuracy of it is dubious.  It does, however, point those who wish to know the next phase of French history toward some key figures.  It also casts dark light on Napoleon, for both Stirling and Jules debate which is worse, Robespierre or a military dictatorship.  The decide upon the latter as the greater evil and they move to stop the coup against Robespierre.  The time travelers know this action is futile but make no move to stop it.  Robespierre is captured and shot before Lemaitre can arrive.  A new revolution has begun.

So ends The Reign of Terror, in violence and blood as one tyrant is overthrown and the state set for a new, absolute ruler, this one a military man rather than a politician.  The episode ends with an interesting conversation between the characters with Ian and Barbara wondering if they should have told Napoleon what awaited him in the next few years.  The Doctor and Susan insist that nothing would come of it.  In the show Lost, the concept was introduced that certain events had to happen, and any attempt to prevent them would cause the universe to course-correct.  For example, in the third season the character Desmond (who has visions of the future) sees the death of Charlie.  He spends the season doing what he can to try to prevent this death, but each time Desmond saves Charlie’s life, he has another vision of Charlie dying in a different way.  The universe keeps trying to correct the course when history is changed.  This same concept arises at the end of The Reign of Terror.  Barbara says they could have written Napoleon a letter, but Susan responds that the letter would either be forgotten, misplaced, or Napoleon would dismiss it outright as madness.  Doctor Who has never really dealt with the mechanics behind its time travel.  This eventually led to the straight historicals being dropped entirely (that and the drop in ratings that would usually accompany them).  The Doctor and his companions must always be relegated to observers of history rather than participants.  The question that never gets dealt with is “why can’t they affect the past, but they can interfere in the future?”  Truth be told, this is a valid question.  The new series attempted to deal with this when The Tenth Doctor claimed that there are fixed points in time that cannot be moved.  Other points are malleable and only The Doctor’s people can differentiate between the two.  Another theory that has been espoused deals with The Seventh Doctor who would actively interfere.  This theory states that for every action The Doctor takes, for every event he changes, he must then change other events to limit the damage caused by the original change.  These changes necessitate other changes and so on.  The Doctor is stuck in a causal loop from which he can never escape until he has restored everything to a type of equilibrium.  This is a fascinating idea.  Each production team, presumably, deals with the question in its own way.  Sometimes that is addressed on screen, other times it isn’t.  For this first year of Doctor Who, it would seem the idea espoused in Lost is the one at work, but it doesn’t answer the more intriguing question of why it is this way.  Why can’t history be changed?  Perhaps there truly is a final end toward which all existence is moving and any attempt to change that will be negated or remolded.  Perhaps there is a guiding force to The Universe, an intriguing possibility but one that I don’t anticipate the show exploring because that seems to come a little to close to positing the existence of God.  Perhaps that is why the view of history and intervention changes.  Doctor Who has been on long enough for a major shift in worldview to occur among the creative staff.  History has changed from something that can’t be changed to something that shouldn’t be changed.  Is this a concept that Doctor Who should explore in detail?  It would likely be quite divisive if it was done, and some of the mystery surrounding the title character would be lessened.  But in many ways, the mystery of the identity of The Doctor and his people has already been revealed and de-mystified.  However, that is not for today’s review.

Here ends my review of the first season of Doctor Who. We have accompanied our foru characters from one side of the galaxy to another and throughout many intriguing locations in our own history.  Thus far, my favor lies most heavily upon the historicals by John Lucarotti.  Both Marco Polo and The Aztecs are fine examples of how this show can be at once educational and exciting.  My opinion of The Sensorites was completely changed as I found strong characterization for Susan and found myself enjoying the episodic format and the clues that the writer planted along the way.  Our characters have undergone changes.  The Doctor has grown more kind toward Ian and Barbara.  In turn, our two school teachers have grown to be amused with The Doctor and even trust him to a degree.  The TARDIS crew has become a family, and it will be fun to see how that progresses in the next season.

For those who have followed me throughout this journey, I thank you.  If you have discovered me along the way, thank you for reading.  I will continue in a few days with the second season, but there shall be an intermission or two along the way.

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3 thoughts on “042 – Prisoners of Concierge (The Reign of Terror Part 6)

  1. I think later writers, both of the series and spin-off media would have done better to stick to the premise that history (normally at least) cannot be changed. Some stories, particularly in the Big Finish audios give the impression that history is remarkably fragile. I don’t think that fits with the Doctor’s general presumptions.

    If history can easily be changed, with the large number of races in the Whoniverse that posess at least time travel, we might imagine that history would be in a constant flux. Yet when the Doctor arrives in places, he constantly makes references to things that have happened in the history of the planet and others. The Doctor seems to assume that history takes its normal course. The New Adventures were wise in assuming that history cannot normally be changed.

  2. Time being fragile doesn’t necessarily bother me, but it can change the focus of the show. If time is stable and cannot be changed, then we are only ever able to observe but not interfere. If time is in flux then the focus of the show is preserving the “web of time” or whatever name the writers wish to use. But it can always be endangered again. The job never ends. As you say, many races in the Whoniverse are time-active, so there is always a danger of time being unstable. I guess the general rule, which seems to be cited often in Doctor Who is to obey the rules unless the rules get in the way of the story. Sometimes I agree with this philosophy, but I also know that rules can often lead artists to have to stretch themselves and push their art in ways that free-form doesn’t allow. If you are going to break the rules, the story needs to be good enough to justify it. You cannot just break the rules because you don’t agree with them or because you think the story will be better.

    Unfortunately, it is sometimes hard to know if the story justifies it until production is complete. Such is the nature of television.

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