Written by David Whitaker
Directed by Douglas Camfield
The TARDIS materializes in The Holy Land during The Crusade. Barbara is captured by Saracens while The Doctor, Ian, and Vicki rescue King Richard the Lionheart from attack.
“A king at liberty can give commands. A captured one obeys them.”
To go from the insect planet of Vortis to the Holy Land is quite a change. However, it is not a bad one. The Web Planet proved to be a surprisingly imaginative and effective story. Now we move to a story that has three things that excites me. First, it is a historical, which are usually my favorite stories from The Hartnell Era. Second, it is directed by Douglas Camfield who is one of my favorite directors for Doctor Who. Last, it is a David Whitaker story. This is the third story Whitaker has done for the show, and the first since leaving the position of script editor. It is my opinion that his stories actually improved when he left the show. He has written some of my favorite stories, from this one to Power and Evil of the Daleks. Without having to guide every script and not having to write last-minute scripts for failed stories perhaps Whitaker found himself free to write closer to his own terms. The Crusade in total feels different from his previous stories. It feels a bit more confident and solid. Overall, the serial doesn’t have to provide material for an ongoing character arc (such as Edge of Destruction) nor does it have to introduce a new companion (The Rescue). Instead, Whitaker take his time to form a story that is entertaining, a bit educational, and extremely well written. Even in this first episode, the dialogue sparkles. And who better to direct a story with action scenes than Douglas Camfield. While this is not his first work on the series, it is his first full story and he proves to have a good eye for pace and action. Already, I feel in safe hands on this story.
I find it a bit odd that The Doctor insisted on finding clothes for the period since this wasn’t much of a concern in the past. Usually they would happen upon clothes through the course of the story. In this case, maybe The Doctor just wanted to make a good impression on King Richard. Or perhaps (and this may be the actual reason) it was just to lead to an amusing scene where The Doctor and Vicki engage in a bit of shoplifting. However, before anyone accuses The Doctor of questionable morality, Whitaker quickly establishes that the merchant buys clothing from thieves who steal them from King Richard’s court. While I think this was to deflect accusations of irresponsible behavior that could be mimicked by children, I think it actually comes off worse. It seems to imply that wrong actions are justified so long as the actions you take are against those who were wrong first, in this case, stealing from a thief. I’m sure a court of law would buy that argument, “I only downloaded that movie from someone who already stole it.” Right. Personally, I can live with a portrayal of The Doctor who steals on occasion. He tried to murder a caveman quite a few stories ago, so what’s a little shoplifting?
Like all good historicals, this story makes me want to do some research. There is so much misconception about The Crusades, especially in my country of origin, and it would be interesting to do some reading and get a more accurate view of what happened and what the men who were involved were like. Particularly of interest in this episode is the portrayal of Saladin. While he is certainly against King Richard, he does seem to have a recognizable code of honor and admirable chivalry. He is not portrayed as an outright villain, and I applaud Whitaker’s choice to try to show the man, not the myth. Maybe it is the actor more than the script, but Saladin seems tired and weary of the fighting and the fools with which he must put up. In truth, there is a similar vibe coming from King Richard, who is rather ticked that one of his friends has been capture and others killed. His brother John is back in England and trying to seize the throne while making alliances with the King of France. King Richard is tired and upset and it seems that he wouldn’t mind if all this would just go away. But he will not give it. Ian asks The King to allow him to take a convoy to Saladin and negotiate the release of William des Preaux and Barbara, but King Richard refuses, not wanting to give anything to Saladin.
It is also rather fun to see William des Preaux and Barbara planning and scheming to fool The Saracens. However, their claims to be King Richard and his sister Joanna fail the moment Saladin sees him. “A blacker head of red-gold hair I never saw,” Saladin proclaims. Despite the deception, hospitality is given to the two prisoners, but not liberty.
In all, a great start to a very good story, and a wonderful way to cleanse the palate after the very unique Web Planet. What other show could move between two extremely diverse stories?