TV Club: The Reign of Terror

TV Club reaches a milestone! The end of the first ever season of Doctor Who. A historical tale set during the French revolution - the First Doctor’s favourite period of history according to Susan - and our first script by incoming script editor, Dennis Spooner.

All episodes, including two that are animated due to be missing from the archives, are available on BBC iPlayer:

The surviving and animated episodes are available on DVD:

Don’t forget to add your number rating for the story:

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I’m aware that “The Reign of Terror” is not that highly regarded and am familiar with its faults but, for all that…

…I’m tremendously fond of this one. When introducing my boys to classic DW in the mid noughties, this immediately grabbed the attention of my oldest boy who has maintained this as his favourite historical and one of his favourite stories all round to this day.

Despite being stereotyped by so many as the crotchety Doctor, Hartnell always seemed to relish scripts that allowed him to have fun and this one is no exception. We see the Doctor dressing up and immersing himself into the time and place. OK, so the story is full of stereotypes and doesn’t have the historical verisimilitude of “Marco Polo” nor the deep message of “The Aztecs”, but it plays those stereotypes well, knowing the audience of the time would have had sufficient familiarity with the story and its tropes to enjoy the basic conceit of Doctor Who does the French Revolution and Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel. “They seek him here, they seek him there…” and all that. Indeed! :smile:


Probably my least favorite of S1. One where not much really stands out in my memory, positive or negative.


Only a 4/10 (2/5) from me - it’s one I really struggle with and, like @flora_snow00 - probably my least favourite of the season. It’s one where, for me, the comedic elements sit awkwardly among the horror of the time period.


I gave this 2.5 and it is one of my lowest rankings of season one. It has some okay stuff but never gets that good.


I think Reign of Terror is good, but not great. They get right the constant change in focus with our main TARDIS Crew. Everyone gets a chunk of story to work with, except Susan. My issues generally stem from the serial feeling too long. At about episode 4 it starts to drag, and I actively noticed that it was 6 episodes long.

Overall, I give it a 3.5/5 (7/10).


Exactly so. I think “good but not great” is a very fair summary. Like I say, I have fondness for this story as well as recognising its flaws. It still makes me smile. :slight_smile:


Coming to this story would be a good time to revisit the thread about how the show’s approach to changing history changed over the first few years.

The Reign of Terror has a slightly different approach to this than was presented in The Aztecs and different again to what would be presented in The Time Meddler.

I’d be fascinated to hear people’s thoughts on this tenet of the series.


I haven’t rewatched it yet, which I will probably do over the course of the week, but from what I remember the only things that really stuck with me (not completely only but, the ones I can put into words) about it were that it felt long and that I thought it was extremely boring, I’ll see what I will think upon a rewatch.


Had trouble remembering what even happened in this one just now, which might mean that I found it boring or just that I am watching doctor who so fast that my brain has trouble retaining all the information. I think it’s probably the latter. The doctor impersonating some official? was quite funny, I think it was rather confusing as people kept being captured and missing each other, and Susan being sick felt sort of oddly done from what I recall, not bad but not really amazing either


The changing attitudes to history are fascinating. They clearly reflect changing attitudes of the writers and production team. After all, there’s only so far you can go with characters simply having to avoid affecting history. In universe, however, they may also nicely reflect the Doctor beginning to realise what must remain fixed (the so-called fixed points introduced during RTD-1) and what may be mutable. It makes sense that, to start with in his travels, he’d still be hampered by the non-interventionist policy of the Time Lords and cautious about the damage he might cause. The more he has learned, the better he has got at realising where this may be true and where it, patently, is not.


The season concludes with another compelling historical drama! William Hartnell is in his element, dressing up and fooling everyone. Susan’s whining is minimal, and Ian and Barbara are rolling smoothly. The costumes and sets look great, and the music is wonderful.

The animation in Parts 4 and 5 shows that it is early days. It’s pretty rough, and there are too many close-ups and unnatural angles.

The middle episodes do drag a little, and they don’t move the plot forward a lot. I enjoy the Doctor’s scenes, though, while the jail scenes can turn a bit tiresome.

I appreciate that they show some of the death and grimness of this era, and that Napoleon cameo at the end is fun.

In Part 2, the Doctor walks down a country road, marking our first instance of location shooting on the show! In these scenes, Brian Proudfoot plays the Doctor instead of Bill, making him the second actor to portray the character.

This is a :star:7.7/10 for me, so a weak :star:4/5.


A very fair and balanced review. Many thanks!

As I’ve said previously, this has been a firm favourite of my oldest son since he saw it as a young boy. He still loves it today (he’s 21 now). I appreciate it is no “Aztecs” or “Massacre”, but it is fun. It’s always good seeing Hartnell playing dress up and we know he enjoyed more comedic moments, very much cutting against the grumpy persona he’s commonly portrayed (often quite unfairly) as epitomising.


Well I enjoyed it! There were plenty of twists & turns so you never knew quite whose side anyone was on right up until the end, I loved the Doctor getting the chance to have fun, and Barbara once again having to reconsider her views in the light of being in a morally ambiguous situation while not being able to change history.


“Our Destiny is in the Stars, so let’s go and search for it”

That ending scene in the TARDIS that fades into a black sky filled with stars as the Doctor does that little soliloquy at the end is such a perfect way to end this first season.

The story itself is rather good and I really enjoy the Doctor playing dress up as a French aristocrat.
And I think the animated episodes capture the atmosphere of the existing episodes, but still the animation leaves a bit to be desired.

I (also) love season 1 :green_heart: :tardis: :slightly_smiling_face:

Next up the one with the “giant” cat!


I agree that season 1 is strong. Wonderfully creative. Not everything works, but much does. The ambition is extraordinary for a series airing in 1963-1964. Finally, yes, that line is a fantastic end to the season. Though different, season 26 would also end with a beautifully written and performed little speech from the Doctor.

S1: “Our destiny is in the stars, so let’s go and search for it.”

S26: “C’mon Ace, we’ve got work to do.”

Such beautiful symmetry!


Out of the Pure Historical this Season, this one is easily the weakest. I am very big on any kind of pure Historicals in Who and that Period offered such a great setting, sadly I think it does lack a bit and tended to go on for a bit too long than it probably should have. Not to say it’s a bad one, I very much enjoy the Doctor finding his Way to Ian and Barbara and all the mischief he gets on with at that journey. I very much enjoy the beginning and the finale of the Story, but yeah overall while I enjoy it I think it’s far away from the highs we had in this Season. Still a pretty solid way to end the first Season of the Show.


The Reign of Terror: 4/10 - I disliked this story so much. The best part was probably the twist with the bad guy turning out to be the good guy. I thought that was interesting. I also liked the costuming and Hartnell rocked his outfit. The rest of the story was very boring to be honest. I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters and the animation probably didn’t help with my opinion of it. I wish there was more in this story that I liked because I genuinely do enjoy this time period, I just think there was nothing here that gripped me.


I love it! One of my favorites and the first example of my kind of historical - the “plot is dropping a team into a tumultuous period and watching them struggle to survive in it” kind. The Romans, The Myth Makers, The Massacre, and The Gunfighters are stories I love for similar reasons (although The Gunfighters is also just pure fun). It’s one of my favorites of this season for sure.


A decent but unmemorable story somewhere here but its far too long. Doctor Who should have dressed like this from this point on.

I’d rather watch Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head.