The difference between writers Dennis Spooner and John Lucarotti when it came to historicals was comedy. Whilst Spooner became script editor and was responsible for both The Reign of Terror and The Romans, his style was much more whimsical than the dead straight Lucarotti. As a result, even ripping yarns like this one have a vague Carry On feel about them, not helped by some stereotypical faux French music from TRWS.
This is a decent tale, though, if a little bitty, not helped by the disappearance of Chesterton for a couple of episodes, but it’s fair to say, despite his off screen annoyance at inexperienced director Henric Hirsch’s performance William Hartnell is having a ball. As a result, his leading ladies too step up to the mark, and both Hill and Ford are great.
There’s a buoyancy to this tale, and it’s nice to see a much more Doctory Doctor, as he has a clear plan in his head which he’ll “explain later”. Hartnell is a delight to watch and the supporting cast, despite the subject matter, manage to stay this side of camp. And a pretty large supporting cast it is too, considering the budget.
It’s difficult to criticise this adventure because, if you’re new to Old Skool Who, you’ll recognise a lot of what became commonplace, done for the first time. The cast, in the last episode of Season One, have grown in their roles and it’s good to see them in full flow.
As an aside, the animation on the missing episodes is very, very good, and it times it’s not really noticeable, such is the story and performances. There’s some deep and serious threads though, and Barbara get’s again, as in The Aztecs, to comment on a living history – “Check your history books,” she says angrily “before you decide what people deserve!” Deep stuff.
Not as “worthy” as Marco Polo, and of course Spooner would go OTT with the daftness in later episodes, but here, he gets the tone just about right.
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