Coming as it does after the more light-hearted approach of The Romans, this story feels like a throw-back to the rather more serious historicals of the previous season. The script is extremely Shakespearean (literally so for some lines), and we see the return of carefully-staged debates as part of the dialogue: specifically, when the Doctor mediates between King Richard, who wants to marry his sister Joanna to Saladin's brother Saphadin for the sake of peace, and Lord Leicester, who prefers to fight.
Yet, once again, the use of a new writer heralds change. (David Whitaker had already scripted The Edge of Destruction and The Rescue, but this was his first historical story.) This is particularly clear at the beginning of the story. All of the previous historicals have started out by focussing on the TARDIS crew, and only introduced other characters as and when our regular cast encounter them. But here, we are shown several scenes of Saracens and Crusaders in the forest before we see anything of the Doctor and his friends - a device which Whitaker had also employed in The Rescue with scenes of Vicki and Bennett. For me, the significance of this is that it situates the audience as independent viewers of the past, since it implies that we are now seeing history directly for ourselves from a kind of third-party standpoint, rather than over the shoulders of the TARDIS crew.
That said, the Doctor is clearly functioning as a historical guide all the same. He is the one who explains the significance of the Saracen name for King Richard I (Malek-Ric), and identifies the gold belt lying on the ground as Richard's. Barbara, in her capacity as a history teacher, had played this role in Marco Polo and The Aztecs, but is not on hand to do so in this particular case, since one of the main reasons why the crew get drawn into the events of this story is that she has been captured.
That in itself looked unpromising at first, since I feared that it would mean little opportunity for Barbara to be her usual awesome self - but in fact I needn't have worried. Her capture is only the start of a completely independent sub-plot for Barbara, which allows the introduction of a whole range of local characters whom we would otherwise never meet, and doesn't end until she is reunited with her companions in the fourth and final episode. Along the way, she charms Saladin with her obvious wit and imagination, escapes from her captors at least twice, saves the life of a girl whose father has taken her in, and, when captured for a second time by the evil El Akir, ignores his boasts of power over her to tell him extremely forcefully just exactly what she thinks of him.
The scenes between Barbara and Saladin are particularly interesting, since they contain what I think is the first ever knowing in-script reference to the status of Doctor Who as drama. This had been played with a little in The Romans, where dialogue between Barbara and Vicki draws attention to the dramatic convention of having Roman characters speaking modern English, and is perhaps inherent in the Doctor's role in that story as a lyre-player (i.e. a performer), too. But I'm pretty sure no other script-writer had yet gone as far as this:
BARBARA: Well I could say that I'm from another world, a world ruled by insects. And before that we were in Rome at the time of Nero. Before that were in England, far, far into the future...
SALADIN: Now I understand. You, your friends - you're players, entertainers.
There's lots of stuff about disguise, too, which arguably also draws attention to the status of the TARDIS crew as actors. I've already noted a developing trend here: Ian, Barbara and Susan all adopt local dress during the events of Marco Polo, which I take to be a measure of the extent to which they are immersed in their historical surroundings, but the Doctor himself does not do so until The Reign of Terror. By this story, though, appropriate costuming has become a standard device for all of them. Once it's established that Barbara is missing and they are going to need to do something about it, the Doctor announces that "we can do nothing further until I find some clothes for all of us to wear" - a point which is then underlined by a scene of Barbara in captivity, who has had no time to change and whose strange clothes are exciting comment.
Meanwhile, there are multiple cases of assumed or mistaken identity, or of identity resting in articles of clothing. These are the ones I noticed:
- William des Preaux pretends to the Saracens that he is King Richard in an attempt to protect the real monarch.
- Barbara is then roped in to pretend to be his sister Joanna.
- The Doctor is initially mistaken for an Italian merchant because of the cloak he is wearing.
- Vicki spends two episodes pretending to be a boy before being found out and changing her garb for that of a girl.
- Ian gets made into a knight and adopts a new costume in the process.
- King Richard's gold belt is several times used to represent his authority.
- Luigi (one of Barbara's abductors) is found out because he left a glove behind in Saladin's apartment.
- Vicki and the Doctor are identified by Richard's Chamberlain as thieves because they are wearing stolen clothing.
- Joanna demands of Richard if she is to be sent to Saphadin bathed in oriental perfume.
- Ian is attacked by a thief partly because he is wearing rich clothing.
- In the end, the TARDIS crew manage to escape from the angry Lord Leicester by pretending that the Doctor is indeed, as he suspects, a spy, and that Ian is about to execute him - and we get another rather meta-referential line immediately after this, when the Doctor gleefully exclaims "What about that performance??" as soon as they give Leicester the slip.
The theme of disguise of course fits very appropriately with the Shakespearean feel of the script, since that is such a common theme in his plays (as davesangel well knows, of course!). But I think the very Shakespearean feel of the whole story also helps to underline its meta-referentiality. The use of disguise, the occasional direct quotations from his plays and indeed the fact that Barbara refers directly to Romeo and Juliet when wondering what tales she can use to keep Saladin happy all work together to remind us quite explicitly of the conventions of Shakespearean drama. And that in itself only serves to draw attention to the fact that what we are watching is a drama too.
Feminist Watch liked Joanna almost as much as Barbara in this story, especially when she made it perfectly clear to King Richard that she wasn't entering into an unwanted marriage just to save his stupid, floundering military campaign, and that in any case it would hardly please the Pope, who had ordered the Crusade in the first place. Jean Marsh, of course, is completely fantastic in everything she does, and I am increasingly looking forward to her Sara Kingdom in the next season.
Finally, this story also gave me the chance to compare the audio soundtracks which are included on the Lost in Time DVD box-set with the fan-made stills + soundtrack reconstructions of the same missing episodes. My judgement here is that the BBC have done a fantastic job of cleaning up the soundtrack itself, so that it sounds crisp and clear and is generally a joy to listen to. However, on the Lost in Time box-set, they don't seem to have bothered to do anything else to help people follow the story (at least for the episode I started watching, which was episode 2 of The Crusade). There are no captions, no appropriate stills and no narrative voice-overs - just the bare soundtrack played over a single still from the episode. So, on balance, I think I'll stick with the fan-made reconstructions - although it might be worth the effort to try to set the BBC soundtrack playing at the same time so that I can have the sound from that alongside the visuals from the recon.
First Doctor: The Space Museum
This may not be a historical story, but it's fantastically interesting for me in terms of how Doctor Who was approaching the issues of history and time travel in this period all the same. History is in the air from the start: the Space Museum features artefacts from different historical periods, with the Doctor explicitly comparing it to a historical museum on Earth. Even better, Vicki reveals that she knows about the Dalek Invasion of Earth from her 'history books' - so we are directly invited to place her textual knowledge of history alongside the rest of the TARDIS crew's lived experience. There are historical references dotted throughout the story, too: the Doctor uses the example of James Watt's kettle to illustrate how small things can lead to great discoveries and later compares the Morok empire with the Roman empire, while Ian (stepping into more mythological territory) uses thread from Barbara's cardigan to try to help them find their way out of the museum like Theseus in the minotaur's labyrinth.
On the time travel front, this is the first non-historical story to explicitly address that perennial question - can our actions in the present change a future which we already know about? Interestingly, the answer offered here is completely different from the one so far put forward by the historicals - that known future history either must be allowed to take place or cannot be prevented from doing so. Much of the story revolves around the question of whether the TARDIS crew are or aren't succeeding in saving themselves from a future as museum exhibits in glass cases, particularly since they don't know how they were going to end up there, or what they need to change to prevent it. But, ultimately, they are able to save themselves, mainly because they have fired up a rebellion amongst the local Xerons along the way. This is, of course, something that a futuristic off-Earth setting allows, since it removes the need to fit in with the audience's established knowledge of actual historical events.
Vicki gets some nice opportunities to shine in this story. I've thought of her so far as little more than a substitute Susan, but actually she does a couple of things here which I don't think Susan would have done. It is largely Vicki's conversations with the Xerons, and particularly her lambasting of them for being such a useless revolutionary force, that spur them on to take their rebellion more seriously, and ultimately result in the escape of the TARDIS crew. She also demonstrates some impressive technical expertise by fixing the computer which guards the Morok armoury. Susan certainly had the knowledge and ability to do the latter, but I don't really recall her showing the sort of initiative and spark which Vicki demonstrates here. It reminded me rather more instead of Zoe and her awesome computer-defeating skills in The Invasion.
There are some nice comic touches along the way - like Ian biting Barbara's cardigan, or the Doctor hiding inside a Dalek. Retrospectively, it's particularly amusing here to hear him declare "I fooled them all! I am the Master!" This story also builds considerably on the meta-commentary arising out of all the references to costume and drama in The Crusade. In episode two, the Doctor muses, "Who would want to put us on show or display?" The BBC, is who! And the machine which allows Lobos to view the Doctor's thoughts or imaginings on a TV screen draws attention to the process by which we, too, are viewing the ideas of the script-writer. Most interesting of all, I thought, was the situation the travellers find themselves in during the first episode, where one of the consequences of their being 'out of sync' with the events going on around them is that they can see without being seen. That is, of course, exactly the way in which the TV audience usually participates in the events of the story, and how historians interact with past cultures to boot!
Taken together, these two stories do an enormous amount to develop the format of the programme. Later Who has always been very good at the kind of nod-and-a-wink meta-commentary demonstrated here, and it's great to see it becoming established for the first time. But, of course, this is still AS NOTHING compared to what is about to come... ;-)
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