Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror (Story #8)

doctor who the reign of terror story #9 dvd cover
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Ambitious story, saved through animation

Drags like a lot of Doctor Who stories

doctor who the reign of terror story #8 william hartnell costume

Isn’t my sense of style grand?

The Doctor (William Hartnell) attempts to return Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian (William Russell) to England, but the TARDIS finds its way to France in 1794 during the French Revolution.  Separated, the Doctor, Barbara, Ian, and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) find themselves caught up in the revolution and forcing to choose sides…and the guillotine looms dangerously close!

Doctor Who:  The Reign of Terror aired as the final story of the first season of the original long running BBC series.  The serial aired in six parts from August 8, 1964 to September 12, 1964.  The episode still featured titles:  Part 1:  A Land of Fear, Part 2:  Guests of Madame Guillotine, Part 3:  A Change of Identity, Part 4:  The Tyrant of France, Part 5:  A Bargain of Necessity, and Part 6:  Prisoners of the Conciergerie.  Following Doctor Who:  The Sensorites, Doctor Who:  The Reign of Terror was collected as part of The William Hartnell Years as Story #8.

I like Doctor Who series that anchored in an actual event.  It forces the writers to be a bit more creative and play with historical events without really altering them.  Doctor Who:  The Reign of Terror was one of the early Doctor adventures into “true history” and unlike the lost Doctor Who:  Marco Polo or Doctor Who:  The Aztecs, Doctor Who:  The Reign of Terror is more locked in a defined story…and it works at points.

doctor who the reign of terror story #8 animated william hartnell lost episode

William Hartnell gets animated!

The series was originally going to simply be called The French Revolution but the name change makes sense (and build drama).  Like many of Doctor Who’s serials, the story drags at points and is far too long.  The characters just keep getting separated and getting arrested.  Plus, you get more of Susan being a burden (which also seems to be a theme for early episodes).  I’m sure that watching the series in individual episodes (as it was meant to be seen) didn’t seem as stretched out, but watching them collected it can get long.

The series was also one of the first to be reconstructed.  Like a lot of Doctor Who (unfortunately), Doctor Who:  The Reign of Terror was lost when the BBC cleared out their vaults.  The audio existed for the shows, but the video was destroyed.  Fortunately, Doctor Who:  The Reign of Terror was rediscovered and is only missing two episodes which were animated with the original audio.  I wish that the BBC would complete more animated episodes like this…listening to just audio is hard to do and the animation at least makes it go smoother.

doctor who the reign of terror story #8 napoleon bonaparte tony wall

I see a future where I travel around with two guys named Bill and Ted in a phonebooth…so time travel is possible!

The serial seems a bit bigger than some of the other serials.  It is primarily set based (and not great sets at that), but it feels a bit sprawling.  The series is also noted as being the first episode of Doctor Who that had a location shoot for a story.

Doctor Who:  The Reign of Terror is pretty indicative to Doctor Who stories from this period.  It does show a lot of ambition and potential for the series however.  It is hard to nail down a feel for these early episodes since the series was trying to be a kids’ show, but has some pretty adult plots.  Doctor Who:  The Reign of Terror is followed by Doctor Who:  Planet of Giants.

Preceded By:

Doctor Who:  The Sensorites (Story #7)

Followed By:

Doctor Who:  Planet of Giants (Story #9)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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