THE SARACEN HORDES
'LOST IN TIME' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD1353)
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2004;
AND BBC AUDIO CD (ISBN 0-563-504-242) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2005.
The TARDIS arrives in the middle
of a holy war between King Richard the Lionheart and the Saracen leader,
Saladin, in 12th Century Palestine.
"THE KNIGHT OF JAFFA" AND "THE WAR-LORDS" ARE BOTH MISSING.
27TH MARCH 1965 - 17TH APRIL 1965
1. THE LION 2. THE KNIGHT OF JAFFA
3. THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE 4. THE WARLORDS
The Crusade is not one of my favourite first Doctor serials. The fact that half of its episodes are missing from the BBC archives does it no favours, but my main problem with David Whitaker’s historical tale is that it is little more than a series of very unfortunate events. Granted, The Crusade is a series of well-written and well-acted unfortunate events, but as is the case with many Hartnell historicals, there is nothing more to the plot than the Doctor and his companions trying to escape in one piece.
Comparing this story to a serial such as The Aztecs, for example, really highlights its shortcomings. Whilst John Lucarotti’s tale was also based around the premise of the Doctor and his companions trying to get back to the TARDIS alive, it was a much more intriguing story as in doing so it explored Barbara actively trying to change history – something that by this point in her travels, she knows she cannot do.
That said, the production standards of The Crusade are markedly higher than in any of the earlier Hartnell historicals. There is not a cloth background in sight, the costumes and make-up jobs are superlative and even the scenes set in the desert and the woods are very convincing for a 1965 studio-bound television show.
Moreover, The Crusade must be watched if only for Julian Glover’s gleaming portrayal of Lionheart. Glover manages to imbue the legendary crusader with a surprisingly sympathetic side, depicting him as a tortured soul who always does what he believes to be right. Even when we, the audience, disagree with what the King is doing – be it waging war on a foreign land or aggressively arranging his sister’s marriage – thanks to Glover’s powerful portrayal, we can still identify with the King’s point of view.
“The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away…”
Jean Marsh (the former Mrs Pertwee, who would return to the show as Sara Kingdom a year later, and then again much later in 1989’s Battlefield) also gives a spirited performance as Richard’s sister, Joanna, and I would be doing Walter Randall a great injustice if I didn’t mention his absolutely malevolent El Akir – possibly the most evil human character ever to appear in Doctor Who. His scarred face masks an even more hideous interior and, in spite of Doctor Who’s family audience, the implications of his deplorable actions (kidnapping, rape etc) lend his character a very real, very nasty side that most Who villains lack.
Watching “The Lion” and “The Wheel of Fortune” on DVD together with reconstructions of “The Knight of Jaffa” and “The War-Lords”, I think I’ve managed to get a good feel for this story, but its negative elements do seem to outweigh its positive ones. It’s just too discouraging to watch Barbara be taken prisoner, escape, be hunted down, and then become embroiled in the affairs of the Haroun family that El Akir has destroyed. The Doctor’s cringeworthy feud with the Earl of Leicester is painful to watch, and how on Earth Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki can be expected to credibly pass for a lad is beyond me. In fact, of the TARDIS crew I think that Ian is the only character to enjoy a decent outing here – he ends up not only saving the day, but being knighted.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
and the Crusaders
Of the three original Doctor Who novelisations from the pre-Target era released by BBC Audio, it is Doctor Who and the Crusaders that sees narrator William Russell give his best reading. It comes as little surprise then, upon hearing the interview at the end of the final disc, that this is his favourite story of the three. It’s no secret that historical stories were more in the actors comfort zone than the science fiction types such as The Daleks and The Web Planet, and he clearly relishes getting his teeth into the material on offer here.
The original serial The Crusade isn’t my favourite of the old Hartnell stories by a long chalk. This is perhaps less a judgment on the quality of the serial than it is the fact that half of it has been lost. Trying to enjoy the story from what’s left gives one a terribly disjointed feel; here, however, the story is presented as a whole, and arguably in a format that it’s more suited to. Writer David Whitaker elaborates his story without really altering it; the events are much the same, but the world of their background is greatly expanded. His rich prose and Russell’s spirited reading complement each other well.
Doctor Who and the Crusaders provides a variety of characters and incident. Each of the many characters is presented as a well-rounded character, and Russell provides subtly different voices for each, making it easy to keep track of the who, how and why. The story can mostly be broken into three strands. One concerns Vicki and the Doctor, in the court of King Richard, doing their best not to become embroiled in the twists and turns of the local politics and intrigue. This is all interesting enough, particularly the disturbing fate of the Princess Joanna, Richard’s sister – with hints of, let’s say, over familiarity with her brother, and the threat of being used as a diplomatic peace offering to the Saracen leader, Saladin. Russell’s take on the Doctor and Vicki are better than on previous occasions, probably as much due to better writing. However, it’s clear that the author’s primary interest is not with these characters, and this plotline wanes as the story moves on, to focus more on Ian and Barbara’s ordeals amongst the Islamic settlements.
Barbara’s strand is the most harrowing. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it is too much for younger readers. On television, the threat to Barbara is never as overt as it is here. Though it is rarely graphic – save for a miserable scene in which the villainous Emir el Akir has her whipped – the constant threat of torture and humiliation is very strong. Although younger readers may miss the inference, it is very clear that the female slaves in el Akir’s palace are sexual slaves, something that I can’t imagine finding its way in to many children’s adventure books. El Akir is a particularly evil bastard by all accounts, a man who delights in devising and performing torments for his victims. He is potentially the most hideous and cruel individual to ever appear in the series. However, Whitaker does use the constant threat and fear to illustrate just how strong an individual Barbara is.
Ian’s story is that of his quest to rescue Barbara, offering both trial and tribulations. Whilst he is knighted by King Richard and granted free movement by Saladin, he suffers many injuries and tortures along the way. Nonetheless, he never relents in his mission to find and rescue Barbara. Russell’s acting career was taken up mostly by swashbuckling characters, and he seems right at home with this aspect of Ian’s character. Interestingly, the implied relationship between Ian and Barbara is painted far more vividly here than it was on television. Romance between the two was only ever lightly hinted at on the telly; here, however, they are definitely lovers.
What deserves respect here is Whitaker’s balanced portrayal of the Saracen race. It’s hard to imagine any family show in this day and age exploring the historical relationship between Christian and Muslim states. It would have been easy for this tale to descend into a generic adventure featuring swarthy, villainous Mohammedans with shifty countenances. But while there are villainous Arabs here – notably the aforementioned el Akir – there are also many more noble individuals. The ruler Saladin is a political animal, much more suited to the role than his opposite number, King Richard. Haroun, an intensely affecting character whose wife and son were slaughtered by el Akir, and his daughter stolen away, is a good, kind man whose life has been destroyed, but who still stands by his remaining daughter through everything, and even offers to help Barbara at great risk to himself. Even Ibrahim, a licentious thief who threatens Ian with horrific torture, is presented as an essentially decent man driven to extreme actions by his poverty – in fact, he becomes one of the most entertaining characters in the story, and so it’s little surprise to learn that he was Russell’s favourite character. Likewise, the Crusaders themselves are presented on varied terms, with Lionheart a soldier struggling to deal with a complex situation, the Earl of Leicester an arrogant politician interested more in
himself than his people, and the Princess Joanna an intelligent woman in a terribly dangerous time.
Rather less palatable is the faint taste of misogyny in the tale, although this in itself is more an inevitable undercurrent of the time in which it is set. Nonetheless, the manipulation, fear and humiliation heaped upon the female population of this story can feel rather too much. This highlights what I feel is the only problem with this novelisation - in presenting a genuine conflict and a real historical backdrop in intense, illustrative detail, Whitaker’s prose creates a story which is both enthralling and very, very grim. There may be historical inaccuracies here; I don’t have the knowledge to say so. What this story does illustrate though is that for many, be they western or eastern, life in centuries gone by was difficult and distressing. A fine adventure then, but not one to be taken as light relief.
Copyright © Daniel Tesier 2009
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
You have to love the diversity of Doctor Who’s second season. The juxtaposition of the high comedy of The Romans to the Shakespearean drama of The Crusade amply demonstrates the variety of riches that the Hartnell historicals can provide. The latter is one of my all time favourite stories simply because it presents its story in such a dramatic and evocative manner. You’ve got a director who is clearly enjoying his freshman adventure, a number of outstanding actors at the top their game, a fantastic script full of golden nuggets of dialogue, and an educational look at a time period that I’m not especially knowledgeable about. Coming after the inconsistently written and directed Web Planet serial, The Crusade appears even more of an impressive feat.
What always surprises me is how the story is presented in such an honest and adult way. My favourite sections involve Barbara, who is kidnapped early in the story, being brought under the control of the loathsome and misogynistic El Akir. Haroun’s story of his return to his home to find his family murdered and his house burnt down leaves the viewer in no doubt as to the dangers of falling into the hands of El Akir, and so the prospect of Barbara doing so is one of the worst fates that we can imagine. I swear she enjoyed making Ian sick with worry!
It is Barbara who gets to see both sides of this culture, sampling the very best (a wary but delightful conversation with Saladin) and very worst (“The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away…”) that Jaffa has to offer. The story even presents Barbara with another dilemma that allows her to steal the show just as she did in The Aztecs - her chase through the streets climaxes in the truly haunting image of her holding a dagger to a terrified girl, and considering that murdering her might be more humane than leaving her to the tender mercies of the guards. Jacqueline Hill is just too good in these moments, and the cliffhanger ending to The Wheel of Fortune is still one of the series’ best.
Apparently David Whitaker’s script was so very impressive that neither script editor Dennis Spooner nor director Douglas Camfield had to alter a single syllable of it. The dialogue is rich throughout, and the characterisation very sophisticated. The Saracens are presented as being every bit as dignified as the British, yet just as capable of ill deeds, as both sides hold one hand out in peace whilst keeping the other firmly locked on their swords. The high drama and politics of Richard’s court is brought to the fore in the sparkling third episode (easily the best of the entire year) with some shockingly dramatic dialogue.
“How would you have me go to Saphadin? Bathed in oriental perfumes, I suppose?
Suppliant, tender and affectionate?”
During the 1960s Doctor Who was sold on three things: performances, sets and lighting, and The Crusade excels on all three fronts. The performances are especially impressive, the serial boasting turns that were rarely bettered during the decade. The impressive cast list sees Julian Glover, Jean Marsh and Bernard Kay joining the regular arsenal of talent. Glover was the big draw and brings real gravity to his role of King Richard, never afraid to steal the limelight from Hartnell (and not many can say that). Marsh, meanwhile, brings a sparkle to Joanna that transcends all the usual Princess schlock, even baring her teeth in that spectacular outburst in The Wheel of Fortune. Their chemistry is keenly felt (and felt a little too keenly by Hartnell, I understand, who stamped on the hints of incest) and between them they bring to life a vibrant political game. I held my breath when Richard raised his hand to strike his sister. For his part, Kay’s silky-voiced and weary Saladin is a triumph of subtlety. It’s absolutely amazing to think that underneath it is the same man who played downtrodden freedom fighter Tyler in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The sequence that sees him silently observing his brother’s actions behind the silk curtain is bewitching, yet he barely moves his head. Brilliant.
The regulars easily hold their own, however. As well as Jacqueline Hill, whom I’ve already mentioned, William Hartnell are Maureen O’Brien both acquit themselves admirably. I really enjoy O’Brien’s performances - she is so much cheekier and sweeter than Susan – and this story affords us an intimate peek at her relationship with the grandfatherly Doctor. Better still is Hartnell’s magnificent turn - can you imagine a more commanding moment than when he stands up to Leicester in court and declares: “I hate fools!” He looks majestic in his cloak, and when inveigling himself into courtly politics he can be as theatrical as he likes (and he does like). The Doctor’s outrage at Leicester’s behaviour allows Hartnell to bark with real relish.
Thanks to lovely directional touches such as the pan backwards to reveal Saladin lurking in the shadows, and delightful characters as Ben Daheer and the Chamberlain, it isn’t until the story ends that you realise it doesn’t actually have a plot. It has been commented before that the regulars are basically dropped into someone else’s story, meet some people and then leave. That may not be too harsh an assessment, but it’s important to remember that The Crusade isn’t supposed to be about plot mechanics, but experiencing the culture of the time of the Crusades. We get to meet Kings and traders, Sultans and bandits; it’s an evocative snapshot of history that boasts some of the era’s most emotional moments.
“I hate fools!”
Sadly though, The Crusade is the only story in Season 2 to have any episodes missing from it, exemplifying the law of sod. This serial comprises four lovely episodes of accomplished character drama and is in my view the clear highlight of the second season, yet half of it is missing! I often surprise myself at how angry I get when I have to resort to listening to audio soundtracks when I should be able to watch the production in its entirely. You really have to wonder about a universe that junks The Massacre and The Evil of the Daleks, but allows The Dominators and The Space Pirates to survive…
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
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