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Doctor Who: The Crusade (TV Serial P)



Blurb: The TARDIS arrives in 12th Century Palestine where a holy war is in progress between the forces of King Richard the Lionheart and the Saracen ruler Saladin. Barbara is abducted in a Saracen ambush and the Doctor, Ian, and Vicki make their way to King Richard's palace in the city of Jaffa. Ian is granted permission to ride in search of Barbara - the King knighting him as Sir Ian of Jaffa to fit him for the role - while the Doctor and Vicki stay behind and try to avoid getting involved in court politics...

Format: Television drama transmitted from March 27, 1965 - April 17, 1965. Episodes 2 and 4 are missing from the BBC archives. Episodes 1 and 3 were released along with the unedited audio of episodes 2 and 4 as part of the Lost in Time Collection on November 2, 2004. I watched the story as part of the Loose Canon series of telesnap reconstructions LC33 released in January of 2011. The BBC has also made the audio for the story available on CD, which was recorded by fans at the time with linking narration to explain any visuals lost on the audio.

Disclaimer: The DVD cover above is in no way official and was made by Simon Hodges for use by fans such as myself who would like their telesnap recons to look like they fit in with the rest of the Doctor Who range. The image is incorrect in that it lists Bill Strutton as the writer for this story. The writer was in fact David Whitaker.

Setting: Earth: Palestine sometime during the Fall of 1191. The incident with des Preaux being captured occurred in November, but history records that by that point the King had already attempted to marry his sister to Saphadin rather than it occurring just after as is depicted here.

Continuity: Barbara mentions that she was on a world ruled by insects (see The Web Planet), in Rome at the time of Nero (see The Romans), and in the Earth of the far future (see The Dalek Invasion of Earth). Vicki is terrified of being abandoned (see The Rescue).

DVD: The Lost in Time Collection isn't specific to this story but it does have two nice feautures. The first is that it includes that unedited audio of episodes 2 and 4 so that you can listen to those in between watching episodes 1 and 3. There is also optional linking scenes recorded by William Russell in character as Ian in 1999 where he describes what happens in episodes 2 and 4.

The Loose Canon production includes an interview with Julian Glover about this story as well as some general facts about his career. There's also a short historical background extra narrated by Glover about the facts surrounding these events.

Discussion: The Crusade is something of a unique case in the realm of Doctor Who classics. Unlike Marco Polo we have 50% of the story available to see. Yet, this story continues to rank high on lists of what stories fans would like to see returned. I believe that this is for two reasons. First, the two episodes that we have are so strong that I think that many people want to see the entire production. Second these two episodes are all that we would need to have a complete season 2. This one has also made the news relatively recently as until 1999 episode one was missing as well, but it was found in New Zealand in that year, which lead many people to examine these two episodes fairly closely because of all of the buzz surrounding them.

What we have is another story that does what the BBC does best - period drama. David Whitaker outdoes himself with this story. Not only is Shakespeare quoted but new lines are written in iambic pentameter. The dialog itself is fantastic with Whitaker demonstrating his grasp of character by giving everyone a manner of speaking which tells you as much about who they are as what we learn in the story. One thing that I really enjoy on the interplay is how the two courts are mirror images of each other. Richard is a petty, overgrown child who throws tantrums when he doesn't get his way. He has his sister as "his favorite" but makes decisions for her based on what he thinks is right. Then we have the Earl of Leicester who is an honorable if bloodthirsty man that the King most openly side with to keep his support even if he doesn't agree with him. We contrast that with Saladin who is a thoughtful, calculating king. His brother is also his confidante but he trusts him with his innermost thoughts and provides council to him. El Akir is a powerful man in his court, but he is also a conniving, dishonorable man. Saladin does not fear shaming El Akir when he is disgusted by the man's desire to savagely torture someone for no reason other than because he enjoys it. I really like how both sides are shown fairly equally like this and truly if anything the scripts seem to be far more sympathetic to Saladin than to Richard an incredibly progressive point of view for something written in the 1960's.

We also get some really dark stuff in this story. The story of how El Akir has destroyed Haroun's life is nasty. The fact that Haroun wants Barbara to kill his daughter and then herself if El Akir's soldiers catch up to them highlights El Akir's villainy in a way that we wouldn't otherwise have been able to get in something that was ostensibly for children in 1965. They were never going to show El Akir's torture or his affections, but that's enough to tell us what we needed to know. Even the thought that Maimuna wanted to kill herself because of the dishonor that her being in El Akir's harem would bring to her family really has your heart go out to her. It's fairly clear what that dishonor is and really shows El Akir as one of the more brutal and horrific bad guys in Doctor Who. It's one of the things that I like about the historicals as often your villains in these are far worse than any alien monster. There are other things of course, such as the idea of Ian being eaten alive by ants and the Earl of Leicester who the Doctor refers to as a butcher because he enjoys the death and devastation that war would bring. There's also the sadness of the Doctor who lauds Richard's attempts at brokering a peace while knowing that ultimately he will fail. It's pretty heavy stuff for children's television.

The regulars are all fantastic in this. The Doctor plays around with his little deceptions and politicking. I really love the sequence where he outwits the chamberlain and Ben Daheer for both accusing him of stealing clothes. It isn't possible for him to have stolen the same clothes from both of them and he even ends up making sure that Daheer gets paid so he stops accusing the Doctor of theft. His sheer joy at it all is just so much fun to watch. I also like that he picks up a sword and is able to defend himself against a Saracen raider when he arrives. You just don't expect this old man to be good with a sword and it's so nice to see him enjoying himself. Barbara gets a lot more meat here. Her defiance of El Akir throughout the story is great. She shows true grit and courage. Then there's the scene between her and Saladin where she plays word games with him to keep her from revealing her origins and at the same time get her into his good graces. My main regret from this story is that we miss out on having her do a performance where she tells the tales of one of their adventures for Saladin's court. I also think that she does such a good job of conveying horror at the idea of killing Safiya and herself when the soldiers are getting close. She looks at the knife and you can tell that she's contemplating whether or not that she can do it and the grim horror on her face is so well done. Ian doesn't get a lot to do here but he does get a fairly good fight sequence in episode one. I also like how he outwits the bandit and how he outwits the Earl of Leicester in the woods so that he can get the Doctor to safety. There's also his concern for Barbara and how the normally calm Chesterton can't leave things be even a little while for the King to calm down, which tells you how strongly he feels about Barbara. In fact as much as people say that The Romans is about Ian and Barbara in love I almost think that that's the strong undercurrent that runs through The Crusade as well. Barbara is captured and Ian will move heaven and Earth to get to her. Vicki fairs a little more poorly here. She doesn't have much to do other than laugh at the Doctor's antics and get worried about being a burden. Still, she does what the role requires of her even if it isn't all that spectacular.

Where the guest stars are concerned I have to really take my hat off to Walter Randall here. He goes from playing Tonila in The Aztecs as if he's reading off a cue card, but he's clearly enjoying the role of the villainous El Akir. Here's he gloats and sneers with the best of them, seeming to positively revel in every act of cruelty. It's probably not the greatest acting in the world but it's light years away from where he was just a year before. Bernard Kaye once again steals the show, this time as Saladin. I already pointed out how he's portrayed so much more sympathetically than Richard and it's Kaye's performance that helps so much with that. Even though he's playing an ethnic character he plays it incredibly straight without any kind of fake accent or affectations. He also gives Saladin a weight to everything that he says. He conveys a calculating and pragmatic ruler but one who is disgusted by needless cruelty. He takes his time to speak and weighs the consequences of his actions before making a decision. He's also wary of the fighting and would like to find a way out of it, even though he's pragmatic enough to realize that such an easy solution isn't likely to be found. The scene where he contemplates marrying Joana to his brother is really neat because you see all of that in play. He'll have his brother proceed with the marriage arrangements while he alerts the armies to war. That way no matter what happens they're ready.

On the other side we have Julian Glover whose best known in America for being General Veers in the Empire Strikes Back or Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. As we've already mentioned he plays Richard as childish but he also places a lot of value on the life of his friends. We also see that he's more perceptive than he seems as he knows that the Doctor didn't tell Joanna of his secret plans. He just can't call out the Earl of Leicester as he still needs his aid. He's also wary of the fighting but is not above trying to command his sister into a marriage to make that happen. That sister, Joanna, is played by Jean Marsh who is best known to Americans as Bavmorda from Willow. She plays the aristocrat well and even when she's being compassionate you can tell that she puts a distance between herself and those that she's speaking to. The exception is with Richard. In their opening scene together they give a subtle implication of the rumors of incest that have followed these siblings throughout history. Yet the really awesome scene is in episode 3 where Joanna confronts Richard with the fact that she knows that he plans to marry her to Saphadin and she is having none of it. The anger and rage not only at what he plans to do but the fact that he wouldn't even tell her about it is so well played and I love how when she pulls out her trump card of the Pope how Richard just seethes with anger that even as a King that he can be overruled.

The production is up to a particularly high value here. Barry Newberry gives us some terrific sets and we get a real sense here that they've finally figured out how to give Doctor Who a grand scale on their limited resources. Small jungle sets or dark twisting streets are fantastic for Doctor Who as you can shoot them from different angle and change the lighting slightly and suddenly you have a new location. The costumes are also fantastic and once again the show profits from having access to the BBC's library of period costumes. I should also note that Dudley Simpson does the music for this one and his score is really great giving it that Middle Eastern vibe while also giving the dramatic impetus where it should. I also like Douglas Camfield's direction. A lesser director may have done the scene with Barbara trying to sneak out of the house with no background sounds. Camfield has the sounds of soldier's hammering on other doors and ransacking other buildings playing in the background as Barbara makes her move and I thought that that was a really fantastic touch.

The charge has been made that the Crusade isn't that good of a story because the Doctor and company don't really influence the events much here. Yet, that's really a charge that could be made on many of the historicals. We care because the characters are in danger and they are able to influence events by helping the individuals such as by rescuing Maimuna and giving Haroun his vengeance.

Final Rating: 9/10

Recommendation: The Crusade is one of the best stories that we've had to date and the fact that the guest cast has a certain star power can't be underscored. You're watching professionals at the top of their game here and this story does not disappoint. 3 out of the 4 regulars get to show what they're made of. The story may lack some of the punch of a philosophical piece like the Aztecs but other than that this one is running on all cylinders. I highly recommend it.

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