The Reign of Terror (Doctor Who)

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008 – The Reign of Terror
Doctor Who serial
Susan and Barbara take a journey to a possible painful end: Madame Guillotine
Writer Dennis Spooner
Director Henric Hirsch
Script editor David Whitaker
Producer Verity Lambert
Mervyn Pinfield (associate producer)
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Stanley Myers
Production code H
Series Season 1
Length 6 episodes, 25 minutes each
Episode(s) missing 2 episodes (4 and 5)
Date started 8 August 1964
Date ended 12 September 1964
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Sensorites Planet of Giants

The Reign of Terror is the partly missing eighth serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in six weekly parts from 8 August to 12 September 1964. The story was set in France during the period of the French Revolution known as the Reign of Terror. It is the second now-incomplete Doctor Who serial to be released with full-length animated reconstructions of its two missing episodes.


The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan arrive in 18th-century France, in a wood outside Paris, and venture to a nearby farmhouse. They find that the farmhouse is being used as a staging post in an escape chain for counter-revolutionaries and contains clothes and fake papers, some of which bear the signature of Robespierre, the chief orchestrator of government during the Reign of Terror. They are soon discovered by two counter-revolutionaries, D'Argenson and Rouvray, who knock the Doctor unconscious and hold the others at gunpoint. A band of revolutionary soldiers surrounds the house and demands their surrender. Both D'Argenson and Rouvray are killed during the siege, but only after they have worked out that there must be a traitor in their escape chain. The soldiers enter the house and capture Ian, Barbara, and Susan, and march them to Paris to be guillotined. The soldiers set fire to the farmhouse – unaware that the Doctor remains inside.

The Doctor awakes the next morning suffering from exhaustion and smoke inhalation. He has been saved from the blaze by a young boy, who tells him that his friends have been taken to the Conciergerie Prison in Paris. He sets off after them.

Ian, Barbara, and Susan are all sentenced to death as traitors. Back at the Conciergerie, Ian is confined in one cell, while the women are taken to another. Ian's cellmate is an English prisoner named Webster who only lives long enough to tell him there is another English spy, James Stirling, highly placed in the French Government, who is now being recalled to England. It was Webster's job to find him and he only knows that Stirling can be found through Jules Renan at the sign of "Le Chien Gris". Once Webster is dead, a government official named Lemaitre arrives and probes any conversation between Ian and the dead man. Lemaitre crosses Ian's name off the execution list.

Susan and Barbara are taken to the guillotine. Their transport is hijacked by two men, Jules and Jean, who spirit them back to their safe house. Susan is ill. They are told that they will be smuggled out of France through the escape chain, but Barbara is nervous about leaving France without the Doctor and Ian. Jules and Jean reassure her that they will try to reunite the four travellers. Another counter-revolutionary, Leon Colbert, arrives and joins their company.

The Doctor reaches Paris and exchanges his clothes for those of a Regional Officer of the Provinces. He heads for the Conciergerie, but finds his companions have gone. Ian has successfully stolen the key to his cell and managed to get away. Lemaitre arrives and insists the Doctor accompany him to visit First Deputy Robespierre to report on his province. They are taken to an audience with "The Tyrant of France". Little the Doctor can say to the contrary seems to have any sway, and he departs angrily.

Ian follows Webster's words and hunts out Jules Renan, who turns out to be the man sheltering Barbara and Susan, who remains ill in bed. Barbara takes Susan to a local physician who reports them as escaped prisoners and they are seized once more by the revolutionary police. Ian goes to meet Leon only to find he is the mole in the escape chain and there are armed troops waiting for him. Leon Colbert is desperate to find out what Webster said to him, but Ian is very guarded in his comments.

The Doctor has returned to the Conciergerie, where Lemaitre reports that Robespierre wishes to see him again the following day. Lemaitre ensures that the Doctor spends the night in the Conciergerie in order that he remain in Paris for his second audience with Robespierre. He is still there when Barbara and Susan are brought in as prisoners. With Susan too weak to be moved, he engineers Barbara's release on the pretext that she can be trailed to lead the security forces to the core of the escape chain.

Jules Renan has rescued Ian, killing the traitor Leon Colbert in the process. They return to Jules' house and are stunned to meet Barbara there, released on the authority of the Doctor.

Robespierre's mental state is deteriorating and he suspects that his deputy, Paul Barras, is conspiring against him in the Convention. He asks Lemaitre to track Barras the following day to a secret assignation outside the city. When Lemaitre heads back to the Conciergerie it is to confront the Doctor, whom he unmasks in private as an impostor. Lemaitre insists that the Doctor help him find Jules Renan's house and expose the spy ring. With Susan held in the prison as a hostage, the Doctor takes him to there. Once there, Lemaitre reveals that he is in fact James Stirling. In response, Ian relays Webster's message that Stirling should return to England immediately. The spy agrees but presses Ian for more detail on Webster's last hours. When Ian recalls the words "Barras, meeting, 'The Sinking Ship'", Stirling recalls his own conversation with Robespierre and the inn on the Calais Road, and they realise that is where the conspiracy against the First Deputy will take place. Jules, Ian and Barbara head to the inn and there overhear Barras conspire with a young general, Napoleon Bonaparte, in the indictment and overthrow of Robespierre. Barras seeks to persuade the young general to take the leadership. Napoleon urges Barras to topple Robespierre, but warns him that if this fails to happen he will deny this meeting ever took place.

The following day Stirling arranges Susan's release from prison. The coup against Robespierre has begun and the tyrant has been badly wounded before being seized himself and sent to the Conciergerie. The escape chain smuggles them out of Paris. Stirling heads for Calais and England; Jules and Jean will lie low as they measure the future; and the Doctor and his companions are keen to return to the TARDIS in the wood near Paris.


In a number of 1970s listing guides, the story was called The French Revolution. This appears to derive from a promotional article in the BBC listings magazine Radio Times entitled Dr Who and the French Revolution.

Hungarian director Henric Hirsch, inexperienced in working for television, had difficulty coping with the cramped Lime Grove studios, out-of-order shooting sequences and William Hartnell's lack of respect for him. As a result, he collapsed during shooting of the third episode. As producer Verity Lambert and production assistant Tim Combe both felt unable to run a studio, a short term replacement for Hirsch was found; Combe believes this to have been John Gorrie, who previously directed The Keys of Marinus, or possibly associate producer Mervyn Pinfield. No additional director is credited on-screen. Hirsch recovered in time for the filming of episode four, with his troubles eased by the production moving to Television Centre, Combe taking on some of the director's duties and Hartnell being more considerate of his manner towards the director.[1]

William Russell was on holiday during filming for episodes two and three, and appears in pre-filmed inserts only. Further filmed inserts in episode two feature long shots of the Doctor walking across countryside towards Paris. Brian Proudfoot doubles for the Doctor in these scenes,[2] which marked the first ever location filming for Doctor Who.[3]

Cast notes

Edward Brayshaw later featured in The War Games as the War Chief. Roy Herrick later provided one of the voices of Xoanon in The Face of Evil and appeared as Parsons in The Invisible Enemy. Ronald Pickup appeared in the audio play Time Works as Kestorian and Spaceport Fear as Elder Bones.

Missing episodes

This Doctor Who story was bought and screened in 19 countries, starting with Australia in September 1965. The last known television broadcast of this story was in Ethiopia, which screened it over six weeks between 24 June and 29 July 1971. On the instructions of BBC Enterprises, the copies Ethiopia screened were returned to the BBC in London in April 1972.[citation needed]

All six episodes were lost in the BBC's stock clearance of the 1970s. However, a copy of "Prisoners of Conciergerie" was returned by a private collector in 1982. In October 1984, copies of "A Land of Fear", "Guests of Madame Guillotine", and "A Change of Identity", along with another copy of "Prisoners of Conciergerie", were found in Cyprus. They were duly returned early in 1985 and the recovery was formally announced in July of that year. Cyprus did not screen The Reign of Terror (broadcasts ended with the showing of episode six of The Sensorites on 25 November 1966); the prints that were screened had been sent to Cyprus from Malta.[citation needed]

As a result of these episode recoveries only two episodes (parts 4 and 5, "The Tyrant of France" and "A Bargain of Necessity") remain missing; although copies of these episodes had also been held in Cyprus, they were destroyed in the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus.[4] For the 2013 DVD release, episodes four and five were animated by Planet 55 Studios.

Broadcast and reception

Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewers
(in millions)
"A Land of Fear" 8 August 1964 (1964-08-08) 24:24 6.9 16mm t/r
"Guests of Madame Guillotine" 15 August 1964 (1964-08-15) 24:04 6.9 16mm t/r
"A Change of Identity" 22 August 1964 (1964-08-22) 25:23 6.9 16mm t/r
"The Tyrant of France" 29 August 1964 (1964-08-29) 24:46 6.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
"A Bargain of Necessity" 5 September 1964 (1964-09-05) 23:51 6.9 Only stills and/or fragments exist
"Prisoners of Conciergerie" 12 September 1964 (1964-09-12) 25:04 6.4 16mm t/r

In 2008, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times gave a positive review of the serial, despite noting an initial dislike for it. He wrote positively of the humour and Hartnell's increased role, but felt that Susan was "at her weakest".[8] SFX reviewer Ian Berriman gave the serial two and a half out of five stars, calling it "really rather dull" after the first episode and noting that it was assumed the audience knew the history of the French Revolution.[9] The AV Club's Christopher Bahn gave the serial a negative review stating that after a compelling beginning it " falls victim instead to the number one problem of all mediocre Who serials, stretching too little story over too many episodes, and worse, it keeps retreading the same basic plot of having the characters captured, thrown into the Conciergerie Prison, rescued, recaptured, then escape and be recaptured again."[10]

Commercial Releases

In print

The Reign of Terror
File:Doctor Who The Reign of Terror.jpg
Author Ian Marter
Cover artist Tony Masero
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
March 1987 (Hardback) 20 August 1987 (Paperback)
ISBN 0-491-03702-3

A novelisation of this serial, written by Ian Marter, was published several months posthumously by Target Books in March 1987.

Home media


An audio-only version of this serial was released on CD by BBC Audio in 2005, with linking narration by Carole Ann Ford. This edition was re-released in August 2010 as part of The Lost Episodes: Collection One 1964-1965.


In October 2003, this story was released in the US on VHS, as part of a "collector's set" meant to celebrate the show's 40th anniversary by releasing all previously unavailable serials. It was then released in the UK in November 2003 and was the last VHS release. In this edition the missing episodes were bridged with short video links by Carole Ann Ford.

In November 2004, existing clips from episodes 4 and 5 were released on Region 2 DVD in the three-disc Lost in Time set.

The full serial was released on DVD in region 2 on 28 January 2013 with the two missing episodes restored through animation.[11][12] It was released in region 4 on 6 February 2013 and region 1 on 12 February 2013.[citation needed]


  1. "Don't Lose Your Head", DVD extra for The Reign of Terror (2013)
  2. 17.14.59 T/R DR. WHO - EPISODE 2: 'GUEST OF MADAME GUILLOTINE' (23/1/4/3160), Television Service- BBC1: Saturday: 15.8.1964, p. 2,, page 4/12, retrieved 11 March 2013.
  4. Molesworth, Richard (1998). "BBC Archive Holdings". Doctor Who Restoration Team Website. Retrieved 17 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Shaun Lyon; et al. (2007-03-31). "The Reign of Terror". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-03-31. Retrieved 2008-08-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "The Reign of Terror". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Sullivan, Shannon (2006-02-25). "The Reign Of Terror". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Mulkern, Patrick (7 November 2008). "Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror". Radio Times. Retrieved 2 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Berriman, Ian (25 January 2013). "Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror Review". SFX. Retrieved 28 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "The Reign Of Terror episodes to be animated". Doctor Who News Page. 2011-06-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. classicdw. "Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2013-10-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links


Target novelisation