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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Doctor Who: The Crusade

Serial Title: The Crusade
Series: 2
Episodes: 4
The Lion
The Knight of Jaffa
The Wheel of Fortune
The Warlords

Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Vicki Pallister (Maureen O'brien)

In England, 1190, Robin of Locksley takes up his bow to rob from the rich and give to the poor, battling evil against the corrupt Sherrif of Nottingham and the tyrannical Prince John, claimant to the throne- while his brother, King Richard the Lionhearted, is away at the Crusades. But we, as the audience, see none of this.

For we are away at the Crusades with King Richard instead.

The TARDIS materializes in the midst of a pitched battle between the King's men and the Saracens (Muslim defenders)-Barbara is captured by the Saracens during the fighting,
as is William des Preaux, a companion of the king who pretends to be Richard to his captors. The rest of the group saves William de Tornebu, another of the king's men, from being killed. The TARDIS crew takes him back to King Richard's court- stopping first to steal period clothes from a bazaar. Richard is grateful- though short- with the travelers, but takes a shine to the Doctor's notion of embarrassing Sultan Saladin, leader of the Moorish forces, by revealing the ruse of the captured prisoners- taking the Doctor and Vicki (masquerading as a male page boy) (NFS: No Medieval jaunt would be complete without the obligatory 'girl dressed as a boy' escapade. And ironically I think Vicki ends up looking more like a girl and prettier as a 'boy') into his court, and knighting Ian- sending Sir Ian, Knight of Jaffa, to negotiate the release of Barbara and des Preaux... and to deliver the king's offder, a final gambit for peace before throwing his armies into a full assault on the Muslim-occupied Jerusalem-
a political union and treaty of peace, sealed by a marriage between the Sultan's brother, Saphadin, and Richard's sister, Lady Joanna.

Sultan Saladin and his brother Saphadin are presented the English captives- easily perceiving that they are not King Richard and his sister Joanna (whom Barbara was pretending to be).

The now-humiliated El Akir, their captor, is still taken with Barbara; but the Sultan offers her the role of Scheherazade- tell intriguing tales (as she has already begun to, of her travels with the Doctor) in exchange for her life. A merchant, Luigi Ferrigo, is well-paid to 'help Barbara escape'- in reality, spiriting her away and delivering her to the waiting El Akir.

Once at El Akir's palace, Barbara escapes, and is given shelter by Haroun ed-Din, a poor widower living with his daughter, Safiya- and a man obsessed with vengeance on El Akir for killing his wife and son in return for Haroun's refusal to give his elder daughter, Maimuna, to him in marriage. Now, Maimuna has been taken by El Akir, the rest of his family slaughtered, and Haroun and Safiya live only because they were away at the time of the attack. Recognizing Barbara as a kindred spirit- one who also loathes El Akir; he leaves her with his daughter as he goes out to
search for patrolling guards and check if the coast is clear; however, when the guards enter Haroun's home, Barbara gives herself up to protect the hiding Safiya from discovery. (NFS: No...that wasn't the reason she gave herself up...that woman just REALLY likes being captured I think.)

Ian is ambushed by a bandit, strung up in the sun, spread-eagled, as fire ants, enticed by honey, swarm him- however he manages to trick and turn the tables on his captor, and forces the thief to lead him to El Akir's palace.

Barbara manages to shake free of the guards and hides in El Akir's harem, where she is sheltered by the harem women- including Haroun's daughter, Maimuna. One of the harem girls, Fatima, betrays her hiding place for profit- but when El Akir bursts in with murderous intent, he is beset by Ian, who arrives in the nick of time... Ian is outmatched and nearly killed in the duel, but Haroun arrives, likewise in the nick of time, to slay his family's murderer and re-unite with his daughter.

The Doctor and Vicki, meanwhile, have been embroiled in court intrigue; a powerful enemy charges them as witches and prepares for their execution- but a quick-thinking Sir Ian, whom the enemy has never met, appears on the scene with Barbara, claiming right of execution, and the group slips into the TARDIS under the guise of the Doctor's 'last request.' However, as they escape, knowing Richard's gambit for peace will fail when Joanna refuses the marriage and war will break out, the TARDIS is suddenly immobilized by a mysterious loss of power...

Well, I enjoyed this one immensely. It started out a bit slow, but hits its stride in the second half, and was fantastic.

Now, I'm no big fan of the Crusades- in my life they are, first and foremost, the primary ammunition that angry atheists like to lob-up as a first-round defense for their contempt of my Christianity... leaving aside that they were a largely political affair, perpetrated by an entirely different people, have nothing to do with actual Christian beliefs, and happened over 800ish years ago.

So, I wasn't especially looking forward to this one, as it wasn't set in a favorite time period, and the second and fourth episodes were missing. The restoration is decent, but not stellar; not the largest wealth of material to work with, but certainly more variety of screenshots than Galaxy 4 or The Myth Makers yet to come.

The performers and story stand out in quality and unique style, with chapter 3 being a standout excellent peak. The scene where Vicki talks to the Doctor about being left behind is her best yet- showcasing potential abandonment issues, vulnerability, and a great tenderness with the Doctor- a loving, grandfatherly embrace that he returns- the actress really shines in this scene, and the chemistry between the two is exquisite.

Likewise, Barbara's benefactor,
Haroun, engenders a great deal of pathos and depth even from his first scene, maximizing his very brief scenes and making you always feel as if there is a great depth of history and emotion welling in him, whose surface is just barely being scratched.

Ian, what the heck? No TARDIS crewmember should ever sleep so heavily! Not such great marks- but a brilliant final gambit at the end to redeem himself- very clever!

Barbara performs well and acts heroically, though she isn't given as much to do as the synopsis may suggest; she is adequate, though doesn't have much to stand out this serial... save maybe her agonizing conflict over whether to use the knife provided by Haroun to kill herself and his daughter rather than allow themselves to be captured.

Excellent performances in the Richard/Joanna confrontation, as well- the actors were in top form. And speaking of actors, the irony rolls across in triplicate... the actress portraying Joanna, Jean Marsh, returns to the role of a medieval ruler as the evil with Bavmorda in the film Willow (okay, perhaps that's just coincidence, it's a large genre...), Julian Glover (King Richard) portrayed Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade- a man obsessed with the Holy Grail, tracking it's path from the Crusades and eventually confronting a grail knight to get it (interestingly similar and specific thematic material...) and, oh yes... Jean Marsh was also married to the actor that would go on to play the Third Doctor. (Okay, now that's just freaky!) (NFS:.....freaky? Or Awesome????!!!)

The implied ending of Fatima, the harem sell-out, was a bit dark for this story, though, wasn't it? And even darker material- the historic incestuous relationship between Richard and Joanna-
was not allowed by the BBC, but it didn't stop Glover and Marsh from attempting to imply it for those who knew in their performances. (NFS: Incest is icky, but I have to say I am interested to watch this one again because being an amateur Actor I am always interested in how people can portray something that you wouldn't catch if you didn't know it.)

Brilliant lines on all sides-
"The brave deserve their favors."

"I admire bravery and loyalty, sir. You have both of these. But, unfortunately you haven't any brain at all. I hate fools!"

"We will not speak of this. Let this story die here in this wood or we'll be branded idiots... or liars. Poor Sir Ian, brave fellow. Spirited away by fiends. What dreadful anguish and despair he must be suffering now."
Great stuff.

Great moments:
Haroun's monologue, Joanna and Richard's debate, and Ian's ending gambit- among others.

The reconstruction was decent and well-paced- though not sprinkled through with any especially imaginative touches, it was clear, communicated the action well, and filled with a good variety of expressive poses- and for its service to the realm, we henceforth dub it Sir 3.5 Out Of 5 Shrunken TARDISes, Knight of the Realm of Ye Olde Loose Cannon. And as for its ward, the hearty young Squire Storyline…
For its excellent performances, great cast, and excellent lines- plus a truly heartwarming and magnificent scene for Vicki- this serial gets 4.5 out of 5 Shrunken TARDISes. With a better first half, it would have been a perfect 5.

And now, I return you to Sarah's half of the blog with a hearty "Knight of Jaffa, Kree!" :-) (NFS: I will leave this in because it is cute and all...but seeing as it hasn't been 'my half" of the blog since like January.... :-D But that's my fault...and a fault that I shall...perhaps...maybe...soon? Remedy.)

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