Monthly Archives: September 2012

Prosecution: Reign of Terror

The Doctor and his companions visit Revolutionary France, a period that is “the Doctor’s favorite period of Earth history” according to Susan. As I think I have mentioned before, I like these period pieces, as they add variety to series. Although the modern episodes have included more visits to Earth’s past, it seems that every occasion ends in an encounter with aliens, as if humans alone were not interesting enough. Alas.

The serial begins with the kind of uneven portrayal of Revolutionary France that characterizes it as a whole. The travelers find themselves mistaken for French monarchists, and are arrested by a group of rustic sans-culottes. So rustic, in fact, that they have difficulty pronouncing the word “guillotine”! Only the Doctor manages to escape, through the clever tactic of being knocked out. As the farmhouse is set ablaze by the revolutionaries, the fate of the Doctor is momentarily uncertain.

Susan displays her inhuman balancing ability, standing upright while unconscious.

Upon being taken to the Bastille, the three companions immediately try to escape, led by Barbara. Although as a history teacher she ought to be the centerpiece of the episode, she fails to accomplish much in aid of the group. In this instance, characteristically, her efforts to mount an escape attempt are foiled when Susan goes into hysterics after seeing some rats. Ah, how far the intrepid traveler in time and space we met in An Unearthly Child has fallen!

Susan in one of her more useful moments.

Meanwhile, the Doctor comes to and begins to make his way to Paris. There is an amusing interlude in which he is obliged to engage in manual labor, but he quickly escapes and eventually blends in by purchasing a French bureaucrat’s outfit using a ring in his possession. Which is very strange, given that the ring was said in earlier episodes to be a futuristic device. (The ring reappears later in subsequent episodes, so maybe he has a drawer full?).

In Revolutionary France, the man with the goofiest hat makes the rules.

The middle episodes are a bit goofy. There are many times in the first season in which the plot revolves around the travelers becoming separated, in order to prevent them from leaving. This is taken to extremes in Reign of Terror, as every member of the group ends up in prison or in front of a firing squad at one moment or another. Ian, as usual, shows the most pluck, and Susan is the least helpful in escaping. In the process, they become involved with a counter-revolutionary underground, something which seems to phase nobody except Barbara, who delivers an impassioned defense of the French Revolution (you go girl!). The aristocrats say they only know each other by their Christian names, but this leads to an inconsistency as one of the ringleaders is called D’Argançon.

“We are fighting for our God-given right to crush the peasantry beneath our feet.”

The writers attempt to inculcate some suspense by including that British bugbear, Bonaparte, as the rival to Robespierre. However, the Consulate wasn’t established until 1799, well after the death of Robespierre. Napoleon was actually a protégé of Robespierre, and was placed under house arrest after the Thermodorian reaction. Thus, his role in the serial is ahistorical.

“Welease me! Don’t you wascals know I am Wobespierre!”

In the end, some inspired fast-talking (and snazzy dressing) by the Doctor can’t rescue this story from its uneven pacing, non-French-speaking French, and ahistorical history. I ask the jury to find Reign of Terror guilty.

C.U.S. Ratings:

Susan: 4 (gets captured)

Barbara: 4 (gets captured)

Ian: 5 (conveys dying words of British agent, which don’t prove of much use, but form a plot point)

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Rating the Companions

During the first episode of Season 7 of the “New” Dr. Who, Asylum of the Daleks, one of the Daleks intones “records show that the Doctor needs companions.” I found this statement very interesting. Ontologically speaking, the Doctor does need companions, at least, we rarely see him acting without one or more humans in tow, even if they might be separated for plot reasons. An affection for humans is a big part of what makes the Doctor who he is — it is an essential element of his identity, in contrast to other Time Lords. In the same way, one might note that Gandalf ‘needs’ hobbits.

From a metanarrative standpoint, the Doctor’s human companions serve many functions. They provide a partner for exposition and dialogue, allow us to experience the strange worlds and times the Doctor visits through a familiar eye, and frequently aid in providing plot points. Many an adventure revolves around the rescue of a companion, or is triggered by something a companion does. In a functional sense, however, the Doctor doesn’t really need companions at all. This very episode is a signal example: Amy and Rory contribute absolutely nothing to the task at hand, and only serve to hinder the Doctor in accomplishing the main goal of the episode. It is interesting that the Daleks of all races would confuse ontological and functional reasons for the companions’ presence.

In any case, the relative uselessness of Amy and Rory in this episode is happily not characteristic of the Doctor’s companions in every episode. Quite commonly, they provide critical assistance at one point or another. This inspired me to create the Companion Usefulness Scale in order to provide a qualitative measurement of a companion’s contributions to a particular serial or episode. With this handy tool, one can measure exactly how useful any particular companion is. A companion’s rating on the C.U.S. is a number from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most useful. To generate a companion’s C.U.S. rating, find the spot on the chart that parallels the single most useful act or service that a companion provides in the course of a serial. Thus a companion who stupidly gets the Doctor into trouble, but nevertheless is responsible for getting the group rescued, will rate highly despite any foolish activity he or she may have done previously. With that said, here is the Companion Usefulness Scale:

1: Companion causes the senseless death of himself or another companion. (Note: in exception to the above, a companion who manages to get someone killed rates a “1″ regardless of any redeeming acts performed later in the serial).

2: Companion causes himself, another companion or the Doctor to become captured or otherwise in need of rescue through a palpably stupid or shortsighted act. Examples: Pushing a button that says “do not push”, going against the Doctor’s express orders, etc.

3: Companion  causes himself, another companion or the Doctor to become captured or otherwise in need of rescue through miscommunication or an act that a normal person could not clearly foresee would lead to such a consequence (despite the fact that anyone traveling with the Doctor ought to be more sensitive to such possibilities). Example: Assuming that one’s own cultural mores apply everywhere, such as offering one’s hand to an alien and finding out that that is a deadly insult on their world.

4: Companion causes himself, another companion or the Doctor to become captured or otherwise in need of rescue in a manner that could not reasonably be anticipated or avoided. Example: Arriving in what turns out to be a war zone and immediately being captured by a patrol.

5: Companion provides minor assistance to the Doctor. Examples: bringing tools to the Doctor from the TARDIS, monitoring a dial, guarding a prisoner, etc.

6: Companion rescues another companion.

7: Companion provides assistance that is critical to moving the plot forward. Examples: breaking the Doctor out of a cell, opening a safe that contains a needed key, procuring disguises that are needed to infiltrate an enemy base.

8: Companion provides the key insight or makes the key discovery that solves the major puzzle or problem facing the explorers.

9: Companion saves the Doctor’s life.

10: Companion rescues or saves the life of the Doctor and also solves the major puzzle or problem facing the explorers. In other words, the companion fills the role normally played by the Doctor.

With the Companion Usefulness Scale, it will now be possible to objectively rate the contribution of each companion in upcoming episode reviews!

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