“The Reign of Terror” is probably one of if not the most sophisticated episodes of Doctor Who yet. I’ve said before how the six-part episodes always fill me with dread as the show has a tendency to stretch already thin plots out to the point of lunacy for the sake of limited budget, but “Reign of Terror” actually uses this long long stretch of episodes to its advantage crafting a story that is rich with history, suspense, and intrigue… but Susan is still useless.
In “Reign of Terror,” the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Screamy McFaintypants find themselves in the middle of the beginnings of the French revolution and are almost immediately swept up in the events with the doctor’s companions being sent off to prison and the Doctor forced to assume the identity of a French aristocrat to save them.
There are twists, turns, and complications through the serial but it never becomes trite or dull. The cliffhangers were all wonderfully executed, the danger always felt real, and the location shootings (a first for Doctor Who, if I’m not mistaken) only added to the richness of the episode.
“Reign of Terror” is dark as well… darker than anything that Doctor Who had done before. It’s violent, unflinching and brutal at times, but other times it’s overruned by ridiculous stock characters like the drunk jailer. While I understand the need for levity in the harshness, it makes the episodes terribly unbalanced at times.
Still, “Reign of Terror” is one of the most polished efforts from classic Doctor Who so far even with the interesting animated reconstructions that substituted episodes 4 and 5. I really enjoyed this historical misadventure.