Friday, January 16, 2015

The Reign of Terror — Blogging Doctor Who

They should have
made that his new
I think it’s a very British thing that in “Reign of Terror” all sympathy, except a small part in episode 5, is directed toward the aristocrats. Oh, those poor, poor French nobles, harassed and dispossessed by the filthy rabble. The early British histories of the French Revolution were written from the perspective that an aristocracy was a Good Thing, mainly because the authors were beneficiaries of just that social order. And so, the revolutionaries get depicted as venal, corrupt, and bloodthirsty, as opposed to those poor nobles who were venal, corrupt, and bloodthirsty.

Historically, we pretty much get a one-sided portrait of era. Late in the story, we find that one of the counterrevolutionaries is himself only of bourgeois birth, as if that mattered. In the period just prior to the Revolution, the well-to-do but not noble were eagerly marrying into the nobility, particularly the impoverished nobility, as in the case of the Marquis de Sade. Sade’s in-laws, the Montreuils, were accused of having monarchist sympathies (which they almost certainly did) in part because they had married into the Sade family. Sade had become a proponent of the Revolution, and was even one of the last prisoners of the Bastille. At Citizen Sade, he defended his in-laws, making the (almost certainly false) claim that his in-laws were staunch believers in a republic, and had only allowed a member of the despised nobility into their family because he shared their views.

Sade was not the only member of the nobility who threw his lot in with the revolution. One of the king’s cousins was a prominent Jacobin, though there it seems that he was hoping in a constitutional monarchy, he might get to be the monarch. In “Reign of Terror,” history is reduced to something more of a simple view of aristos versus the common folk, although one of the revolutionaries with a part in the serial, Barras, was a member of the nobility. On the other hand, it gives the cast a chance to make use of the BBC’s collection of costumes representing the eighteenth century.

Oh, the costumes! Yes, this one gets to be a costume drama, with some degree of historical inaccuracy. Would Robespierre really have cited a date in the pre-revolutionary calendar? For him, the events wouldn’t have been July 1794, but Thermidor of Year II, under the French republican calendar (specifically 9 Thermidor, Year II). To say anything else would have been counter-revolutionary (yes, this is the sort of thing I think about when watching Doctor Who). Let’s just say that the Doctor isn’t the only one who likes this historical period.

Onward to acting and matters like that. James Caimcross, who plays Lemaitre, comes off as somewhat stilted and shouty at times. It’s not a very subtle performance. Jack Cunningham gives a wonderful performance as the jailer, surly to his prisoners, craven to his superiors. Some of the direction could be better (Wikipedia says that the director hated the studio and collapsed on the set).

Eye Candy for Gay Time Lords
Oh yes. No major characters, but there are some fine young aristocrats in the first episode (who get shot by those nasty revolutionaries). There are various others as well. Not huge on eye candy, but not devoid of it either.

So, Is This a Must-See?
No. Let’s be honest: there aren’t going to be many that are. This one lags behind both “The Keys of Marinus” and “The Sensorites,” although I think it’s better than “The Aztecs.” Move along!

Next: "Planet of Giants."
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