Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror

Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror November 5, 2011

The final episode of season 1 of Doctor Who was “The Reign of Terror,” in which the Doctor, having decided to return Ian and Barbara to their own time, lands them all in France in the midst of the French Revolution.

Most of the various parts of the story, like many of these early ones, is spent caught up in historical events trying to figure out how to get out of those entanglements and imprisonments and back to the TARDIS.

There isn’t too much to note related to religion in the episode. But there is one quote worth sharing:

JULES: There are only two sides today, Barbara. Those who rule by fear and treachery, and those who fight for reason and justice. Anyone who betrays these principles is worse than the devil in hell!

We also have further exploration of the subject of history and the inability to change it. The Doctor says at one point that “It will happen exactly as it is written.” While some have regretted the move away from this stance towards a view of time as capable of being rewritten, it is quite clear that in the show’s early days, no one had given adequate thought to what time travel means. The lives of these time travelers are part of that history, and so does this mean that they cannot do otherwise than they do? From the very beginning their lives are the past from the perspective of people in the future. Is this to say that all of time is a block universe in which freedom and even personhood are illusions? There is something preferable about a view that says that time can be rewritten at least sometimes and in some small measure. And it may be that the Doctor’s statement is about the broad sweep of things, not the minor details. It will happen as it is written in the history books, because for it not to would create paradoxes. But that need not mean that each individual’s freedom is an illusion, only that it is constrained by forces greater than one’s own individual will and decisions.

The alternative would be to take the Doctor’s words in a predestinarian sense. And if one does that, then we would have to ask who it is that has written history and predetermined how it must unfold.

Carol Ann Ford, who played Susan, narrates the audiobook version, and it was refreshing to hear her complain that she had been disappointed with the way her character was written for: Her role seemed to be to scream a lot and to get into trouble from which other characters had to rescue her. They didn’t know how to write for her character as it had been originally described, an alien whose wisdom and intelligence was far beyond what a human being her age would have had.

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