Apologies for the lack of blog updates over the last week and a bit – I’ve been busy with the Football Manager Survey thing that I’m doing.
Anyway, when last we checked in on the Doctor and his companions they had just left the planet Vortis. Next up is a trip back in time to the era of Richard the Lionheart and the Holy Wars. Yes, it’s the only story in Series 2 to have any missing
episodes – The Crusade.
Sadly, episodes 2 and 4 of this story are presumed to no longer exist, and indeed up to 12 years ago only Episode 3 – The Wheel of Fortune – survived in the BBC Archives. That was until Episode 1 – The Lion – was found in the possession of a New Zealand film collector.
It’s quite fortunate that this actually happened, since The Crusade was sold to fewer foreign countries than the average William Hartnell story. That’s because it could be deemed to be offensive in some quarters, and as such, it wasn’t sold to any of the Middle Eastern states.
Although as you’ll read, I’m not exactly sure why…
Doctor Who – The Crusade Review: What’s This One About?
The TARDIS lands in a forest on the outskirts of the Israeli city of Jaffa, coincidentally in the middle of a Saracen ambush of King Richard and his associates.
Almost immediately, Barbara is captured by the nefarious El Akir and – along with Sir William de Preaux – is taken to the palace of the Saracen leader Saladin. In an attempt to save their lives, William bluffs El Akir into believing that he is King Richard, and Barbara is his sister Joanna. When their lie is exposed, El Akir is pissed off and out for Barbara’s blood.
Meanwhile, having saved the real King Richard from a would-be executioner, the Doctor, Ian and Vicki are welcomed to his court. While there, they try their best to encourage the King to let Ian go and try to broker a peace deal – saving Barbara in the process. By the time he finally relents – and officially gives Ian the title of Sir Ian, Knight of Jaffa – Barbara has already managed to escape, although eventually finds herself back in the clutches of El Akir.
So Ian must travel on to save Barbara from the El Akir, while the Doctor and Vicki hang around King Richard’s court.
Along the way there are lots of hi-jinx involving the Doctor stealing clothes from a shop, Ian being tortured by – and eventually defeating and then befriending – an ‘of-the-time’ racist caricature of an thieving Arab, Vicki pretending to be a young
boy, Barbara promising a man she’ll kill his daughter rather than letting her be captured by El Akir (OK, maybe that doesn’t qualify as hi-jinx), Royal Shakespeare Company level acting by Julian Glover & Jean Marsh…
and Bernard Kay blacked up.
Oh those crazy days before political correctness
The Good – Serious Acting
As I say above, there are the occasional comedy moments in this one, mostly involving the Doctor and his interactions with the stereotypical ‘on the take’ shopkeeper Ben Daheer (played by well known 60s Z-Cars actor Reg Prichard) and the Palace Chamberlain.
For the most part though, this is a far cry from the ‘Roman Romp’ of two stories before. The director – Douglas Campfield – has brought in a host of terrific ‘serious’ actors and given them
a strong subject matter to sink their teeth into.
Best of the lot is Julian Glover – perhaps best known for his role in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (although Who fans will always remember him as Count Scarlioni in the City of Death) – as King Richard the Lionheart.
Sometimes you get the feeling that the more ‘established’ guest actors maybe don’t take it that seriously and ham it up a bit when they guest star on Dr Who. Not Glover; he plays it as straight as an arrow and with absolute conviction. I particularly love his scene with the real Joanna (played by Jean Marsh) in Episode 3 where they argue about marrying her off to Saladin’s brother Saphadin as a means of making peace. The two of them go back and forth in an engaging and engrossing fashion, including the fantastic line “You defy me with the POPE?!?!?!”. Such is the quality of this scene, it’s probably the strongest ‘acting’ seen on the series up to this point.
And it’s not just Glover and Marsh who excel either. Walter Randall plays El Akir with a believable menace, helped by the great job the makeup department has done with his facial scar (the little things often make a big difference), while Bernard Kay is back again (probably too soon after his recent appearance as Tyler in the Daleks Invasion of Earth) giving a slightly more animated – yet still characteristically stoic – performance as Saladin.
As a final note on this, credit must be give for the sub-plot involving Haroun El-Din and his daughter in episode 3 (that’s the one I mention above about Barbara promising to kill his daughter rather than letting her be captured). It’s about as far away from the jovial tone of The Romans as you can get.
The Indifferent – Racial Stereotyping/Characterisation
I’m not going to jump on the offended bus here – I don’t really have much of a problem with the racial stereotyping and ‘blacking up’ of actors in old shows like this. Yes, I understand that it would be considered offensive now, but this was made in 1965. It’s all about perspective.
Bernard Kay doesn’t play his character for laughs, and the integrity of the character of Saladin isn’t in any way ruined by the fact that it’s a white guy with brown make-up playing him. I’d like to think that any right minded person would see that.
I could however understand if people were offended by the character of Ibrahim (played by Tutti Lemkow – a man whose appearances in three different Doctor Who stories are all missing from the archives)
Ibrahim’s character is that of a sleazy and cowardly bandit and Lemkow portrays him in a similar way to Spike Milligan’s ‘Put it in the Curry’ Dalek. There’s no chance this would be allowed to happen today.
But having said that, it’s not spectacularly offensive. Indeed. it’s no different to the portrayal of people from that neck of the woods than in Disney’s Aladdin, or the way the Chinese are portrayed in any number of children’s films made at the time, and certainly nowhere near the likes of the Black & White Minstrel Show.
As an interesting aside as well, it’s worth noting that the way the story is written, Saladin is portrayed as a fair and thoughtful guy, while Richard is often seen to be childish and sulking. That’s not how films or TV shows based around these events tend to go.
The Bad – A General Lack of Action
The thing that drags The Crusade down unfortunately is that…well…nothing much actually happens.
With the historical stories, the young viewer has come to expect to see the Time Travellers land during times of historical significance (like the overthrowing of Robespierre, the burning of Rome and later, the Viking Invasion, the part of the Trojan War with the wooden horse, and the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve) but if nothing like that happens, the scripts tend to fall back on other elements of the plot to save it – e.g. The Aztecs is a story about time travel that educates the viewer about Aztec culture at the same time.
In the Crusade, we don’t really get to see anything major happen and there’s nothing else going on to distract from that. The TARDIS has landed at a point of stalemate between Richard and Saladin, and leaves without anything being resolved. The two of them don’t meet, and instead it’s really just 3 episodes of politics between the two, followed by an extra episode where Ian has to rescue Barbara again.
Indeed, other than Barbara and her bid to escape El Akir, the main cast don’t really do much. The Doctor – with Vicki once again glued to his hip – does nothing other than hope to stay out of everyone’s way (although he does take the opportunity to viciously attack some poor sod at the start of episode 1) and Ian is once again sent off on a quest to rescue his woman.
Even the way it ends is lacklustre. The Doctor and Vicki just tell Richard that they are leaving and he accepts it. Yes, there’s an episode-long side story-arc about how one of Richard’s Knights ends up having an issue with him and follows the pair of them out to the forest, but it’s either just a bit weak or lost in translation on the reconstruction.
Maybe it’s unfair to criticise it for nothing of historical significance happening, but then, if that is accurate, they shouldn’t have made a story about it in the first place.
A few random observations to finish…
- The guy who is involved in the fight with Ian during Episode 3 is nowhere to be seen in Episode 4. Presumably Tutti Lemkow wasn’t available to film the insert for Episode 3 and so is replaced with his ‘brother’, but it does seem a bit weird.
- The BBC once again deserve credit for the fantastic job they do with the sets, costumes and music in this story. The Beeb is second to none when it comes to historical stuff like this
- Unlike the Romans, where there is such a small cast that Sevcheria has multiple jobs and Tavius has a split-personality, The Crusade seems to employ almost a completely different cast with each episode. Clearly the budget was bigger on
- I love the end to Episode 3. El-Akir’s line of “The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away” is a doozy.
- Even watching it now, years after it was rediscovered, watching The Lion still feels as though you’re getting to do something new and exciting as a Doctor Who fan. How sad, eh?
Doctor Who – The Crusade Review: Should You Watch The Crusade?
There are two sides to this argument.
On the one hand you have a story where nothing much happens, and the main character is sidelined with almost nothing to do.
Yet on the other hand you have a very nice looking story containing perhaps the strongest ‘guest’ acting on the show up to this point, and probably for a long time to come.
Even if The Lion hadn’t been rediscovered in 1999, we’d be lucky to still have probably the best of the 4 episodes remaining in The Wheel of Fortune. Glover and Marsh are superb.
I had seen The Crusade a few times before and always enjoyed it, but having looked at it critically for this review, I can’t help but feel that there just isn’t that much to it.
With lesser actors involved, I don’t think it would be remembered as fondly as it is.
So sadly, for the second story in a row, I can’t really recommend it too much.
Next Time: The Space Museum