Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Reviews


List:
16 Jan 2007The Crusade, by Eddy Wolverson
16 Jan 2007The Crusade, by Finn Clark
16 Jan 2007The Crusade, by Paul Clarke
16 Jan 2007The Crusade, by Gareth Jelley

“The Crusade” is not one of my favourite first Doctor serials. The fact that half of the episodes are missing from the BBC archives does the story no favours, but my problem with David Whitaker’s story is that it is no more than a series of very unfortunate events. Granted, “The Crusade” is a series of well-written and well-acted unfortunate events, but as is the problem with so many Hartnell stories there is nothing more to the plot than the Doctor and his companions trying to escape Palestine in one piece. Comparing his story to “The Aztecs,” for example, really highlights its shortcomings. Although that serial is also based around the premise of the Doctor and his companions trying to get back to the TARDIS alive, it is a much more intriguing story as it explores Barbara actively trying to change history – something that by this point in her travels, she knows she cannot do.

That said, I think that the production standards of “The Crusade” are higher than in any of the earlier Hartnell historicals. There isn’t a cloth background in sight; the costumes and make-up jobs are superb and even the scenes set outside (in the desert and the woods, for example) are very convincing for a 1965 studio-bound TV show. Moreover, “The Crusade” should be watched if only for Julian Glover’s brilliant portrayal of King Richard the Lionheart. Glover manages to imbue the ruthless crusader with a surprisingly sympathetic side, depicting him as a tortured soul who always does what he believes to be right. Even when we, the audience, disagree with what he is doing – be it waging war on a foreign land or aggressively arranging his sister’s marriage – thanks to Glover’s performance we can still identify with the King’s point of view. Incidentally, Jean Marsh (who would return to the show in 1989’s “Battlefield”) also gives a spirited performance as Lionheart’s sister, Joanna, and I would be doing Walter Randall a great injustice if I did not mention his absolutely malevolent El Akir – possibly the most evil human character ever to appear in Doctor Who. His scarred face masks an even more hideous interior, and in spite of Doctor Who’s family audience, the implications of his deplorable actions (kidnapping, rape etc.) give his character a very real, very nasty side that many (particularly early) Doctor Who villains lack.

Watching “The Lion” and “The Wheel of Fortune” on the “Lost In Time” DVD and also telesnap reconstructions of “The Knight of Jaffa” and “The War-Lords” I think I have managed to get a very good feel for this story, and sadly I think the negative elements outweigh the positive. It’s slightly too depressing to watch Barbara be taken prisoner, escape, be hunted and then finally end up wrapped up the affairs of the Haroun family that El Akir has torn apart. The Doctor’s cringeworthy ‘feud’ with the Earl of Leicester is both tedious and painful to watch, and how on Earth Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki can credibly pass for a boy is beyond me! In fact, of the TARDIS crew I think that Ian is the only character who has a decent outing – he ends up not only saving the day but also being knighted!

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A marvel this, that one would not believe

Had one's own eyes not seen it on the screen.

I knew it in its Target-published form;

Novelisations rarely ever matched

The skill of David Whitaker and his pen

A-dipped in poetry and high romance.

However watching this was I surprised.

I played the DVD and there did see

In Shakespeare's tongue, a play of Doctor Who.

'Twas like some kind of challenge; ne'er before

Had I imagined such a thing could be

Yet so it was, with dialogue that sang,

With rhythm, style and language unsurpassed,

With imagery to soar like angels' wings

Transforming even soldiers into bards.

Warmongering fools, as dubbed by Hartnell, still

Did please our ears with poetry on screen.

In fairness I admit one further stab

Has since been made at Shakespeare's verse in Who -

The Trials of Tara, penned by Paul Cornell

And Virgin-published through a Decalog:

'Twas funny, but a limping string of gags

Whose rhythm only bore resemblance faint

To Shakespeare's verse... pentameter, my arse.

However this Crusade did hit the mark,

I never cringed, but in its stead admired

The brave imagination and the skill

That crafted lines like this for what in truth

Could be a weekly treadmill of a show.

Such language could alone have made this great,

But furthermore its story is unique,

In quality and crazy shit alike

Both reaching such a pitch that modern minds

Might reel in wonder, both at Whitaker

And what the sixties saw as children's fare.

Part one, The Lion, feels a trifle slow,

But after that it hardly touches ground

With danger, death, misogny and knives;

Our Barbara wonders should she cut a throat

While El Akir, the villain, gets his kicks

Inflicting rape and degradation foul

Upon his womenfolk, then when he's bored

A-butchering at whim to start anew.

"The only pleasure left for you is death,"

He says, while good King Richard in the script

Did have incestuous subtext with Joanna

Until Bill Hartnell had it taken out.

All hail this crazy bastard Whitaker,

To put this in a children's teatime slot,

Before The Space Museum and The Chase.

The history has points of interest too.

King Richard isn't unrevisionist,

In character at times a spoiled brat,

Which well described the real King Richard too:

At war and schemes a master, yet with men

A diplomatic fool and full of foes,

Whose name throughout the Middle East did live

In infamy for seven cent'ries thence.

Of course the ethnic side presents a snag.

Arabian Central Casting this is not.

Worse yet, this draws attention to itself

By virtue of the story's racial themes.

And Weng-Chiang gets bashed... this story too

Caucasian actors casts in place of those

Who could have played authentically its roles.

This is a shame, and yet I like the script,

Which has great sympathy for Arab views

And Saladin does show in better light

Than reckless childish Richard Lionheart.

Spookily the real King Richard bore

To Julian Glover some resemblance,

The image on his tomb in Fontevrault, France,

Does bear some witness to this claim of mine.

At six foot four, fair-haired and handsome too,

He captured hearts and minds despite his faults.

Overall this story simply rules.

It's bloody dangerous, with shocking death

And irony, as young Sofia runs

To fetch the dagger that so nearly could

Have by the hand of Barbara slit her throat.

Part three, The Wheel of Fortune, also has

An awesome confrontation 'twixt the king

And Marsh's fierce Joanna, which deserves

The rich Shakespearian language it employs.

Part four, The Warlords, is a tragic loss

To TV archives, yet its audio

Kicks arse - especially the desert bandit.

Astonishing this is, in every way.

Again the Hartnell era breaks the rules,

Again unequalled through all Doctor Who.

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If 'The Aztecs' is Shakespearean, then 'The Crusade' certainly is and not just because part of the script is written in iambic pentameter. The acting throughout is exemplary, the characterisation superb, and the principle villain a truly repellent individual. If Whitaker's previous two-parters were light on plot, then this story suggests that that was a limitation of the story time available, rather than a lack of ability on his part. The entire story is virtually perfect, with convincing sets, excellent costumes and the aforementioned acting, most notably Bernard Kay as Saladin, Julian Glover as King Richard, Jean Marsh as Joanna, and Walter Randall as El Akir. In addition, Douglas Camfield's direction is superb, helping to make the story seem less set-bound than the equally impressive but slightly stagy 'The Aztecs'. Every actor in the guest cast acts with great conviction, and there is not one wooden performance. As in 'The Romans', even the minor characters are well served, from the obsequious Ben Daheer, to the snooty Chamberlain, the self-serving Luigi Ferrigo, and the rather angry Earl of Leicester. 

As the Lionheart, Julian Glover almost steals the show. He shows a range of emotions, and cuts a tortured figure, exhausted by the war that he has pursued but determined not to give up until he has seen Jerusalem. Given that he tries to marry off his sister in the name of politics and that he is, basically, invading a foreign land in the cause of religious persecution, I find it difficult to have much sympathy for him, but he is nevertheless a compelling character. The scene in which he and Joanna argue about her would-be wedding to Saphadin is fantastic, both characters brimming with anger and each actor totally convincing. The moment when Richard raises his hand to strike his sister and then stops himself is especially powerful. Despite this loss of control however, he can also be suitably commanding when necessary, as befits the leader of a large army. Richard's opposition fares just as well, and it is to Whitaker's credit that he manages to avoid racism in his portrayal of the Saracens. True, blacked up actors are now a thing of the past, but from a character standpoint, the Saracens are just as diverse as their English enemies. Saladin, like Richard, is a commanding figure, and in many ways seems wiser and more deserving of respect. He is thoughtful, and intelligent, and also merciful – he treats the captive de Preaux with respect and contemptuously dismisses El Akir's sadistic suggestions as to what to do with Barbara. He allows Ian to search for Barbara, noting that "the brave deserve their favours". On the other hand, his suggestion that if Barbara cannot justify her presence in his court he will dispose of her is delivered with just enough edge to be all too believable, implying that, when required to be, he can be just as ruthless as the Lionheart. In episode three, when Saphadin receives Richard's offer of Joanna's hand, he is cautious, realizing that it is a desperate last attempt to avoid all-out war but also prepared to allow the marriage if the offer proves genuine; again, Kay impresses during this scene, convincingly revealing Saladin's keen mind and, like Glover, demonstrating that this man also has the respect of his subjects. The other Saracens are just as convincing – Ben Daheer is clearly a regular man trying to make a living in a troubled world, whilst Haroun is a man whose world has been torn apart and who is desperate to avenge his wife and son, protect one of his daughters, and free the other. And then there is El Akir…

El Akir is one of the most unpleasant villains to appear in Doctor Who to date, and the implication as to what his actual crimes are, is surprisingly adult in nature for Doctor Who at that time. He is a murderer and a rapist, who slaughtered Haroun's wife and son and took his daughter captive, adding her to his harem. Randall (previously Tonila in 'The Aztecs') plays him as vicious and sadistic, without ever letting the character go over the top into pantomime territory and thus making seem him all the more evil. After Barbara humiliates him, he is obsessed with revenge for the entire story, relentlessly pursuing her and determined to break her spirit. I noted when I was discussing 'The Romans', that Nero's advances towards Barbara were performed in such a way as to make them seem comedic in spite of the implied sexual harassment and possible intended sexual assault; here however, there is no such lighter side to El Akir's obvious intent to rape and torture her. His line at the end of episode three ("the only pleasure left for you is death – and death is very far away") is utterly chilling. It is appropriate, in the end, that his death is very much a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair – whereas Tegana got to go out fighting and ultimately chose to die by his own hand, El Akir gets no such final battle. A knife in the back kills him, as he threatens Barbara in his harem – he is an animal, and as such he is butchered. 

The regulars continue to shine amidst this impressive guest acting. The Doctor is his usual wily self in the court of King Richard, neatly avoiding being (rightfully!) accused of theft, and trying to stay one step ahead of the court intrigue that eventually overtakes him and Vicki. His final scene with Richard is superb, as he graciously accepts the King's reasons for continuing to support Leicester and outwardly blame the Doctor for the failure of his plans to marry Joanna off to Saphadin, and parts on good terms with him, reassuring Richard that he will see Jerusalem, which seems to give the weary King the courage he needs to face the coming battle. 'The Crusade' also has one of those eminently quotable lines about the Doctor, as Joanna tells him "There is something new in you. Yet something older than the sky. I sense that I can trust you". Vicki unfortunately is again relegated to sidekick, and gets very little to do, but remains her usual plucky self. And it is rather endearing when she tells the Doctor that the TARDIS feels like her home by now and that she can't imagine being anywhere else. Barbara of course faces the worst trials here, first kidnapped and forced to agree to entertain Saladin's court, and then of course facing the deeply unpleasant threat of El Akir's less-than-tender mercies. She continues to impress with her bravery, especially when she surrenders to the guards in Haroun's house, in order to save his daughter from discovery. The fact that Haroun obviously thought death to be better fate than slavery to El Akir makes her sacrifice and bravery all the more impressive. Ian too fares well, here getting knighted by Richard the Lionheart. He doesn't get any sword-fighting to do, but he does outwit Ibrahim and later the Earl of Leicester, thus allowing the TARDIS crew to finally escape and leave. 

I said that 'The Crusade' is virtually perfect – it has too problems. Firstly, Vicki's disguise as a boy would be more in keeping with one of the comedy historicals (and is of course magnificently sent up in 'The Plotters') and is rather unconvincing, especially given that it takes close inspection from both Joanna and the Chamberlain for anyone to believe that she is a girl. Say what you want about Maureen O'Brien, but she doesn't look like a boy. The second problem is Ibrahim, who provides comic relief and gets a couple of great lines ("my brother… a miserable thief"), but who is rather clichéd, coming across as an Arabic Fagin. These niggles aside, 'The Crusade' is one of the finest historical stories, and is heartily recommended. And I'd strongly recommend getting the Loose Cannon recon of episodes two and four to complement the BBC boxed set.

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The First Doctor story 'The Crusade' has not survived whole: we now possess only the first episode and the third. The visual quality of these episdodes is variable, with the first being particularly bad, and the third marginally better. The soundtrack to both is good, as these things go. In addition to these episodes, there exist audio recordings (made during the original television broadcasts) of the second and fourth episodes. These are poor in quality, but they do at least provide us with evidence of the acting and music in the missing episodes. Enjoying 'The Crusade' is thus a struggle against problematic circumstances. Only if we had a complete recording of this thoroughly historical adventure would we be able to know properly what it is like. So any real enjoyment comes from individual scenes, performances, and other such elements, which allow us to see what the complete article may have been like.

One thing we do know would have been constant throughout is the look of 'The Crusades', and the design of sets and costumes, for example, does at least make looking at 'The Crusades' a pleasure. Little props that characters can fiddle with and small details in the background all contribute to a sense of time and history, although it has to be said that this is history as seen by 'Doctor Who', and there are doubtless inconsistencies and inaccuracies aplenty. The scale of television productions will always limit the scope and breadth of the visual environment, but the creative team get around this by using the compact nature of certain scenes to enhance tension and atmosphere. Lighting is used well, in small spaces, with flames and such things casting interesting shadows at all the right moments. And this is combined effectively with tight, controlled camera-work to create a Doctor Who story that looks, at moments, as though it had a far bigger budget than it did in fact have. There is nothing better on television than a really good close-up of someone looking angry combined with an anxious face filling the background; simple things, constructed with a little care, can have a huge effect. Sadly, it is not all this good, and there are frequently moments that jar with the professional look of certain scenes. The fight scene in episode one is one such jarring moment: a narrative muddle that is best completely forgotten about.

Although 'The Crusades' overall is not a marvel, some of the performances are positively cinematic. Some of the stuff on display here is not what you usually see on genre television. An exchange between Julian Glover and Jean Marsh in episode three is the best surving scene, in terms of writing, visual effect, and dramatic power. These two actors both appeared in Doctor Who again, but it is this scene in 'The Crusade' that I will now remember them for. Other actors, too numerous to name, also put in subtle and complex appearances, the weakest probably being (ironically) the show regular, Maureen O'Brien. It may be that Vicki is supposed to be fragile and delicate, but when set against the rest of the story, she just comes across as shallow and wet excuse for a character.

The Doctor, the most important regular of them all, is another kettle of fish. It is less that specific lines are delivered excellently, or that he is written for very well, and more that at specific and key dramatic moments Hartnell simply 'looks' just right. His facial expressions and body language convey a vast amount of information to the audience. Hartnell's Doctor is cunning without being devious, belligerent without being arrogant, and it is only a pity that he didn't have more to do, or that there wasn't more happening for him to react to.

And this is a problem, more generally, in 'The Crusades': very little seems to happen, from what I can gather from the surviving episodes and audio recordings. The first episode is poorly paced, and the second episode is full of ineffectual dialogue. The third episode feels more dramatic thanks to a couple of powerful scenes, but the story itself isn't compelling enough, and Barbara, a character full of potential, spends of lot of time apparently just looking on anxiously.

For the video release William Russell was filmed, in character as Ian, in three 'linking' segments. He looks back at his travels with the Doctor, as though reminiscing with a friend, and these little fillers, plugging the story's holes with little synopses, are pleasant to watch (if a tiny bit nostalgic in conception and a little shoddy in execution). Overall, however, 'The Crusades' suffers both for being incomplete, and for being far less entertaining than it might have been. Worth a watch, though, for the argument that links (through Glover and Marsh) 'City of Death' to 'Battlefield'.

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