Directed by Douglas Camfield
Written by David Whitaker
Of the first two incarnations of The Doctor (the only two Doctors who have missing episodes). Season 2 of Doctor Who is easily the most complete (and shortest) with 37 of its 39 episodes having been recovered. Of course the still leaves two missing episodes which we have to deal with here, but it certainly could be worse which we will see when we get to the far more decimated run of The Second Doctor. Unlike the last partially missing serial “The Reign of Terror”, we are back to the slide show format of “The Aztecs” which is far from ideal.
Continuing the general pattern of alternating historicals and sci-fi, “The Crusades” takes place during the second Crusades during the 12th century as King Richard the Lionheart wars against the Saracens led by Saladin. It also sets itself up for plenty of political maneuvering which on most shows would be quite dull, but on Doctor Who it is a natural fit. Once again the plot is set in motion by the party splitting up as Barbara is quickly kidnapped. Where the last serial took nearly an episode to get going, “The Crusades” is off to the races in the first few minutes with barely any set up. It’s jarring at first (to the viewer and characters) but the pace settles into a quicker than normal Doctor Who but still fairly slow pace. Instead of dumping the exposition at the beginning the serial spreads it out establishing only what’s needed and moving from there. It gets all the important characters introduced quickly and lets the drama unfold.
Despite Bernard Kay (in his second of four appearances on the show) being in brownface as Saladin, Saladin is treated with a surprising amount of respect. I’ve mentioned before how The First Doctor’s run has seen a number of fairly nuanced villains and it continues here. Saladin is portrayed as a fairly measured and sympathetic including his sparing of Barbara and a fake Richard the Lionheart’s life even after they have proven to be liars and not valuable prisoners. He’s still up for a bit of scheming but what leader isn’t. The Crusaders on the other hand, who in most cases would be the unequivocal heroes, are portrayed as war happy brutes, Joanna’s opposition to being married off is portrayed as equal parts hateful religious discrimination, racism and simply not wanting to be married off (though the latter two are especially played up), while Richard the Lionheart is hardly flawless himself with an uneven temperament that has him exploding in rage and blind devotion to making it to Jerusalem. The Crusaders are still the designated heroes as a result of being white and led by an Englishman on a British show with the prime villains being made out to be Saladin’s treacherous underlings but it’s a start.
Ian in another upgrade to his fighting ability is able to defeat a Saracen in sword to sword combat while The Doctor is able to hold off another for a significant period of time. I like to imagine that they are actually improving (if a bit too quickly) and this was all intended but it is more likely Ian was always intended to be a good fighter and it just took time before the show was able to depict it well. All in all, Ian is much more useful here than normal becoming quickly trusted by the King enough to be knighted and ultimately saving The Doctor and Vicki’s life. Ian is truly feeling like he is fitting into his spot as the muscle with a solid amount of intelligence instead of Season 1’s awkward attempts to assert him as the leader and counterpart to The Doctor which just made him seem more dense and petulant than anything else. He is once again the most detached from the story with the natural pairing of The Doctor and Vicki once against being used while Barbara’s solo plot feels better integrated. I don’t know why they can’t think of better ways to work him into the story without sending him off from the main plot, but it sure feels that way.
Overall this is a major course correction from last time in both pace and quality and is quite easily the best historical so far. The four episodes once again lends itself more naturally to a more enjoyable experience barreling through more story in 4 episodes that “The Web Planet” did in six. It may not have the impressive scope that one did, but it made up for it with plenty of character work for its serial exclusive characters and in what is either Stockholm Syndrome or good work by them, I never once though “wow this looks cheap”. Even with half of the video missing, it is still very entertaining.
– Jean Marsh who plays Joanna in this serial would later go on to play companion Sara Kingdom but we’ll get to that later.
– I mentioned the brownface, but there are some non-White actors for once.
– Despite the fairly sympathetic portrayal of Saladin, this serial was never sold in the Middle East to avoid angering anyone which I can’t really speak to whether it would or even rather if it should anger anyone (well aside from the brownface).
– “You wouldn’t go off and leave me would you?” Poor Vicki, no one truly stays with The Doctor forever and while I won’t get into the details of her departure now, The Doctor trying to reassure her he isn’t going anywhere gives some major flashbacks (well flashforwards) to many similar conversations in NuWho.
– Vicki’s disguise as “Victor” is humorously half-arsed and I’m not sure how it fooled anyone.
– This time it is Vicki who wants to know why The Doctor can’t warn Richard the Lionheard of his impending failure because it would change history. Unlike Barbara she is more bummed than sincerely depressed by this notion and it hardly affects the plot (don’t want to be repeating plots too early).
– This Week in Cliffhangers: The cliffhanger makes its delightful return with the TARDIS lights dimming and the TARDIS itself ultimately freezing along with everyone on board.
Next Up: “The Space Museum”