Doctor Who Sunday: The Crusade
Before this: The Web Planet
Season 2, Episode 6: The Crusade
The Crusade is the sixth serial of the second season of Doctor Who. Two of the four episodes are missing and only have audio.
After the slog that was The Web Planet, a historical episode with missing parts was probably not the best follow up. Half of this story is missing – which is still better than Marco Polo or any of the other episodes in Season 3 (I am particularly worried about the upcoming Dalek’s Master Plan). However, despite the fact it appeared slow, it was actually a well thought out and interesting story. Historically a little dubious (as are all Classic Who episodes), it nevertheless does raise interesting questions about invasion, war, and the nature of evil in humanity – dated language and stereotypes aside.
Old Ian’s video preamble was quite fun and adorable though – hopefully there’s more of that!
The story starts with the TARDIS materialising in a forest somewhere outside of the city of Acre during the Third Crusade. For those of you who are unaware, this was Richard the Lionheart’s Crusade against the Saracen forces led by the Egyptian Saladin. Right from the start there are problems – they quite literally stumble out the door into a skirmish between Saracen and Crusader forces, and Barbara falls is taken prisoner by the Saracens. The story kicks off from there, drawing on a wealth of minor characters and sub-stories. Admittedly, because of the audio-only episodes, it was a little difficult to follow all the stories – fuzzy audio combined with shockingly bad Saracen accents that sound the same do not make fun viewing. However, the stories were solid, if a little boring.
As with most Classic Who stories, The Crusade is driven by its characters. There are the four main characters, who manage to bumble around and mess up history as expected – although the Doctor reveals himself to be a wily barterer, and Ian becomes a knight! The other characters are interesting, and fortunately the show doesn’t paint either side as completely moral. The Saracens are led by the impossibly chivalrous and gentlemanly Saladin, but there are also corrupt traders and violent warlords (and some very bad English attempts at Arabic accents). The Europeans are led by the noble Lionheart, who has a temper, but he is plagued with court intrigue, religious fanaticism and a sister who refuses to marry for political purposes (fair enough really – she wants to marry out of love or not at all). In short, the wealth of characters are what keeps this story together.
The Crusade is a good watch, as the stories within it are all strong. However, because of the missing episodes, I recommend that either the viewer be a committed Whovian, or have a copy of a script and/or storyline with them. Although not the slowest story out there, it certainly isn’t the most inspiring. And don’t watch it straight after watching “The Web Planet” either!
Doctor Who celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, and although I know in the scheme of things, 50 years isn’t long, I am always surprised by the fact that William Russell, who plays Ian Chesterton, is still puttering around. The first episode of The Crusade is prefaced by a short video in which a white-haired Russell (playing Ian) talks to the camera about his adventures with the Doctor in strange places, and the fact that he’s a knight. It’s a very sweet introduction into a fairly fun story.
The Crusade is missing two out of four of its episodes, which necessarily slows down the action; it’s hard to stay engaged when only stills are on screen with audio that wasn’t designed to be listened to on its own. Still, it’s a decent story in its own right, and perhaps one day, the footage will be discovered.
As is clear from the title, this episode lands the Doctor and his companions in the midst of a holy war between the Muslims and the Christians in the Middle East. One thing I really like about classic Doctor Who so far is that it never explicitly paints one side as good and one side as evil, as plenty of TV shows and films often do. Rather, we are able to see the war from both sides. The four get separated as they inevitably do, and Barbara gets captured by Saracens (along with ‘King Richard the Lionheart’), while the others go with the Crusaders. However, the Saracens don’t get depicted as uniformly vicious and savage, as less intelligent shows and films would do (I’m looking at you, 300). Rather, Sultan Saladin is gentlemanly and extremely kind to his prisoners, while there are others in his court that are not so kind.
There is plenty of excitement in this story, and it’s a great watch for those that are patient enough to sit through two missing episodes. There are some surprisingly suspenseful scenes and situations, including Barbara’s adventures escaping from kidnappers (particularly the very scary El Akir, who threatens to kill her) and Ian’s knighthood and subsequent travels in trying to find Barbara. The Doctor and Vicki also have some fun times trying not to get involved in the murky political waters of Richard’s court, and are accused of being traitors and spies more than once. Luckily, they all eventually make their way back to the TARDIS.