The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, June 9, 2017

Able I Was: The Tyrant of France/A Bargain of Necessity/Prisoners of Conciergerie

Barbara the bar-maid
In Robespierre's France,
Would spare her enemies if given the chance.
She rather likes dress-up
In sumptuous gowns,
Making the other side fess up
While making her rounds.

Barbara the bar-maid
Keeps stirring the pot,
Simply jolie, not laide,
While moving the plot.


So, when we talk about six-parters, the fact of the matter is, they often sag in the middle, even the classic ones. The Mutants is my go-to story for tedium, but to be fair, I gave up on it at the end of Part 2)> But even the all-time classic Genesis of the Daleks sags a bit. And you've read my sighs on some of the Hartnell six-parters in this first season. Dennis Spooner successfully comes up with a neat solution: each episode has a reason for being there. So, for example, the first three episodes, which (1) resolve the TARDIS team internal conflict and set up the premise; (2) Ian, Barbara and Susan get imprisoned--and worse, Barbara and Susan are sent in a tumbrel to the Guillotine; (3) the Doctor starts bossing his way through revolutionary France; Barbara, Ian, and Susan are freed.

For the second troika of episodes, Spooner keeps up a plot line that minimizes pointless run-arounds. Again, each episode has its own story to tell. In "The Tyrant of France," we meet Robespierre himself. The Doctor, in his guise as a country bumpkin Deputy, manages to evade Robespierre's questions, but goes a little over the top, so that Robespierre wants to meet him again, so Lematire (a name of some significance in the show's history--but not yet) has an excuse to hold the Doctor in custody. In a subplot, Ian tries to find the English agent whose contact dies in his cell, asking Ian's aid. Léon (who was so strongly attracted to Barbara in his first appearance) betrays him.

In "A Bargain of Necessity," Ian resists the pressure to divulge what little he knows to Léon; Jules rescues him, but Léon is killed. Meanwhile, the Doctor has to break Barbara and Susan out of prison. He manipulates the jailer and gets Barbara free, but has to club him over the head to get Susan out of her cell. Alas, they are caught on their way out. This subplot is repetitive, but it's handled as high comedy--each time the Doctor has to snow the jailer, he has to try harder, because the jailer is more skeptical each time. Both Hartnell and Jack Cunningham as the jailer have great comic timing, and they real chemistry. With Susan left behind, the Doctor brings Lemaitre to meet Jules and the TARDIS team.

Finally, there's plenty of plot left for "Prisoners of the Conciergerie." The fall of Robespierre, the scheming to bring Napoleon Bonaparte to the fore, and Barbara and Ian as waitstaff/spies on Napoleon and Barras (the would-be kingmaker). Also, the Doctor and the jailer have one last pas-de-deux, with the Doctor now posing as one of the conspirators who overthrew Robespierre (who is shot through the jaw, and carried through Paris by a mocking crowd--NOT FOR KIDS! as Sue Perryman used to say.) Anyway, LeMaitre was the English agent all along, and the Doctor et al escape. But, as six parters go, it's flip and fun (the last three get a little darker, though).

So why yet another of my sub-Betjamen-esque verses?

BARBARA: Well, not very much, we didn't have a chance. But he'll be here soon, so no doubt we'll get the whole story, several times. What have you done?
IAN: Oh, it's nothing much. Let's just say I fell into the wrong hands, and Jules arrived in time.
BARBARA: And Leon?
JULES: He's dead, Barbara. I killed him.
BARBARA: Killed him?
JULES: Yes. He was the traitor we were looking for.
IAN: It was the only way, Barbara.
JULES: He deserved to die. He was a traitor.
BARBARA: What do you mean, he was a traitor?
IAN: When I got to the church, he turned on me. He was going to kill me.
JULES: He betrayed us, Barbara.
BARBARA: He was a traitor to you. To his side he was a patriot.
IAN: Barbara, we've taken sides just by being here. Jules actually shot him. It could just as easily have been me.
JULES: And what about Robespierre? I suppose you think
BARBARA: Well just because an extremist like Robespierre
IAN: Oh, Barbara, Jules is our friend. He saved our lives!
BARBARA: I know all that! The revolution isn't all bad, and neither are the people who support it. It changed things for the whole world, and good, honest people gave their lives for that change.
IAN: Well, he got what he deserved.
BARBARA: You check your history books, Ian, before you decide what people deserve.
This is classic Barbara; yes, she rather fancied Leon Colbert (who clearly fancied her), but it's the simplification of the man's cause and reasons for his devotion to it that Barbara balks at. The complexity of history, the mixed motives, the confusion of the times--all the reasons that led her to defend the Aztecs when Susan expressed her revulsion at the Aztecs for their practice of human sacrifice.

Barbara will not simplify.

The good is not obliterated by the bad, nor vice-versa.

She will insist on commemorating both, praising the good while acknowledging the bad. And she can mourn for those whom she meets, despite their flaws.

The Doctor has become infuriating, charming, mercurial and resourceful (successfully doing what Colin Baker could not, through no fault of his own);

Ian is brave and stalwart, a science teacher has become a knight;

Barbara is the beating heart of Doctor Who as its first season ends with this story.

See you for Season Two!

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