Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Crusade written by David Whitaker and directed by Douglas Camfield

This story in a nutshell: Two men at war, trying to hold back the carnage...

Gruff Granddad: The Doctor wears many guises in this story; a sweet and caring relative to Vicki, a political ally to Joanna, an enemy to Leicester and an advisor to Richard. Hartnell switches mood and plays all of these with professional ease. There isn’t a line out of place or a single fluff. It is an authoritative performance, perhaps his best in the series. He enjoys a number of comedic scenes with Ben Daheer as well (‘Truly remarkable! All the colours of the rainbow!’) and I love his twisted morality in stealing (sorry, borrowing) his wears! He is pretty jealous of Ian who has been knighted. There is something new in him but older than the sky itself. He and Vicki share a fantastic rapport and you can see that Hartnell and O’Brien simply adore each other; there is an unspoken intimacy between them that really extends to the audience. Once again he relishes in the chance to behave like an old ham and declares in a proud voice: ‘What about that performance?’ Watch how he battles with Leicester in court, he makes his moral stance crystal clear with dazzling intensity. I could watch Hartnell all day long if my husband would let me (I fear Hartnell addiction may be grounds for divorce) and out of many, many memorable performances this story might just see him at his height.

Science Hero: Ian leaps into action as ever and wants to head off to save Barbara from the Saracen clutches as soon as he can. It’s odd that they never said the words ‘I love you’ on screen because their passion and regard for each other is screamingly obvious (stand up Big Finish for pleasingly taking hold of the subtext and having them admit their feelings). Their drunken flirting blessed out on wine in The Romans, their parting cuddle in The Chase – Ian and Barbara were made for each other. Its nice to see public schoolboy Ian decked out in military gear and his knighthood is one of the most interesting thing to happen to his character all year. Why does he always get tortured so horribly? Here he is staked out in the desert with a trail of pounded date honey leading to a hungry ants nest. Ugh! Ian embodies the role of the action hero so smoothly; he's handsome, brave and reassuring.

Bouffant Babe: My one and only complaint about the lovely Barbara is that her bouffant is remarkably restrained in this adventure. Jacqueline Hill is one of the most impressive actresses to have played a companion in the series. Barbara is my anchor through those first two years of the show, her reaction to the horrors they face often mirrors what mine would be and she is able to have a fantastic laugh and take their adventures very seriously with equal aplomb. I don't think the series would have bombed without her but it would have been a far less rich show in those early years. In season one she was kidnapped by bandits who rolled a dice to see what her fate would be and she suffers similar real world horrors in this tale, threatening with the dance of hot coals if she continues to play the fool and threatened with something worse than death by the slimy El Akir. Privileged and educated Barbara is truly sampling historical culture in this story, thrust into a world where women are victims. Her culture shock where she is presented with a knife to murder herself and Sophia rather than let themselves fall into the hands of the unrestrained guards forces her to scream in horror that life has to be better than this. She genuinely does consider consider taking another and her own. Bravely Barbara offers her own life to save Sophia’s and the implications are even more terrifying as we know precisely how El Akir plans to punish her. It is played for real as she is dragged before him and he casually whips the cushion and utters the most terrifying line in any Doctor Who story. Lightening the mood slightly she has great fun pretending to be Princess Joanna in episode one and delightfully recounts her adventures to the Sultan who pegs her as an entertainer.

Alien Orphan: Kill me now for saying this – Vicki is a much more enjoyable character than Susan and her ejection from the series and Vicki’s introduction saw the regulars form a near flawless unit. Maureen O’Brien  could have spent every story wailing and acting the victim like Carole Ann Ford seemed to but instead she imbues the character with more dignity than that. Vicki has far more confidence and charm not to mention (oddly) a more affectionate relationship with the Doctor because their love is reciprocated (Susan always seemed to be pushing him away...or was that Ford again?). She looks so sweet dressed up as a boy and I laughed when the Doctor states ’his voice has not yet broken!’ Only in the sixties! Alas Victor cannot play any instruments or sing. How funny would it have been to see Vicki transformed into a veritable strutting peacock? Being written by her creator, David Whitaker, he understands her character better than anyone and in a lovely touch of continuity and development Vicki reveals how terrified of being abandoned she is and worries that she might be considered a problem. This is nicely linked to her debut story. When the Doctor cuddles up to her makes everything better I wanted to melt.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A King at liberty may give commands, a captured one obeys them.’
‘Let him have all liberty except liberty itself.’
‘Saladdin sends me presents of fruity and snow when I am sick and now his brother decorates you with his jewels. Yet with out armies do we both lock in deadly combat.’
‘We have a common enemy in El Akir, it makes for uncommon friendship.’
‘Life…is better than this.’
‘Hold one hand out in friendship and keep the other in your sword.’
‘The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away.’
Possibly the best dialogue scene in the entire series:
‘How would you have me go to Saphadin? Bathed in oriental perfumes I suppose? Suppliant, tender and affectionate? Soft eyed and trembling? Eager with a thousand words of compliment and love?’ ‘Well if it’s a meeting you want!’ ‘I do not want! I will not have it!’ ‘I beg you Joanna!’ ‘No’ ‘I entreat you!’ ‘NO!’ ‘Very well! We are the King, We command you!’ ‘You cannot command this of me’ ‘Cannot!’ ‘No.’ ‘I am the King, name any one man with greater authority than I?’ In Rome…His Holiness the Pope will not allow this marriage of mine to that INFIDEL!’ ‘You defy me with the Pope!’ ‘No you defy the world with you politics! The reasons you are here to fight these dogs, defeat them, marry me to them and you make a pact with the devil…force me to it and I’ll turn the world we know into your enemy!’

The Good Stuff: Dudley Simpson’s music is instantly evocative and orchestral, a far cry from his later guff in the early seventies. Whitaker’s gorgeous mock Shakespearean dialogue paints pictures with words - it is perhaps no surprise that this was the one story where Douglas Camfield did not have to alter a single word of dialogue because it is so poetic and precise. Camfield does not shy away from the violence of the times and we see one guy have his heart pierced with an arrow and another with gets a broadsword in the chest. Ian’s fight is dynamically shot from above and with handheld camerawork rather highlighting how dynamically this director approaches shooting action compared to someone like Richard Martin. Whoever is responsible for the sound effects has done themselves proud in this story and the numerous atmospherics (horses whinnying, market traders yelling, people being terrorised in their homes, screaming birds in the desert) really help to sell the idea that the travellers have landed in an exotic location more effectively than had they tried to stretch the budget beyond its means (like they did in The Web Planet). It really suggests there is a world going on out there out of our vision. El Akir is the most loathsome, misogynistic bully we are likely to meet in the series, he enjoys intimidating women, abusing his power and making himself feel much more important than he actually is. Ban Daheer is a lovely comic creation and helps paint this world in more diverse colours than it otherwise would have been. Watch the slow pull back behind the silk curtain to reveal the sparkling eyed Sultan listening to every word in the shadows - the realisation of this tale really is in a different league to many of the others this year. The conflict between Richard and Saladdin is portrayed with real dignity by both Julian Glover and Bernard Kay, both rulers are willing to fight but would prefer to brook peace. The relationship between Richard and Joanna still feels slightly incestuous despite Hartnell’s objections and this proves that Doctor Who was willing to go down this route long before it has become popular to do so in recent years. Look at how evocatively lit Barbara's chase scenes on the streets are lit, she hides in the shadows as the flame wielding guards menacingly pursue her. Haroun's story proves to be heartbreakingly real as well as giving the audience a good idea of the lengths that El Akir will go to before he catches up with Barbara. It makes her eventual capture even more chilling. Episode three has some very powerful theatrical scenes including the Doctor confronting Leicester and Richard and Joanna in a furious battle of words. Within this episode (and how lucky were we that this was the only episode that survived at one point since  usually the weakest installments of stories are saved from the chop - The Enemy of the World, The Space Pirates) there features some of the most extraordinary writing and performances we will ever see in the series with Jean Marsh in particular switching from courtly Princess to blazing eyed political opponent with absolute conviction. The smoking pitas are a lovely set detail in a story full of them. It makes me wonder what other design triumphs we are missing out on in the two missing episodes. The Doctor and Vicki discuss the ramifications of Richard reaching Jerusalem, Whitaker educating his audience subtly. The lead in to the next story is intriguing… I love the fact that if you took the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki out of this adventure that it would chug along just as well without them. They actually don't affect the narrative in any way, merely visitors to this period of history rather than the linchpin that pivots the events. The story is richer for their appearance but it doesn't rely on them being there. That's how strong the rest of the story is.

The Bad Stuff: Yeah, right. Some people will tell you this story is slow and tedious but I would (gently) suggest they don't quite have the attention span to take in this adventures manifest of riches.

The Shallow Bit: Barbara and Vicki both get to dress up, Barbara looks radiant dripping with jewels and Vicki is the epitome of an English rose dressed up in her royal apparel.

Result:  Along with the other historical masterpiece (The Romans), this is the jewel in the crown of season two and there is not one part of The Crusade that isn’t firing on all cylinders. It’s a dramatic, exotic treat and whilst you could easily spend an age looking for the narrative and failing to find one but as a snapshot of history in the Hartnell era its success is unrivaled. The regulars are all afforded some fantastic moments; Ian is knighted and gets to play the ultimate hero, Vicki enjoys some subterfuge playing a boy, the Doctor dazzles in courtly politics and Barbara experiences some extreme culture shock. Her scenes being hunted and terrorised on the streets of Palestine are some of the most adult and discomforting in the entire series. Where The Crusade stands out in particular is in its scripting and direction, both of which are some of the most polished examples of their type ever to be seen in the series. It is unbelievable to think that a script as erudite, lyrical and educational as this could come from the same series as something as braindead as The Chase, let alone take place in the same season. Each character is written for distinctively and the words that come out of their mouths paint pictures in the same fashion as the best of Shakespeare. This is the point where Douglas Camfield made his name as being able to produce something visually stunning and atmospheric on a shoestring and the execution of The Crusade is practically flawless. Evocatively lit, stunningly designed and with careful camerawork and framing, the realisation is essential to its success. It is a show that is bristling with style, gaining confidence due to its unexpected success. With incredible ratings, season two is one of the peaks of the shows popularity: 10/10

 Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/

No comments: