After two John Lucarotti classics, David Whitaker stepped up to the plate to deliver a finely crafted look at the events of the Third Crusade during 12th century Israel. No sooner do the TARDIS travellers step out of the Police Box, they are caught up in the political machinations of Richard The Lionheart and Saladin.
It's ironic: the two men are on opposing sides, but want the same thing: peace. However, it's their lackeys, such as The Earl Of Leicester, or especially El Akir, who manage to rock the boat. El Akir, in particular, is a nasty piece of work. The scene in which Haroun tearfully tells Barbara of his destroyed life sums up El Akir's butchery in a nutshell. After Haroun refused to hand over his daughter Maimuna, El Akir massacred his wife and son, burned their house and took Maimuna. Vicious, bloodthirsty and selfish, El Akir's the real boo-hiss villain of the piece.
Mind you, Richard The Lionheart isn't exactly portrayed as a whiter-than-white character. Instead, he frequently comes across as bullish, arrogant, and even a bit childish when things don't go his way. When The Doctor and Ian (perfectly reasonably) ask Richard if they can look for Barbara, Richard reacts as if they've just asked him to hand over all his life savings. There's also the issue of a proposed marriage between Richard's sister Joanna and Saphadin. When Joanna rightly flies off the handle at Richard's plans, the Lionheart stomps about bellowing like a stroppy teenager at his sister's refusal.
All of which sounds like a petty squabble on paper, but on screen, it's elevated to lofty Shakespearian proportions, thanks to Whitaker's cracking dialogue, but also because of powerhouse performances from Julian Glover and Jean Marsh. Glover, one of the finest guest actors in Doctor Who, adds real nobility to Richard, and also extra dimensions to the ruler, resulting in a not entirely sympathetic but totally believable character. Jean Marsh is also excellent as Joanna, and it's not surprising that director Douglas Camfield would ask her back to play ill-fated Sara Kingdom a few months later.
Likewise, Bernard Kay, fresh from his performance as Tyler in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, delivers another strong turn, this time as Saladin. Kay adds a great deal of believability to the character, who despite being on the opposite side of Richard, is still presented as a dignified, thoughtful man rather than a clichéd stereotype. The blacked-up make up doesn't help matters however, although this was more common in the 1960s. Despite this obvious shortcoming, this the strong script and performances are enough to get you on side.
This is Douglas Camfield's first solo assignment, and he brings out the very best in David Whitaker's script. The performances from both the guest cast and the regulars are all well-judged (even if Hartnell's Doctor is still blundering around in the first episode chuckling away to himself like a madman). Barry Newbery's sets are again first rate, and are especially detailed for the dwellings of Richard The Lionheart. Dudley Simpson's score adds much to the feel of the story, too.
Another historical triumph for Doctor Who, then. David Whitaker's script is expertly put together, and with its references to harems, violence, and even a hint of incest between Richard and Joanna (but toned-down enough for a family show) shows that Doctor Who never patronised its audiences.
Still, despite the strength of the story, it'd be one of the last of its kind, with only The Massacre to tell a serious historical tale again. It'd be back to a mix of drama and comedy with the likes of The Time Meddler and The Smugglers to come. Shame, but, in the meantime, savour the two surviving episodes and soundtracks as another fine example of history lessons, Doctor Who-style. And hope that the other two episodes can miraculously be returned to the archives like The Lion was in the late 1990s.
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