Restoration on these things has improved so much since 1999 that the lines and creases on the films are now quite distracting. But that's a technical note, and I'm really interested in the story. The Tardis lands with a silly beeping noise and there's false beards everywhere you look, but Whitaker's script attempts mock Shakespearean dialogue and actually gets away with it. It's all a bit Pertwee for the most part though, with several minutes of quite rubbish stunt fighting and Dudley Simpson's tuneless drubbing in the background.
It's a little bizarre to see Caucasian actors pretending to be Asian Muslims, though not as strange as when they did a similar thing over ten years later for The Talons of Weng-Chiang. I considered pointing out that the story's themes are quite relevant in today's political landscape, but not only could that seem like coming down on one side in the current "War on Terror", it'd also be suggesting that Muslims are terrorists, rather than some terrorists just happen to be Muslims. So why bring it up? Well, I thought it'd be remiss not to - you expected it of me, didn't you? One thing I will note is the unsettling, extended end before the fade to black of the credits. Like an episode of Crossroads, none of them seem to know what to do, particularly Maureen O'Brien as the sidelined Vicki, forced to boggle-eye for all she's worth.
The individual title for this instalment is "The Knight of Jaffa", which has a different meaning now that "Jaffa" has entered sub-mainstream culture as a slang term for male infertility. ("Seedless"). All of which puts off the fact that I have nothing really to say here. It sounds quite delightful, but I have to confess that I haven't really got that much imagination to be able to "see" the images by soundtrack alone.
With such a first-rate guest cast then the regulars are somewhat maligned, but this one brilliantly parodies Shakespearean conventions with Vicki's transgender shenanigans. With such goings on then Billy is left with scraps in his own programme - having to laugh uproariously at every minor event, and getting just the wrong side of tactile with Vicki. Much as I love Billy, there's times in this story where his overt touchy-feely antics with Vicki make it look like an advert for Werther's Original.
This is an uncompromising Doctor Who story though, with stabbings on screen, even if some of the Muslim soldiers distract with their RP accents. Famously, there was going to be hints of an incestuous relationship between Richard and Joanna in the story, but they decided to tone it down.
Elsewhere, Billy is described as a man of eloquence, presumably by someone who's never seen his act before. Yet while I've championed The Massacre elsewhere on this site as the only fluff-free Billy, it's a trick he also manages in this story, despite some mild hesitancy. Rusell, meanwhile, just gets a minute's prefilmed insert, as they try and pretend that he was selfishly asleep on a beach during the action. The political bias in this story is weighted against the Muslim characters, though largely the blame is shifted onto the shoulders of a virtually unrecognisable Bernard Kay as Saladin.
As for the story, then Ian's captor does veer wildly towards racial parody, and Russell famously spat his dummy when asked to perform the torture scenes with ants. I would love to see this one returned to the archives, though (well, I would like to see all of 'em returned, but you know what I mean…) as it carries over the momentum from the third episode almost unfettered. It does seem strange though that what is traditionally the water-treading instalment gets the most pace and urgency.
Perhaps the biggest gap between Whitaker and Lucarotti is that Lucarotti always escaped the limiting nature of historicals by making a virtue out of their fixed conclusions. Take The Aztecs, where Billy and Barbara debate the nature of predeterminism right from the first episode, making the inevitable a high point rather than a constriction. Then there's The Massacre, which reflects on fate and the hand of God. The Crusade, by contrast, has a ruthlessly staid "let's leg it back to the Tardis" conclusion, which rather makes you wonder what was the point of the travellers being there in the first place. With their roles that of observers, the necessity of the story is undermined. Before you know it, it's all over and we're left with the shot of present-day Ian Chesterton turning his back on us. Oi, you ignorant bugger, don't turn yer back on me! Oi!
A superb dramatic production, well acted, directed and written - the sort of thing the Hartnell era was churning out week after week. Of course it wasn't always this good, but the fact that a story as strong as this doesn't even quite make my Hartnell top ten goes to show how generally high the standards of the time were.
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