The Doctor (William Hartnell) finally manages to land the TARDIS back on Earth, but it turns out he’s dropped it into the wrong time; he’s placed it in revolutionary France. It turns out, according to Susan (Carole Ann Ford), that this is the Doctor’s favorite part of Earth’s history and he won’t be keen to leave right away. Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) decide they might as well explore the area, which you think would delight Barbara more than it appears to since she’s a history teacher.
They find a quaint farmhouse but soon learn it’s a safe house for people escaping the revolution and Robespierre’s (Keith Anderson) men. These men, as well as Barbara, Ian, and Susan, are captured and taken to Paris to face trial as spies. The Doctor, accidentally locked in a room upstairs, is trapped as the safe house is set on fire. He’s thankfully freed by a young boy and has to walk to Paris to save his friends. He apparently can’t take the TARDIS there because he knows he’ll probably end up back on the Dalek’s planet with the way it’s been acting the entire season.
The rest of this adventure essentially becomes various means of keeping Ian, Barbara, and Susan from the guillotine. They’re all imprisoned, and Ian is stuck with a spy who tells him of an English spy who must be contacted with a desperate message. Ian’s cellmate dies and Ian is soon approached by a French government official named Lemaitre (James Cairncross, in one of the best performances of the adventure), who asks him about the dead man and even crosses Ian’s name off the execution list so he can be further interrogated.
Barbara and Susan are saved on their way to the guillotine by a revolutionary named Jules (Donald Morley), but are soon recaptured after one of Jules’ friends, Leon (Edward Brayshaw), turns out to be a traitor to the revolution. This bums out Barbara, who had been wooed by his charms earlier.
In the meantime, the Doctor has traded his rings for the clothes of a government official and uses his natural commanding nature and knowledge of history to pull off the illusion that he’s an important prefect from outside Paris who demands to know what’s happening and who’s to be executed. He tries several methods to get his companions out of prison, but often stumbles into bureaucracy and people with their own political agendas. Ian finds the British spy is none other than Lemaitre, who arranges for the escape of Ian and Barbara, while the Doctor uses his clever wit to get Susan released from prison. Everyone makes it back to the TARDIS while Robespierre is shot and dragged to the guillotine.
The adventure suffers from some slow plotting and so many “How will they escape the guillotine this time?” moments, but it does have some good acting, especially from William Hartnell, who gets to show off some of his humor (especially in a scene where he’s drafted into a chain gang). Carole Ann Ford doesn’t have much to do apart from look worried and sick in prison. The slow pace of the episodes could be a result of director Henric Hirsch collapsing during the filming of episode 3 due to the stress of producing a television show (he had little experience) and butting heads with William Hartnell, who had little respect for him (but softened after Hirsch’s breakdown).
This adventure was lost for many years until a private collector returned tapes of one episodes to the BBC in 1982 and three more were found in Cyprus in 1985. The BBC commissioned an animation studio to animate the two missing episodes (which were also in Cyprus, but destroyed in the Turkish invasion in 1974) based on photographs, the script, and the remaining audio tracks. They’re well-done.
This was the end of the first season, and it ends with an excellent monologue by William Hartnell about the wonders of space, time, and travel I can’t help but wonder if I’ll hear it repeated (in different forms, perhaps) in future adventures or by future Doctors.
Let us know what you think of the first season of Doctor Who in the comments section.