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"Our destiny is in the stars, so let's go and search for it."
―The Doctor
The Reign of Terror
Series: Doctor Who -
TV Stories
Season Number: Season 1
Story Number: 8
Doctor: First Doctor
Companions: Susan Foreman
Barbara Wright
Ian Chesterton
Enemy: Maximilien Robespierre
Setting: 1794
Writer: Dennis Spooner
Director: Henric Hirsch (episodes 1,2,4-6)
John Gorrie (episode 3) (uncredited)
Broadcast: 8th August -
12th September 1964
Format: 6x25-minute Episodes
Previous Story: The Sensorites
Following Story: Planet of Giants

The Reign of Terror was the eighth and last story of Season 1 of Doctor Who. It was the first story to utilize on location filming.



The TARDIS materialises not far from Paris in 1794 - one of the bloodiest years following the French Revolution of 1789. The travellers become involved with an escape chain rescuing prisoners from the guillotine and get caught up in the machinations of an English undercover spy, James Stirling - alias Lemaitre, governor of the Conciergerie Prison.

The Doctor - posing as a Regional Officer of the Provinces - is twice brought before the great tyrant, Robespierre himself, and has to talk himself out of trouble. Ian and Barbara, meanwhile, have a close encounter with a future ruler of France, Napoleon Bonaparte.

As events reach their climax, Robespierre is overthrown - shot in the jaw and dragged off to the prison - and the Doctor and his friends slip quietly away.


The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arrive in what they believe to be England. However, it is soon clear that they have travelled back into Earth history yet again, this time to France. They arrived in a wood twelve kilometres from Paris, then venture to a nearby farmhouse which seems to have seen better days. When they venture inside they find the farmhouse is being used as a staging post in an escape chain for counter-revolutionaries and contains clothes – some of which are put to good use by the travellers - and fake papers, some of which bear the signature of Robespierre, the chief orchestrator of government during the Reign of Terror in the year 1794. Before long they are found by two counter-revolutionaries, D'Argenson and Rouvray, who knock the Doctor unconscious and hold the others at gunpoint. The impasse is ended when a band of revolutionary soldiers surrounds the house and demands their collective surrender. Both D'Argenson and Rouvray are killed during the siege, but only after they have worked out that there must be a traitor in their escape chain. The soldiers now enter the house and capture Ian, Barbara, and Susan, who will be marched to Paris and the guillotine. The parting action of the soldiers is to set fire to the farmhouse – unaware there remains one person inside.

The Doctor awakes the next morning suffering from exhaustion and smoke inhalation. He was saved from the blaze by a young boy, who tells him his friends have been taken to the Conciergerie Prison in Paris. He sets off after them and, after a brief period press-ganged into a road mending crew for lack of papers, makes some speed in the twelve kilometre journey.

Things are looking grim for Ian, Barbara and Susan. They are all sentenced to death as traitors without a chance to speak in their own defence, and are all promised the guillotine for their crimes. Back at the Conciergerie, Ian is confined in one cell, while the women are taken to another. Ian's cellmate is an English prisoner named Webster who only lives long enough to tell him there is another English spy, James Stirling, highly placed in the French Government who is now being recalled to England. It was Webster's job to find him and he only knows that Stirling can be found through Jules Renan at the sign of "Le Chien Gris". Once Webster is dead a government official named Lemaitre arrives and probes any conversation between Ian and the dead man. Lemaitre also crosses Ian's name off the execution list.

Barbara and Susan are taken on a tumbrel to the guillotine.

Susan and Barbara are less fortunate. Confined to the filthiest cell in the jail when Barbara refused the advances of their drunken jailer, they are soon taken on a tumbrel to the guillotine. Luckily for them their transport is hijacked by two men, Jules and Jean, who spirit them back to their safe house. Susan is, however, somewhat ill from her exposure to damp conditions. They are told they will be given food and a place to rest, and then they will be smuggled out of France in the escape chain, but Barbara is nervous about leaving France without the Doctor and Ian. Jules and Jean reassure her they will try to reunite the four travellers, and they all exchange tales of the fate of D'Argenson and Rouvray, whom it seems were part of the same escape chain. Another counter-revolutionary, Léon Colbert, arrives and joins their company, immediately striking up a romantic liaison with Barbara.

The Doctor barters for more contemporary clothes

The Doctor has finally reached Paris and exchanges his clothes and Roman ring for the costume of a Regional Officer of the Provinces plus some parchment and writing materials. In this guise he heads for the Conciergerie, but by the time he gets there all three of his companions have gone. Ian has successfully stolen the key to his cell from the incompetent gaoler and managed to get away, not least because Lemaitre seems to have rendered the gaoler unconscious to aid his escape. The Doctor ascertains what has happened to his friends and is about to leave when Lemaitre arrives and insists he accompany him to visit First Deputy Robespierre to report on his province. They are soon taken to an audience with "The Tyrant of France" himself, who appears as both a zealot and a psychopath with his constant talk of needing to increase the pace of execution. Little the Doctor can say to the contrary seems to have any sway, and he departs angrily.

Ian follows Webster's words and hunts out Jules Renan, who turns out to be the man sheltering Barbara and Susan, who remains critically ill in bed. Ian shares the last words of Webster with his host and they both agree that Stirling must be found and returned to England to help end the war with France which is helping to create the climate of fear that is sustaining Robespierre and his tyranny. Barbara meanwhile takes Susan to a local physician who wastes no time in reporting them as escaped prisoners to the authorities and they are seized once more before the revolutionary police. Things take a turn for the worse for Ian too when he goes to meet Leon in secret – only to find he is the mole in the escape chain and there are armed troops waiting for him. Leon Colbert is desperate to find out what Webster said to him, but Ian is very guarded in his comments.

The Doctor in disguise

The Doctor has returned to the Conciergerie where two people are waiting to see him. The first is Lemaitre, who reports that Robespierre wishes to see him again the following day. The second is the tailor who sold the Doctor his clothes and has reported his suspicions of him to the jailer and Lemaitre. The latter confiscates the ring and dismisses the tailor, saying he will deal with the situation. Lemaitre ensures the Doctor spends the night in the Conciergerie in order that he remains in Paris for his second audience with Robespierre. He is still there when Barbara and Susan are brought in as prisoners, and effects a reunion with his friends without raising too much of an alarm. With Susan to weak to be moved, he engineers Barbara's release first on the pretext that she can be trailed to lead the security forces to the core of the escape chain.

Jules Renan has meanwhile rescued Ian, killing the traitor Leon Colbert in the process. Ian has been wounded but yet they both know they need to get their friends freed from the Conciergerie somehow. They return to Jules' house and are stunned to meet Barbara there, released on the authority of the Doctor of whom Jules knows nothing. Barbara is hurt and saddened by the death of Colbert, seeing good in all sides during the revolution.

Robespierre's mental state is deteriorating and he suspects his deputy, Paul Barras, is conspiring against him in the Convention. He asks Lemaitre to track Barras the following day to a secret assignation outside the city. When Lemaitre heads back to the Conciergerie it is to confront the Doctor, whom he unmasks in private as an impostor. Lemaitre now insists the Doctor help him find Jules Renan's house and expose the spy ring. With Susan held in the prison as a hostage, the Doctor takes him to the very place, much to the concern of Ian, Barbara and Jules. Once there Lemaitre reveals that he is in fact James Stirling. In response, Ian relays Webster's message that Stirling should return to England immediately. The spy agrees but presses Ian for more detail on Webster's last hours. When Ian recalls the words "Barras, meeting, 'The Sinking Ship'", Stirling recalls his own conversation with Robespierre and the inn on the Calais road, and they realise that is where the conspiracy against the First Deputy will take place. Jules, Ian and Barbara head to the inn and there overhear Barras conspire with a young general, Napoleon Bonaparte, in the indictment and overthrow of Robespierre. Barras seeks to persuade the young general to take the mantle of leadership when it comes as one of three Consuls. Napoleon urges Barras to topple Robespierre, but warns him that if this fails to happen he will deny this meeting ever took place.

The following day Stirling fulfills a pledge to the Doctor and arranges Susan's release from prison. Speed is of the essence as the coup against Robespierre has begun, and the tyrant has been badly wounded before being seized himself and sent to the Conciergerie. The Doctor and Barbara reach the prison where he outwits the gaoler one more time, ensuring Susan is freed to escape with them. As they leave by one door, the bleeding Robespierre is brought in by another, his body broken and his rule ended. He will be guillotined himself soon.

The escape chain now demonstrates itself to best effect and smuggles several people out of Paris. Stirling will head for Calais and thence to England; Jules and Jean will lie low as they measure the future now that Robespierre has fallen; and the Doctor and his companions are keen to return to the TARDIS in the wood near Paris, reflecting on another brush with history and their role within it.




  • According to Susan, the French Revolution is the Doctor's favourite period of history.
  • Barbara states she has learnt her lesson to not meddle in history after her experience with the Aztecs (DW: The Aztecs).
  • Barbara and Susan compare their imprisonment to that they suffered "in the prehistoric age" (DW: An Unearthly Child). However they say their current situation comes "with one important difference — the Doctor and Ian were with us then".
  • Barbara once took a holiday in Somerset.
  • Susan is terrified of rats.

Story Notes

The programme's earliest location work was in this episode. None of it featured a series regular, but a body double for William Hartnell who was always photographed from behind
  • The first Doctor Who story to feature on-location filming.
  • Episodes 1, 2, 3 and 6 exist in 16mm telerecordings.
  • Episode 6 was returned by a private collector in May 1982.
  • Prints of all 4 existing episodes were recovered from a Cypriot television station in 1985. These included a superior print of episode 2.
  • 12 clips from episodes 4 and 5 exist in the form of 8mm home movie reel.
  • Episode 2 used the working title Guests of the Guillotine.
  • This story was a replacement for a 6 part story by David Whitaker which would have been set at the time of the Spanish Armada.
  • William Russell originally suggested the idea of a story set during The French Revolution.
  • Director Henric Hirsch suffered from exhaustion during the making of this serial and was unable to direct episode three. John Gorrie (who had previously directed The Keys of Marinus) stepped in temporarily. Some sources have credited Verity Lambert as director for this episode, as no director is credited onscreen (which at the time normally implied that the producer also directed the programme), but she has firmly denied this.
  • William Russell was on holiday during the filming of episodes 2 and 3 and appeared only in pre-taped film sequences.
  • Edward Brayshaw, later to feature as the War Chief in 1969's The War Games has a role as Léon Colbert, a counter-espionage agent allied with the Revolutionary government.
  • In a number of 1970s listing guides the story was called The French Revolution. This appears to derive from a promotional article in the BBC listings magazine Radio Times entitled "Dr Who and the French Revolution".
  • Many photographs of this story remain. Along with the soundtrack these were used by Loose Cannon Productions to make a reconstruction of this story. (see external links). An earlier reconstruction of this story was made by Michael Palmer, although this is no longer in circulation.
  • It was originally intended that Verity Lambert and David Whitaker would be responsible for finding a replacement show to run during the season break however this did not prove necessary and the slot was filled with repeats of The Valiant Varneys.
  • This was the first historical in which the Doctor was seen to wear period attire. The First Doctor would continue to do so in most of his stories set in Earth's past. The tradition was initially continued by the Second Doctor in The Highlanders, but as pure historicals faded from Doctor Who, the Doctor generally abandoned this notion.


  • A Land of Fear - 6.9 million viewers
  • Guests of Madame Guillotine - 6.9 million viewers
  • A Change of Identity -6.9 million viewers
  • The Tyrant of France - 6.4 million viewers
  • A Bargain of Necessity - 6.9 million viewers
  • Prisoners of Conciergerie - 6.4 million viewers


  • An elaborate model of Paris was made for this story but never used. This model was given to Carole Ann Ford as a present. (No such model was made, Carole Ann Ford was actually given the design model made by Roderick Laing to assist with his work).

Filming Locations

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • The sounds of the TARDIS control room can be heard in the forest before the TARDIS materializes. There is often a sound which precedes the arrival of the TARDIS.
  • The TARDIS lands silently in the Forest. The TARDIS has been shown to materialize/dematerialize with varying sounds and effects at different times. Sometimes this is intentional on the part of the Doctor, sometimes it is due to a mechanical or other situation.
  • The TARDIS crew just happen to find clothes in the abandoned farm house which fit them perfectly. They fit them sufficiently, not necessarily perfectly. Clothes that are too large can be tucked in, etc.
  • The involvement of Robespierre and Napoleon is historically inaccurate. Both Robespierre and Napoleon were in France in 1794.
  • It is unclear how or if the Doctor got his clothes and ring back. That the Doctor didn't retrieve his clothes seems to be hinted at in the next adventure, where he is wearing a cape — and not his jacket — as the TARDIS travels away from 18th century France. However, he is clearly wearing his ring, which was the key item the tailor desired in the trade. -- However, Lemaitre does take the ring off the tailor, and says that he'll need it and the clothes as evidence. Perhaps he gives them back to the Doctor off screen. (The audio of episode 5 suggests that Lemaitre gives the Doctor his ring back).


  • Susan also showed an interest in this period (The French Revolution) in DW: An Unearthly Child.
  • During her incarceration Barbara is reminded of her imprisonment in An Unearthly Child.
  • Barbara claims to have learnt her lesson about meddling in history after the events of DW: The Aztecs.


DVD, Video and Other Releases

  • DVD Release - This story has not yet been released on DVD
  • Video Release - Released as Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror
UK Release: November 2003 / US Release: October 2003
PAL - BBC Video BBCV7335 (2 tapes)
NTSC - Warner Video E1853 (2 tapes)
This release contains narration by Carole Ann Ford. It contains clips and stills from episodes 4 and 5.
The second tape contains episodes 1 and 3 of The Faceless Ones and episode 1 of The Web of Fear.
The North American release was also located in The End of the Universe Collection.
The reconstruction of this story by Loose Cannon Production includes an introduction by Carole Ann Ford.

Audio release - Released as Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror ISBN 0-563-52342-5 by BBC Audio on CD in February 2006. This is a double CD set with narration by and interview with Carole Ann Ford.


Main article: The Reign of Terror (novelisation)

See also

to be added

External Links

  • BBC Episode Guide (with video clips) for The Reign of Terror
  • Doctor Who Reference Guide: Detailed Synopsis - The Reign of Terror
  • A Brief History of Time (Travel) entry for The Reign of Terror
  • The Reign of Terror transcripts
  • The Reign of Terror entry at Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television
  • Reconstruction website on The Reign of Terror
Season 1
An Unearthly Child  • The Daleks  • The Edge of Destruction  • Marco Polo  • The Keys of Marinus  • The Aztecs  • The Sensorites  • The Reign of Terror
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at The_Reign_of_Terror (Doctor Who). The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the TARDIS Index File, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 3.0 (Unported) (CC-BY-SA).

This article uses material from the "The Reign of Terror" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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