Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Seventy: The Lion (The Crusade, Episode One)
being from the Lost in Time box set, this episode hasn't received the same kind of restoration work that I've become accustomed to over the course of this marathon so far. The print of this episode is grainy and not in the best of conditions at all. And you know what? That gives it even more atmosphere.
From early on in the episode, all I could think of was The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, an ITC series starring William Russell and produced in the 1950s. I've mentioned it a few times already throughout this marathon, having watched most of it late last year, but this really is the closest that we've ever come to that series in Doctor Who.
The main things that put me in mind of the series are the medieval knights that we've got, in a forest, and the fact that William Russell has a sword fight. You tend to get all three of these things in your average episode of Sir Lancelot. Add to that the fact that the DVD version of the series hasn't had the same kind of restoration applied to it that Doctor Who gets, and I might as well have been watching that show instead.
After all the running around on Vortis, it's nice to be back down on Earth and back into history again. Though The Romans wasn't to my taste, this story feels like it's going to be more in the mould of Marco Polo or The Aztecs, both of which have been surprise hits with me.
It helps that already we've got plenty of atmosphere in the story. The sets look fantastic, and the fight scenes early on have far more of an impact than any of the stuff we saw at the end of The Web Planet. Here, it feels as though the actors can really go for it, whereas there they were trying not to break any of the expensive costumes.
It has too be mentioned - especially as there's plenty of rumours about it flying around at the moment in regards to any possible animated release of this story on DVD - but here we have got examples of actors being 'blacked-up' to fulfil certain roles in the story. For all that we might look at it now and see how offensive this might be, it's an insight into the way that television was made and seen in this era.
It's also interesting to note that, I believe, this is the first time we've seen actors of colour in the series full stop. It seems strange, seventy episodes in, that we only now have parts for these actors, and in such minor roles, too. It's one of the things that fascinates me about Doctor Who - it's run for so long that we can see tastes and attitudes change over the years.
Tomorrow, I'm back into 'recon' country, for the first time since Marco Polo. It seems a pity that once again it's a story with such fantastic visuals that gets the unfortunate distinction of missing some of its running time. It's great, therefore, to think of The Lion as bang one of the more recent missing episode recoveries, being returned to the BBC in 1999.
If anything it - and the episode of Galaxy 4 which I'll be reaching in just a few weeks - gives hope that more of Doctor Who's lost heritage might still be out there, somewhere, waiting to be discovered…
Next Episode: The Knight of Jaffa
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