Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Lion

I've just been watching an old Doctor Who story from 1965, The Crusade. Well, I say 'watching', but in fact only two episodes exist as complete telecine recordings, and for episodes 2 and 4 only the audio soundtrack survives. Anyway, it's splendid. Julian Glover is magnificent in the role which he was surely born to play, King Richard I. Forget Sean Connery (in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves) or Richard Harris (in Robin and Marian), Glover remains, for me, the definitive heroic Couer de Lion. He gives the sort of ambiguous, darkly heroic performance that Sean Bean later gives in The Lord of the Rings. On this basis, it's astonishing that nearly fifteen years went by before he was cast again - he would have worked marvellously with Jon Pertwee's Doctor. Of course, it's the very English Richard of legend, the neo-Arthur, rather than the historical Richard, a man who cared little for England save that it gave him a crown and let him talk to Philip II of France as an equal rather than a vassal. (Though it can be argued that England was the part of the large Angevin empire, which included half of France, that least warranted the attention of the king during Richard's reign.)

Glover has a marvellous Shakespearian script by David Whitaker to work with, some of it apparently in iambic pentameter. There are also fine performances by Jean Marsh as Richard's sister Joanna and Bernard Kay as Saladin. The Shakespearian nature of the whole production is emphasized by the way that the Arab characters are played by blacked-up English actors, something that would not be acceptable these days.

What this story demonstrates is one of the qualities that kept Doctor Who going through the 1960s and 1970s. No-one involved felt embarrassed about being involved in a children's show that was then only in its second year. Instead, they all treated it as if it was any other BBC costume drama, and applied the same standards. It was when people forgot this and started not to treat the whole thing seriously that the rot set in for Doctor Who.


Anonymous said...

I thought the arguement was that Dr Who wasn't a children's show 'cos it wasn't made by the children's dept? Or was that only later episodes?

- Ivory Goddess

Tony Keen said...

Doctor Who was always produced by the Drama Department rather than the Children's Department, which I think contributed to the higher standards (until those running Drama decided that they hated the programme). But it was always acknowledged as children's show, not one for adults. (Whether the RTD revamp will acknowledge this is another matter.)