Serial H:
The Reign Of Terror


Susan and Barbara are captured during the dying days of France's infamous Reign of Terror in the eighteenth century, and are sent to the Bastille to await the guillotine. Meanwhile, Ian attempts to find British spy James Stirling, bearing the vital message of a dying man. Elsewhere, the Doctor poses as a member of the new ruling elite and gets caught up in the intrigue of the French Revolution.


In late February 1964, Doctor Who story editor David Whitaker planned to write a historical adventure for the tail end of the programme's first recording block. This would have been set in sixteenth-century Spain in the wake of the Armada. By mid-March, however, it appears that Whitaker had changed his mind about the story and he began searching for a replacement.

One of the names suggested to Whitaker as a possible candidate for Doctor Who was Dennis Spooner. Spooner had gotten his start writing and performing during his National Service in the Army. After an abortive attempt to make a living as a stand-up comic, he turned to writing comedy full-time, for both radio and television. Eventually expanding his horizons, Spooner accumulated credits on programmes such as The Avengers and the Gerry Anderson puppet series Fireball XL5 and Stingray. Around this time, Spooner met Terry Nation, and the pair collaborated on a number of radio series. It was Nation -- who had already written two Doctor Who stories -- who recommended Spooner to Whitaker.

The French Revolution setting was proposed by William Russell

The pair met on March 10th, and discussed the possibility of Spooner writing a serial set during the French Revolution -- a setting proposed to Whitaker by William Russell -- which would take the place of the Armada tale. This was commissioned on April 2nd, under the title of The Reign Of Terror. Later that month, the Armada story was tentatively pencilled in as the first serial of Doctor Who's as-yet unconfirmed second recording block; had this transpired, it would have been broadcast following The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, but it was soon abandoned. After leaving his post as story editor, Whitaker submitted a proposal entitled “The New Armada” -- likely a revised version of this storyline -- to the Doctor Who production office. This was rejected in January 1966.

It had been hoped that The Reign Of Terror would air upon Doctor Who's return to the airwaves following a six-week hiatus after the broadcast of The Sensorites. In late May, however, Chief of Programmes Donald Baverstock decided that the show would enjoy only a four-week break in transmission, and that this would occur later than originally planned. Consequently, The Reign Of Terror became the last story of Doctor Who's first season, rather than the leadoff story of its second.

The Reign Of Terror was also written during a time when Doctor Who's future was deeply uncertain because of the unsuitability of its regular studio space, Lime Grove Studio D. A suggested alternative was Lime Grove G -- with Studios 3 and 4 at the BBC Television Centre being made available when possible -- but this was a very long, narrow facility unsuited to the large sets often employed in the series. Finally, in June, it was agreed that Doctor Who would be shifted to Riverside Studio 1 toward the end of the recording block. In the interim, it appears that The Reign Of Terror was written to accommodate Lime Grove G's unusual dimensions. The first four episodes would be taped there, with parts five and six shifting to TC4.

On June 15th, the first location filming for Doctor Who depicted the Doctor walking to Paris in episode two

When Serial H was still planned to be Whitaker's Armada story, the intended director was Gerald Blake (who would eventually make his Doctor Who debut on The Abominable Snowmen). In the event, Hungarian refugee Henric Hirsch, whose work to date had been primarily in the theatre, received the assignment for The Reign Of Terror. Hirsch had only recently completed the BBC's director's training course, and his first televised work had been the James Joyce play Bloomsday for Festival.

Production on the serial began on June 15th, when Doctor Who enjoyed a small amount of location filming for the first time. This took place at White Plain, a nursing home in Denham Green, Buckinghamshire, and the Isle of Wight Farm at nearby Gerrards Cross. It was limited to three shots of the Doctor walking to Paris in part two, Guests Of Madame Guillotine. In this instance, Brian Proudfoot doubled for William Hartnell to avoid having to remove the star from rehearsals for The Sensorites. Proudfoot had attended the recording of that serial's third episode the previous Friday to study Hartnell's mannerisms and walk.

Filming at the Ealing Television Film Studios then occurred from June 16th to 18th. Amongst the sequences recorded were model shots of the farmhouse, as well as the few scenes featuring William Russell in episodes two and three. It was planned that Russell would receive two weeks' holidays during The Reign Of Terror, the other regulars having already enjoyed their vacations earlier in the production block. To this end, as with Carole Ann Ford on The Aztecs, the scripts for the two relevant installments were structured to minimise Russell's appearances to facilitate their being prefilmed.

Studio recording then began with part one, A Land Of Fear, on July 10th. (The day's first order of business was actually the remounting of a short insert for the final installment of The Sensorites.) As had been the standard throughout the season, each episode of The Reign Of Terror was then taped on successive Fridays.

On June 24th, Henric Hirsch collapsed just outside the production gallery door

However, a major problem arose on July 24th, the day that part three, A Change Of Identity, was due to be recorded. Hirsch had been finding the weekly grind of Doctor Who very demanding, a matter not helped by his general disinterest in the programme. Hirsch had also been finding Hartnell difficult to deal with. During rehearsals that afternoon, an ill Hirsch left the production gallery. A short time later, he was found to have collapsed just outside the door by production assistant Tim Combe.

With Hirsch obviously unable to continue, Combe and producer Verity Lambert oversaw the remainder of the rehearsals. It appears that John Gorrie -- who had previously helmed The Keys Of Marinus -- was hastily brought in to handle the episode (although Gorrie himself has no recollection of this). A Change Of Identity was Gorrie's last Doctor Who work. He would continue to direct for television, including episodes of Out Of The Unknown, Rumpole Of The Bailey and The Return Of Sherlock Holmes. No director's credit appeared on the transmitted version of A Change Of Identity. Making his first appearance in this episode was Leon Colbert; the character had originally been named Leon Corneille.

Fortunately, Hirsch was well enough to resume his duties for the remaining three installments of The Reign Of Terror. However, it was agreed that Combe -- who had a better working relationship with Hartnell -- would assume some of the director's responsibilities. Hirsch appears to have left the BBC after completing his Doctor Who work. His credits thereafter were primarily confined to the theatre, although he also directed some episodes of Emmerdale Farm for Yorkshire Television.

Meanwhile, it was while The Reign Of Terror was in production that major decisions about Doctor Who's long-term future were being made. Only two more serials were left to be recorded as part of the first production block; these would be held over to start the programme's second season in October. Lambert and Whitaker had been contemplating major changes to the regular cast beyond this point, including writing out Barbara (although this idea was later dropped) and replacing Susan with a different teenaged girl. However, exercises such as these would be pointless if there was no guarantee that Doctor Who would continue on for a significant length of time.

By the end of July, both William Hartnell and William Russell were considering other acting opportunities

Since the end of May, Donald Baverstock had been unwilling to commit to more than a single additional serial, to keep Doctor Who on the air until late January 1965. By the end of July, the only significant decision made by the Chief of Programmes had been to increase the break in transmission to seven weeks. This meant that, were Doctor Who to end in January, a four-part serial would have to be hastily commissioned to fill out the run, since none was currently in development. Furthermore, Lambert feared that it would be difficult to secure such a brief contract extension from her stars. Indeed, she was worried that even if a decision to prolong Doctor Who was eventually made, it might come too late: Hartnell had already received another job offer, and Russell's agent was actively seeking out other opportunities for his client.

Finally, on August 14th -- the same day that production wrapped on The Reign Of Terror -- Baverstock informed Lambert that he was renewing Doctor Who for thirteen more weeks, with the possibility of a further thirteen beyond that. A month later, on September 12th, Prisoners Of Conciergerie was broadcast. This brought Season One of Doctor Who to a close, with the promise of Season Two just around the corner.

  • Doctor Who: The Handbook: The First Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1994), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0 426 20430 1.
  • Doctor Who: The Sixties by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1992), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 1 85227 420 4.
  • Doctor Who Magazine #204, 29th September 1993, “Archive: The Reign Of Terror” by Andrew Pixley, Marvel Comics UK Ltd.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #7, 12th May 2004, “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.

Original Transmission
1: A Land Of Fear
Date 8th Aug 1964
Time 5.15pm
Duration 24'24"
Viewers (more) 6.9m (37th)
· BBC1 6.9m
Appreciation 58%
2: Guests Of Madame Guillotine
Date 15th Aug 1964
Time 5.15pm
Duration 24'04"
Viewers (more) 6.9m (35th)
· BBC1 6.9m
Appreciation 54%
3: A Change Of Identity
Date 22nd Aug 1964
Time 5.30pm
Duration 25'23"
Viewers (more) 6.9m (34th)
· BBC1 6.9m
Appreciation 55%
4: The Tyrant Of France
Date 29th Aug 1964
Time 5.15pm
Duration 24'26"
Viewers (more) 6.4m (36th)
· BBC1 6.4m
Appreciation 53%
5: A Bargain Of Necessity
Date 5th Sep 1964
Time 5.31pm
Duration 23'51"
Viewers (more) 6.9m (39th)
· BBC1 6.9m
Appreciation 53%
6: Prisoners Of Conciergerie
Date 12th Sep 1964
Time 5.30pm
Duration 25'04"
Viewers (more) 6.4m (38th)
· BBC1 6.4m
Appreciation 55%

Dr Who
William Hartnell
Ian Chesterton
William Russell
Barbara Wright
Jacqueline Hill
Susan Foreman
Carole Ann Ford
Small Boy
Peter Walker
Laidlaw Dalling
Neville Smith
Robert Hunter
Ken Lawrence
James Hall
Terry Bale
Patrick Marley
Howard Charlton
Jack Cunningham
Jeffry Wickham
Road Works Overseer
Dallas Cavell
Denis Cleary
James Cairncross
Roy Herrick
Jules Renan
Donald Morley
John Barrard
Caroline Hunt
Leon Colbert
Edward Brayshaw
Keith Anderson
Ronald Pickup
Paul Barras
John Law
Tony Wall

Written by
Dennis Spooner
Directed by
Henric Hirsch
John Gorrie (episode 3, uncredited)
Produced by
Verity Lambert

Title music by
Ron Grainer
with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Incidental music composed and conducted by
Stanley Myers
Film Cameraman
Peter Hamilton
Film Editor
Caroline Shields
Costumes Supervised by
Daphne Dare
Make-Up Supervised by
Sonia Markham
Lighting by
Howard King
Story Editor
David Whitaker
Roderick Laing
Associate Producer
Mervyn Pinfield

Archive Holdings
Episodes Missing
Episodes 4, 5
Clips Extant
Episode 4 (0'10" in 6 sequences)
Episode 5 (0'11" in 6 sequences)
Telesnaps Surviving

Working Titles
Episode 2
Guests Of The Guillotine

Updated 29th December 2012