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02 October 2015 @ 09:02 pm
The Randomiser: The Crusade  
As someone who basically grew up with the Target novelisations of Doctor Who, The Crusade is a very weird experience*. The Crusade is one of early Who's high-concept historicals, before the concept of a purely historical Doctor Who story was, essentially, cast aside. In The Crusade the Doctor and his companions must master the complex politics of the third Cruade in which Richard I faced off against Saladin. What is strange about it is that this is also one of the very early Doctor Who novelisations and I hadn't realised quite how much freedom David Whitaker had taken with the plot.

There were three things that really struck me on watching this:

Firstly, and unrelated to the novelisation, this is Doctor Who does Shakespeare. This varies from scene to scene, but everything that takes place in Richard I's court is terribly Shakespearean with character declaiming their purpose in long speeches. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, the confrontation between Richard (played by Richard Glover - later Scaroth of the Jagaroth) and Joanna (played by Jean Marsh, later Morgainne) is a powerful evocation of two people well-versed in real politik each manoeuvring for their own advantage and played in the kind of hyper-real style evocative of Shakepeare. "That didn't go very well," tame layman remarked after the fact, even if both speaks for longer than naturalism would expect. Saladin is also well served. However once the action moves away from the courts of Saladin and Richard I, the dialogue become more naturalistic and this, in a way, throws into sharp relief both the class and the racist assumption implicit in the story - the less said about Ibrahim, probably the better.

Secondly, this is a very disjointed tale, the camera focuses very much on key interactions and leaves the viewer to fill in the interim. In modern Doctor Who there would have been a lot of shots of people galloping on horseback between locations. It is painfully obvious that The Crusade could not afford horses. I'm not sure if the choppiness is more obvious to someone more familiar with the novel, which seeks to fill in the missing scenes, explaining, for instance, Ian's interactions with Saladin which grant him passage to Lydda.

But lastly and most overwhelmingly, the novelisation subtley changes whole sections of the story. The most obvious is the sequence in which Barbara escapes from El Akir by throwing coins on the floor for the guards and then hides in the hareem. In the book, Barbara is whipped into unconsiousness by El Akir and wakes up in the hareem. There is even an illustration of the whipping which, it turns out, is completely unrelated to anything that happens in the televised versions. The mismatch between the illustrations and the action tele snaps is, in fact, one of the most jarring elements. I had always assumed these were illustrations of actual scenes in the show , but it turns out that they were entirely the imagination of the unnamed artist. One also vaguely wonders about someone who felt the need to insert a companion being whipped into unconsciousness into a storyline already laden with the implicit threat of sexual violence.

This makes it really hard to evaluate, since there are two related stories happening in my head at once. I think some of this works really well (particularly when it is reaching for Shakespearean political intrigue), some of it is OK (the scenes involving Barbara's interaction with Haroun's family in Lydda), and some of it is frankly embarrassing (Ibrahim). All of it is bound up in this rather choppy narrative in which the audience is expected to fill in mentally a lot of the gaps.

I'm glad I saw this. It is a piece of Doctor Who that is attempting to do something that has not been attempted since the show abandoned its interest to educating about history. That said it is, in a way, more educational about the limits of studio-bound Doctor Who in the 1960s, and 1960s attitudes to race and class, than it is about the third Crusade itself. For a reader of the novelisations it is also weirdly different to expectations. Like at lot of Hartnell's shows, it is more interesting as a view upon avenues that have subsequently closed, than it is in and of itself.

*also I'm quite drunk, please attribute spelling errors accordingly.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/173025.html.
eve11eve11 on October 3rd, 2015 01:36 am (UTC)
I have not seen nor read The Crusade, but if you are looking for a good pure historical adventure there are a few Big Finish audios that come to mind with Five, Peri and Erimem. The Council of Nicea, The Church and the Crown (3 musketeers!) and Son of the Dragon.
louisedennislouisedennis on October 4th, 2015 02:07 pm (UTC)
For reasons I don't really understand, I don't much like audio drama (of any kind, it's not just Big Finish). I bought the first dozen or so of the Big Finish stories but wasn't really getting into them. Everyso often I'm tempted to explore them some more and then I recall I don't much like audio drama...
eve11: chanceeve11 on October 4th, 2015 02:11 pm (UTC)
I can't focus well on them unless my alligator brain is occupied. Driving is good though. I have a long commute and they are great for that :)

It took me a little while to get into them but i eventually fell for them :)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on October 4th, 2015 02:17 pm (UTC)
Yeah, you'd have thought driving would be an obvious opportunity, particularly since I'm quite happy to listen to regular talk radio while driving, but somehow, if its drama, I get all impatient, restless and tense. No idea what the root of the problem is.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on October 3rd, 2015 07:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Shakespeare, I think some of the dialogue is actually in iambic pentameter. One line turns up again in The Shakespeare Code too.

I can't say much about the novelization, as it was one of the few I could never get hold of, but it's interesting that the illustrations are not from the telesnaps, as those in Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure in the Daleks are clearly sourced from publicity photos, down to the Doctor wearing a jumper instead of his usual costume in one or two because the photos are from rehearsal, not recording.

I do like The Crusade, but it's an odd story. Our Heroes don't actually do that much and the whole thing sort of stops instead of actually concluding, if you see what I mean. I think it's the last example of David Whitaker's approach to Doctor Who, what I call the 'witness to history' approach where the TARDIS crew arrive, watch something famous happen and leave without actually doing very much to influence events. Even by this stage, The Romans had challenged this, and next few stories would completely throw it out.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on October 4th, 2015 02:31 pm (UTC)
I've just posted some of the images for comparison. I think most of the illustrations in the book are completely new, though some bear a close enough resemblance to scenes in the story that I wouldn't swear they weren't from publicity shots or similar. I think the capture and rescue of Barbara get a lot more emphasis in the book, partly I suspect because Whittaker obviously shipped them, but it wouldn't surprise me if it is also because this is where our protagonists actually get to influence the outcome of something.
parrot_knight: Hartnell wordsparrot_knight on October 4th, 2015 03:13 pm (UTC)
The novelisation never made as much of an impression on me as did some others; I took away more from the prologue than I did from any other part of it.

My impression from what I've seen of scripts and memos from the period is that there was definitely an appetite among one or two of the men involved with the programme for seeing Jacqueline Hill in extremities of peril or violence, complete with one late script change with lurid descriptions which comes to mind, and Whitaker's addition of the whipping scene (which the TLS reviewer, I think, found gravely out of place) is one of these.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on October 5th, 2015 09:29 am (UTC)
I remember being very fond of the novel, though it is a long time since I read it - and flicking through yesterday to get images I think I may have misremembered some of the order of events around Barbara's recapture, incarceration in the hareem and being whipped. But I was fond of all of the earliest Who novels I had, particularly the Doomsday Weapon and the two Yeti books.