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Doctor Who and the Lost Crusade. Should stay lost.

July 26, 2015

lionheart

It’s not that it’s “bad”, based on the surviving episodes, stills and soundtrack.  It’s just that it’s… how shall we say… impolitic.

Perhaps blacking up doesn’t look as bad in black and white.  Perhaps.  And I suppose there was still a lot of it about.  Around the time this Doctor Who adventure was being broadcast, Laurence Olivier was performing Othello in very heavy blackface.  For pity’s sake, the The Black and White Minstrel Show would still be broadcast twelve years after The Crusade.  Not it was ever right though.  And The Black and White Minstrel Show is never rebroadcast nowadays and excerpts are only shown in the context of documentaries about racism.

There’s some pretty disturbing material here.  Strong meat, as they say.  A father tells Barbara that she is to stab his own daughter to death and then kill herself rather than allow either of them to be captured by the villainous local big shot – El Akir.  When dragged before El Akir, it’s made pretty unambiguously clear to Barbara that the remainder of her life is to consist of rape and torture.

Around the same time, Ian finds himself spreadeagled and staked out in the desert son while the weaselly demented sounding Ibrahim organises a trail of honey leading from Ian’s bare arm to a nearby flesh eating anthill.

For the sake of balance there is a “bad” crusader in the shape of the Earl of Leicester, who is spoiling for a fight and wants to scupper any effort of diplomacy.  Perhaps the most offensive thing in the adventure is the depiction of RIchard I, portrayed by Julian Glover (City of Death) as a reasonable Englishman who wants an honorable peace.  There is no sign of the real Richard – a bloodthirsty war criminal who slaughtered civilians in their thousands at the siege of Acre – a bitter Anglophobe who despised all things English and boasted that he’d sell London if he could only find a buyer – someone who taxed the peasants relentlessly to fund his wars of religious hatred.  Richard I was, in fact, one of the very very few European monarchs to be seriously accused of cannibalism.

It’s a fine performance by Julian Glover –  but it’s a performance of a character diametrically opposed to just about everything we know about Richard.  Perhaps historical accuracy should not be the point – but perhaps it should when treating early historical adventures – but which I mean all historical adventures that precede The Time Meddler.  It is made very explicit here – just as it was in The Aztecs and Reign of Terror, that the outcome of history is not in doubt.  Even if they tried, the Doctor and his companions could not change the military outcome of this campaign.  The challenge is merely to escape safely back to the Tardis.

And kind of realistically grisly portrayal of The Crusades was never going to reach the BBC in the mid sixties at 5.30pm on a Saturday Afternoon (though the novelisation is rather more concerned about the horrors of religious warfare).  All the really horrific behaviour in this tale comes from the Arabic characters – all of whom are played by white actors with cocoa powder smeared on their faces?

Is this adventure done badly?  Worse – it’s done rather well.  It’s well acted, staged and plotted.  But in all honesty I can’t hope that the missing two episodes of this frankly inflammatory material are recovered.  I wouldn’t want all four episodes shown in sequence on TV, nor released as a DVD.
Does this make me pro-censorship?  I don’t think so.  I would make no effort to block access to the episodes, stills and soundtrack which do exist.  But there are a great many other missing episodes, missing films, missing novels, missing treasures and artifacts that I’d like to see some heroic archaeologist recover for humanity’s delight – ahead of the missing two episodes of The Crusade.

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2 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Windows into History (Reblogs and News) and commented:
    Suggested reading – a thought-provoking post. As much as I understand the sentiments expressed, I can’t agree with not wanting two missing episodes of Doctor Who to be returned. If anything it would help to raise issues such as this and people can view the episodes in the context of their original broadcast date (50 years ago) and understand that times have changed! But I would love to see the day when more missing episodes are returned, even controversial material such as this and Celestial Toymaker. Reblogged on Windows into History.

  2. I would far rather see Celestial Toymaker complete.

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