The Doctor: First Doctor (William Hartnell)
The Companions: Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), Ian (William Russell)
The plot: The Doctor and his companions arrive in 12th century Palestine during the Third Crusade, and find themselves entangled in the conflict between King Richard the Lionheart and Saladin
Written By: David Whitaker
First aired: 27/03/1965-17/04/1965
Continuity: Ian is knighted by Sir Richard the Lionheart
Theme Song: Delia Derbyshire’s 1963 Radiophonic workshop, including the beautiful and haunting middle eight.
Season 2, episodes 22-25 review
I have to admit that, coming off the back of the Reign of Terror and The Romans, I was all ready to start this review with “Spooner strikes again”. Except of course this is not strictly true. While Spooner was script editor, it was in fact David Whitaker who wrote The Crusade. And so it is Whitaker to be blamed for presenting as historical fact something that is something slightly more than gossip but far less than truth.
No, King Richard probably did not offer his (widowed) sister in marriage to Saladin’s brother, Malik el Adil (known as Saphadin). But the story did seem to fire the imaginations of many writers and so the event has been uncritically accepted by many as documented history. Wikipedia even unquestioningly references it in its own page on the future Sultan. It certainly seems to have inspired Whitaker, who structured his 12th century Palestinian adventure around the questionable event.
Historical issues aside, The Crusade was well-received in its time. It has a Shakespearian vibe to it: mistaken identities, gender bending, political intrigue, two great houses alike in dignity and a twist of wit in its dialogue. Both the Saracens and the Crusaders are portrayed similarly: ruled by men of intelligence and honour who trade barbs and jests even as their men battle. In the final estimation, though, it is Saladin who comes across the superior, with Richard blinkered by his ideological fervour: determined to stop a war that was unnecessary in the first place. And willing to barter his unwilling sister to do so.
While Barbara and Ian are given prospective heroic journeys, the Doctor is drawn unwillingly into court intrigue and spends most of the story simply trying to keep himself and Vicki on solid ground while they wait for the others to return. Yet Whitaker is one of the few writers who can hold all his cards while dealing out his tale so you never feel as though he’s merely killing time or having people run around in some kind of narrative busy work.
Unfortunately any modern assessment of the story is stymied by the fact that two of the episodes are lost (although audio survives). Unlike The Reign of Terror that reconstructed the episodes using animation, The Crusades has only been offered with original audio over telesnaps. It’s an inadequate vehicle for the story and once again some of its impact is lost as a result.
The TARDIS materialises in a forest in 12 century Jaffa and the TARDIS crew are soon separated. Barbara and an English Knight, William des Preaux, are captured by the Saracens and pretend to be King Richard the Lionheart and his sister, Joanna. They soon make an enemy of El Akir, the Emir of Lydda, who falls for their ruse and is subsequently humiliated.
The Doctor, Vicki and Ian end up in the court of King Richard where Vicki disguises herself as a boy named Victor. They petition Richard to trade with Saladin for Barbara’s return but he is still smarting from his recent defeat and the actions of his brother, John, and refuses.
My friends cut down about my ears or stolen. My armies roust about the streets and clutter up the streets of Jaffa with the garbage of their vices. And now I learn my brother John thirsts after power, drinking great draughts of it though it’s not his to take. He’s planning to usurp my crown, and trade with my enemy, Philip of France. Trade! A tragedy of fortunes and I am too much beset by them. A curse on this! A thousand curses!King Richard, The Crusades
They also meet Richard’s sister, Joanna, who takes “Viktor” (and later Vicki, after her sex is revealed) under her wing and shows her brother a gift of jewels she has received from Saladin’s brother, known colloquially as Saphadin. The original script legendarily had several pieces of dialogue implying an incestuous relationship between the two, dialogue that Hartnell insisted be removed. It’s only another way in which Whitaker’s script is informed more by gossip than history, although the dialogue itself is lost to time.
Nonetheless, the idea has been planted into Richard’s mind that Saphadin desires Joanna and he devises a scheme to offer her in marriage to him as a way of ensuring peace. He then sends Ian to deliver the message and to bring back Barbara and William des Preaux, a order that Ian enthusiastically agrees to.
“Is it love of peace or is it love of your companion that prompts this enthusiasm?” asks Richard. Oh it’s the latter, Richard. It’s the latter.
To give his offer a greater air of authority, King Richard knights Ian and the newly anointed Sir Ian sets off to Saladin’s camp to parley.
Meanwhile, El Akir is planning to leave for Lydda in shame but not before he arranges for the kidnapping of Barbara. He feeds Saladin a story about her having developed a passion for him but while the Sultan is fooled (or at least pretends to be), William des Preaux is not. Ian sets off to Lydda to rescue Barbara but is attacked by bandits on the way who mistake him for the wealthy Lord he is pretending to be.
Nonetheless, Barbara being Barbara she soon rescues herself and crosses paths with a man named Haroun ed-Diin. He has sworn vengeance on El Akir after he kidnapped his eldest daughter and murdered his wife and son while doing it. He hides Barbara in his home with his surviving daughter. And when El Akir’s troops invade the house to search it, she gives herself over rather than risk the other woman’s life.
Barbara is transcendent here, as usual. Captured by a violent man who wants to enslave her she escapes, not once but twice, and remains undaunted by her situation. Barbara is a masterclass in writing female characters with agency, even in situations where they would appear powerless.
Barbara: I’m not afraid of you.
El Akir: No? Yet you run away. Is that not fear?
Barbara: Fear has nothing to do with contempt. Or disgust.
Escaping for a second time, she hides in El Akir’s own harem as his other women loathe him as a cruel tyrant. She also finds Haroun ed-Diin’s missing eldest daughter and brings to her news that her father and sister live. And it is Haroun that shows up and dispatches El Akir, freeing Barbara and his daughter. It’s a satisfying revenge tale overall, albeit told in shorthand. El Akir’s downfall is due to his own flaws as a human being. Satisfyingly Shakespearian.
Ian shows up soon after to escort Barbara back to the TARDIS.
Ian is usually the brawn to Barbara’s brains, despite him being a man of science, and his storyline in The Crusades is no exception. Knighted and sent with the message to Saladin, he then heads to Lydda to rescue Barbara but is overcome by bandits. Realising he has no obvious riches to plunder they rather theatrically cover him in honey and peg him out near an ant hill.
Unable to talk the main bandit around, Ian tricks him into coming close and physically overpowers him. He then elicits his help in getting to Lydda by mentioning El Akir’s name. The Emir is so universally hated that his downfall seemed inevitable.
Ian truly runs the social gamut in these episodes: from wanderer to Lord to Beggar Thief and showing how close each are to the other. He arrives at El Akir’s residence practically an accepted member of the local bandits who are even sad to see him go. He escorts Barbara back to the forest on the dead Emir’s own stolen horses.
Which brings us back to the marriage offer and the intrigue of the court of Richard the Lionheart.
Ignoring that King Richard was apparently devoted to his sister (although probably not as much as Whitaker wanted to imply), the idea of European royalty letting their relative become one of many wives in a Muslim harem doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. But Richard’s plan to find common ground with Saladin by joining their families is treated textually as a serious one. He is thwarted by Joanna herself, who is horrified about being offered to a man she has never met. She appeals to Rome, essentially going over Richard’s head (it was a Holy Crusade after all).
You defy the world with your politics! The reason you and all your armies are here is the reason on my side. You are here to fight these dogs, defeat them. Marry me to them and you make a pact with the Devil. Force me to it and I’ll turn the world we know into your enemy.Joanna, The Crusades
On the other side, both Saladin and Saphadin are portrayed as taking the offer very seriously; albeit cautiously. This is also extremely unlikely, not just because of Joanna’s Christianity but because any such marriage would have meant giving up Jerusalem. It’s more likely that the idea was floated as one of many to end the conflict between the two sides and never seriously considered by either.
Nonetheless, the plan provides an instigation to the plot’s political manoeuvrings. One of Richard’s Lords, Leicester, is angry at any diplomatic resolution to what was supposed to be a war. Richard may be intent on seizing Jerusalem but his soldiers are there for the sackings and the looting; the riches of Palestine being the reward used to entice many of the troops during the Crusades. It is Leicester who informs Joanna of Richard’s plan, hoping that she will put an end to it (which she does). It is Leicester also who becomes suspicious of the Doctor and Vicki – especially so after Vicki’s sex is revealed – and Leicester who pursues them when they finally convince Richard to let them go. And it is Leicester who watches in stunned horror as the TARDIS dematerialises with the noble “Sir Ian” still inside.
We will not speak of this. Let this story die here in this wood or we’ll be branded idiots, or liars. Poor Sir Ian, brave fellow. Spirited away by fiends. What dreadful anguish and despair he must be suffering now.Lord Leicester, The Crusades
The final episode of The Crusades is strangely absent several main characters – not least of which is Joanna herself. As a woman who was allegedly a warrior in her own right, one who once apparently made siege upon her enemies while pregnant, I would have liked more time on her and on her story. At least as more than a bargaining chip.
Despite having the loose relationship to history that is beginning to be a hallmark of Doctor Who’s so called ‘historicals’, The Crusades is an enjoyable little adventure with a strong script that is let down mostly by its missing episodes. Let’s hope it’s on the list for animated recreation. I for one would like to see it in full.
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