Reviewed By: Lord Slarr
Review Date: 6/29/16 1:09 pm
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There hasn't been a type of story which has grown in my estimations over the years more than the pure historicals. (For the most part) they feel very sophisticated and intriguing more than some of the more fun Hartnell stories and John Luccarotti was undoubtedly the best writer of said genre writing the amazing Marco Polo, The Aztecs and The Massacre. However in season 2 one my favourite writers, David Whitaker was challenged with writing one. Now bearing in mind that when I was little I hated the surviving episodes, let's get into this review with a more mature perspective than I had back then.
I'm honestly confused as to why I used to hate this, The Crusade is absolutely brilliant! A great atmosphere, a collection of very engaging characters that you actually care about, a love to hate villain and some pretty well researched middle Eastern culture on display. So let's start off with the plot, basically Barbara is captured by Saladin's men while the Doctor must appease King Richard in his court in hopes to get her returned while Ian sets out to find her. That's an incredibly gross summary as theres much more to it than that; lots of friends and enemies are made leading to a pretty rough time for all the characters.
I do enjoy all members of the TARDIS crew in this story with the Doctor constantly using his cunning to twist situations, Viki helping the Doctor in court and steal clothes in Jaffa and Ian even getting knighted which is a great moment (the knight puns at the end of episode 4 are too good). However it's Barbara who really shines in this story with Jacqueline Hill putting in an amazing performance.
I mean she has a really rough time in this episode after getting bound and gagged and taken to Saladin, she makes an enemy of El Aquir who is an evil man who as revenge kidnaps her back to his palace but she escapes from the guards and is taken under the wing of Haroun. Haroun is an incredibly likeable character but also a sad one as his family were either taken or killed by El Aquir other than one of his daughters and the actor really pulls off the role well. I think my favourite moment in the entire story is when Haroun is about to leave the house and hands Barbara the knife and tells her to kill his daughter and herself if the guards find them and Barbara's reaction is while looking at the knife "life is better than this" which I think is not only an eloquent point by David Whitaker about how cheap life was back then but also showing how bad life is under El Aquir as life for them, obviously isn't better than that.
The Doctor and Viki in court is a lot of fun as well! I do sense a lot of chemistry between Hartnell and many members of the cast but specific to this episode its Julian Glover who plays Richard The Lionheart. It's just great watching him in the Kings court and actually getting on very well with a historical figure for once. Jean Marsh also plays an excellent Princess Joanna who really shines when she refuses to marry Saladin's brother, Safadin by threatening to get the pope involved. Julian Glover puts in a very good performance as King Richard too and really manages to convey the weariness and frustration he feels at this point in The Crusade and still manages to be likeable. Plus, there's nothing not to love about William Hartnell and Maureen O'Brien is there.
Ian's quest as a knight is definitely the weakest part of the story but to make up for that it's also the shortest part. Everything feels a bit rushed but nothing really happens other than the events with Ibrahim (who is a very funny character) and Barbara makes her own escape from El Aquir so he just arrives to facilitate it with horses. Theres not much to say other than William Russell is amazing as always, this part just doesn't feel fleshed out.
El Aquir is another one of those characters you love to hate, in a similar vain to Tegana but to a larger extent as El Aquir is far crueller using bribery to make the lives of his enemies miserable. I mean not only do you get to see how cruel he is to Haroun's family but also those menacing words at the episode 3 cliffhanger, "the only pleasure left for you is death. And death is a very long time away". This contributes to make El Aquir one of the best love to hate villains and when *spoilers* Haroun manages to kill him it is a truly satisfying moment which demonstrates Whitaker's amazing writing ability.
To conclude while The Crusade isn't quite perfect with Ian's plot being a bit rushed and bland, its fully worth it for Barbara's captivating ordeal and The Doctor and Viki in court. This episode demonstrates Whitaker's amazing ability as a writer and stands out as one of the best pure historicals.