Aired 27 March – 17 April 1965
Following the more light-hearted and comedic undertones of ‘The Romans,’ Doctor Who returns to a more serious tone with its historical outings in ‘The Crusade,’ a harrowing look at the Third Crusade in twelfth century Israel. Intriguingly, although the TARDIS crew once more becomes embroiled in events rather quickly, they find themselves this time between two men, Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, who both simply desire peace.
David Whitaker’s script wisely avoids pointed Anglophilic bias, showcasing both the rights and wrongs of both sides of the struggle as well as the shortcomings of the prominent individuals. Richard is quite prone to temperamental outbursts, especially when his plans are questioned or need to be modified. Yet rather than allowing the character devolve into a totally unlikable wretch, actor Julian Glover adds an intrinsic air of nobility and righteousness to his character that better defines Richard and keeps him both powerful and believable. Bernard Kay also does tremendous work as Saladin, the antagonist of Richard but a man who is still presented as very dignified and intelligent. There is, of course, the obvious fact of the makeup required to bring the non-Caucasian character to life, but that is a fault of the time and in no way detracts from the staggering performances and drama on display.
‘The Crusade,’ then, is very much a story dominated by spectacular performances, both from the leads and guest cast, and director Douglas Camfield excels in bringing out the most from everyone involved. Aside from the two principle guest actors, Jean Marsh as Richard’s sister Lady Joanna and Walter Randall as El Akir deserve special note. The story presents the subservients of both Richard and Saladin as the more overtly unpleasant figures, but El Akir is without question the de facto villain of the piece, adding a layered threat that works exceedingly well. Performances aside, it should also come as absolutely no surprise that the BBC production and set design once again excel at bringing its historical locales to life.
Bravely, ‘The Crusade’ does not shy away from more mature themes even if they do have to be toned down a bit for the family audience. After the Doctor and company rescue Richard from an execution, they soon find themselves in the midst of harems, incredible violence and schemes, and even an intimation of incest. The tone and structure of this story are about as far away from the comedic ‘The Romans’ as it is possible to get, and ‘The Crusade’ is certainly all the stronger for it. Of particular note is the subplot with Haroun El-Din and his daughter that features Barbara promising to kill his daughter rather than allow her to be captured. In fact, the only real fault against ‘The Crusade’ is that it quite light on action, and there is no component of the script that distracts from that fact. The TARDIS lands during a lulled stalemate between the two antagonists, and a resolution is not attained by the time it takes off again at the story’s conclusion. The Doctor tries his best to stay out of everyone’s way, and then he and his companions simply state that they are going to leave before promptly doing so. It’s fortunate that the drama and acting on display are arguably the best in the series up to this point, but a bit more action would certainly help proceedings. Overall, though, ‘The Crusade’ is another fantastic example of the pure historical genre and the potential it holds.