Saturday 6 June 2020


Written by David Whitaker
First broadcast March/April 1965
Plot spoilers happen

“Once more King Richard's away to the wars
“For a reason as vague as his aim is obscure
“None of the press gang care what it's for
“So long as he's paying them square”
- Blyth Power

Good Kings and Bad

Those who don’t think David Whitaker played an important role in early ’Doctor Who’ are invited to leave quietly now. The credible range of his influence stretches from “important” to “did everything Terry Nation got credited for” to “did everything”. He was script editor for the first year. And though he hastily scripted two fill-in episodes, each a slender two-parter, this is his first full script.

Yet it's controversial. It’s often said this story was never sold to Middle Eastern markets, so now two episodes are missing. (Others have been found there.) And it’s true, the other side are consistently called ‘Saracens’. Which, though probably historically accurate, is an elision between ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ where ‘Arab’ is itself stretched to mean ‘Middle Easterner.’ At other points they’re “heathen” and “infidel”. While we’re soon told King Richard is known as Malek Ric by the Saracens, Salah ad-Din is called Saladin even in his own court.

Yet for a story called ‘The Crusades’, it takes remarkably little interest in religion. Though “Holy Land” is used early on, to set the scene, and at a couple of points Allah is referred to, “Muslim” and “Christian” appear not at all. When the authority of the Pope gets invoked half-way through, it almost takes you by surprise. Instead Whitaker is more interested in the characters of Richard and Saladin, two Kings who sit at opposite ends of war’s chessboard without ever meeting.

As we’ve seen the historicals tend to retell popular history, less educating people than reassuringly reiterating what they think they know already. And following ‘1066 And All That’ it divides monarchs neatly up into “Good Kings” and “Bad Kings”. Nero, from ‘The Romans’, was the proverbial Bad King, even if he didn’t literally hold the title. Or the ogreous Henry VIII from ’A Man For All Season’ (filmed in 1966).

Handily, you can tell a Good King from a Bad on sight because the Bad ones are all overweight. (Having grown fat off the land, you see.) Richard, commonly depicted as muscular, must therefore be a Good King. He’s normally shown as a valiant war hero, though as this is normally in Robin Hood, that Good King-ness keeps him offstage.

Yet, if Good King Richard might seem standard for this era, the first episode sets us up with the second option. He’s a playboy monarch, embarking on an ill-advised hunting exhibition in the midst of war-time – one which nearly gets him kidnapped. His capricious moods, where whims soon fixate into orders, have to be carefully negotiated by his more savvy subordinates. The episode ends on him having a fit of temper, indignant that he should be asked to “trade” with Saladin, just as he’s furious with John who “trades with my enemy, Phillip of France.” In this world, these are as dangerous as a Dalek screeching ”exterminate”.

Whereas Saladin’s mottos is “strategy is worth a hundred lances”. In a detail carefully explained in the script, he and his brother Saphadin take turns to receive audiences. But one always sits in a hidden chair with his back to the other, ruminating on what’s been said. Saladin offers a metaphor for this at one point: “Always keep one hand tensed while is other is relaxed and friendly”. Power is seen as dualistic, it has to be seductive as well as coercive, listening as well as proclaiming.

But more generally it seems to stand for the psychological depth required for diplomacy. While Richard struts around talking of himself in the Royal “we”, Saladin is literally a we. Richard lives in a world of objects and things. Actions are cause and effect, in which he is the cause and everyone around him the effect. He issues orders and people do things. There’s not much cause for him to self-reflect when no-one else has ever questioned him. He rages “we will not be advised!” as if that’s some kind of strength.

Whereas Saladin sees things on a more strategic level. (Dave Sim fans may want to think of Cerebus and Lord Julius here.) When Barbara is presented to him as a prisoner, Saladin disregards her lowly status to take an interest in her.

All this can confound Richard. “Saladin sends me presents of fruit and snow when I am sick... Yet with our armies do we both lock in deadly combat.” For his part Saladin finds Richard “guileless”.

And it may well have confounded contemporary audiences. Yet, if we’re to see them as synecdoches of state, don’t tell the Brexit voters but it’s probably more or less accurate. Ottoman society probably was more advanced and sophisticated than English at this point.

But then Whitaker, capable of his own guile, throws in a twist. Richard has come to realise his only sensible option is to sue for peace. William Blake wrote “There is a mystery that never shall cease/ The priest loves war and the solider peace.” And Richard’s is very much a solider’s love of peace, a weariness of an unwinnable war.

And he’s also capable of foreseeing the difficulties. He says to Ian: “Though we do not doubt that we are surrounded by loyal men, yet we fear that war is uppermost in their minds. This blood-letting must stop!” (Which also gives Whitaker an excuse to have him involve Ian in his plans rather than one of his own men.)

And this plan is a “match between Joanna and Saphadin.” His own incestuous relationship with her was, as most fans know, more heavily hinted until an outraged Hartnell kiboshed the notion. Which works both ways at once. It shows how Richard’s world of royal blood is as rarified, as incestuous intellectually as much as it is sexually. He thinks inside of a narrow conceptual gene pool. (Inbreeding is virtually a metaphor for the downside of royalty.) Yet at the same time he’s willing to give up not just his sister but his fuckbuddy for the greater good.

This fails because the Earl of Leicester, one of his own advisers, tips her off before he’s had a chance to talk her into it - throwing her into a thundering rage of her own. Like his own worst instincts, she becomes the wrong sort of royal.

Does this too much take Richard’s perspective? When Joanna protests volubly that “I am no sack of flour to be given in exchange” your natural tendency is to sympathise with her. But perhaps, like Serena in ’The Handmaid’s Tale’, she wants the upside of her rank with none of the obligations. Such strategic marriages were then common. The historic Joan had already been married off to, then widowed by, the King of Sicily. And she seems to object more to her betrothed being a “heathen” than the lack of consultation.

But if that’s the immediate scuppering of the plan, the suggestion is that it was never going to work. Richard is shown as wise enough to want peace, but not powerful enough to bring it about. Saladin’s response is essentially “not a hope, but I should encourage the guy for trying.” After ‘The Aztecs’ we’re back to the irrevocability of history, with Richard in the Barbara role. Except, no newcomer to power, his reaction to failure is less despondency and more weary resignation. He figures it’s Leicester who tipped Joanna off. But, realising he’ll be needing experienced military advisors again and pretty soon, he stays schtum.

And this may be a view of royal power whose time was due. Though Richard appears in the 1968 film ‘The Lion in Winter’ the character who most matches him there is his father, Henry II. Now old, Henry has grown accomplished in political shenanigans but through this has come to realise his powers’ limitations. (“There's no sense asking if the air is good if there's nothing else to breathe.”)

Those who like to talk up the historicals often reach for the term ‘Shakespearian’. By which they seem to mean posh people pontificating in a vaguely BBC-ish way. Though you could at most call it sub-Shakespearian, Whitaker does get that Shakespeare wrote evocatively rather than just flamboyantly. (Which should really be obvious, but doesn’t seem to be.)

For example these are the lines he gave to Leicester, the counsel for war. A relatively minor character, who could easily have been the ”stupid butcher” the Doctor claims, responds to him:

“You're a man for talk, I can see that. You like a table and a ring of men. A parley here, arrangements there, but when you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, we the soldiers, have to face it out. On some half-started morning while you speakers lie abed, armies settle everything, giving sweat, sinewed bodies, aye, and life itself.”

”Chivalry and Barbarism”

Described in the novelisation (of which anon) as “a world of chivalry and barbarism”, it repeats the ‘Marco Polo’ formula - the proper-acting-but-added-fighting combination, a grand drama and a genre adventure story who seem to pass by semi-oblivious to one another. The constraints of history, ostensibly the story’s theme, fills one but is entirely absent from the other.

And however smartly Saladin is depicted the adventure story is stuffed with racist stereotypes, reminding us the working title was the somewhat suspect ‘Saracen Hordes’. If Saladin’s no mere villain this role is instead displaced onto El Akir, a swarthy schemer, a scar with a man attached. He inevitably has the sadistic hots for a white woman like Barbara. Who’s kidnapped almost straight away, long before the pretence starts that she’s Joanna. He plans to add her to his harem, inevitably presented the standard Western way as a privatised brothel. He might not tie her to any railway lines, but only because they’re not invented yet. And this “after our women” trope is then compounded by Saphadin’s desire to marry Joanna.

In my youth “thieving Arab” was a common phrase no-one thought anything of. And it’s personified by the character of Ibrahim. Who is admittedly well played, and is given an almost Brechtian motive for opposing El Akir: “He has made the rich people so poor so there is no one left to steal from.”

Among the Crusaders De Preaux nobly allows himself to be captured, in the place of the King who just scornfully rubbished his sensible escape plan. Even Leicester, the one most opposed to the travellers and who jinxes Richard’s peace plan, seems motivated by sincere belief. While too many Arab characters are motivated by petty greed and self-advancement, grubbing for gold coins and ruby rings like medals for Muttley.

When even Saphadin is depicted as no intellectual match for his brother, it’s hard not to think back to Ian’s line from ‘The Aztecs’, that Saladin is “the unusual man here.” The travellers naturally align with the Crusaders, and do so from the get-go. Like Autloc, it’s good that this character was written in. Possibly even surprisingly good. But ultimately not good enough.

This story not being sold to any Middle Eastern markets isn’t the clincher it’s sometimes thought. The decision could well have been a case of judging a book by its cover. (And missing episodes have come to light elsewhere. The first episode here, which didn’t show up till 1999, was found in New Zealand.) But overall it’s further weight to the theory that ’Dr. Who’ marks the limits of liberalism, like a map that suddenly cuts out.

History Is Here For Us

And the story’s other main weakness is that the book is better.

Which might surprise some. Later novelisations effectively reformatted TV scripts, stitching them together with boilerplate phrases such as “a wheezing, groaning noise”. They were speed-written, with the expectation they’d be read just as quickly. In their day, they were the only way of preserving old episodes. As video tape arrived, the need for them diminished. But the first three of these were published some years before the better-known Target books, between 1964 and 1966.

Bill Strutton’s ‘Doctor Who and the Zarbi’, based on his own ‘The Web Planet’, needn’t concern us much here. (Or at all, truth be told.) But the other two were by David Whitaker…

Whitaker, who had script-edited but not written the original ‘Daleks' story, completely rewrote the beginning in order to create an introduction for the main characters. And from there he changed pretty much anything he felt like. Ian and Barbara, who might seem like staples of the show, are almost entirely different people.

But with his own script for ‘The Crusade’ he changed much less. The story starts with the crew already travelling, and the references to past adventures suggest he had an eye on further novelisations. (Which at that point never came.) Instead he extended and reworked it, taking his TV script (presumably written at speed) as a first draft. It smooths together what in the script are a somewhat disjointed series of events, sometimes reordering them to achieve this. 

Why did Saladin, after having goes to some trouble to ascertain it was El Akiar who kidnapped Barbara from him, then do nothing with the knowledge? How was Haroun so handily placed to find and then hide Barbara when she was on the run? The book explains all this and more.

And it’s more discursive, more philosophical. Ian and Saladin don’t even meet on the screen, here they go into the “all-religions-are-one” thing. (Which might have actually made some sense had the stuck with Christianity and Islam, but they absurdly and pointlessly then drag Buddhism and Hinduism into it too.)

And there’s bookend sections of discussion aboard the ship to enrich the tale. Which suggest the Tardis is deliberately teaching them life lessons. But this then makes a terrible error. A strangely modern error, like Whitaker’s trying to pre-empt future internet nit-pickers with an explain-away. It doesn’t just unwisely foreground the fact that events are malleable in science fiction stories but fixed in historical ones, it then comes up with a still-worse explanation.

“Once we are on Earth,” the Doctor says, “we become part of the history that is being created and we are as subject to its laws as are the people who are living in that period.” (Apart from future Earth of course, where history hasn’t been set yet. Or something.) Laws he later describes as set by “Time, that great regulator.”

The purpose of this seems moral and instructional. “We are learning. Why do people kill each other, steal from each other: rob, slander, hurt and destroy? Why do thousands upon thousand of young men hurt themselves at one another on a field of battle, each side sure in the justness of its cause? Until we know, until we can control greed, destructive ambition, hatred and the dozen and one other flaws that plague us, we are not worthy to breathe.”

The notion that history would be “regulated” only on Earth seems absurdly anthropocentric. But it gets worse. Remember that ’Who’ often adheres to the science fiction model where foreign planets are inflated metaphors for foreign countries, Skaro post-war Germany, Vortis occupied France, the Sense-sphere the Orient and so on. This makes the model not only human but specifically English exceptionalism. Time the great regulator is keeping a watchful eye over us, and us alone. If Arabs are inherently more greedy and duplicitous than us, it’s to provide case studies for us to study. Events, even when they happen abroad, become history through their influence on British history. History is what happens to us. With others it’s mere events.

A familiar plea! I remain entirely dependent on people who like what they read here to tell others, and I remain eternally grateful to those who’ve already done something like this. Sharing really does make it easier for me to keep writing...


  1. Aside from the classic sixties anglocentricism you discuss art the end, then, this sounds rather and thoughtful -- at least, much more so than I would have expected.

    1. It largely depends on which elements of the story you choose to concentrate on - the Serious Drama or the Costumed Adventure.