Written by David Whitaker
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Britain really has been an imperialist bastard, hasn’t it. Even back in the 12th century, they were stomping around Asia declaring the inhabitants to be infidels. Bastard. Of course, it got a lot better at being a bastard by the 18th and 19th centuries, but during the third crusade it was definitely having a go.
Its nice to see, therefore, that a very British TV show makes Richard Lionheart a bit of a shit. And his courtiers. And his sister. All of them: shits. Most of the locals are shits too, to be perfectly fair, but there’s the odd likeable one, particularly Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb played in the most un politically correct way possible by Bernard Kay. Finding any demographic data on London in 1961 (the closest census to this story’s broadcast date) apparently takes more than two minutes of poking around google, so I have no idea what sort of proportion of people in London had any middle-eastern ancestry, or how many of them were actors, but its a shame that the BBC didn’t seem to put any effort into casting anyone non white.
Buy what of the story? Sadly The Crusade falls into the same dull cycle as most of the historical stories. They land. They get separated. They (yawn) wonder around a bit. They all get back to the TARDIS and leave. How did that take four episodes?
Luckily, David Whitaker’s writing has some qualities (other than plotting) that save the day. This show boasts some of the best dialogue I’ve heard on television that wasn’t written by Joss Whedon or David Milch, at times feeling almost like a Jacobean tragedy. Lines like “And how would you have me go to Saphadin? Bathed in oriental perfume, I suppose? Supient, tender and affectionate, soft-eyed and trembling, eager with a thousand words of compliment and love? Well I like a different way to meet the man I am to wed!” benefit further from an outstanding cast, Julian Glover and Jean Marsh in particular give standout performances.
Stories like The Crusade were pretty standard fair for the BBC at the time. Without the slight sci-fi elements of the Doctor himself and his companions, this would be just another period drama, something it excelled at. This comes across in the quality of the costumes and sets, especially compared to some of the more futuristic episodes, which were more unusual for the BBC to make. Even those though were pretty straightforward storytelling. So far, Doctor Who hadn’t really gone into the realm of the experimental. How would it end up coping? We’ll find out in The Space Museum.