After last week’s focus on the regulars, the story begins to open up to explain more about the situation they find themselves in. Lobos is the governor of Xeros, ‘a planet in the Morok empire’. The Moroks were apparently once a great spacefaring people, now declining into indolence and decadence. What’s amusing about them is that while the show has attempted to make previous aliens, such as the Sensorites or the Menoptra, ‘otherworldly’, the Moroks are basically bureaucrats with silly hair. They’re the kind of aliens Robert Homes creates. Had Holmes written them they would have been funnier, but probably not by that much. If there’s an issue at all, it’s the performance of Ivor Salter that struggles to land the joke.
Most of the opening episodes of the sci-fi adventures are relatively eerie – from the exploration of the Dead Planet Skaro and the horrors of Marinus, to the spaceship tomb of The Sensorites and the weird surface of Vortis. This one’s pretty great though. The TARDIS has landed in amongst a whole load of rocket ships in a space museum. But straight away there’s something not right – the regulars aren’t wearing the same clothes as last week, and then a dropped glass reassembles itself in Vicki’s hand.
Barbara runs away from El Akir, making him even crosser and causing him to hiss even more menacingly. But for another week running, she’s assisted by friendly locals who hate him for his cruelty. Ian encounters a less friendly local who plans to feed him to the ants, and Leicester quizzes Vicki, much to the Doctor’s annoyance.
It all goes Julian and Sandy as the Doctor and Vicki spend the third week in a row mucking about with the punningly-named Ben Daheer. ‘Who’s your friend?’ Vicki sniggers as the merchant gives a fey wave. ‘A girl dressed as a boy,’ sighs the Chamberlain. ‘Is nothing understandable these days?’ However, things take a more serious turn when Princess Joanna approaches the Doctor, who she senses she can trust, to discover King Richard’s plans for her future. The Doctor and Vicki continue to be a winning combination – Vicki’s now so settled in the TARDIS that she sees it as the only home she’s got, and although their plot in The Crusade hardly sets the pulse racing (despite the Doctor’s vague promise that court intrigues could be ‘very, very dangerous’), they’re much more fun to watch than the Doctor and Susan ever were.
The episode opens with the Doctor, Vicki and Ian persuading King Richard to help them rescue Barbara – in blank verse too, which does means the Doctor says oddly out of character things like, ‘Methinks a fair bargain, sire’. His manipulative flattery, which was so amusing when deployed against Nero, here comes across as glib sycophancy because the tone of the story is so much more serious even if the Doctor seems determined to treat it all as a big joke.
After the amazing restorations of earlier Hartnell episodes, the incredibly ropy print of The Lion is a bit of a shock. Almost as shocking as seeing a bearded Julian Glover and some beardy men chatting in blank verse after six weeks of nothing but insect people.
The Doctor looks genuinely terrified at the start of the episode, as the Animus’ hairdryer descends, but he remains defiant, refusing to be subjected, or terrorised. In Season Two, he’s largely been a deceptively active character in comparison to the more traditionally “mature” lead he played in the first season. He’s recently been engaging in fisticuffs, and generally getting almost as much physical stuff as William Russell. But under the influence of the Animus he seems to be aged, and rendered suddenly doddering. In context, it’s quite disturbing, and it makes the Animus seem like one of the most dangerous enemies yet.