Doctor Who episode 39: A Change of Identity (22/8/1964)

Once again, the only thing that makes this episode in any way worthwhile is Hartnell, who again gets all the best scenes and carries the thing. The episode begins with him striding into Paris. Hartnell implies the unsanitary conditions by a grimace at a hacking and spitting old woman and a wave of his handkerchief. The subsequent scene of him bartering with a shopkeeper to effect a change of identity – to a Regional Officer of the Provinces – isn’t exactly played for laughs, but it is witty and light. So is the subsequent scene between the Doctor and the jailer, in which the Doctor uses his assumed position to intimidate the jailer into revealing a whole load of information. The little martial piped theme as we first hear and then see the Doctor emerge in his plumed glory is hilarious.

Unfortunately for the Doctor, Lemaitre has overheard everything, and decides to test the identity of the ‘Regional Officer’ by trapping him into a meeting with Robespierre. Hartnell’s performance here – shifty eye acting, nervously fiddling with his fingers – is superb, as he realises his own cleverness could be his downfall. The cliffhanger is, again, about the Doctor’s peril, as the shopkeeper threatens to unmask him as a traitor.

Roderick Laing’s sets are pretty good too. The small Parisian streets are pretty good, and might give a hint of what The Massacre looked like, and Jules’ parlour looks authentically damp and dingy. But sadly, these are the only other things that are impressive. The holidaying William Russell is again confined to a couple of filmed inserts that are typical ITC adventure fare (escaping a cell). Susan is utterly useless: with a chance to escape, she declines because she’s feeling a bit headachey (the revolutionaries have got a permanent cure for that, love).

Barbara is, predictably, much more effective, convincing the Scarlet Pimpernel-ish Jules of her story, explaining how they came to be imprisoned, and securing his support to rescue Ian and find the Doctor. But her main impact is on Leon, another man, like the jailer, who immediately seems to fall for her charms, starts plying her with wine and mooning over her.

Behind the scenes, this is apparently the episode that drove director Henric Hirsch to distraction because of Hartnell’s bad behaviour and the pressures of recording at Lime Grove. It’s hard to know whether it’s that or the fact this is the middle episode of a not especially complex script that makes it seem a bit lacklustre. Either way, when the credits rolled, I did think, ‘Oh, is that it?’

 

Next episode: The Tyrant of France

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