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.
Going for a quick potter in the woods, Barbara is immediately kidnapped by another beardy man, who has perhaps taken a shine to her fancy new ‘do (and obviously is as repulsed as I am by Vicki’s awful pleated skirt). It turns out he’s a Saracen and this is Twelfth Century Palestine. Nearby, Richard the Lionheart’s hunting party has also been caught by the Saracens, largely played by actors in dodgy blackface (plus, amazingly, some actual black actors). This, plus a fight on film, all happens within the first 5 minutes, and gets the new serial off to a rather breathlessly exciting start.
Sadly, this is then followed by some business that goes on for ages about King Richard’s belt, where the main suspense is whether Hartnell will make it to the end of a sentence. Luckily he’s on surer ground in a fun comedy sequence where he steals clothes from a corrupt trader.
After weeks of alien insect people, it’s a neat contrast to have some recognisable characters. The episode ends with a pair of scenes that cleverly juxtapose the leaders of the Saracens and the Crusaders. Saladin is a careworn, wise, weary, but dangerously calculating ruler, while Richard is an impetuous, pleasure-seeking young king – a typical fiery redhead. Neither of them offers much comfort to the TARDIS crew. But worst of all is El Akir is a properly nasty villain, cold as a reptile and vicious too. This is a gripping episode.
Next episode: The Knight of Jaffa