Richard I in TV Drama – Doctor Who: The Crusade (1965) and beyond

DAVID ROLINSON

Writer: David Whitaker; Director: Douglas Camfield; Producer: Verity Lambert

The Doctor, Earl of Leicester and Richard I

A literary costume drama set around the courts of Richard I and Saladin, The Crusade (1965) is an example of how important non-science-fiction historical stories were in the early years of Doctor Who. This essay looks at how The Crusade approaches history, in particular the characterisation of Richard I (“the Lionheart”). There will be attention paid to the programme’s attempts at historical accuracy, although that shouldn’t be our only focus because the historical study of popular culture too often ignores the specific qualities of popular culture (and also history) by depending on the accuracy question. Depictions of Richard I change for various reasons including historians’ debates, school curricula, changes in media institutions, shifting dramatic styles and reactions to previous dramas. These explain why Richard the Lionheart (ITV, 1961-65) uses Richard differently from Richard Lester’s film Robin and Marian (1976), which is in turn different from the series Robin of Sherwood (ITV, 1984-86) and Robin Hood (BBC, 2006-2009). This essay will therefore take Doctor Who’s version of Richard I as a starting point to think about how history and screen fictions build narratives around figures like Richard I. I’m drawing from unused sections of the research I conducted for a forthcoming academic publication on neo-medievalism,1 but any references to academic theory will be rooted in discussion of the choices made by writer David Whitaker and director Douglas Camfield.

Robin Redbreast (1970)

JOHN WILLIAMS

Play for Today Writer: John Bowen; Director: James MacTaggart; Producer: Graeme McDonald

“They should have known that they had a way out, but being mere birds, didn’t.”

BTVD_Robin_2

Robin Redbreast has not been repeated since 1971, and yet is often recalled by viewers of the time, probably because of its eerie atmosphere, and particularly for its horrifying and surreal finale. Indeed, the play has had such a strong impact on those who have seen it, that it is almost seen as an “event” play – a work that came out of the blue, singular in approach and subject matter, and mysterious in genesis. It is because of this, perhaps, that the very limited amount of critical writing on the play has tended to be of the “remember that…what was all that about?” school of criticism. In fact its writer, John Bowen, has well over 50 plays, screenplays and novels to his credit, and Robin Redbreast is just one of many pieces he created that draw from his thematic interest in ancient myths and the way they live on in modern culture. Although Robin Redbreast is a good example of the thriller genre, Bowen was a very (some would say overly) serious writer, and he stressed the importance of ideas in his work: “A play is ideas expressed in incident…a play works first on emotions, but emotion unanchored by thought simply washes about the place in a thoroughly self-indulgent way…”1 The ideas in Robin Redbreast are not obvious at first, but when the play is viewed in the context of Bowen’s other work it becomes less opaque. It is also significant that the play represents the best synthesis of Bowen’s predominant ideas, and seems to have had an impact on the development of his subsequent career.