Reimagining Doctor Who

The French Revolution

Episode notes

It seems a bit too Antiquity-heavy if we go to Ancient Rome, as I previously indicated with a view to reimagining “The Romans”, and having in previous  episodes this series already visited the Greeks and the Trojans and then the Ancient Egyptians. So this is instead a take on “The Reign of Terror” but also encompasses the drama of the French Revolution in one story, which might be a better alternative to another sword and sandal epic, and which would bring us out of ancient and into modern history for this pseudo-historical.

I think it would also be a lot of fun, in a couple of ways; firstly, the ‘frock’ elements that would allow us to further romanticise the Ben and Polly dynamic against a backdrop of a decadent aristocratic society that then falls to a brutal rebellion by the masses, all while bringing the Doctor into the court of Louis XVI as a scientist-philosopher who impossibly meets Voltaire at the court of Versailles. If we throw in Robespierre and Napoleon, we will get the whole flavour of the French Revolution and its aftermath including Robespierre’s Reign of Terror and up to the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor, allowing us to cast a sceptical view of one dictatorial regime being replaced by others yet.

Of course, this condensed depiction of events didn’t happen in quite that way – there were decades between the uprising against the Ancien Regime and the rise of Napoleonic France and its military aggression; something that first Polly recognises from her school education and that the Doctor then recognises through the acceleration and consequent warping of time, and the fixed points in time in particular.

This brings us to our second bit of fun, where we set up a mystery regarding who or what is causing this mucking about with history. Initially, we’re encouraged as an audience to believe that the Master of War must be involved, having escaped from the Sack of Troy in his own TARDIS and with the suspicion falling on who else but Napoleon, but which is proven not to be the case when it is revealed that Napoleon is not the Master in disguise but the real human from history, albeit what is turning out to be a very warped version of history – and which is actually the work of the Toymaker in his Realm of Fiction.

To set this up, we can have a cold open that follows on from The War Machines in the TARDIS console, in which – as the Doctor argues with Ben and Polly and attempts to explain where they are and what they have done – something begins to go wrong with the TARDIS console as Polly explores the interior and finds the book on the French Revolution borrowed from Barbara and left behind by Susan. Then we there is a violent explosion and everything cuts to black before the opening credits and we open the episode proper effectively in media res with Polly a lady of the court of Louis XVI with Ben a merchant sailor attached to the British naval delegation currently in negotiations with France regarding the New Territories. The Doctor meanwhile appears to have fallen in with the King’s scholars and philosophers, including Voltaire, while outside the palace gates in neighbouring Paris, Ben finds himself in the company of the plotting revolutionary leaders.

As it becomes increasingly clear that time is being warped and history is being rewritten by a larger power that makes itself present through only a booming voice from the beyond, the climax would see the Doctor about to be burned at the stake (in this case his devilish blue cabinet) as a witch (or warlock) due to the artron regenergy that more frequently appears and disappears around his form before he is rescued by Ben and Polly, who storm through the proceedings, take the key out of the Doctor’s pocket, and enter into the safety of the TARDIS before seemingly dematerialising to leave a frustrated, baying Napoleon and his army. It’s at that point that, upon checking the Time Space Visualiser, the Doctor’s search for what has gone wrong across the panoply of this history is interrupted by the giant, looming face of the being who is responsible and whose booming voice has been heard previously. He introduces himself as the Toymaker, who is known to the Doctor’s people as a myth, and welcomes them to his realm as his new playthings. The walls of the TARDIS then fall away and there is nothing but an empty void that first fills in with details of distant stars and galaxies in space, suggesting that they are beyond the universe, and the macabre, sinister forms of dolls and toys from a twisted version of a Victoriana gone horribly wrong. Cue the closing credits to the sound of the Toymaker’s evil laugh.



There are three main acts to The French Revolution (as indeed there was to the French Revolution!): The first, the grandeur of the last days court of Versailles (1784 to 1789); the second, the French Revolution (1789) and the ensuing Reign of Terror (1794); a fiction that provides the turning point away from history to fantasy); and the third, the rise of Napoleon (1794 to 1799 – which usually marks the end of the Revolutionary period of history) to be followed by the Napoleonic Wars, culminating at the Battle of Paris (1799 to 1814) and codaed by the Battle of Waterloo (1815). This is a thirty year epic

Underlying each act are two sub-plots; the first, concerning the sci-fi plot, centres on the expositive dynamic between the Doctor and the philosopher and scientist, Voltaire (who turns out to be a malevolent extratemporal creature who takes on many French mythical forms in disguise, and the terrifying villain of the piece). Meanwhile, the Ben and Polly romance provides the second, character-led story, interspersed with their separation and reunion. In this sub-plot, Ben must take on the guise of the Scarlet Pimpernel after the original is felled by Marquis de Sade, and is aided by the Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, whose entrance into the story mark the turning point from history into a twisted fantasy version of it and that takes us out of the pure historical genre into a pseudo historical). Meanwhile, Polly finds herself engaged to a French aristocrat with whom she becomes bored along with the ritualised and regular life of the court in a Madame Bovary/Julie manner while also being caught up in a Dangerous Liaisons-esque subplot between competing suitors for her attention.

The story climaxes with the Doctor, Ben, and Polly, who must find sanctuary through France from the agents of the Sixth Coalition while they are persecuted by Napoleon’s forces at the insistence of the deathless clown, Scaramouche, posing as Voltaire, now become Napoleon’s spymaster and trusted adviser.

Scaramouche, or Sarramauca the Nightmare (or ‘cauchemar’; literally “the nightmare”), aka Le Voirloup, the dark soul who has committed all seven cardinal sins, has consequently come to be possessed by the devil itself, and who at midnight transforms itself into any demonic form including: Oberon the fairy king and Nain Rouge the Lutin (‘The Red Dwarf’); the crone, Croque-Mitaine, the Eater of Children, and the wizened old man, Père Fouettard (literally ‘Father Whipper’, who accompanies Saint Nicholas at Christmas and punishes children who have been bad); Melusine, the winged mermaid; Loups Garous as the Beasts of Gévaudan and of d’Angles, the man-eating werewolf bear, or as Quinotaur, the five-horned bull; Guivre, Tarasque, Peluda, and Carcolh, the serpent chimeras, and even l’Ankou – the skeletal, shrouded form of Death itself. On one occasion, the villain presents itself as a direct copy and then as a twisted mirror image of the Doctor himself…

Scaramouche is attended by its familiar, which often takes the form of a black cat, Matagot, and at times the trickster red fox, Reynard. Its presence is presaged by the Dames Blanches and the Feu Follet, creatures of ghostlight who act as harbingers of its evil. The deathless villain rides the demonic horse, Cheval Mallet, while it is also able to call upon the gargouille (or gargoyles) as its rapaciously vicious foot soldiers.

Of course, Scaramouche is itself merely a disguise for the nature of source of the nightmare itself through which the Doctor, Polly, and Ben have become ensnared – an extratemporal being of such enormous power as to create reality itself – or at least a replicated form of reality – and of whom we will see more in the story that immediately follows…

Cold Open

Polly and Ben are confronted by an indignant Doctor in the TARDIS console room, but it is too late; they have already dematerialised and the Doctor warns them that he cannot guarantee him getting them back home in their time. Befuddled by the Doctor’s words and his machine, the new companions are stopped short from working through their predicament when there is an almighty explosion in the TARDIS. We cut to black as we cue the opening credits.


Act One


We open in the middle of a grand French masquerade ball. Polly and Ben meet on the dancefloor, mirroring their first meeting at the Inferno nightclub, except transposed back in time by almost 200 years.

They sneak away into the gardens at the conclusion of their dance, passing two elderly figures who sit in an anteroom, where we join the Doctor, seemingly now amongst the advisors to the court of King Louis XVI, talking with a similarly old man who we learn is the philosopher, Voltaire. It becomes clear that the Doctor regards Voltaire with some suspicion.

The old men retire to their respective rooms.  Within the Doctor’s room, careful to first lock his door so as not be interrupted or observed, we see him enter the TARDIS.  We cut back to Voltaire to see him whisper to the King, bringing him under some kind of influence, and then to retrieve a foreboding ancient tome from which he casts some kind of occult spell.


Polly and Ben talk in the gardens of Versailles under the clear midnight summer sky. Something seems strange – they act as though they have never met before, and their stories suggest that they are totally different people; Ben, a merchant sailor from England and Polly a Swiss courtesan to the Queen, Marie Antoinette. Clearly falling in love, Polly makes it clear that she cannot act on her impulses as she is engaged to one of the King’s cousins.

Back with the Doctor in the TARDIS, he observes his two young companions on the Space-Time Visualiser, disturbed that they have clearly lost their memories of who they are, switching it off as before we can see what happens next between them. It appears to be June 1784 according to the TARDIS’ instruments and the Doctor consults a French history book in his library. His eyes alight as he finds what he is looking for – Voltaire did not indeed return to Paris after his twenty-year exile until 1788.

First turning Point

Some little more time has passed in Versailles, but how much isn’t quite clear. The court has learned of Polly and Ben’s relationship and the King’s cousin has moved against them; the King has ordered that Ben be sent into prison as a spy against France, and Polly has been removed from the Queen’s chambers and effectively put into poverty.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is called before the King in the presence of Voltaire. Clearly under some kind of influence, the King exiles the Doctor with immediate effect. As the Doctor is taken away, we cut to a close of Voltaire; his eyes shimmering with a terrifyingly familiar red light…

Unable to return to his rooms to escape in his TARDIS, the Doctor is forced to the gates of Versailles.

Cut to Polly, who cuts her hair to disguise herself as a boy. Cut to Ben, who’s hair is cut before he is thrown into prison.

Voltaire orders the King’s men to open the blue box that stands in the Doctor’s rooms, after first attempting the key he had stolen from the Doctor – but it resists all attempts. Thwarted, Voltaire curses his revenge on the Doctor, saying that he will possess his TARDIS.

As we cut back to the Doctor, who by now can see the Versailles high on the far horizon, we see a mob storm the Palace: Impossibly, the French Revolution has already begun.


Act Two

Rising Action

Yet still more time has passed. Paris is by now in the grip of the zeal of its revolutionary period.

In her disguise as a boy, Polly is found out by a suspicious Robespierre. She is sent to the prison of Monte Cristo in disgrace to await her inevitable fate as an ex-courtesan.

Ben, by now long imprisoned also in the Castle of Monte Cristo with the Scarlet Pimpernel, successfully plots a daring dawn escape with the aid of D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers, from whom he learns that they were not able to free all the prisoners as several had been transported to Paris for an appointment with Madame Guillotine the previous evening. Amongst their number was a beautiful blonde lady who was once a courtesan to Marie Antoinette and who attempted to escape the Revolution by disguising herself as a boy. Ben arranges a rescue attempt.

The Doctor, meanwhile, has found refuge in the secret brotherhood of apothecaries who have been seeking the secret of alchemy. Through their experiments, the Doctor learns more about the power that is being exerted on Revolutionary France and on the whereabouts of Ben and Polly. (It’s through their abilities to create a rudimentary and unstable version of the Space-Time Visualiser that the Doctor and the audience are able to watch what has been happening to Polly and Ben, further allowing us to play with the timeframes, meaning that Act II’s rising action is bookended with the Doctor.)

Second turning point

The secret brotherhood, led by Charles Preslin, is raided by the zombified King’s forces led by the deathless Voltaire, who is able to psychically locate the Doctor when they enter into a psychic communion achieved through the alchemical secrets of Preslin.  In the dreamworld, Voltaire reveals himself to the Doctor as the supernatural being of his childhood’s nightmares, the figure who is known by many names and is known even in the legends of the Doctor’s people. With almost all of the brotherhood apprehended, the Doctor and Preslin manage to escape through an underground sewer.

Ben goes to rescue Polly, amidst much high adventure borrowed from Dumas and Flaubert, respectively (see notes, above).

As Ben and Polly are romantically reunited, they are exposed at the last moment. The King’s men round on Ben and Polly, raising their rifles to fire.

Crisis point

The Doctor intercedes resulting in Ben and Polly’s rescue as they again escape. This time, the entire state – now led by Napoleon but still advised by the red eyed figure disguised as Volatire – is mobilised against the Doctor as they go on the run, to further French literature-inspired high adventure.

Act Three

Rising Action (continued)

A further unspecified amount of time elapses, with the events of post-Revolutionary France clearly having been sped up as well as fictionalised. The Doctor explains that he has learned much from his time with Preslin, namely; that the fabric of reality has not only been altered but entirely rewoven, and the walls of this reality are closing in, almost as if designed to fold in upon themselves so as to trap the travellers. He explains to Ben and Polly that they are up against an evil that he first read about in the children’s literature of his home planet; the immortal Toymaker, who traps unwitting boys and girls in his games so that he can play with them for all eternity.

As they return to Paris, and with Napoleon having suffered multiple defeats, France is visibly on the verge of a ruinous defeat, Napoleon has his spies everywhere and the Doctor, Ben, and Polly are betrayed just as they return to the city square in which the TARDIS has been placed by the Toymaker. They are finally caught in the last trap.

Climax and Resolution

The Doctor does something really clever and unexpected and saves the day, often exploiting the villain’s fatal flaw – namely, that only the Doctor, Ben, and Polly are ‘real’, in the truest sense of the word, in this make-believe world – and the TARDIS. The Doctor, close enough to the Toymaker’s power source, uses the Toymaker’s own conjuring tricks to summon the TARDIS so as to materialise around them. The Doctor sets the co-ordinates to take them away from this forsaken realm of fiction.


But the TARDIS does not dematerialise and its walls fall away. There is nothing but an empty void that first fills in with details of distant stars and galaxies in space, suggesting that they are beyond the universe, and the macabre, sinister forms of dolls and toys from a twisted version of a Victoriana gone horribly wrong. The Toymaker insists that the Doctor has at last lost. Cue the closing credits to ringing laugh of the Toymaker, with red eyes, glowing in malevolent triumph.

Remember to share your thoughts in the comments section below, please.

(Available 23 April 2023)


(Previous episode: The War Machines)

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