Season 3, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #22) | Previous - Next | Index
Can you imagine an episode of Doctor Who being produced for broadcast in the 2010s where the Doctor and a companion land in 1579 Paris, get embroiled in the political intrigue leading up to a heinous massacre and there's no aliens involved, nothing is "wrong" with the timeline, and the massacre is going to happen? Not only is the Doctor not going to try and stop it, he's going to send his companion's friend back into it without knowing whether she'll be slaughtered or not. (He's not the same guy as Ten and, if he didn't change his mind in the meantime, we'd never have ended up with Twelve wearing Caecilius's face.)
The Doctor Who that was being sent out in 1966 simply couldn't be made today. (Nor since 2005, nor since ... well, let's say it's possible to imagine another historical like this one after "The Highlanders" with Troughton, but it becomes increasingly less likely as we approach 1970, at which point it becomes all but inconceivable.) And look at what it's sandwiched between: a daft, dark Dalek caper epic, and, "The Ark," one that's barely more than a 50s drive-in sci-fi with an extra dose of "damned hippies" and overtly racist attitudes towards the darkies. That's bonkers show-running. But, it's brilliant, too. In it's way. The show is all over the place, taking broader strides than it dares even today. An acknowledgement we must couch in terms of those strides being across lines that oughtn't to have been crossed, even by our unenlightened, barbaric forefathers.
This is not to argue either than an episode along the lines of the "The Massacre" would be a good idea in the context of the sorts of episodes we're watching in 2015. Try this: set your mental thought experiment dials to 'Near Term Historical Atrocities', 'Current Cast', 'No Aliens', and 'No Timey-Wimey', and imagine what a hypothetical episode where the Doctor and Clara land in 1990s Rwanda just before a bunch of Tutsis were about to be macheted would look like. Don't know about you, but I threw up in my mouth a little.
And yet, and yet ...
There's something about "The Massacre" that draws you in and keeps you hooked. It's a bit educational -- the facts aren't very off what you'll read in Wikipedia -- and it's probably Steven's best story. He's a bit a buffoon, but he muddles through it here, and up until the very end, which I'll come back to in a bit, he's a coherent personality it's possible to relate to. Hartnell's double role, playing the Abbot of Amboise as a coincidental look-alike of the Doctor gives him a chance to stretch in way I bet he appreciated. It's hard to say without the video, but it sounds like he's doing a decent job. It may be a dead end historical, but it's one I'd love to see recovered.
Until watching the Loose Cannon reconstruction of this story, I had been pronouncing "Huguenots" (on those one or two occasions in my life had ever had reason to say the word aloud), and hearing it in my head, as if it were pronounced HEW-ga-NAHTS. I knew they were Protestants in Catholic France, but that would have been all I could have told you about them, not even knowing their time frame relative to the French Revolution, except I'd have guessed Before or Perhaps During. So, to my shame, next-to-nothing. It's certainly possible British schoolchildren watching the show in the mid-60s would have had some knowledge of the Huguenots and the politics of religion in France during the reign of Charles IX (contemporary of the series's favorite monarch, Queen ["Bess"] Elizabeth), but I'm going to go out on a limb and suppose nobody then, or now, who didn't specifically study that period of history would be expected to know very much of the Huguenots, never mind this massacre, or the massacre at Vassy some years earlier. So why in the world are we packaging this episode as "The Massacre" or "The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve," and giving away the bloody ending?! It should have been called "The Huguenots," or "Where the Heck Did the Doctor Disappear to While Steven Got Mixed Up in Parisian Intrigue?!"
By that last, you'll have deduced there are problems with the mechanics of this story. Which is a shame, because despite some serious flaws, this is a heck of drama. Most glaring to my mind is the unexplained, days long disappearance of the Doctor, and the fact that he just pops back into the story when it's convenient. When we come to Steven and Dodo's frame of mind at the very end, in a scene that has the Doctor wonder aloud if he should just chuck it in and go home, "I can't," he laments, nobody is behaving or making decisions in a way that makes sense. The effect is to diminish what saw of the Doctor's troubles, as they get paved over by slapdash plotting. At the end we're going to have Steven and Dodo (for whatever reason) travelling with the Doctor, so just make it happen. There was only ever one candidate to fit the code name "The Sea Beggar," so it wasn't exactly a surprise when Admiral de Coligny turned out to be the Abbot's intended victim.
If there's a lesson to be learned from Catholic massacres of the Protestant Huguenots, I'd argue (based on my reading of a few wikipedia articles, this story, and a general disposition towards the upcoming sentiment) it's that government should always be secular. So, of course, this story is right up my alley. Pray to your God however you see fit, live your private life in accordance with the moral system you have chosen (or been indoctrinated into and chosen not question) as you see fit. As long as you're not hurting anybody else, more power to you. But this massacre, it turns out, is one of history's more pointed examples of religion being utterly incompatible with politics. History, and in this case televised drama, highlight the awful truth that the chief result of mixing politics and religion is the poisonous hatred of the Other -- bolstered by a received morality divorced from the practical concerns of human suffering -- expressed as public policy. When political judgment includes a religious assessment along the lines of "those so-and-sos are damned souls whose continued presence on Earth puts saved souls at risk, so not only is it OK to slaughter them, it's actually moral obligation to do so," well, you don't have to be Charles Pierce to recognize nothing good will follow.
But is that the message here? If not, why make this story at all? Why that particular moment in time? Especially when we've already been to Revolutionary France back in Season 1 for a similarly structured story in "The Reign of Terror"?
One guess: The Border Campaign was probably still fresh in the minds of the folks at the BBC, and their audience. A period of IRA guerrilla warfare against Northern Ireland which started with an attack on a BBC relay station in 1956 would have been recent history, so it seems likely Catholic-Protestant strife would be compelling to the English in 1966. One imagines the zeitgeist having an awareness that the era we'd come to know as The Troubles was on the horizon ...
One avenue of speculation about this story is how the viewer's were supposed to see the Abbot, is it possible we were supposed to think Steven could be right, that the Doctor may be pretending to be the Abbot for some reason? Another, more sexy-times bit of speculation is whether we might be reasonable to wonder if Steven and Anne Chaplet were more than just friends? That Dodo is named Chaplet would only be significant if Anne had a son out-of-wedlock, the son bore her surname, and passed it down, so Dodo could be Anne's descendant. Steven did seem quite fond of her; she also was fond of him ...
One aspect of the reconstruction that's unintentionally entertaining, is that Catherine, Charles's Queen mum, has the same, very distinctive, facial expression in the couple of photos that were available for use, so every time she's depicted on screen, being manipulative and evil, while pulling *that* face it's very ... to date this post with contemporary reference ... Trump.
Tardis Wikia entry
One thing that's immediately clear is that, far from The Daleks’ Master Plan being the culmination of all of the plot threads we've seen since The Time Meddler, this story is where they actually come to a head. After a string of brutal failures, this is where the Doctor fails so dramatically and so drastically that even Steven abandons him. (Indeed, one way of looking at this extended plot arc is as Steven’s big test of faith in terms of the Doctor.) This is where the Doctor's string of failures finally resolves as a plotline, leaving him at the lowest we have ever seen him as a character, with a bit that is some of the best acting Hartnell ever gives in the series where he stands, alone in the TARDIS for the first time in his life, and he almost decides to give up and go home before realizing that even that choice is lost to him.
Wife in Space post
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