Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Massacre

Well, the recons keep coming. This is the first story I have had to review solely on its reconstruction. I’m not sure if I can do them all this way when some missing stories are a full six parts. However, I did get through ‘The Massacre’, the third and final Doctor Who story written by John Lucarotti.

This story feels like no other story so far. It’s written in a very adult way, and apparently mostly by script editor Donald Tosh. Episode Two had a huge rewrite because William Hartnell was given a holiday with no notice given to Lucarotti. I was told it is famous for Hartnell’s performance as a second character, The Abbot of Amboise, however for those who haven’t seen the recon I must set something straight, the Abbot is hardly in the thing! He has a couple of scenes in episode three, appears for a fleeting moment at the end of episode one, and as a pre-filmed insert in episode two as Steven watches him chatting from afar.
This is a VERY straight and serious story, and after twelve Dalek episodes the audience must have been a bit shocked really. It’s an historical story where the Doctor and his companion are very much at the periphery of the action and story. We watch as history takes place.  
16th century France was clearly a very dark place and time to live. The events of ‘The Massacre’ detail the lead up to a massacre sanctioned by King Charles IX and pressed for by his mother of the Huguenots – protestants, because of a fear that they would take power in France. Barry Justice’s King Charles is played as being quite mad, and indeed there are many interesting characters in this story. It’s a very good piece of historical drama.
However, as a Doctor Who story it is decidedly odd. The action is somewhat followed through the eyes of Steven, as the Doctor doesn’t appear from half way through episode one to midway through episode four. We have the Abbot as the Doctor’s doppelganger, but this is not used effectively other than to suggest to Steven that the Doctor is dead when he sees the Abbot’s body in episode three. We never see the Doctor and the Abbot together, hard to do in the 60s but not impossible.
Steven is oblivious, as was this viewer, to the actual history of the story. He didn’t know the characters or that it was all leading to the massacre of over 10,000 Huguenots. If you removed the Doctor and Steven from the story you would have a fine piece of historical drama.
Episode Four is even odder than the first three. The Doctor reappears and for some reason has no qualms about letting Anne Chaplet, new friend to Steven and Huguenot back onto the streets hours before the massacre takes place. He DID know what was about to happen. The Doctor comes to Paris, chats to scientist Presslin, disappears, reappears and takes Steven back to the TARDIS. That’s all he does in four parts.
Steven is fed up, and I guess this is another lesson from Doctor Who about not being able to interfere in history. Then they land on Wimbledon common, and a Miss Dorothea Chaplet runs on board the TARDIS. She wants to call for help, but when Steven spies policemen heading in the direction of the TARDIS, the Doctor takes off with Dorothea, or ‘Dodo’ on board. She says she hasn’t any parents and that’s she’s fine with being whipped off into time and space.

It’s all a bit ‘make-do’ really. We have no background for Dodo, no proper introduction. Perhaps in the next story (with four fully existing parts!) we’ll learn a bit? The final episode does include a wonderful sad speech by the Doctor about everybody leaving him. Hartnell is excellent in this story, as is the entire cast. Steven is very strong, the guest cast perfect.

It doesn’t feel like any other Doctor Who episode thus far. I can’t imagine it’s one that children would enjoy, and the viewing figures did taper off after episode one. It’s brave, confronting, sad and hopeful at the same time. It shows that Doctor Who can be about anything I guess.

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