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Classic Who: The Massacre

Another proper historical story - and it feels very traditional now after the more subversive approach of The Myth Makers. That's not to say it isn't good, though. We're sort of back with John Lucarotti (of Marco Polo and The Aztecs fame), and this script offers the same kind of weighty moral debates, and the same grappling with the issue of whether the TARDIS crew can or cannot affect history, as his earlier efforts. But apparently it was largely re-written by Donald Tosh, so it is not 'pure' Lucarotti - a pity, because it would have been interesting to see more directly how a writer of season 1-style historical stories had worked in the context of the changes which had occurred at production level by season 3. I can only assume the re-writing scenario means that the answer to that is 'not very well'.

There's a fair bit of orienting exposition at the start of this story, coming from a combination of the Doctor using the clothing and houses he sees around him to work out when and where they are, and a series of tavern scenes in which locals discuss the current issues and leading figures of the day. The usual argument is that most viewers wouldn't have been familiar with the historical events depicted, and needed in-story guidance, although I'd want to know more about 1960s school curricula before I took that as read. The action, once it begins, is kicked off in a quite different manner from Lucarotti's earlier historicals. Marco Polo and The Aztecs both began with the main characters being separated from the TARDIS, so that they were driven by the need to get it back. But here the Doctor's goal once he realises where he is is to visit a local scientific figure, while Steven wants to walk around Paris and see the sights. As with the Egyptian scene in The Daleks' Master Plan, then, we've got definite time tourism going on here.

The overall feel of the story is very bleak (in keeping with this season as a whole, as nwhyte has pointed out). Even viewers who didn't know about the religious tensions in Paris in this era would quickly have picked up on the unpleasant atmosphere between the Catholics and the Huguenots, and three of the four episode titles ('War of God', 'Priest of Death', 'Bell of Doom') ring a distinctly gloomy note. Even within this violent and rather hopeless scenario, though, the script does aim for at least something of the moral balance of earlier stories like The Reign of Terror (in which we were carefully shown that both revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries had valid points of view). Some of the Huguenots are shown as moderate and sensible, but others are violent and hot-headed. And although most of the Catholic characters are weak, manipulative or downright sadistic, Marshal Tavannes does speak up against the Queen mother's plan to unleash wholesale slaughter on the Huguenots, on the grounds that 'if you rouse the mob the innocent will perish with the guilty.'

There's some very interesting stuff going on around the character of the Abbot of Amboise, who is played by William Hartnell. Aurally at least it's a great performance, which shows Hartnell in a very different light from the Doctor. His voice is mean and clipped, and completely stripped of the charming, doddery-old-grandfather mannerisms which he usually employs. The bizarre resemblence between the Abbot and the Doctor is never explained, any more than was the case for the similar character in the silent-movie sequence in The Daleks' Master Plan. But it does provide a great opportunity to play around with audience expectations and create some tension, especially because by now we are so accustomed to the Doctor adopting period-appropriate disguises when it suits him. We (and Steven) spend a long time uncertain whether the Abbot is an independent character or the Doctor in disguise, which results in a great cliff-hanger for episode three when the Abbot is assassinated and Steven is accused of his murder. This had been tried before in The Chase with the appearance of the Doctor's evil robot twin providing an opportunity to present an episode with the title 'The Death of Doctor Who'. But it's rather more convincing here, since the Doctor himself dispatches his own twin in The Chase, so that we were never in any real doubt about his safety.

The Doctor is not quite as militantly non-interventionist as in The Aztecs, since he actively encourages the apothecary Charles Preslin to persist in his experiments, despite his fear of persecution. But the overall line is in keeping with the usual Whovian rule that the history which the audience know cannot be overturned. The Doctor cannot prevent the massacre of the Huguenots, or even save the ordinary servant-girl, Anne Chaplette - though he does at least advise her to stay indoors until the trouble is over.

The moral dilemmas which this situation presents are here addressed perhaps more directly than in any other previous historical, though. Barbara had simply accepted with resignation that she could not change the fate of the Aztec people, or of Robespierre in The Reign of Terror, and Vicki had accepted that King Richard must be allowed to discover his own future in The Crusade. But this story presents the worst historical atrocity which the TARDIS crew have yet witnessed - and this time Steven is not prepared to accept it. He rebukes the Doctor quite explicitly for his inaction - "If your 'researches' have so little regard for human life then I want no part of it" - and puts his money where his mouth is by storming out of the TARDIS as soon as he next gets the chance. This is another definite step in the development of the Whovian historical, and a clear signal of why the pure historical story simply could not survive forever. There are only so many times that debate can come up while the Doctor is simultaneously becoming more and more of a hero-figure in the space-travel stories, without the tension between the two approaches becoming unsustainable. And, after all, The Time Meddler had already shown how the introduction of an alien menace could smooth over the problems presented by the need for the TARDIS crew not to interfere with history by allowing the Doctor to act heroically in its defence.

Just this one last time, though (and that's practically what this is), the problem is here tackled absolutely expertly, and gives rise to what at least sounds like one of William Hartnell's most masterful performances:
"My dear Steven, history sometimes gives us a terrible shock, and that is because we don't quite fully understand. Why should we? After all, we're all too small to realise its final pattern. Therefore, don't try and judge it from where you stand. I was right to do as I did. Yes, that I firmly believe. [Steven leaves the TARDIS] Even after all this time he cannot understand. I dare not change the course of history. Well, at least I taught him to take some precautions. He did remember to look at the scanner before he opened the doors. Now they're all gone. All gone. None of them could understand. Not even my little Susan, or Vicki. Yes. And there's Barbara and Chatterton... Chesterton! They were all too impatient to get back to their own time. And now Steven. Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet. But I can't. I can't."
There's some fantastically interesting stuff here, including the admission that history is too vast and complex for any single individual to comprehend. Seen from my perspective of thinking about Doctor Who and historiography, that's quite a potent statement about the limits of the individual historian's perspective, and I might well tackle it in my CA paper for that reason (time permitting). As for the rest of the speech, it gives a touching insight into the character of the Doctor and what he thinks he is doing which we have hardly had since he described himself and Susan as 'cut off from our own planet, without friends or protection' in An Unearthly Child. It is also perhaps the first time that he has been so explicitly portrayed as being isolated from his companions (even Susan!) by his superior understanding - something which will become very important later on, especially in New Who.

Meanwhile, Steven's willingness to walk out on the Doctor at this point again helps to develop his moral weight - perhaps a sign of Lucarotti's contribution to the script, given that he handled this sort of material so well in his season 1 stories. In fact, Steven really shines throughout in his one story as the Doctor's only companion. After the first episode, much of the story-line stays with him (while Hartnell appears only as the mysterious Abbot), and he carries it well. He is curious about what is going on around him, keen to help prevent bloodshed in whatever way he can, and of course particularly concerned about Anne Chaplette. He also shows a very touching, stiff-upper-lipped sadness when he believes that the Doctor is dead, coupled with an admirable resolve to get himself out of the situation and fly the TARDIS onwards anyway.

Dodo at the end is quite a surprise, but she starts off very promisingly - sparky and self-directed and keen to find out what the TARDIS can do. It's a pity her (attempt at a) northern accent won't survive this introductory scene, and that the script does have to tie itself in knots rather in order to get a contemporary Sixties lass on board the TARDIS. But she definitely made me eager to get on into the next story.

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Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
poliphilo
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
I was in the target audience for Who at the time of this story's first broadcast- and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre didn't figure in my school curriculum.
strange_complex
Apr. 3rd, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks - though I assume you mean the St. Bartholomew's day massacre here? (The Saint Valentine's day massacre is something different - but that does rather make your point!) Not that I claim to know the first thing about either of them myself, apart from what I learnt from this story. Would I be right in assuming that the wider issue of the Reformation was taught in schools in your day, even if not this particular aspect of it? It certainly was in mine.
poliphilo
Apr. 4th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
Whoops- sorry- wrong massacre!

I was taught about the Reformation in terms of what it meant for England. At "O" level I did the Tudors and Stuarts- with scarcely a glance at what was going on in mainland Europe. All through my school career the history I was taught was very insular- very much focused on Britain and the British Empire- though I do remember being told about Charlemagne and Roncevalles at primary school.

What little I knew about French history came from Dumas, Dickens and Baroness Orzcy.
strange_complex
Apr. 4th, 2010 04:30 pm (UTC)
Yes, same here about insular history. I remember a little bit of stuff about Martin Luther, so that we got a vague idea that the ideas behind the Reformation had 'come' from Europe. But we never looked at how it had been worked through in countries other than our own.
nwhyte
Apr. 4th, 2010 07:00 am (UTC)
Picking up on your point about John Lucarotti, he used his own original script rather than the programme as broadcast for the novelisation of this story, which means that it differs more from the screen version than any other novelisation, including for instance a chariot pulled by Alsatians through a network of tunnels under Paris. I wasn't convinced; here as so often in his brief reign Tosh made a massive improvement to the material.
strange_complex
Apr. 4th, 2010 08:23 am (UTC)
Hmm, so maybe that's another novel I should take a look at some time, then? You know, you are starting to sound an awful lot like the shady neighbourhood novelisation-pusher - "Hey, mate - got any Targets?" ;-)

Do you have any idea who that fantastic speech at the end came from - Lucarotti or Tosh?
livejournal
May. 14th, 2013 07:06 pm (UTC)
Who do you love? 22: The Massacre
User wwhyte referenced to your post from Who do you love? 22: The Massacre saying: [...] ;t mess with history. Remember, at the end of the last story he used a TIME DESTRUCTOR. As says [...]
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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