Companion: Steven, Dodo
Written by: John Lucarotti & Donald Tosh
Directed by: Paddy Russell
Background & Significance: Last week we talked about "The Web of Fear", which was a story that we could only judge by viewing the quality of the direction/design of the first episode (the only one to exist) and then extrapolating the quality of the rest by taking the what we know from the first episode and coupling it to the existing audio and the rest of the script. It's a crude science, but it's the best we can do given what we have and it's hardly the worst thing ever. At least we have the audio. And the audio is riveting. And the screencaps we have paint an almost picture of what it looks like this thing looked like in moments.
Enter "The Massacre".
"The Massacre" is one of the most unique Doctor Who stories ever, despite the fact that on the surface it doesn't seem to be doing anything revelatory or special. Part of this is down to the fact that we have John Lucarotti on the typewriter once again. For those not in the remember, this is the guy who "created" the historical (if you assume that "An Unearthly Child" wasn't so much a historical as a story that just happened to take place in he generic past rather than being a "true" historical) when he did "Marco Polo" and followed it up with "The Aztecs".
The Daleks' Master Plan" in terms of doing something special and memorable given Doctor Who's early format.
It's also notable for being the first contribution of director Paddy Russell, who would go on to direct a series of other great and memorable Doctor Who stories and one of the few stories to have an evil Doctor doppelganger, giving William Hartnell the opportunity to be the Evil Abbot of the story. That all said, it's unfortunate that this story is completely missing, also that it doesn't even really have any screencaps to speak of (I assume this was Wiles's fault/decision, but I could be mistaken) so the entire story is based almost entirely on its aurality.
Then again, if you're going to have only one story based on its aurality...
So let's get to it!
Take, for instance, all the discussions going on between the Catholics and the Huguenots in the tavern all throughout this episode. All of these characters feel strong and nuanced, with their own goals and personalities. Gaston and Nicholas are Huguenots living in Paris under constant persecution from the Catholics who want them dead. Already, this provides some level of stakes and engagement, if for no other reason than because we have a clear line between who’s who and what’s what. It’s a bit hard to keep straight who’s on what side, but if you pay attention you can keep it pretty straight.
So we meet our main players. Nicholas and Gaston and Roger Colbert all have moments in this that show what they do. But halfway through we meet a new character named Anne Chaplet, a servant girl who seems to know a little something about what her master (The Cardinal of Lorraine) is up to. Instantly, she becomes the thing that people start fighting for. The Huguenots want to know what she knows. The Catholics want to keep her quiet. And this is like… it’s just one of those things that only fuels the drama. Both of these groups want the same thing. They can’t both have it.
This is, I think, the strength of this story. After a number of stories that feature Steven in the periphery, or with him only engaging in the narrative in a reactionary way, we see him suddenly pushed to the forefront of the goings on. I love the way The Doctor casually ditches Steven to go have a conversation about germs, telling Steven to just chillax until he gets back. Steven’s okay with this (he did just witness one of the most brutal Dalek stories of all time) and it ends with Steven spending copious amounts of time in the tavern, waiting for The Doctor to return.
But most importantly in this story is The Doctor, who is acting most peculiar. Why not bring Steven along? Isn’t he responsible for Steven’s well-being while they’re stuck in the past? And he just kinda ditches him because he’s going to go talk to Charles Preslin about germs and bacteria and all sorts of things. This (I’ll say right now) is something I’ll talk about a bit later. But at a certain point it’s a little weird to see The Doctor just completely ditch Steven despite the fact that there’s something bubbling in this episode and the idea that Steven’s story is where all the action’s happening.
I’m not the first to say this, but the fact that Hartnell pulls this off is… mindblowing. It’s especially suspicious because The Doctor’s been missing for about half the episode. We watched him head out and reach an apothecary, but we never saw him leave or anything happen to him after that. So is it The Doctor? I mean… the implication is that it absolutely is. So did he bring the TARDIS here so he could be The Abbot? Hell, why is he the Abbot? And why does he sound so much colder here than ever? Even his introduction with tapping his staff on the ground impatiently is a… brilliant introduction. It just works and makes for compelling intrigue and drama.
As I said in the last part, Steven really took center stage in the middle of the last episode, and that hasn’t really let up all throughout this episode. Everything that happens here revolves around Steven in some way, be it a conversation he overhears or a conversation he’s involved in. And it’s strange how effortlessly it’s pulled off and how awesome it ends up feeling. It makes this story extremely unique, in that Doctor Who for this shining moment is entirely about the companion because our leading man is nowhere to be seen, replaced by the other leading man of this time.
But compare that to what happens between him and Gaston. He’s suspected of being a spy when he recognizes the Abbot of Amboise as The Doctor (because they look identical) and Gaston forces him out of the house, which essentially boots Steven out of the narrative. Everything that’s narratively happening in this story that has nothing to do with Steven (the “Marco Polo” stuff, as it were) is happening behind closed doors in the house of The Admiral de Coligny and the house of The Abbot. Note that Steven is stuck outside the Abbot’s house for the whole of that conversation, essentially audience proxying for us because we, like him, cannot affect change in the narrative.
Not wanting that to happen, the fact that Gaston refuses to even indulge what Steven has to say about anything further keeps Steven from interfering. And that’s to his loss, as we find out at the end of this episode that his master, the Admiral de Coligny is the eponymous “Sea Beggar”. Suddenly, the narrative accelerates just as the episode ends and it propels us into whatever’s coming next. All these backroom politics and deals are really driving this narrative in a lot of ways, and as a fan of those types of stories in general, I am a fan of this.
As a story, it’s building on itself and being engaging without even seeming to try. It doesn’t even exist and I’m invested more in this story than I ever could be in something like “The Mutants”.
And we’re only halfway done.
Both of these things are interesting because they set off further events. You’d think that having these things happen would prove to be climaxes or moments that set off falling-action repercussions. That de Coligny is not quite assassinated allows people to use the situation to their advantage. If he had just been assassinated, fine. A Huguenot has been killed. Good riddance. But because one side has shown their hand, it allows de Coligny to be a poster child for the Huguenots to rise and complain about their unfair treatment.
See, because Steven is a known Huguenot sympathizer (he spent a night in de Coligny’s house and he is known to consort with Gaston and Nicholas, who are both known Huguenots) and he speaks so cordially with the Abbot, the Abbot becomes a failure in the eyes of Catholic leadership. It’s Tavannes who orders the Abbot killed as he undoubtedly gave something away to Steven and thusly to the Huguenots. And it’s the Abbot’s death that sparks what’s coming next. The Catholics think it was a band of Huguenots who killed him. Their hatred of the Huguenots is suddenly justified. What happens next is on them.
But it is Steven’s fault that The Abbot was killed. By trying to get close to the Abbot, and The Abbot being unaware of Steven’s identity (either because he’s The Doctor and he’s pretending to not know Steven to keep him removed from the proceedings OR because he’s not The Doctor and legitimately doesn’t know who Steven is) proves to Tavannes that The Abbot is not to be trusted. It’s also Steven who outs Roger as the one who helped coordinate the assassination attempt, which allows Nicholas to lay the blame on the Abbot.
Damn is it compelling. Utterly and completely. Every scene is charged and rocketing despite the fact that if you look at how long they take they probably would seem sluggish. Watching The King of France grapple for power with the Queen Mother and deal with his subjects is riveting. He doesn’t want the Huguenots dead (they are French citizens and he has appeased them) but he is connived into looking the other way should anything happen. It’s such pure drama that you can’t… I don’t know. It’s basically what you want out of not just Doctor Who, but any story, really.
And in the end, The Doctor is seemingly killed and Steven isn’t quite sure what’s going on. Is The Doctor dead, or isn’t he? And he’s a Huguenot sympathizer, so he’s chased down the street by an angry mob. Hell is breaking loose and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. It’s a fantastic, nail biting cliffhanger and bodes ill for whatever’s coming next.
By the end of this story, it’s clear that it’s almost a reaction against “The Aztecs”. In “Aztecs”, The Doctor and the TARDIS crew’s interference ruins the lives of the good people and do not affect any “positive” change they set out to accomplish. Here it’s different. The Doctor clearly has had no affect on history in any way, shape, or form. Likewise, Steven, for all his running around and seeming interference did nothing to either prevent or stop the inevitable. As The Doctor points out in the middle of this episode, this day was the day of the Massacre. Even before they got involved, this day was coming.
It’s incredible, watching The Doctor reflect on the decisions that have led his life to where it got to, thinking back on his former companions… it’s wonderfully introspective and totally excellent to see Hartnell get it right. Not only that, but they give him a line fluff (“Chesterton”) in the brief second that you catch yourself going “Chesterson”, The Doctor corrects himself, getting it right in a moment of humility and poignancy. He’s given up.
The remorse The Doctor feels here echoes the remorse that Tavannes feels when it comes to slaughtering all the Huguenots, and it’s Tavannes’s mercy that shines through in the scene he shares with the Queen Mother when she orders all the Huguenots be put to death. His redemption is the notion that he at least managed to save Henry of Navarre because of his standing. So too does The Doctor find solace in the notion that the new companion Dodo has the same name as Anne, the young woman Steven believes a victim to the purges.
But even if it is a lie, it gives The Doctor and Steven a chance to start over. This story brings about The Doctor’s lowest rock bottom moment after the events of “The Myth Makers” and “Master Plan” and saves him from having to deal with his own actions and what he hath wrought. Likewise, it gives Steven the opportunity to believe that Anne survived the massacre despite the fact that she probably didn’t. It’s disconcerting, but speaks more to the notion that dwelling on the bad does not help people move on and grow. The characters of this story take the blows as they land and move on with their lives.
And really, that’s the most important thing. Thinking about the gratuitous two minutes of massacre footage that probably got shown in the episode is not the thing to be dwelled on. Think about the person you saved. Not the thousands you didn’t.
Even if it is a lie.
As a story, "The Massacre" is about the consequences of one's actions and how people choose to live with them. Those with morals will suffer as only their consciences will allow. The Queen Mother's lack of remorse for any of the events that she's brought upon the world manage to show her off as a complete sociopath. As the flipside of this, Tavannes is hard hit by allowing the wolves to be unleashed upon the city of Paris, knowing that he is willingly permitting the slaughter of thousands of innocents. Steven as the guy who just tried to keep everyone safe is harder hit when the innocent girl he's kept safe is lost to The Doctor's "foolish" demand that she go home.
Really, its' a breathtakingly wonderful story. It's full of political maneuverings and intrigue and a fantastic tale filled with action and drama. The writing is out of this world, and it really puts into context just what the show is all about and how it can be different and what it all means. It forces you to question not only "where was The Doctor for three days because he certainly wasn't with Preslin even though there's evidence he was there before reappearing there" but also "why didn't he do anything?" He could have easily stolen Anne away to the TARDIS and taken her away forever, but keeping her where she was is a choice he'd have to live with and the bigger question would be "Would Dodo still have been a traveler of the TARDIS if Anne had been too?"
As a story, it's wonderful. As a piece of Doctor Who, it's masterful. It (like "Web of Fear") is one of the biggest tragedies of missing Doctor Who and I'm floored that it doesn't exist. Hopefully it will be animated one day, but until then, we do have the fantastic audio that doesn't seem to get any less good. It's one of the best Hartnell stories ever, one of the best historicals, and one of the best of a fairly strong season. It's just about everything I could want out of Doctor Who, especially a Doctor Who historical.
And that is not a lie.
Next Time!: 6th Doctor! Davros! Daleks! A funeral home! A fantastic blue cloak! Lots and lots of characters who aren't The Doctor! The return of Eric Saward! And extreme, extreme violence! We continue our second anniversary month with "Revelation of the Daleks"! Coming Next Tuesday!