Sunday, May 15, 2011

"The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve" wrapup

Hello everyone, the Historian here. As some of you may know, Blogger was down for a good deal of time during the latter half of this week. Unfortunately, this (and my day job) has thrown my posting schedule a bit out the window. So, here's the "Massacre" wrapup post. The new episode post will be up sometime later this week.

I've read many reviews over the years referring to "The Massacre" as the "best Hartnell story" and such-like. And, while I'm not sure I quite agree (as we've discovered over the course of the Project, there are plenty of great Hartnell stories), this one is definitely high on the list. It's also unique in that the Doctor himself is very much tangential to the action; as we've talked about in the episode discussions, this is very much the companion's story. It is Steven who has the adventure while the Doctor is off doing...whatever it is he's doing. Apparently, the Doctor was far more involved in the action in John Lucarotti's original scripts, but Donald Tosh's extensive rewrites put the show's central character off screen.

It's a gamble, for sure. In fact, in our discussion, the Project team identified the Doctor popping up out of nowhere as a bit of a coot ex machina. On the other hand, though, we are gifted with the suspense of not knowing whether the Doctor is the Abbot, what he's playing at, etc., etc. And when the Doctor does pop up, finds out when they are and immediately tells Steven that they have to leave...well, that's pretty powerful. The Doctor, realizing what is about to happen, actually seems scared. How bad must things be about to get to make the Doctor afraid? If the Doctor had been more front and center, all of these points would have been lost.

And, as importantly, we would have been denied Peter Purves' performance as Steven, front and center in the action. This is the first time since Ian and Barbara left that a companion has taken so much of the main role in a story, and Steven does a fine job. He's certainly helped by the obscurity (for us, anyway) of the historical event--he doesn't know what's going to happen and neither do we, so his discoveries are ours as well. As are his fears, for his new friends and especially for the Doctor. Of course, we know that the Doctor can't be dead, but up until that moment, the moment Steven sees the body, we have no reason to not think that the Doctor is the Abbot. It's not the Doctor's apparent masquerade that makes this story work, though; it's Steven's attempts to navigate his way through the quagmire he finds himself in that makes the first three or so parts of this story work so well.

Something that we overlooked, but that should be mentioned here, is how this story proves how good an actor William Hartnell is. We equate Hartnell's character of the Doctor with his own personality so much, we forget that is it--a character. Acting. But the contrast of his Abbot of Amboise--no laughing, no Billy-fluffs, but a cold, hard and frightening character--shows us just how wonderful a character William Hartnell has built his Doctor into.

The story itself is a journey through the cloak and dagger moments leading up to the great massacre of Huguenots in France in 1572. As I've mentioned, many of the events and characters in this story are real historical figures. As such, I thought I'd add a few relevant Wikipedia links:
The Massacre itself
Admiral de Coligny
The Marshal Tavannes
The probable identity of Bondot, the assassin
King Charles
Catherine di Medici, the Queen Mother

Of course, when most fans talk about "The Massacre," they tend to focus on the last ten minutes or so of episode four. Steven's angry accusations and the Doctor's soliloquy loom large in both the memories and the myth of this lost story, as they should. As I said in the episode post, it's like we finally have a philosophy for the show. It's almost like we have a mission statement for both the companions (there's only so far they can go, so much they can understand) and the Doctor himself. It's a powerful moment and a fitting one to end Donald Tosh's somewhat troubled tenure as Doctor Who's story editor. The reason he was able to be credited as a co-writer on the last episode is that he was no longer a member of the production team, although he did have a hand in a few of the stories that followed. But, as of episode four of "The Massacre," Gerry Davis joins the team as story editor. Remember that name, fans!

Finally, I'm not sure whether to make a big deal of this, but I thought it should be mentioned that this is the first Doctor Who story to be directed by a woman, Paddy Russell. She does a fine job, insofar as we can tell from the reconstruction.

All right, all right, enough of me. Here's the episode links:
"War of God"
"The Sea Beggar"
"Priest of Death"
"Bell of Doom"

And, as usual, here's the BBC episode guide link as well as a link to all the production inside information from Shannon Sullivan. (I very much recommend the latter for a great insight on the writing of the story.) And, if you're at all intrigued by this story, I'd urge you to go to the Loose Cannon page and get yourself a copy of the reconstruction. You'll be glad you did.

So, we have a new girl in the TARDIS--Dorothea "Dodo" Chaplet--and a new adventure coming! The first episode post will be coming later this week, keep an eye out for it! Until then, I remain


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