“It would take but one small incident and the whole of Paris could be in uproar.”- Admiral de Coligny
One problem with learning about completely missing episodes through the novelizations is that you may find that they vary greatly from the broadcast. In the case of The Massacre, I was shocked to discover how completely different the two are. The exciting book I loved and read over and over again as a child has almost nothing to do with the aired program other than the general setting and a few broad ideas. What happened? Well, it turns out the original script was almost totally re-written for a variety of reasons, and the writer decided to make the novelization a chance to show that version (which is in many ways a better Doctor Who story.)
So what about the actual broadcast? The Massacre is a typical historical which means the Doctor and Steven arrive in the midst of a crisis and get caught up in political intrigue. The oddity of this story is that it is Doctor-lite. Bill Hartnell hardly appears and most of that is as a different character. Thus it is more a story of Steven meeting important historical characters in this period of French history and doing little more than observing the course of events. In this case, the historical drama is played entirely straight without a hint of farce or comedy. A prime example is the council room meeting between King Charles IX, de Coligny, Tavannes, and Catherine de Medici. It’s dramatic and interesting for a political history buff (“If we ally ourselves to the Dutch in their conflict with Spain, the common cause will unify the country, and prevent further civil strife.”), but I can’t imagine that kids would have enjoyed it much.
This backdrop really becomes more of a vehicle to briefly play around with the viewer. The first cliffhanger reveals the Abbot’s face and it’s the Doctor! Or is it? Just like Steven, we’re not sure. The Doctor went off mysteriously and hasn’t been seen, so he must have taken on this role to play at something. But this is a public figure known to the people of this time so it can’t be the Doctor. But what if he’s been playing the Abbot for a long time over the years? But he’s cruel and cut-throat so it can’t be him. But did the Abbot intentionally arrange for Steven and Anne to over hear his plan and get away? It must be the Doctor! But now they’ve killed him! Does that mean the Doctor is dead? Only at the very end is it revealed that he is just a person that happens to look exactly like the Doctor.
Other than a historical lesson and this little bit of playful confusion, the story itself does not offer very much. There are several nice dramatic lines however:
- De Coligny’s bemusement at false accusations: “You see shadows where there is no sun.”
- At his assassination, an actual historical quote from Coligny: “See how honest men are treated in France.”
- Pleased at the order to massacre the Huguenots, Tavannes exclaims: “Thank God!” “God had very little to do with it,” replies the Queen Mother.
- “Kings are recognised only by the power they wield.”
- “ Protestant Europe will merely shed a pious tear over the death of a few thousand Huguenots. The death of a prince will launch a Holy War.”
- “We are to unleash the wolves of Paris. None are to be spared.”
It is the ending of this story that is significant to the show. First, we have Steven so upset by events and angered at what he takes as the callousness of the Doctor sending Anne away that he announces his departure. There is some great dialogue here from the Doctor:
“My dear Steven, history sometimes gives us a terrible shock. That is because we don’t quite fully understand. Why should we? After all, we’re all too small to realize 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.”
Then we have the Doctor sadly musing about his choices: “Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet…But I can’t… I can’t!” And then there’s the arrival of Dodo: a cool idea (if not entirely well executed) of having the Doctor stumble upon an ancestor of someone he met in his travels who becomes his companion. Fortunately, Steven also changes his mind and returns and we are set for further adventures for our crew.
Best Unsettling Moments:
At the end of the first episode, Roger Colbert struggles to explain his mistakes in the capture of the escaped servant Anne. With each excuse, the Abbot slowly and menacingly raps his cane upon the floor without a word. We only see him from behind and instead focus on the increasingly frightened face of Colbert. For some reason, this simple act builds up quite a sense of tension, particularly effective as it leads to the reveal of what seems to be the Doctor.
- First companion to leave (almost) in anger
As usual, having episodes missing means there are gaps and questions in the story. Why does Steven and Gaston’s sword fight sound so slow? What images are being shown in the long stretch while we hear the Massacre happening? We may never know for sure. Apart from that, the introduction of Dodo as a companion is not very well done. She barges into the TARDIS with hardly any surprise at its dimensions. The Doctor blithely takes off with no thought for her being there. (Or worse seems to have kidnapped her because he missed his granddaughter?) And when it’s explained that they are travelling through time and she may never return to Earth, Dodo shrugs without surprise and doesn’t seem to care at all. It all doesn’t quite ring true. And while I like the idea of her being a descendant of Anne Chaplet, it would have been so much cooler if it had been the same actress playing both.