Hasslein Blog: Doctor Who Retro Review: Serial 022—The Massacre


Hasslein Blog

Monday, September 9, 2013

Doctor Who Retro Review: Serial 022—The Massacre

By T. Scott Edwards

Firstly, I must apologise for the shortage in updates recently—due to an accident I had involving a very small cut on my finger, I ended up blood poisoning and as a result, have ended up with my arm in a sling and out of use for more than a week. Added to this the fact that I've returned to work, my time has been limited, to say the least—the pressures of secondary school teaching do not allow a great deal of 'down time' with which to write nonsensical blogs which may or may not be read by the general public! I'm back now though, although only able to type with my left hand, and so there may be a number of errors throughout—if there are, I apologise in advance!

The Massacre is a challenging serial to write about for a number of reasons. Whilst it sees John Lucarotti return to writing for the series, it strays from his usual raison d'etre and focuses on a period of history less well-known; the period in question is the 1570s in France, during the tensions between the Catholics and Protestants. This turbulent religious atmosphere is charged from the outset, and the arrival of the Doctor and Steven doesn't make anything any clearer—whilst historicals in the past have assured us, through known historical figures, exactly where our loyalties lie, The Massacre instead throws us into a quandary, as the two sides face off with Steven trapped in the middle. Interestingly, there are mixed accounts of the writing of this serial—it is suggested that Donald Tosh, as script editor, rewrote much of what was delivered by Lucarotti due to it straying too far from the original outline provided. What is evident, however, is that Lucarotti's voice is still dominant over the final drafts—the dialogue is rich and sumptuous, and characterisation is multilayered and intriguing. 

This serial is predominantly a vehicle for Steven to cement his place in the series—whilst he has been on board the TARDIS for several stories, he has always played second fiddle to the other companions, or to the Doctor himself. Here, though, the Doctor leaves the story early into the first episode, to visit the scientist Charles Preslin, and Steven is left to his own devices, allowed to entertain himself. Hartnell's absences were becoming more and more common place as the series progressed, partly due to his declining health, and partly, one suspects, due to the tensions between him and series producer John Wiles. Added to this Hartnell being on holiday during the filming of episode 2, and the result is that Purves becomes the lead actor, carrying the weight of the script magnificently. 

The scenes with Hartnell, however, are wonderful—when he visits Preslin in his shop, he radiates warmth and passion, as he discusses the man's experiments, eventually forcing the scientist to admit who he really is. It is evident that this society is one filled with danger for forward thinkers, and adds to the tension greatly—in addition, the dialogue is wonderful, and years later a similar scene will occur with Binro the Heretic, as he is assured that he is right, and has not been wasting his life. It is touching and wonderfully played by Hartnell and Erik Chitty.

Steven, meanwhile, is whiling away his time in a tavern, and is taken under the wing of Huguenot Nicholas Muss. The relationship between the two is warm and pleasant, and the dialogue between the two is lovely. Again, however, tension is ramped up throughout as Gaston, Muss' friend, is wary of the dangers which Steven potentially represents. What is fascinating about these exchanges, though, is that again, we as an audience are unclear exactly where our allegiances should lie—whilst the Huguenot's seem welcoming, it is clear that there is danger there. Upon the arrival of Anne Chaplet, a terrified serving girl, we are asked to assume that they are the 'good guys', since she tells of the Catholics and their plans to execute more Protestants, as they did in "Vassy". But again, Vassy is a name which means nothing to us, and as such we still sit on a precarious and unsure line. It is a dangerous game which Lucarotti plays with the audience, easily wrong-footing us. Back story is provided through this naturally-flowing exposition, as we are enlightened to the fact that a marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant is the cause of the unrest throughout France.

The cliffhanger at the end of episode 1 is fantastically delivered—the revelation that the Abbot of Amboise is identical to Hartnell comes as a surprise, and for a contemporary audience must have been a wonderful revelation—after Hartnell has been doubled by a variety of different people in a number of serials, including the laughable sequences in The Chase, it is good to see that here, Hartnell is given the chance to shine in dual roles.

The second episode serves only to further confuse the audience—interestingly, this forces us to identify with Steven's confusion, as he remains equally unsure who he should be working with or for. As he thinks the Abbot is actually the Doctor in disguise, he is determined to infiltrate the Catholic camp to find out. But by revealing that he knows the Abbot—or does he?—he inadvertently turns his only friends in this dangerous time against him. He is threatened with violence from Gaston and forced to trick Nicholas, but all the while it remains unclear whether he is right in any of his actions.

The introduction of the Abbot also allows the introduction of my favourite performer in this serial, Christopher Tranchell as the magnificent Roger Colbert. Colbert is the Abbot's secretary, and he oozes self-importance and disdain for his surroundings. Tranchell is wonderful, and the danger he represents is evident in his scenes with the Huguenots protecting Anne—his clipped delivery of the phrase "I see" when his request is rebuffed is chilling.

The dialogue is an absolute delight throughout this serial, with the greatest gem being "You see shadows where there is no sun"—every character is wonderfully articulate, and there are no caricatures in any of this—each and every performer is smart, smooth-talking, and—again—potentially dangerous.

The revelation provided by Steven's eavesdropping of the meeting in the Catholic base is another fascinating one—the discussions of assassins and codenames is wonderfully engaging, and the discussion of The Sea Beggar allows the audience a little insight, putting us one foot ahead of Steven. Although he stayed in the home of the Admiral de Coligny, Steven is unable to connect the dots, although I would imagine most of the audience can. Tension is ramped up further still as the audience realise the danger to the safety of France, and indeed the Dutch whom de Coligny is so desperate to assist. The ending of the episode consolidates the fears of the audience, as de Coligny says "The Sea Beggar—a title I'd be proud of!"

Episode 3 is interesting for a number of reasons—after all of the discussions in the preceding episodes, we are finally able to put faces to the names, and Barry Justice and Joan Young, as King Charles and his awe-inspiring mother Catherine de Medici are wonderfully drawn, each putting in fantastic performances as a dysfunctional family whose every whim could have potentially devastating effects for France and the rest of Europe. Charles' despair is played brilliantly, as he attempts to rule with an iron fist but is constantly undermined by his interfering mother, the real power behind the throne and the person responsible for the plot to massacre the Huguenots.

Whilst the court intrigue takes centre stage throughout this episode, Steven is still desperately trying to unravel the clues he has discovered, and following his evasion of Nicholas Muss, he is reunited with Anne Chaplet, the serving girl he spared who has been kicked out of the Admiral's home for standing up for him, refusing to believe that Steven could be a spy. Steven and Anne discover that not only is the Abbot not the Doctor in disguise, but that the Admiral is the target of the assassination attempt, and rush to assure Nicholas of their suspicions and their loyalties, only to prove to be too late—the Admiral leaves the meeting in the Louvre but, thanks to good luck, the attempt is a failure and the damage is not fatal.

What episode 3 allows, and one of the reasons that it is one of the most sought-after of missing serials, is that we finally get to see Hartnell sink his teeth into his dual role as the Abbot. Interestingly, though, whilst many claim that the Abbot is played in a completely different style to the Doctor, in audio alone it doesn't seem too different a performance. One can only imagine how Hartnell approached this secondary role—often physically striking with the posture and gestures as the Doctor, much of the difference may lie in the nuanced performance, as vocally it does not seem too far a cry from his portrayal of the First Doctor.

The Abbot's downfall is due, for the most part, to the failed assassination attempt. He is deemed ineffectual and dangerous, and is swiftly killed himself by Tavannes and Colbert. The murder causes a riot, as the locals gather around the fallen corpse of the Abbot, and helps the Royal family—specifically the Queen Mother—to gain the support needed to begin the massacre. Again, from a moral standpoint, it is difficult to tell who exactly we should be siding with—whilst the rabble of Catholics is clearly bloodthirsty and incensed, the reasoning is clear and understandable, with evidence which clearly supports their actions. The Queen Mother monopolises this, using it as the lever to force King Charles to act for what she holds is the 'good' of France, protecting the throne from the Huguenot would-be King, Henri. What is important to note here, though, is that it was through Steven's interference in history that all of this happens—had he not gone to see the Abbot, Tavannes would not have ordered his death, and the Catholics would not have risen up against the Huguenots. Hartnell's line from The Aztecs is suddenly ringing in our ears once more, about how "history cannot be rewritten—not one line!" Again, the question is raised, though, as to whether the time travellers have changed or influenced history. When Hartnell reappears in episode 4, as the Doctor, he makes it clear that the date is significant, and he knows of the eponymous massacre to follow. So the massacre is, indeed, etched into the history books. But the chief cause of the execution is predominantly Steven's role in all of this, forcing the audience to realise that, all along, the TARDIS was destined to arrive at this point in history, to ensure that history followed the correct path.

The third episode ends with Steven's discovery of the Abbot's body, and the attack from the Catholic mob, as he is a known Huguenot sympathiser. It is a troubling scene, and it must have looked fabulous too—the fury in the voices of the nameless hordes is wonderful. The arrival of the Doctor in episode 4 frustrates me mildly—no excuse or explanation is ever given for his absence over and above the fact that he was "held up". His refusal to take Anne with him, instead insisting that she locks herself away safely, is odd—companions have been made out of lesser people, after all, and Anne's function has been important throughout this serial, aiding Steven in his hunt for the truth. His rejection of Anne is an important one though—and again, it allows us a pivotal moment, and one which will not be revisited until Tom Baker is alone for The Deadly Assassin, where the Doctor is stranded, sans companions. Hartnell, unlike Baker, plays this scene wonderfully—utterly alone, abandoned and without companions, his soliloquy isn't played as tongue-in-cheek aside, as Baker does. Instead, it is heartbreaking, reflective and realistic. He realises that, after the death, destruction and abandonment of the last two serials—leaving Vicki in burning Troy in The Myth Makers and being partly, at least, responsible for the murders of Katarina, Bret and Sara in The Daleks' Master Plan—he is at the lowest point in his life. The fluff in the line—as he mispronounces Chesterton's surname—is a wonderful nod back to the former companions, but that he corrects himself, catching himself out in the mispronunciation is what is truly heart-warming. Never has Hartnell seemed so vulnerable.

Redemption is provided, though, in the form of Dodo—Dorothea Chaplet stumbles into the TARDIS, expecting it to be a normal police telephone box. Her surname gives the Doctor and Steven some grounds to start again—perhaps Anne didn't die after all. Yes, it's an inconsistency, as the maternal name shouldn't have been passed down. The novelisation goes some way to cover this, giving us a brother to Anne who would have carried the family name. But this doesn't matter either way. Whilst Dodo is one of the least popular of companions for many fans, she has a functionality that we shouldn't overlook—she reunites the Doctor and Steven, and allows our travellers to continue as they were.

Scott Edwards is a teacher of English and Theatre Studies at Barnard Castle School in the North East of England, with a BAHons in English Literature and Film Studies. He is also a self-professed ‘ming-mong,' and in addition to timelordapprentice.blogspot.co.uk he also runs facebook.com/Classic.Doctor.Who. You can also follow him on Twitter: @TimelordTSE.

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