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The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve

story 22 | season 3 | serial w
Eddy Wolverson

I always wondered why “The Massacre” was chosen to launch the BBC Radio Collection’s range of ‘lost’ stories on CD. Not only is it pretty awful, but it is completely and utterly dependent on the purely visual ploy of the Doctor and the Abbott of Amboise being almost physically identical! Perhaps the lack of telesnaps make this serial stand out as being ‘more lost’ than most others; in fact, “The Massacre” is one of the few Doctor Who TV serials (alongside “Galaxy 4” and “The Myth Makers”) that I have only been able to enjoy on audio CD.

Lucarotti and Tosh’s script tells an interesting tale set around a historical event that many people (myself included) know little of. The format of the serial is quite refreshing as for most of the story we do not see the Doctor; the story is told entirely from the viewpoint of his companion Steven. Peter Purves does a tremendous job of carrying the story almost single-handedly, so somehow it seems fitting that he should provide the linking narration. As “The Massacre” can now only be listened to, it is through Steven’s dialogue and Purves’ narration that we learn that the Abbott of Amboise is the Doctor’s double, and this works surprisingly well as the audience is unsure as to whether the Doctor really is the Abbott or not. Undoubtedly, on TV this would have been a far more effective gimmick, but thanks to Purves’ quite excellent narration at least the plot can be understood and followed on audio.

“I was right to do as I did… 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…”

I found the final episode to be the best of the four by far. “Bell of Doom” in a way mirrors the events of the earlier historical, “The Aztecs,” as the Doctor’s companion wants to change history. “The TARDIS leaves Paris as the carnage and the slaughter begins…”, and Steven is far from happy. He believes that makeshift companion Anne Chaplet will have been killed in the massacre, and blames the Doctor for not trying to save her, resulting in his decision to leave the TARDIS. As Steven disembarks in Wimbledon Common, we are treated to a rare Hartnell soliloquy (a la “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”) which highlights the more tragic side of the Doctor’s character – not Ian, nor Barbara, Vicki or even his “little Susan” could understand him, and now, like them, Steven has left him. The Doctor is so forlorn that he even contemplates returning to his home world, however, it is not to be as in one of the weirdest companion introductions ever Dodo Chaplet bursts into the TARDIS expecting to find a Policeman, Steven hot on her heels! It seems that Anne Chaplet may have survived after all… unfortunately.

I say ‘unfortunately’ because I cannot stand Dodo. She’s horrible. She’s stupid. Really, really stupid! It takes her about five minutes to realise that she has wandered into a dimensionally transcendental time machine! “Where’s the telephone? There’s something odd going on here…” she eventually says. When the Doctor suddenly dematerialises the TARDIS, snatching her away from her customary time and place, likely never to return, she doesn’t even care! Steven is more annoyed with the Doctor than she is! I can understand the production team not wanting to re-hash the Ian and Barbara storyline, but this…

At the end of the day, “The Massacre” is certainly no lost classic, and if you never listen to it you aren’t really depriving yourself of a pivotal part of the Doctor Who canon. Generally speaking, I don’t think that the standard of Doctor Who’s (almost extinct) third season is up to the standards of seasons one and two; stories like “The Massacre” and companions like Dodo certainly not doing the show’s third run any favours!

Tom Prankerd

It's said every fan can remember when they first found out huge chunks of Doctor Who didn't exist any more. Personally, I can't. But I can remember one precise moment when this came home brutally. I was hungrily lapping up the reviews in The Discontinuity Guide when I came across the exultant review for 'The Massacre'.

Considering we're talking about four episodes of an old TV show, I don't think I've ever been as frustrated, angry and upset as that by the myriad injustices ranged at me through various hobbies [Fulham's continuing inability to play football; Marvel nixing plans to continue Transformers after the US material ran out; Todd McFarlane stopping Miracleman; Luca Badoer's gearbox at the Nurburgring]. This thing sounded like an absolute masterpiece. And I was never going to see it.

I've still never really seen it, but thanks to the Loose Cannon recon, I've come as close as anyone has since it was last transmitted.

Before getting this tape, I had to temper my excitement to avoid disappointment. Historicals have never really been my favourite of 'Who's many little sub-genres. 'The Aztecs' and 'The Gunfighters' are both well-produced, well-made, slick, and don't drag too much, but there's just something inherently mediocre about them. 'The Romans' had proved an exception to the rule, mainly through a hilarious Dennis Spooner script and some superb comic playing. Most of the historic novelisations I'd read had verged on ordeals [the exception being Donald Cotton's brace]. And 'The Massacre' was likely to be like 'The Aztecs', a po-faced 'straight' script populated by theatricality. Add into this that the Doctor only really appears to book-end the story, and I'd talked myself out of expecting a classic.

And 'The Massacre' is deadly serious. But it's drama of the best kind. Utter convinction permeates the whole thing. Even as a reconstruction, the doom-laden atmosphere is phenomenal. To be frank, I count my previous ignorance of the historical events in the story as a plus. I did pick up on the inevitability of the events, feeling the downwards spiral in a way I only have watching 'Caves of Androzani' and the final episode of Blake's 7. There's a touch of the Gwyneth Paltrows to Nicholas Muss [to explain, this comes from the actress' character in David Fincher's Seven, where she's so nice compared to what surrounds her you know she's not going to make it] which signposts his tragic fate early on, but this doesn't damage the inexorable machinations. Just as in 'Androzani' or 'Blake', you find yourself hoping against hope that something's going to change the end result, while knowing that it won't.

One thing that is very interesting is Hartnell's double role as both the Doctor and the Abbott of Amboise. While he doesn't perform totally differently as some sources have it, this actually works as a strength. While he tones down the first Doctor's distinctive mannerisms such as the 'hmms', and gets his lines right, there are a few moments when the Abbott seems to be making it up on the spot, and his blundering could be the Doctor hindering injustice. These, allayed with Steven's confusion, keep the viewer guessing that vital bit longer. Along with the first regeneration, the Abbott's death is a moment I'd have loved to have seen as it was broadcast. Still, knowing that Hartnell would last another six stories doesn't diminish the effect, as Steven's reaction is enough to keep anyone watching interested.

Steven is really the star of this story, and Peter Purves rises to the occasion marvellously. It's difficult to judge Steven considering so few episodes of his survive, but it's fair, I think, to generally cast him as a solid but unspectacular standard male companion, largely a knock-off of Ian in the early days before he got used to it all. However, given a meaty script Purves really delivers - the viewer can empathise fully as he seems abandoned by the Doctor, then feel his frustration and desperation as the Abbott's freak similarity to the Doctor ostracises him from Nicholas, seemingly his only friend.

Especially worthy of praise is Steven's rage at the Doctor inside the TARDIS, and the Doctor's melancholy soliliquoy after Steven storms out. This is the first time since the early days of Season 1 that he's really been held to account by one of his companions, a theme that would be revisited many times, most notably with Tegan's departure in 'Resurrection of the Daleks', as well as many a New Adventure. Somehow, though, it's all the more powerful when aimed at this frail old man who just wanders through time, doing his best to help where he can. It was clearly not a callous decision on his part to leave Anne, and he seems tired of the responsilbiities his lifestyle has brought with it.

The guest cast is one of the best assembled in the series' history. David Weston is wonderful as Nicholas Muss, instinctively wanting to trust Steven, but paranoid due to the heightened political atmosphere, and pressured by Gaston. Gaston himself is wonderfully blustering and belligerent, with Eric Thompson lending a marvellous intensity to the role. Leonard Sachs lends the role of the 'Sea Beggar' Admiral de Coligny huge dignity and gravitas, making him truly sympathetic, willing to ignore his pride for the Dutch Huguenots. While the bizarre choice of accent as serving girl Anne Chaplette is a distraction early on, you soon get caught up in a strong performance from the young actress, who again gets across the urgency and foreboding of the script. Erik Chitty gives a sweet little performance as Charles Preslin, with the scene where the Doctor tells him he was right all along, is a little ray of hope amongst the gloom. Andre Morell is astonishingly callous as Marshall Tavannes, plotting away with ruthless precision, but the show is stolen by Joan Young as Catherine de Medici, the vindictive Queen Mother. While it was doubtless lent to me by the reconstruction's use of still images, I like to think that Young was largely stationary when delivering her lines in that breathtakingly stoic, detatched fashion, which lends a huge edge to the horrors she is perpetrating. The best thing about 'The Massacre' is everyone plays it seriously, and nobody thinks they're Laurence Olivier [I'm looking at you, John Ringham!].

The one thing I wasn't taken with was the arrival of Dodo. While the scene itself is a good idea, snapping the Doctor out of his misery and providing a [rather contrived] happy ending, the playing of it is dreadful. Dodo just blunders in and decides she's alright with flying off with two strange men in a police box - which is just as well, as the Doctor's whisked her off anyway. On top of this, I was downright horrified by Jackie Lane's performance, considering she's not too bad in 'The Gunfighters' or 'The War Machines'. Perhaps inspired by the Carole Ann Ford similarity, Lane acts like an attention-seeking 10-year old in a school play. And if that's her genuine accent, the poor woman has my sympathy. Still, it's a coda, and it doesn't effect my enjoyment of the story any more than Nyssa's silly fall spoils 'Four to Doomsday' or the trailer for 'Boom Town' scuppers 'The Doctor Dances'.

The script is marvellous [have you noticed how many Doctor Who scripts that have some production strife or other are really great? 'City of Death', 'Horror of Fang Rock', 'Pyramids of Mars' etc.], full of scenes that range from the uplifting to the chilling, weighed towards the latter. The attemted assassination of de Coligny is a wonderful tense scene as Steven and Nicholas attempt to intervene, while the realisation of the massacre itself is worthy of the highest praise. It's more powerful than if we saw de Coligny, Nicholas et al killed off one by one as the true scale of the atrocity can be seen and felt, capturing a sense of these fully rounded characters just being a few amongst so many deaths.

Loose Cannon's reconstruction work is simply marvellous considering the scant material avaliable. Only a few composites can be told from the genuine stills, and they must be thanked for bringing this masterpiece to us.

And a masterpiece it is. When you consider as a reconstruction it tallies with the Discontinuity Guide's verdict of "Not only the best historical, but the best Hartnell, and... arguably the best Doctor Who story ever", if the actual episodes ever turn up, it would be considered Doctor Who of the very highest quality.

John Hoyle

The Massacre is quite possibly the best historical story ever produced for Doctor Who. It certainly is not a children’s programme. It’s heavy. It’s about politics. It’s about the killing of thousands of people and the events leading up to this barbaric ordeal. At the end of Part Three it is quite possible that the Doctor is lying dead in the street.

Put this in perspective: The Daleks’ Master Plan has just ended. Two companions have died. The surface of an entire planet, together with all its inhabitants, however hostile, has been completely devastated and the Doctor and Steven are left upset and in need of escape. Then The Massacre comes along.

So begins a truly terrible few days in Paris in which court intrigue and religious friction result in mass slaughter. Given the bleakness of the programme at this stage it is entirely plausible and probable for an audience to expect the Doctor to come to a similar fate and the Part Three cliff-hanger is easily The Massacre’s defining and most awful moment.

The dialogue is so rich. It is easily listenable and makes for just as good radio drama as it does television, as is proved by the BBC CD release. So many good voices too: Leonard Sachs for God’s sake!

It is the gloomy mood and sense of inevitability that seeps through the drama that makes it work. Every episode comprises a day’s events. Thus every episode is destined to end in darkness and indeed does! Just look at the last bloody instalment!

Even the production’s quietest moments are full of energy. De Coligny’s sad speech at the end of Part Two is so heart-breaking and terrifying. “You, De Coligny will go down in history as the sea beggar…the sea beggar…it’s a title I’d be proud of.” Only the audience and Steven know that the sea beggar is about to be assassinated… It’s a quiet, unsettling and unusual cliff-hanger that really causes great unease.

The horror and barbarism is always felt throughout the story. These quiet moments of solitude are treasures of television as the characters await the inevitable and pure quotations are in abundance. “At dawn tomorrow this city will weep tears of blood.”

The guest cast are uniformly excellent although it is the regulars who steal the show here. Peter Purves’ performances are always dependable but here, given centre stage, he shines! He is positively living the story. A fine, fine performance and certainly Purves’ best. Hartnell on the other hand, despite rumour to the contrary, offers little new in the way of the Abbot. However, this acts as a strength! He is so dangerously close to his performance as the Doctor that the Doctor’s death seems all the more possible. His absence from much of the story is also a masterstroke on the part of whichever writer is responsible for it. It makes the audience believe almost unquestionably that the Abbot is the Doctor!

Perhaps The Massacre’s only failing is its lack of explanation. Unless one has studied the period, one is left to guess at the relationships between some of the characters and often question exactly which denomination they fall into! The viewer actually feels a certain pride however to be made privy to the life of “high” society and that the audience’s intelligence is never insulted makes the result far less alienating. Because the drama feels so well-crafted and the dialogue is so ornate one excuses the lack of explanation, as we feel that the writers certainly know what is going on. It is up to us to look into it, to study it for ourselves. This drama is not about answering these questions but gaining an incite into the lives of those responsible for such horrific atrocities no matter who they are.

All in all, The Massacre is a fabulously constructed (Christ, four days until doom!) and superbly acted, written and designed (probably, looking at the photos). Just when you think things can’t get any blacker they do! That final soliloquy of the Doctor’s (perfectly delivered) is the height of this bleakness and only when Dodo arrives are we brought back into the cosy world of everyone’s favourite Time Lord. No wonder people hate her, for The Massacre is one of the most petrifyingly frightening tales of human horror ever filmed for Doctor who. A truly forgotten classic and a much-missed gem.

Paul Clarke

The first time I ever heard 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve' was when the CD was released; I'd previously obtained bootleg low-quality copies of many of the missing stories, but this wasn't one of them. I'd also never read the script, or a detailed synopsis, so my only knowledge of this story came from John Lucarotti's novelisation. Now I'm quite fond of this particular novelisation, but it differs significantly from the television serial on which it is based, with a far more active role for the Doctor, including him impersonating and eventually meeting the Abbot of Amboise, and saving de Coligny's life. Knowing that the soundtrack would be different but not sure in what ways, I was fairly dubious when I first listened to it. I need not have worried though; 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve' is an astonishingly good story.

'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve' is a return to the more serious type of historical story, after the outright comedy of its historical predecessor, 'The Myth Makers'; given the traumatic ending of 'The Daleks' Master Plan', this is entirely appropriate, as the Doctor and Steven are in sombre mood. In fact, it is probably the bleakest historical, with only 'The Aztecs' to rival it. From the moment Steven finds himself alone in a bar in sixteenth century Paris, a feeling of tension and doom slowly permeates the story and builds inexorably towards the climax. The tension between the Huguenots and the Catholics, and the persecution of the former, is subtly introduced at first, with Gaston's surly manner revealed to be a directed specifically at his Huguenot customers, rather than at that his clientele in general. Likewise, Nicholas and his friends mock the Catholics, and it is immediately obvious that this mockery is barbed; the underlying tension is palpable and deep-seated. This sets the scene very effectively, as does Charles Preslin's obvious paranoia on learning that the Doctor has been searching for him. From this point on, the antagonism between the Catholics and Huguenots grows, with Anne Chaplet's terror on hearing talk of Vasey (sp?) immediately alerting the viewer that what is to follow is going to be unpleasant. This is basically the crux of the plot, as the story races towards the massacre itself, but what really makes 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve' stand out is the exact way in which the story unfolds. For me, three factors are really vital to the success of this story: the political machinations of the royal court, the Abbot of Amboise subplot, and Steven.

The scenes in the royal court of Charles IX drive the actual massacre plot, as Tavannes, de Coligny, the King, and Catherine de Medici, discuss the state of France and what is to be done about it. On the one hand, we have de Coligny, a Huguenot, striving for peace and looking to the marriage of Henry of Navarre to a member of the Catholic royal family to cement this peace. De Coligny has the friendship of the King, and his voice carries some weight with him. On the other hand, we have Marshal Tavannes, who secretly despises the Huguenots but who is not so unwise as to actual say as much in the presence of the King. During 'The Sea Beggar', we see these two carefully trying to win over the King, de Coligny for the cause of peace, and Tavannes out of a desire to prevent the Huguenots gaining power and status equal to that of the Catholics. The King is portrayed as indecisive and reluctant to actual deal with the issues raised, but his friendship with de Coligny initially suggests that he will be able to avert the coming atrocity. Such hopes are swiftly dashed however, as it becomes clear to the viewer that Tavannes is planning to have de Coligny assassinated. The assassin is ultimately unsuccessful, but as a result the furious Tavannes has his accomplice the Abbot killed, which he blames on the Huguenots, thus catalyzing the start of the massacre. However, it is Catherine de Medici who actually orders Tavannes to raise a mob against the Catholics, in one of the most chilling scenes in Doctor Who to date, with even the Marshal shocked at her ruthlessness; as he notes, if a mob is raised "innocents" (meaning Catholics) will suffer as well as the Huguenots, but her desire to see the Huguenots butchered is so great that she dismisses his concern. So venomous is Catherine de Medici in this scene that Tavannes seems briefly sympathetic by comparison, until the viewer is reminded that his concern is for the Catholics alone and that his insistence on sparing the Huguenot Prince Henry of Navarre is motivated purely by politics. This scene and the rest of the build-up to the slaughter in 'Bell of Doom' is one of the most shocking portrayals of casual evil in Doctor Who, and is all the more potent because it comes not from some raving megalomaniac or all-conquering alien race, but from a group of people motivated by religious differences. Simon Duvall's gleeful anticipation at the coming carnage and his disappointment when he discovers that Tavannes has other plans for him is sickening.

The Abbot of Amboise subplot is well handled and allows Hartnell to show off his acting skills by playing a different role. It has been noted that his performance is so precise and impressive that it suggests that Hartnell's flustered delivery of many of the Doctor's lines is characterisation, and although I'm not sure that this is true in the case of some of his more blatant fluffs, it is certainly a convincing theory (although he could just be concentrating harder than usual because he's playing a different character). Whilst I generally frown on doppelganger plots in fiction, since they are basically plot contrivances, the Abbot's resemblance to the Doctor works well here, and not just because it makes life awkward for Steven. It is commonly known now that the Abbot and the Doctor are separate characters, but at the time of first broadcast, this was presumably not the case, and the Abbot is played such that the viewer must suspect without foreknowledge that he is indeed the Doctor. The Huguenot's suspicion of him causes them to turn against Steven when he mistakenly tries to explain that he knows the Abbot, but aside from this we are given no clue that he his who Nicholas and his friends believe him to be. When he schemes with Tavannes, who clearly has little patience for him, it is unclear whether he is a genuine co-conspirator out to destroy the Huguenots, or whether he is the Doctor in disguise, bluffing in order to gain some kind of advantage. It is only when the Abbot's corpse is found by Steven that it becomes obvious that he is not the Doctor, since killing the Doctor off in such a way would be an unlikely end to a popular children's television series. Which brings us to Steven.

I've stated previously that I think Steven is hugely underrated, and 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve' demonstrates perfectly why. With the Doctor sidelined and Steven the sole companion at this time, he gets to take centre stage. As in 'The Daleks' Master Plan', he demonstrates his easy-going nature and talent for befriending people, but also gets far more to do. When Nicholas comes to believe that he is a spy, he determines to clear his name and prove that the Abbot is really the Doctor, and throws himself into the events around him, acting as mentor to Anne, of whom he quickly becomes protective, and trying to warn the Huguenots of de Coligny's impending assassination. Rather than simply deciding to return to the TARDIS and wait for the Doctor, or remain at the pub where they arranged to meet, he becomes involved and finds himself struggling to defend himself in a brief sword-fight and being chased by a lynch mob as a result. He is more than capable of carrying the story alone, which is testament to both the character and also to Peter Purves' acting skills. It is in 'Bell of Doom' however that he really shines, as the Doctor returns, realises what is about to happen to Paris, and drags Steven protesting back to the TARDIS, leaving Anne behind. This is the first historical story to feature Steven in which the issue of not interfering in history really arises. Although he witnessed the Doctor's determination to stop the Monk's interference in 'The Time Meddler', it is only now that the reality of this strikes home, and it is not an easy lesson; unable to help Anne Chaplet and his Huguenot friends, an impassioned Steven angrily takes his leave of the Doctor, furious at his unwillingness to intervene and try and make a difference. It is worth noting again how much he has changed since 'The Chase', his happy-go-lucky attitude knocked out of him by recent events; the implication is that the death of more friends after the traumatic events of 'The Daleks' Master Plan' is too much for him. Ultimately however, his departure is brief, with the arrival of Dodo returning him to the TARDIS, and the implication that she is a descendent of Anne, who therefore must have survived, perhaps allowing him to see history's bigger picture in the way that the Doctor does.

None of the good aspects of 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve' would be anywhere near as effective if the acting were poor, and in fact it is exceptional. In addition to Hartnell in both roles, and Purves, Leonard Sachs' dignified Admiral de Coligny, Andre Morell (my favourite Quatermass) as the scheming Marshal Tavannes, and Joan Young's chilling performance as Catherine de Medici, all steal the show. No discussion of 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve' would be complete either without mentioning the Doctor's superb soliloquy at the end of 'Bell of Doom', as Steven leaves him. It is in sharp contrast to his almost callous attitude earlier in the episode when he realises that he and Steven need to leave Paris; his advice to the terrified Anne on how to find safety is clearly an afterthought. My only real criticism is the final scene, which I mentioned above. Whilst Dodo's introduction serves to lighten the mood and reassure Steven that Anne survived, it is horribly contrived that one of Anne's descendents should literally stumble into the TARDIS on its next landing. Nevertheless, this is a trivial issue, and overall 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve' stands as one of the finest stories of the era.