of St. Bartholomew's Eve
|Dates||Feb. 5, 1966 -
Feb. 26, 1966
With William Hartnell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane.
Written by John Lucarotti. Script-edited by Donald Tosh.
Directed by Paddy Russell. Produced by John Wiles.
Synopsis: The Doctor and Steven land in tumultuous 16th century France, where the ruling Catholics plot against the minority Hugenots, with the aid of a suspicious Abbott.
|Note: Audio recordings of this story are available at Missing Doctor Who Reconstructions & Audios.|
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge Updated 15/1/02
As with John Lucarotti`s previous offerings, Marco Polo and The Aztecs, The Massacre turns out to be another outstanding piece of historical drama. Listening to the audio release, really makes you appreciate the sense of drama and atmosphere in this tale.
Notably, due to the absence of The Doctor, Peter Purves steps into the limelight as Steven and steals the show as a traveller caught up in events in a place he doesn`t belong; affording him some much needed character development. William Hartnell`s versatility as an actor is also brought to the forefront, with his portrayal of The Abbot Of Amboise; gone is the bluster, instead we have a character played straight down the line. The introduction of Jackie Lane`s Dodo at the tales conclusion allows for some light relief, even if it is a little rushed. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best Doctor Who tales.
The Massacre of St. Bartholomew`s Eve may not be the best remembered Hartnell tale, but it is unquestionably one of the best televised historicals.
One of the Greats by Robert Thomas 27/8/00
Well, it's been available on audio for over a year and at last I've found a copy. After having my head filled with so many good points of this serial I settled myself down for a listen and the inevitable disappointment, which never came.
This is simply one of the best serials that the show ever produced. I could go through the whole of the show's televised output and very rarely would I use the word faultless, but it fits here perfectly.
Instead of presenting us with a villain this story concentrates on the theme of a man stranded in time. Steven is given the centre stage and for the duration the viewer feels a bond with him as we neither have a clue what is going on. Indeed it feels like the viewer is also a companion.
Although The Doctor rarely appears Hartnell puts in one of his best performances. His speech at end is one of the shows greatest ever moments. The best part of this story is the end as the regulars combine to create one of the most human moments and one of the best endings.
This is Doctor Who at its best, experimenting with its format and creating a priceless piece of drama. Foreshadowing the events of the next season which introduced regeneration and Peter Purves cementing Steven Taylor as one of the best companions.
The tragedy of the time traveller by Tim Roll-Pickering 30/10/01
Based on the Materialising TARDIS Reconstruction.
Few Doctor Who stories are as downbeat as this. The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve stands out as the only one of the third season historicals that is not comical. John Lucarotti's final contribution shows history at its most mysterious and darkest. On this occasion we see the events leading up to one of the bloodiest events in the French Wars of Religion but this is not made explicit until towards the end of the story. This is not one of the popularly remembered events in history and so Steven has little idea of what is about to occur until he finally finds the Doctor. This provides for a wonderful and highly revealing scene in which the Doctor's tragic position is exposed - forced to witness the horrors of history and unable to do anything to change them and unable to return 'back to my own planet'.
We also get to see William Hartnell taking on the additional role of the Abbot of Amboise. The Doctor is mostly absent in the story and so Steven is left to try to find him, wondering if the Doctor is impersonating the Abbot and if he is then why he is sanctioning such measures. Hartnell's appearances as the Abbot are all too few but they show a strong and stark characterisation that contrasts heavily with the Doctor and shows the actor's versatility. With the Doctor missing the bulk of the action falls upon Steven and so this is the first story to revolve around a companion (the middle two episodes of The Keys of Marinus aside). Steven reacts as most people would do in such a situation - try to save what lives he can and escape. Peter Purves delivers a strong performance here, showing the strength of this overlooked companion.
The guest cast for the story are for the most part straightforward but both Leonard Sachs (Admiral de Coligny) and Annette Robertson (Anne) stand out, each as tragic as the other. However it is doubtful that Anne would have made a good regular companion given her limited knowledge. The end of the story sees the arrival of Dodo, who mistakes the TARDIS for a real police box and her reaction is natural. Her cockney accent makes a change from the norm and it is a pity that this was not continued into the later episodes. Her appearance also helps to further empathise the Doctor's detachment as a time traveller, meeting members of two generations of the same family some four hundred years apart.
The limited visual material for this story makes it difficult to judge but the few photos that survive show impressive costumes. The action is well paced and laid out over four successive days, with each episode taking place on a different day and having no reprises. The whole story is competent and highly enjoyable and it is a pity that no footage whatsoever survives. 9/10
This is so far the only Materialising TARDIS Reconstruction by Paul Cryer and it's highly competent. Given the limited material available it successfully uses material from other stories and other series and a mixture of captions at the bottom of the screen or in a full screen by themselves to adequately convey the action. This greatly succeeds in allowing one of the most overlooked stories to be once again viewed. 10/10
A Review by Michael Hickerson 20/1/04
By the time I get to this point of the Hartnell years, I tend to lament the state of the historical stories, feeling they had become a bit stale by the third season of Doctor Who. And then, along comes a story, written by the master of the historical stories, John Lucarotti. Lucarotti, you may remember, also gave us Marco Polo and The Aztecs, two of the best historicals the series did -- and in the case of The Aztecs, one of Who's best overall stories.
And here, Lucarotti gives us yet another great historical story. Part of this is that Lucarotti tries to get into the history lesson in a different way. Instead of looking a hugely famous people from history, Lucarotti examines the more common people that are affected by the sweeping changes of history. In The Aztecs, we saw a bit of the daily life of the Aztecs and with The Massacre, we see how the events of the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve were affecting not only the royalty, but also the common person. And it works very well.
The story is one that is interesting enough because it chooses a small focus -- the days leading up to the massacre. We get some idea of the politics of the time and how the people might have been feeling. We see some of the power struggle at the top and how it affects all those under it. I admit that I'm not strong on the history surrounding the events portrayed here, but the story made me genuinely interested to want to find out more. Which is high praise for a historical story.
The story is pretty much carried by Peter Perves as Stephen since the Doctor vanishes mid-way through episode one and doesn't crop up again until episode four. But he does a great job and really runs with it. There are some great moments when Stephen wonders if he has been abadoned in time and space and Purves does a marvelous job with them. Also doing a good job is Hartnell, who gets to play a dual role as the Doctor and the Abbott. Indeed, one of the things that drives the story is wondering if the Doctor is the Abbott and vice versa. Of course, since the Abbot gets killed, we can assume the Doctor isn't -- or can we? Looking back at this story through the prism of the McCoy era, we are left to wonder if this wasn't an early sign of the time's champion/manipulative Doctor that was yet to come. (I love it when you re-examine an old story in a new light). But whether or not that is true, all I can say is that Hartnell does a great job, creating two distinct characters.
But the real reason the story is successful is that it hinges a lot on the characters. There are some great moments in here for the regulars. I mentioned Stephen's concern that he is trapped in time and space. But there's also a long soliquoy by Hartnell at the thought of Stephen's departure. Indeed, the historical aspect of the story ends early in episode four and we're treated to some great scenery chewing by Hartnell and Purves. We got some echoes of The Aztecs as we see Stephen frustrated that he couldn't change history and his lashing out at the Doctor for not doing something. And then the soliquoy of the Doctor, wondering how he will travel through space and time alone is nicely done.
So, The Massacre is an unexpected surprise in the third season of Doctor Who. I must admit I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. It's one of the stories from the Hartnell era that has moved up on my wish list of stories I would like to see resurface.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 22/1/04
I've had the audio CD to The Massacre for a long time, but for some reason never got around to listening to it until now. I feel rather stupid for that, as it's every bit as good as its reputation, even as an audio soundtrack.
The soundtrack benefits from the fact that the 4 episodes are very talky, with lots of sitting around and plotting. Sadly, there are several bits that could use visualization, particularly Hartnell's facial expressions as the Abbot and the Massacre itself, which is about a minute of screaming and chaos. But overall, very little is missed that can't be imagined.
The writing is top notch, with each character getting some very nice development in amongst the plotting and planning. For the most part, the acting is up to the levels of the script. I felt the Hugenot side (Nicholas, Gaston, the Admiral) were merely good, but Marshal Tavarres, The Queen Mother and Henri were exceptional, managing to take their role and make it tand out. Oddly, the CD I have doesn't even credit the actors for Tavarres and Henri.
And then there's the regulars. Hartnell can sometimes be variable in later stories, but he's truly exceptional here. People discuss his Abbot, but I was even more impressed with his passionate, fiery Doctor, showing a lot more moxie than I'm used to. Tosh's speech is perfectly composed, but Hartnell makes it sound as if it was entirely his off-the-cuff ad lib.
I used to dislike Steven from what little I saw of him, but he's amazing here, carrying almost the entire story on his back. considering he has very little to do in it besides look earnest, get frustrated, and say "But that's the Doctor! a few dozen times, this is particularly noteworthy. (Purves always said he wishes his roles had more development, and while I think this is his best serial I have to agree with him).
And then there's Dodo, complete with the magical Cockney accent that vanishes once one leaves the Earth. She's hilarious, and quite pushy considering the variety of female companion we'd had before. The Doctor is delighted once she arrives - he gets great character development here, with Steven leaving almost terrifying him, and his reaction to Dodo is almost over the top in its relief.
I don't know if I'd recommend this as a starting place for someone new to Doctor Who, but if you have a friend who's never seen/heard the historicals this would be a great way to kick them off.
(Incidentally, I think this is the first time I've reviewed something that isn't a book...)
A Review by Brian May 11/9/06
The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve is one of the most tightly focused of the historical Doctor Who adventures, detailing a single event and following its unfolding over a period of four days. It's also one of the bleakest, but undoubtedly one of the best.
The story is well structured, with each episode representing one day. It's excellently written, with rich dialogue and well-crafted characters. Given its grim nature, there's very little humour, which is appropriate and quite respectful, as opposed to the awkward mix of frivolity and seriousness we saw in The Myth Makers. The idea to depict a relatively little-known event in history is good, although it does present a problem: it's not made clear until the final episode. When the Doctor learns of it he rushes back to the TARDIS, only fully explaining the incident after he and Steven have departed. There's a clear lack of tension if you don't know why he's hastening to leave. Perhaps the writer assumed that during the course of the story's transmission viewers would be rushing to the library to look up what it was all about? Maybe some did, but then again, perhaps nobody did. Of course, in hindsight it's gripping: the continual tolling of the tocsin and the safe passage to the TARDIS being blocked make for real "race against time" material. Superimposing sketches of the massacre over mock audio of the carnage would have created a haunting effect; it goes for well over a minute, emphasising the magnitude and bloodthirstiness of the events in a sobering way. (If you also want to benefit from hindsight, may I suggest you rent out the 1994 film La Reine Margot just to see how awful and bloody this event probably looked like, free of the budgetary and censorial restraints of a Sixties kids' TV show.)
Jackie Lane's rather underwhelming debut as Dodo aside, the cast are extremely good. Anne's West Country accent grates a little, but the characters follow the usual 1960s BBC pattern: Queen's English for nobles/middle classes, working class accents for the commoners, and given the proliferation of Cockney tones we hear among the soldiers and passers-by, Annette Robertson can be forgiven - even more so as she makes Anne such a sympathetic character. Peter Purves is given the lead role as the Doctor disappears and Steven is thrust into the proceedings, and he pulls it off with great finesse. He's never been better as the hopelessness and inevitability of the scenario take a considerable toll, and his anger at the Doctor's refusal to take Anne with them is emotionally compelling.
The Doctor having a double is a sci-fi cliche that's incorporated into the story quite well: we're not sure if the Abbot of Amboise is the Doctor or not; Tavannes's accusation against him: "that since you came, everything which had been so carefully planned has gone wrong" fuels the red herring, implying that he is the Doctor up to something. Indeed perhaps the only other disappointing aspect of the story is the lack of explanation the Doctor gives when he re-appears in the final episode. Where was he? But anyway, William Hartnell is remarkable as the Abbot, his performance being so un-Doctorish. It's a pity we can't watch it.
On that point, it's a pity we can't watch any of this story. Not a scrap of footage exists - not even any telesnaps. The whole lot's gone, so we have to rely on the soundtrack alone, but thankfully the audio conveys the story faithfully; it's easy to visualise and quite talky, so therefore more dialogue than action oriented. But that's cold comfort given the high quality of the production. You'd think at least one episode would have been held; my preference would have been the third, Priest of Death, as it features the court intrigue, a fine dramatic set piece in the attempted assassination of de Coligny, and above all Hartnell's aforementioned turn as the Abbot. But beggars can't be choosers...
As it's effectively a BBC costume drama, we can be assured that this story would have looked good. What we can glean from the photographs affirms this; there's a wonderful still of the Doctor in Preslin's shop - which I've only seen reprinted in Howe, Stammers and Walker's The Sixties - that attests to great design. All in all it's a real gem: a mature, tense and tragic reminder of religious intolerance and man's inhumanity to man. And the Doctor's soliloquy in the TARDIS at the end is real goose-bump telly! 9/10
Comme Ci, Comme Ca by Peter Niemeyer 26/9/08
A lot of the reviews for The Massacre have been glowing. This may have set up some false hope for me. I didn't think it was bad, but I was expecting spectacular, and in that sense I was disappointed.
My greatest criticism of The Massacre was that I just didn't find myself caring enough about the characters and events to find the story engaging. It reminded me of The Reign of Terror in that it discussed two groups at odds with each other, but no real discussion as to what the conflict was about. In this case, the heart of the disagreement was religious, but nobody went to any length to discuss why their own religion was superior or why the other religion was so intolerable. Stephen states that he's a Protestant (though perhaps this was a lie of convenience just to gain the trust of Gaston and company). I feel it would have been far more effective if Steven had been neither and had asked the locals to explain the two religions to him.
The plot also struck me as unextraordinary. Much of the story revolves around preventing the assassination of the Admiral. But I didn't feel a genuine sense or urgency. The plottings of Tlotoxl or King Richard's plans to marry off Joanna were far more compelling. Heck, I was more engaged with Za's quest for fire. When the Admiral does get shot, the characters' reaction is what I'd expect from a high school drama production. Doctor Who historicals have made me care before. But this one felt like they had filmed the initial script read-through.
I also found myself a bit perplexed by the Abbot of Amboise. He is the Doctor's double, but the plot makes very little use of this. If he had been simply similar in appearance to the Doctor, the script would gave required only a minor rewrite. I think William Hartnell did an admirable job in the role. (I had only his vocal performance to go on, but he clearly played it differently than he does the Doctor.) However, if so little is to be made of the two characters' appearance, then I would just as soon have given Hartnell a two-week vacation and cast someone else in the role of the Abbot.
The one place where the story did shine was the way in which Steven gets center stage. Like Barbara and Ian in the middle of The Keys of Marinus, it shows that the companions could be more than just foils to the Doctor. It's regrettable that this practice was discontinued once Troughton took over.
I hate to say it, but if we have to have stories missing from the Hartnell era, I'm not too terribly sad that this serial was among the missing.
One Thing I'd Do Differently: I would rewrite Dodo's introduction. It just seemed like such an obviously scripted introduction to a companion. How convenient that Dodo had nobody who would miss her. How convenient that the oncoming police would necessitate a rapid departure. Why not just have the Doctor say "My, my, we could use a new young girl for a companion... preferably one who can get through 9 episodes without getting herself killed."
One Thing I Wouldn't Touch: Steven's temporary departure from the TARDIS at the end of episode 4. It gave an air of realism by allowing him to express his objections to the Doctor's philosophies, and it gave the Doctor a chance to reflect on his actions and his departed companions.
Would I Like To Watch This Serial Again: No
A Review by Daniel Saunders 14/3/09
It seems to be traditional to start any review of The Massacre (or The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, which is historically inaccurate (the massacre took place on Saint Bartholomew's Day), but is the title on the camera scripts) by stating that the reviewer knows nothing of the period in question, before going on to praise the story's accuracy. I must differ in both respects. While hardly an expert, I do have a little knowledge of the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, not to mention a couple of books close at hand to check my dim memories of General History III: 1400-1650.
The French Wars of Religion were a very complex mixture of religion, court politics (Protestantism had a strong following among the nobility, as well as in the towns, but little elsewhere) and international politics (modern day France was a patchwork of states at the time). No one was clearly "good" or "bad" and the situation in The Massacre is simplified for dramatic purposes. Coligny had been implicated in various plots, including the assassination of the Duke of Guise (although this accusation came from a confession obtained under torture). Furthermore, while the massacre left around 11,000 Protestants dead, it did not end Protestantism in France, nor did it herald its suppression. In 1589, Henry of Navarre-Bourbon, frequently referred to in these episodes but never seen, became Henry IV of France, returning to the Catholic Church for political reasons in 1593 and, in 1598, passing the Edict of Nantes, which protected French Protestantism for nearly a century before Louis XIV revoked it and expelled the Huguenots in 1685.
Naturally, any historical drama must simplify events, to help the audience follow the plot as well as for aesthetic reasons, but this story has such a reputation for being one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the historicals, that I felt the matter needed stressing.
On to what is actually on screen - and here we hit another problem. Of all the missing stories, this is the one I find hardest to follow. Several actors have very similar voices, which is not a problem on television, but very confusing on audio. Much of the action is hard to follow, especially regarding where people are and what exactly they are doing. It is also hard to tell how effective was the use of contemporary woodcuts, dubbed with screams, to show the actual massacre.
This was the first of the audio releases where the linking narration was scripted by fans (rather than by John Nathan-Turner or Eric Saward), and while things are better than in those earlier releases, lessons were clearly still being learnt about how to carry out this (admittedly rather peculiar) task. To be fair, the story suffers from a lack of visual material: no surviving episodes, no clips, no telesnaps and, judging by what I have seen published, very few photographs. Incidentally, several actors, including Leonard Sachs and Andre Morell, are not credited on the tape sleeve, a rather less forgivable error.
The plot itself suffers from one huge hole, namely the Doctor's role in events. If the Doctor wasn't pretending to be the Abbot for half the story, where was he? In retrospect, we can assume he chanced upon an alien invasion to quickly defeat or some such, but it is hard to think of an explanation that fits in context. It could be a detail lost in all the rewrites. John Lucarroti's novelization, based on his original scripts, has the Doctor playing a double role throughout; the impracticality of achieving this with the resources available, and perhaps also the inappropriately light-hearted tone, prompted Donald Tosh to rewrite the entire script. Nevertheless, Tosh's script tries hard to make the audience believe the Abbot is, or at least might be, the Doctor. In episode one, the Doctor is thinking of visiting the Abbot of Amboise to help Preslin. When he leaves Preslin, he has a purpose, and Preslin wishes him luck with it. Episode three is built on the idea that he is disguised as the Abbot (the Abbot is blamed for the failure of the assassination, and the cliffhanger involves Steven thinking he has found the Doctor's corpse). This is not a minor detail, and it is really surprising that it was not dealt with, not even with a throwaway line about the Doctor being imprisoned for breaking the curfew, for example.
The closing scene is also rather confused, not to mention jarring. After Steven's emotional departure and the Doctor's moving speech about the nature of history and his isolation, it all goes horribly wrong as Dodo storms in, accepts the dimensional oddities of the TARDIS (not to mention its time/space-travelling nature) without a second thought, Steven returns and everyone hurriedly departs. On audio, it is hard to tell quite how Dodo ended up staying on board. It could have been a mistake, but the dialogue suggests the Doctor took her away deliberately, which makes his leaving Anne in Paris seem rather callous. It is possible that he is worried about a second pre-modern companion after the death of Katarina in The Daleks' Master Plan, but his main fear seems to be changing history, without quite making clear how he knows that Anne was supposed to remain in Paris (unlike Vicki, who he happily left at the fall of Troy). It may be significant that Vicki is the only companion (excluding Susan) who actually chose to travel with the Doctor up to this point, suggesting that the Doctor may be breaking the laws of time travel by taking any human passengers, but this is contradicted by his willingness to let Dodo travel with him (and is he really naive enough to believe a teenager who says her guardian wouldn't care if she was dead?).
I have spent nearly a thousand words writing mainly about historical accuracy and two plot details. This is perhaps indicative of the problem I have with this story: I find it very difficult to get a grip on it, and I cannot work out if this is intentional, a happy accident, or the product of the destruction of so much of the story. There is no denying that, despite the points I have raised, this is an excellent story. The cast are all perfect, and what visual references we have indicate that the designers were up to their usual high standards. The script, despite some minor quibbles, is very accurate for the average historical fiction and holds together well dramatically. The characterisation is brilliant and the world of sixteenth-century France is built with remarkable economy, despite some obvious info-dumping in the early episodes. These are real people arguing about issues that matter to them, and doing so in a believable way. No one is just "evil", not even in the way that Tlotoxl was in The Aztecs. There is even a certain dark humour, both in the character of the bored, petulant, childish king, and in the fact that the failure of the Catholic plans in the first three episodes seems to be due to the Doctor impersonating the Abbot, but was all down to coincidence and chance - not that that saves the life of the Abbot, Coligny or anyone else. The serial certainly deserves praise for handling such sensitive subject matter without trying to force a contemporary allegory or moral out of it, although that may have been easier in 1966 than it would be now.
That, in many ways, is the problem. The Massacre feels so aloof, so remote, both from the rest of Doctor Who and from almost everything else on television, now and in the past, that it is hard to get a hold on it. It is rather like one of Channel Four's political docudramas, only set four hundred years ago, and with Steven Taylor from popular family adventure series Doctor Who included due to some bizarre scripting error. I'm very grateful they made it, even if I'm not quite sure why - and I suspect that may have been the effect Donald Tosh and John Wiles were aiming for.
"Shadows where there is no sun" by Neil Clarke 30/12/11
When considering the sixties, people tend to focus on the stories most obviously comparable to the series at large (ie, the 'spacey' stories; anything with Daleks). While this is understandable, it does limit appreciation for this period, because it's those stories that can't help but be dated by comparison to subsequent eras. Therefore, the stories which take approaches unique to the period tend to get overlooked - tragically, as a story like The Massacre shows they can still work brilliantly on their own terms.
Given its attendant 'best story ever!' hype, I always wanted The Massacre to be amazing, and so was perhaps understandably slightly disappointed on my first listen - exactly because it's one of the type of stories that don't have any equivalents outside of the sixties (or even outside Hartnell's era): straight, no-holds-barred historical drama. Also, I can't quite get a handle on this story through its soundtrack alone, perhaps because the only roughly analogous stories feature the more familiar Ian and Babs, whereas season three is a more obscure period. As such, it feels less like Doctor Who than it would with more highly-regarded companions. (The lack of photographs doesn't help, either.)
However, having listened to it for a second time, I am more and more impressed. A high-minded, Doctor-lite, religious historical from the sixties... I can see why people pump for a Dalek invasion over that; this should be turgid and worthy, whereas actually it's the other way round. This is a tight, adult piece of drama. It's so strange that this is from the same overall series as, say... Gridlock or Four to Doomsday - or even from the same season as basic genre pulp like Galaxy 4 or The Ark.
It's so surprising that the BBC was permissive enough forty-four years ago to broadcast a story with religious content which would today be deemed potentially inflammatory; even an episode called 'War of God' would be too strong these days. It'd be like an Eleventh Doctor story dealing with fundamentalist Islam. I do love that 'silly,' 'childish' DW has dealt with such a subject, and with total conviction - and in the sixties, a period paradoxically humoured as being twee and harmless, but which contained the most adult, gruelling, and bleak stories of the series' run.
I know next to nothing of this historical period (which I suppose can be seen as a vindication for the show's early educational remit...), but the use of a detailed historical period, rather than the historical window-dressing of something like The Pandorica Opens (much as I love it) is one of this story's triumphs. The sheer amount of detail and apparent realism is massively impressive, and has the kind of built-in detail and richness that an entirely fictionalised context can never emulate. The performances also duly rise to the occasion. I adore The Myth Makers, the preceding historical, and obviously part of the joke there is its stiff received pronunciation, but there is nothing so mannered here; in fact, it's deeply impressive how wildly different The Massacre is tonally, and how compellingly naturalistic.
I even love the relative incongruity (within Doctor Who) of the range of Parisian streets, and French names (Roger Colbert, Admiral de Coligny, Abbot of Amboise, Catherine de Medici) lend power and veracity to the plot. The large cast of characters with varied, complex motives outdoes anything sci-fi or contemporary-set stories could hope for, and is extremely compelling; for example, in the loaded menace of the conversation between Tavannes and de Coligny. It's also laudably ambiguous, with the distinction of 'goodies' and 'baddies' being largely irrelevant; the story is resolutely un-melodramatic. (Even Nicholas - playing a part you'd expect to be sympathetic - is suspicious and untrusting of our sympathetic hero, Steven.)
The game-raising nature of the script extends to the regulars: Steven may not be a desperately interesting or well-developed character, but the understated nuances of Peter Purves' performance are truly striking, and the part of the naif is well suited to him. His increasing anguish is very successful, in that the more out of his depth, the more appealing he gets.
In episode one, the Doctor is also particularly charming in his interest in Preslin's germ research; I like that the story gives him time to track someone down purely on the basis of an interest in their work. Even in such relatively simple scenes, Hartnell's competence as an actor particularly struck me, in contrast to his perceived reputation, in that he really brings alive relatively undemanding dialogue. (Perhaps because we aren't spoiled with interviews or behind the scenes footage, more than any other incumbent Hartnell simply is the Doctor, rather than an actor playing a part, so I forget he's even acting at all.)
Hartnell's dual performance is one of the elements of this production that seemed like a bit of a letdown first time round, not seeming as radical as it is often claimed to be; that is, until you realise it actually is entirely "hmm"-free. Incidentally, it's surprising how notably unimportant the device of the Doctor's double is (the Abbot isn't even the top dog like Salamander), only really functioning to further destabilise Steven's situation.
The idea of isolating a single story out of two-hundred plus as the 'best' is patently absurd, but the more this story sinks in, the more appreciation I have for the fact that people actually vindicated the high-mindedness of this story. Even on this re-listen, The Massacre didn't blow me away in the event, but then, crowd-pleasing isn't its style (once again, stand up Dalek Invasion of Earth, and show where that approach got you...), and it's all the better for that.
The fact that such an accomplished - and uncompromised - story exists within the series' canon is staggering, and quite wonderful. Even generally comparable dramatic historicals like The Aztecs or The Crusade have more action-adventure content; this is like Doctor Who has temporarily collided with a historical drama, and is elevated by the depth and detail of its real-life machinations and players. A worthy historical-cum-period political thriller, with a double and an astronaut thrown in; I'm not quite sure how those elements gel, but they do.
It's a laudable story which is entirely worthy of being so acclaimed, even if its relative complexity doesn't translate so well to audio (despite its 'talkiness'), as in more straight-forward stories of which The Smugglers is a good example.
It goes without saying then that it's a tragedy this is a story we'll never get to actually watch. I've heard that the soundtrack of the massacre itself was played over woodcuts on-screen, which particularly intrigues me - one of the rare but brilliantly innovative devices that were only ever attempted in the sixties. Considering similar moments of visual brio in films like Lady Snowblood, or the 'Hoichi the Earless' section of Japanese portmanteau Kwaidan, I can only imagine this might have been as effective as The Chase's La Jetée-style closing photomontage. Similarly, I have absolute admiration for the brave - and deceptively simplistic - stylistic device of using regional British accents to suggest different classes in sixteenth century France (a device reused recently in Vincent and the Doctor).
As an aside, I coincidently saw the 1994 film of Dumas' La Reine Margot soon after listening to this soundtrack, which approaches the events surrounding the massacre in a rather different way; all boisterous sensuality and sumptuous violence. In fact, though decent enough for a mainstream French film, it's almost too sumptuous, in a rugged, grimy-but-sexy kind of way. Considering how radically different these two interpretations are, especially since The Massacre is audio-only, so we're effectively talking different media; as a kids' programme/family show, Doctor Who's take compares surprisingly well with the more obviously 'adult' expensive, sexual, violent feature film.
It's not very often that Doctor Who is directly comparable to anything else - which, naturally, is a large part of the appeal - but I think I actually prefer The Massacre's taught, controlled political thriller to Le Reine Margot's slightly overplayed sexuality. The Massacre may be more formalised in its performances, but it works as a kind of shorthand for a historical setting.
I suppose it's perverse to pump for the recording of an otherwise-wiped historical story from a sixties sci-fi show, over a feature film with a budget of millions, but then... I'm a Doctor Who fan. That says it all, really, doesn't it?
"Heresy can have no innocence" by Hugh Sturgess 23/3/13
When Doctor Who stories are lost, their reputation tends to improve. The Celestial Toymaker and Tomb of the Cybermen were regarded as the Doctor Who fan's Ark of the Covenant, awesomely powerful artefacts sculpted from the quintessence itself, able to kill their detractors, heal their supporters and reverse the seven signs of aging at a touch. Then people discovered them and their reputation has done nothing but plunge. In fairness, Tomb is a charming romp, with some surprisingly high production values and some great material for the regulars, but people were expecting an evil older than time itself, and they got '60s television. The Massacre's reputation, on the other hand, seems to have survived. The Discontinuity Guide declares it to be probably the best Doctor Who story ever, and plenty of people seem to agree. The reviews above are glowing with praise for the story.
To provide some variety, this review will not.
I tried my hardest, I promise. I didn't want to not adore it. I listened to the audio reconstruction multiple times to prove that I wasn't just in a bad mood or something, but it didn't help. I had the same general feeling the third time around as the first. My feelings were the same, but it did help me define this story's problem (or problems). Since I find the lavish praise heaped on it bewildering, I shall voice no opinion as to the reason for the disagreement, so you can take this review as the work of the devil's advocate, and I'm more than willing to represent the Evil One pro bono.
What everyone agrees is that The Massacre is a unique Doctor Who story. Not least for the Doctor's absence from events, but also for the subject matter. A bloodthirsty pogrom against France's Protestant population during the Wars of Religion is hardly on the level of the Great Fire of Rome or Marco Polo. Most adults in 1965 wouldn't have known about it, let alone children. That's not a problem, of course, since there's just as much mileage, if not more, in exploring obscure episodes of history than headline grabbers everyone knows about. But surely the purpose of exploring such a little-known event, and such a horrific one at that, would be to tell the audience about spirit of those times, the issues that divided France and Christendom as a whole. Perhaps, in a story set during the French Wars of Religion, you might want to explain the difference between Catholics and Protestants?
It sounds ridiculous, but there are plenty of people who would be shaky on why Gaston has a spit-take when Simon Duval calls on him to celebrate their Catholic queen, or exactly who the Huguenots are. In the 1960s, religion would have been more at the forefront of Britons' lives, but would children grasp the significance of mocking references to "rigid Catholic dogma" or Tavannes's acid description of the Huguenots as "the free-thinkers"? I think not. With Protestantism in England represented by the no-less-dogmatic Anglican Church, I would wager a number of adults wouldn't have either.
Occasionally, this is held to be a sign of the story's "sophistication". That is, that the authors must have been producing something of high quality if it assumes detailed knowledge of the Reformation and its importance. But in any other circumstances this would be widely held to be a flaw rather than an asset. Think of how stories such as Attack of the Cybermen are criticised for assuming detailed knowledge of the history of the series, and ponder that it is easier to understand that story without having seen The Tenth Planet than it is to understand this story without reading the Reader's Digest History of Europe. This story reduces the "War of God" to a conversation in a pub and simply assumes that its audience will have a stake in it, but a story has to earn that. I don't mean it should prostitute itself to get an audience, but if we substituted "Zzarb" and "Floiber" for every instance of "Catholic" and "Protestant" in Lucarotti's script and set it on an alien planet, this story's reputation would be loitering down with The Savages. It even superficially resembles The Savages, being about two mutually antagonistic factions, ending in an orgy of destruction (though here it's a bad thing), and giving Hartnell a holiday via a double-trouble plot device. The two sides are indistinguishable, with no discernible motivations or ideology, and there is no reason to champion one over the other. The Massacre is basically a Two Alien Factions story in period costume.
This story needed to be about something, not just the story of something. The authors had a perfect opportunity to do this. Steven knows nothing of this time period, and is dumped right in the middle of things in the tavern. He evidently doesn't know the difference between the Catholics and the Protestants (for those who believe he reveals himself to be a Protestant, listen to his "oh, yes" reply to Gaston's inquiry again and tell me he even knows what he's saying). In his era, there probably aren't any Catholics or Protestants anymore. This was a perfect opening to tell the audience about the issues at stake at the time. Maybe Steven could have triggered a lengthy sermon on the benefits of Protestantism by Gaston, or witnessed a Huguenot religious meeting? Ditto for the Catholics. The differing factions are personalised, but their beliefs aren't. Nothing underlines the senselessness of the atrocity more than the knowledge that it was because BOTH sides were Christians, and yet the Queen Mother's orchestration of the Massacre ultimately comes across as just an act of spite.
The second problem is the absence of the protagonists. Obviously, the Doctor pisses off at the beginning of the story and only comes back at the end, but what's less appreciated is how Steven is effectively absent from the story too. Surely, he's on screen a lot, and he speaks a lot. But he has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot. The plot is happening in the Abbot's house and in the Louvre, and Steven only spends five minutes in the former and never goes anywhere near the latter. He knows nothing about Tavannes, the Queen Mother or the King. He never seems to meet even Admiral de Coligny. Everything important in the story happens when Steven is offscreen. His scenes are the televisual equivalent of being told that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Other historical stories have a plot - the protagonists have clear objectives that are obstructed by incidents and antagonists - but in The Massacre Steven simply commutes between two equally safe locations and he is hustled out of the story altogether before the event the story is ultimately about occurs. This story is four episodes of build-up to an event we never see.
Everything of significance happens at court and when de Coligny is (not quite) assassinated. Thus we have the largest amount of padding in Doctor Who history: every scene featuring the Doctor or Steven is superfluous. What Steven gets up to isn't really worth examination. There's no jeopardy, most of his time being spent chatting to the Huguenots and looking for the Doctor. Whenever danger threatens - going to the Abbot's house, the mob, etc - he runs away. "What happened to the Doctor?" is a good thread that they could have run with, maybe drawing attention away from the white-elephant of the Massacre itself, but it's buried down in the mix. The script tries to inject some excitement with Gaston's suspicion of Steven, but as Steven himself points out, would a spy from the Abbot really say "look, there's my boss!" the instant he saw him? This serves to make Gaston look like an idiot, a prehistoric iteration of the Hot-Headed Alien Rebel, to the degree that you expect him to take out Tavannes and the Queen Mother in a noble self-sacrifice at the climax, prompting the Doctor and Steven to ruefully concede that they misjudged him on their way back to the TARDIS. Every beat of the Huguenots' characterisation is predictable, and the story works to put them and Steven out of the way as much as possible. Rather than the ultimate act of sophistication in Doctor Who, this story feels faintly embarrassed by its pedigree, deleting its main characters but substituting nothing in their place.
What I'm trying to get at is the sense of... stereotype this story evinces. Not in the characters or the plot, but in that it is virtually proof of the 1970s/80s myth that historicals were boring and got canned because no one watched them. We have all the elements of the cliche: obscure history presented in an arid, didactic fashion; the regulars thrust into the middle of things and split up as quickly as possible; lots of talking in sub-Shakespearean dialogue; no action; Hartnell taking a week or two off; and a final run back to the TARDIS. The Massacre isn't as tedious as that description makes out, but it is as dry. Despite its unique structure, it comes across as run-of-the-mill. Nothing of any real consequence happens to the regulars. A French admiral who never meets the Doctor or Steven gets shot in a bungled assassination. Who cares? For a story set in such vicious times and about such a bloodthirsty event, it seems strangely bloodless.
The confusion between the Abbot of Amboise and the Doctor is a bizarrely pointless plot element. Beyond the enormity of the prospect of the old man's corpse sprawled in the gutter, there's no real purpose to the substitution. Contrary to the ingenuous opinion of Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood in About Time, no one at the time would have thought the Doctor really had been done to death because of a misunderstanding in sixteen-century Paris, after two weeks off-screen. Hartnell is given what amounts to two weeks off, making it all the stranger. They give the lead actor two roles so he can go on holiday? Fans versed in other "twin" plots (Salamander, Nyssa 'n' Ann, etc) expect some kind of pay-off in which the Doctor impersonates the Abbot (he does this in Lucarotti's wildly different novelisation), but of course this would mean repeating the Death of Doctor Who episode from The Chase, which would be... unwise, at best. I also don't think the Abbot is a very good villain, which goes against the adoration Hartnell receives for his performance as the Abbot by writers as diverse as Paul Cornell and Miles 'n' Wood. The Abbot's an idiot who fails at everything, paling before Tavannes's refined ruthlessness. I don't think it's a very good performance; Hartnell's delivery of his very first line ("Fetch her tomorrow! Bring her to me!") must be heard to be believed, and for the rest of the story he simply delivers the lines convincingly and accurately, but without any of the flourishes or inspiration that make his Doctor such a delight. Indeed, his "dark Doctor" performance of the early days was much, much more scary than the Abbot, and would have made the Abbot much more eerie. Hartnell was very sick by this stage, so I wonder whether he just didn't have it in him anymore.
And finally, where exactly did the Doctor go? He's obviously off on a mission, but we never learn anything about this, and the Doctor never thinks to let Steven know where he was. This is so bizarre that it's actually mysterious. Move over, McCoy, the Doctor is never more distant and enigmatic than he is here. It's entirely unintentional and looks for all the world like the work of a lazy script-editor, but that's the effect nonetheless.
Despite disagreeing forcefully with the lavish praise heaped on this story, I do agree with fellow reviewers on one point: the ending with Dodo sucks elephants' cocks. It's incomprehensibly bad, feeling more like a rough draft than something anyone thought was of broadcast standard. In her first five minutes alone, Dodo is made to look dumb, incurious, small-minded and conceited: she walks into a small box and finds a gigantic control room within, and all she does is ask where the telephone is? This is Sarah Palinesque in its aggressive and almost absurdist stupidity. It's not even shock: she doesn't seem remotely surprised that the laws of physics have been violated, only that the promised telephone is nowhere to be found. Steven's abandonment of the Doctor is picked up and dropped, when some residual distrust of him in the following episode would have worked wonders. This smacks more of Innes Lloyd's work than the more mature but impotent John Wiles: the only thing that equals Dodo's arrival in terms of its contempt for the character and the audience... is her departure.
Is it the greatest Doctor Who story ever? Of course not. It's decent and it's intelligent, but make no mistake: if this wasn't about real history, it would barely rate a mention.
"God had very little to do with it!" by Jason A. Miller 28/3/13
I don't often respond to other reviews on the Doctor Who Ratings Guide, but Hugh Sturgess' recent contrarian take on The Massacre forced me to take action. Very wordy action; I've requested permission from Robert to do to the usual Ratings Guide word limit what Paul Jerricho did to dramatic acting in The Five Doctors. While I concede that Mr. Sturgess has correctly pointed out a couple of stumbling blocks to appreciating the story (the relative obscurity of the event in question, even if Dumas did get a novel out of it; Hartnell's misunderstood role as the Abbot)... this is still one monumental story, and must be respected as such. It takes risks and stunning misdirections, and will leave you gasping for air at the end. It truly is in a class by itself.
I've made several attempts to experience The Massacre, but the story never stayed in my head before. You can't enjoy it just as an audio; the script is so talky that it's quite difficult to tell who's who. You can't enjoy it just reading the transcript; the dialogue is superb, but flat without actors to bring it to life. You can't enjoy it just as a book; John Lucarotti's novelization digresses so far from the script that they can hardly even be considered the same story. But quite apart from all that, perhaps my biggest problem was that I could never tell the Catholics from the Protestants. This is not Thunderball, where opposing sides conveniently wear different-colored wetsuits when waging their balletic undersea fight. Which character is Gaston? Who's Roger? Why does the German character have the same accent as all the French ones? It doesn't help that I'm an American Jew and thus have no frame of reference for Protestants as an oppressed but noble minority.
I turned to the Loose Cannon reconstruction to help me comprehend of all this at last. At first, their photo composites did little to help. It was jarring at first to see the friendly face of Chris Tranchell -- hey, it's Commander Andred! -- superimposed on the body of Roger Colbert, sniveling Catholic dogsbody. Certain frames of Emma Thompson's dad appear to have a beard PhotoShopped on. I didn't recognize actor David Weston, here playing German Protestant secretary Nicholas Muss, without his leonine makeup from Warriors' Gate. Without John Cura's telesnaps, the Loose Cannon photos don't really help to advance the plot.
If the pictures didn't help, neither does collective fan wisdom. We have all been told that William Hartnell's performance as the Abbot of Amboise, one of the story's villain, is note-perfect and chilling. Well, it isn't. In Part One, the Doctor disappears on a secret errand and for the cliffhanger returns in the body of the evil Catholic priest. Hartnell delivers his two short lines as the Abbot with a jarring high-pitched French accent (which he loses in Part Three). And that's the high point of his dual role.
Adding to my discomfiture is that title, War of God, coming just the week after the shattering events of The Destruction of Time. It's easy to see why Steven is so disoriented. He tries to pay for one glass of wine with a large gold coin and can't distinguish Catholics from Protestants either. He refers to having just come from Egypt, but this is jarring, as it's hard to equate the frosty politics of this episode with Hartnell and Peter Butterworth clowning around the Great Pyramid just a few weeks before. With the Catholic manhunt for Protestant serving girl Anne Chaplet being the only plot engine for the first episode, there's an air of quiet menace, but no spectacle. Today, Part One of The Massacre would be condensed into a 2-minute cold open, with the Doctor in a fez and Amy's micro-minis scandalizing the pious.
Now, I love Steven Taylor, and for a year in the late '90s I maintained a webpage devoted to the character, which was unfortunately shown to Peter Purves years after I'd stopped updating it. However. It's almost a given today that when you isolate the companion they'll do Doctor-ish things, foment their own revolution, take over the planet. Steven does none of these things. The Massacre shows what would really happen if one of us were dropped on our own into the past: we'd barely stay alive. As the de facto lead, in Hartnell's absence, Steven is remarkably inept; he spends most of the story lurking in shadows. He refuses a swordfight with Emma Thompson's dad, can't deliver the one important bit of information he's accidentally obtained, needs a tour guide not once but twice to find the same address, and can't pronounce "apothecary". Part Three actually ends with Steven being chased by a bloodthirsty Catholic mob, out for his Protestant blood. When the Doctor sends Anne to her likely doom with the Massacre just minutes away, Steven doesn't protest until it's far too late. While Purves is masterful with this material, the role itself is a far cry from today's companion. This Steven Taylor would never be able to blow up the Cyber fleet, and then ask the survivors if they'd like him to repeat the question.
Part Two, The Sea Beggar, is saddled with the most ambiguous episode title ever. With Hartnell gone on vacation that week, and Steven absent from half the scenes, the exposition is delivered entirely by guest actors -- including the very low-key cliffhanger, in which we learn the identity of a historical Protestant official who's about to be assassinated. The centerpiece of Part Three, Priest of Death, is political wrangling at the court of King Charles IX, characterized by weighty dialogue like "Kings are recognized only by the power they wield." Charles is a dissociated brat more interested in tennis than in governance (but he's not consumptive here; that bit of historical fact is restored for the novelization). When the Protestant Admiral de Coligny is shot, on orders of the Catholic Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, Charles turns on her; their fight in the closing moments is more compelling than anything else in the episode..
Hartnell, who according to fan reputation was supposedly so masterful as the Abbot, isn't in Part Two at all and has just two scenes in Part Three before being murdered. This means that Hartnell has less than 100 words to speak as the Abbot in the entire story; the character can't do anything right, either, and is executed by his own staff. Everyone knows that real villains die in Part Four, like Soldeed or Linx or Monarch. Villains who die in Part Three are relegated to the duped-sidekick villain of history's rubbish bin, like Ringway or Count Federico. Put the Abbot in that sad latter category and forget everything you've been told about Hartnell in the role. So I agree with Mr. Sturgess about Hartnell, but I don't think this is a strike against the story. Having the Doctor play an inept villain is a brilliant play on the audience's expectations, and considering the myth continuing to spread about how effective Hartnell is as the Abbot, clearly we are still being played, nearly 50 years later.
Even with the Abbot dead, the first 16 minutes of Part Four, Bell of Doom are terrifying, first with more meaty dialogue about unleashing the wolves of Paris, and heresy having no innocents, and then a full minute of the sounds of burning and violence to denote the actual massacre. This is the Doctor's greatest defeat, right here, even counting The Sound of Drums (which at least gave us the courtesy of a reset button in the next story) or A Good Man Goes To War (where, in spite of River's warning, the Doctor never falls so far as we were led to believe). When he finally realizes the Massacre's on -- he flees. He sends Anne Chaplet to a dubious fate, doesn't explain anything to Steven... and takes off in the TARDIS before the massacre begins. That's it. No heroics. No saving of one man as in The Aztecs, or one family as in The Fires of Pompeii. He just... leaves. We've never seen the Doctor this scared before and won't see him this scared again, ever, not even 48 years later. All the Protestants die. Nicholas Muss, dead. Emma Thompson's dad, dead. Admiral de Coligny, see you in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. De Teligny (Michael Bilton), as dead as he'll be in Pyramids of Mars several seasons later. 1572, Sarah, if you want to get off.
The final 10 minutes, as scripted by Donald Tosh, flip the horror around. The start is intense, yes; Steven tells the Doctor off and walks out of the TARDIS, and the Doctor delivers his justifiably famous soliloquy. But then Dodo shows up with her soon-to-vanish Mancunian accent, saying that a little boy's been hurt and needs the police; then Steven reappears in a dreadful hurry, and the Doctor dematerializes without even seeing if that little boy's going to be all right. Only when the TARDIS is in flight do we learn that Dodo is a Chaplet and thus Anne's possible descendant... bizarre, bizarre, bizarre. Rob Shearman in Running Through Corridors posits this is Tosh flipping off the series on his way out the door, and he's almost certainly right.
What else is odd? No cliffhanger reprises, for one thing.. There's even a rare in-joke in the final moments, when the Doctor notes Dodo's resemblance to Susan, perhaps an open acknowledgment that Jackie Lane was up for the role in Susan in the first place...
With Hartnell out, at least the guest cast was brilliant. Bilton, Weston, Leonard Sachs (de Coligny)... we'll see all these actors on the show again. Emma Thompson's dad is in it, did I mention? Professor Quatermass himself (Andre Morell) plays a conniving Catholic, but is so good at the role that it's hard to root against him. Stanley Kubrick cast Morell as another oily, untrustworthy court official in Barry Lyndon a decade later. Surely one of Who's least-known great-actor performances, Andre Morell. Enjoy him, if you can.
So, now I finally know what happened in The Massacre. This story is as gruesome as all hell, Hartnell's in it for maybe 20 minutes tops and although Peter Purves is brilliant, Steven Taylor is simply a failure as a leader of men. Doctor Who will never get this downbeat again, not even in The War Games or The Caves of Androzani. It's a tremendously affecting story and deserves its place as one of the greats. But you will never want to see another story like it. Can I have back my Monoids and my Clantons and Professor Zaroff now? Make it funny again? Thank you.
The Last Great Historical by Matthew Kresal 16/2/16
For fans, the fact that so much of 1960s Doctor Who is missing is a sad fact. Those of us who are fans of the classic series each have stories that we very much want to see: Marco Polo, The Evil of the Daleks, Fury From the Deep and so forth. Yet for me, sitting here in the late summer of 2015, there is one story more than any other missing story that I really want to see. It's a story that we have so little left of: The Massacre aka The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Eve.
Doctor Who began in 1963 as a semi-educational science-fiction series that was meant to bounce back and forth between the more science-fiction-heavy stories and the more educational historical stories. By the time The Massacre aired in February 1966, that formula had about run its course. The success of the various Dalek stories and stories like The Web Planet in the ratings had all but guaranteed that the historical stories, with their lower ratings and audience appreciation figures, would soon be a thing of the past. Behind the scenes changes with producers and script editors coming and going were guaranteeing that as well, especially with this story where the writer all but took his name off of it due to changes made to get into production.
Yet looking (or rather listening to the story), those cracks are hard to see (hear). Scriptwise, despite what appears to be heavy re-writing done by script editor Donald Tosh, the script is arguably the strongest story of the Hartnell era. It doesn't really fit into the established historical story formula that John Lucarotti himself had established in stories like The Aztecs less than two years earlier in that it isn't about trying to get back into the TARDIS. What starts as a simple arrival and a brief stopover turns into something else entirely as Peter Purves' Steven Taylor finds himself lost and alone in 1572 Paris in the midst of political and religious turmoil.
Indeed it's a story unlike almost any other in the series, both old and new. There's a sense of grim inevitability to it that is rarely found in the series though Inferno from 1970 comes to mind. Both are stories that see the lead character trapped in a world where they have little hope of escape, facing people who don't believe them with events eventually leading to a catastrophic outcome. The only difference is that The Massacre finds the companion facing monsters who are all too human. The villains of The Massacre aren't aliens or mutated humans; they're driven by fanaticism and the belief that they are doing the right thing. It's a tale as old as history and one that continues to play out again and again even today.
What makes the story even more remarkable is the Doctor isn't really the lead character in the story. That role is handed over to Steven Taylor, a character who started out as an effectively thick and comic character when first introduced. In this story and the one before it, both character and performer came into their own. Purves is utterly believable as a man lost in time, an "innocent abroad" who wanders into a dangerous situation that he knows little about and that could potentially be fatal at any moment. The story, and Purves' performance, seem to remind us that traveling with the Doctor is a dangerous affair and the Doctor might not always be there to save you.
All round, the performances of the story seem pretty solid. Purves might be the lead but he's surrounded by a strong cast. There's William Hartnell playing a dual role as the Doctor in the book-ending episodes and the Abbot of Amboise in the others. While Hartnell's Abbot isn't as incredibly different a performance as Patrick Troughton's in The Enemy of the World, there's still a sinister quality to it as it lacks all the charm and mannerisms of the First Doctor. There's none of the giggles, "hmm" or "my boy" to be heard here. We might not be able to see it but with the audio alone there's a notable difference in the performance that makes it all the more painful that we can't see it.
Indeed, there's a remarkable scene between the two in the final episode. Lasting the better part of nine minutes, the scene in the TARDIS between the two where the Doctor relates the events that unfolded after they left and Steven effectively gives him a verbal dressing down for leaving a young woman he's befriended behind to face potential death in the titular massacre is one of the most remarkable scenes in all of Doctor Who. It pre-echoes the scene between the Eleventh Doctor and Rory in The Girl Who Waited nearly a half-century later when the Doctor forces Rory to decide which Amy he will save and Rory accuses him of making him be the Doctor. In The Massacre, Steven and the Doctor both are forced to confront the consequences of their adventures with Steven deciding he's had enough. It could have been a fine exit scene for Steven, especially followed by the soliloquy that Hartnell beautifully delivers after it. Instead, the scene is undermined somewhat by what feels like a tacked-on happy ending that introduces a new companion and reunites the Doctor and Steven after a brief parting. Despite that, it remains a remarkable scene and a rare one.
Then there's the supporting cast which is almost a Who's Who of Britain's top character talent of the time. There's Andre Morrel, perhaps the definitive screen version of Nigel Kneale's Professor Bernard Quatermass, playing Marshal Tavannes who brings a sense of authority and respect to the role and never lets him be an outright villain but gives the sense of someone who is respectable but somehow still sinister. There's Leonard Sachs as Admiral de Coligny, who is the opposite of Tavannes: a respectable man seeking to do the right thing and who will be at the heart of the tragedy that will ultimately unfold. There are also strong supporting performances from Eric Thompson, Joan Young and Annette Robertson, with the latter becoming the emotional focal point on which the lengthy and moving final scene of the story revolves around.
Looking back on it, The Massacre is admittedly a hard story to judge. It's a historical story, which means that a lot of the story's appeal, at least on a visual level, would be its sets and costumes. Time in this regard has not been kind to the story, as all four episodes of the story have been lost to us. Nor do we have telesnaps or a wealth of behind-the-scenes images as is the case with stories like Marco Polo. We have little to judge the visuals of the story by or to reconstruct it from, something that makes the efforts of groups like Loose Cannon all the more remarkable. Perhaps that lets us give it qualities it never had, but let's not forget that costume drama has always been a forte of the BBC. Paddy Russell, who directed this story, has also been good at getting strong performances from her actors and the stellar cast of this story seems likely to have delivered just that. Maybe one day we'll know for certain.
Whatever the case, in many respects this was the last great historical story of the series. There would be a few others before The Highlanders saw out the sub-genre that would only be resurrected with the proliferation of spin-off media in the Wilderness Years. Yet none would take themselves as seriously or bring forth the kind of acting talent that The Massacre would. The Massacre and its four episodes marked the end of an era for the series and the historical stories of its early years. Something that makes it even more of a shame that we can't watch it today and see what, I suspect, would have been a glorious costume drama.