Friday, April 26, 2013

"The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve"

Aired Feb 5, 1966 – Feb 26, 1966

Episode 1: War of God
Episode 2: The Sea Beggar
Episode 3: Priest of Death
Episode 4: Bell of Doom

Story 22

Written by John Lucarotti & Donald Tosh

Directed by Paddy Russell


When the TARDIS materializes in Paris, 1572, the Doctor decides to visit the famous apothecary Charles Preslin. Left on his own, Steven is befriended by a group of Huguenots from the household of the Protestant Admiral de Coligny. 

The Huguenots have saved a serving girl named Anne Chaplet for some guards, and through her learn of a plan by the Catholic Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, to have all French Protestants massacred. Investigating this claim, Steven is shocked to discover that  it appears that the hated Catholic dignitary the Abbot of Amboise is actually the Doctor in disguise.

Held responsible for the failure of a plot to assassinate de Coligny, the Abbot is subsequently executed by the Catholic authorities and his dead body left lying in the gutter. However, to Steven's immense relief, the Abbot was not the Doctor after all, but merely his physical double. Steven is reunited with the Doctor at Preslin's shop, and they return to the ship just as the massacre begins, unable to bring Anne with them. 

Aboard the TARDIS, Steven is furious and despondent at all the people they were unable to help. He determines to leave the TARDIS at their next landing. Upon arrival in London in 1966, Steven ventures out of the ship. Left alone, the Doctor reflects on how all of his companions have now left him, and how he has no home of his own to which to return.

Suddenly, a young woman enters, thinking it to be an actual police box. There's an accident she wishes to report. Steven comes back to warn the Doctor of approaching policemen. Learning the girl's name is Dorothea "Dodo" Chapelet, the Doctor and Steven believe it's possible Anne may have survived the massacre after all. The Doctor hurriedly sets the TARDIS off, Steven warning the eager Dodo that they could wind up anywhere, and may not be able to return her to her own time, but Dodo has few ties to her life, and the travelers continue into the unknown.


After all Steven's been through lately, you'd think the Doctor would take him to Disneyland or Las Vegas or something. Instead, it's a jaunty little trip to France shortly before a massacre. Let the good times roll!

Like all of the historical stories, The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve is well-written and engrossing. It's amongst the most sophisticated and adult serials produced during the Hartnell era. It's also amongst the darkest and most downright depressing serials the series ever produced, with a bleakness that wouldn't be equaled until Colin Baker's era.

This serial is really a showcase for Peter Purves, whose Steven has just a miserable time of it. He's dropped into a complex and tense situation with no knowledge at all of the issues at stake. He's abandoned by the Doctor, the only person who could possibly aid him, and then thrust into a conflict that he somehow has to navigate. Being the man he is, Steven tries to make things better, first for Anne and then once he uncovers the plot, for the Huguenots as a whole. And in a simpler serial, he would have been successful. But invariably, every effort he makes is thwarted, mostly by the prejudices of others or his naïve misreading of how ingrained these peoples' prejudices truly are. This is most apparent during his attempts to regain the trust of Nicholas and Gaston, two men whose situations have made them justifiably paranoid. You really feel for Steven as he desperately tries to help, and is thwarted at every single turn. Purves delivers another exceptional performance, building on his strong work throughout the season.

The bleakness is truly hammered home when the Doctor finally shows up (and just where the hell has he been, anyway?) and his only solution is to run away. It's almost stunning how the Doctor completely abandons everyone, and Steven's horrified reaction is not only understandable to the audience, it's completely justified. All the half-hearted attempts to connect Dodo to Anne are tenuous at best, most probably the serving girl died a horrible death in the massacre.

Hartnell's performance as the Abbot seems to infer that some of his miscues, mistakes and stammers as the Doctor were actually intentional. The Abbot has none of those qualities, and Hartnell's entire performance is radically different. The rest of the supporting cast give good performances as well, and Jackie Lane as Dodo is a pleasant breath of fresh air at the end of a dark story.

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve takes an unusual look at time travel for the series. While I wouldn't call traveling in the TARDIS always fun (there's too much jeopardy for it to be a simple lark), it has always at least been an adventure where the travelers' actions can save the day. This story makes a case for time travel as a heartbreaking endeavour. You cannot affect meaningful change in all cases and will only get your heart broken trying. All in all, an underrated gem.

No comments:

Post a Comment