Monday 25 May 2020

What's Wrong With... The Massacre

The Massacre is the title we generally give to this four part story, but therein lies a problem. The Doctor and Steven actually leave Paris before the Massacre begins. Everything we see on screen (or just hear nowadays) involves the lead up to the event. The actual slaughter of the French Protestant Huguenots by the Catholics of Paris is depicted only towards the end of Part Four, in the form of a soundtrack of fighting noises and some woodcuts or paintings of the event.
If you own the BBC Radio Collection soundtrack CD, you'll notice that it says The Massacre on the front and back covers, and on the spine, but the discs themselves have the title "The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve". This was the full title given to this production by the BBC at the time. It at least refers to the build-up to the Massacre (with the word "Eve"), but the Massacre itself has always been known as The St Bartholomew's Day Massacre - i.e. the slaughter took place on the Day itself, not the day before. The signal to begin the attack was the tolling of the bell of the church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, which still stands between the Louvre and Notre Dame. The tocsin (warning bell) sounded just before dawn on the 24th August, which was St Bartholomew's Day.
We are not helped in our analysis of the story itself by the fact that this is one of the most lost of Doctor Who stories. There are no surviving episodes, or even clips, and no telesnaps are known to exist. Not only that but hardly any on set photographs were taken during production, and those that were tend to be from just three or four scenes, and aren't indicative of the story as a whole.
There were problems with the story's genesis, as it was heavily rewritten by the Story Editor, Donald Tosh, and though credited to John Lucarotti, very little of his work actually made it to screen.
Apparently Lucarotti contacted the production office one day and claimed that the series owed him a story (or he owed it one, in a way). Tosh checked the files and discovered that Lucarotti had indeed been contracted to provide three stories for the series, but had only ever delivered two - Marco Polo and The Aztecs. Lucarotti was now offering a story about Erik the Red discovering North America. Tosh rejected this idea on two grounds - that they had just featured Vikings in The Time Meddler, and the story was set mostly on a ship, which would have been both impractical and visually and narratively limiting.
It was Tosh who then asked Lucarotti to come up with a story based around the Paris Massacre of 1572. Unhappy with having a historical event he knew nothing about foisted upon him, the story Lucarotti eventually submitted wasn't liked by Tosh, but Lucarotti refused to carry out significant re-writes. Tosh took these on himself, and took an on screen co-writer credit for the final episode.
What of the story itself?
The Doctor rightly guesses the approximate date for the TARDIS's arrival, knowing that the apothecary Charles Preslin is active in the city at this time - and yet forgets about the most significant event in the history of Paris in this era.
(Preslin, by the way, is fictitious. They could have gone for a real Parisian scientist of the time, and a quick Google search gives us someone who was actually killed in the Massacre - mathematician and philosopher Petrus Ramus, a convert to Protestanstism who perished on the third day of the Massacre).
The Doctor then happily agrees to let Steven remain in this dangerous historical period on his own. Even if he has forgotten all about the tensions of the Wars of Religion, he ought to know that this was a period when cities were generally disease and crime-ridden places.
Preslin knows enough about the Abbot of Amboise to know that he is personally in danger from him, but doesn't know what he looks like - otherwise why happily chat to a man who looks exactly like him? The Abbot is another fictitious character.
Steven knows how long they have been in Paris, yet still thinks that the Abbot (who is recognised as such by many people) might actually be the Doctor in disguise. When is the Doctor supposed to have got this plan together, and taken in all these servants and soldiers?
Just why does the Doctor insist that Anne Chaplette be left behind, when he's taken a number of people out of time to join him in the TARDIS? If he's so worried about upsetting history, why did he speak to Preslin about the microscope, which won't be invented until c.1609? Anne is sent to lock herself away for a few days with her relatives, but if their neighbours knew them to be Huguenots (which they would have done, as they won't have been seen in church) then this really isn't sending her anywhere safe at all.
The TARDIS then materialises on Wimbledon Common, in 1966, where Steven - who has run out of the ship in disgust at the Doctor's abandonment of Anne - witnesses a car accident. Instead of wanting to get help for an injured child, Steven runs back to the TARDIS and urges the Doctor to take off, in case the authorities turn up. The most remarkable coincidence then happens, as a possible descendant of Anne - one Dodo Chaplet - turns up mistaking the TARDIS for a real Police Box. For Dodo to be a direct descendant, the usual (for the time) naming protocols of taking the father's name on getting married and having children, seems to have been broken - implying illegitimacy or divorce at the very least. Taboo subjects for family viewing in 1966. Dodo also seems to rapidly forget all about the injured child, though she at least asks where the telephone is - despite just having walked into a massive futuristic control room which somehow fits inside a Police Box. Despite not knowing who these weird people are, she's very eager to run away and join them, purely on the strength of her not getting on with her aunt.
The other big problem - they got rid of Katarina, Sara Kingdom, and Anne Chaplette as potential companions and gave us Dodo instead.

1 comment:

  1. I love Dodo for her whimsy and unintentional comedy. She is my favorite companion and was a sheer delight. The poor thing.