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Monday, July 18, 2011

Doctor Who: The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve

Serial Title: The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve

Series: 3

Episodes: 4

The War of God

The Sea Beggar

Priest of Death

Bell of Doom

Doctor: William Hartnell

Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves)


The TARDIS lands in 1572 Paris, and though no good has ever come of landing in France in the past, the Doctor and Steven disembark anyhow. The Doctor, excited, goes to visit famous apothecary Charles Preslin (Is he real? I'm having a hard time finding a non-Who site with any mention of him or information about him...) while Steven stays behind at the tavern, waiting for his return... however, after the allotted time, he does not return.

Meanwhile, French politics are afoot. The Catholics and the Protestants, continuing to completely miss anything resembling what the Bible says, are practically at war. Tensions are high, just waiting to spill into violence. The Huguenots, noblemen and aristocrats (don’t worry, aristocrats are always treated well by the French) of the Protestant sect, gather in the pub to discuss the future. Hoping to defuse the tensions among the two warring churches (which, were they following Biblical teachings instead of giving Christianity a bad name, would be an oxymoron), Prince Henry (a Protestant of high standing) has married the sister of the King (a Catholic) in hopes of uniting the people. Thus far, it isn’t working.

Nicholas Muss, a Huguenot, pays Steven’s bill and offers to shelter him for the night, bringing him to the rest of the group- including fellow Huguenot Gaston de Leran, who is instantly suspicious of him. He is also a jer- that is to say, he is likewise a pri- he’s really kinda irrit- okay, okay… save it for the review…

The meeting is interrupted as a servant girl on the run, Anne Chaplet, runs into the tavern and hides. She’s witnessed something terrible, and the patrons of the tavern cover for her when guards break in, searching for her. After they’ve left, Nicholas conveys both Anne and Steven back to his home.

Simon Duval, a Catholic and Anne’s owner, is furious as to her escape, as she has, quite possibly, overheard his plans- the reason for her flight- and is now a risk of revealing them. He reports back to his master, the Abbot… a man identical in appearance and voice to the Doctor! (For real this time, played by Harntell, unlike that weird Dalek Robot business in The Chase.) Whether this is an incredible coincidence, or the Doctor in disguise, remains unrevealed.

The information overheard by Anne may imply an upcoming action against the Protestants by the Catholics, and is hotly contested among the Huguenots. Meanwhile, Roger Colbert, an ally of Duval’s, comes to look for Anne at the house. Though she is hidden from them, Steven sees the Abbot who had accompanied him through the window and thoughtlessly blurts out that it is the Doctor. Being that he is now claiming the Huguenot’s

mortal enemy as his companion, some suspicion is aroused towards him.

Steven convinces his benefactors to let him go out and find the Doctor and prove that he is not the Abbot, nor is Steven a Catholic spy. He is accompanied by Nicholas to Preslin’s shop- where he finds that Preslin has supposedly been arrested long ago (a lie to cover his escape). Steven decides that the Doctor must not be a look-alike for the Abbot, but impersonating him for some unknown reason… but Nicholas will have none of it. Steven escapes from him, heading for the Abbot’s to independently confirm his theory.

Simon Duval reports the missing Anne and the Abbot’s personal search for her to the Marshal Tavannes… as well as Steven’s presence, which arouses suspicion that the Admiral de Colgny, another ally of the Huguenots, may be conspiring to the British. The Admiral has long been lobbying on behalf of the Dutch, who are at war, urging the king to join the war in support of the Dutch… a Protestant country.

Steven overhears a conversation between the Marshal Tavannes, Simon Duval, and Roger Colbert at the Abbot’s house- indicating that the Queen has given permission for the assassination of the Dutch-lobbying admiral the next day. Steven runs to tell his allies, but encounters the wall of sheer idiocy preceeding Gaston, who will not even stop shouting overtop of Steven to drown him out every time he tries to speak long enough to hear Steven’s warning. He attempts to kill Steven, who is forced to flee.

Steven finds himself followed by Anne, who is looking for a safe place that the Abbot cannot find her. They hide in Preslin’s abandoned shop. After spending the night there, Steven goes to see the Abbot… and after meeting with him, realizes that he is NOT the Doctor, but a doppelganger. He also overheard the time and place the assassination of the Admiral is to take place, and rushes to halt it… but is just barely too late. Meanwhile, the Abbot is seen as an increasing liability as Steven is seen rushing away from his house, clearly having overheard his carelessly discussed plans.

A wounded-but-alive Admiral is taken back to his home, and there Steven is able to finally get through his message to Nicholas…Meanwhile, the assassination failure is blamed on the Abbot’s incompetence, and he is killed. In the palace, the Marshal Tavannes manages to convince the royalty that the marriage of Prince Henry, a Protestant, to the king’s sister, indicates that the Protestants are trying to take over the throne.

The dead body of the Abbot is found, and Steven mourns over it, reconsidering more and more the possibility that it was, indeed, the Doctor- but the Doctor finally returns (okay, this whole bit is a little more suspenseful than my synopsis makes it sound) to Preslin’s shop (where Anne and Steven returned to hide), chastising Steven for not waiting at the Tavern.

Filled in on the events of the previous day, and realizing that the next day is St. Bartholomew’s Day, the Doctor realizes the danger of their time period and takes Steven to flee- ordering Anne to return to her Aunt’s (where guards will quite possibly be looking for her) over Steven’s protests that she be brought to the TARDIS instead.

The Doctor and Steven are delayed, and only manage to slip into the TARDIS the next morning, as the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve begins- Protestants are slaughtered throughout the land. The Doctor informs Steven that 10,000 Huguenots will die in Paris alone, the Admiral and Nicholas among them. (One can only hope that Gaston will, as well. Jerk. Er, right, sorry- saving it for the I Hate Gaston. I mean, the review.) Steven is outraged that the Doctor, knowing this, would leave Anne behind in a city soon to be beset by violence and mass deaths- blaming the Doctor for Anne’s likely death. As soon as the TARDIS lands, he storms out, intent on departing the Doctor’s company forever, in a highly charged and dramatic scene.

The Doctor reflects on the fact that he is finally alone… until a girl wanders in from the outside, looking for a real Police Box. Police are likewise approaching, and Steven charges back in, forced back with the Doctor by convenience alone. (Don’t worry, the enmity will be forgotten by the start of the next serial). The Doctor dematerializes, taking Dodo with them- a girl whose real name is Dorothy… Chaplet, a possible descendant of Anne’s (who bears a strong resemblance) and possible proof that Anne survived the massacre.


This is, sadly, the dullest massacre I've ever seen. It's not it's fault, really- the entirety of this serial is lost- in fact, along with Marco Polo and Mission to the Unknown, this is the third and final wholly-lost serial. And I can't fault it's script entirely- it has a very interesting concept; a mystery; is this man the Doctor, or a lookalike? Where is the Doctor? It is, in fact, the prototypical "Doctor-lite" companion-focused story, preceding New Who classics like "Blink" and "Turn Left". In that sense, it's a brilliant notion.

It's just executed poorly. It's slow, meandering, and aggravating- and a focal point, lightning-rod of this tiresomeness comes in the form of the utterly unreasonable, infuriatingly childish character of Gaston, the buffoon who attacks Steven and literally shouts him down and talks over him to prevent him from imparting even a single word of the crucial information he is trying to relay. As a plot device to raise tension by having the information unimparted, it succeeds- but only by aggravating and irritating the audience beyond the point of caring what happens next in order to do so. If the information being absent was a plot necessity- and it was- then it could be blocked with a much more logical, story-appropriate execution than having Steven shouted down by a hot-headed man-child. Again, good concept, bad execution. The story knows what it wants to do, and does it- but only by alienating, frustrating, or boring its audience. The basic concepts and plot points could have made for a taut, exciting thriller of a serial... but fail to do so, solely because they're handled so poorly. The episode is a mass of great concepts waiting for a masterful execution- a brilliant work of art waiting for Da Vinci to come along and render- but is instead discovered by an awkward toddler that scribbles it's concept on the wall with crayons. The ephemeral concept- an excellent one- is made real in a very flawed condition that does not live up to its potential.

Still, it's a good story for Steven- clever, resourceful (though a bit plot-requiringly dumb at times, idiotically noting aloud that the enemy leader looks like his friend... yet another example of the good concept- "Suspicion aroused by the villain looking like the protagonist's missing friend" executed poorly- "The hero just blurts this out unthinkingly, causing suspicion to fall on him."), and compassionate- his protective nature towards Anne was very

sweet...and the abandoning of her to the massacre by the Doctor baffling and alien. In fact, the use of it to prompt Steven's disgusted departure from the Doctor was as compelling, gripping, and well-written a companion departure as was ever designed- fitting better than Ian and Barbara, Susan, Vicki, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, or Donna Noble The Second Time in my book... making it all the more odd when it's suddenly reversed into a fake-out in an addled, confusing, nonsensical ending. And the character of Dodo- with her thankfully changed-next-episode squeaky-high cockney accent- had already reached Jar-Jar Binks level of annoyance within the first minute of her appearance. What a mess of an ending! So random! So pointless! So full of plot holes! (NFS: I don't have anything whatsoever to add to this one because I am pretty sure I fell asleep watching it...but I DO remember that Dodo completely lived up to her name.)

The only positive of this serial was it's educational content- exposing me to a part of French and Dutch history I was completely unaware of, and inspiring me to go and learn more about germ-theorist Charles Preslin... but even that is tainted, as unlike the Marie Celeste from The Chase, several weeks later, I have yet to look him up... so the educational impetus can't have been THAT good.

Great moments:

Steven’s angry goodbye to the Doctor and departure from the TARDIS was the better of his two goodbyes, and a powerful, well-motivated, well-written, in-character piece.


5 out of 5 Chumblies to this serial's notions- but only 1 out of 5 when it's put into motion.

Oh, wait... there's no motion, either. Yeah, I'm gonna have to go with 0 of 5 on that... and a 1 out of 5 for Loose Cannons with their extremely uninspired re-creation, as well. The repeated cheap fade-to-a-painting, lackluster cutting, and dull pace- what, some Myth Makers-style title cards were too expensive?- really did not do much for this story, even if they did have limited resources to work from. And yes, this one is rated in Chumblies, because unlike the last serial, this work and Galaxy 4 deserve each other.