‘THE MASSACRE OF ST. BARTHOLOMEW’S EVE’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Steven’s Story in France
History isn’t pleasant as Steven thinks it is!
This is another historical adventure from the William Hartnell era of ‘Doctor Who’! ‘The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve’ is a four-part historical adventure by John Lucarotti (officially), set in Paris 1572. It is a story where the Doctor and Steven are on the eve of one of the darkest days in history.
‘The Massacre’ is sadly one of the lost TV stories from the BBC Archives. None of the four episodes are in existence and there’s no surviving footage found of the story on the ‘Lost in Time’ DVD. The story however can be available to listen to via a CD or a download in its complete audio soundtrack.
The audio soundtrack of this story has some superb linking narration given by Peter Purves, who played Steven Taylor in the story. I did enjoy Peter narrate this story since it did help with following it. ‘The Massacre’ CD is now available as part of ‘The Lost TV Episodes: Collection Two’ CD box set.
The story’s credit is given to John Lucarotti, but the original idea came from script editor Donald Tosh who commissioned him to write it. John Lucarotti had written two previous historical adventures in ‘Doctor Who’ which were ‘Marco Polo’ and ‘The Aztecs’. He’d been contracted to write a third story.
Following disagreements with script editor Donald Tosh, John Lucarotti eventually agreed to write ‘The Massacre’. When he’d sent the scripts in, Donald Tosh wasn’t happy with them so he eventually rewrote the scripts himself. But John Lucarotti wasn’t happy with the final versions of those scripts.
It’s interesting that behind-the-scenes, John Lucarotti found the writing process of ‘The Massacre’ an unhappy one. It was different for him working for the John Wiles/Donald Tosh production team compared to the Verity Lambert/David Whittaker team when he wrote his first two stories for them.
‘The Massacre’ as a story is an interesting one. I wasn’t very familiar with the period of Paris 1572 as depicted in the story. I knew about the French Revolution of course, but this was an earlier period of history in France as this is about the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants at that time.
Being a Christian myself, I found it interesting how the French Catholics took a hostile view towards the Protestants who were starting to grow at the time in France’s history in 1572. ‘The Massacre’ itself takes place on the 23rd of August 1572 and it lasted for several weeks according to the Doctor.
Saying this, I did find this story rather serious and grim throughout. I was gripped into the story, but most of it was people talking to each other and not enough action happening. The historical detail must be accurate, but I had a sense this was being more of a period drama instead of an adventure.
Don’t get me wrong! I like period dramas as I’ve seen them on TV. But when it’s a ‘Doctor Who’ story, it runs the risk of being boring and hard-to-follow for young viewers who were watching this story at the time on TV. They probably didn’t know what was happening with the historical content.
But the selling point of ‘The Massacre’ has to be that William Hartnell gets to play two roles in this story. Not only does he play the Doctor but as the Abbot of Amboise. This is an unusual story of doubles though, since William Hartnell becomes absent for most of the second episode of the story.
By the time he returns to the third episode, William Hartnell is playing the Abbot. It’s not clear whether the Doctor is pretending to be the Abbot or whether the Abbot just happens to look like the Doctor. Steven isn’t wiser either and becomes afraid when he is on his own and without the Doctor.
The Doctor’s absence in the second episode and having William Hartnell play the Abbot for most of the third episode was something that writer John Lucarroti objected to. It wasn’t part of his original scripts for the story but Donald Tosh rewrote them thinking this would be better in terms of the tale.
William Hartnell’s performance in this ‘Doctor Who’ story is very enjoyable and interesting. He plays the Doctor at the beginning and the end in the first and fourth episodes. Having him play the Abbot as a completely different character was interesting and is very different to how he plays the Doctor.
Hartnell’s performance as the Abbot is quite smooth and cool and he doesn’t have the eccentricities shown in his performance as the Doctor. This highlights Hartnell’s talents as an actor as the creation of the Doctor is his own, just as the Abbot is since he doesn’t fluff on any lines in that performance.
I would like to know though whether the Doctor was pretending to be the Abbot or whether the Abbot was just a different character altogether. The Doctor and the Abbot never meet each other in the story, since this was due to technical reasons. But didn’t the Doctor meet himself in ‘The Chase’?
However it’s Peter Purves as Steven who steals the show in ‘The Massacre’! Steven is given a central role as a character whilst the Doctor is away and off to see Preslin at the start of the story. Steven anxiously waits for the Doctor to return to the tavern and has to cope on his own when he doesn’t.
Steven soon finds himself getting involved unintentionally with events in the story. He sees the Abbot and believes him to be the Doctor. He’s soon accused for being as Catholic spy by the Huguenots and he risks the friendships he forms with people such as Nicholas at de Coligny’s house.
He befriends Anne who helps him to find the Abbot and see whether he really is the Doctor. He also oversees that someone is going to assassinate the Sea Beggar and tries to warn someone about it. I found it tense when Steven gets in a fight with Gaston who refuses to have anything to do with him.
The guest cast in this are as follows. There’s Barry Justice as King Charles IX of France; Joan Young as the Queen Mother; Leonard Sachs as Admiral de Coligny; André Morell as Marshal Tavannes; Erik Chitty as Preslin; Eric Thompson as Gaston; David Weston as Nicholas and John Tillinger as Simon.
There’s also Annette Robertson as Anne Chaplet. Anne is an interesting character as she’s a servant who used to work at the Abbot of Amboise’s apartments but has now run away. She runs into Steven and helps him through the dangers of France he’s in since she finds him kind-hearted to her.
The story ends bleakly with Steven reunited with the Doctor before eventually they return to the TARDIS, just in time before the massacre in Paris starts. The atmosphere gets grim in the TARDIS, since Steven blames the Doctor for not taking Anne Chaplet with them in the TARDIS when he could.
Following recent events in ‘The Massacre’, Steven threatens to leave the TARDIS the next time the ship lands. They eventually land somewhere and Steven soon steps out. I liked that scene where the Doctor is on his own, reflecting on his companions who’ve left him and saying that he can’t go home.
This story also features the first appearance of Jackie Lane as Dodo Chaplet who runs into the TARDIS to meet the Doctor. Dodo happens to be a descendant of Anne Chaplet. I wonder why Jackie didn’t play Anne Chaplet in the story, since she could easily be recognisable as both Anne and Dodo.
Very soon, Steven returns and re-joins the Doctor with the Dodo in their travels in the TARDIS. The Doctor comments that Dodo is much like his granddaughter as Susan and both he and Steven accept her as a travelling companion. This is a very quick introduction to a companion at the end of a story.
‘The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve’ has been an interesting historical adventure in ‘Doctor Who’. I didn’t know much about the incidental beforehand, but I know a little more now. I enjoyed William Hartnell’s performances as the Doctor and the Abbot and Steven taking centre-stage in this.
‘The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve’ rating – 7/10
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