The Massacre

massacreThe Massacre is Steven’s story.  Not only is the Doctor absent from two of the four episodes, but he barely interacts with the plot when he is in the story, not even meeting the main villain.  As this is the first time there has been just one companion, this feels like a very different kind of show.  Steven has to be the Doctor substitute, and Peter Purves is more than capable of carrying the show, but Steven is ill-suited to this kind of situation.  He is from the future and has no idea what is going on, dropped into a relatively obscure and particularly nasty moment in history.  He changes nothing, and only just escapes with his life by finding the Doctor just in time and running away.

In the normal course of events this would function as a clever way to reinforce the importance of the Doctor: without him everything falls apart, and as much as a companion tries to stand in for him he cannot succeed.  But it doesn’t work like that because the Doctor himself has repeatedly lost almost all his battles over the last 20 weeks of the series, so this is the endpoint of that running theme.  Since The Myth Makers the show has been hammering home one important point: the Doctor is a flawed hero, and he can’t win every time.  Or perhaps that nobody can put right all the wrongs in the universe, however brilliant he is.  And The Massacre really kicks him when he is down.

Recent historical stories have shown the Doctor making significant impacts on history, albeit within the framework of what we know to have happened.  In The Romans and The Myth Makers he slots into a fatalistic universe, causing the Great Fire of Rome, and the Trojan horse.  We have also seen the Monk messing with history in The Time Meddler, but again he doesn’t achieve anything that doesn’t fit with established history.  So we are still just a stuck in the rut that we have been in since The Aztecs with the Doctor helpless when he is in the past.  What no writer has yet learnt (and you can’t blame them for failing to realise something that would take another 40 years) is that this problem has a solution: the Doctor can make positive changes that do not alter known history.  So John Lucarotti (or Donald Tosh who rewrote the scripts) wanted an upbeat ending, and failed to implement the obvious way to achieve this.  The Massacre should have ended with Anne joining the TARDIS team.  This would have worked beautifully because the Doctor’s failure would have then been ameliorated by him “saving somebody”.  But everyone was fixated on the bizarre assumption that a companion from the past couldn’t work, having given Katarina no chance whatsoever to prove this assumption wrong, and instead this happens:

I tell you this much, Doctor, wherever this machine of yours lands next I’m getting off. If your researches have so little regard for human life then I want no part of it.

And then the Doctor is truly alone.  He has abandoned his granddaughter, his kidnapping victims have gone back home, his beloved best mate has been torn away by the first story that was too big for the Doctor, to take her place in a Shakespearean tragedy, Katarina and Sara are both dead, Steven has abandoned him for failing again and again to be the Doctor.  And then the Doctor, at his lowest ever point, shows us how broken he is:

Now they’ve all gone… all gone… none of them could understand, not even my little Susan… or Vicki… and as for Barbara and Chatterton… Chesterton… they were all too impatient to get back to their own time… and now Steven. Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet… but I can’t. I can’t.

And then Steven changes his mind for no reason (why should he care if policemen are approaching the TARDIS?) and a descendent of Ann who probably isn’t a descendent of Ann bursts in, all Cockerney and fun, saying “a little boy’s been ‘urt!”

At this point, without saving Ann, there really was nothing better to be done than push the reset button and relaunch the series.  It gets relaunched with a plotline that also gets abandoned: what happened to the injured child?  So Doctor Kidnap claims another victim.  He knows that a couple of policemen don’t pose a threat when even the Daleks couldn’t get into the TARDIS.  But we know why the Doctor really takes off: “Don’t you think she looks rather like my grandchild Susan?”  As originally scripted, the moment Dodo enters the TARDIS should have been witnessed by Ian and Barbara in a cameo appearance, making the parallel obvious.

The creepy kidnapper strikes again.   RP

The view from across the pond:

As most of us know, Doctor Who’s was conceived as an educational childrens program, alternating between history and science lessons.  While the show may have changed a lot since those old days, it can still be educational.  And it did not have to be a classroom lecture to teach us.  Even tidbits shared through a story could intrigue us enough to learn more.  And while, unfortunately, there’s no indication that Charles Preslin was a real person, the events of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre are real and warrant some investigation.  The subject matter was interesting enough to my adult self that I did listen to the entire adventure but without any footage; it was merely the existing audio that we have available to us.  I believe I read every Target novelization but I admit I can’t recall any of this (yet I’m almost positive that the book opens with a Dramatis Personae, so maybe as a child the subject just didn’t stick!)     Listening to it now, however, gave me a number of observations…

I’ll start off with the fact that by today’s standards, anything goes.   For better or worse, TV can say and do whatever it wants and we accept that.  But in 1965, that was not the case; it was a different era.  To do a story about religious differences and the fact that Catholics were responsible for the slaughter of Protestants… that was brave.  Religious difference is a part of life and has led to many a long and bloody war, so I say kudos to Doctor Who for exploring that time period.

This also sees a return of the Doctor being unable to affect history; he is there merely observing and getting caught up in events.  Sadly, it doesn’t work as well as the stories where he is involved.  The whole line from The Aztecs about not being able to change one line of history is basically repeated in a marvelous monologue by the Doctor at the end of the story.   That’s ironically counter-intuitive for the Doctor to feel this way now, since he has learned that he can, in fact, be a part of history.  Besides that, Hartnell plays two roles, but even that has little bearing on his involvement.  There’s never a swap where the Doctor has to impersonate the Abbot, which you anticipate throughout the story!  Although from Steven’s point of view, there is a case of mistaken identity that would have been horrible for him.  Well, at least he had Ann…

Speaking of Ann…  I understand the companion is the audience identification character, but we’ve had a run of “contemporary” companions recently.  Ann would have made a seriously wonderful companion, from the sounds of it.  I do believe we could identify with a companion from another time just as much as one from our own.  And here’s the irony: when we do periodically get companions from the future, they are basically no more than contemporary people who happen to be from “the future”.  They don’t behave in any way to inform us that they are from the future (with the possible exception of Captain Jack).  From their point of view, we should appear like Ann does to Steven and the Doctor but the writers don’t portray them that way  They portray them the same as if they came from our time.  I challenge the writers to take on companions from other time periods and portray them accordingly.  I feel certain that Idris, or the TARDIS, would not mind.  In fact, I’d argue that the cohesiveness I’ve been speaking about in my storytelling articles, is illustrated very well through Idris.  In The Doctor’s Wife, Idris tells the Doctor that she does not take him where he always wants to go, but does take him where he is needed.  Case in point: when Steven berates the Doctor for being inhumane to Ann, potentially sending her to her death, in runs Dodo.  Lo and behold, she’s related to Ann which they establish through just a line of dialogue.  It was as if the TARDIS was teaching Steven (and the audience) that the Doctor does know what he’s doing and Ann survived.

On the flip side, this same scene also leads to some questionable choices by the Doctor.  First, he abducts this girl presumably because she looks like his granddaughter.  (And if I’m honest, I love that the Doctor mentions that to Steven who reminds him they never met!)  But second, the fact of the “accident” that she comes to report goes unreported is bad too.   Whoever that poor unfortunate was, he or she is probably left for dead somewhere!  Imagine going back to that story!  And then quickly establish the exact opposite of what modern Who would do: Dodo is without family.  The Doctor, at this point, seems to only pick up strays…

I think the most ironic line of the story for me came from personal experience.  There was a line in the episode “France will breath of pure air tomorrow!”  Sure, that may have been the case on Aug 23rd 1572, but when I found myself in France a couple years ago, the one thing that struck me as excessive was the amount of people who smoked.  So much so that I witnessed a woman who put her cigarette on the step of a shop to go in, had picked it up on the way out and continued puffing away on it.   Perhaps 1572 had “pure air” but it certainly doesn’t today.  Sorry to any of our readers from France…

It’s a shame that there is no footage left of this story.  I’d love to actually have seen William Hartnell deliver that amazing monologue at the end, wondering if he should go home or not.  But there is one thing that we do get to see: the Doctor started his adventure in Paris wanting to visit Charles Preslin, a man working on the study of germs.  Perhaps he picked up a germ or two visiting Preslin, because it seems Dodo is quickly developing a cold and that could be a real problem in the future…   ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Ark

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Doctor Who, Entertainment, First Doctor, History, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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