Written by John Lucarotti and Donald Tosh
Directed by Paddy Russell
The Doctor and Steven arrive in Paris, 1572 on the verge of what will be one of the most brutal religious battles between The Protestants and The Catholics.
John Lucarotti makes his return to Doctor Who in what is most-likely the most complicated historical the show has ever done. The story centers around the climate in Paris leading up to The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Being from the United States, I have little knowledge of this particular event (indeed, many of the modern audience could probably say the same), so I did a bit of digging around on the internet to get a general idea of the event.
The Massacre occurred in 1572 and involved the Huguenots (French Calvinists) and Catholics. Tensions between the protestants and Catholics was rather high at this point in European history (when wasn’t the tension high), and the wedding of King Charles IX’s sister Margaret to Protestant Henry III of Navarre saw the gathering of many prominent Huguenot leaders in Paris. This was a prime opportunity for assassinations, including Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, one of the leaders in France’s religious wars. The assassination failed, although he was severely wounded, and many protestants demanded justice. To make the situation more tense, Coligny’s brother-in-law had an army camped outside Paris. Fearing attack and mob violence, Charles IX and his mother discussed the crisis and it seems they made the decision to execute some of the Protestant leaders. The citizenry was armed, soldiers were charged with expelling Protestant nobles from the Louvre and executing them in the streets. And all hell broke loose. Citizens got involved in the hunting of Protestants. This all lasted about three days. The number of deaths has not been established with any degree of certainty, but it would seem to number in the thousands. So, with this extremely brief overview, let’s start the story.
The TARDIS arrives in 1572. From the attitude of Steven and The Doctor, it would seem some time has passed since The Daleks’ Master Plan, but later Steven says he has been in Egypt, so unless they went back for one reason or another, they must have just recuperated on the TARDIS. Regardless, The Doctor is thrilled to be back in Paris, and estimates a medieval period. However, he begins to intuit the “when” of their visit and recognizes the danger. He would very much like to visit the apothecary Charles Preslin, but is more concerned for Steven’s safety. This concern is understandable after the deaths that occurred recently. Steven convinces The Doctor he will be fine. The plan is that The Doctor visits Preslin, then he will return for Steven that evening and they will leave. Sounds easy enough.
Unfortunately, Steven fears The Doctor is followed from the tavern where they discussed the plans, and when he moves to warn The Doctor, he is accosted by the barkeep, who demands payment. Steven doesn’t have the correct amount, but Nicholas Muss comes to his aide. Steven has now fallen in with the Huguenots. We learn that Henri of Navarre’s wedding has already taken place, and both Huguenots and Catholics seem a bit sore over this. But matters escalate as a young serving girl, Anne Chaplet, flees her place of employment. While working in The Abbot of Amboise’s residence, she overhears a captain and soldiers discussing a place where a Huguenot massacre had occurred recently. While she doesn’t hear the extent of the plans, it spooks her enough to run. She also falls in with The Huguenots, who immediately go on guard, fearing something is up. They decide to deliver Anne to Admiral de Coligny’s residence for safekeeping. As night falls, The Doctor has not returned from his meeting with Preslin. Steven is about to get caught after curfew, so he joins Nicholas and the other Huguenots for the night.
As the captain and guards discuss the escape of the girl, a displeased Abbot of Amboise listens. We soon discover that he resembles The Doctor.
Given enough time, any science fiction show will do one of a number of gimmicks. There could be an episode where one or more characters shrink. There could be an episode where a character grows elderly at a rapid rate. Then, there could be the doppelganger episode. And Doctor Who did all of these first. But it didn’t content itself to doing them once. The Massacre is the second doppelganger story, the first occurring in The Chase, but that hardly counts as was a robot attempting to be The Doctor not a character who merely resembles him. William Hartnell plays both The Doctor and The Abbot of Amboise. This resemblance is somewhat incidental to the historical story, but it does escalate the drama for our cast. Plus, it gives Hartnell an opportunity to do some different acting.
This first episode is rather dense with names and circumstances. In truth, I’m not sure how easy it would be to follow if you were not at least vaguely familiar with the terms and concepts used. The lack of visuals is again a hindrance to this story. But if you can follow it, the tension is palpable, and the story promises dire things to come. Throughout, Steven seems a bit off, something I’ll attribute to being shell-shocked from the previous story. It is certainly understandable. Given the deaths he witnessed while fighting The Daleks, I don’t know that he will handle this period in history so well.
And yet, what an opportunity, to follow up a dark, science fiction story where aliens massacre a large number of people (and are willing to massacre even more) with a story where humans are about to do something similar, all in the name of religion, of the ideologically impure rather than the racially impure. Humans can be as monstrous as The Daleks.