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Thursday, 23 July 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Massacre (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written by John Lucarotti,
Read by Peter Purves,
Released by BBC Audio, 21 May 2015

This First Doctor historical was amongst the many early Doctor Who tales to be wiped by the BBC, at a time when home video releases were not yet introduced. Fortunately, as with all the other 'lost' stories, a soundtrack copy was retained and this story was the first of a wave of audio CD releases of various First and Second Doctor stories at the turn of the century.

Original viewers of all ages saw a sophisticated but non-preachy historical drama. The Doctor quickly leaves Steven to manage on his own in 1572 Paris; full of political turmoil between the Catholic and Huguenot religious groups. The Catholic Abbot of Amboise catches Steven's eye, and soon this loyal companion wonders if his older friend is playing a very risky game of impersonation. A young girl called Anne Chaplet soon needs Steven's help as she flees the Abbot and attempts to warn the Huguenots of a deadly conspiracy. But history tells of the inevitable Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day, and time cannot be rewritten despite the sheer pointlessness of the violence that ensued...

            A great cast was involved, many going on to be in later colour stories which all are now available. Examples include: The Deadly Assassin's Eric Chitty as Preslyn, Warriors' Gate's David Weston as Nicholas Muss and Arc of Infinity's Leonard Sachs as Admiral De Coligny. There is even a turn from Eric Thompson, father of the world-famous Emma. Also director Paddy Russell debuted here, and was behind later notable stories for the Third and Fourth Doctors.

 

The novelisation was published in the summer of 1987, and saw credited writer John Lucarotti bring to novel form the original scripts he created, after a number of amendments by script-editor Donald Tosh. Ultimately Tosh rewrote the story to be a very different one, but only received a co-author credit in the final episode.

Why Lucarotti did not approve of the final version is of real interest. Upon being promised a third historical story from initial showrunner Verity Lambert, Lucarotti then found the new team of John Wiles and Tosh to be rather less harmonious with his vision of Doctor Who. A rather darker show was being established, with grim endings such as the fate of the Drahvins, the fall of Troy, and the many tragedies in The Dalek Masterplan. This perhaps was for the best as the fledgling Saturday tea-time show made its case for continued existence, long before it was famous globally.  

Even after two other story rejections, and finally getting a green light on using the Huguenot massacre as the backdrop there were still problems. William Hartnell was getting more difficult to work with and had poor health, and the then-showrunners wanted to try and remove him as lead on the show. Lucarotti's proposal of a double role for Hartnell as Abbot and Doctor was not in line with this intended path. This reputable TV writer was ultimately so dismayed that he wanted no on-screen credit. He did not get that wish but was paid for all four instalments and many years later retained the right to adapt his intended story for book form.  The novelisation was enjoyed by both fans and general readers alike and now gets further exposure today as a CD/ Internet Download.

 

This story significantly manages to intertwine historical fact with fiction. Charles IX and Preslyn are real-life figures who are used for plot purpose; the former being a weak willed monarch under the thrall of his mother Catherine De Medici, the latter being a little paranoid but nonetheless a notable scientist of his time.

Notably unique to the novelisation is the framing device of Time Lords putting the Doctor through either an inquiry or another trial, but which future Doctor is not made too clear. More focus emerges as to the morality of his interference in events, and perhaps his eventual abandonment of the various people he meets to their fates.

The plot differs increasingly from Tosh's version after the initial sections that resemble Episode One. The key character difference is the Doctor is far more involved throughout. In theory William Hartnell would have shown his full range and poise (and as much as terrific glimmers of the Abbot did make it to screen).

As we know though, the production team were against the lead, and maybe his ill health would have also been too much also.

The paramount goal for our regulars is to survive, and it is particularly urgent, but we also care for the various Huguenots who try their best to fight a growing tide. Even  some sense of the pressure on the Catholics is generated by Lucarotti, though their ends certainly never justify their means. 

Peter Purves continues to impress, after my prior sampling of his efforts for Big Finish. He uses his theatre roots, which involved considerable variety from one play to the next, to solidly portray a host of players in the story, along with their myriad characteristics. The Doctor's voice again is done well, conveying the essence of Hartnell's rather complex interpretation. What music we do get generates a heightened atmosphere, and there are fine sound effects such as the gallops of hooves, crowd noise and other effects to signify action moments.

Our narrator only stumbles when attempting rage in voices that are markedly different  to Steven. Also while his Anne is passable, there is never any real doubt of this being a male imitation of a female, but then very few can overcome this downside of the solo-contributor format.

 

All the same, we are afforded a chance to experience the book's enticing prose, and how it plays to the mediums' best strengths. There is plenty of Steven's immediate perspective. How this man from the future uses his wits over any of his inbuilt skills or training is gripping, as is his role in partially defanging the Catholic conspiracy. Most fans agree that The Massacre is Steven's peak during his time as a companion.

Along with sterling heroes we need a good set of villains. The Catholics who ultimately win are to be respected as much as reviled. Simon Duvall is built up in the most notable antagonist, demonstrating a suave nature along with having a strong plan. How the Abbot and Duvall's fates are intertwined, not least due to the Doctor's ingenuity, is a payoff that works handsomely.

Of more trivial interest, we are introduced to some minor characters who were not retained for the final TV version, e.g. the bumbling locksmith who understandably is foiled by the TARDIS' secure door.

 

It is to be commended how Lucarotti has no easy answers and does not assume a moral highground. Even the characters we most empathise with such as Gaston, Lerans and Muss are not angelic by any means. The charismatic Admiral De Coligny is helped during the timeframe of Steven and the Doctor being around, but upon their departure he receives no better a fate than assassination. Such is the inevitable course of history. And had he been spared then he likely would have implemented methods little better than his religious enemies.

Praiseworthy also is the 'identical Doctor' aspect, which was repeated in other ways  throughout the TV show's long history. In this novel version the way both the Doctor and the Abbot show initiative and smarts is more exciting than the somewhat clumsy manner the TV Abbot saw himself into trouble. The Doctor is of course the wiser and sharper of the two, and having one of this religious zealot's own allies be manipulated into his downfall is most enjoyable.

A small flaw perhaps, but one most classic Who stories are guilty of, is the sheer lack of notable female characters in comparison to male. At least we do have two solid roles in the form of the ruthless Queen Mother and the young, vulnerable but brave Anne Chaplet.

The manner of how the Doctor manages to avoid the wrath Catherine shows the First Doctor at his typical smart best, and is especially exciting knowing he must convince as a man who only resembles him in appearance. Meanwhile the Steven-Anne dynamic is used very well to evoke real concern for the many innocents caught up between the scheming factions. It is one of the very first instances of a 'pseudo companion', i.e. who may qualify but circumstances finally say otherwise.

 

Catacombs has been a great trope over the years for Who, and they are sadly jettisoned in the TV equivalent. Along with the use of a crypt under Notre Dame, this story really has much to offer in terms of atmosphere.

Indeed, there is much suspense and intrigue, and yet the final sections do lack a touch of the all pervading sense of doom of Tosh's work. The debate between Steven and his mysterious mentor over what they can or cannot do regarding historical events is far less confrontational.

Tosh's rewrite saw potential descendant of Anne, Dodo, take up what initially appeared to be the Frenchwoman's place abroad the TARDIS. Yet I personally prefer the way that Anne is safe thanks to the Doctor's efforts. albeit with the only fleeting reference to Dodo in the epilogue Lucarotti opts for. At the same time, it is a shame that the famous soliloquy by Hartnell is nowhere to be found. It is a key moment  of Who folklore and wonderfully recreated by David Bradley in An Adventure In Time And Space from autumn 2013.

 

This is perhaps not a story to be digested in one sitting as the previous off-air soundtrack can be. It is very ambitious and intricate, and requires a lot of close attention from the listener, but is more than worth it as the foundations are rock solid. Whilst reflecting the deliberate pace of the Hartnell era, it never feels tedious. This pivotal historical is as relevant to our society and its political and religious unrest as it was back when first pieced together under the most fraught of circumstances.