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The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve ★★★★

A sombre historical adventure with two roles for William Hartnell and the debut of companion Dodo

Published: Friday, 20th February 2009 at 11:00 pm

Season 3 – Story 22

"Innocents? Heresy can have no innocents. France will breathe a purer air after tomorrow" - Catherine de Medici


The Tardis lands in Paris 1572 during a summer of religious tension. While the Doctor sets off to parley with an apothecary, Steven falls in with a group of prominent Huguenots under the patronage of the Admiral de Coligny. The Catholic Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, and Tavannes, the Marshal of France, plan to assassinate De Coligny in a plot involving the Abbot of Amboise - the Doctor's identical double. When this fails, the Queen authorises the massacre of all Huguenots within the city walls. To Steven's disgust, the Doctor insists on abandoning a new friend, Anne Chaplet, but during a brief landing on 1960s Wimbledon Common, a twist of fate brings Dodo Chaplet aboard the Tardis.

First transmissions
1. War of God - Saturday 5 February 1966
2. The Sea Beggar - Saturday 12 February 1966
3. Priest of Death - Saturday 19 February 1966
4. Bell of Doom - Saturday 26 February 1966

Location filming: January 1966 on Wimbledon Common, London
Filming: January 1966 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: January/February 1966 at Riverside 1

Doctor Who/Abbot of Amboise - William Hartnell
Steven Taylor - Peter Purves
Marshal Tavannes - André Morell
Admiral de Coligny - Leonard Sachs
Nicholas - David Weston
Anne - Annette Robertson
Gaston - Eric Thompson
Simon - John Tillinger
Landlord - Edwin Finn
Roger - Christopher Tranchell
Preslin - Erik Chitty
Captain of the Guard - Clive Cazes
Charles IX - Barry Justice
Catherine de Medici - Joan Young
Teligny - Michael Bilton
Dodo Chaplet - Jackie Lane

Writers - John Lucarotti, Donald Tosh (4)
Incidental music - library tracks (Pierre Arvay)
Designer - Michael Young
Story editors - Donald Tosh (1-3), Gerry Davis (4)
Producer - John Wiles
Director - Paddy Russell

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
And now for something completely different! After 12 weeks of Dalek-heavy sci-fi, any viewers eager for a change in tone certainly had their prayers answered. Unfortunately, this foray into an unfamiliar tranche of Parisian unrest may have proved too stodgy a history lesson for many. In 1965, Doctor Who's ratings had been consistently high (between nine and 13 million), but the audience began deserting during The Massacre with a dip to six million and below, which set a trend throughout 1966.

This is a shame because the surviving soundtrack indicates - and older fan friends assure me - that The Massacre was an outstanding drama, offering novelty and grim realism. John Lucarotti's third and final script for the series was substantially rewritten (by story editor Donald Tosh, who'd chosen the setting), but the result is harmonious. Sadly, we'll never now see its realisation by the series' first woman director, Paddy Russell - notably the busy street scenes filmed at Ealing Studios on Michael Young's multi-level sets.

Nor will we see Hartnell's turn as the Abbot of Amboise. I find doppelgangers implausible, even ridiculous; but the conceit at least affords Hartnell a few brief scenes as the less-than-godly priest, reminding us that his bumbling, whimsical Doctor is but another clever character study. The plot is deliberately structured to bamboozle the viewer - and Steven - into believing that the Doctor is posing as the abbot. Which makes the episode three cliffhanger, when Steven kneels over the old man's corpse, doubly perturbing.


[William Hartnell. Photographed by Don Smith, 21 January 1966 at Riverside Studios. Copyright Radio Times Archive]

With the Doctor largely absent, the bulk of the action falls to Steven - a lone companion lost in time - and Peter Purves acquits himself admirably. He's among a strong cast. Leonard Sachs (The Good Old Days' host) is superb as the dignified, honey-voiced Admiral De Coligny. Eric Thompson (father of Emma and voice of The Magic Roundabout) plays the vituperative, misogynistic Gaston, while his buddy Nicholas (David Weston) clearly takes a shine to "the Englishman", Steven. One does wonder if perhaps there's a gay undercurrent in the admiral's batchelor-pad-à-trois…

Playing the Queen Mother, Joan Young glowers in silence like a death watch beetle during a council meeting at the Louvre. Later when she sanctions the massacre of all Huguenots, even her ruthless marshal is appalled. "At dawn tomorrow this city will weep tears of blood," murmurs Tavannes. André Morell (the third TV Quatermass back in 1958) imbues his every scene with gravitas.

For several months the production team had been testing the water with short-lived companions. Here, despite an ill-advised West Country accent, Parisian wench Anne Chaplet shows potential, more than can be said for her possible, modern-day descendant, Dodo - surely one of most ineptly conceived companions.

But Anne's consignment to history does at least engender one of the classic Doctor Who moments. When Steven storms out, mortified by the Doctor's callous actions, we see the old man left alone in the Tardis - apparently companionless for the first time. He reflects on the failure of all his friends ("even my little Susan") to appreciate the imperatives of time travel. "Perhaps I should go home. Back to my own planet. But I can't… I can't." It's a profoundly sorrowful moment, pulled off magnificently by Hartnell.

This coda ends with something of a reset, as months of grimness give way to light, and the Doctor is overjoyed to be saddled with Dodo - yet another surrogate grandchild. "Oh, my dear! My dear!" he trills.

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Radio Times archive material

Two regional variations of the introductory feature.

Massacre billings

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[Soundtrack available on BBC Audio CD]


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