Nov. 10th, 2016

purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
The Massacre, I think, highlights the difficulty of attempting to tell a Doctor Who story centred upon a major historical event. Broadly speaking the outcome of the story is known and the major characters are not the Tardis crew. Mostly Doctor Who avoids these obvious problems by focusing on history as a setting or, when its purpose was more didactic, by focusing on the aftermath of major events.

The Massacre works hard to build a story around a group of protestants doomed to be caught up in France's St. Bartholemhew's Day Massacre but it is difficult to hide the fact that most of the narrative centres around Steven wondering about Paris, achieving next to nothing. The fact that the story only exists as telesnaps doesn't help the situation. I found it hard to distinguish one doomed protestant nobleman from another and ultimately didn't really care about any of them. The servant girl, Anne Chaplette, is more distinctive and sympathetic, but ultimately her role, much like Steven's is to wander about Paris achieving very little and one can't avoid the awkward feeling that she only exist to motivate the introduction of new companion Dodo Chaplet at the end of the story.

Meanwhile the Doctor vanishes from the plot at the end of episode 1 at which point it transpires that he has a double in Paris, the Abbot of Amboise. I was vaguely expecting us to get a lot of William Hartnell enjoying playing a double character but, in reality, we hardly see the Abbot either (I assume Hartnell was, in fact, on holiday) to the extent that the whole sub-plot feels like padding to allow Steven to spend episodes 2 and 3 trying to figure out what game the Doctor is playing.

All that said tame layman was more engaged than I was, but then I studied this bit of history at A level and he didn't, so he was genuinely interested in the religious politics of Paris in the 16th century and felt it was a refreshing departure for the show. I think even he, though, was beginning to lose interest as we moved into the later episodes which mostly seemed to be serving up more of the same of what we had in the first.

It's an oddity of a story, and one in some ways I'd particularly like to see recovered because that might well have a transformative effect on my engagement with the characters. But in general I think it is a lesson in why Doctor Who should not attempt to tell historical stories that focus upon famous people engaged in a famous event.

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