September 2021 books

Non-fiction 3 (YTD 30)
Rose, by Jon Arnold
The Massacre, by James Cooray Smith
Gods and Tulips, by Neil Gaiman
book cover

Non-genre 3 (YTD 22)
Jack, by Marilynne Robinson
Kipps, by H. G. Wells
4.50 from Paddington, by Agatha Christie
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Scripts 1 (YTD 3)
Great Glowing Coils of the Universe
, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Poetry (mostly) 1 (YTD 4)
Love, Fishie, by Maddy Gaiman

SF 11 (YTD 94)
Zodiac Station, by Tom Harper
The Return of the Discontinued Man, by Mark Hodder – did not finish
Hurricane Fever, by Tobias S. Buckell
The Man Who Walked Through Walls, by Marcel Aymé
Felaheen, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
The Bloodline Feud, by Charles Stross
"The Saturn Game", by Poul Anderson
Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora, eds. Zelda Knight & Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald
Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls, by Matt Ruff
The Rain-Soaked Bride, by Guy Adams
Mama Bruise, by Jonathan Carroll
book cover book cover book cover book cover book cover

Doctor Who 5 (YTD 13, 17 inc non-fiction and comics)
Angel of Mercy, by Julianne Todd, Claire Bartlett and Iain McLaughlin
Blood of Atlantis, by Simon Forward
The Ruby’s Curse, by Alex Kingston
Doctor Who: Rose, by Russell T. Davies
Doctor Who: The Massacre, by John Lucarotti
book cover book cover book cover

Comics and art books 5 (YTD 34)
Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts, by Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martínez
Retour sur Aldébaran, Épisode 2, by Leo
Retour sur Aldébaran, Épisode 3, by Leo
De Walvisbibliotheek, by Judith Vanistendael and Zidrou
Reflected, ed. Peter de Rijcke
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6,600 pages (YTD 53,000)
8/29 (YTD 86/200) by non-male writers (Robinson, Christie, Gaiman, Knight, Todd/Bartlett, Kingston/Rayner, Hall, Vanistendael)
3/29 (YTD 34/200) by PoC (Cooray Smith, Buckell, Donald)
6/29 rereads (YTD 23/200) – 4.50 from Paddington, Felaheen, The Bloodline Feud, "The Saturn Game", Doctor Who: Rose, Doctor Who: The Massacre

Current
Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson
The Wych Elm, by Tana French
John Quincy Adams: American Visionary, by Fred Kaplan

Coming soon (perhaps)
Time Must Have a Stop, by Aldous Huxley
City of Miracles, by Robert Jackson Bennett
"Fire Watch", by Connie Willis
Groetjes uit Vlaanderen, by Mohamed Ouaamari
The Empire of Time, by David Wingrove
Crashland, by Sean Williams
Day of the Dead, by Neil Gaiman
Paul: A Biography, by Tom Wright
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve
The Story of Sex: From Apes to Robots, by Philippe Brenot
The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, by J R R Tolkien
The Last Defender of Camelot, by Roger Zelazny
Le dernier Atlas, Tome 3, by Fabien Vehlmann
Ann Veronica, by H. G. Wells
An Introduction to the Gospel of John, by Raymond E. Brown
Summer, by Ali Smith
The Empire of Gold, by S. A Chakraborty
Not Before Sundown, by Johanna Sinisalo

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April 2013 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging which will fall in 2023. Every six-ish days, I've been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I've found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

My one trip this month was to Bratislava, where I chaired a session of a conference which was sadly deficient in gender representation. My French intern MG returned to Geneva, her career base, and is still there in the private banking sector. Her replacement, Anglo-American M, was recruited by me at rather short notice when my original choice dropped out; M negotiated an arrangement where she worked for me four days a week and spent the fifth on the Iraq Body Count website. I asked her to at least sit in the office on Iraq days so that I would have company.

We were also honoured and pleased to host the late great Tony De Brum, Minister-in-Assistance to the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (effectively Vice-President), when he came to Brussels to meet the European Commission. We took him to a pub on Place Lux afterwards.

We also helped out with a colourful demonstration by Somalilanders and their supporters in the EU district of Brussels.

crowd on Rond Point Schuman with Somaliland flags

In British news, I began the month by dropping my membership of the Lib Dems (since reinstated), and then Margaret Thatcher died. At the end of the month, more positively, my cousin Brian was appointed executive producer of Doctor Who.

My mother came to visit, and got some good photos of us and the kids.

my daughter B my son Fme with my daughter U my mother with U Anne, B and me

I celebrated my birthday with an impromptu pub lunch in The Old Oak. The next day, I went to the Antwerp Science Fiction and Comics convention, which was great fun.

cosplayers, with Anne looking on

I read 20 books that month.

Non-fiction 2 (YTD 9)
Chicks Dig Comics, ed. Lynne M. Thomas and Sigrid Ellis
TARDIS Eruditorum, vol 1: William Hartnell, by Elizabeth Sandifer

Fiction (non-sf) 2 (YTD 7)
Bring Up The Bodies, by Hilary Mantel
Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome

sf (non-Who) 9 (YTD 26)
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed
The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie
San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, by "Mira Grant"
After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, by Nancy Kress
On a Red Station, Drifting, by Aliette de Bodard
The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson

1632, by Eric Flint
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
Blackout, by "Mira Grant"

Who 5 (YTD 22, 28 counting non-fiction and comics)
The Eye of the Giant, by Christopher Bulis
Summer Falls by 'Amelia Williams' (James Goss)
Zamper, by Gareth Roberts
Father Time, by Lance Parkin
The Roots of Evil, by Philip Reeve

Comics 2 (YTD 8)
Aldébaran 3: La Photo, by Leo
Tesseract, by Tony Lee

~5,500 pages (YTD 19,000)
6/20 (YTD 20/73) by women (Thomas/Ellis, Mantel, "Grant"x2, Kress, de Bodard)
2/20 (YTD 2/73) by PoC (Ahmed, de Bodard)

Best of these was the first volume of TARDIS Eruditorum, by Elizabeth Sandifer; you can get it here. However I bounced off both Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself, which you can get here, and Mira Grant's San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, which you can get here.

book cover: TARDIS Eruditorum
book cover: The Blade Itself book cover: San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats

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560 days of plague

Well, major drama today. F got pinged yesterday as having had a high risk contact last week, went for a test and was told today that he had tested positive for COVID. So I immediately went and got myself tested at the hospital in Ixelles, finished off the undelegatable stuff at work and came home. He has no symptoms, Anne and I have no symptoms, but you have to do what the rules say.

What exactly the rules say is not completely clear – the chap who I spoke to on the national tracing line said that since I am double-Pfizered, I could leave quarantine if I get a negative test result; Anne didn’t get the same information, but did not ask the same question. But what is clear is that we have to maintain household quarantine for the time being.

It’s actually a little surprising that it has taken this long to strike so close to home. Also a bit surprising that it was F rather than me that provided the first positive test in the household, given that I see such a wide variety of people (but maybe students are not as careful as my professional contacts).

Anyway, it is what it is. Even being asymptomatically COVID-positive would be a real pain in the neck; we had a fun-packed wedding anniversary trip planned for the weekend, and then I have a planned work trip next week and a major work event on Thursday 7th. I would bet that the fact that we’re all double-vaxxed means that F is less infectious and we are less susceptible. But I’ll know for sure tomorrow. (Or sooner if I start to go down with the symptoms, but I think that would have happened by now.)

When I was planning this post this morning, I was intending to cheerily speculate that I’ll finish this series when all restrictions are lifted in Belgium, which should be some time in October from what I read in the papers. But today has reminded me that it may be a long time before all of this is over.

I’m friends-locking this for the moment, so if you happen to see it please don’t make public comment until I have made it public again. Thank you!

Edited to add: My negative test came through this evening. Whew!

My tweets

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Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts, by Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martínez

Second frame of third chapter:

One of my impulse purchases at Shakespeare and Company in July, this is a graphic story presentation of Rebecca Hall's research into a particularly obscure bit of American and British history: the role of women in leading revolts of enslaved Africans, in the 18th century. The first part of the book looks at New York, not usually remembered as the hotbed of the slave trade that it actually was at one time, where enslaved women have been more or less erased from the narrative even when they were the instigators of local (usually very local) attempts to overthrow white oppression. She then goes on to England, where she is abruptly blocked from looking at the records of Lloyd's (a shameful act from the venerable insurance company) but finds enough to keep her going at the role the women had in the shipboard revolts of slave transports – basically, while the men were chained below decks, women were allowed some freedom to sit above, where they served the needs of the white sailors, including their sexual demands, but also had relatively easy access to weapons and the motivation to use them. She finishes up by imagining the environment that slaves would have come from in West Africa, where the tradition of enslavement after a military defeat by your neighbours, lasting a few years and then you went home, was completely disrupted by the Atlantic slave trade.

The whole book is presented as Hall's research process, which anyone who's ever done historical research will deeply sympathise with, against the dynamic of leaving her partner and young child behind while she heads off to New York and England to find answers. And of course it's also rooted against the continuing discrimination against women and people of colour in the USA especially, though also in Europe. The title refers both to the wake of the history of the slave ships, and I think to the need to become woke. It's a really good book and you can get it here.

I'm going to annoyingly divert for a moment to an odd bit of slaving history, the fort of São João Baptista de Ajudá, in Ouidah, Benin, which remained a Portuguese possession until 1961 though it was only 70m square and had a population of less than a dozen; it was probably the smallest territory ever recognised as a separate polity, albeit a Portuguese colony. (The Turkish exclave of the tomb of Suleyman Shah isn't a separate polity from Turkey, and has only one inhabitant, who has been dead since 1236.)

This was my top unread comic in English. Next on that pile is The Story of Sex: From Apes to Robots, by Philippe Brenot and Laetitia Coryn.

book cover
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My tweets

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The Massacre, by James Cooray Smith

The second of the Black Archive books analysing past stories of Doctor Who looks at The Massacre, a 1966 First Doctor story which has been lost from the archives, apart from an off-air audio recording, a few photographs, and the Loose Cannon reconstruction which you can watch here, here, here and here. It’s set immediately before the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve in 1572, also the subject of Christopher Marlowe’s last play. Incidentally, it was the first Doctor Who story to be directed by a woman (Paddy Russell).

Second paragraph of third chapter of Cooray Smith’s book:

Steven also lacks a clear understanding that Paris is a city with a strictly patrolled curfew, which prompts him to remain at the tavern until far later than is advisable. The means that he stays at the Admiral’s house overnight, something that happens simply because he sees Nicholas as the curfew approaches. Had Steven understood the curfew, let alone what will transpire in 72 hours, he might have returned to where the TARDIS is, despite not having a key. (The ship is well hidden.) But simply going home with Nicholas leads others to see him as aligned with the Huguenot faction in French religious politics.

When I first watched the recon in 2007, I wrote:

I was intrigued by this story after the positive write-up given it by Cornell, Day and Topping in The Discontinuity Guide. Although the film of this Hartnell story is lost, I managed to get hold of a fan “reproduction”, with black and white pictures of scenes from the programme montaged against the original sound-track. I watched it late last night, and was not wildly impressed. But this may have been due to just being too tired to take it in properly – I went back to a couple of key scenes this morning to check points for this review and suddenly found myself being drawn into it much more.

Is this the only Doctor Who story featuring just the Doctor and a single, male, companion? Indeed the Doctor himself features only in one and a half episodes out of four, with William Hartnell credited as the Abbot of Amboise in the middle two episodes, though of course Steven (and the audience) are unsure about whether he is really the Doctor in disguise. Peter Purves really has to carry the entire story until half way through the last episode, and is just about up to it.

In some ways it’s actually the basic Doctor Who plot – Tardis arrives in the midst of fiendish political plotting, our heroes make friends with one of the locals and have to sort out the goodies from the baddies. The interesting wrinkles are that the setting is not an alien planet but an obscure corner of French history, the 1572 massacre of the Huguenots, and that the baddies win. Looking at its place in the original broadcast sequence, it came immediately after The Dalek Master Plan in which not one but two companions were killed off, so fitted into a bleak rather than comic phase.

But it really does come alive in the fourth and final episode, when the Doctor reappears without deigning to explain where he has been. He and Steven actually leave Paris with ten minutes of story yet to go, leaving time for them to have a row, Steven to walk out of the Tardis in disgust, Dodo Chaplet to walk into it by mistake, and then Steven to return. In his brief moment on his own, the Doctor delivers a soliloquy which sounds much much better than it looks in script:

Steven: 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.
Doctor: We’ve landed. Your mind is made up?
(The TARDIS doors open.)
Steven: Goodbye.
Doctor: My dear Steven, history sometimes gives us a terrible shock, and that is because we don’t quite fully understand. Why should we? After all, we’re all too small to realise its final pattern. Therefore, don’t try and judge it from where you stand. I was right to do as I did. Yes, that I firmly believe.
(Steven walks out of the Tardis.)
Doctor: Even after all this time, he cannot understand. I dare not change the course of history. Well, at least I taught him to take some precautions. He did remember to look at the scanner before he opened the doors.

Now they’re all gone. All gone.

None of them could understand. Not even my little Susan, or Vicki. Yes. And there’s 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.

Going to the Peter Purves narrated audio, I wrote:

The Massacre (.co.uk, .com) was one of the first stories I watched via fan reconstruction, and I was very unimpressed. However, the audio version, with again Peter Purves narrating, is, I think the single best Doctor Who audio I have heard. I very strongly recommend it. Tat Wood and Laurence Miles comment that since director Paddy Russell’s specialty was people creeping around silently, probably the best bits were the bits we will never see.

It helps, of course, that Steven rather than the Doctor is the central character here, so Purves is telling his own character’s story. Freshly arrived in Paris from the end of the Daleks’ Master Plan, having lost three fellow companions in the recent past (Vicki through romance, Katarina and Sara Kingdom through horrible death), the Doctor now abandons Steven who has to make his way through a hostile and confusing environment. No wonder he walks out at the end, giving the First Doctor, alone at last, a great soliloquy.

As a future Englishman, Steven is C of E without ever having really thought about it, but now finds himself in a setting where “Catholic” and “Protestant” are terms which can cost you your life – a cognitive dissonance I’ve seen often enough, and I suppose experienced myself in reverse. While the program tends to side with the Protestants, who after all were the massacrees rather than the massacrers in this case, they are very definitely not completely innocent in their suffering.

The story is very neatly structured, with each of the first three episodes lasting from dawn to dusk. Tat Wood and Laurence Miles have some intriguing speculation as to what was happening after dusk, but you should buy their book to find out more. Unlike me, they can’t forgive the end for the way in which new companion Dodo is introduced; I think Steven is a bit out of character (despite this being otherwise his best story) but I can roll with it.

In my 2010 rewatch, I wrote:

More heavy drama in The Massacre, another downbeat story in which lots of people are killed. Again, I was familiar with the Peter Purves audio narration and less so with the recon [edited to add: actually this was not true – I’d watched the recon too], which is very impressive given the limited source material, and also gives a sense of what we are missing – director Paddy Russell’s trademark of people creeping around the set hiding from each other. This is also the first “Doctor-lite” story, though of course Hartnell is in it as the Abbot. (Are the two middle episodes the only ones in the whole of Who which have no actual credit for the Doctor? And I don’t think he even speaks in ep 2.) The story keeps us guessing as to whether the Abbot is the Doctor in disguise, as Steven thinks and as is also hinted at by the Abbot’s failure to deliver effectively on his fearsome reputation. Then at the end of episode 3, he is dead in the street – and bearing in mind that we have lost Sara, Bret and Katarina in the last few weeks, it looks very grim for our hero. Yet episode 4 fairly effortlessly shifts focus, and once the political story line has its grim resolution established, it becomes all about the Doctor – will he take Anne with him? (No.) Whose reaction do we focus on after Steven storms out of the Tardis? (The Doctor’s.) Will he take Dodo with him? (Yes.) It’s back to the old mysterious time-traveller, working to his own set of rules which we do not know: “None of them could understand.” And this is entirely under the control of Donald Tosh, who drastically altered Lucarotti’s original script though had by now handed over as story editor to Gerry Davies.

Three years later, in 2013, my brother wrote up the story. I have quoted myself at too much length already, so you should read his full post, but he suggests a radical reading of the script:

Here’s what happened. The Doctor has defeated the Daleks with the Time Destructor. It was at a great cost, but he did it. After running from his past mistakes for so long, he’s beginning to stop thinking of himself as a fugitive and to start thinking of himself as a hero. Maybe he can make things better after all.

The Massacre of St Bartholemew is an appropriate test case: an event terrible enough that he can improve things even if he doesn’t prevent the event altogether, but also one that Steven doesn’t know about, so a change won’t affect him (remember my theory that history doesn’t matter, what matters is history you know). For it to work, Steven must not know what the Doctor’s up to, so he slips away. Frustrating for us who have Steven as our viewpoint character, of course, that the narrative focus has to stay with Steven as he’s the stable point, but there you go.

On his own and unobserved, the Doctor can try to act. The real Abbot is waylaid on his way to Paris. The Doctor gambles everything on the hope that preventing the assassination, one tiny change that a real historical person could have made, will avert the massacre. And he manages to prevent the assassination, but for some reason the force of existing history is too strong. It is strange, Father Abbot, that since you came everything which had been so carefully planned has gone wrong. He is revealed as a traitor. He is killed and his body dumped in the streets. His death, blamed on the Huguenots, replaces the assassination as the catalyst for the killing of the next days. He is blasted back to Preslin’s shop. The timelines judder back together.

My dear Steven, history sometimes gives us a terrible shock, and that is because we don’t quite fully understand. Why should we? After all, we’re all too small to realise its final pattern. Therefore, don’t try and judge it from where you stand. I was right to do as I did. Yes, that I firmly believe… Even after all this time, he cannot understand. I dare not change the course of history… None of them could understand. Not even my little Susan.

If you believe my take above, this otherwise bafflingly opaque monologue (“I was right to do as I did” in a story where we’ve barely seen the Doctor do anything; all the references to the companions not being able to understand history as if that had been an important theme anywhere other than in The Aztecs) makes sense: the Doctor has tried to change history, been rebuffed, and is now on his own and ready to give up.

(We also explain the mystery of the story’s name: yes, Steven doesn’t know about the Massacre, but the subtext of the entire story is the Doctor’s attempt to prevent it. And we get thematic unity: the Doctor’s plotting in private mirrors the plots and counterplots onstage. Clearly, no writer thought that this was what was going on in the story, but from now on this is my canon).

And then history throws him a bone: a girl with the same name, a lifeline of hope that he made a small difference and got away with it. A girl who won’t be missed, who looks just like Susan. Surnames aren’t matrilineal? Doesn’t matter here; if history’s sending you a message, it will use whatever channel it can.

There is hope. You can make a difference. Some things are permitted. Onwards.

My main takeaway from rewatching it this time is that a creative reading is absolutely necessary to disentangle the confusing plot. The overall tone of doom is clear, but the details really aren’t. No wonder Steven struggles to work out what is going on. It’s a good illustration of why the story editor and writer should be different people, to have more than one set of eyes on a story; if Lucarotti’s original script had been more usable, Tosh would not have had to revise it to the extent that he literally lost the plot in places.

I’m going to salute a couple of members of the cast. In particular, Annette Robertson plays servant girl Anne Chaplet, basically the woman companion of the story, and would have been an interesting addition to the regular cast.

scene with Annete Robertson, Peter Purves and two other actors in a tavern another scene with Annete Robertson, Peter Purves and two other actors in a tavern

Her major previous film appearance was in The Young Ones starring Cliff Richard, where her role is basically Second Girlfriend to Melvyn Hayes’ sidekick character, but she has a lot more oomph than the official female lead, Carole Gray. Here’s a scene where she rather oddly believes that she is Cleopatra.

In between The Young Ones in 1961 and The Massacre in 1965, she married and divorced John Hurt. (She is still alive, and occasionally active on Facebook, but has no IMDB acting credit since 1988.)

Among the male guests, André “Quatermass” Morell is a particular catch; he has come up several times in my Oscar watching. Here he is Marshal Tavannes, but he also appeared in two Oscar-winning films – as Colonel Green in Bridge on the River Kwai and Sextus in Ben-Hur.

André Morell as Colonel Green in Bridge on the River Kwai

André Morell as Sextus in Ben-Hur

A lot of the male actors appeared subsequently in other Who stories – Christopher Tranchell in The Faceless Ones and The Invasion of Time, Michael Bilton in Pyramids of Mars and The Deadly Assassin, Reginald Jessup in The Invasion of Time, Erik Chitty also in The Deadly Assassin, David Weston in Warriors’ Gate and Leonard Sachs in Arc of Infinity – a lot of these are set on Gallifrey, for some reason. (One other actor also appeared in an Oscar-winning film, James Cairncross who plays Lemaitre here and was Parson Supple in Tom Jones in 1963; he made a return to Doctor Who in The Krotons.)

On to the novelisation. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

The carriage came to a halt and the driver, leaning over, looked down. ‘That’ll be twenty sous,’ he said and the Doctor handed him thirty as he stepped out. The driver tipped his hat, shook the reins and the carriage rumbled away.

When I first read it in 2007, I wrote:

The novelisation of The Massacre strays furthest from the story as broadcast: we experience it as a flashback from the First Doctor’s point of view, at a moment when he has temporarily made his peace with the Time Lords and is relaxing in the garden from which he is wrenched for The Five Doctors. Rather than the Doctor disappearing from the scene as he does in the TV story, here he and Steven get completely sucked into the Protestants’ attempts to discredit the Doctor’s double, the Abbot of Amboise, and to be honest it is all rather confusing; apparently the story had to be rewritten to allow for Hartnell’s health (or the unusability of Lucarotti’s original script, depending what version you believe). We get the impression that because of the Doctor’s interference to save Anne Chaplet, the Time Lords get grumpy with him again. There is also circumstantial evidence to support the Wood/Miles view of what was going on after curfew, though they are wrong about the chariot pulled by greyhounds (they are Alsatians). Dodo does not appear at all except in that her arrival is referred to by the Time Lords in the epilogue.

On rereading, it’s still pretty confusing, but I guess the most striking difference from the TV script (apart from the carriage drawn by Alsatians through the tunnels of Paris) is that Lucarotti constructs a whole bait-and-switch plan by the Doctor to impersonate the Abbot of Amboise and try to avert some of the looming disaster – for which the Time Lords chide him in the epilogue. It’s ambitious, and even if only 70% of it had made it to screen it would have been a really interesting story, though it would have still needed a lot of tidying up.

James Cooray Smith has done a really superb job of digging into The Massacre for the Black Archives. The first chapter looks at the historical basis of the plot, which more than any other historical Who story engages with the actual political drama happening on the ground, rather than just having dramatic events in which our protagonists get enmeshed. “The Massacre has 15 named speaking characters. Of those, seven are demonstrably real people (and mostly people of sufficient note in their own lives as to be conspicuously embedded in the historical record) and two have a basis in history but are not (necessarily) real individuals. Six are clearly fictional. Of those six, three are the Doctor, Steven Taylor and Dodo Chaplet, the last of whom only appears in the last five minutes of the final episode and not, in any case, in 16th-century France at all.” A glorious footnote to this paragraph begins “To put this into context, only five real people have speaking roles in all of 1980s Doctor Who, and none at all in 1970s Doctor Who.” Cooray Smith questions why a supposedly educational show didn’t make more of the history, and then makes the interesting finding that there really was a fake Abbot of Amboise during the French Wars of Religion.

The second chapter looks at plot and structure, making the point that “no episode of the story, uniquely for episodic 20th-century television Doctor Who, begins with a reprise of the final scene of the previous episode”. In particular, Cooray Smith teases apart the question of why Steven should think that the Abbot is the Doctor in disguise, and why the other characters do not; and tries to find sympathetic readings, or at least excuses, for other plot ambiguities.

The third, and most interesting, chapter, looks at religion. This is a story about Catholics killing Protestants (and to a lesser extent vice versa). The script is on the side of the Protestants, but not uncritically; both sides have their bigotries. Having myself been born in Belfast the year after this story was shown, I find the mid-century take on Christian sectarianism fascinating. It might have been a lot more difficult for the BBC to make a story like this after the Troubles broke out. But Cooray Smith also sees the story investigating the themes of predestination and redemtion. “Resurrection is the central mystery of all variations of Christianity. And The Massacre is a story explicitly concerned with variations in Christianity, which ends with the Doctor’s apparent resurrection three days after the audience last saw him, and which begins with Steven being turned away from an Inn. Just putting that out there.”

In the fourth chapter, Cooray Smith challenges the idea that the end of the story came as a surprise to viewers in 1966. It was not called The Massacre then; each episode had its own title “War of God”, “The Sea Beggar”, “Priest of Death” and “Bell of Doom”, at least three of which rather clearly signal that this is not a comedy. But he further makes the case that actually the 1572 massacre was a relatively well-known historical fact in 1960s Britain, much more so than today.

In the fifth and final chapter, Cooray Smith undertakes the difficult forensic task of working out exactly which bits of the story are Lucarotti and which are Tosh, not least because both writers have given detailed and contradictory accounts of how the story was written (though both are in agreement on the core narrative: that Lucarotti’s work was heavily revised by Tosh). He makes the point that the show was in real trouble at this point. Ratings had collapsed from their 1964-65 peak (which, as Cooray Smith points out, was higher than achieved by any subsequent era of the show, including Baker/Holmes/Hinchcliffe or Tennant/Davies); the new producer John Wiles and script editor Donald Tosh were both already on their way out after only a short time at the helm; there was a merry dance of companions, with Maureen O’Brien fired at three weeks’ notice, Adrienne Hill hired and fired so quickly that her first scene to be filmed was her character’s death, Jean Marsh likewise in and out and Annette Robertson considered but rejected as the new regular. More importantly, management seems to have decided to get rid of William Hartnell at the end of The Celestial Toymaker, two stories after The Massacre, but apparently there was a mistake in the paperwork and instead he was renewed for another six months. Ultimately of course Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis took over, fired all of the leading cast and made the show what it largely is today. But there was no inevitability about that.

An appendix looks at Dodo Chaplet, the new companion who appears out of nowhere at the end of the story. I’ve written about her too:

Although Dodo is in fact the first companion since the very beginning to come from our own time (Vicki, Steven, and Sara Kingdom from the future; Katarina from the past) she is oddly enough the one we know least about, and find out least about. She is the girl next door, but one whose parents never let you talk to her and who isn’t allowed to discuss anything except the scenery.

Other appendices look a the possible relationship between Anne Chaplet and Dodo Chaplet, the fact that the word “massacre” was first used in English to refer to 1572, the question of the story’s title, contemporary ratings and reactions, and the demise of the historical Doctor Who stories.

I really enjoyed this book which packs a lot of good chunky and new analysis into 100 pages, and took the liberty of recommending it to one of the cast.

He has in fact already held a copy, but may not have read it at the time!

You can get it here, and the novelisation here.

Next up: The Ambassadors of Death, and Dark Water / Death in Heaven.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Face of Evil (27) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)

Dune, part 1

Well, well, well – I had not realised that Dennis Villeneuve's Dune is not yet out in the UK or America. My British and American (and I guess also Irish) friends, you have a treat in store.

F and I went to see it yesterday in the IMAX near the Heysel stadium. I think in retrospect I'd have gone for the 3-D experience rather than the IMAX; it is such a huge film that one rather gets lost in the perspective.

You have surely read the book, so the only important thing to say about the plot is that we get only halfway – although the film is being advertised as Dune, tout court, it's actually only the first half, up to the point where Paul and Jessica are adopted by the Fremen. So assuming that the opening night in the US in October is successful (and I think it will be), there'll be a part 2 next year, or in 2023.

What to say: it looks fantastic. Sets, effects, planets, big buildings, big bangs, ornithopters you can almost believe in, and of course the sandworms. (F wondered if the film-makers had drawn inspiration from SpongeBob's Alaskan bull worm

So, other things to comment on. The casting is good. I want to particularly note Rebecca Ferguson, who despite her name is Swedish, as Lady Jessica, Paul's mother. She is less hard-edged than the character in the book, but I think deeper for it. Charlotte Rampling basically just gets one scene as the Reverend Mother, but steals it completely. Javier Bardem is Stilgar, leader of the indigenous Fremen, and is superb – the first scene where he brings the "gift of water" sets the tone. (I helped him with an event in the European Parliament in 2012 – see here at 0:37.) Jason Momoa is great as Duncan Idaho. Slightly less convinced by Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck. The nobles – Oscar Isaac as the Duke, Stellan Skarsgård as the Baron – are fine. Sharon Duncan-Brewster, who I last saw as Daniel's friend and Edith's girlfriend Fran in Russsell T. Davies' Years and Years (which I don't seem to have written up), plays a genderflipped Liet Kynes. The two young leads, Timothée Chalamet as Paul and Zendaya as Chani, are good to look at and manage to carry off the freighting of youth combined with destiny very well. There is justifiable commentary that although the Fremen are ethnically diverse, none of them are actually played by actors whose ethnicity comes from the desert.

But the casting is secondary just to the staging and cinematography. All the key moments are there; some of them look as good as I had hoped, most of them look far better than I'd hoped. The music is just right too, though I was a little sorry that the Pink Floyd from one of the trailers didn’t make it to the big screen:

So, it will get one of my Hugo nominations for next year. I think I may still vote for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ahead of it, though.