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.)|
|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.
Anyway, we’ve been watching The Dalek Invasion of Earth as well, and loving it. More on that in due course.