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 (, .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 Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)

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