"The Dalek Masterplan" (the previous story) was certainly a hard act to follow. The Doctor Who production office had quite a task set out before it to keep viewers equally interested in the next couple of stories, and as the ratings and viewer appreciation figures from this time indicate, they did not do such a great job of it. We now enter a run of stories that I often like to call "the dregs" of season three....
|(Doctor Who Story No. 22, starring William Hartnell)
Dennis Spooner and John Lucarotti wanted to do a historical story. First it was to be in India in the 1700's. Apparently the story was axed from on high because Doctor Who was not supposed to venture between the years 1600 and 1960. Not only is this the lamest cause of rejection I've ever heard, but who stopped Terry Nation from setting the second half of "The Feast of Steven" in 1920's Hollywood, or Donald Tosh from commissioning Donald Cotton for a story set in 1880's Arizona? 1700's India was not to be, at any rate.
Next, Lucarotti came up with his "Vikings" story-line. This story once more flaunts the same fundamental plot-motivation weakpoint that infamously dragged Lucarotti's "Marco Polo" story to the bottom of season one's rankings. That weakpoint is that the regular characters are only motivated by a desire to leave in the TARDIS and explore some other place - in other words, the trip from Greenland to Newfoundland in a Viking ship isn't interesting enough in itself, and the formula is once more in place for the audience to not take interest in the Viking crossing and to look forward impatiently to moving on to next month's sci-fi story just as the regular characters are doing. This is sufficient cause in my book for at least having the motivations for the regular characters completely re-written. As it turns out, this story idea was completely rejected anyway, which may have been going too far.
"Steven finds himself alone in Paris once more. For a while, he wanders the streets aimlessly...."Perhaps this story should belong to "The Adventures of Steven Taylor" rather than to the Doctor Who program. Steven is as close to a main character as this story gets, yet his motivation throughout is simply to find the Doctor, who may or may not be impersonating the Abbot for reasons unknown, and leave in the TARDIS. This is the "Marco Polo" mistake again, which does next to nothing in getting viewers interested in the events of Paris 1572 or creating a riveting story, while also merely helping the audience focus on the Doctor's absence from his TV program.
Next, we come to the guest characters themselves. Denominations such as Protestant Huguenots and Catholics are mentioned in the same manner and vein as ethnicity and nationality, but questions of religion and spirituality are not discussed in the slightest, nor are our time-travellers able to comment on the absence of discussion of the crucial issues. Once more, Wiles and Tosh play it so safe that there isn't any point to play this game at all. Did Tosh achieve his aim of "historically accurate" portrayal of all "real" characters? In terms of writing, directing, and acting, there seems to be a focus on recreating a somewhat Shakespearean style here. But it is style... window dressing. The dialogue is the type Tosh always seemed keen to take credit for, with the most thoughtful moments mumbled quietly, and the more audible portions consisting of too much whining and self-centered explosions. Maybe historical figures did act that way 400 years ago. The trouble is, that kind of behaviour generally doesn't, and shouldn't, evoke much empathy with audiences today.
These guest characters are also presented in a very haphazard order, disappearing early and/or appearing suddenly late in the story, maintaining a great deal of confusion over which characters are important or even relevant to the proceedings. The Abbot of Amboise fits this description as equally as any of the others. Even after narration has been added for the CD version of the story, I still find it extremely difficult just to know who is talking much of the time, or what role each of the characters is trying to play in the unfolding plot.
What's really missing from this tale is a character, either regular or guest, who has motives above petty self-interest, one whose struggle an audience will want to invest in emotionally. Without that, we needn't bother turning the cameras on. When the actual "Massacre" of the title eventually takes place, it feels as though there is no reason to care one way or the other. It's just bloody, horrific, and ugly, and why are we watching / listening to it anyway?
Interaction is paramount for the main character(s) in any narrative. If you can't teach history while having main character time-travelers interact compellingly with historical ones, then do a historical show without time-travelers, and let a noble historical figure take the lead. Sadly, "The Massacre" really has no historical lead character, and no successful time-traveling lead character either.
William Hartnell certainly knows how to deliver a soliloquy when he puts his mind to it, and for once I found myself glued to the audio recording, hanging on every word, as the atmosphere became thick with the sense that something very deep and crucial and important was about to be imparted. His speech is riveting, but redundant.... essentially lousy content in terrific packaging. Here Hartnell basically gives voice to the formula Donald Tosh had a conviction to adhere to at the time, unfortunately a formula that reliably produces crap in science-fiction everywhere. If the Doctor believes what he's saying here, then he's in a complete relapse. The illusion of the danger of a timeline changing, being rewritten, or ceasing to exist, coupled with the change-fearing character-immobilizing notion that a good deed might lead to a worse timeline - this illusion is the single worst anti-moral plaguing science fiction writers then and now. Its major motivation seems to be in the worshipful preservation of history books, real or future-fictional, as though this should be more important than exploration, discovery, adventure, the desire to do good, help save lives, stay true to inner principles, show others who you really are inside, and make a positive difference wherever and whenever one may find oneself.
Well, let's talk Achilles' heel. If so many writers can get warped around this one, it's surely going to happen that a fictional character can do so as well. And hey, that's okay. We're all free to be wrong sometimes.
And the tacked on beat that adds another new companion to the TARDIS crew offers another golden opportunity to tackle the issue - sadly wasted. The character motivations here smack of pure cowardice and fear, lacking not just courage but reason and logic as well, and set the poorest examples in all of Doctor Who history. Sadly and bizarrely, Donald Tosh and John Wiles have really shown no tolerance for any female companion while they ran this show. It seems they didn't know how to write for them, and mistakenly blamed it on their characters' biographies. Shoddy.
This also does wonders for the guest characters, as the reader now tends to empathize with Huguenots first, and Catholics second, making the actual looming events much more emotional. Preslin, Lerans, and Nicholas Muss now evoke the readers' sympathies, for the Doctor and Steven both get to know their better sides and empathize with their goals. But the Doctor's motivations and allegiances do not do it all - the restructuring of the guests' appearances in the plot must also take much credit. Catholic Simon Duval (The Abbot's right hand man), quickly comes to the fore as THE lead villain that we love to see humorously fooled by the confusion of the Doctor's resemblance to the Abbot and all the impersonations that follow. Viscount Gaston de Lerans in particular feels like a completely different character, occupying the archetype of the local lead good guy that our regulars want to help - a far cry from the forgettable imbecile we heard in the audio CD version. Also, by the middle of episode two, all major guest characters have been introduced, and remain active until the final scenes of episode four. King Charles grows from an episode three extra to an important figure - his illness and his relationship (read: power-struggle) with his mother become evident. The Abbot of Amboise also manages to get his due in involvement as well, without being spared any encounters with the Doctor for logistical TV production reasons. The Doctor also gets to demonstrate mastery of spiritual and Godly issues, and comment powerfully on the limitations of the guest characters that would cause atrocity in the name of religion. Even for all of Admiral De Coligny's noble efforts to unite the religious differences in France, he would do so through war in the name of nationality, which is one more excuse for the same evil. This novel thus proves far more effective at teaching history and providing insight into it than the TV version.
Proper Charles, Other Charles, and King CharlesHistorical accuracy provides this story with two famous characters named Charles: one being the noteworthy scientist Mr. Preslin, and the other being Charles IX, King of France. That's easy enough to take, as there is little chance of getting the two mixed up. But it seems a third character that Lucarotti invented himself, purely for the novelized version, was a red-bearded dog-cart driver who could have been called anything. Lucarotti names him Charles, despite the fact that almost all of his scenes are in the company of Mr. Preslin, making the reader wonder which of them he means each time he indicates that Charles speaks, or Charles does something. All we need now is John Cleese asking, "Is your name not Charles?" "No, it's Gaston." "That might be a bit confusing. Mind if we call you Charles instead?" And the Doctor thought he had problems getting mixed up with the Abbot....
The novelization perhaps still suffers from a slow pace in earlier sections, a pace which still only accelerates slowly. But thankfully the pace continues to build until everything is rolling full steam ahead during the final quarter of the book, and the entire journey is definitely far better than the dreary rubbish that went out on TV.
The Doctor is very busy at the end of this book version, and stays true to his inner character struggle with his history-alteration issue, which wraps up all the events of the Paris 1572 setting very satisfactorily. Is there any disappointment to be had at the loss of the big soliloquy? Considering what anti-moral crap it actually tried to say, not at all. It is no longer necessary in the slightest. I would not have wanted the companion's introduction to have followed the TV version verbatim either, but this is an important element in the continuing series, and it deserves more than a casual "flashback" mention, even if it were completely restructured/remotivated as well.
The wrap-around "inquiry" idea in the book doesn't seem to fit Doctor Who chronology very well, stemming more from the fact that "The Trial of a Time Lord" (season 23) must have been first airing and influencing Lucarotti as he did his novelization, but it is an important element in heightening the Doctor's issue with his inner principles, and in showing definitively where his issue stems from. His adamancy in not altering history, seen here and in "The Aztecs" (story no. 6), is not so much his own well-thought out idea, but rather just an environmental influence ingrained into him by the officials and teachers of his own, slightly twisted planet.
Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page: