This is, sadly, yet another season three dud where they get the story wrong. If you’re going to tell a tale set in an obscure period of history that hardly anyone knows about, then it needs to work twice as hard to get people’s attention and engage them. As always, it’s that essential screenwriting/storytelling question – why should I care? And when it comes to The Massacre, we don’t.
The Count of Monte Cristo or even The Three Musketeers would have made much better source material, as they’re stories that the audience will be familiar with, unlike the obscure plight of the poor old Huguenots, Pertwee’s family amongst them. Even just taking Alexandre Dumas as a starting point would have been a much better idea than this. But no. I’d much rather watch the Richard Lester Musketeers movies than listen to this.
This is a doppleganger story that’s a complete clunker. Who cares if the Abbot is really the Doctor, and why the hell would the Doctor be impersonating the bloody Abbot anyway? The other two iterations of the “The Doctor’s Double” story [Enemy of the World and Meglos] both work, though admittedly the former better than the latter, precisely because someone is pretending to be someone else, with the result that there’s stuff at stake and we’re wondering who’s Who. But with The Massacre, we get none of that. Who cares if Jon Pertwee’s ancestors are going to get wiped out? Religious persecution is nothing new, and the series has explored similar territory already in The Reign of Terror.
I’m with Lucarotti on this one, Donald Tosh gets the story completely wrong, even allowing for the enforced loss of the Doctor for episode 2 due to Hartnell’s holiday. If you’re going to set a story during a period in time when a people group are going to be slaughtered then I’m expecting that the Doctor and Steven are going to be mistaken for members of said people group and be at risk of getting their own throats cut.
And once we learn that, then the writer can rack up the tension as obstacle after obstacle gets in the way of the Doctor and Steven getting back to the TARDIS and making their escape. Yes, they can befriend some members of that people group along the way, and then, if the writer does his job properly and makes us care, we will have a gripping and engaging story about the unavoidable inevitability of a Fixed Point that could possible rival The Aztecs for dramatic tension. As an audience, we will be totally engaged as we realise, to our mounting horror, that, although the Doctor and Steven have grown very fond of her, we are just as torn as the Doctor when he says that, much as he wants to, he dare not rescue Anne for fear of the possible consequences to History.
So it’s a shame that Cotton, the man who writes the two historical serials either side of The Dalek Masterplan, doesn’t do any of that, instead he wastes most of the episodes with some bollocks about a plot to bump off some bloke we don’t give a toss about. In the immortal words of Ian Dury, what a waste. It’s interesting to note that Tosh’s comedic stories – at this point he’s already given us The Myth Makers and will go on to write The Gunfighters – arguably work, at least on their own merits as comic pieces. Whereas this, his one and only attempt at writing a “straight” historical, falls flat on its arse.
So in this version Steven and Billy turn up, Billy buggers off, Steven meets some Huguenot peeps, including a nice bird called Anne that he quite fancies on the qt, Billy turns up, and realising what time it is insists that they high tail it back to the TARDIS before the slaughter starts and no, they can’t rescue Anne, sorry. And we can get through all of that in just 27m, after which you can go read John Lucarotti’s far superior novelisation instead.
And then Dodo turns up at the end, neatly getting the Doctor off the hook with Steven, who’s clearly calmed down pretty quickly but how did he miss Dodo running into the Tardis? Didn’t he see the accident that she wants to telephone about???
In her initial TARDIS scene she has her original “oop nurth” accent that will come and go in the next story The Ark, supposedly vetoed by the Reithian snobbery of someone higher up the BBC chain of command. And that’s a shame as a character from the land of Coronation Street would have been a nice change to the usual RP. How ironic then that we’ll soon get not only a Cockney sailor but a Scots highlander under Wiles’ successor.
The story of The Massacre is a story of missed opportunities on both sides of the camera, but, with some additional music, hopefully this fan edit has made the most of the opportunity to try and make the best of it. Though I’d still much rather we’d got Dr Who Meets The Three Musketeers instead…