The Massacre

Written by:
John Lucarotti/Donald Tosh
Directed by: Paddy Russell
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1966
Audio Availability: Try Amazon

While not quite achieving the same highs as his earlier Marco Polo, The Massacre is perhaps the perfect distillation of John Lucarotti's innovative genius. A story that should, by all accounts, be contrived, with a pat resolution and a twin for the Doctor. Yet Lucarotti uses it as a literary "hand of God" within the action, and each episode - I'm sure you'll agree this is a feat of no mean brilliance - takes the form of a day, cliffhanger reprises dispensed with.

It's an extraordinarily well written and plotted opening episode, and I'd love for this one to be found. Who knows, maybe it would look rubbish as moving images - it certainly works outrageously well as an audio - but wouldn't it be nice to find out? The other major innovation of the story is that while Hartnell plays a dual role (and also doesn't fluff a line as the Doctor as well as the Abbott, one of just two stories in which he's word perfect throughout) it places the companion centre-stage. Peter Purves is more than capable of holding the narrative in his finest outing, displaying great integrity as the underrated Steven Taylor.

On a brief and pointless technical note then I've said before that all the reconstructions I'm "seeing" the missing episodes with are from the Loose Cannon team. I side-stepped them just once before, for The Crusade, and here it's a much earlier reconstruction, from a team known as "Materialising Tardis". With no telesnaps existing, the poor buggers certainly had their work cut out for them…
* * * * ˝

While historical defenders - and I am one - claim that the viewing figures hardly differed between them and the SF stories, then it has to be said that, in fairness, this isn't true, and it does historical supporters an injustice by them trying to back false claims. The truth of the matter is that the average rating for Hartnell's SF/fantasy stories was 8.85 million, the historicals averaging over a million below at 7.83m. What's a million between friends? Well, as I say, I do love 'em, but let's not try and reclaim the historicals by making out they're something they weren't. All of which seems remarkably apt to mention here, as The Massacre, arguably one of the greatest stories in Who's entire history, managed to haemorrhage two million viewers between parts one and two, collapsing to six million and staying just beneath that figure after a first episode (presumably Dalek-boosted) high of eight million.

In very real terms of plot nothing at all happens here, with Bill having even less involvement than I remembered. This is Steven's story all the way, the Doctor really only there to top and tail the adventure and his look-alike The Abbot having no real involvement either. What I really like about this one is that you actually feel you're in the historical period, experiencing events along with Steven. Superb.
* * * * *

Okay, I have to admit it - I was completely plastered when I just watched this one. I was so excited about the story that I wanted to carry on reviewing it anyway, but you know when you're so tanked up not only do you nearly wet yourself but you also feel like bragging about it? Fortunately, despite being completely inebriated during the whole of this instalment, the genius of it still managed to shine through, even if I couldn't tell you anything specific about it.
* * * * ˝

Okay, final episode with a hangover. Donald Tosh's script-editing was so considerable on this instalment that he got an onscreen credit with Lucarotti. Apparently Lucarotti was so dissatisfied with the television rendition of his story (more fool him, it's great) that he completely hacked the story to bits and rewrote it for the novelisation. As a result, this is the first (and probably only) time I'm going to link in a Target review with a story.

The majority of the people visiting this site will probably know what a Target book is anyway, but just in case you don't three Doctor Who novelisations were printed by Frederick Muller Publishing back in the 60s, beginning with David Whitaker's adaptation of The Daleks in 1964. In May 1973 the brand Target began to publish novelisations of the Doctor Who television stories*, including reprints of the three Frederick Muller ones. To be honest, I've never really understood theThe Massacre Novelisation, art by Tony Masero point of reading something that's just a recreation of something that's been made specially for television anyway, especially as the vast majority are written by Terrance Dicks (61 of 154). That said, usually about one in ten were above the norm, and towards the end they started to become more fleshed out and better written. But I have so little interest in them I've probably read a dozen at the very most.
* Except for the two Saward Dalek stories, rights pending, and the three Douglas Adams stories, sadly now never to be written, at least by their original author. The 1996 TV Movie was novelised by Gary Russell but printed by BBC Books.

It is disturbing to see arguably Who's finest script-writer reduced to Terrance Dicks-like standards by crafting 136 pages of occasionally trite passages, with a neatly tied-up resolution. What the novelisation makes you realise is that, despite the plaudits heaped upon Lucarotti, what I'm tempted to call his finest hour didn't come from him after all. Here the Doctor shapes the story, changes events and saves Anne Chaplet at the conclusion. So it is that the downbeat, exquisite conclusion that sees the Doctor forced into a moral quandary and the story pondering the literalised hand of God within the narrative is all stuff that Lucarotti didn't want. Written twenty-one years after the television story, the novelisation goes to prove that with his Doctor-centric, Prisoner of Zenda style shenanigans, Lucarotti was a fine, fine writer, but maybe that grasp of genius was never quite there. Finally, this all begs the question of why fans should pay for novelisations of stories only for them to feature events that didn't actually happen in said story. Some may see it as a bonus, a kind of "director's cut", but fans being fans they'd probably want the real thing, right? Me? I say save your money, they're not high literary art and in the majority of cases you'll find watching it on the telly much more rewarding. Billy doesn't even blow his lay, er, lines in the books, hmmm? Yes, yes, quite so.

I'll say one thing though - is the episode title, "Bell of Doom" the worst one in the series? What next, "Sock of Death"? "Cardigan of Destruction"? Anyway, enough silliness, because this is a tremendous final part, full of cracking lines like "I do not fear death. I only hope we have nothing to fear from my staying alive" and "at dawn tomorrow this city will weep tears of blood". If you really want to look at this story in terms of what actually happens then nothing does. Steven and the Doctor - who is scarcely present - have no effect on events. It's another problematical set-up whereby the travellers can't interact with history, and so don't. Yet while this may have been a weakness in, to name just one, The Crusade, here it's made into the ultimate virtue. Okay, the stock images of the massacre itself taking place (reputed to be drawings on screen) probably looked awful, but the wholesale slaughter of Paris Huguenots weighs heavy The murder of over 10,000 is met with credible upset from the regulars. The Doctor tries to justify his non-interference with "we're all too small to realise its [history's] final pattern" but Steven leaves the Doctor in disgust, leaving an emotionally naked and saddened old man behind: "Now… they've all gone… all gone. None of them could… could understand me. Not even… my little Susan. Or Vicki. And as for 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…" It's glorious, first-rate stuff, strangely moving. Perhaps the only downside of all this is that the coda gives us the inexplicably accented Dodo, one of the least appealing companions in what could be taken as the most contrived element in the whole series, but works perfectly as audacious conceit.
* * * * *

The Massacre makes the rest of season three seem weaker in comparison. It's a fine, vastly underrated season with many strong stories, but this is just in a different class altogether.
* * * * *