Doctor Who Reactions: “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve”

Episode 1: “War of God”

After a 12-part epic science fiction thriller set in outer space (“The Daleks’ Master Plan”), it’s time for an historical drama set on Earth in 16th century France. The TARDIS lands the Doctor and Steven in Paris, 1572, smack in the middle of religious strife between the Catholics and the Huguenots (Protestants). Shortly after they land, the Doctor goes off to meet an advanced apothecary working in France at this time, Charles Preslin who has discovered the existence of germs, leaving Steven to fend for himself. Steven soon hooks up with a group of Protestants from the household of Admiral de Coligny and also meets a Huguenot maid named Anne Chaplet.

Cliffhanger: The villain of piece, the Abbot of Amboise, is introduced… or is it the Doctor in disguise?

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Ah, another historical...
Yes, it is credited to John Lucarotti, a master of the historical adventure and the last of three he contributed to Doctor Who, but the BBC’s Donald Tosh rewrote the final versions of all four scripts. The idea was Tosh’s, and Lucarotti objected that the historical events surrounding the massacre were relatively unknown. OTOH, basing the story on a relatively obscure piece of history fulfils the original educational purpose of the show. As events progress, neither Steven nor the audience knows what’s going to happen (or at least I don’t know what’s going to happen).

Episode 2: “The Sea Beggar”

Sorry to keep you in suspense over the holiday weekend, but the Abbot is not the Doctor. The Abbot is, however, played by William Hartnell. I don’t think we’re supposed to know it’s not the Doctor, though; Steven certainly doesn’t. And when Steven goes to look for him, the Doctor is not at Preslin’s (the apothecary he’s supposed to be visiting) house. Lucaraotti envisioned a much larger role for the Doctor, but Tosh wrote him out midway through episode one, and he was not to return until the end.

Writing the Doctor out accomplishes three main objectives: 1) the limited editing of the day would have made it tricky to show Hartnell in a dual role, 2) the fact that the Doctor isn’t around leaves the viewer guessing as to the true identity of the Abbot, and 3) it allows Steven to take a more central role.

At issue is whether or not France should back the Dutch in their war against Spain. In the Council are Admiral de Coligny (Protestant, pro) and Marshal Tavannes (Catholic, con). Steven overhears the Catholics plans, including the cryptic statement, “The sea beggar dies tomorrow.” “Sea beggar” is a racial slur for the Dutch (Protestants).

Cliffhanger: The “Sea Beggar” stands reveled as Admiral de Coligny.
Yeah, I can't say that I know much about that period in history myself.
Episode 3: “Priest of Death”

This chapter is largely court intrigue, and more talking heads than action. Seeing this performed would be easier than hearing it performed, although Hartnell does turn in a convincing performance as the Abbott of Amboise. Reportedly, this serial silenced some of Hartnell’s critics. His intense performance showed that his eccentric, doddery Doctor was not just an extension of his own character; it was a character Hartnell created.

Cliffhanger: Steven and Anne learn the Abbott (whom Steven still believes to be the Doctor) has been killed.
I always figured that Hartnell was a better actor than he was sometimes given credit for.  If you go back and watch those old episodes, he was hardly the only one that made mistakes.
Episode 4: “Bell of Doom”

Just yesterday I watched an episode of Space: 1999 in which Commander Koenig references the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve among a list of Earth’s atrocities. At least now I know a little more about it than I would have if I’d’ve seen that episode last week.

Steven is reunited with the Doctor early on in this episode, and as soon as the Doctor realizes what day it is and what is about to happen, he sends Anne off to the relative safety of her aunt’s house. Of course, with 10,000 fated to die in Paris alone and many more in the weeks to come, there’s no guarantee she will survive. The Doctor maintains he cannot interfere, but when the TARDIS lands in modern day England, Steven leaves in disgust. The Doctor laments Steven’s departure (in one of Hartnell’s best scenes), and reminisces about many of his former companions. Even when Hartnell fluffs a line it’s appropriate. He refers to Ian as “Chetterton,” then immediately corrects himself, “Chesterton.”

Suddenly, a young girl bursts into the TARDIS to report an accident, thinking it’s a real police box. The police are already on the scene, however, and on their way to the TARDIS themselves when Steven returns to warn the Doctor. They take off in the nick of time, along with the young girl, Dodo Chaplet, perhaps a descendant of Anne’s. Apparently the producers had considered making Anne a regular companion, but changed their minds, perhaps to avoid the difficulty of having to explain to her many things viewers would already be aware of. (If that’s truly the obstacle, they later overcame it when they introduced Victoria.) Many if not most get to have an adventure with the Doctor before formally travelling with him, but her we have Dodo who comes aboard and begins travelling with the Doctor with hardly any set up at all.

NEXT: The next story in sequence is “The Ark,” but that was released on DVD last March and we already have a discussion about it. The next story after that, though, is the (mostly) missing “Celestial Toymaker,” which I hope to begin discussing here on Monday.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
His intense performance showed that his eccentric, doddery Doctor was not just an extension of his own character; it was a character Hartnell created.

If you're interested in his other performances, he appeared in quite a number of movies.

I know he had a reputation for playing the heavy but I'm unsure about the availability of his movies on DVD in the states. Are there any in particular you (or anyone else) can recommend that are readily available?

I've seen him in The Way Ahead, where he's a no-nonsense sergeant, Brighton Rock, where he's a crook, The Dark Man, where he's a no-nonsense superintendant, and Hell Drivers, where he's a crooked manager.


I think his performance in This Sporting Life was well-regarded, but I've only seen a few seconds of that. Apparently he's in The Mouse that Roared, but I don't remember his part. Apparently he's also in Carry on Sergeant, the first Carry On movie, which I haven't seen and might interest you as the start of a long-running British franchise (which featured a kind of repertory cast of actors and later specialised in broad, smutty humour). You'd have a good shot at finding these three (the first starred Richard Harris and the second Peter Sellers, and the Carry On films are well-remembered in Britain).


He's not really all that prominent in Hell Drivers, but the film is worth seeing for other reasons (Patrick McGoohan plays the chief villain, in an over-the-top style; Sean Connery - not yet a star - has a small part; the film has an unusual plot and stars Stanley Baker).


In The Way Ahead, a wartime film, a group of draftees become a unit. The film stars David Niven. The Dark Man is an OK 50s British suspense film. Brighton Rock stars Richard Attenborough. My recollection is he played a milder character in that one, but I remember the performance less well.


Of the films I've mentioned, only The Mouse that Roared was in colour.

This Sporting Life pops up on Turner Classic Movies every now and then.

Police boxes can be seen in the film Gideon's Day , starring Jack Hawkins. There's a bit where the lights on top flash to alert the officers on the beat they're wanted.


Although it's a British film, it was directed by John Ford. I don't know you'd guess it, however.

Thanks for the recommendations, guys!

I thought the Doctor’s soliloquy after Steven’s (brief) departure was worth transcribing:

“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 are gone... all gone. None of them could understand, not even my little Susan… or Vicki. And as for Barbara and Chetterton… 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.”

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