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10 November 2016 @ 08:26 pm
The Randomiser: The Massacre (of St. Bartholemhew's Eve)  
The Massacre, I think, highlights the difficulty of attempting to tell a Doctor Who story centred upon a major historical event. Broadly speaking the outcome of the story is known and the major characters are not the Tardis crew. Mostly Doctor Who avoids these obvious problems by focusing on history as a setting or, when its purpose was more didactic, by focusing on the aftermath of major events.

The Massacre works hard to build a story around a group of protestants doomed to be caught up in France's St. Bartholemhew's Day Massacre but it is difficult to hide the fact that most of the narrative centres around Steven wondering about Paris, achieving next to nothing. The fact that the story only exists as telesnaps doesn't help the situation. I found it hard to distinguish one doomed protestant nobleman from another and ultimately didn't really care about any of them. The servant girl, Anne Chaplette, is more distinctive and sympathetic, but ultimately her role, much like Steven's is to wander about Paris achieving very little and one can't avoid the awkward feeling that she only exist to motivate the introduction of new companion Dodo Chaplet at the end of the story.

Meanwhile the Doctor vanishes from the plot at the end of episode 1 at which point it transpires that he has a double in Paris, the Abbot of Amboise. I was vaguely expecting us to get a lot of William Hartnell enjoying playing a double character but, in reality, we hardly see the Abbot either (I assume Hartnell was, in fact, on holiday) to the extent that the whole sub-plot feels like padding to allow Steven to spend episodes 2 and 3 trying to figure out what game the Doctor is playing.

All that said tame layman was more engaged than I was, but then I studied this bit of history at A level and he didn't, so he was genuinely interested in the religious politics of Paris in the 16th century and felt it was a refreshing departure for the show. I think even he, though, was beginning to lose interest as we moved into the later episodes which mostly seemed to be serving up more of the same of what we had in the first.

It's an oddity of a story, and one in some ways I'd particularly like to see recovered because that might well have a transformative effect on my engagement with the characters. But in general I think it is a lesson in why Doctor Who should not attempt to tell historical stories that focus upon famous people engaged in a famous event.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/219239.html.
wellinghall: Goldiewellinghall on November 10th, 2016 08:33 pm (UTC)
Your final sentence is a key one; Dr Who seems better to me when telling a story of historical events without focusing on the historically important characters.

Edited at 2016-11-10 08:34 pm (UTC)
louisedennislouisedennis on November 10th, 2016 08:37 pm (UTC)
I think it can do either - there are plenty of fun stories of the Charles Dickens meets space ghosts variety to be told as well. But once you're following the movers and shakers in the middle of major events then it's naturally a story about them and not about the Tardis crew.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on November 10th, 2016 08:40 pm (UTC)
then it's naturally a story about them and not about the Tardis crew.

I know I've described the early historicals as "witness to history" stories, where the TARDIS crew take the role of the audience watching some famous event rather than actively participating (this attitude is even in some of the early science fiction stories). That style of story mostly went out with David Whitaker, though; this is something of a throwback.
louisedennislouisedennis on November 12th, 2016 03:06 pm (UTC)
Yes, they are very much observers, and yet the show is still focusing upon them so you get this odd disconnect in that the characters framed as protagonists aren't really doing anything.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on November 10th, 2016 08:37 pm (UTC)
Hartnell was on holiday for episode two only.

I actually like this, but I agree that it is hard to get into, especially on audio only - several of the actors seem to me to have confusingly similar voices, which obviously would not have been a problem for audiences at the time. I actually wrote about similar issues to the ones you raise in my review many years ago ("The Massacre feels so aloof, so remote, both from the rest of Doctor Who and from almost everything else on television, now and in the past, that it is hard to get a hold on it").
louisedennislouisedennis on November 12th, 2016 03:12 pm (UTC)
Certainly on of the biggest problems I had with it was "lots of indistinguishable protestants". I have a feeling it starts well, gets repetitive in the middle and then ends in a bit of a muddle as it focuses back on the Doctor and his refusal to explain where he has been and what he has been doing, but also, more than most, I think this would be better in live action rather than in still photographs.