Doctor Who #104: War of God

"No doubt you visit this tavern because the air is clearer of rigid Catholic dogma?"TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 1 of The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, a story completely missing from the archives. I've listened to the BBC CD narrated by Peter Purves, but for purposes of these reviews, I'm using a reconstruction (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Feb.5 1966.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands in religiously divided 16th-century France. Steven makes friends in a tavern, while the Doctor hunts down an apothecary he really wants to meet.

REVIEW: France on the eve of a massacre. A people divided along protestant (Huguenot) and catholic lines. A monarch trying to unite them through a cross-religion marriage. It's not the most well-known piece of history available, but the story might be able to use it to its advantage to foster unpredictability. As in many historicals, the dialog is rather witty, and because some of it is predicated on religious intolerance, its themes are more adult than most. With John Wiles now the producer, and Donald Tosh now script editor, is it possible there was a push towards more adult fare? This story comes on the heels of a companion being turned to dust, after all. Tosh notoriously tinkered so much with Lucarotti's script, he tried to disown it. What IS a hallmark of the Wiles era is the Doctor getting sidelined (he and Hartnell didn't get along), so the Doctor leaves on his little mission to meet historical celeb Charles Preslin, the (fictional? or else extremely obscure?) discoverer of germs and leaves Steven to his own devices.

Peter Purves takes up the challenge well enough, making fast friends where the Doctor gets a colder reception. Through his new friend Nicholas, Steven learns of the era he's in, its politics and dangers, and affably navigates his unfamiliarity with the setting. When a young girl called Anne runs by, chased by the Abbot of Amboise's guards, they take her in and find out there's a massacre in the offing, turning Steven's bit of tourism into a chance of more serious adventure. The girl's lost her father in a prior religious cleansing, and now she's heard something she shouldn't have and is in danger of joining him. To Steven's credit, he does try to keep out of history's way as per the Doctor's directives, but sometimes history is coming straight at you. You know how it is.

Of the Abbot of Amboise, we hear a number of things, none of them endearing, and of course, the big twist at the end of the episode is that the Abbot looks just like the Doctor. I don't know if anyone thought he WAS the Doctor, playing some kind of game, but the fact all the Abbot's men recognize him and have known him for a while means this was never the intention. Still, it's an odd thing to have happen in a historical that seems otherwise meticulously researched.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Historicals are the best part of the Hartnell era, and again we get a strong script with good dialog. The choice of historical event is a bit obscure and dark, but the focus on Steven is welcome after the neglect of the last story.

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