Doctor Who #105: The Sea Beggar

"You see shadows where there is no sun."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 2 of The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve. Absent from the archives, a reconstruction was nonetheless available (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Feb.12 1966.

IN THIS ONE... When the Doctor fails to make his rendezvous, Steven tries to meet the Abbot of Amboise who is a dead ringer for is friend and hears of an assassination plot.

REVIEW: There sure are a lot of scenes of various historical personages talking about history in closed rooms in this episode, and that's where it fails. Not that they are badly done - BBC actors were by then very comfortable with this kind of material - but as Doctor Who viewers, we want these scenes to be over so we can get back to the protagonists. To be fair, Steven does have an impact on history from the fringes, his presence leading some to wonder if protestant overtures have been made to England, but it's still like watching a version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead where we see a whole more of Hamlet. The culmination of that idea is that the celebrity historicals get the cliffhanger, with neither of the program's heroes present.

The Doctor is, of course, completely absent from the proceedings. We learn that his germologist friend Preslin has been in jail for two years, so doubtless, he was captured by the man he thought was Preslin. And though Hartnell plays the Abbot, he appears in only one scene (pre-taped?) and has no dialog. The script casts some doubt as to whether or not the Doctor has taken on the role - none of the other characters had met him before yesterday - but it's a red herring. The main function of the Abbot subplot is to make things difficult for Steven. Suddenly, he's not to be trusted because he claims to be friends with the Abbot. It does lead to a nice stand-off between Steven and the volatile Gaston who draws a sword on him. We can't see the sword fight today, but I like that Steven isn't written as Ian here. He doesn't have the skill or the will to fight Gaston and runs after some timid defensive exchanges. The Doctor DID tell him not to cut himself with his sword.

The role of the female companion is played by the servant girl Anne, whose loyalty to Steven is admirable. Through Anne, we also see how the goodies aren't any better than the baddies in this story. Catholic, protestant, both sides have an unfriendly disposition towards her. France is a country not just divided by faith, but by class, and Anne is on the very lowest rung of that ladder.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Steven Taylor is slumming it in one of the BBC's historical productions, and the Doctor is nowhere to be seen. It's all quite well done, but is it Doctor Who?

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