Doctor Who #107: Bell of Doom

"Madam, if you rouse the mob the innocent will perish with the guilty." "Innocent? Heresy can have no innocence. France will breath a pure air after tomorrow."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 4 of The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve. In the missing episode's absence, I have used a reconstruction (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Feb.26 1966.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Steven reunite just in time to escape the massacre, and they then meet Dodo in 20th-century London.

REVIEW: In the final chapter of The Massacre, we get fewer scenes of closed room historical drama, but that's partly because we'll leave France after the first 15 minutes. The good news is, it doesn't feel like we're being educated about history thanks to an awesome scene between the Marshal and the Queen Mother. Her cold-blooded, genocidal attitude is, quite simply, chilling. She speaks the truth when she says God has nothing to do with it. She's as powerful and evil a villain as any in Doctor Who. It's too bad she got so few scenes overall. Here, finally, the historical material serves as a kind of threat to our heroes, but one unleashed on the setting and which they could get caught up in, much in the same way as the shot of a volcano erupting might. The promise of that threat is realized through a series of wood cuts or engravings from the period, which famously drew complaints from parents who thought the imagery too violent. If the reconstruction used any of the same material, then viewers at the time were subjected to Medieval drawings of naked bodies being beaten, killed, dragged through the streets, and hung. A very effective and interesting use of history - in effect, confirming these events did happen - from director Paddy Russell.

What's interesting about this episode is that both of its stars are, at one point or another, convinced they will have to soldier on alone. Steven believes the Doctor dead after seeing the Abbot's corpse, and he seems under the impression that if he can find the TARDIS key, he can pilot the ship out of 16th-century France. Was this a first shot across the bow from producer John Wiles? Was he considering surrendering the show to a different protagonist despite its title? Of course, the Doctor isn't dead, but because he callously left Anne Chaplet to her own devices on the eve of a genocide, Steven decides to leave. It's a persuasive fight, since Steven had previously seen 3 traveling companions killed. The Doctor's monologue upon Steven's departure is quite a good one, and makes us believe his companion has well and truly left (he seems to be giving a lot of these eulogies recently). You can tell how tired he is, how much he misses each of his former companions (who all rate a mention), and he even contemplates going home and yet... cannot.

His meditation is interrupted by one Dodo Chaplet (see Theories) who, sadly, is something of a cipher. She doesn't really bat an eye at the fact the police box is bigger on the inside, doesn't care that she likely won't be able to come home, has no parents and her only relations won't care she's gone. She's even forgotten the injured little boy she came to find the coppers for. I'm not bothered by her Manchester accent (she loses it in the next episode anyway), but I am bothered by the fact that the producers think they can just plonk any Susan look-alike on the TARDIS without so much as a pinch of characterization. Compare to Vicki's introduction in The Rescue. So it's a good thing Steven races back in with little to no reason to. But then, explaining things is this episode's big weakness. We never do find out why the Abbot looked just like the Doctor, or where the Doctor was all this time, or what the deal with Preslin was. It's a little infuriating.

THEORIES: Steven's outrage is quelled somewhat by the possibility that Dodo Chaplet's existence means Anne Chaplet (or Chaplette, I've seen both used) survived the massacre of the Huguenots. Well, if Dodo really is Anne's descendant, it means Anne had a child out of wedlock who took her last name. Possible. The coincidence cannot go unnoticed, and we have to wonder if the TARDIS isn't once again steering itself towards certain genetic markers. First an Abbot that's physically identical to the Doctor, and now a girl who may well be related to a different girl who very nearly became a companion (if she and Steven had had their way). One orphan with nowhere to go deserves another, right? The almost magical way the Doctor gains a companion here just as he's lost them all might also indicate a manipulation from the TARDIS, landing in exactly the spot it needs to to grab the Doc a new Who girl.

VERSIONS: The novelization omits the final scene in which we meet Dodo, and instead features a framing tale in which the Doctor explains his actions to other Time Lords. The Doctor doesn't disappear from the story and has his own adventure.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A couple of excellent scenes and a powerful pay-off to the massacre allow us to largely forgive the fact we don't really get any answers to the Doctor's absence. I suppose the episode remains an important one because of Dodo's introduction.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The Massacre sidelines the Doctor, and eventually, Steven as well, in favor of a historical drama that's far from iconic enough to deserve the treatment. With the Abbot red herring thrown in, it's a wonder it manages to pay off relatively well in the final chapter.

2 comments:

Toby'c said...

Have you seen An Adventure in Space and Time? David Bradley's reenactment of the Doctor's monologue makes it even more heartbreaking.

Siskoid said...

I have and I loved it. I watched Day of the Doctor and An Adventure back to back so it was a lot of lumps in my throat for a 3-hour period.

 

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