Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tasty, Tasty Crow.

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve

First Doctor  - 22nd Serial

4 Episodes, Companions: Steven

Summary: The Tardis materializes now in 16th Century France, and Steven and the Doctor look to lay low for a while while the Doctor visits some pioneers of scientific thought in a country torn apart by religious civil war.  The Catholics and the Protestants (Huguenots) hate each other, and knowing which side of the argument the person you are talking to is key to surviving this bloody time.  Of course, before long Steven and the Doctor are separated, Steven falls in with the Huguenots, learns of their plans to kill the "Sea Beggar", discovers that the Catholic in charge of everything, the Abbot of Amboise, is either the Doctor in disguise or an exact double, and generally makes a hash of "lay low"...

The Doctor: Man, he loves him some France.  I dig it. Heck, Tom's got a scarf, Peter's got celery, and Patrick had a flute.  So William has France.  He's tickled pink to be able to go visit Presleur, the guy who invented the theory of Germs, an idea highly controversial in both scientific circles and the church at the time.  Of course, the Doctor doesn't get much face time as himself - although William Hartnell does get to play the villainous Abbot of Amboise in this one.  Sadly, I don't find his portrayal of the Abbot as compelling or convincing, it just doesn't quite work.  Luckily, the serial is strong enough that that one nit-pick doesn't hurt it for me.  At the end, as the whole thing is crumbling around the Doctor - Companions have left him because they were in love, angry, or homesick; Companions have begun to die under his care; he is alone, no longer resolved to accomplish whatever it was he left his home world to do, and he contemplates returning home, his purposes failed.  It's a wonderful tragic moment, and a rare glimpse of something other than the fear he has when he's being chased, or the stern grandfatherly man he has been.  No, he's not human, but he's not actually soulless.  He's got his own priorities, and this is a real low point for him.

Companions: I've beaten Steven up a little for being little more than comic relief on a show I don't think needs to be a sitcom, and today, I take it back.  He does an excellent job here of being dramatic, involved, and central to the events.  He's not standing by being silly.  He's just watched the Daleks kill Sara and Katarina, and on the heels of that dramatic, if overly long Serial, lands in a violent fear-ruled France.  He does everything he can to help people, especially poor Anne Chaplet, and when things go from bad to worse, he's fed up.  Non-interference be Damned, the Doctor's time studies and random jumps without a human heart to drive them become too much for Steven - almost.  This is a Doctor-Light episode, with Steven being the real driving force and the lead, and far from being the clown he has been, he carries it off well enough that on this Serial alone I became a Peter Purves fan.

Continuity: This is the first time we see the Look-Alike motif - somebody in history that looks exactly like the Doctor or a companion.  The And, of course, at the very end, we meet new companion Dodo Chaplet.  In light of what we learn in another few decades, my hypothesis is that the TARDIS took Steven to precisely then specifically to get Dodo on board - to prove to Steven that Anne lived, so that he could stay.  She (the TARDIS) is not done needing him yet.

Rating: Love it. A powerhouse of a Serial, it's the first one I've rated this high in a while.  I might put it a notch below Marco Polo, but I must have rewatched this one 4 or 5 times while writing this post.  Like Marco Polo, I wish this one wasn't available solely as a reconstruction (Yes, I know the BBC released an audio version that has the TV soundtrack with Peter Purves providing linking narrations,but that's not the version I have access to without Crime) but in the end, to me, this belongs on the list of First Doctor Serials to watch if you want to see the humble but grand origins of the show.