Today was the first half of perhaps the most lost of all of the lost episodes. For most of them, at least some footage remains if only a fragment from a television capture or some such. But for The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve there is literally nothing except the audio track and some still photographs. There is not even a clear consensus on what the closing credits said. It's not surprising, in that this story comes on the heels of what some (not me) consider the greatest Dalek story of all time, and is instead a purely historical story with no science fiction of any kind to be found aside from the TARDIS materializing at the beginning and dematerializing at the end. In between, the story recounts a historical event that is not nearly as notorious as any of the other ones portrayed in these early historicals. On top of that, the Doctor disappears from most of the story so that it becomes a tale of Steven encountering a group of Huguenots in a tavern and being swept up in the impending wave of violence.
For me, though, I am pretty jazzed about the story. I have already said how much I enjoy the pure historicals, and this is the third one written by John Lucarotti (Marco Polo, The Aztecs). It is a foregone conclusion that this story is not going to have a happy ending, but along the way there are some things to be learned about the French Religious Wars.
Let's talk about that.
War of God / The Sea Beggar
(TARDIS Data Core recap)
So, if you are as familiar as I was with the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (I.E. - not at all), here is the deal: in the sixteenth century, France had some serious religious tension going on. On the one side you had the traditional Roman Catholics, including the Queen Mother Catherine de' Medici. On the other side you had the French Calvinist Protestants called the Huguenots. Over the course of the French Wars of Religion, roughly three million people died either by direct violence or by the resulting starvation and diseases that ran rampant. The turning point was the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, in which the Catholics (most likely at the direction of the Queen Mother) assassinated several prominent Huguenot leaders in Paris. Over the course of the next several weeks, somewhere between 5,000 - 30,000 Huguenots were slaughtered (the number varies depending on which historian you read).
With all that background, you can appreciate that when Steven winds up with a group of Huguenots just two days before the Massacre, it is a certainty that this is not going to end well.
If you like British costume dramas, you will like this story. If not, you will hate this story. In just about the first scene, the Doctor pops off to go visit Charles Preslin (a well-known apothecary). There is a brief scene with that meeting, which has nothing to do with anything in the story. After that William Hartnell appears in a few brief scenes as the Abbot of Amboise. Beyond that what you have is Doctor Who with no Doctor, no TARDIS, no aliens, robots, or monsters... just religious fanatics on both sides plotting and counter-plotting.
I loved it.
A couple of other interesting notes for this story: 1) It is the first Doctor Who story to be directed by a woman, Paddy Russell. She would return to direct three more stories in the next decade with both the Third and Fourth Doctors, including a personal favorite of mine - Horror of Fang Rock. 2) The part of Gaston, Viscount de Lerans was played by Eric Thompson. You probably don't know that name, but you almost certainly know his daughter Emma Thompson. 3) The part of Admiral de Coligny was played by Leonard Sachs, who later went on to play the Gallifreyan Lord President Borusa in Arc of Infinity.
So yeah, lots of good stuff here on multiple levels. I am really looking forward to tomorrow's conclusion.
Companion(s): Steven Taylor
Episode(s): War of God / The Sea Beggar
Steps Walked: 6,760 today, 358,859 total
Distance Walked: 3.39 miles today, 165.41 miles total
Weight: 290.04 lbs (five day moving average), net change -17.26 lbs