Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 110: The Sea Beggar (The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, Episode Two)
I think I’ve said it before, but some days of The 50 Year Diary are easier than others. Sometimes, as I hit ‘pause’ on the music player (usually while the end credits are playing out), I’ve got a list of notes that fills a full side of my notepad, and the hard part is trying to decide which notes to pick up on, and discuss during my entry. More than once, I’ve started to talk about something before realising that it’s probably only of interest to me, deleted it, and taken a different direction for that day’s entry.
Other days… are just difficult. Today is one of those ‘difficult’ days. The problem is that there’s nothing really all that wrong with this episode – it’s perfectly fine as an episode of Doctor Who and all, it just hasn’t really grabbed me all that much. I’ve come away with only about four notes from this episode, and some of those are just bits of dialogue that I’ve liked.
Yesterday, I complained that I didn’t really know this period of history, and mused that it could be one of the problems I was having trying to connect with the story. The problem is… I’m loathe to look into it too much. A quick scan of the top paragraph on Wikipedia tells the that it took place in the late sixteenth century, and that’s where I stopped reading. It’s going to sound odd, but I don’t want any spoilers! Spoilers from a story (made and broadcast 48 years ago) about a historical even that happened several centuries ago!
I can already surmise that The Massacre isn’t going to have a happy ending. Just look at the title to know that! I don’t want to know the exact details, though, because I want to experience it as a part of the tale. This means, though, that I’m still wading through it not quite knowing the significance of events. There’s a few moments where characters say things that (judging by the performance) are obviously important contextually, but I don’t really get them. Ho hum.
Still, there’s plenty of interest coming in the form of the ‘is he or isn’t he the Doctor’ plot line. I thought it was quite clearly a case of the Abbot just happening to be a double of our lead character, but actually there seems to be more to it than that. When Steven first speculates that it could be the Doctor, passing himself off as an official for some reason (he wasn’t around to see the Doctor’s role in The Reign of Terror, but I’m imagining the Abbot as wearing the same feathery hat. Just because. I like that hat), the entire sub plot takes a very different turn.
Even more interesting is that other characters state definitively that it isn’t the Doctor. It can’t be him, because the Abbot has been an important figure in their lives for longer than the Doctor and Steven have been in France… but then they’ve only recently actually met the Abbot in person. Maybe this man is the Doctor in disguise?
The Doctor himself doesn’t actually appear in this episode (well, he might, if the Abbot really is the Doctor undertaking some clever ruse, but we’ve not been made privy to that yet), which only serves to make the whole thing even more of a mystery. It’s this that I’m enjoying the most at the moment, also I’m hoping it continues being built up as a key element of the plot. I’m half-wondering if the next episode might be this one told again, but from the point-of-view of the Doctor, before they reunite again at the end of the story…
And that’s the key thing. I’m interested to move on. I’m actively looking forward to tomorrow’s episode. It’s not like some of the stories we’ve gone through, where I’ve really not been all that bothered about the next episode. It’s just that – for now – The Massacre is just sort of there. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing particularly great about it either. Here’s hoping that things pick up from here on out!
(Are we placing bets on whether the Doctor is the Abbot, by the way? Don’t tell me if you know – avoiding spoilers there, too! – but for now I’m thinking… I’m thinking that it would be great if he were the Abbot, but I don’t think he is. I think.)
Next Episode: Priest of Death