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22 April 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 112: Bell of Doom (The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, Part Four)

Dear diary,

I was really not looking forward to this one. Having found the thing I enjoyed most about The Massacre was the whole subplot about the Doctor and the Abbot looking alike, I really worried that there wouldn't be anything in part four to hold my attention. Thankfully, this episode really brings everything together nicely, and I was captivated by it.

Early on, Steven returns to meet with Anne, and solemnly tells her that his friend is dead. He admits that he doesn't know what to do, and that if he can't find the Doctor's TARDIS key, then he won't be able to make it out of Paris. It's another chance for Peter Purves to shine (there are several in this episode), and it's interesting to see a companion in this predicament.

Towards the end of The Daleks' Master Plan, when Hartnell took a week off, Steven and Sara found themselves stranded, not knowing where the Doctor was. There, they were filled with optimism, and knew that he had to be out there somewhere, probably in the middle of the Dalek's plans. Here, though, Steven is convinced that he's actually seen the Doctor's body, and that he's got no hope. It's a brave thing to do with the programme, and one which we don't often see.

But then the Doctor appears, and all is well! Hooray! Except… where has the Doctor been all this time? He chastises Steven for not being at the tavern when he got back there, and says that the curfew is responsible for a lot of the mess they're in, but… Does he ever actually tell us what he's been up to? Has he just been wandering the streets of Paris for a few episodes?

The actual plot of the massacre itself has been of more interest to me here, too. Throughout the story, I've somewhat struggled to keep abreast of who's on which side, and which one is meant to be trying to massacre the other. Here, it's spelled out nice and clearly. The Queen Mother has given the order, and everyone of the opposing religion is to be killed at daybreak. Simple. The Doctor ten gives us a brief run-down of the events once we're safely back to the TARDIS, and suddenly I'm back up to speed again.

Indeed, it's these final TARDIS scenes that really sell the episode. I've praised Steven as a character in the past because he's not afraid to speak his mind and stand up to the Doctor. Never is this more in evidence than here, when he riles against him for sending Anne Chaplet home, even though it meant sending her to death. It's a beautifully written scene and Purves plays it with perfection again. All the more effective is the way that having told the Doctor he intends to get off the ship at their next stop, he barely says one more word to him before leaving. It's powerful stuff.

I'm only hoping that it gets picked up on in the next story. I've been impressed on more than one occasion with the series so far, when they pick up on big character moments like this even as we move to a new story, and it feels like a moment that really does deserve to have lasting effects. It was an argument like this from Barbara back in The Edge of Destruction that set the Doctor off on a route to becoming a new man, and it would be nice to see this moment continue pushing the Doctor down the right path.

The scene is then lifted even higher by Hartnell's monologue, straddling Steven's departure. He tells the boy that he stands by his decision, and that there is a chance - however slim - that Anne may have survived. Having then watched Steven storm out, the Doctor muses that everyone leaves him in the end. He thinks of Susan, and Vicki, before commenting that Ian and Barbara were all too eager to get back to their own time and place.

It then marks the first occasion in a while where the Doctor has really spoken of his own world, when he considers that it may be time to return. It's a very moving moment for the Doctor, and Hartnell is perhaps the best he's ever been. Much gets said in this story about the way he plays the Abbot in such a different manner to the Doctor - without the little gestures and the flubbed lines. People don't often seem to talk about this moment, where he gets everything spot on, and really sells it to us.

And then… Dodo! It feels silly, but I'd never realised the Anne Chaplet / Dodo Chaplet link had been made so explicitly in the programme itself. I always thought that it was left as a bit of a subliminal hint that everything might have been ok in the end for Anne. Unfortunately, the scene itself isn't perhaps the best introduction to a character - it's serves more as a four-minute info-dump than anything else, checking off everything we need to know (and then some) before heading back out to the stars.

The series has been a very dark place of late, with plenty of death and destruction. I've enjoyed it as a direction for the programme, but I'm looking forward to having Dodo here, and seeing the series head for a slightly less morbid place once more…

(By the way: There's a story that says Ian and Barbara were supposed to appear in this episode, watching the TARDIS as it departs across Wimbledon Common. Sadly, it never happened. How brilliant would it have been, though? I know I was sick of them by the end, but a brief snippet of them here and now would simply be marvellous…)

Next Episode: The Steel Sky

Next Episode: The Steel Sky 
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