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The Massacre

by John Lucarotti

Book review by Paul Scoones

The St.Bartholomews Day Massacre of Sunday 24 August 1572 was the bloodiest and most savage incident in the French wars of religion. The Huguenots (Protestants) had gathered in Paris for the wedding of the Protestant prince, Henri of Navarre (who later became the Catholic king Henry IV, ending the wars). The Royal wedding was supposed to be reconciliation between Catholic and Protestant but the Catholic family Guise incited the Paris mobs to slaughter Huguenots. In two days, more than 2,000 died, including almost all the nobles who supported the Protestant cause.

This was the backdrop to the 1966 serial by John Lucarotti, and, as it turns out, Donald Tosh. Lucarotti wrote two other very good serials, Marco Polo and The Aztecs, both of which were historically accurate, and if anything, even more so in his recent novels of the two. The exception is his third, which was only originally written by Lucarotti, the rewrites having been done by Tosh, the script-editor of the time. Lucarotti's dedication to historical accuracy was mostly obscured by Tosh's changes, but the script was still basically Lucarotti's, so he was rightly credited as the writer (unlike The Ark in Space, also scripted by Lucarotti, but about 99% rewritten by Robert Holmes - the credited writer of that serial). For this reason, Lucarotti abandoned the scripts for The Massacre, and embarked on a period of research in Paris in order to produce what is a highly polished piece of writing, very accurate historically, if not particularly faithful to the TV version. Because of what he has achieved by doing this, I can easily forgive John Lucarotti, but Doctor Who purists may not do so quite so easily. Gone completely is the four minute piece at the end of episode four where the Doctor and Steven stop in Wimbledon. An angry Steven quits the TARDIS, returning with new companion Dodo Chaplet after the Doctor has delivered a long sad monologue to the viewers about no one understanding the reasons behind his actions.

What was really weird about the TV version was that the Doctor didn't appear for most of the story - Steven was the hero! Instead, Hartnell was playing the Doctor's double, the Abbot of Amboise. The viewer was as equally unsure as to whether the Abbot was the Doctor or not as Steven was. This sort of thing would be near impossible to reproduce on the page, as it relies on a purely visual reference, also Lucarotti couldn't abide by having the Doctor disappear for most of the novel, only to return in the last episode without explanation. Thus, the Doctor becomes an integral pert of the novel's plot, impersonating the Abbot himself. The book opens and closes with the Doctor on trial before a Time Lord council, recalling the adventure - a device most commonly used by Donald Cotton, but perhaps used to greater effect by Lucarotti. He calls his stories 'painless history lessons', but if you dislike historical fiction - even if it's quite good - then you probably will be bored by this novel, but I sincerely recommend it as a great novel.

This item appeared in TSV 5 (March 1988).

Index nodes: The Massacre
Reprinted in: Special Reprint Edition