Obverse Books, out March 1st.
“What a terrible page of the past.”
There are at least five versions of the 1965 Doctor Who story W, known as The Massacre (or The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve – even the title is uncertain!). There’s the version commissioned from and written by John Lucarotti originally, which script editor Donald Tosh wouldn’t accept. There’s the version penned by Tosh himself. There’s the version that was actually filmed, of which precious little bar the soundtrack remains. There’s then the version that John Lucarotti wrote in 1987 and was published by Target (and released on CD read by Peter Purves in 2015). The fifth? Well, that’s the actual historical events around which the fiction is (depending on the version) loosely based. (There is a sixth, technically, as the narration on the soundtrack collection may not totally reflect what was going on – look at the differences between the original Tomb of the Cybermen narration, done by Jon Pertwee, and the episodes, or The Underwater Menace part 2.) To make matters even more complicated, none of them are the same. And two of them don’t exist any more…
Jim Smith’s stunningly good book delves into this story in a way that I’ve not seen before, building from the essential dichotomy between Lucarotti and Tosh: one wanted to write a particular type of serial, the other wanted something completely different. How this affected the story’s genesis and realisation on screen is discussed in detail, with both (often conflicting) sides of the tale recounted. The other production difficulties are also delved into – among them, the difficult relationship between producer John Wiles and… well, pretty much everybody (some great quotes from Purves on the subject) and the attempts to remove William Hartnell. The creation of Dodo is – appropriately – dealt with in one of the Appendices, which also tackles the whole “is Dodo really a descendant of Anne Chaplet” question and comes up with rather a surprising answer, one of a number of items which will give you a revised perspective on commonly accepted truths about this story and Doctor Who history itself. (There are one or two more outlandish theories about the story with which you may not choose to agree…)
If you’re like 99.9% of Doctor Who fans who are going to read or listen to The Massacre and you’re not a student of this period of French history, then Smith introduces the real characters and explains how they tally (or often don’t) with counterparts in the differing fictional versions. He also clearly lays out the background in terms of culture, religion and politics (often one and the same) providing a primer that occasionally is forced into some generalisations (a fact he freely acknowledges) but which steeps you in the lore sufficiently to understand why this story, in all its fictional incarnations, wanders from the facts quite sharply. Chances are like me, you’ll start this intending to just read a chapter – and end up totally engrossed through to the end.
Verdict: One of the best pieces of Who-related scholarship I’ve read. 10/10