Episodes 104, 105, 106 & 107: War of God, The Sea Beggar, Priest of Death, Bell of Doom

Written by John Lucarotti & Donald Tosh
Directed by Paddy Russell

The Catholic church have been having a bit of a rough time of it lately, particularly here in Scotland. First, their Pontifex Maximus declared himself unfit for office*, and then the aforementioned priest fondling charges leveled against Cardinal Keith O’Brien turned out to be rather on the true side. Oh dear. At least the church has not been cast as a Doctor Who villain in quite some time.

In many of the historical stories, particularly the ones in which the Doctor stumbles into an existing conflict, one group of people are seen to be the villains and one group are seen to be more on the good guy side of things. In The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, the villains are very much the royalists, and their anti Huguenot witch hunts, culminating in the all too real St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre.To be fair, the individuals responsable for these events, ending in the death of anything up to 30,000 human beings, really were quite henius indivduals. Catherine de’ Medici, the mother of the King in particular, has quite a bad reputation as being a bit of a cunt. The show is not completely one sided either, with a good number of the Huguenots behaving like idiots. In fact, in many ways it is better to view the villains of the piece those who are religiously intolerant, which is pretty appropriate for Doctor Who.

This story may well be my favorite of all the historical stories. The highly complex and intricate historical plot is accurately (to the best of my knowledge: I wasn’t actually there) explained, not a megure feat in the 90 minute running time. It also lacks the constant loops dominating the other historical Whos, instead concentrating on the dense plot and intricate structure. I’m also a big fan of the bleak ending. Its not often that the Doctor leaves somewhere in the full knowledge that such a terrible event is going to take place, and does nothing about it. Sadly, as the events, some of the more shameful in european history, are pretty much established fact, and so the Doctor was powerless to do anything about them.

There are only two flies in the ointment. One of them is the lack of the Doctor, who disappears towards the beginning of the story, only returning towards the climax. Hartnell is still around but playing a double role as the villain, the Abbot of Amboise, so all is not lost, but it would have been nice to see a bit more of the Doctor.

The other one is Dodo. She’s only in it for a few minutes right at the very end, but even in that she’s a bit shit. It’s painfully clear right from the start when she’s shoehorned into the TARDIS that the producers really wanted a hip and cool companion for the Doctor, but as is always the case when that type of character is introduced to an existing narrative, the result is a fuckign mess.

But perhaps I’m judging too early. she only appeared in the last scene of this story, maybe she’ll turn out alright. Lets find out next, in The Ark.

*an action that gave me an iota of a modicum of respect for a man I’d barely had an opinion about until recently.

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