February 22: "The Sea Beggar" / "Priest of Death"

(The Massacre episodes 2 & 3)

What's striking about "The Sea Beggar" (as well as "War of God" before it) is how different it is from The Daleks' Master Plan.  Although these episodes still strike a pretty serious tone, stylistically these are less like an action/adventure and more like a political drama.  Each episode seems to encapsulate roughly a day's worth of events, with no cliffhanger reprises, and the stakes are more about political maneuverings than the fate of the universe.

The other interesting thing about "The Sea Beggar" is the disappearance of the Doctor.  On its own this isn't particularly surprising, since William Hartnell's been on vacation before, but there's never been a sole companion around.  This means that most of the events focus squarely on Steven, as he tries to convince his new friends first that a) the Doctor and the Abbot of Amboise are different people, despite looking the same, and then that b) the Doctor is pretending to be the Abbot of Amboise for some reason, but that he couldn't possibly have an ulterior motive against the Huguenots.  This leads to Steven overhearing of a plot to assassinate the Sea Beggar, and then the plot shifts to Steven trying to get someone to listen to him and work out who the Sea Beggar is.  It's a plot driven by dialogue more than visual events, which means it's one of the easier stories to follow on audio, and it's also relatively engaging, as we work along Steven trying to figure out what's going on.  And then, in the episode's closing moments, we learn that the Sea Beggar is in fact Admiral de Coligny.

The Target novelization (from On
Target - The Massacre
"Priest of Death" continues in a similar vein, only this time Steven gets a chance to tell Nicholas Muss about the planned assassination of de Coligny on that very day.  This means that they have very little time to stop the assassination.  The other new wrinkle is that William Hartnell is back as the Abbot of Amboise (or is it the Doctor? -- the character of the Doctor is nowhere to be found), but here he's playing a very serious character.  There aren't any "hmm"s or "eh"s or anything like that, which (as has been mentioned before) does illustrate how much of the Doctor's character is in fact characterization, rather than just William Hartnell stumbling over lines or inserting filler words to give himself time.  It's a strong performance.  And Steven's belief that the Abbot is in fact the Doctor does help sell the "is he/isn't he?" storyline.

But this is predominantly about the Admiral's attempted assassination.  Steven and Nicholas are too late to prevent it, but by a fluke the Admiral bends down at just right the moment and is only wounded instead of killed.  This attempt is apparently because de Coligny is firm friends  with King Charles IX, and the Catholics in France would like to see the Protestant influence with the king be removed.  But, since it fails, the Abbot of Amboise takes the fall and is killed, and then his death is blamed on the Huguenots.  It's a continuing political drama, and one can't shake the feeling (even if you didn't already know the outcome) that an inevitable, tragic end is coming.  Plus, that cliffhanger, as Steven finds someone who's apparently the Doctor lying dead in the street, is also quite effective.  John Lucarotti and/or Donald Tosh's story (there's some uncertainty as to just how much of Lucarotti's original scripts remain in the finished product) moves from strength to strength.