February 23: "Bell of Doom" / "The Steel Sky"

(The Massacre episode 4 & The Ark episode 1)

"Bell of Doom" opens bleakly: Steven has seen the Doctor lying dead in the gutter, and now he has to try and find the Doctor's key to the TARDIS, which he presumably left in his old clothes at Preslin's house.  He and Anne Chaplet spend the entire day tearing Preslin's house apart, trying to find the Doctor's clothes, but all they can locate is his walking stick.  Meanwhile, Catherine de Medici and Marshal Tavannes plot the massacre of the Huguenots in Paris, set for St. Bartholomew's Day; Tavannes originally has a list of Huguenots to take out, but the Queen Mother decides to let mob rule take over, anticipating that this will mean the death of all the Huguenots in Paris.  Steven and Anne are unaware of this, but they are surprised when the Doctor walks in; it turns out he was not in fact the Abbot of Amboise, despite appearances.  But as Steven tries to explain what's been happening, the Doctor becomes greatly alarmed when he realizes what the next day is, and exhorts Anne to break the curfew and take refuge in her aunt's house for the next few days, while he and Steven will leave in the TARDIS.  Anne hurries away and the Doctor and Steven flee, just before the carnage begins.

This part of the episode is concerned primarily with turning the wheels that have been set in motion in the previous episodes, and all it really does is bring the Doctor back into the picture and have him take Steven away before the massacre itself begins.  It's a functional half, but because all the pieces have been carefully maneuvered into place ahead of time, there's a sense of inevitability to the proceedings here, and the TARDIS dematerializes just as Admiral de Coligny is dragged from his bed, triggering the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.  The resulting carnage was reportedly depicted with sounds of violence over illustrations of the proceedings, which were apparently still too much for some viewers.

The second half of the episode shows Steven disgusted with the Doctor's treatment of Anne; he feels the Doctor had essentially condemned her to death by staying in Paris, and he's unhappy with the Doctor's callous disregard for humanity.  The Doctor tries to explain: "My dear Steven, history sometimes gives us a terrible shock, and that is because we don't quite fully understand.  Why should we?  After all, we're all too small to realize its final pattern.  Therefore don't try and judge it from where you stand.  I was right to do as I did.  Yes, that I firmly believe."  But Steven won't hear a word of it, and he storms out at the next stop, leaving the Doctor all alone. Hartnell gives a wonderful, reflective speech as he's left by himself in the TARDIS:
Even after all this time he cannot understand.  I dare not change the course of history...  Now they're all gone.  All gone.  None of them could understand.  Not even my little Susan, or Vicki. And as for Barbara and Chatterton... Chesterton.  They were all too impatient to get back to their own time.  And now, Steven.  Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet.  But I can't.  ...I can't.
Hartnell does such a great job with this quiet, almost tortured speech that it's something of a shock when Mancunian Dodo Chaplet bursts in, looking for a telephone and totally failing to be impressed that this isn't even remotely a police box, or that it's in fact a time and space machine.  She seems to be looking forward to traveling in the TARDIS, even though she has no earthly reason to believe the Doctor that the TARDIS is a kind of vehicle, but when Steven rushes back in the TARDIS is away on its next adventure...

The Massacre is quite different from the last few Doctor Who tales.  It's a very serious piece of political drama, engineered in such a way that it comes across not so much as a tale of religious conflict but as one of political machinations: Catherine de Medici may consider all the Huguenots heretics worthy of death, but Marshall Tavannes is considering the implications of such an action.  It's a very adult (in the non-tawdry sense) piece of television, and it's something of a shame that we can't see the performances -- but the fact is that this is a story that relies so much on dialogue that the pictures aren't required.  An impressive serial.

It's been four or five stories since we've had a complete serial existing in the archives (depending on how you count "Mission to the Unknown"), but we're back on video with "The Steel Sky".  Occasionally, listening to some of the previous episodes, you sort of wonder how they managed to actually create the sets and stories that you're listening to -- how did they create Kublai Khan's palace at Shang-Tu, or what did the Time Destructor-ravaged Kembel look like?  But here's an instance where we get a story like that that we can actually see, and the result is quite superb.  There's a jungle full of exotic plants and animals, and there's what looks like an elephant on some stock film, until the Doctor, Dodo, and Steven reach out and pat it on its trunk.  "The Steel Sky" looks suitably impressive.  The main alien race on display, the Monoids, are also charmingly weird, even if it's clear from their first sighting how they got that singular eye in the center of the head.

But what's also nice is that some thought has clearly gone into things.  This adventure is depicted as incredibly far into the future, further than we've ever gone before -- the Doctor guesses they're at least ten million years ahead.  This treats everything that we've witnessed as just a tiny chunk of history.  ("Nero, the Trojan wars, the Daleks. But all that happened in the first segment of time," says the commander of the spaceship. "Segment?" the Doctor wonders. "To use your phrase, sir, what segment are we in now?" "The fifty-seventh," the commander replies.)  Paul Erickson20 is thinking in pretty epic terms, and it pays off.  We get an epic script combined with some epic direction (I've mentioned the jungle, but the superimposed screens are also quite good, and the distant depictions of the roof of the ship are also really well done) -- so much so that you can almost forget Dodo's brash attitude as she explores her surroundings, declaring it first to be Whipsnade Zoo and then going around acting like a general nuisance: "You'll have to watch her," Steven warns the Guardians after she states she can't scratch the material that their statue-in-progress is made of, "she'll have the whole thing down."  And one final piece of forethought: Erickson has given Dodo a small cold, but as the people of the future had long ago eradicated the common cold, they have no resistance to it, and it starts to run through the population as a deadly plague...

20 Although Erickson's then-wife Lesley Scott is credited, by all accounts she contributed no actual work to the scripts.