Wednesday, June 3, 2009

W4 - Bell of Doom



For the second straight story, The Doctor appears out of nowhere in the final episode without an explanation as to where he has been for the past episode and a bit. As in The Daleks' Master Plan, it's a bit jarring, but it's welcome news for Steven, who thought that The Doctor had died in the street the night before.

It is The Doctor who doesn't save the day, but who remembers his history once he finds out what day it is and what will happen on that day. He does his best to help Anne Chaplet by telling her to hide out for the time being, and doesn't tell Steven what is about to occur, merely stressing that they both have to leave Paris immediately. Once the pair are back in the TARDIS and safely on their way, Steven realizes that a massacre is taking place and that The Doctor just sent Anne to her death. The Doctor tries to put a positive spin on it and say that she could have survived, but it's not good enough for Steven. He wants out, and leaves the TARDIS at the next destination.

The last half of the episode is given over to the battle of morals between Steven and The Doctor, and is probably one of the greatest scenes in the history of the programme. It's capped off by a haunting monologue by The Doctor, lamenting the fact that none of his companions can understand the burden of time travel and their place within it, unable to change a thing. Plus, he is now utterly alone for the first time. All the other companions left on their own accord because they found something different or better, or just wanted to return home. Steven was the first to leave not because he found something better than life in the TARDIS, but because whatever was out there was no worse than travelling with The Doctor.

It's a bold revelation for a companion to think that way, and it is perfectly portrayed by Peter Purves. Purves is more known these days as a Blue Peter presenter, voice over artist, or dog show announcer, but he was a very good actor in his time. It's a shame that most of his episodes don't exist in the BBC archives, because he really truly is the most underrated companion in Doctor Who history. Purves essentially carries The Massacre, superbly portraying a man out of time, caught up in events, oblivious to the risks of trying to alter them, but powerless to do so.

Dodo turning up at the very end is almost essential after the low ebb of events at the end of the story. To imply that she may be a descendant of Anne is just what is needed to restore some optimism in the show, but the fact that this story deals with the negative aspects of time travel, and does it so well, is very important, and it elevates the story to near perfection.

For those who have never seen The Massacre, seek it out. Now.

2 comments:

osirun said...

"The Doctor appears out of nowhere without an explanation as to where he has been for the past episode and a bit"

Surely he is off concealing stellar detonators at Coal Hill School and whatever other assorted jobs are necessary to set up for The Cartmel Masterplan, 20-odd years later?

36 said...

@osirun I'm pretty sure the Doctor's supposed to have done those things just before the events in An Unearthly Child :)

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