‘The Massacre’ is a missing Doctor Who story starring the First Doctor, William Hartnell – and one that is sadly missing from the BBC archive. What is the appeal of this lost Doctor Who adventure, and will we ever get to see it again?
‘The Massacre’ – for those of you who don’t know – is from Doctor Who‘s third season in 1966, and has achieved something of a cult status in the years since its original broadcast. Interestingly, it wasn’t highly regarded at the time; the story’s viewing figures dropped from 8 million to 5.8 million between its first and fourth episodes. Moreover, this missing Doctor Who adventure tackled a delicate subject, as it focused on the murder of thousands of Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants) during the French Wars of Religion in the sixteenth century.
As such, it didn’t (and still doesn’t) make for a cosy Doctor Who yarn – particularly as it comes off the back of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan,’ a gritty space adventure which saw the death of no fewer than two of the Doctor’s companions. ‘The Massacre’ is a missing Doctor Who story loaded with tension and political intrigue, and no happy ending.
That being said, it is notable for a number of reasons. First, ‘The Massacre’ gave the opportunity for the Doctor’s companion Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) to take centre stage, as the Doctor is mysteriously missing for most of the adventure. Now, it wasn’t unusual in sixties Doctor Who for the eponymous Time Lord to be absent for an episode or two (in order to give William Hartnell some much-needed time off) but there was usually a roster of companions to carry the story forward, as is the case in serials such as ‘The Keys of Marinus.’
But not so with ‘The Massacre.’ This missing Doctor Who adventure is the first to put a sole companion in the limelight, and it’s an occasion that Peter Purves rises to with ease.
At the same time, this missing Doctor Who is by no means devoid of Hartnell. In another Doctor Who first (unless you count ‘The Chase’) the actor was given the opportunity to play a dual role. In ‘The Massacre,’ Hartnell appears as both the Doctor and the evil Abbot of Amboise, who – for reasons unknown – is the Time Lord’s doppelgänger. Again, this was an opportunity the actor seized; William Hartnell gave a cold, unsettling performance as this mysterious double, with the viewer left wondering, all the while, if this could in fact be the Doctor in disguise.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.
Another notable moment in this missing Doctor Who story is that it introduces a new companion in the form of Dodo Chaplet, played by Jackie Lane. She appears in the closing moments of episode four, when the TARDIS touches down in present day London. Dodo bursts into the ship believing it to be a real police box, and quite readily accepts that it’s a space vehicle capable of taking her anywhere in the universe. As you do. Thus, she immediately joins the Doctor and Steven on their travels through the time vortex.
These kind of milestones always make certain missing Doctor Who episodes stand out from others. Indeed, people are still searching for episode three of ‘The Web of Fear,’ which saw the introduction of the Brigadier. Because of this, ‘The Massacre’ represents something of a turning point in Doctor Who history, with the arrival of a major new companion.
Indeed, it almost saw the return of some old companions, too. The First Doctor’s friends Ian and Barbara were originally meant to have a cameo in episode four, spotting the TARDIS dematerialising with Dodo on board. This idea, however, was abandoned during the course of the production.
There is also an air of mystery swirling around ‘The Massacre.’ Unusually, there are no telesnaps to illustrate it (telesnaps being off-air photographs which were captured during the original broadcast, and were often used by actors as examples of the previous shows they’d appeared in.) And Doctor Who is fortunate in that a great number of telesnaps exist for its missing stories, and they give a tantalising glimpse into how those adventures would have appeared on screen. There are, of course, a number of exceptions, such as ‘The Massacre.’
In fact, the serial is almost unique in Doctor Who history in that – telesnaps notwithstanding – there is not a single frame of surviving footage. The only other examples are ‘Marco Polo’ and ‘Mission to the Unknown,’ both of which are First Doctor stories.
So in order to gauge the look and feel of ‘The Massacre,’ we’re reliant on publicity photographs that were taken at the time. Although these, too, are few and far between. For instance, there are no surviving images of William Hartnell in his regalia as the wicked Abbot of Amboise, meaning we can only speculate as to how he must have appeared on-screen.
We do, however, have the story’s original soundtracks, so it’s possible to enjoy ‘The Massacre’ in audio form. Indeed, we have a radio record of every missing Doctor Who episode, thanks to dedicated fans who captured the sounds during the original transmission – usually by putting microphones to their televisions’ speakers! This has made it possible for all of the sixties Doctor Who episodes to be released on CD and cassette for others to enjoy.
And these releases have proven popular. ‘The Massacre,’ for example, was released a special edition vinyl for World Record Day in 2020. And other missing Doctor Who stories such as ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ have been made available in luxury seven disc sets, priced at around £80.
And whilst these special releases are always nice to have, every Doctor Who fan remains hopeful that some of the missing Doctor Who stories will be returned to us one day, and ‘The Massacre’ is no exception. With its macabre themes, sinister doppelgängers and new companions, it really is a stand-out Doctor Who adventure, and one that is high on my list for re-viewing. Could a secret copy be lurking in a film vault in Singapore? The speculation begins here.
In the meantime, have you ever listened to the soundtrack of this missing Doctor Who story? And if so, what is your favourite thing about ‘The Massacre’? Do you think we will ever get to see it again? Let me know in the comments below.
And for more information on why there are missing Doctor Who episodes, check out our other article: Can we find ‘The Power of the Daleks’?
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