Wednesday, 30 March 2016

210 - THE PETERLOO MASSACRE

Peter Davison was never my Doctor. When I was I child it was Tom, when I was a teenager it was McCoy. As an adult it was Tennant and now Capaldi, but never Peter Davison. I didn’t dislike him as the Doctor, and find the man himself very affable, but his Doctor never really quite did it for me. Maybe it was just because he wasn’t Tom, or maybe I thought he was too young or had too many companions, or wasn’t playing the Doctor long enough to become established. Whatever the reason Peter Davison just wasn’t my Doctor, and do you know dear reader, I never thought he would be – but life as they say is full of surprises…
This particular surprise happened on Wednesday 16 March 2016, exactly 32 years since Peter’s last episode as the Doctor on TV. This was when I started to listen to this months main range release The Peterloo Massacre, because this is the story that has made Peter Davison my Doctor.
Momentous words indeed, but this is one of those very very special stories – it’s Doctor Who as it used to be in the Hartnell era, it’s a pure Historical with the TARDIS team caught up in tragic events unable to stop them happening. It’s also brilliantly written and acted and a damning social commentary on the attitudes towards the working classes by the wealthy in the early 1800’s. Doctor Who getting political, Peter Davison as a radical – bring it on!
The story begins with the TARDIS having to make an emergency landing after becoming lost in the smog of the industrial revolution. The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are taken in by rich industrialist called Mr Hurley (Robbie Stevens), a man full of bluster, pomp and self- importance, a “self made man” who has clearly forgotten his roots. Hurley is a mill owner and member of the local militia, and on a trip to his mill the Doctor and Tegan witness the appalling conditions in which his workers have to toil. They are little more than undernourished exhausted slaves. The Doctor can barely contain his rage and Tegan being Tegan, she’s a lot less tactless. The plight of the workers and the yawning chasm in wealth and social status between rich and poor is almost too much for her to bear.
Nyssa befriends house maid to the Hurley’s, Cathy Roberts, a young lady with a secret who is thrilled to have been selected as a speaker at the rally for workers rights at St. Peters Field. Cathy’s an intelligent, kind girl who in a different age would be fulfilling her potential as a solicitor or trade union convenor rather than being a servant, but such were the strict social conventions of the time. Her father thinks that the workers should “know their place” and be content with their lot. This situation is a powder keg about to go off in an horrific and brutal way. The date of August 16 1819 will always be remembered for the blood of innocents being spilled, of the day that the voices of the many were silenced by the cruelty of the few intent on protecting the social order for their own ends.
There are two exceptional cliffhangers in this story, part one where The Doctor finally realises what date in history they have arrived at, and episode three.
Episode three’s cliffhanger is cold and bleak and cruel and personifies the pointless cruelty of the ruling classes – hauntingly directed, acted with indigence, moral outrage and shame, the cliffhanger and its denouement must go down as one of the most shocking scenes in Doctor Who.
The day August 16 in 1819, should have gone peacefully, for the crowds were lively and loud, but not violent – shouting for better working conditions, democracy and bread. The powers that be, the lords, the landowners, even the Church, decided that the workers would not be heard. The protesters were read the riot act by a cowardly priest, were not even heard and mercilessly ridden down by cavalry and fired upon. This happened. As the Doctor says to Mr Hurley: “15 fatalities, 654 casualties”
Let me talk about Peter Davison for a moment. This is his standout performance as the Fifth Doctor, a tour-de-force of moral outrage, indignation, barley disguised contempt and anger. Here he is the Doctor I always wanted him to be – a radical taking a stand against injustice, a warrior battling against a system that is wrong and battling with words and intellect. After 32 years all the pieces have dropped into place and Peter Davison is finallymy Doctor.
This is an exceptional release and there have been a lot of those lately, but this really is something special. Paul Magrs, Jamie Anderson and all involved in the production can take a bow – this story can proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the best. This is an event in History I knew very little about and now want to find out more. Here isa good starting point. The events of the day led to a slow and creeping social change that led to increased democracy and representation for women. I will finish with a verse from Shelley’s poem about the Massacre – “The Masque of Anarchy”:
“Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many – they are few.”
Humbled to have been able to listen to this: a true classic. 10/10.