Monday, 25 April 2016

Doctor Who and the Peterloo Massacre

Just out from Big Finish is a 5th Doctor story by Paul Magrs, set in Manchester in 1819, the time of the Peterloo Massacre.
This is part of my local history - I'm from Manchester, and I remember being taken to see the plaque commemorating the 15 dead of the massacre (and the 600+ injured), at St Peter's Field when I was a child.
Historical stories are so often set around London, but other cities have interesting histories too, and this was an important event in working class history and Manchester's history. The peaceful crowd of around 80,000 had gathered to hear speeches against the Corn Laws - they wanted cheaper bread, and they also wanted to be able to vote. Manchester was growing rapidly with industrialisation, any yet had no MP. There were only two MPs for the whole of Lancashire, and only (male) property owners could vote.
After the reading of the Riot Act (which nobody heard) the local Yeomanry charged into the crowd on horseback, sabres drawn - and later cannons were used against the unarmed crowd. The regular Hussars, also in attendance, were horrified by the actions of the Yeomanry, and some officers tried to restrain the Yeomanry, while the way to Peter Street was blocked by infantry with bayonets, so the crowd could not escape - an early version of "kettling".
This was also one of the first mass meetings that journalists attended, and the Doctor has a great rant at Thomas Tyler, the journalist from London, urging him to tell the truth about what he has seen.
Peter Davison is in great form in this retelling of the story of the Massacre, and so are Tegan (snarling about the injustice of it all) and Nyssa (befriending a maidservant who is involved with the Radicals). Of course, they cannot stop the massacre from happening - it's a fixed point in time ("You always say that," grumbles Tegan) but they can do something to help, out of the historical spotlight.
The other actors, playing the historical characters, have properly Northern accents - there's a little extra at the end where they talk about the story and the director says he didn't want actors with RP accents pretending to be Northern.
"I was surprised there were no aliens in this one," Peter Davison says, at the end.
"Except you and Nyssa," Janet Fielding says.
"Oh, good point."

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