War of God is driven by the differences between the TARDIS crew. Steven’s caution is contrasted with the Doctor’s pleasure at a perfect landing and the opportunity to meet Preslin, a foremost apothecary in 16th Century Paris. Throughout, while Steven dithers, trying to avoid getting involved, the Doctor, for all his words, seems keen to do whatever he can to help Preslin. In the end, reluctantly or not, both have been drawn into the intrigues and trouble brewing between Catholics and Protestants.
Some of the details must have been hazy even to contemporary viewers, and the flood of names and titles threatens to be overwhelming, and Lucarotti and Tosh go to some lengths to simplify the religious conflict – the reasons for the dispute aren’t much dwelt on, barring a couple of references to ‘rigid Catholic doctrine’ and the Abbot of Amboise’s suspicion of scientific ‘heretics’. As Muss explains to Steven, it comes down to Protestants versus Catholics. The powder keg of a Protestant and Catholic royal marriage only needs a single spark to ignite into violence between the denominations.
Despite his best efforts to remain uninvolved, Steven is drawn into one of the factions – his thoughtless acceptance of the label of English Protestant, and his reliance on Muss to shelter him in a Protestant household during the curfew
There is a genuine sense of simmering danger, so that the episode has the feel of something like The Fires of Pompeii – a city on the verge of an eruption. Intrigue is everywhere – characters converse in corners, or private rooms; a servant girl flees for her life, having overheard a reference to previous sectarian slaughter; Preslin warns the Doctor that these are dangerous days – and the Abbot of Amboise is a very dangerous man.
This builds up to the cliffhanger – the appearance of the man at the centre of the Catholic web of intrigue, and a man the Protestants hate and fear – which is a great WTF moment: the Abbot is the Doctor. At least, the audience has good reason to believe he might be given the Doctor’s disappearance from Preslin’s shop, apparently on some sort of a mission.
It’s a fantastic way to leave the audience hanging – but perhaps not enough to make up for the 24 preceding minutes of fairly dense history lesson. 25 per cent of them aren’t going to be tuning in for:
Next episode: The Sea Beggar