The Sea Beggar offers Peter Purves further chances to flex his acting muscles as Steven – and of course the audience – puzzles over the mystery of the Abbot of Amboise. When Steven spies him out of a window, he immediately believes the man he can see is the Doctor (which isn’t a surprise as they look identical).
But his innocent exclamation raises Nicholas’ suspicions, who decides that Steven must serve the Abbot and is therefore his enemy. Steven later suggests that the Doctor is impersonating the Abbot, although Lucarotti is content to take his time before revealing the truth. But Steven’s theory seems have some weight after it’s revealed that Colbert only met the Abbot the day before (and nobody else in Paris knows him by sight).
Why would the Doctor be masquerading as the Abbot? Who knows, but it’s exactly the sort of thing he would do and it would also explains his disappearance. Everything seems to be chugging along to the conclusion that the Abbot is the Doctor, but we’ll have to wait for quite a while before Lucarotti reveals the truth ….
Popular fan-lore maintains that Hartnell’s performance as the Abbot was something of a tour-de-force, allowing the actor to show his versatility in a role that was poles apart from the Doctor. The reality is a little different – the Abbot is a surprisingly minor character with only a handful of lines (and none of them in this episode). If the recon is to be believed then Hartnell was briefly glimpsed as the Abbot in this episode. Of course it’s always possible that he was absent during this recording and Steven only pretended to see him. That seems likely, as it would be odd to have Hartnell around just to act as a walk-on (unless his appearance was a pre-filmed insert).
The Sea Beggar sees the introduction of two heavyweight performers, André Morell as Marshal Gaspard de Saux-Tavannes and Leonard Sachs as Admiral de Coligny. It’s very aggravating that the only Doctor Who story to feature Morell (a favourite actor of mine – if you haven’t seen it then you should certainly check out Quatermass and the Pit) was wiped, but it’s still possible to get a feel for the quality of his performance from the audio. Sachs would later return in Arc of Infinity, but we can’t blame him for that.
These Catholics are terrible at keeping secrets. Steven learns that their target is code-named the Sea Beggar. Nobody knows who this might be, until de Coligny reveals that the King has given him this very nickname. Needless to say he’s totally unaware that this signifies he’s been marked for death ….