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Doctor Who: The Myth Makers (TV Serial U)



Blurb: When the TARDIS arrives on the plains of Asia Minor not far from the besieged city of Troy, the Doctor is hailed by Achilles as the mighty god Zeus and taken to the Greek camp. He meets Agamemnon and Odysseus. Forced to admit he is a mere mortal — albeit a traveller in space and time — he is given two days to devise a scheme to capture Troy.

Steven and Vicki, meanwhile, have been taken prisoner by the Trojans. Vicki, believed to possess supernatural powers, is given two days to banish the Greeks to prove she is not a spy.

Format: Television drama transmitted from October 16, 1965 - November 6, 1965. All episodes are currently missing from the BBC archives. I watched the story as part of the Loose Canon series of telesnap reconstructions LC26 released in September of 2006. The BBC has also made the audio for the story available on CD, which was recorded by fans at the time off air. The CD has linking narration by Peter Purves to explain any visuals lost on the audio.

Disclaimer: The DVD cover above is in no way official and was made by Simon Hodges for use by fans such as myself who would like their telesnap recons to look like they fit in with the rest of the Doctor Who range.

Setting: Earth: Troy, Asian Minor circa 1184 BC (this is the year commonly given for the Fall of Troy but it is never confirmed onscreen.)

Continuity: Vicki's ankle is still twisted (see Galaxy Four).

DVD: The Loose Cannon reconstruction comes with an interview with Frances White who played Cassandra in this story. She also provides a brief introduction and conclusion on the story. In addition she narrates a documentary on the myth and what is known from archaeology about Troy.

Discussion: The Myth Makers is interesting in that it's the first story to be produced by someone other than Verity Lambert who had been with the series since its beginning. As a result it's the first story to show new Producer John Wiles' and script editor Donald Tosh's view on what the series would be about. When Wiles joined the production team he quickly found out that Tosh shared his vision for where the show could go. They both thought that the series could explore darker subject matter and they felt that they could pitch upward for a higher age bracket. They also wanted to look at the effects of religion throughout history. The Myth Makers was the first inspiration, a tale pulled from myth rather than straight history but with the religion of the time out front and center. The story was confusing at the time because there was no explanation for why this story was being aired right after Mission to the Unknown and some viewers thought that a mistake had been made. Yet even though it was partway through a season this was the beginning of the Wiles/Tosh era of Doctor Who, which began the process of showing the versatility of the program and which sadly we have all to little extant material from.

The comedy elements are a real treat on this one. Because Donald Cotton is delving into myth here there's no need to pay that much attention to the accounts in The Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Chaucer, or Shakespeare. Cotton pulls what he wants from these and weaves his own tale as it's likely that even the oldest of these sources had some embellishments on the actual war as its believed that The Iliad dates from the 8th century BC but the Trojan war was fought in the 12th. So here we have Achilles as an easily deluded braggart and Menelaus as a weary old man who was happy to be rid of Helen who liked to get "abducted" by other men all the time. Agamemnon is a blustering bully and Odysseus goes from light-hearted jesting to barbarism in the blink of an eye. This is counter-pointed by Priam's dysfunctional family with Cassandra as the shrew that no one wants to listen to and Paris as the coward who'll do anything to get out of a fight. Priam himself seems naive and Troilus is earnest and forthright. I really like how the two sides are mirrored with Menelaus and Paris, Cassandra and Odysseus, Troilus and Achilles, and Priam and Agamemnon each holding the same role that the other does in the other camp but with a slight twist so that it doesn't get boring for the viewers. The whole thing gets even funnier when the Doctor is mistaken for Zeus, something that everyone easily falls for except for crafty Odysseus. His sarcasm at the implication that the Doctor is Zeus and later asserting that Steven must be Hermes is really fun to listen to. I also like how Steven needs to get himself to be captured and plays to Paris' cowardice and vanity by praising how he was bested in battle and making Paris want to take him home so that he could tell everyone else about just how great he is. It gets slightly darker with Cassandra as everyone knows that she's right, but everyone's dismissals of her fit the legend as well as add to the humor of the piece. I'm saddened that they didn't put in Helen but it was probably the right thing to do. They'd never be able to find someone whose beauty was as great as the legend says and while seeing the shrewish woman that has soured both Menelaus and Helen would have been another funny aspect to the story we still get enough snide references to her to make a good laugh of the story. There are other great moments such as when Cassandra says "Woe to the house of Priam" and "Woe to Troy" and Paris responds with "It's to late to say whoa to the horse" as they had just brought it inside. The episode titles also have some fun with episode two entitled "Small Prophet, Quick Return". Supposedly Cotton had also proposed the title Zeus ex Machina for episode one and "Is There a Doctor in the Horse" for episode three. I think it's a real shame that they didn't use those titles but it is nice that one of them made it through.

This story is often compared to The Romans, which makes sense. The Myth Makers is the second Doctor Who story overtly made as a comedy with The Romans being its predecessor. Both stories also contain some dark subject matter. The Romans seems to mix the elements throughout the story. The Myth Makers, on the other hand, has a fairly light first three episodes. There are threats made against The Doctor, Steven, and Vicki but the characters are made so pompous and/or incompetent that you never believe that they're in any real danger. Yet, once we get to the fourth episode almost all trace of humor is wiped away and the true horror of sacking a city is brought to bare. Steven is even injured in the fighting and becomes delirious from the loss of blood. Vicki leaves as well and we get a new companion in the form of handmaiden Katarina. It all goes to hammer home that even the regulars are not immune from the effects of what is going on around them. In the end, I think that this story wins out over the Romans because of how effective it is at going from the comedy to tragedy and that the stark relief with which episode four paints itself against the other episodes just goes to heighten how light everything is in the first three installments. To me that makes it both funnier and gives it more drama and if you can get both elements then that is truly a great story.

I've mentioned it but Katarina is introduced in this story and Vicki is written out. I really like the burgeoning relationship that Vicki develops with Troilus. I also think that while most of the music in this one seems like stuff that we've heard before, there is what I call the "love theme" for Vicki and Troilus that is unique and I really like it. In the beginning it's just a solo guitar playing this really soulful and sad melody. This works because the viewers at the time didn't know that this was going to be Vicki's last story, so it gives you the impression that they'll fall in love but be separated. Then as the story progresses and once it becomes clear that Vicki is staying the whole thing turns into a tune played by a small orchestra. It still has a hint of sadness but also hope in it as Vicki and Troilus set off for their new life. It all works really well if taken at face value for what happens at the story and if this were a period peace I think it'd be the perfect ending. Only the problem is that it doesn't work as soon as you remember who Vicki is. Vicki is the same person who almost refused to take aspirin because she didn't want any part of Barbara's voodoo 20th century medicine. Can you imagine someone who thinks that learning is strapping into a teaching machine for 10 minutes a day trying to eke out an existence in this time? I hope that she never wants to take a bath...or go to a bathroom...or much of anything really. For all the Doctor's talk in this period about not changing history does he not think that Vicki is going to give the Trojan refugees all kinds of pointers just to try and make her own life bearable? I don't care how smitten this girl is I can't believe that she'd be so ignorant of the conditions in this era as to think that she'll be happy, but I do respect that the Doctor feels that it's her choice and leaves her when she makes it clear that she wants to go. Vicki at least was assertive when she wanted to go rather than having the Doctor forced to lock her out so that she could follow her heart. Vicki shines in this one though at least on audio and while her whole decision to leave does seem borderline insane it's not to different from the other crazy acts that we've seen this girl undertake.

I feel really bad for Katarina. John Wiles originally wanted to get rid of Maureen O'Brien because she picked apart the scripts and felt free to tell people off if she felt that her character wasn't being treated correctly. She was obviously learning from Hartnell, but while he had to suffer with that from the star he realized that he didn't have to take that from a companion, which the series had already proved could be replaced. She came back from vacation to find out that she was only going to be in these four episodes and let go. As a result Wiles felt that they should introduce the new companion to be Vicki's replacement in this story and that's where Katarina came from. Only after Cotton had already written his scripts they realized how difficult it would be to place Katarina in futuristic situations where she understood nothing. While I don't necessarily agree that this was impossible for them to write around they decided that they would take on Katarina but she'd die off in the next story so that she could be replaced in turn with a new character from that story, Sara Kingdom who would take them through until they could figure out what they'd do about a companion. As a result, Katarina's role was diminished from the original script and she was only introduced in the final version of episode four. Even then one of her scenes that was recorded was cut from the final version, so there's very little of her in this story. From what we can hear she seems like a nice person. She follows Cassandra's orders but tries to speak up when she doesn't agree with something that Cassandra says but she's also very submissive and listens to whoever the authority figure is. I do like that she takes care of Steven though and her assertion that traveling through the TARDIS is a trip "through the beyond" is fun as is the Doctor's reaction to it. I think that I would have liked a series of adventures featuring Katarina and having her try to fix anything from a time beyond her own into terms of her own worldview. It's a shame that that's an opportunity that we never got to see fulfilled.

One of the things that people often mention about this story is how well it works on audio. Like Marco Polo this really seems to be very similar to a stage play and while the visuals on the reconstruction greatly help, the audio on its own is enough to explain almost all of what is happening. From what we can hear the performances on this one are really good. I like how Steven as ever automatically assumes that bad things will happen. It hasn't been that long since he left Mechanus and I think that he's still suffering from PTSD from the war and his time as a prisoner. We've already talked about Vicki but the Doctor is also in fine form in this story. He blusters as Zeus, threatening thunderbolts in a way that only he could get away with. I also like his righteous indignation at Odysseus whose attitude towards human life is so callous. His confrontation with him at the end of the story is fantastic and I'm glad that Odysseus is left with the impression that he really did in fact anger Zeus. Everyone else plays their roles well even if it's not how we normally envision these characters. The fact that this is a myth means that the "real history" that Homer and later writers embellished to make their stories is allowed to be different from the ones that we know and everyone plays their roles really well. The real standouts though are the cowardly Paris played by Barrie Ingham and the sarcastic barbarian, Odysseus played by Ivor Salter. Both really steal the show with their antics and I'd really love to be able to see their performances as well.

There are several things that don't make sense in this one. Why does Vicki expect to meet "the heroes" as soon as she thinks that she's in ancient Greece. She's supposed to have such great knowledge from her teaching machines that you'd expect her to realize that ancient Greece covers a large amount of time and a decent amount of real estate. I'll give her a pass on the existence of such heroes. Their very placement here in the past shows that in the Doctor Who universe all these people actually existed so maybe future archaeologists later prove that these men actually existed even if they were somewhat different from the legends. The Doctor decides to stroll out and ask two men who are fighting where and when they are. Why in the world would he do that as he's usually far more cautious about what to do when they first arrive somewhere. Odysseus is so quick to believe that the Doctor and Steven are Trojan spies but after they've convinced him that they're not when Steven suggests getting captured and taken to Troy it doesn't make Odysseus just a little bit suspicious? If the Doctor is afraid of bringing up the Trojan horse story because he thinks that its full of nonsense and he doesn't want to effect history then why does he try to explain to Odysseus how to make flying machines? Doesn't he think that'd create just a bit of a change to history if they pulled that off? Somehow veteran time travelers are making all kinds of rookie mistakes as Vicki decides to reveal to everyone in Troy that she's from the future. So what do they tell her to do? Of course they ask her to tell them the outcome and effect it to their benefit. I just can't imagine her doing that in any other story after she'd been in the TARDIS for a couple of trips. It's a fairly weak development just so that she can be dismissed by Cassandra as a sorceress. Thankfully the story disguises all of this with good humor but these things do stand out to long time viewers while watching the story, especially if it's watched in production order so that you have a good feel for the characters.

Final Rating: 10/10

Recommendation: Intelligent and witty, the Myth Makers shows how versatile Doctor Who is by putting the TARDIS crew in the middle of a black comedy about a story that everyone knows. All the usual players are there but the story is fun because they're not acting like you'd expect. The love story with Vicki and Troilus is so sweet if a little insane and the TARDIS shakeup shows us that nothing is ever safe, something that we'll be forced to accept in the next story. This one is just about perfect and I highly recommend that everyone either get the recon or listen to the audio.

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