Doctor Who Project: The Myth Makers

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Now come on, start thinking! It’s you against the Doctor now!

After a story (well, an episode/teaser) where the Doctor and his companions aren’t present at all, we have a story where they might as well not be. The real stars of Donald Cotton’s “The Myth Makers” (Story Production Code U) are the Greeks and Trojans: Achilles, Odysseus, Agamemnon, Paris, Priam, Cassandra, and Troilus, thanks to a classical British education that made these characters quite readily familiar via the Iliad and the Aeneid.

Long stretches of “The Myth Makers” are given over to the various Greeks and Trojans absent our time travellers, who conveniently separate from one another and then find one another at the worst possible moments to provide some semblance of narrative motion. And the guest actors make the most of their screen time, playing with gusto. This story has perhaps the least dialogue for the main characters of any since “The Crusade.”

But at no point does the viewer have a sense that the Doctor and company are in any danger, because of the assumed familiarity with the underlying story. Not, of course, that even the most casual of viewers would think that they could ever be in real danger—we’re still several stories from the first regeneration and have yet to experience the first companion death—but even the episode cliffhangers lack drama, because everyone knows that the Trojans wheeled the Horse into Troy and were thusly caught unawares by the Greeks. As Vicki herself says to Cassandra, “I don’t have to prophesy. Because as far as I’m concerned, the future has already happened.”

Indeed, the only real danger is to the set, because the actors playing Paris (Barrie Ingham) and Cassandra (Frances White) practically chew the scenery. For a story that ostensibly took some pains towards historic verisimilitude (alas, the footage is missing, leaving only audio recordings), the Greeks and Trojans speak mostly like contemporary Englishmen fresh off the West End stage.

Still, unlike the earlier historicals, where the Doctor inadvertently causes, inspires, or otherwise motivates historical events to occur (Nero’s burning of Rome, the fall of Robespierre), in “The Myth Makers,” the Doctor gives the Greeks the notion to build the Trojan Horse, even though he initially rejects the idea as “some good dramatic device” invented by Homer.

This direct intervention in history, albeit under duress, can, perhaps, be squared with his insistent “hands off” approach formulated in “The Aztecs” by noting that the Doctor here doesn’t change history; he merely sees it through to its “proper” end. The Greeks conquered the Trojans, according to the myths, and just because they conquered the Trojans with the Doctor’s help doesn’t mean that they didn’t always have his help, even though the Doctor gets the idea for the Trojan Horse from stories about the Trojan War written after he helped. Chicken, egg, time, loop . . .

On a different level, if we decline to accept the setting as historical, seeing it as mythological, then the TARDIS, which is still not under the Doctor’s control, has deposited our travellers outside of historical time. And here we thought the TARDIS jumped a time track back in “The Space Museum.” Changing a myth might not carry the same weight as changing history. But it seems clear that the story and its protagonists treat the setting as real, as historical. The Doctor emphasizes that they are indeed on Earth:

“Well, I think with all eternity to choose from I did rather well to get us back to Earth.”

And at no point does the Doctor marvel at the oddity of creating a Trojan Horse or meeting Odysseus and Achilles, so perhaps his participation in the event moves it from the realm of myth to the realm of history. He wouldn’t leave Vicki behind in a mythological realm, would he? Er, hmm.

Still, leaving aside the existential and temporal issues, the story attempts to do more than place the Doctor and the companions in a historical setting; Cotton’s script tries to weave them into history/myth, to, as the title suggests, make them myth, most significantly by turning Vicki into Cressida and the Doctor into Zeus.

It is quite in keeping with William Hartnell’s Doctor that, when he is proclaimed to be a manifestation of Zeus by Achilles, he rather quickly accepts—though bristling at the characterization of this theophany as being in the guise of an “old beggar.” Hartnell rather seems to enjoy playing at being Zeus, taking some relish in the claims that the Doctor will call down lightning to sacrifice the captured Steven, if only they can go back to the TARDIS as a proper site for the ritual. There are the usual assortment of fluffed lines, though in “The Myth Makers,” the record for most mangled lines has to go to Ivor Salter, who plays Odysseus as a craven, cruel, and brash figure. Following the audio recordings of the story with the shooting scripts (included with the AudioGo CDs of the missing film stories), one can but marvel at the ability of the other actors to adapt to Hartnell and Salter’s occasional (ok, frequent) mangling of lines and lead-out phrases.

The Doctor shows quite a bit of nervousness at his physical predicament in this story, particularly when he is part of the Greek force hiding in the Trojan Horse. Though eventually he forces Odysseus to back down, he seems almost cowed by him, though discretion is definitely in order with a bloodthirsty warrior.

The TARDIS is, again, hauled away, as in “Marco Polo,” this time by the Trojans, leading to Cassandra’s warning about hauling strange things left on the plains near the Greek camp into the city walls. Alas, no one ever listens to her, and Cotton’s script treats the entire scene—truly, the entire Trojan portion of the story—humorously, playing on the Trojan Horse and the myth of Cassandra. The blue police box is considered to be the Doctor’s/Zeus’ temple, an apt description.

Further proof of Cotton’s less-than-serious approach comes in the title to the second episode, where Vicki exits the TARDIS in Troy and is believed to be a seer because of her claim to be from the future: “Small Prophet, Quick Return.” Add in the fact that Odysseus has a deaf and mute, one-eyed servant named Cyclops, well, and you can tell that an assumed knowledge of mythology on the audience’s part is being played for laughs.

Still, the story works well for what it is: a sumptuous period piece that further develops the characters, most notably Vicki, who is given the name Cressida by Priam. Though her reasoning for falling in love with Troilus remains unexplored, Maureen O’Brien sells it with her intensity. She doesn’t have a long or moving send-off with the Doctor—they share only a scant few scenes together in the whole story—but her leaving, to stay with Troilus, whom she has urged to leave the city prior to the Greek invasion, carries significant power.

Barely sixteen, if the story is to believed, she pushes the Doctor to safety in the TARDIS while the Greeks sack Troy and delegates Katarina, one of Cassandra’s handmaidens, to find Steven and take him back to the ship. The script makes clear that Vicki and the Doctor share some words in the TARDIS, and though not in the audio recording, the script has the Doctor remark, after she leaves for good, “So young—so very very young.” And at the very end of the story, he laments, “Oh, my dear Vicki, I hope you will be all right. I shall miss you child.”

Vicki herself is noted as leaving the TARDIS near tears, but when she finally meets up with a wounded Troilus, she is full of optimism. The appearance of Aeneas, mythical founder of Rome and cousin of Troilus, lets her know that everything will be just fine, because in her hour per week of study back in her old life, they clearly taught the Aeneid.

Vicki’s departure marks the third for the series, and where Ian and Barbara merely wanted to get home, Susan and Vicki both leave the Doctor to start a life, though Vicki (who never met Susan) makes the decision for herself, pushing the Doctor into the TARDIS in a neat reversal of the Doctor’s locking Susan out. And for the third time, a companion is added to the crew in Katarina (Adrienne Hill), though only for four more episodes. Tellingly, she has an elaborate destiny pre-ordained for her (she’s going to die soon), which she shares with Vicki, though this section of the script is also missing from the audio recording. I’m not certain whether to count Katarina as a true companion or not, just because of the brevity of her stay on the TARDIS. The truth will come in the Doctor’s eventual reaction to her departure, I think.

Steven has little to do in the story besides get captured a few times, though he is commended on his bravery by Odysseus, which he takes as quite a compliment. And when he gets run through by a sword at the end of the story, his condition spurs the Doctor to try to steer the TARDIS somewhere where he can get drugs to help him. Losing Vicki seems to affect him greatly, as he calls out for her in his anguish.

And where better to take a wounded spaceman and a young girl who thinks the Doctor is a god and the TARDIS is Limbo than into an epic tale full of Daleks.

(Image via bbc.co.uk)

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(Next Story: The Daleks’ Master Plan)

Post 20 of the Doctor Who Re-Watching Project

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