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The Myth Makers

story 20 | season 3 | serial u
Eddy Wolverson

As far as Doctor Who stories go, “The Myth Makers” is about as ‘lost in time’ as a story can be. Along with the soundtracks to “The Massacre” and “Galaxy Four,” this four-parter is one of just three stories solely represented on my shelf by the audio CDs – every other lost story has at least an existing episode or a telesnap reconstruction to give me a feel for the story.

Despite also being spoiled by Big Finish’s superb Doctor Who audio plays (which are, in fairness, deliberately written for the audio medium), I still enjoyed “The Myth Makers” a great deal – far more than I expected. Written in the same spirit as “The Romans,” Donald Cotton’s take on the Trojan War is a story that dwells on ridiculous stereotypes and fantastical events – very aptly, the stuff of legend... or at least, how we perceive myths and legends. What “The Myth Makers” lacks in gritty realism, it more than makes up for in some delightful, almost ‘Carry On’ style tongue-in-cheek humour.

The Doctor in particular is hilarious as he desperately tries to worm his way out of the Greeks’ custody. The Greeks have mistaken the Time Lord for their God, Zeus, and the brutish Odysseus expects him to design the weapon that will finally allow them to take Troy! It’s brilliantly written how the Doctor scoffs at the idea of the ‘Trojan Horse’ when it is suggested to him, and instead struggles against all the odds to built the Greeks a catapult. Of course history (myth?) always wins, and quite worryingly the Doctor becomes inadvertently responsible for a massacre – an ending that doesn’t really sit well considering the tone of the rest of the serial.

“The Myth Makers” is also a good, solid outing for the Doctor’s companions. Vicki, whom the Trojans christen ‘Cressida’ (aah…) falls in love with Prince Troilus and is married off in the final episode. Not exactly the most original mode of departure for a companion, but Maureen O’Brien seems to make the most of it nonetheless and gives probably her best performance to date. Steven is also surprisingly effective; Peter Purves’ comic timing is wonderful, especially in his scenes posing as ‘Diomede’ and sparring with Paris. However, Katarina’s introduction in the final episode. “Horse of Destruction”, is treated almost as an afterthought. I’m not sure whether it was known that she would be ‘red-shirted’ from the word go, but in this story there is almost nothing done with her in terms of development. If I hadn’t known she was destined to leave in the TARDIS at the end of the story, I would have thought her just an annoying extra.

In all, I would definitely recommend “The Myth Makers” above the other two ‘audio-only’ missing serials – way above, in fact. It’s nothing groundbreaking or monumental, but it is a lovely little piece of 60s Who that still has the power to entertain today, even when the competition is Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean the like…

Paul Clarke

The Myth Makers' is something of an overlooked story, due to its absence from the archives and its tendency to be overshadowed by the more serious historicals. Hopefully, the release of the soundtrack on CD is increasing its status, for 'The Myth Makers' is very funny.

It is difficult to discuss the production values of a story that is entirely missing, without even any clips (as far as I know) surviving. Nevertheless, the photographic evidence suggests that the sets and costumes are easily up to the same standards as 'The Romans' and 'The Crusade'. The orchestral incidental score is effective too, evoking a suitable sand-and-sandals epic feel. What are really impressive however about this serial are the acting and the script, which are so good that the story makes the transition to audio fairly easy, with only the second half of episode four seriously missing the visuals. The regulars are on their usual fine form, with Peter Purves proving himself to be fairly adept at comedy. The scene in which, as Diomede, he fights and surrenders to Paris, whom he then proceeds to flatter into believing that he is regarded as a legendary warrior by the Greeks, is highly entertaining and you can almost hear Steven's look of innocence. His relationship with the Doctor has by now settled into one of mutual respect, as he confidently informs Vicki that the Doctor will succeed in helping the Greeks into Troy – he clearly doesn't doubt this for one minute. Likewise, the Doctor obviously trusts him to rescue Vicki from Troy before the Greeks attack. Hartnell is again on fine form, paired up for most of the story with the brutal Odysseus who he is forced to help on pain of death. His slightly pompous impersonation of Zeus is priceless, even more so his attempt to maintain dignity when admitting to Odysseus that he is not the father of the Gods. His best bits are undoubtedly those involving his coercion to finding a way into Troy for the Greeks – note the smooth reversal of his attitude to his suggestion of catapulting Greek soldiers over the walls on giant darts once Odysseus suggests that he try it out himself first. His eventual reluctant decision to use a large wooden horse is inevitable, but made amusing by his earlier dismissive attitude to what he describes as an invention of Homer. His first scene outside the TARDIS is also highly amusing, as Achilles notes to the Doctor's indignation that Zeus has chosen to manifest himself as an old beggar. Finally, Vicki copes with the perils of Troy with her usual wide-eyed optimism, endearing herself to Paris, Priam and of course Troilus, despite the hostile intent of the shrill Cassandra. Her leaving scene doesn't work that well on audio, but seems well handled. At first impression, the Doctor's willingness to abandon his teenage companion in a relatively primitive city that is being invaded by the Greeks because she has a crush on someone seems questionable, but she asserts herself well when explaining her decision, reminding us that she has become increasingly independent since 'The Rescue', especially from 'The Space Museum' onwards – if she can survive as a stowaway on a Dalek time machine, she can probably cope with most things. The Doctor makes it clear that he will miss her, but seems to find this departure less traumatic than the departure of Susan (understandably) and Ian and Barbara – perhaps he's growing accustomed to a changing TARDIS crew. Katarina, Vicki's replacement, has obviously been crow-barred into the story at the last minute, and thus gets little time to establish her character. That said the idea of a companion to whom the TARDIS is far more incomprehensible than to a pair of 1960s teachers is potentially interesting. But more on that next time…

The guest cast is uniformly superb, with the ruthless and belligerent but intelligent Odysseus stealing the show. He is a fantastic character, getting the better of the undoubtedly smarter Doctor simply by threatening violence, which is clearly qualified to dispense. Hearing the Doctor seething as he struggles to maintain dignity is highly entertaining; having stood up to the Animus and the Daleks, he's constantly forced to concede in the face of an unsophisticated brute. I'm not condoning violence by any means, but it is quite funny to see the Doctor forced to design the Trojan horse. The Greeks are all immediately recognizable as individual characters, from the indignant and over-important Achilles, to the apathetic Menelaus. The Trojans too are well portrayed, with the wise Priam, the cowardly Paris, and the deliberately over-the-top and screeching Cassandra. The bickering between these three royals is hilarious, especially Paris's disparaging attitude towards his bloodthirsty sister. This really is the strength of 'The Myth Makers' – the dialogue is superb. Whilst 'The Crusade' went for a Shakespearean feel, 'The Myth Makers' imitates this style but send it up. The characters utter pompous and self-aggrandizing announcements, which are always followed by a deflating remark. This is most obvious when we first meet Agamemnon and Menelaus – as the Greek king tries to rouse his brother's spirit by asking him whether he wants Helen back, he is clearly put out to receive the blunt answer "no". Likewise, Achilles's self-important claims of meeting Zeus are met with down-to-Earth cynicism from Odysseus. The best examples though, occur between Cassandra and Paris – the former talks almost exclusively in aggressive portents of doom, only to have the piss taken out of her every time by her brother. As she proclaims "woe to Troy" with suitably Shakespearean grandeur, Paris responds "It's too late to say woah to the horse" - a very silly pun, but a perfect example of not only the obvious humour of the script, but the way in which it mocks the classics in true Life of Brian style. And it is entirely concerned with the classics – whereas its historical predecessors where based, however inaccurately in some cases, around actual historical events, 'The Myth Makers' draws upon The Iliad, The Aeneid, and Troilus and Cressida, for inspiration. The Greeks shown here are not the valiant and noble warriors of Hollywood epics, they are the drunken, murderous rabble of Homer's poems. The climax, like the battles in The Iliad, is brutal, and once the Greeks emerge from the horse, the comedy stops – the Trojans are slaughtered. The description of Priam and his family lying dead in their palace is chilling, given that only minutes before we heard them exchanging witty lines. Steven's wound makes for a somber ending, as the Doctor has no choice but to try and find help wherever the TARDIS lands next. His final scene with Odysseus is in keeping with this change in mood – after being at the Greek's mercy throughout to great comic effect, he finally takes a stand and denies him access to the TARDIS, and so determined and forceful is he that even Odysseus is left wondering if he were Zeus after all. Whilst gritty historical realism might have been slightly uncomfortable juxtaposed with comedy in 'The Reign of Terror', 'The Romans', and 'The Time Meddler', the decision to switch from comedy to gritty realism at the end of 'The Myth Makers' is hugely effective.

On the whole, 'The Myth Makers' is another successful attempt to do comedy in Doctor Who and another great historical. The change in tone at the end is also well done and leads perfectly into the relentless drama that is to follow...