Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Myth Makers


The Myth Makers is basically Doctor Who does Troilus and Cressida (with a half-happy ending.) The Doctor and crew find themselves landing on the plains of Troy during the final days of the ten year long siege of Troy by the assorted Greek* forces.

The TARDIS's arrival in the middle of a fight between Hector (Alan Haywood) and Achilles (Cavan Kendall) helps Achilles secure victory. The Doctor steps out alone and is immediately mistaken for Zeus by Achilles. After some badinage Achilles insists on taking the Doctor to meet Agamemnon (Francis de Wolf) who leads the Greeks. From there everything spirals out of control in Doctor Who style.

Steven pursues the Doctor. The TARDIS gets stolen by Paris (Barrie Ingham) and bought into Troy and from which steps Vicki. It's a dry run for the horse in a way and Cassandra (Frances White) warns of the impending destruction of the city. Alas no one listens to Cassandra and her doom is to be a prophet who knows the truth but is never believed. The result, if some tales are believed, of her refusal to let Apollo have his way with her.

The Myth Makers is one of Doctor Who's funnier scripts. Hovering close to The City of Death in terms of comedy, but with a little less subtly. The humour is driven by both script and performances. With the exception of James Lynn's rather wet Troilus almost every actor in it is giving the script its due. Hartnell thrives to on being surrounded by good actors doing good work.

It's a bloody shame then that none of The Myth Makers exists on video. I had to resort to a reconstruction that I found online. What that means is that I think we're missing out on a great piece of Doctor Who because it is pretty good as an audio/reconstruction but I suspect if we could see as well as hear the performances it would be one of the highlights of the Hartnell era (and of Doctor Who in general.)

There is also a massive tonal shift between the first three episodes and the final one. There's a lot of comedy in Paris being a vain coward, in Menelaus (Jack Melford) just wanting to go home bored with ten years of trying to get his wife back, of the Doctor's attempts to find a way to get into Troy without inventing the Trojan Horse before being forced to invent it after realising his flight plan won't work and in Cassandra's constant dismissal at the hands of her family even as she rightly predicts the doom of Troy.

And we the audience know it is coming. Or at least should do. This is one of the best known stories in literature, although unless you've read the Iliad, the Odyssey and/or the Aeneid the bloody nature of those tales might have passed you by. Homer** does not skimp on the bloody details of the death of warriors.  When Troy falls it will be bloody. Many of those nice people we've met, especially Priam (Max Adrian) are doomed to die.

There are hints at this in Ivor Salter's performance as Odysseus. Odysseus is a loud-mouth and a bully. He threatens the Doctor with death if he doesn't come up with a way to get inside Troy. It is Odysseus more than any other character in this that represents the dark and bloody truth. Odysseus is the only one of these characters who you believe is capable of cold-blooded murder. The rest of them seem too nice, too civilised and too trusting. Nowhere do you really feel the angry bloodlust that Achilles felt when he went out to kill Hector that comes from the original texts. Achilles is raging at the death of his friends (and lover?) Patroclus. He doesn't just kill Hector. He drags his dead body around the City of Troy in a rage until an utterly broken Priam comes to beg for his sons body back. There is none of that tone about The Myth Makers apart from what is hinted at by Odysseus and Cassandra.

The other problem with The Myth Makers is that once again a female companion falls in love with someone. Once again they choose to leave the TARDIS and go off in a time they don't belong. Vicki, who has taken up the name Cressida, has fallen for Troilus. This is, of course, one of the main plot threads in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida but the play has Cressida and Troilus meet before Hector's death. The play has a much darker fate for the lovers than Doctor Who, which pairs them off and gets them to head off with Troilus's cousin Aeneas (and a whole different set of adventures courtesy of Virgil's Aeneid.)  It's all rather nice but Troilus is as wet as a bag of rotting apples and Vicki never seemed the sort of woman who would just fall in love with the first handsome chap that was nice to her. So it all seems a bit sudden. But that might turn out to be a perennial Doctor Who problem.

So Vicki leaves. Steven, wounded in the final battle, is carried into the TARDIS by The Doctor and one of Cassandra's handmaidens, Katarina (Adrienne Hill) and the Doctor takes off before Odysseus can get his hands on the TARDIS. Steven is seriously ill and the Doctor needs medical supplies. So we leave the episode with a dying Steven, a worried Doctor and a confused Katarina (who thinks she is in Limbo with the Zeus.)

The thing is despite some of my criticism above I still think this is one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made. It's funny and witty. It's superbly acted by pretty much everyone involved including the main cast. It plays around with great literature and puts Doctor Who smack bang in the middle of it. So you should give this a listen. It is magnificent.

You should also read the Iliad and the Odyssey btw because they too are rather brilliant.



*They would almost certainly not refered to themselves as Greeks but we'll keep to that for the moment. This is a Doctor Who blog after all not a history one. Or at least not yet.
**Homer may or may not be a single person. It's likely that 'he' is just a name given to tales handed down from generation to generation orally until someone finally decided to write them down. The stories are probably older than the Greeks themselves reflecting their descent from horse riding warriors from Eastern European steppes, which Priam (Max Adrian) actually mentions in the episode. If you'd like to know more I recommend The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicholson.

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