Friday, November 19, 2010

"Small Prophet, Quick Return"

Hello everyone, the Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn, Spoo and Photobug (Schmallturm, alas, arrived too late to see the episode), with another episode of The Trojan Lark our Trojan War story. As always, we see this reconstruction thanks to the good work of Loose Cannon Productions. And, as with last week, there's no way I will ever convey the humor and enjoyment of the episode with a summary, no matter how detailed. As such, I'll include a link to an episode transcript afterwards. An important note: there will be no episode next week, due to the American Thanksgiving holiday. We'll be back on 3 December. But, for now, let's get to the summary!

Episode summary: First aired 23 October 1965. Odysseus laughs. Thunder and miracles at the "temple" tomorrow? he asks. Yes, says the Doctor testily. Odysseus replies, "Our weather is so unpredictable. If there is no thunder on the plain, I have a sword will serve for two as well as one. Your 'temple', as you call it, has disappeared!" The Doctor is shocked!

Where the TARDIS once stood, only footprints in the sand remain...

The next day, Agamemnon, the Doctor and Odysseus, along with his servant Cyclops, arrive on the plain where the TARDIS had been. Also along for the ride is the captive Steven, who the Doctor had claimed he would "sacrifice" inside his "temple." The Doctor tries to explain away the disappearance of his ship, but Odysseus has already noticed the footprints and draws the obvious conclusion--the "temple" has been taken into Troy. Agamemnon commands "Zeus" to prove himself by sacrificing Steven with a thunderbolt, but the Doctor replies that the miracle can only take place inside the temple, which no one believes. Finally, the Doctor admits he is not Zeus and that Steven is his friend, but he assures the Greeks that they are not Trojans. Agamemnon, furious, leaves the two in the custody of Odysseus and storms off. In a whispered conversation, the Doctor tells Steven that there is no way Vicki could have piloted the ship. Odysseus asks them right out: who are they? Telling him it might take some time, Steven begins to tell the Greek precisely who they are.

In the main square of Troy, Paris returns triumphantly from....basically doing nothing on the plain. He has brought home a prize, though--the TARDIS! The call of trumpets brings out an irascible Priam, who wonders why his son isn't out fighting Achilles. Paris shows Priam the TARDIS, calling it a...shrine of some sort. Priam is dubious, but walks towards the doors...

In the control room, Vicki sees the face of Priam, huge in the scanner.

Priam asks what Paris plans to do with this shrine. Paris, who obviously hasn't fully considered this, suggests putting it in the Trojan temple. His sister Cassandra, the high priestess, vocally objects to this. Paris then suggests leaving it in the square as initiative in capturing it! Cassandra sees it as a Greek plot, believing they allowed Paris to capture it. "I dreamed that out on the plain the Greeks had left a gift, and although what it was remained unclear, we brought it into Troy. Then at night, from out its belly, soldiers came and fell upon us as we slept," she says. Paris is dubious; how many soldiers could fit inside that thing, two? Only one would be needed to sneak out and open the gates, Cassandra counters. Priam suggests opening it and finding out, but Paris says he can't get the thing open. Priam tries to pry the doors with a sword, to no avail. Cassandra decrees that branches and sacrificial oil should be brought; they will burn it for the gods of Troy. And, if someone is inside, an even better sacrifice!

Inside the TARDIS, in the wardrobe room, Vicki is desperately looking for some clothes of the period.

Back on the plains of Troy, Steven and the Doctor have come to the end of their explanation--the full truth. Surprisingly, Odysseus decides to believe them; the story is so ridiculous that it must be true, else they wouldn't have dared to tell it. He proposes to release the two--but only on certain conditions. He will give the Doctor two days to come up with a plan to take Troy, and it must be ingenious. If the Doctor fails, perhaps his story is not true....and Odysseus will look like a fool for having believed the travellers. And, if so, he will not be pleased! He makes as though to stab Steven....but cuts him free of his bonds instead.

Back in Troy, the bonfire is almost ready for lighting, with the TARDIS in its centre. Paris suggests that, before it's lit, Cassandra should make sure the sacrifice is acceptable to the gods; they wouldn't want to offend. Cassandra lifts her eyes to heaven and asks for a sign...and Vicki opens the door and walks out of the TARDIS! She tells them she's no one of importance, just someone from the future. Cassandra is incensed; is this girl trying to claim she is a prophet? Surely she is a Greek spy! Vicki denies being a priestess when questioned, saying that she hasn't prophesied anything yet, has she? Cassandra continues to harp on with the spy angle, but Priam kindly asks Vicki to come to him. He talks to her kindly, asking if she is a Greek, but she replies again that she is from the future. "So you see, I don't have to prophesy, because as far as I'm concerned, the future...has already happened!" Priam doesn't understand, Cassandra says that Vicki's trying to confuse them, Paris tries to defend Vicki...and Priam tells them all to be quiet. "Now don't be frightened, child - you shall die when I say so, and not a moment before," he says calmly, which doesn't comfort Vicki as much as he thought it would. Priam asks Vicki her name, but, upon hearing it, immediately decides that it won't do. She needs a Trojan name and he chooses "Cressida." Priam tries to get his head around the idea that Vicki knows the future as her past, and he obviously realizes she could be a great help in the war. He suggests she accompany him into the palace for a meal. Paris tries to invite himself along, but his father orders him to get back to the war and challenge Achilles. Paris suggests it might be more Troilus' thing, but Priam orders him to go. He leaves and, with Cassandra predicting doom and disaster, Priam and Vicki enter the palace. After they leave, Cassandra asks the gods to either strike down the false priestess or send her a sign...and she will strike Vicki down herself!

In the Greek camp, the Doctor and Steven are trying to come up with ideas. Steven suggests, well, the Trojan Horse, but the Doctor dismisses that as a story invented by Homer. Steven reminds him that they need to get into Troy to rescue Vicki and they only have two days left. Just then, Odysseus enters the tent, asking what progress they've made. The Doctor, however, has a condition of his own for continuing: Vicki must not be harmed. Odysseus, reasonably, suggests that if she's left the TARDIS, there's not much he can do. He cannot stop in the middle of sacking the city and ask every woman in Troy if she's a friend of the Doctor's. Suddenly, a messenger bursts in, telling Odysseus that Paris is on the Plain, calling to challenge Achilles. Agamemnon has sent word that Odysseus should fight in Achilles' place, but Odysseus dismisses this, saying Paris isn't worth his time. The messenger leaves, but all of this has given Steven an idea. If Paris is such a bad fighter, perhaps Steven can answer the challenge and let himself be taken prisoner. If he was wearing a uniform, he should be treated as a prisoner of war. Odysseus isn't sure how the Trojans are treating prisoners, but Steven says he'll have to take the chance, impressing the Greek with his courage. He offers Steven the armor of a slain Greek, Diomede. Steven goes to change. Odysseus turns to the Doctor, who suggests tunneling, which the other dismisses. Odysseus wants something really revolutionary. The Doctor asks if he's ever considered flying machines? No, says Odysseus...

On the Plains of Troy, Paris calls for Achilles...and then realizes the Greek might actually hear him, so he drops his voice to a whisper, continuing his challenge. He is startled by Steven, who appears to answer. Paris is relieved to realize that it is not Achilles who has come, and Steven introduces himself as Diomede, a friend of Odysseus. Paris tries to talk his way out of actually fighting, but Steven kind of presses the point and the two exchange a few blows. Steven then pretends to stumble and drops his sword. Paris, wanting to take advantage, is about to strike when Steven yields and offers himself up as a prisoner. Paris is a bit nonplussed by this; "Well I say, this sort of thing is just not done!" Steven talks his way into prisonerhood by flattering Paris, saying all of his friends had warned him not to fight the Trojan. He offers to tell Priam the tales of Paris' prowess that supposedly spread around the Greek camps. Paris, delighted--and delighted at the excuse to get back to the city and away from fighting--begins to take Steven away. Cyclops emerges from his hiding place and watches them walk away.

Inside Priam's palace, the king and Vicki have finished their meal. Priam tells her that his nephew Aeneas often brings them supplies, stolen from the Greek's supply lines. He then explains about the Trojans' love of horses. "A Trojan would do anything for a horse," he says. Vicki remarks that she finds that funny. When Priam asks why, she says it reminds her of a story she'd heard long ago. About the war? asks Priam. Ye-es, says Vicki, but she's sure it's just a legend. Priam gently presses her, since it's that kind of information he most wants to know. Vicki tries to change the subject, bringing up Prince Troilus, who had just left. He's very handsome, she says. Priam, who gives in to the change of subject for the moment, says he's never really noticed. Good looks only get you into trouble, he says. Look at Paris! Vicki says she thought he was nice and Priam replies that women generally do, which is what started all the trouble. Vicki says she is looking forward to meeting the famous Helen. " If only he'd met a nice, sensible girl like you - I always say it's character that counts, not good looks." Vicki is...a bit put out by that! With a twinkle in his eye, Priam mentions that he thought Troilus was quite taken with Vicki as well. But then, he remembers that they were supposed to be talking about the war and is about to press her for more information when Paris walks in crowing that he's captured a Greek! Priam is irritated, but Paris explains he thought his father would want to question the prisoner. Well....says his father. Good, he's just outside! says Paris. Paris calls out for Diomede to come and Steven steps in. Vicki cannot help herself; she asks Steven why on earth he's there! Steven, too late, says, "Shh, Vicki!" But Priam has heard the "Greek" call "Cressida" by her real name, just as Cassandra, who had been lurking, bursts in, proclaiming this as proof that Vicki is a Greek spy. "Kill her!" she cries. "Kill both of them!" Vicki embraces Steven in fear as guards approach, swords drawn....


Here, as promised, is the link to a transcript of this episode. I really recommend checking it out; the wordplay adds so much. (As do the performances.) But now...

Still slightly-sick Ketina's paraphrase/transcript

H: Historian
K: Ketina
R: Ronelyn
S: Spoo
P: Photobug

H: Small prophet, quick return. I think we all get the title now.
P: We do?
H: Vicki's small. And a prophet. You see?
R: Okay, the sacking of Troy as a comedy of manners. It's just surreal.
H: This story is the comedy story. It's famous for being really funny. It's not disappointing any of my expectations. A note: all the episodes originally had punny titles, but they had to be changed prior to transmission. The first episode's original title was "Deus Ex Machina". This one was always "Small Prophet, Quick Return". But the head of serials had them change the titles of the other three episodes. This is what you get when you have comedians as characters on Doctor Who. This makes the Romans seem relatively serious. [Wow, Ketina compressed a whole bunch of things I said in one paragraph! Hopefully, it makes sense! --H]
P: I found that the unintentional funny parts - there was a long trumpet scene, it came to the end, and then the king said "play trumpets" and there was a tiny trumpet call. I don't know if that was meant to be funny or not.
S: That was some of the best Who I've seen in the Project.
H: Certainly the funniest.
S: Yes, like I said. The best.
P: I like they way they got out of trouble by telling the truth.
H: All three of them told the truth. ANd I liked Odysseus' reaction "that story was so stupid that it's got to be the truth." And the Doctor always says whenever he tells the truth "would I say something like this if I was going to lie to you." and Odyeseus is about the only one I can think of that actually believes him.
S: No matter what characters come and go in Doctor Who, from now on I'll always have Paris.
R: Wow. You waiting the whole evening just for that?
S: He [Paris] is so well acted and written. It's just hilarious.
H: All of them are hilarious. Priam was fantastic.
S: Yes, all of them are good. By Paris is wry and funny and just fantastic. "ACHILLES?" [changing to a whisper] "achilles?" And Cassandra has the dream about the Horse which actually fits the TARDIS. Beware of Time Lords bearing gifts. And they explain it well too -- you don't need a whole legion, just one guy to open the door.
H: The "real" horse only had a few guys anyway, for exactly that reason. I like that they had the film of Vicki opening the door. It was one of the only scenes that wasn't of Steven on film. [The other was a short clip of the Doctor speaking.]
K: Yes. They totally had a crush or something on Steven.
S: But anyway, that was fantastic. The story just flew by, it was so good.
R: I could hear the fight choreography being bad.
H: Yeah, but I think it was meant to be.
S: Yeah, Steven didn't really know how to fight and Paris clearly couldn't fight either. So the fight scene would have been bad anyway.
R: I don't know. I really likely the more serious version like "Iphegenia in Aulis." This one is just kind of upsetting. It feels like Odysseus is the only Greek that I know from the ancient stories, and he's all grumpy because he's surrounded by idiots.
S: But that's the point of the humor. I'm okay with that tone, but I'm not invested with the myth.
H: I am invested with the myth, but I also thought it was funny. And it's very much of a piece with other British comedy from this time period, like the "Navy Lark". The other thing I was going to say was that I was worried with this being a reconstruction, that this is the most suited story to be reconstructed that we've come across because so much is verbal. There isn't a lot of action and there is a lot of dialogue, so it works well with still images and a few captions.
S: +1
H: Spoo particularly liked Paris. And Priam was great.
R: I did like Priam.
H: "I always thought you should pick someone with more character than looks. Wait, I didn't mean that!" And Agamemnon was fun too, although not in this episode as much. Odysseus was really powerful. I also liked that his servant Cyclops was spying all the time.
S: I think we also missed the visual of creating the bonfire around the TARDIS. I was trying to imagine it and was picturing something more like Ewoks cooking Han Solo.
H: I think we missed out on not seeing the fight with Paris and Steven. Paris was about to do the very thing that Achilles did last week, which was attack when someone stumbles. It's very interesting that Steven is claiming to be Diomedes. I believe that scene is really in the Iliad. Of course, Troilus and Cressida is a medieval legend.
R: And, once again, on a show with classically educated British actors horribly mangling a name. [Ronelyn couldn't remember what name she heard, but (after looking at the transcript) we think it was "Diomede" instead of "Diomedes." We're not sure at this point if that was an error or if it's a different version of the name. Regardless, it was certainly done intentionally. --H]
H: Some things Brits pronouce this differently that we do. Like Oedipus. [Pronounced "EEdipus." Americans pronounced it "Edipus." --H]

That was basically where we left it, with Spoo declaring again that he really enjoyed this week's episode and myself agreeing. I think, even with Ronelyn's caveats, the team is pretty much in agreement that, even if this isn't the Trojan War we're used to, this story is a heck of a lot of fun! We can't wait until the next episode, which, again, will be watched on 3 December. Until then, I remain




Gavin said...

Diomede is an older British and Irish way of referring to Diomedes. One of my lecturers used it once when I was an undergraduate.

The Historian said...

Thanks for the info, Gavin! I figured that was probably the case, but it's good to have confirmation. :-) I'll make sure Spoo sees this.

The Historian said...

Er, I mean Ronelyn. Sorry Spoo!

Gavin said...

Became curious, and checked Pope's Iliad translation. Diomede used in the introduction; Diomed in the text. So it looks like a traditional English version, probably driven by metrical needs.