Hello everyone, the Historian here with a wrapup of the Doctor and company's adventure amongst the Achaeans and the folk of Ilium, across the wine dark sea and the wind-swept plain.....Ahem. Sorry about that. As anyone familiar with this story knows, it is considerably less lyrical than the poetry of Homer. Famously, this first story officially under the John Wiles/Donald Tosh regime was intended as a comedic departure. While the earlier "The Romans" had elements of high humor, this script (by veteran BBC Radio comedy writer Donald Cotton) takes both comedy and sophisticated dialogue to a level not seen previously. I made a joking reference to "The Navy Lark", but it's actually a decent comparison. (By the way, Doctor Who fans interested in Jon Pertwee's career before taking on the role of the Doctor might want to check TNL out. It's a lot of fun.) The interplay--especially between Agamemnon and Menelaus or Priam and Paris--has the same kind of wit adult viewers would hear on the contemporary BBC2 Radio Light Entertainment programs. I suppose there might have been a chance that the funny dialogue scenes might lose younger viewers, but this seems an obvious attempt by the new(ish) production team to try broadening the show's appeal. Although most people think it was more a miscalculation than a success, "The Myth Makers" is certainly an interesting and fun experiment, not to mention a bit of a preview of things to come.
There has been some criticism of the turn from the comedy of the first three episodes to the terror of the fourth, but it worked for me and the rest of the Project team; the change accentuates the tragedy and destruction. Thanks to the buildup, we really feel the deaths of Paris and Priam, because we liked them. In fact, I think the contrast between the comedy and the tragedy helps the story to work better, rather than the opposite.
Looking at the story in the context of the mythology (specifically what is known of the post-Homeric stories, the Odyssey and the Aeneid), there are definite oddities in the script. Both Achilles and Paris survive until the fall of Troy, for example, whereas both died prior to the coming of the Horse according to the versions of the story that has come down to us. (Paris actually killed Achilles through trickery, if I recall correctly.) On the other hand, right from the outset this story is about subverting both the story and our expectations: Achilles is seen as a coward by his fellows, and, indeed, we first see him running away from Hector. He only kills his foe by chance and the intervention of the Doctor's "temple." Far from being a bear-like figure, anxious to recover his wife, Menelaus is a timorous old man who'd rather be home. Paris and Priam, while less surprising, do make a fine double act. In fact, it is what I can only call the villains of the piece, the scenery chewing Cassandra and (far more tellingly) the complex, almost sociopathic Odysseus that fulfill expectations.
Let's step back a moment and take a look at the extraordinary character that is Odysseus. Opportunistic, quick witted, obviously highly intelligent, he is the Doctor's ally and nemesis all at once. He's certainly the most complex and interesting character in this story and the script treats him wonderfully. We loved that he listened to the Doctor and Steven's story and replied logically that no one would make up something that ridiculous, so it must be true. He also provides a wonderful foil for the Doctor in the third and fourth episode. By the end, we've almost come to like him...and then we see his savagery in the destruction of Troy, reminding us that he is not a good guy. We haven't seen a complex, ruthless villain like this in a very long time.
And then there's Troilus and "Cressida." Their story isn't any part of Greek myth; it's a medieval legend that Cotton fairly cunningly worked into the story...only to have it all screwed up by John Wiles' decision not to renew Maureen O'Brien's contract. The original romance has Cressida abandoning Troilus for Diomedes and Cotton's original idea was for "Cressida" (Vicki) to leave Troilus and disappear with "Diomede" (Steven) when the two left in the TARDIS. Would have made more sense, huh? On the other hand, it is nice to not see a betrayed Troilus killed by Achilles (as in Chaucer's version of the story), but rather a new beginning for Vicki, a character that had become dear to the Project team. If nothing else, it gives us the bit of a happy ending this story surely needed. And, if the growing romance between the two teenagers isn't quite as believable as that between David and Susan, it's still believable enough to be satisfying.
Then there's the introduction of our first companion from the past, Katarina, who believes she has died and is being transported to the afterlife by the Doctor. In fact, there was a scene in the script where she explicitly tells Vicki that the omens say she (Katarina) will die soon and Vicki sends her to the Doctor in an attempt to save her life. We'll see how she works out over the coming weeks, I suppose...
There are a lot of stories about the production of this serial, many of them centered around William Hartnell...and many of them very uncomplimentary. There's no question that Hartnell wasn't happy with the change in the production team--he had been very close to Verity Lambert and did not get along with John Wiles at all--or the cast. There are also stories about Hartnell being unhappy with how little he was in many of the scripts and how many great scenes were given over to the guest cast...and then there are the related, uncomfortable stories of Hartnell's antisemitic and homophobic remarks at the expense of Max ("Priam") Adrian. (The Brief History of Time (Travel) page has some information about this.) I want to stress that I've also read that these stories are not true. (It's worth noting, for example, that he had no problem working with Carole Ann Ford, who is Jewish.) Has anyone heard anything more definitive about this? Is it discussed in his granddaughter's biography? Please comment if you know anything!
Before I give you the individual episode links, here's the BBC episode guide for the story. And now, the links:
"Temple of Secrets"
"Small Prophet, Quick Return"
"Death of a Spy"
"Horse of Destruction"
On a final personal note, this is another one of those stories whose novelisation I remember buying and reading twenty-five years ago. I've wanted to see some version of this story since I read about it in one of Peter Haining's books even before then. And, thanks to the fans who recorded audio and what small video exists, and thanks to the great work of Loose Cannon Productions, I've finally been able to see it. I know I keep saying things like this, but one of the main impetuses behind starting the TARDIS Project was to see all these great stories and it continues to thrill me that I'm able to...and that, for the most part, they do not disappoint. Certainly, "The Myth Makers" didn't!
Up next--we begin one of the most fabled Doctor Who stories of all time! Until then, I remain