Doctor Who: Revisiting THE MYTH MAKERS

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Andrew East went through the plains of Asia Minor on a horse with no name.

The Myth Makers is an odd fish. It’s one of those lost stories that, due to the lack of photographic record, fans know very little about. We have the soundtrack and the odd photograph, but nothing substantial enough to get a proper feel for the story – at least not in the same way as other lost stories, such as Fury from the Deep or Marco Polo.

I first became acquainted with The Myth Makers through the Loose Cannon reconstruction. At the time, I loved it. It was exciting to finally be ‘watching’ a story that I knew little about and Loose Cannon did a wonderful job bringing to life a story which has very little surviving material. It evens includes the grainiest, murkiest clips that I’ve ever seen for any Doctor Who story and specially filmed shots of a wooden horse.

This time round, however, I watched the reconstruction whilst listening to the superior recording of the soundtrack courtesy of BBC Audio (as was). The repeated use of the same four or five photographs, along with shots taken from stories such as The Romans and non-Doctor Who serials like I, Claudius works really well. For about one episode. It then starts to grate and by the time I reached episodes 3 and 4 I gave up on the reconstruction and simply listened to the remaining audio. It’s a shame that they couldn’t find some ‘greekier’ shots to stand in for certain characters as the Roman aspects are obviously Roman and therefore don’t quite work. That said, it is an admirable effort and one that I probably will revisit in the future.

The Myth Makers sees the Doctor, Steven and Vicki arrive on the plains of Asia Minor near the city of Troy whilst it is besieged by Greek troops vowing revenge for the kidnap of Helen. Interestingly, Helen never appears in the story and after the initial couple of episodes is never mentioned again. The Doctor is mistaken for Zeus, Steven pretends to be Diomede (a dead Greek soldier), and Vicki is renamed Cressida by the Trojans and lauded & denounced equally as a prophet & a sorceress.

And that is, really, it.

The Doctor spends most of the story avoiding coming up with the wooden horse as a means of invading the city – only to fall back on the scheme when all else fails; Steven gets captured by the Trojans and released by Vicki only to be wounded in the ensuing battle and Vicki falls in love with Troilus, a young Trojan prince, and remains behind when the TARDIS leaves.

The Myth Makers is well known amongst fan circles for being ‘a comedy’. Donald Cotton penned tongue-in-cheek historical based like several of his radio plays on Greek mythology. It’s really only Paris who is given the funny stuff and Barrie Ingham plays him very much as a comedic character – even delivering slightly duff lines like ‘it’s too late to say whoa to the horse’ with committed aplomb. Frances White is saddled with wailing and moaning as Cassandra, and both Francis de Wolff as Agamemnon and Ivor Salter as Odysseus spend most of the story being gruff, macho and occasionally sarcastic at either the Doctor’s, Steven’s or (Agamemnon’s brother) Menelaus’ expense.

Hartnell seems to do very little and isn’t given very comedic material. Then with Steven manning up as Diomede and Vicki telling everyone she’s from the future, the regulars don’t really seem as strong as usual.
There are also some very odd pieces of dialogue for a family show, not least Odysseus’ simile involving an orgy! (Which brings to mind the topless dancers and prostitutes the Doctor and Peri witness in The Eye of the Scorpion – a visual aspect that is possible to get away with on audio and lends an authenticity which The Myth Makers sometimes feels it is lacking).

The addition of Katarina to the TARDIS crew at the close of the story is also very odd. Without visuals it is impossible to know if Adrienne Hill, the actress, features in any scenes in the first 3 episodes, but the first we hear of her on the audio is in Episode 4 when suddenly, Cassandra starts giving her instructions, followed by Vicki asking her to look after Steven. As a potential companion, she is given no character aside from being Trojan and a handmaiden. Unsurprisingly she believes the TARDIS is taking her to the afterlife and the production team quickly realised that her character was unsustainable as a companion blaming her historical naivety and the difficulties that would cause writing for her in stories taking place outside of her realm of experience.

Personally I think the problem was more an underwritten character – she is little more than an extra judging by the number of lines she has in Episode 4. Historical companions can work, as Jamie proves in the very next season, and as Big Finish have shown with Erimem. Had Katarina been introduced from the beginning, maybe as a friend to Vicki (something akin to Ping-Cho’s relationship with Susan in Marco Polo), then she could easily have worked.

The final battle is, at least on audio, well realised with lots of swords clashing and screaming. The lack of visuals is a shame as I would love to see how this massive event was depicted on screen. Although I imagine that my imagination is somewhat better than reality.

The historical aspect of the story comes through strongly with a large cast of Greek and Trojan characters as well as ‘off-screen’ characters such as Helen and Aeneas. The siege of Troy is a well known story and the Doctor posits the idea that the wooden horse ploy was probably made up by Homer when he wrote the tale down. Of course, it is the Doctor who comes up with the idea of the horse, having read about it in Homer, giving a neat little paradox for us to ponder. That said, it’s possible the Doctor meets Homer in the future and tells him about the horse, so maybe it was the Doctor’s idea all along!

How much of this ‘history’ is true is questionable, particularly due to the comedic nature of the story, but The Myth Makers definitely fits with the early serials historical remit and visits a period of history that is familiar to most people, if only through myth rather than historical fact.

A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the chance.

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