Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"The Myth Makers"

Aired Oct 16 – Nov 6, 1965


Episode 1: Temple of Secrets
Episode 2: Small Prophet, Quick Return
Episode 3: Death of a Spy
Episode 4: Horse of Destruction

Story 20

Written by Donald Cotton

Directed by Michael Leeston-Smith


Synopsis

The Doctor, Steven and Vicki arrive not far from the city of Troy, currently under long siege by the Greeks during the legendary Trojan War. Meeting Achilles, the Doctor is taken for the mighty god Zeus and brought back to the Greek camp to meet Agamemnon and Odysseus. Questioned by the Greeks, the Doctor admits he is not Zeus, but does tell them he comes from another time and place. He is given just two days to come up with a foolproof plan to capture Troy.

Steven and Vicki, meanwhile, are captured by the Trojans, where King Priam, believing Vicki to possess magical powers, gives her two days to banish the Greeks. Otherwise, she will be convicted as a spy. 

Devoid of options, the Doctor uses the idea of the Trojan Horse, an idea he contends was a fictional invention of Homer's, as his plan to defeat the Trojans, thereby inventing the legend in the first place. The Doctor's plan is a success, albeit a bloody one that sees the slaughter of many Trojans, to the Doctor's dismay.

Vicki, having taken the name Cressida, has fallen in love with Priam's son Troilus. They escape the slaughter and Vicki decides to remain with Troilus rather than leave on the TARDIS. Steven has been injured in the battle, and is helped into the TARDIS by Katarina, a handmaiden. The ship dematerializes with her aboard, after the Doctor bids Vicki a sad good-bye.


Analysis

The Myth Makers, like The Romans before it, is an attempt at a comedic version of Doctor Who, but it is a bit more successful at the attempt than The Romans. Donald Cotton's scripts are genuinely witty, populated with an endearing array of comedic supporting characters. There's many scenes that sparkle with this wit, like the Doctor's first meeting with Achilles, as well as all his scenes with Odysseus. It's one of the few stories that really overcomes the substantial drawback of now having only the audio to rely upon, as the scripts themselves are so well done.

The source of all this sparkle comes from the irreverent juxtaposition of the audience's expectations of how classical Greece has been depicted with Cotton's thoroughly modern and irreverent depiction. There's nothing stodgy here, and Cotton's fast and loose treatment of history (and Homer) results in an adventure that is largely a hoot to listen to.

The regulars all do superb work here as well. Hartnell clearly preferred the historical settings as his performances in these types of stories carry an extra little sparkle. He was a deft comedian, making the Doctor funny without being silly. Peter Purves starts coming into his own here as Steven, a character that was vaguely defined at best. Purves has made Steven into a man with enough confidence to challenge the Doctor, as well as a wry sense of humour. But the bulk of the serial's heavy lifting belongs to Maureen O'Brien in Vicki's farewell appearance. Vicki was defined initially by mostly pluck alone. O'Brien managed to fill that character with a feisty spirit and a big heart. She was a companion that could giggle with Hartnell's Doctor, and the two really did have numerous sweet moments. Marrying her off is a simple solution for her departure, but the idea that she inspires the medieval myth of Troilus and Cressida is fun, and both actors inject their scenes with enough tenderness to carry it off.

It's too bad this delightful romp is marred by a final episode that depicts what is basically a massacre. This is where Cotton's approach fails him. At the end of the day, these delightful rascals pop out of their horse and slaughter all the other delightful rascals we've been enjoying. The switch is jarring, and maybe it's supposed to be, but I don't think he quite pulls it off. It's a misstep that prevents The Myth Makers from being a masterpiece.

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