Doctor Who Reviews: The Myth Makers

Pick a card. Any card. OK, now memorise it. What’s that? You can’t? Odds are then, that out of the Doctor Who pack of cards, you have just selected The Myth Makers, or as I call it, The Historical Story That Time Forgot.

Think of Doctor Who historical adventures, and it’s a safe bet that the first ones to spring to mind will include Marco Polo, The Aztecs or The Crusade. Unfortunately, the historical yarns of Season Three are less likely to roll off the tongue when discussing the merits of Doctor Who stories that are set in the past. This is partly because neither The Myth Makers nor The Massacre exist in the BBC archives, and partly because neither story deals with a readily identifiable historical scenario or figure.

The Myth Makers takes its roots from the story of Troy and the legend of the Trojan War. Too bad that only the kids who studied Greek at school would have readily picked up on this. Mind you, even the die-hard aficionados might come away from this adventure scratching their heads. One of the original poems claims that Achilles dies at the hands of Paris, and yet in The Myth Makers, Achilles’ killer is actually Troilus. To confuse matters further, in Troilus And Cressida, it happened to be the other way round. All of which would have left the academics burning their televisions in protest, no doubt.

Writer Donald Cotton was more in the vein of Dennis Spooner rather than David Whitaker or John Lucarotti with a more even mix of comedy and drama running throughout The Myth Makers. However, Cotton’s tale isn’t quite as on the money as say, The Romans. For one thing, some of the humour is a bit laboured. The “You’re a bit too late to say Woe to the horse” gag is the sort of pun that even Tommy Cooper would have chucked in the rubbish bin. Although I do take my hat off to Cotton for some of his working episode titles such as Zeus Ex Machina or Is There A Doctor In The Horse.

Apart from one or two so-so comedy lines, none of the characters make much of an impression. They tend to fall into two camps: Stagy Melodrama or Cardboard Cut Out. Barrie Ingham’s camp Paris is as hammy as a bumper pack of ham rolls, as is Frances White’s Cassandra. Fans of lame '90s comedy might like to ponder on the fact that White would considerably tone things down for snoozy sitcom May To December in which she played dowdy secretary, Miss Flood, Pinner’s answer to Nana Mouskouri.

On the other side of the tracks, we have the cardboard cut out slots, which are filled by the likes of Troilus, who takes a strong liking to Vicki. This proves to be the first of many unlikely pairings in Doctor Who as an army of wet fish such as Andred or Tom Milligan brush up on their chat-up lines. But here, it’s goodbye to Vicki, who runs off to whisper sweet nothings in Troilus’ lughole.

Given that Vicki was only pledging to stick with The Doctor come what may three stories ago, her sudden departure seems a bit odd. Although maybe she knew that the writing was on the wall with the death-fest of The Daleks’ Master Plan around the corner. Vicki, although not the most memorable companion by a long chalk, nevertheless did manage to improve by the end of her run, as she indulged in witty repartee with Steven. Maureen O’Brien, by and large, made the best of such a non-entity, even if it wasn’t easy to be on the constant receiving end of Doctor info-dumps.

At this point in Doctor Who though, we’re on the companion equivalent of Swap Shop. No less than five companions made their goodbyes in this season. Quite what that says about the quality of scripts or the reception of the companions at the time, I really couldn’t say. With Vicki gone, we’re introduced to wide-eyed handmaiden Katarina, who is invited to find her destiny in the stars by The Doctor. Not that it’s the sort of destiny that would last very long. In fact, it’s the sort of prophecy that would make you go crawling back to Russell Grant.

The Myth Makers is a bit of an odd one for The Doctor, who, with the solution of the Trojan Horse, you could argue, is responsible for the losses of countless lives. Granted, he’s in a tight spot after being forced to admit that he’s a mere mortal rather than the great god Zeus, but it’s surprising to see him produce a solution that will cause considerable bloodshed.

In the final analysis, The Myth Makers is a tough one to get a reading on. The production looks like it’s well up to scratch with good designs from John Wood. The main problem, though, is that the scripts, while sometimes entertaining, aren’t as consistent as the offerings from Lucarotti or Spooner. In fact, the only way to save The Myth Makers from anonymity is if the lost episodes are miraculously returned to the BBC archives. Now that’s a real winning card to play.

* My 1970s Doctor Who ebook guides are available at great value prices, and that's no Myth!