This is not so much a historical Doctor Who story as a mythical one. Donald Cotton’s approach is to look for the entertaining narrative within history, irrespective of any underlying facts or the lack thereof, and as such he accepts the Homeric version of the Trojan War and works entirely within it, to the extent that Cassandra’s ability to predict the future is incorporated unchallenged. Cotton sees no need to stick in a bit of technobabble to explain this. As a writer he is ahead of his time. Tellingly his third, rejected script in 1966 would have featured the Loch Ness Monster as livestock owned by aliens, something that eventually became the plot of somebody else’s Doctor Who story.
So Cassandra’s abilities are paranormal, and nothing in the story rejects them. In fact those who try to are clearly shown to be the misguided ones. So when we get a cliffhanger with her accusing Vicki and Steven of being spies, demanding they be put to death, and then the next episode title is Death of a Spy there is a strong sense of danger becoming more and more real. Nobody will have taken this as really heralding a companion death, but there is a feeling that we are building towards something, which started right back with The Death of Doctor Who (The Chase).
Cassandra’s psychic powers place Doctor Who into the realm of the pseudoscientific and anything starts to seem possible. So this is an interesting opportunity to play with the Doctor’s godlike status, a repeating theme throughout Doctor Who’s history, which is explored strongly here for the first time. In one of many funny one-liners, the Doctor is mistaken for a god in the “guise of an old beggar”, and the story ends with him gaining a new companion who is completely convinced that she is in the afterlife and the Doctor is a god. But the irony in this is delightful, because the Doctor is out of his league here more than ever before.
We have had occasions where the Doctor seems to have stumbled into a situation that was too big for him, most notably in The Web Planet, but the early influence of Vicki was to help him become a force of nature who breezed through situations that seemed too much to handle with a kind of manic, anarchist and probably misplaced confidence. Here he loses Vicki and gets thoroughly defeated by the end of the story. He runs away in the midst of a massacre he has himself contributed to, with Steven badly wounded in the process. Compare the Doctor here with the Monk a couple of stories before: as I mentioned at the time, who is the worst “time meddler”? The Doctor has already caused the Great Fire of Rome, and now he just gives in to a fatalistic universe that he has to slot into and play his role, like an actor in a play, and becomes responsible for the idea of the Trojan horse.
So Donald Cotton does an amazing job of placing Doctor Who within the world of epic myths and magic and then showing the Doctor fail in the most spectacular way. But we also have our first Doctor Who story where every key player behind the scenes is a man, and unfortunately in the 1960s this starts to pose a problem.
One of John Wiles’s first acts as incoming producer was to sack Maureen O’Brien for speaking her mind, while failing to do the same to Hartnell in the same circumstances. So the most interesting and useful companion Doctor Who has had up until this point gets written out, and it is done in a way that belittles the character horribly. First Priam changes her name because he doesn’t like it (where does he get off doing that?) and then she is paired off with a convenient man to become And Cressida. For the last 500ish years we have best know this story within the context of a Shakespeare play, so Vicki is right back within the male-dominated world we saw her in during The Crusade, although there she had to become a man just so she could take part in the story. In the Shakespeare play, as in just about every fictional depiction of Cressida, her function is to be unfaithful to Troilus and after that get ignored within the story while he goes off in a huff and gets himself killed. So this is far from being one of those lame, happy companion endings for Vicki, heading off into a happy marriage with a bloke she has just met. No, this is Vicki being diminished to a character whose only function is to be a cheating woman within a Shakespearean tragedy.
The John Wiles era of Doctor Who will include the introduction of three new female companions, two of which will be killed off during his tenure, and the third will be written out without a departure scene at all after he has gone. It is interesting to look back and realise just how far we have come since those days, but what is even more interesting is to look back to the first couple of years of Doctor Who, which were so much more enlightened than the later Hartnell era, and realise what a debt we owe to two magnificent women who shaped Doctor Who so brilliantly: Verity Lambert and Maureen O’Brien. RP
The view from across the pond:
Nothing beats a good paradox! And what show creates paradoxes like Doctor Who? For instance, look at Time Crash: David Tennant’s Doctor knows how to get out of a temporal explosion because he remembered being his earlier incarnation observing his older incarnation doing it! It’s only by observing his future incarnation that he’s able to have the memory from the past to thus remember for the future. So much fun! I really do love a paradox. Or what about the Doctor coming up with the notion of the Trojan horse because of Homer’s writings, only for Homer to write it because he knew of the idea which was proposed by the Doctor!
Welcome to Troy in 1400BC. And that puts us firmly in the middle of The Myth Makers.
Sadly, it’s a travesty; this is another lost episode. And what a terrible thing it is too! Vicki leaves and Katrina comes onboard the TARDIS, not to mention Peter Purves (Steven) claimed it to be his favorite episode. It is interesting that Katrina only makes an appearance in episode 4. She becomes a companion, but the whole idea seems to be added as a whim. “Quick, write out Maureen O’Brien and get someone to replace her!” Which is an absolute shame because Hartnell had fantastic chemistry with O’Brien. At any rate, the story opens with the Doctor encountering two people involved in a sword fight, one of whom strikes down his fellow combatant, Hector. Moments later, the survivor wants to take the Doctor to camp. Vicki passes this warped comment: “That man looks quite friendly now.” Let’s be clear, mere moments earlier, he hacked down Hector with a sword while Hector had his back turned… “Quite friendly” does not show Vicki in a particularly intelligent light. But then, she leaves the TARDIS because somehow she managed to fall in love with a man she noticed. I would advise against such a thing. Talk about generation gaps! She’s from the far future and she’s content living nearly 4000 years before our time! Poor girl… Marriage is hard when there is no generation gap; this is ridiculous!
What really happens with this story is something we’ve seen more recently in The Fires of Pompeii; the Doctor influences history. The first time we saw him involved in history was in Marco Polo, then The Aztecs and later in The Reign of Terror, but the Doctor was merely caught up in events. He did not influence them. We see his first influence during The Romans when he inadvertently gives Nero the idea to burn down Rome. This is not unlike his involvement in the aforementioned The Fires of Pompeii where he is actually responsible for the destruction of Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius. Fire does seem to be a motif because he also burns down London in 1666’s Great Fire, in The Visitation. But in The Myth Makers, he actually is part of a glorious little paradox. When Steven suggests the “wooden horse”, the Doctor actually states, “The whole story is obviously absurd. Probably invented by Homer as some good dramatic device.” But Homer writes about it because it worked when, in a pinch, the Doctor suggests the idea. Say it with me: wibbly wobbly, timey wimey.
The story may never be found, so there are reconstructions to watch. The audio of the story is still intact, but unless you’re watching an animated recon, they are hard to sit through. Of course, there are always the much-loved Target novels. Alas, even those still seem like poor substitutes for the real thing. Perhaps one day we can go back in time, take them and “find” them, but to maintain the timeline, it would have to be after January 31st of 2018. In fact, today! If the story is found tomorrow, why, it could be someone who read this post, went back in time and planned to find it the day after… which would never have happened if you didn’t read this post. Did I mention I love a good paradox? ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Daleks’ Master Plan