Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part Two – Small Prophet, Quick Return

The Myth Makers is far removed from the sober, earnest historical stories of season one such as John Lucarotti’s Marco Polo and The Aztecs.  There, historical accuracy was key – with the Doctor content to be merely an observer.  Here, the characters often speak in modern (i.e. 1960’s) idioms with the Doctor merrily changing the course of history as he bumbles along.

But one of the strengths of the third season is that there was room for both The Myth Makers and The Massacre (Lucorotti’s final script for the series) which was bleak in the extreme.  This variety is a strong reason why John Wiles’ time as producer has come to be celebrated by a certain section of Doctor Who fandom.

Conversely, the next producer, Innes Lloyd, has seen his stock fall over the years.  The argument runs that if Wiles favoured innovation then Lloyd (with a reliance on “base under siege” stories and monsters) constricted Doctor Who’s format and curtailed its creativity.  It’s a reasonable point, but it’s also worth wondering exactly what the target audience at this time – mainly made up of children – would have made of The Myth Makers.

It’s packed full of witty wordplay, but most of that would presumably have sailed over their heads.  Any adults watching, or fans in the decades to come, will no doubt derive considerable pleasure from Donald Cotton’s scripts, but it’s easy to imagine that the kids at the time were sighing and waiting for the Daleks to turn up.

So although Lloyd might have tightly formatted the series, he did so because of concerns that the ratings were slipping (it’s all very well being innovative and experimental, but if nobody’s watching then you’ve got a bit of a problem).

Having met the Greeks in episode one, we now run into some of the main Trojans.  Barrie Ingham, as Paris, is a delight – Paris is depicted as a handsome and feckless warrior who’s keen to avoid bloodshed at almost any costs.

Sent out by his father, King Priam (Max Adrian) to avenge the death of his brother Hector, he has to report back that he was unable to challenge Achilles (“I sought Achilles, father, even to the Grecian lines, but he skulked within his tent. He feared to face me”).  At face value this dialogue seems straightforward enough, but it’s played in such a way as to suggest that Paris didn’t try very hard at all.

Priam is less than sympathetic. “Well go back and wait until he gets his courage up. Upon my soul, what sort of brother are you? Furthermore, what sort of son?” But Paris hasn’t come back empty-handed, he proudly reveals his prize – the TARDIS – to a less than impressed Priam.

His sister Cassandra (Frances White) is equally unimpressed – and then prophecies that this strange object will spell their disaster.  It’s an unspoken irony that although nobody ever pays attention to Cassandra’s numerous warnings of doom, she proves to be completely right!

Vicki emerges from the TARDIS to enchant Priam. Maureen O’Brien would be the first companion to find herself written out of the series at short notice – something which would happen several more times over the next few years as incoming producers decided to be the broom that swept clean.

This was a pity, as O’Brien (even if she had little to work with on many occassions) always gave Vicki a questing, mischievous air. And since it can’t really be claimed that her short-term replacements (Katarina, Dodo) were any sort of improvement, I’ll certainly miss her.

When Priam renames her Cressida and she catches the eye of his younger son, Troilus, a section of the audience would probably have been able to guess what was going to happen. But would the child viewers have (excuse the pun) cottoned on, or is this another example of a literary joke that was only accessible to a minority of the audience?

Steven, learning that Vicki is somewhere within the Trojan city, elects to be captured as a Greek prisoner so that he can find her. He does so via a witty scene with Paris.

Paris is stalking the plains, urging Achilles to face him in single combat, but the sense that he isn’t terribly keen for a confrontation is made obvious after he decides to only quietly shout out Achilles’ name! A lovely moment, as is the banter between Paris and Steven.

PARIS: Achilles! (quietly) Achilles! Come out and fight, you jackal! Paris, prince of Troy, brother of Hector, seeks revenge. Do you not dare to face me?
STEVEN: I dare to face you, Paris. Turn and draw your sword.
PARIS: Ah. No, you’re not Achilles. Are you?
STEVEN: I am Diomede, friend of Odysseus.
PARIS: Oh, Diomede, I do not want your blood. It’s Achilles I seek.
STEVEN: And must my Lord Achilles be roused to undertake your death, adulterer?
PARIS: Yes, well, I’m prepared to overlook that for the moment. I assure you I have no quarrel with you.
STEVEN: I’m Greek, you’re Trojan. Is not that quarrel enough?
PARIS: Yes, well personally, I think this whole business has been carried just a little bit too far. I mean, that Helen thing was just a misunderstanding.

Barrie Ingham’s performance punctures the heroic myth of his character and helps to further push the story into being a very ironic retelling of familiar stories.

What of the Doctor though?  He’s about, although he does very little in this episode.  This will be a continuing trend during season three, as Hartnell tends to be moved more to the sidelines.  Was this because of concerns about his increasing ill health?  Possibly, although there are some who maintain that Wiles (and later Lloyd) were planning to gently ease him out of the series – and downplaying his role was the first step.

3 thoughts on “Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part Two – Small Prophet, Quick Return

  1. In one of the few interviews Doctor Who Magazine did with John Wiles he said the stories he was most satisfied with were The Myth Makers and The Massacre because they were breaking new ground with the historical adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Punny Doctor Who titles (eg Arachnids in the UK) wasn’t something that started in the 21st century. Part two of The Myth Makers was called Small Prophet, Quick Return. Although John Wiles did put his foot down when Donald Cotton wanted to call the last episode Is There a Doctor in the Horse?

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