Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Serial 20: The Myth-Makers

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companions: Vicki, Steven, Katarina

Written by: Donald Cotton
Directed by: Michael Leeston-Smith

Editor's Note: Hey, kids! Matt here stepping in to tell you that Cassandra's here to talk about some Donald Cotton! Wooooo! Yay Trojans! (Ruh roh that came out wrong...) Any who, I'll be back next week to talk about THE LAST DOCTOR WHO STORY EVER but for now here's Cassandra.

Background & Significance: “The Myth Makers” is an interesting story for quite a few reasons, not because of the actual story, but because of what it represents in the history of the show. 

For one thing, it was the first serial to be produced by someone other than Verity Lambert, which is a big deal.  While “Mission to the Unknown,” the previous story, served as a quiet, fascinating denouement to Lambert’s time with the show, “The Myth Makers” is a ramping up for John Wiles, steering Doctor Who into the very strange and quirky territory it would remain in until the end of the Hartnell era.  While it is a “historical” for the most part, it gets away from that original concept in that it’s also intended to be a high comedy, in the vein of “The Romans” or “The Gunfighters.”

This story is also the last story we see Vicki appear in.  Companion departures are pretty much always a sad affair for me (unless I hate their guts, but that’s another story altogether), and I genuinely enjoy Vicki as a character, and I like what Maureen O’Brien did with the part.  While she is intended to be a substitute Susan, as it were, I think she does a good job coming into her own as the series progresses.  But apparently the fact that she was trying to stick up for the integrity of the character she was portraying was too much for the new producer, who decided after the filming of “Galaxy 4” that O’Brien was complaining too much about her lines, so she should be written out in “The Myth Makers” when her contract was set to expire.  Which hardly seems fair to me.  But that’s showbiz, I suppose.

This also marks the introduction of Katarina, the one-off Trojan handmaiden Companion who (spoilers) ends up dying in the next story, so whatever.  Vicki’s cooler.

But enough of all that. Let's take a closer look, shall we?


Part 1

I forgot to mention the part where this story no longer exists.

Now, I’m not the greatest fan of reconstructions, and sometimes they are pretty cool and can be handy when trying to blog about stories and you need some screencaps to make it all pretty (there’s some behind the scenes shop talk for you all, you like?).  But when a story begins with a swordfight and you can’t see it anymore except in grainy stills while the dulcet tones of Peter Purves narrate what’s happening?  Not cool, you guys.  If blood is to be spilt, I wanna see it.

Anyway, this first part is not stellar.  Frankly, it’s a little boring.  I know a lot of people apparently like this story, but I don’t find it incredibly enjoyable thus far.  There’s a lot of shouting, and Achilles is a pansy man, and everyone else is kind of a dick. Especially Odysseus.  Seriously, dude, what crawled up your bunghole and decided to die?

I do like the Doctor in this, though.  I just recently rewatched some of “The Aztecs” because Matt was watching it for the podcast (more shop talk), and what the Doctor does here reminds me a lot of what Barbara does in “The Aztecs”.  Which, I think, is a lesson for all you kiddies out there: if someone assumes you are a god, go with it.

And the Doctor posturing as Zeus is pretty funny.  All he wants to do is get away from Odysseus the dick and go back to the TARDIS.  If he has to threaten Companions with death by thunderbolt, so be it.  I also enjoy the scene with the Doctor watching the swordfight on the TARDIS scanner, and being so much of a badass that he insists he can just waltz right out there into the middle of it and ask for directions.  Greatest part about that whole thing?  Totally true.  Did he get Hector killed in the process?  Yeah, but that’s not a big deal.  Dude was gonna die, anyway.

Which leads me to my next point: I both like and dislike the fact that this story is based on a myth.  I like it because it lends this whole mythically epic (I’m not even trying) quality to the story, what with the swordfights and the battles and the royalty and all of that.  I don’t like it because it’s completely ludicrous.  Just because The Illiad could have been based on facts, that doesn’t mean everything played out exactly like that in history and Homer just made it rhyme.  I think it’s lame and silly.  I’m probably being a history prude, because I love me a good historical, but this doesn’t even count.  Rage.

The thing about the mythical quality of this story, though?  Agamemnon and Menelaus’ banter reminds me of Game of Thrones, so that’s pretty great.  Only now I just want to rewatch that instead.  Dammit.  (The way that Cotton slips in that line about the cause of the war being about ‘Honor! oh, and trade routes’ is clever, though.  I do enjoy that commentary on his part.)

It’s also lame how, for a story that features a Companion departure, Vicki essentially gets shunted to one side for this entire episode.  There is, however, a creepy eye patch man.  Whether or not that makes up for anything has yet to be determined.

Part 2

I think it’s amusing that most Doctor Who stories happen because, for whatever reason, the Doctor and his Companions can’t get back to the TARDIS to leave.  This one is no exception.  Though I have to question what ends up with it.

Okay, so Paris captures it on the plain because he thinks it’s Greek.  Okay.  That’s all well and good, and Cotton needs a way for Vicki to end up in the city so he can do that whole Troilus and Cressida thing (more on that in a minute).  That makes sense.  But isn’t it funny how the Trojans take in the TARDIS pretty much exactly the way they do the Trojan Horse?  Huh.  How about that.

Now, you would think, after Vicki’s supposed betrayal and the fact that she appears to be a Grecian spy, the Trojans would be a little more careful about what they bring into the city, like, say, wooden structures?  And yet they’re going to end up bringing in the horse?  Maybe they deserved to lose the war.  Fool me twice and all.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I do think I’m liking this story more than I did the first time, and more than I did the first part, even.  I think it’s because of the Trojans, whom I all like.  Except for Cassandra, because she is a total bitch and her voice is weird and she has crazy eyes.  I know she’s my namesake and all (it’s weird talking about someone else with the same name as me), but man.  Lighten up.

I do like the banter and bickering between her and Paris before Priam, though.  I think Paris is one of my favorite parts of this story so far, because he is so ridiculous.  The actor, Barrie Ingham, does a great job with the humor, delivering his lines with a good sense of comic timing and overdramatic attempts at manly blustering that fit the part just right.  One of my favorite scenes is where Steven meets Paris in combat, with the intention of being taken prisoner.  It’s just well done all around, and both Ingham and Peter Purves sell the comedy of the moment.  (And Steven is a total BAMF.)

King Priam, too, is especially good.  I like the way he interacts with Vicki, and that paralleled with the way he is towards his children.  I dunno, man.  The Trojans are just really well realized as characters, I think.  Except for Cassandra, which is sad.  I know about all that prophesying things that no one will believe business, show me more about her.

Then, of course, is the set up for the Troilus and Cressida story.  I’m not super familiar with the myth, or the Shakespeare (I know, I know, I probably should, I’ll get there), but I kinda like how Cotton weaves in an excuse for Vicki to be there and make her mark on “history”.  She adopts the name Cressida, and bam, now she’s part of the myth.  And now she and Troilus are going to fall in love, and everything’s going to be awesome!  I just wish that set up wasn’t so heavy-handed. Troilus hasn’t even shown up yet, and they’re already setting up that Vicki and he are probably gonna get together though a scene of exposition.  Bad move, you guys.  Not only do I want to see swordfights, I also want to see the love story play out, I want to see the beginnings of it, instead of being narrated through a conversation between Vicki and Priam.  Granted, he does launch into some Dothraki Trojan customs and beliefs about horses, which is pretty cool.

Wow, I’m looking at my notes and I have a bunch more things to talk about in this part, more than I thought I would have.  Awesome. Not so much for the rest of this story, though, I think.  Short blog this week, friends.

I’m really enjoying the comedy of this.  The Doctor basically validates my feelings about this whole myth business being preposterous.  This is, of course, in response to when Steven suggests the famed Trojan Horse as an idea for Odysseus to take the city.  And then what does he suggest instead? FLYING MACHINES.  Oh, Doctor, I love you.

Odysseus is also still being a HUGE dick in this.  I guess that fits with his character and what will eventually happen to him in The Odyssey cuz of hubris and all of that, but still.  Guy doesn’t even play fair at war.  He finds out that the Doctor and Steven are from the future, and what does he do?  Takes them hostage so they can come up with a way for him to win.  He does have this really great moment that I find absolutely hilarious, though.  When he’s telling the Doctor and Steven what they must do for him, and they ask what would happen if they don’t, and he goes “Then I shall be VERY ANGRY!” and cuts the rope with his spear.  It’s basically a Hulk moment, and I think it’s really amusing.

One last thing: the title of this particular episode is “Small Prophet, Quick Return”.  Now, I think that’s hilarious, because I love puns and I am not ashamed to admit it.  (Okay, I am a little).  I was reading the entry for this story on Shannon Sullivan’s site, where she goes into detail about the production and behind the scenes for all of the Doctor Who stories (it’s a great site, check it out).  Anyway, apparently all of the episodes in this serial were similarly named with puns for titles, but the BBC cut them all because they “disapproved” of them.  All except for this one, which Cotton insisted upon keeping.  The moral of this story?  THE BBC HATES PUNS.  Sadface.

Part 3

There’s not an awful lot of things to say about this part, as it is exceedingly wheel-spinny, but I do want to talk about Vicki and Troilus.

First off, I adore love stories.  They are pretty fantabulous.  And awkward teen love stories are greatness, which is basically what is happening in this part.

The thing about love stories in Doctor Who is that they never happen.  Or rather, they happen, but they’re hardly convincing.  Several companions have left the TARDIS because they’ve fallen in love with someone they’ve met along their travels, including Susan.  I actually find it interesting that Vicki is (spoilers) going to leave the TARDIS for the same reason Susan does, since Vicki is essentially a surrogate Susan.  Granted, the circumstances are different, but it’s basically the same thing.

But yes.  Rarely do you get any sort of development or set up of the relationship that’s going to trump travels through time and space.  But here?  Here we’ve got something.  Probably because the myth of Troilus and Cressida was something that Cotton was always intending on incorporating into the story, and not some last minute thing thrown in because Maureen O’Brien’s contract was up.  Granted, it wasn’t his intention to leave Vicki with Troilus, but it works because of this set up and burgeoning of their relationship in this part, which I really enjoy.

And I think the scenes between these two are really sweet.  You can tell that both of the characters really like each other, and that they’re both really shy and awkward about it and are just chatting over food in a dungeon (which is funny) while Steven’s over there rolling his eyes about the whole thing because it is just that adorable.  Seriously, what’s not to love.

I also like the relationship between Vicki and Steven.  He’s very much an older brother sort of figure to her, in that he teases her about it, and earlier, when he’s wanting to make sure she’s safe in the TARDIS in order to protect her.  There’s just something about that sibling dynamic that I love and think works so well in the TARDIS, since it pops up in other Companion pairs, too (Jamie and Zoe come to mind).

So, yes. Aside from that marvelousness, there’s not a lot else to talk about.  The Trojan Horse is all set up and ready to play out.  Paris is still funny.  Cassandra is still a crazed harpy.  The Doctor is still trying to get out of things.  Odysseus is still a dick.

One good thing about Odysseus, though: he totally makes a joke about orgies in this episode, and it is fantastic.  An orgy joke.  In a children’s program.


Part 4

For a family show, this shit ends extremely violently.

Now, I know that we can’t really see everything that’s happening on this, because it doesn’t exist anymore, but listening to the narration and knowing the story… Yeesh.  Violent.  Most of the main guest cast end up dead or dragged away to be put into slavery and raped, so that’s fun.

It’s here in this episode that we finally get around to meeting Katarina, Vicki’s replacement on the TARDIS.  I haven’t seen “Dalek’s Masterplan” yet, so I haven’t really seen Katarina in action, but oh my god.  She is so boring and lame.  What a crappy decision.  Plus she’s crazy.

I like the dramatic irony involved in this episode, though.  We the audience know what is going to happen, because we’ve all heard of the fall of Troy.  But the characters onscreen don’t, so it’s pretty fascinating to watch.  There’s this sense of franticness and inevitability as the episode continues to play out towards it’s inevitable doom, and I like that.

I also like that we really care and are invested in what happens to Troilus because Vicki cares about him.  And I like that they've developed and communicated that so effectively in such a short amount of time. That's why I think that this love story aspect of this serial works so well, is because I'm able to feel something for them and I'm able to root for them. I'm invested in what happens to this random prince we just met an episode ago, because Vicki is, and that is good and effect storytelling and character work, as far as I'm concerned.  Which is a credit to this story and the writer, who would go on to write "The Gunfighters", another successful (in my eyes) comedy/pseudohistorical. Awesome.

Final Thoughts?:  The Doctor doesn’t really get much of a part in this story, which is unfortunate, because I enjoy Hartnell the more I see him.  This isn’t his best work, but knowing that he’s peeved because Verity Lambert has left and Maureen O’Brien is leaving and his health is failing and he’s being sidestepped by all this guest cast, you can’t help but feel for the guy.  And yet, in spite of all of this, he pulls himself together and is able to deliver another performance as the Doctor.  He’s amazing for that.

I’m also sad to see Maureen O’Brien leave.  I didn’t really feel it the first time (as I didn’t really enjoy this as much as I did this time around), because I thought it was all very random and sudden.  But examining it, I think they do a good job of setting her up to leave.  While I’m not exactly convinced that this is the perfect story for her to leave on, or the best companion sendoff (it’s not), it could be worse.  Could be Dodo.  But in an era that didn’t exactly tailor episodes to showcase the Companion one final time before he or she or they left, at least Vicki gets a decent and fairly believable and compelling reason why she has to leave, which I love.

All in all, this story is enjoyable and surprisingly funny (something I didn't pick up on the first time). Love the guest cast, and I think everyone does a good job of it, including the jokes and delivering the material and such. It's definitely hurt by the fact that it doesn't exist anymore (swordfights!), but it's still a decent listen if you ever pick up the narrated audio. A fun little romp, but I still think it's weird the Doctor found his way into a myth.

Next Time!: 7th Doctor! Ace! The Master! Horrible 80s gym clothes! Cat warriors! Matt's back next week with "Survival"!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff... I love your reviews Cassandra :)