If you’d told me two months ago that a William Hartnell adventure would sneak into my Top 10 Doctor Who stories of all time, I’d have laughed in your face.
The Myth Makers
I will be changing the format for this particular installment. Instead of writing up my notes episodically, I’m going to tackle it as a single entry. The reason for this is simple: The Myth Makers passed the ultimate test and we watched it in one sitting. Sue insisted. I never thought we’d ever sit through more than two surviving 1960s episodes a night, so imagine my surprise when we spent 90 minutes “watching” a story that no longer exists. I think this neatly sums up just how special this story is. Oh, and my wife isn’t bad, either.
When Sue realises that this is an historical, she settles into it immediately. She knows the drill by now and she’s mentally prepared for a Greek version of The Romans or The Azetcs. Even more importantly, she knows that Hartnell will be able to cope. She relaxes. She is also impressed with the audacity of not following up Mission to the Unknown with the next logical part of that story; I mentally kick myself for forewarning her about this revolutionary break in the narrative.
Sue: The kids must have hated this. Do you think they were waiting for a Dalek to turn up? The poor bastards.
Damn. I know she would have done the very same thing. I need to keep my mouth shut when it comes to spoilers but it isn’t easy. It really isn’t.
While we agree not to focus on the technical quality of the recons themselves, we are fascinated by the brief glimpses of Super 8 footage that sporadically pop up to tantalise us. Whoever filmed these brief interludes didn’t seem to be interested in William Hartnell at all. In fact, the filmed sequences all seem to feature Maureen O’Brien. We surmise that the cinematographer must have had a crush on her. It’s rather touching; if anyone knows of a more prosaic reason for these clips, please spare us the details.
The story steps up a gear with the arrival of Odysseus and Agamemnon (“The last time we saw this guy, he was trying to rape Barbara”), and it becomes clear that this isn’t your average run-of-the-mill romp. Before we know it, the wife and I have been sucked into the story. We usually have to wait for a lull in the action to discuss anything of importance, but that never happens when the script is this good. We’re watching The Myth Makers just like we would an episode of modern Doctor Who: engaged, enthralled and laughing our asses off.
And these are belly laughs. We aren’t politely giggling at quaint, but dated, stabs at comic relief. Sometimes it’s the dialogue that hits the sweet spot (“It’s a bit late to say woe to the horse”), sometimes it’s the performances (when Paris calls Achilles out for a fight we are both in hysterics). Even an episode title gets a laugh. Small Prophet, Fast Return is a belter, although Is There A Doctor In The Horse? would have been the icing on the cake.
They even throw in a joke about an orgy.
Our favourite sequence occurs when the Doctor dismisses the idea of a giant horse because Homer obviously made it up – it’s so patently ridiculous – and so he tries to sell the idea of a flying machine to the Greeks instead. When this fails miserably, the Doctor resorts to nicking Homer’s horse idea anyway. It’s a multi-layered joke that says a lot about the character of the Doctor, his place in history, and just how inventive this show can be when it really wants to be. But, most of all, it’s hilarious. Hartnell is on fire.
Sue: This feels very modern. It’s dripping in sarcasm and the plot is very clever. The cast sound incredible as well. It would take Richard Martin to ruin this one. Why doesn’t it exist? It’s so frustrating!
And yet, while The Myth Makers is consistently funny, it never strays into farce. Which is just as well given what happens in the final episode. You know, when almost everybody dies.
You know it’s coming, in much the same way we know that Vicki/Cressida will fall for Troilus (“Do you think she’d heard of the best-selling book based on her imminent love affair?”), but it still feels like a punch in the gut when blood is finally shed. In many ways, I’m glad I’m listening to Peter Purves describing the slaughter, instead of witnessing it first hand.
But of course, the biggest shock in The Myth Makers is saved for the end. I know it’s coming and I’m still surprised.
Sue: Eh? She’s a new companion? Who the hell is she? Kata-what?
Me: I must admit, this is a bit odd. Katarina turns up in the last ten minutes, does very little, and then she’s suddenly a member of the TARDIS crew. It would be like Amy Pond turning up at the end of Matt Smith’s first adventure and mumbling in the background. It’s bloody weird. There’s a reason for it, but I’ll save that for later. Spoilers, sweetie.
Sue: It doesn’t help that she can’t act. Everyone sounds brilliant in this. Everyone except for her. She sounds catatonic.
Me: Why couldn’t they have taken Paris instead? Imagine how much fun that would have been!
Sue: Look, can the Doctor steer the TARDIS accurately or not?
Me: No, not yet.
Sue: So how on earth did he manage to bring the TARDIS back to Troy so Vicki could say goodbye to Troilus?
Me: He didn’t.
And then it slowly dawns on Sue that Vicki never left Troy at all. She stayed behind to be with Ian Ogilvy’s doomed doppelgänger.
Sue: No, that’s not right! They can’t do that, can they?
Me: They just did.
Sue: But she didn’t even get a proper goodbye scene! That’s another off-screen farewell. And Hartnell seems remarkably calm about her decision to leave, given his dicky fit the last time people upped and left him. I’m really confused by this development, and I’m not entirely happy about it either.
It’s a traumatic experience for everyone concerned, especially Steven, who thrashes around on a bed moaning Vicki’s name, while Katarina wanders around like a stoner who thinks she’s died and gone to heaven.
Sue: Is it a rule that companions have to fall in love before they can leave?top
The Final Score
Sue: Well, that was mostly excellent. It was very funny but still very bleak. Maybe a little too bleak. You really get to like these people. Maybe Paris was supposed to be a bad guy, but he’s so funny, it’s impossible not to root for him. The same goes for Odysseus. You even sympathise with Cassandra a bit – she is right after all. And then it’s complete and utter carnage at the end. It doesn’t seem fair. And I can’t say I’m thrilled about Vicki leaving, but it’s a bold move, I’ll give it that. Sod The Tenth Planet, or whatever it’s called -
Sue: Shut it. You told me The Tenth Planet is the holy grail of missing episodes. Well, it had better be something special to compete with this, that’s all I’m saying. The fans should spend more time looking for this one.
If it was up to me, I would have given it a 10. Even if this experiment goes tits up in the middle of a Base Under Siege, at least it gave me a reason to engage with The Myth Makers at long last, and I’ll always be grateful for that. Seriously, if you’ve never experienced it before, you should. You won’t regret it.
Anyway, I don’t think we’ll be watching the next story in a single sitting and we may be some time. Stay tuned…
The experiment continues…