The Myth Makers

Written by:
Donald Cotton
Directed by: Michael Leeston-Smith
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1965
Audio Availability: Try Amazon

Okay, I don't want to sound too corny here, but for a story called The Myth Makers then it's appropriate that this one has so many myths attached to it. There's the apocryphal story that Billy didn't appear onscreen with Max Adrian (King Priam) as he was a Jewish homosexual (a subject discussed in further detail during the Marco Polo review) and then there's the one where Billy was mocked. I've tried looking this up, but there are so many different versions and accounts it's impossible to tell what is the right version. All that is known is that the line "Sit down and have a ham bone" was deliberately misread by Francis de Wolff in rehearsal as "sit down, ham, and have a bone." How he said it (light hearted or spiteful) and Billy's reaction (finding it funny or spitting his dummy) are unclear. Still, it seems disrespectful - the guy was the star of the show, after all, and de Wolff can hardly be said to be unhammy.

Anyway, the story. Perhaps the most nondescript of the season three stories, it sees Donald Cotton taking up the historical mantle. John Lucarotti was the master of course, showing how it should be done in season one (and later having one last stab at it in this season), while Dennis Spooner introduced humour to the concept. David Whitaker had a good bash at a straight historical with The Crusades. The genre would be played out by Brian Hayles and Gerry Davis having an action-orientated non-accuracy specific story between them. This leaves Cotton, who took Spooner's concept of humour and ran with it. And then some.

After seeing The Gunfighters it's surprising how tame this one is. There are funny lines, like the Doctor being mistaken for Zeus in the form of an old beggar, but they're witty rather than broad. Incidentally, Billy was always better in the historical stories and this is the only Myth Makers episode to contain a fluff with: "If I were an enemy what could one man dooln, do alone and unarmed against the glory that is Greece, hmmm?"
* * * ½

Two things strike me watching this one again. One is that, despite being derided as another "jokey" historical, the vast majority of it is straight, with only maybe a couple of humorous lines per episode. That said, Paris's reaction to Steven's surrendering ("Oh, I say, this sort of thing is just not done.") is positively Pythonesque. The other notable thing is that, despite detractors who claim Hartnell's era was kid-orientated, it has a frank attitude towards sex, and in no story more than this. We have characters trying to talk dirty to the Doctor, the Doctor talking about adultery and orgies, and even Vicki goes off for a good shagging at the end. A shame that, for her last story, she's given so little to do…
* * * ½

The Doctor "invents" the idea of the Trojan horse, which is okay but a little bit Quantum Leap. With the "woah to the horse" gag, this is probably the most famous line from the story. Also equestrian-related is the working title for the episode, "Is There A Doctor In The Horse?" All of which is a vain attempt to disguise the fact that I've ran out of things to say about it…
* * *

Vicki's leaving disappoints, largely because it's such a lazy "Vicki falls in love" resolution, and largely because she's been so uninvolved in her final showing. Vicki seems far too much of an independent girl just to drop everything for a man, though as it's hinted at that she's only around sixteen in this story (and was supposed to be fifteen when she joined) then she could hardly have been shagging her way round the universe before. Perhaps worse is that Maureen O'Brien's boredom is so apparent - I really like her playing and the character is underrated, but it's obvious how much she wants out at this stage. Still, I'll miss her, even though she's not that popular as a companion. Even less popular is Katarina, who joins in the last couple of minutes and is killed off four episodes later.

It's all a bit flat, really, made worse by my watching it out of context (I've just reviewed the remainder of Billy's tenure before tackling this). It's likeable, but it's nowhere near as funny or stylish as The Gunfighers and lacks the emotional resonance of The Massacre. Still, not bad.
* * *

Strikingly average, this is an entertaining but unexceptional historical story. The only real surprise is always how straight the whole thing is - its reputation as a "comedy" historical is vastly unwarranted.
* * *