Thursday, 6 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Myth Makers 1, Temple of Secrets

I wanted to blog about the Series 2 William Hartnell episode 'The Romans', but haven't yet been able to get hold of it. However, I did manage to find a reconstruction of the lost episode 'The Myth Makers', also a William Hartnell episode, so here we are, back at the Trojan War yet again! This episode has unfortunately been lost, but has been reconstructed by fans using old photos and sound recordings. These are linked with written narration.

So, the reconstruction opens with the First Doctor era credits. Man, I love old Doctor Who title credits! I don't know why, exactly. I suppose I like knowing that this is how the music was originally composed, and I love seeing the 60s psychedelic (albeit in black and white) images swirling across the screen. And it really is a classic tune.

The reconstruction provides a written setting: 'On the Great Plains of Asia Minor, Hector and Achilles battle. Hector is mighty of sword while Achilles is fleet of foot.' So far, so Homeric (though those descriptions, although entirely accurate as far as the Iliad goes, do make it sound like Achilles is running away from Hector, rather than vice versa!). The narration continues: 'Neither of them notice as a strange blue box appears from nowhere'.

(Random thought - why do characters keep calling the TARDIS a box? I imagine boxes to be fairly small, the TARDIS looks more like a shed or a small building or something - mainly it looks like a Portaloo, but they didn't have those in Ancient Turkey).

OK, first and foremost problem with this episode: THE TROJAN WAR (as represented by Homer) DID NOT REALLY HAPPEN. It is a fictional combat. So unless The Doctor has wandered into a Jasper Fforde novel, there is no possible way for him to be there, even if he can travel through all of time and space. Nowhere in time and space, in this universe, could The Doctor go and meet Hector or Achilles.

But, we've dealt with this issue before. So I'll just assume that The Doctor has accidentally wandered into a parallel universe where it really did happen and move on.

There's some great eerie sounding Radiophonic Workshop music going on in the background. Achilles and Hector are speaking - unfortunately, it's quite hard to hear them, due to the very old and crackly sound recording. I can make out that they are not only using classical Queen's English accents (British accents are to be expected of course - these have particularly posh accents, also to be expected in a BBC programme from the 60s); they are speaking some kind of cod-Shakespearian English - one of them calls the other 'princeling', for example. This is probably a deliberate attempt to make them sound Old, and also a result of using older translations of Homer.

The written narration explains what's going on as the two fight, Hector rather unpleasantly taunting Achilles about the death of Patroclus who is, once again, referred to as a 'boy' (see here). Hector seems to be a lot less sympathetic than usual in this version - not only less sympathetic than in other modern version, but nastier than he is in Homer as well. The old production photos reveal some great short-skirted costumes and one of them (I can't tell which) is wearing the most enormous plume in his helmet. In fact, they both have some exciting feather work going on.

The narration now says that, 'Realizing that Hector has an advantage in a straight fight, Achilles turns and runs out of reach once more, still ignoring the blue box'. Interesting... Achilles isn't coming off too well here either, and they really do want to depict Achilles as running away from Hector, when it should be vice versa. Traditionally, Achilles is the greatest warrior of all the Greeks at this point and Hector is utterly doomed (which is why it was foolish of him to think he'd killed Achilles when he killed Patroclus). We're obviously dealing with some pretty heavily altered characters here.

The Doctor, Steven and Vicki have been watching the fight. I haven't seen any of the surviving episodes featuring Steven or Vicki so I don't have much idea what they're like, though I can tell that we've moved past the phase where the companions were the heroes, right at the beginning of the show, and The Doctor is now leader and hero.

The Doctor decides to go and ask Hector and Achilles where they are, explaining that they seem to be doing more talking than fighting and warning Vicki that they might not appreciate her sracastic sense of humour. Achilles is now relying on help from Zeus, and Hector makes fun of Zeus in return. This does not seem like a good idea on either side. The narration then informs us that Hector becomes distracted by The Doctor emerging from the TARDIS, and Achilles takes advantage by running him through with a sword. So the death of Hector and, by extension, the fall of Troy itself (and by further extension, the founding of Rome) is actually all The Doctor's fault. Oops.

The Doctor helpfully explains that one should not kick a man when he is down, and observes that Hector is dead. Achilles thinks that The Doctor is Zeus, despite The Doctor's inital insistence that he is not, before he decides pretending to be Zeus might be useful (this will be a running theme for the next 50 years...). Achilles explains the situation and leads The Doctor off towards the City, to show him tha famous Walls. A 'rough-looking character' (according to the narration) appears with a group of sailors, Odysseus. Achilles is remarkably young and I'm pretty sure I heard Odysseus call him 'boy', and Odysseus seems to think he needs protection.

Odysseus is not buying the The-Doctor-is-Zeus story, and The Doctor walks off towards the TARDIS. Vicki seems to think a walking stick will hold off hardened warriors and gives one to Steven. Odysseus decides to forcibly take The Doctor to their camp, to interrogate him. Achilles is utterly powerless to stop them.

Steven decides to go after The Doctor, while Vicki enthuses about how wonderful it would be to meet the heroes of Greece. Vicki is ordered to stay behind because apparently she has a bad ankle (presumably from the previous serial).

The Doctor is taken to a tent where Agamemnon and Menelaus are feasting, and Agamemnon tells Menelaus off for not acting kingly enough, while Menelaus complains that he wishes he wasn't Agamemnon's brother and doesn't want Helen back, as this is not the first time she's been abducted and he was glad to get rid of her. Agamemnon is using family honour as an excuse for a wra over trade routes - the same explanation as Troy gives, and it works well. Agamemnon calls Menelaus a coward and tells him he should challenge Hector - but luckily their conversation is interrupted by Achilles' entrance and news.

Judging by the photos, the Greeks have some very posh outfits with them in their battle camp, but since they've been there for ten years, that's probably not surprising. Achilles tells the other two that Odysseus has taken the god Zeus prisoner and they have Odysseus and The Doctor brought to them, just in case he really is a god.

Odysseus is not impressed at being commanded by anyone and laughs at the idea that The Doctor is Zeus, while everyone else falls before him. The Doctor tries to prove his godhead with his supernatural knowledge of their private lives, then tells them to set him free, since he can hardly hurt them by himself if he is not a god. The Doctor prophesies their eventual victory, and they put him under a sort of house arrest while they decide what he really is.

Steven is caught by Odysseus and a small, one-eyed, tongueless servant of his called Cyclops (??!!). A very confusing conversation ensues which may or may not have been less confusing with video as well as audio. It involves Steven pretending not to know The Doctor, The Doctor pretending that Steven is Apollo, come to see him, and everyone accusing everyone of being a Trojan spy. In the end, The Doctor says he wants Steven brought to his temple (the TARDIS) as a sacrifice, but the TARDIS has disappeared - da da daaaaaa! End of Episode 1.

There's some really odd characterisation going on here - it remains to be seen whether this is all part of some larger point about history twisting what really happened (which would work as far as the Achilles/Hector fight goes) or whether its just the writers messing around. Agamemnon is recognisibly Agamemnon, and Menelaus' insistence that he doesn't want Helen back is quite funny and a fair adaptation (Menelaus never does want Helen back anyway, in ancient versions he usually wants to kill her and restore his honour). The others, however, are distinctly odd - Odysseus is something of a thug (which doesn't really fit his defining character trait of cleverness, though one could argue that they are all thugs), Achilles is a fairly wet boy and I'm not sure what the point of Cyclops is, though perhaps that will become clear in later episodes.

The more usual view of the clever Odysseus, protecting himself from the Sirens. Mosaic from Carthage museum, Tunisia.

All in all I found this episode more confusing than anything else, but it doesn't help that the visual has been lost and it probably made more sense before - the music certainly suggests that Exciting Things Are Happening at several points. I've also only seen the first episode so far, so it may be that it's working up to a conclusion in which everything will make sense. If it's reasonably faithful Homeric adaptation you're after though, you'll be better off with Troy!

7 comments:

  1. I know noting about the first 2 Doctors and their companions, apart from their appearances in later multi-Doctor episodes, so I know nothing about Steven and Vicki. It wouldn't surprise if the real reason she had to stay behind was because she was a girl, it being the early 60s and all. Of course it's also fairly standard for the Doctor and at least one companion to wind up in the hands of opposing sides, so who knows.

    It will be interesting to see where they're going with this, but it wouldn't surprise me if the departures from character are deliberate and mean something. (Hmmm, the series title could imply that this isn't the "real" Trojan War, but some sort of simulation.) I suppose Cyclops could be ironically named (like calling a huge guy Tiny), but then Polyphemos isn't exactly a canonical Cyclops himself.

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  2. I forgot to say - Cyclops also has one eye, hence the name. I'm still not sure what he's doing there though, he certainly isn't related to Polyphemous!

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  3. Stick with it, I think it's really quite clever (watch, for instance, for how they handle Helen). I would say that the cod-Shakespearian dialogue is working with the audience's expectations; they will have experienced Homer through the likes of Rieu and older translations. (It's also got a lot to do with the fact that the story draws heavily upon Troilus and Cressida, though that doesn't become apparent until later.

    I'm not sure which reconstruction you're watching. When I saw one, there were only four photos known, and so the reconstruction made a lot of use of shots of the same actors in similar roles - so Max Adrian as Priam gets a lot of shots of Up Pompeii to illustrate him, and Francis de Woolf as Agamemnon is illustrated by shots of him playing Agrippa in Carry on Cleo. Since then, some more photos came to light (resulting in what had always been identified as Achilles and Hector fighting being reidentified as Paris and Steven (disguised as Diomede). A new reconstruction was made, but I haven't seen that.

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  4. I'm not sure. I'm a bit hesitant about revealing some of my sources for these things, as I don't want them to mysteriously disappear! Let's just say it's from a very well known video streaming website! I didn't notice any pics from Carry On Cleo, but I'll look out for them when I watch the next episode and try to work out which reconstruction it is. I think it might be the newer one, but I wouldn't swear to it.

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  5. Looking at the web page for the second version, I think you're probably looking at the first. If you spot Ian Ogilvy from I Claudius in the role of Troilus, you're definitely looking at the first version.

    This is top of the list of Who stories I would like to see be rediscovered.

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  6. Yes, you definitely have the first Loose Cannon reconstruction (LC03). The later rework, LC26, is much better quality and includes bonus features you might find on a released Doctor Who DVD.

    The revised version can be found at http://bolt.org/board/showthread.php?t=399997&highlight=Loose+Cannon You might need to logon to Bolt.org in order for that link to work.

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