Saturday, 6 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Myth Makers

Temple of Secrets

"Oh, but you have killed this poor fellow!"

"Yes, but in your name!"

It's clear from the start that we're in for a treat as the dialogue between Achilles and Hector is very funny indeed, as is the dialogue for the entire story. Odysseus is also great, cynical yet likeable, and a very contemporary interpretation of the character. I've always thought the comedy style of this episode to have a lot in common with the Beyond the Fringe, satire boom type comedy of the early to mid 60s. The treatment of the Trojan War here is very much the sort of thing I'd expect Pete, Dud and the other two to come up with, and there's no higher praise than that.

Basically, I'm going to spend this entire post gushing.

It's a very cynical yet also very modern view of war and "honour" we get here, with short shrift being given to any conception of war being at all glorious or honourable. Most of the characters are either cowards or fools. Even Menelaus isn't even that bothered about Helen's adultery; "If you must know I was heartily glad to see the back of her."

Already we can see that Hartnell is going to shine, as he always does in these types of stories.

Small Prophet, Quick Return

"Now don't be frightened, child. You shall die when I say so and not a moment before."

The Trojans turn out to be just as entertaining as the Greeks, and Max Adrian is excellent. In fact, the overall quality of the guest cast is exceptional throughout the story.

We "see" Vicki in the TARDIS wardrobe room- it's first "appearance". Oh, for some actual footage! And not for the first time, Vicki doesn't leave the TARDIS until some way into episode two.

The scene where Odysseus interrogates the Doctor and Steven is actually quite clever. For a start, he actually believes them when they tell him they're time travellers, both confounding our expectations and leaving us in no doubt that he's an extremely clever man underneath the cynicism. And although we already know what Odysseus' condition is going to be, and the plan the Doctor's going to inevitably come up with, the script milks our foreknowledge for maximum comic effect.

The scenes in Troy also sparkle, with the relationships between Priam, Paris and Cassandra being sketched out very economically through dialogue which also happens to be extremely witty: "You get back to the war. If you've not killed Achilles by nightfall I shall be seriously displeased". Priam's summing up of Cassandra, as having to predict the worst at all times as a sort of insurance policy to give her the "I told you so" factor at all times, is at the same time witty, accurate and dripping with dramatic irony.

The ensuing scene, with Paris very quietly shouting for Achilles and having to fight Steven is my favourite part of the story: "Well, I say, this sort of thing id just not done. Surely you'd rather die than be taken prisoner?"

A very effective cliffhanger, made all the more so by a very alarming title for the next episode.

Death of a Spy

"Woe to the House of Priam! Woe to the Trojans!"

"I think it's a bit late to say 'whoa' to the horse..."

Frances White is great as Casssandra, playing the character absolutely straight and being all the funnier for it. You can see why the Trojans pay her no attention.

It's nice to see the budding relationship between Vicki and Troilus getting some prior development, although it never quite seems convincing. There's nothing wrong with the way it's written or performed here, but it would have been nice to have some foreshadowing in earlier stories of Vicki's imminent departure.

Interesting line for a family show: "Upon my soul, you're making me as nervous as a Baccante at her first orgy"!

Horse of Destruction

"To be a prisoner of war is considered very bad form."

Katarina, rather surprisingly, only appears for the first time at the start of this episode.

I really have to praise the latest Loose Cannon recon here- not only are there lots of nice little touches (Frances White is shown with the hairstyle she presumably had in this story rather than I Clavdivs, no doubt through some technical jiggery-pokery) but there's a lot of moving footage, especially with scenes involving the horse in this episode.

There's plenty of wit still on show, but the episode is rather bleak and sombre, all the more so for being understated. The handling of Vicki's departure is interesting; we're not made privy to her final chat with the Doctor inside the TARDIS. Vicki's leaving everything behind to be with a bloke she's just met, from the 12th century BC, who thinks she's betrayed him, but the scene with Vicki and Troilus somehow works, and dammit, I cried. I'm sure Troilus and Cressida will be happy ever after, in no way eventually meeting a tragic fate.

Interesting final moments; Katarina's aboard the TARDIS more or less be accident, she's convinced she's going to die soon, and Steven's very badly hurt.

Overall, this is my new favourite story of all time. The dialogue was exquisite, and could almost have been written by Peter Cook. but unlike The Romans, another comedy, if of a very different sort, the regulars were in character and true to themselves throughout. Wonderful. I'd give it a 6/5 if I could.

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