The Myth Makers: Doctor Who, S3 Serial 3

The Doctor: First Doctor (William Hartnell)

The Companions: Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), Steven (Peter Purves), Katarina (Adrienne Hill)

The plot: The Doctor heads back to the time of Homer’s Iliad at the Siege of Troy

Written By: Donald Cotton

First aired:16/10/1965 – 01/11/1965

Continuity: Final episode of Vicki as a companion, first introduction of Katarina

Season 3, Episodes 6 to 9

Steven. Why not the wooden horse?
Doctor. No, my dear boy, I couldn’t possibly suggest that. The whole story is obviously absurd. Probably invented by Homer as some good dramatic device. No, I think it would be completely impractical.

The Doctor, on poetic irony

The Myth Makers is part of an early set of Doctor Who episodes that tried to take a lighthearted approach to semi-historicals – as opposed to Verity Lambert’s original conception of serious historical lessons for school students. By adapting the Iliad, Cotton chose to set the serial in an already fictionalised version of history. This gives him some leeway to both portray semi-historical events and to subvert a popular epic tale.

While The Myth Makers has been described as a witty lampooning of Homer’s Iliad, it is an entirely missing serial. Like Marco Polo, this recap has been written with only an audio file and a few telesnaps to go on. As such, it’s almost impossible to know how this worked as a piece of television. Still, with its wit and literary allusions, it’s thankfully more The Crusade and less the excrecable The Romans.

These days, The Myth Makers is most famous for the unexpected departure of Maureen O’Brien as Vicki (unexpected for everyone, including Maureen O’Brien). It was only the beginning of Doctor Who’s late 60s companion churn, although it wasn’t just companions it was churning through. The set of Doctor Who in 1965 and 1966 was apparently not a pleasant place to be. The cast changes, the competing visions, the increasing frailty of an irascible lead actor who considered himself to be the show’s gatekeeper: all of these things added up to the, well, mess that was Season 3.

Galaxy 4 had already been hastily rewritten for different companions. O’Brien apparently angered new producer John Wiles so much on that story he unceremoniously fired her; writing her out at the end of The Myth Makers in arguably one of the show’s worst companion exits.

This of course sparked another hasty rewrite of the upcoming Daleks’ Master Plan, which had already been extended from 6 episodes to 12 (and we all know that long-form pieces are not Nation’s strong suit).

Apart from Vicki’s unceremonious exit, what remains of the serial suggests a witty and self-aware story. But until we get some of the missing episodes or a good animation we’ll never know. For a good deconstruction of the serial’s influences, subversions and references, this blog post has an excellent breakdown and saves me from having to revisit The Iliad myself.

When The Myth Makers begins, the Doctor, Steven and Vicki arrive on the plains of Asia Minor near the city of Troy. Vicki is nursing a twisted ankle from the end of Galaxy 4 so is ordered by the Doctor to stay in the TARDIS. This kind of exciting plotline might be why Maureen O’Brien was as relieved as surprised when she noticed she wasn’t being given future scripts. (Also, if there’s a classic Doctor Who drinking game going around, don’t add “female companion twists ankle” or you’ll be inebriated in no time.)

Yes, well, personally I think this whole business has been taken a bit too far. You see that whole “Helen” thing was just a misunderstanding. 


It’s been ten years since the Greeks besieged Troy using Helen as an excuse (and Menelaus does not care to be reunited anyway, implying strongly she ran off with Paris and good riddance). In a somewhat half-hearted battle between Hector and Achilles – more insult than actual sword play – Hector tells Achilles that if Zeus is on his side he should appear. The Doctor chooses this moment to step out of the TARDIS, leading Achilles to believe he’s Zeus in disguise. Hector is momentary flustered and Paris takes the opportunity to kill him.

The Doctor is taken to the Greek encampment where he meets Agamemnon. Achilles is a true believer in his divinity but others such as Odysseus – portrayed as a somewhat ribald and heretical seaman – think it’s more likely the Doctor is a spy. The Doctor, eager to be taken as a God rather than executed as a spy, prophesies that the Greeks will win the war against the Trojans. He does not, however, recommend the wooden horse believing it to be a ridiculous literary invention… at least until he does.

Steven benches Vicki on account of her pesky twisted ankle and ends up with the Doctor in the Greek camp. Odysseus, being convinced that Steven at least is a Trojan spy, takes them out to find the Doctor’s “temple” but instead finds it gone: taken to Troy with Vicki in it.

Meanwhile, in Troy, Paris – portrayed here as a blustering coward – has returned to the city with the TARDIS hoping to use his prize as a distraction from his refusal to challenge Achilles over the death of Hector. With Helen absent from the serial and Paris a somewhat handsome idiot, the couple are portrayed overall as obliviously silly; sparking an international incident that Priam has been left to try to clean up.

Paris’ sister, Cassandra, however, is no fool. The High Priestess warns of the idiocy of dragging random boxes into the city but is of course ignored. Cassandra insists they burn the TARDIS as a sacrifice, which probably wouldn’t work, but Vicki is worried enough that she appears and tells them she’s from the future.

Thinking that she’s either a priestess or a prophetess (or both) she’s feted as such and renamed Cressida. She’s also portrayed as instantly smitten with Paris’ younger son, Troilus. This is, apropos of nothing except this serial’s absurd ending, entirely in character for a 16-year-old on an adventure but entirely out of character if she decided to, I don’t know, stay and marry him. Just hypothetically speaking.

In trying to establish this improbably-rushed romance between a 25th-century computer genius and a boy she thinks is cute, the serial even has her deliver head-scratching lines about how happy she thinks she could be in this time period. While imprisoned in a dungeon.

When Stephen tries to infiltrate Troy by pretending to be a Greek soldier named Diomede and challenging Paris, he finds himself in a farcical and indeed very funny argument to convince Paris to fight with him at all. He then quickly yields, easily talking Paris into taking him prisoner by promising to spin tales of his heroism. This leads the Trojan Prince to burst into the palace with Steven in tow bellowing that he’s captured a Greek while his father protests that he needs to stop bringing random Greek things into the heart of the city.

I have to say that Paris might be my favourite idiot by this part of the story. In comparison, Cassandra’s scenery chewing might work better in live action than in audio, although she does have some great lines; delivered as they are with a hefty dose of histrionics as she routinely demands that people be executed or burned. And is ignored.

While the Greeks task the Doctor with devising a tactic to help them win the war – which eventually leads him to suggest the horse he had dismissed as Homeric invention – Vicki (Cressida) and Steven (Diomede) are locked up and the newly-renamed “prophetess” Cressida is told she has two days to come up with a solution to the siege herself, hopefully involving her suspected magic powers.

Vicki has a ten-minute conversation with Troilus about how they both like adventure and not killing and this seems sufficient for her to declare she could be happy in this place when the “place” she’s in is a dungeon. Although considering the kind of life she’d have in this era, it seems somewhat appropriate.

When the Doctor and the Greeks pull their horse subterfuge and withdraw from the plains, the Trojans believe that Cressida has won them the war somehow. It’s a nice touch that goes some way to explain why they fall for such an obvious ploy. Cassandra, of course, tries to warn them, but in such a melodramatic and vitriolic way that it’s easy to dismiss them as her general moanings. Nonetheless, believing Cressida to be the architect of their destruction, she asks her handmaiden Katarina to stay by Vicki’s side to watch her.

Vicky, now believing the Trojans may be defeated, releases Steven. She tells Troilus he’s escaped to the plains and sends him after him, thus getting him out of the city. There he meets and defeats Achilles in battle.

The Trojans are slaughtered, of course, as the Greeks come out of the horse and start sacking the city. Steven is caught up in the battle and is hurt. The Doctor, also in the horse, comes out in time to bundle Steven and Katarina into it and wheezes off into space and time, leaving Odysseus to ponder if he really was Zeus after all.

In the plains surrounding a burning Troy, Vicki is reunited with Troilus, having decided to stay. Because in a choice between travelling all of time and space with the Doctor and staying in the bronze age with an impoverished and stateless boy-prince she met yesterday, this is absolutely the choice a fiercely-intelligent and adventurous 16-year-old computer genius from the 25th century would make. And that’s before we take into account that the Doctor and Steven are now her family and it was only recently that she lost Ian and Barbara.

I have some debate as to whether this is worse than the Doctor abandoning his granddaughter to help rebuild Earth following a Dalek Invasion. But, of all the companion exits, this is the one I choose to believe was undone when some iteration of the Doctor reappeared three days later and took her literally anywhere else in the universe but there.

Which I now declare canon.

Katarina, onboard the TARDIS, believes that the Doctor is Zeus, she is dead, and she is being taken on some kind of journey to the afterlife. With Vicki gone and Steven badly injured, the Doctor seems flustered as he ponders how he can heal Steven. He hopes he can find a destination where they will find medicine that can help.

And with that The Myth Makers ends and we head into the epic 12-parter, The Dalek’s Master Plan.


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