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The Myth Makers Legend

By Felicity Scoones


The Myth Makers script and novelization by Donald Cotton purport to explain how the Doctor and his companions influenced the culmination of the legendary Trojan war. Although the city of Troy or Ilium existed in the North West corner of Asia Minor overlooking the strait of the Dardanelles there is no historical basis for the Trojan war actually taking place. There may have been some fighting in the area but if Troy had really been burned some evidence would remain even after 2000-3000 years.

The Greek poet Homer, who lived somewhere between 685BC and 1159BC is the first known source of the story of Troy. His 24 book poem The Iliad is set in the tenth and final year of the siege of Troy. It outlines the reason for the war (Paris, Prince of Troy, absconding with Helen, who is Greek) and concludes with Hector's funeral rather than the end of the war. The Myth Makers starts with Hector's death. Although for many centuries people have believed The Iliad to be based on fact there is no reason why Homer couldn't have been deliberately creating a work of fiction just as authors do today; in the fifth millennium anthropologists may be attempting to find an historical basis for Star Wars.

The Roman poet Virgil (70-19BC) continued the story of the fall of Troy in The Aeneid and it was he who introduced the famous Wooden Horse and the burning of the 'topless towers of Ilium'. The stories by Homer and Virgil make up what is now considered the original legend of the Trojan war. The romance of Troilus and Cressida was not part of these original poems. Its first known source is the twelfth century French poet Benoit de St Maure but the Chaucer/Shakespeare versions are the most familiar.

Based on these sources the accuracy of The Myth Makers account of the fall of Troy is mixed. Conforming to the legend Achilles did kill Hector and Paris did abduct Menelaus' wife Helen. Traditionally the abduction was the cause of the war but Donald Cotton embellishes on this, saying that what the Greeks really wanted was to gain some control of the trade routes and that this was just a convenient excuse to start a war. While I don't believe this reason is part of the original epic it has plausibility for a modern audience. Another constant is Paris' sister Cassandra, cursed with the gift of accurate prophesies which no one will believe.

One obvious change is the origin of the idea of the Wooden Horse. Virgil's story has Odysseus conceiving of the idea while in The Myth Makers Steven suggests it to the Doctor. The Doctor initially dismisses it as something Homer dreamed up (an ironic attribution), just to make The Iliad more interesting but is eventually driven to suggesting it to Odysseus anyway due to the lack of any better ideas. Odysseus appears to take credit for the idea and continuity with the legend is maintained.

Once Achilles has killed Hector, Paris' father Priam constantly urges Paris to avenge his brother's death. In a post Homeric poem Paris does kill Achilles with an arrow wound to his heel. However in Cotton's version Troilus kills Achilles - Achilles catches his heel in the brambles giving Troilus the advantage and still allowing the term Achilles' tendon. This is an ironic change to make because in Troilus and Cressida Troilus himself is killed by Achilles. It is difficult to see why Cotton made this reversal. Except in that it allows Troilus to live and thus keeps Vicki happy it does not enhance the story, just stretches credibility further.

I find the dubbing of Vicki as Cressida to be the weakest part of the story. Apart from Priam finding her name outlandish there is no plausible reason for it. Chaucer's Cressida (Criseyde) is a Trojan widow whose father has defected to the Greek encampment. Troilus has an affair with her which lasts about three years. Then she is exchanged with the Greeks in return for some Trojan prisoners. She resigns herself to staying with the Greeks and has a brief romance with the Greek Diomede. When he casts her off she becomes a leper. At a last, chance meeting with Troilus she is too blinded by leprosy to see him and too covered in sores for him to recognise her. Knowing this tale of tragedy it is fairly obvious why, once having made Vicki take the role of Cressida Cotton wanted to drastically alter her original fate. Troilus' desire to 'settle this Cressida business' with Diomede (the persona taken by Steven) may be a belated reference to the jealousy between the two legendary heroes. Also the way Vicky turns to Steven for support when in Priam's house may be a representation of Cressida turning to Diomede in the Greek's camp. What I still question though is why Cotton made Vicki take the part of Cressida in the first place; the two characters are disparate in terms of age and actions and there must have been more plausible ways of writing her out of the programme.

Comparison: TV Story and Novelisation

In choosing to narrate The Myth Makers in the first person Cotton set up an interesting problem for himself in that no one character actually witnesses all the events portrayed on screen. To solve the dilemma he has taken an existing background character from his original script - the Cyclops - dubbed him Homer and extended his life beyond the character's implied death at the hands of Odysseus halfway through the story. Cotton portrays Homer/Cyclops as a very unobtrusive character, easily able to move in and out of Troy despite its being in a state of siege. Some scene order has been changed so that there is no longer any rapid inter-cutting between locations. This gives a certain amount of credibility to the idea that Homer/Cyclops is physically able to be present during all the important events. Some scenes, such as those set inside the TARDIS, are only referred to indirectly. Homer himself was blind, so in adding the scene where Homer/Cyclops loses his remaining eye Cotton has maintained continuity with history.

By narrating the story in the first person Cotton is able to make satirical or humorous observations about the action. This gives the book quite a different tone from the TV story where the dialogue is frequently delivered in a style more often found in a stage production of a Shakespearean history play. It is therefore not comic, though it may be that there are some visual comic moments. My own speculation is that Cotton chose this style for the novelisation in order to maintain his own interest in a story he had already written twenty years before (the TV story is dated 1965 and the book 1985).

Extra dialogue has been added to the story and many minor changes, which do not alter the meaning, have been made to the existing dialogue. Below is a typical example of changes and additions. Frequently it is difficult to see why Cotton made these substitutions.

TV version: The Myth Makers episode two: Small Prophet, Quick Return:

PARIS: Achilles! Achilles! Come out and fight, you jackal! Paris, prince of Troy, brother of Hector, seeks revenge. Do you not dare to face me?
STEVEN: I dare to face you, Paris! Turn and draw your sword!
PARIS: Ah. (laughs) No, you're not Achilles! Are you?
STEVEN: I am Diomede, friend of Odysseus.
PARIS: Ah, Diomede. I do not want your blood! Oh, ho, it's Achilles I seek.
STEVEN: And must my Lord Achilles be roused to undertake your death, adulterer?
PARIS: Yes, well, I'm prepared to overlook that for the moment. I assure you I have no quarrel with you.
STEVEN: I'm Greek, and you're Trojan. Is not that quarrel enough?
PARIS: Yes, well, personally, I think this whole business has been carried just a little bit too far. I mean, that Helen thing was just a misunderstanding.

Book version: The Myth Makers chapter 14: Single Combat:

'Achilles!' he was calling quietly, 'Come out and fight, you jackal! Paris, the lion of Troy - and brother of Hector, if you remember? - seeks revenge!'

There was, of course, no reply; not even an echo from the ramparts, which weren't entirely sure they'd heard correctly.

He mopped his brow, and after a moment's thought enquired gently, 'Do you not dare to face me?'

And suddenly to the vast surprise of those present, there was an answer. 'I dare to face you, Paris. Turn, and draw thy sword!' And, so help me, out of the bushes stepped Steven, looking every inch the long-awaited folk-hero, returned to save his people!

Well, he could have his people, and welcome, as far as Paris was concerned - he wasn't going to stand in anyone's way, that was quite obvious. But rallying swiftly, he put his finger on the flaw in Steven's suggestion. 'Ah,' he said, wagging a fore-finger, 'but then you are not Achilles, are you?'

'I am Diomede,' said Steven, 'friend of Odysseus,' he added, to establish his credentials.

Paris smiled with relief, and took the way out so kindly offered. 'Diomede, I do not seek your blood - I seek Achilles!'

He turned to continue the search; but Steven tapped him on the shoulder. 'And must Achilles, then, be roused, to undertake the death of such as you, adulterer?'

I must say he'd hit off the style to the very last alpha and delta - most impressive! You'd have thought he'd been talking like that ever since drama school. But Paris took the question as being rhetorical - and never mind the insult: 'I... er... I'm prepared to let that pass, for the moment. I assure you, I have no quarrel with you, Diomede!'

Not what Steven wanted at all. He resorted to out-dated patriotism. 'I am a Greek, and you a Trojan! Is that not quarrel enough?'

'Well, perhaps, in a general way,' conceded Paris, gracefully, 'but personally I think this whole thing has been carried a great deal too far. I mean, they should have let Menelaus and me settle it by the toss of a coin, like gentlemen...'

This was becoming far more difficult than Steven had anticipated. He tried again. 'You are no gentleman, Paris! I've never thought so, and now I'm sure of it. Neither is Menelaus, come to that...' he added, letting the style slip a little. Never mind - it worked: Paris stiffened indignantly.

'Now be very careful! You're taking everything far too seriously. Besides, are you aware you're speaking of one of your commanding officers? And one of my oldest friends, come to that? The Helen business was just a misunderstanding.'


One of the original aims of Doctor Who was to educate viewers in history. The siege of Troy is not historical but as a tale it is part of our cultural heritage. Even ignoring the obvious addition of the Doctor and his companions into the story The Myth Makers is a fairly distorted version of the legend and the viewer would need to be familiar with a more faithful rendition to appreciate the send up Cotton makes of it.

This item appeared in TSV 29 (July 1992).

Index nodes: The Mythmakers