Homer's `The Iliad' breaks off his epic tale of the Trojan War, abruptly and annoyingly, soon after the death of Hector, Prince of Troy, at the hands of Achilles. Now we know why. Even an audience accustomed to stories about all the gods and goddesses of Olympus simply wouldn't have believed what happened next ...
Donald Cotton's superb novelisation of his story `The Myth Makers' brings William Hartnell's Doctor to Troy for a brilliantly entertaining, mostly comic conclusion to the war, with the Wooden Horse and all that ... and some rather confused Greeks and Trojans confronted with a magical blue box and its three occupants, one of whom may or may not be Zeus, but who claim to be travellers in Time and Space. No wonder Homer left that part out!
Sadly, the television episodes are mysteriously `lost', I assume since Odysseus and his Ithacan horde stormed Television Centre, because obviously nobody would just wipe the tapes of these classics, would they? (!) The soundtrack exists and tells an excellent and (in part 4 especially) different and far more serious story than the novel, but having now heard the two surviving versions I prefer the novelisation and it's the wonderful Audiobook of that which is reviewed here.
Donald Cotton's sparkling 1985 novelisation of his scripts turns the original story into a `Homer's-eye view' account of the closing events of the Trojan War, as witnessed by the poet as a young man and now told by him, in old age, to a visitor to his olive grove. There, Homer sits in the sun among ancient ruins, eating goats' cheese and recounting his astonishing adventure.
And he does so, splendidly, in a literary voice somewhere between P.G. Wodehouse and Jerome K. Jerome, dripping with ironic wit and loaded with puns and humorous historical and contemporary references spanning all the millennia from Classical Greece to 1980s Britain. It turns out that Homer has met the Doctor a few times since the Fall of Troy and the Doctor must have told some tales himself, because Homer's knowledge of the future and mischievous modern allusions are spot on!
From jokes about the Judgement of Paris to `La Vie Parisienne', from Classical one-liners to puns on song titles from 1950s musicals and references to 1980's `demo' chants, the Socialist view of `progressive' history, the row over the `Elgin' Marbles and even a saucy joke about orgies, the wonderful narrative flow keeps coming up with one gem after another. I never expected classic `Doctor Who' to be this funny; it's brilliantly written high comedy that had me laughing out loud again and again.
Not that it's all comedy, there is a war on you know. There are two suddenly stomach-churning moments that both happen to Homer himself, all the more shocking for the surrounding frivolity and the determinedly light way the poet manages to carry on the story, come what may. As the doom of Troy approaches in part 4, the ominous presence of the Horse moving towards the city is very well written, as it seems in Homer's mind to gather about it some evil power and become far more than wood, almost a living force of catastrophe.
The Doctor, Steven and Vicki play somewhat reduced roles in this Greek tragicomedy, partly because of the way the story is told and partly because of the larger than life, irreverent portrayals of the Greeks and Trojans. Greek hero Achilles becomes a Narcissistic type compared (unflatteringly) with a body-building male model, King Agamemnon is a fat, cynical warlord with his own domestic worries, his royal brother Menelaus is a drunk who isn't too bothered about getting Helen back and Odysseus, while intelligent and humorous, is also a brutal pirate. On the Trojan side, King Priam is polished but casually despotic, Hector is a vast mountain of muscle who doesn't last long and Paris is (though good with a sword) a self-preserving type and it's a mystery how he ever got up the effrontery to `abduct' Helen in the first place. His brother Troilus is a young fool in love and their sister Cassandra is a wailing priestess full of woes and omens and the doom of Troy - and it must be said, this time she's right!
Stephen Thorne's performance of the Audiobook (far more than just a `reading') is magnificent, bringing Homer's mostly tongue-in-cheek narrating voice to life and giving wonderful portrayals of all the characters. His Odysseus enjoys an accent from somewhere southwest of Bristol, Prince Paris becomes Bertie Wooster with a sword and Cassandra wails and carries on splendidly. He catches the tone and style of the Doctor, Steven and Vicki very well too as the Doctor is forced to come up with a way to break into Troy to reclaim his TARDIS and rescue his companions, while they are faced with the prospect of doing the exact opposite - saving Troy to save themselves.
`The Myth Makers', in this novelisation, is a comedy mirror-image of `The Aztecs'. That was a deadly serious warning about the perils of attempting to "rewrite history". Here we see the Doctor busily writing `history' (or is it myth, even the Doctor isn't sure), following Homer's (as yet unwritten) account of the Wooden Horse, which Homer will write *after* witnessing the event - a predestination paradox or simply a terrific send-up of time travel fiction? Either way, it's great fun.
From the moment King Priam renames Vicki as `Cressida', her fate is bound with that of Troy. The ending for `Cressida' and her friends in this novelisation is lighter than in the television version and more in keeping with the feel of the rest of the story. Instead of the violent battle of `Horse of Destruction', here, the Trojans are relaxed and feasting, confident the Greeks have sailed away, and Steven (believed to be the Greek hero Diomede) is now forgiven as a gallant, defeated enemy. He and `Cressida' (believed to be a powerful and friendly sorceress who scared away the Greeks!) are welcomed guests of King Priam. Only Homer's account of the Horse, drawing ever nearer and filled with vengeful Greeks (and one reluctant Time Lord) carries a sense of doom made sharper by the party atmosphere in the palace.
Telling the story from Homer's viewpoint casts a veil over the brutal end to the original television narrative, as the Fall of Troy is now witnessed only from a distance and the escape of the Doctor, Steven and Trojan priestess Katarina in the TARDIS is planned for but not witnessed directly. Troilus and Cressida now have a more certain love-story to make a positive ending, and for final reassurance that all did go well with Vicki there is an appealing epilogue, with a nice twist to complete the tale.
I'd like to thank Timelord-007 for the helpful review that led me to this Audiobook version.
Don't look this gift horse in the mouth, buy it! Thanks for reading, 5*