Tuesday, 8 August 2017
Inspirations: The Myth Makers
Until relatively recently, it was widely accepted that a man named Homer wrote an epic poem about a legendary war - and of a ten year siege by Achaean (Greek) heroes of a city named Troy.
More recently it has become widely accepted that the Greeks really did besiege and destroy the city of Troy, in the Dardanelles, during the Bronze Age. It's Homer himself who has become the myth.
If he did exist, he certainly wasn't a first hand observer of the conflict - he lived several centuries later.
It appears that the tale was handed down orally over those centuries by story-tellers until someone - possibly Homer - wrote it down. But the germ of the poem came from first hand accounts of a real conflict. There's corroboration in Hittite texts of a Mycenaean Greek High King campaigning in Asia Minor in the area where archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann unearthed the ruins of the city he believed to be Troy, which had clear destruction layers. The Greeks had built a new city on top of this, and the Romans had built another on top of that. Alexander the Great had no problem identifying it as the site of Troy. He was shown the tomb of Achilles - a mound near the site - and is said to have swapped his own shield for that of his hero.
That's as much as we can say about a conflict in the region in the Bronze Age. The details, such as Paris abducting Helen; her husband Menelaus seeking help from his brother - Agamemnon - and other Greek city states to lay siege; the siege lasting ten years; and the subterfuge of the Wooden Horse etc - all this can never be proved. Some of it is certainly artistic licence on the part of the bards who first told the tale.
We've said a lot about Homer, but nothing so far about the Doctor. The Myth Makers - always known under this title - was written by Donald Cotton. He had written a number of plays for the Third Programme, most inspired by the classical Greek myths. When story editor Donald Tosh invited him to contribute a storyline to Doctor Who, he settled on the legend of the Wooden Horse of Troy. Cotton elected to make the episodes humorous, but with a sudden switch to darkness in the final section when Troy would fall, and most of the characters would be killed.
The action begins with the TARDIS materialising near Troy. The Doctor goes out to confront two men who are fighting - distracting one of them (Hector) long enough for the other (Achilles) to kill him. Achilles takes the Doctor to be Zeus, and he plays along as he's taken to the Greek camp where he meets Agamemnon, the spineless Menelaus - who just wants to go home and isn't that bothered about getting Helen back - and the cynical Odysseus, who wants proof of his divinity. Steven comes looking for the Doctor, gets taken for a Trojan spy, and so the Doctor has to step in to save him. He decides to show Odysseus his "temple" - the TARDIS - but when they get there it has gone. Vicki, nursing a sore ankle, was still inside. She emerges from the ship after it has been carried into Troy.
Vicki needs to be rescued from the city by Steven, whilst the Doctor is challenged to come up with a way of capturing it. She falls in love with King Priam's son Troilus, whilst making an enemy of his sister Cassandra, the prophetess. Steven pretends to be a warrior named Diomedes and allows himself to be captured by Paris - so he can get to Vicki. The Doctor decides that the Wooden Horse must have been made up by Homer, so he won't be messing with history if he suggests it to Odysseus.
The city falls, the Trojans are massacred - except for Cassandra who gets taken captive, Troilus, who runs off with Vicki (who changes her name to Cressida), and Katarina, a handmaiden who looks like she's going to be the new companion as she departs in the TARDIS with the Doctor and Steven.
As well as the general myths of the Trojan War on view, the other big inspiration is the story of Troilus and Cressida. Shakespeare's play is probably the best known version, but earlier than that we have Chaucer's poem - and he is said to have taken the idea from Boccaccio. He in turn took inspiration from 12th Century poet Benoit de Saint-Maure. The two lovers fail to live happily ever after in the literary sources - with Troilus slain in battle and Cressida taking a Greek lover, ironically the person whom Steven is impersonating.
Whilst on the subject, Diomedes was not killed during the Trojan War. He returned to Greece and successfully founded a number of new cities.
Maureen O'Brien only discovered she was being written out of the series on her return from holiday at the end of Season 2. New producer John Wiles had heard her complain about the scripts for Galaxy 4, and thought she wanted to leave, so asked Tosh to arrange it as soon as possible. Of the four companion departures to date, that's two who have fallen in love with someone in the course of a few days, though Susan never got to make the decision to leave the TARDIS for herself.
Homer's Iliad is set in the later stages of the war, but ends before the fall of Troy - so the Wooden Horse doesn't feature. It is briefly mentioned in his other great work - The Odyssey - though that is set after the war has ended, when Odysseus is trying to get home to Ithaca. It is actually to the Roman writer Virgil that we should look for the full story of the Horse - in The Aeneid. Virgil recounts the story of the actual fall of the city, and of how the survivor Aeneas, after much wandering, arrives in Italy and founds Rome.
As far as Donald Cotton was concerned, the Wooden Horse was simply inspired by a Siege Machine. Though not common, they had been used at the time the war was set. An interesting theory is that the Horse was not a real one but a metaphorical one. The horse was one of the symbols of Poseidon. As well as being god of the seas, he was also responsible for earthquakes. Archaeologists working at Troy have found that it is not always possible to confirm if an area of destruction was man-made, or the result of a natural disaster like an earthquake. Troy lies in modern Turkey, which is geologically unstable.
Was the idea of a ten year siege such an unlikely one? It is written as though it was continuous, but warfare up until the formation of standing armies was a seasonal thing. You went off campaigning each year, but went home for important things like the harvest. A campaign lasting ten seasons is perfectly feasible.
Even something as fantastic as Achilles' vulnerable heel might have its derivation in truth. Experts have recreated armour from Bronze Age Asia Minor. It affords a great deal of protection - apart from the back of the lower leg...
Next time, it's back to Kembel for Dalek shenanigans of epic proportions.