Chapter 97. Doctor Who – The Myth Makers (1985)

Synopsis: The beauty of a woman is the spark that fires up a bloody and lengthy war between Greece and Troy. Though many of the figures in the battle have entered into legend, a version of the story as recounted by the great poet Homer reveals the involvement of three travellers who emerged from a blue box and changed the course of the war. 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Homer Remembers
  • 2. Zeus Ex Machina
  • 3. Hector Forgets
  • 4. Enter Odysseus
  • 5. Exit the Doctor
  • 6. A Rather High Tea
  • 7. Agamemnon Arbitrates
  • 8. An Execution is Arranged
  • 9. Temple Fugit
  • 10. The Doctor Draws a Graph
  • 11. Paris Draws the Line
  • 12. Small Prophet, Quick Return
  • 13. War Games Compulsory
  • 14. Single Combat
  • 15. Speech! Speech!
  • 16. The Trojans at Home
  • 17. Cassandra Claims a Kill
  • 18. The Ultimate Weapon
  • 19. A Council of War
  • 20. Paris Stands on Ceremony
  • 21. Dungeon Party
  • 22. Hull Low, Young Lovers
  • 23. A Victory Celebration
  • 24. Doctor in the Horse
  • 25. A Little Touch of Hubris
  • 26. Abandon Ship!
  • 27. Armageddon and After
  • Epilogue

This now nabs the record from Marco Polo for the most number of chapters in a novelisaton, with 27 chapters and an epilogue.

Background: Donald Cotton adapts his own scripts for the 1965 serial.

Notes: Yep, the story is narrated in the first person by the great author Homer, who apparently was just out of shot in every scene.

The Doctor had promised his young companions a trip to London in the 1960s. Homer claims that he has met the Doctor on many occasions (and that he is now younger than he was the first time they met), knows that the TARDIS is a time machine – and that the Doctor is specifically a ‘Time Lord’! Vicki has a very loose grasp of Earth history, much to Steven’s despair, but knows enough to recognise the importance of the Trojan Horse. Steven is concerned about his absence from the ‘Space-Research Project’, where he had been an amateur athlete during his training and it’s suggested he might have played football (he compares the prospect of fighting Odysseus with ‘the second eleven on a Saturday knock-about’, so that’s definitely football and not the completely different ‘American Football’). We discover how ‘Cyclops’ lost his eye and gained his name [but see Final Analysis below]. There’s no explanation for how Steven is wounded by the start of the next story. Instead, we learn that Vicki – as Cressida – remained with Troilus and the pair took care of their blind friend Homer. The epilogue reveals that the elderly poet has been telling his story to the Doctor, who, it turns out, has popped back to look in on Homer on many occasions throughout his eventful life.

Cover: The TARDIS materialises in front of the wooden horse, painted by Andrew Skilleter.

Final Analysis: Donald Cotton tore up the rule book for his TV stories and he revolutionises the Doctor Who novel here. Cotton’s habit of using witty episode titles continues with the novel’s chapter titles ‘Zeus Ex Machina’ ‘Temple Fugit’ and of course ‘Doctor in the Horse’, which was his original title of episode 4. He really strains with chapter 22’s ‘Hull Low, Young Lovers’; I wonder how many eager readers would know the song ‘Hello, Young Lovers’ from the 1951 musical (or 1956 film) The King and I, so might this be a reference pitched at a prospective parent reading this for a young fan a chapter a night at bedtime?

Casting Homer as the narrator gives us insight into the politics of the time, while also contriving increasingly outlandish reasons for him to be party to private conversations, ‘concealed in a clump of cactus I wasn’t too fond of’, accompanying the TARDIS into Troy and, after being jabbed in the eye and being dubbed ‘Cyclops’, he passed out and wakes up ‘covered in fish-scales and crabs’ legs’. Homer is aware that the Doctor is a time traveller too, making much merriment with details he shouldn’t know anything about:

… how do you describe a time-machine to a man who has never even heard of Euclid, never mind Einstein? Of course, up till then, I’d never heard of them myself, but I must say I found the whole concept fascinating. 

Cotton – through Homer – has a delightfully waspish style. We’re told that Cassandra is a fearsome woman who looks like ‘her brother Hector in drag’, while Achilles ‘had that look of Narcissistic petulance one so often sees on the faces of health fanatics, or on male models who pose for morally suspect sculptors’, adding ‘I believe the Greeks have a word for it nowadays’. It’s when he comes to explain the causes of the siege of Troy that we might feel certain attitudes from the mid-1980s are guiding his hand. His description of Paris appears to be a commentary on more modern Royal events that resonate just as much in 2021 as 1985:

… the second sons of Royal Houses – especially if they are handsome as the devil – have a lot of temptation to cope with. And then, the unlikelihood of their ever achieving the throne does seem to induce irresponsibility which – combined, of course, with an inflated income – how shall I put it? – well, it aggravates any amorous propensities they may have…. Well, we all know about princes and their libidinous ways: their little frolics below stairs – their engaging stagedoor haunting jaunting? 

Trigger warning here: Among many anachronistic terms Homer uses, the phrase ‘a coon’s age’, which dates from the early 19th-century and referred to racoons, but for many readers this may have racial connotations.

As one of the missing TV historicals, it’s not a story I know that well, having only heard the soundtrack and watched a telesnap reconstruction. Cotton pulls out all the stops to bring the period alive and make it like a gossip between old friends, a tale told with tongue firmly in cheek and a knowing wink at the reader (this is especially evident in the audiobook with a delicious reading by Stephen Thorne). Even in providing us with what must be the first celebrity historical featuring an author (something modern fans might be more likely to expect), he’s smart enough to leave himself plenty of escape routes. Homer himself tells us the effect of adopting many guises to avoid being trapped into supporting one side or the other. Like the Doctor, his name lives on in legend:

I’ve always found it a very good rule to be a bit cautious about handing out the label unless unavoidable – which is why, I’m told, to this day, nobody is entirely convinced that Homer ever existed […]

Chapter 3. Doctor Who and the Crusaders (1965)

Synopsis: The Doctor and his chums meet King Richard the Lionheart, his willful sister, Joanna, and his nemesis, Saladin.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Death in the Forest
  • 2. The Knight of Jaffa
  • 3. A New Scheherazade
  • 4. The Wheel of Fortune
  • 5. The Doctor in Disgrace
  • 6. The Triumph of El Akir
  • 7. The Will of Allah
  • 8. Demons and Sorcerers

Background: David Whitaker adapts his own scripts from a serial broadcast in March to April 1965, published by Frederick Muller Ltd in September 1965, first reprinted as a Target book in 1973. t followed The Web Planet on screen, so very early on, we have our first set of consecutive stories to be novelised.

Notes: The prologue gives us a short summary of what’s happened since the first book – and it is incredible. Apparently Susan had left the Tardis to live with David Cameron (!) and her place taken by Vicki, who we met in the previous volume. Ian and especially Barbara are now perfect physical specimens thanks to their travels and Barbara is now apparently ‘the admiration and desire of all who met her’ [see The Keys of Marinus and The Romans], but he’s foreshadowing future events too. Though it’s never explicit on screen, Ian and Barbara’s ‘destinies were bound up in each other’. There’s mention of an unseen adventure involving ‘the talking stones of the tiny planet Tyron in the seventeenth galaxy’ while Barbara and Vicki are playing Martian chess.

… and then Whitaker has the Doctor explain why they can explore all these alien worlds and interfere but they can’t change anything in Earth’s history. The examples he chooses from history – from Pompeii to John F Kennedy – are frank and somewhat surprising. And then, with some additional foreshadowing that really sets out Whitaker’s aims, we have this from the Doctor:

‘The next time we visit Earth,’ he said, ‘I hope we encounter a situation where two men are opposed to each other, each for the best reasons… ‘That is the only way to understand the folly, the stupidity and the horror of war. When both sides, in their own way, are totally right.’

Cover & Illustrations: Henry Fox’s original cover shows a raging crusader and the Tardis with a yellow background, while the Armada hardback by Mary Gernat shows the Doctor fleeing a crusader on a blue background. Chris Achilleos’s Target cover features the Doctor with a strong likeness of Julian Glover as King Richard. The 1975 White Lion hardback again pops Tom Baker in along and the one I first owned was the 1982 Andrew Skilleter cover shows the Tardis (I think it’s from an early Peter Davison photo). Henry Fox’s 15 illustrations are gorgeously melodramatic, in particular the image of Barbara about to be whipped.

Final Analysis: My surprise at the impressive prologue suggests that this is the first time I’ve read this book! As with the previous two volumes, this expands upon the scale of what could be achieved in Riverside Studio 1. In fact it’s hard to visualise a small studio set at all when there is such a sense of distance between each location. Whitaker develops the romance between Ian and Barbara, which gives the pair extra motivation to be reunited, although he also adds to the horror of Barbara’s experience by having El Akir whip her repeatedly, leaving her badly scarred (the death of El Akir is also more violent, strangled before his skull is dashed against a wall, rather than the more theatrically clean stabbing on telly). It’s a mature work, living up to the promise of the prologue by trying to present both sides of the war evenly and with Ian trying to explain how all religions have a basic central idea of a higher being.

Chapter 2. Doctor Who and the Zarbi (1965)

aka Doctor Who – The Web Planet (1990)

Synopsis: The Tardis crew land on a rocky alien world occupied by a variety of insects being controlled by a malevolent parasite. Susan has disappeared and she’s been replaced by Vicki. And after Ian’s suggestion for a nickname for their pilot, it seems ‘Doctor Who’ is his actual name now.

Chapter Titles

  • 1 The Web Planet
  • 2 The Zarbi
  • 3 Escape to Danger
  • 4 The Crater of Needles
  • 5 Invasion
  • 6 Centre of Terror

Background: Bill Strutton adapts his own scripts from a serial broadcast just six months earlier, in February to March 1965. Published by Frederick Muller Ltd in September 1965, first reprinted as a Target book in 1973.  At 174 pages, it remains the longest of the adaptations until Fury from the Deep, though this includes the 15 illustration plates too.

Notes: Although this is a follow-on from The Daleks and was in production alongside The Crusaders, there’s no attempt to explain where Susan has gone or who Vicki is, aside from ‘the youngest member of the Tardis inhabitants. There are a few references to past episodes – Barbara’s gold bangle, which was a gift from Nero; Vicki’s crashed rocket on the planet Dido; using ‘like poles’ to repel magnets on the Dalek saucer – so unlike An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks, this isn’t part of a series of books so much as an extension of the TV series.

Ian describes his tie as that of the ‘Coal Hill Old Boys’, suggesting he was a pupil there too. Maybe this is why he was tired of teaching in the first book? Strutton assumes that the light on top of the police box is in fact a Tardis searchlight (possibly the one mentioned in the first book). A couple of the female characters on TV are male here, even though there are other female Menoptera and Optera. And of course, the ‘larvae gun’ are renamed ‘venom grubs’, which makes much more sense.

Cover & Illustrations: The first cover, for Frederick Muller, is a black-and-white illustration with a red background and a weird non-canonical, shimmering  “Dr. Who” logo. White Lion did another odd one with Tom Baker for the 1975 hardback and Alister Pearson’s VHS cover was used on a 1990 paperback reprint. Once again it’s the Chris Achilleos cover that endures, using the same photo reference as his cover for The Daleks, a pair of mahogany Zarbi and a startled Menoptera. There are 15 illustrations by John Woods and they depict the world of the novel, not the TV show. For some reason his Vicki is terrible but the others look spot on and the Zarbi look particularly impressive directing an attack from the edge of a cliff. My favourite pic though is of the Doctor and Ian looking up at a creepy statue in the rocks. Really helps create a sense of vastness on the Vortis landscape.

And we get our first chapter title called ‘Escape to Danger’ too!

Final Analysis: In contrast to David Whitaker’s approach, Bill Strutton appears to be writing for a much younger age group. Is this because that’s who was buying the books or just who he assumes would be buying them? Also, Whitaker was writing when the programme was still in its first series and many things were still being ironed out; despite calling him ‘Doctor Who’, Strutton’s Doctor is more recognisably the one from TV than Whitaker’s, complete with umms and ahhs, even if he does fix Hartnell’s fluffs in the original recording. Also, his descriptions of the motivations and movements of the  Zarbi really help to make sense of the TV episodes – for instance the beginning of episode two, where Barbara is walking around the pool of acid, where the book explains that the Zarbi is controlling her, as opposed to waggling an arm and beeping.

It might seem an odd story to adapt but it was the highest rated serial of the programme so far and Strutton takes every opportunity to make Vortis seem so colourful and beautiful, especially on the very last page.