‘Black Archive #65: The Myth Makers’

❉  This is a thoroughly researched account of a lost Doctor Who serial’s odyssey from script to screen, writes Don Klees.

The making of many Doctor Who stories are filled with myths. In the case of The Myth Makers, not only is there a surplus of behind-the-scenes myths, the Greek mythology it evokes is itself not as straightforward as we’ve been conditioned to believe.

Volume 65 of Obverse Books’ Black Archive series, focusing on The Myth Makers, contains one of the most astute observations about accounts of Doctor Who’s production, especially concerning the show’s early years, where the events took place long before either fan-based or professional publications existed to memorialise them.  After an excerpt from an interview with the 1965 serial’s Script Editor, Donald Tosh, about the departure of the Doctor’s travelling companion Vicki, writer Ian Potter notes that, “We have to be careful about taking Tosh’s word as gospel here – these are events recalled at some distance and some of Tosh’s recollections of his Doctor Who work are demonstrably faulty.”

The making of many Doctor Who stories are filled with myths. In the case of The Myth Makers, not only is there a surplus of behind-the-scenes myths, the Greek mythology it evokes is itself not as straightforward as we’ve been conditioned to believe. The investigation of these aspects is handled here by Ian Potter, who previously wrote a Black Archive book about Carnival of Monsters. As in that earlier volume, Potter focuses on how the story developed across the various stages of production, and even its unconventional adaptation for Target Books in the 1980s. Potter embraces two sets of challenges in the process. In addition to untangling a particularly difficult period for Doctor Who off-camera, he takes on the particular challenge of envisioning what a serial that’s missing from the BBC’s archives would have looked like on camera.

In the absence of the broadcast episodes themselves, the book gives an exceptionally detailed account of the evolution of the story across the material that exists, primarily written. Potter outlines the numerous differences between the early storyline documents and draft scripts to what was eventually committed to tape, hypothesising about the latter aspect, based on the limited amount of visual material that exists and the knowledge of approaches used by other contemporaneous Doctor Who episodes. Though that aspect is interesting, like much of Doctor Who, the focus here is rightly on the writing, and Potter aptly demonstrates that just as the mythology depicted in The Myth Makers doesn’t exist in a pure form, the serial itself draws from a variety of sources, Shakespeare not the least.

With the serial writing out Maureen O’Brien as Vicki, attempting to introduce another companion and leading directly into The Daleks’ Master Plan, it also provides a case study in how the broader circumstances of the show’s production impacted an individual writer’s work, specifically Donald Cotton. Cotton’s contribution to Doctor Who is underrated because one of the two serials he wrote is entirely missing from the BBC’s archives and the one that survives, The Gunfighters, has a reputation as one of the series’ worst. Both stories being overtly comedic – an approach which seems to turn many fans off – doesn’t help matters. As such, he’s an unlikely candidate for the kind of in depth biographies written about more prolific contributors like Robert Holmes. Nevertheless, the biographical material here is genuinely interesting, among other things showing that Cotton’s penchant for humorous takes on period settings went as far back as his time at Nottingham University.

Potter also devotes a chapter to the story’s producer John Wiles, a figure whose brief involvement in Doctor Who’s history didn’t preclude his time in charge from being quite dramatic. This section helps contextualise The Myth Makers as part of an effort to enhance Doctor Who’s appeal to the older segment of its broader family audience. Speaking of his collaboration with Script Editor Donald Tosh in a 1981 interview, Wiles noted, “We both felt that even if we couldn’t change the basic structure we could try to leap further into the imagination.’

Wiles was a writer himself, contributing the BBC’s science-fiction anthology Out of the Unknown, as well as writing novels and plays. Potter outlines how that background might have hampered his effectiveness as the series’ producer, with his belief in his own ideas of what it should be leading him to ignore those of the actors who’d been with Doctor Who much longer. The book’s account of the circumstances surrounding Maureen O’Brien’s departure provide an interesting complement to the events of the mid-1980s hiatus, showing what happens when a high-minded figure caused massive disruption from inside the production office rather than outside of it.

Above all, Potter’s account of The Myth Makers odyssey from script to screen is a thoroughly researched reminder that much of what we take for granted in Doctor Who’s lore evolved almost by accident. And while we as fans often take it too seriously, neither should its appeal as a sort of modern mythology – with all the problematic characters and contradictory narratives that implies – be dismissed too lightly.

❉ ‘’Black Archive #65: The Myth Makers’ written by Ian Potter is available from Obverse Books in paperback and electronic formats, RRP from £3.99.  Buy Black Archive books from the Obverse Books website. Follow @theblackarchive on Twitter. Follow @obversebooks on Twitter.

 Don Klees has spent many years in the video business. This continues to enrich his life in many ways, chief among them being able to tell people he watches television for a living. An avid consumer of pop – and sometimes not-so-popular – culture,  Don is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.

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