Directed by Michael Leeston-Smith
Written by Donald Cotton
At this point, the notion of changing companions on Doctor Who is well established. This is only the second full length serial of Season 3 and yet once again we are losing a companion, the fourth overall and first who joined mid show. With the departure of Vicki, ending a threesome who had traveled together for all of 3 serials including this one, the period of any consistency in supporting cast is over. I’ll discuss the other companions more as we finish the last season of the First Doctor’s run, but with all the missing episodes coming up never again and the shorter runs of each companions, never again do we get as close to a replacement companion as we did to Vicki. Steven Taylor is still around and will be around for a while yet, but perhaps more than any other companion of the era, Vicki’s loss is truly felt. She may have been intended as a near duplicate replacement for Susan, but instead she became everything Susan should have been and developed her own distinct and interesting personality during a period when Doctor Who saw itself improving and go on a quality run to end Season 2.
There’s little more I can add on the subject, but yet again we have a completely missing serial. We also make a return to the realm of the historical although this time we are firmly in a mythological context during the Trojan War (or more accurately Homer’s telling of it starting with Achilles’ slaying of Hector with a decent dose of Shakespeare). The whole “mythological or real” debate plays a part in the episode and even becomes a plot point later on, but this is very much a move away from trying to paint a picture of a historical time period than a hybridized and modified telling of a number of mythological and fiction stories.
There’s been much said about The Doctor’s unwillingness to change history already but here he not only doesn’t change it, he actually made it happen. The Doctor is the one who came up with the Trojan Horse and Cressida merely exists thanks to the name change of Vicki. Yet this all feel very Doctor Who since what could be a better illustration of how “timey wimey” the show could get than the paradox of The Doctor only suggesting the idea because of Steven (and The Doctor and Vicki for that matter) had already heard of The Trojan Horse.
Of course Vicki being Cressida and her happily ever after romance with Troilus certainly messes with that historical story, but I’m fine with that considering the historical (well literary anyway) reputation of Cressida. This serial makes it pretty explicit that she could never leave Troilus for Diomedes since Diomedes is already dead before the start of the serial and even though Steven impersonates him at one point, he clearly leaves without Vicki. In addition, Troilus is generally considered to have been killed by Achilles when the opposite happens here.
Overall the serial is pretty lightweight and jokey for the first three episodes before becoming much more serious for the final one. Doctor Who is capable of handling comedic well, but it doesn’t do as well when it goes for a more humorous tone. The final episode is by far the more interesting take on the subject especially since the subject time period lends itself much more to a dramatic interpretation. I guess it is possible to do an effective comedic take on Homer considering Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? exists, but with all the tragic circumstances about to befall Troy, the betrayals, murders, and the dramatic irony inherent in Cassandra’s (easily the best part) ultimately true predictions it is such a shame we had to sit through three disposable and forgettable episodes. Also, the romance between Vicki and Troilus is just a drag to sit through though I admit that it is incredibly hard to judge how it would be with actual video, for now just doesn’t exude much chemistry. The romance is way too reminiscent of how Susan left and here she gets far less a goodbye then everyone else so far. Both stories end with them leaving the TARDIS for a man they just met and looking to help that person rebuild after their city/civilization was destroyed.
– While The Doctor would eventually get better at pretending to be someone else, his efforts to pretend to be Zeus fail pretty quickly and humorously with almost everyone.
– Vicki was written out not by O’Brien’s will but by the writers a decision which I cannot get behind.
– I am however a big fan of the use of the TARDIS as a bit of dramatic irony to illustrate Cassandra’s prophecy of the Greeks using a false gift to take down the Trojans. In fact the TARDIS makes more sense when used for the purpose of sneaking someone in since it could fit far more people than a wooden horse (though as Cassandra points out you only need one to open the gates).
– Trying to parse out where this serial diverges from myth is an exercise in futility considering even the normally great at summarizing Wikipedia is incredibly dense and full of contradictory elements depending on the historical source.
– Considering how much Doctor Who has to drag out stories normally, it’s a surprise they don’t try to work in substantial roles for more Homeric characters.
– I really wish I could have seen the actual fall of Troy in that fourth episode because action is the one thing really shorted out by the missing episodes.
– Once again I’d like to praise the portrayal in writing and performance of Cassandra. The whole oracle thing is never really addressed one way or another, but she proves to be the only sane person and is able to see danger coming even from a practical sense and they were able to do this without making her obnoxious.
– Every single other character is instantly forgettable.
– I should probably talk about the replacement companion Katarina more but she (like Steven before her) only pops up in the final episode and is basically a nonentity outside of actually believing The Doctor is Zeus.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: Steven has started hallucinating and is badly in need of medication.
Next Up: Good lord it’s the largely missing 12 episode “The Daleks’ Master Plan” on 2/29. I was dreading this not from a quality aspect but from an aspect of having to watch then write up on 12 episodes so I’m taking a full week for this.
“The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve” – 3/4