About two years ago I decided to go back and watch all of William Hartnell’s First Doctor episodes and finally grapple with the missing stories for the first time. Most of the time when I hit chunks of lost episodes, I would Google around and find a telesnap reconstruction on YouTube. The Loose Cannon recons were usually best. At least I’d get the gist of the story and hear all of the dialogue, music, and effects, even if I sometimes found my mind wandering. Somehow I made it all the way through “Galaxy 4” and even “Mission to the Unknown” in this way, but by the time I got to “The Myth Makers” I was done. I needed a break. I even started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t enough of a real fan. How can you just stop?
At cons like Gallifrey One, I started buying copies of some of the Target novels. I’m not really collecting these, I’d say. I’ll just focus on the missing stories. Maybe if I can’t make it through another recon, then I’ll read the Target novel. I found a few here and there, but most of them are still on my shelf unread.
The sad thing is I was really enjoying my rewatch until I hit the wall. And I had all sorts of fellow fans and travellers to keep me company. I would chase a night of viewing with Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke’s diary entries in Running Through Corridors or listen to podcasts like Lazy Doctor Who, on the way to work the next morning, comparing my impressions to Steven and Erika’s.
Well, I got a second wind a few weeks ago. I can do this. I’ve always heard that the “The Myth Makers” is an utter delight, one of the stories that fans desperately hope will turn up in someone’s attic and find its way back to the BBC.
Here’s the journey I took with “The Myth Makers.” This isn’t a review of the story itself, which I’m so happy I finally experienced, but a few takeaways about listening vs. watching.
For the record, yes–it’s a wonderful story with crackling dialogue and all of the legendary figures we know from The Iliad treated more like snarky Arrested Development characters than heroes.
Telesnaps and Visual Recons – Not Always Best
Not really knowing any better, I dialed up a recon of Episode 1 that I found on YouTube and a few minutes into the story, the same old malaise hit me. I’m usually a visual person, so I thought that fan-edited recons using scraps like publicity photos or telesnaps would at least show me something about the characters and the action that I would otherwise miss. This is the way you have to experience a missing story.
Well, no. My mind wandered, my eyes glazed over, and I found myself so distracted that I wasn’t even entirely sure who was Agamemnon and who was Menelaus.
Reading the Script
Another couple of searches led me to a script for “The Myth Makers” posted online. I’d heard Lazy Doctor Who’s Steven Schapansky and Erika Ensign talk about following along with camera scripts whenever they watched recons of missing episodes. The script I found was basically a transcription of the dialogue, bridged with simple stage directions to indicate what we should be seeing.
I quietly read Episode 1 without listening along to the soundtrack, and had a totally different experience. I knew who was speaking now. I could see the characters’ names on the page. The story began to reveal itself to me. I was no longer struggling just to keep my attention on the damn thing.
Listening to the BBC Soundtrack
Around this time, I stumbled on a Twitter thread in which Verity podcast’s Deb Stanish mentioned that she absolutely adored “The Myth Makers,” but she recommended that people having trouble with recons try the BBC soundtrack, which is a complete recording of the episode’s audio with bits of linking narrative by Peter Purves (Steven). Somewhere in this thread, she tweets, ” I think with the missing eps everyone has to find the medium that works for them.” There isn’t “one right way,” she says.
I know some of you probably own the CD, but this was a case where the internet could immediately satisfy my curiosity. I had a leftover Audible credit and I downloaded the BBC collection, Adventures in History, which also includes “The Massacre” and “The Highlanders.”
I put on episode 1 and drove to work. Throughout the week I listened on my commute, and on Saturday, I went for a long walk and listened to the story’s finale: Troy falls, Vicky stays behind with Troilus, and the Doctor flies off with handmaiden Katarina and a gravely wounded Steven. Along the way, I laughed at the dysfunctional family antics of Paris and Priam, rolled my eyes at Cassandra’s shrill warnings and hysterical prophecies, and finally, I was sorry to see Vicky leave us.
Most surprisingly, when I reached the end, I had the sense that I had “seen” the story. I think I know why.
Freeze Frames vs. the Imagination
I think the visual recon suffers more than most because there simply aren’t any telesnaps for “The Myth Makers,” so there’s precious little to work with. And yet, because there’s an image to stare at–one that insists that it conveys vital story information–this is where most of my attention ends up. But the freeze frames, the actors frozen like statues, and the filler shots that are repeated over and over–don’t convey anything of the life or the movement of the story. They take up my attention and sometimes they start to annoy me: not this shot again. How many times for this shot? Every time Agamemnon speaks? Meanwhile I miss dialogue, I grow impatient, my wanders, I get bored.
When I listen to the audio, I can visualize the action. Maybe not precisely; not the way it was broadcast. But I can see the Doctor climbing into the Trojan Horse, or Vicky and Steven in their prison cells. Nobody’s frozen in place. In my mind, they have life, they move and run about, swing swords, and give each other knowing glances. It’s the same magic at play when we listen to an audiobook, a narrative podcast, or a Big Finish audio story.
It’s radio days all over again. It worked seventy or eighty years ago for our grandparents and it still works today. And who knows, maybe now I’ll finally give the Target novel a shot to see what other pleasures this lost story has to offer. I’ve already moved on to the BBC soundtrack for “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” because this format is working for me. Whenever we aren’t lucky enough to have a fully animated reconstruction like “The Macra Terror,” I’m heading to the audios first and possibly skipping the telesnaps altogether.