THE DOCTOR AND ODYSSEUS: The Fall of Troy in Ancient Times and Now

By: Andrea L. Cook
original version 28 April, 2000
reformatted version 25 July 2001


     The epics of the past have fascinated audiences for countless generations.  
From _The Epic of Gilgamesh_ to _The Odyssey_ to _Beowulf_ people have loved to 
hear these stories of heroes, those who are capable of influencing events on a 
grand scale.  A theme that has been returned to so often is that of the Trojan 
War, from the _Iliad_ to drama such as _Trojan Women_, to Virgil's _The Aeneid_.  
The Trojan Saga not only captured imaginations in antiquity, but into the 
present.  This is evidenced by things like Heinrich Schliemann and his quest to 
find Troy based on Homer's works.
     In modern times science fiction and fantasy has often taken the place of 
these epics.  As is evidenced by the success of Tolkien's works or _Star Wars_, 
epics still hold the public's fascination.  These modern epics share many of the 
same themes as the ancient epics, and occasionally the subjects of the ancient 
epics themselves are revisited.
     Science fiction and fantasy works often takes themes from ancient works.  
The stories have endured so well that none of their appeal is lost when 
converting them into a contemporary work of science fiction.
     The television programme _Doctor Who_ first premiered in 1963.  It was 
originally envisioned as an educational programme to interest children in the 
past.  However, by the time the series concluded in 1989 the science fiction 
elements had proven to be more popular and the series had largely lost the 
educational aspect and become a mature science fiction programme.  In the 
programme's educational period many historical times were visited.  It was under 
this pretext that, in 1965, the Doctor came to the Trojan War.  The modern 
retelling of this epic tale provides interesting insights into how a modern 
audience interprets a classic story.
     Book Two of Virgil's _Aeneid_ is one of the most influential and well-known 
retellings of the tale.  It presents the story of the Fall of Troy.  The story 
begins with the Greek Sinon, who is a double agent, allowing himself to be 
captured by shepards.  Sinon spins a tale of how the Greeks mistreated him, 
especially vilifying Odysseus, and how they had wanted to leave for home for 
some time.[1]  They had offended Athena and now needed to appease her so that 
they could return home.  In order to do so, Sinon was chosen by fixed lots to be 
the sacrifice, mirroring that of Iphigenia before the Greek departure to Troy.  
Sinon escapes and throws himself on the mercy of the Trojans.  They welcome him 
heartily, and accept his story.  The Greeks appear to have abandoned their siege 
and returned home; leaving only a wooden horse as an offering, and everyone 
celebrates the end of the War.
     The Trojans find the Horse, and are hauling it into Troy, despite the 
objections of the Trojan priest of Neptune, Laoco÷n.  He fears that the Horse is 
a Greek trick, especially owing to the size and hollowness of it.  He throws a 
spear into the Horse, which greatly upsets Athena, who is already angered at the 
     Later, Laoco÷n is sacrificing a bull, when two sea serpents, sent by 
Athena, strangle and devour him and his sons.  This is taken by the Trojans to 
mean that Laoco÷n was wrong and the Horse is a great gift, and it is hauled 
inside of Troy through a newly made breech in the wall.
     That night, Hector comes to Aeneas in a dream, telling of the great peril 
they are now facing.  Aeneas wakes up, sees the city burning, collects his 
father, wife, and son, and leaves Troy, seeing various horrors along the way.  
His wife, CreŘsa, is lost somewhere along the way, and he goes back to find her.  
He does not find her, but her ghost, who urges him to go on and to look after 
their son.  Additionally he finds refugees from the ruined city, and they go on 
in search of a new homeland.
     The _Doctor Who_ story, "The Myth Makers," which gives a modern account of 
the Trojan War, requires more explanation.  The televised episodes of the story, 
which no longer exist, have been novelised by Donald Cotton, following his 
original script from the story.  The main character is known as "the Doctor."  
He is an alien from the planet Gallifrey, and is as well a Time Lord.  In the 
_Doctor Who_ universe a Time Lord has the ability to travel through time and 
space in a time machine called a TARDIS.  The name TARDIS is an acronym for Time 
And Relative Dimensions In Space.  Usually the Doctor travels with one or more 
companions, dramatically companions are meant to help the viewer understand the 
action of the story.  In the case of The Myth Makers, the two companions are 
Vicki and Steven Taylor.[2] 
     In Cotton's novelization of the televised story, Homer serves as the 
narrator throughout.  _The Myth Makers_ begins as Homer watches combat between 
Achilles and Hector.  Just after Achilles warns Hector to beware of Zeus and the 
power of Olympus, and Hector responds by challenging Zeus to come and save 
Achilles.  At that moment, the TARDIS materializes with a terrible wheezing 
groaning sound and distracts Hector enough that Achilles kills him.  When the 
Doctor steps out of the TARDIS, Achilles mistakes him for Zeus, and he and 
Odysseus take him to see Agamemnon.
     Steven and Vicki, have remained in the TARDIS and are watching on the 
scanner, decide to rescue the Doctor.  Steven tells Vicki to remain in the 
TARDIS and steps out.  Odysseus soon captures him and brings him to Agamemnon.  
Agamemnon thinks that both Steven and the Doctor are Trojan spies, and hands 
them over to Odysseus for execution.
     Odysseus, however, hears their tales of time travel, and concludes that 
their explanation is so extraordinary that they must be telling the truth.  The 
Doctor and Steven attempt to prove their story by showing Odysseus the TARDIS.  
But they discover it, along with Vicki, is missing.  Although Odysseus believes 
them, he wishes to ensure that they are not spies and gives the Doctor two days 
to find a way to conquer Troy.
     The TARDIS has disappeared because Paris found it and claimed it as a 
prize.  Cassandra, when she discovers Paris found the TARDIS in Greek side 
territory, incorrectly connects it with her dream regarding the destruction of 
Troy.  In her dream, an object from the Greeks disgorges an army that destroys 
the Trojans in the night.  Cassandra wants to burn the TARDIS, but Homer, who 
remembers Vicki from the Doctor's conversation with Odysseus, works quickly to 
keep them from doing so.  At Homer's request, Vicki comes out, claims to know 
something of the future, and adopts the name Cressida because the Trojans think 
Vicki is a silly name.
     Some time later Steven attempts to rescue Vicki, but is himself captured by 
the Trojans.  Meanwhile in the Greek camp, the Doctor proposes the idea of the 
Trojan Horse and the Greeks build it out of ship parts, driftwood and other 
items ready to hand.  Back in Troy, Vicki falls in love with Troilus, a son of 
Priam.  The Greeks leave the Horse in their camp and pretend to leave.  Paris 
finds the Horse claims it as another prize of war and brings it to Troy.  Troy 
falls to the Greeks at night.
     Before Troy fell, Vicki and Steven had been imprisoned in the city and had 
sent Homer back to the Greek camp to tell the Doctor that they were still alive.  
Homer, because he spoke positively of the Trojans, raised Odysseus' ire and 
Odysseus put out one of his eyes.  While Homer was writhing in pain on the 
ground, Paris had found him and took him back to Troy see if Vicki could treat 
his injury.  Homer and Vicki claim that Vicki casts a spell that caused the 
Greeks to depart.  The Greeks at this point have departed, Homer is sent back to 
the Greek camp to tell the Doctor to call off the planned deception, but it is 
now too late.  Homer back in Troy relays the instructions so Steven and Vicki go 
to the TARDIS, so they can leave when the Doctor arrives.  Homer then tells 
Troilus that Vicki had gone for a walk with Steven, and Troilus jealously races 
out of Troy to find them, just before the city falls.
     The Doctor and Steven leave with one of Cassandra's handmaidens, who takes 
the place of Vicki, and Vicki stays with Troilus and they take care of Homer, 
who has lost his other eye during the final battle between Achilles and Troilus.


     An important difference between Virgil and Cotton's works is the character 
of Laoco÷n, the priest of Neptune.  In _The Aeneid_, Laoco÷n, and his 
particularly grisly death by two divinely sent sea serpents, is a major 
motivating factor for the Horse being drawn into Troy Virgil comments 

               Then indeed a strange terror steals through the
               shuddering hearts of all, and Laoco÷n, 'tis said,
               has rightly paid the penalty of the crime, who
               with his lance profaned the sacred oak and hurled
               into its body the accursed spear.  'Draw the image
               to her house,' all cry, and supplicate her

Since Laoco÷n, who had warned of the impending danger, was himself killed by 
divine intervention, the people of Troy naturally assumed that he was wrong, and 
the Horse should be brought into Troy.
     In Cotton's version, the role of Laoco÷n has been divided into two parts 
and distributed between an idea and the character of Cassandra.  According to 
Cotton, Cassandra is a character very much like "the boy who cried wolf".  She 
has been predicting disaster for so long that by this time things, no one heeded 
her.  There are two passages in which she mentions the Horse.  The first is when 
the Trojans drag the TARDIS into the city:

              ...I dreamed that on the plain the Greeks had left
              a gift, and although what [sic] it was remained
              unclear, we brought it into Troy.  Then in the
              night, from out its belly soldiers came, and fell
              upon us as we slept.[4]  

Unfortunately for Cassandra, she interprets this dream as applying to the TARDIS 
and not the horse.  Since the TARDIS held nothing but a rather frightened Vicki, 
this did little to increase Cassandra's credibility.  This mistake, as well as 
her earlier unfulfilled predictions, function as a much less dramatic version of 
Laoco÷n's discrediting via the sea serpents.  By the time, the Greeks build the 
horse, Paris disregards his sister's prophesies and claims the Horse as war 
booty.  The horse is then brought into the city.
     The second part of Laoco÷n's function is taken up by Cotton's invention of 
the Trojan belief in the Great Horse of Asia.  Cotton, through the character of 
Homer, describes it as follows:
               ...They [the Trojans] even had some legend, I
               believe, about a mythical Great Horse of Asia,
               which would return to save them in time of peril.
               But apart from that, they had nothing that you or
               I would recognize as a god, within the meaning of
               the act.[5]  

This further explains why the Trojans would be willing to even consider dragging 
the Horse into Troy.
     Another omission of Cotton's story as compared to Virgil's regards the 
character of Sinon, the Greek double agent.  Sinon takes up such a great deal of 
space in Virgil's account that his absence is glaring in Cotton's work.
     In Virgil's story, Sinon was used to assure the Trojans that the Greeks had 
really left.  His story was used in order to give him some credibility.  If the 
Greeks, and especially Odysseus, had been the cause of so much pain in Sinon's 
life, there was little suspicion that he would still be working for the Greeks.  
Thus, when Sinon said that the Greeks were gone, and that he was meant to be the 
sacrifice to assure good winds back to Greece, he was believed and welcomed into 
     In Cotton's version Sinon's function is distributed between a combination 
of Vicki, Steven, and Homer, with lovesick Troilus falling for the ruse of 
Vicki's supposed spell, as invented by Homer:

               'Oh, I don't know, Cressida,' I [Homer] mused, 'I
               thought that plan of yours for persuading the whole
               Greek navy to sail away, was quite brilliant!'

               'What plan?' lisped the idiot child.  [Vicki]

               'Well, obviously, you know far more about it than I
               do-I'm not entirely sure of the details- but I must
               say, that spell you concocted put the fear of Olympus
               into me; and I bet it'll have done the same to the
               Greeks by now!'

               'Oh, that?' she said, catching on rather late in the
               day.  'Do you really think so? It was only an experiment,
               after all'

               'Well, of course it's only about an hour since you did
               it, so it may be rather early to say.  But it should be
               dawn by now, and I think there'd be some sign of
               movement, if it's going to work at all...'[6]  

On hearing this, Troilus goes off to see whether the "spell" has worked, and so 
the "spell" sets the stage for the rest of the Greek plan, just as effectively 
as Sinon had.  
     Another great difference between Cotton and Virgil's works is the 
whereabouts of Aeneas when Troy falls.  In Virgil's work, Aeneas is in Troy 
itself.  He is visited in a dream by the ghost of Hector, as ghosts in Virgil 
are accustomed to visit loved ones in danger, and the ghost alerts him to the 
Greek peril threatening the city.  Then according to Aeneas himself says:

               ...I shake myself from sleep and, climbing to the roof's
               topmost height, stand with straining ears...  Then indeed
               the truth is clear and the guile of the Danaans grows
               manifest.  Even now the spacious house of Deiphobus has
               fallen, as the fire-god towers above; even now his
               neighbour Ucalegon blazes; the broad Sigean straits
               reflect the flames.[7]  

This section indicates Aeneas' presence in the doomed city.  From the inside, he 
narrates the Fall.  Cotton chooses to have him outside the city, as he has Homer 
report to the readers:

               Well, soon after the Greeks had gone, [the city had
               already fallen] we saw horsemen approaching: and, heaven
               be praised, it was Aeneas and the Trojan cavalry, come
               back too late to do anything but save our skins for us.
               And as Aeneas readily agreed, there seemed little to
               detain us: so we set off together to found a new Troy
               elsewhere.  And we thought of calling it Rome.[8]  

In addition, Cotton's set up would seem to be going against the later part of 
book two of Virgil's work when Aeneas carries the household goods from the ruins 
of the city.  
     In addition to the various divergences from Virgil, Cotton also makes some 
additions, although most of them have more obvious reasoning behind them than 
the omissions do.  
The most obvious of the additions is that of the Doctor and his companions Vicki 
and Steven.  If it were not for the addition of these three it would have been 
very difficult to turn the story into an episode of _Doctor Who_.  The trio is 
added in fairly seamlessly, and they help to mitigate some of the other 
anomalous characters in the story, keeping the story as close to Virgil's 
account as Cotton's account does.
     Another addition to Cotton's account is the character of Troilus.  He is 
largely a medieval addition to the Trojan War stories, and not a classical one.  
His purpose in the story is largely to explain the departure of the character of 
Vicki, as Maureen O'Brien, who played Vicki in the series, wished to leave the 
television series and so her character needed to be written out in the original 
script.  In addition to explaining Vicki's departure, his part in the story is 
to affirm that the Greeks have apparently sailed away.
     Troilus' other function in the story leads to another noticeable difference 
between Virgil and Cotton's accounts.  In the tradition Virgil was following, 
Achilles was killed by Paris' arrow shot from the battlements of Troy.  In 
Cotton's account, it is Troilus who kills Achilles in face-to-face combat.  As 
Cotton tells the story:

              'Achilles caught his heel in the brambles - stumbled, and
              that was it.  I had him.'  His heel?  Wouldn't you know?
              Those oracles can tell us a thing or two, can't they,
              if we'll only listen![9]  

Therefore, Troilus' only important act in the story is an action usually 
reserved for his older brother, Paris, who is presumably dead by this point.
     Concerning the perspectives of the two works, there are more similarities 
than there are differences.  Both works are told from the first person, and both 
tend towards a pro-Trojan view of the events depicted.  _The Aeneid_, and 
specifically Book Two, quite understandably favours a pro-Trojan stance, or else 
it would be rather odd to hear Aeneas extolling the virtues of the people who 
have destroyed his home.  The book is told in the first person, although the 
part dealing with Sinon could be construed as Aeneas learned of it at a later 
time and is telling it in the third person.  Indeed, as Aeneas is supposed to be 
telling his tale to Queen Dido, this is the most plausible explanation for the 
point of view.
The action depicted either is entirely from a Trojan perspective, or at least 
when it does deal with the Greeks, it deals with them in their, rather bloody, 
interactions with the Trojans.
     Cotton's work is also in the first person, though the character of Homer, 
Cotton's narrator.  The perspective goes between the Greek and Trojan sides, as 
Homer was a fairly inconspicuous-looking man, and so could pass basically 
unmolested between the two warring sides.  This helps to bridge he gap and the 
Doctor and his companions are soon separated on opposite sides of the battle.
     It is a significant point that Cotton's work also has a pro-Trojan slant to 
it.  Not only are the Greeks responsible for the loss of Homer's eyesight, but 
also they are portrayed in a much more negative light than the Trojans.  
Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus especially stand out in this way.  Agamemnon 
is portrayed as a bully who lives in a tent of badly tanned goatskin:

               And how did I know it was Agamemnon, you may ask? It was
               impossible to mistake him - one has seen portraits, of
               course, and heard the unsavoury stories: a great coarse
               bully of a man, who looked as though he deserved every
               bit of what was coming to him when he got home.  Couldn't
               happen to a nicer fellow!  The Furies must have been off
               their heads, hounding his family the way they did.  A
               justifiable homicide, if there ever was one, I'd say!
               But that, of course, is another story; and far off in the
               future, at that time.[10]  

Menelaus too, is portrayed as a drunkard who really does not want his wife back; 
they are only there because Agamemnon wants to conquer Troy.

               Blearily, Menelaus uncorked himself from a bottle of the
               full-bodied Samoan.  'One of the reasons I drink,
               Agamemnon, is to forget that I'm your brother!  Ever
               since we were boys, you've dragged me backwards to
               fiasco - and this disastrous Trojan escapade takes the
               Bacchantes' bath salts for incompetence!  If not the
               Gorgon's hair-net,' he added, anxious to clinch the
               matter with a telling phrase.  'Ten foul years we've been
               here, and...  [sic] well, I'm not getting any younger.
               I want to go home!'

               'You won't get a lot older if you take that tone with
               me - brother or no brother!  What's the matter with you,
               man?  Don't you want to see Helen again?  Don't you want
               to get your wife back?'

               'Now I'm glad you asked me that - because, quite frankly,
               no, I don't.  And if you'd raised the point before, you'd
               have saved us a great deal of trouble.  If you want to
               know, I was heartily glad to see the back of her.'[11]  

     Between Virgil and Cotton's accounts are significant differences.  The most 
obvious difference between the two is that Cotton deals with the last two days 
before the Fall of Troy, and all events thereafter appear in the last few pages 
of the book.  In contrast, _The Aeneid_, if one looks at it from the 
chronological perspective of Aeneas, starts out with the Horse and the Fall of 
Troy, then goes on to describe everything that came after.
     Another change, though a far less significant one, is that of the names of 
the gods and of one of the characters.  Cotton uses the Greek names, so the 
Greeks at first think the Doctor is Zeus, and he deals with Odysseus, while in 
Virgil Laoco÷n is a priest of Neptune and much later chronologically Dido 
appeals to Jupiter in her hospitality prayer.  This is because Virgil was a 
Roman poet working in the time of Augustus, and while Cotton, a far later 
author, was trying to adhere to an earlier Greek tradition.


     There are two marked differences in the diction of the two works.  The 
first one is that Virgil's work was originally a work of poetry.  This sense is 
hard to convey in a translation that does not take significant liberties with 
the text, but there still seems to be a sense of grandeur to the Aeneid, even in 
its translation.
     Cotton's work, on the other hand, is a prose work.  Although there are some 
mentions of heroes using blank verse amongst themselves.[12]    Cotton makes no 
attempt to write his work in verse.  Perhaps that is for the better, since it 
seems that modern audiences would not accept it as well as the ancients did.
     The other very obvious difference between the two works is the diction.  
Virgil uses grand diction, in order to inspire a sense of awe in those reading 
the work.  Aeneas' own speech provides a striking example:

               On every side, meanwhile, the city is in turmoil of
               anguish; and more and more, through my father Anchises'
               house lay far withdrawn and screened by trees, clearer
               grow the sounds and war's dread din sweeps on.[13]  

This is contrasts with Cotton's manner, who seems to undermine any sense of 
grandeur inspire in his readers.  This colloquial tone serves to create a 
lighter mood, even though many of the characters in the story are destined to 
die.  Cotton's tone does not seem to have the weight it should.  In its own way, 
it is just as disconcerting to the reader as Virgil's serious passages.  An 
illustrative passage from chapter 14 is:

               Well, of course, like a fool, I wasn't going to miss
               a moment of this for anything; so off I trotted after
               them, back to the dear old impregnable fortress...[sic]
               just in time for a late tea, I hoped...[14]  

Finally, in the comparison of the two works, it is apparent that Cotton's work 
is far more interested in rationalising incidents than Virgil's work is.  In 
Virgil's story, Laoco÷n's demise, or Aeneas' parentage is handled matter-of-
factly treated as divine occurrences.  This is not acceptable to Cotton and his 
     This change is explainable because society is more scientifically based 
than it was two thousand years ago, when Virgil's book was first written.  It 
would go a long way to explaining some of the events in Cotton's work.  Laoco÷n 
as a character would not be hard to explain on a rational basis, but his demise 
would have been, hence for this reason his role was taken over by Cassandra, who 
was not believed because of her frequent predictions of doom.
     This rationing tendency would also explains why Aeneas was not in Troy when 
it fell.  Had he have been, the appearance Hector's ghost would have been very 
hard to rationalise, so he instead he comes upon the smoking ruins of Troy.  In 
the same way in Cotton's work, Achilles, although his heel catches in the 
brambles and is dispatched by an ordinary sword in a way that would kill any 
mortal man.  Cotton's version is far from the traditional story of Achilles' 
invulnerability save for one spot on his heel.
     Not only Cotton's story in particular, but the Doctor Who series in general 
seeks to show that events always have a rational scientific explanation.  There 
are aliens and time travel, but not magic or gods.  All things can be explained 
through the reason and science.  This fits the mindset of a society oriented to 
science.  Thus, _The Myth Makers_ adapts a millennia-old myth for use in a 
modern age and renders more palatable for a modern audience.

(c) Copyright Andrea L. Cook, 2001.


1) Virgil uses the Roman names for certain personages, and Cotton uses the Greek 
forms of the same names.  For clarity's sake, the Greek names will be used 

2) The character of Vicki is never given a last name.

3) Maro, Publius Vergilius [aka.  Virgil], _The Aeneid_, translated by H.  
Rushton Fairclough, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 311.

4) Cotton, Donald, _Doctor Who: The Myth Makers_, (London: W.H.  Allen & Co.  
PLC, 1985), 59.

5) Ibid, 19.

6) Cotton, 115-116.

7) Virgil, 315.

8) Cotton, 139.

9) Ibid, 137.

10) Ibid, 32-33.

11) Ibid, 33-34.

12) Ibid, 16.

13) Virgil, 315.

14) Cotton, 77.

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