Reviewed: Doctor Who – Myths and Legends

Myths are in now. Perhaps it’s because of the growing penchant for developing long-form stories that are told across multiple volumes or films, where myths are made in real time and invite the kind of in-depth analysis that was usually the realm of academia, that have driven us back towards the tales that inspired our modern form of myth-making.

Neil Gaiman explicitly made this connection, citing both Marvel’s Mighty Thor comics by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber and Myths of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green in his introduction to Norse Mythology – his recently published retelling of the classic myths of Asgard.

The key component in this type of myth-making is self-mythologizing; the act of drawing significance from childhood memories of Gods and monsters. Gaiman was drawn to myths through the power of those Marvel comic books which then drove him to seek out another narrative– and the power of those tales inspired him to retell those tales once again.

Gaiman isn’t the only author interested in tales from the past. Stephen Fry will re-examine the myths of ancient Greece in Mythos, which he co-wrote with Michael Joseph. In the press release for the novel, which is due to be released in November, Fry spoke of his fondness for Greek Myths.

“I fell in love with them as a boy and have long dreamed of spending more time with them. The characters and their adventures live in our language, politics, history, psychology and art, and I hope that you will be enchanted to meet for the first time or renew acquaintance with the gods, monsters, heroes, titans, nymphs, demons and mortals that populate this matchless world.”

These stories stay with us and, in retelling them, they live on.

Whatever your opinion may be of the current Doctor Who range of novels, one criticism you cannot level at them is that aren’t varied. Each of the non-fiction releases has sought to bring something new to the Doctor Who lore – be it expressing just how flexible it is or highlighting one intrinsic element in the shows make up that has perhaps been overlooked. The best books do both.

Doctor Who: Myths & Legends is one such book. In retelling and revamping myths of old, it not only demonstrates the great storytelling in Doctor Who’s past but also highlights just how much Doctor Who borrows from myths and historical tales to engage a whole new generation of readers and viewers.

Firstly, the subtitle ‘Epic Tales from Alien Worlds’ is a little misleading. These aren’t the king of intergalactic fairy tales that you might expect to be a Time Lord’s bedtime story. Rather, these are revamped myths given a Doctor Who twist – and there’s quite a collection of famous fables. In news that might warm the heart of Stephen Fry, it’s Greek mythology that’s best served by the novel with sci-fi takes on the Trojan Horse, Jason and the Argonauts, Hercules and the Hydra myths.

Rather than focusing on a certain Time Lord, each tale features a monster or species from the Doctor Who universe. Old fans will be pleased to see the likes of the Mara or Sutekh from Pyramids of Mars getting a cheeky mention in the riddle of the Sphinx, while new fans will lap up tales of the Racnoss taking on the role of the Minotaur or the Cybermen featuring in a retelling of The Midas Touch called, yes you guessed it, The Mondas Touch.

There’s a fair bit of fan servicing too. Author Richard Dinnick acknowledges that he had access to Series 10 titbits as he was writing these tales so we get epic clashes between Daleks and Ice Warriors – an excellent take on the Daedalus and Icarus myth – that builds upon the canon established in Empress of Mars.

Then there’s The Unwanted Gift of Prophecy, a retelling of the story of the Cumaean Sybil, the prophesising priestess who loomed over the Apollonian oracle at Cumae, which features multiple Masters and fills in just what happened between Utopia and The Sound of Drums, from Lucy Saxon’s perspective. Using the Time Paradox TARDIS, Lucy travels across her husband’s timeline meeting Delgardo and Ainley’s Masters as well as Missy in a story that not only does a good job of updating the myth but also adds some weight to the events of The Doctor Falls.

However, the real star of the novel is Adrian Salmon. His striking black and white illustrations not only recall some of the classic proscenium drawings you might find on a Grecian urn but they bring real drama to the preceding story. It’s a little bit of welcome myth-making that could easily have been overdone but, with just one or two per story, they’re really effective.

Like Gaiman and Fry, Doctor Who plays the role of the author; the guide that takes myth out of academia and adds a coat of modernity to these old tales in way that will hopefully inspire a new generation of authors to seek out other variations on myths and legends. In this regard, the book is a pleasing success.

Doctor Who: Myths & Legends, written by Richard Dinnick with illustrations by Adrian Salmon, is available to buy in hardcover format now from Amazon for £12.08