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Out of the Unknown: series 1, episode 2 “The Counterfeit Man”(1965)

“The Counterfeit Man” was broadcast on 11th October 1965.

Cast: Dr. Crawford, Alex Davion; Roger Westcott David Hemmings;  Captain Jaffe Charles Tingwell; Donnie Chaffer Peter Fraser; Jensen Tony Wager.

Script: Philp Broadley adapted from a story by Alan Nourse. Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik. Director: George Spenton-Foster.

After an  indifferent start to the new series  with the opening episode  “No Place Like Earth”  which I discussed in a previous post, things picked up considerably with the second episode “The Counterfeit Man”.

The action takes place entirely on a space ship returning from Jupiter’s largest moon,.  Ganymede. When conducting some  routine medical  tests Doctor Crawford  discovers  that one of the crew,  Roger Westcott,   has  no  blood sugar, which  is impossible, by rights he should be dead.  But when he conducts the test again he finds that it is normal. He reveals this disturbing news  to Captain Jaffe,  and  the two men  speculate  on the implications  and possible causes. Crawford  concludes that Westcott must be an alien  who has taken human form to infiltrate the ship and journey to Earth.  He sets out his thesis to Jaffe:

 Just suppose Ganymede wasn’t  quite as deserted as we thought it was…Suppose there was life there, intelligent life. Suppose we didn’t remain unnoticed but were carefully observed, observed by life forms that didn’t want to make their presence known to us…What if these life forms had no particular  rigid anatomy as we do. Maybe they’re  some sort of jelly-like protoplasm, capable of changing to fit whatever conditions they might meet, or perhaps copy anything they wanted to copy….Maybe one of them killed Roger Westcott, out there among the rocks, and came aboard this ship,  copying  exactly his reactions, his appearance, hoping to learn more about us…Now suppose one of these creatures slipped up on this copying job. Maybe he could not know at first just how the blood chemistry of a human being was supposed to balance. Maybe he needed time to change and copy.  So he came aboard this ship  with a nice, convincing outer shell completed but with the inside all mixed up and  uncertain…

Crawford and Jaffe

I think most writers,  when  handling an alien   infiltration story,  would have concocted a series of small  occurences which  would gradually lead the crew to suspect that something may be  terribly wrong. But  in this story we presented with the scenario in  one fell swoop in  Crawford’s  lengthy speculative monologue. Frankly it’s clumsy,  but is rescued by what happens next.

Crawford and Jaffe decide that to test the hypothesis they need to put pressure on Westcott to see if he is human or alien. Following the sudden death of another  crew member Chaffer (possibly killed by Westcott to divert attention), Westcott is falsely  accused of stealing the money from a collection made by the rest of the crew.

Westcott

This  leads to the the most effective scenes in the episodein which Westcott, played excellently by David Hemmings, is ostracised  by his crew mates and retreats to his room where he lies on his  bunk,  staring open-eyed into space. There is a  palpable sense of paranoia and claustrophobia, added to greatly by the direction and the  electronic music

Eventually we learn the truth of what has really  happened to Westcott, including a final plot twist when the space ship returns to  earth. All in all, despite the awkward exposition at the start, a fine episode which really should have started the series.  One odd thing, all the crew have blonde hair,  harking back to The Midwich Cuckoos, perhaps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Out of the Unknown: Series 1, episode 1.”No Place Like Earth” (October, 1965)

“No Place Like Earth”  was broadcast by the BBC on  4th October 1965.

Cast: Bert Foster Terence Morgan, Annika Jessica Dunning, Zyalo Hannah Gordon, Freeman Joseph O’Connor, Blane Alan Tilvern, Major Khan George Pastell, Spaceship Capatin Jerry Stovin, Carter Vernon Joyner, Harris Bill Treacher, Chief Officer Geoffrey Palmer, Security Guard Roy Stewart

Writer: Stanley Miller (adapted from a story by John Wyndham). Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik.

“No Place  Like Earth” was the first episode in the science  fiction  series Out of the Unknown which ran for four series from 1965 to 1971, created by Irene Shubik.

Irene  was  born in 1929. She was unable to get a job with the BBC,   and so worked in the USA for a couple of years. On her return to England she got a job  on the   current affairs series This Week before joining the Drama Department at ABC  in 1960 as  the story editor on Armchair Theatre,  which was being produced by Sydney Newman.

In early 1962 she  created British television’s first science fiction anthology series, Out of This World,  bringing  in writers she had already worked with on Armchair Theatre. They adapted a  number  of science fiction classics eg Dumb Martian by John Wyndham, but also   woite a couple of new stories eg Botany Bay by Terry Nation,  who went on to create the Daleks for Doctor Who in 1964. Sadly only one episode from the series,  Little Lost Robot by Isaac Asimov,  has survived and  is available to watch on the BFI Player.

When Sydney Newman moved to the BBC at the beginning of 1963, Irene moved to the Corporation as well.  Here she produced Story Parade  in 1964,  a series of dramatised  novels  which  included one science fiction episode, The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov, scripted by Terry Nation and  starring Peter Cushing as Elijah Baley and John Carson as R. Daneel Olivaw.   (You can watch the  few surviving clips here).

Irene then  pitched the idea of a  series similar  to Out of this World, this  time on the BBC. Newman was receptive, having seen  the success of Doctor Who, and Irene became the producer with the very experienced George Spenton-Foster as associate producer.  She followed the template of Out of This World,   looking for novels that would work on television and then commissioning writers to dramatise them.  Most dramatisations remained pretty faithful to the original stories (something that you wish would happen more often, the recent dramatisation of  The City and the City  being an example of pointless alterations).  After contemplating  a number of possibilities such as Dimension 4  Irene settled on Out of the Unknown as the series title.

All new series need to catch the attention of the public – and keep it. It’s  quite puzzling therefore that the producers  chose the lacklustre “No Place Like Earth” as the first broadcast episode, rather than the far superior “The Counterfeit Man” which had also been completed. Apparently it was Sydney Newman who made the decision, and not Irene, on the basis that it was based on a John Wyndham short story and would attract viewers familar with The Day of the TriffidsThe Kraken Wakes  etc.  ( The story appeared in a 1952  anthology  of the same name,  edited by John Carnell,  but  I had never heard of it prior to watching this  and I had  read all Wyndham’s  work that I  could get hold of  as a teenager in  the 1960s.)

“No Place  Like Earth” is set  on Mars and Venus. The Earth has been destroyed in some catastophe 14 years before, marooning  the Earth colonists (who all seem to be men) on Mars.  Bert  Foster makes his living as a tinker,  travelling in a battered boat along  the canals (yes there are canals in this  version of Mars),  repairing  things for the Martians who seem to have lost the knack.  These  Martians are not insects as in Quatermass or Ice Warriors as in Doctor Who but  humanoids, indistinguishable   from the Earthmen,  apart from slightly different  teeth.

Bert (Terence Morgan)

The Martians live a simple  peasant life amidst  the ruins of the civilisation of “the Great Ones”, but  what led to its collapse is not explained.  Annika, the matriarch  of this clan of  Martians, tells Bert, “You  are  not like the other ones who came from Earth.” “I should hope not,” he responds, “I feel ashamed  of what they did when they first came to Mars, it was cruel.” That evening over the camp-fire Bert tells the Martians  story of how the Earth exploded and is now “nothing but a shower of cosmic pebbles, chasing around the sun.”

Next morning, Annika invites him to stay, but   Bert  tells her that  he does not belong there,  “I do not belong anywhere so  I  keep moving on.” Annika answers him, ” You are merely existing, and it is not enough. One exists by barter, but one lives by giving  – and taking when it is offered. And  then there is Zaylo…” Though tempted,  Bert moves on after repairing pots and pans and the water-wheel for them.  As he leaves Annika tells Zaylo, ” He will come back,  one day.”

Zaylo (Hannah Gordon) and Annika (Jessica Dunning

When he returns to the stranded colonists he finds a spaceship  has landed  from Venus. The crew have come to offer them  work on rebuilding  Venus  and creating a New Earth.  But when he arrives Bert  finds it is  a dictatorship built on  slave labour in which he is expected to act an overseer wearing a ludicrously ornate uniform.  Unable to stomach  this, he strikes down the vicious overssder Major Khan (played almost inevitably by George Pastell), assumes his identity  manages  to make his way on to a spaceship  returning  to Mars.

After the crew disembarks he blows up the spaceship: “there’ll  be no more slaving expeditions to Mars”.  Bert returns to Annika and the waiting Zaylo. He is now accepts  that he is no longer an Earthman,  but a Martian. He tells Annika, “Maybe there never was a place like the Earth that I was remembering…I stopped crying for the moon, and Earth. I’m going to be content  just to live, and to enjoy living.” He finds Zaylo by the water-wheel  and tells her, “This time I’ve come to stay.”

This is scarcely a science-fiction story at all. With minimal  change it could all easily have taken place on Earth in  some post-colonial backwater,  a shory story written  by Somerset Maugham perhaps.  In tone and sentiment   it bears a marked resemblance  to Ray Bradbury’s  novel The Martian Chronicles (1950) which  also featured canals and Earthmen trying to find their  way and place on Mars. Its as languid and unhurried as Bert’s   meanderings around mars on the canals, with little real tension or drama. The ending  you always expected would happen doe shappen. Fortunately  after this false start   the series improved a good deal.

Reviews

I have not been able to find any newspaper reviews on first broadcast, although,  according to the notes accompanying the DVD, it was slated by the critics on Late Night Line Up.   Unusually  for this period the story was repeated on 22 July 1966. In The Times their anonymous televison critic wrote:

Science fiction, as distinct from essays in the supernatural, is difficult to handle on television, as was demonstarted  by  BBC 2  last night. this story by John Wyndham is placed on Mars  and Venus after the disintegration of the earth, but for film purposes the strain on credulity is always too great. The medium is too limited for effects of costume and lighting to do the trick; and if the leading earthman, nicely played by Terence Morgan, succumbed in the end to the charms of a Martian maiden, the romance remained essentially earthbound. A few surviving space ships  have left colonies of earthmen on the two planets, and inferences are no doubt invited by the picture of Venus turned into a slave state by the tyrants in power.

Life on Mars, is by contrast  is primitive and gentle;  our earthmen, having had a taste of Venus and its “work, obedience and progress,”  finds that Martian simplicities have their consolation. As directed by Peter Potter, it was a slick piece of spoofing if we must have that sort of thing. 

Where else  have I seen the cast?

Terence  Morgan appeared  in  Laurence Olivier’s film of Hamlet (1948) as Laertes. He  played the title role in the television series  Sir Francis Drake (1961-1962  in which Roger Delgado also appeared as a Spanish nobleman. (I used to watch this, aged 6!)

Jesscia Dunning appeared in another episode of  Out of the Unknown, “Lamda 1” (1966).

Hannah Gordon appeared  in the Doctor Who serial, “The Highlanders” (1966) as Kirsty.

George Pastell (also known as Niko Pastellides)   memorably played the unhinged  Eric Klieg in the Doctor Who serial “The Tomb of the Cybermen”.

Geoffrey Palmer appeared in three Doctor Who serials : as Edward Masters in “The Silurians”, the Administrator in The Mutants and  Hardaker in “Voyage of the Damned”.

Roy Stewart appeared in three  Doctor Who serials : as a Saracen guard  in “The Crusade“, Toberman in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” and Tony in  “Terror of the Autons“.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“a fair field full of folk” Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992)

Doomsday Book is the first novel in  a series  set by Connie  in the same world  of time travel which I have discussed  in my previous  posts on the other novels,   To Say Nothing of the Dog and Blackout/All Clear. Historians in the C21st travel back in time from the unit at the University of Oxford to research the past hand-on. In this case Kivrin Engle  is a student  historian,  keen to see the Middle Ages for herself, in  the  face of misgivings from  her boss Mr Dunworthy,

“Life expectancy in 1300 was thirty-eight years,” he had told her when she first said she wanted to go to the Middle Ages, “and you only lived that long if you survived cholera and smallpox and blood poisoning, and if you didn’t eat rotten meat or drink polluted water or get trampled by a horse. Or get burned at the stake for witchcraft…

“An unaccompanied women  was unheard of in the fourteenth century. Only women  of the lowest class went about alone, and they were fair game for any  men or beast who happened along. Women  of  the nobility and even the emerging middle class were constantly attended by their fathers or their husbands or servants, usually all three., and even of you wren’t a woman, you’re a student. The fourtheen century is far too dangerous for Medieval to consider sending a student.”

In the end Kivrin is sent back  by  the Medievalists to Oxfordshire in  1320, equipped with a cover story  of being a Lady who has been robbed and left on the road, abandoned by her servants.  No sooner has she departed than Oxford is beset  by a viral outbreak whose origins are unknown. Worse, the time travel operator  Badri becomes very ill  and it appears  that Kivrin may be lost in time as something  unexpected happened when she went through.

Back in the Middle Ages Kivrin  becomes very ill  on arrival but is taken in and nursed  by  a priest and local  gentry family:

I’m ill, Kivrin thought, and knew that the warm liquid had been a medicinal  potion of some kind , and that it had brought her fever down  a little. She was not lying on the ground after all, but in a bed in a room, and the woman who had hushed her and given her the liquid was there beside her. She could hear her breathing. …I must be in the village she thought. The redheaded man must have brought me here.

After her recovery she stays on with the family,  despite the suspicions of the  family matriarch, Imeyne. She adopts the name Katherine and makes friends with the village  priest, Father Roche, who comes to believe that she is   a saint,  sent  from heaven to earth to  help in a time of trial.

Back in Oxford Dunworthy is almost  totally preoccupied with the  deadly illness sweeping through the town which is now quarantined from the outside world.  Slowly he begins to make sense of  the  illness and its link with the past,  and of Kivrin’s plight and  the danger that threatens her. The question is : is it too late to  track her down and rescue her?

In this novel Connie paints a vivid picture through Kivrin’s eyes of the Middle Ages,  a world utterly unlike ours  in beliefs and mores and yet at the same time a place  where there is poverty, wealth,  greed,  jealousy, pride, snobbishness,  friendship, love and compassion, a world therefore very much like our own. Highly recommended.

Their Finest Years: Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (2010)

Blackout and All Clear are two in  a series of novels that Connie has written about “historians,”  researchers from the mid  C21st century who travel back in  time to carry  historical research, embedding themselves in the past.   This is a notion that  she first explored in a short story called Fire Watch (1983)  in which an historian joins the fire watch protecting St Paul’s during the Blitz.  She returned to the idea in Doomsday Book (1993) in which  Kivrin Engel  travels  back from 2054  to England in 1320 with unforeseen consequences in both times. This was followed  by To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998),  set in the Edwardian period and in Coventry during the destruction of the Cathedral on 14th November 1940. I have written about this  here.

In Blackout, and its direct sequel All Clear,   Connie takes us  back to  the Second World War again. Three historians travel back from 2060 to 1940: Mike, masquerading as an American reporter,   who is meant  to go to Dover to witness the evacuation from Dunkirk.  but instead finds himself  on a rickety boat on its way to pick up soldiers from the beaches;   Merope (who takes the name Eileen), masquerading as a servant in Lady Denewell’s  country house in Warwickshire which has taken in child  evacuees from London; and Polly, who ends up working in a department store  on Oxford Street. All three discover that the time travel technology meant to take them back home (“the drops”) has stopped working.

After a whole series of near misses, they eventually  meet up in London as the Blitz begins. But now they face some  dreadful questions. Are they trapped in the past forever? Will they survive the Blitz? And, worst of all,  have their actions, even the tiniest, most  inconsequential ones, let alone rescuing  someone during  a bombing raid,  changed the course of history? Will the Germans in fact win the war?

Connie sketches an unforgettable picture  of London as the bombs fall night after the night  from September 1940 to May 1941. There are vivid scenes in the air raid shelters and Tube stations,  as well on the streets and in the shops and cafes as somehow Londoners keep going, despite everything.

There is loss and  tragedy,  but there is also a great  deal  of humour, much of it  provided by Alf and Binnie,  two  children evacuated  from the East End  – possibly the naughtiest children in the universe –   whom Eileen looks after. A host of other characters make their entrances and their exits ;  the vicar in Warwickshire who befriends Eileen;  Mrs Ricket, Polly’s  sourfaced landlady;  Mr Humphreys, a fire warden at St Paul’s;   Mr Dunworthy, head of the time travel department; Godfrey Kingsman, an ageing  Shakespearean actor who befriends Polly,  Alan Turing, the  decoding genius and Agatha Christie, the crime novelist.   In addition there is a sub-plot featuring Mary Kent,  who works in civil defence  during the V1 and V2 attacks in the summer of 1944, and  who is not whom she seems. And a significant role is played by Holman Hunt’s painting ” The Light of the World” in St Paul’s. Finally, there is Colin Templar’s quest.

At the end of of All Clear the myriad plot lines,  coincidences, confusions and mysteries  are  neatly  resolved and yet,  after  1400 pages,  you are still  reluctant  to say goodbye to the characters whose lives and experiences  you have shared so fully.  Let’s leave the last word to Eileen on VE day when she meets the vicar again in Trafalgar Square.

He beamed at her. ‘This is a wonderful night, isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ she said,  looking around the crowd. She had wanted to come here, to see this, ever since she was a first-year student.  She’s been furious when she found out Mr Dunworthy had assigned it to someone else. 

But if she’d come then, she would never have properly appreciated it. She’s have seen the happy crowds and the Union Jacks and the bonfires, but she’d have had no idea of what it meant to see the lights on after years of navigating in the dark, what it meant to look up at an approaching plane without fear, to hear church bells after years of air-raid sirens.She’d have had no idea of the years of rationing and shabby clothes  and fear that lay behind the smiles and the cheering, no idea of what it had cost to bring this day to pass – the lives of all those soldiers and sailors and airmen  and civilians. …She’d have had no idea what this meant to Lady Denewell, who’d lost her husband and her only son, or to Mr Humphreys and the rest of the fire watch who’d worked so hard to save St Paul’s…

I was born ten years after  the war,  and yet I  found  these  these novels very moving. Read them. Your life will be enriched.

 

 

 

To say nothing of the cat: “To Say Nothing of the Dog Or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last “by Connie Willis (1998)

Ned Henry is a historian in Oxford in 2067. In this era historian isn’t  someone who spends 20 years producing a monograph on late Phoenician trading patterns which sells 63 copies, earns a luke-warm review in the Times Literary Supplement and is remaindered  within six months. In this era historians are travellers sent back on time trips (or “drops” as they call them) to carry out detailed reconnaisance  and research  on past historical eras and events. Too many drops, though, can give you time-lag, a euphoric state akin to being high.

Coventry Cathedral before the bombing raid

The time travel technology is known as “the net,”  invented by a couple of chancers who hoped to ransack history for priceless artifacts but then discovered that objects from the past cannot be transported through time, only humans can travel back and forth (or so it’s thought). Ned and his fellow historians are working on a multi-million project to rebuild Coventry Cathedral exactly as it was before it destroyed in a Luftwaffe bombing raid on 14th November 1940, Oddly it’s not being built in Coventry,  but in Oxford. The project  is the brain child of Lady Schrapnell, whom I imagine as  a cross between Lady Bracknell and Mrs Thatcher. She is not be brooked over the slightest  minute detail.

 

The story begins with Ned poking around the ruins of the Cathedral days after the raid,   trying to locate the bishop’s bird stump, a hideous Victorian flower ornament which has vanished –  and which Lady Schrapnell has insisted must be found. Unable to locate it he returns to Oxford where he meets  fellow historian Verity Kindle,  who has been infiltrated into the Mering family at Muchings End in Oxfordshire in  June 1888.

a Victorian bird stump

At this point a cat enters the story, Princess Arjumand,  who belongs to Tossie Mering, spoilt daughter of the family with a penchant for babytalk. Somehow the cat returns with Verity to 2067 after she rescues it from drowning.  It is imperative that  Princess Arjumand must be returned to 1888  to close the incongruity. (Ned has fallen instantly in love with Verity, by the way).

Ned is also sent back to  June 1888 and falls in with  a Balliol  undergraduate  Terence St Trewes (who has  an annoying habit of quoting Tennyson at every turn), his bulldog Cyril  and Professor Peddick. Terence is in love with Tossi Meringe,  and  thus the three men and the dog set off  on a boat trip along the Thames to Muchings End with many mishaps on the way. If  you  are thinking that this sounds rather familiar, you would be right. Ned and his party actually pass Jerome K Jerome  and his party on the journey which becomes the book  Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), published the following year.

Arriving at Muchings End,  Ned discovers Priness Arnjumand in his luggage, alive  and well, and meets Verity again who has returned from Oxford.  They now become embroiled in a series of increasingly farcical  events which involve returning the cat to Tossie and stopping  her marrying Terence, which will cause another incongruity as they know from her diaries that she married a mysterious “Mr C” after meeting him on a visit to Coventry Cathedral.  It was Tossie’s diaries, read by her  descendant Lady Schrapnell,  that inspired the Coventry Cathdral project.  A change in history could be catastrophic.

What follows are  nightime assignations, deceptions, impersonations,  coincidences, manipulations  and seances with Madame Iritosky – to say nothing of  Cyril and Princess Arjumand. And  there is still  the question of what happened to the bishop’s bird stump.  At one point  a drop lands Ned and Verity  in  the Cathedral  on the night of 14th November as it  is being bombed;  they barely escape with their lives.

Coventry Cathedral after the bombing raid

It felt like a direct hit. The blast rocked the cathedral and lit it  with with a blinding white light. I staggered off my knees, and then stopped, staring across the nave. The force had  knocked the cathedral momentarily clear of smoke, and in the garish afterlight  I could see everything; the statue above the pulpit engulfed in flames, its hand raised like a drowning man’s; the stalls in the children’s chapel, their irreplaceable misereres  burning with a queer  yellow light; the altar in the Cappers’ Chapel. And the parclose screen in the Smith’s Chapel….

I flung myself through the door and through the tower door and up the firelit stairs, wondering what I was going to say to Lady Schrapnell. In that one bright bomb-lit instant I has seen everything: the brasses on the wall, the polished eagle on the lectern , the blackening pillars. And in the north-side the empty wrought-iron flower stand. 

It had been removed for safekeeping after all. Or donated as scrap. Or sold at a jumble sale.

“Ned”! Verity shouted. “Hurry! The net’s opening!”

Lady Schrapnell had been wrong.The bishop’s bird stump was not there.

As the novel’s  full title suggests,  in the end the mystery is solved.

This is a hugely  enjoyable and entertaining novel which frankly came as a welcome relief after some recent science fiction novels  I have read,  whose plots  – involving  artificial intelligence and  jumps across the universe etc  –  seemed  humourless  and gave me a headache. We need more novels like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visitor from Oitar: The Sykaos Papers by E P Thompson (1988)

As a socialist   historian I am naturally  very familar  with Edward Thompson’s contribution to labour history, particularly  The Making of the English Working Class,   which was very  influential  on a whole generation of  young historians  and  political activists in putting working class agency at the centre of his narrative.  In addition  he was very active in the 1980s in the anti-nuclear movement, speaking at countless meetings up and down the country,  stalking the plaform like an C18th  Methodist preacher. He wrote  the pamphlet  Protest and Survive, an evisceration  of the government leaflet on how to cheerily  prepare your home  for a nuclear attack,  Protect and Survive. What I didn’t know was that he had written a science fiction novel The Sykaos Papers, published in 1988.

The full title  is The Sykaos Papers,  Being An Account of  the Voyages of  the Poet Oi Paz to the System of Strim in the Seventeenth Galaxy; of his Mission to the Planet Sykaos; of his first Cruel Captivity; of his Travels about its Surface; of the Manners and Customs of its Beastly People; of his Second Captivity; and of his Return to Oitar.  To which are added many passages from the Poet’s Journal, documents  in Sykotic script and  other curious matters.

Essentially this  lengthy novel  is Gulliver’s Travels  in reverse, a satire on society, language, culture,  science, politics, governments,  the media, sexual mores and much else.  It tells the story of Oi Paz, a poet sent by the planet Oitar (who have established a base on the Moon) to reconnoite Earth (which they call Sykaos and its people Sykotics)  as a possible candidate for colonisation. The story is told through Oi Paz’s  journal, official reports, media accounts and the field notes of Helena Sage.

Oi  Paz crashes to Earth and is promptly run over by a car.  Recovering in hospital,  and bemused by the culture he discovers on Earth,  he is eventually judged an impostor and kicked out into the street after being relieved of his gems. Mistaken for the Emir  for Quotar he  meets Mrs Thatcher  briefly. He is then taken up by a promoter  Nigel Harmer and tours the world as  Sapio the Spaceman with his own television show, kept docile with copious amounts of alcohol

After some months, following observations of activity on the Moon,   the authorities realise Oi Paz  is telling the truth and seize him, keeping him captive at Martagon Hall  in England,  run  by  a top secret  government organisation called FARCES (internal code LUNATIC). They bring in  anthropologist Helena Sage to get to know him  and  to seek to understand Oitarian culture. This is a sample of her first field notes on Oi Paz:

Tall, exceptionally well built. Dark complexion upon  somehat European (Caucasian?) features ..Moves with deliberation and grace, yet in some way distancing himself from the movemnets of his own body as if his limbs were delicate prosthetic tools. All senses seem sound. Hearing remarkably acute (detected mice scratching wainscot, informed me there were three) …Impressive yet passibe peroanlity, almost a “vibe” coming from him, not hostile, yet aloof and alert at the same time …Robes (quite gorgeous!) looked like a hand-weave  but, cldn’t identify with certainty, nor identify material (cottony texture but sheen of silk) Elaborate  belt – seems to contain some instrument (micro-computer?)  at right hip – with large ornamental  gold clasp in which a phallic catch (rt) engaes with wheel-symbol (lft). 

In time Helena and Oi Paz become close, intimate even.

Much of the novel is in a comic vein,  lancing the pomposity of the establishment, but  in the final  part the mood darkens as international political tensions invade Martagon Hall,  and the ending is sombre.

This is  far from a light read, and there are  nearly 500 pages,  but if you feel like taking on the  challenge, this might be the novel for you.

 

 

 

 

E P Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

Howzat! Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen by James Goss (2018)

This book seems to have dropped through a wormhole in the Space-Time Continuum. According to the pre-publication publicity it’s not meant to be available until 18 January 2018,  but I  found it last week  on the shelf  at Manchester Central Reference Library.

The Krikkitmen began life as a story that Douglas Adams pitched   to Robert Holmes and Anthony Read, the outgoing and incoming producers of Doctor Who,  along with  The Pirate Planet.   They opted for The Pirate Planet (broadcast in the autumn of 1978),    but suggested that The Krikkitmen  might make a good film.  In the meantime the first radio  series of  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  was broadcast  in 1978  and  made Adams famous. This led him to becoming  script editor on Doctor Who in 1979 for a year: during his time on the show  he also  wrote City of Death and Shada (which  was never broadcast because of a strike).

Adams worked on The Krikkitmen for several years, but the film, like most films,  was never made,  and in time was almost forgotten (although Adams did use some of his ideas in Life, the Universe and Everything.)  But when researching in the Douglas Adams archive in Cambridge for his novelisation of Shada,  James Goss was shown  a detailed 33 page treatment for the film, including dialogue,  which led him to write this novel. The treatment  is included as an appendix.

Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen features the Fourth Doctor and Romana. The original treatment  featured a companion called Jane, but James Goss decided that Romana would be more appropriate. In the novel she is clearly the cleverest person for millions of light years around. It also features K9, the cleverest robot dog  for millions of light years around. The Doctor  is…the Doctor.

The story begins in that most English of settings, Lord’s cricket ground during the Ashes. Romana is bemused by the game and wonders  why they are there, the Doctor doesn’t seem  like  to much like cricket either (unlike the Fifth  Doctor).  Things  get a bit more interesting when  the game is interrupted, not by rain or a streaker,  but  a cricket  pavilion  which suddenly materialises. It’s not empty:

…eleven figures, all attired in perfect cricket whites, strode out of the pavilion and towards the podium. The eleven were, to all intents and purposes, role models, from their tidily laced plimsolls to their neat helmets protecting their faces. Even their bats were polished so much they shone. …but there was one thing missing. There was nothing inside the uniforms. They were empty suits of gleaming white armour, marching in unison. 

The killer robots  (for this  is indeed what they are) start  attacking the crowd, lobbing explosive  cricket balls, wielding their razor sharp steel bats,  and then depart after stealing the Ashes.  leaving chaos and burning grass. It turns out that they are from the planet Krikkit,   who were a peaceful,  happy  people when they believed that they were the only race in the Universe. But  one day a spaceship crashed onto their planet.  This enraged them so much that  they built  spaceships  and the Krikkitmen,  and  then set about  destroying every other race in the Universe.

They were finally  stopped by the Time Lords,  who sealed Krikkit in Slow Time several million years ago. Now some Krikkitmen have  escaped  and are  intent in  freeing Krikkit from  Slow Time  and recommencing  the annihilation with millions more Krikkitman. To do this  they need to reassemble  the Wicket Gate, comprising three vertical sticks,  the Gold Bail of Prosperity and the Silver Bail of Peace.

Of course the Doctor  and Romans set out  to stop them. The rest of the novel is a dizzying swoop to  and fro  across the universe from planet to planet and  back and forth in time. The Doctor, Romana and K9 are shot at, imprisoned and  then escape (several times). They meet  the Elders of Krikkit, the  ineffectual  Krikkit rebels (who are stymied by lack of a  mission statement), Alovians, the Great Khan, Mareeve II (an unfriendly planet),  Devalin (a planet where they used to fish but now they don’t),  Bethsalamin (a friendly planet), Professor Chronotis,  a big red off and on  switch, and a super computer called Hactar who seems to hold the key to everything (but perhaps doesn’t.) Oh, and there’s a  Supernova Bomb that will destroy the Universe. Just  thought  I’d mention it. It all  ends where it began, at Lord’s.

James  Goss does an  excellent job of channeling Douglas  Adams’ prose style:

The Doctor, K-9 and Romana were running.

Romana had,  in her  time with the Doctor, learnt a good deal about fleeing. If anyone shouted ‘Hah’ or ‘ Stop’ or  ‘Wait!’ you ignored them. They were normally taking aim.

If given a choice between running upstairs and running downstairs, always go down. Even if the lights weren’t working. Often, yes, there’d be something with tentacles lurking in the dark, but you could cross that nightmare when you came to it. Also, with a little bit of dodging, you could let it devour any pursuers while you got on with surviving.

Running upstairs ended badly. You’d find yourself on a roof with nothing but a long drop beneath you and a  pressing need to do some fast talking…

Shoes. In her early days aboard the Tardis Romana had worn a variety  of imposing footwear. The TARDIS wardrobe  was delightfully unlike the wardrobes of Gallifre , and so offered her the chance to enjoy experimenting.  Boots. Pumps. Ballet shoes. But she quickly learned that anything with heels was out. They were good for making an entrance but hopeless for an exit.

Finally,  always follow the Doctor unless he was clearly heading somewhere absolutely idiotic. If it only looked mildly idiotic (eg a time corridor or burning building) then fine. But if it was towards a squadron of Daleks then perhaps not.

When fleeing, keep an eye on local signage. Signs indicating “This way to the Forest of Knives” or “Turn left for the Swamp of Death” were best avoided. Signs never indicated where there was a large amount of cover, or something blast-proof to hide behind. The Universe was disappointing like that.

There are 42 chapters, by the way.

Don’t buy it from Amazon, though please  buy it from the real Amazons at the independent  News from Nowhere bookshop