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Out of the Unknown, series 1 episode 5, “Time in Advance” by William Tenn

“Time In Advance” was broadcast on 1 November 1965.

Cast: Nicholas Crandall -, Edward Judd;  Otto Henck – Mike Pratt;   Polly – Wendy Gifford;  Marcus Henson – Dyson Lovell,  Marie –Judy Parfitt ;  Paul Ryman – Jerome Willis;   and Dan- Michael Danvers Walker.

Script by  Paul Erickson

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik. Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

Director ;  Peter Sasdy.

“Time in Advance” is based on  a short story  by William Tenn (the pseudonym of Philip Klass) published in 1956

The story is set in a future society where you can opt to serve your sentence before committing the crime.  It  begins with  Nicholas Crandall  (525509) and Otto Henck (5245514) returning  to earth after seven year hard labour on the colony planets. The two prisoners   have survived the rigours of their hard labour by looking after each other, although Crandall has lost his hand in a lava  accident. (They arrive  aboard a  convict spaceship called  the  Jean Valjean, incidentally, please note Victor Hugo fans.)

The “pre-criminals” as they are known  leave through the “Liberty corridor” and are  now free to commit the murders that they have confessed in advance that they intend to commit.  The media are there as they emerge, eager to know the names of their victims.  After checking whether  they still want them,   the Examiner hands Crandall and  Henck  their licences which allow them “To go forth from this place and kill one man or one woman of your own choosing.”

Crandall and Henck

They lodge at the Hotel Capricorn Ritz, where you check in with a handprint and the  drinks are served by a machine. Whilst in the bar  they see their arrival announced  on television, “It might be you they are after,”  teases the newsreader. Henck intends to kill his  unfaithful wife, Elsa: Crandall has not  publicly revealed his victim,  but we learn that it   is  man called Stephensen, who  stole his work  for a unlimited power source and has  made a fortune whilst Crandall has been in prison.

In the bar Crandall meets Paul  Ryman, a former work colleague, who cannot get away from  him quick enough. (We later find out  that he betrayed Crandall by assisting Stephensen).  It’s the first in a series of encounters with people who fear him., including his ex-wife Polly who believes that she is the victim because she was unfaithful to him, unknown to Crandall. ” I made a mistake. I thought he loved me. I would never have divorced  you if I had known what he was really like… Please don’t  kill me,” she begs.   When his brother Dan  tries to kill him with a weapon, we learn that it was he that had the affair with Polly. Crandall lies to the police to save his brother from prison.

Henck has failed to locate his  wife. She has moved, her  flat been demolished and the area is now a  huge nature park . He tells Crandall, “It’s the last thing I expected, I  just stood in the middle of the park not knowing what to do.. You don’t understand Nick. .All the time we were away , all the while I keep thinking of how it was going to be when I finally caught up with her. The times I dreamed of it  and it always happened in that  place. It just isn’t there any more.”

Marcus Henson from  a media company  offers Crandall  50,000 credits for an exclusive story. “The public is excited by it. They have been lapping  up the details  ever since you landed… But the biggest thing they want to know about, and that’s why we are prepared to pay so much, is that special piece of information that just clinches your story…What do you think they are all excited about? What do you really think they are guessing at? …They are trying to figure out who your victim is going to be. You tell us. We follow your story. We’ll be there when it happens,  and you can retire a rich man, while at the same time completing what you set out to do.” Crandall turns down the offer.

Crandall

Henck  finally discovers  that his wife has been  dead for two years, and  is now bitter about   his decision. “Seven years of my life gone for nothing and now no future,  nothing to show for it, not even the satisfaction.”  Crandall responds,  “I’ve spent those last seven years hating one man, wanting my revenge, only to find  the others, the ones I  loved and trusted,   meant  no more to me in my life than Stephensen. I don’t know what it’s about anymore,  I don’y know love and hate mean . I only know thatI iam tired. All that effort trying to keep alive on the colonies. I am beginning to think there was point in it, no point at all. “

Crandall makes an appointment to see Stephensen at his laboratory, while  Marie, a  betrayed  ex-lover of Stephensen’s,  gives him a weapon. But the meeting does not go the way Crandall expects.

Strip away the futuristic  gloss from this story (the  shiny sets look like  the future as imagined by Tomorrow’s World)  and it boils down to an old-fashioned moraility tale:  that dreams of revenge can destroy you.  Despite the premise, there is hardly any tension in the story. Rather than  racing to complete their tasks, the two men spend much of their  sitting around in the hotel bar drinking (two credits for a drink, by the way). By the end you are not sure whether  care very much  about what you have just seen.

Most of the cast  wear blond wigs, remarkably similar to the ones we saw in a previous episode, “The Counterfeit Man”. Perhaps they were recycled?

The background electronic music is very good.

Mary Crozier reviewed the episode for the Guardian on 2 November

There is no doubt that when science fiction is bad it is very bad indeed and last night’s play illustrated  this ecellently . “Time in Advance” by William Tenn  was based on the quaint notion that on the earth of the future those with a criminal tendency can apply for lience to commit a crime – but first they have to serve a penal term in Outer Space. 

The opening of the story was about the best bit where the convict ship was nearing earth and the ex-convicts were shuddering, trapped in their bunks in the orbital countdown. This was horrid, of course, and in the fashion of science fiction, some of them had hideous growths or wounds on face, chest or hand. But at this stage you could not tell  quite how dull it was going to be on earth when the two would-be murderers started their grim work. The action took place in a singularly hideous hotel called the Hotel Capricorn Ritz where all the gimmicks of the future were singualrly scientific and unhomely.

The precriminals as they were called got  mixed up in many complications and the story was so stupid that it seemed only natutral that the transmission broke down altogether as if in despair. It is amusing to make fashion note on science fiction; all the men and  women  in this programme had the regulalion fair, shaggy hair combed forward and the regulation tunics so that they looked like a cross between pupils of a progressive school and pre-Revolution Russian peasants.

The great difference between this play and the recent  “The Counterfeit Man” was that the characters were totally uninteresting and the plot incredible. But the sound effects by the radiophonic workshop were very clever indeed.

 

Where have we seen them before ?

Peter Erickson wrote “The Ark” for Doctor Who, broadcast  in 1964.

Wendy Gifford   played Miss Garrett in “The Ice Warriors” (1967)  in Doctor Who. She played Dr Susan Calvin in “Liar!”, an episode in series 3 of Out of the Unknown.

Jerome Wills appeared in “The Dark Star” (1962), an episode in the series  Out of this World.  He played Stevens in the memorable Doctor Who episode,”The Green Death” (1973).

Edward Judd  had a leading role  in The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961) , a British  science fiction film in which the earth is threatened with destruction  after two atomic bomb tests blow it out of its orbit. He also appeared in Invasion (1965) , another British science  fiction film in which aliens (who are played by Japanese and Chinese actors)  arrive in pursuit of an escaped prisoner taken into a hospital. The story was thought up by Robert Holmes, although he did not write the script.  (Holmes later  used some elements of his story for an episode of Doctor Who, “Spearhead  from Space” (1970).)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We come in peace: Looking back at the Doctor Who serial “The Ambassadors of Death” by Malcolm Hulke (1970)

ambassadors-1“The Ambassadors of Death”  is perhaps Mac Hulke’s least  satisfactory contribution to Doctor Who.  Originally called “The Carriers of Death,”  the serial  started life as a commission  for David Whitaker in 1968.  Whitaker was Doctor Who‘s  first story editor, overseeing some 51 episodes in the series’ first year. He also wrote a number serials,  including “The Crusade” (1965), “The Power of the Daleks” (1966)   and  “The Wheel in Space” (1968).

Despite this pedigree Whitaker’s script on the theme of aliens landing on Earth was  deemed unsatisfactory by the production team: his rewrites even less so. Eventually Terrance Dicks decided that Whitaker was never going to be able to produce a satisfactory script  and it was agreed in November 1969 that he  would be paid for his work and a new writer brought in.  Whitaker would still be credited as the writer, which seems quite generous. According to Dicks, Whitaker was relieved at being off the story.

Terrance Dicks called in his old friend Mac Hulke, with whom he had worked on The Avengers in the early 1960s  and  on “The War  Games,” a  10 week serial  which  they wrote together at great  haste in early 1969,  and featured Patrick Troughton’s final appearance as The Doctor.  It seems that  Terrance and Mac  worked together on this seven part serial,  now renamed “The Ambassadors of Death.”

ambassadors-2The story centres on a British spaceship Recovery Seven,  sent into space to investigate what has happened to the previous  Mars Probe  Seven.  It locates the  ship,   but then stops communicating. The Doctor and the Brigadier  are called in,  who  succeed in tracing  a mysterious signal to the Probe to a warehouse where a gun battle takes place with a number of military men commanded by a General Carrington.

Probe Seven returns to  Earth  with three occupants, who are  seized by Carrington’s men  in a dramatic scene. Carrington tells the Doctor and the Brigadier that it was neccessary to put the astronauts into protective custody as they had been infected by radiation. However, the Doctor believes that they are not the human astronauts. They  are now seized by Reegan, a man working for Carrington,   and  kept in a sealed  room where they are fed radiation.

The Doctor goes into  space and is taken into an alien ship where he learns that the earth astronauts are on board:  the astronauts on Earth are in fact   ambassadors from the aliens, who  threaten war unless they are returned.  Reegan kidnaps the Doctor’s assistant, Dr. Liz Shaw,  and makes her  work looking after the astronauts. He  forces the aliens to carry out raids, killing people with one touch with intense radiation, and also kidnaps the Doctor when he returns to Earth.

Meanwhile Carrington is planning  a global television. We learn  that he was on a previous Mars probe when his fellow astronaut was  killed by a touch from the aliens, and he believes  that they are a threat  to the whole world. He intends to show them on television  and call on the world to destroy the alien ship. The Doctor and Liz are rescued by the Brigadier and stop the broadcast. Carrington is taken into custody: the aliens will be returned to their ship.

One of the familar themes in Mac Hulke’s work, derived perhaps  from his membership of the Communist Party,  is  the notion that what we are being shown or being told is not really what is going. His work for Doctor Who often features a conspiracy which  is manipulating  events from behind the scenes; in this  serial  and in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” it’s soldiers, politicians  and scientists;  in ” Frontier in Space” it’s  the Daleks; in “Colony in Space”  it’s the IMC mining expedition.

The Doctor plays much the same role as he did in “The Silurians,” seeking to mediate and prevent conflict.  He tells the alien commander; “Now let me go back to Earth and I will give you my personal l assurances that your ambassadors will be retuned to you.” And  is often the case in Mac Huike’s work even  the anti-hero Carrington is shown driven  not by personal greed or adesire for power,  but a mistaken belief  in an alien threat.

CARRINGTON: I had to do what I did. It was my moral duty. You do understand, don’t you?
DOCTOR: Yes, General. I understand

There seems  quite a big nod  to the first Quatermass serial The Quatermass Experiment (1953)  in which a space expedition returns  to Earth with a single astronaut instead of the three sent into space; it transpires that an  infection  from space has merged them tnto a single alien  entity. The idea of the astronauts carrying out raids and killing with a single touch harks back to two Avengers serials:  “The Cybernauts” (1965)  in which a robot created by Dr. Clement Armstrong (Michael Gough) is sent to kill his business rivals; and The Positive Negative Man (1967)   in which a scientist (Ray McNally) harnesses  electricity within a human body  and sends out  a man to kill with a touch.

ambassadors-3What  might have worked as a four part serial becomes quite threadbare when stretched over seven parts, leaving the viewer sufficient to time to ponder on some of the more improbable aspects of the  plot. Why is  the space control centre in charge of  the Mars probe expedition run by just four people? If the aliens are so powerful judging by the size of their ship, why not simply swoop down and rescue their ambassadors? Why is Reegan single-handedly able to run rings around UNIT, kidnapping and killing  at will? Why is  the space scientist Taltalian, who holds the Doctor and Liz Shaw  at  gunpoint in episode 2,  allowed to carry on working there and the incident  forgotten, after which he plants a bomb and tries to blow up the Doctor? And finally where did Liz Shaw buy her stylish hat?

The  serial enlivened by the set piece action sequences ie the gun  fight in the warehouse  and the seizure of the capsule in which Havoc, the stunt company run by Derek Ware,  pulls out all the stops and turn the scenes  into something resembling a James Bond film on a fraction of the budget.  Liz Shaw (or rather Roy Scammell, a stuntman standing in for Caroline  John, is dramatically  chased by villains  across Marlow Weir. The outdoor scenes with the astronauts shot against a low sun, with accompanying eerie music,  work well.

I was surprised on watching it again at the level  of casual violence  in a children’s tea-time serial. For instance  two of Reegan’s  operatives die  from radiation  when they get into a van with the aliens  and are just dumped in a gravel pit. Perhaps we children and teenagers  in the 1970s were tougher than t0day…

Overall not a classic.

The Day the Sun Went Out: The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle (1957)

black-cloudIn previous posts I have looked at a number of novels by Fred Hoyle: A for Andromeda, The Andromeda Breakthrough, October the First is Too Late and The Fifth Planet. In this post I will be writing about The Black Cloud, his first novel, published in 1957.

The novel begins in January 1964,  when  scientists on both sides of  the Atlantic discover that a large cloud of gas has entered the solar system,  and is heading towards the Earth. They predict  that within 18 months it  will block out the light from the Sun for at least a month, thereby bringing chaos around the world. After convincing sceptical  governments  of the validity of their observations, a British group of scientists  is established at Nortonstowe,  a manor house in the Cotswolds, led by Chris Kingsley, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, with a remit to observe and report on the progress of the  Cloud. Within months the Cloud can be observed  by all in the night sky.

By the third week in January the fate of Man was to be read in the skies. The star Rigel of Orion was obscured. The sword and belt of Orion and the bright star Sirius followed in subsequent weeks. The Cloud might have blotted out almost any other constellation, except  perhaps the Plough, without its effect being so widely noted. The press revived its interest in the Cloud. ‘Progress reports ‘  were published  daily. Bus companies were finding  their Nighttime Mystery  Tours increasingly popular.’Listener research ‘ showed a threefold increase in the audience  for a series  of BBC talks on astronomy. …Now at last the population at large was starkly aware of the Black  Cloud , as it clutched like a grasping hand at Orion, the Hunter of the Heavens.

The scientists  discover something  inexplicable, that the Cloud is firing off gas as it approaches the Sun, slowing it  down. Then on 27 August  1965 Kingsley is awaken by the manor’s handyman, Joe,  who tells him that the Sun has not risen:

He rushed out of the shelter into the open. It was pitch black, unrelieved even by starlight, which was unable to penetrate the thick black cloud cover. An unreasoning primitive fear seemed to be abroad. The light of the world had gone.

The Cloud has blocked out the Sun. After three days some light returns, a deep red hue, seemingly emanating  from the Cloud.  Massive storms sweep the world as the temperature falls,  and  a quarter of the world’s population perishes in the snow and ice.   The scientists at Nortonstowe are unable to explain why the Cloud has stopped, but to their relief they observe that the gas between the Sun and the Earth is thinning,  and on 24 October “the Sun shone again in full strength on the frozen Earth.”

Radio transmissions from the Cloud are detected by the scientists, who are  forced to come to the conclusion that it is intelligent. They  reply with tranmissions containing scientific data and basic English, and  begin to receive messages they can understand,  and which  they can  convert into speech using the voice of Joe the handyman as a basis. The Cloud tells them:

‘Your first tramsmission came as a surprise, for it is most unusual to find animals with technical skills inhabitating planets, which are in the nature of extreme outpposts of life.’

The scientists  inform the governments  of the world of their discovery, but this is not relayed to the peoples of the world.  They continue their dialogue with the Cloud on topics such as human nature, philosophy  and science. However,  the Americans and Russians  see the Cloud as a threat and fire nuclear-armed rockets  into it. The Cloud responds  by reversing the trajectory of the rockets which  fall back to earth, obliterating  El Paso, Chicago and Kiev, killing tens of thousands.

black-cloud

The Cloud announces  that it is about to leave the Solar System, but before it does so it offers the scientists to  chance to learn what it knows about the universe, using an apparatus  to communicate  directly with the human brain.  Kingsley volunteers to undergo this,  but this is terrible mistake:  he is unable to cope with the amount of knowledge downloaded, and the differences  between what he believes and  what the Cloud tells him, and dies as a consequence. The Cloud then departs,  with most of the world’s  population still unaware of its sentient nature.

My 1960 Penguin edition of The Black  Cloud has the strapline “science fiction by a scientist”, which  is the problem with this novel: the original premise captures the imagination and the consequences are most plausible,  but  the story is clogged  up with page and page of scientific discussion,  speculation  and debate. No doubt it’s all  perfectly sound scientifically, but it makes for very dull reading,  and has the feel of a chat over sherry in a Cambridge college staff  common-room.  Also the characters in the story never really come to life, it’s hard to tell one pipe-smoking scientist in a tweed jacket from another.  Even the Cloud is dull…Finally,  this is a very male world: there are a few women in the novel,   but they are peripheral to the story.

A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough work far  better as novels because they written by John Elliot, who knew how to pen  a good story,  based on ideas provided by Fred Hoyle, an ideal partnership.

Productions

The BBC Home Service broadcast  a dramatisation  of The Black Cloud on 14 December 1957, written by Stephen Grenfell and produced by Archie Campbell. Chris  Kingley was played by Dennis Goacher, the Prime Minister  was played by Arthur Ridley, author of  the successful play The Ghost Train,  and later to find fame in  Dad’s Army as Private Godfrey.

So far as I  know no other production has been broadcast.

“This is our planet”: looking back at the classic serial “Doctor Who and the Silurians” by Malcolm Hulke, (1970)

“Doctor Who and the Silurians” was the first script by Malcolm (Mac) Hulke for the new team  now running Doctor Who, ie producer  Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. Terrance  and  Mac were old friends,  having worked together to  write episodes for The Avengers  in the early 1960s. Mac then wrote two serials for Doctor Who in the late 1960s: “The Faceless Ones” (1967)  and “The War Games” (1969), the final serial of the Patrick Troughton era. I have written about Mac’s career here.

In an interview Mac  commented that Doctor Who is “a very political show. Remember what politics refers to, it refers to relationships between groups of people. It doesn’t necessarily mean left or right…so all Doctor Who’s are political, even though the other group of people are reptiles, they’re still a group of people”. Mac says of this serial  that  he was asked to do something in caves,  and that in science fiction there are only two stories. ”They come to us or we go to them and I thought, they come to us but they’ve always been here”.

silurians-5

In a previous post “the Doctor who fell to earth”  I have  written about the first Jon Pertwee serial, “Spearhead from Space”. This second serial it establishes his character  more firmly, as a somewhat  brusque and patrician figure, impatient  with  authority in all its forms;  and also as a scientist, with the Doctor spending a good deal of time in the laboratory in this  serial. He is  also a man of action, acquiring a fast bright yellow retro car nicknamed  “Bessie”, and venturing into the caves several times on his own.

The story begins with UNIT being called into  investigate  unexplained incidents and  power losses at an experimental  nuclear reactor  beneath Wenley Moor, with the reluctant consent  of the Project  Director, Lawrence.  We eventually learn that these are being caused by the Silurians, a highly  intelligent and technologically advanced  reptile race race who once ruled the earth  tens of millions of years ago . They retreated underground into hibernation  when they believed that the surface of the Earth   would be destroyed by an approaching small planetary body, probably the Moon. Their technology failed them , and they did not revive until they were disturbed by the building of the  reactor.  The Doctor attempts to negotiate peace but fails, and hostilities commence. The  Silurians plant a virus among humans which spreads quickly until the Doctor finds a cure. He also defeats their attempt to use the nuclear reactor to destroy the Van Allen belt and make the earth uninhabitable for humans, but not  for Silurians.  At the end of the serial  UNIT blows up the Silurians’  caves.

The key  themes of the serial are the Doctor’s  strong disapproval of the military mindset of shooting first, and  asking questions later, and  his attempts to broker peace between hostile forces. This  is surely inspired by the Cold War in which the West and the Soviet Union had vast  arsenals of weapons pointing at each other. By some miracle a nuclear war never took place. This  was a theme that Mac would return to in future serials for Doctor Who.

silurians-1In episode two,  as UNIT  head to the caves equipped with small arms and grenades,  the Doctor  comments  to  his companion Liz Shaw,”That’s typical of the military mind, isn’t it? Present  them with a new problem  and they start shooting at it”. He adds, “It’s not the only way you know, blasting away at things”.

Meeting  a Silurian for the first time in Quinn’s  cottage in episode three,  the Doctor  offers his hand and says, “Look, do you understand me?..What do you people want? How can we help you?…unless you Silurians tell us what you want  the humans will destroy you”. He tells the Brigadier that what is needed is “a planned, cautious, scientific investigation of those caves. Not an invasion by a lot of big-booted soldiers.” Later in the episode he has an exchange with Liz after she has been attacked by a Silurian.

DOCTOR: Liz, these creatures aren’t just animals. They’re an alien life form, as intelligent as we are.
LIZ: Why didn’t you tell the Brigadier?
DOCTOR: Because I want to find out more about these creatures. They’re not necessarily hostile.
LIZ: Doctor, it attacked me.
DOCTOR: Yes, but only to escape. It didn’t kill you. It didn’t attack me when I was in Quinn’s cottage. Well, don’t you see? They only attack for survival. Well, human beings behave in very much the same way

In episode four when the Brigadier asks what weapons the Silurians have, the Doctor responds, “spoken like true soldier” and says “so far they have only attacked in self-defence, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt”. He goes to warn the Silurians that  the UNIT soldiers are coming, “I want there to be peace between you and the humans. This is their planet now.”  The Silurian leader  agrees to a peace, but is killed by his  younger subordinate who wants a war with the humans.

silurians-3In episode six,  as the Doctor races to find  a cure for the plague, he  is still hoping for a peaceful outcome, pleading  that “at all costs we must avoid a pitched battle”.  In the seventh and  final episode the Doctor tells the Brigadier that he wants to revive the Silurians one at a time,  “there is a wealth of scientific knowledge down here..and I can’t wait to get started on it”. Unknown to the Doctor , UNIT  has planted  explosives which  detonate as he and Liz look across the moor.

DOCTOR: The Brigadier. He’s blown up the Silurian base.
LIZ: He must have had orders from the Ministry.
DOCTOR: And you knew?
LIZ: No! The government were frightened. They just couldn’t take the risk.
DOCTOR: But that’s murder. They were intelligent alien beings. A whole race of them. And he’s just wiped them out.

Another theme of the serial is the danger of seeking scientific knowledge without  moral responsibility. The project  Director,  Lawrence,  continually complains about UNIT and the Doctor, demanding to be allowed to get back to running  the reactor and achieving his goal of “cheap, safe, atomic energy”. He refuses to accept any of the Doctor’s warnings,  and also refuses to accept the reality of the Silurian plague, even when he has clearly caught it himself.

Quinn, a scientist who works at the centre and who first discovered the Silurians, gives them  help because they have promised to  reveal some of their  scientific secrets. He imprisons one  of the Silurians  in his cottage to force it to give him their  knowledge, but it kills him.

silurians-4Finally the Doctor’s companion Liz  has been  given a bit of a makeover  from  “Spearhead from Space”, no longer quite as prim, but now sporting fashionable  skirts and longer hair.  She is  often the only woman in  a world of men  – soldiers, scientists, civil servants etc  – who frequently  patronise her,  and she  has to assert herself.  In   episode two  she objects to being left behind when the rest of them head off to the caves, asking  the Brigadier, “Have you never heard of women’s emancipation?” In episode  four she does go into the caves  with the Doctor. In episode six , when the Brigadier  asks  her to man the phones  Liz snaps back,  “I am scientist,  not an office boy”.   In 1970 the Women’s  Liberation Movement  was  beginning to make its voice heard, something that a writer as politically  attuned as Mac would surely  have noticed.

You can read Mac Hulke’s  script of this serial  here

 

Where have I seen them before?

Peter Miles who plays   Lawrence also appears in “Genesis of the Daleks”  as Nyder and in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” (also written by Mac Hulke) as Professor Whittaker.

 

The golden-eyed Children: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (1957)

midwich-cuckoos-front-coverAfter the post-nuclear war landscape of The Chrysalids  John Wyndham’s  fourth novel, The Midwich Cuckoos,  was a return to familiar (though,  as we shall see,  unsettling) territory, a possible alien invasion of  the world.

It begins with a small ordinary  English village being subject to a mysterious force rendering everyone within a circle  unconscious for a whole day on  Tuesday 27th September (which would have fallen in  1960).   The authorities outside cannot get in:  an aerial photograph reveals an object in the village  with “a pale  oval outline, with a shape, judging by the shadows, not unlike the inverted bowl of a spoon.” When the village come back to life the object has gone, while the villagers appear not to have been harmed by what they quickly  come to  call the “Dayout”.

Some months later, however,  every woman of childbearing age, married or single, discovers that she is pregnant. The story is told, partly at least, through the eyes of  village resident and  writer Richard Gayford and his wife, Janet, who fortunately were not in the village at the time of the Dayout.

Gayford is recruited by an old friend and government intelligence officer, Bernard Westcott,  to observe what takes place in the village after the Dayout and report back.  He is the typical Wyndham protagonist, intelligent enough, but his wife is cleverer. The novel also has that familar Wyndham character, the older man who sees what is really going on, which in  The Midwich Cuckoos  is Gordon Zellaby, who lives in a large house in the village,  and writes learned books. His daughter Ferrelyn, planning to be married, is one of the pregnant women.

When the sixty-one  children are born they appear  to be normal human children, except they all have a sheen to the skin, golden hair  and golden eyes. Soon, however, they  display mental powers, forcing those mothers who have left the village to bring them back so that they can all be together.  Zellaby carries out  some tests and realises that the Children of Midwich  are a single entity, one girl and one boy, who share intelligence, thoughts  and learning. Already he suspects what is really going on,  but blanches at the course of action that  he feels is neccessary :

Cuckoos are very determined survivors. So determined that there is really only one thing to be done with them  once one’s nest is infested. I am,  as you know,  a humane man…As a further disadvantage I am a civilised man. For these reasons I shall not be able to bring myself  to approve of what ought to be done. Nor, even when we perceive its advisability, will the rest of us. So, like the poor hen-thrush we shall feed and nurture the monster, and betray our own species.

village-of-the-damned

The novel resembles The Kraken Wakes in that the tension  is built up quite slowly as a series of  disturbing events occur.  Unlike  his other novels the whole  action takes place within the village, and nowhere else, creating  a claustrophobic feeling. One of the odd things about the novel is  the chief storyteller up to now, Richard Gayford, whom the reader no doubt expected would take the narative forward,    leaves the village with Jane  at the end of Part One,  and  is absent for  eight years.

Returning to London for a short visit he bumps into Westcott,  and accompanies him on a return trip to Midwich, during which he is brought up  to date with what has happened whilst he has been away.   The Children grew up much quicker than human children  – by the time they were nine, they were the size of teenagers – and eventually the authorities decided  that it was  best to set up a special  school in The Grange  to look after them together.  Westcott is  returning  for an inquest into the  death of a young man,  Jim Pawle, killed when his car hit a wall. The verdict is “Accidental Death”, but  Gayford learns  the truth from Zellaby, that the  car hit one of the Children by accident, and they appear to have  somehow deliberately made Pawle crash.

After the inquest Pawle’s brother, David,  shoots and wounds one of the Children,  who then make him shoot himself. This leads to an attaks by the villagers on the Grange which ends in deaths and injuries when the Children use their mental powers to make them attack each other. Afterwards, one of the Children gives Westcott  and the others a chilling warning

I will put it more plainly. It is that if there is any attempt to interefere  with us or molest us, by anybody, we shall defend ourselves. We have shown that we can, and we hope that that will be warning enough to prevent further trouble.

Zellaby  explains that he believes an interplanetary  invasion is under way:

we have not grasped that they represent  a danger to our species, while they are in no  doubt that we are a danger to theirs. And they intend to survive.

Westcott now  reveals there were other Dayouts in other parts of the world. In most  cases the Children were killed at  birth, but  in the Soviet Union one group of Children  survived in a town called Gizhinsk,  which  he has just learned, has  been wiped out by an attack by an atomic cannon, killing the entire population. The Soviets then issued a warning calling  on all governments to “neutralize” any such known groups as the Children were “a threat to the whole human race.” Zellaby sums up  the dilemma  they are now  facing:

In a quandary where  every course is immoral, there still remains the ability to act for the greatest  good of the greatest number. Ergo, the Children ought to be eliminated at the least possible cost, with least possible delay. I am sorry to have to arrive at the conclusion. …It is the right step…But of course, our authorities will not be able to bring themselves to take it…

At the end of the book it is  Zellaby who takes on the moral responsibility for dealing  with  the dilemma. Gayford accompanies him to the weekly film show that  he runs for the children at the Grange and  reflects as he watches them help Zellaby unload the equipment:

There was nothing odd or mysterious about the Children now…For the first time since my return I was able to appreciate that the Children “had a  small ‘c’ too”. Nor was there any any doubt at all that Zellaby’s was a popular event. I watched him as he watched them with a kindly, half-wistful smile. I had a confused feeling that these could not be the Children at all; that the theories, fears and threats we had discussed  must have to do with some  other group of Children.

Shortly after Gayford returns to Zellaby’s home he sees a flash of bright light and a blast hits the house, smashing the windows, He realised that Zellaby has blown up himself with all the  children. His wife Angela finds a note which  reveals that Zellaby  had a terminal illness and ends:

As to this –  well we have lived so long in a garden that we have all but forgotten the commonplaces of survival…If you want to keep alive in the jungle, you must live as the jungle does.

The core of the novel  is the moral  question of how  to act  against invaders who arrive,  not in spaceships or cylinders as in H GWells’s The War of the Worlds,  but in the form of children. Step by step Wyndham leads us  down  the path to a dreadful conclusion, that the Children must be killed. He emphasises the horror  of this  by making the Children seem, just before this happens, the most like children they have been for the whole novel.

This is not Wyndham’s best novel,  but it is certainly his most unsettling one, sonething he perhaps empphasis  by  placing the action in the archetypal English village, where nothing ever happens. Is there a nod here,  perhaps,  to Went the Day Well? Alberto Cavalcanti’s 1942 film in which an English village  resists  a German invasion (the Germans are disguised as British soldiers).

Films and radio

The novel was filmed in 1960 by MGM , retitled  somewhat senastionally as The Village of the Damned.  The Richard  Gayford character does not appears , the film’s hero is Gordon Zellaby,  played by George Sanders, whilst his wife is played by Barbara Shelley (who also appeared in the film version of Quatermass and the Pit in 1967) . You can watch a trailer here.

The novel was adapted by William Ingram in three 30-minute episodes for the BBC World Service, first broadcast in  1982. It was directed by Gordon House. Yiou can listen to this  here.

Another  adaptation by Dan Ribellato in two 60-minute episodes for Radio Four  was broadcast first in  2003. It was directed by Polly Thomas.

Surprisingly no television  version has been made.

Other posts

In my previous posts I have looked at Wyndham’s previous novels

The Day of the Triffids

The Kraken Wakes

The Chrysalids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murder in Space : The Dynostar Menace by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis (1975)

Dynostar Menace

In previous posts I have discussed the novels Mutant 59 : the Plastic Eater and Brainrack, written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. The Dynostar Menace was their  third and final novel together.  It continues their  preoccupation  with threats to the environment,  but adds another element:  a murder mystery  in space.

The novel is set in 1986 in a world in which nuclear reactors have been abandoned  around the globe  following the nuclear  accident  at Grimess,  vividly portrayed  in Brainrack. With fossil fuels exhaused  a new source of potential  power  has been developed  – nuclear fusion – potentially offering humanity  safe, unlimited power. The device,   known as the  Dynostar,  is housed for safety in a satellite orbiting the earth, ready to send power back down to earth. However,  just before it is switched on, an  environmental  group, the Council of Twelve, provide conclusive evidence   that the Dynostar’s magnetic fields would destroy the earth’s ozone layer and lead  to a worldwide  ecological catastrophe. The scientists working on starting up  the Dynostar are ordered  instead to immediately shut down the device.   As they start work, three of them die,  apparently in  an accident, but  the reader  already knows that someone has murdered them.

Dynostar spacelab drawing

The  head of the  project on earth, Lee Caldor, sends a senior  astronaut, John Hayward, up to the Dynostar to supervise the operation. When other deaths follow, Caldor and Hayward realise that one of the scientists on board will stop at nothing to prevent the shut down. On earth Caldor  investigates the background of the scientists, speaking to their wives and lovers,  in a desperate effort to find a clue as to the identity of the murderer, while in space Hayward battles rising fear and paranoia  as more men are murdered,  and the ship ‘s systems are sabotaged:

Now the haggard  exhausted crew, already strained beyound any reasonable limits of control,  found their last psychological support snatched away by the battery failure. The additional knowledge that one of  them was both insane and a murderer, had completely  stripped away the reamaining  veneer of ordinary civilised behavour.

Now one by one, the elegantly balanced systems of the great Spacelab complex were failing around them. The inertial  ship orientation system had ceased to work, so that the ship was no longer rotated to even the heating effect of the sun’s rays and they were now beating down on the dorsal surface of the ship. 

In the dramatic  final pages the identity  of the murderer is revealed,   and venturing    in space on the  outer skin of the  Dynostar,  Hayward desperately  fights his opponent   to save his own  life and  stop the device  sparking into life with fearful consequences:

…for the first time, Hayward caught a glimpse of his face. It was expressionless, the eyes  set in a look of total concentration.

The flame burnt across the front of Haywards’s suit. Immediately, the epoxide fibre of the suit flared briefly and then charred, leaving a crumbling black scar across the suit. Part of the instrument bezel. softened and deformed.

He lost his grip and spun away from the walkway, striking the side of the monitor can. His umbilical suddenly tautened and sprung him back on rebound until he came to halt, spinning in the space between the monitor can and Dynostar.

Overall this is a taut and  claustrophobic scientific and psychogical thriller. Kit Peddler clearly did a great deal of  research for the novel, and sometimes the scientific detail is overdone and  clogs the narrative. Also, as in their previous novels,  there is not much  of a role for  women , other than providing the occasional sexual frisson.  But if you are interested in their  work for Doctor Who, Doomwatch etc , it’s well worth a read.

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.