Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Scriptics: A.K.A. in The Children of the Fields

I know what you're thinking. It's been a couple of weeks, the Pouch has gone quiet, maybe all that made-up TV script nonsense has burnt itself out. A fair and reasonable assumption, but you would be wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. Which brings me to today's 7TV series A.K.A.or Adam Kismet Associates.

You have no idea how long it took me to come up with a programme name with a decent acronym. The problem was, I'd already settled on the hero being called Adam Kismet and was within a hair's breadth of calling it either It's Adam Kismet! or AK-74, but they would both have been rubbish.

This series ever so slightly different from 7TV series like Department X or The Man from 2000 in that it's a bit harder to pin down any well-known 60s/70s real-TV forebears. Yes, we have a mysterious alpha male lead and a female co-star who is there for audience identification, plot exposition and of course, regular peril. But a mod mage who lives on an invisible bridge over the Thames, doing battle with witches, devils and undead spooks? That's a little more out there.

OK, I admit that I've heard of the children's series Ace of Wands featuring the magician Tarot, but I've never seen it. If anything, the none-more 1968 Adam Kismet - with his Lennon specs, Nehru jackets and chunky medallion - owes more to comic book master of the mystic arts Dr Strange, and even more specifically, to beatnik Strange-spoof Johnny Beyond, created by Alan Moore.

Enough banging on about my struggle to walk the tightrope between respectful pastiche and blatant rip-off. In the script extracts below, we meet the trendy mystic Adam and his government liaison Eloise Pargeter, some doomed policemen, some not so simple country folk, the bewitching Lady Winterly, and a bunch of living freaking scarecrows. I wrote this episode - the Children of the Fields - to upset fictional kiddies watching the show from behind their fictional sofas.

6.0 Colour
starring Simon Lee
The Children Of The Fields
A top government official is found dead in a country lane, his lungs full of grain. The local police seem baffled, but a vacationing Adam Kismet senses that all is not well down on the farm…
Adam Kismet .......................... ..... SIMON LEE
Ms Pargeter ....................... PAULA WILCOCKS
Lady Sylvia Winterly .......... INGRID PETROV
Mr Mangel ............................. DAVE PROUSE
Corn Dolly ......................... BRITT ELKLAND

Early on in the episode, a couple of plods demonstrate why you shouldn't follow pretty girls into wheatfields, unless it's a Flake advert. Oh, you'll see that I've given up putting the scripts in grey text, as it plays merry hell with the line breaks. Hopefully you'll be able to cope.

An attractive young lady wearing a simple white dress opens a large gate leading into a field. She glances over her shoulder at an approaching police patrol car, before disappearing into the tall rows of swaying wheat. The car comes to an abrupt halt by the gate. Sergeant PEVENSEY and Constable LAYTON climb out, peering into the field.

I’d swear that was her, Sarge. The girl from Winterly Grange!

That were three miles back down the road, lad. No chance she got here ahead of us, ‘less she ran like a March hare. You’ve got lasses on the brain.

LAYTON walks past the gate to the field’s edge, still peering intently through the wheat stalks.

LAYTON (to himself)
But it looked just like her…

PEVENSEY (coming up to stand by LAYTON)
Nothing in there but wheat and that old scarecrow.

PEVENSEY nods in the direction of a crude figure in a distant part of the field. Only its sack head and shoulders are visible above the crops. The wind briefly parts the wheat before the policemen to reveal a glimpse of the young lady once more, smiling enigmatically. LAYTON turns to PEVENSEY for confirmation.

Right enough lad. Come on!

They move as quickly as they can into the field, PEVENSEY walking straight ahead while he signals for LAYTON to circle round.

Out you come now, miss. We’ve some questions for you down the station.

But she disappears once more. The policemen have now moved out of sight of one another. The wind stirs the wheat around their faces. PEVENSEY pauses to take his bearings only to find that his feet have become entangled in the crops somehow. Muttering, he bends down to free himself, as a misshapen shadow falls over him. Some distance away, LAYTON starts with fright as he hears an eerie sound.

EFFECT: A woman’s laughter, rich and mature, echoes all around LAYTON.

Later on, Adam and Ms Kismet stumble onto a scene from Straw Dogs if it was written by Dennis Wheatley...

Sunset. A muddy farmyard full of rusty agricultural implements, hay bales and old sacks. ADAM Kismet and Ms PARGETER back awkwardly out of a farmhouse doorway, followed by a surly-faced local with a shotgun trained on them. An odd child leans out of an upper floor window and begins a chanting a rustic rhyme. Once ADAM and PARGETER have reached the centre of the yard, the farmer chuckles evilly and disappears back inside.

EFFECT: Door bolts being thrown.

Well, I’ll put him down as a Don’t Know, then.

ADAM seizes her arm as the lengthening rays of the setting sun come to rest on an innocuous heap of sacks and rags.

ADAM (squinting in concentration)
I think he’s the least of our worries. Look!

The heap begins to shift and unfold, as if by invisible strings. As ADAM and PARGETER stare in fascination and unease, it stretches and rises in jerky motions until a straw-filled CORN DOLL stands not ten feet from them. Its crudely slashed hemp mouth opens in a mockery of a grin. Ms PARGETER lets out an involuntary scream.

Come on!

He wrenches PARGETER after him and away from the CORN DOLL which begins spastically shuffling toward them, one tattered arm outstretched. The little girl’s rhyme continues above their heads. They flee to the open door of a barn seconds ahead of the CORN DOLL, and struggle to heave the door closed as the straw-filled horror collides against it. Muttering a mystic invocation under his breath, ADAM summons a deep reserve of strength and the door slams shut, propelling the CORN DOLL outside into the evening shadows.

That… was a scarecrow! A living scarecrow!

ADAM closes his eyes and holding his palm out as if sensing the air.

Yes, and it wasn’t alone.

EFFECT: Shuffling, dragging sounds from all around them.

Later still, Adam has fallen into the clutches of Lord Summerisle's female counterpart Lady Winterly, who manages to combine the age-old tradition of villain-gloating with a dollop of saucy lady seduction. Oh yes, and we meet Mr Mangel, a cross between Worzel Gummidge and that giant killing thingie from Creeping Flesh...

Night. The great feasting hall of Winterly Grange, lit only by candles and a fierce blaze crackling in the impressive fireplace. Landscapes, hunting scenes and portraits of the Winterly line cover the oak-panelled walls. A large sturdy dining table dominates the hall. It has been set for two – Lady Sylvia WINTERLY at one end and ADAM Kismet at the other. She is a striking woman with fine features, wearing a figure-hugging evening gown. ADAM has left his seat and stares out of a large leaded window at the ornamental gardens below, an expression of furious concentration on his face. Behind Lady WINTERLY’s seat, in the shadows, the gigantic inhuman form of her servitor Mr MANGEL looms.

WINTERLY (smiling)
You really should try the food before it goes cold. Cook has prepared an excellent game pie for the occasion.

ADAM (still looking out of the window)
You’re too kind, your ladyship. But “That which is not freely given-”

WINTERLY (finishing the proverb)
“- may ensnare the unwary.” Very good. You know the old laws.

Lady WINTERLY swivels out of her seat and rises to her feet, a flute of champagne in one hand. She moves toward ADAM. Mr MANGEL jerks to life as she does so, his razor sharp scythe catching the candle light.

Be at peace, my loyal one. Mr Kismet means me harm, isn’t that right Adam?

ADAM looks over his shoulder at her as she sways closer to him, a predatory look on her face. He grips his jade pendant tightly in one hand.

ADAM (sardonically)
A pity you haven’t seen fit to extend the same courtesy to my companion out there in your maze!

WINTERLY (dismissively)
The office girl? Put her out of your mind. She reeks of the city. Besides, my mummermen shall have her soon and she’ll be beyond all concern, returned to the good earth.

ADAM’s eyes flash green as he holds the jade pendant forth, flooding the great hall with a pure light. Lady WINTERLY hisses as if scalded.

So there y'go. Stop me before I script again.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Scriptics: Department X... And The Iron Menagerie

Ahoy-hoy. You may have thought that the previous post, inflicting my script-writing fetish upon you, was a one-off. A troubling but thankfully unique ordeal for us all to endure in the name of friendship. Oh no. There's a lot more where that came from and I don't intend to rest until you've been liberally doused with my literary juices. As the saying goes, I've suffered for my art and now it's your turn.

Today we introduce the 7TV show Department X, a sci-fi adventure series perhaps best described as Dr Who's UNIT featuring Jason King and Mrs Peel. Sort of. Lead character Dr Hugo Solomon is a brilliant scientist / swinging secret agent, with dashes of John Steed and Pertwee's Doctor stirred into the mix. And agent Pandora King is exceedingly Riggish. The whole thing's none more cult TV.

All of which brings us rather neatly, as Stephen Fry might say, to today's scriptic for Department X, which we like to call ...And The Iron Menagerie. Break out the Trebor Blobs and crack open a bottle of Corona orangeade as we take you back to the year 19xx:

5.45 Colour
Department X
starring David Werner
And The Iron Menagerie
Trapped behind enemy lines, Solomon and King discover their Russian captors are far more monstrous than they first feared...
Dr Hugo Solomon ............... DAVID WERNER
Pandora King ............................ JAN HENLEY
Grigori 'Mad ' Morov......... THOMAS BAKER
Andre ..................................... DAVE EDISON
Malachi .................................. STEVE THORN

In the following scenes, we meet Dr Hugo Solomon and Pandora King, agents for the Department for Extraordinary Affairs, or Department X as it better known. At the height of the Cold War, our heroes find themselves deep in Siberia, prisoners of the mad monk Grigori Morov and his bestial mutants, the Menagerie. This first scene is a bit sucky - years of reading 1960s Marvel comics have irrevocably affected my ability to write a realistic Soviet character...


A patrol of red army SOLDIERS makes it way slowly up through a mountain pass, laden down with weaponry and bulky winter clothing. The young CAPTAIN calls a halt whilst he consults a map, made all the more difficult by the howling wind and snow. He has to shout to his men.

The villagers claimed that this… ‘forbidden pass’ has been shunned for generations! Haunted they say, by spirits and abominable beasts!

The men stare back impassively, determined.

But we are soldiers of the Soviet Union of Socialist Republics, the greatest, most advanced power in the world! We are not backward farmers, living in fear of the Tsar’s ghost! We have orders to comb these passes for gulag escapees, and this will be done! Sergeant!

The SERGEANT, a grizzled veteran, steps forward.

Take four men and establish a radio post at the head of the valley! I will-

A distant bestial howl interrupts him. The soldiers bring their weapons up in various directions.

What is that? Wolf? Bear?

From out of the swirling snow, something large seizes the rearmost soldier and drags him away. The man screams briefly. The remaining soldiers start shouting and firing.

Comrade Captain! Orders!

The CAPTAIN does not answer, his attention having been taken up by something out of shot behind the SERGEANT. There is a strange growl close by, followed by gunshots and screams.

We return after the opening credits to find our will-they/won't-they co-stars in a bit of a pickle...


PANDORA awakes with a start. She is lying on a rough canvas bunk in a dimly lit cell. Her hair is attractively dishevelled. She brings her head up and looks about. SOLOMON is sat cross-legged on the floor opposite her. He smiles.

Oh, good morning. At least I think it’s morning; some scamp’s made off with my watch.

PANDORA (rolling to her feet)

Well, based on our heading and airspeed when we went down, we must be in Siberia, possibly Mongolia. And judging by the… (he places his fingertips against an ear)… air pressure, I should say we’re up around six thousand feet. Which would put us in the Sayan Mountains unless I’m very much mistaken.

Show off.

Although I must admit that being able to read that sign helped a bit.

He indicates some faded stencilled writing on the corridor wall outside the cell bars. It is in bold Cyrillic.

PANDORA (reading aloud)
“Sayan… research bunker one”. Oh, you cheat. Hello, someone’s coming.

SOLOMON grins mischievously and hops to his feet, as does Pandora.

Room service? About time, I’m a terror without my morning egg.

In the shadowy corridor outside, a bulky figure in overalls shuffles into view. He is hunched and broad, his head hidden from view by a large bucket over one hefty shoulder.

SOLOMON (mock casual)
Ah, jolly good. Two cappuccinos and a boiled egg please. Oh, and the latest issue of Punch if you have it.

I don’t think he understands you. Maybe Russian..?

SOLOMON (clears throat)
Dobre utra Tov-

The gaoler shuffles closer, turning so that his face is illuminated at last. His features are a terrible mixture of man and pig. The GRUNT’s all-too human eyes blaze with hatred as he wrinkles up his snout and emits a horrific semi-verbal squeal.

Go to break.

An exciting twist...


The insectoid scientist ANDRE has burst in on SOLOMON as he searches the laboratory – an odd combination of ageing chemical and electrical equipment, supplemented by some distinctly unearthly components.

ANDRE (chittering in English)
You again! Do not touch that equipment! It is fragile!

So sorry old chap, couldn’t help myself! Quite the set-up you have here – Geiger counter, genetic spectrometer, molecular syphon. Does the boss know what you’re up to here, hmm?

ANDRE (moving to readjust certain equipment)
I... do not understand. I am loyal to Morov, his great vision…

SOLOMON (twirling a screwdriver)
Oh pfft! You don’t have to be an expert in insect body language to see you’re lying through your mandibles! Though I am of course; wrote an article on ‘The Mendacious Bee’ back in ‘fifty-eight.

You speak in riddles, strange one! Why should I not call for the grunts right now?

Because if you did that, my chitinous chum, I’d simply have to tell your beloved master Morov about all the fascinating little devices you’ve built yourself here.

SOLOMON picks up a decidedly alien piece of technology and uses it to point out similar gadgets.

I mean really, you may have His Madness and the other poor souls down here fooled, but these gadgets of yours are alien, aren’t they?

ANDRE begins to flap about the lab nervously.

Just as alien as you!

And the thrilling set-piece climax...


The mad prophet Grigori MOROV stands before the meteorite spacecraft and addresses his loyal flock of followers, composed of the brutish apeman MALACHI, a squad of porcine GRUNTs and a handful of twisted MUTOIDs. Lurking outside a half-open door to the rear are Dr Hugo SOLOMON and a group of silent OCTONs.

MOROV (intoning)
My people! My glorious followers! Now is the time of testing, of tribulation!

The GRUNTs and MALACHI snort and growl in agreement.

Heretics have come among us, sowing discord, whispering blasphemous lies. But the world beyond is ash, I tell you! All is ash! Only this haven, this sacred refuge from the ruins of man is untouched, pure!

SOLOMON (whispering)
Incredible, he really does believe his own fantasy. The powers the radiation gave him, they must have driven him quite mad.

The OCTONs nod slowly.

Now let the heretic and the unbeliever be brought forth so that they may stand before the cleansing light of the Great Relic and be purged of their lies!

From a side door, more GRUNTs drag in a struggling PANDORA and a passive ANDRE.

No! Andre’s immune to his ship’s toxic field, but PANDORA’s as vulnerable as any other human! There’s no telling what it will do to her!

SOLOMON draws his alien pistol and charges into the church.

There it is. The episode probably ends with an action-packed fight to the death between humans, mutants, mad monks and aliens. You won't be able to move for dodgy rubber masks and scenery chewing dialogue. Hopefully.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Scriptics: The Man From 2000 in The Year of the Monkey

As we all know, blogs were put here by God to enable pretentious, partially-talented underacheivers to indulge their delusions of literary competence without having to go through all the effort and trauma of trying to get something published the proper way. That's certainly why I'm here anyway.

Strange then that it's taken me so long to inflict my tedious attempts at fiction on you, barring that weird story about a big fat cat. Put it down to a vestigial fragment of dignity on my part, or else not wanting to waste any more of your valuable time than is necessary. We both know you have some important Facebooking to get back to. You know it's true.

Anyone, as I believe I've amply demonstrated, can knock out observational 'grumpy old bugger' blogs, or wail on about how their childhood was so horrible. Again, I know this because I've done so time and time again, to all our costs. Just bung in a few pop-culture references as a shout-out to your geek friends and before you can say 'Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe' you're rocking out a meandering middle-aged moanathon worthy of a Times magazine columnist.

Hence I have decided to step outside my comfort zone, as appalling people managers up and down the country might say, and shower upon you some of my fictional fruits. Like Hobson's banana or the rare pineapple of Timor. Many of us will claim to have a novel inside them, or more likely the first few chapters of a never-to-be-finished novel sticking out of them at an awkward angle. I however appear to have fragments of scripts for fictional television shows from the 1960s and 1970s inside me, as I now intend to demonstrate...

A wee bit of background, so you don't think I've gone entirely off my rocker. Some chums of mine produce a rather fine wargame-cum-roleplaying game called 7TV, wherein the players control rival squads of 28mm  heroes and villains, in miniature battles intended to evoke cult television shows of yesteryear. Influences range from The Sweeney to classic Who to The Avengers, with dashes of Hammer horror and Quatermass thrown in for good measure.

In my role as unofficial 7TV hanger-on, I've managed to parasitically attach myself to the boys' efforts, contributing supplementary flavour text, charmingly known among the wargaming community as 'fluff'. If you were to flick through the 7TV rulebook, you'd notice lots of retro text boxes that look like they were cut out of a Radio Times from 1974. They're my bits, as are the odd pages of what appear to be dog-eared old scripts from such long lost shows as Department X, A.K.A. and my personal favourite, The Man From 2000 (in which a futuristic traveller from the distant year 2000 comes back in time to battle scientific nutjobs). I have no idea what one might call one-page scripts for TV shows that never existed, so I'm calling them scriptics until someone comes up with something better. Suggestions welcome.

The Man From 2000 features the amnesiac Darius, an enigmatic gentleman of prodigious mental abilities and somewhat abrasive manner, who along with the personnel of Project: Time Lift (hey, somebody had already bagsied Tunnel...) like the plucky young Samantha Bridge or the blustering bureaucrat Sir Benton Troad, pits his wits against 'science gone mad' on a weekly basis. It's kind of Time Tunnel meets the Prisoner meets Adam Adamant. We even got as far as debating which actors might actually have played Darius et al had the show existed four decades ago; see if you can work out who we had in mind.

So here we go: some scriptics for The Man From 2000. This episode is called The Year of the Monkey (I know, cool or what) with a 7TV Times episode guide a little like this:

8.45 Colour

The Man From 2000
starring Ted Bishop
The Year Of The Monkey
When a number of research facilities are attacked by unknown forces, Darius and the professor are called in to investigate. Their only clue: a small hairy man sighted in the area at the time of each incident.
Darius ......................................... TED BISHOP
Professor Plantagenet ........ JEFFREY BAILDON
Samantha Bridge ................ PAULINE OLLINS
Ann-Marie Goodall ..................... LIZ LADEN
Professor Andros .............. PHILLIP MADDOX
Straker ................................. JOHN CHALICE

And now for your viewing pleasure, let me take you back to the year 19xx, when the British viewer could rely on their weekly helping of telefantasy being served up with cheesy sexist dialogue, whopping dollops of exposition and female assistants twisting their ankles just as the monster lumbers into shot...


The cluttered study of the missing Professor ANDROS. Books and paper cover nearly every surface of the shelves, desk and floor. DARIUS, the Man from 2000, is squatting in the centre of the room, his expression one of deep thought, his fingers steepled before his face. ANN-MARIE Goodall, the zoologist, is shuffling through some of the academic papers on the desk. She still wears a small wound dressing on her forehead from the earlier incident.

There's not much here… though it's hard to tell with all this mess. Professor Andros clearly doesn't believe in the tidy desk, tidy mind approach. Darius?

DARIUS ignores her, still concentrating on something. ANN-MARIE watches him from where she is standing, with some confusion.

Are you alright?

Without looking up or changing expression, DARIUS responds to her at last.

Mess, disorder. Perhaps on the surface. To the twentieth century mind. But look beyond the seeming chaos and you will see hidden patterns. There (He points to a pile of books and papers without looking) every published work of Dr Gillespie, the first victim. There (He points elsewhere) newspaper cuttings on research facilities, grouped geographically. There (He points again) a collection of seemingly unrelated treatises on electro-cerebral stimulation, learning patterns in infants and… the communication habits of the great apes.

(Bemused) But I still don't see what's so important about all of that. (As she speaks, she moves around the study, looking at the papers indicated by DARIUS) The professor's a primatologist, so he's bound to have books on the subject. We know he knew Dr Gillespie from Cambridge, and given all the recent attacks on scientific labs it's only natural that he may have kept some news clippings about the break-ins, in case he was next.

Look again.

ANN-MARIE picks up the newspaper clippings and flicks through them, peering closely. She gasps.

These are all from before the break-ins! Why would Professor Andros want to know about the laboratories before they were attacked?

DARIUS stands up smoothly and turns to face her.

You see the anomaly then. The timing. Order is everything. Andros makes note of the facilities, then they are broken into. Coincidence perhaps? The mere random fancy of a scientific mind?

They look at each other for a moment.

Now look at the room again. What else do you see?

ANN-MARIE turns about the study looking up and down.

I don't know… books, the desk, clutter everywhere…

Everywhere but there.

He indicates a clear area on the otherwise cluttered floor – a rough triangular area against one wall.

Why leave that area clear? Unless it had to be kept clear.

ANN-MARIE moves over to the clear area, looking first at the floor and up at the study wall. She brings a hand up to touch the wall.

You mean, there's a secret door here! But (She feels all over the section of wall) I can't find any sort of handle, not even a hidden one.

Stand back.

DARIUS concentrates on the wall, focussing his psychic powers. CLOSE-UP on his face. ZOOM on the wall.

EFFECT: high-pitched electronic whine.

The section of wall swings open toward ANN-MARIE with an audible click.

You opened it! But how?

(Moving past her and through the opening in the wall) Telekinesis. The ability to affect objects at a distance. Elementary for the advanced mind.

DARIUS pauses in the gloom beyond the opening and looks back over his shoulder at ANN-MARIE, who is hovering indecisively.

Come on. Don't you want to know where this leads?

And a few scenes later...


A featureless series of corridors, branching irregularly at right-angles. It is lit from above at intervals, leaving pools of darkness in between. DARIUS rests against a wall, breathing heavily and looking back down the corridor. His Time Lift jumpsuit is dirty and torn. He looks down at a large tranquiliser dart stuck in his arm. Grimacing, he plucks the dart out and brings it close to his eye.

POV – DARIUS: from his viewpoint, the shot of the dart swims and distorts. He has been drugged.

DARIUS flings the dart to the floor, pushes himself away from the wall, and staggers along the corridor.

The electronic voice of Professor ANDROS crackles out from concealed speakers.

Still standing, Mr Darius? Impressive. That tranquiliser dart was strong enough to put a bull gorilla to sleep. As it is, I'd be surprised if you can walk straight, let alone negotiate the little obstacle course I've set out before you.

DARIUS staggers to a junction. He looks left and right, unsure which way to go.

(Mockingly) Left or right, left or right? Surely one's as good as the other, don't you think?

DARIUS looks up and behind him, as if searching for the source of the speakers.

Come along. I've seen three-month old orangutans come to a decision faster than you.

DARIUS tries to concentrate his psychic powers but can't focus. He shakes his head and lurches down one corridor. He makes it to a corner and leans against the wall to catch his breath.

From a concealed panel, the professor's loyal lieutenant STRAKER emerges, dressed in a safari suit and carrying a hunting rifle. STRAKER brings the rifle to his shoulder and takes aim at DARIUS. ZOOM on DARIUS. As STRAKER fires, DARIUS finally notices STRAKER and ducks, the bullet barely missing him.

EFFECT: bullet hole in wall, shower of dust on DARIUS.

As DARIUS stumbles away, STRAKER works the rifle to load another round.

A lucky miss, lucky for you. Consider that a warning shot. The next time you pause, Mr Straker will shoot to wound. The time after that? Well.

DARIUS stumbles down two more corridors, not stopping to look. Then a set of solid metal bars drop down from the ceiling, blocking him. DARIUS collides with this barrier, grips the bars, then uses them to support himself. Behind him STRAKER's footsteps are distant but getting closer.

I designed this obstacle to test an ape's strength. You know an adult chimpanzee is roughly twice as strong as a man?

DARIUS struggles in vain to lift the bars. He looks over his shoulder to a bend in the corridor – the distorted shadow of STRAKER grows larger. He steps back from the barrier, straightens up as best he can and takes a deep breath. Then he teleports past the barrier.

EFFECT: Freeze shot on DARIUS. Short reverse-explosion sound effect.

DARIUS relocates on other side of barrier. DARIUS falls down on all fours, exhausted by the exertion of teleporting.

I imagine… you haven't seen a chimpanzee… get past it… that way.

Remarkable! Your futuristic enhancements are all I'd heard them to be! You truly are a marvellous specimen sir! I shall value our later time together in the laboratory greatly. You, I fear, will not enjoy it so much.

A shot rings out and DARIUS flinches as STRAKER shoots at him through the bars. The bullet grazes DARIUS' leg as he rises to his feet and moves on.

(Annoyed) Hold still and take your bullet like a man. (Shouting as DARIUS moves further off) I'll make the next one painless!

DARIUS turns a corner and staggers round more bends until he abruptly comes to a dead-end, terminating in a mirrored wall. He reels to a halt and stares at his own wild-eyed reflection.

The ability to recognise ourselves is one of the key indicators of self-awareness, you know.

DARIUS spins round, only to find that other mirrored walls have sprung up around him, sealing him in a chamber of multiple reflections. His eyes dart about.

That crucial, unique sense of self, of 'I'. It's what I've tried to instil in all my test subjects.

DARIUS attempts an energy blast, stretching out a shaking hand at a mirror. But he is too weak and cannot muster the power. He turns around and around.

POV - DARIUS: a series of distorted funhouse mirror reflections of DARIUS in swift succession.

The knowledge of what is 'I' and what is not. The self from the reflection, The true from the false.

POV – DARIUS: among the series of distorted images, one looks different, its face somehow inhuman.

DARIUS steadies himself and tries to focus on the odd reflection. The Time Lift jumpsuit is the same, but the face is that of an ape! As DARIUS' eyes widen in shock, the APE-MAN lunges forward out of the false mirror and grapples with him.

Do you see? (Laughter)

DARIUS rocks backward, but the APE-MAN has both hairy hands on his throat, its leering monkey face mere inches from him. Its ape-like hooting merges with ANDROS' electronic laughter, as DARIUS' eyes roll up.

Roll credits.

There y'go. Hopefully it made some kind of sense and felt like the sort of thing you might have watched between Basil Brush and Parkinson. Add a Ron Grainer soundtrack and some cheap camera tricks for the full effect. Then get someone else to rewrite it and we might just have ourselves a show. Enquiries from Radio Four Extra commissioning editors welcome.

Sunday Evening Fever

Hello. As some of you may be aware, my long and often fractious association with my employer United Amalgamated Consolidated reached its natural conclusion some months ago. It was an amicable split; we had just grown apart really. Well that, and one of us was several billion quid in the red and needed to shed as many overpaid IT drones as they could licketty split.

This means that for the last four months I have been enjoying a rather splendid summer holiday. My first break lasting longer than two weeks in almost twenty years. And let me tell you it’s been bloody brilliant. Getting up when I want, making the day up as I go along, holidaying all over the British Isles and beyond, and generally bimbling around. I’ve written stuff, drawn things, made jewellery and done some gardening. I even very nearly did some decorating. It’s got to the stage that I’ve actually started to lose the ability to tell the difference between weekends and weekdays. Not unlike being a school teacher in the summer holidays.

About ten days ago that all changed when I got a serious job offer. Now I wake up every morning around 5am, my stomach churning and my pulse racing. I live in fear of checking my email or answering my mobile, in case it’s the recruitment agency with another contract for me to sign. Or an identity vetting form to fill in. Or an employment scheme to opt out of. Or in. I lose track.

The point being I haven’t even started the job yet, and my body’s telling me in no uncertain terms that I hate it. I hate the idea of getting up early again, driving fifty miles and across two counties to another characterless office block full of several thousand suits. I hate meeting new people and trying to remember their names, having to try and make friends with people, not knowing where the toilets are or how the drinks machine works or which bits are self-service in the cafeteria. I hate the prospect of finding myself once more completely out of my depth technically (my CV, whilst truthful in my length of experience and breadth of skills, fails to fully explain that as a programmer I’m very much of the ‘pinch some old code that already works or ask a clever person for help’ school) and embarrassing myself in front of a whole new set of work colleagues.

In short, I’m terrified and sickened by the thought of starting another techie job in a big company. Hate it. Feel ill and wobbly. Not sleeping properly and counting every last day of freedom like a Death Row inmate. I want my summer holiday back. Don’t want to go back to school.

I’ve always been like this; the fear of institutional routines, of new things. I distinctly remember being almost physically sick on the last Sunday evening of every school holiday. Couldn’t bear to think about getting up on the Monday morning, putting on the hated uniform and pretending to enjoy the company of several hundred children and adults, maybe two of whom I would actually speak to during the day. For the same reason I never got a Saturday job or a paper round, never joined a youth group, never went on the school exchange trips abroad, dropped out of the scouts, cravenly turned my friend Bobby down when he asked me to help at the PHAB club, and only did one dance production and only then because Amanda asked me really nicely.

I’m a terror for dropping out of things, or better yet not joining in the first place. It must be a sort of peoplophobia thing, I suppose. My secret strategy down the years has been to gradually assemble a handful of friends who I really get on with and basically hope that they drag me along to stuff so I won’t be going on my own. This has to a large extent worked socially, although sadly job hunting for me remains a terrifying solo gig with nary a wingman in sight.

OK, clearly this is not the worst thing in the world – there are gazillions of people worse off than me and I have no goddam right bemoaning the fact that in these straitened times I have a well-paying job. I understand that. But being that this is a blog, the spiritual home of the self-indulgent wallow, hear me out.

I took the job because a) it’s the only one I’ve been offered in four months of unemployment, and it’s kinda nice to think that somebody wants to employ me (even if they’re about to take on a distinctly average code monkey, skillswise), b) I felt pretty much obliged to socially (who turns down a job these days? You’d have to be nuts or a millionaire and at best I’m only one of those) and c) once the process of the job application had passed the offer/acceptance phase (which I barely noticed at the time) it now seems somehow rude of me to back out at the eleventh hour. So, much like the ‘Mark gets married to Sophie’ plotline from Peep Show, I’m basically taking a long term contract because it would be too embarrassing to say no. See my Englishness ooze from every pore.

This leaves me in the odd position of praying that I somehow fail the company’s vetting process – the only way I’m going to avoid taking the job now without me having to do anything (which is out of the question, obviously). Given my exotic back history, failing the vetting is not wholly unlikely, though I’m considering quickly logging on to LinkedIn and giving myself some appalling references. Hey, you never know, this very blog might do the trick if I get it posted up in time. Fingers crossed eh?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Review - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 1969

(or, The League of One Bossy Woman)
by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

First off, I should assert that I have a great love for the concept of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, and am rather fond of the first two series, especially series two, pitting the likes of Captain Nemo, Mr Hyde, Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray (formerly Harker) against the Martian war machines of The War of the Worlds. Really, what’s not to love about Hyde taking on the tripods on London Bridge, doing a little song and dance number as he goes down in flames?

Hyde has a martian for a tea...
The greatest heroes, heroines and villains of 19th century fantasy, united in one Victorian super-team. Genius.

Love the idea, love the early stuff. Dr Moreau’s horrific ursine experiment Rupert – a monstrous anthropomorphic polar bear in soiled red jersey and tattered checked yellow trousers. Nemo blowing away a Cairo mob with his version of the General Electric minigun from Predator. The distinctly unromantic aftermath of a sexual encounter between the (literally) scarred Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain, a man some decades her senior. Almost everything the Invisible Man gets up to, but particularly when he sells the Earth out to the Martians by drawing stick figures in the dirt. What Hyde ultimately does to the Invisible Man. Marvellous. They should make it into a film some day...

This Never Happened.
Then came The Black Dossier – an impressive straight to hardback edition which filled in some of the gaps in the League’s history: their clash with France’s Hommes Mysterieux above and below Paris; the long, long life of Orlando, the immortal, gender flipping warrior; Lovecraftian adventures with Bertie Wooster (“What Ho, Gods of the Abyss”); Orwell’s Big Brother and much, much more. Any work that manages to weld Billy Bunter, James Bond, Mrs Peel and Bulldog Drummond into a coherent British spy-mythos without devolving into excitable fan-fic or dry Wold Newtonian pseudo-scholarship is a winner in my book.

It’s the linking story in The Black Dossier which lets the side down a little. Essentially, Mina and Allan, unrecognisable in their 1950’s incarnations courtesy of Mr Kevin O’Neill, kind of run around a slightly Dan Dare-ish Britain for a while with a book under one arm until they hitch a lift in a giant golly’s air balloon. OK, so they do have some fights with Peel, Bond and Drummond, and manage to steal Fireball XL5’s predecessor. But our two protagonists also talk a lot. Or argue. As do their pursuers. There are a lot of panels of Alan and Mina walking along, too many I should say. And the book ends with some mystic waffle from Shakespeare’s Prospero in the other-dimensional Blazing World, which does go on a bit.

The trend continues in books 1 and 2 of Century – an interlinked 3-part series taking the League from 1910 to 1969. Book 1 is a single contained story - which is good - told in the right sequence – also good. But, and I’m writing from memory here, not a great deal happens given the length of the thing. Mina bosses around the latest incarnation of the League (a rejuvenated Quatermain, a male Orlando, the gentleman thief Raffles and Karnack the ghost-finder). An Aleister Crowley-surrogate cackles a bit. Some bird sings bits of The Beggar’s Opera. And Nemo’s daughter gets the ache and shells the Port of London from the Nautilus. Yeah, it probably sounds groovy and action-packed to you when lumped into one paragraph. Not so much when spread out over 70-plus pages of a comic book. Well, not by my standards anyway. Maybe I’m just greedy.

Mina anxiously awaits the invention of tit tape.
The situation is little improved book 2, set in 1969. It came in the post a while ago, and having waited far too long for the book to be published, I read it through in a slavering rush. But while the setting is new for the League (flower power, faux Rolling Stones, Jack Carter on the prowl and psychedelic freak-outs), the same old less interesting plot elements are there: Mina is a bossy cow, recognisable only by her scarf; Allan is a whiny puss, recognisable only by standing next to Mina; Orlando is an arse, mired in his/her anecdotage and polyamorous romps; and the faux-Crowley (Fauxley?) villain is a bit naughty, though his life-prolonging scheme is wicked but hardly on a par with all-out war between Moriarty and Fu Manchu, or a Martian Invasion (series one and two respectively).

I reached the end and my overall impression was that there had been an awful lot of chat again, and not enough action, at least not by the supposed heroes. They tended to walk around a lot and react rather feebly when it all kicked off. I think the problem lies primarily in Alan Moore’s choice of characters for his later League stories. The group in the first two series was comprised of a militaristic Sikh warlord (Nemo), a sociopathic Invisible Man, an ageing opium-fiend (Allan Quatermain) and Mr freaking Hyde, all kept in line by the little woman out of Dracula, played like a tough rape survivor. But in a way, Mr Moore shot his bolt early by taking Hyde, Nemo and the Invisible Man out of the picture back in 1899, leaving us with the bossy bird but no monsters to boss around. And once she and Quatermain take a dip (off-camera) in the fountain of youth, we are doomed to a visually unchanging couple at the centre of all subsequent stories. Quatermain in particular is rendered rather bland as a generic brown haired young bloke – I miss the grizzled old bugger of the 1890s, white goatee and all.

Oh look, they're walking and talking. Again.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the concept of a Strong Woman at the centre of events, but Mina’s earlier role in the League was balanced by the absolutely psychotic monstrosities she had to continually stare down out of sheer chutzpah. Take the Extraordinary freaks out of the League and all you’re left with is a group of all-too human Gentlemen (and -women). With one book of the Century story to go, I am rather hoping Messrs Moore and O’Neill take a leaf out of their own earlier works and inject a little more action-packed monsteraceousness into the League, and a little less of “Mina’s Great, All The Blokes Are Rubbish”. We shall see.

P.S. The text story at the back mentions the Clangers in passing, which very nearly makes it all better.

They're related to the Wombles, you know...