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.

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