Friday, March 15, 2013

"Wizard" starring David Warner, a new film by the Guerrier brothers

Wizard is the fourth film by the amazing Guerrier brothers (i.e. me and the baby brother). It's been shortlisted in the Hat Trick / Bad Teeth "Short and Funnies" competition 2013, along with 10 other daft shorts. It would obviously been splendid if you watched it lots, liked it lots and sent it to lots of your friends.

Merlin - David Warner
Stephanie Woodhams - Lisa Bowerman
Paula Wright - Lisa Greenwood
Warren the Warlock - Adrian Mackinder
Luke Kiely - William Hughes
Narrator - Matthew Sweet

Assistant Director - Natasha Phelan
Visual Effects - Alex Mallinson
Sound Recordist - Håvar Ellingsen
Sound Design - Matt Snowden
Mix and additional sound design - Matthew Cochrane
Colourist - Otto Burnham

Thank to Ben Woodhams

Written by Simon Guerrier
Executive Producer - Martin Kerem
Directed and Edited by Thomas Guerrier
Produced by Adrian Mackinder, Simon Guerrier and Thomas Guerrier
(c) Mackinder / Guerrier brothers 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

You Only Live Twice

“[Roald Dahl] had known Ian Fleming well. Both men had worked in espionage for William Stephenson during the war, and both had similar reputations as hard-drinking, gambling, womanizing sophisticates ... He admired Fleming. He thought him one of the few writers worth meeting ... But he was less enamoured of his friend's writing skills, describing You Only Live Twice variously as 'tired', 'bad' and 'Ian's worst book'.”
Donald Sturrock, Storyteller – The Life of Roald Dahl, p. 434. 
It's not Fleming's worst book, but otherwise Roald Dahl was right: You Only Live Twice (1964) is a marked drop in quality and disappointing end to the Blofeld trilogy.

It begins in Japan, in the midst of an adventure. That is usually a good way to grab the attention, but here Bond drinks too much and plays stone, scissors paper against the head of Japanese intelligence, the shrewd and deadly “Tiger” Tanaka. That is rather it.

This is because, to Fleming, Japan is so exotic it might as well be in outer space. The book italicises and explains such alien terms as samurai, futon, sake and sumo. I realise we're simply much better accustomed to such things today, but the more Fleming tries to make Japan seem glimmeringly different, the more parochial Bond becomes.

We then cut back some time to the last day of August in London, and Bond sweating and ugly, grieving over the death of his wife (in the previous book). Doctors have told him there's nothing wrong with him and pills don't seem to help.
“And now he had just come from breaking off relations with the last resort – the hypnotist, whose basic message had been that he must go out and regain his manhood by having a woman. As if he hadn't tried that! The ones who had told him to take it easy up the stairs. The ones who had asked him to take them to Paris. The ones who had inquired indifferently, 'Feeling better now, dearie?'”
Ian Fleming, You Only Live Twice, p 25. 
 Bond's indifferent shagging isn't just about him. The decline is symbolic of the state of British intelligence and of Britain more generally. There's a hint of the shadow cast by the Cambridge spies, which feels more like le Carré (whose name I think had been made with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, published a year before this):
“Bond knew that M. had tendered his resignation after the Prenderghast case. This had involved a Head of Section with homosexual tendencies who had recently, amidst world-wide publicity, been given thirty years for treason. Bond himself had had to give evidence”.
Ibid., p. 31. 
Despite what Skyfall implies, I assume that evidence is not because was involved in something gay – especially given his response to plain-speaking (read: bigotted) Richard Lovelace “Dikko” Henderson of Her Majesty's Australian Diplomatic Corps:
“'Don't talk to be about aborigines! What in hell do do you think you know about aborigines? Do you know that in my country there's a move afoot, not afoot, at full gallop, to give the aborigines the vote? You pommy poofter. You give me any more of that liberal crap and I'll have your balls for a bow-tie.'
Bond said mildly, 'What's a poofter?'”
Ibid., p 43.
Bond's been sent to Japan on an impossible mission to prove to M that he's not completely useless. MI6 are after top secret intelligence that the Japanese hold about the Soviet nuclear programme. An intercepted message spells out the scale of the threat – and the UK's paltry standing in the world:
Ibid., pp 50-1.
Bond has battled nuclear threats before, but this is an order of magnitude bigger than events in Moonraker or Thunderball, and never before has Britain sounded so puny. Perhaps that's in consequence of events in the real world, with the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. The real and the fictional mix when a self-confessed fan of James Bond comes to Britain's rescue:
“Then President Kennedy had come out with the strongest speech of his career, and had committed total reprisals from the United States in the event of a single nuclear device being exploded by the Soviet Union in any country in the world outside Soviet territory.”
Ibid., pp. 55-6.
Kennedy, of course, wouldn't live to see his name-check.

Dikko sends Bond to Tiger, who throws him a party, women and a meal that might kill him, and then they get down to business. In previous books, Bond muttered darkly about the loss of the Empire and the young punks too young to have fought in the war. Here, though, it's Tiger who criticises the state of Britain, in a speech that might as well begin, “I'm not racist, but...”:
“But Tiger was not to be hurried. He said, 'Bondo-san, I will not be blunt with you, and you will not be offended because we are friends. Yes? Now it is a sad fact that I, and many of us in positions of authority in Japan, have formed an unsatisfactory opinion about the British people since the war. You have not only lost a great Empire, you have seemed almost anxious to throw it away with both hands. All right,' he held up a hand, 'we will not go deeply into the reason for this policy, but when you apparently sought to arrest this slide into impotence at Suez, you succeeded only in stage-managing one of the most pitiful bungles in the history of the world, if not the worst. Further, your governments have shown themselves successively incapable of ruling and have handed over effective control of the country to the trade unions, who appear to be dedicated to the principle of doing less and less work for more money. This feather-bedding, this shirking of an honest day's work, is sapping at ever-increasing speed the moral fibre of the British, a quality the world once so admired. In its place we now see a vacuous, aimless horde of seekers-after-pleasure – gambling at the pools and bingo, whining at the weather and the declining fortunes of the country, and wallowing nostalgically in gossip about the doings of the Royal Family and of your so-called aristocracy in the pages of the most debased newspapers in the world.'
Bond roared with laughter. 'You've got a bloody cheek, Tiger! You ought to write that out and sign it “Octogenarian” and send it into The Times.'”
Ibid., pp 76-7.
It's interesting having Bond defend modern Britain – especially as in the movie Goldfinger, released the same year as this book, he slags off the Beatles like some reactionary dick. When he slates Japanese pretensions in a similar tone, Tiger is impressed enough to offer Bond a chance to prove himself. Again, Bond is offered an impossible mission that he's in no position to refuse. Tiger will share the all-important secrets with M if Bond will kill an annoying European living in Japan.

Of course, the European in question is a grotesque creation living in a “garden of death”:
“Tiger exploded his golden smile. 'Bondo-san, I can see from your face that you think I am either drunk or mad. Now listen. This Doctor Shatterhand has filled this famous park of his uniquely with poisonous vegetation, the lakes and streams with poisonous fish, and he has infested the place with snakes, scorpions and poisonous spiders. He and this hideous wife of his are not harmed by these things, because whenever they leave the castle he wears full suits of armour of the seventeenth century, and she wears some other kind of protective clothing. His workers are not harmed because they wear rubber boots up to the knee, and maskos, that is, antiseptic gauze masks such as many people in Japan wear over the mouth and nose to avoid infection or the spreading of infection.'
[Bond replied:] 'What a daft set-up.'
Ibid., p. 65.
Tiger doesn't sending Bond into such a place empty-handed, and offers him some training at his top-secret ninjutsu school:
“'All the men you will see have graduated in at least ten of the eighteen martial arts of bushido, or “ways of the warrior”, and they are now learning to be ninja, or “stealers-in”, which has for centuries been part of the basic training of spies and assassins and saboteurs. You will see men walk across the surface of water, walk up walls and across ceilings, and you will be shown equipment which makes it possible for them to remain submerged under water for a full day. And many other tricks besides. For of course, apart form physical dexterity, the ninja were never the super-humans they were built up to be in the popular imagination.”
Ibid., p. 93.
All this authentic-sounding detail suggests privileged access to stuff most tourists never see. Not for the first time in the Bond novels, it's a load of cobblers. In fact, the ninja myth owes a lot to Bond:
“Considering the ubiquity of the ninja in twenty-first-century popular culture, it is remarkable how fast they appear to have sprung out of nowhere in the 1950s and 1960s ... Any attempts to make a scholarly study of ninja lead down a series of false trails, with modern sources that end up only citing each other, and credulous populist works that claim any reference in an old account to shinobi (stealth, spies, assassins) was in fact a reference to one of several secret ninja societies that stayed in the shadows. This fad achieved global recognition with the appearance of ninja in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967) – reaching, by nature of its genre and franchise, a far wider audience than any more reasoned, less fantastic account of Japanese martial traditions.”
Jonathan Clements, “Clap your hands if you believe in ninja” (11 May 2010), an online excerpt from his A Brief History of the Samurai (2010).
Bond's chief fascination is when he sees ninjas being hit in the groin without flinching. Tiger explains:
“'Well, the sumo wrestler will have been selected for his profession by the time of puberty. Perhaps because of his weight and strength, or perhaps because he comes from a sumo family. Well, by assiduously massaging those parts, he is able, after much practice, to cause the testicles to re-enter the body up the inguinal canal down which they originally descended... Then, before a fight, he will bind up that part of the body most thoroughly to contain these vulnerable organs in their hiding-place. Afterwards, in the bath, he will release them to hang normally. I have seen them do it.”
Ian Fleming, You Only Live Twice, p. 103.
It's that last sentence that's the killer.

Bond is fast going native, and will be carefully disguised to look like a deaf and dumb fisherman (in the film, he's conveniently taken a first in oriental languages at Cambridge). But there's one last night in a smart hotel in Kyoto, where he can enjoy the very best of Western civilisation:
“The comfortable bed, air-conditioning and Western-style lavatory on which one could actually sit were out of this world ... Bond ordered a pint of Jack Daniels and a double portion of eggs Benedict to be brought up to his room”.
Ibid., p. 98.
Just before Bond sets off on his mission, he learns an incredible new detail: Doctor Shatterhand and his wife just happen to be the very fellows Bond's been hoping to get hold of:
“Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Irma Blunt. So this was where they had come to hide! And the long, strong gut of fate had lassoed him to them! They of all people! He of all people! A taxi-ride down the coast in this remote corner of Japan.”
Ibid., p. 116.
There's no other explanation for this extraordinary coincidence, no hint that M knew exactly what he was sending Bond into, or that British intelligence was – contrary to reports – that extra step ahead. It's not intelligence but dumb luck, which rather kills the drama. It feels too much like cheating.

Bond heads off to face Blofeld, his cover story being that he's related to a girl in a nearby fishing village, Kissy Suzuki. Kissy is not some naïve island girl – she's spent time in films in America, but didn't like it very much. In fact she's named her pet cormorant after the man Fleming had wanted to play Bond. David Niven was, Kissy tells us,
“the only man I liked in Hollywood”.
Ibid., p. 128.
Kissy helps Bond get up to Blofeld's garden of death, where Bond sees people dying in various horrible ways and dodges the same grisly fate. When he's then captured and stripped of his ninja suit, things all get a bit homoerotic:
“Bond put his hands down to his sides. He realized for the first time that he was naked save for the brief vee of the black cotton ninja underpants... And then Bond was standing in the middle of a small, pleasant, library-type room and the second guard was laying out on the floor Bond's ninja suit and the appallingly incriminating contents of his pockets. Blofeld, dressed in a magnificent black silk kimono across which a golden dragon sprawled, stood leaning against the mantelpiece beneath which a Japanese brazier smouldered. It was him all right. The bland, high forehead, the pursed purple would of a mouth, now shadowed by a heavy grey-black moustache that drooped at the corners, on its way, perhaps, to achieving mandarin proportions, the mane of white hair he had grown for the part of Monsieur le Comte de Bleuville, the black bullet-holes of the eyes.”
Ibid., p. 162.
It's the most peculiar visual image, and that sense of camp continues. When Blofeld taunts Bond with an especially nasty death, Bond responds sarcastically,
“we'll get Nöel Coward to put it to music and have it on Broadway by Christmas”.
Ibid., p. 168.
Yet when Blofeld criticises Bond, he's exactly on the nail:
“'You are a common thug, a blunt instrument wielded by dolts in high places. Having done what you are told to do, out of some mistaken idea of duty or patriotism, you satisfy your brutish instincts with alcohol, nicotine and sex while waiting to be dispatched on the next misbegotten foray. Twice before, your Chief has sent you to do battle with me, Mister Bond, and, by a combination of luck and brute force, you were successful”.
Ibid., p. 171.
It's as much a criticism of Fleming's own sometimes lazy plotting than it is of 007. I wonder if it's not cribbed from a bad review. Blofeld, still in his fetching kimono, then threatens Bond with a big sword. Bond – in just his tiny pants – fights back, and they wrestle in a manner that I couldn't help but imagine as a bit like Women in Love (1969). Bond kills Blofeld rather prosaically and makes his escape just as the whole base explodes – something more like a Bond movie than the previous books. It all feels a bit pat and camp, and strangely unaffecting.

Except the next chapter pulls off quite a surprise. It purports to be a Times obituary for “Commander James Bond, CMG, RNVR”. It's very exciting to finally have the man's past life spelt out:
“James Bond was born of a Scottish father, Andrew Bond of Glencoe, and a Swiss mother, Monique Delacroix, from the Canton de Vaud. His father being a foreign representative of the Vickers armaments firm, his early education, from which he learnt a first-class command of French and German, was entirely abroad”.
Ibid., p. 178.
We learn they died in a skiing accident in the Aigulles Rouges above Chamonix when Bond was eleven, and that he,
“came under the guardianship of an aunt, since deceased, Miss Charmian Bond, and went to live with her at the quaintly-named hamlet of Pett Bottom near Canterbury in Kent ... in a small cottage hard by the attractive Duck Inn”.
The young Bond was expelled from Eton for some,
“alleged trouble with one of the boy's maids”.
Ibid., p. 179.
He then went to Fettes. And finally, we learn Bond's age: in 1941 he was 17, and – faking his age and using his father's connections at Vickers - got a job at what would become the Ministry of Defence. We can even narrow his date of birth down a little more: Tiger tells Bond he was born in the year of the Rat (page 57), so he must have been born sometime between 5 February 1924 and the end of that year. (If I've got my sums right.)

The reference to Kennedy means that the events of You Only Live Twice take place no later than November 1963, and it was apparently written at the start of that year, so Bond is thirty-eight or -nine. And, of course, he's not dead.

Kissy rescues him from Blofeld's lair, and nurses him back to health. Bond is suffering from total amnesia, but Kissy regains the most important aspects of his memory by purchasing a love potion and some porn. It has the desired effect. In the previous book, Bond was married and widowed on the same day, but here Fleming still up the stakes:
“Kissy wondered what moment to to choose to tell Bond that she was going to have a baby and whether he would then propose marriage to her.”
Ibid., p. 189.
Of course, there's no happy ending – that's rare enough for book Bond. Instead he sees the word “Vladivostock” in a bit of old newspaper and is sure it means something important, so leaves Kissy to go and find out. The implication is that Bond never knows he's going to be a father. That child would now be just turning fifty (so older than Daniel Craig).

Kissy's tragedy ought to mean more to us, but she's hardly been in the book and made little mark. She's just another in a long line of women to fall for Bond and then get the cold shoulder.

But also, for all it's a shocking to see Bond in such a bad way having looked death in the face, for the most part the book is taken up by willy-waving discussions with Tiger. It's often funny – Bond now knocking our droll one-liners just like his big-screen counterpart – but for all the macho posturing and apparent threat, all too often I was struggling to care.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The man who invented the bank holiday kept a pet wasp

Caricature of John Lubbock
from Punch, 1882,
via Wikipedia.
Heritage! The Battle for Britain's Past is available on iPlayer for a limited time and well worth catching while you can. It details the nineteenth-century heroes who realised something must be done to stop the destruction of our old buildings and green spaces, and led to the establishment of the National Trust.

Among the heroes was John Lubbock MP (1834-1913), who I'd not heard of before. A pupil of Darwin's (having grown up near Down House), Lubbock later named an insect after him. Lubbock also introduced the first bank holiday, kept a pet wasp, got insects drunk to see if they recognised each other and claimed to have taught his dog to read.

He coined the terms "neolithic" and "paleolithic" and bought the site of Avebury to save the ancient stone circle there from destruction. Many of his prehistoric finds are on show in Bromley Museum, which I shall now be making a trip to.

Later, Lubbock became the first Lord Avebury - and his grandson sits on the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Doctor Who: 1964

Episode 29: The Bride of Sacrifice
First broadcast: 5.15 pm on Saturday, 6 June 1964
<< back to 1964

The Doctor surprised in The Bride of Sacrifice, nabbed from Doctor Who Gifs.
The above grab shows the Doctor surprised to learn he's just got engaged to be married, in the third episode of The Aztecs (just rereleased on a special edition DVD). It's a gem of a story, about "truth", cultural relativism and the opening of a door. But it's the getting engaged bit I want to focus on here.

Nowadays, we're used to the Doctor snogging ladies and the occasional gentleman. He's been doing it since the TV movie in 1996. But in Doctor Who on TV before that, he pretty much never kissed anyone. Some people see him kissing people now as a kind of betrayal.

Yet, when we first met him he had a granddaughter, Susan, travelling with him - and there's never any indication that she's not exactly what she claims. (The Doctor also refers to his "family" in part three of The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967) and part two of The Curse of Fenric (1989), and to having been a father in  Fear Her (2006) and The Doctor's Daughter (2008).)

In The Aztecs, the Doctor uses his friendship with Cameca in his efforts to get back to the TARDIS, stuck behind a door in a tomb that can only be opened from the inside. But when he first singles Cameca out from the crowd of other pensioners in the Garden of Peace, he doesn't know she'll be useful. The Doctor asks Autloc about this woman he's spotted, and Autloc says, "her advice is most sought after ... You will find her a companion of wit and interest". The Doctor goes over and chats to her about flowers - and it's only then he learns that she might know someone who can help him get back to the TARDIS.

What does he see in Cameca? The Doctor objects to being dumped in the Garden of Peace with the other old folk, who he says must be "bored to tears doing nothing". He later tells her that, "their minds are old, Cameca, and that's something I'm sure yours will never be". We know from his later companions that he's drawn to the young at heart.

The engagement is a misunderstanding and the Doctor is shocked. Yet he doesn't object before that when Cameca nuzzles up to him, calls him "dear heart" and speaks of the bliss in her "thirsty heart". Even after they're engaged, the Doctor still pats her hand and calls her "my dear" - more than he'd need to were he simply using her to get back to his Ship. In fact, at that point he thinks there's no way back into the tomb.

Later, Cameca knows the Doctor will be leaving. We don't know how she puzzles it out, but it conveniently means that the Doctor doesn't have to lie to her or sneak off without a word. He tells her, "You're a very fine woman, Cameca, and you'll always be very, very dear to me". She in turn tells Autloc, "I have just lost all that is dear to my heart" - but still takes the risk of bribing a guard to rescue Ian and Susan.

The Doctor is grateful in their last scene together. "That was a very brave thing for you to do, Cameca, but you can't stay here". Yes, there might be a reaction because of what she's done, and we might wonder why the Doctor doesn't offer to take her with him in the TARDIS. She responds, "I'd hoped I might stay by your side." But the Doctor doesn't answer, and won't look at her, either. "Then think of me," she says. "Think of me."

As she hurries away to her uncertain fate, we hold on the Doctor's face, but what is he thinking? When at last he gets back to the TARDIS, he thinks better of leaving behind that the token Cameca gave him. She does mean something to him.

What makes this so compelling is how little we're told and how much we're left to infer. But also, this early in Doctor Who and with the rules still being established, we don't know how unusual romance is for him. We know precious little about what he got up to prior to meeting Ian and Barbara. In the first year of Doctor Who, there are six references to previous adventures:
  • In An Unearthly Child (#1), Susan says she's lived on Earth in the twentieth century for "five months" and can't understand why Ian and Barbara won't believe that the TARDIS travels in time and space. The Doctor says, “Remember the Red Indian. When he saw the first steam train, his savage mind thought it an illusion, too.”
  • In The Cave of Skulls (#2), Susan says that the TARDIS has previous been disguised as “an Ionic column and a sedan chair.”
  • In The Edge of Destruction (#12), Susan refers to an adventure “where we nearly lost the TARDIS, four or five journey's back.” The Doctor adds, “Yes, the planet Quinnis, of the fourth universe.”
  • In The Brink of Disaster (#13), the Doctor says he acquired the coat Ian puts on from Gilbert and Sullivan.
  • In Strangers from Space (#31), the Doctor refers to “that extraordinary quarrel I had with that English king, Henry the Eighth. You know, he threw a parson's nose at me!” When Barbara asks what he did in response, the Doctor says, “Threw it back, of course. Take them to the Tower, he said. That's why I did it.” Susan explains: “The TARDIS was inside the Tower.”
  • In A Desperate Venture (#36), Susan tells the Sensorite First Elder, “Oh, it's ages since we've seen our planet. It's quite like Earth, but at night the sky is a burned orange, and the leaves on the trees are bright silver.”
We know the Doctor can be selfish and amoral, we know he doesn't like to get involved, and we've seen him be charming to get what he wants. But we don't know his history with women.

The one person who could tell us is Susan. Her reaction would tell us everything: would she roll her eyes because the Doctor always got caught up like this, or look on horrified and wonder what her Grandmother might think? As far as we know she never learns about Cameca or the Doctor being engaged. The only person who does is Ian - who laughs. Perhaps it's that reaction that makes the Doctor more wary about such things until his eighth incarnation. Or perhaps it's the hurt he can see he's inflicted on Cameca.

In part, Susan doesn't comment on the Doctor's affair because she barely appears in the middle episodes of the story. Actress Carole Ann Ford was on holiday for two weeks, so appears in one pre-filmed scene per episode. In those scenes, Susan faces forced marriage and refuses: "I'm not going to be told who to marry". There are similar sentiments in an earlier story, Marco Polo (by the same writer), so who taught Susan her attitudes to marriage? Was it her time at Coal Hill School - or was it the Doctor?

Ironically, in Flashpoint (#51) the Doctor locks Susan out of the TARDIS and abandons her to be with the young man she loves, so she won't have to make the decision herself. The Doctor is heartbroken by his decision - and it's an extraordinarily moving sequence. Doesn't that suggest that he's a romantic? So there's every chance he's left broken hearts behind him all through time and space.

Next episode: 1965.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Doctor Who: 1963

Episode 1: An Unearthly Child
First broadcast: 5.15 pm on Saturday, 23 November 1963

One of Doctor Who's most striking images is the result of the production team trying to save money.

As Susan explains in the second ever episode, the TARDIS can normally change its shape to blend in invisibly where and whenever it lands. The show's co-creator Sydney Newman had, brilliantly, insisted that the Ship should at first look like a police box – a familiar, everyday sight at the time. But the police box prop was expensive so, in what was meant to be a temporary measure to spread the cost across more episodes, the TARDIS was stuck as a police box.

Hence the series' very first cliffhanger: an ordinary, everyday object, familiar to everyone watching, but on a stark and alien landscape.

It's such an effective, eerie juxtaposition – the ordinary with the strange - that the show's used it ever since. Everyday objects come suddenly to life, famous landmarks serve alien armies, snowmen come horribly to life...

It also helps that this first cliffhanger is so well earned, using a neat mix of the ordinary and strange to sell us the idea of the TARDIS. The episode teases us right from the start that something odd is going on. There's the spooky theme music and opening titles, and then a policeman wandering through eerie fog. And we're shown something he doesn't see – an ordinary police box making a weird noise.

Even then, there's nothing to suggest the kind of strangeness to come. The first half of the episode is played very real. An ordinary pair of school teachers in an ordinary school discuss one of their pupils whose homework has recently got worse. Barbara is frightened as she and Ian follow Susan home, 'as if we're about to interfere in something that is best left alone,' but Ian is more pragmatic – Susan might just be meeting a boy.

The tension mounts as the two teachers explore the junk yard, director Waris Hussein picking out the unsettling, mangled face of a mannequin. Then we meet the Doctor – a suspicious old cove who asks lots of questions but answers none. The horrible suggestion is that he's locked Susan in the police box. The way it's been played, this "mundane" explanation - a story they might have done on Z-Cars - seems far more likely than what we're about to find out.

But all this ordinariness is setting up the episode's great revelation. Ian and Barbara shove their way past the Doctor and into the impossible, bright TARDIS. The darkness, the fog, the ordinariness of everything up to this point, help make it all the more striking.

Again, ordinary things are used to explain the strangeness. The Doctor likens the TARDIS to the way television works, and Ian's disbelief to a Red Indian's first sight of a steam train (Westerns were a lot more familiar in 1963). Ian's reaction, struggling to understand the incredible space, helps sell the idea to us, too.

The ordinariness of Ian and Barbara also presents the threat – they'll tell the police about the Doctor and Susan, or they'll at least tell their friends. Ian and Barbara want to escape from the strangeness. Susan wants to go with them, back to her ordinary life, but the Doctor decides there can be no going back, and spirits them all away...

As the TARDIS takes off, we again see the strange pattern of lights that made up the title sequence. By recognising it, by realising what it is, we're buying into the whole concept. The strange has just become familiar – and we believe that a thing that looks like a police box standing in a junk yard can move anywhere in time and space.

All of this is set up extremely simply. There are just four speaking parts – our leads – and just eight other people are named in the credits (plus the BBC's Visual Effects Department and Radiophonic Workshop). Telling the story through Ian and Barbara, keeping it close and immediate, really helps sell the idea.

But there's another master stroke in the cliffhanger: a shadow moves into frame. It's not just that the police box stands in a strange and alien landscape, but that someone is outside, waiting...

Next episode: 1964

Monday, March 04, 2013

Doctor Who: The Library Of Alexandria

Out next month is a new Doctor Who adventure by me, The Library of Alexandria, performed by William Russell as Ian Chesterton and Susan Franklyn as Hypatia.

"The port of Alexandria, 5th Century AD. The Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara have taken a break from their travels, and are enjoying a few weeks in the sunshine – and the chance to appreciate the magnificent Library of Alexandria. They know that the library will soon be lost to history. What they are about to discover is the terrifying reason why…"

To whet your appetite, here's Carl Sagan wandering the Library of Alexandria in 1980 for his history of science series Cosmos:

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Psychology of Power

Prompted by wise Matthew Sweet, whose radio programme on the life of Alex Comfort, Stop Calling Me 'Doctor Sex' is still up on iPlayer, I've been reading Comfort's Authority and Delinquency (1950) - that link takes you to scans of the entire book, though I've also bought one off Abebooks.

It's packed full of interest which I shall endeavour to blog about another time, but given Eastleigh and the AAA rating this week, the following rather chimed:
"One very characteristic - indeed, defining - character of persistent criminals is their baffling ineducability by experience, which leads not only to a repetition of the crime but of the details which led to their detection and arrest. In other words, their behaviour is compulsive. There is an analogous ineducability in government, among the advocates of 'strong' policies. Experience and argument did not prevent successive British 'strong' men (not all of one party) from repeating in Palestine, Cyprus, India and Suez the identical attitudes and errors which lost them Ireland, not Marxists from repeating the aberrations of the Czars. The reasons are identical in the two cases - these are examples of stereotyped behaviour, the actions are performed for the immediate emotional satisfaction they give not for their supposed purposes; other characteristics are unjustified self-confidence, total disregard of others and the substitution of vague objectives such as prestige or revenge for concrete gain, which, even if unelevated, is at least reality-centred. Long-term objectives - national advantage or the victory of an ideology nearly always give place in the event to the overwhelming cathexis of 'strong' action for people in office - the policy is then doggedly persisted in to maintain the illusion of purpose, under the guise of maintaining law and order. To the 'strong' man, as to the persistent thief, it is pointless to argue that crime does not pay - it is the act, not the policy or the thing stolen, which is the true motive. He will 'show them', regardless of whether it pays or not."
Alex Comfort, Authority and Delinquency - A Study in the Psychology of Power (1950), pp. 29-30.

Friday, March 01, 2013

My first ever rejection letter

Excitement! I have found my first ever rejection letter, received in April 1992 from Gary Russell, then editor of Doctor Who Magazine. I was 15 at the time, and it was just a few months since Gary's interview with novelist Paul Cornell (in issue #181, December 1991) had made me realise that being a writer was something I might actually do, not merely something to dream of like being an astronaut or pop star.

I sent Gary a terrible short story in which the Fourth Doctor and Romana land somewhere and, er, that's it, and surprisingly the response was a form letter:

I've had a lot of form letters since. They're the usual response to unsolicited on spec submissions. It took me a long time to realise that collecting rejection letters - forms ones, then form ones with notes on your submission, then ones with notes on your submission that invite you to try again - is a big part of being a writer.

I mustn't have been too disappointed by this first response as I sent Gary more stories. You can see how much better they were by the response I got six months later:

At the same time I also sent a script for a Judge Dredd story to 2000AD, and the form rejection letter I got back wasn't even signed (though someone had asterisked the paragraphs I should pay attention to).

Over the next few years, I continued to send things to Doctor Who Magazine and 2000AD, and also sent in proposals anywhere else I could think of. My first rejection letter from the publisher of Doctor Who books in 1994 was so detailed, generous and encouraging that I probably owe my career to it.

I finally got commissioned by Doctor Who Magazine at the end of 2001, with a two-part feature published in early 2002. Later that year, I also got commissioned to write a Doctor Who short story, in Big Finish's Short Trips: Zodiac. That was edited by Jacqueline Rayner, overseen by Gary Russell. That led to me writing lots for Big Finish, and a couple of years later I helped Gary write form letters in response to submissions.

2000AD turned me down, again, with a form letter just last year.

(Thanks to Gary for permission to post these.)