Thursday, April 25, 2024

Doctor Who Magazine #603

The new issue of the official Doctor Who Magazine is out today and is full of thrilling stuff about the imminent new series, starting 11 May.

I've written the preview of Episode 1, Space Babies (pp. 14-15), and spoke to writer and executive producer Russell T Davies about this completely nuts story (to quote the preview), ahead of a post-broadcast set report next issue.

I've also written Who Crew: Second Brain (pp. 36-37), in which I spoke to Sharon King and Jess Gardner, co-producers on next year's series of Doctor Who.

Then there's Script to Screen: Jimbo (pp. 38-41), featuring some of the team behind the chonky robot seen in last year's Wild Blue Yonder: production designer Phil Sims, concept artist Nandor Moldovan, prop modeller head of department Barry Jones, and puppeteers Brian Fisher and Eliot Gibbins. 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Blood Legacy, by Alex Renton

This is an exemplary bit of history, the author using his family’s extensive archive as the starting point for a no-holds-barred investigation of their involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, an assessment of its costs (in money and lives) and its impacts through to the present day. 

The cruelty and violence is often hard going. Details are haunting, such as the letter from 1780 dictated by the runaway Doctor Caesar / Augustus Thompson to plantation owner Charles Fergusson seeking justice for multiple grievances. The letter is published in full (pp. 128-30), an astonishing first-person testimony in its own right, as well as for being so rare.

Even more incredible is what the author can then tell us about Thompson/Caesar, who escaped enslavement in Jamaica and reached the UK to make his claim in person — and having done so, then agreed to return.

“It seems extraordinary that Sir Adam [Fergusson, Charles’s brother] succeeded in persuading Augustus Thompson to return to Jamaica, despite all the dangers that awaited him. Extraordinary, too, that Thompson trusted him. You have to conclude from the lure that took the runaway back, protected only by a letter from the Fergusson brothers asking that their manager forgive him, was his wife, his mother and his children. Rozelle [in Jamaica] was home.” (p. 140).

We then follow what happens next, though the surviving archive isn’t clear. By late 1785, Augustus Thompson is in hiding. In January 1786, Sir Adam gives permission for Thompson, if he can be found, to be ‘shipped off’ to another island. It’s the last reference to Thompson we can be certain of; there are then scant records listing men that might be him — none of the details are good.

On the whole, though, this is a history of those who profited from slavery, because it is the owners whose records have survived. Their own evidence is damning. And the point is not that a few landowners got very rich but that everyone involved in the supply chain saw financial benefits, down to those who provided food for the crews on the slave ships. As the author admits, this volume tends to crowd out the voices of those who suffered enslavement.

Where those voices can be included, they are. I was really struck, in the last chapter of the book, when the author attends a press conference at the Centre for Reparations Research announcing new data on the involvement in slavery by different European nations. This is more than just about numbers. The database also lists 94,191 examples of enslaved people’s real, African names.

“Most enslaved Africans lost their birth names, and for 300 years there were no original African names in the slave records at all. You might well argue that the lack of names and places of origin, of the things that give us our identity, helped dehumanise the victims of the trade. It has made it easier to them into statistics. … So these original names are to be treasured.”

He quotes Professor Verene Shepherd, slowly reading out a sample of these names at a memorial service.

“Ekhusumee, a girl, aged two, Maloah, a girl, aged two. Captured from Lagos, both of them. Kangah, a girl aged five, captured from Lagos. Peekah, a girl aged four, captured from Lagos. Coulta, a girl aged three, captured from Lagos. Torquah, a girl aged six from Bonny. Ajameh, aged one, a boy, captured from Lagos. Asemah, a boy, aged one, from Porto Novo…” (p. 322)

In an appendix, the author asks what to do now, in light of this horrific legacy. There are more links and information on the Blood Legacy website. And that’s given me more food for thought...

My great-great-great grandfather William Dutton Turner is listed in the Legacies of British Slavery database. When the British government passed the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 to end the trade in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape, they did so on the condition that the taxpayer would compensate slave owners for loss of property. Some 46,000 claimants received a total of £20 million — about £17 billion today. The Treasury was still paying off the debt until 2015 (all details from p. 250).

Blood Legacy suggests that much of this compensation went to pay off recipients’ mounting debts. Turner was awarded about £5,000, and his siblings and other family members also received money. Turner’s third wife, Mary Power Trench (1815-62) — mother of 12 children including James Trench Turner (1840-92)*, my grandfather’s grandfather — was awarded just over £100 in her own right. Yet, when Turner died on 30 June 1858, he left effects valued at less than £20.

Where did the money go? It clearly didn’t stay in the Caribbean, invested in a new future. Instead, it seems to have largely ended up back in the UK, spurring growth and building on an unprecedented scale. 

* James Trench Turner joined the army, served in India and was one of the members of the Hong Kong cricket team who died in the sinking of the SS Bokhara. His grandson, born in Guangzhou (Grandpa knew it as Canton) on 14 January 1914, was a guest at my wedding 20 years ago last week.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Haunted Tea Set and Other Stories, by Sarah Jackson

I've dashed through this short, 112-page book of 20 strange, unsettling and enthralling tales published two months ago. The collection takes its name from a short story that you can read in full for free on the Bone Parade and which I massively recommend. It so completely got me that I immediately read it to the Dr, while we were away on a trip to mark our 20th wedding anniversary last week. A number of Jackson's other stories are also available via the links on her website

Most of the stories in this collection are very short, some just a paragraph, most just two or three pages, and yet they're packed with vivid, evocative strangeness. There are eerie hauntings, there are ordinary witches going about their lives, and more than one story involves someone returning to the community where they grew up where all is not quite right. The strangeness is grounded in well observed, concisely depicted reality, so tangible and effective.

Opening story "Greenkeeper" felt like traditional horror of the sort I'd seen many times before until, after just two-and-a-half pages, it offered a killer last line. "The Haunted Tea Set" follows, and by then I was hooked. That story, and "Subsidence" later on, offer something extraordinary - not just a sense of the ordinary horrors we live with, but the promise of hope and healing.

Sarah Jackson also edits the quarterly short story zine Inner Worlds.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Death of Consensus, by Phil Tinline

A lot of this excellent history of British politics over the past century was already familiar to me. In some cases, that's because I've heard the radio documentaries Phil Tinline has produced that fed into his book; in the latter third of the book, I was sometimes an indirect witness to the things he discusses, as until 2017 I was a parliamentary reporter in the House of Lords.

The wheeze of the book is that Britain has had mass democracy for just about 100 years, in which it has "lurched from crisis to crisis", with decisions and ideology shaped by what people most feared. Tinline explores these nightmares in three weighty instalments: 1931-45 (fascism, bombing, mass-unemployment), 1968-85 (hyperinflation, military coups, communist dictatorship) and 2008-2022 (the crash, Brexit and lockdown).

As well as digging into the history of each period, each section illuminates the next. For example there's p. 268, when in the early 2010s the Conservatives identify ways to win votes in the traditionally Labour-voting north of England. Here we understand from having read the previous section why the mooted "northern powerhouse" fell short of offering an actual industrial strategy: those involved had personal memories of such things falling flat in the 70s. That in turn illuminates recent claims that one party or other will return us to the 1970s, the nightmares still haunting today's political imagination. It's more that supplying the context; you feel the visceral fear.

This is just one of a number of fascinating connections. Tinline also has an eye for telling detail. Not only does he show how the stage play Love on the Dole made vivid the plight of unemployment in the 1930s, but he spots a great example of the disconnect from those in money and power. Having toured the north to great acclaim, the play finally opened at the Garrick Theatre in London on 30 January 1935, but in the programme,

"Opposite a list of the play's settings--'The Hardcastle's kitchen', 'An Alley'--is a full-page ad boasting that the Triumph-Gloria has won the Monte Carlo Rally (Light Car Class)." (p. 51)

I was also taken by the description of Naomi Mitchison's River Court House on "a short, quiet street right next to the Thames, closed to vehicles at both ends" in Hammersmith. Here, guests coming for drinks and to forge a bold new future included Aneurin Bevan, Jennie Lee, Ellen Wilkinson, Douglas and Margaret Cole, William Mellor, Barbara Betts (later Castle), Michael Foot, EM Forster and WH Auden.

"No ideological cul-de-sac was ever so elegant." (p. 55)

Or there's the vivid portraits of key figures in this densely populated story, such as,

"George Lansbury, the mutton-chopped-whiskered Cockney pacifist, who had long served as the Labour Party's righteous grandpa" (p. 36). 

This deft kind of writing enlivens what could otherwise be a dense subject; a political history that is fun. 

Though familiar with much of the thesis, a lot of the context provided and the details of politics were new to me. There were other things, too. For example, in the mid 1970s,

"To write her early, hardline foreign policy speeches, Thatcher recruited the historian Robert Conquest, a former communist who, in 1944, had witnessed Stalinists promise to uphold Bulgarian democracy, only to destroy it." (p. 201)

I already knew Conquest's name, but as editor (with Kingsley Amis) of the science-fiction anthologies Spectrum, once a staple of second-hand book shops and a formative influence. In them, I first read Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps" and Clarke's "The Sentinel", two among so many gems that seemed mad and wild and free. It's strange to look back at the contents of those anthologies now and realise they're on the more conservative side of SF. This book about political nightmares has made me think about the blinkers on dreams.

It's strange, too, to see a reference to the event held in Manchester in June 1968 to mark the centenary of the TUC, in which,

"The Prime Minister [Harold Wilson] joined 100,000 trade unionists for a day of celebrations including a parade, a carnival, brass bands, a male voice choir, primary-school dancers from the Lancashire coalfield, fireworks and a pageant." (p. 149)

Only recently, I was digging through the original paperwork related to this event held in the archives of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain. As chair of the guild at the time, former Doctor Who story editor David Whitaker recommended former Doctor Who producer John Wiles as a writer for the pageant. When that didn't work out, Whitaker met with the TUC's Vic Feather (who features a lot in Tinline's book) with Doctor Who writer Mac Hulke, who then produced an outline for the pageant with former Doctor Who story editor Gerry Davis. When the TUC didn't like this and decided to press on without the involvement of the Doctor Who cavalcade, Hulke insisted on still being paid in full - for a script he'd not even written. And he was, after years of disgruntled back and forth. See my book for the whole story.

Anyway. The Death of Consensus is an insightful, enjoyable history that helps to make sense of where we are now. In fact, published in 2022, it finishes on something of a cliffhanger, with Boris Johnson still Prime Minister. I'd be interested to know what Tinline has made of events since publication. We're still caught up in a nightmare but is it quite the same one?

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Berkeley Square, a Play in Three Acts, by John L Balderston

This is an odd, beguiling time-travel romance first staged in 1926, then later adapted for radio, TV and two films. John L Balderston chiefly wrote it, in collaboration with JC Squire — later the editor of If It Had Happened Otherwise, a book exploring ways in which history might have been different — with the plot suggested by an unfinished novel by Henry James. I find Balderston a fascinating figure — he adapted both Dracula and Frankenstein for the stage, and his versions were then the bases of the Universal movies. He wrote The Bride of Frankenstein and worked on Gone with the Wind and the US film version of Gaslight

Yet I’d never heard of Berkeley Square until it got mentioned in passing in an interview (more of which below). Given all the adaptations, it seems to have been very well known for three decades and was then lost to time — which is ironic given what it’s about.

The plot involves young Peter Standish, who has inherited a house in Berkeley Square in London, 1929. As the play opens, his strange behaviour is of concern to his fiancee, who calls in the US ambassador (one of Standish’s friends). Standish then somehow swaps places with his ancestor of the same name who is visiting the same house in 1784. The ancestor Standish is about to be engaged to his cousin Kate Pettigrew but Standish-from-the-future instead falls for Kate’s sister Helen… 

At first, Standish-from-1929 is thrilled by the prospect of being back in the past and the opportunity to explore:
“How would you like to walk the quiet streets of London in the eighteenth century? … And breathe pure air, instead of gasolene? And ride in Sedan-chairs, instead of taxi-cabs. … See Sheridan at the first night of The School for Scandal, or hear Dr Johnson say the things Boswell wrote, or watch Reynolds at work…” (p. 38)
But the real past is a disappointment, such as when Standish meets Dr Johnson:
“Oh, he thundered out a few platitudes. Really, his friends ought to stop him from dribbling food and snuff all over his waistcoat. And he’d be none the worse for a bath.” (pp. 83-4.)
Worse, Johnson has, with Standish’s supposed friend Captain Clinton, paid for a good seat in front of Newgate prison to watch the burning of a woman called Phoebe Harris as punishment for coining. Standish is horrified by the brutality and also knows he can make no difference here: history cannot be changed.

The way Berkeley Square uses time travel is really interesting but some context is needed. Time travel stories weren’t new in 1929. They weren't just reserved for science-fiction either, but were very much in the mainstream. In A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens, Ebeneezer Scrooge journeys back in time with a ghost to observe the formative events that have made him who he is. He then journeys forward in time with another ghost to see where his life and work will lead. This perspective prompts him to change his ways — and effectively change the future.

In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) by Mark Twain, Hank Morgan travels back in time and across the Atlantic to medieval England, where his knowledge of science is put to good use battling villains and injustice. Time travel again provides some perspective on social issues. That's not the only link between the two stories. From the way A Christmas Carol is told, it’s possible Scrooge dreamt the whole adventure (but his unconscious still prompts him to change his ways), while Morgan may have imagined his journey to Camelot following a bump to the head. That was generally quite common: the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction entry on time travel says that, “until the end of the nineteenth century, dreams were the favoured method.”

The Time Machine (1895) by HG Wells offered something very different. It begins with the unnamed time traveller discussing — with a psychologist, a provincial mayor, a medical man, a very young man, “an argumentative person with red hair” called Filby and the unnamed narrator — the physical principles of travel through time. It’s a scientific debate among a number of learned, sceptical people, positing time travel as a practical enterprise, a mechanical process accomplished with a machine. 

Wells is vague on exactly what this machine comprises. It has “ivory bars”, “nickel bars”, a “brass rail” and “quartz rod”, but the traveller sits on a “saddle” rather than a seat or chair, which has always made me think of a sort of glorified bicycle. When the traveller works the starting lever, the sense is not that the traveller feels any motion. Instead, as he sits there, he watches a woman come into the room and head out through a different door — at unusual speed.
“I suppose it took her a minute or so to traverse the place, but to me she seemed to shoot across the room like a rocket. I pressed the lever over to its extreme position. The night came like the turning out of a lamp, and in another moment came tomorrow.” (Chapter IV)
It’s as if the traveller is perched on a bicycle in front of a cinema screen, working a lever to speed up the film being shown until it passes in a blur.

There are other examples from the period, not least the unfinished novel by Henry James published in 1917 that Berkeley Square draws on. But I think Berkeley Square is situated somewhere between the dreams/subconscious of Dickens and Twain, and the physics of Wells. The play does not feature a time machine or tell us anything about how Peter Standish is able to swap places with his ancestor. But he does tell us quite a lot about the mechanics of time.
“Suppose you’re in a boat, sailing down a winding stream. You watch the banks as they pass you. You went by a grove of maple trees, upstream. But you can't see them now, so you saw them in the past, didn’t you? You’re watching a field of clover now; it’s before your eyes at this moment, in the present. But you don't know yet what’s around the bend in the stream there ahead of you; there may be wonderful things, but you can’t see them until you get around the bend in the future, can you?
Now remember, you’re in the boat. But I’m up in the sky above you, in a plane. I’m looking down on it all. I can see all at once the trees you saw upstream, the field of clover that you see now, and what's waiting for you around the bend ahead. All at once! So the past, present, and future of the man in the boat are all one to the man in the plane. Doesn't that show how all Time must really be one? Real Time with a capital T is nothing but an idea in the mind of God!” (p. 36)
A page later, Peter shares a limerick:
“There was a young lady named Bright

Whose movements were quicker than light

She went out one day, in a relative way

And came back on the previous night.” (p. 37)
These machinations on the behaviour of time don’t feature in James and surely come from Einstein. They’re also achingly new. It’s not just that perspective of time is relative to the observer. We also gain this perspective by using a then-new kind of vehicle — the plane.

Berkeley Square wasn’t the only work of fiction from this period to draw on Einstein as a dramatic conceit. A year before the play premiered, Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway (1925) did something similar. That novel explores all sorts of aspects of time on people's lives and consciousness (and was written under the working title of The Hours). Einstein is name-checked early on in the novel but his ideas about the relativistic effects of travel on our concept of time are demonstrated later on. 

One character, Peter Walsh, returns to London after five years in India and goes to see Clarissa Dalloway. He has been moving while she has been in the same place all that time. The result is marked: 
“And how are you?” said Peter Walsh, positively trembling; taking both her hands; kissing both her hands. She’s grown older, he thought, sitting down. I shan’t tell her anything about it, he thought, for she’s grown older. She’s looking at me, he thought, a sudden embarrassment coming over him, though he had kissed her hands. Putting his hand into his pocket, he took out a large pocketknife and half opened the blade.

Exactly the same, thought Clarissa; the same queer look; the same check suit; a little out of the straight his face is, a little thinner, dryer, perhaps, but he looks awfully well, and just the same.”
Basically, time has passed for Mrs Dalloway but not Peter.

In the case of Berkeley Square, I think Einstein is just bit of the zeitgeist thrown into the mix. The plot also features a Crux ansata — an ankh — to suggest the eternal souls of our star-cross’d lovers, surely drawing on Egytomania sparked by the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 (Balderston later adapted The Mummy for Universal). 

Or there’s the eye-roll at modern life as the UK follows the US:
“Yes, cocktails, jazz and one universal traffic block—London’s just like New York.” (p. 29) 
I wonder how much the fatalism was of its age, too. The horrors of the past can’t be changed and young lives can’t be saved, in a play staged less than a decade after the end of the First World War. No one here has any agency; the implication is that none of us do. 

This seems to have connected with audiences of the time. According to JP Wearing’s The London Stage 1920-1929 (p. 467), Berkeley Square premiered at St Martin’s Theatre in London on 6 October 1926 and ran for an impressive 179 performances up to 5 March the following year. The cast included sisters Kate and Helen played by Jean Forbes-Robertson and Valerie Taylor. (I know Taylor as Nora in Went the Day Well?, a film made in 1942 but bookended by a character addressing us from the future, after the end of the war.) 

Taylor and some other members of the London cast of Berkeley Square transferred to New York when the play opened at the Lyceum on 4 November 1929 with Leslie Howard in the lead role as Peter Standish. It ran for 229 performances. Theatricalia lists multiple stage versions until 1949.

1937 BBC radio
Berkeley Square,
image from Radio Times
Howard and Taylor were in the 1933 film version available in full on YouTube. Howard was also in a 1937 radio production for the BBC, and the BBC broadcast other radio versions in 1935 (with Peggy Ashcroft as Helen), 1941, 1944 and 1951. That last one coincided with a second film version, now under the title The House in the Square (aka I’ll Never Forget You), with Tyrone Power in the title role (a version of this, with Gregory Peck, failed to get off the ground in 1945). And there were TV versions on the BBC in 1948 and 1959.

And then… Well, nothing. Whatever connection it made with the audience, it’s time has passed.

I’ve a copy of the script published by Longmans, Green and Company (London, New York and  Toronto) in 1929, to coincide with the premiere on Broadway. I bought it because of a chance remark by New Zealand born playwright Jennifer Compton. She told Toby Hadoke for our Looking for David documentary that in 1973, while working on the play that became No Man's Land / Crossfire (in which feminists from different times meet in the same house), her tutor on NIDA's playwriting course advised her to read this old play.

1959 BBC TV
Berkeley Square,
image from Radio Times
That tutor was David Whitaker, the subject of my book. I’m not sure when David discovered the play. He was working on staff in the BBC script department when the 1959 adaptation was made. Whenever he encountered it, I think it had a profound impact on his understanding of time while first story editor of Doctor Who.

For one thing, the speech quoted above about the river and the plane is very like David’s own description of the mechanics of time, which he outlined in a reply to Doctor Who viewer Mr R Adams of Quinton on 1 May 1964 — a copy is held in file T5-649 Viewers Letters 1964 at the BBC’s Written Archives Centre in Caversham. David changes the metaphor a little: instead of a river observed from a plane, time is a winding road which the Doctor can observe from up on a hill. This position gives him perspective of the whole pattern but he cannot change or divert its path.

David wrote this letter on the same day that recording took place on The Temple of Evil (first episode of The Aztecs), in which the Doctor insists to companion Barbara that,
“You can't rewrite history! Not one line! … What you are trying to do is utterly impossible.”
A few months later, in Prisoners of the Conciergie, Barbara again probes what is possible. She has witnessed the young Napoleon Bonaparte in 1794 and later wonders what change she might have enacted with a few quiet words.
Well, I can assure you my dear Barbara, Napoleon would never have believed you. 
Yes, Doctor but supposing we had written Napoleon a letter telling him, you know, some of the things that were going to happen to him.  

It wouldn’t have made any difference, Ian. He'd have forgotten it, or lost it or thought it was written by a maniac. 
I suppose if we’d tried to kill him with a gun, the bullet would have missed him. 
This is in a story written by Dennis Spooner, who succeeded David as story editor — and immediately changed the rules. Spooner's next story, The Romans, has the Doctor directly influence the course of history, sparking the Great Fire of Rome. In Spooner’s next self-scripted story, The Time Meddler (1965), we meet a member of the Doctor's own people who can and does change history. David responded; his 1966 novelisation The Crusaders, based on a TV story he wrote for Spooner, begins with the Doctor once again insisting that history is immutable.

Spooner’s view of time has prevailed in Doctor Who. In fact, it’s given the Doctor a sense of purpose, as protector of the delicate web of time. That explains why the Doctor on some occasions can and on others cannot stand idly by and let things take their course. A classic example is in the 1975 story Pyramids of Mars, in which the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith face a villain in the year 1911.

If Sutekh isn’t stopped, he’ll destroy the world. 

But he didn't, did he? I mean, we know the world didn’t end in 1911. 

Do we?
He sets the controls of the TARDIS for Earth in 1980, where they find a desolate wasteland. Sarah acknowledges that they have to go back to stop Sutekh. Change is possible, even necessary. The sense is less of change as of moulding.
Not chosen [but] shaped. The actions of the present fashion the future. 
The threat of changing history therefore serves as motivation for the Doctor, and so has dramatic value. Not being able to change history makes the Doctor and the companions mere bystanders, and is so less dramatically satisfying. Yet David Whitaker stuck to his guns anyway - and I think that’s because Berkeley Square suggested the drama of not being able to change history, which is what gets explored in The Aztecs, one of the best acclaimed early stories.

It occurs to me that the series Quantum Leap owes (perhaps by coincidence) something to Berkeley Square in that its hero Sam Beckett swaps places with individuals in history in the same way that Peter Standish swaps with his ancestor. Yet the whole point of Quantum Leap is that Sam is tasked with changing history for the better, guided by his friend Al who can provide him with the odds of success in a probabilistic universe.

Anyway. I think Berkeley Square also influenced the middle section of David’s The Evil of the Daleks (1967). There's something of moral, outspoken Kate, good but timid Helen and their caddish brother Tom in Ruth Maxtible, Victoria Waterfield and Arthur Terrell. The TV story features a portrait of Victoria’s late mother, whereas in the play, the house in 1929 features a painting of Peter Standish by Sir Joshua Reynolds, painted during his trip to the past.

That painting has a bigger role in the play, where Reynolds is haunted by his subject.
Something in your face eludes me … I thought at first it was irony. And yet, I fancy I know irony—and there is a quality in your every look, when I take up my brushes and fasten my eyes on your face, beyond all my experience of human nature. (p. 74)
As in the 2010 Doctor Who episode Vincent and the Doctor, the idea is that artists can see something the rest of us don’t. (The fact the Silents in 2011’s The Impossible Astronaut look so much like the figure in the famous painting The Scream suggest Edvard Munch had the same ability.)

Reading Berkeley Square again this weekend, it strikes me that the modern Peter Standish has a guide to his time in the past — his ancestor's diary. David Whitaker provided the Doctor with a diary when, in The Power of the Daleks (1966), the Second Doctor must take on the mantle of the First. 

And, perhaps fittingly, there's a connection that the authors could never have known as it’s related to their future. David's novelisation of The Crusades includes the detail that the Doctor’s granddaughter has married a man called David Cameron; in the play, there's an important American character called Bill Clinton.

Monday, April 08, 2024

The Power of 3 podcast #212 - The Pirate Loop

Cover of Doctor Who - The Pirate Loop, showing David Tennant as Doctor Who, Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones and a spaceship in the midst of a pink and blue whirlpool
The Pirate Loop
The Power of 3 podcast is currently scrutinising the adventures of the Tenth Doctor in print, and I spoke to Kenny for the latest episode about my 2007 novel The Pirate Loop, which was the first original Doctor Who novel read by Steevie.

Here's the blurb on the back of the book:

The Doctor's been everywhere and everywhen in the whole of the universe and seems to know all the answers. But ask him what happened to the Starship Brilliant and he hasn't the first idea. Did it fall into a sun or black hole? Was it shot down in the first moments of the galactic war? And what's this about a secret experimental drive?

The Doctor is skittish. But if Martha is so keen to find out he'll land the TARDIS on the Brilliant, a few days before it vanishes. Then they can see for themselves...

Soon the Doctor learns the awful truth. And Martha learns that you need to be careful what you wish for. She certainly wasn't hoping for mayhem, death, and badger-faced space pirates.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Garry Halliday and the Kidnapped Five, by Justin Blake

Cover of Garry Halliday and the Kidnapped Five by Justin Blake (Faber, 1962) with artwork by Leo Newman in black, white, blue and purple showing silhouette of skier on snow below a cable car, with close up of eyes behind glasses in background.
This is the third of five novelisations of the adventures of airline pilot Garry Halliday, following Garry Halliday and the Disappearing Diamonds and Garry Halliday and the Ray of Death. It was published by Faber in 1962, based on a six-part serial broadcast on the BBC between 16 January and 20 February 1960. The time slot was 5.25pm on Saturdays - the same as later taken by Doctor Who

Episode 3, The Outcasts, is the only one of 50 episodes of Garry Halliday to survive. It used to be available on Youtube, from where I took screenshots of the lengthy recap at the start. While exciting music plays, a plummy voice speaks over the following still images:

Image showing Terence Longdon as Garry Halliday
"Garry Halliday, owner and chief pilot of the Halliday Charter Company is up against his old enemy…

[Image showing Terence Longdon as Garry Halliday]

Image showing Elwyn Brook-Jones as The Voice
"... The Voice, now engaged in a colossal scheme to kidnap five world famous atomic scientists and sell them to the highest bidder. Two scientists have already been kidnapped. Now the Voice plans to take another…

[Image showing Elwyn Brook-Jones as The Voice]

Image showing Richard Dare as Professor Mundt
"... Professor Mundt, who has been visiting England with his secretary…

[Image showing Richard Dare as Professor Mundt]

Image showing John Hussey as Martin
"… Martin. At the suggestion of…

[Image showing John Hussey as Martin]

Image showing Nicholas Meredith as Inspector Potter
"… Inspector Potter from Scotland Yard, Halliday’s plane has been chartered to fly Mundt back to Frankfurt, much to the annoyance of…

[Image showing Nicholas Meredith as Inspector Potter]

Image showing Peter Myers as Smith-Clayton
"...  Mr Smith-Clayton of the Home Office, who has been looking after Mundt’s security in England.

[Image showing Peter Myers as Smith-Clayton]

Image showing Terence Alexander as Bill Dodds
"... Bill Dodds, Halliday’s co-pilot, is on the plane with him, as well as Bill’s fiancee...

[Image showing Terence Alexander as Bill Dodds]

Image showing Juno Stevas as Sonya Delamare
"... Sonya, who is acting as stewardess for the flight because…

[Image showing Juno Stevas as Sonya Delamare]

Image showing Jennifer Wright as Jean Willis
"... Jean, Halliday’s usual stewardess, has been deployed away by a fake message sent by the Voice. The only other people on the plane are three security men, but they are headed by…

[Image showing Jennifer Wright as Jean Willis]

Image showing James Neylin as O'Brien
"O’Brien, who is in reality the Voice’s principal lieutenant." At last, we crossfade into the interior of the plane, and the action ensues.

[Image showing James Neylin as O'Brien]

It's striking how complex this all is after just two episodes: lots and lots of characters and a then-and-then, House that Jack Built plot. That, of course, made it harder for viewers to join the story midway through. Compare it to the opening of the surviving second episode of soap opera Compact - with no recap, and a single, short scene involving a receptionist to bring us up to speed on everything we need to know. (This was some of what I looked at in my talk “Television Before the TARDIS” at the GallifreyOne convention in February.)

But once the recap is over, the pace of this Garry Halliday episode really picks up. The villains hold the heroes at gunpoint and demand that Halliday changes course for Switzerland. Halliday and Bill then battle with the villains, and we cut from TV recording to film for the fisticuffs. It's all very well-staged by fight arranger Terry Baker, though the book ups the stakes by having Garry grab the handle of an emergency hatch.

"He pulled down, and pushed out, and the other hand got hold of [a villain called] Crake, and impelled him through the hatch. There was a terrible roar of wind and a scream from Crake." (p. 56)

This may have been too technically difficult to realise on TV rather than something they omitted as unsuitable for children watching. It’s striking what was considered okay for this Saturday teatime adventure. There's a fair bit of killing in the story anyway and also the odd relationship between Sonya and George Smith-Clayton. Sonya explains to Bill:

"Well, [we're] not exactly chums, except that you do feel rather close to people when you've been through a lot with them. It was about seven years ago at a Commem. Ball at Oxford, you see ... and some of the boys decided to take Georgie's trousers off. ... Of course the champagne had been flowing a bit. Old Charlie champers. ... All I did was hit him over the head with a champagne bottle. It can't really have hurt him. It was empty. ... It was only a gesture of affection really. A sort of love-tap." (p. 46)

Smith-Clayton says that as a result he was in hospital for nearly 10 days. Now, this exchange occurs in the missing second episode of the TV serial so we can't be sure it was relayed exactly as in the book, but Sonya refers to the champagne bottle in the surviving third episode so some version must have been included.

So when Doctor Who began in 1963, its elements of kidnap, murder and threat were all in keeping with previous adventures shown in the same slot. What’s very different is the tone.

Having defeated the villains, Halliday then gets a call from the Voice, who has kidnapped Jean. So, despite winning the fight, Halliday ends up changing course to Switzerland anyway. The Voice also tells Halliday not to tell the authorities and gets his men to hand Halliday a suitcase of money - making it look to Smith-Clayton as though Halliday is his willing agent. Soon, Halliday and Dodds are on the run from the police while also trying to thwart the Voice's next attempt at kidnap.

It's all good, fast-moving fun, our frightfully well-spoken heroes battling all manner of accented folk, ranging from villains to eccentric character-types. One of them, a Swiss Clerk in the surviving episode, is played by no less than Jill Hyem.

I'd love to know how the TV version realised the exciting finale, in which the Voice coolly escapes in a cable car, only for Halliday to give chase on skis. Was there location filming in Switzerland? It now feels very James Bond yet predates the ski stuff in 1963 novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

There are a few other fun details, such as a sense of changing times:

"I mean, you don't say 'sir' in the nineteen-sixties." (p. 20)

We learn that Halliday is a veteran of the Korean War and has always "had the habit of attracting adventures" (pp. 20-1). But there's still the painful lack of anything for women to do. Sonya, while getting some laughs at Smith-Clayton's expense, is left behind in a cell when Bill and Halliday make their escape, and Jean spends most of the story locked up. On the last page of the novel, she "surprised us by getting married" recounts Bill; her husband is Philip Latters, a character from the previous serial, not credited in TV listings for this one. The implication is that she leaves Halliday Charter Company. I suspect she didn't have an exit on screen and just didn't appear in the next serial; I can't really blame an actor given such an unrewarding part.

In fact, this could easily have been the end of Garry Halliday since he outwits and captures the Voice. But the book ends on a cliffhanger.

"Because the news in that telegram was that the Voice has escaped from prison. Now nobody who had ever seen the Voice's face would be safe." (p. 119)

The adventure continues in Garry Halliday and the Sands of Time, if I can ever track down a copy...

Saturday, April 06, 2024

New Who Shop editions of David Whitaker biography

 The Who Shop have released two new, exclusive editions of my book David Whitaker in an Exciting Adventure with Television.

It's available in paperback in pink and in grey. It includes a bonus, four-page postscript covering some information that's come to light since the first printing in November. We'll make that postscript available as a free PDF in due course.

EXCLUSIVE David Whitaker by Simon Guerrier Paperback Edition PINK

EXCLUSIVE David Whitaker by Simon Guerrier Paperback Edition GREY

The Who Shop previously issued an exclusive hardback version of the book which has now sold out. The standard-version paperback is still available.

Friday, April 05, 2024

Tech to Transform podcast #27

Through my day job as a journalist for, I spoke to Rebecca Paddick at Mantis PR for the latest episode of their Tech to Transform podcast.
Blurb as follows:
With an imminent election, the potential impact of AI-generated content, and the continuous evolution of digital, how do reporters select their stories? And what role do technology providers play in that? 

They also discussed the ways journalism is evolving in response to advancements in big data analytics and visualisation tools.  

Looking at public sector tech, Simon explains how the growing importance of privacy and cybersecurity issues could impact the focus and approach of tech journalism in the near future. 

As sustainability becomes a more prominent concern, particularly in the tech industry, the pair discuss how journalists can raise awareness and foster dialogue around environmentally friendly practices and innovations. 

They also covered a few other topics, like the way technology can connect us all, how news should add light not noise, and… the science of teddy bears…