Thursday, 30 September 2010

Wordy Thursday

Conclusion to my short Dr Who story, which was entered for a competition in which the brief was something like 'how meeting the Doctor changed my life forever', or some such feebleness.


The Hall of the Absolutes was a vast cavern of deep blue crystal, softly illuminated by molten minerals coursing through myriad veins in the rock. Behind me stood the Tardis, its pulsating light reflected by a thousand glimmering points. Ranged before me was a series of black marble chairs – thrones, in fact – on which imposing, richly robed figures sat immobile and impassive. The crystal hall echoed to an angry, staccato rapping: the Doctor’s umbrella.

Bewildered by this alien splendour, I had kept my gaze firmly fixed on the Doctor throughout his audience with the Absolutes. After an initial ceremony of formal greetings, the Absolutes had remained silent as the Doctor pleaded for them to bring an end to the devastation wrought by the Thlaarx. Their lean, pale faces were set and expressionless. Their gaze remained fixed on a point somewhere above the small figure of the Doctor as he tried to put his case. Increasingly frustrated by their lack of attention, his began to shout and stamp, gesticulating extravagantly and almost dancing with vexation. He might have appeared comical if his words had not been so impassioned. At last, with an air of defeat, he paused and began his irritable tapping on the crystal floor.

‘Well?’ he said. ‘What will you do? Your Majesty, I appeal to you personally!’
He addressed a woman of exceptionally regal bearing.
‘We will do nothing, Time Lord, as you knew,’ she said in a voice as cold and sculpted as her marble throne. ‘These humans were not invited to the world you speak of. Now they are falling to another set of invaders. Such is the way of things. Why should we concern ourselves with such transient affairs? They are unpleasant, yes, but beneath the notice of We Who Live Forever.’

‘Balderdash!’ exclaimed the Doctor, and he poked his umbrella dangerously close to the Absolute’s face. She raised an eyebrow. ‘These are very pretty clothes you are wearing, your Majesty. And this is a very pretty place. Don’t try that “we’re above human experience” rubbish on me. I’ve heard it all before on Gallifrey. Zeris, come here!’

I jumped at the sound of my name. I hurried over and the Doctor drew me in front of him.

‘I will ask a boon of you, your Majesty, before I leave you to your idle contemplations,’ he continued. ‘Look into this child’s eyes and see for yourself what he has seen.’

It was a command. The Absolute obeyed (despite herself, I imagine). Her cold eyes dropped to mine and my brain seemed instantly to fill with ice. A thousand horrifying images span before me but I could not take my eyes away. I cried out and struggled in the Doctor’s grip. Then the Absolute closed her eyes and my brief torment was over.

‘I see,’ said the Absolute prosaically. ‘Yes, and felt it, too, as you intended, Time Lord. I had hoped never to feel such things again. Very well, it shall be as you ask.’

She turned and conferred for a moment with her fellows. The Doctor tried to interrupt.

‘Wait!’ he said. ‘I thank you, but please be guided by me. I do not wish you to destroy theThlaarx. There are other ways…’

But he was interrupted in turn by the royal Absolute.

‘It is done,’ she said. ‘Now you must leave us.’

‘Have you destroyed them?’

‘It is done.’

‘No!’ the Doctor yelled. ‘Why destroy them? You could have disabled their technology… transported them elsewhere...’

‘You must leave us now,’ repeated the Absolute.

‘Genocide,’ murmured the Doctor. ‘In an instant. On my insistence. It was what I feared.’

Forlornly, the Doctor led me back to the Tardis. Minutes later, we were in New London. The Doctor pointed out to me clouds of black dust on the horizon and told me they were all that remained of the Hooded Ones and their craft. They had been vapourised in an instant by the silent command of the Absolute. So, too, had every other member of the Thlaarx race, in orbit and elsewhere on the planet’s surface. The Doctor said nothing more, but hugged me and left me to sit alone among the rubble until, at last, the dazed and weeping human survivors drifted back.


Do you still wonder, then, why my answer to you is ‘no’? Why I refuse to put my name to your declaration of war against Persia Redux? Sixty years ago I was the unwitting means by which our race was saved. Yet you ask me now to wilfully contribute to its destruction. The Doctor saved the lives of all of us, including those not then born. The price was a heavy one: the extinction of another race. How can a man live with such a burden on his conscience?

So, brand me a traitor, if you must. Threaten me with death. That is no threat to me: my life’s purpose was fulfilled when I was 12. I shall not be a traitor to my conscience. Nor shall I betray the Doctor and make vain the sacrifice he made for us. He gave us all – every human in every colony on this world – a future. Take this step and you will prove the Absolutes right. The human race will prove transient indeed.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Weird Wednesday

I guess I should have remembered to note that I would be away for a week. Aye me! Oh well, for Weird Weds, here is another image from a 1929 Strand, this time from April. It's from quite a good story about arrogant colonial types coming up against native magic - one of whom disappears into a cloud and is later found dead. The artist has gone a bit OTT with his image: the story only suggest there may have been something horrible in the mist, and the matter is left open.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Mr Charles Chaplin behind the camera

For no particular reason, except to go with the film theme, here's Charlie Chaplin directing one of his movies, taken from an article called something like 'A Day with Charlie Chaplin' from the April 1929 edition of The Strand. The first six months of 1929 had more interesting non-fiction features packed into them than the rest of the decade put together. Chaplin's star was already on the wane, although he was still one of the highest paid people in Hollywood - and the growth of the talkies didn't help. Interesting to read about a megastar's life back then. He was just as precious and difficult as megastars today, one gathers.

The highlight of the article was when some bloke approaches him on set, stares at him, and before being thrown off, says: 'That's not him!' The assumption is that he is some sort of looney stalker. While The Strand journalist is with Chaplin in a restaurant in the evening the same guy approaches.What will happen? But he apologises. He says he hasn't seen his son in years and someone told him he'd gone to Hollywood and changed his name to Charlie Chaplin! Bizarre.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Cool crime picture

I love this illustration. It's beautifully drawn, with dramatic 'lighting' and a real sense of menace as well as style. The illustrator is new to me - Jack Faulks. It illustrates a tense scene from one of a series of crime stories set in the Far East by Henry De Vere Stacpoole, the author of The Blue Lagoon. It's from the March 1929 edition of The Strand.

Monstrous Monday

Huge, horrible, underwater creepy-crawlie illustrating the second of the two parts of The Lord of the Dark Face, a short sequel to The Maracot Deep by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Not only is the horrid earwiggy thing enormous and armed with scary pincers, it can shoot out killer volts like an electric eel - lucky that poor fish got in the way of the blast or our heroes would have been done for. I'm thinking of reproducing the instalments of The Maracot Deep and The Lord of the Dark Face in book form. All I have to do is scan them, set up a print-on-demand account and find a way of letting people know it's available - but the latter bit is the hard bit.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Saturday Matinee

Two of my favourite 50s sci-fi movies, both 'ITs'. It Came From Outer Space is an acknowledged classic, of course, with its literate Ray Bradbury script which introduced many themes later to become cliches: the desert setting, misunderstood monster and aliens masquerading as humans. First (I think) use of Theramine soundtrack, creepy monster-eye-view camera work and the most sophisticated 3D process then invented - so sophisticated it was never used again and it's impossible now to see it in 3D (the excellent documentary extra on the DVD convinces you just what a real loss this is).
It- The Terror etc is much, much better than its naff title would suggest. Indeed Ridley Scott mentioned it as an influence on Alien. Spaceship goes to Mars to find out what happened to an earlier expedition, only to find everyone dead except, suspiciously, the captain. He babbles on about a monster coming out of the dark to kill them one by one, but they think he murdered his crew in order to live off their rations till help arrives. Needless to say, said monster climbs on board before they take off and in the depths of space starts killing off this crew, too. 'It' is just a bloke in a rubber suit, but is largely kept in the shadows, fortunately. The film becomes increasingly claustrophobic as the unstoppable creature gets through first one bulkead and then another, advancing floor by floor and forcing the crew into the confined space of the nose-cone. Good stuff.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Birth of the Talkies

The article in the March 1929 edition of The Strand that kicked off with the photo of the robot, posted yesterday then continued with stuff about sound recording and artifical music. The top pic is a scan of a page with two photos of the the early 'Talkies'. A frightfully stern chap and his gal are menaced by a huge chunk of metal for simultaneous sound-and-picture recording, and above you can see the results - masses of ticker-tape type stuff pouring out of massive kiosk-sized hunks of machinery.

The photo immediately above though is really fascinating - it shows M. Theramine showing off his self-named instrument to Sir Henry Wood (of Proms fame) and Sir Oliver Lodge, a celebrated physicist who was also a champion of spiritualism. His interest in the Theramine - which rather languished until 50s sci-fi movies and psychedelia came about decades later - was probably because of the suggestion that the inventor was apparently manipulating the 'ether' to create the sounds.

Found Friday

September, 2006, and Dhrupick Funhouse goes prog - and kind of scary - at the Old Swan, Wrexham.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Twenties Robots

The photo above is of 'a robot public speaker that recently opened an exhibition in London'. It kicks off an article about 'man versus machine' in the March 1929 edition of The Strand. What struck me, apart from its classic retro art deco look, is that it has 'R.U.R.' emblazoned across its chest. This stands, as I'm sure you know, for 'Rossum's Universal Robots', the UK translation of Karel Capek's famous play which is said to have introduced the word 'robot' to the world. In the playwright's native Czech, robota means 'forced labour'. According to the Wikipedia article on the play, Capek's robots were more like clones or androids than mechanical men - a race of subhuman beings bred for slavery.
'Rossum's Universal Robots' was premiered in 1921 (a scene from it is reproduced top). By the end of the decade it seems the word was already fully established in its modern usage. It's interesting that the 'robot public speaker' above should have 'R.U.R.' on it - was it built to tie in with a revival of the play or had those initials become so solidly associated with the concept of a robot that the designer automatically added them?
There are several interesting articles in the 1929 editions of The Strand - unusually for the 20s editions - and I'll post a few more pix from them over the next few days.

Wordy Thursday

Penultimate instalment of my short Dr Who story, entered for a competitioon a couple of years ago.

My eyes were struck by the brightness of the box’s interior and I covered them with my bloody, muddied knuckles. The Doctor guided me to an elegant little chair in the corner of a wide, white room.

‘Before you ask,’ he said, ‘yes, it is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. This is the Tardis. It is my home. It’s also my transportation. A “cosmic caravan” my friend Ace called it.’

He busied himself with a set of controls ranged on a central dais. A glass column, infused with instrumentation, began to rise and fall and the room juddered. This made me jump and I felt another flash of panic.

‘Don’t be nervous, there’s no need for that now,’ said the Doctor, who had noticed this. ‘I am the one who should be nervous. I know very well how this short trip we’re making is likely to end, and I am afraid it will be on my conscious for a very long time.’

The lights in the room dimmed slightly and from the central column there emerged a weird, metallic scraping.

As the sound faded into a background hum, the Doctor continued: ‘We’ve just got time to clean you up a bit and then… and then I’ll have to put you on show.’

He left me for a few moments, ducking out through a door at the opposite end of the room. I felt a faint vibration and realised we were in motion, that this inexplicable machine was travelling somewhere and taking me with it.

The Doctor soon returned with a silver bowl of steaming water and a towel over one arm. He had removed his jacket and there was something so cheerful and childlike about the pair of bright red braces he was sporting that I found myself smiling. They were reassuring somehow.

‘It’s good to see you smile. I imagine it is a long while since you have done so,’ the Doctor said, and he began to clean and dress my many minor wounds.

‘I owe you an apology for forcing you to view all that horror,’ he said. ‘You have seen more horror in your young lifetime, Zeris, than even an adult with a long, long lifespan such as mine should ever witness. But I believe it will prove necessary. We are on our way to the Hall of the Absolutes. The Absolutes consider themselves the owners of this corner of your galaxy, including the world you live on. They are a cold, proud, amoral race – cousins to my own people. But they have certain powers we do not share. They may intervene to stop the Thlaarx in their massacre. But I doubt it. They will probably need convincing. If so, that is where I hope you will help.’

‘Help? Yes, I’ll help,’ I said.

‘Good boy,’ he said. ‘Although, actually, you won’t really need to do anything.’

(Final part next week)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Weird Wednesday

Isn't this great? Admittedly it helps if you're familiar with the old Observer's Books. I asked Dan Berry, illustration lecturer at Glyndwr University in Wrexham to mock it up for me. It will accompany an article on common alien morphology by UFO expert Nick Redfern, which will appear in the forthcoming issue of Paranormal Magazine (out at the end of the month). He's done a lovely job. To see more of Dan's work, visit:

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

New-look Strand

A month later, The Strand cover finally gets a make-over. The Edwardian flower seller is replaced with a post-Flapper yummy mummy and the motors are modernised. Almost too late, though, bearing in mind it's 1929. And fairly soon the editors will realise that bespoke covers sell the contents better (although, of course, it would have cost more money to pay for the artists to do them). I haven't progressed far enough yet but I suspect this new-look cover fails to survive past 1930, especially with the constant changes in fashion during that decade.

The Prof is back

Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger returns for the last time in a two-part story, The Disintegration Machine. Here he is displaying his usual good temper on the front of the Strand Magazine, January 1929.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Monstrous Monday

Four illustrations by Anthony Wallis from The Great Yokai Encyclopedia by Richard Freeman, just published by CFZ Press (you can find it on Amazon).
Yokai are traditional Japanese spooks, a blend of ghost, goblin and demon. He we have (top) a monstrous, malevolent skeleton; a weird, dumpy creature that likes to cut off women's hair; a giant sea-cucumber which grew out of a dead girl's discarded underwear and now menaces shipping; and a naked bloke with an eye in his bum, frightening off a Samurai.
Richard started work on the Encyclopedia when he realised very little had been written in the West about the rich heritage of the Yokai. He wrote an article on them for Paranormal Magazine in early 2009 but the book wasn't launched till the Weird Weekend in Devon last month. The Yokai are lots of bizarre and gruesome fun: no wonder Japanese comics and films are so monster-orientated. Pokemon characters can trace their family tree back to the Yokai.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Spooky Sunday 4

Blimey, this seems to be going on forever. I shall stop it here. I might inflict the rest on you next week.

Spooky Sunday 3

Still going...

Spooky Sunday 2

Crikey, look at my knackered collar. I shouldn't be allowed out.

Spooky Sunday 1

Me trying to sound intelligent on the big budget extravaganza that is The Great Unexplained Debate on the Unexplained Channel nee Paranormal Channel. Nice big plug for the mag, thank you Mr Beattie. This is the first of four parts, god help you.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Saturday Matinee

When you just can't make up your mind what you're in the mood for... how about that old standby, Nazi exploitation horror-porn? Where's my popcorn?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Wordy Thursday - My short Dr Who story continues

A dozen steps took me into a cave-like hollow, the cellar of a decimated house or shop. The source of the light was a lamp set on top of a large box. In front of this was a small man who leant wearily on a red-handled umbrella. He was clean, well-dressed – an apparition that did not belong in my ruined, dying world. He turned to me, and in the dim, intermittent light I saw a great sadness in his eyes.

‘I am sorry,’ he said, ‘I cannot help you. I have come too late again.’

He brushed past me to the foot of the stairs and stood there listening to the confusion above: the relentless, merciless slaughter of humanity.

‘I arrived too late at New Persia and Landfall and I am too late now,’ he murmured. ‘I must go. I must go on.’

But he remained standing and listening. I crept up to him, impressed by his stillness, his lack of fear. I leant against him, my head just reaching his shoulder. So we stood for what seemed an age to me who had been running so long, but which in truth was perhaps no more than fifteen minutes, until all fell silent. Then the stranger ascended the stairs and I followed him.

The ground now was littered with corpses: skeletons pinkly veneered with blood and cocooned in clothing.

‘Too late, too late,’ the stranger repeated, and then he turned to me. ‘Have you ever seen your enemy? The Thlaarx? These creatures you call the Hooded Ones?’

I shook my head.

‘They are invertebrates,’ he said, ‘bulbous, bloated beings, composed mainly of mouth and stomach. Each person who lies here now was devoured by a Thlaarx in seconds; their flesh sucked off, their innards slurped down and the refuse discarded in the same unfeeling way you might consume an oyster.’

He stepped a few feet further into the field of desolation, picking his way between the skeletons. He gazed into the distance, muttering to himself.

‘I know it is in their nature to feed like this,’ I heard him say. ‘I know they are constantly, ravenously hungry and scavengers now their world is gone. But to feed on intelligent life, to destroy civilizations…’

To me he said: ‘Well, my young survivor, you had better come with me. Indeed, you must. Whatever the cost, the Thlaarx must be stopped and I realise now there is only one way it can be done.’

The stranger hunched himself over, his hands resting on his umbrella, and he peered intently into my eyes.

‘I need you to look around you,’ he said. ‘Yes, at all this horror. I need you to take it all in and not forget it.’

Taking me by the shoulders, he turned me about. I could not avoid the empty eye sockets of the fallen. I saw the twisted flailing of stick-like limbs, crumpled clothing over fleshless forms, strands of hair clinging to clots of blood on skulls. I heard the chirping and pecking of birds as they picked over bones. Disgusted and furious, I shook myself free of the stranger’s grip and kicked out at a corpse near my feet. Its lower jaw fell open and it seemed to laugh at me.

‘Come on,’ said the stranger, and he descended the stairs again. I followed. Back in the safe semi-darkness, I found my voice at last.

‘Who are you?’ I stammered.

‘I’m sorry, I’m forgetting my manners.’

The stranger raised a short-brimmed hat and gave a little bow.

‘I am the Doctor,’ he said.

‘The Doctor,’ I repeated. I raised a bleeding knee for his inspection and showed him the scrapes and scratches on my arms.

‘I’m not really that kind of doctor,’ he smiled. ‘But I’ll put something on those abrasions to help them heal. And what is your name?’

I told him.

‘Well, come along with me, Zeris,’ he said. ‘Come inside. This is my home.’

He unlocked the door of the flashing box and ushered me inside.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Weird Wednesday

'The Annual Dance given to Spirit Mediums by the Psychological Society. Dancing with spiritual partners to spiritual music, played by spiritual instruments.'

By the unmistakable W Heath Robinson, 1924.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Monstrous Monday

Three more illustrations from the original serialisation in Pearson's Magazine (1903-4) of Food of the Gods by H G Wells. Firstly, we have the giant chicken, followed by some horrible bugs and then the ultimate result of the Food, big babies. Ray Harryhausen was involved in an early proposal to make a film version and made a giant chick for it. The concept was shelved, however, but the monster chick didn't go to waste - it was written into Mysterious Island as a prehistoric carnivorous bird, and appeared in one of the best-remembered scenes from the film, fended off by Joan Greengross of all people.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Found Friday

Had a bit of a rummage among my old photos for this lot. They're part of a sequence of snaps that were supposed to tell some sort of spy story dreamt up by me, aged about 8, and taken in the early 70s. In the top one I'm a scientist who's been done in - see there's my microscope and something with valves stuck in it. I'm sure my eyes are open to add extra realism, not otherwise. And yes, that really is an original 1960s Dalek toy peeping into view on the windowsill (you'll need to click on the photo to see all the exciting details, obviously).

Just round the corner from our house (in Compton, Berkshire) there was a little electricty substation or something and it had a sign on it which read 'DANGER'. In red writing! So that had to appear, too. I'm looking quite intense about it.

Finally me and my brother Stuart have a thrilling and highly convincing scrap. Look, the little bugger's punching me in the throat. Nasty stuff. Someone ought to have stopped us. No one took the photo for us, either - on the back in wobbly biro it says 'Taken on timer', just to prove what an auteur I was.

Personally, I'm also pretty impressed with my look. Dee Dee Ramone haircut matched with Graham Coxon-style geek jumper and stripy shirt. Not so sure about the jumbo cords, though - bit of a nod towards Jethro Tull maybe.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Wordy Thursday

The opening section of a short Dr Who story I wrote for a competition Robin talked me into entering. It didn't even get shortlisted. How humiliating. My only consolation is that Robin's didn't get shortlisted either!

I ran with all the others, a small part of one great mass of panicking humanity. We ran, stumbled, fought our frightened way across the rubble-strewn plain that had once been our town. There was no reasoning, no plan. It was a stampede. Blind terror impelled us; our only purpose: escape.

Because I was small and wiry, I made better progress than the adults. I dodged round lumbering thighs and leapfrogged nimbly over those who fell. My survival instinct was sharply honed. My parents, sisters, friends and neighbours had all been taken and devoured by the Hooded Ones in the first wave of attacks on New London. Because I had no one to support me, to ask for advice, I had become like an animal, unhindered by doubts or uncertainty. I existed to survive. At the age of twelve I was a veteran.

My progress was made swifter still when the Hooded Ones fell upon us. Their silent craft cast wing-shaped shadows on the seething crowd and a soft metallic whirring, just audible above the cries and footfalls of the crowd, warned of the coming of the Snares. The clawed, flexible tentacles snatched up one – two – three – a dozen people in rapid succession. Few of their prey even had the time to scream before their struggling bodies vanished into the bellies of the spacecraft and then, no doubt, into the bellies of the Hooded Ones themselves. In this horrible way, the crowd soon thinned and I had more room to manoeuvre.

My smaller size also helped protect me from the Snares, for the taller adults attracted them first. However, when a woman running beside me tripped and fell, the Snare which had aimed for her swung over to me instead. I felt it brush the back of my neck as I, too, threw myself down. The claw snapped inches from my head, then returned to its original victim. As it latched onto her, the woman squealed with despair. Her shoe clattered down beside me.

This incident saved my life and led to the salvation of all of us.

Lying prostrate, only I of all the desperate crowd noticed the dim light pulsating from somewhere below the ground. Instinctively, I made for it, scuttling lizard-like over the blocks of rubble. The light emanated from a deep well of shadow beneath a slab of concrete ripped up from the shattered roadway. As Snares snapped above me, I dove under the overhang, then fell, barking my arms and knees on a short flight of stairs which dropped down into the gloom. I lay sprawled on the steps for a moment, then cautiously made my way down to the source of the flashing light.

(Humiliated I might have been but I might post the next bit next week anyway).