Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In the 'Days of the "Days of ""The Days of Our Lives"" " ' (Cut 3)

This story was originally printed in Missing Pieces (2001)
(It's intended to be capable of being read in 3 different orders, this version is the 'puzzle box' order it was originally printed in - intended to heighten the mystery of what's happening.)


Prologue 1939

The throne was huge.  From it, the tips of his toes barely reached the floor, and the leather strapped sandals were cutting into his feet; but he knew that he must not let his mother down by squirming.  This was an important moment; the climax of the battle of wills that he could see being played out before his young eyes.

He could no more look away than he could remove the heavy two-tiered crown that signified - so his mother had told him - the kingship of the upper and lower Niles.  It would be over soon now, he hoped; the heat of the brilliant lights that flooded the throne room was burning him.

The bearded prophet was shouting his demands for the slaves, again and again.  He was a giant of a man. Idly the boy wondered if he'd grow so straight and strong. Maybe if he ate all his greens as his mother insisted.  He kept his eyes on the prophet as he cast his staff upon the floor. There was a flash of powdery smoke and a snake writhed on the ground.  The boy stifled a smile - he had seen this trick before.  It was time for the next trick.

He knew he should not look up. It wasn't right that he take his eyes off the prophet; but even so he could not resist a glance towards the roof. It was a glance of admiration. There crawling along a ledge seemingly faced with stone slabs was the ancient sorcerer Ammon-Ra.  His long bones cast a gruesome shadow. In his hand he carried an iron staff.  It was shiversome to watch him; he had the moves so well, so spider-like, so evil. He would bang his staff on the stones and send them crashing down on the Prophet.  His intent was clear from his very stance.

It was, Alfie thought, the best acting he'd ever seen. He hoped he'd do as well when he grew up.  Until then the part of the boy-King Tutmoses was the best role his mother had ever got him.  It was the sensational children's character role of 1939!  His name was going to be in lights - well his stage name anyway, his mother said Alfie Trousdale wasn't a good name for an actor. He let his bored King's gaze drop to the Prophet, and so he did not see the other man crawling just behind the Sorcerer reach out toward him.

He did however see the flash of light, and he heard the make-up girl scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra fall to the floor of the set, burning as it fell.

Inside the Ship:  Act 1 Scene 1

Polly and Ben were arguing.  Good naturedly enough and with only a modicum of teasing banter but there was no denying it was getting on the Doctor's erratic nerves.  Since his change when his body had renewed itself with the help of the TARDIS he had been nervous around Ben. The young able-seaman had doubted the Doctor's identity to begin with, and in a sense maybe he had doubted it himself: no amount of theoretical knowledge could prepare the psyche for the shock of renewal. Polly had been kinder but even she could have no real conception of what had happened to him: neither of them could.

"Hey Doc," Ben shouted, "settle an argument?"

"Oh," the Doctor fidgeted as if he had been unexpectedly asked to shoot a mettlesome horse, "I don't know if I could do that. I mean I'm no authority."  A quirk of his lips suggested he didn't believe himself for a moment.

Polly beamed sweetly, "But you must have an opinion?"

He beamed back. "Must I?  I try not to get involved in local disputes, you know that!"

"No, bur really" Ben said, "Cliff Archer right? Was he better as Hornblower or Hamlet 'cause I say Horatio but Miss High Culture here holds out for the Prince of Denmark."

"Well," the Doctor paused. "I think we've established Ben, that you prefer his middle period: Devil Dogs of The Marines, Bedtime for Bingo, and that film you can't remember the name of, in which he plays a man who loses both legs in an accident.

Ben looked surprised - he hadn't thought the Doctor had been listening - and Polly winced at the return of a painful subject, but the Doctor didn't seem to notice.  "But most serious film-buffs consider that his finest performance was as a child as Prince Tutmoses in Cecil B. De Mille's epic sampler of history The Days Of Our Lives."

"That black and white effort were he plays an Egyptian?" Ben snorted, "It's so slow."

Polly looked serious, "You know it's only just occurred to me but the Doctor's probably seen films that haven't even been made yet - in our time I mean."

Ben perked up, "Yeah that'd be interesting, come on Doc so what does Cliff get remembered for?"

The Doctor muttered something under his breath.

"Come again?" Ben said, but the Doctor was already busying himself setting co-ordinates.  "Did you catch that Duchess?"

"I'm not sure. What sort of film has a character in, called something like O'Brian Ken O'Boyo?"

"Something Irish" Ben guessed. "Sort of Leprechaun flick probably; you know pots of gold."


1999: Act 3 Scene 3

The editing suite was a mess of gutted 1960s and 1930s cameras - the videocam tech that had been packed inside spilling out with the brutal insolence of a hernia. The Director put down his clipboard, and smirked at the Doctor.

"Nothing to say?  I imagine the audacity of our masterpiece has struck you dumb!  You might like to compliment me before I have you thrown off the lot."   Polly entered.  "And your make-up girl imposter too!"

The Doctor scowled. "Audacity! hardly - a simple bit of temporal trisection, like making a jug by origami. It might look pretty but it won't hold water and you know it!"

"We have three of the finest performances of the most popular film actors of his day within a single film with no expensive SFX or CGI".  The Director grinned his Hollywood Cheshire Cat smile, teeth perfectly capped, in a surround of beard. "And by filming in the past we saved so much on expenses. Our accounts make the Blair Witch Project look like Heaven's Gate.  We owe a tremendous debt to the late Professor Whi..."

"I don't care whose research your flimflam is misusing!" - the Doctor cried - interrupting him - by filming in the past you've disrupted your own history you orthodontic ninny!"

The Doctor pulled a tatty copy of the Radio Times Guide To Films On DVD (2003) out of his fur coat, and started to read...

2003: Inside the Ship : Act 3 Scene 1

"Stay in the Ship," The Doctor's voice was terse. Ben tried to stand up to him but there was something in the small man's eyes that admitted of no compromises. "I'll just be a moment, but it could be very dangerous, if we saw or heard too much."

Polly ran over to the consol from the chair where she had been sobbing, her mascara running onto her sleeve where she'd rested her arm on the little card table .

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I'm going to buy a film guide, I won't be long."  He paused and looked at Ben expectantly. "Well have you got any money?"

Later he cradled the thick book on his knee, reading aloud:

"Archer, Clifford : born Alfred Trousedale 1929. A somewhat undistinguished character actor whose childhood career floundered after the filming of Cecil B. De Mille's The Days Of Our Lives , an unfinished epic trawl through history in which he played Prince Tutmoses of Egypt.  He would return to the film ironically in 1969 when a would-be remake cast him as Ishmael leader of the Egyptian slaves."

The Doctor snorted. "Ishmael, I suppose Pharoah's army was swallowed by a white whale".

Polly bit her lip. "Does it say anything about the death?"

"No Polly it does not. And that might mean we can prevent it."

Ben glared a the Doctor.  "That's not the sort of thing you used to say. What about that sideshow affair you showed us when we started travelling with you. 'Hello I'm Troy McClure you might remember me from such safety films as So You've Altered History, and Butterflies On My Blue-suede Shoes.'  "

"That was quite different, Ben."

"How different?"

"Ben," the Doctor said, slowly and patiently, "a man is dead".

Polly sniffed, "And we killed him."

The Doctor held a finger to his lips and gave a meaningful tilt of his head at Ben, to which Ben remained luckily oblivious. Polly subsided.

"Now Polly, we don't know that for certain, and besides if I'm right, there's a sense in which the death hasn't happened yet. And anything that hasn't happened yet can be prevented. Besides goodness knows who'd fill the film vacuum left by Alfred's unavailability," the Doctor continued, "suppose someone else starred in all his films. They might do anything with their popularity, even run for President. The whole political spectrum of 20th century Earth could be very different!"

"Oh sure," Ben scoffed, "an actor as President! Still if it matters so much to you Duchess maybe we should try something."

The Doctor set the controls for 1999, and noticeably, crossed his fingers.

1999:  Act 3 Scene 2

The aging, the reclusive, the down-at-heel Clifford Archer was already rehearsing his self mockery as he opened the door of the squalid digs he shared with half the students in London, expecting to blink in the lens of a videocam.

Instead he found himself staring down into two quizzical brown eyes under a ridiculous out of date and over-tall hat. The hat immediately struck a chord; thirty odd years ago he'd known someone who wore a hat like that.

Odd, the tricks memory played, things from his childhood were coming into sharp focus these days, his middle years were a blur with the occasional close-up, and where he'd put the cat food last night he certainly didn't know.  The bane of being seventy.

The man took off his hat, revealing a mop of hair that to Clifford's practised eyes looked very like a wig. The thought made Cliff wonder if his own was straight.

"The washing machine," the man said, "can I come in?".

"Did the landlord send you?" Cliff asked. He hadn't noticed that the shared communal washing machine that served his and the student's one-room 'flats' was broken.  "Only it's not very convenient. I've got some people coming."  He found himself embarrassed enough to try to explain even though it was none of the man's business. It was the hat mainly - he couldn't for the life of him remember where he'd seen it before, but he was sure he had.

"A film crew, actually," he said. "They're doing a documentary with reconstructions. On the Curse of The Days Of Our Lives - the film, you know."

The man looked at him as if he was mad.  "Ah, no I'm afraid you misunderstood me. I don't know your landlord, but the cat food is in the washing machine and you must not make that documentary."

As it turned out the cat food was in the washing machine. Clifford shrugged: that explained the socks in the larder then. He was getting vaguer. His doctor's hadn't given him long: all the more reason to keep working - screw one last tenner out of this unforgiving wretched business - leave enough to get his daughter out of debt and pay the funeral expenses.

"How did you know?" he asked the stranger.

"Obvious place," the man remarked giving the household tabby a tentative pat. It hissed at him.

"I can't take your advice I'm afraid."

"I thought not. If you did it would have complicated things but Polly wanted me to try."

"Hang on!"  Polly. There had been a make-up girl called that on the remake back in 1969 when he'd been playing the Hebrew rebel, thingummy-bob, the one based on Moses they couldn't call Moses for some legal reason.  A makeup girl called Polly and a man with a great big hat.  The same man?  Impossible, the chap didn't look a day over...actually Clifford couldn't get to within a decade of the man's age. He had one of those born old faces that worked you over for leading parts but gave you the pick of character roles.
"Surely, we've met?" - Clifford found himself saying  oh well he could only look stupid (and poor, and old, and undervalued). "Weren't you technical advisor on the remake?"

The man looked startled. "Oh now, not really possible is it?  My  er father, yes my father did some work on British films: old school technical work, painting backdrops on glass, all very specialised -always known as the Doctor."

Clifford's memory clicked into place. "Yes that was what he liked to be called. Bit of a poser really if you don't mind my saying so." He gave the man an appraising look. "He really stamped on your face didn't he. You could be his double."  He set his face into his best scowl. "It must really have been a family thing. Wasn't his father in on the 1939 shoot?"

A look of panic passed over the stranger's face.  Clifford felt a pang of compassion.

"Listen if their reputation is on the line I can't help that. Everyone on the set was absolved of blame at the time by the police. I'm not about to point any fingers. This is an artistic recreation for the South Bank Show, not bloody Watchdog.

"A precise recreation?"

Clifford sniffed, "well look at me! I'm hardly set up to play the romantic lead am I.  I'll be taking the role of the elderly magician Ammon-Ra: the sorceror that Moses, well whatsisname, defeats in the turning staffs into snakes contest. So it'll be my second role."

"You third surely?"

"If you're referring to my performance as Prince Tutmoses in the 1939 original - I regard that as a mere cameo."

"It doesn't worry you then?"

"I'm not superstitious. Not every actor wets himself when someone says Macbeth you know."

"Even so wouldn't you call it odd. Two deaths in two attempts to film the same story, both of the same character, the one you're due to play now?"

"In a re-enactment of a scene not the whole film."

"Ah forgive me, but which scene exactly have the asked you to re-enact?"

Clifford bit his lip.  "Get out".

He slammed the door behind the man - his heart pounding.

They both knew which scene he was being paid to re-enact.

Ammon-Ra's most important moment.  The biggy.  The death scene.


1939:  Act 1 Scene 2

"You reckon we can just walk up and have a butchers, then?" Ben asked, as the Doctor locked the Tardis in the backlot.

Polly looked puzzled, and taking pity on her, Ben added, "Butcher's hook, look, Duchess."

"Yes, I don't see why not." the Doctor answered. "We only want an autograph, if anyone asks you can be an extra; Polly can be from make-up."

Polly executed a mock half ironic bow; and seemed to  be considering demanding a starring role instead but let it pass.

"And you?" Ben asked. He'd started to feel the same respect for 'this' Doctor as he had for the old man he'd met the Day Wotan Went Mad, but it didn't feel right calling him sir, like he would have the old geezer.

"I shall say I am on the technical side."

1969:  Act 2 Scene 1

"....wouldn't listen the thick-pated nincompoop," the Doctor grumbled as the TARDIS materialised on the backlot, again, thirty years later than its previous visit.

Ben looked puzzled, "but you said he wouldn't listen, that's why you didn't want to ask him."

"Well of course I knew he wouldn't listen," the Doctor spluttered, "If he'd listened we wouldn't have been in this hodgepodge of a dog's breakfast in the first place would we."

"I don't think we ought to go out there," Ben said setting himself up to block the Doctor's passage to the doors.

Polly put her hand on the able-seaman's arm - knowing he couldn't deny his Duchess anything. "Please Ben".

Ben shook his head, angrily, stubbornly, the same stubbornness that had made him deny his own eye when they had seen the Doctor change so recently from a white haired patrician of around 800 years of age into this dark haired scamp.

"What if we make it worse?"

The Doctor looked him in the face, "for once I don't think that's possible, do you?  Pass me my hat there's a good fellow."

Cliff Archer strode out of make-up with, he was aware, a cheesy grin on his face, the image of the beautiful girl who'd put the finishings on lingering in his mind.  Nice girl, gorgeous blonde hair. Posh woman to be doing such a menial job, might be worth asking out once the picture was in the can. She'd obviously been starstruck too.

A man in a tall hat, a tatty jacket and and frankly Chaplinesque trousers bounded onto the set, framing the empty air at the back between his hands.  "Ah Cliff Archer," he cried, "I'm so pleased to meet you."

"You are?"  Cliff edged away hoping he could get away with a simple autograph.

"You again, Doctor!"  An older voice cut through the question as a figure robed in green, his face hidden within a carven mummy mask, stepped onto the dais that formed the central feature of the set.

Cliff recognised the costume from the 1939 production.  It was a classy replica - the new film's designers had opted to pick up on the original designs. Cliff suspected it was to let them drop in background scenes from the original painted out of black and white with a single tone for mood. Art they called it: he called it cheapness. The mask was an art nouveau horror the faked winkles of the plastic bandages stretching the face into a distorted scream. He wondered for a moment what idiot would wear it replica or not, knowing the gruesome fate of the actor in the previous production. The mask had been burned right onto his face. As if by lightening.

He felt a momentary pang of guilt to realise he'd never bothered to learn the name of the actor who was electrocuted in 1939, still he could rectify that now by learning the name of this chap and giving him some encouragement.  "So you are?" he asked getting as much heartiness into his tone as he could manage faced with that evil, near reptile face.

"Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra, who do you bloody think I am, the jolly green giant?"  - the voice was old, cultured, and bitter.  Cliff felt himself blushing at such language. Well damn the man, if that was his attitude he could just stay a nameless figure in a mask, for all Cliff cared.

The man in the hat rested his hand on Cliff's arm.  "Do try to forgive him. It must be very hot in there and I'm not sure he can see out very well." He tapped a finger on the mask's glassy eyes.

"Do you mind" The Mask jerked away on Ammon-Ra's scrawny neck and his voice came out angry as a hornet. "I'm only in this iron-maiden of a thing for one scene. I don't need the sons of hasbeen technical advisors getting me trapped in it."

Cliff turned to the man in the hat.  "Your father worked on the last film? I don't remember..."

"Oh, no reason you should," the man said quickly, "spent his whole time getting painted into a corner. I mean painting the corners".

The masked mummy, groaned, and Cliff realised the bitter old fool was laughing.  "Vain git more like. Going on about how the film would end in tragedy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to have been his electrical work that fried my predecessor.  Still he was proved right I suppose which was a bloody strange co-incidence what with it happening just like..."

"He predicted," the man in the hat finished, capping Ammon-Ra's sentence.  The Mummy seemed to take that as the last straw.  "Listen I have to do this, don't think you can get me off set by hanging about with poor quality look-a-likes either!  I'm going through with it.  And he stalked off.

Cliff whistled. "Bit of a chip on his shoulder!  Did you father work on the 1939 film then? I played Prince Tutmoses you know - something of a break for me, not a normal child role you see. Had some meat to it. When the magician got struck by lightening and the film got shelved, I'm afraid my mum and me went to the dogs.  Alcohol. Mother's ruin."

"Listen," the technical fellow said suddenly, "You could do much better than this film you know. You're a genius. You could get a better role at MGM tomorrow. Today probably if you told them to go hang."

Cliff choked back a laugh. "A genius? Hmm, you know what MGM offered me: a role with Bingo their best selling chimp. I almost took it too then this came along. My chance to put things right - make up for lost opportunities."

"It's very important not to live in the past Mr. Archer - human's aren't designed for it!"

Cliff looked at the little technical advisor with the big hat and snorted with laughter.  "I'm sorry," he said,
"no offence man but look at us, this whole set looks like something out of the 1930s, and you look like the 1890s and your telling me not to live in the past?"

"Well appearances aren't everything," the Doctor frowned wrinkles pushing up his brows and mussing his Beatle-cut hair.  He stopped as if clearing his throat before delivering a scripted line:
"I must warn you this film will end in tragedy".

Cliff chortled, "You are a card Doctor, just like your dad eh?"

"You just remember I said it. Now can you tell me where I can find your Director?"

1939:  Act 1 Scene 3

Polly came out of the make-up tent at a full run straight into Ben's arms. She was almost hysterical.

"I've just done Cliff's make-up," she shouted, as if it was a crime.

"Calm down, calm down" Ben said, feeling her sobs heave against his body: "That was the idea wasn't it; see what the boy looked like, get a better idea of his Greatest Film?"

"No, no you don't understand this wasn't Prince Tutmoses."

"But that's his part isn't it? The Royal?"

"This was Ishmael, the rebel and he was thirty years too old.  It wasn't a different actor it was him, again. Him as he will be. I've just put make-up on someone from thirty years in the future.

Ben didn't doubt her word. "Come on lets find the Doctor. He'll know what's going on.

1999: Act 3 Scene 4

"I'm ruined."  The Director was slumped in his canvas-backed chair, his bearded face in his hands.

"Possibly," the Doctor conceded. "Ruining your own star's career isn't the brightest publicity move.   He had the box office appeal of a brick after drinking himself stupid between your thirty years seperated takes. The only films he ever made were Italian westling movies. And it was your magnum opuses fault.  Time trauma can do that."

The Director looked at the little man. There was something like kindness in his tone. A ruthful acceptance of human folly maybe.  "You think there might be someway out?"

The girl from make-up nodded, picking up her business from the little man the Director noted, she'd have made a good actress herself.

"Couldn't you call off the shoot?", she said, "say your backers have pulled out?  You don't want to kill a man do you?"

"No...no...I don't but how do I know that will happen, it hasn't yet."  He wavered. People died all the time shooting films. There had been The Crow after all. And if he just thought of Cliff as a stunt man, well they were two-a-penny.

The Doctor waved his film guide, "and this though written has not yet been written. I got it from a bit of time caught up in the cat's cradle your lash-up has created in the continuum. Walk away, let it unravel. There's been too much harm. If you end it now, the filming in 1939 will peter out. Cliff's career will falter but by 1969 he'll have a..." He glanced at a dog-eared page, its edge turned down to mark the reference...'a pleasingly inoffensive, minor comedy with a chimp' awaiting him."  He smiled at the girl.  "Maybe not Hamlet, Polly, not yet, but a step away from immolation."

The Director rubbed his beard nervously, "If only I had something else to offer the studio."

The Doctor put his arm around his shoulder, "Tell me, have you ever considered making a film about the Titanic."

1999: Act 3 Scene 5

"Cut."

"That's it, shows over, get down from the gantry. We won't be needing you after all Ammon."

Clifford tensed in the mask: Not need him? After all these years? Not bloody need him? His old muscles ached but he was buzzing with adrenaline. He'd show them a performance!

He edged foward casting his shadow over the scene below.  The bloody look-a-like playing Ishmael, his fatuous face a parody of Cliff's own at that age looked up at him.  The man was shouting something: couldn't he stick to his bloody lines?

Clifford's hand shock as he raised the iron staff. He just had to strike it on the fake stones supported by the gantry: the FX boys would handle the flash as the accident was recreated.

Then he saw the other face looking up at him.  The boy - Pharoah Tutmoses.  It was like looking into a mirror at the far end of a dusty hall way, but reflecting the sun.  The admiration in those eyes. The brighter memories of his childhood froze him, and Ben inching along the gantry behind, tackled him before he was within a yard of the exposed cable.
1939: Act 1 Scene 4

The boy perched on the throne was tiny, holding his legs stiff as a board so as not to swing them.
Naked enthusiasm in his darting eyes. The tyke. Cliff wished he'd had time to talk to him, swap memories, offer him some savlon or zambuc for his feet if those sandals hurt as much as his had thirty years before.
But everything was rush rush on this shoot; no rehearsals, just single run throughs with multiple cameras.

"Editing, my boy" the Director had said, "it's all in the editing. All in how you put the pieces together."

He banged his staff on the floor.

"Let my people go!"

Up above Mr Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra would be getting into position.

Just a little bit longer and the past wouldn't be closing in so much.

He cast down his staff and watched as the flash powder hide the substitution of the fake snake.

"Behold the power of the One True God!"  His voice was still steady. Surely the cue would come anytime now.

And there was a clap like thunder.

And there was a familiar lightening.

And then he heard the make-up girl, the nervy one, scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra burning as it fell to the floor.

"Did you see?" Polly shouted as the Doctor dragged her away.  "Behind him on the gallery?  It was Ben, he pushed him!"

The sizzling sound had barely stopped.

The Doctor let go of her suddenly. "It can't have been. I sent him back to the TARDIS to get some of my equipment.  It's too late now for that though. We have to get away before we get caught up in events."

"But he's dead," Polly said as though that was all that mattered.

"Dead and he should never have been here," the Doctor whispered.  "You couldn't have known, Polly, but I've seen the man who died, unmasked, in  the future. Those long limbs, that habit of moving at a half-hunch, that trick with the shoulders.  Moves honed over a lifetime of acting. A dozen films carry those signature moves."  He mopped his brow with a hankerchief.  "We've just seen Clifford Archer die at least sixty years too soon."

Epilogue

"And this is the last one I intend to buy for some time!"

"Only one he's paid for," Ben muttered, attracting a dig in the ribs from Polly.

The Doctor settled down to read. "Hmm, Not to bad; missed some of the highs but got others. Oh no!"

Polly and Ben jumped.  "What is it, Doctor?"

The Doctor was flipping frantically to another page of the newer film guide.

"Poor Alec Guiness, not his cup of tea at all.  He must have hated it."

And try as they might they never did get the Doctor to explain that, and although Ben looked for the film guides later himself, he never found either version again.

THE END


In the 'Days of the "Days of ""The Days of Our Lives"" " ' (Cut 2)

This story was originally printed in Missing Pieces (2001)
(It's intended to be capable of being read in 3 different orders, this version follows Cliff Archer's timeline, and will need to read in conjuction with either of the other two versions.)


Prince Tutmoses (1939)

The throne was huge.  From it, the tips of his toes barely reached the floor, and the leather strapped sandals were cutting into his feet; but he knew that he must not let his mother down by squirming.  This was an important moment; the climax of the battle of wills that he could see being played out before his young eyes.

He could no more look away than he could remove the heavy two-tiered crown that signified - so his mother had told him - the kingship of the upper and lower Niles.  It would be over soon now, he hoped; the heat of the brilliant lights that flooded the throne room was burning him.

The bearded prophet was shouting his demands for the slaves, again and again.  He was a giant of a man. Idly the boy wondered if he'd grow so straight and strong. Maybe if he ate all his greens as his mother insisted.  He kept his eyes on the prophet as he cast his staff upon the floor. There was a flash of powdery smoke and a snake writhed on the ground.  The boy stifled a smile - he had seen this trick before.  It was time for the next trick.

He knew he should not look up. It wasn't right that he take his eyes off the prophet; but even so he could not resist a glance towards the roof. It was a glance of admiration. There crawling along a ledge seemingly faced with stone slabs was the ancient sorcerer Ammon-Ra.  His long bones cast a gruesome shadow. In his hand he carried an iron staff.  It was shiversome to watch him; he had the moves so well, so spider-like, so evil. He would bang his staff on the stones and send them crashing down on the Prophet.  His intent was clear from his very stance.

It was, Alfie thought, the best acting he'd ever seen. He hoped he'd do as well when he grew up.  Until then the part of the boy-King Tutmoses was the best role his mother had ever got him.  It was the sensational children's character role of 1939!  His name was going to be in lights - well his stage name anyway, his mother said Alfie Trousdale wasn't a good name for an actor. He let his bored King's gaze drop to the Prophet, and so he did not see the other man crawling just behind the Sorcerer reach out toward him.

He did however see the flash of light, and he heard the make-up girl scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra fall to the floor of the set, burning as it fell.


Ishmael (1969)

Cliff Archer strode out of make-up with, he was aware, a cheesy grin on his face, the image of the beautiful girl who'd put the finishings on lingering in his mind.  Nice girl, gorgeous blonde hair. Posh woman to be doing such a menial job, might be worth asking out once the picture was in the can. She'd obviously been starstruck too.

A man in a tall hat, a tatty jacket and and frankly Chaplinesque trousers bounded onto the set, framing the empty air at the back between his hands.  "Ah Cliff Archer," he cried, "I'm so pleased to meet you."

"You are?"  Cliff edged away hoping he could get away with a simple autograph.

"You again, Doctor!"  An older voice cut through the question as a figure robed in green, his face hidden within a carven mummy mask, stepped onto the dais that formed the central feature of the set.

Cliff recognised the costume from the 1939 production.  It was a classy replica - the new film's designers had opted to pick up on the original designs. Cliff suspected it was to let them drop in background scenes from the original painted out of black and white with a single tone for mood. Art they called it: he called it cheapness. The mask was an art nouveau horror the faked winkles of the plastic bandages stretching the face into a distorted scream. He wondered for a moment what idiot would wear it replica or not, knowing the gruesome fate of the actor in the previous production. The mask had been burned right onto his face. As if by lightening.

He felt a momentary pang of guilt to realise he'd never bothered to learn the name of the actor who was electrocuted in 1939, still he could rectify that now by learning the name of this chap and giving him some encouragement.  "So you are?" he asked getting as much heartiness into his tone as he could manage faced with that evil, near reptile face.

"Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra, who do you bloody think I am, the jolly green giant?"  - the voice was old, cultured, and bitter.  Cliff felt himself blushing at such language. Well damn the man, if that was his attitude he could just stay a nameless figure in a mask, for all Cliff cared.

The man in the hat rested his hand on Cliff's arm.  "Do try to forgive him. It must be very hot in there and I'm not sure he can see out very well." He tapped a finger on the mask's glassy eyes.

"Do you mind" The Mask jerked away on Ammon-Ra's scrawny neck and his voice came out angry as a hornet. "I'm only in this iron-maiden of a thing for one scene. I don't need the sons of hasbeen technical advisors getting me trapped in it."

Cliff turned to the man in the hat.  "Your father worked on the last film? I don't remember..."

"Oh, no reason you should," the man said quickly, "spent his whole time getting painted into a corner. I mean painting the corners".

The masked mummy, groaned, and Cliff realised the bitter old fool was laughing.  "Vain git more like. Going on about how the film would end in tragedy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to have been his electrical work that fried my predecessor.  Still he was proved right I suppose which was a bloody strange co-incidence what with it happening just like..."

"He predicted," the man in the hat finished, capping Ammon-Ra's sentence.  The Mummy seemed to take that as the last straw.  "Listen I have to do this, don't think you can get me off set by hanging about with poor quality look-a-likes either!  I'm going through with it.  And he stalked off.

Cliff whistled. "Bit of a chip on his shoulder!  Did you father work on the 1939 film then? I played Prince Tutmoses you know - something of a break for me, not a normal child role you see. Had some meat to it. When the magician got struck by lightening and the film got shelved, I'm afraid my mum and me went to the dogs.  Alcohol. Mother's ruin."

"Listen," the technical fellow said suddenly, "You could do much better than this film you know. You're a genius. You could get a better role at MGM tomorrow. Today probably if you told them to go hang."

Cliff choked back a laugh. "A genius? Hmm, you know what MGM offered me: a role with Bingo their best selling chimp. I almost took it too then this came along. My chance to put things right - make up for lost opportunities."

"It's very important not to live in the past Mr. Archer - human's aren't designed for it!"

Cliff looked at the little technical advisor with the big hat and snorted with laughter.  "I'm sorry," he said,
"no offence man but look at us, this whole set looks like something out of the 1930s, and you look like the 1890s and your telling me not to live in the past?"

"Well appearances aren't everything," the Doctor frowned wrinkles pushing up his brows and mussing his Beatle-cut hair.  He stopped as if clearing his throat before delivering a scripted line:
"I must warn you this film will end in tragedy".

Cliff chortled, "You are a card Doctor, just like your dad eh?"

"You just remember I said it. Now can you tell me where I can find your Director?"


Ishmael (1969) later

The boy perched on the throne was tiny, holding his legs stiff as a board so as not to swing them.
Naked enthusiasm in his darting eyes. The tyke. Cliff wished he'd had time to talk to him, swap memories, offer him some savlon or zambuc for his feet if those sandals hurt as much as his had thirty years before.
But everything was rush rush on this shoot; no rehearsals, just single run throughs with multiple cameras.

"Editing, my boy" the Director had said, "it's all in the editing. All in how you put the pieces together."

He banged his staff on the floor.

"Let my people go!"

Up above Mr Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra would be getting into position.

Just a little bit longer and the past wouldn't be closing in so much.

He cast down his staff and watched as the flash powder hide the substitution of the fake snake.

"Behold the power of the One True God!"  His voice was still steady. Surely the cue would come anytime now.

And there was a clap like thunder.

And there was a familiar lightening.

And then he heard the make-up girl, the nervy one, scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra burning as it fell to the floor.


Ammon-Ra (1999)

The aging, the reclusive, the down-at-heel Clifford Archer was already rehearsing his self mockery as he opened the door of the squalid digs he shared with half the students in London, expecting to blink in the lens of a videocam.

Instead he found himself staring down into two quizzical brown eyes under a ridiculous out of date and over-tall hat. The hat immediately struck a chord; thirty odd years ago he'd known someone who wore a hat like that.

Odd, the tricks memory played, things from his childhood were coming into sharp focus these days, his middle years were a blur with the occasional close-up, and where he'd put the cat food last night he certainly didn't know.  The bane of being seventy.

The man took off his hat, revealing a mop of hair that to Clifford's practised eyes looked very like a wig. The thought made Cliff wonder if his own was straight.

"The washing machine," the man said, "can I come in?".

"Did the landlord send you?" Cliff asked. He hadn't noticed that the shared communal washing machine that served his and the student's one-room 'flats' was broken.  "Only it's not very convenient. I've got some people coming."  He found himself embarrassed enough to try to explain even though it was none of the man's business. It was the hat mainly - he couldn't for the life of him remember where he'd seen it before, but he was sure he had.

"A film crew, actually," he said. "They're doing a documentary with reconstructions. On the Curse of The Days Of Our Lives - the film, you know."

The man looked at him as if he was mad.  "Ah, no I'm afraid you misunderstood me. I don't know your landlord, but the cat food is in the washing machine and you must not make that documentary."

As it turned out the cat food was in the washing machine. Clifford shrugged: that explained the socks in the larder then. He was getting vaguer. His doctor's hadn't given him long: all the more reason to keep working - screw one last tenner out of this unforgiving wretched business - leave enough to get his daughter out of debt and pay the funeral expenses.

"How did you know?" he asked the stranger.

"Obvious place," the man remarked giving the household tabby a tentative pat. It hissed at him.

"I can't take your advice I'm afraid."

"I thought not. If you did it would have complicated things but Polly wanted me to try."

"Hang on!"  Polly. There had been a make-up girl called that on the remake back in 1969 when he'd been playing the Hebrew rebel, thingummy-bob, the one based on Moses they couldn't call Moses for some legal reason.  A makeup girl called Polly and a man with a great big hat.  The same man?  Impossible, the chap didn't look a day over...actually Clifford couldn't get to within a decade of the man's age. He had one of those born old faces that worked you over for leading parts but gave you the pick of character roles.
"Surely, we've met?" - Clifford found himself saying  oh well he could only look stupid (and poor, and old, and undervalued). "Weren't you technical advisor on the remake?"

The man looked startled. "Oh now, not really possible is it?  My  er father, yes my father did some work on British films: old school technical work, painting backdrops on glass, all very specialised -always known as the Doctor."

Clifford's memory clicked into place. "Yes that was what he liked to be called. Bit of a poser really if you don't mind my saying so." He gave the man an appraising look. "He really stamped on your face didn't he. You could be his double."  He set his face into his best scowl. "It must really have been a family thing. Wasn't his father in on the 1939 shoot?"

A look of panic passed over the stranger's face.  Clifford felt a pang of compassion.

"Listen if their reputation is on the line I can't help that. Everyone on the set was absolved of blame at the time by the police. I'm not about to point any fingers. This is an artistic recreation for the South Bank Show, not bloody Watchdog.

"A precise recreation?"

Clifford sniffed, "well look at me! I'm hardly set up to play the romantic lead am I.  I'll be taking the role of the elderly magician Ammon-Ra: the sorceror that Moses, well whatsisname, defeats in the turning staffs into snakes contest. So it'll be my second role."

"You third surely?"

"If you're referring to my performance as Prince Tutmoses in the 1939 original - I regard that as a mere cameo."

"It doesn't worry you then?"

"I'm not superstitious. Not every actor wets himself when someone says Macbeth you know."

"Even so wouldn't you call it odd. Two deaths in two attempts to film the same story, both of the same character, the one you're due to play now?"

"In a re-enactment of a scene not the whole film."

"Ah forgive me, but which scene exactly have the asked you to re-enact?"

Clifford bit his lip.  "Get out".

He slammed the door behind the man - his heart pounding.

They both knew which scene he was being paid to re-enact.

Ammon-Ra's most important moment.  The biggy.  The death scene.

Ammon-Ra (1999) later

"You again, Doctor!"  Clifford interrupted the little man on the dais, as he was talking to the youngster the documentary makers thought looked like him thirty years ago. (Cliff couldn't see it himself - although that might be the view through the carven mummy mask).  Ishmael looked like any washed up forty year old dressed as an ancient Egyptian.

The middle aged actor smiled heartily: "So you are?" he asked.

Typical, they hadn't even told him who he'd be working with:  no-one cared.  "Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra, who do you bloody think I am, the jolly green giant?"  - Cliff snapped.

The man in the hat rested his hand on Ishmael's arm.  "Do try to forgive him. It must be very hot in there and I'm not sure he can see out very well." He tapped a finger on the glassy eyes of Cliff's mask.

"Do you mind"  Cliff jerked his head away.  Somehow the tech ignoring him and playing up to the younger man infuriated him more than ever.  "I'm only in this iron-maiden of a thing for one scene. I don't need the sons of hasbeen technical advisors getting me trapped in it."

Ishmael turned to the man in the hat.  "Your father worked on the last film? I don't remember..."

"Oh, no reason you should," the man said quickly, "spent his whole time getting painted into a corner. I mean painting the corners".

Clifford groaned, the oddball was going to spin his father's doom prophesies out unto the next generation.
Cliff laughed.  "Vain git more like. Going on about how the film would end in tragedy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to have been his electrical work that fried my predecessor.  Still he was proved right I suppose which was a bloody strange co-incidence what with it happening just like..."

"He predicted," the man in the hat finished, capping Cliff's sentence.

That was the last straw.  Cliff boiled behind his mask. "Listen I have to do this, don't think you can get me off set by hanging about with poor quality look-a-likes either!  I'm going through with it.  He stalked off.

Ammon-Ra (1999)

"Cut."

"That's it, shows over, get down from the gantry. We won't be needing you after all Ammon."

Clifford tensed in the mask: Not need him? After all these years? Not bloody need him? His old muscles ached but he was buzzing with adrenaline. He'd show them a performance!

He edged foward casting his shadow over the scene below.  The bloody look-a-like playing Ishmael, his fatuous face a parody of Cliff's own at that age looked up at him.  The man was shouting something: couldn't he stick to his bloody lines?

Clifford's hand shock as he raised the iron staff. He just had to strike it on the fake stones supported by the gantry: the FX boys would handle the flash as the accident was recreated.

Then he saw the other face looking up at him.  The boy - Pharoah Tutmoses.  It was like looking into a mirror at the far end of a dusty hall way, but reflecting the sun.  The admiration in those eyes. The brighter memories of his childhood froze him, and Ben inching along the gantry behind, tackled him before he was within a yard of the exposed cable.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

In The Days Of "The Days Of 'The Days Of Our Lives' " (Cut 1)

This story was originally printed in Missing Pieces (2001)
(It's intended to be capable of being read in 3 different orders, this version follows the Doctor, Ben and Polly's timeline, so I'm going to post it 3 times.)



The throne was huge.  From it, the tips of his toes barely reached the floor, and the leather strapped sandals were cutting into his feet; but he knew that he must not let his mother down by squirming.  This was an important moment; the climax of the battle of wills that he could see being played out before his young eyes.

He could no more look away than he could remove the heavy two-tiered crown that signified - so his mother had told him - the kingship of the upper and lower Niles.  It would be over soon now, he hoped; the heat of the brilliant lights that flooded the throne room was burning him.

The bearded prophet was shouting his demands for the slaves, again and again.  He was a giant of a man. Idly the boy wondered if he'd grow so straight and strong. Maybe if he ate all his greens as his mother insisted.  He kept his eyes on the prophet as he cast his staff upon the floor. There was a flash of powdery smoke and a snake writhed on the ground.  The boy stifled a smile - he had seen this trick before.  It was time for the next trick.

He knew he should not look up. It wasn't right that he take his eyes off the prophet; but even so he could not resist a glance towards the roof. It was a glance of admiration. There crawling along a ledge seemingly faced with stone slabs was the ancient sorcerer Ammon-Ra.  His long bones cast a gruesome shadow. In his hand he carried an iron staff.  It was shiversome to watch him; he had the moves so well, so spider-like, so evil. He would bang his staff on the stones and send them crashing down on the Prophet.  His intent was clear from his very stance.

It was, Alfie thought, the best acting he'd ever seen. He hoped he'd do as well when he grew up.  Until then the part of the boy-King Tutmoses was the best role his mother had ever got him.  It was the sensational children's character role of 1939!  His name was going to be in lights - well his stage name anyway, his mother said Alfie Trousdale wasn't a good name for an actor. He let his bored King's gaze drop to the Prophet, and so he did not see the other man crawling just behind the Sorcerer reach out toward him.

He did however see the flash of light, and he heard the make-up girl scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra fall to the floor of the set, burning as it fell.

Inside the Ship:  Act 1 Scene 1

Polly and Ben were arguing.  Good naturedly enough and with only a modicum of teasing banter but there was no denying it was getting on the Doctor's erratic nerves.  Since his change when his body had renewed itself with the help of the TARDIS he had been nervous around Ben. The young able-seaman had doubted the Doctor's identity to begin with, and in a sense maybe he had doubted it himself: no amount of theoretical knowledge could prepare the psyche for the shock of renewal. Polly had been kinder but even she could have no real conception of what had happened to him: neither of them could.

"Hey Doc," Ben shouted, "settle an argument?"

"Oh," the Doctor fidgeted as if he had been unexpectedly asked to shoot a mettlesome horse, "I don't know if I could do that. I mean I'm no authority."  A quirk of his lips suggested he didn't believe himself for a moment.

Polly beamed sweetly, "But you must have an opinion?"

He beamed back. "Must I?  I try not to get involved in local disputes, you know that!"

"No, bur really" Ben said, "Cliff Archer right? Was he better as Hornblower or Hamlet 'cause I say Horatio but Miss High Culture here holds out for the Prince of Denmark."

"Well," the Doctor paused. "I think we've established Ben, that you prefer his middle period: Devil Dogs of The Marines, Bedtime for Bingo, and that film you can't remember the name of, in which he plays a man who loses both legs in an accident.

Ben looked surprised - he hadn't thought the Doctor had been listening - and Polly winced at the return of a painful subject, but the Doctor didn't seem to notice.  "But most serious film-buffs consider that his finest performance was as a child as Prince Tutmoses in Cecil B. De Mille's epic sampler of history The Days Of Our Lives."

"That black and white effort were he plays an Egyptian?" Ben snorted, "It's so slow."

Polly looked serious, "You know it's only just occurred to me but the Doctor's probably seen films that haven't even been made yet - in our time I mean."

Ben perked up, "Yeah that'd be interesting, come on Doc so what does Cliff get remembered for?"

The Doctor muttered something under his breath.

"Come again?" Ben said, but the Doctor was already busying himself setting co-ordinates.  "Did you catch that Duchess?"

"I'm not sure. What sort of film has a character in, called something like O'Brian Ken O'Boyo?"

"Something Irish" Ben guessed. "Sort of Leprechaun flick probably; you know pots of gold."


1939:  Act 1 Scene 2

"You reckon we can just walk up and have a butchers, then?" Ben asked, as the Doctor locked the Tardis in the backlot.

Polly looked puzzled, and taking pity on her, Ben added, "Butcher's hook, look, Duchess."

"Yes, I don't see why not." the Doctor answered. "We only want an autograph, if anyone asks you can be an extra; Polly can be from make-up."

Polly executed a mock half ironic bow; and seemed to  be considering demanding a starring role instead but let it pass.

"And you?" Ben asked. He'd started to feel the same respect for 'this' Doctor as he had for the old man he'd met the Day Wotan Went Mad, but it didn't feel right calling him sir, like he would have the old geezer.

"I shall say I am on the technical side."

1939:  Act 1 Scene 3

Polly came out of the make-up tent at a full run straight into Ben's arms. She was almost hysterical.

"I've just done Cliff's make-up," she shouted, as if it was a crime.

"Calm down, calm down" Ben said, feeling her sobs heave against his body: "That was the idea wasn't it; see what the boy looked like, get a better idea of his Greatest Film?"

"No, no you don't understand this wasn't Prince Tutmoses."

"But that's his part isn't it? The Royal?"

"This was Ishmael, the rebel and he was thirty years too old.  It wasn't a different actor it was him, again. Him as he will be. I've just put make-up on someone from thirty years in the future.

Ben didn't doubt her word. "Come on lets find the Doctor. He'll know what's going on."

1939: Act 1 Scene 4

The boy perched on the throne was tiny, holding his legs stiff as a board so as not to swing them.
Naked enthusiasm in his darting eyes. The tyke. Cliff wished he'd had time to talk to him, swap memories, offer him some savlon or zambuc for his feet if those sandals hurt as much as his had thirty years before.
But everything was rush rush on this shoot; no rehearsals, just single run throughs with multiple cameras.

"Editing, my boy" the Director had said, "it's all in the editing. All in how you put the pieces together."

He banged his staff on the floor.

"Let my people go!"

Up above Mr Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra would be getting into position.

Just a little bit longer and the past wouldn't be closing in so much.

He cast down his staff and watched as the flash powder hide the substitution of the fake snake.

"Behold the power of the One True God!"  His voice was still steady. Surely the cue would come anytime now.

And there was a clap like thunder.

And there was a familiar lightening.

And then he heard the make-up girl, the nervy one, scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra burning as it fell to the floor.

"Did you see?" Polly shouted as the Doctor dragged her away.  "Behind him on the gallery?  It was Ben, he pushed him!"

The sizzling sound had barely stopped.

The Doctor let go of her suddenly. "It can't have been. I sent him back to the TARDIS to get some of my equipment.  It's too late now for that though. We have to get away before we get caught up in events."

"But he's dead," Polly said as though that was all that mattered.

"Dead and he should never have been here," the Doctor whispered.  "You couldn't have known, Polly, but I've seen the man who died, unmasked, in  the future. Those long limbs, that habit of moving at a half-hunch, that trick with the shoulders.  Moves honed over a lifetime of acting. A dozen films carry those signature moves."  He mopped his brow with a hankerchief.  "We've just seen Clifford Archer die at least sixty years too soon."

2003: Inside the Ship : Act 3 Scene 1

"Stay in the Ship," The Doctor's voice was terse. Ben tried to stand up to him but there was something in the small man's eyes that admitted of no compromises. "I'll just be a moment, but it could be very dangerous, if we saw or heard too much."

Polly ran over to the consol from the chair where she had been sobbing, her mascara running onto her sleeve where she'd rested her arm on the little card table .

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I'm going to buy a film guide, I won't be long."  He paused and looked at Ben expectantly. "Well have you got any money?"

Later he cradled the thick book on his knee, reading aloud:

"Archer, Clifford : born Alfred Trousedale 1929. A somewhat undistinguished character actor whose childhood career floundered after the filming of Cecil B. De Mille's The Days Of Our Lives , an unfinished epic trawl through history in which he played Prince Tutmoses of Egypt.  He would return to the film ironically in 1969 when a would-be remake cast him as Ishmael leader of the Egyptian slaves."

The Doctor snorted. "Ishmael, I suppose Pharoah's army was swallowed by a white whale".

Polly bit her lip. "Does it say anything about the death?"

"No Polly it does not. And that might mean we can prevent it."

Ben glared a the Doctor.  "That's not the sort of thing you used to say. What about that sideshow affair you showed us when we started travelling with you. 'Hello I'm Troy McClure you might remember me from such safety films as So You've Altered History, and Butterflies On My Blue-suede Shoes.'  "

"That was quite different, Ben."

"How different?"

"Ben," the Doctor said, slowly and patiently, "a man is dead".

Polly sniffed, "And we killed him."

The Doctor held a finger to his lips and gave a meaningful tilt of his head at Ben, to which Ben remained luckily oblivious. Polly subsided.

"Now Polly, we don't know that for certain, and besides if I'm right, there's a sense in which the death hasn't happened yet. And anything that hasn't happened yet can be prevented. Besides goodness knows who'd fill the film vacuum left by Alfred's unavailability," the Doctor continued, "suppose someone else starred in all his films. They might do anything with their popularity, even run for President. The whole political spectrum of 20th century Earth could be very different!"

"Oh sure," Ben scoffed, "an actor as President! Still if it matters so much to you Duchess maybe we should try something."

The Doctor set the controls for 1999, and noticeably, crossed his fingers.

1999: Act 3 Scene 2

The aging, the reclusive, the down-at-heel Clifford Archer was already rehearsing his self mockery as he opened the door of the squalid digs he shared with half the students in London, expecting to blink in the lens of a videocam.

Instead he found himself staring down into two quizzical brown eyes under a ridiculous out of date and over-tall hat. The hat immediately struck a chord; thirty odd years ago he'd known someone who wore a hat like that.

Odd, the tricks memory played, things from his childhood were coming into sharp focus these days, his middle years were a blur with the occasional close-up, and where he'd put the cat food last night he certainly didn't know.  The bane of being seventy.

The man took off his hat, revealing a mop of hair that to Clifford's practised eyes looked very like a wig. The thought made Cliff wonder if his own was straight.

"The washing machine," the man said, "can I come in?".

"Did the landlord send you?" Cliff asked. He hadn't noticed that the shared communal washing machine that served his and the student's one-room 'flats' was broken.  "Only it's not very convenient. I've got some people coming."  He found himself embarrassed enough to try to explain even though it was none of the man's business. It was the hat mainly - he couldn't for the life of him remember where he'd seen it before, but he was sure he had.

"A film crew, actually," he said. "They're doing a documentary with reconstructions. On the Curse of The Days Of Our Lives - the film, you know."

The man looked at him as if he was mad.  "Ah, no I'm afraid you misunderstood me. I don't know your landlord, but the cat food is in the washing machine and you must not make that documentary."

As it turned out the cat food was in the washing machine. Clifford shrugged: that explained the socks in the larder then. He was getting vaguer. His doctor's hadn't given him long: all the more reason to keep working - screw one last tenner out of this unforgiving wretched business - leave enough to get his daughter out of debt and pay the funeral expenses.

"How did you know?" he asked the stranger.

"Obvious place," the man remarked giving the household tabby a tentative pat. It hissed at him.

"I can't take your advice I'm afraid."

"I thought not. If you did it would have complicated things but Polly wanted me to try."

"Hang on!"  Polly. There had been a make-up girl called that on the remake back in 1969 when he'd been playing the Hebrew rebel, thingummy-bob, the one based on Moses they couldn't call Moses for some legal reason.  A makeup girl called Polly and a man with a great big hat.  The same man?  Impossible, the chap didn't look a day over...actually Clifford couldn't get to within a decade of the man's age. He had one of those born old faces that worked you over for leading parts but gave you the pick of character roles.
"Surely, we've met?" - Clifford found himself saying  oh well he could only look stupid (and poor, and old, and undervalued). "Weren't you technical advisor on the remake?"

The man looked startled. "Oh now, not really possible is it?  My  er father, yes my father did some work on British films: old school technical work, painting backdrops on glass, all very specialised -always known as the Doctor."

Clifford's memory clicked into place. "Yes that was what he liked to be called. Bit of a poser really if you don't mind my saying so." He gave the man an appraising look. "He really stamped on your face didn't he. You could be his double."  He set his face into his best scowl. "It must really have been a family thing. Wasn't his father in on the 1939 shoot?"

A look of panic passed over the stranger's face.  Clifford felt a pang of compassion.

"Listen if their reputation is on the line I can't help that. Everyone on the set was absolved of blame at the time by the police. I'm not about to point any fingers. This is an artistic recreation for the South Bank Show, not bloody Watchdog.

"A precise recreation?"

Clifford sniffed, "well look at me! I'm hardly set up to play the romantic lead am I.  I'll be taking the role of the elderly magician Ammon-Ra: the sorceror that Moses, well whatsisname, defeats in the turning staffs into snakes contest. So it'll be my second role."

"You third surely?"

"If you're referring to my performance as Prince Tutmoses in the 1939 original - I regard that as a mere cameo."

"It doesn't worry you then?"

"I'm not superstitious. Not every actor wets himself when someone says Macbeth you know."

"Even so wouldn't you call it odd. Two deaths in two attempts to film the same story, both of the same character, the one you're due to play now?"

"In a re-enactment of a scene not the whole film."

"Ah forgive me, but which scene exactly have the asked you to re-enact?"

Clifford bit his lip.  "Get out".

He slammed the door behind the man - his heart pounding.

They both knew which scene he was being paid to re-enact.

Ammon-Ra's most important moment.  The biggy.  The death scene.


1969:  Act 2 Scene 1

"....wouldn't listen the thick-pated nincompoop," the Doctor grumbled as the TARDIS materialised on the backlot, again, thirty years later than its previous visit.

Ben looked puzzled, "but you said he wouldn't listen, that's why you didn't want to ask him."

"Well of course I knew he wouldn't listen," the Doctor spluttered, "If he'd listened we wouldn't have been in this hodgepodge of a dog's breakfast in the first place would we."

"I don't think we ought to go out there," Ben said setting himself up to block the Doctor's passage to the doors.

Polly put her hand on the able-seaman's arm - knowing he couldn't deny his Duchess anything. "Please Ben".

Ben shook his head, angrily, stubbornly, the same stubbornness that had made him deny his own eye when they had seen the Doctor change so recently from a white haired patrician of around 800 years of age into this dark haired scamp.

"What if we make it worse?"

The Doctor looked him in the face, "for once I don't think that's possible, do you?  Pass me my hat there's a good fellow."

Cliff Archer strode out of make-up with, he was aware, a cheesy grin on his face, the image of the beautiful girl who'd put the finishings on lingering in his mind.  Nice girl, gorgeous blonde hair. Posh woman to be doing such a menial job, might be worth asking out once the picture was in the can. She'd obviously been starstruck too.

A man in a tall hat, a tatty jacket and and frankly Chaplinesque trousers bounded onto the set, framing the empty air at the back between his hands.  "Ah Cliff Archer," he cried, "I'm so pleased to meet you."

"You are?"  Cliff edged away hoping he could get away with a simple autograph.

"You again, Doctor!"  An older voice cut through the question as a figure robed in green, his face hidden within a carven mummy mask, stepped onto the dais that formed the central feature of the set.

Cliff recognised the costume from the 1939 production.  It was a classy replica - the new film's designers had opted to pick up on the original designs. Cliff suspected it was to let them drop in background scenes from the original painted out of black and white with a single tone for mood. Art they called it: he called it cheapness. The mask was an art nouveau horror the faked winkles of the plastic bandages stretching the face into a distorted scream. He wondered for a moment what idiot would wear it replica or not, knowing the gruesome fate of the actor in the previous production. The mask had been burned right onto his face. As if by lightening.

He felt a momentary pang of guilt to realise he'd never bothered to learn the name of the actor who was electrocuted in 1939, still he could rectify that now by learning the name of this chap and giving him some encouragement.  "So you are?" he asked getting as much heartiness into his tone as he could manage faced with that evil, near reptile face.

"Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra, who do you bloody think I am, the jolly green giant?"  - the voice was old, cultured, and bitter.  Cliff felt himself blushing at such language. Well damn the man, if that was his attitude he could just stay a nameless figure in a mask, for all Cliff cared.

The man in the hat rested his hand on Cliff's arm.  "Do try to forgive him. It must be very hot in there and I'm not sure he can see out very well." He tapped a finger on the mask's glassy eyes.

"Do you mind" The Mask jerked away on Ammon-Ra's scrawny neck and his voice came out angry as a hornet. "I'm only in this iron-maiden of a thing for one scene. I don't need the sons of hasbeen technical advisors getting me trapped in it."

Cliff turned to the man in the hat.  "Your father worked on the last film? I don't remember..."

"Oh, no reason you should," the man said quickly, "spent his whole time getting painted into a corner. I mean painting the corners".

The masked mummy, groaned, and Cliff realised the bitter old fool was laughing.  "Vain git more like. Going on about how the film would end in tragedy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to have been his electrical work that fried my predecessor.  Still he was proved right I suppose which was a bloody strange co-incidence what with it happening just like..."

"He predicted," the man in the hat finished, capping Ammon-Ra's sentence.  The Mummy seemed to take that as the last straw.  "Listen I have to do this, don't think you can get me off set by hanging about with poor quality look-a-likes either!  I'm going through with it.  And he stalked off.

Cliff whistled. "Bit of a chip on his shoulder!  Did you father work on the 1939 film then? I played Prince Tutmoses you know - something of a break for me, not a normal child role you see. Had some meat to it. When the magician got struck by lightening and the film got shelved, I'm afraid my mum and me went to the dogs.  Alcohol. Mother's ruin."

"Listen," the technical fellow said suddenly, "You could do much better than this film you know. You're a genius. You could get a better role at MGM tomorrow. Today probably if you told them to go hang."

Cliff choked back a laugh. "A genius? Hmm, you know what MGM offered me: a role with Bingo their best selling chimp. I almost took it too then this came along. My chance to put things right - make up for lost opportunities."

"It's very important not to live in the past Mr. Archer - human's aren't designed for it!"

Cliff looked at the little technical advisor with the big hat and snorted with laughter.  "I'm sorry," he said,
"no offence man but look at us, this whole set looks like something out of the 1930s, and you look like the 1890s and your telling me not to live in the past?"

"Well appearances aren't everything," the Doctor frowned wrinkles pushing up his brows and mussing his Beatle-cut hair.  He stopped as if clearing his throat before delivering a scripted line:
"I must warn you this film will end in tragedy".

Cliff chortled, "You are a card Doctor, just like your dad eh?"

"You just remember I said it. Now can you tell me where I can find your Director?"

1999: Act 3 Scene 3

The editing suite was a mess of gutted 1960s and 1930s cameras - the videocam tech that had been packed inside spilling out with the brutal insolence of a hernia. The Director put down his clipboard, and smirked at the Doctor.

"Nothing to say?  I imagine the audacity of our masterpiece has struck you dumb!  You might like to compliment me before I have you thrown off the lot."   Polly entered.  "And your make-up girl imposter too!"

The Doctor scowled. "Audacity! hardly - a simple bit of temporal trisection, like making a jug by origami. It might look pretty but it won't hold water and you know it!"

"We have three of the finest performances of the most popular film actors of his day within a single film with no expensive SFX or CGI".  The Director grinned his Hollywood Cheshire Cat smile, teeth perfectly capped, in a surround of beard. "And by filming in the past we saved so much on expenses. Our accounts make the Blair Witch Project look like Heaven's Gate.  We owe a tremendous debt to the late Professor Whi..."

"I don't care whose research your flimflam is misusing!" - the Doctor cried - interrupting him - by filming in the past you've disrupted your own history you orthodontic ninny!"

The Doctor pulled a tatty copy of the Radio Times Guide To Films On DVD (2003) out of his fur coat, and started to read...

1999: Act 3 Scene 4

"I'm ruined."  The Director was slumped in his canvas-backed chair, his bearded face in his hands.

"Possibly," the Doctor conceded. "Ruining your own star's career isn't the brightest publicity move.   He had the box office appeal of a brick after drinking himself stupid between your thirty years seperated takes. The only films he ever made were Italian westling movies. And it was your magnum opuses fault.  Time trauma can do that."

The Director looked at the little man. There was something like kindness in his tone. A ruthful acceptance of human folly maybe.  "You think there might be someway out?"

The girl from make-up nodded, picking up her business from the little man the Director noted, she'd have made a good actress herself.

"Couldn't you call off the shoot?", she said, "say your backers have pulled out?  You don't want to kill a man do you?"

"No...no...I don't but how do I know that will happen, it hasn't yet."  He wavered. People died all the time shooting films. There had been The Crow after all. And if he just thought of Cliff as a stunt man, well they were two-a-penny.

The Doctor waved his film guide, "and this though written has not yet been written. I got it from a bit of time caught up in the cat's cradle your lash-up has created in the continuum. Walk away, let it unravel. There's been too much harm. If you end it now, the filming in 1939 will peter out. Cliff's career will falter but by 1969 he'll have a..." He glanced at a dog-eared page, its edge turned down to mark the reference...'a pleasingly inoffensive, minor comedy with a chimp' awaiting him."  He smiled at the girl.  "Maybe not Hamlet, Polly, not yet, but a step away from immolation."

The Director rubbed his beard nervously, "If only I had something else to offer the studio."

The Doctor put his arm around his shoulder, "Tell me, have you ever considered making a film about the Titanic."

1999: Act 3 Scene 5

"Cut."

"That's it, shows over, get down from the gantry. We won't be needing you after all Ammon."

Clifford tensed in the mask: Not need him? After all these years? Not bloody need him? His old muscles ached but he was buzzing with adrenaline. He'd show them a performance!

He edged foward casting his shadow over the scene below.  The bloody look-a-like playing Ishmael, his fatuous face a parody of Cliff's own at that age looked up at him.  The man was shouting something: couldn't he stick to his bloody lines?

Clifford's hand shock as he raised the iron staff. He just had to strike it on the fake stones supported by the gantry: the FX boys would handle the flash as the accident was recreated.

Then he saw the other face looking up at him.  The boy - Pharoah Tutmoses.  It was like looking into a mirror at the far end of a dusty hall way, but reflecting the sun.  The admiration in those eyes. The brighter memories of his childhood froze him, and Ben inching along the gantry behind, tackled him before he was within a yard of the exposed cable.

Epilogue

"And this is the last one I intend to buy for some time!"

"Only one he's paid for," Ben muttered, attracting a dig in the ribs from Polly.

The Doctor settled down to read. "Hmm, Not to bad; missed some of the highs but got others. Oh no!"

Polly and Ben jumped.  "What is it, Doctor?"

The Doctor was flipping frantically to another page of the newer film guide.

"Poor Alec Guiness, not his cup of tea at all.  He must have hated it."

And try as they might they never did get the Doctor to explain that, and although Ben looked for the film guides later himself, he never found either version again.

THE END

Monday, April 10, 2017

STAINED GLASS




In the first edition of C. G. Howes: A scholar’s guide to the Stained Glass of England, Wales, Scotland and the Isles – a much inferior work in many ways Dominic Trelayn thought, to Painton Cowen’s later volume on the topic – there was, however, at least one interesting snippet that, might, repay study. 

We know this from an entry in Dominic’s diary for the day before.  The cancellation of a lecture, and the unlooked for retention of a fee that while meagre enough for the work, looked more munificent in the light of a gift from a sheepish College, meant that both the time and funds, were – as they so rarely are – available in propinquity, and the College’s own location chimed happily with the matter for the church in question was no more than a few miles away, across a pleasant, meadowed landscape.

From guest lecturer then, to dilettante at large was a matter of asking the refectory to pack up a lunch –ostensively for his return to London – and after a night’s sleep in the bursar’s spare bed, it would Dominic felt be easy enough to stride out with the lark through the hedgerowed ways towards the not too distant spire, that stood dark against a copse of trees to the west of the College proper. He would, he thought, have ample time to inspect the window before returning to collect his luggage, and catch his train.

That he set out, and that as he walked, he fished from his pocket Howes’ book and holding it in that bird claw way – one handed – that so amused undergraduates for a reason he had never been able to follow, and refreshed his memory, we know from the testimony of just such a group of undergraduates, not early risers, but very late to bed, who observed him leaving the College grounds.

The passage that absorbed his attention we can deduce from his diary, and the circumstances.

“In the east window are some interesting examples of imported glass, depicting the nativity, as the Rector avers. The panels however must have been taken from different sources for they differ in age and construction, and as a result of this process, perhaps one of restitution or repair, the nativity offers not three wise men or kings, but four. The first from left to right is a C13 commonplace, although its partner separated by gun-metal may have been taken from a C12 Tree of Jesse window rather than a nativity proper, the third King is much later being C16 Flemish, but the fourth, is substantially older than the others and exceptionally fine, save for the colour which is a uniformly unpleasant yellowish stain of a particularly granular nature.”

We do not know which of the two peculiarities attributed to the window had most worked upon Dominic’s curiosity.

The 12th Century is early for the image known as the Jesse tree, which shows the human descent of Jesus through the line of David, and the supposedly earliest surviving stained glass, in England at least, dated at 1170, depicts just such a tree, so it is likely that he would have been interested to confirm Howes’ impressions as to the provenance of the second figure.  I must re-iterate that though the the fourth figure was held by Howe to be ‘substantially older’ the oldest stained glass in England known to the ecclesiastical authorities is the afore mentioned Jesse’s Tree fragment in York Minster. That there could be nestling in the window of a minor country church an older piece: a substantially older piece, seemed unlikely. Dominic must have had it in mind to examine, and perhaps photograph the window in respect of the fourth figure.  According to the undergraduates he had with him a camera, or at least a camera case, slung on a leather strap over his left shoulder.

According to his diary, Dominic had spoken to the College's own Scriptural instructor, Father McKinney who though a Catholic and thus not himself a communicant of the church in question, was able to assure him that the church was never locked, and that indeed it had never been subject to attempted thefts of altar plate, or lead from the roof as urban churches sometimes are, and for that matter as St. Winifreds of the Father's own communion, in the next village, had on at least one occasion. Father McKinney had attended the church once, a reciprocal gesture of friendship to the incumbent, but he could not recall anything about the window - though he supposed it's oldest pane might be a fragment of glass brought back from the first crusade, perhaps looted in one of those peculiar acts of christian upon christian violence originating in the schism between the Western and Eastern Church of 1054.  When I interviewed father McKinney later, he recalled the conversation, but had little to add to it, although he had remembered a reference in a volume, which he had set aside to bring to Dominic's attention on his return. Apparently in the leaflet A Further Indictment Against the Franks, issued (though some have doubted the attribution) by Photios I of Constantinopal, "the leading light of the ninth century renaissance", the following passage occurs, "in addition to such sundery novelties as demanding that the Holy Spirit procedeth both from the Father and the Son, the Western church numbers the Magus, by threes so as to echo their trinity, but many gospels they have discarded speak of a fourth King, whose present was unfavourable to the Lord"

This snippet would have been of interest to Dominic had he been able to hear it and he would, no doubt, have imagined, a monograph on the subject under his name, and perhaps confirmation of a genuine discovery on the part of Clive Gregory Howes. A footnote in Painton Cowen’s next edition, and a lecture on the subject in the next round of scholastic achievements. Small enough rewards for what he evidently must have undergone.

Being a visitor, and one whose reason for being in the College was purely temporary, he wasn’t immediately missed. Nor, for it was small, in a side chapel, and not the focus of the tiny congregation’s worship was the change in the window immediately noticed.

It was two weeks before matters were discovered. Dominic’s landlady had rung our University when he hadn’t returned home after the long vacation. One of the other lecturers in the medieval studies, substrata of history (his University was still big on that despite the cuts) recalled that he had been complaining that he’d only landed three lecturing gigs in his spare time, that season. The last of the three, it transpired, had left an irate message with the Dean’s office about the unreliability of certain lecturers and how it might reflect on the University.

Dominic had been expected to contact them to make arrangements for his forthcoming visit, and had not done so, leaving them in some difficulty to provide for their students. Putting this together took a little while but it seemed something had happened to Dominic either at the site of his second lecture, or between there and his lodgings.

It was my job to find out what. I’m a beadle. I police, in a sense, the university campus, and I run odd jobs. For instance I sometimes look for missing academics. Generally, although not on this occasion, I have tended to find them in public houses, or other people’s beds. Academics are after all only human. I wear a suit, I have a bowler hat. Many people say I have a winning smile.

So eventually I found the church, and because I’d done my research into Dominic’s diary (still in his luggage in the bursar’s lodge of that little College), and into C. G. Howes volume – not Dominic’s obviously, but the College’s library was adequate enough to contain a copy – I wasn’t surprised, in one way, by what I found although I was in others.

There were, certainly, four figures in the stained glass window, but there was no such right hand figure as the book had described. While it was true that the three leftmost figures may well, I am no expert, have dated from the thirteenth, twelth, and sixteenth centuries, the last panel of glass was one of those modern types of stained glass which I profoundly hope the University never sees fit to adopt in any of its chapels.

It was a scarlet figure wrapped in green, and blue mosaic – perhaps intended to convey kingship, but if so it was a king of a modern kind, all hand-wringing and asking people ‘how did you get here today?’ and ‘and commenting that their jobs ‘must be interesting.’ Not, as you might say – a King in Narnia – and not a King in peculiar yellow glass, predating the twelfth century. It was a King with a small black case on a leather strap slung over its shoulder.

The other thing about it was the artistry of its tiny face, which scarlet suit not withstanding – for no one ever remembered him ever wearing anything but hard-wearing tweed – was that of a substantially accurate likeness of Dominic Trelayn.

There’s not very much left to be said. Dominic, who must have disappeared to somewhere, never returned. The Rector of the Church believed that the stained glass must have been changed in his absence, perhaps on the order of the Bishop – for he had made a number of requests for funding to address the chapel window – the fourth figure needing at least cleaning, and he had found it to prey upon certain of his parishioner’s minds. Indeed it had been hidden by a draw-string curtain for many years, since the time of his predecessor the Reverend Thomas Havering.

There is perhaps one unusual postscript though it is hard to see how it could possibly relate to Dominic’s departure for realms unknown.

The third of his lectures, at that very opinionated, and lower class body – I believe it to have originally been a polytechnic – ended in a student riot.  The replacement for Doctor Trelayn, a worthy but somewhat dull academic from the Other Place, no doubt the best that could be go on short notice, and for little money, was beginning his discussion of whatever piece of medieval history he had decided to lay before the undergraduates, when in his own words:  “A cloud of yellow dust, blew me off the bally stage”.

That  the dust cloud, became a figure, and that it delivered, what can only be called a lecture, is I believe maintained by many of the audience, but then they were only undergraduates, and they are presently, in the majority of cases, undergoing psychological treatments.  Still perhaps there was a sense of obligation, after all nobles obliges. We can, however, I feel, only be grateful that the substance of that lecture is lost to us.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Godzilla In Liverpool



The Liver Building where
My grandfather,
Worked in insurance, burns,
The Liver Birds, melted to metal droplets
Vapourised to rain, fly finally away.
The meteor debris of sundering fire
Falls upon Canning, and on Salthouse Dock
And up Lord Street and Church Street,
See he strides.
And Bluecoat Children flee, as fearful hordes
Along no-longer Bold Street, inbetween
Cathedrals raised to subtly different takes
Upon a far more human featured God.

He kills a smaller number than the War,
Burns fewer Churches,
But he moves as one,
Colossal, entity,
In whose dark wake,
Three graces fall in ruin,
Under whose shadow,
The city's people,
Ants, more than beatles,
Scurry, lost, alone.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why Faction Paradox Is Part Of The Doctor Who Universe


'Cos it is.

Faction Paradox is first described in a licenced work of prose Doctor Who fiction.  FACT!

In their current form in Licensed prose fiction Faction Paradox continue to interact with other licensed DWU characters, and with others which may well thematically and functionally represent entities where licenses are not practically available.  FACT!

Ergo - the only possible reason for not concluding FP is DWU is a sufficiency of cash to obtain the licenses.

Therefore: Send me (or better yet Stuart Douglas of Obverse books) a wad of cash.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Ruthless Rhymes

Ruthless Rhymes


On Friendship

I tend to like my friends alive
For though the dead ones are no trouble
When I think how I had to strive
To kill them, it’s incredibubble.

On Marriage(s)

I hope you know I only jest
For I would never take the life
Of any friend from worst to best
Now on the other hand, a wife...

It’s true I’ve only had the nine
And that they were unlucky all
The crashing car, the poisoned wine,
That unseen bear-trap in the hall.

The puffer-fish that some how got
Into the celebration flan,
The creature that time had forgot
(Not meant, now, to be known by man)

Who knew it would become enraged?
I should have locked the time machine,
Or kept the safety bar engaged
Upon the Upper Pleistocene.

Too, many thought, I should have guessed
The need for entertaining fare
When Dracula, comes as a guest
It’s always for the host to share.

And number seven, (hair of red)
Started out lucky, but no more
For though the Tiger was well fed
She should have picked the Other Door.

Eight and Nine, were practically
One and the same, well being twins,
I draw no line exactically
Where one ends or where one begins.

They’re both dead now.  The balloon burst,
The zeppelin also caught alight,
 I sometimes think I have been cursed
That things just never turn out right.

But still, I hear you’re single now
How many husbands dead? A Dozen?
I’d marry you with hopeful vow
Oh wait, no Damn! I am your cousin.


On Chocolate

I kept lying there thinking, what had I done.
And where was the body, and who hid the gun,
But these are the things that you’re bound to regret
When far too much chocolate meets Russian roulette.




Tuesday, November 08, 2016

TheTaxonomy of Lesser Known Supernatural Beasts

The shadow wolf and shadow bat
Share the same gothic habitat
But harder than vampire's tooth enamel
The lot of the poor shadow camel
Which tries to slink from shade to gloom -
The shadow elephant in the room -
The suns' rays shine too vast to number,
Through dusk and mirk and kind penumba.
The shadow sloth too has its flaws,
Though armed with mighty clutching claws,
Though it leaps up at sink of sun
The day has dawned 'er it's begun.
Shadow wolves also have a pack
And not a hump upon their back,
Shadow camels are sick as fuck
They think the wolves got all the luck.


[Inspired by Simon Forward's Shadow Wolf, poem]