Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Table of the Seven Sinners

 From 2004....



  THE TABLE OF THE SEVEN SINNERS

 
‘It was built,’ the smallest man said, ‘originally for the encouragement of  public virtue. To sit in it was to be subjected to the residuum of all your worst memories, keyed to the one of the core psychological weaknesses. Eventually after the Revolution had run its course and the time of the Intuitive Terror was over, it was locked away with all the other unhistorical artifacts; all the things we didn't like to admit we'd done.’

‘A sort of seige perilous,’ the curly haired man boomed, shucking his multicoloured coat. I'm game, no ordeal can shake my resolve.’ He hesitated for a moment even so, between a blood red upholstered throne of a chair with a carved ruby eye set in its dark mahogany back, and a black spindly chair of iron with edges like razors.  ‘I've always been tempted by anger and pride, but I doubt the Seige Prideful would stand up to me.’ His voice was mock ruthful. He drew back his foot to give it a hearty kick, but
seemed to think better of it.

 ‘There's always the Seige Sloathful’ the man in the cricket togs said, pointing to a deck-chair incongruously drawn up against the vast circular table. In the table's centre, a great twining gold seal ate itself, the uroborus of the Time Lords - the Omniscrate Emblem.

 The old man who was already seating, snorted. ‘Hurry up can't you, what's a table for if not sitting at’.

‘We're just considering’

‘Only a moment’
            

‘We haven't agreed yet why we are here,’ the  untidy  little man said,  ‘being plonked down like skittles, and frankly if  I'd wanted to be at everyone's beck  and harry, I'd never have run away from home in the first  place.’

The old man glared, ‘Run away from home? You make me sound like an errant schoolboy!’

‘Weren't we?’ the man in the smoking jacket asked, ‘if you face up to it.  Didn't we want it all?  Everything outside the iron prison yard. Everything that wasn't exile?’

‘Why!’ The tallest man exclaimed, ‘this is Gallifrey, nor am I out of it! Think you not I,  who saw the ends of time and worlds beyond the scope of all our dusty years, am not tormented  with ten thousand devils by being thus deprived of eternal bliss’

                The eighth man held up a tentative hand, ‘Excuse me, would one of you mind explaining  who you guys are?’ Hey, only kidding, I had this problem with amnesia, but it’s all fixed now.’

                They gaped at him.

                ‘Yes, I know you all.’  He numbered them round the table starting with the old man. ‘One for sorrow..’ the little scruffy man, ‘Two for joy’. 

                The man in the smoking jacket leaned over, ‘Well he doesn’t remember you.’

                ‘He’s referring to my rendition of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, for the Recorder,” Number Two hissed.

                It was the Smoking Jacket’s turn. ‘Three for a girl’

                Number Two beamed, ‘Fancy Pants!’

The tall bohemian took it on the chin, booming out ‘Four for a boy, ah I was a lad once’.

                ‘Five for silver,’ the fair hair of the cricketeer gleamed.

                ‘Six for gold,’ the curls of the man who until recently had worn the multicoloured coat, nodded as he smiled.

                ‘Seven for a secret never to be told.’

                ‘That,’ Number Seven said, ‘Is what we’re here to discuss.’

‘One to Seven,’ the forgetful man shouted, ‘I know you all now.  You,’ he pointed at the old man who had levered himself up ramrod straight behind the table, ‘you were my old army sergeant.  And you,’ he beamed at the scruffy little man, ‘you met me at the station with a magic box, or was that a dream. An evil wizard had stolen all the clergy and the Christmas Bells wouldn’t ring.‘  He ran up to the man in the velvet smoking jacket, and stopped puzzled.  ‘But I remember you all raggedy’ He was almost pouting.

                The man he’d accused of having a magic box sniggered, ‘Scarecrow,’ under his breath, and the third man scowled. 

                But the eighth man was after the bohemian now, only to be withered at a glance, as the fourth man lurched forward.  ‘I?  Oh yes, I was a dread sorceror, whether on the steps of Russia or the great oceans of the gulf of Arabia, I gave of myself to animate the inanimate, to heal the Czarina.’  He took a step towards the now scared, man – his eyes large and dark, ‘and in the end, I died and became a mentor in white in a House that Moved.’

                ‘Stop it,’ the fifth man said, ‘I thought we were here to help him.’

                ‘Let's hope its not the way he’ll remember you helping cows,’ the fourth man shouted eyes wild, ‘I’m the one he’ll remember if he remembers anyone.’

                ‘The one who was too stuck on himself to come out of a time eddy,’ Number Six said.  ‘We’ve all had our chances, some here some there.’

                ‘We make the chances,’ the Seventh man said, ‘and what happens next here is up to us and to the Table.’ 

When Children Play.

  

Part of an attempt at a play, from 2003...back when even distopias could be optimistic....


When Children Play.

 

A Play.

 

 

Setting, a suburban home of the year 2025.


Cast

 

Peter                (son of John and Mary, born 1964, age 61

Mary                (mother of Peter, born 1944 – treated for senile dementia with

Human Transgene Therapy (HTT) in 2005 when the technique was untried (age 61), apparent age in 2025 : 21.  A net gain of one year for each six months of therapy.

John                 (father of Peter, born 1941 – treated in first “War on Age” push

                        2015 (age 74), apparent age in 2025 : 48.  He has gained a little on her

                        with later improved therapy but he has not yet regained his youth.

Doctor Life      NHS consultant, born 2000, age stabilised at 20. 

Trainee Nurse  Claire, born 1990, age 35 unstabilised.

 

Act 1 Scene 1.  (5-10) minutes duration

 

Mary:    [a young woman]  shouting from upstairs:

 

John, are you coming up to bed?

 

John:     [clearly an older man]

 

Soon I’m just watching the news.  The War’s almost won they say.  No one over sixty alive by ’25.   They’d got Angela Rippon reading it, you know that dancer off Morcambe and Wise. 

 

Mary   [voice approaching, and aurally should be by John by end of sentence]: 

 

Oh, well they say, I’ve no doubt.  I’ve no doubt they won’t be happy ‘til we’re all the same.  It’s a good job Peter doesn’t look his age.

 

John: 

 

Well, if he stays quiet.  Doesn’t go out much – does his work on the networks, he might last another dozen years before they pick on him.  I wonder he thinks it’s worth it.  It doesn’t hurt.  They wouldn’t let it hurt.

 

Mary: 

 

He’s got his reasons, Dad  [note Mary uses the word Dad for her husband unself-consciously, as a woman born in 1941 might, but we will see in the latter part of the play that John has begun to find this disturbing.]

[Banging as of something falling upstairs.]

 

John:   Hell,  Peter are you okay lad?   [Runs up stairs]

 

Peter:   I had a bad dream,  I couldn’t remember Sarah’s eyes.   I can’t sleep.

 

Mary:   Well you have to.  We need some time to ourselves.  You can look at the photo-albums in the morning, play her records back: but you’ve got to sleep.  You’re not getting any younger.

 

John:     Mary!

 

Peter:     No she’s right.  I don’t want to be a burden, you know that.  But I can’t do it.  I just can’t.  It wouldn’t be right.

 

Mary:    It was right for other people.  You don’t mind living off our earnings.  How would we make a living if we felt like you.

 

John:     He can’t help how he feels, he does his bit.  You’re just overwrought with the party coming up, but that’s not his doing.

 

Mary:    Oh no, I just have to have him hiding from the guests I suppose.  This is supposed to me my big occasion. My coming of age.  The rest of my life a level playing field laid out before me.  [She is almost in tears]  Twenty one years old, and I’m going to know that upstairs he’s lying there dying slowly because he can’t face the needle.

           

Peter:     Mother!

 

Mary:     Don’t mother me, you’re sixty fucking one.  You’ve made your bed and can die in it for all I care.  I’m young, the treatments working on me.  It’s made me young.  It’s given me back myself.  I was out of my mind when they gave it me, a guinea-pig for an untried cure, and it put my mind back together.  A year younger every six months, and I have to spend my twenty first birthday with a pair of geriatrics.  Get your father to pity you, I going out.  [door slams].

 

John:      You have to understand, Pete – her body’s full of hormones and things, I told her she should stop at 35, keep the perspectives she’d learned, but she always had an excuse to run on for another set of treatments.

 

Peter:      She’s only got bad memories to run from, Dad  - imagine the slow climb back from senility.  I’ll top myself before that.  And she’s still got you, even if you started later you can catch her up in time.  She’s got you always before her to prompt her.  Whatever horrors she forgets you’ll be there to remind her of the good times, and to have new good times when you’re settled.

 

John:      Sarah wouldn’t have wanted you to die.  If she were here…

 

Peter:      Things would be different, yes I grant that.  But she isn’t, she’s dead.  Dead before a Lifeguard could reach her with the needle. Dead before her life could be unravelled.  Dead and gone on, and I don’t intend to live apart from her a moment longer than I have too.  And I won’t forget her.

 

John:       You’re forgetting her already.  Time does that.  Just because your brain isn’t being rebuilt from inside and your muscles growing strong again doesn’t make your recollections sacrosanct.  Age can wreck your mind as surely as the needle.  Is it so wrong that Age should pass away?  What did it ever bring but suffering and pain, and humiliation.  Tomorrow your mother will dance like she danced when rationing stopped.  Like a young girl.  And whether they take you or not, I want you in public – applauding.  A proper family occasion

 

Peter:       I’ll be there, but I can’t reject age.  Age is wisdom, and acceptance, and experience – and the treatment eats away experience with memory.  Mum’s going to spend her whole long immortal life making the accidents a twenty year old makes.  I hope you’ll have the stamina to keep up with her.  As for me, I’ll die before I choose to lose Sarah.

 

John:        Leave Mary to me,  I’ll take a frivolous youngster over a corpse or a memory.  You think you’ve got the wisdom of age, well as the clock ticks I’m still your elder even after fifteen years of renewal, and you’re still green.  In the end we’d claw our way back from the grave for another glimpse of light.  Serenity is for the middle ages of man, the oldest know only desperation.  You think you could cheerfully follow Sarah into the dark because you haven’t felt it cold on your cheek.  But its not an easy step, and those who say it is – are only the ones who came back wimpering.

 

[A latchkey is heard turning]

 

Mary:       Oh Pete, I’m so sorry – come here.  You’re not too old to give your mum a hug are you?   John, you’re right I’m worrying about the seating plans and my dress.  Do you really like it? 

 

Peter:        Maybe you could put it on Mum, now and give us a twirl?

 

John:        Yes, that would be grand.  Peter’s going to come to the do tomorrow, aren’t you, Pete.  He said he wouldn’t miss it for the world.

 

 Mary:      Oh, if only Sandra could have been here – we’d have looked like sisters.

 

Peter:         Yes, you would.  Let me kiss you goodnight Mum,  I’m afraid I need my sleep.  [His voice is cold, he has registered that Mary can not remember his wife’s name.]

 

Mary:        Sleep well,  I want to show John some dance steps.  He’s going to have to get livelier if he wants to keep up with me tomorrow.  I’ll be dancing with all the young men, and women.

 

John:        I have to call in for a shot tomorrow morning.  I hope you’ll keep your pants on while I’m gone.

 

 

Act 1 Scene 2

 

The Lifeguard Hospital, Doctor Life is on his rounds.

 

Doctor Life:    Inductees and trainees, graduants and graduates – we are the first generation of genuine Doctors the world has ever known for we are the first to be provided with the genuine nostrum, the true cure, the fix for death itself.

Nurse Claire, can you describe the history of the drug?

 

Claire:             It was an experimental anti-senility drug, intended to knock out prions from the old food plagues, make dendritic structures renew themselves within the cortex.

 

Doctor Life:    Quite right, it was a complete accident that it proved to be the one thing every alchemist and quack had dreamt of.  Just when it was critically needed.  We faced a top-heavy society: more and more old people kept alive by medicine and yet unable to productively continue to make a contribution, a living burden of taxation.  Now they not only pay for their treatments, but as they youthen they can earn more and more.  It is a genuine [Doctor Life’s favourite word] win, win situation.

 

Claire:     But there were side-effects….

 

Doctor Life:   At first, yes. Horrible side-effects. Drooling madness and extra-potent cancers, and yet, and yet, in the first year 40 percent of the patients treated, patients on the very edges of death, shuffled nervously back into the world of work and responsibility, and life.  We are the first post-death generation.  Many of us will be not only immortal ourselves, but have the benefit of never having to see a parent die.  Worth the initial risks surely – and the people taking the drug thought so themselves, after all they were dying.

 

John:            He’s right miss, my wife was one of the first treated.  All her hair fell out and she felt like death warmed over, and her temperature was so high it bust the thermometer, but a month later her hair began to grow again, and it was blonde at the roots.  It was like magic, like watching flowers come up in spring.

 

Doctor Life:  Indeed, and I can see that you, yourself have benefitted from the treatment, would you mind coming up and letting Claire here handle your shot.

Mr, er….

 

John:            John Weber, Doctor Life  [pronounced Leefe] we met last time I was in for a booster shot.

 

Doctor Life:    Indeed, indeed.  You must excuse me, we have a large through-put. The War you know.  Always pushing us.  You have a son I think you said, yes? I remember he had some concerns about commencing treatment with us.  How old would he be now?

 

John:               He was born in 1970, so he’d be…oh….I can never do maths in my head since we got a computer. 

 

Claire:              He’d be 55, Mr Weber.

 

Doctor Life:     Quite old enough to get over a silly phobia, and put the community first, eh, nurse. 

 

John:                He does his bit, design work and that, he pays his way.

 

Doctor Life:    Of course, he does, don’t mind me – it’s taking a genuine interest that keeps me going.  That and my little purple pills.  Nurse Claire will see you alright, I have to run.  I’d forgotten an appointment, chaio.

 

Claire:              Sorry about that, he is a little scatty.

 

John:                Has he got an appointment, really?

 

Claire:              We think he’s got a sweetheart.  Keep catching him on the phone, blushing.  He probably levelled off a bit soon.  He’s never been older you see, just dug his heels in at 20, and lord knows we still need young enthusiatic Doctors.

 

John:                Why?  I’d have thought immortality would made demand drop.

I only ever come in for the shots.  Not that the company isn’t fine. 

 

Claire:              Theres still medicine to do, more than you might think.  The needle rebuilds slowly, it’s no help to a man bleeding to death, or a woman aborting.  We’re mainly accident and emergency full-time, but even so demands up if anything.  Leefe says immortality has made people feel invincible, stepped up risk taking, made accidents inevitable.

 

John:                Still it must make it worthwhile to have people walk again, to watch the blind see, the old grow young.

 

Claire:              Age has its beauties, but I don’t want them to be anything but rareties.  You know they’ll make your son take the needle, don’t you.  It’ll be fifties and fifty five year olds next.

 

John:               How old are you, Claire?  If you don’t mind me asking.

 

Claire:              35 this year.  Not locked yet, I’m hoping to have children first, age with them.  Then maybe work my way back to the mid thirties again after a decent interval.

 

 

 

 

Part of a draft audio, that never gelled...

 

DOCTOR WHO: THE NIGHTSHAPES OF RA

 

by Simon Bucher-Jones

 

First Draft, May 2002

 


PART ONE

 

TITLE MUSIC

 

SCENE 1   THE FORTRESS OF RA: RECEPTION ROOM

 

[SFX: ARMOUR CLAD FEET MARCHING ON STONE FLOOR]

 

SERGEANT VAL:   TROOPS HALT. POSITIONS FOR THE CEREMONY ADOPT!

I WANT YOU STILL AS STATUES, I WANT THE IMPERATOR TO SEE HIS FACE IN THOSE BREAST-PLATES. [PAUSE] I WANT YOUR WEAPONS CHARGED AND READY.

 

[SFX: SF WEAPONRY CHARGES UP, SIX WEAPONS]

 

[SFX: TARDIS MATERIALISES, TARDIS DOOR OPENS]

 

DOCTOR: I SAY, YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO PUT ON ENTERTAINMENT. WHAT’S THIS SOLDIER? A CHARGED BLASTER RUNNING NEAR OVERLOAD. I THINK WE’LL JUST TURN THAT DOWN A TAD. [SFX SWITCH CLICK POWER RUN-DOWN]. [PAUSE, DOCTOR, PENSIVELY ASIDE] I DON’T KNOW. YOU’LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT.

 

ACE:   [COMING OUT OF THE TARDIS]  OI PROFESSOR, WHAT’S WITH THE

SPACE KNIGHTS?

 

SEARGEANT VAL:  HENTHRITH, JAVRON GET THESE INTRUDERS OUT OF HERE! AT ANY MOMENT THE IMPERATOR OF RA WILL BE TRANSDUCTED HERE TO BE ESCOURTED TO THE BRIDAL SUITE. HE’LL BE ACCOMPANIED BY THE PRESS-EYES OF A DOZEN WORLDS. IF THEY FIND US SCUFFLING WITH SPACE RIFFRAFF AND THEIR UNLICENSED TRANSDUCTION BOOTH, WE’LL BE SCRUBBING LATRINES WITH DENTAL BRUSHES WITH THE NIGHTSHAPES AT OUR HEELS!

 

HENTHRITH: [HE IS SURPRISINGLY POLITE, THINK SERGEANT WILSON TO CAPTAIN VAL’S MAINWEARING] COME ALONG WITH ME SIR, MADAM. YOU CAN WATCH THE IMPERATOR’S ARRIVAL FROM THIS NICE SAFE OBSERVATION ROOM. JAVRON, GET A GRAV-BEAM ON THAT BOOTH, AND HOIST IT UP OUT OF SIGHT IF YOU WOULDN’T MIND – THANKS AWFULLY.

 

[SFX HUMMING, FADES INTO]

 

[SFX TRUMPET FANFARE. CRACKLE OF LOUDSPEAKERS]

 

ANNOUNCER: PEOPLE OF RA. THE IMPERATOR PETRAN IS RETURNING TO US, BEARING THE GOOD-WISHES OF THE COLONIES, AND THE MANY SYMBOLIC GIFTS HE WILL PRESENT TO HIS BRIDE. HE CARRIES THE STAFF OF WISDOM, THE CORNUCOPIA OF HAPPINESS, THE PROPHYLACTICS OF…

 

[SFX SOUND FROM OUTSIDE OBSERVATION ROOM SHOULD CONTINUE IN BACKGROUND BUT SLIGHTLY MUFFLED WITH SECOND FANFARE AS D & A SPEAK].

 

ACE: GOT HIS HANDS FULL HASN’T HE? THINK HE’LL BE ABLE TO GET TO GRIPS WITH HIS HONEYMOONING?

 

DOCTOR: SHUSH THIS IS A SOLOMN OCCASION, I KNOW WE MISSED THE WEDDING BUT AT LEAST WE’VE GOT A GOOD VIEW OF THE HOMECOMING.

 

ACE: NO THANKS TO YOUR NAVIGATING. IT’S LUCKY WE AREN’T IN THE MARRIAGE BED, THE WAY YOU FLY THAT THING.

 

[SFX BACKGROUND SOUND UP AGAIN TO SHOW WE ARE BACK OUTSIDE THE OBS-ROOM. SOUND LIKE BUT NOT IDENTICAL TO TARDIS MATERIALISATION. RECORDED APPLAUSE AND CHEERING STARTS UP AS THIS FADES ONLY TO BE SWAMPED BY HIDEOUS ALIEN HISSING.]

 

VAL: NIGHTSHAPE BREACH. READY WEAPONS. LET ‘EM HAVE IT MEN.

 

ACE: [REMEMBER TO MUFFLE OUTSIDE SOUND, WHICH IS NOW LASERS FIRING AND ROARING] DOC WE’VE GOT TO HELP THEM.

 

DOCTOR: NO ACE, IT’S TOO LATE. BY THE TIME WE GET TO THEM….

 

ACE: [STRUGGLING WITH DOOR] THOSE TOERAGS THEY’RE LOCKED US IN………

 

 

Indefinable Magic

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

The 9th Iteration of Youth

Part of a story that went nowhere (circa 2002)


 The Ninth Iteration of Youth.

 

Day 1.

 

I am writing this on a piece of paper taken from a notebook I hope my Doctors will not miss, and the stub of a pencil that one discarded.   I intend to hide it.

                Today they showed me the cake.  I should be well enough to have some, they said by my birthday.   The cake has a number twelve on it in blue icing and red candles (twelve of them) around the edge.  It is a whitish orange with a layer of thick dark red dividing it from left to right.   It will come out of its plastic cover in four days' time.  Until then the preservatives will keep it fresh, until then I am alive.

 I wonder if this is the first cake I have ever seen.  I know it might be the ninth.   For although I am twelve years old, I believe I have been so nine times.  The last cake I remember rested on a white china plate on a gingham-clothed table that stands on a floor of wooden boards under a roof of white plaster and off-white cornices.   I had a party streamer, a balloon, and a book of fighting ships, and – although then I did not know it - seven hours left to live. 

Hail Caesar, in four days, this time, we die.   Yes, I know all about Caesars and Kaisers and Cabbages, and shoes and ships and screaming wax and long sad stories of the death of Kings.   My memory in respect of facts is excellent.   I suspect the history I know is a lie because it explains so little.   Why is it all people dying?  Why is it all people who only live once?

 

Day 2.

 

If you were created a second ago with memories of a full life behind you, would there be any difference to you?  Maybe not, but I have remembered that my memories are false, and I have remembered why.  I was (and will be – for eternity? -) born at the age of twelve months and three hundred and sixty days and I will die when I am thirteen years old.   In between, I live for five days and then death comes.   I am, I think, the first of me to have fully remembered that.  If I am right it is certain.   I have marked the days on the brightly coloured calendar.  Only the method is undetermined – or if not that (for it might already be percolating in the mind of my adversary) – at least unknown to me, unlooked for, surprising, a lethal glimmering novelty. 

Last time (I think I remember) it was a razor blade embedded in a bar of soap, ready for my evening wash.  The edge coated with some poison sliced my cheek open to the bone as I washed, I had long lean cheeks then – not my present chubby articles.  I think.  I think I’m sure of that. They won't let me have mirrors you see.  Another me broke one once and slashed her wrists, little rabbity cuts, quite useless – they should have been made lengthways along the vein.  I was a she then.   That was on her day four – trying to circumvent the inevitable, to duck under the barbed wire of mortality and dive across a different no-man’s land.   I don’t think she knew but she had a vision of it nevertheless; she knew she had to go before they took her.

She died on the next day of a combination of tetanus, loss of blood, and I think a calculated decision not to bother with any more breathing.   I can’t do that.  I can’t even imagine it.

Well not with me. Not with this body.

 

Day 3.

 

In my first me (in the first me I remember) I thought security was a game we all played, and I suppose (memories of that life are faint, now) I disbelieved in everything but my own obvious superior grasp of the games.  Now it seems to me that, then, I walked through a fog of ignorance smelling only a faint jasmine scent of it and ignoring the fact that it clogged my vision.  The idiot.  The fool.  A person being hunted can not afford to smell the flowers, and I am as hunted as a small animal in a minefield under a hail of buckshot.  It may not be the wilful violence that kills me (although it has been, oh yes my masters) but rather that impersonal violence that the small acts drive me towards. 

                I assume I have an adversary.  My physicians do not. They talk about the problems of memory-duplication, of biological synthesis, of the whole black clone technology  - thinking I neither hear, nor hearing understand - they conceal – perhaps deliberately, perhaps they themselves are changed on-mass when I die (their faces are not especially memorable) – the violence of my endings.    I hate them more than him.  (I think he is a he.)  He, the despoiler the lurker, the one who is laughing at me as I lurch through my clown-like lives.   They expect the process to take, one of us to survive, they did not think (I believe) that there would be this effect, this sequence, this enfolding of memory; they believed they had eight  (many be more?) separate children, twelve clones of their leader all viable.  They also did not expect our shared intelligence.  Oh, the great one is bright enough, powerful enough, he has these people running despite their flabby chins and weak knees.  He comes sometimes  (I think once a week, I have not seen him with these eyes yet).  I remember only a huge beard, and a roaring laugh, a manly burly figure.  I imagine him with a cigar in his hand, or slapping other men on the back roguishly.   My father, if you want to put it that way.

                There is a lot of gossip (between me and my memories) some frankly woven out of old scare stories that seem ancient even to me who has lived at most forty-two days, and at least two of my own allotted five depending on how you look at it.  I do not for instance believe that the deaths are faked and that we are simply being groomed for some nassissistic sexual indulgence.   I’ve considered that we might be organ parts, harvested at thirteen – the period of real-world growth some kind of stabilizing or checking time in which any hideous flaws in our genetic codes might run rampant, that eventually, our dying father might pull on any one of us as a coat to shield him from the death sun, to keep night’s long immortal cold from out of his bones.  Even so, I am not a self-killer.  I will wait, take time trust nothing, prepare.

 

AFTER THE ANCESTOR CELL

From 2000, my attempt to spin the end of The Ancestor Cell, and the Doctor's amnesia in the EDAs into... 


Chapter Forty-Five

 

 After such mathematics what Forgiveness?

 

"You stopped it!" Fitz was practically dancing around the re-formed library of the Doctor' s old familiar TARDIS; but the look on the Doctor's face, stilled him. Pale, drawn and ghastly, as if some cancer of the bone was eating away under his features; dulling his eyes, the Doctor had evidently failed.

On the gilt screen built into Rassilon's lecturn the sigil of the Worm that eats itself, the ultimate paradox; twisted itself back and forth through space and time writhing. Watching it was like watching a surgeon stitch, repick, and stitch: it made Fitz feel sick. Stolen Faction technology; stolen or given;  turning Gallifrey's own inviolate history back on itself; and back; and back.  In the very instant the forces holding the TARDIS in the form of the Edifice had given way; so the first blow of the Enemy had landed.  Now caught up in one paradox, time screamed!

"No," Compassion said, reaching out a tentative hand for the Doctor's sleeve and drawing him down into one of the Hepplewhite chairs. There was a tear at the corner of her eye. Maybe she'd never really care, Fitz thought but by God her chameleon circuit could fake it.

The screen flared. "Nova Gallifrey," the Doctor whispered, "a single sun burning out a billion years ago; its life wound back and round and finally out; catalysing its own nuclear reactions. The light passing us comes from all the days that never were."   He tottered to the consol. "I can not let this happen".

Compassion frowned "But it has?"

The Doctor';s hands flew over the controls, "Not yet, not quite - the TARDIS is retreating in the vortex at relative speeds faster than light, provided we don’t dematerialise, don’t disturb the links that bind us to these events we still stand a chance. Here in the vortex we are outstripping the news of the destruction and when we are fully outside the light-cone to which the information has spread there may be one thing yet we can try. After all I only "think" I'm witnessing the destruction of my world". His eyes were absolutely haunted, and there was a crack in his voice. "What if I'm wrong, eh?"

 Fitz wondered who the Doctor was trying to convince; them or him.

A day later. One light day and three hours from Gallifrey.

"We are still safe," the Doctor said, "just. Compassion's presence proves that; she draws her power from a future version of the Eye of  Harmony, if its linkages are intact in the future; there must be at least one possible future universe in which Gallifrey survives still bundled up in the quantum mishmash".  He mopped his brow, “That Gallifrey was still in my future just a little, my TARDIS is still drawing power out of the past; at least so long as we remain ahead of the change wave”.

"Er Doctor," Fitz was about to say that Compassion had once told him that her power sources were entirely unbounded tapping the energies of the vortex itself, but before he could do so Compassion's hand was over his mouth. 

"Not now!" she hissed.

On the screen, a vast shape began to form. The Cloister bell began to sound. Fitz recognised it from their adventures in the Black Nebula; a sign that the TARDIS was under stress. He tried to bite Compassion's hand and risked chipping his teeth.

 "A schrodinger box," the Doctor said. "An area of space-time isolated from all else; within it the time-streams need not resolve themselves."

Compassion nodded, "the Enemy device used the random decay of particles to drive its war strategy, to prevent the Matrix predicting the hour it would strike; at some point the fate of Gallifrey hinged on the outcome of a single subatomic event".

"Yessss," the Doctor's breath came out in a long stream, "and such events are ultimately uncertain". He pressed a large onyz and ormalu button on the control panel.

An area of space turned mirror bright.

Fitz spat out Compassion's hand. "Will someone please pass me the Idiot's guide please?"

"There were millions of people on Gallifrey," the Doctor began hesitantly. "As it was they were dead, no question - almost; oh there could have been a billion to one failure of the Enemy's machine, the light could have been its drive energies venting across time as it burned itself out, but it was never likely." He wrung his hands. "So long as the information from Gallifrey is trapped within the area of space defined by the schrodinger field though, that tiny possibility has as much validity as any other. They'll all have their lives, within their solar system, until their star finally does really burn out, maybe longer they'll have the technology and maybe now the will to use it.  No horizon’s to speak of, of course, now vast frontiers.”

"Of course, it can never be opened," Compassion said.

Fitz met the Doctor's eyes. "Romana," he whispered.

The Doctor nodded. "Romana, everyone, all my people, everyone who was on Gallifrey when it fell. They are all dead to me. I'm going to go and lie down for a long time. Please let me be".

"Doctor?" It was Compassion who persisted. "The box, the energies driving its homeostasis, deflecting the disturbing influences of other suns, what's driving that?"


The Cloister bell sounded again slow and distorted.

"I was going to get to that," the Doctor said.   "The TARDIS needs to maintain the box for maybe a hundred years;  after that it should be self-sustaining. Prison or heaven, it won't need us after that. Compassion, Fitz - I'll see you in a hundred years try not to break anything." His voice was only just steady. "As for me I need to forget.  Fitz, Compassion will see you safely away,". He pushed a scrap of paper into Fitz's breast pocket, "this is where I'll be when I'm back to myself."  He made a quirky face, as he thinned out, whisked away somehow on the winds of time and space bound for who knew where, "just a little personal time, a little quiet time, a little folding of the hands in peace". His voice too faded.

Fitz and Compassion looked at the note. "Hang on," Fitz said, "if he's meeting us then he's picked a bit of a bugger of a century to recuperate in".


SBJ 25/7/00

Hidden Lore

 I started to invent a book of cod-new age mysticism for a horror story, the idea being that it would start twee and gradually lead its readers into horrific excesses…..(then I got bored)…

 

 THE BOOK OF THE NAVIGATION OF THE PATH

 

1.

 

Listen and I will tell you a mystery.

It is possible not to die.

Listen, another.

It is possible to command the world like a God.

It is little done, simply because it is hard to be a god, harder perhaps than to be a man or a woman or a child.

 

Still for those who wish to learn, here is the method of it: eat these words and obey these injunctions and you will have whatever you seek, forever.

 

This is a grey art it is not good nor ill of itself, yet be wary, for it may be that you are not grey.  I do not say that evil only will come from evil nor good always will come from good yet I have heard it said. 

 

When you are as a God or as a Goddess, do not twist the world like a boy twists a cat’s tail, rather unwind it and plait it anew as a mother plaits a child’s hair so that each hair takes on a new beauty.  Do this and all will be well.  For when the hairs that are worlds are bound into strands and woven, the sum of all worlds will be brighter and the souls of men and beasts in those worlds will sing for joy.

 

2.

 

Where is it from, this wisdom?

The past, the sky, Lemuria, the subconscious?

 I will not tell you.  If it helps you to imagine tablets of stone, think of them.  If a voice from the burning sky touches the marrow of your bones listen to it.  If a man lying in a field listening to the sounds of mice in the grass, can be inspired, this is inspired.  It has been written with no artifice with no goal in mind. I have let the words fall onto the paper like rain, and like snow in winter they have stained it with their patterns.  Is it not enough that I bring power? Certainly, it is not for the power is only a seed, and it is in and through you that these seeds will grow.  This is how they must be planted, what fruits will spring will depend upon the soil.

 

3. 

 

Firstly, you must find the four anchors that tie you to the world and release them one by one so that your mind can be free.  If you do not, do not hope that the world will lie still beneath you, rather you will be dragged with it hither and thither, its past changing behind as it dives deeply through space and time, the harpoons of those Outside buried in its flanks.  You must release the world or bind it, and the first secret is this, that to bind you must first release.  For you are fastened now to the world like a man to a runaway horse, who can not slip the bridle into its foaming mouth, for fear of falling and yet must do so for fear of the abyss ahead.

 

The first anchor is the anchor of childhood.  This must be forgotten, so that the past in its changing can not drag you with it.  Remember then that you are born anew, moment on moment.  There is a ritual for this to break away the past. 

                In your house or in your mind is an oldest thing and an oldest memory.

                It may be a cloth cat with a face worn by tears.  It may be an ugly picture on a wall.

                It must be sacrificed.  It must be forgotten.

                Then it can be remembered again.

 

For 4 days repeat the following at night when all else are asleep.

 [ritual goes here]

The second anchor is the anchor of your father’s faith. This must be transcended.          

The third ritual is the wooing of the Celestial Venus.

 All is flux and all is fixed.   The worlds are a turning lattice through which our minds voyage making illusionary histories behind them like the trails of slugs.

The only you is a ghost, entering this world now.  What you remember is true but the you to whom it happened is already gone.

On Doctor Phibes

 THE ABOMINABLE DOCTOR PHIBES / DOCTOR PHIBES RISES AGAIN

 

By Simon Bucher-Jones

 

It was Saturday the 9th October 1971 that I first became aware of the predations of the notorious, and some would say (though my defence of him will follow) abominable, Doctor Anton Phibes.

I was seven years, one month and three days old.   Too young, surely you will think to learn, and if learning, too young to understand, Phibes’ devilish vendetta against the men who allowed his wife to die upon the operating table.  I was, however in some ways, an unusual child.  For a start I was an avid listener to Radio 4, a fact to which I attribute the fact that I never ever spoke in a Liverpudlian accent (except perhaps for the word ‘bath’ or when I’m in a taxi in Liverpool), and it was the Radio 4 programme Film Time broadcast just after my return with my family from shopping (Runcorn Shopping City) that first told me the name of Phibes.

I lived then with my mother (Mum!), and her parents (Grandad, and Grandma!) in a three up, three down, council house in Hurstlyn Road in Liverpool, and I went to Booker Avenue school.  I had barely spoken before my third year – my mother would often tell the story of her trying to entice me to speak: “This is a Tiger, the tiger’s name is ‘Tig’. What is the Tiger’s name”.  Blank stare,” but, when I did, I did in sentences, at length, and in BBC English.  My school reports lovingly kept by my mum and still alarmingly in my possession tell in part, along with my “brave but sadly unavailing” attempts at sport, that “I had improved in class now that I understood I was not the only person of importance in it,” and that my written work remained good, but “rather fanciful”.  This was true enough, and a topic like ‘what you did in your holidays’ would always produce from me a ghost, aliens, a sighting of Nessie (I had never been farther north than Lytham Saint Annes), or a murder.

That evening I watched the film SHE on BBC 1, but my young heart was not turned by Ursula Andress in a version of the story that I rapidly determined was not a patch on the book – in any event I preferred the Alan Quatermain stories – but was brooding on the idea of Phibes. 

I liked his name from the start, it reminded me of Phobos, the moon of Mars, whose meaning is fear – which name I’d encountered in Edgar Rice Burrough’s ‘Under the Moons of Mars’ and his abominations and his doctorate recalled to me my grandfather’s hardback copies of ‘The Mystery of Doctor Fu-Manchu’ and ‘The Devil Doctor’.  I hadn’t got a firm grasp of whether Phibes was alive or dead, and how appropriate that would turn out to be!  But I understood he would be a character I would enjoy.  A mad scientist, a monster!

I was allowed to stay up quite late, and go to the pictures with my family, but it would be some years before I would actually see the film that so intrigued me.

I can pin-point all of the above precisely, because of my trick memory for things I’ve read and heard, but also because of the BBC genome website that lets me lock down those events to the date.  It is of less help tracking Phibes himself, as neither The Abominable Doctor Phibes (1971) nor its sequel Doctor Phibes Rises Again (1972) is listed as being shown on the BBC between 1971 and 2009, although I can find Vincent Price being interviewed on Kaleidoscope in 1989, and the pop group Doctor Phibes and The House of Wax Equations on the John Peel Sessions in 1993.  I’ve never heard them, but as soon as I finish writing this I’m going to, if I can!

I must have seen the films on ITV (Slumming!) but I know I’d seen the first film at least before I was 14, that’s because on Friday 29th December 1978, I got to stay up late and see Theatre of Blood and for all that many people believe that it be a better film, I found it in comparison to Phibes, deeply disappointing.  

Phibes has all the magic of period dress. It’s set not in the grimy 70s that I had to live in, but in the marvellous 1925s – and its score is enlivened with the rag-time strutters ball, and the haunting melody of ‘It’s quarter to two, there’s no one in the place except me and you’ played by the sinister clockwork figures of Phibes’ mechanical orchestra.  True, I would later learn that the song wasn’t even composed until 1940, but then Phibes was a composer as well as a mechanical genius, who’s to say his notes weren’t later discovered by Harold Arlen, and Johnny Mercer when they were looking for a hit song for Fred Astaire’s The Sky’s the Limit.

The Abominable Phibes had style by the bucketful, while Theatre of Blood had winos and tramps dragooned into supporting players in the service of a man whose grounds for vengeance were petty and egotistic.  I’m a writer now, I hate bad reviews as much as any thespian, but as a reason for a wave of murders?  One murder, yes, maybe two, but a wave?  Even Diana Rigg couldn’t compare to me, in her role as Lionheart’s daughter – with the mysteriously silent Vulnavia (Virginia North, The Abominable Doctor Phibes, Valli Kemp, Doctor Phibes Rises Again), whose utterly unexplained presence in the films, sets the mind racing through weird conjectures.

I recall being convinced during the first film that she would be revealed at the end as simply the greatest of Doctor Phibes’ mechanical creations (Doctor Phibes Created Woman! – if you will) and the scene where her face is destroyed by the acid Phibes intends for Doctor Vesalius’s son is crying out for a disclosure that never comes. An unmade script for a third film, has her as supernatural spirit of vengeance allied in some way with the Greek Gods who are invoked by Phibes – that seems a step too far perhaps, but the mystery and the silence in the two films we have is eerie and satisfying.

 Spin-offs by other hands suggest that she is the mistress with whom Phibes was dallying at the time of his wife’s accident, but I have never been convinced by that: adultery is simply not (to my mind) Phibes’ brand of evil.

When I wrote Phibes into a story for the anthology Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak: Supernatural Sleuth, which I co-wrote with James Ambuehl, but the bits with Phibes were all mine, I wrote:

“Some people have that strong, personal magnetism, that absolutely clean, non-sexual but nevertheless compelling charisma. Phibes was one and Zarnak was another.”

 This too, is a thing that endears the films to me, I hate almost all the slasher and sex-beast strand of cinema horror.  (I am willing to make an exceptions for The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, where the killing is after all done by the Queen, and which almost feels Doctor Phibes like at times).

I like my monsters to kill for cleaner reasons, for revenge on specific men, or on all the villainies of mankind. 

I was probably in my early teens then, when I saw the two Phibes films for the first time.  They’re my favourite work by Vincent Price, and he’s my favourite of the three big horror stars of my youth:  the other two, in order for me, being Boris Karloff and Peter Cushing, with Peter Lorre coming in just outside the top three.

What a brilliant piece of casting is Vincent Price here, his masterly and versatile voice standing in for all the eyebrow play and twitching that his ghastly face (even when masked behind his own made-up features) was no longer in character able to display.  His is a voice able to put disdain, and loss, and hatred into a single word – as when in the second film he cries ‘Bierderbeck!’ on discovering that the body of his dead wife has been stolen before he can put in motion his plan to resurrect her.  Everything you need to do a Doctor Phibes imitation, and everything you need to know to write the character is in the acting of that single word.

So, what was it that appealed so much to the early teenage Simon Bucher-Jones (then Jones): the historical setting, the gruesome deaths, the mysterious beautiful women, the master class in acting?

Yes, all those – but also, the films are very, very funny, and stand in a position exactly between the more po-faced of the Hammer horrors (themselves almost always trembling on the edge of parody but failing to embrace camp) and the best of the Carry On comedies: Carry On Screaming.  The sequence in Doctor Phibes Rises Again (1972) in which the protagonist/victims are lured over the horizon by the sounds of an approaching relief column of British soldiers only to find a single one of Phibes clockwork musicians dressed as a soldier with a gramophone, is almost exactly the same as the sequence in Follow That Camel (1967) in which the Carry On team play the same trick to escape trouble when outnumbered by the Sheikh’s men, but in Doctor Phibes Rises Again it ends more gruesomely, and the British do not have the upper hand.  Phibes is not coded like the ‘other’ as Fu-manchu and so many other villains are – he’s not a stereotype - but he’s not English/British either. His wife dies in Switzerland, his name is foreign sounding, he has the mid-atlantic voice of a great American stage actor (well quite!).

You may consider my sense of humour macabre, but who wouldn’t chortle as the greatest Police double act ever Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and his Sarge Tom Schenley (Norman Jones) struggling to remove a unicorn head that fired by a powerful catapult has impaled one of the threatened Doctors.  “I think it has a left-hand thread sir,” Tom says plaintively before we see them – from the other side of the door – turning not the head, but the body so the man’s legs come into view like the hands of a clock, or Trout explaining to his boss Superintendent Waverly (John Carter) in the sequel, that a ship’s captain can’t just have happened to have fallen overboard when the body is inside a giant bottle.   To these actors are given some of the greatest throw away lines in all horror, and a lot of comedy.

“I never thought he’d come back”

“It’s Phibes, Sir, he always comes back!”

“You know what they say Trout, if you make a better mouse trap the world will beat a path to your door.”

“Every time we make a better mouse trap, Phibes makes a better Mouse.”

I have no time for the modern films that could be said to follow in this path: the protagonist of Saw and its follow-ups may have planned ghastly traps and tasks for his victims, impelled by self-righteous anger, but did he have a set of clock-work musicians?   Did he ever do anything as appropriate as imprison a big-headed Doctor in a clockwork frog mask that gradually crushed his skull, in a marvellous musical sequence?

No, it’s all grubbing about in basements and being chained to iron pipes.  No class, no class at all.  The trouble with the Saw films isn’t that they’ve been made on the cheap, their trouble is that they will always, no matter what they try, be Priceless.

To Phibes, in the sequel, as be poles the gondola through the secret waterways beneath the great pyramid that will lead to the waters of life, and resurrection for his beloved must go the last word.  In a song played through the throat-chord fed gramophone that is all that remains of his voice – another song that later song writers ill-advisedly will steal from his estate - “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, he croons.     What an exit.  That’s being played at my funeral.  Which I will insist be held at a quarter to two, before I rise again!


[Written for 'YOU - goes to the movies' - so far as I know it never appeared in print.]