September 30th, 2009


Before The Screaming Begins trilogy

After reading Wally K. Daly's untransmitted Doctor Who story, I became curious about his other work - he was a moderately prolific writer of (mostly radio) plays, and I discovered that he had written a science fiction trilogy in the late 1970s. The BBC as usual junked the original tapes, but Daly's own off-air recordings survive and can be downloaded from various places around the internet (no links here; it's easy enough to Google). They are an interesting demonstration of what a writer normally known for non-genre work might produce in the era of Blake's 7 and the Hitch-Hiker's Guide (and Doctor Who when it was very slightly past its peak). The biggest problem is that the sound quality is not all it could be - I couldn't listen to these on my normal train commute, though they were OK for Wii workouts or driving.

Before the Screaming Begins (1977) is a good start: our central characters, Tom and Sally Harris, are celebrating their wedding anniversary with a walk in the woods when he is abducted by aliens. Sally is frustrated when the police refuse to believe her, but then Tom is returned with new strange powers and a message from the aliens for the people of Earth, and it turns out similar appearances and disappearances have happened simultaneously all over the world; we get mixed up with the Prime Minister (Patrick Troughton, doing a brilliant impression of Harold Wilson) and sinister official A.P. Smith (played by Donald Hewlett, the only main cast member to appear in all three plays).

The Silent Scream (1979) is I think the best of the three, and has interesting foreshadowing of Torchwood: Children of Earth - so much so that I wonder if RTD has acknowledged it as source material? - though of course The Midwich Cuckoos/Village of the Damned is probably a common root. Lots of creepy children endowed with super powers (one played by Susan Sheridan who was the original Trillian at about the same time), and the government pondering extreme measures to deal with them. No Patrick Troughton this time, but Hannah Gordon takes over as Sally Harris.

With a Whimper to the Grave (1984) has the best cast but weakest plot of the three. Patrick Troughton takes back the role of Prime Minister, but loses the election to "Marge", played by Angela Thorne (not her only such role). Timothy West is a chief alien. Maureen "Vicki" O'Brien takes over as Sally. But the central character is Donald Hewlett's A.P. Smith, who links between the aliens' revelation of What They Were Really Up To, and the authorities' attempt to neutralise the alien threat. Unfortunately the to plot strands confuse rather than reinforcing each other, and the wipe-out-the-alien-menace bit is very poorly paced (and there is a very irritating character called Geoffrey Palmer, which must be an in-joke). However you'll want to listen to it for completeness if you've heard the first two.

John Cushnahan

I bumped into John Cushnahan this afternoon in the European Parliament, and he raised a perfectly reasonable objection to my description of him in this entry. Entirely fair; I should have written "sometimes acerbic" rather than "somewhat acerbic", and I should have added "always a shrewd judge of character". To which I would now add, "increasingly mellow".

(I doubt that he is a regular reader here but any sensible person in public life has set up blog alerts for their own name.)