The Red Lines Page

September 6, 2015

Frontier Worlds interview (additional)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Peter A @ 11:05 pm
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Edited to add: the rest of the Frontier Worlds information on this site is now here.

A big hand for this bookI found another interview that I did. This is from 2000, when Kevin Mahoney of was talking to me about my Doctor Who novels. At this stage, I had written The Ancestor Cell, but it was not due to be published until the following year – so you should be able to detect some not-so-subtle plugging for that.

As further context, it’s worth noting that this interview was conducted five years before the new series of Doctor Who relaunched with Christopher Eccleston in the title role. Note how I say things like “if the series comes back” and talk about the novel of Human Nature, long before it became a TV story.

Q:  There seems to be a whole difference of tone between Kursaal and Frontier Worlds.  In comparison with the latter, Kursaal seems to be quite constrained.  It’s a trend which appears to have affected Kate Orman and Jonathan Blum also – their recent Unnatural History is far more fun than Vampire Science.  Were the tones of these novels affected by contemporaneous editorial decisions?

A: To keep myself interested when writing, I try to make each thing I write a bit different from the other stuff – whether it’s a piece of short fiction or a novel. Both Kursaal and Frontier Worlds were edited by Steve Cole, but at different times in the BBC Books range’s history. When I wrote Kursaal, I had to adapt my original proposal to accommodate the new companion, Sam.

When I was commissioned to do one of the linked series of 1999 books, it was with full knowledge of how the main characters were developing. I’m not sure whether that means Kursaal was less constrained, because it was conceived originally as completely standalone (and then worked in  some of Sam’s development leading in to Longest Day), or whether Frontier Worlds was more constrained because I already knew where the characters had to end up.

Q: You must have fshed around for a lot of the jokes in Frontier Worlds (as in “What do you call a fish with no eyes?”).  Fitz cutting wires in his apartment reminds me greatly of Del Boy’s famous encounter with a chandelier in Only Fools and Horses.  Why did you decide to increase the joke content?

A: I happily stole the fsh joke from the back cover of one of Steve Cole’s books. One of his other things for BBC Worldwide, this was a joke book for a kids’ magazine, and that was my son’s favourite joke in it.

I first heard the chandelier story long before the Only Fools and Horses thing (which I’d forgotten until one of my read-through team commented on it). When I heard the story, it was about a paranoid spy in the British Embassy in Moscow. I suppose I wasn’t consciously increasing the humour  content, but as a lot of Frontier Worlds is seen through Fitz’s eyes, maybe that’s why it turned out that way. I took out a lot in the final draft, mostly scatalogical jokes in very poor taste.

There are probably fewer jokes in The Ancestor Cell (and no fart gags).

Q:  In many ways, Frontier Worlds seems to be quite reminiscent of the classic Who serial The Seeds of Doom.  There’s a huge plant which likes to turn humans into its kind, an evil capitalist or two, and there’s a scene where the Doctor kicks someone in the head, quite like Tom Baker thumping the chauffeur in Seeds.  Was this a deliberate homage?

A: Some people have seen parallels with Seeds of Doom, and I suppose it’s a helpful shorthand for reviewers. That wasn’t my plan. The book started out more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and as the idea developed the Raab became more  of a background to the humanoid characters’ actions and motivations. Does the  Raab turn them into its own kind? I debated the “kick in the head” with the editors,  who originally felt it was a bit out of character for the Doctor. I persuaded them that it gave him more “edge,” given what he’s been put through. He’s not always fluffy touchy-feely.

Q: The beginning of Frontier Worlds also feels like a Bond movie.  The Doctor and  Fitz are pursued by goons on skis, and there’s even some red fish eyes.  Was that an effect you wanted to achieve?

A: There’s a scene where Fitz is chased through a field, too, but that doesn’t make it North by Northwest 🙂 I wanted there to be action sequences, certainly, because I see the Eighth Doctor as being physically capable and resourceful.

Most of all, I wanted to start the book in the middle of some big event, rather than “TARDIS lands  and then…” which I’d already done in Kursaal.

I do enjoy Bond movies, but I wasn’t  playing any soundtracks when writing. And I don’t remember the red fish eyes!

Q:  Prior to Frontier Worlds, I’d never really liked Fitz.  He just seemed to be a little too lifeless, and prone to being kidnapped and brainwashed.  But your use of the first person for his narrative really made me identify with him for the first time.  Did you feel the need to boost his characterisation?

 A: Thank you. In previous books, there hadn’t been much Fitz-and-Compassion-together stuff, so that was an important part of Frontier Worlds for me, so see how they did (and didn’t) get on together, with Fitz as unreliable narrator.  I wanted to restrict the number of points of view in the book, to focus it on a couple of people’s reactions (mostly Fitz and the Doctor), though occasionally it was difficult or impossible to restrict it to them, so I used Compassion (tricky) and Sempiter sometimes.

The fun parts of Fitz for me were (a) reluctant hero, (b) would-be con man and (c) 1960s  England. And with first-person, one can be a bit more outrageous with the commentary, because it’s the character who’s being a smartarse, and not the author.

A:  One critique I’ve heard of Frontier Worlds was that it was too “political.”  Stephen Cole, in his introduction to Lawrence Miles’ Interference, also referred to that novel as “political.”  How far can politics be brought into Doctor Who books?  A lot of your Doctor Who fiction seems to share an environmental theme.  Kursaal is a planet threatened with the destructive development of a leisure complex and fox hunting is mentioned, whilst Frontier Worlds deals with Frankenstein foods. This seems to be very much on a par with the current concerns about undemocratic multinational companies, witnessed by the recent protests in Seattle.  Is this why the culture on Drebnar had to seem so contemporary? 

 A: The GM foods stuff is a contemporary hook for readers. When I was writing Kursaal, there was a lot of fuss in the UK about a ring road (by-pass) being built through woodland near Newbury, a town which has some resonances for UK and US people because it’s near to the former US nuclear base at Greenham Common.

When I wrote Frontier Worlds, the fuss about GM foods had blown up in the UK and was starting to filter into North America (along with the recent GATT protests). So it was a  motif that people would recognise, which I think works better than (say) introducing  some theory about quantum subparticles and then having to have the plot stop for eight pages while your main character lectures his companion about the science of your story.

The other, much lazier reason is that it’s a great deal easier to use shorthand analogies for the mechanics of “phone,” “car”, “office,” “secretary” than to have to invent a culture, society, hierarchy, technology, physiology, legal and financial system etc. I didn’t have the time, the page-count, or the inclination to do that!

Q:  There’s a great scene in Frontier Worlds where the Doctor palms a gun in Compassion’s possession.  There have been quite a few companions in the books who seem more than ready to fire off a few shots, like Compassion in Parallel 59.  What’s your view about the Doctor and guns?

A: Compassion really tests the Doctor’s patience and ingenuity. Unlike other companions, perhaps, she’s dangerous because she chooses to be, rather than because she’s a danger to herself or recklessly overconfident. In that respect, she’s a great counterpoint to Fitz.

The Doctor doesn’t carry guns or use them, and yet here’s a really dangerous character who he is transporting all round the universe. I think that’s a nice irony – it’s like he’s got a blind spot, as though he is being somehow reckless  and overconfident.

Q: You receive an acknowledgement within the pages of Parallel 59.  The main similarity appears to be the continuation of Fitz’s narration. What was your contribution to this book?

A: I read all the books in the linked series –either the published books or the latest available drafts, right the way through to Shadows of Avalon. That way I could ensure that, where appropriate, I “seeded” ideas for the later two books or I reflected stuff in earlier ones. I’d been able to see Parallel 59 from its outline stage, and had offered some (presumably useful) comments on it then.

So Natalie and Steve got me to read and comment on the whole thing. In the end, I did the structural edit for the BBC, too. Incidentally, I did the same thing for Justin Richards’ novel Grave Matter.

The Fitz first-person narration was a coincidence, though. I did suggest some alternative titles for the book, and I can’t remember if Parallel 59 came from me or  Steve. Probably Steve, as he came up with The Ancestor Cell, which I wanted to call it The Horrid Obsession of Greyjan the Sane and was wisely talked out of.

Q:  With the revelation that Stephen Cole wrote as Tara Samms, there’s been quite a lot of speculation about Natalie Dallaire.  Many fans are guessing that she could be a pseudonym also.  Would they be on the right track?

A: They’d be completely off the track and into the ditch. Natalie is alive and well and real and, shortly after delivering the manuscript for Parallel 59, delivered her beautiful baby.

Q:  Parallel 59 had the revelation of the Doctor being in the nude, as witnessed by Compassion.  Yet she doesn’t blink an eyelid, in much the manner that she reacted to Fitz’s nudity in Frontier Worlds.  So, is the Doctor fully humanoid under that Edwardian frockcoat?

A: Hmm, the Doctor gets his kit off in Kursaal as well, now I think about it. It probably says something about his unselfconsciousness. As to what he conceals beneath his Marks & Spencer underpants… well, all I can say at this stage is that they are dimensionally transcendental, and they weren’t spun on any loom.

Q: Frontier Worlds seems to include quite a few scenes related to the current story arc.  How difficult were these to inject into the plot?  What sort of process is there in the creation of such a linked story? 

A: I knew where things were supposed to be in the linked story because I’d discussed it at some length with Steve Cole and the other authors via e-mail, and a bit in person. One of my earliest and longest contributions to the discussion was a whole series of reasons why Compassion would be an absolute nightmare to use as a companion. We had some robust debate on this point, and my punishment was that I had to write a book with her in it.

So rather than cheat and sideline her, I decided to use these thoughts in her characterisation. And I ended up quite liking her. It’s interesting to pick things up now with The Ancestor Cell.

Q:  What’s the best way to cook tofu (the Doctor seems to be a fan in Kursaal)?

A: Oh dear, don’t ask me! Whenever I’ve tasted tofu it reminded me of eating Plasticine in infant school. My wife is more of a devotee – I think she’d recommend frying it and cooking it in a black-bean sauce. I’d recommend making stick figures out of it for five-year olds.

Q:  Why did you decide to have a werewolf-like race in Kursaal?  Do you think that vampires have been done to living death in Doctor Who?

A: I didn’t think werewolves had been done in Doctor Who before –  Mags in Greatest Show was a one-off, and I’d conveniently forgotten about Sorenson in Planet of Evil and the Primords from Inferno.

So perhaps it was that they hadn’t been central to a story, with the familiar trappings a DW “spin.”  And I thought it would be fun to do a Hammer Horror set in Disneyland, with a big scene where our heroes are stalked through Pirates of the Caribbean.

Actually, I’ve just remembered that there was a Doctor Who Weekly cartoon about werewolves, but all I can now recall is the fourth Doctor slavering over his companion, the implausibly-named Sharon.

Vampires done to living death? Well, I really enjoyed State of Decay, Goth Opera and Vampire Science, which all had distinctive elements and the DW “spin” on the legend.

Others have had them more peripheral: Curse of Fenric has a wider idea about possession, and I think I remember Blood Harvest more for the gangsters!  (Any more? Me and my rotten memory.)

Q:  In a recent article in Doctor Who Magazine, David Darlington wrote that if a new TV series of Doctor Who were to come along, then much development in nine years of original Doctor Who novels would be lost, and that the books had polarised Doctor Who fans. What’s your view on this?

A: Depends on what this “much development” is. If it means “story events” (aka “continuity”) then I can’t get too excited about the prospect of losing it, or at least, forgetting it for 99.9% of the audience.

It’s much more interesting for me when Doctor Who mines the spirit of the series, rather than the facts or characters or plots. Few of the eras of Doctor Who that I’ve really enjoyed have depended on “developing” stories from the past. Even in the recent repeats of Genesis of the Daleks on BBC2, I think most viewers will remember the idea of the Daleks, rather than the fact that it contradicts a story first broadcast in 1964.

If the series comes back, most viewers will still assume that Daleks can’t traverse a staircase (yes, sad fans like us know a couple of episodes that contradict that and which were actually watched by a few million more viewers than saw the Genesis repeats).

So a series of books that is read by mere tens of thousands of DW devotees (or at least aficionados) can’t expect to have more influence on a TV or movie revival – even when they’re doing such interesting things with the Doctor’s character as (say) Human Nature – unless it’s the current writers who are working on the new show. And even then, they’d be digging a big hole for themselves if they put nine years of development for that small audience ahead of compelling original contemporary Doctor Who for a huge new audience.

As to whether the books have polarised Doctor Who fans, well I think it was Lance Parkin who said that if you show two fans any transmitted episode they’ll come up  with three contradictory opinions! There’s something in any hobby activity which encourages collection, classification, deriving an order. The Eighth Doctor would laugh at the way fans find patterns that aren’t really there.

Polar or binary attitudes are the simplest categories of all, just like the endless “canon” discussions of what’s in and what’s out (no leeway for what’s shake-it-all-about there).

That all said, I think most fans can adopt a pick-and-mix approach. Like me forgetting that there were actually quite a few previous werewolf stories. And it’s why I usually avoid specific dating for my fiction, because I’m too lazy to do the research about the History of the Universe… leave it for others to decide where Frontier Worlds fits in.

The BBC books can be controversial because they’re not on TV, or they’re not faithful to TV, or they’re not as good as the Virgin books, or… well, you see my point. For the moment, they are the most regular and widely-available continuation of the DW franchise, and have a consistently professional standard.

That’s good enough for me.

May 3, 2009

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

This audio was first published by Big Finish Productions in November 2002. Production code: SJ05Sarah Jane Smith: Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

These blog posts provide information about the commissioning, writing, and recording of my first audio play. They therefore contain a number of spoilers if you haven’t heard the play yet. In particular, you can get a big clue by looking at the revised cover in the interviews post; that cover, unlike the one on this page, features the villain!

Elsewhere, you can read my original proposal and my scenes breakdown before I wrote the final script.

As to how the audio came about… I was invited to visit Newcastle in November 2001, to be part of a BBC Books Writers panel discussion at the “Dimensions on Tyne” convention. While I was there, I met Elisabeth Sladen—who was a guest at the convention. I was very flattered when she told me that she knew about my previous Doctor Who writing, and that she would like me to consider submitting an idea for Big Finish Productions’ forthcoming Sarah Jane Smith audio series.

Well, how could I refuse? Sarah Jane is my favourite Doctor Who companion, and to be asked by the actress who starred in the role… So I took the opportunity to discuss the series with Big Finish Producer Gary Russell (who was also at the convention).

Shortly after the convention, Elisabeth Sladen sent me a copy of an interview she had recently given, in which she discussed how she thought Sarah Jane Smith would have changed over the years, what her attitudes would be today, the sort of person she might have become. (You can hear this interview for yourself by ordering MJTV’s audio CD The Actor Speaks Volume II.)

In December, Gary sent me the series outline for consideration. Based on this, I wrote a proposal for a 60-minute script, and sent it off over Christmas. By the end of January 2002, Big Finish and Elisabeth Sladen had decided which were the five scripts they wanted to do—and mine was chosen as the final of the five adventures. The others are written by Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts, David Bishop, and Rupert Laight.

The audio was recorded on 26 February 2002, and I was able to go to the studio session in London and meet the cast:

Sarah Jane Smith Elisabeth Sladen
Josh Jeremy James
Natalie Sadie Miller
Harris Robin Bowerman
Wendy Jennings Louise Falkner
Brandt Peter Miles
Taxi drivers Toby Longworth

Mark Donovan

Directed by Gary Russell
Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery

Gary Russell

Executive producer for BBC Jacqueline Rayner

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre: Scenes

msmThis story breakdown, scene-by-scene, reflects the comments that I received on the proposal from director Gary Russell. He wanted me to keep Sarah more in her holiday destination, reduce Nat’s involvement, and keep Josh in the UK so that he can be around when Sarah’s flat is turned over. Even at this stage, it wasn’t guaranteed that Miss Winters would appear in the final version, but we agreed that Wendy could be working for the villains–though she would not turn out to be Miss Winters.

A couple of other things that we considered: ensuring that Nat kept in touch with Sarah through internet cafés, and a UK-based policeman character who had already appeared in earlier stories. We adopted the former, but did not incorporate the latter.

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

by Peter Anghelides

7 February, 2002

1. No location.

We can hear messages on Sarah’s answer phone. One’s from Josh, saying that he’s got the info they wanted from the Public Records Office, and also that someone from Sarah’s former satellite TV company has been asking after her, so he needs to speak with Sarah about a woman called Wendy Jennings. [Apologetic—didn’t mean to fall out with her… etc. etc. Since office blew up… etc.]

2. Ext. Street.

Sarah gets a taxi to the airport, which screeches ahead of another taxi–brief argument between taxi drivers [one of them off-mike if you need to save on cast members or doubling].

3. Int. Taxi.

Sarah says he’s mistaken—gives him a business card. Jane Bowman, writer. No, you’re kidding. Are you undercover? There’s no address, where are you living? The Indian taxi driver is an admirer—“I’m your biggest fan!”—so it’s a pleasure to offer her a lift. No need to pretend with me, Sarah. Jane. Whatever. They set off.


Sarah realises that the taxi driver is nattering away to her about her previous journalistic triumphs, but he’s also asking her what part of the town she lives in. She complains, and he confesses that he just wants to chat to her a bit longer. She winds the car window down, and tells him to get straight to the airport or she’ll start throwing her hand luggage out of the rear window and on to the M25—and she’ll set off her rape alarm in the car while she’s at it. He’s very apologetic, and agrees.

4. Ext. Airport.

Sarah’s taxi arrives at the airport. She tells him that it’s people like him who have made her life a misery, having to move from place to place. So won’t take a business card for the return trip then? Rip! He’s very apologetic again, and asks: “so, no tip then?” She tells him: “Hah! My tip is: mirror, signal, manoeuvre. Now push off.”

5. Ext. Airport.

Plane takes off sound.

6. No location.

Another message is from Natalie, phoning in from a crackly mobile, telling her she has info about Cynaro. A third is a fax. A fourth is Natalie again, wondering where Sarah is, and won’t she please get in contact with her. Worried—but you’re probably off enjoying yourself?

[I don’t know what the satellite TV company is but for the sake of this outline let’s call it “Planet Three” and Sarah’s programme was called “Satellite”.]

7.  Ext. Boat.

Sarah’s apparently on holiday on an Indian island in Lakshadweep. She’s going on a fishing trip with a group, in a boat off Agatti, asking the local fisherman guide what his parents did in the 1940s, and odd goings-on offshore. One of the other women on board: no point, he’s just a simple malmi. A what? A sailor, he doesn’t speak English—only Malayalam, or Mahl if you’re really unlucky. The woman reveals that she knows Sarah. Not another one. I seem tio have  met any number of dubious fans recently. No, not a fan, a colleague. Well, I’m a fan as well, of course. Well, a admirer. Er… I’m a reporter on “Satellite”—Wendy Jennings! Wendy joined Planet Three just after Sarah left. “Fancy meeting you here,” says Wendy, “I’ve heard a lot about you”. “All bad, no doubt” says Sarah. “No, you still have friends there,” says Wendy. “I hope I can be one, too.” But they are being observed by another passenger, “Spying Guy”[non-speaking], so they arrange to meet later. (Great, as if I haven’t got enough business cards.)

8.  Int. Restaurant.

Sarah and Wendy meet up and talk in a restaurant after the boat trip. They chat about inconsequentialities to start with—Wendy talks about how she carries too much luggage about with her on holiday, Sarah talks about how she carts junk between houses. “Odd,” says Wendy, “have you moved a lot recently?” “I just can’t seem to settle in the right place, I’m very particular. But there’s a pile of broken equipment in a box that I just can’t let go. I can’t repair it because they don’t make the parts for it yet.” “Yet?” “I mean, any more.” She quizzes Wendy about what she’s been doing since they met briefly at Planet Three. Wendy explains she’s out here in the islands, also doing some research (in her own vacation time) about some genetic engineering done for the Indian government by a private company called Scalar. It is hush-hush work to prevent fish diseases, because they’re trying to eliminate a parasitic infection in factory-farmed salmon in Scotland that could spread to wild fish stocks in the North Sea. (I hope I;m not putting you off your Red Snapper. Mm? The fish. No, it’s lovely. But tell me more about…)  The suspicion is because a UK company has with a research facility somewhere in India (not clear where). Cheap labour costs? Exploiting the incentives for hi-tech companies and low tax burden in India. Wendy shares her research with Sarah, who continues to pump Wendy for info without sharing any of her own! Wendy is surprised that Sarah wasn’t more surprised to see her here. Sarah seems to be on the verge of explaining when Wendy stops her—she’s spotted Spying Guy from the boat again, snooping on them from nearby. “Thursday, at sunset, Bangaram Island Resort. What is this a treasure hunt?.”

9. No Location.

We hear more answer phone messages, skip through the old ones, get to the new ones: Natalie asking “where are you, get in touch, I’m going to get my mate Duggie to help me drive by the Records Office” (she emphasises “drive by”); Josh saying that he still needs to talk to her about Wendy Jennings; a silent call swiftly clicked off from an unlisted number.

10. Int. car.

Natalie is driving past the Public Records Office with her pal Duggie. They use a wireless laptop computer to break the standard wireless encryption within ten minutes, and download a lot of stuff relating to Operation Halter. [If we need to avoid casting Duggie, he can be entirely off-mike and Nat can discuss things entirely with Josh on a mobile phone in this and their next scene.]

Natalie speaks to Josh on the phone—he’s gone to Sarah’s last lodgings (she has swapped around a lot to avoid suspicion, and they discuss how she’s becoming a bit more paranoid, a bit more obsessive). The info that Natalie has got about “Operation Halter” is interesting, but will be made public in about a month’s time. Any of it restricted, asks Josh. No, all available says Natalie. And where are you, by the way? Josh doesn’t have time to tell her—someone’s at the door of the flat. He hides. They break in (all over the phone). Burglars! Aaagh!

Josh? Josh!!

11. Ext. Beach.

Wendy and Sarah can meet up again later, on a secluded beach. Lovely evening, still very humid. Prefer it to Monsoon season! Some come to these Lakshadweep islands for the reefs, a more secluded spot than the Maldives. Further South? Yes, and beyod them of course there are the Chagos Islands, including Diego Garcia. The US military base? Yes. But I’m here for the beaches. Get a tan at Brighton. No, this continuous halo of creamy sand around the island. You should be in ravel journalism, it would be safer. look over there at the marks in the sand… where the turtles are nesting. Getting chilly—could have sat in hire car. Too nice tonight, though, says Wendy. Wendy asks Sarah wasn’t more surprised to see her on the boat trip. Sarah explains that she’d got a message on her answer phone just before going on the boat trip, which mentioned it. She is reluctant to say more to Wendy. What’s that? It’s a saddleback dolphin. No, that sound! Churning up your creamy sand, he’s going to hit the turtles. No, heading for them!! At this point, Wendy sees Spying Guy churning across the beach towards them in a jeep, and he tries to run them down. They narrowly escape. Wendy says that the guy has been following her since she arrived in the Bahamas—and now he’s trying to kill her! She must go to the local police. Sarah stops her—they’re not after Wendy, they’re after Sarah.

They’ll be safer in her hire car.

12.  Int. Hire car.

So Sarah explains to Wendy that she’s probably being pursued because of the story she’s researching. She explains about the answer phone—it’s actually a phone number at Planet Three, which Sarah dials in to remotely (with a code number) even though she doesn’t work there any longer, and only people who know the direct-dial number bother to leave messages on it. She’s using a GSM phone, one of these new disposable ones I picked up at the airport at Bangalore. Me too, says Wendy. Except the batteries in mine are dea so it’s useless. She doesn’t want to say more about her story, but feels she must when Wendy says they have to go to the local authorities. Sarah points out that the local authorities may also want her to leave the islands—including Wendy now, by association.

Watch their backs—mirror, signal, manoeuvre. I’m starting to think that I’ve been signalling all my movements too obviously.

Drive off. Conversation continues.

The story that she is researching, Sarah explains, is this: biological warfare experiments in the 1940s. In the later stages of WWII, British scientists bungled some germ warfare trials in the Indian Ocean during “Operation Halter”. Thousands of animals died, for little scientific benefit, from the brucella bacteria. It was a rehearsal for possible biological attacks in the UK. The calm waters of these islands were thought to be ideal for the tests. Now she has to pursue a scientist, Joseph Brandt, who is currently vacationing in these islands. Wendy helps her find him at his hotel suite—because he’s also the person she came to talk to about the fish-stocks story that she was researching in mainland India, as he’s advising Scalar, that private company working in India.

13. Int. Hotel corridor.

Brandt doesn’t want to talk to them, but Wendy persuades him to let them in (on Sarah’s “disposible” mobile phone, which she has borrowed to make the call—her own has got dead batteries. Dial carefully, there’s a scratch on the display that distorts the numbers a bit). They find out from Brandt that animals were put in containers on dinghies around the islands, and had biological bombs dropped on them, or were sprayed with bacteria. But the sheep and guinea pigs chosen for the experiments proved unsuitable. Of the 600 sheep shipped from Texas for the experiment, 500 had to be shot—or just “discarded” in the sea. A consignment of 200 rhesus monkeys could only be used after being treated for pneumonia. What’s more, the sea turned out to be rougher than anticipated, and the two converted tank landing vessels used for the operation were unable to pick up the dinghies in open water. So the tests happened just offshore from one of the islands, despite the threat to dozens of local fishing boats working there. Even one of the researchers became infected by the germs they were testing. The results of the tests, in the end, were judged to be meaningless because the conditions at sea made it impossible to assess the levels of bacteria.

Wendy goes out of the room to get better reception on Sarah’s mobile, and get them early flights back to the UK—they have to pursue this story back there, with contemporary evidence from the Public Records Office. Sarah can’t run the story herself—but she can do the research and get Wendy to run it as a story on Planet Three’s “Satellite” programme.

Still in the hotel suite, Sarah’s interested to know why Brandt is telling them his research now. He says he was on vacation here, trying to decide how to go public on this and also then tell Scalar that he doesn’t want to work on their project—which is more than destroying fish viruses, it’s reviving and extending the Cynaro research which was part of “Operation Halter” in the 1940s. nd now it’s going to be used in the Parambikulam-Aliyar Project. The what? “I think you’ve said quite enough, Dr Brandt.” He gets no further—Wendy comes in, escorted by a policeman who have spotted her in the corridor and brought her in to arrest them all. Wendy recognises him as Spying Guy [note—could he be Harris from “Test of Nerve”]. Hang on, a white policeman?? At this point the policeman produces a handgun and start firing. Brandt is killed, and Sarah and Wendy flee in separate directions. Sarah’s recovers her mobile phone.

14. Airport.

Sarah gets to the airport, and gets the first flight out of the country (to the mainland, and then wants to go on London).

15. Int. Hospital.

In the hospital, Natalie is visiting Josh. Josh is pretty badly battered. They’re going to have to concoct a story for the police about how he got beaten up. (Won’t press charges on his brother etc. etc.) He can’t tell her what really happened, or how they found the place (even he wasn’t sure where the flat was—Sarah’s been very cagey recently), but he’s sure he wasn’t followed. They ransacked the place while he was semi-conscious, he couldn’t stop them taking a load of cardboard boxes. Research? No, it looked like electrical equipment and something that was the size of an old-fashioned video recorder with little aerials on top.

We have to let Sarah know about the break-in—they could be on to her, wherever she is. Sarah has been picking up her messages at Planet Three. Nat can detect the call-in number next time she tries to pick up messages. Need to stay connected. Can’t do that here in hospital, so I have to get to the Planet Three phone system.

16. Airport.

Sarah dialling in her number.

Message one is from Wendy: dialled in to Sarah’s office number! Got a different flight out. Need to see her—don’t fly back to the UK, she’s located the Scalar offices in a city in the middle of Tamil Nadu State! If she meets at the Bangalore railway station, she’ll explain—and they can travel there together.

Second message: Nat, they have to talk. Your house has been raided, and Josh seriously injured. We must talk. Dial me on this mobile number.

End of messages. Sarah hangs up. Almost immediately, her mobile phone rings—it’s Nat!

How did you get this number? Could be traced! Rubbish, it’s a mobile-how can I know where you are. Get a grip, Sarah. Safe as houses.

Tracked it through the Planet Three phone system. I’ve no idea where you are Sarah. Yes, and that’s the way it’s going to say, since we’re on an open line via satellite! Well, I’m sitting in the car outside the offices now. I came straight here from the hospital. Is Josh OK? Yes, no thanks to you. Josh could have suffered–I could have got help to him sooner if Sarah wasn’t so overcautious about contacting the two of us, or about moving house so often to avoid imaginary pursuers, or changing your mobile so frequently and forbidding them to call you directly. Nat had to track down the phone number of Sarah’s flat from Josh’s call to her, reverse trace the address from the BT residential directory database, and then get an ambulance to him.

Anyway, while you’re worried about your calls being traced, someone is really trying to trace you—a woman called Wendy Jennings. Yes, I know al about her (irritated by the accusation). Well, did you know she was “let go” by Planet Three two weeks ago, took a redundancy payment, and is on paid vacation to work out her notice. Sarah says “no wonder she’s desperate for a scoop,” and explains about “Operation Halter”. (Where have I heard of that?) Now Sarah is going to meet up with Wendy and use this information to investigate Cynaro and the Scalar company in India. And something about a secret project called Parambikulam-Aliyar. Parum… Well, I didn’t get chance to have him write it down before he got shot through the head!! (Nat hunts out Scalar info. on laptop.) But this Operation Halter is horrifying…

Yes, I know about it, Josh was looking at some stuff on the internet yesterday. It’s no great discovery, it’s about to be made public.

Thanks a lot, Nat. I’ve been chased by jeeps on beaches and shot at by bogus policemen. Looking in my rearview mirror for tails. That’s just it, and now you’re jumping at shadows, seeing things in the mirror that aren’t there. Making a lot out of nothing, seeing a conspiracy where there isn’t one, and allowing Wendy to use her for the story. They argue. Sarah complains that she’s been pursued by killers, her home was burgled. Base it on facts, not fiction, Sarah. Doesn’t your passport say “Journalist”. Or is that as fake as your business cards? Maybe it should say “novelist”, if you’re moving into fiction like this. Wait a minute, business card… that Indian weirdo in a taxi on the way to the airport. He could have been tracking her, getting his colleagues to scour the area for her flat… and she’d been so careful!! Nat: have a word with yerself, sarah! There you go again! Paranoia.

All right, search results on Scalar and their involvement with research into fish viruses or brucella is. As well as their UK registered office, they have a research facility in a town in the mountains of India in the city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu state, and that they have Dr Joseph Brandt on their small staff. (“Then they have a vacancy,” says Sarah.) It’s all above board, and quite open—no secrets there, just like Josh has told her about “Operation Halter”. Sarah’s more irritated by Natalie’s dismissal of her suspicions, and the conversation gets awkward. Some unfortunate misunderstandings in this conversation—Sarah talking about how she’s being criticised for getting off her backside and doing something about her predicament, Natalie misinterpreting this as a slight about her wheelchair, etc. It gets heated.

She sends Natalie to the hospital to see Josh and sets off for India on her own. If Natalie’s not going to help, then Sarah will go to meet Wendy—another journalist will understand. She’ll get to the root of this story, no matter what it takes!

17. Int. Train.

Cut to the train to Coimbatore. Maybe cross-fade a number of moments in the journey’s conversation. Sarah is talking with Wendy.

They meet in the train, and are now travelling north together. Wendy wasn’t sure if Sarah would come. Sarah said they can work on the story together.

Wendy is cross with herself, because she left some key information about the Cynaro patent (the Scalar development which will cure the salmon parasites) back in her office at Planet Three, and of course isn’t allowed back in to get it. So she can’t answer all of Sarah’s questions about it.

Wendy got into journalism quite late, when some of her contemporaries were thinking about early retirement. She spent much of her early career running events, scientific research, and then gave it all up and came back as a journalist through doing some specialist research for Planet Three.

18. Hospital

Nat and Josh in hospital. Nat’s being allowed to visit out of normal hours, and stay longer, because she’s made a fuss about wheelchair access. While talking to Josh, Nat’s also connecting in via his nearby phone line to show him stuff off the internet. (When nurses walk by, she switches to a game.)

She tells him that she’s found some interesting things about Scalar—she checked their staff portfolio, and it seems only to have four full-time members. She shows him photos of the staff: here’s the woman who is the CEO, here’s their chief scientific advisor, here’s their business manager Willem Dehaan, and here’s their finance guy Bandaru Chakravarti. They note that the scientific advisor is Dr Joseph Brandt, who Sarah saw shot dead in the Bahamas. Josh recognises the finance guy, Chakravarti, as the guy who attacked him at Sarah’s apartment. He had an Indian accent. Now they start to get worried. Natalie tries to use an internet phone to contact Sarah (“Are you crazy? She’ll go mental.”)

But there’s no reply. They have to get out and get to her. Josh, you’re too ill! Too bad. Try her phone again. “She’ll kill us for using an open line again!” “They’ll kill her if we don’t. She and this Wendy are being set up”)

19. Int. Train.

Back on the train, Sarah checks her mobile phone to see if there is voice mail, but Wendy points out that they’re in a valley, and there’s no satellite signal.

Sarah asks Wendy about why she left Planet Three. Wendy says they had to rescue the company share price after bidding too high to retain their licence at renewal time, and so Planet Three laid off the older and more expensive staff. She’s using her accreditation to get them an interview with the CEO of Scalar. Wendy doesn’t officially leave Planet Three for another two weeks, and they haven’t remember to reclaim her ID card. Sarah looks at the ID card—“You remind me of someone, but I can’t remember who. An old school friend maybe?”

Sarah confesses that she shouldn’t have been so rough on some of her own friends recently (she doesn’t name Natalie or Josh). She told them “I’ll get to the bottom of this story, no matter what it takes.” Now she’s a bit embarrassed. Wendy is interested, talks to her about whether she can get close to people if she’s going to be an investigative journalist. Doesn’t Sarah remember the people she does stories about, does she keep in contact, ever wonder what happened to them? “What, do follow-up pieces on them?” asks Sarah.

20. Internet café.

Natalie talking to Josh on her mobile. (We’re with Natalie but can hear Josh down the line. As an aside, you can hear him doing a transaction saying things like “3,000 quid, are you kidding? I could buy a boat and get there for that much.”) Natalie has found out more about the Scalar staff. They were all members of a scientific research society in the 1980s. Some society members even went to prison for some undisclosed breach of the Official Secrets Act, which would surely disqualify them for working on any government contracts.

21. Ext. Scalar offices, India.

Sarah and Wendy arrive. They get a taxi out towards the Scalar headquarters, past the huge lake which drowned hundreds of villages and supplies ten million people downstream with drinking water. Scalar have offices in an old British Colonial building, where other companies also have offices.

22. Int. Scalar offices.

Scenes in the echoing halls of the Castle and its various corridors and rooms etc. One they’re in the building, Sarah sends Wendy on ahead of her, sneaking off while Wendy makes her own way to the CEO’s office for the interview.

23. Int. Research area.

Sarah finds a research area, where she rifles through some paperwork or accesses a computer and finds out more about the fish stocks virus, the brucella virus, and the patented cure called Cynaro. She gets a call on her mobile—it’s Natalie phoning from the hospital with news about what she’s found on the internet. Sarah is very surprised and cross, but accepts that Natalie has called her in an emergency. You and Wendy are being set up. Never mind, says Sarah, I’ve found what we’re looking for… we can get out of here now and alert the authorities. She is able to relate to Natalie what she’s found—detailed diagrams for the Parambikulam-Aliyar Project. What sort of project. It’s a large volume embankment dam, used for irrigatio and power generation. In fact, it’s a series of dams interconnected by tunnels and canals, and it’s harnessing the waters of seven rivers… Parambikulam, Aliyar, Nirar, Sholiyar, Thunakadavu, Thekkadi, and Palar. And Scalar have built machinery into the turbines to filter for viruses and to pump Cynaro into the water.

Natalie says that her internet search has cast up some debate on a secure internet discussion group that she’s hacked relates how Cynaro is a more controversial solution than fluoridisation. She tells Sarah about the Scalar staff, and that she’s worked out that they were all in the same scientific research society together. Sarah asks Natalie to do a drive-by hacking of the Planet Three offices, to get the information that Wendy left behind there.

Sarah starts to make her way out of the building, determined to go and find out what’s happening in the turbines at the dam.

24. Int. Corridor.

On the way through, Sarah gets stopped by someone in the corridor—and asks him for his help in finding her way out, saying she got lost when visiting DEFRA. He shows her the way. She realises she’s being led up stairs instead of down stairs. When she points this out, he says “I’m sorry, Miss Smith.” “How do you know my name?” she asks. “Oh it’s you.” “How could you forget me?” he say, “Even though you didn’t keep my business card, I’m sure you remember your biggest fan.”

25. Int. Car.

Natalie is talking to Josh. He’s complaining that these seatback phones cost a packet, and can she fiddle him a higher limit this credit card. It would be smarter to fiddle you a payment. Great! But that’s too difficult, and raising the limit too much will set off their software alerts. So how does a new limit of £10,000 sound? That’ll do nicely. I can’t get through to Sarah’s mobile. Try again now. I tried earlier to hack the Planet Three systems, but they must have wiped all Wendy’s personal files already, realises Natalie, there’s nothing there—not even a byline on an archived news report. Why would a company destroy her personnel files? What if they’re asked for a reference? No personal files not… ah, brilliant! I can check for personnel files. OK, I need this line now to do my drive-by hack. Talk to you later, bye.

26. Int. Little office.

He says he is Bandaru Chakravarty. He locks her in a small office, high up in the castle. “I may be some time. You won’t starve.” “Feed me? You can’t keep me here forever.” “You’ll be here some time. But don’t worry, I won’t forget you.” “You forgot to confiscate my mobile, you moron.” She checks her mobile—even by the window, it won’t work. She opens the window—still nothing. How can she contact Natalie?

26a. Int. Car.

Nat’s hacked the system. Wendy’s personnel file is still in the system, though it has a create date of only a month ago… Oh no, now that’s too much of a coincidence. No, it’s not even a coincidence. They’re the same person.” Call Josh—before he lands.

27. Int. Little office.

Chakravarti comes back to see Sarah. Two days. You didn’t come in here alone, he tells her. Sarah denies being accompanied. Never mind, he says, we know that Wendy Jennings came with you. She’s in our CEO’s office at this moment. She’s a very informed lady. I think we should go and join her.

28. Int. CEO’s office.

Sarah is taken to the CEO’s office. She’s glad to see Wendy there, but worried when she recognises one of the policemen from the island (who introduces himself as Willem Dehaan—you look better in uniform). She warns Wendy that they’re in danger. “I’m not in danger,” says Wendy. “You don’t remember me, do you? I may have lost a bit of weight, got a lot older. You, Sarah, just meet and discard people in your journalistic profession. You profess to care about them, but all you care about is the story.” Sarah finally recognises that Wendy is Helena Cartwright, the business executive of Bio-Guard who she exposed and ruined years ago. “So, is it time for a follow-up story on me, Sarah?”

Sarah’s mobile rings unexpectedly “That’ll be your colleagues, calling you to warn you. Answer it, but be aware that Mr Dehaan is trigger-happy.” She swapped the SIM card out of Sarah’s mobile phone on the island and replaced it in a Scalar-adjusted handset. They can when it will or will not receive a signal, and record all her conversations on it. (Safe as houses, thinks Sarah.) Sarah has a brief conversation with Josh, who warns her what he’s heard from Natalie—that Wendy and the CEO of Scalar are the same person. Sarah carries on a conversation with him, but Josh gets cagey towards the end of the call. Then it cuts off.

Miss Cartwright explains that Josh is smarter than she thought—he suspects something, but can’t have guessed that Scalar were able to modify the phone call “live” as it was being made. They have enough samples of Sarah’s voice from the Planet Three voicemail system, and recordings that “Wendy” took during their recent train journey, to synthesise Sarah’s speech and reply to Josh plausibly enough for a cursory hearing by him over a mobile phone. (In fact, Josh is still talking to “Sarah” now—“the call hasn’t ended, and my colleague behind you is typing in your responses.”)

The pile of junk that they stole from Sarah’s apartment, along with Sarah’s research papers, proved a useful source of futuristic parts when they cannibalised it. [And how typical of Sarah to have anthropomorphised the equipment. “It even had a pet name, like your car does, I imagine.] Miss Cartwright has been close to Sarah for a long time. [References here to previous adventures in the series.] Watching her, steering her. Mr Chakravarti returned your research notes, suitably modified, to your apartment shortly before he left for India. It’s shocking what you’ve done to create this fictional story, Sarah. What was it your friend said: “novelist not journalist in your passport”. I imagine that’s what the newspapers will say when they hear all lies you were going to tell to the world about Scalar, just to resurrect your career. “No-one will believe you,” says Sarah, “others know that Dr Brandt died in the Bahamas, you’ll have to explain.” “No they won’t,” says Dr Brandt, coming in through the door in a surprise vocal ending to the scene (or perhaps he’s the typist at the terminal behind her). “And now, what will your few remaining friends think when they learn that, in the process of framing Scalar, you’ve poisoned the drinking water for tens of millions of innocent Indians?

29. Int. car

Chakravarti drives Sarah and Dehaan to the dam, ust following the road along the river. Cartwright and Brandt follow in a different car. They’re going to flood the turbines with a mutated brucella virus instead of Cynaro. In the car on the way there, Chakravarti plays a tape of Sarah’s phone call with Josh. (This is a chance to hear Josh’s exact words again, but the “dialogue” for Sarah is changed.) She is saying that Scalar have realised that they’ve been rumbled, and are on their way to the turbines to destroy the evidence—but she is going to go ahead and contaminate the water anyway, because that’s what they were planning and Scalar will be caught and blamed as a result. Josh is getting more and more suspicious as the call goes on.

On the journey, Sarah wraps her handbag strap around Dehaan’s neck (“stop this car or I’ll strangle him”, etc., choking noises, Chakravarti: Give me the gun, you idiot! Don’t let her grab it! Dehaan: (gurgling) Keep your eyes on the road!) Sarah sets off her rape alarm, and in the ensuing confusion the car crashes into the river. (“The water, aaagh!” SPLOSH!) As they panic, Sarah talks herself calmly through smashing the window with the gun, getting out on to the bank, etc.

30. Ext. River bank

The car goes under. “Mirror, signal, manoeuvre,” says Sarah breathlessly. Then Chakravarti splooshes out of the water, snarling at her. Gunshot. Splosh.

At which point, Josh appears in his hire car. (“With this and the plane fare, I think I’m just about at my new limit on this Visa card. I hope Natalie can hack me some more.”) He didn’t believe it when Sarah said she was going to poison the reservoir, recognising some unlikely phrase of Sarah’s (a code phrase that she’s talking rubbish, or some grammatical mistake she once said sarcastically she would never use unless held at gunpoint). But, Sarah points out, someone else is going to poison the reservoir, and blame her for it. They can even fake her voice. And here they come! Cartwright and Brandt’s car charges them down (“Look out! Steering straight for us!” etc.), smacks into the side of the hire car and then, when Sarah takes a pot shot at them (much to Josh’s consternation “I’ll get charged for that, and I signed the Collision Damage Waiver.”) swerves off and away.

They won’t get to the dam, says Josh. He and Natalie have anonymously passed on a warning, with a known terrorist code word, that the dam is a target for a bomb attack. And they have also passed on information about Miss Cartwright’ SRS history and non-security clearance to the government, so Scalar will have to be closed down in the UK and in India. Sarah points out that she may still be implicated along with Josh and Natalie, because of the paper trail that Cartwright has left. And Cartwright and Brandt have enough technology still at their disposal, outside of Scalar, to carry on their vendetta.

Off to the airport. Time to go home.

Where’s home now, Sarah? The office is gone. Your apartment’s been trashed.

Home is where my friends are. So let’s go home and find Nat. And be careful how you drive, Josh.

I know, I know, I heard you tell that creep earlier… mirror, signal, manoeuvre.

No, forget the signal. We know who were facing now. And I don’t want them to know when we’re ready to make our move.


Cast (seven):
Sarah Jane Smith
Wendy Jennings
Joseph Brandt
Spying Guy
Taxi Driver

© Peter Anghelides 2002, 2009

March 12, 2009

Good companions

Filed under: drwho,writing — Peter A @ 9:47 pm
Tags: ,

If you can’t find the title you’re looking for in a library or a bookshop, you might come away instead with a book you saw on a shelf nearby. You wouldn’t have thought to search that other book out originally, but you’ve found it because of its happy proximity to what you were looking for. Some people describe such discoveries as “good companions”.

Amazon has taken this to another level with profiling. They track what you bought, or even the sorts of things you looked at but did not buy, and then suggest related titles. And if you’re motivated by virtual peer pressure, they also tell you “people who bought that book also bought this book”.

I was delighted to see this title was offered as a “good companion” for my Doctor Who audio Pest Control:Shakespeare and Who

Of course, it’s because they’re both read by the splendid David Tennant. Nevertheless, I like the idea of being on the same virtual shelf as Shakespeare.

March 11, 2009

Chaos reigns?

Filed under: drwho,writing — Peter A @ 7:09 pm

Unreality SF has published a nice review of my forthcoming audio play The Chaos Pool, starring Peter Davison and Lalla Ward. Reviewer Rachel Steffan likes the plot, characterisation, acting, and music. All of which is very heartening

I’m glad she enjoyed it when she heard it. I hope I get to hear it soon, too!

There’s even a Facebook page for it now.

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