Sunday, 22 September 2013

Scream of the Shalka

The future will one day be the present and will seem as unimportant as the present does now.
- W. Somerset Maugham

You aren’t reading this, you only imagine that you are.

Years and years ago, when I was living in Cardiff and the Him wasn’t, I met Sylvester McCoy.  He must’ve been appearing in the New Theatre or something – I haven’t looked it up.  I say ‘met’, what I actually mean is ‘saw but didn’t speak to’.  It’s a subtle difference, but the magic’s all in the words. 

Doctor Who and I were having a trial separation that’d lasted for quite some time and seemed to be going well.  Every now and again we’d bump into each other in the library and exchange embarrassed pleasantries while our feet shuffled – each of us itching to dash back to our new lives and new loves.  Sylvester McCoy was making his way along Queen Street, twirling an umbrella and talking into a diving-brick disguised as a telephone.  I nearly said hello but I’m glad I didn’t.  There’s seizing the day and there’s harassment.  It’s bad form.

The opportunity walked on and I went back to happily pretending I didn’t know Doctor Who.  Scream of the Shalka performed its party piece in places I wasn’t invited to, so I missed all the fuss at the time.

Years and years later neither the Him or myself are living in Cardiff any more.  We settled down tonight, watched Scream of the Shalka and I wrote this up by accident.  You aren’t reading this, you only imagine that you are.  Treat it as an example of what might have been and we’ll be fine. 

I’ll tell you my Richard E. Grant ‘anecdote’ later…

Me:  So, we’re going into this one blind.  No specific research – nothing beyond what I’ve picked up by osmosis anyway.

Him:  Right.

Me:  Do you know anything about this then?

Him:  How long is it?

Me:  It’s probably about – an hour.  Hour and ten minutes?  Something like that.

Him:  14.52 + 10.27 + 12.75 + 14.58 + 12.67 + 15.13 = 79.92 = 47 minutes and 95.2 seconds long.


Me:  See, it’ll probably flash by.  Do you see what I did there?

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  Really?

Him:  No.

Me:  I won’t explain. Yes, I will.  I said ‘flash’.

Him:  It’s around about an hour and twenty one minutes long.

Me:  Nice recovery.

Him:  Oh…  I get it.  It’s because it’s a flash animation.

Me:  I claim victory.

The Him gives me a look.  You’ll have to imagine.

Me:  Although you can probably find a dodgy copy of this on YouTube or Daily Motion or the BBC or something, I’m going to insist that our faithful readers – both of them - only watch the DVD.  We kind of owe Paul Cornell a thanks for the name of the blog, so it’s only fair.  Come to think of it, it’s his mate we ripped the idea off. 

Him:  How am I supposed to remember stuff that you don’t tell me?

Me:  You were there.  It’s a comment Paul Cornell makes in the 'Blasting the Past' documentary on Day of the Daleks, about his chum wanting to set up a fanzine called ‘No Complications’.  I thought that sounded like a good idea, so we hotwired it and went joyriding.

Him:  Can we just watch it now?

Me:  Ho ho ho ho.  Why not?


Him:  So have you never seen this then?  That seems a bit surprising seeing as you were so excited about the movie.

Me:  The movie killed a lot of my enthusiasm for Doctor Who.  And I’ve already explained why I’ve never seen this. It’s in the opening introduction I haven’t written yet.

Him:  Dot dot dot.

Me:  Yarp.

We’re off.  The intro’s interesting.  Animated by Pertwee fans I’ll wager. 

Him:  The face of death.

Me:  'Evil', surely?  Or 'Pete Murphy'.  What do you think of the titles?

Him:  They were 'great'.  The best things I’ve ever seen ever.  I love them.  They’re my favourite.  I want to marry them.

Me:  Nice to see you’ve discovered how bunny ears work. 

Him:  They use them to hear, don’t they?

Me:  It’s going to be one of those, isn’t it?

Him:  One of what?

Me:  Exactly.

The same opening as Rose.  A hippie and a suit are listening to pirate radio.

Him:  What’s he wearing?

Me:  Shaggy found work with the Man after the gang went their separate ways.

Him:  I’m glad you thought he looked like Shaggy as well.  I don’t know how the Suit put on his suit though, his head’s too big for it.
Neither of them get squashed by a worm riding a meteor.  All of a sudden, Shaggy’s gagging.

Him:  Maybe he should stop standing in the gasses.

Turns out they’re paralysed and can’t escape the noxious air-biscuits.  Suddenly everything wobbles, there’s a scream and a blackout.

Me:  I think we’ll be hearing more of that sound effect later on.

Him:  I wanted to see more of Shaggy.

The TARDIS materialises with a wheezing, groaning sound.  Thank God.

Me:  That was alright.

The Doctor emerges.  He’s having a sulk.  In England.  Smelly old England.  2003.

Him:  “I hate you.  I hate England.”

The Doctor strops off to the pub.  Moaning.

Him:  “I hate time travel.”

In the pub, Alison the new companion - it’s fairly obvious - is giving booze away for want of a lozenge.

Him:  I think the drunk’ll be the companion.

Me:  Clive?

Him:  No.  The Drunk.

Me:  That’s obscure.  Even for us.1

Something untoward is going on.  It sounds like a cross between a police state and temperance movement.  The door opens and the Doctor enters.

Him:  “I hate pubs.  I hate beer.”

He walks up to Alison.

Him:  “I hate you.”

The Doctor orders wine, necks it and points out that everyone’s obviously scared.

Him:  “I hate fear.”

The Doctor sulks about the selection of rockin’ choons and flounces out.  Something unmentionable and glowy hisses in a dark corner. 

The street cracks open, revealing an underside of magma.  The TARDIS falls in.

Me:  I wasn’t expecting that.

Him:  “I hate chasms.”

Alison’s been watching this.  Elsewhere, the Doctor’s found a…

Him:  What’s that?  Is that a person?

Me:  Dunno.

It’s a chap who’s been turned to a statue by lava.

Him:  “I hate modern art.”

Matilda, an old lady rummaging through bins, delivers a brief emotional nugget of exposition.  The Doctor, finally, seems chuffed.

Him:  “I love you.”

Me:  Unexpected dig at the Euro there.

Matilda starts filling in backstory and some of the author’s research pops up in a discussion about tigers and low-frequency noises.

Matilda:  You should stay off the grass.

Me:  Poor Shaggy.

The earth rattles and judders.  Matilda collapses and the Doctor’s nose starts squirting blood.

Him:  "And then spiders hatched out of her eyes."

Me:  I’ve got to write that story.

Alison returns home.  Her flatmate/boyfriend asks her how the day went.

Alison:  This weird guy came in.  Asking questions.

Him:  “That’s all that ‘appened all day.  I’ve only got a five minute shift.”

The Doctor arrives at the flat.

Alison:  What’re you doing ‘ere?

Him:  “I hate you.”

The Doctor grumps his way through observations.  Things aren’t right.  And he hates that.

Him:  And my hair’s weird.”

The Doctor, forgetting the lessons of The Enemy of the World starts breaking nice things in order to summon what sound an awful lot like Tractators.

Me:  “Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew.”

The Doctor bullies Alison into exposition.  Fair play, it’s pretty grim.  The Doctor says he’ll sort it out.

Alison:  The Sound makes you afraid.

The Doctor:  I know about monsters.  I’m the Doctor.

Suddenly the carpet explodes with screaming worms.

Him:  “I hate monsters.”

Credits.  It can’t be that bad, we’re singing along with The Greatest Theme Song in the History of Ever.

Me:  That was alright.

Me:  Do you recognise the name ‘Cosgrove Hall’?

Him:  Yeah.  But I don’t know where from.  I do recognise it.

Me:  I thought you would.  I’ll put a link to it in what you say next.

Him:  Danger Mouse.

Me:  Nice one.

Him:  That’s not fair.  I meant ‘Angelmouse’.

Me:  “I hate Angelmouse.”


Me:  I quite like the intro actually. 

The Doctor and Alison (the Other One seems to have fainted) are confronting the screaming worms.

Him:  They just keep making the same noise.  It’s like they’ve only got one sample.

Me:  Sounds a bit like a paving slab being dragged along another paving slab.  Like a Martian capsule unscrewing.

Him:  “I hate Elvis.”

One of the worms lunges.   The Doctor defends himself with a nearby iPad.  The worm’s head explodes.

Me:  You can get an app for that.

Him:  “I hate worm guts.”

Our heroes (and the Other One who’s woken up) bounce away from the threat and hide in a hardware shop.  The Doctor pulls out a bin and calls for fertilizer.

Him:  “We’re going to grow the best damn plants these worms have ever seen!”

A worm screeches by, leaving a trail of art.

Him:  Oh, that looked good.  They look cool when they’re moving.

The shop explodes.  Or gets nuked.  It’s hard to tell.

Me:  Umm.  I hope the Doctor checked there wasn’t anyone in any of the adjoining houses that used to be there.

Him:  “I hate people.”

Suddenly, Coronation Street wakes up.  The Doctor’s freed humanity.  He says goodbye to Alison (but not the Other One) and skips cheerfully away.  In the darkness behind the Rovers Return a furious worm makes a big noise.

The Doctor finds that the TARDIS has been nicked.  He rings Dial-A-Speleologist for assistance.

Underground, the screaming worms are worshipping the TARDIS.  The furious worm screams Idris’ doors open and slides in.  At the console is a dark figure.

Mystery Figure: Yeeeeees?

Oh go on, it’s the Master.  He presses a button and blasts the furious worm out of the ship.

Him:  It looks like the TARDIS in the TV movie.

Me:  It’s not dissimilar from the one in the new series either.

Elsewhere, the army’s arrived.   

The Tenth Doctor watches events unfold.
The Alternative-Seven-and-a-Halfth Doctor is confronting his Brigadier substitute, Major Thomas Kennet (big green jacket or something).

Kennet:  The evacuation phase should be complete by 2000.  After that I need your help.

Him:  “Why don’t you talk properly?”

There’s a lot of exposition and a refreshing amount of geology-

Him:  “I hate geology.”

- before it’s decided that the next stage of the story will involve the Doctor (and some army chaps in red shirts) doing a bit of volcanic spelunking and recovering the TARDIS.  Downstairs the worms are screaming.

Alison and the Other One are being evacuated via-

Sudden Screaming Worm:  SCRAAAAAAAAAPE!


Me:  Eh?


We’re off.

Me:  Right.  No recaps then.

The Doctor’s annoyed.  The Army aren’t too keen on caving and are just looking for an excuse to cancel the trip.

Him:  “I hate surprises.”

The worms are more active than they should be.  They’ve got Alison tied up all ready to be sacrificed to Kong.  To pass the time they start drawing on her forehead.

The Doctor’s extreme orienteering group are grumbling through the cave system, bumping into the locals and starting fights.  It’s like a stag weekend.

Him:  It looks like a stomach.

Me:  “I hate stomachs.”

The Army trap the Doctor in the stomach.  Seriously.

Me:  This was a guard-tyrannosaurus the first time round. Or Erato.

The Doctor:  That’s it!  TAKE ME HOME, BIG BOY!

Me:  Oh, must we?  When did this sort of dialogue suddenly become alright for the Doctor to say?  Did I miss a meeting?  At least Richard E. Grant has the decency to sound embarrassed delivering it.

Him:  He doesn’t sound embarrassed.

Me:  “I hate the New Adventures.”

Him:  Ha!

Me:  Seeing as I was planning on dedicating this blogpost to Paul Cornell I should probably apologise for slagging him off there. 

Him:  Probably.

Me:  Sorry, Paul Cornell.

The Doctor:  YEEEEEHAAA!

Me:  Then again…

The Master:  Every day presents a new challenge to one’s dignity.

Me:  I may have misjudged him.  That line follows on directly after the comedy parp-parp dialogue.  It’s like the author’s trying to tell us something. 

The Doctor phones the Master from within the stomach just before it delivers him to the worms.

Him:  This story/Doesn’t make/Much sense

Me:  Give it time.  There’re motives to uncover and mysteries to unravel and so on.  I’m hoping that the Doctor’s answerphone message gets recorded in Episode Six because that’d be a nice twist.  But I’m not going to complain if it isn’t.

The Doctor corrects the boss worm’s grammar.  It introduces itself as Prime, War Chief of the Shalka Confederacy. 

Me:  Nice nods to antipodean computer advertisements and Edward Brayshaw there. 

Him:  Who’s Edward Brayshaw?

Me:  He isn’t Philip Madoc.

Him:  Who’s Philip Madoc?

Me:  Get in.

Him:  What are A, B and C?

The Doctor introduces himself to the Shalka –

Him:  “I hate Shalka.”

- and drops a few more political comments that would have been fizzier at the time.

The Doctor:  I like your wormhole.

Him:  Ha!  Worms.

The term ‘henchworm’ is used, magnificently.

Me:  Ha!  Now that’s a job title!

Clever Prime rambles on, not mentioning Tractators once.  The Doctor drops a reference to Revenge of the Cybermen.  Bless.

The Doctor:  As the Actress said to the Bishop, “I’m not human and I don’t care.”

Him:  What?

Me:  It’s an allusion to an obscure Brian Bolland strip.  And not an excuse for me to start shouting at the screen again.

Alison is brought on to be used as a hostage.  The Doctor huffs and remembers what Ian told him happened downstairs on Vortis and so agrees to help.  Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor turns off the Master who slumps forward, his face panel swinging open -

Me:  That’s not Sarah Jane!

- to reveal he’s actually a robot!  Crash-zoom.  Credits.  Oh no, my mistake – there’s more.

Elsewhere, the Army are having a miserable time.  The Doctor gets locked up with Alison.

Him:  He’s not the Doctor is he?

Me:  He really isn’t.  He did a better job in The Curse of Fatal Death.

The Doctor:  Do you fancy a puff of my huffer?

Me:  Oh, spack off!

The Boss Worm glides in and tells the Doctor it’s time…  To die!  Crash-zoom.  Credi-  Oh, there’s more.  Hang on. 

The Doctor and Alison are taken to have a peek at the Untempered Schism disguised as the Worm’s Hole.2

Me:  This episode has got more endings than The Return of the King.

Him:  If you say so.  Hang on.  This thing’s their toilet.

The Doctor gets thrown into the Timelash cliffhanger for the second time.

Me:  “I hate Timelash.”

No crash-zoom.  Credits.


Me:  I’m not going to say too much about the Doctor’s dialogue disasters until we hit the new series properly - but for all its many, many faults at least the TV Movie didn’t try and make the Doctor – Oh, I don’t know.  It’s like a teacher trying to be cool, or whatever you kids call it these days.  When did Ian’s toe-curling attempts to be a with-it hipster become the template for a large part of the Doctor’s character?  Unless it’s a mid-life crisis.  I’ve a suspicion that the books have a lot to answer for.  Which is unfortunate as they don’t count.3

The credits follow through again.  The Doctor’s looking more like Nick Cave now, which is probably for the best as Bauhaus fans still get looked down on by musos.4

Alison is being SCRAAAAPED at by henchworms, whilst the Boss Worm flicks switches in the TARDIS in an attempt to turn Vangelis4 off.

Him:  Hands!  Where do they keep their hands.  They’re worms! 

The Master flips his flap closed and perks up.  He’s straight into a monologue.

Him:  Why’s there a robot of the Master?

Me:  Who cares?

Alison rises up from the ground, like The Hungry Earth played backwards.  The Other One’s still around.  The Doctor, still falling, phones the TARDIS and gets it to come and collect him.  There’s a nice moment where the Doctor clears the console room of worms.  

Him:  That was good.

Me:  It’s a Third Doctor story.  Right down to the Doctor and Master team-up.

The Doctor chats with Kennet for a while and then one of the red shirt bangs in to announce the Army have captured a Shalka.  Elsewhere, Alison and the Other One are filling in time until the cliffhanger.

Him:  The wound in her head’s getting worse and worse.
 The two get possessed and steal a truck while the Doctor chats to the captured Shalka.  It rises up emitting a SCRAAAPE and the Doctor knocks it out.  Kennet calls the Doctor to see him.  None of the evacuees have arrived at their destinations.  Alison and the Other One bump into a selection of characters from the first episode.  The Other One finally takes a look at Alison’s wound.

Him:  “Oh- what’s…?  Well that’s horrible.  Uuuuurgh!”

Something sticks an inquisitive proboscis out.

Me:  She’s a Dalek.

Him:  Yeah, I get it.



The possessed evacuees break into somewhere and all of sudden we get shots from a 28 Days Later webcomic.  Then the TARDIS lands, the Army hop out and start shooting.  The Doctor grabs Alison’s proboscis.

Him:  Pull it out!

He pulls it out.  Panic over.  For now.

All round the planet the Shalka’s blood magick has thousands of innocent people standing, waiting for Christmas.  The Doctor remembers Taren Capel and starts spraying gas around.  The atmosphere affects the vocal chords, y’see?   The Scrape of the Shalka causes humans to bellow a stench that could choke a horse.  Clever, eh?

Me:  It’s very Episode Five.

The Army decides the best course of action is to bomb the innocents.  Ummm…

The Doctor heads off with Alison and the Master (who can’t leave the TARDIS) -

Him:  That’s ‘cause he’s an android.

- to visit the Shalka den for a chinwag with the Boss Worm about the Fendahl.   

Or something.
On the surface, windows are breaking.

The Doctor:  You’re not predators.  You’re death incarnate.

Me:  Or ‘Fendahl’ as we used to call you.

Him:  The title ‘Scream of the Shalka’ reminds me of ‘Image of the Fendahl’.

The 28 Days Later webcomic pops back for a moment as the Boss Worm borrows a trick from Azal and-

Him:  That’s a big worm.

- grows huuuuge.



The Doctor and Alison are tied up – well, it’s the start of Episode Six.  The Doctor namedrops Andy Warhol before -

Him:  He just drank that worm.

Me:  Wine and tequila.  This is totally Pertwee.  It’ll be cheese and biscuits next.

Actually, it’s singing.

Me:  Maybe if the Doctor annoys them, they’ll make a mistake.

The Doctor:  You’re just a bunch of one-penny jelly snakes.

The Doctor sings a single held note – like in Power of Kroll, yeah?  You dig? – and the Shalka burst with horror.

Him:  You won’t get far in a choir if you make your teacher’s head explode.

The Doctor accidentally foreshadows Doomsday and provokes a classic response from the huuuuuuge deathworm.

Prime:  Die, Doctor!  Die!
Me:  Yay!

Prime’s destroyed.  The Doctor vomits up the baby Shalka and plugs it back into Alison’s head.

Me:  Did he wipe that first?

Him:  No.

Me:  Uuurgh.

Alison saves humanity by acting as a PA system.  Thanks, Alison.  Thalison.

There’s a bizarre moment where the Doctor tells us off as a species and then starts on himself.  Alison interjects.

Alison:  You do yer best to stop the plates from smashin’…

Him:  No, he doesn’t!  And he does look like a bit of a goth.

Me:  Release the bats!4

Him:  Why?

Me:  ‘cause she’s a Zoo Music Girl.4

The Army surveys the ruins.

Me:  "'Job well done.' said Sir Maxwell House."

Him:  “Sir Maxwell House is dead.  Meet Sir Maxwell Horse.”

Me:  Ha!

Back in the TARDIS, the Master’s chatting with Alison – hinting at the backstory for the series that won’t follow.

Him:  There are no pandas in Bognor Regis.

Me:  Are you sure?

Him:  It makes it safe to plant cucumbers.

Me:  Have you fallen asleep or something?

Him:  No.

Me:  Good.

At the last moment, Alison says goodbye to the Other One.

Me:  Oh.  You know that caretaker earlier on?

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  That was David Tennant.



Me:  Did you like it?

Him:  Yeah, why not?

Me:  It was never going to work was it?

Him:  No.

Me:  Shame.  Looked nice.

Which brings us to my Richard E. Grant ‘anecdote’.   

A few years ago, Doctor Who and I decided to give it another go and started seeing each other again.  It was nervous at first – we were both a lot older and more experienced now and there seemed no reason to rush into things.  It was a fragile arrangement that could snap at any time.  Or something. 

One day, I was in Edinburgh to look at some sketches Goya had left lying around.  Afterwards, I wandered through Princes Gardens for a while.  I found a bench and sat eating something unimaginative and vegetarian.  And then I noticed that the Alternative Seven-and-a-Halfth Doctor was sitting on the bench next to me, looking through a selection of recently purchased DVDs.  I’d learned my lesson from Mr McCoy, and immediately looked away and started eating as quickly as possible in order to avoid eye contact and get the hell out of there before I embarrassed myself.  Naturally, the next time I looked up, he’d gone.  Feeling totally relieved, I sat there for too long – then got up and dashed for the train that I was going to miss otherwise.

The final road to cross before Waverley train station is always a nightmare, and especially so at the time of day just before the train fare increases.  Hundreds of people and dozens of cars all become part of the 3D Frogger re-enactment you have to fight through.  I made it across the road and started heading down the pedestrian ramp into the station only to find myself stuck behind a couple moving at a steady shuffle.  It’s a long ramp when you’re just in a rush.  It’s an even longer ramp when you realise that half of the couple are the same Time Lord you saw earlier, and if you want to catch your train you’re going to have to get them to move faster or move out of the way and that requires you make some sort of verbal contact which could go wrong in so many ways that-

In the end it was easier to just miss the train but I didn’t. 

I couldn’t even get that right.   

Dedicated to Paul Cornell.
You aren’t reading this, you only imagine that you are.

1.  We’re not doing this joke for much longer, so say your goodbyes.

2.  Steady on, it’s catching.  Fnaaaarrr.

3.  Hush.  They obviously don’t.

4.  Yeah, that’s another one of my own personal toe-curling attempts to be a hipster.  I get it.  Now stop hitting me.

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