Just Like In The Movies: Little Things Mean a Lot – How a Two-Day Screenplay, a One-Day Shoot, Fifteen Minutes of Film, and One Lady Set Off The Modern Intellectual Property Wars.*

 *And Made It Increasingly Unlikely J.K. Rowling Will Ever Live Long Enough To Spend All Her Money (Stephen King, Too)

Micah S. Harris

The legacy of the nineteenth century’s great age of invention includes not only cars, telephones, radios, and motion pictures, but also each and every cease and desist letter that ever broke a Brony’s heart.

Or a Treker’s. Or a Whovian’s. Whatever the case may be—if you are a fan who celebrates creatively stories and characters you love in the form of, but not limited to, art prints, fanfic, cosplay, homemade videos for YouTube—you may learn that the parent of the object of your affection objects to your intentions. Even that tattoo of Pinkie Pie you brandish on your thigh, young man, probably isn’t safe from a good laser grooming if the person who owns the trademark decides it must go.

But what creator and/or copyright holder would really complain that their work has captured an audience’s imagination to the degree that their fellow artists in the crowd are compelled to give them creative feedback? Something that could never possibly take a crumb from the property owner’s mouth, like, say, an eleven-year old girl posting her drawing depicting the Frozen girls?

Certainly, anyone can understand the concern of all owners of intellectual property that they may turn on their computers to find their trademarks have spread across social media like dandelions over the entire neighborhood’s lawns. To say nothing of losing control over their own characters (Harry Potter? Meet Gandalf. Yes—it happened in the unauthorized final volume of the Potter saga that hit the market before some amateur named J.K. Rowling’s version).

Particularly frustrating for people who make money by making up stories and characters is that new technology makes it increasingly harder to keep control of those stories and characters. And at the start of the twentieth-century, movies were the new storytelling technology.

In 1903, Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery had more than resuscitated the dying vaudevillian novelty of moving pictures; it had resurrected them as a glorified entertainment industry.

Now there existed the potential for new audiences to be exposed to a writer’s story, people who would never attend a stage production or crack the spine of a book.

What author wouldn’t want a piece of that revolutionary market?

Early screenwriters, however, could have cared less what the actual authors of the stories they stole wanted. No, what the new industry’s fledgling studios wanted was an endless supply of narrative material. As one offending screenwriter, Gene Gauntier—“the Kalem Girl”—stated unapologetically, even gleefully: “There was no copyright law to protect authors and I could and did infringe upon everything.”

What made Gauntier “the Kalem Girl” was not her writing skills. She was also the small studio’s star, an embodiment in both real life and the characters she played of the spunky new twentieth-century’s ingenue, a girl not afraid of breaking a nail—or perhaps her neck—in search of contemporary adventures to be had.

Gauntier’s initial film career was something of a vagabond’s rough and tumble existence. For instance, as a working actress in “the flickers,” she might be called upon to leap into a quite possibly unsanitary river. In fact, that accurately describes part of her first day on the job. Though “terrified at each daring thing I had to do,” she continued to put her life at risk while filming her character’s perils—some of which were her own ideas!

Though Gauntier’s daredevil work as an actress made her “the Kalem Girl” in her day, it was her career as the company’s principle screen writer, more specifically its principle plagiarist, that would make her mark on movie history. Her first script, in fact, was an unlicensed adaptation of Tom Sawyer in 1907. She quickly followed that same year with rip-offs of Hiawatha, Evangeline, and As You Like It.

She was on safe ground with Shakespeare, of course, who, at that point, had not written anything new in three hundred years, and, even then, showed little to no interest in maintaining exclusive rights to his plays. But the first generation heirs of Twain and Longfellow were still alive, and they stood to take umbrage at the piracy of the family literary heirlooms.

Heedless—perhaps “brazen” is the word—Gauntier proceeded to whip up a script to take advantage of the closed-for-the season race track facilities at Shepherd’s Bay, New Jersey. And what literary property has ever gotten more mileage out of a race than General Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur?

And so, a change of the seasons prompting the departure of the fireworks company which had been using the grounds all summer, a young screenwriter capable of whittling down the epic Ben-Hur in a two-day writing session for a one-day shoot…and voila! The powder is in place to be lit and fire the first shot over the bow in the modern war for all creators of fiction, characters and entire worlds to maintain exclusive rights to their intellectual property.

The film was only going to be the standard Kalem length, just fifteen minutes. It was only a small portion of a much larger work. Such a little thing, really. Who could possibly make a big deal out of fifteen minutes of film?

Well, Lew Wallace’s son for one, the guy who owned the rights to his late daddy’s novel.

Ben-Hur, though published in 1880, was still hot, still the best-selling novel in America. There was a popular play version (complete with on stage chariot race) whose owners had paid for the right to adapt the story, as opposed to Kalem which hadn’t forked over one nickel and garnered all the profits.

The result was the Wallace estate, Wallace’s publisher, and the theater company brought a law suit against Kalem and Gene Gauntier herself.

Amazingly, it wasn’t an easy win. There had to be a few years of legalities before the court decided against the Kalem company in 1911 and ordered them to pay $25,000 to the plaintiff.

Gauntier’s literary transgression led to the legal decision that if you turn a preexisting work of fiction into a movie…and, by precedent, create a derivative work in any new medium, in part or in whole… you pay the writer first. Really, it took four years for a court to reach that verdict?

Gauntier herself seems to have come out of it all smelling like a rose. She continued working in the movies, her career unimpeded by blatant literary theft.  She married a wealthy Swede in 1909, and retired from the film industry on her own terms in 1920.  She lived until 1966, dying at age 81.

Her remains are buried in Sweden, her chained off gravesite presided over by a large chunk of jutting rock which has been given by the locals the delightful sobriquet of  “Gene Gauntier’s thumb.”

Gene Gauntier’s thumb

I like to think of it as “Gene Gauntier’s thumbs up” from the grave to every creator in whatever medium who has made six figures from a studio just taking an option on their work, as well as those who have had so many “adaptive works” actually reach the big screen that they can now, shall we say, afford to leave Ben Franklin behind all flushed.

The “thumbs down” for fandom is that every time you go back to a YouTube link to rewatch a Tomb Raider fan film that was there yesterday, only to find a note saying it has been removed due to the copyright holder’s intervention….every time the amateur writer who loves the Vampire Lestat or Daenerys , Mother of Dragons, and wants nothing else but to make up their own adventures for the character and publish them on their little website, just for fun, but receives a cease and desist letter…..

Well, it all goes back 110 years ago to a two-day-to-script, one-day-to-film “epic;” the easy availability of a local race track determining the fateful choice of which popular novel to rip off; just fifteen minutes of silent film; and one little lady accustomed to acting (and writing) with abandon.

If Walls Could Talk: Writing Round the Wall

M.H. Norris

I ran into an interesting problem last week, and I hope that by talking it out with all of you we can figure out the solution.

Several times in the past, I’ve mentioned my hatred of outlines. Sure, to an extent, I know where the story is going (except for when I don’t and have on occasion written a chunk of a story without knowing some rather important details) but I tend not to write detailed outlines.

“Tapestry” (Lauren Finkle)

The story I’m currently working on is one where I figured out a rough idea. I know the who, what, where, when, why, and how.

But still, I find myself stuck.

It’s like I’ve hit a wall in my writing and I can’t see my way around it. I know where this story is going, but I can’t make it go there.

I’ve heard the advice, especially around NaNoWriMo, that you should just write, it doesn’t have to be perfect (in fact it won’t be perfect) but get words on the page.

Yet this time, I sit here finding myself unable to do that.

Here are some things I’ve tried, they didn’t help me this time, but they have in the past so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share them with you in hopes that you can use them next time you’re writing feels as if it has slammed against a wall.

1) Put Some Space Between You and Your Writing

I’ve done this several times with this particular story. I’ve taken days where I’ve worked on other things and then tried to come back.

The thing with writing is we often get extremely close to what we write, especially if it’s longer work. The amount of hours planning, researching, planning some more, writing and editing, cause us to miss some of the flaws because we are too close to see the ultimate design. We become lost in the individual threads, not seeing the full tapestry.

We have the privilege of knowing things our readers might not know, which hinders us in seeing how the whole forms for the reader. What we see as the ultimate design while working individual threads, may not be the ultimate design we’ve created.

Sometimes, by taking a few days, you can put some space between you and the project, allowing your head to clear a bit which might allow you to see what’s wrong.

The downside to this is that sometimes you realized what you wrote before is a giant pile of crap and you want to start over but sometimes time will not allow you that luxury.

2) Come From A Different Angle

This one was my latest attempt to make this story work. I had an opening partially written but I wasn’t even remotely happy with it.

With “Midnight” I found myself extremely happy with the opening and felt like it allowed the story to have a solid foundation to stand on.

This story however, has a flat opening that feels forced. And I’m not sure how to fix it. I rewrote it again but still it feels forced.

That just means I have to try again.

3) Take Another Look At Your Outline

Maybe there’s a plot hole, maybe something is missing. Maybe there’s something there that can help you figure out where to go from where you currently are.

When I use outline here, I do mean it in a vague sort of term .Some people don’t outline (yours truly is one of them) and instead have a vague idea of “here’s point A and I’m going to point B.” Other’s have pages upon pages of outlines.

I was reading a screenwriting book the other day and it had an entire section on how to draw up the outline, before it showed you how to format the script itself.

Maybe that outline holds the information you need. Or, at the minimum, it lets you try and avoid plot holes early on.

4) Return To Research

As previously mentioned in a post, research is highly important to any writer. I spent over a month doing research for Badge City: Notches before I even wrote the first sentence. I watched documentaries covering similar material, I read books on police procedure, I read report after report on serial killer psychology.

Maybe that’s the problem, you haven’t researched enough.

Hit the books, watch a movie (or television show) that covers similar subject matter, read reports from experts. Find blogs (for crime writers, I suggest DP Lyle’s blog https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/).

I think  that’s what I’m going to try next. See if it helps me.

If you’re like me and stuck on your current writing project, I wish you the best of luck.

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Aztecs (Part 1 of 2)

By Sophie Iles

The Aztecs is a masterpiece. There, I said it. You can shout at me all you like later, you can tell me there are better serials out there in the world of Who, and I will listen, but the levels this serial goes to really is wonderfully thrilling to watch. There’s some dodgy fighting, and some of the dialogue is a little stuffy — but overall, it’s a thrilling watch and one of the few I could probably watch all over again after getting to the end of the episode. I can now also see where Dreamworks got some of their ideas for The Road to Eldorado…

Funnily enough, The Aztecs was the first episode of Classic Who I ever saw. It was on Netflix, and it cut like the first five minutes so i didn’t know what was going on. I was expecting the legendary Tom Baker at the time, to suddenly see it in black and white and his grumpy old man shouting at a woman about not changing history. Unfortunately, teenage Soph wasn’t impressed and switched off after the first episode. This time couldn’t have been further from the truth, I absorbed it like a sponge.

Lets look this week at the intro to this tale: The Temple of Evil and The Warriors of Death!

First we see Barbara and Susan exit the TARDIS after landing in a tomb, which Barbara correctly identifies as an Aztec tomb, of a high priest no doubt, as we discover it’s her favourite historical period — her specialism — which is pretty lucky if you ask me. Barbara and Susan become interested in a door after some exploring and putting on the priestess’s jewellery, Barbara leaves the tomb despite Susan saying she’ll get the others and she walks right into the clutches of the Aztec outside. Susan returns with the Doctor and Ian to tell them Barbara found a door, but obviously can’t find her. The Doctor is furious with her, and Ian is obviously a little worried, which escalates when they too run into the attendants outside.

DOCTOR: You know where we came from?
AUTLOC: The tomb.
DOCTOR: Tell me, is there a way through from this side?
AUTLOC: The tomb is sealed. Go now with these attendants, and soon you shall meet the one who wears the bracelet of Yetaxa.
DOCTOR: What’s he talking about now?
SUSAN: He must be talking about Barbara. She picked up a bracelet from the tomb.
IAN: Well, perhaps we’d better go and meet her.

Whilst behind them, the entrance to the tomb, and their escape is closed and no entrance can be made from the outside. Which, is a big problem, but at least for now, everything appears safe.

Barbara shows the TARDIS team the high priestess’s bracelet.

Barbara has been dubbed the reincarnation of the High Priest Yetaxa, due to the fact she was wearing their bracelet. The company are in good spirits, except for being unsure how to get back to the TARDIS, but Ian and the Doctor are given permission as the ‘Servants of Yetaxa’ to wander the city, which Susan, her handmaiden, is to stay with her.

We meet two priests who are in complete contrast to each other. Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge, and Tlotoxl, the High Priest of Sacrifice, who Ian labels the “local butcher” before he even announces his title. The latter is wonderful, played by John Ringham, who brings a creepiness to his performance, claiming that Ian should be the commander of their armies, as the chosen one of Yetaxa, to which our friendly neighbourhood science teacher can’t possibly refuse, and that he must challenge the current man fighting for that honor, Ixta.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is taken to the Garden of Peace, which is where the residents over the age of fifty three are given a place of solitude to spend their final years. This is where he meets the beautiful elder Cameca, who he decides to question about the tomb when he finds out she knows of the father and son in regards to whom built Yexata’s tomb.

For a few good moments, perhaps possibly Ian having to deal with the jealous Aztec warrior, the crew seem to be enjoying their stay. Barbara and Susan enjoy wearing the Aztec headdresses, observing how the Aztecs had both beauty and horror, which the Doctor seems overwhelmingly charmed by Cameca in the garden. It’s not until Ian rushes to Barbara to tell her that he has to hold down a sacrifice in her honor that Barbara decides she, as the Goddess Yetaxa, would not allow it.

She wants to meddle with history, remove the sacrificing all together, and protect the Aztec civilisation before it gets destroyed by the Spanish. The Doctor is furious but Barbara as she often does stands her ground. The whole moment completely opening up a discussion on why the Doctor is so set on not meddling with time. The whole dialogue in that scene, and the delivery made me wonder, as I often do, what William Hartnell’s mind had concocted as we know he and Carole Ann had their own ideas of their family background just what the First Doctor meant by that final appeal:

BARBARA: There will be no sacrifice this afternoon, Doctor. Or ever again. The reincarnation of Yetaxa will prove to the people that you don’t need to sacrifice a human being in order to make it rain.
DOCTOR: Barbara, no.
BARBARA: It’s no good, Doctor, my mind’s made up. This is the beginning of the end of the Sun God.
DOCTOR: What are you talking about?
BARBARA: Don’t you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that’s evil here, then everything that is good would survive when Cortes lands.
DOCTOR: But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!
SUSAN: Barbara, the high priests are coming.
DOCTOR: Barbara, one last appeal. What you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know, believe me, I know.

In other words, what the hell did you try to do before now One?

As the time for sacrifice comes, Barbara stands her ground, informing them all she does not wish the sacrifice to go ahead, but insulted and dishonoured, the victim instead throws himself off the top of the tomb at Tlotoxl’s suggestion. And just then the rain arrives just as Tlotoxl said it would. Susan also tried to stop the sacrifice too when she was not permitted entrance, which gets her sent away to learn their customs, better than to be punished. Poor Barbara trying to protect everyone, just gets people dead anyway or in more trouble than it’s worth. Not to mention, Tlotoxl is now absolutely sure that she’s a false goddess.

The Doctor is really harsh with her when he sees her alone again, shouting and now even more upset that Susan is somewhere they can’t reach. It’s a good moment, strongly acted, Barbara trying to show her strength of will is still crushed at the thought that Susan could not come to any harm to which she starts to cry. The Doctor does apologise to her, comforting her, and tells her that they’ll be fine, he has plans to find out to get into the temple with his new found friend in the Garden of Peace.

Yexeta and Tlotoxl

It’s after this that Barbara gets to face off against Tlotoxl, who tries to trick her into giving knowledge she wouldn’t know, but her knowledge on the Aztecs and her quick cunning words give her time and space to speak to them. She’s great here, both actors spar with each other expertly, and when it is said and done, Barbara has asked that Autloc challenge her divinity as the High Priest of Knowledge, whilst Tlotoxl informs her, Ian is to fight Ixta over the command of their armies.

Ian and Ixta trading barbed words.

Ian seems to not be out of place though next to Ixta, the young man who is his rival to command is a try hard, desperate to prove himself, and is obviously good with weapons. Ian though, cool as you please suggests that the only he only needs his thumb to defeat him and proves as such, putting said thumb on the pressure point at the back of Ixta’s neck that renders him unconscious in front of a lot of influential people. (Go Ian Go!)

This only makes Ixta hate Ian further, he’s determined to defeat Ian and he’s about to get his chance. Cameca approaches Ixta, asking about his father’s plans for the tomb, claiming the older servant of Yetaxa is after information. He says he will speak to him, and tricks the Doctor, by claiming that he needs his help to defeat his rival in combat. The Doctor is unaware that it’s Ian that Ixta is facing, gives him a poisoned thorn from one of the plants in the garden, and tells him that if he scratches his opponent with it it will drain them of his strength. So by giving Ixta the tool to defeat Ian once and for all.

Susan meanwhile seems to be doing well learning the customs of the Aztecs, but still is in refusal to accept some of their traditions. It’s a very strong serial for her in that regard, considering the smaller part she plays, and showing that defiance to Autloc is going to get her into a lot of trouble, and she, taking after her other female role model Barbara, won’t take no for an answer.

The Doctor goes to tell Barbara about Ixta and the plans for the tomb, but Barbara informs him that she’s not allowed to see anyone but their own priests whilst Tlotoxl is challenging her divinity — and informs the Doctor that he’s assisted in Ixta defeating Ian which clearly the Doctor is troubled about, and though he rushes out to help, he’s taken away to be punished!  Barbara tells Autloc he had not known of the denial of entry, and was ignorant and she tells him also that the fight between Ixta and Ian should not end in death and she forbids it with the hope that it’s not too late.

So the fight between Ian and Ixta begins at sunset, Susan blissfully unaware still learning away in the city, whilst the pair fight on. As an observation, Ixta who’s supposed to be well trained does do badly against the science teacher. This is surprising as a new viewer but actually there’s a Big Finish Audio that does explain this Ian trait (It’s Farewell, Great Macedon check it out if you like this serial!) but Ixta finally uses the thorn on Ian and it’s not good news.

It’s terrible to watch as The Doctor rushes forward towards the fight, newly released, trying to warn his friend but it’s too late, Ian Chesterton’s reflexes slows down, fighting hard all the while as he’s slowly poisoned. It’s only when Ixta is ready to give the final blow when Barbara turns up in her beautiful headdress every bit a goddess — determined to make sure it doesn’t end in blood shed and left in a chilling cliffhanger that I don’t think I could have handled to wait a week for…

TLOTOXL: A false goddess forbids it. Destroy him.
TLOTOXL: Your place is in the temple.
BARBARA: I am loyal to those who serve me.
TLOTOXL: If you are Yetaxa, save him.

And so next week, we look at what happens to Ian, what will Susan’s modern views mean for her safety, and how far will Tlotoxl go to prove Barbara isn’t a goddess. Find out next week with The Bride of Sacrifice and The Day of Darkness….

Sadly, I don’t have a picture today, due to having been at Cardiff Comic Con this weekend, so instead, have a picture of men, dressed like a miniature sized twelfth doctor who left his real jacket at home and stole Ace’s badges….. I hope you’re all having a wonderful weekend and see you next week!

Me with a mondasian cyberman!

Literary Archaeology: The Unexpected Night: Eclipses and HistFic

By Jon Black

2017 Eclipse at totality. Steelville, Missouri.

On August 21, 2017, millions of people in the United States witnessed a total solar eclipse. In the days leading up the event, eclipse-talk dominated watercooler conversations, social media, and even the national news. That eclipses command such attention in a scientific and technological era, when their processes and mechanics are fully understood, testifies to the grip such displays of cosmic forces have on us. One can only imagining how profound such events were during times and places lacking the paradigm to understand what was transpiring in the heavens above them.

All of that is a long, flowery way to say that the recent eclipse gave me an easy topic for this fortnight’s HistFic blog. Because of the significance ascribed to them, eclipses can be a powerful element in historical fiction. They, of course, offer an unforgettable backdrop for events. But it would be easy to take them one step further, making them a major plot point within a story.

At the Beginning

The ruins of Ugarit, site of the earliest known record of a solar eclipse.

For peoples with no understand of celestial mechanics, the disappearance of the sun was, understandably, an awe-inspiring, profound, and often terrifying event. Eclipses were often intended as divine omens or portents. The context of an eclipse recorded by Herodotus was a battle between the Lydians and Medes. Interpreting the eclipse as the gods’ displeasure with their warring, the armies sat down their weapons and made peace (to whatever extent we can take Herodotus at face value). An eclipse witnessed in China during 1302 BC was interpreted to mean the emperor had lost divine favor. He had abstain from meat and engage in other rituals to restore the sun … and his favor with the Celestial Court.

While it would take us beyond HistFic into the realm of time travel, historical fantasy, or alt-history … a character with foreknowledge of an eclipse (or the ability to accurately predict one) would appear to wield phenomenal and likely supernatural powers in pre-modern world before heliocentrism, the scientific method, or calculus.

The first conclusively recorded solar eclipse, written in cuneiform on clay tables from ancient Mesopotamia, occurred on May 3, 1375 BC (Coincidently, 3,090 years to the day before the first verifiably predicted eclipse).

Predicting Eclipses

Diagram of Eclipse, Georg von Peurbach, 15th Century

Herodotus (an entertaining but not always reliable source) alleges that the philosopher Thales of Miletus successfully predicted an eclipse (see above). No information is offered by Herodotus regarding how the prediction was made and considerable skepticism exists regarding this assertion. But, if true, it was likely the eclipse of May 28, 585 BC.

Early Chinese astronomers placed considerable emphasis on eclipses. Attempts to understand them were underway by the Warring States Period of the First century BC. The Chinese deduced the cause of Solar Eclipses by 20 BC and there is evidence they could predict eclipses with some reliability by the Third century AD and could even estimate the fraction of coverage by the Fourth century. 

The first absolutely verifiable prediction, however, was by Edmond Halley (of Halley’s Comet fame) who predicted a May 3, 1715 event visible over Britain and northern Europe.

Map of Halley’s 1715 Eclipse.

A Selection of Eclipses

The historicity of some of the eclipses presented below is debatable. Nevertheless, because they were (or are) widely believed in and constituted part of a cultural worldview for various peoples at various points in time they have been included along with their better documented counterparts.

July 31, 1063 BC, China. Another eclipse recorded by Chinese astronomers (no word if the emperor had to go vegetarian this time).

June 15, 763 BC, Mesopotamia. Documented by Assyrian astronomers at Nineveh.

33 AD, the Levant:  The darkness described as occurring during the Crucifixion of Jesus has long been interpreted by some people as referencing a literal solar eclipse. From the 16th to 19th centuries, it was fashionable among amateur (and not so amateur) astronomers and theologians alike to try to establish Good Friday’s exact date by dating the eclipse.

569 AD, Arabian Peninsula: The Quran records a total solar eclipse at the birth of Mohammed. Interestingly, Muslims traditionally do not ascribe any special portent to the celestial event, with Mohammed himself ascribed to have said “the sun and moon do not suffer eclipse for anyone’s life or death.”

1100 AD, North Africa. A total solar eclipse was described by Arab scientist and astronomer Ibn Yunus from his observatory near Cairo.

1131 AD: A solar eclipse is associated with the death of Henry I of England. Historian William of Malmesbury wrote that the “hideous darkness” unnerved the English people. More contemporary historians have speculated that chaos and social unrest sparked by the eclipse may have caused or deepened the civil war following Henry’s death.

June 8, 1918: Japan, the Pacific, and Western US. Occurring amidst the Spanish Influenza Epidemic and with WWI still in full swing, even a thoroughly modern person might be forgiven for thinking this eclipse a dire portent (Attention writers of period horror!).

[PHOTO 5: Painting of 1918 event by American Artist Howard Russel Butler. 

Painting of 1918 event by American Artist Howard Russel Butler.

May 29, 1919: South America to Africa. Occurring at a time when causes of eclipses were understood and their prediction well established, this event remains notable for helping confirm Einstein’s theory of general relatively. With the sun’s light obscured, scientists were able to measure the distortion of light from other stars caused by the sun’s gravity.

February 26, 1979: US Pacific Northwest and Northern Great Plains. The last total solar eclipse visible in the US prior to 2017, this event created unprecedented multi-state traffic jams along interstates and highways as Americans took the roads to journey toward to totality. For writers, such a situation provides a fertile ground for Kerouacian chance encounters with almost every type of person possibility on the road, yet not going anywhere fast.

Leading up to the 2017 eclipse, speculation was rife that a larger population (nearly 90 million greater than in 1980) and ease of access to online information about the eclipse might lead to even more titanic traffic snarls. This proved not to be the case. One plausible interpretation is that the internet was an actually an asset rather than a liability. Dependent only on limited media coverage and word of mouth about the eclipse and with no equivalent of online maps or navigation apps, the 1979 event may have put more people onto fewer roads compared with today.

Photo of 1919 Eclipse taken by the expedition of Sir Arthur Eddington from the island of Principe.

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus  (Part 3 of 3)

By Sophie Iles

The end is nigh! The Key of Marinus quest is almost over, but with a slight hitch. Ian’s being framed for murder and the last micro key has been stolen. Welcome my friends, to the final part of this adventure looking at The Sentence of Death and the Keys of Marinus. I like this serial, but I do feel that the end gets slightly rushed, but I feel that a lot with Terry Nation’s stories — at least these few that I’ve seen. Let’s go through this and find out for ourselves?

As per our cliffhanger, Ian has been set up for murder and theft, found knocked on the head on the floor by the body, fingers all over the murder weapon: a mace, locked in a vault, which he can’t have been allowed access to, where the micro key has been stolen. With all these thoughts in hand he must be guilty. It doesn’t help that in the lovely city of Millennius, the legal system is “guilty until proven innocent”. Doesn’t that make you feel a little uneasy? We after all know the truth, our audience hoping that someone will find evidence to prove his innocence

Of course, they’ve yet to reunite with the Doctor who we’ve not seen for two episodes.

Welcome back Doctor!

When he does turn up there is a little bit of fanfare of course, Susan practically tackles him, and once again you can really see there’s been so much development since these characters met, even between Susan and the Doctor, perhaps, dare I say it, having Ian and Barbara around have left him open up to his more sensitive side?

IAN: Doctor!
SUSAN: Grandfather!
BARBARA: How did you get here? ALTOS: We looked everywhere.
SUSAN: I’m just glad we’re back together again.
DOCTOR: Yes, so am I, dear child. So am I. However, we have some important work to attend to. Excuse me. Chesterton, you and I must have a talk.
IAN: We haven’t much time for a talk, Doctor. In a moment I’ve got to go in there and face an accusation of murder. I need a man to defend me.
DOCTOR: I am that man.

Alas, they still have hard work to do, as Ian needs to be proved innocent, even if the poor man who was murdered, Epiram was a friend of Altos’s, also sent to get the key by Arbitan, makes no difference. Concrete evidence is what they need. Which is why the Doctor promotes himself to defend Ian in court.

This episode really does prove how valuable the Doctor is to the team, despite the fact he’s not been around for almost an hour of this serial, here he is using logic to figure out that the murderer was either the relief guard who found Ian — or in cahoots with him. On meeting said relief guard, Aydan, they discover he’s a bit tetchy, doesn’t like them talking to his wife Kala and when they leave they stay by the door to see him hit her.

So, with this information at hand they pull a trick, claiming the fake micro key is the one they found in Aydan’s office when they call Sabetha for a witness. Aydan’s reaction shows his guilt, but before he can implement anyone else in the crime, he is killed in the courtroom by an unknown assassin. As Kala cries over her dead husband, all of this feeling very little like  a Doctor Who story and more like a satire of any court room case I’ve ever seen, they still believe Ian is guilty, with no proof that he isn’t the one who’s in league with Aydan.

Whoever killed the lad too is stirred up by it, because not long later, The Doctor still trying to plead for more time to find evidence, Barbara gets a phone call (though it looks more like a hairbrush but you’ve got to love 60’s predictions of future technology) claiming that they have Susan and are going to kill her. This ends Sentence of Death, which actually on it’s own is a fine episode, showing a lot of strong moments, but sadly, it’s the second part that I feel rushes through to the conclusion.

Barbara gets a distressing phone call from Susan….

The Keys of Marinus shows us, once again as she has done plenty of times this serial, Barbara takes charge of hopeless situations. She decides not to distract the Doctor, but to try and find Susan herself with the help of Altos and Sabetha, tying the link that perhaps Kala might know Susan’s kidnapper if it was someone her husband’s dealt with. On talking to her however, she cries and exclaims she doesn’t know anything…and without realising it implicates herself in the crime!

KALA: I know of no one. My husband was very secretive. He never told me who he saw or where he went. Now, please, Aydan is dead. If he committed a crime, he’s paid for it. He’s dead, but I’ll have to live with the memory of his crime for the rest of my life.
BARBARA: I’m sorry, but you see, you’re our only help.
KALA: Leave me alone. Leave me alone. I do understand and I sympathise with you. You must have been sick with worry since you spoke to Susan, but I just can’t help you. I know nothing.
BARBARA: I’m sorry.
ALTOS: Come on.
BARBARA: Please understand, we had to try. Goodbye.

After they’ve left she has the lightbulb moment, they never even mentioned about the telephone call to the wife, and therefore she’s the culprit behind the kidnapping! The three of them then sneak back in the flat just before she can murder Susan, to the relief of everybody capturing her.

The next sequence is one of my favourites, Ian has been tried for the murder, and he’s waiting on his sentence, and The Doctor can do nothing but sit and try to wrack his brain. He looks rather upset to have failed Ian, and the development of The First Doctor in this moment, is so heart breaking. A man who’s always rushing off to the next adventure, never staying in one place, and up until very recently had no love for the human’s he’s absconded away on his time machine and yet, despite the fact Ian is sentenced to death, he won’t give up on him or in clearing his name. Though Barbara is about to ring, and change the course of this scenario, the reaction of the Doctor being told to leave, still makes me incredibly proud of him.

TARRON: It’s time to leave, sir.
DOCTOR: Leave? I can’t leave now. I must find new evidence and re-open the case…

The Doctor who failed Ian Chesterton…

But with the revelation that Kala murdered her husband, Susan said that her accomplice would be “along to collect the key” and the Doctor finally realises a way to trap the murderer, because he claims he knew all along where the key was hidden, inside the murder weapon itself.

So, when they catch the prosecutor red handed trying to steal it alone with Tarron of Millennius’s police guard. They not only have the key, but they also have Ian safe and sound back with them so they can return to Arbitan.

Whilst Susan, Ian, Barbara and the Doctor say their goodbyes, Sabetha and Altos go on ahead, to find what was their home with Arbitan taken over by the Voord, and by Yarkek, their leader. He is dressed as Arbitan in his robes, and interrogates the pair about the micro key and it’s whereabouts. Sabetha tries to claim that Altos means nothing to her to save him, but it doesn’t work, and Yartek threatens to hurt the other if he doesn’t get any answers.

The Voord at this point really are a great villain, but with only ten minutes left of the episode, it’s clear that everything is going to be summed up fairly quickly and makes them lacking in reality.

Susan, Ian, Barbara and the Doctor arrive back in the building too with their travel dials, and when they reunite in the corridor, (it is one of the sweetest examples of the friendship of this group might i add) they end up splitting up in search of their new friends and for Arbitan after they attacked by a Voord soldier again. Ian takes the key, and has been told explicitly not to give it over unless he’s absolutely sure, but when he and Susan find Yartek, the Voord claims that it really is him but he is dying of a horrid disease and so covers his hood. For a long and rather annoying moment, I am sure that Ian believes the rouse — until he questions Yartek about Altos when he claims to believe Sabetha had picked up the young man on her adventure, when he in fact had been his assistant.

But even with that, Ian makes sure to leave on a good note. He gives over a key alright, but it’s the dummy key. A key that Sabetha warns will disturb the computer and set it to destroy the building, the supercomputer and everyone inside with it. They all get out of the labyrinth of a building just in time, where Altos and Sabetha hand in hand plan to return to Millennius to live together, whilst the Doctor and his companions have places next to visit.

It’s a lovely way to end the serial, Barbara looking off longingly as their new friends go off to start off somewhere new, whilst Ian taps her shoulder gently to join him in the TARDIS. They’ve settled into this life now of danger and adventure, and it shows despite the obvious wishes to return back to home. It’s a nice ending, but it is still incredibly rushed at the end which for me is it’s only downfall.

So, what’s next week? It’s another historical of course! Join us next week to watch the Aztecs, and how Doctor’s first ever real efforts to make sure they don’t meddle with history starts to take shape.

As for this weeks doodle? You have Sabetha standing up to Yartek. Enjoy!

PS: If you like the idea of the Voord, one of my favourite First Doctor Big Finish Stories is Domain of the Voord and I think it’s one of my favourite Big Finish stories, elaborating on Voord history, lifestyle and religion and some very exciting and terrifying adventures with relatives of Yarket involved.

Longdog Library: Ain’t No Witch – Hoodoo and the Blues

By John Linford Grant

Never let it be said that the Longdog Library is limited in its scope. For example, you might not know that it includes sundry volumes on hoodoo and conjure-work, kept carefully surrounded by a circle of Hot-Foot Powder. I’ve always had an abiding interest in the Cunning Folk of Europe, the hedge-wizards, wise women and others, often Christian (though not always), who could be called upon for protection against curses, hexes and blights. In the US, whilst Wicca, historical witchcraft, and voodoo or vodun, are fascinating in themselves, the real roots that interest me there are those of hoodoo, which is something different.

“Because sometimes I’m waitin’ at the crossroads, but I does it how I choose,” said Mamma Lucy. “I ain’t one of your mamalois, Voodoo girls or Sant-eria ladies, liftin’ their skirts when you come callin’, neither.”
John Linwood Grant, ‘Tales of the last Edwardian’

Historically, as with many of the Cunning Folk, the guiding principle for most hoodoo was belief in God and the Bible. Where Caribbean and New Orleans spiritual movements blended Catholic saints with African belief systems, a lot of hoodoo folk were Protestant in one form or another. Voodoo and hoodoo get confused, but they ain’t the same.

You might call hoodoo a dominant blend of African beliefs, with threads of European herb and symbolic lore pulled in as well. Much conjure-work links back to Ewe and Fon lore from West Africa. If it was a predominantly black road, it didn’t automatically exclude whites, because it slowly blended with folklore from European immigrants, especially Germanic ones. It came from the big slave plantations, but it spread into communities through freedmen and women, and had resonances for many poor and disenfranchised people. It absorbed elements of Native American herbalism, and became its own thing. Root-work is one other name, from the use of medicinal or magical roots and herbs.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), the black novelist and folklorist, wrote a study of Afro-American folklore, including discussion of hoodoo, root work and conjuration in her 1935 collection of tales, ‘Mules and Men’. One crossover example is ‘The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses’, a magical text allegedly written by Moses, passed down as hidden portions of the Old Testament. A grimoire, a collection of magical incantations and seals, the text circulated in Germany from at least the 1700s, passed through immigrants such as the Pennsylvania Dutch, and entered both white general folklore and black Christian hoodoo.

One of Manly Wade Wellman’s books

The writer Manly Wade Wellman also slipped in to my mind when I came across a copy of  ‘Pow-wows, or The Long Lost Friend’. This book crops up in a number of Wellman’s stories. This is another genuine ‘grimoire’ from the 1820s, by one Johann Georg Hohman, and was originally called Der Lange Verborgene Freund.

“Bind,” he said to someone over me. “Bind, bind. Unless you can count the stars, or the drops in the ocean, be bound.”
It was a spell-saying. “From the Long Lost Friend?” I asked.
M W Wellman, ‘Vandy Vandy’, (1953)

‘The Long Lost Friend’ is a mixture of spells, charms and remedies for everyday use. Like the Books of Moses, it initially entered hoodoo through the Pennsylvanian Dutch and other groups of Germanic origin. It crossed relatively easily into hoodoo because it also puts Christianity in the driving seat and emphasis belief in the Bible as core. ‘Pow-wows’ was added to later editions, in reference to real or supposed Native American practices.

“The book has remained quite popular among practitioners of Hoodoo… James Foster noted that many shops in Harlem and Brooklyn stocked The Long Lost Friend in 1957.”
–Daniel Harms, ‘The Long Lost Friend: A 19th Century American Grimoire’ (2012)

And if you write about hoodoo from around the early 20th Century, you can’t avoid the blues. You also can’t avoid Aunt Caroline Dye. Despite her association with hoodoo, Caroline Dye was a psychic, a fortune-teller –  there’s less evidence of her performing root-work, setting up actual spells. People went to her for readings, and they went in their thousands.

Aunt Caroline Dye

She was born to enslaved parents in Jackson County, Arkansas – or in Spartanburg, South Carolina. There are different versions, both of her origins and her death. The earliest suggestion of her birth is 1810, which seems unlikely, and the more accepted one is in the 1840s. As Caroline Tracy, a name which seems to have come from her family’s original owners (a phrase which should never have had to be typed), she married Martin Dye of Sulphur Rock, some time after the American Civil War.

Called “one of the most celebrated women ever to live in the Midsouth”, she is said to have died September 26th, 1918 (which would have made her 108 years old – or, more likely, in her seventies). She is buried in Jackson County. Caroline Dye was supposed to have the ‘second sight’ even when she was young, but became famous for being a seer after the Dyes set up home in Newport, Arkansas, around 1900. 

Despite the dates above, others such as catherine yronwode of luckymojo.com have compiled evidence that suggests Caroline Dye may have been around longer. One of the problems is that there are mentions of her in music which suggest she was alive in 1930, when Will Shade and the Memphis Jug Band recorded their song about her. This details Dye’s hometown as Newport News, in Virginia, but the song’s music and a verse was lifted from the band’s 1927 song Newport News Blues, so that was probably just convenient (or locally popular).

Others have spoken as if she was around until 1936-37. This may have been the general remembrance of a notable figure. It may even have been complicated by the tendency for famous ‘names’ in fortune-telling and hoodoo to be adopted by later practitioners. So there may have been a second ‘Caroline Dye’, no relation but using her reputation.

Dye was ‘the gypsy’ in the 1914 song “The St. Louis Blues,” according to W.C. Handy, who wrote it.  He later names her directly, in his 1923 song “Sundown Blues.”

For I’m going to Newport
I mean Newport Arkansaw
I’m going there to see Aunt Car’line Dye
Why she’s a reader
And I need her
Law! Law! Law! She reads your fortune, and her cards don’t lie.
I’ll put some ashes in my sweet Papa’s bed,
So he can’t slip out, Hoodoo in his bread

In 1937, Johnny/Johnnie Temple named her again in his Hoodoo Woman song:

Well, I’m going to Newport,
          just to see Aunt Caroline Dye
Well, I’m going to Newport,
        just to see Aunt Caroline Dye
She’s a fortune teller, hooo, Lord,
        she sure don’t tell no lie

She also crops up in “Wang Dang Doodle,” (1960) by Howlin’ Wolf and Koko Taylor. This is a curious song about rowdy merry-making. It borrows from black oral history, including lesbian nicknames of earlier times. The original reference to Fast Talkin’ Fannie, for example, used a word other than Talkin’.

Dye would read futures and make predictions. Her most commonly quoted method was using cards, as in Handy’s lyrics. It’s said that she wouldn’t help in romantic matters, though, and told people that they should sort their own love lives out. She did offer to find lost people, lost cattle and other items through reading her deck, or through her visions.

“Going to go see Aunt Caroline” became a common saying among black people of the time, and as she grew famous, she became respected by many whites as well. She reportedly died a landowner with substantial fortune. In the 1960s, Will Shade from the Memphis Jug Band spoke of her having wider powers. He said of her:

“White and Colored would go to her. You sick in bed, she raise the sick. Conjure, Hoodoo, that’s what some people say, but that’s what some people call it, conjure.”

Interview by Paul Oliver, ‘Conversation with the Blues’.
“Seven Sisters ain’t nowhere wit’ Aunt Caroline Dye; she was the onliest one could break the record with the hoodoo.”
— ibid

The Seven Sisters were supposed sisters in 1920’s New Orleans. As usual, controversy surrounds their nature. Some say they were genuine sisters, others that they were just seven women working together, and it’s even been claimed that they were one woman in different guises. The name also crosses concepts of seventh sons and seventh daughters being special. And as with Caroline Dye, they were well known for their psychic abilities or clairvoyance.

They tell me Seven Sisters in New Orleans that can really fix a man up right
They tell me Seven Sisters in New Orleans that can really fix a man up right
And I’m headed for New Orleans, Louisiana, I’m travelin’ both day and night.
They tell me they’ve been hung, been bled, and been crucified
They tell me they’ve been hung, been bled, and been crucified
But I just want enough help to stand on the water and rule the tide.

As to hoodoo itself, apart from mid-century and later commentaries, it’s interesting to read earlier writers. One source is Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858 – 1932), an African-American author, essayist, political activist and lawyer. Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, Ohio, his parents being ‘free persons of color’ from North Carolina. His position was odd – Chesnutt was legally white in some States, black in others. In a shameful time of Jim Crow laws in America, many state had a ‘one drop’ rule, which meant that even if you had only a single grandparent or great-grandparent who was black, you could be discriminated against. North Carolina adopted ‘one drop’ legislation in 1923. Chesnutt’s paternal grandfather was known to be a white slaveholder, and he would have had other white ancestors. Despite his outward appearance, he identified as African American, and never chose to be known as white.

Charles Waddell Chesnutt

Here’s a passage from his essay ‘Superstitions & Folklore of the South’:

“Conjuration: The only professional conjure doctor whom I met was old Uncle Jim Davis, with whom I arranged a personal interview. He came to see me one evening, but almost immediately upon his arrival a minister called. The powers of light prevailed over those of darkness, and Jim was dismissed until a later time, with a commission to prepare for me a conjure ‘hand’ or good luck charm, of which, he informed some of the children about the house, who were much interested in the proceedings, I was very much in need. I subsequently secured the charm, for which, considering its potency, the small sum of silver it cost me was no extravagant outlay. It is a very small bag of roots and herbs, and, if used according to directions, is guaranteed to insure me good luck and ‘keep me from losing my job’. The directions require it to be wet with spirits nine mornings in succession, to be carried on the person, in a pocket on the right hand side, care being taken that it does not come in contact with any tobacco.”
Modern Culture, volume 13. 1901

His collection ‘The Conjure Woman’ (1899) is available on-line, and also includes the full essay http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11666

There is one problem with writing about hoodoo, by the way. It’s difficult to get right, and yet sometimes difficult to get wrong. People did make up ‘spells’ to suit them. There are so many variants, and styles of traditional conjure-work can be personal to a practitioner, or peculiar to a geographical area. The terminology varies across the States, and some branches came from passed-down pamphlets, others through family word of mouth.

So be careful, now.

One of John Linwood Grant’s Mamma Lucy stories, “Hoodoo Man,” is in the 18thWall Productions anthology Speakeasies and Spiritualists, curated by Nicole Petit. His new collection A Persistence of Geraniums & Other Worrying Tales is available on Amazon.

Having You Readers Hanging On A Hook

M.H. Norris

A few months ago, I wrote a post about The Vinyl Detective: Written In Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel. And if you didn’t take my advice then to come and read it, I suggest you do so now.

Seriously go to the bookstore, buy it, and then come back. I’ll be here.

One thing Cartmel does in the book is that it has two parts (like a vinyl record has two sides). It was a cliffhanger worth of a penultimate episode of a television show. Like I said before but I’m going to say again, Cartmel has a fantastic way of weaving all these threads together to make the beautiful tapestry that is The Vinyl Detective: Written In Dead Wax.

Recently, I was working on something and doing so on a very tight deadline. To attempt to keep myself from getting overwhelmed (you can ask James–I wasn’t overly successful at times) I tried breaking it down into sections.

Going from section to section, I wanted to link them all together with hooks. Sometimes it was a struggle. With a hook inside a story, do you want to go big and bad or do you want to do something smaller yet compelling to press your readers forward.

How can you get your readers holding your book at 3AM unable to sleep because they’re so involved in your story?

That’s the golden question, isn’t it?

Here’s some things I’ve either learned or observed about hooks.

Learn from Television

I’ve been watching NCIS through for the first time, these last few months, and made it to Season 11 in the last week. The Season 10 cliffhanger was interesting; it utilized a time jump to leave you hanging.

Not particularly caring what time it was (luckily it wasn’t too late), I of course hit “next episode” to watch the Season 11 premiere. They took most of the episode to resolve the cliffhanger. It worked really well. It kept you on the edge of your seat, wanting to know what happens. Keep in Mind this is an advanced tactic. It can easily be done poorly. James has thrown books out which skip over the dramatic event, playing with revealing elements of it, instead of exploring it outright. Don’t join these books in James’ trash. But it is an option.

Television lives and dies by its hooks, which convince you the show really is worth sitting through those commercials for. Strong hooks can keep your readers, well, reading.

When considering how to insert hooks into your story, use television shows as an example. The space between commercials in a television show are called Acts. It used to be that shows were set on a four act structure but in the last five years or so, shows have been moving to six. Each of the acts have their own little cliffhanger that gets you to stay through the commercials to see what happens.

How Does this Apply to Prose Writing?

There is the idea that you need to hook your reader in the first chapter of your book. From there the trick is to find reasons to keep people reading–find the hooks to keep them reading. Just because you keep them past Chapter One doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to keep them the whole book.

I have sat down a book, partially read. Sometimes it’s because of writing errors–sometimes, they haven’t given me a reason to keep reading.

The most common form I’ve seen in fiction is chapter to chapter hooks. Often times, people will read to the end of the chapter, and then sit the book down. You need to be their reason to pick it back up

Another thing I often ask myself is why should readers care? Why should they keep reading?

What can be used as a hook?

1) Plot Points

This is the most common type of hook. You end the chapter with a new plot point. In my own writing, I often use this in the form of killing yet another character (though in Notches I also used it for kidnappings as well).

Even if you don’t outline, you’ve got a general sense of where this story is going to go. In the instance of Midnight, I had a bunch of plot points:

  • New Murders
  • Key Clues
  • Introduction of Suspects
  • The Climax
  • The Fall-Out

Sometimes, transitioning from one point to another can help you use plot points as hooks.

2) Character Beats

Regularly relegated to the B-story, character moments can serve as hooks. This is especially handy in a series where you’ve set questions about a character and are ready to answer them.

Often, a revealing character moment can be more powerful than plot point. What is happening to your characters in your story?

In my short story, “All that Jazz” (from the brilliant Nicole Petit’s Speakeasies and Spiritualists), I close every section on a hook. Most of these hooks relate to Margaret’s stress and mental state. She witnessed a particularly gory murder, and as she tries to solve it the images and emotions keep getting thrown back at her. This was much more impacting than having another new dead body every few pages.


Often, stress is put on hooking your readers in and making sure that they stay from cover to cover and story to story.

By weaving in things to hook your reader, to keep them reading scene to scene, chapter to chapter you will hook them in.

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus  (Part 2 of 3)

By Sophie Iles

So, next up on our list is our next part of our quest. In case you missed last week’s here’s the rundown. The Doctor and his crew have been asked by Arbitan or rather, blackmailed, to track down the Keys of Marinus. These keys are scattered across the planet Marinus and they are using travel dials that have been set to plan their journey across the planet to find them. They found the first key of the four that they need to get to activate the super computer to prevent the invasion of the Voord, a creepy alien race, so now the team have gone on during their next adventure…The Screaming Jungle.

Susan’s disturbed by the screaming jungle…

Susan, Barbara and Ian have arrived at their second location with two friends they’ve picked up along the way, Sebetha, Arbitan’s daughter and his assistant Atlos, but Susan is already freaking out the moment they arrive. She can hear something that everyone else can’t in this jungle in it’s simply freaking her out. After some consoling, Barbara and Susan have a moment where she tries to learn what she heard but Susan can’t place it only that the noise was horrible and terrifying. We also learn that Susan rushed off ahead because she can’t bare goodbyes because the Doctor was going ahead on his own to get the last key, (It’s really no surprise as this seems to be a ongoing family trait as we learn in later years) and was concerned to know if the Doctor was alright when she disappeared, and Barbara assured her he seemed find.

What’s really interesting to me about this serial is this is also the first time that we’ve seen the companions act on their own for an entire episode without the Doctor, and actually, as Classic Who proves time and time again, they are more than capable on their own. This moment also shows these two lovely women conversing in a manner they couldn’t with the Doctor around where Barbara is wishing that Ian wasn’t so protective, but also understand it in a nice piece of dialogue and a smug smile from Susan at the end:

BARBARA: I do wish Ian wouldn’t treat us like Dresden china.
SUSAN: I think it’s nice the way he looks after us all the time.
BARBARA: Yes, I know, but just once in awhile…
SUSAN: You rebel.

Whilst in this horrific jungle, Barbara finds the micro key they’re looking for, but alas, it’s obviously a trap and she gets stolen behind a revolving wall. The best part about this action is that even in danger, screaming as the wall takes her away, Barbara still throws them back the micro key she found. Good ole’ Barbara Wright doesn’t miss a trick as usual and obviously Ian is so determined to get her, that Ian stays in this place to help rescue her whilst Susan, Altos and Sebetha go on to the third location. It’s not until after Altos and Susan have gone are the group aware that Barbara’s find is actually a fake…but Sebetha goes on ahead to help the others, which gives us fourteen minutes of material of just Ian and Barbara working things out for themselves in a land of booby traps, (queueing my thinking about The Goonies whenever that word is mentioned.)

After almost being murdered by one of these booby trap, whilst Ian is locked in a cell, Barbara is saved by the traps creator Darrius, who trying to find out why she wants the mirco key. Again, I’m thrown back to my childhood Sundays of watching The Last Crusade on repeat as the Knight asks Indy why he seeks the Holy Grail, except imagine Indy wrapped in a net trying to explain himself…

DARRIUS: Who are you? What interest have you in the keys?
BARBARA: Look, I can’t talk to you like this. Let me go.
DARRIUS: Are you a Voord? You do not resemble their race and yet
BARBARA: Arbitan sent us.
DARRIUS: That is a lie.

Whilst Barbara explains Arbitan sent them, the old man is strangled by one of the jungle’s creepers and he dies before he can truly explain himself or the whereabouts of the micro key, leaving just a few words about whispering and darkness and a strange set of letters. This leaves Ian and Barbara having to manage on their own, becoming a little detective team. The chemistry between the characters is wonderful to watch as always, Barbara chiding Ian about getting excited about the man’s scientific experiments, which Ian tends to shut down Barbara’s outside the box thinking because of his own scientific logic. Despite their differences in approach It’s really fun to watch how these two work out a problem, and finally they’re able to find the key under pressure as the jungle tries to kill them when they understand that the code was actually the name of a chemical and not a code at all. 

Though I might add on the rewatch, the whispering jungle, which then tries to kill them does sound like a terrifying version of the TARDIS take off.

So, micro key in hand they finally turn their travel dials to the next location, but they’ve jumped from the frying pan into the fire…Well, when I say fire, I mean ice. Welcome to Episode four, The Snows of Terror.

Out of the frying pan, into the freezer

Ian and Barbara enter a new sub zero freezing temperature, where it’s so cold they are basically freezing to death, laying together on the ground, Ian begging Barbara not to fall asleep, reaching out his hand. Alas, they both collapse to the ground, and would be dead if not for the stranger that arrives to save them.

Barbara wakes up to Vasor, their creepy savior, who rubs her hands to help make sure she recovers from her temporary frostbite, and he really is creepy, and even if Barbara isn’t frightened I certainly would be but when a jungle and radiative monsters have tried to kill you, you can either be afraid of everything or feel prepared to fight everyone, and I personally believe Barbara is the latter.

VASOR: Your friend is here. He still sleeps. Your hand is slightly frostbitten. Put it in mine. We must help your friend like this too. Rub the hand slowly, like this. Yes? Understand? Are you afraid of me?
VASOR: Last year I broke the back of a wolf with my bare hands. I’m Vasar. Most men fear me, so I have few visitors. There, see? The blood is beginning to return.

Ian wakes, and they learn that Altos was looking for Susan and Sebetha and worried Ian decides he should go out and look for him and help find the girls, whilst Barbara stay with their creepy savior. Something I as an audience member is against from the get go. Sure enough, my instincts were right because Vasor has some of Sebetha’s micro key necklace and their time travel dials in his draw, whilst Ian finds Altos left for dead in the snow, and blames Vasor for it. The two men rush back to save Barbara just in the nick of time, outnumbering the trapper 3-1 and demand he help them find Susan and Sebetha, whom he reports are in a cave that he abandoned them in so he could steal their things. Vasor is made to lead them to the cave, but the tough hunter tells them all that he is afraid of the cave because of demons…and nevertheless, Ian wont let him get off the hook that easily.

Despite the fact they are on their own, Susan and Sebetha appear to be doing well for themselves, even though their fire has run out They decide to try and leave the cave but realise they’re lost and decide to just keep travelling deeper into the mountain. Sebetha is a good influence on Susan as they look around, and finally are reunited with the rest of their party as they all get across a rope bridge, which then Vasor breaks and runs away so they can’t leave.

Ian is annoyed with himself that he didn’t keep an eye on the trapper, but once again Barbara is level headed and suggests they’ll find a way out, even to Ian’s frustration knowing she’s right. There’s something about Barbara that makes her a good center for the group as even when confronted with possible danger, she questions everything and everyone with a good authoritative voice and she’s a wonderful sounding board for everyone, and still creating what I believe is the archetype companion we know to date.

Barbara, Susan and Sebetha meet the Ice Knights.

They meet the frozen knights, standing in the caves, the demons that Vasor probably heard of guarding the key they require which trapped in a block of ice, and so they must find a way to get it. Using the piping in the cave from a volcanic sprint (guess who found the piping, the wonderful Miss Wright, of course) they are able to melt the ice but in doing so defrost the ice knights too. Luckily, Ian and Altos have made a bridge of tree trunks to cross the chasm that Vasor had left from stranded across but it’s not that stable and there needs to be time for it to freeze so it’s easier for them all to cross…but time is now against them with enemies on their tail!

So now it’s Susan’s turn to shine now (all my children have done so well this serial!), bravely crossing the tree trunks on her own to attach the bridge, whilst Ian stops the de-iced knights by getting them stuck behind blocking the exit of ice bravely. It doesn’t stop the soldiers for long, but it’s long enough for Susan to repair the bridge and for everyone to get across safely.

They return to Vasor, to retrieve their things, and use the travel dial to escape, leaving the horrified Vasor to deal with the ice soldiers who he always saw as demons, which rightly so gets him killed.

They twist their travel dials, to move forward to their last location and retrieve their last key, and to finally meet up with the Doctor, but Ian’s travel dial lands him into a world of trouble, another frying pan moment, as he finds a dead body and knocked out next to it, with someone framing him for the crime in the process.

What will happen next week? Will the Doctor be of any help? How will Ian explain hismelf out of this one? Next week we’ll be looking at the final two episodes of this serial: The Sentence of Death and The Keys of Marinus.

But as I try to do every week, it’s not over yet. Here’s my doodle of Ian in his Marco Polo gear which he is also wearing throughout this serial too: 

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus  (Part 1 of 3)

By Sophie Iles

This is a great serial, there’s no doubt about it. This story gives us action, there’s creepy enemies, Barbara looks stunning even in rags and is bad ass, and after the sad lack of being able to watch Marco Polo, we get a very put together TARDIS team, who have moved on quite drastically since the End of Destruction.   

Lets see what happens and pick over some favourite bits. I am going to do this over three parts, just because a six-part format really should warrant the time and the love it deserves.

After landing the TARDIS, the team go outside to check out their new location, Ian is wearing his remnant outfit from Marco Polo, which as now that serial is missing it makes me long even more for that missing story. But alas, onwards we go to see Marinus.

It looks like a normal beach that they’ve landed on until they discover that there’s class on the beaches and the sea is actually acid, which is actually pretty terrifying. Susan, Ian and Barbara only realise this together with the fortunate accident that Susan’s shoe falls in a tidal pool and they watch it disintegrate. Ian gives her his shoes to wear so she can safely recover some shoes from the TARDIS and off she scarpers. This did make me laugh when the Doctor chids Ian for not bringing his shoes when Susan could have worn them when the old dog catches up to them after his own exploring on the beach discovers the glass. They may be friends now  but his jibes at Ian are always entertaining.

DOCTOR: Sea of acid. Astonishing. You know, in all my travels I’ve never come across anything like this before. However, Susan wasn’t harmed, anyway.
BARBARA: She was a bit frightened of losing her shoes, but she’s gone back to the ship for another pair.
DOCTOR: Yes, and if you’d had your shoes on, my boy, you could have lent her hers. You mustn’t get sloppy in your habits, you know.

They look round to discover that there is a massive building not far away, which they are keen to explore together when Susan gets back, but she instead finds footprints and decides to follow them.

The Voord, Terry Nation’s newest monster….

Now, we finally get to meet the Voord as between these scenes they’ve been trying to get into the TARDIS and failed, and are now going to be our main enemy for this serial. These beings were Terry Nation’s second attempted at bug eyed monsters which, though doesn’t carry over to be as successful as the Daleks in future, I still found them pretty strange and frightening. They look like men in black rubber suits and flippers, with a strange triangular helmet so it covers their faces entirely. We don’t know what they look like inside the black suit either, as whilst waiting for Susan, the other three find a ripped suit and a broken one man submarine — which they assumed meant he was destroyed by the acid so there was no way of surviving the sea of death.

They’ve waited for Susan long enough, and decide she must have gone to look at the building herself. It is so fascinating to see just how easy they accept this fact, when just in An Unearthly Child, The Doctor or Susan wouldn’t have really let each other out of their sight!

The Doctor, Ian and Barbara looking for Susan….

But yes, on we go, to the city, whilst our audience is aware of the Voord, our central players only have an inkling that someone else is with them on this planet, and they start following her footprints to the building. A building that has quite a few secret entrances. One by one, the team get split up by revolving walls. We see Susan almost stabbed by a knife wielding Voord, but she is saved by an elderly man in a white hood, who then in turn is saved by Ian and the group are reunited so as to finally get to the bones of what is going to happen in this serial.

This man is called Arbitan and he is the Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus, a computer that keeps peace and order across the planet. It’s power eliminates evil thoughts but the Voord, in particular a Voord named Yartek has worked out how to control the computer if he can get hold of it, but Arbitan has figured out how to prevent that from happening, to upgrade it, but they need the keys to active the upgrade. To protect it, these five remaining keys are spread across the planet, as he has one on him at all times, and that even though he even sent his daughter and many others to collect said keys but she and the others has not returned and so he begs the team’s help.

The Doctor refuses to help. This after all is a Doctor who doesn’t want to get involved just yet, that only does these heroic deeds by design of their own survival ala The Daleks. Sure enough, when they return to the TARDIS they can’t get into it, a force-field covers it. Arbitan is now making them do this quest under force, or as the Doctor calls it sheer blackmail.

So, The Doctor doesn’t have much choice in the matter after all that. They are all given travel dials, something that seems to be the influence of the time travel teleportation bracelets we have in the NuWho era, which whisks them towards their first adventure and the first key. Unbeknownst to our travelers however we watch Arbitan fall to the hands of Yartek, with the Voord taking over the building and the computer whilst leaving a good cliffhanger that when the team arrive, Barbara is nowhere to be scene, and there’s blood on her travel dial.  

Fortunately, Barbara seems more than fine when they rush to her aid. She’s actually relaxing on a chaise lounge, looking as merry as ever. The trappings and world they have been sent too is beautiful, and that a man named Altos lets them know that this is the city of Morphoton, an advanced and pacific society. Whilst Ian and the Doctor are completely skeptical at first, they are one round by food and wine and the promise of tinkering in a science lab. Things really are just too good to be true however, when Barbara wakes the following morning to discover their trappings are really just rags and dirt.

Now this is one of my favorite serials for bad-ass Barbara moments. We’ve seen her stand up to the Doctor, we’ve seen her work things out in the Edge of Destruction, but in this moment she’s basically on her own. Her friends have all been seduced just as she was by whatever power that this town has, and despite her telling them they don’t believe her. It turns out that in the night there is a hypnotic pulse that was sent through them all, but Barbara’s disk slipped off so that it didn’t take effect on her. She appeals to her friends greatly, but to no avail. So, she’s going to have to figure it out by herself. The big bad here are called the Brains of Morphoton, which are terrifying creatures, brains on stalks that have grown out of their bodies because they were no longer needed and are hypnotising the entire city.

DOCTOR: Here, drink this.
BARBARA: No, it’s filthy!
DOCTOR: Now you’ve broken it.
IAN: Barbara, what’s got into you?
BARBARA: Why can’t you see?
DOCTOR: This is going to test our host’s patience, you know. It’s one of a set.

Barbara keeps trying to appeal to the others but they just laugh and wave her off, so Altos tries to take her away from her friends to his masters but she able to gets away from him and discovers Sabetha the slave girl. It’s there she realises, because Barbara has the powers of the deduction that we can only dream of and she’s greater than she’s ever given credit for, that this young woman is the daughter of Arbitan that went missing looking for the key, when she has said key around her neck. She tries to break the hypnotic hold on her, but fails, it’s only when Altos arrives to try and take Sabetha away at the Brains orders that she knocks him out and so Barbara runs promising she’ll come back for the girl.

Like I said, for Barbara, this is one of her strongest moments in the series and as a Barbara fan I couldn’t be prouder.

Barbara tries to go back to her friends, to explain what she found, and runs into Ian. Who she hugs, but alas, despite the tender moment he is also being controlled by the Brains of Morphoton, and he takes her to the masters who make him try to strangle her to death. As a fan of these two teachers, watching this scene is horrifying, as Barbara begs for Ian to stop and control himself, but alas, Barbara fights back, but not before breaking the machinery as she escapes his hold to break the hypnotic spell on Ian and their enemy with it. the Brain of Morphoton chanting ‘Kill Her’ the whole  is utterly terrifying and only gets louder and louder in agony and desperation when she starts destroying the machine that keeps them alive.

A hypnotised Ian has hold of Barbara for the Brains of Morphoton.

For me, the heartache comes afterwards, as we don’t know just how much Ian remembers but as he cries out when the Brains are also destroyed, he asks where he is before rushing and hugging Barbara, who comforts him and tells him everything will be alright. She really is a great role model for future companions here, and perhaps what inspired strong women in the role in the years to come.

Everyone and everything is back to normal on Morphoton, the TARDIS team have their first key of Marinus and everyone has regained their memories. It turns out that Altos and Sabetha were both on the hunt for the keys also, so they join the time travelling party to continue what they started. They decide to split up, The Doctor to forth to get the fourth key, whilst the rest of them, to Susan’s dismay go to get the second key. In a bid to not have to say goodbye to her grandfather again, she teleports early, but this results in a cliffhanger where she’s stood screaming….

And that’s all we have time for! Overall, the episodes are good, and set up a really good structure for six part episodes as they continue for the rest of the Classic Who era, if anything, there’s almost too much story here for two episodes and it could have easily been seven like the Daleks. Still, as our heroes do not know yet of Arbitan’s fate we have still yet to see just how they will deal with that as time goes on….

Next week we look at The Screaming Jungle and the Snows of Terror, as we search for the remaining keys and whilst we wait, here’s a doodle of the TARDIS Team!