Latest Blog Posts

New Release – All the Petty Myths!

Now available in ebook, M.H. Norris’ All the Petty Myths!

18thWall Webstore:
Amazon Kindle:
Amazon UK Kindle:
Print Coming Soon

Lurking in your hometown and countless others, urban legends and folklore are all around us. To many, they exist solely as myth. But not for all. Sometimes a body is found, apparently killed by something from stories. Sometimes someone goes missing, all the clues pointing to something only spoken of around campfires. Then the police are called, or a detective, who must discover if there really is something in those stories…

Featuring M.H. Norris’ “Midnight,” which debuts her new series. Dr. Rosella Tassoni, a Forensic Mythologist, is hired by the FBI to consult on a case where seeming old world folklore is cross-contaminated by internet fauxlore. High school students are being murdered. Will the experience break her?

A detective who wishes to write his own mysteries, but can’t bring his words to life, is now trapped in a “Locked Room” mystery by Marc Sorondo. Is the killer a ghost, or a clever human?

Sherlock Holmes and his partner’s partner, Mary Watson, investigate a mad artists. He insists his doppelganger has replaced him, and that he himself is locked away in his painting. How can he see a painting which no-one else can see? James Bojaciuk answers this question in “Doppelgangers (and Other Artistic Piffle).”

A mournful soul on a lonely highway, calling for death, is the center of  a murder case in D.J. Tyrer’s “Tuttle and Gretel.” What is the Vanishing Hitchhiker?

Presented by award-winning mystery author M.H. Norris, All the Petty Myths confronts folklore and urban legends with detectives, FBI agents, and private investigators.

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Dalek Invasion of Earth

By Sophie Iles

It’s that time of year. Here in Britain it’s a sign of mad Christmas shopping, families fighting to not have the heating turned on by wearing an overload of Christmas jumpers, and preparing for their disastrous Christmas work parties. That means it’s almost time for the Doctor Who Christmas Special, almost time for most to sit around a tv screen and watch things that make them feel childlike.

So I think it’s a good time to review a wicked serial of the classic series, The Dalek Invasion of Earth and sadly say goodbye to the wonderful Carole Ann Ford as she moves on to pastures new. Let’s have a look shall we?

Read More

Soph Watches Classic Who: An Interlude: When K-9 met K-9

By Sophie Iles

Before I press on to share with you my thoughts next week on Dalek Invasion of Earth, I wanted to tell a story about something very special that happened to me at LI WHO 5 that holds a place in my heart and probably always will.

It all starts with how I got into Doctor Who in the first place. You see, muggins here didn’t get into Doctor Who until she was nineteen years old. This was in 2008. I had heard of Doctor Who, most British people have, in one way or another, but I had never actively watched it. I had seen the end of some episodes before something else was about to be on that my parents were going to watch but that was it. I was too into Harry Potter, Anime, Lord of the Rings and Gothic Horror to worry about another fandom. ​

Sophie, First Day of Uni. Look at those frosted tips….

So, let me paint a picture for you: It’s Autumn 2008, I had just started university, nineteen and buzzing to start my animation course (I was going to be the world’s greatest animator for Disney, just you wait!) I was for the first time really meeting a load of like minded people, people with blue and pink in their hair, wearing cool fandom t-shirts and owned toys and models. Something that I had attributed to about three people before this and I was in my element.

And then as friendships formed and university got under way I started to show my worth when computers needing problem solving, or someone needed something set up to do with the wifi, that sort of thing. I was able to cotton onto the problems fairly quickly and I always have had a bit of a knack for it.

That’s when it happened, a fellow friend in the Anime Society gave me a big smile, “You’re like K-9. Good job, Soph.”

Now I don’t remember the ins and outs of the conversation, but it ended with me learning about this tin dog from Doctor Who who was a technical support to the Doctor. I was intrigued and the nickname stuck.

That all sounds fun, I said and his other friend said to me with sheer delight, “Oh, you’ve never watched it? Come over this weekend, there’s a new one on!”

And so I did.

My first Doctor Who episode was The Waters of Mars. I was struck by the story, the intensity, and the use of time travel, something that I loved because of Back to the Future in my preteens. Suddenly, I become what’s called a whovian, and in dribs and drabs over the last decade my love for the show in its totality has increased to what it is today:

Utter obsession about covers it.

So, speaking of today, flash forward to nine years later, Autumn 2017. I get to go to my first full Doctor Who Convention. Long Island Who 5 was a wonder, in the nine years of being a fan, I fell in love with the classic series, with the companions. I particularly fell in love with the Twelfth Doctor, and his world and it was something i could explore in the hotel walls with so many others.

Sarah Jane & the Doctor have a heart to heart whilst fixing K-9

But because of that nickname at university, I always had a soft spot for the wonderful K-9 who once I met in School Reunion, I also fell in love with him too.

I found out that John Leeson was going months after I had bought the three day pass. I had had the opportunity to meet him a month before the big New York Trip in my current city of Cardiff but I had wanted to meet him during the big event. After all, it would make our meeting far more unique.

And gosh, it really was as unique as I hoped. When he signed the picture I picked out I told him the story of how I came to be called K-9. This bright twinkly old man who could have been my grandfather who used his K-9 voice to greet me seemed taken aback with joy by my story.

“One K-9 to another, I hope you enjoy this autograph.”

I thought that was the end of it, a little emotional, a little shaky, but boy was I wrong. As the day continued, I found myself going to the bar to find my friends and one particular friend had spotted John Leeson at the bar.

“Should I go over and say hello?” she asked me nervously, and I assured her there was nothing to be worried about, John had been very pleasant to me when I had gotten my autograph after all.

When he saw us approach, he waved, and I introduced my friend, and he shook her hand, and then did something I had never expected.

“Would you lovely ladies care to join me for a drink?”

So here I was, sat with the voice of K-9, partaking in a drink from the bar he insisted on paying, listening to him talk to me about his airplane trip, his opinions on my hometown, and then how much he loved cats and wine, being that they were the other two loves in his life. Honestly, I’ve never felt so blessed to be in a place at a particular time. The only reason why our conversation was halted was because he was discovered by an old friend’s sister, and he excused himself so politely.

Even after that, whenever we ran into each other for the last two days he always greeted me fondly, hand in a wave, twinkly eyed. “Hello friend!”

I’ve never been so touched by an interaction, particularly a celebrity.

The day after the con was over, as our friends gathered to say goodbye and drive off their separate ways, myself included I ran into him one last time. John was also standing in the lobby, and other fans were getting selfies with him as they left the hotel. I decided to say hello one last time and wish him a safe trip home.

And he was of course happy to have a picture with me. “I’ve been waiting for you to ask!”

They say meeting your heroes can be a burden, they can be what you not expect, they can damage your expectations. But I would be mindful to remind others that celebrities are human too, and not every celebrity you meet is going to have the same mindset. If this is the only time I ever run into John Leeson again, I won’t be disappointed. For the rest of my life I will always remember the time the man who my nickname sake, as it were, the reason I got into this lovely sci-fi show in the first place, bought me a drink, and treated me as an equal.

Yes, meeting your heroes are a burden, but it’s always wonderful when you find new ones where you least expect it.

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – Planet of Giants

By Sophie Iles

It’s not secret by now that I am a fan of Ian Chesterton, and without a doubt his relationship with Barbara Wright. If you haven’t noticed, I suspect you might have to go back and read between the lines, but it’s all there in black and white. So, as today is William Russell’s birthday I’m very glad to be writing about one of my all time favourite Doctor Who stories.

Yes, you heard it here first. Please note upfront, I really struggle finding faults in this story, so I might just be gushing over my favourites for the rest of this article.

You have been warned.

Read More

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror

By Sophie Iles
So, time to try out something different. For the entirety of this series, I’ve been doing parts to talk about these adventures in Doctor Who. From today’s article, I will be writing just one article per episode. I want to talk about the full story and what I liked about it in more depth, instead of describing the episode which I found so easy to do with the other articles.
So, let’s go through the fine details of the Reign of Terror, and see from my perspective how we feel about the story, and as a personal note; what does the animated revisions bring to it.

Read More

Just Like in the Movies Episode Four:  In Pursuit of Dracula

Micah S. Harris

There can be little doubt that most people know the world’s most famous vampire from the movies rather than Bram Stoker’s novel, even though Dracula has never been out of print since its 1897 debut. Although it was the movies that created “the legend” that light from the sun will kill a vampire, Dracula owes his immortality to another kind of light, that of the illuminated movie screen.

As of 2012, the Guinness Book of World Records found Count Dracula to be the most portrayed literary character on the big screen with 272 appearances.*

However, this month we are concerned with the first two, both silent, both foreign, and both illegal.  

Read More

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

By Sophie Iles

As per my article last week week, I’m going to try writing these articles a little differently. After this last episode, I’m going to stop splitting it into parts and instead of trying to cover every moment. I’m going to summarise what happens in the story, before moving onto the aspects that I find particularly interesting!

So, today we look at the end of the Sensorites, finally finishing it’s six parts and just see where for me, the story fell flat. I also want to see how we feel about our antagonists, the first time Susan ever talks about Gallifrey, and the wonderful Barbara Wright. So, lets kick this off shall we?

What happens exactly?:

Kidnap begins with Ian and Susan saving the Doctor after being left unconscious from what is supposedly a monster in the aqueduct. He’s found the source of the poison, a deadly nightshade, that he believes has been planted there for the Sensorites to use the knowledge. The City Administrator and his ally, The Engineer, has kidnapped the Second Elder. They have been using his power and his sash for own ends. The Second Elder tries to foil the plan, but gets killed in the process, and so they try to frame the Doctor. It doesn’t work and the City Administrator’s ally is imprisoned, though only to be released again in secret. The Doctor suggests that the City Administrator be promoted is indeed the Second Elder is the enemy that was against them and now dead whilst John, the man who the sensorites made sick is finally coming back to full health to his fiancee Carol’s relief. He tells everyone that it was the New Second Elder who was plotting to kill them all. Meanwhile, Ian and Doctor tell the First Elder they want to go into the Aqueduct again to stop the poison and deal with the monsters and ask that Barbara now join them. The episode ends with Carol being kidnapped and Ian and The Doctor being given faulty weapons and a manipulated map by the newly appointed Second Elder so they are lost in the dark.

The Desperate Venture then begins with Carole having to write a fake letter, claiming she went back to the ship, when everyone knows that Barbara being back means that someone would have seen her. They deduce she must be in a room in the palace that isn’t used, and save her from the Engineer. Barbara also demands the First Elder tell them where the Doctor have gone and finally he admits that it is the aqueduct. Even though he was sworn to secrecy not to tell. Susan uses her physic abilities that the Sense-Sphere amplified, to guide Barbara and John into the aqueduct to find the Doctor and Ian. Whilst the pair have found the cause of the problems in the Aqueducts. It’s humans who were going completely insane, believed they were at war with the Sensorites. With Barbara and John turning up to save them, they trick the humans out of the dark to , and were then allowed to be taken home with John, Carol and Maitland, whilst the Second Elder, due to the treachery of the map was also banished to the out-lands. The TARDIS team were given the lock back to the TARDIS so they could finally get away from the Sense-Sphere and start their adventuring anew, though not without Ian making the Doctor mad and ending with the time lord promising to leave Ian wherever they landed next.

What didn’t work:

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first shall we, and rip it off like a plaster. The entire serial had some wonderful moments, but personally so much of the story fell flat and could have been reduced to less episodes to build tension. It could have easily have been a four parter episode. I struggle with the way the serial ended, having humans being the enemies all along in regards to the poison. It added an element to the story that wasn’t necessary. I personally had liked that the City Administrator was the main antagonist in a society built so heavily on trust. To add the element of the insane crew under the aqueduct felt like a very last minute decision. Only put in there so that they don’t have to create an actual monster when the City Administrator was already enough of a threat.

In fact, the villain that we are still used to seeing in this piece doesn’t even get a visual end, we are just told he will be banished.

Sadly, with that it left me a little disappointed that there wasn’t more done with the serial, after such a glorious set up to the story.

What worked:

Despite what I said, there are some lovely moments in this serial making it worth watching in full. I must admit stem from Susan Foreman really growing into a character for me. As mentioned last week, her argument with the Doctor had left more than a sobering tone with me. Still trying to decide if this was because of the 60s or an actual character decision due to what was to come. Even at the end of this serial, she relates to wanting somewhere to belong again. My favourite moment with her is when she is talking to the First Elder about her home. We know that it will later be known as Gallifrey, the only way we as an audience know the Time Lord’s planet:

SUSAN: Grandfather and I don’t come from Earth. Oh, it’s ages since we’ve seen our planet. It’s quite like Earth, but at night the sky is a burned orange, and the leaves on the trees are bright silver.
1ST ELDER: My mind tells me that you wish to see your home again, and yet there is a part of you which calls for adventure. A wanderlust.

Part of what makes that part so wonderful, is how much Carole brings to the reading, I genuinely felt sorrow that she was taken away from. This is obviously at a time when the histories of these characters weren’t established, so Susan seems less sad to leave, and as excited to explore the universe. It brings for me, a new dimension to why Susan left with her grandfather.

And, whilst we’re speaking of characters that have grown since the beginning of the series; as an audience member, you really don’t realise how much balance and reason Barbara brings until she’s missing as she has been for almost three full episodes. Within her first moments in the last episode, she’s already making herself useful:

SUSAN: She couldn’t have gone up to the spaceship.
JOHN: Either you’d have seen her, or passed her on the way.
BARBARA: She was obviously forced to write this. Whoever made her do it had no idea that I was being brought down here.
SUSAN: I bet the City Administrator had something to do with it.
JOHN: But why kidnap her?
BARBARA: I should think the why’s fairly obvious, wouldn’t you?
JOHN: No, I don’t think it is, Barbara. We’re on good terms with the First Elder, the Doctor’s discovered an antidote for the poison and now he and Ian are tracking down the cause of the trouble.
BARBARA: Look, I’ve been away in the ship so maybe I can see things more clearly. And I think we’re being used by one of the Sensorites who wants to gain power.

And this is why ladies and gentleman, Barbara Wright is my favourite female companion. I will probably say it in my dying breathe. I also loved the moments with Ian and the Doctor as well. When they are both in the aqueduct together exploring it goes to show how they have come along in the series, which is almost at an end. I still can’t believe that my next article is the last serial of series one!

Alas, that is all left to say about the Sensorites. Next week, we look at the Reign of Terror and see just how serious the Doctor’s threat is about leaving Ian behind in 17th Century France.

This week’s doodle is brought to you from the Iles from the household, but not from myself, but my husband, who thought it would be fun to try and doodle the City Administrator now appointed as the Second Elder in his new sash.

Literary Archaeology: Staples of History: The Office in HistFic

By Jon Black

Bob Cratchit, fiction’s most famous office drone.

So, this is the first blog post I’ve ever written inspired by a dream. I don’t even remember the dream, but I woke with the incredibly distinctive scent of mimeograph fluid in my nostrils. For readers who are two young to remember, mimeographing is a technology for reproducing documents in massive quantities. In the commercial world, mimeographing was replaced by copiers in the commercial world by the mid to late 1980s. In more poorly funded institutions, like schools, mimeographing held on rather longer, the early to mid 90s in some locations. For me, the distinctive spicy-ammonia smell of mimeograph fluid, and the warm, slightly damp feel of copies that had recently come off the machine, instantly calls to mind memories of junior high school.

This got me reflecting on what other office technologies have been left behind over the centuries. While it seems unlikely that a Historical Fiction narrative would ever turn on such matters, they can be an interesting part of a story’s background, making it come alive and subtly highlighting how the past is, indeed, a foreign country.

This post is not comprehensive. While technologies are organized in general categories, it does not cover every technology in a given category (for example, the telephone has been omitted from communications, a device that has been so fundamental and changed in so many ways over its long history could easily be the subject of its own post). Depending on the response to this post, I may make other business/office technologies the subject of future blogs. What I have presented today are simply the technologies that, for whatever reason, caught my attention this time.


Double Entry Book Keeping.

Historical Ledger

One of many ideas that seems obvious in hindsight and, once embraced, transformed the world in ways so profound they are taken for granted. It requires each entry in an account to be matched by an opposite entry in another account. For example, spending $100 on printer toner would be recorded as a $100 debt to a “Revenue” account and a $100 credit on an “Expenditure” account. Double-Entry Bookkeeping provides business and organizations the ability to see clearly where their money is coming from and going while making accidental errors and deliberate fraud much easier to spot.

There are indications that Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty may have used doubly-entry notation as early as the 10th century, though the system was later discontinued. It cropped up again in Italy, possibly as early as the late 13th century, and definitely in use in Genoa by the 1340s. It had spread throughout Italy by the 15th century, the oldest surviving accounting textbook appeared in 1494, written by Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan monk and friend of da Vinci (perhaps unsurprisingly leading some Leonardophiles to suggest he was the true brains behind the book).

Strange as it sounds, I have a special weakness for Double-Entry notion in fiction. In Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp, one of the first great time travel stories (that segues into alt-history), a “modern” (1930s) protagonist saves the late Roman Empire from falling … not with “go-to” time travel/alt-history technologies such a gunpowder, but with subtler innovations like distilling and double-entry bookkeeping. TANGENT ALERT: anyone interested in historical fiction, time travel, or alt-history (the work could arguably be considered all three) really needs to read Lest Darkness Fall. Nearly alone within the genre, closing in on a century after publication, the story still feels contemporary and clever.


Pneumatic Tubes

Pneumatic Tube Central Dispatch, circa 1940.

An early and successful attempt at automation, these steam-driven systems of tubes used small capsules driven by combination of pressure and vacuum to transport documents and messages within a building a or between nearby buildings.

The first pneumatic tube systems was installed in 1836 and the technology was in widespread use until the years following WWII. Modern examples are still common at drive-through banks and it is not unheard of to find a larger system still in operation.

Straying from HisFic, the style of pneumatic tubes is great for steam-punk, deco punk, or any other appropriate genre of retrofuturism. And, because of the sheer size and invasiveness of infrastructure, removing them is cost-prohibitive. Pneumatic tube infrastructure still remains, unused, within many period-appropriate buildings. An author could, no doubt, find many clever applications for that.


E-trading in 1918.

The earliest digital electronic communications device, its transmitting the latest stock market information by stock value and volume of trading along telegraph lines. The name is reference to the ticking sound it made as it imprinted information on a long paper roll.

Invented in 1870, the devices quickly became widespread and are ubiquitous part of the image of corporate America in the 1920s an 30s. Broadcast media and computers rendered tickertape obsolete by the 1960s, but the process didn’t die until 1970, exactly a century after its introduction.



Pencil allegedly made by Thoreau.

With the discovery of commercially minable graphite deposits in the late 16th century. Wooden encasement appeared almost immediately, first documented in Italy. Nomenclature notwithstanding, lead has not been used as a writing element, the name stems from the erroneous pre-modern conception that graphite was a form of lead. In an emergency, graphite powder mixed with certain types of clay can be substituted for solid graphite.  Pencils with erasers attached to the pencil appear no later than 1858. The common mechanical pencil sharpener dates from 1848, electric versions from 1917.


An 1870 Hansen Writing Ball.

The 16th to 19th centuries saw a multitude of devices, some merely alleged others well documented, which could be called proto-typewriters. None failed to catch on.

The first commercially typewriter appeared in 1865, an odd looking device known as the Hansen Writing Ball invented by a Danish clergyman. The first commercially successful model, and the first to resemble modern ideas of a typewriter, was the Sholes and Gilden Type-Writer, first produced in 1868.

The shift key appeared in 1878, drastically increasing the number of characters a typewriter could render. Electrical typewriters first appear in the 1920s and were popular by the 1930s, though mechanical models continued to be popular for private use.

Replaced the typebars (or keys) with a rotating ball.  Such designs became popular but never completely eclipsed typebar modles.

The now nearly universal QWERTY layout appeared in 1874, competing with several other layouts, some of which were more efficient for typing than the QWERTY. The oft repeated explanation that the inefficient QWERTY adopted because its prevented typing so rapidly that keys jammed together is quite plausible but not actually verifiable.


19th century Stapler.

Correction Fluid: (used for written as well as type documents) appear in the 1950s, the first commercially successful formulation was developed in 1956 Bette Nesmith Graham (who, in a curious twist of fate, was the mother of Monkees’ guitarist Mike Nesmith).

Paper Clips: While an imperfect model debuted in 1867, the modern paper clip first appears in possibly in the 1870s, certainly by 1899.

Staples: the first staplers originated in 18th century France, as tools of the royal court. A continuation of the old idea of the royal seal, each stable was engraved with the king’s insignia. A more business-friend version emerged in the 1860s, but the modern stapler design had to wait until 1941.

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

By Sophie Iles

This week, I’m going to try something a little different, a little unorthodox to what I’ve been attempting before. Hopefully, you’ll hear me out. For the length of time I’ve been doing these articles, I’ve been splitting it into parts. I’ve wanted to cover everything in every moment that sometimes it feels that I start to lose what it is that makes these episodes magical to me.

So, whilst I will summarise briefly what happens in these episodes, Hidden Danger and The Race Against Death, I want to draw attention to aspects to the serial that I find important. I will also start doing an article per serial once i’ve finished writing about the Sensorites. Unless it’s an incredibly long serial that warrants some more talking!

Hidden Danger is basically splitting the team up. This leaves Barbara up on the spaceship, with Maitland, whilst everyone else goes to the Sense-Sphere to meet the aliens and see their way of life. They meet the wise leaders, The Second and First Elders, and also meeting corrupted and evil one out to kill them, aka the City Administrator. It turns out they don’t like humans because the last time they had humans, it started a disease which was spreading around their planet. At the end of the episode, Ian succumbs to this disease after drinking different water to Susan and the Doctor. This leaves them to have to look urgently for a cure and with the hope of curing the others suffering too. They discover it’s poison and have a remedy to cure Ian. The Doctor believes the source of the poison is coming from the Aqueduct and goes to investigate. Despite the warning he wasn’t expecting to be attacked. This leaving a cliffhanger at the end of Race Against Death as a recovering Ian and Susan go looking for him…

For forty minutes of Doctor Who, very little happens over the two episodes. What I want to focus on this week is Susan. In particular, I want to focus on something that carries into the rest of Susan’s appearance in the show: how her and her grandfather’s relationship has developed.

This was sparked because of the first ten minutes of Hidden Danger. The cliffhanger included Susan offering herself to be taken away from her grandfather and friends so that the others would live; to stay on the Sense-Sphere alone. It’s a brave choice for her. Despite my fears for her safety, it was never because I didn’t think she could handle herself. Why, in The Daleks she was the central figure to saving her grandfather’s and her teachers lives!

So seeing the Doctor so livid actually made me as an audience member quite tense. He’s fuming, shouting at the Sensorites before they can take her away. He’s also unknowingly causing the sensitive aliens pain. She listens to his commands but it’s not smooth sailing.

Ian and Barbara summarise the moment after, much better than I ever could.

BARBARA: Sorry, I was thinking. You know, I’ve never seen the Doctor so angry.
IAN: Oh, yes. Susan set him off, didn’t she. The Sensorites must have hypnotised her in some way.
BARBARA: No, I don’t think so. She’s just growing up, Ian.

Susan has done much in the short time we’ve gotten to know her, and that goes for Ian and Barbara too. This glorious teenager is growing up with the children watching the show. We can now see her worth within the team, and really being apart of it.

But even with such progression, is it still the feeling in this era that men still think they know better than women? Or is it just her youth? “Children should be seen and not heard?” Perhaps it is due to these ideas that Susan’s attempts at independence is shot down by the Doctor.

And when I say shot down, I mean shot down:

DOCTOR: What is all this, setting yourself against me, hmm?
SUSAN: I didn’t, Grandfather.
DOCTOR: Oh, I know you thought you were doing your best, child, in the circumstances, but I think I’m a better judge of that.
SUSAN: Well, I have opinions too.
DOCTOR: My dear girl, the one purpose in growing old is to accumulate knowledge and wisdom, and to help other people.
SUSAN: So I’m to be treated like a silly little child.
DOCTOR: If you behave like one, yes.

The Doctor is unwilling to let her explain why she is right in this situation, or listen to her point of view. We know that the First Doctor is a stubborn old fool, but even in the case of Ian and Barbara at this point, he has let them take direction, or listened to them both.

Susan on the other hand, perhaps because of her youth, is always treated with kid gloves. The poor kid can’t express herself without being chided by her Grandfather in this moment. Even when she offers advice with the Sensorites with his way of speaking, he barely listens.

It’s almost heartbreaking to watch, the way Susan finally relents and submits. The Doctor is constantly blaming the Sensorites for their argument but actually, if he had listened instead of barked orders, or spoke to her with a different tone of voice, the teenager that she is might have in fact been able to explain herself without sounding like she’s whining. The ongoing issue of most worried parents, not listening.

At least Barbara has the foresight to explain to Susan how this works, and why she is such a good figurehead for the show.

BARBARA: Look, I know how you feel, but your grandfather loves you.
SUSAN: Yes, I know.
BARBARA: Be patient. We’re all on your side really, you know.

Even as this episode progresses, Susan has a good head on her shoulders as she starts to see things the Doctor hasn’t noticed. John  being healed by the Sensorites being able sense the good and evil within a person. She can also seem to have more links to the aliens because of her telepathy. The Doctor is finally impressed with her and seems to have actually taken Barbara’s advice himself, be patient.

It’s a really interesting place to be, watching Susan and the Doctor’s relationship develop over these two episodes. Just in our first serial, Susan couldn’t bare to be apart from her grandfather, screaming for his safety. Now she’s standing on her own two feet, willing to take on large tasks to help their team.

And now of course, taking care of Ian as they go looking for her grandfather in the aqueduct with the hopes he’s not hurt, whilst Ian is not really in a good enough state to take care of himself. Who’s the teenager now? Who’s having to take control? The wonderful Susan Foreman that’s who. Susan is one of my favourites. If not for the lack of good stories to continue this for her after this point, she could actually be my favourite.

And that’s why, today, you get a picture of Susan as my doodle. Next week, I’ll look at the end of The Sensorites, and see just what sort of story it ended up telling….

Longdog Library: CSI: Edinburgh

By John Linwood Grant

We’re going way back in the Longdog Library archives this time, for something which is both an episode of early Victorian history and yet spawned a popular detective character known today. OK, who can tell me what connects Silence of the Lambs, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edinburgh Old Town in the 1830s. Yes, the girl at the back, with the green hair and the switch-blade. No, sorry, it’s nothing to do with butchers. Not directly, anyway. It’s the actor Brian Cox, of course.

What? You want to know more? I can explain.

You see, I love Inspector McLevy. In fact, I think anyone who likes crime and detective stories, or police procedurals, would enjoy McLevy. He isn’t occult, psychic or any of those weird things you’ve come to expect from me (though see more below about the audio adaptation). He was a tough cop in a tough city, and a real person, whose history I came across a while ago when I was looking for Victorian period detail. You know, like what brands of mobile phones they had in 1850, that sort of thing. I’m a meticulous writer James McLevy (1796-1875) was, by many accounts, the first proper police detective in Edinburgh, in the cheery old days of hanging and transportation.

Magistrate: Why did you steal that loaf of bread, you little vermin?
Street Urchin: ‘Cos I wanted to be a-feedin’ of them kangi-roos dahn under, guv’nor.
Magistrate: Oh God, just string him up anyway.

After time as a nightwatchman with the Edinburgh police, McLevy was given the rank of detective in 1833, and had a successful career which spanned thirty years and a reported 2,220 cases. This might all have ended up as a minor historical note, except for three things:

1) McLevy wrote up his cases in a number of books from 1860 onwards, around his retirement. How much of what he recounts is true, we can’t tell, but they are not wildly exaggerated tales. They cover the ups and downs of policing Edinburgh Old Town, with its slums and theatres, cobblers and cut-throats. Dickens without the silly names, so to speak.

2) Actor/writer David Ashton, whilst researching Conan Doyle, decided to create a series of radio plays about McLevy’s, developing fictional exploits from the actual case histories. These are quite superbly done, terrific fun, and occasionally rather moving.

3) More directly relevant to our library, Mr Ashton has also written a number of novels featuring the character as well, including ‘Shadow of the Serpent’, ‘Fall from Grace’ and ‘A Trick of the Light’. These are well worth checking out

The real McLevy was a hard worker. He had an insight into criminology, employing stings and forensic techniques. He seems to have had a certain sympathy for the miscreants in his parish, and was not without mercy at times. Eventually he became well enough known to be consulted by parliament and social reformers on the subject of how to deal with criminality.

Some claim that because he consulted the medical school of the University of Edinburgh, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle later studied, he might have influenced Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes. McLevy was better known back then, and Conan Doyle might at least have considered some of the cases when constructing his own stories.

On the radio, Brian Cox gives one of his best performances yet as Jamie McLevy, thief-taker in the Parish of Leith. He brings humour and humanity into what can be quite brutal tales, covering such diverse subjects as:

  • Revenge tragedies;
  • The horrors of the Crimean war;
  • Women’s rights;
  • Deadly rivalry between brothels, and
  • Victorian pornography.

McLevy’s own accounts in his books are relatively dry and straightforward, so don’t expect detective thrills as such. Ashton’s McLevy is far more accessible. He’s dedicated to his job, cranky and occasionally eccentric. He needs his coffee. He has a dry wit, and he eats too many sugary sweets.

The good Inspector (not as high a rank as it is now) has a love-hate relationship with Jean Brash (played in the audio version by Siobhan Redmond), the owner of a body house, or brothel, called the Happy Land. I’m guessing that there is intended irony from Ashton here, as the real Happy Land was a tenement/slum area in Victorian Edinburgh. If I wanted to sound really mock-academic, I could point out that it’s also referenced in an 1838 hymn:

“There is a happy land, far, far away,
Where saints in glory stand, bright, bright as day.”

‘The Happy Land’ was therefore sometimes mentioned by spiritualists as where the souls of the departed would end up – if they were lucky.

Curiously, while James McLevy was an Irishman who came to Scotland as an immigrant in his teens, Brian Cox is himself a descendant of Irish immigrants to Scotland. A match born in… well, somewhere up there. David Ashton, for fun, plays Lieutenant Roach, McLevy’s superior.

The other notable character on the radio is Constable Mulholland, McLevy’s assistant, who spends his time getting exasperated with his Inspector, fishing, keeping bees and hitting people with a big stick. And he likes the ladies, but is not the luckiest of fellows. Mulholland is supposed to have been a real contemporary of McLevy, but I can’t prove that bit.

I’m always mithering on about occult detectives and period crime, so I look out for spooky references in everything I read or listen to. The radio series does have a distinctly unsettling element – odd presentiments, a sense of the violence and death which follows McLevy, and a prophetic vision or two from the locals. You can feel doom and vengeance on the wind.

However, the original James McLevy gives little shrift to spookiness. The best you get is the ending of The Cobbler’s Knife:

“This is the only dream-case in my book; and I’m not sorry for it, otherwise I might have glided into the supernatural, as others have done who have had more education that I, and are better able to separate the world of dreams from the stern world of realities.”

You’ll have guessed the other connections by now, which include the title. If not…

Brian Cox plays Inspector McLevy, but he also played Hannibal Lecter in the original 1986 movie Manhunter, the film adaptation of the book ‘Red Dragon’ by Thomas Harris, who wrote Silence of the Lambs. Cox’s son Alan played Dr Watson in the film Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). And in Manhunter, the lead FBI agent/profiler hunting Hannibal was played by William Petersen, who, of course, was Gil Grissom in CSI.

And none of the above are actually from Edinburgh.