The Whisperer in Darkness

Sketch of a Mi-Go on Round HillOne of my earliest reviews on this blog was of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s film version of Lovecraft’s story.  HPLHS has returned to The Whisperer in Darkness a second time for the latest episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre.

This audio play is especially noteworthy in that it’s been produced, rehearsed, and recorded during these months that much the world has been shut down by the COVID-19 virus; since in-person meetings were impossible, the work was done by a number of individuals in separate locations.

While the film version of The Whisperer in Darkness expanded on Lovecraft’s original short story, adding new characters and a third act after Albert Wilmarth’s panicked exit from the Akeley farmhouse, this audio adaptation is trimmed down, even for a DART drama.

Akeley and WilmarthWilmarth’s correspondence with a man who claims to have proof that old legends of flying creatures from other worlds living in the remote hills of Vermont are not only true, but that these beings still exist, as well as his subsequent trip to Vermont are told via “found footage.” Most of the recordings are in the form of wax Dictaphone cylinders dated from the winter of 1927 through September 1928.

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Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad

I saw Robert Lloyd Parry, self-described storyteller, perform twice last summer at the NecronomiCon in Providence, Rhode Island. Seated in a darkened theatre lit only by candles, he didn’t simple tell us stories, but rendered highly dramatic recitations of M.R. James’s ghostly tales with character voices, one or two props, and expressive emotion whenever the narrative called for it. He was the surprise sensation of the Con; I wasn’t the only person present who’d never heard of him before, but came away a fan of his work.

MR James readings set

When I found out earlier this year that some of his performances were available on DVD, I ordered a couple. The one I was most interested in getting a copy of was Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad, the first story I saw performed in Providence.

You can read MR James’s original story online. I’ve also previously reviewed the 1968 BBC adaptation starring Michael Hordern as the rationalist Professor  Parkins, whose views on the supernatural are drastically altered when he finds an ancient whistle and accidentally summons a spirit that forms a body for itself from the sheets on the spare bed in his hotel room.

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The Five Doctors, Part 4

The conclusion, with spoilers.

DoctorsThree of the four Doctors have reached Rassilon’s Tomb in the tower with their companions–Sarah Jane, Tegan, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.

Amid some companion complaints and inter-Doctor badinage, the three Doctors examine and eventually translate the ancient inscription on a squat obelisk, which contains a welcome and an obscure warning.  Only Dr 1 has any idea what the latter might mean.

While Sarah Jane and Tegan helpfully tie up the Master (he was knocked out when the Brigadier slugged him), the Doctors then turn their attention to the task which they all came here to perform: lowering the forcefield that keeps the Tardis from moving so they can exit the Death Zone and get back to their respective times. There’s a control panel on the wall behind them, and it’s Dr 3 who gets the job done by “reversing the polarity of the neutron flow.”

Once the Tardis is free of the forcefield, it disappears from the misty countryside where it’s been parked just in time to avoid being blown up by another group of Cybermen, thus evading the least suspenseful menace in the entire show (and there have been some pretty tepid menaces).

Cyber-bombs

Turlough and Susan arrive to join the others, although I’m sorry to see that Drs 2 and 3 evince no interest in seeing Susan again. She’s their granddaughter too and they haven’t seen her since they were Dr 1. You’d think they’d at least say Hello. Continue reading “The Five Doctors, Part 4”

Demon Lover

This tense and suspenseful story about the return of a young girl’s possessive lover–long after she’d grown up and given him up as dead–is another episode from the 1980s ITV series, Shades of Darkness. It’s based on a short story by Elizabeth Bowen.

Demon Lover

In 1916, Kathleen was engaged to Keith Cameron, a somewhat forceful and intense young pilot. One evening at a party in her parents’ home he took her aside and quietly told her, “I’m off to war, but I shall be with you sooner or later. You need do nothing but wait.” He made her promise, although we never hear what exactly she promised him she would do.

“An unnatural promise,” Kathleen (Dorothy Tutin) recalls in voiceover, much later in her life. “I could not have plighted a more sinister troth.”

He grabbed her by the wrist, twisting her arm up to kiss her hand. Frightened, Kathleen broke away from him and ran back to join the others at the party.

Some months afterwards, Keith’s mother telephoned to tell her that Keith was shot down while flying a mission over France. He was reported as missing, believed killed.

Kathleen grieved, but lived on. Years passed. Eventually, she married a writer named William Drover (Robert Hardy) and had two sons, the elder of whom Robert (a not-yet-famous Hugh Grant) is now grown and has joined the RAF to fight in WWII. Robert, home on leave, wants to marry his girlfriend Anne right away before he returns to duty. While watching the young couple courting in the garden, Kathleen remembers her own wartime romance.

The Drovers have been living out in the country during the first years of the War  because of the Blitz. Now that the bombing seems to be over, Kathleen is taking a trip to London to visit old friends and see how their townhouse in Kensington has held up. As long as she’s at the house, she intends to pick up a few things they left behind there, including some books her husband wants as references for a history he’s currently working on.

Most of what follows is a detailed picture of wartime Britain during the summer of 1941. There are ruins of bombed-out houses, surviving houses crowded with unusual boarders, plenty of people in uniform on the streets, rationing of food (Kathleen brings some carefully packed eggs from her own chickens with her as a gift for a friend).

One might almost take this for a drama about life during the War… except that when Kathleen arrives at her Kensington home–which is undamaged apart from some cracks in the walls and plaster dust over everything–she finds a letter addressed to her on a table in one of the rooms upstairs. The Letter

A clean square in the dust on the table in the front hall shows that the letter was lying there first. The doors were locked and the windows are intact.

How did it get there? Kathleen wonders. Did the caretaker bring it in?

She opens it. It’s from Keith.

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The Five Doctors, Part 3

One way or another, three of the four Doctors trapped in the Death Zone on Gallifrey have made it into the Tower. Dr 3 and Sarah Jane are heading down from the top, while Dr 2 with the Brigadier, and Dr 1 and Tegan go upstairs. The chamber containing the tomb of that legendary Time Lord Rassilon must be somewhere between.

The Tower

As they go along with their respective Doctors, Sarah Jane and Tegan each express a dreadful feeling of foreboding, as if they’re walking into disaster. Dr 3  tells Sarah that he feels it too; it’s the Mind of Rassilon reaching out to them as they get nearer to his tomb.

To demonstrate Rassilon’s powers, even though he’s been dead for quite some time, the Doctors run into a few minor obstacles. This is also the show’s opportunity to get in a few more old companions who were available.

Dr 3 runs into Liz Shaw and Mike Yeats, formerly of UNIT.  In answer to his question, they assure him that “the little fellow with the checked trousers” as well as his other selves are just ahead, waiting for him. They need his help. He believes them at first, but when he tries to go back to get Sarah Jane, whom he left sitting on the last stairway down, before going on with Mike and Liz, they try to stop him. Dr 3 then realizes that they’re only illusions and runs back down the corridor the way he came.

Fake Liz screams “stooopp hiiim” in a creepy echoing voice before both she and Fake Mike disappear.

Dr 3 now has his doubts about Sarah Jane too for a moment, but aside from being a bit more cranky than usual since she rolled down that ridiculously undangerous hill, she’s been perfectly normal. They head down another corridor.

When Tegan expresses her feelings of dread and danger, Dr 1 pooh-poohs it and tells her he doesn’t feel any such thing. It’s all illusion. Just ignore it. And he marches on, unperturbed. Tegan shudders but follows.

Unnoticed by them, the Master is sneaking up the stairs behind them.

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The Five Doctors, Part 2

Trapped in the Death Zone on Gallifrey, two out of four Doctors are hiking toward Rassilon’s Tower with a companion.

The other two? They’re having a tea party inside the Tardis, although I don’t see any actual tea. Tegan and Turlough are enjoying what look like green cocktails. Susan’s apparently got some lemon meringue pie. There’s also a lavish fruit bowl.

Tardis Tea Party

It’s just a little scene, but whenever I watch episodes where Doctors and their future and/or previous companions meet up, I wish that everybody would hang around for a little while after the adventure is over and have a reunion party in the Tardis. This is the only time anything like that happens.

By the time we join them, Susan has had time to catch up with her Grandfathers (as far as I can tell, Dr 1 and Susan didn’t mention the Dalek). The two Doctors are now discussing their plans.

Another interesting thing about the scenes between Drs 1 and 5. Dr 1 has always been something of a cantankerous old Time Lord and doesn’t seem to like very many people. In The Three Doctors, he called Drs 2 and 3 “the clown and the dandy” and goodness knows what he would have made of Dr 4. But he likes this future self, calls him “my boy,” and isn’t at all tetchy during their conversations. He does have some run-ins with Tegan, however, as subsequent scenes will demonstrate.

Dr 5 brings up a primitive computer graphic image of Rassilon’s Tower on a screen on the Tardis’s control panel. There are three ways to get into the tower: Above, Between, or Below, as Dr 2 will sing later from an old Gallifreyan nursery rhyme.

The initial plan is that Dr 5 and the two women will walk over to the Dark Tower, pick an entrance, and go inside to shut off the forcefield generator and release the Tardis.  Above, between, or belowDr 1 then intends to bring the Tardis over to them in the tower so they can get out of here. I don’t think they’re aware yet that Drs 2 and 3 are wandering around nearby, but Dr 1 will pick them up on the Tardis sensors shortly.

The trio sets out, but they don’t get far before Dr 5 meets the Master and stops for a chat. He doesn’t believe the Master is there to help any more than Dr 3 did and Tegan, keeping a safe distance with Susan, doesn’t have any reason to trust the Master either (remembering how he shrunk her Auntie and pushed Dr 4 off a radio telescope, which is how she ended up here in the first place).

None of them notice the Cybermen coming down the hillside, until the squad has almost marched on top of the Doctor and Master. When they try to run, the Master gets zapped and knocked out. Dr 5 takes the transporter beacon, which the Master showed him during their conversation, uses it, and finds himself in the Time Lords’ Inner Council chamber.

When the Master comes to, he’s surrounded. He quickly makes friends with the Cybermen by pretending that he’s there to help them. Unlike the Doctors, the Cybermen believe him. Cyber-Suckers!

Continue reading “The Five Doctors, Part 2”

The Five Doctors, Part 1

Actually, it’s only four Doctors, and one of them is a substitute for the late William Hartnell, who had passed on several years before Doctor Who‘s 20th anniversary, when this 90-minute special episode was made.

Four Doctors

Not only does this story involve getting all the Doctors together; the show’s creators seem bent on getting anybody who was involved in it during its run to date and was available to appear in it somewhere. There’s a lot activity being juggled between different groups of characters. I’m going to break my review up into sections.

But first, a short history of me and Doctor Who. In the early 1970s, our local PBS station began to air all the episodes of a given story on Sunday mornings. My little brother watched them, and was a much more keen viewer than I was.

The first episode I ever saw was of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. I haven’t been able to identify which story that was; I believe the Doctor’s companion was Liz Shaw, and what I would later know to be UNIT was fighting off an alien invasion. Aside from that, I don’t recall much except that it was the first time I’d ever heard a British telephone ring. While I rather liked the Doctor’s sense of style, I didn’t take much interest in the story and only saw bits and pieces of subsequent stories until The Three Doctors.  I started watching regularly during Tom Baker’s era and through Peter Davison’s, and those are the stories I still have the greatest affection for. (It helps that I’ve had a crush on Peter Davison since I was 17… going on 40 years now.)

This 20th anniversary show is one I remember watching when it first aired in 1983. We usually saw episodes of Doctor Who a year or two after they were shown in Britain, but this one actually aired in some parts of the US before its UK debut.

Since The Three Doctors, I’d been interested in the idea of Doctors meeting Doctors, the contrast of personalities even though they were the same person. It’s an idea I’m still partial to.

First Doctor's farewellTo include something of William Hartnell, the show begins with a clip of the First Doctor’s farewell speech to his granddaughter Susan, in which he promises that he’ll come back and they will see each other again.

The story proper opens with the current Doctor (Peter Davison, or Dr 5) and his two companions Turlough and Tegan* having a bit of a holiday in northern Wales, not far from Portmeirion. Dr 5 calls it the Eye of Orion and  says it’s the most tranquil place in the universe.

This tranquility is not to last long. It wouldn’t be much of a show if it did.

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The Intercessor

In ghost stories of old, little ghost-girls were more likely to be sweet, sad, and sympathetic than scary.  Such an example can be found in this episode of the 1980s UK anthology series, Shades of Darkness, based on a short story by May Sinclair.

I’m not familiar with the original story, so I can’t judge this as an adaptation. I found it a moving tale about a dead child who isn’t haunting to seek revenge, but to try to reach her guilt-stricken parents.

The Intercessor

Late in 1926, a young man named Garvin, no first name given (John Duttine), has come to the countryside seeking peace and quiet to work. He’s trying to write a book of county history–which county isn’t made clear, but it’s Oop North and from the accents I’m guessing Yorkshire.

Mr. Garvin has been staying in the village, but the room he’s in overlooks the schoolyard and there’s too much noise whenever the children are outside playing. The local doctor, MacKinnon, has recommended a nearby farm which might be willing to take a lodger. Garvin walks out to the farm to meet the Falshaws, a gruff middle-aged farmer, his wife Sarah, and a simple-minded niece, Rachel.

Would they be willing to give him a room? That “depends on the missus,” Falshaw says bluntly. There are no children at the farm at the moment, but there will be one in a month or so. Mrs Falshaw is expecting.

Mrs Falshaw doesn’t object, and Rachel shows Garvin to the empty room upstairs. At first, Garvin tries the door of another room down at the end of the hall, across from the Falshaws’ bedroom, but that door is locked. He does like the room that Rachel takes him to; spacious enough, and with a big window with a view of the yard. He’ll just go back into town and get his books and things.

“It’ll be all right,” Rachel assures him. Until then, Garvin didn’t think there was anything to be worried about.

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Searching for Miss Mapp: Explorations in Rye

Note: This article was first written for and published by the online Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society in 2003. It’s no longer in the archive there, so I’m reposting it here, with photos from the trip described below.
Me in the garden at Lamb House
Me in the garden at Lamb House in 2002

Although Edward Frederick (E.F.) Benson wrote over 70 novels as well as a number of biographies, ghost stories, and other works of fiction and non-fiction, he is best remembered today for his six novels chronicling the social squabbles and adventures of two middle-aged ladies, Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas (known as “Lucia” to her friends).

Lucia first appears in Queen Lucia (1920) as the autocratic but benevolent ruler of her small social circle in the village of Riseholme, a lady of artistic pretensions who affects to speak Italian when she knows but a few phrases, and plays only the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata because it is the slowest and easiest.  Mapp makes her appearance in Miss Mapp (1922) while spying on her neighbors from behind the curtains of her garden-room window.  “Anger and the gravest suspicions about everybody had kept her young and on the boil,” Benson introduces her.  Like Lucia, Mapp leads her own social circle in the town of Tilling.

The two ladies meet in armed combat for social supremacy in Mapp and Lucia (1931), when the recently widowed Lucia comes to Tilling, and the battle rages through two subsequent novels.  Joining Mapp and Lucia in their ongoing war are a collection of delightfully idiosyncratic neighbors: fussy and feminine Georgie Pillson; Mrs. Wyse, who wears her fur coat even on warm days and takes her Rolls Royce into the most narrow and unnavigable streets, and Mr. Wyse, her antiquary husband; gender-bending artist, “Quaint” Irene Coles; blustering Major Benjy; the Reverend Kenneth Bartlett, who affects a Scottish accent even though he is not a Scotsman, and his mousy wife Evie.  As a writer of the foibles of the upper classes in England between the two world wars, Benson’s work can be compared to P.G. Wodehouse’s, if Wodehouse had focused more attention Bertie Wooster’s aunts.   Like Aunt Agatha’s zeal in stealing a silver cow creamer, the quarrels that arise in Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels involve trivial objects and circumstances that take on ridiculously exaggerated importance; for example, one of the fiercest battles between the ladies concerns a recipe for lobster a la Riseholme.

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The Three Doctors, Part 4

At the end of Part 3, Doctors 2 and 3 willed their way out of their cell in Omega’s glittering cave hideaway and snuck back into the chamber where he harnesses the power of a singularity, in hopes of destroying it.

Omega catches them at it and subjects Dr 3 to the power of the Dark Side and a wrestling match with another creature of his making.

After a few flips, the creature gets Dr 3 into a strangle hold; it looks like he’s about to lose, and Omega gloats until Dr 2 warns him: “Destroy him and you destroy your only chance to live.”

Omega relents, and suddenly Dr 3 is back in the singularity chamber with Dr 2 and Omega, lying on the floor and gasping for breath. Dr 2 helps him up, but it’s Omega he thanks.

Driving BessieMeanwhile, the group of Doctors’ companions and friends also escaped from Omega’s cave base are running across the desolate landscape with  Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Mr. Ollis the groundskeeper until they find Bessie where Dr 3 left her parked. They all pile in and the Brigadier announces that they’re going to UNIT HQ. “It’s nearer than you think.”

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