Saturday, 28 July 2012

Night Shift Part Two

Night Shift continues in much the same vein as before, providing chilling accounts of the ordinary, with some paranormal or alien plots thrown in for good measure.

Sometimes They Come Back is a horrific tale of a man haunted by ghosts – both literal and figurative – from a night when he was younger and a group of boys killed his older brother.  Jim Norman is an English teacher – for a change – troubled by the incident involving his brother when he was nice years old, walking home and being jumped by a group of ruffians with a switchblade knife.  After he starts a new job in a new town, he is terrified to come face-to-face with one of the perpetrators, who somehow has not aged a day since the incident.  As more and more pupils disappear from his class, to be replaced with all of those responsible for his brother’s death, he realises that he must face his demons once and for all.  What is startling about this short story is the fear it produces, not only of others, but of the power within each of us.  He summons the spirit of his brother, who deals swiftly with the attackers – but it ends on a haunting line that whilst you can summon the dead, and “perhaps cause them to do your work... But sometimes they come back.”  He is still haunted, even after all he has been through, by the thought that “maybe the nightmare wasn’t over after all”.

Strawberry Spring is a bit of a hit-and-miss story, an account of a serial killer in the vein of Jack the Ripper walking the foggy nights on a University campus.  Told from the perspective of one of the students on campus, the cliff-hanger is somewhat predictable, showing that perhaps it was an unreliable first-person narrative after all.

As in Battleground before it, The Ledge tells the story of a man, forced by the husband of his beloved, to compete in a “wager” for money, freedom and the woman.  The narrator, Norris, is a tennis coach who has fallen in love with Cressner, a man from the “Organisation” – much like the anti-hero from Battleground – and is challenged to walk around the edge of the building, forty-odd stories up.  With no choice but to do it or face life in prison, he accepts the wager.  It is a Hitchcockian thriller, one man facing his fears for all that he holds dear.  The kicker here is in the ending, where the truth comes out and Cressner is forced to do the same thing, with the open ending “Cressner said he’s never welshed on a bet – but I’ve been known to”.

One of the most obscure and disturbing stories in this collection is The Lawnmower Man, thankfully nothing like the dreadful film created and apparently inspired by the short story – a claim which King refutes vehemently, and took the publishers of the film to court over.  Principally about a man realising he is unable to continue mowing his own lawn after an horrific event involving a neighbour’s cat and hiring help, it centres on the so-called Lawnmower Man, a huge man with a tremulous stomach and bizarre methods.  The description of the Lawnmower Man is disgusting, but we are lulled into a false sense of security as Harold realises “now he had placed the man, and everything was alright”.  The scenes on the lawn, however, are anything but alright – the eponymous grasscutter is naked, devouring all that the lawnmower automatically produces as it mows the lawn, following it on hands and knees as his stomach swells, green juices running down his chin.  The description is nauseating, and the explanation is bizarre – the boss, “Pan”, likes things to be done this way...

Quitters, Inc. is a fantastic piece on the power of addiction and the lengths to which some go to manage their own will power.  Ostensibly through emotional blackmail and the threat of physical danger, a company ensures that people quit smoking – for if they don’t, their loved ones will be tortured and maimed, and they will be murdered if they lapse more than nine times.  Whilst it is an outrageous premise, deplorable considering the stance on human rights it neglects, it works fantastically well.  After their treatment, the ‘victims’ feel hugely improved, and are responsible for spreading word of the company by word of mouth.   The scenes within the office, as Mr Donatti proclaims the truth about Romanticism and Pragmatism, are exquisitely crafted.  This isn’t horror – it is a psychological warning which rings true throughout – worryingly so.

The next story sees King return to his typical genre – I Know What You Need is the tale of a girl wooed by a boy’s apparent knowledge and understanding about everything to do with her, and pleasing her exactly as she wants.  Following her first meeting, she is haunted by the thoughts of Edward Jackson Hamner Jr, and following the death of her fiancĂ© in a car accident, falls utterly in love with him.  Of course, there is more to it than meets the eye, and the discovery of voodoo dolls and mystical tomes in his wardrobe proves that he was manipulating her all along, having loved her since he first saw her in primary school years before, but who she has no memory of.  The sense of eeriness around Edward’s character is fantastic, as his past is dragged up by Beth’s roommate Alice.  Her exclamation that it is not love, rather “rape”, is disturbing.  When she invades his home, with doubts in her mind, there is a whisper of The Shining about it, as she recalls the Grimm tale of Bluebeard and his wives.  Likewise, it harks back to Strawberry Spring’s locations, set on the same campus.

Children of the Corn is probably King’s best known work from this selection of stories, principally due to the incredibly good film adaptation – a young couple stumbling across a town devoid of adults and wrapped up in religious mania – but here it is shorter, more succinct and as such even tenser.  Unlike in the film, the couple in question are not a loving couple, but a bitter, resentful pair, desperately trying to make their marriage work by spending some quality time together, knowing full-well that it will make no difference whatsoever.  From the discovery of the dead child on the road, through to their trip into Gatlin, their marriage deteriorates further and further – where the tragedy should have brought them together, it is the stubbornness of each party which causes the rift to widen and as such leads to their demise.  In particular, Burt’s stubbornness to accept that his wife, Vicky, was right all along leads to her being trapped in the car as the children swarm, armed with jack-knives, rocks and hammers – “Rural weapons”.  Dressed in Quaker clothing, they sacrifice the adults to “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”, a concept which will be further expanded upon in The Stand.

The next story, along with the final one, seems so unKing that they seem to have no place in this collection whatsoever, and yet they are two of his finest pieces.  Where others rely on shock and horror to create discomfort in the reader, here it is the breakdown of the family unit, and guilt over lack of connection, which preys on the reader’s sensibilities.  The Last Rung on the Ladder tells the tale of a brother and sister brought together by courage, as they perform daring stunts in the hayloft of their barn.  When the ladder collapses, leaving Kitty dangling seventy feet above the bare wooden floor, it is the speed of the brother’s quick-thinking which saves the girl from certain death.  This act brings the two closer together than ever before, but it is the gradual distance – which Larry feels responsible for – which has torn the two apart again, and the suicide note from Kitty at the end of the story is filled with remorse for a life wasted – “it would have been better for me if that last rung had broken.”  It is hauntingly desolate.

The Man Who Loved Flowers is a short and bittersweet tale of a man in love, buying a gift for his beloved before meeting her in a dark alleyway, and smashing her skull in with a hammer.  She isn’t his Nora, and never will be – but he is trapped in a never-ending charade where he goes to see her anyhow.  It is depressingly vivid, a tale of the broken-hearted, and the language used is particularly effective – it is described in simple, gentle prose, with heavy use of repetition for dramatic effect – the “spill of flowers fell out of his hand, the spill spilled... spilling red, white, yellow tea-roses” along with the blood of the innocent young girl.

One for the Road works as an effective end-note for ‘Salem’s Lot, reinforcing the work of Ben and Mark at the end of that novel.  Set during a blizzard some years after the novel, in a neighbouring town, it is a tale of courage as two locals go out to face the demons of the town in the hopes of saving a young family.  The descriptions of both mother and child, beautiful and perfect in their death, standing “on top of the snow, no tracks in any direction” are superb.

The last story in the novel shows the true versatility with which King can write – as with The Last Rung on the Ladder, The Woman in the Room features nothing atypical of the horror genre, and yet is still haunting in its desolate description of the love of a family, and the hardship faced by a son who wishes to put his mother out of her cancer-enforced misery.  The disconnected narrative flows through a series of events, leaving one to move onto another event with flickering ease, like the disconnected thoughts of someone in their final moments.  He hates that he must watch his mother in her endless suffering, paralysed and uncomprehending in her final days, weeks or years, and so decides to commit euthanasia.  Matricide, even,  The love which he has for this shell of a woman, this ghost in her bedroom, is what makes the story all the more poignant – and after the pills are administered, that he considers forcing her to vomit them back up, to save her, before realising “he could never hit his mother” is an emotional tour-de-force.

Planet of Giants

Planet of Giants is a remarkable serial, for a vast number of reasons.  It is the first serial of the second season, and as such shows how, due to the success of the first season, the series began to forge its way forward in a new direction.  It is ambitious and bold, with extraordinary scripts, fantastic performances and truly exceptional set design.  The crew are now kitted out in some rather dapper new costumes, and the whole thing feels fresher.  At only 3 episodes long, the pace is sharp and direct, with very little padding – although it had originally been intended to be 4 episodes, but at the request of Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman, the serial was shortened to 3, editing together parts 3 and 4 into a faster paced climax to the story.

The serial opens with the crew, dressed in their finest, waiting for materialisation.  When it comes, however, it is interrupted by braying klaxons and flashing warnings, and the doors terrifyingly open of their own accord during the materialisation.  As had already been stated in The Edge of Destruction, for this to happen can mean huge catastrophe, and the TARDIS crew quickly try to work out exactly what has gone wrong.  The scenes with the crew working together are fantastic – at first, Hartnell comes across exactly how he started the first season, grumpy and crotchety, before suddenly realising what he is doing, and apologising to Barbara and Ian – “I always forget niceties under pressure”.  It is a touching reminder of exactly how much his character has progressed and grown to appreciate these interlopers within the TARDIS. 

Due to an explosion from within the scanner screen, the crew are unable to see what lays ahead of them, but the sensors all dictate that everything is safe, and so they step forth into a strange alien world.  And what a world it is – Raymond P Cusick’s set designs to create this abstract world are truly breathtaking.  As the group split, and separately discover a dead earthworm – “A giant snake... no eyes or head” – and a dead ant, they realise that they are on Earth, only they have shrunk to approximately an inch in height.  The malfunction with the transcendental force field of the TARDIS has caused them to shrink.  The cross-cutting between Susan and the Doctor explaining this to Ian and Barbara is very cleverly handled, reinforcing that they know far more about this sort of thing than the human companions do.

What’s so fantastic about this first episode is that it twists the expectations of the audience.  Having sat through the entire first season, there was a definite formula; the contemporary audience knew that there were two types of story, sci-fi and historical.  Whilst Ian and Barbara were desperate to get home to their own time, the only time the TARDIS landed on Earth was during an important historical period which allowed for a formative educational backdrop.  Otherwise, they were surrounded by aliens dealing with their own historically significant crises.  So, when the title captions ran, and “Planet of Giants” appeared, the audience would have been expecting a sci-fi story.  What Louis Marks’ script does so successfully here, with the assistance of Cusick’s incredible design work, is create a truly unsettling alien world, of monstrous aliens and unknown creatures, only then to show us that this is, in fact, Earth.  Everything is distorted due to the size of the crew, and the Doctor has finally managed to get the crew back to their own time and place, only to make it impossible for them to leave due to their miniscule stature.  Everything becomes dangerous – the huge trek to the house is exhausting, and banal everyday objects such as a sink and a book of matches become deadly.  It truly is wonderful.

The camera panning out to show the house is one of the most majestic shots ever realised in Doctor Who.  Just as we learn that the crew are stranded on Earth, only an inch tall, we pan out to show the front of a house, and meet the supporting cast – who, interestingly, never share a scene with the TARDIS crew.  Frank Crawshaw’s portrayal of Farrow, a man harrowed by his task of writing a report on the insecticide killing off all of the living organisms in the area, is wonderful – his whistling, wearied responses to all of Forrester’s arguments are brilliant.  Sadly, Alan Tilvern’s slimy villainous Forrester doesn’t agree – and swiftly pulls a gun on him and shoots him in cold blood.  Tilvern’s performance is spectacular – he oozes repellent charm, with his hair slicked back and in his well-cut suit, he is atypically a capitalist sleazebag.  As he looms over Farrow, he looks so intimidating – and his name, too, deserves some credit – that someone who cares so little about the environment, and is only interested in financial gain, is called Forrester is fantastically ironic.

Episode 2 features a stellar performance from Jacqueline Hill, as Barbara becomes infected by the DN6, but decides to silently cope, rather than admit her mistake of handling the infected grain.  Her distracted rubbing of her hands and the frequent glances she throws at them throughout are wonderfully restrained.  The scene in which she knows that the Doctor and Susan are back is equally fantastic – she forgets all about the infection, showing that her faith in the Doctor is complete, and she knows everything will turn out alright in the end.

When Barbara sees the fly on the grain, it is a laudable special effect – the realisation of the fly is one of the single most effective creations in Doctor Who history.  It is magnificent, repulsively vibrating as it rubs its legs together and positively thrums with excitement.  Whilst the aliens in Doctor Who at this point can be iconic, as with the Daleks, and effective, as with the masks of the Sensorites, this serial shows Cusick at his very best – something so ordinary becomes incredibly malevolent.  The greatest set within the entire serial is, in my opinion, the sink – what at first looks like a blown-up photograph, like Farrow’s face in episode 1, turns out to be a fully-functional set, with scale plug, plug-hole and drainage.  It is incredibly ambitious, and something utterly believable.  It also leads to the most effective cliff-hanger yet, as something as ordinary as washing your hands becomes perilous to the crew.
Episode 3 is a triumph too.  Whilst it should have been two separate episodes, it is interesting to think how this would have looked had it not been shortened.  The pace is incredible, and the action barely stops – we can imagine that far more exposition and footage of the travellers moving back and forth between the sink and the telephone would have slowed down the pace.  There are one or two complaints about this episode, though – when the crew discover the notepad with the formula on, Ian’s protestation that he is “not very well up on this, Doctor” and that it is “about as far as I go” do not ring true, considering that in a former life he was a Chemistry teacher.  Likewise, Forrester’s plot to throw the ministry off by pretending to be Farrow is ridiculously unbelievable – he simply covers the mouthpiece with a tissue, and doesn’t even try to impersonate Farrow’s voice.  Bearing in mind the dreadful speech impediment of Crawshaw’s Farrow, it is unfathomable how Forrester thought he would get away with this basic con.

However, that is nit-picking – it does lend itself perfectly to the resolution of the serial, where Forrester’s plans are not overthrown by the Doctor and his companions, but rather a very nosy phone operator who listens in and realises that they are the same voice.  Sending her police constable husband to investigate, it is her, rather than the explosion devised by the Doctor and his crew, which saves the day, and potentially the population of the world.

A wonderful touch, too, comes at the very end of the episode, in the lead-in to next week’s adventure, incidentally reuniting the Doctor with his nemeses the Daleks – as he manages to get the scanner working again, he comments about seeing where the TARDIS is taking them next – and as the scanner screen flickers to life, all it shows is the ‘next time’ card, warning us that their next adventure is at the “World’s End”.  Fantastic.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Reign of Terror

My experiences of The Reign of Terror have never been complete – a friend sent me all of the audio tracks to all of the stories from Hartnell and Troughton’s tenure and I listened to them all at length, filling in the blanks with the Lost in Time boxset.  With The Reign of Terror, however, I had only ever bothered to listen to the sound track, since the episodes had not been released on DVD.  Despite their availability online, I had simply made do with the luscious sounds.  I realise now that I was cheating myself – following on from the rather drab and monotonous The Sensorites, the TARDIS returns the crew to Earth slap-bang in the centre of the French Revolution – and it is stunning.

I’ve been able to watch this serial thanks to dailymotion, a fantastic website through which you can watch almost anything.  The user ‘matrixarchive’ is responsible for uploading the videos I watched, including the recons of parts 4 and 5, made using telesnaps and the original audio track, and they are well worth watching to get a feel for the piece.

Following straight on from the end of The Sensorites, where due to Ian’s jibes the Doctor gruffly informed him that Barbara and he could get off at the next stop, the TARDIS materialises in the middle of the French countryside, beautifully realised in a studio.  What is wonderful about this camaraderie between the crew is that they quickly manage to turn the Doctor back to their side – watching Ian rest his hands on Hartnell’s shoulders, with Barbara picking imaginary lint from his lapels and gently stroking him, you can see his cold exterior melt.  It is wonderfully tactile, and a pleasure to watch them gradually winning Hartnell’s Doctor over.  As they leave the TARDIS, there is a sense of bonhomie about the group, and the mood is a light and jovial one, as they exchange witty repartee.  (I promise I’ll try and stop using French jargon now!)

Everything about this first episode seems very light and fresh, until the two Frenchmen, D’Argenson and Rouvray turn up, wary of these outsiders in their safe house.  The crew quickly persuade the two rebels that they are not spies, and the house is surrounded.  What is interesting is that Dennis Spooner’s script recalls Lucarotti’s Marco Polo almost perfectly – when Ian, Barbara and Susan are questioned if they are alone, and they respond yes, Rouvray’s face drops, as he tells them that they discovered the Doctor and locked him upstairs unconscious.  As such, the travellers are not trustworthy – they have already lied.  As soldiers surround them, we could be excused for thinking that these two Frenchmen are our ‘supporting cast’ for the serial, there to tag on with our heroes through their adventure.  But where the jovial atmosphere has been there throughout, there is a bleakness to the end of this first part, as Rouvray is assassinated at point-blank range, and D’Argenson is executed off screen, as the laughter of the armed peasants fills the air.

The first episode ends with a cliff-hanger about 3 minutes in the making – the peasants set fire to the house and march Ian, Barbara and Susan away, leaving the unconscious Doctor trapped within the billowing flames.  Through intercutting smouldering hay, burning ladders, smoke billowing through doorways, the roof slowly catching, and the captured only able to watch in alarm, there is an epic sense to the cliff-hanger.

Of course, the Doctor is safe and well, thanks to the young child briefly met in episode 1.  Hartnell has a wonderful exchange with the boy, and the salute they offer each other, as well as Jean-Pierre’s offer to put the Doctor up in his house, is wonderfully touching.  That the boy longs to come and help, but must remain as “head of the house” is lovely. 

Hirsch’s direction is helped hugely by the wonderful set and costume design, as well as the use of location filming, the first in Doctor Who history.  Sadly, it is evident that it isn’t Hartnell doing the actual location filming – the spring in the Doctor’s step is too jovial for Hartnell himself – but it does help to create a sense of grandeur to the production.  His scene with the Road Work Overseer is brilliantly comical, and again, you can tell that Hartnell thrives on this comic balance with his character’s brusqueness.  What is interesting is that, even by the end of episode 2, we still have no idea who the central additional characters are.  We meet a vast array of characters, all brilliantly drawn and performed with panache, and yet most of them do not have names.  Even those that we have met who did have names have been left behind or killed.  Spooner’s script creates an epic scene – the French Revolution is all around the TARDIS crew, and everyone is involved, no matter how small.  The Overseer also has one of my favourite lines – “get to work... skinny!”, and Hartnell’s gobsmacked response is wonderful.

The crux of episode 2, however, is the incarceration of Ian, Barbara and Susan.  Split across two cells – William Russell was on holiday for episodes 2 and 3 and so only appears in pre-filmed inserts – the group are taken to the Conciergerie prison and locked away until they are to be taken to the guillotine.  The jailer is a fantastic character, played with flair by Jack Cunningham.  At the start of the episode, there is yet more threat of sexual violence where he tries to assure Barbara that, since he’s “so lonely”, she could keep him company.  Cunningham’s delivery of his performance is interesting – despite the fact that they are in pre-Revolution France, there is a touch of ‘Les Miserables’ in the performances of most of the crew – they speak in cut-glass English accents, or, in the case of the peasants, with a cockney drawl.  Cunningham, however, elects to maintain his Yorkshire accent, showing that he is a cut above the peasants, yet still miles below the stature of Lemaitre, Robespierre and the like. 

Ian’s reprieve following his discussion with Webster, where he is told to meet an English spy at Le Chien Gris in Webster’s dying breaths, shows an interesting side to Lemaitre’s character, and provides a hint at the spy Stirling’s true face.  Lemaitre comes across all-too-easily as someone who is up to something, and whilst it is evident that he is the Englishman, it is interesting to see his interaction with all of the other characters.  Ian’s escape in episode 3 due to the interruption of Lemaitre only confirms his identity. 

Episode 3 again has some wonderful comic moments, including Hartnell’s time within the shop acquiring his new costume – the look on John Barrard’s face when Hartnell tells him he has no money, and the speed with which he snatches the jacket back, is brilliant, as is his outburst about the Doctor’s clothing – “It’s little more than a fancy dress outfit!”  (I know cosplayers that would agree with that!)  Hartnell’s costume is magnificent, ludicrously over the top and perfect for that very reason, with a hat that Troughton would be envious of.

In this third part, the girls are saved by two French revolutionaries, Jules and Jean.  The scene in which they are sat in the back of the wagon, with peasants mocking them and laughing from their windows, speaks volumes of the society in which our time travellers have found themselves – one which is echoed by Lemaitre and Jules near the end of the serial.  They are escorted to Jean’s safe-house, and exchange tales of the route through the escape chain, reinforcing the idea that there is a mole somewhere within the rebels’ ranks.  Leon also joins them, and the scenes between Jacqueline Hill and Edward Brayshaw are wonderful, as we get the idea that a romance is blossoming between the two.  He is gentle and tender in his delivery, and Barbara is unsurprisingly swept off her feet.

Episode 4 is the first of the two missing parts of this serial, but it does exist in telesnaps and audio format.  Robespierre is introduced as a maniac, desperate for more and more executions – and Keith Anderson’s performance is terrific, a tour-de-force of paranoia and bloody-minded determination.  Sadly, this is also where the script starts to sag – despite Anderson’s performance, Robespierre, as an historical character, must maintain his dignity until the right time.  True historical characters are rarely seen in Doctor Who from here, and it is telling – whilst history must remain a fixed line, and they cannot rewrite “not one line”, it is impossible for the Doctor to face up to such a character and win.  His pleas and complaints fall on deaf ears, and the Doctor is relegated to being useless backing to the educational aspects of the show. 

The episode continues with the betrayal of Barbara and Susan at the hands of the physician and Ian’s betrayal by Leon Colbert, revealing himself as the mole within the escape route.  Spooner is warning that in such a time as the Revolution, allies can rarely be trusted – with a tyrant like Robespierre in charge, many will do anything to keep themselves safe.  Fortunately, Barbara is able to leave the prison due to the Doctor’s guile in his costume, but Susan is too ill to move just yet – although since it was the prison conditions which caused her to be so weak in the first place, one would imagine she would get worse, rather than being healthy as anything come her release in episode 6.  Ian’s escape comes at the hands of Jean, who executes the traitor, and he and Ian return to the house, where they break the news to Barbara that Leon had to be killed.

The discussion between Barbara and Ian about Leon’s murder is an interesting one – each side has a valid point, and it is one that has helped Doctor Who establish itself and continue running for nearly 50 years.  Whilst Barbara argues that he was a good man, with a good cause, doing what he thought was right – “A patriot” – Ian points out that whether they agree with his cause or not, they are involved in the history now, and that they have sided with the rebels rather than the revolutionaries.  He points out that it could just have easily been he who shot Leon, and they cannot be dispassionate onlookers any longer – if they are to escape, they must be proactive. 

The “Bargain of Necessity” of the title happens right at the end of the episode, with Lemaitre forcing the Doctor to take him to the hideout of the rebels – only then will Susan be released.  Lemaitre is, at this point, still undercover, and so the cliff-hanger depends upon the audience not realising who he is for it to be dramatically effective.  Episode 6 begins, again, with a great deal of exposition as the group realise that they are all working to the same ends, Lemaitre – or Stirling – included, and working out the best way to deal with the secret meetings and overthrowing of Robespierre.  Some confusion sadly arises due to a sloppy bit of scripting here, where Lemaitre and Jean discuss “Barras” and “sinking ships”, which somehow triggers Ian’s memories of what Webster said to him – the issue being, of course, that Webster never mentioned Barras, or the Sinking Ship, an inn just outside of Paris. 

The scenes in the inn are rather monotonous, for much the same reason as those involving Robespierre in episode 4 – it turns out that Barras is meeting with Napoleon Bonaparte,  an up-and-coming general who the Rebellion wish to lead the country with two others.  Again, as this is loosely based on hard facts, it is impossible for the TARDIS crew to do anything but idly sit by and watch as the education comes pouring out.   The scenes involving the overthrowing of Robespierre are rather gruesome, as he dashes into his office, locking it behind him and arming himself before the masses of armed peasants break the door down and, to stop him from talking so much, shoot him in the jaw. 

Of course, though, our group of travellers are reunited, and all head off to the TARDIS, where there is a rather wonderful speech over a screenshot of stars, discovering that their destiny lies out there, somewhere.  It is touching conversation between the Doctor and Ian, and as the voices stop, but the end credits start, the screenshot remains with that starscape upon it, inviting us to travel with them in the new season.

Night Shift Part One

Night Shift is one of those Stephen King books that I have very, very fond memories of acquiring.  Whilst I’ve always loved his writing, and grabbed his material with both hands whenever possible, this particular collection, and his novel Duma Key, are two which I will always hold in fond memory.  They were each purchased whilst I travelled Europe with my partner – a passage around Europe which began with a clapped-out camper van and ended with us both in a tent for the 3 months we travelled due to engine troubles.  Whilst in Amsterdam, only the second stop of our journey, I had already devoured two-thirds of the books I had taken with us (just over a week in) and so I was delighted to discover in a service station not only a Stephen King book, but one which I had never even heard of – it was a new release, and so there was no hype about it.  This was Duma Key.  And it went down in solid chunks, read within a day and a half of buying it, with the ferocity with which I usually approach King’s new material.

My second purchase, and the only other of that holiday, was Night Shift, a collection of short stories which, somehow, I had never stumbled across before.  This was in the south of Spain, nearing the end of our journey – I had already been reduced to reading The Stand for the third time in those three months as I had nothing new to approach – my supply of Terry Pratchett, James Herbert and, of course, Stephen King, had dried up, so I was resorting to reading and rereading the same old things.  Oddly enough, in Europe, whilst they have an impressive number of literary releases, very few of them are in English.  I was screwed – marooned in foreign lands with nothing fresh to read.  So when we stumbled across this campsite, a veritable village in its own right, utterly self-sufficient with shops, bars and restaurants, I hit a goldmine – there, peeking between tattered copies of Mills and Boone semi-porno novels and tatty classics like Dracula and Frankenstein, it stood, begging for me to absorb it into my consciousness.  And I did.  My god, how I absorbed it.  Because I knew this book!  I had never read it before, but most of the stories had already been burnt into my cerebrum, through gossip with other fans and through film.  A huge number of these stories have been put onto film – short stories adapted by the master himself.  Three of them were instantly recognisable because of other works I knew – two were a prologue and epilogue of sorts to ‘Salem’s Lot, and one was linked to my most-thumbed King edition, The Stand.

But I get ahead of myself.

My intention is to look at each of these gems, in turn, starting with Jerusalem’s Lot, the first of the collection.  As we can tell from the title, the plot of this little gem is closely linked the third novel released, and officially the last King title if we discount the ‘Bachman’-penned Rage.  A prequel of sorts, it tells the story of Charles Boone, our narrator, and his discovery of dark rituals and mysterious goings-on in the town of the title.  Told in an epistolary format, addressed to “Bones”, we follow the discovery of vampires and a worm from the 18th century which has enveloped the town in a shroud of death and pestilence.  This story works as an effective prequel specifically to any that have read ‘Salem’s Lot, but works as a stand-alone tale of fear too.  The endnote of the story is particularly haunting, as we discover that Boone is not the last of his line, and as such the misdemeanours of his family are set to be repeated further down the line.  The narrative flows like a HP Lovecraft wonder, rich in intrigue and striking a perfect balance between language and mood. 

Graveyard Shift is one of those darkly sardonic little gems which you can’t help but love.  Whilst the characterisation is a little scant, and motives are left mostly uncovered, it doesn’t affect the piece at all, with a snappy pace.  In the end, though, the motive is irrelevant – it’s a dark tale of a man pushed by senior management to commit what turns out to be his undoing.  He is desperate to prove his worth, no matter the cost.  Unlike Rage before it, though, we do actually side with Hall – Warwick is a despicable man, a typical middle-management type with a bee in his bonnet, and an understandable loathing of rats and bats – “gah!”   Some nice touches from this story include Wiskonsky’s “sour prophecy ‘Somebody’ll get hurt’”.  Also, the Orange Crush Thermometer which reappears later.  As I have said in earlier blogs, for King, it is these touches which make him a cut above the other writers of the genre – we are, as an audience, asked to make connections.  When locations are mentioned in brief passing, we must remember where we’ve heard the name before.

Night Surf served as the inspiration for The Stand¸ and tells of an evening for a group of late-teens who have hightailed to the beach to get away from A6, a virus killing off the population in droves – also known as Captain Trips – which seems like “flu – he’s all swelled up”.  It works almost as a coming-of-age story, like those of The Body, but with a particularly morbid twist – the discovery of a man stricken with the illness is pulled from his car and the group set fire to him, offering a sacrifice.  As our narrator and his pal discuss it, Needles shrugs about the agony suffered by the man as he dies – “Doesn’t matter”.  The bitter realisation that they are not immune, despite their earlier thoughts that having had A2 meant they wouldn’t catch it because one of their own has the tell-tale signs is dreadful, imagining themselves as the last people on Earth, but that the world will continue to spin anyway, the tide will continue to lap the beach as the corpses all pile up.

I am the Doorway is a beautifully crafter little sci-fi shocker, as an invalid astronaut returned to Earth realises with growing horror that after five years, his body has been harbouring an alien intelligence that is growing through his skin and committing atrocities.  One of King’s trademarks is the way in which he copes with the evil inside a man – whether psychological or, in this case, physically reaching through the charade of our human mask.  We, as humans, are all capable of evil acts, but we, for the most part, manage to hold it together, and choke down that evil.  Here, though, it is Arthur’s very inability to contain it, to defend himself from it, which is most startling.  As a first person narrative, we are recounted the events as he remembers them, including the death of his friend and the murder of a young nameless boy, and his subsequent removal of the eyes growing through his hands by soaking them in kerosene and burning them off, leading to their replacement with hooks.  Now, though – and this is the truly horrifying part – seven years later, the eyes are growing again, this time in a perfect circle through his chest...  He hasn’t stopped whatever force it is, and there is no telling that he ever will, even in his suggested suicide as the story comes to a close.

The next story in the collection, The Mangler, is typically Kingsian in tone – a possessed machine, much like the Buick 8 and Christine from later stories, is hungry for blood.  The fear of the ordinary, and the trusted, is the central creepy premise to this.  An inanimate object, a clothing flat-press in a laundry, has caused a number of accidents, the first involving the blood of a virgin, which has sated its taste for blood and led to it wanting more.  My only issue with this is Jackson, the English teacher who is a friend to John Hunton, the central character.  As always the English teacher in King’s work is well-educated, but here, the knowledge all seems a little too forced.  Unlike Matt Burke in ‘Salem’s Lot, who we witness educating himself in the more specialised areas of fiction and folklore from a hospital bed, here Jackson can knock off any number of causes and signs of demonic possession all too readily.  Whilst it is clearly an issue irresolvable in short story, this is one which would perhaps have been better suited to a longer piece in one of King’s specialised collections like Four After Midnight or Different Seasons.  Given greater pagination, it is a plot which could have enthralled and mystified, but sadly here it all seems a little too rushed.  It is great – just not the best of the bunch.

Also a weak point of the collection, The Boogeyman is principally about a man dealing with his own skeletons in the closet, following the deaths of his three children, and his own responsibilities for them.  Lester Billings is not a particularly pleasant man – he lies on a psychiatrist’s couch before professing to the murder of his children – “All I did was kill my kids.  One at a time.  All of them.”  He is a typical man of his time, and his loathing of “sissies” and “niggers” is unnerving, but it does ring true with the setting of the book – indeed, in many of his novels, including ‘Salem’s Lot, homophobia is commonplace in small-town America.  Billings has had ideas drummed into his head from his parents and is hard-headed enough to follow them regardless of what his gut tells him.  As such, when the children beg to be taken from their room due to “the Boogeyman”, he refuses, and when their bodies are discovered, he notices the cupboard door open “just a crack”.  The story itself is fast-paced, but my issue comes with the ending – “so nice”.

Grey Matter tells the tale of Richie Grenadine, a man who, for no understandable reason, has begun to transform into an amorphous grey blob, and the men from a local bar that must go to face this monster.  Told from first person narrative, Henry the bar owner recounts Grenadine’s son Timmy’s story as they approach his apartment.  What makes this short story so effective is the slow burn of information – as the three get closer and closer to the house, the story becomes even more obscene – “a dead cat, all swole up and stiff... with little white things crawlin’ all over it... then he ate it” – but upon arrival, they must face up to whatever lies in wait.  The appearance of Richie, as the door bulges outwards before bursting through, is particularly effective, as is the cliff-hanger at the end “I surely do”.  Also, there’s an Orange Crush thermometer.  Just saying.

Battleground is an oddity of a story, but an entertaining one too – the story of a hit man who works for The Organisation, returning home to a parcel which contains toy soldiers, possessed and alive and wanting to fight.  Whilst it may feel silly and childish, the description in this piece is terrific, and as it builds to its shocking conclusion – “He never knew what hit him” – it rattles along at great speed.  King’s use of language is superb – before the reveal of the toy soldiers, Renshaw stands on his balcony, “as a general might survey a captured country”.  The ledge upon which he has to crawl to safety is “no wider than a child’s train track”.  These linguistic tricks are purposeful, engaging and relatable.  Renshaw considers to see the whole affair as a game even when the soldiers are attacking – “”I’m losing!”. 

Trucks is the short story which inspired one of King’s best, and silliest, films, “Maximum Overdrive”.  As with The Mangler and Battleground, it is the ordinary becoming something extraordinary which is the root cause of this fear.  Here, as the title no doubt gives it away, it is a tale of trucks which have gained a murderous life of their own.  That most trusted of things, our modes of transport, are fighting back.  The story starts part way through the siege of the gas station, throwing the reader straight into the action.  The world is ending, and there is little anyone can do about it – the trucks themselves understand engines, and “frozen uniform joints” but not about the exhaustion felt by the trapped humans as they are forced to endlessly pump gas for them, to keep them running, slaves forever. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Sensorites

The Sensorites has long been regarded by many Who fans as a bit of a miss – Neil Perrymen on the Adventures with the Wife in Space blog jovially remarks “67% fail halfway through this story” when attempting to watch the series from the very beginning.  Whether this comment is true or not is irrelevant.  It cements the group-culture idea that it is not a ‘good’ serial.

Yet it has certain elements which make it tremendously good fun to watch.  Some of the performances are excellent – Peter Glaze, Stephen Dartnell and John Bailey are particularly good – and the central ideas of xenophobia, and the dangers of war, are strong.  It is the script and direction here which let the story down.  Much like with Nation’s script for The Keys of Marinus, the central idea, whilst a good one, is let down by plodding unnatural exposition.  Peter R Newman’s script works at times, and at others slows everything down too much.  Mervyn Pinfield’s direction at times is stylistic and filled with flair – such as at the beginning of episode 1, as the camera tracks from within the TARDIS onto the deck of the spaceship – but at other times feels clunky and uninspired.  When Cox takes over for episodes 5 and 6, the whole affair feels slightly tighter, and episode 6 is one of the strongest, but part 5 still feels hindered by poor scripting and so still lags.

As the serial starts, the TARDIS crew are nonchalantly regaling their high adventures through time and space, with Barbara dismissing the Aztec affair with a wave of the hand, saying that she’s “over” that.  The whole group feels lovely and tightly knit, tactile and jovial as they discuss their past tales.  There is a lovely sense of unity amongst the travellers here, one which we’ve never really felt before.  They have become a family unit, one which audiences could no doubt have identified with strongly.  Once they step through the TARDIS doors, with a tracking shot reminiscent of Scorsese’s Goodfellas, there is a heightening of tension.  As they discover the two ‘dead’ bodies of Maitland and Carol, there is a feeling of adventure, heightened by Norman Kay’s incidental music.  The music feels rather patronising, with heavy clangs on words like “death!”, but all in all this entire first episode gradually ramps up the pressure nicely.  As Maitland and Carol are revived from their catatonic state, and deliver background story information to the crew – and therefore us, the viewers – we are treated to possibly the worst existing case of poor peripheral sight in all of Doctor Who’s history – stood a mere few metres from the TARDIS, whilst commenting about a burning smell, they fail to see the hand of the unseen Sensorite plunge into the screen, attempt to remove the lock by hand (just like the Voord a few weeks earlier) and then return with some sort of cutting device, removing the entire mechanism.

This is, of course, a staple of the early Doctor Who stories – the crew are forced away from the safety of their ship, and thrown into the danger.  In past stories they have had failed mercury links, stolen keys, force fields and tomb walls separating them from the safety of the TARDIS.   Here, the threat becomes somewhat more perverse – the TARDIS is shown to be penetrable, destructible in some way.  Rather than being the indestructive force we later see, the ship has been attacked, and damaged – it has been vandalised. 

So, the crew are forced to help Maitland’s ship – as it is drawn careering towards the Sense-sphere, and the Doctor has never been so proactive.   He saves the day, managing to draw the ship out of the influence of the unknown Sensorites, but the threat continues, as it is hinted that something is walking the corridors of the ship – behind the door which Susan and Barbara have unknowingly crossed the threshold of.  An amusing side-note is the way in which Susan exclaims “That’s funny!” about the door mechanism, opening based on motion – in exactly the same way the doors worked within the Dalek city on Skaro – the Daleks must have had the same carpenters as this expedition.  The reveal of John, wondering about maniacally mumbling about voices in his head are superb, and Dartnell’s performance is incredibly convincing.  His looks to camera don’t seem out of place, as though beseeching the unknown forces to silence the endless droning, making the audience feel uncomfortably aware that it could be coming from anywhere.

Whilst the music is good, the moments during which this first episode is most effective are the eerie silences – particularly as the crew stand around, in expectation, waiting for something to happen – anything at all.  And then, from the corner of the window, creeping up; it’s a Sensorite!  And it’s waving!  At least, it is in the cliff-hanger of episode 1.  The reprise for episode 2 has been reshot, and instead of the creeping, ominous feeling we get as it works its way up the window, it is just a man in a costume, stood around outside a window.  It is these little touches which let the production down.  Interestingly, part of the brief provided for this serial from Sydney Newman was that he wanted the show to portray normal jobs in a favourable light.  He knew that a high number of children wanted to grow up to be doctors and scientists, yet the uptake into engineering was limited.  Here, we see the practical application of science wonderfully.

Carole Ann Ford’s performance as Susan is incredibly strong throughout this serial – indeed, whilst The Aztecs was Barbara’s adventure, this is Susan’s, and she steps up completely.  The suggestion of her own psychic ability, and her mature performance as she stands up to her grandfather are excellent. 

Once the TARDIS crew leave the ship and head down to the Sense-Sphere (minus Barbara, who is sadly missed due to Jacqueline Hill’s holiday) everything seems to slow down.  The ratcheted tension of the previous two episodes stops almost completely, as we are given high levels of jerky unnatural exposition between the Sensorites.  I must say, whilst the Sensorites get some grief over the costume – principally for the plates on their feet making them walk all over each other – it is nice that they are so well designed.  What is a shame, however, is that each and every one of the masks is unique.  Typically, in Doctor Who, costumes and masks are identical – indeed, sometimes even using old costumes as new aliens, like with the Chrynoids.  Here, however, each one is expressive and unique – which would be brilliant, were the plot not hinged on the fact that they “all look the same”.  Much like the clone armies of the Sontarans in later serials, great weight is put into the fact that they are identical and almost impossible to tell apart – even the Sensorites themselves cannot differentiate, although this is justified by the script.  But as with Sontarans, the crew have not even attempted to hire actors of simply stature and frame.  Peter Glaze is about a foot shorter and 4 stone heavier than any of the other Sensorites, yet is easily mistaken for any of the others.  Likewise, the scripting does not aid us in our understanding, as no character is given individual names – rather, they are ranked – Elders go from First to Second, whilst all other Sensorites, many given titles such as Administrator or Scientist, are relegated in the credits to First to Fourth Sensorite. Added to this, the confusion which then arises as some play multiple parts, whilst others are promoted, and it becomes relatively confusing to follow.

Episode 3 ends with what is, in hindsight, quite a clever cliff-hanger; when Ian first coughs, the audience might be forgiven that it is unscripted, but not worthy of a retake – since The Sensorites contains an uncountable number of fluffs and messed-up lines, it would be forgivable.  But then he coughs the second time, as the Doctor mutters “a clue!” and all of a sudden, he’s down on the floor convulsing as the end credits roll.  That the water is poisoned is relatively clear from their heavily led discussion about it, which is why it is a shame that much of episode 4 is spent testing water – which we know will be contaminated – whilst the subplot involving Glaze’s Administrator continues.  There are some nice directorial flourishes here, such as the cross-fading between vial-testing and Ian, stricken in bed with poisoning.  In the subplot, there is a lovely scene which further highlights the plot of xenophobia, as the Administrator raves that humans are untrustworthy simply because they have “no badge of office” by which to differentiate them.  To him, they all “look the same”, and so when Carol makes this identical ‘astute’ observation to him, a further plot device is revealed – subterfuge and disguise.

What is refreshing about episode 4, plot-wise, is that it shows yet another side to the Doctor.  Until now, they have always ‘saved the day’ (or not, in the case of The Aztecs) and then left.  Here though, even though the Doctor has completed his end of the bargain and found a cure, he isn’t ready to just walk away.  Rather than simply discovering the cause of the poisoning and creating an antidote, he is determined to head down to the aqueduct to discover the cause, above and beyond what was expected of him.  He is no longer only acting for the selfish desires as he did in earlier serials – now he is proactively involving himself in events.  Quite where this sits with his thoughts on involvement and interference is unsure.  As I mentioned in The Aztecs, it seems that involvement in alien affairs is all well and good, but one simply cannot meddle with Earth’s history.

Episode 5 sees a new director – Frank Cox – stepping in to complete the serial, and there is a quick change in style.  Cox uses deep focus, framing the action nicely between scenery and other characters to great effect.  Sadly, episode 5 is also the dullest from a narrative perspective, and there is only so much a director can do with such dire exposition.  The scenes involving the Administrator blackmailing the Second Elder are nicely done, although the threat to his “family group” is a tad repetitive.  Likewise, the scene with the accusation of the Doctor as a murderer is so quickly unravelled it is ridiculous – the Sensorite making the accusations digs himself a deeper hole by the second, as he is uncovered within about 45 seconds of his accusation.  The “Kidnap” of the episode title doesn’t happen until the final 5 seconds of the instalment.  
Episode 6, meanwhile, is strong – this serial seems bookended by two tense and dramatic episodes, with very little happening in the filler between.  Bailey’s appearance as the Commander is wonderfully played – a frightfully British chief, determined that his men make the best of a bad lot, appearing dishevelled and filthy but insisting that “they’re a good bunch”.  With the emergence of the Commander and his men as the poisoners, Newman’s xenophobic discussion reaches a new point – highlighting that racism and intolerance in war only harms those trapped in the middle.  Both the Administrator and the Commander are wrong to be acting as they are doing; whilst each believes they are doing the right thing, it is those caught between that really suffer.  Once again, each of Bailey’s men are reduced to numbers, rather than individual character names.

The serial comes to a close with Carole Ann Ford at her very best, reminiscing of her home world – still unnamed for now – discussing the burnt orange skies and silver leaves on the trees.  Never has she appeared so alien as this, a young girl with no fixed abode, travelling the skies with her grandfather, and it is an evocative delivery which has been referred to since in Doctor Who mythology. 

So, if it is true that 67% of people fail during this series, I can feel pleased with myself that I am in that top 33%.  Next up, though, is Dennis Spooner’s historical The Reign of Terror, which has 33% of the story missing – and has not yet been released with the animated missing episodes.  Could this challenge be my downfall...?


Rage is something of an oddity within King’s bibliography, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it was the first (chronological) release by Richard Bachman, rather than King himself.  King wrote for many years under the pseudonym of Bachman, as it allowed him to publish a higher number of books each year.  He was also intrigued to see how these releases would go down with the public.  Secondly, it is the only novel he ever released which is no longer available.  King himself removed it from print, as it had been tied to a number of High School shootings and he didn’t want his work to become synonymous with such.  Rage is, to all intents and purposes, a non-book.  Yet, some lucky people (myself included) have copies, buried deep within the pages of The Bachman Books, a joint release of this and 3 other stories published under the Bachman name.  It is probably also available in some libraries, and in a first-hand edition possibly circulating the likes of Ebay and Amazon. 

It is, by no means, a brilliant book.  It is written in King’s typical style, but minus some of his more inspired flairs which make his writing so great – as he was writing under a pseudonym, the aim was to avoid making it too clear that Bachman was King at all.  It is funny, then, that this novel sounds so much like him.  Whilst a number of other writers, Dean Koontz for one, try to emulate King’s style, here, Bachman is King.  It is difficult to believe that it took so long for him to be found out, before killing him off with ‘cancer of the pseudonym’. 

The novella starts with Charlie Decker’s rambling direct address to the reader, a first-person narrative which reminds us of Holden Caulfield in Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.  Decker is bright, achieves well in school, and whilst not popular, seems to manage – he has had girlfriends, he has a few close friends.  He is a typical high-school student.  From the outset, we know that he has issues – he imagines, on his way to the principal’s office, his Math teacher chasing him, “hands raised into twisted claws” telling him that they “don’t need boys of your type around here”.  The first hint that Decker provides a threat to his classmates and his teachers is as he reaches for the “pipe wrench that was no longer there”.  He is evidently unbalanced, and as his imagination tells him, he should not be in a public school, but an institute. 

The scene in Mr Denver’s office is horribly tense – the principal is trying to do his job, to care for the welfare of students.  It becomes evident – although we are not yet told the specifics – that Charlie Decker was involved in violence which hospitalised a teacher.  He has been allowed back into school on the condition that he reports to a psychiatrist each day – a fair condition, all things considered.  Yet Decker becomes a depraved monster, spouting guttural cruelties and then partially undressing himself before emerging into the administrative office accusing the man of rape.  He is subsequently expelled, effective immediately.  So he goes to clear out his locker, but instead tears up his text books, sets fire to the contents of his locker, and calmly walks into his Math classroom and shoots his teacher at point blank range, “spilling Algebra” all over the floor.

Quickly, the school is evacuated, except Room 16, and the hostage situation rolls out its course.  And this is where the book has its major failing.  Whilst Decker is despicable, a rebel without a cause committing two murders in cold blood and then holding his 25 classmates hostage, he is written as an anti-hero, someone we are expected to identify with.  But it is impossible to feel anything for him.  As he tells his tales of woe to his rapt hostages, of his abusive father, of his bullying because he once wore a suit to a children’s birthday party, of his failed sexual exploit, and of his attack on his Chemistry teacher with the aforementioned pipe wrench, it is impossible to side with him.  His father was a prick, a nasty man who beat him – but he deserved it.  At the age of four, for “something to do”, he destroyed every window of his own house to kill the boredom.  It is right that he was hit by his father.  When he tells us of the birthday party at which he got into a fight, one almost feels pity for him – and then he fights back and calls the woman who arranged the party a “fat old bag”, losing all sympathy.  Sure, he couldn’t get a hard-on during sex – but it would have been an illegitimate affair, and he was off his face on pot.  So no sympathy there.  And as for the pipe-wrench incident – it is inexcusable.  The fact that he had a pipe wrench in his pocket at all is a sign that he was unhinged anyhow; that he uses it to smash the face of a teacher because he “baited” him, calling him up to answer a question on the board, is preposterous.  Decker is a bastard, a horrible, unstable, malicious child who looks for sympathy from the reader, but shouldn’t get it as it undeserved. 

But the failing of this book is that he does get sympathy.  During this “circle jerk” of self-pity, all of the children, bar one, side with him.  They have just witnessed two murders – executions, even – yet cheer for him, tell him it isn’t his fault.  They all sympathise with him, as they each have their own cross to bear – Pig Pen’s mother is tight-fisted and won’t buy him new clothes, but will spend money on shitty pencils.  Sandra’s sex life is terrible, and her first sexual experience was with Ted, the boy who won’t join in these discussions.  She regales of how it was quick, it didn’t hurt, and she didn’t enjoy it; she then goes on to tell us that she then tried to have a one-night stand in a car park to “feel something”, and orgasmed without the stranger even “getting it in”.  That these children can see something of themselves in Decker is horrifying – Stockholm Syndrome is proven to happen in hostage situations, where the hostages fall in love with the criminals, understanding their case and siding with them due to the conditions and situation the find themselves in.  But here, in a matter of two hours, 24 children are jeering and cajoling along with the boy with the gun.  It isn’t believable.

After four hours, it is agreed that they will be released, and Decker tries to bring about his own death at the hands of a police officer.  However, before this happens, the entire scenario descends into a modern Lord of the Flies, as the children gang up on the outsider, Ted Jones, the boy who refused to partake in the “nasty little masturbation fantasy” of Decker’s making.  He is beaten, has ink thrown in his face and hair, is bitten and has a high heel forced through his foot, making “something crunch”.  This group-consciousness created by Decker’s hate has led to an act of disgusting degradation, as each of the children has begun to stoop to his level – not to commit murder, but to physically assault someone for ‘being different’.  Their empathy with his story has caused them all to devolve into a grotesque caricature of evil themselves.

Ultimately, then, Rage is unlikeable for the very reason that it effective.  Whilst King’s fiction is predominantly focussed upon the idea that we are all good people with the potential for evil, and that it is the act of not committing atrocities that defines us, here, writing as Bachman, he eschews that moral standpoint for a scene of horrific value – that children could possibly all commit these acts, but they need a ringleader to provoke what they crave.  As charismatic as Charlie Decker may seem, I simply cannot believe him, as a character, and that he has the potential in him to provoke such acts.