Dr Who – a Christmas Chiller!

Steven Moffat was seated at his computer one summer’s day, seeking ideas for the next Dr Who Christmas special. Suddenly an angel appeared to him and told him this tale:

Once upon a time, in a world (beyond worlds), on a planet not so very unlike our own – yet  unlike our own –  there was a time travelling hero called Dr Woe, a fellow who turned up wherever there was danger and saved the day. Unlike you or me he could live forever and proceeded to do so.

Dahl HIcks Mechanism

The Dahl Hicks Mechanism – art by John Ross

But there was one menace he never managed to defeat, the Dahl-Hicks mechanism, a sort of exterminating engine for killing rats, said to be created by two misguided Victorian inventors Ray Dahl and Terry Hicks. Somehow it mutated beyond its original programming to spread out across the universe treating everyone as vermin and destroying whole peoples and planets.

‘Why, Doctor Woe, why can’t you destroy the Dahl-Hicks?’ he was often asked. (I can’t remember who by).

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he chirped back, on the way to the fez shop.

Then one day, the Dahl-Hicks (mechanism) decided to attack the very planet of Dr Woe himself and annihilate the Timid Lords themselves, a quiet folk who never interfered with time (itself), or space, or each other’s cheese.

As the great plastic and pretend towers of the Timid Lord planet melted and crumbled at the attack of the Dahl-Hicks, their High Council begged him.

‘Please Doctor, only you can save us!’

But the Doctor could not, and to explain why, he said many things very fast that barely seemed to make sense.

So the Timid Lords used a time straw to suck up the Doctor from his own childhood, (before he became so super-clever no-one could understand him), and sent Doctor Zero back to the Genesis of the Dahl Hicks, a dangerous six-parter, to see if there was any point in the action where new footage could be inserted in order to change history and prevent their creation.

But young Dr Zero found a very strange thing. Travelling back through the lost pages of time he found no trace of any Victorian inventors called Ray Dahl and Terry Hicks.

When he did finally track down the inventor of the evil robots he was shocked to see their creator looked like a grown up version of… himself. Because it was a grown up version of… himself!

The young Doctor fast-forwarded through time, to his own planet, where the  Time’s Up War was raging. In the Null-field of the Dubious Metaphor he saw a burning Dahl-Hicks mechanism screeching at the older Doctor (himselves!)

“Please Doctor, I beg you – let us stop this horrible slaughter! It is making the Dahl-Hicks the most hated name in time and space!”

“Sozzer,” quipped the Doctor, in a cold, cruel tone. “I invented you centuries ago to blast the life energy out of entire races, so that I could follow in your wake, feed on their death energy, regenerate and live forever. Without you angry pots peppering the universe with death, I would be a goner. All hail me!”

“But Doctor – your OWN PEOPLE!” the Dahl Hicks sobbed. “Have you no mercy?”

“I cannot have mercy,” explained the pin-striped charmer, “For it is predicted in the scrolls of the Scrells that one of my own kind will learn my secret and destroy me. Therefore to preserve my secret, and provide me with enough energy to truly live forever, all the Dahl Hicks and Timid Lords must die in the Great Time’s Up War. A war so big-budget the truth of it will never be known!”

The Dahl Hicks mechanism suddenly saw a small figure lurking in the shadows, a sad-eyed child.

“There!” It barked. “The one who discovers your secret! It must be that kid – for he just overheard your whole confession!”

The Doctor whirled round, wild-eyed – to gaze upon his younger self. The last of the Dahl Hicks, unable to go against its programming shouted, “Exter –“

“This is completely unbelievable!” protested Steven Moffat. “I’ll take it!”

and he gave the angels a couple of passing carol singers to eat and – oh dear – it was supposed to be summer wasn’t it? Time itself collapses.

Merry Christmas anyway!

Candle Man audio – Christian Rodska interview

I was delighted when I heard that AudioGo, the BBC audio dept had picked up the rights to record Candle Man, and even more thrilled when it turned out they had made their version available so swiftly. 


Christian Rodska

The actor chosen to read my story is Christian Rodska, known for his early role as Ron Stryker in Follyfoot. He has appeared in countless BBC TV dramas, and has recently worked on Dr Who audios such as Hornet’s Nest with Tom Baker. I was familiar with his atmospheric tones as he narrated Ice Road Truckers on Discovery Channel, one of my personal favourites.

I have had great fun listening to Candle Man being read aloud, and especially enjoy Rodka’s savouring of the villainous and semi-villainous types that fill my book. He does an endearing Mr Nicely, a wonderfully ratty old Foley and a smoothly sinister Dr Saint.

Here’s a part of our rambling conversation.

GD: I recognize your voice instantly from Ice Road Truckers. I like the minimal nature of that. Just the every day lives of these men set against this amazing snowy waste.

CR: Yes, well the thing about Ice Road Truckers is: (confidentially) nothing happens really!

GD: I think that’s what I like about it.

CR:  (Laughs) Well yes, exactly.

GD: How long did it take to record Candle Man?

CR: You obviously don’t just take the book in and read it. It takes a long time to prepare. The more characters there are – the more off-the-wall it is – which your book is, obviously – the longer it takes. There was a lot of work to do on it. Generally with a book the preparation time is at least twice the length of the recording time, so you can reckon on at least 6 days for Candle Man. We did it at the end of last year.

GD: Do you read it straight in your own voice or do you interpret some of the characters and give them voices?

CR: I give all the characters voices. There are two approaches to recording audio books, some people do a very slight voice, but I think – just for the hell of it – for the fun of it, and I‘ve spoken to listeners – the ones I’ve spoken to have liked it when every character is different. That can be a rod for your back sometimes, because if you’ve got a thriller with six Russians in a room, (does heavy Russian accent) six different kinds of Russians – some talk much more lightly like that, (changes into quirkier musing Russian) or maybe more slowly… like this, some like that… (goes up and down in a variety of spy-movie accents). But I do try to make them all different.

GD: In my book there are creepy creatures, garghouls and little imps called smoglodytes.

CR: Yes indeed, they were quite smoky sort of wispy characters, I did them like that (puts on smoky wispy voice). I think they were something like that. I did it all the end of last year. It seems to me you’ve written another one at least since then, haven’t you?

GD: Yes book two is out already and I’m half way through book three so you never know you might get called back.

CR: Look while we’ve been talking I’ve dug out my notes for your book. I keep a list of all the characters I’ve done and make notes. I’ve got in front of me ‘Candle Man.’ For example, Mr Nicely: false cheery, ex-army, obsequious, I think he’s probably a bit like that, Sir, he’s probably a bit like that. (Rodska makes him sound a bit like Parker out of Thunderbirds) Foley he was an old bloke wasn’t ‘e I fink?

GD: Yes he was the wizened old robber he knew tales about the Candle Man.

CR: Well I hope you like what I’ve done.

GD:  I can tell from what you’ve done just then it’s going to be terrific. I was hoping to get a little glimpse. Is there a director there in the studio, or an editor?

CR: There’s one person recording – they trust the actors to come up with it. One thing they can do – I’m finishing Hornblower this afternoon – I was last in the studio 3 weeks ago. I may have slightly lost one or two of the characters. But every time the character comes on the producer punches a button and plays back the voice to you.

GD: I was going to ask you about your Dr Who audios. When you record these things are you not in the same room at the same time?

CR: No you ARE in the same room, because that’s a drama. Your book – and all the books that any of us do – 98% like that – are just one reader. If it’s letters between a couple of people they’ll get two actors in. but the Dr Whos were dramas, so it’s just like doing a radio drama actually.

GD: Was it fun working with Tom Baker? Is he a bit of a character?

CR: Oh yes, – completely. Two or three! But he was very pleasant to me actually. Laughs. The Dr Who I did was called Hornet’s Nest .

GD: I’ve heard he can give people a hard time.

CR: Oh well he does do that, he does complain quite a bit (laughs). Yes I mean that’s his personality, but he was very good as the Man.

GD: Do you remember being in The Tomorrow People?

CR: I remember doing it but I don’t remember what it was about.  In those days special effects – ha ha – were in their infancy. Now everything is so much more credible. I remember it being  bit of pain because one was acting against a blue screen and one’s movements had to be very precise and you didn’t get a chance to really inhabit the character too well.

GD: If I google you I see a character grinning out at me from Follyfoot Farm. You must be a very good actor, it’s like you’re regenerated into a different person from those days.

Ron Stryker from Follyfoot

CR: Well I have less hair!

GD: Your whole demeanor– if that’s the word – has changed entirely.

CR: Oh well thank you, I think the fun of being an actor is doing a lot of very different things.

GD: How old were you?

CR: Its 40 years ago, so I was 25-26.

GD: It was a bit like a soap opera – dramatic and sentimental. It wasn’t like other children’s shows.

CR: It wasn’t, but it was incredibly popular.

GD: It still is – if you go on Youtube people have put up montages. There’s a Youtube film of you as Ron, to the soundtrack of David Cassidy singing ‘I am a clown’.

CR: (Laughs) I must check it out. Actually there’s a sort of reunion, at the beginning of next month. A Follyfoot reunion. Of course two of the cast – Arthur English is dead and so is Desmond Llewelyn, so they won’t be making an appearance but the younger characters will be there.

GD:  Maybe some of the horses will make an appearance. I have a friend who summed up Follyfoot in one line: “But Steve, the horse will die!”

CR: (Laughs at length!) Hah – very clever!

GD:  In terms of your drama career now, what character do you think you get called in to play the most? Is there a typical persona?

CR: Well I don’t think there is. The thing about being versatile, which is great fun, is it’s not the way to become very famous – not today. I mean people become pigeon-holed. On radio drama the great thing is I play loads of different things. I played an absolute bastard in a sailing epic – a Patrick O’Brian thing, that went out three or four weeks ago. Last week I was playing a rather old-fashioned Geordie stand up comic. It can be anything really.

GD: Thanks for your time… I can’t wait to hear the audio.

CR: Well I hope you like it, and I hope you make a lot of money from the sales!