07 February 2007

Books Update: Shirtopener

During the last week or so I've mostly been reading telefantasy tie-in titles.

The Prisoner: The Original Scripts Volume 2, edited by Roger Fairclough, is just as fascinating as the first volume was. As there, Fairclough's editorial apparatus is a little erratic: it's sometimes difficult to tell where informed speculation ends and fannish wish-fulfilment takes over, for instance. Furthermore, in this volume Fairclough really goes to town with the script annotations, so that while reading Hammer into Anvil we are told among other things that "As filmed, Number 2 doesn't sit in his chair" or "As filmed, the Prisoner doesn't ask for adhesive tape" -- facts which are: a) fantastically trivial and b) easily observed by anybody in possession of the D.V.D.s (or even, like me, the ancient 1993 V.H.S. boxed set).

The scripts themselves, however, are just as absorbing as those in the first volume, with the genuinely substantial scripting changes, both subtle and huge, being fascinating to follow. It's really interesting seeing how It's Your Funeral originally incorporated a Manchurian Candidate brainwashing plot, for instance, or how the flirtation between the Prisoner and Number 86 in A Change of Mind was ruthlessly edited out by Patrick McGoohan. Even The Girl Who Was Death lost what would have been some gloriously funny and surreal sequences (including one where a gardener who has been spraying bushes with a canister marked "Insecticide" suddenly begins pursuing Number 6 with a canister marked "Homicide").

The most astonishing discovery in this volume, though, is that the original script for Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling -- the sorry runt of the seventeen-episode family, full of precisely the kind of melodramatic plot, clichéd sub-S.F. devices and over-reliance on obvious back-projection which were so prevalent in the spy series of the era, and which The Girl Who Was Death would mock so mercilessly just two episodes later -- is actually really good. Somehow this intelligent, subtle script, where a well-paced plot develops gradually through revealed clues and the more extreme elements emerge naturally through the action rather than being baldly stated upfront -- this quintessential Prisoner script, in fact -- was mangled during the production process until it became the drivelly mess that ended up on screen.

(For what it's worth, most of the changes made to the scripts in these volumes were largely McGoohan's responsibility, and are generally improvements, or at least not obviously detrimental. On the other hand, Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling was edited and mostly produced in McGoohan's absence. Make of this what you will.)

Like its sister volume, this is well worth the substantial cover price. Highly recommended.

Less weightily, Torchwood: Slow Decay by Andy Lane isn't bad by TV tie-in fiction standards, and certainly better than most of the televised Torchwood stories. Lane has a good grasp on the regular characters (better than most of the scriptwriters, or indeed some of the actors) and a way of coming up with clever, intriguing images which illuminate them and their situations. His prose is smoothly functional, and his horror scenes are appropriately unpleasant.

Unfortunately the plot is formulaic and predictable, and based irritatingly on a very obvious and stupid fallacy. (Highlight whitespace to be spoiled: A parasite in the human gut, however alien, will not make the host appear to lose either weight or volume by eating all their food for them. Instead the hosts, containing as they do a massive, bloated parasite, will look like big, heavy starving people. This makes the idea of using said parasites as a diet tool utterly idiotic.)

It's an O.K. tie-in book, but not a patch on the adult Doctor Who novel ranges of the past... speaking of which, I'm currently re-reading for work-related reasons (writing work, obviously, not administration work) Kate Orman's Return of the Living Dad, which I haven't looked at for many years, and which really is fabulous. I'm also in the early stages of John Courtenay Grimwood's Pashazade: The First Arabesk, which took a while to get into but which I'm now enjoying.

And that's this week's book news.

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