“So you’re my replacements! A dandy and a clown!”

“So you’re my replacements! A dandy and a clown! Have you done anything?”

“Uh, well we’ve assessed the situation—”

“Just as I thought! Nothing.”


In which I track down intelligent life

Hawkwind’s 1999 album In Your Area is a bit of a hodgepodge, being half live, half studio, and with most of the original material consisting of instrumentals rather than original songs. As a result it never really creates that unique identity, that particular atmosphere an album needs to bring you back to it again and again. But after buying it I had it on pretty much constant play for a couple of weeks, largely because of a 44-second track halfway through, called “The Nazca”. A typical Hawkwind weirdie, it consists of the usual electronic synth wooshiness and what I thought, at first, must be a sample from some classic sci-fi film:

“Intelligent life is so very rare. The rarest thing in creation, but the most precious. It is the only thing that gives meaning to the universe. Without it, nothing begins, nothing ends…”

Something about that quote grabbed me. It seemed cosmic, tragic, and hopeful all at once. I really wanted to know where it came from, but for once a Google search turned up absolutely no results, and despite having seen a good many classic SF films (and having read about a good few more) I couldn’t imagine which one it might come from. (The title was no help. It refers to the Nazca lines in Peru — those large-scale ground-doodles made, about one and a half thousand years ago, for the amusement of the gods, or any other sky-flying entity that happens to be passing.)

Things got even more intriguing when the same voice (and therefore, I assumed, an extract from the same quote) appeared in a few more Hawkwind tracks, speaking some different lines. One version of Tim Blake’s solo piece, “Lighthouse”, for instance, has:

“We are a very old people, from a very old planet compared to yours. If we are to survive we must colonise…”

Finally, a couple of months ago, I got the answer. The quote wasn’t from an old SF film, it’s from John Wyndham’s 1968 novel Chocky.

Assuming it was from the 1984 TV adaptation (which I missed at the time it was first shown, probably because it was on ITV, and I tended to watch BBC), I put it on my LoveFILM rental list. But that turned out only to feature a very shortened version of the “Intelligent Life” speech, and in a totally different voice. (It had good theme music, though. A little reminiscent of Brian Eno’s “Sparrowfall (2)” from Music For Films (1978), but excusably so, because I suspect the melody was designed to echo the word “Chocky”, and it’s the melody that makes it sound similar to the Eno track.) There’s also a 1967 BBC radio adaptation (which can be found at Archive.org), but there the “Intelligent Life” speech is equally short.

I’m going to keep searching, but I suspect it must have been recorded by Mr Brock and co. themselves. Either way, here’s some more of the quote from the novel (all the dot-dot-dots are present in the original):

“But intelligent life is rare… very rare indeed… the rarest thing in creation…

“But the most precious…

“For intelligent life is the only thing that gives meaning to the universe. It is a holy thing, to be fostered and treasured.

“Without it nothing begins, nothings ends, there can be nothing through all eternity but the mindless babbling of chaos…

“Therefore, the nurture of all intelligent forms is a sacred duty. Even the merest spark of reason must be fanned in the hope of a flame.”

Which I absolutely agree with.

It’s a nice little novel, mildly satirical of the comfortable middle-classes it is also so obviously addressed to. Although ostensibly about a little boy who is contacted telepathically by a far advanced alien being, Chocky could equally be taken as a tale about the emergence of a creative talent, and about the way the conventionalities, and even the kindnesses, of a civilised society do their best to stifle, embarrass, disapprove of, and generally shut it up.


Tom Baker’s other doctor

Between Rasputin in Nicholas and Alexandra (covered in a previous mewsings) and the evil Prince Koura in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Tom Baker played the part of the Egyptian Doctor in George Bernard Shaw’s The Millionairess, which was put on as a Play of the Month by the BBC in 1972, and is available as part of a George Bernard Shaw BBC box-set. (Which, fortunately, can be rented as individual disks from LoveFilm.)

It’s another example of Baker’s career following a train of thought, as he’s cast, once more, in the role of a fascinating foreigner; but, in a departure from the two film roles that bracket this TV performance, the Egyptian Doctor is not a villain. He even manages to have a touch of Doctor Who about him, being a benevolent scientist with absolutely no interest in, or knack for, money, but a strong desire to do good for the needy.

There’s little room in Shaw’s wordy play for much in the way of character development on the part of the actor, though — and certainly none for the sort of improvisation that brought life to Baker’s Doctor Who. Despite Shaw’s claim that The Millionairess “does not pretend to be anything more than a comedy of humorous and curious contemporary characters such as Ben Jonson might write were he alive now”, it is, as always with Shaw, far more a political argument than a play about people. I always find Shaw’s plays to be made up of wit and tedium and very little in between, with only the few, better, plays having enough of the former to really make up for the latter. (Heartbreak House and Saint Joan are my favourites.) At his best, Shaw can be very engaging in an argument — never failing to bring in an arresting paradox or two to really strike home his point — but after a while, in a drama at least, the constant paradoxes and cross-arguments leave me completely confused as to what point he’s trying to make. (The prefaces to the plays are far more informative, and entertaining, on that score.) If a Shaw play works at all, it’s because interesting characters emerge from the points he’s trying to make, rather than the other way round. And The Millionairess is not really one of his successes.

Still, there’s something a little Shavian about Tom Baker’s later interpretation of Doctor Who, some of the seeds of which can be found in his Egyptian Doctor — the grandiloquence, the generosity, the constant sprinkling of humour. And, of course, as always, that bulbous-eyed under-the-brow stare: