The best episode of Dr. Who this season was called “Flatline”, written by Jamie Mathieson and featuring aliens from a two-dimensional universe, known as “the boneless.” This season has featured an influx of big screen talent — Frank Cottrell Boyce (writer of 24HR PARTY PEOPLE); Ben Wheatley (director of A FIELD IN ENGLAND) and Rachel Talalay (TANK GIRL), but ironically these have all been trumped by Mathieson, who has only one cinema credit, and director Douglas MacKinnon, whose several other Who episodes have not reached such heights of atmosphere and excitement. The combination of a lively story full of ideas, both amusing and creepy, and a well-conceived look for the baddies (inspired by 3D printer glitches — this gives them a Francis Bacon quality) brought out the best in everyone.
This will all link up in the end. For my birthday, my parents gave me some goodies including Best Movie Stories, a review copy of a 1969 anthology of cinema-themed short fiction. While it was delightful to read Noel Coward referring to “the Beverley Hills” (that definite article still cracks me up, obscurely), the big hits for me were the tales by William Saroyan, O.K., Baby, This is the World, and Gerald Kersh, The Dogs Bark, but the Caravan Passes, which is actually the last part of a novel, An Ape, a Dog and a Serpent.
I resolved to seek out more Saroyan and Kersh.
More or less at once, a copy of The Fifth Pan Book of Horror Stories fell off my shelf. Like Best Movie Stories, this was a second-hand bookshop purchase, and it turns out to contain a story by Kersh, Men Without Bones. It’s quite Lovecraftian, with maybe some Quatermass thrown in. It doesn’t make all that much sense but stirs up some creepiness and revulsion, with its armies of small, fat, jelly-like boneless men.
Anyhow, that connects up with Dr. Who, doesn’t it?
So now I’ve bought Fowler’s End, supposed by many to be Kersh’s best novel, a black comedy of London life in the early thirties, set around a decrepit cinema showing silent films. Here’s how Kersh describes the central light fixture in the auditorium ~
“From a peeling brass-plated rod fixed in the centre of the roof hung a kind of orange-and-green dustbin made of glass lozenges. If there is such a thing as brown light, brown light leaked out of the top of this contraption, making a shapeless pattern which, when you looked at it, took away your will to live. Looking up as a quicksand closes over your head, you see such a light and such a pattern as the last bubble bursts.”
Like Edinburgh Filmhouse, the Fowler’s End Pantheon is housed in a former church, in this case one created by a sect called the Nakedborners. It’s owned by a grotesque caricature of the Jewish entrepreneur, a vulgar, crooked lunatic called Sam Yudenow, whom the Jewish Kersh has great fun making as flamboyantly repulsive as possible. Kersh is also the originator of Night and the City and London low-life was his metier, though he also wrote sci-fi and horror and journalism and whatever paid the bills.
Addendum: in an old volume entitled St Michaels’ 65 Tales of Horror — published by the shop chain Marks & Spencer in the 70s, and containing a story, The Spider by Hanns Heinz Ewers, which I filmed in 1993 (the text still has orange highlighter where I underlined the useful bits), I find another Kersh, Comrade Death. It is astonishing, horrific.
“And then again, gas; I can show you some quite amazing things the Necrogene has done to men. They have twisted themselves into positions — well, I tell you, if they had studied acrobatics all their lives they could never have achieved such contortions! Amazing! One poor fellow bit himself in the small of the back. But you’d never believe. Come, let me show you —”