Road accidents and Sci-fi

Hmm. Interesting contrast in subjects there. How to link them…

Let’s be controversial in both topics.

Road accidents to open with. There’s been a large pile-up on the M5, near Taunton and rather close to the Great Western mainline to the South-West. Having not been down there this weekend I haven’t had a chance to find out if the railway offers the best view of a singed Ginsters van.

Fog is obviously a serious cause of the accident – people have a nasty habit of touching the brakes in fog and other people can’t see that they’ve done it. If the car in front of you stops from 70mph and you don’t, the odds are rather high that you’re going to go into the back of them.

The large fleet of lorries pottering along the motorway doesn’t seem to have helped though. I make it six hulks which were once lorries in that pile of wreckage. It’s rather a lot of rather heavy vehicles which of course proceed to cause more damage.

The accident comes shortly after the Department for Transport has announced it will allow bigger lorries on UK roads. One feels that had the announcement been due in a couple of weeks it would now be vanishing in the direction of the shredder (except its a bad idea, which tends to be the term of endearment for most ideas initiated by the DfT). A rather better direction to be heading in would be removing articulated vehicles from Britain’s roads, given that they are all utter liabilities. (It doesn’t help that some people don’t know how to behave in the presence of one, but whenever they meet an accident they tend to jackknife  and turn a simple shunt into a nice wide pile-up.)

The accident has also served to remove press coverage from the end of the inquest into the 2007 Lambrigg rail crash, which was the last time to date that a passenger was killed in a UK rail crash. The conclusion, being what was largely decided by the interim report and the immediate industry coverage of the crash, had something of an air of “bears defecate in the woods” but it at least means that those who think inquests bring closure has now had closure. Thanks to the roads, the rail industry hasn’t been headlined for being dangerous nearly 5 years after the last fatality.

As a final aside, I would like to protest that the Beeb’s list of road accidents omitted the multi-vehicle pile-ups at Great Heck (2001, 10 killed) and Ufton Nervet (2004, 7 killed). To be fair, the latter one was caused by a suicide.


 To lighter matters and science fiction. I’ve been watching rather a lot of Doctor Who lately. For those unfamiliar with the basic premise, it’s the tale of an old man and his granddaughter from a distant world travelling through space and time in a ship which is bigger on the inside than the outside and has managed to end up stuck in the shape of a police box. (I am given to understand that the basic plot has been varied in subsequent years.)

The first three stories (13 episodes) are interesting, with various scary bits and a brilliant cliffhanger ending for episode 5 featuring a terrified woman in a white corridor being approached by a sink plunger protruding into the shot from under the camera. The next 7 episodes come from a wiped serial called Marco Polo, which has been partially restored with the original audio, colour advertising photos and colourised telesnaps for watching on Youtube. Although not what Doctor Who is famous for (no aliens are present), it is of the “ripping yarn” variety with plenty of suspense. The costumes are sumptuous and the sets magnificent.

You can see the budget for the next story vanishing down the drain as you watch it.

The last episode for Marco Polo announces that the next episode is called The Sea of Death. This splendidly-named episode has survived and is part of the fifth serial, The Keys of Marinus. This was made and broadcast in April and May 1964; considering the budget, the time in which the story was written and the fact that it’s in black and white, Keys is a rather good story and more in-keeping with general Who themes than its predecessor.

It also bears some odd comparisons with the first pilot episode for Star Trek, titled The Cage, which was made  later the same year.

Both feature hypnosis and people being persuaded to believe that the world on which they are on is much nicer than it really is. There is then a shared tendency towards dodgy rocks and pots of action taking place in caves.  Both also attempt to use false perspective to make sets look bigger, which The Cage does with rather more success.

Of course, many of the plotline and technology similarities between the two can be explained by low budgets and Keys being a massively rambling storyline which goes through every possible sci-fi plot in slightly under three hours. (Star Trek stretched them out, with some problems towards the end, over three series.) But it’s an interesting idea to imagine Roddenbury being in Britain around Easter 1964, watching an episode of Keys (probably the second one), finding that science fiction can be broadcast to a large audience and thinking “I could do better than that”.

Whether he could is of course a matter for personal taste. Personally I prefer Keys of Marinus, which is my favourite early Who story. It’s quite funny in several places and the appalling special effects are somewhat endearing.

(I should add that, like many arguments, that one sounded better in my head.)


One thought on “Road accidents and Sci-fi

  1. gawainsmum December 30, 2011 / 21:32

    Are you seriously suggesting that Star Trek plagiarised Dr Who?
    Perhaps Torchwood were involved here.

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