Matters of Life and Death – ‘Dr Who’ & ‘Intruders’ explore the afterlife – SPOILERS!

Television seems to have something of a fixation with matters of life and/or death at the moment, doesn’t it? Along with all the ‘zombie-fayre’. We now have ‘Intruders’ (from the novel ‘The Intruders’  by Michael Marshall Smith, adapted for television by ‘X-Files’ writer Glen Morgan) and the two-part season finale of ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Dark Matter’/’Death in Heaven’.

‘Intruders’ is properly adult television, pulling no punches and definitely not pandering to those who want tobe spoon-fed answers. It’s a complicated plot in many ways, but at its heart it asks the same question via the lead character, ex-LAPD cop Jack Whelan -ably played by British actor John Simm in his first US outing- as the season finale (and perhaps the whole season, if you look carefully!) of ‘Doctor Who’ – ‘Do we live again? What happens after we die?’  It is a question that mankind has been asking since we were first able to frame the question, and always makes for fascinating –and often creepy- television.

In ‘Intruders’, the answer is ‘Yes – some of us do live again – because in the beginning, there was death.’   The Immortals here ‘get another go’ by cohabiting a body with its original owner – and by pushing them out.  (This isn’t terribly spoilery by the way – my husband got that much in episode 1!)  Part one of the two-part ‘Dr Who finale seems to concur with the second part of ‘Intruders’ own answer to the question; Danny Pink discovers in the ‘afterlife’ that death is not the end of existence; that truly, ‘In the beginning was death.’ It’s a great premise for any drama, isn’t it?

For a Time Lord of course, death is never really the end, providing he/she has another regeneration left. It occurred to me whilst watching ‘Dark Water’ that Time Lords could almost be the original Qui Reverti – their consciousness -albeit slightly altered in terms of personality quirks- reappears in a different body. (No suggestion that they kick out the original owner, though – but who knows, perhaps that might be the theme of another episode one day…?) Indeed I almost expected to hear someone say ‘In the beginning, there was death’…

I was slightly perturbed to see a couple of critics voice the opinion that ‘Dark Matter’ was in “poor taste” because it might upset recently bereaved viewers.  In my humble opinion, this is nonsense. Recently bereaved viewers will be upset by all manner of things – I’ve been there several times, so I know! – a tune the departed once loved,  a programme or film you enjoyed together, a place you visited, a meal you use to share, the sight of a hearse, or the death of a character on TV – nothing can stop that, and nothing should, it is all part of the  grieving and acceptance process.  There will always be recently bereaved viewers, and good art will always reflect life. For any drama (whether it be for children or adult viewers) to skirt around the most fundamental question of all (to recap: What happens when we die? Is there life after death?) is to miss an opportunity not only to entertain, but to get people thinking about their own mortality and –at rock bottom- how very important it is to make the most of your time as a thinking, functional being.  Don’t waste a second of it!

‘Dark Water’ also showed anyone who cared to pay attention just how important it is to be honest with the people you love. Clara hasn’t been honest with Danny (keeping her continuing adventures with the Doctor a secret from him because he didn’t approve and she didn’t want to choose one over the other – she wanted both men in her life), and in the end (I must assume, not having seen the second part yet) it cost Danny his life, because if Clara had not phoned him to tell him the truth when she did, he would not have walked out in front of the car and died. A deeply moving performance from Jenna Coleman – if, as rumours say, she is leaving the show soon, it will be a shame. But the idea of finding out exactly who she really is – because, remember all that business with ‘the impossible girl’? – is definitely a good reason to keep watching! (That and the brilliant Peter Capaldi…)

I’m not going to say anything about that big reveal at the end of ‘Dark Water’ – I’m saving that until I have seen part 2. Let’s just say, for now, WOW! Another case of a much-loved character coming back from the dead…

‘Intruders’ has been criticized by some viewers/reviewers as being ‘too confusing’, ‘too violent’, ‘too dark’ and ‘too slow’. Maybe I had an advantage, because I had already read the book before I saw the show; but my husband hadn’t, and he was riveted. He didn’t know what was going on either, just like Jack Whelan (Simm), and it is Jack who leads us through the story.  The viewer actually gets to know more than Jack does, because we see events that he is not privy to until much later in the story (if at all). It isn’t a drama you can afford to nod off in the middle of (although in my opinion it’s way too intriguing for that).

In the first episode, we have a young woman who appears to have been taken over by an entity who then forces her to kill herself; a mother and son are gunned down in cold blood when the gunman doesn’t find the person he is looking for; a man whose wife has been behaving oddly – not like herself- and who then disappears on a business trip; the husband gets a visit from an old school pal who raises questions about Jack’s wife and her connection to some dodgy goings-on in Seattle, and a young girl is approached by the same gunman, given a sand dollar (a type of clam shell?), and is then taken over by someone who likes to drown cats in the bath. Interestingly, the cat-drowning scene seemed to attract the most criticism, a number of viewers stating that they would not be watching any further because of it. It was upsetting, I agree – the ten-year-old actress playing Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) performed a difficult scene with great ability – but it was, in my opinion, a great way to show just how powerful her ‘intruder’ is. You find out why, and who has intruded on her, as the series progresses. (Interestingly, even the show’s fiercest critics are unanimous in their praise of young Millie – so watch it for her, if nothing else – you won’t be disappointed, she is a real talent in the making)

I like the fact that ‘Intruders’ takes time to tell the story; in the early episodes it gives you time to think – though not a lot! Trust me, it picks up pace from episode three onwards, and you really do have to pay attention! For those complaining about the ‘lack of character development’ in episodes 1 & 2, episode 3 has it in bucketfuls, and each subsequent episode reveals more about each character and how they are connected, the layers peeling back until you can see that they are all going to collide at the end, even if you don’t yet know quite how; and they certainly do collide in a very satisfying way. I feel sorry for those viewers who have bailed out early – they will never know what a piece of intriguing, intelligent television they missed.

Why I’m supporting The Ethical Hedonist

Two reasons – the first reason being that Alison Jane Reid (formerly of ‘The Times’ and ‘The Lady’) did a fabulous online three-part video interview with one of my favourite actors, John Simm, last year (you can view it here) and she is now about to publish a new, in-depth profile interview with John in the re-launched ‘Ethical Hedonist‘ online magazine at 3pm tomorrow – as we all know, truly in-depth interviews with Mr Simm are as rare as … well, imagine one of the rarest things you can think of.  He’s a very private man; so for Alison Jane to have managed that video interview and another in-depth profile piece means that she is something rather special as journalists go.

The second reason is that as a newly-self-published author, I appreciate the effort that goes into promoting your own project – and Alison Jane is working very hard to get backing for her new magazine. She is well-known for her high-profile celebrity interviews (remember the Colin Morgan one?) with interview subjects like Hugh Bonneville, Sam West and of course John Simm – and the promise of more of these to come has to be worth donating at least the price of a cup of coffee!

‘What if…?’ From death comes life (and a story)

On Writing ‘The Methuselah Gene’

I’ve been writing ‘The Methuselah Gene‘ (previous working titles have included ‘All Our Yesterdays’, ‘All Our Tomorrows’ and -very briefly- ‘Time Will Tell’) for almost four years now. It evolved from a mind-bending, time-spanning love story (not much like ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ but the same genre) into a much darker tale of death, kidnap and the long-reaching effects of genetic research that I could hardly have anticipated when I wrote the very first line back in 2011!

As all writers know, you start with an idea which mutates with each draft; sometimes you begin with one premise and stick with it until the final draft, changing very little of your core story along the way; sometimes you realise that the original idea just doesn’t work as you get deeper into the plotting and writing, and one small tweak will change the whole premise, hopefully for the better.

‘What if?’ are two words which excite me more than any other when I’m writing. Sometimes they are silent, spoken internally (and occasionally, out loud to myself); sometimes in conversation with family, friends or fellow writers. All those ‘what-ifs’ get noted down (sometimes neatly, more often not) and will be mulled over at length – but when an idea is good, your pen can hardly keep up with your mind… that feeling should almost be made illegal, it’s that good.

The original lead character of the story, Eva, was a widow and a bereaved mother in the very first draft – that much has never changed, although Eva is no longer the central character, and the deaths of her first husband and daughter are twenty-five years in the past.  The deaths of her family were accidental in those early drafts – until one day I found myself thinking ‘But what if it wasn’t accidental? What if they were murdered? Who would have done it, and why?’

That question led me down a whole new path, which took the time-slip element of the first version, made it time travel instead, and made Eva’s new partner (Tom) a bereaved parent too. Research into the reason for his son’s death threw in mutated DNA in the form of Progeria, and we were off – the love story became a mystery and a detective story with a science-fiction premise.  Although not quite so much of the science in the story is fiction, as it happens, because the research which is key to the central plot is in fact happening right now … which makes this, I hope,  the optimum time to tell the story!

Also ‘pursuant to our interests’: 

Related toThe Methuselah Gene only in that it deals with the science of DNA, the story of Genetic Fingerprinting is about to begin filming in Michael Crompton’s new drama for ITV, Code of A Killer.

Starring David Threlfall as Detective David Baker and John Simm as Genetics Professor Alec Jeffreys, ‘Code of A Killer’ tells the true story of how, in 1984, Alec Jeffrey’s ground-breaking research enabled Baker to catch a double killer by using the killer’s unique DNA fingerprint to tie him to the murders.

It is hard to imagine a world where the police don’t have access to Jeffrey’s DNA-Fingerprinting techniques – definitely one to watch!


Produced by World Productions and directed by James Strong, the drama will deal sensitively with the subject matter, and will air on ITV in 2015.