TV Review – Penny Dreadful continued

Penny Dreadful - Sir MalcolmThree episodes of Penny Dreadful have aired so far in the UK, one behind the US. Sadly, the promise of the first episode has not quite been maintained. While episode 3, Resurrection, wasn’t as much of a mess as the preceding Séance, the dialogue seemed particularly all over the place. Overall there was a feeling that much scenery was made available for actors to chew, but none of it of any substance. Hence…

Judging by the previews of next week’s episode, the ensemble will soon be complete, and come together at last; and perhaps Josh Hartnett’s character can take another inevitable step along his nigh-literal Hero’s Journey.

TV Review: Penny Dreadful – Episode 1 – Night Work

Penny Dreadful - Vanessa Ives

Showtime’s new show Penny Dreadful has been on my radar for a little while now, and to no great surprise: A Victorian era urban fantasy show, with shades of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Written by John Logan, famed for Sweeney Todd, Gladiator, Skyfall and The Aviator? Starring Eva Green? Directed by J.A. Bayona, best known for The Orphanage? It’s a perfect storm.

Let me put you out of your misery; thanks to Sky and Showtime’s decision to make this show available digitally ahead of its TV release, I have just finished watching it, and it’s very good.

(Aside: We really need to find a better term to call this programming than ‘TV’)

Some mild spoilers ahead.

Penny Dreadful - Ethan ChandlerThe first episode, Night Work, introduces us to the world and begins to introduce its dramatis personæ, through the eyes of Josh Hartnett’s gunslinging ingénue. While he isn’t the focus of the episode, he is shaping up to be the hero of the show. Not in a simplistic way, but he is literally taking the Heroes Journey here, guided by Eva Green and Timothy Dalton’s hooded light.

While his depths are alluded to, what we initially see is his naivety to this world, this Victorian London caught between light and dark. It is his guides that have layers and depths and mysteries to them. Mysteries that, in contrast to a lot of other recent TV shows, I actually care to have revealed. I want to know; but I’m also enjoying not knowing.

The horror tropes, alluded to by the title, are there as expected, some of them pleasantly subverted. But this is not a horror show. It is a mystery show, a Victorian urban fantasy, painted with the palate of horror.

I’ll grant, it’s a well-used palate, and the show borrows heavily, not just from literature, but from past shows. But this League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets From Hell is definitely watchable; even knowing when to lighten things a little, like with a superb turn by Simon Russell Beale.

It’ll be interesting to see how the show develops. It only has eight episodes and there are more major characters to be introduced, all plucked from the pages of Shelley, Wilde, Stoker and their contemporaries. But one episode in, I’m excited for more.

Draft Zero of Underworld Calling Completed

So, after a year of work, several wrong turns and distractions, I finally have a completed draft of a feature film. It’s incredibly rough, a little short, an unpolished draft zero, and flawed all to hell. But I do have a completed feature film script and some good ideas of how to improve it.

Currently the first 10 pages or so are in quite a good state, considering I’ve been hawking this project around, even though it wasn’t finished. (Top tip: Don’t do this) But the rest of it, there are a great many pages that I haven’t even read myself since the words flowed out of my fingers and into the screen writing software. Lots of characterisation, lots of foreshadowing and cleaning up of dialogue… There’s a lot of work to do for the next draft.

But I do have a completed draft screenplay of a feature film.  😀

But first, I think I need a palate cleanser, something totally different that will allow me to come back to Underworld Calling fresh and ready for a new edit.

Maybe it’s time to get back to Broken Gears.


Writing Exercise 2 Contribution

A time travel wuxia urban fantasy for Writing Exercise 2:

time travelDI Carter walked into the charnel house that was inadequately described as the scene of the crime and knew that he’d seen it all before. Unfortunately, this being his first case with the Metaphysical Investigation Department of the Metropolitan Police, he also knew that he hadn’t really seen it before. It was a clear case of pre-ja vu; that eerie feeling that one day you’re going to have deja vu about exactly this situation.

The house was known to him, of course, from his time in Serious & Organised. Triad middlemen too clever to get caught, too canny to be snuck up on or entrapped, too cagey to rumbled by the competition. And yet here they were, their brain matter smeared across the walls, their viscera tainting the uncut heroin in washing-up bowls.

‘Alright Harry – what’s the deal?’ Carter asked the jaded crime scene manager from Forensic Operations.

‘Well, it’s a bit early to tell for sure, but it looks like these… gentlemen, were beaten with fists and feet.’

Carter struggled to maintain the surly demeanour that he had decided would be his trademark. ‘They were… beaten up in a fight? A fist fight? With… fists?’

‘And feet, yes. Also probably elbows, knees, at least one solid headbutt…’

‘All of them?!’

‘Yes, probably one guy, judging by the foot prints and scuff marks. And from the positioning of what’s left of the bodies, they never saw it coming.’

‘Harry… There’s eight corpses in this room.’

‘Yup. Welcome to the MID, Carter.’

Eight years later Carter, now a DCI, was back at that same house. Everything had been cleaned down, replastered, repainted and resold. It was now a nice suburban home, for a nice middle-class family that had been sent on a nice vacation for a few days. Carter, now somewhat heavier set, wore a surly expression and weighed a leaden cosh in his hand. In the end, it was just a matter of time.

The air shimmered in front of him and, before it could fully coalesce, he swung his cosh hard at the half-formed shape. With a grunt, a man slumped semi-conscious at his feet; groggy, surprised and covered in the gruesome evidence of a case eight years cold. Calmly Carter cuffed the man, hand and foot and soul, before sitting in on a stool, waiting for his suspect to fully come to.

‘You’re nicked, mate.’

‘For killing Triads? I did you a favour!’

‘No mate, not my beat, I couldn’t give a shit about the murder.’


‘Don’t think I don’t know what you are. You can strike before you were ever there, before anyone even has a chance to react. You can end someone’s life with their own stillbirth by nutting them as a pensioner. You, my son, are a practitioner of Deja Fu, the martial arts of time and space.’

‘So? You can’t prove I killed those Triads and you can’t arrest me for things I haven’t done yet!’

‘I don’t have to. Eric Ling, I’m arresting you for breach of the Control of Metaphysics Act.’

‘There’s no such law!’

‘No,’ said Carter. ‘But there will be. And I don’t reckon time’s on your side any more.’

On Reality

I think that, to a greater or lesser extent, writers have a tenuous grasp on reality. In fictional worlds we create situations, people and places, but tinged by our own perspectives and experiences. Even in non-fiction, the worldview we put forward is a constructed, edited one, addressed at an audience and free from many of the contradictions of our inner minds.

I bring this up because, on the few times I actually remember my dreams, the barriers between dreamworld and ‘reality’ become so blurred for me, that even on waking I’m still not sure whether I’m still asleep. I had such a dream last night. In a semi-awake state I wrote the following in my journal:

It’s not the first time I’ve had dreams indistinguishable from the real world, whether realistic nightmares of masked loved ones, or dreams of a full day of work. This also tallies with my love of films that question what reality is, whether it be The Matrix, Existenz or, most appropriately, Inception. I wonder if my love of these films is because of the dreams, whether the dreams are because of the films, or because both are a symptom of my post-modern suspicions about the so-called absolute and irrefutable nature of reality.

The nature of reality is something I come back to a lot. I write a lot of urban fantasy, a modern, recognisable world where beneath the comforting veneer of the familiar lies the horror of the unknown. I wrote a non-fiction piece called Parallel Words for a comics website and a somewhat niche spoken word piece called Plato’s Cave. Anything to try and make sense of the desert of the real.

We use the word ‘real’ as if it’s solid, reliable, its stability a comfort. Reality is terror enough for some people, without adding the complication that it might not be quite as comfortingly immutable as they convince themselves it is. Malleable reality, inter-layered interlocked personal paradigms, these are the ephemeral things of dreams and nightmares, where nothing can be relied upon.

I recently read, and loved, Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward (review soon!) in which the protagonist says the following:

People always find it so frustrating that there’s no structure they can see, that they just have to follow the river downstream and see what they find. They want to know the plot so they can guess the end, because they’re afraid of what it might be. I can understand that, even though I know it’s not the way things work. I never know what the hell’s going to happen next, but I can live with that.

As writers we craft our realities, overlapping with those of others from time to time; we show them our rivers and will them to follow them downstream. If we’ve done our jobs well, they won’t know what the hell’s going to happen next, and we hope they can take aspects of what we’ve created for them and integrate it into their own realities.

Finally, in summary, I leave you with some words of wisdom from John Constantine:

John Constantine on Reality