So here’s what I was doing last night.
If you’re of the wrong generation for Public Information Films, let’s just say you had a comparatively sheltered childhood. I have a deep envy for anyone who didn’t spend their youth exposed to horrible videos that showcased the dangers of wandering along railway tracks, or fetching frisbees from electrical substations, or playing near dangerous farm equipment. You probably managed to hold on to a sense of innocence that the rest of us lost the first time we saw little Katie get run over by that Volvo Estate, or the moment Julie had a close encounter with a firework. Bonfire night is somehow never quite the same after something like that.
I’ve written about Public Information Films before, and if you require any sort of education you’re welcome to go and have a look (if only to watch ‘Apaches’ again, or at the very least judge for yourselves as to whether or not I got the style right). It’s not the first foray into the sinister realms of 1970s PIFs I’ve attempted, but it’s also fair to say that ‘Don’t Splink‘ is more of a silly thing (Gareth’s silly thing, actually, minus the tacked-on ending), whereas this is a full-on pastiche.
When it came to selecting relevant stories, there was only one choice. ‘The Hand of Fear‘ is never going to be my favourite Fourth Doctor story (that honour goes to ‘Pyramids of Mars’ or ‘The Ribos Operation’, depending on what mood I’m in), but it is just about the only time I can remember the TARDIS landing in a quarry that was actually supposed to be a quarry, rather than a quarry that was supposed to be an alien planet, with varying degrees of effectiveness depending on where they managed to film it. (I have blanked the bad ones from my memory, but see ‘Colony in Space’ for an example of how to do this particularly well.)
But if ‘Hand of Fear’ features a slightly damp squib of a plot, a thoroughly ridiculous fight in a power plant and the silliest costume Elisabeth Sladen ever wore, it does at least have a convincing explosion in that first episode. In the story the Doctor manages to dig Sarah Jane out of the rubble only to find her clutching Eldrad’s hand, and then he takes her to the hospital before all hell breaks loose. In this, things don’t end so well, but that’s all part of the fun.
The voiceover was done by an old friend and former work colleague who we’ll call David, largely because that’s his name. Three facts about David: he hails from the same Kentish town as my mother; he is the only person I’ve ever met who managed to quote the theme from ‘The Littlest Hobo‘ in his leaving speech; he is, at times, in possession of a smashing beard. David and I would often while away the hours at the office talking about this or that, in between dealing with disgruntled authors and laughing at unusual article titles, and when it came to recalling those unpleasant Public Information Films, it must be said that both his memory and his impressions were particularly good. He did a superb job at this as well.
Once I’d got David’s narration, it was simply a question of condensing the narrative – events happen in this more or less in the same order they appear on screen, but a fair bit of editing was needed in order to maintain a decent pace. I had to work with the limitations of the source material, including an occasionally intrusive score, but all things considered it’s fairly punchy. And that slogan at the end? I wrote that. I’m claiming copyright. Don’t even try stealing it.
There will, I hope, be more of these. Keep a look out for Jon Pertwee in the dangers of working with dangerous chemicals, coming soon to a TV screen near you. In the meantime, be careful crossing the road, don’t tamper with electrical connections, don’t wander off, and if a strange man wearing a mac approaches you in the street and asks you to get into a police box with him, for God’s sake, tell a grown-up.