After months of procrastination which owed more to my wife and I being awake enough to actually sit through them rather than any intentional neglect, we finally sat down to watch ‘Heaven Sent’ and ‘Hell Bent’ Steven Moffat’s final two parter for series 9 of ‘Doctor Who’.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 28/11/2015 - Programme Name: Doctor Who   - TX: 05/12/2015 - Episode: HELL BENT (By Steven Moffat) (No. 12) - Picture Shows:  Clara (JENNA COLEMAN), Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI) - (C) BBC   - Photographer: Simon Ridgway

Sort-of in love.

New ‘Doctor Who’ has often strived to reconcile the relationship of its central characters, the need to write-out actors and universe-shattering events in its series finales. Four times it’s ended with the death of the Doctor, four times with the destruction of the current Doctor and companion dynamic. The Doctor, Amy and Rory all manage to make it out alive by the end of series 5 and 6, plus Clara and the twelfth Doctor survive the end of series 8, even if poor old Danny Pink doesn’t.

It was therefore interesting to see series 9 try something different. A dead companion, a resurrected companion, a nearly dead companion hanging out with an immortal sociopath – it’s a different sort of journey. For that to happen we need the Doctor to be at his most achingly romantic. Living in a prison for two billion years and repeatedly punching his way through a wall of pure diamond, only to be stopped each time by a hooded beastie giving him a cuddle. When he does punch his way out and finds himself back on his home planet, he’s going to usurp the President, get rid of the High Council and then use the might of the Time Lords to rescue his girlfriend. Except that he finds his plan is a little screwed-up. We get Doctor Hubris again, just like when Ten went nuts at the end of ‘Waters of Mars’.

Here’s the kicker though, he’s not going to remember any of it – well, he’s not going to remember Clara. He recalls their adventures, but possibly not spending two billion years in a confession dial or becoming President of the Time Lords (again). It’s a reversal of the end of ‘Journey’s End’ where Donna’s mind was wiped. Poor Doctor, he can’t recall the girl her sort-of loved.

I say ‘sort-of’ because the final moments of the Doctor and Clara together are just plain weird. It’s not clear if Clara is able to amend the ‘neural block’ using the sonic specs or not, so perhaps the Doctor engineers the ‘block’ to just work on himself. They decide to both press the mind-wipe button at the same time. The look lovingly into each other’s eyes, they almost touch thumbs, they don’t kiss. To be honest I found it to be a little impotent, pathetic even.

I keep asking: Why did this need to happen? Because the Master foresees that the Doctor and Clara will be agents for chaos and therefore perfect for each other, resulting in the unravelling of time. Me decides this needs to stop and declares that they need to break-up. This is remarkably shrewd of her as she gets what she always wanted: a TARDIS, removes the Doctor from the equation and still ends up with the girl – result! In fact if you really wanted to get timey-wimey about it, then let Me go back in time, plant the rumour of the Hybrid into Time Lord history, thus having her earlier self manipulated into killing Clara and capturing the Doctor, triggering the events of her getting a TARDIS.

So, the Doctor doesn’t win. Me does. Clara doesn’t win really, cos if I were her, I’d have pushed Me into the nearest supernova. If anything, this is a cliffhanger, passed off as an ending. And I think that’s why I was largely unsatisfied- it wasn’t a celebratory ending, undercut by tragedy. It wasn’t the resolution to a puzzle box. It was instead our heroes getting a kick in the teeth for simply existing. If this was passed-off as a series end cliffhanger, a to-be-continued it would have had resonance. Instead the Doctor gets a bit of his mind-wiped, a drop in the ocean for a near-immortal. He picks up a new sonic screwdriver and re-dons the velvet jacket. Now what? So what?

Another problem, at least to my mind is that this is a tragedy played out to the tune of romantic comedies. ‘Heaven Sent’ is ‘Groundhog Day’ or ’50 First Dates’, the Doctor wants to win the woman of his dreams by repeating his actions over and over again, romance through perseverance. ‘Hell Bent’ is ‘ Sweet Home Alabama’ where the Doctor comes home, treats it with total disdain, but eventually realises that even he needs to play by the old-fashioned, home-spun rules. Home is even portrayed as a barn, it doesn’t get much more folksy than that. He even upsets all the old fogies in charge, just like ‘Footloose’.

Old people are grumpy.

Old people are grumpy.

One more word I could use to describe both parts is ‘intimate’. Not necessarily reflecting the emotional content, but if you’re going to make ‘Heaven Sent’ a one-hander, it would have been nice to have ‘Hell Bent’ a little more filled with characters. Admittedly, budget will always be an issue, but the epic and beautifully shot Gallifreyan landscape didn’t really match the four interiors we were treated to: barn, board room, Tron clinic, cloister. Even the end of the universe is just one woman sat in a chair. It felt empty and lacking in scale. This is perhaps precisely what was wanted, to put the Doctor and Clara’s relationship front and centre, but even then I think ‘Doctor Who’ should always aim for a little bit more than two people talking, shouting and getting a bit upset with each other.

There was a lot to love in series nine. Excellent returns for Missy and Davros. The Zygons getting a great come-back story (that slipped into talkiness). An intriguing character arc for Me and in ‘Under the Lake’/’Before the Flood’ some of the best balls-out scary ‘Doctor Who’ in ages. It could have all led up to an incredible reveal of what the Time Lords wanted and how the Doctor could defeat them. In the end they were grumpy and shouty and a little confused by their own motivations, exactly the same applied to the Doctor and Clara.

At the end we see the two TARDISes go their separate ways. I thought, if I was given the red button choice, which one would I follow now? The duplicitous Me, to all intents and purposes a Doctor without a moral code, plus his funny, loveable companion or the grumpy old man, moping over his memory-loss and lacking purpose? Somewhere along the way, for me at least, the tone got lost, confusion reined and the fun disappeared in the other TARDIS.

‘Brilliantly inept’ is how The Guardian chose to describe ‘Die Another Day’ in an article from 2014. It has a point. ‘Die Another Day’ has plenty of spectacle, even some entertaining moments, yet it is generally considered to be the worst Bond film ever made.

I would argue though that ‘Die Another Day’ has some good moments and perhaps not the travesty that Bond fans suggest. It does, however, have several key problems that are worth exploring.

STRUCTURE

‘Die Another Day’ has an odd structure and I don’t mean the Ice Palace. If one were to break down a basic structural approach for a traditional Bond movie it might go like so: Exotic Location 1 > London > Exotic Location 2 (or 3) > Villain’s lair. This approach isn’t set in stone, but it’s rather how an audience might expect a Bond movie to traditionally work. Crucially, ‘Die Another Day’ ignores this. The decision to send Bond to Cuba after being trapped in North Korea is a good one. It kicks the movie into high gear. Bond doesn’t need to go back to London and the movie can continue. The problem is Bond does go back to London and he’s there for quite a while. Not only getting his own briefing, we also see Miranda Frost being briefed. Bond then has a couple of meetings with M and Q in an underground station just off Westminster Bridge. Then there’s the fencing scene in which Bond gets the measure of Gustave Graves, while wrecking a London club for good measure – it’s quite a time before Bond goes to Iceland. The party in Iceland, followed by Bond’s bedding of Frost and the subsequent outing for the invisible car also seems over-long. By the time Bond’s doing his cgi tidal wave surfing you’re beginning to wonder if this is the end of the movie. It’s not and the action goes back to Korea. Nothing wrong with that ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ begins and ends in Scaramanga’s base, the difference is Bond’s returning to somewhere he’s already been.

In essence then, you could cut out the whole London sequence and still have a coherent movie. Bond could be reinstated on the ground in Cuba, flown straight to Iceland (as Bond reads his mission notes on the plane we intercut with M briefing Frost), Bond then briefed by Q in Rekyavik, drives to Ice Palace, meets Gustav Graves, they fence, then there’s the party in the evening. Bond and Jinx break into the Ice Palace garden, are captured, Frost reveals her duplicity, Bond and Jinx escape and hide onboard Graves’s plane to Korea and then save the day as planned.

STYLE

Lee Tamahori at least imbues the film with some stylistic touches that differentiate the film from ‘The World is Not Enough’s rather dour approach. However, the film feels decidedly un-Bond like because of some of these. ‘London Calling’ playing over the top of the London sequence is from the Big Book of Location Cliches. It’s frankly amazing that we don’t get the ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ playing over the top of the Cuba introduction. Mercifully ‘Gangnam Style’ was ten years away.

The film was (and has been since) criticised for its over-reliance on CGI. The tsunami surfing scene looks particularly bad. While it may well have been rushed to reach the film’s release date it should have been down to Tamahori, who insisted on the sequence, to decide if it was good enough to be shown onscreen. Another of Tamahori’s additions was the car chase in the Ice Palace, which given the lack of scale in the location and stop-start nature, never really takes off. It’s also worth noting that Tamahori decided on this sequence once the set had begun construction.

Graves’ super-villain outfit for the movie’s conclusion makes him look more like a member of the X-Men than a Bond baddie. The gadgets have become part of the outfits which can’t be right. No matter how fashionable you attempt to make a pair of Oakleys, you’ll still associate them with sports world. Which brings us to…

STUNTS

The trend that we saw emerging in ‘The World is Not Enough’, using stunt versions of vehicles associated with ‘extreme sports’, is continued in ‘Die Another Day’. From Moon’s mine-sweeping hovercrafts to both of Bond’s surfing sequences and the Switchblade glider, it’s no surprise that Tamahori was chosen to direct ‘xXx: State of the Union’ three years later. The surfing stunt is pretty amazing to look at and surfing at the cinema can produce some epic spectacle – look at ‘Point Break’. Whether or not you buy Bond himself surfing, is up to you, personally I didn’t. The camouflage surfboards were also a little ridiculous. At least ‘A View to a Kill’ had the decency to play that for laughs.

The stunt-work I really enjoyed in the film was actually the fencing. Bond and Graves put some real impact into the fight and their dislike for each other is palpably carried over the screen by the actors. It’s also quite funny, watching the Blades Club staff scurrying about. Fencing simply feels more like Bond to me than surfing.

STORY

You have to feel slightly for Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. With the director deciding to insert new action sequences and the casting of Halle Berry throwing off their original script’s structure, the pair probably felt like they were scrambling. With this being the twentieth Bond they probably also felt the pressure to create an anniversary feel to the plot which borrows from both the novel of ‘Moonraker’ and also the plot of ‘Diamonds are Forever’. The homages are far too numerous to go into here, but familiarity can breed contempt. Perhaps the most outrageous reprise is Miranda Frost working for the enemy, largely because we’d seen exactly the same twist in ‘The World is Not Enough’. Not only that, but they have the audacity to do it again in ‘Casino Royale’.

There are some good ideas in the movie. The capture of Bond, the plastic surgery gamble in Cuba, the Ice Palace, I like all these ideas. Jinx may be another attempt to create a female Bond, like Michelle Yeoh’s Wei Lin, but she is at least fun and well acted by Halle Berry. Some of the dialogue, “Yo momma” leaves a little to be desired. For Brosnan though the dialogue is probably the weakest of all of his movies, though his performance continues to be confident and assured. Interestingly his best scenes are those with Toby Stephens who relishes playing a real arsehole in Graves. If Brosnan was essentially playing Bond as a teenager, this is the movie where he goes travelling, surfs, grows a beard and encounters someone the same as him, but is a bigger spoilt prick than he is.

AND YET…

Having now re-watched all four of Brosnan’s over the past couple of weeks I found ‘Die Another Day’ to be entertaining. More entertaining than ‘The World is Not Enough’ in fact. This surprised me, but whereas ‘The World is Not Enough’ feels kind of timid, ‘Die Another Day’ is brash in its spectacle. Yes, there’s some terrible dialogue and some questionable stylistic decisions, but at least it has a style as opposed to Apted’s lacklustre approach. I still think ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is Brosnan’s best, it’s tight, confident and a welcome satire. ‘GoldenEye’ is a great relaunch for Bond in the 1990s, that tonally feels a little flat, but redeemed by Brosnan and Bean and of course Famke Janssen. ‘Die Another Day’ is nowhere near as good as those two films, but at least it feels more enthusiastic than ‘The World is Not Enough’, which I think is now my least favourite of the Brosnan era.

And after all that, I sit back and consider the arrival of Daniel Craig and ‘Casino Royale’. Before I do though, another sudden thought occurs to me: Hang on, wasn’t that Michael Madsen?

1999 so naturally there’s a Millennium Bug joke, though John Cleese playing R at least has the decency to wait until the end of the movie to make it. ‘The World is Not Enough’ is a strange Bond, it wants to be a grown-up Bond movie, but doesn’t quite seem to make it. If anything it’s an interesting movie because a lot of the elements get recycled in ‘Quantum of Solace’ and more glaringly in ‘Skyfall’.

Let’s start with the focus of the movie Elektra King played with pouty reserve by Sophie Marceau. She does well in her opening scenes from grief at the death of her father to being the driven, but compassionate business woman driving her oil pipe through Azerbaijan but being careful not to destroy a local church. However we then spend more time with her and then more time. Director Michael Apted seems to want to put her front-and-centre of the movie so much she might as well be holding a sign that says ‘really the villain’. The sad truth is that were she just the victim the film’s narrative wouldn’t dwell on her the way it does, even if Bond does fall for her. In later scenes, once we know the truth and she gets to play out her dominatrix fantasy with Bond strapped to a chair that Marceau actually looks like she’s having fun, and consequently, we as the audience do too.

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The focus on King makes Renard played by a post-‘Full Monty’ Robert Carlyle into her familiar. He is more henchman than lead villain in this film, even if he does have super-villain qualities complete with his own origin stories. ‘Renard’, a name out of the ‘Big Book of Villainous Names’ (under ‘C’ for ‘Cunning’) doesn’t suit him at all. ‘Butcher’ or just ‘Psycho Nut Job’ might have done better. At least they decided to opt for a physical deformity to illustrate his criminality, in true Fleming style. We haven’t seen that since, ooh, two movies ago. Carlyle can be a very charismatic actor, but here he’s taken ‘not being able to feel anything’ to mean ‘act in a very stiff manner. He may have dialled-down the camp, but he’s lost something in the entertainment too.

Also a little flat (certainly in one way if not the other) is Denise Richards. Not as bad as you might remember playing nuclear weapons expert Dr Christmas Jones, but still not firing at 100%. Dressed like Lara Croft and therefore carrying more cultural signals that ‘this girl likes adventure’ than a dozen pantyliner ads, Richards does her best to keep up Brosnan. If one or two lines had been delivered with a little more enthusiasm, I think she would be a little bit more fondly remembered. She is, however, Oscar winning material compared to Goldie who is genuinely terrible.

This leaves at least three good performances to rescue the movie. Firstly Judi Dench as M, this time given the personal back-story designed to make us care a bit, after she went to university with King’s father. Dench does the restrained anger of someone who wants revenge very well, without drifting into righteous anger. Her subsequent capture and resolve is excellent. Her he-man-bitch-slap of King is expertly timed. Secondly there is Robbie Coltrane this time given more to do as Valentin Zukovsky. He is playful, charming and you warm-up every time he is onscreen. Even his acting in the trope of the ‘just one last shot as I lay dying’ is executed with a twinkle in his eye. A shame he couldn’t have been the new Felix.

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That leaves Pierce Brosnan, who is now comfortable in the role of Bond and knows exactly how to pitch it, even if his co-stars don’t. Admittedly he seems to be less ‘fun’ than in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ but he still acts like a horny teenager by hoping to impress Elektra King with his skiing skills and then bedding her. There’s an added physicality to Brosnan with each of his outings, his disarming of one of Zukovsky’s goons in the casino is particularly good, as is the fight in Swiss Bank in Bilbao. His one-liners are quite good in this one (though obviously not yet Roger or Sean standard).

Dr. Christmas Jones: The world’s greatest terrorist running around with six kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can’t be good. I gotta get it back, or someone’s gonna have my ass.
James Bond: First things first.

Bond is also quite clever in this movie. Putting the King and Renard connection together in the Kazakhstan mine is smart, as is the idea of making King think he’s died in the pipeline explosion. It’s a shame that the movie only uses the ruse for about five minutes and that it has no real impact on King or Renard.

This is also the era where Bond does ‘extreme sports and vehicles’. Sure, it may have started with Roger snowboarding up a storm in ‘A View to a Kill’ but following the last movie’s HALO jump we now have PARA-GLIDING SNOW MOBILES and TURBO-POWERED STUNT BOATS! Maybe because ‘GoldenEye’ made do with helicopters and tanks and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ had helicopters and motorbikes, it feels like ‘The World is Not Enough’ is really trying too hard with the set pieces. Like the previous two movies it also has helicopters, but these have GIANT FREAKIN’ CIRCULAR SAWS attached to them (a leftover idea from ‘GoldenEye’). It is, of course, about to get much, much worse in the next film.

Overall then I find ‘The World is Not Enough’ to be a curiously dull movie. Its chosen locations of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkey all lack exoticism, even the filming in Bilbao looks like it was carried on a wet Tuesday in February. It signposts its twist by placing it front and centre and has to get its lead to carry the whole film in the wake of muted or wooden performances from the rest of the cast. Some of the creative decisions (the MI6 HQ in Scotland, characters passing around plutonium like they were Maltesers, the casting of Goldie) are very silly indeed. Some of the themes of the film would get a better chance of being explored in ‘Quantum of Solace’ (the use of resources) and ‘Skyfall’ (M under threat, a much better use of Scotland).

There is are two stand-out moments in the film, one poignant and one disturbing. Desmond Llewellyn’s final scene as Q is really quite moving.

Q: I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.
James Bond: And the second?
Q: Always have an escape plan.

Now, what’s odd about that is that the first thing is not something I’m ever sure Q has tried to teach Bond. I’m sure a quip about ‘returning government property’ might have worked better. The second line though is genius.

The disturbing moment is Bond killing Elektra and then standing over her body looking for all the world like he’s about to whip his old chap out and defile her body right there on the bed. More disturbingly M watches the whole thing, a little stunned at the monster she holds the reins of. The moment is over in seconds, but for me remains the stand-out scene in the whole film.

Only 007 would have the balls or the stupidity to premiere a movie opposite the second highest grossing film of all time, but so it was on the 19th of December 1997 and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ launched in the US against ‘Titanic’.

‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ was rushed into production following the success of ‘GoldenEye’. Kirk Kerkorian, the reclusive billionaire owner of MGM wanted the film to open at the same time as the company’s public stock offering. While it’s easy to label the film’s villain Elliot Carver as an analogue for Robert Maxwell or Rupert Murdoch one wonders if the production team were also drawing parallels with Kerkorian.

Bruce Feirstein rushed through a script which was then handed to director Roger Spottiswoode. Spottiswoode rewrote some of the script before handing it to ‘Star Trek’ writer and director Nicholas Meyer to perform further rewrites. More writers are on-board and then EON brings the script back to Feirstein. There was not a full script available on day one of shooting. The title of the film is a misprint, EON were working with ‘Tomorrow Never Lies’ when a smudged fax caused MGM to read it as ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’.

I’m raising these development issues because, given these challenges, it’s pretty amazing that ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is as good as it is. In fact I believe it’s a better crafted movie than ‘GoldenEye’, tighter, better looking, perhaps only lacking the former’s comedic value. In fact I’d make a case for ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ being one of the most underrated Bond films of the series.

Firstly the plot and subject matter have only grown in relevance over time. Yes, technology as moved on, we don’t see quite as many giant video walls these days, but the idea of corporate media controlling the news agenda has exploded over the last eighteen years. One only has to look at Fox News or Al Jazeera to see this. Secondly this isn’t just a comment on mass media, it’s a full blown satire. The scene in which Carver consults with all of his media bosses, culminating in Bond producer Michael G Wilson cameoing as an American media boss who promises the President will be blackmailed and then ‘slimed’, is as amusing as it is disturbing. The satire then extends to Bond villany itself as Carver tells the audience during a global broadcast that all he requires is ‘world domination’ of the media channels. The implication being that his audience won’t understand that his control of information will mean he controls the world. Perhaps we really were more naive in 1997.

Talking of Carver, Jonathan Pryce is clearly relishing the chance to portray total villany alongside natural charm and a cutting wit. All that’s missing is the Australian accent. While lines like ‘Let the mayhem commence!’ perhaps might have been edited out, his scenes with Paris (Teri Hatcher) show the true extent of his corruption and detachment, sat alone, surrounded by video screens, loved by no one. Pryce is an accomplished actor who can easily balance the businessman with the psychotic villain.

Likewise Teri Hatcher doesn’t do a bad job as Paris Carver, Bond’s love interest from long ago who just happens to now be married to Carver (which was lucky). The script doesn’t give Hatcher much to work with and her and Brosnan just about manage to make it work, despite there being very little chemistry in their scenes together. Perhaps this is because ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ didn’t really need the ‘old flame’ sub-plot. The movie I think works better if Bond just decides to pursue Carver not only because he’s trying to start a war between the UK and China, but also because his media empire threatens the important things in life like ‘Test Match Special’ and ‘The Shipping Forecast’.

If ‘GoldenEye’ did little dispel the notion that Brosnan’s Bond hadn’t really progressed beyond adolescence then ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ just confirms that as solid fact.

Bond: You were pretty good with that hook.
Wai-Lin: Thanks. It comes from growing up in a rough neighbourhood. You were pretty good with the bike.
Bond: Thank you. It comes from not growing up at all.

First theory of the watch through then: Brosnan is the Peter Pan Bond. This is a man who refuses to grow-up, who takes delight in piloting a car via remote control, who vandalises a shop window (admittedly by driving a car through it) and who stays up all night drinking vodka because he thinks it makes him cool. It will be interesting to see how this theory holds up over the next two movies, but I mention because of the stark contrast with Craig’s portrayal (‘Casino Royale’ really is a coming-of-age story).

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What makes this version of Bond fun in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is his relationship with the equally daring Wai-Lin, portrayed by the outstanding Michelle Yeoh. Not only is Yeoh a very talented actor, she can also kick arse in the most engaging and impressive way. The helicopter/bike chase and subsequent fight in Ho Chi Minh City are probably the standout moments in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, alongside the pre-credits sequence. While publicists have for years insisted that the Bond girls weren’t decoration, but instead a real match for Bond both ‘GoldenEye’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ have provided great examples of some that actually are. Unlike Xenia Onatopp though Wai-Lin is on the good guys’ side. She is, however, equally adolescent to Bond. She admits to Carver that she gatecrashed his launch party in a cheeky way, quite rightly argues with Bond, pouts when she doesn’t get her way and finally agrees to partner with him to stop Carver only after she finally admits she needs help. The pair of them are a couple of teenagers off travelling, having adventures.

With ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ being one of my favourite of the series I’m predisposed towards the Naval Bonds. Not only do we get a rare outing for Bond’s commander’s uniform and a grim underwater sequence where Bond searches HMS Devonshire, but we also encounter two other ships Chester and Bedford. In order to save time and money it looks like the same models are used for all three so it is sort-of confusing. The model work itself though is excellent, after the excitement of seeing a real Stealth Boat in ‘GoldenEye’ we get to see a stylised one here. The scenes on board the Naval ships feel like some of the most naturalistic in the whole movie, not a real surprise when you have people like Julian Rhind-Tutt and Hugh Bonneville cropping up, incidentally this really is the ‘Downton Abbey’ Bond movie, Julian Fellowes appears as bulldog government minister.

This leaves me to talk about my two favourite scenes in the film. Firstly the pre-credits sequence where Bond decides to take on a terrorist bazaar, having realised that a Russian plane is carrying nukes and the Royal Navy have just launched a missile to flatten the place. Firstly there’s a neat appearance from Colin Salmon as Chief of Staff Charles Robinson presumably filling-in for Michael Kitchen’s role of Tanner. It’s interesting to note that Robinson is allowed to drink in the back of M’s car along with M whereas Bond isn’t. Secondly Judi Dench’s M gets to argue with the brilliant Geoffrey Palmer who plays a grumpy Admiral, like an episode of ‘As Time Goes By’ on drugs. Lastly the music is awesome. Finally employing the one man who could do Bond justice (i.e. not Eric Serra) David Arnold explodes into the franchise with all the brass, strings and guitar that the best of John Barry could muster. Despite a weaker theme song ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ has one of the best soundtracks in a long time and I remember how brilliant that opening sequence sounded and felt in the cinema.

The second scene is the one in the video below: Q delivers Bond his new BMW. Llewellyn may be visibly aged from his appearances in the seventies and eighties, but the scene in which he converses with Bond about his insurance cover is fantastically played and genuinely funny. Also: look out for Brosnan’s terrible German accent here, it’s a wonder the Avis rep doesn’t just ask him if he’s English as most Germans no doubt would.

‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ may have had a larger budget than ‘GoldenEye’ (it really does show), but it didn’t make the same gross as its predecessor did. ‘GoldenEye’ no doubt succeeded because of the curiousity factor of Brosnan and is quite a good film. ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ seems to have suffered because of ‘Titanic’ that said though, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ improved on its budget twice over, guaranteeing another outing for Bond sooner rather than later. Overall though I would argue that ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is a better Bond film, clearer in purpose, more dynamic in location and editing and a subject matter that still resonates today.

Sometimes it’s hard to disassociate a film from the context in which you first encountered it. 1995 was an exciting time to be a Bond fan after a good few years of development hell and the replacement of Dalton for Brosnan it looked like the series was about to be reinvigorated.

Confidence in the production team was clearly knocked though. Aware that Bond had been away from screens for a while, the team developed a pre-production promo tape promising cinema owners amazing thrills from the new movie. Martin Campbell, a hard-working and focused action director promised all this from the site of an abandoned Rolls Royce factory that would be converted into a new, huge Bond soundstage. He makes a point to reassure his audience that the laughs would also be present, the team clearly remembering the controversy over ‘Licence to Kill’.

Budgeted at a less-than-average $58m (‘Heat’ and ‘Jumanji’ both released in December 1995 were budgeted at $60m and $65m respectively) the production team knew they would have to rely on a great deal of model work and keep location filming to a minimum. When you consider that many were still questioning a use for Bond in the 1990s and Brosnan was so far untested, it seemed like the odds were stacked against them.

The team needn’t have worried. ‘GoldenEye’ brought in $352m worldwide, making it the fourth highest grossing movie of the year after ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’, ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Apollo 13’. This was the highest grossing Bond since ‘Moonraker’. It drove MGM/UA to demand a new Bond movie as quickly as the team could manage it.

Watching ‘GoldenEye’ twenty years on is an interesting mixture of the old and the new. Whereas in the past we might have laughed at Roger Moore’s safari suits, Pierce’s blazer and high-waisted trousers reminded me of Simon Cowell, arseing around on yachts in Monte Carlo. Similarly Boris’s ‘INCOMING EMAIL’ alert might drive the average Outlook user nuts today. That said, a lot of Boris’s ‘hacker talk’ is actually pretty permissible by some movies’ standards.

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This is a time of change, not all of it necessarily fast-moving or going in the same direction. The biggest difference is the cessation of the Cold War. During the late 70s and 80s the Bond movies had shown how things were beginning to thaw, meglomaniacs like Zorin or Brad Whitaker were shown to exploit both East and West. Now the old order was being dismantled, brilliantly realised in the credits by Daniel Kleinman who took over from Maurice Binder for the first time here. Soviet Russia gives way to the gangster and shows us a land where everything can be bought and culture is an after-thought. This is particularly relevant when Bond visits Zukovsky, buying his trust while enduring the torture of listening to Minnie Driver’s Irina murdering ‘Stand by your Man’. Luckily for Minnie ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ was only two years away.

This is also a world where the one-time sci-fi technology of Bond had caught up with the real world. Operation Desert Storm had brought round-the-clock live television, satellite imagery and stealth technology to public consciousness. This is reflected in the movie with M, Tanner and Bond watching the Severnaya attack via satellite (compare with Jack Ryan watching the SAS attack an IRA training camp in ‘Patriot Games’ three years earlier), the French stealth boat and EMP-resistant helicopter, hacking and the tracing of data. If ‘GoldenEye’ feels a bit more real that is simply because it is catching-up with technology the viewing audience was now familiar with.

Then there is Bond himself, the ‘sexist misogynist dinosaur’. Brosnan is pleasingly unflappable, tilting his head with ease as he concentrates on priming a mine, grinning with glee as he flings his DB5 down the roads of Monte Carlo and solving problems under pressure as he bashes his head against an ejector seat button on board the Tiger helicopter. At the time Brosnan was praised for seeming a little more ‘sensitive’ than his predecessors though in reality this is only conveyed by him looking into the distance while he sits on a beach in Cuba. 1995 was also the year that ‘new lad culture’ took a side-swipe at feminism and political correctness. ‘Loaded’ magazine had begun publishing in 1994 and the European Championships were to be played in the UK in six months. The return of James Bond no doubt added fuel to that fire. Brosnan’s Bond may not be as condescending as his predecessors, but the notion that life is a game and that women are disposable is undoubtedly there. Importantly though it’s still cheeky and the return of the humour to Bond is very welcome.

The supporting cast are generally very good. Both Famke Janssen and Isabella Scorupco are both compelling and fun in the film. It is only really Simonova’s sudden attraction to Bond following their escape from the train that feels a little at odds with what we’ve seen before. The kiss at that point in the movie seems a little bit forced. Xenia Onatopp is, of course, one of the best Bond girls ever, no one has ever seemed to convey such delight at firing an AK47 as Janssen does in the Severnaya attack. You also forget how brutal her half-fucking/half-fighting scene with Bond in the sauna room really is.

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Equally full-on, and full respect to both Brosnan and Bean here, is the fight in the telescope control room as the two double-0s wrestle with each other. There’s a reality to it that was even missing from ‘Quantum of Solace’s Bourne-inspired punch-ups and is well-handled here. Knowing that Sean Bean can (and will) go a little OTT he reins Trevelyan in quite well. He sneers and quips with Bond, but you never get the sense of someone truly demented. His motivations, as a Cossack descendant who wanted revenge against the British is a little bit out of leftfield, even with Zukovsky’s history lesson. Honorable mention for Robbie Coltrane here too, who perhaps might have been better off as Bond’s help for more in the movie than Joe Don Baker’s Wade, a light rip-off of Darius Jedburgh from ‘Edge of Darkness’. Why is Wade obsessed with gardening? There’s some dialogue that goes nowhere. Zukvosky could have made a good counter-point to Boris. Alan Cumming does a good job portraying Boris as a nerdy, little shit, with a sexist streak somehow more juvenile than Bond’s.

Given that the movie has good performances and resets Bond for the 90s it still feels a little flat. Some of that is the distance and pacing of modern movies. Some of it is to do with the direction and the plot itself. First the plot. One of ‘GoldenEye’s key problems is that it has Bond investigating three thefts, one built on another. First the helicopter, then the GoldenEye satellite codes and finally the money from the Bank of England. Rather like ‘Goldfinger’ it relies on Bond stumbling into something that happens to be important only to be captured, escaping, re-captured, re-escaping and only then finding the enemy base by sheer luck. If some idiot hadn’t fired at his plane, Janus would have got away with their plan.

The locations in ‘GoldenEye’ also aren’t able to breathe. St Petersburg is bland looking, the casino in Monte Carlo gets one establishing shot and then one follow-up shot of an audience watching a bizarre mime involving a puppet. Not quite the spectacle of culture that Bond can deliver. Puerto Rico, doubling for Cuba, is shown to us in a few, odd beach shots that are designed to demonstrate Bond’s brooding over Trevelyan and burgeoning relationship with Natalya. In reality though these scenes really do feel like the film stalling. It feels a little uninspired.

While Campbell handles the fight scenes well and uses his steadicam to drop us in the action, other sequences, such as the tank chase could have benefited from tighter editing, overall the movie feels like it could be a little pacier and rounded down from 130mins to a solid two hours. The other issue with that lack of pace is the music. Without a brassy score to drive the action that ‘flat’ feeling to the film continues. I really quite enjoy Serra’s score in places, the timpani use is undoubtedly atmospheric, but there were times when the music needed more impact and it was a little lacking.

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I said it was hard sometimes to disassociate a film from its context and I think the last 1,400 words have proved that! ‘GoldenEye’ is as much a product of its time as ‘Dr No’ or ‘The Living Daylights’ is. It is an enjoyable Bond film, but doesn’t quite reach the heights that others have been able to. It ambles rather than escalates. It entertains without really impressing.

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Living in London is just something you get on with. In both senses. If you don’t settle into its rhythms, numb yourself to the crowds, the indifference and the mess then it can actually be quite a nice place to live.

I’ve lived in London for eight years and tomorrow I leave. I’ll continue to work (and drink) in the city,  but I’ll no longer reside (and drink) in the capital.

I came in December 2006 to work for Harper Collins, a job that lasted 2 and a half years before Murdoch decided to cull a third of the staff thanks to recession. “I didn’t get into publishing to take the Murdoch shilling.” I remember Victoria Barnsley boasting during one of the company’s many team talks. She was more than happy to let good people go cos James Murdoch told her to though.

During this time I lived in a post council flat in Tufnell Park. It reflected London’s usual capacity for culture clash with millionaire authors and politicians living to the west in Dartmouth Park, careerists who couldn’t quite let the good times in Camden go camped-out south in Kentish Town, the small businesses and entrenched Irish communities of Archway to the north (watched over by that Brutalist masterpiece Archway Tower) and to the east the poverty of Holloway Rd entirely disconnected to the glamour of the Emirates Stadium.

The beauty was I lived right on the crossroads. A decent Chinese,  a decent Indian, apparently an outstanding Ethiopian (which I never cared for) and a little Italian in which I once saw Rob Newman eating fish. Pubs were split three ways. The Junction, a wholehearted stab at middle class respectability thrived on endless Sunday lunches and pints of Wandle. Take your friends, take your parents, always order organic loaf with olive oil to munch on. Bar Lorca (now I think a rock bar) a Spanish themed bar with paella, cocktails and good lager. Finally, The Boston. Cheap, cavernous,  ribald and edgy. An Irish pub whose opening hours were as laid back as the majority of punters who’d arrived at 10am and we’re horizontal by 6 in the evening. A club, a function space, a haven for Arsenal fans wanting to watch a 3pm away game in comfort… and secret. A place to enjoy yourself 360 days of the year, a place to let your American girlfriend order at the bar in the run up to St Patrick Day lest your English accent cause a scene with the hard drinking republicans happily singing anthems about killing British Army personnel.

In the end the flat was out-grown. A murder in the car park behind our flats (we never saw our electricity-stealing neighbour again and we became good mates with Camden CID) prompted us to move on. That was to Walthamstow, but it will have to wait. I’m out of battery.

 

 

 

 

Eric and Ernie

Hardly in a league with the big man himself, but this has been knocking about my head for a while.

[ERNIE is centre stage reading a large, red leather bound book, he looks deep in thought. ERIC enters from stage left. He spots ERNIE and walks over.]

ERIC: Ah HA!

ERNIE: Hmm?

ERIC: Where is he then?

ERNIE: Where is who?

ERIC: The Irish fella.

ERNIE: [Now irritated, lowering his book] What ‘Irish fella’?

ERIC: For, you know – [He points at the book and loudly hums the ‘This is Your Life’ tune].

ERNIE: [Rolling his eyes]. Give over, don’t be silly. This isn’t for that.

ERIC: What? But it’s my turn, Ern. Turn Ern! Ha!

ERNIE: Dear oh dear, this merely confirms everything I’ve been reading.

ERIC: What’s that?

ERNIE: You’re a Conflicted Egoist.

ERIC: I am not! I’m Church of England! [ERIC bends forward and points to his head] See that, straight in the font as a baby and that happened!

ERNIE: No! This is about Psychoanalysis.

ERIC: Oh! I see.

ERNIE: Mmm-hmm.

ERIC: Psycho. Analysis.

ERNIE: Yes.

ERIC: Does it review any other films or just Psycho?

ERNIE: Good Lord, no! This is about Sigmund Freud.

ERIC: A brilliant goalkeeper!

ERNIE: No, the psychiatrist. This book is all about exploring your phobias.

ERIC: My phobias?

ERNIE: [Glares at ERIC] Your phobias.

ERIC: [ERIC suddenly looks worried.] Oh. Right. Do I have many of them?

ERNIE: I’ve identified a small portion.

ERIC: Fair enough, but what about my phobias?

ERNIE: [Groans] Look, I’ll read them out you try and guess what they are.

ERIC: OK.

ERNIE: Aerophobia.

ERIC: Fear of chocolate bars.

ERNIE: Fear of Flying actually.

ERIC: Fine.

ERNIE: Francophobia.

ERIC: Fear of people called Frank.

ERNIE: It’s a fear of the French.

ERIC: Well we all suffer from that.

ERNIE: I don’t.

ERIC: You’ve never been there.

ERNIE: Agoraphobia.

ERIC: We’re all frightened of a bit of Aggro aren’t we? Especially in France.

ERNIE: No, it’s a fear of wide open spaces.

ERIC: [Reaching for ERNIE’S hair] Like the space between your… that [Tugs on the hair] and your head? Ha! You can’t see the join.

ERNIE: Do you mind? [ERIC steps back.] Dik-eh-phobia.

ERIC: Well I don’t want to say!

ERNIE: It’s a fear of justice.

ERIC: Dikephobia? A fear of justice? That’ll never stand up in court.

ERNIE: OK, OK, last one…

ERIC: OK.

ERNIE: Tri-deka-phobia.

ERIC: Fear… of very tall buses!

ERNIE: No, you fool, it’s fear of the number 13!

ERIC: The Number 13 is very tall bus!

End.

There are some game studios that have their name unforgettably embedded in my memory: The Bitmap Brothers, Codemasters, Psygnosis, Sierra and, of course Lucasarts. Today Disney has announced that it has shut Lucasarts and ceased all productions.

It was inevitable really, Disney is focusing all its Star Wars efforts on 2015 and the new JJ Abrams movie, but its decision to close Lucasarts is the end of an era.

For me there are three or four games that will always remind me of Lucasarts and not all of them classics. In fact the one that immediately springs to mind is one of the most fiddly and frustrating.

CD-ROM suddenly allowed you to actually feel like you were playing a movie. The huge capacity of a CD allowed for FMV to become a prevalent and games like Myst and The Seventh Guest showed off the graphic capability well. Not so well-received (except perhaps in my house) was Rebel Assault. Released in November 1993, Rebel Assault was an incredible looking and at times near unplayable journey through Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back. It looked and, crucially for a Star Wars game, sounded fantastic. The on-rails nature of the shooting and ‘flying’ sequences betrayed a hapless game engine. Some levels were more fun if you skipped them. I remember if you moved your joystick up, down, left and right on the Lucasarts then you would hear a whiny voice say “Lu-casarts” and you could skip levels.

Two other Star Wars games were much, much better: X-Wing brought the frankly dizzying prospect of a space fighter simulator to the Star Wars universe. It required great skills and tactical ability knowing whether to divert your power to your shields or weapons. Yes, it was frustratingly difficult and I remember getting stuck on a level where you had to protect a blockade runner. A colleague of my Dad’s had supplied me with a small .BAT program that I could run after successfully completing a mission. It backed up my pilot, so if he died I could fully restore him by simply copying him back in via DOS.

Dark Forces was the Lucasarts entry into the First Person Shooter genre and put the terrible shooter memories of Rebel Assault to rest. Riding on the success of Doom, but using its own Jedi game engine, Dark Forces was atmospheric and exciting and showed that Lucasarts could compete with the likes of id Software on their own terms.

The genre though that Lucasarts defined is Point-and-Click and they arguably created its finest ever example.

The Secret of Monkey Island is one of gaming’s greatest franchises and greatest games full stop. You play Guybrush Threepwood, who’s on the quest to become a mighty pirate. Funny, atmospheric and heavily based on Disney’s own Pirates of the Caribbean ride, TSOMI had an amazing plot that felt more like a movie than a game. You genuinely believe in the lead character and enjoy playing him as he goes from zero-to-hero. That I have this game on my iPhone and played through it all again, is a testament to how amazing it is. If you want to remember Lucasarts then I suggest you download and play this game now. Lucasarts knew they were on to a good thing and what followed – Monkey Island 2, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones & the Fate of Atlantis and Sam & Max Hit the Road (which I pre-ordered as a kid and waited AGES for them to release it) are all some of the greatest adventure games ever.

So, goodbye, Lucasarts. You not only created some good games, but contributed to the overall history of games too. You will be missed.

Meredith Havelock and the Isle of Wights


By John Rivers

Centurion's Copse

Meredith felt the wind knocked out of her, as the Wax Bishop punched her in the gut. Doubled over she staggered back two steps before she looked up in the Bishop’s dead plastic eyes and called him a bastard.

Still bent over, she launched herself at the Wax Bishop’s waist and knocked him flying into a pile of discarded arms, legs and heads. Dust and cobwebs covered the abandoned corner and Meredith stifled a sneeze as she pushed herself up from the collapsed body of the Bishop. Bunching her black leather clad hand into a fist, she struck him square across the nose, shattering the pale pink plastic face. His collapsed nose revealed an empty shell inside. He screamed at her.

Before Meredith could strike him again, the Bishop drove his own fist into her side. She screamed as she was pushed off of him, rolling onto a floor littered with broken arms and feet. This time the Bishop with the shattered face rolled on top of her. Her glasses were now covered in dust and Meredith had to blink several times before she realised he was on her. He seemed to weigh nothing at all and yet his strength was pinning her to the floor. The Wax Bishop’s cold, artificial hands closed around Meredith’s throat. Meredith cast her hand about the floor trying to grab a weapon. Finding an arm that had once belonged to Prince Albert, Meredith swung it and once more found the Wax Bishop’s face. Both the arm and face splintered into slivers of pink. She felt his grip on her neck slacken and Meredith once again pushed the arm into his face. By now the Bishop had lost half of his face, and one of his eyes was rolling on the floor like an enthusiastically cast marble. He was weakening and so Meredith reached her left hand to the rest of his face and began to dismantle it. Breaking the plastic and crumbling it in her hand, the Bishop began to jerk. The more she broke away the slower he became. It was, Meredith considered, rather like puncturing a chocolate Easter egg.

As the back of the Bishop’s head crumbled away in Meredith’s hand he shuddered once more and then crashed down on his side. Propping herself up Meredith looked at the headless wax body, in its simple medieval bishop’s robes. On the pile of arms and legs lay his discarded mitre. Meredith briefly considered wearing it as a trophy.

Dusting herself off and still a little dazed, Meredith stood over the Wax Bishop and kicked the body with the toe of her black leather boot. It remained still. Satisfied, Meredith considered the wrecked storage room of the abandoned wax museum and its rather forlorn looking contents. The body parts were piled high in the corner she had rugby-tackled the Bishop into. Above that a tiny window poured a little of the September evening sunlight into the room showing up the unsettled dust. A stack of old costumes that had once adorned wax figures from history were hung up on the shelves opposite in case they were needed again. Meredith paused watching them carefully. It was unlikely that the spirit that had taken over the Wax Bishop would return just yet. Rather she hoped she’d shamed it enough so it had sloped off with its tail between its legs.

“Yes,” said Meredith to no one in particular. “It probably would have a tail.”

Still a little unsteady on her heeled boots, Meredith Havelock, forty two years old and a witch, stepped out of the derelict Wax Museum, thought to be the oldest building on the Island, took one last look at it with some considerable disdain and hobbled in the direction of Brading High Street.

The way Simon had explained it to Meredith was that Brading had been undergoing a protracted period of haunting. Naturally she had been sceptical. Tourist towns often needed to re-invent themselves, to find new attractions; and promoting the now-defunct wax museum – spooky enough in its heyday –  as a supernatual hot-spot was an obvious way of drumming-up cash.

This said, Meredith was not one to dismiss Simon’s investigations out of hand, he was her primary source of income, passing her various academic jobs from his University which allowed her to maintain her modest cottage. A trip to the Isle of Wight, made all the more attractive as the schools had recently gone back, seemed like a good idea. At the very least it would be a good opportunity to see how the Island was fairing. Shanklin had until recently received a certain level of mystical protection from a faery called Tobias. At least this is what Meredith had been assured at a Wiccan conference in Bournemouth. It was one of the few mildly diverting moments of a tedious day out which she’d only attended because of the free drink and the opportunity to pick up an impressionable young man. Sadly no man was to be found and she’d ended up telling two opinionated female practitioners from Scotland that there was no magic there on account of government cutbacks. The next morning she blamed her nonsense and headache on the six vodka and tonics she’d had without dinner. The headache was made worse by the offensive email she’d received from the Scottish Wiccans.

This time, at the bar of the Dark Horse, Meredith went for a straight double vodka. She brushed dust off her curly blonde hair, polished her glasses on her red sweater and flicked pieces of splintered wax from her worn black leather trousers. Her entrance had aroused the interest of some of the bar’s older patrons. She smiled at them and raised her glass, before downing the lot. A small, elderly gentleman with large ears sat at the end of the bar gave silent applause.

“Meredith?”

Turning about she looked to a darkened corner of the pub where the evening sun had cast long shadows to see her friend and sometime employer Simon Emsworth sat next to a pile of guidebooks, a tablet computer and a half drunk pint of bitter. His white hair was neatly parted to one side, matching the colour of his shirt and framed by his dark green corduroy jacket. Opposite Simon was Gavin, the young man who had called them and invited them to the island. He was barely in his twenties and kept his sports jacket buttoned up underneath his chin. Introductions had been made (“I’m Gavin, amateur ghost-hunter, trainee electrician.” “Meredith Havelock, professional nuisance.”) and having seen Meredith not half an hour earlier looking impressively commanding in black he was surprised to see her covered in bits of plastic, a fresh scratch on her chin and hair tousled.

“One sec!” Meredith told them and asked the barmaid for another double, this time with tonic. She walked, still a little unsteady, over to the table.

“SNAFU, Meredith?” asked Simon as she plonked herself down in the chair next to Gavin.

“SNAFU, indeed. Evil bastard as well. Caught me by the hair on my way in. A waxwork dummy of a bishop, would you believe?”

Gavin looked puzzled. “I’m sorry, but ‘SNAFU’?”

Meredith raised her index finger. “You’ve got a phone, Google it. I was genuinely attacked by a waxwork dummy in there, punched me in the gut and tried to throttle me. I had to break his face in half.”

While Gavin fiddled with his phone, Simon clasped his hands together. “That sounds like a pretty serious manifestation.”

“It amazes me how you can say that sort of thing with a straight face. Pretty serious is right, Simon.” Meredith pinched her gloves off her own hands and began to examine them for any more signs of injury. “Powerful and really angry. It buggered off once I’d removed the head.”

“Ha!” said Gavin, having found the meaning of SNAFU. The rest of Meredith’s words then seemed to sink into the less water-tight areas of his brain. “Wait… You had a fight with a wax work dummy?”

Meredith’s eyes caught Simon’s for a second and then he looked sympathetically at Gavin. Meredith knew the meaning of the look was ‘you never used to listen either’. She sighed and turned to Gavin.

“Darling, I just decapitated a demonic entity that was animating the waxwork body of a medieval bishop inside an abandoned museum. These should be most shocking words you’ll hear for ten years to come or hence, they’re up there with: ‘You’ve passed’ or ‘I’m pregnant!’ Long story short, you’re right, there is something supernatural and screwy going on here. You were right to call Simon here and he was right to bring me. Now, you tell us everything while Simon goes to the bar and orders me some more painkillers.”

It didn’t take long for Gavin to recount the ghoulish occurrences of the past two months. He was a ghost hunting enthusiast, and had impressed Simon enough with a log and map of events. Having spread out the Ordnance Survey on the table, Gavin pointed out the recent history of sightings.

They had begun on the road between Bembridge and Culver Down in late June. Several people driving the road in the evening had reported seeing a woman and child, both in ‘period’ costume (every description seemed vague enough to place the long skirt and shawls worn by both anywhere between late Medieval and Edwardian). They were walking the coastal path next to the road and, apparently, stepping into the road too. Two calls to the police were placed that night concerning the wayward pedestrians (“Travellers! A drunk mother!”), but despite the best efforts of a car and two officers sent up from Shanklin station nothing can be found of them.

It was almost a month before the next occurrence, when for four evenings running a young man was spotted in nineteenth century clothing propping up a gate on a fallow field on the road to Hillway. This time the ‘man’ was engaged briefly in conversation with a farm hand who was out to lock the gates. The first time the farm hand had offered the young man a cigarette, but the young man had refused, slung his jacket over his back and told him he would see him at The Duke’s Arms that night. The man then disappeared into the hedgerow behind him. This performance was repeated for two nights when, on the third night the farm hand remembered he had his phone camera with him. Before reaching the young man he took a picture from a distance of the man resting his arms on the gate as he had done previously. When he checked the picture no man stood there, when the farm hand looked up, there was the man.

The farm hand, a Polish immigrant who had worked the farm a few summers and had a sensible head on him reported this strange appearance to his boss, he elected to come with him on the fourth evening. The farm manager was convinced it was some local kids bored and playing pranks after their exams had finished. Sure enough there was the young man, dressed in his dark brown trousers, white shirt and braces, jacket resting on the gate. All three men exchanged pleasantries and the farm manager remarked what a fine evening it was. The young man nodded and then his expression turned sullen and he grimaced. When asked what was wrong, he simply replied that he was “Very, very sorry for you all” and the he would not be returning. The following evening he did not appear.

Then in August the lights over Brading began. At any time after two am but before sunrise, the lights would creep into the windows of the shops and houses on the High Street as trapped reflections from a car’s headlights fading in and out of existence with no discernible source for the light either inside the buildings or out. After a few nights of villagers blinking, confused through their bedroom windows, a small group decided to stay up and observe the lights from outside. It was as if the High Street had become the canvas for an elaborate projected light display of auburns, ambers and crimsons, floating across and sticking to the white fronts of the buildings.

The lights especially liked the Old Rectory, gathering and pulsing there in slow-motion. Each fade in and out seemed to take ten or so minutes, the effect was that light looked blended together in such a way that you could never be sure if it was genuinely there or a trick of the night. Many remarked that the Old Rectory would look yellow and then later a deep red, only no one could put their finger on seeing it actually change.

Each night the crowds on the streets of Brading grew bigger. Lining the s-bend of the High Street and outside the Old Rectory as the light show played. It was usually between four and five in the morning when the display faded. A plethora of videos soon appeared on Youtube, a few even lasting the full length of the display, with psychedelic ambient soundtrack to accompany the light show. After eight nights of the activity Meridian ran a piece on the evening news using the internet footage and the presenter quickly decided the whole affair was a clever piece of viral marketing from an ailing tourist town.

In an effort to generate interest for his own group, Gavin emailed the County Press and declared that the ‘flattened orbs’ were definitely supernatural. The paper printed the email and within a day he had been called by the Hillway Farm manager and told of the appearance of the young man a few weeks before.

After ten nights, the show stopped. Everyone agreed that it must have been a publicity stunt – but no-one was complaining, as takings in the pubs and shops of the village had been the best all season.

While Brading got back into winding-down the last few weeks of summer, Gavin had kept his eye on the Old Rectory. It was a genuinely creepy place, the owners of the former waxwork museum had given it a suitably macabre look and over the years the attractions had become increasingly gruesome (“You’ve gotta keep up with stuff like the London Dungeon” you’d hear villagers remarking at the latest, sensationalist exhibit). Yet Gavin was smart enough to see through the stage-blood and had kept a vigil on the Rectory for two nights a week since. While he could only justify spending a couple of hours each night watching the building, he would indeed catch glimpses of the ephemeral lights that had been the talk of the town.

In his log he recorded each of the incidents of the spectral glow and during the day he would peer inside the cracks, keyholes and shuttered windows for signs of lamps or a projector. Inside, however, all he saw were piles of mannequin body parts and cobwebbed costumes.

“This was the icing on the cake,” said Gavin and fished out of the rucksack that had nestled between his knees a large red plastic box with a coiled red wired and a red and black plastic prong at each end. “Voltmeter. I took it right around the building and even found a couple of sockets for outside lamps I could test. Nothing, there’s no electric going in or out.”

Meredith look at Simon who nodded and smiled. “Good thinking, Gavin, certainly a more thoughtful approach than breaking into the back door without having listened to you first.”

Wincing, Meredith took another sip of her vodka tonic and pointed at the map. “Woman and child spotted here, then our mysterious man who’s sorry for us here, then right over here at Brading, ELO in concert.”

“Do you think there’s a significance?” asked Gavin. Simon peered at the map as Meredith frowned.

“You see, Gavin, that thing I fought in the museum, wasn’t normal, by any stretch. I mean your phantoms on the road and in the field, odd certainly, especially since there seems to be no recorded tales of it happening before, but full-on possession of an inanimate object, is outside the usual realm of supernatural…” Meredith struggled for the word she wanted. “…stuff. I think someone is attempting to summon a thing or things here and from the activity you’ve seen it’s not going to be a nice thing.”

“So, what do they need to summon something?” asked Gavin.

Meredith chuckled “Well sometimes all you need is a candle, a needle and a promise of a good night out, but on this scale… Ritual and all ritual needs theatre and theatre needs a stage.”

Simon jammed his finger a little to the north of where Meredith was holding hers on the map. It landed in a roughly oval area of woodland. “So what do we think the seats are like here?”

“Centurion’s Copse,” read Meredith. “That would seem likely.”

Gavin shivered and readjusted the zip on his coat. “Perhaps more likely than you’d think.”

Tired and a little woozy from her fight and the alcohol, Meredith had requested her room at a nearby B&B. Gavin dropped her and Simon off and they parted for separate bedrooms.

Sighing, she sat on the edge of the bed and discarded her jacket and top. The Wax Bishop had caused some bruising judging by the dark red marks on her body. She approached the sink and mirror for a closer look. Meredith frowned at her reflection. Yes her body wasn’t bad (bruising aside), but there was still great deal to be said about a woman her age chasing ghosts and boys less than half her age. She smoothed the crowsfeet by her eyes and pulled a face. “I’m a cou-gar,” said Meredith. It was a spell of convincing that was she wasn’t falling for right then. She began to fill the basin.

As the water trickled into the sink Meredith suddenly considered a different approach. They could go traipsing into Centurion’s Copse tomorrow looking for signs of ritual activity, or she could get a sneak preview. Meredith let the water in the sink fill up, luke-warm. Once it had reached a few inches from the top, she turned off the taps, rested both hands on the basin’s sides and took a deep breath.

Hydromancy, divination through water was not an exact art. Most fantastic depictions of scrying usually involved an image appearing on the surface of a still pool, summoned or dismissed with the wave of a hand. Meredith’s version was a little more direct.

Plunging her head straight into the water, Meredith stared into the blackness at the bottom of the basin. Her body was blocking out any light from the room, but within a few seconds was confident that the magic had taken effect. The bottom of the bowl, the black plastic plug faded from view and the water suddenly had depth. Meredith pushed her head forward, staring into the blackness. Visions could arrive quickly or sometimes not at all. If they did appear they were often disjointed, leaving you to fill in the blanks. If you lost your house keys you were better off calling a locksmith. Slowly, the witch breathed out, the bubbles fluttering past her eyes causing her to blink. There was something there. A grey form, oval shaped, undulating in the mirk of the water. It appeared to be formed of two white bridges, one the reflection of the other, viewed length-ways drifting slowly towards her. As the definition increased it looked like three white pincers, slowly opening in front of her. Meredith narrowed her eyes, was it a claw, it looked too broad, too smooth, the pincers weren’t sharp enough. It opened wider. Oh gods – it was a mouth.

The split second Meredith pulled her head back out of the sink, the mouth came after her. She pushed herself back from the sink and fell onto the floor. The mouth pushed its way out of the sink as far as it could. The two bottom pincers formed the lower part of the jaw, the third pincer, the top. They prised themselves apart in the narrow sink basin and cried out, like a man screaming in slow-motion, low, strangulated, deep. The smell of rotting flesh overwhelmed Meredith as she covered her mouth, choking into her arm. The mouth tried to twist, but could only move jerkily from side-to-side within the confines of the sink. The painful moaning continued for a few seconds more before the mouth, gleaming white and wet in the dim bedroom light pulled back into the tenebrous depths of the sink.

Meredth wiped her face down on her arm and stood up. Glancing into the sink she saw only the plug at the basin bottom. Gingerly she hooked the metal plug cord out and quickly stepped back. The water drained away as Meredith opened her bedroom window, buried her head into a towel and collapsed on to the bed. Her last thought before passing out was that the vile stench of decay had been tinged with something else – it smelled like the sea.

The following morning Meredith met Simon for breakfast, in an empty dining room, with one solitary table set for them. Meredith had checked the sink thoroughly for signs of anything else emerging over night.. She described in detail to him the encounter with the mouth and Simon stared into the bottom of his tea cup.

“I wouldn’t try reading the tea leaves if I were you,” warned Meredith, half-seriously.

“I don’t have your gifts, Meredith, but it is slightly disturbing to know that something seems determined to give you grief. First the Bishop, now the Mouth.” Despite his concern for his friend, Simon shook his head at the nonsense he was speaking. Putting the tea cup down, he looked out of the window that faced towards Brading. “Did you use any magic to get into the Wax Museum?”

“Buzzed the lock, yes,” Meredith pointed with her finger at Simon who was expected to believe lightning had shot from it.

“An admittance charm then.”

Meredith rolled her eyes. “Fine, I wrapped the lock in cowslip and oak fern.”

“Still it is magic and it looks like that’s attracting the nasty things.” Simon drummed his fingers on the white tablecloth. “Are you armed?”

Nodding, Meredith took a gulp of coffee.

“Good. Let’s go for a walk in the woods.”

Gavin picked them up half an hour later. Simon and Meredith decided not to tell him about the mouth in the sink, instead they asked Gavin to remind them of the stories around Centurion’s Copse.

The Copse, Gavin explained, was about four hundred metres across to the east of Brading next door to Bembridge Airport. The name itself was a mystery. Remains of a Roman pottery had been found by Victorian antiquarians and had drawn the conclusion that a centurion has once resided there. The name itself went back further than that with eighteenth century maps documenting Centurion’s Copse, as well as other related geographical features. Older records however suggested the site had been home to Saint Urian’s Chapel, now disappeared.

“Well that’s easy,” said Meredith. “‘Saint Urian’ became ‘Centurion’ as the centuries passed.”

“Yeah,” replied Gavin, turning into the dirt track that lead to the west end of the Copse. But it gets better…”

According to canon there is no ‘Saint Urian’, Catholic or otherwise. The closest named saint was ‘Saint Urith’ who had appeared in the seventh century and came from Barnstaple in Devon. She had been persecuted by her own pagan stepmother who hacked her to death with a scythe for her Christian beliefs.

Simon nodded as Gavin related the tale. “That sort of legend might be too tempting to resist.”

“Orgies in the woods?” asked Meredith hopefully.

Simon snorted. “Who knows? Though they rarely summon anything apart from a trip to the health clinic.”

Gavin, who had gone a deeper than usual shade of pink, coughed and asked “So what should we be looking for?”

Simon leaned forward to look at the Copse as the car drew nearer. “Signs of ritual activity, animal carcasses, that sort of thing.”

Gavin brought his car to a stop on the edge of the Copse next to a footpath and the group got out. Simon organised them to stand about fifty metres apart and to comb the Copse from west to east. He told them all to take slow, deliberate steps and keep their eyes peeled for clues.

The woodland was cool and shaded, occasional shafts of sunlight pierced the canopy and created angular designs on the bracken underfoot. Meredith picked her way through as her eyes roamed left to right. She was still feeling bruised from the previous day’s encounter and remained unsettled from her scrying attempt. Her mind turned to thoughts of the ferry timetable.

Having progressed around a hundred metres inside, the woodland seemed unusually thick. The ground was uneven and the sunlight played at angles that made the tree trunks out to be mirrors. Meredith swore at having left her prescription sunglasses at the B&B and shielded her view with her hand. Up ahead she could make out Gavin who had stopped. He had his back to her and wasn’t moving. Meredith watched him for another thirty seconds and then called out for him.

Again he didn’t move. Deciding something was wrong she picked her way through the bracken towards him. This time she called for Simon, who emerged from a thicket off to Gavin’s right and saw that Meredith was half-running half-stumbling towards him. The pair converged on Gavin at more or less the same moment.

“Gavin, what’s-” began Meredith, but Gavin just pointed straight ahead of him.

The three stood on the edge of a small clearing in the centre of which was a tree stump. Wedged, or rather fused into the stump was an elongated piece of dull white bone, eight feet in length and curved upwards like a pointed scimitar.

“Oh-kay…” said Meredith.

“Could be an attempt at folk art,” said Simon who had walked towards the standing bone for a closer look. He leaned in and examined the structure. “But this is definitely bone.”

“You said animal carcasses, “ replied Gavin. “But that must belong to an elephant or something.”

“Or bigger,” said Simon, who then grasped the bone in his hand, not being able to close his fist around the thickness.

“Whale,” said Meredith. “This and last night. A whale.”

“What happened last night?” asked Gavin, but Simon and Meredith ignored him and looked closer at the bone.

Simon rapped the bone with his knuckle. “So what is it? Focal point? Transmitter? Altar?”

“Could be any and all of those things.” Meredith reached out her palm and stroked down the bone slowly. “Or a way point…”

Simon began to pace around the structure. “I’m no expert, but presumably getting hold of a bone like this must be pretty difficult, but it’s definitely been brought here and driven into the stumps. The roots are the tree beneath are pretty substantial.”

“If you get one, a whale, that is, washed-up then you have to notify the council, if it’s dead it goes to the Natural History Museum. They’re usually pretty big to miss,” said Gavin. Simon stopped next to him.

“And you haven’t heard of any being washed-up recently?”

“No, but I could ask around. Some of mates will know guys who work on the beaches and that.”

“Do that, please, Gavin,” said Simon, he turned back to Meredith. “What now?”

“Well… I don’t feel anything from it,” she said. “I suppose we could hang around here and wait and see if anyone turns up to worship it.”

“Back to the car then,” said Simon, striding purposefully back to the edge of the wood, leaving the upright bone where it stood. Gavin was already calling-up his friends, Meredith rubbed her fingers after touching the cold bone and followed.

It didn’t take long for Gavin’s friends to deliver some rumour and hearsay that sounded just right.

As May had refused to deliver summer and continued to give out storm after storm there had been a couple of particularly violent nights that whipped across the Isle. During one of these nights the RNLI at Bembridge had been called out to one eventually turned out to be a false alarm out of the Isle’s eastern waters that bled into the Portsmouth to St Helier ferry lane. On the boat’s return two of the crewmen had sworn they had seen a large black shape rolled on to the shore near Culver Down. The storm however had increased dramatically by then and the lifeboat was forced to head back in to Bembridge. The crew checked for any other sightings, found none and resolved to investigate once off-shift. The following morning, there was nothing to be found at Culver Down on the beach and the crew decided that it must have been a phantom shadow from the storm.

As it probably wasn’t worth returning to Centurion’s Copse until sundown (where Meredith declared they’d either find some devil worshippers or the Isle’s hardcore dogging scene), Gavin drove them down to Culver Down where a girl named Rowena met them. She stood on the bank of grass a few metres from the cliff-edge that swept down to Shanklin towards the west.

Rowena was a few years younger than Gavin and looked like her diet consisted of tourist toffee boxes and sausage rolls. Her brother, Geoff, had been on the lifeboat that night. Together the group walked down to the path edge, at the top of the cliff.

“Are you ghost hunters, like Gav?” asked Rowena, her hands stuffed in her jacket pockets.

“We’re… from the council,” replied Simon.

“Whatevs,” said Rowena, who then pointed down at the beach. “There it was, Geoff reckons. He swears it was a beached whale, I reckon it was his contacts, he puts them in backwards sometimes.”

Meredith looked along the beach and then up to coastline. Benches were evenly spaced throughout the long grass of the cliff-top looking out to sea. There would have been plenty of opportunity to get a look at a whale washed up on the beach below. Beyond where the cliff curved around she could see orange warning tape and the top of a bright yellow digger. “Let’s take a walk around,” she suggested.

“Well I got to get on shift,” said Rowena. “Happy ghost hunting, Gav.” She turned to Simon. “My mate Danika thinks he’s alright, but I don’t get it.”

As Rowena walked back towards the car park, Simon frowned and then shook his head. He started off after Meredith and Gavin.

It took the trio around twenty minutes to walk in the early afternoon sun, the cliff-top breeze whistling past their ears along the path to the orange tape. Meredith had harboured ideas that the tape would be some sort of archaeological dig, the sort of thing that might throw up a whale bone to conjure with. Instead, nestled in a dip some hundred metres from the cliff edge was a new house.

The house was red brick, but modern with a large living room window overlooking the sea and a balcony above that. Bedrooms presumably lead behind, while a kitchen ran off to the right at ground level. Cement bags and a mixer still stood in the driveway. The digger, a compact version of a JCB was parked alongside an estate car. An abandoned child’s trike sat forlornly on its side outside the front door.

“We might as well as them if they saw anything,” said Meredith and made for the front door. “We’re from the council if anyone asks.”

At the door, Meredith knocked sharply twice. It only took a few seconds before scampering feet ran up the hallway. A small figure could be seen behind the frosted glass, that could just about reach up and open the door.

Meredith took a step backwards when she saw the girl, who she believed must have been six or seven years old. It wasn’t that children made Meredith uncomfortable, despite having none of her own, it was rather the reminder that she was carrying a loaded Beretta M9 semi-automatic pistol stuffed into the back of her leather trousers. She took a moment to tug her jacket down.

“Hello, welcome to our home,” said the blonde haired girl, smiling up at both Meredith and Simon. Gavin kept his head down at the back.

“Oh, hello!” said Meredith. “Could we speak to your Mummy or Daddy please?”

“Hello, welcome to our home,” came a voice from behind the girl. Looking up, Meredith saw a man with neatly combed brown hair and a blue sweater come towards them.

“Ah, is this your, Daddy?” asked Meredith, smiling.

The girl didn’t reply, but instead skipped behind the man and said “Welcome, welcome!”

“Hello, yes, I’m Daddy, well Mr Fulbright, to you, can I help you at all?”

“I’m really sorry to disturb you, but my name’s Jane and I’m afraid I’ve dragged my poor father out here on a wild goose chase and now he’s desperate for the loo,” and with that Meredith firmly clasped Simon by the shoulders. “Could he possibly use yours? It won’t take a moment.”

Before Mr Fulbright could react Meredith manhandled Simon over the step of the front door and into the house, nearly pushing his down the hallway. “Oh this is lovely!” she said. “Wait out there, please, Gavin.”

Gavin nodded as Mr Fulbright quickly followed them down the hall. “I’m afraid that-”

Meredith and Simon stood in the living room. There was a cold, grey concrete floor and no furniture. A blanket lay in the corner, covered in dust next to a few candles. The walls were unpainted, the plaster haphazard and blotchy.

“You’re still finishing the place off, Mr Fulbright?”

Mr Fulbright paused for a few seconds and then replied “Yes, yes. We’re finishing. It’s all down to my wife you see. She needs to finish the place off.”

“So is there a bathroom we could possibly use?” asked Meredith, her eyes scanning the room, left to right.

“We’re still finishing, including the bathroom.”

“Mummy says we’ll soon be done!” said the girl, throwing herself proudly down onto a dust sheet.

Meredith gently guided Simon around who quickly added “I’m so sorry to be a nuisance,” and had managed to position herself by the hallway door once more.

She quickly let go of Simon’s shoulders and hopped back into the hallway and jogged up the stairs. “Sure there isn’t a bathroom up-” By the ninth stair Meredith had stopped. At the top of the stairs was a concrete wall, covered in cement. There was no landing, no doorway at the top, the stairs just stopped. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she gripped the bannister. Slowly she backed down the stairs and turned around, only to come face-to-face with Mr Fulbright.

“We’re still finishing,” he said.

“As I can see. You have a long way to go.” Meredith took a deep breath. “Well, so sorry for disturbing you, we must be leaving. Come along, Daddy!” She glared at Simon as she strode quickly down the hallway. He nodded and followed her out. Meredith turned once more to look at Mr Fulbright and his daughter and nodded. “Good day, this way, Gavin!”

Startled at how quickly they had exited, Gavin immediately asked for an explanation.

“Just keep walking, get beyond the tape.”

“What’s wrong, Meredith?” asked Simon.

“Just keep going! Gavin, do you have that voltmeter, that thing you used for testing electricity?”

“Yeah it’s still in my rucksack,” he thumbed to the pack behind him.

“When we get back behind the rim here, I want you to turn around and go to the back of the house. Find any wire, anything going in or out of the house and test it.”

As they got to the crest of the estate edge, past the orange tape and out of sight, Meredith waved Gavin off on his mission and then crouched down in the cliff-top’s long grass. She pulled Simon down too. He looked at her, she had gone pale and was staring in the direction Gavin had gone.

Another minute passed and Simon had noticed that Meredith’s right hand was positioned by her hip, as if ready to reach for the gun. A few seconds more passed and Gavin ran back towards them half ducking as he ran back through the grass. As he approached she stood up and helped the increasingly worried Simon to his feet again. She ushered them both to walk back down the coastal path.

“Let me guess, no electric?” she asked.

“Not a thing,” replied Gavin.

“Dammit!” Meredith stopped and stamped her black boot in frustration.

Simon rounded on her and put his hands on her shoulders. “Will you please explain what happened there?”

Meredith looked into his eyes. “It’s an Un-house. The stupid, bloody idiots decided to try and build an Un-house right here. Christ, not even Crowley was mad enough to attempt one of those!”

“What’s an Un-house?” asked Gavin.

Meredith turned to him “A sort of anti-house. Houses give warmth, shelter right? An Un-house gives the illusion of those things, the illusion of rooms, of space, of purpose. It’s a device used to encourage things not of this world into our world. I thought the girl and Dad were creepy, with their lack of furniture and repeating everything, but then- then, when I walked up the stairs and they went nowhere. That’s encouragement of void, the absence of life, movement. It’s… it’s diabolical architecture at its finest.”
Simon digested the information slowly and nodded. “They kept saying Mummy would finish it.”

“Hang on,” said Gavin. “What about the whale? That’s what we came here in the first place.”

“I think there was a whale here. I think the Un-house drew the whale on to the shore and that it was alive when it was beached. It’s then entirely possible that they sacrificed it during the storm that night.”

Simon’s eyes widened. “Oh my God. A sacrifice of that size…”

“Puts your little house here on the map, as it were.” Meredith turned to face the sea. “We need to see the mother- well, I do anyway. Come back here and talk to her.”

“And if she won’t be reasoned with?” asked Simon.

Meredith felt the gun, heavy and cold at her back. “She has a family, she’ll see sense. Come on, we need to get back to the car.”

Gavin had wondered if they should have gone to the police in Shanklin, or rather should he have done given that since Meredith had arrived she’d indirectly involved him in breaking and entering and trespass. As it happened though he found himself walking back through Centurion’s Copse carrying a hacksaw.

The plan Meredith had devised was somewhat short on detail, but involved using the Bone Monument in some way to reverse the magic that Mrs Fulbright had supposedly used. The hacksaw was the largest, rustiest he could find from his Dad’s garage and he doubted it could cut through the whale bone lodged in the centre of the Copse.

While Meredith had gone to look for ‘useful herbs, that sort of thing’ Gavin and Simon had been given the task of felling the bone. There were so many things Gavin wanted to ask him, mainly about Meredith and where they’d begun investigating. Simon, however, was light on responses. He simply told Gavin that Meredith had been his student at University. As Gavin knelt beside the Monument and begun trying his luck with the hacksaw, he felt he really wasn’t getting the whole story.

Simon raised his hands to shade the sun which was now lower in the late afternoon. The whole hue of the Copse had shifted to a richer amber. Through the dense woodland he couldn’t see Meredith, but then squinted when he thought he saw a cow pushing its way into the edge of the wood. He squinted and realised the white shape coming towards them wasn’t a cow at all.

The woman was tall and thin, clothed in jeans, brown boots and a thick green sweater. In her right hand she carried a long white staff, curved and bleached. On her head- no, Simon looked again – on her shoulders sat a giant whale skull, gleaming through the greens and browns of the trees.

There was no head.

“Oh my God.” Gavin was now looking up at the figure striding toward them.

“Keep sawing,” said Simon. “We may need that bone.”

Steadying his hands, Gavin continued to saw as quick as he could, the bone feeling like concrete as the saw screeched across it.

Swallowing, Simon took a couple of steps forward and walked out in front of the woman’s path. “Mrs Fulbright?”

Even though she was still almost fifty metres away, Simon could see that Mrs Fulbright didn’t have a human head. The skull was hollow, the bone stayed locked to her shoulders through no visible means. She stopped as he walked towards her and the skull tilted to one side in consideration. “Mrs Fulbright, we just want to talk to you.”

The skull opened its mouth to speak, the whale jaw bones flexing downwards to move muscles that weren’t there. Simon felt her speak through his feet. No words, but the ground rumbled beneath his shoes and the tide began to pulse in his ears.

The pulsations of air and ground increased and suddenly unsure of his footing, Simon took a step to the left. The skull threw itself back in mock laughter and Mrs Fulbright tapped her bone staff on the woodland mulch. In Simon’s ears he was being hauled underwater, the smell of brine, of dead flesh, dead seaweed and dead shores assaulted his nose and he began to gag. His right leg gave way as the vomit rose up inside him and he swallowed trying to keep focused on her. He coughed and shook as the vibrations trembled his legs and the woodland shimmered. He closed his eyes trying to summon the strength back to his legs.

The gunshot opened them again.

“Enough!” cried Meredith. She strode forward holding the pistol in front of her and aimed squarely at Mrs Fulbright’s whale skull. “Enough theatrics – enough animated bishops, enough ghosts, enough lights in the sky.”

Mrs Fulbright’s stance had changed as she considered Meredith. The skull pointed forward to her, like a snake considering its prey.

“I can see that you’re powerful, Mrs Fulbright. Your influence has spread far in a short time. I’m very impressed, but I still don’t think you know what you’re dealing with.”

The skull opened and hissed.

Meredith’s gun didn’t waver though. “Building that Un-house was a very stupid thing to do. Forces that even the keenest practitioner wouldn’t deal with visit there. Your master has done a very good job at convincing you you could handle it.”

The bone staff smacked into the ground once more and it was Meredith’s turn to stumble. She just about managed to stay on her feet as the brief shaking subsided.

“How about I just shoot you in the leg and we see who hits the ground first?”

It took only a second for the intense burning to reach her hand holding the pistol and too late for Meredith to do anything about it. The gun began to glow bright orange and Meredith screamed, falling to her knees and clutching her outstretched palm, red and bloodied and burned. The gun fell to the woodland floor glowing red and then blue as the heat crippled and twisted it.

Mrs Fulbright ran for them and Simon charged forward. She side-stepped him neatly and his shaken legs carried him forward into a roll, she brought the bone staff down onto his shoulder, he hit the ground with a dull thud.

It was while Mrs Fulbright had raised her staff to strike Simon once again, that Gavin took his chance. He had managed to saw the bone monument free and raised it above his head. He closed his eyes and brought it down hard onto the skull.

The crack as bone met bone sounded out across the Copse and caused a low hum that grew in pitch like someone moving a tuning fork. This time Mrs Fulbright fell down onto one knee, the skull drifting from side-to-side as if stunned, her body limp, though her hand grasped the staff. Gavin stood there stunned at his own strength and through the ringing in his ears made out a voice:

“No need to strike it again.”

Meredith turned to look up, to see where the voice had come from, her own face contorted with pain from her burned hand, however her nerves were now coping with a new shock.

The girl was dressed in a simple white smock with one thick, bloodied line drawn across its middle. She was fair-haired, though the edges were ragged and singed. She was at most only fourteen or fifteen. Frowning she looked about them, at the broken bone stump in the trunk and the smoking lump of gun-metal.

Gavin’s eyes flicked from the Girl in White to Mrs Fulbright, still on her knees, the skull nodding back and forth. Simon had rolled out of the way, onto his back and propped himself up with his elbow.

Meredith managed to stand, her burned palm held up in greeting. “My name is Meredith Havelock, Miss. We apologise if we’re trespassing.”

“All are welcome,” she looked around her. “All were welcome, I mean. It has been many years… Yet recently I heard the echoes, far away and I reached out and like the chapel bell- bone on bone, I heard you.”

“Then thank you for attending us, Miss.” Meredith stepped forward,

The Girl in White made a sad expression and pointed at Mrs Fulbright. “Even when young I could spot evil. This is… pronounced though. There is no woman left here. She is a parasite plagued with parasites. She is consumed.”

Mrs Fulbright’s skull moaned and tilted back to look at the Girl in White.

“You can’t help her then?” asked Meredith.

The Girl in White smiled again. “I can. Tis no barter. A straight trade. She has a house by the sea, does she not?”

Meredith nodded slowly. “She does, but you’ll need to take it down and start again.”

“This I have done before. Come, Witch, you will be the vessel. Your burned hand will not hurt in mine.”

Walking slowly over to the Girl in White, Meredith gently reached out her red palm and the girl slipped hers over it. She then grasped Mrs Fulbright’s wrists as it clung to the bone staff.

The trees in Centurion’s Copse sighed as the skull vanished. Where the demons left Mrs Fulbright, Urith entered.

“Actually,” said Meredith. “My plan was to drive the digger through the front door of the Un-house and I’m a bit miffed I didn’t get to do it. Not half as miffed as I am losing my gun. It’s not like you pick those up off eBay, you know. Well, not often.”

“Personally,” replied Simon “I’m glad we’re alive.” He slumped back in his chair at The Dark Horse, the enthusiastic curiosity of the previous night seemed to have left him.

Gavin returned from the bar with the round. He maneuvered the glass around the large whale bone that lay across the pub table. “What should I do with this?”

“Throw it in the sea,” said Meredith. “It’s where it belongs. I doubt there’s any magical value to it now. Mrs Fulbright was the centre of everything and she’s… changed. Likely the husband and daughter have changed too. Job done.”

“So no more ghosts or lights?” Gavin, supped thoughtfully.

“I shouldn’t think so. She was testing the limits of her power, the Un-house only half built. The Bone in the Copse amplified that power.”

“But where had she been hiding?”

Simon straightened up a little. “It’s possible there was a basement we didn’t see in the Un-house.”

“Yes,” nodded Meredith. “When I arrived in Brading, she must have sensed me, sent the Wax Bishop during my investigation of the Museum. Then pinpointed me when I tried scrying. She couldn’t risk a fight at the Un-house and so followed us to the Copse.”

Gavin nodded. “So you do this for a living then?”

Simon frowned. Meredith coughed and took another sip of her drink..

“It’s more of a hobby,” she said.

END

Photo from Naturenet

50 years since Bond began, so some sort of homage is in order. Thankfully it’s everything that Die Another Day wasn’t.
The film reboots a few elements, but it’s done in a way that is totally acceptable. If this had happened straight after DAD we’d be confused and disappointed. The franchise needed Casino Royale  and Quantum of Solace to demonstrate what a bad ass Bond should be. Now, Bond feels very much like he’s part of MI6, there’s no ‘Bond’s gone rogue’ bollocks, he’s very much the government enforcer we know and love. A couple of moments felt a little Roger Moore (not excessively so) and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s damned entertaining.
It’s beautifully shot, one fight scene is filmed in silhouette and it looks like a performance dance piece. It’s dazzling and shows how good cinema can be without the fairground sideshow quality of 3D. The film has its exotic moments, but the UK gets a big look-in here too.
Javier Bardem is good as the bad guy, staying just the right side of jamon and there’s admirable support from Rafe Fiennes and Rory Kinnear. However, it’s Craig and Dench that steal the show and rightly so.
To say any more would spoil it, but if you’re a Bond fan, I think you’re going to get a little bit extra out of this than if you’re a casual. Plus the ending will leave you revved for more – I came out of Casino Royale wanting to see the next one right now and coming out of Skyfall I felt the same. With Craig signed on for two more, I really can’t wait.

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