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I wish Bernard were here...

"I wish Bernard were here."
"The British Rocket Group have their own problems."

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks, 1989

There's a curious strain of SF/fantasy which seems to be British. Not just Tolkien with his pre-lapysian Shires idyll, or bloody Rowling's bloody steam train, but H. G Well's Time Machine and his Martian destruction of Woking (having been stuck at Woking station due to malfunctioning signals at Waterloo yesterday morning, old Herbert's delight in destroying it seems very understandable). Wyndham's Midwich Cuckoos in their damned village and his Triffid farms on the Sussex Weald. Orwell's Oceania and Lewis's wartime evacuees stepping into a wardrobe that transports them to another world.

And then there is Professor Bernard Quatermass and the British Rocket Group. Great science-based horror which was broadcast in the late 50s, spawned Hammer horror film versions, a 70s version which is forever tangled with Children of the Stones in my head, and a recent live version on BBC4 which was, er, interesting. Most Doctor Who fans come across Quatermass pretty quickly, not least because of the blatant borrowing of elements of The Quatermass Xperiment[1] for Ambassors of Death and Quatermass and the Pit for The Daemons. Both of which are early 70s Who stories set in the UNIT universe. A world in which there was a channel called BBC3, a female Prime Minister and a UN taskforce based in the Home Counties consisting of a moustachioed Brigadier, a dashing Captain, a burly Sargeant and a girl to make the tea. I'm not sure when or where I first encountered the idea, but by the mid-80s it was fanon that Doctor Who and Quatermass existed in the same universe.

It's a universe in which the British were active and viable participants in the Space Race, in which top secret codes are kept in the UK[2], and in which Britain was still a major player in world affairs. You can even tie it backwards and suggest that the Britain of this other universe was doing so well in the Space Race because of that Edwardian Martian invasion of the Home Counties. In 1989, the fanon became canon with a throwaway line in Remembrance of the Daleks. If you didn't know who Bernard was, or what the British Rocket Group was, it was probably a slightly odd exchange but it the first sly insinuation that the two universes were one.
Until you visit this spoilery link and see that BBC Wales nipped over to a shed in London and grabbed a load of props from this year's Quatermass for The Christmas Invasion. Actually, since Tennant was in both, maybe he hid them under his coat?

Is this thing still working?
It was an idea that continued in the Who novels: the one leaping to mind at the moment is The Dying Days but also Mark Gatiss's wonderful Nightshade. The NAs also entangled Who's convoluted canon with another one prone to produce an over-attention to detail by fans, when Dr Watson told the tale of the All Consuming Fire. The nearest American equivilent I can think of for this shambolic melding of fictional universes is Cthulu whose tentacles seem to get everywhere. And it is shambolic: there's no show bible, no single creator whose brain worked everything out, just lots and lots of ideas and connections and inconsistancies to pick out. It's great.

[1]I can't help it: I did a lot of stuff on Hammer Horror at one point and the publicity thing of calling it the Xperiment in order to emphasis that it was an X-rated horror just stays with me.
[2] Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart: [On neutral monitoring of superpower missile bases] 'Naturally enough, the only country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain.'
Doctor: 'Naturally, I mean, the rest were all foreigners.'
Meanwhile, I have taken my first tentative steps with research for The Idea.

Posted @ 9:53 pm on Tuesday, December 20, 2005
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