BBC AUDIO CD (ISBN 1-
IN AUGUST 2007.
During an abnormal
heatwave in March,
the air becomes thick
and dull. Nothing AT
ALL moves - you can
hear the silence.
Something was bound
13TH FEBRUARY 1966 - 27TH MARCH 1966
Victor Pemberton is best remembered by Doctor Who fans as the author of the Patrick Troughton serial Fury from the Deep, as well as the later audio release Doctor Who and the Pescatons, starring Tom Baker. This is, of course, just one facet of a prolific career in television and radio, including work on the UK version of Fraggle Rock (!) and this well-remembered radio serial from 1966.
Contrary to popular fan myth, Pemberton’s script for The Slide was never submitted as
a Doctor Who story, although its success did likely have a bearing on Pemberton’s later working for the series, and there are some similarities to Fury from the Deep. However, these are mostly restricted to the environmental themes of the plays, and the relentless, inhuman nature of the threat involved. If anything, The Slide has a more Quatermassy vibe, full as it is with realistic people and concerned scientists being caught up in unfathomable events.
Set in the small English town of Redlow, The Slide pits both it and its inhabitants against a constant onslaught from nature. At first a sudden, unexpected tremor creates a vast crack in the main road; then, at night, a thick, greenish slurry begins to seep from the crack, sliding impossibly up the road against the gradient. A deceptively gentle pace piles events upon the characters, so that each episode drives inexorably towards a terrifying conclusion. The Mud forms a continuous slide in the night, encroaching further and further into the town, while at day it solidifies into an immovable, impenetrable mass.
Themes of environmentalism
and conflict between human
progress and natural order
are at the forefront here. The
serial begins with the small
scale crisis of the townsfolk
rallying against a progressive
developer who has made
sweeping changes to the
town’s environs. This is then
reflected in macrocosm, as the Mud sweeps away the town to create its own environment, one of stillness and darkness. It even touches on an almost Gaia-like hypothesis, as the
Mud is revealed to not only be alive, but intelligent, and some come to believe that the Earth herself is reacting against humanity, endeavouring to scour them from the surface. It does take the scientific elite an astonishingly long time to realise that it is sunlight that is causing the Mud to solidify in daytime, thus presenting a solution, but otherwise the incessant bouts of theorising provide some of the most intriguing and enjoyable segments.
What makes the serial so effective, however, is its focus on real human characters, brought to life by some of the era’s most talented actors. The onslaught of the Mud leads to the rural townsfolk to losing their faith, turning against one another, or sinking into depression. It’s a grim portrait of human frailty under pressure - although the revelation that the Mud is exerting a hypnotic influence is perhaps a bit too much. Maurice Denham portrays Hugh Deverall’s gradual collapse from influential developer to incoherent madman with alarming realism, while Dr Richards, the local GP, struggles to maintain his stiff upper-lipped composure in face of the onslaught. Meanwhile, the great Roger Delgado raises above a phoney South American accent (“The surface of thee Earth is like thee theen crust of a pie…”) to create a powerful performance as the geologist Joseph Gomez.
The writing and performances are beautifully supported by some sterling work by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Perfectly created everyday sounds are thrown into sharp relief by the screeching whine emitted by the encroaching Mud, amongst which is some brave, highly effective use of silence. The Slide is a classic piece of science fiction; a masterful look back at the days of truly great radio.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2011
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