Children of Hell inferno title

 The Authors Notes and P.S.

Children of Hell functions perfectly well as a stand alone piece of fiction, but it also follows the chain of events described in the classic Dr Who story, Genesis of the Daleks, written by Terry Nation and transmitted in 1975; that’s really half the point, if you change all of the Dr Who and the Daleks stuff in Children of Hell, half of the significance disappears; it can stand alone, and it is a companion piece.

Children of Hell re-tells the story of the end of the Kaled/Thal War on the planet Skaro that led to Davros’s creation of the Daleks; but this is not the story told by the interfering time-travellers, but by the race that became the Daleks, the Kaleds themselves; if the Kaleds are the Nazis, then this is ‘Inside the Third Reich’.

Though in their first story the Daleks are also very like the Morlocks from The Time Machine, their fictional and literary forefathers are the Nazis. Now the thing that interests me about Nazism isn’t Hitler, because he’s really just a monotesticular lunatic with a stupid moustache, who shouts all the time and bites the mat when he’s angry, but the people that followed him, and did all those horrible things, from the ordinary Germans denouncing their neighbours, to the men and women that ran places like Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, to the men around Hitler himself, and I suppose this was the sort of stuff I was thinking about when I started Children of Hell.

If you look at the Nazi top brass, they’re a remarkable collection; Goering is the WWI air ace, Geobels is a cartoon homunculus yapping out hateful propaganda, Heidrich is the tall, blond, handsome, cultured sadist, who invents the Final Solution, while his boss, Himmler, is actually quite squeamish, and then there’s Julius Streicher, this foaming-at-the-mouth newspaper man, and he turns out to be pig-thick. And Walther Funk, the economist who, when he winds up in the dock at Nuremberg, demands to know (quite possibly with some sincerity) what he’s doing among ‘these criminals’. That’s the sort of stuff that informs Children of Hell; Nyder is the Himmler figure (and always was), and the others - Gharman, Kravos, Tane, Ronson, Kavell - need to be seen in the same way, because that way you can see their respective reasons for supporting Davros, how those views evolve, and why some of them turn against him.

When I started to consider the Elite as a whole, the dozen or so men in the final meeting as televised failed to make sense; if one was about designing something as complicated as the Dalek, the multiple research teams would probably total at least eighty odd men (and they are all men, and there are reasons for that), and then there’s probably the same number of guards, that makes a hundred and sixty, and that many men need to eat, sleep and defacate, so that means the Bunker has to have ancillary staff, and since none of the Kaleds survived the final meeting, all of them must have been in there, so there must have been about two hundred people (or more) crammed into the Main Laboratory. (I took the opportunity to include a celebrated character not seen since the Patrick Troughton story Enemy of the World in 1967.)

Petrified trees by the light of the primary moon

Darkness closed on the petrified trees as clouds obscured the primary moon

And that set me off exploring the rest of the situation, because in spite of being made on a BBC budget, Genesis is a story of epic scale; the two peoples, the war, the emergence of the Daleks, the battlefield, the Mutoes, and then the Doctor and his pals, who the story then has to revolve around because they’re the central characters, but in fact they are by no means the most interesting.

In story terms, none of them actually achieves much; the Doctor manages to tip off the Kaled government, and later he nearly does for Davros, he nearly blows up the Incubator Section; Sarah nearly escapes from the Thal Dome, Harry nearly lands one on Nyder, but that’s all they really contribute. The rest of the time, they’re just trying to rescue each other and recover the time ring; when they do start looking at the truth of the situation, they accept a great deal on trust, and seldom pause to verify what they hear - even from Nyder!

So I thought, ‘Why not just show them as the Kaleds see them?’ because what would you do if you met an alien? In fact, if the alien looked just like you, how would you know it was an alien? Like Litefoot, I consulted a zoologist colleague, and it’s a far more complicated question than you might imagine - Charles Darwin would have torn up his notes and got back on the Beagle. In the televised version of Sarah arriving in the Thal Dome, the Kaled Lieutenant assumes she’s not the same as him, but that doesn’t make sense; this is Skaro, there is no life on other planets, she’s obviously not a Thal, ergo she must be a Kaled - it would take him quite a while to accept the truth that she’s not. And then there’s the question of how the presence of the aliens affects the situation, in purely practical terms - because it does, and in ways that aren’t obvious from the televised story.

The primary difference that I figured the Kaleds would notice was that The Doctor and Harry both have blue eyes, which Kaleds don’t, of course, but the other big difference I decided would be smell; if there were a pheromone difference, then humans would smell wrong. I’ve also changed the aliens’ names to the way that Kaleds hear them; Doctor becomes ‘Doctre’, for instance, because I didn’t think that the Kaled language had the word ‘doctor’ - ‘physician’ or ‘medic’, but not doctor.

To return to the world of Skaro, the TV story shows us that Kaled society is fundamentally Right Wing Authoritarian, but the head of state is actually something of a liberal (no worse, anyway, than Kenneth Clarke), and that’s such an anomaly it’s worth exploring - why is Mogran in charge? - and then there’s the fact that the whole dome goes up in smoke halfway through the story, and to make that horrible moment significant, I thought the people living in it needed to be seen and heard.

Besides, I wanted to see the Kaled Home Front; I wanted some sense of what society might be like in that concrete dome. There had to double shifts and radiation leaks, and the Kaled equivalents of the Hitler Youth and the Young Girls’ League, and that led to stuff about book-burning and the Nazi humiliations of the Jews, and then the destruction of the Thals can be seen in terms of the liquidation of the ghettoes, leading to The Final Solution. But I think the important thing is to show the reality of that, otherwise it’s just (as Stalin said) ‘statistics’. At the same time, I wondered about Kaled entertainment, and that led me toward Christopher Isherwood and Cabaret/I Am a Camera, and once one is in that kind of world, it’s hard not to get into the realms of 1984, and then Red China, Thatcher’s Britain, and the present CIA’s attitude to Waterboarding; so that’s what I reckoned the Kaled Dome was like.

And as an extension of that, I started thinking about the Thals, and the two sides seemed so diametrically opposed that I doubted they could even interbreed, and once the double-genocide of the two domes has happened, if there was any chance of Kaleds procreating by overpowering and raping a few surviving Thal women, they would have done it, so in story terms they had to be incompatible - like the plug don’t fit the socket - I think that the prospect of one’s only progeny being Daleks is so horrifying that it could only be accepted if there was absolutely no alternative, and if someone of such an extreme mindset was driving the programme - as in this case.

. . . something stirs

In the breeding tanks . . .

I think that’s the sort of area where the story starts to get towards the very fundamental issues of procreation, and I think it would be both dishonest and stupid of me not to have worked out just what is going so badly wrong with the Kaleds, but just because I know doesn’t mean I have to write biological descriptions, it just means characters can hold informed conversations. I would say that Children of Hell is suitable for a bright eleven-year old, or anyone older, but it’s no more a children’s story than Genesis.

With Davros - as with The Doctor actually - I didn’t want to get too deep, that just seemed like going over old ground, yadda yadda. We all know what’s going on for Davros, we know why he’s doing it; he’s a raving egomaniac, and he’s halfway to being a Dalek already, and he’s got no empathy whatsoever, etcetera, which is fascinating, but we’ve heard the story so many times and he’s so narrow there’s not really much more there to find; it’s like Hitler, I’m told that Mein Kampf is practically unreadable. I kept Davros very much in the background for as long as I could; it was like if I were trying to find out what was going on in Berlin in 1945 - Hitler just wouldn’t be the first person I’d talk to, and the chances that he’d know - really know - wouldn’t be particularly high.

Inevitably, the second scene I wrote (out of sequence) was the Capsule Scene, and from Davros’s point of view, but the closer I got to that point in the story, the less I wanted Davros’s thoughts: There were other ways of telling that bit, but I did get the punch line in, because the fact that he is absolutely barmy is worth expressing. In fact that’s the intellectual high point for Davros, and I suspect it might have been where Michael Wisher started from - working backwards - and very probably why he made him so Bertrand Russell - there are Hitler moments, but the ‘normal’ state for Davros is this very rational, ascetic, dry intellectual; never smiles, never laughs, and if he makes a joke it’s the sort that only he understands; a towering sense of intellectual superiority.

One of the double-binds of (say) Sarah Jane Smith is that however bright she is, she’s still the alien, so her understanding of wherever she finds herself is always going to be several steps beyond her own experience. But by using a Kaled perspective, I was able to focus more clearly on The Thals, and because I’d gone so far to the Right with the Kaleds, I thought that the Thal government should be very Left Wing if only to extend the black/white thing, and it was almost a relief to write some Communist-keit, because they really do have the best slogans - however the Right try to inspire the masses, it’s going to boil down to ‘God Save the King’ and ‘We Love The Ruling Classes’; nobody talks about ‘Counter-Revolutionary Running Dogs’ and ‘The Golden Vision of Our Glorious Pioneers’; I think it’s a demonstration that if one is fat and rubicund and well, one doesn’t need to inspire anything more than very base desire - it’s all ‘Fill yer boots, lads’, none of the ‘We’re doing this for the People’ - which can justify just as many atrocities, like the gulags - but you need better poetry.

The character I started with is that guy credited as ‘Kaled leader’, which seems to mean ‘Kaled Lieutenant’ (Second Lieutenant!), who rescues Harry and the Doctor from the gas attack, takes them to General Ravon, and the next thing we see of him he’s a prisoner of war loading the Thal rocket, and he dies trying to escape, so there’s some untold story of him getting taken prisoner, and I thought that might be worth exploring, providing a much better informed tour of the trenches and the shell holes and the ruins - ‘The stain on that stagnant water - is it urine or mustard gas?’

Then I wanted someone that could be in the Kaled Dome when it got the rocket; the cast of Genesis offers the General and the Head of State, but neither of them were going to be getting out on the streets, at least not to go to the shops. And anyway, I wanted someone that could get into the Bunker, so we could get the Kaled Sun Reader perspective, and that led me to a Winston Smith character; a media producer (at the Palace of Truth!) with a wife and three kids, which meant I could have Tom Baker’s Doctor being cross-questioned by a six year old girl. And it also meant that she’s going to be among the million that get vaporised.

In Genesis there’s this character called Kavell; he’s almost entirely functional, and he’s there to provide someone for Ronson, and later Gharman, to confide in. Now the odd thing is that Kavell vanishes from the story at the end of Episode Five, for no given reason, and his place in Episode Six is taken by this young officer called Kravos, and all we know about him is that he’s got a pacemaker and Davros designed it.

But that’s actually quite interesting, because it implies that these two are never in the same place at the same time, which is faintly farcical but also means there’s always two separate perspectives, scientific and military, which I found attractive. I thought that the story behind the pacemaker needed telling, because Davros using that for emotional blackmail is really very sinister, and on the other hand there’s the whole question of the degeneration of the Kaled people, and by definition, that has to have a very wide personal impact, and I thought that Kavell might be a victim of that, because he is so very anti-Davros and, since that’s never explained, maybe it’s something he can’t explain. A bit like Alan Turing not being able to come out as Gay, and it eventually destroying him; what if one were aware that one’s terrible secret was something that had inadvertently been caused, and therefore need never have happened: That might produce a very particular kind of anger.

With the Daleks, I was fascinated by part of a site made by a Dr Who fan named ‘ The Mind Robber’, where he’s got the full history of all the Dalek props ever shown on telly. Besides showing just what a poor state they were all in by 1975, it reminded me that some of the very first Daleks created on Skaro all those years ago might still be alive (and I wonder why the people making the show now never thought of that), and it also put me in mind of a biog of John Scott-Martin, who was the number one Dalek actor at the BBC for a long time. For him that meant being literally Number One - he was always the first one into the room - and he does play the first Dalek, being tested in Episode One, so it seemed to me that the Dalek that kills Davros at the end of Episode Six (also John Scott-Martin) is the same unit. Now there’s a story to tell; there’s this thing, coming into being, trapped in this machine it barely understands, but neurotically eager, it will do anything to please it’s creator, but in the end it kills him - without a second thought, without a qualm; why?

It’s not often acknowledged but, for all they may be seem identical, Daleks don’t have a shared consciousness, and they are all individuals, and as such - if only for reasons of planning and delegation, not to mention apportioning blame and claiming credit (at both of which they are extremely prompt and apt) - each Dalek that rolls off the production line must have a unique designation that includes information about it’s function, deployment, time and place of origin, and even if that is just a string of numbers, it is still effectively a name, and the same principle applies in this story, especially when the creatures are at the experimental stage - one would have to number each experiment - so there’s the name of the first ever Dalek: One, how egocentric is that?

Children of Hell’ as a title came, I think, from the Daleks themselves, because they are spawned by this horrible WWI mess; the only living thing it can produce, so twisted and abhorrent and vicious, but thinking about it more, I could see that the three kids were Children of Hell too, and after that, the analogy started to apply very widely. The betrayal of childhood seems to me to be particularly wicked; not only the sexual abuse of children (which our press is so obsessed with), but conscription of children, child slavery, indoctrination, and the steady degradation of the Kaled People impacts on children above all; it’s so nasty because, compared with adults, children are innocent, and vulnerable. I don’t think the Daleks are the villains in this; they’re utterly amoral, and woefully underestimated, but not actually evil - until perhaps the very end.

. . . something stirs

. . . something stirs

The way I see Genesis is that it’s one quite selective set of footage of a sequence of events, and Children of Hell is another set, which includes some of the same scenes. Where I’ve used dialogue from Genesis, I’ve kept as far as possible to what is said on the telly; I think I’ve cut one line, and that was because I forgot it, and the way I replaced the sense of it was better; and I’ve replaced words like ‘Kaled’ and ‘Thal’ and ‘Davros’ with euphemisms (often derogatory ones) in the first couple of chapters, in the interest of suspense, and to some extent, logic; there wasn’t domestic video in 1975, so the programme makers didn’t have to be quite so wary of fans spotting failures of narrative - it’s quite different with prose. Some of the scenes from Genesis are extended in this version, so you get what the characters said next, but the original sense isn’t changed. The only serious change is that I’ve cut the giant clam scenes, for which I’m unapologetic because they don’t take the story anywhere, I think that when the story was trimmed to be repeated at Christmas 1975, the clams were the first thing to go, because both sequences are fairly flagrant padding, and anyway I’d found a more satisfying way to get the Doctor and Harry out of the Bunker.

I’ve tried to remain loyal to the spirit of Terry Nation’s work, as far as I can, (where I’ve had to add new characters, I’ve generally used names from Blake’s 7) and I’d love to be able to fool myself that I was following his true agenda, that he was guiding my pen, or some such mawkish nonsense, but what I did notice was that by extending ideas from Genesis, I found myself in territory from his slightly later work; brainwashing in Blake’s 7, and the ‘I-saved-your-life’ emotional blackmail in his Dalek-less Dr Who Android Invasion, and the more I wrote for Bettan, with her short blond hair, and band of refugees, the more I found myself hearing Abby Grant from the original Survivors; and there are various Terry Nation tags that seemed right, like there’s got to be bombs somewhere, and a boy named Joel, because he named so many characters after his son, Joel.

I think that this is as good a piece of Who-niverse fiction as any other, and as such well-worth reading; obviously my ultimate aim for the story is to get it published, but in the meantime, I wonder if you’d like to read it?

Alex Lyon


Post Scriptum

Eventually a fairly desperate plot device in Chapter One - a gadget that can detect humanoid body heat, and differentiate between Thals, Kaleds and (more importantly) Humans made a nonsense of Gharman's plan as expressed at the end of Chapter Five, and I ditched it and re-wrote Cleck's first couple of scenes, as well as lightly editing the last one of Chapter One.

I'd spent three days in the Imperial War Museum, which had re-ignited all that First World War poetry I did for A Level, and I wanted to write more battlefield stuff. I also re-acquired a copy of the Terrance Dicks novel (the very best seller of all Dr Who novels!) because I'd remembered the first couple of paragraphs from my teens as wonderfully evocative, and wanted to sample them. ‘Homage’ they call it.

Having copied the opening line ‘It was a battlefield’, I had to reshuffle the scenes so that the battlefield scene opened the story. I think it works better this way; Cleck becomes the hero for the first couple of chapters.

Alex Lyon

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