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Verity Stob is 'Disgusted of HG Wells': Time, gentlemen, please

Drinking the Kool-Aid outside the box

Stob Did you catch the recent TV version of The War of the Worlds?

Oh dear. HG Wells' beloved book was stuffed up royally. The adaptation had more incomprehensible flashes back and forth than a pair of AI lighthouses experimenting with optical TCP/IP. Nor did the dramatisers omit to burden their Edwardian characters with jarring, anachronistic right-on attitudes and concerns.

Long stretches of motionless and Martian-less tedium were only broken by occasional bursts of unintentional hilarity, as when the male protagonist abruptly halted the action – with the heat rays flying around his ears – in order to discuss with his extramarital squeeze the prospect of a divorce from his wife.

I don't see why it should be like this. Wells' novels could easily be turned into great telly, with plenty of deliberate humour and contemporary political relevance, yet respecting the characters' period, and all within the BBC budget.

You might well rejoin: that is easy for you to say, Verity. Therefore, on the co-location of money-and-mouth principle, please find below the first instalment of my TV treatment for The Time Machine. A right-thinking person like you cannot fail to see I have done a much better job.

The Time Traveller arrives

Scene 1: The drawing room of a well-appointed Victorian house in Richmond-upon-Thames. It is evening. All the gas lamps are lit. A party comprising a dozen or so men is in progress. We shall identify all the significant guests by their job titles, because that's what Wells did. Perhaps HG foresaw the existence of LinkedIn.

As is compulsory in all period dramas of the post-Mad Men era of TV production, everybody is smoking like southeastern Australia.

The camera swoops around the room, then settles on a group of chatting people centred around the Narrator, a middle-aged man.

Narrator, in voice-over: I dined that night at the house of "the Time Traveller", as it will be convenient to call him.

We see the Narrator take a large cigar from a box on the mantel, light it and puff on it. His neighbour, the Anthropomorphic Taxidermist, watches him do this, and comes forward solicitously offering his own silver case of cigarettes.

The Anthropomorphic Taxidermist: Chaser with that, old boy?

Narrator: Don't mind if I do.

The Narrator extracts a cigarette from the case, lights it from his cigar, and sticks it into the other side of his mouth.

Narrator, in voice-over: The Time Traveller had promised a special demonstration to our society, the Worshipful Company of Distressed Dialogue-less and Mute Multi-Ethnic Extras. Yet when we gathered at his house that evening, we found the great man absent. Fortunately, his cook had prepared a repast of roast hogget and double broiled spotted Richard, so we were able to dine adequately. We had just repaired to the smoking room when the extraordinary incident happened.

The camera focuses on a gas lamp above the Narrator's head, which abruptly starts to flicker. Creep up scary incidental music.

Narrator, so alarmed he almost drops his smokes: I say!

Over the music, we hear the familiar rattle of artron energy bubbling through a poorly calibrated flux capacitor. This builds to a climatic BANG! and shattering of glass, and the French windows at one end of the room are blown open.

The Time Traveller enters and collapses on the floor, panting. As the camera moves in, we see his clothes are torn to flinders and his face is smudged with dirt.

Anthropomorphic Taxidermist: Quick! Somebody fetch him a brandy!

The Defrocked Lamplighter retrieves a crystal decanter from the silver tantalus on the Biedermier bonheur-du-jour, and pours a stiff measure of Typhoo froid into a Georgian air twist wine glass. Then he kneels on the late Victorian-design Axminster beside the Time Traveller.

Defrocked Lamplighter: Here you are. Sip this.

Narrator, in voice-over: As I watched the Time Traveller drink, I couldn't help but reflect that if the production team had spent less money obtaining authentic period props, and more on computer wizardry, they might have run to creating a half-decent time travel effect.

Orgies in the 21st century

Scene 2: Dissolve to later that evening, in the same room. The Time Traveller is now sat in a chair, and is relating his experiences to the company.

Time Traveller: For my first trip, I was attempting to travel into the distant future. But I had to stop in the early 21st century because I hit a temporal palindrome.

Anthropomorphic Taxidermist: "Temporal paradox", surely?

Time Traveller: No, palindrome. When I got as far as the 2nd of February 2020, my machine abruptly overwhelmed one of its fluid links – something to do with the palindrome working in both American and non-insane date formats, I believe. Consequently I had to halt the vehicle and obtain some mercury to effect a repair.

He pauses to sip his drink, then continues.

Time Traveller: Still, the 21st century, eh? What a place! What permissive freedoms its deviant citizens enjoy!

At this declaration, there is a perceptible leaning forward and quickening of interest, especially by the Defrocked Lamplighter, who licks his lips.

Defrocked Lamplighter: What sort of freedoms, precisely?

Time Traveller: Anything you can name. It was very shocking. I heard a doctor – a professional gentleman, mark you – openly split his infinitive while standing in the street. Any guttersnipe could easily audit his ill-chosen words.

Defrocked Lamplighter, baffled: You what?

Time Traveller, warming to his theme: Just so. And what is more, I witnessed a schoolmarm, a steady soul of five-and-thirty summers or more, use an adjective as an adverb. This done with no thought to the innocent ears of her tender charges!

Anthropomorphic Taxidermist, trying to introduce a new topic: Shocking. But what else did you discover in the 21st century? What fantastical advances in technology had been made?

Time Traveller: Well asked! I witnessed countless such instances. For example, electric wireless speech-telegraphy has now reached the point where a miniature receiving device, the size of a quail's egg, can be purchased for a few guineas.

Anthropomorphic Taxidermist: Most interesting, sir! To what purpose do the men of the future put this ability?

Time Traveller: As far as I could tell, the primary application is the relating of a never-ending play concerning the lives of the inhabitants of a fictional farming village, which is performed every day except Saturdays.

Time Traveller again, remounting his hobby horse: And – would you credit it? – not one character – male, female or Linda Snell – has ever in the 70-year run of this entertainment substituted the correct conjunction "as" for the vulgar usage "like"! I do realise that, in the interests of verisimilitude, the simpleton yokels might be expected to spout sentences such as "Nobody loves organic yoghurt like you do, Susan Carter," but surely a gentleman farmer such as Brian Aldridge would naturally correct....

Narrator, in voice-over: It was perhaps unfortunate that, before developing a monomania for the temporal sciences and assuming his current avocation, the Time Traveller had spent 20 years as a master at a minor preparatory school in Surrey, beating the rudiments of grammatical English into its unhappy pupils.

Chillaxing cockapoos phub the black swan

Scene 3: We abruptly jump cut to a forest clearing in the year 802,701. We see the Time Traveller, now correctly dressed in a smart, five-piece Victorian time-travelling suit. He is confronting a small group of futuristic tribespeople called Eloi. These latter are all played by good-looking actors in their twenties, got up very prettily and tastefully in bowler cut wigs and skimpy loin cloths.

Confusingly, the Time Traveller now takes over the exposition.

Time Traveller, in voice-over: The Eloi, as I learned they were called, spoke in a strange and very sweet and liquid tongue. At first I didn't understand a syllable of it.

Time Traveller, addressing the Eloi in the English-talking-to-foreigners mode: PLEASE - CAN - YOU - TELL - ME - WHERE - I - CAN - BUY - SOME - MATCHES?

Eloi 1, calmly: Synergize the crowdsource thoughtleader. Open the kimono: ducks in a row, but chilaxing cockapoos phub the black swan.

Eloi 2: Developing the right processes and controls: where the rubber meets the road with your privacy programme. Fatberg noob photobomb leverages covariant service mesh.

Eloi 1: Drink the Kool-Aid?

Eloi 2, emphatically: 110 per cent! Drink the Kool-Aid outside the box.

Time Traveller, in voice-over: But after a while I began to get the hang of it.

Time Traveller to the Eloi: Bruncheon, frenemy! Kubernetes empowers the low-hanging fruit?

Eloi 1, agreeing: Guinea pig the dog food!

Eloi 2, disagreeing: Meh. Dog food the guinea pig.

Time Traveller, irritably: Let's take this offline.

Escape to danger

Scene 4: Chase music. The Time Traveller and his new Eloi girlfriend, Weena, are running along a beach. As the camera pulls back, we see they are being pursued on foot by a group of men wearing poor CGI effects and unconvincing rubber monster costumes – yes, the same ones as in that Doctor Who episode you turned off the other week. These are the Borlox, and they are the Eloi's predators.

Weena is running ahead of the Time Traveller, who is inconvenienced by his time-travelling suit and old age. She stops and waits for him to catch up.

Time Traveller, wheezing but noble: Don't wait for me.

Weena, with great emphasis, pointing along the shoreline: Twerking vape-selfie!

The camera follows the direction of her finger. Up ahead, we can vaguely see part of a giant statue, apparently buried up to its neck in the sand. This is the Borlox god.

Although the stone is much eroded and decayed, there is something curiously familiar about the shape of its head.

Time Traveller stumbles forwards, horrified: The maniac! He did it! Damn him! God damn him to hell! He finally did it!

The camera pans around so that we can see the statue properly. It bears the likeness of our dear prime minister.

Time Traveller: He got Brexit done.

End of episode proper.

Tune in next time

Screen caption: Coming next time...

Time Traveller, in voice-over: I determined to pilot my machine to the very end of the Earth, to the year seven American billion

The time machine materialises in a bleak, alien landscape. At last we see some proper CGI budget spend. A huge red Sun burns in the black sky. There is no sign of human activity or vegetation. A purple sea laps a rocky shore.

A revolting giant crab-like creature slithers along the sand. As we follow it, we see an incongruous roundel screwed to the rock face. There is a notice attached, which reads


Fade to black. End titles. ®

Verity Stob is the pseudonym of a software developer based in London. Since 1988, she has written her "Verity Stob" column for .EXE magazine, Dr. Dobb's Journal and, since 2002, The Register.

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