Thursday, 1 February 2018

Did Thematic Dissonance Ruin Series Eight of Doctor Who?

A New Era Dawns

Christmas Day 2013 saw Matt Smith sneeze into Peter Capaldi and a new era of the show begin. Hot on its heels came series 8, a new series which promised… well, newness! New Doctor, new writers, new aesthetic and new goals.
It was a bold new era of the show. Capaldi provided a brilliant new direction as the rebel Time Lord and there’s no denying that he was born to play the role. Coleman returned as Clara Oswald, who had completed her tour de force as nothing but a meaningless MacGuffin and now had the opportunity to flourish as a character with a wonderful actress behind her. Moffat, meanwhile, had assembled a collection of some of the best writers of revived Doctor Who; Jamie Mathieson, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts (if you don’t think the Shakespeare Code, Unicorn and the Wasp and the Lodger are classics, you’re wrong) and of course himself. Directorially, brilliant creatives like Douglas Mackinnon and the living legend that is Rachel Talalay, to name just a few, were at their best. The series also brought some of the most stunningly creative episodes in recent years; Listen (taken out of its greater context for best enjoyment) is, divisively, brilliant and Mummy On The Orient Express is widely hailed as one of the best episodes of the entire Capaldi era.

So, the question is, why doesn’t it work? Why doesn’t the series shine in the way it’s meant to? Why is it that despite all this creative force, series 8 is regarded as the critical worst of the Capaldi era?
You ask me, I think it’s thematic dissonance. 

An Idea That Recurs In Or Pervades A Work Of Art Or Literature

‘Doctor Who,’ since its 2005 revival, has often used themes to tie together its series, often by presenting the large character arcs that follow a series as an exploration of these themes. This creates a sense of thematic resonance, in that there is a clear correspondence between theme and story. Taking what I believe to be the best series of revived Who, series 1, for example, you can see that the story arcs clearly resonate with the series’ theme of evolving from your past; in Rose we have a 19 year old shop worker who must learn to become an intergalactic hero, in the Doctor we have a war veteran who must learn the war is over and in Jack we have a selfish con man who must learnt to become a self sacrificing hero. And, in the stories themselves, we see a clear resonance with this theme: in the Long Game, a journalist has to accept that the news organisation she believes in is wrong, in Father’s Day, a selfish man must accept fatherhood by sacrificing himself, in the Empty Child, a young woman must accept motherhood when she’s been running from it. And that’s just a few examples. In the strong majority of series one, stories revolve around this idea of evolving from your past.

Sidenote: Do you see the metatextual wealth in that? The show coming back from its sixteen year hiatus makes its main point the need to evolve from a past way of life. God I love Russell T. Davies.

Clearly understood what he was doing

In series 8, there is a clear attempt to enrich the series with a continuous theme. From episode one, we can clearly see the need for the Doctor’s redemption and there are attempts to mirror this. In the introduction of Danny, we see another soldier dealing with a traumatic past and in Missy we see an inverted version of the Doctor, a metaphor for how the Doctor is having to grapple with whether to be himself or not. But, unfortunately, these opportunities are deeply underplayed. There’s no real sense of correlation and the stories don’t complement each other; where the Doctor helping Rose and Jack to change allows him to change too, there’s no sense that the Doctor and Danny’s relationship has any real impact on the Doctor or Danny’s development other than in terms of mutual spite.

And the stories themselves lack any major thematic resonance. That isn’t to say there isn’t a clear attempt to do; quite the contrary. Almost every episode features at least one scene when the Doctor or another character stares into the middle distance and says, “Am I a good man?” but this doesn’t really achieve anything. Open discussion of the theme is a good way to set it up, but the actual pay off or exploration has to be achieved through events, through episodes that explore the themes in a variety of ways. 
Occasionally this is managed through bold decisions- Twelve’s possible murder of the Half-Face Man or being called ‘a good Dalek’ are moments that promise the moral ambiguity and eventual redemption arc the series so clearly wants. Yet, this thematic resonance is never achieved because it’s only the Doctor’s actions that mirror the theme. 
Robin Hood (traditionally a lord returning from war who has to choose to be a hero) offers no mirroring. 
Time Heist (which offers a morally ambiguous set up in the terms of the Doctor having to help criminals or fighting a monster that’s actually innocent) makes the Doctor an archetypal hero. 
Even the Caretaker, the perfect opportunity to explore the Doctor’s morality through the mirror of Danny, never uses the theme other than to add mere flavour to the story’s main plot. 
Furthermore, the series arc (e.g. ‘The Promised Land’) is completely unrelated to the central theme, unlike in series 1 where the Bad Wolf is the literal embodiment of Rose’s transformation. In the Cybermen and Missy, there is a perfect opportunity to mirror the Doctor (the dead born into new, uncaring bodies they don’t fully understand and a Time Lord who is the moral opposite of the Doctor) but this opportunity is underplayed in favour of… the Doctor being the President. And, relationship angst.
Furthermore, the polarisation of character tone from episode to episode worsens the problem. In the first two episodes, we see the Doctor murder someone and be compared to a Dalek, as an unfeeling robotic veteran of an impossible war. In the third episode, we see him fight Robin Hood with a spoon because he doesn’t approve of his merriness. In the last three episodes, we see the Doctor go from someone who gets on best with children because adults are boring to someone who can storm the battlements of Hell to the President of the Earth, jumping out of an airplane and flying through the Tardis doors. There’s no consecutive tone.
It’s as if the series has an idea of what it wants to be but the impatience to actually become it, instead flitting from one idea to another in the desperate hope that a pattern will rise from the chaos. Interestingly, however, this isn’t without precedent. 

Series 2 saw the Tenth Doctor go from being an immortal wanderer who murders a Sycorax in his first episode to… well, this in his fifth:

There is, however, a reason why series 2 can relatively get away with this and series 8 can’t. More precisely, there’s two reasons, and these are also crucial to the downfall of series 8.

Masking Via Metaphor

In series 1 (which when you think about it tells exactly the same story as series 8 wants to tell in terms of a war ravished Doctor learning to be more human, forgiving and all round a better person) no single character sits down and says, “The Doctor is a bad man. He must become good.” 
This is subtext, with the main motif being the constant insistence that ‘everything dies.’ This is a clever metaphor for the Doctor’s arc in the series; his resolution in Parting of the Ways is refusing to kill, thus showing that not everything dies after all. Furthermore, this stepping from death to life proves a metaphor for the Doctor’s other journey; from the frenzy of a regeneration and constant death swirling around him to the new brith of a new regeneration where he is able to embrace life.
It also boosts the metatextual message, when thinking about the show returning from the dead. 
Whether Russell T Davies had the intention of writing all this subtext is another matter, but accidental art is a lot easier to achieve when there is consistent, logical plotting placed in a key position, rather than the abstract of spewed forth ideas, as seen in series 8.

The Supporting Cast

As discussed earlier, series 2 saw wild inconsistency in terms of the character’s tone whilst the various writers working on the series tried to find what the Tenth Doctor should really stand for. In that case, it was no problem; they had an incredibly strong supporting cast in terms of Rose, Mickey and Jackie on whom to rely on for the series’ consistency and to cover up for any errors in terms of the Doctor. When Tennant became Smith, this rug was pulled away but it was alright as Moffat was able to engineer a whole arc for the Doctor based on his newness and relationship with new, custom written companions.
And then there’s series 8. In series 8, a weird compromise is created between the formats of carrying over a supporting cast from the previous Doctor and starting a new supporting cast with the new Doctor. So, in his first episode, Twelve gets a best hits of Eleven’s cast, with Clara and the Paternoster Trio. But, as the episode grows on past the initial stage of Twelve trying to work out how to function, all of these characters become ridiculously irrelevant to the plot. Without even talking about the problems they conjure in terms of tone, the Paternoster Trio is utterly unneeded from the restaurant scene onwards leaving just Clara as a companion. The intention is obvious, surely? The series intends to contrast Capaldi’s Doctor with Smith’s Doctor by showing how he treats a shared companion. Except, of course, series 7 Clara and series 8 Clara have less in common than Oswin and Victorian Clara. (And the fact that I can refer to four different versions of the same character is a whole other problem in itself.) 
Where 7’s Clara was a live in nanny with vague hints of everything you loved from all the other companions mashed together, 8’s Clara is a control freak teacher with varying degrees of relationship success and some level of a psychopathic nature. The effect is that series 8 is trapped with the difficulty of introducing a new supporting cast whilst trying to maintain some level of continuity to the old supporting cast and the distraction this creates, to writer and viewer, ultimately leads to the messy introduction of the actual new cast.
And it’s probably worth noting that, like everything else in this series, Clara and the rest of the supporting cast have absolutely nothing to do with the series theme other than the ability to point it out. I mean, what even is Clara's arc in this series? To choose between the Doctor and Danny? To forgive the Doctor? To get over the grief of her boyfriend? (And by boyfriend, I mean the Eleventh Doctor.)


To wrap up, there is one final question that must be answered. Throughout this essay, I’ve tried to remain objective and impartial. I face a dilemma when it comes to series 8. The geek in me likes it (as does the thirteen year old who fancied Jenna Coleman) but the writer in me finds it a terrible disappointment. Whenever I try to balance these two points of view, an idea comes to mind that I can’t help but become fixated on: Does the series fail because of thematic dissonance?
For my money, the lack of correspondence between the episodes is the biggest problem. It causes tonal inconsistence, lack of strong characterisation and exposes the other weaknesses (such as some really awful ideas *THE MOON'S AN EGG* and the difficulty surrounding the supporting cast) in a time when the show was under great scrutiny.  
I don’t, however, think there’s an objective answer to this, which I suppose is embodied by my own dilemma. The fan in me finds Capaldi’s grappling with morality entertaining. The writer in me thinks that it is poorly executed and a little annoying. But I think I can find a compromise that, subjectively, would solve series 8’s problem:
Drive the story with the theme, not the theme with the story.

In reality, series 8 drives theme with story. Each story has a moment where it sits down, and says, “This is how this episode links to our overarching theme,” then winks at the camera and runs away. It’s like the story of the series has been mostly written, except for the set up and the pay off, and then Moffat has gone through, retroactively working the theme into each story and writing a set up and pay off to match. It’s not so much an idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature as an idea that has been copied and pasted into a work of art or literature.
What I believe would make more sense is for the theme to be a major factor in constructing the stories, rather than something to include in them. Starting a series with the intention to tell a redemption arc almost forces you, at the beginning of each episode, to wonder how this episode can propel such an idea forward so you end up with one cohesive narrative that’s all reading from the same hymn sheet. 
It’s the difference between this:

And this:

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Last Night At The Prom (part 4)

Ali grabbed Freya and the two of them exploded into a haze, racing out of the main hall and into the bar. Mere seconds after they got out, the doors of the main hall slammed shut. For a few moments, there was the sound of fists desperately banging against the doors. Then, bodies hitting the floor. Then, silence.
“What the hell’s going on in there?” Ian demanded.
“The Calculator is draining something out of the students.” Freya said. “And Mr Andrews has turned into the Camel God.”
Ali exploded into a haze for a second, and when she reappeared, she was dressed in her Flish outfit. She threw Freya Tempus’ costume. “Chris, your spare costume was missing.”
Chris didn’t say anything, just stared at the door. How could Mr Phillips be gone?
“We don’t have time.” Freya said. She froze time and then unfroze it, so it appeared that within a second, her outfit completely changed. “Let’s go find Steven and Sophie and see if we can find some other way in.”
“Sounds good to me. Chris, we’ll come back and find you.”
Chris didn’t reply.
Ian watched them wander away and then turned to Chris. “Where is Morris? Is he in there fighting the Camel God? What’s going on?”
“He’s… he’s dead.” Chris whispered.

Their hands were bound by giant staples, bent out of shapes to hold their wrists together. They were moved by the push of highlighter guns against their backs. Steven looked at Sophie. “It’s going to be alright.”
“I’ve changed the probability of our imminent escape to certain, Steven, and nothing’s happened.” Sophie said. “Nothing is going to happen.”
“The metal the staples are made of blocks your abilities.” The Antithetic said. “Another of Dreamweaver’s inventions.”
“Isn’t he wonderful?” Steven muttered. He sighed and looked at the Antithetic. “I don’t understand why you’re helping them, Mrs Carpenter. Mr Coin and Mr Jordan are both maniacs. I get that. But why are you helping them? You always seemed one of the more switched on teachers.”
“Don’t try to make me switch sides, kid. It won’t work.”
“That’s not what I’m trying to do.” Steven said, knowing full well that was exactly what he was trying to do. “I’m just confused.”
“It was either help the Camel God or rot in that cell for the rest of time.” The Antithetic said. “I think I made the logical decision.”
“Because nothing says logical like helping to destroy the world.” Sophie muttered. 
“Compared to you, I’m hardly helping.”
“What?” Steven frowned.
“Do you think you’re still alive because I’m nice?” The Antithetic laughed. “If it was up to me, you’d be dead. But no. We need your powers.”
“Our powers?”
She nodded. “The imaginations of the teenagers power the Doorway Aligner to an extent, but it’s still risky because we’re not at a weak point between dimensions. We need a lot of luck to achieve this. The amount of luck that a superhero who can control probability could give us. And as for the army… they could be anywhere in the Banished Dimension, so it’d be really handy if we had a superhero who can summon things at will, wouldn’t it?”
Steven and Sophie gulped in unison. 
The double doors in front of them opened and they stepped into the hall. The floor was covered in unconscious teenagers, the force of their imaginations being torn away seemingly having knocked them unconscious. 
At the head of the dance floor, the DJ’s decks had been removed and replaced with large computer systems where the Calculator was stood. Huge batteries surrounded him, all plugged by a miasma of cables into the Extractor Beams. At the bottom of the computer systems, the Doorway Aligner was plugged in just inform of a pair of chairs set out with brain caps next to them.
Dreamweaver hurried over, purple coat flowing behind him, and he grinned as he grabbed hold of Steven and forced him into one of the chairs. The Antithesis placed Sophie in the other, and electrode spouting brain caps were placed on each of them. 
“There we go.” The Calculator said. “Ready to activate on your command.”
From the shadows on the far side of the room, the Camel God appeared. Steven felt his heart thudding harder. The creature was gigantic and monstrous, its eyes blazing with fury. Up until that moment, the atheist in him had doubted that the Camel God could ever be real. Right now, with unequivocal proof right in front of him, he couldn’t doubt at all. “Bloody hell.”
“Mr Andrews is gone, isn’t he?” Sophie whispered.
“Yeah.” Steven said, nodding slowly. “He really bloody is.”
“Open the portal.” The Camel God said. “Now.”
The staples were removed. The machine was switched on. Steven and Sophie felt their powers being forced into action. Steven tried to focus on anything- baby elephants, novelty gnomes, even Jenna Coleman- but it wasn’t enough. The brain caps had harnessed their power and were now using it against them. 
The crystals on the front of the Doorway Aligner began to glow, projecting at first pinpricks of light onto the roof. And then the pinpricks expanded, growing larger and larger until a glowing white circle covered the ceiling. There was a crescendoing hum and then a crash of thunder, as the white light turned into a portal.
Steven looked at Sophie. He had to tell her before the end but… that would be selfish. If these were their final moments, he couldn’t make it all about him. She noticed him looking. He smiled and felt a tear trickle down his cheek. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”
She smiled, despite the tears rolling down her cheeks. “You’re my best friend too. I wouldn’t want to die with anyone else.” 
“To be honest with you,” he said, reaching out and holding her hand, “I don’t want to die at all.”
As all conscious eyes in the house raised to look at the portal, the Antithesis’ eyes fixed on them and she felt a pang of guilt.
There was a calamitous thud as a body dropped from the portal and performed a superhero landing against the ground. Slowly, steadily, the body stood and raised its axe. On his back was a shield in the shape of an camel hump. The creature wore a helm in the shape of a camel skull. Then another soldier fell. And another. And another, until a hundred identical soldiers had landed against the floor. Then they raised their weapons and turned to the Camel God.
The God laughed and said, “Now, we shall destroy the world.”
The doors on the far side of the room burst open and Tempus and the Flish appeared.
“Would you look at that?” The Flish said. “A faceless army underneath an interdimensional sky portal. I sure haven’t seen this before.”
“Time for mindless violence.” Tempus sighed.
They burst forward and began to fight. The Flish used her extreme speed to smash through the soldiers, knocking them to the ground. As the axes swung down towards her, she froze them in midair and ducked out, unfreezing time and letting them swing into each other.
But there was too many. As Ali went to speed away, one of the soldiers grabbed the back of her costume and held her in place as the others punched her. As Tempus splayed her hand to freeze them, a club swung through the air and smashed into his hand, nearly breaking her fingers. Tempus cursed and swore, but the hesitation this caused led the others to pounce on her and pummel her to the ground.
Steven swore. There went the last of his hope.

“He can’t be dead.” Said Ian. “He can’t be.”
“He was at Gilliam High and the Camel God nuked it.” Chris replied. “I don’t want him to be. He was… he wasn’t just a teacher. He was a friend and I don’t want him to be dead but he is.”
Ian stared through the doors Tempus and the Flish had smashed through, to the hall where they were being beaten up. And watching over all of it was the Camel God, with eyes of furious pleasure. He was beginning to win.
“That thing killed Morris.” Ian said. “You can’t let it win. Chris, it’s going to kill your friends. You can’t let it win.”
“What am I going to do?” He demanded. “Go shout at it? It’s a bloody god! And I haven’t got any Jaffa Cakes.”
Ian put his hands on Chris’ shoulders. “Chris, you don’t need any Jaffa Cakes. Morris… Morris always said you were the best student he’d ever taught. The five of you were his ideal class. He felt the same way before and after the explosion. You are Captain Jaffa Cake, Chris. With or without your powers.”
Chris looked at Ian, then looked at the hall. Freya was being thrown across the room, Ali was being kicked. Steven and Sophie were beginning to scream in their chairs. The Camel God was laughing.
Chris nodded. “Okay. I know what I need to do.”
And with that, he ran, leaping through the double doors and racing to the phone box. He jumped inside and closed the door. “There’s a reason my spare costume was missing.” He muttered to himself, and tore open his shirt. Beneath, the huge Jaffa Cake emblem seemed to glow.
The door of the phone box opened and he looked out onto the army. He was as tall as the Captain, as miraculously bequiffied and as brave and confident. Sure, he might not have the muscles, but what did that matter in a brawl?
He summoned his powers, despite the lack of jaffa inside him, and felt a Jaffa Cake shield appear in his hand. He grinned and swung it through the air. The Jaffa Cake spun and spun, whistling across the room until it hit Sophie’s brain cap, bouncing off and hitting Steven’s. With them both instantly free, Steven summoned their super suits and ran to Chris’ side.
“Good to see you, Captain.” The Summoner said. He summoned Tempus and the Flish, who were pulled by unseen forces towards them.
“Good to see you too.” Captain Jaffa Cake grinned. “Everybody alrigh?.”
Tempus spat some blood onto the floor. “I’ve been better.”
“Let’s make the Camel God feel that way.” The Captain said. “Let’s go kick some ass.”
Lucky Cat increased the probability of the speakers beginning to play ‘Live With Me’ by the Rolling Stones and the Flish said, “As movie tropes go, I much prefer awesome fight sequences whilst old rock songs play.”
“Don’t we all, Ali? Don’t we all?” The Summoner said and they all ran forward.
Captain Jaffa Cake swung the first punch, knocking a soldier back and catching one of their blows with his shield. Tempus ducked under his arm and froze one of the soldier’s legs so they couldn’t move. The Flish used the frozen in place soldier as a wall, running up him with incredible speed and jumping over their head, into the crowd on the other side. As she swung punches at the speed of sound, Lucky Cat and the Summoner fought side by side. Lucky Cat manipulated the probability of the soldiers attacking her taking each other out instead. One soldier swung for her head, but missing and instead hit the stomach of another soldier lunging for her. That soldier fell forward as the fist hit his stomach, his feet flying out behind him and smashing into someone else’s face. The Summoner grinned and swung out his own fists. With each collision, he summoned a large flash card reading, ‘Pow’, or ‘Zap!’, or even, ‘Sock!’
They swirled and danced amongst the army, ducking punches and the swipes of weapons. One particularly ambitious soldier leapt into the air and flew towards them, swinging his twin swords down on them. Tempus froze him in mid air and Flish gave him a supersonic kick out of the way. As he flew through the air, the Summoner summoned a trampoline and Lucky Cat increased the probability of him bouncing off it. As he bounced off, the Captain threw up a Jaffa Cake. The soldier hit the Jaffa Cake head on, the rim of the biscuit slipped down his body and pinning his hands against his sides. The soldier hit the floor with a thud, fully incarcerated.
Finally, the entire army was unconscious. Without the Summoner hooked up to the machine, there was nothing to draw further soldiers through the Portal. Within a few minutes, the vast majority of the soldiers had fallen and those that still stood began to climb up the streamers hanging from the ceiling in hopes of reaching the portal.
“It worked!” The Flish cried. “We’ve won.”
“Not yet!” Dreamweaver cried and leapt at them.
“We’ve got this one.” Lucky Cat said and the Summoner nodded. They ran towards the purple coated super villain and ducked his first punch.
“How do you attack someone in DnD, Lucky Cat?” The Summoner asked.
“First you roll your attack.” Lucky Cat said and punched Dreamweaver in the face.
“Then you calculate your damage.” The Summoner said and kicked him whilst he was down.
“Then finally you see if you have any bonuses left over.” Lucky Cat said and in unison, they landed a punch that knocked him to the ground, unconscious.
“If you ask me,” the Summoner said, “I think that was a critical hit.”
The Calculator roared with anger and leapt over his control panel. “You won’t stop us now!” He screamed and reached into his jacket, pulling out a pocket calculator. He typed a special code into it and the device began to unfold, sprouting arms and legs that quickly unfolded until he was able to press the device against his chest. The sprouted arms and legs clipped onto his own limbs and lifted him up in a gigantic mech suit, gattling guns built into the arms that quickly began to rotate and fire.
Tempus froze the bullets in midair, picking them off and sliding them into the empty spaces on her bandolier. The Calculator screamed and began to fire harder, almost too quick for her to catch. Captain Jaffa Cake leapt in front of her at the last moment, catching the bullets with a Jaffa Cake shield, but still the Calculator kept firing.
The Flish turned and picked up an abandoned spear. She lifted it up, counted in her head, allowed her heart beat to calm and then shouted, “Out of the way, now!”
Tempus and Captain Jaffa Cake leapt to either side, opening her up to the path of his guns. At that exact moment, his magazines ran empty and he cursed, giving the Flish a chance to throw the spear. It sailed through the air until the tip smashed into the small calculator unit on his chest, knocking him to the floor. 
They wandered over to where he was trapped against the floor.
“How did you know I would run out of bullets then?” He whispered.
“Average gun belt holds 300 rounds, average battling guns fires 200 rounds a minute…” She grinned. “I did the Math.”
The Camel God roared and turned to them, opening its mouth and blasting them a jet of fire. Captain Jaffa Cake and the Summoner lifted their capes, the others jumping behind the inflammable material until the billowing cloud filtered out of existence. Then the five of them stepped up and stared the God down.
“You will never destroy me! I am a god!”
“And we’re superheroes that you’ve annoyed.” Captain Jaffa Cake said. “I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes right now.”
The Camel God roared and fired two blasts of its laser eyes down towards them. Tempus held up her stop watch, the bright light bouncing off the glass and reflecting back towards the Camel God who felt his sandy fur begin to singe. 
The Camel God reared, its legs raging through the air and then smashing down. The Flish rushed to knock Lucky Cat out from underneath one of the legs, Captain Jaffa Cake held his shield aloft and allowed the sponge cake material to hold the leg up so it didn’t crush him. 
The Summoner creating a swirling vortex above his hand and from it pulled a bazooka, but the missile it fired just clattered off the side of the Camel God without any effect at all. The Camel God laughed and blew another jet of fire. “You cannot destroy me! I am invincible!”
A blast of laser vision decimated their capes. A stamp threw them to their feet. The Summoner looked desperately at Captain Jaffa Cake. “I’m beginning to think he’s right. We can’t use our powers against him because he can just undo them!”
The five of you were his ideal class. He felt the same way before and after the explosion. 
Ian’s words haunted his mind but he felt a flash of inspiration. “I’ve got an idea.” He whispered. “But we need a distraction.”
A pair of boots hit the floor to the side of the Captain’s head. He looked up and saw Mrs Carpenter. “Will this do?” She asked. “I’m sorry for helping him. It was the wrong thing to do.”
Her fans cut into life and she began to rise, racing through the air towards the Camel God. She lifted the nozzles of her acid guns and squeezed the triggers, firing the acidic highlighter fluid towards the Camel God. The fluid slapped against the Camel God’s fur, causing it to scream and rollick, backing away in pain.
“That’s our cue!” Captain Jaffa Cake called. “We were heroes before we ever got powers, guys. Come on! Let’s use what we know!”
Captain Jaffa Cake and Lucky Cat leapt towards the computer controls. The Captain began to reprogram them using his amazing knowledge of Computer Science. Lucky Cat started to enter the correct Physics equation to reverse gravity. The Flish raced around the tables, grabbing party poppers and balloons. She used her knowledge of Chemistry to build bombs that exploded against the Camel God’s body. 
Tempus looked at the Summoner. “Can you think of any useful, real life applications of essay skills?”
“Not really.” The Summoner replied. “Maybe we could think of a cracking one liner?”
The Antithetic threw out treasury tags that wrapped around the Camel God’s legs, pulling them together and tripping it over, knocking it to the floor with a deafening thud. The God screamed and raised its head, a billowing cloud of fire bursting from its mouth and nearly engulfing her.
“Camel God!” Captain Jaffa Cake cried. “Consider this your reckoning! Leave our reality or be escorted out of it!”
The Camel God roared and blasted the stage with fire.
Captain Jaffa Cake dropped his smouldering biscuit shield and then nodded. “So be it.”
Lucky Cat hit the button that reversed the gravity. Carpenter flipped in mid air and hovered across the room, catching the heroes as they were dragged upwards, before zipping out of the way so that the Camel God could be sucked through the portal and back into the Banished Dimension. 
The Antithetic increased the power of her fans and they flew back down to the control panel, hitting the switches and knocking the portal closed. Then the gravity returned to normal and they hit against the floor.
“He did not look happy.” Tempus whispered.
“No. It looked like he had the hump.” The Summoner replied. They high fived.
Captain Jaffa Cake turned to the Antithetic. “Thank you.”
She bowed her head. “I’m sorry for fighting against you. It was wrong.”
“I think her hamartia was her guilt.” Tempus said.
“Either that or the fact that the plot demanded her to switch sides.” The Summoner replied.
Captain Jaffa Cake shook Carpenter’s hand. “Go. Before the police get here.”
“Thank you.” She whispered. She bowed to the rest of the group and said, “Thank you.”
Then she activated her fans and flew off.
The balloon full of balloons popped and plastic sacks full of air began to rain down onto them.
“We just saved the world.” Tempus said. 
“More like the universe.” Lucky Cat replied.
In the distance, there was the sound of sirens. The Summoner looked at them. “Anyone fancy shawarma?”

After Credits

Results Day. Six weeks later. Around the country, teenagers were jumping into the air holding pieces of paper aloft. Online, irritating celebrities were tweeting that failing was alright, because they didn’t do well and look where they were now. Sixth Forms elsewhere were rubbing their greedy hands together at the thoughts of all the A*s and Colleges were laughing evil as they swept up all the desperate people who’d failed, swarming like vultures over corpses. 
At the community centre closest to Gilliam High, a bunch of Year Eleven students (a few of whom where still hung over from the After Prom) were opening their results and reacting by doing the usual: putting their results on varying forms of social media.
Chris opened his envelope alongside Freya, and both of them stared at the list of amazing results that waited. Where Freya had nine GCSEs, however, Chris only had 8 because they hadn’t included the Computing grade he’d done a year earlier. “Another place where Mr Phillips is missing.” He sighed.
“Oh, Chris.” Freya said, patting his shoulder. “Wherever he is, he’s proud of you, you know. We saved the universe.”
“I just wish we’d been able to save him too.” Chris said, bowing his head.
Further along, Sophie and Steven were staring at their results. “I can’t believe it.” Steven whispered.
“Me neither.” Sophie replied.
“I mean surely it’s not possible.”
“I think there must be some kind of mistake.”
They both looked at each other and cried, in unison, “We passed French!!!”
They laughed in unison and Steven’s smile grew. She was so pretty when she laughed. 
They began to walk over towards Freya and Chris. “Did you sign up to Sixth Form?” He asked.
She nodded. “Did you?”
“Yep.” He said. And that was good, because it meant he had another two years to win her heart.
Ali, meanwhile, was looking at her results when she heard an unwelcome voice at her shoulder. 
“Hey, Ali. Could we talk?” 
Ali turned and saw Desmond Gilliam, the Big D, stood in front of her. He and Julie hadn’t been arrested following the Munch events, but Ali had been doing her best to avoid them. Not very well, it would seem. “What do yo want, D?”
“I wanted to say sorry about everything that happened with Charlotte.” He said. “I didn’t realise how much of a maniac she was. I’m sorry that we mistreated you.”
“It’s fine.”
“And I wanted to know if you wanted to come out with me and Julie. Go get a milkshake or somethings, so we could make it up to you.”
“That’s such a kind offer, but I don’t think so.”  Ali smiled. She looked over her shoulder to the others. “I’ve got real friends to be with.”
Turning on her heel, she walked to join the other four. “Everyone happy with the results?” She asked.
Steven nodded. “My results were positive.” 
“Positive test results probably aren’t a good thing.” Sophie laughed.
Their laughter was suddenly broken by Mr King’s appearance. “Can I have a word, guys?”
Chris frowned. “About what, sir?”
He led them over to the far corner of the community centre and, once they were out of earshot, he said, “We saw the security footage from Prom night. It would appear that you five are the superheroes.”
Freya froze time. The rest of the hall came to a stand still.
“Please don’t tell anyone.” Chris said. “Or we’ll be forced to take drastic action.”
“What kind of drastic action?” Mr King asked.
“We hadn’t got that far.” Chris replied.
Mr King laughed. “You don’t have to worry. When I look around this room, all I see are superheroes. Their powers? An open future, with which they can do anything they can dream of. Teenagers are amongst the bravest, most brilliant and, quite honestly, most inspiring people you can work with and I know you five will go far.”
“I don’t know.” Ali said. “The Sixth Form is only twenty minutes up the road.”
Mr King smiled and said, “Do you remember, at the end of assemblies, Mr Deterich always used to say, ‘Let’s go be world beaters?’”
They nodded.
“I didn’t like that very much. I always thought that it’s sending out the wrong message. It says that the world is against students, that they need to defeat it. But I think the true power of young people isn’t that they have the chance to beat the world but that they have a chance to make it better. I think, as you have proved, young people shouldn’t be world beaters. Mr Deterich shouldn’t say that. So, before you leave today, I’d like to give you my alternative phrase.”
“Which is?” Freya asked, unfreezing time.
Mr King patted them each on the back. “Let’s go be world savers.”

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Last Night At The Prom (part 3)

Paramore was playing and Steven and Sophie were dancing to it. Steven wasn’t the kind of guy who normally danced; he was too clumsy to walk most of the time, never mind dance, and he suspected that was the entire reason why Sophie had agreed. Regardless, they were having fun and laughing.
The song came to an end and they walked off the dance floor to join Freya and Chris at a table. Steven breathed heavily for a few moments. “Bloody hell. I need a lie down now.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you dance like that before.” Sophie said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him dance, full stop.” Chris replied. 
“I don’t think I ever want to see it again.” Freya laughed.
“Charming.You’re all so charming.” Steven grinned. He felt a buzz in his pocket and quickly pulled out his phone. There was a text message waiting for him. “That’s weird.”
“What is it?” Sophie asked.
“A blocked number has just texted me saying, ‘Steven. Bring Sophie. Go to the right wing of the building.’”
“It might be Ali.” Chris said. “Pulling a prank with the blocked number.”
“That’s true.” Steven replied. He climbed up and helped Sophie up. “Come on. Let’s go see what she wants.”
Chris and Freya watched them go. Freya turned to Chris. “Do you think it’s a trick?”
Chris frowned. “What?”
“By Steven, I mean. To get her alone so he can ask her out properly.”
“Why would Steven ask Sophie out?”
Freya frowned. “Haven’t you noticed how much he fancies her?”
“Not really.” Chris said. “I mean, I just thought they were good friends.”
Freya started laughing. “You’re such an idiot.”
“Leave it off.” Chris grimaced. “I already feel an idiot enough in this suit.”
“It’s look really nice!” Freya cried.
“Thanks but… I feel like an overdressed monkey. Give me a jumper over a suit any day.”
“Or a large orange superhero costume?” 
Chris shook his head. “I don’t think so. It’s like I said when we went to Dreamweaver’s world. The guy who wears the suit isn’t me. It’s Captain Jaffa Cake.”
“And it’s like I said to you.” Freya replied. “You are Captain Jaffa Cake.”
Chris smiled sadly. “I wish.”

Steven and Sophie wandered out of the hall and followed signs for the right wing. (Located with the cars, next to the Nigel Garage.) They walked into silence for a second and then Steven said, “So… it’s the end.”
“What?” Sophie replied.
“The end of school. End of GCSEs. End of everything really.”
“Or a new start.”
“True.” Steven nodded. “What’s next for you?”
“Sixth Form.” She said. “Another two years of putting off University.”
“Still planning to do Physics?”
She nodded. “Unless I drastically failed the GCSEs.”
“There’s no chance of that, I promise.” Steven smiled. “You were Mr Andrews’ favourite for a reason.”
She smiled a sad smile. “I wish everything that happened with him hadn’t, you know.”
“I know.” Steven said. 
“He didn’t deserve any of it. He was such a good teacher and… why did it have to be him who was knocked unconscious and possessed by the evil Egyptian deity?” 
“I ask myself that question every day.” Steven said.
“Can you imagine how much fun he’d have here?” Sophie said. “Dancing around and belting his heart out. Do you remember the Year Nine disco?”
“Oh, that was hilarious!” Steven cried. “I’ve never seen anyone other than you sing Mr Brightside so energetically.”
“He was so amazing.” Sophie said. A mascara blackened tear trickled down her cheek. “I miss him so much.”
“Hey! Don’t be sad. We’ll save him, don’t you worry.” He slipped his arm around her shoulder. “I promise.”
“Thanks.” She smiled. 
“You’re welcome.” He said and patted her shoulder.
“So…” she began, trying to shrug off the tears, “what’s next for you?”
“Sixth Form I suppose.” Steven said. “Then a degree and a job, then it’s time to settle down and make a family with a woman I love.”
“I don’t know if Jenna Coleman would be willing to settle down with you.”
They both laughed and Steven shook his head. “I wasn’t thinking of Jenna Coleman.”
“No. I was thinking of someone much more beautiful.”
“Really? Who’s that?”
Steven felt his heart thundering. He’d been so sure about telling her. He’d been trying to build up the confidence for a good few months now, but now all the courage seemed to desert him. He sighed and removed his arm from around her shoulder. “None of your business, you gossiper. Let’s go find Ali, shall we?”
“Sure.” Sophie said and they disappeared into the Right Wing.

Freya and Chris, in the main hall, watched the lights from the disco machine dancing across the walls. Flashes of green, red, orange and now purple. The purple was almost hazy, and it exploded into view just in front of them. Ali in a stetson and cowboy outfit.
“What’s with the hat?” Freya frowned.
“It’s for the American theme of the prom.” Ali said.
“The American theme was just for the decor, you know.” Chris said.
“In Back To The Future, Marty McFly doesn’t dress like a fish for the Enchantment Under The Sea dance.” Freya pointed out.
“None of this matters!” Ali cried, throwing off her stetson. “Someone just nuked Gilliam High.”
“What?!?” Chris and Freya cried in unison. 
“I don’t know, there was just a mushroom cloud and this massive explosion and… we need to find Mr Phillips now.”
The three of them raced over to the bar, where Ian was drinking heavily. 
“Hey!” Chris cried. “Hi. Do you know where Mr Phillips is?”
“Search me.” Ian replied. “He was meant to be meeting me here an hour ago, but the last time he texted me, he said he was collecting some marking from work to do over the weekend.”
Chris’ eyes widened. “Oh bloody hell.”
“No.” Ali said. “No. That can’t be true. It can’t be.”
“Hang on!” Freya cried. She had a terrible feeling of creeping dread spreading over her. Something wasn’t right. Something really wasn’t right. “If Ali’s with us, who are Steven and Sophie meeting?”

The right wing of the hotel seemed abandoned. The floor was desolate, except for the space closest to the walls where abandoned furniture stacked up. Steven walked to the centre of the room, looking around, frowning. “Ali? Alllll-iiiiiii?”
“I don’t think she’s here.” Sophie said, wandering over to join Steven. “I don’t think there’s anyone in here.”
“How wrong you are.” A voice said, and suddenly a large pile of revision material fell from the ceiling and trapped the two of them against the floor. “I’m surprised you didn’t deduce I was involved.”
“How could we?” Sophie cried. 
“You could have analysed the text. Go to the Right Wing? Politically, the Antithesis of the Right Wing is the Left Wing and the left wing was the political group supported by the residents of the council estate I tried to destroy. Thus, the only logical conclusion was that I was behind it all.”
“Obviously.” Steven said, rolling his eyes. 
The Antithetic hovered out of the shadows, highlighter guns in hand. “You know, Steven, Sophie, I almost feel guilty for ruining your evening. It seemed you were having fun. It’s a shame that this is the end.”
“We’ll stop you, Antithetic.” Sophie said. “You don’t stand a chance.”
“How can you stop me when we’ve already won?” The Antithetic asked, grinning. “Do you know how Dreamweaver’s Doorway Aligner works?”
They shook their heads.
“It is fuelled by imagination. That was why he needed you to play Dungeons and Dragons to get it really working.” She smiled. “And what is this hotel full of? Teenagers imagining their futures. The Calculator’s Extractor Beams were designed to absorb Mathematical ability, but now it can be utilised to capture imagination. And once we have drained all the imagination in this building, we will have enough power to break into the Banished Dimension once and for all.”
“To quote Sammy on page 81 of my copy of Blood Brothers,” Steven said, “‘Oh f-‘“

“-lipping heck!” Ali cried. “The Camel God must be trying to break his army back in tonight.
“We have to stop him.” Freya said.
They turned and ran back to the hall. Chris just watched them run, eyes beginning to drip tears. Mr Phillips… was gone.
Bursting into the hall, Freya and Ali ground to a stop. The music and light show had stopped. A single white spotlight shone down onto the stage. A man stepped towards the DJ, lifted him up with one hand and threw him across the room. Then, he grabbed the microphone and said, “Hello my friends. It’s so good to be back.”
Lifting his head, his face was revealed as that of Mr Andrews, but there was something in the eyes that was infinitely older and infinitely more evil. He grinned.
“Tonight, you will all be taking part in a little experiment to begin the end of days. My army shall come and sweep across this reality, and you shall be their key.”
“Mr Andrews?” Ellie Wright cried from the dancefloor. “Stop pecking! We’re trying to party!”
Mr Andrews smiled at her, and then two crimson beams leapt from her eyes and she exploded into a shower of grey dust. “Do not speak to me when I am addressing you all.”
In the dark depths of Hell, as reserved for the banally annoying, Ellie Wright said, “As if I’d ever speak to you. We’re not even talking.”
Back in the hotel, Mr Andrews began to grimace. “As I said in the beginning, let there be light.”
The full lights of the room flooded into life, revealing the constructs in each corner with huge Extractor Beams sat on top. Freya and Ali’s minds flashed back to the Sports Hall during the Maths exam all the way at the beginning of their adventures. They knew what was coming next.
Freya paused time and leapt in front of Andrews. “Stop this! Please! If you can hear me in there, Mr Andrews, you have to overpower this monster.”
“As easily as I gave you powers, I can take them away.” The time freeze abruptly ended and the students began to scream as Mr Andrews’ body grew. “And Mr Andrews isn’t here right now.”
His bones clicked and clunked, losing their shape and spreading out. His back arched and then the spine snapped, humps pressing out. His arms became legs, his neck extended, his skull cracked and pulped, reshaping to become more animalistic. The Camel God stared down on them.
The Extractor Beams shot into life.

“And now comes the beginning of the end!”

Monday, 11 December 2017

Last Night At The Prom (part 2)

The van’s suspension wasn’t great, so it shook all over the harsh tarmac of the road, bouncing from one side to the other and wobbling the passengers inside. 
A single man drove and in the back, there was a bench against either wall, each holding one person. On one side was Celia Carpenter, but in the guise she wore now she was better known as the Antithetic. Two huge fans crisscrossed her back, a larger tank hung on them that led into two nozzles running under her arms and into her hands. Her utility belt was packed with cue cards, post it notes and nunchuck treasury tags. She had green goggles pulled over her eyes and she felt ready for anything.
Sat opposite her was Dreamweaver, in a flowing purple jacket. His jaunty chin sported a jauntier ginger beard and his eyebrows were almost manic. He had his Doorway Aligner, a small projector with quartz instead of a bulb, across his lap. There was a keypad on top and, depending on what number he entered, he could access any dimension in the multiverse. All but one.
In the front seat, the Calculator was driving with one hand and writing mathematical calculations on the window with the other. His eyes furtively flicked between the road ahead and his latest mathematical proof, and he cackled to himself as he drove.
The Antithetic frowned at him and then turned to Dreamweaver. “Remind me why we’re doing this again.”
“It’s the most sensical way to free the Camel God army.” Dreamweaver replied.
“But I thought our mission here was to get revenge against the Gang.” The Antithetic replied. “I mean, that’s why I’m here.”
“The Gang are too powerful for us to fight them alone. We need the Camel God’s army.”
The Antithetic looked at her feet for a moment. Why was the evil deity from beyond the limits of her comprehension never a goddess? Interdimensional deism needed to brush up on its feminism. “So, what’s your power again?”
“My Doorway Aligner here lets me traverse the multiverse.” Dreamweaver replied.
“Does that keep you busy?”
He shrugged. “Fairly. There’s a lot to see in the multiverse. Every conceivable reality. I mean, there’s probably a reality out there somewhere where we’re madly in love.”
The Antithetic raised one perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Wow. That reality is really difficult to imagine.”
Dreamweaver nodded with a sigh. He thought of the Celia Carpenter he’d kidnapped in hopes of wooing, but it hadn’t worked. This Carpenter didn’t seem any more willing either. “I know.”
“Guys, I’ve just solved Fermat’s Last Theorem.” The Calculator said from the front seat. “It was as easy as winning a game of Monopoly.”
“Good work.” The Antithetic sighed. “Have you worked out how much ammunition we need?”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper, passing it over his shoulder to her. “There you go. Based on Dreamweaver’s projections, those are the exact quantities we’ll need to reproduce the effect.”
The Antithetic read it and then passed the notes over to Dreamweaver. He nodded. “This is going to be fun. Like fireworks. But even louder.”
There was a manic gleam in Dreamweaver’s eyes that sent a shiver down the Antithetic’s spine.

Elsewhere, a minibus was cruising along at full speed. On its side were the words, ‘Terrence High School.’ It was heading to Gilliam High School’s Prom. Was this the enacting of some gang war between the two students? Was this an ancient rivalry being brought to the present? No. It was Steven’s stupid sense of humour.
Freya and Chris were sat next to each other. Freya wore a swooping gown that could have knocked Milan dead. Chris was wearing the same suit as Steven (and practically every other lad at Prom that night). The only difference was that Chris and Steven’s suits had been designed by Mr Phillips’ boyfriend, so included the same technology as their supersuits.
Steven and Sophie were sat directly behind Chris and Freya, Steven doing his absolute best not to stare longingly at Sophie. The only reason he had stumbled over his words in a race to tell her how beautiful she looked was because his dad was sat in the driver’s seat and it would have been embarrassing.
Freya checked her phone and her eyes widened. “Ali’s just texted me back. She says sorry she couldn’t make it but it’s taking her ages to get into her costume.”
“Costume?” Steven frowned.
“I feel like I’m wearing a bit of a costume really.” Sophie said, looking down at her dress. “It’s so… theatrical.”
Chris grinned. “Says the girl who spends most of her time running around with trailing scarves and 3D glasses.”
“Good point.” Sophie replied.
The minibus clanked over a speed bump and Steven hit his head on the roof. “Oof. You do think Ali will make it, don’t you?”
“What do you mean?” Freya asked.
“Well, you know how cut up she was about Charlotte. She might not want to face Desmond and Julie.” Steven said.
“I hope that isn’t the case.” Sophie frowned. “They’ve already ruined her year enough as it is, never mind taking Prom away from her.”
“I’m sure that’s not it. She’s probably just making some last minute arrangements or something.” Chris said.
“We’re here!” Steven’s dad cried. “Get ready for the paparazzi, guys.”
Chris turned to Steven. “Sunglasses?”
Steven pulled his sunglasses out of his pocket. “Of course.”
“Well then, ladies.” Chris said, offering a hand to Freya. “Time to party. School’s out for the summer.”
“Since when was Chris such a party animal?” Sophie frowned to Steven. 
“It’s the quiff.” Steven replied. “It does weird things to people.”

Mr Phillips’ eyes glanced towards the clock and then he sighed and turned back to Bessie. Over the last two months, whilst the Gang had been fighting the evil GCSEs, he’d been observing freak crimes- a nuclear warhead going missing, a noetics laboratory being robbed- and researching the Camel God. Assuming that the ancient Egyptian deity was possessing Mr Andrews, that meant it had returned from the Banished Dimension, probably as a result of Dreamweaver’s interdimensional meddling. Based on the fact that the streets hadn’t yet run red with blood, Mr Phillips assumed that Dreamweaver hadn’t yet allowed the Camel God to bring his army into this dimension. But why?
Dreamweaver was a Camel God fanatic, enough to make him the primary god of his imaginary universe, so why wouldn’t he do everything he could to bring the army into this dimension? Conclusion: There must be something stopping him. He mustn’t have enough power. In which case, there had to be something that they wanted. An ancient artefact maybe, but Bessie hadn’t yet detected such an artefact in existence. What were they waiting for?
His phone buzzed and Bessie displayed the message on screen. “Where are you?”
It was from his boyfriend. Mr Phillips’ eyes flicked to the clock and he cursed. Prom had begun five minutes ago and here he was, his bowtie not even on, researching supervillains. His fingers prattled across the keyboard. “Be there shortly.” He hit send and climbed up, crossing the room to the exit tunnel. He could work it all out after tonight. For now, however, he had a more important duty. Partying.

(*author’s note: The following scene is better enjoyed with The George Baker Selection’s ‘Little Green Bags’ playing at full blast*)
Heads were turned, staring at the out of place minibus. The door slid open. First out were Chris and Freya. Then Steven and Sophie. All four were wearing sunglasses. In slow motion, they began to walk forwards in a straight line. 
A Year Seven sibling of a Prom goer ran up to Steven, made some comment about his height. A pen flashed to Steven’s hand and he scrawled, ‘Yep, I’m six foot six. Yep, I’ve got size fourteen feet. Nope, the weather up here is the same as down there,’ without even breaking his stride.
Sophie, to his side, turned to Miss Franics, the last surviving science teacher and gave her the kind of wink that said, “I’m coming for your job, love.”
Freya spotted Gordon, the Head Boy, in the crowd and grinned at him. He felt himself sigh and realise that in the two months since she’d taken over the role from Charlotte, she’d already been more influential than he had all year.
Chris noticed the American exchange student from Texas standing behind the velvet ropes that banistered the steps into the hotel. He shot her finger guns and mimed, “Call me.”
Reaching the top of the stairs, they came across Mr Jensen and Mr Deterich, both in black suits and looking quite like bouncers. “Tickets, guys?” Mr Deterich said.
Steven reached for his pocket but Mr Jensen shook his head. “These guys? They can go wherever they like. Have a nice evening.”
“Thanks, sir.” Chris grinned.
Sophie reached into her purse and pulled out a packet of Jaffa Cakes, tossing them to Mr Jensen. “Don’t eat them all at once.”
They kept walking and Chris frowned at her. “What if I need them later?”
“Tonight is going to be a nice, stress free night.” Sophie said. “You won’t need Jaffa Cakes, I promise. Now, enjoy the party.”
They came to the edge of the hall and stopped, in unison taking their sunglasses off. Looking in, they saw a scene that instantly evoked memories of Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Balloons emerged from every tables. A phantasmagoric light show exploded across the walls. A banner crisscrossed from one wall to another saying, “WELCOME CLASS OF 2017!”
People danced and partied, the Frankie Valli soundtrack was almost overwhelming. Above the packed dance floor, a balloon full of balloons hung, ready to pop at any moment. In the far corner, a photographer was charging extortionate amounts to do his job and next to him, a phone box stood. Apparently, when booking attractions, Mr Deterich had clicked the option above Photo Booth by accident.
There were poker tables set up, where Mr King was betting his life savings, and a bar where Mr Phillips’ boyfriend, Ian, was waiting, looking sad. The Gang, unfortunately, didn’t notice this, because they were already off, ready to party.
It was going to be a night to remember.

Back at Gilliam High, Mr Phillips was waiting for the lift to come down whilst he fixed his bowtie around his neck. He’d already got lost twice in his rush, but at least he knew he was in the right place now. That was the only problem with the Cairns Cave, as they called it. Despite the doors being really close, the tunnels all led in opposite directions so you had to be exceedingly careful not to go the wrong way. You had to be in exactly right place or it just wouldn’t work.
The lift arrived with a ding and a flash of light, but arriving at the same time was a brilliant idea. Mr Phillips’ eyes widened and he ran back to Bessie. “Run a diagnostic of states of interdimensional weakness, Bessie.”
The computer began to whir. What if the thing that the Camel God needed was a weak point to exploit, a point where the different realities brushed against each other, a point where it was easier to step between worlds.
“Nearest To You: Gilliam High School.” Bessie’s screen read.
“Of course!” Mr Phillips cried. “It was here that Dreamweaver entered his Dungeons and Dragons dimension and where the powers first came from. The walls between worlds must be weakest here. But we don’t normally have inter dimensional crossovers at Gilliam so there must be some sort of cause.”
Bessie brought up a list of two things. The first was the Doorway Aligner, but that couldn’t access the Banished Dimension. The second was the original cause of the interdimensional spewing, the cause of the powers leaking from the Banished Dimension to this one.
The second item on Bessie’s list was a radioactive explosion.

Parked in the Red Lion car park, the Antithetic, the Calculator and Dreamweaver stared at the school. The Calculator checked his calculations again. “Yes, I’m certain. This should work.”
“Well, let’s test it then.” Dreamweaver said, raising his Doorway Aligner. “As soon as it blows, I’ll pull the trigger and we’ll see what happens.”
“I’ll fire in ten seconds.” The Antithetic said, her fans churning into life and lifting her up into the air. She stared down at the school and raised the bazooka to her shoulder.


Bessie reported a small scale nuclear warhead had been detected near the school. Mr Phillips cursed.


Ali stopped her mum’s fussing and stepped out of the house, ready to go to Prom.


Mr Phillips dropped his phone and began to run down the tunnel to the lift.


Steven grabbed Sophie’s hand and asked her to dance.


Mr Phillips jumped into the lift, willed it to move faster.


Ali walked to the front of her mum’s car and checked her watch. She hoped she wasn’t going to be late.


Mr Phillips broke out into the court yard in the centre of school.


In the Cairns Cave, a text buzzed through Mr Phillips’ reading, “Morris, where are you? Our song is playing.”


Mr Phillips looked up to the sky, eyes wide.


The Antithetic pulled the trigger of her bazooka.


Ali was thrown off her feet with the force of the impact. For a moment, the world seemed to drain of sound. Her eyes flared white and she couldn’t see anything. She tried to climb to her feet but her strength had deserted her. All she knew was that her heart was thundering inside her chest. What the hell was going on?
When finally her vision returned, all she could see was a mushroom cloud rising from where Gilliam High School had once been.

Standing in the Red Lion car park, Dreamweaver fired his Doorway Aligner and searched for the Banished Dimension. Nothing. “It didn’t work.” He whispered. Then he dropped the Aligner and grabbed the Calculator’s neck.  “IT DIDN’T WORK.”
“My Maths must have been out.” The Calculator replied, eyes wide. “There must have been variables at work I didn’t know about that.”
“That was our only warhead! You ruined this for us!”
The Calculator looked at his feet. “It’s not my fault. There must have been someone in there I didn’t know about. Maybe one of the heroes. Their radioactive footprint might have thrown it off slightly.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Dreamweaver said. “It’s all over now.”
The Antithetic landed next to them. “Is that such a bad thing? Maybe an evil deity’s pandimensional army isn’t a good thing.”

“The Camel God is majestic, not evil.” Dreamweaver sighed. “No. We have no choice. We’re going to have to engage Plan B.”