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Dark Matter

Dark Matter is the original name under which the show Eleventh Hour was pitched, dropped because it was felt that the Network Centre would never go for a drama with a reference to darkness in the title. Other contenders included Doctor Hood, the title of the novella in which the character made his first appearance, and simply Hood, which was my own preference.

What follows is one of a series of memos that I exchanged with the show's development producer, Shefali Malhoutra. It was her groundwork, plus Andy Harries' courting of the Network, that got the show greenlit. The earlier memos discussed, in general terms, the potential and the pitfalls awaiting any attempt to make drama out of science. This is the one in which the show's format first emerged.


We're all agreed that science is sexy and that audiences are ready for it. We don't want another medical show and we don't want another forensics show. In my last memo I went into some detail (and found myself in rare agreement with Michael Crichton!) as to why a precinct would limit rather than liberate, why it's so tricky to dramatise the scientific method without misrepresenting it, and why I felt that the answer to both problems was a Man in a Suitcase - a freelance protagonist with the highest backing and complete freedom of movement between the disciplines, and a remit to get involved wherever the unforseen consequences of science or technology threaten a crisis.


Imagine if, in the emotional wake of the BSE scandal, the outspoken Professor Richard Lacey had been appointed as the UK's roving science troubleshooter and given carte blanche to get involved in any situation that might seem to be sliding out of control. It would be a crowd-pleasing move, a piece of spin that the PM might start to regret as Lacey went about his work and the true consequences of his appointment began to sink in. The PM would realise that he'd created a monster, but it would be too late. The only thing more politically damaging than letting him roam would be to obstruct or dismiss him.

We're talking about a mature and authoritative figure. We'll call him Doctor Hood, and in our fantasy casting let's say he's played by Brian Cox. He's risen through his profession, done some landmark work in Dark Matter physics, and now has emeritus status - which in academia means he's an eminence within his field and retains his position, but he's been stood down from active research. He's free to chair committees, give high-level advice, write books… or take up appointments like this one. His wife died suddenly about two years ago. He never realised until it happened quite how much he leaned on her. If he has a weakness, it's a yen to find some faith in an afterlife. His children are all grown-up and far away. Two of them are high-fliers with uncomplicated personalities; they left the nest and never looked back. The third, his youngest girl, is well-meaning and troubled and never quite makes a success of anything. He wouldn't want to admit it, but she's his favourite.

So we've got this tower of energy and ability, professionally out to grass, domestically bereft, and absolutely ready for a job like this one. You can't buy him. You can't frighten him. Once he gets the bit between his teeth you can't stop him. But intimidating as he is, he shows an unusual affinity for the underdog.

He doesn't work alone. As a sidekick/bodyguard/co-operation enforcer he's been assigned a young Special Branch officer (Rachel Stirling in our fantasy casting) who accompanies him everywhere, stays out of the science, and takes care of all executive needs with quiet, almost military efficiency. She was appointed early on when Hood received a death threat in the course of a job, and now she's on constant alert for his security as well as being a general factotum. If someone tries to block access or refuses a request, she sorts them out one way or another. If anyone gets aggrieved and swings a punch at Hood, she steps in and puts them on the floor. She always drives.

This assignment wasn't her choice. She's loyal and she likes Hood personally, but underneath it all she's unhappy in a way that she never allows him to see. She fears that when she's eventually returned to normal duties, all her contemporaries will have left her behind. He's at the end of his career, but she's at the beginning of hers. Her sense is that while she's with Hood, careerwise she's missing the boat.

Despite those professional worries there's genuine cross-generational affection in their relationship, and the difference in their ages makes it more of a father-daughter thing with none of the 'unresolved sexual tension' that's been mandatory between leads for a while. This chemistry's more like THE AVENGERS, where Brian Clemens has always said that in his mind, Steed and Mrs Peel got their affair out of the way long before the series began.

Being a non-scientist, she gets most of the science explained to her by Hood in layman's terms. Which is awfully fortunate for the rest of us. Because of the demands of the job, her private life is on hold as well as her professional life. The pressures on her are all the more potent for being hidden. In appearance she's neatly-tailored, in manner self-contained. She has a wicked sense of humour but plays everything with a straight face, so Hood's never quite certain when she's winding him up.

What I like about this setup is that there's open-ended character mileage in it. He's genuinely concerned about her professional conflicts and personal frustrations but in a crunch, he'd cite the higher need and wouldn't let her go. For her part, she's genuinely concerned for his work and welfare but would unhesitatingly take an 'out' if one were to present itself. Each is aware of the other's agenda, and understands it. But each will do what they feel they have to do.


We're not doing science fiction, we're doing fiction around science. Contemporary stories with the world of technology as their source and background.

We're not out to demonise science. Science is our Excalibur. The stories aren't about secret projects or evil scientists having their evil schemes foiled. They're about man-made and natural disasters, unforseen outcomes, the prevention of impending harm.

The typical story would start with a developing drama of something going out of control. It could be anything from a spreading virus to stolen patent information to sabotage in a weapons plant. From bogus science being used to befuddle a jury and convict the innocent, to an unheeded warning about the sinking of exploratory shafts in an unstable hillside above a school. We can do a police drama, we can do a medical story. We could have him out in the countryside, outwitting farmers who are moving their livestock in defiance of a transport ban and spreading a bird virus that, if passed over into pigs, may mutate into a form infectious to human beings. Or in the Scottish islands, identifying the source of some mysterious form of pollution. Or on some massive engineering project, where work needs to be halted but the bosses are faking safety figures to drive it forward.

In the opening we'd get to know the week's guest characters and set up their world and the dilemma that's closing in on them.

Then as things take a turn for their worst, Hood appears on the scene. Sometimes it's in response to a direct appeal but usually he's responding to his well-developed grapevine. He may be midway through some other investigation, on a trail that's led him here. The point is that we always see him hit the ground running. Rachel is, invariably, a quiet and efficient presence at his shoulder.

Hood asks the penetrating questions that define the problem and start the process toward a solution. He always shows his immediate value in the way he brings an informed outsider's eye to to a knotty problem. Inevitably he meets resistance from the obstinate, but Rachel puts them in their place.

The situation escalates and Hood takes effective control. At this stage he can call in or consult the highest level of expertise in the field we're concerned with. He can also call in transport or equipment, which can be delivered or operated by semi-regular characters. We've a sense of an offscreen support operation that may exist for some other purpose but is available to him.

While addressing the main problem he'll also be fighting side-battles against those who are trying to thwart his efforts for territorial or political motives.

Resolutions should vary. The popular shows of the moment demonstrate that endings need neither be neat nor happy as long as they're apt and credible.

When it's all over, Hood and Rachel grab their laundry and check out of their hotel, throw their bags into the back of their black limo, and move on to the next challenge leaving this week's guest characters to get on with their lives.

The 'Spooks audience'

I'm not at all inclined to obsess about the Spooks factor and I think there are dangers in being influenced by another show's passing success. But a couple of things are worth observing.

Spooks appears far more radical than it actually is, I believe, for two reasons; the main one is that it employs a strong feature-style approach to narrative rather than the 'flexi-narrative' that's become the TV standard. It's the rollercoaster vs the merry-go-round.

The other is something that I was told at the BBC while season one was running, which was that the show appeared to have uncovered a large and unsuspected male audience who'd pretty much turned away from TV drama but were attracted back by the show's attention to pace and plot.

Dark Matter

This is just a working title but it makes a nice metaphor for scientific mysteries. Dark Matter is reckoned to make up a large percentage of the mass of the universe, despite the fact that no-one's ever detected it. We can only infer its existence from its effects on what we can see. Dark matter must exist because nothing else makes sense without it. I see this as an underpinning for Doctor Hood's belief in some ultimate meaning that lies beyond even science.