Terrorism returned to Britain with a vengeance on May Day, but this time it was not a bomb from Northern Ireland that rocked England. Instead, a new threat to the United Kingdom (and, indeed, to the whole world) announced its presence via a bizarre archaeological publicity stunt held at midnight and broadcast on BBC3's The Passing Parade. Dodo had persuaded me to stay up and watch the programme the day before.
‘They're opening up a barrow called the Devil's Hump in Wiltshire. Apparently there's meant to be a curse on whoever interferes with the hump. If anyone opens it, death and disaster will engulf the area,’ she explained.
‘Why are they opening it at midnight, for God's sake?’
‘Because it's Beltane tonight - April 30, the eve of May Day. One of the big occult nights of the year!’
‘Terrific. And I was hoping to watch the rugby highlights,’ I complained half-heartedly. Having grown up in New Zealand, a liking for rugby had been ground into me from an early age. There had been an important end-of-season game on at Twickenham and I wanted to see it.
At midnight we switched over to BBC3 and were met with the simpering inanities of The Passing Parade's man on the spot, Alastair Fergus. Vincent at BBC3 had told me that Fergus was only ever allowed to do field assignments after he had nearly caused a major diplomatic incident with his ignorance of current events and banal, patronizing lines of questioning. Watching the presenter at work, I could well see what Vincent had meant - Fergus came across as a fake only interested in making himself look good. He introduced the archaeologist running the dig, Professor Gilbert Horner.
Compared with Fergus, the man at the centre of the controversial dig was a breath of fresh air. He slapped Fergus down in a bluff northern voice and quickly stole the show. The professor predicted the barrow contained the tomb of a warrior chief from the Bronze Age, circa 800 BC.
Horner said he had chosen this moment to break through because of its significance in pagan religions. He also admitted he had a book about the dig being published the next day. I detected the hand of book publicist supreme, Henry Spencer at work and smiled to myself. Dodo curled up beside me on the sofa as we watched Horner scraping away at the wall to reveal a large stone. The whole event seemed staged and a bit quaint - a piece of light entertainment to fill the late night schedules. The professor began tugging at the stone's edges just as midnight rang out on the clock in our hallway.
Suddenly a black-cloaked figure burst on to the screen from the left, shouting at the professor. ‘Don't remove that stone! Stop him!’ The figure grabbed at the professor just as the heavy burial stone toppled out on to the archaeologist, crushing him to the ground. The television screen filled with a blizzard of white and then only darkness.
Gradually the broadcast image returned to normal and the prostrate figures of the professor and his attacker could be seen. Both were covered in snow and ice and seemed to be frozen solid. A young woman stumbled into view from the left and threw herself at the bodies on the ground.
‘Oh no, no!’ she cried out, sobbing.
The screen cut to a long, black silence, before finally being replaced with a caption card on screen:
A soothing voiceover announced a break in transmission but said it was hoped the programme would resume shortly. In the meantime, here was some light music. Dodo and I turned to each other, equally perplexed. We waited another twenty minutes, but the broadcast from Devil's End was eventually replaced with another programme and we went to bed still mystified by what we had seen.
The next morning the papers were full of reports trying to answer that very question - what had happened? The BBC switchboard had been jammed with calls complaining about the loss in transmission. There was speculation in some papers that something had gone terribly wrong at Devil's End, while others suggested the whole programme was an elaborate hoax by BBC Drama, emulating the famous Orson Welles radio version of War of the Worlds which had frightened America in the 1930s. BBC3 stuck with its story that transmission had been cut off at the source and they had not been able to contact anyone in the area since.
By midday, the production team from The Passing Parade had returned to London but refused to tell the waiting media what had happened at Devil's End. An official statement released through the BBC World Service said there had been an ‘incident’ at the dig and confirmed that Professor Gilbert Horner had died as a result. Wiltshire police announced that a five-mile exclusion zone had been set up around the affected area. For the first time, the phrase ‘terrorist incident’ was used.
All day I flicked through the television channels and radio stations for updates. This event had UNIT written all over it. There was something else, something nagging at me. Who was the man who attacked Professor Horner just before the incident? His face was never shown. But the girl who appeared on screen just before transmission was cut - I knew I had seen her somewhere before. It was time to call a friend.
‘You pick your times, James - it's a madhouse here!’ Vincent said when I phoned him at BBC3.
‘I know, I know, but I need to see a tape from last night. I've got a feeling I know that girl you showed crying.’
‘I heard some pick-up lines in my time but that -’
‘Vincent! This is serious.’
‘All right, all right. Look, you can come in tonight, after seven. The top floor has impounded the original footage but I've got a copy of the live-to-air broadcast you can watch.’
That night I drove to White City and left my car in a pub carpark near the BBC before walking the rest of the way to Broadcasting House. Soon I was in a private screening room with Vincent, watching again the footage from Devil's End. Alastair Fergus simpered, to be replaced on screen by Professor Horner. ‘That man will be dead in a few minutes,’ I whispered, thinking out loud.
‘I know,’ Vincent agreed, ‘it's like watching a ghost.’
Suddenly, the black-cloaked figure burst onto the screen and threw itself at the professor. We watched the tragedy happen once more: the screen faded white to black, and then the girl stumbled into view. In the BBC3 viewing room the sound quality of the recording was much better than on my ageing television set at home and now I could hear the girl's words properly for the first time.
‘Oh Doctor! No, no!’ she sobbed.
‘Did she say "Doctor"?’ I turned to Vincent. ‘Can we run that last part again, but slower - you know, like an action replay on Match of the Day?’
‘Sure.’ We watched the girl's entrance again, this time much slower so her face was more clearly visible. At once I knew where I had seen her before: she was the woman with UNIT's ‘scientific adviser’ at Stangmoor Prison when I witnessed the Keller Process. Now her muffled cries made sense; she was not calling for a doctor, she was calling to the Doctor. He was the figure who had attacked Horner just before the incident.
‘Vincent, I've got to go. Thanks for all your help. You've put another piece into a puzzle for me!’ I said as I ran from the room.
‘What puzzle? What are you talking about?’ he shouted after me, but I was already on my way back to my car. Whatever had really happened at Devil's End, it was obvious that the mysterious operative currently using the codename of ‘the Doctor’ was deeply involved. If I was right, then the five-mile exclusion zone was probably being enforced by UNIT operatives. I had to get to Wiltshire and fast. Barrelling through the streets I raced home to pack an overnight bag. But I arrived to find myself already overtaken by the flow of events.
‘They've caught the terrorist!’ Dodo said excitedly when I got in. ‘It's just come on the television. They've caught the guy behind the explosion at Devil's End. Come and see!’
The lead story on the late evening news was the capture of a terrorist called Victor Magister. Described as a radical anarchist whose sole aim was the destruction of Western society, Magister was alleged to have led a gang responsible for the explosion at Devil's End. A stern-faced chief constable from Wiltshire was being interviewed on camera by Alex MacIntosh of BBC3. In the background was a jumble of broken bricks and stone, almost as if they were broadcasting from a bomb site.
‘Magister booby-trapped the barrow so that when Professor Horner cut it open last night, an explosion of dry ice and toxic gases was caused,’ the chief constable explained. ‘A member of the intelligence services tried to intervene but arrived too late to save Professor Horner. Earlier today Magister blew up the historic village church here at Devil's End. Fortunately, no civilians were hurt in that explosion. Thanks to the work of an international taskforce against terrorism, we have captured Magister and he will stand trial, accused of murdering the professor.’
‘What about his accomplices? Surely Magister could not have caused all this chaos on his own?’ MacIntosh asked, indicating the rubble around them.
‘Other members of the Magister gang were killed in the second explosion at the church. Magister had been posing at the new vicar of the parish and we believe he may have used satanic rituals to mesmerize members of the congregation into assisting him. We are currently trying to ascertain the whereabouts of the previous vicar, Canon Smallwood, who has disappeared in mysterious circumstances.’
‘Thank you for you time, Chief Constable,’ MacIntosh said, turning back to camera. ‘We have obtained this photograph of Victor Magister - do you recognize this man? If so, contact your nearest police station immediately.’
The screen was filled with a face that could only be described as sinister. Greying black hair was slicked back from the face, highlighting a prominent widow's peak. Black eyebrows hooded dark, sinister eyes, while a salt and pepper goatee beard and moustache encircled a cruel, thin-lipped mouth. The face was so stereotypically satanic it could have been lifted off the cover of a Dennis Wheatley novel.
‘Why don't they just have him twirling his moustache?’ I asked Dodo rhetorically.
‘You don't think he did it?’
‘Well, he'll certainly never get a fair trial after that performance!’
On screen, MacIntosh was wrapping up his broadcast. ‘So this tiny village tries to cope with the black stain of terror that has engulfed it. As the authorities interview everyone who lives in the area to determine exactly what has occurred here, the question that must be asked is how could this happen in a quiet English country village? And can things ever return to normal at Devil's End? This is Alex MacIntosh, for BBC3.’
I slumped into the sofa, utterly drained. There was no point going to Wiltshire now; the area would be crawling with police and security services quietly removing all the real evidence and commanding everyone to silence. My story had been killed stone-dead, despite the tacit admission of UNIT's presence in the area.
I decided that until the trial of Victor Magister opened in a few months' time, I might as well get on with writing my book about UNIT, C19 and the Doctor. I probably could deliver a first draft to Henry by September and then make revisions if any revelations emerged during the trial, however unlikely that seemed right now.