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© Troy Kennedy Martin, London, November 1989
From Introduction to the Screenplay: faber and faber: ISBN: 0-571-14194-3
Also available on UK DVD (reissue) PAR 61123
1. "Edge of Darkness has a Gothic feel to it. Dark, with a gloomy view of nature, and strong on melodrama, it may seem something of a departure from the usual run of television mini-series, but in fact it derived much of its strength from a British literary tradition which goes back many years. While the modern novel has developed on mainly personal lines, the television mini-series has inherited many of the characteristics of the nineteenth-century public novel, particularly its strong narrative and characters; Edge of Darkness was consciously written to reflect this.
Its unfashionable gloominess — ‘paranoid’ was the unkind description given by one critic — came about because it was written in paranoid times.
Edge of Darkness is the product of the years 1982 to 1985. These were the days before détente, when born-again Christians and cold-war warriors seemed to be running the United States. It was the time when the White House changed its nuclear strategy from the thirty-year-old notion of mutually assured destruction (MAD) to the idea that a nuclear war was winnable. It was a time when 30,000 nuclear weapons were thought too old and too few and the whole armoury had to be modernized. And on top of that, 25 billion dollars was to be spent on space weapons. In March 1983 President Reagan made his ‘star wars’ speech allocating this money to the Strategic Defence Initiative: a defence umbrella which would safeguard America.
Edward Teller, the power behind the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in San Francisco, and General Graham, with his ‘high frontier’ concept of space warfare in Washington, were the two strongest advocates of ‘star wars’. ‘What surprised me at the time was how closely President Reagan’s views mirrored those of the beam-weapons fanatics who had been advocating the use of lasers for many years. They were supported by the maverick US millionaire Lyndon La Rouche, a one-time candidate for the US Presidency and a fervent anti-Communist. I was familiar with La Rouche’s magazine Executive Intelligence Review and its related magazine Fusion, where beam weapons were seen as the ultimate defence weapon. With his SDI speech President Reagan brought these crazies centre stage. It was from this source that I began to draw the character of Jerry Grogan, the space-race entrepreneur.
At the centre of the star wars strategy during this the first phase was the X-ray laser, produced by the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and a favourite with the beam-weapon warriors. Dozens of these lasers were to be placed in geo-synchronous orbit around the planet to shoot down Soviet missiles. What was overlooked at the time was that these lasers were to be energized (‘pumped’) by nuclear explosions and were in fact Teller’s third-generation nuclear weapons in another guise.
Later President Reagan was to place these lasers outside the SDI remit. They were too dirty to be part of the umbrella. But from these lasers came the basis of the sub-plot in which Jerry Grogan goes looking for plutonium in England to ensure the development of his own weapons system.
The situation in England during these years was just as bleak. The bitterly fought Inquiry into Sizewell B and the continued problems at Sellafleld contributed to the feeling of a country moving remorselessly towards a nuclear state, with all that meant for the loss of civil liberties. There was no hint of the privatization of the CEGB as yet, but with a battle with the miners looming, it was obvious that nuclear power was becoming a more attractive option, and a permanent way of crushing them. It was only a matter of time before Mrs Thatcher’s entrepreneurs would get their hands on the nuclear-waste business. This created another plank in the story, the creation of IIF and its devious managing director, Bennett.
Meanwhile, the cold-war rhetoric was getting hotter. There were Cruise missiles at Greenham and elsewhere. Mrs Thatcher began to outdo the White House when it came to talk about the ‘Evil Empire’ and the need to replace (‘modernize’) one nuclear system with another, and the Falklands War had produced a jingoism that hadn’t been seen since 1914. Furthermore there was a growing concern about the environment.
It was against this background that Edge of Darkness was written, so it could be said that it was driven by a political pessimism. And yet there were positive responses to all these events. Organizations such as CND, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth became household names. The Greenham women fighting their campaign against Cruise survived years of mudslinging and legal harassment and many hard winters to draw attention to their cause. More books were published on the nuclear issue than on any other subject with the exception of women’s studies. There was a growth of networks — the beginning of an alternative lifestyle and way of thinking similar to what had developed in the sixties but with less bullshit.
Nevertheless, there was something lacking: people were against various things but what were they for? As the decade progressed they gradually realized that they stood for something very important: the planet. The idea became concrete with the now famous photograph of the earth taken from one of the Apollo spacecraft, and the hypothesis that seemed to legitimize it, although its creator would be reluctant to acknowledge it, was Gaia.
The Gaia hypothesis was formulated by the British earth scientist Doctor James Lovelock and his American colleague Lyn Margulies. Lovelock believed that the planet and its surrounding atmosphere was a single living system a self-regulating mechanism built to maintain the optimum conditions for life. This was why the salinity of the oceans rarely changed, and the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere and its temperature did not vary beyond carefully defined margins. All these systems were regulated by a complex series of feedback mechanisms, involving some of the millions of systems that make up the biosphere.
Lovelock’s hypothesis, besides being a stunning piece of imaginative thinking, was a metaphor that satisfied many people’s intuitive need to re-evaluate their relationship with nature. Like Rousseau before him, Lovelock forced us to rethink our relationship with the planet. Most importantly, he placed the earth at the centre of events, and put the human race on the periphery, where it might even be expendable in certain circumstances.
Thus the idea of Gaia gave the groups struggling to find a focus for their legitimate unease something to fight for, rather than against.
But the metaphor is capable of more than one interpretation. Indeed it spans the spectrum from ‘a positive vision of the wholeness and interdependency of the earth, a wholeness that it is a delight to be a part of’ to quote a recent article in the New Scientist, to a blind faith. In Edge of Darkness Emma believes that Gaia is acting through her and through her colleagues, who have seen how the proliferation of plutonium endangers Gaia’s existence. At this point Gaia ceases to be a metaphor and becomes a religious belief. And it is towards this kind of moral certainty that Craven journeys. It is uncertain whether Craven, or indeed Emma, would have shared the conviction of some ‘deep’ ecologists that nature, ‘red in tooth and claw’, should be allowed to take its course (arguing that Aids, for instance, should be understood as one of Gaia’s ways of dealing with overpopulation); I should like to believe that they would have rejected this kind of eco-fascism whilst understanding the spiritual feelings which the idea of Gaia inspires in many people.
So while there was a political pessimism at the heart of the script, there was also a moral optimism inspired by the idea of Gaia — an optimism that informed not only me as I wrote it, but also everybody in the production who came in contact with these ideas.
Running parallel with Craven’s journey but on a quite separate track was the notion of Craven as a ‘green man’, unconscious of his own past, his nature concreted over by generations of urban life — a man who has lost touch with his roots, not in terms of family and place, but of ancestors and folk memory. For the formulation of this part of Craven’s character, I drew on ideas from The Real Camelot by John Darrah. Darrah sees the Arthurian romances as a series of encoded stories which disguise much earlier tales, revealing the presence in Bronze Age Britain of a Druidic civilization. I wanted to fashion Craven’s ancestors from this period, to make him the reincarnation of the original ‘green man’, whose destiny was to confront and destroy in the name of the planet the free-market forces of modem entrepreneurial capitalism, as represented by the chairman of the Fusion Corporation of Kansas, Mr Jerry Grogan.
However, it was inevitable that when a ‘green man’ is metamorphized into a detective in a TV thriller, those things that he might have represented in Bronze Age Britain tend to become marginalized. Furthermore, both the actor playing Craven and the director baulked at the idea that at the end of the story he would turn into a tree. This aspect of Edge of Darkness usually separated the men from the boys at Television Centre. ‘I am writing this story about a detective who turns into a tree.’ ‘Oh, yes,’ would be the guarded reply. ‘Who’s this for, Channel Four?’ Eventually I was persuaded out of the notion but not before some of its spirit had rubbed off on Craven’s character.
I derived the black flowers that replaced the idea of Craven turning into a tree at the end of the story from Lovelock’s description of the dark marsh grass that spread across the planet at some distant time in the past, when the earth was further from the sun than it is at present. This grass attracted sunlight, enabling life to evolve. It was one of his examples of how the planet reacts to maintain the ‘optimum conditions for life’. The way I used the black flowers, of course, ran counter to Lovelock’s hypothesis, for today the earth is too hot, rather than too cold. So I have to plead dramatic licence in creating these flowers with the intention of melting the ice cap; the fact that we now know this might happen without their aid is perhaps an example of life, or Gaia, imitating art.
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Finally, I have to confess that there are even more obscure elements within the drama. These are traceable to a third story which underlies the text. The first story, Craven’s, begins with Emma’s murder and is fairly straightforward. The second — what American scriptwriters call the ‘back story’ — traces the events that have happened before her death and produces some of the answers to the question facing Craven: why was she killed? (See Appendix I.) The third story, of which only minute fragments exist, concerns the rivalry between the characters Jedburgh and Grogan in what appears to be a reincarnation of previous quarrels played out many hundreds of years ago. Both Grogan and Jedburgh I easily imagined inhabiting the world of the medieval knights. Not the world of chivalry, but that which reflects the arrogant independence of the knightly orders established in the infant European states.
I had long been interested in stories of the Templars, however apocryphal: how they guarded some special wisdom in the Temple of the Dome on the Rock, and how they brought it back to Europe when they retreated from Jerusalem, and how in some way it became part of the alternative culture of the Elizabethan age and, eventually, of the Enlightenment. I was always struck by the likenesses between the world of the Templars and the rise of today’s military castes, led by men who seemed in some way to stand outside time. It seemed to me that the knowledge that has brought us nuclear fusion and that will one day take men off the planet had its roots in the knowledge which the Templars are said to have guarded in the Temple.
The idea that there existed in the Middle Ages a secret way of seeing things that countervailed the rigid scholasticism of the day was attractive, as was the idea that it survived to become the prevailing ideology of our own times, with its own — nuclear —priesthood. So I made Jerry Grogan a descendant of one of the Templars: a man who dreams of building ‘a new Jerusalem in the Milky Way’, as Jedburgh sardonically puts it.
If Grogan is a Templar, then Darius Jedburgh must be a knight of the Marches, a Teutonic defender of the borders of Eastern Europe, a warrior from that strife-tom basin that for a thousand years has produced the world’s most bitter battles and its hardest soldiers. It was here that the great military machines of the modem world were forged.
Thus this aspect of the ‘back story’ read something like this: descendants of the Templars, disestablished and unaware of their past, act in concert to bring the human race to the point of departure from the planet. By the human race they mean, of course, a small band of privileged soldier—scholars whose mission will be to conquer the galaxy by fire and by sword.
The funds for their galactic ambitions come from the mutual fear the two great empires, Russia and America, have for each other. This fear allows them access on both sides to unaccountable resources with which to pursue their goal.
In the meantime, scattered descendants of the Teutonic Knights recognize the danger in the Templars’ ambitions and try to stop them. In their view the Templars are diverting humanity from its prime duty, which is the defence and protection of the planet. But a sea of ‘sanctimonious shit’ (Jedburgh’s words) protects the Templars, as a result of which the efforts of the Teutonic Knights are deflected and ultimately defused. Craven himself is deemed to be a part of this struggle — Jedburgh jibes that he has been ‘freeze-dried from some earlier epoch’ in the scene at the hunting lodge.
These elements are so obscure that they are not meant to be picked up by the viewer, but may be of interest to the reader. Rather like yeast in the making of bread, they were an essential element in developing the characters.
In 1985, the year that Edge of Darkness was produced, the world’s atmospheric scientists met at Villach to warn of the dangers of the greenhouse effect. A decade which had begun with a preoccupation with the cold war was all set for change. Today we have the beginning of a new world in Europe and the missiles are going from Greenham. There are a new set of priorities: the greenhouse effect, the ozone layer, pollution, acid rain. In the light of the greenhouse effect, even the nuclear option has to be re-evaluated.
Edge of Darkness was very much a reflection of its time, although it had, I hope, some qualities which have transcended it, notably its appreciation of the ideas of Gaia, and its attempt to expand the television detective story using humour and depth of feeling, which are so often denied by the industry’s corporate process.
© Troy Kennedy Martin, London, November 1989
Troy Kennedy Martin was born in 1932 in Scotland and educated at Finchley Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin. After doing his national service with the Gordon Highlanders, he worked as a teacher until he wrote his first television play Incident at Echo 6 (1958). Subsequent work for the BBC included the creation of Z Cars (1962) and Diary of a Young Man (1964). The Italian Job (1969) and Kelley's Heroes (1970) are original screenplays and more recent work includes Reilly - Ace of Spies (1983) and an adaption of Angus Wilson's novel The Old Men at the Zoo (1983). Since 1985 he has been writing film scripts for Hollywood. He is currently finishing a new series for BBC. (1990)