Katherine Parkinson, best known as hapless manager Jen in The IT Crowd , is the star of a new SF sitcom for Radio Two.
Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully airs on Thursday 5 July, from 9.30-10.00pm. At the moment it’s just a pilot, but the hope is that it will go to a full series.
Parkinson plays Katrina Lyons, who stands up against alien invaders after they take over an English village. An impressive cast also includes Green Wing ’s Julian Rhind-Tutt as the alien leader, and Fifth Doctor Peter Davison as Katrina’s dad.
When it comes to SF, writer Eddie Robson certainly knows his onions - he’s written 17 Doctor Who adventures for audio producers Big Finish. Not only that, but he’s been a regular contributor to SFX for many years - surely the ultimate hallmark of quality for any SF writer? We asked Eddie to spill the beans on his latest venture.
SFX: Can you describe the scenario in a nutshell?
Eddie Robson: Katrina Lyons goes to the village where she grew up to visit her parents for the weekend, and while she's there aliens called the Geonin invade and seal the village off from the outside world. The Geonin want to study humanity in preparation to invade the entire planet: Katrina tries to kick-start the resistance movement, to a less than enthusiastic response.
And all that has happened before the pilot starts. I did write an episode where all of that happened, but we junked it in favour of just dropping straight in with the situation already set up, because it's hard to make set-up funny. A "normal" episode will always be funnier.
When we first heard about the show it was going by the title The Resistance – why the name change?
It was called The Resistance for two and a half years of development - I was thinking, let's not scare people off with a big sci-fi title, let's try to slide it under the radar. And then the head of radio comedy asked if we could have a big sci-fi title, so that it gets on people's radars. Titles are very important, especially these days - you need to tell people as much as you can in a title.
What kind of things are the butt of the joke?
It's very much about small mentalities and Middle England. The villagers are quite easily appeased as long as the aliens pitch everything the right way. The alien leader, Uljabaan, poses as the local toff and everyone likes him because he's got this slick, posh exterior and seems the right sort of chap, even though his intentions are totally malign: I came up with that before David Cameron came to power, but it's become nicely relevant! But there are also silly jokes about cakes and alien measurements and stuff.
How accessible is it - are there references that only dyed-in-the-wool SF fans will get?
I think it's pretty accessible. In the first draft the village was cut off with a heat barrier, like in the 1971 Doctor Who serial “The Daemons”. Then I decided "forcefield" was an easier concept to get across if you hadn't seen the 1971 Doctor Who serial “The Daemons”. (Can you imagine not having seen the 1971 Doctor Who serial “The Daemons”? Crazy!) There's the odd thing in there, like the alien leader says "younglings" which is something that stuck in my mind from Revenge Of The Sith - Obi-Wan says it and I thought, "Why not just say 'children'?"
The shadow of Douglas Adams looms over any SF comedy for radio. How much of a problem is that as a writer?
It's not a problem when you're writing something, because Hitchhiker's has a very specific style: it's not really a sitcom, because it keeps shifting the situatio - it's a cross between a comedy serial and a sketch show. By contrast, WTOVPIC (catchy!) is far more of a traditional sitcom, in fact the sci-fi element ties the characters directly to the situation and stops them ever leaving. So I never felt like I was writing in Adams's shadow, although his influence did creep in - there's a comedy alien computer, for example.
I did wonder whether it'd be a problem in pitching it, both to the BBC and to the audience, that people wouldn't be able to get Hitchhiker's out of their minds - but it hasn't been a problem at all. I love Adams's work, but I don't think I'm that much like him as a writer. I wouldn't mind if I was, though.
Did the idea change much from the original treatment, or is this very much the show you pitched?
There was one very significant change: originally the show was based around four characters who formed the resistance, and those were our main regulars. I wrote two scripts with that set-up and we decided something wasn't working - the problem was that the focus was split, because there was tension within the group about how to achieve their aims but also tension between them and the aliens, and between them and the villagers. So I removed two of the resistance characters, keeping one to give Katrina someone to work with, and that enabled us to focus more on her relationship with her parents and the conflict with Uljabaan.
Everything else is very much the same though - the village, Katrina, her parents, the forcefield, the aliens and their plan all appeared in the very first version of the idea.
What are the odds of more? Do pilots like this often translate into a full series?
Yeah, there's a good chance of more. It'll help if people who like it make their opinions known, so if you like it, let the BBC know, post online, and tell your friends to catch it while it's still on iPlayer. If you don't like it, SSSSHHHH .