Last night I watched an episode of BBC's "Torchwood" called "Out of the Rain", which originally aired March 12, 2008.
It starts with a young man splicing together old black and white film to be shown at his parents silent era cinema called the "Electro". Footage of a 1930's carnival mysteriously appears on the film, a carnival barker, elegantly dressed in black top hat and tailcoat, offers a little girl a ticket to come inside to see a "once in a lifetime show" that promises the audience something they will never forget for the rest of their lives.
Captain Jack Harkness (Torchwood's lead) alone in Torchwood's headquarters is making himself a drink and hears the faint sound of an organ playing circus music.
The carnival barker and his companion Pearl, are able to come out the film into the real world and start roaming the night asking folks to join their carnival, with sinister results.
Captain Jack explains to his Torchwood team that these mysterious carnival folk are the "Night Travelers" and that "They only worked in the dead of night and people used to say they came from out of the rain and left a trail of damage and sorrow wherever they performed." Jack says that people never knew when the Night Travelers would arrive and they just seemed to appear out of nowhere.
“Step along now, ladies and gentlemen, come and see the show of a lifetime. Fill your eyes with the spectacle of the Tattooed Man; witness for yourself the superhuman strength of the Mighty Stromboli - he can take on Sampson, Delilah and Hercules with one arm tied behind his back and still have the strength to dig their graves. Come along now, ladies and gentlemen - the night won’t wait forever. Come and see the amazing Pearl. She lives in water, she sleeps among the waves, she can reach the bottom of the oceans, she has swum the Seven Seas, she is the nearest thing that you will ever see to a living mermaid. She will take your breath away…”
Later Jack's team assembles to read (on the computer) old newspaper articles about this carnival. "On 11 August 1901, eight people went missing in the market town of Church Stretton after a traveling show visited. Earlier, in 1898, a similar thing happened in a small village called Wellsfield. There seem to have been a lot of old wives tales attached to these disappearances over the years..."
Any of this sound familiar? I kept checking the credits for some kind of tip-of-the-hat to "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and Ray, but there was none.
I enjoyed the episode, of course, they borrowed from the best.
That episode was written by Peter J. Hammond, who has a long history of screenwriting in the SF/fantasy and crime genres. (He created the TV series SAPPHIRE AND STEEL!) I have no idea whether he knows Bradbury's work, but I would put money on it.
There is undoubtedly an affinity with SOMETHING WICKED, but I think both stories are actually drawing on common preoccupations with strange travellers who arrive in the night. In Europe, in particular, there is a strong association between circuses, travelling fairgrounds and gypsies; and there is a folk belief that gypsies steal children. (I can't find any evidence that any gypsy ever did steal a child, but it's something that everyone "knows".) I think Hammond and Bradbury are just drawing on these same archetypal ideas, fears and associations.
Of course, there are plenty of other sinister carnivals/circuses out their in film, TV, literature. THE CIRCUS OF DR LAO springs to mind, and the TV series CARNIVALE. I'm sure there are others that I can't think of right now.
There is one in Theodore Sturgeon's The Dreaming Jewels, a favorite.
The Theodore Sturgeon site has recently been updated and newly designed.
The webpage header art looks like a Mugnaini.
Yes indeed. Sturgeon is probably my third favourite writer, and he was - of course - an early influence on Ray Bradbury, although there was only a few years' difference in their ages.
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