A site to promote the up-coming Audio series.

So What Is This Flashback Thing Anyway?

Flashback, both the audio series and that video pilot we did ten years ago, is primarily a science fiction comedy. At its heart is a love for all those cheesy B-Movies of the 1950s and even the classic serials and films of Flash Gordon and G Men in the 30s and 40s. It is also a parody or an homage if you will of a series of fantasy books aimed at children, where the title character – one teenage Tom Swift, was a boy genius responsible for a whole host of fanciful inventions. Tom Swift was created by Edward Stratemeyer in 1910, although his adventures have been written by a number of different ghostwriters right up until 2007 under the collective pseudonym of Victor Appleton. The range was a popular one, especially in North America in the 1950s and must have influenced the thinking of a young Michael Balser for he not only based the adult character of Tom Swyft in The Flashback on the teenager of the books, but practically ripped off episode titles, plot lines and inventions from the novels too. (Ah, the world of artists… its all found objects, public domain and “copyright be damned” to them!)

It was one of the initial problems I had as a director of the video pilot and co-writer of the scripts. Having done work with television broadcasters in Canada, I knew all about copyright issues and was quite naturally worried about lifting whole chunks of material from another, still published source. These days however, I’ve decided that the use of Tom Swyft in the audios is more of an homage to the original than straightforward plagiarism and have augmented him sufficiently to remove direct references to the book series, although the similarities to invention names have been left in as a tribute to the wonderfully camp yet inventive writing of Edward Stratemeyer. Who could resist it?

The new, adult Tom Swyft is an amalgam of various characters from science fiction, in books, in films and on television. There are more than enough vague references and acknowledged nods to the BBC television series Doctor Who than I care to comment on, primarily the classic series and particularly in the crotchety character of the first Doctor, as portrayed by William Hartnell. While Professor Tom Swyft is meant to be a middle-aged man, I like the fact that at times he acts far older than he appears. And while in Doctor Who that gives the current portrayal of the character a sense of timelessness and otherworldliness, in Flashback it only serves to prove that Tom is in his own world, completely out of touch with modern fads, and little more than a “square” as they would say in the 60s.

Patrick Conner‘s portrayal of the character in the video was quite inspiring and just proves that a director should only interfere with actors when they haven’t got the intuition to creatively interpret a character. I felt that Patrick brought so much of that fuddy duddy, loveable scientist to the screen that it reminded me of a young Peter Cushing, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do with all the techno-babble I’ve written for the character in the audio series.

But by far the best thing about this character, (and this is something that Michael himself brought to Tom), is a sense of not being completely sane. Over the course of the series he constructs two robotic “friends” that no-one except himself can understand and to me they come across simply as excuses for him to talk to himself. Whatever the real reason, Tom remains a camp figure with one foot in the 1930s and one in the 21st Century. Yes he’s a brilliant scientist, without whom the whole plot would fizzle and burn out, but he’s also human and we get to see his love interest, or interests if one takes into account an unrequited love. Firstly there is Roy Ruggers who is essentially Tom’s partner, both in the lab and in his life, though apart from a few obvious pieces of comical innuendo, that relationship is played down in favour of all the scientific mumbo-jumbo. The other love interest is the die-hard romantic Barroqa, although that love is definitely a one-way street and she spends the first handful of episodes believing there really is something between her and Tom. But in a story about parallel worlds where characters are duplicated, love triangles can become far more complex than one would care to imagine!

And that leads this article around to explaining the basic plot doesn’t it? Well, of course, people want to know, so why spend so much time detailing one pseudo-plagiarised character? Quite possibly it is because Tom’s story is really at the heart of the project, both currently and at its inception. It was Michael’s love of those black and white serials and boyhood novels that informed much of his science fiction writing and it is only fitting to keep the character of Tom Swyft as well as the overall plot of the new series on the same page as the original.

So what page is that? Well, you know the story is about parallel worlds, right? Actually it is about a group of unlikely friends all going to an art opening where one of Tom’s crazy inventions has been modified to be an installation. It is about the arrival of two alien historians who are there to document the end of the planet Earth but instead unwittingly trigger off Tom’s machine which then opens up a vortex to a parallel world. All sorts of nuttiness occurs, as it would because parallel worlds can provide those rich story elements. But no worries, the Mayor of the city is at hand to control events in more ways than Emperor Palpatine and… well, that is a story for another Blog entry… ;-P


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