In 1923, ebullient adventurer, archaeologist and scholar Sir Basil Champion is exploring the tomb of Queen Nefertiti. He becomes stuck in a particularly snug passageway. Suddenly his companions Longbarrow and Pickering succumb to a plague of boils.
In a solicitor’s office in 1937, Sir Basil’s last will and testament is read to his next of kin. Sir Basil has apparently been eaten by a rhinoceros. He bequeaths some small, grotesque and frankly useless antiquities. Solicitor Mr Griffin, as executor of the will, keeps a mysterious puzzle box. When it is opened the box releases a plague of boils, killing everyone in the office.
MI-13’s Lionheart and Professor Dunning are assigned to investigate the outbreak of the plague. They interview solicitor’s clerk Mr Sparrow, who is suffering a mild case of plague in a police-guarded hospital ward. Soon afterwards the puzzle box is stolen by a ‘giant’. Lionheart and Dunning visit Champion’s club, The Foreign and Colonial, where confusion reigns as to the precise nature of the explorer’s demise. Champion’s gruesome memoirs had struggled to find a publisher and as Lionheart and Dunning find out, the original manuscript has been sent to a Mr Ravenscroft at Glendoom Castle in the Scottish Highlands.
Arriving in Auchtemactie, Scotland, Lionheart and Dunning hire a horse and cart driven by a man looking remarkably similar to the station master who greeted them only moments before. The man tells them strange tales of people having their trousers burnt off in what Dunning terms “supernatural debaggings”. Strangest of all, the supposedly deceased Sir Basil Champion has also been seen in the area within the last month.
Lionheart and Dunning are taken to meet the Laird, an American billionaire called D.D. Denham – the self styled “fastest man alive”. Denham has several air speed records and now wants to be the first man into space in order to find the mysterious Black Comet. The castle museum is full of priceless artworks and flying contraptions. Denham imprisons Lionheart and Dunning in his dungeon using his huge henchman Hamish to guard them. Denham sets off for El-Amarna in Egypt with his girlfriend Kitty and the puzzle box. Lionheart manages to burn down the castle using an antique rocket, then he and Dunning escape in a helicopter (which they’ve never piloted before!) bound for Inverness. From there they intend to charter a boat to Egypt.
During an Arctic adventure in 1931, disaster strikes Sir Basil Champion’s party – the food runs out. After playing cards to decide their fate, Champion eats his companions Jock and Snowy. Champion is a cannibal.
Arriving in Egypt, Lionheart and Dunning meet Waghorn, the British Ambassador and the trio take a camel ride across the desert. Waghorn gives Dunning a letter from his colleague Humphrey Beamish. Dunning discovers the Black Comet was mentioned by Sir Isaac Newton in 1664 heralding the Great Plague and by the scribes of El-Amarna in 1350 BC, again ahead of a plague.
Lionheart and Dunning realise both Denham and the mysterious Mr. Ravenscroft are looking for the same dig to open a tomb. From a distance they spy Denham, Kitty, Hamish and Champion using high explosives to open a trench, singing his old school song. Eventually meeting up with Champion and re-acquainted with Denham, the MI-13 men discover Ravenscroft is merely a pseudonym of Denham but in actuality Ravenscroft was a doctor, who in 1665 helped to deal with the plague-ridden populace of London. Before succumbing to plague himself Ravenscroft found… an alien! Denham believes the Black Comet may be a spaceship.
Denham and Kitty force Lionheart and Dunning to open the tomb. Suddenly, Kitty reveals herself to be a Nazi spy and forces Champion and Lionheart to accompany her to Germany with Waghorn and Hamish to meet Himmler. Dunning and Denham are left behind in the tomb. Kitty forces Lionheart and Champion onto a U-boat or “sub-maureen”, as Champion calls it. Refusing to be contained, Champion uses dynamite to escape from the U-boat. Champion and Lionheart man a lifeboat.
Reading the hieroglyphics, Dunning discovers the fate of Queen Nefertiti. Champion’s puzzle box suddenly comes to life and starts to move across the floor of the tomb. The box has been propelled by a dis-embodied hand with a strange life of its own, The Professor christens the hand ‘Andy’. Denham realises the tomb he and Dunning are in is actually the spacecraft he has been looking for and he pilots it into the sky. On the submarine, Kitty commands the spacecraft be shot down.
The spacecraft lands in the same stretch of water as Lionheart and Champion’s boat and begins to sink. Dunning and Denham together with Andy escape and are rescued by Lionheart. Pursued by the U-boat, the men row their boat at speed. Hamish kills Kitty and the U-boat implodes. Andy swims onto the boat but Champion squashes the hand. Waiting to be rescued, Lionheart grows bored of Champion’s stories, Dunning is convinced he has plague and Champion is getting hungry.
This is a first-class romp by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris. The story rattles along at a high octane pace as Lionheart and Dunning travel in various modes of transport across the world to discover the truth about Sir Basil Champion’s unlikely demise.
Nicholas Courtney and Terry Molloy (familiar as Doctor Who‘s Brigadier and Davros) are now well-established as the no-nonsense Lionheart and timid academic Dunning. Both clearly enjoy playing their respective characters and manage to hold their own against the mighty Brian Blessed, in itself no mean feat.
Anyone who witnessed Brian Blessed’s chairmanship of Have I Got News For You acknowledged it as one of the best episodes of the show in a long time. Blessed is again on top form here, stealing every scene he’s in by sheer force of charisma. A particularly fine touch is the use of Blessed as occasional narrator to underline Champion’s deluded self-importance whilst keeping a record of his exploits. Once described as ‘the loudest man alive’, Blessed is no stranger to the sci-fi genre with appearances in Blake’s 7, Doctor Who and, of course, the film Flash Gordon. If you want an enjoyably over-the-top performance full of vigour and gusto, Blessed is your man.
Regular supporting artist David Benson exploits his vocal range as three different characters, most notably D.D. Denham. David Bickerstaff is suitably imposing as Hamish. Lizzie Roper seems to enjoy herself as Kitty Smith and Alex Lowe puts in a well-judged performance as Waghorn. He also manages to sound remarkably like Nicholas Parsons when playing the publisher Herbert Crane.
Fans of Carry On humour will appreciate the use in a hospital context of “It’s matron’s round – Well mine’s a pint…” from Carry On Nurse and Doctor Who fans will note the nod to Genesis Of the Daleks with Kitty Smith, in full teutonic flow, paraphrasing Davros: “Such power will put us up above the gods…” Champion’s companions in the Arctic are Jock and Snowy, a tribute perhaps to Dick Barton?
Once again, Cosmic Hobo has created a delightful comedy drama which has a real sense of period. The sound design is top notch giving one a sense of being part of the action, whether in an Egyptian tomb or a Scottish castle or out at sea. Without a doubt, this is one of the best Scarifyers stories yet.
The Scarifyers: The Curse of the Black Comet can be pre-ordered.