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Sunday, February 19, 2006

1.54 --- Devil's Alphabet

Directed by : Ben Bolt
Written by : Robert Hunter (story by Arthur Gray)
Starring : Ben Cross, Hywell Bennett, Wayne Alexander
First aired : 28th of March, 1986.

In 19th century England, a group of Cambridge students form a society known as "Devil's Alphabet". On the eve of what was supposed to be their very last meeting, they agree to meet every year on 2nd of November. But the agreement isn't a simple one - Grant (Hywell Bennett, The Virgin Soldiers, Percy), one of the members, proposes an odd clause : that everybody, alive or dead, will attend the yearly meetings.

Twenty years later, Deaver, one of the Devil's Alphabet members, kills himself and the meeting must go on without him. But, the rest of the group is amazed to see that his signature is there on the agreement, and that his wine glass, just filled, is now empty. Twelve months after that, another member hangs himself, and the meeting is called off. Grant defiantly decides to attend on his own, and is taken care of by vengenful spirits of deceased members. Meanwhile, another two members find their way to death, being torched to death in a flaming carriage which was supposed to take them home.

Another year passes, and only two members are still alive - Frederick (Ben Cross, Chariots of Fire, Exorcist : the Beginning) and Cornelius (Wayne Alexander). The tension is too much for Cornelius, who offs himself, so everything is now up to Frederick. He enters the meeting chamber and is surrounded by the spirits of his dead comrades, to who he suggests to break off the agreement in order to save their souls. Everybody agrees, and Devil's Alphabet society ceases to exist.


Well, you knew it that this run of excellence couldn't last. After no less than 28 episodes in a row worth something (or more than that), Devil's Alphabet proudly represents the first, and long overdue, clunker since back to back ineptitude of Opening Day and The Beacon.

So what precisely went wrong here ? Simply put, the episode starts from nowhere - and goes nowhere. We have no clue what for a society this Devil's Alphabet is, and why is everybody so mysteriously dying around it, neither does anyone bother to explain us. By the time everybody, alive or dead, gathers to disband it, your interest is long gone. A waste of solid cast and better-than-average special effects (those green spectres are quite cool) if there ever was one.

Trekkin' trivia : and yet another TZ alumnus goes on to become an important Star Trek character. This time it's Ethan Phillips (here portraying Deaver, one of the alphabetians), better known as Neelix from the Voyager series.

Comments on "1.54 --- Devil's Alphabet"


Blogger Jeff said ... (12:45 PM) : 

Ah, you missed the explanation in the beginning, the final scene, and in the epilogue by the narrator. In the beginning, the narrator talks about the brashness of youth. Then in the final scene, Frederick says as we have created this pact, so can we dissolve it, and they all agree. In the closing narration, he says to be careful messing with things you don't understand.

I saw it once when it was originally shown, so my memory is sketchy, but the privileged graduates of the ivy league school make a dangerous pact to meet even in death. A contract must be honored, but it prevents them from resting in peace. In the end,they have the power to fix their error. The moral perhaps is, if you've made a pact with the devil, you will suffer, but you can fix it.


Anonymous Adrock said ... (11:02 PM) : 

"Do you seriously advance this proposition?!" -- everything sounds better when you write it in the way that you think 19th-century English was spoken.

Based on a ghost story, but all the characters and dialogue are original to this script.

I liked it -- a bunch of Cambridge students, whose letters all range from A to G, form a society based in jest on Satanic mumbo-jumbo, which gets away from then. Ben Cross is great as the last surviving member. And, hey, Hywel Bennnett, another authentic UK cast member, as the impudent Grant (the one who proposes that the club meet after death) is actually a "Doctor Who" alumni as well. He played a space fish the second episode of a 1965 serial called "The Chase", which is still out on DVD.


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