“But the ritual also required a magickal building. It needed to be secluded and to face Northward, with windows facing in all directions for me to watch for evil spirits. I also required a terrace covered in fine sand, at the end of which should be a lodge where evil spirits could gather. Oh, and a croquet lawn.”
“For the evil spirits to play croquet?”
“Exactly. Keep ’em busy!”
Sir Malcolm Campbell (Alex Lowe) is a race driver…well, speedboats, actually. But when his famed Bluebird mysteriously disappears during a trial run on the famed Loch Ness, Messrs. Crow (the ineffable David Warner) and Dunning (the always wonderful Terry Molloy) are sent to investigate…
Well, this is a convoluted one, to be sure! In addition to the vanishing speedster, there’s a vibrational time warp, musical and line reading nods to Back to the Future of all things, cavemen, dinosaurs, elder gods, sinister old pensioners, daffy Scotchmen and Aleister Crowley saves the day!
Make no mistake, this is no deep investigation of the legend of Nessie, nor is it a surreptitious Who crossover touching on Zygons and Skarasen.
“Honestly. Amateurs…turn East! East! You’re doing it all wrong! Sign of the horns! No, both hands! Bloody neophytes…”
Rather, what The Horror of Loch Ness represents is an indirect sequel to perhaps the greatest of Scarifyers adventures, the Devil of Denge Marsh. Like its predecessor, Loch Ness revolves around the efforts of Sebastian Malherb (Philip Madoc) to evoke a Lovecraftian elder god into the material plane.
And being Philip Madoc we’re talking about, the authors can’t resist throwing in an appropriate Who in-joke at his character’s expense (think Brain of Morbius…)
“And what happened to these devils?”
“They took up permanent residence. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to evict a demon? Very difficult indeed, particularly when they have a croquet lawn. You need to know their names, you see.”
“Whatever for, can’t you just give them a kick up the arse?”
Once again, David Benson essays his most amusing of personae as the late magus Crowley, as he had previously in the Nazad Conspiracy, Denge Marsh and, perhaps most especially, the Mr. Crowley’s Christmas short.
As ever, the authors betray more than a passing familiarity with the man and his works, this time digging into the magic(k)ian’s time at Boleskine and the failure of the Abra-Melin ritual, as well as a nod to his short lived cosplay persona as the Scotch Laird of Boleskine (one can only hope for a more particularly Egyptian-set escapade of M1-13 than the Brian Blessed-blessed The Curse of the Black Comet, with Benson trying to pull off a ‘Chioi Khan’…). And one certainly hopes Crowley’s efforts towards faking a Scotch accent came off a damn sight better than they do here!
They even note his deserved reputation as something of an unlikely lothario and aficionado of the aphrodisiac as enhancement in matters physical in a short sequence involving a maid and some proffered beverages. It’s fairly comprehensive, all things considered.
“I lived in this very house, for many years. These walls have witnessed many fantastical and wicked things…in my struggles to follow the rituals of Abra-Melin the Mage.”
“We’ve got that, haven’t we?”
“The book of Abra-Melin the Mage?”
“That’s right, it’s in the kitchen.”
“…and have you read the book of Abra-Melin the Mage?”
“Oh, yes, all the time. Though I find it’s very difficult to follow the instructions…you never know what’ll happen.”
“Here, that book. You take it.”
“The book of…(crestfallen) Asparagus and Sage. How nice…
What I’m I supposed to do with this? I don’t even like asparagus!”
That all having been appreciatively noted, the authors also begin to fudge things a tad more than usual for comic effect, referencing the erstwhile mage’s curious belief that he could in fact turn himself invisible (“he’s about to put me off my breakfast!”), obliquely tagging M. Somerset Maugham’s dig on Crowley, The Magician (by naming one of the characters “Haddo”, which the subject of said caricature saw fit to adopt as a pseudonym for criticism thereof) and most amusingly, M.R. James’ Casting the Runes (another pastiche of Crowley, famously transliterated into film by Jacques Tourneur as Night of the Demon and again in televised form in an excellent 1979 BBC update).
It’s all rather silly, which is after all the entire point, but where the earlier usages of the character were similarly played up for laughs, they felt more apt, more true to the character of the man himself and the way he’d probably have acted if thrust into the situations in question.
In Loch Ness, things get so arch as to shimmy a bit off the rails, as it were – most grimace inducing being his sheer cowardice during the Casting the Runes sequence (though admittedly the possessed bedclothes were a stroke of twisted comic genius). While there is certainly room for debate on the matter, such a mincing display of yellow backed spinelesness seems unworthy of the accomplished mountaineer who co-led the very first attempt to scale K2! *
*We’ll leave the conclusion of that matter aside for the nonce…
While Crow, Crowley and Dunning each travel separate investigative trails, this episode felt more like a partially completed starring role for “Uncle Al” than a more typical MI-13 adventure. Crow plays straight man and Dunning wanders off into a story tangent to find the tale’s McGuffin, but it’s all about Aleister and the locals this time around.
While I did have some reservations (as noted above) and found the Dunning side story wholly extraneous, I’ve been a huge fan of David Benson’s Crowley from the very first episode, finding his affected, rather nutty yet generally quite accurate take on the self styled “wickedest man in the world” and his indefatigable sense of humor (which far too many of the man’s devotees appear to have missed out on entirely) to be perhaps the most delightful aspect of an already much beloved series.
And with the character’s airtime expanded from a standout scene or two to at least half of an entire installment, how can I walk away any less than bemused?