I've spent more time trying to do a Christmas episode for The Youth of Australia than David Tennant has been in Doctor Who. It can't be that difficult, as Grumpy Old Men At Christmas demonstrates - the Christmas Day itinerary is not complicated. Yet, I get dispirited very easily. Can any slapstick with the turkey beat Mr. Bean getting his head stuck in one? Or Richie Rich cutting off his own finger? Can any heartwarming Christmas Spirit scene best Mother and Son? Any argument be better than Tim and Bill swapping personalities? Any soul crushing disappointment worse than Rocko being abandoned? Any religious satire cleverer than Flacco being born in a stable? Any social commentary be better than Nightingales meeting Mary, who gives birth to consumer goods for them to enjoy?
And it wouldn't be funnier than Black Books: Grapes of Wrath no matter what I did...
Some ideas I batted around with. One was that the gang got themselves locked in the ABC shop over Christmas, meaning in a wacky Twilight Zone style irony, they had most of the presents they wanted but none to play with, forcing them to talk to each other. The old 'deliver a baby at Christmas' idea which seemed so cliched, I shoved it into the pilot episode to symbolize the 'look to the future' vibe. Another idea was them all being locked up on Christmas Day by the police after drunkenly trying to visit three different Christmas parties at once. But I'd kinda done that idea too.
But somehow, I always found myself losing interest. Later, I watched the Men Behaving Badly Christmas Special which was, in a way, the final nail. The story wasn't particularly original, nor the jokes: the guys come up with a rubbish Christmas, one couple splits up, and generally it's just another day only with Christmas decorations. But that, incredibly, is the POINT! It IS just like another day! And all the characters are depressed as they realize this.
And, in case you missed this subtext, half the episode was set in some parallel universe, Warriors' Gate esque timeline: in it, the couples are fabulously weathly aristocrats who live in a mansion, waited on hand and foot, and live ridiculously happy lives, it's snowing, Christmas dinner is delicious... and we cut from the idealized version to the horribly mundane reality. And in one case SURREALITY, as Tony sulks by sitting on a surfboard on top of the hill's hoist in the rain.
That dissillusionment rang in my head for some reason.
When I was writing an episode entitled Andrew's Legacy, one of the ones that would be completely rewritten no doubt, it came back to me. The plot: Andrew has on a whim, left Dave and Nigel to their own devices, seemingly forever. It's a character piece mainly, a link of unrelated sketches with no real point bar the suggestion that Andrew was the buffer that somehow kept everything normal and with him gone, the world now seems run by Terry Gilliam...
Fade up on a caption: THE NEXT DAY. We see Nigel’s room is lined with Christmas lights and decorations. Nigel sits in his bed, facing the TV. He wears a festive hat and some of the decorations. On the TV, the Queen’s speech begins. Nigel pours himself a tankard of sherry.
NIGEL: Merry Christmas! God save the Queen!
He begins draining the tankard. There is a banging at the door.
NIGEL: [STARTLED] Oh, crapola.
DAVE: [VO] Hey! Nigel! Hello! Are you in there?
Nigel leaps off the bed, ejecting a video from his VCR. It has QUEEN’S SPEECH 2003 written on the label and begins to haul down the decorations. The door bursts open and Dave enters.
DAVE: There you are! [LOOKS AROUND] What the...
Nigel looks up at him while trying to haul down his Christmas tree.
NIGEL: This isn’t what it looks like!
DAVE: You’ve been celebrating Christmas again, haven’t you?
Nigel sweeps a pile of half-opened Christmas presents off the top of his mantle piece. Muchos smashing noises. Nigel tries to look casual as he rips off his festive outfit.
NIGEL: So? What’s wrong with that, man?
DAVE: It’s July! The fourth of July!
NIGEL: OK, so I got my public holidays mixed up, so sue me!
DAVE: What are you talking about? You hate America!
NIGEL: Uh, I try to celebrate other cultures.
DAVE: Oh, really? So what does one DO on the fourth of July?
NIGEL: [WINCES] Ah. Oh dear. I know this.
DAVE: Does it involve a Christmas tree? And lights?
NIGEL: [SWALLOWS] Doesn’t it?
Dave crosses to the TV. Nigel leaps in front of it, trying to block his way but Dave shoves him aside and checks the video. His face falls.
DAVE: [DISAPPOINTED] Oh, no, Nigel. Not the Queen’s speech.
NIGEL: [SHIFTS UNCOMFORTABLY] Look, this is just...
DAVE: Why? I thought you were getting better?
NIGEL: I just made a mistake, all right? Don’t get upset!
DAVE: A mistake? Like on the twentieth of January? When you locked yourself in here, decked the place with bows and holy, and started watching the Queen’s speech. Why? Why, Nigel, why?
NIGEL: I don’t have to justify myself to you!
DAVE: Look mate, we’re all we’ve got left now! And when you start hiding in here, pretending its Christmas every single day... You have got a problem, Nige! We covered all this in March? Remember the 24-Step Guide to Accepting That Christmas is Over? Remember that? Oh, we were so pleased when you finally chucked out the tree.
NIGEL: Andrew MADE me!
DAVE: It was for your own good!
NIGEL: I’m nineteen, Restal! I’m old enough to do what I want.
DAVE: That’s not what you said when the police came round. [SAD] Can’t you see you’re not right? This isn’t natural. You’re doing nothing but harm to yourself. Why, though?
NIGEL: [RIGHTING CHRISTMAS TREE] Because I want to.*
DAVE: No, I mean, why now? You were cured!
NIGEL: Yeah, well, Andrew isn’t here to stop me, is he?
DAVE: And if he was?
NIGEL: Well, I don’t have to answer that question, do I?
DAVE: And what if he turns up tomorrow? What will you do then? Shit yourself? Try and hide your foul addiction like now? It won’t work! You’ve got to see a professional!
NIGEL: If you don’t like it, get out.
Dave tries to grab the Christmas tree, unbalancing it. And incredibly-pathetic girl-fight begins between Nigel and Dave, ending with a nipple-cripple that floors Dave. He scrambles out, crying.
NIGEL: [CRUELLY] Yeah, get used to it, Dave! From now on –
He turns to face camera.
NIGEL: - the Big N is head of THIS household!
Behind him, the loose tree falls on top of Nigel, crushing him and dragging the Christmas lights with it. That, in turn, knocks over everything in the room that was upright. A long pause.
NIGEL: [VO/MUFFLED] Uh, a little help here? Hello?
The idea that Nigel was obsessed with capturing the Christmas Spirit and was a kind of Christmas junkie was a brilliant idea. According to those who read it, anyway. The Christmas Special now had the main thrust of Nigel obsessively trying to get it perfect, and instantly a Boxing Day Special where the guys have to break into Nigel's room to drag him out of his fantasy wrote itself in my head, then vanished.
Then, I decided to just be autobiographical and worked out the plot for a Christmas Special I have yet to write, but I know what happens in it, where Nigel gets a job as Santa Claus in a department store and falls in love with a shop girl. This is love, rather than lust, and Nigel reacts to this strange emotion as that guy in The Bill who realizes he's sexually attracted to children -- self horror. This, coupled with Nigel having to deal with children and customers, meant all the pesky Christmas cliches of turkeys, etc, could be ignored.
And as I was working it out, Bad Santa was released. WHILE I was being Santa...
So, I knew I'd have to wait until that was forgotten, and never actually typed it up. But now, I've managed to tap out so many references to the missing Christmas special I am attempting a Shada-style reconstruction from them, using ideas from a variety of sources...
1. APARTMENT ROOF
We pan down from the sun blazing in the sky to see Andrew sitting on the roof of the apartment, hugging his knees and looking out over the landscape with a troubled expression.
ANDREW: [SADLY] What will your daddy do
When he sees your mama
Kissing Santa Claus?
He lets out a bitter, humorless laugh. He sighs and lies back on the roof.
ANDREW: So here it is,
Everybody else’s having fun!
Look to their futures now
Unlike you they might have one...
He whistles the rest of the tune to himself. Dave emerges from the hatch that leads into the apartment.
DAVE: Hey, Andrew! What are you doing out here?
ANDREW: Just lying here, talking to you.
DAVE: Come on, man. Three days till Christmas.
ANDREW: I had no idea.
DAVE: I mean, we’ve got to go into town, buy presents.
ANDREW: [SCOWLS] Dave, I do have plans for today!
DAVE: [FROWNS] What plans?
ANDREW: I planned to do nothing.
DAVE: Aw, Andrew! Lighten up! It’s Christmas time! Party on!
ANDREW: I am partying. The way the Dalai Lama parties. Quietly.
DAVE: Dude, we have to buy each other presents. I’ve got Nigel’s list!
Dave throws down a very thick bundle of A4 pages, not dissimilar to a novel submission. It lands next to Andrew’s head. He continues to stare up at the sky, not moving.
ANDREW: He’s feeling confident, isn’t he?
DAVE: Eve’s got my list, Nigel’s got Eve’s list and you have Nigel’s list.
ANDREW: And just where is my list?
DAVE: You haven’t written one.
ANDREW: Yeah. Might be significant that, Dave.
DAVE: It’ll be fun, man. You can screw up Nigel’s whole Christmas!
ANDREW: I do have a life outside tormenting idiots like Nigel, you know.
DAVE: Yeah, you sit on the roof and look at the sky.
ANDREW: Ouch. All right, Master Restal, if I participate in this celebration of consumerism and greed, do I get to go back to this hardcore sitting on the roof and looking at the sky?
Dave sits down next to Andrew.
DAVE: I thought you’d love Christmas. Drink, food, TV specials...
ANDREW: Guess I just have sides to my personality no one suspects.
DAVE: Like what?
ANDREW: Like the fact I hate Christmas.
ANDREW: Oh, the girl I loved was run over on Christmas Day.
DAVE: [BLINKS] What? You’re kidding, right?
Andrew lazily grins.
ANDREW: All right. Let’s go spend Eve’s inheritance on some disposable nostalgic junk!
He snatches Nigel’s list and jumps to his feet in one quick move.
DAVE: [GRINS] Knew the spirit would get you in the end!
Dave reenters the hatchway. Andrew follows. The moment Dave isn’t looking, the smile vanishes from Andrew’s face.
2. LIVING AREA
Nigel, wearing a Santa hat, is in the Chill-Out Area, hanging up tinsel and baubles on the shelving. He stands on the sofa, cheerfully singing along with his iPod as Andrew and Dave enter through the hatch and clamber over the top of Andrew’s silo to reach the area.
NIGEL: And there won’t be snow
In Africa, this Christmas!
The greatest gift they’ll get
This year is life!
Andrew and Dave stare at Nigel in horror.
NIGEL: Where nothing ever grows!
No rain or rivers flow!
Do they know
It’s Christmas time at all?!
He gleefully whistles the rest.
DAVE: Someone sounds very merry.
Nigel pulls out an earphone.
ANDREW: You been visited by the spirits of Christmas or something?
NIGEL: No! I love Christmas! Best time of the year – 24 hours of brilliance with 364 days to prepare for it! Carol singers, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, reunited with relatives, Turkey sandwiches, glazed hams, champagne and orange juice cocktails, the classic December humidity...
Nigel jumps down from the sofa, rocking the platform they stand on.
NIGEL: What’s there not to like?
Nigel laughs and companionably puts an arm around Andrew. He grimaces.
NIGEL: Ah, Drew. You and me, we’ve had a weird time this year, huh? The HSC, moving in together, Parker, meeting Eve... That’s a packed few months.
ANDREW: And I’ve hated every second spent with you.
NIGEL: I know, Drew. I know. Because I hate you too. I despise you with such passion I have to get up early so there’s enough time in the day to detest you and everything you stand for. If I could, I’d take off the six months required to stab you to death, you realize that?
ANDREW: [DEADPAN] I may weep openly at such non-gay man love.
NIGEL: That’s nice of you, Andrew. But I’m here to offer you a deal.
NIGEL: From today to New Year’s Eve, I’m willing to declare an absolute, binding and unconditional truce. No arguments, insults, pranks, food fights, discussions on sexual technique and what’s more, I’ll even not complain over your cooking of Christmas Dinner.
DAVE: You been at the shoe polish again?
Nigel shows them his hands.
NIGEL: Look? No fingers crossed or anything? I just want a nice little Christmas vacation. No hassle from me, no hassle from you.
ANDREW: [FOLDS HIS ARMS] And what if I refuse.
NIGEL: Then I will snap your miserable neck.
NIGEL: I’m not joking. I’ll probably go to jail, and have my entire life ruined, but I’m happy for that to happen with my blood on your hands. [STARTING TO LOSE IT] If this Christmas is not the best, the ABSOLUTE best ever, I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU!!!
Nigel grabs Andrew by the throat.
NIGEL: ARE YOU TAKING ME SERIOUSLY?
ANDREW: [GIGGLES] For once, absolutely!
NIGEL: I’LL DO IT!
ANDREW: I know you will! Do you hear sleigh bells, Nigella? Do you?
ANDREW: Do you?
ANDREW: Do you hear them!?
Andrew flings out his arms and Nigel is sent reeling over the edge of the COA platform and to the floor below. Andrew dusts himself down.
ANDREW: Then I accept!
Andrew heads for the step ladder as Dave peers over the edge of the platform to look down at Nigel’s groaning form.
DAVE: Wow. That was intense.
ANDREW: See? The children of the world are indoctrinated from the cradle that the year may be horrible and miserable, but for a few days in December, there is nothing but perfection. Challenge that belief and... well...
Andrew reaches the ground as Nigel gets up, clutching his shoulder. He twists it with a nasty crunch and stretches.
NIGEL: [ANNOYED] Oh yes, just because my family can spend a bit of cash on Christmas lights, it’s suddenly Western propaganda gone mad, is it?
ANDREW: I thought we weren’t going to argue.
NIGEL: [BLINKS] Oh yeah.
ANDREW: Guess that means I’ve proved my point?
ANDREW: Well, we’re not going to argue about it, are we?
Nigel blinks. He remains silent until Dave has joined them.
NIGEL: Cunning bastard.
They cross over to the kitchen area.
DAVE: Anyway, we better head off and start the shopping.
ANDREW: Can’t we leave it till later?
DAVE: No way, man. It’ll be chock-a-block as it is, let alone on the night before Christmas.
ANDREW: Buying early just means we are giving each other more time to succumb to greed and open the presents early.
NIGEL: Oh, ye of little faith.
ANDREW: Pretty much. Is Eve coming with us?
NIGEL: We can only hope.
DAVE: [STERN] Hey. Nige. We agreed. We pay for the presents ourselves.
NIGEL: Oh, because getting a nubile millionairess to pay, that’d just be stupid.
DAVE: It makes the presents more special. Where is she anyway?
Eve steps out of the hallway, keeping the door closed.
EVE: Uh, guys?
They look at her.
EVE: Would it be, you know, all right if I brought someone over to stay for the next couple of days?
Nigel’s expression softens.
NIGEL: Oh, Eve. This is your home too, and we wouldn’t dream of restricting you in any way! Your friends are always welcome here, especially in the season of goodwill and peace to all!
DAVE: Well said, Nigel!
NIGEL: ESPECIALLY if she is some hot girl like yourself who’d enjoy some of the Big N love machine!
ANDREW: NOT so well said, Nigel.
EVE: So it’s cool?
DAVE: Of course it is!
She ducks into the hallway again. Nigel starts packing canvas bags into a school backpack. Dave and Andrew close off the patio.
DAVE: You really think you and Nigel can actually be friends for the rest of the month?
ANDREW: Can but try.
DAVE: It’ll never work.
ANDREW: Might do – if we find someone more annoying and horrible than Nigel to torment.
DAVE: What are the odds of that?
ANDREW: I thought Christmas was a time for miracles?
Eve re-enters and stands by the door.
EVE: Guys. This... is Ben Chatham.
She pushes it open. Dry ice swirls in the shadows and we hear the sudden loud noise of a massive heart beating. A figure slowly moves out of the shadows – a medium-sized, good-looking blond man not wearing a shirt and leaving his chest bare. A wolf howls in the distance. Sharp cuts from the suspicious eyes of Dave, Andrew and Nigel to Ben Chatham’s blank, almost zombie like vacant stare. Another wolf howl.
EVE: [FROWNS] What is that noise?
DAVE: Oh, sorry that’s me.
Dave pulls a mobile from his pocket.
DAVE: Trying to get the ring tone to play Dangermouse. It got Dog Soldiers instead... Sorry.
... to be continued. Maybe.
* This is not a Billie Piper joke. I hadn't heard of her, or the song, when I wrote this.