Episode 5: The Cavern of Kronos
For years, fans of Nightshade have tried to solve the mystery of Penny Smith, the never-seen-before, never-seen-after actress who co-starred along Edmund Trevithick in the final (and now lost) episode of the 1950s cult TV series. The truth (which is, of course, stranger than fiction) can now be revealed, in this tale of buried memories, phantom pains and secret lives.
This episode was a bit of an exercise in style. It was conceived as a homage to Mark Gatiss’ brilliant NIGHTSHADE novel – itself a nostalgic homage to the great QUATERMASS TV series of the 1950s. After listening to the wonderful Big Finish audiobook adaptation of Nightshade, I knew I HAD to build a scenario related to this fascinating fragment of the Doctor Who mythos. Since Sylvie had remarked that Penelope had never been to the 1950s, I decided a few months ago that her first trip to this decade would definitely involve the making or impact of the NIGHTSHADE TV show… but I wanted to find the right tone, without interfering with the contents of Gatiss’ novel so I built a story focused not on Edmund Trevithick, the fictional actor who played the part of Professor Nightshade (although I did use him as a supporting character) but on the people who actually created the character and his adventures, which led me to invent a whole backstory.
My main sources of inspiration were (of course) Nigel Kneale, the creator of Quatermass (and some other brilliant stuff), as well as the TV movie “An Adventure in Space and Time” (also written by Mark Gatiss, so yes, our session had a very “Gatissian vibe”) – but instead of depicting the creation of a brilliant, classic TV show, I portrayed its final triumph and unfair demise at the hands of narrow-minded, begrudged BBC men-in-suits - so yes, the story also carried echoes of the 1989 cancellation of Doctor Who.
Despite what the title of episode* might suggest, the story included no fantastic / weird / alien element – except for Penelope’s own involvement, decisions and actions, so in the end we had a very moving, human-focused story that could only have been lived by a time traveler… and we had a fantastic session! No chases, no fights, no alien menace to battle, but lots of roleplaying, period atmosphere and memorable moments.
* “The Cavern of Kronos” is mentioned in the Nightshade audiobook as one of the most popular episodes of the series – but oddly enough, it is mistakenly identified as “Cavern of THE Kronos” on the TARDIS wikia website.