So, there I was, stuck in the ancient Egyptian burial pit full of snakes, while French archaeologist Belloq - no, wait, that's Indiana Jones.
We're now up to about September last year. I'd done a two page outline for INCARNATE, and Carnival liked it, and were just about to commission a more detailed treatment, when we heard that ITV had commissioned a sitcom called NO HEROICS. Going by television logic, this was going to scupper my project. Which is when Head of Development Person said a beautiful thing. She said "You know what? I'm always having to cancel things mid-development because something that sounds vaguely similar has come along, and I always regret it. So I'm going to commission a treatment of INCARNATE regardless.'
Hurrah! There was also one small note, that maybe the show could have a buddy element, giving TROY someone to bounce off - which made me think I could maybe fit this new role around an actor I already knew, had worked with, was funny, and could, you know, act. So I emailed said actor, who, by the way I knew was insanely busy, but if I could attach his name to the project, even if only in theory, the whole thing would have a whole new level of momentum.
The reply from Stephen Mangan went something like: Superhero? Cool powers? A costume? Yes please.
I could now never be rude about production executives, or actors again. Frankly I was starting to wonder if it was worth it.
OF COURSE IT WAS WORTH IT.
And then I did a thing I've only just realised I have a tendency to do. I wrote a treatment for what was practically a completely different series. Seriously. I know.
In fact, I did this just a couple of weeks ago. I'm in the fortunate position of starting to develop my own crime drama series for BBC drama. In an odd kind of way, it span out of the teen drama thing, which didn't get commissioned either. Don't think about it too hard, you'll go mad.
Anyway, I didn't quite have this conversation with BBC Drama, but on one level I kind of did:
BBC DRAMA: So, we commissioned you to write a series with the main character being a scrappy young London copper from a council estate.
BBC DRAMA: So what have you just done?
ME: (proudly) I've made him a thirtysomething copper who likes indie music and isn't all that scrappy. Or from London now.
ME: Shall I go back to doing it the other way?
BBC DRAMA: Yes please.
Which is kind of what I did with INCARNATE. I went a bit wibbly and mental and turned TROY into a mayoral assistant who gets magic powers and becomes THE NIGHT MAYOR, who has to deal with all the problems of the city the day mayor doesn't have to worry about, like vampires and stuff.
CARNIVAL PRODUCER: So, what have you just done?
CARNIVAL PRODUCER: Yes, could you go and do a treatment for the show we actually commissioned you to write a treatment for, please?
Secretly, of course, I put THE NIGHT MAYOR in a folder marked 'Inevitable INCARNATE spin off series'. Your time will come, THE NIGHT MAYOR, ho yuss.
But then I realised I could have my cake, and then I could have my cake and eat my cake as well (never understood that). So here's the opening of the INCARNATE treatment which has TROY BENEDICT and Stephen Mangan. What's more, it had S. Mangan playing a rather different sort of role than he's used tom but one I thought he'd be really quite good at.
8x60min Action comedy/drama
‘What if Britain got its own celebrity superhero, and he was a complete prick?’
America has no shortage of superheroes. Barely a chemical factory explodes, or a radioactive spider escape its cage without generating dozens of brightly-costumed heroes, all too happy to put on spandex tights and fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Britain, of course, likes to do things differently; its superheroes working secretly, without fuss or fame. Apart, that is, at times of gravest threat, when it is said the land itself will select one of its inhabitants, and turn them into THE INCARNATE: a champion bestowed with all the powers of its most legendary heroes, more powerful that all the other superheroes put together. Which is particularly galling to the existing British superheroes when the brand new INCARNATE is TROY BENEDICT, a spoiled skinny-jean-wearing, North-London-living trustafarian with an ego the size of Brixton Academy.
When it quickly becomes apparent that TROY has absolutely no intention of staying undercover, the other heroes assign TROY a mentor: the hardworking, responsible PENDRAGON (played by Stephen Mangan). Unfortunately, while PENDRAGON has dedicated his life to service without reward, TROY has rather different ambitions: hold a press conference, sort out a reality television show, give all your off-loading mates jobs as sidekicks/support team/publicists and wait for the sponsorship deals to roll in, while PENDRAGON cleans up all the mess.
Of course, with TROY’s outing himself as Britain’s biggest superhero drawing every freak, villain and monster out of the woodwork, not to mention the attention of a skinhead superhero-turned-bad who plans to turn the entire country into a fascist paradise, he might just have dragged both of them into a deeper mess than anyone even knew existed…
Dark, sarky and with a certain amount of post-watershed action, INCARNATE is a twisted modern take on classic British mythology that shows what happens when all the wrong people get all the right powers. A strong comedic streak runs through INCARNATE, but this will always come from character – the powers themselves, and the world in which the heroes operate is deadly serious.
Important to note there are no lycra costumes or flowing capes in INCARNATES, although he heroes do dress in a stylized manner, with many of them retaining styles from the dates of their Incarnation, such as flying jackets, Edwardian frockcoats, and cavalry boots, a look that could perhaps best be described as ‘Arcade Fire meets Men In Black’.
A classic, old-school superhero who likes to get the work done with the minimum of publicity, SCOTT UNDERHILL has been covertly saving the inhabitants of Britain for nearly a hundred years now, since coming into his powers in the middle of the First World War. SCOTT’s superpowers are enhanced strength, a mild form of telekinesis that allows him to pull small objects towards himself (handy for snatching guns from terrorists and bank robbers) and a kind of powered leap that allows him to vault over tall buildings in a single bound, even if he can’t always control exactly where he lands.
None of which makes up for the fact that, being technically nearly a century old, all SCOTT’s family and friends are long-dead. Consequently, SCOTT is rather out of joint with contemporary culture, and increasingly bitter as his life of loyal servitude to a populace that will never understand his sacrifices looks increasingly irrelevant. What makes SCOTT despise TROY even more is the shameful flicker of jealousy, not just at the attention he gets, but that TROY’s powers already far exceed his own. SCOTT is also worrying that his powers are beginning to wane, a secret he is doing his best to keep from the other heroes around him.
London is in the grip of fear after a recent spate of bank robberies slash serial killings by a group already known as ‘The Tooth Fairies’, leaving vaults empty and employees dead (and toothless) all over the city. The police are mystified by the killers’ ability to strike at different points across the city at the same time, and their almost supernatural ability to evade pursuit.
Right in the middle of this, and after starting to glow with a brilliant white light at socially inconvenient times, spoiled rich kid TROY BENDICT discovers he’s become THE INCARNATE, an archetypal British hero who only manifests at time of great peril. TROY quickly learns that Britain already has a number of superheroes, although they act covertly – and that he is already more powerful than any of them – able to fly, use X-Ray vision, resist all mortal weapons, and use incredible superstrength. So naturally, TROY holds a press conference and launches himself as the UK’s first superhero ‘brand’. He also promises, rather incidentally, that he will track down the Tooth Fairy gang.
It quickly becomes apparent to the other heroes that TROY is a complete idiot, with no real concept of the responsibilities he has been given, although reluctantly, the other heroes INCARNATES decide that having an ‘out’ superhero might be useful in drawing all the crazies out of the woodwork, while the rest of them stay in the shadows. Much to his disgust, burnt out hero PENDRAGON is assigned to act as TROY’s mentor: keeping him out of trouble and hopefully teaching him the ways of true heroism.
As TROY settles in to his new role as celebrity superhero, hiring a focus group to decide on his costume and superhero name, SCOTT discovers the gang to be genuine tooth fairies – nasty goblinlike creatures, born from the nightmares of children, who use the teeth of their victims in strange rites that allow them to teleport from their lair in an abandoned tube station to banks all over London. At great personal risk, SCOTT manages to destroy the creatures (with a handily placed vending machine of sugary drinks).
TROY, of course, takes all the credit. SCOTT is infuriated, but also concerned to learn that the money stolen by the fairies appears to have vanished into a Swiss Account held by one Arthur Fisher, a British crimelord who appears to have odd powers of his own…
The treatment was about five pages in total, and after a couple of minor rewrites was deemed ready to go off to the BBC. BUT WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT?
Oh, and then I found out Paul Cornell and Joe Ahearne also had superhero tv series in the works. STILL, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT?