The Mad Scientist of Merthyr Mawr was inspired primarily by the location. Merthyr Mawr looks at first glance like ‘the village that time forgot’. The description at the beginning of the story actually does come from an online review of the location. But it is actually far more interesting than that. Those sand dunes where parts of Lawrence of Arabia were filmed – as well as Jack’s homeworld of Boeshane! – are one of South Wales’ ‘hidden’ gems – insofar as the largest sand dune in Europe CAN be hidden. It is a setting just waiting for a Torchwood story.
So what kind of story can it be? The problem with Torchwood is the problem identified way back in the early 1970s when Doctor Who featured a Doctor exiled on Earth – the stories have to be either alien invasion or mad scientist. The third possibility is supernatural beings such as the faeries in ‘Small Worlds’, and I have explored these possibilities from time to time. Darius the Vampire proved the most popular and I exported him to the Torchwood Glasgow team.
But those are themes to explore now and again. The main Torchwood fare is either mad scientist or alien invasion. It is possible for it to be both, of course. The mad scientist and the alien was the theme of “Reset” for example. This story is much on the same lines except that, as it turns out, the mad scientist is a victim under the influence of the aliens. I thought for some time about that plot twist, originally intending for Doctor Griffith to be totally mad scientist, but there have been enough ex-Torchwood personnel going off reservation. This is accidental and nothing to give the present Torchwood team any reason to worry about their own future sanity.
The reference to the Famous Five had to go in, because sudden holes in the ground and secret passages are so corny that somebody HAS to say it in order to make it just a bit more plausible.
The debate about the Ten Commandments that Alun and Ianto have as they explore the secret tunnel is a homage to an episode of West Wing where some self-righteous Christian fundamentalists got it wrong and were corrected by the Jewish character they had been subtly insulting. The idea of a gay couple debating the subject is probably going to annoy those sort of people, too, so I went for it.
The mercy killing of the half-turned Human-insect hybrids was also a matter for discussion. There is a huge moral issue there, one which has come up many times in ‘classic’ episodes of Doctor Who. The character Noah in Ark in Space, infected by the Wyrrm, sacrifices himself, blowing up the escape pod with himself and the creature aboard. A character in Image of Fendahl, similarly infected and with no hope of rescue, asks The Doctor to leave him a gun to kill himself while his mind is still free. Although the gunshot was only heard in the background as The Doctor beat a retreat, that was a pretty desperate scene in something derided as a children’s show.
In the more adult morality of Torchwood, the idea of killing the hybrids is just as shocking, but it is less likely to attract the ‘family values’ kind of criticism. Euthanasia is a serious and desperate subject with no easy answers when it concerns humans killing other humans, but in a situation like this one, it seems like the obvious thing to do, if not the easiest.
The clue that Gwen spots, thanks to her police training – that the good Doctor Griffith’s car had NOT been involve in an RTA was inspired by a detail from an episode of CSI where a man had tried to claim he was a hit and run driver when, in fact, it was his teenage daughter. The lack of evidence on his car led the team to suspect that his confession was false. Likewise, Gwen recognised the lack of any evidence both on the car and in the car park by The Warren.
Google Earth, of course, was the primary source for the geography of this story, including directions through the village to the car park and the juxtaposition of the dunes and the castle.