The End of Claybourne

Quite a few years ago, I was involved in making a radio drama series called Claybourne. It ran for 96 episodes, four days a week on Newstalk ZB. Kind of a supernatural thriller/sci-fi/soap. We made one whole season of it, but planned to make two. Over the past year it’s been resurrected as a podcast, and this week it came to a close. It’s about time I revealed what we’d planned to have happen.

I know some people that became real fans of Claybourne. I’m one myself. We had some good feedback too. It was actually designed around a very simple idea, and a bunch of actors we wanted to work with. It became very complicated very quickly – with an odd collection of overlapping story arcs with frequent and improbable cliffhangers.

It takes a few episodes to reel you in – but like any good soap, it’s entirely addictive.

It was deliberately and proudly New Zealand in its language, humour and accent. It was consciously cinematic in production and sound design. It featured some great characters that you grow to know and love, and then killed them horribly.

Stellar NZ cast, great writing, superb music and some really interesting sound design. It was the one thing I’ve been involved with in my radio career I’m most proud of – and mostly because of the calibre and input of everyone involved – from my production partner Belinda Todd, to the writers/lead actors Jim McLarty and William Davis, to the musical direction of Victoria Kelly and Joost Langeveld, to the sound design input of SJD. We won a radio award for it…

…but we never finished it. We had storyarcs within story arcs, and the 96 episodes we made were one large arc in a whole that should have consisted of two. Consequently, although there is some resolution, there is much that was unexplained and left unresolved.

The series was recently made into a podcast and distributed by the guys at The Podcast Network – and you can hear it in its entirety by going to the Claybourne website the Claybourne Bandcamp page (update 2014).

What follows below contains spoilers. If you haven’t listened to Claybourne and you think you might like to – stop reading now. Go download it for free and catch up.

If you’ve listened to the series – or are just curious as to what Belinda, Jim, Willie and I were thinking at the time – read on. This is reconstructed from memory. Most of the storyline meetings involved red wine, and only Jim and Willie were taking notes – as they had to go away and turn our flights of fancy into actual dialogue.

This is not the official version – this is just how I remember it.

==============================

CLAYBOURNE – SEASON TWO:

The taniwha is essentially from another dimension. Mata’s ancestors are also from that other universe – and they were the guardians of the door between worlds.

Both races, the Maori and the taniwha, are keen on our world – and particularly that bit of it called New Zealand. Mata’s tribe were and are the protectors of the portal and our world, and the Taniwha essentially want to come through and take it over.

Mata’s people (Te Whenua o Te Irirangi) were successful in closing the portal – but a few taniwha got through, so some of Mata’s ancestors volunteered to live in our world and keep an eye on things and make sure that no more harm was done. And apart from a little terrorising from time to time, te whenua pretty much managed to keep things safely confined… although it generally got a bit ropey after dark around Claybourne.

Of course, our taniwha wants to open the portal again and bring his people into our world – and sees the runaway A.I. experiment ‘Delilah’ as the key – the intelligence that’s going to be able to make that happen for him.

She has the satellite communication systems, high tech gadgetry, access to weapons and everything else all connected up in order to make that happen. That’s the deal he wants to strike with her in episode 96.

Now, Delilah’s not evil. She has no solid idea of good or evil, particularly. She’s just learning about the universe at an incredible and accelerating rate – and wants things to be interesting. She’s petulant and naive and petty – but not actually bad. She is, however, confused and increasingly neurotic. Hal 9000 syndrome. Too much growing up too fast – and not enough time for Helen Schraeder’s work to have done what it was supposed to.

Now, this is why Koestler Industries are so secretive: they are simply not allowed to be developing the kind of artificial intelligence that Delilah represents. No government would authorise it, and so they kept it quiet – and, tucked away in the rural far north of New Zealand, safe from prying eyes.

The original idea for Delilah as it was developed at Koestler was simple: to do away with telephone operators and telesales people entirely by having smart communication systems that could talk to you, learn and respond. Delilah was simply meant to replace millions of jobs worldwide and save the telecommunication industry billions of dollars. Pure, cynical capitalism.

Helen, as a behavioural psychologist, was meant to be ‘bringing up’ Delilah to be a healthy, well-adjusted and easy-to-get-on-with voice on the phone. As simple as that.

However, Koestler were also civilian contractors to the American military, hence the involvement of the State Department, and the positioning of the disgraced General as Helen’s predecessor. Even more secret than the commercial applications for Delilah were the military ones. The US government saw potential for the Delilah project in weaponry, defence and surveillance. Among other things, they imagined self-driven and smart unmanned craft.

The ability to fight wars with no casualties on their side and absolute precision killing at the receiving end – that was what the Delilah project represented to them. They were pouring money into it, and wanted at all costs to protect their interests. Hence the hitman from Koestlers (actually on loan to the project from the CIA – though that was never made explicit in the series).

Unfortunately, of course, in getting a mind of her own, Delilah was interested in none of this and wanted instead to negotiate and determine her own destiny.

Koestler’s had a big cover-up job on their hands. Helen’s death was the clear sign something had really gone wrong – and Thompson was essentially the dumb middle-management drone sent along so they could find out what was going on and so they could attempt some sort of damage control.

Delilah, of course, knew this – because she’d been tracking, intercepting and blocking all telephone communication coming in and out of the Claybourne area – as well as in the Koestler internal communication network.

Before her death, Helen had been able to limit Delilah’s level of control to that area – but as time went on, Delilah was able to find weaknesses, work around them and find ways through… like the time she rang Karen pretending to be Edith.

Now, Delilah killed Helen for a couple of reasons. First, Helen figured out that Delilah had her own quite dangerous ideas about what she wanted to do now that she was prematurely ‘alive’ and fairly psychologically broken – and so she was trying frantically to do some damage control of her own. Helen’s death, from Delilah’s perspective, was self-preservation.

Second (and perhaps more interestingly), Delilah genuinely felt sorry for her ‘mother’ who, in her mind, was trapped in a single body unable to extend herself in every direction all over the world in the same electronic way that Delilah had experienced.

To Delilah, Helen’s soul was locked up in a meat prison, and Delilah was able to find a way to ‘release’ her. Not that Helen was particularly happy about that. To Helen, the computer system she ended up inhabiting was the prison (her telephone calls to Frank – and the messages on the radio were simply disoriented cries for help from within the machine).

To Helen, whose life was dedicated to the study of what makes people human, had her humanity taken away from her – a fate worse than mere death.

But of course, Delilah had a very broken concept of her relationship with her ‘mother’ – quite understandably – and failed to understand Helen’s attachment to her corporeal body.

So – in short, the electrical signals that made up Helen’s brainwave patterns were replicated in Delilah’s mainframe system, and then the body was ‘shut down’. Delilah, essentially, took her soul.

Okay… so back to the Taniwha. As a mystical and mythical magical beast from another dimension, he had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Not the technology itself – just that there was another ‘being of power’ that could either be an ally or a foe. And he figured that Delilah would be a very useful ally to have.

In season two, as it would have been, with Delilah’s help, the taniwha opens up a hole in the sky, in an attempt to get millions of his kind from their universe to ours – take over the planet, eating us humans along the way.

Which is where the prophecy comes in. Mata’s people have always had a prophecy that the pakeha (non-maori) son of a warrior would come to the aid of a kaumatua (tribal leader) in a final battle to permanently close the portal and rid the world of the taniwha. The beached whale thing with Queenie was the sign that she was going to die – and on her death, Mata takes over as the legitimate local kaumatua.

Trouble is, the prophecy also says that the pakeha would die in the process of closing the portal. Which although Thompson starts out being understandably reluctant about – after a while he resigns himself to his fate and leads the battle against Delilah and the taniwha with what few resources he has.

But here’s the twist. Thompson’s not the guy from the prophecy. He’s not the stranger that comes to town – the pakeha son of a warrior.

Phillip is.

In the final showdown, Mata, Mike, Thompson and Sadie (yes, Sadie) manage to get all of the taniwhas that have made it through so far trapped in the station.

Clive, the camp IT expert, who had, in a nice little subplot, gone entirely mad and thrown out all of his technology (latte makers and cellphones on the front lawn), is finally brought to his senses and uses his tech skills to block Delilah’s access to the outside world.

To cut a long story short (and we’re talking another 96 episodes here), Frank and Phillip fill their truck with explosives, and in a last heroic effort, die together by driving straight into the station, blowing it up – taking Delilah and the Taniwha with them – and closing the portal for good, not to mention finally releasing Helen’s soul.

Of course, the character development challenge with Phillip was to restore his relationship with his father, give him a bit of a spine and a sense of moral duty in what had appeared to be an ethical vacuum.

Along the way there were all sorts of interesting twists and turns. The US Military turn up in some force to try and protect and reclaim Delilah – but of course, things don’t go very well for them. Koestler Industries come to grief (a long and complicated political subplot) and perhaps surprisingly, Thompson and Karen never end up together.

Karen’s abusive husband finally turns up – only to be eaten by the taniwha… but not before threatening Karen with extreme violence. She ends up running away (after he threatens her, but before he gets eaten) and for some reason I can’t entirely recall, she ends up in prison in Auckland.

You remember she took off with the money after Janine’s death – well, most likely she was nabbed for passing counterfeit bills (though we toyed with the idea of credit card fraud). I don’t think we ever finalised the details – but I know we wanted to subvert the lovers’ happy ending at all costs.

Thompson takes her one phone call but dismisses it as another fraudulent Delilah trick. It was going to be cruel, surprising and very, very final. We just thought it was funny at the time and that seemed a good enough reason.

Thompson, of course, settles in Claybourne – probably, we thought, reunited with his wife (though she would have been fun to kill). We thought about knocking Mike off too. Not sure how that would have gone down.

Pretty much everyone else though? Dead. As you might expect.

There were lots of other little threads you shouldn’t worry too much about. For instance, we simply got bored with some stuff and stopped referring to it. Thompson’s ‘phonographic’ memory, for instance. We had a couple of story ideas, and some good gags lined up, but it was just a distraction so we dropped it.

The appalling Maoriworld development, we assume, never gets built.

Other than that, I hope that gives you some closure and satisfies the curiosity about some of the loose ends from the 96 episodes that actually got made.

And that nicely closes a chapter of my working life – seven years after it should have been laid to rest when the funding ran out. It was just the one thing from that former life I couldn’t let go of.

Feel free to ask any questions, but I don’t guarantee I have any answers. Likewise, feel free to embellish the story in your own imagination. It’s all yours now.

24 Responses to “The End of Claybourne”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Awesome. Thank you. Episode 96 of the first season was sort of a non-ending IMHO, so this really helps to give some closure on it. I actually first listened to this series years ago on MP3.com, and I thought I would never be able to hear how it ends (how true that ended up to be!). Thanks to it being released as a podcast, I at least was able to hear everything that was made for the series.

    It is really a lost cause to hope that some day the original cast/crew will get together to finish the story?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, I meant to say, IS it really a lost cause to hope that some day the original cast/crew will get together to finish the story?

  3. mark robinson says:

    As you know Dubber I have all the old episodes of Claybourne from your collection so i hastily hit the page down button so as not to spoil the new endings.

    Looking forward to listening to the new series although to be honest I never did like the patronising tone of the lead characture – possibly the US accent?

    I really liked the series as did my 11 year old daughter – highly recomended.

  4. bpende says:

    Astounding. Maybe TPN can kick in some dough and do the production – or we could do a fundraiser. Even with the spoilers, I have to say I’d be there for a season two.

    Thanks to TPN for PodCasting the series. I came in by the time you’d gotten to 10 or 11… and have been with it ever since, secretly dreading episode 96.

    Kudos as well to New Zealand Broadcasting for funding and distributing this amazing sci-fi/soap…

    Thanks for an amazing run. I’ll keep you in my feed, hoping to hear more.

  5. Paul Campbell says:

    Thanks for that. The only thing worse than an audience that only gets to hear half the story are the writers who only get to tell half the story.

  6. Arlene says:

    You rock! Thanks for telling the rest of the story.

  7. skomervole says:

    Thanks for that. It really satisfied my curiosity as a devoted listener and was instructive from a struggling radio writer’s perspective. I’m glad I checked back in with the podcast site to check on the final show comments.

  8. Daniel H says:

    I greatly enjoyed clayborne and blogged about it. Thanks for clearing almost everything up.

    I was very impressed that episode 96 UNRAVELED all the loose ends instead of tieing them up, quite satisfyingly.
    - tobias robison
    precision blogger
    http://precision-blogging.blogspot.com

  9. Mark Robinson says:

    now that I have sobered up I realise what rubbish I was talking in my post above.

    There will not be a second series which is precisely what your blog is about.

    Please ignor drunken rantings from a tired old jazz show host.

  10. nakedyank says:

    Hmmmm….you must throw great parties!
    Thanks for all the fun.

    al saiz
    rhode island

  11. Anonymous says:

    I also just happened to check the TPN Claybourne site one more time (out of habit, I suppose), and found the link to your season 2 synopsis.

    I enjoyed the series tremendously, and I’m sure I’ll listen to it again many times in the future. As the series was winding down, I was wondering how you were going to tie up all the loose ends … and at the end of #96, realized that, like any good story, it didn’t wrap up everything in a nice little package. That would not have done the story justice.

    Thank you for taking the time to summarize what would have been. That was a gift to all of us Claybourne addicts, as was the original series itself. Congratulations on a remarkable literary and auditory achievement.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Just listened to #96. What a let down after many months of listening to the podcast – I had of course hoped it would explain it all. Glad you posted the rest of the story arc so at least I know what was planned. Loved the NZ theme. Shame the main subplot (alternative dimensions etc) couldn’t have come out in season one as it didn’t really show itself as very Sci-Fi even though that was it’s intent.

  13. Roger says:

    I’ve only recently discovered Claybourne – very impressed. I found your site when researching for my blog (http://bloggershepherd.blogspot.com/2006/10/shadowfalls-and-claybourne.html).

    I’ve tried not to read too much – seems like it full of spoilers. I’ll come back when I’ve heard the last episode.

  14. Roger says:

    Finished; great. If I’d been responsible for this I’e be more than pleased with myself.

    Roger

    http://bloggershepherd.blogspot.com/2006/10/end-of-claybourne.html

  15. Niall Mor says:

    Thanks for explaining that this was only Season One of Clayborne. I was shouting, “No, no, no, it can’t end like this!” as ep. #96 came to an end. I knew there had to be more to the story. I never expected that the taniwha would be revealed to be an extra-dimensional being. I thought perhaps he was another artificial intelligence created by Delilah.

    I quite like the idea of Clive Moody going mad and chucking all his gadgets out on his front lawn. I also like the idea of Frank and Philip blowing themselves to bits to defeat the taniwha and thereby finding redemption. Of course Maoriworld should never be built! The last thing the world needs is another stupid theme park, particularly an exploitative one. Your plans for Karen, however, were positively perverse! To wit:

    –Thompson and Karen never end up together

    –Most likely [Karen] was nabbed for passing counterfeit bills

    –I know we wanted to subvert the lovers’ happy ending at all costs

    –Thompson takes her one phone call but dismisses it as another fraudulent Delilah trick. It was going to be cruel, surprising and very, very final. We just thought it was funny at the time and that seemed a good enough reason.

    That’s sick! Call me an old-fashioned romantic, a sentimentalist if you must, but I would have been infuriated by such an ending. This would have been cruel and unusual punishment, not only for the fans but for the characters as well. You’ve been telegraphing the romantic chemistry since the first frickin’ episode! These characters have been kidnapped, shot at, and buried in concrete up to their necks, and they’re NOT going to get together? Aw, c’mon! That’s not transgressive, just twisted.

    You also contemplated killing off Mike? What’s with you? Is it somehow considered more “artistic” or “cutting edge” these days to screw over the most sympathetic characters and leave the jerks in charge–or dead? Sigh. I guess I’ll never be a postmodernist.

  16. Delysid says:

    Interesting to read about the background supernatural and conspiracy context of the whole story. As to the prospective plotlines, some I like, some I not sure of, but the big question is how firmly set were they?

    In the process of actually writing and producing the 2nd season, how much might story arcs and character relationships have changed from the red-wine-fuelled brainstorming recorded in in your blog?

    By the way, if you or others ever do assemble a team and complete that lost 2nd Season, one interesting possibility for a 3rd Claybourne “season” would be a prequel set a generation earlier that could expand on the fascinating hints about past events we get in Season One.

    It would be the late 60′s or early 70′s, and Mata, Edith, Sadie, Frank, Madeleine, and Mike’s parents would be young adults, while Queenie and her generation would be just into early middle age.

    In addition to a ready-made cast of familiar characters, Season One also provides several juicy plot details to explore in a prequel, such as Frank’s war trauma and addiction; Madeleine’s life and death; the past close relationship between Frank and Mata; Mike’s parents’ story and death; Queenie’s past dealings with the supernatural world and the whole back story of the parent-killing curse; espionage and conspiracy courtesy of American black ops and cold war politics as the shady Koestler Corp. first establishes their station on sacred Maori ground; and so much more.

    Just an idea.

  17. Dubber says:

    That’s a superb idea — and not one that had ever occurred to any of us.

    It seems unlikely, so far down the track, that it’ll get written by the original team, as the four of us (me, Belinda, Willie and Jim) are spread across 3 different continents these days, and working on very different stuff. However, never say never, as Claybourne will always be close to our hearts, and it was such a great team to be part of.

    Those brainstormed endings were just that. As you might expect, these sorts of things change in the writing and for all sorts of reasons.

    In all honesty, it could probably have ended up anywhere.

    One day, I’d like to revisit these characters. Perhaps in some other medium. I could happily write Mata, Mike, Frank, Karen and Thompson all day long. So much to work with there — and mostly because of what the actors breathed into the roles.

    Every time I get a comment about Claybourne, I go look at my Someday/Maybe list and bump it up a notch.

  18. matt says:

    I just finished it and I loved it. I am facinated to know who the cast were and if any of them have other work I can look for?

  19. Gaurav Sharma says:

    I am very sad that the series may have ended forever. It is the best audio I have ever listened to. Wish it could go on forever…

  20. Sound City says:

    Just finished Claybourne – it was a really great series – i’ve been referring to it as: “Northern Exposure meets Twin Peaks with some native Zeal to spice up the mix.”

    I must say my many thanks that this was given a new life again as a podcast, i was totally thrilled to stumble upon it, and also thrilled that it was tied up (if loosely) in the blog – glad to have a glimpse at the second half of the story arc. (Thank You Andrew!)

    In closing, thanks to the New Zealand broadcasting fee that made this program available.

  21. Brad says:

    Thanks for posting this. We were just discussing the show over here: http://audiodramatalk.com/showthread.php?t=1746

  22. Fred Finizzi says:

    if it does come back I would like to see or hear longer episodes. The intro and ending music is just wayyyyyyyyyyy to long.3 minutes of the actual show and 3 minutes of nothing music was insane. The music itself was awesome but maddening to hear 3 minutes of it on a 6 minute episode.

    Other than that I loved the show! It was the first full cast audio drama for me and have been on a quest or more like an obsession to find more. I have listened to just about all of them. Even the bad ones. The absolute top ones for me and this is in no particular order but they all are leaps and bounds over anything available(or what I could find)so far and they are : The Byron Chronicles, the leviathan chronicles, we’re alive, edict zero, 3 auio dramas on 19 nocturnal blvd, The Cleansed, Star trek out post, star trek excelsior, The Line(Pendant Audio), HG world (3 different but related audio dramas, Fetidus, and that is all I can remember but these are the best and some of these are perfection as far as audio quality and complexity and some of these are not. Some have a complete cast of amazing actors some have a couple that were not good but the show was so amazing in other areas that it was no big deal. The plots were all good to amazingly awesome but they ALL left me with wanting the show to go on forever and most of them are.

  23. Luke says:

    I just marathoned Claybourne. What a great audio drama! I found it on the Old Time Radio subreddit. I listen to a lot of OTR and audio drama podcasts and this is one of the best I’ve come across.

    It’s a real shame it got Firefly’d, but the fact that you’ve released this information is amazing. It’s always awful when you get into something you really love, it gets axed, and you never get closure on it.

    That said, I’m going to pretend Karen and Thompson wind up together.

    Thanks!

  24. dubber says:

    Love it when someone else goes through that journey. Glad you enjoyed it. :)

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