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.
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.