Film and TV producer Philip Palmer is also the author of quirky, inventive sci-fi. Combining dark humour and playful prose with page-turning plots, he’s well versed in alien worlds. His latest book, Version 43 (Orbit), focuses on death, robots, a violent frontier world and a cyborg cop. July will see the release of Hell Ship, a pirates-in-space adventure. Philip Palmer has picked Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth as his Alter Ego. Eithne Farry
Aliens are usually nasty and ugly or boring. Ugly evil aliens include the Alien that Sigourney Weaver battled – a vast slimy vagina dentata creature. Or Predator, or the Klingons, or Jabba the Hut, or all the assorted bug-eyed monsters (BEMs) and reptilian giants and gross abominations who have snarled and slithered and lumbered on screen over the years.
Good aliens, however, tend to be, let’s face it, uncool. Spock is a great hero of a mine; but he’s a nerd. Mandy Patinkin as the cop in Alien Nation is less nerdy; but he’s ugly. Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still is utterly charismatic; but square.
So if I had a chance to be an alien from a movie, there’s only one choice for me; Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth (directed by Nicolas Roeg from a novel by Walter Tevis). Newton is an alien in humanoid guise, who is cool, beautiful and adorably eerie. The fact that he’s played by David Bowie – surely he was an alien? – adds to the allure of the character. Newton has no super-powers or ray guns; but he’s clever, and vulnerable. And impossibly slim; at one point, his girlfriend Mary-Lou angrily tells him, ‘You’re much too skinny!’ Newton falls to Earth in a one-person spaceship and turns into Steve Jobs – inventing a series of astonishing new gadgets that revolutionise the world and make him rich.
The scene in which Newton takes out his artificial eyes and wig and peels off his artificial nipples (ouch!) is hauntingly sensual; the ‘real’ Newton is spooky and monstrous, yet somehow captivating.
The film itself is flawed – oscillating randomly between pure Roeg genius and badly acted naff 70s excess. But Bowie is sublime as the most beautiful alien of all time.