The Destructive Quality of Life was the fourth and final story of the audio anthology Charlotte Pollard: Series Two. It was written by Nicholas Briggs and featured India Fisher as Charlotte Pollard, James Joyce as Robert Buchan and Dan Starkey as Bertram.

Publisher's summary[]

Marooned on an alien world, a 'concentration camp' in Slough, messaging through space and time.


Charley, Robert and Bertram find themselves tied upside down in sticky tapes not unlike a spider web at a high altitude above an alien world. Bertram's body is changing and he explains that he accessed the Prolixity to transport them to safety, but does not know where they have arrived beyond that it is most likely somewhere that they are meant to be. His face changes and he grows appendages, making him look like some sort of giant insect. Shortly after, aliens looking like Bertram's new form arrive and Charley passes out.

Charley is woken up by the sound of her own voice calling at her. She and Robert have been cocooned and argue about their situation, Charley believing that Bertram will be able to save them and Robert being more pessimistic. A giant insect, which Charley hopes is Bertram, approaches them and tears into Robert's cocoon. Another arrives and does the same to Charley's as she screams. The insects carry them through the webs, heading downwards.

Woking informs the Prime Minister that he failed in his mission, Sergeant Hunter and his men being wiped out and the Identical Men only giving up after Charley, Robert and Bertram disappeared. The two hear a strange noise, followed by Bertram appearing and telling them that he has returned.

Charley and Robert are brought before thousands of insects and Charley believes that she can spot Bertram. A sound rings out which Charley tells Robert not to liken to a dinner gong. However, he does not know what one is.

Bertram explains to Woking and the Prime Minister how he has managed to use the Prolixity and tells them that Charley and Robert are dead, something that he seems entirely unconcerned about. He asks if society has changed much since he left and is told that the death toll has risen to one million. He also mentions that he believes that the Machine has left.

Charley and Robert see a crowd of humanoid species walk in, talking to one another and looking unclean, unhealthy and unhappy. The crowd approach the two of them.

Having been evacuated from London, Naomi and Rab are taken to a refugee camp in Slough which Rab calls a concentration camp. Naomi heads to the women's hut, telling Rab that she has no plan to escape with him, but stops when he receives a message on his laptop from Charley. The message, purporting to be the continuing memoirs of an Edwardian adventuress, is a general warning that one can never be sure of anything, particularly history.

Bertram says that it would be unwise of him to tell Woking and the Prime Minister more about the Machine as he is not entirely sure about it. The Prime Minister insists that he does, telling him that NATO are insisting that London be bombed. Bertram says that this would be pointless as the Machine is no longer affecting new people, simply allowing those affected to spread across the world.

A spaceship lands near Charley and Robert and Viyrans disembark, looking old, primitive and grimy.

Naomi and Rab think about Charley's message, which Rab sees as a ticket out of the camp. He sends a message to Woking and then, at Naomi's insistence, a response to Charley.

Charley starts talking to the Viyrans, telling them of her history with them, but one hits her before they arm themselves with what seem to be guns. Meanwhile, Naomi and Rab are locked away by a guard and Rab's laptop is taken away. Charley and Robert return to consciousness, having been shot but showing no signs of harm whilst many of the humanoids are dead. The survivors look healthier than they did before and Charley deduces that it was a cull.

Naomi and Rab are reunited with Bertram, who removes the hoods that were placed over them. Woking tells the Prime Minister that Rab's laptop has been looked over and confirms that Rab received a message from Charley. As Woking wants to speak to them, the Prime Minister tells him to bring Naomi, Rab and Bertram.

Charley writes a message explaining where she was and what happened to the sick humanoids and her suspicion that she and Robert were to be used for slave labour. She was proven right and they were all put into a lift which sent them down to the surface of the planet at a high speed.

Reading her message, Rab and the group are confused. Bertram explains that he arrived on that planet with Charley and Robert long before life began on Earth, but fell into the Prolixity and felt time pass. He was, however, unable to explain how Rab's laptop was connected to the Prolixity. He believes that his time travel was for a reason and wondered if Charley had changed history, hence asking the humans if anything had changed. He believes that the death rate on Earth will return to normal levels in the future and asks Rab to send a message to Charley, asking who she wishes to speak to.

Another message from Charley arrives, sent from about ten years after her arrival on the planet, saying that she, Robert and the other humanoids were split into work parties upon reaching the surface. They were given diving masks and air tanks and made to dive deep into the sea to harvest a sort of orange coral. After almost ten years, she and Robert had picked up some of the humanoids' language and had survived a number of culls in which the least fit are killed. She says that she and Robert grew to understand each other.

A third message arrives from Charley in answer to the first that Rab sent. In it, Charley says that she thinks she can remember Rab and that she did not die in the early 20th century, although sometimes she wishes that she had. She knows, however, that this would have meant that she would have missed out on all of her adventures. After sending this, a Viyran tells her that the Prolixity's time differential has stabilised and that the Prolixity may be a lifeform.

Charley receives a message from Rab asking whose attention she is trying to get. When the Viyran tells her to tell the truth, she responds saying that she wants to speak with Bertram as he is with her now, confusing Rab and the group. Their Bertram seems to freeze before saying that he believes he knows what must be done before disappearing.

Bertram ruffles himself back into a Viyran and tells Charley and Robert that they are on Gelrasi and that the Viyrans there are from the distant past. He tells them that he has not come to save them and that he does not wish to be known by the name "Bertram". He asks Charley to send a message to ensure that he arrives in the past from the future, which Charley says is a temporal paradox. She and Robert ask what he has been doing in the meantime.

The Viyran formerly known as Bertram tells them that he was in the spaceship that landed on Gelrasi and that his form changed to that of a Proto-Viyran, causing their purpose to grow within him and make him see that life had to be protected from itself. He does not accept that he is friends with Charley and Robert and says that the culling of species is necessary to avoid overpopulation. When Charley and Robert beg to know, the Rogue Viyran tells them that the coral they have been harvesting is used to create machines such as that in the London Underground which minimise the destructive qualities of life.

The Prime Minister is on the telephone with the President and sorrowfully says that she will indeed bomb London.

The Rogue Viyran says that he believes the Prolixity took him to 21st century London to encounter the Machine in the Underground and to learn the true mission of the Proto-Viyrans. He is now aware of four other Machines having been sent to Earth in its history, some before Charley but most between her and Robert's times.

The Prime Minister gives authorisation for the bombing of Central London, which goes ahead.

The Rogue Viyran tells Charley and Robert that he will have to kill them to avoid their knowledge of the future being used against the Proto-Viyrans. They hold hands as he raises his gun to kill them, but they hear a sound as he fires and Charley shouts that it is the Prolixity. She finds herself alone and shouts if anybody is there, but receives no answer.



  • Charley says that the room that she and Robert were taken to by the Gelrasians is bigger than the Albert Hall.
  • Robert does not known what a dinner gong is.
  • NATO are insisting on military options.


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