Follow TV Tropes


Radio / Nebulous

Go To

And so in conclusion there is only one thing of which we can be absolutely certain: the spaceship was already blowing up when I got there.

Imagine Doctor Who starring an underfunded Obstructive Bureaucrat, and you have Nebulous: a BBC Radio 4 After the End comedy series which parodies much of British Science Fiction, in particular Quatermass and the aforementioned Doctor Who. Nebulous follows the adventures of Professor Nebulous, leader of K.E.N.T.: the Key Environmental Non-judgemental Taskforce, which just happens to be based in a London launderette. K.E.N.T. is tasked with picking up the pieces after an environmental disaster known as "The Withering": a Cosy Catastrophe that has led to the extinction of most knowledge, vegetarians, daffodils, tarts and white dog-doings. The series exists almost solely to subvert Speculative Fiction Tropes, and many episodes are Affectionate Parodies of other shows.

This show provides examples of:

  • Air-Vent Passageway: Used by Nebulous and Paula in the pilot episode to escape the room they have been locked in by the vegetarian colonists.
  • Aliens Never Invented the Wheel: Or rather, Parallel Universes Never Invented the Fluff Filter for a Zanussi 370 tumble dryer.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Nebulous is watching his Old Flame Dr. Erica Flazenby fly away in a helicopter when he makes this comment to Paula:
    Nebulous: She's beautiful, she's smart, and she's perfectly proportioned. You know, Paula, I think there's a part of me that will always love black helicopters.
  • BBC Quarry: Referenced a couple of times. When Harry and Paula are thrown back through to time to the era of the dinosaurs, Paula states that she isn't so sure they are in the past, as it looks like a modern-day quarry.
    Nebulous: The Withered Zone itself poses no threat, sir. It is merely a sterile wasteland. To the untrained eye, it might as well be a quarry.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Nebulous is the head of a government department so underfunded it has its grand total of 4 employees running a laundry service to keep it afloat, and their scientific equipment is largely outdated and prone to breaking. Much to Professor Nebulous's annoyance, their superiors in the government seem more inclined to buy equipment for the laundry than for eco-troubleshooting operations.
  • Big Word Shout: Harry loves these and has probably done just about every sub-trope, too.
    Guy: Excuse me, would you like to sign up for the University Dramatics Society?
  • Black Helicopter: L.O.U.G.H.B.O.R.O.U.G.H. maintain a fleet of them, which is one of the reasons Rory considers joining. Nebulous loves them too.
  • Body Horror: While it is left ambiguous exactly how much of Harry's original body is left after the original accident, it clearly isn't a pleasant physical appearance for any of the concerned parties.
    Nebulous: How dare you talk to Harry like that? He may look like an overcooked Christmas pudding in a Bath chair, but he is easily your equal.
  • Brown Note: The new colour "Garrow" causes all who look at it to go crazy and begin eating dogs
  • Butt-Monkey: Although Professor Nebulous has prevented potential invasions and neutralized major threats (accidentally or intentionally), elsewhere, he can't catch a break. No one will ever forget his destruction of the Isle of Wight, and he is constantly reminded that he will NEVER live it down. This is why his fortunes are often extremely low, he's frequently obstructed from attaining better resources, and his department is given a shoestring (no, aglet) budget.
    • When Professor Nebulous encounters an alternate dimension version of himself, he discovers that the alternate Professor had also destroyed the Isle of Wight, but he became phenomenally popular and esteemed because of it. That has to be a blow to the ego.
  • The Cameo: Peter Davison as Professor Diplodocus. Kate O'Mara (who played the Rani) as the Lindaviduals. David Tennant as Mad Scientist Dr. Beep.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Rory claims to be the team's ladies' man. There is absolutely no evidence for this. When he asks GEMINI to tell him his future sexual history, it apparently consists of six years of nothing, capped off with one "disappointing weekend".
  • Cataclysm Backstory: The Withering apparently occurred many years ago, but within the characters lifetimes (Rory and Paula mention having both lost their fathers to the Withering), but appears to have caused mass amnesia - Nebulous is ecstatic at the opportunity to discover what life was like before the Withering, and the knowledge of how to make fire was temporarily lost.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Sir Ronald Rowland: "I'd like to do what I can, but I'm afraid I can't."
    • Rory: "Bollocks ... Sir."
    • Nebulous: "I'm drifting."
    • General catch phrase: "K.E.N.T. can do."
  • Chaste Hero: Nebulous remains oblivious to his assistant Paula's obvious and blatant attraction to him. In fact she is somewhat beyond blatant, frequently disrobing, placing his hand on her and molesting him while unconscious.
  • Chalk Outline: Paula attempts to draw one, makes one of the legs too long, and 'just makes the other one longer to match'.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Dr. Donald McQuasar's Coincidence Machine is supposed to detect these, but instead causes them. If it isn't stopped, within a week every occurrence everywhere will be coincidentally linked to every other occurrence everywhere.
  • Creator Provincialism: Parodied, when one of the villains claims that there are so many alien invasions of the UK "for tax reasons".
  • Detonation Moon: Ultimately averted as the plan is abandoned, but the government does plan to blow up the Moon, citing the benefits to moths and the nightlight industry.
  • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: Oh, Harry. One especially clear moment is when he goes into the future to a time when there are no humans, just body parts with mouths. They are all very happy with their situations, but consider him the most perfect human being they have ever seen, and they even worship him. Harry is completely unable to deal with this and when he returns to the present informs Paula that the lesson he learned was that 'the secret to true happiness is having a completely perfect body'.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: Nebulous isn't saying that a coinci-clasm will be deadly; but they are lethal, and they can kill.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Nebulous is staunchly against the use of violence, and was appalled when the military began using his 'baser' invention as a weapon.
    Nebulous: Weapons are the last resort of the unarmed man.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Professor Nebulous's first name is Boffo.
  • Evil Cripple: Harry is a played with variation in that he's not particularly evil - he does betray Nebulous to try and cook the world with a miniature sun at one point, but is really just bitter and annoying.
  • Evil Twin: One episode introduced Nebulous's evil twin brother, Professor Spiffo Nebulous, who looks almost exactly like the Nebulous we know except that he's fatter and lost both thumbs in a "freak Game Boy accident".
  • Expy: The Worserons at the end of "The Lovely Invasion" are described as 'an amphibious race that used to walk the Earth at the time of the dinosaurs, roused from centuries of hibernation by mining work in East Anglia', a description extremely similar to that of the Silurians in Doctor Who.
  • Fiction 500: Jack Winslow, CEO of GlobalCorp, is so rich he could buy his own body weight in diamonds. Every hour on the hour. For a whole week. Every year, for the rest of his life. As a treat.
  • Flashback... Back... Back...: Nebulous has frequent flashbacks to his childhood, triggered by variants of the word "Clown".
  • For Science!: Nebulous has shown a lack of foresight regarding some of his inventions.
    Nebulous: You're looking at the man who invented basers, as a recycling tool for cutting up scrap metal. The baser: a hyper-caustic acid beam housed in a handy gun shaped dispenser. How could I have possibly known that the military would turn it into a weapon?
  • Fun with Acronyms: K.E.N.T.'s biggest rival is L.O.U.G.H.B.O.R.O.U.G.H. - the Legitimate Organisation Undertaking General Humanitarian Business Operations Requiring Optimum Unconditional Global Harmony. Apparently, people from K.E.N.T. have always hated people from L.O.U.G.H.B.O.R.O.U.G.H..
    • For our non-british readers: L.O.U.G.H.B.O.R.O.U.G.H is supposed to be said 'Luffburrah' the same as the English town of the same name. Paula thinks you say it as it's written - Loogahboroogah.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: Parodied, as no-one has any issues with cannibalism, but the idea of eating soya-based Soylent Beige makes people retch in horror.
    • A colony of rogue vegetarians is treated with absolute scorn by the main cast:
    Rory: Why wouldn't you eat meat ? Meat's lovely.
  • Future Imperfect: Good Bod, yes. A lot of knowledge was lost in the Withering: how to make vacuum cleaners & fire ("though thankfully, that last one came back pretty quickly"); people remember great scholars of the past - Da Vinci, Galileo, Barney the Dinosaur; "What exactly was the Guinness Book of Freckles?"; Paula wishes to meet famous historical figures Napoleon Brandy and Broccoli Spears; and modern theologians believe there to have been four true deities - the evil twins Yin & Yang, Feng Shui the Destroyer, and of course, Merciful Bod.
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople): The Withering means that the Empire of Luxembourg is now a superpower, while The Midlands is now an exotic sounding old name for The Withered Zone.
  • Just Between You and Me: Wonderfully parodied in the final episode of Season 1, where Nebulous is held at gunpoint by his arch-nemesis.
    Nebulous: Surely you're going to outline your brilliant plan?
    Dr. Klench: Why should I? The information's no use to you.
    Nebulous: To...satisfy my curiosity?
    Dr. Klench: It's irrelevant. Any minute now you're going to be a dead body.
    • Ultimately Klench yields, but won't give him a justification.
  • Kids Are Cruel: "Nobulous".
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Paula and Rory agree to never mention their drunken kiss. Rory goes as far as having his memory wiped and his lips replaced.
  • Lost Technology: Parodied, since the lost technologies include the vacuum cleaner and fire (although luckily, that one came back pretty quickly).
  • Meat Versus Veggies: Taken to extremes, parodying the fact that there were more than a couple of Doctor Who stories promoting vegetarianism obsessively.
  • Mercy Kill: Harry at one point begs Nebulous for this. Nebulous does not provide.
    Harry: No! [*gack*] Please [*gack*] - kill me!
    Nebulous: [cheerfully] That's not you talking, Harry - that's the sheer agony talking!
  • Missing Episode: Parodied in the liner notes for the first series, which claims that there were at least 11 series of Nebulous, but almost all the episodes were lost. Many of the examples given are spoofs of famous Doctor Who episodes - many of which are themselves missing.
  • Metaphorgotten: a Running Gag is that Professor Nebulous frequently takes metaphors too far until they break:
    Nebulous: These people have had their brains washed, rinsed, conditioned, and then put through some kind of mangle, then ironed, and folded, and then put in some kind of airing cupboard: an airing cupboard of the mind - I'm drifting.
  • Monster Clown: Sort of: Nebulous has terrifying (to him) flashbacks about being a clown. Both his parents were clowns, and being clowns was the family business. He bucked the trend by becoming an underpaid scientist, which his parents refused to accept.
  • My Greatest Failure: Nebulous blew up the Isle of Wight while trying to move it to the left a bit. It ruined his career, his subsequent attempt to avert the disaster failed, and nobody lets him forget it.
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: Apparently, it's perfectly fine for you to meet your child self in the past, as long as you are not formally introduced.
  • No Endor Holocaust: Spoofed in "The Deptford Wives" when Nebulous decides to blow up the whole island with a nuclear device, killing Professor Diplodocus to save the world. Paula and Rory dedicate the final scene to casually speculating that the infrastructure of the island meant it must have had at least five hundred innocent employees who were just doing their jobs who surely also must have been killed, to which Nebulous insists that it was only the professor and there was minimal loss of life.
  • No Indoor Voice: Harry is fitted with a voice synthesiser which is constantly too loud, even on its quietest setting.
  • Oh, My Bod!: As part of the Future Imperfect causing most knowledge of all religion to be lost, all character swear by Bod, rather than God.
  • Once an Episode: Every single episode contains an instance of someone saying "clown" to send Nebulous spiralling into a flashback to his traumatic clown childhood, no matter how contrived. On one occasion, Nebulous' boss says "clown", then corrects himself to "crowd"; on another occasion, Nebulous misheard someone saying "cloud"; on yet another another occasion, Nebulous himself says it and immediately passes out.
  • Parody Episode: Many episodes are fairly close parodies of classic sci-fi series.
  • Perky Female Minion: The aptly-named Paula Breeze, who takes perkiness to the point of mental illness.
  • Robo Speak: Parodied a couple of times:
    • Harry has a robotic voice synthesiser that he constantly has turned up far too loud (while the electronic treatment is different, the line delivery is reminiscent of the Daleks from Doctor Who). Everyone around him finds this extremely irritating but feels bad complaining due to his extensive disabilities that force him to use an artificial voice in the first place.
    • Dr Klench in "The Man Who Polished The Sun" has a Robot Me "mandroid" plant in a maximum security prism. He speaks with an obvious electronic effect on his voice but everyone is fooled by it.
  • Series Continuity Error: In the first series, Nebulous is stated in conver with his mentor Dr. Donald McQuasar to have graduated in the class of 2069. However, in the third series, Nebulous' accidental destruction of the Isle of Wight is stated to have taken place in that year, while Nebulous' is stated to have already been an established and respected scientist at the time.
  • Shout-Out: Aplenty, largely to Doctor Who and other British sci-fi:
    • While The Doctor is known as "The Oncoming Storm", Nebulous is merely "The Oncoming Drizzle". The episode which refers to this coincidentally features David Tennant as the special guest villain.
    • "The Buzzing" has an insect revolution-fixated Mad Scientist named Taron who has a delusional belief that he is somehow an insect (referencing Taren, a robot revolution-fixated Mad Scientist from the Doctor Who story "The Robots of Death" who has a delusional belief that he is somehow a robot). The same episode offhandedly mentions the head of the UN having the first name "Mavic" (referencing President Evil Who villain Mavic Chen from "The Daleks' Master Plan").
    • Nebulous has a 'sonic crowbar'. He uses it exclusively as a blunt instrument. He also has several sonic screws.
    • In "The Girl with the Liquid Face", Nebulous orders the launch of the K.E.N.T. submarine 'Blingray', whose launch is ordered in a manner similar to the introduction of Stingray.
  • Sick Episode: Third series episode "Us and Phlegm". Rory, Paula, Harry and ninety-nine percent of the nation's workforce come down with every serious illness in the world, one after another. Eventually Nebulous discovers that aliens were behind it.
  • Space Cold War: Earth was involved in one with Venus, but the two planets are on friendly trading terms by the time of the series.
  • Take Our Word for It: Due to audio drama being what it is, the hints of what exactly the hideously mutilated Harry must look like and which parts of his body may still exist get more and more outrageous. Such is the nature of his appearance that the animated pilot only ever showed his scanners looking out rather than any character looking at him. The only thing he definitely still has is an inner ear. That is now an outer ear. On his neck, which he has lost. Over the course of the series, Harry has stated that he has lost his:
    • Hands (he initially claimed to retain one but more recently stated that he only has a mechanical grabber)
    • Fingers
    • Toes (all ten, which he now keeps in a jar)
    • Legs
    • Feet
    • Upper lip (although he retains the lower one)
    • Chin
    • Mouth
    • Nose
    • Brain (replaced with a chip, that apparently causes him headaches)
    • Head (although Nebulous notes that Harry retains most of his head)
    • Neck
    • Torso
    • Back (although he does have a hunch)
    • Arse (he mentioned that he has rented one from an unidentified source)
    • Spleen
    • Heart
    • Eyes (with his optical scanners processing the information and presenting it as a pie chart for some reason)
    • Teeth
    • Eyeteeth
    • Feelings
    • Nerves
  • Take That!: "I suppose now you've become sentient, you'll want to move out of Edgeware."
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Sir Ronald Rowlands has left a note informing the monk taking care of him during spell of Axe-Crazy that he has chosen to escape:
    Rowlands' note: I want to live - live! - so that others might die.
    Monk Ninety-Nine:What do you mean by that?
    Rowlands' note: I'm not entering into a discourse! I'm a letter!
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Rory's ideal woman is genetically modified twins.
  • Unified Naming System: K.E.N.T. and L.O.U.G.H.B.O.R.O.U.G.H. are both named after British universities.
  • Whole-Plot Reference:
  • World War Whatever: By 2099, the world is up to the Tenth World War 2: Jamaica Strikes Back.