Hollywood, 1947. Anyone can become a star, but it’s more likely that, like young Hannah Wyatt, they’ll just be used and discarded when another would-be starlet catches their producer’s eye. A man with a scar and a golden tooth finds Hannah crying in the rain, and gives her a vial of golden liquid which he claims can make all her dreams come true. The man exudes charisma and trust, and when Hannah drinks the liquid she feels it bonding with her, giving her the poise and confidence she’d lacked before. Soon she will be a star.
The Doctor and his friends have arrived in Hollywood, and while Ben and Polly tour the city, the Doctor looks up an old friend, movie producer Harold Reitman. Polly goes out to dinner with Leon Zane, a producer from MGA Studios who promises to make her a star -- but she storms out in disgust when she realises her audition will involve a casting couch. Meanwhile, the Doctor discovers that Reitman has been murdered, and visits police detective William Fletcher to find out how the investigation is proceeding. Fletcher doesn’t trust the Doctor, who seems entirely too guileless to be true. When Fletcher’s boss, Captain Charles Wallis, reports that fingerprints at Reitman’s estate have been matched to those of known drug dealer Robert Chate, Fletcher decides to let the Doctor accompany them on the bust, to find out how much he really knows. It’s going to be a personal arrest for Wallis, as Chate is his estranged adopted son.
Chate turned to drug-dealing after his split with his adopted father, whom he felt neglected him in favour of his young trophy wife. However, he’s recently learned that a starlet died of an overdose from the drugs he sold to her, and he wants out; the business has lost its glamour. His supplier, Martin Revere, gives him an opportunity to buy himself out; former star Maria Coleman owes 500 grand to one of Revere’s associates, but she recently vanished after signing a new contract with Star Light Pictures. Revere will release Chate from his obligations only if he gets the money or kills Maria. Chate once had a crush on Maria, and he’s devastated by the choice, but he has little option but to try tracking her down. He gets a lead from a hooker after buying her dinner at the Silent Gold restaurant, but before he can follow it up Wallis and the police arrive to arrest him. The Doctor tries to talk Chate into giving himself up, but when Wallis turns on the interfering Doctor, Chate shoots out the lights and flees. The police open fire, injuring and killing several bystanders -- including one who seems to bleed light from his body, rather than blood...
Fletcher believes that the Doctor knows more about the Reitman murder than he’s saying, and vows to make a name for himself by proving it. Ben and Polly meet the Doctor at the hospital, where they all meet film director Leonard de Sande -- a man with a scar on his cheek and a prominent golden tooth. De Sande thanks the Doctor for intervening at the restaurant and thus saving the life of his star Caleb Rochfort, who was wounded but is now recovering. De Sande is fascinated when the Doctor claims to have little interest in the movies, and thus offers him a ticket to a private showing of his new film, Dying in the Sun, to see how a sceptic will react to its power. The Doctor later sees de Sande and Wallis speaking privately, and notes that they’re both wearing purple flower pins. Elsewhere, Chate contacts Revere for help, but instead Revere tries to kill him, and Chate accidentally shoots him dead as they struggle. He takes Revere’s body to his own apartment and rigs a gas explosion which incinerates it; with luck, the people who are after him will believe he’s dead long enough for him to contact the one person who might be able to help him -- Maria Coleman.
The Doctor and his friends attend the private showing of Dying in the Sun at de Sande’s home, Sunset Mansion on Marina del Ray. The film tells the story of a man with no memory who can’t convince anyone that he sees demons killing innocent people; eventually, he stands up to the demons himself, and learns that he’s a murderer in Hell who was seeing the deaths of the people he had killed. By standing up to the demons, he achieves redemption and a second chance at life. When the film ends, all are moved by its power and the realism of its effects -- all but the Doctor, who found the storytelling mediocre and is disturbed by the effect it’s had on the audience. While visiting the restroom after the screening, Ben hears a strange noise and finds what appears to be a corpse in de Sande’s wardrobe, and when the corpse sits up and grabs at him, Ben flees to warn the Doctor. The Doctor returns with him to investigate, but they find that the “corpse” is apparently just a prop from an old zombie pic. Nevertheless, Ben is shaken by his experience, and thus helps the Doctor steal a reel of the film to examine later.
As the Doctor and his friends leave, they are contacted by Leon Zane, who is convinced that in order to get such exclusive passes the newcomers must work for Star Light Pictures. He thus tries to bribe them and then threaten them to tell him about Dying in the Sun; all of the studios fear the rumours which state that it’s going to be the biggest thing ever. The Doctor and his friends ditch Zane and return to their hotel, where the Doctor sets up a projector to examine the stolen reel -- and finds that the effects don’t seem nearly as realistic this time. Hell is obviously a studio set and the demons are obviously men in rubber suits -- but this is just as obviously the same footage which they saw before, and in 1947, it isn’t possible to alter a film to this extent in post-production.
The Doctor and Polly decide to question Caleb Rochfort in hospital; there, they meet Caleb’s brother, who tells them that Caleb has become more confident and better-looking since coming to Hollywood. The Doctor learns little from Caleb, who claims that the effects were created off-set. De Sande is a secretive director who was always accompanied on set by three tall, thin men in hooded robes, his “Quality Observation Group”. Caleb seems to grow unsettled when the Doctor presses him for more information, but when the Doctor leaves to fetch a nurse, Caleb gives Polly a gun and tells her to shoot the Doctor; Dying in the Sun must spread its message to as many people as possible, and the Doctor must be prevented from interfering. Polly is nearly swept away by Caleb’s charisma, but at the last moment she realises what she’s doing and turns the gun on Caleb instead. As Caleb dies, all that made him special seems to fade away, and the Doctor sees that his blood is glowing and trying to knit the wound back together. He takes a sample and flees with Polly, hoping that people will believe Caleb’s original bullet wounds re-opened. Polly knows that Caleb somehow influenced her to pull the trigger, but still blames herself for taking a life and vows that she’ll never succumb to that influence again.
Chate tracks down Maria Coleman in the Moon Beam, a dive where she goes to hide out from her “adoring” fans. For some reason she seems to trust Chate, and when he tells her what happened between him and Revere, and how she’s involved in it, she apparently decides to take him into her confidence. She shows him a glowing box which seems to whisper to him, promising to make his dreams come true; this is the power which will ensure she becomes a star once again. She takes him to her home and gives him a vial of glowing liquid, the same liquid which had coated the inside of the box; when he drinks it, it takes away his fears and insecurities, changing him into a star. Together, with the help of Star Light Pictures, they can bring this feeling to the world; everyone will know what it’s like to be a star.
The Doctor studies Hollywood trade papers, and finds that the town is fascinated by the stars of Dying in the Sun -- but why? What makes the film and its stars so special? Reitman was a producer for Star Light Pictures; could his murder somehow be related to whatever made Caleb Rochfort more than human? The Doctor investigates further, and learns that Reitman left his estate to the Friends of the Community of Los Angeles, or FOCAL -- and that the will was witnessed by Captain Wallis. The Doctor confronts Wallis, and accuses him of framing his own son for the murder in order to get rid of an embarrassment; however, he has no proof as yet of his suspicions.
Fletcher learns that he’s been busted down to traffic duty, and realises that Wallis blames him for Chate’s apparent death and is using him as a scapegoat to clear the LAPD of blame. He thus confronts the Doctor, who reveals that Wallis himself may be involved in the murder. Fletcher agrees to help the Doctor and Ben to break into the police forensics lab to examine the film in more detail and find out what makes it so important. The Doctor advises Polly to stay in the hotel, but she isn’t willing to stand idly by and decides to investigate another lead herself. The hooker from the Silent Gold restaurant had told Fletcher about the lead she’d given Chate, and Polly follows it to the Moon Beam, where she finds Chate and Maria. Despite her earlier vow, and despite the fact that she knows they both have the same “star quality” that had made Caleb what he was, she falls under their influence and becomes convinced that they really do have good intentions; when everyone in the world is a star, there will be no more want, poverty or need. Maria gives Polly more of the glowing liquid, and although Polly realises it’s the same substance which the Doctor found in Caleb’s blood, she drinks it anyway.
In the forensics laboratory, the Doctor discovers that another chemical has been added to the emulsion on the film -- and it’s moving, as though alive. It’s the same substance which had been added to Caleb’s blood, and Ben and Fletcher become entranced when they look at the film under the microscope. Fletcher has to go home to rest afterwards, as real life suddenly seems too tawdry to bear. Somehow, the life form on the film can manipulate people’s emotions and make their dreams appear to come true. The Doctor confronts Wallis again, and demands to be allowed to attend a FOCAL meeting; Wallis refuses, but that night the Doctor and Ben follow him to a meeting at a castle an hour’s drive away from the city. Wallis is furious when he learns he’s been followed, but de Sande decides to let the Doctor and Ben become Initiates; once they have bonded with the creatures, it will be easier to keep an eye on them.
De Sande thus introduces the Doctor and Ben to Brother Reinart, the head of the religious side of FOCAL. The Way of Light is not an actual religion, but a set of moral guidelines which help people to realise their full potential. Dying in the Sun is in effect a propaganda film to spread the Way of Light to the world. The evening is interrupted by the news that Revere’s body has been properly identified, and Revere’s wife, Rachel, accuses Wallis and de Sande of getting her husband killed. Ben speaks to her privately, and she reveals that she’d overheard her husband discussing the aftermath of a murder with the others; Chate had seen something he shouldn’t have, and while Wallis tried to save his son’s life by framing him for the murder, de Sande nevertheless ordered Revere to kill Chate to keep him silent. Ben tells the Doctor, who confronts Wallis; his shock at the news of Revere’s death suggests that he never really believed Chate could be a killer, which supports the Doctor’s belief that he framed Chate for Reitman’s murder, which in turn suggests that Wallis himself murdered Reitman so FOCAL would inherit his estate.
The Initiation begins, and the new members of FOCAL gather around as de Sande introduces them to his “representatives” -- walking corpses animated by the living chemical, who assure their followers that their vision will soon be shared by the world. Dying in the Sun is shown once again, and as the creatures on the film feed on the Initiates’ belief, the film appears even more emotionally involving and realistic than before. De Sande explains to the Doctor and Ben that he found the creatures frozen in the ice while filming in Alaska; they have no name of their own, so he called them Selyoids as a joke. Bonding with the Selyoids enhances a person’s potential, and others perceive the host as a star; in exchange, the Selyoids get to view life through others’ eyes rather than being trapped, immobile, in the ice. The corpses animated by the Selyoid essence are pure Selyoid, with no human thought patterns to contaminate them. When de Sande brings the Selyoids to the world, everyone will be famous, Wallis will finally rid the world of Communism, and everyone will live happily ever after.
De Sande tries to give the Selyoid drink to the Doctor and Ben, but the Doctor drops the vial and in the ensuing confusion he steals a strange focussing crystal which had been attached to the film projector. He and Ben flee steps ahead of the angry FOCAL Initiates, and return to the city, where they learn that one of de Sande’s rivals bombed his mansion, hoping to destroy all copies of Dying in the Sun before distribution. The attempt failed, but the Doctor now realises that he might have unexpected allies; he thus contacts Leon Zane again and enlists his help to prevent the film’s distribution. However, nobody will listen to their mad warnings that the film is a propaganda device which could brainwash the world. In desperation, they pay a visit to James Hensleigh, the head of distribution at Star Light Pictures, but the Doctor can’t convince him that the film is evil. Even when he convinces Hensleigh to watch the film himself, Hensleigh insists that it’s just a powerful story, and even Zane gives up after seeing the film, deciding that he doesn’t want to prevent such a great work of art from being shown to the public. Frustrated, the Doctor convinces Hensleigh to give him tickets to the premiere, claiming that he’ll change his tune once he’s seen it amongst believers -- though in fact he hopes to warn the public of the danger before they see the film.
Polly accompanies Maria and Chate to de Sande’s mansion, where she finds that the Selyoids in her body allow her to perceive the other stars’ emotions as clearly as if she can read their thoughts. She can feel the Selyoids’ group mind, and learns that they are creatures of pure energy who devoted their civilisation to art; when their world died, they converted themselves to physical form and travelled to Earth in search of creatures who would be receptive to their artistic legacy. De Sande apparently forgives Polly and Chate for Caleb’s and Revere’s deaths; the plan is still on track despite this setback. They all attend the premiere, where Polly snubs Ben when he tries to speak to her; she’s a star now, and is too important to speak to her former friends. The Doctor realises what’s happened to her, and tries to convince the others at the premiere that the “stars” they worship are no longer entirely human, but he’s laughed down and ignored as the people flood into the theatre for the premiere.
The Doctor retreats to the men’s room to recover from the humiliation, and when Ben follows to speak to him, they are attacked by a demon like the monsters from the film. Fletcher arrives just in time to gun it down, and exposure to bright light causes the weakened monster to fade away. The Doctor takes Ben and Fletcher back to his hotel room, where he places the stolen focussing crystal before the projector lens to see what will happen. The demons on the stolen film seem to emerge from the screen and fly about the room until the Doctor turns on the room’s lights, banishing them. He theorises that Selyoids draw power from their audience’s belief to amplify their existence within light waves; strong enough emotions can enable them to project themselves from the celluloid, but they remain vulnerable to bright light, which distracts the audience’s attention from the film. However, the demon at the premiere suggests that they are learning how to overcome this weakness; how long will it be before they can exist independently of their observers? And when this happens, will the world be overrun by demons?
The next day, Dying in the Sun is released to the public, and when the Doctor, Ben and Fletcher go downtown they find riots in the streets as people fight each other for their place in line. The Doctor realises that the billboards advertising the film are not still posters, but projections imbued with the Selyoid essence, and they’re urging people to watch the film and then go out into the hills. When the Doctor and his friends follow, they find the people lining up at Griffith Park, outside a canvas tent in which stars and the Selyoid corpses are handing out more of the Selyoid liquid, spreading the influence. The Doctor and Ben resist the lure, but Fletcher, who has never actually seen the film, is becoming desperate to find out what all the fuss is about, and is being lured by the Selyoids’ promises of fame.
Polly, Maria and Chate arrive at the Star Light private airplane hanger, where the hundreds of moviegoers summoned by the Selyoids mob them for autographs. Polly has never done anything to warrant this acclaim, but the Selyoids inside her make her feel special anyway. This feeling lasts only until they enter the hangar, where Maria reveals that she’s really in love with de Sande, not Chate; she only gave Chate over to the Selyoids because de Sande wanted revenge for Revere’s murder. De Sande reveals that Chate witnessed Reitman’s murder but blocked it from his memory because he didn’t want to believe that his father could do such a thing -- and that de Sande allowed Chate to take the Selyoids into himself just so he could now rob Chate of the glorious feeling they’d given him. The Selyoids withdraw from Chate, leaving him an emotional wreck, but Polly finally realises what she’s become and attacks de Sande, taking the gun from his hands before he can stop her. She and Chate flee to safety, but Polly can still feel the Selyoids within her, trying to draw her back -- and she knows that the other stars will be able to find her at any time through this connection.
De Sande is concerned by the implications of Polly’s rebellion; he thought the Selyoids would give him the respect he lacked as an ordinary hack director, but what if others resist bonding with them? Wallis, however, has set plans in motion to frighten people into accepting the new order of the Selyoids; on his orders, the LAPD arrives at Griffith Park to break up the crowd, but the angry moviegoers attack the cops and a riot breaks out. The corpses then operate film projectors which feed on the wild emotion of the mob, allowing the Selyoids on the film to take on three-dimensional form as images from famous movies; the belief of the crowd and the power of the focussing crystals makes them real, and the movie monsters attack the frightened cops. The Doctor can’t get past the corpses to the projectors, and he therefore confronts Wallis and steals his megaphone, shouting warnings to the crowd. At his urging they stop looking at the monsters, refusing to believe in them and thus robbing them of their power to harm. Wallis tries to shoot the Doctor, but Chate arrives and saves him; however, as they struggle, Wallis reveals that he set the fire which killed Chate’s biological parents, because Chate’s father was trying to blackmail him. He shoots Chate in the chest, but the wound glows with light; some of the Selyoids liked watching Chate’s life, and stayed inside him after all. Blinded, Wallis staggers back over a cliff, and falls to his death despite Chate’s attempt to save him.
The Selyoids inside Chate give up their lives to knit his wound together, saving him. Polly explains that the Selyoids do respect humanity; they just want to regain their original forms as beings of light and fire, and they need the corporeal human race to help them do so. The demon at the premiere was a failed prototype creation. The Doctor, however, insists that the Selyoid influence will turn humanity into slaves, and he, Ben and Fletcher go to confront de Sande. De Sande refuses to stop his work, but the Doctor realises that the corpse in the blue robe which stands closest to de Sande at all times must be the Selyoids’ leader. Fletcher can no longer resist the lure of the Selyoids, and he thus attacks the Selyoid director, smashes open the corpse’s skull and drinks the glowing blood within, taking the director’s essence into himself. The director thus becomes contaminated by Fletcher’s human emotions -- and finds that it likes them.
The other Selyoids begin to die from lack of guidance, but de Sande, accusing the director of treachery, offers up his own mind as a sacrifice; as the other stars collapse, de Sande passes around the room, taking the Selyoids from their bodies until his own contains enough Selyoids to overwhelm his own personality. As he flees, the former stars collapse, disoriented; they will eventually forget this night, remembering only the vague impression that they were once special. The Doctor and Ben follow de Sande to his private plane, but fail to prevent him from taking off; however, the Doctor steals a projector and uses its focussing crystal to cast movie images onto the plane. De Sande knows that they’re only illusions and orders the pilot to keep flying, but the pilot is distracted by the creatures which appear to be attacking him, loses control of the plane and crashes in the hills. The explosion kills de Sande and releases all of the Selyoids within his body; they rain down over Hollywood, seeding it with all of their hate, fear, love, and power. The Selyoid influence will be felt in the city for years to come.
Fletcher and the director leave the city, finally at peace; without their need for fame and control, they can start fresh elsewhere. With de Sande’s death, the assets of FOCAL, including Reitman’s estate, pass on to Wallis -- and as he’s dead as well, they pass on to his next of kin, Robert Chate. Chate vows to make amends for his past by turning FOCAL into a genuinely benevolent charity, to make life better for future generations; he doesn’t need to be famous to be immortal. All prints of Dying in the Sun are recalled, and when the Doctor views the film to be sure that the Selyoid influence is gone, he finds that it’s now just the mediocre picture it always was when the glamour was stripped away.
Source: Cameron Dixon