Pissed-off Toff

Quiz 3: The Serpent … and Boris

in And for a Laugh...

In this third edition of his quiz series, Pissed-off Toff poses a question concerning the plot of The Serpent (£20 reward by post for the best and briefest answer) … and expresses, once more, his undying loathing of the Johnson criminal.

One year after every civil liberty – including the freedom to see our friends and to earn a living – was suspended by the Johnson clown and his band of fanatics, it must be clear to all thinking people that we now live in a Police state. 

So intense is my loathing of those who have brought this about, all because of a relatively trivial virus, that I fear for my sanity. When not consumed by anger, I take refuge in just a few things: my friends; the grand piano; drink; and memories of a pre-Johnson, pre-totalitarian past. These memories come mainly in the form of the television. Thus the present quiz.

Before I proceed, let me say it outright. Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson is no better than a war criminal. He knows, of course, that the whole ‘lockdown’ fiasco was the worst mistake made by any politician in the history of these isles. But rather than admit it, he would continue on his disastrous course and would destroy the whole country. For this, he deserves everlasting opprobrium.

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Dear oh me! This was meant to be a light-hearted piece … a quiz with a £20 cash prize, to be sent to the winner in a nice envelope with a First Class stamp affixed. Let us then forget the Johnson clown, if we can … as I say: criminal, degenerate, utterly amoral … let us try to forget this blubbery-lipped figure with his nasty, beady, close-set eyes … this shifty carpet-seller from some cockroach-infested Turkish souk … this spawn of a wife-beating cad … this pauper ‘tug’ … let us try to forget ‘Boris’ Johnson, if we can, and let us turn our attention to the quiz in question.


The Serpent, that addictive BBC-Netflix co-production which enthralled a nation addicted to the television even before we were all imprisoned in our own homes, has a complicated structure. In terms of its narrative, it consists of two parallel stories, both told via a constant series of flash-backs and fast-forwards, with subtitles attached … and each subtitle saying, for example: ‘9 months later’ or ‘3 months previously’, or ‘March 1976’ or ‘4 years later, Delhi, India’. The two parallel stories are: the crimes committed by the murderous Charles Sobhraj; and the ultimately successful attempt of the Dutch official Herman Knippenberg to bring him to justice.

Not only do we have these parallel narratives, but there are constant changes of locations: Thailand, Nepal, France, India, Kashmir, Pakistan. So complicated is the whole affair, that one sometimes wonders whether the scriptwriter himself – or his various editors and production people – lost track of the story, with its endless back-and-forth, time-wise, and with its endless changes of scene all across the world.

Furthermore, although changes of time and location are, on the whole, signalled with appropriate subtitles, the producers often forget to provide them, especially towards the end of the series. Perhaps they, too, were muddled. Just as we are. And then even when they do provide the subtitles to guide the attentive viewer through the narrative labyrinth of this series, they sometimes get it wrong. 

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Here is an example.

At the beginning of episode 3, we see a young Frenchman called Dominique leaving Paris to get a bit of life-experience in Australia. The subtitle reads ‘Paris, November 1973’ (sic). We then see him meeting Charles Sobhraj in Chang Mai: ‘two years later’ (sic), the subtitle says. According to the indications provided, this encounter therefore takes place in November 1975. Sobhraj drugs Dominique and takes him back to Bangkok, where, it seems, he intends to use him as a house-boy.

However, from the captions at the end of episode 1, it is made clear that Sobhraj’s first murder victim in Thailand (a girl from San Francisco named Theresa) was killed in mid-October 1975. We know this because it is specifically stated, in the same episode, that she was killed two months before the murder of a Dutch couple … which in turn took place on 16 December 1975; this latter date being provided in episode 3.

Also in episode 3, and elsewhere, it is made clear that the poor Dominique was taken to Bangkok well before Theresa was murdered, and that he met her there, and that she wanted to sleep with him. So on the one hand, and according to quite specific time-and-place captions, we have Dominique being taken to Bangkok in November 1975, some time after Theresa was murdered. And on the other hand, we have him already installed there in – say – September; and well in time to flirt with Theresa on the night she was murdered in mid-October.

I’ve looked into the time-line aspect of this series in enough detail to write a thesis. And it just doesn’t make sense. Not only are the time-and-place captions often missing, especially in the later episodes … not only this, but when we do have them, they are often inaccurate. The suspicion arises that with all this complicated to-ing-and-fro-ing with two parallel stories over various continents and fifty-odd years, the producers quite literally lost the plot. 

So might there, in short, be one or two so-called ‘plot-holes’ in the story … that is to say: incidences when the story doesn’t add up; incidences in which the scriptwriter or producer has simply made a mistake?


My quiz question as follows.


Some time in mid-to-late 1975 (for the purpose of this quiz it does not matter precisely when), the young French traveller Dominique is abducted from Chang-Mai by the criminal Charles Sobhraj, and is taken to the latter’s flat in a condominium in Bangkok. He soon realises that Sobraj is a murderer; also that he is trapped; this because Sobhraj has taken his passport for ‘safekeeping’ and has replaced the photo on Dominique’s passport with his own, for his own criminal purposes; plus, the Thailand tourist visa on the passport has expired, so Dominique is now liable to arrest; or so Charles tells him. In short, Dominique is now a prisoner, and he fears for his life.

Shortly before Christmas 1975 – and about this date the series leaves us in no doubt – Charles Sobhraj, his lover ‘Monique’, and his evil accomplice Ajay leave for what Charles tells Dominique is a short break in Hong Kong. What is also made quite clear by numerous subtitles in a series of scenes is that the evil trio return from their travels in March 1976 … this despite the fact that Dominique had every reason to expect them to return a few days only after their departure in late-December 1975.

Fearing for his life, but helped by friendly French neighbours, Dominique makes his way to Bangkok airport on 20 December 1975, valid ticket and freshly doctored passport in hand. He is scared rigid. He expects Charles Sobhraj to return at any moment. He attributes almost superhuman powers to this perpetrator of evil.

And as poor Dominique is waiting in the departure lounge for his delayed flight to Paris … this is one of the best scenes in the whole series … as this protracted drama is played out, as he is itching to get onto the aeroplane that will take him to France and safety, Dominique turns round and sees Charles Sobhraj arriving back from Hong Kong … with his thick black hair, his droopy 1970s dark glasses, his buttock-clenching trousers, and his burgundy leather briefcase. Dominique almost faints in horror.

Question … a £20 note:

How is it, in plot terms, that the terrified Dominique, sitting in the departure lounge of Bangkok airport on 20 December 1975, sees Charles Sobhraj returning from Hong Kong, when all the plot-lines elsewhere in the story lead us to believe that Sobhraj left Bangkok on 18 December 1975 and did not return till early March 1976?

In short, is this a huge ‘plot-hole’ in a story that the scriptwriters have lost track of (just as they lose track of the time-and-place captions, all too often)? Or is there a rational explanation for what might appear to be a glaring anomaly?

Tip: You will find the relevant airport scene towards the end of episode 3.

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The alert for this little quiz goes out to my countless readers at 2pm on Thursday 8 April. So why don’t we say that the most concise answer to this question which reaches me a fortnight from that time, i.e. by 2pm on Thursday 22 April … let’s say that this answer will attract not only everlasting glory, but also a £20 cash prize, sent by First Class post in an envelope hand-made by Pissed-off Toff himself.

Otherwise: death to the tyrants. Death to ‘Boris’ Johnson, most despicable of Old Etonians. Death to his accomplice in crime Matt ‘the prat’ Hancock. Death to the unspeakable Gove weasel. And death to all the rest of them. May their crimes against our nation devour them; may their innards be consumed by worms; may they die squirming in agony, for the wanton destruction that they have brought upon us; and in which, I fear, we are all complicit.

But quiz-wise: buon divertimento!!!

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