The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Sound Of Silence

Another short story from a Doctor Who charity anthology, this time The Silent City which was originally published as part of Missing Pieces back in 2001. The theme of the anthology was, as you might expect from the title, missing pieces, so I decided to write a 4-part William Hartnell story, where the last 3 parts are missing. Usual health warnings apply.

As the music dies away, we fade up from blackness and find ourselves overlooking a beautiful woodland. Or, at least, an image of one. It is high summer; the oaks are covered in a heavy layer of leaves, the grass is lush, and the sun is burning in a clear sky. The trees form a crescent around a grove at the rise of the hill, where a path leads past an unoccupied park bench. It is a perfect, tranquil scene, but nevertheless there is a sense of something eerie and extraordinary. Perhaps it is the silence. The scene is so still, and so quiet, it is like a wake.

The peace is broken by a distorted trumpeting. A small wooden building ghosts into existence in an unobtrusive corner of the glade, its battered paintwork half-hidden in the shadows. For some seconds, we cast our gaze over the panelling, rising up past the frosted windows to read the lettering above the double doors. ‘Police Public Call Box’.


The trumpeting halts with an abrupt crump, and we are returned to the sheer silence.


For a few more seconds, we watch the police box as it stands, expectant and mournful. And then the caption disappears and we fade back to darkness.

After a refreshing night’s sleep,a wash and a shave, Steven strolled into the console room, closing the door to the living quarters behind him. He stifled a yawn, and tugged the neck of his sweater into place, before stretching his arms to wake himself up.

The room was unusually gloomy, the roundels of the walls barely visible in the shadows. The only illumination came from within the glass column at the centre of the six-sided console, where the Doctor stood hunched over the controls, the light picking out his deeply lined forehead and pursed lips, his silvery hair swept back in an imperious curl. He tutted merrily to himself as he adjusted various levers and switches, oblivious to anything but the dials before him. Steven studied the Doctor’s reflection through the column; his features stretched and grew, changing the familiar, kindly-faced old man into something distorted and alien.

The central column lay at rest, indicating that the TARDIS had materialised. Steven rubbed his jaw, still tender to the touch. ‘Where are we this time, Doctor?’

Vicki, the Doctor’s other companion, put one finger to her lips and shushed him. She sat perched in the wing-backed armchair, her knees tucked up against her chest. She wore a formless grey jumper decorated with geometric designs and plain trousers. She gave Steven a confidential don’t-disturb-him smirk and nodded towards the Doctor.

‘I was only asking-’ said Steven.

‘The Doctor’s busy.’ Vicki raised her eyebrows reprovingly.

The Doctor gave a chuckle, and cleared his throat. He looked up from the controls. ‘Ah. Steven, my boy. Glad you could join us.’ He took a step back and clasped his hands together. ‘We have arrived, it would seem. Yes, we have arrived.’

‘But where?’ Steven joined the Doctor at the console, and Vicki clambered out of the chair and stood to one side.

‘We shall soon see,’ said the Doctor, twisting the scanner control. The television screen fixed high up the far wall flared into life.

The image on the screen sharpened from a blur of grey and black to reveal the leaves and branches of a woodland glade. As the scanner panned to the right, more trees and bushes moved into view in an leisurely procession. There were no signs of life; no birds, no forest animals. There was no movement at all.

‘It’s so peaceful,’ sighed Vicki dreamily.

‘It looks like we’re still on Earth,’ said Steven. ‘Doctor?’

‘It would appear to be so.’ The Doctor rubbed his fingers together. ‘Yes, yes. Certainly, all of the astral and atmospheric readings indicate that we are on the Earth.’ He smiled. ‘The ship seems to becoming rather fond of the place, hmm?’

‘Can we go outside?’ said Vicki, her eyes never leaving the screen. ‘Oh, can we?’

The Doctor patted her shoulder. ‘I don’t see why not, my dear.’

‘Are you sure it’s safe?’ said Steven warily. The Doctor had a habit of landing them in places that initially seemed welcoming but that invariably turned out to be hostile. Only recently, they had found themselves in the dank forests of medieval England being chased by mead-soaked Vikings. And a visit to Venice had ended with them embroiled in a plot involving stick-like aliens and a spy by the name of William Shakespeare. Experience had given Steven good reason to be cautious.

‘Safe? Mmm?’ The Doctor fastened his black cape and rounded on Steven. ‘Of course it is safe.’ He laughed to himself. ‘You would do well not to doubt my abilities! A little optimism goes a long way you know!’

‘Do you think we might be in the late twentieth century?’ gushed Vicki. Born more than a century and a half earlier than Steven, she had been travelling with the Doctor for several months, and regarded him with the bright, unswerving faith of an innocent teenager. ‘We could go and visit Ian and Barbara!’

The Doctor shook his head. ‘I’m afraid it is unlikely, my dear. The chances that we have arrived at the right time, in the correct continent, are extremely remote.’

‘But still-’

‘No. It is better you have realistic expectations’. The Doctor pressed the switch that activated the door mechanism. ‘A little optimism, Steven. But not, perhaps, too much.’

Steven laughed and joined Vicki at the exterior doors. With a hum, the double doors drew apart. Outside was a gloriously sunny day and the smell of rich, wet grass. The sight was inviting. Vicki rushed eagerly out of the starkness of the TARDIS console room and into the leafy glade.

Steven was about to follow her when an impatient tapping sound caught his attention. He turned to see the Doctor stooped over the Ormulu clock, his face set in concentration. The Doctor rapped the minute hand of the clock with an index finger. With no result, he studied the antiquated clock face intently, numeral by numeral. ‘Doctor?’

Startled, the Doctor looked up. ‘Ah. Steven.’

‘What is it?’

‘Oh, nothing. Nothing,’ said the Doctor, dismissing the matter with a wave of a hand. ‘It probably just needs winding, that’s all. Yes, that’s it.’ He led Steven back to the doors. ‘Let’s see where Vicki’s got to, shall we? Hmm?’


The bright sunlight warmed Vicki’s upturned face. She circled slowly around the woodland clearing, her shoes sinking into the soft grass, and took a lungful of fresh air. After the sterile atmosphere of the TARDIS, emerging into the real world felt like waking up. Vicki closed her eyes and smiled.

She turned to see the Doctor and Steven emerging from the police box, the Doctor harrumphing as he locked the doors. As he stepped out of the shadows, he appraised their surroundings and nodded stiffly in approval.

‘Well, it looks like Earth,’ said Steven dubiously.

‘It smells like it, too,’ said Vicki as she walked over to join them. ‘It’s lovely.’

‘Where exactly do you think we might be, Doctor?’ said Steven. ‘Or when?’

Vicki giggled. ‘As if the Doctor would know!’

The Doctor shot her a look of mock indignation. ‘My child, it is perfectly possible to deduce our location with a little reasoning intelligence and patience.’

Steven scanned the surrounding trees for some clue, but the trees were as silent and motionless as a painted backdrop. He shrugged an unimpressed shrug. ‘A forest, by the look of it.’ He strolled away from the TARDIS, his boots trudging into the sodden earth. ‘There’s some sort of path.’

Shielding her eyes, Vicki cast her gaze around the treetops, and gave a gasp. ‘Over there.’ She pointed, arm outstretched. ‘Look, Doctor, Steven; over those trees. In the distance. A church tower.’

The Doctor peered. ‘Yes, yes. And some other buildings. Well, that would seem to confirm it. We are on Earth. But-’

‘But when?’ pressed Steven.

‘Five minutes to twelve o’clock’, giggled Vicki. ‘You can see the clock on the tower. There.’

Steven joined her and followed her pointing finger. ‘Where? Oh, I see. Eleven fifty-five.’ He squinted. ‘It’s made of stone. You haven’t landed us in the middle ages again, have you, Doc?’

‘No. Just because the building dates from the middle ages, it doesn’t mean that is necessarily where- when we are. You see, that building could have been standing for centuries. It’s not brand new, is it? Silly boy. Hmm. But-’ The Doctor’s fingers twitched at his lapels in irritation. ‘But there is something strange. Have you noticed it, I wonder?’

Steven regarded him. ‘Something strange?’

‘I haven’t spotted anything,’ said Vicki brightly. ‘It seems perfectly normal.’

‘No?’ The Doctor raised his eyebrows. ‘Look around you. Listen. Something out of the ordinary?’

Steven gave Vicki a look of incredulity, and then, hands on hips, looked around intently for any signs of life. Vicki held her breath and listened, but there was nothing to hear. It was absolutely silent. No rustle of leaves, nothing.

‘Of course-’ began Vicki. She put a hand to her cheek. Outdoors, there would normally be a breeze gently ruffling the bushes and the grass. But the air was utterly calm, unnervingly so. Apart from their own voices and footsteps, there hadn’t been a sound since they had stepped out of the TARDIS. And nothing was moving; it was like standing inside a photograph. Forever trapped in a lifeless, soundless world, thought Vicki. Utterly alone. She shivered, feeling a sudden sense of claustrophobia. The silence seemed so intense, so suffocating.

‘What is it?’ said Steven, breaking the spell. ‘I can’t hear anything.’

‘Exactly,’ announced Vicki. ‘That’s because there isn’t anything to hear. It’s completely quiet.’

Steven’s mouth opened in realisation. ‘You’re right. There hasn’t been a single sound. And nothing’s moving; the leaves on the trees, nothing. There’s no breeze at all. Doctor?’

The Doctor stroked his chin. ‘This is most interesting, isn’t it?’ He adopted a poetic frown. ‘No noise, no wind. Most curious, yes.’

‘No bird song, either,’ said Steven, looking up into the empty sky. ‘No birds. It’s as quiet as the grave.’

‘You don’t think-’ stammered Vicki. ‘You don’t think we’ve skipped a time track again?’ She remembered with dread their visit to Xeros, where, due to a TARDIS malfunction, they had arrived as ghosts cast into their own future.

‘That was my thought, but I don’t think so,’ said the Doctor. He waved a hand, indicating the grass and mud. ‘We have left footprints, you see. No, we are most definitely real.’

‘Then - then what is it?’ said Steven.

‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’ said the Doctor. ‘Perhaps- ’ He stopped himself mid-thought and shook his head. ‘No. I think we should investigate further. Now, if we follow this course, we should end up in that settlement. I think that is the best path of action.’

‘But-’ began Vicki, a question on her lips.

‘Later, later,’ said the Doctor, starting briskly down the path. He gave a sprightly giggle. ‘Do keep up!’

Steven and Vicki exchanged bemused expressions, and followed.

The path wound a short distance through the wood and escaped onto the crest of a grassy hill. From this point they overlooked an expanse of parkland rolling away a mile or so below them. The trees extended to either side, thinning out to reveal hints of civilisation; the angular shapes of slated roofs, an occasional window, and, most conspicuously of all, the aerials mounted onto each of the chimney stacks. The aerials, Steven deduced, indicated they had arrived at some point during the twentieth century, in that brief period when communications were sophisticated enough to use radio but not sophisticated enough to do it unobtrusively.

At first Steven had assumed they were on the outskirts of a village, but as they reached the apex of the hill he realised that they were on the fringes of a vast city. In the far distance, spaced irregularly along the horizon, shining in the brilliant, burning sunlight, were a half-recognisable mixture of buildings. It had been several years since Steven had left Earth, and the skyline would clutter dramatically over the next six centuries, but nevertheless the view felt familiar and reassuring. Over to the far left, there was the domed cathedral; nearer, there was a solitary tower, a squat cylinder resting on a spire; and, to the right, the four chimneys of the power station. The view seemed strangely bare and antiquated; the last time Steven had visited the city, those monuments had been dwarfed by the geodesic cloudscrapers and spiralling monorails.

Vicki bounded excitedly to Steven’s side and took in the panorama with breathless delight. ‘Oh, Steven, I know where we are!’ she exclaimed. ‘That’s old London. I remember seeing it in a history programme. Ooh, hasn’t it changed?’

‘Changed?’ said Steven.

‘Well, last time I was here it was all moving walkways,’ said Vicki proudly. ‘And space cars.’

‘Really?’ Steven fought the urge to smile. He was tempted to tell her that moving walkways and space cars were, to him, also the stuff of history programmes. But, for all his cynicism, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He found her endless enthusiasm endearing and he knew that, despite her bright disposition, she had, like him, endured more than her share of hardship. They had both been survivors of spaceship crashes, given up for lost, and had both suffered the loneliness of months of captivity before being rescued by the kindly, enigmatic and occasionally infuriating old man known only as the Doctor. Steven couldn’t help but be touched by Vicki’s almost childlike faith in the Doctor, and yet, as they travelled together, and the memories of his own ordeal faded, he found that he was beginning to share in her admiration for the old man. He knew, with complete certainty, that he could trust the Doctor more than he could trust anything else in life.

A wheezing and coughing heralded the arrival of the Doctor in his shirtsleeves, his cloak slung over one shoulder. Spotting a park bench, he eased himself into it with a grateful sigh.

‘Doctor!’ cried Vicki, ‘You should take it more easy at your age.’

‘At my age?’ The Doctor dabbed at his forehead with an indignant handkerchief. ‘Just because I don’t canter about like a billy goat, it doesn’t mean I am an invalid, you know.’ He sucked in a breath. ‘It is, I feel, uncommonly humid. Very hot. Now. Now where are we? Hmm?’

‘Old London,’ said Vicki. ‘See!’

Remaining seated, the Doctor inspected the buildings on the horizon with academic amusement. ‘Ah, yes. Old London? I don’t think Miss Wright and Chesterton would care for you to call it that.’

‘I know, but-.’ Vicki stopped as something caught her eye. She pointed an excited finger. ‘Look. There’s some people down there.’

The Doctor and Steven followed her gaze. ‘So we’re not alone,’ muttered Steven to himself. About a hundred yards away, there were four figures, all dressed in summer clothes. Two men and two women, facing towards each other in an approximate square.

‘No, it would seem not, my boy. Perhaps you might try attracting their attention.’ The Doctor fluttered his handkerchief by way of an example.

Grinning, Vicki stood tip-toes and waved. ‘Hello,’ she called, cupping her hands around her mouth. ‘Hello!’

‘Hello!’, shouted Steven stiffly. ‘Over here-!’ As the last syllable left his lips, he suddenly paused. In this silence, there should have been some echo but instead his words seemed to become muted in the air. The atmosphere was utterly dead. And there was no response. The four figures didn’t turn their heads or show any reaction to the commotion.

‘Maybe they can’t hear us,’ suggested Vicki.

‘No, they should have been able to,’ said Steven. He frowned. This latest development unnerved him. There was something  eerie and unreal about this place; it was like walking through a half-waking dream. Perhaps they hadn’t been brought to the Earth at all. ‘It doesn’t make sense.’

‘You think they’re ignoring us? Maybe they’re all deaf?’ said Vicki.

‘Must you always jump to the least likely explanation, my dear?’ uttered the Doctor. ‘Ignoring us! Preposterous!’

‘So what do you think it is?’ said Steven.

‘I’m not sure.’ The Doctor patted the park bench and narrowed his eyes. ‘Perhaps we are not making any sound? Or maybe this atmosphere – this atmosphere doesn’t carry sound? Sound travels at different speeds according to the medium, you know.’

‘But-’ protested Steven.

‘Ah-ha!’ Forgetting their conversation, the Doctor reached down, and retrieved a discarded newspaper from underneath the bench. ‘Now, this should provide some clue.’ The paper had been slightly crumpled but the print was fresh and clear. ‘Let us see. Yes. The date! Today is the thirty-first of July, nineteen sixty-five.’

‘Nineteen sixty-five?’ said Steven. He had guessed as much, though the thought of visiting so ancient an era still left him disorientated.

‘So we can go and visit Ian and Barbara!’ clapped Vicki. ‘Oh, can we?’

‘I wouldn’t be so certain.’ The Doctor pulled himself to his feet. ‘We would have a strange time, if we were to visit them, and they couldn’t hear us, hmmm? No, no, there is something very odd happening here. And I won’t be satisfied until I’ve got to the bottom of it.’

Steven approached him. ‘What do you propose we do next?’

‘I think our next step should be to go and see those people down there. Perhaps, in a closer vicinity, we may be able to communicate? Or maybe we shall find an answer to the explanation.’

‘After you,’ said Steven, indicating the downward path to the Doctor.

‘But I don’t understand,’ gasped Vicki. ‘What’s happened?’

At the bottom of the hill, the trees and bushes were more sparse and the grass had worn away to a dustbowl of gravel. The edge of the park thinned into scrubland, separated from the pavement by a low beam fence. Beyond the pavement the road tarmac baked lazily in the late morning sunshine. Several cars rested at intervals down the road, a dozen or so yards apart. The cars were rounded and made of dull metal; some also sported a wooden border around the doors and windows.

Inside each car, seated in the drivers seat, was the shadowy form of a person. It was hard to make out their features through the reflected windscreen glare, but they seemed to be fairly normal, wearing suits and headscarves. Except none of them was moving. They were sitting, their eyes fixed on the road ahead, their features set, motionless.

‘Are they all parked?’ asked Vicki.

‘No, Vicki,’ said Steven. ‘I don’t know much about the twentieth century, but I don’t think they had a habit of parking in the middle of the road.’

‘Then what-?’

‘Shush, my dear.’ The Doctor beadily inspected the cars, his hands perched eagle-like on his lapels. ‘If you will observe, you can see the petrol fumes coming from the car exhausts.’

The Doctor was right. Out of the exhaust tubes of each car, there was a similar cloud of black smoke. But the odd thing was, the smoke was also perfectly still, hanging in the air like a half-coiled mist.

‘But the fumes,’ said Steven. ‘They’re not moving either.’

‘Exactly, exactly.’ The Doctor chuckled. ‘And yet a gas – it does not match the behaviour we would expect. It doesn’t float away, it remains where it is. Hmmm.’

‘And the people. They’re just sitting there,’ said Vicki fearfully.

‘Are they? They look like they’re driving to me,’ said the Doctor.

‘But they’re not going anywhere,’ Vicki replied.

‘No, they’re not, are they? This is most odd.’ The Doctor rubbed his brow. ‘No sound, and no motion.’

‘Any ideas, Doctor?’ said Steven.

‘I have a theory, yes, and I would like to put it to the test. Those people we waved to earlier. Where are they?’

Vicki led the Doctor away from the fence and nodded towards the four figures, who were standing only a short distance away. They hadn’t moved from their earlier position; they were still arranged in a square, facing each other. ‘There.’

‘Oh yes,’ huffed the Doctor. He jutted out his chin and strode towards them.

‘Careful, Doctor!’ warned Steven.

The Doctor walked right up to one of the figures. A man in his twenties, with light hair, a cotton shirt and flannel trousers. The man was looking away from the Doctor, as though something had caught his attention.

His fist to his mouth, the Doctor coughed. And coughed again. ‘Excuse me, hmmm?’ he called. The young man remained motionless. The Doctor tapped him on his elbow, but there was still no reaction. The Doctor patted him, and, receiving no response, circled around him. Once they were face to face, the Doctor peered into his pale eyes and then snorted victoriously.

‘Don’t worry,’ the Doctor said. ‘It’s quite safe. Vicki, Steven-?’

Steven and Vicki approached the four figures. As they drew closer, Steven noticed that although they were standing still, they were not actually upright. Each of them leaned either forwards or to one side, balanced on one leg, as if they were frozen mid-way through a movement. The two men and women were each holding unfamiliar wooden implements consisting of a handle and a near-circle of gridded twine.

Vicki watched them, wide-eyed. ‘How can they balance?’ she said. ‘Standing in one leg?’ She giggled at the thought.

Steven turned to each of the figures in turn. Their faces were also fixed in their expressions, their mouths open, their eyes unblinking. This close, the resemblance to statues was astonishing..

‘That is an interesting question,’ said the Doctor, placing a comforting arm around Vicki’s shoulders. ‘Why don’t they fall over, hmm?’

‘Well, Doctor?’ said Steven impatiently. Unprompted, the Doctor would never think of sharing his explanations, and would be content simply to off away, muttering and giggling to himself.

‘It appears-’ He paused. ‘It appears that the laws of gravity and momentum have been suspended. That fellow there’ – he wagged a finger – ‘he could not possibly balance like that. If you look, there, he is in the process of stepping forward. But, as we see him, he is achieving the impossible. Most peculiar.’

Vicki gaped as the sight before her triggered a memory. ‘Of course! They’re playing tennis!’

‘Tennis?’ said Steven.

‘An old Earth game,’ said Vicki. ‘Played with rackets, and a ball.’

‘A ball?’ Steven scanned the nearby ground, but found no sign of a ball. Lifting his head, he spotted it. It hung in mid-air between the four players, some two yards off the ground. There was nothing to support it; it was, as far as Steven could see, defying gravity.

The Doctor had also seen it. ‘Ah, yes. I’m rather afraid that proves my theory. You see time- my boy! What are you doing!’

Steven turned guiltily to the Doctor. He had reached up for the ball and, as though it was the most natural thing to do, collected it from its position at head height. He felt its surface, and weighed it in his palm. The tennis ball felt furry and light, but not light enough to float. To make sure, Steven held it in front of him, and let go. The ball sank into the grass.

The Doctor barked in disapproval. ‘You shouldn’t touch! Don’t move anything!’

‘But why not?’ said Steven, crouching to pick up the ball.

‘Don’t you see? They were playing tennis with that. You can’t put it back where you found it, can you?’

Feeling slightly ridiculous, Steven tried to return to the ball to mid-air. Predictably, the ball fell, and he clutched it before it hit the ground.

‘There!’ said the Doctor. ‘You see, what has happened is these people – perhaps the whole world – have been frozen in time.’

‘Frozen in time?’ said Vicki uncomprehendingly.

‘Time, the fourth dimension, my dear. It is a dimension like any other. Normally you move along it, one second after another, but if it is possibly to move along something, it is also possible to stop at a single point.’ He put a finger to his lips.

‘You mean, like a freeze-frame?’ said Steven.

‘Precisely! What we are seeing is a single moment in time.’

Vicki looked scared. ‘It’s horrible. It’s like looking at a photograph. All these people, stuck in one moment.’

‘Indeed,’ agreed the Doctor. ‘For us, time has come to a halt. But as far as these good people are concerned, they are in the middle of a game of tennis. Now do you see what you have done, Steven?’

Steven nodded. ‘They’re going to wonder where their ball’s got to.’ He tossed the ball a couple more times, and then placed it at the feet of one of the figures.

‘Fortunately, it is not serious,’ said the Doctor. ‘But we shall have to be most careful. We must not move anything. Who knows what the consequences might be?’

‘So wait a minute-,’ said Steven. ‘What you’re saying is, that we are stuck at a single point in time?’

‘Yes. Time has stopped. All this time we have been here, it has only been a single instant.’

‘That explains why no-one could hear us!’ said Vicki. ‘And why there was no noise!’

‘Exactly – because there was no time for the noise to be in. Every sound, no matter how short, requires a certain amount of time to be heard. But in an instant – utter silence!’

‘And so you’re saying we’ve only been here, for – what?’ said Steven.

‘No time at all,’ answered Vicki.

Steven shook his head in disbelief. ‘But that’s ridiculous!’

The Doctor walked to one side, facing away from them. ‘Not at all. The question is, though, why has this happened? Why is time standing still for everyone else, and yet we are unaffected? Hmm?’

‘The ship?’ suggested Steven. ‘A malfunction with the TARDIS?’

‘A possibility, a possibility. But I think not. A malfunction with the TARDIS would affect us, yes, but not the whole planet. No, I think there is some other reason.’ The Doctor stared keenly into the distance. ‘And the answer is out there, somewhere. Why are we still able to move about when the rest of the world is trapped - like an insect caught in amber?’

We move in on the Doctor’s face, his lips tightly set, his eyes wide with indignant curiosity. Then, holding the image, we fade to blackness.

We fade up to reveal an image of London; a busy high street, with bustling pedestrians and double-decker buses and cars. But the image is frozen, like a photograph. We pan across the image, past the shops and the pedestrians struggling with their baskets and bags.

There is an unsettling, alien atmosphere. We hear distorted music, an electronic throbbing punctuated by rhythmic, metallic clangs.

The image fades to be replaced by another view of London; the exit of Covent Garden underground station. There are dozens of people walking through the entrance, their faces fixed in a variety of expressions; joy, boredom, exhaustion.

Another view. A picture of a  couple, running through the street, hand in hand, their faces filled with laughter. An unmoving dog bounds happily along beside them.

Another view. Trafalgar Square. Something has disturbed the pigeons, and they are fixed in position as they flurry past in a blur of wings.

We fade up again to reveal one side of the city street. In the background is a newsagents; its windows are full of posters advertising magazines and competitions. In the foreground is the pavement, where two figures are passing; an elderly man in a cap and grey coat carrying a newspaper and a woman in her thirties, pushing a pram. They both resemble waxworks, or cut-outs.

Vicki skipped up to the newsagents and peered through the window, waiting for the Doctor and Steven to catch up. It had been a surreal journey through the silent city, winding their way between the frozen people as they went obliviously about their business. Men hailed taxis that would never arrive. Mouths were open, caught in conversation. Passing a café, they had seen people eating, a sandwich or cup of coffee paused on their lips. Strangest of all, there had been the window-cleaner propped at the top of a ladder, the foamy water spilling out of his bucket and forming a sheet of glass in mid-air. Vicki had been tempted to touch the water, but the Doctor had warned her away. It was, he had sternly explained, vitally important that nothing be disturbed.

At the sound of her companions’ footsteps, Vicki turned. ‘It’s funny, all these people staying still.’ She smiled. ‘We could look in their bags without them noticing.’

The Doctor leaned forward in disapproval. ‘And what if time starts moving forward again? What if things return to normal? Where would you be then? A pretty predicament!’

‘You think that might happen?’ said Steven.

‘Who knows?’ The Doctor rocked on his heels. ‘And they discover Vicki, her hand in their bags? You would have some explaining to do then, my child! No, you mustn’t touch or move anything, I have told you.’

Vicki puzzled for a few seconds. ‘But if time did start moving – they can’t see us walking about, can they?’

‘No, of course not-’

‘So we would suddenly appear out of nowhere!’ Vicki giggled at the thought of the astonishment on their faces. ‘They wouldn’t know where we’d come from!’ She paused. ‘Assuming time does start moving again.’

‘Yes, quite. Quite.’ The Doctor’s eyes shifted cagily over the immediate area. The street continued a short way ahead of them, past a pillar box and a narrow alley. And beyond that-

Vicki followed his gaze and gave a yelp of fright. ‘Look!’

On the edge of the pavement was a woman in her twenties, wearing a neat dress and heels, caught in the act of toppling backwards into the road. Her face was a picture of astonishment and alarm. The papers and books she was carrying in her hands were strewn and piled in the air around her, as though they were a flock of birds attacking her.

A suited man  of a similar age gripped her by the lapels, his face twisted in a rictus of anger, his teeth bared, his lips glistening. He was pushing her into the road. Into the path of an approaching car.

The car’s driver, an elderly lady, had obviously spotted the confrontation. Her jaw had dropped, her eyes startled. She was twisting the steering wheel, attempting in vain to swerve the vehicle away from the falling woman. But there were only three feet to separate them. It was obviously too late. The car was going to hit.

Vicki rushed up to them, Steven and the Doctor on her heels. ‘She – she’s going to be killed!’ exclaimed Vicki.

The Doctor observed the situation with detachment. ‘Now, remember what I said. We must not interfere.’

‘But if we don’t-’

‘Listen to me,’ snapped the Doctor. ‘There is nothing we can do to prevent this incident.’

Steven took his place beside Vicki. ‘But Doctor, surely in this case-’

‘No, we mustn’t do anything.’ The Doctor narrowed his eyes. ‘It appears that this gentleman is pushing this young woman into the path of that vehicle, yes. But how can we be sure?’

‘What do you mean?’ said Steven.

‘Look, he is holding onto her.’ The Doctor waggled a finger, indicating where the man had grasped the woman’s coat. ‘Perhaps he is pulling her out of the way of the oncoming car? Perhaps, hmm, he is saving her life?’

Vicki looked closer. What she had taken for anger in the man’s face could have been anxiety. The sinews on his arms were bulging. The Doctor could be right – maybe the man was heaving the woman towards him, rather than thrusting her out into the road. It was impossible to tell.

‘You might be right,’ Vicki admitted. ‘But shouldn’t we try to do something anyway?’

‘No,’ said the Doctor. ‘I’m sorry, but we hold a responsibility. If we were not here, if time hadn’t be stopped, it would be too late anyway. And the more we interfere, we cannot be sure we are doing the correct thing. We may even be preventing time from moving again, yes.’

Vicki drew away from the struggling figures and bowed her apologetically. ‘I suppose you’re right, Doctor.’

‘That is very wise of you, my dear.’ The Doctor rubbed his fingers. ‘Now. There doesn’t seem to be anything more to see here, so perhaps we should return to the ship?’

‘No, wait a minute, Doctor-’ said Steven, looking over their heads in sudden astonishment. ‘Look, up there.’

‘What is it my now, boy, what is it?’ flustered the Doctor as he turned around and lifted his gaze. ‘Oh, my word-’

A fog of black smoke was curling away above them, rising from behind the chimney tops and then dissipating into the pale sky.

‘A fire?’ said Vicki. ‘I don’t see-’

‘But look, Vicki – the smoke – it’s moving,’ breathed Steven.

Vicki looked again. The plume rose and unravelled as it ascended into the windless air, past the stationary birds and clouds. In a world where everything was still, it was the first movement they had seen.

‘You are quite right,’ said the Doctor. ‘Fascinating!’ He checked the street, but everything remained motionless. ‘Perhaps time has not stopped everywhere, as we thought? This may provide some clue. I think we should investigate.’

‘It seems to be coming from those buildings over there,’ said Steven. ‘It can’t be more than a couple of streets away.’

‘Then come on, come on!’ ushered the Doctor eagerly. ‘We have no time to lose!’ Beckoning them after him, he started down the side street in the direction of the smoke.

‘I don’t believe it,’ muttered Steven, shaking his head.

High brick buildings enclosed the small square on every side, each presenting a brace of shop windows. At the centre of the square was a garden enclosed in railings, consisting of a bench, a lawn, and a flower bed. In the far corner, the fence had been flattened by a crashed space craft.

The craft appeared to be constructed out of a dull, grey metal; it had originally had a sleek, cylindrical structure, but much of its surface had been buckled out of shape when it had impacted into the ground. Sections of the side had fallen away to reveal pipes and cables; other parts of the object had been smudged by trails of smoke and pockmarked by meteor impacts. The large radar dish fixed to its roof was broken. A hatch was set mid-way along one side, and at the rear were a set of conical exhaust pipes. The engines formed the source of the cloud, the thick, fuming gas pouring out of the ruptured fuel tubes.

‘It’s a space ship,’ said Steven, walking towards it. But it was a space ship unlike any he had seen. It was so small for a start; there would only be room for two or three astronauts inside. The design of the engines was also unfamiliar, and the markings set along one side of the ship were written in incomprehensible alien symbols.

‘Fascinating, fascinating,’ said the Doctor gleefully as he crouched down for a closer inspection.

Vicki was bewildered. ‘But what’s a space ship doing here, in the middle of London?’

‘Well, Vicki, it looks like it’s crashed,’ said Steven. The front of the craft had buried itself into the flowerbed, ploughing up much of the garden and piling it into the opposite end of the square.

‘I can see that,’ Vicki said. ‘I meant, what is it doing here, at all?’

‘I don’t know. Doctor?’

The Doctor raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m not sure. I should imagine it has something to do with the effect in time we have observed. Its arrival has gone unnoticed, do you see? If time was not standing still, there would be lots of people running around. Fire engines and policemen, I shouldn’t wonder. No, I think the two things are connected.’ Patting his knees, he pulled himself upright. ‘What do you make of it, Steven, my boy?’

 ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’ Following the Doctor’s lead, Steven approached the craft. Although the engines were smoking, the ship itself didn’t seem to be producing any heat. But, thought Steven, any ship entering the Earth’s atmosphere would become hot through the air friction. And, for a crash landing, it was in remarkably good condition.

‘Do you think it belongs to aliens?’ asked Vicki.

‘Yes, well, we won’t get very far by just asking a lot of questions, will we?’ clucked the Doctor impatiently. He extended a finger and lightly tapped the side of the craft.

‘Are you sure it’s safe?’ said Steven as the Doctor wended his way towards the hatchway. ‘What if there’s someone inside?’

‘I shall expect they will be very pleased to see us!’ said the Doctor. The entry hatch worked on a simple lever operated system. The Doctor grasped the control bar and swung it to the left. The hatch swung open with a yawning creak. The Doctor watched it with the expectant pride of a stage magician.

Steven joined the Doctor. To his relief, the inside of the craft was unoccupied. The cockpit was gloomy and cramped, consisting of a control panel filled with a variety of switches and dials and two padded seats. The seats, Steven noted, were intended for human occupants, and made from a type of plastic. Apart from the controls, the cabin was bare and functional, with no ornamentation or colour of any kind.

Without hesitation, the Doctor climbed into the cockpit, the low ceiling forcing him to stoop. Steven squeezed himself in after him, his shoulders pressed against the walls, the floor creaking beneath them. The air inside craft smelt metallic and acrid, like old batteries.

‘There’s no-one at home,’ Steven observed. ‘No pilot.’

The Doctor inspected the control panel. ‘No. No, I wonder where they’ve got to? Hmm?’ He turned to Vicki, who was about to clamber on board. ‘Ah. I think you had better wait outside, my dear. There isn’t room for three of us in here.’

Vicki pulled a face and moved away. ‘Oh, if you say so.’

‘What do you think, Doctor?’ said Steven, moving awkwardly down the cabin.

‘Well, this is all very sophisticated. Very sophisticated indeed. Whoever built this ship was certainly most advanced.’ The Doctor directed his attention back to the controls, and then twisted himself around to examine the rear of the cabin. ‘Ah. Now let’s see.’ He crouched down in front of a bank of instruments. A row of warning lights.

Steven moved next to the Doctor. ‘What is it?’

‘This is most curious. These instruments here refer to the motors of the craft.’

‘The engines?’

‘Yes. It seems they are based on a form of energy radiation.’ He gave a start and pointed to one of the dials. It jittered in the red ‘Danger’ section. ‘Oh my goodness. It would appear that the engines are about to explode!’


‘Yes, my boy, explode. In a little over five minutes’ time.’

Steven stared at the dial. ‘Wh-What-?’

The Doctor stroked his chin, considering for some seconds. He leaned forward confidentially. ‘There will be a massive explosion, destroying the whole of London.’

‘You mean this space craft – it’s going to blow up?’

‘Yes!’ proclaimed the Doctor. He ran a wry finger over the dials. ‘There is some damage, but I think it can be repaired. Yes, someone with my expertise-’

‘But if we only have five minutes left,’ Steven reminded him.

‘Have you forgotten, my boy?’ The Doctor turned to face him and chuckled. ‘Time has come to a halt! We have all the time in the world!’

Her hands behind her back, Vicki turned away from the space craft and made her way around the gardens. It was typical; she was always the one who had to wait outside until her elders had satisfied themselves it was safe. The Doctor and Steven treated her like a child, always bossing her about and deciding what was best. Well, not this time, she thought.

She watched the smoke rising overhead, and then, bored, she looked around the surrounding shop windows. So this was Barbara and Ian’s time. It all seemed so unsophisticated. Life must be so much hard work. Imagine having to go out to buy food, rather than just turning a sequence of dials on a food machine. Imagine having to walk everywhere, rather than letting the pavement carry you. And those cars looked so dangerous, relying only on the reactions of the driver. In her time, the space cars were operated by remote control and had special anti-magnetic cushions to prevent collision.

But that time was so very far away, and Vicki had learned that although her era was very high-tech and conventional, compared to earlier periods in Earth’s history it was rather, well, pedestrian.

For an absent-minded moment, she dismissed the sudden motion she glimpsed out of the corner of her eye. Then, remembering, she looked again. A shadowy figure in one of the alleys flitted and then vanished. There was someone down there; someone had been approaching the craft and then, after spotting her, they had suddenly darted away again.

‘Doctor! Steven!’ whispered Vicki as loudly as she dared. But they couldn’t hear her. She considered knocking on the hatch to alert the Doctor and Steven, and then decided against it. No, whilst they were busy having fun exploring the space craft without her, she would do some investigating of her own. She would find out the cause of this time problem. And then they would be forced to show her some respect. Yes, that would show them.

Determined, Vicki set off down the alley in pursuit of the shadowy figure.

The Doctor stroked his temples, his furrowed brown illuminated by the warning lights. ‘Yes, yes, the energy radiation. Hmm. There has been a malfunction with the engines, causing this craft to become stranded here, yes.’

Steven looked at the dials. They all looked meaningless to him. He tried to wrestle with what the Doctor had told him. ‘You mean they broke down? And that’s why they crashed?’

‘I couldn’t have put it better myself,’ said the Doctor, grinning at some private joke.

Steven tried to draw him back to the matter in hand. ‘But you think you will be able to repair it?’

‘Given a few hours, yes, I believe I can.’ The Doctor smiled like a benevolent grandparent.

Steven rested himself on the cockpit wall. ‘You know, It’s lucky that time has stood still,’ he said. ‘Otherwise you wouldn’t have the chance to make the repairs.’

‘But don’t you realise, my boy, that is precisely the point,’ said the Doctor. ‘Time has been stopped so that we have the opportunity to make the necessary repairs.’

‘What do you mean?’

The Doctor templed together his hands. ‘Imagine you are in a space craft, and it is about to explode in a matter of minutes due to some difficulty. If you could bring time to a standstill, that would afford you the time to avert the disaster. It is the ideal solution.’

‘So you’re saying that time has come to a halt – because of this?’

‘Quite so, quite so.’ The Doctor waved a hand towards a set of levers situated beside the right seat. ‘It is part of the safety mechanism. When things go wrong, rather than pressing on the brake pedal, why not bring time itself to a stop? Then you can make repairs or evacuate, if need be.’ Steven couldn’t tell whether the Doctor was more impressed by the technology on display or his own deductive powers. ‘Ingenious! Ingenious!’

‘But if they have time technology-’ Steven began.

‘Of course, my boy, of course,’ said the Doctor. ‘We are standing in a time machine.’

‘A time machine? Like the TARD-’

‘And they have, for some reason, crashed here. They have brought the fourth dimension to a halt. The people who made this ship are clever people, you know.’

‘So,’ deadpanned Steven with a sigh. ‘Where are they now?’

‘That is a good question. Presumably they have gone to fetch the items to equip them to make repairs.’

Steven looked out of the open hatchway into the empty London street. ‘You mean, they’re somewhere out there?’

By his tone, the Doctor considered the question obvious. ‘Yes, yes.’

‘And they’re going to come back here?’

‘I should expect so, yes.’ The Doctor raised his eyebrows with amusement at Steven’s concern.

‘What sort of people do you think they are?’

The Doctor coughed and dabbed his cheeks with his handkerchief. ‘Before you ask me more questions like that, perhaps we should step outside.’ He wiped his forehead. ‘It is terribly stuffy in here! And on such a warm day!’

Steven let the Doctor climb out of the craft, and watched him carefully as he lowered himself to the ground below. Steven braced himself against the sides of the hatchway, and then jumped. Outside, he blinked in the sudden harsh sunlight. The Doctor, meanwhile, seemed more concerned with brushing his sleeves and adjusting his collar.

A hand shielding his eyes, Steven scanned the shop windows overlooking the craft. ‘Well, Doctor? What do you think has happened to the ship’s crew?’

‘I don’t know,’ said the Doctor sagely. ‘But I should like to meet them! Yes, I would!’

Steven looked back at the craft. The fuel pipes were still sending a black cloud spiralling into the overhead sky. ‘And what are they doing here? Why did they crash?’

‘Those are very intelligent questions. I was thinking them myself.’

Steven turned back to the Doctor. ‘I’ve got another question for you. Where’s Vicki?’

‘Vicki?’ The Doctor looked around worriedly. He pursed his lips in agitation. ‘Oh, where has that impossible child got to?’

‘She can’t have gone far.’ Steve paced around the square, checking the alleys and streets and shops. The first shop window he came to was covered in dust and filled with shelf after shelf of clocks. Steven gazed inside. There were clocks of every variety; carriage clocks, wall clocks, cuckoo clocks. There was something unusual about them, but for a moment Steven couldn’t place what it was. And then it hit him. Each clock face showed the time. Eleven fifty-seven.

‘Doctor, over here,’ called Steven.

‘What is it, my boy?’ The Doctor hastened over to Steven, and gazed down into the window.

‘Look,’ said Steven, ‘The time.’

The Doctor gave a startled gasp. ‘How could I have been so wrong?’

‘What?’ Steven felt a sudden chill, and rubbed his neck.

‘How long would you say we have been here?’ the Doctor asked him, in sudden seriousness.

‘Well, it’s hard to tell. A couple of hours or so.’

‘Exactly. And yet that clock over there reads three minutes to twelve.’

‘But when we arrived – the time was eleven fifty-five’

‘Quite so.’ The Doctor’s fingers twitched. ‘Since we have arrived, two whole minutes have passed.’

‘What?’ exclaimed Steven.

‘Don’t you see, my boy? Don’t you see?’ said the Doctor. ‘We presumed that time had been brought to a halt. But it hasn’t. No, time has merely been slowed down. Slowed down to a point that, to us, it was imperceptible. Progressing at a snail’s pace, but it has still been moving forward nonetheless.’

‘But if that’s the case-’

The Doctor nodded. ‘We don’t have much time left at all. At the current rate, this space craft will explode in approximately five hours!’

The figure had disappeared. Glancing left and right, Vicki ran down the passage, her footsteps clicking on the pavement. She had chased the shadowy shape down backstreet after backstreet, turning left and right until she was completely disorientated. She no longer knew where she was, or how to get back to the Doctor and Steven. Feeling utterly alone and lost, she wished they were with her, or that she could call out to them for help. Oh, why had she been so stupid and impetuous?

Vicki rested against a brick wall to recover her breath. The figure must have run down this passage before her, but now there was no trace of it. But Vicki could sense it was somewhere nearby. Perhaps it was even watching her. She recoiled at the thought, her eyes wide with fear.

Something moved further down the passage. Vicki pulled herself upright and walked towards it. ‘Hello?’ she called. ‘Hello? Doctor? Steven?’

A gloved hand clamped itself over her mouth and pulled her backwards. Astonished, Vicki’s first impression was of the overwhelming smell and taste of the leathery fabric of the glove. Then her feet slipped as she swung around, coming suddenly face to face with her attacker.

The figure stood about six feet tall and wore a bulbous grey space suit. Valves and pipes covered the suit from head to toe. A domed helmet enclosed the head, but Vicki could still make out the basic features within. Two giant, staring eyes, unblinking, like those of a fish. And the impression of dark scales and a wide open mouth.

Vicki screamed.

We move in on the face of the alien, bringing every detail of its huge, plate-like eyes and yawning mouth into terrifying focus. We hold the image for a few seconds, the creature’s features filling our view.


We fade to black as the music begins.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Beautiful Ones

Quick plug – my Doctor Who audio ‘The Beautiful People’, one of the first releases in the ‘Companion Chronicles’ range, is available this day only for £5. It’s a story narrated by the fabulous Lalla Ward, as Romana, guest-starring Marcia Ashton (out of Brookside) as the evil Karna.  It owes more than a little debt to Little Britain, Victoria Wood’s Men Sana In Thingummy Doodah and, of course, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It’s a breezy comedy with a serious point.

To order it, click here. Other ‘Companion Chronicles’ are also available.

As a little taster, here’s the first page from the script.


ROMANA: The Doctor was having another of his funny moods.
‘Doughnuts!’ he shouted, as though giving the answer to a very important question.
I had only just walked into the TARDIS control room and, of course, I hadn’t actually asked him anything.
‘What?’ I asked wearily.
‘Doughnuts!’ the Doctor repeated. ‘Why is it, Romana, that we never seem to have enough doughnuts? Travelling through time and space is hungry work, you know. And we’ve run out. Again!’
I had found that it was best to humour the Doctor on these occasions. ‘The TARDIS food machine is perfectly capable of approximating the flavour and texture-
‘Pah!’ the Doctor interrupted. ‘It’s nowhere near the same! You can’t have cookery by machine! Where’s the panache, the élan, in micro-circuitry, hmm?’
‘It provides healthy, vitamin-enriched alternatives,’ I reminded him.
‘And that’s another thing, Romana’. The Doctor pulled one of his indignant expressions. ‘What if I don’t want to eat healthily? Sometimes, you know, it’s good for you to have something that’s bad for you.’
I knew there would be no point in questioning the Doctor’s logic, as he only makes these sort of statements to be irritating, so instead I gently suggested that if he wanted doughnuts so badly, he should try baking some himself.
‘It’s not the same if you have to bake them yourself,’ he replied, sulkily adjusting his long, multi-coloured scarf.
‘Well, what about K-9?’ I said. ‘You could ask him.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said the Doctor. ‘Me, training a dog to bake doughnuts? And besides, I’ve already tried, and he always uses the wrong sort of jam.’