Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Back in 1998 I wrote a Doctor Who story story for the charity anthology Perfect Timing. As that book will never be reprinted, I thought I'd share the story with you here. But it comes with a health warning! This story is one of the first Doctor Who things I wrote and so you must excuse the clunky writing style. I have improved since then!
The Zargathon Menace
‘The stars in the sky are so distant that it takes years and years for their light to reach us. So when you look up at the night sky, you are actually looking back in time. Similarly, if somebody on a planet circling one of those distant stars was looking back at the Earth through a powerful telescope, they would see Columbus discovering America, or the French Revolution. Even in the nearest solar systems to ours it would still take many years for light, or television signals, to reach them, so they would only now be receiving television programmes broadcast ten years ago. Perhaps some green-eyed life form with three noses on Alpha Centauri is watching the very first episode of Professor X at this very moment!’
Dick Terrents, The Making Of Professor X, (Piccolo, 1972)
According to Professor Academi Plurix of the Institute Of Hypothetical Research on Smorglett Beta, there is something fundamentally flawed about the universe. His theory was based on the idea that at the point that the universe was born there was a shortfall in the amount of reality that was created. There was an infinite amount of matter, but a much smaller amount of realism to go with it. So, as the galaxies expanded, the amount of realism available to accommodate them was stretched ever thinner. In places where the realism was weak, Plurix wrote, events happened on a far less credible basis. Perhaps spaceships would start resembling small models, or walls would begin to wobble incongruously, or floating things would gain fuzzy blue outlines. People’s clothes and hairstyles would change abruptly because of the lack of quantum continuity and the laws of physics would run on a less rational basis. In extreme cases, on planets where the realism was particularly fragile, people would gain Welsh accents in mid-sentence.
Plurix also believed that pockets of Thin Reality floated randomly throughout the universe, and that one such area of implausibility was at that very moment enveloping the Institute Of Hypothetical Research on Smorglett Beta. He proposed this particular theory at the top of one of the largest restaurant bills ever presented in the Institute’s history. The academic authorities immediately dismissed his theory for being ‘unconvincing’, to which Plurix replied that that just proved he was right.
The Doctor leaned back into his chair and pulled a crumpled white bag from the depths of his coat. He offered the child sitting next to him a jelly baby. As the boy was about to reach into the bag, his mother scolded him and tugged him back into his seat. She glared at the Doctor, who beamed at her innocently.
‘Doctor, what is this we’re going to see again?’, asked Romana, delicately retrieving a jelly baby from the paper bag.
‘The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special, 1979. We’re here to watch it being recorded. A classic moment in the cultural history of the twentieth century.’
‘Really, how intriguing’ commented Romana, munching disdainfully. ‘What’s so marvellous about it?’
‘What so marvellous about it? You sit there and ask me what’s so marvellous about it? I’ll tell you what’s so marvellous about it.’ The Doctor bit an indignant jelly baby. ‘It’s marvellous.’
‘Gosh’, said Romana, settling back in mock awe. ‘How marvellous.’
Behind them the audience broke into excited chatter. Children raised questions that were hushed by parents. There was a mixture of astonished laughter and muttered nudges. The man seated immediately behind the Doctor exclaimed hoarsely, ‘What on Earth-!’
A square metal dog was trundling wobbily down the theatre aisle. His red eye visor was lit with determination as he bounced clumsily over each step. As he reached the Doctor’s row, he turned with an eager whirr and picked his way along the row.
‘K9, my dear fellow. What are you doing here? I thought I told you to wait in the TARDIS like a good dog,’ the Doctor said.
‘Affirmative, master. But I have urgent information to report.’
‘What is it, K9?’ whispered Romana, conscious that they were on the receiving end of a dozen gawping stares.
‘The TARDIS sensors indicate that there is a large spaceship in orbit directly above us.’
‘A large spaceship?’
‘Affirmative, mistress. It arrived approximately thirty-five minutes twenty seconds ago.’
‘And you came all the way here just to tell us that?’ accused the Doctor, leaping dramatically to his feet, his seat snapping upright beneath him.
‘Affirmative,’ said K9 meekly.
‘Good boy K9,’ said the Doctor warmly, patting K9’s nose sensor. He tidied the loops of his scarf and tossed the bag of sweets into the boy’s lap. The boy didn’t notice, he was still gazing with dumb-struck amazement at K9. He made a mental note to add another item to his Christmas list when he got home.
‘Come on then, we’d better get out of here.’ The Doctor made apologetic mimes as he shuffled towards the aisle, Romana resignedly rising to follow him.
‘What about Morecambe and Wise?’, she asked, indicating the cluttered stage of the theatre.
‘Morecambe and Wise can wait. We have work to do. Lead on, K9.’
The room was gloomy and oppressive, the only illumination coming from the blinking and flickering control panels.
‘We have arrived at the planet, Great Leader.’
The metallic doors closed with a whoosh and a thrum behind the Great Leader as he stomped onto the bridge. He joined his lieutenant at the observation panel and surveyed the landscape below with a scowl.
‘This is the place?’ rasped the Great Leader, thrusting a leather gloved claw at a central building rising out of the depressing grey city. It was a drab, functional structure, forming an almost complete circle around a predominantly concrete central area. The asphalt roof was cluttered with heavy aerials and dishes, the windows below glistening bleakly in the evening drizzle. Black and red vehicles flowed along the tarmac surrounding the building, oblivious to the Imperial warship hovering invisibly ten miles above.
‘Indeed, Great Leader,’ growled lieutenant Greeple.
‘Excellent.’ The Great Leader’s tail flicked with satisfaction as he feasted his lizardine eyes on the building. ‘We shall beam down at once.’
Greeple nodded and saluted with a neat stamp. He collected his demat rifle and stroked it affectionately. The rifle buzzed with homicidal glee, bristling to be fired. Greeple adjusted the power levels and then clipped it into his belt.
The Great Leader slid his helmet over his cragged features and joined Greeple on the teleportation pads. ‘Beam us down - now!’
The two uniformed figures stood to attention and a sonorous warble filled the air. The sound rose to a fluttering buzz and they were bathed them in a warm lilac halo. Their bodies rippled and twisted before shimmering away into nothing.
The Doctor dashed along the street, his coat flapping urgently in his wake. He paused at the white barrier, gathering his scarf about him, and hissed at Romana and K9 to keep up.
Romana’s shoes clicked on the pavement as she caught up with the Doctor, securing her sailor hat with one hand and brushing back her hair with the other. She smiled breathlessly as K9 joined them, his motors whinnying with the effort.
The Doctor gave a cheery wave to the security guard perched in his booth. The dour-faced guard lifted his gaze from his newspaper and considered them thoughtfully. He gave the Doctor a nod and signalled his approval to his colleague before returning, satisfied, to his paper.
The barrier rose and the Doctor bustled his companions through the entrance. They sprinted across the expanse of tarmac and up the steps to the drab, functional building, the Doctor leaping over the bowls of potted plants that lined the way. He slammed open the glass doors and ushered Romana and K9 into the lobby of Television Centre.
The Great Leader surveyed the occupants of the food hall. They were preoccupied with their meals, collecting them on wooden slats, treating them with condiments and then digesting them amid the general clatter and hubbub. There were over a hundred of the life-forms, engrossed with prodding at their food and exchanging pleasantries. So deeply engrossed that they had failed to notice the entrance of two warriors of the Elyanos empire. Even after they had removed their helmets.
His tongue looped around his fangs in irritation. The humans hadn’t given him a second glance. As he walked sternly towards the food bay, his tail lolling along the linoleum, he even noticed some people offering him sympathetic smiles.
‘Rather you than me, mate. You must be boiling hot in there,’ sighed one the humans. The Great Leader acknowledged the human with an awkward shrug and turned to his lieutenant.
‘They do not seem have noticed that we are not of this planet,’ he said, running a claw through the folds of his cloak.
‘No, Great Leader.’ Greeple clenched his rifle for reassurance.
‘Why is that, do you think?’
Greeple struggled. ‘Perhaps they are too stupid to realise.’
‘Indeed.’ The Great Leader weighed up a tray. ‘That is certainly a possibility. We should still attempt to make contact, however.’
Greeple shuffled behind the Great Leader in the queue. The Great Leader pushed his tray along the guiding rail, methodically sniffing the various foods on offer. He paused before a rounded female human who was stooped behind the counter. Her hair was coloured an improbable shade of blue and a smouldering tube dangled from between her caked lips.
‘Greetings, human,’ said the Great Leader. ‘We are Elyans.’
‘Are you, dear. That’s nice’, said the woman, stirring some baked beans.
‘No, you don’t understand. We are Elyans. We have come to free the Earth from the clutches of the evil Zargathon.’
‘Of course you have.’
‘You do believe us?’ said Greeple incredulously.
‘Yes, dear. You’ve come for the evil Zargathon. Do you want peas?’
‘Yes. We do want peace. We want peace on a galactic scale. But first the Zargathon must be vanquished,’ announced the Great Leader.
The dinner lady spooned a lump of mush onto a plate and offered it to the Great Leader. ‘Next.’
‘Do you know-’
‘Next,’ grated the dinner lady, drawing on her smouldering tube.
The Great Leader examined the contents of his tray with bemusement. He poked at the mush with an inquisitive claw and licked off some of the substance with a grimace. Greeple reciprocated his confused expression as they lumbered further along the counter.
The dinner lady watched them go and tut-tutted to herself. ‘Method actors.’
The Doctor bounded into the canteen and drank in the familiar surroundings. The room was filled with the faces of minor TV personalities tucking suspiciously into their lukewarm pies. The inviting smell of fresh steam hung in the air.
A small, bony-faced man with a flurry of greying hair put aside his tobacco to greet the Doctor with an outstretched hand.
‘Wonderful to see you again, Doctor,’ he said eagerly. The Doctor didn’t recognise him but pumped his hand anyway.
‘Yes, and you too,’ the Doctor replied. ‘Have we met somewhere before, I’m afraid I don’t recall-’
‘No, Doctor. We haven’t met before.’ said the bony-faced man, his eyes twinkling. ‘Not yet.’
‘Right. I see,’ paused the Doctor, flicking the tassels of his scarf. ‘You don’t happen to have seen any odd-looking fellows wandering around here recently?’
The bony-faced man pointed.
Standing stiffly beside the serving hatch were two reptiles clad in oily body-moulded armour. They were approximately humanoid except for the lengthy scabrous tails peering out from under their battle cloaks. Their faces were lined with heavily sculptured ridges, with only their eyes and mouth showing any expression. They appraised the Doctor as he approached.
‘Hello, I am the Doctor. You’re not from this planet, I take it?’
The superior of the two creatures inspected the Doctor. ‘No, we are Elyans. I am the Great Leader, and this is Greeple, my lieutenant. Greetings.’
Greeple acknowledged the Doctor with a slight bow. The Doctor grinned back genially. ‘Pleased to meet you. Elyans, eh?’
‘We are from the planet Elyanos,’ stated the Great Leader. ‘Tell, how did you realise that we were not of this world?’
‘Oh, well, the rubbery green scales. And the tails. Bit of a give-away, the tails,’ said the Doctor. ‘And the Imperial warship hovering undetectably in the upper stratosphere, of course.’
‘You are the first Earthling to have noticed,’ said Greeple.
‘Am I? I am?’ The Doctor gave him a penetrating stare. ‘That would be because I’m not actually an Earthling, you see. I’m a Time Lord.’
A passing light entertainment producer frowned at the Doctor. He selected his knife and fork and moved away slowly but definitely.
‘Indeed,’ observed the Great Leader. ‘Are Earthlings a very stupid species?’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that, they have their moments, you know. They’re probably just being discreet. Polite,’ said the Doctor. ‘By the way, may I ask what you’re doing here, visiting this planet?’
‘We have come to vanquish the Zargathon,’ the Great Leader proclaimed.
‘We are here to free the Earth from their dreaded clutches,’ added Greeple helpfully.
‘The Zargathon? Yes, of course, the Zargathon!’ exclaimed the Doctor, slapping his thighs for dramatic emphasis. ‘Never heard of them. Who are the Zargathon?’
‘We have traced them to this location. They have invaded the planet Earth.’
The Doctor boggled at Greeple. Greeple confirmed his leader’s statement with a grave nod.
‘Have they?’ said the Doctor. ‘I don’t suppose you could tell me what these dreaded Zargathon actually look like, could you?’
K9 whirred after Romana into the BBC canteen, his ear radars twitching.
‘I’m sure he was heading this way. We can’t have lost him,’ said Romana.
She ran her eyes over the crowds of diners as they chewed blankly on their ordinary meals. There was no sign of him, and if you could say one thing about the Doctor it would be that he stood out in a crowd.
‘Sensors indicate that the Doctor is nearby,’ said K9.
‘Then where is he?’ queried Romana impatiently.
A figure engrossed with a glass of dark red wine caught Romana’s attention. It was the Doctor, or at least it appeared to be. He had the same mess of unruly brown curls, the same aloof nose and the same indignant, probing eyes. He studied the wine as it lapped and swirled and then gulped it down with a satisfied sigh.
‘Doctor?’ said Romana. The man glanced up, grinning toothily
‘I’m sorry?’ said the man, his voice rich and deep. ‘I’m not a Doctor. I’m Tom.’
‘Tom?’ Romana was startled.
‘Yes, Tom. Absolutely overjoyed to meet you, my dear. And your metal dog too, most delightful. Hello, metal dog. And you are?’
K9 did not reply, his eyes burning. ‘I’m Romana. But you’re-,’ began Romana.
‘The Professor, yes, I know, I know. But I am so much more besides. Please, I’d be most gratified if you’d sit down and join me, Miss Romana. What can I do for you and your metal dog?’
‘This is not the Doctor, mistress,’ clipped K9. ‘This is merely a human being with the same appearance. He should not be trusted.’
‘What?’ exclaimed Romana.
‘The Doctor is in the adjoining corridor,’ said K9, his wheels rumbling over the linoleum as he sped off.
‘The Doctor... Then you’re -’, said Romana, piecing her thoughts together. She finally realised who this mysterious Tom actually was. But that was impossible.
‘I’m sorry, I’ve mistaken you for somebody else.’ She smiled apologetically and drew herself away to follow K9.
Tom watched them go ruefully and returned to his wine.
Greeple levelled his demat rifle at the Doctor. ‘You know how to find the Zargathon?’
‘Well, yes, I think so.’ The Doctor raised his hands and backed away gingerly. The rifle barrel trailed him, the corridor lights glittering over its crumpled tin foil surface.
‘Where are they? You must tell us,’ demanded the Great Leader, his eyes darting about. He advanced on the Doctor, his boots clumping threateningly on the carpet.
‘I think I can show you,’ admitted the Doctor. ‘But first, please, put the gun down.’
‘You will take us to the Zargathon or you will be dematerialised’ howled Greeple.
‘All right,’ said the Doctor through gritted teeth. ‘I’ll take you to them.’
‘Excellent’, said the Great Leader, indicating to Greeple that he should lower the rifle. Greeple held it trained on the Doctor for a pointed moment and then clunked it back into his battle belt.
‘The Zargathon shall be vanquished,’ Greeple said.
‘Excuse me, do you mind not rehearsing in the corridor?’ complained a production manager. ‘It’s most unprofessional.’
The production manager hastened past the Doctor and the Elyans, a clump of untidy scripts clutched to his chest. He made a conspicuous effort to avoid their gaze, keeping his attention firmly fixed on the floor. The Doctor and the Elyans waited for him to disappear around the curve of the passageway before continuing.
‘Now, where were we?’ the Doctor asked cordially.
‘You were going to take us to-’
‘Oh yes. But first I need to find a couple of friends of mine whom I have mislaid. Ah, here they come now.’
Romana and K9 were pounding down the corridor towards them, but suddenly halted in alarm when they saw the Elyans. Romana backed away defensively and K9 extended his nasal laser gun.
‘Romana, K9, hello. These are Elyans, the Great Leader and Greeple,’ effused the Doctor. ‘Great Leader and Greeple, these are my friends, Romana and K9. K9, don’t fire. Be nice to the aliens.’
K9 retracted his nose gun reluctantly. He probed the aliens with his central eye sensor just to let them know that he disapproved of them.
‘Doctor, what are these, these Elyans doing here?’ Romana asked.
‘We have come to vanquish-’, proclaimed Greeple.
‘They’re looking for some other fellows, called the Zargathon, and I’ve agreed to help them find them,’ hurried the Doctor. He adjusted his scarf and plopped his hat on.
‘Never mind that now, Romana.’ The Doctor squeezed her arm and made a let’s-play-along-with-them face. He turned his attention back to the glowering Elyans. ‘If you wouldn’t mind following me, I have a vehicle parked outside.’
The Doctor swept out of the building and hurled himself down the stairwell and across a dew-soaked lawn. He was accompanied by Romana and the Elyans, K9 doggedly bringing up the rear.
The lawn led into an enclosed garden, divided neatly into a rectangular sunken pond, a greenhouse and a vegetable patch, all glistening eerily under the neon orange sky. A slick black statue of a dog cast its benevolent gaze over the flower beds from its vantage point on a concrete podium. The air was cool and earthy, the high walls protecting the garden from the tower blocks that surrounded it. It was a small sanctuary of calm, incongruous in the middle of the dark city.
A security guard stepped into the Doctor’s path with a sudden shout and the Doctor skidded to a stop. The guard was gabbling and the Doctor stooped towards him politely to hear what he was saying.
Romana could see a heated discussion taking place, the Doctor making expansive gestures and the security guard pulling a notepad from his breast pocket.
‘It’s not for me, you understand, it’s for my nephew,’ said the guard as Romana moved into earshot. ‘He loves it, he won’t miss an episode, collects all the books and dolls and everything.’
‘And what is your nephew’s name?’ asked the Doctor, scribbling loosely over the pad.
‘Er - Gareth. Just sign it to Gareth.’ The man confided to Romana, ‘He has to have total silence whenever it’s on. I mean, personally speaking I can’t stand it myself, but-’
‘There you go.’ The Doctor returned the notepad and straightened up. He shrugged a bewildered shrug in reply to Romana’s questioning gaze.
The TARDIS was perched lugubriously in a shadowy corner of the garden. The doors opened with a mellow hum and the Doctor darted inside.
‘This way.’ Romana waved the Elyans into the Police Box, keeping an eye on the security guard. He was still reading his pad in disbelief.
K9 bumbled and slid over the grass to the door ledge, and Romana lifted him gently over the threshold. The doors slapped shut behind her.
‘Hang on a minute,’ protested the security guard, looking up. ‘You’ve signed it as-’
There was the sound of a dilapidated engine wrenching itself into life. The beacon on the roof flashed momentarily and the Police Box lurched itself unceremoniously out of existence.
Fifteen years earlier, the TARDIS materialised in an untidy storeroom. Various wall sections were stacked up against one side of the room, the backs of each section revealing them to be nothing more than painted plywood. The remaining space was cluttered with chairs, sofas, tables, vases, columns and other items of furniture, each with a crisping yellow label attached. It was like a treasure trove, except everything was coated in a thin layer of dust.
The Doctor emerged and shook hands with a skeleton dangling nearby. Peering around the TARDIS, he was startled to see another, identical Police Box lurking behind it. He ran his hand tentatively over its surface. There was no vibration, it was just a normal, hollow Police Box. The Doctor blew the grime off his hand.
‘K9, the Doctor and I won’t be long,’ said Romana, wrinkling her nose at the stuffy atmosphere. She read the label on a nearby plastic statue. ‘Prop room, Lime Grove. What are we doing here?’
‘All will be revealed’, grinned the Doctor.
The Great Leader and Greeple waited uncertainly in the TARDIS doorway, clutching their demat rifles for reassurance.
‘The Zargathon are here?’ Greeple said fearfully.
‘Oh yes, I think so. Look after the TARDIS, will you, K9?’ The Doctor pulled the TARDIS doors shut.
‘The Zargathon shall be vanquished,’ said the Great Leader to nobody in particular.
‘Nobody is going to vanquish anybody,’ scolded the Doctor. ‘Now, all of you. Follow me.’
Romana watched as the Doctor launched himself into the television studio. He had often said that, on planet Earth, if you acted as though you belonged to be somewhere, everyone would be far too embarrassed to question it. He patted a floor manager on the shoulder and mouthed that he wanted to borrow the script. The floor manager, his cumbersome earphones rendering him deaf to the world, handed it to him without comment.
The small, claustrophobic studio was thrilling with commotion. People wandered about, smoking, flicking through scripts, drinking from styrofoam cups of coffee. Two slick-haired men argued as a metal grid festooned in blinkered lights rose jerkily to the ceiling above their heads. Another man, his T-shirt clinging to his belly, waved to some invisible colleague as a section of board was lowered into place. The board was crudely painted to resemble a rock face. It wobbled inelegantly. The man in the T-shirt swore out some instructions and the sound of frantic hammering started. A young, serene woman carrying a tray of make-up picked her way between the dozens of thick, snaking cables. Six heavy cameras lolled about the studio gracefully, immense grey metal boxes with miniature, bulbous lenses hidden in the bay of one end. Each movement the cameras made was mirrored by the images on the dozens of black and white televisions littered about the studio. The pictures would vacillate wildly, or zoom into random objects, cloudy but becoming clear and distinct as the camera focused, before the image was wrenched back again to the studio itself. The man with the earphones yelled and the studio blossomed into brilliant light. He yelled again and the lights dimmed. The hammering stopped and the man in the T-shirt thumped the stone-painted board experimentally. It shook visibly, and he withered, crumpling another coffee cup.
Romana contemplated the images on the monitors with interest. The studio was divided into five sets, each opening towards the central area. One of the sets was meant to be a cave, a cave with strangely angular walls and an unusually flat floor. On the monitors, Romana saw the cave as it would appear on screen. The camera had been angled upwards from the ground and the edges of the walls were shrouded in darkness, so the cave seemed to be utterly convincing. The other sets were a laboratory, a futuristic control room, a corridor and a jungle consisting of two potted plants and a false-perspective backdrop.
The Doctor thumbed through the script. ‘Wonderful. They don’t write them like that any more.’ He tossed it back to the studio manager.
Romana stepped from one foot to another nervously. The Great Leader and Greeple were staring at her impatiently. They had no idea what they were doing there either. Greeple tensed, training his rifle on people as they walked past him.
‘Doctor, what’s going on-’
‘They’re recording a television programme,’ said the Doctor, lost in happy thoughts. ‘A very, very special television programme.’
An elderly gentleman with shoulder-length white hair strolled up to the Doctor. He gripped the Doctor by his shoulders and admired him gleefully. ‘It is, isn’t it? The Doctor. How nice to see you again!’
‘Bill! How are you?’
‘Bearing up, bearing up. And you?’ said the gentleman, fingering the lapels of his costume, regarding the Doctor up and down.
‘Oh, you know. Mustn’t grumble. How’s the show going?’
‘Very well. A huge success with the children, they simply adore it. It’s been going for almost, ah, a whole year now!’
‘And they said it would only last six weeks,’ complemented the Doctor.
‘Quite so. But I really should thank you again for all your assistance, Doctor’, said Bill. ‘Without your help on the, ahem, “research”-’
‘Don’t mention it,’ interrupted the Doctor, tapping his nose. ‘Please. Just between you and me.’
Romana sighed, left out of the conversation. The Doctor was liable to continue chatting in this vein indefinitely, oblivious to the important matter of their search for the Zargathon. She jabbed the Doctor with her elbow. ‘Doctor-’
‘Oh, I’m so terribly sorry. Bill, let me introduce Romana. And these are two Elyans. Romana, Elyans. This is Bill. Or should I say, Professor X?’
‘Delighted.’ Bill clasped Romana’s outstretched hand and gave the two Elyans a frivolous wave. ‘Well, well. Anyway, back to work. No rest for the wicked, eh?’
As the old gentleman threaded his way back to the control room set, the Elyans jostled for the Doctor’s attention.
‘Enough of this. Where are the Zargathon?’ scowled the Great Leader, flouncing his cape.
The Doctor regarded the Great Leader. ‘You want Zargathons? Look. Over there.’
Three figures were shuffling into the studio. They were humanoid, their skin black and rubbery, their faces hidden by bulbous helmets decorated with tubing and a drooping central snorkel. At the front of each helmet was a single, doleful eye. They shambled about, tripping over their large flippers and knocking into anything below knee level.
‘The Zargathon!’ Greeple croaked in awe. Trembling, he raised his demat rifle.
‘They are here.’ The Great Leader retreated in fear. ‘They have conquered the Earth.’
‘Nonsense. You see, they’re filming an episode of a programme called Professor X and Greeple, put that gun down!’ The Doctor dived at Greeple, forcing the barrel sideways as Greeple engaged the trigger. The gun rasped and pulsated and fired a beam of brilliant white.
The beam sheared across the studio and enveloped one of the television cameras in a ferocious aura. Crackles of blue lightning snaked and writhed over the surface of the camera, rocking it violently back and forth. There was a sudden blinding flash and a shriek of thunder.
Romana squinted to disperse the red and green after-images swimming before her eyes. Where the camera had stood, there was now an expanse of grey studio floor. The camera had been completely dematerialised..
The studio crew staggered about, stunned. They turned to each other in disbelief, doing comical double-takes. The floor manager stepped gingerly into the empty space left by the camera, and examined the ground in a wide circle, testing the surface with little jumps. A disconnected cable fizzled at his feet.
‘We’ve lost camera number 5.’
‘It was here,’ said a cameraman, to whom the obvious was worthy of comment. ‘And then it vanished.’
‘Things don’t just vanish,’ stamped the floor manager. ‘They just don’t.’
‘Some sort of electrical fault?’
The Doctor backed away from the commotion, dragging the Elyans and Romana behind him. He rounded on Greeple.
‘Don’t you dare fire that thing again! You can’t go around dematerialising things willy-nilly. You might hurt somebody’, spluttered the Doctor, pounding the air furiously. ‘And as for this Zargathon nonsense-’
He bolted across the studio and chatted to one of the figures dressed in a rubber wet suit. At the Doctor’s suggestion, the figure struggled towards the Elyans, its feet flapping. It stood before them, swaying slightly. The Elyans cringed.
The Doctor folded his arms. ‘Ready.’
The figure lifted off his mask. Beneath it was revealed a bony-faced man with a flurry of brown hair, his skin oozing with sweat. He blinked into the harsh studio light and grinned.
‘What is this?’ asked the Great Leader, affronted.
‘This is John,’ said the Doctor, slapping the rubber-clad actor on the back. John stumbled forward under the force of the impact. ‘A new friend of mine. And your so-called “Zargathon”.’
‘Hello. Are you in this too?’ chirped John.
‘This is impossible,’ said Greeple. ‘The Zargathon are-’
‘-not real,’ finished the Doctor. ‘They don’t exist. They are just men in rubber suits. Nothing to be scared of at all.’
Greeple and the Great Leader turned to each other. ‘But we saw them. In a broadcast from Earth. They were invading.’
‘That was a television programme. An episode of Professor X. It was a story. Fiction’
Greeple’s forehead crinkled. ‘“Fiction”?’
‘You know, something that is not true. Made up,’ said Romana, talking to them as if they were children.
‘I do not comprehend. How could we see something that was not true?’ inquired the Great Leader.
‘It’s pretend. It’s not really happening.’
The Elyans considered this scrupulously. John winked at them, preparing a fresh roll-up, his snorkel mask tucked under his arm. He lit it, swiped out the match in his webbed glove, and sucked in a satisfied breath of tobacco.
‘What is “pretend”?’ said Greeple eventually. Romana sighed and looked heavenwards.
‘Romana, where the Elyans come from they have no such thing as fiction. They are a very unimaginative species. They have to take everything literally,’ explained the Doctor, fiddling with his pockets. ‘To them there is no pretend.’
‘You say that the Zargathon are humans dressed up’, pronounced the Great Leader. ‘But why would the humans wish to disguise themselves as the Zargathon? The very same race that has lain waste to their planet?’
‘Good grief. The Zargathon haven’t lain waste to the Earth. Look around you, does it look as if it has been lain waste to?’ said the Doctor. ‘The humans haven’t really been invaded. They’re only acting. In a story. The same story that you watched on television. ’The Doctor retrieved a script and presented it to the Great Leader. ‘See?’
On the front page was written;
Professor X - Serial K
“The Zargathon Menace” by Dick Terrents
‘But why would the humans act as if they had been invaded, if they haven’t?’ said the Great Leader, his eyes narrowing.
‘Perhaps it is a trick?’ Greeple suggested.
The Doctor replaced the script. ‘Because it’s the sort of thing they do! They find it entertaining! They like to imagine what it would be like to be invaded! It doesn’t mean they have been invaded, it doesn’t mean they need you to pootle half-way across the galaxy in a warship to come and rescue them! It doesn’t mean anything.’ The Doctor slapped his fist in frustration. ‘Listen to me. There are no such things as Zargathon.’
‘No such things as Zargathon?’ digested the Great Leader.
‘The Zargathon must be vanquished,’ muttered Greeple to himself..
‘Excuse me, but if you don’t need me any more, I think they’re getting ready to start,’ interrupted John in his cockney drawl. He flicked out his cigarette and squished it underflipper. ‘I’d love to hear more, but-’
‘Please, don’t let us stop you,’ said the Doctor graciously. ‘Thanks for your help. See you later.’
‘Well. Cheers, then, all of you.’ John placed his head in the bulbous, plastic helmet. He nodded to them in turn, his snorkel bobbling, and flapped towards the laboratory set, steadying himself against the scenery..
Romana watched him go. ‘Well, do you understand now?’ she asked the Elyans.
‘I think so. The humans here are making a performance of a Zargathon invasion, even though it has not happened,’ said the Great Leader.
‘Correct,’ said the Doctor.
‘At last,’ breathed Romana.
‘...Yet’, added Greeple. ‘They might invade later.’
Romana arched her eyebrows. ‘You really are the most astonishingly credulous race, aren’t you?’
‘The Zargathon are a race of terrible, evil creatures. They are roughly humanoid, but have hideous insect-like faces and webbed feet. They have one staring eye, and a special antennae on the top of their heads for picking up and giving out radio signals.
When Professor X encountered them, they were planning to take over the Earth by turning people into their robotic slaves. Luckily the good Professor managed to defeat them by jamming their antennae radios and the human race survived to face another day.’
Dick Terrents, The Professor X Monster Book, (Target, 1975)
A tubby, bald man with thick-rimmed glasses strode into the studio, hands disapprovingly on hips. ‘And what has happened here?’
‘One of the cameras has gone.’
‘What do you mean “one of the cameras has gone?”’ said the tubby man, itching the folds of his neck.
‘It was here. And now it isn’t,’ illuminated the floor manager.
‘Well we’ll just have to manage without it then, won’t we? Heavens above. All right, ready everyone?’ The tubby man clapped his clipboard for attention. ‘Okay, we’re going to start now. Everybody know what they’re doing? Good. Remember, we’re going from scene one to scene seven in one take. Hopefully.’
The cameras swung into position. The studio dimmed, the remaining lights meticulously picking out every detail of the sets. The T-shirted prop man threatened the cave wall not to fall down during filming and joined the rest of the staff crowding into a disused corner of the studio.
The tubby man enunciated his instructions. ‘Okay. Lights, wonderful. Sound, good. Actors. Everyone where they should be? Bill? Good. Oh dear.’ The tubby man had alighted upon the Doctor, Romana and the Elyans, hunched in the shadows trying to look inconspicuous. He fixed them with an indignant glare. ‘And what are you doing?’
The Doctor was about to speak when the man yelled at them again. ‘Get in your positions. Over there!’ He directed them towards the control room set with his clipboard. It was occupied by four rather bored-looking Zargathon. ‘Go over there, into set four.’
The Doctor gathered up his scarf and bounded into the middle of the control room set. He grinned broadly. ‘Here?’
‘Yes. Stand at the back. All of you,’ commanded the director. ‘Make it look busy.’
The Elyans shambled into the set, appealing to Romana for guidance. She elbowed them into position, and then took her place beside the Doctor.
‘What are we supposed to do?’ Romana whispered.
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ smiled the Doctor. ‘Just join in if everybody starts shouting “the humans must die” or something.’
‘Right,’ said Romana. She passed the instructions on to the Elyans. They fidgeted, their tails lashing about nervously.
‘This is exciting, isn’t it?’ The Doctor popped his head over the shoulder of a nearby Zargathon. ‘I’ve always wanted to be in-’
‘Quiet,’ bellowed the director. ‘Alright. Lights. Cameras?’
The cameraman stuck their thumbs up. The floor manager counted down with his fingers. ‘Five, four, three...’ He backed away silently.
‘The Professor, Carol and William ran into the control room. The walls were lined with control panels full of flickering dials, and there was a giant clock-like structure along one wall. Instead of numbers, the clock had strange, alien symbols. The hand of the clock slowly moved towards an area coloured in red.
‘We’re too late,’ said William.
‘Look!’ screamed Carol.
In front of them were four Zargathon armed with laser guns. Behind the Zargathon were two giant lizards in military uniform and two humanoid aliens dressed in eccentric clothing.
‘So, it was you all along. The Zargathon. I should have guessed. Well, I must warn you. If you intend to invade the Earth, I shall do my very best to defeat you!’ said the Professor proudly.
The Zargathon pointed their guns at the time travellers. Meanwhile, the clock continued to count down to destruction. It was now at the half-way mark. Time was running out.
‘The humans must die. The humans must die. THE HUMANS MUST DIE’, chanted the Zargathon, the lizards and the other aliens joining in with the chant a few seconds later.
Dick Terrents, Professor X and the Zargathons, (Target, 1978)
The Great Leader followed the Doctor, Romana and lieutenant Greeple into the storeroom. His head weighed heavily upon his shoulders. They had failed in their mission, he thought. They had brought shame upon the glorious Elyan Empire.
‘So you watch a lot of television, do you?’ teased the Doctor. ‘Have you seen any Morecambe and Wise?’
The Elyans did not reply. The Great Leader avoided the Doctor’s gaze, blinking strictly into the distance.
‘You should, you know.’ The Doctor drew the key to the TARDIS from the depths of his coat. ‘Romana thinks they’re marvellous.’
‘Where to now, Doctor?’ said Romana, skipping over to the blue booth.
‘The Elyan warship, I think,’ said the Doctor. He turned the key in the lock, but to no effect. He tried the key again, twisting it back and forth. ‘That’s odd.’
Romana pushed the door and it creaked open. Harrumphing, the Doctor steered her inside.
The Great Leader was about to follow them when the Doctor and Romana suddenly reappeared from around the back of the structure. Surprised, he peered into the booth. The interior was dark and cramped and the rear wall was missing. Where it should have been, there was just a hole leading back into the storeroom.
‘This isn’t the TARDIS,’ said Romana apprehensively.
Frowning, the Doctor hopped into the booth, winding his scarf around him. Again, he emerged from the other side. ‘No, it isn’t.’
‘What has happened?’ questioned Greeple.
The Doctor paced about the storeroom. He crouched to inspect a square outline in the dusty floor. ‘I’m not sure, but-’
‘Doctor, what about K9? He was inside.’
‘It’s the last time I leave that dog in charge. I told him quite distinctly,-’ said the Doctor, rubbing his lips. ‘You know, there’s something missing here, and I can’t quite remember what.’
‘The TARDIS?’ prompted Romana.
‘The Police Box! There was another Police Box here! And now it’s gone.’ The Doctor sprang to his feet and walked over to the blue booth. He ran his hands over the panelling thoughtfully. ‘Except it’s still here. And if the replica Police Box is still here, that means the TARDIS-’
A whistle echoed eerily in the darkness. A torch glowed through the fog and a policeman appeared behind it.
‘Evenin’ all.’ He spoke slowly, lending each word proper authority and emphasis. He rocked back on his feet, cordially addressing his audience. ‘You know, a policeman’s lot can often be a tricky one. Believe me, there are times when it seems that there is no end to the mischief that the criminal fraternity will perpetrate. But-’
‘Excuse me.’ A gangly, curly-haired man in a heavy brown coat brushed past the policeman. He smiled down at the officer. ‘You haven’t seen a Police Box around here, have you? Blue, about so high? Ah-ha!’
In a nearby alleyway a Police Box was looming through the mist. The policeman watched in bewilderment as the man loped towards it, accompanied by a bright-faced young woman and what appeared to be two giant lizards in plastic armour.
The gangly man smoothed the Police Box. ‘There you are, old girl.’ The doors swung open and he disappeared inside. ‘Down K9, down!’
The woman and the lizards pursued the man into the Police Box, slamming the doors behind them. The roof beacon flashed and faded, spiriting the blue box away into nothingness. It left behind an empty street corner whirling with dry ice.
The policeman removed his helmet and scratched his head. He turned to the camera for reassurance, his face lined with confusion.
An unseen voice instructed, ‘Okay, cut. Now can somebody tell me what the hell is going on?’
The control room was silent and dark, the control panel lights glimmering in the stillness. The Television Centre fluttered in the centre of the observation panel.
With a painful grinding, the TARDIS solidified itself onto the bridge and the Doctor, Romana and the Elyans emerged.
‘Here you are,’ announced the Doctor dismissively. He wandered around the control room, his hands plunged into his pockets. ‘Elyan Imperial Warship.’
‘Can’t say I care much for the decor,’ sniffed Romana. ‘Very unimaginative. You were right, Doctor.’
The Great Leader circled over to the main console and started pulling and twisting various levers and knobs. ‘We shall leave for Elyanos immediately.’
‘Very wise,’ said the Doctor. ‘And when you get back, I recommend you take another good look at your Professor X tape. If you watch very carefully, you should be able to spot yourselves in the background of one of the scenes. Your moment of fame.’
‘We shall do that,’ bristled Greeple. He pressed his claws onto a console panel and the spaceship’s engines rumbled into life.
‘Which will prove to your people that the Zargathon are not real,’ suggested Romana, perching herself onto the observation panel.
‘And that the human race doesn’t need you to turn up and rescue them from their evil clutches,’ completed the Doctor. ‘Always keep in mind that most of human television is completely made-up. Particularly Professor X. No matter how realistic it may seem, you should never, ever take it seriously.’
The Great Leader bowed formally. ‘I can assure you that the Elyan Empire will heed your advice, Doctor. Thank you for your assistance.’
‘Not at all, think nothing of it,’ the Doctor grinned. ‘And if you ever get scared watching Professor X, I recommend you just hide behind the sofa.’
Romana giggled and swung herself off the desk. ‘Time we were gone?’
‘I think so. Well, goodbye, goodbye. Charmed meeting you both.’ The Doctor shook the Elyan’s claws vigorously and set off for the TARDIS.
‘Goodbye, Doctor, Romana,’ said the Great Leader.
‘And no more vanquishing,’ joked Romana, slipping through the entrance of the Police Box. The Doctor gave a cheery wave and vanished after her.
After the TARDIS had dematerialised, Greeple and the Great Leader lingered in contemplation for some minutes. Eventually the Great Leader swished over to the observation panel and glowered at it intently. He would never live down the humiliation. Fooled by a fake human broadcast, he would be the laughing stock of Elyanos.
Greeple clicked his tongue. ‘What’s a sofa?’
Dust danced and swirled in the spotlight of a single cheerless light bulb. The floor of the basement was crusted in swirls of grime. The shelves were stacked high with thousands of musty cans of film, piled into clumsy towers and racked into teetering, domino-like constructions.
The TARDIS thumped into reality, its beacon sweeping over the gloomy avenues of shelving. Romana stepped out and switched on a heavy, black rubber torch.
‘What have we come here for?’
‘A spot of tidying up,’ the Doctor replied. He glided along the shelves, perusing the crisping identification labels. Unable to find what he was looking for, he squatted to scrutinise the lower shelves.
‘If you told me what you were after, I might be able to help.’
‘Romana, have you ever read the Expense Accounts of Acedemi Plurix?’
‘One of the greatest philosophical works of the Institute of Hypothetical Research on Smorglett Beta.’ The Doctor sank into the shadows, his voice resonating in the dead atmosphere. ‘A great thinker, old Acedemi, and a very, very accomplished eater. I remember once he proved the non-existence of the entire universe from first principles just to get out of paying for lunch.’
‘What’s in these Expense Accounts?’
‘Well, Plurix had this theory that realism wasn’t consistent throughout the galaxies. He believed that whilst realism is usually pretty strong, occasionally there are places where it becomes stretched and weak. And in these areas of Thin Reality, as he called them, what was real would appear to be unrealistic, and what was unrealistic would appear to be real. Fact and fiction would become indistinguishable.’
Romana arched her eyebrows. ‘That is complete nonsense.’
‘Yes, probably,’ agreed the Doctor, returning from the blackness. Tucked beneath one arm was a pile of film cans. ‘But tell me, what did you think of the Elyans?’
‘To be honest, they seemed rather ridiculous. A very unlikely race.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ mused the Doctor. ‘Unbelievable. Or perhaps they only seemed unrealistic? Remember when we were in the television studio. Did anything strike you as odd?’
Romana drew herself up. ‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘The pictures on the monitors,’ prompted the Doctor, unloading the tins onto a nearby desk. ‘The studio sets?’
‘Well, to be fair, I thought they seemed rather convincing-’ Romana stopped herself.
‘Exactly. And yet in real life they were wobbling. Let me tell you, if there’s one thing Professor X never is, it’s convincing. There’s always something wrong, some shaky set, or some daft-looking monster, or some piece of string holding up a space ship. And yet in this particular story everything was totally realistic. Why do you think that was?’
‘You don’t really expect me to believe that it was due to Thin Reality?’ snorted Romana.
‘It makes the unrealistic appear realistic.’ The Doctor began rummaging through the tins, puffing the dust off each of the labels. ‘Romana, I think we have been caught in a Thin Reality field. Our experiences of late have seemed implausible to say the least, and yet an implausible Professor X story has seemed completely convincing. So convincing, in fact, that anybody watching it would find it almost impossible to believe it wasn’t true.’
‘Like the Elyans did?’
‘Indeed. The Thin Reality had made the Zargathon appear utterly, utterly real. Terrifyingly so.’
Romana was appalled. ‘But if what you say is true, that means any alien race seeing the programme could mistake it for genuine - and then come to Earth and attempt to destroy the Zargathon.’
‘Which is why we are here.’ The Doctor retrieved a can of film and passed it to Romana. The lid was marked in clumsy biro;
Prof. X. Serial K. Menace of the Zargathon.
‘We can’t allow this story ever to be broadcast again,’ said the Doctor solemnly. ‘It is far too dangerous. Who knows what creatures may be watching next time? They might not be as understanding as the Elyans. They might decide to just blow Earth out of existence to save time.’
‘You’re going to destroy the programme?’ asserted Romana, returning the tin to the Doctor.
The Doctor exhaled gravely. ‘Yes. Every single copy, except for this one. This is for... posterity. In the TARDIS archive.’
‘But won’t anybody notice it’s missing?’
‘Knowing the BBC, it’ll probably be at least ten years before they realise it’s gone. And by then it will only exist as a few dog-eared scripts and some fondly held memories.’
‘A shame, really. The best Professor X story and nobody will ever get the chance to see it again,’ mourned Romana.
‘I know.’ The Doctor shook the can, as if he was searching for something to say. He frowned up at Romana guiltily. ‘But unfortunately there are some extraordinarily gullible races out there, and one can’t be too careful.’
Romana crossed over to the TARDIS, her head hanging down, and tip-toed over the threshold. The Doctor stood in reflection for some minutes, drumming his fingers on the film can, before turning to face to the TARDIS. It was waiting for him, the doors open in expectation.
Ruffling his hair, the Doctor ducked into the Police Box and drew the doors together behind him. Seconds later, the familiar grinding began and the Police Box faded away into the space-time vortex.
The Doctor’s voice rang out briefly after the TARDIS had vanished. ‘Well, I wouldn’t say it’s the best. A good one, yes, but not the best. You should see “The City Of Doom”...’
‘One of the most sought-after missing stories is the classic first Professor story The Zargathon Menace. Although much of Season 2 still exists, this particular story was tragically lost in the early 1970’s. Apparently, a memo to BBC Enterprises from the BBC Film Library had said that they held a copy of this story, and so BBC Enterprises destroyed all of their copies to make space for other programmes. The BBC Film Library copy, however, mysteriously then went missing a few days later. The only surviving clip from this classic story is a short excerpt from Episode 1 that was included in an edition of Blue Peter.’
The Missing Classics, Professor X Winter Special (Marvel, 1981)
Ian Chesterton yawned and checked his watch. He had been sitting outside the cave keeping watch for over four hours. He was achingly tired.
The jungle atmosphere was humid and sticky. His shirt and trousers were soaked with sweat and glued to his skin. The boulder he was using for a seat was dank and uncomfortable. He had chosen it deliberately to help him stay awake. Not that he would be able to sleep, thanks to the pounding of the bruise on the back of his head.
Behind him the Doctor, Barbara and Vicki slept soundlessly on the smooth cave floor. In front of him was the writhing mass of the dark alien jungle. Lithe vines coiled down from the jungle canopy and exotic, swollen plants lurked in the dense vegetation. In the distance he could hear the screech and caw of the local fauna. The undergrowth shifted and rustled in the low breeze, as if it was breathing. Ian felt that the jungle was watching him. It was alive.
Ian stretched his legs and heaved himself upright. He squinted suspiciously into the gloom. Out there, he knew, were giant voracious funguses, creeping through the blackness, ready to ensnare any unsuspecting victim in their mottled folds. He had heard them shuffling about, blindly searching for their prey. But they were not the main threat. Somewhere in the darkness, waiting, machinating, were the Daleks.
Ian was startled from his reverie by a sudden crackle of thunder. A brilliant blaze of light exploded in the jungle nearby, scattering plumes of fizzling blue sparks over a wide area. There was a cacophony of squawking and flapping from the alarmed wildlife. Even the giant funguses were shrinking back from the furious conflagration.
After only a fraction of a second, the dazzling light ceased and Ian was plunged back into the night. The jungle continued to shriek indignantly for a several more minutes, until eventually the calm returned.
Ian glanced at his companions in the cave. They were all still asleep. He massaged his fist as he considered his next move. The disturbance had only been a short distance away. The cave would only be unguarded for a few minute while he investigated. If there was a threat, he could warn the others. If it turned out to be nothing, well, there was no need to disturb them.
Ian resolved to find out what had caused the commotion. He straightened his blazer and cautiously picked his way into the undergrowth. After trudging solidly for several minutes, he dragged apart a curtain of vines and abruptly found himself in a wide clearing.
In the centre of the clearing, bathed in a tranquil glow, was a bulky television camera. Its grey metal surface glistened as it rocked complacently back and forth. It had a strange, ghostlike quality.
As Ian approached, he could make out the writing along one side of the camera. It said ‘BBC TV’. Beside it was a large number 5.
This was impossible, Ian thought. He must be seeing things. The others would never believe him.
Bleary-eyed, Ian sleepwalked his way back to the cave and sank down outside the entrance. He tenderly investigated the bruise on the back of his head. It was still throbbing painfully. Vicki must have hit him harder than he’d thought.