"Well, there's no point sulking about it," said Romana.
"Who's sulking?" replied the Doctor indignantly. "I'm not sulking. K9, am I sulking?"
K9 glided forward in response, extending his data probe to scan the Doctor's temperament. "Sulking," he intoned. "To be sullen. To be silently ill-tempered. To be obstinately morose. Descriptive of emotional state currently displayed by the Doctor."
"What would you know?" the Doctor muttered. He looked down gloomily at the control console, and the grooved wooden disc he had placed on top of the central column. It rose and fell with each oscillation of the column. The disc was painted a happy shade of yellow, but today he found the sight of it far from joyful. "Do you know how long I've had that yo-yo?" he asked.
"264 years," said Romana.
The Doctor ignored her. He reached into his coat pocket, and took out a tangled piece of string. He straightened it out, and stared at it forlornly. It was really two lengths of string twisted together tightly, tied off with a knot at one end to form a loop. At the other extremity, the two entwined strands should have joined together into another loop, but this had frayed and broken - worn through by 264 years of complicated yo-yo tricks.
"It's not the end of the world," Romana said. "Don't you have another string lying around somewhere?"
"No, I've never needed one before."
"But you've got lots of junk cluttering up the TARDIS. You must have some string somewhere amongst all that."
"What?" exclaimed the Doctor. "I can't just use any old bit of string. A yo-yo string is a piece of precision equipment."
"Well then," said Romana, "you'll just have to make do without it."
The Doctor stuffed the broken string back into his pocket. "There's only one thing for it. We'll have to go somewhere to find a replacement." And with new determination, he turned his attention to the controls.
"Doctor?" said Romana slowly. "Aren't you forgetting the randomizer? We may land somewhere the yo-yo's never been invented."
"I don't think I've ever been anywhere that uncivilized," said the Doctor thoughtfully. "Still, we'll just have to keep trying until we're successful. I can't go through eternity without my yo-yo. I think I'd go mad."
The control room filled with the raucous wailing of the engines, as the TARDIS prepared for materialization.
A steadily-building rumbling sound was the first indication that something was wrong. Then the TARDIS started to shake wildly. The hatstand fell over with a loud clatter, spilling the Doctor's various discarded coats across the floor. His yo-yo slid from the top of the perspex column, bounced off the console, and rolled away into a corner.
The very air around them seemed to bubble and ripple. The Doctor looked up at Romana in some surprise, and watched as her image juddered unhealthily before his eyes. He probably looked just as odd to her, he realized. "I don't think this can be right," he shouted over the din.
"What's happening?" called Romana. "Is something blocking our materialization?"
"I don't know. The dimensional stabilizer seems to be working correctly. It's almost as if we're trying to pass in and out of space-time simultaneously."
"But that's not possible."
"Danger, danger," cried K9, extending his probe to interface with the console. "Dimensional containment controls are breaking down."
"What?" replied the Doctor, aghast. He looked up at Romana. "We're trying to land in two places at once."
"But the TARDIS will be ripped in half," Romana said.
"You'd better stand close to me, Romana. We don't want to end up in different halves. I might never find you again."
Romana moved unsteadily across the control room floor. It was rather like trying to change cars on a rollercoaster. Just as she began to think she would never reach the Doctor in time, an idea occurred to her. "Why don't you boost the power through the synchronic feedback circuit?"
The floor lurched, and the Doctor fell over. He landed beside K9, and turned his head to look the dog right in the visual scanners. "K9, why don't I boost the power through the synchronic feedback circuit?"
K9's ears waggled as he computed the odds. "Power boost may force the TARDIS to choose one destination over the alternative, master. Possibility of success is 47 percent."
"What happens in the other 53 percent?"
"The TARDIS will disintegrate, master."
"I like those kind of odds," the Doctor said. He jumped to his feet, and began furiously to manipulate the controls. "Hold tight."
He slammed the booster switches home, and gripped the edge of the console for support. The shuddering increased its intensity for a long, agonizing moment - then the console room started to return to normal. The rumbling sound died away, and the engines completed their normal materialization cycle.
As the TARDIS came to rest, the Doctor looked up at Romana and smiled. "That was a very good idea," he said.
"Thank you, Doctor."
"Oh, it was nothing." He turned away, and righted the hatstand. Then he
gathered up his coats from the floor, and started to hang them up. "Did you
see what happened to my yo-yo?" he asked. "After what we've just been
through, I'd hate to have lost it."
The TARDIS had landed on the pavement of a quiet side-street, lined on both sides with pleasant Georgian houses. The Doctor looked around with some satisfaction.
"Earth?" asked Romana.
"Exactly," said the Doctor. "England to be precise. I'm bound to find a yo-yo string here."
"Surely it depends on the period. These buildings are late eighteenth century, I'd say."
"Yes, but these street lamps are mid twentieth century. Come on, let's have a look around." He set off along the street at an enthusiastic pace.
Romana lingered beside the TARDIS for a moment. "Shouldn't we bring K9?" she called.
The Doctor stopped, and turned to look at her. "I'm not sure what the locals would make of him," he said. "Anyway, we're only going to be here long enough for me to find a yo-yo string. I doubt we'll need K9 for that."
"But what about the instability when we tried to land?" asked Romana. "That sort of distortion is usually the result of unshielded time field manipulation."
"Yes," replied the Doctor, "that had occurred to me. That's why I've got K9 analysing all the instrument readings. If something like that is going on, he ought to be able to tell us about it." He produced a slim silver cylinder from his pocket. "And if we do need him, I've got my dog whistle."
They walked to the end of the road without seeing a soul. As they continued into the next few streets, they found the Georgian buildings slowly giving way to poorer housing.
Eventually they were confronted with long terraced rows of houses. Here and there, the grim conformity of the streets was broken up by large patches of rubble-strewn waste ground - a combination of unreconstructed bomb damage and slum clearance work in progress. "Late 1940s, early 50s," muttered the Doctor. "Just the time we need."
Around the next corner stood a huge pair of wrought iron gates, beyond which could be seen some sort of factory. Parked beside the gates was a white metal caravan, from which a tea stall was operating. Behind his counter, the proprietor stood staring glumly into the middle distance. There were no customers for him to attend to - indeed, the street and the factory compound beyond seemed completely deserted.
Then suddenly, a dishevelled figure appeared at the far end of the road, and hurried shakily towards the tea stall. It was an old tramp, his face red and heavily weathered. His straggly hair stuck out at all angles, and his chin bore several days' growth of grey stubble. He wore a filthy, tattered mackintosh.
The tramp came to a halt before the tea stall, swaying unsteadily on his feet. He looked all round with a frightened gaze, as if he thought he was being watched. For a few moments, his stare settled upon the Doctor and Romana, and his eyes narrowed as if he was scrutinizing them closely. Then he turned his attention to the tea stall. "Where is everybody?" he shouted up at the proprietor.
"Not you again," said the stallholder wearily. "I told you to clear off, didn't I?"
"You've got to listen to me," said the tramp. "It's all going wrong. I can't control it, you see."
"It's not my problem, grandad."
"It is your problem. When they get here, it'll be everyone's problem, don't you see?"
The Doctor led Romana over to the caravan. "Two teas, please," he said loudly.
The proprietor reacted with a start, and turned away from the tramp. "I'm sorry, guvnor, I didn't see you there." He started to busy himself with the tea urn, seemingly grateful for the distraction. The tramp slumped against the side of the caravan in weary despair.
Ignoring him, the stallholder concentrated on his new customers. "I was beginning to think I wouldn't have any customers at all today," he said cheerily.
"Perhaps you should consider changing your location," suggested Romana, looking round at the deserted street.
"Oh, this is my regular pitch, miss. I usually pick up the lunchtime trade from the factory, see. But it's closed today."
"Oh really?" said the Doctor. "Why's that?"
"Well, because of the Summer Fair, guvnor - in the park this afternoon. And it all ends with the annual town cricket match. Everyone's going to be there." He passed two white china mugs across the counter.
While he rummaged in his pockets for some pre-decimal currency, the Doctor asked, "I don't suppose there's a toyshop around here?"
"There's one in the High Street. You might still catch him open before the cricket match starts." And he gave the Doctor directions.
The Doctor passed a mug to Romana, and started to sip at his steaming hot tea. But his attention was drawn by the tramp, who had recovered his balance and was now staring intently at them as if they didn't belong. "Are you all right, old chap?" the Doctor asked gently.
"You don't..." began the tramp uncertainly. "What are you...?" He didn't seem able to complete a train of thought.
"Don't bother about him, guvnor," advised the stallholder. "He's nothing but a troublemaker."
The figure of a policeman appeared beside the tea stall then. He looked askance at the tramp, and said, "What's going on here, then? Have you been bothering these people?"
"I've got to make them listen," muttered the tramp. "I've got to make someone listen. Don't you understand? There's nothing I can about it. It's outside my control."
"Well, we all know that," said the policeman gruffly. "Now, come along. Be off with you, and leave these poor people alone."
The tramp hovered uncertainly for a while, looking at everyone in turn as if seeking an answer. Then he turned round, and shuffled off the way he had come.
The policeman frowned apologetically at the Doctor and Romana. "I'm sorry about that. He's harmless enough, just a bit loopy. Been hitting the bottle a little too often. Still, no harm done, eh? Everything's all right in the end." He touched his helmet in salute, and turned on his heel to resume walking his beat.
Sipping thoughtfully at her tea, Romana allowed a number of complicated ideas to form in her mind. Something about the tramp's words had intrigued her - something that didn't quite seem like the paranoid ramblings of an alcoholic.
She turned to the Doctor, but he didn't seem to have noticed anything amiss. He was swigging down the last dregs of his tea. "Well, I'm off to get that yo-yo string," he announced brightly. "I shouldn't be very long. Why don't you go back to the TARDIS?"
Romana shook her head. "We ought to stay for a while. We still don't know about that temporal instability. We could have just as much difficulty leaving as we did arriving."
"I'm sure the TARDIS can cope with it. I mean, we've been through it once - we'll know what to do next time."
"Doctor," said Romana reproachfully. "You know a temporal distortion like that shouldn't occur in this time period. We've got a responsibility to investigate, and put a stop to it."
The Doctor frowned. He knew that she was right, of course, but he hated having to face up to his responsibilities. If he'd wanted to live life by the rules, he would have stayed on Gallifrey. "Oh, all right," he said grumpily. "Have a look round, and see what you can find out. I'll meet you later."
"Where?" asked Romana.
"Well... What about at this town cricket match? If everyone's going there, it shouldn't be too hard to find." He returned his mug to the tea stall. Then he set off in the direction of the High Street.
On the far side of the road, he paused and turned back. "Romana," he called. "I've just thought. What if I miss you in the crowd?"
Romana cast an eye over his colourful attire. "Don't worry, Doctor," she
said. "I'm sure I'll be able to spot you."
The High Street contained a jumbled collection of shops, as if it had been put together haphazardly over the last couple of centuries. The toyshop was a dark Victorian building, in which the display window stood out as a vivid splash of colour. Looking through the glass, the Doctor was delighted to see a selection of water pistols, rubber balls, board games, cap guns and a cowboy outfit.
He pushed at the door, which opened with the ringing of a bell. The Doctor made his way inside and approached the counter, which took the form of a glass display cabinet. There was no one in sight. Squatting down, the Doctor peered inside the glass cabinet at a wonderful assortment of model cars and trains.
"Can I help you, sir?"
The Doctor looked up, and found a grey haired man standing behind the counter. He seemed to have appeared as if by magic - but the Doctor quickly realized that he had simply come through a door from a back room.
"Are you interested in model trains?" asked the shopkeeper.
"No," said the Doctor. He jumped to his feet, and smiled. "Well, actually yes. But that's not the purpose of my visit today." He looked around the shop with a wistful smile. There was so much fun to be found here, but he didn't have time for it. At the back of his mind loomed the problem of the localized time distortion - which he and Romana would have to deal with before they could depart.
"Well," said the shopkeeper, "what can I do for you?"
"I'm looking for a yo-yo string."
The shopkeeper smiled. "Simplicity itself," he replied, and ducked down behind the counter. Peering over, the Doctor watched as he opened one of a chest of drawers. Inside were various play accessories - dice, rolls of caps, and a pile of little paper envelopes. He picked up one of these, and handed it to the Doctor. "I think you'll find that's just what you need."
The Doctor opened the flap, and extracted a neatly coiled piece of tightly-twined string. Smiling happily, he reached into his pocket for his yo-yo. He opened the loop of the string wide, and slid it carefully into place. Then he began to wind it round the spindle.
The shopkeeper watched with a strangely satisfied expression, as the Doctor gave the yo-yo a few practice flicks. It progressed smoothly up and down the string. Then he kept it spinning at its furthest extremity for several seconds, to check the loop was not too tight.
"How much do I owe you?" the Doctor asked.
"Oh, you can have that with my compliments," said the shopkeeper. "It's just a pleasure to see someone with a yo-yo again. I can't have sold one for over a year."
"What?" exclaimed the Doctor.
"Well, that's children today," said the shopkeeper sadly. "They just don't seem interested in the old favourites any more. It's always the latest craze. Right now, of course, it's Stan Steel."
The Doctor flipped the yo-yo back into his hand, and slipped it away into his pocket. "Stan Steel?" he asked.
"Stan Steel," confirmed the shopkeeper. "The Pilot of Tomorrow. That's him over there." He gestured towards the far side of the shop, where a large cardboard cut-out figure stood. It depicted a comic strip drawing of a man with immaculate blond hair, steely blue eyes, and the firm square jaw of a determined hero. He was wearing a bright red spacesuit, with highly polished brass fittings.
"All the boys want to grow up to be like Stan Steel," said the shopkeeper. "He was the first man into space, and he defeated the evil Verons when they tried to conquer the Earth."
"Ah," replied the Doctor.
"And all they want to buy is Stan Steel toys. There are ray guns, toy rocketships, spacesuits for dressing up. And it's not just toys. You can get Stan Steel pyjamas, Stan Steel slippers, Stan Steel mugs, even Stan Steel corn flakes; comics, books, wallpaper, toothpaste. I don't think there's anything that Stan Steel doesn't endorse." The shopkeeper sighed to himself. "So you'll forgive me if I seem a bit resentful sometimes. I do so love the old favourites, you see. Train sets and toy soldiers, they were always my specialities."
"Yes, I see," murmured the Doctor sympathetically. "I'm sure it's just a passing phase."
"Oh, I do hope so," said the shopkeeper.
The Summer Fair was in full swing. Romana had found the town park without difficulty. As the Doctor had said, everyone was going there - she'd just followed the crowd. The sun was shining, and people were dressed accordingly. The women wore light, flowery dresses. The men had abandoned their jackets and ties.
The park consisted of neatly laid out gardens beside a boating lake, with the occasional clump of trees to break up the scene. Families had laid out blankets and tablecloths on the grass, sitting down to eat from their picnic hampers. Children ran around playing, and vendors sold candy floss and ice creams.
As Romana moved towards the far end of the park, she discovered various stalls and fairground rides had been set up. Traction engines wheezed and hissed to provide the power. People milled around the stalls, playing hoopla for the prize of a goldfish. Then she came upon several marquees. Wandering inside, she discovered various competitions in progress, as the locals brought their endeavours for judgement. There were prizes for the largest root vegetables, the tastiest cakes and the least foul-tasting homemade wines.
At the far end of the park was the cricket pitch. A number of people were gathered here already, although it didn't seem that the match was likely to start for some time. The groundsmen were still rolling the grass. The centre of activity was the cricket pavilion, where some of the players sat on the verandah drinking tea with local dignitaries.
One of these was a podgy, balding man, dressed in bright red robes and a black tricorn hat, with a golden chain around his neck that denoted his authority as the town's Mayor. He came to the edge of the verandah, where a large square microphone stood. He tapped it with his index finger, and caused a feedback howl to burst from the loudspeaker which had been erected on the pavilion's roof.
The Mayor cleared his throat, and then spoke hesitantly into the microphone. "I'm glad to see so many of you here," he began. "These events are so very important to the life of our town, I'm sure you'll agree. Now, I've got a little bit of bad news, I'm afraid."
Some urgent murmuring ran through the crowd, and he waited for it to subside before continuing. "It's nothing too serious," he said. "But our guest of honour, Colonel Steel, has been a bit delayed getting here today. And as he's agreed to captain the first XI, that means putting back the start of the cricket match. But he shouldn't be more than a hour, I'm told, so there'll be plenty of time for the game while the light's still good. In the meantime, please enjoy yourselves."
The crowd started to drift away, back towards the stalls and marquees.
Romana lingered for a moment, pondering her next course of action. So far,
she had found no trace of any temporal distortion, nor anything that might
have caused it. Maybe the problem had been in the TARDIS the whole time - it
was hardly inconceivable.
Emerging from the toyshop, the Doctor experimented with a couple of more complicated yo-yo manoeuvres. He was so engrossed in this test of his skills, he didn't notice the tatty figure slumped against the wall of the shop until he nearly walked into him. It was the old tramp they had seen earlier at the tea stall.
The Doctor came to a halt, and put his yo-yo away. "Hello," he said cheerfully. "I'm the Doctor."
It took the tramp a few seconds to react. With some effort, he slowly straightened up and turned to look at the Doctor. The expression on his face was one of pure bewilderment.
Something was needed to break the ice, thought the Doctor. He produced a crumpled paper bag from his pocket. "Would you like a jelly baby?" he asked. Even that didn't seem to be getting through. The Doctor fished one of the sweets from the bag himself, and held it up for inspection. "Jelly baby," he reiterated, and then popped it into his mouth.
Uncertainly, the tramp reached out a hand towards the bag, and slowly extracted a jelly baby. "That's it," the Doctor encouraged. As the tramp began to eat the sweet, he said, "Now, why don't you tell me what's wrong?"
The tramp shook his head in confusion. "Everything," he said. "It's all going wrong. No one will listen to me. I don't know how I could have got into this state, but I've got no control any more. And when they get here, I won't be able to do a thing."
"When who gets here?" asked the Doctor gently. "Perhaps I can help."
A faint glimmer of hope came into the tramp's eyes, and he looked at the Doctor with new interest. But in that same moment, the bewilderment returned. "You're not part of it," he shouted. "You shouldn't be here."
"What?" The Doctor was starting to feel pretty bewildered himself.
The tramp staggered backwards, as if trying desperately to get away from him. Then he turned and ran, haring off along the High Street like a man possessed.
"How odd," remarked the Doctor, to no one in particular. "I don't usually
have this effect on people."
Romana hovered around the edge of the cricket pitch, wondering where on earth the Doctor could have got to. People had started to gather around again, anticipating the imminent start of the game. As if to reinforce this, the loudspeaker crackled into life. Romana glanced over at the pavilion, and saw the red-robed figure of the Mayor standing up at the microphone once more.
"I've just been told," he announced, "that Colonel Steel will be here within the next couple of minutes."
He paused then, and many more people started to crowd in around the edge of the cricket pitch. There was no proper seating provided, bar a few park benches. Romana noticed a man doing a roaring trade hiring out deck chairs. The rest of the spectators just settled down on the grass or on their blankets.
The Mayor spoke again. "Now, I know you'll all want to give a warm welcome to Colonel Steel, the most celebrated son of our town. So let's all make sure he knows what it's like to be back home once more."
A ragged cheer went up from the crowd. At the same time, a distant roaring sound became audible, rapidly growing in intensity. As it did so, the crowd's excitement grew palpably.
Within minutes, they were at fever pitch; and the roaring sound filled the air. It was like a powerful jet engine, and seemed to be coming from directly overhead. Romana glanced upwards, and saw the sleek shape of a space rocket coming in low over the cricket pitch.
It was painted red, with the Union Jack emblazoned on the nose cone, and on each of the four tail fins. Unlike most rockets, it had two swept-back wings, like an aeroplane's. The crowd cheered as the rocketship slowed down over the pitch, and turned through ninety degrees so its nose pointed vertically upwards. Then a cloud of smoke erupted from the exhaust nozzles, and the spacecraft came gently down beside the pavilion to rest on its tail fins.
Romana quickly tried to recall her Earth history. Surely a vessel like this was too sophisticated for the early 1950s? She began to suspect that there was far more amiss here than a simple temporal distortion.
A hatch opened near the base of the rocketship, and a metal ladder extended to the ground. A tall, handsome man appeared in the opening, dressed in the whites of a cricketer. He had neat blond hair and a firm, square jaw. The crowd cheered and applauded as he descended the ladder, already kitted out in pads and carrying a cricket bat. He acknowledged their adulation with a friendly wave.
Outside the pavilion, he shook hands with the Mayor and other dignitaries, and then with the captain of the opposing cricket team. They tossed a coin, and a brief discussion followed.
Then the Mayor stepped up to the microphone again. "Colonel Steel has won the toss, and he's decided to bat first. But I hope he'll say a few words first." He looked expectantly towards the astronaut.
With a shrug of the shoulders, Colonel Steel came to the microphone. "Well," he said, "I don't want to hold up play any more than I have, so I'll just say it's really great to be back in my home town. As you all know, I've travelled further than any other man in the world, and it's true what they say - there really is no place like home."
His words bought another cheer from the crowd. Colonel Steel waved again,
and then headed out to the crease.
The Doctor found the tramp sitting slumped against the wall in a dark and grimy alleyway further down the High Street. "Hello," he said gently, beaming his most friendly smile. "You're not going to go running off again, are you?"
The tramp looked up at him. "It's no use running," he said wearily. "There's nowhere to run to." He hauled himself unsteadily to his feet, leaning against the wall for support. "I'll show you."
With jerky steps, he set off along the alleyway. The Doctor followed closely. They moved along several dark and uninviting back streets, lined by long terraces of slum houses. Looming over them, the Doctor could see the forbidding shape of the factory - the front gate with the tea stall would be several streets away. Up ahead, the tramp had lingered at the next street corner, and was beckoning urgently. The Doctor hurried to catch him up.
They seemed to have reached the edge of town. The houses came to an end, and a single road led off through some waste ground. It came to an abrupt halt a few yards further on, at a shimmering sheet of silver light.
The Doctor approached the phenomenon cautiously, and reached out to touch it. He found that his hand simply slid off - there was no surface as such, but this wall of light clearly formed an impenetrable barrier. It extended to left and right as far as the eye could see, and disappeared up into the clouds.
Turning to the tramp, the Doctor asked, "Does this surround the entire town?"
The tramp nodded. "You're from out of town," he declared.
"That's right," the Doctor said. "How do you know?"
"Because you can see the boundary," said the tramp. "Besides, I know everyone here. I ought to. And you're not part of this world."
The Doctor stroked his chin thoughtfully. The tramp seemed to have become more coherent now, though little of what he said actually made any sense. As for the mysterious barrier, that had to be connected to the temporal distortion that had almost torn the TARDIS in two. The Doctor took out his dog whistle, and gave a couple of silent blows.
"What are you doing?" asked the tramp uncertainly.
"I'm calling my dog," said the Doctor. "I'm sure he'll be interested in seeing this."
The tramp stared at the Doctor as if he was the one talking in riddles. Then he seemed to become unsteady on his feet again. He staggered a few feet, and then sat down unceremoniously in the road. "You can't be from outside," he said. "I would have known when you arrived. I know about the others. They'll be here soon. I wish there was something I could do."
"What others?" asked the Doctor. He crouched down beside the tramp. "Why don't you tell me about it? Maybe I can help you?"
But the tramp stared up at him blankly - his concentration seemed to have lapsed once more.
"Evening all," said a calm, authoritative voice. The Doctor looked up to see the same policeman who had earlier seen the tramp off from the tea stall. As he looked closely, he saw that the policeman appeared to be in his early seventies, which was surely far too old to still be on active service.
"Are you all right, sir?" he asked. "Has this rascal been bothering you again?"
"No, it's quite all right." The Doctor got to his feet. "We were just having a little chat."
"Oh, we've had quite enough nonsense from this fellow over the last few days." The policeman reached out, and clamped his hand firmly on the tramp's shoulder. "Now, come on," he admonished. "What did I warn you about pestering people? We won't stand for any unruly behaviour in this town."
The tramp got meekly to his feet, and hung his head in shame. "But he understands," he mumbled. "He can see it. I know that he can help me, if only I could explain to him."
"That's enough of that," warned the policeman. "Let's be having you."
"What are you doing?" demanded the Doctor.
"I'm taking him in, sir. A night in the cells ought to teach him a lesson."
"But really, he wasn't bothering me."
"Well, that's not really the point, sir," said the policeman. "I've had several complaints about this fellow over the last few days. I've given him plenty of warnings, but he chooses to ignore me. So this time, I've got to take more positive action." He kept a firm grip on the tramp's arm, and started to guide him back towards the town.
"Just a minute," called the Doctor.
The policeman paused. "What can I do for you, sir?"
"Have you been a policeman here long?"
"Oh yes, a very long time, sir. It almost seems like my whole life in fact."
"And I suppose you know the town very well?"
"Like the back on my hand, sir."
The Doctor pointed to the barrier of shining light. "Then could you tell me what this is?" he asked.
The policeman stared at the Doctor in puzzlement. "That's the road to the next town, sir," he said. "It's a couple of miles away on the other side of the common. I can't say as I've ever been there myself, but you know what they say - there's no place like home."
"But can't you see anything odd about it?" insisted the Doctor.
"In what way, odd?" asked the policeman. "It's just a road."
The Doctor looked from him to the barrier, and realized that the policeman really couldn't see it. He decided to let the matter drop, at least until he had investigated further.
The policeman seemed happy to end the conversation. "Well, if there's nothing else, sir, I'd better be getting this one down the station. He's caused a bit of a to-do, but a night in the cells ought to teach him a lesson. It'll all turn out right in the end. Good night, sir." And with that, he led the unprotesting tramp away around the corner.
The Doctor turned back to the shimmering wall of light. It seemed quite
real to him, and yet the policeman had been unable to see it - due perhaps
to some sort of post-hypnotic conditioning? Or maybe it really wasn't there,
and he was only being tricked into seeing it. Either way, the tramp held at
least some of the answers - now he just needed the chance to ask the right
Colonel Steel hit a straight six right over the top of the pavilion, notching up his double century in the process. Needless to say, a boisterous cheer erupted from the watching crowd. Romana took advantage of the distraction to move around the edge of the pitch towards the neatly parked rocketship.
No one paid her any attention. Even those watching from the pavilion were too engrossed in the game to notice as she slipped quickly past the verandah. Within moments, Romana had reached the foot of the ladder. She quickly clambered up to the rocket's entrance hatch.
There was a large locking wheel in the centre of the hatch. Romana took hold firmly, and began to turn it. The wheel moved slowly and heavily. Then there was the loud clunk of a latch disengaging, and she swung the door open.
The interior of the rocketship was functional. A series of massive curved girders formed the frame on which the hull was constructed. A metal ladder was bolted to one side, leading up to the nose cone and presumably the cockpit. The space between was filled with machinery. It all possessed a curiously antiquated look, dominated by huge cogs and pistons. Immediately in front of her was a cylindrical tank, about six feet tall. On its side was painted the legend ROCKET FUEL.
Romana stepped forward for a closer look. A series of brass pipes connected the fuel tank to the rocket engines beneath. The whole system looked incapable of generating sufficient thrust to achieve escape velocity.
As Romana pondered the matter, a voice rang out behind her. "Hello? I don't think you're supposed to be in here, miss, are you now?"
Romana looked up to see a man dressed in a red spacesuit, clinging halfway up the ladder to the cockpit. He had a chubby, friendly-looking face, which rather defeated the accusatory tone he had tried to lend his words. He spoke with a broad regional accent. "What are you doing here?" he added, as he started to scuttle down the ladder towards her.
"I'm just looking around," said Romana, with a disarming smile.
The astronaut reached the floor, and walked towards her. "Oh, now this really won't do, miss. I know that you must be interested - I mean, the Colonel's a hero - but this is a rocketship. There's all sorts of dangerous machinery in here. You could quite easily hurt yourself."
"It's all right," Romana replied. "I'm a scientist."
"I see," muttered the astronaut. "In that case, I think we'd better go
and have a word with the Colonel."
The Doctor paced the little stretch of road before the energy barrier. His investigations had produced nothing concrete so far. He had probed the phenomenon with various scanners and instruments from his pockets, but he still couldn't ascertain whether or not it was real.
"What I really need now," he said aloud, "is an objective second opinion."
At that moment, K9 came trundling along the road towards him, and stopped by his feet. "Master?" he chirped enthusiastically.
"K9," the Doctor exclaimed, "just the fellow I was looking for." He squatted down beside his dog, and whispered conspiratorially into his ear. "K9, can you see a great big energy field sealing off the edge of town?"
"Well, that's a relief. I thought for one moment I might be imagining it."
"The possibility of false perception cannot be dismissed, master," said K9. "Certain specific neural energy frequencies can distort the readings of my sensors."
"Not those that would affect my eyesight," said the Doctor.
"However," K9 continued, "the appearance of this barrier is consistent with my analysis of the structure of space-time in this region."
"What?" replied the Doctor. He got to his feet, and regarded the field of
light again. "Then this is what I think it is. And that means that we're not
where I thought we were. Come on, K9. We'd better find Romana."
The cricket match had stopped for tea. The players of both teams sat around the pavilion, or out on the verandah, politely discussing the weather and matters of local concern. No one mentioned the match itself, Colonel Steel's tremendous score, or whether he should declare after tea to allow his opponents the chance to regain some of their dignity before the light went.
Romana sat in one corner of the pavilion with a pot of tea and a plate of crumpets, which her captor had thoughtfully supplied for her. He may have been suspicious of her intrusion, but that wouldn't prevent him showing the required courtesy to a lady.
"Hello there," said a deep, distinctive voice. "I'm Stanley Steel."
Romana looked up at the square-jawed Colonel. His fellow astronaut was standing just to his right, and they were accompanied by a tall white-haired man with bushy military side-whiskers.
"So I understand," Romana replied.
"I'm very sorry if you've been put out, Miss...?"
"What an unusual name," Steel remarked. He smiled apologetically. "I'm rather afraid you gave poor old Wilby a bit of a scare, snooping around the rocket like that."
"Well, I didn't mean any harm," said Romana. "I was just curious to see how it all worked."
"Now that's what I thought," replied Steel. "But Wilby can be a bit suspicious at times. To tell you the truth, I think he's somewhat over-protective of me. He's been my batman for quite a number of years." He turned to his podgy-faced colleague. "You see, I told you there was nothing to worry about. I mean, one wouldn't expect a pretty lady to be up to no good."
Wilby muttered a few words of apology. "I'd better go back to the rocket, and tighten up those stabilizer flaps," he added.
"Oh yes, good idea," said Colonel Steel. He gave his batman a friendly pat on the shoulder.
Wilby turned and made his way out of the pavilion. Steel waited until he was out of earshot, then turned back to Romana. "I do hope you weren't offended," he said, and indicated the seat beside her. "Do you mind if we join you?"
Romana didn't feel she had the right to object, given that she'd been caught trespassing herself - but she wondered what would happen if she said no. Colonel Steel was surely too much of a gentleman to press himself upon a lady, no matter what the circumstances.
Steel looked up at the military-looking gentleman, who was carrying a chair across from the adjacent table. "I'm sorry, I'm forgetting my manners. Do you know Lord Effingham, the local squire?"
"I should say not," Effingham interjected, lowering himself wheezily into his chair. "By jove, I'm sure I would remember a dashed pretty girl like you, my dear."
"Well, yes indeed," said Steel, before Romana had time to respond. "Anyway, I hope you've learnt your lesson. Wilby was quite right about one thing - a rocketship is a very dangerous place, especially for a young lady. There's lots of heavy machinery, chemicals, electrical currents. If you don't know what you're doing, you could do yourself quite a mischief."
"But I do know what I'm doing," said Romana. "I'm sorry for the intrusion. I realize I should have asked permission first. I was just interested in examining the propulsion system. Your rocket has a very low fuel capacity for its mass - and I can't quite see how it would achieve escape velocity."
"My goodness," Steel exclaimed. "Do you understand all that stuff?"
"It's quite straightforward physics," said Romana. "Why, don't you understand it?"
"Good heavens, no! It's not my area at all. I leave all that kind of thing to the backroom johnnies."
"But surely you can't be an astronaut without understanding the basic mechanics of space flight."
"Well, Wilby and I can manage the odd flying repair, but really my job's just to steer the old crate." Colonel Steel looked up at Romana with new interest. "You mean you're some kind of rocket scientist? I say, that's remarkable."
Lord Effingham harrumphed in agreement. "That's a very unusual career for a lady."
"Well, I'm not complaining," retorted Steel. He smiled at Romana. "You're quite a welcome change from the usual Space Service boffins, I must say." He blushed slightly as he realized he'd been a little forward, and fixed his attention firmly on the teapot. "I say, we're out of tea. I'll go and fetch some more." He snatched up the pot and leapt to his feet, dodging through the crowded pavilion to a kitchen serving hatch on the far side of the room.
"He's doing himself a great disservice, my dear," said Lord Effingham, "as I'm sure you'll realize. The Royal Space Service wouldn't be the same with Colonel Stan Steel. He was the first man on the Moon, you know, and he led the expeditions to Mars and Venus. And of course, he defended us all from the Verons."
"Verons?" Romana queried.
"Yes," said Effingham. "Green-skinned blighters. They wanted to invade us. Nothing stood in their way except Stan Steel and the plucky pilots of the Space Service. It was their finest hour."
Romana sat back in her seat, and considered everything she had learnt in the last few hours. The deviations from established Earth history were becoming ever more obvious. There seemed to be only one possible explanation.
She glanced up, and saw the Doctor making his way through the cricketers towards her with K9 following at his heels. The Doctor moved with the determined air of a man who had every right to be there, which no doubt convinced everyone that he had. Certainly no one tried to stop him or query his presence. Romana might have expected K9 to draw some attention, but he passed through the crowd without comment. Still, if these people were used to rocketships landing at cricket matches, they probably wouldn't be fazed by the sight of a mechanical dog.
"Romana," said the Doctor, throwing himself into Colonel Steel's vacated chair. "There's something very odd going on here."
"Yes, I'd noticed that," Romana replied. She glanced sidelong at Lord Effingham, who was waiting to be introduced to the newcomer. Romana didn't want to discuss her theories in front of the locals, so she needed to get the Doctor somewhere quiet.
At that moment, Colonel Steel reappeared with the teapot. "I'm sorry I can't join you for another cup," he said, "but it's the end of tea. We really need to get on with the game - the light should be good for another couple of hours." Then he seemed to see the Doctor for the first time, sprawled in his chair. "Oh, I didn't realize we had company."
"This is the Doctor," said Romana quickly. "He's a friend of mine."
"Doctor, eh?" mused Steel. "You're another space boffin, I take it?"
"Oh yes," replied the Doctor. "Outer space, inner space, space-time, N-Space, E-Space, curved space, multi-dimensional space."
"Well, that's just splendid," said Steel bemusedly. "You really will have to excuse me."
The Doctor suddenly leapt to his feet. "You're Stan Steel," he declared. "The Pilot of Tomorrow."
"Yes, that's what they call me."
"Well, that explains a lot."
"Right," said Steel slowly. "Well, I'm sure we can talk again after the
The game had resumed. Colonel Steel had declared, and now his team was fielding. He was proving to be as fine a bowler as he had been a batsman, and wickets were falling in extraordinarily quick succession.
The Doctor, Romana and K9 stood at the foot of the rocketship, looking up at the sleek hull.
"It can't possibly be capable of interplanetary flight," said Romana. "It doesn't carry nearly enough fuel, and it wouldn't generate sufficient thrust to achieve escape velocity."
"Well, you've seen it flying, haven't you?"
"I've seen it come in to land. But I'm not convinced it could get into space."
"Where do you think we are, Romana?" asked the Doctor.
"We must have entered an alternative universe," Romana said. "One in which Britain conquered space in the 1950s."
"That wouldn't account for this rocketship being able to flout the laws of physics. Besides, this isn't just a case of alternative history, or premature technological advances." The Doctor looked around at the cricket pitch, and the crowd sitting around the edges. "This is a idealized, exaggerated representation of fifties Britain, drawing more on the popular fiction of the period than the reality. Everything post-war Britain wanted to be but wasn't, taken to the extreme."
"Then what are you saying?" asked Romana. "That this world's been artificially created?"
"Yes," replied the Doctor. "K9's analysed the data from our materialization. This isn't Earth. It's not even a real planet. There's just the town, some of the surrounding countryside and the space above. We're inside a spacial pocket, a sort of fold in the space-time continuum, sealed off from the rest of the universe by a trans-dimensional barrier."
"I see," said Romana. "Then that would explain the difficulty we experienced in materializing. If the TARDIS formed within the field of the barrier itself, then it would have been trying to repel us into the outside universe at the same time as we were entering the spacial pocket."
"That's right. Ordinarily, the barrier would have been impenetrable, but the relative dimensional stabilizer gave us the power to make the crossing."
Romana turned slowly to survey the scene before them. "So all this is articially created," she mused. "Even the people. And they don't notice anything strange about their world?"
"Well, they wouldn't," said the Doctor. "They've been created to function within the reality of this environment. They don't want to visit the next town, so they've never found out it's not there. Colonel Steel commutes between the park and outer space, and thinks that's perfectly normal behaviour. Only we can see there's anything's wrong, because we're from outside and we know what's normal."
"But how was it all created? And why? Are they all androids?"
"Negative, mistress," said K9. "The indigenous population are living human beings."
"I think there's one person who may have the answers," the Doctor said.
But before he could explain, the sky over the cricket pitch darkened dramatically, and a low rumbling sound was heard. "Hello," he remarked. "It looks like they've lost the light. Sounds like a thunderstorm brewing."
They looked up into the sky, and saw the vast underside of a saucer-shaped spacecraft hovering over the pitch - over the entire park in fact, since it must have been half a mile across at least. It was low enough for minute details on the surface to be picked out, like veins in the metal radiating from a central hub. "Then again, I could be wrong," the Doctor added.
"Is that part of the created reality of this environment?" asked Romana.
The Doctor looked at the people around the cricket pitch. Some were looking up in awe, others running in sheer panic. The cricketers themselves had stopped playing, and were exhibiting similar behaviour patterns. It was quite clear that they had never seen anything like this before. Only Colonel Steel seemed to have his wits about him. He looked up at the saucer with a firm gaze to match his name.
"Well, they seem pretty shaken up," said the Doctor. "I don't think they were expecting this."
A circular hatchway opened in the very centre of the saucer, and a shaft of powerful light beamed down onto the cricket pitch, catching Steel squarely in its glare.
Then a sound like a thousand voices whispering in unison burst loudly from the spacecraft - it could be heard right across the town. "Your plan to infiltrate our space by hiding yourselves within this hidden space-time domain has been foiled. Our scout vessel has broken through your boundaries. This violation of Ramallex territory will cease. We give you this opportunity to surrender. Our battle fleet is on approach vector. In four hours, we will have you completely surrounded. If you continue to resist us then, you will be eradicated."
With that, the light beam cut off, the hatchway closed, and the saucer rose up into the sky, and disappeared at a phenomenal rate.
"Well, that's torn it," said the Doctor. "Colonel Steel's idyllic little world is about to meet the harsh reality of a Ramallex battle fleet."
"The Ramallex empire must be expanding again," said Romana. "Their warp drive engines must have enabled them to cross the dimensional barrier."
"What are we going to do?" asked Romana. "We can't just leave these people at the mercy of the Ramallex. They're totally unprepared to deal with anything like that."
They were joined by Lord Effingham and the Mayor, the former of whom was fuming angrily. He had gone quite red in the face. "Blasted cheek," he spluttered. "Claiming this as their territory indeed. I've never heard anything like it. I mean, the Verons were bad enough, but at least they just tried to invade us because they were grasping megalomaniacs - they didn't come in pretending they owned the place and trying to take the moral high ground."
The Mayor was wringing his hands wretchedly. "It's the end of the world," he moaned. "What can we possibly do?"
"Now, don't fret, there's a good fellow," said Effingham. "Just remember who the most famous son of this town is. Stan Steel saw off the Verons, and he'll jolly well sort out these Ramallex bounders."
Steel came striding across the cricket pitch towards them. "No time for talk," he said briskly. "I've got work to do." He continued on towards the rocketship, calling Wilby's name.
A few seconds later, his batman appeared in the hatchway wearing grimy blue overalls. His face was covered with dirt, and he was wiping his hands on a oily rag. "Yes, Colonel?"
"Better start stoking up the engines, old son," said Steel. "There's no time to waste."
Romana and the Doctor watched as he sat down on the foot of the boarding ladder, and started to unstrap his pads. "What does he think he's going to do?" asked Romana. "Take on the Ramallex battle fleet in that thing?"
"If he's true to his character," said the Doctor, "that's exactly what he's going to do. To him, it'll be just like the Battle of Britain, or his fight against the Verons."
"But he'll never get the rocket off the ground."
"I don't know what gives you that notion, my dear," Lord Effingham cut in. "Stan Steel handles that rocketship like a Rolls Royce."
"He's right, Romana," said the Doctor. "Inside this spacial pocket, we're cut off from the outside universe. The same physical laws don't apply."
"Will that make the Ramallex battle cruisers less deadly?" demanded Romana.
The Doctor frowned. "I wouldn't like to hazard a guess."
"Doctor," said Romana firmly. "We've got to do something. We can't let the Ramallex wipe these people out. And first, we ought to stop Colonel Steel from needlessly making an heroic self-sacrifice."
"Well, we can try." The Doctor walked over to the rocketship to address the astronaut. "Colonel, I'm not entirely sure that a military solution is our best option here."
Steel shook his head sadly. "I know what you mean, Doctor. I don't want to have to fight, but sometimes you're left with no choice. These people don't understand anything else."
"I just don't think we can possibly win."
"Oh well, things look dark now - but there will be light at the end of the tunnel. We British are always at our best with our backs to the wall."
"Well, that's true," said the Doctor. "But in this case, I rather hope that science can find the answer."
Steel looked up at him brightly. "You boffins, you've always got something up your sleeve. What is it? Some new kind of weapon? Or a radar confusing device?"
The Doctor looked round at the others. Lord Effingham and the Mayor had gathered round, eager to hear what he was going to suggest. He realized then that they couldn't conceive of not fighting - the notion of plucky British heroes taking on a vastly superior aggressor and winning was deeply ingrained into their consciousness. He sighed. "I'll see what I can rustle up."
"Good show," replied Steel. He glanced at his wristwatch. "Look, we should be all set for launch in just under two hours. If you've got something ready by then, I'll be happy to give it a shot."
With that, he stood up and bounded up the ladder into the rocketship.
Romana moved to stand beside the Doctor. "Well, what are we going to do?" she asked. "I suppose it would help if we knew how and why this space-time domain was created."
"Ah yes," replied the Doctor. "We'd better speak to the man who has all
The Mayor held open the door of the police station for Romana and Lord Effingham to enter. The Doctor and K9 brought up the rear. They all crammed into the little lobby area before the enquiries counter.
"I'm still not quite sure what we're doing here," said the Mayor, as he reached out to ring the bell.
Effingham nodded, and turned to the Doctor. "I have to say, old boy, I thought you'd be busy inventing something, not bothering about the welfare of prisoners."
The policeman appeared behind the counter. "Evening all," he said. "Now, what can I do for you, then?"
"We'd like to see the tramp," replied the Doctor.
"The tramp, sir?"
"Yes, the tramp you arrested earlier."
"Ah, now he's not under arrest, sir. He's just sleeping it off in the cells. We can't have him going around bothering people, especially on a day like today."
"We'd still like to see him," the Doctor insisted. "It's a matter of the utmost urgency."
"Well, I don't know, sir. It's rather irregular."
Lord Effingham helpfully interjected. "Look here, constable - I know it all sounds peculiar. It sounds pretty dashed queer to me as well. But these boffins have got a devil of a good reason, I can tell you. At least, I think they have. And since the fellow isn't actually under arrest, it wouldn't really matter if they talked to him, would it? I'd consider it a great personal favour if you'd help us out."
The policeman acquiesced with a nod. He lifted the hinged section of the counter to allow Romana and the Doctor to pass through. They followed him into the rear of the police station, and along a short whitewashed corridor with four heavy metal doors.
The policeman unlocked one of these, and stood back. "I'll leave the door open," he said. "Just give me a shout if you want anything."
Romana and the Doctor walked into the cell. They discovered the tramp lying on the bunk, his eyes open and flickering fitfully around the tiny space. As he caught sight of them, he struggled into a sitting position and made a great effort to speak to them.
"They're here, aren't they?" he said. "I felt them coming across the boundary. I tried to warn them, but no one would pay any attention to me. Not part of the accepted pattern, you see."
"But you know what's going on," said the Doctor, crouching beside the bunk. "You're outside this reality."
The tramp shook his head. "Not really. I'm trapped on the inside. I still don't understand what went wrong. But I can't do anything. Can't make it all fine again." His breathing became shallow and rapid. He slumped back onto the bunk, and put his hands to his head. "All getting too much for me now," he muttered. "Can't do any more. It's all going to end in tears, and there's nothing I can do."
Romana looked anxiously at the Doctor. "We're not going to get much out of him in this state," she said.
"What do you think he meant?" wondered the Doctor. "About being trapped on the inside?"
"Everyone else here is a character playing out a role in the scenario of this created environment," said Romana. "If he's an outsider who somehow got stuck here, he doesn't fit into the pattern. So he ends up filling the only role this world can offer him - a tramp, someone who isn't contributing to this idyllic society."
"And now he's here, he can't get out again?"
"I would imagine that prolonged exposure to this environment would erode his perceptions of true reality."
"Yes," replied the Doctor thoughtfully. "You don't think that will happen to us if we stay here too long?"
Romana shrugged. It wasn't something they wanted to be thinking about. "If we can isolate him from this world, he might start to recover his faculties," she said.
The Doctor nodded, and got to his feet. "We'll take him back to the TARDIS.
The interior dimension is like a completely separate universe."
The policeman eyed the Doctor dubiously. Perhaps he wasn't going to prefer charges, but even so, he wasn't prepared to turn his prisoner over to the custody of any old Tom, Dick or Harry.
It looked as if he was going to stand his ground - but Lord Effingham came to the rescue again. "I appreciate this is an odd request," he said, "but this is something of an emergency, you know. All hands to the pumps, that sort of thing. If it'll help, the Chief Constable is an old friend of mine. I'll make a quick telephone call to him, shall I? Get him to confirm the request?"
The policeman shook his head. "No, that won't be necessary, your Lordship. I'll fetch the prisoner." He disappeared into the back of the police station again.
"It's interesting what a bit of name dropping can achieve," remarked Romana quietly.
The Doctor nodded. "Just as well, really. I'd have hated to see him try to make the phone call. If there's nothing outside this town, the phone lines can't go anywhere."
"I'm surprised they haven't noticed that before."
"They've probably never needed to call the Chief Constable before. After
all, everything that happens in this town is part of a set pattern - until
today, that is."
Lord Effingham glanced somewhat nervously at the tramp sitting in the back of his Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. His shabby, filthy clothes did not go well with the fine leather upholstery - he would doubtless have to have the interior fully cleaned after this. Still, at least it was in a good cause, if the boffins truly believed that the tramp could help them defeat the Ramallex.
The car started to slow down. Effingham glanced out of the window, and saw that his chauffeur had followed Romana's directions to the letter. They had arrived in a quiet residential side street, in the more up-market part of town - several prominent townspeople lived around here.
The Doctor leapt out of the car, and with the help of the chauffeur, opened the boot to remove his mechanical dog. Dashed clever that, Effingham thought. Just the sort of ingenuity we British excelled at - the Ramallex didn't stand a chance.
Romana helped the tramp to climb out of the car, and led him towards a tall blue shape standing on the corner. Lord Effingham raised his eyebrows in surprise, and said, "I didn't know there was a police box here."
"There is now," replied the Doctor. He produced a key on a chain around his neck, and proceeded to unlock the door. Romana helped the tramp to step inside the police box, followed by the dog.
"What are you all going to do in there?" Effingham asked.
The Doctor paused in the doorway. "Hopefully, we're going to invent something to save the world from the Ramallex."
"Well, I won't deny that's exactly what we need," said Effingham.
As the Doctor entered the control room, he found the tramp standing and gripping the edge of the console. He seemed to be much steadier on his feet now, and infinitely more calm in his manner. "I see now," he said quietly. "You two must be Time Lords."
"That's right," replied the Doctor. "How are you feeling now?"
The tramp took a deep breath. "Better. I can think again."
"Tell us about yourself," said Romana. "How did you come to be here? And what do you know about the Ramallex?"
"Oh, the Ramallex," muttered the tramp wearily. "I didn't know, you see. Their empire seemed so distant back then - I didn't think they could be a threat. And they didn't have warp drive at the time, so I didn't see how they could ever find the spacial pocket. I suppose I should have looked ahead, but when time is no barrier to you, you tend to take it for granted."
"You're a time traveller as well?" said the Doctor.
"Well, not exactly." The tramp sighed. "It's all rather a long story, and I'm still not fully aware. I need time to rest, time to gather my thoughts."
"We don't have time," Romana whispered anxiously.
"No," replied the Doctor. "I'll tell you what, old chap. Why don't you get yourself cleaned up, and change your clothes? You'll soon be feeling as good as new. Follow K9, he'll show you where to go."
"Affirmative, master." K9 glided through the internal door, and the tramp followed him uncertainly into the depths of the TARDIS.
"Do we really have time for this?" asked Romana.
"Well, I don't think he's going to be much help to us in his present state," the Doctor said. "And besides, whatever he can tell us won't actually alter the problem."
"How to stop the Ramallex destroying this world." Romana frowned. "I suppose we are right to be concerned? I mean, if this environment was artifically created, then the people and the town aren't real."
"They're real enough now," said the Doctor. "However they were created and placed here, they've got as much right to exist as anyone else. I've been thinking, Romana. Why don't we move the spacial pocket somewhere else? Away from the Ramallex empire, into some uncharted sector of the galaxy where it's never going to be discovered?"
"And they can carry on with their lives undisturbed by the outside universe," said Romana. "It's a good idea, Doctor."
"Thank you. I'm rather pleased with it."
"But can we do it?"
"I don't know," said the Doctor. "I just had the idea, the practical details are another matter entirely."
"Maybe we could expand the TARDIS force field to enfold the spacial pocket," Romana mused. "And take it along with us when we next dematerialize."
The Doctor shook his head. "The relative dimensional stabilizer can't compress that much additional mass," he said. "If we want to move this environment, we'll have to do it physically through normal space."
"But it covers too large an area for the gravity tractor beam to get a proper grip."
"I'm very sorry," said a firm voice. They looked up to see the tramp coming through the internal door with K9. He had shaved and combed his hair neatly back. In place of his tatty garments, he had helped himself to a striped Victorian boating blazer and spotted bowtie from the TARDIS wardrobe. His change of appearance was clearly accompanied by an improvement in his mental processes. "This is all my fault, I'm afraid. You see, I created this world."
"What?" exclaimed the Doctor.
"My thoughts have the power to alter space and create new reality."
"Who are you?" asked Romana.
The tramp paused for thought. "I suppose you would think of me as an ageless pan-dimensional intelligence. I exist on a higher astral plane, outside of space-time, and I can move back and forth as I please." He tapped his chest. "This body is just a form I have found convenient. I have no real physical substance."
The Doctor nodded sagely. "I've met a number of similar entities. Most of them want to control the universe. It gets rather tiresome after a while."
"Like the Black Guardian," said Romana.
"Yes," replied the Doctor. "But I don't think our friend here has quite the same megalomaniac tendencies."
"I have been content just to observe the universe," said the tramp.
"How odd! I never have been."
"What are you called?" Romana asked the tramp. "That's if you have a name in the conventional sense."
"I am called Kevin."
"Kevin?" repeated the Doctor incredulously. "Isn't that just a little inauspicious?"
"Well, as you said yourself, there are a fair number of other ageless pan-dimensional intelligences around - and I'm not exactly the most important among them. Before time began, we chose names for ourselves. When it was my turn, all the dramatic and impressive sounding names had already been used up."
"Yes, but Kevin! If you wanted to go for that Celtic sound, there are plenty of better choices. What about Cuchulainn? That's much more distinguished."
"I happen to like the name Kevin."
Romana diplomatically butted into the conversation. "It's his name, Doctor. And this arguing isn't helping us solve our problem."
"You're quite right, Romana," said the Doctor. "What would I ever do without you?"
"You'd probably grow old and grumpy," said Romana, "but I'm not going anywhere, so that's never going to happen."
"Well, that's a relief." The Doctor smiled affectionately at her, then turned to their guest. "All right, Kevin. You'd better tell us what you were thinking of when you created this place."
Kevin groaned wearily. "It isn't easy being in my position," he said quietly. "The entire universe is open to me, all of space and time. I have quite literally seen everything there is to see. And most of it is horrible. There is so much suffering - war, famine, plague, civilizations collapsing, suns going nova. I just became so weary and tired of seeing death and destruction - being ageless, you become aware of how fragile and short mortal life can be, and I couldn't bear to keep watching it. So, I created this world. I remember I was once happy in England in the fifties, so it seemed the obvious model to work from, especially as I could make it the idealized world England wanted to be then. My plan was to come back here when things got too much for me, so that I could relax and get over the worst of my experiences."
"Well, what went wrong?" asked Romana. "Why were you trapped here?"
"Once I'd constructed the artificial environment," said Kevin, "I couldn't get out of it. My mental powers no longer seemed to have any effect."
"Different physical laws," said the Doctor. "To influence normal space-time, your thoughts must manipulate mass-energy at the quantum level. If this world no longer behaves in the same way, then you'd have been powerless once you were inside it."
Kevin nodded. "It meant I could do nothing about the Ramallex, even though I knew they were coming. And I couldn't warn any of the people about the danger, because to them I was just a worthless old tramp."
"Well," said Romana brightly, "assuming your mental power were no longer constricted, would you be able to move the spacial pocket intact to another part of the galaxy?"
"Theoretically, yes," said Kevin, "but I don't see how it's possible. As soon as I step outside the doors, I'll be affected once more."
"Oh, that's not a problem," said the Doctor. "You can stay in the TARDIS. We can transmit your mental energy using the telepathic circuits."
"Caution, master," advised K9. "The telepathic circuits have limited range for wideband transmission. It is unlikely that they will facilitate the generation of a neural energy pattern around the entirety of the spacial pocket."
"And it seemed like such a good idea," muttered the Doctor.
"We can still do it," said Romana. "All we require is a second transmission point, to amplify the neural energy signal."
"I've got it!" shouted the Doctor triumphantly. "We can create a second transmission point. If we mount a telepathic amplifier on Stan Steel's rocketship, I can take it up to the furthest extremity of the spacial pocket."
"Yes," agreed Romana. "Then Kevin and I can take the TARDIS to the exactly opposite point, and use the telepathic projectors to send the initial signal."
"Boost it through the amplifier and bounce it off the rocketship," added the Doctor. "It's bound to work." Happily, he took out his yo-yo, and executed a couple of double loops.
"It will require precision flying," said Romana. "The rocketship can go to the boundary and no further."
"Well, Stan Steel is supposed to be the best pilot in the Royal Space Service," the Doctor remarked casually, and continued playing with his yo-yo.
"He'd better be, especially if you're going to be his passenger. Both Stan Steel and his rocket only exist within the artificial reality of this world. If they fly through into the normal universe, they'll most likely disintegrate. Nothing from Kevin's creation can exist outside the spacial pocket. And that includes your yo-yo string," added Romana pointedly.
"Oh yes," replied the Doctor, attempting a triple loop. "I'd better make the most of it while I've still got it."
"Not now, Doctor," said Romana testily. "We need to build the telepathic amplifier."
"Can't you do it?" asked the Doctor. "I'm sure K9 can help you. I'm
playing with my yo-yo."
Half an hour later, Lord Effingham's Rolls made its way slowly through the crowd and drew up outside the cricket pavilion. Whilst the chauffeur helped the Doctor to manhandle K9 from the boot, Stan Steel emerged from his rocketship and descended the boarding ladder. Wilby followed a few steps behind. They had both changed into their familiar red and brass spacesuits.
"Well, Doctor," said Steel, "we're just about ready to go. What have you come up with?"
The Doctor reached into the boot again, and lifted out a bulky silver cylinder with a large antenna sprouting from one end.
"It looks very impressive," said Steel.
"Well, I like to think so," replied the Doctor.
"And will it help us defeat the Ramallex?"
"It's the best chance we're going to have," said the Doctor evasively. "Now, with this device, there'll be no need for us to engage the Ramallex battle fleet directly. We just have to get into the correct position. K9 will help you work out the course."
Steel glanced down at the robot dog. "Oh, good show," he muttered. "But supposing we run into the Ramallex while we're manoeuvring into position?"
"Then we'll just have to hold them off," replied the Doctor. "It's essential we get the rocket to the precise spot to activate the device."
"And then what will it do?"
The Doctor thought for a moment. "It will neutralize the Ramallex battle cruisers," he replied. "Permanently."
They were joined by Lord Effingham. "Splendid," he enthused. "These people can pretend to be strong whilst they hide behind their war machines. But they don't have the strength of character that we British possess - the very thing that makes us fight on against all the odds. If we take away their military technology, then they'll be powerless against us."
"Absolutely," agreed Steel. "Jolly well done, Doctor. You've come up trumps."
He gave Wilby instructions to place the silver cylinder aboard the rocket, and then to start plotting the course with the help of K9. "I'll join you in a minute, old son," he added. Then he climbed up onto the verandah of the pavilion.
The Mayor was waiting by the microphone once more. As Steel joined him, he turned to address the crowd. "Once again, we turn to Colonel Steel to defend us from a terrible enemy. And I know we can rely upon him to save the day, and come safely home. I think he wants to say a few words to you all."
Steel stepped up the microphone. "I know things look pretty grim now, but I don't want anyone to worry. You must remember that we have a great advantage over our enemies. It may be true that the Ramallex are far ahead us scientifically. But they lack the very human qualities that make us who we are. We've been playing cricket here today. There's no time for that in the world of the technological conqueror. They would just see it as a waste of time. But that's how we differ from them - we appreciate the better things in life, the small things that bring us enjoyment and happiness. Those are our real weapons now, and that's why we'll win. Tyranny can never overcome the good old British spirit."
The crowd went wild with cheering. Colonel Steel acknowledged them with a
wave as he stepped down from the verandah, and joined the Doctor at the foot
of the boarding ladder. "Well, this is it, old man," he said. "I hope you're
ready, because there's no turning back now."
The rocket launch was not nearly as difficult as the Doctor had expected. There were hardly any g-forces to speak of - an advantage of being in an environment where different physical laws applied.
Wilby had rigged up a flight seat for him in the rear of the rocketship, next to where they had installed the telepathic amplifier. K9 sat beside him. "The ship is proceeding on course, master," he reported. "We will be in position in twenty minutes and eight seconds."
"Let's hope Romana and Kevin are able to transmit the telepathic signal all right," the Doctor murmured.
The flight proceeded smoothly for the next quarter of an hour. Then Stan Steel's voice called from the cockpit. "Raiders at twelve O'Clock high!"
Releasing his flight harness, the Doctor leapt to his feet and scurried forward to the cramped cockpit. Stan Steel was seated in the right hand seat, his hands firmly grasping the control levers, his feet manipulating the steering pedals. On the left, Wilby monitored the flight instruments and fuel pressure gauges.
"What is it?" asked the Doctor.
Steel pointed ahead through the windscreen. Five gigantic Ramallex saucers were advancing towards them in a V-formation. "It looks like they're trying to cut us off, old boy. Don't worry, we'll give them a good fight."
"We've got to get through," said the Doctor. "It's vital we get into position in time."
"All right, Doctor, leave it with me. It looks like I should be able to outmanoeuvre them." Steel slammed the control lever forward, and the rocket blasted straight towards the leading Ramallex ship. They remained dead on course, until they were almost touching the leading edge of the saucer - then Steel threw the ship into a steep dive, and twisted it round to pass beneath the massive shape. They could see every minute detail of the saucer's hull, as it whizzed past just a few feet above their heads.
So far none of the Ramallex had opened fire. Maybe they had expected the rocket to be simply crushed against the lead ship's hull. Now, the saucers broke formation, the two nearest manoeuvring in beneath them. Colonel Steel kept as close to the underside of the lead saucer as he dared, gambling that the others couldn't open fire for fear of hitting their compatriot.
But then the rocket was clear of the far side of the Ramallex cruiser, and an open target once more. The sky lit up with the vivid flashes of concentrated energy weapons. Steel weaved the rocketship to and fro, somehow evading the worst of the flak. But even so, the hull bucked and juddered from repeated hits.
Then suddenly, there was a deafening explosion from behind them. Wilby glanced back over his shoulder. "Fire in the hold!" he shouted.
"Doctor," called Steel, "you'd better see what you can do about that. There's an extinguisher on the wall."
The Doctor turned, and ran back towards the rear of the rocket. He discovered the fire flickering around the steering mechanisms of the ship, and burning perilously close to the telepathic amplifier. K9's voice drifted from behind a sheet of flame. "Master. I am trapped. Help, master."
Grabbing the fire extinguisher from its wall bracket, the Doctor began to attack the flames with a high pressure jet of water. In a surprisingly short time, he had the blaze under control. K9 came forward, a little blackened by smoke but otherwise unharmed. "Are you all right?" the Doctor asked.
"All systems are functioning within acceptable parameters, master."
"Good. How long until we're in position?"
His ears waggling, K9 computed the ship's trajectory. "The evasive manoeuvres have diverted our course, master. We are still three minutes from optimum position."
At that moment, the rocketship lurched again, and K9 slid wildly across the floor. The Doctor staggered over to the nearest porthole, and glanced outside. Two of the Ramallex cruisers were coming at them from the right, moving parallel one above the other. Another was swooping in from up ahead. The rocket was caught in the crossfire between them, and seemed to be heading for certain destruction.
Then the rocket veered sharply to the right, slipping neatly between the two attacking saucers. Stan Steel had pulled off another brilliant manoeuvre. But any sense of jubilation was cut short by the sound of a muffled explosion. Two huge spinning arms broke loose from the steering mechanism, and spiralled through the air, nearly taking the Doctor's head off. He jumped back out of harm's way, and found himself flung roughly against the wall as the rocket began to spin round uncontrollably.
"I'm sorry, Doctor," called Stan Steel from the cockpit. "The gyro-stabilizers have broken loose. The old crate's bought it, I'm afraid."
Pulling out his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor scrambled over to the steering mechanism. "Hang on!" he shouted. "I'll see if I can repair it."
The two stabilizer arms had clattered to the floor. The Doctor grabbed one, and pulled it towards him. Then he set about trying to unscrew its broken mounting with his sonic screwdriver.
Nothing happened. The sound waves were being produced as usual, but they seemed to have no effect on the steering mechanism. The Doctor tapped the sonic screwdriver against the side of the rocket's hull, and tried again. Still nothing.
"K9," he asked, "what's wrong with my sonic screwdriver?"
K9 approached him, extending his data probe. "The device is working normally, master," he announced.
"But it's not having any effect."
"Affirmative, master. Its effectiveness is negated by the unusual physical nature of this spacial environment."
"Oh, of course." The Doctor ran his fingers urgently through his hair. "What am I going to do? I've got to get these stabilizers repaired."
"Improvise, master," said K9. "Tie the stabilizers on with string."
The Doctor looked at K9 as if he had lost his mind. "What?" he exclaimed.
"Different physical laws apply within this environment, master."
"Yes, I know," muttered the Doctor. "But I don't see..." Then realization dawned. "Do you mean, the first physical law is that good old fashioned British pluck and ingenuity will always save the day?"
"I should have realized. K9, you're a genius."
The Doctor started to rummage in his pockets. "There's just one snag," he said. "I don't think I've got any string with me."
"Use the string from your yo-yo, master," said K9.
"What?" The Doctor slowly took out his yo-yo. "Well, I suppose I can't take it with me," he said, and started to unwind the string from the spindle.
Two minutes later, the Doctor finished knotting the string to hold the stabilizer arms precariously in place. Almost at once, the rocketship came out of its spin, and Stan Steel shouted from the cockpit.
"I've got the old crate under control again. We can make it all the way, Doctor."
"What happened to the Ramallex?" called the Doctor.
"They must have thought we were crippled, and left us for dead."
The rocketship turned back onto its course, and the engines put on an extra burst of speed. The Doctor crossed to the telepathic amplifier, and switched it on. "It must be nearly time," he said. "Are we getting anything, K9?"
"Affirmative, master. We are now receiving the broadcast from the TARDIS telepathic circuits. Thirty seconds to optimum amplification position."
"Almost there, Doctor," called Stan Steel. "But we've attracted the attention of our Ramallex friends again."
The Doctor glanced out of the porthole to see another three saucers approaching fast. The rocketship was buffeted by explosions as they opened fire. "Just hold her steady, Colonel. We only need a few seconds."
"Activate now, master," said K9.
The Doctor turned the amplifier up to full. It made a low humming sound, but nothing else appeared to happen. The rocketship continued to shake and rattle, as energy blasts from the Ramallex weapons struck closer and closer.
And then, the space around them stretched, and distorted into a conical shape. The rocketship seemed to lurch suddenly forward, as if it was falling fast into the centre of the cone. The Ramallex cruisers went shooting off at great speed, until they disappeared into the far distance.
In a moment, everything was still again. The rocket was adrift in peaceful, empty space, and there was no sign of the Ramallex. Stan Steel appeared at the entrance to the cockpit, and for the first time seemed to have lost his air of calm self-assurance. "What happened?"
"Well," said the Doctor airily, "I took care of the Ramallex for you."
"And was that it?" asked Steel. "You said you'd neutralize their ships, but I thought we'd still have to board them and take them prisoner."
"Oh, there's no need for any of that," replied the Doctor. "You won't be seeing them again. Besides, the Ramallex make very poor prisoners of war. They're twenty feet tall, and have to be sprayed with hydrochloric acid every seventeen seconds. It all gets a bit messy, and very difficult to organize."
"Oh well," said Stan Steel slowly. "Time to go home, I suppose."
With the rocketship once again parked beside the cricket pavilion, Stan Steel stood on the verandah with the Mayor and Lord Effingham. The townspeople were gathered round, cheering Steel like a conquering hero, and there was talk of a celebratory fireworks display being planned for later.
Wilby, of course, was still inside the rocket, cleaning soot out of the exhaust pipes.
The Doctor and K9 walked away, practically unnoticed, to where Romana was waiting for them on the far side of the cricket pitch. They strolled slowly through the park, and came to a halt beside the boating lake. There, the ageless intelligence called Kevin was sitting on a bench, feeding the ducks.
"We'd better get you back to the TARDIS, old chap," said the Doctor. "We don't want you losing your faculties again."
Kevin nodded slowly. "What about this place?" he asked.
"I think we should leave them to get on with it, don't you? It's best to just slip off quietly."
"We'll take you with us to our next destination," said Romana. "Then you should be free once more, to travel throughout the continuum as you please."
Kevin came to the last slice of bread in his bag. He tore it into four, and threw it to the ducks. Then he neatly folded the bag up, and put it away in his blazer pocket. Several of the ducks waddled up onto the path, and started to cluster around his feet, seeking further tidbits. Kevin stood up, and gently shooed them away.
He turned, and looked back across the park, to the hubbub around the cricket pavilion. "You know, this world has lost its appeal somewhat," he said wistfully. "I should have realized that you can't run away from reality. From now on, I'll look for the good in things, rather than fleeing from the bad." And he started to walk off in the direction of the TARDIS, K9 trundling along beside him.
The Doctor and Romana hung back a little way. "Ah well," the Doctor muttered, "I suppose this story had a happy ending. And a little moral sermon as well, that's always helpful."
Romana sighed. "It's strange to think that all this came about because real life left him feeling jaded."
"Yes," agreed the Doctor. "Romana, do you think if I carry on travelling for another few hundred years, I might become all weary and sombre?"
"You, Doctor? You're full of life."
"Am I?" The Doctor didn't seem so sure, and his expression wavered between a grin and a frown. He stuffed his hand deep into his coat pocket. "It's a pity about that yo-yo string," he said. "Still, it's not the end of the world."
His fingers closed around a rubber ball. He pulled it out and started to bounce it on the path, as they made their way happily back to the TARDIS.