Dulce Ex Machina

“Daddy?” said Josh, fiddling with a Playmobil car as I tapped on the keyboard. “Imagine this – a bit in Wind in the Willows where Toad steals the TARDIS.”
“Ooh, I’m loving that. Except he’d probably call it The TOADIS.”
“And he’d drive it away and then crash it.”
“Brilliant.”

We’re over halfway through The Wind in the Willows; Toad has just been thrown out of the barge and stolen the horse. Josh is enjoying the antics of the other animals but is at his most animated when Toad comes on. This is partly because of my voice, which is gratuitously silly. Toad is a wonderful character to voice, with heaps of theatrical pomp and the sort of energy that my middle son has at half past six in the morning when I am barely awake.

Toad has his fair share of escapades during the story, but the idea of him meeting up with the Doctor was one that had never occurred to me, although the Doctor Who meets… series is a frequent topic of conversation in our house. (The one I’m lobbying for the most is The Doctor meets Scooby Doo. I know this would work. I just know it.)

When I mentioned said Wind In The Willows mashup to Gareth this morning, he said “Toad presumably follows clues that read ‘Badger Wolf’ to find the Tower of Rattylon, and there engages in some pun involving ‘mole’ that I can’t think of this early”. Two out of three isn’t bad considering he’s been interviewing for three days straight. But here’s how I envision it…

* * * * *

‘The three animals regarded the bright blue box once again, as it stood there in the middle of the drawing room. Eight feet high it stood, reaching almost to the ceiling, a dark blue it gleamed – gleamed, perhaps, not being the word; I should say instead it seemed almost to glow. For all its apparent grandness, it seemed somehow fraudulently manufactured, as if certain nuances and details had been falsely inserted to misguide the curious passer-by of its true purpose. Rat observed that the telephone in one corner appeared to be unconnected, and the windows seemed of unorthodox size compared to others he had seen.

“Are you trying to tell us,” said Mole, slowly, as if only just grasping the facts, “that someone built a time machine out of a telephone box? And, indeed, that you stole it?”

“Stole?” cried Toad. “Of course I didn’t steal it! To steal would imply that I’d had no mind to return it, and for all my adventurous spirit I am not a dishonest animal. I merely borrowed it. And when I am done with it, it shall indeed be returned, cleaned inside and out and polished like two new pins.”

“When you’re – done with it?” asked the Mole, hesitantly, uncertain as to whether he wanted his question answered.

“Oh, come now Moley!” was the good-natured response. “Surely even you can’t envisage me borrowing a device like this and not using it! Imagine!” Toad went on, leaping now on a sturdy writing desk to emphasise his point. “The vast expanse of the American wilderness set out before you, ripe with buffalo and bear! The glory of Rome, not in its present decayed majesty, but new, and white and shining and filled with gladiators and dignitaries! Picnicking outside the Coliseum! Taking tobacco with Wellington! Snuff with Shakespeare! Seeing Da Vinci paint and Michaelangelo chip away at stone! And then, when culture bores you, journeying to the bottom of the sea, to find the sharks and rays and angler fish and other such strange creatures that you normally only read about in books! Time travel, now, that’s the life! To go where you please and when you please…why, think of the adventures we’ll have!”

“We?” asked Rat, to which Mole added, under his breath, “Just what I was thinking.”

“Why, of course! You’ll all be coming with me. This beast is burdensome to control entirely by oneself – how its original owner, a solitary gentleman as far as I could make out, having no visible companion to speak of – ever managed it is quite beyond me. I had fair problems dashing around inside the thing pulling levers and twisting dials, and the juddering shake of the thing is quite something to behold, although of course you get used to it. And the layout! My word, Ratty, you’ve never seen the like of it! Passages here, tunnels there, sleeping compartments and cavernous walk-in wardrobes – and a library, of all things, inside the swimming pool! I shall want navigators and people willing to share the cooking duties, and some baggage carriers and general help. And you needn’t worry about leaving your homes unattended for any great length. This being a time machine, we can have it back in a jiffy – less than that, even – however long it’s in our possession. I can return it to its exact point of reference, right to the last second. The owner need never even know it was gone!”

“Now, see here, Toad – ” interjected the angry Rat.

“See here! See here! I should think so!” replied the excited Toad, hopping on one foot around the parlour. “I can see here, and there, and everywhere – anything, and any time! Here today, somewhere else last week!”

“Toad!” said the suddenly apoplectic Badger, very sternly, sitting up in his chair and leaning heavily on his walking cane, regarding the now quivering Toad with contempt and disdain and anger. “You miserable wretch! You worthless excuse for a civilised animal! Have you learned nothing of the dangers these machines possess? You could be flung anywhere – into a stampede of wildebeest, a pitched battle at sea, or even an active volcano! And that is to say nothing of the sheer folly of travelling through time, the lunacy of brazen interference! You might wipe out your own grandfather, destroy the Wild Wood, or even worse! In the hands of even the most sensible person such a vehicle would pose a tremendous risk. In the hands of an idiot and a lunatic, it’s a recipe for absolute calamity! The theft is bad enough. Your intention to actually use the thing is tenfold worse! Wicked, wicked Toad!”

So ferociously choleric was the Badger’s tone, and so potent and compelling the content of his speech, that Toad’s knees began at once to knock. In an instant his facial expression had changed from one of utter confidence in his abilities to handle the time machine to one of sudden and serious doubt. Could it be, he thought to himself, that he had thought himself more capable than he was? Had he become so excited in the possibilities that the pitfalls had evaded him? And then he saw, as if in a dream, but waking, a flash of hidden insight that rose to the surface like the bubbles in a mill pond, a world hideously altered by his meddling, a world of continents in upheaval, towns overrun with plants, old dictators given new life, and – oh, the horror! – the weasels lording themselves over his manor and estate, and indeed the whole of the surrounding countryside, while he, poor Toad, was reduced to nothing but a common servant, doomed to a life of servitude, misery and poverty.

The vision had shaken him. Removing a pristine handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket he mopped his brow, which had become bejewelled with sweat, and with shaking hands he moved to the fireside armchair, and gingerly sat down. When he had recovered sufficient composure, he said “Oh, Badger. You’re right, of course. I had thought my scheme well-intentioned, but I have been foolish. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”‘

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