Last Friday, I posted an extract from the first chapter of my novel, with the promise that business would be concluded this week. If you haven’t yet read that post, I suggest you do so now if you want the following to make any real sense. (It may still not, of course, but you stand a bigger chance.) A brief note: I wrote this before I either knew about or saw a certain episode from last year, and at this stage I’m inclined to leave the last exchange in there, even though it no longer makes any sense.
We rejoin the Doctor and Amy as we left them: trapped in the TARDIS kitchen with a small bundle of blue fur, and facing off against a monstrous plant…
Chapter One, Part Two
Somehow, the Doctor managed to seize the moss ball, spring into a standing position and turn a hundred and eighty degrees on the spot in one fluid motion. It was astonishing to watch these occasional displays of agility, Amy thought, from a man that she had come to know as practically dyspraxic. Or at least that’s what she would have been thinking, had she not been distracted by the gargantuan monstrosity that was now blocking the doorway.
The plant was easily twenty-five feet long, and bright orange: a poisonous, deadly orange that one might associate with a tree frog. The effect was enhanced by jagged black stripes that ran down the main stem, like a sort of reversed tarantula. The stem was two feet thick and made jarring snapping noises as it creaked. A solitary eye the size of a pig sat at the top, staring at them, unblinking. Then the stem protruded downwards, ending at a wide gelatinous base that housed a pool of glowing purple fluid. The fluid seemed to take a life of its own, bubbling and whirling without pattern or reason, but just because it could. Occasionally one of the plant’s many tentacles would reach into the pool and emerge with its end painted a bright, vivid mauve. Each tentacle contained a set of crocodile-like teeth.
For a man whose ship had been boarded by the kraken, the Doctor was unusually calm. “Amy, meet the snapweazle. Snapweazle, this is Amy.”
“Um…yeah. Hello,” said Amy, feeling slightly less ridiculous than she imagined she might. “I hope you’ve had lunch?”
The snapweazle lurched from left to right, tentacles lashing and billowing at random. The great eye surveyed them, moving a brilliant pupil that had the appearance of black marble from left to right and back again, surveying its surroundings. Then it began to rock forwards on its base, and it had done this for about seven seconds when it made the first jump.
It was shuffling through the doorway.
Any started. “Doctor, it’s – it’s walking!”
“So I see.”
“But plants don’t walk.”
The Doctor allowed himself the briefest sideways glance. “Neither does a statue.”
The snapweazle was all the way through now, and advancing upon them It seemed to be growing bigger and more deadly by the second. Amy found herself involuntarily backing up against the Aga. Her hands reached behind the back of her waist to touch the cold metal handle. She noted that the Doctor had joined her, looking similarly panicky. “Please tell me,” she whispered, “that you have a way out of this.”
“Just one,” said the Doctor, as the tentacle reached out its pointed end. “How’s your operetta?”
Amy gave a start. “Truthfully, I’m a little rusty.”
The Doctor nodded, resigned, as if this were to be expected. “Fine. Just take your cue from me.” And to Amy’s astonishment, he cleared his throat, looked up at the menacing plant, and opened his mouth to sing:
“Your seedling hearts, ah, do not steel
to pity’s eloquent appeal
such conduct humble bipeds feel –
Sigh, sigh, all sigh!”
The Doctor glanced at Amy again, but this time it was purposeful. Amy got the hint, and managed a theatrical sigh. Turning back to the plant again, he continued:
“To plant or beast we rarely see
A girl or Time Lord bend the knee
Yet, one and all, they kneel to ye –
Kneel, kneel, all kneel!
We bipeds very seldom cry
And yet – I need not tell you why –
A tear-drop dews each saddened eye!
Weep, weep, all weep!”
He was no Leonard Osborn, but the effect was surprising, dramatic and almost instantaneous. The plant reared up, its tentacles quivering and its central column vibrating. Then it emitted a tremendous screeching noise, and then exploded.
It was about thirty seconds before Amy regained consciousness. The snapweazle’s combustion had included a shockwave that had shaken the floor of the TARDIS, and both Amy and the Doctor had been thrown against the Aga, before collapsing in a heap. When she awoke, a blurry vision of the kitchen swam into view, and she could make out the polished black work surfaces, the open fridge door, and the Doctor, who was still out cold. Amy felt a strange sensation, halfway between pleasant and painful, and looked down to see the moss ball chewing on her index finger.
She withdrew her hand quickly. The moss ball looked up at her, insofar as it was able to do so, considering it had no eyes. It looked almost ashamed of itself.
“There, there,” Amy said, with as much compassion as she could muster. “It’s OK. You’re still hungry? Here.” She picked up the carrot and held it to where she assumed the moss ball’s mouth must be. The carrot instantly became shorter, like a branch being dropped into a wood chipper. There was a moment’s silence, and then the creature belched.
There was movement from the floor beside her; the Doctor was shaking off the last vestiges of unconsciousness and propping himself upright. “Gosh. That was a close one. Lucky I remembered my Gilbert and Sullivan. Singing in the shower, Pond,” he said, wagging a bony finger at her. “More useful than you’d think.”
He jumped to his feet. “Right! Time to clean up, I think. There’s a mop in the cleaning cupboard, which is down the corridor on the left, next to the server room. If you can sort out the surfaces,” he said to Amy, “I’ll sort out the floors.”
Amy was still cradling the moss ball. “What about this one, Doctor?”
“Oh, him. He’ll be fine for a moment. If he’s eaten he won’t want to eat again for at least a week. I expect he’ll be happy just playing.”
“Are you sure? Because I don’t want to be cradling a moss ball in one hand and a J-cloth in the other. Can we not put him in a playpen, or a cot or something?”
“This is the TARDIS, Amy, not a crèche! We’ll just have to do the best we can. Heaven knows what the health and safety people would say if they walked in right now. Well, if I had any health and safety people. Either way, it’s important we clean up this mess before – ”
The Doctor stopped. Or rather he was encouraged to stop by the alarm call from the next room. The klaxon was low, heavy, and resonated into the kitchen. Amy looked up. “What’s that?”
“It’s the TARDIS emergency materialisation alarm. It’s programmed to go off in the event certain carbon-based life forms try and take over the ship. Well, that and leaving the iron on. But the snapweazle’s triggered it. Anyway – ” the Doctor continued, as he sprinted out of the kitchen and into the control room – “Long story short, we’re landing.”
“Well, can’t you shut it off? It’s not as if we need to worry about it now.”
“Can’t. The shutdown mechanism froze up some time ago and I hadn’t got around to fixing it. Easier if we just ride it out. Hold down that lever.”
They were at the controls now, the time rotor rising and falling with a juddering, stuttering motion – not the smoothness that Amy was used to, but at least it was working again, however imperfectly. The juddering apparently had knock-on effects throughout the whole ship, which was rumbling in a manner the young woman found somewhat unsettling. There had been rumbling before, she remembered. Beneath the soil, when she had disappeared down the rabbit hole and found a kingdom full of lizards. She had enjoyed a brush with the future in a context that was yet to be explained. But when she mentioned the Silurians, the Doctor would change the subject.
She wondered why. But not now. Now, the klaxon in her head was setting up a camp bed and getting under her feet, and introspection would have to wait. The Doctor was busy at the desk, spinning dials and punching buttons, his brow furrowed in concentration. The ship lurched, and the two of them almost lost their footing. Outside the TARDIS, it would have been an impressive sight: the battered police box swaying in the mists of the time vortex.
“Amy!” bellowed the Doctor above the din. “That button! Now!”
Amy saw where he was pointing and stretched across. Skin found plastic. There was one final lurch, and then a sudden stop. The ground ceased to rumble and became stable. The lights went out. Smoke poured from vents, and two electrical cables sparked together in a most dangerous fashion near one of the hatches.
The Doctor looked over, alarmed. “Uh-oh. Better get that fixed, and sharpish.” He strode purposefully across the TARDIS, pulling a pair of rubber gloves from his jacket pocket as he went. Looping one end round a protruding hook in the wall and tying it so that it was secured far away from the other end of the cable, he turned to face his companion. “We made it, anyway. No broken bones, Pond?”
“No.” She rubbed the back of her forehead “Hell of a stiff neck, though. So where are we?”
“No idea. Let’s have a look.”The Doctor swivelled a monitor into view even as he reached the desk. “Hmm. That’s funny. Earth, apparently, in the late thirteenth century. 1285, to be exact. But nothing more specific.”
“So the TARDIS will tell you when we are, but not where?”
“Exactly. The readouts must have got damaged in the landing. I’ll fix them later. Meantime, we go and look.”
“Thirteenth century? That’s around the crusades, isn’t it? Robin Hood, Merry Men in the forest.”
“Yes, I suppose it is.” The Doctor’s face darkened “Ye gods, I hope we don’t run into him. I owe him a mackerel.”
“You owe Robin Hood a – ” Amy realised that continuing the discussion was pointless, because the Doctor was already heading for the doors. “Bring a coat, Amy. It’s October. Liable to be chilly.”