Pastiches

The Time Wind in the Willows

Going through the archives for an article I’m writing for Kasterborous, I discovered an odd thing that I wrote back in December 2011. If I were being silly I might almost describe it as fan-fic. As it is we’ll go with pastiche.

Today, just for the hell of it, I’m reproducing it again, only this time you get added pictures.To fill you in, the story as I envisaged this version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic is that Toad has nicked the TARDIS, only he calls it the TOADIS. When I originally spun this to Gareth, he suggested that “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.” (He had been interviewing for three days straight, so all things considered…)

‘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 police 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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Events occur in real timey-wimey

My knowledge of American drama series is, for the most part, very patchy. I get by with a mixture of self-proclaimed ignorance and bluffing. I’ve got no ideological hang-ups with any of it; I accept that the first series of Heroes was great and that Desperate Housewives was like Blue Velvet for teenage girls. I just don’t have the time. There is also a part of me that is, I admit, quite proud of the fact that I’ve only ever seen one episode of The West Wing. It feels deliciously subversive. There is one exception: the only contemporary drama I feel able to talk about with any real authority (seasons one to six of The X-Files aside) is 24.

This is an unpopular view, but I’m of the conviction that 24 never jumped the shark. In eight seasons, largely due to its capacity to endlessly reinvent itself, it dazzled and confounded us with a thousand twists, betrayals and feints. Its political sensibilities are ambiguous and there is, I’ll admit, a part of me that feels ashamed of the glee I experience when Jack Bauer is twisting the knife (metaphorically or, sometimes, quite literally) into the spine of a scheming terrorist bastard. I have been told that I cannot enjoy this show and call myself a liberal. I answer that it satisfies a certain morbid testosterone drive possessed by most men of my age.

Key to the success of 24 is its merciless attitude towards its cast: no one – apart from Bauer himself – is safe, and regular and beloved characters are shamelessly gunned down / blown up / poisoned without a moment’s thought. Sometimes these deaths are signposted, but the most effective are the ones you don’t see coming (the opening of season five, for example, was particularly memorable – if you’ve seen it you’ll know why). In playing with our expectations, of course, the show was also guilty of setting up certain conventions, so that by the end of its run we knew how things worked. For example, a seemingly-deceased character was never actually dead unless you saw the corpse (and even then, that wasn’t always enough to keep them from popping back).

Other conventions were the behavioural patterns of unexpected turncoats after they’re unmasked. We usually learn about them at least one episode before the CTU chief does, and it’s generally accepted that as soon as we find out, their previously impeccable mask of respectability will slip completely, and they’ll suddenly find it incredibly difficult to keep up the pretence. This is usually because one a turncoat has been unmasked to the audience it’s not long before everyone else finds out as well, if only because it keeps the show moving. Indeed, such rapid narrative progression is something 24 does particularly well: seasons are rarely about the stuff we think they’re about, and apparent main antagonists are dispatched with gleeful abandon quite early on in a season, revealing layers of conspiracy that usually go right to the top, and someone with considerable political clout.

So Emily and I devoured it. I can still remember the look on her face the night she discovered the identity of the mole at the end of the first season; she spent the rest of the evening wandering round the house, occasionally muttering “I can’t believe it was them!”. But part of the show’s appeal is rooted in its sometimes unintentional humour. We know, for example, that the beloved Chloe is supposed to be funny, and that her Asperger’s renders her prone to bouts of tactlessness (“I just think we need to be really nice to Michelle, you know, because of Tony getting shot in the neck”). But it’s hard not to chuckle when you hear presidential advisor Lynn Kresge announce that “I just got off with the Secretary of Defence”, at least if you’re British. And how am I supposed to take an assassin seriously when, at the beginning of season eight episode three, we get this?

I know they don’t have a monopoly on the name, but honestly.

All of which set me thinking. A Who / 24 mashup would be difficult, purely in terms of how you’d reconcile the very human political / terrorist threats of Fox’s drama with Doctor Who’s extraterrestrial sensibilities, but perhaps a more telling problem might be how the two protagonists would get on – or rather wouldn’t. Jack Bauer gets the job done, but he kills people. You might as well team the Doctor up with Frank Castle. But if it did happen, and if it was, say, the Tenth Doctor because I find his inanities easiest to write, it might go a little like this…

—-

EXT. INDUSTRIAL AREA. NIGHT.

[A large patch of grass and sand, surrounded by a chain link perimeter fence. Clusters of bushes, shrubs, the occasional oak. The sun is going down in the distance, and the autumn breeze rustles. Six or seven GUARDS patrol, machine guns cocked. There’s no indication of what they’re guarding. Nearby, just behind a tree, a familiar-looking blue box. Floodlights illuminate the area, but their reach only partially extends to the tree and TARDIS.

JACK BAUER is lying flat at the crest of a nearby hillock, a couple of hundred yards away. He surveys the scene through binoculars.]

Jack [into cell phone]: Chloe? It’s Jack. I’m at the rendezvous. I don’t see any sign of Curtis or his team yet.

Chloe [over phone]: I just spoke to him. He’s about twenty minutes out.

Jack: Dammit. That doesn’t give us enough time. We need to intercept now, before they move the nuke.

Chloe: I’ve tracked the energy readings to somewhere in this area. Look for anything unusual. They don’t know we’re coming, so you should be able to see it.

[Jack scans with his binoculars. He stops when he notices the TARDIS.]

Jack: Chloe, I think I have a visual. Moving in but I need a hostile count.

Chloe: I’ve got seven.

Jack: Roger that.

Chloe: Jack? Please be careful.

[One of the guards is standing at his post, surveying the area, when he flinches as he is grabbed from behind. It’s Jack, with a knife at his throat.]

Jack: Now listen carefully. Do exactly as I say and I won’t have to hurt you. I am going to move away from you a short distance, and when I do, I want you to lie down on the ground, face down.

[He carefully disengages and the guard begins to crouch, but in the process of doing so grabs his gun and makes to shoot Jack. Jack swiftly plunges the knife into his neck. The guard can’t help screaming as he goes down.]

Jack: Stupid.

[All of a sudden, there are shouts as the other guards come running. The air is awash with yelled instructions in Russian, and gunfire. Jack swiftly drops to his knees and pulls out a pistol. He fires once, twice. He empties the chamber. He ducks and rolls. He uses the shrubs and trees as cover. One by one, the guards buy the farm.

After thirty breathless seconds it’s all over. Jack gets up, catching his breath, recovering.]

Jack [into phone]: Chloe, it’s Jack. All hostiles are down. Repeat, all hostiles are down. I’m moving in on the energy reading.

[With his gun still drawn, Jack moves across the grass towards the oak where the TARDIS is hidden. Suddenly, he stops. He points the handgun straight. He can see someone, standing, unseen. Reflexively, Jack points his gun at the figure in the shadows.]

Jack: HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE ‘EM!

[The figure raises its hands.]

Jack: Now I want you to walk slowly towards me. One false move, one sign that you’re not following my instructions, and I will put you down.

[Slowly, the figure emerges into the light. It is, of course, the TENTH DOCTOR, in trademark brown suit and coat.]

Jack: Who are you?

The Doctor: I’m the Doctor.

Jack: I don’t have time to play around. What’s your name?

The Doctor: Just the Doctor.

[Jack fires a warning shot that zips past the Doctor’s shoulder. The Doctor flinches, but not much.]

Jack: GIVE ME A NAME!

The Doctor: Just…the Doctor. [He starts to wander forwards.]

Jack: Don’t move.

The Doctor: I’m just getting a little closer, that’s all. I don’t have any names except the Doctor. Not an alias, not a nom de plume, that’s just what everyone calls me. The Doctor. That’s all you need to know. Now tell me your name.

Jack: My name is Jack Bauer. I’m a federal agent on an assignment to locate a nucular weapon in this vicinity. That’s all you need to know. I don’t want to have to kill you, but I will not hesitate to pull the trigger if you can’t give me what I want.

The Doctor: God, what is it with people I know called Jack? You’re the second one I’ve met with a trigger-happy disposition. Mind you, you’re not as bad as the last one. He couldn’t wait to get his gun off. Preferably with everyone he met.

Jack: What are you talking about?

The Doctor: Oh, nothing, really, I suppose I’m just sidetracked. But I’ll tell you something, Jack. You put the gun down…I can help you.

Jack [cocks]: Why should I believe you?

The Doctor: Oh, I think you already do. I’ve met your type before, Jack. You’re the shoot-first type, not because you like it, but because it’s the only way you’ve stayed alive so long. You could count the number of people you really trust, I mean *really* trust, on the fingers of one hand, am I right? And everyone close to you, or at least nearly everyone, has died. You walk through this world and you do good, but you leave a trail of fire and devastation behind you, and there are days you can barely look at yourself in the mirror.

[He is still walking slowly forwards. Jack keeps the pistol trained, but he’s clearly thinking this through.]

The Doctor: The life you’ve lived has made it hard for you to really trust anyone. But the real reason you’ve stayed alive so long, Jack Bauer, is because you’ve learned to rely on your gut. You react purely on instinct. So tell me, Jack. What does your gut tell you…right now?

[Jack stares. There is a long, considered pause. Then he lowers and holsters the gun.]

The Doctor: Now, that’s more like it.

Jack: We don’t have a lot of time.

The Doctor: Yeah, I gathered. Tell me about this bomb.

—-

INT. TARDIS.

[The door opens, and Jack and the Doctor step in. Jack stares around him, in amazement, or as amazed as we ever see Jack get about anything.]

The Doctor: Welcome to the TARDIS!

Jack: How are you doing this?

The Doctor: It’s complicated. I’d explain, but I don’t really think you’d –

[The monitor starts to beep.]

The Doctor: Hello, what’s this? [He starts flipping switches.] Looks like a signal, some sort of video conference, but it’s no one I recognise, and I don’t know – hang on.

[He punches a button, and Chloe’s face appears on the monitor.]

The Doctor: Hello.

Chloe: Is Jack with you?

Jack: I’m here, Chloe, and I’m unharmed.

The Doctor: Sorry, who are you?

Chloe: I’m Chloe O’Brian. CTU.

The Doctor: Chloe! Good to meet you, Chloe. [pauses, reflects] I knew a Chloe once. No, Zoe, that was it. She had her memory wiped in the end. Sad day, that one.

Chloe [wearing her I’ve-just-crapped-in-my-pants look]: OK.

The Doctor: Anyway, never mind that. What on earth are you doing on my monitor?

Chloe: I used Jack’s cellphone to run a GPS trace. Then I narrowed down the electrical signals to find a match for nearby closed circuit displays. Then I isolated the feed and managed to broadcast on the same frequency to find you.

The Doctor: …OK.

Chloe: Jack, you look like you’re inside a chamber or something, but according to my readouts the only building within two hundred yards of your current position is a public phone booth. Is there some kind of underground thing that’s not on the blueprints?

The Doctor: Ah. No, that’d be me. It’s my ship. It’s kind of – well, bigger on the inside.

Chloe: Bigger on the inside?

The Doctor: In a manner of speaking, yeah.

Chloe: How is that even possible?

The Doctor: It’s a sort of wibbly-wobbly…timey-wimey…thing.

Chloe: Fine. Whatever…

The Doctor: Anyway. Seeing as you’re here, Chloe, you can help us find this bomb.

Chloe: That’s kind of what I was doing.

Jack: Chloe, we don’t have time for this. Where did you get to on the Geiger emissions?

Chloe: I’ve isolated them and come up with a likely match. The only problem is they’ve already moved the bomb, so you’re going to have to follow the trail.

Jack: Fine. Send it to my screen.

The Doctor: No, wait. Send it to mine.

Chloe: Which one? There’s like seven of them.

The Doctor: The chrono-analysis LED tracker.

Chloe: That doesn’t help me.

The Doctor [exasperated]: Oh, the yellow one.

Chloe: On its way.

The Doctor [dashing over to the yellow screen, takes 3D glasses out of his pocket, puts them on, stares, takes them off]: Right. According to this the emissions were tracking south by southwest at a latitude of seven degrees, so all I should need to do is –

[All of a sudden, the TARDIS shakes violently. Jack and the Doctor are practically knocked off their feet.]

Jack: Doctor? What’s going on?

The Doctor [tapping buttons, running from one screen to another with his ‘concerned’ look]: Some kind of heat signature. It’s ruptured the TARDIS’s readouts and started a small fire in the engine core. For some reason I can’t access the controls, unless I can patch it from here – [he points his screwdriver into the circuitry of an open panel, and it fizzes in a most alarming fashion] – aaaargh! [The Doctor withdraws, clutching his hand] No good. I’ll have to get down to the main circuit room. Probably die in the process. Still, there’s always regeneration. Probably.

Chloe: Give me the details. Maybe I can help remotely.

The Doctor: No, it’s complicated, it’s Gallifreyan and you wouldn’t understand! I haven’t got time to explain it in layman’s terms!

Chloe: I’d appreciate it if you please wouldn’t patronise me like this. It makes it very hard to do my job effectively.

The Doctor [seething, mostly to himself]: Oh, you humans are so awkward! Fine, it’s a basic algorithm from the expanded Fibonnaci sequence, and you have to embed a crossover into the subroutine that’s based on an ASCII array. Then you have to patch the new source code on top of the original binary.

Chloe: Well, why didn’t you say so? I’ve been handling that sort of coding since I was twelve. Hold on.

[She taps rapidly. The TARDIS is lurching and shaking.]

The Doctor: Chloe! You’re going to have to hurry!

Chloe: Working on it!

[Steam is pouring from the vents now, and the vibrations are louder. The cloister bell can be heard in the next room.]

Jack: Chloe, we’re running out of time!

Chloe: I know, Jack! Stop interrupting!

[Her fingers punch the keys with increasing intensity and the sweat pours off her brow. All of a sudden, the TARDIS comes to an abrupt stop, the systems returning to normal. Jack gets to his feet and dusts himself off; the Doctor is leaning on a panel, steadying himself upright, breathing in and out.]

Jack: Chloe, you did it. We’re back in control.

The Doctor: Chloe, I don’t know what to say.

Chloe: Well, ‘thank you for saving my ship’ would probably be a start. Along with ‘I’m sorry for assuming you were a moron’.

The Doctor: Mnyeah, I suppose we could start with the thank you. But no, I mean it, you’re – brilliant. I’ve never seen that sort of technical wizardry in any human. You don’t have a fob watch, do you?

Chloe: Actually yes. It was my grandmother’s.

The Doctor: Yeah? Does it work?

Chloe: Well yeah, of course it does. Why on earth would I keep it if it didn’t?

The Doctor: …Right. Forget I asked.

Jack: Doctor. Now that we’ve fixed things, I need you to use your vehicle to help me track the nucular bomb.

The Doctor: Oh, Jack Bauer, federal agent, I can do better than that. I can take you right there! [He does the hop-around-the-TARDIS dance, twisting dials, pulling levers, holding on to things and pretending it’s a plan.]

Jack [above the TARDIS noise]: What are you doing?

The Doctor: The TARDIS is zeroing in on the Geiger emissions from the bomb. We should be able to get pretty close. Well, within a few yards. Hopefully not right on top, or it’ll be in here. I still remember the last time that happened. Took weeks to clean up.

[The TARDIS comes to a lurching halt.]

Jack: Where are we?

The Doctor [all serious]: It should be just outside.

—-

INT. HANGAR

[The TARDIS door opens. Jack and the Doctor step out into a dimly lit hangar. Jack draws his revolver.]

The Doctor: You’re not gonna use that, are you?

Jack: Only if I have to.

The Doctor: How did your lot ever survive this long?

[Warily, Jack stalks through the hangar. The Doctor follows. A large, coffin-shaped object lies at the side, hidden between a pile of crates.]

Jack: I think we have a visual. Chloe, are you getting this?

Chloe: Yeah. The readings are through the roof. I think it’s the bomb. But I don’t understand why it’s unguarded.

[Jack and the Doctor lean over the edge of the device. The display is marked with complicated, unfamiliar symbols marked out in red.]

Jack: Chloe, we’ve found it. But I don’t recognise the design.

The Doctor: I think I do.

Jack: What can you tell me?

The Doctor: It’s alien. It comes from the Peradon Cluster. They used to use them for mining. You dump the bomb, it explodes, it’s quick radiation dispersal so you can go back in a week, collect the gold, get rich. Devastated the local area, of course. They were outlawed eventually. Obviously a few slipped the net. But that’s not the worst of it, Jack.

Jack: What?

The Doctor: It’s armed. That’s why it’s unguarded. And I don’t know how to stop it.

Jack: What’s the detonation time?

The Doctor: I’d say….within the hour.

Jack: DAMMIT!

—-

"KHAAAAAAAAANNNNN!!!!"

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In the flowerpot

Some years ago, I used to be fairly active on the local amateur dramatics circuit. This all came through one outlet – our local church, where I was one of the pianists in residence. The stuff we did could be divided into two camps: on the one hand, we performed a trilogy of musicals over the course of three years, beginning with Godspell in the millennium year and ending up with Jesus Christ Superstar in 2002, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat sandwiched neatly between, usually mounting these big productions in spring and summer. When the weather turned, we would arrange a succession of annual revue and sketch shows at the end of each November, known as Chaotic Chorus.

(Parenthesis: if you want to skip the pre-amble, jump straight to paragraph five. I need to give some context but I don’t want to bore you!)

There was a deeply religious angle to all of this – members of the theatre group were bound by faith and by our dedication to each other. We left the politics to one side, and there was none of the backstabbing or upstaging that you often see in local am dram, to the extent that our story would make a rubbish documentary. Egos – mine exempt, I fear – were checked at the door, and by far the biggest problems I had to deal with as musical director were working out what to do with the doddery chap who had an absurdly inflated view of his own (limited) acting abilities, finding keys that people could sing in, and getting everyone to learn their lines. They were good days. I was single, but the evenings kept me busy, and I was never for want of friends or company.

Moving away, getting married and – eventually – having children has reduced my available hours significantly. These days I get time to play once a month on a Sunday morning, but that’s about it. There’s no board-treading or occasional solo numbers or panicking and refusing to eat before the evening performance. I don’t have the energy to miss it, nor do I feel unfulfilled as a result, having found other ways to exploit my creative side. But I was looking through those old running orders and sketches quite recently, and feeling dangerously nostalgic. I still haven’t seen the video of Joseph, in which I made a rare appearance in front of the piano, rather than behind it. They asked me to play the title role, which involves quite a lot of reacting and less singing than you’d expect (given that the Narrator is the real star). I had to wear a ridiculous hospital gown, but it was nice to do something different and tread the boards, rather than spending the whole evening hearing them squeak above you.

Nor have I seen any of the Chaotic Chorus videos, which I’d no doubt now find embarrassing to watch, purely in terms of all the mistakes I’m sure I made on the night. I make no apology for this: I’ve always been an unconventional accompanist, eschewing sheet music in favour of what sounds right, and when you have twenty-five songs to remember over the course of an evening, and when you have to cope with Terry’s arrhythmia and Nina’s occasional memory lapses, you can perhaps be forgiven the odd bum note yourself. The songs and sketches sound so much better in my head than they probably will on grainy VHS, so perhaps it’s better they stay there. I’m also glad that – as a copyright concession to the Really Useful Group and owing to the fact that it was an act of worship – we never recorded Superstar in any form. Sometimes you gain a greater sense of value from keeping things in the moment.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because the Chaotic Chorus evenings were arranged on a variety of themes – we did war songs, hits from the 60s and 70s and songs from the shows, amongst others, but one of the recurring images was that of Doctor Who. This came about in mid to late 2000 when I was putting together the spec for the show with Jon Skeet, a Cambridge graduate / programmer who now works for a major international corporation and won’t tell me what he does. He was my best man, in more ways than one. He was a writing partner, co-producer and director and the one with all the ideas. He also has a fine singing voice and an obsession with The West Wing, which I confess I still haven’t seen.

Jon is friends with Gareth. That should give you some idea. Like Gareth, he is one of the cleverest people I know. He’s mercifully easier to please than Gareth, which means that the protracted arguments about the relative merits of New Who didn’t happen with him; instead, back in the days where we spent a lot of time together, we’d go and see bad films and try and work out whether he enjoyed Hollow Man more than I did because of all the Pro Plus he’d taken that evening or because it’s better than I’ll give it credit for. Those Friday evening sessions were glorious: I’d knock off my dead-end admin job at quarter to six, do a little shopping and meet Jon and his wife Holly (and, quite frequently, our other friend Douglas) at the local Warner Village for popcorn and Sprite, and then head back to casa del Skeet for pasta and late night sessions of Die Siedler von Catan, which he would invariably win. If we were working on a show, we’d brainstorm. I was very good at finding songs. Jon was great at staging them. Between us (and with a lot of help from Holly) we did great things and made a lot of people happy but it was always done out of love of simply doing it, and I think that’s what kept me from losing interest.

That 2000 production was Songs From Across The Century, moving from Gershwin and music hall through Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, finishing up with the Spice Girls (don’t look at me like that; we had a number of teenage girls in the cast and you have to give them something). I adapted an old I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again sketch and added a ditzy sound effects girl (played with great gusto by the minister’s wife, who was also Mrs Potiphar in Joseph and Yvette in the ‘Allo ‘Allo sketches we did). Come the finale we had the whole audience singing ‘White Christmas’, which is as good a show-closer as any. And stage right: my father, in an absurd scarf and black fright wig, sweltering in my dark blue overcoat.

If you’re going for an iconic Doctor, it needs to be the Fourth. It’s the one everybody recognises. I still don’t know where we got the scarf, but it was perfect. Sadly the only photos I have of my father in that outfit are blurry and also feature me, which is why you don’t get to see them. Our props master / set builder constructed a TARDIS, from which we had the Doctor emerge in the opening sequence, in order to invite a group of bored children on a trip to see the Bee Gees. Naturally it goes awry and they spend the rest of the show trekking through the twentieth century, munching jelly babies. Every time one of the kids had to ask the Doctor to clarify one of the suggestive jokes, he would look flustered and reply “I’ll explain later”. In his first entrance we sequenced a flushing toilet to immediately follow the TARDIS materialisation effect, which got the biggest laugh of the night. (I also made the classic mistake of having the Doctor refer to himself as ‘Doctor Who’, which I think can be excused on the grounds that the BBC were doing that in the credit crawl as late as 1981.)

My father would go on to compere Chaotic Chorus for the next three years. The first repeat appearance he once more played the Doctor, but in 2002 he elected to appear as himself, saying that the coat was just too hot to wear for the entire evening. He was persuaded back into it one last time for our 2003 show, which saw him gatecrash the Blue Peter set which had also, earlier in the sketch, been invaded by the Thunderbirds puppets. In full costume, he glances round, announces “Ah! Er…I’m not in this one, am I?”, before exiting to thunderous applause. If I had to pick a highlight from my five year involvement with the show, it would probably be that one.

The Thunderbirds puppets. That's Valerie Singleton on the left. Jon is the one dressed up as Brains.

Anyway. One Sunday afternoon when Jon and I were trading ideas, he began to write a Bill and Ben sketch that we used for the segment that sees the TARDIS stuck in the 1950s. It started out as a conventional sketch and then just got silly. Two of the girls played Bill and Ben, Jon narrated and his wife spent the entire skit standing in a flowerpot with a daffodil on her head, playing Little Weed. It took him no more than fifteen minutes to throw the thing together but I think there’s a reason why I still remember it over a decade later. You will have to imagine the flobadobs, which really were quite effective.

Curtains open. There are two large (cardboard) flower pots centre stage (apparently empty) with a weed between them. Weed knocks on each flower pot and Bill and Ben emerge.

Bill              Flob a lob?

Ben            Slob a dob a deb!

Narrator     (Off) Hello Bill. Hello Ben.

Weed         Weed!

Narrator     Yes, hello to you too, little weed.

Bill              Question

Narrator     No Bill, I can’t see the gardener anywhere. It’s safe to come out.

Bill and Ben emerge from their pots

Narrator    What are you doing today, Ben?

Ben          Long excited answer, including vigorous head nodding

Narrator     Really? How fun. What about you, Bill?

Bill              Shrugs. “I dunno” kind of answer.

Narrator     Oh, that’s a pity. Maybe Ben will let you come with him while he looks for a new flowerpot.

Bill              Asks Ben.

Ben            Answers briskly

Narrator     That’s not very nice Ben! I suppose you’ll have to amuse yourself Bill.

Bill              Okay” type response. Starts explaining things he could do.

Narrator     I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Bill. I don’t think the Property Committee Chairman would be very happy.

Bill              Brief and terse response.

Narrator     Now that really isn’t very nice!

Weed          (Tapping Ben on shoulder) Weed? (Points at Bill)

Ben           (“Hugs” Bill) “You can come too” type response.

Bill             “Yay!”

Narrator     Thank you Ben. That’s very kind. Do you know where you’re going to find your new flowerpots?

Ben            Some response

Narrator     In the shed? That’s a good idea.

Bill              (Gesturing) “I want a really big one!”

Narrator     A big one? Gosh. What about you, Ben? What kind do you want?

Ben            Some response

Narrator     A pretty one with engravings? That sounds lovely. But what are you going to do about the gardener? Won’t he notice?

Ben            Longish explanation

Narrator     You’re going to put your new one inside your old one? That’s a good idea.

Bill              (Dejectedly) “But that means I can’t have a really big one.”

Narrator     No, you won’t be able to have a bigger one and put it inside the one you’ve got now. We’ll have to think about this.

Weed         Weed? Weed weed weed. Weed!

Narrator     No little weed – putting the old one inside a new big one wouldn’t work either. I think the gardener would still notice!

Weed         (Hangs head.) Weeeed…

Ben            Rebukes narrator.

Narrator    You’re right Ben. I’m sorry little weed. It was a very good idea really.

Weed         (Lifts head.) Weed.

Narrator     How are you going to carry the pots back? Won’t they be heavy?

Bill              “We can do it together” (Ben nods head)

Narrator     You can do it together? What a nice idea. Perhaps it’s a good job Bill didn’t have other plans today after all, Ben.

Ben             “Yes.” (Bill and Ben look at each other and do very short happy dance.)

Narrator     You’d better go quickly, otherwise the gardener will come back. Off to the shed then.

Bill              “Right.” (Bill and Ben go off. Doctor enters.)

Weed          (Shouting) Weed!

Doctor        It’s all right little weed – I’m not the gardener. I am the Doctor.

Narrator     Doctor who?

Doctor        Yes, that’s right. How did you know?

Narrator     I am a Time Lord too. I was trapped in this garden when my TARDIS went astray.

Doctor        Yes, I know that feeling very well. Mine’s currently stuck as a police box.

Narrator     Mine’s currently disguised as a shed. Oh no…

Weed         (Distressed) Weed! Weed weed weed! Weeed!

Doctor        It’s all right – I’ll go and get them.

Narrator     Thank you. Go quickly – I think I hear the gardener coming, too…

Doctor        (Pokes head off stage.) Bill! Ben! The gardener’s coming! (Bill and Ben come running back on.)

Narrator     Are you all right?

Bill              (Puzzled) “Yes, but (etc)”

Narrator     Yes, I know it’s surprisingly roomy inside that shed…

Ben            Some response

Narrator     (Surprised) Yes, it is a TARDIS… but how did you know?

Ben            (Knowing look) Some response

Narrator     The Boys’ Big Book of Knowledge? Well I never.

Bill              Something

Narrator     A Dalek? Where is it now?

Ben            Some response

Narrator     It fell over on the steps? That was lucky. Well, I think you’d better get back into your pots now, don’t you? (They get back into their pots.) Good night Ben.

Ben            “Good night.”

Narrator     Good night Bill.

Bill              “Good night.”

Weed           Weed!

Narrator     Yes, little weed – good night to you too.

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If Swiss Toni were the Doctor

“You know, Paul, being a Time Lord is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman. You start out by developing an unhealthy fixation on a young girl. Next, you get her fixated on you and make sure she follows you around everywhere. Then you bring happiness to the entire galaxy armed with nothing more than your sonic screwdriver. You flit around the bed of time until you find a position you’re happy to stay in. Then you finally reach your TARDIS….you slide her open….and my god, it’s bigger inside than you’d ever thought possible.”

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Sherlock to Who

We all know that Benedict Cumberbatch would have made a superb Doctor (and almost did, and still might, one day). We also know that he plays Sherlock (and Moffat writes Sherlock) as a reclusive genius who is not unlike the Doctor. We also know that The Doctor’s aloof genius persona has probably, over time, been derived from that of Sherlock Holmes. We also know that Cumberbatch is friends with Matt Smith. So this latest incarnation is rather like Steve Coogan playing Tony Wilson in the same manner as he played Alan Partridge, who was inspired by the real life Tony Wilson.

But what if we were to make the crossover more explicit, and place Cumberbatch’s Holmes inside the TARDIS – accompanied by Freeman’s Watson – and make him the Doctor? Well, I’m sure it’s been done. It’s certainly been done visually –

(Acquired from this blog, and really quite inspired.)

I’m sure there are plenty of literary pastiches out there as well. And here is mine. It may be similar – indeed, nigh on identical – to a lot of the existing material, but I don’t have the time or inclination to look for any. There’s a danger that if you research similar material too much, it will start to influence your own. This is raw, and probably full of holes, but I wrote it in a hurry and am quite pleased with it.

– – –

INT. TARDIS CONTROL ROOM. DAY

[The ship hums gently as it travels through space. We pan across the console; panels fill with diagnostics and lights beep and flash. We can hear – somewhere out of shot – the tones of what may be a violin, but not one of this earth. Pan across: it’s the DOCTOR, debonair and arrogant in appearance, with a shock of black curly hair. He wears a maroon coloured silk shirt and is playing the violin slowly and senuously: an angular, atonal melody. All of a sudden he stops, holds the violin in one hand and picks up a pencil in the other, to make a notation on a piece of manuscript resting on a nearby table.

He has almost finished writing when a nearby console bleeps in alarm, as if giving off a warning signal. The Doctor loses concentration and his pencil slips; irritated, he scrunches up the manuscript into a ball and tosses it at the panel, whereupon the light goes out and the beeping stops. Satisfied, the Doctor lifts the violin once more to his neck and grasps the bow in one hand, but has played three or four notes when the console begins to beep again.]

Enter JOHN WATSON, in striped blue pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers, looking suspiciously like Arthur Dent, towelling his hair.]

John: Are you going to answer that?

The Doctor: Answer what?

John: The distress signal.

The Doctor: Perhaps in a while.

John: It’s been ringing for the last twenty-five minutes. Ever since I went in there.

The Doctor: Twenty-three and a half.

John: Have you been timing it?

The Doctor: No, I’ve been timing you. You always take exactly eleven minutes in the shower, I can tell because of the rise and fall in the water pressure. Allowing for disrobing that’s eleven minutes thirty. Six minutes to dry, of which you spent two shaving; you’ve missed a spot under your chin. Another four minutes to find your pyjamas, you wanted the pale blue ones because it’s Thursday and that always reminds you of the Thursday we went to the marine planet just the other side of Clom, you got sentimental about having to leave the mermaid piranhas so every Wednesday you always wash the pale blue pyjamas so K-9 can iron them in time for Thursday evening. You had to go to the walk-in wardrobe but you got lost because you forgot the TARDIS reconfigured herself last week – the specifics of trans-dimensional architecture never were your strong point. So that’s another two minutes walking round the ship the long way.

John: You know, sometimes I hate you.

The Doctor: No you don’t.

John: Are you composing again?

The Doctor: Yes.

John: After the last time? Music of the Spheres? Do you seriously not remember the fiasco that caused?

The Doctor: I take no responsibility for that night. The appearance of the Graaske had nothing to do with me. And it’s not my fault that the Royal Albert Hall has security to rival Strangeways.

John: Anyway. The distress signal. Are you answering it or not?

The Doctor: No, I’m fed up of solving dull and tedious problems for uneducated rabble.

John: How can you be sure this one is dull and tedious?

The Doctor: It’s the red light. That means it’s within twenty thousand light years. That narrows it down to one of seven planets that we know are either inhabited or contain any sort of life. None of them are interesting.

John: They still may need our help!

The Doctor: [sighs, puts down the violin] Fine. Get me the list.

John: The what?

The Doctor: It’s been going for three days straight, there’s bound to be a list.

John: If it’s been going for three days most of them are probably going to be dead by now, aren’t they?

The Doctor: Try engaging your brain at least sometimes, John, and take a look around you! Where do you think we are?

[There is a pause as John thinks this one through.]

John: Right! The list.

[He snatches a printout from a slot near the machine and begins to read.]

John: Missing colonists on Proxima’s second moon –

The Doctor: Dead.

John: Ghost freighter found drifting in the Delta Quadrant –

The Doctor: Boring. Next!

John: Possible bandits at Ursa Major, ship taking heavy fire –

The Doctor: Meteor shower. It’ll go on for an hour or so and then stop and the residual damage will repair itself. Next!

John: Bees found on Alpha Centuri –

The Doctor: Oh, for God’s sake! I’m better than this. I mean it, really. I am. [looks around] Where’s Mrs Hudson?

John: We left her in the library and said we’d pick her up in a month. You remember?

The Doctor: Vaguely. When was that?

John: Ten years ago.

[There is the noise of a sudden explosion somewhere outside the TARDIS, and the control room shakes violently. Both men are flung off their feet; John steadies himself on a console; The Doctor rebalances himself and then sits down in a battered leather armchair.]

John: What the hell was that?

The Doctor: Some sort of collision. Someone flying through the vortex in the opposite direction on the wrong side of the time stream.

John: [with obvious disdain] Only in this part of the universe.

The Doctor: Please don’t try and get smart, it doesn’t suit you. Just check the screens and see if there’s any damage.

[John punches a few touch-screen displays.]

John: Let’s have a look at you…nothing in the engine room, no sign of shields being impacted, just – ah. Doctor? I think you should come and have a look at this.

The Doctor: Can’t you just describe it to me? I’m not moving for anything less than a spontaneous wormhole.

John: It’s a spontaneous wormhole.

The Doctor: Well. The day just got interesting.

John: And the controls just broke.

The Doctor: What?

John: The panels are dead. Everything seems to have frozen, it’s a total lockout. Almost as if something else –

[There is the shimmering flash of a teleportation device, and a DALEK appears in the control room.]

Dalek: DO NOT MOVE. THERE IS NO ESCAPE. WE HAVE LOCKED THE CONTROLS OF THE TARDIS. YOU WILL OBEY US OR YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED.

The Doctor: And here was I thinking it would be a nice quiet evening.

Dalek: WE WILL ALLOW YOU TO PILOT THE TARDIS TO A LOCATION WE WILL SPECIFY. ONCE YOU ARE THERE YOU WILL SURRENDER YOUR DNA IMPRINT SO THAT WE MAY HAVE THE MACHINE TO OURSELVES. YOU WILL OBEY OUR ORDERS.

The Doctor: Is that a royal ‘we’?

Dalek: [processes this] EXPLAIN YOURSELF.

The Doctor: You keep using the third person, but as far as I can see, there’s only one of you. Why should I be threatened by only one of you?

Dalek: ONE OF US IS ENOUGH. ONE OF US IS ALWAYS ENOUGH.

The Doctor: Except…

John: Doctor, just…you know, it’s a Dalek. Be careful.

The Doctor: Except…it’s me, isn’t it? I mean, you know me. I’m your biggest nightmare. I’ve defeated you a thousand times. You talk about being the superior race when you’re really just a dustbin with a licorice whirl stuck on the end of a breadstick. You’re absolutely pathetic.

John: [to the Dalek] Please don’t exterminate him. I know how you feel, honest. Sometimes I feel like decking him myself. I’m sure you would, I mean, well – if you had any arms. So anyway, yeah, no exterminating yet, OK?

Dalek: YOUR ARROGANCE WILL BE YOUR UNDOING.

The Doctor: Or it may be my salvation. Because while you’ve been wittering on, I’ve been moving around you enough to notice a few things. That eye stalk is flickering every seven seconds, which is a sign it’s malfunctioning; you can’t see very much, if you can see at all, and certainly not enough to pilot your way through a wormhole. Faint traces of oil on the lower torso, you’ve undergone maintenance recently but you still leak, you’re battle damaged as the crack on your left side shows – self-repair should have fixed that, unless it’s not working….but the biggest clue of all that you’re not much of a threat to us is the simple fact that you cast no shadow. Which means that you’re not really here at all. Which means that I can do this –

[And before anyone can stop him, the Doctor runs his hand clear through the Dalek, which is obviously a hologram.]

The Doctor: – and oh look. Thin air. You’re a projection.

[And abruptly, the Dalek vanishes.]

John: It was never here? In our heads or something, some kind of hallucination?

The Doctor: Oh grow up, what do you think this is? No, it was real all right, just controlled. We were supposed to think it was here, which would have made it a threat, but it was somewhere else. However. The life readings indicate something’s on board the ship, which means that even if the Dalek itself wasn’t real, the thing controlling it….most certainly…

Voice [off]: Oh, bravo! Bravo!

[Slow clapping as the owner of the voice – a sinister but mildly camp Irish accent – comes into full view. It is of course JIM MORIARTY, criminal mastermind.]

The Doctor: I wondered when you’d show again. I just can’t get rid of you, can I?

Moriarty: I’m like an erect member in the presence of a lovely man. I just keep turning up.

John: [staggered] But…he was dead. I saw the body, I saw his corpse.

Moriarty: Gunshot wound to the head, wasn’t it? John, I’m disappointed. You really didn’t think this through, did you?

John: Apparently not.

Moriarty: Well, maybe your gay lover has figured it out.

John: I’m not –

The Doctor: He’s not –

John:  – I mean, we’re not – well never mind what I mean. What do you mean?

Moriarty: Doctor? Tell him.

[The Doctor is silent, hesitating. He appears not to know the answer.]

Moriarty: Well! This is a turn-up for the books. There’s me thinking you and I were on the same wavelength. I sell you a puzzle and you’re convinced it’s the truth. You’re getting complacent in your old age.

The Doctor: I’m 1153. Still young, by Time Lord standards.

Moriarty: Mmm-hmm. I can relate to that.

[John looks from one to the other in confusion, and The Doctor’s eyebrow visibly arches as he takes in this news.]

Moriarty: And the penny drops. There I was, using my real name and everything.

The Doctor: Except it was shortened. This time you reversed it. And switched to anagrams. Rich Book…Reichenbach. James Moriarty….

Moriarty: Majority…Master.

John: What?

Moriarty: Back from the dead. Regeneration was a bitch this time round. I had to grow a whole new face. Well, that happens every time, but there’s usually something there to start with. It hurts. And I. Will hurt. You.

The Doctor: You were him…but your shortened name missed out three of the letters of Master. That’s why I missed it. Stupid. Stupid, stupid. [Facepalm]

Moriarty: And sloppy. Makes me think of you as terminally disadvantaged, like a kitten with one leg. I almost feel inclined to spare you as a result, but I don’t think I will.

John: What’s your plan?

Moriarty: You, are, basically, this gigantic thorn. Except it seems I can never quite pull you out. Because every time I do, you find a way to worm your way back into my bleeding hands. Oh, there’s a lot of blood on them. Some of it’s yours, some of it isn’t. Have you been to the library lately, Doctor?

The Doctor: The library?

John: Mrs Hudson.

The Doctor: If you’ve hurt her, I’ll –

Moriarty: You’ll what? You’ll get cross and shout a bit and then you’ll go into a three-day fug where you don’t talk to anyone and spend a long time standing on rooftops looking broody. You don’t think I can afford to have people watch you every second? Anyway relax, I’ve not hurt her yet. But I might. You could, of course, turn over the TARDIS and then let me kill you first. Or you could refuse, and while you’re gallantly thinking of a way to stop me I can snap my fingers and the sniper I’ve got rigged up in the library will pull the trigger.

The Doctor: You’re bluffing.

Moriarty: Maybe. Are you really prepared to risk that?

The Doctor: Yes.

Moriarty: I don’t think you are. Nor does your friend there.

John: Just…let her go. You can have the TARDIS, I’m sure we can –

The Doctor: No. [to John] Can you imagine what a lunatic like this would do with this machine? The only way we could stop him from destroying the universe last time round was by taking away his own TARDIS. We can’t even consider giving it to him. Not for a second.

John: But if we don’t, we’ll lose Mrs Hudson. And we can’t go back and rescue her, because that means crossing the timeline.

Moriarty: Ooh, clever. You’ve obviously been teaching him, it’s like watching a dog learn to play piano. So what’s it going to be, Doctor? You give me the TARDIS and you’ll probably find a way to stop me and then at some point I’ll kill you anyway, but God knows how much irreparable damage I’ll have done in the meantime. Or…

The Doctor: I stop you now…and Mrs Hudson dies.

Moriarty: Bimbo. You have ten seconds. Choose.

[Shot of John, looking from one to the other, bewildered. Then Sherlock, anxious, frowning, undecided. Then cut to black.]

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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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