Pauline and Kathy were at their stalls, but they were clearly much younger women – by at least forty years. Kathy was still a teenager, just, despite being a mum to three-year-old Ian, but she still kept up with the latest fashions. She’d met her husband Pete when she was still at school, but she had always shown a maturity beyond her years – thanks in part to a very rough childhood. Pete was a few years older, in fact, he was Pauline’s twin brother, and he had been married once before, though he was now divorced. Coming from a large family, Kathy took on a number of jobs when she left school, simply to put food on the table. A Saturday job helping Pete with his fruit-and-veg stall eventually led to marriage and the arrival of baby Ian soon after. At first, Pauline’s family had been cool with Pete’s new girlfriend, but her level head and clear devotion to him soon changed their minds, with Pauline becoming her best friend.
Most days, Kathy would look after Ian during the day, before heading to the Queen Vic to do a shift behind the bar. Today was the day Pete went to the wholesalers to fetch more stock, leaving Kathy to run the stall – and wrangle Ian, who could be a handful.
‘I can remember exactly where I was when Kennedy was assassinated,’ Pauline said, ‘but don’t tell Arthur!’ The two women laughed.
‘How long ago was that, then?’ asked Kathy.
‘Well, it’ll be about ten years – in fact, it was ten years exactly, yesterday!’.
‘No, really? I was only a kid then. And speaking of kids…’ Kathy lifted up a flap of faded green display grass that covered her stall. There was Ian, playing away happily with a toy cash register. He particularly liked the ‘ping’ sound the register made when he pressed the ‘Sale’ button. The boy looked up at his mummy, then past her into the square, where he could see a man in a colourful coat striding around. Ian gave a giggle before returning to his business.
The woman called Susan Campbell, who had once been known as Susan Foreman, walked through the streets of Albert Square on the way to market. Unlike Mel, she was disoriented and afraid. Like Mel, she was not in her own time. In fact, Susan had come from a time 220 years in the future, where she had a family of her own. Thirty years before, she had spent her childhood travelling in space and time with her elderly grandfather – except for those five months living in a similar part of London, when she’d registered as a student at Coal Hill School. When her grandfather had kidnapped two of her school teachers. When all of their lives had changed forever. And though she, like the Doctor, had originally come from the planet Gallifrey, she had few memories of the Time Lords. Though she understood the basic premise of regeneration, it still seemed impossible to her that her own grandfather would ever change – and especially not into this ridiculous man with his silly coat of many colours.
‘You’re nothing like my grandfather,’ she said coldly. The Doctor tried to empathise. His granddaughter, who he’d effectively abandoned on a future Earth, albeit in the care of a loving and brave man. Now, she was a grown woman, middle-aged in human terms. As a former wanderer in the fourth dimension, Susan more than any other companion should understand their predicament.
‘I feel as though I’m being pulled backwards through time, Susan, and my companions are being drawn back with me.’ The mention of other companions gave Susan a rush of emotion.
‘Ian? Barbara? Are they here too?’
‘Who knows, my dear. Someone is trying to separate us from the TARDIS, someone who knows of my affinity for this planet. The inrush of time zones seems designed to seal us all together, I should say, hmm?’
The Doctor stopped still. He could feel something, a presence in his mind linking to his other selves. A connection through the time vortex. But what was it? Before he could investigate further, he and Susan were consumed by another flash of white light.
Intrepid journalist Sarah Jane Smith was an attractive woman with a bob of dark hair and a distinctive fashion sense. Today, she had selected an old favourite, a roomy and comfortable pair of red-and-white dungarees that gave her a slight resemblance to Andy Pandy. Like Mel, Sarah was beginning to draw upon the recent experiences of the Doctor’s other companions. She recognised that she was in the timezone of 2013 – a suspicion confirmed when a London Transport monorail train zoomed silently over the viaduct that crossed the market on Bridge Street.
Sarah’s directness and her overall likeability had come up trumps once again as she had struck up an instant rapport with one of the locals, a blonde businesswoman called Sharon Watts. Like everyone else that the time travellers had encountered that day, Sharon had grown up in the Square, the adopted daughter of Den and Angie Watts, erstwhile proprietors of the Queen Victoria Public House. Her parents were both dead now, and the pub had changed hands many times. Sharon had even moved away for a time, but somehow, she always found herself returning home, often for the strangest of reasons, as if she was incapable of ever really escaping for good.
Sharon found it easy to talk to her new friend, Sarah Jane, and within no time at all, she had furnished the journalist with a potted history of the square – and its residents – spanning the forty years that Sharon had lived there. As fascinating as this local history was though, Sarah caught sight of the Doctor and made her excuses.
This Doctor was her first Doctor – the tall one with the white hair and the love of frilly shirts – although she’d known his replacement for longer, an equally tall fellow with curly brown hair and a comically long woollen scarf. She’d even met some of the others – a stern elderly gentleman with long white hair, a short, dark one who dressed like Charlie Chaplin, a rather breathless younger one who appeared to be an Edwardian cricketer – but that all happened long after she and the TARDIS had parted company. Then there was the one she’d met only recently, rake thin with a shock of unruly brown hair and a pinstripe suit…
‘Wotcha!’ Sarah grinned, taking the madness in her stride. The Doctor reacted as if they’d only been parted for a few seconds, rather than decades, and began to summarise their predicament as if delivering a lecture.
‘What we’re seeing here, Sarah, is the work of a genius. An expert in time distortion. A time traveller, maybe, and an ingenious operator.’
‘Well then,’ Sarah observed, ‘ we must get back to the TARDIS!’
‘It’s the other side of the river. You know, we seem to be flitting around in some sort of twenty-year time loop.’
‘Yes, we’re bouncing from 1973 to 1993 and here, to 2013.’
‘Very good, Sarah Jane. Those are the exact parameters. But time distortion of this nature requires an exact localised focus.’ Sarah looked around.
‘So – why are we here in this street market in London?’ The Doctor smiled, knowingly.
‘This isn’t the focus, Sarah. It’s -‘
And once again, they found themselves swallowed up by the blinding white light.
In the Albert Square of 1993, a slight, fair-haired young man with a pleasant, open face stood on one corner of the square with an air of mild curiosity. He wore the stylised dress of an Edwardian cricketer – striped trousers, fawn coat with red piping, a white cricketing sweater and an open-necked shirt. The whole ensemble was completed for reasons best known to himself by a sprig of celery in the lapel. Although each of the time zones were separated by twenty years – with 1993 at the centre – each of the zones was on the same date, the grocer woman in 1973 had said that it was ten years since Kennedy’s assassination, the newspaper in 1993 had been from around that time – and there was every reason to suspect that the 2013 zone was too. All on or around the twenty-third of November.
What was so significant about that date? The writers CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley had both died – no, they both died the same day as Kennedy. As he searched his memories, trying to remember, he noticed something strange at the far end of Bridge Street. Fog was beginning to roll in, despite it being a rather unseasonally bright day for November.
And out of the fog ran two young women. Two women who were very familiar to this particular Doctor..
‘Interesting,’ said the Doctor to nobody in particular.
In the control chamber of the Rani’s TARDIS, something was going wrong. Cyrian checked and rechecked the monitoring displays and the Rani’s trap was still holding in place in both the location and the time loop. But something was interfering with the Doctor and his companion…
Wait – his companions! Plural?
The Rani too had noticed something was awry, though it was not that the Doctor’s associates appeared to have doubled in number. The Doctors had discovered that they were in a time loop – and he had already calculated its span.
‘Blundering fools,’ she snarled with atypical emotion. ‘They’re getting too near the truth. Cyrian – release the specimens!’
The two women headed straight for the Doctor.
‘I knew it,’ said one, an attractive American whose piquant features were framed by a neat dark bob.
‘As soon as I arrived here, I knew I’d find you, ‘ said the other, also dark-haired but with an aristocratic, haughty air.
‘Peri! Nyssa! It’s not safe here – the time loop feels unstable, like it’s-‘
But the Doctor was interrupted by a laser bolt narrowly missing the brim of his hat. The trio turned to see huge figures emerging from the fog. All three of them gasped.
First came a creature somewhere between gorilla and man, it had bowed legs, a massive chest and long powerful arms that hung almost to the ground. Its face was a terrifying distortion of a human, with a flat ape-like nose, small eyes glinting with cruelty, and a massive jaw with long yellow teeth.
‘Feeding time at the zoo?’ Nyssa asked, her feeble joke barely masking her fear.
‘And the companions went in two by two,’ replied the Doctor, suddenly realising that he now had two friends instead of one. Stranger and stranger.
Behind the ape creature emerged a figure in bronze armour that looked like a stylised skeleton in a cloak – Nyssa recognised him as a Vanir, one of the guardians of the Terminus space-station. The figure raised his spear-like weapon and fired at them again.
‘This isn’t Noah’s Ark, Doctor,’ Peri sighed.
‘When I say run, run like a rabbit,’ the Doctor whispered. And then he froze as another figure separated from the fog.
At least seven feet tall, it was a terrifying blend of metal and plastic tubes. It held a laser rifle close to the grill on its chest. Its face was a blank parody of a human with small circles for eyes and a thin letterbox-like slit for a mouth. Two strange handle-like tubes grew from its head in place of ears.
‘A Cyberman!’ Nyssa and Peri exclaimed in unison. The metal giant fired its gun, sending sparks bouncing from the iron supports of the viaduct.
‘Run!’ shouted the Doctor and the three friends raced through the market. As they reached the square, they collided with a stout blonde woman wearing too much make-up and large pendulous ear-rings.
‘What’s your game!’ she cried and Peri helped her to her feet.
‘Look, you’ve got to clear the streets. You’re in terrible danger!’
‘You’ve got to get away from here!’ Nyssa added. But the woman seemed oblivious to the approaching menace.
‘Who says? If you start shoving me around, you’ll soon know about it.’ The woman yanked her arm free of Peri’s grip and trotted off through the market, passing the aliens without acknowledging their presence.
‘It’s no good,’ said the Doctor, catching his breath. ‘They’re in different time zones. To her, we’re the only strangers here.’
‘Have you any idea where we’re going?,’ cried Peri as Nyssa pushed through the oblivious crowds to catch up.
‘Doctor, where’s the TARDIS?
‘Twenty years back and three miles away. Come on!’ The Doctor’s long legs propelled him across the square and into the gardens, his two young friends in tow.
Around them, more of the Rani’s specimens began to appear. A large woodlouse-like creature tried to use its own gravity to pull them in towards it; a giant bat with four eyes dripped saliva down on them from the upper window of the pub. A vicious rat-dog hybrid snarled at them from the clothes stall; a slug giggled and leered at them from a rubbish bin; a walking cadaver staggered forward, his brain exposed and pulsating from his open skull; a pink-faced man-shaped plant fired thorns at them; more and more alien beings assembled, pushing the three former travelling companions closer and closer to the Queen Vic pub. A beautiful Kaldor robot, a turtle-headed Sea Devil, even a Time Lord, advancing in his long, ceremonial robes, like an animated chess piece sliding into position. At the far end of the garden, the Doctor reached the gates – and was dismayed to find them chained up. He might have been able to vault over them, but his companions would still have been trapped.
The trio turned to face the advancing monsters. Within seconds, they were surrounded. The aliens jostled and pushed as they closed in. Peri gagged at the foul stench of their breath.
Behind them, the double doors of the Queen Vic opened. The Doctor turned to face his enemy. His eyes narrowed as the Rani stood triumphantly, one hand on her hip, the other gripped tightly around the handle of a nasty-looking harpoon-like device.
‘You can’t escape, Doctor,’ she crowed. ‘Say “goodbye”, Doctors. You’re all going on a long journey… A very long journey!’