Captured by the Rani
Despite her set-back in Albert Square, the Rani seemed as confident as ever.
‘My menagerie is almost complete. I now have everything I want – apart from one Earthling. Find the Doctor’s companion. Any of them!’
Cyrian allowed himself a moment to be thankful that she hadn’t blamed him for the error, but he still hadn’t told her of his suspicions, that the captured Doctors were somehow disrupting events. Nevertheless, the scanners showed one companion was straying very close indeed.
Romana was not used to hiding. When she first travelled with the Doctor, she had been fresh out of the academy, barely past her hundredth birthday. After many years exploring the galaxy with him to hide behind, she’d finally branched off on her own and found she was just as good as he was at getting in and out of trouble, saving the day and righting wrongs. Far-flung worlds in long-forgotten galaxies were childsplay to her – especially with the assistance of her robot dog, the super-computer called K9. But she had surprisingly little experience of Earth in the Twentieth Century. Now, she was lost and alone – K9 had vanished – and for the first time in centuries, she found herself wishing the Doctor was there.
In this incarnation, she was a little on the small side, aristocratically attractive, with long fair hair above a high forehead. When she’d materialised in this time zone, she’d found herself in a dark room made of bricks and the workbenches were littered with pieces of dark metallic machinery. A vehicle was raised up above a pit in the floor, presumably to make it easier for functionaries to conduct maintenance. The air was oily and stale.
The only light smeared in from the edges of a set of wooden double doors. As she tried to make her escape, she heard voices immediately outside. She ducked down behind the vehicle and hid.
The door opened and two figures entered. At first, Romana thought they were Sontarans, with their bald heads and broad, squat bodies. She heard the new arrivals speak, in low wheezing, groaning tones. Concerned that her hearts were both beating too loudly, she stopped one of them and held her breath.
‘I thought you said you’d locked it?’ said the older man.
‘I did,’ replied the other. ‘Someone must have broken in. What’s going on here? The Square is madness today.’ They were not Sontarans. Though the two men were not identical, there was a strong family resemblance. Brothers, perhaps. As Romana adjusted her position to get a clearer view, she knocked over a sweeping brush, which fell to the ground with a clatter. Romana stood up with a guilty smirk on her face.
‘Oi, you! What’s your game?’ the older man said. Romana realised she needed to rely on an old trick of the Doctor’s – pretend you own the place. She walked over to the men and looked them up and down dismissively.
‘I was looking for the Doctor, if it’s really any of your business.’
‘Well you won’t find him here,’ said the younger, taller man. ‘He lives at number one Albert Square, over there. I suggest you leave.’ The Time Lady was momentarily thrown by this.
‘You know the Doctor?’ The older one with the wheezing voice looked at her with a furrowed brow that made him look even more like a neanderthal, if that were even possible.
‘Yeah, Doctor Legg. He’s the only doctor round here, love.’
‘Doctor who?’ said, Romana, brushing between them and making her exit.
Frank Butcher was the king who lost it all. At one time, he owned a bed-and-breakfast and a car lot in Albert Square. For a time, he was even the joint landlord, with his wife, Pat, of the Queen Vic. But 1993 had not been a good year. After being stung with a huge tax bill, Frank was already struggling, but when Pat was arrested and sent to prison for accidentally killing a woman while driving, his businesses suffered and he was facing financial ruin. Many times, he’d thought about leaving Albert Square and starting again, but he couldn’t do it. This wasn’t some deep-rooted work ethic or even a strength of character. He literally wasn’t able to leave without something pulling him back.
And this was why the Rani had selected this specific spot for her trap. Because Frank was not alone. Generations of families had been born here, lived out their lives and died within the same quarter mile. They spoke in hushed tones about jobs ‘up west’ or ‘south of the river’ while Albert Square’s unique gravitational pull stopped them from ever leaving for good. His wife, Pat – née Pat Hills – had grown up nearby and married Pauline’s brother, Pete. Even years later, after they had divorced and Pete had married Kathy, Pat found herself returning to the square – and drawing Frank in with her.
It was the same for all of them – every single resident of Albert Square. Their complex family trees were horrifically interwoven. It was not unknown for individuals to discover that their sister was also their mother, or parents who’d been buried and mourned long ago were still alive and longing to return. Albert Square was a chronological, genealogical impossibility. And the perfect location for the Rani’s trap.
Frank crossed the Square deep in thought. He barely registered the aristocratic woman with the long blonde hair and the furtive expression until unseen hands seized her by the shoulders and dragged her through the doors of the Queen Vic.
‘Well,’ said Frank to himself, ‘I’ve seen them thrown out of the Vic, but never dragged in!’ He chuckled to himself and realised with some sadness that it was the first time in months that he’d had anything to laugh about.
As he passed the Queen Vic, the entire building seemed to shimmer slightly as a faint wheezing, groaning sound hung in the air.
Inside the Rani’s TARDIS, which was no longer disguised as the Queen Vic pub, Romana struggled in vain to free herself from the strong arms of the Rani’s assistant. Cyrian held her in an efficient armlock as he marched her across the control chamber and into a corridor full of capsules. Through the circular port-holes on each capsule, Romana saw the faces of the Rani’s menagerie, frozen in time. They approached an open capsule and Cyrian pushed her inside with a hefty shove. The capsule door closed around her and Romana had time merely to turn around before the stasis field flooded over her and fixed her into position.
‘Human sample acquired, Mistress,’ Cyrian cheered, unaware that his captive was not in the least bit human.
‘Excellent! Prepare to rematerialise at the centre of the Earth time meridian, Greenwich!’
As Cyrian adjusted the dials on his mistress’s console, lights danced across the Rani’s impassive face. He suddenly thought she had the look of the devil about her.
But back in the capsule corridor, the old Doctor was making plans of his own. He managed to make a connection with his replacement, the short scruffy one. They knew what needed to be done. They focused their thoughts upon the capsule that contained the form of their future companion, Romana. Inside the capsule, the Time Lady’s second heart began to beat again. There was a blinding flash – and the capsule door sprung open!