“So,” the Doctor asked, “How does it compare to the Monk’s Tardis?”
Pandora spared him a glance, then returned to staring around her. “His was big, yeah, but now that I see yours, his was so… sterile.”
“See? That’s what I’m saying. It’s all about the décor!” He rushed over to the console. “Did you notice this fiddly-bit? Oh, I’ve missed the fiddly-bits.”
“And you built all this?” Pandora asked, stooping to look for the source of the glow under the console.
“Nah, the Tardis did it herself. She and I are linked in a way that goes beyond psychic. She just seems to know what each of me would like best, and sort of… manifests it.”
Pandora nodded and walked around the console. One of the controls caught her eye. It looked like the female end of a headphone jack, but larger, and there was a brass button next to it. “What’s this one do?” she asked.
The Doctor looked over. “Dunno. Haven’t tried that one yet. Push it.”
Pandora pushed it. There was a mechanical whirring, and out of the jack rose a sonic screwdriver. The Doctor rushed over and snatched it up. “Yes! No more slumming around with this technical equivalent of macaroni art.” He pulled out the one he had made and held the two side by side.
“They look identical to me,” Pandora commented.
“But trust me, they won’t be the same inside. No more fiddling with the different settings. Just think what you want. No more worrying about overloading it either. No, into the chute with you,” he said. He moved to another station of the console and hit a button. A spot irised open and the Doctor dropped his old screwdriver inside. It closed automatically afterward.
“Tell me that doesn’t just have a tube that drops stuff outside.”
“You know, I never really thought about it,” the Doctor said. He shrugged and moved around the console to pull another lever. The doors closed.
Pandora pushed her button again, but nothing happened the second time. She got a disappointed look on her face. “Aww, I wanted one too.”
“Sorry. Only under Time Lord supervision. A lot of tech in this thing that could do some real damage in the wrong hands,” the Doctor said.
The disappointment didn’t leave Pandora’s face, but she left the button alone and wandered around the room some more.
“What’s through those doorways?” she asked, indicating the three halls leading off.
The Doctor looked up from his work on the console. “That one,” he said, indicating the left-most with a thrust of his chin, “goes to the galley. There’s a machine in there that will make any food you can come up with. The one opposite is the wardrobe, with clothing appropriate to any era of any planet I’ve ever visited, and the middle one leads to the rest of the ship, living quarters, pool, garden and whatnot. At least it would have if I hadn’t just jettisoned it all. Give me a bit and I’ll recreate the rest of the rooms.”
“Recreate them?” Pandora asked.
“Yeah, I had to ditch them to make room for a planet. I’ll be up all night recreating these things now. There isn’t much down there now; Leela’s old room, Zero room and the library, I guess.” He laughed. “No matter how desperate, I’d never get rid of all those books.”
“Okay, loads of questions, but I’m stowing them for now. Let’s back up to the wardrobe. Got anything that would fit me?”
The Doctor smiled broadly. “Got everything that would fit you. You never know where we’re going.” He threw on the parking brake. “Come here and try a few on. See what you like.” He jogged off toward the wardrobe, beckoning her to follow.
“You weren’t kidding!” she said when she saw it. She rushed in and started pulling up the sleeves of different items. “How far back does it go?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. I’ve never been all the way back. Narnia could be back there for all I know. Funny though, with all these clothes in here, most of my companions just chose to ‘come as they were’. Things tend to move too quickly to worry about fitting in.”
“You kidding me? I spent two years wearing the same basic outfit, and,” she lifted the collar of her jacket up and sniffed at it, “ew. I’m going to change clothes, like, a lot!” Pandora laughed.
Pandora lifted the arm of a fur coat and rubbed it against her cheek. “What is this? Bear or something? Bit rough.”
“Yeti fur, actually. I wore that ages ago.” The Doctor put on a nostalgic smile and pulled it off the rack. “It’ll never fit… I was a lot shorter then, and truth be told, a bit wider. Still…” he said and threw it over his shoulders. He winced as his injured arm rubbed against the fabric. He eased into the sleeves and his arms stuck out half-way to the elbow. They both laughed. The coat was so thick that it still seemed to dwarf him despite being short on the arm and extending only to the knee.
“Some day you’re going to have to tell me about these past lives of yours,” Pandora said, eyes narrowing.”
“Absolutely. It’s only fair, since I dug into your past, and a good first step in proving my truthful intentions.” He started to pull off the coat, but then noticed something in the pocket. He pulled out an envelope and stuck it between his teeth while he pulled off the coat and hung it back up.
He adopted a curious expression as he lifted the flap. A single piece of heavy card stock was inside. He slipped it out of the envelope and turned it over. “It’s an invitation,” he said. “Marina Gregg is having a fête in honor of St. John Ambulance!”
“Marina Gregg, the actress from those old movies?” Pandora asked. She took the invitation from him and read it. “It’s addressed to Doctor Marple. Is that your last name?”
“Doctor Marple! Of course! That’s how I got it. He didn’t want it to get wet, so he asked me to hold it while he waded into the Nile!” the Doctor exclaimed.
Pandora chuckled. “And you never gave it back?”
The Doctor grimaced embarrassedly. “Didn’t seem much point. He never made it to the other side, being the Nile and all… Still! A party is a party, and a Doctor is a doctor. If that’s not enough for them, I’ll show them the badge on the Tardis door. Member in good standing!” He snatched the invitation back and ran to the console. “And it says plus guest!” he called over his shoulder. He started turning dials and flipping levers. “Dress posh Sixties, because that’s where we are going. Gossington Hall, St. Mary’s Island, April Seventh, 1962!”
Pandora let out a “Squee!” and dove back into the wardrobe while the Doctor pushed the telegraph lever full ahead and the console crystals rose and fell to the familiar grinding sound of the engines and the more recent crackle of electricity.
Pandora emerged from the wardrobe with a pile of clothes. “Tell me you’ve got a shower back there.”
“Had, I’m afraid,” he said embarrassedly, leaning against the console handrail.
“Oh, please would you recreate it? You said you could, and if creating them all could be done in a night, surely just the one room wouldn’t be too much trouble.” She paused for breath and smiled pleadingly. “Please?”
The Doctor broke into a smile and winked at her. He turned around and started typing, flipping switches and turning dials. “One shower room, made to order.” He flipped a last lever and said to her, “I wish you a light steam.”
Pandora ran off down the central corridor, her giddy laughter echoing off the walls.
Twenty minutes later, when she rejoined the Doctor in the console room, she was in a simple green dress with an exposed-back and a band of white across her midsection. She wore high-heeled white boots that came nearly to the knee. She had her hair up in a bun and huge plastic earrings dangled beside her face. “I know that eye makeup was all the rage in the Sixties, but I’ve decided not to.”
“Good on you,” the Doctor said.
The Tardis set down and the Doctor flipped a large lever. He activated the monitor, and the manicured lawn of a large manor appeared in the air above the console. “Shall we?”
“Hang on a mo’. Let me go grab my box,” Pandora turned to run, but the Doctor caught her arm.
“It’s a party. Finger food and lively conversation. If you bring in your box, it’s all people would want to talk about, and you won’t want that. On the other hand, not even a microbe could make it into the Tardis once the doors are locked. What say, just this once, we leave it behind. Huh?”
Pandora looked nervously toward her box, sitting on the table next to the reading chair.
“And if that’s not enough, Obelix will be here to guard it,” the Doctor added. Obelix’s ears perked up at the mention of his name and his tail shifted from one side to the other.
Pandora smiled. “Okay,” she said.
The Doctor held out his arm and Pandora took his elbow. He pulled the doors open, and immediately they were hit by a gale force wind. Sparse rain pelted them, but the dark clouds approaching the island promised a much larger storm to come. The Doctor pulled off his hoodie and draped it over Pandora’s shoulders while he turned and locked the Tardis, then the two of them set off toward the front door. The lawn they ran across was littered with white folding chairs that had been knocked over by the wind, and a large tent clung to the ground by three remaining stakes. Tables lay bare except for the rainwater pooling atop them.
They ran to the door and huddled beneath its arch. The Doctor pressed the door bell and began patting down his pockets, looking for the invitation.
An older woman with well-coiffed hair wearing a simple flowery dress and beaded necklace opened the door. She held a tumbler with ice and a deep amber liquid sloshing inside it.
“It’s all right dear,” she called over her shoulder. “No need to bother the help, I’ve got it.” She turned back to the Doctor and Pandora. “Invitations?” she asked. Her speech was slurred, mostly by age, but exacerbated by drink.
The Doctor held up the invitation, covering the name ‘Marple’ with his outstretched finger. “The Doctor, and guest. That’s us. We’re here for the party.”
The woman looked the Doctor up and down. She took a few moments to read his t-shirt. It read, ‘Why don’t hedgehogs just share the hedge?’ and depicted a cute cartoonish hedgehog saying, ’No.’ Her face slowly brightened into a smile and she started laughing a low rumble of a laugh that turned into a coughing fit. When it was over, she seemed to notice for the first time that Pandora was holding the Doctor’s jacket over her head and that they were soaking wet.
“Fairly pissing out there now, isn’t it? It was merely a bluster before.” she said. “Well, come in, come in. Don’t catch your death. Make yourself a drink in the sitting room and set your jacket by the fire.” Her eyes lingered on the jacket again. “Or possibly in it,” she finished. She turned and marched off in that stiff-but-sturdy way that certain long-lived ladies have.
The Doctor and Pandora stepped inside. Pandora shook the rain off of the Doctor’s hoodie while he secured the front doors against the weather outside. They walked to the open doorway that the lady who had greeted them had disappeared through.
The sitting room was warm and inviting. Leather couches sat on the edges of a large Persian rug. Between the many wide and tall windows were portraits of unknown men of various time periods. The most recent was positioned over the fireplace, a military man with a close cropped white beard. Potted plants enlivened the room, and a gorgeous crystal chandelier provided a bright and cheery atmosphere despite the storm approaching through the windows.
The room was filled with people. For the most part, they looked like simple folk, dressed in their Sunday best, the sort who weren’t used to dressing to attract attention in public. Freshly shaven and splashed with cologne, most with service medals pinned to their coats, the men beamed with pride, but wore shirts that strained at the buttons. The women wore overstated lipstick and blush, and had either small hats or flowers pinned to their blueing hair. The woman who’d let them in was there, refilling her glass from one of several decanters on a side table. A corked bottle of champagne was chilling next to them. A man in a white tuxedo and holding a flute of champagne stood leaning against the fireplace. He had blonde hair in an obvious comb-over and a thick mustache. He was being talked at by an excited woman Sitting on the couches and smoking were two younger women and a man, all well appointed and suitably bored. One of the women was paging through a fashion magazine and commenting in a dry voice about the model on each page. On the other side of the room was a long table covered in a damp white table cloth and piled high with silver trays of finger foods. Several men were standing at the table eating bits of meat held to crackers by toothpicks. They were talking amongst themselves with the air of people waiting for something else.
The man by the fire noticed the two of them standing in the doorway and used this as an excuse to extricate himself from his companion. He called to the Doctor and Pandora. “Hell of a day for a garden party, wouldn’t you say, old chap?” he said in an American accent. “Come and dry off and introduce yourselves.”
The Doctor took a step inside, but stopped when Pandora caught her breath and then his arm. She was staring at one of the women on the couch. “Lola Brewster,” she said under her breath. “That’s Lola Brewster! I’ve seen ‘Greek Holiday’ a hundred times! ‘Breakfast at Neiman Marcus!’, ‘Wait until Dusk!’ ” She turned to the Doctor, now gripping his arm with both hands. “But this is 1962! She hasn’t even made that one yet! Oh, Doctor, what do I say to her?”
The Doctor stepped back out of the room and held Pandora by the shoulders. “Ask her what she thinks of Warhol’s portrait of her. Tell her the scotch eggs are divine. Tell her it’s a shame about her husband, but whatever you do, don’t show any interest in her responses, or she’ll think you’re a fan.”
“I am a fan,” Pandora urged through gritted teeth.
“See, that’s just thinking about it all wrong. Look, if you start feeling like you’re in the presence of something special, just remind yourself that she’s never been off this planet or travelled in time. She should be the one dying to meet you.” He lifted her chin.
She smiled and took a deep breath. “Ready,” she said.
Pandora handed the Doctor his jacket and the two entered the room as if they owned it. Pandora took a spot on the couch next to Hailey and picked a magazine off the low table between couches. She began to leaf through it as if she hadn’t noticed who she was sitting next to.
The Doctor strode straight across the room and up to the blonde man in the tuxedo. He thrust out his hand. “I’m the Doctor.”
The blonde man took the Doctor’s hand, and cupped his elbow with the other while they shook. “Ardwyck Fenn,” he said. “And this delightful young woman is Mrs. Heather Badcock. If you’ll excuse me, I need to see to Ms. Gregg.” He saluted with his champagne flute and exited quickly.
The Doctor turned to Mrs. Badcock to find her smiling broadly at him. “So exciting, isn’t it?” she asked. Heather Badcock was far from a young woman. Mid-sixties, with a rotund figure squeezed into an avocado green dress. “Marina Gregg come to our little village, who’d have thought? And now she lives here, no less. I’ve seen all her films, of course. No one’s a bigger fan.”
The Doctor smiled broadly and settled in for a long chat. “Do tell,” he said. He spread his jacket across a short screen in front of the fire, never breaking eye contact.
“I’ve met her before, you know,” she said, excited to have an audience. “She’ll never remember me, but we met. Years ago now in Bermuda. She was putting on a fund-raiser for St. John then too. She’s such a good woman - don’t believe anything they say, the jealous harpies - she does so much charity around the world. I remember, I was sick that day in Bermuda. German measles, and I felt horrible, but was that going to stop me from meeting the famous actress? Don’t you bet on it. I threw on some makeup and a scarf and no one was the wiser. And she was everything I hoped she would be. I can’t wait to see her again. What a laugh it will be when I tell her my story, don’t you think?”
The Doctor smiled and nodded through her story, just enjoying the woman’s excitement. When she finished, the Doctor said, “I feel certain, Mrs. Badcock, that if she’s anything like me, she’ll remember you straight away, even after all these years.”
Mrs. Badcock blushed with pride. She opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a man at the front of the room. He was an American as well, just a hair shorter than average and wearing a tidy v-neck sweater over a button-front shirt and dress slacks. “Mrs. Heather Badcock, Reverend Steele, Mrs. Cherry Brady, Mr. Donald McNeil — Ms. Gregg will see you now,” he said.
“That’s me,” Mrs. Badcock said excitedly. She set her glass of water on the mantle and flattened down her skirt. She touched her hair in several places, and satisfied, she strode across the room to gather with the others who had been called.
The Doctor lifted up his jacket and tested its dampness. He threw it on and approached the woman at the bar table. “Thank you for letting us in, Mrs…?”
“Bantry,” the woman said. “Dolly Bantry, widow. That’s my husband there,” she said, indicating the portrait over the fireplace with a tilt of her drink.
“He must have been something special to the village to have his portrait in Gossington Hall, Mrs. Bantry.”
“And he was, my Arthur. He was Colonel to most of the men you see here. Not a one of them wouldn’t have died in his place, but that’s not how pneumonia works.”
“I’m sorry to hear it, ma’am,” the Doctor said.
“Oh, pish-posh. We had our time together. This was our manor once, which has more to do with his portrait being here than any respect from the village. But it was too big for me, once Arthur was gone. I moved into the gardener’s cottage and sold the manor to Mr. And Mrs. Rudd. Lovely people, not so full of themselves like you’d expect.” She looked both ways and leaned in close. “Americans,” she said with a knowing nod.
The Doctor put a finger to the side of his nose, conspiratorially. He poured himself a drink and said, “Excuse me. I’d better see what my young companion has gotten up to.” Mrs. Bantry continued to guard the liquor as the Doctor headed to the couches.
“What’cha got there?” Pandora asked as the Doctor took a seat next to her.
He sniffed at it. “A spiced rum.” He took a sip. “Rather tasty. It seems our hostess has a thing for the Caribbean.”
“She does,” Ms. Brewster confirmed. “If she’s not working on a picture, or buying up new property, she’s vacationing by a pool on a tropical island. St. Croix, Key West, Bermuda, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s sunny and has a fruit you can’t find elsewhere.”
“Oh, so you two are friends, then?” the Doctor asked. “I never want to assume that just because two people are big in Hollywood that they know each other.”
Ms. Brewster gave a sardonic smirk. “You could say we know each other. She once stole my husband away.”
“Oh,” the Doctor said, embarrassed.
“Awkward,” Pandora added.
“Don’t worry,” Ms. Brewster said with an amused smirk. “I’ve gotten over it. The truth is, it wouldn’t have worked between us, and I got a certain satisfaction a short time later when it didn’t work out for her either.”
“Well, in that case —” the Doctor started. He was interrupted by a scream in another room of the house.
The Doctor bolted up from the table and ran out of the room as his glass of rum hit the rug behind him.
The Doctor moved so suddenly no one else had time to react. Pandora watched him go, and one of the men seated with them managed to say, “What the devil?” First Pandora, then the rest of the people in the room stood and rushed out after him.
The Doctor was skidding around a corner and heading into another hallway. Pandora ran to catch up. When she got to where she could see him again, he was running full tilt up a staircase. Pandora bolted after him, followed by the others.
At the top of the staircase was a wide landing. The Doctor rushed up past a group of photographers. When he reached the landing, he took a moment to assess the situation.
The man who had collected people downstairs was there, along with a group of party goers, standing with shocked expressions and holding drinks. There was a man in a tuxedo standing near a grand piano. Based on his position in the receiving line the Doctor guessed it was Marina Gregg’s husband, Jason Rudd. Nearby, Marina was standing, elegantly attired, but with a look of horror on her pale face. “I’m the Doctor,” he started to say, but then he followed her gaze.
A woman in her mid-forties, wearing a cheap dress and a short haircut that didn’t suit her face, was laying on the floor. The Doctor immediately rushed to her side and felt her pulse. “She’s still alive, but barely!” he said. “Call for an ambulance!” He leaned in close and listened at her mouth, then started chest compressions. After a count of five, he tilted back her head and breathed into her mouth. When he came up, he was licking his lips with an odd expression on his face. “She’s ingested something! hyetheldexylbarboquindelorytate, by the taste of it.” He turned to see everyone gathered around and watching him. “Will someone please summon an ambulance?” he yelled.
They broke into action. Mr. Rudd quickly found a phone and dialed. As soon as it connected though, Mrs. Bantry pulled the phone from his hand and began talking to the dispatcher. “Sofia, dear. Dolly here, I’m at Gossington. Poor Mrs. Badcock’s had a bit of a spell. Could you send someone around? There’s a doctor here. He’s performing resuscitation.”
A man approached as the Doctor started in on another set of chest compressions. “Can you help her, Doctor?” he asked, concern in his voice.
The Doctor blew another puff of air into her lungs before answering. “I’ll do my best. What is your relationship to this woman?” he asked.
“I’m her husband. Badcock, Arthur Badcock,” he replied. Mr. Badcock kept turning his hat in his hands as he spoke.
The Doctor continued performing CPR. “You’re her husband? But I saw you down in the sitting room. Why weren’t you up here with your wife?”
The man’s eyes teared up as he watched his wife lay unmoving on the floor. “She’s the real fan. I only came along because she wanted me to.”
“Mr. Badcock, does your wife regularly use hyetheldexylbarboquindelorytate?” the Doctor asked.
“I’ve never heard of… that thing before. But the only thing my wife ever takes is aspirin. I’ve never even known her to drink.” He said.
“It’s an anti-depressant. Calmo, I think they call it. A mood stabilizer. No? Never?” The Doctor breathed into her lungs again. “No, I suppose she wouldn’t. Anyway, she’d have to have taken more than four times a recommended dosage to cause this swift a reaction.” He looked around the room.
“Pandora,” the Doctor called. She came over quickly while he was puffing air into Mrs. Badcock’s lungs again. The Doctor went back to compressions and motioned with his head toward a nearby couch. “There’s a glass under there. I think she dropped it when she fell.”
Pandora quickly found the tumbler. There was a trail of liquid, and an ice cube slowly melting on the hardwood surface.
“Hold it up where I can smell it,” the Doctor told her.
Pandora held the glass under the Doctor’s nose while he continued to perform chest compressions on the prone woman’s form. He sniffed at it a couple of times, then flicked out his tongue to lick the rim. “Yes, that’s the source. Her drink’s been poisoned.”
There was a terrible crack of thunder signaling the arrival of the storm outside.
The Doctor bent to press his lips against the victim’s and blew. When he spoke again, his voice was commanding. “If there’s anyone else in the house, gather them here. Lock and bar the front doors until the ambulance arrives. No one is to leave.” He pressed his fingers against her throat again, then stood, a sad but resolute look on his face. “One of you,” he said, looking around the room, “is a murderer.”
Mrs. Bantry spoke into the phone again, “Sofia, tell the ambulance not to hurry themselves. Yes, that’s right. I’m sorry too. Goodbye.” She hung up the phone.
Marina Gregg, her face ashen, one hand clutching at her throat, finally spoke. “M-my drink,” she said.
Mr. Rudd rushed to her side and put an arm around her. “Yes, dear. Of course. Quickly, someone fetch her a drink!”
Marina pushed her husband away. She held out one hand limply, pointing at Pandora. “My drink,” she repeated. “That woman spilled her drink, so I gave her mine. I hadn’t touched it yet. Dear god, she took the poison intended for me!” Marina swooned and suddenly slumped. Her husband caught her and helped her to a couch.
The Doctor rushed to her side and held one of her hands in both of his. “Marina, this is important. Did you pour your own drink?” the Doctor asked softly. He looked to a side table covered in crystal decanters.
“No, the staff did. I don’t know which one,” she replied faintly.
“Summon the staff,” the Doctor commanded.
Mr. Rudd, satisfied that his wife was cared for, returned to the small table with the phone. He picked up a hand bell and rang it in three quick bursts.
Within moments, a door on the far side of the landing opened and in filed five identical figures in identical and impeccable tuxedos. Each was bald, wrinkled and pinkish, with a mass of tentacles where its mouth should be. Each held, in their white gloved hand, a wooden globe attached to their mouth by a white umbilicus.