The woman knocked on the glass at first, then wiped the condensation from the window and stuck her face against the bare pane. “I know you’re in there. I’m here to help. Just let me in, please.” A pause for thought. Maybe she wasn’t a robber, just a drunkard, or a lunatic. “Oi, I can hear you monologuing. Let me in.”
The frankness of the statement startled Barnaby, and he gazed at the small window on the opposite side of his room. It was dark outside, but the woman’s face seemed to be as light as day. She was still staring, nose leaning on the glass, patiently waiting for Barnaby to act.
“Who are you?” Barnaby tentatively yelled at the window. The woman grinned in response.
“I’m the Doctor. Like I said, I’m here to help.” She paused. “If you don’t let me in, I’ll have to let myself in with me sonic. And I don’t want to break in really, because I’m not a robber.”
The Doctor pulled herself away from the window and sighed. She waited a few seconds, then frowned and sighed again. Suspecting the man in the cottage would not act, she strode over to the front door of the cottage and sonicked the lock. Despite being some way shorter than her previous incarnations, she still had to duck her way through the doorway as she opened it, but ended up banging her head on the low wooden beam anyway.
The momentary lack of height awareness humoured Barnaby, which the Doctor was quick to catch on to.
“Glad you found that funny. Mind telling me what’s got you so scared? Or your name?”
Given the woman, the Doctor, had now made her way into his home, Barnaby thought he would be putting his life at no further risk by sharing his name. “The name’s Barnaby.”
The Doctor nodded in thanks and picked up a newspaper from a stool near the front door, scrutinising it for information on where and when she was. “Hello Barnaby. Great to meet you, got a last name?”
“Edwards. Barnaby Edwards.” Barnaby spluttered, still untrusting of the Doctor.
“I used to know a Barnaby. Wait–” The Doctor looked at the newspaper again and grinned, before tossing it away. “Oh my god! You’re Barnaby Edwards!” The Doctor ran over to Barnaby and hugged with force, a squeeze which terrified the young man. “Not going to lie, I was expecting to be a man when this happened. But isn’t this great?”
“What’s great? Why are you in my house? And please stop scaring me.”
The Doctor rolled up her coat sleeves and pulled out a chair from the table in the cottage’s multi-purpose main room, and gestured to Barnaby to sit down. “Sorry, bit excited.”
Once Barnaby sat down, with some hesitation, the Doctor spoke up again.
“Well, without wanting to gush about one’s own memory, this makes sense.” The Doctor brushed her hair behind her ears, then pointed at herself and at Barnaby several times with a big grin on her face. “I’m a time traveller, and a long time ago I, er, found out that one day I’d have a friend called Barnaby, and the first thing we’d do is fend off some flying slug-like things. If you don’t believe me, that’s fine, but it’s December 1950 so it would be a big coincidence if you weren’t the same Barnaby.” The Doctor paused. “And an even bigger coincidence if the scary monsters out there weren’t the same flying slugs.”
Barnaby gulped. He didn’t mind slugs, flicking them off garden vegetables was a daily activity as an evacuee, but he didn’t trust the Doctor.
“There aren’t flying slugs. We’d have no vegetables left if slugs could fly.”
“Mmm, look outside your window mate.”
Barnaby eyed the Doctor nervously, left his seat, and walked over to his window. It was a cold December night, and there was just darkness. It was dark inside too, beyond the candle sat on his table. There were definitely no flying slugs.
A green suctioned mouth slammed itself into the thin cottage window and Barnaby jumped back in alarm. The Doctor immediately rebounded by pointing an outstretched arm at the window, with the sonic screwdriver in her hand. The mouth detached itself from the window after a few seconds, then disappeared into the night.
“Those flying slugs.”
Against his own reasoning, Barnaby had decided to accept that the Doctor was a do-gooder and not a lunatic, nor a person who had been sent to his home to call him a lunatic.
“How old are you, Barnaby? If you don’t mind me asking. Got a nice little cottage to yourself.”
“I’m 20. Only just. I helped the old lady who used to live here; when she died, somebody had to look after the house, so I moved in.”
“Very nice. Helping old ladies is definitely on my list of Things Very Nice People Do. Why are you so scared then? The house isn’t haunted, is it?”
Barnaby had returned to sitting down, his legs shaking nervously, while the Doctor was side-eyeing the front window in case the flying slug creature returned…
“No. I’m just a worrier really.”
“Anxious about being an adult?”
“Being an adult is brilliant. So is being a child, obviously. Although maybe not in the 1940s. But being an adult is brilliant. You think you learn lots at school – that’s nothing compared to what happens next. People are always changing, so don’t be afraid about growing up. Obviously Father Christmas won’t be delivering presents anymore, but he’s busy and if he had to gift every single person on Earth then he’d be at it all year.”
Barnaby laughed. Father Christmas was someone he’d not thought about in a long time.
“He’d struggle to get down the chimney this house. It’s a very small opening.”
The Doctor laughed too, then froze.
“Where’s the chimney in this cottage?”
“In the bedroom; it’s behind that closed door.”
The Doctor immediately ran over to the other side of the room, almost tripping in the near-darkness, and put her boot firmly against the bedroom door Barnaby had pointed at. Breathing slowly, she then placed an ear against the door. All she could hear was the wind howling down the chimney.
“What’s wrong?” Barnaby asked, his voice heightened in panic.
The Doctor turned her head around and dramatically mimed the flying slug creature wriggling down the chimney and lurking in the bedroom. Thankfully, Barnaby got the message.
She paused, took a deep breath, and slowly opened the bedroom door. Barnaby’s head spun around as one of the creatures attacked the window again, just as another flew out of the room and latched its circular mouth onto the Doctor’s face. It was about two feet long and had no wings, but it’s muscular slug-like body worked as a spring for launching its aerial assaults.
The Doctor’s face was completely covered, and she span around making muffled yelps. Barnaby instinctively backed away, then, after realising the Doctor was in extreme pain, decided to get some grated salt from a kitchen container and threw its contents broadly in the creature’s direction.
It squealed and released itself from the Doctor’s face, giving her time to take a huge wide-eyed inhalation of breath and then yank her coat off her back to throw it onto the creature as it reached the ground.
“While I really didn’t enjoy having that on my face at all, I think I’ve figured out what it is and what it wants. And why they led my TARDIS here.” The Doctor got one of the chairs from the table and put it over her coat, pinning it to the floor so the creature couldn’t escape. “Also, you threw salt in my hair.”
Barnaby’s only response was: “What about the one at the window?”
“I’ll sort that one out too. If you could sit on the chair, that would be very helpful.”
Against his best wishes, Barnaby sat down on the second chair, ensuring the captured creature would be making no escape. To his dismay, he saw the Doctor scrubbing her face thoroughly with one side of his tablecloth.
“Basically, those may look like space slugs, but really they’re space goats.” Barnaby looked puzzled. “They’re from another planet. And are used for grazing, kind of. If you have some fields, or a whole village, or even a Star Whale, that you want brought down to size or eaten out of the way entirely, then these creatures can do the job for you. Luckily I have very nice skin which it wasn’t able to nibble through.
“It’s horrible, and totally unethical. And someone has brought a number of them to Earth in 1950,” the Doctor continued. The lump under her coat had started to move. “What is there here that you’d possibly want to get rid of? It’s not like a hyperspace bypass is being built in the area.”
“Sir Eustace Missenden lives in the village. He runs the railways.” The lump moved again, and Barnaby instinctively lifted his legs off the floor.
“I doubt they came to eat your steam locomotives. They’re more into organic matter. Stones, leaves, soil, wood, even living flesh.” The Doctor went to feel her face, checking to see if any of her skin had actually ended up being eaten. A relieved sigh and eye-roll followed when she realised she was fine. “The signal my TARDIS picked up, it wasn’t being beamed from here, but to here.”
The lump moved more aggressively, as if it was agreeing with the Doctor.
“I think whoever is using these creatures could be shepherding them across the universe, and their intergalactic space whistle has sent them in the wrong direction. We need to find who’s sending it, and make sure it’s being sent elsewhere. Somewhere uninhabited.”
“I’m not sure I, wuha-,” Barnaby’s chair shook as the creature started to become more active underneath him. “Is this usual for you?”
“Yeah, pretty much. I’m going to need you to jump off that seat when I say ‘GO’, then I’m going to take my coat and we’re both going to run to the front door and to my TARDIS, which is parked about 20 metres away.”
The creature was now extremely agitated, but the combination of the chair and the Doctor’s coat still seemed to be keeping it in place. “Is a TARDIS your car? And how are we supposed to see if any creatures are coming for us when it’s total darkness outside?” Barnaby’s teeth were chattering as the chair was shaken around.
“The TARDIS is my space-time machine, and I’ll use my sonic so if there’s one or 100 of them outside, we’ll be safe. I promise. I’m an alien too by the way. Merry Christmas.”
Barnaby didn’t have time to reply before the Doctor shouted ‘GO!’ and they enacted their escape. The creature immediately sprung out once the coat was removed but hit a wall, and the Doctor almost tripped over another immediately outside of the front door which was ‘chewing’ on a decorative fossell.
Just as the Doctor had said, a blue box stood a little down the lane from where Jake lived, and she dragged him to it by one hand while waving a glowing instrument – her sonic screwdriver – in the other. Many of the creatures did not seem to notice the pair, but there were groups of them eating their way through the stone wall and the trees that lined the lane.
“Good news, they seem to be slow eaters,” said the Doctor as she dragged Barnaby into the blue box and slammed the door behind them.
Barnaby gasped. The interior was well lit, which took a few seconds to get accustomed to, and the Doctor was somehow several metres ahead of him, bounding around a console with a – well – a large crystal in the middle.
“Tracing the signal back to its origin” beamed the Doctor, as Barnaby stood enthralled in the entrance. “And I’ve added a new signal to overrule the first; hopefully brings the creatures back to where they came from.”
The large crystal was now moving, and the TARDIS dematerialised.
“Mummy, do we have to go to market?” the alien girl said to her mother, tugging on one of her many limbs.
“Yes, because we are already here, and we do this every year. Remember, Daddy is a landscape gardener and he’s up for a prize so we want to support him.”
“What’s the prize? Can I have it?”
The mother glared at her daughter, the Thorpelion way of telling your child they can’t have what they want, and they continued walking between the stalls of the FARMING AND HOME STYLING INTERGALACTIC SHOW. A few seconds later, the TARDIS materialised in a corner.
The Doctor bounded out, followed by a nervous Barnaby.
“We’re at a trade show. People will be trying to sell things. Probably your usual tacky Christmas gifts. Say no to everything. And you can say no because the TARDIS… helps with languages.”
Barnaby’s eyes were open wide, as two Judoon walked past escorting a crying jelly creature grasping what looked suspiciously like a snowglobe.
“That’s not a snowglobe. That’s the nasty result of a Tissue Compression Eliminator, which it looks like that jelly person was trying to sell.”
The Doctor waved her arm out to the next passers by, who were carrying bags full of various free and paid-for tacky gifts. “Hi, sorry to interrupt your day. We’re a bit lost, do you know where the stall is with the green eaty things? They’re probably advertised for use as hedge-cutters.”
One of the passers-by stopped and stared in amazement at the two pink creatures, then laughed. “Stall 310. It’s a bit empty, it seems a lot of their stock went missing this morning.”
“Thank you very much and sorry for interrupting your day,” The Doctor graciously replied, then nudged Barnaby’s shoulder. “Let’s get a shift on.”
Like any place of commerce during interplanetary festive periods, the trade show was difficult to navigate and packed with people. Eventually, the Doctor and Barnaby came to stall 310, which belonged to a very angry six-armed landscape gardner. The Doctor was quick to get into an argument with him.
“What do you mean they accidentally ended on Earth? It’s on the other side of the galaxy!”
“A customer wanted their new planet to look a little neater, so they pre-ordered en masse. Biggest order I’ve ever had. But for some reason once the payment came through, the computer sent the signal for them to leave the pen here and go straight to Earth.”
“But nobody owns Earth!”
“I know that, that’s why I’m saying it was an accident! The order was set to send all the Sappers for the Lydalip Cluster, to a young Anurian, for all it matters!”
“But your ‘Sappers’ or whatever you call them, have started destroying my friend’s village on Earth. Luckily, I sent a secondary signal that will return them to this–” The Doctor froze. “Lydalip Cluster? Anurian? Oh no. Your customer wasn’t a bit green was he?”
“Very green, almost as green as you and your friend here are… human!”
The Doctor scrunched her nose up at the gardner and stormed away. Barnaby was frozen on the spot, then apologised to the gardner. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure when your slug things will be returning to you, but I don’t think the Doctor is going to be staying around to clear up the mess.”
With that, Barnaby ran off before the Doctor was lost among the crowd.
The Doctor and Barnaby returned to the TARDIS, with Barnaby feeling a little more confident now he’d spoken to a six-armed alien.
“Are you a member of an outer space police department? Your TARDIS says police on the outside, and I’m not really quite sure any of this is real but it would make sense to me right now if you were secret police from another planet.”
Before unlocking the TARDIS door, the Doctor spun round to face Barnaby in the eyes, and held him by both shoulders. “Barnaby, I’m not space police, and all of this is very real. I’m very glad you’ve trusted me so far, and I’m sorry that I dragged you across the galaxy and all, but we’ve got a choice now.
“We can either head straight back to Earth, or we can go on an adventure. It will be scary but exciting, we’ll have to work as hard as hell, but you won’t have to worry about paying bills or watering the flowers – if any of them are still left after the Sappers.”
Barnaby laughed. “I’m 20. Yeah, I’ll take the adventure.”
The Doctor let go of Barnaby and grinned. “Ever wanted a dog for Christmas?” Barnaby nodded. “Well we’re not going to meet a dog, we’re going to stop a frog, and his name is Josiah W. Dogbolter.”