Festive Fiction: The Machine in the Shed

His handwriting deteriorated as his rage overmastered him. The end of the letter was a filthy, blotchy scrawl. And what’s more, he wanted a cigarette. Combined, these factors made for a messy signature.

25th December, 1968 

Sir, 

I regard your proposed interference with my project as another piece of insufferable impertinence. As I am financing it myself, I am not taking a shilling from the taxpayer and therefore cannot see an earthly reason why H.M.Government should concern itself with my private research. If your representative calls as threatens, I shall be out. Should you continue with this unwarranted persecution of a British subject, I shall put the matter in the hands of solicitors. 

Yours faithfully 

He threw his pen down on the workbench. The nib broke and green ink sputtered over the wood. Exasperated beyond words, he stood up violently, causing his swivel chair to crash against the back wall of the shed. He pulled out a crumpled packet of cigarettes, lit one, and banged open the door, inhaling deeply as he looked around the garden, trying to calm himself. 

Happy bloody Christmas. 

Not much of a garden really. A patch of grass, overgrown, now rigid with frost; an old swing suspended from the branches of a beech; a concrete yard, where weeds pushed through the cracks; a broken mower rusting against the steps leading to the back door. The back window patched with cardboard. Must see about getting a glazier some day, he thought vaguely.

He sucked greedily on his cigarette and the red end flared. Sparks drifted off into the still, crisp morning. It was the hour that good Christians and good people went to church, and he could see his neighbour and her kiddies hurrying along to St Luke’s. She called out a greeting to him and he managed to mutter something in reply. ‘Happy Christmas’. Oh yes indeed. 

Who the bloody hell were they anyway? Some blasted new government department, though it seemed to be semi-military, firing off letters to him every other day. Brown envelopes, “On Her Majesty’s Service” if you please, requesting, then requiring, him to allow ignoramuses to poke and prod around his life’s work. They would impound his prototype, no doubt to see if they could adapt it to kill Soviets more efficiently. The latest missive had arrived yesterday, on Christmas Eve if you please, along with a couple of cards from his aunt and those few friends who were still, just about, talking to him. His sister had asked him to join her for compulsory Christmas fun in Worthing, but he couldn’t face the excitement of his nieces and nephews. Excitement which, he suspected, he would blight when he showed up with his self-obsession and misery. 

Green suddenly turned on his heel, stamped back into the shed and grabbed the latest official missive off the worktop. He read it again, his cigarette jammed between his lips. 

Dr M. Green,
12 Woodlawn Drive,
Feltham,
London,
Middlesex. 

22nd December, 1968 

Dear Dr Green,

Thank you for your reply to my letter of the 15th inst. I am sorry that you are unhappy with our proposal to inspect your laboratory, but I must remind you that, under the provisions of Her Majesty’s Government Circular 10/68 (Regulations of Patents and Inspections of Innovations) paragraph 4, sub-section D, the government does indeed have the power to insist on a full inspection of your premises and that failure to comply can result in an indefinite term in one of Her Majesty’s Prisons. These powers are further subject to the Emergency Regulations (London Underground) Order of 1968 and the Official Secrets Act. 

In short, Dr Green, there is absolutely no point in your losing your temper with me, or writing in such melodramatic terms. Indeed, I believe that there is nothing that cannot be settled between us with a civilised chat, as befits gentlemen, over a cup of tea. If you would be so kind as to call my office on Hammersmith 3412, my secretary will be happy to make the arrangements in order to clear up these little misunderstandings. We would be happy to send a car to collect you. 

Allow me to present you with the compliments of the season and to wish you a very Merry Christmas. 

Believe me to be, Dr Green, your obedient servant 

Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Colonel)
Innovations and Intelligence Committee,
Whitehall. 

Green suspected the writer had been amused, rather than affronted. Merry Christmas my ar*e. A long time since he had thought much about Christmas or allowed himself to celebrate it. He had got as far as putting up a small, ancient artificial Christmas tree on his workbench, but had quickly lost interest. Undecorated, the tree leaned drunkenly against the filthy window. 

Gloomily, Green lit another cigarette from the remains of the previous one. Cold War. You’d think we were behind the bloody Iron Curtain. He’d seen a picture of Lethbridge-Stewart in The Manchester Guardian at some point: a handsome young officer at a press conference after that Underground business, something about closing the tube network and murders in the tube, lot of bloody nonsense, Lethbridge-Stewart smiling wryly under his moustache. Another bloody totalitarian militarist. Looked a bit like Stalin too. Same amusement and intelligence in his face.

So. What to do for Christmas dinner? Green considered getting himself a cheese sandwich but decided he couldn’t be bothered to cut the bread, even if he could find the breadknife. Cigarettes and instant coffee. That was the ticket. Maybe watch the Queen in the afternoon. Last vestige of patriotism. No doubt Lethbridge Stewart and his cronies would have them rounded up when they established their fascist police state. Green filled the kettle with water from the outside tap, not drinking water but who cares. Plug it in. Coffee. Where was the coffee? Green ducked under the wires, tied together haphazardly with garden twine, that looped crazily from one side of the shed to the other. Like lianas in a Tarzan film, he thought. His mother had taken him to see Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan in the Thirties, in the local flea pit of a cinema. Vanilla ice between two wafers, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe , the Gaumont British News covering the Berlin Olympics, then the Munich crisis. Those were the days. The days before the American had…Green shook his head and settled himself at his workbench. He fitted a pair of headphones over his ears. Bloody cold today. He blew on his hands and rubbed them together. 

From floor to ceiling, the walls were tessellated with what looked like fancy metal ashtrays. Apart from the incongruous mess of technology, Green sat surrounded by the usual paraphernalia of the Englishman’s garden shed. Workbenches along the longer walls, brackets screwed tightly against the wood. Beneath them, a kickboard along the concrete floor; behind the kickboard and under the workbenches, storage spaces for garden tools: the bin of a mower, old sacks, broken spade handles. On shelves behind Green’s head, jars stuffed full of rusty nails and screws; old paintbrushes, insufficiently cleaned and ruined, jammed next to a tin of arsenic, once used as weedkiller. The filthy windows peered out onto the garden where, in summer, weeds flourished. Green couldn’t even put a name to most of them. 

Gardening had been one of Mother’s chief comforts after her husband had been listed as Missing In Action. He had eventually been declared dead, shot down in a night raid over Belgium. The American who’d been billeted in the house from 1942 had held forth with pleasure on the beauties of their flower borders, when what he was really interested in was the beauty of Mother. “You English love your gardens, right?” Mother had wriggled with pleasure.  

Green shook his head again. Nothing to speak of in the garden now, with Mother gone. But. Something to speak of in here. Something to be proud of.  

He slurped his coffee and shuffled his notes, then began punching figures into the battered control panel. He had bought it for a song from a mate at Battersea power station. The network of wires, which criss-crossed haphazardly all over the shed, merged here and disappeared into the back of the console. A white power lead snaked out of the panel’s front to a domestic mains socket. You didn’t need much conventional power for this, Green reflected with satisfaction.  The main power source was beyond the comprehension of idiots like Lethbridge-Stewart, the inveterate letter writer. 

The needles on the dials flickered to the right as the energy surged through the cables. Suddenly, an arc of sparks spat from one side of the shed to the other. Another line of sparks arced from one tessellated bowl to the next, and then the next and the next, criss-crossing the room like rockets on Guy Fawkes’ Night. Green, scowling at the console, was oblivious to the display and to any danger to himself. He spun round to look at the end of the shed. Here shadows gathered: but in the shadows was a simple box, like a tollbooth, just big enough for man of average height to squeeze himself inside. Green would fit inside, just. In front of it stood a parabolic reflector on a tripod, its antenna focused on the box.

The arcs of energy sparked with ever-increasing ferocity, then merged into one tremendous stream of light that hurled itself at the dish. The antenna redirected the energy into a white beam, impossible to look at, and spat it towards the box. As Green watched, the box’s boundaries started to blur into gold, then blue… Christmas lights for a Christmas Day that he ignored, he thought foolishly.

The spell was broken by an insistent knocking on the shed door. Green barely registered it at first, but the knocking continued and then became a banging, fists pounded against wood. A voice called jovially, “Dr Green! Dr Green! Are you in there?”

Furiously, Green tore off his headphones and powered down his equipment. The blaze of power spluttered and died. A lone spark dripped from the reflector’s antenna and went out. Green swore, stamped the few paces to the door and threw it open. 

“What do you want?” he roared. “Bloody carol singers again, is it?”

It was not. It was, in fact, a mild-looking little man in a tailcoat, a crumpled shirt and a bow tie that had come askew. A mop of dark hair. Raging though he was, it struck Green that it was extraordinary a man who dressed like that should adopt a Beatles haircut. He was astonished to see that the stranger wore an expression of easy friendliness.  

Instead of being intimidated, the man held out both his hands and seized one of Green’s fists. “Well, I suppose I could run to a couple of verses of Good King Wenceslas. Lovely man. Did you ever meet him? No, of course, you wouldn’t have. Dr Green isn’t it? Delighted to meet you. I’ve heard so much about your little experiments that I thought I’d come and have a look for myself.” He beamed. 

Amazed, Green looked him up and down. “On Christmas Day?” 

The stranger said, “Oh yes, I’m a bit of an enthusiast about that sort of thing. That’s a pretty sort of wilderness you have there, Dr Green. Why don’t we take a turn in it? I’m sure a bit of fresh air would be good for us.” 

Green’s emotions rocked like a ship in a storm. Rapidly, he took stock. Furious at being interrupted when success was tantalisingly near, yes, but there was no point going back in there now; the experiment was ruined and he wouldn’t be able to try again while he was upset. And it was hard to storm at such a quiet, civilised man as this, who, Green recognised despite himself, had behaved with commendable restraint. Green knew the effect of his mood swings on others and was often ashamed of himself. And he wanted a smoke. Maybe a bit of fresh air was a good idea. He grunted and searched in his pockets for his cigarettes, offered one to the newcomer, who politely refused, and lit one for himself. Not yet trusting himself to speak, he gestured to the fellow that he should lead the way into the garden. Wilderness. Bloody cheek.

They crunched through the hard frost, over long grass which had been beaten down and frozen, a path made by Green in his customary brooding where he had paced up and down, up and down. The newcomer stopped suddenly next to a structure like a small greenhouse, about two feet in height, its wooden frame holding mostly broken glass. Green remembered that he had once kept snakes in it, as a boy.

“Now, something that will do us both a power of good, I think,” the little man said. Green watched as he delved into his pocket and produced, incredibly, an ancient, two pint thermos flask. How did he fit that in there? The stranger unscrewed first one, then another, plastic mug from the top of the thermos and set them on the wooden frame. He poured steaming coffee into them and offered one cup to Green, who hesitated, then took it. 

“Thanks,” he said grudgingly, sniffed and sipped. It was good and his face registered surprise. The stranger was now waggling a hip flask at him. Wordlessly, Green held out his cup. The newcomer splashed a measure of whisky into Green’s coffee, then into his own. Green sipped. The coffee had a kick like a mule and cleared his head. He looked at his cigarette ruefully and threw it into the border.  

“So,” said the stranger, clicking his mug against Green’s. “Happy Christmas.” 

Green found himself muttering, “Happy Christmas to you.” He was about to ask the man who the hell he was and what the hell he thought he was doing, turning up on Christmas morning, but he found that the fight had gone out of him. “So,” he grunted, “would you mind telling me who you are and what you want?”  

The little man drank deeply. “You can call me Doctor,” he said. Green waited for a surname but none was forthcoming. Instead, the Doctor asked, “Tell me, Dr Green, why were you so angry when I called on you just now? It wasn’t just because you don’t like carol singers, was it?” 

Green hesitated, then listened to himself in astonishment as his words, unbidden, tumbled out of him. Of course, he hadn’t talked to anyone since – he couldn’t remember when. 

“Because I’ve had it, that’s why. I’ve had it up to here with interference in my life’s work. Phone calls, letters, the doorbell ringing at all hours. Busybodies sticking their noses in when it’s none of their business, when it’s my own time and my own money, when I’m on the verge of a scientific breakthrough they couldn’t begin to understand, which—”  He stopped, unsure or not whether to go on. The Doctor raised his eyebrows and Green saw again the keen intelligence in the blue eyes.

“Which?” prompted the Doctor. 

“Which will be of the greatest possible benefit to mankind,” Green mumbled.

“I see, how fascinating,” said the Doctor drily. His eyes never left Green’s face and Green began, inwardly, to squirm. “And may I enquire as to the nature of these experiments?” 

Green’s anger surged. “You may not,” he snapped.  

The Doctor nodded slowly. “I see. Well, that’s very interesting, Dr Green, because I was under the impression that you were beginning to have some success in your experiments with time travel.” 

Green gaped. “How could you possibly know that? I mean, the military, the government, have been sniffing around me for months, they know something was up, but I never imagined they’d found out what I was actually doing.” 

“They didn’t,” the Doctor said simply. “I did.” 

“How?” 

The Doctor chuckled. “Oh well, I’m a bit of an amateur sleuth when it comes to time travel, Dr Green. I imagine you’re having trouble with positive feedback shorting out your capsule’s dematerialisation circuits?” Green nodded dumbly. “Well, shall we have a little look at them and see what we can do? And I can’t keep calling you Dr Green. Do you have a Christian name?” 

“Malcolm.” Why did he just tell the stranger that anyway?

The Doctor took Green’s cup and busied himself with tidying thermos and cups away. “Well, lead on, Malcolm. I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ve come up with!”

Dumbly, Malcolm led the way back to the shed. He waved in its general direction, his breath coming out of him in clouds. “Doesn’t look much, does it, Doctor? Who’d have thought you could fit a time machine into a shed?”

The Doctor spoke from behind him. “Oh, you’d be surprised.” 

Malcolm threw open the door. “There you are, Doctor. My playroom.” 

The Doctor stepped into the shed and looked around with every appearance of pleasure. Malcolm saw the quick eyes take in the tessellated panels, the reflector, the tollbooth, the lash-up of wires, the steel console.  

“Oh, splendid! Splendid! I must congratulate you, Malcolm. This is a magnificent achievement! What’s that?” The Doctor had taken up the letter that Malcolm had tossed on to the bench.  

“Oh, another missive from the government. Some idiot calling himself Lethbridge-Stewart who no doubt wants to impound my equipment. Damn cheek.”

The Doctor was nodding slowly. “Yes. I will meet him soon… left the regular army and is attached to some new government department, it seems. Limited but a good fellow.” He tossed the letter back onto the workbench and plumped down onto the swivel chair. “Well, this is all splendid, Malcolm. Quite remarkable. But you know,” and the smile vanished. The Doctor spoke with quiet earnestness, “I can’t possibly allow you to continue.”

Malcolm, by now almost entirely won over by the Doctor’s charm, was brought up short. When he eventually found his voice, it came out as a squeak. “What?” 

The Doctor’s tone was grave. “These experiments must stop.” 

Malcolm nodded his head slowly and began to prowl up and down the limited space. His movements became more and more agitated: he sighed, turned his head back and forth, threw his arms around aimlessly and finally started shouting in the Doctor’s face. Malcolm raged that he had thought the Doctor was different, that he was someone who might actually understand what Malcolm was up to, he might even be someone who could help, but he was just like all the rest of them, another fascist communist bureaucrat who just wanted to close it all down. Malcolm’s eyes were red and there was foam at the corners of his mouth. The Doctor regarded him impassively, his lined face betraying neither emotion nor offence. Malcolm screamed: 

“Who do you think you are? By whose authority are you doing this?” 

The Doctor’s words cut clearly through the tirade. “My own,” he said quietly. Malcolm goggled at him, took a step backwards and suddenly collapsed to the floor, weeping. He pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapped his arms around them, and howled. He rocked backwards and forwards, rapidly at first, then more gently. Sometimes that helped to calm him down. Bloody pills the GP had given him didn’t work. Nothing worked. His time travel experiments were crappy. Fix the dematerialisation circuit? He didn’t even have the wit to fix himself a sandwich. Or remember Christmas.

When he had had his cry out, he sat quietly, huddled into a ball, watching the shapes coalesce and explode behind his eyelids. There was a hand on his arm and a voice saying, “Malcolm. Malcolm.” 

“Go away.” 

“Malcolm. Stop this now. Look at me.” The hand shook him gently and Malcolm lifted his head, his grey hair messed up, his face puffy. The Doctor, sitting on his haunches, was leaning over him. “Malcolm. It’s always upsetting when we have to abandon something that we’ve set our hearts on, but sometimes it has to be so.” 

“Oh yes,” Malcolm murmured sarcastically. “My life’s work is just a pet project, for God’s sake. It’s not a model railway, you know. Why don’t you just go away?” 

“I can’t go away, Malcolm. Because what you’re doing is not safe. Because if I allow you to continue, you stand a good chance of blowing up this city and taking most of southern England with it. Because your time travel experiments have taken you into a technological cul-de-sac.” Malcolm said nothing, but shuffled away from the Doctor. 

The Doctor sighed. “Well, it wasn’t working anyway, was it? You didn’t manage full dematerialisation did you?” No reply. Brightly, the Doctor asked, “What was the principle based on, Malcolm? Kartz and Rhymer?”

His face buried again against his knees, Malcolm’s voice was muffled. “Never heard of them. Waterfield’s theorem.” 

The Doctor reacted. “Waterfield?”

“Yes. Exploiting static electricity to generate temporal energy.” 

“Oh dear. Never a good idea. Static electricity always leads to trouble.” 

Malcolm raised his head again. “Well, tapping it for power is absurd but so is time travel itself. It’s a paradox. That’s why I called the resulting energy the Zeugma Beam.”  

The Doctor nodded. “But it doesn’t work very well, does it?” 

Malcolm sniffed. “There are a few technical difficulties to be overcome.” 

The Doctor patted his arm. “No, Malcolm. I’m very much afraid that the whole principle of your experiments is wrong. And even if they worked, humanity is not ready for time travel.” 

“Who says?” Malcolm asked, some of his tetchiness returning. 

“I do.” The Doctor observed the blank look of misery directed at him and sat on the floor beside Malcolm. For a while, the two men sat together. Malcolm sniffed.  

“Cold on the behind, isn’t it, this floor?” the Doctor remarked eventually. “Why do you want time travel so much? There’s something more than the science at stake here, isn’t there?”  A pause, then Malcolm nodded. “What is it? Can I help with it?”

“Mother,” Malcolm muttered. 

“I beg your pardon?”  

“Mother. Mummy. Mother. I can’t live without her.” He was back to his rocking back and forth again now, and the tears started again. “She was taken from me in the war. After Dad died. They shot him down over Belgium. He was a navigator in a Lancaster. I was thirteen. And an only child and I missed him so much. So I clung on to Mummy. She was everything to me. But then the Yank came along and she fell for him and he didn’t want me around, said I was a mummy’s boy and was always in the way. Used to give me threepence to go to the pictures. Then when that didn’t work, he started to hit me. So glad I was when he was sent off to Normandy. So glad. Thought I’d seen the back of him, that the b*stard would end up dead in a ditch. Then it would just be Mummy and me again. Got bullied at school. She comforted me. Then, one day, after the war, I came back home from school to an empty house. Called for her. No answer. Found her letter on the kitchen table. Jimmy, that’s the Yank, had come back for her and she’d run off to live with him in America. She said I was sixteen and could look after myself. Left me her savings book and the house. Guilty conscience. But she didn’t want me.”

The two men sat in silence in the dust of the shed. Malcolm rubbed his head vigorously. “I suppose you think I’m unmanly. Go on, say it. Not masculine. Where’s your stiff upper lip boy? An Englishman doesn’t show his emotions. Much better to bottle it up, then you can have a nervous breakdown instead. Go on, say it.” 

The Doctor shook his head. “It’s not for me to judge you, Malcolm. I loved my family too.” He paused, and then said quietly, “So the purpose of your research was to send yourself back in time so you could see your Mother again?” 

Malcolm nodded. “And stop her from going off with that Yank.” 

The Doctor sighed. Then he said, “What if there was a way to get all this working properly? What if I could send you back in time to be with your Mother? Would you like that? Call it my Christmas present to you.”

Malcolm looked up at him, bright eyed with astonishment. “But you just said you wanted to close the equipment down. And it didn’t work anyway. I don’t even know the first thing about you. How could you possibly know more about it than me?” 

The Doctor told him.  

***

The Doctor locked the shed door quietly behind him. It was dark and the first flecks of snow were falling. The Doctor activated the temporal field he had rigged up, ensuring that everything inside the field – Malcolm and his equipment – was moving one second behind everything else in the world: an impenetrable barrier. 

The Doctor let himself out of the garden gate and wandered down the pavement, planting footprints in the dusting of snow. On the corner was the familiar blue form of the TARDIS. The Doctor let himself in and went at once to the central console. Polly, all long legs and enthusiasm, bounded up to him. 

“Did you do it then?” she asked brightly. “Did you send him back in time?” 

The Doctor activated a control and the giant doors began to swing shut. “That is what he believes,” he said quietly. Ben said sharply: 

“Oh, that’s rich. You mean that you’ve deceived him?”

The Doctor busied himself at the console. “He doesn’t know that.” 

Polly burst out in concern, “But that’s not very kind, Doctor! And on Christmas Day too!”

“And it’s not right, neither,” Ben protested. “What’ve you done to the poor beggar?” 

The Doctor faced them, realising that neither would be satisfied with evasive answers. “I rigged up an epsilon wave augmentation device. Malcolm is asleep and dreaming of his mother. He can see her, hug her, listen to her. She is as real to him as she ever was. And the temporal field will ensure that he will never age and will never be disturbed. He will dream of his mother for ever. Or at least, for as long as the epsilon wave maintains its integrity.”

Polly was appalled. “But that’s not what you promised him! You said that you’d be able to fix his time machine to take him back in time to be with his mother! That’s what he wanted!” 

The Doctor shook his head. “I couldn’t fix it. The whole principle on which it was based was mistaken. If he’d been allowed to tinker with it any longer, the beam would have stretched and broken and taken most of London with it.”  

Ben was still not satisfied. “Well, couldn’t you just take him back in the TARDIS?” 

The Doctor scratched his head. “The TARDIS isn’t always reliable, Ben, you know that. And I’m not sure how delighted his mother would have been when her middle-aged son presented himself to her. I’m afraid she didn’t want him any more. After all, what right do I have to interfere in another person’s life and choices?”

Ben snorted. “Doesn’t usually stop you, does it?” 

The Doctor turned back to the console and activated the dematerialisation sequence. The time rotor began to rise and fall and the familiar grating trumpeting filled the air. “Time we were leaving!” the Doctor said briskly. “How does a trip to the moon sound to you both?”

“Don’t fob us off by promising the moon!” Ben snapped.

Calmer than Ben, Polly said, “Doctor, you promised him time travel and you gave him dreams. That’s just wrong, isn’t it?” 

The Doctor said quietly, “Not really, Polly. Time travel has always been possible in dreams.” 

***

Coda 

On the planet of the Time Lords, the President of the Celestial Intervention Agency closed the file and regarded the young time agent before him. Keen, ambitious, and arrogant, a female in this regeneration, the Time Lord seemed frightfully pleased with herself.

“So your justification is that you sent the Doctor, unbeknown to himself, to the planet Earth in the year 1968 to forestall the time experiments of this man Green?” 

The Time Lord bowed. “That is so, President.” 

“And that the Doctor forestalled the experiments successfully, thus ensuring that the humans’ city was not destroyed?” 

The Time Lord allowed herself a tiny smirk of satisfaction. “Exactly so, President.” 

The President asked sharply, “For what purpose?” 

The young Time Lord was flustered. “I beg your pardon?” 

“I’ll ask you again. For what purpose?” 

The agent started to gabble and gestured at the file in the President’s hand. “It’s all there, sir, in my report.” 

“But I want to hear it from you. Kindly tell me again in your own words.” 

The young Time Lord gaped, then stood up straight, gathering together her robes and her thoughts. She took a deep breath and said, in a clear, measured tone: 

“The Zeugma beam experiments were a dangerous experiment in time travel which would have eventually succeeded, although only partially, for two reasons. First, the Zeugma time cabinet would have had a limited life span. Secondly, and more importantly, the Zeugma beam would eventually collapse, destroying the cabinet and its surroundings to a radius of some 30 miles, and ripping a hole in the fabric of space-time which would eventually threaten even our power. Thanks to my intervention and the unwitting work of the Doctor as my instrument, the Zeugma experiments have been halted and the prototype time machine placed in a time stasis loop which can never be penetrated. The operation has been a complete success.”

The President made a little moue and tapped his fingers against his lips. “Not quite a complete success, agent. Not quite. You see, what you don’t know, because you didn’t bother to research it properly, is that this man Malcolm Green left a copy of his notes. And though he had no issue himself, he had distant relatives who, in time, would find the notes, come to idolise him and resurrect the experiments. Their surname would shift from Green to Greel and a particularly brutal member of their family would be named Magnus, echoing the name of his distinguished ancestor. The Zeugma experiments would become the Zigma experiments, we would be back to square one and the fabric of space-time would once again be threatened.” The President suddenly banged his hand down on his desk and the young Time Lord winced. With icy calm, the President said, “Your work has been neither as complete nor as successful as you imagined. You have simply kicked the problem a little further down the years. When I make my report to the Cardinals, I shall emphasise your role in a botched operation.”

The young Time Lord seemed to sag with dismay, but only said. “Yes, President.” 

“Now get out.” 

“Yes, President.” At the door, she paused, anxious to redeem herself. “Would the President permit me to finish this business by dealing with Magnus Greel and the Zigma Experiments?” 

The President snorted. “The President would not. You’ve done enough damage. Let Time itself untangle this one. Or the Doctor.” He reached across the desk for his drink. “One or the other can usually be relied upon to straighten things out.”

[And so our Festive Fiction draws to a close. For now. Happy Twelfth Night.]