Marion, my dear, let’s go somewhere for the evening,” Kristoph declared midway through dessert. They were dining alone tonight as Rodan was having supper with the Arcalians.

Marion looked at her husband in surprise. Usually after a long week in the Panopticon he welcomed the chance of a quiet evening in his own drawing room with his own imported single malt and a little light music of his own choosing.

“It’s been a VERY long, very DULL week in the Panopticon and I’d really like a change of scenery,” he explained.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Anywhere. When we lived on Earth we often went to an opera in Sydney or a show on Broadway, Fireworks in Kyoto….”

“Or Shakespeare at the globe…. the original Globe.” Marion smiled as she remembered those early adventures before and just after they were married, when the idea of time travel was still new to her and he was showing off just a little bit.

“Why don’t we do that any more?”

“You get cross with the Transduction Barrier operators when they ask the purpose of your trip,” Marion replied.

“Ha! Is that the reason?”

“Also you are very fond of your armchair by the fireplace in the drawing room and your single malt.”

“Are you suggesting that I’m turning into a middle aged man?” Kristoph feigned indignation. Marion laughed. “Either reason is a poor one not to enjoy an evening out. It really was a VERY, VERY dull week of politics. I deserve to look at another sky for a while.”

“So where shall we go?” Marion asked.

“Where would YOU like to go?” Kristoph answered. “There is quite a lot of Earth we haven’t visited, and a universe of wonders beyond there.”

“Earth,” Marion decided. “We can go somewhere else in the universe next weekend. But Earth will be fine tonight. I think….”

She paused in thought. It was true that there were many very exciting and glamorous places on Earth that they could visit – Rome, Paris, Shimla - the summer retreat of the English aristocracy of India.

There were a lot of choices. But one, an idea that might not readily fit with those bright, shining ideas, stuck out in her mind.

“I want to go to the zoo,” she announced.

“The zoo?” Kristoph was surprised. “Don’t zoos close in the evening?”

“A lot of them run special evening sessions, advanced bookings, only. You can see the zoo in the dark, when a lot of the animals are actually more active than in the day.”

“That’s a very interesting notion. So which zoo do you wish to visit? London, New York, San Diego, Australia Zoo....?”

Again those were very good suggestions, but when she thought of the word ‘zoo’ only one place came into Marion’s mind.


Kristoph smiled indulgently. Of course, that was the zoo she knew from day trips in her childhood, the closest one to her Birkenhead home. For her this was about nostalgia as much as it was an evening away from Gallifrey.

When dinner was over, they both changed into clothes fitting for an early autumn evening in the north-west of England and boarded the TARDIS in its usual place in the hall. Marion settled herself on the sofa with after dinner coffee while Kristoph made ready for the journey.

His first task, of course, was filing his travel plans with the Transduction Barrier operators. Even though they knew he was the Lord High President there was always something about their tone that he found officious and just a little insolent.

“My wife and I are going to the zoo,” he said when he was asked the purpose of his trip.

“The zoo?” queried the low grade civil servant who wielded the little power he had with the same doggedness as a traffic warden putting tickets on sports cars in Kensington. “What is the purpose of this visit to the zoo?”

“Don’t ask idiotic questions,” Kristoph growled. “I will be offworld for a few hours, and that is all you need to know. File that and be done with you.”

The operator had no choice but to obey. Kristoph manoeuvred his TARDIS past the temporal and spatial barrier that protected Gallifrey from unwanted intrusion and set course for Earth. While he was doing that he made the advanced booking for the barbecue evening at Chester Zoo. It meant sending the booking back in time to the early twenty-first century, but that was easy to do from a TARDIS communications console.

It started elegantly enough. The evening guests – guests, not visitors, since they paid considerably more for this VIP treatment – gathered in the function room of the elegant Victorian mock Tudor Oakfield Manor. There was wine and biscuits before the group were taken on the official tour.

“It’s everything I expected,” Marion whispered as she looked at the lions prowling their compound and roaring occasionally. The paths around the zoo were lit by warm yellow lamps, but the animals had natural dark places as well as pools of light they could move into and be seen by the guests. A few were stubbornly asleep in their quiet corners but there was still plenty to see.

“I’m rather enjoying it myself,” Kristoph answered. He was standing close to the rail watching the lions with a serene expression. “These African lions are so much bigger than the leonates from the southern plain. Magnificent animals.”

“Magnificent with a moat between us and them,” Marion responded. “I’m glad leonates don’t tend to wander into inhabited parts of the plains or I’d want a moat around our house.”

There were other animals she wouldn’t have liked to have on the borders of the de Lœngbærrow estate – the crocodiles were rather terrifying and though it was a lot smaller, so was the very fierce Komodo Dragon.

But as far as Marion was concerned, the one animal she definitely didn’t want as a neighbour was the largest snake on planet Earth – the reticulated python.

“It can be adopted,” Kristoph pointed out, reading the information panel by the python’s temperature controlled home. “Would you like to go for it?”

“I’d rather something sweet like a lemur or a meerkat,” Marion answered. She really didn’t like snakes, and the longest one on Earth was far from endearing. She was really just waiting for the tour to move on to something less repulsive.

“Are you sure you don’t want to adopt it?” Kristoph asked with a teasing smile as they finally left the area.

“I don’t think we’d be allowed to bring it home with us,” Marion answered as she prepared herself to be enchanted – as so many people were – by the orang-utans and the so very humanlike chimpanzees with their comical antics.

Across the Elephant Bridge they saw - well, elephants, of course. But also some of the other larger animals, including two kinds of rhinoceros – short-horned and the rare, endangered, black. Kristoph viewed both with alacrity.

“Earth is the only planet where rhinoceros exist as wild animals,” he said to Marion. “But there is a sentient species called the Judoon who are descended from a now extinct form of the same creature.”

“People descended from rhinos?” Marion wondered if he was having her on. “Intelligent people?”

“Intelligent is a moot point,” Kristoph conceded. “They pursue only one career – as a kind of intergalactic police force.”

“Police are usually intelligent,” Marion pointed out.

“They’re single-minded to the point of obstinacy. They take a literal view of the law. For those of us who work in the grey areas they tend to be a bit of an obstacle. I was once detained in one of their police ships for a day because I didn’t have a permit to assassinate on one of their protectorate worlds. A permit that would have to be counter-signed by the very man I was there to assassinate.”

“What happened after the day in their custody?”

“I escaped. I think they may still have a warrant out for me. Fortunately Gallifrey doesn’t recognise their jurisdiction, and neither does Earth.”

“That’s because people on Earth would want to put them in a zoo… or possibly hunt them for their horns,” Marion pointed out.

“I think I’d like to see THAT hunt,” Kristoph decided. “Judoon are always armed with lethal weapons. It would make the poachers think twice when their prey turned the tables on them.” He looked at the pair of rhinoceroses that the zoo hoped to breed from in order to help save the species. “Such magnificent creatures – a little Judoon style justice on their behalf might not be a bad thing.”

Marion agreed, but the tour was moving on now to some of the more charming animals. The meerkats were everybody’s favourites, of course. Marion was not the only one of the women who really wanted to cuddle one of the sweetly expressive creatures, but they were wild animals, not soft toys and that was impossible.

Nor was it possible to hug a penguin, even though they looked as if they might permit such a thing. There was an opportunity to be photographed with a tame ring-tailed lemur. Kristoph submitted to the indignity of the creature sitting on his shoulder only on condition that Gold Usher never saw the resulting picture.

“I’ll keep it by our bedside,” Marion promised as she leaned close and felt the furry face of the lemur next to her cheek. “Gold Usher will never know you have kept company with anything so cute as this.”

The tour concluded with a moonlight barbecue at the café. Though they had eaten a good dinner before setting out on this evening excursion, both felt ready for a supper selected from the aromatic menu. They sat at a wooden table with a couple from Manchester who were celebrating their first wedding anniversary with this special zoo evening.

“We just felt like doing something different on a Friday evening,” Marion admitted.

“It’s Wednesday,” the one year married wife responded.

“That’s why it’s different,” Kristoph quickly said to hide Marion’s embarrassment at such a mistake. “I think I shall order dessert and coffee. I don’t really need either but it is an excuse to sit here for longer just listening to the sounds of the animals and birds in this magnificent place.”

The sounds were amazing. There was a constant background of birdsong from the aviary and the wet areas where water birds roosted. They heard the screech of a tawny owl hunting in the trees near the picnic area. The roar of lions and the trumpeting of elephants, the noise of the hippopotamus somewhere close by and the chattering of monkeys all hung on the air. Sometimes one animal went quiet and another took its place.

“I could listen to that for a long time,” Marion said, but there’s something I want to do, first. You choose dessert and I’ll have a latte coffee.”

Kristoph was surprised by her sudden announcement but didn’t stop her from heading over to the administration office next to the gift shop.

When she returned, the coffee and dessert were on the table. She handed Kristoph a foolscap brown envelope with something stiff inside. He opened it and discovered that he had adopted ‘Monty’ the reticulated python.

“Monty?” he raised an eyebrow at the choice of name.

“Monty Python… obviously.”

“I thought you didn’t like snakes?”

“I don’t. And big ones are even worse. But I couldn’t help thinking about it all the time we were looking at sweet, cuddly animals that everyone wanted to adopt. I thought about my time in foster homes, and how much worse it would be if I was actually in a children’s home waiting for somewhere to go. There were plenty of kids who lived like that, who felt as if they weren’t pretty enough to be chosen for adoption. I felt SORRY for the python because it would be passed over for more appealing animals. So… I adopted it for you. It’s only a little money each month that goes towards its food and upkeep. We can easily afford it.”

“I’m delighted to be Monty’s adopted parent,” Kristoph assured her. “As long as he really DOESN’T have to come home with us. Our housekeeper is more scared of snakes than you are. The poor lady would be catatonic with shock.”

Marion laughed at the very thought of the huge snake sliding through the kitchen of Mount Lœng House. Yes, it was definitely better off staying here at Chester Zoo.

“We’ll come and see him again some other evening,” she said as she sipped her latte and enjoyed the sounds of the zoo at night. “And your lemur friend.”

“I certainly hope so,” Kristoph replied.