The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS and sniffed the air. Yes, 1895, definitely. London in the autumn of 1895. Late September, he concluded.

He strolled out of the alleyway and stepped up to a boy selling newspapers. He tossed him a coin and told him to keep the change. The boy handed him a paper and looked at the coin before pocketing it quickly, in case The Doctor changed his mind.

He looked at the paper. September 26th, 1895. He smiled triumphantly.

Of course, he could have looked at the temporal date on the TARDIS console. But it was more fun like this.

Another sniff of the air confirmed his location. Limehouse. No mistaking it. The river ran past it and at low tide its stench pervaded the narrow streets.

He got his bearings and turned down Cable Street, the long thoroughfare noted in these times for its cheap lodgings, houses of ill repute, drinking dens and worse. The Doctor adopted the appearance of a carefree saunter, but he was, at the same time, being very wary. He was a stranger, and a well dressed one, at that, at least in comparison to most of the residents. Donna always made sarcastic remarks about his brown pinstripe suit and its aversion to steam irons, but next to the much mended, washed out grey clothes worn by most of the men and boys he passed in the street he was quite dapper.

He turned from Cable Street onto Watney Street, which looked even more downmarket and had a railway crossing over it. He watched an old steam train pass over before he walked under the bridge. There was something about being under a bridge with a train going over that he didn’t like, though he couldn’t imagine why it would bother him.

He stopped and turned quickly, grabbing the urchin who was behind him.

“Don’t even think about it, sunshine,” he said. “You may be quick, but I’m quicker.”

“Lemme go, guv’nor, please!” the boy cried out. “I didn’t take nothin’. Look…” He held out his hands to show that he wasn’t guilty of pick-pocketing.

“Only because I caught you,” The Doctor replied.

“Please, guv’nor,” he pleaded again. “Please don’t hand me over to the rozzers. Me mam’ll be heartbroken. Please…”

The Doctor looked at the boy carefully. There was something about the way he said ‘guv’nor’ that reminded him of Ben. For a moment he wondered if he was wrong about the date, and had come back to his former companion’s childhood.

But he was holding a newspaper that definitely said 1895 on it.

“Ben Carpenter! Get in here right this minute or I’ll tan your hide till it shines!” called out a woman’s voice from the window of a cramped looking flat above a second hand clothes shop. The boy twisted out of The Doctor’s grasp and ran towards a dingy looking plain wooden door beside the glass panelled entrance to the clothes shop. The Doctor followed. The plain door led into what his wide-ranging experience called a ‘lobby’, with flaking whitewash on brick walls and damp laundry hanging from a rack on the ceiling. It emerged into the back yard of the clothes shop where a wooden stairway led to the upstairs flat. The Doctor carried on up and stepped quietly into the living area.

“Blessings be upon this place,” he said, a traditional Gallifreyan way of entering a stranger’s dwelling.

The boy ran and hid behind a large hessian sack. The woman stood and stared at him, her expression one of both defiance and fear at the same time.

She was probably about thirty years old, but looked tired enough to add on another ten or fifteen years. She looked overworked and underfed.

“Mrs Carpenter, I presume?” he said. “Mrs Elsie Carpenter?”

“Miss Carpenter,” she responded with a resigned shake of the head. “But thank you for that, anyway.” She looked at him. “Do I know you, sir?”

“I know your brother,” he answered. “Ben asked me to drop in and see how you were.”

“Ben…” Elsie caught her breath and shook her head again. She sat down on a chair set by a heavy treadle sewing machine on which there was a half mended skirt. “I thought he was dead. Or in jail. It’s been months….”

“He’s not dead, and he’s not in jail,” The Doctor assured her. “He’s doing very well for himself, in fact. But he isn’t likely to be around for a very long time. And he asked me to ensure that you’re financially secure…” Elsie looked blankly at him. “That you have enough money,” he added.

“I get by,” she said. She looked at The Doctor’s face and misinterpreted it completely. “I know what you’re thinking Mr….”

“Doctor,” he said. “Just Doctor… that’s what I’m known as.”

“Doctor?” she was puzzled. “Ben knows somebody who’s a Doctor?”

“Yes, he does. And I….”

“I’m a seamstress,” she said with a sharp tone. “And don’t you go getting any ideas about that, neither. I know the joke… fifty seamstresses in Limehouse and only three needles. Well, if that’s true I own the three needles. I sew. Mr Levi only charges me half the rent in return for doing all the mending of the clothes he sells. And I make shirts collars and cuff included. I get by. I put food on the table. I do my best. I try to get Ben to stay in school. But he hates it. He prefers hanging around the street with his friends. As if I haven’t told him often enough to stay off the streets, what with those children going missing…”

Elsie suddenly stopped talking. She looked at The Doctor closely again.

“Please… go on,” he encouraged her.

“Beggin’ your pardon, sir,” she answered. “But I still don’t rightly know you. Even if you say you know Ben… that could be a lie.”

“Why would I lie to you?” The Doctor asked. “Look…” He reached into his coat pocket and found a small cloth bag. He handed it to Elsie. She opened it and almost fainted in shock as she saw the handful of sovereigns and half sovereigns adding up to ten pounds.

“That’s… more money than I’ve seen in one place in my whole life,” she gasped. Then her expression hardened. “Where would Ben get this sort of money? Not by any honest means. Take it back. I’ll not live off ill-gotten gains.”

“It’s not stolen,” The Doctor assured her. “Ben fell upon some good fortune. And he wanted you to share in it. I promise you, he has stolen nothing in all the time I have known him. And I’ve come to regard him as a good, courageous friend.”

“Ben….” Elsie still looked dubious. “Yes. I suppose… He’s got a good heart. Even so… this is too much money. What would I do with it?”

The Doctor thought there were many things she could do with the money. Buy herself some clothes instead of mending them for other people would be his first suggestion. Rent a nicer flat. Fill a larder with decent food. He had noticed the shelf above her head where a half loaf of bread and a piece of boiled bacon rested. He knew it probably represented two or even three day’s main meals for the mother and son.

But it wasn't for him to say.


“What did you mean about missing children?” he asked. “Please… I might be able to help. I’m… a… sort of… detective. A private detective… like…”

He was about to say ‘like Sherlock Holmes’, but then he wondered if Elsie was any more literate than Ben and decided not to risk embarrassing her. He reached into his pocket for his psychic paper before realising that she wouldn’t be able to read that, either, if she was illiterate.

“I try to help people,” he added. “Please, tell me about the missing children.”

“Dozens of ‘em,” Elsie said. “All from around Limehouse or Shadwell. Disappeared from the streets, in broad daylight, would you believe?”

The Doctor could believe it. Children’s welfare in this era of Human history was, at best, casual. Hard pressed working mothers like Elsie had little time to keep track of their broods. The busy streets were their playgrounds. And if the police took any notice of them it was only when they indulged in the sort of activity young Ben was attempting earlier. Dozens could well be an under-estimate of how many children were missing from the area. After all, who was taking a census? Who was listening when a distraught parent asked about their child?

“The walls took ‘em,” said a voice from behind the sack of clothes waiting to be mended.

“I beg your pardon?” The Doctor answered. “Come on out. I can’t hear you properly from in there.”

Young Ben, named after his uncle and likely to follow in his career choices if his mother couldn’t keep him on the straight and narrow, did as the voice of authority said. He stood up from his shadowy corner and came forwards. The Doctor looked at him closely. He was about ten years old, which meant his mother was only about twenty when he came along. That was probably a familiar enough story - a pretty young girl in a neighbourhood where sailors come and go. Ben looked healthy and sturdy. Very likely Elsie gave him the best of the food and went without herself. He had quick eyes that were taking in The Doctor in as much detail as he was taking in the boy. And The Doctor knew he was nimble and sure-footed. He very nearly had managed to get his hand into his coat pocket. If he’d been paying a little less attention he might have got away with it.

“The walls took ‘em… sir,” Ben repeated, adding the ‘sir’ in an effort to appear to be a well-mannered boy who knew how to behave in front of his betters.

“Which means….”

“The walls,” the boy repeated. “I saw it. Up by Whitechapel Road. Billy Motts… he was standin’ there, agin’ the wall, and it took ‘im. He just… sort of… the wall took ‘im.”

The boy’s vocabulary wasn’t up to the explanation of something so far beyond Human comprehension. That was the best he could do.

“What did you do when… the walls took him?” The Doctor asked.

“I ran,” the boy admitted. “I was well spooked. Billy’s mam asked about. She was cryin’.”

“Very likely,” The Doctor agreed.

“Ben…” Elsie looked worried. “If you know something… Mrs Motts has been beside herself….”

“I couldn’t ‘av tol’ ‘er, mam,” Ben protested, his grasp of English grammar breaking down as he became more emotional. “It would ‘ave made her cry more. The wall took ‘im… the ghosts in the wall.”

“Ben,” The Doctor said in a calm voice. “I know you were scared, but could you show me this wall?”

Ben’s eyes widened. He genuinely WAS scared. It wasn’t just a fairy story. But the Doctor knew as well as anyone that being scared didn’t make anyone a coward. It just made them aware of a real and present danger. Cowardice was not being able to turn and face the danger.

And if young Ben was anything like his uncle, he was no coward.

“Mam…” the boy said, turning to his mother. “Can I…”

Elsie pursed her lips thoughtfully. She looked at The Doctor. She had absolutely no reason to trust him. She had never seen him before in her life, and his story about her brother was almost too unbelievable to be true.

And yet….

She looked at The Doctor and felt as if she could trust him with her life.

She could trust him with her son.

“I’ve a pile of work to be doing,” she said, waving towards the sewing machine. “I’d best get on with it. So go on, clear out of my sight for a while. But just you behave yourself, my boy. Or you’ll be for it, later.”

She sounded stern with the boy. Then she looked directly at The Doctor. She didn’t say anything, but the look in her eyes said it all for her.

“Look after him, please.”

The look in his eyes reassured her that he would.

“Keep your hands in your pockets,” The Doctor said to Ben when they reached the bottom of the stairs and made their way out through the lobby and back onto Watney Street. “And out of mine.”

Ben said nothing. He thrust his hands into his pockets and walked very slightly ahead of The Doctor, where he could see him.

“You need to stop doing that anyway,” The Doctor added. “Or it won’t be the wall that takes you. It’ll be a policeman. And how do you think your mother will feel?”

Ben shrugged.

“All the other kids do it.”

“Ah.” The Doctor half smiled. “And that’s a good enough reason to break your mother’s heart?”

Another shrug.

“There’s not enough money. Ol’ Man Levi only gives ‘er a penny for every bag of mending. She works all the time. At night, when I’m supposed to be sleepin’, she’s sewin’ with jus’ one candle fer light, ‘cos candles cost tuppence.”

“I understand,” The Doctor assured him. “But your mother would rather be poor than dishonest. And that’s commendable. You stop trying to pick pockets and stay out of trouble. Or I’ll hear about it, wherever I am, and I’ll be down on you like a ton of bricks.”

Young Ben dared to look around at The Doctor. He made eye contact with him, clear grey-blue with deep, fathomless brown.

“Yes, sir,” he said in a small voice. “I promise.”

“Good lad,” The Doctor conceded. “Now… about this wall.”

Whitechapel Road was about three-quarters of a mile of grey working class streets away from Watney Lane. In fact, The Doctor could have found his way there himself. Where they were heading was only about a mile and a bit from Totters Lane, in Shoreditch, where he and his granddaughter had lived for a while. Of course, that was a long time ago now. Centuries. And at the time, a mile and a bit would have been hard work for him. Back then he had felt the centuries he had already lived in every bone of his body. But he still had a mental map of this part of London. It had changed a lot between 1895 and the early 1960s, mostly thanks to the Blitz in World War II, but there was still a familiarity about it. The Doctor felt something like nostalgia for those quiet days when he and Susan lived a slightly less gypsy life for a while.

They crossed Whitechapel, a wide, busy road, and went down Thomas Street. A long section of the tall, closely packed buildings was the workhouse. A line of desolate looking men in cloth caps waited outside. They were ‘casual’ vagrants waiting to be allowed in for the night, it being something close to five o’clock in the afternoon. Ben, The Doctor noticed, slipped into step on his other side, away from view of the workhouse.

“Mam says she’d die of starvation rather than end up in there,” Ben murmured once they had passed the workhouse on the opposite side of the cobbled street and turned left into an alley so narrow and dark and featureless that nobody even bothered to give it a name.

“There,” Ben said, pointing at an apparently inoffensive piece of wall. “That’s where Billy Motts was taken.”

The Doctor nodded and reached in his pocket for his sonic screwdriver. Ben watched with interest, and possibly regret that he never got into that fascinating pocket.

“Yesssss,” he drawled after a few minutes’ sonic examination of the wall. “There’s a dimensional weakness there. There’s a lot of distortion. Can’t quite fix the exact location. But…”

Ben looked at The Doctor blankly.

“It’s an invisible door,” he said, “Into another place… another world, or another time, possibly.”

“There ain’t no such thing,” Ben protested. “That’s just fairy stories.”

“Well, it’s that, or this wall ate your friend. Which do you think is true?”

Ben shrugged. Neither explanation made sense to him.

“Do you know how to throw a ball?” The Doctor asked. He reached into his pocket and gave the boy a small, bright blue rubber ball. “Chuck it at the wall, there.”

Ben threw the ball. It bounced off the bricks and came back at him. He caught it easily. Very good reflexes, The Doctor noted and thought it a pity that pick-pocketing was the only career where those reflexes would be useful to the boy.

“Throw it at different bits of the wall,” The Doctor continued.

“Ben threw the ball three more times and it bounced back. Then the fourth time, it didn’t.

“Coooerrr…!” he exclaimed as the ball disappeared and the wall shimmered momentarily.

“That’s where your friend disappeared,” The Doctor said. “The doorway. He must have got too close and it swallowed him.”

“Why can’t he come back?” Ben asked.

“Something, or somebody, won’t let him. And I intend to find out who.”

He looked at Ben and then reached in his pocket again. He threw a small coin. The boy caught it.

“Thanks for you help, Ben. Now, you run on home to your mum. This is too dangerous for you. Tell your mam, I’m going to drop by again later and talk to her about your uncle and a few other things she needs to know.”

Ben looked at the coin. It was the first time he had ever held one of that denomination by honest means. His hand closed around it and thrust into his pocket. He turned and began to walk away. The Doctor turned and walked towards the weak point in the wall. The trick with the ball looked as if he had just being trying to be clever. But actually it was important. If he had simply walked along the wall testing it with his hand there was a possibility he might have lost his hand. Touching an unstable dimensional weakness was very hazardous to the health.

Now he knew exactly where it was, it was just a matter of walking swiftly and calmly and without hesitation, straight through the wall.

He was aware as he stepped across the dimensions that something else crossed close behind him. He swung around and grabbed young Ben.

“You were meant to be running home to your mum,” he chided him.

“Thought you might need some help,” he answered. Then he looked around at his new surroundings in amazement. “Coooerr…” he managed.

“My thoughts, exactly,” The Doctor commented.

He looked around at the place where they had emerged and blinked several times. He had seen a lot of amazing things in his life. But this was incredible.

They were inside the wall… the brick wall. At least he thought they were. There were surfaces that could have been the inside of bricks in front and behind, and a space of about two yards between them.

Or at least he thought it was until he took a step forward. Then the distance stretched and it was more like fifty yards to the far wall. And when he turned, the one he thought he had just stepped through was just as far away.

He felt a pressure on his hand. He looked down at the small, grubby fingers grasping his. Ben was a bold, adventurous boy, but he was only ten years old and he was scared right now.

The Doctor grasped his hand reassuringly.

“It’s all right,” he promised. “You’re with The Doctor! You’ll be all right.”

Of course, that was not exactly a cast iron guarantee. But Ben seemed reassured.

Until he heard the sobbing.

“It’s coming from that way…” The Doctor said.

“No,” Ben contradicted him. “That way…”

“It’s coming from both ways,” The Doctor concluded. But it’s the same person crying, not two different people. I don’t think it matters which way we go. So… we’ll go your way.”

It all looked the same, anyway. The same strange, half real illusion of being inside a brick wall. The Doctor knew that any kind of measurement was meaningless. But he counted paces as they walked, just in case it was possible to walk back again to their starting point. Not that they would know. Every step was an identical piece of surreal wall.

“There, look,” Ben called out. They both speeded up and reached the small child who was standing there, crying. He looked about five. He was extremely sticky and his nose was running. From the depths of his pockets that could contain any number of unusual items The Doctor pulled a perfectly ordinary looking handkerchief that miraculously cleaned up the face and hands of the child and succeeded in stemming the tears.

“What’s your name?” The Doctor asked. But the little boy wasn’t quite ready to talk to him, yet. He put his hand gently on his forehead and carefully read the information for himself. “Your name is Robert Bennett? Your mother calls you Boo? That’s a nice name. Boo. I don’t think I ever met anyone called Boo before.”

He kept talking in that way as he read deeper into the child’s fractured memories. He seemed to have been there for about half a day. He had stood too close to the wall and slipped through. He was hungry and thirsty and scared. The Doctor again reached into his pocket and produced a bag of sherbet lemons. He gave one each to Boo and Ben. They had been ordinary sherbet lemons when he bought them in a small newsagents in London about a century and a bit later than this. But the fact that they had been in his pocket for a day or so imbued them with properties something akin to the loaves and fishes mentioned in the Bible that many Humans held dear. They never seemed to run out, and one of them was enough to sustain a hungry child for a few hours.

Boo certainly seemed to feel better. The Doctor picked him up and carried him as they trudged on. They still hadn’t found Ben’s friend, Billy, or any of the other children who were missing. But The Doctor felt confident they would find them somewhere in this apparently endless place.

And after another short walk, they did. The Doctor was surprised to find them all sitting in one place, legs crossed and arms folded quietly, like a makeshift Ragged School.

Their teacher was a young woman who reminded him instantly of Ben’s mother. Her clothes were similarly washed out and patched but attempting to be respectable. She had a crocheted shawl over her dress and wore a straw hat.

And she was very clearly pregnant.

She was telling the children a story. The Pied Piper of Hamlyn. The Doctor wondered if it was the nasty version where the children were lost forever or the nicer one where they found a way home eventually.

The second might be better for giving them hope in this odd situation, he reflected. But the first seemed horribly likely just now.

“Hello,” The Doctor said. “I’m The Doctor. Would anybody like a sweet?”

He handed around the bag of sherbet lemons to something like forty youngsters. There were probably no more than fifteen of them in the quarter pound when he bought them. And when the bag eventually came back into his possession there were about that many left.

“That was kind of you, sir,” said the young woman as she, too, took the sweet. Did you get taken by the wall, too?”

“Taken, no,” he answered. “I stepped in to see what I could do about getting everyone home.”

“I’m afraid you might have trapped yourself with us,” the young woman told him with a sad, sympathetic expression. “Did you say… Doctor…”


“I’m Nancy,” she said. “Nancy Glover.”

“Pleased to meet you Mrs Glover,” The Doctor replied. This time he seemed to be on safe ground. Nancy wore a very small, thin, cheap gold band on her ring finger. He glanced at it only briefly, but her eyes were as quick as his.

“Yes,” she said. “It IS Mrs Glover. I haven’t seen my husband for getting on seven months. But we had a proper ceremony, in the church, before his ship sailed. And I know he’s coming back, whatever people say.”

“I am sure he is,” The Doctor said with as much sincerity as he could muster.

“Though what he’ll think if I’m not there… that I’ve gone and deserted him or something… and it’s not true. I’ve been working hard to make a nice home for… for me and the baby… and Michael when he comes back. And… oh… it’s all gone. I’ve been here for a week now. And all these children, some of them have been here even longer. And I’m the only grown up. And I don’t know what will happen when the baby…”

“You’ll be home before then, I promise,” The Doctor told her. It was another promise he could give no guarantee to, but he gave it. “I’ll get you all home.”

Nancy looked at him and almost managed a smile.

“You seem a nice gentleman, even though that suit of yours could do with a good pressing. But you’re nicely spoken and all… and we could have done worse. When I think of some of the men who might have come through to us… But what can you possibly do to help us?”

“Everything I can,” he answered. “Are these all the children?”

“I think they are,” Nancy replied. “They’re all that I’ve found, anyway. I kept them all together. I thought it was safest. There’s food, sometimes. I don’t know where it comes from, but I’m grateful. We’d all be dead without it.”

“So…” The Doctor thought. “There is some sentience behind this. And it wants them to stay alive. So far, so good.”

But why were children, and Nancy with her unborn child, being pulled into this dimension. It obviously wasn’t random. Because adults must pass down that alleyway, too, and none of them had been taken. It… whatever it was… wanted children. It had probably fixed on Nancy because she was very late in her pregnancy and it must have recognised her child as fitting its requirements.

He shivered. There were a lot of reasons why entities from other dimensions might want Human children, and few of them were good.

And yet, he couldn’t feel any malice. The power needed to maintain a dimensional pocket like this, neither in one place nor the other, had to come from a phenomenal telepathic intelligence. And if its intent was evil, then he thought he would have been able to feel it.

He was feeling something. But it wasn’t malice of any sort. It was more like….

He looked around. Ben seemed to have found some of his friends. One of them might have been Billy Motts. Nancy had taken charge of little Boo and seemed to have a natural motherly touch that boded well for her as a soon to be new mother. They were both probably safe here. But if he left them all, he wanted to be sure of being able to get back to them.

“Nancy, what’s in that bag of yours?” he asked, noticing a large carpet bag at her side. The physician in him wondered how long she had been carrying it and whether it was heavy. The adventurer needed a couple of useful tools.

“Sewing stuff,” she answered. “I’m a seamstress.”

“With at least three needles?” The Doctor asked almost without a pause.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Nancy responded icily. “And a gentleman like yourself shouldn’t even be thinking on any other lines.”

“Quite right, too,” he apologised. “But may I borrow a few items…”

He opened the bag and found a strong reel of sewing thread and a large box of steel pins. He fixed the loose end of the thread to the handle of the bag and began to pay it out slowly as he walked away from the group of lost and bewildered children of East London.

He had gone only a short way before young Ben caught up with him.

“It’s all right,” The Doctor assured him. “I’m just trying to help everyone get out. You’ll be safe with Nancy and your friends.”

“Got to watch out for you,” he replied.

“All right,” The Doctor conceded. “Tell you what, you be in charge of paying out the thread.”

He gave the reel to Ben who continued to reel out the thin white cotton as they walked. The Doctor reckoned it was several hundred metres of thread. It should suffice.

Meanwhile he took the pins and threw a few on the ground. He examined them closely. So did Ben.

“Notice anything strange about them?” he asked the boy.

“They’re all pointed the same way,” Ben answered. “Not all mixed up.”

“Clever boy,” The Doctor congratulated him. “The reason is, there’s a powerful entity somewhere around here. And it’s giving off magnetic energy. The pins are our compass. We have to go thataway.”

He dropped pins every so often. They proved a true compass. After a while they stopped falling straight to the ground and zipped away in the air. The entity was close.

“Errrwww… what’s that?” Ben asked. Judging by the amount of thread paid out they were something like four hundred yards away from the lost children when they saw exactly what The Doctor had been expecting to see. He approached slowly, waving the depleted box of pins. Ben continued to pay out thread.

It looked humanoid. But it was made of – well, it looked like it was made of the inside of a brick wall. It almost but not quite merged into its surroundings.

“I thought as much,” The Doctor said. “An Arcutanian. Sentenced to an eternity of solitary confinement in the void. It was a cruel sentence. I said so after the trial. A just sentence, I might add. But cruel. I was also dubious about whether you could be contained. The chances that one of you could come into contact with a weakness in reality… They said a billion to one. But that’s the thing about billion to one chances. They pop up nine times out of ten, and I end up dealing with the consequences. So why have you taken to stealing children from Victorian London?”

There was a pause, then an answer that came from all around them. Ben pressed himself close to The Doctor. There was something not quite safe about the voice they heard.

“The children are mine. They will relieve the tedium of the eternity. Their games and their stories will amuse me.”

“No, they will NOT!” The Doctor responded.

“Who will stop me?” the voice boomed.

“I will.” The Doctor’s voice took on a hard edge. He dropped the box of pins and in the same movement he had his sonic screwdriver in his hand. Ben, a budding pickpocket with nimble hands, was impressed by his dexterity. He was even more impressed when he flicked the screwdriver and adjusted the setting with his thumb. He aimed it at the Arcutanian as the creature tried to rush at him.

The stasis field emitted by the sonic screwdriver held the Arcutanian and prevented him making physical contact with The Doctor or Ben. That was why they were condemned to their terrible fate in the first place. The entire Arcutanian race had been genetically altered by their scientists so that they could live forever. But their immortality had a terrible price. They were unable to touch any living thing without altering it in terrible, fatal ways. Living flesh would melt from the merest touch of an Arcutanian. The whole race was arrested by robot security police and condemned to separate cells in the void beyond the universe where they could never touch a living being or even have contact with each other.

This one was safe, now. But it was still holding the children and Nancy within its dimensionless cell. It hadn’t tried to touch any of them. It wanted them alive. But it wanted them as prisoners, sharing its fate. And that wouldn’t do.

“No,” The Doctor cried out as he locked his mind against the Arcutanian. “No, you will not hold these children. You will return them to their world and return to your exile. I pity you. Your fate is a terrible one. But I will not allow you to take these children from their homes. I will… I will…”

It was painful. The touch of an Arcutanian mind was almost as deadly as their physical touch. A mere Human would be fried in seconds. But he was a Time Lord. He wasn’t quite immortal, but he wasn’t cursed, either. He wasn’t driven mad by eternal loneliness. His sane, strong mind put up defences against the entity’s assault and he responded with an attack. He wasn’t trying to kill it. He couldn’t, anyway. It was immortal. But he knew he could weaken it… if he didn’t weaken himself.

“No,” he said aloud again. “No. Get back to the dungeon dimensions. Begone with you. Away from this world and all other worlds. I command you, I, the last Lord of Time banish you for eternity. NOW.”

There was a blinding flash of light. The Doctor’s eyes protected themselves, but even he saw nothing for thirty seconds of more. Then he looked around and yelled in horror. He dashed forwards and grabbed the little boy called Boo moments before he stepped off the pavement in front of a lorry.

“What?” The Doctor noted the registration plate on the truck as it passed by. He noted the cars parked in Thomas street - unless it had been renamed Fulbourne street by now. He noted that the workhouse was long gone.

He turned around and saw Nancy and the children in the now crowded alley. He used his sonic screwdriver to examine the wall and noted that there was no dimensional instability there, now. He had closed it when he forced the Arcutanian back to the void.

But that left him with a really huge problem. Because he reckoned they were in something like early 1963 and there was no way back to 1895 for him or for any of them.

He was cut off from his TARDIS by nearly seventy years.

He panicked momentarily. Then he thought, quickly.

“Nancy,” he said. “Get the kids into line. We’re going for a little walk.”

The children were bewildered by the very different London they found themselves in, but they were relieved to be in a real place with real distances. They formed a ragged crocodile and followed The Doctor and Nancy as he led them through the streets of Whitechapel towards Bethnal Green.

“Yes,” he murmured as they emerged from a railway bridge and across another busy road before coming into a green area called Weaver’s Fields. The Doctor found his bag of sherbet lemons again and handed them round as the children sat on the cool grass and looked up at the grey-blue sky of a London spring.

“Everyone stay right here for a few minutes,” The Doctor said. “I’ve got to go somewhere – a couple of somewheres. I’ll be as fast as I can. But stay together here in the park until I come back.”

He was certainly on a nostalgia tour today, he thought as he left them in the park.

Well, almost all of them.

“Come on, then,” he said to Ben, who was not going to be shaken off. He took hold of the boy’s hand as he headed left along Cheshire Street and right at Brick Lane and left again. His hearts skipped a beat as he presently found himself walking down one narrow, cobbled lane for the first time in centuries.

He was really hoping nobody was home in the old junkyard at no. 76 Totter’s Lane. If either Susan or his elderly first incarnation were around he would have to explain who he was and why he was here. And that would be a paradox, because as shaky as his memory was back then, he certainly couldn’t recall a tall, skinny man in a badly pressed pinstripe suit turning up and telling himself he was a later incarnation of himself.

His ‘younger’ self and his granddaughter weren’t home. The old TARDIS hummed quietly to itself. The Doctor put a nostalgic hand over its old St. John’s Ambulance badge and tried to remember when that feature of the exterior got lost. Then he looked at the lock. The key he had now wouldn’t fit it. That lock had changed several times since then.

But maybe he didn’t need a lock. He stepped back from the door and then pressed his hand on it. He smiled as he heard a click. The TARDIS knew him, despite appearances. He pushed the door in and stepped inside. Ben followed.

“Coooerrr,” he said, and nothing more. He was actually rendered speechless by the sight of the TARDIS interior. The Doctor very nearly was, too. He looked at the roundelled walls and the clean floor. He saw the easy chairs where he and Susan often sat together drinking tea and reading, and often talking together.

He didn’t have time for reminiscing, though. He went to the console and found the old-style environmental console. It wasn't very well calibrated. He had been so tired, mentally and physically, in those times. The TARDIS had become almost as neglected and run down as he was.

But the TARDIS knew him. It recognised his hands at the controls and it gave him the information he needed in a very short time. It was slightly disturbing information, but it was what he needed to know.

“Come on, Ben.” The Doctor said. “Let’s get out of here.”

He took the boy’s hand and stepped back out of the TARDIS. As they did so, the gate to the junk yard rattled. Somebody was coming in. He dived behind an old washing tub and mangle. Ben didn’t need to be told to do the same thing. They both kept very quiet as the gate opened and a young woman stepped into the yard.

It took a great deal of mental discipline for The Doctor to keep still and quiet as he watched his fifteen year old granddaughter walk across the yard to the TARDIS, carrying her school books. At the door, she looked around. He carefully hid his thoughts as he felt her rudimentary and not yet properly trained telepathic mind reach out and seem to recognise him.

“Grandfather?” she called out. “Are you there?”

He kept quiet. She paused and looked around again, listening with her ears and her mind. Then she shook her head and carried on into the TARDIS. The Doctor waited a few moments and then ran for the gate, Ben in hot pursuit of him.

Outside he remembered to breathe and stood there doing so for a few lungs full of London air. Then he looked around. In much later years there would be plenty of cars parked up around here. But in 1963 few people in a street like this could afford one.

There was a bicycle leaning against the wall opposite the junk yard. It looked like it belonged to a butcher’s boy, with a basket on the front.

“Ben,” he said. “If I hear of you doing something like this, I’ll skin you alive. Stealing is wrong, very wrong. However…”

He grabbed the bicycle and lifted Ben up onto the crossbar as he mounted the saddle. He wobbled momentarily. It was a very long time since he had ridden a bicycle. But then he got the hang of it. He was around the corner and out of sight before the butcher’s boy found out he had been robbed. Ben clung to the handlebars in front of him as he cycled as fast as his strong Gallifreyan legs could pedal, spurred on by his Gallifreyan lungs and his two hearts that gave him the physical edge over most humans.

It was a little over three and a half miles from Totters Lane to the old East India Dock at Canary Wharf. He covered the distance quickly. He and Ben left the bicycle by the chain link fence that enclosed the East India Company building. He knew perfectly well, of course, that it hadn’t been used for any trading purposes for about twenty years, now. It was the unimposing London Headquarters of an organisation called Torchwood. In another thirty years or so they would move into the big, thoroughly imposing skyscraper that would be called ‘One Canada Square’. But for now they were making do with the warehouses and offices of the former fruit importers.

There were less guards than there ought to be, The Doctor thought. They were a little complacent. When they discovered that their prize exhibit was gone, they would doubtless tighten things up, but that would be a classic case of closing the door after the horse had bolted.

Still, Torchwood’s problems were not his. He carefully unlocked a side door with the sonic screwdriver, again reminding Ben that breaking and entering was a bad thing to do. Ben was keeping his own counsel about the matter. Being told that stealing was wrong by a man who proceeded to steal serially, though, was an interesting concept of morality.

The warehouse had some very interesting alien artefacts in it. The Doctor ignored them all as he honed in on the one that mattered to him. He found it under a tarpaulin that looked like it hadn’t been moved for a long time.

“Don’t move,” a voice cried out. “Put your hands in the air and step away from that artefact.”

“You do realise that’s a contradiction,” The Doctor replied, glancing around at the young man with a world war II service revolver in his hands. “If I obey your first instruction I can’t possibly obey the second. But as it happens, I don’t intend to obey either. Do you know what this old police box is?”

As he spoke he continued to pull his TARDIS key from his pocket and insert it into the lock.

“It’s…. called the TARDIS,” the young man answered. “It belongs to…”

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “Accidentally abandoned in Limehouse in 1895. Torchwood kept it safely for me, and they’re not even going to charge me for the storage.”

“You’re the…. Don’t move…”

“I’m The Doctor, and I’m just off. Give my regards to whoever’s in charge at the moment. All the best. Bye.”

He pushed open the door and pressed Ben in front of him. He closed the door just as the young man remembered what he should have been doing and opened fire. The bullet ricocheted off the door.

“Coooerrr!” Ben remarked about the interior of this TARDIS. But by now there wasn’t much that would surprise him. He came and sat on the command chair as The Doctor powered up the console and set the spatial co-ordinate for Weaver’s Fields, some three and a half miles back into the heart of the East End.

Nancy and the other children were surprised when a police box materialised in their midst. But they had already been startled by a double decker bus and any number of other amazing things about 1963.

“Time to go home, all of you,” The Doctor said as he stood on the threshold and opened up both TARDIS doors. He counted everyone in and double checked nobody was left behind in the park, then set the co-ordinates for Whitechapel in 1895.

All the children knew their way home from the alley near Thomas Street except for Boo, who was already lost when he got there. But The Doctor found his home in his recent memories and Nancy promised to take him home safely before returning gratefully to her own small but welcome home. The Doctor had one extra quiet word with her before she did and then he walked with Ben back to Watney Lane.

“Mum!” Ben hugged his mother tightly when he ran into the little room above the old second hand clothes shop. “Mum, I love you.”

“I love you, too, Ben,” Elsie answered him. “But…” She looked up at The Doctor. He said nothing about her son’s sudden outpouring of emotion.

“You should have gone shopping while we were out,” he said, nodding to the bag of coins left on the dresser next to her workspace.

“I’ve got work to do,” she answered.

“Tomorrow, take the afternoon off,” he told her. “You and Ben wear your Sunday best and come to the ABC restaurant at Covent Garden. Take a hansom cab. Use some of those coins you have there to treat yourself to a little luxury.”


The next day at three o’clock Elsie and Ben kept their appointment, both looking well scrubbed and in their Sunday best, a cut down man’s suit for Ben and a blue dress with a pink bonnet for Elsie. The Doctor greeted them both and brought them to a table where young Nancy was already sitting along with a man in a very good pinstripe suit that had been pressed much better than The Doctor’s. He introduced Nancy to Elsie and they sat together as tea and sandwiches were served by a trimly dressed young woman.

“This is Mr Gordon Moss of the London and General Bank,” The Doctor said after they had eaten their fill of the ABC company’s best afternoon tea. “I asked him to come along to talk to you two ladies about your future business prospects.”

“What future business prospects?” Elsie asked. “I don’t understand.”

“Nor do I,” Nancy added.

“The Doctor tells me that you are not yet aware of the full value of the assets your brother left at the London and General Bank before he departed for Australia,” Mr Moss said to Elsie. “It is a little over five thousand guineas.”

“Australia?” Elsie queried. “Ben went to Australia?” Then the other part sank in. “Five thousand… guineas…”

“Left in your name,” Mr Moss added.

“What… would I do… with… five…”

“What you do with it is entirely up to you, madam,” Mr Moss told her. “But if you will allow me to advise and guide you… The Doctor tells me that you are a skilled dressmaker. He suggested that I help you to buy a suitable premises… a dress shop, something select, with rooms above where you ladies may work, quarters for your apprentices as well as a comfortable apartment for yourselves.”

“Begging your pardon, sir,” Nancy said as Elsie was temporarily struck dumb. “But what has this to do with me?”

“The Doctor also thought that a business partnership between you two ladies would be advantageous. He, himself, has placed a sum of money with my bank representing your stake in the proposed business.”

“When your husband gets back from his voyage abroad, you will have a nice little business and money to call your own,” The Doctor told her. “And your baby will be just fine with a maid to take care of her while you’re working.”

There was just one small lie there. The Doctor had found out, sadly, that Nancy’s husband died at sea – an unfortunate accident. She would grieve for him, but with Elsie as her friend and her baby as a comfort, she would recover and live a happy enough life.

Mr Moss had a folder with details of suitable premises for sale and bank account books for Elsie and Nancy. They were both soon so engrossed in the proposed transactions that they didn’t notice The Doctor get up and walk away from the table, his work done.

Ben did. He reached him at the café door.

“You’re leaving?” he asked plaintively.

“I’ve got to be off,” The Doctor answered. “I’m no good at goodbyes. Ought to be by now. But I just don’t do it well.” The boy looked at him. The Doctor reached down and hugged him. “You’re just as smart and brave as your uncle. I want you to know that. But… you know he made some mistakes in his life. I don’t want you to repeat them. You stay out of other people’s pockets and don’t break your mum’s heart. And… I don’t know if we’ll meet again, Ben. If we do… I hope…”

He ran out of words. But he thought he didn’t need any. Ben stepped out of the café with him, but waited by the door as he walked across the road to his incongruously parked TARDIS. Ben watched it dematerialise before he went back to his mother and Nancy and the start of a new, better life for all of them.