“Earth?” Jasmin asked as she looked at the viewscreen. “Yes, looks like Earth, definitely. Sky, grass, water. Some sort of village. We seem to have landed on a hill.”

“Hoad Hill, in North Lancashire or South Cumbria, depending on the century and the whim of various boundary commissions,” The Doctor said smugly. “When it received its charter to hold a weekly market in 1280 it was in Lancashire but in your century it was Cumbria.”

“And the year now is….” Wyn asked.

“The year is 1346,” The Doctor told them. “The year of the Battle of Crecy, but that’s a long way from here. The town below is Ulverston, named by the Vikings for a large pack of wolves that once inhabited the area. Ulv is Norwegian for Wolf, you know.”

“Didn’t know that, Doctor,” Alec said. “I have a feeling I might never forget it now.”

“I’ve never forgotten that fact,” The Doctor said with a distant look in his eye momentarily.

“Ok,” Wyn said. “Let’s establish one thing – there are no wolves here now and the town below is a peaceful, sleepy place….”

“With an intergalactic distress signal emitting from it,” The Doctor said. “Somebody who doesn’t belong is there, and they’re in so much trouble they’ve sent out a signal as a last resort.”

“So this isn’t just a field trip in medieval history?”

“No.” The Doctor checked the console for clues to the exact origin of the signal. “It’s a rescue mission.”

“Ok,” Alec declared. “We get to be heroes and save the day.”

“Wardrobe first,” The Doctor told them. “Mid-14th century gear for all. Ladies didn’t start wearing jeans until the 1960s, Jasmin, and as for you two, those T-shirts will scare the living daylights out of the locals!”

Wyn and Alec regarded each other’s rock anthem logos and grinned.

“Ok,” Wyn said. “But let’s be nobles, not peasants. Peasants had a crummy time in these days.”

“The TARDIS looks very vulnerable sitting up on the hill like that,” Jasmin said as they set off down the hill, dressed as the entourage of a medieval lord – ably played by their Time LORD. “It sticks out like a sore thumb.”

“Yes, it does rather,” The Doctor admitted as he looked back at it. “Sometimes I wish the chameleon circuit worked. These pre-industrial societies tend to see anything unusual as ‘witchcraft’ and ‘sorcery’.” He smiled though as he looked at it. “Funnily enough, in your century there’s a monument on this hill in the exact place the TARDIS is right now, dedicated to a rather clever man called Sir John Barrow, explorer, adventurer and founder member of the Royal Geographical Society.”

“Sounds kind of like you,” Wyn said. “Explorer and adventurer.”

“Just a bit.”

“That won’t save us from being burned at the stake if the townsfolk think we’re sorcerers,” Jasmin said. “And… er… just a thought. Will they have seen anyone my colour around here?”

“You’re my souvenir from my explorations of the far East,” he told her. “I discovered you hiding in the remains of your village after marauders killed everyone else.”

“How terrible for her,” Alec said. “Lucky she met a nice man like you.”

“And I’m over the trauma of all that now, am I?” Jasmin asked.

“Oh yes,” The Doctor assured her. “You recuperated on the long sea journey.”

“Have you ever noticed how GOOD The Doctor is at telling bare-faced lies?” Wyn asked the other two. “He’s a professional fibber.”

“Have to be,” he admitted. “Only way to stay alive, sometimes.”

They came presently to the foot of the hill and found the road into the town. It was a prosperous looking place for 1346, with well-made houses and workshops, a village inn, blacksmith and everything else to be expected in medieval England.

What it seemed short of was people.

“What did I say,” Wyn commented. “Peaceful, sleepy place?”

“Comatose more like,” Alec responded. “Is this normal?”

“No, it's not,” The Doctor said. “It’s nine o’clock in the morning. This is the market place. It should be full of people.”

“Then there is something wrong?” Jasmin asked.

“Somebody sent out an intergalactic distress signal,” The Doctor mused. “Something was already wrong to begin with. But I get the feeling it might have got worse.” He headed towards the church. Outside were signs of recently dug graves - a lot of them. The most recent looked less expertly dug, as if the professional grave diggers were no longer available.

Even so, each grave had a bunch of wilting flowers on them as if somebody cared enough to make a gesture.

The Doctor turned from the graveyard and walked to the middle of the market place that ought to have been busy with trade. He turned around and around looking at the houses and shops on each side. Alec, standing closest to him, was almost certain that under his breath he was reciting the words “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe….”

“That one,” he said at last and headed towards one of the houses selected at random. “Let’s start here.” His friends looked at each other and then followed him. If there was going to be any medieval house-breaking going on, they might as well all be in it together.

Not that the house needed breaking into. The door opened to a slight push and The Doctor stepped inside. He took one look and then turned and blocked the door to Wyn and Jasmin.

“You shouldn’t come in here,” he said. “It’s not….”

“What’s the matter?” Wyn asked him. But she could guess. “Dead people?”


“Oh come on, Doctor,” she replied. “I’ve seen plenty of that with you.”

“So have I,” Jasmin said. “Besides, I’m supposed to be training as a doctor. No use being squeamish.”

“Nice try at gallantry,” Alec told him.

“You’re right,” he sighed. “Wyn, you stay with me. Alec, Jasmin, you look at the next house. See if the situation is the same. Cover your faces… it's a warm day and they may have been here a while.”

He turned back into the first house and Wyn followed. He was right. The bodies were starting to smell unpleasant. She knew he could close off his breathing and not be affected by such things. She just pulled her cloak around her face.

There were five bodies in all - an elderly woman, a man and a woman in their mid-thirties, a teenage boy of about 17 and a small child. The couple were in the largest bed with the child beside them. The boy and the old woman had separate palette beds.

“They’ve all been dead about a day,” The Doctor said as he examined them all carefully.

“What did they die of?” Wyn asked.

“Starvation,” The Doctor answered. And he looked around. He’d seen people die in famines. He’d seen it in 20th century Africa and nineteenth century Ireland, as well as a particularly harrowing time on a planet called Vorlox II where the people had starved amidst abundant harvests because of a strange virus that meant none of their food, no matter how much they ate, gave them any nutrition at all. That was one of a thousand haunting memories that sometimes gave even him the creeping horrors in the quiet of the night.

He looked around this room. There was food here. There was game hanging from a beam in the roof, cheese, eggs, bread, barley to make more bread. These people had good food and plenty of it. But something had prevented them eating it.

“What did this?” he asked himself rather than Wyn. He hardly expected her to know. He took her by the hand and they stepped outside into the warm sunshine and fresh air. Jasmin and Alec stepped out of the third house in the row. They both looked disturbed.

“The first one there was empty,” Alec told The Doctor. “Been empty a while. They might be the people in the cemetery. But this one….”

“The baby was the worst,” Jasmin admitted, blinking back tears. “I’m sorry, I’m being stupid and unprofessional. I said I could handle it.”

“You’re allowed to be moved by it,” The Doctor told her gently. “Somebody was alive not so long ago, to bury some of them. There might be survivors yet. Check all the houses.”

The blacksmiths was the first place where they found more than just corpses. The Doctor examined the blacksmith and his wife and their two young daughters. All were in a deep comatose state.

“Coma, definitely,” he said after testing them all for response to stimuli. He inserted a long, sharp needle into the arm of each member of the family while Wyn held their eyelids open. “No response at all to pain. A person even in a deep sleep knows when somebody is sticking a bloody big needle in them. There would be brain activity, a dilation of the pupils. That’s how some people think they remember operations even though they’re under general anaesthetic. Their brains know what’s going on at a sub-conscious level.”

“But these people are way gone beyond that?” Wyn said.

“Yes. And that’s why they’re starving. Coma isn’t like suspended animation. Their bodies still need food and liquid.”

“We’re going to help them?” Wyn asked as they stepped outside to meet Alec and Jasmin who reported three dead and two comatose in another house. “We can help them, can’t we? You have stuff in the TARDIS. You could give them intravenous drips… replace lost fluids… that sort of thing. Did what I just say make sense or am I just repeating random lines from Casualty?”

“No, it made sense,” The Doctor told her. “But I’m not sure we should. Intravenous drips - in 1346. I’m not sure we shouldn’t let nature take its course. None of you are history buffs, are you? 1346 – the black plague is already starting to take hold in southern Europe. A year from now it will start to reach Britain, despite it being an island, separate from the continent. Ulverston would simply go down in history as among the first to fall victim to the black rat flea.”

“We let them die?” Alec looked at him in surprise.

“No,” Jasmin said. “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required....”

“The Hippocratic Oath!” The Doctor smiled at her. “Neither of us has ever taken that oath. We’re not bound by it.”

“We should be,” Jasmin replied. “We can’t turn our backs. I know what you’re talking about. I’ve seen enough sci-fi films. We all have. You mean that if we apply modern medicine to these people, and save them when they would have died otherwise, then we change history. We could go back to our century and find ourselves ruled by a fascist dictator who might not have been born if we hadn’t saved his ancestor or.…”

“But this history already happened,” Wyn argued. “It's like the dragons. It happened. There was a story about it, and we were in it. We just didn’t realise until it was too late to sod off to ninth century Cardiff and pretend we knew nothing about it. How do we know there isn’t a local legend in Ulverston of a mysterious group of people who came and saved the town from extinction?”

“It's not like we’re going back in the TARDIS and saving the ones we’ve already seen dead,” Alec said. “But we’re here, now. And some of these people aren’t dead yet. And we COULD help them.”

“Help!” A voice called and they looked around to see a man in rustic fourteenth century clothing running towards them. “Please… help me. Help me stop her from dying.”

“Stop who from dying?” The Doctor asked. “By the way, Alec, you’re perfectly right. So are you, Wyn. We’re in the timeline now. We are part of this. We might as well do what we can. Jasmin, you’re right too. But I don’t think we have any choice. We’ll have to take the risk on the future dictators.”

“My wife,” the man said. “Did you… timeline… you…” He looked at their contemporary clothes but then his eyes turned to their faces, their hair. He reached out and took Jasmin’s hand and looked at it, then stroked her hair gently. “Even the nobles of these times have rougher skin, coarser hair. They haven’t got soft soaps and shampoos. You’re time travellers. You answered my signal….”

“And you are…?” The Doctor asked him as he walked with the man towards the house he had come from.

“My true name is Arkel Bar Dey,” he replied. “But here I am called William of Barrow because I have only lived here ten years and am still thought of as a newcomer to the town, and Barrow is the next big town that they know.”

“Bar Dey?” The Doctor looked at him closely. “From Debarri in the Cassiopeian sector? Yes, slight pinkness around the eyes. And your hair.…” He reached and plucked one before scrutinising it carefully. “Flat, not rounded like Human hair. But otherwise your blood is much the same as a Human. You could easily pass for an Earthman. You could even interbreed. Your wife….”

“Local girl,” he answered. “We’re a year married. She’s….”

“She’s pregnant,” Jasmin noted as she went to the bed where the woman lay. “Oh, Doctor!”

“Doctor?” William, aka Arkel exclaimed. “You’re a doctor? That’s more than I could have hoped for. You can save her?”

“I can try.” The Doctor bent over the woman and examined her. “She’s not as far gone as the others,” he said. “She’s in a deep sleep, but not comatose yet. She still responds to stimuli.” He looked at a bowl by the bedside. It contained a sort of thin gruel. Beside it was a tube made of a hollow reed. “You’ve been force feeding her?”

“I can’t let her die,” he said. “She won’t wake up, but I can’t let her just fade away like the others.”

“I understand,” The Doctor told him. “But force feeding is incredibly dangerous. You could kill her. All it takes is for the tube to go into her trachea instead of the oesophagus. You would fill her lungs instead of her stomach and drown her. Or a tube as inflexible as that could puncture the oesophagus and cause contamination of her blood. There are any number of ways force feeding kills.”

“I know that,” William told him. “But she has a chance as long as I keep trying. I had to try.”

“Yes, you did,” The Doctor said to him kindly. “You did your best. But I’m here now. And I’m going to do MY best, for all of them. Do you know how many are alive still?”

“When I looked last night, a hundred and thirty,” William said. “Of a population of two hundred and fifty. At first we buried the dead - when there were a few more awake to help me. But there are too many. I can’t do it on my own. All I can do is take care of Agneta.”

“Nobody came to help?” Alec asked.

“Nobody would dare,” The Doctor told him. “There will be plague markers on the roads. Those coming to do business at the market will have turned back and told others not to come.”

“Yes,” William said. “As soon as the first began to fall into the sleep that they could not wake from the town elders put us into quarantine. Even the monks at Furness Abbey do no more than pray for us within their safe walls.”

The Doctor nodded. He turned to his friends.

“Jasmin, Wyn, you go back to the TARDIS. In the medical room – intravenous equipment, saline solutions, and there is a portable microscope and slides in the cupboard above the autoclave.” They listened as he mentioned several other useful items to bring down to the town then went off at speed. “Alec, you and William here bring all those who are still alive to the church. It's the biggest building. We can set up a field hospital. I suppose the priest is among the victims?”

“He is,” William said. “He worked tirelessly for his flock, but in the end it took him, too. A good man. He served his people and went to his God.”

“Indeed,” The Doctor sighed. A good man? He supposed the priest was, but in the end it made no difference with a thing like this. Good and bad died equally. “All right, we’ll try to save the rest. Go to it.” He himself lifted the woman, Agneta, from the bed, wrapping her in a blanket, and carried her carefully out of the house and across the village square to the church.

It was cool and dimly lit within the thick stone walls of the church. This was long before pews were commonly available for the ordinary worshippers in churches. There were stalls for the choir and a big, boxlike pew for the gentry. But the rest of the stone-flagged floor was clear. The Doctor put Agneta down on the floor, a blanket wrapped around her. It was not a feather bed, but this cool, clean place would be better than anything else to make the patients comfortable.

While Alec and William brought the other survivors in he looked at Agneta’s baby more closely. He did so simply by putting his hands over her stomach and concentrating hard until he could see within her, see right into her womb and look at the child growing within. It looked a fairly healthy eight months old foetus. Not very long to go - as long as Agneta stayed alive, anyway. William’s force feeding had been VERY dangerous, but it had probably saved both mother and child. They were both actually quite healthy except that the mother was asleep and nothing seemed to wake her up.

“All right, little one,” he whispered. “You stay there, safe and sound. The world is not a happy place just now and you’re as well to stay where you are.”

He stood and looked around. He did a head count as Alec confirmed that this was all they could find.

One hundred and seventeen - thirteen had been lost overnight since William last checked.

“What will we do about the dead?” Alec asked him. “If they’re left in the houses much longer there WILL be a risk of disease.”

“I know. Later we should organise a mass cremation. But let’s see what we can do for the living, first.” He went to the door to help the two girls with the pile of equipment they brought for him. He showed Jasmin and Wynn, and Alec and William how to set up an intravenous drip for each patient and start introducing saline and glucose solutions to replenish their fluids and give them sustenance. Most were already at the point where actual food would have made them sick even if they were awake to eat it. This was the best thing for them all.

“I think we have them all stable,” The Doctor said after an hour’s hard work. “We’ve bought some time to figure out what’s going on.” He took William by the arm. He looked back at his wife. “She’ll be all right for a little while,” he said. “Come over here and tell me everything from the beginning. How long as this been going on for? How fast did it take hold?”

He sat William down in the big box pew which was installed, so the engraving said, by William de Lancaster, Lord of the Manor of Ulverston under Furness Abbey. He looked at the man kindly.

“So, you’re Debarrian? Your people have a rudimentary sort of time travel capability. Nothing ambitious. My people regarded your lot as gifted amateurs. As long as you didn’t do anything dangerous to the continuum we left you to your devices. I suppose you were researching this time period on Earth, liked the way of life and decided to stay? Did you destroy your ship? I hope so. Things like that left lying around – even if you hide it - sooner or later it would be found, and seven hundred years later I’m having to sort out the mess when the parts end up being sold on Ebay to some idiot who doesn’t know what he’s messing with.”

“I destroyed it,” he said. “I launched it back into space with a destruct sequence. The locals saw an unexpected meteor shower and got a bit upset for a while but when no disasters occurred they settled down again. As did I. And I was happy. I’m the town cobbler,” he announced proudly. “On Debarri I was an astro-physicist. I suppose some might say I’ve wasted my talents. But I like being a cobbler.”

“Are you a good cobbler?” The Doctor asked him.

“Yes,” he said. “Very good.”

“Then you’ve not wasted anything. And I take it you and Agneta were happy enough until this trouble befell your town.”

“Very happy,” he said. “The baby…we were so looking forward to the birth. Agneta has been worried, of course. Childbirth is difficult in these times. But she is young and healthy and we had no reason to imagine anything could go wrong.”

“There’s still no reason. The baby is fine. He’s not affected by the sleeping sickness.”

“He…” William looked at The Doctor. “You know it’s….”

“Sorry, I never thought to ask if you wanted to know. On my planet we know from conception the sex of the baby. We take it for granted. But Humans tend to be a bit funny about that, like it has to be a big surprise. Yes, it’s a boy. And it’s just fine. It has a lot of Debarri DNA in it. Which I’m thinking is why you and him are the only ones here not affected.”

“I had a feeling I was lucky in that way,” William said. “But I was getting desperate. That’s why I sent the signal. I thought at least if my own people got here, I could take Agneta and get away.”

“I found you, instead. But to get back to my first points, when did it begin?”

“Three weeks ago,” William said. “It happened very fast. The first affected were a group of women. They simply didn’t wake up - then their families. Then it spread rapidly through the community. The first deaths came after a few days. With no way to give them food or drink it didn’t take very long, of course.”

“A Human can live without food for a long time. But without liquid, they die very quickly,” The Doctor observed.

“Yes,” William sighed. “You don’t have to tell me. I saw it happen again and again. Children, mothers, strong men… it made no difference.”

“I’m sorry,” The Doctor told him. “It must have been terrible. And you can’t tell me anything that could have caused this?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all.”

“I suppose that would be too easy, expecting you to hand me the answer on a plate. Never mind. I’ll figure it out.”

“Doctor!” Alec called out urgently and he turned to see him holding Jasmin in his arms. She looked like she had fainted.

“She fell asleep,” he said as The Doctor reached his side and gently took her from him. “Just like that. One minute she was talking to me about the patients. And the next….”

Alec yawned dramatically and collapsed in mid-sentence. The Doctor reached out with one arm and stopped him from hitting the floor hard. He laid him and Jasmin down together and looked around.

“Wyn!” he shouted. “Don’t fall asleep. Come here, quickly.”

Wyn turned and ran to him. He grabbed her by the shoulders and stared into her eyes.

“Listen to me,” he said. “Listen to me. You are not tired. You don’t need to sleep. You are wide awake. You are wide awake and you don’t need to sleep. You’re wide awake and ready to help me.”

Hypnotising somebody to stay AWAKE! That was different.

But it could be done. Wyn blinked twice and looked at him brightly. She looked absolutely energised.

“Ok, now come and help me. I have to find out what’s doing this to everyone. It’s obviously infectious and obviously William and myself are immune.” He set up his microscope and carefully took blood samples from several of the patients. Wyn labelled them for him as he selected those in the deepest comas and those less far gone, and Agneta who was still in an ordinary sleep pattern. Finally, he took samples from Alec and Jasmin and from Wyn and William, too.

“What about you?” Wyn asked.

“My blood is totally different. I don’t think there is anything to learn from it. William’s species is only a little different from Human.” The Doctor sat down in front of his microscope and began preparing and examining slides of the blood samples. Wyn sat by his side and wrote down figures as he called them out to her. They meant absolutely nothing to her, but it was clear that they were significant to him. Despite the desperate situation he actually looked animated.

“Wyn, do you know what it is that makes Humans sleep?” he asked.

“Being tired?”

“Yes, good answer. But the reason you get tired is that your brain processes an amino acid called tryptophan to form a neurotransmitter called serotonin which in turn produces melatonin, which slows the brain down. Incidentally, it's also the reason you sleep at night. Melatonin is produced in greater quantities when it's dark and no light reaches your eyes.”

“That’s my science lesson for today, is it?” Wyn asked with a smile despite herself.


“I forget sometimes that science is your thing. You’re so many other things as well. But then you do something like this. You remind me of my dad. He gets all excited with a microscope, too.”

“Your mum said he reminded her of me,” The Doctor said. “When she first met him.”

“Does that mean my mum fancied you first?” she asked.

“No, it was different then. I was… older looked older. You know what I mean. And I suppose I felt older then. She was more like my favourite niece. Love her to bits, but not in that way.”

“That’s ok then. Would be a bit weird if I thought my mum still had a thing for you. Anyway… this melatonin and serotonin thing… it's got something to do with what’s happened to everyone?”

“It’s got everything to do with it. Something has triggered over-production of melatonin and it has made everyone want to sleep and not wake up. They just sleep and sleep until they are so weak from hunger and thirst that they slip into coma and then they die.”

“Ok,” Wyn said. “Can you treat it? How do you treat it? And what caused it?”

“The answer to the first question is Yes. The second is by a serum I am making up using William’s blood. The third I don’t know yet, but I intend to find out. And I just know your next question will be, why William’s blood. And the answer is because he comes from a planet where it only gets light for about one hour every day. It’s like winter in Norway all year round. So obviously if his body worked like yours he’d be asleep all the time because of the melatonin. His species only produces very tiny amounts of it, just to get them off to sleep. I can use that to reverse the over-production in everyone here.”

“So we can wake them up.”

“Yes,” he said as he prepared a syringe with the first batch of the serum. He turned to Alec and Jasmin first and injected them. He was confident it was going to work. He wasn’t sure how quickly it would do it. He spent an anxious hour making up a fresh batch of serum ready for the other patients as soon as he saw any sign of them waking up.

“Doctor!” His hearts skipped a beat when he heard Jasmin’s voice. By the time he reached her side she was sitting up groggily and rubbing her eyes. Alec was stirring beside her.

“It works!” He turned and grabbed another syringe and injected Agneta before going around all the rest. Those in coma would take a lot longer, but it was just a matter of time now.

Now he had to work out the other question.

WHY did this happen?

“William, the women who were affected first, what did they do in the town?”

“They were cocklers,” William answered. “They pick cockles on the beach. Seafood is a seasonal addition to the diet of the townspeople.”

“Right. That’s the beach down the way there.”

“It is.”

“I’m going to take a little walk,” The Doctor said. “I think I’ve got a couple of hours yet before we see signs of improvement in any of the patients, and I have a very low boredom threshold when I have to wait around.”

“Do you want company?” Wyn asked him.

“No,” he said. Then….

“Yeah, sure. Come on.” He reached out his hand to her. She took it with a smile.

“We do need to do something about the rest of the bodies,” The Doctor said as they walked through the town and towards the beach. “Today, if possible. Otherwise, as Alec said earlier, we will have another problem.”

“Why didn’t we do it yet?”

“The survivors – the dead are their friends and loved ones. They ought to at least know what’s happening. I was hoping we’d get as many as possible awake again first.”

“Nasty shock, waking up and finding half your family and friends are dead.”

“Yes, it is. But I can’t make that any easier on them. A year or maybe two from now towns like this all across Europe will have the black plague to deal with and grief will take on a new meaning. Ulverston is getting a preview of what they have to deal with. But death is common to all of Creation. It’s something we all have to face sooner or later. These people will grieve, they’ll hurt, but then they’ll pick up the pieces. We know they will, because Ulverston is a vibrant, busy town by your day.”

They came to the top of the beach and looked across the sands to the tide that was receding just now out into what would be called Morecombe bay in Wyn’s time. He sighed and clutched her hand all the tighter. Yes, death is common to all. He’d dealt with it himself more times than he would care to remember. He knew what grief was.

It was the common denominator that united Time Lords and Humans and Debarrians and every other race that valued life and didn’t seek to destroy it. As such he blessed it. They needed every commonality they could muster for that eternal fight against those races that didn’t value life - Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Sycorax, Krillitane….

“You have a thing about hand-holding, haven’t you,” Wyn said, breaking him from his reverie. He looked down at her small, stubby-fingered hand in his long-fingered, agile one.

“Yes,” he said. “We’ve got a hard cruel universe out there. Without a hand to hold, without somebody there who cares if I live or die, I’m not sure even I could keep on going endlessly.”

“You’re about the only man I’d let hold my hand,” she told him. “You’re special. You’re a really special mate, you know.”

“I know,” he answered. “You too, Wyn. If I forget to tell you that sometimes, take you for granted….”

“It’s just how you are,” she finished. “How you always were. Mum used to say that about you. Sometimes you forgot she was there. But she knew you would never let her down.”

“Yeah, your mum was special, too.”

“When I’m not around, when I go back to mum and dad and Llanfairfach, will you find somebody else to hold your hand?”

“I usually do,” he said. “I have always had special friends. Just have to learn to appreciate them while I have them.” He smiled warmly at her. Then he turned his attention to the beach. “Hellooo! I think I know what our problem is!” He let go of her hand as he began to clamber over the rocks to reach the sand. Wyn followed him, reflecting that the martial arts training and swearing off bacon butties made her a lot better fitted to that sort of thing than she used to be.

When she reached the sand The Doctor was crouching down examining the seaweed with the sonic screwdriver that would earn him an accusation of witchcraft in these times.


“This seaweed isn’t from Earth,” The Doctor said. “It’s alien. Happens sometimes. Spores of all sorts of things float around in the vacuum of space. They get into the atmosphere and just now and then, by a million to one chance, a single seed or spore can reach the kind of environment it needs to grow. Maybe hundreds of them landed on desert or rock or grassland that was no use to it. But one spore landed on this beach and grew.” He stood up and adjusted the screwdriver. He looked at its readout as he swept the beach with it like a scanner. “Yes, I think it’s more or less confined to this one beach at the moment.”

“Alien seaweed?”

“Alien seaweed that is a natural source of tryptophan which….”

“Forms a neurotransmitter called serotonin which in turn produces melatonin, which slows the brain down and induces sleep.”

“Well done, you remembered,” The Doctor praised her warmly. “The first affected were the women picking cockles. The cockles feed on the seaweed. The women ate the cockles. Probably they eat more of them than everyone else because they do the picking. Fair enough. Back-breaking work, they’re entitled to the perks. But then it spread.”

“It became contagious?”

“No. It doesn’t work like that. It would be passed by eating the cockles or some other food contaminated by the seaweed.”

“But Jasmin and Alec didn’t eat the cockles.”

“No,” The Doctor looked around and thought about it. “The women pick the cockles. What would they do with them after that? Have you ever eaten seafood?”

“Yes, sometimes,” she said. “When I want to get away from veggie food. My friend Dafydd’s mum makes a great stew made of fresh mussels. It takes ages to do. She has to wash them for yonks in clean water.” She thought about it a bit more. “They wash the cockles in fresh water – the well?”

“The water supply is contaminated!”

“And we’ve all been drinking the water. William brought in a barrel full for us to drink while we’re working. Jasmin and Alec went down very fast though.”

“All our body clocks were messed up recently thanks to Rousse’s weird world. We’ve probably all got a build up of melatonin to begin with that needed to be naturally released. Add the contaminated water and their brains got overloaded with it. They’re ok now, though. They weren’t out of it long enough for any long term effects.”

“Good. What about me?”

“You’re still under my hypnotic influence. When I release you from it, you’ll probably fall asleep on the spot. But don’t worry. I’ll catch you before you hit the ground.”

“As long as I wake up from it,” she told him.

“Oh you will,” he promised. “Come on, let’s get back. I need to tell William about the water, and the weed.”

They hurried back. When they stepped into the church The Doctor was gratified to see that a lot of the patients were waking up. They were eating food that was distributed among them and they looked as healthy as they were ever going to be. There was, as he predicted, grief when they learnt how many of their friends and family didn’t make it. But they WOULD get over it.

“William,” he said briskly. “Best thing for them is to get them up and about. Get the men to organise the bodies. Put them all in one house, one that’s apart from the others and we’ll burn it. Put in any combustibles you can find. Send some people down to the beach. Get them to pick up every pieces of the brown-grey seaweed that started growing here recently. Burn that too. I’ll deal with the well. I can use some of the serum to decontaminate the water supply.”

“The people aren’t strong yet,” William pointed out. “It won’t be easy for them.”

“They’re weakened physically,” The Doctor said. “But their hearts and souls are intact. Working to repair the damage to their community – helping each other to rebuild, will do wonders for morale.”

William accepted the logic and went to organise the work, including sending one of the strongest men upstream along the little river that fed the town’s well to fetch uncontaminated water for them all to drink.

“Doctor!” Jasmin called to him and he turned to her. She was with Agneta. The Doctor knew at once without another word being said.

“All right,” he said as he bent over the woman. “All right.” He looked at Jasmin. “This is a head start on your medical career. Your first childbirth.”

“How many have you….”

“Lost count,” he said as he examined Agneta to find out just HOW close the birth was. “Hundreds. Mostly Human.”

“Do you mean that most of the babies you delivered were Human or that the individual babies were mostly Human?”

“Both,” he answered. “All right, Agneta, this is going to be faster than you expected due to all the trauma you’ve had lately. Your baby is ready for the outside world right now.” He turned and saw William hovering. “Current tradition has the father of the baby standing around with one arm longer than the other, does it? Come on, hold her hand. Look after her while she does the hard work.”

The news that Agneta was close to giving birth silenced the townspeople around them. They forgot their grief with the prospect of new life to consider. For a long time the only sounds to be heard in the church were Agneta’s cries and William and The Doctor’s encouraging voices as they helped her through it. Then, at last, there was a tiny cry of life and The Doctor wrapped the newborn boy in a blanket and gave him into his mother’s arms. There was a collective sigh from the people.

“What name shall we give the child?” Agneta asked her husband.

“We shall name him after the one who saved us all…. The Doctor. What is your real name, sir?”

“My real name!” The Doctor smiled. “That would not be a good name to inflict on a child. Some people know me as Mr. John Smith. Call him John. That’s a good name.”

“John,” William smiled. “John of Barrow. Yes, that will do.”

“John of Barrow?” Jasmin looked at The Doctor. “Hey.…”

“Remember your tyrant scenario,” he told her. “On the other hand, saving Agneta and making sure her baby was born safe and well meant that future history is assured. William there – aka Arkel Bar Dey, an explorer from Debarri in the Cassiopeian sector is the ancestor of the explorer and adventurer John Barrow.”

“Well, that’s.… Wow.”

“Yeah,” The Doctor grinned. “Yeah. Mission accomplished.”