The TARDIS materialised smoothly on the planet. The Doctor looked pleased.

“Just because we had a smooth landing for once is no need to get cocky,” Wyn told him.

“We’ve had lots of smooth landings,” he replied indignantly. “Are you implying I can’t pilot my own TARDIS?”

“I’m saying nothing,” she answered. “Bruises speak louder than words.”

“She’s right though, Doctor,” Alec said, backing her up. “We do get a lot of turbulence.”

“Well, we ARE travelling through time and space,” The Doctor protested, feigning injured pride. “The TARDIS does her best. Don’t you old girl.” He patted the console and ignored the giggles from his friends. “Well, anyway, what do you expect?”

“Seatbelts?” Wyn answered, not quite ready to let him off the hook yet. “Crashmats, airbags…”

“Falling over is half the fun,” The Doctor retorted. “That’s why I have this lovely mesh floor guaranteed to imprint itself into any exposed flesh as you land!” He laughed and turned on the viewscreen. “Anyway, work to do. I wanted a look at this planet. It used to be a highly advanced and fully mechanised society, but something happened to wipe out the population. But not the usual sort of thing – no nuclear wars or anything of that line.”

“He’s right about that,” Jasmin said as she checked the environmental console. “No abnormal radiation readings. There are a lot of pollutants in the air - like Manchester before they discovered how to completely take the carcinogenic particles out of motor fuel.”

“That’s a little odd,” The Doctor mused. “The mechanised society broke down at least a century ago. The place should have gone back to nature.”

“It looks like it has.” Wyn looked up at the viewscreen. at a meadow leading down to a riverbank with trees overhanging the water. It would have looked ok if it wasn’t raining hard. “Do we have to go out in that?” she asked. “It’s pretty yukky.”

“Wellies and raincoats,” The Doctor said. “Lovely weather for ducks.” He thought about that as the others located their coats in the various corners of the console room that used to be much tidier before four people spent the best part of the day in it. “Why do people say that? Lovely weather for ducks? Do ducks really enjoy getting rained on?”

“Why don’t you ask one?” Wyn said, still in Doctor baiting mode.

“Because talking to ducks is very boring,” he replied. “All they think of is eating, swimming, and laying eggs. Come on, kiddies, time to explore.”

“People who talk to ducks are quackers,” Wyn countered. The Doctor grinned and reached for the door opening mechanism. He let his friends step outside into the rain first. Wyn, despite her complaint about it being ‘yukky’ seemed happy to run ahead kicking up puddles of muddy water, enjoying the freedom after being cooped up in the TARDIS. Alec and Jasmin stepped out more sedately, sharing an umbrella in a way that only two people who are in love can share an umbrella. The Doctor paused at the TARDIS door and watched them for a moment.

“What’s that noise?” Jasmin cried fearfully.

“Thunder?” Alec suggested. They looked up at the sky but although it was a uniformly iron grey that promised plenty more rain, it didn’t look like thunderstorm weather.

“What the hell is THAT?” Wyn screamed and began to run back towards the TARDIS. The object of her alarm was a robot by the most basic definition of the word, in that it was apparently moving of its own volition and was made of metal rather than an organic life-form.

But there the usual definition of a robot ended, because although scale was not specified in the said definition, people did not usually expect robots to be forty feet high.

And nobody expected to stand around taking any further notes about it when it was lumbering towards them, taking huge, thunderous strides that covered the ground quickly even though each step was relatively slowly taken.

“Get in the TARDIS!” The Doctor yelled, though his warning was needless. Wyn was already there. Jasmin and Alec abandoned the umbrella as they turned and ran. The Doctor saw it crushed to pieces beneath a metal foot the size of a small car as he slammed the door closed behind them.

“It’s going to step on us! Wyn cried out.

“No it's not,” Alec said. “It’ll step over.”

“It won’t,” Jasmin cried. “We’re going to be crushed.”

“Nothing can crush the TARDIS,” The Doctor assured them. “But grab hold tight. We might get that turbulence after all.”

They did as he said, and this warning was well heeded. They watched the viewscreen as the metal giant lumbered towards them. The left foot missed them, but the right thudded down on the TARDIS roof. They held on tight as the floor tilted and shuddered at the squelching sound and the sinking sensation as the windows of the TARDIS door darkened.

“Has it gone?” Wyn asked after a few minutes.

“Are we intact?” Alec asked.

“Of course we’re intact,” The Doctor said proudly as he headed for the door. The others moved cautiously behind him as he pulled open both doors.

They stared in astonishment.

Outside was a solid wall of wet, muddy soil. The Doctor stepped back quickly as some of the soil crumbled away and fell in a soggy slab on the threshold, spattering his shoes and the bottoms of his trousers.

“It stomped us into the ground!” Jasmin exclaimed. “But the TARDIS is wooden… it should have splintered into matchsticks. That thing must weigh thousands of tons.”

“The TARDIS ISN’T made of wood,” The Doctor told her. “That’s just the outward appearance. Lucky it was raining though. We might have got a few dents otherwise.”

“So… Do we have to dig our way out?” Alec asked.

“No, not at all,” The Doctor replied as he closed the doors with a flourish. “We’ll just dematerialise and pick a new spot to park.” He went to the console and there was a brief activity from the time rotor before The Doctor flicked on the viewscreen triumphantly.

“We haven’t moved!” Jasmin cried fearfully as the view showed the same muddy, nothingness.

“Yes we have,” The Doctor protested. “We’re least fifteen kilometres west of the original TARDIS position.”

“On the surface?”

“Yes, on the surface.” He looked at his instruments and then went to the door. The windows were still dark but when he opened the door there was grey daylight and rain. The Doctor looked around mischievously.

“Er… Wyn, your chores for tonight... Jet spraying the TARDIS.” He stood back from the door and they could all see that it was covered in mud. The entire exterior, including the sensors that transmitted the pictures of their immediate surroundings to the viewscreen was covered.

Wyn gave a reply she had learnt from Doctor #9, highly offensive to anyone who spoke Low Gallifreyan.

“I was two hundred before I even knew what that meant,” The Doctor replied to her.

“I don’t know what it means, but it sounds good,” Wyn countered. “And you can jet spray your own TARDIS.”

“I was only kidding,” he relented. “The TARDIS has a self-cleaning tool somewhere. Hang on.” He closed the door again and went to the console. He pressed a couple of rarely used buttons and there was a sound not unlike being in a car wash for a couple of minutes. They knew it was working because the windows in the door became bright again – rather brighter than before, in fact - the Human companions all wondered when the TARDIS last had a self-clean. The viewscreen cleared, of course - to reveal a view of a meadow sloping gently down to the remains of a Human city.

“That’s better,” The Doctor said. “Ok, shall we try again?”

“Are there any more of those things around?” Jasmin asked.

“Nah,” The Doctor assured her. “Well, not many. Shouldn’t think so. Probably not. Er… Tell you what, when I say run….”

“That’s helpful, Doctor.” Alec found another couple of umbrellas and they set out again. The young lovers again made a picture under a big, bold umbrella with the logo of the 2002 Commonwealth Games on it. The Doctor put up a big red and blue striped one and he and Wyn walked under it. She pressed close to him as they stepped out of the newly cleaned TARDIS, not just to keep dry, but for comfort. The appearance of that giant metal creature had disturbed her more than she liked to admit.

“This rain is VERY acidic,” The Doctor noted as he put out his hand and caught a couple of drops before tasting them. “Not at all good for the environment.”

“This planet must have been VERY polluted when the people lived here,” Jasmin noted. “You said they’ve been gone for a century and there’s still acid rain. It only took us a decade to start reversing the damage of the 20th century. Even the ozone layer was recovering by 2025.”

“It was?” Wyn looked at her. “I thought that was a hopeless case.”

“Not at all,” The Doctor assured her. “People of your time were just turning the tide. The differences were being felt even as early as Jasmin and Alec’s time. And it was all down to the tree hugging types like your dad who stood up to be counted, so you can be proud of that.”

“I am,” she said. “But… then if we get it right… then this isn’t….” She stopped talking and looked at the desolate city they were heading towards. Then she looked up at The Doctor.

“What?” he asked.

“When you talked about a mechanised society that destroyed itself somehow… I started wondering if this WAS Earth… it looks like it. It SMELLS like it… FEELS like Earth. And you know… Planet of the Apes type of thing… centuries into the future and Earth belongs to the Transformers….”

“Ah.” The Doctor smiled at her kindly, and not in any way scornful as she had expected. “Yes, I can see your line of thinking… about the Planet of the Apes anyway. No, this isn’t Earth. A timely reminder for Earth, maybe. But we’re a good forty million light years from Earth.”

“Ok, good,” she said.

“Transformers?” He looked puzzled by that cultural reference. She wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not. He was usually fairly well informed about even the daftest TV shows of her world, even though she had never seen him WATCH TV. She couldn’t imagine him being so bored on a Saturday morning as to need to watch the cartoons, though.

“Big things, robots that could look like people or cars. They battle for supremacy over the planet, that sort of thing. I don’t know. I didn’t pay much attention. I was just waiting for the Thundercats to come on.”

The Doctor grinned and let her off the hook.

“It’s not a bad description, actually. Did anyone else get a good look at Optimus Prime as he passed by?”

“Only his FEET,” Alec replied with just a hint of sarcasm.

“I could be mistaken,” The Doctor continued. “But I’m almost sure he was made up of car parts.”

“You mean, like he – it - was put together in a scrap yard - Does that mean that people made it?”

“I used to have a robot dog,” The Doctor said, apparently apropos nothing in the previous line of conversation. “K-9. Lovely chap, but he didn’t half go through his battery power. Couldn’t take him anywhere without a set of jump leads. Right now, I just know that his answer would be somewhere along the lines of – ‘Insufficient data to form a hypothesis’.”

“That was his way of saying ‘I don’t know?’” Alec laughed.


“Robot dogs are excused,” Alec continued. “But you’re allowed to be stumped, Doctor. Just say so.”

“Ok, I’m stumped. But I intend to get unstumped when we reach that city.”

“Doctor,” Alec said after they had walked along for a while. “Optimus Prime or one of his friends has been around here.”

“What makes you think that?” The Doctor asked him,


They all looked. They all felt a little sick.

It had been something like a cow, though a sort of yellowy colour with longer fur and curling horns.

Now it was a sort of flat pack cow, squashed horribly, the internal organs bursting out of the skin as the bones were crushed.

Jasmin tried to tell herself she would see worse things than that when she became a fully trained doctor.

It didn’t work. She still felt sick, especially when she thought about how close they all came to the same fate.

“That proves one thing,” The Doctor said, apparently not as upset by the fate of the cow as the rest of them. “There IS animal life here, still.”


“So that rules out a half a dozen different sorts of global catastrophes that wipe out ALL life. Supervolcanoes, nuclear winters, that kind of thing. It seems only the sentient life moved away. Animals survived.”

“Unless that was the only one,” Wyn suggested. “The last of the species.”

“Er… no…” Alec looked around as they heard a rumbling sound that, this time, they didn’t waste time blaming on thunder. Over a slight rise in the meadowland they saw the head of another giant scrapyard robot. And as it climbed the hill a herd of the same woolly cows ran in terror from it.

Ran towards them.

“Run,” The Doctor said. “Towards the city.”

They ran for it. Two more perfectly good umbrellas were lost in the haste to get away. Alec caught Jasmin’s hand as they ran. Wyn was ahead of them all. The Doctor was rather impressed by the turn of speed she managed and put it down to the healthy exercise and diet regime of the TARDIS.

“Fleeing for your life every day is good for the hearts,” he added to himself as he brought up the rear. Yes, he could have been well in front. He could run faster than any Human. But he would have felt guilty if any stragglers got caught out after he had reached safety.

That was assuming the city WAS safety. It occurred to him as they reached the edge of the first street that something that seemed to have been constructed from industrial spare parts probably came from an industrial place, NOT the surrounding countryside. They were running into Transformer Central!

“Oh hell!” Alec yelled as they ran down the street between the ruins of a city that must once have been as grand as New York. They could hear the first robot stalking along behind them while ahead of them they could see another one.

“Down here!” A voice called. The Doctor turned and looked down at his feet. There was a grating in what had once been a pedestrian pavement. A man in some kind of military uniform pushed open the grating. “Come on, unless you want to be pavement decorations.”

The Doctor didn’t hesitate, nor did any of the others. They ran for the grating. There were steps underneath and they followed their saviour down into the basement of the old building, then further down into a sub-basement area.

“Electric lights? Computers?” The Doctor took in the room they were brought into in what seemed to be a cursory glance, though those who knew him were certain he would be able to describe it perfectly later based on that once glance. “So there is technology here?”

“This is our base of operations in the fight against the Machinics,” the man said. “I’m Major John Deering,” he added. “I’m in command. And you lot were lucky. It’s about to get ugly up there.”

“How ugly?” The Doctor asked. “I’m The Doctor by the way. This is Wyn, Jasmin and Alec. We just dropped in to see how things are going on this planet.”

“It was his idea,” Wyn added. “I’d be happy to go somewhere less wet.”

“It’s the rainy season.” A woman in the sort of all in one lycra uniform that reminded Wyn of something in the Star Trek mode of fashion swivelled in her chair and introduced herself as Lieutenant Megan Steele, tactical command. “It makes the Machinics sluggish. Their metal brains don’t like the moisture.”

“Watch,” Deering said and pointed to a large wall-mounted viewscreen that showed the street above them. “We’ve patched into the old traffic cams.”

The two Machinics were still heading towards each other, oblivious to a much smaller robot that was, being controlled remotely by Lieutenant Steele. Her hands moved two steering knobs in a way that immediately reminded Wyn of somebody playing a simulation on a Game-Station console. A pane on top of the remote control robot opened and what were very clearly rocket launchers of some sort emerged. “On my mark,” Deering said. He paused for no apparent reason except dramatic effect. “Fire.”

Lieutenant Steele pressed the red buttons in the centre of the two control knobs. Rockets fired in both directions. The viewscreen panned quickly to show both Machinics take direct hits. The one that had chased them into the city was hit in the head. It exploded into metal fragments. The body tottered as the smoke cleared and then fell with a thundering crash. The other had been hit in the torso. The head and limbs fell in a twisted heap.

Around them there was jubilation as Deering’s unit celebrated a successful operation. Somebody had chalked robot heads on one of the walls of the sub-basement and they added two more to the tally.

Wyn, Jasmin and Alec joined in the cheers, but The Doctor was less enthusiastic.

“Did they pose an immediate threat to you?” he demanded of Deering. “Why did you attack them without provocation?”

“They’re Machinics,” Deering answered. “They need to be exterminated before the planet can be reclaimed for The Vzalterian Federation.”

“Exterminated?” The Doctor’s face was stony as he repeated the word he had come to associate not, as most Humans would, with getting rid of cockroaches, but the Dalek’s way of regarding humanity as nothing more than vermin to be swept away.

“Eradicated, eliminated, wiped out, annihilated, pick a word. Means the same thing, whichever way you look at it.”

“They STARTED this.” A man with a name tag identifying himself as Ensign Rowan, communications officer, turned to The Doctor. “We sent a survey team to see if the planet was habitable again. They were here a DAY before those things stormed the camp, trampled all their equipment.”

“Trampled equipment?” The Doctor looked at him with a hard glint in his usually soft brown eyes. “But there were no deaths? The surveyors weren’t injured?”

“Expensive equipment,” Rowan began to say but The Doctor was distracted by what was happening now at tactical command.

“The head unit of the second target looks intact,” Lieutenant Steele reported as she scanned the area.

“So send the droid in to finish it off,” Deering answered.

The Doctor watched as the remote droid moved erratically along the debris strewn road. Steele switched the view from the old traffic cam to the droid’s eye view. The head of the broken Machinic came sharply into view. The Doctor heard Jasmin draw in breath as she saw the light in its eyes. It WAS alive still, in so far as a mechanical thing had life.

It was afraid. It was helpless, wounded and dying, and it was afraid of the death that approached it.

“NO!” she cried out. “No, don’t hurt it.” She turned away and buried her face in Alec’s chest as he held her.

Wyn looked as if she felt the same, but a sort of morbid fascination kept her eyes glued to the viewscreen as the droid blasted the Machinic head with a laser that reduced it to molten scrap in about thirty seconds.

Thirty seconds in which they clearly heard it screaming. The sound reminded The Doctor of a Dalek scream. He had heard them do that many times. He had MADE them scream countless times.

But in battle, in a fight for his and other people’s lives. There was no fight here. Unless there was more to this than he so far knew, the Humans were simply picking off the Machinics and finishing them off.

“Do the Machinics have weapons?” he asked turning to Deering again.

“No,” he replied. “They don’t need them. Great lumbering things. They can crush a man to a pulp with their feet.”

“Yes, but that’s accidental, surely,” Alec pointed out. “It's like us stepping on ants. We don’t do it out of malevolence towards antdom.”

“The Machinics are a lifeform,” The Doctor said. “A unique lifeform. I’ve certainly never seen anything like them - at least not outside of Saturday morning TV. Uniqueness is a thing to be preserved not destroyed. And if these beings… the Machinics… have done you no specific harm, WHY is this being done to them? Frankly what I just saw here amounts to murder.”

“Murder?” Another man swung around in his chair and looked at The Doctor. “They’re not Human. They’re not LIVING. They don’t FEEL.”

“They DO,” Jasmin insisted. “Didn’t you hear it scream?”

“That’s just the metal parts disintegrating,” she was told.

“It wasn’t. It was dying, painfully. You caused it pain.” Around her Jasmin heard sniggers and jeers and comments like ‘loopy’, ‘over-imagination’ and ‘yeah, sure, a Machinic in pain. As if.’ She bit back tears of frustration because she knew what she had seen and heard.

“If we don’t destroy the head, they can retrieve the parts and rebuild. Without the head it's just scrap metal.”

“It’s still murder,” Jasmin insisted in the face of popular opinion around her.

“Is it safe out there now?” The Doctor asked. “Are there any more Machinics in the immediate area?”

“No,” Steele reported. “It’s all quiet now.” She looked at The Doctor as he turned towards the stairwell. “You’re going out there?”

“Do you have a way of stopping me?” The Doctor asked. “We’re civilians. We have nothing to do with your set up here. We’re off.”

“You never even explained what you’re doing here,” Deering said.

“That’s right,” The Doctor answered. “I didn’t. When I got here I didn’t know why I was here. Now I do.” He continued walking. His friends followed. Jasmin was still tearful. The Doctor turned to her as they climbed up through the grating. “Your instinct was the right one,” he said. “These people are wrong. It DID feel pain of a kind.”

“But it IS mechanical,” Alec said. “When the head exploded…” Jasmin shuddered at being reminded. “Sorry love, but… well, we were all watching. There was nothing organic. Not like… you know… when we smashed open that Dalek on Dominique’s planet.”

The Doctor was the one who flinched at that reference.

“Mechanical life is still life,” he said. “Artificial intelligence can still feel pain. Maybe not in the way we understand it, but did anyone doubt it? We ALL saw what happened here.” He stopped walking as he reached the remains of the Machinic. He took out his sonic screwdriver and surveyed the wreckage – he amended his own thinking – the body parts. He found what he was looking for.

“It’s destroyed,” he remarked sadly as he picked up what looked like a computer central processor but ten times bigger than usual. It was clearly damaged beyond repair. “The ‘brain’. They wrecked it good and proper.”

“When Deering said reclaim,” Alec said as he ran through the things they had learnt in the sub-basement. “This was THEIR planet originally?”

“This is Vzalteria XVII,” The Doctor told him. “Seventeenth planet in the twenty-five planet Vzalterian Federation. Think of it like the USA but on a wider scale. The idea of a planet sitting there empty and non-profit-making must have driven them nuts.”

“How did they lose it then? What DID happen to the people?”

“I’m not sure,” The Doctor said. “But I think I know where to find out.” He looked around at the tall buildings around them. They were all ruined and decrepit, but it was just possible to make out a century old sign on one of them proclaiming it to be the printworks for the city newspaper.

The sonic screwdriver made short work of what was left of the locks. They stepped cautiously on floorboards that hadn’t been attended to for a century.

“The printer,” he said as they came into the back part of the building where grey light still filtered through a grimy plate glass window to illuminate the printing press. There was no power, of course. And if there was, rust had long ago jammed up the mechanism. But The Doctor opened up the press and pulled out the form with the moveable type fixed in it to print the last page that was printed on that press. The letters were backwards, of course. But his eyes moved swiftly, right to left as he read the last headline.

“It was the pollution,” he said. “The air was so thick with industrial poisons people had to wear oxygen tanks to walk in the streets. Outside the city acid rain had destroyed the fresh water. The crops were failing. They abandoned the planet. This paper was put out by the last few employees who hadn’t already left. The main story is the instructions for orderly evacuation.”

“So everyone just left?”


“They just left the Machinics to roam free?”

“That I’m still not sure about. But I REALLY want to know their story. Let’s go and find out.”

“From Deering and his crew?” Wyn asked.

“From the Machinics.”


“Doctor!” Alec looked at him. “Are you kidding? You’re going to try to TALK to these things?”

“CAN they talk?”

“They can scream. Talk… I don’t know. We’ll find out.”

“How do we know where to FIND them?” Jasmin asked.

“Follow THAT,” The Doctor said as the droid rocket launcher rumbled past. “They must have a lock on another one of them.”

“Stop them!” Jasmin said. “Stop the thing… smash it.”

“Let it show us the way first,” The Doctor said. “Come on.”

“You know, they have cameras on the thing. They know we’re here.”

“Well, unless they’re prepared to come out of their bunker and face us, they can’t do much about it, can they?” The Doctor replied.

The droid rattled along what had once been a well made road but was now overgrown and strewn with debris from buildings that had partially collapsed over the years. They followed it, easily keeping pace. They made no secret of being there. They did not try to hide. The Vzalterians must have been aware of their presence. But there was no radio communication on the droid. It was controlled by computer. No Human was expected to be in its vicinity.

“There’s one of them!” Wyn cried out as they turned a corner. And, indeed, there WAS one of the Machinics. It was sitting down in the middle of the road. It had a large oil can in its hand. It was oiling its leg joints.

“Does the Wizard of Oz come to anyone else’s mind?” Alec laughed.

“Actually I was thinking of another old movie,” Jasmin said as she stepped towards it. Alec started to call to her, then stopped. She moved closer. The great head moved and she was sure the lights in the eyes blinked on and off. It was looking at her.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” she said. “I want to help you. I want to stop them killing you. Do you understand me?”

The head moved up and down. She hoped that a nod of the head meant the same to Machinics as it did to her. She stepped closer until she could touch it.

“Jasmin!” Alec called. “The droid is powering up its weapon.”

“Then they’ll have to shoot me, too,” she replied. She stepped up on what passed for a knee and turned around. She looked at the droid. “Do you see me, you lot? Do you hear me? I’m not moving. So if you kill the Machinic you kill me, too.”

“And me!” Wyn shouted and she ran forward and climbed up on the Machinic body. “King Kong,” she added. “That’s the film Jasmin was thinking of. They couldn’t shoot Kong while he was holding onto Fay Wray.”

Alec looked at them both for a long time and then joined them. The Machinic’s arm reached out. He stifled a yell as it reached and picked him up off the ground and brought him close to its face. He stared at the eyelight as the Machinic stared at him. He felt he was looking into the creature’s soul.

“I’m ok,” he cried out. “It’s not hurting me. But if any of you compare me to Fay Wray….”

“It’s curious about you,” The Doctor told him. He turned around and looked at the droid. He could see the camera on the front of it. “You CAN hear, can’t you? You can SEE. The Machinics are NOT killers. YOU are. You are destroying innocent life. And it has to stop. It has to stop right NOW.”

They WERE listening. He knew they were. But they clearly wanted to call his bluff. He saw lights blink on the side of the rocket launcher, indicating that it was ready to fire.

He stood directly in the line of fire and held his breath. WOULD they fire anyway? They were not Vzalterians. They might decide to kill them and the lifeform they hated so much.

If they fired he would be vaporised. Regeneration wouldn’t come into it. He was facing a real prospect of death. That was rare for a Time Lord. They could survive almost every way most mortals could die. But a high explosive rocket at close range was one of the exceptions.

He waited, and hoped that somebody in that bunker was talking sense right now.

He saw the lights blink off at the side of the rocket launcher and breathed deeply.

“Ok,” he said. “Now turn Sir Killalot around and get it out of here. There will be no more exterminations today.”

He turned and told the others to come. Jasmin and Wyn jumped down from the Machinic but it held onto Alec. He yelled as the great body moved. It was standing up. The girls moved back away from the big feet. They knew it didn’t mean them any harm but it had a clumsiness about itself that could be dangerous.

It stepped forwards as they moved back. There was a disturbing crunch as it stepped on the droid.

“Oops,” The Doctor said. “I hope Deering’s lot don’t consider that an act of war.”

“I think it wants us to come with it,” Wyn told him. “Come on.”

“Look,” The Doctor said to the Machinic. “We’ll come with you. But I think it would be better if you put our friend down, first. I think he’d feel a lot better.”

He wasn’t sure how, but it SEEMED to understand. It reached down and put Alec on the ground, gently. He ran to Jasmin.

“I’m okay,” he said. “I wasn’t in ANY danger. Honestly. Not as smooth a ride as the TARDIS….”

The Machinic began to lumber away, but it kept stopping and looking around at them as they walked at a safe distance behind it. They came, presently, to what had once been a motor racing circuit.

“Look,” Wyn said as they came to the entrance. There was what was left of a billboard advertising races. As well as the cars there was one major attraction.

“The Machinic!”

The picture on the billboard looked to Wyn exactly like the cartoon characters she had mentioned earlier. It was brightly coloured and the Machinics depicted were all smart paint and shining chrome. But their scale was clear. They were always meant to be huge.

“They were a sort of tourist attraction?”

“This is home?” The Doctor asked the Machinic that had led them there. It nodded and then made what seemed to be a signal with its arms.

“Hang on,” The Doctor said to it. “Do that again, I didn’t catch it.”

The Machinic repeated the signal.

“Semaphore,” The Doctor exclaimed. “It just spelled the word HOME in semaphore.”

“It DOES understand us,” Wyn gasped. “Brilliant.”

“You know semaphore?” Alec asked The Doctor.

“I know five billion languages. Did I ever say they were all spoken languages?”

The Machinic spelt out a slightly longer message.

“It wants us to take our seats. It says the show will begin shortly.”

“What show?” his friends all asked but he didn’t know either. They found seats in the old grandstand near the finish line and waited. The Machinic lumbered to the middle of the track and stood waiting. Presently a rumbling and stomping sound indicated the arrival of several more Machinics - eight in all. They were ALL constructed of car parts and all over forty feet tall. They stood in a line and The Doctor had the strangest feeling they were going to do a high kicking chorus routine or something equally incongruous.

They didn’t. But what they did do was almost as impressive. They began to semaphore rapidly. The Doctor was the only one who could fully keep up with them. Alec tried with a diagram of the semaphore alphabet he found in the pocket diary he kept with him but he gave up after the first couple of words. The Doctor translated willingly.

“The first Machinics were built by the racetrack owner,” he said. “A very clever man who was into showmanship and robotics. He gave them a basic artificial intelligence but no power of speech. Instead they used semaphore. At race meetings they would be a popular attraction. They would semaphore messages like ‘happy birthday’ to members of the audience. Their signs and the translated letters would be displayed on huge screens that dwarfed even them. They would spell out the race winners and so on. People loved to see them.”

“Then the people left. The Machinics were just abandoned. Nobody seems to have considered their fate. They waited for a long time, but no visitors came. They roamed around the city and the fields beyond looking for Humans. They repaired themselves, they even built a few new Machinics, using what they could find for metal and spare brain processors that had been left behind by their creator. They lived here alone, in their own little community. They wanted for nothing except people to entertain. They longed for people to come back. When the surveyors came they greeted them with their semaphore, but they ran from them. Then others came and began to kill their kind. The Machinics were naturally confused and disappointed.”

“Oh, that’s so SAD,” Jasmin said. “So…. What do they want now?”

“They want the killing to stop. They want the people to come back so they can entertain them. But they want them to come as visitors, not as rulers. They say this is their planet now and they want the killing machines to leave them alone. They want us to make the case on their behalf to the Vzalterians.”

“To tell the Vzalterians to stop killing them and leave them alone?”

“Basically, yes.”

“They’re not going to like that.”

“Oh, I’m sure they won’t. They think they’re the superior species. They think the Machinics are vermin to be wiped off the land.” He looked at the Machinics as they stood watching him. Was there a hopeful look in their eyelights? Did they have that much faith in him?

“I’ll try,” he said, standing up. “I can do no more than that.”

The Machinics looked at him and as one they bowed.

The Doctor felt humbled by their trust in him.

“Doctor!” Jasmin cried out as the entrance to the racetrack disintegrated in flames. He was already running to confront the invaders. He was not entirely surprised to see three rocket droids at the head of a force of Vzalterian Federation troops. He was not surprised either that Deering was leading them.

“Cease fire!” The Doctor yelled as he stood square in front of the droids. “Cease fire, right now. I will NOT allow it.”

“YOU will not allow it!” Deering sneered. “Who are YOU to interfere with Federation operations?”

“I am the one standing here telling you to ceasefire and leave this planet. It does not belong to you any more. It belongs to the Machinics. Leave them alone. Go away.”

“Are you mad? Leave a planet like this to THEM? Our orders are to smash them to pieces and bury the junk.”

“Then your orders are to commit genocide. And I repeat, I will NOT allow it.”

“Prepare to fire,” Deering snapped. “Make it head shots. Wipe out all the brain units.”

The Doctor pulled his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and adjusted it to laser mode. He aimed it at the first droid and fused the lid down, preventing the rocket section from raising. He did the same with the second. The third was already starting to emerge. The laser shorted the firing circuits.

“Doctor….” Wyn called as he replaced his screwdriver in his inside pocket and dared Deering to make one move towards him. “The Machinics…. They’re…”

But she didn’t need to explain any more. The Machinics were moving forward, more quickly than they had thought possible. Wyn squealed despite herself when she was plucked up by a giant metal hand. Jasmin and Alec were grabbed up too as they marched towards the droids. The Doctor was lifted into a metal palm before a foot came down on the first droid. He realised that he and his friends had been picked up to protect them as the Machinics went on the offensive against their enemy.

“Break the droids,” he shouted, hoping the Machinics could understand him. “Don’t kill any of the people. If you do that you justify their actions. Just the droids.”

He wasn’t sure if they took his instruction or if they never had any intention of harming Deering’s squad. But either way they smashed the droids without harming any Vzalterian.

“I can order more droids to be sent down,” Deering said. “Or if it comes to it… we have other weapons. We can destroy the whole city…. the whole planet if it wipes out these abominations.”

“You mean with nukes?” Alec asked. “But then you won’t be able to use this place for years.”

“We will not accept defeat. Better destroy the planet than leave it to… to these things.”

The Machinics clearly understood more than even The Doctor credited them with. He had recognised them as an intelligence but not a particularly high one. They had been created, originally, with one function – entertainment for Humans. They had developed enough mental resources to survive without Humans, but they were never going to be great philosophical thinkers.

They had understood one thing, though. And they took the obvious precaution against it.

The Vzalterians yelled in panic as the Machinics reached down and plucked hostages from among them.

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “Yes, hold onto them. But don’t harm them. Hold onto my friends, too. But let me down… let Deering go. I’ll take him with me and we will go to their government. I will take your terms.”

The proposal was clearly acceptable to the Machinics. They herded the rest of the Vzalterians into the grandstand. Deering and The Doctor were allowed to leave.

“They will be destroyed completely now,” Deering told him as they trekked back to where he had left the TARDIS. “They have committed a direct act of violence against my forces.”

“Oh shut up, will you,” The Doctor replied. “YOU are the aggressors here. Don’t you get it? The Machinics did nothing wrong. Ok, they occasionally stepped on a cow, but they never committed a violent act. YOU attacked them without provocation. Your mandate is to wipe them off the face of this planet. They fought back with MINIMUM force. They harmed NONE of your people. Now shut up. Don’t even TALK to me until we get to your government.”

Deering shut up. He didn’t even ask how they were supposed to reach the Vzalterian government. He walked in silence next to The Doctor and expressed only the mildest surprise at both the exterior and interior appearance of the TARDIS when they reached it.

Their arrival in the midst of the Vzalterian Federal parliament in mid-session caused more than a little surprise, especially as the TARDIS materialised in the actual debating chamber. The Doctor took the floor and spoke at length about genocide and the number of intergalactic treaties Vzalteria had broken in its attempt to ‘exterminate’ the Machinics. He warned them of the consequences if they didn’t halt their hostilities immediately. The Vzalterian government seemed surprised that there was a higher authority than them. They thought themselves lords and masters of all they chose to be masters of. It surprised them that there were treaties against what they saw as a form of pest control. They argued about whether the treaties were binding since they did not sign up to them. The Doctor conceded that point but reminded them that their wealth depended on trade with other empires and federations who HAD signed the treaties - and just how much sanctions would hurt them.

Funny how compassion for a peaceful, sentient life didn’t move them, The Doctor thought later, but the threat of ‘sanctions’ set them thinking about their actions on Vzalteria XVII.

But at least they were thinking.

He had expected to cause something of a sensation when he arrived back at the racetrack in the TARDIS with the President of the Federal government and a group of plentipotentiaries to discuss terms with the Machinics.

He was slightly disappointed to find his arrival unnoticed.

He was VERY impressed, though, with what everyone WAS watching.

Wyn was standing out in the middle of the race course doing Tai Chi exercises. Behind her, a row of four Machinics were matching her moves perfectly. Even the Vzalterian troops were watching with rapt fascination.

“Well, I’ll be….” The President was lost for words as he looked at them. “We understood these were dangerous creatures.”

“They ARE dangerous creatures,” Deering insisted. “Look at the size of them.” The Doctor gave him a hard stare and he shut up.

“But they’re DANCING,” the President exclaimed. “This is.…”

“Your people have killed several of these inoffensive beings,” The Doctor told the President. “But with my help you can make terms with the Machinics. Are you ready to do that?”

“Yes,” the President sighed. “Yes, we are ready.”

“That was a good day’s work,” The Doctor said as he ‘parked’ the TARDIS above Vzalteria XVII, henceforth to be known as Machinicus I. “It’s been a while since I negotiated a treaty. But it’s like riding a bike. You never forget.”

“Can you ride a bike, Doctor?” Alec asked him.

“Will they honour the agreement,” Wyn asked as she looked at the planet. “What if they nuke it after we leave?”

“The Vzalterians aren’t aggressors really. There was a misunderstanding that escalated into tragedy. The survey team mistook the Machinic attempts to communicate as an attack. Deering went in like a bull in a china shop to destroy what he saw as a threat. Now they know the Machinics don’t want to harm them – they just want to entertain them. And they’re going to get their chance to do that. Machinicus will be a leisure planet. The old city will be levelled and the Machinics will have a brand new arena to perform in and places where they can shelter from the climate, a workshop where they can build new Machinics. After all they need to propagate their species. The Vzalterians were talking about hotels and a spaceport, a whole infrastructure provided by the Vzalterians so that the Machinics can do what they were born to do – perform. With the data chips I gave them they can expand their repertoire.”

“I’m just not sure about some of that repertoire,” Wyn told him. “Tai Chi, Callisthenics, Aerobics, giant football, sure. But honestly… LINE-DANCING!”

The Doctor laughed as he turned from the viewscreen and programmed their flight to their next adventure. Yes, it had been a good day’s work.