“Doctor?” He looked up from his work as Stella came up to the console. She looked dubiously at the mysterious flashing panels and diodes and stepped back from it as if she was worried about touching anything.

“Tell you a secret,” he said with a smile. “A lot of them don’t do very much. You could press most of the buttons on that panel without putting us into mortal danger. The buttons on the left control the lifesigns scanner and environmental monitor. The ones on the right run diagnostic programmes on the TARDIS database.”

“And what about THAT panel?”

“That one is a bit dangerous,” he answered. “That one is the life support system. The right combination of buttons could switch off the gravity, suck out all our air or open the door into the vacuum of space while switching off the emergency protective field.

“I think I‘ll leave them all alone,” Stella answered. “I was wondering…. Can I talk to you? Is it ok?”

“Course you can,” he answered. “Pull up a chair.”

“You don’t have any chairs to pull up,” she told him.

“Quite right, I don’t. Sit on the command chair then. It’s actually more comfortable than it looks.”

Stella sat down on the strange sort of sofa that looked like it had been made out of three old car seats welded together and fixed to the floor by a spring-loaded pole. It bounced slightly and then settled at the right height for her to reach the floor with her feet.

“So,” The Doctor said, turning and perching on the edge of the console. “What’s on your mind?”

“You knew my parents, and Wyn, before I was born.”

“Yes, I did. Your mum told you about some of the things we did before she met your dad?”

“Yes. All the mad stuff about Sea Devils and the like. And Wyn told me all about the things SHE did with you, like saving the world from purple space mould and things. And it’s totally brill to actually meet you, and to BE here like they were, in the TARDIS with you.”

“Well, thank you,” he said. “It’s nice to be appreciated. But was there something else?”

“Well… I was wondering. Doctor, are my mum and dad really my mum and dad?”

“Oh.” He swallowed hard and thought about how to answer that question. Direct lies were harder to tell than indirect ones and the answer he had to give to her was a lie. Even for an inveterate fibber like himself, it would be difficult.

“What makes you ask that question?” he asked, stalling for time.

“Well, the maths, mostly. My mum was really old when I came along. I mean I know I look like her. I’ve seen pics of her in the seventies when she was about nineteen and she’s JUST like me. So I don’t think I’m adopted from another family. But I kind of wondered. Wyn was eighteen when I was born. Could she be… you know…. It happens sometimes. Teenage girls… and their mums bring up the baby.”

“Well, yes, it happens,” The Doctor admitted. “Probably more often than anyone realises. People make mistakes sometimes. But….”

“She was travelling with you when I was born. So… I wondered… Are YOU my dad?”

That question totally threw The Doctor. He gave a choked cough disguised as a laugh that made his eyes water.

“Well it’s not THAT silly an idea,” she said with genuine indignation. “Wyn isn’t totally ugly. And neither are you, and there might have been a time when she liked men….”

“No, Stella,” he said when he composed himself. “I’m not. And Wyn isn’t your mum. Jo is. And I CAN prove it.” He looked around the console room. The girls had only been with him half a week and it was already getting cluttered. “Is that Wyn’s hairbrush under the sofa? Can you go get it?” She did so. He looked at it carefully and selected a hair that had the follicle attached. Stella watched as he put it into a sort of receptacle on the console and pressed a button. A few minutes later the screen beside it displayed a whole lot of data, including a graphic of a DNA strand.

“That’s Wyn’s DNA,” he said. “It shows her to be a healthy Human female with hazel eyes and mid brown hair and no genetic defects. These...” The Doctor pointed to what looked to her like meaningless squiggles. “These are the bits of her that come from her mum and these from her dad. Now….” He reached and took a hair from Stella’s head and repeated the process. He put the two results side by side. “See. You, also, are a Human female with hazel eyes and mid-brown hair and no genetic defects. And these squiggles prove that you and Wyn have the same mum and dad. Biology doesn’t lie.”

“Ok… then… well… you’re not her dad as well, are you? I mean you knew my mum WAY before Wyn was born, too. And she’s mad about you.”

“Good grief, Stella, what have you been reading to put such wild ideas into your head? I’m a Time Lord not Casanova. My love life has never been THAT busy. But if you need proof, hang on.” He reached and plucked one of his own hairs and repeated the process again. This time the DNA profile was completely different. It revealed a man who was the product of two species, one Human, the other Gallifreyan, but very clearly not the parent of either Wyn or Stella.

“Your parents didn’t expect you to turn up when they thought they’d done raising kids. But they loved you as much as your brothers and sister. You never doubted that, did you?”

“No,” she answered. “They’re both great. I’m sorry I was so silly about it. You won’t tell Wyn, will you?”

“Course I won’t,” he said. “Go on now, and get your coat. We’re landing soon.”

She smiled the sort of impish smile that he had long associated with Jo and skipped off. He brought the TARDIS in to land on the planet and then went to get his own coat, ready to step out onto a new and exciting world with Jo’s two daughters at his side.

Stella was enthusiastic about the planet and ran ahead as they walked along the edge of what Wyn had thought at first was a large lake, but now she thought might be an inlet of a sea. Whichever it was, it was deep purple rather than blue-green and the sand beneath their feet was a shade that a Dulux colour chart would call dusty plum.

The Doctor smiled and reminded Wyn that SHE used to be as enthusiastic as that.

“I still am,” she said. “My first alien planet for fifteen years. I’m thrilled. But I wanted to talk to you. I heard both of you talking earlier. When she asked you about her parents - you handled it good.”

“I didn’t have to actually lie to her. She DID turn up unexpectedly when your parents thought they had done with child-rearing. And you DO have the same DNA.”

“But that’s because her body was cloned from a skin sample you took from me.”

“Yes. It’s lucky she isn’t as good at science as you or she might have recognised that your DNA isn’t just similar as sisters should be, but identical. The evidence I showed her, though, set her mind at rest. She won’t be wondering again. And she won’t ask any awkward questions.”

“Good. Although.…” Wyn smiled. “You know, in a sort of way, she was right. Me and you… we made her. My DNA, your brilliance. We kind of ARE her parents in a mixed up sort of way.”

“She mustn’t know that. It would hurt her much more than if she thought she was the product of some illicit liaison between you and some unspecified man. But we shouldn’t talk about it, just in case she overhears us in the same way YOU overheard her talking to me.”

“Agreed,” Wyn said. “But… you know… it’s kind of a nice secret. We made her. And she’s a pretty decent kid. We did the job well.”

“That we did,” The Doctor agreed. “And I’m glad to get a chance to know her. To see if my theory was right. I was sure that if she was brought up differently she wouldn’t be the vain, selfish girl that she was the first time around.”

“Nature versus nurture?” Wyn said. “The old debate.”

“Nurture any time,” The Doctor replied. “I’ve always thought so.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. “Because, you know, me and Stella were both brought up about the same, but we’re different. She likes rubbish music and fashions and pretty looking boys who sing the rubbish music. And she’s thin, and she couldn’t climb a tree if her life depended on it. And she’s STRAIGHT.”

“But those are all acceptable variables. You’re both honest, decent people who know right from wrong and you’re smart-thinking and courageous. And you’d cut off your own right arms rather than let a friend down. Especially me. Those are the qualities that matter. The rest just make you interesting people capable of making your own individual choices.”

“Master Doctor,” K9 said. “Mistress, I hear thunder.”

“So do I, in point of fact,” he said looking up at the gathering storm clouds. “But why worry, K9? I made you waterproof. We’ve all got our coats on. I love to walk in the rain.”

“Me too,” Wyn said as the first drops of rain fell. It was clear water, as she fully expected it to be. The deep colour of the sea must come from the rocks that broke up to form this dark coloured sand. Ahead, the bay was enclosed around by an outcrop of rocks in shades of mulled wine and damson and she could imagine something like it continued under the sea as the bedrock.

“Absolutely correct,” The Doctor answered, even though she hadn’t actually asked the question. She had forgotten he could do that.

“It’s called acconicite,” he continued. “This is Acconia, named for the rocks. And they have seams of Lutanium in them that are the source of the planet’s wealth.”

“Oh! Lutanium!” Wyn noted. “That usually means trouble. People get greedy for that stuff.”

“That they do,” The Doctor said.

“So did we come to see the mines or what?” Wyn asked.

“We came because it’s an interesting planet with nice scenery and it’s safe. Don’t want to take Stella and you into trouble first time out.”

“You think we can’t handle it?”

“I’m sure you can. But it would be better if you didn’t have to.” He looked at Stella. She was enjoying herself, running along the beach in the rain, being a perfectly normal teenager.

“The storm is getting a bit much though, don’t you think, Doctor?”

The Doctor hadn’t even noticed. But now his attention was drawn to it he saw that she was right. The rain was very heavy and the lightning was forking down from the sky every few minutes.

And it was getting closer.

Stella screamed as a lightning bolt grounded only a few feet away from her, the boulder it hit becoming red hot momentarily.

“Is that normal?” Wyn asked.

“No,” The Doctor answered. He pulled his sonic screwdriver from inside his tightly buttoned overcoat and raised it up. Wyn was surprised when an invisible shield began to radiate out from it. It covered her and The Doctor, the rain running down it like glass and the next lightning bolt bouncing off it to turn a small patch of sand into glass.

“Stella, run to us,” Wyn shouted, and she didn’t need to be told twice. She turned and ran towards them. Wyn wondered if she would bounce off the shield, too. But she just stepped through it. The Doctor held up the screwdriver with one hand, and with the other he pulled Stella close to him. Wyn hugged them both as the lightning bolts fell around them.

“I hope it stops soon,” Stella said.

“Me, too,” The Doctor said. “My arm is starting to go numb.” Stella giggled as he hoped she would. It made her less frightened.

The storm did pass after a while. The dark clouds lightened and the rain eased off. It didn’t exactly turn into a beautiful blue sky with white fluffy clouds and the sun drying out the puddles of water, but it did at least stop raining. The Doctor put his arm down.

“That was clever,” Stella told him admiringly.

“A portable Faraday Cage,” Wyn said. “That’s a new use for the sonic screwdriver. Is there anything it can’t do?”

“It’s not very good at being a screwdriver,” he admitted as he put it in his pocket. “Ok, two choices. Back to the TARDIS to run a weather programme and see if I can work out why that happened or press on and see if we can find some natives and ask them about it.”

“Let’s go find some natives,” Wyn said immediately. Stella agreed wholeheartedly. The Doctor smiled at them both. He KNEW Wyn would be up to the challenge. He was glad Stella took after her enough in that way.

Come on then,” he said and strode forward, stopping to look at a puddle of molten sand that was cooling into glass. “That can happen with ordinary lightning, of course. But that wasn’t ordinary. So many bolts all at once. It looked like some kind of artificial interference with the atmosphere.”

Wyn looked about to reply. Stella tutted loudly.

“JUST because you have a science degree, don’t you and him start getting all physics on me.”

“You’re not into physics then, Stella?” The Doctor asked her as they continued their walk up the beach and across the rocky foreshore to the land itself.

“No,” she answered. “I want to be an actress. Or a fashion designer. Or maybe both.” She paused. “Or maybe a pop singer or a songwriter or….”

“Well, good for you,” he said encouragingly. “I hope you manage to do at least ONE of those things.” Wyn gave him a scowl. “What?”

“I thought you would want to encourage her to do something sensible.”

“Sensible?” The Doctor grinned. “If I’d been sensible I’d have worked all my life for the Gallifreyan Civil Service. You have to follow your dreams. Stella just has to make her mind up which one she wants to follow. Ahhh!”

The ‘ahhh’ was not a comment on Stella’s future career prospects, Wyn realised at once. They had come up from the beach now and found themselves on a road-wide sea wall. On the other side was a plain that must have been at sea level, protected by the wall. A small village and what was unmistakably the pit head of a mine were only a short walk away.

“Those houses look pretty small,” Wyn commented as they walked down the slope. “Or are we further away than we thought?”

“The houses are small,” The Doctor said.

The houses were built of the same red-purple stone that they had seen everywhere, with roofs made of what looked like a very tightly woven reddish-purple thatch. They all had two storeys and windows and doors just like anyone would expect in a house, except the glass in the windows was reddish. Every one of them, they noticed, had a lightning rod fixed to the gable or the chimney stack to conduct the bolts to the ground safely.

And they were so small. The whole two stories were not much taller than a bungalow on Earth.

Which meant, Wyn thought….

“Oh no,” Stella laughed. “That’s too corny. This is a dwarf village. Dwarves do the mining, like Snow White.”

“I was thinking more on the lines of Lord of the Rings,” Wyn added. “Or maybe Pratchett. But I agree, it’s a bit corny.”

“The universe is a diverse and beautiful place,” The Doctor said. “But….” He looked up as the diffused shadows cast by the sun through the pale grey sky disappeared. The dark storm clouds were gathering again and a clap of thunder was followed by a lightning flash that split the sky and grounded in a nearby lightning rod. As The Doctor reached again for his sonic screwdriver and pulled Wyn and Stella close to him, a door opened in one of the houses.

“Strangers, come, you may shelter here,” a very little man said.

“If one of you so much as THINKS about Umpa Lumpas, I’ll get cross,” The Doctor murmured as he grabbed their hands and raced towards the welcoming door.

Wyn wasn’t thinking of Umpa Lumpas. She was thinking that The Doctor was going to have to duck a lot to get in through a door that only came up to HER shoulders. She and Stella were both five foot four, and bobbing their heads they got through all right, to find their heads touching the ceiling of the room inside. The Doctor at over six foot, had to lean his shoulders forward uncomfortably.

Though she would definitely get back to the Umpa Lumpa reference, she thought.

She had expected the house to be something like a Hobbit house or something quaint on those sort of lines. In fact it was a very modern, open plan room with a kitchen at the back separated from the rest of the room by a purple glass breakfast bar. There was a dining table with chairs, and a sitting area with sofa and armchairs. Stairs went up to the rooms or room above. There was electric light and a videoscreen on the wall and a computer in one corner that was arranged as a study area. It didn’t seem a very big living space, but it was everything anyone could need for a pleasant home life.

The little man offered The Doctor a chair, but he shook his head and took the cushion from it and sat on that, on the floor. Another of the small occupants of the house, one that was clearly female, produced two more cushions for Wyn and Stella and then presented them with cups of something that was a little like milky tea and a crumbly kind of cake before giving the same to three smaller members of the family who sat around a low table.

“Thank you for your kindness,” The Doctor said on behalf of them all. “I’m The Doctor and this is Wyn and Stella, and K9, my friends and fellow travellers.”

“I am Feba,” said the male. “This is my wife, Cebb. And these are our children. Please excuse their bad manners in staring. None of us have ever seen people so tall or so pale before.”

The family all had faces that were the same deep purple as the sea. The irises of their eyes were all dark, so it was impossible to see the pupils. The whites of their eyes were not white, but pale purple. Their hair was black with a hint of purple.

She wondered if their blood would be purple. But she had no desire to find out right now.

The Doctor moved on his knees closer to the children and pulled a paper bag from his pocket. It contained sherbet lemons and he gave one each to the children, whose faces lit with surprise and pleasure as they tasted the unusual treat. They forgot that he was a strange looking stranger and smiles beamed on their faces. Their teeth, Wyn noticed, WERE white. Some things were the same across the universe.

“These storms,” The Doctor said turning back to the two adults of the family. “How long have they been happening like this?”

“Acconia has always had thunderstorms, Feba told him. “The electrical season is something we prepare for each year. A month of daily storms precedes the summer. We make sure the lightning rods are secure and when we go out we use those.” He pointed to the corner where The Doctor saw a stack of what looked like high-sided umbrellas made of wire mesh. Two were Acconian adult size and three child size.

“Portable Faraday Cages,” Wyn said. “You’re not the first to think of it, Doctor.”

“Very good idea,” The Doctor said. “But something isn’t right, is it?”

Feba looked at The Doctor. Cebb put her arms around the children.

“The electrical season has lasted a year now. We have had no summer, no winter, no spring. Just storms every day, storms so frequent we can barely get to the mine, the children are afraid to go to school even with the cages to protect them. There were no food crops grown this year. Even the fruit orchards failed. many of them were destroyed by fires caused by the lightning. Our government has imported food but that has been expensive. We have had to double the shifts in the Lutanium mines so that exports exceed import.”

“That shouldn’t be so hard,” The Doctor mused. “Lutanium is a far more valuable commodity on the intergalactic exchange than food. You have something to sell that everyone else wants to buy and you need to buy what everyone else has in abundance. The market is yours.”

“I am a mineralogist, Doctor,” Feba said. “I can analyse a piece of Acconite and tell you whether it comes from a seam likely to produce good Lutanium. But economics… that is for our government. All I know is that we’ve been told to triple the shifts as of next month, and to expect the food ration to be cut.”

“Your food is rationed?” Wyn asked. “But you shared it with us.”

“Proving that generosity and hospitality still matter despite these troubled times,” The Doctor told her with a smile toward Feba and Cebb and their family. “Feba, have you given any thought to why the electrical season has extended like this?”

He hadn’t, but Cebb had.

“I do not believe it is natural,” she said. “I have made a study of it here.” She directed The Doctor to a computer terminal in the corner of the room. “Feba thought I was being silly. He said he bought me the computer for doing the household accounts, not for recording details of the frequency and intensity of the lightning discharges. He said the government would surely have their own scientists, much cleverer than I am working these things out. But I said, what if they aren’t? What if nobody in the government has taken notes.”

The Doctor crouched on the floor, the computer chair proving useless to him and read through the data Feba had accumulated at super fast speed.

“It’s all just raw data, of course,” he said. “You didn’t know how to compile it. But it’s a good start. Well done. Feba, shame on you for trying to stop Cebb from doing something so valuable.”

“I was always interested in sciences when I was a child,” she told him. “I read all sorts of books. Mineralogy books, of course. I come from a mining people. But also physics and natural science. I wanted to go to university to learn more, but they do not give free grants to women and my family could not afford to pay.”

The Doctor felt Wyn’s outrage about that even with his back to her.

“Yeah,” he said. “My people were a bit misogynistic, too. They let women into the universities, but when they graduated most of them were given jobs in traffic control until they got married and left the service altogether.”

“I think the storm is passing,” Stella observed. “We could get back to the TARDIS, now.”

“I could get back to the TARDIS,” The Doctor said. “Me and K9 anyway. We can move much faster on our own. You stay here where you’re safe and I’ll come and get you.” He whistled to K9 and he came to his side. The Doctor nodded to him and he dutifully extended his probe and interfaced with the computer, downloading Cebb’s collected data into his memory cells. He patted K9 between the ears and stood up quickly, forgetting about the low ceiling in his enthusiasm.

Feba and Cebb were both appalled but Wyn and Stella laughed and The Doctor, rubbing the sore spot, grinned and said it served him right for being careless.

“I’ve got a strong skull,” he said. “No harm done.” He turned and gave the rest of the bag of sweets to the three children and from another pocket produced two big slabs of chocolate that he gave to Cebb. “In return for the cake and tea,” he said. “Take care of yourselves until I get back.”

Then he bent low and CAREFULLY stepped through the door. K9 followed. The bad weather HAD eased but he reckoned he probably had ten minutes before the next lightning burst. He looked at K9. Even this hover version of him wasn’t built for speed. He picked him up and tucked him under his arm as he raced home to the TARDIS.

Stella and Wyn watched The Doctor race away from the purple-tinted window and then turned and looked at their hosts.

“Please sit,” Feba said to them. “I will turn on the broadcast now that the storm has passed. There may be news from other townships.”

The videoscreen flickered into life and they watched what was obviously a news broadcast. The news was not good. There were reports coming in of many casualties of the storms. Stella gave a cry of sympathy as live pictures showed a school on fire and children wearing those cage-like umbrellas running from the danger with their teachers. Feba and Cebb’s children were very agitated at the sight of that. Then the picture changed to a sad-faced Acconite who wore an elaborate robe with lots of gold trimming. Feba and Cebb were nearly standing to attention at the sight of him.

“The President,” Feba explained. “A great man.”

Stella and Wyn both reserved judgement on his greatness until he began to speak.

“My fellow Acconians,” he began. “My friends, brothers, sisters, children.” There was a catch in his voice as he spoke. “I wish there was better news I could bring you. But the situation continues to be grave. The galactic stock market has again fallen and Lutanium prices are at an all time low. I must ask you all to increase production so that we can maintain the necessary export levels and ensure the import of food. The destruction of thousands of units of food in the recent electrical fire at the import warehouse has made it even more imperative that we are able to buy new shipments of food soon. Until then, I regret that rations may need to be cut once more.”

The picture cut back to the newsreader who began to announce how much of a cut in rations would be needed while footage of the fire in the warehouse of food reminded them why it was necessary.

“That was a terrible night,” Cebb told them. “Five people dead, and a whole month’s food gone.” Then she looked at her three children. They were all upset. She looked at the slab of chocolate The Doctor had given her. They had all eaten today. This gift of food should be kept for another day, when the need was greater. But a distraction from the troubles of their lives seemed more imperative. She broke the chocolate into three pieces and gave it to them.

“You should have had a little of it for yourself,” Wyn told her. “Grown ups need cheering up, too.” Chocolate had always cheered her when she felt down. She thought of just how much of it she must have eaten in her life, and wished she could give it all to Cebb. But then, this was only one family. There must be thousands more like them. All the chocolate she had ever eaten wouldn’t scratch the surface of the real need there was here.

The Doctor knew that, too. That was why he had gone back to the TARDIS, so that he could find a way of helping EVERYONE.

“We’d best put off the screen,” Feba said. “The storm is closing in again and they do say that videoscreens attract the lightning bolts.”

Wyn could have told them that was a myth, just like the old one about turning mirrors around that she remembered her grandmother used to say. But she was a guest in this house and it would be rude to tell their hosts that they were stupid. Besides, this was a different planet. The rules of physics may not apply. Maybe here the lightning WAS attracted to television.

Feba and Cebb hugged the children and each other tightly as the house shook. A bolt had grounded in their lightning rod. Wyn felt Stella reach out and take hold of her hand. She hugged her sister.

“We’ll be ok,” she assured her. “Everyone will be. The Doctor will help.”

“I hope he got back to the TARDIS before this started,” Stella said.

The Doctor was racing towards the TARDIS as the dark clouds started to form up again. He saw a bolt of lightning hit the lamp on top of the blue box, but it didn’t do it any harm. The TARDIS would soak up that sort of electrical energy. He could run the fridge off it for an hour or two. He reached the door and opened it as another bolt hit. The TARDIS glowed electric blue for a few seconds before it dissipated. He ran inside, closing the door and was protected by the best Faraday Cage ever. He put K9 down on his own hover pads and ran to the console.

“Master Doctor,” K9 said. “On this planet lightning DOES strike twice in the same place. In point of fact I calculate the TARDIS has been hit three more times since we entered it.”

“You think that’s a bit unusual, K9, old friend?” The Doctor asked.

“Affirmative,” K9 replied.

“Yeah, me too. The TARDIS is a bit exposed just here. And lightning DOES hone in on the tallest thing. But THAT many times?”

“Eight times now,” K9 reported.

“Were you processing the data while I gave you a free ride back to the TARDIS?” The Doctor asked.

“I was,” K9 answered. “I will upload my findings to the TARDIS databank now.” K9 hovered forward and his probe interfaced with the console. It took only seconds. The Doctor brought the processed data up onto the screen and read it in only a few more seconds. The screen scrolled a little too slowly for him to take in the information much faster.

“If there was a way to upload directly to your brain it would be more efficient,” K9 said. “It would save having to use the TARDIS as a middleman.”

“I’m not a cyberman,” The Doctor answered him. “I LEARN stuff. I don’t upload it. Or download it. That’s the fundamental difference between me and you and the TARDIS. Much as I love you both, inefficient flesh and blood has to come first. Or we lose ourselves.”

“I understand, Master Doctor,” K9 said.

“I’m not so sure you do,” The Doctor replied. “But the fact that you try is what makes you so wonderful.” He patted k9 on the head and moved around the console. He had promised to come straight back to Wyn and Stella, but they were safe where they were for now. Feba and Cebb were good people. He could make a detour without worrying about them too much.

Wyn and Stella and the Feba family were also discovering that lightning could strike twice. The little house shook three times as bolts hit the steel rod on the roof and grounded in the foundations. The children were crying. Stella was terrified.

“Is it always like this with The Doctor?” she asked. “I thought it was cool travelling with him. But I’m scared.”

“You never listened to mum or me properly,” Wyn told her. “We said it was scary. We talked about the danger. We never sugar-coated it.”

“I know,” she answered. “But I never really thought about it. I thought of… well… like the story mum told about when King Peladon wanted to make her his queen. He sounded totally fit. I don’t know why mum didn’t say yes.”

“Because she knew she really belonged back home on Earth. And so do we. Besides, Peladon is a republic now. The Doctor said so. The old king’s daughter gave up the throne once she had ensured the planet’s acceptance into the Federation and introduced democratic elections.”

“Must be lots of other kings out there, though,” Stella said.

“If there are, and if any of them want to marry you, the answer is NO,” Wyn told her, pulling big sister rank on her and knowing The Doctor would back her up on that one.

The TARDIS materialised inside the outer office of the Acconian equivalent of the Oval Office in the Earth democracy called the USA or the Lord High President’s chamber in the Panopticon on Gallifrey. A surprised secretary reached for a telephone to call security as The Doctor stepped out. He didn’t want to deal with security right now. He nodded to K9, who used his laser weapon in a thin, quick beam that disabled the phone.

“Sorry about that. Send the repair bill to me. But I don’t have time to mess about. I need to talk to the President. Please show me inside. I am The Doctor. He doesn’t know me personally, but I know he attended the Shaddow Conference. He is a signatory of the Proclamation. He must have heard my speech.”

The President HAD heard of him. He greeted him as an equal, and told his secretary not to worry about anything.

The President looked worried enough for everyone.

“You’ve got a troubled world,” The Doctor said. “I’m here to help.”

“You are a great man,” the President answered. “But I doubt if there is anything you can do.”

“I can set the record straight, for one thing,” he said. “K9 – interface with the videoscreen there.” K9 dutifully did as his master commanded. “This is data collected by a very smart citizen of Acconia that proves without doubt that the non-stop electrical storms are not a natural phenomenon. Atmospheric excitation is being used to keep the storm clouds forming. The continuous storms have rendered all your satellite communications useless. You are virtually cut off from the outside universe. You have no idea what is going on out there. You particularly don’t know what the galactic stock market is doing. You don’t know the going price for pure Lutanium ingots.”

“The stock market is in a slump. Lutanium is at an all time low.”

“No, it isn’t,” The Doctor said. “K9 – the latest prices from the Dow Intergalactic.”

The screen resolved into a commodities market table. The President stepped up to the screen, his finger reaching to follow the line that showed the Lutanium prices.

“But… at THAT rate, we could feed the people ten times over. I don’t understand.”

“When this began, you sent out an SOS communication. Before you lost all other contact you had one reply. One deal was struck to provide food imports in return for Lutanium exports. It is your sole trade this past year.”

“It had to be,” the President said. “The Lutanium exports, in return for the food imports at competitive prices were the only way we could survive. The Lords Igu and Rhi have been….” The President stopped speaking. He looked at the stock commodities market figures.

“No,” The Doctor said. “They have NOT been generous. They have cheated you. They bought Lutanium at a price FAR below its market value and supplied you with basic food stuffs at a price that should have bought the richest banquet.”

“They cheated us.” The President’s face paled – as much as somebody the colour of a ripe plum could pale. “They cheated me. And I was fool enough to let them. I will resign at once. I cannot call myself a leader.…”

“That’s for you, and maybe the people to decide,” The Doctor said. “But cheating you out of profits is not the whole of it.” Again he gave K9 an instruction. Again the screen changed. They looked at the view of a ship that was in stationary orbit above Acconia.

“That is the ship the Lords Igu and Rhi arrived in. They transported me there to make the contract. They said that our atmosphere was unsuitable to their constitutions and they preferred to stay aboard their own humidity-controlled ship.”

“Really?” The Doctor looked interested. “You know I didn’t ask… maybe I should. Exactly what planet do the Lords Igu and Rhi represent?”

“Thoros Beta,” The President answered. “They are… unusual creatures… repulsive even. But I had no choice but to forge a trade agreement with them.”

The President noticed that The Doctor was no longer talking. He had known him only a few minutes, but it was long enough for him to realise that The Doctor not talking meant something was wrong.

“Thoras Beta,” he said slowly, his face seeming almost frozen except for his mouth moving. “You’re doing business with Mentors.”

He couldn’t make this personal. He told himself that. All the bad memories he had of his last encounters with them could not cloud his judgment. Besides, his memory of the last occasion was not clear. Events had been distorted and he had never been entirely sure what the truth of it was. He had to hope that what he was told, that his friend Peri had not been killed in that gruesome experiment, was true.

Even so, if the Mentors were responsible for this situation….

As a young Time Lord, he had trained as a diplomat. One of his first lessons was summed up in the Earth expression ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. He had met with species whose physical appearance turned his stomach, and some of them had proved to be gracious, fair-minded and wonderful people whom it was a pleasure to know. He had met species whose physical appearance conformed to all the concepts of beauty that his social conditioning led him to value, and their minds were rotten to the core.

Then there were some species for which that first instinct, based on physical appearance, was the correct one. Raxacoricofallapatorians were generally untrustworthy. Mentors were as disgusting as they appeared at first glance - slimy reptilians with a sting in their tail.

“They’ll bleed you and your people dry,” The Doctor said. “They are CAUSING the storms. The food warehouse that was destroyed – they can focus the lightning. It wasn’t an accident. They destroyed the food to tighten the thumbscrews on you, to make you sell more Lutanium for a lower price because you NEED the food.”

“They….” The President’s face was distinctly ashen. The Doctor put his hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I’m here. I’m going to stop this right NOW.” He looked around. K9 had anticipated his move. He was standing by the door with his tail and head up like a hunting dog who had caught the scent of the quarry.

He felt a little like that himself.

The storm was getting worse. Feba and his family were huddled together. Wyn and Stella clung to each other as lightning bolts shook the house again and again.

“Are they AIMING at us?” Stella asked. “Is it… is it because of us?”

“It can’t be,” Wyn answered. “No, surely not. I don’t think this is natural. Somebody is messing with the weather, for whatever reason. The Doctor is going to put a stop to it. But I can’t see how it would be deliberately aimed at us. What would be the point?”

“Because we’re different. We’re not from here.”

“Yes, but whoever is manipulating the weather doesn’t know that, do they?” Wyn reasoned. Then she screamed with Stella as another bolt hit the lightning rod and they heard a dreadful groaning as it pulled away from the chimney stack and slid down the slope of the roof before clattering to the ground. Everyone cried out in fear as a second bolt hit the roof of the house, setting the thatch alight.

The Doctor materialised the TARDIS in front of Feba’s house. He had thought of going to deal with the Mentor ship straight away, but as much as he hated to admit it, he really needed a second experienced hand at the TARDIS controls if he was going to deal with their atmospheric manipulation and deal them a blow they would remember.

He needed Wyn.

Besides, he HAD told them he would be right back.

He stepped out of the TARDIS and stared in horror at the burning remains of the house. By his ankles K9 made a noise that was the electronic equivalent of a whimper.

“No!” he whispered hoarsely. “No, I left them there because they would be SAFE!”

“Doctor!” His hearts jumped as he heard Stella’s voice. He saw her running from another house. “Doctor… it’s all right. We’re in here.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him along, talking fast about how the fire had took hold in seconds, how she and Wyn and Cebb had taken the children out while Feba and his neighbours tried to tackle the fire. She told him how they had braved the continuing storm to try to save something of the house and how a bolt of lightning had grounded next to Feba and he had fallen, his heart stopped by the shock.

“He’s dead?” The Doctor was horrified. A good, decent man struck down in such a futile way.

“No, he’s.…” Stella practically dragged him through the low door into the crowded house where he saw Cebb and the children being comforted by their neighbours while, on the floor, Feba was starting to respond to Wyn’s patient effort at CPR.

“Well done,” he told her as Feba began to come round and she stood back and let his wife and friends look after him. She hadn’t even seen The Doctor come in, but she let him put his arm around her shoulder to hug her.

“You taught me how to do it, ages ago,” he reminded her. “But their house is gone. All their food rations, everything.”

“I know,” The Doctor told her. “Come on, both of you. We’re going to put an end to this and make sure they have a future after all.”

They went quietly, leaving the Acconians to make the best of it. In the TARDIS, The Doctor told Wyn what he needed her to do.

“It’s been a while,” she admitted. “I’m a bit rusty.”

“It’s like riding a bike,” The Doctor said. “You never forget.”

“You did,” Stella told him. “When mum hung around with you in the seventies. You had forgotten how to fly the TARDIS.”

“Only because the Time Lords messed with my head and with the TARDIS. I haven’t had that problem for centuries. Anyway, you come here and take this handle, Stella. You know, this TARDIS was actually made for a six man crew. Three is just about right.”

“We’re crew?” she asked happily. “Not just passengers?”

“Passengers aren’t allowed in TARDISes. Everyone has a job to do. You can hold down the lever right now. Later, it’s your turn to make the coffee.”

Stella grimaced. She might be travelling in outer space, but apparently there were still chores. No getting out of it.

“What are we doing, anyway?” she asked.

“Giving a nasty piece of work a chance to go quietly before I get tough,” The Doctor answered. He flipped a switch and they looked at the viewscreen. The TARDIS was maintaining a position next to a space ship in orbit above the planet. They could clearly see that some kind of beam was coming from the base of the ship and spreading around the planet’s atmosphere.

“That’s making the storms?” Stella asked.

“Atmospheric excitation,” The Doctor told her. “It’s an easy trick. I can do it with the TARDIS. I’ve made it snow on Christmas Eve, made the rain stop on Cup Final Day. But only localised. Nothing that messes up a whole planet.”

“WHO is doing it?” Wyn asked.

“THEY are,” The Doctor said as he flipped another switch and patched into the ships bridge. He was not at all surprised by the noises his two companions made as they saw the two Mentors sitting on their fetid mattresses in the place where the captain’s seat would usually be on a space ship bridge. Reptilian bodies with scrawny arms and repulsive, ridged heads and a body that tapered to a limp tail that flicked up and down in excitement as they looked back at The Doctor.



“I believe their names are Igu and Rhi,” The Doctor told them.

“We don’t have to get any closer to them, do we?” Wyn asked. “They’re like… gaahh!”

“That goes double from me,” Stella added. “Yuk. Not exactly what I had in mind. You didn’t take my mum to see slug people.”

“We’re not getting any closer,” The Doctor assured them. “I don’t like them either.” He looked at the Mentors coldly as he continued speaking. “The LORDS Igu and Rhi – Or so they would have us believe. But I do believe only the leader of the Mentors is entitled to be called Lord. And the leader would never travel from the home planet.”

“Who are YOU?” the one called Igu replied. “And what do you want?”

“I don’t WANT anything,” The Doctor answered. “I DEMAND that you cease your interference with this planet, repay the money defrauded from the treasury, take your ship out of orbit, and never return to this sector.”

There was a brief moment, and then both Mentors laughed a chilling laugh. Stella repeated her earlier comment.


The Doctor thought that about described a Mentor laugh.

“Is that a no then?” he asked them when they finished laughing. “Ok, you had your one chance. I don’t give second chances. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

He flipped the screen back to the exterior view and turned to the drive console, calling out instructions that Wyn and Stella obeyed quickly and without question. They felt the TARDIS vibrate as it slid into position under the space ship, intersecting with the beam. They saw the view outside spinning, though there was no sensation of movement inside the TARDIS. And they saw the beam refracting back towards the ship.

“No!” Wyn yelled. “Doctor, they’re scum, the worst kind. And repulsive. But you can’t blow the ship up.”

“I’m not blowing the ship up,” he answered. “Just interfering with it.” He flipped the view again and they looked at a darkened bridge with consoles sparking from electrical overloads. Low level lights showed that there was some form of back up system working.

“Playing with electricity is dangerous,” The Doctor said. “I reversed the polarity of your atmospheric excitation beam. It burnt out your mains power. You’ve got life support and impulse drive. Enough to get you back to Thoras Beta. I suggest you set off, now.”

“WHO are you?” Rhi demanded.

“I’m The Doctor.” He saw them shudder visibly. They knew his name. Good. If they wanted payback they could come and look for him, not take it out on the planet.

“They use slave labour to crew their ships.” The Doctor said. “Otherwise I think I WOULD have blown it up.”

“No, you wouldn’t.” Wyn told him. “You really wouldn’t.”

“Maybe not,” he mused. “Anyway….”

He watched as the ship broke orbit and then he set the TARDIS to return to the planet. He would have to go and talk to the President later and help him start repairing the damage. He could put him in touch with those who would give him a FAIR price for the Lutanium exports and food imports and seed to plant crops once the climate was back on an even keel.

But meanwhile he went back to the village.

“Still a grotty wet day,” Wyn complained as they stepped out of the TARDIS.

“I’m dealing with that,” The Doctor said. “Localised excitation, no problem.” He popped back into the TARDIS and Wyn and Stella watched as the light on top of the TARDIS started to flash and glow and emitted a beam a little like the one that the Mentors had used on the planet. As soon as the beam hit the clouds they began to dissipate. In the few minutes there was a blue sky. An actual blue sky. Wyn would have not been surprised if it had been lilac. She was getting used to shades of purple now. But it was blue, and a warm sun was suddenly revealed as the clouds thinned and disappeared.

The people who came from the houses could hardly believe it at first. They blinked and stared up at the sky. Feba and Cebb’s children joined with others who ran and played under the sunlight. The couple themselves came slowly. Feba looked a little unwell yet, but getting sunlight on his face seemed to do him good.

“Here,” The Doctor said, pressing a large, stuffed bag into Cebb’s hand. “Bread, cheese, chocolate, fruit. There’s going to be food enough available soon. But this will keep you going meanwhile.”

Cebb dropped the bag and reached out to him. She tried to kiss him on the cheek, but a four and a half foot woman trying to kiss a six foot man wasn’t the easiest manoeuvre. K9 hovered forward and wagged his tail. Cebb stood delicately on his back and he raised her up until she was level with him. The Doctor smiled as he received a rare gesture of thanks for his effort.

“Did he leave us any food?” Stella asked.

“That’s our chore, too,” Wyn told her. “The Doctor doesn’t do second chances and he doesn’t push supermarket trolleys.”