“Ah!” The Doctor cried joyfully. “Smell that air! London, 1960s! Coal fires, gasworks, leaded petrol!” He stuck his tongue out as if he was actually tasting the air. “December, 1964, I’d say.”

“You are such a liar!” Wyn told him. “No WAY you can tell that by the TASTE of the air. She looked back as Jamie, in male form today, dressed in a blue suit a little like The Doctor’s, but better ironed, stepped out of the TARDIS. Stella was with him, dressed in a jumper and slacks and fastening her coat against the cold. K9 hovered by the door, but he knew he couldn’t come out into non-advanced time periods so he contented himself with being ‘on guard’. Stella pulled the door shut and the three of them hurried to catch up with The Doctor’s long legged stride.

They had landed in an alleyway at the back of a terraed street that at a cursory glance could have been just about any time between 1850 and 2163 when, as The Doctor knew, the Daleks levelled most of the old residential parts of London. All they could see was rows of back yards with washing hanging up. A closer and longer look would have suggested mid-twentieth century. The washing included things like terry nappies. By twenty years later, most people had started using disposables and it was rare to see nappies on the line. And there were no replica football shirts with brand name logos or duvet covers with TV characters, the sort of thing that would identify later decades of the consumer society. The TV aerials were of the pre-digital age and there were no satellite dishes.

When they emerged onto the main road, they had a few further clues. They realised The Doctor was right about the decade, anyway. The shops and businesses along the road were of the sort to be found in 1960s London. There was a co-op shop, an art deco cinema, a row of food shops, butcher, greengrocer, baker, all the things that would be all under one roof in a supermarket a few years later. There were several pubs with those lavatory tile fronts that were in vogue in post war Britain. The cars, buses, vans that went by immediately reminded Wyn of the sort of vehicles to be seen in old Carry On films, made in the 1960s, when her mum was still a child. Motorised vehicles didn’t even have their way completely. A brewers dray pulled by carthorses stood outside the pub and another long, horse drawn flatbed full of coal sacks seemed to be perfectly usual. Just across the road, outside the pub, a handcart was parked and a man was selling hot chestnuts. A child in a gabardine coat and hood was buying several bags of them.

The Doctor took in these details and smiled widely.

“It’s the Old Kent Road,” he said. “The OLD Old Kent Road, way before your time, children!”

“I never knew that was a real place,” Stella commented. “I thought it was just on the Monopoly board.”

“It’s real,” Wyn answered her. “Mum grew up near here. By the time we both came along she was starting to sound Welsh, but she was a Londoner originally. THAT’S why this place seems familiar. Mum’s got old family albums with pictures of her mum and dad and herself when she was a kid, and stuff.”

“There you go, then,” The Doctor told her. “A bit of your family history.”

I’ve never been here,” Wyn told him. “YOU sound more like you belong here than we do. Your accent fits in.” They all listened to snatches of conversation; shouts from the drayman to the potman down the open hatch of the beer cellar, the chatter of two girls in warm tights and boots and warm coats with fur-lined collars as they passed by, the cheeky call of a young man in a greengrocer’s striped apron who expressed his appreciation of the two girls and got an equally appreciative smile and a wave back from them both. Yes, The Doctor DID sound at home here. Which was a complete coincidence, of course. His accent changed with his face, and he had very little control over it. This incarnation was no more from the Old Kent Road than his previous one was from Salford, or the one her mum knew from the Home Counties.

Still, it was interesting to hear people around who all sounded like The Doctor.

He smiled and winked and then reached into his pocket for a handful of coins. He stepped into a newsagents shop. He emerged a minute later with a newspaper and a paper bag. He offered his friends what turned out to be jelly babies.

“It’s AGES since I was in a shop where they have sweets in jars behind the counter,” he said. “Sweets in a little paper bag, weighed out in front of me. Much better than all packaged up in sealed plastic in the supermarket. It’s one of the things I LIKED about living in London when I was older than I am now! Popping into a little shop and buying the daily paper and an ounce of pipe tobacco and a bag of sweets.” His eyes seemed far away as he reminisced about a life long past and gone. Then he grinned and opened out the newspaper. He showed the front page to his companions. They all saw the date perfectly clearly.

“December 31st, 1964!” he said out loud in case they hadn’t got the message. “Who’s a clever Doctor, then?”

Jamie was impressed. Wyn made a huffing sound.

“Oooh, he’ll be unbearable now!” Stella commented.

“I still don’t believe he TASTED the air and got it exactly right,” Wyn said. “That’s just not…”

She was distracted mid-sentence as Jamie suddenly darted away from their huddle. They all turned and witnessed what took only seconds but seemed longer. There was a screech of brakes, a thud of flesh hitting off metal and shouts of consternation from passers by who began to gather. Meanwhile a young boy, or possibly a tomboyish girl in a gabardine coat and hood picked him or her self up from the road and looked around, shaken, at the man who was lying there, in front of the Ford Anglia he or she had been pushed out of the way of.

“Jamie!” Wyn screamed and ran to her lover’s side. The Doctor was there at the same moment, pulling his sonic screwdriver discreetly from his pocket. He quickly ascertained that Jamie was concussed from the impact with the car bonnet and had a dislocated shoulder and a bruised back, but nothing more serious. He saw Stella reaching for her mobile phone and shook his head. A 999 call on her souped up phone WOULD have reached the local emergency services, but there were several good reasons NOT to call for an ambulance. The first one being that Jamie, unconscious, was having trouble maintaining the male form and kept shimmering back and forwards from her female persona.

“It’s all right,” he called out to the general public watching on. “I’m a doctor. This man is all right. I can take care of him.”

He discreetly repaired the concussion and Jamie opened her eyes, stabilising at last as a female. The Doctor helped her to stand, to the relief of some of the onlookers and the obvious disappointment of the more ghoulish ones who wanted to see blood pouring from a dead body. None of them seemed to notice that the ‘man’ The Doctor was taking care of was now a woman.

A policeman turned up and started the ‘m ove along please, there’s nothing to see’ routine. When he turned to the scene of the accident, though, the victim was no longer there. The driver of the car, who stood by his vehicle looking dazed and scared pointed to the alleyway beside the newsagents. The policeman told him to wait there while he investigated. He was puzzled by the sight of a Police Public Call Box in the alleyway, a completely wrong place for one to be. They were supposed to be on the streets where people could find them.

He was even more puzzled when this particular box disappeared in front of his eyes with a strange roaring, groaning noise and a displacement of air that blew his helmet off. He walked back to the scene of the accident and told the driver he might as well be getting along since he couldn’t find the victim and then decided it was time he went on his mid morning break.


Inside the TARDIS, The Doctor gave Wyn the sonic screwdriver in tissue repair mode and she was fussing over Jamie, mending all her injuries. K9 hovered by her, equally anxious about his other mistress. Stella helped The Doctor at the TARDIS control. He was frowning as if something was wrong.

“Something is wrong,” he said. “The TARDIS won’t let me leave this temporal location. It’s moved us exactly 1.2 miles and put us down in the middle of a park.”

“The TARDIS is broken?” Stella asked with a worried look on her face.

“No, it just doesn’t want us to leave yet. I wasn’t planning to, anyway. The reason we landed here was an interesting blip on the scanners that I thought I might investigate. But it seems like the TARDIS wants to stay, too.”

“The TARDIS should stop messing about,” Wyn remarked before turning back to attend to Jamie again.

“The TARDIS…” The Doctor began, then stopped. He had moved around the console and stubbed his foot on one of the moveable metal grills on the floor. Usually they were set flush. He automatically looked down and gave a cry of astonishment. He pulled the grill aside and reached to pull up the gabardine coated child who was hiding under there.

“Do you know what happens to stowaways in my TARDIS?” he asked the child. He or she was about ten years old, he guessed, and he still hadn’t worked out male or female. “When did you get in here?”

“It’s the kid Jamie stopped from getting knocked over,” Stella observed. “He was standing next to me when the policeman came over. I don’t know where he went after that.”

“Obviously he went here,” The Doctor answered. He knelt and looked closer at the pale face underneath the hood. “SHE went here. You’re a girl aren’t you? What’s your name?”

“Jo,” she answered. “Is this a space ship? It looks like a space ship. And you’ve got a robot dog.”

“Yes, it is,” The Doctor answered. “And yes, I have. Did you sneak in behind us when we were looking after Jamie?” She nodded. “That was very dangerous. Apart from anything else, what about not talking to strangers.” The girl processed that idea and closed her mouth tightly. “Too late for that. You’ve already told me your name. We’re not strangers now. I’m The Doctor, by the way. This is Stella. That’s Wyn and Jamie. And K9. So now we’re all introduced.”

“I’m a secret agent. And you’re spies,” she said.

“Well, actually, if you’re a secret agent, then you’re the spy,” The Doctor answered her with a smile. “Jo… short for Josephine, is it? What’s your last name?”

“Grant,” she answered. “Jo Grant.”

The Doctor didn’t bat an eyelid. Wyn and Stella looked at her with renewed interest. He did a quick calculation. His Jo Grant was just nineteen when he met her in 1972, the most unlikely spy in Mi5, transferred to the United Nations through an uncle with connections and passed to U.N.I.T., who in turn passed her to him. He always had the impression that nobody really wanted to be bothered with giving her the on the job training and experience she was supposed to be getting. He was the first person to even take an interest in her.

But that would make her ten or eleven in 1964. He reached and put down the hood of the gabardine and looked at the blonde hair, cut short around an elfin face with big, wondering eyes.

“Jo Grant, welcome to the TARDIS,” he said. There wasn’t much else he COULD say. Stella and Wyn looked at him, but he shook his head slightly to tell them not to say anything right now.

“So is THAT why the TARDIS wouldn’t leave? Because she was on board?” Jamie asked.

“Yep,” The Doctor answered. “It’s got a special setting in case of stowaways. I don’t want to accidentally kidnap any kids that get curious about my old box. Do you live near a park, Jo?”

“Yes,” she answered. “I live on Neate Street. But my mum is out. My friends will be at our secret hideout. We’re secret agents. We’re tracking down a spy.”

“I’m tracking down a non-terrestrial entity that’s leaving unusual resonances in the area,” The Doctor replied to her. “I wonder if your friends could help me. Can I see your secret hideout?”

“It’s secret,” she answered. “Grown ups aren’t allowed.”

“Oh, go on!” The Doctor goaded her gently. “You’ll let me in, won’t you? I’m not really a grown up. I’m a big kid at hearts.”

“That’s true,” Wyn agreed. “Doctor, can you come and look at Jamie’s shoulder? She’s hurting still.”

“Stella, why don’t you take Jo and go and find her some orange juice,” The Doctor said. Stella did so. He went to Jamie’s side. Her shoulder WAS still out of place and there was a minute of extreme pain for Jamie as The Doctor put it back with brute force and some applied chiropractics. But he knew, also, that Wyn wanted to talk to him.

“Is she really… Is that REALLY my mum when she was a kid?”

“Yes,” The Doctor confirmed. “As soon as I touched her hand, I knew. I felt her at DNA level. I recognised her.”

“Ok.” Wyn looked at him steadily for a long moment. “That’s… I know we’ve seen a lot of weird things together. But for me, right now, this tops it. It’s freaking me out a bit. Stella seems ok about it. But, I don’t know. Tell me I’m being silly. But I’m not sure I can handle this. Can we… I don’t know… take her home and get away from here.”

“There’s something going on around here,” The Doctor answered. “The sort of thing neither I nor Jamie COULD just leave alone. Your mum and her friends might be in danger. It looks as if their secret hideout is more or less on top of the trouble. We can’t just let her get hurt.”

“Speaking of getting hurt,” Jamie said. “I broke rule one. I didn’t even think. I saw the child and the car… and I ran to save her. I never even considered the damage to causality…”

The Doctor saw the worry in Jamie’s eyes. It wasn’t EXACTLY rule one, for Time Lords or Time Agents. But it WAS in the top ten. And without the Time Lords as Wardens of Causality, it was more important than it ever was to avoid changing history in that way. But he shook his head and smiled reassuringly.

“Jo wasn’t destined to be run over in 1964. She was alive and well in 1972 when I first met her, and still alive and well the last time I saw her in the 21st century. Causality expected you to be there to save her. Besides, I’d have done the same if I’d seen her first. Not interfering… I’ve never been any good at that. Especially when innocent lives are at stake.”

Jamie nodded in understanding. The Doctor was the last of the Ancients who cast the immutable Laws of Time in stone. And even he didn’t condemn her for her actions. Of course, it had been all right this time. The girl WAS meant to live. But it might have been a disaster.

And yet, could either of them have stood by and watched a child die because historical causality said that child was meant to die?

“Nuts to historical causality,” The Doctor told her, and that seemed to end the discussion. He turned as Stella and Jo returned to the console room, the little girl noisily sucking orange juice through a straw from a carton.

“So,” The Doctor said to her. “Do I get to see your secret hideout?”

“You can come,” she told The Doctor. “Because you’ve got a spaceship. And she can come, too.” She pointed at Stella. “But those two can’t.” A child’s logic accepted The Doctor as a kindred spirit and Stella was only just out of childhood herself. But Wyn and Jamie were both old enough to be parents. They wouldn’t do for keeping secrets.

“Jamie’s got a headache, anyway,” Wyn pointed out, relieved, if truth be told, not to be involved in whatever The Doctor was up to. “I’ll look after her and keep an eye on things here.”

“I’d like you to keep a close eye on the console,” The Doctor told her. “I’ve set up an alert. If the signals I’ve been picking up change in any way, I want to know. Call me. I know mobiles are anachronistic. But Jo already knows I’m from outer space and that’s my way into her ‘lair’ as her ‘show and tell’ exhibit. So it really doesn’t matter. Two and a bit years from now they’ll all just take the communicators on Star Trek for granted because they’ve already seen it.”

With that he turned and reached out. He took Jo’s hand. Stella came with them as they stepped back out into a crisp, cold, December morning. The TARDIS was, as he noted, in the middle of a substantial parkland, though not an especially pretty or well cared for one. It seemed to consist mostly of acres of thin grass that the soil showed through in places. There were several tarmac roads that ended in bollards or railings and in one place an iron work bridge that crossed nothing and went nowhere. There was a glimpse of a pond or lake in the distance and a deserted bowling green and tennis courts, but otherwise few amenities. The whole of the inner city green space was bounded by the backs of terraced houses except one end where the first half a dozen floors of some brand new high rise flats were mid-construction.

Jo looked back at the TARDIS, sitting so incongruously in the middle of the grass and then steered her new friends towards a small brick building that looked nearly as out of place. The Doctor recognised it was an old lime kiln and made an educated guess about the bridge over nothing. This park was built over an old, filled in canal. The lime kiln was the last remnant of an industry the canal had serviced. The bridge had once straddled it. Creating the green space was a good idea. London needed all the green spaces it could get, but the park was deserted apart from one old man walking slowly beside the distant pond. The canal and its pocket of industry would have had more life in it.

The Doctor wasn’t sure which he would have preferred. But Jo wasn’t giving him the opportunity to consider it. She knocked on the old bit of green-painted gate propped up against the kiln entrance as a door. The knock was a complicated rat-a-tat secret signal to those inside. A boy’s voice demanded a password and she gave it. A girl told her she could enter. She did so, beckoning her new friends to follow. The Doctor and Stella both had to duck to get in through the low entrance but inside they could stand. By the light of some stubby candles they took in the domed roof of the room, the fire resistant bricks, stained with the lime that had been burnt in days gone by, the four children, two boys and a girl about Jo’s age and a much younger boy. They all sat on makeshift furniture, a couple of three legged stools, a wooden dining chair with the back broken off, a packing box. There was a table with one leg resting on a brick. They had an assortment of handle-less cups and chipped mugs that they were drinking lemonade from.

“You’re late,” said the oldest of the boys. “And who are they?”

“I had an accident,” Jo replied. “He’s got a spaceship and a robot dog. And he’s nice.” From the pockets of the gabardine she emptied out several paper packets of what HAD been hot chestnuts before she crossed Old Kent Road. Now they’d gone a little cold. The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and set it to low power microwave mode. He reheated the chestnuts. It came under the heading of ‘cheap tricks’ but it was just what he needed to PROVE he was from outer space and therefore qualify as something unusual enough to be allowed into the inner sanctum. The boy, whose name seemed to Sam, nodded to him and Stella and allowed them to sit on tea chests and have a share of the lemonade and chestnuts.

“Jo says you’re tracking down a spy,” The Doctor said conversationally once he felt he had enough of their confidence to get an answer. “In the park?”

“In the pond,” answered Sam.

“It’s a submarine,” said the other boy, Billy.

“It CAN’T be a submarine,” Jo argued with perfect logic. “Because how did it get to the pond? It would have to have come by road, on a big lorry. And then it wouldn’t be a secret.”

“It might have tunnelled under ground.” Billy suggested. “I saw something do that at the pictures. It tunnelled down into the centre of the Earth. Under the park is easy peasy.”

“But if it could do that, why would it come to our park?” Jo, again, applied logic. “It could go and steal the crown jewels or the Bank of England.”

“Steal the Bank of England?” The other girl, Joan, laughed. She was responsible for her little brother, Donny, the small boy with mittens on a string and a nose she had to keep wiping. She cooled and peeled a chestnut and gave it to him. He promptly swallowed it whole and started to choke. The Doctor performed a quick Heimlich manoeuvre and then produced the bag of jelly babies from his coat pocket which served as a much safer substitute. Then he brought the conversation back to the central issue. Was there something in the lake? If so, what?

“Maybe it’s a spaceship,” suggested Billy. And that met with a collection of responses, some dismissing the possibility, others considering it.

“What do you think, Jo?” Sam asked. “You’re the cleverest of us. You’re going to grammar school next year when you’ve done your eleven plus.”

“I think it’s a spaceship,” she answered. “Why wouldn’t it be? The Doctor has a space ship. And his is inside a police box. Why shouldn’t there be one in the pond?”

That seemed to settle the matter. It was a spaceship.

“WHY is there a spaceship in the pond?” Stella asked. And she noticed, as did The Doctor, that the question made the children uneasy. They looked at each other with wide eyes. A submarine or a machine that tunnels under the ground, or even a space ship, was one thing. But there was something else. Something that bothered them.

“It takes people away,” Sam told The Doctor. “I saw it happen, twice. There was a man, walking up by the pond, and then he disappeared. And a woman. She had a suitcase with her. And she vanished, too.”

“I saw two men vanish,” Joan confirmed. And Billy and Jo both added their own witness statements. Jo added that two of the people she had seen disappear also had suitcases.

“Did you recognise any of the people? Are they from around here?”

“The two men that I saw both stayed in Mr Laker’s hotel,” Joan answered him. “On Albany Road. Near where I live.”

“They were strangers,” Sam added. “They weren’t from round here.”

“I saw Mr Laker at the pond, twice,” Jo said. “But he didn’t disappear.”

The Doctor considered that new information carefully. Then he reached for his mobile phone. The children all watched him curiously. It WAS still three years before Star Trek. Another year till Thunderbirds, even. But the Saturday morning shows at the art deco cinema on the Old Kent Road would have introduced them to Dan Dare and Flash Gordon, and the concept that things were different in the future. In his badly fitted pinstripe suit and plimsolls he didn’t look like a futuristic space ship pilot, but he had the gadgets. They watched him as if he was a life size, full colour version of their Saturday morning serial heroes.

“Wyn, is there any change in that signal at all?” he asked. He waited for her to go and look at it and give him the answer. “Ok. That’s about what I thought. How’s Jamie’s headache? Do you two want to join me for a bit of fresh air? Ok, fair enough. You give her all the TLC you think she needs. I don’t think you need worry about the signal. If I’m right, its not ready to do anything much, yet. But come up for air now and again and check on it, anyway.”

He ended the call and put his phone away. He smiled at the children.

“Your grandchildren will take phones like that to school with them,” he said. “You’re going to see some changes in your lifetime.”

“We’re not going to get atom bombs on us, then?” Sam asked him. “My parents were talking the other day, and they said that it could happen any time, and the government ought to be thinking about building shelters like in the war. But deep ones, this time, where we’ll have to live for ages until it’s safe to come out…”

They all looked as if they’d heard those sort of stories. Stella looked at their faces, and then to The Doctor. Was it all right to tell them? Was it a paradox or something? Were they allowed to know about their future?

1964! The Doctor was thinking. Three years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the USSR hardening its attitude to the West, America upping the ante in the arms race to match them. No wonder a space ship in their local pond didn’t worry them. The world around them was a far more terrifying place according to the bits they had picked up from the adults.

“It’s not going to be an easy ride,” he told them. “There’s bad stuff, and good stuff. But I promise you, no atom bombs.”

They believed him. He saw it in their eyes. They trusted his word that they all HAD a future to look forward to. Jo, of course, definitely did. He knew that. She was going to pass that eleven plus and do quite well in all her subjects EXCEPT science! She would have experiences she couldn’t even begin to imagine travelling the universe with him. And then she would meet Cliff and have even more adventures alongside him before the great adventure of being a mother to five children, and after that, she was still ready to go off to South Africa and experience yet more new challenges.

He looked at the others. He could take hold of their hands and focus his mind, and see their futures just as clearly. It was one of his Time Lord abilities. He could know to the very minute how long a life a person would have, and what they would do with that life. But he rarely did that. Unless they lived very long lives and died peacefully, seeing their deaths hurt. He didn’t want to find out that one of these children might NOT have a long, wonderful future. He just wanted them to know that the future was there for them, to make of it what they could with the talents at their disposal.

“You’ll all be fine,” he assured them. “Now… I need somebody to show me where Albany Road is…”

Four children’s hands shot up at once. Donny put his up slowly, so as not to be outdone by the rest. “Ok, come on then. We’ll all go.”

If he was wrong, of course, he could be taking five youngsters into danger. But he was about ninety-eight per cent sure he wasn’t wrong. He was just thankful he was in a less suspicious age, when a man walking across the park hand in hand with two girls, one of them trailing a little boy, and two other youngsters and a teenager alongside him wasn’t something to rouse concerns.

They all looked at what Jo insisted WAS The Doctor’s space ship, and since there hadn’t been a police box on the park earlier they believed her. Even when she described the huge rooms inside, they accepted that she was telling the truth. Children were a lot more willing to accept amazing things than adults.

“Can we see inside?” asked Sam. “Jo did.”

“Maybe later,” The Doctor answered. “First I need to talk to Mr. Laker.”

Albany Road was a long main thoroughfare that formed the northern boundary of the park. The hotel backed onto it, in fact, but they went around to the front. It didn’t look anything extraordinary. It was a 1920s or 30s building that was just past art deco and getting into post-modernist minimalism for architectural style, five floors including the attic windows set into the roof. It was a cheap, clean. commercial hotel that advertised bed, breakfast and evening meal to short or long term guests. If it was distinguishable in any way from other such establishments it was in the fact that it DIDN’T have a nasty sign in the window refusing ‘Coloureds and Irish.’

If he was right, then the owner of this hotel had no reason to be prejudiced against people who had merely migrated from other parts of this planet.

As he looked at it, a man came out of the hotel carrying a small suitcase. He was dressed in a suit that was nearly as crumpled as The Doctor’s own one and had a derby hat on his head. As he came past him The Doctor ‘accidentally’ jostled him. He murmured an apology and insisted on shaking hands to prove there was no bad will. The man did so quickly then hurried away. But the brief physical contact was enough to confirm to The Doctor what he had suspected.

“Children, you all stay put here for a couple of minutes,” he said and headed into the hotel. Since Stella didn’t consider herself a child she followed The Doctor. He inquired at the reception desk for the proprietor and the grey haired man in his 50s said that he WAS Mr Laker. At that, The Doctor began to speak in another language that seemed to have the almost musical cadence of Welsh. Stella understood it, of course, because the TARDIS translated for her. She listened to the conversation between him and Mr Laker, who replied to him in that language. Finally The Doctor shook hands with the hotel proprietor and wished him luck and promised to do his best to help him.

Outside the children were still waiting. They all wanted to know what was happening. The Doctor fully intended to tell them, but not standing around in the street. He didn’t fancy walking back to the kiln, either, though. He reached for his mobile again and called Wyn. He gave her his present co-ordinates and told her to bring the TARDIS there. He knew she was capable of a simple spatial materialisation in the same temporal location. And so she was. As the TARDIS blew leaf litter around he reached in his pocket and gave some coins to Stella.

“You and Jo go over to the chippy there and get nine portions of fish and chips. Something else I haven’t had for ages. Good old fish and chips in newspaper. Lots of vinegar soaking into the print.”

Stella and Jo went to do that. He turned and opened the TARDIS door and ushered the rest of the children inside. They HAD believed Jo, but they still ogled at the interior. The Doctor told them to sit on the floor and they did. He sat with them, and so did Wyn and Jamie, who was looking a lot better. When the food arrived they all ate fish and chips on the TARDIS floor and The Doctor told them a story.

“On the other side of the Milky Way,” he said. “There is a planet called Dufoi VII. About ten years ago in Earth time, there was a terrible plague there. It swept through the population and they thought that it wouldn’t end until everyone was dead. They had only one chance for their species to survive. A space station in orbit where about three hundred and fifty people worked on science projects. They were cut off from the planet and not affected by the plague. So what was left of the government told them to get into their space ship and leave Dufoi. They told them to go to a planet a long way off that was a lot like theirs but had billions of people living there. They could live among them. They would split up and live quiet lives, until they got word that it was safe to go back to Dufoi and start again, rebuilding their world. And so they did that. They lived as best as they could in exile, waiting always for the chance to go home. And finally the call came. A few thousand people HAD survived and the plague was gone. They could go home. So their leader, who had waited and prepared for it, sent the message out to them. They began to return to the place where their ship was hidden.

“Oh!” Jo nearly spilt her chips in excitement. “Oh! The planet. It’s here. Earth.”

“Yes, it is,” The Doctor said with a smile, proud that it was she who worked it out.

“And the spaceship IS in the pond…”

“Yes, it is. It was there all along, ever since you were all babies. Invisible, of course. You’d never see it. And Mr Laker is the leader. He ran the hotel where he could see the pond and know if there were any problems. And now, for weeks his people have been coming to the hotel, gathering together. They’ve been heading for the pond a few at a time. Close up to it the local teleport takes them on board. They’re nearly all ready now. They’re ready to leave tonight, at midnight. But they’ve got a few people missing. And I promised I’d try to find them and make sure they get on their ship home.”

“Oh,” Jo said. “I’m so glad they’re going home.” All of her friends said so, too.

“So am I,” The Doctor agreed. “But first we find the stragglers. Who wants to come along for the ride to find them?”

Again all the hands shot up. The Doctor smiled and stood up. He told them all to get comfy and set the co-ordinates for the last known address of the first pair of missing Dufoins.

“Doctor,” Wyn said to him as she came to his side. “I’m glad you’re helping these people, too. But those kids…”

“They put me on the right track. They worked out by themselves that something was under the pond. And they made the connection with the hotel. I think they deserve to know what its all about, and to see it through to the end of the adventure.”

“I’m still not happy about mum…” Wyn looked around. Stella had none of her reservations. She was sitting with Jo and the other children on the floor, explaining to them about the time vortex that they were watching on the viewscreen at the moment.

“Wyn,” The Doctor told her. “Your mum is a very special person. I never quite realised until today HOW special. Even as a little girl she was smart in ways no Eleven Plus or O’Level could measure. She’s a wonderful person and you should grab this opportunity to get to know her in a way most daughters never COULD know their mums. You can’t do her any harm. Unless you do something really daft like telling her that she’s going to be your mum in thirty years time. But you wouldn’t do that, obviously.”

“Well, obviously not,” Wyn answered.

“Well, there you go then. No problem. Go and sit with her and make the most of the time. Treasure the memory later.”

“Doctor… is there something you’re trying to tell me. Like… Mum… in our own time. I AM going to see her again, aren’t I? She’s not… dying or anything?”

“If I thought that, I’d set our course for South Africa and make sure you and Stella get EVERY moment you can,” he answered. “You’re all fragile humans from my point of view and your lives are never long enough for all you need to say and do with each other. Live every moment, enjoy every opportunity, Wyn. ESPECIALLY this one.”

Wyn looked at him for a moment, taking in his words. Then she looked at Jo and Stella, then back at The Doctor. Then she turned and went to sit with them. The Doctor watched with a half smile. Stella, bless her, immediately brought Wyn into the conversation and she soon relaxed and talked with Jo and the other children. Jamie, seeing that her lover didn’t need her just now, came to the console and offered her help to The Doctor as he tracked down the locations of the last Dufoins still to check in at the Laker hotel.

The first was relatively easy. Their problem was merely distance. They had gone to live on the Isle of Bressay in the Shetlands, and the message had been late reaching them. The two brothers and their sister were sitting forlornly at the ferry port, knowing that they were already too late even if they could get to the mainland. When the TARDIS materialised in front of them and The Doctor told them he could get them to London in an hour, their gratitude was overwhelming.

The next refugee posed an unusual problem. He was on his way to London, riding down the A6 from Preston on a motorbike. The Doctor’s main problem was that he didn’t want to stop. He put the TARDIS into hover mode with the perception filter on so that he didn’t cause a distraction to the traffic and the children watched enthusiastically as they raced after the motorbike, flying just over the tops of the cars, coaches and lorries that still used that road while the M6 was in its infancy.

“Can’t we leave him to get there on his own?” Stella asked The Doctor. “He seems to be doing ok.”

“No,” The Doctor answered. “He won’t make it. He’s still got about a hundred and eighty miles to go, and he’ll come up against heavy traffic in all of the major towns he has to go through. And when he hits London it will already be evening, New Years Eve, with people out in the streets celebrating. He needs a lift.”

The bike rider KNEW he wasn’t going to make it, and The Doctor noted that he was breaking the speed limits. So did a policeman just outside Matlock, who gave chase in a car with an old fashioned bell sound instead of a siren. The Doctor smiled and hummed a tune that young Sam identified as the theme to Z Cars.

“Well, I don’t know why you’re so cheerful,” Wyn told him. “That means he’ll be even more delayed!”

“He’s STOPPED,” The Doctor answered. And as the bike rider was busy with the policeman, he materialised the TARDIS near them. Everyone inside watched in undisguised interest as the rider tried to argue that he was in a hurry and didn’t have time to talk to a policeman. This, obviously, annoyed the policeman who made him wait even longer, at which point the rider uttered a very rude word in his own language that the TARDIS DIDN’T translate, in deference to the children on board, though The other Doctor and the other Dufoins looked shocked. The policeman didn’t know what the word meant, but the tone of it annoyed him and he decided he was going to arrest the man. He put him in the back of the police car and tried to start the engine. The Doctor pressed something on the TARDIS console and the police car refused to start. The policeman clearly tried several times, then got out of the car, bringing his prisoner with him. He headed towards the police public call box that was conveniently close by. The Doctor grinned widely.

“This is what police boxes were made for,” he said to anyone who was listening. “They could put a prisoner inside to keep him quiet until back up arrived.”

“But…” Wyn protested. “The policeman’s key won’t fit…”

“No, it won’t,” The Doctor replied. He strolled up the gangway to the door and waited until he heard the sounds of a key in the lock, then he released the door and let it swing inwards. The policeman was already pushing his prisoner inside before he realised there was something odd about the interior of this police box. By then it was too late. The Doctor grabbed the man and slammed the door shut. He waited until the policeman had stopped hammering on the door and stepped back out of the TARDIS’s vortex field. He didn’t want to accidentally drag him along. They just caught his astonished expression as the TARDIS dematerialised.

“Speeding is VERY wrong,” The Doctor admonished the rider. “We already had one traffic accident today. But just this once you’re off the hook. Welcome to the TARDIS shuttle. Grab a piece of floor to sit on. Watch out for squashed chips. The children were a bit untidy over their dinner. If you would like a cup of tea, Stella will get you one. Next stop Coventry.”

The Coventry pick up presented a NEW problem. The Doctor found his address easy enough, only to find out that the lady was in hospital. She had been knocked over by a bus yesterday and had two broken legs.

“What is it with people being knocked over today?” The Doctor asked as he programmed a short hop to the hospital. The former motor bike rider looked suitably chastised.

It turned out that the neighbour had exaggerated. The lady only had ONE broken leg. But that still presented a bit of a problem for The Doctor. But not an insurmountable one. He strolled through the female ward wearing a white coat and his usual air of having a perfect right to be there. He picked up the patient’s chart and noted that she had an unusually fast heart rate and that a consultant was coming to look at her later. Dufoins HAD faster heart beats than humans. It WAS the only thing that distinguished them without a full autopsy or a Time Lord instinct for species. He put the chart back and closed the curtains as he began to dismantle the pulley that was holding the patient’s broken leg up from the bed, while he chatted to her in her own language, promising her that she would be able to recover from her accident among her own kind on the journey home to Dufoi VII. As he did so, Jamie arrived, wearing something like a 1964 nurses uniform, and pushing a wheelchair. Between them they got the patient into it and had reached the door of the long ward before the nurse on duty realised they were NOT hospital staff and had no business being there. They ignored her shout and carried on through the doors. They picked up their pace out in the corridor, not running exactly, but walking very fast. The nurse called to two burly porters who began to give chase and had almost caught up with them when a gaggle of children, only five of them in total, but looking and sounding like far more suddenly darted around the corner and blocked the way. As soon as the wheelchair was out of sight around the corner a teenage girl whistled to the children who immediately ran off. The porters turned the corner in time to see the wheelchair with a doctor’s white coat draped over it and a strange noise and a breeze that came out of nowhere and died away.

The Doctor let Wyn and Jamie programme the last stop off while he made the lady with the broken leg comfortable on the sofa.

“How come this one needs us?” Wyn asked. “She’s only in Peckham. She could get a bus.”

“Mr Laker asked me to meet her and save her the trouble,” The Doctor answered. He smiled as watched Peckham High Street materialise on the viewscreen. Joan stood up from where she was sitting on the TARDIS floor and looked puzzled as she saw a woman in a long coat and headscarf come out of the Odeon cinema and walk towards the TARDIS. The Doctor walked to the door and opened it for her.

“Come in, Mrs White. Would you like a cup of tea?”

“I would love one,” she answered. “I feel a bit… I know I didn’t need to go into work today of all days. I should have been getting ready to leave. But I have been happy living here. I liked the job, and the people. I wanted to say goodbye.” She blinked back a tear and smiled at The Doctor, then she looked around and held out her hands as Joan and Donny came towards her.

“Mum,” Joan said. “What’s happening? Why are you here? Why did The Doctor come for you?”

“Because we’re going away, sweetheart,” she said. “I should have told you ages ago. I kept putting it off. You don’t remember. You were only a baby when we arrived on Earth, me and your dad, and you. Donny was born here. But we always knew we’d go home one day. Except your dad… his heart was never as strong as it should have been. And the doctors here didn’t know about us being ‘different’.”

“Joan is a Dufoin?” It was Jo who worked it out, even before anyone else did, confirming The Doctor’s assessment of her as a smart girl. “And Donny?”

“No!” Joan protested. “No. We’re from London.”

“No, dear,” her mum assured her. She looked around and saw The Doctor walk to the TARDIS doors and open them up again. They were no longer in front of the Peckham Odeon. They were back in Burgess Park near the Old Kent Road, beside the pond where the alien ship was hidden. “Let’s take a little walk,” she told her daughter, picking up her son in her arms.

The Doctor stood at the TARDIS door and watched as Mrs White and her two children walked along the side of the pond. There were tears from mother and children as he expected there would be. He had known Joan and Donny were not from Earth from the first moment he sat with them in the lime kiln hideout. When he performed the Heimlich on Donny that was enough physical contact to confirm his species. It was then that he had known that the alien space ship in the pond was NOT hostile.

“That means Joan and Donny are going away,” Jo said as she came and stood next to him. Wyn and Stella came with her. So did the other children as they considered that fact.

“They’re going home,” The Doctor told them. “To their home planet.”

“Wouldn’t they be better staying here?” Wyn asked. “The planet they come from… so many people died. They’ll have to start again…”

“It’s their home, where they belong,” The Doctor insisted. “It IS going to be a big adjustment. Their mum should have told them, prepared them for it. It would have been less of a shock. But going home… it IS for the best in the long run. I wish…” He stopped speaking and Wyn looked at him and touched his shoulder in a friendly gesture. “I wish sometime… I should have gone home more often.” For a moment his brown eyes were pools of sadness, then he smiled widely and shook off the melancholy. Mrs White and her children had walked all the way around the pond and come back to the TARDIS. As they did so, Mr Laker strolled up, carrying a large suitcase of his own and one that he gave to Mrs White, containing everything she wanted to bring with her. Joan’s Human friends flocked around her, saying goodbye, then the last of the Dufoins all gathered by the pond. The Doctor kept the other children close by the TARDIS, out of range of the transported beam. They all watched as the three people from Scotland, the motorbike rider, carrying the lady with the broken leg, Mrs White and her children, and Mr Laker, all suddenly vanished, in the blink of an eye. The children slowly stepped forward, towards the edge of the pond. They looked into the deep water, reflecting the grey, darkening sky in the later afternoon of New Years’ Eve. They couldn’t see anything.

“Back in the TARDIS,” The Doctor ordered. “One more quick trip for you all. A chance to REALLY say goodbye.” He ushered them all in and closed the door. He dematerialised the TARDIS and nudged the temporal manifold only a tiny fraction forward before he rematerialised them in the same spot but seven hours later. He opened the doors once again and everyone stepped out.

It was pitch dark on Burgess Park where there were no street lights. Around the edges were street lamps and lights in the windows of houses and flats – the only exception was the dark outline of the former Laker Hotel, now closed and empty. There was a clear night sky above them, although the light pollution of London made it harder to see around the edges.

“Up there,” The Doctor said, pointing. “Just past Orion’s Belt, is where Dufoi VII is. You can just see their star as a VERY tiny pin prick. That’s where they’re going in just a few minutes.”

He looked at his watch. Two minutes to midnight. They would have been better in the late 1990s, when fireworks at midnight began to be popular. But there would be plenty of distractions, even so, to mask their take off. He told the children to count down. Their voices rang out on the night air. They were excited. They were all too young to stay up to ring in the New Year and that in itself was a treat. But they knew there was going to be something more.

As they reached zero, there was a distant sound of cannon fire. It came from the Tower of London by tradition and the sound carried even this far. Church bells rang out all over. It was just possible to make out the sound of Big Ben among them. There were even the sounds of revellers in the streets shouting ‘Happy New Year’ and the strains of Auld Lang Syne from somewhere.

And a much nearer sound. A sound of engines that vibrated under their feet, of water being displaced. There were lights rising up from the pond. A cigar shaped space ship with lights all around its middle rose out of the water. It hovered above the pond for a few seconds and then rose vertically into the sky. The children shouted out loud and waved, even though they probably couldn’t be heard.

Or perhaps they could. The lights blinked on and off twice as the ship continued to rise up. A wave in return. Then it was gone. The children looked again at the faint star just beyond Orion. The Doctor looked to the southern sky and despite the light pollution could just make out the bow of Sagittarius, otherwise known as the constellation of Kasterborous. Even though the stars were gone, the nature of space and time meant that they could still be seen here on Earth and he was glad that they could.

He herded the children back into the TARDIS and programmed their return to late afternoon, ten minutes after they had left, in time for all the children to go home for their tea, their parents never knowing anything of their amazing day. He was a little sorry to see them go. It was a long time since the TARDIS had rung with the laughter of children.

Then again, the time it was going to take to get squashed chips out of the floor…

Jo was the last to go. Wyn and Stella were particularly reluctant to let her go. The Doctor, too, wanted a last word with her.

“Jo,” he said, as he stood by the door. “You and me ARE going to meet again. You won’t recognise me. I’ll look different. And I won’t have met you, either. But… but it won’t be a problem.” He knelt and reached out to her, his hands either side of her face. He reached into her mind and found her memories of today. He didn’t wipe them. But he blurred the edges. She would always remember this day, the adventure, travelling in the TARDIS. But she wouldn’t remember what the TARDIS looked like, inside or out. She wouldn’t remember that it was called a TARDIS. She wouldn’t remember that he was The Doctor or the names of his friends, only that they met four people with a space ship who helped another space ship to leave for the stars. Neither would Sam and Billy. He had already done the same to their memories. They would, of course, sit in their lime kiln hide out drinking lemonade and eating hot chestnuts and talk about their adventure, remember Joan and Donny and think of their long journey home. But the details wouldn’t worry them, and when Jo eventually came to U.N.I.T., perhaps inspired by her childhood adventure, she would not cause a paradox by telling his third incarnation all about meeting him in his future.

“Doctor,” Wyn said to him as he closed the door and went to the console. “We’ll help you get the squashed chips out of the floor. And the lump of fish batter that Donny fed into the environmental console. But first, we’re going to call mum and have a really long chat.”

“Good idea,” The Doctor said. “Give her my love and tell her I’d like to have a little chat, too. AFTER I’ve got the fish batter out of the console.”