Pazzione Gallifreya

The Doctor opened the new door that the TARDIS had provided, leading off from the console room. It could do that at the drop of a hat, but very rarely did so for him. But when Donna came aboard, ostensibly as his secretary, it immediately created an office for her, complete with word processor, printer, filing cabinets, everything down to a desk calendar and her own stapler. She was working in there, now, though he wasn’t entirely sure what she was doing, since he didn’t actually really need a secretary and he had not given her any work to do.

She looked up from her desk and smiled at him as he stood leaning against the door.

“Want a coffee?” she asked, nodding towards the bubbling percolator that gave the room a rather pleasant aroma.

“No thanks. I just popped in to tell you we’re landing in half an hour, and you might want to take the time to pick something nice to wear in the Wardrobe.”

“I did bring a pile of clothes of my own,” she pointed out.

“Yes, but we’re going to an opera house. Do you have an opera gown?”

“No,” she admitted. “Though it’s presumptuous of you to assume I haven’t.”

“Yes, it is. Sorry. So have you ever been to an opera?”

“Not a proper one. Mum used to be involved in one of those Gilbert and Sullivan drama groups. She wanted me to join. But I thought it was boring. She only did it because she thought it made her look classy. You want to take me to a real opera?”


“People singing in foreign and stuff?”


“You’re not worried I’ll show you up saying something stupid?”


“Will it be dead boring?”

“Ever seen Pretty Woman?” he asked her, getting fed up of the one word responses. She obviously had. “Well, I’m not pretending to be Richard Gere. But I hope you’ll have a similar experience of your first time. So, pop along and see what the Wardrobe has for you.”

Half an hour was actually a little optimistic, he realised as he waited in the console room, dressed in his own best black tie and jacket ensemble and an opera cloak with silk lining to complete the look. Donna was closer to an hour getting ready and the TARDIS was fully materialised and parked by the time she emerged.

The time was well spent, he had to admit. The TARDIS itself probably picked the outfit, which was the classic ‘little black dress’, with a calf length fluted skirt and a bodice that twinkled with what she probably thought were costume jewels. They weren’t. But he didn’t want to frighten her by telling her that they were real. The dress had short, capped sleeves but she put a light shawl over her shoulder and arms. A handbag and black court shoes and her hair in a fascinator of feathers and more of the ‘costume jewellery’ completed the ensemble.

“You look fabulous,” he told her with a wide smile and his arm held out gallantly. She smiled back and took his arm.

“Where are we exactly?” she asked as they stepped out into a balmy evening. It looked like it was just after sunset, and the sky still had a blue tinge. She looked up at the stars and they were unfamiliar to her. She knew a thing or two about stars, the nights she had sat up with her grandfather, looking at them through his telescope. “Is it Earth or…”

She turned and looked at the building that dominated the skyline to the right of her, and thought she knew.

“Oh…we’re in Australia?”

“Not exactly,” The Doctor answered her. “We’re on a planet called Beta Delta III that was originally colonised by Australians in the 24th century. This is the year 2973, and New Sydney is celebrating the millennia of the opening of the original Sydney Opera House with the grand opening of their own replica building.”

“I’m on another planet, a thousand years into the future.” Donna looked down at her feet, standing on a new world. Then she looked up at the sky again, at those unfamiliar stars. “Can we see Earth from here… or… well, the sun, anyway.”

“The star commonly known as Sol is right there,” The Doctor told her, pointing to a small, faint twinkle in the sky. “Sol 3, otherwise known as Earth, is still orbiting it perfectly happily. But it has colony planets now full of humans who have only seen it in holodisc films. The Human race is expanding across the universe.”

“Clever us,” Donna said. She turned and looked at the opera house. “It’s bigger than the original, isn’t it? It’s really huge. Or… what am I saying? I’ve never been to Australia. I’ve only seen it on telly. How would I know?”

“You’re perfectly right,” The Doctor assured her. “It is bigger. Come on… let’s go get our seats.”

Donna held back. He looked at her.

“Thirtieth Century… opera is still for posh people?”

“It’s something people dress posh for,” The Doctor answered. “But the colonies are rather more egalitarian than Earth in your time. Most people can afford to be ‘posh’ when they go out.”

“Yeah, but…”

“You won’t feel out of place. Nobody will be looking at you, except to wonder where you got such a lovely dress. And you’re not going to turn into a pumpkin at midnight. Just keep thinking Pretty Woman, but without the Pirates of Penzance joke.”

Donna was partially reassured and walked into the foyer along with him. Some people did look at them, but not with disdain. They did look like people who belonged there, dressed up and sparkling.

She was surprised to find that they were going to a box, not a seat in the main part of the hall. A liveried usher actually called her madam as they were shown their exclusive seats right above the stage itself.

She was given a thin sheet of what felt like plastic, about the size of an A4 page. It had a picture of the opera house lit up at night on it and the words ‘Gala Opening Night Souvenir Programme’ scrolling across it slowly. The Doctor showed her how to press the corner so that a ‘page’ opened and she was looking at the programme, with articles about the building of the opera house, about the orchestra and the performers, and about the opera that was going to be performed tonight.

“The Paz...zione Gal…” She stumbled over the title and The Doctor smiled as he caught her thinking that it sounded like a pasta dish. She had decided not to say that out loud in case he thought she was uncultured.

“Pazzione Gallifreya,” he said.

“It’s six hours long,” she told him.

“Yes, I know. It’s a condensed version. The full, original version is twice as long. They’ve cut some of the choral narratives.”

“Six hours… I hope there are loo breaks. Or is that not sophisticated?”

“There are breaks,” The Doctor assured her. “Don’t read the rest of that yet, though. It tells you the whole story of the Pazzione and it will spoil it when you watch.”

“Well, it will be in foreign, won’t it?” she pointed out. “Opera is always foreign.” She thought about that for a bit. “Well, I suppose unless you are foreign and then it’s not.”

The Doctor smiled. He loved watching Donna’s logic processes. She got there in the end, but often by a more circuitous path than other people. He liked her path, though. It was more colourful.

“Wait and see,” he told her. “I think you’ll be pleased.” A steward came into the box with a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket and two tall glasses. Another brought a tray of savoury nibbles and a silver bowl full of strawberries and a dish of cream. Donna was impressed.

“What did you do to get this kind of VIP treatment?”

“I’m a patron of the New Sydney Opera,” he replied. “I’ve been subscribing for about six hundred years, now.”

Donna fully believed that. But she didn’t know what to say about it. She turned her attention to the savoury nibbles as she read about how many miles of silk and velvet went into the seats and curtains of the opera house, how many panes of glass in the windows and so on. The nibbles made her thirsty so she sipped champagne. Then she tried the strawberries and cream. Then, having been reminded earlier of a certain film she tried strawberries and champagne and decided she quite liked that, too.

She reflected that this wasn’t a bad way to be employed. She didn’t know many secretaries that got to do this. At least not when their employer’s wife found out.

She looked at the orchestra as they took their places and began tuning up. They were mostly humanoid, apart from the six armed, squid like creature that made up the entire percussion section. Then the choir began to fill their places in the tiered choir stall above the beautifully designed set on the main performance area of the stage. They were definitely not Human. But she wasn’t sure what they were until The Doctor passed her a pair of old fashioned opera glasses that he fished out of his jacket pocket.

“Forgot I had those,” he said. “Last time I used them was… oohh… opening night of Verdi’s Aida in Cairo… 1871.”

Donna fully believed that, too. But again she didn’t pass comment. In any other man this sort of thing might have seemed like bragging. But to The Doctor, being there when Nero burnt Rome or the coronation of Louis IV, or the christening of the future Queen Victoria, the opening of the Crystal Palace or the launching of the Titanic, were just ordinary daily life. Besides, she had a theory that he only did things like that because he was lonely and getting involved in major events with crowds around him made him less so.

Anyway, she opened up the opera glasses and looked at the choir closely. They had arms, legs, head, body, but they also had fronds or tentacles, Donna wasn’t sure exactly what to call them, that wafted about in the air like the stingers on a jellyfish as it swam through the sea. Their skin glowed from within in shades of pink and blue and they had huge eyes and very small mouths in a pointed face. They were absolutely beautiful, Donna thought.

“Arcateenians,” The Doctor told her even before the question had formed on her lips. “From Arcateen V. They communicate telepathically except when singing or reciting poetry. They are known as the ‘Star Poets’ for their epic poems so beautiful they would make an Ice Warrior weep for joy. And when they sing, it’s like the voices of angels.”

“Wow!” Donna said in response. Then she said nothing else for a long time. The conductor raised his baton as the house lights went down. The overture began, then the choir with the angelic voices began the opening chorus as the performers took their places on the stage. Donna reached for the savoury nibbles again, but she forgot to eat them as the magic of opera caught her up. She sat, enthralled, through the whole ninety minute first act, a handful of nibbles going soft in one hand and a glass of champagne getting warm in the other.

The story was quite simple, though told in a complex and beautiful way. A man, born of a high, aristocratic family left his home and the trappings of wealth and society and became a warrior. At first, he was just a humble foot soldier, bullied by his superiors, as all lowly soldiers were, and hiding the fact that he was of high birth. Then, little by little he won honours and promotions for his acts of valour and became a general, a leader of men who continued to achieve great victories for his people. The leaders of his race praised him for his deeds and rewarded him well.

Then, just before the end of the act, he met his match in a beautiful woman.

Donna came out of the spell as the house lights came up for the interval. She ate the softened nibbles because she couldn’t think what else to do with them, and swallowed a mouthful of warm, slightly flat champagne before she looked around at The Doctor.

“It’s not in foreign,” she said.

“Yes, it is,” he answered. “I’m quite impressed. They sang it in High Gallifreyan – the language it was written in. Pretty good going considering there is only one person in the whole universe who speaks High Gallifreyan. They must have learnt the libretto phonetically, without actually knowing what it means. But it’s still clever. Did I say I was impressed?”

“Yes, you did. But… how come…”

“The TARDIS,” The Doctor explained. “Low level telepathic field. Gets in your head and automatically translates anything you hear or read. Anything you say in English will be translated to the local language, too.”

“So what language are you speaking to me in?”

The Doctor smiled. She asked the very question he always expected to be asked at that point, but so rarely was.

“English. It’s my fourth language, after High, Low and Ancient Gallifreyan.”

“Right.” Donna was about to comment, but she remembered that the interval was her only chance to go to the toilet for another ninety minutes and excused herself. She returned just as the orchestra was getting ready for the second act and slid into her place. As she did, something about what he said slid into place in her head, but now she had to wait. The heavenly choir were singing again and she sat back in her seat to watch, listen and enjoy.

The second act was concerned with the hero and the woman he fell in love with. At first she rejected him because she was an aristocrat and he had worked his way up through the ranks. But eventually she gave in to his charms and agreed to marry him, at which point he revealed to her his secret - that he was, in fact, an aristocrat. He had, by then, inherited the family property and wealth and he brought his bride to his ancestral home where they lived for a long, happy time together.

“Ok,” Donna commented as the house lights came up. “That was a bit Mills and Boon, but I liked it.” Then she remembered what she had been thinking before she was captivated by the performance. “You said only one person was left in the universe who spoke the language this opera was written in. And then you said… High Gallifreyan… is one of the languages you speak. So… YOU are the one person…”

The Doctor didn’t say anything at first.

“The Pazzione Gallifreya is based on an ancient epic poem about a legend from my world, Gallifrey. A world that no longer exists, for reasons I promise I will tell you about another day. Actually, it’s not strictly true that I’m the only one who speaks High Gallifreyan. There are a few more. But I’m the only person you’re likely to meet. And I am thrilled, honoured, absolutely delighted that this remnant of my people and their culture survives and is being performed. That’s why I wanted to come here. I wanted you to see it with me, because I wanted you to know what my people were once like. Before they were…”

Donna was shocked. He looked almost as if he was going to cry.

“I love the opera,” she told him. “You should be proud.”

“Oh, I am,” he answered. “Are you going to pop to the loo again? Act Three is 95 minutes long.”

“Yeah, just going,” she said. “I think I’ll lay off the champagne this time round. It seems to go right through me.”

She slipped out of the box again and headed for the VIP restroom which she would have called a toilet, though it was by far the most luxurious one she had ever been in. She lingered, knowing she had several minutes yet before the third act, making the most of the scented hand wash cream and the moisturing lotion and freshening her hair and make up in a gilded mirror before heading back.

She couldn’t help noticing that The Doctor looked a bit worried when she returned. He was looking at his sonic screwdriver carefully and she heard him murmur something she was probably not meant to hear.

“I really did come to see the opera,” he said. “I really did.”

“You ok?” she asked him. “Doctor?”

“I’m….” He smiled reassuringly at her. “I’m fine, Donna, thank you for asking. There’s a new bowl of strawberries there for you. And more cream.”

“Oh, thanks.” She settled herself comfortably in her seat and ate the fruit and cream as the opera restarted.

The Doctor slipped out of the box as the choral voices rang out around the high, gilded roof of the opera house. He was unhappy. He really did want to sit there and enjoy the opera. But the sonic screwdriver had picked up a signal, and as soon as he saw it he knew he couldn’t ignore it. He consoled himself with the knowledge that a holodisc was going to be released of the opening night performance. But it wasn’t the same, and besides, couldn’t he just have one quiet night, one thing that didn’t plunge him into unknown danger and terror?

There had been times. He was sure there had. He had been to operas, to concerts, football games, cricket test matches, and nothing had happened to spoil them. So why now? Why the one event happening in the whole universe that he REALLY just wanted to enjoy?”

He sighed and looked at the sonic screwdriver as he prowled the narrow, dimly lit service corridor that ran parallel to the wide, chandelier lit, plush carpeted, public area. It was still registering the presence of a Jaenolis lifeform.

A Jaenolis in the building could only mean one thing. An assassination attempt. There were crowned heads, emperors, presidents, hive mothers, holovid stars and all sorts of VIP’s at this event. He got the box that Donna was enjoying so much, not just because he was a patron of the arts, but because he was, de facto, the last living President of Gallifrey. He pulled an absolutely shameless privilege card, telling himself he deserved it.

He didn’t deserve this, he reflected as he used the sonic screwdriver to unlock a door marked ‘electrician’s access’ and looked at the narrow space inside with a ladder going up into the roof of the theatre. The Jaenolis had gone that way. He jammed his sonic screwdriver into his pocket and started to climb, holding on with both hands.

Donna soon forgot about strawberries as she was caught up once more in the opera. The Third Act concerned the hero and his wife after they had lived in peace for a long time. A new war broke out, and he had to go and lead the armies again. His parting from his wife was a long, beautiful duet that tugged at the heartstrings even without the Arcateenian chorus. It went on to tell how, while he was away, the wife fell grievously ill. He returned victorious from battle to find her on her death bed.

The sound of the opera was louder as The Doctor came out onto a wide, low place. When his eyes adjusted to the dim light he saw that it was a crawl space between the outer shell of the opera house roof and the gilded ceiling of the theatre below. There were panels in the floor where electric wires ran and a very complicated junction box from where every light in the entire building could be switched on or off.

He saw the Jaenolis on the far side of the floor. It was an ugly looking thing by any definition. Somewhere in its ancestry there must have been something like what Earth people called a troll. Its head was squat and bald. It wore a kind of loincloth to cover whatever Jaenolis had to cover. The Doctor was not interested in finding out. He doubted if even his old friend Jack Harkness would be intrigued. The bulging flesh on the whole body was a dark green mottled with yellow and it glistened with a sort of oozing slime that came from every pore and prevented the skin from drying out. It was also highly toxic and corrosive and any humanoid coming into physical contact with such a creature was in trouble. There was a kind of toad on planet Earth that did something similar, but the toad was prettier.

The Jaenolis was carrying a hypersonic crossbow.

Donna turned, in the middle of that pathos-laden scene, tears glistening in her eyes, and noticed that The Doctor wasn’t there. She was surprised by that. He seemed very interested in the opera. Whatever he needed to do, surely it could have waited for the interval?

How long had he been gone? She was so intent on the performance she hadn’t even noticed.

The creature saw him. It raised the crossbow and fired. The Doctor reached for his sonic screwdriver at the same moment and deflected the bolt with a sonic anti-magnet mode that repelled any metal. He heard a hiss as it embedded itself in the floor and guessed that it was tipped with Jaenolis venom.

The creature snarled as it saw The Doctor raise his sonic screwdriver like a weapon and ran without trying to fire another shot. The Doctor gave chase.

Donna turned and gave her attention to the stage again. The grief-stricken hero was pledging his own life for the sake of his wife. There was, apparently, a ritual that could be done which gave the lifeforce of one individual to another. He would die, of course. But he counted his life worth less than that of his lover. She begged him not to, but he insisted. He called his servants and bid them help him to make that great sacrifice.

The Jaenolis was fast. But The Doctor was fast, too. He was closing in. The only problem was that he was running out of floor. There was another ladder at the other end and if the Jaenolis could reach that it would be able to slip away from him.

It did. He groaned with frustration as he saw the creature climb onto the rungs and slide down the ladder holding onto the sides. The palms of its hand excreted the poisonous ooze and made a perfect lubricant to allow it to descend at a fast, yet controlled pace all the way down the access ladder to the basement of the opera house.

The Doctor could have done the same. He learned abseiling and other such skills as a teenager. But there was one very good reason not to try it now. The sides of the ladder were covered with glistening Jaenolis ooze. He would contaminate himself if he put his hands anywhere near the edge. He would have to climb down rung by rung to follow the creature. He pocketed his sonic screwdriver again and started to descend.

He moved as fast as he could, which was faster than most humanoid species. He twice risked a time fold that allowed him to move very fast for a few precious minutes. Even so, by the time he got to the bottom and got his bearings in what looked like a massive properties store, his quarry was nowhere in sight.

The sonic screwdriver saved his life. If he had just been wandering about between the racks of costumes and carefully stored flats and holographic dropcloths, he would have been killed. As it was, he was forewarned of the Jaenolis hiding behind a stack of moulded plaster sections of a castle keep. As the crossbow bolt hissed through the air he dived low and rolled. He came up again with his sonic screwdriver extended in temporary stasis mode. He fired a paralysing stasis beam at the Jaenolis, but it missed. The creature was running again. The disadvantage of a hypersonic crossbow was that it took only one bolt at a time and needed a strong, steady arm and at least half a minute of quiet to reload. While the creature was running it was useless.

With its natural defences, of course, it wasn’t something The Doctor wanted a hand to hand fight with, either. He hadn’t quite worked out how he would finally capture the thing without touching it. But he would figure it out by the time this chase was over.

The opera house was enormous. The public area included grand foyers and bars and restaurants as well as the main theatre and a slightly smaller hall for concerts and experimental drama productions. Below that were rehearsal studios for the orchestra, choir and ballet corps and changing rooms for all of those performers. The Doctor chased the Jaenolis up from the lower basement where those properties rooms were into the dark, silent rehearsal rooms on the next floor up. All of this area was closed now. The wardrobe ladies and understudies, props men and electricians were all backstage. That was good. It meant nobody else could get hurt. That was the last thing he wanted to happen. He would like to put the creature out of action before they did actually get back to the public area where they might run into the stewards serving the VIP guests or some other innocent.

Ideally he would like to get this over and done with in time to sit down and watch the last act of the opera in peace.

But the Jaenolis had no intention of being taken easily or quickly. It raced through the ballet practice hall where it was reflected several times over in the mirrors along one wall. The Doctor ran after it, noting that a pair of black patent leather shoes that were actually bought for his fifth incarnation, who had slightly smaller feet, weren’t the best thing for this amount of running.

They weren’t the best thing for climbing, either. He groaned as he saw the Jaenolis disappearing up another one of the long access ladders that ran all the way up to the top of the building. It was slower going up, but all the same it was already high. And it had taken thirty seconds to reload the crossbow. The Doctor tried to dodge out of the way again, but part way up a ladder he didn’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre. He stifled a groan as the bolt went through his suit jacket sleeve and shirt and nicked his flesh beneath. He reached for the bolt and cast it away. It was just a flesh wound and ordinarily it would mend easily in minutes. But the caustic nature of the Jaenolis venom stopped it repairing and he felt the poison already entering his bloodstream. He would have to give up the chase and look after himself.

There was an access door a few feet above his head. He pulled himself up to it and grasped the handle. It opened outwards and he stumbled through into the service corridor.

“Yes!” Something at least was going right for him. He looked at the trolley with a magnum of champagne in an ice bucket and a crystal glass dish of caviar inside a larger silver dish packed with ice. He pulled off his jacket and ripped away the torn shirt sleeve. He then popped the cork on the champagne bottle and poured the effervescent alcohol over the wound. The Jaenolis venom bubbled up as it mixed with the champagne and then became completely inert. He put the bottle to his lips and drank most of the contents. As a Time Lord he couldn’t get drunk, but the alcohol would reach his bloodstream in a few minutes and counteract the poison, if only he could keep his temperature down until it had a chance to act. He felt flushed and hot, not only from the running, but from the poison in his body. He reached for the caviar and set it aside carefully. It was expensive stuff, after all. Then he lifted up the bowl of crushed ice and ate it quickly. He cringed at the brain freeze and the feeling of it sliding down his gullet, but he knew it was the very thing he needed.

“Not enough!” he gasped and grabbed the ice bucket. The ice in there was cubes, not crushed. And he didn’t have time to break them. He swallowed six of them whole, one after the other. The sensation as they went down and lodged in his stomach was awful, but they were doing the trick. His internal body temperature was dropping. Only his head still felt as if it was on fire. He wasn’t sure if it was the poison or if he was actually a little drunk after all. But he did know he wasn’t going anywhere else until the corridor stopped whirling around in front of his eyes like it was caught up in the time vortex.

“Ohhh!” he sighed as he buried his head in the bucket of half melted cubes. He closed off his breathing and felt the ice coldness soothe him. His head stopped spinning after a minute or two. He stood up and took a deep breath. He turned and saw a hostess in neat black with a white lace apron staring at him. He picked up his jacket and slipped it back on before producing his psychic paper from the pocket. She looked at it for a moment and then suddenly curtseyed.

“Pardon me, your majesty,” she said. “Do carry on.”

“That’s quite all right,” he answered. “I’m done now.” He fished in another pocket and tipped her generously. “Must dash.”

He ran on down the corridor, looking at his psychic paper.

“King of the Belgians! Come on, be serious. Belgium became a republic in the 22nd century.”

But he had other things to worry about. He still had to catch up with the Jaenolis, and it had now had plenty of time to make its escape.

Except it hadn’t. It was still fairly close by. The Doctor examined the signal on his sonic screwdriver and then started to run. He was in the service corridor. The Jaenolis was in the main corridor that was parallel to it. The Jaenolis was running, too. They were neck and neck as he raced towards the next nearest access door, then he pulled ahead, leaving it a few yards behind. The creature seemed to have stopped for some reason.

He pushed through the access door into the plush, luxurious public area and turned to see where his quarry was. He was startled to see it lying in a crumpled heap, its caustic flesh making a nasty mark on the carpet.

It was dead. One of its own crossbow bolts pierced its heavy forehead between the staring eyes. Normally, The Doctor, on encountering a dead being with eyes open would have reached and closed them, be it a friend or an enemy. On this occasion he decided to leave well alone. He knew that Jaenolis bodies decomposed very quickly once dead. That nasty ooze built up under the skin once the heart stopped pumping blood. In a few minutes there would be an even more nasty mark on the carpet and a smell that would not go unnoticed by the patrons when the opera was over and they emerged looking for dinner and drinks. But it would still be far less distressing than seeing the Jaenolis in its living ugliness.

He noticed that the crossbow was nowhere near the body. And that meant only one thing.

It wasn’t suicide!

He heard the click of the crossbow safety catch and turned towards the door leading into one of the boxes. He couldn’t see who held it. He was dressed in black and the lights were down in the box. But he heard the order to step forward, spoken in a rasping whisper.

He stepped forward, his eye on the bead of Jaenolis venom on the end of the crossbow bolt. He didn’t need to deal with any more of that today. He watched the trigger finger carefully. It was a humanoid finger, he noted. An ordinary humanoid male. Quite where and how it fitted into the picture he wasn’t yet sure.

He noted as he stepped into the box that the one way sound proof curtain was down. This was a clever innovation that allowed the boxes to be used as conference rooms for business meetings while the opera was going on, the equivalent of an executive box at Wembley. The curtain was see through and the sound came through perfectly. But no sound from within the box could be heard outside. It served a double purpose, in not disturbing the occupants of the adjacent box as well as protecting the meeting from industrial spies.

If he was killed in here, nobody would hear. Nobody would see. They wouldn’t even find his body until the cleaners came in tomorrow morning.

“You’re the brains behind the assassination?” he asked. “Of course. Jaenolis are hardly the sharpest tools in the box. No political finesse at all. And besides, they kill for profit. So who is the target?”

Megalomaniacs always liked to brag. That was something he had learned in his lifetime. Davros, The Master, Morbeus, The Dalek Emperor, even the low level would-be masters of their own little worlds like Harrison Chase, the one who wanted Earth to belong to the plants; if you asked the right questions they would tell you their whole plan because they were so full of themselves.

“Your master,” the hooded figure answered. “The President of Gallifrey. Your plan was clever. He booked the box for himself and his wife, then took seats in another part of the opera house while you, a mere lackey, and your lady friend, occupied the box.”

“Yeah, clever trick that,” The Doctor answered as his mind ticked over what the man had just said. “My idea! All mine.”

“You thought to put my hired assassin off. And you did well, it has to be said. You gave him quite a chase. It might have gone on a bit longer if I hadn’t decided enough was enough and disposed of him.”

“Well, you know, next time you want an assassin, don’t go to the bargain basement for it. Jaenolis! Honestly, they’re your original blunt instrument. But I suppose now you’re going to do the job yourself?”

“That was the plan,” he answered. “But now I have you. The perfect man for the job.”

“Come again?”

“Look out there.” The hooded man pointed to the curtained end of the box. The Doctor edged closer and looked. “Below.”

He looked down and recognised the woman leaning over the parapet of the box below. It was Donna, so engrossed in the opera that she was oblivious to everything else.

“She means something to you? A close friend? A colleague?”

“Nothing at all,” The Doctor answered. “I picked her up outside and promised her dinner if she sat through the opera with me. I thought a bit of female company might make six hours of this dreary stuff more interesting.”

“You bluff badly, whoever you are. This woman is obviously important to you. And I will kill her unless you go now and find the president. You will kill him with this.”

The hooded man held the crossbow one handed and drew a dagger from beneath his robe. It had Jaenolis ooze on it. He held it by the very tip of the handle.

“You must be out of your mind,” The Doctor answered. “You seriously think I’m going to do that. Kill the woman. Kill me. I’d die rather than betray the President of Gallifrey.”

“Then die,” the hooded man answered and his finger pressed down on the crossbow trigger. In the same instance The Doctor reached for his sonic screwdriver. He flicked the button and aimed it at the bolt. The anti-magnet repelled it, but at much closer range than before. He was slightly horrified when the recoiling bolt hit the hooded man in the neck.

“Earth people would say ‘Hoist by your own petard’,” The Doctor said as he reached the falling man. Both weapons dropped from his hands before The Doctor laid him gently down on the ground. “Sorry,” he added. “There’s no cure. Not for your species, anyway. Even mine has trouble. You’re dying.”

The man swore a rather rude oath.

“You don’t really want that to be your last words, do you?” The Doctor asked. “Why don’t you at least tell me what it was all about. Why did you want to kill the President of Gallifrey? What’s he ever done to anyone?

“I am a Follower of The Master,” the man answered. “He stands in the way of the True Lord who will rule all when he is returned to glory.”

“Oh, one of that lot!” The Doctor sighed. “When will you ever learn? So…you heard that the Pazzione was to be the opening night performance and decided to take your chance?”

“No,” he answered. “I am a director of the opera house. I chose the programme, knowing he would surely come.”

“That bit was clever,” The Doctor said. “But the rest of your plan was rubbish. You’re going to die knowing just how completely badly you failed. But, sorry. That’s the way it goes.”

The man swore again, then said something incoherent as the poison began to take effect. It was something about The Master returning to glory. It was preferable to a swear word but still not the best last words The Doctor had ever heard. He watched as the man died, quickly, but perhaps not quickly enough. It hurt him. And The Doctor was sorry for that. He hated to see anyone suffer, even a madman with an obsession with restoring The Master. When it was over he closed the staring eyes and stood up. He looked at the body thoughtfully. If he left it here, with two weapons and evidence that somebody else was in the box, there would be a murder investigation. Even though he was unlikely to be implicated himself, it would be very bad for the opera house.

He liked the opera house. He didn’t want it ruined by a scandal.

He listened to the opera. It had about ten minutes to go to the end of the act. Just about time.

He stepped out of the box and locked the door behind him. He ran to the end of the corridor, towards the fire exit. He quickly descended the stairwell and ran out of the back door. The TARDIS was parked close to the waterfront. It didn’t take him long to programme it to take him to the box. The sound proof curtain ensured that the noisy materialisation didn’t disturb the last duet of act three when the hero died in the arms of his restored but heartsbroken wife. He put the body and the weapons inside and dematerialised again. In geo-stationary orbit over New Sydney, he gave the madman a space burial, along with his weapons. His body would be burnt up in the atmosphere of the planet and no trace would be found of him.

He pressed the fast return switch and stepped out of the TARDIS into the now clean box. He locked the door from the inside and opened the curtain. The duet was almost over. Below, Donna was crying as the emotional scene reached its climax.

“Wow,” Donna thought as the music died away and the lights came up. She wiped her teary eyes, glad of the waterproof mascara. “That’s what I call passion.” She turned around, but The Doctor was still not there. She wondered what to do. Should she call somebody? Should she stay put?

She got up and went to the door. She looked out in the corridor to see if there was any sign of him. She turned back, and was surprised to see The Doctor sitting on the parapet sampling the strawberries.

“How did you…” she asked. He smiled widely.

“Nice strawberries,” he said.

“Never mind the strawberries,” she answered. “What the heck have you been doing?”

“I’ll tell you later,” he promised. “I really just want a cold glass of champagne and some of these strawberries and to watch the last act of the opera. It’s really very good.”

It was good. The choir of Arcateenians outdid themselves as the story unfolded of the bereft wife who burned her husband’s body on a funeral pyre and then decided that since he gave her his life, she would live his. She girded herself in his armour and went out to become a warrior and a leader of men. She did so, and lived through many victorious battles before old age finally caught up with her. As she died, she saw her husband waiting by her bedside and reached out to him. The spirits of them both, appearing young and vigorous once more, walked together away from the deathbed as the final stirring chorus rose to a crescendo.

Donna was crying. So was The Doctor. He wasn’t quite so blubbery as she was, but he cried. Then he wiped the tears from his eyes and stood to give the performers a well deserved ovation. He clapped joyfully and then as the applause died away he smiled at Donna.

“We’re having dinner at the opera house restaurant,” he told her. “And I promise I will explain.”

And he did. Donna listened with amazement and almost forgot to eat her food.

“But if you booked the tickets as the President of Gallifrey… then how come he didn’t know it was you?”

“Probably had an old photo of me,” he answered. “He was nuts. Who knows. Anyway, done with now. Later, I need to pop back up and collect the TARDIS from the box. I know, climbing over to get to you was just being a show off. Couldn’t resist surprising you.”

“You daft spaceman!” she laughed.

The Doctor smiled and glanced around the restaurant. He saw two people he had fully expected to see ever since he worked out what the ‘Follower of The Master’ was talking about. The other version of him, the one he called Nine when the two of them were together, was being shown to a table along with Rose, his wife. They looked happy and relaxed. As they should be. Later, he’d send Nine a message, telling him everything. He might as well be warned that the ‘Followers’ were lively again. But no need to spoil their evening. And no need for them all to meet up tonight. He had thought about it. A chance to talk to Rose would be nice. But he wasn’t sure he was ready to explain to Donna how come there were two of him in the universe.

He glanced around again and caught a snatch of conversation between two of the waitresses and tuned in on it. He laughed out loud and turned to Donna with a wide grin.

“The staff are all talking about the strange goings on behind the scenes this evening. Apparently some kind of ugly troll in a loincloth was running around the service corridors pursued by the ghost of the King of the Belgians. The first night this opera house has been opened and it has its own phantom myth already.”

“It’ll have something else if you don’t nip upstairs in a bit and get the TARDIS out of that box,” Donna reminded him. But The Doctor just smiled and poured her another glass of champagne.

He, she noticed, stuck to iced water.