“Where are we and when?” Donna asked as the TARDIS materialised in a rural landscape in winter. She looked at the big viewscreen to fully appreciate the wide, snow-covered valley with hills rising up in the distance. “It’s absolutely gorgeous, wherever it is. Like a Christmas card. Christmas cake, even. Don’t seem to get snow like that any more. Not in Chiswick, anyway. It is Earth, isn’t it? Not some super perfect planet in the perfect quadrant or something?”

“It’s Earth,” The Doctor replied. “This is the Pendle Valley, in East Lancashire. And it’s the year 1625, back when there was proper snow, not like the sort you get in your day. Before we present ourselves to a couple of old friends of mine who live in these parts we need to change into contemporary clothing. And one disparaging word from you about my legs and you will incur my extreme displeasure.”

“Your legs?” Donna was puzzled, but The Doctor didn’t say anything else. He just turned and bounded towards the inner part of the TARDIS. Donna followed. Some time later she returned to the console room feeling quite pleased with herself in a dress of red velvet brocade and heavily embroidered gold and was stunned by the sight of The Doctor in deep purple with even more embroidery. She knew the top half of the outfit was called a doublet, and was basically a very tailored and tight fitting jacket. The bottom half was called breeches and came to his knees where they were tied off with garters. Soft leather boots came up his ankles, but that still left a fair amount of shapely calf covered in what she could only describe as tights.

She couldn’t help it. She had to do it.

“Nice legs.”

“Nice waistline,” he replied.

“There was a note attached to the dress. It said ‘the secret is modern corseting.’”

“That’ll be my old friend, Wyn,” he told her. “She was with me the last time we were in these parts. She learnt that tip from Rose. She was….”

He stopped. She was giving him the kind of disturbed look that meant he should stop talking about his back catalogue of female friends. Besides, thinking about Rose was always a bad idea, especially at this time of year, when he missed her most.

“Anyway, you look fantastic. A real noblewoman of the Stuart era.”

“Noble woman?” she laughed. “Was that a pun?”

“No, it was a compliment,” he answered. “You look very elegant. That deep red goes well with your hair. Very nice, indeed. An excellent choice of gown for the first day of Christmas, too.

“How many days of Christmas are there?” Donna asked at they stepped out into the snowy world. She pulled the warm, hooded cloak that went with the outfit close around her and followed The Doctor, presuming he knew where he was going.

“Twelve, of course,” The Doctor replied to her. “You know the old song, of course. The one about the poor bloke whose shopaholic girlfriend had the bulk account with Fedex. This is where it originates from. Twelve days of Christmas, twelve nights really, partying hard, from Christmas Eve to January 6th.”

“And it’s Christmas Eve now?”

“It’s four o’clock on Christmas Eve. It will be getting dark, soon. And in a few hours the festivities begin.”

“Where?” Donna asked. “Are we invited to a party?”

“Not yet, but we will be.” They rounded a stand of trees and Donna looked at a substantial mansion of grey stone in a style even she recognised as Tudor, which made it not much more than a hundred years old in this time, she calculated, and felt quite proud of having done so. She also managed to know that 1625 was about twenty years before the English Civil War, and they hadn’t yet chopped off any king’s head.

“This is Read Hall,” The Doctor said as he strode up the driveway towards the front door and Donna hitched up her skirt to keep up with him. “Home of a good friend of mine, Sir Roger Nowell, and his niece. Come on. When he knows we’re here he’ll have the TARDIS brought up to the house. I don’t like to materialise right on his doorstep. Bit rude, that.”

Donna let him take her by the arm as the front door was opened by a servant. When The Doctor identified himself they were at once conducted to a warm parlour with a roaring fire in the big hearth and offered wine and cheese as refreshments. Donna would have preferred a cup of tea and a sandwich but she wasn’t sure either had been invented yet.

Even without tea, though, she found the experience exciting.

“I’m in a genuine Stuart home in 1625, drinking 17th century wine and eating seventeenth century cheese,” she enthused. “This is possibly the coolest thing that I’ve done since I met you. You’re amazing, you know that. Amazing.”

The Doctor smiled. He sipped his wine and ate a little crumbly Lancashire cheese, hand made in the dairy of the Read estate. As he did so, the door opened and an elderly man came in, dressed in a deep red velvet gown as worn by gentlemen of this time when at leisure in their own homes. He was accompanied by a woman of Donna’s age, also dressed comfortably for a quiet afternoon before they played host to their neighbours, later. She had dark hair with a glint of red when the light caught it and smiled brightly when she saw The Doctor and Donna.

“Doctor!” Sir Roger Nowell exclaimed enthusiastically. “It is good to see you again. I feared we never would after what happened the last time. You are most well come, my old friend. And your… companion? I suppose it is too much to expect that you have finally found a worthy wife to keep you company?”

Donna looked about ready to protest at that assumption, but The Doctor jumped in quickly with a formal introduction.

“This is Mistress Donna Noble of the London Borough of Chiswick,” he said. “Donna, may I present Sir Roger Nowell, landowner and magistrate in this lovely but sometimes blighted valley of Pendle. And his niece, Mistress Margery Hilliard, formerly Whittaker, who has been his household companion since she was widowed some years ago. I have known both of them for many years.”

“And you are as much of a puzzle – if not more – than the day we first met on a manhunt for two dangerous fugitives from the King’s Law. I suppose that strange cabinet of yours is around, somewhere?”

“It is by the south gate,” The Doctor replied. “Would you have a couple of your lads bring it up to the house?”

“I shall see to that,” Sir Roger answered. He rang a bell that brought a servant running and gave instructions. He waited until they were private again and he and Margery were seated with glasses of wine and a share of the cheese before he continued.

“The last two visits you paid us, you were plunged into strange and evil doings. It will be a change to have only Christmas festivity to offer you this time.”

“A little Christmas festivity is just what I had in mind,” The Doctor replied. “Margery, my dear, Donna is unfamiliar with the traditions of these northern parts, and will need your tutelage in the Christmas customs.”

“You mean that she has come from another century with you, Doctor,” Margery responded with a flashing smile. “You forget, we were party to some of your secrets on your last visit. You forget, also, that I am from London, and I know there is no such Borough as Chiswick. At least, not yet.”

“Margery, you are an uncommon woman in this time,” The Doctor answered her. “If Roger did not need you as his companion and help in his declining years, I should have whisked you away in my ‘magic box’ long ago. I think you would enjoy the travels in other times and other worlds. But you are quite right. Donna joined me in my adventures in the Year of Our Lord two thousand and ten, which I fancy is quite outside your imagination.”

Nearly four hundred years away,” Margery calculated. “I cannot imagine it, at all. But we shall not speak of such things where servants may have an ear to the door. Let me conduct Mistress Donna to the best guest chamber where she can wash and refresh herself and she and I can talk as women do. And you menfolk can be left to your more serious converse.”

Donna was happy to do so. She had taken note of what The Doctor had said about Margery being somebody he would have liked to join him in the TARDIS. Despite being born four hundred years apart she was interested to see if they had anything else in common. The fact that Sir Roger and Margery both knew what The Doctor was, interested her, too. She wondered just what had happened the last time that made him reveal his secret to them. She meant to have the whole story by the time they rejoined the men.

Sir Roger watched the women depart and then settled comfortably in his fireside chair. He took down the box from the mantleshelf containing his pipe and tobacco and prepared the bowl for lighting. He offered The Doctor his second best pipe but he politely refused.

“I’m trying to give it up,” he answered. “I’ll be fine with the wine and cheese. So… it’s 1625 now? The first year of King Charles’s reign?”

“Indeed,” Sir Roger said with a frown that suggested he wasn’t best pleased with that fact. “A stormy reign thus far. He has already clashed with parliament twice. Even a loyal King’s Justice wonders at the news that reaches us here of Court matters. You know of these things, of course?”

“I do,” The Doctor acknowledged. “I…” He paused. He couldn’t tell Roger too much. It was expressly forbidden by all the laws of time he held dear. But he was a friend, and he felt he owed him something.

“You’ll live out you life in peace, my friend,” he assured him. “Under King Charles’ rule. But Margery and her generation, I am afraid there are troubles to come and they must face them with what wits they have. There is nothing I can do to influence events.”

“None but God can do so,” Sir Roger agreed. “But let us not worry about the far future. The immediate holds nothing more than some agreeable festivities. And you and your companion are more than welcome as my house guests, be assured of that.”

“I am looking forward to it,” The Doctor said with a wide smile.


Sir Roger and his house guests were at peaceful leisure for these hours as the sun went down and the skies darkened over Pendle. His servants were working overtime to prepare the feast and decorate the house for Christmas. As the night drew in lamps were lit throughout the mansion and it must have looked a beacon of warmth and light for those who headed towards it from the neighbourhood. Many came on horseback, women riding behind their men. Others were on the back of horse drawn carts. Some few simply walked, their shoes covered and their cloaks over their good clothes. As they divested themselves of their outdoor clothing in the entrance hall, the guests all had their heads turned by the sight of two red-haired women in fine brocade, one deep red, one scarlet, who came down the stairs together. Margery and Donna timed their entrance perfectly to exact the maximum admiration from the crowd and enjoy being the centre of attention. Sir Roger and The Doctor played up to them, waiting at the bottom of the stairs to take their arms gallantly.

“Come,” Sir Roger said as the four of them turned towards the grand looking double doors that the servants threw open. “Let us go to the great hall.”

The great hall was a wide, high, substantial room with darkened windows covered by drapes and huge chandeliers in the high, arched roof. There was a gallery overlooking it at one end, where a group of musicians with instruments Donna wasn’t even going to try naming were already playing. The walls were decorated with holly and ivy and other greenery. Christmas decorations as Donna knew them were a long way off. Christmas trees were still in the future. But the huge hearth in the centre of the north wall had a massive yule log burning in it.

Under the minstrels gallery, long tables were groaning under the weight of the feast that Roger’s servants had worked so hard to prepare. The centrepiece was a whole roasted boar, surrounded by smaller, golden suckling pigs and various roast birds, pies, savoury and sweet, puddings, bowls of creamy desserts, fruit, cheese, flagons of wine and barrels of ale, something that smelt alcoholic that was being boiled over a brazier and attended by two burly stewards and a serving girl. Donna tried to remember when she had last seen that much food in one place.

“A fine spread, Roger,” The Doctor told his friend as the room filled with revellers and the musicians began to play a tune everyone seemed to know. They formed squares of two sets of partners each and began to dance in a complicated way in which the placing of hands and, more especially, feet, was clearly very crucial. Donna watched from the sidelines as she sampled a slice of roast boar and discovered that in the seventeenth century Christmas pudding was a savoury dish of meat and oatmeal, stuffed into the cleaned and prepared stomach of the aforementioned boar, and boiled until it set into a crumbly mass the size and shape of a football. It didn’t look too bad. No worse, anyway, than a large meatball, but she decided to leave it until she was REALLY hungry before trying a bit. She looked around at the dancing, which was obviously the way to work up an appetite.

“I couldn’t do that,” she said.

“Stick with me,” The Doctor answered. “I’ll teach you.”

“I don’t think so,” she answered. “It must take years to learn all those steps. It’s mental.”

“Come here,” he said and took her hand. He waited for the set to end and then brought her onto the floor. He turned to face her and touched her forehead gently as he smiled enigmatically. Donna blinked and found that she knew where her hands and feet were supposed to go. She knew that the dance was called the Galliard and was popular among the revellers. She found herself doing it with grace and precision, two words she never imagined could be applied to her.

“You’ve done something to me,” she said. “What did you do?”

“Nothing,” The Doctor replied. “Only… well… I know how to do this stuff. I only had to touch you on the dance floor and the skills sort of… psychically transferred to you. It’s… well… a sort of hypnotism. But not a bad sort. Nothing with any nasty after effects or anything.”

“Hypnotism?” She glared at him. “That’s not nothing. That’s… hypnotism. It’s interfering with my mind. It’s an invasion of my thinking… it’s… it’s… get out of my head.”

“I’m not in your head,” The Doctor answered her. “I’m just… look, don’t worry about it. Just dance and enjoy the party.”

He used a little bit more of the same Power of Suggestion that got her dancing to get her to forget she was annoyed with him and enjoy herself. He felt a bit ashamed of himself for doing it. Controlling people’s minds was a Time Lord ability that could easily be misused, and controlling Donna’s mind was a shameful thing to do, anyway. She was such a headstrong woman with her own set of opinions and values, that interfering with that was the last thing he would do any other time. But he did just want her to enjoy the party.

And she did. The Power of Suggestion wore off in a few minutes and by then she was mellow enough not to care how or why. She danced with The Doctor, and with several other men, including Sir Roger and some of his well-dressed neighbours. When she was tired of dancing she headed towards the buffet and sampled the food and drink. The Doctor joined her once and pressed a tankard of the hot stuff from over the brazier into her hands.

“Lambswool,” he said enthusiastically. “Try it. You’ll like it.”

She looked into the tankard and noted that the hot liquid that smelled like cider was topped by a thick, frothy substance, thicker than the head on a beer, and almost resembling wool. She drank through it and discovered that it was an apple, cooked in the liquid so that it ‘exploded’ into the white, fluffy topping.

“Granddad would love this up on his allotment on stargazing nights,” she said appreciatively. “How come I’m not getting drunk? I’ve been on wine and ale and this stuff ever since I got here.”

The Doctor didn’t answer that question. It was his influence again and he didn’t want to rock the boat now she was happy.

“Boars meat is a well known antidote to alcohol,” he lied.

“They really do know how to live around here though, don’t they,” she added. “At least, the upper classes do. I suppose it’s not so great for the lower sort?”

“Well, a lot of the people here are the lower sort, tenant farmers and labourers, in their best clothes, come to feast with Sir Roger, their bountiful landlord,” The Doctor told her. “It’s sort of an open house. Anyone welcome, peasants and magistrates rubbing shoulders. I mean, they might take exception to obvious vagabonds and ruffians, but everyone who composes themselves decently is welcome.”

“Wasn’t this the time of puritans and disapproving of all this sort of fun stuff, though?” Donna continued. “I wasn’t big on history, but I’m sure there were a lot of miserable people around this time. But… take Margery, for instance, she’s great. She’s practically a modern woman. And your mate, Sir Roger, is a nice old boy. And everyone seems happy enough.”

“Puritans aren’t invited, either,” The Doctor answered. “Anyway, fill your plate and replenish your glass. I think we’re supposed to sit down and be entertained now.”

The dance floor was being cleared. Everyone was pressing back against the walls and sitting on the floor wherever they could make a space. Sir Roger and a few other elderly and more distinguished people had chairs by the fireplace, but the rest were perfectly happy with the clean, smooth, wooden floor. Donna found herself between Margery and a young man in a lime green doublet that might have been borrowed from somebody slightly bigger around the shoulders. The Doctor was behind her with his arms lightly around her waist. She drank ‘lambswool’ and ate from the platter she had brought with her and waited, wondering just what to expect.

The doors were opened and a group of brightly dressed people bounded in, cartwheeling and generally frolicking before beginning to tell what The Doctor, in whispers, explained as a traditional Christmas play before the nativity she was familiar with came into vogue. It was a lyrical and slightly irreverent take on George and the Dragon, with ‘George’ in a red jerkin and a paper crown and the dragon played by four men under a ‘body’ made of brightly coloured rags stitched together and a head of painted Papier-mâché that would have made the average Blue Peter presenter drool in envy.

This was far from a serious version of the story. George spent most the time running away from the dragon, which lashed out at him with a tongue made of a ‘sock’ of paper that was blown out through the moveable mouth. When he finally defeated the creature it was by sheer luck, which didn’t stop him bragging about it to the extras who gathered around to pronounce him dragon slayer!

The mummers ran off and returned very quickly divested of crown and dragon costume to sing in close harmony a song about a robin with lyrics that could justly be called ‘bawdy’ and in places downright lewd, and which only loosely had anything to do with Christmas. Even so, this was the equivalent of a carol concert and when several more songs in the same vein had been sung they expected to be paid for their services. ‘George’ went around the crowd with his cap held out. Pennies and other coins were tossed into it. The Doctor threw a rather larger coin that glittered in the light and was rewarded with a bright smile from the performers and a genuine if perfunctory bow.

Then as the mummers left once again a hush came upon the hall. Sir Roger rose from his seat and made a rather unusual preparation, placing a large tankard of frothing ale and a gold coin on the mantelshelf over the roaring fire. Donna wondered what it was all about. Margery was the one who explained this time.

“It’s nearly midnight,” she said. “The first person to enter the house after the last chime is ‘first-comer’ and the ale and sovereign are his reward. The hope is that the first-comer is a person of good-will and quality. If a person of poor quality or bad humour arrives then the whole of the twelve days will be overshadowed by their dark demeanour.”

“Good job my mum isn’t out and about, then,” Donna said. Then she mentally took that back. It was a mean thing to say about her mother, and it reminded her that she was a long way from home this Christmas and hadn’t even sent a card home.

On the other hand, the thought of her granddad turning up at the door right now, with a sprig of mistletoe in his hat and a wide grin on his face, tickled her so much it was hard to keep from spoiling the carefully contrived silence with a fit of giggles.

Anyway, the last minutes of Christmas Eve went by in near silence. Somewhere in the house a clock struck midnight and every ear strained to hear its chimes.

And the very moment it finished there was a louder sound of knocking at the big front door. At Sir Roger’s nod a servant rose and went out, closing the doors to the hall in order to make the entrance of the first-comer more dramatic. There were held breaths. There were footsteps. The doors were thrown open again and two people stepped in, followed by the servant. They were dressed in fine silks and satins, and were beautiful to behold. The man was tall and slender, with dark hair and eyes in a pale but handsome face. The woman was tall and slender, too, with golden hair and green eyes in a finely featured face. She wore a gown that shimmered as she walked with her partner towards the fireplace where Sir Roger waited to greet them with a formal bow.

“I am Sir Roger Nowell, Master of Read Hall. I bid you welcome, first comers on this Christmas night.”

“I am Lord Winter,” said the tall, gracious man. “This is my wife, Lady Summer. We are both glad of the welcome into your house on this night. We will drink the ale together.”

The tankard was passed to him and he took a sip before giving it to his wife, who drank also. They shared the drink until it was finished and then Lord Winter tossed the sovereign in the air and caught it in his hand to the amusement of the crowd.

“But…” Donna began, turning and looking at The Doctor. “But… he’s not… they’re…”

“Wait,” he whispered. “I know. But I can’t do anything about it just yet.”

“I see we have musicians here,” Lord Winter said, waving his hand towards the gallery. “Let there be dancing on this Christmas morn.”

Sir Roger looked a little taken aback. It was his house and his musicians to order. But as they began to play, he smiled and bowed to the two guests and allowed Lady Summer to lead him onto the dance floor. Lord Winter bowed to a young serving girl in her best kirtle who blushed at being chosen to dance with a Lord, no less. Then everyone else scrambled to their feet, brushing down their crumpled clothes and joining in the dance.

“Come on, Doctor,” Donna said. “Let’s dance.”

He let her take his arm and joined in the press of dancers, but he carefully steered her towards the door and then swung her out into the cool, quieter entrance hall.

“What are you doing?” she protested. “I want to dance.”

“No, you don’t,” he answered her. “You’re under a baleful influence. Everyone is.” He left her standing there and dashed back into the hall to grab Margery as she danced past. Her partner, the yeoman in the borrowed doublet carried on dancing, his hands held out as if he was still holding her.

“Donna, Margery, look at me,” The Doctor ordered as he placed them side by side in front of him. He reached into his doublet before remembering it had no pockets. “Oh, rats,” he said to himself. “The sonic screwdriver is in the TARDIS. Just have to improvise.” He looked around and found a stub of candle and a glass paperweight on the sideboard. He used the paperweight to reflect the light in a certain way so that it flashed several times in their eyes.

“Look at me,” he ordered. “Look at me and listen to what I’m telling you. You’re under a bewitchment, a trance… a spell… cast by the two creatures who came in the house at midnight. But I’m cleverer than them. When you look again you’ll see Lord Winter and Lady Summer for what they are. Now…. Look at them and tell me what you see.”

Donna and Margery blinked at him and did as he told them to do. They looked into the hall at the two people who now stood watching the guests dancing.

“They… look like the most beautiful beings in Creation,” Margery said. “Lord Winter is handsome and tall. Lady Summer is as lovely as her name.”

“No, Margery,” The Doctor told her. “Look again. Look with your own mind clear of confusion. Look beyond the glamour they cast and see the real creature.”

Margery looked again and she gave a soft cry. She shuddered visibly.

“They’re…” She stammered as she spoke. “They’re ugly things… long and thin, with pointed ears like an animal and long noses… eyes deep within hooded brows, skin like… like a mottled snake… green and grey-brown.”

“Like Human snakes,” Donna added.

“They’re not Human,” The Doctor said.

“I knew that,” Donna said. “I saw them when they walked into the hall. I knew… but… I couldn’t say… I felt as if I was looking at them the wrong way. As if… I was handicapped because I couldn’t see their beauty.”

“You saw them true because I already had you under my own influence,” The Doctor said. “But their charm is strong. It stopped you speaking out, and it made you want to dance just like the rest.”

“But, Doctor,” Margery protested. “What are they? And what are they doing here?”

“Aliens,” Donna guessed.

“They’re not,” The Doctor contradicted her. “They’re not from space. They’re from Earth – from the earth itself. They’re elves.”

“Elves?” Donna looked at him curiously. “But…”

“Yes, I know,” he said. “You think elves are good. Your culture has positive images of them. Santa’s little helpers, or the beautiful and benign people from Middle Earth. But both of those ideas are wide of the mark. Elves are not cute, they’re not pretty. They’re certainly not kind. And Roger and his friends and neighbours are in terrible danger.”

“You can help him, can’t you, Doctor?” Donna asked. “Tell me you can help him.”

“I can help him. But I need to find out what those two are up to. And for now, most of them are safer where they are. They’ve been made to keep on dancing until the enchantment wears off. Probably at dawn.”

“But Roger can’t dance until then. He’s an old man. He only danced the first set earlier to get everyone else to join in. It’ll kill him. And there are others who are not young.”

“I know,” The Doctor said. “I won’t let it go on that long, I promise. But watch them. They came here for some reason. They mean to do some mischief while everyone is under their spell.”

“Please, Doctor,” Margery begged. “Please get Roger out of there, if you can save no-one else.”

The Doctor looked at his friend, in the middle of the press of dancers, whirling around. Enchanted or not, he didn’t look happy. He seemed to be fighting it.

As he watched, the two elves strode through the crowd of dancers as if they were insubstantial. The Doctor pressed the two women back into a dark alcove behind the door and in shadow. He concentrated his mind very hard on making all three of them as inconspicuous as possible to supernatural scrutiny. The male creature who called himself Lord Winter looked around once, as if he was suspicious, but then the two passed on up the stairs.

“Donna, Margery,” The Doctor said. “Follow them… carefully. Find out what they’re doing. If it’s just thievery – they’re attracted to gold and jewels – then… just leave them to it and let them be gone. It’s just possessions, after all. But if it’s anything more, let me know.”

They both looked up the stairs nervously. Neither really wanted to follow those awful creatures. But The Doctor had asked them to do it, and neither were cowards. They crept slowly up the stairs, feeling their way in the dark rather than risking a light.

The Doctor himself went back into the great hall. He pushed his way through the crowds until he found Roger, dancing frenetically. Seventeenth century elegance seemed to have been abandoned. They looked like a twenty-first century ‘rave’ party now. Indeed, the music, while still played on fifes and tabors, was more like that style called ‘trance’ in Donna’s age, with an insistent beat something like the throb of a migraine – and yet strangely compulsive to the ear.

The Doctor resisted the compulsion. Music was meant to beguile the mind as far as he was concerned. Not assault it. He blocked it out as he pulled Roger out of the arms of a buxom girl whose bodice was starting to come undone in a thoroughly immodest way. She carried on dancing, unaware that she had no partner as he half carried his friend out of the room. He leaned him against the sideboard in the quieter entrance hall before doing the same trick with the candle and paperweight. Roger sagged as he came out of the trance and The Doctor helped him to sit down on a high backed chair.

“Nothing that some red meat and a glass of port won’t cure,” he assured him. “But there are terrible enchantments on this house, still.”


“I could call it by some scientific term you won’t understand,” The Doctor replied. “But enchantment is close enough. Oh, I’ve come across it so many times, in so many forms. Blood control – remember that. Lady Penistone used it the last time I was here. And I’m sure you know about the use practitioners of witchcraft make of effigies to harm their victims. All part of the same principle. Call it magic, call it advanced physics, it’s all the same. The creatures you unwittingly invited in as ‘first-comers’ used a simple biomorphic shield – a glamour – to fool you into seeing beautiful creatures you would trust implicitly. Then they used the music to complete the spell while they do their work.”

“What work?” Roger asked.

“I don’t know yet. But…”

He was cut off from telling Sir Roger what he thought was happening by a scream and running feet. Margery flew down the stairs and might have overshot and landed in the dancers again if The Doctor had not reached out and stopped her in her tracks. He put his hand over her heart and calmed it as she sought breath to tell her tale.

“Doctor… they’ve take your box… and… and Donna, too.”

“What!” The Doctor’s face paled. Whether the loss of his TARDIS of his friend was most grievous to him, neither Margery nor Roger dared to ask. But he was horrified. Even so, after a few seconds he pulled himself together and listened to Margery’s fuller story.

“We couldn’t see them,” she said. “But Donna told me you have special tools in your box that might help. So we went to your chamber. I waited while she entered the box. I respect you, Doctor. I know you to be a good man who walks in God’s light. But your box still seems an unnatural and an unholy thing. So I waited. But… they came… the creatures…. They had jewels and gold with them… some I recognised as belonging to Roger. Thievery was their plan, as you said. But when they saw your box, they were excited. They walked all around it, touching it, their faces… as if it was the greatest prize of all. Then they stood either side of it and used an incantation… and they vanished, along with your box. And Donna still inside.”

“We must follow them,” he said. “Roger… He looked at his friend. He looked recovered somewhat from his ordeal, but not enough to venture out on a wintery night. “Roger, take these and use them as I have done – shine the reflected light into the eyes of the afflicted and order them to wake from the enchantment. Try to release a few young men, first, your strongest outside servants. Then do what you can to relieve the elderly, the sick, those least able to withstand the punishment.”

“What do you intend to do?” Roger asked.

“I intend to take a good horse from your stable and ride,” he answered.

“Ride where?” Margery asked him. “How do you know where they went? They vanished like…” She paused. Her experiences didn’t include very many things that vanished at all. She had no simile for what had happened.

“Elves belong to another time, before mankind,” The Doctor explained, in simple terms, and knowing that the Darwinist theories of Human evolution were still a long way in the future. “They died out before men lived. And it was right that they should. They do not belong in the same time as you. But sometimes, there are weak places where times cross and they can enter your world. They are places associated with devilry. There is a ring of stones not far from here… that will be such a place.”

“The hoarstones,” Roger said. “But you are not so familiar with this place as you think. You will not find them in the dark.”

“I can,” Margery volunteered. “We’ll take two horses and I will show him.”

Generally speaking, of course, women of Margery’s time didn’t ride anywhere with men who were not husbands or blood relatives of some kind. And they certainly didn’t ride at night. But Margery was, as Donna had perceived, very much a modern woman and she would not be told that her gender held her back from being part of The Doctor’s plan. Neither Roger nor The Doctor would dare try.

“As urgent as this matter is, both of you should spare time to change into suitable clothes for a winter’s night,” Roger said. “I will see to the horses. I have stamina enough for that.”

That made sense, as anxious as The Doctor was. He and Margery hurried away. A few minutes later, they came to the front of the house where Roger had two strong horses saddled and ready. Margery, with breeches under the riding skirt that modesty dictated mounted her horse astride like a man, not side saddle. The Doctor mounted quickly, too, and they set off at a canter, with Roger’s ‘God speed’ ringing in their ears. Roger himself turned and walked back into his blighted house and went to try to save as many of his friends from harm.

So much for a peaceful Christmas, he thought, and wondered what would have come of them all if The Doctor had not been there with his knowledge beyond any ordinary reckoning.


The Doctor and Margery rode as fast as they dared. There was snow on the ground and the stars were obliterated by the low clouds that promised fresh falls before the night was through. The Doctor admitted to himself that she was right. He could not have found the place on his own. But Margery, who had ridden in the valley since she was a young girl, led him truly.

“Doctor, what is that light?” she asked as they came within sight of the hoarstones. “It looks quite unnatural.”

“It is,” he answered. “Ride carefully, as close as you can. Don’t be scared. As sinister as it is, it’s quite a beautiful sight. You can count yourself privileged to have witnessed it.”

He knew just what they were going to see when they drew closer. Margery didn’t. Her eyes widened in astonishment as the source of the light became clearer.

It was within the Hoarstones. But it was no bonfire or torchlight. It was what The Doctor would call a localised temporal displacement. To Margery the words would have been meaningless. The sight that met her eyes was magic of a sort she had never imagined before.

Inside the hoarstones, for the twenty yards or so enclosed by the rough circle, it was daylight. Not only that, but it was a brilliantly sunny day. There were spring flowers amongst the fresh grass, while outside the stones it was dark and snow covered in the small hours of Christmas Day.

In the middle of the circle, sunlight glinting off its windows, was the TARDIS.

“But how?” Margery asked. “How can it be?”

“Within the stones time is out of joint with the world around it. It is a different day, a different season, a different year, even.”

“But your box is there. We can get it. And Donna, if she’s within it, still.”

Margery urged her horse forward, but the placid gelding suddenly reared and whinnied with fright, shying away from the stones. The Doctor urged his own steed forward and took hold of her reins, urging the horse to calm itself long enough for her to dismount. When he let go it turned and bolted away. He dismounted and his own horse ran, too.

“I hope they’ll run home to Read, otherwise Roger has lost two good horses,” The Doctor commented.

“They may do so,” Margery said. “But what made them act so?”

“Horses won’t go near. They know it’s unnatural. We’re better on foot, anyway.” He hesitated and looked at the fleeing horses. There was no way to catch them, now. Even if they could, Margery was probably little safer riding home alone than she was coming into the stones with him. He reached out and took her hand. He was a being from no time or place. The dividing line between the two temporal locations was nothing to him. And as long as he had physical contact with her she should feel nothing as they stepped across.

The sunshine was dazzling and rather welcome. They had both forgotten how cold they were. If it were not so sinister, it would be wonderful to be suddenly plunged into such warmth and light. The Doctor sprang forward to his TARDIS pulling the key from around his neck where he had hung it on a piece of string for safety.

“Doctor,” Margery said. “Look…”

He looked and knew what it was that was bothering her. She had expected that they would look out of the stones and see Christmas night 1625, but it wasn’t. Beyond the ring was the same sunny day as inside.

And there was no sign of the elves.

“Where has the forest gone?” Margery asked. “These fields… so big… and… and… God’s Grace! What is that monster?”

“It’s an electricity pylon,” The Doctor told her as he followed her line of sight. “And beyond that is the M65 motorway. And…” Margery clung to him, her courage failing her after so many shocks, when a plane noisily passed over, heading towards Manchester airport, some few miles away. As she stared at its vapour trail across the sky, the door of the TARDIS opened and Donna looked out.

“How long do you two intend to stand around admiring the scenery?” she asked.

The Doctor and Margery stepped inside. Donna closed the door behind them. Margery looked almost relieved to see the TARDIS interior. It was demonic looking, but it felt much safer than the world outside.

“You look like you could use a cuppa,” Donna said to Margery as The Doctor ran to the console and began touching parts of it as if it was a lover he had been parted from.

“A… cuppa?”

“Come on, over here on the sofa. I made myself a pot already. I figured I might as well wait until The Doctor got here. I knew he would, somehow.” She brought Margery to a soft, welcome seat and introduced her to tea with milk and sugar and ginger nut biscuits. She waited for The Doctor to ask her about what had happened after she and the TARDIS had been kidnapped.

“So… what happened?” he asked. “After they took the TARDIS and you from the bedchamber?”

“Well,” Donna began. “First of all we ended up in the dark in the middle of some stones, in the snow, with those two weirdos outside. Then we were in the same place but surrounded by trees, loads of trees, dark and thick. And there were loads more of those things dancing around the TARDIS, and trying to break into it. but then… and I swear I touched nothing, but the TARDIS sounded like it was starting up. And the next thing, we’re here. Me, the TARDIS, and about six of those ugly mugs outside.”

“They bit off more than they could chew,” The Doctor said triumphantly. “When they took my TARDIS. They realised it was a powerful thing, and not of that time any more than they were. But they couldn’t control it. They dragged it back to their own time, but the TARDIS then dragged them to a random point in time – in this instance, summer, 2009.”

“Where are they?” Margery asked. “The creatures… where did they go?”

“Out there somewhere,” Donna answered. “They tried to get in for ages. Right noise they made at the door. Then they ran off.”

“I’ve got them,” The Doctor said. “Heading up towards the motorway.”

“Why?” Donna asked.

“Thousands of people going by at speed. Fascinating new concept to them. They want a look-see.”

“So… what are we going to do now?” Margery asked. “Can you take me home? This… your ship… it travels in time. Can it take me home to 1625?”

“Yes, it can,” The Doctor assured her. “But first we have to catch six elves running amok in the twenty-first century. We can’t leave them here, with a population of millions of humans to bother.” He dropped to his knees and fumbled under one of the floor panels for a few minutes before emerging with a silvery looking length of thin rope tied in a lasso loop.

“What is that?” Donna asked warily.

“It’s a time lasso,” he answered. “Made of finely woven fabric similar to the substance the walls of the TARDIS are constructed from. It’s what I need to capture rampaging elves and send them back where they came from.”

He reached into the underfloor store once again and pulled out a coil of ordinary rope that he slung over his shoulder before going to the console again. Donna and Margery watched as he set the TARDIS in motion, not flying, but hovering along a few feet above the grassy field, heading towards the M65.

“Come here, both of you,” he called out. “Need you to steer for me, while I do a spot of Elf wrangling. These two levers control speed and elevation. Those two are left and right. Decide between you who’s doing what. Try not to throw her around too much, though. I don’t want to fall out.” He ignored the protests of a 21st century lady and a 17th century one, both thrown in the deep end of TARDIS piloting and grinned widely. “Last time I did something like this, I was chasing a woman in a wedding dress stuck in a taxi driven by a homicidal robot Santa. That was quite a Christmas, too.”

Margery didn’t even understand the words taxi, homicidal, robot and Santa, so the whole mini-anecdote went over her head. Donna just looked at him and sighed.

“You’re completely mad,” she told him as she and Margery took over the steering of the TARDIS. The Doctor meanwhile, looped the rope around his own waist and tied the ends to the handrails of the door ramp. He opened the TARDIS and stood on the very edge. He spotted two of the elves running across the grass. He shouted to the two women to head towards them, and to his surprise, the TARDIS changed direction relatively smoothly. As they drew closer he swung the lasso around and flung it towards the nearest creature. As soon as it fell around its neck the creature disappeared in a flash of white light. He reeled in the rope and threw again, netting the second one.

“Time lasso throws them back where they came from. The dense forest that you saw, Donna. It was thousands, millions of years ago, when the Pendle valley was covered in trees. That’s where they belong, an evolutionary dead end that died away before mankind went forth to multiply. Yes. I know, Margery. Your understanding of the beginnings of life on Earth are a little different. I can’t explain it to you. There isn’t time. Even if I did, you’d be accused of heresy if you breathed a word to anyone else of your time. Just put it down to another of the mad things I say.”

“I understand some of your words, Doctor,” she told him. “But… they make as much sense to me as ‘pylons’ and great silver birds in the sky making sounds like the grind of the millstone if anyone were foolish enough to be that close to it.”

“There you go, then. don’t worry. Quick. I think I see another one galloping up the hill by that stand of pines. Close in on it, please, ladies.”

They did as he said and another of the creatures was dispatched. But when Donna craned her neck to look at the lifesigns detector she reported that three of them had reached the motorway.

“No… two…” she added. “One of them’s gone. What happened?”

As the TARDIS approached the motorway, Donna eased the elevation lever forward and the TARDIS hovered over the traffic like an eye in the sky traffic helicopter. They realised exactly what had happened to one of the remaining three elves. It had been hit by a lorry and then run over by three more of them and two coaches, leaving it as a flattened, greasy mess by the central reservation.

“What about the other two?” The Doctor asked. “Where are they?”

“Up ahead,” Donna reported. “I think they’re in a car or something.” She increased speed and Margery kept them following the line of the motorway, though she tried not to look at the terrifying vehicles speeding along it. Soon they were catching up on the fugitive creatures. They were sitting on top of a refrigerated lorry with the logo for ‘Iceland’ food stores on it. They were clinging on tightly, their ears blown back by the slipstream and their eyes wide with surprise. The Doctor recognised them as the leaders, Lord Winter and Lady Summer.

“Doctor, we’re attracting a bit of attention,” Donna told him as they moved the TARDIS in position over the lorry. Beside it, the driver of a Land Rover was signalling to the lorry driver who was the only person on the motorway who couldn’t see the strange creatures hitchhiking on his trailer or the TARDIS, with The Doctor leaning out of it, ready to throw his lasso.

The police traffic copter that responded to the series of mobile phone calls from drivers on the M65 reporting a flying box and some kind of escaped animals got a full view of The Doctor capturing the last two of the elves. He looked up as he dispatched Lady Summer and heard an authoritative voice over a loudspeaker ordering him to land his craft on the hard shoulder and stop interfering with traffic.

“I don’t think so,” he responded quietly as he threw the lasso out one more time and sent Lord Winter to join his wife in the primal forest. He pulled himself back inside and closed the door before freeing himself of his makeshift restraint and dashing up the ramp to the console. A moment later the police helicopter crew had an excellent view of the TARDIS dematerialising.

“What now?” Donna asked. “Back to 1625?”

“Not yet. One more quick job. Back in the old forest.”

And that was exactly where the TARDIS materialised, still hovering, above the circle of stones in the clearing. A bright moon shone down on it, except where the shadow of the TARDIS blotted it out. Dozens of elves, including the two leaders, looked up and shook their fists angrily, but there was nothing their magic could do to harm the TARDIS when The Doctor was in control of it.

“Hold on, ladies,” The Doctor said as he pressed switch and the TARDIS began to spin around. It went slowly around inside, like a carousel. Outside, it span like a top. Donna looked at The Doctor for an explanation of what he was doing.

“The TARDIS… belongs in time and space. All times, all space. I’m using it to create a vortex that will close off the portal the elves have been coming through, so they can’t create any more trouble.”

The outside of the TARDIS span faster and faster. The Doctor watched, but Donna and Margery turned their faces away. Suddenly there was a white flash of light outside and the TARDIS came to a stop inside and out. They looked at the viewscreen and saw all the elves lying on the ground within the stones.

“You killed them?” Margery queried.

“No, they’re just a bit time sick. Out cold. They’ll be fine in a little while. But they’re stuck, now, in their own time, awaiting the work of natural selection that will slowly wipe them out. Meanwhile… we have a party to get back to.”

He brought the TARDIS back to 1625 and parked it under the trees by the front gate of Read Hall, where it was nicely inconspicuous until morning. The three of them walked up the driveway just in time to meet Roger and a group of strong men armed with swords about to set out. They dismounted as soon as they saw The Doctor with Margery and Donna, all looking no worse for their experience. The Doctor told them that the evil was defeated.

“Is the party still going on?” he added.

“I used the candle and glass on the musicians,” Roger told him as they all came into the warm house. “I thought if the music was stopped… but to no avail. Most are still dancing.”

“All right,” The Doctor said. “I’ll deal with it.” He stepped into the Great Hall. Without music, the pounding of the dancing feet and the laboured breathing of the least fit was even more distressing, but he meant to relieve them all very quickly.

He slipped up the steps to the minstrels gallery and looked down at the ever moving crowd. Then he did something that his former tutors at the Prydonian Academy would have branded as flamboyant and ostentatious, but which his old friends Wyn and Stella would have called ‘Time Lordy’. He snapped his fingers and all the candles in the chandeliers went out. The dancing continued in the dark until he raised his sonic screwdriver and its light shone out in the darkness. It pulsated rhythmically as he spoke in a low but persistent voice. Slowly, the dancers stopped and there were soft rustling sounds. When he snapped his fingers again and the candles came on again, everyone was lying on the floor, young and old, sleeping soundly.

By the time he got down to the hall again, Roger and Margery, with Donna and the servants who had been revived were putting cushions under the heads of those who most needed the comfort.

“They’re all asleep?” Margery asked.

“A bit more of my own kind of enchantment,” The Doctor said, “I call it sleepy-bye mode. They’ll wake up in the morning, hungry and thirsty. Cold cuts from the buffet and plenty of ale will do them nicely. Tell them it was a bad cask of cider that gave them all hallucinations.” He laughed. “A cover story worthy of Torchwood! But it will give them peace of mind. Meanwhile, lock the doors, Roger and we shall retire to our beds. There are still another eleven nights of revels to get through, and I strongly hope, no more anxieties except for the correct spicing of the mulled wine.”

“God grant that you are right, Doctor,” Roger Nowell answered him.