Julia Sommers showed her visitor’s pass at the stage door and was admitted to the part of the New Brisbane Opera House the paying audience never saw. She breathed in the smells of sawdust and greasepaint, mothballs and adrenaline that she was familiar with even though she had chosen not to pursue a career on the stage.

The music coming from practice rooms where the corps de ballet were going through their paces was familiar to her, too. So was a different piece from the same suite that was playing on stage. It was a recording. The orchestra wouldn’t be assembled until the final dress rehearsal.

The two people she had come to see were on stage. Jennica Corr and Cinnamal Hext were dancing together in practice clothes that vaguely suggested the glamour of the performance costumes. Cinnamal’s waist length jerkin had cheap cotton cord to emulate the gold frogging of the Nutcracker Prince’s uniform. Jennica’s outfit looked like a lace edged nightdress cinched at the waist with a belt. Of course, as Clara, the central character of the ballet, the costume for most of the second Act was based on a girl’s nightdress, but it would be a fancier one than that.

It didn’t matter what they were wearing. Their bodies in motion transformed them into a Prince who had been released from the transformation into a wooden nutcracker toy and a teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood who discovers the joy of first romance in the Prince’s arms. They had been performing all sorts of roles together for several years, now, and it showed in the way they matched each other’s moves.

Of course, Cinnamal was telepathic. He could read Jennica’s steps before she took them, but natural instincts for the dance still counted for a lot.

Julia sighed secretly. She almost regretted giving up ballet for her other interests. She envied Jennica’s plum role as the female lead in the Nutcracker.

But only ‘almost’. She had other compensations.

The stage set was partly finished. The Christmas Tree was fixed in a central position with all the trappings of a party around it. Either side of the tree were two seven-foot tall tin soldiers, already larger than life before any magic was involved. Their mute, painted faces and immobile poses were a jarring contrast to the fluidly moving dancers.

“Hello, Julia,” a familiar voice said. She looked around to see another backstage guest. Jennica’s mother, Jacinta Corr, a famous dancer in her own youth, smiled warmly at one of her past pupils. Julia’s success in artistic gymnastics owed a lot to Mrs Corr’s tuition. The two stood in the wings and watched the rehearsal in progress.

“They look wonderful together,” Julia commented. “When I first met Cinn I never would have expected such grace and finesse from him – or such discipline and dedication. He has come on so well.”

Grace and finesse faltered however as what had appeared to be a prop for the party scene shuffled into the space Cinnamal and Jennica were dancing in. Cinn performed an impromptu lift as a seven-foot toy soldier with heavy metal boots stomped down where Jenny’s feet had been a moment before.

“No!” cried the ballet director Gregor Bassinikov, fondly known as a TGB – The Great Bassinikov - as he mounted the steps from the auditorium and strode across the stage. He kicked the toy soldier contemptuously and it fell backwards with a crash.

“How dare you, you… you backwards-thinking philistine,” cried another voice. From the other side of the stage a tall, thin figure in a silver and black catsuit strode forward. He bent over the toy soldier with the care and concern of a paramedic with a living, breathing patient.

“These ridiculous clockwork contraptions are nothing but damned trouble. Ridiculous, blasted nuisances that have no place in a traditional ballet that has lasted more than five hundred years without such ‘technology’,” Bassinikov raged.

“These are not clockwork. They are robotics, advanced robotics with the very latest microprocessor programming, and your tired, old-fashioned ballet needs them to put the backsides on seats.”

“The backsides come to the seats for the grace of my dancers,” Bassinikov responded. “They need no tricks, no gimmicks.”

“Gimmicks! How dare you!”

“Gimmicks!” Bassinikov repeated. “Not even cheap gimmicks, which would be bad enough. They are ridiculously expensive gimmicks that do not work properly and will ruin MY ballet.”

“YOUR ballet? Isn’t it Tchaikovsky’s ballet or some other antediluvian Russian imbecil!’

“Imbecile? How dare you insult the great man. You… you….”


The tall, thin man in silver swore in Portuguese because he was Ronaldo de Porto, celebrated theatrical set designer. Bassinikov swore back in Russian, because he was The Great Bassinikov.

Cinnamal and Jennica quietly left the stage as the verbal duel continued. They greeted Julia and Mrs Corr, wincing at the increasingly crude nature of the words being thrown about in a space built to carry sound a long way.

“I know what all those words mean,” Cinnamal admitted.

“I’ve been in Cinn’s brother’s TARDIS several times,” Jennica added. “So I can psychically translate Russian AND Portuguese. They are getting VERY personal about each other’s parentage.”

Julia could hear the crudities translated, too. She grimaced in sympathy.

“Showers and proper clothes, then tea in the foyer café,” Cinn suggested as they moved out of earshot. “We need to do another rehearsal, yet, but TGB will need some cooling off time after this little spat.”

Proper clothes for Cinn meant slacks instead of tights and an overshirt belted at his slim waist giving the overall impression of a young Cossack. For Jennica it was winter woollen tights and a long sweater that passed as a short dress. Even in casual clothes they still looked like dancers. They walked like dancers, held themselves erect like dancers, and in company with people like Julia and Mrs Corr who understand such things they talked like dancers.

Naturally the unfolding drama between TGB and de Porto was also a subject they came around to, prompted by Julia who wondered what the ‘big deal’ was.

“TGB hates all of de Porto’s stage sets,” Cinn explained. “He especially hates the robotic tin soldiers. They’re programmed to march up and down with the dancers playing the gingerbread soldiers in the battle with the mice, but the idea really doesn’t work, take it from me. I’m supposed to lead the soldiers as the nutcracker prince. They either break down or fall over or just get in the way so that the choreography is thrown out. You saw that one nearly step on Jenny’s feet. They’re heavy. She’d have been bruised even if no bones were broken – two days before the opening night. TGB wants them gone, but de Porto won’t budge and Monsieur Guillette who owns the opera house thinks they are a great idea – modern tech meets traditional ballet. Look… he has flyers printed.”

Cinn waved one of the glossy leaflets advertising the Christmas ballet. The robot soldiers were given a lot of space on it.

“It seems a silly idea to me,” Julia remarked. “People don’t go to a ballet to see robots lumbering about. They want to see real dancers. I’m with Bassinikov on this one.”

“We all are,” Jennica assured her. “I think TGB might be planning on sabotaging them just before the performance, when it’s too late to do anything. But enough of that nonsense. Julia, when is Chrístõ coming home?”

“Tomorrow,” Julia responded. “But… Beta Delta isn’t really his home, you know.”

“It used to be,” Jennica noted. “He was a great teacher. I thought he liked living in New Canberra.”

“Well, he did for a while. But we’ve all moved on since then. You and Cinn are dance stars. I’ve got my Olympic medals. I’ve graduated from the sports academy and I’m loving being back at New Canberra High teaching gymnastics. Even that is only temporary, though. I’m twenty-one in February. After that its only two years until I leave Beta Delta and marry Chrístõ. Then we’ll live on Gallifrey and everything will be different.”

“Good different,” Jennica assured her. “You love Chrístõ. You’ve always talked about marrying him. Even when you were training for the Olympics you had your sights set beyond gymnastics.”

“Yes,” Julia assured her friends. “But it’s still a bit daunting when I think about it. I’m marrying a Time Lord, after all.”

“So am I, eventually, when I retire from dancing,” Jennica answered, smiling sweetly at Cinnamal, who actually blushed with that much feminine attention on his future.

“I think I might achieve a few ambitions in my chosen field before then, too,” he said. “There are lots of strong roles for male dancers. They’re not all bewitched toys. Maybe at Christmas in fifteen years’ time I’ll do a new take on Drosselmeyer the toymaker. It isn’t a role noted for spectacular dancing. Some productions get in a mature actor who doesn’t dance much at all. I could have choreography that fully explores the split personality of genial toymaker and sinister wizard….”

All three women listened intently to his ideas for the pivotal character in the Nutcracker. They all realised what an irony it was to hear Cinnamal talk that way. He had taken up ballet to be close to Jennica. Anyone would expect him to want to leave it when she did. But here he was talking about roles for a lead male dancer that didn’t need a lead female partner.

For Jennica it was a curious compliment to her that he planned not to have any leading lady after her but to concentrate on the solo roles.

“Drosselmeyer the Renegade Time Lord,” Julia said. “That would be an explanation of the sinister side of his character.”

Cinnamal laughed. That was another way in which the years had changed him. Once he would have bristled at any hint of a slur on his Time Lord race. Now he laughed at a mild joke at their expense and drew a costume outline on a napkin incorporating Time Lord ceremonial robes and symbols instead of the ‘wizard’ sigils traditionally associated with the character that brings the Nutcracker and the other toys to life.

“Don’t forget the costume has to allow freedom of movement,” Jacinta Corr gently suggested, looking at her future son-in-law’s idea with a practised eye. “The static Drosselmeyer’s can be encumbered with robes, but if you want to dance more dynamically you need to scale it down. Instead of a robe, a cloak that could move with your body and even be a part of the choreography, like Julia’s ribbons in her rhythmic gymnastics.”

Julia seized upon that idea and added her own thoughts. By the time a second round of coffee had gone cold, Cinnamal’s vague thoughts about a role he wasn’t even considered old enough to play, yet, were taking shape.

“I wonder if the row has blown over, yet,” he said. “I know there’s a toreador cape in the props bin. I’d like to try some of these ideas. It’ll be a warm up for the second rehearsal, anyway.”

Cinnamal had learnt to dance on his own with hologram programmes. He was quite used, now, to practicing steps by himself and would have lost himself for hours in his ideas for a more dynamic Drosselmeyer. It was for that reason that Jennica, her mother and Julia went with him. Somebody had to remind him to eat and sleep.

They half expected the fight between Bassinikov and de Porto to be going on, still. They were relieved to find that it was quiet, now. Cinnamal changed his shoes for dance pumps and started warm up exercises. Jacinta found a chair and sat to watch Cinnamal’s improvised dance with a practiced eye. Julia and Jennica searched in the big props hamper in the wings for a cape.

Then Jacinta screamed. The two girls ran back to the stage. Both of them gasped in horror to see one of the tin soldiers lying on the floor again – this time with Bassinikov’s body across it. Cinnamal was bending over him and noted, to everyone’s relief, that he was alive, just unconscious.

“Did de Porto attack him?” Julia asked. But Cinnamal didn’t reply. He gave a soft sigh and collapsed on top of Bassinikov and the tin soldier. Jacinta, who was closest to him, crumpled beside them. Jennica ran towards her mother and sweetheart. Julia tried to pull her back, but she began to feel light-headed and her vision was blurring. As she succumbed she was sure she had seen the face of de Porto looking at her from behind the Christmas Tree.

When she came around again things looked and felt strange. She was sitting against a Christmas Tree, but not the one that had been on stage before. It was much bigger in every proportion. The baubles on it were the size of footballs. The plastic ‘gingerbread men’ were doll sized. The branches were huge.

The stage was huge. She could see the proscenium front and the dark auditorium beyond, but it seemed to be a mile away across a wide expanse of floor. Strangely, she could see it in detail, the limelights set flush with the surface, the edge of the safety curtain above, the gilded cords of the long gold velvet curtains that would be closed during the overture. But she knew if she stood up and tried to reach the edge it would take at least an hour of hot walking under the overhead beams.

If she COULD walk. She felt peculiarly stiff. She looked at her legs, spread-eagled in an unnatural way. They were encased in the multi-coloured fabric of the harlequin doll from Nutcracker. The costume WAS lifesize, of course. A dancer would rise up out of a huge Christmas box and dance for the party guests.

But how did she get into the costume and why did she feel as if she WAS a wooden doll without real joints?

Then she saw the others. Bassinikov was dressed as a Chinese Doll from the second act Divertissement with the sweets of the world. He was a broad figure in his maturity and the costume with the wide sleeves made him look even bigger.

He was walking alongside Jacinta Corr, who was in the stiff coral pink tutu of the Sugar Plum Fairy. She had kept her figure in retirement and looked beautiful in the costume.

Actually, walking wasn’t quite the right words for the way they were moving. They were both taking the short rhythmic ballet steps that simulated a walking gait.

From the other direction, Jennica and Cinnamal, dressed in the costumes of the Nutcracker Prince and the mature Clara in a ballgown approached by means of a perfectly matched pas de deux. When they drew close to the Christmas Tree Jennica broke free of Cinnamal and from the rhythm of the dance steps and forced herself to walk towards Julia. She reached under her arms and lifted her up. It took a little less effort than it should have done. The two girls were about the same weight as each other. Instead, Julia actually felt as if she were a doll made of wool and stuffing, her legs dangling awkwardly as if there were no bones in them.

“Stand on your feet,” Jennica whispered to her. “Stand properly and it will break the spell.”

Julia tried, but at first she seemed unable to control her muscles, as if she didn’t have any to control. Only when her feet touched the ground purely by chance did she feel her body as if it was flesh and blood and bone. She stood up and felt her true weight on her legs. Jennica let go of her.

“Cinn was the same,” Jennica said. “His body was rigid like the Nutcracker doll. I had to prop him against the grandfather clock until he snapped out of it. Even then, neither of us could move without dancing.”

Cinnamal was still trapped in that compulsion. He was performing endless battement petit movements with his feet – and en pointe at that. The toes of his soft pumps, the wrong sort entirely for pointe dancing, were staining with blood.

“Cinn, stop!” Jennica cried out. She and Julia both ran to him, grasping him by the shoulders and trying to hold him down. “Cinn, stand still before you cripple yourself.”

The ‘spell’ as Jennica had called it, broke suddenly and Cinnamal sagged into their arms. They let him down gently onto the floor and carefully took his shoes off. He groaned loudly. Neither girl was cruel enough to call him a baby. He was in a lot of pain. His feet were badly bruised and bleeding.

“Sit still and rest for a minute,” Jennica told him. She turned and looked at her mother and Bassinimov. They were still dancing, but not en pointe. All the same, Julia stopped them. They both seemed to come out of a trance as their feet stilled. They looked around and at each other in wonder and alarm.

“What is happening to us?” Mrs Corr asked. “Where are we?”

“Still in the theatre,” Julia said. “But something has happened to it as well as us. It’s been transformed.”

Jennica looked up from tending to Cinnamal’s wounds. She stared at the enlarged tree and around at the impossibly wide stage.

“It’s as if we’ve been shrunk down in size,” she said. “Like….”

She didn’t need to say it. The same thought had occurred to them all. It was like being in the Transformed scene of Nutcracker when Clara and her Prince fight the….

“Oh no!” She leaned over her Prince to protect him. He couldn’t even stand, yet, let alone fight. But the lights had suddenly changed. There was just a single spot focussed on their small group. Everything else was darkness, and there were noises in the darkness.

Julia moved slowly and carefully and grabbed a giant candy cane from the tree. It was made of plastic, of course, just a prop, but enlarged it was quite a heavy prop. It would do. Jacinta Carr grabbed a similar weapon. Bassinikov had the silver-topped cane he invariably carried when walking or directing ballet. When he forgot he needed it for standing up and waved it in the direction of an erring dancer it was a daunting sight. He held it now like a rapier, ready to thrust and parry as they backed up into a protective circle around Cinnamal and Jennica.

The attack was exactly what everyone had been expecting – huge toy mice, complete with enlarged winding keys on their backs. Clockwork and a bit comical looking as they were, their claws were fearsome enough and nobody wanted to be scratched by them. Candy canes and stout ash walking cane were used again and again against the oncoming menace.

It seemed to be working. The mice fell even to the feminine blows of Julia and Jacinta. Bassinikov, for a man of his age, was a knight errant, fiercely defending them all. One of the mice was hit so hard it flew into the tree and shattered one of the huge baubles before being caught on a stout branch halfway up.

“The baubles!” Julia exclaimed. She grabbed one of the football sized ornaments. It was toughened glass and satisfyingly heavy. She threw it at the next mouse that approached them. It exploded at head height. A decapitated clockwork mouse fell forward with its key slowly winding down. She grabbed another and threw expertly. Ball was one of the apparatus of rhythmic gymnastics. If she decided to throw a ball it went where she threw it.

The other two defenders grabbed these new weapons. Jennica carefully moved with Cinnamal until they were sheltering under the huge tree with exploding baubles to hand. Meanwhile, Julia climbed partway up the tree to get a better vantage point. Climbing was something she did well, though it was a long time since she had climbed a tree, and never a fully decorated Christmas one.

“The Mouse King!” she called out. Much as they all resisted being pulled into the fantasy she had no other word for the far bigger creature that now approached. It was taller than Bassinikov and twice as wide. Its eyes glowed red as it drew closer.

Then it fell, pole-axed by a weapon thrown from the base of the tree. Julia just about recognised it as one of Cinnamal’s dance shoes and remembered that Clara defeated the Mouse King by throwing one of her bedroom slippers at it.

Then the air around her exploded into impossibly bright light.

When she opened her eyes she was lying under the Christmas tree. It was normal size again and the stage was a sensible width and length and was normal apart from a lot of broken glass baubles from a rather ravaged tree.

Beside her, Jennica and Cinnamal were coming around in one clumsy heap while Jacinta Corr and Bassinikov were trying to regain their dignity. There was something else going on, too, just at the edge of her vision, but for the moment it was secondary to the man dressed in black shirt and slacks with a familiar leather jacket who bent over her in concern.

“Chrístõ!” She hugged her fiancé enthusiastically for a long time. “I thought you weren’t getting here until tomorrow.”

“I have a time machine,” he reminded her. “If I feel like an extra day with my girlfriend I can. Good job I got here, though. You lot were in a bit of trouble.”

He pointed to the giant robot tin soldier still lying across the stage. A police officer in a face mask was collecting samples of a fine white dust that surrounded it. Another officer was arresting Ronaldo de Porto who had a large bruise on his forehead.

“I think you’re all ok, now. I’ll buy coffee and explain everything.”

Julia wondered if there WAS an explanation, but coffee did seem like a good idea. They seconded a whole corner of the café with a table for six. With sandwiches and lattes normality closed around the whole shaken group while Chrístõ explained about psychic pollen.

“The two robots were packed with the stuff,” he said. “It was an artificially produced form, of course. The natural pollen is very rare, to say nothing of being a banned substance under about twenty different international agreements. When one of the robots fell, some of the pollen was released prematurely, affecting all of you.”

“Prematurely?” Bassinikov seized on the word. “It was meant to ‘go off’ during our performance?”

“I believe so,” Chrístõ answered. “The whole packed theatre would have been affected – the usual collection of VIP’s, men, women, children. They would all have been subjected to mind altering psychotic impulses. There may even have been deaths.”

“Why?” Jacinta Corr asked.

“Ronaldo de Porto is a secret member of an anarchist group who want to destabilise the Earth Federation,” Chrístõ replied. “Quite how that was meant to work I’m not sure, but I felt his motive very strongly when I checked his vital signs. Concussion and a raging hatred of social order are all that’s wrong with him. Apparently he was hit with a shoe.”

Serves him right,” Jennica said. “For what we all went through. Especially Cinn.”

“How are you feeling now, Cinn?” Chrístõ asked him. “Your feet ought to be mending. Even at your young age, bruises and abrasions should regenerate quickly.”

“Better now,” Cinnamal confirmed. “But when we were in the Nutcracker world it seemed as if my body was acting like an ordinary Human. I felt all of the pain and discomfort.”

“Yes, that’s the really interesting bit,” Chrístõ admitted. “I always assumed that psychic pollen would induce different psychoses in each mind, but it looks as if you all had the same dream – and a colourful one at that.”

“We’re all dancers at heart,” Jennica explained. “We were surrounded by the set and props of Nutcracker. We were all thinking alike.”

“Perhaps that’s the reason,” Chrístõ conceded.

“Maybe Hoffman breathed in some of that stuff when he wrote that original story,” Julia suggested.

“Tchaikovsky certainly must have,” Jennica suggested.

“But even if we DID all just have the same dream, how did Cinn’s feet get hurt and the tree wrecked?” Jacinta asked. “What sort of a dream WAS that?”

“One that has given my principal dancers a unique insight into the magic of Nutcracker,” Bassinikov answered when Chrístõ found that his sciences couldn’t answer that one. “My Babochki will give a magnificent performance on opening night. I wonder… my dear Julia, would you like to wear the harlequin costume again and join in the dances of the dolls? And Madam Jacinta, will you join our show for one night only? Sugar Plum Fairy is already cast, of course, but there is room for another guest at the Christmas Party. An appearance by the famous Jacinta Corr will be received much better by the ‘backsides on the seats’ than those tin soldiers.”

“Oh, say yes, both of you,” Jennica begged her mother and friend. “We have never had a chance to perform together on stage. If you’re giving it all up in two years to marry Chrístõ this is your chance to be in a manor production, and mum… just this once... a comeback…. Oh, please.”

“As long as nothing strange happens on stage during the performance,” Jacinta and Julia both agreed.

“Well, I’m going to have to find somebody else to sit with me in the box seats I booked,” Chrístõ conceded. But as long as de Porto and his fellow anarchists were safely locked up he was looking forward to what he was sure was going to be a very excellent performance of the traditional Christmas Ballet. In any case, he had firmly decided to take Julia off afterwards to see the actual première at the Marinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg in December 1892. He was a Time Lord, after all and he could do things like that.