Natalie was lost again. She had gone too far past the arrows Chrístõ had put up in the corridors to indicate the way to the rooms she used regularly. And now she was totally lost. She couldn’t even find the strange darkness creature Chrístõ and Julia called Humphrey. He, at least, could help her.

She opened a big double door and stepped into a very beautiful room she had never seen before. The door was at the top of a wide staircase and as she stepped forwards into the room, she saw a huge sunlit window behind her. Surely not a REAL window her sense of logic protested. She went down the steps and looked at the sort of altar in front of which the sunlight formed a pattern on the floor. And beyond that was a strange covered thing that looked like a well.

It seemed to be talking to her. Natalie shook her head and told herself not to be silly. But something about it drew her close. She was not a daydreamer. She was a practical woman. Daydreams were for a different sort of woman who could hope to have her dreams come true. She had no such illusions.

But this strange object was whispering to her. And it knew her name.

“What are you?” she whispered back to it. And it told her. She was surprised. “I didn’t know you could talk.”

Then she heard another sound. She turned around and around trying to work out where the sound was coming from. It seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. It was a man crying out in something like annoyance. It had begun far off like the sound of an old fashioned radio tuning in, but now it was quite loud.

And then he appeared, in mid air about six foot above the ground, and fell in the middle of the pattern of sunlight. Natalie rushed towards him, sure that he would have broken every bone in his body. But by the time she reached him he was picking himself up and dusting down his clothes.

“Natalie!” he said with a smile. “You look lovely as ever.”

“How do you know me?” she asked.

“It's been a long time, Natalie,” he said, reaching to take her hand. “But I remember you well. How are you, my dear?”

“I’m… I’m well enough considering.… I’ve been getting some headaches, but Chrístõ said it has nothing to do with the cancer. He says some people have problems with the vibrations of the TARDIS.” She stopped. She didn’t know this man. Why was she telling him things like that.

And yet, when she looked at him, he DID seem familiar. The clothes for one thing. They looked like older, more worn versions of the clothes Chrístõ wore. The leather jacket was EXACTLY the same except it was worn at the cuffs and shoulders and had a button hanging loose. And when she looked at his face, even though his eyes were a different colour, they had Chrístõ’s gentleness in them. He was like an older, more worn version of Chrístõ.

“They call me The Doctor,” he said. “But that’s another story. I… If you’re here, this must be Chrístõ’s TARDIS? I think I need to talk to him. We seem to be in another paradox.”

“You know Chrístõ?”


“Do you know the TARDIS?” she asked. “Because I…. I….”

“You’re lost again, aren’t you?” He smiled indulgently and touched her cheek gently. “Natalie, my dear, that sense of direction of yours never improved. Never mind, come on.” He took her hand and began to lead her away. Then they both stopped and turned around searching for the source of yet another Doppler scream growing closer. They both looked up as another figure materialised, this time even higher, right up where the two pillars shaped like silver trees supported a high vaulted ceiling.

“He’ll kill himself!” Natalie screamed as he grabbed one of the silver branches and swung wildly. The man who called himself The Doctor stared up at the other man and swore in a language the TARDIS didn’t translate for her.

“Hold on,” he yelled and bounded towards the trunk of the silver tree. She watched as he began to climb up it, finding what hand holds there were until he reached the largest of the spreading branches. He crawled along it until he was over the other man who swung precariously from a much thinner branch. He gripped the branch with his legs and leaned over to grab the other man’s arms and for a moment they both swung like trapeze artistes before The Doctor pulled the other man up to the relative safety of the thicker trunk. The other man said something to him but he made a short reply and indicated the way back down. Natalie watched, heart in mouth, until they were both safely on the ground.

“Ok,” the man said. “Who ARE you and why are you in this TARDIS?”

“Use your psychic powers, stupid, who do you think I am?”

The other man stared at The Doctor. Natalie stared at them both. The other man was dressed like something from an historical novel in a frilled shirt with a cravat and a long frock coat. He had much longer hair than The Doctor, who was cropped close and short. This man looked like some sort of romantic poet.


“I’m you,” The Doctor said. “The next one along the line.”

“When did I die?” he asked.

“Never mind, that’s not for you to know,” The Doctor said.

“Who ARE you both?” Natalie asked.

“Well, I’m The Doctor,” the other man said. “And so is HE. And…”

“And we both need to talk to Chrístõ,” The Doctor said – the short-haired one. “And I was just going to find him, and help Natalie find her way at the same time.”

“Natalie! Of course!” the OTHER Doctor shook her hand warmly. “I knew I recognised you. Couldn’t put a name to the face for a moment. How are you, my dear?”

“We already had that conversation,” The Doctor said. “She’s as well as we could hope. I really think we should find Chrístõ now.”

“How do you know your way around the TARDIS?” Natalie asked as she walked between the two men, slightly out of breath as she tried to match their long-legged pace. The short-haired Doctor looked at her and saw her trouble and slowed slightly, the other one did the same as soon as he, too, realised.

“Because it is OUR TARDIS too,” he said. “It’s changed a bit over the years, but there’s a basic logic to it. You really can’t get lost.”

“I can!” Natalie sighed.

“I know,” the short-haired Doctor said. “I think of you every time I find myself somewhere I never planned to be.”

“Here we are,” the long-haired one said triumphantly. “The console room.” He pushed open the double door and stepped into the bright room with its walls of white hexagonal panels and the console in the centre of the tidy floor.

“Wow. I’d forgotten how clinical it used to look. Very bright. Mine has a lot of shadowy corners.”

“Very space age. I like my Edwardian drawing room style though.”

Chrístõ was working at the computer database. He looked up at the sound of the voices and his face paled in shock. He opened his mouth to speak but no sound came out.

“Chrístõ!” Both men turned as Julia sprang from the sofa where she was reading and ran to his side. Now it was their turn to go pale as they looked at her. Chrístõ put a protective arm around her shoulders and found his voice at last.

“How did you get here?” he asked. “You…” he looked at the one whose clothes matched his own and remembered his last meeting with him on the SS Alduous Huxley. “You’re….”

“I’m a future incarnation of you, Chrístõ,” he told him. “So is this guy. A different one. As to how I got here, I’m not entirely sure. I’m assuming it's NOT something you did.”

“It’s not,” the other incarnation said. “It's something the Time Lords did. They contacted me and said I had to come back into my own timeline to deal with something that my younger self couldn’t cope with on his own. They said they’d send another to help as well. I assumed they meant somebody like Romana. Wasn’t expecting…”

“Chrístõ…” Natalie looked at him. “I don’t understand.”

“I’m a Time Lord, Natalie. I have the ability when I am older, when my body is old and worn out, to regenerate into a completely different body, but with the same memories and experiences. These two are… later versions of me. I’m not sure how many…”

“He’s number eight and I’m number nine,” the short-haired one said. “I don’t suppose it causes too much trouble to tell you that. HE seems to know what’s going on. I’m about as much in the dark as you are.”

“The Time Lords sent me,” he said. “To protect you from an enemy from the future who means to kill you and make us never to have existed.”

“Oh bloody hell,” Nine swore. Chrístõ said something similar but in a quieter voice.


“Chrístõ…” Julia hugged him closely. Natalie bit her lip and looked from Chrístõ to the two strange men who, nevertheless, she felt she trusted instinctively in the same way she had come to trust Chrístõ. The explanation of who they were was mind-boggling. And their reason for being there was frightening. But she felt safe in their presence.

“Chrístõ’s life is in danger – so your existence is?” she said.

“Yes,” Nine replied. “And… so is yours. You and Julia both come from the 24th century. But if we don’t exist…. I spent the best part of my 700s stopping the Earth from being wiped out in the 20th century. Without me…. Neither of you would be born because the Earth won’t exist. Neither will my Rose and….”

“Your….” Chrístõ looked at him. Who is…”

“She’s the woman I love in my lifetime,” he said. “I’m 1,000 years old and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since your time, Chrístõ, and my life is a brighter place for having a wonderful woman beside me. Just as yours is. And I want to get back to her as soon as I can, so we really need to get this matter sorted.”

“I’ve got to get us to Psi-Bretillia,” Chrístõ said turning to the console. “Desert planet with oases of civilised life spread across the surface. Is that where we’re expected to find this enemy from the future or do you two hitchhike with me until he turns up?”

“You know the Time Lords,” Eight said. “They don’t tell us straight answers like that. But assuming their temporal co-ordinates were correct it must be soon.”

“Their SPATIAL co-ordinates were a mess, so I don’t see why we should assume that,” Nine pointed out. Eight grimaced as he recalled his arrival in the TARDIS.

“Psi-Bretillia it is,” Chrístõ said. “Half an hour till we land. Time to get dressed accordingly.”


The three Time Lords looked as Julia and Natalie reached the console room after spending a considerable amount of time in the wardrobe. They were both dressed in the sort of long robe of lightweight fabric called a burnoose in the desert parts of planet Earth. The three men had already changed into the male version of the same form of dress. Leather jackets and frock coats were utterly unsuitable for the climate.

“Do we have to wear these?” Julia asked as she held a complicated looking headdress uncertainly in her hands

“Yes,” Chrístõ said. “This is one of those cultures where they insist on women having their heads covered always.”

“Here,” Nine said and stepped forward. He took Natalie’s headdress and arranged it over her hair and fixed the veil across her face. “You have very pretty eyes,” he told her with a warm smile. “This shows them off beautifully.” Then he turned to Julia and did the same for her. “Your eyes are beautiful, too,” he told her.

“It isn’t fair,” Julia said. “That we have to do this just because we’re women!”

“No, it's not,” Eight agreed with her. “But adhering to local customs is important for travellers. Besides, in a desert, we’re not going out there without headgear either. And the three of them helped each other to don versions of the keffiyeh worn by Arab men on Earth, covering their heads and nose and mouth against the sand.

“You all look like that old Earth movie star….” Natalie said, trying to dig up the name from her memory. “Rudolph Valentino.”

“Should hope so,” Nine said with a laugh. As Julia went to Chrístõ’s side he reached out his hand to Natalie. She came to his side. Her eyes shone as if she was pleased by his gentlemanly action as he took her arm.

They looked around as they stepped out of the TARDIS. Both of the older men had become used to their time machine looking a certain way. They smiled to see this one disguised as a Bedouin tent with Chrístõ’s own symbol hidden within the symbols that closely resembled Earth Arabic, but were, in fact, the language of Psi-Bretillia.

“It’s very pretty,” Julia said as they walked around the tent village arranged around an oasis that was everything that word implied. A pool of water that reflected the blue sky and trees with luxuriant green foliage overhanging it, offering cool shade to the women of the village. Shade for the men was provided in the bar, where apparently women were not allowed. Aside from that segregation, though, the women seemed happy enough. They were talking and drinking what looked like wine from carafes by their side and seemed to be as leisurely as the men.

“Wow, what’s that?” Julia asked as she looked across the pool to where a huge, multicoloured marquee was set up.

“Looks like a circus,” Eight said.

“Ok,” Chrístõ said. “I like circuses.”

“I don’t,” Eight and Nine said together.

“Creepy places,” Nine added. “Had some trouble with one of those a couple of lifetimes back.” Then he remembered he probably shouldn’t tell Chrístõ such things. “Worth checking out, I wonder?”

“I think it probably might be,” Chrístõ said. He had remembered that this was a preset in his database. And that meant that somewhere in this oasis of leisure there was trouble to be dealt with. And although he DID like circuses he was, on reflection, considering that they might also be a source of trouble. “Might as well see if we can get any information from the locals in the bar first, though.”

“Ladies, why don’t you mingle with the local womenfolk,” Nine suggested. “Julia, you drink cordial. You’re too young for the wine.”

Julia may have been pouting under her veil. They were none of them entirely sure, but Chrístõ backed up his older self’s injunction before she went with Natalie to sit in the shade. They were immediately offered food and drink by the other women and were soon chatting pleasantly to them. Chrístõ turned and strode towards the bar. The two Doctors followed him.

“Incidentally,” he added as they caught up with him. “THIS is my mission… I’m supposed to sort out what, if anything, is going on here. You two are… well… I’m in charge, ok.”

The two Doctors looked at each other.

“Have you considered that both of us have a lot more experience of these things than you?” Eight answered him after a long pause.

“Yes,” Chrístõ replied. “But it's my mission, my timeline, my TARDIS that you hitched a lift with. MY life. And it goes without saying….” He glanced back at the place where Natalie and Julia were sitting. “My girl.”

“Hey,” Nine said to him. “THAT definitely goes without saying. But as for the rest… I think we should try working as a team. All this ‘I’m in charge… Well, it hardly matters, does it?”

“I suppose not,” he conceded. “But…”

They went into the bar. The conversation stopped as they were noticed. Eyes watched them warily as Eight stepped up to the bar and Nine and Chrístõ went to sit at a table. He returned presently with two glasses of what looked something like whiskey and one glass of milk.

“By the way, your reputation among these men is wrecked from the start,” Nine told Chrístõ as he took the milk and tasted it warily. It was cool. It was something like goats milk. And he didn’t care how much he was teased about it. He didn’t LIKE whiskey. Though he wondered when he was going to acquire the taste, seeing as his older selves didn’t seem to mind it.

They equally warily tasted the drink that was something like whiskey. It definitely wasn’t a Single Malt made with the peat-infused waters of the Scottish Highlands, but they’d tasted worse.

Getting the local men to talk to them was proving difficult. They seemed suspicious of strangers. After a few attempts they gave up and pretended to be enjoying their own drinks while they listened in to the conversations. There was some talk about people going missing. They listened to that carefully. But they could not gain much information except that in another village a lot of people seemed to have disappeared without a trace.

“You know what puzzles me,” Nine said. “I don’t remember ever coming to this place.”

“Neither do I,” Eight added.

“Huh?” Chrístõ looked at them both with a puzzled expression.

“I’m you,” Nine told him. “We’re both you. We remember everything you did. Elizabeth, Cassie and Terry, Bo, Li Tuo, Sammie, Penne, all the people you have known and all the places you’ve been. We remember all of that. But I don’t remember coming to this place as you.”

“I don’t understand that,” Chrístõ said. “I remember the last time I met you. The day I met Julia.”

“I remember that,” Eight said. Then he turned and looked at his later self. “That was YOU who told him… me… what to do. I’d forgotten. I forgot a lot of things. My regeneration was very complicated. A lot of my long term memory came back fuzzy and incomplete. But I do remember that.”

“I’ll never forget that day. The day I met Julia.” Nine caught a hard glitter in his younger self’s eyes though and changed the subject. “This enemy from his future. What are we talking about here? Who?”

“I was wondering when one of you was going to tell me that,” Chrístõ said.

“I don’t know any more than you do,” Nine reminded them. “I was press-ganged into this, remember.”

“I don’t KNOW,” Eight admitted. The other two looked at him. “Come on, you KNOW the Time Lords. Getting information out of them is like pulling teeth. It's always cryptic clues.”

“Daleks, cybermen, Sontarans?” Nine thought of some of the worst enemies he had encountered in his time. He looked around at the beautiful place they were in and shivered as he thought of the trouble any one of those might cause. “I often thought my worst nightmare would be two or more of that lot actually joining together.”

“Let’s not go there,” Eight said. “Apart from anything else, I think its paradoxical even talking about them in front of Chrístõ. He hasn’t come across any of them yet.”

“They said an enemy from my future,” Chrístõ pointed out. “Obviously I haven’t met him yet.”

“Or you know him by another name,” Nine said slowly as he worked it out. He looked at Eight. “You saw him die. But he’s a Time Lord. A criminal Time Lord. He wouldn’t care about doing a thing like this out of his own timestream.”

“Oh no!” Eight groaned. “Oh no.”

“What?” Chrístõ looked at them both. They looked at each other. “Ok, now who’s being typical Time Lords? Will you please tell me who you think you’re looking for?”

“The most devious and untrustworthy Time Lord of our generation,” Eight said. “A disgrace to our society. A blight on the universe as long as he was alive.”

“You’re too kind to him. He’s more than that. Or he WAS when he was alive. I wish he’d damn well stay dead once and for all.”

“Sounds like my cousin Epsilon,” Chrístõ said. “Apart from the staying dead bit. 192 years old and he has 52 warrants out on him already.” Then he looked at his older selves and there was something in their eyes. “What?” He looked at them again and tried to see what they were thinking, but both of them were blocking him. “WHAT?”

“Should we tell him?” Eight asked Nine behind the telepathic block.

“This is getting to be a serious paradox as it is. Just how much information should he have about his future?”

“THEY sent us here to help him. Did they expect us to babysit him and tell him nothing about the situation?”

“They probably DID. But as usual they underestimated us. All of us. We were SMART when we were that age.”

And Chrístõ proved just how smart.

“Oh Rassilon!” He said. “It IS Epsilon, isn’t it?”

“He calls himself the Master in the future,” Eight told him. “We… collectively… are probably the only being in the universe who actually know his true identity. And… he is the only one who knows ours. That’s why he’s dangerous.”

“I thought he’d be caught sooner or later and wind up in Shada for all of his miserable lives,” Chrístõ sighed. “You mean he’s going to be getting in my hair ALL my life.”

“Not all,” Nine assured him. “But yes, sorry, he’s going to be a pain in the neck for a long time.”

“An older version of Epsilon is around here…” Chrístõ looked suddenly nervous. He pushed his half empty glass of milk aside and stood up. “I’m not leaving Julia and Natalie alone…”

The other two came to the same conclusion at about the same moment. They stood and followed him. They didn’t run while they were in the bar. It seemed the sort of place where looking urgent would get them in trouble. But outside they all three broke into a sprint. Chrístõ reached the place where the women were sitting first, but it would have been a photo-finish for second and third.

The effect of their arrival on the women was dramatic. All the lively conversation stopped and they all looked down or aside, anything to avoid eye contact with a man. Natalie and Julia stood up and the men all gaped in surprise.

“Wow!” Chrístõ said as he looked at Julia. The others looked at her, too, and at Natalie.

“Is it…Do I…” Natalie stammered nervously.

“I told you before you have beautiful eyes,” Nine told her. “Now they’re even more beautiful.”

“You look fantastic,” Chrístõ told Julia as he looked at her eyes so beautifully made up with dark kohl and lash-lengthening thick mascara and colours that seemed to have a glittery substance in them that brought out the sparkle in her brown eyes. Natalie’s green eyes were even more startling done that way.

“Because the eyes are the only part of the face that is visible to potential suitors, they make the most of them,” Chrístõ said as he admired that look. “The windows to the soul.”

“Do I really look pretty?” Natalie asked. And all three versions of the same man realised just how important that was to her.

“Yes,” Eight told her. “You look beautiful.” Nine and Chrístõ both agreed with him. Her eyes seemed to light with joy. Had anyone ever told her that before?

“I don’t think so,” Chrístõ told the other two telepathically.

“Well, I’m glad we made her day for her,” Nine said. “Meanwhile, let’s go find a place to sit together where we’re not upsetting anyone.”

They moved around the oasis and found another shaded spot, but this one unoccupied and they sat down there together. Chrístõ noted that Nine chose to sit next to Julia. He felt a twinge of jealousy, before realising he had absolutely nothing to be jealous about. Even when he reached and unfastened her veil to reveal her face fully.

“You DO look very pretty,” he told her as he took her hand. “Just as I remember you.” She said nothing, but she looked at him calmly. “Do you… do you understand who I am?” He glanced at his other incarnation. “Do you understand who we both are?”

“Yes,” she said. “You’re my Chrístõ when he is much older in the future.”

“A lot older. I’m over 1,000 years old. I’ve seen so very much. Seeing you again makes me feel as old as that. So many memories coming from so far back.”

“You said you had a girlfriend in your life. Where you are.”

“Yes,” he said. “She’s… very special.”

“Have you had lots of girlfriends. 1,000 years… You must have…”

“No,” he said. “Not really. Only two women have ever been REALLY special to me. My Rose… and…My Julia.”

She smiled at him. The smile burned into his hearts as he remembered so many years back. She was only a child yet. But he knew that same smile on her face when she was older. When she was seventeen and he gave her a Gallifreyan diamond ring and proposed to her formally, when she was twenty-three and they were married. When she was the mother of his child, and all through the years of her life she smiled at him that way and he loved her. And he still loved her. And being here, seeing her, at the start of their life’s adventure, was at the same time wonderful, and a torture on his soul.

“So many memories,” he said again.

Eight leaned close to him. He put a hand on his shoulder and he turned and looked at him. “Don’t,” he said. “Leave the memories where they are. In our past.”

“Don’t you feel the same way?” Nine asked. “This is… this is OUR Julia.”

“Yes,” he said. “But… I don’t know. I think it must be one of the ways in which we are different. My memories do seem more distant, more vague. I think… YOU of all of us seem much closer to HIM than I am or any of us before. Your clothes… they’re an outward expression of it. But in your mind, too, you are a lot more like Chrístõ than any of us. And yet….” Nine stiffened himself warily as he felt Eight reading his mind. He saw Chrístõ look at him sharply at the same moment.

“What is he blocking out that he doesn’t want either of us to see?” Chrístõ asked Eight telepathically. “What is it about HIS memories. What happened to him since he was YOU?”

“I don’t know,” Eight answered. “Something terrible. But something that fulfils the destiny that we were born to….”

“DESTINY!” Chrístõ’s inner voice rang with exasperation. “I am tired of hearing about MY DESTINY. The whole of Gallifrey is scared rigid of what MY destiny is.”

“It has a right to be,” Nine said. “But stop… please, both of you, stop trying to see. It would do neither of you any good to know and it might even be catastrophic. So please… don’t.”

Julia looked at all three of them. She wasn’t telepathic, but sitting between them she could almost feel something. And she knew it wasn’t good for any of them. She reached out for Nine and hugged him around the neck and kissed his cheek quickly. She whispered something to him and he smiled and hugged her back briefly. The other two smiled as well. She knew they had heard her through him.

“We need to focus anyway,” Chrístõ said. “I still don’t know why I’m here. And there doesn’t seem to be anything going on that smacks of Epsilon’s doing.”

“There’s some people missing from another village,” Nine said. “That’s what we overheard in the bar.”

“That’s not much to go on. Just some people missing. We don’t know how many, or how recent.”

“It’s not recently at all,” Natalie told them. The men turned to look at her. “And it's not from another village. WE were talking to the women, remember. They didn’t freeze us out like the men did to you. What everyone is talking about is something that happened ten years ago. The first time this circus came to the oasis. When it left, about sixty people - everyone who went to see the final performance – vanished with it.”

“Did the lions look fatter?” Nine asked. Julia laughed but Natalie looked horrified at the thought. “Sorry, couldn’t resist it!”

“It’s not THAT sort of circus anyway,” Julia said. “They don’t have animals. Just things like high wire acts and trapeze and jugglers.”

“And a captive audience?” Eight made the pun that time and they all laughed before becoming serious again.

“Well, anyway,” Natalie said. “All the villagers say the circus is cursed. It returns every year. Nobody is sure how. It just turns up overnight. The first time it did some men went to it to try to find out where their friends were. But they never came back. The same happened the next time. After that the villagers were all scared stiff of it and nobody would go anywhere near it. And I expect the reason they wouldn’t talk to you in the bar is that they thought you were from there. The men are VERY superstitious. The women are more practical. But they won’t go near the circus because the men have ordered them not to.”

“We’d better check out the circus,” Chrístõ decided. He stood up and reached out for Julia’s hand. Eight, this time, took Natalie’s arm. “We’re not letting you two out of our sight now,” he said. “Just in case.”

“I thought you were the one who had to be protected,” Natalie said to Chrístõ as they set off towards the circus tent.

“Nobody has to protect me. They’re here to help me in a situation that might get a bit big for me to cope with on my own. And that’s assuming that the Time Lords haven’t underestimated what I can handle. They always think of me as a weak-minded half-blood.”

“Well, if you are, what did they expect us to be?” Eight wondered. “We’re all the same blood.”

“Maybe they wanted rid of all of you,” Julia said quietly. “Chrístõ… be careful. Please.”

“Hey,” he squeezed her arm gently. “We did ok against the Vampyres, just the two of us. And this time there’s five of us. We’re a team.”

“I’m not sure how much help I could be,” Natalie said. “I’m just me…. Natalie Beech Ball…”

“Now don’t you say that,” Chrístõ said. “You’re all sorts of help to me. We’re a Team, The Two Doctors and Chrístõ, and their lovely assistants, Natalie and Julia!”

“Sounds like a circus act,” Julia giggled.

They slipped around the side of the marquee and came to the ‘stage door’. It was quiet outside. But as they stepped inside the sights and sounds of a circus enveloped them. Music, applause from a near capacity crowd in the seats around the ring as a high wire act went on above and four people juggled flaming torches in the middle while a clown on a high unicycle circled the edge. Just inside the door, as if waiting for their turn to perform a group of young women in costumes that would not be tolerated outside in the oasis village stretched and limbered up ready for their performance. As they watched the jugglers ran off stage to tremendous applause while the women ran on and began a rather impressive acrobatic display.

“Did anyone else notice a temporal displacement as we came in?” Nine asked. “There’s more to this place than meets the eye.”

“Temporal displacement?” Natalie looked at him. “I did feel slightly dizzy for a moment as we came in. But I thought it was just the sudden noise bringing on one of my headaches.”

“It's like stepping into the TARDIS,” Chrístõ explained. “The marquee is outside of ordinary time just like the TARDIS is.”

They all turned to look at the entrance. And they immediately noticed that although they came into the marquee in broad daylight it appeared to be early evening outside, with the village in deep shadow as the sun went down.

The second thing they noticed was that they couldn’t leave. Chrístõ put his hand out before him as he tried a second time. It felt as if there was an invisible brick wall there.

“We’re in trouble,” he said. Julia clutched his hand and looked at him fearfully. “But you know us,” he added brightly. “We ALWAYS get out of trouble again.” He looked at his two oldest selves and they agreed with him telepathically.

“Although right now I don’t see HOW we get out of this trouble,” Nine told him. “That’s a VERY strong temporal displacement field if even we, the Lords of Time, can’t penetrate it.”

“Is this my cousin’s doing?” Chrístõ asked.

“Oddly enough,” Eight replied. “I’m not sure it is. Messing with the laws of physics is right up his street, but this isn’t Time Lord technology at work.”

“You’re right,” Nine agreed. “This feels different. It's a more ‘organic’ kind of interference. Not mechanical.”

“I think you two are just pretending to know what you’re talking about,” Chrístõ told them both. “You can’t FEEL different kinds of temporal anomalies.”

“Yes, we can,” Nine told him. “So should you. If you concentrate. The power is in you.”

Chrístõ looked as if he was going to reply but a strident voice cut him off telling them that they were late. They all turned at once to what must have been the ringmaster. His burnoose was highly coloured and his headdress tied with a rhinestone studded strip of leather.

“You ARE the trapeze act that was supposed to be joining us, aren’t you?” he continued. “If not, then you are trespassing…”

“Yes,” Chrístõ said with a chuckle and a glance at his older selves. “The Two Doctors and Chrístõ, and our lovely assistants, Natalie and Julia. Yes, we’re the trapeze act you’ve been expecting to join you.” He had read the man’s mind as he approached and he WAS expecting such an act. He suppressed a telepathic laugh as he caught a flash of panic from Eight and a vision of him hanging from the roof of the Cloister Room. “I’m not scared of heights,” he told him.

“Neither am I,” Eight replied telepathically. “I just don’t LIKE them. Same as I don’t HATE Gallifreyan mountain spiders, but I don’t like them in my tent when I go camping.”

“Yeah, right,” Chrístõ laughed.

“Get changed,” the ringmaster said. “You’re on in ten minutes.” He pushed Nine unceremoniously towards a door under the terraced seating marked ‘dressing room.’ The others followed.

“We are in BIG trouble,” Eight said as the door closed behind them.

“No, I think we’ll be ok,” Nine said. “I think I know what happened to the people now, and I think I know how to stop it.”

“That’s not the trouble,” Eight said. “In ten minutes we’re expected to do a trapeze act.”

“Are we actually going to DO it then?” Julia asked.

“I’m not sure we can get out of it now,” Chrístõ said as he looked at the costumes on a rack. He found a spangly, tight fitting body suits of the sort that were de rigueur for such an act. Julia was already smiling as she found something sparkly and feminine and held it up to herself. Chrístõ noticed that his older selves both looked uncertain about it.

“Oh, come ON!” Chrístõ said. “I could do this with my eyes shut. I’m sure you can!”

“Eyes shut, yes!” Eight said. “Then I don’t have to look down.” Julia had already gone behind a screen to change as Chrístõ passed him a costume. Natalie looked at them all.

“I don’t wear lycra,” she said. “It doesn’t like my shape. And I don’t climb ladders, either. I’ll help Julia to get changed.”

“So,” Chrístõ said as they stepped out of the dressing room looking like a circus act as well as sounding like one, now. “If it’s not my cousin Eps… or whatever he calls himself when he grows up…. what are you two doing here?”

“We’re early,” Nine said. “Remember what we said about the Time Lords and their temporal co-ordinates. They’ve dropped us in here too soon. And I suppose we’re stuck here until we DO sort out The Master’s nasty plan.”

“So let’s get THIS problem sorted out quickly,” Eight said. “And get on with it.”

“You’re on,” the ringmaster hissed at them as a troupe of clowns rushed offstage. Christo took Julia’s hand and held it up theatrically and stepped into the ring, smiling at the applause. Eight and Nine looked at each other and sighed and then followed him, hamming up the part for all it was worth.

Yes, Nine thought as he climbed the ladder to the high trapeze in the roof of the marquee. He DID hate heights. He wasn’t SCARED of them as such, but he hated them. He glanced down and a memory flashed into his mind. His death at the end of his fourth life. He had fallen from nearly three, maybe four times the height of this marquee, of course. But it wasn’t exactly the fall that was the problem. It was the excruciatingly painful, bone shattering LANDING that he never wanted to experience again. Especially not now. He had lived dangerously, recklessly dangerously, all his life. But right now he REALLY wanted to stay alive. He wanted to go home.

“We’re not going to die here,” Chrístõ promised him as he stood on the trapeze platform. “You’ll get home.”

“Were we REALLY that cocky at 192?” Eight asked Nine as they all reached the platform. The two older versions of Chrístõ watched in stomach-churning alarm as Chrístõ grabbed hold of the trapeze and swung off the platform. “If he kills himself we’re history.”

“We’re not EVEN history,” Nine corrected him. He watched as Chrístõ reached the other platform and stood waiting for the rest of them to get into it. He uttered a cry of alarm as Julia untied the second swinging trapeze and swung herself out on it. The audience whooped with joy as she swung free, hanging onto the bar of the trapeze by her legs. She swung towards Chrístõ’s platform but then instead of letting her catch him she let it swing back again and hang in the middle of the marquee roof. There, she turned a neat somersault on the trapeze bar and began to perform a mixture of ballet movements and her gymnastic exercises to the rhythm of the jaunty tune played by the orchestra below. The audience made appreciative noises.

“She’s got their attention,” Eight said to the other two telepathically. “If we’re lucky, they might not notice that all we know how to do is swing back and forwards around her.”

It was a ludicrous plan, but somehow it worked. The three men simply swung back and forwards, keeping moving and giving an impression of doing something amazing while Julia did the REALLY amazing things with her body.

“This is still the most insane thing in the universe,” Nine said. “Who does something that depends on split second timing without rehearsal.”

“We do,” Chrístõ said with a laugh as he held onto his trapeze by the legs and swung out towards Nine, catching him by the legs and making him relinquish his hold on his trapeze. “I think I’m getting good at this,” he added as he ignored Nine’s colourful Low Gallifreyan and launched him through the air to be caught by his other self, who he gave a telepathic warning to just as he let go. “Rehearsal only makes things stale. We’re spontaneous.”

“I’ll give you spontaneous,” Eight answered as Nine flipped himself up onto the platform and they both watched as Chrístõ swung out again and let go of the trapeze, twisting himself in the air and reaching out to the one Eight had relinquished once he had regained the platform. The two older incarnations of himself whose existence depended on him not killing himself right that moment watched in horror. He could feel their hearts racing telepathically as he gained momentum and then flipped back through the air again.

“This is ridiculous,” Nine said as he watched. “How long do we have to keep this act up for?”

“Not much longer,” Eight replied. He stopped looking at his younger self playing fast and loose with all their lives and gazed lovingly at Julia as she blithely performed one of her more complicated asymmetric bar routines on the trapeze. The height seemed not to bother her at all. She just did what she knew how to do. And she so captivated the audience that they barely even noticed that half the troupe had stopped performing.


“I thought we were good,” Julia told them as they descended at last. “Considering we’ve never done it before.”

“I am NEVER…” Eight declared. “NEVER doing that again. I am retiring from the universe and going to live somewhere below sea level.”

“You’re not you know,” Nine said as they reached the stage door. It was still not letting them out and the sky was even darker now. The finale was due in another quarter of an hour. And they had all realised what was going to happen.

“When it's over we’ll disappear from the village NOW, and reappear a year later,” Nine said. “In time for the next performance.”

“Unless we stop it, we’re going to have to keep repeating ourselves forever,” Eight groaned. “NO. No way. I quit. It’s One Doctor and Chrístõ from now on.”

“Actually, that’s a good idea,” Nine said. “Chrístõ and Julia and I will get ready to go on for the finale while you and Natalie go and trace the source of the anomaly.”

Chrístõ looked at his older self and reminded him who was in charge.

“You have a better idea?” Nine challenged him.

“No,” he conceded and told Eight to carry on. Natalie was glad enough just to be asked to do something important for them that didn’t involve a skimpy costume and climbing to the roof of the marquee. She wouldn’t have objected to the climbing so much, she added to herself. But the costumes were just too humiliating.

“Where are we going exactly?” she asked as Eight led her along the narrow ‘corridor’ that ran behind the steeply terraced rows of seats, a canvas wall on one side and a wooden one on the other – the back of the seats. “And WHAT for heaven sake is happening? Why are we trapped in a circus?”

“Have you heard of Brigadoon?” he asked her.

“Musical about a village that only appears once every hundred years,” she replied. “But…”

“Same principle. This circus turns up once every year and anyone who doesn’t leave before the final act gets stuck as an eternal audience member. But if we break whatever is holding the marquee outside of reality while everyone is here, then they can all go home.”

“What would DO a thing like that, and WHY?” Natalie asked.

“Can’t answer that YET,” he answered. “But I KNOW I’m right.” He touched the wall of the marquee gingerly. He could FEEL the power. Some kind of temporal generator was storing the energy in the canvas like a battery.

“That doesn’t make sense. Canvas doesn’t conduct energy,” Natalie told him.

“Not electricity or anything within the laws of physics as you understand it,” Eight explained. “But this kind of energy can be focussed that way. The marquee is just like an upturned bowl. It holds it all in.”

“Ok,” Natalie said. “Why would I expect anything to make sense when I am talking to somebody who doesn’t even exist yet anyway, because he’s a future version of the man I know in my own time. I used to think the universe was straightforward. Then I met Chrístõ. And I thought I was coming to terms with his universe… and then you and your friend drop in on me!”

Eight smiled. She never quite understood any of it. But she always tried. That was what he remembered about her. A lot of the people he travelled with since had those same qualities. All of them with a little bit of Natalie in their soul.

“It’s stronger here,” he told her as they came to a place where a door was set into the wooden wall, underneath the place where the orchestra played. He produced his sonic screwdriver from somewhere inside the spangly costume and applied it to the lock. It opened.

“This is the HOW,” he said as he looked at the great crystalline structure that glowed and pulsated in the middle of the empty space beneath the seats. “I think it’s also the WHO. And I’m starting to guess the WHY.”

“Who enters my presence?” A disembodied voice demanded. Natalie shivered and for the second time today reminded herself that she was NOT a woman of fanciful imagination, and it was only because she was looking at a giant crystalline structure that she thought the voice sounded like the voice of something mineral and not organic.

“No, you’re right,” Eight assured her. “It’s the crystal speaking.”

“Who enters…” It demanded again.

“You don’t need to know who I am,” he replied coldly. “I’m here to put a stop to you. You’re a Denebric Crystal parasite, aren’t you? I bet some fool found you some time and thought you looked pretty. The circus owner for a guess. Kept you as an ornament? But you got bigger. As you do. The presence of life makes you strong. That’s why travel to your planet is banned. Any organic life sets foot there and you lot start getting excited. But anyway, you got brought to this circus. It was perfect for you. Lots of energy and excitement going on. Thrills and spills. But you couldn’t just sit there and enjoy the circus as it went about its normal business. No. You had to trap it in your field. The circus people themselves are trapped in a never ending performance. All but the trapeze act. They must have been late on the day you sprang the trap. So the rest have gone on ever since, endlessly repeating the show. You took the audience and kept them, too. You grew and renewed yourself on their energy. And now you’re back to try to get new blood in. Only everyone is so afraid of what happened the first time they’re not coming near the place. So your plan failed.”

“They WILL come,” it insisted.

“No, they won’t. Because they KNOW it's a trap. Just because these people live in tents doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Maybe the first couple of years, when the bravest among them came to see if they could rescue their people. After that they just shunned you. Every year when you come, that one day that the circus is in town, the people give you a wide berth. WE are the first new arrivals in AGES and you are going to live – briefly – to regret tangling with us.”

“How can YOU stop me?” the crystalline voice demanded. “One organic lifeform.”

“Three organic life forms,” he said. “In one mind, and one soul. Are you there, guys? I need some concentrated telepathy here.”

“Don’t take too long about it,” Nine told him. “We’re halfway up the ladder for the finale act. And we can’t do stuff like that and concentrate on you as well.”

“Let Julia do her thing for a bit,” Eight said. “You two give me what you’ve got.”

Up on the platform above the ring where the other performers were doing their thing in the grand finale, Chrístõ held Julia steady for one moment then let her swing out into mid air as she began her performance. He and Nine watched her momentarily and then they turned to each other. They steadied themselves against the platform support and made their mental connection with Eight as he in turn focussed his mind on the Denebric parasite.

“Why didn’t you just get a lump hammer and whack it to pieces?” Nine asked as he felt his mind being drawn into the psychic duel. The Denebric was struggling, fighting against them, and he and Chrístõ clung on tight to the support as Eight countered it. “A Crystal entity trying to get into an organic brain is NOT a pleasant feeling.”

It was strong, Eight noted. It was drawing on that energy stored in the fabric of the marquee, in the very air around it. He was drawing on himself in his other two incarnations. In effect, he was simply reusing himself.

He couldn’t make it a battle of attrition. The three of them would lose. He had to go on the offensive. He pushed back mentally.

“Natalie,” he said. “Go and stop the show and get people out of there. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But get people off the stand above us…. Get the performers out of the ring….”

“But they can’t get out,” Natalie said. “We’re all trapped inside.”

“It's concentrating on us,” he said. “And it’s drained a lot of its energy fighting us already. You might be able to get out now.”

Natalie ran. She reached the stage entrance and screamed at the performers standing there, waiting to go into the ring, telling them to get out. They all looked at her until she said one word that animated them all. “Fire!” she yelled. “There’s a fire in the tent.”

At that, they all turned towards the exit. As she ran the opposite way, into the ring, she noticed that it was daylight outside now, not dark, and the first of the performers actually did step through the door that had resisted them before now. Eight was right. It was weakening.

“Fire!” she yelled over and over again and the cry was heard by those nearest to her. They began to rise from their seats and head towards the gangways to the exit. There was panic. People knocked each other over in the rush. There was a discordant crescendo as the orchestra ran for it and the rest of the performers were running past her as she stood, still yelling.

“Natalie!” Eight yelled as he pushed through the tide of people. “Come on, get out. There really IS a fire. The Denebric self-destructed.” And as she turned she saw that the orchestra pit WAS burning. Flames were licking up through the wooden structure and already the canvas of the tent was glowing red at the back of it. She looked up. So did Eight. Chrístõ and Nine were still on the platform, and Julia was still on the trapeze swing in the centre of the marquee. She was looking at the rapidly spreading fire and seemed frozen in fear.

“Natalie, go,” he told her. “We’ll be right behind you.” She looked at him one more time and then ran. He saw her run out through the stage door along with the last of the performers and the stragglers of the audience. It was the worst organised fire drill he had ever seen in his life, he thought. But everyone was out other than the four of them.

“Julia!” Chrístõ called. “Come on, swing towards me.” But Julia looked at him and saw the fire rapidly spreading across the canvas behind him, the air becoming thick with smoke, and she shook her head. She was not afraid of anything much, but at that moment she just couldn’t move.

“Julia!” Nine called out in alarm as he looked up at the place where the trapeze was fixed to the roof of the marquee. The spar it hung from was coming loose as the fire spread. One side of it broke off. Julia screamed as she caught hold of the remaining piece with one arm.

“Julia,” Eight called from below. “Jump. I’ll catch you.” He heard Nine and Chrístõ both protest about it in his head but he argued back. “I can do it.”

“Can you catch us both?” Chrístõ asked and he grabbed at another trapeze swing and tested it. The fixings were close to breaking. He had one chance.

“I’ll catch you,” Nine said. And in a blur of folded time he was gone from his side. Chrístõ saw him reach the bottom of the ladder a moment later and run to Eight’s side. Then he took a deep breath and put himself into a slow time fold. It felt like flying through treacle as he moved through the air on the trapeze, but slowing it all down gave him time to judge his next move as he grabbed at Julia’s arm. As she let go of the broken trapeze he let go too and they both began to fall, slowly. He saw her mouth open in shock as she looked up at him. Her eyes widened in deeper shock as he opened his hand and let her go. Once the contact between them was gone she was no longer held in the slow time fold and she fell quickly the last five feet or so into Eight’s waiting arms. As he held her tight and stepped back Chrístõ somersaulted in mid air and let the fold collapse as he plummeted down. Nine reached out to him and broke his fall and although they both wound up in a tangled heap on the floor they were no more than winded and slightly bruised.

“Move, now,” Eight shouted as they stood up, and they ran for the exit together. They could just see daylight and safety through the smoke.

“Wow!” Chrístõ said as they stepped across the threshold into bright sunlight and clean air. He turned and looked and the Marquee was gone. He looked the other way and the oasis was there. The tent village and women sitting under the shade doing needlework and drinking wine and chatting away together. The women looked up in surprise at their sudden arrival out of what must have been thin air. One of them picked up the dress she was mending and ran towards them. She gave the dress to Julia, who was still wearing the lycra and sequin circus costume that would never do in the oasis village. Chrístõ helped her put it on. The woman gave her a length of silk to use as a headscarf, too, and they continued through the village.

“It’s you…” somebody said and they turned to see the man they recalled as the circus ringmaster coming out of the bar. “But…”

“Did everyone get out all right?” Nine asked. “Before…”

“Yes, yes, they did,” he answered. “But it was FIVE years ago. How did you… where were you….”

“The temporal field must have been fluctuating,” Nine guessed. “We’ve come out later than everyone else.”

“NATALIE!” Chrístõ cried out loud in a panic. Five years. She would be….


Julia sobbed as the elder of the village showed them the simple grave where they had buried the woman who had lived with them for nearly a year after the circus tent burned down. He told them how she had been honoured as the one who helped rescue everyone. How she had waited every day beside the strange tent that nobody was able to enter, hoping that her friends would return. Never losing faith in them.

“But you returned too late,” he said, sadly.

“Yes, I’m afraid we did,” Nine said quietly.

“This isn’t right,” Eight murmured. “This isn’t how it happened. I remember Natalie being with us until the end. I promised her she wouldn’t die alone.”

“I remember it that way, too,” Nine added. “Chrístõ… you promised her. And… and the way I remember it, you kept that promise.”

“The tent nobody can enter….” Chrístõ said. “It’s still here?”

“It is,” the elder replied. “Nobody can enter it. Nobody can move it.”

“Julia.” He put his arm around her comfortingly. “It’s all right. Come on. I AM going to keep that promise.”


“It’s NOT a paradox, going back and changing this,” Chrístõ insisted as he calibrated the TARDIS very carefully to travel back five years and five yards. The five years back to the day after the circus left town so dramatically. The five yards because the TARDIS couldn’t rematerialise in the same spot it was still occupying back then.

“Exactly,” Nine said as the time rotor came to a standstill and he headed for the door. He opened it slowly, hoping they had judged accurately. He smiled as he looked out at the earlier TARDIS still disguised as a Bedouin tent with the symbols on it. He saw Natalie stand up from where she had been sitting patiently beside it and come towards his outstretched arm. As she crossed the threshold and he closed the door he hugged her fondly. “Sorry we took so long,” he said to her. “Did you miss us?”

“I missed you all,” she said as Julia came to her to be hugged and Chrístõ set the TARDIS into temporal orbit before he, too, bounded across the floor to hold her tightly. Eight grinned and said he wasn’t going to be the odd one out and embraced her as well.

“Natalie WAS a heroine,” he insisted. “She DID get everybody out safely. All the missing people, and all the circus people, too. They stayed on in the village, apparently. Made a new life there. I think they’d had their fill of it.”

“Won’t the missing ones be ten years out of their own time?” Julia asked.

“Yes, but they’re home, with their loved ones,” Chrístõ explained. “I don’t think they’ll mind.”

“I wish I was,” Nine commented, and everyone turned to look at him. “This was an intriguing interlude, but it WASN’T what the two of us were sent here to do. And I would really like to know how long I’m going to be stuck here, because I want to get back to the people who matter to me.” Julia especially looked at him with a pained expression.

“I thought I mattered to you,” she said.

“You do,” he said. “But you belong to Chrístõ. I have my own life. I’m supposed to be getting married next week. And the bloody Time Lords zapped me away from home and dumped me in the middle of this.”

“You’re getting married?” Eight looked at him in astonishment. “Hey… that’s….”

“It’s terrific,” Chrístõ said.

“Yes, it is.” Julia went from Chrístõ’s side and reached to hug him.

“Then we need to crack on with this thing,” Eight said briskly. He stepped towards the environmental console and began typing rapidly. He looked up at Chrístõ. “Sorry, I suppose technically this IS your TARDIS. I probably should have asked…”

“That’s ok,” he said. “May I ask what you’re doing?”

“I am overriding the override on the Master’s DRD.”

“He’s got an override?” Chrístõ looked startled. To Natalie’s query the three Time Lords between them quickly explained that a DRD or Dimensional Recognition Device was an invention patented by Chrístõ some fifty years ago – his science project for that year’s end of term assessment. It was a device which detected the presence of another TARDIS in the immediate vicinity and had been seen by his masters as a very important safety innovation that would overcome the danger of two TARDISes trying to materialise in the same location. The Celestial Intervention Agency saw it as an ideal tool to track renegades. Chrístõ thought it was a handy way of avoiding other Time Lords when he wanted some peace and quiet. But he had no desire to be tracked himself. So when they began to be fitted as standard in all new and used TARDISes, he himself, the designer of the DRD, designed his own override so that HIS TARDIS alone would be undetected.

“He stole your design years ago,” Nine told him as he stepped beside Eight and started to work with him on the process. “There… that’s done it. You want to put us into the vortex now, and we’ll see if we can get a lock on him.”

“Usually I try to AVOID Eps if I can help it. And please leave that code in there so I can do that in future.”

“Avoiding him is usually the best course,” Eight agreed. “But this time we really need to get him OFF our backs so that Nine can get home to his wedding.”

“THERE!” Nine cried out triumphantly. “It’s picked him up.” He typed rapidly as the TARDIS databanks searched for the location the signal was coming from. “It’s hours away. Tomorrow morning if we’re lucky,” he sighed.

“Space research station Tora Be-Delta,” Eight said. “What does he want THERE? They do research into safe cosmetic surgery techniques.”

“Whatever he’s doing, he’s trouble,” Chrístõ said. “But if we can’t get there till tomorrow, then I think we should get some supper and our heads down for some sleep.” He looked at Nine. He still looked like a man who didn’t want to be here right now. He could understand that. He wasn’t sure HE wanted to be here either, with the prospect of fighting the older, more experienced, and apparently even more evil version of his cousin. But he had never shirked his duty. He was sure the 1,000 year old version of himself hadn’t either. They would do what they had to do, as always.