Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

The Doctor hung an ‘out of order’ sign on the TARDIS door. This was the mid-1930s and police boxes were actually used in London. He didn’t want anyone mistaking his time machine for the real thing. Mistakes of the most unfortunate kind happened when he did that.

He smiled in fond remembrance of a young lady called Dodo who actually had been trying to find a policeman, then looked at his current companion. His smile widened and extended to his eyes.

“Doctor!” Leela of the Seveteem complained. “I think you enjoy my discomfort when we visit this planet, Earth. Why must I wear such difficult clothing? These things you called ‘foundation garments’ are impossible, and the foot coverings….”

She took a few tottering steps away from the TARDIS in the patent leather heeled court shoes.

“Look around you,” he said in a quiet tone. All the women are dressed as you are. And incidentally, none of them talk about ‘foundation garments’ in front of men.”

Leela looked. She had visited London in several time periods now. She had come to expect the noisy bustle of it. She didn’t shy away from the double-decked tram that rattled past thinking it was a great beast that devoured people. She knew that the incoherent call of the newspaper seller was not a tribal yell. She knew that she would have to put up with wearing shoes and clothes that restricted her movement because there didn’t seem to be any time in the history of London when chamois leather skins were the fashion among women.

“Where are we going?” she asked as The Doctor strode off along the busy pavement, managing, somehow, not to bump into any of the people coming and going in every direction. She took several faster steps to catch up with him. He slowed and offered his arm. She noted that women dressed similarly to herself held onto the arms of men and did the same.

“I’m not absolutely sure,” he answered, reaching in his left pocket and shifting his sonic screwdriver and the ridiculous yoyo to the right before taking out something that could have been mistaken for a fob watch except inside it had a digital readout that wouldn’t be dreamt of by humans for another forty years. Nor did it tell the time. He had a real fob watch in his waistcoat pocket for that.

“The TARDIS detected unusual energy readings in this vicinity,” he explained. “Given that this is 1937, and radio and television waves are still the most sophisticated things men have developed ANY energy readings need checking out. But these ones are entirely alien to this world.”

“WE are alien to this world,” Leela pointed out.

“Yes, but I’ve been here many times before. I know what belongs and what doesn’t. And something doesn’t. Ahhh.”

He stopped and looked up at a tall art deco tower. It was deliberately built in the style of the Empire State Building in New York, which had been dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World six years ago when it was completed. This was nowhere near as spectacular. It was no taller than an ordinary church steeple, but it was designed to dominate Kilburn High Road and proclaim the grandeur of the building it graced.

“The Gaumont State,” he said with that smile widening over his face again. “Newly built, and proudly awaiting its opening night gala….” He checked the posters by the entrance then purchased a newspaper from a nearby stand to verify the date. “Yes, tomorrow night.”

“A theatre? Like the one we visited in Limehouse?” Leela asked doubtfully.

“This one is a different kettle of fish,” The Doctor told her. “The height of luxury, an entertainment palace for kings and commoners alike, spacious and bright, no dark cellars where creeping horrors lurk.”

He could feel the Meisson sensor disguised as a fob watch vibrating in his pocket. This was the epicentre of the alien energy surge. There was no doubt about it.

There might not be creeping horrors in the cellar, but there was something in the Gaumont State that he had to investigate.

“Come along, Leela,” he said, steering her in through the wide front entrance. There was a young man in the opulent foyer trying to operate what was a state of the art vacuum cleaner for 1937. Trying was the word. It wasn’t working at all. The boy scratched his head and looked at the contraption doubtfully.

“Let me have a look at that,” The Doctor said helpfully. “I’m good with mechanicals.”

“I don’t know about that, mister,” the boy answered. “I think I might just get my broom. It will be quicker in the long run.”

“Nonsense,” The Doctor told him. He reached into his left pocket and pulled out the sensor before hiding that in the right pocket. He pulled out a paper bag of jelly babies and offered one to the boy who politely refused. Then he remembered that the sonic screwdriver was in his other pocket. He took it out and applied it to the relatively simple mechanism of the vacuum cleaner. It spluttered into noisy life. “There you go, Albert. Off you go. Here, have the jelly babies for after you’re done.” He stuffed the bag into the unprotesting boy’s pocket before going on his way.

Albert was a third of the way along his first furrow of the huge carpet that covered the foyer floor before he remembered he had not told the stranger his name.

He hadn’t asked the stranger what his business was, either. Strictly speaking that wasn’t Albert’s job, but all the same the theatre wasn’t open yet, and gentlemen and ladies were not supposed to just walk in off the street.

He looked around, but the stranger and his companion were gone. Albert reached into his pocket and snuck a jelly baby in his mouth before continuing vacuuming the carpet.

The Doctor escorted Leela through to the grand auditorium where a dress rehearsal was going on for that grand gala opening. A worried man sat in the stalls watching the proceedings on the big, wide stage that boasted all kinds of magnificent inventions like an electric cyclorama for the grand finale tableaux, revolving stage floor, multiple trapdoors and lifts for disappearing and re-appearing effects and mechanically rising sections of the stage for mounting the orchestra, a wind machine, a smoke machine, as well as one of the biggest cinema screens in Europe.

It was a triumph of electrical engineering.

Or it would be if it all worked on the night.

The worried man was Mr Leslie M Posner, who had more years’ experience of running cinemas in his native USA and in Britain than he cared to count. He had been considered the best and most able man to take on the management of Gaumont’s new flagship establishment, and he had been fully confident of living up to the company’s faith in him.

But the past few days had almost made his hair turn grey. He didn’t deserve the things that had been happening here.

He turned his attention from the stage where Sidney Torch the renowned organist was rising up from beneath the stage seated at the magnificent Wurlitzer and looked at the imposing man in a tweed coat and absurdly long knitted scarf who had cleared his throat in a meaningful way.

“Good morning Mr Posner,” The Doctor said to him. “I understand you’ve had some troubles here. I’m The Doctor. I’m here to investigate. My card….”

The Doctor waved a small piece of cardboard that may or may not have been a business card briefly then thrust it back into his coat pocket. Mr Posner opened his mouth to ask who had called in an investigator when there was a discordant sound from the Wurlitzer. Mr Sidney Torch along with the mighty organ disappeared back down under the stage again. There was a howl of protest and then a shriek of fright. Then the Wurlitzer and organist both appeared again. Mr Torch jumped from his seat complaining that he had just seen a ghost down there.

“A ghost?” Leela echoed. “Doctor, there are ghosts here.”

“Nonsense,” The Doctor replied. “There are no such things as ghosts.” He strode down the aisle and climbed up on the stage in one easy movement. Mr Posner, not trusting his own athleticism, took the steps at the side. So did Leela after deciding she couldn’t climb in a calf length linen skirt.

“I’m telling you, there was a ghost down there,” Mr Torch insisted to anyone who was listening. “It was a woman. It was a woman, in a black dress, and with a noose around her neck. It was….” Mr Torch noticed Leela listening to him. “She glowed, like a phosphorescent effect for dark scenes.”

“It was probably one of the chorus girls playing around with the specialty make up,” Mr Posner said. “She’ll be out on her ear when I find out who it was. It’s not as if any of them are prima ballerinas - plenty of their sort to be had down the theatrical agency.”

The Wurlitzer struck up the Lambeth Walk. Everyone turned to see The Doctor descending with the organ. Leela rushed forwards and got a foothold on the pedestal beside him before he disappeared altogether.

“It’s dark down here,” she commented as the Wurlitzer came to a halt and they both stepped off the lift. The Doctor found a torch in his voluminous coat pocket and illuminated a space wider and longer than the stage above full of pulleys and wires and banks of electrical switches that operated all the latest gadgets.

“It shouldn’t be,” he remarked. “There ought to be stagehands working down here. This is a health and safety nightmare.”

“There are two men there,” Leela commented. “But they aren’t working.”

The Doctor examined the two bodies slumped over each other. They weren’t dead, just unconscious. Yet again his pockets had the solution to the problem in a small phial of smelling salts. If anyone had asked him, he could have told them that the phial had belonged to the notorious Edwardian socialite and actress, Lily Langtry, who had let him borrow it.

Nobody did.

The two men revived with a lot of spluttering and coughing. It was very strong stuff. The older of the two men admitted to having nothing wrong with him that a nip of whiskey wouldn’t cure then exclaimed in disgust to find that his hip flask was missing.

“‘Ere, mister,” the younger stagehand added. “My dinner’s been pinched. My tongue sandwiches an’ my bottle o’ beer. She pinched it.”

“I did nothing of the sort,” Leela protested.

“No, not you, miss, the ghost… the one wearin’ a noose an’ glowin’. She took my dinner after she whacked us with that bit o’ wood over there.”

“Why would a ghost take food and drink?” The Doctor asked out loud. “Ghosts don’t eat or drink.”

“You said there were no such things as ghosts,” Leela pointed out.

“Indeed, I did. And since there are no such things as ghosts, then they obviously don’t eat or drink. And they don’t steal hip flasks and packed lunches. Nor do they whack honest working men around the head with bits of two by four.” He noted a discarded piece of wood nearby and the concussions on both men’s heads. “But this ghost that doesn’t exist has been seen by three people, now. Mr Torch described the same apparition as these two gentlemen. So whatever it is, it exists.”

“She’s Mary Westwood,” ‘Enry the older stage hand explained. “Everyon’ aroun’ ‘ere knows abou’ ‘er, don’t they, Stan.” Stan nodded in agreement. “She were hung for a murderer in’t time o’ Queen Victoria – after killin’ ‘er husband an’ baby. An’ now ‘er ghost walks through old Kilburn. It walked right on through that wall there. We both saw ‘er, plain as day. She broke th’ light an’ we could still see ‘er in’t dark, glowin’.”

“They say as ‘ow buildin’ this ‘ere theatre disturbed ‘er spirit,” Stan added. “That’s why she’s haunting it.”

“Do they, indeed,” The Doctor responded coolly. Then he went into his very useful pocket once more and produced coins that would easily cover the cost of a tot of whiskey at the bar, a beer and fish and chips to replace the missing refreshments. The two stagehands called The Doctor a ‘true gent’ and went off to compensate themselves for their shock.

“Doctor, if it was not a ghost then how did it get through this wall?” Leela asked. She was pressing and knocking on the wall carefully and established that it was a very solid one with no hidden doors.

Which made sense. Hidden doors belonged on the stage, not below it.

“That is only one part of the whole mystery,” The Doctor said. “Come on. There’s nothing more to be seen down here. Let’s see what Mr Posner can tell us.”

Mr Posner had taken Mr Torch to the Gaumont State bar and restaurant for a stiff one and a review of his contract in light of the disturbing events. The Doctor and Leela tracked him down there and asked if it was possible to see the blueprints of the building.

“They’d be at head office,” Mr Posner answered. “But there are floor plans of all the areas in the brochure for the theatre tour we’ve been running all week. Would you like to see that?”

Mr Posner was a VERY worried man. Sir Henry Hall, Gracie Fields and George Formby were arriving in a few hours to rehearse their pieces. They were big stars. Gaumont had pushed the boat out to get them for the grand opening ceremony. He didn’t want them scared out of their wits by a ghost.

“Everyone here seems very sure there is a ghost,” Leela said as she drank lime cordial at the table where Mr Sidney Torch was nursing a double brandy. “You said there was no such thing.”

“There are many things in the universe,” The Doctor answered. “Some are called ghosts by those who see them, but they very rarely are.”

“If it wasn’t a ghost, then what was it?” Sidney Torch asked. “It looked like one to me. It looked just like Mary Westwood, just like the pictures of her in the library.”

“You’re acquainted with local legends of that sort?” The Doctor queried, noting that Sidney had what was commonly known as a ‘BBC accent’.

“I was born on Tottenham Court Road,” he admitted. “My parents, God rest them, were Ukranian emigrants doing their best to make their way. I made it the rest of the way with my music. Otherwise I’d probably talk just like Henry and Stan down there under the stage.”

“That explains a lot,” The Doctor said without judgement. “Has Mary appeared before this? Or, indeed, any other apparition?”

“Yes,” Mr Posner admitted as he returned to the table with a copy of the tour guide. “Yesterday evening in my office. I saw a woman… dressed as a maid. I didn’t realise at first. She came and collected my tea tray. There was still a half pot of milk and two iced buns I hadn’t eaten, but I didn’t think much about it until five minutes after when Miss Holland, my secretary, came for the tray and I realised we don’t HAVE maids that dress that way, and she didn’t come through the outer office past Miss Holland. And then I recalled that Mrs Frazer, the costume mistress, told me the other day that there was a young girl who worked in a tea shop that was knocked down to make way for the theatre. She committed suicide in the back kitchen of the establishment. A bad love affair, or some such thing.”

“I see,” The Doctor mused. “I wonder….” He was looking at the plan of the level beneath the stage. There was clearly no door on the wall where the apparition of Mary Westwood had first been seen. There was no way for somebody to get into Mr Posner’s office and out again without his secretary seeing.

All the evidence pointed to actual ghostly apparitions.

But The Doctor was not convinced.

“There are, sometimes, phantasms that people call ghosts. What they are, basically, are a sort of energy that builds up over decades, centuries, within old buildings. It’s often said that such buildings have long memories. In a way, they do, and sometimes people pick up resonances of that energy… those memories… and think they see ghosts. But this is a brand new building.”

“It was built on the site of old buildings,” Mr Posner pointed out. “Couldn’t that have something to do with it?”

“Maybe the building work disturbed the spirits,” Mr Torch added.

“That isn’t at all likely,” The Doctor insisted.

“Then what’s your explanation?” Mr Posner asked. The Doctor got ready to explain, but a blood-curdling scream disturbed them and young Albert, last seen vacuuming the foyer floor rushed into the restaurant with a broom in his hand and ran headlong into The Doctor, who had stood to see what the disturbance was.

“Steady on, there, boy,” he said, gripping him by the arms and trying to calm him.

“Oooerr, sir,” Albert complained. “It was horrible. It was The Fishmonger….”

Mr Torch and Mr Posner exchanged puzzled glances with The Doctor and Leela.

“The Fishmonger?”

“Old Moxy Brown,” Albert explained. “ ‘E use’ t’ave a shop on the back lane. It were knocked down t’ make room for this ‘ere theatre. ‘E were long dead by then, mind. ‘E drowned.”

“In the river?” Leela asked. “Was he catching fish?”

“In a barrel o’ fresh cockles,” Albert answered with a completely straight face. “In salt water. He tripped an’ fell in.”

“And the gentleman walked into the foyer just now?” The Doctor asked, still keeping a straight face.

“Pushing his barrow,” Albert added. “He pushed it right at me, then pinched my bag o’ sweets wot you gave me before, Mister.”

“Cockles and mussels, alive a alive oh!” The Doctor softly sang, because somebody almost certainly had to. “This has gone on long enough. Leela, come on, it’s time to get to the bottom of the matter. Mr Posner, we’ll need access to all areas of the theatre. May I borrow your master keys?”

Mr Posner was beyond all argument about the matter. He handed over a thick bunch of keys and asked the bar steward for another stiff one.

He and Leela swept out of the restaurant. A few moments later Albert, wielding the broom like a weapon and Mr Sidney Torch, unarmed, both followed.

“It… didn’t seem right for us to hide out in the restaurant while a young lady assists you in the search, Doctor.”

“I weren’t so much scared before, as taken by surprise,” Albert added. “I think I can be brave if there are no surprises.” He wielded the broom fiercely in proof of that.

“Very noble of you, both,” The Doctor replied. “Albert, you accompany Miss Leela to the basement. Mr Torch and I will go up to the broadcasting station in the tower. If you see anything unusual, contact us via the excellent communication system installed by Standard Telephones and Cables Limited.”

Leela looked blank.

“There are telephones installed all over the theatre for communicating with the manager,” Sidney Torch explained.

“Quite so,” The Doctor added. “Albert, if you and Miss Leela find anything troublesome, you’re in charge of telephoning.”

“Me, sir?” Albert was amazed. “I’m allowed to touch expensive equipment? I won’t be blamed if it gets broken?”

“Not at all, Albert,” The Doctor assured him. “Of you go, now.”

Leela and Albert, with his newly promoted technical operative status, headed downstairs.

The Doctor and Mr Sidney Torch headed up to the specially built radio transmission room in the tower from where the musical programmes of the Gaumont State would be broadcast to the British listeners to the evening programme. Switches and control panels all set in mahogany casings waited to be used to transmit the grand opening ceremony.

The room was devoid of technicians apart from one man who was out cold on the floor. The Doctor examined him and then got out his smelling salts again.

Mr Frank Jackson of the BBC outside broadcasting staff woke up and swore he had been assaulted by a faintly glowing man dressed as a tailor, who had hit him over the head with a microphone stand.

“Did you have a packed lunch up here with you?” The Doctor asked. Mr Jackson was surprised, but confirmed that his ploughman’s lunch and bottle of ginger pop – because he wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol on duty – were gone.

Mr Jackson further added that there was a local story about a man called Mosel Bloom who had once had a shop on the site of the new Gaumont State and who had dropped dead of a sudden heart attack in the middle of measuring up a Gentleman for a morning suit.

“I heard the story from Ethel, the cleaning woman,” he added. “She saw him, large as life, early this morning when she was doing the windows. She told me in case it made a ‘Human interest story’ for a Sunday Feature, but I’m a sound technician, not a programme manager, so I couldn’t promise her anything.”

“Mmm.” The Doctor assured himself that Mr Jackson was not badly hurt and sent him down to the restaurant to join Mr Posner in a stiff one.

“Mmm?” queried Mr Torch.

“Have you noticed that the ghost appears to have taken on forms that people around here have already heard of? Mary Westwood is legendary. You and the two Stagehands knew all about her. Albert was familiar with the Fishmonger story. Mr Posner learned about the suicidal maid from Elsie the costume mistress some time before she appeared to him. Ethel the cleaning lady had told Mr Jackson about Mosel Bloom’s unfinished inside leg measurement.”

“What does that mean?” Mr Torch asked.

“It means that there are no such things as ghosts. The apparition played on the superstitions and stories of the locality. I think I know exactly what we’re dealing with, here.”

He reached into his pocket and checked the fob watch monitor openly. There was little point now in hiding it from Mr Torch.

“We’re right over the source of the trouble, but I think it is several floors below us. Leela and Albert will find it very soon, I suspect.”

And right on cue the telephone rang. The Doctor lifted the receiver. It was Albert. Mr Sidney Torch wondered briefly how he could possibly have known which of the dozens of phone terminals in the building would have been closest to The Doctor and then decided that nothing else could surprise him today.

“Mr Doctor,” Albert said. “We’ve found something down in the props room. It’s huge, like a football, but nearly the length of my broom. And it’s making bubbling noises. Listen.”

Albert had obviously extended the receiver on its cord and aimed it at the ‘thing’. The Doctor heard the bubbling noises clearly.

“Exactly as I thought,” The Doctor said. “Albert, I want you to be really brave and give the thing a good poke with your broom.”

“Handle end or brush end?” Albert asked.

“Either will do.”

There was a sound over the telephone that was utterly indescribable. Then Albert yelped and Leela let out the sort of yell her people made when they cornered prey in the jungle.

“Mr Doctor, Sir,” Albert added a few moments later. “I broke the thing. It cracked open like an egg, and this great hairy creature jumped out. Miss Leela threw her shoes at it, and now she’s chasing it. Shall I chase after it, too, Mr Doctor, sir?”

“You do that, Albert,” The Doctor told him. “Which way is she chasing it?”

“Up, sir,” Albert answered before dropping the receiver. The Doctor listened to his running feet receding before hanging up at his end.

“The hunt is on,” he said. “And Leela is the one giving chase.”

“What to?” Mr Torch asked. “Leela… the young lady? Is she safe?”

“Oh, yes,” The Doctor replied. “I confiscated all her Janus thorns.”

Mr Torch filed that comment under ‘ask questions later’. It was very obvious that the chase was heading their way. On the landing outside the broadcasting room they could both hear the roaring of something inhuman and more hunting cries of the Sevateem, as well as Albert shouting something incoherent as he brought up the rear. Moments later Mr Torch ducked back into the broadcasting room and The Doctor flattened himself against the wall as the creature leapt up the stairs on all fours. It was covered in long black fur, even around the face from which nothing but two bloodshot eyes and a pair of yellow fangs protruded. The creature shot past The Doctor and on up the next flight of stairs. When it reached the top landing there was a crash of glass.

The Doctor sprinted after Leela, who had dispensed with her silk stockings at some point as well as the linen jacket of her ensemble. She had used a craft knife that she still wielded in her hand to slit the tight skirt almost to the thigh, thus allowing her to run like a hunter and warrior.

The Doctor and Leela, along with Albert and his broom, reached the landing in time to see the creature climbing out through the broken window that led out to the narrow parapet just above the neon ‘STATE’ sign that would be lit up after dark to draw in the patrons.

Leela didn’t think twice about following it out onto the parapet. The Doctor leaned out and saw creature and girl both climbing up to the even narrower parapet of the very top section of the art deco tower, built in the manner of a stepped pyramid of ancient Egypt. He looked down and saw the traffic of Kilburn High Road stalled and pedestrians stopped in their tracks as they looked up at the strange sight of a woman and what looked for all the world like a huge gorilla on top of London’s homage to the Empire State Building. He recalled that Fay Wray had famously starred in the first King Kong film four years before this and guessed what most of them were thinking about such a spectacle centred on the newest cinema and theatre complex in the city.

“Leela, don’t attack it,” he called up to her. “Just try to stop it from falling off the tower. I’ll be with you in a jiffy.”

“Don’t attack it?” Leela called back. “But….”

“Don’t attack it. Try to talk to it. Try to gain its trust.”

He wasn’t entirely sure if Leela understood her mission. Gaining anyone’s trust wasn’t a strong point of hers. The Doctor ran up the stairs to the very top landing under the roof access panel. Mr Torch and Albert ran after him. Albert was holding the broom, still, but in ‘at ease’ position, having taken in what The Doctor said about not trying to attack the creature.

All three of them presently emerged onto the flat roof of the Gaumont State Tower beside the BBC radio mast for broadcasting from the theatre. The hairy creature was crouched at the base of the mast. Leela was kneeling beside it, talking to it in the language of the Seveteem. The creature was calm now it wasn’t being chased. It was actually listening to Leela’s voice. It was growling, but softly, almost like a cat purring.

The Doctor took his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and aimed it at the creature. Leela looked alarmed at first. So did Albert and Mr Torch who both thought it was a gun. But then they all noticed the stream of blue light coming from the creature to the sonic. The same light enveloped the creature like an aura. Slowly, as they watched, the aura and the creature shrank together. The huge gorilla shrivelled down to the size of a large monkey then a small monkey. It curled up in a foetal position and mewed softly before settling into something halfway between a snore and a purr.

“It’s asleep,” Leela said.

“Yes. The way it should be. Albert, there’s a phone in that box on the antennae. Call down to the props department and ask them to bring up the two halves of the football shaped object that doesn’t actually belong to the Gaumont company.”

“Yes, Mr Doctor, sir,” Albert said, overjoyed at the idea of being allowed to use another telephone. Again, nobody questioned how it connected first time to the right department. It just did. A few minutes later, ‘Enry and Stan arrived, carrying two halves of what was the size and shape of a football but bearing no other resemblance to it. The outside was the colour of bronze but curiously organic to the touch. The inside was a soft, spongy substance that briefly modelled Stan’s handprint when he accidentally pressed down on it.

“It’s smaller than before,” Albert noted. “When I poked at it, an’ it split open, th’ big thing jumped out. But now it’s th’ right size for th’ little ‘un.”

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “I drew off the energy that caused our friend here to grow to his full size and he and his travel capsule reduced back down to compact size, ready to re-launch and continue his journey.”

“His journey to where?” Mr Sidney Torch asked as they watched The Doctor lift the sleeping creature into the automatically moulding foam before closing the two halves of the ball together. It sealed without leaving any crack or line to show where the halves met.

“To a planet orbiting a star just a bit too faint to be seen from the top of the Gaumont State even on a clear night,” The Doctor answered. “Araka. He’s an Arakan - an accidental visitor to this planet. I think he has been here for a little while. Possibly he landed while the building work was going on. His travel pod somehow got mixed up with the fixtures and fittings and then left in the properties room. He came out of hibernation, but he was hungry. And that’s where the ‘ghosts’ came into the picture. They weren’t ghosts at all, by the way.”

The Doctor paused. He looked around. In addition to ‘Enry and Stan, Albert and Mr Sidney Torch, Mr Posner and Mr Jackson had come to the roof to find out just what was happening. They all heard The Doctor explain about the apparitions they had seen.

“The ‘ghosts’ were an automatic system called the Deus ex Machina – Yes, ‘Ghost in the Machine’. It’s a protection mechanism. It generates apparitions that take on the form of any locally recognised supernatural being – anything people are afraid of and will try to avoid. If the capsule had landed in Ireland, for instance, it would appear as a banshee. In Scotland it might be a Nucklelavee or a Urisk. Here, in Kilburn, it picked up on some local legends of ghosts and adapted likewise.”

“Well, why did it take my dinner?” Stan asked. “And ‘Enry’s whiskey?”

“And my tea tray,” Mr Posner added. Albert mentioned his packet of jelly babies. Mr Jackson was on the point of mentioning his lunch box but The Doctor held up a hand to hush them all. He motioned to them to stand well back. Leela came to his side and they all watched the ball start to rise up into the air. It hovered near the top of the BBC antennae before accelerating rapidly. If anyone had still been watching below, they wouldn’t have seen anything for long enough to be sure of what it was.

“The food and drink were to nourish the Arakan. When they come out of hibernation they’re hungry, of course. They have to eat. The ‘ghost’ fetches food. It defines food as whatever the indigenous species eats. That would be tongue sandwiches, iced buns, ginger pop, bottles of beer and hip flasks of whiskey in this instance. Of course, the problem then is that the Arakan starts to grow and the ‘ghost’ has to get more and more food. It was as hungry as it could be in the past couple of days, hence the increase in ghostly sightings and the theft of food.”

“Good heavens,” Mr Posner said. “Tomorrow we’re having a banquet for the Lord Mayor of Willesden and invited guests. If the ghosts had come for the food….”

“The Arakan would have been very well fed. But he’s on his way home now, after his unscheduled visit to Earth. The few people who saw Leela and him on the tower will put it down to a publicity stunt for the theatre. And I do believe there is a limousine drawing up down there. Either Miss Gracie Fields or Mr George Formby must be arriving. I suggest you go to meet them, Mr Posner. Albert, ‘Enry, Stan, you’ve got your duties. Mr Torch, your Wurlitzer awaits. Mr Jackson there are sound checks and broadcasting tests to do. The grand opening must go without a hitch.”

And it did. From the best seats in the house – well, the best not occupied by VIP guests, The Doctor and Leela watched. She was elegantly dressed in an oyster-pink lace evening gown that turned heads as she walked through the marble-columned foyer on the plush carpet that Albert had vacuumed into submission. Now she enjoyed champagne and candied orange slices as Sidney Torch played his Wurlitzer to an enthusiastic crowd, followed by Gracie Fields, Henry Hall and his Orchestra, George Formby, and so on until ‘The King’ was solemnly played at a little before midnight. Afterwards they slipped away quietly, leaving Mr Posner to enjoy his triumph.

The Doctor paused once outside the Gaumont State and looked up, first at the cold starlit sky in which the Akaran’s solar system couldn’t be seen even without light pollution, then at the neon sign on the tower. Yes, tonight had been a roaring success. There would be another two years of such triumphs before the war meant that the tower had to be camouflaged to stop enemy planes using it as a landmark. Mr Sidney Torch would join the RAF and play the Organ when he was off duty, later to become a famous BBC theme tune writer. The Gaumont State would have had her day before then, though. By the end of the century it would be garishly converted into a bingo hall. When even that closed it would just be a derelict reminder of what used to be.

But for now, with a little help from The Doctor, it was the scene of Mr Posner’s triumph.