Teaser: “Barge of the Dead”
“YOU GENTLEMEN can watch while I’m scrubbin’ the floors, and I’m scrubbin’ the floors while you’re gawkin’. And maybe once ya tip me and it makes ya feel swell, in a ratty waterfront in a ratty old hotel, but you’ll never guess to whom you are talking…”
Though the sound of Lotte Lenya flowing forth from the brass horn of the gramophone had lulled her into a fitful half-sleep, a moment of stillness in the TARDIS control chamber prompted Alison to open her eyes and look to the Doctor. The taciturn Time Lord seemed to be reading by the fireside in his leather lounger, a finger held between the pages of an absurdly large and ancient tome with the name “Urnst” on its spine. His cold blue eyes, however, were fixed on the Master, who was standing in his usual place at the central console, hands flat on one of its six panels.
Alison gritted her teeth. They were at it again! Though they were often civil to one another, and their playful repartee had an air of both familiarity and affection, there was a potent animosity between the Doctor and the Master. Here were enemies who had come together so often that they knew each other better than they knew themselves. Their hatred was as comfortable to them as the worn leather of the Doctor’s armchair. As Alison was a relative newcomer to this drama, however, there were times when she found the tension that permeated the seemingly infinite space of the TARDIS unbearable.
The Doctor stared at the Master for some time before dropping his dusty book to the floor with a thud that made the record skip on the gramophone. “What are you doing?” he asked, his tone unmistakably accusatory.
The Master turned slowly, one eyebrow twisted into a question mark, as the record played on: “And a ship, a black freighter, with a skull on its masthead, will be coming in…”
“I asked you what you were doing,” the Doctor said angrily, standing from the chair.
“Attempting to calculate just how many hours I’ve been in this Type 40 antique, forced to watch you bumbling about the cosmos without so much as a breath of a fresh air,” the android said with a weary sigh.
The Doctor let loose a nasty bark of laughter before pressing on: “Oh, I don’t know. You spend your days watching, waiting, biding your time. You’re the master of the TARDIS, always over our shoulders. You step in to save us when you aren’t left with a choice, pulling us out of the fire but waiting long enough to let us get singed. I’m beginning to think that you like things as they are.”
The Master snarled. “Do you honestly believe that I could learn to live with this arrangement? Consciousness ripped from the Matrix, stuffed into a substandard cybernetic chassis! If I step through those doors I’ll be rendered as lifeless as one of your childish sonic screwdrivers. I have no control, no agency! I’m a prisoner in this place—as much at the mercy of the Time Lords as you are!”
“Are you?” The Doctor began to circle the central console, his pale face taut with paranoia, eyes assessing the readouts. “We agreed to drop Flo in the twenty-sixth century, someplace cosmopolitan. Instead, a wisecracking rhinoceros is now eating fast food in 2016. Thank heavens for UNIT! The TARDIS has always had a mind of its own, but your piloting skills have brought us to a whole new level of aimlessness.”
“You toss me your tips and look out at the ships…”
Alison rolled her eyes as she stood from her armchair. Looking to the warbling phonograph, then the book on the floor, she wondered what had set the Doctor off. Was it Brecht? The arcane reading material? What had brought on this new wave of suspicion and annoyance? Perhaps they’d been cooped up in this police box for too long.
“…but I’m counting your heads while I make up the beds, ‘cuz there’s nobody gonna sleep here. Tonight, none of you will sleep here…”
The Master brought a gloved hand to his chest, affecting a familiar pantomime of outrage. “And this is all part of my sinister masterplan, I suppose? My decades-long scheme to make you lose the plot?”
The Doctor ended his pacing just a step away from the man who served as both his companion and rival and, setting his jaw, met the android’s glass-eyed glare. “I don’t know. I don’t know what your intentions are anymore. All I know is that every tick of the clock spent in the TARDIS with you is another step closer to disaster. It’s getting a little too cosy in here for my tastes.”
From the rug in front of the fireplace, Alison interrupted. “The two of you must be bored out of your heads,” she said, making no attempt to cover her aggravation. “If you’d like to spend all of eternity bickering with each other over who has imploded more planets, that’s fine, but I was promised adventure. Yeah?”
Turning to face her, the Doctor frowned.
“I was promised ancient Greece. The Master might not be able to hit the twenty-sixth century, but can he land us in ancient Greece?”
With a scoff the Master pushed the Doctor aside and, pulling at his black gloves to tighten them, reached for the controls. At a touch, however, a bleep of alarm called into the chamber, briefly suppressing the sound of the record. The Master froze. The Doctor reached over him to stab at the switch for the scanner. It came to life with a hiss of static, revealing a peculiar shape amid the stars. The vessel was long and narrow, with a proud prow and a sweeping stern. It looked like some gargantuan ancient river boat crafted of stone instead of reeds or papyrus, a river boat ploughing through the radiant waves of a nearby nebula in the depths of space.
“What is it?” Alison asked, grateful for the interruption.
Lotte Lenya’s voice fell to a whisper as the record seemed to sync with the scene unfolding before them: “Noon by the clock, and so still on the dock. You can hear a foghorn miles away…”
The Doctor raised his eyebrows as he looked to Alison. “I’d say that adventure you were looking for has just begun!”