Teaser: “The House That Ate Time” (The Lost Doctor)
AS THE dusky twilight loomed over the rural landscape, the Doctor tied Marilyn’s reins carefully to the white picket fence, taking a few moments to calm the skittish mare. He took off his Panama and placed it crookedly on her head. Somehow, this seemed to mollify the horse; she nodded gently as if to register her appreciation. The Doctor smiled sweetly at her, but then his face turned grave as he turned to look upon the ramshackle, abandoned colonial house before them. All the while, Riddell was rifling through his knapsack a few steps away.
“So, then, here we are,” proclaimed the Doctor with a dramatic flourish. “‘The Shunned House.’”
Riddell drew alongside the Doctor, his face grim, and regarded the building before them with deep unease. “Here we are, indeed. Let’s get on with this.” In one hand he now held a silver crucifix, in the other a roughly fashioned wooden stake.
The Doctor shook his head, sadly. “I’d hoped we would have come to another conclusion,” he admitted. “To bring some sort of closure to the sad case of the Browns. But, it would seem, there’s no mercy for Mercy. ‘So runs the world away.’”
Riddell stepped forward. “Let’s dispense with the poetry until this is over, shall we, Doctor?”
The Doctor shot Riddell a quick sideways glance. “Very well,” he said, pulling his sonic screwdriver from his jacket pocket. It whirred to life, and he studied its findings for a moment. “Well, the trace psychic signals are definitely coming from within. Everything leads back to this place. It’s still here.”
Riddell strode up the path to the front door, which was hanging loosely on its hinges. The Doctor gave Marilyn a wink, then followed. The door all but fell to pieces as Riddell pushed it open. Then, with the Doctor taking the lead, his sonic held aloft in front of his face as both a tracker and light source, the duo entered the house. The floorboards creaked ominously beneath their feet as they made tentative progress into the musty interior.
“Let’s visit New England in the fall, he said,” muttered Riddell in an exaggerated sarcastic tone. “It will be beautiful, he said. Marilyn would love a gentle ride through the autumnal woods, he said.”
The Doctor shushed him into silence. “The basement,” he announced. “The signal is definitely coming from the basement.”
“Of course it is!” agreed Riddell. “I didn’t need that thing”—he jabbed his stake in the direction of the screwdriver—“to tell me that.”
The Doctor grinned, half-enjoying his friend’s mockery, and they quickly found the basement door and prodded it open. There was silence but the faint hint of a green glow beyond. They exchanged glances, Riddell clutched the crucifix and stake ever more tightly, and they tiptoed down the steps.
Stood in the centre of the small basement, as though expecting their arrival, was one of the most striking creatures Riddell had seen yet in all his travels with the Doctor. Standing almost as tall as the basement itself was an unclothed, almost impossibly thin, translucent humanoid, with jagged facial features and large, oval eyes. As well as the green glow, it emanated an entrancing sense of presence and charisma that made the seasoned hunter feel giddy.
“It’s beautiful!” exclaimed the Doctor, throwing his arms wide and smiling broadly, breaking the tension in an instant. The creature glowered at this gesture from the Time Lord, then let out a sinister, otherworldly hiss.
“I don’t think it took that as a compliment,” whispered Riddell loudly. “What is it? What do we do?”
“I have no idea!” said the Doctor gleefully. “But it’s no vampire, and it definitely doesn’t belong in Rhode Island in the 1890s,” he continued, stepping forward as though he was about to introduce himself.
Riddell raised his eyebrows. “You don’t say, Doctor. I’m so glad your celebrated genius is at play yet again!” He braced himself for action, when suddenly the Time Lord lost his composure, let out a shriek of pain, clutched his head in his hands, and crashed to his knees.
“Doctor?” Riddell called across to him urgently. “Doctor?!” There was no reply. The Doctor was immobile now, as though in a trance. Riddell turned his attention to the creature, advancing upon it and holding up the crucifix even though he suspected it was a useless gesture. “What are you doing to him? Get back!” he demanded. But the alien merely turned its head on one side, unconcerned at Riddell’s threat and seemingly as confused by this dramatic turn of events as was he.
Both registered their surprise again as the Doctor suddenly got back to his feet, smoothed his tousled hair, and let out a chuckle of the strangest character and pitch. Again, Riddell addressed him, but all he received in return was a blank, wide-eyed stare from his friend. Still convinced the creature must be to blame, Riddell lunged at the alien with the stake, but it seemed to pass right through its bare, translucent torso as if it wasn’t even there. In response, it hissed again, this time revealing a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Riddell recoiled momentarily in fear, but still he stood his ground.
Then, just as suddenly as he had snapped out of his apparent reverie and without uttering a single word, the Doctor turned on his heels, ran to the steps and bounded up them, continuing the strange laughter as he went. Riddell could only look on in incredulity, unsure whether to follow or to continue to make his bold stand against this strange alien. He half expected the Doctor to jump straight back into the room and reveal some masterful plan that he’d had secretly in mind from the start. He often did that, after all, and just this once Riddell would forgive him for it. Instead, within moments, he heard Marilyn’s hooves on the dirt track outside, and it was clear the Doctor had ridden off and abandoned him, alone in a basement with an unknown and apparently vicious monster.
Riddell regarded the crucifix in one hand and the stake in the other. He sensed that both were utterly useless to him, but held onto them nonetheless. The creature was ambling towards him, clearly angered by his fruitless attack.
“Well, this is all very regrettable,” he gasped, before smiling up ineffectively at the advancing monster. “What do you say I just walk out of here, too, and we pretend none of this ever happened?”