Teaser: “Over the Top”
“YOU HAVE BEEN UPGRADED! THE DOCTOR IS IRRELEVANT AND WILL BE DELETED! THE CYBERIAD WILL RISE!”
The phrases thundered over and over again in Riddell’s head, and all he could do was regard his cold, pale, expressionless visage in the mirror in front of him. Robotic arms bearing gleaming tools leant in and started to peel the skin from his face with medical precision. He couldn’t move a muscle, was powerless to resist. Slowly, his features began to disappear and a gleaming silver skull was revealed as his flesh was torn away—
John Riddell woke with a scream, his head pounding. It took a moment for him to recognise his surroundings, his bedroom aboard the TARDIS, and he let his breathing and heart rate slowly return to normal. Ideally, he needed more rest to recover fully from his injuries, but—setting aside the visceral nightmare—his well-honed instincts told him that something else was wrong. He wrenched himself from his bed, staggered to his feet, and made his way out into the corridor towards the control room. En route, he was met by a discombobulated and similarly upset Flo.
A cacophony of chaos pre-empted their arrival and gave the duo that familiar sinking feeling even before they beheld the Doctor at the controls. He was whirling from one position to the next, pulling levers here, flicking switches there, and even furiously thumping displays in frustration. Seemingly, this was all to no avail, as the TARDIS began to shudder violently and sparks flew. So manically engrossed in his task was the Doctor, it took him a good few moments to realise his companions were even there.
“Ah! Awake, are we? Well-rested, I hope?” the Doctor called out enthusiastically, as though he didn’t have a care in the world.
“Not exactly,” replied John sarcastically, and Flo grunted sleepily in agreement. When it became clear the Doctor wasn’t going to offer an explanation, he added, “Care to tell us what’s going on?”
“Oh, nothing to worry about, I’m sure”, the Time Lord responded, casually and unconvincingly even as he continued to set about the console. “Whilst you sleepyheads were off napping, I just thought I would engage the randomizer and set us on our way. Then we suddenly dropped out of the time vortex altogether. It’s as thought the TARDIS has fallen through some tear in time itself—and then, well… and then things got interesting!”
Flo and Riddell exchanged glances. “That doesn’t sound good,” said Riddell, matter-of factly.
“Oh, come on, John,” teased the Doctor. “Did you leave your sense of adventure behind on Venturi?”
“I nearly left a lot more than that behind,” John shot back, stopping the Doctor in his tracks, but only for a moment.
“Everything is under control,” the Doctor tried to reassure them. “After all, what’s the worst that can happen?”
By way of a perfectly-timed response, all of a sudden one of the control panels exploded in a shower of sparks, and the TARDIS landed with such violence that all three travellers were thrown to the ground. The control room was plunged into darkness and silence, with just the occasional flicker of life from the console.
It took the Doctor, Riddell, and Flo a few moments to determine they were all relatively unscathed and to get back to their feet. Through the smoke-filled gloom of the control room, the Doctor approached the ailing controls and sensors, and it was soon clear he was now quite concerned.
“No, no, no!” exclaimed the Doctor in frustration. “The old girl has lost nearly all power!”
“Where have we landed?” asked Flo purposefully, now wide awake and ready for action.
“I can’t tell,” replied the Doctor, trying in vain to activate the display. “Sensors are down. Dematerialization circuits, too. One thing’s for sure: we’re not going anywhere for a while.” He smiled up at his companions, and his eyes somehow still sparkled in spite of the darkness. “We’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way.” And with that, he walked to the TARDIS doors and flung them open.
Outside looked even less inviting than the depleted TARDIS interior. A desolate wasteland of grey earth stretched out before them into darkness, barely visible yellow-green gas clouds billowing across the bland vista. Riddell joined the Doctor at the door. “I think I’m going to go back to bed,” he sighed.
“Nonsense!” said the Doctor, straightening his panama hat and brushing himself down. “Everything’s going to be absolutely fine, John, you’ll see.” And with that, he strode out onto the plain.
Within moments, the Doctor was coughing and choking, barely able to breathe. He turned around to start back to the TARDIS, clearly in some distress and thinking better of his spur-of-the-moment decision, only to find his feet were stuck in what was in fact thick mud beneath his feet.
Riddell started to leap out of the TARDIS to help his friend, only for Flo to shove him aside, take a deep breath, and then step out himself. The hefty Judoon almost instantly regretted it as he then sank into the mud up to his knees.
Riddell sighed once more and even more deeply, and his shoulders fell as he muttered to himself: “Honestly, sometimes it’s like having children! Well, John, here we go again…”