by Simon Messingham
The more the Doctor dreams, the Quack said, themore real I become. He has not yet dreamed me fully,but he will.
When the TARDIS lands in the idyllic gardens of a
Victorian country house, Ace knows that somethingterrible is bound to happen. The Doctor disagrees.Sometimes things really are as perfect as they seem.
Then they discover a young girl whose body has beenpossessed by a beautiful but lethal insect. And they meetthe people of the House: innocents who have neverknown age, pain, or death until now.
Now their rural paradise is turning into a world ofnightmare. A world in which the familiar is being twistedinto something evil and strange. A world ruled by theQuack, whose potent medicines are deadly poisons andwhose aim is the total destruction of the Doctor.
Full-length, original novels based on the longest runningscience-fiction television series of all time, the BBCsDoctor Who. The New Adventures take the TARDIS intopreviously unexplored realms of space and time.
Simon Messingham is a writer and performer of comedywho also works as a part-time English teacher. StrangeEngland is his first novel.
Interlude: AD 1868
and the Media Babies
special thanks to
Caz,Mike and Simon Evans
PrologueThe woman in white was very old. She sat gracefully in the garden
seat, pulling at the sun-hat which covered her grey hair.Edith wondered how old the woman might be. She had a strange
face, timeless despite the creases of age. It was like a mask.The maid poured tea from the silver pot. The woman in white
creaked forward in her chair and took a drink. Edith also accepted acup. Thank you Marleen, that will be all, she dismissed her servant.Marleen curtseyed and went away, back to the house. She wasBelgian and for some reason disliked the heat of the occasionalEnglish summer day.
Is Victoria still Queen? asked the woman in white.Of course, Edith replied stiffly. Have you been away? She
wondered whether this stranger was a foreigner.A gleam came into the old womans eye. On the contrary, I feel
perfectly at home. I cannot think of a more idyllic setting than this. Ofcourse, I have never travelled and am therefore ignorant of manyimportant matters. Your lovely house, these woods, the grounds.What more could one wish for?
Edith smiled. It was always pleasant to receive a compliment.There was a pause. The woman in white was looking around.
Of course, Edith said, we have had our share of troubles. Theriots thirty years ago, about the farming machines.
The woman was barely listening. Instead she seemed to answeran entirely different question: I knew a man once. A very great man. Iwas envious of his courage and integrity. He taught me many things.He claimed that perfection could only be found through endeavourand work. He was very moral. That did not make him popular with ourcontemporaries. I have not seen him for a very long time. One day Ihoped I would match his goodness with an example of my own. Now Iam dying. I hope I can live up to his great dreams. She shook herhead. Ah. Excellent tea, Lady Edith. Forgive an old womansramblings.
Edith relaxed. Despite the womans detached manner, shepossessed an air of calm. She smiled at her. Its a lovely day and Idont receive much company out here. Please stay a little longer. Tellme about your life. I have little to do but listen.
Again, the odd gleam came into the eyes of the woman in white.To Edith, it made her appear a little frightening. In her dry voice shespoke, My dear
Chapter 1Mrs Irving had accompanied the girls into the grounds for lunch.
She found the sun warm and pleasant. It was not too hot, justcomfortable.
Charlotte sat on the woollen picnic blanket assembling variousfoods into strict alignment on her plate. Mrs Irving marvelled at howcool and composed the youngster looked as she picked her waythrough small squares of bread, plum jam, crystallized fruit and a
large gleaming ham. It was only Charlottes dark, inquisitive eyes thatbelied the fact that the girl was more than she seemed.
Mrs Irving lay back in the soft chair that Garvey, the butler, hadbrought out for her. She smiled, she was so comfortable.
What is it? asked Charlotte, who had clearly observed theinvoluntary action on her face.
Nothing, Mrs Irving sighed, opening her eyes and looking at theinquisitive girl. Wheres Victoria? She looked around from theHouse to the lake and back. The younger sister was nowhere to beseen, the grounds empty of anything except Alleyns freshly cut grass.
She went to the meadow, replied Charlotte. She said she waslooking for pirates. Shes been reading about them. A frowncreased the girls marble forehead. I told her there is no such thing inreal life. But she went anyway.
Mrs Irving laughed. The things that child dreamed up. Pirates,she sighed good-naturedly and set about the serious task of dozingoff.
Ted moved through the woods with all the skill and silent agilitythat befitted his role as gamekeeper at the House.
Abruptly he stopped and took in a deep sniff of the luxuriant,scented summer air. Hmm, he muttered to himself. There wassomething in this smell, sure enough. He knew every inch of thesewoods including the smells but he couldnt put a name to this one. Itwas something very definitely apart from the sunshine and tall greentrees around him. If Ted had been a suspicious man he would havesaid it felt like a storm. An omen.
Unable to shake the cobwebs of suspicion from his mind, hedecided to plunge on to the little clearing about a hundred yardsahead. There the sun would be beaming confidently across that littlecircle of wild grass. He hoped he would feel better there.
He started to pick his way through the foliage. The hot weatherhad provided some of the plants with licence to grow to monstrousproportions. Hed never known them so big. Ferns with huge greenand purple hands were spread out at the stumps of trees. Skeletalclimbing mosses clambered in and out of one another. Even thetrees themselves burned in the sun, burdened by the bright greenleaves hanging like swollen fingers from their branches.
Ted shivered involuntarily and he felt goose-bumps streak downhis arms. He wondered what was wrong with him. It would be niceand warm in that little clearing. It was as dark asnight here.Uncomfortable. He laughed at himself, getting scared of a bit ofdarkness.
All the same, something did seem a bit odd. Something,someone staring at him. No, not staring. Eyes that burned into hisback from behind. Ted whirled around, sure that someone was there.A man, lying down.
No one. He couldnt be mistaken. Hed been sure.Breathing hard, Ted decided to press on towards the clearing. He
was getting a headache. Tugging at his large handlebar moustache,he hoisted his stick up and began clearing a path to the glade.
Whatever it was, that odd tingling at the back of his neck, it justwouldnt shift.
Ted knew Garveys likely reaction if he told him of his feelings.
The butler would laugh, safe in the cellars of the House. It would be adifferent story if he was out here, if he could see those huge trunkstowering over him, crowding and hounding him out of their woods.Because, if you thought about it, of course it wasnt his wood at all. Itbelonged to the trees. He was just a man, whatever that meant.
Ted looked about. These familiar woods didnt seem quite so wellremembered now. He thought about how far away from the House hewas. Too far. They could trap him here and even if he cried for helpthere was no one near enough to hear. He was on his own. He hadwalked straight into these trees without a second thought. Stupidly,like a child.
Sweat was running down his face. The woods were alive, he knewthat through experience. But what if there was something more thanthe squirrels, the foxes, the birds? Something else, patient andwaiting for just the right moment. Something in the trees.
He had to pull himself together. Trees didnt move. There was nocreature waiting for him.
There was a noise in the undergrowth. Teds nerve broke and,panting for breath, he ran for the clearing just ten yards away.
Hed never heard a noise like that before. Never. He couldnt tellwhat it might have been. Unless it was the trees laughing.
Suddenly, there was the clearing and he felt the sun beating awayhis fears. He was ashamed of his panic, even though no one hadseen him. Ted took some deep breaths and felt better. His heart waspounding.
He managed a laugh. Ridiculous. He decided that it must havebeen a pheasant moving about in the dry bracken. He felt safe herein the clearing. In the sun. He would just stay here for a few minutes.Hed be better prepared to go back through the woods to the House.He needed some beer. He was dehydrated. The sun was getting tohis brain, mixing it up.
He would go back in a minute. He couldnt go back now.Ted gripped his stick until his knuckles whitened. He moaned.
There was an unfamiliar tightness in his chest. He whirled around inpain, knowing that nothing could be happening. There was nothingstaring coldly and dispassionately back at him, waiting and biding itstime, ready to strike. No licking of wooden lips, in anticipation of thefeast to come.
He tried to will his self-control back. It was no good. Somethingseemed to have taken control of his body. It was enjoying this newemotion it had created in him.
Ted made a huge effort of will and hauled himself away from thesunny glade towards the House. He had only taken two steps whenhe knew he was never going to make it. The black woods stared athim, inscrutable and impenetrable.
He stopped again. He tried to convince himself one last time.There is nothing there! he screamed. His heartbeat was raggedand pounding inside him.
Something grabbed his ankle. It was a hand, growing from theground. Ted tripped and fell against a tree that swallowed his rightarm up to the elbow. It was stuck fast, buried in the trunk.
Frightened, Ted tried to pull himself free. It was as if his arm hadbecome part of the tree. It had simply been sucked into the solid
wood. Help me he whispered feebly, knowing he was beyondrescue. He was the only person who ever came into the woods.
The tree pulled again and he was sucked in further, up to theshoulder. Somewhere inside the trunk it was grinding his bones.
For a few seconds Ted thought that the hideous wheezing andscreeching noise filling his ears was his own constricted breath. Animmense pain blazed across his chest. Stop! he shrieked just asthe tree hauled the rest of his body into itself, crushing him. The painwas intense and total, and then life was extinguished.
The TARDIS appeared in the clearing. Needless to say, Ted didnot witness the event. The tree had just enough time to revert to itsnormal shape by thoroughly pulverising and absorbing his bodybefore Ace opened the door and poked her head out.
Bright sunshine. Lush woodland. A fresh breeze playing acrossher face. Ace sighed. This just had to be somewhere reallydangerous.
She peered through the TARDIS doors with more than a degreeof suspicion as she waited for the Doctor to climb into his creamlinen jacket. You wont need that, she called out to him. From thedepths of the console room there came a low grunt.
Ace turned her attention back to the glade in front of her. It staredback, bathed in warm light. Despite the inevitable terrifyingadventure they were undoubtedly about to be embroiled in, sheallowed herself a moment to relax and breathe in a lungful of the cool,scented air. It was so delicious that it almost curled up on hertaste-buds.
Might as well enjoy the peace. It wouldnt last, not with the Doctoraround. If there was one certainty in life with the TARDIS, it was theTime Lords unique ability to attract trouble on a galactic scale.Wrong place wrong time should have been emblazoned across thefront of this so-called police box, warning the unfortunates itencountered.
The problem was, after three trips of rare tranquillity, Ace wasgetting trigger-happy. The Moscow City Carnival of 2219 had beendangerous and fun but it had lacked something. An edge.
She could tell that Bernice was feeling it too. The ex-archaeologisthad started to wander the infinite corridors and rooms of theTARDIS, perhaps to find out what really made it tick. They had notseen her for a day or so, although the Doctor had sent a message forher now that they had landed. Trying to find that edge.
Ace struggled to define what she meant by an edge. What wasthat she had heard in a dim and distant history lesson? A quote:There is no feeling like the feeling of being shot at and surviving.Probably wrong. School was a million light-years away from Acenow.
As she stared out at the beautiful, exquisite woodland in front ofher she realized with a sense of shock that she was missing thedanger.
Bernice returned to the control room to find the Doctor sniffing theair, extracting scents like a wine-taster sampling a sumptuousbouquet. Lavender, he whispered to himself. He stood half in andhalf out of his jacket. In his musing he missed Bernices entrance,instead looking down at the control console as if puzzled by
something. Bernice felt a warmth and affection for the troubled littleman. Dont worry, its not going anywhere, she said.
The Doctor looked up at last to see that she was covered ingrime. My dear Benny, he replied, apparently amused by herappearance, you look in need of a particularly strong cup of tea.
Bernice flopped into a chair, dust billowing from her jeans. Shesighed, as if having completed a great effort of stamina and will. Youknow this machine goes on forever? I had entertained the rathermisguided notion of exploring it fully. I would swear these rooms andcorridors change their locations around just to irritate me....