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Daughters of the Shark

May 12, 2010

A vey silly Doctor Who story submitted to (and rejected from) the new series of audio anthologies from Big Finish.

‘“It is a truth acknowledged throughout the universe”,’ our mother read from the ledger in which she notes down the insights she has gained by her reading, ‘“that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”’ My sisters and I waited, mouths agape, for her to elaborate. She sighed, shut the ledger, and glanced over at the Doctor. ‘I’m talking about him,’ she hissed.

Oblivious, the Doctor continued his survey of the parlour, now contemplating the decorations arranged atop the sideboard. He had investigated every room in our house – examining furniture, peering behind drapes, studying every miniature. I had not the faintest notion what he was doing – nor quite how he had come to enter our home.

But Mamma…’ Lucy, the eldest and by far the most sensible of we four girls, shared my misgivings. ‘Do not you find him… peculiar?’

Mamma waved her hand dismissively. ‘You have eyes, Lucy: look upon that noble brow, that sensitive mouth! The cut of his frock-coat! Everything that is charming. He has travelled! And you have heard him speak, girls. Doesn’t he speak nice?’

I could not, in truth, gainsay this assessment; our guest was the handsomest man I had ever met, his clear blue eyes reminding me irresistibly of my dear Captain McRea’s. His manner, however, left much to be desired; he scarcely deigned to address us, nor much acknowledge our presence, while conducting his inspection. When he did ask questions of us, these only increased our vexation. Had we noticed strange lights in the night sky? Experienced uncanny dreams? Noted the arrival in Sanditon Village of any mysterious strangers? To this last, my youngest sister Kitty had saucily replied: ‘Why, sir, none but yourself.’ This drew not even a smile from the Doctor, who merely cleared his threat and muttered: ‘Yes, well’, before resuming his inventory.

It might be,’ ventured Amelia, my most contemplative and intellectual sister and therefore the one of whom Mamma most despaired, ‘that the Doctor is like Mr Mayhew in the village, and favours poetry over love-making.’

Do not say such things!’ Mamma reproached her. ‘Girls, I will brook no failure. There are four of you and but one of him. One of you at least must suit his fancy! – Mary, dear, I am sure he has bestowed some highly approving glances upon you.’

I, Mamma?’ I studied our guest with renewed interest. His inspection of the sideboard concluded, the Doctor had turned his attention to the unlit hearth. He seized up the lid of our coal-scuttle with a flourish, and seemed dejected to discover it contained merely coal.

Mamma,’ Lucy said kindly, ‘you are mistaken. The Doctor shows more interest in that coal-scuttle than in any of us.’

I supposed this was so, but nonetheless, emboldened by Mamma’s cooing approval, I crossed the room to joined the Doctor by the unlighted hearth. ‘Perhaps, sir, you could describe to us what you seek, then we might be able to assist you?’

The Doctor gave me one of his brief smiles, and I felt the blush rise to my cheeks. ‘Well, Mary, I’d like nothing more, but I’m afraid I shan’t know exactly what I’m looking for until I find it. My… carriage brought me as far the village, but that’s as close as it could get to the signal that set off the anachronometer.’ My face betrayed my incomprehension, and he halted, abashed. ‘The main thing is, the source can only be in this house, and it needs to be found urgently. Whatever it may be.’ And with that, he returned his attention to the fire-place.

I looked around helplessly, first at Mamma, vast and unflappable in her chair; and then at my sisters: dear Lucy with her encouraging expression; Amelia, trying to concentrate on her book yet unable to resist surreptitious glances at the Doctor; and Kitty, engaged in squeezing from her eyes those decorative tears she can summon at will. Thus has Mamma schooled us in how to attract suitors from among the gentlemen of Sanditon: Lucy, by her mildness and genteel spirit; Amelia, who must conquer hearts by means of her great brain; and Kitty, by those coquettish charms with which she is abundantly blessed. – Yet the curate Mr Harvey flees from us after church with unseemly haste for a godly gentleman; Kitty is perhaps the only girl in Sanditon whom the grocer’s boy will not loiter to flirt with when making his deliveries; and Amelia’s clumsy hints at the breadth of her learning have never once endeared her to bookish Mr Mayhew.

My own sole suitor was Captain McRea, who disappeared some weeks ago, in the early days of our courtship, and has not been seen since – this casting a pall over my spirits that, despite Mamma’s efforts to persuade me otherwise, I felt should never lift – until, that is, the Doctor’s arrival.

Tell me, girls,’ that gentleman asked, startling me from my reveries, ‘when might I be able to speak to your father?’

Mamma drew herself up in her chair imperiously. ‘I regret, sir, that is impossible, for Mr Crawleigh is no longer with us. He has gone to… a better place.’ She produced her handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes, peeping at the Doctor. ‘Heaven, that is.’

The Doctor folded his hands behind his back. ‘Now, that’s very interesting. You see, as I’ve made my calls around Sanditon, the matter of Mr Crawleigh’s whereabouts has come up in conversation more than once. Yet nobody can agree on where he is.’ Mamma’s face darkened, and I besought the Doctor with a look not to antagonise her nerves, but he continued heedlessly. ‘It seems, girls, your Papa has been in the colonies for years; manages a plantation in Antigua; and left these shores on a steamer to seek his fortune on the goldfields of the new world.’ He frowned. ‘All simultaneously. Mr Mayhew, meantime, claims Mr Crawleigh is on a walking tour of the Lakes, and has been for nineteen years.’

We looked among ourselves in confusion. Whatever could he mean? And then dear, good Lucy stepped forward and said, with great dignity: ‘I regret, Doctor, that we cannot police the idle chatter of the townspeople. Here is the truth of it: we were born fatherless, sir, all four of us. It is as simple as that.’

Is that so,’ the Doctor murmured, his eyes wide. He looked to Mamma, who was fussing with her muslin and thus avoiding his look. I could not fathom his surprise: to me it was quite natural that, just as some girls have nephews or cousins and others do not, it should be likewise in the case of fathers.

Furthermore,’ continued brave Lucy, with trembling energy, ‘I should hope that a man of the world such as yourself would not evince prejudice against four girls in such a situation.’

To my delight, the Doctor made a short bow to her; then proceeded along a fresh route of enquiry. ‘I must say, it’s remarkable that last night’s ashes should be lying in the grate still at nearly midday. Isn’t that very slovenly for a Regency household?’

The maid will be in presently,’ Mamma squawked. ‘In fact, Kitty, attend to it now –’ But even as Kitty protested, the Doctor was casting around in the fire-place, with his bare hands no less, spilling ashes all over. Then, with a sound of triumph, he withdrew from the grate… something, an object I could not focus on, even as he turned it in his soot-blackened hands. Concentrating hard, I glimpsed first coral – then copper – then coloured glass…

Psionic inductor,’ the Doctor murmured, ‘pronounced chameleonic soak…’ He looked up at Mamma. ‘So it disguises you and influences the townspeople to fill in any inconvenient gaps in your backstory themselves. Very neat! No wonder the TARDIS couldn’t zero in on it.’

Girls! Retrieve that object!’ And although we girls could not see what Mamma evidently could, we rushed at the Doctor nonetheless.

He sprang back, staring at us. ‘Four girls, a year between you… maybe even less than a year… Of course!’ he whooped. ‘Parthenogenesis! Yes yes yes!’ He leapt to Mamma’s side. ‘Let’s see: your ship crashlands, leaving you no way home, so you immediately propagate yourself, dividing off to form a new family and jump-start your race again. But these girls are just echoes of yourself. They can’t simply divide off their cells to reproduce as you did, can they? That’s why they need to hitch themselves to local lifeforms and amalgamate DNAs. They need…’ He hesitated. ‘Well, there’s no polite way to say what they need. Certainly not in a Regency parlour.’

We had understood very little of his excited speech, but Mamma’s face, moments ago flushed with ire, had grown quite pale.

And then,’ the Doctor said, his voice very low, ‘what happens to your daughters’ suitors? The local regiment had already tipped me off to the disappearance of their captain –’

I could not forebear from crying out. ‘Doctor, pray tell me, have you news of Captain McRea?’

Such ghosts there were in the Doctor’s pale stare. ‘I do, Mary. But I’m afraid Captain McRea won’t be calling on you again. I did find out where he went, but you wouldn’t know him from the bloodied remnants I found in the woods.’ He turned his steely gaze on Mamma – she shrank back, though her eyes gleamed with malice. ‘I can’t allow you to use these girls to lure more victims to you.’

Who are you, Doctor?’ Mamma spat. ‘Forcing your way into this household and addressing a lady so impertinently?’

The Doctor scoffed. ‘You? You’re no more a lady than I am.’ From his pocket he retrieved a slender instrument with a pewtery gleam, and pressed this against the object from the grate. ‘Let’s see who you really are, shall we?’

Mamma let out a little scream. She stood – and, through a strange rippling, as though a wave had broken over her in the dry room, we saw her transformed into something quite unearthly. I saw a crescent-shaped skull, one small wet eye at each extreme – a vast, tooth-crammed mouth – a great claw that swiped towards the Doctor – and as he recoiled, the apparition vanished, leaving only the echo of a monstrous roar hanging in the air to suggest it or Mamma had ever been present.

We stood in astonished silence for a moment, then rounded on the Doctor for explanations. But before we could speak, I was assaulted by a horrendous sound, a caterwauling that seemed to come from nowhere.

I clutched my head, crying out in pain, and saw my sisters were similarly afflicted. Only the Doctor seemed not to hear the noise: dropping the lump of coral into a pocket, he began rushing around our parlour thrice as briskly as before, holding his strange implement before him like a torch lighting obscure corners of the room. ‘Her ship must have an automatic self-destruct. She’s going to destroy you all!’

I glimpsed Kitty’s tear-streaked face as she crumpled to the floor. ‘Doctor, please!’ I screamed, though I could barely hear myself. ‘The noise cannot be borne!’

The Doctor had halted by the French windows. ‘Mary! How far do these grounds extend?’

Why, sir, only as far as Sanditon Lake,’ I sobbed, flattening my palms to my ears – to no avail, for the clamouring now seemed to come from inside my head.

The Doctor’s face fell. ‘The lake. Of course. Where else would a shark park a spaceship? Help me get these doors open. Quickly!’

Lucy and I hastened to oblige, but our younger sisters lay on the floor, quite insensible. The doors opened, the Doctor bounded across the lawn towards the trees surrounding Sanditon Lake. We followed him outside, but here the noise seemed fiercer yet, impeding our very movements. By the time we had staggered through the hanging trees, passing on the way the Doctor’s strewn coat and shoes, he was already waist-deep in the lake; and as we watched, he dived beneath the water’s surface.

The last I saw before I swooned to the ground was Lucy’s mouth moving to speak, though no word was audible over the crescendo. I pressed myself to the ground, able to endure the noise no longer – when it abruptly dwindled to nothing, leaving only a ringing in my ears.

Lucy and I helped each other to our feet, sobbing with relief, and across the lawn I saw Amelia and Kitty approaching us, calling out to ask what had occurred. ‘Where is the Doctor? Is he drowned?’

He must be,’ I said, swallowing my disappointment. ‘No man could stay down there as long as he has.’

Then Lucy clutched my arm. ‘Mary, look!’ I raised my eyes and, wondrous to behold, the Doctor emerge from Sanditon Lake, popping from the water as though launched. He waded to the shore, arms outstretched, while behind him the water began to foam and churn violently. ‘I’d get back, ladies – the ship’s about to go up in… water.’ – And as he spoke, the lake erupted in a great show of colour that brought a triumphant grin to the Doctor’s face; the first real delight he had evinced, though he looked otherwise quite wretched, with his hair plastered to his scalp, and his shirt – why, his shirt, cascading water, soaked through –

Amazing,’ he was gabbling, ‘an entire spaceship made from cartilage. Quite a shame to blow it up. Ladies, I’ve modified the psionic transmitter so the townspeople won’t get suspicious about your Mamma’s disappearance.’ We looked among ourselves, bemused: whom did he mean? ‘And I’ve a hunch that with her gone, this overwhelming imperative to find suitors might start to fade.’

Doctor, thank you!’ ‘However shall we repay you?’ We pressed in on him, brimming with gratitude, and a worried expression creased his handsome features. ‘You must join us for dinner!’ ‘Let us attend to your clothing!’ ‘Apply ourselves to you however we may!’

The Doctor extricated himself from our clutches. Gasping that he must immediately replace his ruined clothing, he sprinted for the house – his exertions not unpleasing to his audience. We followed at slower pace, talking excitedly: might he be won over by mildness of demeanour? noisiness and fun? a spirited performance on the pianoforte?

But as we chattered, we heard a sound like the braying of horses – a sound that brought to an halt our fevered speculations, and pained my heart moreover, for I knew at once that it signalled the Doctor’s departure. And indeed, when we reached the house, not a sign of the Doctor did we find, nor tracks made by his carriage; and he had, as we later learned, left Sanditon in such haste that no man witnessed him go, and none could offer the slightest information about his onward destination.


From → Doctor Who, Fiction

One Comment
  1. Fantastic stuff!

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