SHEER NAKED TERROR.
A Doctor Who fanzine story.
Seasickness, car sickness, plane-sickness, all kinds of travel sickness, but never Time sickness or TARDIS sickness. The only bumpiness and turbulence in the police-box came with taking off and landing. She never liked to think of it as ‘dematerializing’. The very concept of matter-transference dematerialisation frightened her. To Jo Grant, the TARDIS simply ‘flew’.
The Doctor, resplendent in frills and velvet, leaning over the central control console of the ship, was clearly in his element, joy-riding through space and time, free now at last from his long exile on Earth, a planet he could no longer call ‘the biggest open prison in The Galaxy’. On occasion, he even said he might like to go back there for a visit once in a while, much to Jo’s relief.
Jo couldn’t wait to land. She couldn’t get used to a constant mystery tour where even the driver wasn’t always entirely sure where they were going to end up next. The flight itself was often just as unpredictable. Some TARDIS flights had lasted barely a moment or two, while other journeys had kept them 'airborne' for several days. During the long journeys, the Doctor regularly lapsed into meditative trances or retreated into long bouts of stony silence, and on occasion, even sank into coma-like catatonic sleep states from which Jo found it impossible to arouse him. Occasionally, he would leap up out of such a zombified state, adjust some control settings on the console, and then lie down and pretend to be dead again. Sometimes he got up just to change his clothes to a set that was exactly the same as those he had just taken off. He would then walk around the TARDIS preening himself , stroking the screaming-loud shirt-ruffs, and rustling his cape every now and then, as though to draw Jo’s attention towards what he undoubtedly mistook for style and flamboyant grace. All of this took place in silence. Jo felt as though she was in a Franciscan monastery. The quietness was painfully disturbing. Jo was a chatterbox by nature. She was used to being surrounded by like-minded conversationalists, talking constant mundane, possibly even inane banter. She tried in vain to get the Doctor talking. She asked her companion questions all the time in the vain hope of sparking off a conversation. "What stops us from landing on someone’s foot?’ "Doctor, who is Katerina?" "Why don’t you put labels on some of the control panel buttons?"
The TARDIS made a characteristic asthmatic wheezing noise which spelled out journey’s end. Jo’s spirits were raised by the impending landing. The Doctor leapt up, lively and fully alert and lead the way out. "Fourth floor. Doors opening. Ping!" he shouted, impersonating an American express elevator.
Jo followed him out into what looked remarkably like a school PE class changing room. It was very similar to that which she, and all of class 4B had to use every Wednesday during her education at St. Bernadette’s during her formative years. There were hooks and hangers for clothing. However, the immediately apparent problem was that all of the coat-hooks were set to ridiculous heights. Some were far beyond human reach from a standing position on the white tile floor, while others were set mere inches above it. Many of the hooks had strange garments of various kinds hanging on them.
"What is this place?" Jo asked, meaning the room, if not the planet itself.
The Doctor assumed that her question referred to the material on the hook nearest to where she stood. "Grek-skin," he replied, matter-of-factly. They’re a sort of humanoid snake. They shed their own flesh at will, just as easily as you and I take our socks and shoes off."
"Eeurgh!" shrieked Jo in horror backing away from the cold, dry scaly tissue.
"Don’t worry, Jo. Greks are delightful chaps to meet, vegetarians too,."
"You mean that thing is friendly?"
"Of course, yes. Look around you, Jo. There’s a whole galaxy quadrant of different creatures using these facilities. They obviously get on quite well together. I mean, you don’t use the same changing rooms as the enemy to get ready for a war, do you?"
"I guess not."
"Of course, Jo. Imagine Frenchmen and English archers getting changed together before marching off to kill each other at Agincourt. ‘Ere, Monsieur Jean-Paul, mate. Hold this longbow while I get this chain mail helmet on," The Doctor said in his finest corny Cockney accent.
Jo laughed. "You’ve made your point Doctor. I think I understand now."
The Doctor grinned. "This is no battlefield. We’re definitely nothing to be afraid of here." He pointed to a nearby clothes-peg. "You see those three little hats?" They belong to a Moggle, if I’m not mistaken."
"Three hats?" Jo asked, momentarily puzzled but then groaning with anticipation of the inevitable as the Doctor gave the answer to her question.
"Yes, one for each head, and look at that anorak-like garment there."
"Doctor, it’s got six, no seven ... seven sleeves in it. Where are we for goodness sake?"
The Doctor glanced round the room. "Judging from the strong smell of chlorine, I think we may well be at some kind of community swimming baths. That would make a lot of sense, don’t you think?"
Before Jo could agree, or express her surprise at the similarity between alien and Earth-based sports and recreation facilities, the Doctor had stepped through a doorway. For once, he failed to offer his usual advice to stay behind and wait for him. Jo gave a predictable shriek of ‘Oh, Doctor’, which he failed to hear, and followed him through.
Entering the large room on the other side of the doorway, Jo found herself looking at the blue-green water of a large swimming pool. It reminded her immediately of Harpurton municipal swimming baths where she used to go with her school in the days before schools had their own pools built on the premises.
There was a slide, and a very high diving-board. A sort of mermaid creature, part cat, part fish, sat on top of it. On seeing the two newcomers, it screamed and dropped down quickly into the water with a loud splash. The other outlandish bathers swam and slithered quickly to the deep end of the pool, as far away from the strangers as they could go, save for a little red monkey wearing armbands that seemed to be bleating in distress for its mother. The aliens seemed terribly shy. A few stayed underwater for an incredible length of time. Jo wondered if they had gills, or unusually large lungs. Those remainng on the surface covered their faces with varying numbers of arms and tentacles. Only one creature, which Jo correctly assumed to be a Grek, was bold enough to walk on the tiled ceramic pool side towards the visitors, addressing them cheerfully as he came their way.
"Greetings! Welcome friends. Welcome. Prepare yourselves and join us. Please forgive our impertinence in asking you to get changed first, but some of our younger, more nervous members are nervous about sharing the waters with people in ... how shall I phrase it ... apparel."
There was a long pregnant pause before the red-faced Doctor replied. "Well, thank you, for your kind invitation. It is quite kind of him, isn’t it, Jo? Jo, say something, quickly....
The Doctor looked pale, and stuck for words. Jo had never seen him like this before, nervous, embarrassed, with a sheer look of terror in his eyes. Jo wondered if his earlier assumption about the Greks being friendly was a mistake, and he had finally realised the truth, despite the warm, cheery hospitality. Jo smiled and said hello to the Grek. It was all she could think of under the circumstances. She felt foolish for that.
The Grek seemed concerned by their behaviour and asked what their problem was. "There’s no need to be shy or coy. Most people are nervous the first time they visit us here. Now, if you just ..."
The Doctor spoke up at last. "We’ll just pop back to the changing rooms then and p ppp prepare ourselves. We’ll b b b be back shortly," he blustered. "We really appreciate this. Thank you, thank you."
Grabbing Jo tightly by the arm, the Doctor shot back through the doorway to the changing room, dragging his startled companion behind him. The Doctor bundled Jo into the TARDIS, followed her quickly, and immediately prepared for take-off. Jo couldn’t remember ever seeing him so eager to leave a planet in a hurry within minutes of arriving there. Having set new flight co-ordinates, the Doctor slumped into a chair in the corner of the control room huffing, puffing and beating his fists against his chest. "That was close," he groaned.
Jo was astonished. She asked the Doctor repeatedly what the problem was. "I thought you said they were friendly creatures."
The Doctor nodded his head ruefully. "They were friendly, Jo; too friendly by far."
"What’s wrong with friendly, Doctor. I don’t understand. They might have been ugly but for once they didn’t want to kill us or eat us. They were on our side, weren’t they?" Jo wasn’t too sure about that any more. "They did just want us to go swimming with them, didn’t they, Doctor?".
"Oh yes, Jo, just a bunch of friends enjoying a swim together ... with no clothes on!"
"But we have swimming costumes on board the TARDIS. I brought my bikini with me."
"No, Jo. You don’t understand. No clothes, no swimming costumes, no trunks allowed for me, no bikinis for you. Nothing. They were skinny-dippers, Jo. That was an intergalactic nudist colony. They wanted us to join them - Starkers."
Jo laughed out loud at The Doctor’s acute embarrassment, which helped to conceal her own shock at the revelation as the awful truth of the matter finally started to dawn on her.
Rising from his chair, The Doctor seemed to become his usual self once again. "We are a couple of prudes, aren’t we?" he said with a soft, gentle smile. His face was beginning to lose its beetroot shading at last. The tension seemed to evaporate. The Doctor grinned. "With any luck, we’ll land on Skaro next. At least the Daleks always keep their shell-suits on."
The Doctor’s good-humoured manner subsided as suddenly as it arose. His expression became sullen and serious. "That was not a random, chance landing, Jo. That was a Time Lord practical joke. They’ve set me free after saving them from Omega, but they’re still watching me, still manipulating me. That was their way of letting me know about it. The ungrateful, cheating, ... Of all the low down cheap tricks...."
Before Jo could ask him how he believed Galifrey was responsible for what had happened, the Doctor had sunk back into silent introspection once again, leaving Jo waiting and wondering about what could possibly happen next.
Arthur Chappell. @ 1995 and 1997.
This is the original text of Sheer Naked Terror as written by the author, and not the corrupted text that appeared in Chronos One with additional dialogue added by the editor of said fanzine without the author’s knowledge or consent. Had I wished to include a Sea Devil and an Ogron who squabbled over possession of a particular string vest, I would have done so. However, I had no wish to do so, and I didn’t.
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