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The Adventure of the Mysterious Time Lord
The problem with sharing rooms with Sherlock Holmes, I reflected, was that you rarely get time to yourself. This might sound like a bizarre comment to my most faithful of readers who have read my many other cases, but even when you are sitting quietly reading by the fire, your mood will reflect that of the detective’s. I’ll explain…
Such is the individuality of my friend, that during a case he will be insanely excited about what is going on and how he might solve it, ignoring almost everyone around him, but that when there is a long period of monotony he will feel so depressed that, even if I am away from him and reading on my own, it’s hard not to share his bored mood.
Still, the adventure I am about to relate interests me not only because of its wondrous nature and all the things that were unveiled to me on this day, but also because it really showed me what the problems with having time to yourself are. On this particular adventure, Holmes and I met a man who was so lonely that he had a face that looked hundreds of years old. I set before you, then, the Adventure of the Mysterious Time Lord…
London. 1896. The excitement of Christmas and the New Year had faded, and the grey, dull month of February was rapidly approaching. Fog hung heavy in the air. Sherlock Holmes had had few cases to investigate recently and as such was feeling depressed, resorting to his cocaine pipe.
It was a foggy day, as I have already said, when this adventure took place. Holmes sat by the fire, looking more forlorn than a dog that has been rejected by its master, whilst I helplessly read on, perusing the pages of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine (the author is a very good fellow, by the way, as I can well recall).
My friend uttered another dejected snort of irritation. “Oh, Holmes,” I sighed, putting down my book, “Cheer up, will you? You can’t have cases all the time, you know? If you did,” I broke into a smile, “I wouldn’t be able to make them all known to the general public, would I?”
Holmes didn’t even deign to answer my question, instead slumping further into his chair. “Oh, come on,” I said. “Why don’t we go out? It’ll take your mind off your lack of cases.”
“There’s very little of interest out there,” he began, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. Our faces lit up in unison. “There you go,” I said. “Mrs Hudson, introducing a new client, complete with a fantastic new case for you to look into – promise you, Holmes!”
I went over to the grand oaken door. Opening it, I found the flushed face of Mrs Hudson outside – connected, of course, to the rest of her body.
“What is it, Mrs Hudson?” I asked.
“If you’ll pardon me, sir,” she said, “and hoping I’m not disturbing you or Mr Holmes, I thought you might like to meet Mr Smith, who is taking the room above yours.”
Even without turning round, I could see Holmes’ shoulders sag with disappointment, but nevertheless I tried to show Mrs Hudson I was interested, and said, “Yes, that’d be very nice, Mrs Hudson. How about you show him in when he arrives?”
She agreed, and I promptly closed the door behind her before, avoiding my friend’s gaze, I returned to my seat by the fire and to page 247 of The Time Machine. I can assure you, it is an absolutely fascinating book, especially if you have witnessed events to the level of spectacle that both Holmes and I did in this particular adventure. Little could I know how much impact Mr Smith would have on our lives…
About ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door. I marked my place and called, “Come in!” and then looked over at Holmes.
“I expect it’ll be Mr Smith,” he said. That was good – at least he was trying to show some interest. “I suppose we’d better try and be pleasant to him.”
As this exchange took place, both Mrs Hudson and Mr Smith had entered. I got to my feet to meet them.
“This is Mr John Smith,” said Mrs Hudson, gesturing.
Before me stood a man who – and I swear to you, this is the truth – is almost impossible to describe. He was tall, thin, and young (I would say about eight and thirty, perhaps), with a keen face, a shock of rather untidy black hair, unusual strips of hair coming down past his ears that I can find no word to describe, and with a pair of black-framed glasses, sitting rather chunkily on his lean face. And his clothes! I have never before, or since, seen such attire: a long tan-coloured coat covering a blue suit of some kind, but made of a cloth I hadn’t seen the like of before, with stripes sewn into the fabric; and his garb was rounded off by a pair of very unusual shoes – flat and light brown and rubber-looking.
The thing that startled me most was his eyes. I can’t exactly say they sat unnaturally in his face, but they certainly didn’t fit what looked like a charismatic, pleasant, youthful personality – for his eyes were old. Impossibly old. Something about the way, even when he was smiling, those eyes held a keen sense of loss, and of survival and loneliness and pain, made him look hundreds of years old.
He gave me a toothy grin, once more the charm of which I have scarcely seen repeated, and offered me his hand.
“Very pleased to meet you,” he said, in a casual, pleasant voice.
“Likewise,” I said, shaking his hand. He had a nice firm grip – one of the signs of a true man. “I’m Doctor John Watson.”
He looked pleased. “A medical men, eh? Brilliant. You’ve gotta love a good Doctor, haven’t you, Mrs Hudson?” He grinned once more, flashing a perfect set of teeth.
By now Holmes had at last risen from his chair to come and greet Mr Smith. The two shook hands, and suddenly I felt the room – not quite crackle, exactly, but something nearly like it. I knew, as their hands met, that this was a real meeting of minds: that both these men were extraordinarily intelligent, perhaps dangerously so.
“Smith. John Smith. Lovely to meet you, Mr…?”
My friend let his grip relax, and their hands parted. “Sherlock Holmes, at your service.”
Everything changed. Mr Smith stepped backwards very suddenly, his face shocked, his brow curled in a frown, his mouth beginning to form an O of surprise. “You don’t mean Sherlock Holmes, the great detective?”
My friend nodded. Just as bizarrely, Mr Smith stepped forward very quickly, a massive smile on his face, gabbling words out of his mouth at a rate faster than any handsome cab. “You’re actually Sherlock Holmes! Oh, but this is brilliant! Sherlock Holmes! I mean, look at you – you’re so Sherlock-y Holmes-y, you’ve got Sherlock Holmes stamped all over you, and Dr Watson as well, and I didn’t notice! Oh, brilliant! And this is – no – somebody tell me I’m not standing in 221b Baker Street?”
He looked around, seeking an answer, so I nodded, puzzled at his ignorance.
“Brilliant!” he cried, so enthused I stepped back a little. What was wrong with this man, grinning like a loony, running his hands through his hair? Bizarre indeed. However, somehow his enthusiasm affected us all: you couldn’t help smiling slightly as you saw how strange this man’s happiness was. I don’t know how I can think of him as old when I recall him at this moment: the most youthful child I’ve ever met, including all the children I know.
There was a brief, awkward silence, broken only by the chiming of the clock. Mr Smith seemed to look away, embarrassed at his outburst.
Mrs Hudson saw fit to intervene. “Ahem…excuse me, Mr Smith, shall I show you to your room?”
He picked up his suitcase. “Sorry, yes, I’m…er…coming right now, Mrs Hudson. Good to meet you, gentlemen.”
He and the landlady swept out of the room, leaving behind an odd environment lightened by his unusual outburst. I have to confess that whilst I liked Mr Smith at first, I thought he was a little deranged, and wasn’t particular pleased with having him as a flatmate.
“What do you think of him, Holmes?” I asked, sitting down by the fire and picking up my book once more.
My friend was still standing in the position where he had been when Mr Smith had been in the room. I looked keenly up at him, and watched a small smile creep onto his face. He came and sat down, awkwardly draping his deerstalker cape around his shoulders.
“You liked Mr Smith, then?” I began, but he got in there first.
“Oh, Watson, this is excellent! Never before has a person excited me as much as a new case could – oh, this man is a case all on his own! I could study him all day, Watson, yet come the next day I would still not have deduced much about him. If you look at that man, Watson, you can see that his enthusiastic, joie de vivre approach to things is actually a façade, hiding his inner – something. I can’t tell what it is, but I assure you, there’s something about him, Watson, something very special. That man is…remarkable, Watson. Remarkable.”
Nothing of interest happened that evening, but I felt it might be as well to record in my chronicling of this story that Holmes has almost never spoken about another human being with such affection – save from, if I may take the risk of sounding self-important, myself. Holmes clearly held that man in high regard, and therefore, so did I.
The next day saw Holmes rise bright and early, as he usually did; although this time he was not doing so because of a case he was eager to get his teeth into now dawn had arrived. He was instead doing so because he wished to invite Mr Smith down to our apartment for breakfast.
However, his hopes were dashed. He returned crestfallen to our rooms, and I, sitting buttering a croissant at the breakfast table, looked up at him in worry. “What is it, Holmes? Is Mr Smith unwell?”
He hardly seemed to hear my words, glancing distractedly at my face. “What? Oh no, not that, no, oh, not that, no. Mr Smith has already left the premises.”
“For good?” I asked in astonishment, although inside I was preparing a witty remark, something along the lines of surely Mrs Hudson’s cooking isn’t that bad?
“Oh, no, not for good,” my friend replied, emphasising his relief that that wasn’t the case, “no, I mean to say, he left the building very early this morning to go to Scotland, if I heard Mrs Hudson correctly. Such a shame, Watson. Still, I expect he’ll be back tomorrow, eh?”
I ripped open a telegram that had come in the post. “Good grief, Holmes, look at this! It’s a telegram from McDonald of Scotland Yard – saying that he’d like us to come and investigate a case in…oh yes….”
Holmes’ face lit up. “Scotland?”
I gave the answer.
It was Wednesday, at about six in the evening, and Holmes and I were sitting in a very small fishing boat, making our way over the sea to the Orkney Islands, doing our best to avoid the most jagged rocks, all the while suffering everything nature could throw at us – wind, rain, biting cold…
But, as Holmes would say, it was all entirely worth it for a case.
It wasn’t long before our fishing boat, containing only us and McDonald of Scotland Yard, pulled up at Stromness, one of the three major settlements on Mainland (for those of you who really ought to be more educated in terms of Scotland, that’s the main island in the Orkney Islands).
We weren’t actually staying at Stromness; rather McDonald had fixed us up in a nice little cottage, a little further down the coast. I say ‘a nice little cottage’; that was how the constable had described it, but in this weather it was anything but. No, I’m being unfair – inside it was really quite cosy, it’s just that we were so wet I could scarcely enjoy myself until I had peeled off my soaking layers and had a hot bath.
Over dinner that evening, which was a particularly fine haddock McDonald had caught earlier in the day, the police officer clued us in on the case.
“Well, Dr Watson, Mr Holmes, first I’d like to say again how pleased I am that you’d come and help me in this infernal puzzler that I’ve been presented with by the Scottish police. Scotland Yard put me onto it (I reckon it’s my name; they think I’m Scottish because of my name!) but it’s too tough a nut for me to crack, and so they got me to bring you in.
“This cottage, as you will have noticed on the journey over, is not far from Stromness, and it’s even closer to a far more significant construction in this particular case, which is Stromness Lighthouse. The lighthouse is no longer used, as it happens, and indeed has been closed for about three or four years; but folks here in Stromness started reporting in January that they’d seen lights flickering in the top and around its base. Then the screaming began.”
“Screaming?” asked Holmes, leaning forward in his chair, looking very interested indeed.
“Yes, sir. Screaming. Most evenings – flickering lights, bizarre noises echoing around the wasteland which surrounds Stromness Lighthouse, and this screaming – reverberating everywhere, all around the neighbourhood for miles. The amount of complaints and worried letters the police have been receiving, it’s no wonder they called in the professionals such as yourself. What we want to know is who’s in there, and what’s going on.”
Holmes placed his pipe in his mouth, and said, in-between puffs, “That shouldn’t be too difficult – unless, of course, you haven’t told me the whole story, McDonald?”
The constable’s already grave expression darkened further. “That’s just it, Mr Holmes. They say a beast haunts the rocks around Stromness Lighthouse by night, a beast as villainous as any from the most imaginative child’s most vivid imagination. The people in Stromness are divided into two categories: those who have seen the Beast of Stromness Lighthouse, and those who are still alive.”
As with all good haunted buildings, be they houses or lighthouses, the Stromness Lighthouse was only really creepy during the night. Therefore, in the morning Holmes was keen to have a nose around the lighthouse and see what clues he might be able to unearth.
McDonald had managed to prise some keys away from the man who had once owned the lighthouse, and so the plan was set. At about ten o’clock, after a hearty breakfast, Holmes, McDonald and myself made our way over the coastal path – all the while drenched by a bracing spray – up to the lighthouse.
The rock here was black, blacker than any I’ve seen in a long time. The seagulls overhead seemed to avoid the lighthouse too, and the water churning beneath us, and crashing onto the rocks below the lighthouse, was dark and mysterious, even in the light of day. There were ill omens about this place.
As we walked by, I caught sight of a blue wooden box reading POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX on the further rocks. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing.
McDonald shrugged. “Not sure. It’s clearly some sort of police operation. I wouldn’t worry about it, if you ask me – although I’m not entirely sure about the window size…”
Nonplussed, I glanced over at the police box. There was something – unusual about it, something I couldn’t quite place. Something alien to the culture around us, like an intruder that was there and knew it shouldn’t really be there but was there regardless.
I didn’t have long to dwell on the police box, however, because soon we had made our way off the rugged path of black rock and onto the bottom-most steps of the lighthouse, leading up to its centre door.
As we approached I had an eerie sense that us pitiful humans were intruding upon something that did not belong to us, and was in no way connected with our lives. I felt unwanted, as if we were not supposed to be here. I wanted, I must confess to you here, although I would never have told my friend – I wanted to turn back.
McDonald rapped smartly on the wooden door, and it was duly opened by a man of swarthy stature, stocky, bearded, with thin slits for eyes, and wearing a seaman’s cap.
“What d’you want?” he snarled in a thick Scottish accent.
McDonald held up a small plastic card. “I’m a policeman, sir, and these two gentleman are with me. We have authorisation to look around your lighthouse.”
The man grunted, and squinted hostilely at the plastic card bearing McDonald’s name and rank, but eventually conceded that we were an official party and not trespassers; on these grounds, he opened the door wider and let us in.
“We were under the impression that this lighthouse was no longer in use, Mr…?” said McDonald, leaving an appropriate pause for the gentleman to fill in his name.
“…MacPherson, actually, Douglas MacPherson,” said the man. “But as to your other point, ye’re right in a way. This lighthouse han’t been used for a good four years; but as of about a month, myself and two others ha’ been contracted to refurbish it for further use.”
“Oh, I see,” nodded McDonald, following MacPherson up the steps of the lighthouse, with us in tow. “And you don’t think there’s anything unusual about the building, do you?”
MacPherson looked as if he was considering, but then shook his head. “Nothin’. Nothin’ at all.”
By now we had reached the uppermost step in the spiral staircase. Unlike some other lighthouses I had been in, the Stromness Lighthouse didn’t open straight onto the boiler room at its very bottom; instead, you had to walk up the staircase for a minute or two until you reached the boiler room, the room in which we were standing now.
“Reuben! McGiddin!” called MacPherson, striding into the boiler room. It was a large space, although it felt somewhat cramped due to the large, rumbling boiler in the centre of the room: and standing nearby were two other men, presumably MacPherson’s fellow builders.
“This here’s Reuben, and this man is McGiddin,” said our guide, pointing at the two men in turn, who both raised a hand in greeting. “These men here are from the police, chaps, so make sure you stay out of their way.”
MacPherson took us out of the boiler room, and back out onto the staircase, where he said he would leave us to our own investigation. “I’ve got my own work to do,” he said, “but if you need anything, just gis a shout, would you?”
Holmes nodded, and took the lantern from McDonald. “I’ll lead the way,” he said, advancing up the wooden staircase. I don’t know how many of my readers have ever shuffled very slowly up the steps of a cobwebby, dusty lighthouse that has been abandoned for four years; I can assure you it’s not particularly pleasant.
Holmes stopped suddenly, bending down to peer at the top step. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to four or five irregular pockmarks on the step. “What do you think, Watson?”
“I’d say they were rough blows dealt by some irregular instrument, such as a cleaver or perhaps a metal rod,” I said, examining the marks. “McDonald?”
The policeman had nothing more to contribute, and if the reader is acquainted with Holmes’ style of deduction, he or she will already be aware that if the great detective has an idea, he keeps it well to himself, and won’t share it with others until he has seen it through to its conclusion.
As we went on, though, I saw Holmes pocket something out of the corner of my eye. I knew well enough not to question him, and decided to let it be until he felt it right to share his thoughts.
We proceeded over the top step and out into the light room at the very top of the lighthouse, where, of course, the actual light is stored. I am not an expert on lighthouse history, but even my untrained eye could quickly deduce that this lighthouse had once run on oil, but had recently been replaced with the new-fangled electricity equipment most lighthouses were shortly to be issued with. The floor consisted of crude wooden boards, over which there was some rather unpleasant-looking slime.
Holmes appeared very interested in the light. He kept moving round it, looking at it at different angles, lying on the floor to look at it from above, peering at it through a magnifying glass, and jotting notes down in a small pad of paper he had brought with him, as to the light’s design.
“There isn’t much else here,” he said, after he had spent a good half-hour looking at this light, a half-hour during which McDonald and I looked on, perplexed. “Let’s move on!” We moved round the light, and out into the balcony outside, which was usually where the men who would operate the lighthouse would be on the lookout for ships about to hit the rocks.
“Anything interesting here?” I said, looking around. The balcony ran all along the length of the lighthouse in a circular shape, so that you could walk all the way round and get back to where you started from. I made my way round, but to me it seemed just an ordinary lighthouse balcony on an ordinary Scottish day – the wind was reasonably soft, the water beneath was mere ripples, and the man climbing…
…the man climbing up the stone side of the lighthouse!
I called Holmes and McDonald, who rushed at once to my side, and pointed down at the man who was clambering up the slope below.
“Quick,” said McDonald, passing Holmes his police-issue binoculars. “Have these!”
Holmes peered through, and gave a cry of delight; he quickly passed the binoculars to me, and I lifted them to my eyes; who should I see scaling that slope, but the mysterious Mr Smith!
I have to admit, here I could understand why Holmes was somewhat in awe of this man. Watching him now, doggedly pulling his way up the rocks with his ankle-length brown coat flapping in the breeze, you couldn’t help thinking that he was both mad and just a bit magnificent!
Soon he pulled himself over the edge, only a few feet from where we were standing, and muttered to himself, “Ah, I should have picked Christina up when I had the chance…she could’ve done that, easy, but anyway…” Then he noticed us, and gave us a cheery wave, complete with another big grin. “Oh, hello!” He seemed to have adopted a Scottish accent in the time since we’d last seen him – and oddly he seemed more at home in this accent than he had done in his London inflection.
Holmes rushed forward to shake his hand once more, saying as he went, “So pleased to see you again, my dear Mr Smith!”
Mr Smith seemed to be filled with equal enthusiasm, and he said, talking over my friend as they both vied to compliment one another most, “No, Mr Holmes, it’s my pleasure! Oh, I still can’t get over it – you’re really Sherlock Holmes!”
At last they parted, and Mr Smith moved on to shake hands with me, saying, “Lovely to see you again, Dr Watson,” before I introduced him to our friend, PC McDonald.
The name seemed to intrigue Smith. “McDonald…” he said. “Now why does that ring a bell? A David John MacDonald, born in 1971…why is he in my mind? Anyway, moving on…”
Breathless, he let go of McDonald’s hand, and looked at us three. “Isn’t this great?” he exclaimed. By now he had lost his Scottish accent again. “Scotland! I love it! Scotland is just so brilliant, don’t you think? Last time I was here, it wasn’t quite so brilliant as it could’ve been – you, know, lupine wavelength haemovariforms, they can really put a crimp on your day – but never mind. Between you and me, one thing I can tell you about Scotland, a bit like the way there are three reasons for why Atlantis was destroyed, is that there are two Loch Ness monsters – one of them’s the Skarasen and the other one’s the Borad…”
McDonald snapped, “Excuse me, sir, but if you could please shut up! This is an official police investigation. What are you doing here, anyway? And why were you climbing up the lighthouse in that blasé manner? And why do you slip between accents?”
Our friend Smith treated McDonald to another huge grin. “Actually, I was stopping by in London, and when I heard about this mystery up here in the lighthouse, I thought I’d come and have a look, you know, do a bit of investigation. Climbing up there was my supposedly surreptitious way of getting in. With hindsight, it was slightly rubbish, wasn’t it? I mean, everyone from miles around could probably see me. Oh well… As to the accent, that was my disguise – clever or what? But you already know me, so a disguise would be a bit pointless.”
McDonald looked perturbed. “So you’re some sort of private freelance detective?” he asked with contempt.
Smith looked as if he hadn’t been paid such a compliment in a long time. “Something like that, yeah,” he said, jutting out his jaw and speaking through his teeth. But this restless man seemed somewhat bored with McDonald, and turned once more to Holmes. “Now, Sherlock, tell me what you have deduced! Come on, you can collaborate with me, surely?”
“Gladly,” said Sherlock Holmes. “Perhaps, though, we could retire to McDonald’s nearby cottage, which is not far at all; the surroundings there are somewhat more comfortable than these. I trust there are no complaints? Excellent; let us be on our way.”
We were all sitting comfortably down in the cottage. It was rather later in the day than I expected we would get round to the conversation, but that was mainly because Holmes started to bake a fruit cake for us to eat, before McDonald snatched it away from him, telling him “That ain’t the way to bake a fruit cake!” Instead we settled down to some sausage sandwiches and tea.
John Smith had drunk four or five cuppas – he seemed to really love the stuff! – by the time Holmes got round to telling us what clues he had so far weaned out of the lighthouse.
“Well,” he said, “I found at the top of the staircase some rather bizarre pockmarks which, as my friend Dr Watson commented, had clearly been made by some irregular blunt instrument, and I think had been made by somebody trying to chip away the step. The only reason I could possibly think for someone to do this would be to make the step ‘insecure’ (i.e. with broken sections coming off) and therefore say that the top part of the staircase – and more importantly the room with the light in it – out of bounds to all but a select few.”
“And those select few would be the builders!” I cried. “It was the builders who did it, Holmes!”
“Exactly,” he said. “The most important part of the lighthouse is, naturally, the light room at the very top. But there was something very odd about this particular light: in fact, I have written a monograph on the design of lighthouse lights, and I can assure you that Stromness Lighthouse’s beaming device follows no known pattern, Mr Smith. Certain sections of it are regular, yes, but there is so much mechanical clutter added onto the sides that I can scarcely be sure whether it would even function as a light anymore.”
“I expect,” put in Smith, “that that’s the intention.”
Holmes went on: “I may also add that the metal is one that in my opinion is not known to this earth – for I have a good memory of the periodic table of elements, and I am also well aware of the alloys that can be created from such metals, and assure you that what we have seen is none of them. This device is clearly used for some vile trickery. And when I consider this bizarre screaming, which we know is terrifying the village, and combine that with this unusual device at the top, and these flickering lights, it might be a reasonable assumption to say that somebody is using the device to create these supernatural effects? We all follow? Good. I would also add that it is obviously the builders who are doing so – or at the very least, allies of these three builders – because it was the builders who chipped away the top step, allowing only them access to the light room where this device could be operated.”
I clapped. “Wonderful deductions, Holmes, wonderful!” Mr Smith was beaming. “This man is a genius! Isn’t he a genius, McDonald?”
The policeman seemed irritated that he was out of the picture, and replied coldly that he was quite sure Holmes was a genius, and was very grateful that such a man of learning was present with them now.
“As it happens, my deductions go further than that,” said Holmes. “Indeed, I would go so far as to say that whatever devilry we are facing is something about six feet high, with a slimy skin and diluted pupils (not unlike those of cats) – and combining these unusual metals that we have found, the slimy skin footprints on the floor which I estimated to be the right width apart for six feet high, and then the fact that they have managed to create some bizarre device which controls the screaming and flickering lights, and then this…” here he pulled out a small tubular device, which was flashing one and off, “…which I found on the stairs of the lighthouse, and which I would guess is some kind of high-pressure sound-device that can destroy things using sound, I come to the conclusion that the creatures we are facing are not of God’s Earth.”
There was, as there always is after Holmes’ explanations, a brief, stunned silence. Then McDonald snorted and said “Aliens! Bah!” before going back into the kitchen with our plates and the remainder of the sausage sandwiches.
Mr Smith was staring at Holmes in incredulity, his mouth open and his brow furrowed. “That is…” he seemed at a loss for words, for once, “…that is incredible, Sherlock. You just managed to give a reasonably accurate description of a terrible alien race, which I fear is currently at work here in Stromness.”
“I did?” asked Holmes, surprised. “And how would you know?”
Mr Smith looked as if he’d been waiting for this to crop up in the conversation and had an answer prepared. “My name,” he said shortly. “It’s not Smith. I’m the Doctor, just the Doctor, and – as to how I know about aliens – dunno if I mentioned that I’m a genius too?”
On our next excursion to Stromness Lighthouse, I decided to have a talk with this mysterious Doctor fellow, so I managed to catch up with him, scrambling over the rocks as we headed toward the lighthouse.
“So you’re reading The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, are you?” he said as I approached.
I was astounded. “Doctor! You’re as infernal as Holmes is! How could you possibly know my literature habits?”
The Doctor looked confused, and glanced back at me. “Um…well, a battered copy of The Time Machine with a bookmark in it is sticking out of your coat pocket, so…”
I looked down at the pocket he had pointed at. “Oh. Oh, I see.” Then I ran on until I drew level with him. “You walk too fast,” I panted, falling into step with his not inconsiderable rhythm. “So – you mentioned aliens? Like something H. G. Wells wrote, perhaps?”
The Doctor nodded. “Yeah, a bit like that. H. G. Wells is a brilliant man, don’t you think? Have you met him?”
I nodded. “Holmes and I came across him a couple of years back, in 1894, when we investigated the Inertial Adjustor, if I remember correctly. And you? You speak as if you know him?”
The Doctor looked up into the sky. “Oh, yeah, I met Herbert once. Hmm…gave him most of his ideas, as a matter of fact. I really ought to stop doing that to authors…I must be on about forty per cent by now.”
I was eager to continue the topic of these aliens the Doctor had mentioned, and said as much to him.
“Oh, yes, the aliens! Right, yes…Well, I don’t quite know how he managed to get it so accurate, but Holmes gave a good description of a race known only as the Fear Collectors.”
“The Fear Collectors?” I repeated.
“Oh yes!” cried the Doctor. “Technically they come from the planet Crentera in the Isop Galaxy, so I suppose we should really call them Crenterans, but never mind. The Fear Collectors they will be. Essentially, Doctor Watson, they are a humanoid race, and very similar to your kind, in fact. Six feet tall, they’re basically bodysnatcher lifeforms – but unlike monsters like Zygons, which have a proper form, and work from a bodyprint which they would then store in their spaceship, the Fear Collectors simply continue with the bodyprint they used last, regardless of how long ago that was, until they no longer have a proper form. You can just about tell them apart from other humans by their diluted pupils, like Holmes mentioned, and the slimy trails they leave everywhere – the slime is a result of their continual transmogrification into human form, using up certain glands in their bodies that secrete the slime, and…are you following me?”
I shook my head. It was all far too complex for me to understand.
“Oh well, never mind,” muttered the Doctor striding on, “Let’s be happy! We’re in Scotland! Jamie came from Scotland, Lethbridge-Stewart came from Scotland, you can’t complain, can you Watson?”
I nodded, unsure of what to say, apart from that that was very pleasant for Jamie and Mr Lethbridge-Stewart, whoever they might be.
“Scotland’s definitely better than Wales…although the Shangri-La holiday camp’s pretty good, some people think it’s a bit silly. I thought it was quite fun; don’t you, Watson? Yes…and poor Ray would have made a good companion, I think…she was a beautiful girl, probably…”
I interrupted the Doctor’s ramblings on the Shangri-La holiday camp (whatever that might be) by pointing out that we had missed the turning to head off into the lighthouse, and so had the others who were just ahead of us.
“Oi! Holmes!” called the Doctor, clicking his fingers. He then suddenly got distracted as the doors of the blue wooden police box in the distance somehow opened of their own accord, and muttered as he clicked his fingers again, “Oops. Didn’t realise I was still in range.”
Despairing of the Doctor talking about things I didn’t understand, I called to Holmes and McDonald, who had just turned round because of the Doctor’s call, “The lighthouse is the other way!”
Soon enough, as the afternoon continued to slip away, we were all standing at the bottom of Stromness Lighthouse. The Doctor had adopted the position of leader and was giving us all some sort of team talk.
“Now, everyone, listen to me, please,” he said, running his hands through his hair frantically. “Inside this lighthouse are three members of an alien race called the Fear Collectors slash Crenterans, whichever you prefer. What they do is they – as their name suggests – feed entirely on the hormones released when other creatures feel fear. This is essentially harmless, but as they go on they get greedier until they simply drain away your life force, which you really don’t want to happen to you. These three seem to have bitten off more than they can chew, because they’ve managed to use the screaming and the lights and the legends of beasts roaming the base of the lighthouse (which is, of course, just them pretending to be wild dogs or something) to inspire fear in the minds of nearly everyone in Stromness. They’ve got to be stopped, or soon their range will spread to the Orkney Islands, and then all of Scotland, and maybe even the whole world.”
“They’ve certainly bitten off more than they can chew if they think they can face Sherlock Holmes!” cried my friend, and the Doctor seemed to heartily agree with him, crying “Allons-y!” as they went through the door together. McDonald and I also entered the lighthouse.
“Remember,” the hushed voice of the Doctor floated back down to me, as I was bringing up the rear, “try not to be afraid. They’ll only kill you faster.”
So began a nightmarish game of cat-and-mouse all over the lighthouse. We knew they were there, all the time; every room had its shadows (although the Doctor claimed the shadows were another alien race, but forget that); no corner was safe. The lights had all gone out, and even though it was about four in the evening, the outside sky was as dark as if it was eleven o’clock at night.
I jumped at almost every turn, feeling my wretched heart hammering against my ribs. I felt like ripping it out and yelling at it to calm down. I was too afraid, and I knew it. Any moment now, here in the boiler room, they would find me…
“McDonald?” I cried, reaching my hand out in front of me, where he had been walking. There was only emptiness. “McDonald! Doctor! Holmes!”
They were gone.
Even the waves outside and the gulls in the air had stopped now.
Suddenly the Doctor stepped in front of me and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “Thank goodness you’re here!” I said, gripping his hand firmly. He was slightly in the dark.
“Are you afraid?” he asked quietly, almost sorrowfully.
I didn’t want to confess that I was, but I knew that with a man who possessed such a keen intelligence as the Doctor’s, I was safe, and so I told him that I was afraid.
He stepped into the light and smiled.
His pupils were tiny and diluted, his eyes like slits in his face, and worst of all, I suddenly felt the slime sticking to the hand that I had just gripped, slime oozing across his wrist, oozing onto my own skin.
I cried with fear, pulling myself free, and stumbling away from him.
The Fear Collector who had taken the Doctor’s form moved on, his eyes glowing brightly as he advanced ever closer, his arms outstretched, his mouth open in a wide O, presumably sucking the fear that was still now tugging at my heart in a pounding dum-dum rhythm.
The faster my heart beat, I realised, the quicker he came toward me.
“Calm down!” I yelled to myself, but it was no good. “CALM DOWN!” I screamed in the darkness, stumbling over the boiler, but his arms were already squeezing about my neck, sucking my fear.
I felt life draining out of me-
I struggled so hard-
CALM DOWN –
And a dry, unctuous voice broke into my thoughts. “You know, Watson, it would be a lot easier for you to calm down if you concentrated less on saying it and more on actually doing it.”
“Holmes! I’ve never been so glad to see you!” I shouted out loud, and suddenly I felt the slimy hands that were closing about my throat loosen, and then pull away altogether, and then I felt the steady stream of fear the creature had been feeding on cease.
I opened my eyes, and saw a blazing battle. The lights had flicked on and Holmes and the Doctor were struggling with the Fear Collector.
I don’t quite know how they were doing it, but the Doctor was repeatedly shouting “Ha!” and shining some sort of small tubular torch at the Fear Collector, whilst Holmes was repeatedly shaking a large jar of salt onto the creature. Somehow, the combined effect meant that the Fear Collector itself became afraid, and within seconds it shrivelled and died.
“One down, two to go!” yelled the Doctor triumphantly. “Ha!”
Sherlock Holmes also looked very pleased. It was in that moment, with the two of them standing there together, the two great minds, with identical smiles on their faces, that I realised I was always going to be a bit left out. I was never Holmes’ equal, and it seemed he had found someone who was.
“Holmes managed to work out,” the Doctor said, beaming, “that as the slime was not entirely dissimilar to that produced by slugs and snails, that salt might work as a defence mechanism and fortunately we found some in the lighthouse pantry. Genius or what?!”
“What was that tube thing?” I asked.
“That,” said Holmes, “is the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. It’s some kind of mechanical device that uses sound waves to do various functions. See? You learn a new thing every day, Watson; even I do, sometimes.”
The Doctor’s face suddenly went sour. His rapid change from mood to mood was astonishing, and one of the things I could never quite get used to with this man. I didn’t know what it was he was grim about, but then I saw he was looking past me, over my shoulder, to the husk of a human body lying on the floor. McDonald.
He bent over it. “Drained of life. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” I turned my head away.
He stood up once more. He swallowed, breathed a fragile breath, seemingly to remove his pangs of guilt that he had been unable to save the police officer, and then his face was a dark, serious mask of determination. “Come on,” he said, and his voice was so old. I would even go so far as to say that his voice was older than his eyes at this point. Hundreds of years old.
He pocketed the sonic screwdriver. “It’s time to end this all,” he said, and in that moment no one in the world could have argued with a man like that.
The last two Fear Collectors on Earth were waiting for us in the light room at the very top of Stromness Lighthouse – and they had already switched their moderated light on.
All throughout Stromness, screaming echoed everywhere around the streets. Dinners were interrupted as fathers and mothers ran to the windows to peer out, wondering what the source of the noise could be. Lights flickered by the lighthouse, bizarre, unearthly lights.
Fear reigned supreme.
“That’s it,” the Doctor said quietly, pointing at the moderated light that was now both flashing and producing screams. “It doesn’t just produce the cause of fear, it receives the fear of the people back – it’s like one great big receptor, and their range could well be four or five miles in a matter of minutes. The more fear they assimilate, the more damage they can do. Come on.”
We moved further into the light room, and stood in a line, all three of us. The moderated light squatted in the centre of the area, windows with struts lining the sides. The two Fear Collectors stood next to one another, with the light between us.
The Doctor spoke. “Fear Collectors. Crenterans. Whatever your name might be. Stop this now. You can’t keep going with this. You’re taking life from humans. Humans are…brilliant! There’s no other word for these creatures! Can’t you see that? Don’t you ever gaze down from the lighthouse and marvel at what these absolutely tiny creatures can do? In a few millennia they’ll be one of the dominant species in the galaxy. They’re indomitable, that’s the word I was looking for, indomitable!”
There was no sound, save from the perpetual screaming echoing all over the island. The two of them stood unmoved.
“I’m warning you,” said the Doctor, his eyes burning. “If you don’t stop this now, I’ll have to stop it. And then you’ll have to suffer the punishment. End it now, and you are free to go.”
“After what they’ve done?” I cried. “Surely we shouldn’t give them a chance?”
The Doctor’s gaze of fire turned to me, and I faltered. “Everyone gets a chance, Watson,” he said quietly. Then he turned back to the Fear Collectors. “So what’s the answer?”
No speech came.
The Doctor looked as if he pitied them. “Then I’m so sorry, but what happens next is your own fault.”
I’ll never forget the events that occurred next.
The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and shone it at the big light in the centre of the room. I heard his device hum, a very high frequency, so high I could only just catch it, and then the screaming and the flickering lights stopped.
“That’s that dealt with,” said the Doctor, as the Fear Collectors snarled in anguish and began to stumble slowly towards us. The Doctor reached into his coat pocket, and pulled out two scarlet spheres. He threw one to each of the Fear Collectors. Perhaps by instinct, they both raised their hands and caught them.
Our friend the Doctor looked at them and said softly, “Are you afraid?”
In that second, the red light from the spheres spread out and enveloped them, and with a flash they were gone. “What have you done?” I asked in horror. “Where have you sent them?”
The Doctor turned to me, and now he just looked tired. Weary and wise and fed up of saving the universe, but filled with an overwhelming urge to continue nevertheless, simply because no one else would. “Those red globes were teleport locks. I programmed the coordinates of the first so that it would transport to the lava planet of Tarasarn, where the Fear Collector will slowly burn over the next four thousand years. First, his main organs will dissolve in the heat, and on and on, all the while him screaming in consciousness, because the lava keeps you alive. It’s very long and very painful, but…he tried to do something to Earth, and he had to be stopped. The second was whisked away to an incident in the Karamoosh Galaxy, where there was a black hole and a supernova at the exact same instant. He too will die, ripped into tiny strands of flesh in the sheer power of the explosion.”
I swallowed. This man was not to be trifled with, and although peace had been restored, I’ll never forget his burning face as he watched the Fear Collectors’ fates being sealed. Never.
“Why do you always speak of human beings as if you aren’t one of us?” I asked the Doctor, as we walked down the steps of the lighthouse.
Sherlock Holmes sighed. “Don’t you see, Watson? The Doctor is an alien too, clearly one of a race of very powerful aliens; his incredible knowledge, his technology, his clothes – they are not of Earth.”
“Well, the clothes are from Earth, actually,” the Doctor put in, “but, yeah, the point still stands. Holmes is right: I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord, from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous, and I’m 1078 years old.” He then broke into a smile. “It’s funny that, isn’t it? You know how with humans, you always say you’re one year older until you reach 21, when you always say you’re one year younger. It’s the same with me and centuries. Everyone I’ve met believes me when I tell them I’m 900. 900! I was 953 about three incarnations ago, how could I be 900 now?! Do I look like a mere 900 to you?”
“No,” I said, confused. “You look about 38 years old. So you’re really an alien?”
He nodded. “Yup. And looking good for 1078, don’t you think?” he grinned. By now we were standing outside the front door of Stromness Lighthouse, looking out at the serene surroundings as the sun began to set.
The sea was bathed in that wonderful reddy-orange light you find only at dusk and dawn, and even the black rocks had lost their initial foreboding. The job was done; the Doctor had saved the people of Stromness with, if I may say so, a little help from Holmes and Watson.
“That was fun, wasn’t it? I like lighthouses – lighthouses are good. Except that one with Leela, and that other one with Rose, and this one…apart from them, lighthouses are good. And don’t you just love Scotland to bits? Did I tell you about last time I was in Scotland, with the lupine wavelength haemovariform? And the time before that where the Zygons tried to take over Earth in 1980 – or was it the 1970s? Damn. I’m always so vague when it comes to those two decades, dunno why…I really like Scotland, though, ought to grab myself a Scottish companion...Anyway, enough of my gabbling. I think it’s time for me to say goodbye now,” said the Doctor, shutting the lighthouse door. Holmes seemed downcast.
“But, how can you, Doctor, when we have only just met? When my experiences are just beginning to broaden and the scope of my knowledge stretch? You’ve taught me things I could never hope to deduce. You are the far more intelligent, Doctor. In fact, you should be England’s greatest detective, my friend.”
This actually seemed to make the Doctor angry. “Oh, no, no, no, no, Sherlock,” he gabbled. “No, no, no, no! You’re overestimating my kind of intelligence. I merely have a vast amount of prior knowledge, that’s how I know about all these aliens and things and Time Lords and sonic screwdrivers and everything like that. But you, Sherlock Holmes, this human being sitting in 221b Baker Street, smoking his pipe, compared to me, who can sail the realms of space and time, you are the more intelligent. I know all the stuff, and you don’t, but you can work it out. I promise you, Sherlock, if you went out there into the universe and saw everything, you would come to know everything there is to know about everything, because you could work it out. That’s how brilliant your mind is! So you stay as England’s number one detective, Sherlock, cos you’re the best of the best, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. You’re the genius around here!”
This cheered my friend up no end, and indeed it made me rather pleased; not only did it remind me of why my friend Holmes is such a wonderful fellow, but also it deepened my liking of the Doctor, that he could make others seem brilliant as well as himself.
“Well, Doctor,” said Holmes, “I regret to say it seems as if our ways must part.”
The Doctor smiled, and looked over at the police public call box I had noticed earlier. “Actually, perhaps I could give you a lift home…”
In a few minutes, we were standing inside Holmes’ rooms at 221b Baker Street. I don’t think I can quite describe our journey. How can I, and how would you believe me? To tell the reader tales of a police box that, from the outside, is less than a potting shed, a four-by-four sides blue wooden shape, perhaps with enough room for two or three people in the interior; but, inside, is a vast cathedral of complexities and wonders, and huge mechanics and coral and struts and wonderful rooms and knowledge beyond the wildest dreams of this earth? You wouldn’t believe me if I tried.
The Doctor was bouncing with energy as we walked out into the room. “You look like you’re at a circus,” commented Holmes. “Stand still, will you?”
But he meant it in jest, although it seemed to spark off more of the Doctor’s incessant reminiscing: “Ah, I went to a circus once! It was pretty creepy and surreal and bizarre, but it was absolutely brilliant! Run by a troop of villainous gods, of course, but brilliant, every single minute of every single part! Probably my favourite ever… Sorry. Anyway. We were saying goodbye.”
“Yes,” I said, and shook hands with the Doctor. “Goodbye, Doctor.”
He gave me a smile. “Goodbye, Watson. Keep up the good recording – I love reading Sherlock Holmes stories too…and if anyone asks you who this Arthur Conan Doyle fellow is, don’t worry, really…tell them he’s your literary agent, OK?”
“Yes,” I said. “And by the way, Doctor – did you meet Vincent Van Gogh at any point? In the late 19th-century? Because I met a man named Doctor once, who claimed he had recently met him...bow tie, tweed jacket, much younger than you, braces if I remember correctly...”
The Doctor frowned. “Bow tie and tweed jacket? No, that’s not me...as you can see, I have much more chic than that. Hopefully I won’t look like that for quite some time, at any rate...it sounds awful!”
I was put out. “I thought the costume was rather good, actually. But anyway...goodbye.”
Then the two great minds turned to face one another.
They embraced, and I can’t say I felt any jealousy at all watching them; I was truly happy that Holmes had found a man as wonderful – perhaps the word would be brilliant, or even indomitable – as himself.
“Don’t bother Mrs Hudson,” said the Doctor. “I’ll see myself out.” Then he grinned, waved one last goodbye, and said, “You were the real genius, Sherlock!” before stepping into his police box.
There was a rasping of creaky old engines, the light at the top flashed, and the blue box – which the Doctor had christened TARDIS, apparently – faded out of existence, presumably to reappear somewhere else for more magnificent adventures in space and time.
There you have it. The Adventure of the Mysterious Time Lord, in full. Since then, Holmes and I have been fascinated with aliens and space travel; no other cases like this one came our way, regrettably, but we still look back on it fondly.
The greatest mystery, though, is who the Doctor is, something I still don’t know and certainly never will. I’ve done my research into him, and after 1896 can find only six appearances of his on record: a man called the Doctor, although with a different face, rescued another lighthouse on Fang Rock in 1903, and turned up at an old priory in 1911; a different Doctor was seen in Southampton, on the eve of the Titanic’s voyage in 1912, and the Doctor Holmes and I knew was apparently present at the village of Farringham in Herefordshire in 1913; yet another man called Doctor was seen at the Cranleigh Mansion in 1925, playing cricket; and finally, Holmes’ and my Doctor met Agatha Christie in 1926 in southern England.
He is a man who remains shrouded in mystery. Through all these occasions, right up until I stopped publishing cases in 1927, the Doctor seemed to have a different face each time: perhaps there is a cult of men, all called the Doctor, who fight aliens, or perhaps he even manages to change his face. Anything is possible where he’s concerned.
But one thing’s for sure – the Doctor will live on, even though I never saw him again, in my mind, and in the mind of Sherlock Holmes, detective extraordinaire.