The Doctor's return to Nest Cottage lands him in trouble when a key component from the TARDIS disappears. Mrs Wibbsey is inadvertently responsible, but all she can offer in recompense is a bag containing four curious objects. It seems that each one is a clue, and the beginning of a chase through time.
In ancient Sussex they are apprehended by primitive tribesfolk, and mistaken for wizards. Can the revered goddess Wibbsentia get them out of hot water?
Who is the fearful wizard in the neighbouring village, and why is the countryside littered with bodies?
The Doctor and Mrs Wibbsey are about to discover that all is not right with history...
The Fourth Doctor returns to Nest Cottage, his “vacation home” of sorts in West Surrey, just before Christmas 2010. He spends some time buttering up his housekeeper, Mrs. Wibbsey, who is from Cromer, 1932 (having been rescued and brought here by the Doctor in preceding series Hornet’s Nest). He is here to relax, and to complete some repairs on the TARDIS; as a result, he disassembles much of the console in the parlour. He gets into trouble, however, when she sells some things from the cottage at a church charity sale—and suspects that she may have put some TARDIS components in the sale. In fact, a stranger has bought some components—specifically, the spatial geometer—but he left a bag of odds and ends in exchange.
The bag contains, among other things, a bit of mosaic tile, and a photo of the Roman-era mosaic of which it is a part. More shocking is the mosaic itself: it is the image of the Fourth Doctor! Also, a cartoon is there, which also includes the image of the Doctor. Mrs. Wibbsey is upset at herself; but the Doctor is intrigued by the objects.
He patches the TARDIS back together as best he can, and has its navigational system analyse the tile. The tile was unearthed in West Sussex in 1964, along with the rest of the mosaic, an apparent anachronism for the local Celts of its time period. He finds a reference to a local goddess named, oddly, “Wibbsentia”…
Without the missing components, the TARDIS cannot travel in space, only in time. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, he takes Mrs. Wibbsey with him—bullies her, really—back in time. He admits that he has not been to that time period “in this body”, confusing her, but she goes along; he tells her that the reference to “Wibbsentia” implicates her in the mystery as much as him.
In the Roman era, they make their way overland to the nearest settlement, and are intercepted by a group of Celts. The Celts take them in and lodge and feed them overnight; the Elders meet to discuss the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey. The Elders hope that the Doctor is a Druid, of the “lost tribe”. He at first denies it, but—as that hope is the only thing keeping them alive—he quickly introduces Mrs. Wibbsey as a prophetess and priestess skilled in reading goat entrails. They dub her “Wibbsentia”, and promptly sacrifice a goat for her to use in divination. She plays the part well, describing a rival group, a tribe from the hills that is raiding the Celts, and getting help from a powerful wizard with a monstrous pet…it begins to become clear that she’s not faking, but actually getting a message from somewhere. And the message prophesies destruction for the Celts.
The Doctor confers with her about her message, but is interrupted by the Elders, who offer them freedom in exchange for helping them; they want the Doctor and “Wibbsentia” to go to the other tribe…and kill the wizard. On threat of death, and with no options, they accept the mission.
The next morning, the tribe sends them off, unaccompanied; Mrs. Wibbsey comments on this, but the Doctor thinks they fear the other side too much to go along. They come upon a number of dead bodies, dessicated, but with clothes that indicate the deaths were recent. The bodies seem to come from the rival tribe. The Doctor reflects that nothing in this time can kill in this way.
They reach the other settlement, which is a little better off than the Celtic village. The Doctor marches straight in and asks to see the wizard; the woman who first meets him raises an alarm and draws a crowd. With some comical misunderstanding, they meet the alleged Wizard, who admits to being a foreigner himself. He’s a nervous and stuttering man, but he invites him to his dwelling…and also, casually, he has an elephant, affectionately named “Nelly”.
The man appears to be from Rome; his hut is decorated in Roman items, and he has trained a local Briton, Metafix, in mosaic-work. (Metafix is making a mosaic of the wizard.) Mrs. Wibbsey warns the man about the Celtic tribe, which will be attacking later today. However, he seems partly unconcerned. The Doctor outs him, however; putting together several clues, he realises that the man is actually the Emperor Claudius, who should NOT be here in any circumstance! History makes no mention of him being here. It turns out that he bolted, abandoning his duties when the opportunity presented itself, during a journey; he just wanted to get away, and he’s done it. The Doctor assures him that he is, in fact, defying history, but can’t stay there; at a minimum, the Celts are about to attack, and will overwhelm Claudius’s tribe. The Doctor urges him to go home, as his presence will change history drastically. He is stubborn, and won’t go; the Doctor tries to prove he is from the future so as to convince him. Most of the Doctor’s odds and ends don’t impress him, but the Doctor plays an answering machine message of Mike Yates talking about travel plans. Claudius lets slip a reference to “it all [being] on microchip someday”, and then shrugs them off.
The attack begins, and the Celts besiege the town. Mrs. Wibbsey finds a piece of the spatial geometer in the hut; Claudius sneaks off and gives them the slip. The Doctor can’t deal with him now; he goes to confront the two tribes and end the hostilities. The Celts want to kill him; but he uses the recorded message from Mike Yates (presenting it as a message from the gods) to scare them into submission. This time, it works, and they cease fighting, and eventually collaborate to prepare for their midwinter festival.
Mrs. Wibbsey has cornered Claudius in his antechamber. It’s an elaborate room, with additional mosaics; but there’s a strange light inside, and something isn’t right. Mrs. Wibbsey suspects it might be a TARDIS, but Claudius says it isn’t; the Doctor gets them out just before the room—and Claudius—disappears. His attempt at kidnapping them failed.
The Doctor drops a suggestion that Metafix may want to change the subject of his mosaic; but Metafix tears up the mosaic. Apparently the picture of the mosaic with the Doctor was a fake…but why? And who did it come from? They have a brief confrontation with the tribesmen over the elephant—the tribesmen want to eat it—and, after rescuing it, they take it with them. Along the way back to the TARDIS, they review the other items from the bag…and deduce a connection with Paris in the 1800s. That will be their next stop—the Moulin Rouge!
- The Doctor - Tom Baker
- Mrs Wibbsey - Susan Jameson
- Female Warrior - Kate Sachs
- Male Warrior - Rupert Holliday Evans
- Wizard - Nigel Anthony
- Mike Yates - Richard Franklin
- The lost component of the TARDIS was the spatial geometer.
- This story was recorded at Fitzrovia Post.
- This story was later included in The Nest Cottage Chronicles.
- The Doctor returns to Nest Cottage. He previously visited there in the Hornets' Nest series.
- The Doctor would later return to Roman-era Britain in his eleventh incarnation in the company of Amy Pond and River Song. (TV: The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang)