They sit in a massive white room of humming machinery. Wall-roundels and a mushroom console.
The first is a rather squat man of indeterminate middle-age. Coiffured, graying hair at odds with his casual T-shirt and jeans. A tight little beard frames a set of sunburst teeth. Dark, darting eyes animate his Latin face.
The second is a Bohemian bundle. Slouched back in an attitude of pure acidie. An impossibly long and inconvenient scarf attempts to remain fixed around his neck. Curly hair, cavalier boots, bored expression.
The third is an Elfin Princess. High cheekbones, long blond hair. Dressed in an outfit of pink and white. A homage to her companion's scarf draped with careful casualness around her neck. She is relaxed, aloof. The power behind the throne.
"This is quite a place you've got here, guys." says Julio Morales, resident of California, light years from his humble Costa Rican origins. His English is so close, so nearly correct, but he doesn't let it bother him. "I can't get over the size of it."
The swashbuckler jambs his thumb towards the internal door. "There's a pocket universe through there." His slightly bulging eyes scan the newcomer.
"What the Doctor means is that we are in a dimensionally transcendental space, Mr Morales," says the girl.
"Do I, Romana?"
"Indeed you do."
Morales focuses on the pair. Leaning forward, attentive. "What can I do for you?"
The Doctor closes his eyes and feigns sleep. Rudely.
"We have a problem. With our dog... " Romana starts.
"He knows that. He's a dog psychologist." The Doctor mutters, without opening his eyes.
Romana sighs. " He has an identity crisis. The dog, I mean."
"Identity crisis?" Morales has heard it all before. Tries to make it seem unique.
"He's not sure whether he is a dog or a computer."
" A...computer..." Morales realises that he hasn't heard it all before. "When did this all start?"
"After I took Romana to visit BharZelona -"
"Barcelona? In Spain?"
"No. BharZelona orbiting Sirius Major. Famous for its population of intellegent canines. The only thing is they have no noses." The Doctor's eyes open, glittering. He waits expectantly.
Morales takes the bait. "No noses? Then how do they-"
"Please don't say it," sighs Romana, holding up a hand. The Doctor looks disappointed. He closes his eyes again.
"What happened to your dog on BharZelona?"
"He mixed with the local population for several days and...well...he became confused. He began to bark."
Morales looks confused. "Dogs are supposed to bark."
Romana shugs. "It's the first time we've heard him bark. Ever since then he has been... well... strange. Doglike."
It is Morales who sighs now. He becomes brisk. "It is usually not the dog who is at fault. It is the owners. I rehabilitate dogs but I train humans."
"That rules us out then," murmurs the Doctor.
Morales tries again. "I am saying that most problems are caused by the humans."
"Oh I do so agree, don't you Romana? An invidious species. Don't know why I like them so much."
Morales shakes his head and tries a different tack. "Is your dog exercised regularly?"
"That's a bit problematic," says Romana. " He has some mobility issues. If the terrain is flat he has no problem at all. But if it's muddy-"
"We have to put down running boards, " puts in the Doctor. "And don't begin to ask how he gets into the Tardis..."
"Mobility issues?" asks Morales. "He has four legs I take it ?"
"He doesn't have any legs." says the girl. The Doctor smirks.
Morales gets exasperated with the pair opposite. "Just who, exactly, is the pack-leader here?"
"Me!" says the Doctor and Romana, simultaneously. Then again, "Me!"
Morales fights to regain his calm, assertive state. "Perhaps we can meet the animal in question now?"
"Certainly." The Doctor puts a whistle to his lips and blows noiselessly.
The internal door opens and the tin dog ambles in, traction whining.
"This is K9," says Romana.
The ear-sensors waggle and the tail antennae wags.
"Say hello, K9."
"Woof!" says K9. It is distorted and electronic but definitely 'Woof!'
"See? He shouldn't be saying woof," says the Doctor, animatedly. "What are you going to do about it?"
Morales is unblinkingly amazed. But, being the professional that he is, he recovers.
"I -I'd like to take him back to my pack. For a couple of weeks. I need to study him for a while."
The Doctor and Romana look at each other uncertainly.
"We don't want him to become part of a pack -" says Romana.
"We want him back as he was. You know 'yes, mistress; no master' all that kind of thing," asserts the Doctor.
"Before I can do that I need to study him for awhile. See what makes him tick."
"A couple of weeks?" asks Romana.
The Doctor nods briefly. He turns to the mushroom console and fiddles with a few controls. The central glass column pumps and the descending sound of the engines signifies their arrival.
The doors open to the Californian sunshine and a walled compound from which comes the sound of baying hounds.
"Three weeks then," says the Doctor as Morales leads K9 out on a leash.
The doors close and the Doctor crosses to Romana, who is looking up at the scanner showing Morales and K9 heading for the barred gate of the compound.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" says Romana.
The Doctor claps his hands together and surveys the controls. "Three weeks of freedom!" he chortles. "First a trip to the Crimson Nebula or perhaps Paris in the Spring -" he stops as he sees Romana's face."You're not thinking that are you, Romana ? "
"I'm thinking that we didn't tell Mr Morales that K9 is armed with a laser in his nose."
"Oh." said the Doctor. "NOW we're thinking the same thing."
He operates the controls. "Three weeks?"
The journey takes the blink of an eye.
When the doors are opened again there is the acrid stench of smoldering wood and the sky is dark. Smoke rises from behind the walls of Morales' compound. In the distance there is the sound of police sirens.
The Doctor and Romana stare at the hole in the compound wall – a K9-shaped hole.
"We have to go back." says the Doctor, dragging the girl back into the police box.
Morales is just about to unlock the compound gate when the Doctor and Romana run up, scarves flapping in unison, blocking the way.
"We've changed our minds," says the Doctor.
"Sorry." says Romana.
They drag K9 back to the nearby police box, which promptly vanishes with them inside.
Morales puffs out his cheeks. He is secretly relieved. He was not at all confident about this case...
In the control room K9 sneezes. Sneezes!
Something tinkles out onto the floor of the control room from the tin dog. A small disc of shiny metal. It came from beneath his collar.
The Doctor picks it up. "I know what this is. A neural scrambler."
"Somebody's idea of a joke?"
"Somebody on BharZelona. Wanting to make a political point, perhaps. Somebody who would prefer a dog to be a dog. I'll have to go back and debate the point one day." He turns over the disc in his hand. "A repeating personality program. A canine emulator. Am I right, K9?"
"Probability 98.4%, master," says the synthesised voice.
The Doctor pats the computer's head.
Author's note – Any similarity between Julio Morales and Cesar ('Dog Whisperer') Millan is entirely intentional!