The little kitchen was homely but bright with vibrant primary colours. Through the window was a neat and tidy garden, full of summer.
Around the kitchen table sat four children, alternately drinking cola, fidgeting and squabbling. The way that kids do.
Troy was the eldest, about twelve or so. He sat facing the other three from behind a cardboard screen which stood on the table, hiding his important papers. Danny, also twelve, was opposite. A curly-haired boy, chewing gum. Melissa sat on his right, a petite ten-year old with a pony tail. The quartet was completed by Tim. Also ten, he yawned loudly and fiddled with a pencil.
Lying on the kitchen table was a crude map of ruled squares, bits and pieces of paper and cardboard stand-up figures.
Troy rapped the table. "Right. Time to get started."
Danny spoke out. "Look. I want a go at being the GM for a change."
"It's my game." replied Troy, hotly. "I'm the only one who know the rules!" He glared at Danny who subsided into moody silence.
"Right," said Troy. "Danny – you're the fourth Doctor. You know ; bulgy-eyed, big teeth and long scarf. A bit of a know-all. Tim – you're Harry Sullivan. The UNIT surgeon. Upper-class twit. Melissa – Sarah Jane Smith. Women's Lib journalist."
Melissa wrinkled her nose and did her own bit for Women's Lib. "Why can't I be the Doctor? I'd like to be the Doctor for once."
Tim hooted. "A girl playing the Doctor? Ha!"
Danny blew a raspberry.
"OK. Simmer down." Troy unfolded a piece of paper behind his screen. "I'll set the scene."
The Tardis has landed on a futuristic seabase on the ocean floor ("Ooh, makes a change from a space station!" exclaimed Melissa). It's a bit dark and gloomy. There is nobody about. The Doctor says that the base is a small one, mostly automated but with a rwo-man crew. They are quite common on Earth in the twenty-third century and used for deep-sea research. You walk down a passageway and come to a sealed door...
"I don't like it," said Sarah Jane, her voice echoing hollowly. "This place gives me the creeps."
"Don't worry, old girl. I'm here," said Harry, breezily.
"Oh, I feel better already," gushed Sarah, but Harry was immune to sarcasm. "Why is it so dark and cold?"
"It's on a power-conservation setting," said the Doctor. He was bending down, looking at a small box of flashing lights mounted on the wall next to the sealed door.
"Can you open it?" asked Harry.
The Doctor straightened up. "It's a six-ply Codex Luminator. I haven't seen one of these for a while. Used a lot in the twenty-third century. Normally uncrackable. Even the sonic screwdriver is no good against one of these. But as I said, this place is running on minimal power. There's every chance." He started jabbing at the touch-sensitive panel.
"How many combinations?" asked Harry
"Only about four billion in this state."
"Four billion!" exclaimed Sarah, loudly. "How long's that going to take?"
"Oh, give me ten minutes," said the Doctor with a toothy smile.
Troy passed a piece of paper across the kitchen table to the others.
"That's the code. You need to work out the next two letters to open the door."
Danny, Tim and Melissa stared at the letters on the sheet.
"Can't I just make a Perception Roll?" asked Danny at length.
Troy shook his head and popped in a piece of gum.
"This could take ages, "said Tim.
"Days, weeks, even months!" put in Melissa, exaggerating as usual.
Danny snapped his fingers. "Months! That's it ! The next two letters are J - J. June and July. The months of the year."
They looked expectantly at Troy who began to read from his sheet.
There was a 'ping', startlingly loud in the quiet of the ghostly corridor. The lights on the box froze. The Doctor gave a grunt of satisfaction as the sealed door hissed open.
Sarah looked at her watch."Eleven minutes twenty seconds," she said.
"I must be slipping," replied the Doctor.
The trio stepped cautiously into a circular control room. There were various lockers around the edge as well as two other sealed doors leading off. Overhead was a transparent dome showing the sea above them, a dark swirling mist. Various screens and controls were banked in the centre of the room, blinking dimly in the half-light.
"We start looking round the room," said Danny.
Troy tossed over a few polyhedral dice to the others. Make a Search Roll each," he said.
The Doctor moved to the central controls and began flicking at some of the switches experimentally.
Harry crossed over to a rack holding of what appeared to be an underwater scuba suit, hanging limply.
"Not quite my sort of thing," he said brightly, holding up a sleeve.
Sarah, who had been opening up some of the tall lockers lining the walls to no great effect turned at Harry's words. Something fell out onto her...
Troy suddenly slammed the palm of his hand down onto the kitchen table. Danny, Tim and Melissa jumped in their seats as the map, stand-up figures and other paraphernalia on the tabletop trampolined into the air momentarily.
"Its a dead body!" exclaimed Troy, gleefully.
"Phew!" said Danny. "You scared the heebie-jeebies out of us!"
"That was the idea ! Its a man. Really, really old. Say about thirty five or even forty. His eyes are bulging and his tongue is sticking out the corner of his mouth."
"Gross!" said Melissa, wrinkling her nose.
"Tim. You can make a Medical Ability roll for Harry if you like."
Tim rolled the twenty-sided die.
"He's been strangled," said Harry after a pause. "See the marks on his neck. Quite recently, too. Probably within the last few hours."
"This means there's a murderer on the loose," said Sarah in a small voice.
"Unless you think that he committed suicide and popped himself into the locker afterwards, I am forced to agree with you," said the Doctor, with some sarcasm.
In the darkness, on the other side of the room they heard a noise.
The empty scuba-diving suit on the rack had slowly raised it's arm and was pointing at an astonished Sarah. Suddenly it's hand kind of dropped, pivoted at the wrist. They saw a glint of metal.
"Blaster Alert!" shouted Tim.
"The blaster fires at Sarah. Roll to dodge, Melissa."
She did so. "Nine."
"Shame. Just one short..."
"I'm pushing her out the way!" exclaimed Tim. " That's a plus one!"
"Alright!" grumbled Troy. The attack has missed. But the suit starts to move and gets off the rack. It stands on the other side of the room, wobbling slightly."
"Cool!" said Melissa, her eyes shining.
"A haunted diving suit! This is more like Scooby Doo than Doctor Who!" exclaimed Tim.
"Well, are you going to stand around all day?"
"We run for it!" said Danny.
The Doctor, Harry and Sarah dived for the door back into the passageway. A couple of glowing blaster bolts narrowly missed them, bursting against the wall of the control room.
"It's following us!" exclaimed Sarah, as the suit wobbled its way towards the door.
The Doctor's fingers flew across the code box and the door hissed shut.
"We've got about half an hour, " he said. "I've programmed a scrambler but it will only last that long."
"I don't get it," said Harry."That suit on the rack was empty! I could swear it!"
"Of course it was," replied the Doctor. "It's being animated by something."
Behind and above them, in the ceiling a plastiform tile slid quietly to one side. A coil of wire unraveled slowly from the gap, reaching down unobserved towards Sarah.
"Perception Check!" screamed Melissa. She rolled a 3.
"Failed by a mile," said Troy, smugly.
"We could go back to the Tardis," said the Doctor, "or we could explore further. What do you think, Sarah?"
The was no answer from the girl and the two men discovered why when they turned to look at her.
She was being throttled by the wire from the ceiling!
The Doctor and Harry darted forward. They tried to break the plastic-coated wire but it was too strong. It was tightening, inexorably, around Sarah's neck. Her struggles weakened and her eyes began to flicker shut.
The Doctor looked desperately around for ...something.
"McGuffin Roll !" screamed Danny. He tossed the D20 onto the table. "20! Top banana!"
Troy scowled. "You can find anything you want."
The Doctor found a long, lance-like object in a rack, high on the shadowy wall.
He ran back to Sarah. "Stand back, Harry! Acetylene torch!"
There was a brilliant flash from the tip of the lance, magnesium white. The wire from the ceiling parted just above Sarah's head. The wire recoiled into the ceiling and the remainder around Sarah's neck became limp. Harry caught the girl as she fell and pawed the wire away from her throat.
Sarah was unconscious, her lips blue.
Tim made a Medical Roll and they all looked anxiously at the result.
"Acute Cyanosis!" exclaimed Harry. He gently slapped her face. "Her airway seems clear but I'll try mouth-to-mouth anyway."
He bent over her but Sarah's eyes snapped open. "In your dreams, Lt Sullivan."
She sat up past a delighted Harry, rubbing at her neck which showed a couple of fading red marks. The Doctor helped her to her feet.
"Now we know what happened to that poor chap in the locker, "said Harry. "What's going on? Is this place haunted?"
The Doctor shook his head. "Plastic cable, rubber suits, integral blasters. Something with an affinity for polymers of high molecular weight."
"I know! I know!" cried Danny, excitedly, raising his hand, " Its the..."
"Nestenes!" said the Doctor, snapping his fingers." Its got all their hallmarks."
"I've never heard of the Nestenes," said Sarah, still rubbing at her neck.
"Surely you have. Shop window dummies coming to life? You must have heard of that. They arrived on Earth about the same time I did. When I was first blackmailed into working for UNIT."
Sarah and Harry looked blank.
The Doctor sighed. "You humans have a great talent for self-deception. A government cover-up I suppose. The Nestene consciousness lost its own corporeal form aeons ago. It has an affinity for plastic and associated substances. It can animate them, as we have seen."
"Speaking of which, how much longer have we got before that rubber johnny opens the door?" Harry cast a nervous look up the corridor.
The Doctor waved a hand. "Plenty of time yet," he said, breezily.
It goes without saying that just as he said that, the door hissed open and the empty rubber suit spilled out of the doorway, firing indiscriminately!
"I use my Jack-of-all-Trades skill on the acetylene torch, "exclaimed Danny, rolling the D20.
The Doctor twisted a setting on the handle of the lance. "Duck!" he cried.
There was a blast of heat as dense flames roared across the corridor. When Harry and Sarah turned back they saw the Doctor bending over a steaming, stinking puddle of molten rubber.
"Quite an effective flamethrower," he observed, tossing the acetylene lamp to one side. "Drained now, unfortunately."
Sarah wrinkled her nose at the pungent smell of burned rubber. "Now what?" she asked.
"We need to find out what the Nestenes are up to." said Tim, sipping his cola. "From what I know this isn't their normal method, skulking about on an undersea base. How did they get here in the first place?"
"Good question," said Troy.
"I think we should try the control room again, " said Melisa. "We didn't get much chance for a look 'round last time. Maybe there's some kind of Captain's Log or something..."
The Doctor gave a grunt of satisfaction as the little screen lit up on the control desk. "Good idea of yours, Sarah Jane."
"Here's the Meteorite that Gaston found on the last mini-sub recce." said a voice. The screen showed a multi-faceted globe, about the size of a football, resting on a desk.
"It's a Nestene control-globe all right," murmured the Doctor. "probably been resting on the ocean floor for ages before these unfortunate people found it."
The screen flickered. A panicked face appeared. It was the face of the body Sarah had found in the locker. "Emergency patch-in. Everything's gone crazy around here. Gaston has been dragged off by a couple of empty scuba-suits, for pity's sake! The wiring has gone mad -" The voice snapped off with a strangled gasp and the screen went blank.
"Hmm. I think its fairly clear what's happened." The Doctor paced about. "The Nestene globe was recovered from the ocean floor by the crew and brought back in here where it was accidentally reactivated, with results we have seen."
"Well where is it then?" demanded Tim, getting bored as usual.
"It can't do much damage stuck in an undersea base." said Melissa.
Danny and Tim turned to Troy and spoke together.
"The sub!" said the Doctor and Harry together.
At their words a signal beeped on the console.
"Umbillical has just pressurised! The sub's powering up," said the Doctor, reading from the screen. His fingers flickered over a few controls and a diagram of the base appeared. "Come on! We can't let it get away!"
They were at the mini-sub airlock within a couple of minutes, but they were too late.
On the floor was a body in a diving suit. He was lying on the floor in a grotesque position. Harry turned him over but he was clearly dead. The rubber suit was constricted around him, as if it was several sizes too small.
"He's been crushed to death, poor chap." said Harry.
The Doctor looked grim. " This must be the other crewman, Gaston. The Nestene obviously had no use left for him."
"What use would it have for him in the first place?" asked Sarah, puzzled.
"My guess is that it used him to carry the Nestene globe and place it on the sub. An empty suit would have insufficient density to do it. Then they just discarded him."
"And what about the sub?" asked Sarah Jane.
The Doctor put his hands in his pockets and made a face.
"It's gone. On its way to the surface where it will no doubt cause all manner of trouble." He turned to Harry and Sarah. "We've lost."
"Well, you can't win 'em all!" chuckled Troy, as he started to gather his papers together.
"Hold on a mo' " said Melissa, thoughtfully. "If the two crewmen are both dead, and the empty rubber suits weren't strong enough to carry the globe..."
Troy shot her a look.
"Go on," said Danny.
"Who's driving the sub?"
Sarah's question hung in the air.
The Doctor snapped his fingers. "It's on auto-pilot!" He started to run back towards the control centre.
Danny rolled high.
"The Doctor finds the auto sub control and overides the system." said Troy, with evident bad grace. He rolled a D20 of his own and smiled at the result. "But something has gone badly wrong..."
"I've put it on a fast-return program," said the Doctor, with some pride. "Panic over. It should be docking back here in a few minutes."
Harry was watching the approaching sonar blip on a monitor.
"Err, Doctor. What speed is that sub doing?"
The Doctor examined his panel and straightened suddenly. "15 knots...18 knots...25 knots.."
"That's a bit fast," murmured Sarah in a small voice.
"It's going to crash into us, isn't it?" said Harry, his stiff upper lip slightly wobbly for once.
The Doctor nodded.
"Then why are we standing here, discussing it?" said Sarah.
"To the Tardis?" asked Harry.
"To the Tardis," confirmed the Doctor.
As one, they jumped for the exit.
"Chase sequence!" yelled Troy, "Get ready to roll those dice!"
Tim groaned. "Why is there always a chase sequence?"
"And through dark old corridors!" put in Melissa.
Danny grinned. "This is a Dr Who scenario after all!"
As tension mounted the players rolled their dice.
They were nearly back at the police box when the sub impacted. The whole base seemed to move sideways and there was an appalling roar, accompanied by breaking glass.
The three travellers picked themselves up and rounded the bend hastily. Halfway down the corridor stood their goal. At the other end was a wall of grey water and debris, rushing towards them.
Despite a last minute fumble by the Doctor he opened the doors of the Tardis just in time and bounded inside, followed by his companions. The police box faded away just as the wall of water reached it.
The seabase imploded.
In the bright little kitchen there was no sound, save for the scraping of chair legs as the four children stood with a simultaneous formality.
They regarded each other for a moment and then their outlines shimmered. They changed.
Danny was replaced by the Doctor, tall and bulky in his bohemian coat and over-long scarf. Tim morphed into the urbane figure of Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan and Melissa was replaced by Sarah Jane Smith.
Opposite them, where Troy had stood, was a gaunt figure; sallow faced and dressed in a rich silken coat befitting a Chinese mandarin. A small pill-box hat completed his outfit.
The Doctor touched his hat. "Toymaker," he said.
"Doctor," replied the other.
The Doctor sighed. "Aren't you getting a little tired of these silly games?"
"Not at all."
"But I always win."
"Granted, the dice seem to be running your way at the moment but don't forget -" and here the Toymaker leaned forward and lowered his voice," I only need to win once, and then you will be mine,"
The Doctor sighed again. He raised his hat slightly. "Until the next time, Toymaker."
The Doctor and his friends stepped out of the kitchen, closing the door behind them.
As they did so the room became the Toymaker's study once more. The kitchen table became his friction desk and the window once more looked out onto infinity.
The Celestial Toymaker selected a book from the shelf behind him. 'The Legends of Fenric' was its title.
Sighing, he sat down to read.
This story is loosely based on an RPG session I ran for three players more years ago than I care to remember. And yes – I DID slam my hand down on the table top frighten them!