"Hullo!" said the small child, talking into the wrong end of the phone.
About five hours ago, there had been a series of explosions in this small village. That in itself was alarming enough, but the strangest part was that there was absolutely no damage done to anything in the area. The residents were prepared to forget about the violent shockwaves, but then a blanket of neon green fog rolled in and the village was evacuated.
It was a job for UNIT.
Once the townspeople had gone, UNIT had stepped in to try and get to the bottom of whatever was going on. So far, all they'd found was a toddler. The child was old enough to talk, but still too young to provide any helpful information such as his address or his parents' names. All they knew was that his name was Jeffery, and he had a little toy rotary phone with a smiley face on it.
"Hullo!" he said again, thrusting the phone at Jo. Until they could locate his parents, they'd sat Jeffery in the backseat of the Doctor's yellow roadster. Jo smiled and pretended to answer the phone yet again.
"Hello? Who's there? Oh, is that you, Santa?" The child clapped his hands and giggled. "I'm sitting here with Jeffery. You know Jeffery, right? Yes, he's been a good boy this year. Good-bye!" She hung up the phone. Jeffery clumsily dialed a few numbers and handed her the receiver.
"Who is it?" She listened intently for a second. "It's the Moon People! Hello, Moon People! What's that? You want to talk to Jeffery?" She held the phone out to him. "They want to talk to you!"
"Hullo!" shouted Jeffery as he held it in front of his face. He pressed it up against his head to listen.
Jo cupped her hands over her mouth and said, "Oooo, Jeffery! It's the Moon People! We're up here floating around. You ought to come visit us sometime on the moon," in a deep, gravelly voice. Jeffery was tickled pink at this. He dialed more numbers and listened.
"Aaaa, who's on da phone? I fink you've got a wrong numbah!" said Jo in a different silly voice. The child squealed and slammed down the receiver.
"What's going on?" asked Sergeant Benton as he approached them out of the fog.
"Just trying to keep this one occupied," Jo replied, "He'll wander off as soon as I take my eyes off him. Have we found his parents yet?"
Benton shook his head. "No. I've only just informed the police of a missing child. If they're not found by the end of the day, he's going to have to be turned over to the local authorities." He felt something prodding his shoulder and looked down to see the boy poking him with the phone.
"Hullo!" said the boy.
With a chuckle, Benton answered the phone. "Hello? …Oh, really? You don't say…Oh, you don't say,…You don't say!…Well, good-bye then."
"Who was it?" asked Jo.
"He didn't say."
She groaned at his joke. Jeffery started jumping up and down on the seat.
"Has he been much trouble?" Benton asked, sticking out an arm to keep the child from falling over.
"Not too much," replied Jo, "It's not really that difficult. Just let him do what he wants, pull him back if he starts going too far, keep him entertained, and give him lots of positive attention. Fortunately, I've had plenty of practise. Right, Doctor?"
"Hmm?" said the Doctor, looking up from his work. He'd been assembling something complicated and electrical on the bonnet of the car and hadn't heard a word. "Yes, that's right." He paused, wondering what he'd just agreed to and why Sergeant Benton found it so hilarious.
"You'd be surprised how far silly faces go with both of them," Jo whispered. She watched Jeffrey dial his phone again. "His parents are probably worried sick. I'm sure we'll be able to find them before too long."
The Doctor seemed to have finished whatever it was he was working on. He adjusted a few dials and came around to the back of the car. "When they do come back, they'll have an easier time breathing. I've activated the filter, which should clear up this fog in about an hour."
"So that's all, then?" asked Benton.
He shook his head. "No. Surely you've noticed this is no ordinary fog? It contains a specific balance of pheromones that…" he went off on a long-winded explanation that Jo assumed was very scientific and had something to do with how the fog and the explosions were connected. She lost focus about halfway through, when the Doctor stopped to stare at the plastic phone Jeffery was waving in his face.
Looking somewhat taken aback, he answered it. "Hello? Hello!" Jo tried not to let on how amused she was. "Who is this? …How did you get this number? …No. No, I'm afraid that's impossible. This is a toy phone. …Of course I'm serious! It's not even attached to anything." The Doctor picked up the base and examined it. "It's got wheels and a face. Frankly, it's the happiest telephone I've ever seen. Now what about you? …Don't take that tone with me. I'm not the one communicating though children's toys. …Well, I don't care what galaxy you're from, I'm afraid you'll have to wait. I'm already busy with one-hello? Hello?" He replaced the receiver. "They hung up," he said as he handed the phone back to Jeffery. "Let me know if they call back. There's a good lad."
He'd spoken with such conviction that for a few moments, Jo and Benton had seriously started to worry that some sort of alien intelligence had taken over the play phone. It was only when the Doctor winked at them that they realised it was all an act.
Shortly afterward, the Brigadier strode up out of the fog. "Doctor!" he exclaimed, "There you are. I think we've located the cause of the explosions. Six unidentifiable machines on the perimeter of the village, possibly alien in origin. What do you make of it?"
"Hullo!" Jeffery said cheerfully, waving the phone at him. He arched an eyebrow at the small child.
"I think it's for you, sir," said Benton.
The Brigadier answered the phone. "Hello? Yes. …oh, is it now? …I see." He passed the receiver to Benton. "You'd better handle this, Sergeant. Now, Doctor-"
"I've already figured out who's behind all this, Brigadier."
"He's an old friend of ours. I'll give you three guesses…"
Jo would have been surprised to find out that for once, it wasn't the Master. As it was, her reaction was more along the lines of "What, again?"
The whole thing had been an experiment in isolating small sections of the population at a time, keeping them a few seconds out of sync with the rest of the world. Eventually, this technology could be developed to control whole countries at a time. However, due to predictable interference (i.e., the Doctor) the Master's plans had gone awry. Fortunately for him, he still had one more trick up his sleeve.
"One step closer, Doctor, and you'll be seeing a lot less of Miss Grant," he said, pointing the TCE at Jo.
They'd ended up in an abandoned warehouse. Currently, it was a stalemate. The Doctor could either step forward and deactivate the machine, saving millions, or back off and not risk the life of his companion. Jo was standing too far away for the Doctor to reach, and had no nearby cover. The Master was far enough away that he'd be able to shoot both of them before they'd ever reach him. But the Master couldn't move forward, for it would only increase the odds of the Doctor being able to subdue him, and there was no backing away and simply leaving- once he no longer had a clear shot at Jo, he'd be apprehended quickly.
There was a moment of silence as each party considered their options.
The silence was broken by tiny footsteps. Jo gasped, eyes wide, as she saw somebody approaching; somebody who was supposed to have been waiting in the car.
Oblivious to the tension in the room, completely unaware of what was at stake, Jeffery toddled right up to the Master and poked him in the leg with the toy phone.
The Master glanced down and gave the boy an appraising look. With a quick nod at Jo, the Doctor tried to take advantage of this distraction by rushing him. They'd barely taken two steps before the Master looked back up and aimed the TCE at Jeffery. "One more step!" he warned.
"You wouldn't!" cried Jo.
The Master chuckled. "Don't underestimate me, Miss Grant. You and the Doctor step back, or you'll find out exactly how far I'm willing to go."
They complied. Jeffery poked at the dial, then offered the receiver again.
A few seconds ticked by in heavy silence.
Then the Master answered the phone.
"Hello?" he said smoothly, holding the base in one hand and cradling the receiver on his shoulder. "Well, this is a pleasant surprise. …Yes, I have time to talk. …Really? Remarkable… I was just telling the Doctor the same thing. What's that? …Why, certainly. He's right here." Shrugging the receiver back onto the base, he said, "Oh, Doctor?"
"It's for you."
With that, the Master chucked the play phone at the Doctor's head and ran like hell.
"At least you were able to disarm it in time," said Jo as she adjusted the bandage that was holding a slice of raw meat over the Doctor's eye.
They were back in his laboratory. Jeffery had been reunited with his parents several hours ago, the villagers had started returning to their homes, and the Master had gotten away once again. The Doctor was still fuming about being knocked out by a chatter phone. Oh, the bruises on his face would heal quickly enough, Jo thought, but the bruise to his ego might take a while.
"At least that's the worst long-distance call you'll ever get."