Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Doctor Who: Nothing O'Clock: Eleventh Doctor: 50th Anniversary

Neil Gaiman


  Neil Gaiman



  About Neil Gaiman

  Books by Neil Gaiman


  About Neil Gaiman

  Neil Gaiman is the bestselling author of more than twenty books for adults and children, including the novels Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Anansi Boys, Coraline and The Graveyard Book, the Sandman series of graphic novels, and two episodes of Doctor Who (‘The Doctor’s Wife’ and ‘Nightmare in Silver’). He has received numerous literary honours including the Locus and Hugo Awards and the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. Almost two million people follow him on Twitter: @neilhimself.

  Born and raised in England, he now lives in the USA, with his wife, the rock star Amanda Palmer. He is Professor of the Arts at Bard University. His hair is ridiculous.

  Books by Neil Gaiman

  For children

  Chu’s Day


  The Dangerous Alphabet

  The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish

  Fortunately, the Milk …

  The Graveyard Book

  M is for Magic

  Odd and the Frost Giants

  The Wolves in the Walls

  For adults

  American Gods

  Anansi Boys

  Don’t Panic

  Fragile Things

  Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett)


  Smoke and Mirrors



  The Time Lords built a Prison. They built it in a time and place that are both unimaginable to any entity who has never left the solar system in which it was spawned, or who has only experienced the journey through time, second by second, and that only going forward. It was built just for the Kin. It was impregnable: a complex of small rooms (for they were not monsters, the Time Lords – they could be merciful, when it suited them), out of temporal phase with the rest of the Universe.

  There were, in that place, only those rooms: the gulf between microseconds was one that could not be crossed. In effect, those rooms became a universe in themselves, one that borrowed light and heat and gravity from the rest of Creation, always a fraction of a moment away.

  The Kin prowled its rooms, patient and deathless, and always waiting.

  It was waiting for a question. It could wait until the end of time. (But even then, when Time Ended, the Kin would miss it, imprisoned in the micro-moment away from time.)

  The Time Lords maintained the Prison with huge engines they built in the hearts of black holes, unreachable: no one would be able to get to the engines, save the Time Lords themselves. The multiple engines were a fail-safe. Nothing could ever go wrong.

  As long as the Time Lords existed, the Kin would be in their Prison, and the rest of the Universe would be safe. That was how it was, and how it always would be.

  And if anything went wrong, then the Time Lords would know. Even if, unthinkably, any of the engines failed, then emergency signals would sound on Gallifrey long before the Prison of the Kin returned to our time and our universe. The Time Lords had planned for everything.

  They had planned for everything except the possibility that one day there would be no Time Lords, and no Gallifrey. No Time Lords in the Universe, except for one.

  So when the Prison shook and crashed, as if in an earthquake, throwing the Kin down; and when the Kin looked up from its Prison to see the light of galaxies and suns above it, unmediated and unfiltered, and it knew that it had returned to the Universe, it knew it would only be a matter of time until the question would be asked once more.

  And, because the Kin was careful, it took stock of the Universe they found themselves in. It did not think of revenge: that was not in its nature. It wanted what it had always wanted. And besides …

  There was still a Time Lord in the Universe.

  The Kin needed to do something about that.


  On Wednesday, eleven-year-old Polly Browning put her head round her father’s office door. ‘Dad, there’s a man at the front door in a rabbit mask who says he wants to buy the house.’

  ‘Don’t be silly, Polly.’ Mr Browning was sitting in the corner of the room he liked to call his office, and which the estate agent had optimistically listed as a third bedroom, although it was scarcely big enough for a filing cabinet and a card-table, upon which rested a brand-new Amstrad computer. Mr Browning was carefully entering the numbers from a pile of receipts on to the computer, and wincing. Every half an hour he would save the work he’d done so far, and the computer would make a grinding noise for a few minutes as it saved everything on to a floppy disk.

  ‘I’m not being silly. He says he’ll give you seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds for it.’

  ‘Now you’re really being silly. It’s only on sale for fifty thousand pounds.’ And we’d be lucky to get that in today’s market, he thought, but did not say. It was the summer of 1984, and Mr Browning despaired of finding a buyer for the little house at the end of Claversham Row.

  Polly nodded thoughtfully. ‘I think you should go and talk to him.’

  Mr Browning shrugged. He needed to save the work he’d done so far anyway. As the computer made its grumbling sound, Mr Browning went downstairs. Polly, who had planned to go up to her bedroom to write in her diary, decided to sit on the stairs and find out what was going to happen next.

  Standing in the front garden was a tall man in a rabbit mask. It was not a particularly convincing mask. It covered his entire face, and two long ears rose above his head. He held a large brown leather bag, which reminded Mr Browning of the doctors’ bags of his childhood.

  ‘Now, see here,’ began Mr Browning, but the man in the rabbit mask put a gloved finger to his painted bunny lips, and Mr Browning fell silent.

  ‘Ask me what time it is,’ said a quiet voice that came from behind the unmoving muzzle of the rabbit mask.

  Mr Browning said, ‘I understand you’re interested in the house.’ The For Sale sign by the front gate was grimy and streaked by the rain.

  ‘Perhaps. You can call me Mister Rabbit. Ask me what time it is.’

  Mr Browning knew that he ought to call the police. Ought to do something to make the man go away. What kind of crazy person wears a rabbit mask anyway?

  ‘Why are you wearing a rabbit mask?’

  ‘That was not the correct question. But I am wearing the rabbit mask because I am representing an extremely famous and important person who values his or her privacy. Ask me what time it is.’

  Mr Browning sighed. ‘What time is it, Mister Rabbit?’ he asked.

  The man in the rabbit mask stood up straighter. His body language was one of joy and delight. ‘Time for you to be the richest man on Claversham Row,’ he said. ‘I’m buying your house, for cash, and for more than ten times what it’s worth, because it’s just perfect for me now.’ He opened the brown leather bag, and produced blocks of money, each block containing five hundred (‘Count them, go on, count them’) crisp fifty-pound notes, and two plastic supermarket shopping bags, into which he placed the blocks of currency.

  Mr Browning inspected the money. It appeared to be real.

  ‘I …’ He hesitated. What did he need to do? ‘I’ll need a few days. To bank it. Make sure it’s real. And we’ll need to draw up contracts, obviously.’

  ‘Contract’s already drawn up,’ said the man in the rabbit mask. ‘Sign here. If the bank says there’s anything funny about the money, you can keep it and the house. I will be back on Saturday to take vacant possession.
You can get everything out by then, can’t you?’

  ‘I don’t know,’ said Mr Browning. Then: ‘I’m sure I can. I mean, of course.’

  ‘I’ll be here on Saturday,’ said the man in the rabbit mask.

  ‘This is a very unusual way of doing business,’ said Mr Browning. He was standing at his front door holding two shopping bags, containing £750,000.

  ‘Yes,’ agreed the man in the rabbit mask. ‘It is. See you on Saturday, then.’

  He walked away. Mr Browning was relieved to see him go. He had been seized by the irrational conviction that, were he to remove the rabbit mask, there would be nothing underneath.

  Polly went upstairs to tell her diary everything she had seen and heard.

  On Thursday, a tall young man with a tweed jacket and a bow-tie knocked on the door. There was nobody at home, so nobody answered, and, after walking round the house, he went away.

  On Saturday, Mr Browning stood in his empty kitchen. He had banked the money successfully, which had wiped out all his debts. The furniture that they had wanted to keep had been put into a removals van and sent to Mr Browning’s uncle, who had an enormous garage he wasn’t using.

  ‘What if it’s all a joke?’ asked Mrs Browning.

  ‘Not sure what’s funny about giving someone seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds,’ said Mr Browning. ‘The bank says it’s real. Not reported stolen. Just a rich and eccentric person who wants to buy our house for a lot more than it’s worth.’

  They had booked two rooms in a local hotel, although hotel rooms had proved harder to find than Mr Browning had expected. Also, he had had to convince Mrs Browning, who was a nurse, that they could now afford to stay in a hotel.

  ‘What happens if he never comes back?’ asked Polly. She was sitting on the stairs, reading a book.

  Mr Browning said, ‘Now you’re being silly.’

  ‘Don’t call your daughter silly,’ said Mrs Browning. ‘She’s got a point. You don’t have a name or a phone number or anything.’

  This was unfair. The contract was made out, and the buyer’s name was clearly written on it: N. M. de Plume. There was an address, too, for a firm of London solicitors, and Mr Browning had phoned them and been told that, despite the silly name, yes, this was absolutely legitimate.

  ‘He’s eccentric,’ said Mr Browning. ‘An eccentric millionaire.’

  ‘I bet it’s him behind that rabbit mask,’ said Polly. ‘The eccentric millionaire.’

  The doorbell rang. Mr Browning went to the front door, his wife and daughter beside him, each of them hoping to meet the new owner of their house.

  ‘Hello,’ said the lady in the cat mask on their doorstep. It was not a very realistic mask. Polly saw her eyes glinting behind it, though.

  ‘Are you the new owner?’ asked Mrs Browning.

  ‘Either that, or I’m the owner’s representative.’

  ‘Where’s … your friend? In the rabbit mask?’

  Despite the cat mask, the young lady (was she young? – her voice sounded young anyway) seemed efficient and almost brusque. ‘You have removed all your possessions? I’m afraid anything left behind will become the property of the new owner.’

  ‘We’ve got everything that matters.’


  Polly said, ‘Can I come and play in the garden? There isn’t a garden at the hotel.’ There was a swing on the oak tree in the back garden, and Polly loved to sit on it and read.

  ‘Don’t be silly, love,’ said Mr Browning. ‘We’ll have a new house, and then you’ll have a garden with swings. I’ll put up new swings for you.’

  The lady in the cat mask crouched down. ‘I’m Mrs Cat. Ask me what time it is, Polly.’

  Polly nodded. ‘What’s the time, Mrs Cat?’

  ‘Time for you and your family to leave this place and never look back,’ said Mrs Cat, but she said it kindly.

  Polly waved goodbye to the lady in the cat mask when she got to the end of the garden path.


  They were in the TARDIS control room, going home.

  ‘I still don’t understand,’ Amy was saying. ‘Why were the Skeleton People so angry with you in the first place? I thought they wanted to get free from the rule of the Toad-King.’

  ‘They weren’t angry with me about that,’ said the young man in the tweed jacket and the bow-tie. He pushed a hand impatiently through his hair. ‘I think they were quite pleased to be free, actually.’ He ran his hands across the TARDIS control panel, patting levers, stroking dials. ‘They were just a bit upset with me because I’d walked off with their squiggly whatsit.’

  ‘Squiggly whatsit?’

  ‘It’s on the –’ he gestured vaguely with arms that seemed to be mostly elbows and joints – ‘the tabley thing over there. I confiscated it.’

  Amy looked irritated. She wasn’t irritated, but she sometimes liked to give him the impression she was, just to show him who was boss. ‘Why don’t you ever call things by their proper names? The tabley thing over there? It’s called “a table”.’

  She walked over to the table. The squiggly whatsit was glittery and elegant: it was the size and general shape of a bracelet, but it twisted in ways that made it hard for the eye to follow.

  ‘Really? Oh good.’ He seemed pleased. ‘I’ll remember that.’

  Amy picked up the squiggly whatsit. It was cold and much heavier than it looked. ‘Why did you confiscate it? And why are you saying “confiscate” anyway? That’s like what teachers do, when you bring something you shouldn’t to school. My friend Mels set a record at school for the number of things she got confiscated. One night she got me and Rory to make a disturbance while she broke in to the teachers’ supply cupboard, which was where her stuff was. She had to go over the roof and through the teachers’ loo window –’

  But the Doctor was not interested in Amy’s old schoolfriend’s exploits. He never was. He said, ‘Confiscated. For their own safety. Technology they shouldn’t have had. Probably stolen. Time looper and booster. Could have made a nasty mess of things.’ He pulled a lever. ‘And we’re here. All change.’

  There was a rhythmic grinding sound, as if the engines of the universe itself were protesting, a rush of displaced air, and a large blue police box materialised in the back garden of Amy Pond’s house. It was the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century.

  The Doctor opened the TARDIS door. Then he said, ‘That’s odd.’

  He stood in the doorway, made no attempt to walk outside. Amy came over to him. He put out an arm to prevent her from leaving the TARDIS. It was a perfect sunny day, almost cloudless.

  ‘What’s wrong?’

  ‘Everything,’ he said. ‘Can’t you feel it?’

  Amy looked at her garden. It was overgrown and neglected, but then it always had been, as long as she could remember.

  ‘No,’ said Amy. And then she said, ‘It’s quiet. No cars. No birds. Nothing.’

  ‘No radio waves,’ said the Doctor. ‘Not even Radio Four.’

  ‘You can hear radio waves?’

  ‘Of course not. Nobody can hear radio waves,’ he said unconvincingly.

  And that was when a gentle voice said, Attention, visitor. You are now entering Kin space. This world is the property of the Kin. You are trespassing. It was a strange voice, whispery and mostly, Amy suspected, in her head.

  ‘This is Earth,’ called Amy. ‘It doesn’t belong to you.’ And then she said, ‘What have you done with the people?’

  We bought it from them. They died out naturally shortly afterwards. It was a pity.

  ‘I don’t believe you,’ shouted Amy.

  No galactic laws were violated. The planet was purchased legally and legitimately. A thorough investigation by the Shadow Proclamation vindicated our ownership in full.

  ‘It’s not yours! Where’s Rory?’

  ‘Amy? Who are you talking to?’ asked the Doctor.

  ‘The voice. The one in my head. Can’t you hear it?’

p; To whom are you talking? asked the Voice.

  Amy closed the TARDIS door.

  ‘Why did you do that?’ asked the Doctor.

  ‘Weird whispery voice in my head. Said they’d bought the planet. And that the … the Shadow Proclamation said it was all OK. It told me all the people died out naturally. You couldn’t hear it. It didn’t know you were here. Element of surprise. Closed the door.’ Amy Pond could be astonishingly efficient when she was under stress. Right now, she was under stress, but you wouldn’t have known it, if it wasn’t for the squiggly whatsit, which she was holding between her hands and was bending and twisting into shapes that defied the imagination and seemed to be wandering off into peculiar dimensions.

  ‘Did they say who they were?’

  She thought for a moment. ‘“You are now entering Kin space. This world is the property of the Kin.”’

  He said, ‘Could be anyone. The Kin. I mean … it’s like calling yourselves the People. It’s what pretty much every race-name means. Except for Dalek. That means Metal-Cased Hatey Death Machines in Skaronian.’ And then he was running to the control panel. ‘Something like this. It can’t occur overnight. People don’t just die off. And this is 2010. Which means …’

  ‘It means they’ve done something to Rory.’

  ‘It means they’ve done something to everyone.’ He pressed several keys on an ancient typewriter keyboard, and patterns flowed across the screen that hung above the TARDIS console. ‘I couldn’t hear them … they couldn’t hear me. You could hear both of us. Limited telepathic broadcast, but only on human frequencies. Hmm. Aha! Summer of 1984! That’s the divergence point …’ His hands began turning, twiddling and pushing levers, pumps, switches and something small that went ding.

  ‘Where’s Rory? I want him, right now,’ demanded Amy as the TARDIS lurched away into space and time. The Doctor had only briefly met her fiancé, Rory Williams, once before. She didn’t think the Doctor understood what she saw in Rory. Some days, she was not entirely sure what she saw in Rory. But she was certain of this: nobody took her fiancé away from her.