"... So when I ducked down behind the panel, I quickly sneaked round the back, in through the TARDIS back door, nipped through double quick to the emergency escape pod, and away I went!"
Colonel Thompson nodded vaguely, his full attention on the Times crossword. A dapper little man, still spry & active with a good head of grey hair despite being in his early eighties, he'd long since perfected the art here at Lords of pretending to listen to someone while continuing to read. He didn't know who this young man was, one of the many entertainment bods the Committee seemed keen on recruiting these days probably, judging from the flamboyance of his clothing and his manner, but he was dull company. Talked of nothing but himself. And such a wild tale too ... He flicked an eye around the members' room; only a few of the old guard remained, through force of habit more than anything else. Sign of the times, he thought morosely.
" ... Of course I have every intention of returning! Can't leave 'em in a pickle like that, even if they are my oldest and deadliest enemies." The young man took another swig of his champagne. "Then of course there's my fiancée ... the lovely Emma ..." His eyes grew distant. "Can't leave her in the lurch. A promise is a promise, after all," he murmured, but there was a doubt in his voice. He rubbed his temples.
"Mmmm ..." said the Colonel. There was a ripple of applause from the tiny crowd outside. Someone out? Yes ... not that he really cared, to be honest. He didn't regard this as a "proper" Test Match, considering the conditions under which it was being played. To a man, the current England Test team had refused to play, and were currently residing in Wormwood Scrubs. But there were always a few around who were prepared to put personal greed before patriotism, and so England were able to field a team of sorts to get beaten by Aussies again. This time, he didn't mind them being beaten.
"But I'm just not sure if I'm ready for that kind of commitment ... it is ... rather scary, don't you think?" The young man turned his pale, worried face towards the Colonel.
"What? Oh yes ... well, marriage is a big step. But worth it. I was married to mine for 40 years, before ..." he trailed off, smiling sadly. Poor old Hilda ... filthy disease! If those big green blighters want to make themselves popular, why can't they cure a few of our diseases? More likely give us some of theirs ...
"That's the thing ... she's human, I'm only half human. She'll age 20 years for my one. How can I live with that? Poor, poor Emma ... poor, poor me." The young man swallowed, not looking at all well. He shakily placed his champagne glass on the table. "Oh dear ... I rather fear this regeneration isn't going as smoothly as I'd hoped." He groaned. "Oh, never drink on a regeneration, they said ... and they were right. I think I'm starting to hallucinate." He squinted round the room. "I could swear there's a Christmas tree in that corner."
The Colonel sighed and turned the paper over. Even the crossword was getting easier. "There is," he said.
The young man looked round at him. "What? But it's Summer-time, surely ... why have you got a Christmas tree here? Is it a leftover?"
The Colonel grunted and tapped his paper. "They wanted it. They wanted to see what an old fashioned British Christmas was like."
The young man glared suspiciously at the Colonel. "They? Who on earth is they?"
The Colonel turned in his seat. "Good grief man, where have you been?" He tapped a picture in the newspaper. "The Martians! The new masters of Great Britain!"
The young man leaned over the picture in the paper then leapt to his feet with a gasp of shock. "Ice Warriors!" he shouted. The other members stirred in their slumbers. The Colonel stood up, waving a placating hand.
"Keep your voice down, old boy! They got spies everywhere, even in the MCC!" He leaned forward and whispered: "That term has been banned under threat of imprisonment by the new administration ... I wouldn't make a fuss, you know. The place is crawling with them at the moment."
The young man was shaking his head in disbelief. "I don't believe it ... I've come back right in the middle of their blasted invasion. 1997, right?" He sank back in his chair. "Of all the times to come back to ... I'm better off back with the Daleks!" He clutched at his head. "I can't even remember if I defeated them or not ... oh, what a mess! What an unholy mess!" he wailed.
The Colonel patted his shoulder. "Steady on, old boy. Here, take a drop of this ..." He passed the young man his hip flask and he took a big swig. He shuddered as the fiery liquid took effect.
"Many thanks, Mr ... er ..."
"Thompson. Edward Thompson, Colonel, Royal Artillery, retired. At your service."
The young man grinned and pumped his hand. "Colonel, I'm very pleased to meet you! I am the Doctor ... and the mortal enemy of these Ice Warrior creatures!"
Presently the Doctor leaned back from the table. "Hmmm ... so according to this story, the Prime Minister, Lord Greyhaven, and the Ice Warrior leader, Xznaal, are coming to Lords this morning with ten of the Lords of some of the most important Martian clans to sample some good old British traditions ... including Christmas!"
The Colonel nodded. "That's correct. Greyhaven appears to think that the populace will accept them more if they understood more of our ways." Christmas in May ... the blighter really was a bounder.
The Doctor frowned. "He's bringing them here to try to understand cricket? It took me ages, and I have an IQ in five figures. No, what's worrying me is having all these Ice Lords here ... Xznaal is obviously trying to bolster support for his claims back on Mars. If I remember likely, I'm already trying to get word to the Martian High Command about what this Xznaal is trying to do. But this is different - I don't recall this at all. Blasted regeneration always scrambles the brain - even my brain!" He thudded his fist into the side of his head.
The Colonel scratched his head. "Really? Listen Doctor, I don't even pretend to understand half of what you're saying, but it sounds to me like this meeting between all these chaps is pretty vital to them ... if we could throw a spanner in the works somehow ..."
The Doctor clapped the Colonel's shoulder. "Colonel, the fighting spirit of the British soldier lives on! We shall give it our best shot!" He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Of course, we could use some help ..." A smile crept across his face. "As I remember, I was with that delectable Bernice Summerfield at the time ... I wouldn't mind licking - I mean looking! - her up again. But I don't know where she is ... Allen Road?" He shook his head as he remembered. "No ... no, they all think I'm dead, don't they... Can't ask them for help. That might ruin things. Colonel, I rather fear we're on our own."
The Colonel squared his shoulders. Good-O, he thought. Just like 1940 all over again.
The Doctor paced the room, muttering to himself. He stopped in front of the Christmas tree. "Jingle bells, jingle bells ... hell's bells!" He smacked his forehead. "Of course - Christmas!" he spun round.
"Colonel, can you get your hands on some high-tension cable and a Father Christmas outfit?"
Greyhaven and Xznaal led the party through the members enclosure, Greyhaven pointing out the pictures of all the great cricketers on the wall. Rather pointedly, the remaining members all got up and left. Greyhaven smiled thinly at the frosty glances they threw in his direction.
"That's Grace, of course ... probably our finest ever. Jack Hobbs is over there ..."
Szaarn, Ice Lord of the Irianis, turned to Xznaal with an impatient hiss. "How long must we suffer this boredom? Their traditions interest me not ... especially this ridiculous game."
Xznaal held up a claw. "Patience, Lord Szaarn, patience ... we shall be here only a little while longer, then I will show something of real interest!" He raised his voice slightly for Greyhaven to hear. "I merely wanted to impress upon you that this State has many interesting traditions of its own ... they are not mere cattle, to be placed under the Martian yoke. They can be very ... useful, to us. Here, and on Mars ..."
Szaarn nodded at the hidden meaning in his words. "We might yet reach an agreement, then."
"I would welcome your support, Lord Szaarn. And the support of the others."
Szaarn leaded forward. "Let us make haste then. I find this heat intolerable, as I do the prattling of that insignificant human."
A portly man in an immaculate suit came over to Greyhaven and bowed respectfully. They exchanged quiet words, and Greyhaven looked pleased. He turned to Xznaal.
"Your Majesty, the secretary here tells me that the MCC have agreed to our suggestion for a match between our players and yours. They would like us to discuss some of the arrangements with the members. It won't take long. Why not leave our guests to enjoy the hospitality of the members enclosure..." he gestured round the empty room - "while we have a little word with them?"
Xznaal wavered for a moment. He hated talking to these humans. "Very well ... but I have much to discuss with my guests. Of vital importance!" He bowed to Szaarn and the others and left with Greyhaven and the secretary.
Szaarn and the Ice Lords gazed around the room. "What a miserable hole ..." Szaarn muttered. One of Lords picked up a sherry decanter and sniffed the liquid cautiously. It dropped it back with a shudder. Szaarn picked up a cricket bat and swung it experimentally. "Not much of a weapon ..." He rose it to his mouth and bit a chunk out of it, nodding thoughtfully. "The taste is not unappealing ..."
The door burst open and a man in a bright red suit and a large false white beard bounded into the room.
"Ho-ho-ho! Merry Christmas!" it bellowed. A couple of the Ice Lords swung their sonic disrupters round to cover it, but Szaarn gestured for them to lower them.
"I believe this constitutes part of the "Christmas celebration" Lord Xznaal has arranged for us."
"What is it?" muttered one of the Lords.
"I believe this character is called Father Christmas. It distributes gifts to Earth infants."
"In return for what?"
"Xznaal did not explain."
"Bizarre." Would this torture never end? The Lord longed for the cold tranquillity of its homeworld. It had only been on Earth three hours and already it loathed it. Xznaal was a fool.
The figure rubbed its hands together. "I'm sure Lord Xznaal explained to you that he was going to show you some of Merry England's finest traditions. I'm here to show you one of its oldest and finest ... the singing of the traditional Christmas song, 'Auld Lang Syne'."
"Do we have to?" hissed one of the Lords reluctantly.
"Ho-ho-ho, yes you do!" The figure bustled round them. "Come along, come along ... all join hands - I mean claws."
The Lords shuffled into a line and took each other's hand. Father Christmas clapped his excitedly.
"Perfect! Now, just hold this wire, please ..." he passed Szaarn a length of cable which snaked back out of the room.
"What is this?" he asked suspiciously.
Father Christmas jumped back. "Santa's Seasonal Shock!" He leaned out of a window. "Let it rip, Colonel!"
Electricity surged through the cable. The ten Ice Lords leapt and jigged as the current coursed through their bodies...
Xznaal and Greyhaven came running back at the sound of the screams. They found all ten Ice Lords lying on the ground, unconscious, smoke drifting from their bodies.
"What the devil happened?" gasped Greyhaven.
Groggily Szaarn rose himself up onto one elbow and pointed shakily from the room. "Father Christmas ..." he croaked groggily.
"What?" Greyhaven couldn't believe what he'd just heard.
"Your ... vile ... tradition ... curse you, Xznaal, and your ... miserable plan!" Szaarn fell back, unconscious.
Xznaal was enraged. "My alliance! Ruined! Someone shall pay for this!" He strode angrily from the room, bellowing for his guards and some medical orderlies. Greyhaven started to follow, ashen-faced, when he noticed a card lying on the table. He picked it up. A picture of a jolly Father Christmas grinned up at him. Inside was written:
'Positively shocking, eh? Here's to a Martian-free New Year. Yours, ?'
Greyhaven looked up from the signature, brow furrowed. "Who ...?" he murmured.
The Doctor and the Colonel strode briskly away from the ground, huge smiles on their faces.
"What a wheeze! I'd have given anything to see it!"
"Worked like a charm, Colonel. Do thank our friends in the commentary box for the cable, won't you?"
"Of course. They were only too pleased to do their bit for Queen and Country."
They stopped outside a strange looking green box, made from a jade-like material and shaped not unlike a Chinese pagoda.
"This is your time machine?"
"Well, a part of it. The real one is back on Tersurus ... which is really where I should be." He looked at the Colonel and smiled, shaking his hand. "Thanks for your help, Colonel. You've played a huge part in ensuring the defeat of the Martians. I only wish there was some way I can repay you."
The Colonel shrugged modestly. "No bother at all, old boy. Only glad to have been of service."
The Doctor looked at the pagoda, and back at the Colonel. "Look, the power in this should last for a little longer ... let's have a little trip, shall we? A small thank you from me! Now think ... is there a cricket match you'd particularly like to see? At any time, in any place?"
The Colonel rubbed his chin. "Well, I'd love to have seen a Bradman century ..."
The Doctor grinned. "Bradman it shall be! Come on, Colonel ... let's see some cricket!"