12: The Death of Art
Scaroth surveyed the bleak landscape with weariness. For a moment, he thought he could see something glinting across the horizon. He peered closer at the observation window. Was that a tall blue box with a flashing light atop he could see?
No. Scaroth dismissed the thought immediately. He had been in the control room far too long; his eye was beginning to play tricks on him.
He ignored the unappealing world around him. It was of no interest to him whatsoever. He was one of the last of a dying race.
The Doctor emerged from the TARDIS and looked around at the barren landscape.
‘Where are we?’ inquired Duggan, as he and Romana joined the Time Lord.
‘This will be the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,’ the Doctor informed them.
‘But we're standing on land!’ protested Duggan.
‘He's out of his depth,’ smiled Romana, making a rare pun.
The Doctor turned to the detective. ‘Duggan, we are where I promised we'd be. Four hundred million years back in Earth's history.’ He reached into his coat and removed a brass telescope.
‘I can see why the Jagaroth wanted to leave,’ observed Romana, looking at the dreary landscape.
‘Yes,’ murmured the Doctor, concentrating on looking through the telescope.
‘Where's Scaroth?’ she enquired.
‘He'll be here. Ah!’ The Doctor saw a spherical object in the distance and smiled. ‘There's the Jagaroth spaceship.’ He scowled. ‘The last of the Jagaroth - a vicious, callous, war-like race. The Universe won't miss them.’
‘They weren't always vicious and callous,’ Romana reminded him. ‘They were once great artists and scholars. It was only toward the end that they turned to war.’
They set off across the primeval plain, and a short time later stood looking up at the alien craft. Romana cast an eye over the damaged hull of the ship. ‘I can see why it must have exploded.’
The Doctor peered at the charred underside. ‘Yes.’
‘Its atmospheric thrust motors are disabled. The idiots will try to take off on warp drive!’
Duggan's mouth hung open in the same way it had when he'd first entered the TARDIS. He pointed up at the craft in disbelief. ‘That's a spaceship!’ he told the Doctor and Romana. Neither of them suggested he might be wrong.
Romana heard a squelch underfoot. She looked down. ‘Ugh! Doctor, what's this I've stepped in?’
The Doctor looked down and saw the sticky pool into which she had placed her foot. He scooped up a handful of the murky brown sludge. ‘The amniotic fluids from which all life on Earth will spring,’ he said, examining the stuff in his hand with a frown. ‘The amino acids, when fused, form minute cells - cells which eventually evolve into vegetable and animal life.’ He took hold of the detective's hand and slapped the sludge into it. ‘You, Duggan.’
Duggan wrinkled his face in disgust. ‘I come from that? That... soup?’ He shook his hand and most of the ‘soup’ fell to the ground.
The Doctor smiled. ‘Yes! Well... not that soup exactly, but from similar soup... probably over there somewhere. It's inert, there's no life in it yet. It needs a massive dose of radiation.’
Romana grasped what the Doctor was implying. ‘The Jagaroth spaceship?’
‘Yes,’ the Doctor confirmed. ‘The explosion that caused Scaroth to be splintered in time also caused the birth of the human race. And that's what's about to happen - the birth of life itself...’
‘Here?’ asked Duggan, interested. ‘While we watch?’
‘No. If we were watching we'd be in dead trouble - literally. We've got to stop Scaroth.’
Romana pointed behind them. ‘Look!’
In a shimmering haze of light, the Jagaroth materialised. It was still dressed in Count Scarlioni's linen suit and holding the Countess' gun. ‘Stop, my brothers!’ Scaroth called up to the ship, oblivious at first to the presence of the time travellers. ‘Stop in the name of all of us!’
‘We've got to stop him!’ said the Doctor.
There was a low hum as the ship's motors warmed up.
‘Keep out of my way!’ snarled Scaroth as he approached the vessel. ‘I must get to the ship!’
‘No, Scaroth!’ the Doctor insisted as the three stood in the Jagaroth's path. ‘You can't!’
‘I must stop myself pressing the button!’ Scaroth shouted as the hum of the motors became louder and louder.
‘No, Scaroth!’ shouted the Doctor as the motors roared. ‘No! You pressed it once. You've thrown the dice, Scaroth, it's too late for you now. You don't get another throw!’
‘I will be splintered in time again, and my people will be killed!’
‘No!’ The Doctor pleaded with the Jagaroth. ‘The explosion you set off will give birth to the human race! The moment your race is killed, another is born. That is what has happened - and will happen.’
The Jagaroth would have scowled had he a face flexible enough to do so. ‘What do I care about the human race? Pathetic scum! The tools of my salvation!’
The Doctor shook his head. ‘The product of your destruction,’ he corrected. ‘History cannot change! It cannot!’
‘I will change it!’ screamed Scaroth. He raised the gun and fired. The Doctor, Romana and Duggan all scattered at exactly the right time and the bullet whizzed past.
Scaroth turned to where the Doctor was now. ‘We can't let you change history,’ the Doctor said gravely. ‘The human race has too much to achieve, more than you Jagaroth ever could!’ Scaroth's finger tightened on the trigger again but nothing happened. He pulled the trigger again and again but to no avail.
‘You see,’ continued the Doctor. ‘For all your mighty intellect, you don't even know how many bullets a revolver can fire before it runs out of them!’
Duggan, looking at the vestiges of slime on his hand, saw his chance and took it.
It was a choice between perishing on the barren surface, and taking their chances on the ship surviving the journey to another more favourable world. Scaroth took the gamble. Reaching forward, he depressed the lift-off button on his console.
No... cried a voice that seemed to come from within Scaroth's head. No, don't press it... don't press the button...
The Doctor stared at the unconscious Jagaroth and then back at Duggan.
‘Duggan,’ he said at last, ‘I think that was probably the most important punch in history!’
Scaroth's body shimmered as he began to stir, and then faded from sight.
‘His two minutes are up,’ said Romana, ‘he's gone back to the château.’
‘The ship's about to take off,’ the Doctor reminded them urgently. ‘Let's get back to the TARDIS.’
The three sturdy legs on the lower half of the ship retracted inwards as the Jagaroth craft rose slowly into the air and hovered a few hundred metres above the ground. The silver bands around its centre vibrated and spun. The ship began to rise higher and higher into the atmosphere.
Scaroth activated the main drive. A loud grinding, humming sound filled the cabin, and the ship began to vibrate alarmingly.
Scaroth felt the g-forces from the warp thrust tugging at his weakened body. His stomach churned, and his head felt dizzy, but he had achieved what he feared was impossible - the ship had taken off.
Then the inevitable happened - something went wrong.
They reached the TARDIS as a sandstorm whipped up by the Jagaroth craft's lift-off blew around them, and hurried inside.
The last thing Scaroth heard was the sound of his people crying out in pain and then being suddenly silenced. He felt the distortion of the ship's unstable warp field as it enveloped the control chamber, tearing at his body; dragging him into the vortex of the space/time continuum...
The TARDIS dematerialised just as the Jagaroth ship exploded in a ball of flame, creating a blinding white glare that filled the sky for a full minute.
The long war was over.
‘I don't know about you,’ said Leonardo, ‘but I think they look pretty bloody similar.’
It was 1505 and they were in Firenze. Duggan had called it Florence and nearly had a punch-up with a famous Italian painter as a result.
There were seven Mona Lisas in the studio, displayed proudly side by side.
‘I suppose,’ confessed Romana, ‘that it is a very pretty picture.’
‘A computer might have been able to duplicate them identically,’ said the Doctor, ‘but couldn't invest them with any soul.’
‘I must get me one of those,’ said Shakespeare. ‘It would make all the revisions so much easier.’
‘No,’ the Doctor retorted. They had been debating over the draft manuscript of Hamlet and the Doctor had been trying to argue his mixed metaphor case while Will was refusing to reinstate the cut lines. ‘The beauty about art is that it is so flawed. If you could use a computer to get rid of all the blemishes, it would take away the humanity of the thing. So long as there are original drafts, we can see your genius and the silly bits you got rid of it in the composition process.’
‘Well,’ said Will, ‘I don't want them to see the silly bits. ‘Take arms against a sea of troubles’ is staying, Doctor, and as for that bit with the dog...what were you thinking?’
‘Sorry, K9,’ murmured the Doctor.
‘Apology accepted, master,’ replied K9 as Shakespeare set fire to the manuscript.
Napoleon raised a mug of beer. He had a chicken drumstick in the other hand. ‘To Paris!’ he toasted, and there was the clink of glasses.
‘Watch this,’ said Lisa del Giocondo when they'd all downed their pints. She grabbed a stool, rushed up to the assembled paintings, sat on the stool and automatically struck up a pose identical to that in the paintings. They all roared with laughter.
‘Pretty good, huh?’ she grinned. ‘I've had enough bloody practice at it by now!’
In Paris, 1979, Hermann came back into the laboratory, gun in hand, searching for the Doctor and his two companions. Upstairs, he had discovered the body of the Countess, and he held them responsible for her death.
As he searched the lab, the machine sprang back into life, and to Hermann's horror, a creature materialised kneeling between the projectors. It wore the Count's clothes - but had the head of something repulsive. He choked as the creature got to its feet. Hermann raised his gun.
‘No, Hermann!’ the creature implored. ‘It's me!’
But Hermann was oblivious to any claims of identity the creature may have made. He fired wildly, pumping as many bullets as his firearm would allow in the creature's direction. A bullet caught one of the projectors, which shattered.
The explosion that followed destroyed the machine, Scaroth and Hermann. It set alight the highly reactive chemicals in the storage cupboards. It managed to break the supports that held up the château.
It also managed to destroy the Mona Lisa that sat innocently on a stand in the laboratory...