"Well, this is a fine thing," the Doctor said with some frustration. "You could have picked a better time, old girl. We have work to do."
After making a few odd noises, Bessie had rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the road, shadowed by a copse of trees from the only light, a farmhouse in the distance. It was still about five miles to the old hall near Chippenham. The sky was now fully dark, with only a few stars seen through the scattered overcast of the sky.
"Make yourself comfortable, Mr. Babcock. I'll see what the trouble is." He pulled off his driving gloves, tucked his frilled cuffs into his jacket and went around to the back of the car.
John Babcock looked around the dark countryside and hugged himself to keep warm, pulling down his hat. He looked back at the odd man who was popping open the back of this odd car.
"There are no such things as aliens," he suddenly stated out loud, perhaps more to reassure himself than anything else.
The Doctor glanced up at him from where he was rummaging in the boot for a tool-kit. "Aren't there?"
"Of course not. As much as the government scientists would like the rest of us to imagine otherwise, we're really quite alone."
"Why would they do that, do you think?" the Doctor responded mildly, selecting a small set of pliers and leaving the rest of the tool-bag by his companion. He moved around him and folded up the bonnet.
"Why, for their own employment, of course. They make money off of unquestioning bureaucratic drones and gullible blokes who've read too many dime-store novels."
"Hm," he said noncommittally and looked up at the night sky above them. "So, what about all those stars?"
John gave a small snort. "What about them? We already know they're nothing but big balls of gas, orbited by great dusty hunks of rock. Twinkle-lights and gravel. I mean, not to be unpoetic about it, they're pretty and all that, but their only usefulness is really just purely decorative."
"Yes, if you want to be serious on the subject."
"Oh, I assure you, I am most serious." He knelt and reached under the bumper to feel around for something.
"Good, then we're in agreement."
"Of course. I mean about aliens. It's all such bosh. Seriously, creatures running about with two heads or four arms and all that, always a multiplicity of standard issue."
"Or two hearts, exactly. Now you, you seem like a more sensible fellow."
"So why do you work for them, really?"
"I don't. I'm merely there in an advisory role."
"Good pay? Pretty girls?"
"I beg your pardon."
"Sorry. Just wondered. You seem much too well-educated and, well, high-brow to be hanging with that lot. Military flunkies who report about spaceships and aliens like a bloomin' tabloid."
"Oh, I don't know. They have some interesting ideas."
"But not for a serious scientist like yourself, really?"
The Doctor yanked on something to tighten it. "I've always believed it's a sign of good mental health to stretch one's boundaries a little; see what the world has to offer."
"Of course, of course." John kicked his toe at the tool-bag then snapped his fingers. "I've got it. You're studying them, these UFO hunters? Are you a doctor of psychiatry, then?"
"Among other things."
"So you're an advisor for human behavior?"
"Hand me that spanner, will you? No, the smaller one. Thank you. The human mind can be an endlessly fascinating subject, don't you agree?"
"I suppose so. Seen some that put good store in it."
"For instance, take yourself. You're human, aren't you?"
"Of course. What else is there? That's intelligent, I mean."
"What else indeed. Tell me, if you met a man who told you he was an alien, what would you think?"
John laughed. "That he was in need of someone like you, apparently."
The Doctor gave him a brief smile. "Perhaps. But what if he then went on to demonstrate some ability or physical difference that truly set him apart from humankind? Would you still consider him delusional?"
"I would consider him a con man. Especially if it involved government money in any way."
"I mean, either that or he had one of those whatchamacallums, mutations. Like circus freaks, in those old circuses."
"Those were most commonly unfortunate individuals with glandular diseases or birth defects, though there were a very few honest mutations."
"You sound like you've studied that kind of thing."
"You could say so."
"So you know it's bunk."
The Doctor looked at him in surprise. "Mutations?"
"Aliens. Though that's all right. You're probably not allowed to say so and still keep your job, eh?"
He went back to tightening something under the bonnet. "As I said, I'm only an advisor."
"Oh, right. Still wouldn't be too popular around the place, showing them you know where the hidden strings are that make the little alien spacecraft fly." He twiddled his fingers in the air and gave a brief laugh at his own humor. "Or maybe you're the bloke that ties on the strings, eh?"
"I can't say making spaceships fly has been my forte of late," the Doctor answered dryly. "However, I think I've at least gotten this fixed." He folded down the bonnet and gave Bessie a pat. "Just an adjustment from some tinkering I did this afternoon. That's done it. In you go."
John climbed back into the little roadster as the Doctor put the tool-bag back in the boot, then came around, pulling his driving gloves back on. He cranked the starter and the car rumbled to life again.
"Doctor! What is that? A fire?" Mr. Babcock pointed at a light that had suddenly flared up in the distance.
The Doctor pulled out onto the road. "Looks like we're none too soon. They may need help."
"It's miles! There's no way we can get there in time to help anyone. Strange. Looks like an electrical fire or something. Shouldn't we just call the police or fire department?"
The Doctor ignored him. "Hang on, Mr. Babcock. I've made a few improvements to old Bessie here, she can get us there more quickly than you think."
"What? I….heeeey! Whoaaah!" John cried as his hat whipped off his head. "What…?!"
"Now be still! I need to concentrate on driving," the Doctor shouted at him over the wind now roaring about the car. John subsided, his hands clutching the seat, his eyes round with fear as the Doctor neatly dodged around a dark lorry John hadn't even had time to register was there.