Party Crashers

by Literal Cliffhanger [Reviews - 0]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Humor, Satire, Standalone

Act One

''So what was it like when you got the part?''

''Well, obviously I was elated...''

The interviewee then switched to autopilot, reciting the same answer to this and every other unimaginative enquiry that came his way and which his audience had heard a thousand times before, yet still kept paying to hear. Nothing about his political views, his other jobs or even what his favourite meal was: always the same questions followed by the same answers, unless, depending on the actor's mood, replies were enlivened with additional candour. His fan inquisitors weren't much better: one by one, the audience got up and posed questions which they already knew the answers to (and often ended up providing for the actor, whose imperfect recall of this job from years ago gave him cause to chuckle at their superior, almost firsthand knowledge).

However, Peter Melvyn had noticed something worrisome over his last few convention appearances: the lines were getting shorter. He was presently speaking in a one-hundred-seat function room. Unfortunately, only a fraction of them were taken, even some of those becoming empty during his talk. The indignity, thought Melvyn. He blamed the interviewers for going through the motions and resolved to think up some better questions for himself before his panels ended up being staged in a closet.

The Antebellum hotel had been invaded, staff and guests looking bemused at convention-goers in all manner of dress inspired by the various cult properties being celebrated. One travelling salesman had been so unnerved at seeing Hannibal Lecter at breakfast that he checked out that morning; Frankenstein and the Wolfman went up in the lift together with a Chinese takeaway (an alternative to the expensive hotel menu); rival superheroes staged mock battles in public areas which had been indulgingly granted their playground for the weekend. It was a curious but happy community: all races, colours and creeds united in their passion.

***

It was now Sunday afternoon and the lobby was packed with people who had been queuing for hours, numb from hearing the same anecdotes honed to perfection from years of repetition. Melvyn (nay Dunn, for that was his real name) fondly reminisced about the crowds eating out of his hand in countries where they had never heard his tales before – back home, he had learned there was a price to pay for not having anything new to say. He sat breathing fire about the current stars of a show he had fronted prior to its reboot, some of whom had started appearing at these events, their very presence reminding the old guard how suddenly outdated they were.

''How dare he!'' said Peter to nobody in particular about one of the new lot signing CDs. ''That audiobook series is my province and since they've barged to the front of the queue, my phone's stopped ringing!'' Melvyn had banked on the audios being his pension.

''You must learn not to let such silly little things bother you,'' said the languid, self-possessed actress at the next table. ''I've found Contrology a great help.''

''Fanks, Hel,'' said Peter, briefly lapsing into cockneyspeak, an affectation he had around people he felt comfortable with. ''But I embarrass myself enough in public by doing these, thank you very much,'' at which Helen laughed.

''I'm choking for a fag,'' she gasped. ''I might as well nip out for one, there isn't anyone coming over here – they're far more enamoured with that lot over there. Who could I get to sponsor me, Peter?''

''Marlboro, probably.''

She laughed again. ''Oh darling,'' she casually told the signing assistant at her shoulder. ''Just tell them I've gone for a drag.''

Peter was sat beneath a photo on the wall which might as well have been someone else, for all he resembled his younger self: lustrous blonde hair and striking good looks leaving pale echoes behind, his once graceful stance now burlesqued by a stoop. He looked anxiously at his desk: a pile of unsold memoirs at one end and a disconcertingly high stack of photos on the other. The pictures captured Melvyn in his pomp, a time which was on endless repeat in his mind (as well as on satellite), the days when TV stardom was his and the convention crowds hung on his every word. The more his mood darkened, he more the face in the photo brightened.

Peter ruminated on Eric Turnbull, the man who had replaced him as the lead in the Wormhole revival and then handed the role to his good friend Stewart Vine, the current idol. Turnbull was meant to appear as the con's star guest the day before, but had pulled out due to work commitments, promising that he would move the heavens to appear today. Melvyn wondered when he had last been able to leave a convention organiser hanging due to other work. Frustratingly, Turnbull's no-show had tarnished his halo among only a minute percentage of ticket holders. Even worse was to imagine Vine, who had an untapped potential for the circuit which Melvyn would kill to have again. How all would gaze at this shooting star! he thought, lamenting how fallen his was. How packed the halls would be! What fees he could command!

Peter was raised from the depths by a small clique of fans, whom he knew from all the other events which they followed him around to. They had returned from the bar, having discussed the show they appeared to love and loathe in equal measure, condemning the appointment of a female showrunner and the removal of the programme from its traditional Monday slot to a Tuesday. Buoyed from their collective snubbing of a convention guest they shared a mutual dislike for, the group waited to be received by their exiled king.

''Aha, I remember you boys,'' greeted Peter, fidgeting with his jacket cufflinks as if he were Prince Charles. ''It's Phil, isn't it? And Thomas, Richard and...Harold?''

''Gavin,'' corrected Richard.

''Andy,'' added Harold.

''That's it!'' replied their host. ''I may mangle a handle, but I never misplace a face!'' Peter, his actor's vanity finding this off-the-cuff wordplay amusing, paused to bask in the glow of his wit.

''We still think you're the best,'' said Tom, loyally.

''You should have seen my Godot.''

''How's it going, Peter?'' asked Phil, who was the largest and loudest of the group.

''Oh, you know,'' replied Melvyn, nodding towards those guests who hadn't spread themselves so thin. ''Old name, old hat, I think.''

''S-s-some are okay, but others I wouldn't give the time of day,'' stuttered Gavin.

''Oh, you're a poet and you don't know it!'' rhymed Peter, who by now was on a roll – he always worked best with an audience. ''Do you know?'' he asked confidentially, ''Not one of them have come over to say hello?''

''That's a scandal,'' opined Phil, who was apt to build mountains out of molehills.

''That's the way of things now,'' sighed Peter, little realising that he was fanning the flames further. As they left him with words of encouragement, his loyal subjects each had their memorabilia signed while purchasing autographed pictures. The signing assistant eagerly checked whether this was included in their tickets, just in case they got something for nothing.

''All gold passholders,'' said Peter flirtatiously, before slipping back into cockney idiom. ''You fans've got money to burn, 'aven't you?''

In full earshot of the public, an invigorated Melvyn then launched into regaling his assistant with salacious stories of other actors.

Running backwards and forwards all weekend was Brian, whose role as convention organiser led him to micromanage everything (which meant he missed all the real problems). Shirttails hanging out, he breathlessly crossed the lobby past Phil, who was having an earnest-looking conversation with his friends before surrepticiously heading for the lift. When Brian retraced his steps moments later, he and everyone else had their attention drawn to a voice which rose above all others.

''Stand still!'' cried Phil, the words issuing almost unbidden from his mouth. ''Everyone stand still!''

People looked at Phil and laughed, thinking it was someone just play acting. He stood there looking like a plum radish, purple-faced and wearing a Western-style poncho to match his cowboy stance. He then threw it back to reveal a bomb-like apparatus strapped to his chest, his belligerent and foul-mouthed warnings enough to convince any doubters that this was no hoax and they were all in very real danger.

Positioned strategically around the lobby were Phil's three partners in crime, who each produced weapons of their own. There were now gasps of terror. The bookish Andy had been so paranoid about squeezing the trigger of his gun out of nerves that he made sure the chamber was emptied of all water beforehand. In fact, the only real armament among them was the crossbow bequeathed by Tom's grandfather, which was now in the hands of his unbalanced grandson.

''Oh, please don't hurt me!'' yelped Brian.

''Now,'' continued Phil, waving the trigger wire attached to his chest. ''Everyone on the floor!''

Everybody, from fans to celebrities, followed his orders. The hotel manager, meanwhile, was made to deactivate the lifts before he and the receptionists took their positions on the floor. Phil's retinue then locked all the doors and kept watch by them, lest any stragglers from the bar or acquisitive fans from the dealers rooms wander in.

''Put your hands behind your heads!'' ordered Phil, who was used to bulldozing people, but never on this scale. Some hostages struggled over having to adopt such an uncomfortable position on the hard floor tiles. Andy felt bad for them and already began to question what on earth he had let himself be talked into. Elsewhere in the room, Peter silently cursed himself for mentioning 'the Scottish play' in his panel earlier, which he believed had wrought its havoc.

''Right,'' Phil addressed his captives. ''Everyone listen to me. Do as you're told and no one will get hurt.''

''Bit late for that,'' whispered the languid Helen to fellow actress Peg.

***

An Armed Response Unit was soon stationed outside the hotel, officers issuing a cordon to stop the gathering crowd from getting through and reassurance being offered to worried family members who had arrived to pick up convention-goers. All the while, strategy was being planned between the excitable DI McMillan and the conspicuous woman beside him with the blonde hair and psychic paper.

Act Two

Lana Bell had been procrastinating all day long. The boss of Wormhole had done everything – watching television, pacing the floor, listening to music, even bleeding the radiators – anything but writing. Anything but having to struggle over that awful hump to hit her stride. It was like clicking into a groove, an unknowable process similar to that forgotten moment between wake and sleep. When the muse finally helped her break the dam through which words flowed, her attention once again wandered to the television, this time to news of a siege in Clapham.

***

Back in the hotel lobby, Phil continued to train his beady little eyes on the hostages while popping pills for his blood pressure.

''Here, Phil!'' said Gavin, who was sat at reception on the hotel laptop. ''It's all over the web!''

Indeed, the siege was now headline news, with the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and other party chiefs each trying to top the other in their condemnations. Phil barged over and started reading with a studious frown, his eyes slowly dotting from side to side.

''I'm not being funny, Phil,'' said the grungy Tom two solid minutes later, ''but how come it takes you so damn long to read?''

''I need to take in everything!'' growled Phil. He then started reading phrases under his breath with mounting excitement.

''Excuse me, but how long do we have to stay like this?'' Helen protested suddenly.

''Silence!'' howled Tom, who brandished his crossbow at her.

''She's right,'' added Peter. ''You do realise we'll all get rheumatic fever lying on this floor?''

Phil gasped, realising that the one person he and his cabal were doing this for (other than themselves, of course) had been left lying on the floor like a pile of damp washing.

''Sorry about that, Peter,'' offered Phil, helping up his favourite by the arm. ''Lot of things on my mind at the moment.''

''Not to worry, dear boy,'' assured Peter, his theatrical turn of phrase still intact, if not his dignity (forsaken for quite some time). ''That's better,'' he groaned, arching his back.

''Hang on,'' asked Helen. ''What's so special about him?''

''Yes, why can't we get up, as well?'' added Peg, their voices soon joined by others in a chorus of complaint.

''Quiet!'' bawled Phil. ''It's my siege and I decide who gets to stand and who doesn't!''

''So there,'' said Peg under her breath.

The room fell silent for a moment. ''I say chaps,'' suggested Peter. ''Couldn't they stay in another position? On their knees, perhaps?''

''That's an idea, Phil,'' said Andy, who was no match on his own for a personality like Phil, but could be emboldened to add his voice to another's.

Phil thought about it, his lower lip pouting under a burdened brow. ''No,'' he decided. ''I've seen how these things work on telly. The hostages always lie on the floor.''

''That's h-h-how Wormhole did it,'' chipped in Gavin from his stool. ''What was that one called again?'' he asked, clicking his fingers to help him remember.

'' 'The Long Day's Dialling','' confirmed Phil, retrieving the data from his memory file. ''Season Three, Episode Two.''

''Better than that one they showed the other n-n-night.''

''Absolute garbage,'' declared Phil, momentarily losing his concentration. ''Had to will myself through it.''

''By the way, Peter,'' said a curious Tom. ''I meant to ask, what was it like filming 'Long Day'?''

''Tom...?'' Phil shook his head, reminding him now was not the time for anecdotes. Peter was about to offer one on instinct when suddenly the phone rang. The little group eyed each other nervously and Gavin was the first to pick up.

''Let me speak to whoever's in charge,'' came the dreaded voice.

''P-P-Phil?'' struggled Gavin, furtively stroking his necklace. ''They want to talk to who's in charge.''

''That'll be me, then,'' asserted Phil, snatching the phone from his hand without even a glance. He pressed the receiver to his saggy jowl. ''Hello?''

''Who am I speaking to?'' asked McMillan, bluntly.

''Phil,'' came the forceful reply. Andy felt himself go cold inside – the police were now involved and there was no turning back.

The call had been made from a singing barbers shop where the unit had set up base across the street. ''This is Detective Inspector McMillan,'' their man said. ''What's going on in there?''

''I'll tell you what's going on,'' began Phil. ''This is a televisual revolution. The first time a sit-in protest has ever influenced a TV show.''

''I'm sorry, can you repeat that?''

''No, I won't repeat that!'' replied an aggrieved Phil. ''When I talk, I expect people to listen!''

The unit watched on, some of them pleasantly distracted by the hairdresser's melodious voice, a contrast with McMillan's slick tone. ''What do you mean by 'televisual revolution'?'' he asked.

''Now hear this,'' ordered Phil, unwittingly using nautical terminology. ''We've been ignored and messed about too long. We want to be taken seriously and this is the only way to do it.''

''Okay...''

''The show we love,'' continued Phil, his voice strained with emotion, ''has been desecrated and we want it restored to its former glory. Do you understand?''

''What show is that?'' asked McMillan, the barber's voice reaching a crescendo.

''Wormhole,'' replied Phil, his friends becoming emotional at the mention of their show in this context.

''That's a science fiction show, sir,'' McMillan was informed by his aide, the ingratiating Detective Constable Dennison. ''Tuesday teatimes at five o' clock.''

McMillan nodded his understanding, then spoke back into the receiver. ''Oh yes, Whirlpool, I've got that.''

''Wormhole!'' came the anguished reply and they all cringed at McMillan's blunder. He was dealing with fanatics here and had to tread carefully.

The detective made a profuse apology and clicked his fingers angrily at the barber, who lowered his voice to a hum. ''What is it you want, Phil?'' he asked. From the crinkling sound at the other end, McMillan deduced that Phil was reading from a scrap of paper.

''Now listen very carefully,'' dictated Phil, emphasising his words for clarity. ''We want the current showrunner, Lana Bell, and current star, Stewart Vine, to give their resignations in writing...''

Modern series staff listened in terror from the lobby floor.

''...And for the former star, Peter Melvyn, to be reinstated. Have you got that?''

Peter's eyes widened. Had his casting just been used as a bargaining tool in a hostage crisis?

''Yes,'' replied McMillan after a pause. ''You want the showrunner and the star to write in for the old actor to be reinstated.''

The resulting expletive was almost deafening. ''Who's this I'm dealing with?'' a flustered Phil asked his cohorts. ''He doesn't seem to know plain English!''

''Don't antagonise him!''

''Shut up, Andy,'' sighed Phil; Tom and Gavin also rounding on their chastened comrade for good measure. Phil stopped pulling at his hair in frustration and placed the receiver back to his ear. ''Who's this I'm talking to?'' he demanded. ''You're obviously an idiot. Who else can I speak to?''

Completely banged to rights at that moment, McMillan looked for 'DS Eccleston', recently transferred from Salford, to bail him out – little did he know that in a previous guise, she had helped Lady Christina de Souza give him the slip. Although the unit didn't quite know what they were getting with her, the Doctor briskly took the phone, introduced herself to Phil and repeated his terms word-perfect.

''You do understand that contractual situations are a matter for the broadcaster to decide?'' asked the Doctor.

''We have all their contact information at hand if you want it,'' offered Phil, whose group had been pestering the bosses for years with letter-writing campaigns.

''That won't be necessary.'' The Doctor could sense the fear in the lobby, not least that of the lost, angry and desperate Phil. ''Is there anything else?'' she asked.

''Yes.''

''Tell them we want immunity!'' whispered Tom.

Phil ignored him. ''We want a motion taken in government for the show to be run weekly, all year round on Monday afternoons.''

''Tell them we want imm—'' urged Tom, whom the highly-strung Phil waved-off like a fly.

''That will be difficult, but we can certainly request such a motion,'' humoured the Doctor.

''We also want immunity from prosecution,'' added Phil, to eager nods from Tom.

''I cannot guarantee that, Phil,'' replied the Doctor.

''Why not?'' asked Phil. ''All we're doing is staging a protest!''

''With firearms.''

''Tell them my dad's a solicitor who'll run rings round them in court!'' Gavin angrily reminded Phil.

''There isn't a chance,'' continued the Doctor sensitively, ''that you could allow a few people to go? Just as a gesture of goodwill, Phil.'' (Another poet.)

''I'll think about it,'' said Phil, whose byword was 'knowledge is power' and loved knowing things others didn't.

''Ask them if they want food,'' suggested DI McMillan, keen to save face.

''Is there anything else?'' the Doctor enquired of Phil. ''We could rustle up some food if you like.''

''So you can smuggle in a cop with the pizza?'' sneered Phil. ''I don't think so. Just get our demands sorted. And remember – we mean business!'' He then shakily put the receiver down.

''We've got enough a la carte grub to last us a month anyway,'' whispered Helen.

Peg nodded. ''At least we won't have to pay through the nose for it, either.''

***

Sipping tea from a paper cup, the Doctor stepped outside the mobile control room to join Nick, the unit's psychological profiler, who was having a sly drag on his e-cigarette. Although most had ceased taking the matter seriously, the Doctor hoped that she would be able to bluff her way through it before McMillan's enquiries to the gold commander back at the station exposed her as an impostor. She waved at Yaz, Ryan and Graham, who had little to do but look on from behind the cordon while she continued in her improbable new vocation.

''Ridiculous,'' she said, squinting up at the marksman on the barber shop roof. ''All this over a TV show.''

''They're wasting not just theirs, but everyone else's time as well,'' said Nick of the hostage-takers. Indeed they were: those equally haughty, proprietorial fans now running Wormhole had already beaten them to it.

The two Doctors' gaze was then drawn to a brilliant bright light from across the street which momentarily blinded them. They soon realised that it was the sun shining off what appeared to be silver armour. AFOs spoke on their radios and McMillan rushed out to let the gilded one through the police cordon. Striding forth was a handsome, golden-haired knight drawn straight from a fairytale.

''Who's this?'' asked Nick, his drag thwarted.

Like most seemingly magical moments, its explanation became clear afterwards. As the knight moved closer, the Doctor recognised him from somewhere, but couldn't place the name.

''Mr. Turnbull's here to offer his help,'' McMillan breathlessly announced.

''Yeah, I came up from the New Forest as soon as I heard,'' said the concerned actor. ''Is there anything I can do?''

Back in the lobby, Tom fanned a thespian who was so emotionally drained by the trauma that he had to be helped into a seat and given water. Meanwhile, Peter conferred with Phil.

''I sympathise completely with your motives,'' he allowed. ''But if I am to help you, there must be no killing.'' He was beginning to sound just like his character on television.

''Scout's honour, Pete,'' replied his number one fan.

''Now the right thing to do,'' counselled Peter, ''would be to let some people go. Just to keep on the good side of the police.''

Hoping to be among them was Brian, who appeared to have lost his mind from all the trials of running the convention, not least the fact that it may now be his last.

''Hey Phil,'' asked Tom, rubbing his stubbled chin. ''How come you didn't tell the cops whether you'd let anyone go?''

''It'll make them sweat,'' replied Phil, himself perspiring heavily by now. ''They'll know we're cool customers.'' He was anything but.

The phone rang again. ''Phil?'' asked McMillan, hoping to pick up where he left off. ''Detective Inspector McMillan here. Sorry about—''

''I'm not talking to you!'' snapped Phil. The Doctor's reassuring-yet-firm voice then came back on the line.

''We have passed your concerns onto the relevant parties,'' she reported, ''and both the Home Office and the Director-General of UTC Television are involved.''

''That's good,'' replied Phil, swelling with self-importance.

''We also have Eric Turnbull here,'' she added, almost offhandedly.

''Who?''

''Eric Turnbull.''

''Turnbull's turned up after all,'' whispered an incredulous Phil to Peter.

''What?'' simmered Melvyn, instantly green with envy. Tom and Gavin both groaned with disdain at the news.

Turnbull himself then came on the line. ''Hello,'' he said, his tone sweet as honey. ''Is that Phil?''

''It's him!'' said Phil to Peter. ''It's Eric Turnbull!''

''Tell him to get back to his film set!'' whispered Peter, his direction being repeated no more tactfully by Phil. In Peter's mind, here was an opportunity, however scant, to get his old job back and Eric Turnbull, the man who had done him out of it in the first place, was still screwing him by working with the police.

''I didn't come to see you anyway!'' Phil hissed scornfully down the phone.

''Tell him neither did we!'' sneered Gavin. ''He's b-b-best friends with Swine!'' (Their name for Stewart Vine.)

''No,'' said Peter, plotting and scheming. ''Say you'll trade some of your hostages for him. He's better off in here where I can see him than out there.'' He was once more lapsing into dramaspeak.

''Are you sure?'' asked Phil.

''You don't understand what he's like,'' explained Peter, consumed with paranoia. ''He acts like he's Mr. Nice Guy, everybody's friend – but it's all show!''

''I hope they pick me,'' whispered Peg. ''I've got to be in rehearsals tomorrow morning.''

''Aren't you the lucky one?'' replied Helen.

***

The exchange had been approved and Phil was now standing at the hotel entrance, a small queue of cosplayers and celebrities herded at the door with him. The Doctor looked on anxiously, McMillan having overruled her and cleared the swap with both his silver and gold commanders. The DI saw Turnbull as his way to regain control of the operation and after agreeing with Eric that he took full liability for anything that happened to him, he and Nick finished briefing the star: no heroics, just do whatever he was told.

''We're letting the two old ladies go first!'' called Phil through a megaphone, his description of Peg and Helen causing them much offence. The actresses, both in high dudgeon, marched through the door past Tom, who closed it right behind them.

''The witch is next!'' announced Phil, as the doors swung open like some Cult TV version of Stars in Their Eyes.

''Is she flying out on her broomstick?'' someone cracked. The wart-nosed, green-skinned, pointy-hatted witch came running out towards the police, another incongruous sight in a day full of them.

''Dracula next!'' called Phil, upon which a Bela Lugosi lookalike glided forth with cape billowing, fangs baring and Eastern European laugh chilling the air.

Then came Ted Arnold, the weakened thespian, who made a meal of his entrance by emerging blinking into the light, before collapsing against the steprail and having to be helped off.

Last to emerge was a father and son, the elder with a gimmick knife in the back of his jacket. Turnbull signed an autograph for them as they passed and was then given his cue to enter the stage. ''Tell him to put his hands in the air and walk slowly,'' ordered Phil, who was an obsessive planner and doing a surprisingly good job of handling things up to now.

Foregrounded, head held high and of stern regard, Eric gracefully raised his gauntleted hands in the air and began slowly advancing into the jaws of danger, his mantle trailing behind. The police were struck at how noble he seemed, which was at odds with the resentment he inspired in Melvyn, who watched through gritted teeth at being relegated to a bit player in the unfolding drama.

''Is it me or did we just lead a lamb to the slaughter?'' the Doctor asked Nick.

''I dunno. He looked like the cat who got the cream to me.''

Act Three

The ensuing moments were devoted to swift but thorough research. It was discovered that those holding the siege were Philip Cheadle, 32, whose social media profile described him as an avid collector, conspiracy theorist and ''lover of all things Wormhole pre-Lana Bell''; Gavin Cornes, 30, an archivist for UTC Television (who used his position to smuggle copies of unreleased episodes onto the black market); Tom Stevens, 29, a media studies graduate with a sideline in interviewing stars of a certain sci-fi show; and Andrew Blythe, 27, his hospital porter occupation being a healthy break from his obsession and whose online profile seemed comparatively sane. All were members of several Wormhole fan groups, either contributing towards or running fanzines devoted to their favourite subject, including the long-running Andromedia.

***

Turnbull made his grand entrance in the hotel, having the door held open for him under very different circumstances from the norm. Upon seeing him, some hostages almost forgot themselves. What an embarrassing position to be in when meeting your heroes, they thought.

Even more epic was the coming together of Wormhole's two former stars, right there before the fans' eyes – and their cameras weren't even at hand to record it.

''Peter,'' Eric greeted his predecessor. ''Long time no see!''

''On the box, that is,'' added Melvyn accusingly. ''Well, despite what you may have heard, rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.''

Momentarily awestruck by this clash of titans, Phil then recovered his wits and ordered Eric to the floor.

''I have but one thing to say,'' Eric boldly announced.

''On the floor!'' repeated Phil, but Peter advised him to hear Turnbull out.

''Let these people go,'' began Eric, also having absorbed dramatic dialogue as his own. ''It's me you want.''

''Honestly,'' scoffed Peter under his breath. ''It'll be 'Take me to your leader' next.''

Impressed they may have been with Melvyn's persuasion of Phil, but the hostages were more touched still by Turnbull's heroic self-sacrifice. Peter had been upstaged again.

Among the hostages, Eric recognised Ian Stock, one of Lana Bell's repertory of writers, who had been bracing fans of a project he'd written for Disney about a paraplegic being restored by True Love's Kiss (A tale told by an idiot, thought Peter). Tom and Gavin were at first reluctant to catch Eric's eye for fear of breaking their vow not to acknowledge him, until an impatient Tom advanced on him with the crossbow. This caused Turnbull to back up, whereupon he tripped over the prone Stock and landed on the floor with a clang.

''Come on, get up,'' said Phil. ''You're such a poor actor, I don't know why she cast you!''

The group stared at the unconscious actor for a moment, his middle-aged, yet still youthful face turning white; arms and legs hanging limp. ''I don't think he's acting,'' panicked Tom, nudging Turnbull with his foot.

''He's bleeding from the mouth!'' groaned Gavin, causing a wave of concern to pass over the room.

''If anything happens to him, we'll be in dead trouble!'' said Andy, somewhat tactlessly.

''Tom will be in dead t-t-trouble!'' corrected Gavin. There was no honour among thieves.

''I never touched him!'' protested Tom, flicking his lank hair back.

''Well don't look at me,'' replied Phil. ''Neither did I!''

An argument then ensued between the group about getting an ambulance, Peter and Andy being the two strongest advocates, with the defiant Phil and Gavin putting up resistance before finally relenting. Within minutes, two paramedics cautiously approached the hotel entrance, where they were frisked by Crossbow Tom. Phil's pack prowled the lobby nervously while the medics rolled Turnbull on his side and placed him on a gurney.

''It's all right,'' offered Peter, the scales falling from his eyes to a degree. ''I'll hold the door open.'' Witnessing Turnbull in such dire straits had made him feel compassion for his rival.

This latest development was just too much for Andy, who had been considering for a while now about how to extricate himself. He resolved that at least the group might not look so bad if they gave themselves up. ''Phil,'' he said weakly. ''I think we should call it a day.''

''What are you on about?'' asked Phil, barely listening.

''This. It's gone too far. People are getting hurt.''

''Andy?'' asked Phil.

''What?''

''Shut it.''

The hostages spoke up, concerned about Eric's wellbeing. Suddenly, a table was violently overturned and a hush befell the room. ''No!'' yelled Andy at Phil. ''It's about time you shut it!''

Tom and Gavin both looked shocked.

''I'll not tell you again!'' warned Phil, pulling at the trigger wire of the bomb attached to his person. Scattered on the floor were pictures from the fan photo shoot, Peter sporting the same rictus grin in every one.

Andy shook his head contemptuously, his reddened face now concealing his spots. ''They're not even real weapons.'' To prove it, he raised his pistol in the air and squeezed the trigger: as if in slow motion, a residual spurt of water leapt out.

''Freeze!''

Not for the first time, the lobby had its attention drawn to a lone voice. The paramedics across the room were revealed to be armed officers, their guns aimed at Phil's group. Eric was now sitting up, pleased with himself that everyone had fallen for the old blood bag trick. Phil glared at Tom, who obviously hadn't done a good enough job in his frisking.

Within seconds, the lobby was surrounded by police for the denouement. Tom and Gavin had both dropped their weapons without hesitation, each blaming Phil, who was the last remaining threat of the lunatic fringe. He stood clutching his trigger wire as if it were a security blanket. ''Keep back,'' he warned, voice hoarse and face purple as he strained for breath. ''I'm not joking!''

''It's a toy – I think,'' called Andy, second-guessing himself whether Phil was indeed deranged enough to have procured a real bomb from somewhere.

A number of people began slowly circling Phil. Among them was Turnbull, nudging Peter out of the way and determined to steal the limelight, as had been his plan all along. ''Come on, mate,'' he appealed. ''You don't want to do this!''

''Back!'' huffed Phil. ''If I can't have the show I love, no one will!''

''Come on,'' encouraged Turnbull through blood-stained lips, his armour chipped and cracked.

''Careful, Mr. Turnbull!'' advised one of the officers.

''I was like you when I was young, you know,'' whispered Eric to Phil. ''Too strong in my convictions for others to understand.''

''Back!'' wheezed Phil, who now resembled a whirling dervish.

''We both know what it's like, don't we?'' continued Eric, drawing on all his actorly skills to solicit empathy. ''To be alone. And afraid. And cold.'' That histrionic Lana Bell dialogue came in handy. His lip then began to quiver as he slowly held out a hand. ''I forgive you.''

The command was suddenly given and an exhausted Phil's arms were pinned behind his back. Once the bomb was confirmed as harmless, he was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed, bringing the 'sit-in protest' to an end. The hostages stiffly climbed to their feet, expressions of rage, gratitude and hysteria filling the air. Phil's apprehending was made worse by the hard kick to the groin he sustained from a female hostage, which left him even more winded and requiring his pills.

Then a strange thing happened: among the remaining hostages, a slow clapping of hands began gathering in pace. Eric and Peter found themselves showered with hugs, cheers and pats on the back for ending the siege and saving everyone, just like their television counterparts. While each would have rather had all the bouquets to himself, the curtain call was as grand as any they had received in the theatre.

One person certainly unable to enjoy the moment was DI McMillan. Despite the action plan involving Turnbull being a success, the detective was most embarrassed at his operation being rescued by a subordinate, a female one at that. Naturally, some of his team didn't miss their chance to stick the knife in. ''You did a grand job there, ma'am!'' said Nick. The Doctor just shrugged and smiled.

Just at that moment, McMillan received word on his intercom that the real DS Eccleston was actually still up in Manchester. He gleefully turned to confront the impostor in the blonde hair and blue coat, but she had already slipped quietly away back to her police box.

***

''So how did you feel when it was all over?''

''Well, obviously I was relieved that no one was hurt. Not to mention grateful that I myself came out in one piece...''

But here, Peter Melvyn was underselling himself: he had not only came out of the siege in one piece, but a piece of hot property, his latest grilling taking place on the national news. Not only that, but his newfound popularity had revived interest in the old version of Wormhole, which led to him and Eric Turnbull both making guest appearances on the new show, where naturally they continued their duel. He still didn't forget his faithful fans and was reborn on the convention circuit, his autobiography with its new chapter flying off the dealers room shelves and the one-hundred-seat auditoriums packed out for his panels.

There were, however, some familiar faces missing from the events. Phil and his friends were initially recommended for prison terms, but the judge took one look at their blogs and gave them deferred sentences in favour of psychiatric treatment. As Peter soaked up the applause, he felt a twinge of sadness; while unable to condone their methods, he couldn't deny that the devotion of this small group of fans had done what was intended and restored him to his proper place.