It’s a Ballroom Blitz
After weeks of practice, it was time for the Buckinghamshire Amateur Ballroom Dancing competition. John Benton and Sarah Jane Smith packed their glad rags and their dancing shoes and headed off to the bright lights of Buckingham.
The Doctor had declined Sarah’s invitation to come along with them stating he was far too busy with important scientific matters to attend such frivolous human activities. Sarah retorted that it was his loss and at least she knew how to enjoy herself. Her parting shot was the hope that he and his test tubes would have a lot of fun together. Consequently, the Doctor sequestered himself in his lab and was sulking.
Everyone was giving him a very wide berth. His sulks were often punctuated by eruptions, both verbal and chemical. The latter resulted in the accounting bods in Geneva asking uncomfortable questions about the repair bills they kept getting. These led to the Brigadier sulking. Nobody in UNIT wanted that. It never boded well.
The competition was being held at the Villiers Hotel. It was close enough so they could get back to UNIT in case of an emergency but far enough away to justify their staying overnight. Sarah and Benton arrived and checked in. Separate rooms, naturally. (No funny business here, thank you.)
Between them, they had come up with a cover story to hopefully quash any suspicions Sarah’s presence might arouse. They would say she had competed mainly in the North and was praying the organisers would not examine the details too closely when they registered. Or ask to see her certificates or medals.
On a personal level, the story was Sarah Smith (she dropped the Jane to be on the safe side in case someone recognised the name from her by-line), had met Benton at a contest while he was on leave and they immediately hit it off. When she moved down South for her job, (something with the Civil Service they made sound so incredibly boring that nobody would want to ask too much about it), she called him up and Voila! Dancing and romancing ensued!
Benton was quite chuffed to be her boyfriend even if was only a pretend one. He was very fond of Sarah. And a man could dream.
That evening, as he waited in the hotel bar for Sarah to come down so they could go to dinner, a voice suddenly rang out that chilled him to the bone. Not the roar of a marauding space monster or an officer looking for someone to shout at for a bit of light relief. Something far far worse. An ex-girlfriend bearing a grudge.
“John Benton! So, you managed to make it this time I see. Who’s your ‘friend’?”
Sarah had arrived a few seconds before and was standing next to him. Looking up at the voice’s owner, Benton thought he would have preferred a gang of Cybermen to walk in if he was totally honest. He knew how to handle them, but this was an entirely different matter.
Mavis had unceremoniously dumped him after the business at Devil’s End caused them to miss the knockouts for the Southern Area Championship. She was still peeved about the hours she spent sewing all those sequins on her gown for nothing. You could still see where the calluses on her fingers had been. You never truly forgave a man for that.
Come on John, Benton thought. You’ve been in worse situations than this. Only just mind. A bit of the old charm would do the trick. He made a quick mental note of where all the exits were just to be on the safe side. Military habits die hard. Well here goes nothing.
“Hello Mavis. Nice to see you. Looking lovely as always.”
Mavis’s response to this obvious attempt at flattery was a loud and dismissive sniff and she turned her attention to Sarah.
“I’m Mavis Ellis. I’m a very close friend of John. Haven’t seen you before have I dear? Where did he find you? Are you one of those women soldiers you hear about? Nice dress by the way. Very...... you.”
The magisterial spitefulness of that statement would have sent most people ducking for cover. But Sarah Jane Smith wasn’t most people. She was made of sterner stuff.
“That’s awfully kind of you. I’m Sarah Smith. Delighted to meet you Miss Ellis. John’s told me all about you.”
Actually, he hadn’t said a word and Sarah could understand why. She had met a lot of Mavises in her time and would have kept quiet about them too.
She gave Mavis a beatific smile. Mavis scowled back. Benton wondered who would slap who first and if his combat training would be enough to pull them apart. Or if it would be him on the receiving end. He sank down lower in his seat. But he needn’t have worried. Sarah was a writer not a fighter and words were her weapons of choice. And she knew how to wield them.
Mavis made some poorly veiled attempts to pore scorn on Sarah’s dress sense, hairstyle and very existence, then tried to wheedle out all the information she could about her and Benton. Once she ran out of questions, she began to bestow lavish praise on her new partner Edward, in reality a shop assistant commonly known as Ted, who, having ambled across the room, was attempting to catch the barman’s eye and failing. Miserably.
But it was futile. Sarah wasn’t taking the bait, responding to every acid word and pointed dig with exemplary politeness and suitably cryptic responses and if Mavis was hoping to make Benton jealous, that wasn’t working. In all honesty he was secretly relieved she had chucked him. Mavis had proved to be too much like hard work for his liking. Ted, poor sod, was welcome to her.
Realistically, the chances of an enraged Benton challenging Ted to a flattering, albeit incredibly lopsided, fight for her affections were non-existent. Poor Ted barely came up to Benton’s shoulder and would probably fall over if he blew on him. Mavis was also getting nothing over on Sarah and had had enough. But she was not prepared to go without a final flourish of bitch.
“Well I can’t stand here gossiping all night. I’m sure you need to get plenty of beauty sleep Sandra.”
Meow! The deliberate mistake with her name, thought Sarah, was a tad predictable but a nice touch.
“Come on Edward darling! No more drinks for you! We’ve got a competition to win, chop chop!!!”
Marching over and grabbing poor Ted, who had never managed to get his much-needed pint, Mavis made a characteristically noisy departure. Ted didn’t get a word in edge wise. Nothing new there.
Silence. Then as the barroom chat started up again, Sarah looked down at Benton. And thought some gentle ribbing would make up for having had Mavis inflicted on her.
“Why Sergeant Benton, I never knew that I was consorting with UNIT’s answer to Casanova! Any more distraught damsels I should be watching out for? Will I have to pick my way carefully through a trail of broken hearts scattered across the Home Counties?”
John Benton, having kept schtum during all this, jumped up, eager to deny such scurrilous accusations but Sarah nudged him in the ribs and said:
“Oh, I’m only teasing John. You’re a sweetheart really. A girl can tell.
Mavis is a force of nature, isn’t she? Never mind, I’m starving. I’ve heard the restaurant serves some cracking Fish and Chips!”
Next morning after breakfast, Sarah surreptitiously attempted to find out anything she could about the vote rigging. Despite all the excitement of the contest, it was why they were there after all.
While doing her make-up in the Ladies’ loo, she overheard some interesting gossip about judges with wandering hands and easily sway-able voting habits. Sarah went into a cubicle, jotted down a few names to investigate further, put her notebook back in her purse and went to collect her partner. The competition was about to start.
Benton had been watching some of the other contestants but had found his attention turning to the band. He checked his programme. It stated that the leader was a Mr Ramset. He thought he knew him from somewhere but figured that was probably from a previous competition. You were always seeing the same old faces. Unfortunately. He still hadn’t recovered from bumping into Mavis.
The band were a bit peculiar though. Not all of them, but a few looked a bit strange and slightly thuggish. And to Benton’s ears, they weren’t all that tuneful either. But he pushed his thoughts to the back of his mind as Sarah arrived for their turn on the dance floor.
The qualifying rounds took place that morning. These consisted of the standard dances (Modern Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot & Quickstep) and the competitors’ combined scores would determine who proceeded to the final that evening.
To their amazement, and Mavis’s profound vexation, Sarah and Benton had made it through. The hapless Ted had trod on the hem of Mavis’s gown midway through the foxtrot and fallen flat on his face, resulting in their elimination. He was not looking forward to the journey home. Mavis was not a woman who kept her displeasure quietly to herself.
Sarah called the Doctor before the final to see how he was and gloat just a bit. Over lunch, Benton had mentioned his observations about the band and its leader to Sarah and she repeated these to the Doctor. His disdain for such inanities was loud and clear even down the phone line. He was still in a huff. Sarah was not in the mood to deal with him, so said her goodbyes and hung up. She had a competition to win.
After Sarah rung off, in what the Doctor had thought was a rather marked manner, the name of the band leader stuck in his mind for some reason.
Ramset. Ramset. Ramset.
Sounded almost Peladonian. How did Sarah say it was spelt?
Metaphorical cogs turned in his brain and then suddenly fell into place. No. No it can’t be! Can it? Surely not? He could not afford to take any chances, so he grabbed his cape, stopping only to accost a loudly protesting Brigadier, who had been greatly looking forward to a Scotch or two and some light reading after a long day’s work.
“Oh, dash it all man I’ll explain on the way! Round up some of your chaps to come with us, as things might turn a bit nasty!”
So, after ordering Delta Patrol to accompany them, the Brigadier and the Doctor jumped into Bessie and they drove off at high speed towards Buckingham.
Meanwhile the final was well under way. After the first four group dances, the competition was reduced to the final three pairs including Benton and Sarah. Each couple would perform the Modern Waltz, their overall scores would then be tallied up and the winners announced.
Benton and Sarah were the last to take to the floor. The endless hours in the gym had paid off. They were wowing judges and spectators alike with their style, grace and footwork when a voice suddenly boomed out across the ballroom:
“STOP THIS GALUMPHING IMMEDIATELY! THAT MAN IS A VILLAIN AND A CHARLATAN!”
The music came to a grinding and untuneful halt. The Doctor, closely followed by the Brigadier, stormed onto the dance floor, swept Sarah and Benton unceremoniously aside, stood in their spotlight and gesticulated at the band leader... who slowly turned around, while three large figures came out from behind their music stands in a menacing manner not associated with your average dance band. They flanked the man at the front of the stage as he reached up, peeled off his mask and revealed the face of .........
Never one to rest on his laurels, the Master had been busy since the Doctor and UNIT had last seen him.
Following one of their previous encounters, he had been able to salvage three damaged Auton casings and some other spare parts from under UNIT’s nose and had stashed them away in his TARDIS, hopeful of finding some use for them in the future.
However, after the unfortunate business with the Killer Daffodils, every plastics factory in Great Britain now had on the wall of their security office, a poster with his picture on it above the words:
“HIGHLY DANGEROUS! DO NOT APPROACH! IF SPOTTED REPORT AT ONCE!!!”
in very large letters, next to a UNIT hotline number. So, using one of those was out of the question. But he refused to be stymied by such a piffling setback.
He had cobbled the Autons back together into something close to fully functional. Their wrist-guns no longer worked but they were imposing and extremely strong.
If he could get them to work that is.
The Nestene Consciousness that animated them previously was not an option. Even if they had been, he couldn’t see them cooperating. Having helped, albeit at gunpoint, to halt their invasion of Earth, he was most definitely in their bad books. If nebulous alien entities had such things.
His plan was he would appear on Come Dancing as a band leader, with the Autons there as muscle, take control of the airwaves and mesmerise the viewing public to perform his will and gain power that way. It had not proved as easy as he had hoped.
His first problem was modifying the rudimentary positronic brains he had installed to bring them back to life. The Autons had just about managed to master, no pun intended, the skills necessary to play the trumpet, trombone and somewhat bizarrely the triangle and the tambourine.
Why only instruments that began with a T was baffling. Perhaps some soldering had gone awry. (But that was a mere trifle.)
The next problem was running up against an amalgamation of the infamous BBC bureaucracy and the Unions. You couldn’t just turn up and say you wanted your band to appear on TV. Especially not on BBC One. Not even devious Time Lords could not cut their way quickly through the amount of red tape involved. And Terry Wogan had proved surprisingly resistant to a hypnotic suggestion to resign as host in the Master’s favour. The luck of the Irish or a side effect of kissing the Blarney Stone. Who knows?
Why, you may wonder, was the Master bothering to go to all this trouble? Why not go to the top and pretend to be the Prime Minister or Eamonn Andrews, someone with real reach, and hypnotise the nation that way? It would be a lot less troublesome after all.
The answer was well why not? It was a ridiculously convoluted and grandiose plan. But he was the Master. The Doomsday Machine? TOM-TIT? The homicidal troll doll? That extremely hirsute Daemon? Every one ridiculously convoluted and grandiose. Just the way he liked it.
So, if that meant rounding up a few down on their luck musicians, forming a dance band, adding Autons and masquerading as their leader at a small-scale ballroom dancing contest, so be it. From little acorns etc. As they never said on Gallifrey. But anyhoo, back to the ballroom......
“My dear Doctor. How like you to make such a bold and fortuitous entrance. You’ve arrived just in time.”
“In time for what, you reprobate?”
“Why the last dance of course. And your last anything!!!”
Wielding his Tissue Compression Eliminator, disguised as a rather chunky-looking baton, the Master fired off a few blasts at the Doctor and the Brigadier who both dived out of the way. The Doctor picked up a nearby chair and swung it at the Master, knocking the TCE from his hand and saw it fall to the ground and break. He stamped on it just to make sure.
A stray shot had hit a table which proved unfortunate for the judge who had dived under there for cover instead of running away. He lay there bemused as to how it was now lying on top of him, more suitable in size for a child’s tea party than providing protection from a lunatic with a ray gun.
As soon as the firing started, the air was full of screams and panic. Bits of tulle and satin trim, torn from frocks as everyone began stampeding for the exit, littered the floor. Sequins were flying everywhere. It was carnage.
Taking this as its cue, the first Auton held up its trombone and began shooting flames from the bell, scorching the curtains but nothing else. Apparently running out of fuel, it then used it as a bludgeon, swinging wildly at the Doctor. It missed his head but did leave his bouffant hair somewhat dishevelled. This made the Doctor angry. No one messed with the mane.
The second was firing bullets from its trumpet in a desultory manner. It only managed to hit the drum kit and its own foot as its aim was as bad as its musicianship.
The third had used the triangle and tambourine as projectiles but once they were gone, stood there looking a bit lost, or as lost as a homicidal robot can look.
Quickly realising that they were not facing their deadliest or brightest opponents, the UNIT team went on the offensive.
The Doctor, wielding a pair of cymbals, decapitated the first Auton with a resounding crash and a “Hai!”
The Brigadier dispatched the second with an impressive drop kick for a man of his rank and size, followed by five rounds, rapid of course, to the head.
Meanwhile Mavis, who had only stayed, hoping that Sarah and Benton would come a cropper during the final, let out a series of such ear-splitting shrieks that they overloaded the final Auton’s positronic circuits. It lay on the dance floor twitching, acrid smoke pouring from its ears. Both Benton and Ted knew that feeling all too well.
As events weren’t going his way, and his programming skills clearly hadn’t proved as proficient as he would have liked, the Master decided a dignified but hasty retreat was advised. This was foiled by Benton executing a dazzling pirouette that put himself between the Master and the door, blocking his escape route.
The Master attempted to get past but Benton punched him in the face sending him reeling. Sarah delivered the coup de grace by thwacking him around the back of the head with a violin. The Master slumped ungracefully to the floor.
There were to be no encores tonight.
The UNIT squaddies, whose Land Rovers were unable to match the speeds that Bessie’s Hyperdrive could generate, finally turned up when it was all over. All that was left was to clear up the mess.
So that’s what they did, while surreptitiously flirting with the few brave women contestants, who had wandered back in once all the shouting had died down, and had stayed at the sight of some nice-looking blokes in uniform.
Unfortunately, this meant that the men watching the Master, not wanting to miss out on getting some welcome female attention, let down their guard long enough that he snuck out the emergency exit. Handily he had parked his TARDIS in the local churchyard, camouflaged as an ugly memorial to a particularly unmemorable vicar, so he ran inside, and with a wheezing and groaning sound, disappeared into the night.
His absence quickly noted, the Brigadier made his annoyance abundantly clear to all concerned parties. He then sent out a patrol, in what turned out to be a futile attempt to recapture the prisoner, while concurrently attempting damage limitation with:
(a) the remnants of the band, who had shaken off whatever hypnotic influence the Master had held over them and were muttering about lost wages and threatening to call the Musicians Union;
(b) hysterical dancers, headed up unsurprisingly and extremely loudly by Mavis, demanding to know who was coughing up the money to pay for their ruined frocks and;
(c) a totally bewildered hotel manager, who had no idea what had happened but was wondering how he was to explain it all to the owners. And if it would affect their rating in the AA Guide to Hotels and Restaurants. He could see it now:
“The beds were very comfortable and provided an excellent night’s sleep. A delicious breakfast was served by the cheerful and diligent waiting staff. It was unfortunate that the disruption resulting from the abortive robot killing spree in the ballroom took the shine off the stay for this reviewer. One Star. “
It was early the next morning before the situation was sorted. Compensation had been arranged for damaged instruments, singed drapery, bedraggled hairdos, and tattered dresses. Wait until the bean counters saw those invoices, the Brigadier thought ruefully.
A pamphlet, stating the serious ramifications of breaking the 1911 Official Secrets Act, had been handed to all concerned parties in an attempt to hush the whole affair up. The Brigadier brushed aside any objections in a manner that even Mavis couldn’t argue with:
“No, you cannot reveal what has happened here. Or sell your story to the papers. That most definitely does apply to you Miss Ellis. Do I make myself perfectly clear or would a night in a cell help to clarify matters for you? No? Thought not.”
(Sarah was very much aggrieved when she later realised that she too fell under this embargo and made her feelings quite clear:
“Why can’t you tell me who that really was Brigadier? I did help stop him after all or didn’t you notice me hitting him with the violin?”
” I’m sorry Miss Smith, but your security clearance just isn’t high enough. Need to know and all that. And not a peep out of you Doctor or you Benton if you both know what’s good for you.”
But that is a tale for another day.)
Driving home to UNIT HQ, Benton and Sarah sat in the back of Bessie, holding respectively a small trophy and an extremely large bouquet. In the front the Brigadier was pretending to be asleep. It had been a very long night.
The Doctor spent most of the journey home pontificating about the preposterous and flamboyant nature of the scheme they had just foiled. Whilst driving a souped up canary yellow motorcar and wearing a velvet smoking-jacket, a ruffled shirt and a cape. His passengers wisely kept their thoughts to themselves.
In the silence between the Doctor finishing his rant and before he could switch to haranguing the Brigadier yet again for UNIT’s inability to keep anyone in custody for any credible length of time, Sarah managed to get a word in.
“Well it was lovely of the judges, well those that didn’t run away, to declare us the winners but I do wish it had been due solely to our dancing. We were supposed to ferret out dubious voting, not benefit from it. Oh, never mind, when’s the next contest John? I really fancy our chances!”
Benton passed the trophy to Sarah, who took it with some difficulty, as the bouquet really needed both hands to stop it toppling from the speeding car.
He took a small diary from his inside jacket pocket and began to read out some upcoming dates.
The Doctor groaned. And not for the first time, the Brigadier wished that Benton had taken up another hobby. Like jigsaws. Or darts. Or wrestling alligators. Something less hazardous. With no robots. Or Time Lords. And definitely no sequins.
Author’s Note: The dance contest depicted is fictional. It does not accurately reflect any competition in real life. The Villiers Hotel does exist, but has never had Autons or Time Lords running amok on the premises. At least that we know about.