We knocked this back and forth between us for a few days before agreeing a final outline, but this still contains spoilers if you've not read the book or heard the audio version read by Debbie Chazen.
Doctor Who – The Age of Heroes
27 March 2008
June is 17 and not very confident about her forthcoming A-levels. She’s on a college trip to the Palace of Westminster (not, she has learnt that morning, the “Houses of Parliament”) when she spots the Doctor. He must be important because he doesn’t have a security pass – not even the pastel-coloured stickers that they give to the tourists – and yet the policemen with machine guns let him go where he likes.
June dares to follow him and saves his life when a monster jumps out on him. The Doctor stops the monster by talking nonsense. It feeds on nonsense and illogic – so the Palace is like a restaurant. The Doctor owes June a favour and she asks if he can help with her essay. She’s got to write about the history of democracy.
The Doctor says he knows a thing or two about history. Seeing history live – touching it, smelling it, getting your fingers dirty – is more exciting than dusty old books. But as they set the coordinates for the golden age of ancient Athens, he picks up a signal from an alien spaceship that’s got into trouble. They’re going to have to make a quick detour.
They arrive in Athens, 1687 AD. The Venetians are at war with the Turks. There’s a Turkish garrison in the temple up on the rock overlooking the town – the Parthenon is pretty much complete and looking good for its 2,000 years. For a brief moment June and the Doctor are separated and June realises she could be stranded in the primitive past. There’s something odd about the war though; both sides accusing the other of using strange and magical weapons.
The Doctor and June are reunited. They get away from the fighting Turks and Venetians and investigate the distress signal. They soon discover a party of Slitheen.
But it emerges that they’re not there to muck up the war. They just want to keep everyone away from a grotto of stalactites and stalagmites which they’re using for some nefarious purpose.
The Slitheen are, though, fascinated by the Doctor and June – who must, they think, be using some kind of warp-core technology to journey back in time. And even schoolkids know that warp-cores are dangerously unstable. So the Doctor finds himself arrested as a dangerous maniac, when that’s what he normally accuses the Slitheen of.
June helps the Doctor escape, but rather than running away the Doctor insists they find out what the Slitheen are up to. It turns out the stalactites are calcified Slitheen – these Slitheen’s ancestors who were on Earth thousands of years ago.
As they get older, Slitheen suffer from hardening of their soft tissues – a bit like we suffer from hardening of the arteries. They slowly lose the moisture inside themselves, and mineral deposits build up until they can’t move. The early affects are like Calciphylaxis, with brittle skin etc. And then they harden out entirely and become like statues.
At first the Doctor assumes it is some kind of rescue operation. But the young Slitheen want to know what happened to all the loot they never inherited. When the older Slitheen won’t tell them, they throw tantrums and blow things up.
The Doctor has to intercede. The Slitheen spaceship, hidden on the top of the Acropolis, explodes. This blows up the Parthenon – history will assume the Venetians did it.
The ancient Slitheen will not survive long. But they recognise the Doctor and June, having met them thousands of years before. They’re dying, and realise the Doctor hasn’t met them yet. They say he’ll understand what happened to the loot when he goes back to meet them. And they die. June is upset by this, and the Doctor admits he’s not used to feeling sorry for Slitheen. They’re a very strange family.
But now it seems he and June have to go back in time to meet these Slitheen in the first place.
The Doctor looks through history for the Slitheen signals. He finds them – roughly the same place but about 3,000 years before. And that’s worrying because mankind is quite impressionable back then. Sophisticated, space-faring aliens mucking around with the ancient Greeks could do terrible things to the development of human history.
Having landed in about 1,500 BC, the Doctor does a scan for aliens. And there are nearly 2,000 of them in the area. They step out into a world where aliens are living amongst the humans quite openly. Spaceships and high technology can be seen everywhere.
There’s a great tourist industry running to the place, all kinds of aliens getting to mix with humanity when it hasn’t even sussed out basic architectural stuff like the arch. These aliens aren’t changing history. They’ve always been there – they’re the Gods and monsters of Ancient Myth.
At first it seems fun, but June is horrified by how the aliens pretend to be Gods to the locals. And some aliens are very badly behaved, frying the humans with laser guns just for a bit of a laugh.
The Doctor just runs off. June tries to stop some aliens picking on the humans. The aliens turn on her. She is going to be fried.
The Doctor arrives dragging some Slitheen with him, insisting he and his friend didn’t pay for their tickets expecting to get fried. He waves his psychic paper around and people assume he’s a tourist, too. And the Slitheen intercede: it’s not done to fry fellow holiday-makers.
June recognises these Slitheen. The ancient Slitheen they met in 1687 turn out to be running the tourism. They are young and sprightly hucksters, and don’t take kindly to the Doctor and June interfering.
They invite the Doctor and June back to their office for a glass of something to make up for the inconvenience. The Doctor is keen to find out more of what they’re up to so agrees to go along. On the way, the Slitheen explain the terrible complexities of this project – how they use accelerators to grow food very fast to feed the demands of the tourists, how the bookings system keeps breaking down… all the rigours of a small business.
But the invitation to drinks is really a trap. The Slitheen know psychic paper when they see it. And they assume the Doctor is some kind of anti-time-travel protestor, and the one who has been causing all the earthquakes. For the sake of saving humanity, the Slitheen will now execute him and June.
The Doctor and June escape death at the hands of the Slitheen when a half-man, half-snake called Cecrops comes to complain about how some of the other tourists are treating the locals. The Slitheen insist they’ve got a contract with the local kings that strictly agrees the terms of tourists’ behaviour.
Humans are to be respected. The Doctor uses this point of law to get himself and June released. The Slitheen get very nervous the moment anyone mentions lawyers.
Cecrops is very embarrassed about the tourist trade. He is a real humanophile, though his enthusiasm for how the little ape people slowly puzzle out problems doesn’t go down very well with June who finds him patronising.
The Doctor asks about these anti-time-travel protests, which people assume are some sort of politically correct statement that humans should be left alone to develop. Cecrops explains that he’s got problems with that ethos, too – the humans’ lives are nasty, brutal and short. June is surprised to discover she would be considered in late middle-age by being 17.
But anyway, Cecrops hasn’t seen and sabotage. He’s seen natural phenonema – earthquakes and things. It’s just the earthquakes have been really bad recently. And, as if on cue, there’s a terrible earthquake.
The Doctor, June and Cecrops try to help people. But the Doctor insists this isn’t any ordinary earthquake. It’s a warp shift; the side effect of unstable warp core technology. June remembers the seventeenth-century Slitheen saying even children knew that was dangerous.
They investigate. Yes, the Slitheen here are using some dodgily acquired warp core technology to bring their tourists here. And they’ve been greedy; the system is exhausted and sagging at the edges. There are earthquakes and other strange phenomena. The Doctor tries to fix things, but the Slitheen catch him and it’s them trying to stop him that pulls the plug on everything. There’s not an explosion; instead the whole world seems to be falling apart.
A widescreen disaster movie. The huge explosion causes a massive flood right across the Mediterranean. As described in the Greek legend of Deucalion, the rivers swell over the coastal plains and engulf the foothills, washing everything clean (the legend might also be the same route as that of Noah and Utnapishtim, but we’ll skirt round saying so explicitly). From the Acropolis they watch the great tidal wave coming in, and thousands are killed.
(I’ll probably expand this action stuff; have June separated from the Doctor and having to be a bit of a heroine. Have the Slitheen show that, though they’re greedy and dangerous, they don’t actually mean any harm.)
The floods pass; the climate and timeline just diffusing the kinks in the system. The warp core technology is wrecked so all the alien holiday makers who’ve survived now find that they are stranded. Facing this mob, and the thought of insurance claims etc., the surviving Slitheen throw themselves off the Acropolis into the receding waters – ostensibly to their deaths.
June can’t believe they wouldn’t have had an emergency escape plan, and the Doctor is delighted. He leads the aliens to the cave where, in 2,000 years, there’ll be Slitheen-shaped stalagmites. There is a small vortex pod hidden at the back of the cave. The Doctor messes with its dimensions until it’s big enough to carry everyone.
But Cecrops is one of a few aliens who want to stay. If they don’t help clear up some of this mess, he says, the humans here are all going to die.
June is suspicious of the Doctor – he seems happy to let the aliens believe that if they don’t take the vortex pod they’ll be stranded here forever. Why won’t he mention the TARDIS? But she has come to know him and she supposes he must have a good reason. Anyway, it looks like the aliens could do these humans some good.
Cecrops adopts the daughters of the dead Athenian king Actaeus. (In legend, the half-man, half-fish Cecrops, first King of Athens, taught the Athenians marriage, reading, writing and ceremonial burial.)
But with the waters all round the Acropolis, how are humans going to survive? The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to draw water from the rocks – a spring of not very pleasant-tasting water, but water all the same. And June has seen how the Slitheen provided food for the tourists. She points their accelerator at the rock and up springs an olive tree. It’s not quite what she had in mind to feed everybody, but the olives will serve as an appetizer. (This makes the Doctor Poseidon and June Athene, I think.)
There’s a party later that evening. It looks like things are going to work out. With the loss of the aliens and creatures, a new age begins. One not of Gods and monsters but of extraordinary human beings. The age of heroes.
But the Doctor is still not content. He’s not sure history is quite on course as it should be. And anyway he promised June he’d show her real democracy at work.
The TARDIS arrives in 480 BC to see the Parthenon being built and the golden age of Athens in full swing. June is appalled to discover that 17 is still considered quite old here. And that women aren’t going to get the vote until 1952 AD.
The Doctor and June soon get separated, but June has learnt a lot in her adventures thus far and is okay now to explore on her own. It seems the Gods and monsters are remembered as legends. But the town isn’t known as Athens – it’s called Cecropia.
She thinks the Doctor will make for the Acropolis to see the building work going on. And she’s curious to see the view of Cecropia up there. At first the male builders don’t see what business it is of hers, but their old, fat foreman seems pleased by June’s interest and offers to show her around.
But as soon as they’re on their own, the fat old man unzips his forehead. Creaky and old folk, it’s the last of the huckstering Slitheen – stranded on Earth for 1,000 years.
The Slitheen have been hidden on Earth for 1,000 years. They had tried to get rescued at first, and then they’d seen the difference Cecrops was making with the primitive humans. They helped out – not pushing them or inventing anything for them, but getting them to write things down so the things humans learnt could be passed on. They’ve got people telling stories, sharing ideas.
And it’s hard work because humans keep having wars and things. The Parthenon is being built on the ruins of a previous one razed to the ground just a few years ago. And the Slitheen are running out of time. They’re calcifying, becoming the stalagmites June has seen in the future. If they could reach their people there are possible cures, but they’re just going to dry out.
June knows it has to be like this because she’s seen what happens. But the Slitheen are glad to have played their part, to have written themselves into history even if no one will ever know. They’re glad that June knows.
She leaves the grotto of dying Slitheen to find the Doctor waiting for her. He left her to discover the truth for herself – just as the aliens had let humans develop their own way. Now the lesson is over and its time for June to go back home.
The Doctor takes her back to the Palace of Westminster the same moment that she left. But she’s a different person now; better and wiser for what she’s seen.
Only when the Doctor’s gone does she realise she can’t use any of what she’s seen in her essay. She hurries off to rejoin her college mates.