|Series||Doctor Who book:
Past Doctor Adventures
|Set in||Period between
The Mutants and The Time Monster
|Preceded by||Bunker Soldiers|
|Followed by||The Shadow in the Glass|
On the windswept wilds of Dartmoor, a going-nowhere punk band pulls off the road while their driver, Doc, answers a call of nature by the standing stones. The van is struck by a Range Rover driven by a group of drunken upper-class students from Exeter, and the minor accident becomes a major brawl as the punks and toffs lay into each other, driven by class hatred. Doc, watching it all from the tor, sees an old bone dagger buried in the earth, and, driven by some unnatural feeling of hatred, he pulls it free and buries it the chest of one of the students. As the blood soaks into the standing stones, something which has slept for centuries wakes, and the fight becomes bloody and deadly. Soon all of the fighters are dead, but that's just the start of it. Drawn by the violence, thugs from a nearby village arrive with a cattle truck, and it isn't just the standing stone which they load into the back. The tour to end all tours is about to begin...
The Doctor is taking advantage of a rare quiet time at UNIT to work on the dematerialisation circuit when the TARDIS sensors pick up a powerful energy surge from Dartmoor. He and Jo set off to investigate, and track the disturbances to a small village near Dartmoor prison. The cattle truck has driven over the moors to Princetown, drawing the attention of the local slacker Nick, his lover Sin Yen, and their friends Jimmy and Rod. Four players emerge from the back of the cattle truck, musicians like a cross between punks and wandering mummers—and their songs are raw musical wounds of violence and hatred which sweep the crowd into a frenzy. A riot breaks out in the prison, and the cons at the work farm turn on their guards, dragging them in front of the cattle truck and brutally slaughtering them. Nobody lifts a finger to stop them, and the village constable is trampled and killed as the audience riots in celebration of the deaths. Even Jo is caught up in the madness of the moment...
When the band stops playing, the riots stop as well, and the audience, shaken, withdraws to the pub. Night seems almost to seep out of the cattle truck rather than falling naturally, but when the Doctor tries to investigate he is driven off by the roadies—thugs who are rumoured to be involved in Satanic rituals in the nearby villages. Journalists arrive in town to cover the murders, and reporter Charmagne Peters finds herself strangely drawn to the story. She once visited Romania as a young woman, and vowed to become a journalist after seeing the horrific conditions in which the sewer urchins of Belgrade lived. She can't explain why this particular story touches her so personally, but she vows to follow it to the end.
The people in the pub fall silent as a mummer enters, handing out flyers to anyone who will take them—anyone who seems to welcome what he's offering. To Nick's dismay, Sin is one of them. The flyers announce that the Unwashed and Unforgiving tour will be playing in Postgate on Tuesday, and the Doctor decides to attend as well. On the day of the performance, violence breaks out again. Three fox hunters choose the wrong pub to retire to for a drink, and as the band starts to play outside, three men take down the farming implements decorating the walls of the pub and use them as instruments of death. Once again the band's music has incited murder, and once again nobody flees in horror; in fact, the audience seems to welcome the rage, and Sin feels "chosen" by the fact that the lead singer vomited green bile all over her during his performance. Jo seems to have made friends with Nick's gang, and the Doctor asks her to stay with them and keep an eye on the band while he returns to UNIT to analyse the readings he's taken. But she must be careful. More and more people are joining the mummer's convoy, drawn by the message of hate that's being sent out...
In the town of Cirbury, unemployed alcoholic Kane Sawyer learns that his nemesis Simon King will be returning. Simon is now a big-shot BBC producer, and he's coming back to stage the Epic of Gilgamesh—supposedly as a dry run for the Edinburgh Festival, but really to rub his success in the faces of those he left behind. The Sawyers have been shunned by the town for years, and when the young Simon saw Kane kissing his sister Cassandra at school, he and his schoolyard chums held Kane down and forced him to eat a jar of slugs. Cassandra has spent the last fifteen years waiting for Mr Right to come along, and Kane knows that he'll always be her lost love—and that he'll never be good enough for her. Meanwhile, in Bristol, working-class Derek Pole's attempts to incite demonstrations for anarchy are failing from lack of interest, but he has something big planned nevertheless. Shadow Cabinet minister Jeremy Willis intends to help him, in order to embarrass the current government and ensure that his party wins the next election. The Unwashed and Unforgiving tour appears to play right into his hands; if he arranges for the convoy to remain in Bristol at the same time that Princess Mary arrives for a royal visit to the University, they can be used as scapegoats when Pole strikes against the parasitic monarchy he's hated all his life...
The Doctor considers asking the Brigadier to stop the tour, but for some reason he doesn't. Perhaps the Brigadier just seems a bit too smug, or perhaps something else is influencing the Doctor's decision. In any case, he does ask the Brigadier to send in an undercover agent to keep an eye on Jo, and after some consideration the Brigadier selects Mike Yates. However, he is too late; when the convoy stops at Glastonbury, the mummer wanders the crowds, spreading the word, and Jo falls under his spell as well. Only Nick remains sane, and worried; the convoy is full of losers who have forgotten how to dream, and the band is now doing their dreaming for them. And what violent dreams they are... As night falls, Rod wakes from a profound nightmare to see the mummer walking up to Glastonbury Tor, and he follows, knowing that it'll be the last thing he ever does. At the top of the hill Rod sees a vision of the dead rising from the land, and as he is confronted by the mummer—the Ragman, the spirit of the Unwashed and Unforgiving Tour—his last thought is of the horrors that will soon be unleashed. Meanwhile, the local policemen detailed to watch the convoy are relieved of duty, and return home... where they dismember their wives and children.
The PM is facing pressure to end the nightmare tour, and after the "incident" at Glastonbury, he replaces the police escort with UNIT troops. This is done over the Doctor's objections; he has detected a secondary energy source somewhere in the country, and suspects that something is calling the tour to it. Any overt military presence might stop the force behind the tour from showing its hand. The convoy makes its way to Bristol, where they settle down in the Arnos Vale cemetery. The UNIT escort seals off the band and their followers, but the soldiers pay no attention to the homeless alcoholics who live near the cemetery—and as the band starts to play again, the Arnos Vale winos pull gardening tools out of the sexton's shed and head for the Money Tree, a posh bar in the heart of the financial district. Nobody gets out alive. The police question the members of the convoy about the incident—but for some reason, they don't question the band or the roadies. The Brigadier senses that there's something odd about that, but then forgets to follow it up; the Ragman's influence is growing stronger. Even Jo has been swept up in the spirit of hatred, and she cheered at the Arnos Vale gig when the lead singer vomited maggots out of his mouth, singing out the wild fury and sickness of the unloved and the unwanted. Mike fears that Jo has gone too far undercover, but she doesn't care. She's a part of the convoy now.
Charmagne Peters has followed the tour to Bristol, and she slips into the cemetery to get some quotes from the audience. But there are no answers here, just raw, angry enthusiasm for the violence which has been let loose; soon the divisions between the classes will be torn down forever. Charmagne tries to catch a glimpse of what lies inside the cattle truck, but flees in horror when she sees a dead grey eye staring out through a crack at her. She later returns, determined to face down her fears and learn more, but that's a mistake; the roadies are waiting for her, and they fling her into the back of the cattle truck, where she finds herself in an impossibly open space. The back of the cattle truck stretches out across a moor, the same moor where she and her father used to play hide and seek, until one day she hid too well and he suffered a heart attack from the exertion of looking for her. Finally, she's found her father again, but it's not her father. It's the Ragman, and he has things to show her.
The Doctor finally finds the source of the secondary pulse, amongst a group of standing stones in a field in Cirbury. The sound of bells draws him to the nearby church, where Kane Sawyer has entered with the vague intention of vandalising the building which doesn't want him. Or perhaps something else has drawn him here, as he realises when he finds his ancestor Emily's tomb in the crypt. The cleaning woman gleefully repeats the old tale to Kane and the Doctor; history or legend, it's said that Emily died in poverty, disowned by her father for being with child. The whole tale is in the library, in a book which should have been burned long ago. Kane knows the book she means; it terrified him as a child, searing images of horror into his mind and never letting go. He flees back to the library, where the book is still waiting for him; it tells the same tale Charmagne is seeing unfold in the back of the cattle truck, a tale of the magistrate's son and the mayor's daughter, who made love by the standing stones while penniless mummers huddled in the grass nearby. When one of the mummers approached, begging for coins, the boy struck him aside and the mummer cracked his head against a standing stone. From the blood and violence the Ragman was born, thrusting itself out of the stone and into the body of the dead mummer, tearing apart the boy and doing something even worse to the girl. When the townsfolk attacked the Ragman it killed many of them and then retreated back into the stone, to await the day when its message could spread to the world. The terrified townsfolk executed the other mummers, soaking the stone with their blood, and sent the bodies and the stone far away. But those who carried the stone away were driven mad by the journey, and they claimed that the Ragman would return one day. And he will. The book was written and illustrated by a madman... Kane's grandfather.
The Doctor now knows that he's let things go too far, and he heads for Arnos Vale cemetery—or tries to. The Ragman is now powerful enough to reach out from Bristol, creating images of horror and hallucinations which try to drive the Doctor off the road or otherwise delay him. Nevertheless, the Doctor makes it back to the cemetery, where he finds the UNIT troops getting tense; Corporal Robinson, whose parents were killed in a car crash caused by stoned hippies, can barely keep her rage at the convoy under control. The Doctor heads for the cattle truck, pausing only to tell Mike to watch over Jo... but that's a mistake, for Sin sees this and turns the mob against the traitorous Mike. Jo turns against him as well, and Mike is beaten nearly to death before Corporal Robinson arrives. She in turn nearly shoots Sin before the Brigadier can stop her and impose order on his troops once again.
The Doctor enters the cattle truck, only to find himself lost on a hellish moor where the tarns are filled with blood and severed heads and limbs float along streams of gore. In the middle of a moat of blood, raised on an altar of dead flesh, a standing stone pulses with the same energies the Doctor detected at Cirbury; and here, the Ragman is waiting for him. The Ragman shows him things; an asteroid travelling through uncountable light years of space, bathed in alien radiation and given life without sentience, drawn to Earth and nourished by the planet's ley-lines, until the being within was given birth in an eruption of class-based violence and death. This is all it knows. The Ragman has raised the dead mummers of the Cirbury legend and cloaked their rotting bodies with the flesh of the punk band whose deaths woke it from sleep; with the hatred of the convoy to feed it, it will level all class distinctions and bring true equality to the people of the world... an equality of nothingness, of death. The Doctor now knows his enemy, but that isn't enough to defeat it; he's lost in the perceptual vortex of the Ragman's cattle truck, facing nightmares of his failures, seeing his old companions turn on him while his own ego takes the form of a monstrous spider and tears apart his TARDIS. In the end he is reduced to a shivering wreck, convinced that all of his old adventures were delusions; there are no Daleks, no Cybermen, no UNIT, just a mad old man huddled in an empty police box shell on the Ragman's tarn of death...
The day of Princess Mary's visit to Bristol is the same day the supporters of the fox hunt have chosen to hold a rally—and Jeremy Willis arranges to let the convoy out of the cemetery, claiming that they will start to riot if they are kept cooped up against their will. While UNIT and the Bristol police maintain a wary cordon between the travellers and the fox hunters, the cattle truck leaves the cemetery unnoticed and parks near the University. There, Pole is waiting for Mary to arrive; Willis believes that he intends to kidnap her and hold the monarchy to ransom, but in fact, he plans to assassinate her. However, as he steps out of the crowd, drawing his gun, Mary turns, takes it from his hands, shoots him five times and dances on the body, claiming that this is her birthright. In the furore that follows, Willis commits suicide when his link to Pole is found out. Mary claims not to remember any of it, but nobody believes her. Another wedge has been driven between the classes.
Their work done in Bristol, the convoy sets off again, and splits in two; half of them follow the cattle truck to Cirbury for the summer solstice performance, and the rest go to Stonehenge. The Brigadier receives new orders at last; the government will not tolerate the vandalism of a national monument, and UNIT must keep the travellers out of the circle. Only Mike Yates thinks to wonder why the government didn't give any orders to intervene after the murders. He's still somewhat disoriented by the beating he took in the cemetery, and perhaps that's why he's the only one unaffected by the tension building up amongst the UNIT troops. Even Benton and the Brigadier seem to be affected by it; when Corporal Robinson urges them just to open fire on the convoy, neither of them questions this blatant insubordination. Yates suggests sending a squad to Cirbury, as the band has always been at the centre of the disturbances, but the Brigadier refuses, insisting that the enemy is here, at Stonehenge. Certain that something's wrong, Yates disobeys orders and takes a group of soldiers to Cirbury. Nobody even notices them go.
In the middle of Simon King's production, Gilgamesh asks the audience who will challenge him, and the drunken Kane walks up on stage and pushes King into the audience. Something bad is coming, and Kane knows what it is; it's his ancestor. The magistrate's son did not father Emily Sawyer's child. Shaken by the encounter, knowing that he only returned to this dismal town to flaunt his success, Simon speeds out of town—but just as it seems he's going to put it behind him forever, he sees the Ragman standing in the road ahead of him, and drives off the road into a standing stone. Nobody notices the explosion; the convoy has arrived, and the townspeople seem to accept their presence as natural. Nobody will listen to Kane's drunken warnings of evil, and when Nick finally challenges the Ragman, claiming that he brings only hatred and death, the Ragman literally cuts him dead with a look. But there's a shred of hope. In the cattle truck, the Doctor sees Jo appear before him and beg for help, and the telephone in the police box shell rings for him. A familiar voice on the other end wakes him to reality; even the Time Lords fear what the Ragman might do if left unchecked. There's a monster out there, and he has to fight it. He is given the strength to go on, and to find his way out of the perceptual distortions, out of the cattletruck, to fight the Ragman for the last time.
Night has fallen over Cirbury; the night of the summer solstice, and the night of the tour's final performance. This time, they're tapping into more than just the hatred of the convoy; they're drawing power out of the ley lines which gave birth to the Ragman in the first place. As the band starts to play, the Ragman sends Jimmy to Stonehenge, where he drives his van into the monument, knocking a stone out of position, blowing up the van and himself, and finally sparking an all-out battle between the soldiers and the travellers, who have been aching to lay into each other for days. As the violence erupts at Stonehenge, the people of Cirbury turn on each other, tearing apart the village constables. Kane Sawyer arrives, having given in to his destiny at last, and Charmagne Peters emerges from the cattle truck, also under the spell of her ancestor. They are both descendants of Emily Sawyer's child, the child of the Ragman; and the fruit of their union will inherit a great levelled land where all are equal. Yates and his men arrive and try to gun down the mummers, but their bullets have no effect, for the players are already dead. The Ragman raises the corpses of 18th-century highwaymen, those who robbed the rich and were killed for it, and sets them on the UNIT men. Yates is shot in the shoulder as his men die around him. The force of the Ragman's hate is spilling out into the ley lines, and the people of the convoy see images of London falling, and of the royal family hung to die on an Offering Tree. Anarchy is loose, and soon all the world will be bathed in violence...
But then the Doctor steps out of the cattle truck, bringing his confidence with him. Nick lies dead near the standing stones, killed for speaking against a message of dissent. The Doctor knows the Ragman for what he is; a being of foulness and corruption, who promises change but brings only hatred and death. And as long as he stands here, drawing power from the ley lines which gave birth to him, he's vulnerable. The Doctor forces Charmagne to look at the Ragman, and she sees him for what he really is; not her father at all, but a monster. Enraged, Charmagne picks up a pitchfork, and as she stabs at the Ragman Sin rushes forward to protect her saviour—and is impaled before Charmagne realises what she's doing. Sin's last sight is of Nick's body, and she dies realising just what she'd given up. The crowd sees her die, and the Ragman's spell over them is broken—and as they turn on the creature who brought them to this false night of violence, Kane realises that the Ragman is the thing that brought him down, kept him down, and prevented him from making anything of his life. Enraged, Kane attacks the Ragman, pushing him back against the standing stone. As the Doctor had realised, the Ragman is vulnerable to the powers he's released here, and both he and Kane are drawn into the stone and sealed there, trapped forever. The spell is broken, here and at Stonehenge, but it's too late for many; Kane Sawyer, Sin and Nick, Corporal Robinson, and all those murdered as the convoy made its way across England. The biggest question of them all remains unanswered; how could they ever have let things get this far?
- The Doctor's Timeline at The Whoniverse gives support for this placement.
- Cover blurb only specifies the Doctor's incarnation and companions.