This time the game shall end with me as the victor.
* * *
"Isn't this where we parked the TARDIS?"
The Doctor tugged at the lapels of his new black, Edwardian jacket, and loosened his already drooping cravat even further. "Yes, Grace, although the old girl is a bit temperamental at times, especially since that battle with the Master. Did I ever tell you about the Hostile Action Displacement System --"
Grace patted the air all around where the TARDIS had earlier materialized, but her hands met nothing but air. Letting her blonde curls flip back in the wind, she turned back to the Doctor, hands on hips. "It's gone."
The Doctor pulled one of his multitudinous electronic gadgets from the pocket of his new jacket and pointed it in the general direction of his companion. "Hmmm..."
"It appears the TARDIS is missing."
"Duh! I believe I've already mentioned that!"
The Doctor ran over to the small grass clearing and waved his instrument around, much as Grace had waved her hands moments earlier.
"It's gone." The Doctor stood thoughtfully, one hand on his silent instrument, the other tugging on his waistcoat.
As Grace opened her mouth to rebuke her colleague for letting his vehicle drift astray, she imagined she heard a menacing chuckle, coming from nowhere and everywhere at once.
"Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" replied the Doctor, condescendingly.
"That menacing chuckle. As if some omnipotent villain were responsible for lifting the TARDIS away, and was having a jolly old time watching us run around here like rats in a cage."
"Oh, THAT menacing chuckle."
"You heard it then?"
"Of course. The ears of Time Lords are infinitely superior to those of mere humans."
’’’HA HA HA HA HA HA HA’’’
The Doctor and Grace simultaneously looked skyward, and the Doctor aimed his electronic gadget towards the source of the voice, hoping to divine a clue as to its source. As he eagerly studied his device, Grace tapped him on the shoulder.
"Not now, Grace."
"We have a visitor."
The Doctor spun around, almost crashing into Grace in the process. Standing before them was an incongruous figure, dressed in a Mandarin robe and hat, grinning contemptuously as if the two beings before him were about to become permanent additions to his prized insect collection.
"Doctor?" Grace tapped him on the shoulder. "Who is it? Another Time Lord?"
The Doctor stared at the newcomer in shock, while still maintaining his dignified, aristocratic pose. "No, unfortunately. A Time Lord would be easier to outwit."
The Mandarin figure chuckled.
"You know him, though?"
"Oh, yes. He's a being from another universe. Calls himself 'The Toymaker.' Has an unhealthy predilection for toys and games of the nasty sort, if I remember correctly."
The Mandarin figure finally spoke.
"You do, Doctor, you do. And if I remember correctly, you are the one who imprisoned me in an interdimensional trap created from my own mind the last time we met, did you not? A trap in which I have languished, my need for entertainment and recreation unquenched, for over ten thousand years?"
"Oh yes, of course. Wasn't it Brighton Beach? Oh, no, wait, I think it was Blackpool..."
"Doctor, he bears a faint resemblance to Alfred from the 'Batman' movies," Grace whispered.
The Toymaker chuckled. "Unlike you, Doctor, I never forget. Especially losing. This time, though, I've prepared an extremely diverting game, one which will require all of your intellectual prowess, luck, and sheer genius to win."
"Forget it, Toymaker. I'm not in the mood for your adolescent pranks today. Kindly return my TARDIS to me, and perhaps I'll spare you from another 10,000 years of ennui."
"Yeah," Grace chipped in. The Doctor nudged her in the ribs.
The Toymaker laughed evilly. "If you do not wish to play, then so be it. I've never been one to force you to play, Doctor. You and your companion can waste away the rest of your pitifully short and un-entertaining lives on this poor excuse for a planet."
The Doctor sighed, fully aware of what was to come. "And if we do?"
The Toymaker smiled ominously. "Then you shall have the opportunity to win your TARDIS back."
"I wasn't aware that I had lost possession of it."
"'Finders keepers, losers weepers,' I believe the saying is on your companion's backwards home planet."
"Wonderful. So what's the game this time, Toymaker?"
"A race. A simple race. With lots of toys and ingenious puzzles to keep it interesting along the way."
"You have a bit too much free time on your hands, Toymaker."
"I had 10,000 years of free time, Doctor."
The Toymaker waved his hands, and a cloud of mist appeared. Within the mist materialized a vivacious blonde who appeared as if she had been hijacked from hosting a 20th-century American game show, a table with some toys upon it, an ancient 16mm film projector, and a white projection screen. The Toymaker strode over to the table.
"Observe, Doctor." He gestured to the table where the blonde assistant raised a small toy automobile from the surface. She handed it to the Toymaker. "One of the most popular toys on your favourite planet, Earth, Doctor. The automobile. Some use it for show; others for transportation. Others use it for sport."
"Yes, I am familiar with the concept."
The Toymaker grinned evilly again. His game-show assistant flipped on the 16mm projector, and with that annoying sound that only film projectors can make, a movie began to appear on the screen.
"Bring any popcorn, Doctor?"
On the screen appeared the picture of a planet, upon which the camera slowly zoomed. "This is the planet Deremar. A wonderfully climatic planet, with temperate zones, deserts, marshes, tundra, mountains, volcanoes, everything one could desire to make a sporting event interesting." The camera zoomed in on the planet's largest continent. "This is the planet's largest continent. It is 3,000 miles from end to end. What I submit to you is an automobile race, from one end of the continent to the other, the ultimate prize of which, of course, will be your beloved time-travelling vehicle."
The Doctor studied the Toymaker thoughtfully through slitted eyes. "Against whom would we be competing?"
The Toymaker laughed. "Oh, this is where the fun begins, Doctor! I have several choice competitors already chosen, ranging from your deadliest enemies to professional bounty hunters whose main mission will be only to eliminate you from the race!"
The Doctor sighed. "And what wonderful automobile will I receive for the race? A Trabi? A Geo Metro? A Chevrolet Chevette, perhaps?"
"You insult me, Doctor. You may choose any automobile you wish. It must run on wheels and be land-bound, however."
"I see." The Doctor studied thoughtfully. "All right, Toymaker, I accept your challenge, provided I may use the automobile of my choice."
"Splendid! Then so be it! Simply imagine the automobile of your choice in your mind, and you and your companion and your choice vehicle will be whisked away to the starting gate."
"Doctor! Wish for something speedy like a Formula-One race car!"
The Doctor pshawed her away. "Nonsense. We want something more practical. All right, Toymaker, I've made my choice! Let the race begin!"
The Toymaker smiled, and suddenly everything around Grace began to dissolve. Through the mist she could faintly make out the Doctor standing next to her in his black coat, and a car, which, if she wasn't mistaken, resembled a bright-yellow Edwardian roadster.