It wasn’t much of an assignment, but it was all hers. Rani paid off the taxi that she was allowed to claim as expenses and looked up at the 1930s façade of Ealing’s most up to date and innovative building – even outshining the local council offices in Perceval House which were reflected in the smoked glass doors.
“I remember when this was a cinema,” Clyde said as he viewed the building critically in the last evening sunshine on one of the nicest days of a mostly indifferent summer. “Some of the good times with my dad, when he was around, were here, seeing films with him when it was Cineworld - before they changed it to the Empire. It was called something else way back, too, but I’ve forgotten exactly.”
“You SOUND like your granddad saying things like that,” Rani teased him. “‘I remember when…’ We’re both too young for that.”
“Yeah, I know. But it was only a couple of years ago that it was still a cinema, nothing like the multiplexes, a bit out-dated and all, but it was still good. And then they shut it down and nearly overnight they demolished everything but the front bit with the pillars. It was a total mess and people got up a petition to save what was left and restore it. They even tried to enter that competition on the BBC – you know, the one to get money to restore old buildings. But I guess there had to be a building first off, not just the front of one.”
Rani smiled and paused her mini-recorder. Clyde saw it and was perturbed, even though he would have had to look the word up in a dictionary to realise that was what he was at that moment.
“You recorded that?”
“Local man’s reminiscences about the old cinema.” She took the recorder off pause again. “So, Mr Langer, what are your thoughts about the new building and its new owners?”
“Well… er… I mean… er… um….” Clyde babbled, suddenly microphone shy. “That’s not fair,” he protested.
Rani laughed and put the recorder in her pocket, though it was still on record. “Seriously, what do you think? They restored the piece that was left. It looks amazing, especially the pillars. I do remember what a mess this was before, all shored up with scaffolding and a safety fence in front. It doesn’t look like the same place. And of course it isn’t. Professor Amandeau’s Modern Wax Museum is a far cry from a cinema.”
“It’s different,” Clyde admitted. “I was never all that keen on waxworks when I was a kid.” He laughed softly. “You’d better not still be recording this, because I’m going to say something uncool. When I was six, dad took me to Madam Tussauds, and I was so scared I screamed the place down.”
“In the Chamber of Horrors?” Rani asked. “That’s a bit heavy for a six year old, no wonder.”
“No,” Clyde admitted. “It was the waxwork of Tony Blair that did it. That fixed grin….”
Rani laughed, but sympathetically.
“I can understand that. Come on. The press preview will be starting soon. Pin your badge on.”
Clyde accepted the visitor’s ID that Rani passed to him. It identified him as a ‘plus one’ which was slightly undignified when Rani’s badge actually said ‘Rani Chandra, Metropolitan Magazine’ on it. She was representing a top flight magazine. He was a ‘plus one’.
Still, he was Rani’s ‘plus one’. Of all the people she could have asked to come along, her mum, dad, Sarah Jane, any number of old school friends she still kept in contact with, she asked him.
They walked in through that beautifully restored entrance into a brand new foyer with a floor that looked like black marble but had to be some kind of veneer. There wasn’t that much marble in the world. There were examples of the waxworks in full size glass cases around the foyer – one of them WAS Tony Blair, and he still had a fixed grin, but Clyde was over him now. One of them was the mayor of Ealing. The real mayor stood next to the case trying to match his dummy’s expression while an official press photographer took his picture.
The winner of last year’s X-Factor was doing the same. Clyde had trouble remembering his name. It probably didn’t matter. They would have a new winner by Christmas and replace him both in real life and in wax.
He had to admit that the waxworks were very good. The facsimiles of the Mayor and the X-Factor winner were both dead ringers for the real thing. He glanced at the press pack information he and Rani had been given as they came in. On the front cover there was a picture of Professor Amandeau standing next to his own waxwork, and you had to look really closely to tell which was which in the still image. Inside the brochure were a series of pictures showing the process from the live model being photographed to the creation of the wax mould and the finishing of the features with written details of how it was done. Professor Amandeau claimed to have developed a new wax formula that could look much more like real Human flesh than that used in the traditional waxworks such as Tussauds.
“He’s quite right,” joked the Mayor above the hubbub of conversation as one of the reporters asked him a question. “Absolutely realistic. If I didn’t know better I’d think that was really me in the case.”
Everyone laughed as the Mayor tapped on the case and his facsimile carried on looking dignified and important within.
“No, I think I’m definitely the real one,” he added.
“Quite right,” said a deep and commanding voice. Professor Amandeau, a tall, thin man with a goatee beard and deep set eyes in a rather pale face that could have been made of wax, stepped up beside the mayor. Everyone turned to look at him. “I am so glad to welcome you to my new exhibition. I hope you will enjoy this preview tour. You will see almost all of the displays that the general public will see when the doors open properly next week. Only a few final exhibits are yet to be completed – a few surprises I’m holding back, if you will forgive me for that.”
Everyone applauded politely. There was something about him that didn’t quite engender enthusiasm. Words like endearing and lovable were unlikely to be used in any description of him.
Perhaps it was his association with the creation of cold, lifeless replicas of people that made him seem a bit cold and lifeless himself, Rani thought as she studied him closely and wondered what she should say about him in her article. Of course, she could be completely savage and criticise both him and his museum. She could be THAT sort of writer. Or she could find ways to be kind. It was up to her to decide.
Anyway, he was ready to show them around the exhibition now. Clyde made sure he was next to Rani as the invited guests followed Amandeau from the foyer into the Hall of Fame. Here, there were subtle low-level lights marking the carpeted walkways around the spotlit exhibits of famous people from the world of cinema, TV, sport, music. They were the usual suspects, of course. Brad and Angelina and all the current Hollywood A-list, a tableaux of the Queen Vic, another one from Casualty, the England football and cricket teams, Beyonce and Adele rubbing shoulders with an impressively posed Freddie Mercury and Queen at the height of their fame. They were exactly what anyone would expect to see in a wax museum. The only thing that stopped it being boring was how really good they actually were. These were far superior to anything at Tussauds who were, after all, the most famous waxworks in the world.
“They must be really jealous,” Clyde commented as they moved from the Hall of Fame to the political wing. “These are WAY better. People will be coming here instead. They’ll lose loads of money.”
Rani wasn’t sure if Clyde was right about the money. After all, Madam Tussauds was in the City along with all the other sights. Would tourists come all the way to Ealing just to see a better quality waxwork?
She wondered about that as they viewed President Obama and his predecessors all the way back to John F. Kennedy. Next to them were David Cameron and Ed Milliband along with their forebears with the exception of Tony Blair who was in the foyer.
“I take it back, Margaret Thatcher is way scarier than Tony,” Clyde remarked. “She looks like she’s about to hit us with her handbag any moment. WAY too real for comfort.”
“She’s a lot older than that, now,” Rani said. “She was at last year’s Tory party conference and she looked quite haggard compared to that.”
“Yeah, and after all, some of the others are dead,” Clyde added. The political grouping gave way to a royal ‘enclosure’ that not only included everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to William and Kate, but also King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in their heyday when they could be portrayed on film by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham-Carter.
“So there’s no way these are the real people,” Rani said aloud, echoing exactly what Clyde had been thinking.
“Well, it’s a daft idea anyway,” Clyde told himself as much as Rani. “I mean, the Queen, and Kate and Wills, and David Cameron and Barrack Obama hardly have time to stand around here fooling a bunch of journalists and b-list celebs.”
“Well, exactly,” Rani confirmed. “I mean, talk about letting our imaginations run wild.”
“We’ve been hanging around Sarah Jane’s attic too long,” Clyde added. “We think there’s something sinister about everything.”
“Yes. You’re right,” Rani agreed. She relaxed a little as they moved from politics to history and a rather unnerving tableaux of Charles I wearing two shirts so he wouldn’t shiver in the cold as he faced the executioner’s block; the Captain of the Titanic in his best uniform; Florence Nightingale and her lamp and various other historical scenes. She had been thinking of some kind of sinister motive behind the Professor’s exhibition, but it was equally possible that there wasn’t one.
“Thing is,” Clyde said after they had passed an all too realistic World War One bunker where soldiers about to go over the top were writing their last letters to loved ones. “I remember when we went to Madam Tussauds in the first years, before you and your dad came to Park Vale, before we had a Slitheen for a headmaster and the creepiest person I knew was Malcolm Bradley. In the middle of the tour, he told everyone that he knew about this waxworks in America where they found out that all the exhibits had real Human skeletons inside because a murderer had hidden all the bodies in the waxworks, and the flesh decomposed until the bones rattled around inside.”
“That really isn’t very likely,” Rani said. “I mean… flesh doesn’t just decompose. It ‘leaks’ and there would be a smell.”
“Well, yeah,” Clyde agreed. “I mean, we all realised that later on the coach, and gave Malcolm Bradley a good kicking for it. But while we were in there, surrounded by waxworks, it was believable enough. And right now, even though I know he was a lying little twerp, I can’t help thinking….”
“Let’s try to stop thinking about it,” Rani said. “Because the next bit IS the Chamber of Horrors and we’re going to get REALLY creeped out if we’re not careful.”
“Good point,” Clyde agreed.
Actually, they both found the Chamber of Horrors a bit cheesy and artificial compared to some of the real horrors they had seen since they got to know Sarah Jane Smith. Slitheen and Judoon, the Veil….
After the chamber of horrors they were taken through a ‘staff only’ door and down a set of stairs to the basement of the building where they were allowed to see what the general public wouldn’t see, the place where the waxworks were made. This was actually rather less interesting than it might have been. It was gone nine o’clock in the evening by now. The clever and artistic people who painted the fantastically realistic features or did the hair and clothes so very well had all gone home. It was an empty workshop with bald and unfinished wax heads left on tables and arms and legs on shelves. There wasn’t even anything especially revelatory about the Professor’s new method of making the models since that was, as he pointed out several times, proprietary information.
“After all, hahah,” he laughed. “One of you might be a spy for the opposition.”
“Yeah, hahahah,” Clyde murmured. “The guy has the worst pantomime villain laugh.”
“That doesn’t make him a villain,” Rani pointed out. “Just not very good at media relations.”
She still hadn’t made up her mind whether to be critical or kind to the Professor in her review as they returned up the stairs to the hospitality suite where there was food and drink available and a chance to mingle.
Rani had already learnt to be a consummate mingler, sipping mineral water while chatting casually to the X-Factor winner and the minor Eastenders actress who were enjoying the complimentary champagne. Clyde didn’t feel like hanging around at her side playing the ‘Plus One’ so he drifted away.
Apart from anything else, he wanted to have a look at a couple of things that HAD piqued his curiosity when he was in the basement workshop. He glanced around and noted that the security guards weren’t really paying much attention. The one who ought to have been watching the stairs was watching the Eastenders actress. She was wearing a very short dress and very low top!
He slipped through the unlocked door and made his way down the stairs. The door to the workshop WAS locked, but he had hung around with Sarah Jane Smith long enough to know how to handle that problem.
With Sarah Jane’s sonic screwdriver that he had ‘borrowed’ for the evening just in case there was anything worth an investigation of the deeper sort.
The door marked ‘Special Projects - Authorised Personnel only’ was what had intrigued Clyde. Most likely, of course, this was where the exhibitions the Professor had hinted about, the surprises for the public, were being prepared, in which case, he could get a couple of pictures on his camera phone and an inside scoop for Rani.
But then again, it could be where the bodies were dipped in the wax….
There was dim, red security lighting in the special projects room. These projects were hidden behind thick drapes in bays rather like in the A&E department at the hospital. Clyde very carefully pulled back one set of curtains and looked at a face he recognised but which would mean nothing at all to the general public if it went on display.
Why would anyone want to make a waxwork of Colonel Erissa Magambo, the officer in charge of U.N.I.T. in the greater London area?
U.N.I.T. was a secret military organisation anyway. The people in charge couldn’t be put on display to the public. That made no sense at all.
It made even less sense to have a waxwork of Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood or the people he worked with in Cardiff. Clyde looked at the silent figure with glassy sapphire blue eyes. Torchwood was supposed to be even more secret than U.N.I.T.
He didn’t recognise the people in the next alcove, but one of them had an ID badge pinned to his suit jacket allowing him access to Thames House – the headquarters of British Military Intelligence. Anyone who had ever seen James Bond, or Spooks, knew that.
U.N.I.T., Torchwood, Military Intelligence. Clyde pulled the last curtain back hardly knowing what to expect….
And looked at two people he knew well, one VERY well.
The waxwork of Sarah Jane Smith was so lifelike, for one weird moment he thought it really WAS her. It was wearing the neat trouser suit with a little leather jacket that made her look at least fifteen years younger than she really was. It was carrying a replica of the handbag where Sarah Jane kept her sonic lipstick and various other things most ordinary women didn’t carry around with them.
And it was the most realistic waxwork model Clyde had ever known. He reached out and touched it, half expecting warm, pliable flesh.
The wax was warm, but it wasn’t pliable. It was hard like wax should be. It really WAS a model.
So was the other figure standing mutely next to this one. Clyde was even more perplexed by it.
“The Doctor,” he murmured. “But how….”
It WAS The Doctor - the version of him that had turned up most recently to the funeral of the old Brigadier – the slightly potty looking one with a face the shape of the Easter Island statues and a grin so wide you would expect his head to tip over. He was wearing that tweed jacket and bow tie that made him look like a young university professor whose fashion sense had been surgically by-passed.
He was holding a sonic screwdriver.
He? It, Clyde mentally corrected himself. This was a waxwork dummy. It wasn’t real.
It WASN’T The Doctor.
Clyde really wished it was. If The Doctor was here, he knew he would be ok. If Sarah Jane was there – or Jack Harkness or the U.N.I.T. Colonel - he’d even be happy to see one of those MI5 people. Any one of them would be able to throw some light on what was going on around here.
Suddenly the overhead lights came on – not the metaphorical ones he had been thinking of. He closed the curtains and crouched behind the two figures as voices and footsteps came closer.
“Search the facility,” a voice hissed sibilantly. “One of the ‘guests’ that fool of a professor invited is unaccounted for and the silent alarm on the door triggered. Somebody is where they should not be.”
“Yes, Lord Haffiz,” replied another sibilant voice. Clyde wondered if he dared look to see what kind of beings spoke like that, since he was certain neither of them were Human voices, but he didn’t dare move. As it was, he would be discovered as soon as the curtain was opened. The two waxworks hardly covered him as he crouched down. Not with the lights full on overhead. He was trapped.
The being with the sibilant voice came closer. He could hear the footsteps and quite unnecessarily heavy breathing as the curtains were dragged back on each alcove. It was only a matter of minutes before he was discovered.
He crouched even lower as the curtain in front of the Sarah Jane and Doctor waxworks was pulled back. Through The Doctor’s legs he saw a thin humanoid shape with a pale blue face, lidless eyes, a mouth without lips and a pair of flaring nostrils without any nose. It was the face of a being whose ancestors were snakes, Clyde thought. Or Lord Voldemort had risen again.
The snakeman stared at the waxwork model of The Doctor curiously then took a step closer. It hadn’t yet seen Clyde crouched behind but it could only have been a matter of time. He kept still, trying not even to breathe loudly.
Then he gave a yelp of shock. The Doctor waxwork moved quickly. The sonic screwdriver buzzed and a green light shot out of it, enveloping the snakeman’s face. It collapsed to the floor exactly like a creature with no spine and lay as still as the waxworks.
“Stay down a minute longer, Clyde,” The Doctor whispered then bounded across the room. Clyde stared as another of the snakemen fell out of the alcove where the Torchwood waxworks were standing. Meanwhile a third one with a large green ‘v’ shaped stripe down its forehead suggesting a different breed or perhaps a higher rank of snakeman, was taken completely by surprise and fell to the sonic screwdriver’s energy beam as well. The Doctor bent and examined it carefully, while Captain Jack Harkness stepped out of his waxwork cubicle grinning widely. The Doctor stood straight and adjusted his sonic before pointing it at a patch of empty space. The space shimmered and the TARDIS appeared out of thin air. He and Jack hauled the aliens inside and shut the door.
“I’ll have to spend twenty-four hours orbiting a supernova to recharge the batteries,” The Doctor said. “Invisible mode really chews up the power. It’s ok, Clyde, you can come out now. We’ve neutralised the aliens.”
Clyde stretched his limbs stiffly and walked towards them.
“It’s really you?” he asked. “Not a waxwork. I mean… you LOOKED like waxworks, both of you. You were both standing still PRETENDING to be dummies? That’s absolutely brilliant.”
“It’s hard work,” Jack Harkness replied, flexing his shoulders. “I have the mother of a stiff neck. After we’ve dropped these three at Torchwood for interrogation I’m going to book myself a nice long all over massage.”
“What was this all about?” Clyde asked.
“Let’s go upstairs and have some of the complimentary nibbles while we wait for phase two of this operation,” The Doctor suggested. “I’m sure Rani would like to hear about it, too.”
Rani was surprised to see Clyde with those two new guests bearing apparently authentic ID badges. She left her interview with Miss Ealing 2012 and joined them by the buffet table where The Doctor was piling his plate high and Jack was helping himself to free drinks.
“The Professor is only an accessory,” Jack said between sips of cool champagne. “Though I think he’ll be answering questions from some very serious people for a long time.”
“His waxworks are real,” The Doctor added. “He really DID develop an innovative way of making extremely realistic models. He’s a genius. But he got involved with Lord Haffiz of the Sethiz and his two cronies. They’re the advance guard of an alien invasion by stealth. The waxworks were implanted with biometric theft devices. They tried it out tonight on the Mayor of Ealing and they now have all sorts of interesting information about how this borough is run.”
“But that was small fry, of course,” Jack continued. “They don’t care where Ealing spends its Council Tax budget. The real plan was to get politicians, military advisors, even royals, to come and see their waxwork models. All they had to do was touch them and the biometric device would copy every secret in their minds.”
“Clever,” Rani commented. “I suppose they didn’t really need the celebs. They were just for show.”
“Exactly,” The Doctor confirmed.
“Though they must have been dreaming if they really thought me and The Doctor or Colonel Magambo, to say nothing of the MI5 and MI6 people would have turned up for a private viewing,” Jack went on. “That was over-ambitious and it’s what gave me the suspicion that something funny was going on. I called The Doctor and we decided to work together on this.”
“We dumped our waxworks in the recycle skip and took their places,” The Doctor said with a grin. “The rest you know.”
“I might retrieve mine,” Jack proposed. “It was a REALLY good likeness.” The Doctor gave him a ‘look’. “Oh, all right, I won’t. Still, it would be a shame if.…”
He stopped talking. Everyone did as uniformed soldiers came into the hospitality suite and a man Clyde recognised as the MI5 agent whose waxwork was downstairs arrested Professor Amandeau. He was led away in handcuffs as a dozen press photographers got pictures and twice as many journalists sought a statement from him.
“No point,” Jack Harkness said to Rani as she remembered that her data recorder was switched off. “All the cameras will turn out to be faulty and in any case, these journalists and minor celebs will all wake up tomorrow with very fuzzy heads and a total inability to recall what they did tonight - even the ones who were drinking mineral water.”
“We were drinking mineral water,” Rani pointed out. Jack grinned and passed her and Clyde two small white pills.
“The antidote to my Retcon. I figure we can trust you two after all.”
“Fancy a lift home by TARDIS?” The Doctor asked them after they had swallowed the tablets down with their water. “I think this party is about over.”
“Why not,” Clyde and Rani decided.
“What will happen to the Professor’s waxworks?” Rani asked. “They were quite good. But if he’s in jail for consorting with alien invaders I suppose the museum will close.”
“Another victim of the credit crunch,” Jack explained with the confidence of one who often arranged cover stories of that sort. “Overstretched his finances and folded even before the opening day. Maybe Madam Tussauds will take some of them as a job lot – the ones we won’t be melting down to retrieve the alien technology from. After that, the building will probably be compulsorily purchased by the council. Maybe they’ll turn it back into a cinema. I remember it when it first opened as the Ealing Forum in 1934. I brought a very pretty girl to the back row….”
Too much information, thank you, Captain,” The Doctor said. “Your waxwork does have one advantage over you. It talks less.”