October 06, 2021
Fancy a trip to Oz? Read an extract of The Wonderful Doctor of Oz, written by Jacqueline Rayner.
You can read the full story Doctor Who: The Wonderful Doctor of Oz by Jacqueline Rayner on paperback or ebook from Penguin, here.
‘Best Team TARDIS film night ever,’ said Graham, as he looked down at the concrete pavement which showed the handprints and footprints of stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. ‘Always wanted to come here, I did. Seeing the actual Hollywood premiere of Grace’s favourite film, too . . . yeah. Good stuff.’
‘Yeah. It’ll sort of make us feel close to her, you know?’ said Ryan.
‘Did you used to watch it with her, then, The Wizard of Oz?’ asked Yaz. That was why they were at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on August the Fifteenth, 1939. It had been Graham’s turn to choose what they’d watch – any film, any time, any place. And this was what he’d chosen.
Ryan looked sheepish. ‘Weren’t really my sort of thing. But it’s special cos she loved it, yeah? Proper special. “You grow up a black girl in Britain, there’re a lot of times you dream of going over the rainbow.” That’s what she said to me once.’
Yaz nodded, because that was something she definitely understood. ‘I think I saw it when I was a kid,’ she added, staring back into her past. ‘I remember being scared of bits of it. There was a tree that attacked Dorothy? Something like that. And I remember flying monkeys. And the shoes, of course.’
‘You were scared of the shoes?’
‘No!’ She nudged Ryan in the ribs. ‘You know what I meant. I loved those ruby shoes. Really wanted a pair. But Mum made me get black lace-up ones for school instead.’
‘TARDIS wardrobe to the rescue!’ said the Doctor. Yaz was wearing the reddest, most glittering pair of block heels any of them had ever seen, and she hadn’t stopped grinning since the Doctor had produced them.
But despite how much the shoes had made her smile, Yaz was feeling just very slightly disoriented; almost on the verge of disquieted. The TARDIS had taken them to so many places – alien planets, the future, the distant past. But being this close to their own time was different. Things were similar enough to be familiar and different enough to be unsettling. Fur coats were envied rather than reviled. Toothbrush moustaches were widely in evidence, not yet having become synonymous with Adolf Hitler. Everyone wore hats! But even if you took away the differing fashions, there would still be an atmosphere of something slightly other.
Those weren’t the only things that were worrying her. ‘I thought there’d be a red carpet!’ she said. ‘And people queuing up to get in! And paparazzi!’
Maybe the film wasn’t that popular when it came out?’ suggested Ryan. ‘Like, there’re loads of famous films that flopped to start with. It’s A Wonderful Life, that’s one, and now it’s on TV every Christmas.’
‘Citizen Kane,’ added Graham. ‘That’s another one, and that’s the most famous film there is.’
The Doctor was frowning now. ‘It’s a Hollywood premiere at Grauman’s. There should be, ooh, thousands of people here, whatever the film is.’
‘Have we got the wrong day or something, then, Doc?’ asked Graham.
Yaz went up to a uniformed doorman who was standing to attention next to one of the Chinese stone lions that guarded the theatre’s ornate entrance. ‘Excuse me,’ she said. ‘Can you tell me when The Wizard of Oz premiere is supposed to start?’
The man looked down at her, and spoke very slowly. ‘There – is – no – film – called – that – here,’ he said, and made a little shooing gesture. ‘You – in – wrong – place.’
Yaz felt Ryan suddenly jump forward to stand by her side, but she put up a hand to hold him back. Even in the twenty-first century white people spoke to her like that, sometimes, like she couldn’t understand English, so it wasn’t a big surprise to find that attitude in the past. Not nice – but not a shock.
The Doctor and Graham joined her too. It was Graham – the white male – that the doorman automatically turned to. ‘I was just telling your –’
‘Friend,’ Graham completed, stony faced. ‘My very good friend.’
‘Well, there’s no such film.’
‘We’ve got the wrong day, Doc,’ said Graham, looking at the Doctor. ‘Or wrong year. Or wrong planet?’
But the Doctor shook her head. ‘Fifteenth of August, nineteen-thirty-nine. Earth.’ She licked a finger and held it up to the wind. ‘Yep, proper Earth, not a parallel universe or what-not,’ she said, and glanced at the doorman, who nodded at the date but looked puzzled by the rest.
‘So . . .?’ began Graham, but the Doctor took hold of his arm and led him away before the doorman could get any more confused. The four of them went into a huddle.
‘No Wizard of Oz?’
‘And it’s definitely not a parallel universe?’
‘Maybe someone’s changed history?’
‘We need to investigate,’ said Yaz. ‘Find out what’s happened.’
Graham didn’t look keen. ‘Hold on a tick,’ he said. ‘I mean, I didn’t mind popping to 1939 for a movie evening, but we are not hanging around here. World War Two’s happening in, what, two weeks? Three?’
‘Eighteen days,’ said the Doctor automatically, still distracted.
‘Eighteen days . . .’ Now it was Graham’s turn to get distracted. His voice grew sombre. ‘Just think. Back in Essex, my old Grandpa’ll be off to join the RAF. He’ll come back, though. Not many of his mates did.’
‘My great-grandad was killed in Burma,’ Ryan said. ‘Gran used to get mad, sometimes, when people acted like it was only white folk who went to war.’
‘Yeah, I can imagine,’ said Graham, grinning in recognition. ‘Nothing got Grace more mad than injustice, I can tell you that for a fact.’
‘Prem will be off to war soon,’ said Yaz. She knew her grandmother Umbreen was out there somewhere, not knowing she would soon lose her sweetheart, not knowing she would lose her home, not knowing any of the horrors and joys to come in her life. ‘All those young men and women. All those deaths . . . but we’re in America. It doesn’t happen here, not yet.’
‘Conscription starts next year,’ said the Doctor. ‘Year after that, Japan bombs Pearl Harbour. The US joins the war the next day.’ They all looked around them. The young men in fedoras, wearing sharp suits, sporting moustaches. How many of them would still be alive come the end of the war in 1945?
‘That’d be me, if we stayed here,’ said Ryan. ‘I’d have to go to war.’ He turned to Graham. ‘You’d be all right, though, Grandad.’
‘You call that “all right”? Sitting back and watching all the kids being sacrificed-?’ began Graham, but Yaz jumped in with an idea.
‘Maybe someone tried to stop the war!’ she said. ‘Mucked about with history, killed Hitler, something like that? And it’s knocked out The Wizard of Oz as a side effect?’
The Doctor spun around and addressed a young passerby who was perhaps in his late teens. He had wavy, slicked back hair and books under his arm. ‘Excuse me! Hiya! Is Hitler dead?’
The teenager looked angry. ‘He is not, ma’am, I’m sorry to say.’ Then, slightly embarrassed, he added, ‘excuse me for speaking my mind.’
‘Don’t apologise,’ said the Doctor, ‘I like minds being spoken.’ She turned back to her friends. ‘That’s not it.’
Graham was laughing. ‘Hey, Doc – I’ve just thought of something! Back when you were a bloke, you’d have been called up. Now, you wouldn’t! Weird, huh?’
‘Always been a pacifist, me,’ said the Doctor. ‘Ooh, hang on, should’ve asked something else.’ She swivelled on her heel, and spotted the youth she’d spoken to before. ‘Excuse me! Hi! Nice books. Do you read a lot?’
The teenager looked at her, startled at being addressed again, but said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I do. I read all the time. I reckon I’ve read just about every book that’s going.’
The Doctor grinned. ‘Aw, that’s brilliant! Books are brilliant! You’re brilliant! You’re gonna go far. One more question, though. Have you ever read a book called The Wizard of Oz? No, hold on a second, I’m wrong, it was called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Dropped a word later on.’
‘Can’t say I have.’ The youth shook his head slowly. ‘No, ma’am, reckon that’s one that’s passed me by.’
‘You’ve heard of it, though,’ the Doctor persisted.
He just kept shaking his head. ‘Is it a new book? Sometimes it can be a while before the public library gets them in.’
‘No, that’s not it – it’s 1939 . . . minus 1900 – ooh, that’s a nice easy sum – it’s been out nearly forty years! Plus, it’s sold a million copies! There should be a whole series of books by now. L. Frank Baum? TARDIS databanks,’ she added as an aside to the others.
Graham stepped in. ‘The scarecrow? The tin man? The cowardly lion?’
‘No, sir, I – I don’t know any of those folks. I’m real sorry, but I don’t.’
The Doctor thanked the youth, and turned to her friends. ‘Yaz, Graham, Ryan – I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more.’
‘No Wizard of Oz,’ the Doctor kept muttering under her breath as the four walked back towards the TARDIS. ‘What does it mean?’
They looked from side to side as they went, trying to spot if there was anything out of place, anything that might give them a clue as to why this one aspect of the world had suddenly altered. ‘Ooh ooh ooh!’ the Doctor said after a few minutes. ‘I think I’ve got The Wizard of Oz in the TARDIS library! The book, I mean, not the person. Yeah . . . I’m sure I have. Noticed it in there – ooh, a regeneration ago. Maybe two. Kept meaning to read it, but you know what it’s like – few Cybermen here, few Stenza there, and suddenly it’s half-past the future and you’ve barely got started.’
‘If the book’s been erased from existence, though . . .?’ began Ryan.
‘The TARDIS will’ve been shielded,’ said the Doctor. ‘It’ll be there, trust me. Come on, let’s get back! Last one there’s the Wicked Witch of the West!’
The Doctor broke into a run as the TARDIS came in sight, with the other three following at a slightly- less enthusiastic jog. She unlocked the doors and dashed inside without even slowing down, the rest still trailing at her heels as she dashed through the control room. But as the Doctor vanished into the recesses of the ship, she called out, ‘Hold on while I get it!’ and they turned back.
‘Hang on, better close the doors,’ said Graham, and went over to the central console where he operated the relevant control. The main doors swung silently together, isolating the ship’s crew from Hollywood, from the 1930s, from Earth altogether.
‘Yep! Told ya! Here it is!’ The Doctor dashed back into the control room a few minutes later, waving a small hardback book with a picture of a red lion on its green cover.
‘First edition, this is.’ She read out: ‘“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. By L. Frank Baum. Pictures by W. W. Denslow.” Published 1900. One of the most popular works of children’s fiction ever!’
‘Then why ain’t I ever heard of it?’
All four spun around. Staring at the book in the Doctor’s hand was the slim youth she’d questioned out on the streets of California.
‘Oi! What d’you think you’re doing?’ shouted Graham. ‘You can’t be in here, mate!’
The teenager was gazing around now, wonderment in his eyes. ‘This is some mighty fine place you got here. Why, it’s fancier than Grauman’s itself!’
‘Out!’ Graham advanced on him. ‘Out you go – and don’t you tell anyone what you’ve seen, right? Not. A. Murmur.’
Yaz was more gentle. ‘Yeah, you’ve gotta go,’ she said to the teenager. ‘I’m sorry. But this is – well, it’s secret.’
‘But I heard the stuff you were saying! I had to . . .’
That made Yaz even more worried. ‘You need to forget everything you heard. I’m really sorry. Graham? Go and open the doors, will you?’
Graham nodded and walked over to the console. The Doctor was there too. She seemed to have forgotten about the TARDIS intruder and was opening up panels, searching for something. ‘You know what, this could be the last copy in the universe!’ she said to Graham, tapping the Oz book. ‘The only one that’s survived . . . whatever it was that happened to history. So, what I’m hoping is, it’ll give us some clues. First I’m going to get the TARDIS to analyse it and look for discrepancies – you never know, might get a few pointers . . .’
Then several things happened in quick succession.
The Doctor opened a panel and went ‘Aha!’ when she saw a large empty slot below.
Yaz led the youth to the TARDIS’s main doors.
Graham reached out to operate the door control.
The Doctor plugged her copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into the console slot.
The TARDIS doors opened.
And a wind began to blow...
The TARDIS whirled around two or three times and rose slowly through the air. Higher and higher it went; the Hollywood sign looking tiny enough to be on a TV screen, instead of more than fifteen metres in height – although the only people who could see it were Yaz and the teenager, hanging tightly to either side of the door frame. The teenager had dropped his books in his struggle to stay upright and watched in dismay as they spiralled down towards the ground far below.
The ship climbed above the hills, above the clouds, until the Earth was just a blue and green ball rolling below them. ‘Is this my fault?’ the youth said, the wind whipping the tears from his eyes before they touched his cheeks. ‘Did I do this? I didn’t mean to, honest I didn’t.’
Yaz shook her head. She might not know what was going on, but she did know she had a responsibility to keep this youngster safe – and calm. Her police training came to the fore. Smile. Reassure. ‘Course not,’ she said. ‘Just hold on tight. The Doctor’ll sort everything out. I promise.’
Graham was trying frantically to reverse the door lever, pushing this way, pulling the other, but it resisted his every attempt. ‘What’s happening, Doc?’ he yelled over the howling of the wind.
‘I don’t know! The TARDIS isn’t in flight!’
‘Yeah, I hate to be the one to point this out to you, but yes, it is!’
Ryan staggered past, holding his head – a flying hatstand had made itself known as the wind dragged it from its usual resting place. The Doctor glanced at him, then, reassured he wasn’t seriously hurt, turned back to Graham. ‘No. It’s not flying. It’s being carried somewhere. By the –’
‘- the tornado,’ Graham finished. It suddenly clicked. ‘Just like in The Wizard of Oz! Dorothy’s house gets carried away!’
‘The book!’ The Doctor tried to pull the book from its slot, but she had no better luck than Graham was having with the door controls. ‘Something in the book must’ve set it off! A booby trap!’
‘Well, can you un-booby trap us?’
The Doctor stared at the book, then at Graham. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Just keep your fingers crossed for a soft landing.’
Back at the doors, Yaz was still trying to maintain her composure – on the outside at least. ‘Tell me your name,’ she said. ‘I’m Yaz. Short for Yasmin.’
‘Theodore,’ he managed to get out.
‘Well, it’s nice to meet you, Theodore.’
The world beyond the doors was dark now. Whether that was because they’d flown so high there was no longer light, or because they were somewhere else altogether, Yaz didn’t know. It meant she no longer had a sensation of movement; she could feel the wind but without the visual cues her brain struggled to tell if the TARDIS were still whirling or climbing or if it had stopped still. But then the Doctor yelled ‘Hold tight!’ and that all changed. Suddenly, it was obvious they were plummeting. Yaz’s stomach jumped into her chest with an unpleasant sensation that she associated with rollercoasters, or out-of-control lifts.
The descent seemed to go on forever. On and on and on. Could you fall forever? Was this some sort of bottomless pit? Yaz saw Theodore, his eyes screwed shut, his lips forming an endless prayer. She couldn’t turn to look for the Doctor, or Ryan, or Graham, it was all she could do to stop herself screaming. She shut her eyes too.
And still they fell.
You can read the full story Doctor Who: The Wonderful Doctor of Oz by Jacqueline Rayner on paperback or ebook from Penguin, here.