The Celestial Omnibus
edited by Paul Magrs and Stuart Douglas
Cover Blurb
The Celestial Omnibus

What is there left to say about Iris Wildthyme -- transtemporal adventuress extraordinaire, metafictional explorer of texts and subtexts, double-decker-dwelling interstellar bag-lady, amnesia-prone political and sexual revolutionary, writer of wrongs, wronger of rights (especially copyrights), all-round champion of freedom, occasional nightclub singer and frequent bar-room floozy?

Well, there's always something.

A collection of brand-new stories, taking the transtemporal adventuress and her trusty companion Panda all the way from snowy Darlington to the literal end of the universe (and beyond!), visiting friends old and new on the way. With an introduction by Iris' alter-ego, Katy manning, original artwork by legendary Doctor Who artist June Hudson and new stories from Paul Magrs, Philip Purser-Hallard and Steve Cole among many others. There really is always something new in the headlights of Iris' trusty number 22 bus to Putney Common!

  • This is the first Iris Wildthyme short-story anthology from Obverse Books.
  • Released: May 2009
A Gamble with Wildthyme by Steve Lyons

Iris and Panda impulsively rescue a man named Will Brandon who is being pursued by mercenaries in the employ of MIAOW. As they shelter in an old church, Brandon reveals that he's stolen the original of A Friend in Need, one of the famous set of Dogs Playing Poker paintings. Brandon reveals that the painting contains a hidden image of a double-decker bus, and claims that all of the numbers in the painting, including the number 22 on the bus, are a set of hidden co-ordinates identifying the location of a secret alien super-weapon. As Iris tries to let him down gently, talking dogs with opposable thumbs storm the church, led by Brandon's own poodle, Tilly. The MIAOW mercenaries also burst into the church, but are overpowered by the dogs. Iris calls a halt to the battle and demands to know what's going on, and Tilly explains that the bulldog in the painting is an ancestor of one of their most respected statesmen, the betrothed of the Dogworld's princess -- and the painting depicts him cheating at cards. The dogs have destroyed all copies of the insulting painting and have manipulated Brandon into stealing the original so they can destroy it as well; they also intend to kill everyone in the church to eliminate all the witnesses. Iris offers to gamble everyone's lives -- and at Brandon's insistence, the painting -- on a final hand of poker. Tilly accepts the wager, and Iris begins to deal out cards from a deck that the colour-blind dogs are unaware is very blatantly marked using green dots on a red background.

Notes: Iris's shout "There will be no argy-bargy here!" parodies one of the Doctor's lines from Battlefield.

Sovereign by Mags L Halliday

January 1960: Iris visits an old friend, artist Agnes Inglewood, who is living in Cornwall with her teenage daughter Belle and a writer named Dana. Agnes fears that she's lost her artistic muse since entering menopause, and has asked Iris to help her. Belle is rebelling against her liberal mother by dating a conservative farm boy named Luke, but is beginning to chafe at Luke's apparent assumption that she belongs to him now. At a village dance, Belle is reunited with her childhood friend Alex, who has returned from London to clear out his late father's cottage, and she can't help but notice that he's no longer the gawky, uncoordinated boy she knew. Luke jealously drags Belle away from the dance, and when she protests, he drops her off at the edge of her driveway, forcing her to walk the rest of the way to her house. As she walks through the cold, she is confronted by a humanoid owl, which retreats when her screams bring the other women running. The creature continues to stalk her over the next several nights, while Belle finds herself torn between Luke and Alex, who both love her in very different ways. Dana eventually shoots the owlman in the wing, driving him away, and reminds Agnes and Belle that she's told them these stories before; according to legend, a young man of Zennan turned into an owl to watch over his true love, only to find that he was stuck in that form by night until she loved him in return. Dana suggests that the owl's spectre is a manifestation created by Belle entering womanhood at the same time that her mother enters menopause; Dana's only concern with it is that the incident is disrupting her writing routine. Both Alex and Luke appear injured the next day, but this may be because they've been fighting each other over Belle. That night, Belle finds the injured owlman in the woodshed, and has the woman help her carry him into the house; there, she tells him that he is her true love, and he transforms back into Alex. Belle and Alex leave the farm on Alex's Vespa to look for adventure, and Agnes finds that her inspiration has returned.

Iris Wildthyme and the Unhappy Medium by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright

TV psychic Hilary Mercer is well into the third season of Dead Scary, in which he claims to contact the spirits of the deceased before a live studio audience, using his late mother's ghost as a spirit guide. His career is going very well until he genuinely begins to hear voices in the middle of a studio recording: a woman named Iris and her slightly drunk friend Panda, who tried to take a short cut through the astral plane and are now under attack by a horde of Ectovores in a spiritual service station. Iris is trying to use her bus's communicator to contact her sort of half-brother Hilary Wildthyme for help, but has accidentally contacted the wrong psychic Hilary -- and because she tried to reverse the charges, the Ectovores are able to travel down the psychic bridge and manifest on Earth. One of the Ectovores possesses a studio security guard and begins to devour the terrified members of the studio audience. Iris rescues Hilary by pulling him back along the psychic bridge to her bus, and then takes him back to the studio a few seconds before the Ectovores manifest. Iris gives Hilary something that looks like her lady shaver, and on her instructions, Hilary rushes out of the bus and touches his younger self, and the burst of temporal energy forces the Ectovores back along the bridge and seals it behind them. Hilary is protected by the lady shaver, which is in fact Iris's time scanner, but awakens in hospital to find that he now genuinely has the power to see the dead. However, this means that he can genuinely see his late mother's ghost, and he's happy to learn that she's as proud of him as he'd always hoped she was.

Notes: Iris leaves a note telling Hilary to send the damaged time scanner to the Forge on Dartmoor, an institute introduced in the Doctor Who audio Project: Twilight.

Future Legend by Stuart Douglas

Panda writes a letter to Tom describing his latest adventure, which begins when Iris accuses him of stealing the last of her tonic water. He had, but that's beside the point, and after a bitter argument he sells himself on eBay, intending to use the proceeds to reach Jenny at MIAOW HQ in Darlington. However, he is diverted by the fiendish cybernetic cats of the Pussyworld, who lock him up in a storage cupboard for days. Panda tries e-mailing Jenny and Iris asking for rescue, but the cats then show him the broken gear-stick of Iris's bus, apparently proving that she is dead. After leaving him to stew for a while, they admit that they tricked him into e-mailing Iris so they can capture her when she turns up to rescue him. The Boss Cat (later revealed to be named General Matthews) uses the broken gear-stick and a segment of the Key to the Clockworks to open up a rift in Time through which Iris's bus emerges. She reveals to Panda that this is the end of Time; the last of the Pussyworld cats are struggling to survive on the last viable planet in the Universe, and they found the broken gear-stick in the ruins of Hyspero City. They've lured her here so they can escape on her bus, but she refuses to take them, claiming that it would be too dangerous to take them into the past with all their knowledge of future history. She does offer an alternative, however; she can use the Segment to take them to a deserted world in the Obverse, her home dimension, where their knowledge of this Universe won't pose a threat. The cats accept her offer, but once they've boarded the bus and Iris has dematerialised, the General threatens to throw Panda out into the Vortex unless Iris changes the co-ordinates to take them to the Obverse Pussyworld so he can raise an army and take over the Obverse. The other cats object to this change of plan, and the General responds by killing the most vocal spokescat; however, it breaks the gear-stick of Iris's bus in its death throes, and she and the General fight each other using the gear-sticks as swords. Just as the General is about to win, Panda and the other cats rush him and throw him off the bus. Iris transports the remaining cats to a planet ruled by cybernetic animals, and departs before the canine Ogg can object to her presence on their world.

Notes: Panda refers to the events of Land of Wonder, which presumably means that this story takes place afterwards (although Iris's continuity is by no means certain). The Key to the Clockworks is a parody of the Key to Time, which was also parodied in the quest for the Celestial Gateaux mentioned in The Sound of Fear. The fact that Iris damaged the sixth segment may be a reference to the revelations in The Judgement of Isskar. Panda refers to an Earthshock-like adventure with a happy ending, in which one of the freighter's crew is described as a half-mad cook (possibly a reference to the Doctor being mistaken for a ship's cook in Enlightenment). The cook refers to the three Atlantises of The Underwater Menace, The Daemons, and The Time Monster; claims to know the true identity of Bianca, Iris's evil future incarnation from The Wormery; and prophesies that Tom will rule a land of giant scorpions, a reference to The Boy That Time Forgot. The cybernetic cats trying to escape the end of the Universe may be a parody of Last of the Time Lords or Singularity. The Fourth Doctor and Iris encountered the Pussyworld in the short story Suitors, Inc., which may be why the cats have an image of a curly-haired man whom they refer to as the Great Deceiver and whom Panda identifies as one of Iris's former lovers. When the two gear-sticks clash, Panda refers to the release of temporal energy as "Blinovitch gubbins," a reference to Mawdryn Undead.

Battleship Anathema by Philip Purser-Hallard

Iris materialises near the Cardinal Flotilla, a ragtag fugitive fleet on the run from the Cyrenes, a race of lizard cyborgs who destroyed the Seven Cardinal Worlds. Iris has visited the Flotilla before and remembers having gay and joyous adventures with its crew, but 30 years later, many of her old friends have died in battle and the fleet has become a grim and humourless place. Admiral Rex Halidom, who no longer goes by the nickname Uriel, has Iris locked up in the brig until she agrees to pilot a squadron of Cardinal marines to the Cyrene Queenship in her bus. She reluctantly does so, although she is appalled to learn that the entire war was caused by a minor theological dispute over the nature of Christ's being. The attack is compromised when Sergeant Hadrian is revealed to be a Cyrene infiltrator in a human suit, but in the ensuing escape attempt, the marines notice that the Cyrenes have become fascinated by Panda. Theorising that the cute little stuffed animal has triggered the Cyrenes' repressed parental instincts, former child genius Doc Zero tries to create a set of bombs disguised as panda toys, but Iris and Panda manage to deactivate the bombs before they're sent on their suicide mission, and Panda himself becomes a media celebrity, causing the fleet's children to begin clamouring for pandas of their own. Iris thus contacts Archbishop Barnaby, reveals that she knows him to be a Cyrene sleeper agent, and blackmails him into organising a Panda convention for both human and Cyrene Panda fans. Iris and Panda then depart, unsure whether the humans and Cyrenes will find common ground in their fandom, but hoping for the best.

Notes: Another species called Cyrenes appeared in the Doctor Who audio Bang-Bang-a-Boom!, but the two are probably not connected.

The Dreadful Flap by Paul Magrs

December 2008: Iris and Panda visit Iris's old travelling companion Jenny Winterleaf, a former traffic warden who now works for the Darlington branch of MIAOW. 43 years ago, a rift in space and time called the Dreadful Flap opened up in the city, and this branch of MIAOW deals with the alien flotsam and jetsam that falls through it. Jenny introduces Iris and Panda to her suave immortal boss, Kristoff Alucard, and invites them to watch as they deal with an evil robot warlord that is about to fall through the Dreadful Flap. The robot turns out to be an innocent vending machine named Barbara who is fleeing the destruction of space station Antelope-slash-Nitelite in the 35th century; nevertheless, Alucard and Jenny still plan to disassemble her to find out how she works. Iris sends Panda to rescue Barbara while she researches the origins of the Dreadful Flap; while doing so, she learns that Noel Coward was appearing as the Genie of the Lamp in a shabby pantomime in Darlington, instead of living in retirement in Jamaica. Iris travels back in time to confront Noel, who admits that overuse of his magical time-travelling pinking shears has torn his own history to shreds. Meanwhile, Jenny catches Panda setting Barbara free, and isn't sure whether she should stop them; she admits that she's in love with Alucard, and the irritated Panda reminds her that she's a flaming lesbian and points out that "Alucard" is really Count Dracula in an extremely obvious disguise. Another MIAOW operative, a mermaid named Magda, gives Jenny an old book that she was recently given by an old solicitor who had been holding it for 40 years; it's a book of Noel Coward quips, and inside is a message from Iris Wildthyme, bringing them up to date. Jenny, Panda, and Barbara travel back in time using a very rudely shaped time-travelling device given to Jenny by Iris, and find that Dracula has stowed away aboard Iris's bus and is attacking her and Noel. Noel's pet poodle, Princess, attacks the vampire and is bitten, and Dracula transforms into an enormous hound and flees. Not entirely sure what's going on, Noel pursues Dracula and stabs him with the magical pinking shears, but while this reduces Dracula to dust, it also creates the Dreadful Flap. Iris sends the dispirited Noel back to the theatre, forgetting to remind him that his poodle may now be a vampire; she then buries Dracula's ashes in a crypt in Whitby, and takes Jenny and Barbara back to Darlington in 2008.

Notes: The MIAOW operation in Darlington is a parody of Torchwood. Magda may be related to the mermaid character from The Blue Angel.

...And Not a Drop to Drink by Steven Wickham

Iris is horrified to discover that she's finished off the last drop of gin on a Sunday, when all the off-licences are closed. The bus then responds automatically to a distress signal from a distillery in Scotland, and while Panda tries to track down the source of the call, Iris whips together a dimensionally transcendental gin bottle and tries to fill it from one of the distillery's barrels. In her haste, she falls into the barrel herself, and by the time the bottle is full she's already quite drunk. Panda hauls Iris back to the bus, and once she's recovered from her bender, he reveals that the distress call was sent by a liquid alien called an Aquaform. The alien's telepathic influence affected Iris once she came within range, but since she was already desperate for gin, the alien influence pushed her too far over the edge -- and while she was swimming in the gin barrel, she accidentally drank the Aquaform. All they can do now is wait for nature to take its course.

Iris Wildthyme y Señor Cientocinco Contra los Monstruos del Fiesta by Cody Schell

Panda is unexpectedly possessed by an ancient evil force, causing Iris to crash the bus in a back alley in Mexico in the year 1968. The evil influence draws Panda to a nearby party, but when Iris arrives, the revellers have been reduced to skeletons and the yard is draped with bloody gauze bandages. A masked figure kidnaps Panda, and Iris tracks him down to the home of Señor 105, a legendary luchador who battles the forces of evil and owns one mask for each element on the periodic table. Señor 105 initially assumed that the possessed Panda was related to the monsters that have been slaughtering partygoers, but when he and Iris work together to analyse the debris from the party, they discover that the monsters were made of papier-mâché. The city's premier piñata-maker is attacked by his own creations, which escape from the store and head for the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games; fortunately, they are distracted by another party on the way. Iris, Señor 105 and Panda try to intervene, but the evil piñatas force the revellers to party to extremes and then feed off their life energy, reducing them to skeletons. Señor 105 deduces from an old song about piñatas that he can challenge their leader to a wrestling match; when he does so, a two-metre-tall mummy named Axixmiqui emerges through a dimensional rip. Panda is forced to act as an impartial referee to the bout, but Iris wires electronics from her bus into a hookah once given to her by Kublai Khan, and uses the device to destroy the piñatas before Axixmiqui can feed on the life energy they've stored within themselves. Señor 105 pins Axixmiqui and wins the match, but the mummy refuses to concede and reweaves his bandages into a perfect geometric shape that will open up a dimensional gateway through which his brethren can emerge to consume Mexico City. Iris finds the weak point in the shape's equation, and uses the remains of her bus's electronics to set the bandages on fire, forcing Axixmiqui to retreat. She and Señor 105 spend several days repairing the bus, and Señor 105, knowing that Iris can never be pinned down to one time and place, shows her the true face beneath his mask. He also gives her a gift of mask number 22, which was designed with a pattern and colour scheme that resembles her bus.

Why? Because We Like You by Jonathan Dennis

After waiting in line for over half an hour in the happiest place on Earth, Iris and Panda notice that the animatronic robot exhibits have come to life and are herding tourists towards the fairy-tale castle at the centre of the park. The park's cryogenically frozen founder emerges, wired up to a life-support system, and announces that the time has come to spread his empire of joy and happiness to the rest of the world, whether the rest of the world wants it or not. The panic-stricken tourists are brutally subdued by the animatronic Presidents of the United States, and Iris is separated from Panda while leading a group of tourists to shelter in the House of the Future. Several hours pass without rescue arriving, and Iris goes out to check only to find that the army is being held back from the park by a phalanx of lawyers. The robots capture her and throw her into an underground office to cool her heels, but Panda comes to the rescue with an army of animatronic international children, who agreed to help him when he taught them a new song to replace the rubbish they'd been singing incessantly for decades. Iris reveals that she has an all-access pass for the grand opening of the park that she's never used, and uses it to gain access to the founder. He refuses to stop what he's doing even when Iris points out that it's making people miserable, and she thus pours her flask of gin into his life-support tubing. Unable to handle his liquor, he falls down the steps of the castle, tearing free of his life-support machine and breaking his neck as he falls. Iris and Panda retreat to the bus, protected by the animatronic singing children.

The Scarlet Shadow by Stewart Sheargold

While visiting a gypsy caravan in 18th-century Russia, Iris and Panda encounter Marlene Dietrich, who used to travel through Time with Noel Coward; this time, however, she claims to have ended up in Russia after falling into a painting of a scarlet woman being menaced by a shadowy figure. The painting once belonged to the Grand Duke Peter, who lives in a nearby mansion, but it was stolen a few days before Marlene arrived. Iris discovers that the thief used a Micklethwaite Extractor to create an unstable moment in Time during which the painting was stolen; however, a side effect of the device has caused objects from the Duke's art gallery to come to life, and Iris and Panda glimpse the figures from the painting stalking the grounds. While investigating, they encounter a giant Siamese cat in a space suit, and the embarrassed Panda recognises his ex-lover, the time-travelling cat burglar Gemima Smythe. Gemima stole a future version of the painting from the Museum of Absolutes, but then began to hear its voice in her head, beguiling her with tales of a land full of riches she could plunder. Her time capsule crashed when it arrived, and she stole the past version of the painting in the hope that this could help her return to her home era. Iris realises that dark forces in the painting have tricked Gemima into helping them to escape, but when she examines the painting, she becomes trapped inside it. Panda and Marlene question the gypsies, who reveal that a mysterious stranger once kidnapped a beautiful gypsy girl named Vasilisa and stole her life essence so that he could live forever; the gypsies burned his body and trapped his soul in the cursed painting, which they buried in a cave when the dead girl's father disappeared into it. Panda and Marlene find the dead man's caravan in the cave, and enter to find themselves inside the forest in the painting, along with Iris, Vasilisa, and the mysterious stranger. Iris identifies the stranger as the Archduke of Autumn, an alchemist from the Obverse; he and Vasilisa have become bound to each other, and the Archduke has engineered these events so that he and Vasilisa can possess Iris's and Marlene's bodies and escape from the painting. Marlene pretends to panic and knocks over a lantern as she runs, and since their surroundings are just an oil painting, it all goes up in flames. Vasilisa, who never wanted to kill anyone to be free, holds the Archduke back in the flames as Iris, Panda, and Marlene escape back out through the caravan. Iris then takes Marlene and the chastened Gemima back to their home eras.

Notes: The Archduke of Autumn may be from the same theatrical domain Bernice Summerfield visited in The Masquerade of Death. Iris for a time suspects that these events are down to a legendary Russian figure named Koschei, who, according to The Dark Path, goes by the name of the Master in the Doctor Who universe.

Only Living Girls by Steve Cole

Two teenage girls, Etta Little and her friend Ellie, have survived a cataclysm that reduced everyone in the world to ash. They are fans of the TV series Shadow-Mongers, and when they discover that the bodies of the principal cast members have somehow survived, Ellie insists upon assembling them all in a shrine in Etta's home. The final body belongs to Davydd, the actor who played the handsome lead Marc Gaslyght, but when they arrive at his home they find Iris there with a gangly man whose name sounds like Fritz. Fritz explains that Iris's friend Panda, who played the sinister Pandastro in the episode Enemy Bared, attended a cast party at which Davydd read aloud from the prop spell book as a joke; unfortunately, this unleashed the Spiritus Mundi, an evil spirit that Iris had encountered once before. Iris and Fritz are now trapped in an alternative version of events in which the Spiritus Mundi won their battle and destroyed the world. Ellie doesn't trust the newcomers, but is forced to flee with them and Etta when the Spiritus Mundi attacks them in the form of choking ash clouds. They take Davydd's body as they retreat, and back at Etta's house, Iris discovers that they've already collected Panda. Iris's presence restores Panda to life, and he recognises Etta as a figure from the season finale; he, Iris, and Fritz then realise that it was Etta and Ellie's pure love for the program that kept them and the cast's bodies intact during the cataclysm. The ash clouds attack Etta's home as well, but Davydd returns to life, acting or inhabiting the role of Marc Gaslyght. Ellie is too frightened to help, but Etta steps forward and plays her part, kissing Marc/Davydd and offering up her life as a sacrifice to complete the ritual he inadvertently started. The Spiritus Mundi is sent back where it came from, and the world returns to normal. Only Iris remembers what happened, and the ghost of Ella is content with that, knowing that she was such a true fan of Shadow-Mongers that her love was powerful enough to save the world.

Notes: Fritz is presumably the Eighth Doctor's companion Fitz Kreiner, who met other incarnations of Iris in The Blue Angel and Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Source: Cameron Dixon
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