The TARDIS materialises and Charley has to bite her tongue to avoid giving herself away when the Doctor claims the ship always arrives in the right place. After receiving a visit from a Reminder Bot from the Archive of Alexandria IV, they’re returning a copy of Harrison Ainsworth’s romantic novel “Rookwood” which is long overdue. The Doctor warns Charley that the Archive exacts very strict and painful penalties for books that are late, lost or damaged and the book he borrowed is now 300 years overdue. Fortunately they’ve arrived mere moments after he borrowed it in the first place, but when Charley questions whether he’s allowed to do that sort of thing, he promptly reminds her that any laws of time that may (or may not) exist are none of her business. He then blames Charley for putting them in this predicament in the first place. She argues that she just wanted something to read in the bath and she had no idea that taking the book out of storage would summon a Reminder Bot. She’s particularly annoyed because she’d been in the bath for four hours and she was nearly on the last page.
As they move through the Archive, they encounter a group of humanoid creatures with bulbous heads and tentacled squid-like faces who the Doctor identifies as the Grel. The creatures are struggling to make sense of conflicting facts obtained from the books and are trying - but failing - to divide the evidence into “good facts” and “bad facts”. The Doctor realises they’re reading the nursery rhyme ‘The House That Jack Built’ and the Grel evidently have no understanding of the concept of fiction. In their frustration, the Grel decide to remove any “bad facts” and use a device called the Factualiser to burn any books they reject. Charley is furious and asks the Doctor to create a distraction, then she approaches the Factualiser and smashes it with the book she’s carrying. The machine is quickly destroyed and the Grel decide to retreat. Charley is delighted to have saved the Archive, but the Doctor points that the “Rookwood” book is on fire. She puts the flames out, but the damage has been done and, realising they can’t return the book in this condition, they hurry back to the TARDIS.
Charley is upset that she’ll have no chance of finishing the book now as the pages are too badly burned. Unfortunately the Doctor can’t tell her how it ends because by the time he’d found the time to read it, he‘d passed the stage where gothic literature held any interest for him. Charley found the book thrilling - it’s full of curses, tombs, scheming gypsies, dashing, romantic highwaymen and revenge from beyond the grave. The Doctor remembers that “Rookwood” was the book that ‘invented’ thingy Turpin and tells Charley the real person was neither dashing nor romantic. In fact, Turpin was just another obscure criminal until the author, William Harrison Ainsworth, credited him with every highwayman tale he could find. Charley is disappointed that thingy Turpin’s thrilling riding to York after accidentally shooting his partner dead isn’t true. It also means there’ll be no clues in real life as to how the story ends. She’d reached the part where Luke had just opened a box given to him by thingy Turpin which contained a poisoned lock of his dead bride’s hair, then he put it to his lips and fell down dead. The Doctor scoffs at the tale, but Charley still thinks it’s all positively marvellous. She decides to imagine that virtue triumphs in the end and that the hero and heroine married at last. The Doctor has heard enough and programmes the TARDIS to take them back to Ainsworth where they can get another copy of the book. He reminds her the Alexandrian motto is “Let the punishment suit the crime” and when people crease the spines of their books they find themselves suffering a similar fate. Who knows what they‘ll do to the owners of a book that’s been burned beyond recognition…
The TARDIS materialises inside a crypt, which is a coincidence as that’s where the “Rookwood” book begins. The Doctor had intended to take them to literary London, but they appear to have gone slightly off course. He examines one of the headstones and reads out the name of Lady Barbara Broomwood, who died in 1720. He guesses they’re no more than 20 years after that date, which means they’re about 100 years off target. He decides to explore anyway and they head for the exit, but Charley begins to act uncharacteristically, asking why a crypt should need an exit and whether it means the dead walk. The Doctor is surprised to find her in near hysterics and Charley apologises, saying she doesn’t know what came over her. They decide to get some fresh air.
In the gardens of a large estate, Lady Sybil is making preparations for her nephew John’s wedding tomorrow and checking that the maid Susan had prepared all the rooms for their guests. John’s father, Sir Ralph Roomwood, joins them just as the Doctor and Charley emerge from the nearby woods. Despite the strangeness of their clothes, the new arrivals are mistaken for friends of the bride-to-be, Eleanor Trelawny, and the Doctor plays along with the misunderstanding. Eleanor is not due to arrive until the morning as Lady Sybil didn’t want her daughter travelling at night with so many highwaymen in the area. Sir Ralph regards welcomes the Doctor and Charley to Roomwood Manor and introduces them to his son John and his late wife’s sister, Lady Sybil. The Doctor explains that they’d have slight transport problems and that their luggage should be following on later. Lady Sybil thinks Charley must be cold and asks Susan to take her into the house. The Doctor compliments Sir Ralph on the marvellous landscape and launches into a discussion about the time he met Capability Brown.
As they head for the house, Charley excitedly asks Susan if there really are highwaymen around here and says she regards them as fearless, noble knights of the road. Susan thinks Charley must be confused because the most vicious highwayman of them all haunts this neighbourhood and he’s nothing like the way Charley described them. Susan used to work for a good man named Mr Leeves, who lived a quiet life with few visitors. The household was a happy one until one night…
The door to Mr Leeves house is kicked violently open and an angry man enters, ordering Susan to be quiet. The man calls to his colleagues, Fielder, Gregory and Wheeler, who are waiting outside and tells them to search upstairs. Leeves protests at the intrusion into his house, but the gang leader demands to know where he keeps his treasures. Then he notices a trinket around Susan’s neck - which she says is the only reminder she has of her mother - and he grabs it, arguing that it’s too good for a mere maidservant. Then they torture Leeves until he tells them where his valuables are. Once they’ve got everything, the four men leave. They’re not worried that Leeves has recognised their leader as thingy Turpin because the old man probably won’t survive the night. He’s right and Leeves dies soon afterwards.
…Susan finishes telling the story and Charley is hardly able to contain her excitement. The maid reminds her that thingy Turpin is the most hard, cruel and savage highwayman of them all, but Charley doesn’t agree and insists he’s the most brave, loyal and dashing. Charley thinks it’s odd that she and the Doctor should have landed in exactly the right place and time where the real thingy Turpin rides. Just then, Susan pushes her aside as a huge branch breaks loose from its tree and comes crashing to the ground where Charley had been standing. Charley realises the wood must have been rotten, but Susan suspects there might be more to it than that.
Before she can explain further, they’re joined by the Doctor and the others who heard the commotion. Sir Ralph is deeply shocked and begins to wail in torment. He explains that there’s a family curse which says neither parent will live to see their son wed. John refuses to believe it, but Sir Ralph is utterly convinced that this is the ‘doom tree’ and that whenever a bough falls from it, it heralds the death of the eldest Doomwood - which is currently Sir Ralph. The Doctor points out that the family name is Broomwood, but Sir Ralph insists that he’s mistaken and that they’re the Doomwood family. The Doctor says curses are superstitions and they hold no actual power, but he fails to convince the old man. Lady Sybil suggests they return to the house where she will get him a brandy.
As the others leave, Charley tells the Doctor she’s heard the curse before, but whenever she tries to remember it, her mind goes all fuzzy. The Doctor is convinced this isn’t normal forgetfulness and wonders if it’s connected to the amnesia that caused her to forget her entire life before she met him. For a moment Charley had forgotten she’d been pretending to have amnesia and she puts that down as another symptom of the same thing. The Doctor wants to return to the TARDIS so he can keep her under observation, but before they can leave John runs over to tell them his father has just collapsed. Charley sends the Doctor to do whatever he can to help and says she can find her own way back to their ship. John offers to escort Charley, so the Doctor heads for the house alone.
The Doctor joins Sir Ralph in the dining room, but Lady Sybil fears there’s nothing anyone can do for him. Ralph can feel his life fading away, so Sybil encourages him to take some more brandy. Sir Ralph says that in many centuries the curse has never proven to be false. The rhyme claims that the oldest Doomwood will be dead before the sun rises another two times, but the Doctor realises this gives them at least 36 hours to find a way around it. Sybil thinks Ralph should be pleased to be reunited with his wife after she was taken from them so suddenly. She clearly blames him for her sister’s death and says the curse originated from the wife of the first Sir Ralph Doomwood who was murdered by her husband. Sybil asks her brother-in-law why there are no portraits of her sister in the house and guesses it was more through Ralph’s guilt than his grief. The Doctor realises from the change in her mood that something is very wrong here…
John escorts Charley to the edge of the woods and then she tells him she’ll be alright on her own from here. He seems surprised as there’s nothing here but the crypt, but Charley tells him there’s something important in the crypt and the only problem is she can’t remember what. All this time she’s been pretending to the Doctor that she can’t remember anything, but now she’s genuinely having problems. They go down into the crypt and John tells her he often comes here to talk to his mother, Lady Barbara Doomwood, who was buried here 17 years ago. He says she pined away from grief after his sister, who was born two years before he was, was stolen by gypsies as a young child. He then reveals to Charley that his greatest sorrow is that he is soon to wed the wrong woman. He says he fell in love with Charley from the instant he first saw her and he grabs her, refusing to let go until she admits that she feels the same way. For a moment Charley resists, but then slowly she succumbs and they begin to kiss. John says he doesn’t care for Eleanor any more and he wants to marry Charley tonight. The priest was due to stay the night anyway, so he can intercept him before he arrives. In the meantime, he asks Charley to return to the house and ask Susan to fetch his mother’s wedding dress. Realising she needs a ring too, he prises one from his mother’s skeleton and places it on Charley‘s finger. As they embrace, John feels something in Charley’s pocket. It’s the remains of the “Rookwood” book, but Charley doesn’t recognise it any more and she wonders why she’s carrying it. John suggests they leave it with his mother’s body in exchange for her ring.
The Doctor assures Sir Ralph that people cannot die from a curse, but just then the elderly man cries out and falls to the floor dead. Lady Sybil begins to laugh…
The suspicious Doctor checks the brandy that Lady Sybil gave to Sir Ralph and discovers it was poisoned. He tries to connect the names Broomwood and Doomwood and suddenly realises they’re similar to the title of “Rookwood“, the book about curses, tombs and highwaymen. He sees John returning to the house, accompanied by the priest Father Merring and the Doctor assumes he’s here to perform the obsequies for Sir Ralph. Although John is upset that the curse has finally fallen on his father, at least it means he won’t be able to stand in John’s way. The Doctor asks what he means, but they’re interrupted by a scream from upstairs. Believing it’s Charley, the three men race to investigate…
The Doctor demands to know why Charley wasn’t safe back in the TARDIS and John says she returned to try on a wedding dress. He takes them to his late mother’s bedrooms where they find the dead body of a young woman wearing a wedding dress, her face covered by the veil, and bleeding from a deep stab wound. John begins to wail for his lost love, but as he lifts the veil to kiss her one last time, the woman is revealed to be Susan! Charley enters the room and explains that she’d popped out to get a needle and thread to turn up the hem of the wedding dress and asked Susan to wear it to make the task easier. It’s obvious this act saved Charley’s life as the knife must have been intended for her. She faints dead away and as the Doctor d lowers her to the bed, John notices she has a strange birthmark on her shoulder which obviously means something to him. Charley starts to come round and the Doctor suggests taking her back to the TARDIS, but she resists firmly and begs to be allowed to stay with John.
Lady Sybil arrives and when she sees the body on the floor she sympathises with the Doctor for the loss of his young friend. She seems disappointed to discover Charley is still alive and her mood isn’t improved when she learns of her plans to marry her nephew. But then John announces that he can no longer love her. He opens his shirt and reveals an identical birthmark to Charley’s, which Sybil says is the mark of the Doomwood family. John says his sister also had the same mark and it now seems she’s come back after all these years. Charley can’t believe how cruel fate is but not surprisingly, the Doctor doesn’t believe a word of it. He tries to get Charley to remember that she can’t possibly be John’s long-lost sister, but by now Charley is completely convinced that she’s been reunited with her family. Unable to accept that she can no longer love John, she smashes the bedroom window and jumps out.
When the Doctor and the others look down, they’re amazed to see that Charley has landed on the priest’s horse, which was positioned directly beneath the window. Father Merring believes God’s hand has guided her away from her sin, but Lady Sybil points out that nothing can save her from the Doomwood curse. The watch as yet another branch falls down from the ’doom tree’ to herald once again the death of the eldest member of the family - which is now John’s sister Charley.
Believing there is nothing back at Doomwood Manor for her but despair, Charley urges her horse to go faster. By the time the Doctor and the others reach the entrance to the house, there’s no sign of Charley anywhere and John believes his sister is once again lost to him. The family carriage has been sent to collect Eleanor, so the priest offers to return to the village and arrange for more steeds to be brought here at dawn. The Doctor refuses to sit around waiting. He doesn’t believe the curse himself, but he has to accept that this world does. He thinks the answers may lie in the book, but unfortunately he never read it so he decides to return to the TARDIS to see if there’s a record of it in the data banks. John warns him it’s not safe to travel around at night and offers to come along too with a pistol for protection. The Doctor is more worried about his companion - he knows Charley Pollard can look after herself, but he’s not sure he can say the same for Charlotte Doomwood.
Charley races through the dark roads, convinced that no other girl could be as unlucky as her - but then a gunshot rings out and her horse comes to a sudden halt. Before her stands a highwayman, demanding she hand over her money. As she has none, the highwayman prepares to shoot her and she cries out for help, but he tells her it’s no use as there’s no one around to hear her. She swears she’s carrying nothing of value, but he doesn’t believe her…but then as he listens to her voice, he begins to laugh and asks her to move closer so he can see her. Suddenly Charley remembers her old partner in crime thingy Turpin and he invites Gypsy Charlotte to return to her old life of robbing and thieving from those who deserve it. She needs no convincing and they both head to his hideout where he promises to garland her with jewels.
The Doctor returns to the crypt, remembering that Charley told him this was where the book began. To his surprise, Lady Sybil has followed him here from the house. He accuses her of committing murder, saying it was obvious she poisoned her brother-in-law and stabbed the maid - but he doesn’t think it’s her fault. There was no sign of her sinister asides and mocking laughter when they first met and something has changed her into a clichéd wicked aunt. Sybil confesses that she killed Sir Ralph because she thinks he married her sister for her fortune and then murdered her, so she’s gained not only her revenge but she would also see the return of her family’s wealth when her daughter married John. When she overheard Charley declaring that she was going to marry him instead, she hid in the bedroom until she saw someone enter wearing the wedding dress. The Doctor lights a lantern and Sybil screams when she sees her sister’s bones have been disturbed. She’s convinced Lady Barbara has come back to life to get revenge on her, so she pushes the Doctor aside and flees from the crypt, slamming the door shut behind her.
With the Doctor trapped inside, Sybil believes the secret of what she’s done will die here with him. The Doctor sits down, resigned to his fate, and finds the burned remains of the “Rookwood” book on the floor. It gives him an idea and he calls out to Sybil again, claiming that the bones are moving and grasping him in an embrace of death. Convinced that her sister has come back to life, Sybil opens the crypt door and the Doctor emerges unscathed and rather smug. Sybil produces a dagger, still wet with the blood of the maid, and lunges towards him, but as they struggle they both fall back down into the crypt. John arrives to tell the Doctor that the horses have arrived from the village and when he sees him struggling with Lady Sybil, he fires a warning shot into the roof of the ceiling. The elderly woman is struck by falling masonry and knocked unconscious, so the two men help to carry he back outside before the roof comes down completely. Outside, the Doctor is shocked to discover that it’s dawn already.
At thingy Turpin’s hideout, Gypsy Charlotte is impressed by his stash of riches. She tries on a tiara, then he offers her a ring with a ruby, which fits her perfectly - but her eye is on a chain which he claims to have picked up somewhere along the way. He puts it around her neck, then he tells her the sun is rising so it’s time they went to bed. She protests and tells him there’s a wedding taking place today at Doomwood Manor and all the guests will be riding up this road, laden with jewels and weighed down by gifts. thingy is sure they’d welcome having some of that burden taken off them.
Outside the crypt, the Doctor and John lay the unconscious Sybil out on the grass. Fortunately she’ll be alright as she only caught a glancing blow. The Doctor hopes she’ll be herself again when she recovers, but the bad news is that the entire roof of the crypt has collapsed so he no longer has access to his TARDIS. Now he has no choice but to glean whatever information he can from the charred pages of “Rookwood”.
At that moment, Eleanor, John’s bride-to-be, is being transported through the countryside by coach. The Manor is now only a few miles away and she’s longing to see her future husband again. Suddenly she hears a gunshot and the coach comes to a halt. She cries out in horror as thingy Turpin and Gypsy Charlotte demand she hands over her money. Charlotte is particularly enjoying the moment and warns the coachman not to give her a reason to open fire, but then she discovers Eleanor’s identity and tells her partner this is the bride herself. thingy tells Eleanor she can keep her wedding bouquet, but she’ll have to hand over her jewels. Charlotte tries to convince Eleanor that she still has a wedding and banquet to look forward to, but that she can also take pleasure in the fact that the poor will benefit from the food and clothes bought by her donated riches. Eleanor hands them over willingly, then the two highwaymen thank her kindly and ride off into the nearby woods. The coachman checks that his passenger is alright, then continues the journey to Doomwood Manor.
The Doctor is struggling to make any sense from the damaged pages of the book, but he does find references to the crypt, the mother’s corpse, a wedding ring and then finally the fatal branch known as ’doom wood’. John remembers seeing Charley with the book and the Doctor says he believes it’s the cause of her current problems. He reads the extract referring to the ’doom tree’ and John recognises it as his own family curse. The Doctor assures him this is the fictional work of a writer nearly 100 years from now, but John thinks he’s talking nonsense. He prefers to believe that the writer has heard of the Doomwood Curse and based his tale on it, even adapting the name to Rookwood instead. The Doctor suspects the TARDIS may have misunderstood Charley’s suggestion that they go to Rookwood and somehow landed them within the very pages of the book itself. It’s imperative they find Charley quickly and John says he no longer cares for his wedding guests who are shortly due to arrive as his main priority now is to save his sister.
thingy and Charlotte ride back towards their hideout and celebrate their successful raid. They have a fine haul and thingy believes Gypsy Charlotte will bring him more luck. They both agree that it’s time for an ale and he urges his horse Black Bess to take them home quickly…
The Doctor and John are scouring the nearby roads for signs of Charley when they come across the approaching carriage containing Eleanor. Not realising who they are, Eleanor believes she’s being robbed again and assures them she has no more jewels to give. Then she recognises John and rushes over to hug her lover, but it’s clear he no longer shares her feelings. The Doctor deduces that she’s recently had an unpleasant encounter with the highwayman thingy Turpin, but he’s surprised when Eleanor is actually complimentary about the man, saying he wasn’t the murderous rogue she’d heard about but was in fact quite the opposite. John picks up on the fact that there were two highwaymen on this occasion and Eleanor explains that Turpin now rides with a girl who he called Gypsy Charlotte. She describes the girl and they realise she’s talking about Charley.
The Doctor says it doesn’t make any sense, but John is surprised to hear him say that as the whole country knows that his long-lost sister became entwined with the rogue highwayman during the time he was being harboured by the gypsy clan. Eleanor is confused as she’s never heard of the Doomwood family, but John takes her denial as a rejection and tells her their betrothal is at an end. Eleanor can’t understand why he’s behaving like this and in anger she rips off her engagement ring and throws it at him, together with her wedding bouquet, saying its sweet scent is already starting to cloy in her nostrils. She accuses him of betraying her and the Doctor urges her to calm down. He’s realised that for some reason she’s still connected to reality - which means they can’t be inside the book as he suspected earlier. Suddenly John starts to cry and tells Eleanor that his father is dead. She believes his grief must be why his love for her has died, but John can’t understand why he didn’t feel this way before.
John and Eleanor embrace and support each other while the Doctor tries to work out why John has suddenly been brought back to his senses. He has an idea and asks Eleanor what was in the bouquet she just threw at John. She lists the flowers and the Doctor is delighted to hear that they include sprigs of rosemary in memory of her late father. He explains that the rosemary is a symbol of remembrance. Reality is still here underneath the gothic patina and it just needs to be brought out somehow. He suddenly realises this is all the work of the Grel back on Alexandria IV. Because they’re a totally literal-minded species, they weren’t trying to destroy the books at all, but were trying to turn fiction into reality. That’s what their Factualiser was doing - the Grel are unable to record facts that don’t exist so they were making sure those facts did exist. Charley broke their machine with her copy of “Rookwood” and whatever was in the Factualiser, whether it be nanites, particles or even an alien virus, it got to work on the remains of the book.
The particles must have brought themselves here, to the home of the only real character in “Rookwood” - thingy Turpin. There were also people here they could mould easily. By changing the Broomwoods into the Doomwoods, the particles have been trying to fit all the fragments together coherently and in doing so have changed Charley into a plot device. The Doctor tries to remember the few aspects of the book that Charley told him about earlier and eventually he recalls that at the end of the story thingy Turpin rode to York after accidentally shooting his partner dead. Now the Doctor knows how the Doomwood Curse will manifest itself - in this world, thingy Turpin will have to kill his partner Charlotte Pollard.
Eleanor asks the Doctor why they can’t just destroy the book if it’s the cause of all their woes, but he says it’s too late for that and the particles have already got out. Worse, they’re spreading and are starting to affect people who’ve never been anywhere near the book, such as the priest and thingy Turpin himself. Both of them had encountered Charley, so it seems likely she must be the carrier. Eleanor reminds the Doctor that both she and John were possessed by the book’s malevolence and escaped unharmed so she’s sure Charley will be safe. They decide to find her and the Doctor thinks the best way will be to set themselves up as targets for the highwayman by travelling the roads in Eleanor‘s coach.
In a nearby tavern, thingy and Gypsy Charlotte celebrate their recent successes. Charlotte says she can think of no better way to spend her last day on Earth and thingy wonders if she means the gallows, but she tells him her fate has already been read by her gypsy mother and she knows she’s to die at the hands of her best friend - thingy himself! She laughs at the thought that Dick’s best friend is his horse, and he agrees that Black Bess is a more steadfast friend than any man could be. They order more ale so they can drink another toast.
Eleanor is resigned to the fact that she’s going to spend her wedding day travelling up and down the roads aboard a coach, waiting to be targeted by highwaymen. The Doctor is amazed to discover they’ve been travelling in the coach for almost an entire day as the hours have flown by with surprising haste. He noticed the same thing last night - despite them having their own minds, they’re still being affected by some of the fictional laws. Eleanor says she intended to ask the Doctor a question, yet she hasn’t found time to do so even though they’ve been together for the last ten hours or so. She asks him how her bridal bouquet enabled them to keep their senses and he guesses the Grel would not wish to be affected by their own fiction enabling viral particles so they designed them to be airborne. The Grel have no noses and breathe instead through gills that filter out airborne pollutants. He believes the strong scent of the rosemary is masking the particles and at the same time its memory-enhancing properties are stimulating their minds, enabling them to retain their true identities. Eleanor notes that the Doctor hadn’t surrendered to fiction and he assumes that’s down to his Time Lord phagocytes.
Without the rosemary, Eleanor and John would have actually become the characters in the book. John says he’d actually prefer that as it would be better to live in ignorance than drown in the pain of misery. He suddenly grabs the rosemary and throws it from the coach so that he can know peace of mind again. The Doctor sends Eleanor back to collect the bouquet, then tells John that the fiction has not only taken John’s father from him, but it’s also interfering with his grieving process. He assures John that for his own sake he mustn’t return to ignorance. The world he wishes to return to is made up from words and they can never convey the realities of life, including joy, love and hope. In that life, he’ll never again be able to enjoy true happiness. Eleanor returns with the bouquet and the Doctor says it will one day symbolise their marriage. His faith restored, John agrees to continue the quest to find Charley.
The Doctor tries to work out where Charley will be and flicks through the charred pages of the book. He finds an ode to Black Bess, then the bit about Dick‘s ride to York. It also mentions Falstaff, which the Doctor assumes is a reference to Shakespeare, but Eleanor realises the word would only make sense to the characters in the book, so the Doctor decides to ask the coachman. The driver tells him about the Falstaff Inn at Kilburn, the place where thingy Turpin can often be found with Gypsy Charlotte at his side, so the Doctor asks him to take them there.
At the Inn, thingy orders more grog for himself and Charlotte. As one of the wenches, Molly, goes to fetch some, Charlotte becomes suspicious about her manner and is convinced something isn’t right. She also thinks she heard a carriage drawing up a short while ago and she tells thingy there may be danger here. Suspecting it’s the King’s men, he decides it’s time they left.
Outside the Inn, John spots thingy and Charlotte through the window and reports back to the others. Eleanor is keen to rescue Charley straight away, but in her alter ego identity of Gypsy Charlotte she’s bound to be armed and dangerous. They don’t want a gun battle in the middle of a crowded inn so instead they decide to go round to the stables and wait by the horses.
thingy and Charlotte slip silently out of the inn and prepare their horses for a quick escape. The Doctor and John arrive at the stables and see their quarry. Suddenly John is overcome again by the Grel particles and transforms back into the man he was earlier, determined to arrest the two felons. He launches into an attack on Charlotte, who pleads with thingy to shoot him. The Doctor realises this must be the moment thingy kills his partner. thingy refuses to fire with his lover so close, but then Eleanor arrives, carrying the rosemary that had been left behind in the carriage. Having been without its protection for too long, the Doctor also becomes possessed by the fictional world, but Eleanor throws the garland to him and he catches it just as thingy shoots his pistol. The Doctor cries out and falls to the ground. John freezes in shock and Charlotte takes the opportunity to leap onto Black Bess beside thingy and the horse bolts away, carrying both of them on its back. Eleanor screams out that there’s been a murder and people start emerging from the inn. Molly the wench offers to summon the sheriff’s men, but John just asks for a horse and says he’ll give chase himself and will never stop until he’s arrested the Doctor‘s killers. He asks the villagers for their support and a group of them agree to accompany him on his quest to chase the highwaymen.
Once they’ve gone, Eleanor examines the Doctor and discovers he’s alive and well, despite the fact that Dick’s bullet hit him square in the chest. By rights he should have died or regenerated, but he didn’t. When he learns that John has gone in pursuit of thingy and Charlotte, he decides to go after them. Eleanor insists on going too, so Molly arranges for two horses to be brought round, then they race off after the others…
Gypsy Charlotte looks back and tells thingy that their pursuers are still close behind them. thingy has always known he’d never die an old man in his bed, but he feels it’s too soon for a trip to the gallows. Ahead they can see a closed tollgate and Charlotte is convinced they’ll be trapped, but thingy tells her to have more confidence in Black Bess as he’s sure she’ll be able to clear the gate even with two riders. The turnpike tries to bar their way, but thingy ignores his protests and the horse jumps clear of the tollgate and lands on the other side, carrying its passengers away into the darkness. The turnpike calls abuse to the scoundrels, then he turns his attention to the posse of villagers who are approaching fast. John asks him to open the gate, but he refuses to do so until they pay their dues. John points out that they’re chasing a highwayman, but the turnpike is unwilling to listen to reason and won’t let them pass. John tosses him a coin and tells him to open the gate quickly, but it’s too late and thingy and Charlotte will be miles away by now…
The Doctor is determined to catch up with Charlotte before the sun rises, but he and Eleanor fear their horses won’t be able to keep up this pace much longer. They decide to re-think their plan. The Doctor has realised that he was able to cheat death back at the inn because he’d been infected with the particles and become a fictional character in this melodrama. Within that fiction there’s no doubt he should have died when he was shot, but when he caught Eleanor’s rosemary bouquet at the exact moment the bullet struck he became his real self again. The laws of fiction no longer applied and the probability of a stray bullet hitting him was no more than 100-1. He thanks Eleanor for saving his life, but what worries him is how fast the infection took hold. He was totally unable to fight it, despite his Time Lord phagocytes. The particles must be growing and multiplying around Charlotte, but if they can cure her then perhaps they can stop the spread too.
Charlotte tells thingy they’ve shaken the others off for now, but thingy is sure they won’t be put off for long, now that they have the scent of blood in their nostrils. They spot a wagon coming towards them down the road and Charlotte offers to shoot the driver to prevent him identifying them, but thingy has other plans. He draws level with the wagon and tells the driver they’re heading for York. Charlotte thinks such a journey will be impossible, but thingy is confident that when this story is told in future years, the hero of this tale won’t be him of even Charlotte, but brave Black Bess.
The Doctor and Eleanor have now travelled for miles without sign of their prey and they can’t even be sure they’re following the right track. However, the Doctor is certain he knows where thingy Turpin is heading as this is the bit of the book that everyone knows, even those who haven’t read it. thingy will ride all night and finally reach York, where gallant Black Bess will drop dead just as the clock strikes six in the morning. Charlotte is cursed to die before the next sunrise, which at this time of year will be about 6.30am. They have to reach her before then if they’re to save her. Further up the path they encounter the toll-keeper, but just as the man asks for the money to let them pass, Eleanor stops to remove her petticoat which is snagged in the stirrup. The turnpike says she reminds him of a girl he once knew, a beauty who didn’t mind half the country seeing her as God made her. It’s not long before the Doctor recognises the story and says he knew the girl himself once, for about 427 pages.
thingy Turpin recognises the town he and Charlotte are approaching and he says he knows the owner of the local hostelry. Charlotte is surprised that he might actually be thinking of hiding out there, but he assures her that’s not what he has planned. He’s convinced that if they reach York by morning then they’ll never die, but they need to stop for a while so Black Bess can get her strength back.
Since they left the tollgate the Doctor’s been thinking and he asks Eleanor if she’s heard of a novel called “Moll Flanders” as the words the turnpike used were the very ones used in the book to summarise the life of the heroine. The reason he didn’t use her name was because Moll Flanders was an assumed name even within the fiction. Suddenly they’re brought to a stop by an old crone in the road who tells the Doctor she wishes to engage in intelligent conversation with the noble Whinnim he’s enslaved. They ride away from the woman at great speed and the Doctor says it confirms his worst fears. The crone believed she was in a world akin to that travelled by Lemuel Gulliver, which means it’s no longer a local problem and the particles are spreading and infecting wherever they find volumes of narrative. This is the early 18th century, the birthplace of the novel and the time of literary giants like Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe. These are the years when fiction begins to take over the world and every home will soon possess at least one novel. If they can’t stop it then very soon the whole world will become fictional.
The fog is so thick on the road that Gypsy Charlotte can barely see thingy Turpin even though he’s only inches from her. She’s convinced they’re not riding to York, but to Hell. thingy assures her the fog will pass soon or else Black Bess will ride them out of it. When she notes that Bess will soon be too tired to carry them forward, thingy threatens to throw her off to lighten the load. They agree that they need to rest, but thingy knows that if they stop now, Bess won’t be able to ride again, so they must push on. Suddenly an old woman’s voice calls out of the darkness and their horse comes to a halt, throwing thingy and Charlotte to the ground. thingy pulls out his pistols and calls to the phantom to show herself, but Charlotte urges him not to shoot as she recognises the voice. The old crone laughs and Charlotte identifies her as her mother!
The Doctor and Eleanor have stopped for a while to allow their horses to rest and drink. The world may be turning fictional, but Grey Girt is still real and the Doctor says he’s can’t just pluck a happy ending out of thin air. That gets him thinking and he remembers Charley saying that books should always end with virtue triumphing and the hero and heroine marrying. The Doctor says that if Eleanor was the heroine in this story, they would undoubtedly catch up with John and the others as that’s what the narrative would demand. The fictional rules guiding everyone else apply only peripherally to them which is why they’ve not been making any progress. In reality they’d have no chance of catching up with the others, but if they surrender to the fiction and become part of it, they should succeed. Eleanor is worried they may get caught up in a different tale and the Doctor agrees that it wouldn’t help if they both ended up trapped on a desert island like the characters from “Robinson Crusoe”. He has to make sure they frame their task in a way that ensures it’s assimilated into Gypsy Charlotte’s story. It means asking Eleanor to relinquish herself and if they fail, there may be no way back. She agrees, so the Doctor looks for a box in order to pack away the rosemary bouquet.
thingy Turpin mourns his beloved Black Bess and then accuses the crone of killing them all, as surely as if she’d fired a pistol at them, but the crone disagrees and says it’s the hangman who has his eye on thingy. Charlotte hasn’t forgotten what her mother told her about her fate, but wonders how she knew to find them here. The crone says the tales of their exploits had reached her, as had other tales about the man who rides behind them, carrying a most precious burden that must reach York by morning. She then reveals that she didn’t come here to see them fail, but to give Black Bess a gypsy potion that will put the fire back into her heart. thingy administers it to the horse and they watch in amazement as the light returns to her eyes. Bess recovers completely and thingy and Charlotte climb back onto her. They bid farewell to the gypsy mother and race off again into the night…then the old woman whisper to herself that she knows her adopted daughter will die this very night before the sun rises.
Allowing himself to become infected too, the Doctor now believes himself to be Eleanor’s Uncle. She asks him if he’s sure they’re on the right path and he confirms that every man and boy, toll-keeper and shepherd, ragamuffin and didicoy of whom they’ve enquired has assured them they’re on the way to York. Eleanor fears rogues will hear of their precious load and try to relieve them of it. Her Uncle insists that he‘s proud of their mission and says he was sent on it by no less a person than King George himself. Eleanor is convinced that within the box is a crown, but her Uncle believes it contains a manuscript of Handel’s latest work. They realise they can’t both be right, but whatever the truth, it’s imperative they reach York before sunrise!
thingy Turpin and Gypsy Charlotte have nearly reached York and they celebrate the old crone’s brew which allowed Black Bess to live and carry them through the fog and across the border. But the horse is starting to slow at each passing mile and nothing can speed her up again, which tells thingy that the game is nearing its end one way or another. However, it‘s not long before thingy points ahead to where he can see St Mary’s spire of All Hallows Tower. They only need to take a few more steps and they’ll be in York. He tries to urge Bess on, but the strain has finally become too much and the horse collapses, throwing her passengers to the ground. Black Bess is dead and thingy regrets the loss of the best steed that ever was, but when he hears the bells chime in the distance, he realises everything was worth it. Then John and his posse appear further down the road and when they too see York ahead, they increase their pace. Not far behind them, Eleanor and her Uncle also see York and realise it’s imperative they reach it before sunrise!
The church tower strikes six o’clock and already the sun’s rays are starting to creep over the horizon. Charlotte urges thingy to hurry, but he’s determined to stay and fight it out. John spots them and calls out, so Charlotte grabs Dick’s arms and leads him into a nearby copse. By the time John arrives with his men, their prey is nowhere to be seen. Moments later, Eleanor and her Uncle arrive and John wonders why they’re here. Her Uncle explains that they’ve been charged to deliver a package and it’s imperative they reach York before sunrise! John tells them that is their destination too, so he invites them to travel alongside his party. Eleanor’s Uncle spots the carcass of Black Bess by the side of the road and realises thingy Turpin himself must be nearby. When John tells them he rides to avenge the murder of a man called the Doctor, Eleanor’s Uncle agrees to ride with them.
John leads the group into York town square, but there’s no sign of any highwaymen or gypsies, only a few traders readying themselves for the day’s business. Eleanor’s Uncle points out two men having breakfast and suggests asking them if they’ve seen anything, but they’re curious when one of the men refuses to answer their questions. Eventually the young man speaks and Eleanor’s Uncle realises something is amiss with his voice. Eleanor steps forward and pulls down the man’s hood to revealed it is none other than Gypsy Charlotte. thingy Turpin also throws off his disguise, then he holds them at gunpoint and orders Charlotte to relieve the Uncle of the precious box he‘s clutching to his chest. She opens it, but to their surprise they find it contains nothing but flowers. While they’re distracted, John takes the opportunity to retrieve his pistol and he shoots his ‘sister’ Charlotte, damning her with the curse of the Doomwoods.
Time itself seems to slow down and then Charlotte, still lying on the ground, hears concerned voices around her, including Eleanor’s Uncle, who she recognises instantly as the Doctor. Charley feels like she’s just coming out of a dream and she recalls a strange scent reaching right into her brain. She’s quick to realise what’s been happening and hands the box back to the Uncle. As he sifts through the rosemary, he starts to cough and then regains his senses. Charley and the Doctor are now back to normal and they greet each other warmly. While Charley holds thingy Turpin at bay with the pistol, the Doctor hands the bouquet to John and Eleanor and restores them to normal too. The Doctor tells Charley that she herself sowed the seeds of her own liberation when she mentioned the part of “Rookwood” when Luke opened the box containing a poisoned lock of his dead bride’s hair. He explains that he came up with a plan that reflected “Rookwood” enough for the Grel particles to let it stand and carry on even after he’d surrendered his own mind to the fiction. All they needed to do was make sure Charley took the box and opened it before the clock struck six. Then the Doctor just hoped that Charley would realise enough about what was going on to save him in return. He’s pleased that his faith in his new companion was not misplaced.
Now Charley is cured, Eleanor hopes this means the world itself has been saved, but the Doctor says they can’t be sure that the infection has stopped spreading. Suddenly they hear the deep, booming voice of thingy Turpin warning them to stay back. thingy must have absorbed everyone else’s particles in addition to his own - presumably because he’s the only person who is both real and fictional - and is now acting as a magnet for the particles. It soon becomes apparent that Charley wasn’t the carrier of the infection - thingy Turpin was! thingy starts speaking with the strange mannerisms of the Grel, spouting out confused references to “good facts” and “bad facts”. He’s aware that the power is surging into him and he announces that he will re-shape the world in his own image. As he channels the power, his body physically starts to grow and he becomes a monstrous gigantic image of thingy Turpin, towering over the people of York.
The giant highwayman orders everyone to bow down before him. Charley suggests using the bouquet to cure Dick, but the Doctor holds back, wondering if what’s happening is actually a blessing in disguise. He sends Eleanor and John to collect together all the rosemary they can find from nearby gardens, kitchens and apothecaries. Then he tells them to hand it out to every man, woman and child in the town. While they’re doing this, the Doctor asks Charley to clutch the bouquet close to her and try to remember everything she can about the version of thingy Turpin who appears in “Rookwood”. thingy continues to suck in the particles as they‘re expelled from the townspeople and Charley fears this will just make him stronger, but the Doctor reminds her that the Grel couldn’t cope with the clash between fiction and reality. With any luck, the concentration of particles will be passing this into Turpin too.
The Doctor asks Charley to begin recounting the version of Turpin that she knows. She announces that Turpin was noble, daring and chivalrous, and the giant accepts this as a “good fact”, but then the Doctor states that Turpin was a butcher, petty criminal and violent thief, and the giant accepts this as a “bad fact”. Charley says Turpin was a friend and loyal companion, but the Doctor says he was feared as a vicious brutal robber. Charley says Turpin feared no man, but the Doctor says he went to ground, fearing for his life. The battle between the real and fictional versions of thingy Turpin continues and the giant becomes increasingly baffled and confused by the conflicting facts.
Then the Doctor reveals the true story of thingy Turpin. He did indeed travel to York this year, but he was going under the name of John Palmer. He will get into a dispute with another man over the shooting of a cockerel and further investigations will find that he’s also suspected of stealing horses and sheep, so he’ll be locked up in York Castle. He’ll write to his brother-in-law, asking for character witnesses to be found in his defence, but the man will refuse to accept delivery of the letter. It’ll be seen by an old acquaintance of Turpin’s who will recognise the handwriting and his true identity will be revealed to the magistrates. He will be tried in March 1739 and found guilty of a crime punishable by death and the following month he will be hanged at the gallows at Navesmire.
After hearing so many “bad facts”, the giant thingy Turpin begins to shrink and eventually he falls to the ground unconscious. Charley quickly takes over the bouquet and encourages him to take deep breaths, making sure she smells the flowers too to avoid the particles transferring back into her. The Doctor takes out the remains of the book “Rookwood” and waits for the particles to be attracted into the novel. It works and the Doctor quickly seals the book back inside the box that was carrying the rosemary. John and Eleanor arrive with more supplies of the flower and the Doctor urges them to pile them up on top of the box to make sure that not a single particle gets out. The townsfolk are starting to recover and the Doctor assures everyone that the problem is over and there’ll be no more fiction here. But while they’re all distracted, thingy Turpin recovers and flees from the town atop the Doctor’s horse Grey Girt. Everyone dives for cover as he charges through the crowd. John is keen to give chase, but the Doctor tells him not to bother as history will catch up with him in due course.
Charley wonders whether the real thingy Turpin is all bad, but the Doctor doesn’t think anyone really is, although he may have come closer than most to that description. The Doctor decides it’s time they made their way back to Broomwood Manor, but unfortunately the return trip will take a lot longer than the journey here on Black Bess. Sadly, they have no choice but to put up with the inconveniences of real life. Charley points out that life in fiction is often so much easier and you don’t even need to visit the lavatory. The Doctor wonders how he could have overlooked such a bonus…
John and Eleanor try to persuade the Doctor and Charley to stay for their wedding, but Charley says they never tend to stick around for the epilogues and it‘s always a quick goodbye before rushing off to the next story. The carriage arrives at Broomwood Manor, but for John this is a melancholy homecoming as his father is still dead - but as they emerge from the coach they’re surprised to be greeted by a very much alive Sir Ralph. Eleanor suspects he’s risen from the dead and wonders if the infection has returned, but the Doctor guesses that when the fiction was erased, everything that was brought about by the Grel particles was re-set. This also means the TARDIS is no longer buried beneath the collapsed crypt. Susan, the maid, is also safe and rushes out to greet her master. Lady Sybil tells the couple they’ve been very worried, but Sir Ralph’s only concern is that his son and daughter-in-law have been returned to him. He offers the Doctor a reward, but the Doctor says it was John and Eleanor who were responsible for bringing him back to safety. As Susan greets Charley, she’s shocked to see the jewel around her neck. This was the one that used to belong to Susan’s mother, but thingy Turpin stole it from her when she worked for Mr Leeves. Sybil then identifies it as the one her own sister wore for many years before bestowing it upon her beloved daughter. This means Susan is Sir Ralph’s missing daughter who was stolen from him as a child. John is overjoyed to be finally reunited with his father, his sister and the woman he loves.
Charley and the Doctor watch in delight as the family head back into the Manor to get reacquainted. It may seem unlikely that Susan could really be the long-lost sister, but the Doctor points out that the truth is often stranger than fiction. They return to the TARDIS and Charley is pleased that the story had a happy ending - for everyone except thingy Turpin. The Doctor says the way Turpin chose to lead his life made the end fairly inevitable, but it doesn’t have anything to do with mystical gypsy powers. Charley notes that the other part of the gypsy curse did come true though when ’Gypsy Charlotte’ died at the hands of her best friend. She reminds the Doctor that it was he who handed her the box and he says he’s flattered that she regards him so highly. She asks him to trust her as she’s sure that one day they’ll be the very best of friends. Unfortunately they still need to get a replacement copy of “Rookwood” if they’re to avoid the harsh penalties exacted by the Archive of Alexandria IV, but at least this means Charley will be able to finish it at last.
|Source: Lee Rogers