The planet Venice is covered with waterways and is as rich as any in the Calypso V system. Although well defended and as likely as any other planet to break out into warfare, it still pays regular tribute to Captain Cornelius (or 'Ironface' as he is often known). His ship, the Paine, sails on the solar winds into the outer atmosphere and his pirates drop to the surface to claim what their captain demands. For a week they gather their tolls and one man, eager to curry favour, offers what might be a string of beads which Cornelius pockets thoughtfully. When the barges are loaded and returned to the Paine the great ship turns and heads for its home base in Canis. Cornelius searches through the treasure, hoping to find the ingot of newtonium which even he must know cannot exist. Sailing back from the Rim toward the Hub, Cornelius hopes to encounter the man who may help him: the Doctor.
Amy and the Doctor are on a planet called Peers. Amy is watching the third day of a Tournament match, now in its third day. The Doctor is playing in this match and trying to cement his position in the First Fifteen of the Gentlemen's side. It is a long, complicated game that derives from a combination of cricket, archery, jousting and many other English village sports. It is an offshoot of the Renaissance Re-enactments carried out by an organisation of Terraphiles who attempt to create Edwardian England from a distance of several thousand years (replete with many misapprehensions). The Doctor and Amy are here after picking up a garbled message a week earlier. A vaguely familiar voice told them that Frank/Freddie Force and their Antimatter Men have crossed into the universe via a black hole and are disturbing the usual rules of energy flow. A few minute's research tells the Doctor that a tournament is to be played (as it is every 250 years) on the Ghost Worlds. The prize is the Silver Arrow of Artemis. This is enough information to send them to the practice match on Peers TM where the Doctor hopes to get into the team.
Urquart Banning-Cannon and his wife Enola are on holiday, watching the match. Urquart is pleased that the holiday is going smoothly (by which he means he has not raised the wrath of his wife so far). Unknown to either, their beautiful daughter Jane is attempting to court Hari Agincourt by being seen with his best friend Bingo Lockesley. So far, the plan has backfired and the only result has been to destroy the friendship between the two men. As they are key players on the Gentlemen's Fifteen, this is not a good thing. Hari is also aware that his fortune is not going to be enough to win over Urquart - the terraforming tycoon - or his wife - from a similarly wealthy background. What he doesn't know is that the Banning-Cannons are on a re-enactment cruise because Enola has accepted the honour of presenting the Silver Arrow to the winners of the final match on the Ghost Worlds in order to quell her out-of-control gambling habit. The Silver Arrow has already been sent in a time-locked vault to the planet of Flynn where it will be ready for the presentation.
The one blot on the holiday for Urquart is that his wife is intending to wear a hat at the garden party that Bingo is hosting, to be held that evening. It is a creation of Diana of Loondoon, one of the galaxy's foremost milliners. It is also immensely large and resembles a spider: Urquart has arachnophobia. On first meeting the Doctor, he asks if there is a cure for this complaint but the Doctor sidesteps the question and engages in a conversation about terraforming. They then discuss their travel plans: the Banning-Cannons will be on the Gargantua along with two of the teams heading to the Tournament - the Gentlemen and the Tourists.
After the Doctor leaves him, Banning-Cannon is approached by Bingo Lockesley who invites him and his wife to dinner at his house that evening. Urquart finds a plan forming in his mind and promptly offers the planet they are standing on as a reward to Bingo if he can successfully steal Enola's awful hat and prevent her from wearing it the following day. Although theft is not in his nature, Bingo is convinced of the rightness of the deed when the true ghastliness of the hat is described to him. He strolls off to invite the Gentlemen and the Tourists to the dinner.
The Banning-Cannons check out of their hotel and send their luggage to Sherwood Hall (Bingo's home) for the night. The offending hat, therefore, ends up in their suite of rooms. Urquart wonders how Bingo will manage to pilfer it. Meanwhile, Bingo is thinking of the same thing when he is approached by the Doctor and Amy. They have come to warn him that someone might be trying to steal something from him but they don't know what. The young would-be thief is so guilty about what he is intending that he thinks they are warning him off the theft whereas they are merely trying to make sense of the garbled message they received in the TARDIS. All parties separate, confused and none the wiser.
Bingo waits until the dinner gong calls his guests down to their meal and then sneaks into the Banning-Cannon's suite. The hat is already gone. Enola returns to the room unexpectedly and Bingo flees towards a window and faints. When he recovers it becomes obvious that Enola regards him as a hero and thinks he was pursuing the thieves when they overcame him somehow. The hat, being so heavy, would have required an anti-gravity lifter to remove it. Enola suspects it is already on its way to a spaceship and heading off-planet. Bingo thus finds himself in the embarrassing position of being rewarded by Urquart for a crime he hasn't committed while feeling responsible for helping to catch thieves who did the real dirty work for him, all without giving away to his benefactor what he did or didn't actually do.
Bingo's bedtime preparations are disturbed by Urquart's arrival, demanding to know where the hat is stored. Bingo pretends that it would be better not to reveal the hiding place and Banning-Cannon says that he will deliver the contract handing the ownership of the planet the following day. No sooner has Urquart left than the Doctor arrives. He tells Bingo that Enola has called the police, though he doubts that they will take the theft of a hat particularly seriously. The hat was very expensive, however. Bingo wonders if his uncle, the Investigating Magistrate, will be called. The Doctor says that, personally, he suspects Urquart Banning-Cannon and his fear of spiders as being behind it, though he supposes a contracted thief would have done the actual stealing.
The failure of the hat to return itself by the following morning leads the magistrate to cancel all flights off the planet. This means that the Tournament teams will not be able to take the shuttle to rendezvous with the Gargantua and will have to travel on the sister-ship, the Gigantique, two weeks later. This is appalling news, as it will prevent either team from reaching Flynn in time for the Tournament for the Silver Arrow. Bingo appeals to Enola to drop the charges forthwith, but she declines.
The Doctor thinks he has worked out how the hat was stolen but what he can't understand is why. As original and valuable as it was, the effort to get it, let alone the expense, would outweigh the benefits of possessing it. So it is mixed feelings for all when the hat turns up the following day. The Gargantua has already departed the system. Elona surveys the rather battered hat but cannot find anything missing on it. The Doctor, however, has not been idle: he has worked out that it is possible to hop a series of local ships and barges that will get them to a rendezvous with the Gargantua in ten days before it makes the cross-galaxy haul to the Miggea system and the Ghost Worlds.
Amy is rather sorry to leave PeersTM and its mish-mash of her own history. She finds the Doctor busy hiding the TARDIS so that it will be with them when they get to Miggea but not visible to any hostile forces on the journey (and for this reason he is not using it to transport everyone to their destination). As he works at this he ponders on who stole Enola's huge hat and why they returned it.
Captain Cornelius, in the Paine in deep space, ponders the dark tides running through the universe and their recent growth in strength; accelerating the universe to its destruction. He knows that the balance of Law and Chaos was once maintained by a Regulator (or Roogalator) that could take any form in the Realm of Chaos (our side of the universe). In spite of the danger, he turns his ship towards the cosmic hub.
The Doctor, Amy, the Banning-Cannons and the two teams of Tournament players (the Gentlemen and the Tourists) find themselves on a decrepit ship carrying water from Palahendra to Desiree. Enola Banning-Cannon is horrified by the squalor of the conditions aboard the ship but the players muck in stoically. Bingo uses the enforced proximity to rebuild bridges with his best friend Hari, avowing that his friendship with Jane Banning-Cannon was no more than a ruse to make Hari jealous and declare his love for Jane. Hari is hardly convinced but seems more resigned than hostile.
Meanwhile, Amy sees, from a porthole, a swirl of darkness engulfing nearby stars. She goes to ask the Doctor and the ship's equine captain N'hn whether this is normal. The Doctor tells her that he has never seen such activity so close to the Rim and wonders why it is speeding up now. He says that the Dark Forces she can see move at millions of miles an hour and move like tides, dragging whole galaxies with them. They were discovered at around the time Amy was born and are taken as an indicator of the existence of the multiverse. The big centaur warns that they would be destroyed if their ship was overtaken by the forces.
Abruptly, Amy finds herself floating in freefall while flickering forward and back in time; back on Peers; in the ship; watching an arrow hit a man in the backside. Overwhelmed, she passes out. As she recovers, the Doctor tells her that she has just encountered her first Time Storm. The Doctor leads her to her bunk and settles her down. She sees a pale blue globe containing three beautiful young men; The Bubbly Boys. He tells her not to worry as they are on her side. When she recovers (again) she is in the Doctor's dormitory and he tells her that he needs the TARDIS to solve their problems but he daren't bring it in because he is sure now that others are looking for it.
The ship is near the source of the storm when the pirates are spotted. N'hn thinks that they are after the ship's cargo of water. The Doctor surveys the seven ships closing on them and speculates as to whether they are Dalek-worshipping Dructionjen. He walks through the ship and sees that the passengers are, as yet, oblivious to the approaching danger. He tells Hari Agincourt what is transpiring and asks him to get some of the team together in case they are needed for the defence of the ship. Hari is delighted that there is something to do and with Bingo in a similar frame of mind the pair bond at once. The Doctor and Amy join the captain on the bridge just as the pirates send a signal to tell him to heave to. N'hn is apparently unconcerned as he is carrying Chronii for the defence of his craft.
The pirate ships send force beams at the hull of the water barge but the centaur immediately sends balls of light back up the beams. The Doctor tells Amy that these are Chronii - sentient beings that eat waste, including the dead. Amy points out that the pirates aren't dead but N'hn says they soon will be. Another beam shoots from the foremost pirate ship and reaches the airlock of the water tanker. The captain orders everyone to defend themselves: boarders are coming. The Doctor snatches up a bow and a quiver of arrows belonging to one of the team's archers. Amy says she thought that the pirates had been dealt with. The Doctor agrees but says the boarders were merely passengers and are on their way over.
Arriving at a makeshift gym the Doctor and Amy find some of the passengers staring with dismay at the newcomers. These are garishly dressed in theatrical uniforms and carrying heavy weapons. They escaped the Chronii because they are made of anti-matter and can only exist in our universe because of the protective skinsuits they wear. The leader of the boarders is General Force (in fact a pair of brothers who share one suit. Frank/Freddie Force says they have come for a hat which they believe the ship to be carrying. Enola Banning-Cannon immediately assumes that these are the same hat thieves from PeersTM and tells them that they have no right to steal from her. She is backed up by her daughter, Hari and Bingo. There is a standoff which is solved when the Doctor fires an arrow into Frank/Freddie's left buttock. The anti-matter invaders promptly show alarm and fade from the deck. The Doctor explains that he fired at Force's power implant that maintains the false skin. As well as driving off the attackers, the Doctor has also obtained Enola's undying gratitude for protecting her honour.
W.G Grace, the bearded lady and best whacker on the Gentlemen's team, congratulates the Doctor on his excellent shooting and Bingo says he will soon be the second best bowman on the team. Amy quizzes Enola about where she got the hat. Apparently it was never out of Enola's possession from its purchase in Loondoon until the theft on Peers. Amy wonders whether there was something smuggled inside the hat that the thief and/or General Force was after. Enola concedes that the central arch was saggier after recovery but all of the jewels were intact.
They eventually make planet fall on Desiree, where the spaceport is so vast that it covers half of the land on the planet. Amy is astonished, as they use an air car to traverse the port, at the number and size of the ships that are docked around her. The Doctor cheerfully informs her that many are only the tenders of much larger craft that cannot enter the atmosphere of the planet. They embark on a space bus to take them to the world of Pangloss where they have arranged to meet the Gargantua. The mighty liner is in orbit next to the planet. It seems, to Amy, to be as big as the Moon. The Doctor tells her that it is so large it has even sailed through five suns unscathed. His attention is drawn to the planet below: it appears to be deserted as though its teeming billions have vanished. The Transfer Officer of the Gargantua tells him that they found the planet a desert when they arrived, as if somebody or something had sucked it dry.
The vast space liner is so large that it has a full size tournament court on board, much to the delight of the two teams on board. The Doctor is being kept out of most of the practices so that the other team don't realise his abilities. He spends most of his time practicing his nut cracking. Amy spends most of her time with Bingo, who clearly sees her as a prospective wife. The rival teams, as well as the other passengers, enjoy a life of pampered luxury aboard ship. Even Enola has found a milliner aboard, Mr Toni Woni, who she rates equal to Diana of Loondoon.
Their tranquility is disturbed when the alarms sound to say they are entering the worst storm that the captain has ever seen. The ship is engulfed by darkness and huge hammer blows sound the length of the hull. Alarm systems scream as the Doctor tells her they are in something much worse than a time storm. They put on emergency suits and prepare for the worst. The Doctor sets his screwdriver to signal Captain Abberley and the Bubbly Boys. Abruptly the ship drops out of space-time and into the Second Aether. Everything around them is scarlet. Small ships drift in the Aether and the Doctor identifies their location as Ketchup Cove.
Amy recognises old fashioned schooners and tugboats, rising and falling at anchor. She realises that she is, somehow, outside the Gargantua with the Doctor. The Doctor tells her they are at the centre of the multiverse, between Law and Chaos, between matter and anti-matter. And then he vanishes. Amy is swimming in the crimson sea when a ship rises up beneath her. A man, calling himself Captain Quelch, stands on the deck of a seagoing launch. He invites her aboard but she holds back. A pleasure boat heaves into view. On the deck are the Bubbly Boys. She finds herself on the deck of their boat, talking to Captain Abberley with the Doctor back at her side. Abberley says that he thinks Quelch has pinched the Regulator of the universe. Abberley throws a handful of marbles to Amy. She catches them and sees that four are spinning around a fifth and maybe a sixth. She recognises it as a necklace and puts it on.
Amy finds herself back on board the Gargantua but the Doctor has to get back in through an airlock. He tells the Captain that the space liner has to get out of the Second Aether at once before it begins to mutate into another shape entirely. He hops that when it reaches the real universe it will still be space worthy and offers to guide them across the dimensions. The captain willingly gives the helm to the Doctor who steers them back into deep space. As he does so he tells Amy that their destination, the Miggea system, is the only solar system that moves through all aspects of reality, including the Second Aether. If they reach there he thinks that is the only place where it will be possible to restore the cosmic balance and prevent the destruction of the universe.
They drift, defenseless, in space. The bad news is that dozens of passengers have died in the storm, including the entire Second Fifteen of the Gentlemen's team. The danger is that they might be disqualified from the Tournament and any chance of winning the Silver Arrow if they cannot field a full team. A vast ship closes in on them, which the Doctor recognises as the Paine. Captain Cornelius has found them.
The Paine resembles an old-time clipper ship, but vastly larger, as it pulls alongside. The Doctor says he has tangled with Ironface before. He doesn't hint which way he thinks things might go but Jane Banning-Cannon hopes Cornelius may offer help. When Cornelius requests permission to board the Doctor tells him that the space liner has been crippled by a black storm and asks for aid. Cornelius seems charmed by this request and says he will leave his men behind when he crosses over. He arrives with his bosun, Mademoiselle Peet Aviv. In the captain's state room Captain Snarri admits that his ship is in dire straits. Cornelius says that his weapons will not be used. He says that he, like Frank/Freddie Force, is looking for the Silver Arrow and he is surprised that the Doctor does not know it is aboard the Gargantua. He speculates that the Silver Arrow is actually the regulator of the universe, stolen maybe fifty thousand years before, and the reason why the dark tides are running ever more strongly. The Doctor wonders if the arrow isn't in the time vault as they suppose, but is actually in another shape (it can adapt to suit its circumstances) which is why Force thought they had it on the water tanker weeks earlier. Either way, and whatever shape it has taken, it must be returned to the black hole at the centre of the multiverse.
The Doctor tells him that he joined the Gentlemen to win the arrow and use it to restore the order of the universe. Cornelius notes that the Gentlemen lost two First Fifteen players and the entire Second Fifteen in the time storm and thus must have a slim chance of victory. However, he offers to assist the Gargantua on the journey to Miggea but for a price: he wants the necklace Amy is wearing. She says that the Bubbly Boys took it from Captain Quelch and gave it to her but she doesn't know why. Nevertheless, she hands it over promptly enough.
Cornelius follows behind the liner while his nano-bots are sent aboard to repair the major damage. Amy and the Doctor are taken on a tour of the Paine and when they return Bingo is full of wonder that Cornelius made no demands of them: after all, he is a pirate. Amy tells him that Cornelius is worried about the dark tides and wants to join forces. They are interrupted by Enola telling them that her hat has been stolen again. A search is begun but the hat is not found. As they approach the Ghost Worlds the search is abandoned.
Amy tries to recall what she has heard of Miggea. The curious gravity of the star allows it and its four planets to pass from our universe and into every other. The settlers who found the Earth-like gravity of the planets agreeable were horrified when their solar system faded out of the universe the first time but now treat each occurrence with equanimity. The liner reaches the system without further mishap and prepares to send down two tenders to Flynn where the Tournament is to be held. The planet has been terraformed to look like the English Cotswolds crossed with the Shire. Before the tender can leave the Gargantua there is a hold up when the captain reports that an extra passenger is registering on the systems but the anomaly is soon explained as a glitch and they begin their descent.
Bingo's first task on arrival is to enquire of the settlers if any are skilled enough to fill the two vacancies in his team. When none are forthcoming he takes the rash step of asking Jane B-C and Amy to take the two places. He wonders whether this rash action was inspired by the fact that Jane is his best friend's fiancée and that he intends to propose to Amy himself.
The three teams, comprising mainly human and Judoon players plus a few other types, attend a toss to determine the order of play. The Doctor takes part in the nut cracking against two of the Judoon and wins a narrow contest by virtue of wielding his sledgehammer with more delicacy. Over the ensuing days the tournament proceeds in a leisurely manner, through equestrian and broadsword events until the final series of whackit matches is set to start. These are the games that will decide the destiny of the Silver Arrow and each will last several days.
The final qualifying match between the Tourists and the Visitors to see who plays the Gentlemen for the arrow is drawing to a close when Miggea starts its shift into the multiverse. The weather changes abruptly with ferocious storms assailing the planet. They find themselves traversing alternative universes and as the weather settles the Visitors clinch their victory. The final match begins on a golden day but play is often disrupted by violent earth tremors. In one of the enforced breaks the teams retire to the bar where Amy sees Captain Abberley gesturing her over. She joins him for a conversation.
The next day sees the Gentlemen beginning to take an advantage in the match, not least due to Amy and Jane's performances. After close of play Enola enters the bar wearing her hat. She says she has not only recovered it but found the thief. She presents a protesting Hari. He says that the only reason he was at the Banning-Cannons' rooms was to ask for Jane's hand in marriage. Jane is overjoyed, more so when Urquart enters holding the collar of Lady Peggy, the invisible thief. Lady Peggy says that she stole the hat because it smelled of the arrow and she took it for Frank/Freddie Force. She assumes that the Doctor got to the arrow before her and hid it.
The gentlemen seem to be struggling in the match until W.G. Grace takes her turn at the wotsit and uses her magnificent bow to shoot arrow after arrow into the whackers, wotsits and wotsit keepers. By the end of play it seems that the next day will be the decisive one. The Doctor is heartened, too, when the planet shifts into the Second Aether early in the morning's play. The captains confer and decide to play on against a background of shimmering stars. This clears to reveal that they have reached Mustard Beach and the sky is filled with galleons and rocket ships come to see the denouement. In a break in play Amy asks the Doctor about Lady Peggy, the invisible thief. He tells her that Lady Peggy did not steal the hat on PeersTM but did come aboard their ship when they were boarded by Captain Cornelius. She sneaked aboard his ship back on Venice and had been with him since. He tells her that the Bubbly Boys were crucial to finding the hat and the thief because they can see the invisible. Smugly, Amy tells him that she had already worked that out.
The Doctor plays a decent innings with the bow but cannot close out the game. When he is finally removed from the wotsit it is left to Bingo and Grace to take up the challenge. They do so with aplomb and the game speeds towards its inevitable conclusion. The Doctor and Amy meet Captain Abberley behind the pavilion. The Doctor finds out that Amy and the Captain set up Lady Peggy's capture when the Bubbly Boys stole her invisibility tiara and Urquart was able to catch her red handed. The clue was the extra, unaccountable person on the tender to Flynn. That had meant somebody invisible must have been with them.
Their conference is disturbed when Grace is out. Suddenly the match is back in the balance. Grace hands her beautiful antique bow to Bingo and he uses it to take the Gentlemen to the verge of victory which is clinched when Amy scores a perfect shot. Amid the celebrations Enola Banning-Cannon prepares to make the presentation to the winning team. Exactly on cue the sky turns indigo and a smallish ball appears in the sky and floats towards her. The Doctor intercepts it and pulls out the TARDIS, only fifteen centimeters high. This is where he hid it. From inside the TARDIS he takes the solid newtonium Arrow of Artemis, the Regulator (or Roogalator) of the universe.
He hand the arrow to Enola who, in turn, presents it to Bingo as captain of the winning team. The only snag is that the TARDIS has not returned to its normal size and the Doctor has to think of another way of returning the arrow to the fulcrum at the centre of the universe. Bingo runs up to Amy and draws her aside to propose marriage to her. She barely has time to let him down gently when Captain Abberley's boat appears above them. The Doctor, Amy and Bingo climb the ladder to get aboard. Abberley is pleased to see that they have the arrow but concerned that they don't have the bow to fire it into place. Suddenly all is clear to the Doctor. What was hidden in the hat, what General Force was really after, was the Bow of Diana. The Doctor reaches down to W.G. Grace and takes her antique bow. Grace was the thief on Peers. She couldn't bear it when she saw the bow in Loondoon and realised it was to be used as a support in a ridiculously large hat so she bided her time and stole it from Enola. The Doctor, on the other hand, thinks that Diana of Loondoon knew what the bow was and put it in the hat so that it would be in place on Flynn when its time came to be used. He realises that Diana is Captain Cornelius's lost love and he would recognise the bow for what it was.
Abberley takes them out in his boat to the point where the black hole at the centre of the multiverse can be seen through the Sagittarian Schwarzschild Radius. Somebody has to fire the arrow into the heart of the black hole. The problem is that to do so means instant death for the archer. The Doctor says that he is the obvious choice to volunteer. He steps into Abberley's cabin to view the charts to give himself a better chance of succeeding. As he does so, Bingo takes the Bow and the Arrow and climbs down a rope beneath the boat. Despite their calls for him to come back he descends resolutely. After taking aim, Bingo (or Robin Lockesley, Earl of Sherwood, to give him his proper title) fires the arrow. Amy hauls the rope to get him back but it goes slack immediately.
They return to the pavilion to tell the others that Bingo has died saving Creation. There are tears as well as joy. The Bubbly Boys arrive, too, with General Force and his men trapped forever in a pink bubble. Furthermore, Captain Cornelius has steered through the impossibly complex ways of the multiverse to find them. He used the necklace he took from Amy to guide him. He says that the necklace was passed on to him by an antiquarian on Venice and was a gift from Diana. It was stolen from him by Frank/Freddie Force and then from them by Captain Abberley who gave it to Amy. Cornelius gives the necklace back to Amy, saying that he intends to release Lady Peggy and then try to find his lost love Diana in Old Loondoon.
The Paine takes them back to real space where the Gargantua awaits. On board the liner, Urquart tells Hari that he intended to give the planet of Peers to Bingo but now he wants Hari to have it. This will also obviate any objections that Enola might have had to Hari and Jane's marriage.
The TARDIS has returned to its normal size and Amy stands on the control deck with the Doctor. All their goodbyes have been said and they prepare to leave. The scanners show that the black tides have gone from the universe. All that is left to do is for the Doctor to send the garbled message to himself that started the whole adventure. He says that he knows such Paradoxes are cheating but without them they wouldn't exist. He grins and pulls a lever.