In the more familiar version of history, Reginald Tyler started work on The True History of Planets in 1917, inspired by his love of ancient epic poetry and his feverish dreams as he recovered from the trauma of the War. He worked on the novel obsessively until his death in 1974, at which time his long-suffering wife Enid sold all rights to the seminal work of fantasy and moved to Jamaica with her lover. But in another version of history, Tyler did not slip, break his leg and lie dying in the cold stream behind his home. Rather, a poodle walking on its hind legs, a poodle with human hands, appeared as if from nowhere and transported him away from this dreary world. And in this version of history, The True History of Planets was a very, very different book...
The TARDIS materialises in a hotel hosting an academic conference on the science fiction of Earth’s twentieth century. Unfortunately, it apparently crushes the aphid-like Professor Alid Jag to death as it does so, and the Doctor and his companions emerge to find themselves accused of murder. Hotel manager Mr Brewster, a walking, talking boar, is concerned by the disruption, but admits that Jag himself was a disruptive, unpleasant fellow who had apparently made several attempts on the life of his fellow academician Mida Slike. The Doctor, already concerned by the apparent impossibility of Jag’s death, becomes intrigued when Brewster casually dismisses the subject of Jag and Slike’s studies, The True History of Planets, as a silly book about a world of talking poodles -- not the epic tale of dwarves, wizards and sorcery which the Doctor remembers reading when he lived through the twentieth century.
The Doctor convinces Brewster to let him investigate, and sends Fitz to find a copy of The True History of Planets while he and Anji question Mida Slike. Slike seems to know more than she’s saying, and claims that there are certain nefarious parties in the Universe who attempt to alter historical artefacts for their own purposes; she and her fellows at MIAOW, the Ministry for Incursions And Ontological Wonders, are opposed to this. The Doctor is disturbed by this conversation, and moments after he and Anji leave, they hear a scream and rush back to find Slike lying dead in her suite, her body covered with poodle hairs. As they were the last to see her alive and are already under suspicion of murder, Brewster concludes that his trust was misplaced and has them all, Fitz included, locked up in the hotel kitchen’s meat freezer to wait for the authorities.
Brewster orders Flossie the head chef to keep an eye on the prisoners, but that night a darling little poodle wearing booties walks up and licks her hand, and she can’t bear to let it go hungry. However, when she opens the freezer to get the dog a bone, it barks and scampers off, waking the Doctor and his friends. The Doctor assures the terrified Flossie that they won’t kill her, and urges her to show them back to the TARDIS; he must investigate the mysterious deaths, and Fitz has confirmed that The True History of Planets is now a book about the evil anti-hero of the poodle world, who overthrew the rightful queen and took her place as ruler. On the bottom of a certain page the Doctor has found a set of tiny numbers, disguised as a printer’s error, which he is convinced are the galactic co-ordinates of the dogworld. Flossie leads them back to the TARDIS, but she enters with them, and the Doctor inadvertently takes her along as well; he claims that she must have been destined to accompany them, but Fitz suspects that he’s covering up for forgetting to close the door behind him. Flossie thus leaves the hotel behind her, and Mr Brewster loses the chance to tell her that he loves her.
Back in the 1940s, Tyler is hard at work on his magnum opus when his friend Cleavis decides to invite a new writer, William Freer, to join their circle, the Smudgelings. At first, Tyler is opposed to his inclusion; Freer writes lewd tales of necromancy and moral perversion, and Tyler finds it all too shocking for words. He’s also appalled to learn that Cleavis has turned his back on the old Finnish saga he was translating, in favour of writing a simple tale about two children who travel through time and space with their dotty old aunt in her magic double-decker bus. Cleavis is happy enough to churn out nonsense and toddle off on another adventure right away, while Tyler obsesses over each aspect of his work, vowing that it will outlast the ages. Which of them is right? Tyler fears that he knows the answer... In any case, he can’t prevent Cleavis from inviting Freer to Cambridge, and as he’d feared, soon the Smudgelings have all fallen under the man’s spell; perhaps literally. Suddenly they all seem to dote on Freer’s tales of moral and ethical perversion, and scoff openly at Tyler’s work. Even Enid privately believes that writing a serious tale about ancient wizards and elves is a silly way for a man to spend his life. But the one thing which Tyler can’t admit, even to Enid, is that he too is becoming entranced by Freer’s personal magnetism -- which is just as Freer had planned...
The TARDIS materialises on a space station on the outskirts of the dogworld’s solar system, where archivists Fritter and Char monitor transmissions from the distant plaent Earth. This is a very special day, for the disgraced, elderly Princess Margaret is arriving to observe a historic broadcast. While Flossie remains on the TARDIS to cook lunch, the Doctor, Fitz and Anji emerge to investigate and run into the Princess, her escort and the archivists. After a moment’s horrified pause, the Princess concludes that these walking, talking human beings have been laid on as entertainment for her, and insists that they be stripped down and fitted with collars as is appropriate. Anji is mortally humiliated, but the Doctor and Fitz play along in order to watch the broadcast -- which turns out to be the film version of The True History of Planets, broadcast on BBC television in 2010 and only now reaching the dogworld’s solar system. The Doctor is disturbed to see that the movie is based on the poodle version of the book, which means that the poodle version is now part of established history.
The Princess is apparently amazed by the film, and claims that this is indeed the true history of her planet; once this movie reaches the dogworld, everyone will see how the Emperor cruelly deposed and murdered the Princess’ mother, and a revolution will place Margaret on the throne where she belongs. Char, however, reveals that the archivists’ job is to monitor and suppress politically damaging broadcasts from other worlds. Margaret thus has her escort arrest the archivists while she plots to disseminate the broadcast to the dogworld, but then an Imperial ship docks with the station and troops emerge to arrest the Princess and her guards. Char realises that the Emperor must have known about the broadcast in advance, and manipulated the Princess into a position where he could charge her with treason and execute her. Fritter, however, is then forced to admit that he’s been running a side-line, selling black market tapes of Earth films to poodles who get off on seeing a world where they’re treated as pets by humans -- and, unaware of the seditious nature of this particular film, he’s already sent copies off to the dogworld. Horrified, Char orders the Doctor to take them back in Time to change the nature of the movie, and the Doctor agrees, as he’d planned to do so anyway; this film should never have existed in its current form. Meanwhile, Margaret is arrested and brought before the Emperor, who reveals that he’s already set plans in motion to ensure that the film will never have been made in the first place.
Having observed the film closely, the Doctor uses the TARDIS to transport Fitz and Flossie to Las Vegas in 1960, and Anji and Fritter to a seedy bar outside Hollywood in 1978. He and Char travel to Whitby in 1942, where the Doctor charms Enid Tyler into telling him about Tyler, the Smudgelings, and the menacing William Freer. The Doctor confronts Tyler at the pub where he eats lunch with Cleavis, but Tyler, although shocked to see that the Doctor is accompanied by a poodle, flatly refuses to speak with him. Cleavis, however, admits to the Doctor that he’s become concerned about recent changes in Tyler’s personality; he seems to have fallen entirely under Freer’s spell, and Cleavis is beginning to think that admitting Freer to the Smudgelings was a grave error. Char notes the ease with which the Doctor wins Cleavis’ confidence; Cleavis even tells him all about his children’s book and the dotty old aunt, whose character is based on the Russian hag Baba Yaga. Based on Cleavis’ description, the Doctor finds her an annoying character indeed. However, he does agree that Freer sounds like a dangerous man, and Cleavis thus agrees to let the Doctor attend the next meeting of the Smudgelings to see for himself.
Fitz and Flossie have been told to contact the Scots-Caribbean lounge singer Brenda Soobie, but to Flossie’s distress, Fitz seems more interested in gambling away the money which the Doctor had given to them. Fitz in turn is irritated by the almost evangelical attitude which Flossie has taken to their mission. They attend Brenda’s show, but during the intermission, a man in a trenchcoat and large hat threatens them at gunpoint; however, Flossie reasons that he won’t risk gunplay in a crowded theatre, and, frustrated, he returns to his seat to wait for the set to end. Fitz is quite concerned, but not so concerned that he fails to notice that Brenda is singing songs which haven’t actually been written yet. As Brenda reaches the end of her set, Flossie grabs Fitz and they make a run for it, straight up onto the stage -- where Fitz is knocked out by the descending stage curtain.
Anji and Fritter are right where the Doctor wants them -- which disturbs Anji, as the Doctor has apparently been failing to get her back home for months. As they sit by the bar and wait for something to happen, Fritter draws the attention of an old man who claims to make monsters for a living. After a few moments, Anji realises that he’s talking about special effects for the movies; this is Ron von Arnim, master of stop-motion photography. He wants a closer look at Fritter, as he’s working on poodle effects for mogul John Fuchas’ adaption of The True History of Planets. Realising that this is what they’ve been waiting for, Anji and Fritter accompany von Arnim to his workshop in the hills, where they are amazed and somewhat disturbed by the rows of small clay monsters lining the walls of his shed. Von Arnim spends the whole afternoon taking photographs of Fritter from every angle, and then invites Anji to stay for dinner -- and Fritter is so bored that he unthinkingly accepts the invitation, thus revealing to von Arnim that he can talk...
Freer seems to have been expecting the Doctor’s arrival, and the Doctor realises that Freer may know more about him than he does himself. This is an unpleasant feeling; the Doctor actually hasn’t been feeling well for some time, and has only thrown himself into this business in order to take his mind off his problems. He’s even more disturbed to discover that the Smudgelings aren’t involved in necromantic ceremonies with Freer after all; as far as they know, this is just an ordinary writer’s circle. But that night Freer and Tyler claim that they have found a way for the Smudgelings to see directly into Tyler’s imagination. Before the writers’ eyes, Freer uses dark magic to generate an ectoplasmic mist from Freer’s body, erasing his face and creating a portal through which the Smudgelings can see the Princess of the dogworld, begging for their help. However, the ceremony falters before it’s complete, and Tyler is left without a face as the portal closes. Freer flees, and after helping Cleavis to take the stricken Tyler back to Enid, the Doctor and Char pursue Freer to the train station. Aboard the train, they find numerous peculiar travellers, some of whom appear to be characters from Earth literature. Freer is waiting in the dining car, and when questioned he admits that he went too far -- but he had to put Tyler in direct psychic contact with the dogworld so he could finish his work. The Doctor realises that Freer is working for someone else, and Freer admits that this is so -- and offers to take the Doctor to the man known as the Master...
Fitz awakens to find himself in Brenda’s dressing room, along with Brenda’s friend, the poodle Martha. Brenda invites Fitz and Flossie to hide from their pursuers in her suite, but Flossie, delighted to be mixing with such a glamorous star, lets slip that the Doctor brought them here in his TARDIS -- which seems to startle Brenda for some reason. Before Fitz can learn more, Brenda’s good friend Nöel Coward arrives to find out what sort of mess she’s in now. Blaming himself for some reason, Coward invites Brenda and her new friends to hide out in his villa, but as they try to reach safety they are confronted by the trenchcoated man -- who lifts his hat to reveal Professor Alid Jag hiding beneath. Jag faked his own death on the asteroid; he is in fact an agent of MIAOW, and is here to ensure that The True History of Planets is not altered. Fitz kicks the trenchcoated man back into the hotel lift, and Coward destroys the call button, jamming it between floors. However, other agents of MIAOW are in pursuit, and the friends must flee to the car park -- where Fitz is stunned to see that Brenda’s transport is a double-decker bus. He’s met Brenda before, but the last time, she had a different face and went by the name Iris Wildthyme. Brenda manages to lose their pursuers temporarily, but in the desert outside Las Vegas they are tracked down by Imperial poodles led by Mida Slike, who also faked her own death. The poodles force everyone onto Mida’s helicopter, intending to take them all to the dogworld -- despite Martha’s claim that she will be executed if she returns.
Ron von Arnim is stunned to learn that Fritter can speak, and demands to know the whole story. Anji and Fritter are forced to tell him all, including the fact that the movie won’t be made until 2008, by which time he’ll be long dead. Feeling sorry for the old man, Fritter suggests showing him the video, and despite Anji’s reservations von Arnim leaps at the chance to see a film from the future. However, he’s horrified when he sees that all of the special effects in the movie are computer-generated. Feeling betrayed, the broken and furious von Arnim vows to confront Fuchas, and forces Anji and Fritter to help him load all of his clay monsters onto his truck. On their way to Fuchas’ ranch, however, they are unexpectedly confronted by an elderly Nöel Coward, who supposedly died in 1972. Coward reveals that he’s a part of this unpleasant business, and, realising that von Arnim is beyond reason, he agrees to accompany them to the ranch to mediate between von Arnim and Fuchas. But he’s underestimated von Arnim’s madness, and when they arrive, von Arnim unexpectedly summons his menagerie of monsters to life, sending them to drag Fuchas away from his sci-fi toys and torture him for his future betrayal.
William Freer takes the Doctor and Char to Mayfair, where they meet the man sometimes known as the Master -- although his real name is Nöel Coward. Coward and Freer are working together to change The True History of Planets, and Coward feels no remorse, claiming that the original work was a dreary affair with no wit or glamour to it. The Doctor chastises Coward for his lack of responsibility, and when the furious Freer attacks him for his insolence, the Doctor knocks him out using Venusian aikido. Coward reveals that he has been given a set of magic pinking shears which enable him to cut through the Very Fabric of Time and Space, and he demonstrates by using them to slice a hole through reality to the Hollywood hills in 1978.
Von Arnim has tied John Fuchas to a chair in his own kitchen, and is using his stop-motion monsters to torture him. This is not what the elderly Coward intended to happen; rather, he was on his way to help Fuchas contact the dogworld, to ensure that his film ended up as Coward intended it to. When the Doctor and the younger Coward arrive, the two Cowards merge together, leaving only the younger Coward standing. To Coward’s surprise, the Doctor punches von Arnim, knocking him out; this impatience isn’t like the Doctor at all. Coward admits that he’s used the pinking shears which Brenda gave him to manipulate cultural history, in order to help Princess Margaret reclaim the throne which is hers by right; however, things have gone wrong, as another of his selves has been kidnapped from 1960s Las Vegas and taken to the dogworld. Coward intends to rescue his other self, and the Doctor is forced to aid him, under threat of Coward’s using his pinking shears to do even more damage to Earth’s cultural treasures.
Mida Slike and her cadre of Imperial poodles return to the dogworld with their prisoners, but stop off for lunch before delivering them to the palace. Nöel takes the opportunity to explain that he’s under arrest for writing a ditty titled “Martha” about Brenda’s poodle, in fact the former handmaiden to the deposed Empress. Brenda is destined to sing the song, which will become a great hit, will be used as the theme for Fuchas’ film, and will inspire a revolution on the dogworld. The elderly Reg Tyler then arrives, having been rescued from the moment of his death to spend a week wandering in awe around the world he believed he’d created. They are all taken to the palace, where the Emperor reveals that he hired both Slike and Alid Jag to prevent the corruption of The True History of Planets, in the hope that the rivals would kill each other before he had to pay either of them. He also arranged for Tyler to be brought to the dogworld out of curiosity, to see the man who’d inadvertently caused so much fuss. The prisoners are marched off to a comfortable cell while the Emperor decides what to do with them, and as they go, Martha reveals to the shocked Brenda that she was never a loyal friend at all; rather, she only fled from the dogworld so she could manipulate Brenda into singing the song which would help Margaret reclaim the throne.
The younger version of Coward cuts through the Very Fabric of Time and Space in order to reach the dogworld, and the Doctor, Anji, Char and Fritter follow -- although the Doctor is appalled by Coward’s cavalier attitude towards the damage he’s doing with his pinking shears. As they approach the dogworld, they see other versions of Coward flitting through the Fabric, including the oldest Coward of them all, off on some mysterious mission of his own. Coward delivers them all to the prisoners’ cell, where he and the other Coward merge again. Before the rent in the Fabric closes up, however, the eldest Coward arrives to deliver a terrible warning. It was Freer who first put him in contact with Princess Margaret, having made contact himself while practising dark magic. Coward allowed himself to be swayed by her pleas -- but on the last day of his life, he’s discovered the truth. She is in fact a vicious megalomaniac who went on to subjugate the dogworld and is now attempting to usurp the British throne. The eldest Coward snaps open the prisoners’ cell before vanishing, and they set off to put things right.
In the throne room, Margaret tires of waiting, and uses her magic powers to disable the palace guard and summon Freer, her co-conspirator and lover. Together, they arranged for her story to be made into a popular film in order to stir up the populace and provoke a revolution -- but now that Freer’s work is done, Margaret rips out his throat, intending to rule both worlds by herself. The others arrive, bearing the video of the historic film, and Margaret, believing that she has won, allows them to play the tape for the defeated Emperor. But when they do so, they find themselves watching an epic tale of wizards and elves -- the original version of the book. History is back to its original course. Enraged, the Princess attacks the Emperor, but Char leaps in and kills her, receiving mortal wounds in the process but saving his Emperor’s life. As he dies, Char throws the Princess’ body from the balcony, and to Brenda’s horror the grieving Martha leaps after her Princess, falling to her own death.
The dogworld has been saved, and Tyler, who has nothing to return to on Earth, decides to stay. Brenda is upset when the Doctor is cold and abrupt towards her; he still looks slightly unwell, and while Fitz might try to deny it to himself, Brenda feels that this isn’t the same Doctor she once knew. Nöel snips the others back to Fuchas’ ranch, but they arrive weeks after their departure to discover that, since they forgot to release Fuchas before they left, the reclusive mogul remained tied up in his kitchen chair until he died. This is why the poodle film was never made. Nöel returns Brenda to her bus, and Flossie and Fritter decide to accompany her. The Doctor is shocked when the bus dematerialises with a wheezing, groaning sound, proof that there are still others like him out there, after all. Nöel then snips him and his friends back to 1942, and the TARDIS. Before leaving, the Doctor drops off a note assuring Enid that Tyler will soon recover, and advising Cleavis to change the bus in his book to something harmless, such as a chest of drawers.
Mida Slike returns to 1960s Las Vegas, where Alid Jag has survived in the lift by eating his trenchcoated companion; however, when the emergency workers break open the lift and Jag leaps out to safety, Mida treads on him, squishing him. Back in 1942, Nöel returns home to Mayfair, just as a woman and her blind daughter arrive, begging Nöel for his help, and bearing a basket of kittens who speak of terrible events taking place on the pussyworld. After a moment’s consideration, he slams the door in their faces.