"The electricity in my room," Mary arranged her knife and fork neatly on her empty plate and sat back, "has started… making a noise."
"Yet another reason not to have it in the house," said Violet. "At least gas is mannerly and discreet."
(Thomas, standing against the wall with his hands behind his back, suppressed a smirk. Are the rich really so very different? he thought. They've never heard the trumpet voluntaries up in the servants' quarters at night, anyway.
"Not to mention flattering to the complexion. Electricity reveals every flaw and crater, like the moon seen through a telescope." Violet dabbed her mouth with her napkin. "Not that I can imagine any reason to examine the object in such great detail."
Edith moved back slightly back out of the light, and Mary, noticing, smiled.
"Speaking of craters," Matthew said, "and I'd really rather not, having seen far too many of them in France, does anyone know about the hole out in the top north field?"
"Hole?" Grantham frowned. "What sort of a hole?"
Matthew's hands tightened on his cutlery so that his knuckles whitened. "The sort a shell makes."
"Oh yes, Josiah told me about that," Edith said brightly. "He said the cows all ran about as if deranged, broke a hole in the fence, and wouldn't come for milking."
"Josiah?" Mary raised an eyebrow.
Mary's other eyebrow rose.
"I enjoyed working farm work during the war," Edith said with dignity. "I still like to show an interest."
"In agriculture or Josiah?" Mary murmured; Edith ignored her.
"Electricity making a noise," Thomas said later in the kitchen with dripping scorn. "That lot haven't heard the racket the generator makes when you're down in the cellar. It's a wonder it hasn't turned the wine."
"I'm just glad we don't have it down here," said Mrs Patmore. "I'd worry about it running out of the lights when they're turned off and all over the floor."
Thomas said nothing because he wasn't entirely sure whether she wasn't right.
Edith noted the dark circles under Mary's eyes. "Did you not sleep well, sister dear?" she asked solicitously.
"Try the kedgeree. It's very good this morning. Or the kippers."
Mary shot Edith a suspicious look. "You know I dislike kippers. Just toast and marmalade, I think."
"Feeling a bit delicate?"
"Just tired." Mary sat down at the breakfast table opposite Edith. "Every time I started to slip off to sleep, I could hear the wires in the wall behind my head. Humming and singing and almost speaking."
"Speaking?" Edith looked sceptical. "What did they say?"
"I'm not sure. It was as if they were almost words but not quite."
"Oh, you mean when you can sometimes hear things in moving trees or long grass?"
"Perhaps." Mary was unconvinced.
The next morning Edith gave Mary a sidelong look when she came in, then bent over her poached egg.
Mary narrowed her eyes. "Starting to hear things too?"
"There must be something wrong with the wiring."
"I agree," said Cora. "The ones in our bedroom are starting to hum. Perhaps we should call an expert in."
Grantham nodded. "I'll speak to Carson about it."
Mary pulled the covers across herself and lay in bed, frowning at her bedside lamp.
"Shall I turn it out, my lady?" Anna asked.
"No, I will. That's all, Anna." Mary watched Anna leave and turned her attention back to the lamp. Would it hum now Anna had gone? If it did, that would imply some sort of intelligence, and that was a frightening thought. Mary raised herself on one elbow and listened, her hand hovering near the switch. There! That was a hum. Mary quickly turned the light off and fell back in bed, her eyes wide open with shock. "Oh!"
Edith looked up from her poached eggs and toast. "Good morning." Somewhat offended not to get an answer, she watched Mary cross to the sideboard and lean over the containers to sniff loudly and in a most unladylike manner at each dish in turn.
"These," Mary said in a dreamlike way and piled kippers and bacon and kedgeree onto her plate. "Yes, these smell the best."
"You don't even like kippers!"
Mary sat down opposite Edith, picked one up by its tail, put her head back, and lowered the whole thing into her mouth.
Edith's own mouth dropped open and she clapped her hand over it as Mary bit into the kipper, bent forward and shook her head like a dog until the tail end of the fish fell into her plate. Edith made a strangled sound from behind her hand.
"A very intense flavour," Mary said through her kipper. She chewed it crunchily, swallowed, then crammed several pieces of bacon into her mouth. "Mmmmmm".
"Good morning," said Lord Grantham, entering. He nodded to Edith, then halted as Mary smiled at him, bits of bacon poking out between her teeth.
"I don't think Mary is very well," Edith said faintly.
"Mary? What is the matter?" Grantham went round the table and put his hand gently on her shoulder. Mary shuddered and spat the bacon out, and stared at her plate in disgust. "I don't even like kippers."
"You certainly seemed to when you tried to get a whole one into your mouth," said Edith, relieved that Mary seemed to have come to herself.
"I seem to remember... perhaps I did. It's very blurry." Mary put her hand to her forehead. "I must have been sleep-walking."
"Whatever it was," said Edith, "it's rather put me off my own breakfast."
Neither of them noticed Grantham leave the room looking somewhat dazed.
Carson, however saw him about to leave the house in a state of what Carson considered disarray. "My lord! Your jacket and cap!"
Grantham waited patiently as Carson eased a tweed jacket on and handed him a matching cap. He stood, looking down at the cap, then slowly put it on his head.
Carson shook his head as Grantham went down the steps and stood on the driveway, staring around himself as if he'd never seen Downton Abbey before. "In a dream world," he said to himself and closed the door.
"Good day, Lord Grantham."
Grantham, who had been running his hand over the interesting texture of a birch tree, blinked. "Yes. It is. The temperature is pleasant, and the sky the approved shade of blue."
Mrs Faversham (wife of Colonel Faversham, a prominent citizen of Downton village), instead of looking at the sky, stared instead at his cap. "Your cap, Lord Grantham!" she said disapprovingly.
Grantham examined the statement. "Your hat," he said. It seemed to be an appropriate response.
"My hat?" Mrs Faversham was outraged. "Yours--" she hesitated, "--you did not lift yours," she hissed.
"You did not either." Losing interest, Grantham wandered off.
Mrs Faversham stared after him. "Well, I never!"
Cora was almost as appalled when she met Grantham outside the dining room door still wearing his outdoors attire. "Dear, you have not dressed."
"I am wearing clothes."
Cora gritted her teeth. "Dressed for dinner! And you still have your cap on."
Grantham considered this. There were clothes for consuming food in? The question of the cap was easier, or so he thought. He raised it hesitantly and lowered it again.
"Robert, take it off!"
"Ah yes, it is to keep weather from the head." Grantham removed the offending article and let it drop to the floor. "Quite unnecessary inside."
Was he going doolally like dear Granddaddy eventually had? Cora took his hands in concern.
Grantham stared at her, startled, then looked down at himself. "Good lord, I have to dress!" He headed for the stairs, wondering where the day had gone.
"Mama!" said Edith, as Cora spooned her soup from the front of the plate, blew on it, and slurped it. "You're not in America!"
Cora gave her a vague look. "No. This is... England. Yes, England"
"Yes, and you can't eat your soup like that here."
"Inefficient," Cora agreed and lifted the whole bowl to her mouth.
Edith gasped, then turned away. "She's just like you were this morning, Mary!"
"It must be some sort of illness," said Lord Grantham who still hadn't quite been able to pin down what he'd done that day.
"It's finally happened," Thomas said, down in the kitchen. "They've all gone barmy up there."
"You mind your manners," Mrs Patmore said. "Have some respect."
"Or at least use the right words." Miss O'Brien smirked. "The aristocracy don't go barmy. They call it eccentric."
"The tradesman's entrance," Carson said in his most resonant voice," is at the rear."
"Not a tradesman," the person said brightly.
"If you are applying for the position of assistant gardener, it has been filled."
"Oh, has it? Thank you for that information. It could be relevant." The person paused. "I'm the Doctor."
"We have not called a doctor." Though Carson rather wondered whether they ought to have.
"Not that sort. Unusual phenomena, strange lights in the sky, unexplained occurrences, that sort of thing." The Doctor looked expectant.
Perhaps he was a scientist. They were reputed not to care about their dress. Carson hesitated. "Very well. I shall show you to the morning room and inform his lordship."
The Doctor looked around the room with interest. "But it is morning. Doesn't that make all rooms morning rooms?"
Carson tightened his lips. "Whom am I to announce?"
"Just the Doctor."
"That is hardly sufficient."
"Dr John Smith, then."
Carson gave him a suspicious and narrow look and went out. The Doctor threw himself into a chair and stretched his legs out, relaxing happily. "Nice morning, nice room, and I think this is going to be interesting."
"A doctor?" Mary looked up alertly.
"Not the medical sort apparently, my lady."
"Then why is he here?" Cora demanded.
"A scientist of some sort, I believe, my lady. He said he was investigating odd occurrences."
"Well, there've been enough of those in the last few days," said Edith, getting up. "I'd certainly like to talk to him."
"Yes." Grantham stood up.
"So should I." Violet put down her teacup. "It has to be the electrical wiring you had put in, Robert, quite against my advice I should remind you. The most sensible thing, Carson, would be to bring this person here. Why should we all go to him?"
Lord Grantham sighed and waved his hand at Carson. "Bring him in."
"My lord." Carson bowed and went out. He returned shortly with a young man in tow. "May I present Dr Smith. Doctor, please meet Lord and Lady Grantham, their daughters the ladies Mary and Edith, and the dowager Countess."
"Please." Grantham gestured at an empty chair. "Do sit."
Violet stared fixedly as the Doctor did so. "Why, young man, are you wearing a bow tie with a tweed jacket?" He eyes went down to the trousers rolled up too high over the laced boots, revealing, now he was seated, an even greater and very gauche length of stocking. "Not to mention worker's attire?"
The Doctor grinned. "Bow ties are cool."
"I can't imagine how they would be."
"Could've worn a fez, you know. Even cooler!"
Edith shot Mary a delighted look; Mary shuddered. "I am glad you refrained from doing so, Doctor."
"No?" The Doctor shrugged. "Anyway I've just been looking at the hole in one of your fields. Most impressive."
That at least explained the lower half of the man's clothes. "A pity you did not think to change afterwards," Violet said. "Or wipe your feet."
"Change?" The Doctor looked disconcerted. "In what way?" They looked at each other with mutual incomprehension. "Anyway," he said briskly, "any idea what caused it?"
"A lightning strike perhaps?" Edith said.
"Ah! Happened during a thunder storm, did it? That could be important. Very important. Knocked off course or fried controls," the Doctor said obscurely. "Anyone noticed anything odd since?"
"What sort of odd?" Mary asked cautiously.
"Oh, anything at all! Anything strange and unexplainable."
The Crawleys looked at each other uncomfortably.
"I can see there is. If you tell me, I might be able to help."
"Like Mary eating a kipper yesterday?" Edith asked.
The Doctor raised his eyebrows, causing his forehead to wrinkle much more than one would expect in a man of his age.
"I don't like kippers, you see," Mary murmured.
"Then why did you eat one?"
"That's the odd thing. It's hard to remember but I think I wanted to taste something... unusual and," she frowned in thought, "strongly flavoured."
"Ah. Ever tried fish fingers and custard?"
"Fish, young man," said Violet, "do not have fingers."
"No, they're cut into them and crumbed."
"Oh. Like the toast soldiers one used to eat with boiled eggs in the nursery?" Violet reared her head back as if to see him more clearly. "Why?"
The Doctor blinked. "You know, I'm not absolutely certain. But do try them with custard."
"I think I shall forego that pleasure."
"So that's it? Kippers?"
There was an embarrassed silence which Cora finally filled. "Rob – Lord Grantham did not dress for dinner last night."
"Naked! Now that may be important."
"No!" said Cora, shocked. "Not… that. He just hadn't dressed for dinner."
The Doctor examined that statement and decided to leave it for the moment. "Anything else?"
Edith gave Cora a sidelong look. "Mama drank her soup from the--"
"Wrong side," Cora said firmly.
"The thing is though," said Edith, "people have been doing things they just don't."
"And it's difficult to remember doing it afterwards," said Mary; her father nodded but said nothing. "Do you think it's something like the influenza?"
"Something going around?" Edith suggested, more accurately than she realised.
"A disease?" The Doctor got up and held out a strange device as he turned in a full circle. "Shouldn't think so," he said absently. "How odd. Nothing showing here."
Outside, a dog barked madly.
"It's the electricity," Violet said. "I did warn them, but they insisted on installing it. It's got into their heads."
"Ah, but you all have electricity in your heads."
"I most certainly do not!"
"You all do. It's what sends all the little messages round our brains," the Doctor wiggled his fingers at Violet, "and moves our muscles."
"So," said Edith slowly, "if we have electricity inside us, then something outside might change it?"
"Ooh, that's a very good observation! You're a clever young lady."
Edith smiled shyly. "It did start with the wires humming."
"Wires!" The Doctor moved to a wall and ran his device up the wall from the lamp on the sideboard. "Hmmm, can't detect anything odd in the modulation at all."
"So far, young man," Violet said acidly, "you have failed to detect anything at all."
"Detect! Ah, now that's an idea!" The Doctor pointed at Violet, appalling her with his uncouthness. "You stay right there and I'll go and get a detective, the best one I know."
And before anyone could say anything, he had left the room at a run.
"Someone to see you," said Mrs Hudson.
Sherlock, who had his feet dangling over the end of the sofa while he morosely twirled his gun around a finger, looked up with interest. "A client?"
"Probably. And don't you dare fire that thing in here. I've had enough holes in my walls."
"Send him up, then."
Mrs Hudson and retreated, muttering that she wasn't a maid.
"A client." Sherlock swung his legs to the floor and sat up. "Excellent. I need some distraction."
"You certainly do," John said under his breath and closed his blog window where he'd been reading comments, the more mordant ones of which he was certain Sherlock had left.
"Hello," said the visitor in a friendly, bright voice. "I'm the Doctor."
"So am I," said John. "Though I usually use the indefinite article."
Sherlock pointed at a chair, and the Doctor sat, causing his rolled-up trousers to rise further. "Not the same kind as you, John," Sherlock said. He narrowed his eyes. "How did you get here, doctor?"
"Ah. The TARDIS, just outside in the street."
Sherlock raised an eyebrow.
"It travels in space and time," the Doctor said helpfully. "And I'd like you to come back with me in it to 1920."
Remembering the embarrassing solar-system-sized gap in his knowledge, Sherlock looked at John. "There isn't any such thing as time travel… is there?"
"No," John shook his head very definitely.
"Hmm." Sherlock turned back to the Doctor. "Elaborate."
"There's something odd happening in 1920, you see. People aren't behaving like themselves. I thought it would save time having you investigate."
"I shouldn’t have thought," said John, "that you'd need to save time with a time machine."
"My time," the Doctor said briskly. "And I thought it would interest you, Mr Holmes."
"Nutter," John said succinctly.
"Actually, I believe him."
"His boots show traces of fresh mud and fragments of plants only occurring on the Yorkshire Downs. If he got from there to London without giving them time to dry, a matter of ten minutes at most, then I'll grant the time travel."
The Doctor nodded amiably. "It's only logical!"
"And besides, his clothes betray a complete lack of interest in conforming to ordinary dress styles, but at the same time considerable care in dressing; that's a real bowtie, properly tied. The clothes are scrupulously clean apart from the soles of the boots."
"Sonic cleaning and nanobots." The Doctor leaned back, delighted. "And your conclusions, Mr Holmes?"
"I would have said foreigner, but your accent precludes that, as does the lack of the usual traces of food et cetera on clothes that have obviously been worn for several hours, possibly more than a day." Sherlock paused. "Access to that level of technology implies you're either from the future or an alien." He raised one eyebrow. "Or both."
"Oh come on, Sherlock." John looked from one to the other. "Are you two having me on?"
"I have two hearts," the Doctor said casually.
"Right." John got up and went over to take the Doctor's pulse, then stepped back, stunned. "Ooookay," he said finally. "1920 it is."
The Doctor jumped up. "Let's go, then."
"Aren't you going to say anything about the inside?" the Doctor asked.
Sherlock shrugged. "It had to be larger." He clasped his hands behind his back and began wandering slowly around, examining everything with interest.
"Look," said John. "If I can swallow double-hearted aliens and time travel, this isn't really that hard." He suddenly grinned. "You know, I'm looking forward to this."
"Oh, good." The Doctor set various controls and gave the console a fond slap, causing a rhythmic wheezing noise.
John looked slightly less happy. "That motor had an MOT lately?"
"No no, she always sounds like that." The noise diminished and died out to John's relief. "Here we are," said the Doctor (less confidently than he sounded given the number of times the TARDIS ended up elsewhere or elsewhen). He flung open the door. "And there it is. Downton Abbey."
John poked his head out. "It doesn't look much like 1920. I mean, you sort of expect black-and-white or sepia, even though you know that's not true. This could be today."
The Doctor grinned. "Of course it's today. It always is."
Sherlock, who almost had his nose on the console, looked up. "He's quite right."
John stepped outside and looked up at the clear blue sky. "You know, I think he's right about the year too. No contrails. Come on, Sherlock, time to kill your grandfather!"
Sherlock emerged, frowning. "Why would I do that?"
"Sorry, time travel joke."
"Ah. I didn't know there were any."
John grinned to himself as he followed the Doctor towards the house.
"Me again," the Doctor said blithely to Carson when he opened the door. "Have I been away long?"
"About half an hour, sir."
"Oh, very well done, old girl," the Doctor said under his breath, and introduced his companions.
"Dr John Smith, Mr Sherlock Holmes, and Dr John Watson," Carson announced.
Violet regarded the newcomers critically. "Are you in the navy?" she asked John.
John looked down at his thick, cabled jersey. "Um, ex-Army, actually. Afghanistan," he added.
Violet thawed slightly. "Oh yes, Mr Kipling wrote so vividly of the place."
"Sherlock Holmes here," said the Doctor, "is the great detective I mentioned." He looked at Sherlock with interest. "How are you going to proceed?"
"Perhaps," said Sherlock, "I could interview you all individually."
"You may use the morning room," Carson said. "Let me show you where it is."
John nudged Sherlock as they followed him. "It's a country house," he said. "You know you're going to have to get the lot of 'em back together in that big room to hear your masterly solution, don't you?"
"Oh, yes. It's traditional."
Sherlock stood in the centre of the room, hands behind his back, and looking slightly bored. "The solution is really very simple. Given that time travel and aliens exist--"
"You are not making sense, young man."
"Perhaps not, Lady Violet--"
"--but believing two hitherto impossible things makes a third so much easier as John pointed out."
"So far this isn't terribly clear."
"All right, I'll be brief. A spaceship--"
John pursed his lips and shook his head at Sherlock.
"An electrical creature fell to earth causing the hole. It took over a cow's brain as a means of getting to the house by breaking through the fence until the cow man--"
"Josiah," Edith said.
Sherlock looked at the ceiling. "If people would let me finish, this would go a lot faster. The cow man, Josiah, caught the cow and the creature transferred to him and took him to your generator where it escaped into the house's grid. From there it observed and learned enough to modulate the current to form words."
"Which I heard!" Mary said. "I wasn't imagining it."
"No. And when Lady Mary switched her lamp off two nights ago, the creature--"
"We could call it Al," John suggested. "Short for alien."
Sherlock sighed. "All right, Al transferred to Lady Mary and decided to experience the world through her senses. When her father touched her at breakfast, it jumped to him and accompanied him on a walk."
"And then to me," Cora said, "when I took his hands before dinner."
"Yes. Very simple."
"But where is it now?"
"Ah. We need to consider the dog that barked in the night."
"Yes. You came to yourself after the dog rubbed up against you." Sherlock clapped his hands. "Solved!"
"Then," said the Doctor, "perhaps we should get Isis in here." He looked around at everyone. "Of course we'll have to give the alien a way to speak."
As if Isis (or Al) agreed, she barked urgently outside the windows, and everyone avoided the Doctor's eyes except for Edith. "I'll do it," she said, getting up. "I'm the only one who wasn't affected, and it might be interesting."
"Excellent girl!" The Doctor clapped her enthusiastically on the shoulder. "A scientific and inquiring mind; you should go far."
Edith beamed and rushed to open the window to hide her delighted blush. "Come on, girl!" she called, and embraced Isis/Al as the dog leaped in. Isis wriggled away and slunk over to Lord Grantham, whining, and he put a consoling hand on her head while he kept his eyes on Edith.
"Hello there." The Doctor said, leaning in close to Edith.
"You can't stay here, you know."
"Please. Let me stay. This planet is so full of interesting new things. Let me taste all the food and smell the flowers and feel the grass on my paws."
"I can take you home."
"No. It doesn't have clouds and wind and blue sky and plants and smells and tastes and feelings."
"Then I will take you to a planet which is just as interesting."
"And let it take over others?" John objected. "That's not much of a solution."
"No," the Doctor said quietly. "The place I have in mind will be able to give Al its own body, an android body." He turned back to Edith. "Will you come with me?" He held out his hand.
Edith stood still, then reached out her own and took it. She sighed and her shoulders drooped slightly. "That was odd. I felt as if I were behind clouded glass. He's gone now, hasn't he."
"Yes. It's with me now."
"I… yes, well." She turned away.
"Right," the Doctor said brightly. "Everything's back in order here, so we'll be off."
"I should hope it is," said Violet. "And you've convinced me to stay with gas. So much more civilised."
Edith stood at the window and watched the three men walk down the drive. Suddenly she rushed to the door and outside, and down the steps. "Wait for me! I want to come with you!" But all that was left was a few leaves swirling in a circle and a distant whooshing sound.
"Just as well we don't have time travel," John said, sipping his mug of tea back at 221B. "Imagine how complicated it would get."
"Yes," Sherlock said wistfully.