“So, why are we here Professor?” Ace asked, following in the Doctor's wake down an ordinary looking street. It was the early twenty-first century, just a year or two into the new millennium, and sure, some of the cars looked less boxy and more jelly-mould than she was familiar with, and teenagers had swapped big hair and big boomboxes for tiny earbuds with tiny pocket sized players along with smooth, short hair with floppy fringes for big hair, their tight jeans for low-rise small flared ones showing their knickers, but other than that it could have been Perivale just like when she last was there. Not that they were in Perivale, but Balham. Certainly no flying cars or silver catsuits as sci fi on the telly when she'd been a kid had led her to believe.
“I've been hearing mysterious reports of small children telling stories of large muppet like creatures visiting them.”
“Kids make-believe their toys are alive. Honestly, that can't be a thing?” Ace's laughter was stopped in her tracks as the Doctor stopped stock still, then turned himself with his umbrella handle hooked over his ankle and looked back at her darkly.
“Alright then,” she replied, shouldering her backpack and feeling it's reassuring presence on her shoulders, containing a couple of cans of nitro-nine and a baseball bat, just in case. You could never be too prepared.
Fifteen minutes later they were squatted down behind a sweet-smelling, large, leafy lavender bush in a back garden of a normal British semi, looking through the large glass patio doors at a small child sitting in her playroom chatting to an orange furry creature with spikes of green 'hair' on top of its head.
“I wish we could get closer, I need to know what it is saying,” the Doctor hissed urgently in her ear.
The orange thing stood up, and the little blonde girl did the same and hugged the alien, who then slipped out into the garden through the patio doors, clutching a wooden train.
The Doctor dithered a minute, working out whether to question the human child or follow the alien fuzzy muppet thing. Ace went after the orange creature, who was pulling out a communications device.
She – for she sounded like a she – was reporting back to some of its kind, called Tula, Iver and Groove, and was, mind-bogglingly, explaining about toy train sets, trains, and Thomas the Tank engine books, and the skills 'Tiddlypeeps' got from playing with the toys and reading the books, as well as the journeys they took on 'trains'. She spoke, bizarrely, with that kind of posh, jolly-hockey-sticks kind of voice that Ace when a young teenager on Earth always wanted to kick against.
Once Ace gathered this Roma was being called to return to base for Groove's hatchday party and being asked to get a list of things learnt from 'Tiddlypeeps' which included jelly, ice-cream, streamers, paper hats, crisps and sandwiches and cake, she hurried to find the Doctor.
Roma had just jumped onto a vehicle looking rather like a motorbike, yet well-weirdly powered by a singing tiny robot.
“Quickly!” she called, rushing up the garden. The child was sitting on the step, while the Doctor sat cross-legged in front of her on the grass.
“What?” the Doctor leapt to his feet.
“Oi! What's going on! Kayla? Are you alright? Are you alone darling?” A woman's voice was getting closer.
“It's alright mummy. I was talking to the Hoob alien and now I'm talking to the new one, who looks like us. He's from Gallifrey.”
“Are you making up stories again Kayla? Proper dreamer, aren't you?”
Ace grabbed the Doctor by his umbrella and tugged him through the garden and got to the other side of the hedge as the mother came to the play room and picked up her daughter, scrutinizing the lawn just in case.
She looked down the street to see Roma in the distance, and did a quick reccy. The opposite house had some kind of futuristic yellow motorbike, but Ace had not yet met a single vehicle, future, past, or alien, she couldn't hot-wire, so she ran over the road and soon had it spinning.
“Quick!” she yelled to the Doctor, who jumped on the pillion and grabbed hold of her. “Don't lose it!” he yelled, gesturing with his umbrella.
“It's a her!” Ace yelled back over the satisfying roar of the bike. “Called Roma!”
They followed Roma for miles, out of south London on the M23, around the M25, and off into the wilds of Buckinghamshire...
“I used to live and work there!” the Doctor called happily as they passed a large manor house in Denham.
Ace made a disbelieving scoffing noise.
Somewhere on the borders with Hertfordshire, in a large woodland, Roma turned off, her motorbike puttering to a stop as her little Motorette stopped her singing.
Ace pulled up beside her and the Doctor leapt off.
“Aha!” he cried, brandishing his umbrella. “Who are you? Where are you from? What gives you the right to interrogate small human children?”
“Aagghhh!” Roma cried in shock. “Who are you? And why can you see me? Adult Peeps are filtered out! And that's an umbrella, not a weapon, I learnt all about that from the Tiddlypeeps last month. And I do not interrogate the Tiddlypeeps. I chat with them jolly nicely.” Roma eyed the young female Peep with caution though, who knew what arms she had on her back in that heavy bag?
“What's going on?” Tula called from the Hoobmobile nervously.
“Are you alright?” Iver added worriedly.
“It's two Peeps who can see through the Hoobleperception filter,” Roma boomed.
“Did you get the peeps party food?” Groove asked as the three of them climbed out of the Hoobmobile, Tula badly hiding a Hooblosaser behind her back set on sleep and forget.
“Yes I did!” Roma snapped. “Hardly important right now Groove! I ask again, big Peeps, how can you see us and our Hoobmobile and Hooby Picki Picki?”
“Well, I can't answer for Ace, but I assume it is something to do with my TARDIS's telepathic field which translates for us, but I'm a Time Lord. The Doctor, in fact.”
“The Doctor!” Tula squealed. “From history. You must know your Hooblemyths, the Doctor saved us from the Daleks eons ago, simply millions of years ago, the Doctor and his red-headed Peep friend Donna. It's partly why Huba Huba sent us on this fact finding mission for the Hoobopaedia and Hoobnet!”
“You're anthropologists?” the Doctor asked, bemused. “And please, I may have saved your planet, but not yet, at least, it hasn't happened yet, not for me.”
“It's my hatchday, and Roma has spent weeks asking the Tiddlypeeps how to do a birthday party properly. Please, Doctor, let's be friends and have the nice party food,” Groove said, coming up to the Doctor and holding out his hands.
“I am rather concerned with your talking to those preschool children, though,” the Doctor said sternly, but he smiled at Groove's hopeful face, and Tula's one of admiration.
“Be sensible Doctor,” Roma boomed, “who else can we ask. The Tiddlypeeps are quite unharmed, and love it, and we just look like beloved magic toys to them, so the adult big Peeps never suspect. Then we have the Hoobleperception filter which stops any Peep over the age of seven solar spans seeing or hearing us or our Hoobmobile or Hooby Picki Picki.”
“UNIT have no idea you are here?”
“Neither UNIT, Torchwood, the police nor the army, Doctor.” Iver added politely, “Do come in.”
“Yes, do,” Roma added decisively. “We will not tell you your future on Hoobland and you will not tell anyone about our Finding Out mission. Is that a deal?”
The Doctor had glanced at Ace at the mention of this unknown Torchwood, and now he looked at her again and she had a sweet smile on her face. He nodded. “Fine, thank you.”
Ace turned her smile on Groove. “Happy hatchday mate. If you like, I'll teach you all about pass the parcel and musical chairs to go with your Tiddlypeep birthday bash!”
“Ace?” the Doctor snarled.
Which is how Ace taught the Hoobs all manner of children's silly party games while the Doctor hid in the engine and tried and failed to figure out quite how the Motorettes powered Hoob vehicles but managed to programme Tootle, Timp and Twang to sing a twelve part harmony version of Happy Birthday To You for Groove.