The Doctor and Sarah are in the TARDIS. He promises to take her to the theatre.
At the Rose theatre, playgoers are watching one of Christopher Marlowe's plays. Suddenly a large blue box appears on stage. The audience, most of whom are drunk, applaud Marlowe's genius. Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor realises where they are and rematerialises the TARDIS elsewhere.
They make their way back to the theatre and sneak in. They choose some clothing appropriate for the period, with Sarah dressing as a boy. They overhear a conversation among four men, one of whom has employed the other three to murder Marlowe. The Doctor and Sarah beat a hasty retreat before they are discovered.
As they stroll along the river, they are accosted by a man who thinks the Doctor is Marlowe, as the Doctor is wearing a doublet belonging to Marlowe. When the Doctor speaks highly of Marlowe, the man introduces himself as Ned Alleyn, a friend of Marlowe's, and invites them in to dine with him. He and the Doctor discuss the dangers faced by Marlowe's unorthodox views. When the Doctor and Sarah leave, the Doctor is uncharacteristically silent as he muses on their situation.
The Doctor and Sarah encounter Marlowe, and the Doctor tells Marlowe what will happen to him tonight and warns him to leave the area. Marlowe is grateful for the Doctor's advice and leaves. The Doctor and Sarah head for a tavern, but Skeres arrives and the Doctor orders her to leave. Skeres stabs the Doctor, thinking he is Marlowe.
The tavern owner pays four men to drop the Doctor's body into the river. Sarah watches this from her hiding place and is horrified. She heads down the river, only to find the Doctor surfacing. He has been saved, not because he has two hearts, but because he had a copy of William Shakespeare's works in his breast pocket, which deflected the knife.
History has taken its course. The people will believe that Marlowe is dead, and Marlowe will take on his alternate identity. The Doctor and Sarah meet Marlowe at the TARDIS, where the Doctor introduces him to Sarah as William Shakespeare.
- Fourth Doctor
- Sarah Jane Smith
- Christopher Marlowe
- Ned Alleyn
- Nicholas Skeres
- Ingram Frizer
- Robert Poley
- Sarah thinks they are in London because they are in Deptford, but the Doctor explains that at this time in history Deptford is in Kent.
- The Doctor gives Shakespeare his (now damaged) copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare.
- All the stories in Short Trips: Past Tense take place some time in Earth's past. This story takes place in 16th century England.