"You're on your own, Ace."
The TARDIS is invaded by an alien presence, and is then destroyed. The Doctor disappears.
Ace, lost and alone, finds herself in a bizarre deserted city ruled by the tyrannical, leech-like monster known as the Process.
Lost voyagers drawn forward from Ancient Gallifrey perform obsessive rituals in the ruins.
The strands of time are tangled in a cat's cradle of dimensions.
Only the Doctor can challenge the rule of the Process and restore the stolen Future.
But the Doctor was destroyed long ago, before Time began.
The Seventh Doctor and Ace are disturbed by strange phenomena. Reality becomes temporarily distorted round them, and they receive illusions; a silver cat appears and gets them to follow it back to the TARDIS. Once there, they discover they can’t enter; the door is always on the next panel around, no matter which way they go. With difficulty, they manage to misdirect it and get inside. Once inside, the Doctor leaves Ace in the console room and goes deeper into the ship, seeking the source of the trouble. Something has gotten inside, or is about to, and is corrupting the TARDIS, causing it to begin to fall apart. Ace receives a silver scroll from the console, just before the doors explode inward. As the TARDIS dissolves around her, she sees the crew of an incoming ship crashing into the TARDIS.
In Gallifrey's ancient past, the world was ruled by seeresses called the Pythia, before Rassilon came and took power and initiated the age of reason. All Gallifreyans are possessed of strong telepathic powers, so that no one is ever alone in his or her own mind, with the exception of the Individuals—rare men and women who can wall off their own thoughts. At the end of that dark era, the early experiments in time travel are taking place. The first time ship, the Time Scaphe, is on an early voyage, carrying a crew that consists of a child Pilot named Shonnzi, and five Chronauts: Reogus, Vael, Chesperl, Amnoni, and the Captain, Pekkary. Unknown to the others, Vael is an Individual whose ability to block his thoughts has mysteriously weakened; secretly, he was planted on the crew by the reigning Pythia. Following a legend in a book of future history, she intends to make him her successor, the first male Pythia, though not even he knows this; and thus she wants him on the crew to ensure that future. Meanwhile, Rassilon plots the Pythia’s downfall. Things are upended, however, when the Time Scaphe fails to return—for in the vortex, it has crashed into the Doctor’s TARDIS, forcing him to break the laws of time in spectacular fashion.
Ace awakens in a strange world, a bizarrely empty city. Over time, she meets the Chronauts, who are also here; but things have changed for them. They are now the Phazels, slaves to the city’s ruler, the Process. Vael serves the Process voluntarily, acting as a slave driver to the Phazels; and Shonnzi has disappeared. Ace learns that the city is divided into three Phases, each representing a different time, but all three existing side-by-side, with each slowly becoming the next. On this planet time is scattered, and one can walk from the future to the past and vice versa. In the beginning, the Process—a monstrous, mollusk-like creature—made itself and the world, and seeks to control the future; but the future was stolen by the Doctor. And now, the Process has killed the Doctor.
Ace meets the Phazels, Vael, and Shonnzi in all three periods, sometimes together; she finds that in the final phase, they all become the Process’s guards, which enforce its will in all three phases. Worse, she as well will be one of those guards. As well, she finds that the Doctor is not dead after all; but his memories are stripped out, and he has grown weak. A future version of the Process returns from the third Phase to challenge its young self, as the homeostatic world it has built begins to change. She learns that the city is, in fact, the TARDIS, shattered and turned inside out. The scroll she carries are the TARDIS’s greyprints—multidimensional blueprints—and the cat, as well as an apparition of the Doctor, are the TARDIS’s imprint, its ghost, of sorts. Together, those entities and the greyprints restore the Doctor’s mind, and he is able to regain some control over the dying TARDIS. At the end—and the beginning—as time is about to cycle again, he challenges the Process, which is now in three forms: old, young, and about-to-be-born. He is able to destroy it, and at the same time, challenge the ancient malice of the last Pythia as she tries to seize control of Vael and claim the TARDIS—and the future—for herself. As the TARDIS reconstructs itself on the Doctor’s will, the last Pythia passes without a successor, but not before she curses Gallifrey. She condemns the planet and its people to have no living offspring from the moment of her death forward. Her curse is effective, as even infants in the womb are immediately stillborn.
As the TARDIS is reconstructed, so is the Time Scaphe, and the remaining Chronauts—the youngest version, including the child version of Shonnzi—are able to return to Gallifrey, albeit more than a year late. Their older versions, deprived of existence by a changed past, vanish. The Doctor and Ace are free to travel again—but there will be consequences as yet. And in ancient Gallifrey, the great works of history still lie ahead for Rassilon, the stellar engineer Omega…and one Other.
Crew of the Time Scaphe
- Sphinx of Thule
- Rassilon created the Looms to save Gallifrey from potential extinction caused by Pythia's curse of sterility upon Gallifrey.
- The Process is called "Amphisbaena" in the Book of Future Legends.
- Rassilon the God was written by Cardinal Borusa.
- The Pythia sends her sisterhood to Karn.
- The Doctor and Ace order a moussaka and chips, a baked Alaska, a glass of water and a glass of milk.
- The Time Scaphe crew live on dry biscuits from the TARDIS food machine.
Gallifreyan Chapter Houses
- The Doctor is one of forty-five cousins of the House of Lungbarrow.
- Sepulchasm is a board game on Gallifrey.
- Anmers-Tonastide was the Festival of the Timewright.
- Kithriarch equals "father" on Gallifrey before Rassilon.
- Treazant was the currency on Gallifrey.
- Pianalaika is related to music or bands.
- White sand was imported from Mirphak 2 to Gallifrey for the Games of Rassilon because it showed up the blood better.
- The Academia was a place of learning on Gallifrey.
- The Pythia were the ruler of Gallifrey before Rassilon.
- Pythia came from before the Intuitive Revelation which heralded the rise of Rassilon to power.
- The Court of Principals are an organisation on Gallifrey.
- The Council Police enforce the law.
- Neo-Technologists were aligned to Rassilon.
- Satthralope was house keeper in the Doctor's House on Gallifrey.
- Logistomancer is from A32K.
- Aubert Cluster demand independence from the Pythia.
- Thule had an empire.
- Menti Celesti are "capricious and all-powerful", "who saw all things but did nothing".
- Tafelshrew is a rodent from Gallifrey.
- Gallifreyans battled the Gryffnae and hunted the lacustrine Sattisar.
- There is a plague of batworms on the asteroid archipelago.
- Pythia had a Grelladian guard.
- Jagdagians were performers in circuses.
- In a market Pen-Shoza traders displayed fresh consignments of workers from Oshakarm and the Star Grellades.
Theories and concepts
- The Doctor mentions Blinovictual Theory, most likely a reference to the Blinovitch Limitation Effect.
- Banshee Circuits are what the TARDIS uses to survive when everything else fails. It uses whatever resources are available: people, places, dreams etc.
- This is the first novel in the Cat's Cradle trilogy.
- This story was adapted from an unproduced television story.
- Unusually, this story was published in Hungarian as Az Idő Fogságában. The cover reused Tim White's cover for The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert.
- Time's Crucible leads directly into Warhead, implying that the Doctor was planning to deal with the Butler Institute after having a meal with Ace in Ealing before the Process broke into the TARDIS.
- Ace returns to Perivale three years after she left in 1987, (AUDIO: Gods and Monsters) setting that part of this story in 1990.
- The Doctor claims that he has never been to Alaska. In reality, he visited the state in his fifth (AUDIO: The Land of the Dead) and would visit it again in his seventh (AUDIO: Lurkers at Sunlight's Edge) incarnations.
- No natural born child exists on Gallifrey since Pythia's curse; however, PROSE: Cold Fusion and Lungbarrow question this.
- Ancient Gallifrey is also seen and described in PROSE: Interference - Book Two.
- The Sisterhood of Karn first appeared in TV: The Brain of Morbius.
- Lady Peinforte mentioned mysterious secrets about the Doctor in TV: Silver Nemesis.
- Ace does not like black cats, which were prominent in TV: Survival.
- This is the first time it is suggested that the TARDIS is to be piloted by six people. This was later referenced on screen in TV: Journey's End.
- Ace has, on previous explorations of the TARDIS, found the courtyard that was a central location in TV: Logopolis and the room of cricket supplies seen in TV: Castrovalva.
- The Doctor eyes window display mannequins "with a mix of curiosity and suspicion", telling Ace, "Never be certain of what you think you see." (TV: Spearhead from Space)
- The Discontinuity Guide to: Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible at The Whoniverse
- The Cloister Library: Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible
- Bewildering References guide to Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible