Someone has painted the Doctor's likeness into a famous poster by Toulouse-Lautrec, leading Mrs Wibbsey and him to Paris in the 1894. The streets are thronged with artists and their muses – ladies of the night such as the young girl La Charlotte.
But a murderer is also at large, and Lautrec's name is whispered with fear and suspicion. As they become immersed in the delights of the Moulin Rouge and the shadows of Montmartre Cemetery, the travellers gradually uncover the gruesome truth about the missing women of Paris.
They also realise that someone has been expecting them...
Based on another clue from the bag left at the church sale in The Relics of Time, the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey travel to Montmartre, Paris, 1894 (being obligated to travel via train from Surrey, as the TARDIS still can’t travel in space). The clue is a Tolouse-Lautrec poster of Aristide Bruant which has been “doctored” (pun intended) to feature the Fourth Doctor’s face—and portrays him holding a piece of the spatial geometer. He immediately meets a girl calling herself La Charlotte, and buys her dinner while seeking information. The crowd thinks the Doctor is Bruant, who is missing and presumed dead; they want him to sing. They have arrived in the middle of a mystery, much to Mrs. Wibbsey’s dismay.
While the Doctor is occupied, Wibbsey meets a drunken man who insists that Lautrec, the artist, is responsible for not only Bruant’s death, but also many other murders—dozens, as La Charlotte mentions—many of which are young women of ill repute. Lautrec is not unaware of the suspicions, and has isolated himself. La Charlotte leads the Doctor and Wibbsey to Lautrec’s home, then leaves them.
The concierge grudgingly lets them in, and they check Lautrec’s studio—but it is empty, Lautrec missing, with the skylight smashed and sketches everywhere. Alarmingly, many of his paintings—many of which are famous in the future—have been defaced, slashed at the wrists and necks of the subjects, and with red paint splashed on like blood. They leave and return to Montmartre, seeking out the worst part of town, and find the Moulin Rouge dance hall. Inside, the Doctor sees Lautrec enter. The Doctor quizzes Lautrec about the poster, but Lautrec denies having painted it, claiming it was vandalised by someone else. He is unhelpful, but comments that La Charlotte and the other girls should look out for themselves; but he denies being the killer, and claims the public wants him as a scapegoat. Lautrec rids himself of the Doctor by telling the crowd that the Doctor is Bruant, forcing him to sing (badly, but hilariously). Lautrec leaves, and Wibbsey follows him.
Lautrec detects her, and confronts her. She is captivated by him, and frightened; while she is dazed, he asks her to model for him. Again, he denies hurting anyone, and mentions wrestling with his demons. Reluctantly she goes with him, leaving the Doctor searching for her. The Doctor is intercepted by a drunken La Charlotte, who is bleeding from several stab wounds; she hints that Lautrec caused them, in the nearby cemetery. She is disbelieving that Lautrec could do it, but is certain it was him, though she never saw his face, due to the smell of the absinthe that he had been drinking. She takes the Doctor to the cemetery to show him the scene of the attack; he thinks that Lautrec and Wibbsey are there, but is wrong; they have returned to his studio. Lautrec is shocked at the destruction of his art.
Lautrec denies that he destroyed his work, and denies that he hurt La Charlotte earlier in the night. When the concierge exits, he admits that he has blackouts. At the cemetery, the Doctor and La Charlotte meet the concierge coming down the hill, and the Doctor notices an odd green glow as she approaches; the woman insults La Charlotte and drives her away. The Doctor is angry, but the concierge mentions that Wibbsey is with Lautrec at the house; she tries to divert the Doctor, but he insists on returning there.
At the house, Lautrec busies himself preparing to paint Mrs. Wibbsey—but suddenly they both notice a piece of the spatial geometer on his desk. She accuses him, but the Doctor arrives at that moment with the concierge. Lautrec insists again that he did not hurt La Charlotte; but the concierge breaks down and says she has covered for him. She takes them to the attic, where he says he has never been; a dozen or more desiccated bodies of young women are there. The concierge and Lautrec leave, locking the Doctor and Wibbsey in.
Trapped, they take a moment and look at another item from the sale bag: a book of fairy tales. One of the illustrations, of an ice monster, contains the images of the Doctor and Mike Yates; it seems that Yates is part of this mystery as well.
La Charlotte rescues them, and says she saw Lautrec and the concierge leaving. Lautrec left in a carriage, but the concierge is at the cemetery; it seems she is more involved than the Doctor thought. The trio rush to the cemetery. Arriving there, the Doctor suddenly realises that La Charlotte’s wounds don’t seem to be troubling her anymore; he confides to Wibbsey that the girl may have been faking. The green glow can also be seen again, near a small mausoleum. They find the concierge on the ground, and she claims that Lautrec came back to attack her, but pulled back at the last second. She claims Lautrec is inside the tomb.
When Lautrec calls out for help, Wibbsey darts inside…and finds herself in the mosaic-lined chamber from Claudius’s hut in the preceding story. Lautrec is tied in the floor, but the Doctor frees him. The concierge drives them back inside, and activates the chamber; the Doctor and Wibbsey try to stop the door from sealing, and La Charlotte joins them. The concierge kills La Charlotte by sapping her life force.
The Doctor explains to Lautrec that the concierge is a shapeshifter and an alien, who has framed him while carrying out the killings. She admits it, and says that they can now depart. Lautrec attacks the concierge, giving the Doctor and Wibbsey enough room to lever the door open, allowing the three of them to escape. As they do so, the mausoleum vanishes, as it did from the tribal hut before.
The Doctor thinks La Charlotte was killed some time ago, and kept alive just as a slave. The bodies in the attic will disintegrate, and Lautrec will be free of suspicion; he can also try to find the real Bruant. The Doctor urges him to forget it all, and to plead ignorance.
Back at the TARDIS, the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey arrive back at Nest Cottage on the same day they left, December 23, 2010. They have just enough time to prepare a bit for Christmas, when Yates (and his hound, Captain) arrive. The Doctor admits they have enough time for dinner…and then they must get back on the case.
- The Doctor - Tom Baker
- Mrs Wibbsey - Susan Jameson
- La Charlotte - Finty Williams
- Artist - Rupert Holliday Evans
- Toulouse-Lautrec - Mark Meadows
- La Concierge - Rowena Cooper
- Mike Yates - Richard Franklin
- The cover is a reference to the fact that the fourth Doctor's costume was inspired by Aristide Bruant by Lautrec.
- This story was recorded at Fitzrovia Post.
- This story was later included in The Nest Cottage Chronicles.
to be added