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The Doctor traces a strange energy signature to the Mexican village of Coyoacan on 2 November 1941. This is the Day of the Dead, when the people of the cities build shrines to their lost loved ones and welcome their spirits into their homes; in this culture death is to be faced, not feared. Izzy is afraid of how people will react when they see that she isn’t human, and stays in the TARDIS while the Doctor goes out to investigate. Feeling guilty, she eventually disguises herself in a floppy hat and scarf and goes out looking for him; but instead, she sees a strange light in a nearby window, and watches as the ghost of a young man embraces his loving parents... and liquefies their flesh, drinking it down and leaving only skeletal remains.
Izzy flees in terror and is struck by a car driven by artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Frida, fascinated by Izzy’s appearance, takes her back home to recover while Diego goes looking for the “Doctor” whom Izzy mentioned in her delirium. Izzy recovers, but panics when she sees the skeletal decorations and tries to flee; however, Frida’s late father then appears and beckons Frida towards him, and Izzy knocks her aside, saving her life. The “ghost” attacks Izzy, smashing apart the shrine to Frida’s father, and the furious Frida shoots him, causing him to burst apart into ashes. Izzy tells Frida what she saw earlier, and realises that the photo of Frida’s father from the shrine is now blank. As she and Frida set off in search of Diego and the Doctor, Izzy tells the curious Frida about her recent change and shows her a photo of the human girl she used to be. Frida becomes angry when Izzy claims she can’t understand what Izzy is going through; Frida’s spine was shattered in a bus crash years ago, and although she’s learned to walk again, she lives with pain every day of her life. Izzy isn’t the only one who’s woken up to find herself trapped in an alien body...
Diego sees a strange light in Costillio Park, and finds the Doctor hiding in the bushes and observing an alien spacecraft. Assuming that the aliens are friendly like Izzy, Diego rushes out to greet them before the Doctor can stop him, and they are thus captured by the Torajenn, aliens like demonic glowing skeletons. The Doctor describes their bodies as plasma matrices held together by bio-nuclear containment fields, and the Torajenn leader, Voreseth, realises that he’s no native of this world. He thus takes the Doctor and Diego to his mistress, Susini of the Wasting Wall -- a necrotist who creates art by killing the innocent, holding that a true act of creation must be born of destruction. The Torajenn struck a deal with her to steal the flesh they need to rebuild their bodies, providing her with the bones as raw material for her next creation. They lost their own bodies due to a side-effect of a weapon used in their last war, but they have the power to psionically strip the flesh of other species if their victims are too weak to resist. They also have the ability to subtract images from photographs and take the form of the people within; and as this is the Day of the Dead, all of the people of Coyoacan will have placed photographs of their loved ones in shrines and will even be expecting them to show up. They will offer no resistance when the Torajenn arrive to strip the flesh from their bones...
Susini has been looking for a Time Lord for some time, and she leaves a Torajenn to guard him and to take Diego apart. The Torajenn guard reveals that his people intend to turn on Susini once they have what they want, which is no more than the Doctor had expected. He attacks the guard with a burning bone from one of Susini’s other “sculptures”, but the fire has no effect; the ship’s fire alarm, however, sends the Torajenn into convulsions, causing it to burst into ashes. The Doctor realises that sonic disruption interferes with the Torajenn’s containment fields, and he and Diego come up with a plan involving the guard’s transmat platform.
Izzy and Frida go to the nearby cemetery to deliver a warning to the people of the city, but the revellers retreat from Izzy in terror. When the Torajenn descend, one of them takes the form of Izzy’s human self, and Izzy, shaken by the people’s reaction to her, nearly gives in to it. Frida shoots at the creature, and she and Izzy realise that it’s not the bullets but the sound of the gunfire that is injuring it. They set off the fireworks which were intended for display later, forcing the Torajenn to reveal their true natures and driving them away from the cemetery, saving the villagers’ lives.
Susini builds a vast skeletal tower out of the remains of the Torajenn’s victims, while the Torajenn clothe themselves in the flesh which she doesn’t need. The Doctor arrives and distracts her by criticising her creation as unoriginal, giving Diego the opportunity to materialise behind her and use the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver against Voreseth. It has little effect, but the Doctor realises that Susini’s ultrasonic projector is not one of her artistic tools but a weapon she intended to use should the Torajenn turn against her. He steals it and uses it to destroy the Torajenn, and when Susini tries to kill him, Diego knocks her into the vortex she was using to build the tower, permanently embedding her in her own creation. The people of Coyoacan decide to leave the tower where it stands as a memorial to the dead, while Frida paints a picture of Izzy’s human self to replace the photo she lost, telling Izzy to face the future on her own terms and never forget who she truly is.
- The events take place during the Mexican holiday the Day of the Dead.
- Diego refers to a spaceship he sees as "something Boccioni might have carved."
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- During his first incarnation, the Doctor previously visited Mexico in the 15th century in the companion of Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright. (TV: The Aztecs)
- Susini is a Necrotist. The Eleventh Doctor meets another Necrotist, Monos, in London in 2012. (COMIC: Sticks and Stones)
- The Tenth Doctor stated that he visited Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera on several subsequent occasions. (COMIC: Revolutions of Terror)