"Let's welcome Johnny Chess. So tell me, Johnny, how does it feel to be back in the music business."
"Like I never left. Which I didn't. If you'd bothered to do your research, you'd know that the boys and me, we never ot out of the music biz completely. We've been playing gigs on and off for years."
"Your song with One Direction during Children in Need sent shockwaves through the music community, with lots of your fans saying you'd sold out. What do you have to say to that?"
"I've got nothing against One Direction. They're singing songs they love because they love to sing and that's the most important part. It might not be the sort of music the Star Jumpers used to sing, but
"That's a change from the old days, when you sneered at the boy bands of the time. Let's run a clip."
The clip is from the height of their popularity. Johnny in tight leather pants and a jacket held together with safety pins says sarcastically, "Boybands? They're not real music. Pretty boys trading on their looks, producing banal harmonies. We sing real music."
"Well, you know, people get older, they mellow a bit. Us punk rockers, we like to pretend we don't but there comes a time when you have to decide if you're going to live fast and die young, or keep on rocking. We chose to keep on rocking."
"You've come to America to star in a reunion tour reality show. What made you decide to agree to that?"
"It sounded like fun. And also, you see the tours and the shows and you don't see all the hard work that goes into putting on one single show. A tour like this you're playing dozens of venues - a new one each week and it's a lot of work. Besides, the boys wanted to do it."
"The boys would be Marty, Kel and Fitz."
"That's right. And the behind the scenes team too. All one big happy family on a roadtrip, seeing the United States and rocking out."
"That's about all the questions we have time for. Let's bring out the band for a song and remember I'm With the Band premieres Thursday night at 8pm on MVH."
Johnny muted the TV. "Is all this necessary?"
"You know it is. Nothing quite so good as hiding in plain sight." Sarah Jane Smith studied him. "You did a good job in that interview. Interesting, mildly rude, unpredictable. We don't want to get canceled mid-season."
"I suppose not. Is everyone here? Is there anything we need to say to them before the cameras start rolling?"
"Getting ready. Doing initial interviews. Fitz sneaked out for a cigarette, Leela's sharpening her knives. Compassion, Jason and Ace are checking the sound gear. I believe Iris said something about some minor repair to the bus."
Johnny snorted. "Well, if nothing else we'll be entertaining, what with Ace providing pyrotechnics, a bodyguard who prefers knives to guns, and whatever the hell our bus driver is. Not to mention them!"
That got a smile from Sarah Jane. "The government in exile you mean. Such as it is."
"I get that they didn't want to stick around on Gallifrey after Rassilon returned, but did they have to end up on my door-step."
He frowned at her. "You are a frustrating woman, Sarah Jane Smith. I'm guessing you won't tell me why."
"Of course not. Oh, did I mention we've got one other person signed on for the trip."
Johnny knew he didn't want to know, but the question escaped before he could stop it. "Who?"
"Your ex. Not my idea," Sarah Jane added hastily. "I thought that if she knew what was going on she'd have the sense to stay away. Especially after the way she left the Doctor. But the next thing I know I'm getting a memo from the production company with a cast list and Tegan Jovenka was on it. I tried to point out you were surrounded by layers of protection, but she wasn't having any of it."
"That's my Tegan." Not that he was displeased. Far from it in fact. "At least I'll have someone to talk to who's at least reasonably sane."
The look Sarah Jane gave him would have flattened a lesser man. But then she laughed. "Point taken. But where else can you assemble a cast of characters like this and have it seem normal."
He had to give her that one. "Do we have a regular interviewer, On screen, I mean. Host type person."
"That would be me." Sarah Jane shrugged. "Hey, after getting the sack from Planet 5 and the resulting scandal, just getting a job like this was a major coup. None of my regular freelance gigs were taking any of my work."
Johnny nodded. "So here we are. A crew of misfits in a rackety old bus driven by a madwoman on a month long musical road trip round the United States. Are you sure this is a reality show and not a sitcom?"
"I'm sure. At least, I think I'm sure. Ask me again in a month."
"I'm the former President of Gallifrey, what do I know about managing a rock band?" Romana asked, not expecting an answer. "This folly is the sort of mad plan the Doctor would have dreamed up."
Brax looked at her, insulted. "You wanted away from the prying eyes of Rassilon. How better to avoid his gaze than to play the fool?"
"And what will he think we're up to? This is hardly in character for me. A quiet cottage in the country, perhaps, away from the war."
"Where you could be plotting against him. Here, with every move scrutinized you're showing him that you're not conspiring in shadowy corners and smoky back rooms."
Romana rolled her eyes at Brax's imagery, but she could hardly disagree. Primitive though they were, being under constant surveillance would reassure Rassilon that she wasn't a threat. "Where's Narvin?"
"Going over the arrangements one last time."
A head appeared in the doorway. "Mr. Braxiatel? Time for your preliminary interview."
Brax straightened his tie, dusted a bit of imaginary lint off of his bespoke suit, and disappeared with a gesture that might have been a wave.
Romana sighed and went back to trying to sort out contracts and logistics, muttering about primative Earth technology under her breath.
Welcome to I'm With the Band. Over the next few weeks we'll be following Johnny Chess and his entourage on a tour across the United States. Johnny Chess and the Star Jumpers were one of the top Punk bands of the 80s and now they're back to rock this country. We'll be there every minute and those of you watching will get to see just what it takes to put on a show. Now let's meet Johnny and the band.
Johnny Chess, born John Aloysious Gordon Chesterton
Johnny flicking a bit of hair out of his face and giving a crooked grin. "Can't wait to hit the road."
Marty doing a quick and showy drum solo. "I'm ready to rock, are you?"
Kel busting a few dance moves. "We're coming for you!"
Fitz, leaning against a wall looking soulful. "Just you wait."
And the support staff that keeps them going. First the roadies."
Ace grinning mischievously. "It's gonna be explosive."
Jason, looking like he'd just seen something unpleasant. "You have no idea what's coming."
Compassion focusing on something no one else can see. "It's stirring through the air."
Leela, bouncer and bodyguard.
Leela, ready to attack. "This is foolishness."
The band's manager, Ramona Dvora.
Romana, standing stiffly, sounding like she's reading from a cue card. "Let's get this show on the road."
Her assistant, Narvin
Narvin, looking a bit irritated. "It's go time."
The band's backer, Irving Braxiatel.
Brax, perfect as always. "It's going to be amazing."
The bus driver, Iris Wildthyme
Iris grinning madly "It's a magical, mystery tour."
And a surprise guest appearance by Johnny's ex-wife, Tegan Jovanka
Tegan, looking like she wondered what she had got herself into, saying conspiratorially, "You'll get to know the band close up."
And myself, Sarah Jane Smith
Sarah Jane, holding a microphone. "I'll be your host for this grand adventure and I can promise it will be like nothing you ever expected."
"It isn't as bad as I expected," Romana said. "Except for the bit where they got my name wrong. Or did you do that deliberately?"
Sarah Jane grinned at her. "We're not terribly competent, remember. Also, we've apparently been living under a rock for the past few years and have no idea that they'll be making us look like fools." She handed out what looked like coins to the other three. "These will disrupt the cameras a little. Not so much that the crew will notice but enough that if we really need to talk we can have a few minutes of privacy. I'd suggest you use them sparingly and not when you're the centre of attention. Best to leave them in the pocket of whatever you're wearing. Rubbing them with a finger will turn them on and tapping them will turn them off."
"Clever," Narvin said. "Designed to work with Earth's primitive tech, I assume."
"Yes." Sarah Jane considered refraining from commenting further, but decided it was pertinent. "I'd suggest you leave your views about primitive Earth tech at the door. I know Leela has no filters, but I trust you do and the less I need to cover up the better."
Narvin nodded. "That could have been much worse."
"Have you seen reality shows? It's going to get much worse." Sarah disappeared out the door.
"This was the plan you came up with?" Romana asked, glaring at Brax.
"This was the plan she came up with. I merely specified high visibility and nothing that Rassilon would have the patience to pay attention to." Brax gave her his best innocent look.
Romana rolled her eyes. "And you're eating up the attention. I suppose I can't blame you. I was impressed that Jason didn't kill you when he realised you were in this up to your eyebrows."
"I believe it was prohibited in his contract. Or perhaps Sarah Jane talked him out of it." Brax shrugged. "Either way, I'm not going to worry about it." He turned and walked out of the room.
"We're sure this is a reality tv show, and not a murder mystery, right?" Narvin asked.
"That's what Sarah Jane says. But I'm starting to think she's as trustworthy as Brax."
Fitz fiddled with his guitar and listened to the other three argue over the set list, feeling too lazy to join in. He wasn't quite sure what Compassion and Ace were working on but it seemed to have something to do with the soundboard. Compassion's earpiece didn't look that much different from the one Ace was wearing, at least from this distance, but he knew that it was much more advanced. "Are we having fun yet?" he asked Tegan who had dumped a surprisingly large suitcase beside him.
"Is this supposed to be fun? I don't think I got that memo." Her eyes drifted to her ex. "But I don't trust him not to get so deeply into trouble that he can't get out again. He might have heard his parents' stories, but he never travelled with the Doctor. He doesn't know what it's like."
"And you do." There was no sarcasm in his voice, just the shared camaraderie of someone who understood. "What do you think they're doing over there?"
"Setting up the light cues? Building a bomb? Who knows. At least they're getting along. I've had three fights with Johnny since I got here. Jason loathes Brax for some reason that neither of them has seen fit to share. And I know you four have had at least one big bust up."
"Getting it out of our systems, I suppose. Come tomorrow, the cameras will be rolling and nothing we do will escape notice."
"Don't let it get to you. I don't. Who's that?"
"Benny." Ace's excited exclamation was loud enough to disrupt even the quarrel at the other end of the hall. Fitz looked up to see her hugging another woman. "Should have known you'd show up. Wanna play roadie?"
Fitz couldn't hear Benny's answer and the heated discussion of whether they should play Too Fast, Too Soon before or after High Street resumed. "Benny Summerfield. Jason's ex. I suspect you two have a lot in common. From what I gather she's always trying to keep him out of trouble too." He saw her shift in their direction. "Go ahead. I'm fine on my own."
The morning dawned bright and clear. No one was quite sure how they fit into Iris' bus, which she claimed was "smaller on the inside, and indeed seemed to be" and at least four of them would later deny responsibility for the quote "Let's get this ragtag band of misfits on the road" which would eventually find it's way into every bit of advertising for the show, with BAND in large fancy letters. Most of them would come to hate that phrase and the way the producers kept pushing them to use it whenever possible. Marty and Jason
Benny and Tegan bonded almost instantly, causing their husbands to bond in retaliation? Self-defense? It was hard to tell. Marty's wife called him up three times a day to check up on him. On the second day Ace and Leela got into a heated discussion of the merits of bombs versus knives that made the men on the bus tread warily for the next few days. Fitz, who'd had no doubt that every single woman in the bus could take care of herself, made no effort to contain his amusement, even going so far as to say in an interview, that he'd bet on any of the women over any of the men in a fight.
Jason hadn't punched Brax out yet, but popular opinion said that it was only a matter of time. The bus broke down three times before they reached their first destination and it took Iris', Ace's , Compassion's and Sarah Jane's combined efforts to get it running again.
In short, the tv series was an instant success. And not just the TV show. Johnny Chess and the Star Jumpers' latest album shot up the charts, and their fifth concert sold out the day the second episode aired.
They made no effort to increase the drama, but by mutual agreement, they didn't tone it down either. As Tegan put it, she never said anything to Johnny off camera that she wouldn't say to him on.
Perhaps Compassion, Romana, and Narvin found the atmosphere on the bus a bit much, but the others embraced it, or at least pretended to. If Brax very carefully absented himself from some of their wilder whims or if Sarah Jane used her microphone as an excuse to watch rather than participate, no one cared. And when it all came down to it, they'd done their share of hotel room wrecking and substance abuse decades ago and saw no reason to fall back into their old, bad habits. Skinny-dipping in hotel pools, climbing statues and fences and once a flagpole, and absurd races were more their style. There was the occasional bit of rough language that needed to be bleeped, but it turned out to be a surprisingly family-oriented show, bringing in an unexpected demographic for the network. Sarah Jane, who had some in with the network, reported they were even considering submitting an Emmy reel.
Half the group rolled their eyes at this and the other half started planning what they were going to wear.
Romana dropped a copy of a tabloid on Sarah Jane's lap, as the bus left Omaha, Nebraska. "What's this?"
"A newspaper devoted to gossip and wild speculation." Sarah Jane picked it up with two fingers, and made a face. "Their turn-around time is quicker than I would have expected."
"That's all you have to say?"
"You wanted to be visible," Sarah Jane snapped back. "Well, I made you so visible that you can't use the loo without a camera in your face. What did you expect?" Then, in a quieter voice. "This isn't Gallifrey, Romana, or even England. We're not a neat, well-ordered society. Publicity is messy here and sometimes bad publicity is just as effective as good. Scandal sells. If anything, I was expecting that the band would provide more fodder for trash like this than they have." Her voice rose again, "I was the one who brought in Jason without telling Brax and vice versa. I called Johnny's ex. I've got one roadie who's way too fond of explosives, and a bodyguard in an outfit that looks like something out of a Tarzan film, a backer who's way too fond of his own reflection, and a manager who knows nothing about managing a rock band." She shoved the tabloid back at Romana. "My priority isn't Gallifrey and never was. It's Earth. Don't expect me to be your pawn."
The whole bus was staring by now, but Brax was the only one who dared catch her eye and flick his glance up to the everpresent camera.
Sarah Jane stopped and stared at the camera for a moment. "Oh, if you think any film leaves this bus without my approval, you really haven't been paying attention." She paused then smiled a little too sweetly. "But I really wouldn't try if I were you." She was looking at Braxiatel now. "You and I aren't the only players in this little game."
"No," he replied. "But I hadn't realised you'd noticed."
"Oh, we've crossed paths before. When I first met Fitz." She glanced over at him. "Did we meet, or did I just hear about you from Sam?"
"I don't remember." Fitz didn't look surprised at the question, though. "So it is them."
"Oh, yes. Like everyone else they're desperate. The Time Lords, on the course they're on now, are much more skilled at Temporal Chaos than Faction Paradox ever was," Brax said tiredly. "Did any of this seem plausible to you? Any of you? Are we even moving?"
"I doubt it," Sarah Jane said. "We've called them out and the endgame has started. But I'm not the girl I was on Dust."
"You're older, certainly, Ms Smith, but you're fooling yourself if you think you've grown wiser."
"Not wiser, just more skilled at the game." The bus had disappeared and they were standing in a field of grass. The colours were bright enough to hurt their eyes. "And we," she indicated Brax, "chose our team not wisely but for their unpredictability. Do you really think you can beat us?"
"We control the horizontal, we control the vertical." The voice mimicked Rod Sterling causing a few of the humans to roll their eyes. "You are powerless."
"Are we?" Romana asked. The colours toned down sharply, till they were less bright, more real. "You betrayed yourself. This isn't a real place. Which means the only rules are what we imagine them to be. And we've had a lot of practice at that."
Ace grinned. "You had to send us on a road trip. Have you ever watched Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure?"
Marty chortled. There was no other word for it. "Wicked. I've always wanted to save the world with the power of music."
"Foolish mortals. You meddle in things you don't understand."
"Don't we?" Tegan asked. "Then why is the band gear all right there?" Off to the left, in a place that had been bare field a few minutes ago, was their gear from the bus.
"Ace, Jason." Compassion snapped.
"On it," Jason said, as the two started laying cables and hooking up amps to cords that came from nowhere they could see.
The Star Jumpers grabbed their gear and started tuning, as Compassion did her sound checks. "One and two and three and four."
"This makes no sense," Leela commented to Tegan.
"Relax, it's not supposed to. Just believe that it will work."
"I am good at believing in things." Leela sat down on a rock, her eyes firmly on the band. "And if that voice tries to attack it will feel the sharpness of my blade."
"And if that doesn't stop him, there's always Nitro-9." Ace pulled out a few cans for good measure.
"This, this will not stop us. Do you know what we are capable of?"
"Do you know what they are capable of?" Narvin asked. "There's a reason the Doctor is fond of this planet. You really can't tell what you've got till you put them to the test." The band behind him played a power chord and he moved off to the side. "And these people have all seen wonders."
"Six impossible things before breakfast?" Tegan said sarcastically, "We've seen hundreds. We know anything is possible. Especially when there's a song involved."
The band had said not a word to each other, but instead of playing one of their own songs, they went straight into the Moody Blues' I'm Just a Singer in a Rock'n'Roll Band.
Tegan grinned and joined in on the second line. She knew this was one of the first songs they'd learnt as a band, and that they still considered it their song.
Slowly, those who knew it joined in, maybe half the group in total, Iris singing the loudest (if not the best) of all. The world started to waver, and the voice started stuttering, "Stop, no." This just made them sing louder.
Suddenly everything righted itself. They were standing in Johnny's back garden, in England, with Iris' bus, just barely visible behind the house. Brax and Sarah Jane glanced at each other, and Sarah Jane nodded at the band to keep going.
As they finished the last verse, Leela slipped behind the balding man screeching "Noooooooooo." and hit him on the back of his head with the hilt of her dagger. "I wanted to hear the end of the song, she said, when the music stopped.
Music is the traveler crossing our world
Meeting so many people, bridging the seas
I'm just the singer in a Rock 'n' Roll band
We're just the singers in a Rock 'n' Roll band
A few people laughed shakily, though it was clear had meant it. Narvin went over and snapped the Gallifreyan equivalent of handcuffs on him. "This is what Faction Paradox has been reduced to?"
"They've had a bad war," Brax said, and yet they would have had us if Sarah Jane hadn't noticed that the whole adventure was implausible. None of the rest of us questioned it."
Romana nodded. "Now what?"
"I need to take him back to Gallifrey." Narvin frowned. "If I had any other option I'd take it, but Earth can't contain him."
"The last member of Faction Paradox." Romana frowned. "Rassilon won't ignore this."
"No, the way the wind blows now, he'll become part of the war, another dangerous weapon of the sort we once locked away," Romana mused. "But what other option have we?" She asked rhetorically. "Leela, will you come back to Gallifrey with us."
"My place is by your side." Leela said, acting to match her words.
"Brax? Are you coming?"
Brax stood there a moment, as if he were considering his options, though he had likely decided a long time ago. "Yes. It is time for me to go home. Benny, Jason, your lives are your own now. I am done with meddling."
"For now," Jason muttered, sotto voce.
Sarah Jane stepped up and shook Romana's hand and then Brax's. "Do what you can. We will do what we must to keep Earth from becoming another planet lost."
Romana nodded and the world shifted again. When it righted itself, they were gone.