The Doctor and Sam arrive on the planet of Hyspero, a Sim Sim Salabim
sort of place where stories have power and magic is real. Sam decides to do some wandering in a graveyard inexplicably placed in the middle of the city and stumbles across something very unusual indeed: a red double-decker bus, just like the ones at home in London, specifically the number 22 to Putney Common. Like any good companion, she lets curiosity get in the way of common sense, and climbs aboard to check things out. She's greeted by a bound and gagged alligator man named Gila who insists he's been abducted by a madwoman. A woman called Iris Wildthyme
. Sam gets the Doctor and the two of them free Gila and set off to find Iris, who's been set upon by Gila's attack dogs in an attempt to prevent his abduction. The Doctor rescues Iris and gets Gila to call off his dogs, then prompts Iris to explain just what exactly is going on. It turns out she is on a mission for the mysterious Scarlet Empress, ruler of all of Hyspero, to bring four assassins, one of whom is Gila, The Albino Alligator Man, back together for unexplained reasons.
Tropes present in The Scarlet Empress include:
- Contemplate Our Navels: The Mock Turtle inside the whale. Some strange fish try to divert Sam into a spot of this as well.
- Easy Amnesia: Eight. Imagine our surprise.
- Fusion Dance: The spider and the Cyborg Duchess.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: The titular Scarlet Empress
- Handicapped Badass: Major Angela, a blind ex-mercenary, and Iris, who’s eventually stuck in a wheelchair due to the effects of having eaten a poisonous Kaled mutant.
- Hero of Another Story: Iris. Prompting a very meta conversation with the Doctor over who gets to claim ownership of adventures they both believe they have had.
- Interspecies Romance
'Don't be ridiculous,' Major Angela snapped, her face a picture of disgust. 'A cyborg can't fall in love with a spider.'
- Mix-and-Match Critters: The Mock Turtle, which is part calf.
- Magical Realism: In a book by Paul Magrs, this is to be expected.
- New Old Flame: Iris. Just a part of her charm, really.
- Oracular Head
- Pirate Girl: Julia, captain of a pirate ship, who wears a leather outfit and also happens to be a princess.
- Petting Zoo People: In several varieties. The shaved golden bears of the Forest of Kesteven, the Birds of Paradise, Gila and his people...Hyspero has an extremely diverse population.
- Subverted Catchphrase: "But it's the same size on the inside as it is on the outside!"
- Undead Author: Lampshaded by Iris, who notes that if she's telling her story, you'd probably assume she lived to tell the tale.
- Wacky Wayside Tribe: Most of the action comes from the many times when the group gets diverted off their intended course. Needless to say, the book would be a great deal shorter if Iris's quest ran more smoothly.
"I hate being derailed like this," the Doctor said.