You can’t help the scream that escapes you as a bullet discharges from the gun and strikes the Doctor in the chest. Only the fact that he manages to depress the plunger and sets off the explosive charge to destroy the Gatron soldier saves you from being on the receiving end of a similarly deadly projectile.
When the smoke from the bomb has cleared, you see the Doctor lying on the road, dark fluid pooling beneath him. You’re at his side almost before you realise, trying vainly to staunch the rapid flood of blood.
“Doctor, I’ll get help!”
The faint smile that curls his lips, you can’t help noticing, is one of the saddest things you’ve ever seen.
“I never… manage… to tell them…”
“Yes, this is the way most of us find out, isn’t it, Doctor?” a voice remarks, and you look up sharply to find a woman with gleaming red hair standing nearby.
The Doctor gasps, not just for breath, you guess, but from shock as well.
She kneels at his other side, apparently indifferent to the blood soaking her trousers, and takes his hand.
“Did you miss me then?” she asks teasingly, brushing the hair off his pale face.
The Doctor opens his mouth as if to reply, but grimaces instead and his grasp convulsively tightens.
“Back,” he gasps. “Get back.”
While you’re still trying to understand exactly what’s happening, the woman is already on her feel and pulling you away. You struggle to get free, but the newcomer is stronger and holds you back.
“I know,” she says soothingly. “I know how you’re feeling, but it’s too dangerous for us to be with him when he regenerates.”
“When he what?”
But the answer to your question comes as the Doctor appears to burst into flames in front of her, and you scream at the sight of golden light pouring from the Doctor’s hands, feet, neck and the hole in his coat where the bullet entered. You find yourself clinging to the woman, who is also staring at the Doctor, although you believe that her expression is one of fascination rather than fear.
And then, suddenly, it’s all over.
A young man lies where the Doctor was a moment earlier. The familiar brown suit looks far too long and too tight, with the buttons on his shirt straining to stay done up. The scene would be comical if you understood what it all meant.
“Doctor?” the redhead asks, gently putting you to one side and walking over to the man’s still form. She bends down and places her hands on first the left and then, to your surprise, the right side of his chest. “Both working,” she says, apparently to herself, before giving the man a gentle shake. “Come on, Spaceman, I know you’ve been shot, but there’s no need for dramatics.”
A shaky, rattling sound, like a faint laugh, comes from the young man, whose eyes open a moment later.
“Can’t get away with anything when you’re around, can I, Donna?”
“Nope,” she agrees with a grin. “Come on, let’s get you up so that you stop scaring your friend over there.”
She waves a hand in your direction, and the man immediately pulls himself up, first into a sitting position and then slowly to his feet.
He offers a somewhat nervous grin in your direction.
“Are you all right?”
You take a step back. “Who are you?”
He sighs and the grin disappears. “This doesn’t get any easier,” he complains, and the woman smiles condescendingly.
“Then perhaps you should give people a bit of warning,” she tells him, before turning to you. “This is the Doctor,” she says simply. “New face, new body, but still him.”
“Couldn’t have put it better myself.” He steps closer to you. “Really, I’m him. It’s just a little trick I’ve got so that I don’t die.”
“But,” you hesitate, “my Doctor had brown hair.”
“Great hair,” the redhead remarks reminiscently. “Really great hair.”
“Not ginger though,” the man — the Doctor — complains. And then, “Ooh, am I, this time? Ginger, I mean.”
“God, you and your obsession with that colour,” the woman grumbles. “I hoped it might just have been something your former incarnation had, but it doesn’t seem like it. And sorry, no. Just plain black.”
The Doctor sighs — and then suddenly clutches the sides of his head and drops down on one knee with a groan.
Despite your uncertainty about his claim of being the Doctor, you clutch his arm, unable to think of anything more helpful to do. However the unnamed woman grabs him around the back and drags him to his feet, guiding his arm around her shoulder.
“Right,” she says briskly, even as you move to support the Doctor’s other side, “we’ve got to get him to the TARDIS. Where did you leave it?”
“Umm,” you waves you hand in the vague direction that you think the remarkable ship had landed, “back there, I think.”
“Not specific enough. We don’t have time to search for it.”
As if she’s familiar with the Doctor, the woman slides her hand into the inside pocket of his jacket and produces the sonic screwdriver.
“First, though, we’ll need to make sure we aren’t seen,” she says, handing you the screwdriver and then reaching under her shirt to bring out a key on a chain.
“No,” the Doctor groans at this moment. As you look at his face, you see that his eyes are closed and beads of sweat are beginning to form on his forehead.
“What’s wrong with him?” you ask in concern.
“Problem with the regeneration,” the woman says in absent tones. “Happens every time, but he never seems to remember. When we get him to the TARDIS, she can look after him. But we don’t want to be caught by a roving Gatron army. So…”
She tries to work out how to juggle the key and the sonic screwdriver without letting go of the Doctor, but can’t manage it. Then she looks at you.
“Can you hold the key? It won’t hurt you or anything, I promise.”
And you find yourself believing this woman, whose intense gaze sometimes reminds you of the Doctor. You reach across and hold the chain out so that the key dangles. Donna takes back the sonic screwdriver and directs it at the key, which tingles as if some power is moving through it.
“What are you doing to it?”
“Enhancing its natural perception filter. Not much, but just enough that we won’t be seen. Just don’t make too much noise and no one will pay anything attention to us.”
After a moment, she relaxes her hand and gives you a nod. You feel safe enough to let go of the key.
“Don’t let go of the Doctor or you might never find us again.”
“Why, what does it do?”
“It means you won’t consciously notice us. You could walk right past and see nothing unless I wanted you to. But I don’t want to lose you — so stay close. Now,” she holds out the sonic screwdriver, activates it and sweeps it in a wide arc in front of you, “this way, come on.”
As you begin to move, the Doctor gives a faint gasp and then passes out, his head slumping on to your shoulder.
“Good, he won’t feel any pain,” says the stranger briskly, but you can hear a slight tremor in her voice.
“Who are you?” you demand.
“Wait ’till we get to the TARDIS,” comes the reply.
“How do you know about it?” you ask breathlessly. The Doctor is heavier than he looks.
“I travelled with him.” The woman smiles. “A long time ago now. Well,” she catches her breath and continues, “it’s a long time for me. It might be no time at all for him.”
You finally make it to the TARDIS and the doors swing open.
“Thanks, girl,” the redhead says, apparently to the ship, as you carry the Doctor inside. You’re about to let go your hold of him when the woman continues, “Let’s get him into the medical bay. Or, if the TARDIS is playing nice, she might recreate the Zero Room for us.”
“What’s the Zero Room?”
“Somewhere safe. For the Doctor, anyway. But for the moment,” you stop outside a room with a bed and large amounts of equipment lining the walls, “this will have to do. Lord, you weigh a lot for a skinny bloke,” she adds, and you realise that she’s talking to the Doctor, who is still unconscious.
Finally you get him up onto the bed and the stranger steps back with a sigh, pushing her hair off her face.
“Well, first thing’s first. Let’s get him into something that fits.” She turns to you. “Do you know his room? Good, then see if you can find him some pyjamas. He can get himself other clothes from the wardrobe when he’s feeling better.”
You’re about to argue, but a look at the Doctor’s ashen faces convinces you that this isn’t the time. You leave the room and, after some hunting, find the room that the Doctor told you was his. Folded pyjamas are already lying on the bed, and not for the first time, you’re impressed by the awareness of the TARDIS. You hurry back to the medical bay to find the stranger covering an apparently naked Doctor with a blanket, the brown suit, white shirt and tie lying over a chair.
“You — undressed him?”
The redhead chuckles as she accepts the pyjamas. “I’ve seen him naked before. Well, not him. A half-human version of him. Okay, you’re going to have to help me get these on him.”
And for the next ten minutes, you do their best to dress him in the pyjamas while still preserving his modesty. You manage it in the end and Donna covers him with the blanket again.
“Is he getting better?” you ask anxiously.
“A bit.” The stranger places a gentle hand on his forehead for a moment and then moves away from the bed. “Right then, let’s get the old girl into the vortex and then we’ll see how he is.” She turns away and then glances back to where you haven’t moved. “You coming?”
“Shouldn’t we, I don’t know, stay with him or something?”
“Not right now.” The woman lightly touches your arm. “The TARDIS will let us know if he needs us, and I want to know as much as you can tell me about what’s been going on. If we’re going to defeat the Gatrons, I need all the information you can give me.”
“But,” you let yourself be led to the door, but then stop and look back at the young man lying on the bed, “without the Doctor…”
“Exactly, we can’t rely on him yet. He’ll get over the regeneration, but it always takes time and we don’t have a lot of it, even with a time machine.”
You finally follow the stranger back into the console room. You watch as she takes a position at the console and begins flipping switches as if she’s done it all before.
“Umm — who are you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” The redhead looks repentant. “I didn’t even realize that I hadn’t introduced myself. My name’s Donna — Donna Noble.”
You stare at her in amazement. “Then — you saved the Universe!”
Donna smiles. “Who told you that?”
“The Doctor did. But I read about it in the paper, too - how Donna Noble defeated the Daleks!”
“Really?” Donna arches an eyebrow. “I must have missed that while I was getting my memory back.”
“I’ve got the article here.” You fish in the pocket of your coat and pull out a much-creased piece of paper. “I kept meaning to show the Doctor, but I forgot, what with everything that kept happening.”
“Well, that’s what life’s like when you travel with him.” Donna accepts the paper, but sends the TARDIS into the Vortex before she reads it. “Oh, by Sarah Jane Smith. Well, that makes sense. Lucky I didn’t see it before Torchwood got to me, though, or I might have had a meltdown in the literal sense. Oh well, too late now.”
And she chuckles and folds the article up again, giving it back to you.
“You make about as much sense as he does sometimes,” you venture shyly.
Donna grins. “Sorry about that. It’s just — I absorbed his mind while we were saving the Earth from the Daleks and sometimes I talk as much as he does — did,” she amends her sentence quickly. “It doesn’t seem like this version is going to be as talkative as his past self was.”
“Might be a relief,” you murmur, and Donna bursts out laughing.
“Sometimes he could be a bit much,” she agrees.
“Have you been with him before when he — what did you call it — regenerates?”
“Sort of.” Donna leans against the console. “When I last saw him pulling that little stunt, he didn’t actually regenerate. Bit of a long story. The short version is that there was a metacrisis, which resulted in, among other things, me ending up with the Doctor’s mind inside my head. It should have killed me, of course. Nearly did, actually, but he managed to stop it and then Torchwood performed a couple of tricks that means I can actually use the knowledge I got from it. But it also means I have all of his memories, so I know what happened the other times he regenerated.”
“That’s the short version?”
Donna chuckles. “Well, the Doctor’s affairs are usually complicated, and this was a particularly bad one. Believe me, that’s only half the story. I’ll tell you the rest some other time. For now, though, what can you tell me about the Gatrons?”
You find it difficult to shift the focus of your attention to an enemy that is no longer directly threatening you, but Donna prompts you with questions, just like the Doctor did, and you end up telling everything you noticed during the few hours that you and the Doctor were facing the Gatrons.
“Hmm, so they’re immune to standard weapons, can teleport by thought, and trap their victims in an alternate dimension,” Donna sums things up when she’s finished.
“What — but — I didn’t say anything about their victims!” you protest.
“No, but I happen to know about it,” comes the grim reply as Donna begins entering information into the TARDIS computer. “That’s why I was looking for the Doctor. I’d hoped he could do something, but it looks like it’s you and me for now.”
“But won’t the Doctor want to help?”
“It’s not a matter of what he wants, it’s what he can manage,” Donna tells you. “And, trust me, after a regeneration, he can’t usually manage much at all. Not for a while, anyway, but I don’t want to wait around for him to recover. From what I’ve been able to understand, the longer Gatron victims are in the alternate dimension, the more they begin to deteriorate, and they may not be able to return if they’re too far gone.”
And then she suddenly bolts away from the console and heads off down into the lower rooms of the TARDIS with a hurried “Come on!” that encourages you to follow.
You stop short in the doorway of the medical bay to find that the Doctor is twitching on the bed, letting out soft, heart-rending moans. Donna approaches him and slips her hand into his.
“Doctor? Are you all right?”
“How did you know he was upset?” you demand in a soft whisper.
“The TARDIS told me,” Donna replies equally quietly, before turning back to the man in the bed. “Doctor?”
There’s another soft moan from the unconscious figure, his fingers tightening around Donna’s hand.
You find it difficult to look at the young man lying on the bed and think of him as the Doctor. His hair is quite short and black, unlike the Doctors brown locks, and the sideburns have disappeared. His neck is longer, but his arms and legs are shorter. Fainter eyebrows and almost invisible eyelashes. His mouth is quite similar, but his nose and chin are completely different. All in all, it’s difficult to understand how it could be the same man.
“Doctor!” Donna says more insistently, and then, “Oh, well, if you’re not going to tell me what’s wrong, I’ll find out for myself!”
She straightens and, to your astonishment, places her fingers on the man’s temples.
“What are you doing?”
“He’s either dreaming or hallucinating. If I can find out what it’s about, I might be able to do something to help.”
“You can — read his mind?!”
Donna grins. “One of the benefits of a Time Lord mind.”
You recoil against the door. “So — can he read my mind?”
“Mmm hmm.” Donna nods. “Time Lords have mild telepathy.”
“Oh my God!”
“Well, you knew he was an alien.”
“Of course,” you reply. “But — I never thought he could do that!”
“It’s useful sometimes. Now, if you can just be quiet for a minute…”
There’s silence in the medical bay and then Donna removes her hands. “Yes,” she says in a sad voice, “I thought it might be something like that.”
“What is it?”
“He’s dreaming about me and everyone else who was with him when we defeated the Daleks. Oh, Doctor.” She places a gentle hand on his chest and looks down at him, her eyes full of pain. “I’m so sorry.”
“Was that — bad?”
“He lost everyone,” she says simply. “For one wonderful moment, he was surrounded by all these people who mattered more to him than anything — and then it was gone.”
She suddenly turns to you.
“Did he ask you to travel with him?”
“No, I asked him if I could come.”
“Mmm.” Donna looks back at the Doctor. “He’s so terribly lonely. But,” she looks up again, “you’re very good for him. He’s better since you’ve been with him.”
“How do you know that?”
Donna taps her temple with her free hand. “His mind is in here. I know his past and his present.”
She closes her eyes for a moment and focuses intently before looking up again. As she does so, the Doctor lies more quietly, his head rolling slightly in Donna’s direction as his lips part with a soft sigh. Donna leans over the bed and touches a soft kiss to his forehead.
“What did you do?”
“I asked the TARDIS for help. I’m hopeful she’ll keep those sorts of thoughts at bay until he’s able to deal with them.”
You nod, although you’re feeling rather out of her depth. There’s so much about this situation that you don’t understand.
“When he wakes up — is he going to be like he was before?”
“Oh, I doubt it.” Donna tucks the blankets around him a little more tightly. “In fact, I’d suggest he’ll be a very different person indeed.”
“In what way?”
“Well, just look at him!” Donna chuckles and waves a hand at the sleeping man. “He doesn’t look at day over thirty! He’s going to have to act far more grown up than his tenth self did in order to be taken seriously.”
“Tenth?” You stare at her. “He’s been nine other people before he met me?”
“Well, literally speaking he’s still the same person, but he’s had nine bodies and nine very different personalities.” She grins and crosses the room to where you’re standing in the doorway. “I talked to Sarah Jane Smith after we saved the universe — she travelled with two of the early version of the Doctor — and she told me a bit of what it’s like when they change. Pretty unnerving was the way she described it. Well, I suppose we’ll see.”
“Soon.” Donna touches your arm. “He’s getting better. But for the moment — I think a cup of tea will help all of us.”
After spending time with the Doctor, you aren’t fazed by the rapid way in which Donna jumps from one subject to another, but something about what she said bothers you. “All of us?”
“Yes.” She glances back at the sleeping Doctor with a smile. “Him, too.”
And then, sliding an arm through yours, she guides you along the hallway to the kitchen. However she stops halfway and grins.
“Oh, you’re gorgeous,” she declares and pats the wall of the ship. “You’ve given me my room back!”
She pushes open the closest door and steps inside. The light goes on as she walks forward and you follow to see a room that looks as if it belongs in a posh hotel.
“This is yours?”
“Mmm hmm. Now, I wonder if the Doctor threw out my things. Nope,” she says in triumphant tones as she opens the wardrobe. “Thank goodness, now I can get out of these pants.”
You look down and realise that the Doctor’s blood has soaked much of Donna’s trousers. Then you realises that yours are in a similar state.
“I should go and change.”
“Definitely!” Donna grins as she takes out a pair of trousers similar to those she’s already wearing. “And maybe wash your face and hands. The last thing you want is the Doctor worrying about you when he wakes up.”
Leaving Donna’s room, you realise that your own bedroom has shifted so that it’s right next door. You go in and finds that, although the items you’ve collected since you began travelling with the Doctor are still scatted on your bed and floor, the room itself has changed. It’s more like the palatial suite that Donna herself has and you can’t help being grateful. Not that you complained before, but seeing Donna’s room has made you a little bit jealous of this former companion.
A change of clothes is already lying on the bed and you take them into the small bathroom off your bedroom. Changing and washing the blood off takes about twenty minutes and then you head to the kitchen.
You pass the medical bay and can’t help poking your head in to check on the Doctor. You’re about to leave again when you notice a cup and saucer on a small table next to the Doctor’s head. Sneaking in to the room, you go over and discover that the cup contains tea.
It seems like a ridiculous thing to do, but as you look at the Doctor, you can’t help noticing that the colour in his face is more natural.
Perhaps Donna does know what she’s doing after all.
You head for the kitchen and reach it to find Donna sitting at the table, a tin of the Doctor’s favourite biscuits open in front of her.
“Ooh, does he let you have those?”
Donna chuckles. “Nope, but he might wake up to discover that he doesn’t like them anymore and it’d be a shame if they went to waste.” She picks one up and examines it. “Besides, if he does want more, I’ll get them for him.”
You take a chair and sip the tea that Donna has made for you. Then you look up at the woman opposite.
“I know I said that I realised the Doctor was an alien, but today’s the first time I fully understood what that meant.”
Donna nods sympathetically. “I know what you mean. It shook me badly, too, when he almost regenerated in front of me.”
“And he’s got, what, two hearts?”
“Mmm hmm.” Donna tastes her tea. “The companion who travelled with him before me told me about it, and it was quite a shock, I’ll admit.”
“Two of anything else?”
Donna grins. “Cheeky! Apart from a respiratory bypass system, his physical structure is completely human.”
“Oh, great!” You roll your eyes. “That’s one pretty big exception.”
“I suppose it is, but once you’ve travelled with him for a while, you tend to forget that he’s not quite like you and me. Well, you more than me, I suppose.”
“When you absorbed his mind, did you get anything else?”
“Hard to tell.” Donna stares at the table for a moment in silence. “It’s possible I could regenerate, but I’m not about to put myself in a dangerous situation to test the theory. If that happened, though, I might get a second heart. The Doctor got his after his first regeneration.”
There’s a lapse in conversation while Donna finishes her biscuit and you drink your tea. It’s Donna who breaks the silence.
“So, we need to develop a strategy for dealing with the Gatrons.”
“Can we kill them?”
“Not without giving them the chance to leave in peace.”
“Now you really sound like the Doctor,” you say with a grin.
“He’d never forgive me if I just wiped them off the face of the Earth — not that I’m too sure how to go about that in any case.” Donna smiles grimly. “The problem is going to be what contingency plan we have in place in case they refuse to leave.
Silence falls again in the room. Donna stares at the table while you gaze at a spot on the floor. There’s been something bothering you about what happened with the Gatrons ever since the Doctor was shot, but you haven’t had a chance to consider it properly. Now you think long and hard before suddenly sitting bolt upright.
“Yes?” Donna looks immediately eager. “What is it?”
You look at the Doctor’s former companion and feel your certainty fade. If Donna, who is able to communicate with the TARDIS and can actually do things to help the Doctor, can’t work out how to defeat the Gatrons, how can your suggestion be helpful? Your uncertainties crowd in and you slump back in your chair. “Oh, it’s probably not important!”
Donna reaches across the table and places her hands on yours, holding your focus.
“You know, you remind me a lot of the way I was when I first started travelling with the Doctor. I was always running myself down, doubting that what I had to say was important.” She smiles briefly. “Shouting at the world even though no one was listening. But one thing he showed me — and I showed myself — was that I was more than that. That my ideas could be things that even the Doctor would never think of. So,” she goes on, after a moment to let that sink in, “what were you going to say?”
“Well,” you shift uncomfortably, “it’s just — you said that the Gatrons’ victims were sent into an alternate dimension. But the Doctor was shot by them and he didn’t vanish.”
Donna stares at you for a moment before her eyes light up. “That’s it! You’re brilliant!”
“What?” You stares at Donna. “What did I do?”
“It’s got to do with wavelength! Humans and Time Lords have different wavelengths. When the Gatron shot the Doctor, his gun acted just like a normal gun rather than a multi-dimension transport device. But with humans, they’re transported because the projectile captures their wavelength and sends them through to the alternate dimension. That’s why there have never been any bodies found! Oh, it’s perfect!”
“And… why is it perfect?”
Donna smiles. “Because we’ve got exactly what we need to overcome it. Oh, I’ll have to build something to make it work, of course. But that should take no time, or next to it.”
You feel similar frustration to the way you felt when the Doctor used to get caught up in one of his long explanations that tell you nothing. Your tone is quite sharp as you ask, “But what have we got?”
Donna waves her hands in a gesture of demonstration. “The one thing in the universe that has the capability of travelling in a multi-dimensional manner, even if she doesn’t like it much — the TARDIS.”
And with that she bolts out of the kitchen and along the corridor to the console room, you hot on her heels. By the time you arrive, however, Donna has already picked up a phone from amidst the other bits and pieces of the console.
“Jack?” she says as soon as it’s answered. “Yes, I’m on the TARDIS. No, you can’t speak to the Doctor. He’s not in a fit state to be talking to you.”
Even as she speaks, she begins entering numbers into the computer and you can hear the subtle change in the TARDIS engines that mean you are heading for a destination rather than travelling randomly through the Vortex.
And when you land and Donna leads the way out of the doors, there’s a handsome dark-haired man waiting in front of the TARDIS.
“What kept you?” he demands as soon as you appear.
“You can’t fool me,” Donna retorts. “I know you just got the lift up here, Jack. Now, behave, will you?”
“No promises.” He grins and then turns to you with in intensity in his eyes that makes you blush and causes your breath to catch in your throat. “Well, hello! And you are?”
“This is the Doctor’s new companion,” Donna interrupts, turning to you. “And this is Captain Jack Harkness. Try to ignore him. He’s like this with everyone. Even me.”
“Especially you, Donna Noble.” Jack leers at her and then laughs, his eyes travelling to the interior of the TARDIS as if he’s expecting to see the Time Lord fiddling with the controls. “So where’s the Doctor?”
Donna waves him inside, her expression suddenly serious. “He got shot by one of the Gatrons, Jack. He’s — ”
“In the alternate universe? Or regenerated?”
“The second one.” Donna halts outside the medical bay door, which, you’re is surprised to see, is closed. “He’s still recovering, though. Sleeping it off.”
“And how does he look?”
Donna considers for a moment. “Not bad. Different. Young.”
And when she opens the door, you watch to see the surprise on Jack’s face before he gives a slow nod.
“Definitely different,” he says softly. “And very definitely young.” He shoots an anxious look at Donna. “Is he okay?”
“He will be. Regeneration takes time to recover from, as you know. A couple more hours and he should be fine.”
“I don’t think we’ve got that long.” Jack places a gentle hand on Donna’s arm and draws her out of the room. The door slides shut behind them. “There are reports from all over — more people have disappeared.”
“That’s why we’re here.” Donna places a hand on his wrist, her fingers curling around the leather band he’s wearing there, and then makes a gesture that includes you. “We’ve talked about it and I know what I need to do. But I’ll need your wrist teleport.”
“It doesn’t work,” Jack reminds her. “The Doctor disabled it.”
“I know.” She holds up his hand to examine it. “But what I need is access to the wavelengths it uses to travel through time, not the transport capabilities. May I?”
He pauses for a moment, examining her, before unstrapping the device and handing it over with a sigh.
“Do you really know what you’re doing, Donna, or are you just guessing? Because if you get into that alternate universe and can’t escape, I’m the one the Doctor’s going to blame!”
Donna smiles, pulling the sonic screwdriver out of her pocket and using it to make some adjustments to the wrist teleporter.
“I can’t promise, Jack, but I’m doing my best. I want to get rid of the Gatrons as much as you do.”
He rests a hand on her shoulder, and you can see something like understanding or sympathy in his eyes as he looks at her.
“I know you do,” he says softly.
And there’s silence until Donna deactivates the sonic screwdriver and hands it to you.
“Give that back to the Doctor for me. And as for you, Jack,” she continues, cutting you off before you can protest, “we need to find one of the Gatrons somewhere close by so that we can get rid of it. That should send them all back to their own dimension. But I’ll need your team for backup.”
And Jack turns on his heel and runs up the corridor and through the console room, his feet crashing on the grating, before his footsteps can no longer be heard and you assume he’s left the TARDIS.
“Right, let’s go,” Donna says to you.
“But — what are you going to do?”
“I told you.” She smiles and attaches the leather strap around her wrist. “Give them a choice.”
The events of the next little while are something of a blur. Donna takes the TARDIS to the top of a tall building and you wait there for a signal from Jack or one of the other Torchwood members.
However the signal doesn’t reach you before a Gatron does.
A normal-looking man appears on the roof, holding you at gunpoint. Donna gently nudges you back into the TARDIS and steps out to meet him.
“What do you want here?” she demands.
He chuckles, slowly advancing across the massive space between them. “I don’t have to tell you.”
“I demand the answer to my question according to the universal ratification of the Shadow Proclamation,” she retorts and you see the man flinch.
“We are Gatrons.”
“I want more than your name.”
“We require energy to survive. Energy from our universe that will allow us to continue to exist in this one.”
“So you take humans away to provide you with that energy,” Donna states, but you can hear an edge of fury in her voice and wonder at it. “What will you do once you have everyone from this world? Move on to the next, I suppose. And then?”
He grins and, for the first time, you notice something very non-human in his face. It’s as if he’s gradually transforming into something else. You wonder if Donna has noticed.
“Then the Universe will be ours.”
“What’s going on?” a voice demands, and you spin around to see the Doctor in the entry to the console room. He’s put the brown duster on over his pyjamas and his face is wearing an expression of enquiry that is strangely similar to the previous version of the Doctor.
“It’s Donna,” you tell him eagerly. “Donna Noble. She’s planning to get rid of the Gatrons.”
The Doctor brushes you aside and rushes to the TARDIS doorway just in time to hear Donna speak again.
“I’m giving you a chance, Gatron. I can send you back to your own universe, where you can live as you choose, but you must promise never to return to this universe.”
There’s a shriek that sounds like terrible laughter and you peer over the Doctor’s shoulder — it’s easier than it used to be, as this man is shorter than the previous Doctor — to see a beast hovering in the air where the human figure had previously stood.
The Doctor steps out of the TARDIS onto the roof.
“Donna?” he calls, and you see that the redhead is several metres in front of the TARDIS and the Gatron. “What are you doing?” he demands.
Donna glances over her shoulder and smiles grimly. “What you always do,” she tells him. “Giving him a choice. I don’t think he wants to take it.”
You can’t help but be amused by that understatement, even as you see that the gun in the Gatron’s hand is larger than it was when he was human.
And then the Doctor reaches out a hand to pull Donna back into the safety of the TARDIS. However she won’t let herself be moved.
“No, Doctor.” Donna turns back to the beast, a fierce light glittering in her otherwise expressionless face. “This is my fight.”
Before she can get out another word, however, the Gatron turns and fires at her. She vanishes in a flash of light.
The Doctor lets out an incoherent scream of fury and is about to lunge at the Gatron, but you grab his arm.
“No, Doctor! She said she knew what she was doing!”
“She can’t possibly!” He turns a look of unspeakable rage on you and you flinch, but keep hold of his arm. “She can’t know!” he explodes.
“She knows enough that another shot from the Gatron would cause you to regenerate again,” says a male voice, and then Jack’s arms are helping you to hold the Doctor still. “Have you got a death wish?”
“Let me go, Jack,” the Doctor bellows. “I have to go after. I have to save her.”
“Doctor!” A familiar voice seems to come out of nowhere and causes all three of you to jump. “Could you quit yelping for a second? A little sonic help here?”
The Doctor stops fighting against Jack’s hold and stares around, a grin slowly forming on his face. Then, as Jack lets him go, he takes the sonic screwdriver that you’re holding out to him.
“Your wish is my command, Donna. Where would you like it?”
“Oh, aim at the Gatron,” Donna’s voice remarks lightly. “Just give him a little wave.”
The Gatron lets out a howl of horror and fury. Then the Doctor activates the screwdriver and a blue beam shoots at the monstrous creature.
There’s a crack like a sonic boom and a brilliant flash of light — and then the streets below you are teeming with hundreds of people.
“What did you do?” Jack demands, his face lighting up with a grin.
“Manipulation of the standard wavelength,” the Doctor replied, flipping the sonic device into the air and then pocketing it with a degree of false nonchalance that doesn’t fool you for a minute. “With Donna in the alternate universe, thanks to her Time Lord mind, and presumably something to distort the shields that the Gatrons had set in place, she made the whole world created by them unstable. I was able to reverse the polarity and that brought everyone back.”
“Yes, it did,” says a voice behind them, and all three people turn to see Donna, a child in her arms and another held in those of the man with her, walking towards you.
“Lee!” Jack exclaims eagerly. “Oh, thank God you’re all right!”
“M-me and the ch-children, thanks to Donna.” Lee grins, moving the baby so that his right arm is free to return Jack’s embrace. “Oh, g-go on then. You can have a h-hold.”
“Come on then, Josh. Come to godpapa,” Jack says in a cooing voice and Donna rolls her eyes.
“I’d never have picked you as the soppy type, Jack Harkness. Honestly!” And then she turns to the Doctor. “Speechless, Time Boy? That’s not like you. Not the last incarnation of you anyway.”
“Well, I’m a new man,” he says with a smile, coming over and lifting the baby girl out of her arms. “And it looks like I’m not the only one who’s had some changes in their lives.”
“That’s why you came to get the Doctor,” you say, joining them, as everything that’s happened since the Doctor was shot suddenly makes sense. “Because your family had been taken by the Gatrons.”
“Mmm hmm.” Donna smiles. “I wasn’t about to lose everything I’ve gained since my return to Earth.”
The Doctor strokes a gentle finger down the cheek of the baby in his arms and then looks up at Donna, his face wearing a somewhat lost expression.
“So I suppose there’s not much point asking if you want to come with me again? Just like we were before?”
“But we’re not like we were before, Doctor,” she says softly. “I have my life here, although you can always call on me if you need me.” She glances at you. “And you have someone who, I know, feels the same way I did — that she’d like to travel with you forever.”
The Doctor turns to you, a question evident in his eyes. “I’m not the same man I was before,” he warns.
You smile. “You’re still the Doctor.”
He grins and hands the baby back to Donna, who is watching you with a smile on her face. Then the Doctor turns to you and holds out his hand.
“Shall we then?”
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