‘Where are we now, Doctor?’
‘Why, my dear, we've arrived in the coldest place on Earth!’
Snowcap Base, Antarctica, 1986
Several hours later
Dawn was breaking across the desolate wastes of the South Pole. Wind and snow was swirling in the stiff morning breeze, winding and twirling furiously in the biting cold, even as the first lazy tendrils of light crept across the sparkling ground, and towering above it all were the glaciers, imposing behemoths that dominated the frozen kingdom, sheets of ice and dust roaring in thick tails from there windswept peaks.
A huddle of Penguins was nestled into the wasteland, a black speck in the sea of white, heads bowed against the biting wind. The group either hadn't noticed or simply didn't care about the planet was tearing itself apart in the sky above them, silently ripping and melting and coming apart like an exploding watermelon, all unfolding in utter silence, save for the relentless, bitter wind that whistled through the Penguins like some strange, feathery organ.
What did turn one of the group’s head was neither of these things. It was the dull sound of clanging metal, as a hatch that had been buried in the snow suddenly sprung open. The bird watched, bemused, as a dark figure bundled in a flowing black cloak and white scarf extradited itself gingerly from the maw in the ground. Successfully freeing itself, it stood up, stumbled a few paces and then fell flat on its face, groaning slightly. The figure pulled itself up again, wearily trudging onwards into the maelstrom. As it came into view, its features became clearer and clearer. It was a man, hunched and vulture-like, with long white hair hanging from underneath his jaunty Astrakhan hat. His face was lined and wrinkled, with heavy bags under the eyes, which were shut against the wind. When they opened again, they were revealed as a clear, strong blue that somehow seemed younger than the face they were residing in.
All across the snow he was wordlessly progressing through, strange figures jutted awkwardly from snowdrifts, half-buried in the white. They were bandaged and cloth-faced, with vacant, staring eyes that seemed as empty now as they had been when they were ‘alive’ earlier that morning. They had strange equipment fastened to their chests, ribbing along their arms and lamps perched on their scalped heads. They looked like some perverse hybrid of rag-doll and robot.
The Doctor, as everyone insisted on calling him, moved wordlessly through the mangled remains of the Cybermen. They had all collapsed when there vampiric home planet, Mondas, had bitten of more than it could proverbially chew and disintegrated. Just as he had... no, as Ben had planned. That was curious. It really should have been him who came up with that, shouldn't he? Hm? He was the scientist, the elder, the one with the experience. Yet while he was lying prone in the bowels of the Cybership, it had been a cockney sailor from 1966 who had discovered the fatal weakness of the invaders and won Earth’s first interplanetary war. He was a smart lad. Taking him and Polly aboard the ship had turned out to be quite the serendipitous accident-
The Doctor stumbled, landing for the second time in as many minutes in a snowdrift, his train of thought well and truly derailed by a ripple of white-orange energy that shot across his frail body. He screwed up his face in concentration. It was coming, he though, fighting to stop his mind spiralling away into blackness. He had felt it building up for a while now, ever since Kembel and that appalling business with the Daleks. Ever since the Time Destructor, he was holding up less and less to the strenuous activity of rocketing about time and space, leap-frogging from era to era. He knew in his hearts of hearts that he was regenerating. Perhaps the process had begun back on Kembel itself. He had run, running like he always did, like he had run from the Daleks, run from Shoreditch, run from Gallifrey. Even as a boy of 8, running from the Untempred Schism itself, fleeing across the sands to the ruined old barn he had made his refuge. To this very day he had never really known exactly what he had run from, but thinking back, was it so unlikely it was snowflakes? The biting wind of an icy continent on a far distant world?
Was it so unlikely that he was going to freeze to death, right here and now?
He had held it back so long, he wasn't even sure if it was going to work. First time nerves, perhaps. But it had been so long since Kembel. Steven storming off, the Death Zone, the Mortimer’s, all that childishness with John and Gillian. Those precious years snatched with Cameca. He and Steven’s row as Paris burnt, Dodo bursting into the ship, witnessing the end of the Earth from afar. Then came his dreaded return to the Celestial Toyroom, the Guardian he had encountered when his first off-world excursion had gone so terribly wrong. He had nearly died there, he was sure that the Toymaker might have been spiteful enough to change him right there and then. But they had survived to Tombstone, and many journey’s more. That magnificent voyage with Odysseus. And then finally finding the ideal society he had so long been searching for, only to discover it was as decadent and repressive as the one he had fled from. He had nearly died there too, his life force drained away. Steven had left to rebuild the shattered society of Elders and Savages. Finally, inexorably, as if some ghostly Watcher was pushing him ever closer, the battle with WOTAN atop the Post Office Tower. Ben and Polly. 17th Century Cornwall. Antarctica, 1986, and the icy drift were he now lay, powerless, slowly freezing to death in the early morning sun.
His mind drifted lazily to his companions. Ben and Polly, marooned twenty years from their own time thanks to his wilful inaction over repairing his malfunctioning craft. Odysseus, a king so full of noble rage and brilliant cunning in equal measure, a man in so many ways simultaneously a glowing reflection and a brutal condemnation of humanity. Poor Brett and Sara and Katarina, all killed needlessly by his own damned curiosity.
Could he blame himself for the Daleks? Would they have even left there city if he hadn't pulled his trick with the fluid link? Would any of the scores of planets they have ravaged exist now, peaceful and living. Had his own people, those Time Lords he had branded as ancient and corrupt, been right about interference all this time. One day the Daleks were unknown to the universe, the next they had a galaxy spanning eHe really did change the universe every time he stepped out of the TARDIS doors. The ship did have a scanner for a reason...
He thought back to Steven, brave and principled and ultimately too stubborn to see the grey in the Doctor’s life. He thought of Vicki, like his own family in so many ways, so alive and outgoing, and how he had left her in the arms of a stranger in a far distant time. Like Susan. Exactly like dear, dear Susan. His only family left, his fellow exile. Thinking back to their early, heady days, there first encounter with humanity on the Moon, there subsequent study of human history that had bought them to France in 1789, and from there everything from Henry VIII to Logopolis, Esto and Akhaten, Quinnis to Marinus. And then he thought of her wallowing in the muck of 22nd Century Earth, struggling to gain any sustenance from the scorched ground, the ground scorched by the Daleks, the monsters, his monsters. His fault. All his fault in the end. Perhaps it was best like this. Just to lie here in the snow and let the universe forget he had ever cut a swath through it’s fabric, before he caused anymore damage. What was the point of a Doctor if all he did was cause pain?
‘Doctor? Oh Doctor, where are you?’
‘Don’t worry, Duchess, the old buzzard can’t have got far.’
Ben and Polly had obviously disembarked the now powerless Cybership and were making their way back to the TARDIS, which was still perched, slightly lopsided, in the plateau outside the base. Two humans who had wandered into the TARDIS by accident, returning Dodo’s key. Two humans caring for the welfare of a young girl. Just like Ian and Barbara.
Ian and Barbara. They had shown him humanity, move clearly and more completely than he could ever truly express, in their love, their laughter, their righteous indignation and desire to get back to there own time, all the while embracing their lives amongst the stars. Ever since that terrifying night, the race through the forest in 100,000 BC, the night he had contemplated caving Za’s head in with a rock if it would get him back to his ship and safety faster. But it was Ian who stood up to him, just as Barbara would stand up to him when he accused them of sabotage. She had ridiculed his arrogance and self-assuredness. They had made him the man he was today. They had shown him that sometimes you couldn't run. You had to stand. That there were some corners of the universe that had bred the most terrible things, things which act against everything we believe in. From the barbaric practices of a whole society or the ego of a daft old man, they must all be fought.
Suddenly, with a tremendous effort that shook him to his ancient bones, the Doctor reared up from the snowdrift, ice falling from him in sheets. He stood proudly, upright, defiant against the howling landscape, the wasteland he now knew he had glimpsed from afar all those years ago as a child. He began to march purposefully across the short distance between him and his ship, the energy murmuring at his fingertips, a faint orange aura beginning to exude from his exposed skin.
He would live on for them. He would live on as them. He couldn't run anymore, he couldn't simply be an observer. If the universe was fighting against his interference, then he would simply have to fight back. But not as himself. Not with this body.
He arrived at the ship, breathing heavily as he leaned against the battered wooden doors. He put his gloved hand up to it, just to feel the reassuring hum one last time. Alive. Satisfied, he took a deep breath, fished the key from his pocket, and stole into the TARDIS.
The cold winds of the Pole were instantly silenced, replaced instead with the hum of his ship, which he had stolen almost two centuries earlier. But the hum was urgent now, more frenzied, almost like when he had run from the junkyard in fear that her secrets would be divulged. The lights too, usually gleaming white and clinical, were now flashing and atmospheric. Gazing around the console, he saw the dials and lever operating themselves, as if she was aware of what was about to happen to her precious thief. His hands gingerly hovering over the whirring dais, he looked up as he heard banging against the door.
‘Doctor, are you in there? Hey, open the door!’
‘Come on geezer, let us in, it’s bloody freezing! Open the door!’
‘It’s all over, that’s what you said.’
And as her stared across the console room, he saw them. All of them gathered. His wife and children, teary eyed, smiling in joy at him. Susan and Ian and Barbara gathered together, beaming as if they were on Aridius together again. Vicki and Steven, arm around each other. Brett and Sara and Katarina and Oliver, all alive and reassuring him. George and Helen Mortimer, hand in hand, there two small children dancing about excitedly with John, Gillian and Dodo.
They looked at each other, warmth radiating between pilot and companions, the Doctor’s tired old hearts swelling to bursting point with pride. The crowd burst into applause, serenading him, reassuring him that all the pain and struggle was worth it. He had done good. And that the best was yet to come.
‘It’s far from being all over!’
Overcome with emotion, the Doctor placed his hand on the door controller. He was ready. Closing his eyes, the energy building to a palpable crescendo inside of him, his hearts stopped beating. With a knowing, satisfied smile, he closed his eyes and let himself drop, hand pulling the lever down. He crashed to the floor and lay there, spread eagle. Just before the light took him, he blearily noticed Ben and Polly running up to him.
‘Doctor! Wake up!’
‘No, leave him!’
The Doctor, after 449 years, finally let the light take him.
‘Ah yes! It’s good. Keep warm.’
‘Concentrate on one thing! One thing!’
Dr. Who - WILLIAM HARTNELL
Polly - ANNEKE WILLS
Ben - MICHAEL CRAZE
Dodo - JACKIE LANE
Sara - JEAN MARSH
Brett - NICHOLAS COURTNEY
Katarina - ADRIENNE HILL
Vicki - MAUREEN O’BRIEN
Ian - WILLIAM RUSSELL
Barbara - JACQUELINE HILL
Susan - CAROLE ANN FORD
And introducing PATRICK TROUGHTON as DR. WHO
DR. WHO created by VERITY LAMBERT & SYDNEY NEWMAN
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