By the twentieth century, he’s given up on avoiding history, and only worried about avoiding himself. He’s been here enough times that it would be easy to trip over his own timeline, and that would create…complications. Especially if he met himself before the war. He couldn’t, shouldn’t say anything about what’s ahead, because he knows he didn’t. He hopes he wouldn’t, but he doesn’t know.
Luckily, most of his time on twentieth-century Earth has been in Europe. It’s easier for someone of his appearance to blend, there. So if he just stays away from Europe, Tibet (running into K’Anpo Rinpoche wouldn’t be quite as bad, but very nearly) and the Chinese civil war, he should be out of his own way.
He goes to India in 1905, intending to stay a few years. It turns out to be only a few weeks. He’s there four days before a man trips and falls on him, nearly knocking him down. A policeman grabs the man (a day-laborer of some sort), and screams at him for crashing into the ‘sahib’ so carelessly. The Doctor manages to talk the officer out of it, but not before the poor man’s suffered a few truncheon-blows.
He has white skin (as the humans would call it), an English accent, and a respectable suit. In India, this obliges the locals to grovel at his feet. He can’t live like that.
He heads north, to Nepal, and climbs Everest just for swank. Nothing against Sir Edmund Hillary, and Tenzig Norgay (splendid chaps, the pair of them). They’ll still be the first humans to reach the summit.
But he can’t resist leaving a note. Just a short one, in a bottle, to see if anyone finds it.
As far as he knows, no one does.
Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap.
The noise isn’t loud, but it wakes Rose out of a sound sleep. It doesn’t sound like it’s coming from anywhere inside her room. More like it’s coming through the walls. And it’s persistent.
Rose slides out of bed, and slips on a pair of fuzzy pink slippers. Last thing she’d seen he was alternately speaking very slowly to the men from the future, who persisted in gabbling incomprehensibly, and looking for a homing beacon he could press. She’d gone to bed, figuring he could let himself in when he got tired.
He must be up and fiddling with something.
Tap tap tap.
She steps out into the hallway, but there’s nobody there. She hadn’t expected there to be, really. It sounded more like it was coming through the wall behind her bed. The direction (she thinks) of the console room.
If Mickey’s fiddling with the TARDIS, the Doctor’s going to kill him.
Tap tap tap.
No, she reminds herself, she’ll have to kill him. The Doctor’s gone.
She dashes down the hall, slippers slapping on metal. As she reaches the console room, the lights come on fast, and she’s squinting from the brightness.
Nothing. No one.
Tap tap tap.
“Mickey?” she whispers. For a second it’s coming from everywhere, the tapping, then her ears focus, and it’s by the door.
Mickey must still be out there. Probably locked himself out. She doesn’t remember the Doctor ever giving him a key. It could have happened, but she doesn’t think (want) believe that to be true. Not Mickey. The Doctor doesn’t even like Mickey.
She reaches for the door handle, and something makes her pause. A feeling. Hairs on the back of her neck.
Tap tap tap.
Mickey’s trainers are lying on the floor behind her. One under the console, and one next to the hat stand.
Back home he’d do the same thing. In his apartment. He’d kick his shoes off, and leave them lying anywhere. Under the table. Behind the television.
But he wouldn’t go wandering barefoot. Not this ship.
She turns back to the door.
Tap tap tap.
It’s locked. There’s a latch on the inside. She doesn’t know if he has a key (The Doctor wouldn’t just give him one, would he?), but anyone can lock it from the inside.
Mickey’s been good about locking his door ever since the policeman who was really a Slitheen came through.
She leans on the door and she listens.
Tap tap tap.
Something’s out there. Right outside.
The assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn’t get through those doors, and believe me, they’ve tried.
She’s suddenly really glad that the door’s locked, and nothing can come through from the outside unless it has a key.
He heads east, next, to Indochina. Trying to dodge the war. He’s entitled, he thinks, after all these years. All these wars. His poor TARDIS has an unfortunate tendency to wander into smoke-filled battlefields. If he’s stuck temporally, the least he can do is get a bit of freedom spatially.
So he goes into Indochina, finds a tiny, distant, jungle village, and opens a clinic. A small one, providing a few basic supplies. He’s had enough medical training that even without equipment he can do a lot. Oral rehydration therapy won’t even be in the experimental stage until nineteen sixty-four, and he can put together a passable solution with sugar or rice gruel, clean water, and salt. Which is lucky, since cholera hits the well once, dysentery never really goes away, and his ‘liter of sugar-water an hour’ prescription saves more than a few.
Of course it helps to add a bit of mashed banana for potassium. He’s always liked bananas, but he’s starting to develop a whole new appreciation for their benefits to human health. They’re one of the few fruits that grow plentifully year-round, serve as a good source of potassium, have a bit of vitamin C (extremely handy when the citrus fruits go out of season) and a good bit of carbohydrates, and can be cooked in an impressive variety of ways. For the poor and starving of Southeast Asia, the banana may be what’s keeping them alive.
(he saw in the irish potato famine, people clawing and scrabbling in the dirt, fighting like maniacs for every rotten blighted lump that could be boiled and mashed to keep their families alive, children like a rack of bones, abandoned and near death, knocking over grown men for a piece of raw potato which they’d choke down and then huddle with cramps for days because two bites of starch in your stomach feels like something, and you dream that you might live)
The clinic is cheating history, he knows, but he’s gotten very good at cheating history over the years. Spotting where there’s a little leeway, and where he’s likely to break the whole game. He’s careful about which patients he saves. If there’s a sense, even a vague suspicion that he could damage history, he leaves them to the care of the nurses, and lets fate take its course.
He’s very good at not thinking that he’s cheating for strangers the way he wouldn’t (couldn’t, couldn’t) cheat for Reinette.
After ten years, he leaves. There’s only so long one can stay in the same place without aging noticeably (although he’s starting to spot a few wrinkles around the eyes). One day he arranges a fake message from England calling him home, turns the building over to the nurses, who’ve gotten good enough to carry on themselves, and walks away.
But the whole thing’s so satisfying that he simply moves about two hundred miles away and starts again, as Doctor Newhouse, this time.
He can think of at least two Jacks he’s known who would laugh.
Mickey’s in his room, asleep on the bed. Stretched out face-down, still fully dressed, lying on top of the covers. He doesn’t stir when Rose opens the door, and she watches his breathing for a moment, just to make sure he’s alive.
He’s inside. That’s good. He’s safe. They’re both safe, as long as they stay in the TARDIS.
Something’s out there.
It’s not the Doctor. He has a key. He’d just unlock the door. Walk right in, probably manage to wake everybody up in some way that looked like an accident. Show off his special emergency TARDIS-caller, or the time machine he’d built out of old windowpanes and bits of clockwork robot.
So she’s safe. Mickey’s safe. The Doctor’s gone. And there’s something outside the TARDIS, tapping on the door.
She can still hear it from Mickey’s room, just barely.
She leans over the bed and shakes Mickey awake. “Get up,” she hisses. “There’s something outside.”
“What?” He rolls over and rubs his face.
“There’s something outside. It’s tapping on the door. There’s a scanner, but I don’t know how to work it. I need your help.”
Mickey groans. “It’s a dream. Go back to bed.” He turns, and pulls the pillow over his head.
She turns the light on, drags him upright, and explains again, as he’s blinking and wiping the sleep from his eyes. He manages to nod in all the right places, and she thinks he gets it, until he’s yawning barefoot in the console room, and asking her to explain again.
“That tapping. Can’t you hear it?” Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. It’s driving her nuts.
He turns around slowly, and stops to stare at the door. “Yeah. What is it?”
“No idea. It’s coming from the door. Help me find the scanner button, so we can have a peek.”
He nods again, in earnest, and begins examining the buttons. It’s Rose who finds it in the end, though, and a screen pops out.
There’s a woman. In front of the door. Lying down, in a puddle of blood. She’s got a hand out, tapping on the door.
There’s no way that should be as loud as it is, Rose thinks, as she opens the lock. The TARDIS must have amplified it somehow. But then the door’s open, and she’s staring at the bleeding woman trying to think what to do.
“Rose,” Mickey calls, from the other side of the room. “What are you doing? Those robots could be out there!” He steps over to close the door. When he sees the bleeding woman, he stops.
Rose is already on her knees, reaching under the bleeding woman’s armpits to carry her inside. “There’s a room with some sort of medical device inside. Like a bed. Stick people on, and it fixes them. Most of the time, at least. If you grab her feet, we can get her there.” She looks up at Mickey. “Help me.”
The Japanese officer is holding a pistol to his head and screaming, and all he can think is that if he regenerates again, Rose will kill him. The officer shouts in his ear for the third time. “Surrender the American!”
“I’m not American,” he replies, in intentionally bad Japanese. “I’m English. A doctor.” He gets the grammar wrong, and lays the accent on thick. Making it sound like he barely speaks the language. If they have to explain slowly, they should calm down and he has a decent shot of making it out in one piece.
On the other hand, if he does get shot, the soldiers might be sufficiently distracted by the sight of him regenerating to leave everyone else here alone.
“There is an American pilot here. Not you!” The major with the pistol snaps as he sees the Doctor’s look of incomprehension. “You — English Doctor.” He pokes the Doctor in the chest with the pistol for emphasis. “In the jungle — American pilot. He came here. He left a trail. Blood. You give him to us, we will go. You don’t give him to us, we will shoot everyone and take him. Understand?”
The Doctor nods. The major already looks calmer. It’s hard to scream furiously while trying to think of simple sentences. “No Americans here,” the Doctor replies. “Many Malay patients. Many Malay nurses. One English doctor. No Americans. Maybe he die in jungle. Leopards out there. Eat wounded animals.”
“No,” says the major. “He was bleeding. He left a trail. He came here!” He shoves the Doctor into the wall. He presses the pistol against the Doctor’s head, and snaps, “You give him to me or you die.”
“A boy went to the plane. He want scrap metal. He cut his foot. He come here. I bandage, he go home. That’s the blood. No solider.”
The major pauses to consider this. Digging the pistol into the Doctor’s head for emphasis, he says, “We will search. You don’t move. The nurses don’t move. If we find him, we kill you.”
The Doctor nods as well as he can with his head jammed between a bamboo post and the gun. “Search. No American here.”
The major barks an order, and the guards fan out. It isn’t a very big clinic, just a larger version of the local bamboo houses, with a pump, an electrical generator, and cement floors, because they’re easy to sterilize. There’s four beds, a table, a cabinet for medical supplies, and a sink.
And a few sacks of rice stacked in the corner. But there’s a war on. Everyone who can afford it keeps extra rice. He needs to feed the patients, after all. Most of them are undernourished. So he collects tinned milk from some charity in Australia, he grows nutrient-rich fruit trees all over the grounds (including some truly impressive banana plants), and whenever rice is available, he buys as much as he can.
One of the Japanese soldiers begins poking at a sack with his rifle butt. After a minute, he fixes his bayonet and slashes the sack open, spilling rice all over the floor. Dita, the head nurse cries out. As the major turns to stare at her, she grabs a basket and starts collecting the spilt rice.
“Stop it!” shouts the major, in Japanese. “Malay pig!”
The Doctor says in Malaysian, “Stop, Dita. It’s only rice, it’s not worth getting shot over.” He nods at her. She stares at him for a moment, and drops the basket.
The major sighs. “We seek to uplift the people of Asia, and all we find are groveling peasants, down on their knees, crawling for a grain of rice. No ambition. No higher purpose.”
“My patients are hungry. Rice is hard to get.” The Doctor keeps his tone as mild as he can. He’s seen Dita save children dying of cholera, using nothing but persistence and rice gruel. She deserves better than to be called a pig by some gun-toting bully who’s probably never saved anyone in his life.
They all deserve better, though. Even the gun-toting bully deserves better, probably. This is the nature of war.
Fortunately, the major takes his comments lightly. “If we don’t find the American, we’ll send new rice. Two sacks for each that we spill. Courtesy of the Empire of Japan.”
The soldiers shift the sacks, poking them with their bayonets. Finding nothing, they slash the sack open in frustration, and give up.
“Nothing?” asks the major, “Then we move on. And send Doctor…” He turns towards the Doctor questioningly.
“Bowman. James Bowman.”
“Send Doctor Bowman eight sacks of rice. I’m sure the Malay woman can salvage the last one.” The major turns back. “Your Japanese improves rapidly, Doctor Bowman. I’ll remember you.”
The Doctor says nothing, just picks up a basket and joins Dita, his nurse, on the floor, scooping up grains of rice.
Later, when they’re sure the soldiers are gone, he pulls his sonic screwdriver from his pocket. Picking an invisible seam on the floor, he uses the screwdriver to loosen the sealant, revealing a square that lifts up. “You can come out now,” he says.
PFC Ben Holloway lifts the block, and emerges from the tunnel. “It’s safe?” he asked, a little hoarse.
“Safe as it’s going to get,” the Doctor replies.
Later, when Ben Holloway’s safely in American territory, the Doctor starts to wonder what he’s done. Did Grace get her burning desire to hold back death from her grandfather bleeding to death unaided in the Indonesian jungle? Was she inspired to study medicine after hearing about the mysterious doctor who saved her grandfather’s life? Or did she have other reasons, making all of this irrelevant?
He hasn’t broken history, he knows, but he may have altered it. And he’s not entirely sure of the consequences.
Then he starts to wonder if Grace came up with “Doctor Bowman, from London,” because of this incident, when he got the name from her, and he gets a headache and gives up.
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