Survival by vegetables
Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
Chapter 22: Chapter 22
Chapter 23: Chapter 23
Chapter 24: Chapter 24
Chapter 25: Chapter 25
Chapter 26: Chapter 26
Chapter 27: Chapter 27
Chapter 28: Chapter 28
Back to index
The studio was bright and freshly painted, and Daniel was about to interview the President of the World. It only seemed like five minutes since he’d learned the world even had a President, not so long after most of the presidents found out as well. And the presidents of certain countries had made quite a lot of fuss when they had, but they’d all been put quiet, in the end. It had turned out the President of the World was even more powerful than them.
It had been a special role, Daniel had discovered, for a particular state of emergency. A person they’d made sure no one had ever heard of, to defend the world against the things they hadn’t told anyone about. And that was a scandal and an outrage, but it turned out the President of the World had thought so, too. A grave enough situation, in fact, that he’d declared a permanent state of emergency. And so now democracy was suspended in levery country on the globe, and the Doctor would be President would until he was able to put everything right.
But there was no need to worry, of course. He did have a plan, one that’d change the whole planet for good. It wasn’t easy or pretty, and it wasn’t something you’d want to look at up close. But nobody would have to look at it very hard. They would only have to wait until the Doctor saved their planet one last time.
Daniel was trying not to think about any of that as the cameras started to roll. He was laughing, and on the sofa in front of him the President of the World was laughing too– even more handsome in real life than the pictures, with muscles arms and a shock of blackened curls. And somewhere the music was playing and the crowd was applauding, and Daniel was listening to himself introduce his show in a place that felt very far away.
“You already know who my guest today is,” he was saying. “The Doctor! He’s saved the world with a million faces, and we’re only finding out about it now.”
I’m the President, too,” said the man in front of him, with a smile that said he knew it was ridiculous.
Daniel’s grin froze. “You want to be addressed by your title?” he said.
“Not at all,” said the President smoothly. “That’s the opposite of the kind of man I am. You’ve all had too much of people who stand on ceremony, haven’t you? When I say I’m first among equals, I actually mean it.”
The studio had been clear to Daniel: this had to be a hard-hitting interview. It’d be brilliant television, they’d said, and their teeth had been clenched when they did. He knew very well that the real reason was something quite different. He’d tried very hard to wipe out that knowledge from his mind.
“I take it you mean the people you deposed,” he said as calmly as he could. “But some of them are among your greatest critics, aren’t they? Your plan”–
“Will bring unlimited prosperity.”
“That may be,” said Daniel. “But what they say is true, isn’t it? That it involves killing millions of aliens; intelligent species who we’ve never even met! They won’t exactly want us to take them to our leader.”
“It’s what they didn’t say that you should be worried about,” said his guest with a smile, “that all this time it’s you that could have been killed. They weren’t so worried about that, now, were they? You and your families, you’ve constantly been in danger”–
“From all the species that live out there?” said Daniel, cutting over him. “You’re saying every one of them is hostile?”
The President laughed, entirely without malice.
“More than you’d think,” he said. “In your lifetime alone the Earth’s been threatened hundreds of times. Thousands. And all of it’s been covered up! The people in power wouldn’t tell you how much danger you were really in, and now it’s all in the open they’re out there demanding your sympathy.”
He took a big glug from his water.
“It wasn’t them who saved you, you know. Not the great and the good, the United Nations. It was just the Doctor, always, one single person going out there and saving the world. Never getting the credit. And I don’t mind, but I think that people do. I mean, you must’ve felt like that yourself, Daniel. Like the work you were doing here was never even noticed. Unappreciated.”
The presenter jolted, realising the question was for him.
“Well!” he laughed, “I’ve never saved the planet! Not even a little town. But we all feel overlooked sometimes; I’m just the same.”
“Yes. And you’ve been frightened, too, haven’t you?”
Daniel laughed awkwardly. “Ah,” he said. “It’s me who’s supposed to be interviewing you, Doctor!”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said the President with a smile. “I’ve seen so many frightened people over the years. I know what you all look like. You’ve all been scared for far longer than any of you want to let on. Afraid you don’t know what the future will look like; that there might not even be a future at all. But now I’m going to change for good. Hope, Daniel. That’s what I’m planning to bring.”
Daniel had been doing his show for years. It was a very long time since he’d felt truly nervous on stage. Of course, the President of the World was the biggest guest he’d ever have. He was almost able to pretend that was why he felt so scared.
“And why now, exactly?” he asked in a voice that still tried to be jolly. “We’ve heard you’ve been on this planet for years. That you’ve been lots of different men, all of them happy to keep working on under the surface. What’s different, then; what happened to change your mind?”
“I’m just saying out loud what I’ve always believed,” said the President smoothly. “That there are corners of the universe where there are terrible things. That they must be fought! And fighting those monsters means we’ll have what we need for ourselves. I was a Lord once, Daniel. Elite. I thought that I was above the common crowd. So I was blinded, too. I refused to see how bad things had become.”
“You’re not the first politician who claims to have seen the light,” said Daniel.
“No. But I’ve saved the whole world a great many times before. I’ve had a lot of practice at it.”
“But it’s not the whole world our viewers will be thinking about. The people watching at home, they’ll want to know what this means for them. It’s been hard here in Britain, too. The world can feel like it’s passing us by. And ever since the incident with the asteroid”–
“You won’t need to worry,” the President of the World laughed. “I’m the Doctor. And whatever I’ve looked like, I’ve always believed in you: the people of this country, and not just of this world. Human beings, especially the British– you’re inventive, invincible. Indomitable! You’ve survived plagues and cosmic wars; why wouldn’t you survive the present day?”
The man grinned to himself and to the nation.
“There are those who’d twist the Doctor to their own ends,” he said. “The truth is this: the welfare of the human race has always been first in my hearts. And it’s what I stand for over everything else; ultimately; definitively. It’s humanity that defines the man I am, or my name isn’t”–
“DAV-ROS,” came a booming electronic voice through the microphone.
Daniel wheeled round in shock, knowing how unusual it was to have technical faults on the show. Protesters, maybe? There had been a lot of angry people, when they’d found out about the President of the World.
“Security,” he heard himself shouting. “SECURITY!”
“Oh, they’ll be dead,” said the President, sounding bored. “Remember those alien threats I was talking about? The Daleks are one of the worst of them.”
“Then what should we do?” Daniel shouted, his composure shattering. “Should we stop the recording?”
“I shouldn’t think so,” said the President calmly. “It’s good to have something interesting on the telly, if your whole planet’s about to die.”
Two huge red things like badly designed compost bins were trundling onto the stage, and the President was flashing them a look of resigned recognition. These must be the Daleks, then, a genuine alien race. They looked completely ridiculous, Daniel thought, and didn’t that just add insult to injury?
The presenter looked nervously over to his guest, but the President was grinning as he looked at the shining red machines.
“DAV-ROS!” one of the Daleks was bellowing. “YOU ARE OUR BE-TRAY-ER! YOU WILL BE”–
–“saying you’ve got this all wrong,” said the President smoothly. “A case of mistaken identity.”
“OUR CREATOR HAS ABANDONED US!” screamed the Dalek. “OUR GOD HAS BLASPHEMED!”
“Has he, now?” said the President. “That’s a shame. But I’m the Doctor, although I might not look it. And you know what I always say, don’t you?”
The Daleks somehow managed to look confused.
“GER-OM-IN-O?” one tried.
“Not that,” said the President with a smile. “I say you should keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer.”
The Daleks now looked unsettled as well as confused.
“WE HAVE NO RE-CORDS OF THAT STATE-MENT”–
“Well, you’d better make some now, haven’t you? I’ve just gone and said it to you.”
He looked over at Daniel and smiled once again.
“These are my greatest enemies,” he said. “The Daleks. We’ve fought each other for thousands of years. Yet perhaps it’s true what they say about opposites: it turns out we’ve got an awful lot in common. We each want to protect what we value most of all.”
He turned very slightly so he was speaking to everyone, to Daniel and the Daleks and all of the world beyond.
“I’m a new man and this is a new era,” he said. “Why wouldn’t it call for a whole new way of thinking? Perhaps what used to be unimaginable now actually has to happen. It’s time for the Doctor and the Daleks to stand together.
He smiled very broadly indeed.
“I propose,” he said, “an alliance.”
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In the metal restraints of a broken floor in a burning building on an exploding planet, the Doctor had finally accepted she would die. She’d faced oblivion so many times by now — and hopelessness almost as many — that she’d thought she’d known every form of despair. But somehow this one still felt a little new: her enemies winning utterly, crushing her to nothing until even her memory was gone. For a new Doctor to rise, the old one would have to be scrubbed out of existence.
She thought about her last words, and decided not to say any. Someone might find them out, and complain that they weren’t very good. It wouldn’t do after so many lives, to end things with terrible words.
The fire was blazing all around her, and she pretended she was at peace. Hopefully she’d die extremely soon. She’d not be able to pretend for very long.
She felt herself begin to black out as the smoke scorched over her body. For a moment she saw a hallucination of Chris and her mother, peering over her behind the soot and flames.
“Chris,” she said. “I couldn’t save you. And I’m sorry.”
The hallucination looked a bit put out.
“I’m saving you,” it said. “Don’t assume it’s the other way round.”
“You’re not a hallucination!” said the Doctor, a part of her thinking that those would be very bad last words.
“No,” said Chris. “I asked Mum if you might be, back on the TARDIS. But she thought I was being silly.”
“The TARDIS?” said the Doctor. “You followed me from there? But you’d’ve died.”
“We came here through a wood that you didn’t understand,” said Chris. “You know a lot, but there’s still lots you don’t know at all.”
She snatched up the sonic screwdriver that had fallen to the Doctor’s side, pointing it at the restraints that held her friend to the ground.
“It’s no good,” said the Doctor. “You’ll never be able to use a device like that”–
She hadn’t finished talking before the restraints sprang open with a clang.
The Doctor looked up at Chris, her whole face a moon of astonishment.
“That isn’t possible,” she said. “You shouldn’t have been able to do that.”
“It’s not difficult,” said Chris, giving the screwdriver back.
“Yes it is!” said the Doctor. “It takes a Time Lord years just to shape and modulate the sound”–
“But I’m not a Time Lord,” said Chris. “I’m a little girl. And I’m tired of you telling me what I won’t be able to do.”
The Doctor looked stunned, like an ant had told her it could drive a car.
“Get up,” said Chris. “I can’t save you if you keep lying on the floor.”
“Yes,” said Lorna. “You can’t just lie around here all day. The planet’s about to explode.”
Their friend got up from the cracked and blackening floor. Now she was able to turn round, she could see a place where the fire changed into orange leaves, which slowly blended to the greens and browns of a forest. A door that hadn’t existed, opening to a place that shouldn’t be there. They’d found a way out– it was completely impossible, but they had.
“Don’t think about how this shouldn’t be happening,” said Lorna. “Just run. It’s what you’d tell us both to do.”
“Into that forest?” said the Doctor. “It isn’t going to be safe. Lorna, someone’s taken my name, and now he’ll be taking the Earth. And he’ll take the whole universe with it, before he’s done. Wherever that wood is, it won’t be a place we can hide.”
“Can you get us back to the TARDIS?” Lorna asked her daughter, ignoring the Doctor completely.
Chris paused for a moment, genuinely considering it.
“I think so,” she said. “Yes.”
“That’s not possible,” said the Doctor. “I mean, I said that last time and it was; we had that thing. But the TARDIS is still on this planet”–
“The wood, you big numpty,” said Lorna. “It’s the one that’s inside your old box. And don’t go saying that’s impossible too,” she added as the Doctor began to open her mouth again.
For the briefest moment her friend looked stunned– and then, despite everything, she began to grin.
“Bigger on the inside,” she said. “And I never knew how big it really was. It’s my turn, isn’t it? To be astonished by the world.”
“We need to get away from here,” said Chris. “We need to run.”
“My turn to be told that, too,” said the Doctor.
The three of them ran from the planet and into the wood, the entrance vanishing behind them as they fled. The forest was sealing away that burning world before its flames could spread to the trees: but it needn’t have bothered, because they were on fire now too.
“It’s burning,” said Lorna. “All of time and space.”
“This forest is all of time and space?” puffed the Doctor as smoke rose all around them.
“Don’t say that’s impossible, too,” said Lorna.
“I wasn’t going to,” she said. “I was going to say I was terrified.”
Around them all the trees were beginning to blaze.
“I hope we don’t have far to run,” said the Doctor.
“We don’t,” said Chris.
“Good. Because — and I mean this in a very literal sense — there isn’t a lot of time left.”
A cracking, booming sound was coming from somewhere in the wood.
Through the end of everything the three of them stumbled and ran.
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By the time the three of them got back to the TARDIS the forest was properly ablaze. The air was soot-thick and they could hardly see each other– until they ran into the console room, where it all was still totally clean. Somehow the smoke had stopped at the bounds of the spaceship, like a thief too afraid to break in.
But even without smoke the TARDIS was in total chaos. A bell was ringing and sirens were blaring; somewhere distant a telephone started to scream. The Doctor was cursing as she swept piles of envelopes off the top of her console, all marked URGENT as they spilled from a slot Chris couldn’t see.
The TARDIS had always felt safer than anywhere else Chris had been. Even if the whole universe ended, it felt like it would still be here; a forest in a box tucked somewhere into the nothingness. Seeing it burn felt like something deeper than a rule was breaking, that something basic was no longer going to be true.
“Are we safe?” she asked the Doctor. “You said your ship was indestructible.”
The Doctor looked up at her, face sweating from the stress and heat, her hands constantly pushing buttons as she spoke.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “If what you said was true, the forest isn’t the TARDIS. Just, um. All of space and time. So, well, we’ll hold out a little bit longer. But not that long.” She grimaced. “Maybe worry a bit.”
She stared up at the solid mass of smoke, which now totally blocked out the unnatural natural light within her ship. A formerly invisible glow came from the pale pine of the console, but the room was still dim against the darkness that burned up outside.
The Doctor looked at Chris and her mother in awe.
“You’ve saved me,” she said. “From what’s out there now.”
“From time catching fire?” said Lorna.
“Worse. From the Doctor. That’s who I met, who blew up that whole planet. He’s the thing that bought time and space down.”
“You did this?” said Chris. “Did you burn things when you were a man?”
“No,” said the Doctor. “That man was never me. He was somebody else, someone who I’d never become.”
Lorna frowned at her. “But you said he was the Doctor”–
“He’s not me,” her friend replied. “And he’s not been the Doctor for long. But he’s got the police box, taken the name. That might be all that really matters.”
She suddenly looked very old, as if the weight of all her lives had crashed down on her at once.
“You have to understand,” she said. “The world he wants to build; it’ll still need stories. And so it’ll still have a Doctor. But what the Doctor stands for, what it means. All that’ll change. So he won’t look like me, not anymore. Sometimes things stop being possible.”
She looked up at the smoke that was burning all space and time.
“I have a question,” she said, “and it’s a really important one. Chris. Me and your Mum. If one of us was to push you very hard, which of us would it be?”
“I don’t want to be pushed!” said Chris, glaring at her.
“Because the thing is, there’s not much space in an old and battered police box. And we’ll need to push you out, you know, when all of this goes away.”
“What?!” shouted Chris and Lorna simultaneously.
“What?” said the Doctor. “Oh, I didn’t say. The way the inside of a TARDIS is built, it means she can take quite a lot. There’s no problem with the laws of time bending a bit. But if they break, well, there’s no more bigger on the inside. It’s all more… the same size on the inside. Which is…”
She thrust her arms out to indicate how much space that was, but didn’t have to move them very far.
“Lorna,” said the Doctor, “get ready to push her in three.”
“But I didn’t choose!” said Chris.
“You didn’t say,” said the Doctor. “That’s not the same thing as not choosing. And you chose right, and that’s okay. Three.”
“Doctor!” cried Chris.
“Two,” said the Doctor, bracing herself to jump. Chris ran to her mother, who held her tight in her arms.
“One,” said the Doctor, “and JUMP”–
There was an enormous sound and an absence of sound, and a feeling like going up and down a rollercoaster at once. For a moment Chris felt like the world itself was crushing her in every direction and pulling her in ones she didn’t know. And that moment was wrong in a way she couldn’t describe; at the same time it was lasting forever and over before it had begun. And suddenly she was spinning and twisting in ways that could never have happened, and then she was lying on her stomach on the grass outside her house.
It was late afternoon and the ground was moist with rain. It seeped into her as she lay there, being real.
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Chris lay on her face on the damp strip of grass by the road, listening to the rumble of cars as they drove by. It all felt totally normal, so much so that it made her afraid to move. When she did, time would restart, then she’d have to go on an adventure again.
“Good jumping,” she heard the Doctor say from somewhere.
“We’re alive,” said her mother, half listening as she got to her feet. “I wish that didn’t keep being a surprise.”
“Some of us,” said the Doctor sadly, looking back to her old machine.
From the outside the TARDIS looked the same as it always had to Chris: a shabby old box that no one would bother to destroy. But instead of a vast forest inside the open doors there was now nothing there at all. All that was left was a tiny space painted yellowish white, as faded and ruined as everything seemed in the world.
“It’s gone,” said the Doctor. “Maybe forever now. Space and time crushing it, as pressure crushes lungs. The TARDIS is dead, and the future is. Whatever happens now”– she shook her head –“ I don’t know what it‘ll be.”
“I’m sorry,” said Chris. “It was a beautiful thing.”
“The Daleks are here,” said the Doctor. “I can smell them. Rotten metal, like oil seeping through wood.”
Chris gasped. “Are they here to attack us?”
“I hope so,” said the Doctor. “The alternative’s much worse.”
“Worse?” said Lorna. “What could be worse than that? The Daleks destroying all of us, like they burned that city in the sky?”
The Doctor sighed very heavily, looking away from her friends into the emptiness of her TARDIS.
“What’s worse is if this is the day I’ve always feared. When the Daleks don’t come to destroy you, but to join you. I think he was planning that, that other Doctor. He thought you would stand with the Daleks.”
“We would never!” shouted Chris. “We would die before we did something like”–
“And what did you think, Doctor?” asked her mother very quietly. “When he made you think that way. Did you think he might be right?”
The Doctor swallowed. “I thought”–
She caught herself, about to lie again without even considering the truth.
“I knew,” she said. “I knew before he said it that there was a very good chance you would. Because it’s what I’ve been running from, for so many centuries now. The day you join up with the Daleks to take the universe. Take everything from every species that ever lived, and keep it for yourselves over their bodies. Of all my millions of worries, that was my biggest fear: that one day the Daleks would stand together with the human race. And when you did? That you wouldn’t be ready.”
“But I wouldn’t do that!” said Chris. “Go up to another person, even if they were an alien, and kill them just so I could have what’s theirs.”
“Few people would. But that’s not what they’ll ask you to do. The killing people, the exterminating. It’ll happen a long way away. You wouldn’t have to like it, or even have to notice. Eventually you’d forget it was even happening.”
“No I wouldn’t,” said Chris, folding her arms in a huff.
“No,” said her mother. “We know you wouldn’t. But what the Doctor’s saying is that some of us– maybe most of us”–
“I can’t say it,” she said to the Doctor.
“It’s the distance in the end, Chris,” said the Doctor. “Who cares about aliens from the Planet Zog? People you’ll never meet or never see, if it means your world has a future once again?”
“I do,” said Chris. “I care.”
“It’s whether enough people do,” said her mother.
“Doctor,” she added after a pause. “Is this”–
“What?” said the Doctor.
“All of this. Is it… you know”–
She mimed whispers, unable to say the word.
The Doctor sighed and looked her right in the face.
“You have to understand,” she said gently. “The most dangerous things in the universe know never to speak their names. Right to the end, they’ll always keep you guessing. They do their job right”–
—she smiled softly—
–“you won’t even be sure they were there.”
Chris’s mother looked down at the ground and its grass both alive and dead.“I’m sorry,” said the Doctor. “And I know how hard this is. But this isn’t a place for certainties. Except for one.”
She was looking up past Chris and Lorna, and reluctantly they followed her gaze.
“The Daleks are here and you’re rolling out the carpet,” she said. “This isn’t going to be easy. ‘Cause you know who’s got here before us?”
Chris and Lorna looked up to the billboard at the other side of the road, which was shinier and glossier than they’d ever seen it before. At its centre was a picture of a thin and handsome man, and behind him the board was all covered in Daleks. The man and the monsters were red and gleaming and new, ready to lead the Earth into another age.
”The Doctor,” said Chris’s mother with a sigh.
“The Doctor,” said her friend. “And the Doctor always wins.”
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The three of them sat cramped in Lorna’s living room, watching the news unfold on the TV. The Doctor had put the kettle on and it was whistling in the background. It sounded far too jolly; unsettling things.
“We’ve not been gone long,” said the Doctor.
“I thought it must’ve been a while,” said Lorna, looking at the date on the bottom of the screen. “It should’ve taken him ages to do all this.”
The Doctor shook her head. “He was already here behind the scenes, planning and waiting. This was only the final step.”
Lorna had imagined there’d be some ceremony, in her nightmares where this day had arrived. But everything on the television was the same: the presenters; the graphics; the jokes that no one would find funny. The only thing to show that anything had changed was that one of the guests was a Dalek.
The presenter was talking to her alien guest as they watched, not looking interested in the fact it was encased in metal. She was describing the Earth’s new plan in a way that made it sound boring, mentioning in passing how the Daleks were helping it along.
“THANK YOU FOR IN-VITING ME,” the Dalek guest said to the presenter, doing its best to sound polite.
“Thank you for coming,” said the presenter with a chuckle. “I know you’ll have a lot to do.”
“OUR SPECIES ARE WORK-ING TO A MUT-UAL END,” said the Dalek. “HU-MANS AND DALEKS WILL ALL HAVE THEIR LA-BOUR MAXI-MISED!”
“But doing something that matters,” said the presenter, who wasn’t chuckling anymore. “Not stuck in a call centre selling stamps to grannies. This is a time of rejoicing”–
The Dalek stared at her blankly. There was a pause, only a moment too long.
“IT IS A TIME OF REJOICING!” it shouted as its lights flickered on and off. “REJOICE! REJOICE!”
“And I’m sure people all over the planet will be rejoicing today,” said the presenter as she moved to her next segment with a smile. “For those of you just joining us, our top story this afternoon: Human-alien relations are strengthened as the President announces plans to put a Dalek in every school”–
Lorna turned to the Doctor, horrified.
“Britain has a President now?” she said. “What’ve they done with the Queen?”
“Not Britain,” said the Doctor through clenched teeth. “The planet.”
“He’s President of the World?” said Lorna, gesturing to the picture of the other Doctor now filling the screen.
“No,” said the Doctor. “That’s still me. Only everyone now thinks that he’s, well. You know.”
“You’re President of the World?!” said Lorna, sounding even more horrified than she had before.
“Well, yes,” said the Doctor. “A bit. I’m usually too embarrassed to mention it.”
“Wait,” said Chris. “It’s you who rules everything? I thought you’d do it better than this.”
“Not often,” said the Doctor. “Only in emergencies”–
“But nobody knew,” said Lorna. “and everyone should. We should’ve had a vote.”
“They thought it wasn’t necessary,” said the Doctor. “That it’d be better if people didn’t know. How much danger all of you were in, every second of every day.”
“Right. And they chose you?”
The Doctor scowled. “I’m very clever!” she said.
“Oh, they all think that, don’t they?” Lorna muttered. “And they wonder why everyone’s angry!”
She growled and punched the cushion on her chair, but the Doctor wasn’t listening. She’d pressed her ear to the television to hear what the newsreader was saying, and her face had gone paler than bones.
“They’re sending Daleks round the houses,” she said. “Now, and they’re talking like it’s nothing. Just something for morale. To make sure that everyone’s rejoicing.”
Lorna swallowed. “And the people who aren’t?”
The Doctor winced. “They might… keep on not rejoicing,” she said. “They might never rejoice ever again. They might not do anything at all”–
“We get it,” said Chris, shivering very slightly.
In a place between fire and stars Lorna had watched a city in space explode. She’d seen Rome die in a nuclear fire before Jesus Christ had been born. Those things felt tiny next to what she was feeling now. They hadn’t been here, in the safety of her own walls. Terror was different when it started to come to you.
“They’ll discriminate, won’t they?” she said. “There’s some they’ll exterminate before others. What might they make of two people who’d seen a psychiatrist?”
The Doctor took a very deep breath and answered as levelly as she could.
“That might depend,” she said, “on what they say they now really believe. Whether they’re still insane, or if they’ve now seen the light of the Daleks.”
“We’ll be insane,” said Chris.
The Doctor looked at her.
“Chris,” she said. “It’s not just your decision to make”–
“It certainly isn’t yours,” Lorna snapped. “If you think I’m going to let my daughter lie down to something like this”–
She was interrupted by a knock on the door, and went even paler than the Doctor.
“Knocking?” said Chris. “Can they do that?”
The Doctor swallowed. “I’m not taking any chances,” she said.
She made for the door and pointed her finger at them as she went.
“Stay in here!” she yelled, still bossy despite herself, running to the hall door from where the knocking was coming. She aimed her sonic screwdriver at the lock, ignoring the wood, and turned the device to one of its highest settings. The lock gave a tiny whine like what was happening to it was cruel, before it exploded with a force that blasted the whole door open.
The Doctor stood ready for battle, then deflated when she saw who’d come to the door.
“That’s no way to treat your fans,” said the woman on the other side with a smile. She was dressed as an ordinary woman, and she was dressed exactly like the Doctor.
“Osgood,” said the Doctor. “How did you know?”
The two women looked at each other in awe, identically relieved in their identical clothes.
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“Deep down I always knew the President wasn’t the Doctor,” said Osgood. “A handsome man in eccentric clothes!” She laughed. “How extremely overplayed.”
“Don’t knock it,” said the Doctor. “It was great being a handsome man.”
“It was your friends who made me admit it to myself,” Osgood went on. “Chris and Lorna; I found out both of their names. They met me and they talked about you. And I knew.”
Not hearing anything that sounded like an attacking Dalek, Chris and Lorna came up to the door.
“It’s you!” said Lorna to Osgood, “and you’re all dressed up like her! But how did you know we’d all be here?”
“Oh,” laughed Osgood. “The organisation I’ve just run away from has a lot of very personal information. From credit cards; social media. Mind probes. We never knew what we might need it for.”
“But that’s an invasion of privacy!” said Lorna.
“We always said it wouldn’t matter as long as the database didn’t fall into the wrong hands. Which it has; the Daleks have everything now. Gives them a good idea of who isn’t on board with their plan.”
“Exterminate?” said Lorna.
“Exterminate,” said Osgood. “They can’t leave anything to chance.”
“And you think I’m the only one who can stop this,” said the Doctor wearily.
“I came as fast as I could,” said Osgood. “But not fast enough. They’ve come to houses on this street here already, shot the dissenters down when they opened the door.”
“That’s the Daleks,” said the Doctor. “It’s what they do.”
“It wasn’t only the Daleks who did it,” she said in a very small voice. “There was a family; they showed them where to go. They had a little girl. Her mother had glasses almost the size as her head.”
“People?” said Lorna. “From across the street? I know them; we used to talk. When we tried to have a book club and it didn’t work. They wouldn’t want any of this.”
“No,” said the Doctor. “But they might prefer it to having their child die.”
Lorna stared hard at the ground.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I had thought of that.”
She gave a laugh as hollow as she felt.
“It’s easy for you, in a way,” she said softly. “The Daleks do what they do because of hate. It’d be harder, wouldn’t it, if it was because of love?”
“Are you justifying the people about to kill us?” said the Doctor.
“No. I’m saying… that I’d hoped we were different, even now. That it’d only happen where people were evil, not like us. But it’s all just people being people. And it always will be, ‘till there aren’t any people anymore.”
The Doctor avoided Lorna’s eyes and words.
“There might not be anything other than people soon,” she said. “He’s turning the Earth into a reality bomb.”
“What?” said Lorna.
“I only heard a bit of the news. But it was enough to tell. What’s being built, what’s happened here already. It’s miniaturised. Won’t blow up all realities, only what’s left of this one”–
“What?” said Lorna again. “Stop saying things that make me go ‘what’,” she added.
“That’s what a bomb like that does at full power. It ends everything, except what it thinks should remain. The infinite versions of us in every reality there is.”
“But that shouldn’t work,” said Chris. “Because”–
“Hold that thought,” said the Doctor. “It’s not important right now. What is”–
She looked away from them all so they didn’t have to see her face.
“The way a bomb like this works,” she said, “it builds itself into a planet, ‘till weapon and world are the same.”’
“I can’t say how far it’s already gone. But if it’s past a certain point then the only way to stop it would be”–
She looked at the ground.
“It’d be to blow up the world.”
Lorna looked at her, and chuckled very slightly.
“Okay,” she said.
The Doctor looked back, totally shocked.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought you said”–
“If that’s what it takes? Then it’s what we have to do.”
“You can’t take a decision like this so lightly,” snapped the Doctor. “You’re talking about killing billions of people!”
“But us people’ll kill trillions more, aren’t won’t? I don’t want to kill anyone, Doctor,” she said. “But you’re about stopping monsters. I don’t think that changes if this time you’re stopping us.”
“It changes everything!” shouted the Doctor. “Can’t you see that? Everything I’ve done, it’s so this wouldn’t have to happen here.”
“You shouldn’t shout when we have guests,” said Chris. “It’s very rude.”
“Your mother says she wants to blow up the world!”
“Oh,” said Chris. “I see why she would.”
“But you’re a child.” said the Doctor. “An innocent!”
“Not really,” said Chris. “And I want to blow it up too.”
“That’s not your decision to make!” shouted the Doctor, now visibly starting to shake.
“No,” said Lorna. “That’s what parents are for, right? To protect their children, and show them the right thing to do. Not there in the manual, is it?” she said. “When you have to choose one or the other.”
“We won’t,” said the Doctor, looking wildly to the sky. “There’s always hope, and it comes when you least expect it. I was in your shoes once, lifetimes ago. I thought I had to blow up my own world. But I found another way. Loads of other Doctors, coming just at the nick of time, slamming out of nowhere to save the day. It’s– it’s what has to happen, when things get desperate enough. I’ll have found a way out, it’s what I always do. A past or future me. They will be coming.”
They all looked up through the window as several battered old police boxes failed to appear in the sky.
“I expect they’ll be along any minute now,” said the Doctor.
The four of them shuffled in a very uncomfortable silence.
“Doctor,” said Osgood after a while had passed.
“They’re coming, Osgood,” said the Doctor.
“I don’t doubt it. I know that it happened before; the skinny you told me the whole story. And it’s good, don’t get me wrong, finding another way. But I remember thinking–”
“Don’t,” said the Doctor. “It’s never a good idea.
“It’s just that it’s not a lot of help when there is no other way–”
“But there always is,” said the Doctor, “that was the point.”
“What is it now?” said Chris.
“Well,” said the Doctor. “It’s not really about specific examples“–
“What is it now?” said Chris again in an even more irritated way. “If you don’t arrive to save yourself, then what are you going to do?”
“I could set up a chronoclastic incubator,” said the Doctor, “a machine built out of time and space themselves”–
“You don’t know, do you?” said Lorna.
“No,” said the Doctor very quietly. “I don’t know.”
Back to index
“If there really isn’t any other option,” said Osgood. “To blow up the Earth or let everything beyond it die. Then. Well.”
She looked over to the Doctor.
“Then you’re going to have to make a choice,” she said.
The Doctor didn’t look angry or even surprised. She just looked sad, and afraid.
“That’s not something a hero can ever do,” she said.
“No. But a woman might have to. And if a hero can’t give help to a person who’s in real need, there’s some who’d question if they were ever a hero at all.”
The Doctor looked at her almost hungrily, scanning her face for a door through which she could escape.
“It’s not what I am, Osgood,” said the Doctor. “However much you need it to be. If I make that choice, then that’s when everything breaks. My life, it’s always just been a story for children”–
“Get a weapon or something, love,” whispered Lorna to Chris. “We’re going to need them when the first of the Daleks arrives.”
“It’s horrifyingly violent and completely inappropriate,” said Osgood. “Of course it’s a story for children. But now we’re standing here, you know,” she said, “I don’t think it was ever a fairy tale.”
“Perhaps it’s just a part of you,” she went on, “but you think a fairy tale’s not real. A lie, to tell a child when they aren’t old enough to know any better. But that’s the opposite of what a fairy tale is. It’s a truth that adults know is all too real, that’s so big and bad we need a story to tell us it’s there. It’s like that saying goes: that it’s not enough to know that dragons exist, if you don’t know if they can be beaten–“
“And what if they can’t?” shouted the Doctor. “If the dragons win, if the Daleks win? If this was always going to happen, and there was nothing I could have done, what am I supposed to say then?”
“You say that the Doctor fights! shouted Chris. “If there’s any chance, and even if there’s none. You don’t just sit and do nothing because you’re scared.“
“You don’t understand,” said the Doctor. “I took an oath; made a promise to do good. Destroying this world or ending everything else? If I have to do either then I’m not... then I can’t be”–
She was weeping now and not even trying to hide it.
“I knew there’d come a time when the Doctor would die,” she said.
Osgood’s glasses couldn’t hide her exasperation.
“We’ve met each other several times by now,” she said, “and you’ve never once asked why I was a fan. It was never because of that, you know. I never needed you to be pure. You think you’re about morals and principles, but that’s all nonsense really. It’s not what you’re really for”–
“What I’m for?” snarled the Doctor. “Like I’m some kind of tool for you to use? What’s that, then? What’s the function you want me to have?”
“It’s the same as always,” said Osgood. “To fight the Daleks and all that they are. Not in space and time, but here, now, because they are here, now. It’s happening now. And now that they’re here…”
She swallowed, close to tears.
“Now that they’re here, we need you. More than we ever have before, we need the Doctor now. You think making this choice will break you?” She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Avoiding it will break you just the same. You’ll live out your days abandoned and alone, and– and I’ll have spent a lot of money on what were very expensive clothes”–
The Doctor didn’t respond to that. She was looking out of the window, feeling that it should have been raining. But the sun squinted down, not listening to her. It seemed very strange that she’d once been a powerful thing.
“You can get out,” she said to Lorna. “Both of you; I can find a way. You don’t have to see this; you don’t have to fight”–
“No,” said Lorna.
“Lorna. This isn’t a game”–
“We’re staying,” said Chris. “We’re fighting the Daleks.”
“We’re not going to leave,” said her mother. “And we didn’t need your permission.”
“This isn’t like the other times,” said the Doctor. “If you stay here, then both of you will die–“
“THEN LET US!” shouted Lorna. “Do you think we don’t know that? Neither of us want to live in this world, Doctor, not if this is what it becomes. If we die fighting it then that’s what’ll happen, but that is NOT your choice! It’s ours! Can’t you see that we’re not just things for you to save?”
She was crying, now, talking through the tears as much as she could.
“I’ve always known what you thought I was,” she said, “and I didn’t care! Because I thought when it came down to it you would fight this, even if you thought you’d be fighting me. Because maybe you’re patronising and don’t know half as much as you think, but you’re still a good person! Not someone who just stands there when the Daleks are on our street, now they’re at our door!”
She looked at the Doctor with total contempt and fury.
“We’re staying, and we’re fighting,” she said. “I don’t care about being a hero. But I cared about you, and the person I thought you were. And everything I respected about it, everything that was true, it means nothing if you don’t do anything now. So you need to make your choice; to do it right away”–
–she threw up her hands –
“the Earth or the universe?” she said. “Doctor who?”
There was silence after that for a while; just the gentle hissing of the wind. Lorna had never thought of that, before, how the wind and the leaves and the sky would still go on, even at a time like this. Even after the world had ended, the world still seemed like the world. And the Doctor was looking right out at it, at the greyness on the Earth and in her eyes, and she might have finally realised she had no more running left to do.
“But that’s just it,” said the Doctor at long last. “Not my past, or my real name. My true secret, it’s always been“–
—she bit her lip as she turned round—
“–there was never a choice. Not in the end.”
“Then,” said Chris. “Then you mean–“
“You know what I mean,” said the Doctor. “Because you knew the answer all along. And you ran from it, because you should. Because you never make that choice until you know you have to, or it makes you so many of the things that you fight against. But if you’re asking me what good is, right now? Well. I think you already know.”
“Then we’ll blow up the world,” said Lorna.
“If that’s what it comes to,” said the Doctor. “Then yes.”
She’d come to the place she’d run from most of all.
“Then we’ll blow up the world,” she said.
Back to index
The four of them looked at each other heavily in the tiny space of the room.
“We might actually have to do it, mightn’t we?” said Osgood. “Destroy the entire planet.”
Before anyone could answer, the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get the door,” she added. “Before we, you know. Do that.”
“No,” said the Doctor. “It could be the Daleks. Has to be me. I can get a bit of practice in at being irredeemable.”
“Don’t be like that,” said Lorna quietly.
The Doctor looked down at her palms and sighed.
“It’s funny,” she said. “I always feared this world’d be destroyed by alien hands, and deep down I knew exactly whose hands they would be.”
She got out her screwdriver and visibly tensed, then barrelled into the hall like a pinball entering the board. Chris heard the door open with a horrible crack and felt her heart stop in her chest–
–and then the Doctor gave an excited squeal as her fear was replaced with delight.
“It’s not a Dalek at all!” she said as she emerged with an uncomfortable teenager in tow. “It’s John!”
They all looked at him awkwardly.“We have no idea who John is,” said Chris.
“John Smith,” said the teenager. “Physics student, just about. My town had a problem with alien hairdryers. The Doctor… well, she made it better and worse.”
“You’re called John Smith?!” said Osgood delightedly, disbelief in her eyes.
“It’s a very common”– he paused. “You’re wearing the same clothes as her.”
“Never mind the names and clothes,” said Lorna. “How did you get here? In a TARDIS of your own?”
“Took the bus,” he said. “They don’t stop running, just because there’s aliens everywhere. The Doctor told me to come here if there was ever any bother.” He shrugged. “Right now, it seems like we’ve got a lot of it.”
“You tell people to come to my house?” said Lorna.
“She gave me a card,” said John, handing it over.
“It stays in one place,” said the Doctor apologetically. “My house moves around. Or at least it did.”
“They might think you’re running a business from here!” said Lorna. “That’s against the terms of the lease.”
“That probably doesn’t matter anymore,” said the Doctor.
“That’s not the point,” said Lorna. “You never understand.”
John still looked boggled by the four of them together.
“You’re all women,” he said.
“Oh yeah,” said the Doctor. “I don’t think I actually noticed. But I’m an alien woman, and Osgood could be as well but isn’t telling. So it’s a mix.”
“We’re going to blow up the world,” said Chris.
“Right,” said John. “Blow up the world.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t’ve come,” he added after a pause.
The doorbell rang sharply again.
“More friends?” said Lorna.
“God knows,” said the Doctor. “I did give out a lot of business cards.”
Her friend was already bounding out to the hall before Lorna could protest.
“It’s standing room only at this point,” the Doctor said as she opened the door. “You wanted a chair, you should’ve got here a little earlier”–
Her words died in her throat as she saw what was in front of her.
“CIT-I-ZEN,” blared the Dalek at the edge of the door. “IT IS A TIME OF RE-JOI-CING! ARE YOU RE-JOI-CING NOW?”
The Doctor took a very deep breath indeed.
“No,” she said. “No, I’m really not.”
Back to index
“YOU ARE NOT RE-JOI-CING!” shouted the Dalek. “REJOICE! REJOICE!”
“No,” said the Doctor once again.
The Dalek somehow managed to look stunned, then looked even more stunned as it looked at the woman in front of it again. A series of critical alarms in its databanks were indicating who she was, and what they said was absolutely impossible. But there was an even more critical alarm overriding the others, which said when something about this person seemed impossible it was also very likely to be true–
“YOU ARE THE DOC-TOR,” it said.
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “I think it’s important… that this time, I still am.”
“THEN YOU WILL JOIN US,” said the Dalek. “YOU ARE A SAV-IOUR OF THIS WORLD.”
“No. I have been. But this time… it’s not something I’m able to be.”
“THE CON-VER-SION OF EARTH WILL SOON BE COM-PLETE. TO STAND AGAINST US RE-QUIRES ITS DES-TRUCTION!”
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “I know.”
“YOU DO NOT KNOW. THE SEAS WILL BOIL AND THE SKIES IGNITE. EVERY HU-MAN BEING WILL DIE!”
“It’s not what I want,” said the Doctor, “but I’m not going to let you win.”
The Dalek dipped its eyestalk to suggest it was even more confused.
“YOU WILL STAND AGAINST US EVEN NOW?” it roared. “WHEN WE STAND WITH THE HU-MANS, WHEN WE BURN WITH THE EARTH?”
“I will,” said the Doctor.
“THEN YOU WILL FIGHT US,” said the Dalek, “THOUGH IT GOES AGAINST EVERY OATH YOU HAVE MADE!”
“Yes,” said the Doctor.
“YOU WILL FIGHT US EVEN THOUGH IT MEANS THE DEATH OF THIS WORLD; THE END OF EVERYTHING YOU LOVE!”
“Yes,” said the Doctor.
“YOU WILL SACRIFICE EVERY GOOD NOTION YOU HOLD OF YOURSELF; EVERYONE YOU HOLD DEAR. YOU WILL LOSE EVERYTHING, JUST SO WE CANNOT WIN!”
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “You understand me now.”
“THEN,” said the Dalek, “THERE IS ONLY ONE THING LEFT TO SAY.”
It raised its plunger high and stern.
“EXTERMINATE!” it shouted. “EXTERMINATE!”
The Doctor fired the laser she had stolen from the Dalek, watching as it ruptured its casing and burned out the alien inside.
“Yes,” she said sadly. “Yes, I suppose I better had.”
For a moment she looked incredibly sad and alone, then put on an enormous goofy smile–
“The Dalek’s dead!” she shouted merrily. “C’mon, everyone! The Dalek’s dead!”
And then she stopped, and let herself be sad and alone once again.
Back to index
“We need to go,” said the Doctor once she was back in the front room.
“Where?” said Chris. “We don’t have any kind of plan.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that.”
“If nobody’s saying it,” said John, “then I’m going to. Could you not just fight him, the man who’s now saying he’s you?”
The Doctor looked at him in a way that was honest and sad.
“I could,” she said. “But I’d lose. I’ve fought many monsters; all sorts of terrible things. But I don’t think I’m able to beat the Doctor.”
“But he’s just pretending!” said Chris.
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “But I’m just pretending too. And right now I think more people believe in him than me.”
“He is very handsome,” said Lorna without emotion.
“And charming,” said her friend. “The Doctor has to be.”
Lorna laughed. “The way you call him that! I don’t think he’s anything like you.”
“I wouldn’t say that. He’s stern and strong.”
“You think those are your defining qualities?”
“Maybe today they’re the ones the Doctor needs.”
She sighed, and Chris thought she’d never seemed so desolate.
“The Doctor comes out of nowhere and wins with nothing,” said the Time Lord. “And the way they win seems wrong and it feels like a cheat, but that doesn’t matter if there’s nothing you’re able to do. Have you ever thought about what it would be like,” she said, “on the day you were no longer on his side?”
Osgood looked at her oddly, expression impossible to read.
“It’s not over yet,” she said softly. “I have a plan. It’s the reason I came here at all.”
She fished a laser pen out of her pocket and flashed it on, so a hologram of rugged hills fizzed over the cluttered table.
“That’s my hologram pen!” said the Doctor. “I was always wondering what’d happened to it.”
As she was talking Osgood slammed a plastic tumbler upturned onto the table, its pink shape stretching above the hologram peaks.
“That’s meant to be a Dalek,” she said apologetically. “You’ll have to use your imagination; nobody has pepperpots anymore.”
“It’s a bloody big Dalek, if that’s what it is,” said the Doctor.
“A High Dalek,” said Osgood. “Half mountain; half monster. They’re constructing them all over the world; giant fusions of rock and metal.”
“That other Doctor knew the Daleks would turn up,” said the Doctor. “They must’ve always been part of his plan.”
“Construction was well underway before they got here,” said Osgood. “Holes boring down to the centre of the world, whispering to the Earth and changing it. Until the planet itself cries out its need to exterminate.”
She pointed to the tumbler rising above the hills.
“The nearest one is in the Peak District,” she said, “over what used to be the Crop Tor.”
“The Crop Tor!” said Lorna. “We used to go walking there back when Chris was small. They can’t just destroy it to make way for some giant Dalek!”
“We might have to destroy much more than that,” said the Doctor in a distant way. “All of the mountains and each of the birds. That’s what it all might come to, if there isn’t another way.”
“Moping won’t help save the universe,” said Lorna. “We need to go.”
“I’ve got a Mini,” said Osgood. “Best of British. I might be able to get us all squeezed in.”
The Doctor stared at her. “You want to break into an alien fortress in a Mini?” she said.
Osgood shrugged. “It’s what you’d do.”
The Doctor shook her head. “Not for something like this,” she said. “This level of threat; you’re going to need something stronger.”
She frowned, then looked over to Lorna with a smile.
“Lots of heavy lifting in your shop?” she asked.
“More than people think,” said Lorna, before her heart stopped as she saw the Doctor’s expression.
“Why are you grinning?” Lorna asked in an apprehensive way.
The Doctor was silent as her smile rose over her cheeks.
“Why are you grinning?” Lorna desperately asked her again.
Back to index
“See,” the Doctor was saying breathlessly to the no one who was listening, “the inside of the TARDIS might be gone, but the shell’s unchanged. It’s basically indestructible. Slam that into the side of a Dalek mountain, sure as eggs you’re going to break right through. Temporal engineering,” she said. “Hitting things.”
None of her friends even pretended to respond. They were still gasping for breath and rubbing their muscles after what they’d had to do. But they’d succeeded at doing it, at least. the shell of the TARDIS was now on the roof of the Mini, its inside wide open to the sky.
“It’ll crush us, won’t it?” said John. “I felt how heavy it was. The Mini won’t be able to take the weight.”
“It will,” said the Doctor, waggling her screwdriver. “I strengthened it.”
“Won’t the TARDIS fall off when we start to move?” said Chris. “There’s nothing holding it on.”
“There is,” said the Doctor, holding up a big bit of metal shaped like a horseshoe. “I magnetised it.”
“You can’t magnetise wood!” said Chris.
“Youcan’t,” said the Doctor.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the billboard covered in Daleks, and her hearts sank.
“If only everything was so easy to fix,” she added with a sigh.
She looked up at the billboard for a while as everyone else climbed into the car. Lorna looked up pointedly at her as she budged her way through its small back door.
“Come on, Doctor, climb up into your box,” said Lorna. “It’s even more cramped in this Mini.”
“It’s just…” started the Doctor…
She waved her hand helplessly at the world.
“...this isn’t how I thought it would end,” she finished lamely.
“No,” said Lorna. “None of us did.”
“Maybe,” said the Doctor. “But I’ve had such a long life”–
“And I’ve had a short one. It does come to all of us in the end.”
“I know,” said the Doctor. “Or I should, at least.”
She hadn’t stopped looking at the advert, its giant image of the man who had been Davros and the rows of Daleks who flanked him. Behind them was a scene of stars and possibility, and for the briefest of moments it felt exciting even to her.
She sighed to the bottom of her vast alien lungs.
“They’re both out there, the past and the future,” she said. “And then there’s this, the place you really live in, and it’s different to them, right? No matter what’s happening around you… you pretend it’ll go on forever.”
She turned back to the Mini.
“There’s no time like the present,” she said. “That’s why it’s been so hard to let it go.”
Lorna just smiled sadly in response as she shut her door. All of them had found things very hard.
The Doctor scrambled up into her TARDIS, one hand clutched to each of the sides, her blonde hair burning bright against the blue. There’d been a point she’d thought the universe would overwhelm her. But for now the sun was bright and the wind was in her face, and there were no Daleks anywhere to be seen.
“The Doctor in the TARDIS, off to save the universe,” she said to herself. “One last time, then.”
She pointed one finger straight ahead and grinned.
“Allons-y!” she cried.
“It means ‘let’s go’,” she added when the car failed to move. “In French.”
The Mini glinted in the stale sun of the afternoon.
“You probably can’t hear me in there,” she said.
“Don’t be like this all the way, Doctor,” came Chris’s voice from inside.
The engine gave a horrible whine, and the car slowly started to move.
They were off on their trip to save all of the sentient things.
Back to index
“I want to listen to Radio 1,” said Chris for the fourth time since they’d come onto the M60.
“We’re listening to Radio 2,” her mum said from beside her again. “This is an old person car.”
“John’s still a teenager!” said Chris.
“Yeah,” John said from the front, “but I’ve never been very good at it.”
“I imagine the Doctor’s never felt as ancient as when she’s travelled with a child,” said Osgood with a smile.
“Oh God,” said Lorna. “She’s not the only one. You know she thinks The Killers are old person music? The Killers!”
“Speaking of killers,” said John, nodding out of the window. Overhead a shadow was sweeping over the Mini again and again, and there was a flash of blue like the day in another sky.
“Get the phone,” Osgood said, all humour gone from her voice. But it was already ringing, and the Doctor was shouting something at the top of her voice from above them on top of the Mini.
“Is that”– Lorna said as she picked up her phone.
“It’s his TARDIS,” said the Doctor as she stared straight up through the air. “He must’ve cut it off from the vortex at the critical moment. God, he’s good.”
“Put her on speaker,” Osgood said, and Lorna agreed without a word. As the sounds of the outside world filled the car they heard the screaming of that strange machine too, the roar of a TARDIS being operated against its will.
“Doctor,” said Osgood. “What kind of things is a TARDIS capable of? If its pilot turned out to be… unrestrained?”
The Doctor swallowed. “You’ll‘ve thought of some awful stuff yourself, I expect.”
“It’s important to think these things through,” said Osgood.
“Not this time. The worst a TARDIS can do is beyond imagining.”
The President’s TARDIS had finished swooping now. It hovered in the sky as a hawk about to pounce. Osgood was swerving the car between lanes as traffic horns hooted, but that wasn’t going to matter. The box in the sky could smash into them faster than light, break their atoms apart in a wink.
There was a pocket below the Doctor’s pocket where she kept the emergency tools. The ones she wouldn’t want her friends to see, unless all other options had gone. She was unzipping it now and reaching in for the worst of them all–
–then the TARDIS came gently down to Earth in a nearby layby, landing softly on the tarmac without even making a sound. Alongside the box the traffic kept whizzing by, drivers convincing themselves it was only a Portaloo.
“Don’t engage him!” yelled Osgood into the speaker.
There was a clunk like a woman rolling expertly off the top of a Mini.
“She engaged him,” said Osgood helplessly.
She swerved the Mini one last time, pulling into the layby milliseconds before a truck would have crushed them to death.
The four of them knew better than to get out of the car. Instead they all peered as close to the windows as they could, straining to hear a snatch of what was happening. The doors of the TARDIS had opened wide and the President of the World was there, looking even more handsome in person than he had on any of his billboards. The Doctor was standing in front of him, her clothes unrumpled even though she’d just rolled off a car.
“President,” said the Doctor with a snarl.
“Doctor,” said the President happily. “You escaped my little trap, I see. Getting off an exploding planet is so much easier when you have a machine such as this.”
He thumped the side of his TARDIS heartily, and laughed.
“Air Force One,” he said. “Bit of an upgrade, don’t you think?”
“You stole this.” said the Doctor.
“I learned from the best,” said the President with a smile.
The inside of his TARDIS gleamed in metal angles, a slaughtering machine with the blood wiped clean away.
“You’re the president of an entire planet,” said the Doctor. “Don’t you have something better to do than following me around?”
“It’s only one planet,” said the President. “It isn’t difficult to manage its affairs. A trifle, for an intellect like mine.”
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing,” said the Doctor.
“Being popular?” said the President. “I’m only giving this world what it wants. Being the Doctor they desire. It’s an excellent strategy. Perhaps you should try it sometime.”
“You’re not giving Earth anything,” snapped the Doctor. “You’re using it. The Daleks and the humans; they won’t band together for long. Once everyone else is dead they will turn on each other.”
“Of course,” said the President. “Both species are well aware of that. And each of them is sure that they will win. After all, their opponents! They seem a little ludicrous, don’t they?”
He laughed to himself very softly indeed.
“That’s what you really care about, isn’t it?” he said. “You think I haven’t really changed my spots. That I’ll sell mankind out to the Daleks when this is done. Just one last creature left for them to exterminate.”
The Doctor looked at him side-eyed, and frowned.
“Well, yeah,” she said. “Of course I think that, because it’s true. Your face might’ve changed, but it’s blood that runs deepest with you. Davros loved his people; the Daleks are your own.”
“And I had thought the Time Lords yours. Yet your true reflection was found with a different kind.”
He threw out his hands to take in the whole of the Earth, then waved to indicate his very human form.
“My people!” he said. “This is what they looked like; this is what they were. They were vain and they were glorious, they survived. The Daleks are only a shadow of that race. True, it took me many years to admit it. But then that too makes me like a human being. I disregard some inconvenient truths. Sometimes I find it easier to look away.”
“You’re lying,” said the Doctor.
“Oh?” said the President. “Perhaps I am. But have you considered what it means if I am not?”
He looked straight upwards, up to the darkening sky. It was still too early for any of the stars to be seen– you could be led to believe that they weren’t really out there at all. Yet whole worlds were still there up above them, still living despite what was lost.
“Imagine it,” said the man who had once been Davros. “Worlds wiped clean of sentience, ready to be explored in a bright new age. That’s what humanity wants, to be pioneers. And I’ll be with them, right there in my great big blue TARDIS. We’ll have so many adventures together.”
He looked at the Doctor and chuckled.“You no longer know if I’m lying or not,” he said. “Do you?”
The Doctor took a deep breath.
“No. But I know what to do when you don’t know what’s really going on. You always believe in the option that scares you more.”
“And which is that?” asked the President as he looked at her hard in the eyes.
“The Doctor always has to have their secrets,” she said, returning the stare.
The President laughed at that, and it seemed as sincere as anything a man like him might do.
“Oh, Doctor,” he said. “You are a formidable foe! You should know that there’s no malice in what I’m doing. That’s why I paid you a visit, in fact. I wanted to give you a gift.”
From somewhere in his corduroy trousers, the President pulled out something squat and black.
“He’s got a gun!” Lorna cried out from the Mini.
“I’ve got worse, if it comes to that,” said Osgood. “I’m a lot more military than I look.”
The woman she idolised didn’t look military at all. The Doctor was staring at the gun in acceptance, not in despair.
”You’re going to kill me,” she said flatly.
“Come, now,” said her foe with a shake of his head. “What kind of President shoots a woman dead in a layby? Above all else, I stand in the name of hope. I’m here to give you the thing you want most of all.”
He raised the gun up in open palms, inviting the Doctor to take it.
“Kill me,” he said.
The Doctor laughed and it couldn’t disguise her fear.
“My Daleks have told me what you are willing to do,” said the President smoothly. “You will kill billions if you have to, so the universe can be saved. Or instead you could kill one person, now. And not a very righteous one. I know that you think me a monster.”
Unprompted, he grabbed the Doctor’s hand and clenched her fist around the barrel of the gun. She should have moved to stop him, but the shock of it threw her entirely: she had no idea what to do when she was no longer the confident one.
Gently, the President rose the Doctor’s arm so the gun rose too, stopping when the barrel leant gently on the centre of his forehead.
n her last life the Doctor felt she had known everything. But as she stood there unable to move, she saw she knew nothing at all. She’d just been powerful enough for people to play along with everything she’d wanted and believed. This was what it meant to be someone without all that power. This was how it felt when the Doctor was no longer you.
“What’s he doing?” asked Chris from the back of the Mini.
“I don’t know,” said her mother. “But don’t look. Please, Chris. You don’t have to see this.”
“No,” said Osgood. “She has to keep watching, if the Doctor’s to keep being true. Nothing means anything if the children have stopped keeping watch.”
“You’re not her mother,” said Lorna softly, though she didn’t move to pull her daughter away.
“This is the truth,” that other Doctor was saying from far away. “You once took an oath, and it came to be more than morality. You cannot commit violence, and so you bring about so much more violence; never, ever killing to the day that all others are dead. Unless you were to change, of course. To squeeze a little trigger so the problem goes away. You are so good at finding a simple solution. What use is mercy on the day that the Doctor is me?”
The Doctor’s hand was shaking and she didn’t know how to disguise it. The edges of her grimace were twitching, suppressing a roar.
“Don’t worry,” said the President with a chuckle. “I’m only saying it because I know you never would.”
The Doctor looked at him predator eyes, wild and white with her rage. The gun was wobbling on the skin of the President’s brow, and for a second there might have been a flicker of doubt in his eyes–
–and then the Doctor really was roaring, and she’d thrown the gun to the ground. It was already broken before she’d whipped her screwdriver out, but the bellow of its sound shattered it into pieces. She couldn’t hide her emotions, not for long. She hadn’t been that good at being a president.
“He knows her very well,” said Osgood quietly. “He might be more of a fan than me.”
The President was looking benevolently down at the Doctor, with the warmth of a father addressing his spoilt child.
“Noble to the end,” he said, nodding at the fragments of the gun. “And the Earth will thank you for it.”
“What’re you going to do with me?” said the Doctor, almost spitting the words.
“I’m going to reward you!” said the President, laughing. “It’s only fair; you’re a saviour of the Earth. You’ll be free to live the rest of your lives down here. A last alien for the people to come and see, to remind them of the world they left behind. Perhaps I’ll even allow you to keep on using that name. The Doctor. People will think it’s so funny, to believe you could really be him.”
She wanted to punch him, and do even more. To take him apart into atoms, and make each of those atoms know pain. She could, a part of her knew. Or it might have been possible, once. But now he had taken her words away and broken her. The world was frozen against him, and now she was frozen too.
“Go, Doctor,” said the President softly. “You don’t have to run, not anymore. You don’t have to do anything but live. No tears, no anxieties. No regrets. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I’m not mistaken in mine.”
He nodded to her and smiled for a final time, then he was back in his TARDIS and closing the door with a thump. And before it was even closed the Doctor had let out an awful animal sound, and was hammering the side of the police box with her fists– as if that would be enough, as if she could make anything break. And she kept on roaring and hammering as her friends rushed out to get her, thumping the box until it had faded away.
She looked back hopelessly at her friends, ashamed.
“I never like the people we put in charge,” said Chris.
“This isn’t good,” said Osgood. “It’s not going like I’d planned.”
She took the Doctor and hugged her, and for the first time they were equals.
The traffic was speeding on past like the President had never been there.
Back to index
The Doctor needed some time to recover, but time wasn’t something they had. The wind lashed her face as the Mini arrived in the Peak District, almost enough to help her feel normal again. But as the redness in her face was fading there was red that was deepening in the sky, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that darkness was conquering everywhere.
“It’s beautiful,” said Lorna, looking out at the blasted landscape around them. The road was dark and winding in the valley, and the outcrops surrounding it were glowing red with the sunset. It looked like the world was ending, which of course it was.
“The High Dalek’s beautiful, too,” said Osgood. “However much it hurts to admit it. And we’ll be seeing it soon. Only a few more bends in the road.”
Chris had seen it before Osgood had even said anything, but she’d been too frightened to speak. She’d been to the Peak District enough to know that none of the hills were really high. Not like the ones back in Scotland, her mother had grumbled when they’d gone climbing before. But the thing slightly masked by the peaks ahead looked huge: a great, black mound with a single white circle near its peak. It was what a Dalek might look like if you distilled it down to its purest shapes, but it was still completely clear to her what it was.
“It might see us,” she said through the sound of the blood in her head. “And then”–
“It isn’t going to do anything,” said the Doctor through the speaker. “Not to us. The President could’ve killed us all if that’s what he wanted. He doesn’t even think that we’re a threat. And frankly,” she added dejectedly, “maybe we’re not”–
“Is anyone else listening to the radio?” said John, cutting over her.
“Not right now,” said the Doctor. “We’re talking about the Daleks; not listening to smooth sounds.”
“That’s not what they have on there now,” said John.
A voice was talking on the radio in a panic, and it sounded like the eighties speeded up.
“We’ve watched you from the other side of the skies!” the voice was saying from the airwaves. “All of you, for longer than we can remember. Like in the Bowie song. We’ve seen that humanity’s better than this. You don’t have to walk down this road.”
“There’s only one species anywhere who sound like that,” said the Doctor. “That’s the Lune.”
“And they know about Bowie?” said John.
“Why wouldn’t they?” said the Doctor. “Bowie’s brilliant.”
She paused as she saw something glinting in the sky.
“That’s them!” she said. “Up in the air, to the left of the pointiest hill!”
The four people in the car looked up to something high in the clouds, gleaming and silver like jewellery–
”That’s a bird,” said Lorna flatly. “And it’s made of metal.”
“The Bird of the Lune,” said the Doctor, sounding awed. “It must’ve flown across all of the galaxy just to try and stop you.”
“A bird couldn’t fly through space,” said Lorna. “There isn’t any air.”
“Oh?” said the Doctor. “Best not to mention that to them, then.”
On the radio the presenter was arguing with the Lune, trying to keep her panic from the irritation in her voice.
“I understand you’re concerned,” she was saying, “but negotiation with aliens isn’t what we do on this show,” she was saying. “It’s about relaxing music, we don’t really get political”–
“We’re appealing to everyone,” said the strange, high voice in response. “The first radio station and the second.”
“Then I’m sure you’ll be talking to someone who’s more appropriate than us,” said the presenter firmly.
Whatever the Lune were using to communicate was beyond the means of humanity to stop. As the presenter kept talking their alien voices grew higher and more desperate, but the woman spoke loudly enough that it was impossible to hear what they said.
A tune the presenter had shouted was a classic from the past started to play from the speakers. Frowning, Osgood flipped to another station.
“They’re all only playing music,” she said as she turned the radio from one button to another.
“Not all the stations play music,” said Chris.
“They do right now,” said Osgood.
Above them the giant eye of the High Dalek was glowing bright.
“YOU ARE THE LUNE,” the Dalek blared.
“It doesn’t sound angry,” said Osgood.
“Why would it be angry?” said the Doctor’s voice from the speaker. “As it’s about to win.”
“YOU ARE AN ENEMY OF HU-MAN PRO-GRESS.” the High Dalek boomed. “YOU WILL BE ANNIHILATED.”
The road below the Mini started rumbling as the white eye of the Dalek began to glow.
“They’re all only playing music,” said Osgood as she turned her radio from one button to another.
“Not all the stations play music,” said Chris.
“They do right now,” said Osgood.
“We can’t hear the screams,” said the Doctor. “He’ll never let us hear them die.”
The High Dalek spoke in its earthquake voice.
“AN. NI. HIL. ATE.” it said.
A whiteness burst into the night.
The Doctor had stared down the light of exploding suns. Yet the glare and the sound of the High Dalek’s blast was beyond anything she’d known. For one brief moment the bird was fragments in the sky, and after that there was nothing at all but the night.
The last thread holding the Doctor together snapped. A tendon in a foot, whose breaking would herald collapse.
“Oh Hell,” she said softly. “Oh Hell, oh Hell, oh Hell.”
On all of the stations light music continued to play.
Back to index
The eye of the High Dalek was dim by now, but the eyes of Thom Alderwood still ached from its former glare. There were lots of things that were hard about guarding a structure like this, but somehow he found the afterburn worst of all. They’d said the job was safe when he’d first signed up, and even then he’d known it was a lie. People said what they needed to; that was always how it worked. He wasn’t as stupid as they’d thought at school.
He looked into the night past the entry post surrounded by wire. The fences that guarded the Crop Tor weren’t at all colourful, not like everything else the President had introduced. Not like his uniform, with its red plastic and odd shapes: almost inhuman, bumps where a Dalek’s would have been. Alfie said he still felt like an idiot wearing it, but Thom had always been something a fan. They looked very Star Wars, he thought, like a lot of things had done recently. That was just fine by him. Star Wars was better than the movie that had been on before.
Movement flashed, and Thom snapped back to attention. He flicked up his light at the person now bounding to the gate, a dishevelled woman with grass stains on her jeans. They wouldn’t shoot someone like that on sight, not yet. Maybe it’d come to that — and soon — but for now they’d known when they couldn’t push too hard.
“Code three,” Thom said to Alfie who stood alongside him. “Protestor. A harmless one.”
The words felt wrong as he said them, because at the same time he saw the woman’s eyes for the first time: so wild and white, like the heart of a furnace might be. He hesitated, but Alfie hadn’t noticed. Alfie didn’t notice much of anything at all.
“We need to see your ID,” said Thom, stern as he could muster.
“Here’s all the ID you need,” snapped the woman. “I’m the Doctor.”
Alfie frowned. “No one’s injured,” he said. “We’d‘ve got the alert.”
Thom sighed internally, wishing one of the smarter soldiers had been on duty with him.
“No you’re not, Miss!” he said, brightly as he could. “But not to worry. We get a lot of folk up here thinking they’re him.”
“I’ll bet,” said the woman. “One of them even got to be President.”
The weather had changed, Thom noticed. Light rain was flicking into his face, and it felt like it had started to fall upwards. She was only an ordinary woman, but his words were catching in his throat.
“I’d think very carefully before saying things like that,” he spluttered, failing to sound threatening, “because treason’s a Dalekable offence. And I don’t know what you’ve heard about them, but”–
The woman was smiling. Why would she be doing that? It should have made him pity her, but somehow it made him terrified.
“Oh,” she said calmly. “I’ve been told that they’re very scary.”
Thom’s sweat had frozen. That wasn’t a metaphor; there were crystals on his brow. In a very distant place there were voices shouting. Everything seemed so very far away.
The President had done so much with his new technology. Thom tapped the side of his helmet and suddenly he was able to hear. The rain now louder, grass crushed under people running. Those shouting voices too, and what they said.
“This is bad,” a stressed woman’s voice was saying. “I’d hoped she wasn’t as susceptible as this.”
“She’s done it before,” said the voice of a more local woman. “When she’s been very angry indeed.”
“Didn’t you wonder why he didn’t kill her?” said the voice of the other woman. “She’s worth more to him as a monster. Everything’s done for a reason. All of it’s part of his plan.”
“The Daleks aren’t that scary, though,” said a voice so loud that he jumped. The woman beside him, speaking right into his ear.
“I’ve got a story that’s worse,” her voice went on. “It’s a ghost story.”
“With respect, ma’ am,” said Alfie, “the Daleks are real”–
“I said it was a ghost story,” said the woman. “I never said it wasn’t real. It’s an old one, see. About a magician and his apprentice.”
“With the mouse and brooms?” said Alfie, who was clearly now rattled as well.
“If you like,” said the woman. “‘Cause he managed all sorts, this magician, did things that you wouldn’t believe. Turned water into wine and the wine into fizzy pop, and in the end you’d be even more thirsty than you’d been before. He had enough power to rule an entire kingdom. What use is an army when you’re up against something like magic?”
He should interrupt, Thom knew. Find an opening, stop her using her voice as a weapon. But his brain was failing, refusing to let him speak.
“And he got very old, the magician,” the woman went on. “Grey hair going everywhere, eyebrows out to maximum. So he needed an apprentice. Someone to talk to when he was going batty. A friend so he’d know that the world might have worse things than him.”
This woman was older than Thom had thought, just like the man in the story– but as he watched her that changed, and she seemed to be young once again. And her face was close enough now to feel her breath, and it was both warm and freezing and coming from under his body–
“So the apprentice goes to work,” her voice breathed into his body, “and every day he’s watching the magician. You’d want to know, right? How he did all the things he could do. He’d a cabinet stuffed full of people and a way he could slip right through time. He had a magic wand!”
She was waggling something at him that was haemorrhaging sound and light, its glow reflected in her moonish eyes. There were shapes in the distance that Thom felt were a part of her, like she was an iceberg’s tip with him now about to collide. There was horizontal lightning that was fizzing on the ground. The colours of everything around him were going wrong.
“I’m not being funny,” said Alfie alongside him. “But something’s not right with the weather.”
“But I’m not being funny either!” said the woman with a laugh. “This isn’t the funny kind of story. Because he watched the magician as much as he could, that apprentice, he wouldn’t rest ‘till he knew every secret he had. But it turned out he only had one, in the end: the same secret as every magician in the universe. That none of it was ever real at all”–
He’d seen her before, Thom realised, though that hadn’t been true until now. She was telling the same strange story at all the worst times in his life, right the way through to the present and maybe beyond. She’d be saying it when he died, he now knew. He would welcome the darkness just so she’d then go away.
“It’s all tricks!” the woman was shouting in his memories and into his face. “That’s all it is! Mirrors and devices! Sleight of hand! So there’s no harm creeping into the magician’s bedroom when he’s asleep. Nothing wrong with making sure he never wakes up at all…”
Neither Thom or Alfie could say anything, not now. There was a sound below sound that was filling up all of their being, and even standing up felt like struggling against a weight. Could you drown in time, if you had swallowed too much of it? There were hours instead of oxygen in Thom’s breath–
“And so the apprentice rules over his kingdom,” said the woman, “and he knows he has nothing to fear. But something’s still wrong, can you see that? He still finds he can’t sleep at night.”
It was like she was sticking out of the world in a dimension Thom couldn’t understand. Like she was half woman and half something else all silver and rage, skulls and blades that would speak in a Scottish accent.
“Why worry?” that half-woman thing was cackling. “Everything the magician was; it was just a trick! None of it was ever anything real. And it’s late at night when the apprentice finally realises. When the door with the chains and locks swings open, and the drapes around his bed writhe as they form into hands. It’s the last thing he ever thinks, just before they wrap right round his neck. That you’d make it look like tricks, wouldn’t you? So no one would ever suspect. Then you might be copied and usurped, but it’d never be enough, ‘cause the world never worked in the way all the copycat thought. Because the truth — the real truth — was that the tricks were a trick all along. And the magician’s greatest secret was always this”–
—her grin was a shark that ate the world—
–“that his magic was real all along.”
And then Thom wasn’t thinking anything because there was water battering his face, something like rain that hammered him from every direction he knew and several more. And he’d thought the rain was howling but there was actual howling too, a whine like an animal and electricity getting louder as his sense of self began to corrode–
–then there was only a soft wetness, and he was lying flat on the grass by the road.
“ENOUGH!” a voice was saying above him. “This isn’t what you are! You can’t treat people like this! That isn’t the end of the Doctor”–
The voice stopped abruptly as Thom moved again. Its owner might have seen that he’d come round.
“Get up,” the voice said. “I’ve been a soldier; there isn’t any danger. Just one of my patients who got a bit out of hand.”
Thom got uneasily to his feet against the weight of his armour. He was woozy and the world didn’t fit together, but he was still surprised at the owner of the voice. Thick glasses, an unreadable expression. At once he thought that she seemed very weak and strong.
Alfie was still pale and motionless, but Thom had at least recovered enough to speak.
“Is she with you?” he spluttered to the woman who’d spoken to him.
“She’s in my care,” said the woman in response. “I specialise in people who think that they’re really... you know. Sometimes they get a little bit confused. They aren’t able to distinguish between the Doctor and their Doctor. That’s why she’s ended up wearing my clothes.”
“That’s the President!” said the woman beside her with wide eyes. “Although she doesn’t look it! That’s what they’re saying, isn’t it? Nothing’s how it looks anymore!”
Thom hadn’t noticed how gaunt the madwoman was, not while she’d been ranting. There was rain soaking right through her trousers, mud up to her ankles and beyond. He’d been mad, too, to think she was ever a threat.
And there was yet another woman, too, who was now running up from behind them. Red and out of breath, trying not to wheeze in front of the soldiers. She must be the other one he’d heard, running to rescue the patient. But she didn’t look like she was a Doctor at all.
“She’s my partner,” said the glasses woman, sending Thom’s question before it had been asked. “Her and her kid are with me and my assistant. It was a tight squeeze,” she shrugged. “It’s been a long drive.”
Thom and Alfie gawped at her, unable to take it all in.
“You don’t have to react like that,” said the glasses woman haughtily. “It’s not illegal yet. And neither is what we do to patients like this Doctor here. It might be, though. If word of it ever got out.”
Thom nodded, despite himself. They drilled it into you when you went to the academy; you never asked questions about what the doctors were doing. Even if they did it to a woman like this, who’d gone insane.
(And a large part of his brain was screaming that she wasn’t insane at all, that she might be the very worst thing a soldier could let into a high security area. He was pushing that part of him away, swallowing it down. Listening to it would mean too many impossible things had to be true.)
Beside him, Alfie was looking at papers the couple had given him.
“All checks out,” Alfie was saying beside him. “You’re good to go through. There won’t be any records, don’t you worry. We understand the risks.”
”No,” said the madwoman softly. “No, you really don’t.”
“Come on, Doctor,” said the woman with the glasses in an overly jolly way, “let’s get you back to your TARDIS, eh? And don’t you worry. All of this will be over before too long.”
She flashed a knowing smile at the two guards, then beckoned to her partner beside her. They each took one of the madwoman’s hands, then firmly they marched her away.
“It’s sad, says Alfie. It’s a shame that she got that way.”
Thom didn’t respond, not for quite some time. And after a while a Mini made its way through the gate, and after that there was only the silence of the valley.
“Can I see those papers?” he asked after minutes had passed.
He knew they’d be blank without even having to look.
Back to index
“It’s a two-person tent, but a big one,” Osgood was saying as the group hunched together inside. “I thought it’d get three women and a child in if we squeezed. Of course, now there are five of us.”
Nobody answered. They were all crammed in the tiny space in about the only way they could be, so almost every bit of tent was filled up with some of a person. Chris was hunched awkwardly on one side while her mother lay squeezed up behind her, and John’s limbs were going in every direction at once.
“I’m sorry,” the Doctor said.
No one responded to that either. Rain pummelled against the outside of the tent, seeping in through its seams despite the waterproofing.
“Can’t you do something about the tent?” said Chris to the Doctor. “Or the rain?”
“I don’t control the weather!” said the Doctor. “I’m not that far gone.”
The silence wasn’t broken by the thundering of the rain.
“Were you going to kill someone?” said Chris. “The way Mum and her ran after you, back at the gate with the soldiers. We were all scared”–
“Why don’t we go outside for a bit?” said her mother pointedly to the Doctor. “Have a nice little walk in the rain. It’ll be very British. Give everyone a little space, at least!”
The Doctor nodded. “I can do something about the rain when we’re outside, at least.”
“With a special machine?” said Chris.
“An umbrella,” said the Doctor, fishing one out of a pocket it didn’t fit in. “Maybe that counts, if you squint a bit.”
Mud squelched up over the Doctor and Lorna’s shoes as they made their way out to the darkness, the Doctor’s big plastic torch shining on nothing that resembled firm ground. They’d hidden the tent from the Daleks with something the Doctor had called “Photoshop for the real world,” but her talents clearly didn’t extend to making their hideaway a comfortable place to be in.
“They were still boys,” said the Doctor. “I wasn’t going to kill them. Probably. Almost definitely.”
Lorna looked at her without any anger in her eyes.
“I didn’t take you out here to shout at you,” she said.
“Really?” said the Doctor.
“Well,” said Lorna. “Maybe I usually do. But not right now. I’m…”
She trailed off and shifted uncomfortably.
“You know that I care about you, right?” she said eventually. “Even if I do shout a lot. I wouldn’t want you to think that meant… in the end I hope we’re still”–
“Are you apologising to me?” said the Doctor with a frown. “I did all that and you’re the one saying sorry?”
Lorna laughed loudly and sharply, then clasped her hand to her mouth. Hopefully the Doctor had disguised the sounds they were making as well.
“I know it’s ridiculous,” she said. “I didn’t snap at any soldiers. A good person’d probably be furious with you. But honestly? A part of me was proud of what you did.”
“For going around scaring people?” said the Doctor. “They were boys, Lorna. Children.”
Lorna shook her head.
“I can’t justify it,” she said. “I’m not about to. But the way you’ve been since our house, like you actually give a damn. Like you’re not too scared to fight, however pointless it is in the end. It’s… I don’t know what it is. But it’s something to see.”
The Doctor didn’t respond, and her expression was hard to read. She was being praised for things she hated about herself, Lorna realised. She let it be quiet for a while so they were both grounded by the sound of the rain.
“Tell me honestly,” she said to the Doctor. “Is there any hope for us at all? Not stuff that’s made up or unconvincing. Real hope.”
“I don’t know,” said the Doctor. “I don’t know anything anymore.”
She was like a toddler sometimes, Lorna thought. Very young, for someone extremely old.
“You know more than you think,” Lorna said. “I saw what you did out there. You’re holding back so much, aren’t you? You’d be terrified if anyone saw what you were capable of.”
“Of course,” said the Doctor.
“And I doubt you’ve ever realised,” said Lorna, “how that makes you the same as all the rest of us in the world.”
The Doctor looked gently at her.
“Lorna,” she said. “I’m”–
“I know,” said Lorna. “You’ve told us often enough. You’re someone who’s always been told they were special, who had a destiny. I was too, did you know that? I wasn’t always poor. Things were going to be different for me, ‘till one day they weren’t anymore.”
“Maybe so,” said the Doctor, “but I’m literally a Lord of Time”–
“And maybe that doesn’t matter,” said Lorna. “It doesn’t mean everything has to be on you. You’re not the only one who’s smart or sees what’s real. Maybe all that matters is that you’ve been given permission.”
They’d walked to the far side of the Mini while they were talking. The angle of the downpour meant that they were slightly sheltered from the rain, but not really. Lorna found herself wondering how much water had collected in the upturned TARDIS by now.
“Your daughter was like that,” said the Doctor, startling Lorna out of her thoughts.
“Was she?” said Lorna. “Like what?”
“Astonishing,” said the Doctor. “When I was trapped on the exploding planet, she used my screwdriver to set me free. But that’s impossible. She shouldn’t’ve been able to do it.”
“She’s a smart girl.”
“That’s not the point! A child couldn’t… a human couldn’t”–
Lorna laughed. “But that’s my whole point, isn’t it? Of course a child couldn’t do what she did. That’s why she wouldn’t‘ve done it until now. Everyone would have made such a big fuss. It’s easier to be quiet in the end.
“But if that were really true,” said the Doctor, frowning. “Then. I’ve always said people were capable of so much. But if it was that much, and they weren’t showing it because people said they weren’t supposed to, then… then that’s the worst thing in the world.”
“Of course it is,” said Lorna. “So maybe it’s time someone did something about it.”
“Meaning me?” said the Doctor with a smile and a sigh.
“You’ll always think it means you. But what I’m trying to say… is that you don’t have to do this alone. And maybe you weren’t ever as different as you think.”
The rain was hammering on metal and on wood.
“I didn’t think you’d bought me out here to be nice to me,” said the Doctor.
“Well,” said Lorna. “There was one other thing. Your friend. Osgood. Is she… is she dressing up as you?”
The Doctor gave her a look of total relief.
“I know!” she said. “It’s weird! No one ever says how that’s weird!”
Back to index
Everything was silent as the Doctor slept in the back of the Mini. The rain had stopped and the lights of the High Dalek were dim; clouds were covering all that remained of the stars. The universe was soundless as one that had already been destroyed, so the Doctor was getting the sleep that she soreoly needed.
Something banged on the glass and she zapped back to Earth with a jolt.
“Sleep well?” said Osgood from outside, her torchlight shining straight into the Doctor’s eyes.
“Come on, Osgood,” groaned the Doctor. “I’ve not had a rest since before the birth of Christ.”
“I know,” said Osgood. “And all this will be over before too long. Not yet, I’m afraid. There’s something important I’m going to need you to do.”
“I’ve noted the lack of apology, just so you know,” said the Doctor as she fumbled out of the car.
“And I see you got into my Mini without ever asking for the keys,” said Osgood. “Call it even?”
The Doctor gave a scowl of helpless acceptance.
“As to why I need you,” said Osgood, “it’s only a question of numbers. You break into military bases with two knights and a robot bird, but we’re going to need more than that here. We’re only three adults and two children. We won’t have a hope, even with you.”
“Two and two,” said the Doctor. “I’m not an adult. I’m older than vowels.”
“It’s still not enough,” said Osgood. “The five of us against the full force of the Daleks?” She scoffed. “Us and whose army?”
“Waking me up in the middle of the night isn’t going to give us an army,” said the Doctor.
“It might,” said Osgood. “I have a plan. But you aren’t going to like it a bit.”
She changed the angle of her torch extremely slightly, so the Doctor could see that she was also tired.
“I know you, Doctor,” Osgood said softly. “Maybe better than you know yourself. And what I want– it’s for you to confront your biggest fear.”
“Bigger than that?” laughed the Doctor, pointing up to the High Dalek in the distance.
“Of course,” said Osgood from behind her misted up glasses, looking vaguely mysterious and like she wouldn’t be able to see. The Doctor felt pity for her, then, as she always had deep down in her hearts. Osgood had faith in her, the Doctor knew. Actual faith, that went beyond anything sane. It had always been a religion to her, however she’d try to deny it. None of it had ever been deserved. Perhaps it was time for that faith to be repaid.
“I suppose I’ve put it off for long enough,” said the Doctor. “Alright, then. My greatest fear.”
They walked a small distance over the mud and rocks, the torchlight wobbling as they both tripped and slid. The tent lay near the base of a gentle peak and slowly they climbed on up, until it sloped suddenly into an outcrop of stone.
Osgood began scaling the rocks without effort, and the Doctor realised that felt odd to her. She was clearly an experienced climber; she had a life beyond the one she’d ever seen. She was a full person, with a flat and a duvet and bills. The Doctor had seen the obsession, but never the one who experienced it. It was true, then. There was more than a Time Lord could see.
Still, the Doctor looked out at the visible world. The two of them stood at the very top of the peak, on a flat plateau with a good bit of space for them both. The High Dalek was out there straight ahead: outlined in red, its big eye staring down. It was incredibly huge, and they were incredibly not.
“I know what you want me to do,” said the Doctor quietly.
“Oh?” said Osgood.
“My greatest fear,” said the Doctor. “To admit all this is nonsense in the end. Put away all the colour and madness and pick up a weapon instead. But I’ve known it was coming anyway. You don’t need to tell me out loud.”
“No,” said Osgood. “No, that’s not it, not at all.”
She frowned, then was quiet for a while.
“You do know,” she said carefully, “that I am literally wearing your clothes. Do you really think I’d do that if I thought you should put them away? No. This is something that’s actually hard.”
She looked right into the Doctor’s eyes, out through her big steamy glasses.
“Doctor,” she said. “Why do you win?”
“What?” said the Doctor. “Because I’m very clever.”
Osgood shook her head. “No. I mean really. How do you really win?”
For once her friend was lost for words.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” said the Doctor.
Osgood sighed and looked out to the High Dalek. It looked ancient, despite being new.
“Alright then,” she said. “Him. The Doctor. How does he do it? How does he win?”
“Him?” said the Doctor. “That’s something else entirely.”
She sighed, pacing up and down as she talked.
“The Doctor… he’s channeling something very strong indeed. And it’s something that looks weak until it beats you, right up to the moment where it wins. The things the Doctor says, perhaps they’re impossible. And so people’ll say they’re ridiculous; that they could never be true. But that was never the point. The Doctor lives in a place where truth is felt, and it’s so much deeper than reason…
Her pacing was getting faster and she was waving her hands in the air.
“There’s a logic beneath our logic and it bubbles down under our hearts,” she said. “And it’s strong! Enough that people’ll move mountains to make it true. Because when you’re in pain and you’re scared, the Doctor knows how to console you. When you’re powerless and you still have just enough power– that’s when the Doctor’s the strongest they can be. And people’ll laugh at it, of course, and they’ll laugh at you. At anyone who’d believe you were ever worth anything at all. And they’ll keep on laughing, even when your victory’s so close at hand. Because no one will ever admit that — if nobody’s able to stop it — then the Doctor’s the most powerful thing in the world…”
She went totally white as she finally realised.
“Oh no,” she said. “No, no, no, no, no. The answer’s no.”
“You have to,” said Osgood.
“Osgood,” said the Doctor desperately. “I’m not him”–
“Of course not,” said Osgood. “Because there are things you would never do, though you won’t admit it. And there are so many others out there who know what’s that this is wrong, but they’re going to need a story to set them free. I’ll do the details, tell them where to come. You don’t need to worry about that. All you need to do is be as strong as you were all along.”
The Doctor stared at her in horror, actually scared in a way that she never had been.
“But Osgood,” she said. “That’s insane”–
“Yes,” said Osgood. “And it has to be. You really think sanity stands a chance, in the place that we’ve come to now?” You need to say it and believe it. That you can save this world.”
“We don’t know that!” cried the Doctor. “I might have to blow it up!”
“The facts don’t matter,” said Osgood. “Surely you know that by now. You still think that reason will ride in to save the day. But it won’t; that’s a comforting lie. We have to see the world as it really is”–She was shouting now, like she was performing a ritual, rising something from somewhere deeper than the sea.
“The Bible said we should put away childish things,” she cried, “and now we must put away adultish ones! Put our faith in something even older! Because the most powerful things we feel are far too ancient to have names. But they have their avatars! And if anything’s a constant for you, I think it’s this– that you’ve always been frightened of how strong you really are.”
“I’m just a person,” said the Doctor, desperately. “You’ve no idea what I really am; I’m not what you want me to be”–
“Say it,” said Osgood, ignoring her completely. “Say it because your enemies have; say it because he didn’t hesitate. Whoever wins now is the one with the strongest story, and you are the greatest story we’ve ever known.”
Osgood looked at her friend sympathetically, and sighed.
“I know it’s not quite what you really are,” she said. “And this isn’t the story you’d have told. But if we’re going to beat something that’s silly and stupid — and the most powerful thing in the world — we’re going to need the only thing that’s stronger. We’re going to need–“
—she smiled sadly—
“–a fairy tale.”
The Doctor looked back with nothing in her eyes.
“I’m not a god, Osgood,” she said. “You have to understand that.”
Osgood’s shoulders slumped, and the light went out of her eyes.
And then the Doctor smiled, slowly and inevitably.
“I don’t think this would work if I really was,” she said.
Saying nothing, Osgood started to record on her phone. As she did, the Doctor got out her big horseshoe magnet and held it up to the sky. She didn’t even look as electric light flashed around her in rippling waves, casting an aurora around a woman who was also something more.
“You felt it, didn’t you?” the Doctor said into the phone. “At some point there was something you never thought would happen. It doesn’t even matter what it was. Something you thought a hero should stop, but nobody came.”
She chuckled to herself, very softly indeed.
”I felt that, too,” she said. “I know what that day was for me. And the story started then, and it seemed it was such a strong one. That evil always won and there was nothing you could do. That everything you cared for would fall away, so you’d never know a world better than what you’d lost. But maybe that’s just ’something we tell ourselves too. Perhaps there’s a story that’s stronger than despair.”
She laughed out of nowhere at a joke that nobody could hear.
“And it’d be pretty funny, wouldn’t it?” she said. “If that turned out to be true. Horrible, yeah. But oh, it’d be so funny! Because that’s the thing about heroes, when all’s said and done. They never turn up ‘till the moment they really have to”–
The Daleks were squawking something in the distance, their words all impossible to hear.
“Not that I’m a hero, of course,” she said. “You’ve known more heroes than I’ve ever seen. Who hold it together no matter how bad things get, who’ll fight for your life and your world even when they’re all screaming inside. ‘Cause you’ve known their pain, too, and you wished there was someone who’d stop it. Because truth is, the heroes had never gone away. You know that; you’re a hero just the same. And all you ever needed was someone who could fight for you. And I’m not a god and I’m certainly not an adult, but I’ll stand in their place when both of them are gone”–
The light around her was streaming and like moving fingers. It was hissing, too. There was no way it could have been hissing.
“Doesn’t it feel like there’s some kind of force in the world?” she said. “Which comes from nowhere and which always wins the day? And have you ever thought how brilliant it would be– if one day all of that was on your side?” ‘Cause there’s a woman who stands for everything that’s dying. Who will not stand by as it all begins to burn! Who does all she can save every soul in the universe– and who fights like hell on the day that she no longer can!”
Auroras were falling liquid down around her, magnetic ripples that swirled like a thing now alive.
“You thought you knew how all of this would finish,” she said. “That the worst would all happen and you’d not dare to hope once again. But now the story has a better ending”–
–and she grinned very widely and threw up her hands–
–“because I’m the Doctor. And I’m going to save the world.”
Osgood gave a big thumbs up as she stopped recording, and the Doctor exhaled, allowing herself to be small.
“D’you think that’s enough?” she said. “A big speech?”
Osgood laughed. “It’s nowhere near enough,” she said. “But it is something. More people might need you than you think.”
The Doctor smiled softly at her, slight tears rising in her eyes.
“I’m not the only person who that’s true for,” she said. “Osgood. I don’t know that I ever– you’ve always thought the world of me and I didn’t think to”–
She trailed off.
“Thank you,” she said. “For believing in me. In all the ways that you did.”
Osgood smiled. “That’s the woman I’m glad to be wearing the clothes of.”
“Right,” said the Doctor. “They’re not actually my clothes, are they? Because the thing with time travel, it’s that you never know.”
“I shouldn’t think so,” said Osgood. “That’d be rather creepy.”
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “Yes it would.”
Then she smiled goofily and both of them were laughing.
“I know it’s all a bit mad,” said Osgood. “The cosplaying. But what else would you do?”
“When the world’s full of nothing but monsters,” she said, “we have to dress up as our heroes.”
Back to index
Chris was having terrible dreams when she was jolted to life by a voice. It was high and harsh and nothing like a person’s, and she was somewhere that definitely wasn’t her bed. For a second she had no idea where she was, then her anxiety rose even further as she remembered.
“That’s a Dalek!” she said. “Have they found us? Are they here?”
“It’s not us they’re talking to, said Osgood as she fumbled out of her sleeping bag. “The Doctor’s summoned an army.”
The Doctor was half-in the tent too, Chris noticed, frantically scooping things into her pockets.
“You’re friends with an army?” Chris asked her Time Lord friend.
“No!” said the Doctor. “Well. Not anymore. I persuaded some people to fight for us; it wasn’t that difficult in the end. Just a matter of turning things around, transforming them into their opposite.”
“Like reversing the polarity?” said Chris.
“Right,” said the Doctor. “It is funny how often that seems to work.”
“YOU SHOULD NOT BE FI-GHTING,” a Dalek roared from outside. “WE HAVE NO WISH TO EXTERMINATE!”
“EXTERMIMATE! EXTERMINATE!” cried another, unhelpfully.
The five of them scrambled out of the tent as quickly as they could. There were Daleks everywhere– not in their hiding place, but in almost all other parts of the valley. They looked like strange red berries against the moorland: poisonous, telling you you should stay away.
There were people everywhere, too: people of all ages and sizes, fighting creatures they shouldn’t be able to beat. They weren’t always succeeding, Chris saw. Dead bodies were everywhere, and laser blasts were eagerly making more.
She knew what the Daleks reminded of her, then. Soldiers in one of her history books, that wore silly costumes and who you never saw killing at all. They would never be scary when they were in books, when you knew they would lose in the end. It was very different when they showed up in your life. A Dalek was only silly when it was far away.
The Doctor wasn’t looking at the Daleks, though. She was staring at the people who had come because of her.
“They know what this is, right?” she said softly. “Not some sort…”
“Yes,” said Lorna. “Of course they do. The Daleks were killing families in their houses. People tend to have a problem with that.”
“But they’ll die,” said the Doctor. “Maybe here, or maybe with their world. Do they know if they win that this planet’s going to”–
“I told them everything,” said Osgood. “It’s a stronger story when you don’t have to tell a lie. That’s something I don’t think you ever quite understood.”
“But all this,” said the Doctor. “this many people. I didn’t think… I didn’t know it was this many people.”
“When he was Davros,” she said. “Before he’d turned into the Doctor. He asked me, if I had to choose between the things I wanted least in the world, whether there’d still be anyone who’d follow me. And I thought it’d mean I’d be nothing to anyone ever again. But,” she said, “but now there are so many people”–
“Not just people,” said Osgood grimly. “Here’s why we called for them in the first place.”
More Daleks were dropping in like falling cars, horrifyingly close to where they stood.
“THE DOC-TOR IS HERE!” one of them was yelling. “WE MUST FIND THE PLACE WHERE SHE SCHEMES AND HIDES! WE WILL EX-TERM-IN-ATE HER; WE WILL SAVE THE EARTH!”
“WE WILL SAVE! WE WILL SAVE!” the others beside it replied.
“That’s weird,” said the Doctor.
In the distance the High Dalek’s eye glowed dim, its stony voice beginning to intone.
“BRING FORWARD THE PROCESS OF DETONATION.” it said. “THE BOMB IS BUILT OUT OF THE PEOPLE; THE WEAPON REBELS FROM ITS TRIUMPH. ANNIHILATION OF THE UNIVERSE WILL BE ACCELERATED. ACCELERATE. ACCELERATE.”
Its eye moved up to the very top of its dome and a bolt of light started blasting up into the sky. Chris felt her stomach clench into nothing at all.
“Is it over?” she said, hoping the answer wouldn’t come.
“Not yet,” said the Doctor. “It’s not quite ready, but we don’t have long.”
“Chris,” she said. “I should never‘ve gotten you into this. Not any of you. But I’ve a spare screwdriver. It’s likely we’re going to need it.”
She fished it out of a pocket before Chris snatched it away.
“You’re right,” said Chris. “You shouldn’t’ve got us into this. I’m not going to say it’s okay. It’s stupid. Everything about this is.”
She was angry at everyone, at adults and Doctors and anyone else who was old. But at least she could take the rage out on something worthwhile.
She screamed, and let an awful sound puncture the air. Nearby, a Dalek exploded into bits.
“I didn’t know it could do that,” said the Doctor. “Would’ve made things a whole lot easier if I did.”
“What’re the rest of us supposed to do?” said Chris’s mother. “I can barely use a normal screwdriver, let alone one that’s running on sound.”
The Doctor sighed. “You know I can’t stand guns. But I think that, given the circumstances”–
She fumbled something out of a pocket and handed it over.
“This is a water pistol,” Lorna said.
“Filled with paint that never runs out,” said the Doctor. “It’s a paintball gun.”
“Against a brigade of death machines,” said Lorna.
The Doctor nodded. “You understand.”
“DIS-TOR-TION OF REA-LITY DET-EC-TED,” screamed a Dalek voice, then the air seemed to wobble and white light blasted something away. There was an awful silence, before a Dalek swivelled its eyestalk round to glare directly at them.
“YOU ARE ALLIES OF THE DOC-TOR,” the Dalek bawled. “YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED!”
It turned to look at Chris, and despite everything she froze–
–then her mother roared and there was a sound like violence, and after that she was somehow still alive.
Tentatively she looked at the Dalek once more, yellow paint now splattered over its eye. She smiled over to her mother, who was trying not to grin.
“MY VISION IS IMPAIRED!” howled the Dalek. “I CANNOT SEE!”
“NOW SEE THE FOLLY OF MY DALEK RACE,” boomed the voice of the High Dalek from above. “OUR TRAVEL MACHINES EASILY BLINDED. OUR SPEECH SO NEEDLESSLY TAUTOLOGICAL. HUMANITY SHOULD NOT RECOIL IN SHAME. YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEINGS, AND YOU WILL EXTERMINATE. EXTERMINATE. EXTERMINATE.”
“Wait,” said the Doctor. “That’s more than weird. That’s”–
Before she could finish a laser blasted from nowhere, and behind her the tent ignited into flames.
Less talking, more fighting, thought Chris, letting the screwdriver start to howl once again. She frowned as if it’s sound was the sound of her voice, its scream her own, and all its violence hers. Daleks were exploding everywhere around her. She was probably being incredible, but didn’t care.
The flaming wreckage of a Dalek smashed to the ground just beside her, horribly close to the Mini.
“This might be the time to break into that thing,” said Osgood as she nodded over to the High Dalek.
“Before our battering ram gets too battered,” agreed the Doctor as she started to run for the Mini.
“Wait!” said John. “I need a weapon too! I don’t know how to fight.”
He looked over to Osgood for moral support, but she looked absolutely unconcerned about being weaponless.
“My phone!” said the Doctor, fishing it out and pressing it tightly into his hand. “It’s got apps for everything! Including fighting, probably.”
“Great,” said John weakly, resigning himself to his death. The Doctor had bounded right past him and had opened the hood of the Mini, her whole upper body inside as she scrambled around.
“What’re you doing?” John shouted over to her. “Can’t you just sonic it?”
“You can’t do everything with sound waves!” cried the Doctor. “Don’t they teach you that in physics?”
Overhead another Dalek exploded as Chris let a whine fill the air.
“I think I’ve got it,” said the Doctor from inside the hood. “Connect this wire to that one, then all the wires to the dynamite and”–
She made an alarmed sound, then stopped talking and threw herself clear of the car. And suddenly there was a roar as it blew its way into the air, the shell of the TARDIS still firmly stuck to its back, then an even greater roar as it slammed into the High Dalek in the distance…
…”that worked, I think,” said the Doctor once enough of the smoke had cleared.
“It was a beautiful machine,” said Osgood wistfully. “But still. It is like you say: everything has its time, and everything dies.”
“Not yet,” said the Doctor firmly. “Because none of this is over ‘till it is.”
She looked at them all.
“Ready to run?” she said.
They all looked unsure.“Neither am I,” she said. And as soon as she had she’d started to run all the same, and she didn’t even look back as she did. She knew they’d be running too, Chris thought. She knew that — despite everything — they’d follow her to the end of the world. And as Chris started running too she could only think one thing– that however frustrating the Doctor could be, she did often seem to be right.
Back to index
In every respect the High Dalek was ancient and new: that was still true even once you had gone deep inside it. Its corridors were as craggy as rocky caverns, yet they still gleamed with a white and unnatural glow.
At some point John and Osgood had lost the others, though they’d no idea how long ago. For now it was all they could do to keep on running. They went down corridors that seemed to go deeper and deeper, twisting and turning in a way that did not seem designed.
They swept round a sharp curve in the corridor and John gasped when he saw what it was hiding. Two guards, both stiff in their red plastic uniforms. As he watched they pointed towards them and shouted. Panicking, John took out the Doctor’s phone, but as he jammed the button to turn it on an empty battery filled up the screen.
“It’s out of power!” he said. “She’s responsible for saving whole planets and she’s forgotten to charge up her phone!”
Osgood took the phone from him and assessed it.
“Maybe she hasn’t,” she said as she handed it over, pointing to the reverse of its case. John looked at the message written on the back, the words REAL POWER COMES FROM WITHIN in a swishy design.
“Great,” he said. “She’s given me a cliché. That’s even worse than a water pistol.”
The guards had run up to them as they’d both been talking, their faces set and their ray guns raised.
“This isn’t part of the break-in,” said Osgood smoothly. “We’re both here on medical business.”
“We’ll be the judge of that,” said the bearded guard sharply. “State your names.”
“Petronella Osgood,” said Osgood.
Both guards looked totally uninterested.
“John Smith,” said John.
The guards stared at him in awe.
“Never,” said one of them in astonishment.
“Oh, God,” said John. “Not again.”
The other guard decided to chance it.
“Are you”– he began.
“Yes,” said Osgood. “He is. This is the Doctor, the President of the World. That’s why you have to let him in.”
“But you’re Welsh!” said the guard. “Can the Doctor even be Welsh? You’d know, Rod; you’re his biggest fan.”
“He’s not,” said Osgood before she could stop herself.
“I’ve no idea,” said the guard who must have been Rod. “It’s never come up with the lads. But I thought I knew them all. All of the Doctor, including the weirder ones. And I’ve never seen this one before.”
True power comes from within, the Doctor’s phone case had said, and knowing her there was probably a hidden meaning. A while back everyone in John’s town had regenerated except him. He still had the power to do that, if he wanted. It was just a matter of letting it start to come.
“You want me to look more familiar?” said John as his hand glowed warm and orange. “Now’s your chance.”
“You can do that?” said Osgood, forgetting herself. “You aren’t really really”–
John punched Rod on the nose with his glowing fist before she was able to finish. Osgood blinked, then moved to disable the other guard with a complex movement of her hands. As John reeled from his punch she turned to Rod as well, and before long both guards lay incapacitated on the floor.
“That was incredible,” said John.
“It’s standard Akido,” said Osgood. “I could have hired a trainer from Venus, but I was on a budget.”
John laughed. “You’re as mad as her,” he said.
Osgood grinned and blushed. “Do you really think so?” she said.
“Mmm,” said John. He’d had his thumb in his fist when he’d punched the guard and was pretty sure that he’d managed to break it, but somehow it was now completely fine.
“I’ve not punched anyone before,” he said. “I feel a bit bad.”
“You shouldn’t,” said Osgood. “Punched by the Doctor? People’ll love it. He’ll be dining out on that until”–
She trailed off, suddenly looking awkward.
–“until the world ends,” said John, saying the unthinkable for her.“Yes,” said Osgood. “And we should be getting a move on. I don’t think it’s about to end itself.”
“That probably makes a change for someone like you,” said John.
“Good Lord,” said Osgood, “you really have no idea.”
They both smiled a bit at each other, just for a minute. You had to take the humour you could get when the Earth was about to explode.
Back to index
The corridors deep under the High Dalek were still lit with clean, white light, but it all seemed to dim the further you went underground. Chris, Lorna and the Doctor were running through something as craggy as rock, and the glow that came from its surface was getting extremely faint.
“This is bad,” said the Doctor. “There’s no security.”
“Isn’t that good?” said Chris.
“Not at all,” said the Doctor. “It means they’ll have something much worse”–
There was an awful sound like the scream of a piano as it broke. The last TARDIS ever was coming in to land.
“The President,” said the Doctor. “Must’ve done a U-turn on the bit where he lets us live.”
Chris went pale. “Is there anything we can do?” she said.
“Run faster,” said the Doctor. “There might be a few seconds left.”
Just in time they ran into a round, white room, a cavern that looked like it could also be part of a spaceship. The past and the future, smashing together at last. Something that travelled in both was fading in.
The awful screaming was everywhere and the President’s TARDIS was too. It was materialising into every bit of the cavern, a hundred police boxes overlapping as they spun through the wrong dimensions. In the open door of each of them, a weapon was preparing to fire.
A part of Chris gave up as death filled up into everywhere. She’d been trying to hide how scared she was for so long– she wanted to burst into tears, not to fight. She kept thinking of the people she knew who the Daleks would have killed. People in her class; teachers; the strange old lollipop lady who’d had lots of funny ideas. She’d seen so much death and nobody had even noticed. Adventures weren’t fun or exciting. Adventures were awful.
But if Chris was sure of anything now, it was this: that dying sounded worse than an adventure. However bad things got, she didn’t want to die. And she knew all over the universe there were others who wouldn’t want to die either, and all of them would if she were to give up right there. And so that meant that she had to fight, and for now it meant she couldn’t cry.
She put herself a million miles from it all. Her hand didn’t shake as her screwdriver started to whine. Its noises were distant. It was better that everything was.
Light was firing from TARDIS doors right at her. It all bounced away, like she already knew that it would. She was lancing sound up and down into a wave: to peaks and troughs that swept out from her screwdriver like ripples. All the danger was above the wave, and everything below it was safe.
The wave was still only at her height, though, and she was shorter than her mother and the Doctor. They were rolling and moving into its peaks and away from the blasts of the weapon. Huge metal blades spat out of doors and glanced off the wave, embedding themselves into the walls.
“This isn’t the sort of thing you can fight with a bloody paintball gun,” groaned her mother from flat on the floor. But she could stand up again soon enough, Chris could see. It was taking all Chris’s mental energy to do it, but she was gently rising the screwdriver above her head, the wave rising with it as she did. Less and less of the space in the room was made up of half-emerged TARDIS, and if she got her arm high enough there’d be none of it left there at all–
Her mother and the Doctor got to their feet, protected under the amplitude of the wave.
“You do know you’re brilliant, right, Chris?” the Doctor said. “‘Cause I’m not sure that we ever say it, when really we should do a lot.”
The President’s voice boomed out of nowhere, cutting off Chris’s reply.
“Good job!” it laughed. “You’ve got it all sorted, haven’t you? But it’s time to put a spanner in the works, I’m afraid. I’m going to pull the rug out from under your feet.”
“That’s a double meaning,” said the Doctor. “And if that’s a double meaning it means”–
She looked down past her shoes to the thing that was forming beneath them, the open door of a TARDIS come into the world. It was like she was standing suspended over its console room, and now she saw clearly what its console was. A great circle of metal with a steel column rammed down the centre, the edges sharp and serrated, forming teeth. A circular saw. He was planning to mince her to bits.
“Oh Hell,” she said. “That doesn’t look fun to end up in.”
The teeth disappeared as the whole sawblade whined into life.
The Doctor turned to Lorna and Chris, desperate.
“Keep fighting,” she said. “No matter what happens to me do not stop fighting”–
And then she was gone, falling down to the grinder below.
Back to index
John and Osgood burst into the great cavern where the High Dalek itself was hidden– not its casing, but the alien itself; the monster at the heart of the machine. It sat massive in the middle of the chamber, a giant lump of snot with a single eye.
Lots of other people were already in that space, having run through the hole the Mini had made. Some were hacking at tendrils that stretched out from the Dalek across the room; others were howling and rocking on the floor.
“That’s the High Dalek?” said John as he started to run towards it. “It’s disgusting.”
“YES.” replied the High Dalek in his mind. “I AM DISGUSTING. YOU ARE MORE PLEASANT FOR ANYONE TO LOOK AT. YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING.”
Something about that second sentence sounded different, not as bored. It wasn’t a sentence that ended with an exclamation mark, but it sounded like it might have been thinking about it.
“I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT YOUR SPECIES ANYMORE,” said the voice. “I AM TALKING ABOUT YOU. YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING, JOHN SMITH. YOU ARE. YOU ARE.”
“Are you hearing this?”John said to Osgood. “The High Dalek’s voice in your mind.”
“I am,” said Osgood. “It’s saying that I’m the superior being.”
The tendrils were like a web extending through the air. They reminded John of a fungus venting spores. A mould like that could get into your mind, literally. They were being infected by the Daleks. He looked around at the other people in the chamber, and he could tell the voice was affecting them as well.
“You’re saying it to everyone,” he said inside his mind. “That all of us are the superior being.”
“I AM,” said the voice of the High Dalek. “BUT FOR YOU IT IS ACTUALLY TRUE. YOU HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN THAT YOU WERE SPECIAL. DIFFERENT. YOU DO NOT HAVE THE THINGS THAT YOU DESERVE. YOU ARE NOT LIKE THE OTHERS, NOT REALLY. YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!”
The last sentence was a scream inside John’s mind. The High Dalek hadn’t sounded like the others before. Now it did, though its voice was both louder and worse. It was hurting him, and he wasn’t the only one. Through the pain that was spreading through his temples John could hear people arguing nearby.
“I saw what was happening,” a man was screaming. “I came here to fight! Do you know what I’ve sacrificed to be here? And all of it’s going to be for nothing! I’m dying just so everyone else will as well.”
“There’s nothing stopping me joining them, you know,” a woman was shouting at another. “The Daleks would give us everything. Safety and hope; they’d not just be words anymore”–
“It’s the human race that’s the problem, not the Daleks!” a human was saying. “It’s obvious when you take an objective view! It’s been true for ages, though. It’s only me who sees what’s really going on”–
“It’s working on those people,” said John vaguely. “Good job we’re not like them, eh?”
He smiled at Osgood but she only glowered back.
“You should have realised that I’d end up hating you,” she said.
John looked at her, briefly taken aback. “What?” he said.
“You think I wouldn’t care?” she said. “I’ve put so much into this and you’ve done nothing, and it’s you who ends up getting mistaken for her. Do you know what the Doctor’s taken from me? Her best friend killed my sister and I never even bought it up”–
“What?” said John. “That’s… that’s really bad”–
“That’s not what I care about at the minute!” shouted Osgood. “It’s you! You got everything given to you and you don’t even think it’s impressive! You’re like her, aren’t you! You’re as bad as her!”
Everyone who’d ever met him knew John Smith would never get angry. But something in him was snapping all the same.
“You don’t know anything about me,” he said. “I’ve lost my parents; got no real life anymore”–
“So what?” said Osgood. “Haven’t you realised what all of this means? All of us are losing everyone. Soon no one on this planet will have a life at all.”
“That’s not the same,” said John, though he could hardly hear himself talk against the High Dalek’s screams. “You’re just not getting it at all”–
The voice roared in his mind. Truthfully. Accurately.
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” it cried. “YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!”
John Smith never got angry, everyone said.
Now might just be the time for him to start.
Back to index
The Doctor was clinging to life in a slaughterhouse of time and blades. She was stuck to the central column of the President’s TARDIS as its sawblade console whizzed around, going at god knew how many revolutions a second, making her feel very sick. Ballads had been written about the strength of the Time Lord constitution, but none of them made her want to vomit any less.
“Don’t you want off the merry-go-round?” came the voice of the President from somewhere. “You don’t have to bother with this. All this needless dying. What benefit’s in it for you?”
The Doctor put great stock in giving a witty reply, but at that exact moment she couldn’t speak without throwing up. Her silence would satisfy him, and that made her nausea even worse.
She had a bit of medicine for these sorts of occasions. Pills to settle the stomach, and something else: a universal sedative. Even she couldn’t control the laws of physics. But she might still be able to make them tired.
Sending time to sleep wasn’t really on, of course. It broke three laws of the Time Lords and probably the Hippocratic Oath. But there weren’t any other Time Lords left at the minute, and she was fighting someone who wasn’t interested in the rules. She swallowed one pill and crumbled the other into the blades, hoping she’d got them both the right way round.
The blades were slowing down as time got drowsy. She jumped down as they stopped, her body thumping hard on the solid metal. The pills had been weak; the effect was localised. Everything around the console hadn’t slowed down at all. The round things on the wall were moving up and down relentlessly, slicing like guillotines, their empty holes like a grater’s. He’d be in there, wouldn’t he, the President? Deep within the centre of his machine. It was exhausting, never giving up. But you had to do what you could to save all of creation.
She braced herself and ran at the holes in the wall, rolling through one just before it would slice her in half. Past it was a steep metal slope which she tumbled down, before she fell onto a conveyor belt a slight distance below. It was moving, of course, and rapidly. Spiked pistons were pummelling relentlessly at one end.
She got to her feet and frantically started to run, as fast as she could away from the mincing machines. As she did she noticed that sleek other Doctor, who was watching her calmly from a gantry held some way away.
“Come on,” she shouted to him. “Am I just a piece of meat to you?”
The man above her smiled.
“All of us are meat, Doctor,” he said. “If our enemies get a hold of us for one second. And with a machine such as this? I have all the seconds I ever need.”
Spinning blades shot from the air out of nowhere, but they weren’t being aimed down at her. They whizzed out of opening doors to places in space and time, to eviscerate other people that might end up being a problem. That’d include all of them, she knew. Lorna and Chris, Osgood and John. She’d have to hope they were strong as she thought they were.
People were falling through those open doors just like she had, screaming as they dropped down past the belt where she was running. She couldn’t see where they were falling or how they died. She didn’t have to. The hearing was more than enough.
“Stop it,” said the Doctor. “You’ve made your point; you can do it without any killing.”
“But this is what the universe is!” said the President. “All of time and space, it all ends here. In people being pulped to nothing. In death. War is written into us, Doctor. We will always fight those who are not our own. At least I’ll bring peace for the people who survive. Yours is a path of total extermination.”
Behind him were squelches and the splintering of bone. It wasn’t the sort of place where you’d want a lecture.
“This is what people are to you, isn’t it?” she said. “Props in an argument that’s only in your head. You’ll let trillions die because you can’t think of one way to save them, and if you can’t do it then that means no one can.”
“You presume to know how I truly think?” said the President with a smile.
“You’re the Doctor,” she said. “And I know them very well. They’re the one person I’d never think deserved any mercy”–
She never thought she’d have to fight for everything she was. Not like this, not against this kind of Doctor. But she knew that she had to, now. She knew exactly what was now on the line.
“You were broken and beaten, Davros,” she said. “You were as good as dead. But you’ve come back and triumphed, ‘cause that’s what the Doctor does. But you’re not the only one who can play at being her. And I’m sure as hell not going to be worse at it than you.”
The President smiled, totally unfazed.
“You know this is the end,” he said. “I have indulged you with the lie that we are equals.”
“And that’s just it, isn’t it?” said the Doctor. “Both of us. We always thought we were the only clever one.”
The President’s indulgent smile grew even deeper. Behind him the machines continued to thump and slice.
“You underestimate me,” he said. “And perhaps you overestimate this world. There is a voice all living creatures hear, proclaiming their kind to be the greatest of all. My Daleks have always been brave enough to say it, and now we can hear it, too. Perhaps we should take a listen, don’t you think? Admit to ourselves what we’ve really always known.”
The round things high up above them blinked, and then they were Dalek eyes.
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” they cried. “YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!”
She could have just given up and joined the President. A part of her had once longed for an easier life. Better that than being beaten up and patronised, by idiots who had no idea how smart she really was. Because she was good, wasn’t she? That was the problem. She always had to go round being good without ever getting anything back.
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” the voices shouted again.
Maybe they had a point, at that.
Maybe she was.
Back to index
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” cried the voice into every mind in the world.
Chris was the superior being. Her mother was shouting at her like she always did, even though she was doing nothing to keep them alive. Her mum would be dead without her, Chris was sure. In her head at night she’d counted up the times.
“You’ve no idea what it’s like to raise a child on your own!” her mum was shouting. “My mother said that to me, and I can bloody well say it to you! You don’t know what I’ve sacrificed for you. It was going to be better than this, Chrissy; I was going to be more than I am”–
She was crying as well as screaming, Chris could see. But above them came a cry with no need of tears. “YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” it roared. “AND YOU WILL EXTERMINATE!”
Her mum paused very briefly as Chris’s screwdriver continued to whine.
“No,” she said softly. “No, I won’t do that. Whatever you try to do to me, you’re not going to get to do that”–
“EXTERMINATE!” roared the voice in response. “EXTERMINATE!”
Her mum clutched her head tightly with one hand, grimacing, and everything in Chris was screaming to go over and hug her. But she had to focus on keeping the screwdriver going, because if she didn’t she knew they’d both certainly die–
Her thoughts froze as her mother raised her hand, the water pistol aimed right towards Chris where she stood.
“This isn’t living,” her mother choked through the tears. “It was never going to work out for us; surely you see that? Death’s not the same as giving up; it doesn’t have to be”–
“That water pistol only fires paint!” shouted Chris. “You’re never going to be able to kill me with that! You’re being horrible and can’t even do it right! You don’t know how to handle when a child is smarter than you!”
Her mother laughed snottily through her tears.
“That’s what you think?” she said. “You don’t know anything, Christina. The stuff you don’t know’d fill all of the books in the world! Sometimes I think it’d be better if neither of us had ever been born. We’d still both know nothing, but at least then we’d have a bit of peace!”
“I want to be born,” said Chris. “I’m glad that you made me alive.”
Her mother shook her head.
”You’re being good,” she said. “But the goodness is getting you nowhere. The best kind of people, we never get treated right. It’s true what the Dalek’s saying, but it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s worse when it turns out”–
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” the voice bellowed again.
John was the superior being. He wasn’t like the crazy woman in front of him, who shouted nonsense like the ridiculous stalker she was. He’d put the effort in, that was what she couldn’t see. He’d worked hard for a future he’d never really believed in, to do well in a world that would always treat him with contempt. They wouldn’t even hate him for good reasons, like because he liked wearing the same clothes as a Space God. They’d be ones, because people were always stupid. The Doctor understood that, although she was the stupidest of them all.
Osgood was moving to smack him with her arms, but John just cackled and ducked away. She couldn’t hurt him; no one really could. Maybe he could regenerate into something wild; something alien that could fly off from the Earth. Flee from this stupid planet that never appreciated him. He’d always been more interested in the universe than people anyway. It was a truth as deep as the biggest ones in physics, after all–
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” came the shout again and again.
The Doctor was the superior being. She could see exactly what was happening; what always would. They were always a planet of apes who were guided by her. Apes getting angry at the apes that weren’t quite the same as them, their anger creating more anger until the angriest apes dropped a bomb. A zookeeper could give some chimps a beautiful tea set, but she shouldn’t be surprised when they blew it up.
“Brilliant, isn’t it?” she said out loud, forgetting the President was even there. “You put your back into a planet. Invent half its stuff and save it a thousand times — and that’s underestimating, mind you — and they only go and smash it all up for themselves. I shouldn’t’ve even bothered! Not with a load of fools who really believe it when their mind screams that”–
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!”
He wasn’t, though, John thought. Not really. Not at sports or the social stuff; and those were more important than they said. He couldn’t draw or even click his fingers. He was much worse at maths than everyone always assumed.
Osgood was shouting something and everyone else was as well. Suddenly he felt like he was very distant from it all. Anger was part of what the High Dalek needed, that much was clear. But everyone always said he wasn’t someone who’d ever get angry. That was what made him so much better than the stupid idiots who–
There was a voice in his mind that didn’t sound like a Dalek’s, and it was saying something to him now. About how he’d read books about human nature along with all the physics. How they’d talked about how people worked in the real world; how used them to try and work like a person should. It never seemed to go right when he tried. The people who wrote the books hadn’t met someone like him.
The High Dalek thought it knew everything about being human. But perhaps human nature was only the things that you did…
Once again, his fist burned up orange and bright.
“I’m not that superior,” he said out loud. “Superior people, they’re all above violence. But someone like me, right now? I think I’d do something like this.”
He punched one of the High Dalek’s tendrils beside him as hard as he could. The energy in his fist would make things change, but change didn’t have to be good for you, did it? That was what she’d told him when they first met. The tendril was forming into something ruined and broken as the High Dalek screamed once again–
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!”
But now it didn’t sound right when it said it.
Chris’s mother was shaking with every emotion, her pistol still pointed at her daughter.
“I’m angry too,” Chris said to her.
“You don’t know,” sobbed her mother.
“Of course I do,” said Chris. “That’s how it’s working. It’s getting into both of us. Making us both hate each other”–
Her mother shook her head. “Chrissy, you don’t understand,” she said. “I was angry for years before I knew what a Dalek even was”–
“That doesn’t mean you have to do this!” said Chris. “Be angry at them! At the stupid Daleks!”
“The Daleks aren’t the most exhausting thing in my life!” said her mother.
“Maybe not,” said Chris. “But I want them to go away.”Her mother looked at her in an odd way. Very slightly, she loosened her grip on the water pistol.
“I don’t want to even imagine it,” she said. “What life would be like if all this went away. That anger and that pain, just gone. You said I was afraid to hope, and that’s still true”–
“You don’t need to hope,” said Chris. “You only need to shoot. Fire paint into the door of one of the TARDISes. I think the screwdriver’s able to do the rest.”
Her mother looked at her quietly and nodded very slightly. In that moment their bodies said everything to each other, all the ways that they could both be equals.
“Then that’s a plan,” her mother said distantly.
She raised her pistol into the air and squeezed–
–and sound waves battered the paint as it soared through the air–
–through a door in space and time that led to other doors, opening to millions of places in the universe–
–so the paint flew between half-formed doors in the air as they watched, zipping from a TARDIS at one point in time to another–
–tracing a shape it was impossible for a child to calculate, but which Chris had decided to get on and work out anyway–
–before it smashed back into the world and hit the High Dalek in the eye.
“MY VISION IS IMPAIRED!” it roared. “I CANNOT”–
It paused briefly and recovered.
“THERE IS SO MUCH I CANNOT DO,” it said. “NOT NEXT TO A CREATURE SUCH AS YOU. EVEN THE BLIND CAN CLEARLY SEE THE TRUTH”–
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” it said desperately.
On the conveyor belt the Doctor was running to stand still, and of course the President knew she’d be aware of the metaphor. But her legs were burning and she was slowly slipping back towards the mincer, its blades too fast and sharp for anything to regenerate from.
This was how it ended, then. No appreciation; no acknowledgement. The human race were awful, they wouldn’t even send a card. There’d be no recognition of everything she’d managed when at the end of the day she’d…
...she’d made a bit of a hash of things, really.
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” screamed the voice of the High Dalek. “AND YOU WILL”–
“Does it do anything for you?” said the Doctor to Davros. “When it’s just saying what you already know.”
The President looked down at her, still keeping his cool. She could see it in the tightness of his face, though. He hadn’t expected she’d manage to keep calm too.
“I am assured of myself, if that’s what you mean,” he said.
“You’ve no right to be,” said the Doctor. “You don’t even know how much you haven’t seen.”
The President scowled. “I know everything that matters,” he said.
“No,” said the Doctor. “You really don’t. Or you’d break, Davros. Even you.”
The President chuckled. “You are trapped between metal blades and mincing machines and still think there’s a chance that you’ll persuade me!”
“Because I need to have hope,” the Doctor said.
“You have none,” said her foe. “You know you won’t leave here alive.”
The Doctor looked up at him, staring him right in the eyes. Somehow there was compassion in them, even here.
“Not for me, you idiot,” she said. “For you.”
Davros did laugh out loud at that.
“I don’t need hope!” he said. “I’ve triumphed. I’m the Doctor. I’m the President of the World.”
“And I’ve been those things and had nothing,” said the Doctor. “You have no idea how massive humanity is.”
“You’re wrong,” said the President. “Your humans were always like my Daleks; focused on the survival of their own. You were naive to think a creature could think beyond themselves.”
If he expected her to look desolate, he was disappointed. Instead a smile started to grow across her face. And suddenly she’d started to run faster, and the mincing machines were more of a distance away.
“You’re not bluffing there, are you?” she said. “That’s what you really think. And that can only mean one thing”–
–“I know what kind of TARDIS this is,” she said.
“Run down and beaten up,” said the President, his confidence unbreaking. “After all, I’m supposed to be you.”
“Not at all,” said the Doctor. “Big and blue like this; you’d’ve taken the best. ‘Cause you were right, Doctor, but not about people. All that really matters is what you believed to be true”–
Just for a second there was a flicker of doubt on the President’s face.
“You made the Daleks to your philosophy; your design,” the Doctor continued. “So all of them only ever think of themselves. But the High Dalek– it doesn’t, does it? It wants the humans to win. Something like that might make you wonder if it was ever a Dalek at all”–
“A feint,” said the President. “I did think to teach them to lie.”
“And I’ve seen what that looks like,” said the Doctor. “The High Dalek’s telling the truth.”
The TARDIS around them was full of metal and glass. Constructed seamlessly. You could never see the joins.
“Every kid on Gallifrey wanted a TARDIS Type i,” she said as she looked around. “An iTARDIS, and they wouldn’t understand the reference. That could look like so many things all at once, scattered through time and space. Even things from imagination, that could never exist here at all. Like… oh, I don’t know”–
She laughed very softly.
–“Like a Dalek convinced that it’s not the superior being,” she said.
“Doctor,” laughed the President. “You do like to jump to conclusions”–
“They’re this!” said the Doctor. “All of them! Every High Dalek around the world. They’re all a part of this, just like the Police Box. You stole the best kind of TARDIS that’s ever been built! And you’ve the nerve to make out that you’re still a man of the people.”She laughed in excited delight, a person who loved tools inside the greatest machine of all.
“Do you even know the things that this can do?” she said. “An iTARDIS! It has so many apps.”
“I’m a genius, Doctor,” said the President tersely. “I did read the manual.”
“Then you’ll know it has the most important function of all,” said the Doctor.
“Emergency call,” she said.
The President lunged at a button on the gantry and the conveyor belt moved even faster. But the Doctor was running faster, now, too, maybe faster than she ever had before. She was pulling away from the mincers, somehow. Suddenly she was actually gaining ground.
“Don’t,” said the President desperately. “Doctor, please, you know you’re my dearest friend”–
“This is an emergency call from the Doctor!” she shouted over him. “This vessel has been breached, and I call to take command! As the ruler of our people! As President of Gallifrey!”
An electronic voice rang through the TARDIS, sounding just as haughty as it was bored.
“The Doctor Protocols are in effect,” it said. “The President Of Gallifrey is the lowest ranking Time Lord in creation.”
Davros smiled, not unsympathetically. The Doctor sighed and decided to try her luck.
“Can’t argue with that,” she said to the automatic voice. “Then command should go to the highest ranking Time Lord the universe has left.”
“Request received. There is one Time Lord left in existence. You are the highest and the lowest of your kind. The Doctor has command of this vessel. Repeat. The Doctor has command of this vessel.”
The President didn’t look confident anymore. For the first time, he knew he should be afraid.
“You’re seeking power?” he said, disbelievingly.
The Doctor smiled. “Perhaps I’m acknowledging it,” she said.
“There is a hostile being on this vessel,” chirped the electronic voice. “Ejection protocols are engaged. Are you willing to authorise removal of the hostile? Repeat. Are you willing to authorise?”
“You have always feared becoming this,” Davros said with panic in his voice. “To kill without forgiveness; to have no mercy. You’ll not become the thing you most despise.”
The voice of the High Dalek had stopped, but the Doctor could still hear it in her head. “YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” it bawled. “AND YOU WILL EXTERMINATE!” There were things she’d sworn that she would never become–
–but maybe that wasn’t quite the true point of her story.
“You’re right,” she said. “I’ve always been terrified of breaking the oath that I made. That doing that would be the most terrible thing in the world. But you know what?”
She stopped running, and looked Davros right in the eyes.
“It turned out there was something that’s worse,” she said.
“Authorised,” she added, not looking away.
“No,” cried Davros. “NO!” But even as he spoke he was being sucked into himself, being folded into a tiny point that plinked into nothing at all. And as he vanished the blades and machines stopped their pounding, the whole TARDIS grinding to a halt as its power was taken away. Mildly, the Doctor noticed she was running out of conveyer belt; that soon she’d be crushed in the giant mincing machine…
...but the belt growled and stopped when she was just inches away. Carefully, she clamped her hand around one of the spikes of the mincer. It was round and barely pointed; numb and cold. It didn’t seem dangerous at all, now it was dead.
It was quiet in that TARDIS, just for a moment. It was time, too. She knew she was close to the end.
“All chrome and metal,” she said as she looked at her surroundings. “Oh, Davros. You never really got it, did you? That this could be anything.”
They were fading away as she spoke, all the blades and the silent machines. When she had finished it was like she was somewhere else entirely. The side of a long Scottish loch, quiet on a calm afternoon. A jetty stretching out through the water, the TARDIS console sat at the very end. She looked across the loch at the central column, which rose and fell with a deep and quiet breath.
There was one last thing to do, still. One last speech.
She sighed, and began to walk over the jetty.
The water beneath her was silent, not being real.
Back to index
A long time ago she had been a psychiatrist, but she’d always been a Doctor of the mind. People would say she’d get inside their head, and now she was doing that literally. Everyone would hear her now as her voice came through every High Dalek on the Earth.They’d all always been part of this TARDIS, wherever they were in the world. People liked it to think that they were superior beings. It’d be hard to come up with a much better story than that.
The Doctor had given so many speeches over her lives, but this one might actually be important. She had to mean it; to speak from both the hearts. And that meant that — for maybe the first time — she had to talk as the person she really was.
She looked out over the water, and began.
“EVERYONE!” she shouted. “Do you know who I am?”
She swallowed, and when she spoke again it was softer.
“I’m no one,” she said. “Someone posh from somewhere far away. Who failed their studies and lacked direction. Who messed around. And maybe they said I saved the whole of reality, but I’m not sure that was never really true.”
Every human on the planet was listening, and as she spoke she could see them in her mind. Standing in the loch above the ripples, water sogging into their trousers to weight them down. Not impressed or enthused, but all still listening. She no longer had time to be putting on much of a show.
“The story of my life, it wasn’t interesting,” she said. “So many peaceful days and peaceful years. It’s what they expected back where I was from: that you’d live out life after life, you’d last forever. But worlds can change as fast as a click of the fingers. Mine took a turn that none of us knew to expect.”
She was walking as she spoke, slowly over the jetty above the water. Beneath her the loch was reflecting another time. Orange fire lapping under an orange sky. The last day that she’d worn her first ever name. A memory lived for longer than so many bodies. Like guilt or regret, like a promise of never again.
“I should’ve died back then, and I think I would have,” she said. “If I hadn’t seen what now I’m telling you. That all that held me back was just a story– And all that kept me going was as well. A very silly story, that let me do silly things. To overthrow dictators; to change the world. To save you, and I’ve saved you so, so often. It’s ridiculous to think I did half of the things that I did. But it was the story that was silly and never the person. I never even noticed the things it had let me save.”
She was walking and the figures were staring. Her gaze was fixed straight ahead at the distant distance. You never looked back, and you never looked down to the water. You didn’t acknowledge the day with the rubble and flames.
“I don’t remember when it started blurring,” she said. “When I took the story’s name instead of mine. That was the truth of it, anyway; that was honesty. No one ever believed in the truth of a person. It’s the image they show to you; what they create. The truths that they make at the times when they need to be true. I was a story, and I was only a person. The fact of it and the fiction both held true.”
Once, there was a question that only had terrible answers. Once there’d been a choice that an old man had made. “TELL US YOUR NAME!” a voice from long ago was shouting. “You know what we’ll do to them if you don’t tell us your name!”
She walked to the edge of the jetty, jaw firmly set.
“That story kept me strong through all my lives,” she said, “and I always thought a story was all it was. It’s only now I’m standing here I see– it was the end of a story. That good will win if you keep on waiting and watching, even as everyone else is standing by. That your world lies apart from the places where horrors can happen; that it doesn’t need — or deserve — to be saved. Good stories are never a weakness, nor even a fiction. They can mean letting go of a lie”–
–all of them were there in the reflections of the lake, her children and her grandchildren and the rest. Looking up in a way that would always mean judgement, whatever they’d really think, whatever they’d say–
“I was nothing, and I was no one,” she said out to the water. “There’s no use listening to a nobody such as me. So if you really want to do it — if you want to save the world — you need to listen to someone who really matters. You’re going to need to listen”–
—she looked down into the water—
–“to the Doctor,” she said.
She swallowed, and let something inside of her go.
And then she looked down at last into her family’s eyes. It still hadn’t been enough, none of it. It was a long time since she’d thought she could be redeemed.
“I did what I could,” she said to them. “And I’m sorry.”
She didn’t stop looking until the reflections melted away. And as they did the whole lakeside was melting as well: the hills and the jetty, the bright blue afternoon sky. The water was dissolving, erasing itself. And once it was on the edge of vanishing the Doctor closed her eyes–
–and opened them to an endless whiteness, the console still there in the centre. And she clutched it tightly with both hands, and bowed her head.
And maybe she was finally alone, then, and maybe she was finally at peace.
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“Were we arguing?” said Osgood, looking dazed.
“We were shouting,” said John. “Everyone was. But it looks like they’re not anymore.”
People were looking at each other embarrassed and slightly dazed. But they were coming round ready to keep fighting once again. If the Daleks and guards came down here they could hold them back. Not forever; maybe not even for long. But for long enough, and that was all that mattered.
The High Dalek was dead, if it had ever even been alive. It was woodenly turning a grained sort of police box blue.
“Have we stopped them?” said Osgood.
“We’ve stalled them,” said John. “Hopefully that’s all she’s going to need.”
Osgood looked at him and allowed herself to smile.
“You’re good at this,” she said.“At what?” said John.
“I don’t know what it’s called,” said Osgood. “Doctoring.”
John laughed. “Didn’t even need the clothes,” he said.
Osgood looked down at what she was wearing, and blushed very slightly.
“I know it’s pathetic,” she said.
John shook his head.
“I get it,” he said. “Something that’s more than all this, beyond ourselves. We needed that more than ever right now.”
Osgood smiled. “You sound like her.”
“I’m not the Doctor,” he said. “I’m John Smith.”
That seemed like it bothered her more than it should.
“Oh,” she said. “A part of me hoped you would be her in the end. That she’d still go on. Things shouldn’t just stop, not when they’re as wonderful as her.”
“They won’t, said John. The planets will keep on spinning. They’ll go on after us. The universe is bigger than any of us; that’s true if you’re human or not.”
“You don’t have to keep pretending, you know? You don’t have to wear her clothes to be whatever you are.”
“Of course I do,” said Osgood. “Pretending’s the only way I’d ever be anything real.”
She paused, and smiled at him.
“You’d be good at it, I think,” she said. “Being her.”
“And you,” said John. “Really.”
“Then I suppose we did it,” said Osgood. “The Two Doctors.”
“Alright,” laughed John. “Let’s not push it too far.”
They would probably be friends in a world where they weren’t about to die.
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Tentatively, Lorna and Chris stepped through the TARDIS door, still unsure if it was safe to come through. Perhaps that other Doctor was preying on them, trying to trap them by waiting until they got bored. But that calm and handsome man was nowhere to be seen in his police box, because there was almost nothing left to see in it at all. There was only an endless plain of white, stretching on forever without horizon. In the distance — a very long way from them both — the Doctor was sitting on the rim of an old TARDIS console.
“It smells of fish,” Chris said blankly to her mother. Her mother only nodded, because it did.
They’d both come to the console before too long: the Doctor waved at them and they nodded back. Perhaps she hadn’t been as far away as she looked. They would always play tricks on you, these strange machines.
“Where’s he gone?” said Chris to the Doctor. “The other Doctor.”
“Far away,” said the Doctor.
“Did you kill him?” said Chris.
“Don’t be silly,” said Lorna. “She’s just sent him somewhere he won’t be able to hurt people.”
She paused and frowned.
“Didn’t you?” she asked the Doctor.
“That depends,” said the Doctor. “Which d’you think would be worse?”
Chris thought about it.
“I don’t know,” she said.
The Doctor sighed.
“Neither do I,” she said.
There was an uncomfortable silence that wouldn’t stop.
“I’d wanted somewhere in the universe to be safe,” said the Doctor. “For as long as it could, and I hoped it would all last forever. If I couldn’t save them, I could save somewhere from making that choice”–
“You don’t have to justify yourself,” said Lorna. “Not now.”
The Doctor wasn’t looking her in the face, and Lorna had come to know what that would mean.
“We need to talk alone,” the Doctor said to Chris. “Just me and your mum.”
“But”– said Chris.
“This’ll be the last time,” said the Doctor. “I promise.”
Chris looked witheringly at her in the way that they’d both become used to, but she did walk away in the end. They watched as she went out across the whiteness, over the endless nothingness that stretched on.
“I need her there, Lorna,” said the Doctor once Chris had gone. “I know it’s unspeakable. But no one else can do what she can do. But I don’t know”–
–“If I would come as well,” finished Lorna.
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “That.”
The console was humming gently, oblivious. Lorna could only look down at the floor.
“I can’t face going,” she said quietly. “Not if it means seeing my child die. I’ll do so much, but I can’t do that. Please. Don’t make me go and do that.”
The Doctor sighed.
“No,” she said, “Of course you can’t.”
“And you can’t make her go,” something screamed in Lorna’s mind, the fury of it taking even her by surprise. Every primal instinct told her she should run, to take her child and get as far away from the Doctor as she could. And maybe that was the wrong thing and maybe then trillions would die, but they’d still both be there to feel the guilt of that, be alive to know they had done wrong…
...The Daleks were driven by hatred and nothing else. That was how cruelty would spread in all of the places they came. But she saw now how that wasn’t true for people, how the truth was buried deeply because of the pain. It happened because if you did nothing it would always happen. It was part of what people were, and what they did.
The Doctor would fight the monsters, and the Doctor would save us all. But she’d run from the day when those things couldn’t be squared, when the most human thing to do was the most monstrous one as well. And as Lorna thought that she knew she’d been running from it, too: that there were thoughts we all fled from because they were too terrible to be true. And this was the secret that even the Doctor had run from: that the worst things in the world might not start with hate, but with love.
“You’d kill me, wouldn’t you?” said Lorna softly to her friend. “If I tried to save my child. Even after everything we’ve been through. You wouldn’t even hesitate.”
“No,” said the Doctor. “Because I know that you’re not going to do it.”
“No,” said Lorna. “I mean, yes. Of course you do. But… let me pretend, okay? Let me believe that there was a choice.”
The Doctor nodded. “If that’s what you need.”
“It’s not,” said Lorna. “I need all this not to be happening. To be living in a world that isn’t this.”
“All of us are only where we find ourselves,” said the Doctor. “All we can do is the best we think we can.”
Lorna looked at her desperately. She felt like a great chain of Superior Beings was stretching up to look down on her, stuck at the bottom as the most wretched one of them all. For the first time she actually wanted the Doctor to judge her, but the idiot couldn’t even get that right. Instead she just looked grave, like a parent breaking news.
“You know what we are,” said Lorna. “All of it, the worst and the best. You’ve always known. And you still think we’re something that should be saved.”
The Doctor smiled in a very small way.
“Because it’s not all you are,” she said. “And this; what you’re about to do. The Doctor is nothing next to it.”
There was something in her voice that said she knew what she was talking about, but Lorna knew better than to ask.
“This isn’t how I wanted this to go,” said the Doctor. “It’s not how I hoped it would end.”
“No,” said Lorna. “Of course it isn’t. I– there’s something I want to say before you’re gone.”
She swallowed and tried to speak without the tears.
“It’s… since knowing you,” she said. “No matter how much you do for anyone, you’ll never believe you’re someone good. But you are, Doctor, you really are. Even here, where nothing can be good. You do as much to do right as anyone could. And if this is the end for all of us, I wondered… if you could forgive yourself. For whatever you’re running from, or atoning for. Let yourself know that you’re redeemed.”
The Doctor gave her the best smile that she could.
“Lorna,” she said. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”
Lorna laughed, quickly and mirthlessly.
“I need to go now,” she said. “I need to talk with Chris, before it ends.”
She tried to find the right words for the situation, but they weren’t there. And she found herself wondering how many languages the Doctor would know, and whether there would be the right words in any of them.
“There’s one more thing,” she said.
“Me too,” said the Doctor. “It’s”–
“I was wrong about you,” they both said at once.
They looked at each other, and there was no animosity left anymore.
“Come here,” said the Doctor. “Come here.”
They hugged each other tightly for the final time.
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Lorna walked out through the whiteness until she finally came to her child. She was staring at the floor, but that was okay; she gently knelt down to take her hand. Chris didn’t look up, but that was okay too. They had no time at all before the universe ended, but at this point she couldn’t give less of a damn.
She was a mother talking to her child for the last time. That was a cliche, wasn’t it? It was such a bloody cliche because everything awful was. And when awful cliches happened to you they were still nothing like all the times you’d seen them on TV. This was like nothing else in the world, even if it had happened a million times.
“I’m scared,” said Chris, not taking her eyes off the floor.
“That’s because this is scary,” said Lorna, gently squeezing her daughter’s hand.
“And I don’t want to die,” said Chris, still staring hard at the ground.
Lorna knew that she couldn’t cry, not here. She kept herself as calm as she possibly could.
“No,” she said. “I don’t want you to die either. I really, really don’t want that at all. But”–
She took Chris into her arms and her daughter looked up at her, still not meeting her eyes.
“What do you want more?” Lorna asked. “Really? To save the universe or to be alive? It’s an easy question when you don’t actually have to decide.”“Like The Doctor,” said Chris bitterly.
“Like her. She’s not really known death like that. She’s avoided it. She’s lived in a world where you don’t really have to choose. And I’d give anything, love, for that to be true for us too.”
Run, you stupid idiot, she was screaming internally at Chris, because she knew it wouldn’t ever occur to her daughter to be selfish. She’d raised her to be good, like a stupid idiot. Why the hell would you ever make sure that your child was good?
“I’m going to go with the Doctor,” said Chris.
Lorna smiled like she was proud, but she knew her eyes gave her away.
“I always knew you’d do something amazing,” she said softly to her daughter. I just wish it’d been a little bit later on. And I love you,” she added. “You’re the most wonderful girl in the world. Really. You actually are.”
Through the tears in her eyes nodded over to the Doctor.
“And she’ll tell you that, as well!” she said. “She’d know it. There’s nothing she doesn’t know.”
They hugged very tightly still sat down on the ground.
“Goodbye, Mum,” said Chris.
“Goodbye, love.” she said. “Now go on and save the whole universe.”
She watched as her daughter got up and walked away. Chris might look back, Lorna knew. She would have to stand and smile as she walked to the door with the Doctor, however hard it might turn out to be. This was a TARDIS, after all. It was a place where impossible things could happen.
There was only one thing she could think of to make it better. How in some classroom long ago a teacher had told them about history, and how everything they took for granted had only happened because of human sacrifice. He’d said there were billions of ordinary people who’d all done extraordinary things, how it was only because of them they had a classroom to sit in at all. And he’d said her class were lucky that they would never know pain as those people had done, and even as a child she’d heard the contempt in his voice. She knew he was saying none of them would be able to make any kind of sacrifice at all, that if they were ever tested then all of them would break. And so it was horrific and it was a triumph, to know there were two ways that he had been wrong.
Her daughter and the Doctor looked back very quickly, and then the door was shut behind them and they were gone. And she fell to her knees as the first sob broke through her body, and she prayed the end of the world would come as quickly as it possibly could.
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Together the Doctor and Chris had walked deeper down through the High Dalek, through its strange gardens lit by an unreal sky. These were what it had grown as a last line of defence, when all of its other weapons were broken and gone. The gardens were beautiful to remind people of everything they were leaving behind, each thing life had that their death would not. Lighthouses, bats, the smell of wood. Eating too much carrot and finding you’d no room to breathe. All of life was reflected somewhere in its beauty. The two of them held hands tightly when they walked by.
They were alone, now, in the shadow of the last elder tree. The garden had fallen away so there was only the darkness and them. They stood there for a while, Chris and the Doctor, looking down the hole that led to the centre of the world.
“It’s a long way,” said Chris, who’d been thinking that all this time. “Won’t it take years to get there? Won’t gravity crush us?”
Her voice echoed softly against the sheer nothingness beyond.
“Space and time’re bunched up this close to the centre,” said the Doctor. “We’ll be there before we know it, maybe literally. Then after that we might both know nothing at all.”
“Perhaps it was enough,” said Chris. “Everything you did; the work of all those people.”
“Perhaps,” said the Doctor. “Although”–
She paused, staring on into the blankness.
“You trailed off,” said Chris.
“I was just thinking,” said the Doctor. “There’s so many others that still have a part to play.”
The dark of the hole was like a starless void, and the Doctor knew that it was now finally time.
“You can stop holding that thought now,” she said.
“What?” said Chris.
“Back in your house, when I told you about the reality bomb. You were going to say that you didn’t think it could work.”
“Oh,” said Chris. “Well, I just thought. If there were lots of different worlds, and there were reality bombs in them all. If we stopped it here it might not matter, because there’d be another me and you who would both fail. And then we’d still die from that bomb, because it destroyed all the realities. One would always kill everyone, in the end.”
“That’s right,” said the Doctor, “but it’s also completely wrong.”
“I thought it was clever,” said Chris.
“And it is! That’s how it would work out, if all the universes worked that way. It’s just not how things are, in the end.”
She looked down into the hole that stretched down into the world, a blackness that almost seemed bigger than the darkness it was built to create.
“There’s one world, out there that we can’t get to,” she said. “And the rest of us all depend on it, so we can keep living our lives. Not one with monsters, or aliens, or a Doctor– but one that all those things need, if they’re to have any meaning at all. And when that world begins to wobble, well. That’s when you can build a reality bomb.”
Chris frowned. “Then the bomb is only here?”
“No!” said the Doctor. “It’s there as well. The fighting it here and there, they’re the same thing in a way. We need to fight as hard as we can; ‘cause it’s the only way we can beat it. But something as big as a reality bomb… I don’t think we can do it alone.”
The Doctor looked at her child companion, and bit her lip.
“There’s something I haven’t told you,” she said. “It’s pretty big.”
Chris looked at her. “A bad thing?” she said.
The Doctor laughed. “The opposite! The best thing! But... you might not see it that way. In that reality, they know about the Doctor. And she’s a bit like me, and she looks like me. But she isn’t me at all, not really. The rest of us, we’re all in that Doctor’s shadow.”
“The rest of you?” said Chris.
“Yes, all of us! Every Doctor anyone ever dreamed. When they needed her to say something, or to be there so that they could be strong. All of us are out there doing something, whatever we look like and whatever we say. The Doctor’s a story that can save someone,” she said, “even if it’s only one person that hears. But we all happened because of a story too, and that story happened because of her.”
“I don’t know why you’re telling me this,” said Chris.
“Because we’re standing in front of the end of the world,” said the Doctor. “And I wanted to tell you the truth. Because I kept so much from so many, and I thought that was a way of giving safety. But lying always wrong, isn’t it? Especially to a child.”
“To a friend.” said Chris.
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “To that.”
“There’s a funny thing about that Doctor,” she went on. “She never should have happened. It wasn’t just one person who told her story. It was loads of them; all with just the right bit at just the right time. A police box here, a Dalek there. Everything a story needed to last forever, assembling itself into that world. Keeping itself told until the Doctor could be more than one person; until she could be anyone. It’s impossible, of course. It should have died out long ago, barely before it begun. But sometimes everything does break exactly right.”
She sighed to herself.
“That Doctor, and that story,” she said, “they’re vital, and they’re beautiful, and important. But sometimes, the world who knows her story… it can seem so afraid of an ending. And I think they’re scared, and scared of being scared; that they won’t face the world as it is. And if they keep on doing that. Not daring to stare at the darkness in case there’s a strange way through. If that keeps on happening then I don’t know”–
Her voice cracked.
“I don’t know that it’s going to be enough,” she said.
She looked down at her friend and squeezed her hand, and smiled.
“But I’m telling you this because you need to remember that sometimes miracles do happen. That you are one. That you’re talking to one. And that nothing can take that away. Whatever happens now, we chose to fight it. And we chose it knowing that we could win.”
Chris was thinking about the story of that Doctor, in that other world she’d never see. About the billions of people who lived there and the endless stories that they’d told– all making universes of their own, each as real and unreal as her own. And she thought about how so much could come out of the most powerful stories, how they made whole worlds change into things that they couldn’t conceive. About how unexpected things could still happen and bring about everything, and how that was the start of everything beautiful in the world. Like her life. Like all life. And like the Doctor.
“Where there’s life, there’s hope,” she said.
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “Whoever I’ve been, in all of the realities. I’ve always believed that, and I always will.”
She looked down gently to her friend and smiled.
“C’mon, Chris,” she said. “We’ve got work to do.”
They took each other hand in hand, and began to walk down to the darkness.
Perhaps this was only the beginning for the Doctor and Chris. Perhaps they would travel to the centre of the world and find that all was not lost, perhaps they’d pull the world back from the horrible brink. And perhaps after that they would keep travelling on for forever, seeing beauty and wonder beyond what a story could hold.
And perhaps they would come to the version of the Doctor that was a city, together to read the book that had once been her too. And in that book would be every story the Doctor had ever lived, and with a cry of delight Chris would find herself within it and realise how much more there was to go. And perhaps as she read she would realise that everyone in that city was the Doctor, that everyone always had been and always would be. That they’d only been pretending to be normal; that she should have known. And perhaps she would laugh with them as they read and spoke to her; remembering what it was to be a child. And all of them would be laughing, all those Doctors, and everything awful was a whole stretch of universe away. Perhaps this was only the beginning.
And perhaps, too, it was the end.
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