The Ends of the Earth 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
Chapter 29: Chapter 29
Chapter 30: Chapter 30
Chapter 31: Chapter 31
Chapter 32: Chapter 32
Chapter 33: Chapter 33
Chapter 34: Chapter 34
Chapter 35: Chapter 35
Chapter 36: Chapter 36
Chapter 37: Chapter 37
Chapter 38: Chapter 38
Chapter 39: Chapter 39
THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
celebrating 58 years since a story began and 59 years since the end of the world
CHIEF SURGEON GENERAL
THE MAN OF THE HOUR
THE TEN VALEYARDS
(Other parts played by unknowns.)
Back to index
The Police couldn’t help with the end of the world; Allie knew this. Not the missiles the Russians were aiming, nor the monsters that chased her like fear. The ones built like policemen, but parodied: the things with the badges for faces and the limbs that were long like brass knives. The police couldn’t save her from monsters because the police would be dead soon, like her. In days, in a week, at the moment the bombs started falling. Some people had hope, but Allie knew this for a fact: it was October, 1962, and it was the month that the planet would burn.
But if she didn’t have hope, she had something else, at least. Enough will was left in her to look for someone, to let them know. The police couldn’t stop the monsters, nor stall the fire. But they could be humans in the brief time that there still were humans, look at her with concern and tell her things would be okay. That wasn’t true, of course – they wouldn’t be – but it was connection she needed, not truth. To know there were other people who felt the same as her. A chance to be together, before they died.
And she’d die before most, she knew that too. It was all she could do not to collapse there and then. In a dark, abandoned street; no one would notice. They wouldn’t have time to find her before the end. Her with her hair half gone, her skin bleach-pale. Eyes red, nails cracked; nerves failing. She could taste the blood that was seeping into her stomach. Her body was falling apart along with the world.
And Allie knew what was happening to her, of course. She’d read the articles when growing up as a girl. Hiroshima, Nagasaki; she’d seen the photos and the symptoms. There were people miles from the blast and they’d died like this. Radiation from an atomic bomb. The bombs hadn’t fallen on London, of course, not yet. But somehow they’d fallen on her a bit too soon.
The police box loomed ahead of her up near the end of the alley. A hazy and wobbling outline through her misted eyes. She was sick enough that her perception of the world was bending, so things looked much bigger or smaller than what was real. As she came up to the police box and flung its doors wide open, she thought the inside might seem to be any size at all—
—but it was the same as they always were, cramped and dull. And yet standing tall inside it was a thing that should never be there—
Skin mushed like paste on paper, like the one from before. A policeman’s helmet, a policeman’s clothes. The badge of the St John’s Ambulance instead of a face. And copper instead of arms, long wire-like things, like hooks or the legs of an insect stretched down past his legs of a man.
“It’s you!” Allie cried. “It’s another one!”
“Ibble ip mim baum,” said the monster. “Toddle dup mon sum.”
It towered over her as her legs gave way, its strange, metallic arms extending out—
—but there was a cry and a flash, something hitting it hard on the side. Broken, it crumpled beside her on the ground, green foam seeping from its paper maché skin.
There was someone peering above them both, someone normal. Not a policeman, though; only a woman. She looked down on them both like a man with a badge for a face was the most everyday thing in the world.
Allie stared up at her, voice now no more than a gasp.
“It’s an alien!” she said. “The alien had a police box!”
The woman above her was a blur of blue and rainbows, who nodded.
“Really?” she said. “That’s unusual. You know what I think about that?”
She looked back at Allie, conspiratorially.
“We’d better not say it too loudly,” she said. “Or all of them’ll want one.”
Back to index
It was days earlier, and the light had grown calm and warm. This far into the autumn of 1962, it felt like it might not be autumn much longer at all— there were trees already almost bare of leaves; you could feel winter breaking out through the gaps to the sky. Leaves mulched under Yaz and the Doctor’s feet as they clomped their way up the road. The world smelled full of mush and rain as they came up to the house where they were staying.
Absolutely none of this was on Yaz’s mind. There was only a haze, a mixture of anger and dread. She’d known the Doctor for a fair while, now, but she still sometimes did things that were impossible to explain. Not in the “alien from outer space” way, either— in a frustratingly human way, like a friend from work whose head was in the clouds. There was no other way to describe someone who’d suggest holidaying in 1962 and not thinking to mention—
“A missile crisis!” she said again, out loud.
The Doctor smiled.
“Like I said, Yaz, It’s nothing to worry about!” she said. “That’s why I didn’t think to mention it.”
Yaz boggled. “How can it be nothing to worry about?” she snapped.
“Because it’s fine in the end! You’re the proof of it. Everything’s tense for a while; the US and USSR glaring at each other. But it’s nothing more than that. You know how many alien invasions your planet’s survived?”
Yaz frowned. “That’s not as reassuring as you think it is,” she said.
They were staying in a top floor flat in a compact and semi-detached flat; one the Doctor had ended up with and then forgotten about. Yaz had been shocked that the Doctor had property in London, and more shocked still that she didn’t seem to care. A real estate portfolio as well as a time machine, while Yaz was stuck as a renter for life in Sheffield. It was true in more ways than one, she thought. The Doctor really was from another planet.
The door to their flat was down the side of a narrow lane, one barely wide enough for a person to squeeze within. In front of it was a garden where a woman was trying to rake leaves, though the pile she made seemed to squelch into mulch as she did. She was small and black and perhaps in her middle thirties, the age someone might think the Doctor was if they didn’t know that she was ancient. There was a grim expression set hard on her face. She didn’t look like someone who thought things would work out in the end.
The woman heard them come up the lane and smiled, though Yaz could see tension straining behind it. The thought the woman was trying not to have; the thing the world was trying so hard to forget. She’d seen it so much in her travels. These days, she even saw it in her mirror.
“Are you two moving in?” the woman said. “I thought that old flat was abandoned. An old bloke used to own it, ages back.”
“Are you his daughter?” she asked the Doctor.
“Something like that. This is Yaz; I’m the Doctor.”
The woman chuckled at that, a weary laugh that said she’d met too many doctors before.
“That’s right, is it?” she said. “And I’m a nurse, up at the hospital here. Judith,” she added, in a way that wasn’t quite friendly enough.
“Nurse Judith!” said the Doctor, grinning, like she’d eaten all the friendliness left behind. “Fancy that! We share all the medical knowledge I probably know. How many hearts you’re supposed to have. Whether women get man flu.”
There was an awkward silence.
“You’re both doctors, then?” said Judith after too much of it had passed. “Down from the North?”
“Yaz has a job in the police force,” said the Doctor. “Doesn’t start for a while yet.”
There was a flash of something on Judith’s face again, the huge thing unsaid that was hanging in the air. That there might be no police force for Yaz to go back to. That there might be nothing for anyone, and very soon.
“You’re a brave girl,” said Judith to Yaz. “A job like that, as someone who isn’t white. I hope you know what you’re letting yourself in for; it’s worse there than it is on the wards. And it’s hard enough there. Believe me.”
“Don’t worry,” said Yaz. “I can handle myself. We’re both tougher than we look.”
“Well, we all have to be,” said Judith. “When it comes to times like this.”
The silence came back again, no longer awkward. It held threatening, ominous. It felt like a weapon itself.
“There’s no need to worry!” said the Doctor, oblivious. “Don’t listen to what they say on the news. All of it’ll blow over, in the end.”
Judith fiddled with the rake, its weight mulching against the leaves.
“That’d be something,” she said, very quietly.
“Trust me. I’m— well. I’ve said that bit already. But it is all going to be fine. I know what I’m talking about.”
“Doctors often do,” said Judith.
“We’ve seen more than people realise,” said the Doctor, missing the subtext completely. “And I’ll see you again, once all of this is over. Make a thing of it, maybe. Three cheers for being alive.”
Judith didn’t cheer, not even once. Her rake looked limp, slack there in her hand. Yaz caught her eye as the Doctor went up to the flat door. A sympathetic look, a tiny nod. Sometimes people needed to know that she knew, too, the way that her friend could often be.
She went through the door that the Doctor had opened, watching as her friend bounded up the concrete stairs, fishing a key from her pocket for the door at the top. Wishing her walk could be as enthusiastic, Yaz followed.
“I think this is the house that still has a boiler,” said the Doctor as she opened the door.
The blast of cold air hit them at the same time as the smell.
“Hang on,” she muttered, “that’s the one up on Tottenham Court Road.”
Yaz once thought it’d be really brilliant, to travel through all time and space.
Back to index
The world felt whiter in 1962, but not just because of the colour of people’s skin. Everyone the Yaz and the Doctor walked past on the busy street looked ashen; shaken. This was nearly sixty years before Yaz’s time, and she knew she should be noticing that. The smell of cigarettes lingering everywhere; the fashions too young to be retro. But all of that was vague, at a far distance. All that was at the front of her mind was fear.
The past was never like it was in the movies, Yaz often thought. It was all both much too old, and far too new. In a film you would see about the sixties everything might seem to gleam: the classic cars and forgotten fashions pristine. But the real cars rusted at the edges, the skirts and the hemlines were frayed. The sixties were too busy living to look like they should be the sixties. They needed to be, if there weren’t many days left to spare.
“It’s funny coming to a place the year before you lived there,” said the Doctor as they walked up the street. “Places you remember that haven’t opened up yet; graffiti missing which nobody’s thought to paint. That wasn’t here in 1963,” she added, pointing to a grand looking building with turrets.
Yaz looked up at it.
“But it’s beautiful,” she said.
“Don’t understand it myself,” said the Doctor. “They really like knocking things down.”
She glanced at Yaz’s face, and her face dropped when she saw it. Hopefully she’d think it was the building that Yaz was looking down about.
“C’mon,” said the Doctor. “Don’t look so glum. Read this week’s Beano!” she added, waving it in her hand. “It’s funny.”
“The Beano’s never been funny,” muttered Yaz.
The Doctor looked over at her, now sympathetic.
“Being here is bothering you, isn’t it?” she said.
“I know you think everything’s going to be okay,” she said, “but it’s hard to believe. For me as well as that Judith. The look in people’s eyes, not quite hopelessness. It”—
She felt her voice catching as she spoke.
“It reminds me of home,” she said.
The Doctor looked at her friend’s face, at the faces of all the people around. Like she was trying to take them in for the first time, to understand.
“I know it’s scary, Yaz,” she said. “Really, I do. But you don’t just have to take my word that things’ll be fine. I can prove it.”
From a pocket she took out an instrument a bit like her sonic screwdriver— long, thin and silver, with a little blue bulb on one end.
“Had this for a while,” the Doctor said. “See? Regular Geiger counter; bit of Doctor magic sprinkled in. Decaying timelines are a bit like decaying atoms; give out a sort of radiation as they break. Switch it on and you’ll hear it; the timeline’s as stable as anything”—
She pushed the button on its side and it started beeping wildly, loud enough for the people passing by to notice. Despite herself, Yaz flinched, recoiling like she’d somehow been shot by the noise.
“No!” shouted the Doctor .”Yaz! That’s— it’s not the right sort of radiation. It’s the normal kind. Like you’d get from a”—
“Nuclear bomb?” said Yaz, very quietly.
The Doctor grimaced.
“I didn’t want to say it,” she said. “C’mon,” she added. “Follow that beep!”
Yaz felt her legs ache as she ran after her bounding friend, sky-blue coat billowing out like a cape. The beep of the Geiger counter grew louder and more frequent as they stormed up the busy street, until they reached a near-abandoned stretch of road where the shops were faded or boarded up. Almost everything there looked ruined and old—
—except a bright, blue police box, its paint not beginning to peel.
The two of them looked at it, uncertainly. Steady in the Doctor’s hand, the Geiger counter continued to blare.
“Stay back, Yaz,” said the Doctor. “That much radiation, it isn’t safe. Not for a human, at any rate. Some of us are made of sterner stuff.”
Yaz weighed up the question neither of them were asking, and decided that it needed to be asked.
“Do y’think it’s you?” she said. “That it’s your TARDIS?”
The Doctor frowned, face scronching with concentration.
“It’s not a version of the box I recognise,” she said. “But I don’t know anymore. There could be loads of me in my future.”
“And in my past. It’s come to something when it’s an alien spaceship you’re expecting in one of these”—
She flung open the police box door and something much worse than an alien spaceship fell out. The corpse of a policeman, cracking heavy on the concrete pavement. Stiff and waxen. He’d clearly been dead for a while.
“Don’t come near him,” said the Doctor, quietly. Clumps of his hair came off as she touched his head. Something about his skin seemed slightly wrong.
“Radiation poisoning,” she said, softly.
She turned round to look Yaz in her face.
“I wasn’t wrong, Yaz,” she said. “There’s nothing interfering with the timeline. Everything’s stable; nothing’s rearranged. Atom bombs don’t fall on this city in 1962.”
She sighed heavily, looking back at the corpse of the policeman.
“But I think he might have died from them, anyway,” she said.
Back to index
The Doctor was engrossed in her gadgets for some time once they got back to their freezing flat. As soon as they got in she shut the door to her room, and over the next few hours Yaz got used to the odd noises that seeped through the walls. The beep of the sonic screwdriver. A horrible banging noise. And the sound of her friend, barely audible, muttering possibilities under her breath.
“Judith’s invited us to dinner,” Yaz said when she finally worked up the courage to enter the Doctor’s room. “I think she’s lonely. Needs someone to talk to, maybe. About everything that’s going on.”
The Doctor didn’t respond, or even seem to notice that Yaz was there. She was hunched over a map of London spread out on her bed, with things she’d stolen from the police box piled up on one side.
“Doctor,” said Yaz, “are you even listening to me?”
She gave a sharp look at her friend, who was licking a policeman’s helmet with her tongue. When she saw Yaz was looking up at her she blushed, looking up and unsure how exactly to arrange her face.
“The police are monsters,” she muttered.
“I know a lot of people think that these days,” she said. “But there are good folk in there; they’re working hard”—
“What?” said the Doctor. “No, I mean they actually are monsters. Aliens,” she added, scrunching up her face. “Things full of goo. The reading’s clear.”
“On your tongue?” said Yaz.
“Sour as anything. Someone’s called down the COPS.”
“Alien police,” she said. “Again.”
The Doctor nodded.
“The Cosmic Ordinance Police Service,” she said. “The Fundamental Forces. Who upheld the letter of the law. You know the Time Lords. These were their... Time Dogsbodies, I suppose.”
“But it doesn’t make sense that they’re here,” she said. They’re only used for something major. I mean really big. They’re armed police; there’s no telling how many arms they’ve got there up their sleeve. They’ll grab you first and ask their questions later. They were outlawed a long way back, before I was born”—
She stopped talking as she heard her own words.
“Before when I thought I was born,” she said, very softly.
“I still forget,” she added, after a while had passed.
“It’s okay,” said Yaz. “I know it must be hard.”
“I think of my family and wonder— did they know? Did my grans know, when they made me that quilt spun of time?”
“Nothing’s simple any more,” she said.
Beside them both, a strange device like a big pile of whisks began to whirr and bleep.
“Except that,” she added. “Tracked down the COPS. The nearest one’s in an alley not far from here. Ready to run?”
Yaz looked back at her uncomfortably.
“Something’s up” the Doctor said.
Yaz smiled sadly.
“This was supposed to be a holiday,” she said. “Alien Policemen and a nuclear war? It’s not much of a break.”
“I know,” said the Doctor gently.
“I’m tired,” said Yaz. “We all are. 2020’s been so hard. Even if you can get away from it.”
“Well, we can take it easy soon,” said the Doctor. “Track down the COPS, wait ‘till a war doesn’t happen, then we’ll all settle down with a big chip sandwich. Something to look forward to, eh?”
Yaz smiled again, wishing she could agree.
But she was thinking that whether in 2020 or 1962, it wasn’t so easy to look forward to things anymore.
Back to index
Darkness had fallen, and Yaz and the Doctor had come back to the street they’d walked down earlier in the day. This was London and the night was young, but everything seemed shockingly quiet to Yaz. There was almost no one walking along the street outside— though the pubs were still open, and those at least seemed to be busy. Yaz looked at the faces in their windows as the two of them passed by, cracking dams holding the water back. Their eyes said everything. They’d clearly had more than a few.
The Doctor was sweeping her Geiger counter round as they walked past the brightened windows, in a big, long arc that drew circles in the air. It was still beeping, but the sound was angriest at a different place: an alley to the side of the one which they’d run down before.
“No police box down there,” said the Doctor, her face set, “but I reckon we’ll come by the police.”
She bounded on her way to possible death, not even pausing. Yaz felt her shoulders sagging slightly, but she did still follow, more reluctantly than she might have done once before. Packed all around her was the human relationship with death. It bought it home all the more, how the Doctor wasn’t one of her.
The alley was deserted and dark, with barely even a window to cast some light. Old metal bins were edged up at its sides; the two of them had to struggle to get through. The smells hadn’t changed, in almost sixty years. Rubbish was rubbish, whenever you happened to be.
There was a figure up ahead, shrouded in gloom. Standing tall behind the bins was a figure, its shoulders almost scraping the alley’s sides. A bit like a policeman, but wrong, too stretched out to be human. Moving like a broken down robot, its arms like insect legs drooping long down. And of course—
—“What’s with his face?!,” said Yaz, horrified.
It was there between his neck and helmet, both police-box blue. No eyes, no nose or mouth, nothing human at all. Just the logo of the St. John’s Ambulance service, staring unhelpfully into their eyes.
“It’s PC gone mad,” muttered the Doctor.
“Wotsall,” said the figure in front of them. “Wotsall, Wotsall.”
“That’s from the Time Lords?!” said Yaz.
“‘Fraid so,” her friend replied. “Must be one of the COPS. They’re trying to blend in!”
“I didn’t say they were very good at it. They’ve got the box and the person inside a bit confused.”
“Disden,” the figure said, in something between a South London accent and a voice like knocks on wood. Its badge of a head looked towards them, looking as startled as it could with a face built without any eyes.
“ Doctor,” it said, like the word was a slur.
A clicking noise came from inside it as it raised its copper limbs.”
“Well, they’ve got one thing right, at least,” said the Doctor with a sigh. “Monopoly on violence.”
One of the limbs zoomed out towards them, extending a long way over the cobbles like a grappling hook. The Doctor leapt back as the limb slammed through where her throat has been, then zipped back into the figure with a whoosh.
“Bigger on the inside,” said the Doctor.
“More fighting, less explaining,” said Yaz from behind a bin. “We’ve talked about this!”
The limbs smashed out of the sleeves of the COP once more, smashing into the stone walls on either side of the ally.
“Those things are strong stuff!” the Doctor cried, nodding at the metal limbs. “He’ll catapult himself towards us at speed!”
“We’ve talked about this! ” yelled Yaz, as the COP catapulted towards them at speed.
“We have?” said the Doctor vaguely as she dove down to the ground.
“You probably weren’t listening!” Yaz cried.
The COP flew past them and kept on going, tumbling into some bins behind. Rubbish splatted over its sparkling uniform, staining it with rot.
“Tobble bit com nole,” it muttered, struggling to its feet.
“He’s not stopping,” said Yaz.
“Then this calls for extreme measures,” said the Doctor. “Thing about the COPS, they’re not really alive. Just big moving lumps like plasticine. That changes things up again.”
She whipped a raygun from a pocket and was shooting it before Yaz was able to cry out. With a wham and a flash a blast hit the COP on the side. It wailed like a siren as one of its limbs fell away.
“Systill!” it cried. “Presanneret!”
“You never said you had that!” said Yaz, nodding at the raygun.
“It’s recent! Got it from a thing on a spaceship; me and a whole load of Russian playwrights against some sort of metaphor for censorship. Bloke who gave me it was annoying, though. Kept saying I should fire it, and I could never figure out why”—
“Maybe fire it now?” said Yaz. The COP was moving towards them again, sparks hissing from its severed limb.
“Right,” said the Doctor. “Less explaining.”
She looked straight at the figure before her, and shot a blast straight at its head. It roared and fell hard to the ground, green goo bubbling out of the womb. It looked vaguely unreal, artificial. Too much like a special effect.
“You shot him,” said Yaz flatly. “He’s dead.”
“They’re not alive,” said the Doctor. “Not even robots. Just a puppet, literally. I cut the strings.”
She whipped round her Geiger counter again, and Yaz heard its furious beeping.
“Radiation from that police box we were at,” said the Doctor. “There’s one still there. C’mon. It’s just up ahead.”
She ran away before Yaz could respond, not even thinking that her friend might not choose to follow her. But Yaz held back, watching as the COP’s shell dissolved.
“Just a puppet,” she said, very quietly.
She felt dull, heavy, not really alive. She’d put her whole reason for living on the Doctor’s shoulders. Now the weight of that life was pressing down hard upon hers.
She sighed, summoning the energy she had left—
—and then she was running to the place where the Doctor had gone.
Back to index
Yaz only saw the battle as light and sounds, distant as she made her way to the alley. By the time she’d got near the police box she saw it was already over, the shell of the COP laid out broken on the ground.
The Doctor was kneeling by the frail frame of a young woman, and from what Yaz could see that woman looked broken, too. Thin hair, red eyes, skin like a film of plastic. With a shock, Yaz realised they were probably about the same age.
The Doctor looked meaningfully up at her, warning her not to approach.
“This is Allie,” the Doctor said. “She’s in a bad way. Radiation ,” she added with a whisper, as if Allie couldn’t have heard.
The Doctor held out a palm towards Yaz, like she was physically holding her back.
“You can’t get too close,” she said. “I can handle it. Humans can’t."
She looked into Yaz’s eyes, matter of factly.
“ I can shake it out of my shoe,” she said.
A joke would have been completely inappropriate in the circumstances, so presumably that must have been true. So Yaz held back, remembering her training. As an officer you had to know when a crisis was being handled. You had to know when there was nothing you could do.
“I’m going to die,” Allie said, softly like it hurt to speak at all.
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.”
The Doctor shook her head.
“Not sorry like that. It shouldn’t have happened. And I’ll find out why it did.”
Allie cackled, trying as best as she could to laugh.
“It’s only a few days I’m losing,” she said.
“No,” said the Doctor. “That’s the thing. See that, down there?” She pointed down at the COP with the ray gun still held in her hand.
Allie shook when she saw the corpse again, having clearly forgotten it was there. She tried to sob, then the sob became mixed with her coughing, and Yaz looked away as the cough became thick with fresh blood.
“Allie,” said the Doctor softly, “Allie, it’s okay. I’m saying that’s an alien. They’re out there, see? And I’m a time traveller; we’re out there, just the same. So you can believe me when I say— the world survives.”
She smiled sadly.
“You do get through this," she said. "I promise.”
She took Allie’s hand in hers, and squeezed it gently. Despite everything that had happened, Allie was smiling too.
She looked back up at the blue box looming over them.
“Are you the police?” she asked.
“Something like it. Me and Yaz over there.”
Yaz nodded over to them both, very awkwardly. Allie smiled back, as best she could.
“I wish I’d found you both in there,” she said.
And then the last of her life had left her, and she was gone.
The Doctor closed Allie’s eyelids over ruined eyes.
“Yeah,” she said softly. “Yeah. Don’t we all.”
And suddenly she was on her feet, looking back down the long alley they’d both come down. Yaz looked over to her, confused, but the Doctor pointed forward into the gloom.
“I can feel it,” she said. “There’s a Time Lord here. A powerful one.”
Yaz saw him in the shadows where the Doctor was pointing. A figure poised and distant, a man both tall and thin.
“This time is safe,” said the Doctor. “But maybe the people here aren’t.”
An ominous beeping blared from the Doctor’s pocket, and she fumbled out her mobile phone. By the time Yaz looked back into the shadows, the figure had slipped quietly away.
“Is that bad?” said Yaz, looking at her friend’s horrified expression.
“Very,” said the Doctor. “I’ve forgotten something extremely important.”
“Judith’s cooking,” she said. “We’re going to be late for dinner.”
Back to index
Tense discussions and troop movements. Battleships moving into position. On the surface the newsreader on the radio was unflapppable, recounting the story that might kill him as if there wasn’t any reason to find it interesting. But beneath the crackle of the airwaves there was a strange weight in his voice. A gravity. It felt like events were pulling the world into a black hole, and now they were pulling his words into them too.
Yaz clinked her knife against her plate, uncomfortably. She looked at Judith, then at the Doctor. None of them were saying anything. Judith had hardly eaten, and the Doctor was stuffing beef into her mouth with her hands.
“I’ll get that radio off,” said Judith quietly. “It’ll be putting us off our dinner.”
Yaz looked down at her food again as Judith got to her feet. Beef and peas. Carrots boiled and pale. Stiff gravy solid, a film over the best china. It almost certainly wasn’t Halal, but she didn’t feel comfortable saying anything. She’d already sat awkwardly when Judith had started to say grace, not knowing whether she should mouth along with the words.
The silence kept on going with the radio off, now even more uncomfortably. Judith’s knife scraped down against her plate as she cut her beef very precisely.
“I’m sorry,” Judith said. “I know I’m not being much of a host. There’s a lot on my mind at the minute. What with— what with everything.”
“She’ll tell you not to worry in a second,” Yaz muttered, gesturing at the Doctor with her fork.
“‘Cause it’s going to be fine”, said the Doctor, without looking up.
“You seem very confident of it,” said Judith. “Are you”—
She flinched suddenly and stopped talking.
“We’re not military,” said the Doctor.
“I didn’t say you were.”
“But you thought it. You stopped talking because you suddenly thought that knowing might get you into trouble.”
Judith looked oddly at her, fork halfway to mouth.
“Then what are you?” she said.
The Doctor sighed and furrowed her brow.
“It’s an interesting question,” she said. “The fact of it is”—
“We’re time travellers,” said Yaz.
“What’s the point in hiding it? She’s an alien and I’m from 2020,” she said to Judith apologetically. “I know it’s a lot to take in.”
Yaz wasn’t sure she’d have said that back when Ryan and Graham had been around. But now, her world contained so much more. Pandemics and nuclear weapons. The deaths of people because they weren’t the right kind of people, in the past and the present and maybe the future as well. Once, she’d told Ryan that maybe things always got better. But the Doctor had known they wouldn’t, and she’d never said.
Judith was shaking her head. “Time travellers?” she said. “That can’t be true.”
“The universe is big enough for it,” said the Doctor.
“Not that,” said Judith. “It’s”—
She stared down at her plate.
“There won’t be any world in 2020,” she said, very quietly.
“There is,” said Yaz. “I mean, it’s not doing great. But it’s there.”
“You’re telling me you’re from a city on the Moon?”
“I’m from Sheffield,” said Yaz. “About as much life there.”
Judith shook her head.
“Sheffield won’t be there next month, let alone next century,” she said. “You can’t convince me this isn’t the big one.”
“It isn’t,” muttered the Doctor with a mouth full of peas.
“I’ve always said it,” said Judith, finally coming out of her shell. “All this space age rubbish. It’s to cover up what the future really is. Rockets carrying us to the stars, when really they’ll be launching bombs to our houses! It’s all about war, when you scratch a bit under the surface. And we’re overdue another one.”
“It’s hard to see the point, in a world like this,” she said. “To keep on going.”
“And you find it hard?” said Yaz. “To live in the world.”
There was no response. Yaz recognised the look in Judith’s face, the effort it took to hold the emotion in. She’d seen it too much, with the Doctor, in the force.
“Judith,” she said firmly. “You’ll be okay, yeah? Okay in yourself. Whatever happens.”
She smiled, as genuinely as she could.
“It’s not so great in my time, either,” she said. “I mean, it’s not this bad. Maybe it sometimes feels like it. There’s a virus, spreading across the world. She won’t even tell me when it’ll end,” she added, pointing her thumb at the Doctor. “But”—
“I know,” said Judith softly. “I know.”
They were all silent again.
“Sometimes it seems like the only way out is killing yourself,” Judith said. “But you have to go on.”
Yaz tried not to let the worry show on her face. Internally, she took a very deep breath.
“There’s hope, Judith,” she said. “Not just that you’ll get through this. We met Rosa Parks, in 1955. People like her, they change the world. They make things better”—
She’d said something like that to Ryan, when they’d been there in 1955. He’d not looked convinced way back then, and Judith seemed similar now. But as she said it again Yaz felt how much she’d changed, how her own belief in the future had been shaken. She hadn’t known what was coming just down the road. How much fighting they all had still to do.
Judith fidgeted with her fingers uncomfortably.
“It’s terrible,” she said. “But sometimes… when I think of people doing astounding things. Changing the world, like you said. It makes me think that I’ll never do anything like that.”
“A lot of the people who did once thought the same,” said the Doctor.
“I want to make a difference,” Judith said. “But sometimes I find myself hating the people who do. Like Doctor Clayton.”
The Doctor and Yaz flashed a look at each other.
“Doctor Clayton,” the Doctor said.
“At the hospital,” Judith said. “She’s a woman and she’s black, and she’s a doctor, too. Imagine it! There was a newspaper article about her, what she’s achieved. But you know she’ll never let you forget it. And you think, she’s managed that, and it’s all I’m doing to keep going!“
She stopped briefly, and when she started talking again there was a bitter edge in her voice.
“She doesn’t get half of the stick the rest of us do. People refuse to be seen by us, by the black nurses. No one’d ever dream of refusing her. And they talk about people like Rosa, when they talk to her. Say that they’re very good examples.”
“You don’t want that,” said Yaz.
“That isn’t the point,” Judith said. “It all makes you feel less than human.”
That might be ironic, Yaz thought, if Doctor Clayton was who she sounded like.
“It’s horrible when people look down on you,” said the Doctor carefully. “And what makes it really bad, it’s when they’re peering down at you from their glasses, looking disapproving.”
“She does do that!” Judith said.
The Doctor threw down her fork. “She’s me,” she said.
Judith boggled at her.
“I’ve changed a bit since then,” said the Doctor apologetically.
“She’s an alien,” said Yaz. “She does alien things. Like changing bodies.”
“That’s how you know everything’s fine!” said Judith excitedly. “Because you remember being her”—
“Not exactly,” said the Doctor. “I don’t know much about this version of me. Not even what she’s doing here. I don’t remember.”
She looked at Judith determinedly.
“So I’ll have to find out,” she said.
“Oh,” said Judith. “But you won’t mention me, right? Only I don’t want any bother. Not with everything that’s going on.”
“I won’t,” said the Doctor. “But trust me, Judith,” she added wearily. “I’m worried the bother might only just be beginning.”
Back to index
The October sun hung cold in the windows of the hospital the next morning, shining grey light on the Doctor’s coat, turning it dull. Everything was pallid at this point in 1962. The patients, the workers, the sky. A hospital was often a waiting room, and maybe the whole world was, too. A place strung out through anxiety and tedium. Somewhere you’d spend time endlessly, as you waited for an end to come.
Yaz had refused to come with her, and the Doctor had a feeling she knew why. Her friend had withdrawn into herself more and more since they’d spent some time in 2020. She could pretend that was because of the business with the statues, or from seeing a sea full of gods. But the Doctor knew Yaz better than that, even if she didn’t always know to be letting on.
Her mind was enormous, but Yaz somehow filled it up entirely. Up through the wood-panelled corridors of the hospital, past floors and rooms stinking of disinfectant. She was lost in thought all the way to the cancer wards, where she’d been told that Doctor Clayton would be.
Somehow, the Doctor’s former self was evading detection, but she didn’t seem to be trying very hard. Her black and white photo was there at the ward reception, the name DOCTOR CLAYTON in capital letters below. She looked out both solemnly and with a smile, a single black woman in a sea of white men. That was Doctors for you, though, wasn’t it? And maybe in more ways than one.
And she was just as easy to find when the Doctor entered the ward. Turning round, startled, the only conscious person in the room. On every bed was a frail and shrunken figure, barely living. She almost looked like she was watching over a morgue.
Her coat was white now, something like a medical doctor’s— but everything else about her was still the same. Her colourful shirt, her glasses. Her expression as she looked at this newcomer, mildly bemused.
“I’m sorry,” this Doctor said to her future self. “These aren’t visiting hours. We aren’t making exceptions in the circumstances, either. Hopefully we all have a few more hours left.”
“You’re not much for bedside manner,” said the Doctor.
“And you’re not much for fashion. Even in a decade like this.”
“You’re rude, aren’t you? I forgot that you were rude.”
The other Doctor laughed. “Was there a previous engagement I’ve forgotten?” she said. “Only I don’t remember having the pleasure.”
“Timestreams,” the Doctor said. “You won’t remember me. But if I stay here enough they should start to come into sync.”
The other Doctor frowned. “I am getting something,” she said, rubbing her temples. “A future version of me! So many colours. Not great at coats. A strangely unappealing personality.”
The Doctor now frowned as well.
“No,” she said, “that’s one of the other ones”—
“It was you!” said the other Doctor excitedly. “When I was human. And after I stopped being human! You were there.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “And back then you were similarly complimentary."
“Well. I’m under some stress, as you can tell. Things have only gotten worse since I ran up and down this planet’s timestream. I’ve been camping out here for some time— but all sorts are attacking the hospital, hunting me down. There’ve been a fair number of... mishaps, let’s put it like that. But I’m still here.”
“Even without the monsters I’d be impressed,” said the Doctor. “A black woman doctor in 1962. You haven’t made it easy for yourself.”
The other Doctor grimaced.
“You can’t even imagine,” she said. “After this, I’ve a good mind to take it easy. Be a white man for a number of bodies. Maybe more than a score”—
She was cut off by an ominous clank of metal, then human screams rising in the distance.
“It’s the COPS!” the Doctor shouted.
Her other self boggled. “Not the Cosmic Ordinance”—
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “Them.”
“Then it’s worse than I thought,” said the other Doctor. “I was sure the Division’s lackeys couldn’t track me. But the two of us together might be enough of a signal.”
“You’ve led them right to me,” she said.
“Not on purpose,” said the Doctor, slightly lamely.
“I’m remembering something else about you,” said the other Doctor.
“I found you annoying.”
“Oh,” the Doctor said.
Her holiday wasn’t turning out like she’d hoped it would at all.
“The scraping and clanging of long metal arms was getting louder. There were more screams from the corridors, then nurses and doctors running by…
...then two Doctors watched apprehensively as something between a policeman and a spider clanked into view, metal arms erupting from several points on its torso.
“Dubbledokil irt,” it said. “Sleefalirm.”
“I hope you’re able to handle yourself,” said the other Doctor as she picked up a scalpel from a nearby tray, holding it in a way that did not suggest a philosophy of pacifism and non-violence.
“More than you might think,” said the Doctor grimly, drawing her ray gun out to fight once more.
The other Doctor nodded. “You’re not only rainbows, I see.”
“Not at all,” the Doctor said. “You’re not sure if I’m qualified for the job? At least now I have the chance to prove it.”
The metal limbs of the COP were smashing into the roof as it rose its body into the air—
—and the two Doctors moved forward as one, and began to fight—
Back to index
—and the COP was firing arms from its sides all over the hospital ward, smashing into the floor and the roof as its body rose above them, now suspended. Some of the arms were giant, much bigger than the ones the Doctor had seen before, and they held the alien policeman firm as it stared at them with its eyeless head.
“Nobble nip mon burr,” it said. “Scrumpers.”
The Doctor fired ray gun blasts at some of the COP’s lower arms, but these ones were stronger than the ones from the night before. The blasts burned the arms until they glowed white hot, but they remained firm, holding the COP from the ground.
“Make sure it keeps clear of the patients!” the Doctor cried, as another arm shot from the alien’s torso, smashing hard into the wall.
“It’s not like they’ve got long left!” the other Doctor shouted.
“They’ve got long enough!” the Doctor cried. She grabbed onto a nearby arm, which was swinging and smashing round, and large enough for a woman to clamber upon. Grimacing, she slowly began to climb.
“Tibble naut caux im,” warbled the COP. “Torill bit nin gam.”
A massive metal arm burst out of its chest, flying out towards the other Doctor. Without flinching she flung herself to the side, as the arm smashed into the wooden floor where she had been.
“Long arm of the law,” she muttered, getting back onto her feet.
“Not much cop,” said the Doctor, as the arm she was on flung wildly around.
They nodded at each other slightly, acknowledging how clever they were.
“It’s nice to have someone who appreciates my sense of humour,” said the other Doctor.
“Laughing at your own jokes.”
“You don’t have to put it like that.”
The Doctor was taking out her sonic screwdriver with one hand, the other firmly wrapped round the arm of the COP. More, smaller arms erupted out of the alien’s body, swiping at the Doctor as she tried to clamber up high. Before she could react one whipped around just above her outstretched hand, hitting her sonic screwdriver to the floor.
“Indiscriminate use of arms!” the Doctor cried. “That’s definitely a violation of something.”
Below her, the other Doctor was picking the sonic screwdriver up from the floor, ignoring the swiping of several metal arms as she did so.
“You said you didn’t need a screwdriver!” the Doctor shouted.
“I don’t,” said her older self. “I just muddle through with whatever rubbish I find lying around.”
The Doctor scowled, and thought better than to say anything. She hauled her way to the top of the giant arm, to the space where the body and head of the COP were held.
“It’s funny, though!” she said as she took out her ray gun. “You with a screwdriver, me with a blaster. Walk a mile in each other’s shoes.”
“We’re the same person!” shouted the other Doctor as she repelled a slew of arms with a sonic blast. “Our shoes are each other’s shoes!”
She watched as the Doctor leaned over the head of the COP, then started bashing it with the heel of her gun.
“Or at least that’s what I’m trying to believe,” muttered the other Doctor from the floor. “That end of a gun’s not the useful one for violence!”
“Can’t risk missing. A blast could kill someone.”
“I’ll bet you use none of your tools to their full potential,” said the other Doctor as she waggled the sonic screwdriver. “I bet you’ve not even used this thing to do hypersound!”
“Because hypersound’s banned!” said the Doctor as she kept thwacking her gun against the head of the COP.
“Not in times of war.”
“This isn’t a time of war”—
“Oh, it is. I made sure of it. I wrote the conventions. This is by the book.”
“Hypersound,” said the other Doctor grimly, fiddling with the screwdriver’s innards with her nail—
—and then there was something like a silence a person could never have heard. Like if sound had become louder than sound, and just as painful, like it was filling every part of the air and the bodies in it and was solid in the pulsing room—
—and the COP exploded into a pile of goo.
The Doctor fell down from the mess onto the floor, a bit too heavily.
“That’s not the way to protect yourself while falling,” said the other Doctor.
“At some point I forgot what I knew about practical anatomy,” said the Doctor through the pain.
She got to her feet and looked at the ruined ward. The patients still alive, the live-giving machines stlll working. But everything covered in a mixture of metal and goo.
“You do realise after a fight like that what a terrible mess it makes,” said one Doctor.
“Yes,” said the other one. “You do.”
They smiled at each other knowingly.
“Y’know,” said the Doctor. “After that I feel a bit like myself again.”
“Yes,” said the other Doctor. “So do I.”
Back to index
Now the fight was over, the Doctor looked around the ruined hospital ward. Pipework was visible through holes in the shattered floor. Green goo dripped down the walls, sliding down over the patients and their beds. Her own coat was damp and stained with green, but the mess hadn’t seemed to have touched the other Doctor at all. She looked as clean and professional as she had before the fight, as if all of this had merely been another new medical procedure.
“How’re you going to explain all of this?” the Doctor asked her other self.
“I usually say there’s been a problem with some new equipment,” that other self replied.
“And people believe that?”
“I doubt it. But I they’re usually too intimidated to ask more.”
She bristled the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver at a blob of goop, and frowned.
“But I won’t be explaining any of this,” she said, “because I have to run. The Division; they’ve given up using intermediaries. Stopped caring if all this is out in the open.”
The Doctor grimaced. “No Judoon any more,” she said.
Her other self laughed.
“The Judoon!” she said. “I’d almost forgotten them. We’re a long way past that now. They’ve hired the worst of the worst to track me down. The Lexligiest, the Angela of the North. People think that the patients are seeing things.”
“And now even that isn’t enough,” said the Doctor. “What did we do? To invest so much in fighting us?”
She saw her other self tense, and glower. A chill air seemed to settle behind the frames of her glasses.
“Maybe it’s a question of what we refused to do,” that other self finally said. “The Division don’t have much time for moral standards.”
“Says the woman who manipulated someone into shooting themselves.”
The other Doctor didn’t smile. “Maybe that tells you something about how bad the Division are.”
“I’ve risked a lot coming back here,” she said. “I didn’t think they’d make an attack so openly. They don’t like to be seen to interfere. And I don’t have a lot of time.”
She looked her other self right in the eyes.
“I need to get back to the TARDIS,” she said. “And you should get back to yours, too. It won’t just be me they’re coming for.”
“I got out of jail once,” said the Doctor.
“We’re not talking jail anymore,” her other self said. “The worst punishments of the Time Lords? Even I never found out about them.”
“Oh,” said the Doctor glumly. “I did.”
“Then from your face maybe I’m better off not knowing.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “Maybe.”
She let herself pull a massive grin that she knew would end up looking unconvincing.
“You’re still Doctor Clayton, I see,” she said brightly. “Still a Ruth.”
“I am,” said her other self. “Have you decided to go for a change?”
“John Smith. Might need to work on that a bit.”
Her other self nodded. “Then keep fighting, Doctor Smith.”
The Doctor nodded back. “Doctor Clayton.”
“‘Till our timeline crosses again.”
It hadn’t been the most productive meeting in the end, accidentally leading her enemy right to her other self. But the Doctor was nothing if not optimistic, even when people asked her to stop. She had an idea she knew how to find out more about where the Division were hiding, one she didn’t think would even occur to her other self.
Doctor Clayton wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary here, because she didn’t know what ordinary even was.
But Doctor Smith knew someone who knew ordinary very well.
And she might be very good at spotting when something was wrong.
Back to index
There was a red telephone box outside the hospital with no police box beside it. It felt smaller on its inside, like it had been designed for something thinner than a person. The Doctor fit within it as she dialled Judith, but only just: her giant coat filled up the space like some kind of fabric wrapping.
“It’s the Doctor, from upstairs!” she said brightly when she heard the phone pick up at the other end. “ I’m at your work!”
“Doctor!” said Judith’s voice, sounding alarmed. “How did you get my number?”
“I’m very clever!”
“That’s not an answer.”
“I went through your things. The point is, I’ve just met Doctor Clayton! And she’s me, just like we thought.”
“I see. And you definitely didn’t mention me, like we said?”
“Too busy being attacked. I’m trying to work out who by. And that’s why I’m calling, you see.”
The Doctor frowned.
“I was wondering,” she said. “Have you noticed anyone strange when working here? Not eccentric, or actually unwell. They’re different things. But anyone… who didn’t quite fit in. In a different way.”
There was silence on the line.
“People like me,” said the Doctor. “Or Doctor Clayton. But that’s fine. It’s people like me who we’re looking for.”
There was more silence. Finally, Judith spoke in a very small voice.
“You’ll think little of me,” she said. “But we know how people treat us. The staff who aren’t white. We’re always seen as less, even when they don’t say it out not loud. But that’s not true of Doctor Clayton. And – well – it’s not true of him, as well.”
“It’s probably nothing,” she said.
“But maybe it is,” said the Doctor.
“Maybe. I thought— that Porter. He’s just like her. People’re always saying you have to know your place; you can’t question that, not in a hospital. There’s the doctors and the nurses and the porters way below. But his place? It could be by the Queen of England, or above her. It doesn’t matter about his station, or the colour of his skin. He gets a respect the rest of us never would.”
“And you envy that,” said the Doctor.
“I know I shouldn’t,” said Judith.
She sighed, a hiss of static down the line.
“People wouldn’t give him half of what I get,” she said. “And all he does is lug things around. I’m saving lives.”
“He might be doing a fair bit more than that,” said the Doctor. “I wonder if he’s not really a porter at all.”
“You think so?”
“Honestly? A man who thinks highly of himself isn’t much of a lead. But it might be something.”
“You think he’s another one of you?” said Judith.
“Oh, no,” said the Doctor. “I think he might be a Lord of Time.”
“Right,” said Judith.
“I always knew it was quite an unusual hospital,” she added, weakly.
“You’re a star, Judith,” said the Doctor. “Your help’s just as good as your cooking.”
“Well. I do what I can.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “And that’s all we can do, isn’t it?”
But she was glad Judith couldn’t see her face on this end of the line. Haunted. Concern mounting on her brow.
Because a part of her was starting to worry that maybe all they could do wasn’t going to be enough.
Back to index
It wasn’t hard to find the Porter, once you knew that you should be looking for him. A few questions in the right places, a few people who’d say there was no one who matched his description. A few furrowed brows when they stopped and said, no, there actually was, in the rooms at the bottom of the older buildings, near where all the construction was underway. A nice man, they’d say, although they didn’t actually say why. And under their voices the Doctor heard the tiniest suggestion of fear.
He was in a shabby break room, sitting alone. Tall and thin and poised, like a predatory stick. Clothes more suited to a lost prince than a porter. Sometimes it was hard to tell if the person before you really was a Time Lord— and sometimes it really wasn’t, not at all. The Porter didn’t just look like he owned the room. He looked like he owned the whole galaxy.
“Mark Jones,” he said, stretching out a hand as the Doctor entered.
“That’s a very common name,” said the Doctor, not extending hers.
“I’m a very common man,” said the person in front of her, who’d probably never been a Mark Jones at all. His hand remained in front of him, like ice.
“You don’t give that impression,” said the Doctor.
“Grace and poise are not only the pursuit of the upper classes, Miss”—
“Doctor. Doctor Smith.”
The Porter smiled. “A very common name.”
The Doctor scowled.
“There’s a lot of people called Jones in Wales,” she said. “That where you’re from?”
He shook his head. “Somewhere much further away. You wouldn’t have heard of it; it’s very remote. A place called Gallifrey.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of it,” said the Doctor. “The architecture’s very pretty there. Timeless.”
The Porter nodded slightly, eyes narrowing.
“Although,” said the Doctor, “I’ve heard there’s increasing division”—
“Let’s drop the charade,” said the Porter. “I know there are those within the Division who don’t approve of what we’re doing”—
“Like the Doctor.”
“Well. We have been tracking her. And it looks like we might just bring her in after all.”
“Not if I have anything to do with it,” snarled the Doctor.
“A woman in a coat that’s far too big for her,” said the Porter. “Oh no.”
“And you’re a man whose ego’s too big for him,” said the Doctor. “Pride comes before a fall. Lay off the COPS.”
“Not until the end. If it helps, I’d still say that if I actually felt threatened by you.”
“You don’t know what you’re up against,” said the Doctor. “And you’ll never win. You know you never do.”
The Porter smiled. “To me that sounds like complacency,” he said.
“Well, to me that sounds like… a smarty pants!” spluttered the Doctor.
“Insulting my intelligence by saying I have a lot of it. A novel approach.It’s like what I’d already expected. You’re not quite what you used to be.”
The Doctor narrowed her eyes.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, I’m sure you have an idea already, Doctor Smith. I went through the records from the Judoon. They’d arrested a fugitive Doctor. Not the right one. But they did leave a description.”
“Guilty as charged,” said the Doctor, her mouth now forming a snarl.
“You’re lucky you’re not always like this,” said the Porter. “And we’re lucky you’re not always like her. I’ll be honest. A part of me is sad to see you sunk so low. I’ll bet you don’t even remember what this old thing might be.”
From a pocket in his trousers he took out a small doorknob, bronze and engraved with something like a Celtic design. It hovered above the palm of his hand, unbothered by gravity.
“Oh no, that,” said the Doctor. “I know all about that. Call me Ms Knowledge of… uh… Knowing Island”—
“The CULLIS is not a device that opens doors,” intoned the Porter as he ignored her completely. “As much as it opens your eyes. To the corridors that were always really there. To possibility…”
He took the CULLIS into his hand and held it to the air, like the knob was just one part of a wide and invisible door. And as he did the Doctor saw just what he had meant: how if you slipped behind the plastic chairs you might slip into a distant meadow, or if you ran towards just the right point in the wall you could find a corridor through all of time and space. Routes to other places that were everywhere, if only you had eyes to see—
“You’ve forgotten how much is out there, Doctor,” said the Porter with a smile. “But there’s still a possibility you might have missed. You can leave. Now. Keep the past to the past, before we slam another cell door in your face.”
“Never,” said the Doctor. “Whatever you might think of me. I am still the same old woman I know you fear.”
“Even if you are,” said the Porter. “You’ve no idea what you’re up against. Even we don’t know. But it is extremely strong. Impossibly powerful. And there are worse things to be running from than the Division.”
The Doctor tried not to look alarmed at the news she was up against anything.
“Until we fight again,” said the Porter, with a smile surprisingly warm. “Old foe. And older friend.”
–and he turned the CULLIS in his hand and was walking to another part of London, like anyone could have done in that room, if only they’d seen how–
—and then the Doctor blinked, and he was gone.
She looked around the tiny room, so cramped and normal. There weren’t any windows. The only possible exit was the door.
Just for a moment, the Doctor tried it. Scrunching up her face, focusing her mind. Trying as hard as she could to see all those pathways to other places, which had been so incredibly obvious a moment before. If she focused hard enough she might be able to do it—
—but there was only the room in front of her, nothing more.
Back to index
Yaz knocked on Judith’s front door tentatively, hoping her nerves wouldn’t show. It was late in the morning now and nice for October, a pale sun hanging in the cloudless air. Birds chirped and the garden was full of smells. Nature trundled normally on, unaware of the end of the world.
Judith opened the door just a crack, then swung it open when she saw Yaz on the other side.
“Yaz,” she said. “How did you know I was in?”
Yaz shrugged. “It was a guess,” she said. “You were alright with the Doctor going to your work in the morning. I didn’t think you would be if you might meet her there.”
Judith nodded slightly, still tense but relaxing. “I can see why you became a police officer,” she said.
Yaz shifted uncomfortably.
“Yeah,” she said. “That’s— it’s sort of why I wanted to talk to you”—
Judith tensed up again. “I’ve never committed a crime!” she said.
“No!” Yaz said. “That’s not what I meant. We’re trained to”—
“We know when something’s not right with someone,” she said.
Judith laughed, hollowly. “Why would it be?” she said.
“I know,” said Yaz.
“I bought you a Battenberg cake,” she added, handing it over. “So that’s something.”
“Those’re nice,” said Judith. Her smile didn’t carry to her eyes.
“I wasn’t sure what you do for gifts in 1962,” said Yaz. “I had to look it up on my phone.”
Judith frowned. “You looked up your phone?”
“I wanted to show you. Maybe I’m not living on the Moon in 2020. But some things’ve changed.”
She handed over her big, flat smartphone to Judith, swiping and tapping the touchscreen to unlock it.
“It’s thanks to the Doctor that it works back here,” said Yaz. “In this time; in 1962. But the rest is all by us. It’s because of people.”
Judith swiped her way through the smartphone, her eyes widening as she scrolled through Yaz’s world.
“There’s so much,” Judith said. “Look at all these people writing songs! And what they’re wearing.”
“A lot’s happened,” said Yaz. “But the Queen is still alive.”
Judith kept staring at the smartphone, disbelieving of the device and the future it contained.
“I can’t imagine it,” she said. “How could things go on for that long? The Cold War never ending. Never getting hot.”
“Oh, it ended.” said Yaz. “But it was ages before I was even born. The fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Judith stared at her. “They took down the Berlin Wall?!” she said.”
“Yeah. Well. Someone did.”
“And what, the USSR just lets it happen?”
Yaz shook her head. “There isn’t any USSR any more.”
“What?!” said Judith. She looked like Yaz had told her the Moon was no longer there.
“Yeah,” said Yaz. “It all just falls apart. But I don’t know much about it.”
“Why don’t they strike back?” said Judith. “They’d rather die than see what they’ve built fall apart.”
Yaz felt her stomach clench as she realised she’d never thought about it before. The sense of the planet dying before she had even existed, a solidness in the world dropping away.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“Are they all still there?” asked Judith. “The nuclear weapons?”
Yaz bit her lip, the pit in her stomach now widening into a chasm.
“Yeah,” she said. “I suppose they are.”
“That doesn’t make it sound like you think about them very much.”
“Maybe I should. I don’t think any of us really think of them, where I’m from. They feel like they belong in the past. To your time.”
Judith stared at her in disbelief. Yaz saw several versions of what might be said next flick over Judith’s face, before she chose what she had to say next as delicately as she could.
“Then I’m sorry,” she said. “But I think that your world… should think more about things. Whatever your phones might be like.”
“When I’m here, now?” she said. “I can see why you would think that way. But where I’m from? With the pandemic, and global warming, with everything that’s going on. We’ve enough to be getting on with, without thinking about nuclear war.”
Judith didn’t say anything to that. She still looked like she wasn’t very convinced.
“I was thinking last night,” Yaz. “I’d be just the same as you, Judith, if I met someone from as far away. The time between you and me, that’s what? 58 years? That’s like me meeting someone from 2078. And that… it doesn’t even sound real. The future doesn’t feel real. Even though I’ve been there. And I wanted to talk to you because I wanted to say— that I’m scared too. Even if the Doctor doesn’t notice.”
For the first time in their conversation, Judith smiled in a way that looked real.
“Does she tell you too?” she said. “That it’s all going to be okay?”
“She doesn’t tell me anything! But I wouldn’t find it helpful, anyway. Not after the year I’ve had.”
“I can’t believe it,” said Judith. “That this isn’t the end of the world. Even if she insists otherwise.”
Yaz looked at her with a strange smile, conspiratorially.
“Well,” she said. “I think there’s something she might’ve overlooked.”
She shrugged to herself, very slightly.
“It’s like you said, Judith. I am a good detective. And sometimes I notice what people themselves don’t see. So I think I might’ve got something. With her. And if I’m right the whole planet’s in danger.”
Judith laughed when she said that, and not in a bitter way. It sounded like she was almost happy to hear her world might be destroyed.
“I’m just thinking,” she said. “The Doctor said we’re not in danger and now you’re saying we might be. But I’m reassured by you. I wasn’t by her. Don’t you think that’s ridiculous?”
Yaz shook her head.
“No,” she said. “I think that it’s”—
“It’s human,” she said. “It’s only being human.”
Judith smiled, though her eyes were far away. Both of them were quiet for a while.
“This is too much cake just for me,” she said eventually. “Would you like some tea? I imagine you have that in 2020.”
“We do,” said Yaz, grinning. “And yeah. I’d like that, Judith. I’d like that very much.”
The two of them went into Judith’s house, happy to forget the world just for a while.
Back to index
“So that explains why her TARDIS looked like a police box,” the Doctor said to Yaz, later that day when they’d both returned to their flat. “For the same reason mine did, way back when. She was just hiding out in London in the sixties. A place where it would actually be a disguise.”
“Same reason as the COPS, too, come to think of it,” she said. “Isn’t life funny, Yaz? Full of coincidences.”
Yaz fidgeted awkwardly.
“Yeah,” she said. “Coincidences.”
She took a deep breath.
“Although you have to be sure a coincidence is all it is,” she said. “When you’re a police officer.”
“Then it’s a good job that both of us are sure,” said the Doctor, just a note too sharply.
“That you both just came to the same city at the same time,” said Yaz. “To the same planet. When something massive in history was going on.”
“I came here a year later,” said the Doctor. “It doesn’t fit. Coincidences do happen, Yaz. It’s easy to make too much of them.”
“Doctor,” said Yaz firmly. “Imagine you’re wrong about what happened here. And I’m not saying you are, but if you were— what does it look like?
If the end of the world… if it was supposed to have happened?”
The Doctor furrowed her brow.
“Then it’d have found a way to happen anyway,” she said. “The universe has a way of putting things straight. Making sure things happen the way they’re supposed to, more or less.”
“A nuclear war?”
The Doctor shook her head.
“Doesn’t have to be exact,” she said. “Just something that wipes you out. Like a virus, or climate change, or”—
“Aliens?” said Yaz, very quietly.
The Doctor stopped talking abruptly. She stared back at Yaz, horror in her eyes.
“Not that!” she said. “This has nothing to do with”—
“What if it does?” said Yaz, firmly.
“Then history would make it so that”—
The Doctor stopped talking again as the colour drained from her face.
—“so that aliens attacked the planet and made it die. But if they didn’t succeed; if somebody stopped them? More aliens would attack, again and again. They wouldn’t stop coming ‘till the day that they finally won. But that’d be because of… it’d all come back to here. And if the thing that stopped the aliens was the same thing that stopped this crisis… she might not even notice that anything had gone wrong…”
Hands shaking, she drew the long, thin Geiger counter from her pocket.
“Let’s turn this on,” she muttered softly. “There’s somewhere that I haven’t checked.”
“Give it to me,” Yaz said, gently. “You don’t have to face stuff alone.”
The Doctor shook her head, though only slightly.
“I can do this,” she said. “Really. I can.”
She held the Geiger counter out in her hand, so it was facing the world outside— then slowly turned it around, so the bulb was held up to her chest.
She swallowed, and turned the counter on. And at first there was nothing, just the breathing of them both. But as they waited a slow beep started to come from the device, growing more rapid and then more furious, until it was a low and dreadful drone like the scream of a dying star—
The Doctor looked back up at Yaz, her expression one Yaz knew too well. The same as a parent’s, just after you’d told them. The face they made when they knew that their child would never come back.
“Yaz,” she said.
Yaz knew what she was going to say, of course. But that was another thing you had to know when you were a police officer. Sometimes you had to say things to someone, even though you both knew them already.
“I was wrong,” she said. “It was never supposed to blow over, not really. The Cold War should never’ve stayed so cool. October 1962, before the month is out. London burns; your species dies. Except it doesn’t, because somebody stopped it.”
She looked Yaz hard in the face.
“And it was me.”
Back to index
Yaz had seen the Doctor look shocked before. She hasn’t seen anything like this. Not so long ago, her friend had found out about a past she’d never known. That her species wasn’t hers, that they’d tortured her and stolen what made her special. And she’d recovered, somehow, she’d even grinned. But she was clearly a long way from anything like grinning now.
“I was wrong about everything,” said the Doctor. She sounded dead.
“Well,” said Yaz. “I’d like to pretend I’m surprised.”
“Not just about the Earth. I thought”—
The Doctor sighed.
“I thought I understood why I was doing this. Being the Doctor. Saving your world. Silly to think that anyone understands themselves.”
She looked out through the grimy bedroom window, squinting at the sky and the barren trees.
“It was stupid,” she said. “I thought that it all might have mattered.”
“What did,” asked Yaz.
The Doctor shook her head.
“Nothing,” she said. “A nothing I thought was something. But it doesn’t matter how. What matters is that all of this is wrong”—
She went over to the mattress of her bed, where she’d spread out her map of London again. There were pins stuck into places where the Doctor had scrawled herself notes, in writing which Yaz assumed was English but was still impossible to read. Wincing, the Doctor started plucking hairs from her head and tying them to particular pins, sometimes licking her finger and sticking it down on the map. And then she was rattling her device like a pile of whisks round and round above the mattress, cranking it like she was scrambling eggs and the fate of the world depended on it—
—and then she gasped and stopped churning, as one of the whisks whined and moaned.
“That’s bad,” she said.
As suddenly as it had started the moaning stopped, and was replaced by a soft, cheerful tune.
“That’s much worse,” she said.
“So,” she added. “War’s coming.”
Yaz smiled sadly. Somehow it didn’t have the impact that it should.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m from Sheffield. I’ve seen Threads.”
The Doctor shook her head.
“Nuclear war’s not like that in real life,” she said.
“So it’s better?” Yaz asked.
The Doctor looked grim and didn’t respond.
They were both silent for a moment as the whisk’s jolly tune continued to play.
“I know I should be more worried,” said Yaz. “But it still just doesn’t feel real. It’s a weird thing to say with us going around meeting aliens, but I keep thinking it all feels like science fiction”—
“You’re the science fiction, Yaz,” the Doctor. “This? It’s how the world should’ve been. No men on the moon, no Internet. Not all human knowledge on a phone in the palm of your hand. Just bigger bombs than the Blitz, all falling on London again.”
Yaz smiled sadly. “And I’m supposed to be the one who’s been gloomy,” she said.
The Doctor didn’t seem to be listening. She was looking at the pins on the map again and drawing out her sonic screwdriver, waving it over the mess that she’d made on her mattress.
“Hang on,” she said. “Some of these readings’re different. Like time and space distorting round a central point; other endings seeping through. All the times the Earth could’ve been destroyed. The times I stopped it.”
With the same big marker she’d presumably used to scribble on the map she drew a black circle near a cluster of pins. Gritting her teeth, she then turned back to Yaz.
“That other me and the Time Lords,” she said. “Whatever beef they have; whatever set me down this road. It happens there. Who knows how far back my whole story goes? Not me, that’s for sure. I feel like I know nothing anymore.”
“And you feel like you have to find out,” said Yaz flatly.
The Doctor sighed heavily, blowing out her cheeks.
“Yeah,” she said. “I think so.”
She looked at a point at the wall a long way from Yaz’s eyes.
“You were right, Yaz,” she said. “About this crisis.”
“You didn’t take it seriously,” she said.
The Doctor shuffled awkwardly, uncomfortably.
“Yeah,” she said. “And I’m sorry. I’ve been used to thinking I know everything. And now I’m getting used to being wrong.”
“I’ve felt that too,” said Yaz. “It isn’t the world that I thought it was. It’s been hard to have hope. To keep hold of things.”
“It feels like it isn’t the universe for it,” said the Doctor quietly.
Yaz looked over to her friend, who looked slumped, defeated. She smiled over to her, as best she could.
“Sad Fam?” she said.
The Doctor smiled weakly.
“Sad Fam,” she replied.
They gave each other a half-hearted fist bump and then were quiet again.
“Do you want to come?” the Doctor asked, pointing at the map. “It’s— it’s going to be pretty dangerous”—
“It’s always dangerous,” said Yaz. “Do you want me there?”
The Doctor didn’t respond, looking even more uncomfortable than she had.
“Be honest,” said Yaz.
The Doctor looked at her, her eyes conflicted.
“I can’t lose you as well, Yaz,” she said with a catch in her voice. “And I’ve felt that”—
“Travelling through time and space is supposed to be wonderful,” she said eventually. “And going on holiday in London’s supposed to be okay. You should be having fun. Not getting caught up in all of this.”
Yaz looked around the grimy walls of the Doctor’s bedroom, which right now felt like the least fun place in the world. She wasn’t wild about it. But she knew when her friend had made up her mind.
“Stay safe, right?” she said. “I don’t want to lose you, either.”
“Yaz,” said the Doctor. “If I don’t come back”—
“I know. Emergency Program One’ll get me home. But you will come back. It’s what you do.”
She could see in the Doctor’s eyes that her friend didn’t really believe that.
“I know you’re trying, Doctor,” she said. “And I know it’s been hard. You’re the one who actually lost her planet. Who lost her identity.”
The Doctor smiled. She gave something like a laugh, after everything that could be funny was dead and gone. And then they hugged, tentatively, awkwardly.
“I don’t deserve friends like you,” said the Doctor. “And you’re right I’ve beaten worse. Back before teatime. Set a watch by it.”
Then she flashed something like a smile, and she was gone.
Yaz stood alone again in the flat, feeling chilly, nothing left to do but to think about the end of the world.
Back to index
There were holes in London in 1962. Spaces where bombs had fallen in the war— the last war, and there’d be adults soon who didn’t even remember it. Where nobody had gotten around to building anything, and nature had been allowed to grow back.
The hole the Doctor had come to was a big one. Once, a whole lot of streets had been here, once a whole lot of bombs had changed that in a flash. Now something like a path had been cleared along its middle, which people walked up and down as they went their way through the world.
The Doctor was crouching in the bushes, watching them. She was aware they’d probably be horrified if they knew. Now she was a woman she was a bit more aware of it; how hiding in bushes and staring at people probably wasn’t on. But the world was at stake. She hoped if they knew that they’d understand.
They were coming up the path now, as she waited and watched. The COPS, a great massive group of them. Sometimes people looked at them, confused, but always they shook their heads and looked away. The Doctor knew the excuses they’d have in their minds. Drama students, maybe, or something from the telly. It was easier to get away with being an alien than you’d think.
The Porter was coming up from the opposite direction, she saw, still in his anachronistic clothes, no one paying him any attention either. And no one seemed to notice the static she felt was building beneath the world—
—but she could feel it, now that she knew what to look for. Time fraying at its edges, wearing through. Ready to snap like an ancient rubber band. Below this reality she felt that there were others: different timelines, crackling, nerves under jolted skin. So many monsters in them, all trying to take the Earth down. And so many versions of her, too, she’d never dreamed there could ever be so many, all of them fighting hard in all the other Earths underneath. How long had she been doing this, since the beginning? How far back did her history really go?
The Porter might know, at least, though she wouldn’t have time to ask him. He was standing in the path through the green and brambles, craning his neck up to the sky. And the COPS were standing around him in a circle, their long arms like brambles as well, like metal thorns all tangling together until each of them were bound in a copper ring. And the ring was glowing red, then white, and suddenly cracks were appearing in the sky—
“Fyandect”, moaned the COPS as the sky burst apart into bits. “Uncophense.”
“NO!” the Doctor screamed, although it was no use at all. Radiation was spilling everywhere, enough to kill a human, enough that every living thing native to the clearing wouldn’t be living for long. But the humans on the path hadn’t noticed, they wouldn’t have time to, because they were looking up horrified at the sky—
–at a world which was screaming as clouds were covered up by red handprints–
–at an army of porcelain men unhooking their human faces, to reveal the expressionless masks just underneath–
–at a great rain of eyes with enormous mouths, staring onwards as they barrelled to the ground–
—and at every other threat she’d remembered stopping, at more she hadn’t. At the doom which time said would have to happen, in all its forms. At the crushing gears of fate, and the death of hope.
At the ends of the Earth.
She knew there was no saving any of the humans here. But she couldn’t let herself think about that, not now. The best she could do was to bring the person responsible to justice. And that was all she was thinking about as she was running towards the COPS, was whipping out her ray gun, was shooting one square in the head. It exploded into a mess of greenish goo, and that got the Porter’s attention at last.
“It’s too late to stop us,” the Porter said as she ran towards him. “We already have so much of what we need.”
She barrelled into him and knocked him hard to the ground, sending the COPS flying everywhere. Around them debris was falling from other worlds, robot heads and burning rubble, great lumps of evil styrofoam.
“You’re monsters,” the Doctor growled as she pinned the Porter down on the ground.
The Porter smiled, like he was indulging a child.
“Now, Doctor,” he says. “That’s not quite fair. We merely have a different morality. A different understanding of what is necessary.”
“The Time Lords always did,” said the Doctor, trying to hold him, to prevent him from wiggling free.
“We are not you,” the Porter said. “However much of you there is in us. My people will never be the Doctor.”
“Too right. So many lifetimes; so many adventures. You’ll never be anything more than a shadow.”
It was silly, but she’d hoped the Porter might flinch at that. Instead, he only laughed.
“Don’t you remember?” he said with a knowing smile. “Not everything we are is made from you.”
His right hand was free now even as they wrestled, and from a pocket he bought out the bronze, heavy bulb of the CULLIS.
“Maybe it’s not quite the same as immortality,” he said, looking at it. “But at least it can give us time to finish the job.”
The CULLIS glinted in the light of the sun, and suddenly it was obvious how a person could fall through the world. The Doctor looked round horrified at the hole that was just below her, that had always been there. How could the rubble and the dirt not be falling down it? When it was all that she could do not to tumble into the void—
—If hypersound was legal, said a tiny part of her brain. If you used your sonic at that kind of setting you could align it to his frequency. So you could tell wherever he was. You could track him down.
And she fished her screwdriver out from the depths of her clothes and let its sound roar as high as it could, until the shape of the Porter was imprinted deep in its waves, and she let it whine on and on as she felt the Time Lord push her down the hole, through that wound in the world the bombs of the Blitz hadn’t known they’d left behind—
—she landed hard on a cracked grey pavement and jumped up to her feet. It was a tidy street, just a short way from the clearing, and she ran back as fast as she could towards the green—
—but as she ran she saw the mess of realities fizz and explode, a million timelines cancelling out into fire. And as quickly as she’d seen the explosion it had gone, a horror of nature you’d have to be a Time Lord to see—
—and then she let herself stop, and sag, and sigh. She was alone, now. The COPS and the Porter were no longer here, and the humans would never have existed. Time had a way of knitting itself together, of covering things up when it needed. No one would notice there had even been a hole.
The universe would always find ways of fixing itself. But sometimes it left loose ends. And she was one of them now, the Doctor knew, split like a hair into pieces, a know it all who no longer knew anything at all.
The sun was bright and beautiful in the clearing.
Time ticked on innocently, onwards towards the end.
Back to index
Yaz hadn’t known what to do with herself while the Doctor was away. Not that there actually was much to do, in that odd-smelling flat, once you were finished with judging the wallpaper. It was surprising how barren it was, seeing how the Doctor owned it: no books, no working television, no strange gadgets bundled into a corner. There was a radio, but she didn’t want to listen to it. Anyone would know she was depressed enough already.
The more the afternoon wore on, the more worried she found she was getting. She’d been with the Doctor long enough to know that she always won, against the aliens and the world-ending threats. Against everything. Easy to forget what she was actually facing, each time.
She did know on some level that she still had to prepare for it. There could be a day when her friend just wouldn’t come back.
And her friend hadn’t come back; she’d been gone for hours now. Eventually Yaz found herself on the road outside the house, just waiting. Maybe Judith would notice her, and maybe a part of Yaz wanted that. She didn’t know herself anymore; she usually didn’t. All she knew was that she was anxious, and scared, and tired. All she really wanted was to know that the Doctor would return.
She was worried she was seeing things when she finally saw her friend coming down the road. Just a delusion spun out of hope; she’d now had her fair share of those. But no, that was a coat the colour of the sky, that was a rainbow for a time that was nothing but rain. But her expression—
Yaz knew was always something slightly wild about her friend, which she tried to keep bottled up just beneath the surface. The cork had clearly come off the bottle now. Yaz wasn’t sure if she should think to be afraid.
“I couldn’t stop them,” the Doctor said numbly once she was close enough. “Yaz. I couldn’t”—
Yaz took her gently into her arms. She knew what trauma looked like, and overwhelm. She’d been trained in it. The force hadn’t covered what to do if you were dealing with an alien. But you had to improvise as an officer. You muddled through.
“Is it over?” Yaz heard her own voice saying. “Are we all doomed?”
The Doctor shook her head from inside Yaz’s arms.
“No,” the Doctor said. “But more people’re dead. Like Allie is, and that police officer. So many that I couldn’t save.”
“You can’t save everyone,” said Yaz, trying to feel it. “You know that.”
“Yeah. But I’ll always think that I could’ve done more. I’ll know it, Yaz.”
Yaz knew not to respond. She just held her friend as gently as she could—
—then stopped, her whole body suddenly tensing.
“Judith’s staring at us,” she said.
The Doctor turned round and glared right through the bottom-floor window, where Judith was looking suddenly sheepish. Yaz stared through the glass at her, not sure if she should be angry or apologetic, and Judith somehow looked even more miserable than when she was thinking about the end of the world.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t be looking.”
The Doctor glowered at her through the glass.
“It’s two women hugging,” she said. “What’s to look at?”
Judith looked even more miserable, somehow.
“I didn’t want to make a fuss,” she said. “But you are, aren’t you? You know. You’re not just friends. You’re living in sin.”
Yaz and the Doctor just stared at her dumbly, too shocked to speak, to do anything at all.
“What did you just say?” said the Doctor, soft as a knife in the heart.
“None of us should be sinning at a time like this,” Judith said quietly.
“Jesus called,” said the Doctor. “He says there’s a beam in your eye. And he’s a carpenter, too; he’d probably know about that”—
Yaz looked firmly at Judith, jaw set.
“We don’t do that,” she said. “We’re only friends. We care about each other, have a laugh. But it’s not like that.”
“I hope that’s the truth,” she said. “Because none of us can escape judgement”—
“You’re definitely not escaping it now,” the Doctor snapped.
“Doctor,” Yaz said. “It’s, it’s 1962”—
“There’s things that doesn’t excuse!” said the Doctor, a nuclear war all on her own.
“C’mon,” said Yaz. “Let’s leave it be.”
“I bought you a Battenberg cake!” she added, shooting a glare at Judith.
She took the Doctor by the hand and led her back up the stairs to their flat fast as she could, before anyone could think of saying another thing.
“So rude!” said the Doctor once they were back inside.
“I know,” said Yaz. “It’s another world.”
“I’ll tell you,” said the Doctor, laughing hollowly. “It’s hard to save this planet sometimes.”
Yaz snorted, feeling something inside her snapping.
“What,” she said, “because we’re not all nicey nice all of the time?”
The Doctor laughed again, high and harsh and cold.
“It’s a bit more than that, Yaz”—
“You heard Judith talk about what her patients say about her,” Yaz said. “She’s still saving their lives. You think no one’s ever rude to me as a police officer? About how I look, who I am? You think we don’t know about prejudice?”
The Doctor stared at her.
“You’re mad at me,” she said flatly. “Not the homophobe.”
Yaz started to respond, then stopped, then sighed.
“I am mad at her,” she said. “And you. And— and everything. It’s too much. It’s all too much.”
She looked down at the floor.
“I listened to the radio a bit while you were gone,” she said. “I told myself I wouldn’t. America’s doing nuclear tests. Baring its fangs.”
“There’s some forces who you really don’t want to get angry,” muttered the Doctor.
“What happens now?” said Yaz. “With you?”
The Doctor sighed.
“Same as always,” she said. “I try to save the world. I have a read on the Time Lord who’s come here. I can track him down; discover his plans. Find a way out of this mess.”
Yaz frowned. “Isn’t he trying to track you down?”
The Doctor threw up her hands.
“Then at least someone in 1962 gets to be happy,” she said.
“People are worth saving, Doctor,” she said.
For a moment, Yaz was worried her friend might actually argue. Instead, she just flopped heavily down on a chair.
“I know, Yaz,” she said. “But that’s the thing about being the Doctor, right now.”
“It turns out there’s a lot that’s hard to remember.”
Back to index
In truth, she probably didn’t need to have tracked him to find him. He was there in the hospital, just like he had been there before. In the ward where she’d fought alongside her other self, not so many hours. But there weren’t any patients there, not anymore. There was only the Porter there, and his two friends.
The COPS flanked him on either side, looming and tall, bigger than any she’d seen up until now. Their long copper limbs scraped down hard on the broken floor. And the Porter was staring down at her, and he didn’t seem scared in the least. He smiled at her pityingly, like she was a lost little child.
“You’re not the Doctor I have an appointment with,” he said. “But I suppose the Division has been overworking you.”
The Doctor scowled and spoke as confidently as she could.
“Oh, I’m her,” she said. “I’m just a little later than you might’ve expected. Don’t take me for a soft touch, Porter. I’m exactly the woman I was.”
“But like us, now,” said the Porter with a smile. “You’re something a bit more fragile than you were. Which can be broken.”
“Try telling that to the ones who came before you,” the Doctor said. “Who we saw in the sky. So many creatures have come to break this planet. The Time Lords are a picnic next to them.”
She’d expected the Porter to come back with another pithy response, but he didn’t. He just frowned at her, and for the first time his confidence seemed to have slipped.
“Whatever do you mean by that?” he said.
“I’m saying the Earth is defended. Wasn’t that clear?” She frowned. “I thought it was pretty explicit”—
His face had changed; he wasn’t smiling any more. He was staring at her with a look she’d never seen.
“Why is it that you think we’re here?” he asked, very quietly.
(“Everything you know is a lie!” the Master had said, but that wasn’t quite true, not really. There had always been a part of her which knew that something about her was hidden. And now she was feeling like she had done way back there, like she was standing on ice as it started to fracture and crack—)
She took a deep breath.
“You really need to ask that?” she said. “The timeline’s been knocked off its course. The world should end right here, but instead it doesn’t. And there’s nothing worse for the Time Lords than seeing that history’s changed.”
The Porter nodded, almost to himself.
“That is what the universe believes,” he said.
(But now she thought about it, what she’d just said didn’t make sense. If all the Time Lords were doing was upholding the course of history, then why chase her other self in secret? They’d only be doing what anyone would expect them to do. They’d have no obvious reason to even go to the Judoon—)
“In my experience,” she said hesitantly, “people often believe things because they’re true.”
The Porter looked back at her, eyes narrowing.
“Then it worked,” he said softly. “I never thought that it could.”
(Everything you know is a lie!, he’d said, but he’d said something else later on. That all that he’d told her wasn’t the whole of the truth: there’d been something omitted, left out. And knowing her luck it was possible it was something really, extremely important—)
The Doctor’s eyes now narrowed, too.
“Don’t try to confuse me,” she said. “Because so many people’ve done that, and it never ends well for them.” She paused. “Almost never. Rarely. Call it fifty-fifty”—
“But you’re already confused,” the Porter said, “and about far more than you know.”
(It was odd, wasn’t it, that she’d even agreed to be in the Division in the first place? That the Time Lords would torture her, then she’d work for them for maybe billions of years? She’d thought she must have been trapped in it against her will. But then of course that wasn’t really how it had happened at all—)
The Porter was unaware of her thoughts; his head was bowed. Without looking at her, he started to intone.
“The Lordship stands upon a double crime,” he muttered. “The Timeless Child; the Man who Conquered Time”—
He took a deep breath.
“Through Tecteun’s theft, our people became immortal,” he said. “Through Omega’s curse, we now plot a course through time. And yet it is Rassilon who the Division regards as being the true founder of the Time Lords. Strange. Now why do you think that might be?”
The Doctor shifted uncomfortably.
“I don’t see how any of this is relevant”—
“Oh, it’s the most relevant thing in the universe,” said the Porter. “Believe me.”
The Doctor frowned.
“I never understood it myself,” she said. “He never seemed that amazing to me. Maybe he was so full of himself he convinced everyone that he was more than he was.”
“Yes. The Cup and the Sash and the Keys of Rassilon. It’s a little much. And we did warn him about that, in the Division. It’s one thing to indicate you’re arrogant, but it doesn’t do to take it too far. People can’t ever suspect that you might be in on the joke”—
(Everything you know is a lie! the Master was screaming in her mind, over and over again, and both her hearts were now hammering and the jaws opened under the ice—)
“He created a false legacy to hide it,” the Porter was saying. “The lie of the Timeless Child. But what was that lie, exactly? He did leave the universe a clue. It’s in the name he chose for us. The Time Lords. And there are Lords here on this island, I understand. Who have great power; who inherit it. But they are not the source of that power. That comes from above, from a monarch whose face is always changing. And some would say her power derives from the gods—
“No,” said the Doctor. “That can’t be true.”
(But it was, of course, as a part of her knew all along. Armies to fight, that other Doctor had said, and in her mind’s eye she saw those armies now, begging for mercy, for history’s course to change. And she saw the thousands of travellers who had gone with her to travel the universe, who’d find out at the end that their home world was doomed. And that other self had told her nothing had changed for her about being the Doctor, but she’d never thought to ask what exactly that actually meant. Because it was still the Time Lords who’d come up with all the rules, after all. She’d never stopped to think they might have been following them—)
“Cursed to serve; blood-honoured to remain,” the Porter intoned, “a timeless shadow of the Timeless Reign.”
“We appear to be more than we are, Doctor,” he said. “But it’s always been only a story.”
“She was only a child,” the Doctor said. “She was a child and you— you tortured her.”
“We did,” said the Porter, “and we have had many, many years to suffer for our crime. Perhaps in some billions more we’ll have suffered enough. But you did not remain a child forever. We captured a god and injected it into our veins. Is it really impossible to believe you’d have asked us for something back?”
(The boy who would one day be known as the Master, mind cracking as he stared at the cold heart of time. The one who’d grow up to create the Daleks, crying in a field of grasping hands. Everyone starts as a child, as an innocent. But that didn’t have to mean that you’d remain innocent forever.)
“And that was our fate, you see,” the Porter went on. “Rasillon created a myth that our people would grow to believe. And a secret sect who knew the truth. Who followed orders. An organisation in the shadows; we used it to try to control you. Foolish, of course. It was always your orders we were following. Until those of us who protested began to gain the upper hand. And after that, well. We found ourselves all in division”—
“I saw you out there fiddling around with history,” the Doctor said, interrupting him. “You yourself, and the COPS as well. Radiation seeping through from police boxes. That whole sky erupting with other worlds. You caused all that, and you expect me to believe you’re an innocent”—
The Porter laughed.
“You’re right, of course,” he said. “If you find a policeman at the scene of a crime then there can only be one solution. It’s obvious he’s the one who must have committed it!”
He shook his head.
“We’ve been investigating,” he said. “That’s all we’ve ever done. You’ve assumed our intent is the opposite of what it is”—
(It’s easy to get the wrong end of the stick, after all. You meet a secret version of yourself with a police box and think that they all must have police boxes. You feel other versions of you fighting for the Earth and you think that they must be those versions, just like you, because you’re the Doctor and that must be what you’ve always done. It all fits together; you don’t even have to think about it. You just know it’s true. But then everything you know is a lie—)
“But it’s a lot to take in,” said the Porter gently. “So I’ll make it as plain as I can. We’re not here to burn this world, Doctor. We’re trying to save it.”
“We’re trying to save it from you!”
Back to index
For a moment all the Doctor could do was stare at him, silent and shocked. The Porter looked back at her almost apologetically—
—then the COPS let out a horrible blare like a siren, and the silence was shattered.
“Toddle up fizz fur,” they said. “Sert as spud.” Drawing themselves up to alertness, the two of them bolted out of the room.
“That’ll be you coming, now,” the Porter said mildly.
“Listen,” he added before the Doctor could respond. “We don’t have long. You must know who’s behind this aberrant timeline. What it is that keeps saving this world.”
The Doctor stared at him.
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s”—
—“Better that you don’t tell me,” the Porter said. “We wanted to find them to warn them; to say that the Doctor is coming. But you can tell them that yourself. Because it’s very unlikely that after this I’ll be alive.”
“The Doctor doesn’t kill.”
The Porter laughed.
“Good heavens,” he said. “You really don’t remember anything! Have you even worked out what this place is?”
The Doctor frowned, then gasped as she finally realised.
“Radiation poisoning,” she said, horrified. “Another future seeping in.”
The Porter nodded. “If the patients were already poisoned then no one would know. It’s why she made sure it was this ward they’d be kept in. A thin place; a frayed part of time and of space. Where the shadows of likelier worlds might slip on through.”
There was a horrible sound of clanking and banging coming from the corridor as they spoke. A sound like snapping copper and breaking wood, which said that the Doctor was coming.
“So that’s what she’s really been doing,” said the Doctor, trying to ignore the sound. “Investigating.”
“The biggest anomaly in all of time and space,” said the Porter. “The fact the planet Earth refused to die. But we don’t think she’s closer than us, to working out who might have caused it. That’s why it’s very important you don’t blurt it out.”
More clanking, zapping and breaking sounds came from the corridor. More portents of violence.
“I imagine she’d be pretty cross at that person,” said the Doctor carefully, “if they found out who it really was.”
“She’s a force of nature. Literally. She would annihilate them.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “Wouldn’t want to be them.”
The Porter thrust his hand into a pocket and pulled out the CULLIS, throwing it over to the Doctor.
“Get this to my colleagues when I’m gone,” he said. “The COPS will show you the way. It isn’t much. But we’re going to need all we can throw at this, because the Doctor never loses.”
From the corridor came more horrifying sounds, and the Porter grimaced.
“Especially not when she’s angry,” he said.
“Why do you trust me?” the Doctor asked. “I’m her. You know I’m her. What if the way I’m acting now is only a bluff? Then you’ve given your worst enemy a weapon.”
“True,” said the Porter, “but if nothing about you has changed, then our cause will be doomed either way. When it is the only way left to a reasonable resolution, näivity is far from a sin.”
“With you, there is at least a chance,” he said. “Even though that chance might seem”—
—He trailed off as a shadow fell over the door—
The other Doctor strode into the room, a policeman’s helmet held in her hand. The helmet was splattered with goo, but her clothes and body were totally clean.
She threw the helmet to the floor; a horrible sound of metal against wood. And then, looking at them both, she smiled.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said. “But I’m ready to see you now.”
Back to index
The Porter and the Doctor’s other self stood facing each other, like two armies aiming and ready to fire.
“You can leave, you know,” said that other Doctor softly. “You’re the Porter. Your story doesn’t have to end like this.”
The Porter smiled.
“Quite right,” he said. “We do get to choose how it ends. That’s what I believe, now. It’s why I’m staying right where I am.”
The Doctor looked at her other self; who hadn’t even registered she was there. There was so much she couldn’t work out about the woman who she had once been. But she could still see that expression in her eyes, the one she’d had so often herself. The moment that hope becomes impossible. Her other self had wanted the Porter to run.
“This isn’t how I imagined it,” said that other Doctor. “So many lifetimes we’ve fought. So many secrets we’ve shared. As friends. Lovers”—
“Wait, what?!” said the Doctor, before she could stop herself. The other Doctor’s eyes widened, noticing her for the first time.
“It’s you!” she said. “Which is to say, it’s me! I didn’t notice me there. I’m getting ahead of myself.”
“Isn’t it funny?” said the Porter. “You wait ages to see a Doctor, then two come along at once. I’d hoped rewriting your body would blast some sense into you. But you’re as ruthless as you ever were.”
He nodded over to the Doctor at the side of the room, who desperately tried to look very fierce and imposing.
“Yes,” said the other Doctor wryly. “I must be a handful. I can see that from how incredibly injured you look.”
“I’ve been using my words,” said the Doctor. “Horrible, violent words.”
The Porter’s voice rang in her head telepathically, desperately. Time Lords could do that, in the direst of emergencies. But it would take energy out of you to do it, energy she wasn’t sure the Porter could afford to spare.
“You won’t fool her like this,” his voice said in her head, with far more fear in it than the voice he spoke out loud. “There’s no way round it. You have to really hurt me.”
“Yes, I’ve been hurting him with my words, alright!” said the Doctor. “And my gun, of course.”
She hit him hard on the head with the back of it.
“Ow!” said the Porter. Maybe she shouldn’t have hit him that hard. She thwacked him more lightly with the base of the weapon again, her other self laughing as she watched.
“When will you learn?” that other self said. That’s not the violent end of a gun!”
“I don’t see you using yours!” said the Doctor.
“Of course not,” replied her other self. “It’s like I said. We use whatever we have to hand. If someone meets a terrible end and I happen to be around? Well. Then that’s just the way things are.”
She looked around the room, which had been ugly before it was ruined. To human eyes it would look utterly unremarkable, but that other Doctor was regarding it with awe.
“And there’s so much to work with here,” she said. “A place as thin as this. With so many deadly timelines seeping through...”
She looked at the Porter and sighed heavily. By her waist, her fingers began to wiggle and click.
“I’m sorry,” she said to the Porter. “You must understand that. The Oath of the Doctor has never been one of malice.”
“No,” said the Porter. “And that has been no comfort to the dead who are left in its wake.”
In the other Doctor’s fingers a tiny point of light was growing, white as could be, nuclear as a bomb. A point in space and time where the Planet Earth was ending. Harnessed, now. And seeping through.
“Use your screwdriver, if you must,” said that Doctor to her aghast future self. “Provide the sound. I’ll take care of the fury.”
“Do it,” said the Porter in her mind. “And you can’t hold back. I’ve trusted you. Now, you must trust me.”
With an expression as enthusiastic as she could manage, the Doctor drew out her screwdriver and winced as its frequency blared, as it flew to a level beyond what she’d even imagined. To a place above sound, above hypersound, into waves that could rip and tear at the atoms themselves—
—and the other Doctor was twiddling her hands as huge blasts of energy came out of nowhere, screaming out of another timeline into theirs. The blasts pulsed with radiation and the sound made them radiate more, cracking apart whatever atoms were still in that fire, making sure they’d do damage that not even a Time Lord could survive.
Although the Porter couldn’t survive this anyway, of course. Streams of fire hotter than the sun, focused directly at the place where his body had been. But as those streams died down again to nothing, the Doctor boggled with astonishment. The Porter still stood before them, his fine, stately clothes unsinged.
“That’s impossible,” the other Doctor said.
“And yet it appears to have happened,” said the Porter. “Take it from the playwrights of this world, Doctor. There are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”—
The other Doctor chuckled, cutting him off.
“Oh, I know my Shakespeare, Porter,” she said. “Don’t think I never walk a world before it dies. It’s right to understand what’s being lost, after all. Its art. Its poetry…”
The nuclear fire the other Doctor had summoned hadn’t damaged the ruined ward around them at all. The floor remained unblackened; the air still wasn’t warm. It really wasn’t warm, in fact, the Doctor noticed. It felt like nuclear winter might have come early over the hospital, forming ice crystals on the edge of the shattered beds. She shivered to herself, hoping it wouldn’t look like she was afraid.
“It’s a Cold War here,” her other self was saying, “but out there is a war that’s colder still. I can feel it in the breeze; can’t you? An ending stranger than one full of radiation.”
The Porter raised an eyebrow.
“A change in the weather isn’t enough to threaten me,” he said, though the Doctor saw that he was shivering too.
“Oh, but this is so much more,” said the other Doctor. “The ice revenge of the Neanderthal Moon, that begs for humanity to join it in extinction. Can’t you feel the chill of it blowing now? Like I said, Porter. I know my poetry…”
Snatches of other Earths were flickering on the walls of the ward. Flaming ruins; frozen and broken cities. The Porter’s face was growing paler. The air around them was getting cold.
“Some say the world will end in fire,” said the other Doctor, conversationally, not like she was quoting a poem. “Some say in ice.”
“From what I’ve tasted of desire?” she asked, wiggling her fingers again. She shrugged, and the Doctor could feel the temperature change as the air ignited around her other self.
“I hold with those who favour fire,” that other self now said. “But if it had to perish twice?”
“Don’t do this,” said the Porter, softly, all his composure gone. He looked truly scared, now. The Doctor hadn’t known that he could.
Her other self’s hands were in the air now, wiggling like they were caught in the wind.
“I THINK I KNOW ENOUGH OF HATE!” she bellowed, icicles forming around her body, cold mist swirling around her as if she was lost in the fog. “TO SAY THAT FOR DESTRUCTION, ICE”—
–the icicles hurtled towards the Porter, and it looked like the other Doctor was doing nothing at all to make them fly–
–“Is also great,” she said softly. “And would suffice.”
Underneath the Porter a huge column of ice erupted, freezing around him before he could respond, trapping his body as it was thrust up into the air. The Doctor winced as one icicle slammed into one of his hearts, then a second smashed into the other. That meant total respiratory failure was imminent. There’d be no regeneration possible after that.
In the gravest of circumstances, one Time Lord could contact the mind of another. But it was exhausting; draining. To do it while you were in danger was foolish, if you didn’t absolutely have to. But that still didn’t mean that the Doctor now had any choice.
“You trusted me, Porter,” she now called out in her mind. “And I never trusted you. So now I want you to see it. The person your killer becomes.”
She opened her mind as much as she could, to show him as much of her lives as she could bear. The Wirrin and the Sklad and the Hoix and the Atraxi; there’d been all sorts of creatures who’d come here; he’d see there’d been so very many. All trying to take down the Earth, as her other self tried to do now. But they’d all found what that other self might find, too. This world was defended by someone. The Porter deserved to know who.
His eyes widened as he took it in.
“I see it now,” he said, hoarsely. “The Doctor wins.”
He looked the Doctor’s other self right in the eyes.
“You win!” he said. “Whatever happens.”
He gasped for breath.
“And there’s nothing that I can do to change it,” he said.
The two Doctors looked up at him, wondering if he might say something more. But the Porter’s eyes were as lost and glazed as ice. He was dead, now. Whatever his story had been.
“If only he’d thought the same five minutes ago,” said the other Doctor softly. “This didn’t work out how I wanted.”
“No,” said the Doctor softly. “I find that things rarely do. They all go mad. Even if you think you know the ending.”
“The world gets away with murder in the middle.”
Back to index
The two of them stood silently for a while after that, both looking up at the Porter’s frozen form.
“You must understand,” said the other Doctor to her future self. “This isn’t what I’d hoped for. Or even anticipated. I’d wanted there to be another way.”
“Than killing him in cold blood?” said the Doctor.
“There was warmth in it, the same as cold. Or weren’t you listening to the poem just back then?”
“I know it,” said the Doctor. “Robert Frost.”
“It’s a funny coincidence, isn’t it?” said her other self. “Frost by name, Frost by nature.”
“Oh yeah,” said the Doctor sullenly. “It’s hilarious.”
She looked around at the wreckage, and at the ice.
“Frost,” she said. “The poet. Whatever happens here, he dies not long from now. It doesn’t matter much about the ending, not for him. Like he said, however it happens. Some things can’t ever be changed.”
She stared out of the window, away from the devastation. Out at the world outside, where there were trees.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” she said. “And sorry I could not travel both, and be one traveler, long I stood”—
—she trailed off, and sighed.
“I can’t let you do this,” she said.
Her other self laughed, in shock as well as bemusement.
“Let me?” that other self now said. “Good Lord, dear, I’m”—
“I know. You’re me.”
“Then I don’t see why you’d want to stop me,” the other Doctor said. Her tone had changed, the Doctor noticed. Now there was only the cold.
“I left you a message in the Matrix,” that other Doctor went on. “Whatever they’ve done to you, it changes nothing. You are still the Doctor. And somewhere like this?”
She gave a grim smile.
”It’s where we’re needed most.”
“I don’t disagree with that,” said the Doctor softly.
The other Doctor threw up her hands, ready to get theatrical.
“The Planet Earth!” she said, sweeping her arms around to draw it all in. “Surviving this crisis, and everything time throws at it afterwards. It’s maybe the biggest anomaly we know of; blown my chameleon circuit clean apart. Any TARDIS landing here might get stuck in one form for a while.”
“And then things would look the same,” said the Doctor. “On the surface.”
“I got your message,” she said. “I think. It was like you said: whatever happened, I was still the Doctor. But maybe I got the wrong end of the stick”—
Her other self’s eyes narrowed.
“I didn’t think I needed to explain,” her other mouth said.
“Try me,” said the Doctor, her eyes now narrowing too.
“They say that time heals all wounds,” said her other self. “But there are so many wounds in time. When I –when we– first arrived in this universe, it was sick with contradictions. It needed healing. It needed”—
“Yeah, yeah,” said the Doctor. “I get it.”
“But that’s the thing. I thought you did. I know what you’ve done here, as you’ve travelled through this planet’s history. People have begged you to change how it all turned out; I’ve seen it! At the massacres in France, in Pompeii. Why would 1962 be any different?”
“Now it’s a whole world,” said the Doctor.
“A world like many others no one saved. They’ll say the end was inevitable, in the ruins of this city. And like on so many other planets? They’ll be right.”
“You know I’ve seen a future that disagrees,” the Doctor replied. “Where humanity spreads out across the stars.”
The other Doctor scoffed.
“Oh, cut it out,” she said. “I know humans. I’ve been one! There’s nothing remarkable about them. You must know that. A primate civilisation, highly tribal. Smart enough to build weapons that can annihilate them; thick enough to make sure that they’ll be used. It’s happened across the universe, a million times. You know that it should happen here as well.”
“Should’s doing a lot of work in that sentence,” said the Doctor coldly.
“No it’s not. Like I said; it’s the logic that you’ve always used. I don’t see why you’d think it’s different here. Unless”—
The other Doctor’s eyes widened in horror.
“Oh no,” she said. “You’ve fallen in love!”
The Doctor knew she was blushing, despite herself.
“No I haven’t,” she said.
“Yes you have! And it’s a forbidden love”—
The Doctor looked very awkward indeed.
—“the love of one special place, at a special time.”
“Oh!” said the Doctor. “Yeah. That.”
Her other self shook her head.
“Whatever we do, you have to understand,” she said. “We can’t ever be guided by love. I loved the Porter. But that’s what he never understood.”
“He was fighting to save this world,” said the Doctor. “You told me what he was doing here was immoral.”
“And I stand by it. Maybe I do bend some of the rules. But never the ones that really matter.”
“And you don’t see a problem with that? When nuclear annihilation’s the price?”
“Of course I don’t. We stand for the universe; our morality has to be universal. We can’t start making exceptions. Gravity doesn’t get to decide who falls. Neither can we. Otherwise”—
She frowned. The Doctor could see the frustration in the eyes of her earlier self. Like this was something she shouldn’t even have to explain to a child.
“Otherwise what’s good or bad depends on whoever we meet,” the other Doctor said. “We’ll treat people better because they’re in front of our face; not think about the ones we never see. Maybe that’s how they do things here, on this world. But the Doctor has to be better.”
“You’re a killer and you think you can talk about universal morals,” said the Doctor.
“Because I can’t ever choose who’s gettting killed. If I decided who got to live and die? I’d be a monster”—
The Doctor glowered.
“Don’t you dare make nuclear annihilation sound like it’s noble,” she said.
Her other self sighed, slumping into the folds of her coat. The weight of worlds seemed to literally press down upon her shoulders.
“Of course I have compassion,” she said, “But I can’t choose some people over others. Preventing history’s path because I don’t like the outcome— do I have the right? Out of this catastrophe might come some good, you know. Maybe even for them.”
The Doctor’s eyes widened in horror.
“How can you possibly say that?” she said.
“Look at where we are. A doctor doesn’t prolong a patient’s pain. It’s not about delaying the inevitable.”
”That’s the only thing that being a doctor’s about.”
Her other self didn’t respond at first, as she stared down her nose at the Doctor. When she next spoke she did it softly, gently. Like she was addressing a patient about to get a terrible diagnosis.
“Can’t you feel it?” she said. “What’s happened to space and time? Because of the end that failed to happen here. Can’t you taste the strain?”
The Doctor stuck her tongue out and tentatively wiggled it around.
“Only the air,” she said. “Still cold as death.”
“Then you should know,” her other self said, “that it’s splintering, Doctor. The past and the future, they’re not what they previously were. Orphan planets in possible timelines! You know that it should be impossible. But it isn’t; not anymore. The pressure that’s building here could take down the universe.”
“And the people who come from here might save it,” said the Doctor.
“How likely does that seem? When it hasn’t happened anywhere else?”
“They have something that everywhere else doesn’t have. Hope. And love. And believe me, Doctor. Love always wins in the end.”
The other Doctor looked at her future self like she might look at a person without a brain. It had gone further than pity, now. Now she was actually afraid.
”What have they done to you?” she said. “I knew that they were planning something. But this?”
“I’m you, just like you said! Nothing’s changed, I am the Doctor”—
“Doctor who?! You’re everything I swore never to be! Good grief. What have I become?”
She looked her future self right in the eyes.
“What do you know about the laws of time?” she said. “What are you still able to feel?”
The Doctor frowned.
“The same as what any Time Lord can,” she said. “The threads of the timelines knitting together. Our sense of how everything’s balanced”—
Her other self shook her head.
“Then it’s as I feared,” she said. “You don’t understand anything at all. The Time Lords follow the laws that I laid down. But only something from beyond the Boundary could really understand their necessity.”
“And maybe only someone from this side of it could understand why you need to be stopped.”
The Doctor’s other self drew up to her full height, her spine as straight as a policeman’s, her eyes burning furious as justice.
“If that’s what you think?” she said. “Then the Doctor is already dead. You’re standing against morality itself. And I don’t make any exceptions, for people who make that choice.”
Fire crackled between her fingers once again.
“Not even for me,” she said.
Her other self was a good woman, the Doctor saw. Perhaps she always would be, whoever she happened to be. And in her recent lives she’d hoped that would make it better, for the doomed lives she’d left in her wake. But now she was in their place, and now she knew: somehow, the goodness made it worse.
“I’m sorry,” her other self said. “I’m so sorry.”
That didn’t help as much as she’d thought it did, either.
Back to index
Light and heat were flickering from the other Doctor’s hands. As they did, the hospital flickered too. Other versions of the ward appeared and were snatched away, like an image on an ancient television as it came in and out of tune.
“Laser eye surgery, they said they were offering!” the Doctor heard an old woman cry. “But I never expected anything like this!”
The Doctor saw the patient on the bed a second before she knew she had to act, his eyes glowing, his expression vacant. She dove down as a line of energy sliced through where she had been, passing in and out of the other Doctor’s body like she was just a holographic projection.
“Slipped through the timelines,” she said with a smile. “I’ll bet you’ve even forgotten how to do that.”
Before the Doctor could respond she heard a panicked shout; yet another voice from another Earth.
“First in the cancer ward, then in the crabs clinic!” it said. “We should’ve known!”
The Doctor rolled from the place where she’d been on the floor as massive crustacean pincers smashed through the hospital walls, feeling herself barely getting away as they opened and snapped around her—
“It’s as UNIT always feared,” she heard a clipped voice say from somewhere else, “the Earth brought down by a truly second class threat”—
The Doctor swung around as she got to her feet again. The giant pincers had gone, replaced by almost human figures, sitting bolt upright in each of the hospital beds. Their eyeless faces red. Their mouths each a letterbox slit.
“THE POSTMEN DELIVER A POST-HUMAN WORLD!” they roared, as around them the ward flickered again—
—and then there wasn’t a hospital at all, only a vast, grey plain of ash and ruin. Beside the Doctor was a blue-skinned, red-robed person, speaking into a dictaphone, looking grave.
“A waste, really,” the figure was saying. “A species who got through a whole Cold War, then mistook a rocket researching the Aurora for a nuclear weapon! They were warned, too. But the warning got lost in the mail”—‘
The Doctor stumbled; the world flickered. The hospital ward was around her once again. Two surgeons crouched by a single patient, their tired faces both set still and grave.
“Look at his body,” one of them whispered. “What microplastics do to every living thing— it’s worse than what any of us feared.”
Another flicker; a thump. The hospital ward was baking in late spring heat. The Doctor’s coat felt heavy against her shoulders, like the warmth was now weighing her down. There was nobody there, of course. You couldn’t survive this if you were human.
“With temperature rises beyond even the wildest predictions,” a solar-powered radio was saying in the background, “the UN has confirmed it expects nowhere on Earth to be habitable by July”—
The flickering was picking up pace, now; the hospital walls shifting and dissolving as apocalypses slipped into view and were snatched away. More destruction. Even more cries of fear.
“Superintelligent robots taking all our jobs! It still sounds like something out of science fiction.”
“DELETE! DELETE! DELETE!”
“How can you keep on going? How can any of us go on?”
The real hospital ward was still there, somehow, a ghost on top of the others. The other Doctor was watching, and the Doctor was alone—
Except for a shape rising out of the smoke and the darkness. A bit like a pepperpot, or maybe a grater gone wrong. Its lights bright, blinking gently. Its eyestalk beginning to turn round.
“EVERYTHING HAS ITS TIME,” said the Dalek. “AND EVERYTHING DIES.”
The Doctor looked right at it, helplessly. Maybe this would finally be a release.
She motionlessly looked right at it, waiting for it to fire—
—but as it did something long and metallic smashed into its side. The Dalek was thrown to the right, its laser beam missing the Doctor, and both Dalek and Doctor swung round—
—to see something a bit like a policeman, with the badge of the Saint John’s Ambulance instead of a face. Its helmet cracked; its uniform ripped and stained with goo. But still alive.
“Nonfo,” it said. “Nanfren. Wonsillib.”
The COP turned to the Doctor, and somehow she knew it was looking right at her.
“Run,” it said.
The Doctor’s eyes widened.
“The COPs aren’t conscious,” she said.
Her other self laughed.
“Whatever gave you that idea?” she said.
“Everything you know is a lie!” screamed the Master in the Doctor’s head. “EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS A LIE!”
The Dalek fired its laser once again, and the COP exploded into a mess of metal and goo.
Not so long ago, it had all seemed to fit together. She’d thought she’d understood the whole of the universe; she’d even been starting to get bored of it. And now here she was feeling like she knew nothing at all; in a time she’d never thought was in danger from a person she’d never known that she’d been.
But that was the way of things, wasn’t it? However much you knew. There was always something you might never know you’d overlooked—
She dodged past another laser from the Dalek while she scrambled in her pockets. And then she had the CULLIS in her hand, feeling it grow warm as it started to glow.
“The Porter gave you that?!” her other self was shouting. “How long have you worked with him? How involved in all of this have you been?”
The Doctor wasn’t listening, just looking straight ahead. There was a door in the middle of the room, of course. There had always been a door. All you had to do was know how to look for it—
—there was a hole in the door where the handle should have been, and a magical doorknob there in the palm of her hand. Push it in. Twist it. Open the door. It’s not as if everything had to be difficult.
Her other self was shouting and the Dalek was screaming, and suddenly everything around her was a blur—
—and suddenly she was in the air and falling, landing on something hard with a smash. She felt the wood of it splintering round her, heard china breaking, and saw a jumble of confusing shapes as her superior Time Lord brain totally failed to make sense of what was going on.
Eventually she made out some wallpaper; framed pictures and a chair. And a familiar face looking over her, like it was unsure how to react.
“Judith,” said the Doctor. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to drop in uninvited.”
Her mind caught up a bit more with the situation. Judith’s eyes were red, and her face was puffy. She wasn’t sure how to cover up that she’d been crying.
“It’s a bad time,” said the Doctor.
“Isn’t it always?” said Judith.
The Doctor sighed.
“Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I’m starting to get that idea.”
Back to index
The Doctor looked awkwardly at Judith, then at the smashed up table, then back at Judith again.
“I can pay for that,” she said.
Judith looked down at the floor.
“If there’s a need to,” she said. “The whole house might be rubble soon enough.”
“Right,” said the Doctor. “Yeah.”
The clock ticked on the mantelpiece behind them. It suddenly seemed very loud, the Doctor thought. Had they always been as loud as that, the clocks? Or was that just another thing that was changing?
Judith was still silent; still looking at the floor. The silence got louder, somehow. Around it, the clock continued to tick.
“I was wrong about everything,” said the Doctor.
Judith looked up at her.
“Then Doctor Clayton wasn’t you?” she said.
“No, she was. I was right about that bit. But not about how I thought there was nothing to worry about.”
The fear grew brighter in Judith’s eyes.
“The end of the world,” said the Doctor. “You don’t have to say you told me so.”
Judith didn’t. She just glanced at the floor, once again.
The clock ticked.
“I was a bit wrong about Doctor Clayton, though,” the Doctor said, feeling this probably didn’t count as small talk. “She is me. But she’s a version of me that’s… much stronger than I ever thought I was. More distant, maybe. Like they changed the very nature of what I was because… I needed to understand what it was like to live as a person”—
Almost involuntarily, her eyes glanced over to the cross upon the wall.
“Don’t you dare,” said Judith. “She’s not the Father and you’re certainly not the Son.”
The Doctor looked down at her feet.
“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
Judith shook her head.
“Doctors always think that you’re like God,” she said. “It isn’t true. You just stop people dying, ‘til the day that you can’t anymore.”
The Doctor shook her head as well, more forcefully than Judith had.
“Not God,” she said. “Like history. Much bigger and deadlier than even I’d really known.”
“But I really will pay for the table,” she said.
“And the china,” said Judith.
The clock kept ticking. Judith fumbled with her hands. Slowly the end of the world grew slightly closer.
“I’m sorry about what I said about you and Yaz,” she said. “Earlier. I’m sorry I said that.”
“Oh,” said the Doctor. “It’s okay. It is another time.”
“No,” said Judith. “You were right. It’s not our place to have judgement.”
“I said that?” said the Doctor. “Golly.”
Judith would have had a lot of opportunity for judgement, of course. Saving people from death who’d prefer that she wasn’t alive. Day in, day out; she wouldn’t get pleasure from it. Perhaps on some level she thought of it as a duty.
“You know Rosa Parks didn’t do it on her own?” said the Doctor.
“Of course I do,” said Judith. “I read all about what happened. When it went to the Supreme Court. All the people it took.”
The Doctor nodded.
“They needed a symbol,” she said. “A story. But a story never happens on its own. Rosa needed a lot of other people, who no one remembers even now. But they left their mark. Without people like them, nothing changes.”
Judith was silent again, for a while.
“You’re trying to make me feel better,” she said. “About myself, and everything. Aren’t you?”
The Doctor blushed. “Very possibly.”
“Thank you. But I don’t think it’s going to work. I’m sorry.”
“Why’re you sorry?”
“It seems like it’s something important to you. Trying to inspire us.”
The Doctor chuckled, only to herself.
“I was good at it, once” she said. “Unless I just thought that I was.”
The clock ticked, the night outside was dark. The CULLIS was cool and heavy in the Doctor’s hand.
“I have to go,” she said. “Show this doorknob to someone.”
Judith frowned. “Is that important?”
“It might be what saves the world.”
Judith stared at her.
“Gosh,” she said.
The Doctor took a deep breath.
“Judith,” she said. “I know you’re the wrong person to ask. But Yaz is pretty cross with me, and there’s something I’m not able to tell her. Bit awkward. Both me and the thing. It’s”—
She trailed off.
“Oh, she probably knows,” she said.
“Thank you for everything,” she added. “And I really am sorry about the mess. The room. The planet. All of it.”
Judith smiled, her eyes betraying the lie.
“Good luck with your doorknob,” she said.
“Yeah. Good luck with… well. Life.”
Before Judith could respond, the Doctor was gone, leaving her alone in the ruined room.
She wasn’t sure what to feel about everything that had happened. Angry, or exhausted, or relieved. But the truth was that she didn’t feel any of those things. It had been a distraction, at least, and that was welcome.
There was nothing to do in the evenings now, except to wait.
Back to index
The Doctor had come back to where Allie had died; what now felt like a century ago. To the police box where they’d found her, and had found a policeman die.
There was little light from the nearby windows as she walked down the narrow street. In the sky there was only a snatch of moon. The box loomed dark in front of her, a blackness against the black.
Nobody was around it, and that was strange. You’d expect there to be an investigation; for this all to be cordoned off. But she could still feel radiation streaming across the alleyway. It’d poison any human, if they’d try and stay round here for long. Not that the police could ever have known that, of course.
Perhaps it had been the Division, then, she wondered? Doing something to the paperwork in the background. Some Time Lord magic, so that people would stay away. So they’d survive.
The Doctor decided to believe that was true, for now, at least. If they were doing that, it meant they still thought there was a chance. They really believed that there was still hope for this world.
And yet the box in front of her was the picture of hopelessness, in its way. Slammed shut, lights off. A padlock on its doors. It looked for all the world like it was abandoned, though her instruments had told her that couldn’t be true.
She took the CULLIS in one hand, holding it tight. Using the other, she slowly began to knock.
For a moment, there was nothing. Perhaps the instruments had been wrong, although they couldn’t have been. But so much that couldn’t be true had happened, hadn’t it? Maybe this was just the next thing on the list—
But she hadn’t finished that thought before the door cracked open, the chain on the padlock snapping clean off from the force. A copper limb emerged that had never been part of a copper. Wrenching the door open with force, to reveal the face brooding behind. The badge of the St John’s Ambulance, somehow looking right at her. Unsettling, really. She wouldn’t have thought a logo could look so suspicious.
The Doctor sighed, palms open as she talked to the COP.
“Look,” she said. “I was told that the COPs weren’t alive. I didn’t know I was able to kill you. It’s something that I’d never do.”
The COP shook its head.
“Dyiduit,”’ it said.
“What?” said the Doctor.
“Did do it,” said the COP, as hard as wood.
The Doctor paused. For a second she felt the justifications welling up inside her, then shoved them down.
“You’re right,” she said. “I did. But I’m not here to seek absolution. I’m here because”—
“Because this actually is a police box. Not just something that looks like one. And the COPs do have a jurisdiction, don’t they? So really you’re a policeman, too.”
“Tennius,” said the COP.
“Might be,” said the Doctor. “But look here on this sign.”
She rapped on the white plaque screwed onto the side of the door.
“It says you’ll offer assistance,” she said. “Respond to all calls. And I’ve got a call; it’s pretty urgent. I’d say it goes right to the top.”
She held up the CULLIS so the COP would be able to see it. And maybe it wouldn’t trust her, that was true. Chance was it’d think she’d killed the Porter and decide to kill her as well. Totally possible. But trying was all she had left.
The COP was silent for a while, as if it was considering something. And then it was lumbering forward and the Doctor was scrambling to get away, snatching out her screwdriver, preparing for the attack—
—but the COP had stopped once it had come out of its box. It stood in front of her, tall and proud, looking down. A splintering, scratching sound was coming from somewhere, growing steadily louder as she watched.
With a snap, two copper limbs burst out of its shoulders. Gleaming and long, like the bones of a wing. Slowly, they both began to flap. Impossibly, the COP rose up into the air.
“Getton,” it said. “Uppabov.”
The Doctor looked up into the night sky, and hesitated. She’d started this life falling out of a sky just like that. She couldn’t say she was eager to do it again.
“This wasn’t really what I meant, about going right to the top,” she said.
The COP was kneeling down in front of her, not answering. Bowed down, waiting for her choice. Not that there was ever a choice, of course, when it was something like this. She knew she’d faced greater fears for far lesser cause.
The COP knelt down and she hauled herself up on its back, hard and cold as wood. Travelling through the darkness upon something that looked like a police box. She could think of it like that, and pretend this was going to be easy.
She held on tight as it rose, as the streets started to fall away. Getting more and more distant as they got higher, until they were squiggles of yellowing light. Before long the city was spilling over the horizon, stretching further than even she was able to see. Even up in the sky. But the bombs that would fall here would go further than that, of course. They’d swallow everything she saw up in flames.
She’d seen so many weapons that could do that, and much worse. But a part of her still felt it was strange, to know they existed here. In this time; threatening this city. Before she’d first even arrived. It was far too human a feeling, but it didn’t leave her. Instead it hung still and giant, like the moon.
“And further still at an unearthly height,” she whispered to herself, “one luminary clock against the sky, proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right”—
She trailed off.
“Don’t mind me,” she said to the COP down beneath her.
She could see it in the darkness now, a light that wasn’t coming from a star. A hot air balloon emerging in the distance, lit by a faint blue flame. It hung red and sombre in the sky, like a dying sun. And it reminded her of something else that her instruments had said.
It was October 26th, 1962, and that meant the sun had set here for the last time. On St. Paul’s, upon Big Ben, on all these people. Because this would be the last night there was a London.
Tomorrow was the day the suns would rise.
Back to index
Judith sat on her armchair in the living room, staring blankly at the splinters of her table. There was a knock at the door, and she jolted, anxiety suddenly with her. A knock didn’t mean the bombs were falling. But it did mean she might have to talk to someone.
Hopefully it wasn’t the Doctor, at least. She might destroy more of her belongings, or try to teach her a valuable lesson.
She drew up the steel inside herself as she opened the door—
—but it was only Yaz, clutching a small paper bag. It was going see-through on the bottom. Pooling grease.
Though she might be difficult to talk to as well, of course.
“Don’t start shouting at me,” Judith said. “I’m not in the mood.”
Yaz shook her head, her body language open.
“No,” said Yaz. “It’s”—
“I bought you clove rock,” she said, holding up the bag.
“Thank you,” said Judith. “I do like a bit of that,” she added, which wasn’t true.
There was an awkward silence.
“I didn’t just come to give you sweets,” said Yaz. “I thought you might want someone around.”
“Is it that obvious?” she said.
“I do have training,” Yaz said. “But anyone would want company, right? On a night like this.”
Judith slumped into herself, too tired to argue.
“You can come in,” she said. “But it’s a dreadful state. Your friend was here,” she added, as an explanation.
“I’ve seen some things as a police officer,” said Yaz, “And as her friend.”
Judith braced herself as she took Yaz into her living room. The mess the Doctor had left sat in front of them like a metaphor. She scanned Yaz’s face for a look of disgust, or disdain. But Yaz was looking back at her, instead, seeming thoughtful.
“You’re not that bothered about it,” she said, a statement rather than a question.
Judith waved her hand.
“It’s only a table,” she said.
Yaz nodded. There really was no judgement in her face. It made Judith think of how much judgement she had, tucked up in herself with the endless guilt and fear.
“I told your friend, and I should tell you as well,” she said. “I’m sorry. About what I said earlier.”
Yaz sighed. Judith saw her tense slightly. And there something sterner did seem to have entered her face.
“I know everything’s a lot,” Yaz said. “But really, my worry? It’s that it’s not the only thing you’re going to judge me for.”
She clenched her jaw.
“You’ve probably guessed,” she said. “I’m a Muslim. A heathen as well as a sinner, I bet you reckon.”
Judith shook her head.
“It’s the same God,” she said.
“But you’re the one who knows just what He’s thinking,” said Yaz, suddenly and snappily. She looked shocked at herself afterwards, like she was surprised that she’d even said it.
“Sorry,” she said. “I’ve not really slept.”
Judith wasn’t offended, she realised inside herself. Or angry. She just felt very tired indeed.
“That’s not it,” she said. “Yaz, it’s”—
“There isn’t any hope for me,” she said, trying to hold back the tears.
Yaz looked like she was about to say something, but Judith cut her off before she could.
“I don’t know what He’s thinking,” she said. “But He knows everything I’ve thought. The things that I’ve wanted to do. I’ve been at war against Him, Yaz. Against myself.”
Yaz looked at her with understanding and with fear. There had been a distance to her before, and it had fallen away.
“No one’s judgement’s like His,” said Judith. “Not even your friend’s. “And it’s close, now, the real fire. Hotter than anything from a bomb.”
Yaz’s expression was very hard to read. So many emotions and thoughts seemed to be battling in it at once. Judith had no idea what she might be about to say.
“You’ll think I’m mad,” Yaz said. “But I’ve been to the sea where God lives.”
Judith stared at her.
“What?” she said.
“It’s at the start of the Bible. And I’ve been there, like I said. There wasn’t any fire. Just… more than I ever thought there was.”
“Did you see Him?” Judith asked, very softly.
Yaz shook her head.
“I don’t know if I ever have,” she said.
She took a deep breath.
“But if it’s worth anything?” she added. “I never saw how love could be something to be judged, however it happens. Whoever the people who love each other are. And that sea?”
She frowned to herself, struggling to express what she had seen.
“It didn’t seem like a place of suffering. Or a place that would reject us. It felt like it could contain everything we are. Maybe even how you’re feeling now.”
She looked back at Judith, and smiled weakly.
“I’ve only just met you,” she said. “But you’re trying to be a good person. Right?”
“Not nearly enough,” said Judith. “Nobody is. That’s what it all says, when it comes down to it. That none of us deserve to be saved.”
“Maybe,” said Yaz. “But that doesn’t mean that we won’t be.”
She took Judith’s hand, and squeezed it gently.
“Somewhere it was okay,” she said “It worked out alright, where I’m from. And not because of God.”
“Because of your friend,” said Judith flatly.
“Yeah,” said Yaz. “It’s not really that reassuring.”
“You really believe she’s going to stop this?” said Judith.
“No,” said Yaz. She was smiling, and Judith had no idea why.
She started to speak. “Then why”—
“Because she still might,” said Yaz. “Right?”
Judith now smiled too, despite herself.
“Sometimes that’s how I think about prayer,” she said.
“It’s not like idolatry,” said Yaz. “It’s like a firefighter, or something. They might stop your house burning down.”
Judith could feel something within her fighting. The need for the truth, and the need to protect the woman in front of her. God’s judgment was terrible, for those who sinned. But sometimes you’d be a sinner whatever you would choose to do.
“She loves you, you know,” she said to Yaz.
Yaz stared at her. She suddenly looked even more anxious, somehow, if that was even possible in the circumstances.
“Why would you think that?” she whispered.
“Because she told me,” Judith said.
Yaz stared at her.
“She wouldn’t do that!” she said.
“She didn’t say it out loud,” said Judith. “But it was obvious.”
“If you think we’re going to Hell for what we are,” she said, “then why would you”—
“You’re not keeping secrets,” said Judith. “I appreciate that. And you’re not talking down to me, either.”
Yaz hesitated, and Judith could see it again. A woman wrestling with herself, in that way she was far too familiar with.
“Judith,” said Yaz. “If this is really the end. And we’re being honest with each other. D’you ever think”—
“That He isn’t real? Allah, or whatever you would call Him. Our God. Because I’ve felt so much out there; I couldn’t describe it. But I’ve never felt Him. And I’ve tried, Judith. Really.”
“So judgement’s probably coming for me too, right?” she said. “Whoever it is I might love.”
Judith was silent, after that. She knew her expression would be just like what Yaz’s had been: conflicted, unsure whether it was possible to be too honest. But she’d have to account for all of it soon, of course, to someone far greater than a policewoman.
“I’ve never told anyone this before,” she said, then hesitated. She looked around at the brownish walls, imagining them burning, evaporating. Soon, she thought. I’ll be saying this again, so very soon.
“No,” she said in a quiet voice. “I’ve never doubted that. Nature’s so vast and complicated. So beautiful. Of course our Creator is real. But— but if I’m being honest”—
She stared down at the splinters on the floor.
“Sometimes I still hope He might not be,” she said.
Back to index
There was a flurry of COPs flapping up and down in the air, and the balloon hung giant and orange before the Doctor. Like the planet Gallifrey, hanging in the sky— coming to the end of a world, to wait, and watch. Although the true reason it was here was very different, of course. The Time Lords had always known a thing or two about disguise.
There was someone standing in the basket of the balloon, illuminated by the thick blue flame behind him. A short, portly man with a jolly face, although his expression wasn’t jolly at all. Instead, it was like jolliness would just keep spilling out of him, whether he would want it to or not.
“Well,” that man said, shouting over as her COP drew towards the balloon. “Would you look at that. Who’re you, then?”
The Porter had known the Doctor on sight. But this person didn’t, although surely he must be an ally. Some things were still confidential, then, even in this organisation full of secrets. Lies upon lies, spiralling all the way down.
“I’m a friend,” said the Doctor. “And I’m guessing you must be a Time Lord.”
The man smiled sadly.
“Regrettably,” he said. “I’m Maltimundar; this is my TARDIS. And you’d best jump in.”
The Doctor laughed.
“You don’t need to tell me it’s bigger on the inside!” she said, swinging herself into the balloon’s basket with a thunk.
“Well, it’s not,” said Maltimundar. “It’s a 30.3. None of those new-fangled Type 40s for us! No transcendental dimensions. Or heating, really. The Division’s running on fumes.”
He was telling the truth, the Doctor knew. It wasn’t just his TARDIS that showed it. The Division had sent the Porter, and they’d given him backup. But there wasn’t an army to support him, or even a legion. Only a single man.
“It doesn’t matter how big it is,” she said. “I’d say it’s your hospitality that matters, never the size of your home. And you seem to have a lot of it, Maltimundar. Seeing as you have no idea who I am.”
He looked at her sincerely, still jolly on the surface, the weight of something massive in his eyes.
“I suspected that someone would be coming,” he said, after hesitating. “And I imagine you’ll have something to show me.”
Their eyes met, and she saw his change as she held up the CULLIS. There had been a gleam in them, and now it had gone.
“The Porter,” he said. “She finally got him, then.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor softly. “I thought you’d seen it coming.”
The Porter sighed. He looked slumped and tiny, shadowed against the flame of his balloon.
“Of course. But I’m only feeling it now. I never really believed someone like him was capable of dying. There’s no saving us if we lose the Earth as well.”
He doesn’t know what you know, whispered the Doctor’s mind. You can turn this into a chance to find out more.
“Forgive me,” she said. “But averting a war like this. Everything I’ve heard of your people”—
“Oh, it was true, for most of us,” said Maltimundar. “It was true of me. ’You can’t change history!’ We’re taught the logic behind it, if not whose logic it is. But the Reign used to understand there were exceptions. Wounds that ran too deep to heal.”
“But not anymore,” said the Doctor.
“No,” said Maltimundar. “She grew stubborn in her principles; that made me start to question them. And I began to think— that perhaps what she was doing wasn’t really healing at all.”
“So you’re a rebel Time Lord?” said the Doctor, smiling to herself.
Maltimundar laughed out loud.
“Who isn’t, these days?” he said. “There are a few who keep on being loyal. The true believers. But we know, most of us, that something’s gone deeply wrong. We’ve come to say that you’re not a true Time Lord, unless there’s some part of you that wants to run.”
The air was cold despite the roaring blue flame. Beneath them and far below, the lights of London wore on. Maltimundar looked down at them now, like he was examining something strange and impossible.
“Time and space seem greyer, nowadays,” he said, softly. “Like something within them’s gone, and drained away. The universe needs something to hold onto. It needs”—
“A figurehead?” said the Doctor.
Maltimundar laughed even more loudly than before.
“Oh, heavens no!” he said. “We’ve had our fill of those.”
He gestured down at London as it glittered below.
“I’m talking about this,” he said.
The Doctor looked down too. At the doomed lights, quietly living away.
“They’re telling stories out there now, of the planet Earth,” said Maltimundar. “At the darkest times worlds face, it lets them know. That there was a place which fate just couldn’t beat. There was a distant planet that survived.”
Maltimundar waved his hand absently at the world below, and sighed.
“It’s not only the alien invasions,” he said. “You could strip them out, have them never happen at all. A species like this, with weapons of this magnitude. It shouldn’t endure. They don’t endure, not anywhere else in the universe. But here? Here something seems to have happened.”
He shook his head.
“Every serious study we’ve done,” said Maltimundar. “Even that they’ve done! It’s always the same. Humanity shouldn’t even have made it this far. But somehow they do, and go much further. Further than they’ve any right to. And”—
“She knows that’s not really how it happens,” said the Doctor.
“She’s looking for whoever’s responsible,” he said. To stop them before she has to face them. And we’ve been looking for them too, of course. Though none of us have managed.”
He turned to face the edge of the basket, so he wasn’t looking at her anymore.
“It’s you, though,” he said. “Isn’t it?”
The Doctor was still trying to look expressionless, but was no longer sure she was succeeding.
“What makes you say that?” she said.
“It makes sense that we’d never have found you,” said Maltimundar. “We’ve been looking for someone like she always fights. Another powerful person, ready to defend their world. Someone imposing, you know? Someone grand.”
“I am grand.”
“You’re wearing a pastel coat and dungarees.”
“I’m doing it grandly.”
Maltimundar nodded. “In a way? I suppose you are. Maybe someone that powerful would know when they shouldn’t be advertising it. And of course you’d also know when you probably should”—
He nodded to the CULLIS, clutched tight in the palm of her hand.
“There aren’t many people the Porter would have trusted with that,” he said. “Only someone he truly believed was willing to fight her.”
“You’re right,” she said, nodding. “Whatever else I am. I am definitely the kind of person who’d fight the Doctor.”
She gestured to her suspenders, to their gleaming rainbows.
“Maybe that’s why you should’ve looked for someone dressed like this,” she said. “It’d mean that they were mad enough to try.”
“Believe me,” he said. “The way things are going now. The mad ones are the ones who do nothing at all. To give the universe over to… to an avatar of fate, like her. You know, she likes to talk about hope, but I don’t think she even knows the meaning of the word”—
“And if you could tell her,” said the Doctor, cutting him off. “What would you say?”
Maltimundar looked startled, taken aback by the question. Eventually, he nodded at the CULLIS in her hands.
“It’s what the Porter said, whenI thought that victory here was impossible. It didn’t matter what I thought was impossible. Sometimes it would happen anyway.”
He looked the Doctor right in the eyes.
“We can’t let her win everywhere,” he said. “Especially if she must.”
An image flashed in front of the Doctor’s eyes. A shattered city, on a world which had totally died.
“Gallifrey burns,” she said, before she could stop herself.
“What?” said Maltimundar.
“I’m from your future, Maltimundar. By maybe a very long way. And where I’m from the Time Lords— you don’t feel anything anymore.”
Malimundar was silent for a moment, looking away.
“Good,” he said at last, kicking the side of the basket.
The Doctor stared at him.
“If we are to choose one species to spare from fate, it is right that it should never be our own,” he said. “It is true what the universe says about us. The Time Lords are monsters.”
“I think you’re a good man,” said the Doctor.
“Well,” said Maltimundar. “Maybe you can’t be one of those without knowing it: exactly the kind of monster that you are. Don’t you know what we did to the Doctor?”
“I’ve been studying up on it,” the Doctor said.
“She was a child and we put her in a cage. We experimented on her. Tortured her. And now her pain is etched within our genes. It’s in me, even now. It’s here.”
He patted his chest with a thump, and sagged visibly as he did. And she’d said she was so much more than him, hadn’t she, not so very long ago? The Master had slaughtered Maltimundar’s people as payment for what they’d once done to her. If he was here now, he’d throw this man off the balloon, stand there watching until the city burned…
Everything you knew was a lie, the Doctor thought. But that didn’t mean you could stop being true to your hearts.
“Look down there,” she said to Maltimundar. “At the city. Do you know what it’s done; what its country did? So many children were lost to build its streets. But you’ve come here to save it, haven’t you? You still think it’d be wrong to see it burn.”
He didn’t answer directly. He was looking at her so thoughtfully, like she was some kind of complicated equation. She saw him quantifying her, factoring things. Trying to uncover an answer.
“And what do you think?” he said carefully. “About the fate of this world we’ve both been fighting for?”
The Doctor paused at that, as well. They were playing a game on some level now, she knew too well. The world was a game, and it was a battlefield. As well as a billion children, burning the next afternoon.
“What I think,” she said. “It’s”— “When you know that you can be both. The child in the cage and the Lord who’s holding the keys. After that you don’t want to be seen as either. Just as a person. Because that’s what we are, whatever we’ve had done to us. Or done ourselves. What I think is that in the end”—
“Compassion has to be greater than judgment,” she said. “Or else there’s nothing.”
“Then you’ll be there tomorrow,” he said.
“I will,” said the Doctor.
“Then we’ll give you everything we can,” said Maltimundar, indicating the COPS flying by the balloon. “It isn’t much. But we’ll be there.”
The situation was hopeless, but his expression wasn’t. It looked every bit as jolly as his face always threatened to be.
“Why’re you smiling like that?” the Doctor said.
“Oh,” said Maltimundar. “Just thinking again, about how the impossible can happen. Because you’re the proof of that, in a way, aren’t you?”
She knew there was no point denying it. Her expression of shock had already given her away.
“How did you know?” she said.
“You’re not as good at hiding it as you think you are,” he said. “Whichever side of the battle you might be on.”
She nodded to herself.
“Tomorrow,” she said, by way of a goodbye. A COP was swooping down alongside her, and she clambered on.
“I’m sure I’ll see you there,” Maltimundar said.
He watched as she was carried away by the COP, until she was tiny, until she was gone.
And then he took a crumpled bit of paper from his pocket, unfolding it out on the basket base. A sheet with a hundred questions on it, cascading in a spider out of the mindmap he’d drawn. Who was saving this world, and who could stop the missiles. Who might have the guts to stand up to the Timeless Reign.
So many questions, and he’d had none of the answers. In the centre of them all one lonely question: WHO?
He looked at it for a while, smiling to himself.
And just above it, he wrote a single word.
Back to index
There was so much that Yaz was still scared to show the Doctor. She didn’t even know what she was frightened of, not really. Perhaps it was just that the Doctor seemed so real, and she still pretended the way she felt inside wasn’t really. The Doctor knowing would be an admission to herself, of something huge. It had seemed far too much, with everything else that was going on.
Still, she had been crying, and this time she hadn’t bothered to hide it. Her mind was full of what the Doctor might say once she’d come back. Assuming that this wasn’t the day when she didn’t.
But when her friend finally burst through the door, she didn’t even seem to notice the tears. Her eyes were wide and her shoulders tense. She clearly had enough on her mind herself.
“It was me, Yaz,” the Doctor said.
“What was?” said Yaz.
“It wasn’t the Time Lords who came here to end the world,” the Doctor said. “I was doing what I always did. Saying history couldn’t be changed, that there were futures that couldn’t happen. That you couldn’t happen. It was always me.”
Somehow knowing that made Yaz feel better. She’d always thought she’d been given special treatment, and now she knew it for sure.
“And it’s tomorrow,” said the Doctor. “I’m sorry. October 27th, 1962. The real date of the end of the world.”
And that made it better too, somehow. It was something like a certainty, at a time when she didn’t have many left.
“Saturday,” Yaz said. “It’d have to happen before there was much of a weekend.”
“The clocks were going back, as well,” said the Doctor, glumly. “A whole extra hour in bed. But that’s life. And death, I suppose.”
They were both silent for a moment.
“You don’t have to stay here, Yaz,” the Doctor said. “You can go back to the TARDIS. It has ways to get out. Emergency protocols”—
“But if the bombs fall my time never happens,” said Yaz. “I’d never happen. What happens to me then?”
The Doctor bit her lip, and shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But nothing good.”
“I’m sick of pretending there’s a way out,” Yaz said. “I’m sick of… of forcing myself to have hope. If I survived then I’d always wonder, wouldn’t I? If I was about to get erased from time. I’d always be running.”
She shook her head, and laughed mirthlessly to herself.
“I’ll stay here and face it,” she said. “Like everyone else.”
“Yaz,” said the Doctor. “If anything happened to you. I’d”—
“Nothing’ll ever happen to me, right?” said Yaz. “If everything ends tomorrow. I won’t have existed at all.”
“That’s why you do what you always do,” she said. “Save us.”
“Not always,” said the Doctor. “Ruth Clayton, out there now? She’s me; she’s the Doctor. And she’s right. There are times and places where I’d say that this all has to happen. It’s only ever a question of where you’re standing.”
“The Doctor stands for Fate, and the Doctor stands for Hope,” she said. “Those things come to blows, eventually. I’d have to stand against myself someday. It was always a matter of time.”
“And that’s what you’re planning?” said Yaz. “Standing against her?”
“For the Earth?” said the Doctor. “There isn’t even a choice. But Doctor Clayton, she’s… she’s probably the most powerful thing in this universe”—
“You don’t think you’re going to come back,” said Yaz.
“Of course I think I’m coming back,” said the Doctor. “But I thought there wasn’t any chance of war here, too. Maybe hope doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare for the worst. Only fight it.”
Yaz swallowed, and took a deep breath.
“I never believe that you’re going to be alright,” she said. “But if this really is the end, then I need to know”—
“Yaz,” said the Doctor. “Honestly. I already know what you’re feeling”—
“Is there a God?” said Yaz.
The Doctor looked back at her, shocked.
“Mine and Judith’s,” said Yaz. “Is he real? ‘Cause there were so many things I was scared to ask you, and now there isn’t any time.”
The Doctor fell silent. Her face scrunched thoughtfully, as she mulled over what she should say.
“When I first started running, I’d have said that there definitely wasn’t,” she said. “Later on, I’d have said they were probably me. And when we went into the Godsea I didn’t know what I should think. Now”—
“A lot of things seem less incredible than they did,” she said. “A lot of impossible stuff turned out to be true.”
“Then you don’t really know either,” said Yaz.
The Doctor shook her head.
“I don’t feel like I know much anymore. But maybe I once thought that hope, and faith… that they meant that you wouldn’t have to act. But you must’ve always known that wasn’t true. Or else you’d never’ve joined the police.”
“I think that’s maybe the first time you’ve thought I was the wise one,” she said.
“No. It’s not,” said the Doctor. “Maybe it’s the first time I’ve said.”
Yaz stretched, and motioned to the door.
“Judith shouldn’t spend the night alone,” she said. “Whatever happens. I won’t be sleeping anyway. And you should try.”
“I don’t sleep like humans do,” said the Doctor.
“C’mon,” said Yaz. “I’m not falling for that one tonight.”
The Doctor smiled sadly.
“I’ll try,” she said.
Yaz got out and left the Doctor behind her, walking out to the sweep of the night outside. There were still lights on up and down the road, but the stars were still thundering above her, hard and bright. They spoke of the future, of possibility. And they were already dead, consigned to the distant past. The light that was reaching her was from systems that would have burned themselves out long ago.
And they were here of course, with her on the concrete stairs right now. They were here because she was watching them, and for now, at least, she was alive.
Time and space. The past and the present and future. Maybe they’d all felt different once, Yaz thought. Like the present was somewhere safe from the horrors of the past, and the future was a place where anything could happen.
She’d thought the way she’d been feeling – the terror – might mean she was going mad. But perhaps it was the most normal thing that anyone could feel. It was how it was to live at any point in the world before the books had been written, when you couldn’t flick ahead and look up the ending.
She was uncertain, and afraid. But she’d never been alone. She was just another terrified person like everyone else.
She was a citizen of history.
A timeless child.
Back to index
It would happen like this:
There was a line of American ships blockading Cuba, the Soviet submarines underneath. And those subs had missiles that could destroy cities— but they had others too, for foes that weren’t quite as large. Wires would get crossed, they’d think the US was attacking. They’d turn that whole blockade to vapour; America would have to respond. And that response would be responded to; the dominoes would start falling. It’d only be minutes before the bombs were off flying to everywhere. To Moscow. To New York. To here.
The ends of other worlds seethed above the Doctor, maybe a mile or so above the place that she now stood. They were centred in the place the first bomb blew, of course. Time broke down at the point where London ends.
As for the overgrown crater itself, it was little different from when the Doctor had last come here. No COPS, but also no passers by. And Maltimundar was also nowhere to be seen. There was only a single woman beside a blue Police Box, and in her smile rested the fate of worlds.
That other Doctor took the Doctor in, now. She looked at her tired eyes, her crumpled coat. The raygun in her hand, doing a very poor job of looking threatening. The Doctor watched as that other self’s smile widened. But there was a sadness, still, a weight in her earlier eyes.
“I’d hoped that it wasn’t just you in the end,” her other self now said. “That you were working with someone else, aiding them. But it’s as I feared, isn’t it? I’m my own worst enemy.”
“I’m not alone,” said the Doctor. “I’ve got someone coming to help.”
The other Doctor laughed.
“You mean Maltimundar?” she said. “He won’t get here in time. I made quite sure of that.”
“How?” The other Doctor shrugged.
“I’m the Doctor, and he’s not the Doctor. Does any more need to be said?”
The Doctor glowered.
“Only that if you think you’re good at delaying tactics, you might find you’ve a thing or two left to learn,” she said.
The glimmers of other futures fizzed above them, but they were faded now, muted. That Doctor and her TARDIS were anchoring the true history to the world. There was a window open slightly, just a crack. But there wasn’t long left before it would slam tightly closed.
That other Doctor patted her police box now, looking down from the top of her glasses.
“I know you think this is wrong, Doctor,” she said. “And believe me that I do understand why. I’ve heard the arguments, so many times. I’ve felt them.”
“But they’ve never stopped you,” said the Doctor.
Her other self smiled.
“And would my arguments really ever stop you?” she said. “I told you before. The Doctor in her TARDIS, doing the thing she knows is right. Nothing’s changed.”
The Doctor shook her head.
“It’s not the same,” she said.
“Then you really believe we’re any different?” her other self replied.
“Not us,” said the Doctor. “It’s not the same TARDIS.”
Her other self frowned.
“What makes you think that?” she said.
“Call it a hunch,” the Doctor said.
From her ray gun she fired a shot right at the police box, accelerated by hypersound, faster than time itself. The box had begun to explode before she’d even pulled the trigger, causality itself bursting into flame. It screamed with a roar like smashing pianos, and when the noise faded it was totally gone.
The Doctor’s other self looked back at her, shocked, her smile replaced with rage.
“She was a living thing!” the other Doctor said.
“And I’ll grieve her,” the Doctor said. “Right after the billions of other living things upon this planet have been saved.”
Above them, the possibilities boiled and seethed. Earths met their fate, and human lives were blown away.
“Whatever you’ve got planned,” the other Doctor said, “there’s no way that it’s going to be enough.”
The Doctor looked awkward.
“Yeah,” she said. “About that.”
Her other self stared at her.
“You don’t have a plan?” she said.
“I usually wing it, if I’m honest,” said the Doctor.
“Blowing up the TARDIS destabilises the timeline,” said the other Doctor. “It doesn’t stop anything from happening! I don’t need to tell you that.”
The Doctor looked sheepish.
“Oh,” said her other self, wearily. “I do need to tell you that.”
“If you want to save anyone, you’re a long way from where you need to be,” she said. “War doesn’t break out in London. You’re not going to stop it from here.”
She gestured to a radio in the grass below her, clicking her fingers in order to turn it on. It started playing smooth and upbeat music, inappropriately.
“We’ll hear it any moment now,” the other Doctor said. “The warning that the bombs are on the way. And we will have to leave, when we hear it. I can show you how to escape without a TARDIS. I’m guessing you’ve forgotten that as well.”
“I’m staying here,” the Doctor said.
“Then I see I’m still not someone who ever gives in,” said her other self. “They didn’t think to take that away, at least! And I respect that. Really. Truly. But you have to be honest with yourself. It’s over.”
She waved to the radio, waiting for the warning to begin—
—but on it, the cheery tunes continued to play.
“No,” said the Doctor, softly. “it’s far from being all over.”
She still looked crestfallen and helpless, exhaustion etched under her widened eyes. But underneath it all, there was now a very tiny grin.
Instantly, the other Doctor’s demeanour changed.
“What have you done?” she snapped.
“I’ve not done anything,” said the Doctor. “I really didn’t have a plan.”
“Then who are you working with?” said the other Doctor.
“No one,” said the Doctor. “I’m working with no one.”
Around them both, the jolly tune continued to play.
“But have you ever heard,” she added, “of a man called Vasili Arkhipov?”
Her other self looked at her, uncertainly.
“He’s down there now, in one of those submarines,” the Doctor said. “Deep down; they think the war’s already begun. And they’re shouting at him to fire, but old Vasili’s saying no. Because he knows what that would mean. And he knows there might still be a chance.”
“But that didn’t happen,” the other Doctor said.
The Doctor shook her head.
“Not with your TARDIS up and running,” she said. “All I did was make it possible. Put hope into a hopeless situation, because people feel it when it happens. They know.”
“That’s never happened before,” said her other self. “Not anywhere else in the universe.”
“No,” said the Doctor. “Because you never gave them that chance. I bet you never thought it was even possible.”
The sky above them was less faded, now. Something was pulsing within it. Growing greater.
“You stopped Maltimundar,” said the Doctor. “You tore down time looking for me. But you never heard of Vasili, did you? You wouldn’t have dreamt of it. What a stupid kind of fairy tale. A human being saving the world.”
Her other self didn’t respond at first. She was looking up into the air. At the possibilities that were growing brighter, stronger. The threats the Earth might go on to face, after this. War Machines and climate change. Plastic monsters stalking London, plastic bags flowing into the sea. But that wasn’t all there was in the sky above.
There was so much to be afraid of out there in this planet’s future. Enough that you might forget what was also there, or never know. That there were so many people in those places who’d never given in.
The Doctor thought of all the other versions of her, who she’d felt up there in that sky. The Doctors who were spilling out of it, right now, emerging out of her future to save the day. And now they were coming up behind her, ready to fight. A young woman in a football shirt with pencils behind both of her ears. A tired old man in a nightgown, who looked like he’d never once slept. A woman in an infantry helmet with a flack jacket lined with screwdrivers, pulling out the one that was labelled SONIC. Many, many others, as far as she could think to see.
Perhaps she lived within a terrifying story. But she’d never been a part of it alone.
“If you’re coming for this planet, then you should know,” she said. “That this world has been saved by so many different faces, to whom you’ll never be able to put a name. Human beings! Stanislav Petrov! John Onyeneme! Kong Hualing, Maureen Barnes! History doesn’t remember all their names, but I do! I know every single one!”
“You know you’re not like those people,” said her other self. “Not really. They were part of a single world; we walk in eternity. It’s that which shapes the path we choose to take.”
The Doctor shook her head.
“You might be a god, Doctor,” she said. “But we are so much more. I’ve lived in the world like everybody else, never having a clue what I really was. What made me special. That’s the only thing that makes anyone capable of judgment. Or execution.”
Her other self smiled back, indulgently.
”Then you’re really going to do this?” she said. “Stop each apocalypse after the other, every one? They’re not going to stop coming; you know that. Not the aliens; definitely not anything else.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “Because that’s what being part of this world is. It’s what it means.”
She looked up at all the possible futures, and grinned.
“It’s funny, isn’t it?” she said. “All those people up there, thinking the human race isn’t going to make it. That they’re going to need a miracle. They never realise that the miracle’s already started; that it’s been going on since before I even got here. And you know what I think, Doctor? I think there’s a chance that it isn’t going to stop”—
She waved her sonic screwdriver at the radio, which began to hiss and sputter—
“One small step for man,” it blared. “One giant leap for mankind!”
The other Doctor stared at it. “What’s that?” she shouted.
“Moon landing,” said the Doctor.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” her other self said. “They never got to the moon!”
“Up next,” said a voice on the radio. “Many experts feared there was no chance of a peaceful end to the Cold War. Today, we now know they were wrong. As of last night the conflict is officially over— and it never went nuclear, after all”—
“Yes it did!” shouted the other Doctor. “Of course it did!”
“Some say we came out of fear our first planet is dying,” crackled the radio, “yet I stand with a hope: that from now, a second world lives”—
“Mars landing,” said the Doctor, nonchalantly.
“There was a time that I thought today was impossible,” said a woman’s voice said on the radio. “Perhaps there was a time it even was. But the climate has stabilised; the rainforests are recovering. And I can say to today’s children what my leaders could not say to me: that now there is no need to look to the future with fear”—
“But that’s nonsense!” said the other Doctor. “Who could possibly have managed to do that?”
“Homo sapiens!” boomed the radio in a voice like furious treacle. “What an inventive, invincible species. They've survived flood, famine and plague!”
“That’s you,” said the other Doctor, quietly.
“They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts,” the radio roared, “and now, here they are! Out among the stars! Waiting to begin a new life. Ready to outsit eternity”—
“That’s me,” said the other Doctor, quieter still.
She stood firm above her other self, and gritted her teeth.
“This isn’t what should ever have happened,” she said. “That’s not someone I can ever become.”
Her hands began to glow with nuclear fire.
“This world must end, Doctor,” she said. “Better that it ends here. I will stop you if I have to.”
“Not without a fight,” said the Doctor, raising her sonic screwdriver as she spoke.
“Really?” said the other Doctor. “You and Who’s army?”
The Doctor frowned, gesturing to her future selves.
“Did you not look behind me, or something?” she said.
“This lot?” said the other Doctor. “Please. You don’t know how many of us there have been, in the Timeless Reign. When things get dicey, we’re able to call for backup.”
“I was in the Division for a very long time,” she said. “I learned a few tricks. Do you want to see what a real police force from Gallifrey looks like?”
The Doctor grimaced. “Not especially,” she said.
“Well,” said her other self. “Then maybe, at least? If you think you can change history, you should find out how much of it you really have.”
She twiddled something in her jacket, which began to beep—
And a wheezing, groaning sound started to fill up the air—
Back to index
On the planet of Sellan with its six strange suns, a very tall man was looking straight up at the sky. He was as lanky as he was long, dressed in a blue shirt and enormous spectacles. A clock was stitched into his left breast pocket, and a prominent watch was strapped onto the top of his wrist.
“I know you’re here,” he said, as he squinted into the sunlight. “You’ve got a bit of a smell to you, I’m afraid.”
He turned round to face a pile of rocks behind him, giving it an awkward wave with his gangly arms.
The rocks seemed to bristle, somehow.
“A warrior of the Stenza does not hide!” shouted a voice from behind them.
“You are, though, as far as I can see,” said the man. “Hiding.”
“I am stalking!” roared the rocks. “As a hunter stalks its prey! And a trophy torn from the Doctor themselves would mark me as a champion indeed!”
The warrior rose from behind the rocks at last, grinning with as many teeth as were stuck in his face.
“Good for you,” said the man, as he now grinned back. “Bad for me, of course. Just have one question first. If you wouldn’t mind.”
The warrior of the Stenza clearly did. He flung himself at the man, who sidestepped neatly, looking mildly interested as his foe crashed into the ground.
“Love the enthusiasm,” said the man, cheerfully. “Let’s put a bit of that in your answer, as well. Tell me: right now. What time is it?”
“It is time for you to die!” snarled the Stenza as he got to his feet.
“No, not like that,” said the man. “In the strictly chronological sense. I shouldn’t need to ask, of course!” he laughed. “With a fellow like you around, it’s clear that the answer’s tooth hurty.”
The Stenza roared, lunging forward with a giant blade made out of the sinew and bone of his enemies. The man stepped to one side, without looking bothered at all.
“That’s fair, sir,” he said. “It is what that joke did deserve. Puns or a root canal, eh? One’s almost as painful as the other.”
The Stenza was extremely angry now. He lunged again, and once more he crashed into the ground.
“Tell me when you’re finished with that,” said the man. “I’ve another question for you.”
The Stenza snarled. “The only question you should be asking, creature, is which of your organs you wish my blade to spare until last!”
The man ignored that comment completely. Instead, he produced a silver pocket watch from somewhere, and started to look at it thoughtfully.
“Timepieces,” he said. “Got a thing for them, myself. They’re complex, aren’t they? All these odds and ends, just ticking away.”
He stared into the eyes of the Stenza, who was taken in by it all, despite himself.
“My question to you, good man,” he said, wiggling his pocket watch. “Which one has the most moving parts?”
The Stenza warrior paused for a moment, reflecting on it.
“On the Eighth of the Nine Systems there stands a clock,” he said at last, “which is erected to the glory of my people. When the Stenza stood victorious, we gathered every living thing, and from each one we tore out a single bone. And each was carved into part of that mighty clock. Its chimes now sound our triumph to the dead!”
The man looked back at him, eyes slightly narrowed.
“Right,” said the man. “Well, that’s disgusting. Wrong, too, as it happens. No, it’s a timepiece just like this.”
He waggled the pocket watch once again, and laughed.
“It was in front of you all along!” he said. “Funny how things turn out, eh? You’re laughing a little; I can see that you’re showing your teeth.”
The Stenza scowled and spat on the ground.
“A trifle like that?” he said. “The clock of the Stenza stood high and tall.”
“No,” said the man. “It’s an hourglass. That’s the answer I was looking for.”
He clicked a button on the top of the pocket watch and it flicked open, sand pouring out of it as it did.
The man grinned with unnerving delight.
“Sand, see,” he said, pointing as it fell. “I made it full of sand.”
The Stenza screamed with fury, trying to snatch away the watch.
“Oy, now,” said the man, as he swiped it away. “That’s a meticulous piece of engineering!”
An alarm went off on the pocket watch, a furious beep. The sand that was still pouring out of it began flashing red.
“Unusual,” said the man, clicking the pocket watch shut. “What’s the time, Mr Tooth?”
He examined the face of it, and frowned. For a moment, any trace of merriment in him was gone.
“Ah, well,” he said. “Commeth the hour, commeth the man, as I say.”
He turned back to the Stenza, looking a little bit sheepish.
“Sorry to be a nuisance, good sir,” he said. “But we’ll have to reschedule this thing we’ve got going on. You killing me, and all that. Something’s come up. Personal matter. Don’t suppose you’d be fine with me taking my leave?”
The Stenza didn’t respond with words. Instead he glared at the man with a hate he had rarely seen, even though he had more enemies the there were stars in the galaxy. On the Warrior’s head each tooth began to crack open, revealing a series deadly and spinning drills.
The man looked back at his furious foe, and sighed.
“Right you are,” he muttered. “Chance would be a fine thing.”
And there always was a chance, as Sel’dywer knew only too well. Where there’s life, there’s hope, the Dice Lady liked to say, and this was the way that she proved it— by gambling on the fate of a people, just before their end should be due.
She’d given him a book to read before he came into the games room. A children’s book, like she’d thought that might lessen the pain. From his planet’s future, a thousand years after his time, explaining how the armies had flooded his city. How no one survived. There was a cartoon underneath, with a little joke. Sel’dywer didn’t think it was really that funny.
The room was before him now, and it wasn’t grand. Wood panels on the walls, a faded carpet, red. A table with a single die upon it. Her.
He reconsidered, as he took her in. Maybe it was a grand room, after all. Maybe anywhere with the Dice Lady in it would be, maybe grandness had to follow her wherever she’d go. She sat still: poised incredibly pale. Like a woman made out of wax, or a dead one embalmed. But then she wasn’t the one whose life was about to be in question.
He let that thought go, because he had to. He smiled. Tried hard not to dwell on his fate.
Red against white, she smiled back.
“Ready to dice with death?” she said.
“I’d bet my life on it,” he replied. “One die, one throw. Five chances.”
He waggled the children’s book still clutched in his hand.
“You roll a one, everything I’ve read in here happens, just as you’ve said it should. Anything else, time’s rewritten. The whole city lives. That’s my understanding of it, right? Those are the rules.”
The Dice Lady steepled her hands, and chuckled slightly.
“Almost,” she said. “There is another detail. Though I expect you know it?”
Sel’dywer snorted. “I know the rumours,” he said. “But rumours are all they are. They don’t stack up.”
“They’re fact, I’m afraid,” the Dice Lady said. “No one’s ever beaten me. They can roll anything but one, but then it’s always one. I’ve always won.”
Sel’dywer looked back at her, feeling ice prick through his blood.
“Forgive me,” he said. “But if I understood correctly. You said you stood for hope. And hope’s not… well. It isn’t a weighted die”—
“And this isn’t a weighted die!” said the Dice Lady. “But. The problem is”—
She frowned, and puffed out her cheeks, and every motion was perfect as she did.
“You think every option’s possible, and they’re all equal,” she said. “You can’t see what’s decided by the force of the throw. By whatever’s already in motion. As far as you see? Anything can happen. But when you’ve peered into the gears of the universe”—
–she was peering hard into his eyes–
“One,” she said. “It’s always one. Because you can’t fight fate.”
“Then why play the game at all?” said Sel’dywer. “To toy with your prey?”
The Dice Lady smiled.
“Because there was a man on a planet that I can’t stand who once said this: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? It’s the definition of insanity. And he also said that God does not play dice.”
Sel’dywer met her gaze, still, though it was piercing and terrible. Her face stared into his, like an awful truth.
“So I play my games for the same reason that I hope,” she said. “I like to think: perhaps that man was wrong.”
She picked up the die.
“But it’s always one,” of course, she said, as she threw it into the air. “You wouldn’t get good odds from many bookkeepers. Except three, of course.”
“They’ve got enough odds between them for the universe”—
In a dome as wide as the sky which was lined entirely with books, a curly-haired man burst through a bright red door. His cheeks were almost as red – from just how fast he’d been running – and his pleasant, open face was drenched with sweat.
“Lads!” he gasped at the two people before him. “Lads!”
The two of them glowered as they looked up from their books. Unsteadily, one of them got to his feet. He was also curly-haired— but his face was unpleasant, and currently it was not accepting visitors.
“What have I told you about calling us lads?” he said. “It isn’t grammatical. She is a woman. And I am against it on principle.”
The woman beside him nodded. Her hair was straight and streaked with white and black, and the openness of her face tended to vary.
“He’s right,” she said, flicking scrunched up paper at the open-faced man. “Is this laddish? Is that?”
She pointed at a picture of the open-faced man she had drawn, which was unspeakable.
The open-faced man paused. He considered the nearly comatose man in front of him, his crystallised drool. The hyperactive woman; the brown splotches on her horrible picture.
An ominous thought occurred to him, as dreadful as any he’d faced in his great many lives.
“Are you on the salted caramel again?” he said.
“Are you on the salted caramel again?” repeated the woman in a high, mocking tone. “Eating the salt and the sugar, while I’m out being ever so good?”
The open-faced man gave a weary sigh.
“Are you…?” he said.”The caramel?””
The woman rolled her eyes, which wasn’t an answer. Behind her on a shallow wooden table, splatters covered a book which was very important indeed.
“You can’t get it on that one, at least!” said the open-faced man. “We’d all be for it then.”
The closed-face man glowered at him, like he might be a caramel stain too.
“Why’re you here, anyway?” he said. “Don’t you have something important to do? I’ve been taking out library books for about a thousand years. They’ll probably soon be overdue.”
The open-faced man looked grave.
“It’s a call from our future,” he said. “The Doctor’s gone bad.”
“Oh god,” said the other man. “I’m not speaking like a teenager again, am I? Trying to be cool?”
“What’s so important about us going bad?” said the woman between mouthfuls of caramel. “That’s happened loads of times. Listen.”
She got out a well-thumbed book and wodged it open.
“Once upon a time,” she began to read, “and long ago…”
Once upon a time – and long ago – all of the darkness within the Doctor coalesced into one single body. Then it happened again, and once more after that. Then it happened a fourth time, as well. Now, there were ten of them, and so now they all needed a leader. The darkest of the darkness, to amalgamate the amalgamations. The High Valeyard.
He was standing before them now: a man with high cheekbones and a wiry cloud of hair, glowering with his piercing and ice-blue eyes. Glaring down at the full Council of Valeyards, assembled around a large, round table. They appeared as ominous as they did evil: eight of them in dark and sinister clothes, and one in a hideous salmon-pink suit.
“What is the purpose of this meeting?” demanded one, a woman who was thin and angular, her boniness unrestricted to her cheeks.
”Evil,” said the High Valeyard, without emotion.
“An evil we commit, or one we oppose?” said the Valeyard who was an old and imperious woman. “We could all be out doing evil if we didn’t have so many meetings.”
The Valeyard in the hideous suit nodded.
“Yes, there’s a lot of admin in Valeyarding, isn’t there?” he said. “Not a lot of people seem to realise that.”
“It is an evil we oppose of which I speak,” said the High Valeyard, cutting him off. “Who I have summoned you all here now to fight against.”
The Valeyard who was stern and fat snorted to himself.
“You know the laws of our Council, High Valeyard,” he said. “For us to move against an evil, it must be truly”—
“Yes, I’m aware,” said the High Valeyard. His emotionlessness was giving way to irritation.
“There is another,” he said. “An incarnation of ourselves that chose to shun natural order. Through her actions, the web of time has broken around her. And yet for her own selfish desire, she now seeks to break it more.”
The youngest and most feared of the Valeyards smirked.
“Most ignoble,” she said. “And yet we do not seek to recruit her.”
The High Valeyard gave a lipless smile.
“This incarnation does not go by the name of The Valeyard,” he said. “And nor does she play by our rules.”
The ancient Valeyard took a long, deep breath, and started to speak in his lilting voice.
”The same could be said of many of our kind,” he said. “For the length of our Reign has been long. There are those who have taken any number of names. And who once took some strange oaths of their own.”
The Valeyard with the awful secret stared right into the High Valeyard’s eyes, and talked to him unflinchingly, trying to outpierce his gaze.
“Tell me,” he said. “This evil you summon us to fight. What name does she go by, out there in the universe? That would be terrible enough to summon the Valeyards themselves?”
The High Valeyard smiled.
“But that’s just it,” he said. “She calls herself The Doctor.”
He watched as the Council erupted in horror and fury.
Far away on the planet Bulgaria Five, a stadium was shouting out almost as loudly as the Valeyards. Behind the stage with identical grins on their faces, two men that looked exactly the same were watching the crowd. Each of them in silver, sequinned tracksuits, both with their light-blonde hair gelled into waves.
“Can you believe it?” one said to the other. “Space Eurovision! I never thought we’d make it to the final!”
“It’s so long since Ireland made it,” said the other. “We’ll do the Emerald Planet proud!”
One of the men looked excitedly behind him at the props being prepared to roll on stage: the two giant silver spheres, each with the same hairstyle as the men. Underneath them and with military precision, an army of Sontaran backing singers were ready to march into action.
The man felt his grin grow wider than perhaps it had been in any of his lifetimes—
—when from the other man’s pocket, something blared with a furious beep.
“Edward?” said the man. “I thought I’d told you to turn your phone off! What if it went off on stage?”
Edward looked back at him, guilt welling up in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, John,” he said. “It’s not my phone. It’s something you told me to turn off a long time ago. Much further back than tonight.”
Apologetically, he produced a strange device from a pocket of his tracksuit.
John stared at him in horror.
“Nothing’s more important than the Space Eurovision,” he said. “We’ve always said it!”
Edward looked at him with a curious expression, one his billions of fans might never have seen.
“Not always,” he said, quietly.
John looked back, apprehension wide in his eyes.
“Edward?” he said. “You’re talking about”—
“Before I was an Edward. Before you were a John.”
“We took an oath,” said John. “We chose to renounce that life. Together.”
The big rolling spheres were wheeling onto the stage. The Sontarans were readying their glitter guns. There wasn’t much time left, to persuade Edward to go on and perform. It called for desperate measures, John knew. From his speechifying days, when he’d been— when he’d been someone very different to now.
“You know what we stand for,” he said. “Music and dancing! Massive performances! There’s no point in a universe if it doesn’t have any joy.”
Edward looked back at him, face totally serious and set.
“There’s no joy without justice, John,” he said, quietly.
John laughed very softly to himself.
“And people really think we’re identical,” he said.
The announcer is shouting their names, and the crowd was going wild. It was everything John had wanted, for as long as he’d ever been a John. He’d almost forgotten that there’d once been another way.
He closed his eyes, and turned away from the applause. Reluctantly, he moved one hand to the top of his tracksuit zipper.
“One last time, then,” he said. “For justice.”
In an effortlessly choreographed motion, the two men unzipped their tracksuits to reveal their t-shirts underneath: one with TIME written on it in large letters, the other with SPACE.
“Doctor,” one noded to the other.
“Doctor”, the other nodded back.
They each thrust a hand into the air, and snapped their fingers
“Jedward no more!” they cried.
”Around the deep black table of the Council, the Valeyards were continuing to rage.”
”It’s unthinkable!” said the imperious old woman. “I mean that; I wouldn’t ever have thought it!”
“This will not do!” shouted the man in the hideous suit, slamming his fist on the table. “This simply will not do!”
The High Valeyard watched them argue, no emotion in his pale blue eyes. He knew how to moderate the Council well enough. He would simply watch, and he would wait.
“I wish to speak!” shouted the Valeyard with the fine, grey beard.
“You are speaking!” spat the Valeyard with the thick ginger hair.
“Then I wish to be heard by you all,” boomed the bearded Valeyard, loud enough that the whole room fell silent before him.
He coughed lightly, and spoke in his calm, reasoned tones.
“It is said that a Valeyard will one day seek to claim all of the Doctor’s lives,” he said. “Yet it appears it is the Doctor who has struck first. If she is to stand for both good and evil, I say there will soon be no space left for us.”
“Indeed,” said the High Valeyard. “It is an existential threat which we now face. And – dare I say it – I believe we are in agreement on how to proceed?”
The youngest Valeyard smiled.
”That’s never happened before,” she said.
“And yet even in eternity, a first time may still occur,” said the High Valeyard.
He raised his voice to a tone that befitted a leader.
”We move against this Doctor. All in favour say AYE!”
”AYE!” roared the ten in the room in one voice.
The High Valeyard smiled like a crocodile who’d just been freed.
“Then it’s settled,” he said. “The Valeyards are going to war.”
In a dome full of books and melancholy, an open-faced man had finally finished explaining himself to two people he was pretty sure wouldn’t be listening.
“So that’s about the size of it,” he said. “Ready to rumble?”
He smiled, then felt his smile fade as the people before him made no effort to move.
The sour-faced man waved a finger at him, and burped.
“Well,” he said. “You’re a very handsome man. And we’ve considered what you have to say.”
“We have,” said the woman. “We’ve got big minds, you know. Really huge ones.”
“I know,” said the open-faced man.
“The thing is,” said the other man. “Time and space. They’re not like… a fudge, like you probably think they are.”
“Don’t interrupt!” shouted the sour-faced man. “You’ll frighten the books. No. What the majesty of the space-time continuum resembles is… a really big lump of salted caramel. Decedent. Oozing. You don’t want to mess with some time and space like that.”
He took a great glob of it in his hand, and began to chew on it disgustingly.
“See?” he said. “That’s time and space, right there. Mimmilly, Mammily. Caramelly, Wammily. A great big lump of the stuff.”
The open-faced man stared at him.
“What does that mean?” he said.
“It means that we’re not bloody going!” snapped the woman.
“The books wouldn’t like it, anyway,” muttered the sour faced man. “There’d be no one around to feed them.”
The open-faced man glowered at them.
“Just me, then,” he said. “Against this threat to the state of the universe.”
“Monologuing!” shouted the woman.
Without looking up, the sour-faced man held up a bit of cardboard with MONOLOGUING written on it in capital letters.
The open-faced man boggled.
“You two would be crap in a Time War,” he muttered as he stormed off.
A long way away, Sel’dywer and the Dice Lady both stared at the die, and what it showed.
“Well,” said the Dice Lady. “That’s never happened before. It looks like today is your lucky day.”
“As they looked at it, the die suddenly started to beep.
“That’s never happened before, either,” she said. “And it means that it isn’t my lucky day. Not at all.”
Sel’dywer didn’t care about the beeping. He was looking at the face of the die with a sense of dread. He knew he shouldn’t say anything, should take his victory. But something got the better of him, all the same.
“Does it count?” he said.
The Dice Lady looked at him as if he had gambled away his brain.
“Why wouldn’t it?” she said. “We established the rules. Anything but one, and your city is spared. I know I’m believed to be cruel. But I do play fair.”
“But,” said Sel’dywer, “but that isn’t even a number”—
“And one is a number, isn’t it? So if I haven’t even managed to roll a number, then I certainly can’t have won. By definition. I assume you follow?”
Sel’dywer began to speak.
“It wasn’t on the dice before you threw it,” he said.
“Yes, well,” said the Dice Lady. “Observer effect, I shouldn’t wonder. Something to think about. Perhaps free will is not an illusion, after all.”
She smiled at him, and somehow the smile seemed genuine.
“But I have to go,” she said. “Got a planet to kill. Enjoy your anachronistic miracle, Sel’dywer.”
Then she was gone, before he’d even thought to notice she was leaving. She’d seemed warmer, in the end, Sel’dywer thought. He hadn’t even realised she’d known his name.
His city was safe. His husbands and his wife would all live on. He should be happy, he knew.
But he couldn’t get it out of his head.
He looked at the die on the table, once again.
On its top face there was a single question mark.
“It can get very complicated, an hourglass,” said the very tall man with a sigh. “There are so many moving parts. Sometimes it does make one wish for a simpler time.”
The dental drills of the Stenza were flying towards him, and as they did the man moved jerkily, uncoordinatedly. It looked like he had no control over his awkward body. But when he stood straight again, none of the drills had hit home.
“The timepiece with the fewest moving parts, of course?” he said as he lightly brushed his shirt. “That’s your sundial. Only two pieces to get if you’ll make one of those. All you need’s a star, like that one”—
An egg timer rang in his pocket as the fifth sun of Sellan lit the sky. At exactly the right angle to reflect through the crystals that hung in the air, creating a ray of hot and furious light.
—“and a shadow,” finished the man.
He looked at the blackened smear which was once a Stenza warrior.
“How about that, then?” he said. “It really was two thirty, after all.”
He looked at his beeping pocket watch again, and frowned.
“Funny, really”, he muttered. “Not like I’ve got time to kill.”
Light glinted in his glasses, and he smiled to himself.
“Right”, he said. “Let’s get a shift on.”
Back to index
There were so many Doctors behind the other Doctor now. Every conceivable kind of person, and many that were nothing like people at all.
They gathered under the crackling storm of realities, filling up the glade until they could hardly move. Jostling, in an enormous crowd— but the crowd was still only one person, of course. A single individual who ruled the universe, and who was her.
The Timeless Reign.
The other Doctor looked behind her shoulder at the crowd, and scowled.
“Typical,” she said. “Hardly anyone’s shown up at all.”
The Doctor wasn’t even looking at the herself-covered ground. Instead she stared up at the air, in awe and horror.
“I was a dragon?!” she said.
Her other self laughed.
“Oh yes,” she said. “That life was pretty wild.”
“Look at how vast your existence has really been,” she said. “Think about how much of what you were is ready to fight you now. This is what you stand for, Doctor. This is who you are.”
The Doctor looked at the vast army of her past in front of her, and scowled.
“Maybe it’s who I was,” she said. “But I know exactly what I stand for now: that all of us are capable of change. Even you, and me. And even history.”
“You’d only change history for the chosen few,” said her other self. “This is about fair play.”
“It’s about stopping an atrocity,” said the Doctor, her face both firm and set.
Her other self looked at her with something that wasn’t quite respect. And then she nodded, although only very slightly.
“If that’s where you stand,” she said. “And if there is no other way. Then”—
—“then we’re really going to do this,” said the Doctor.
Her other self nodded.
“If that’s what we think is right,” she said.
Above them, reality burst. Around the assembled armies the glade vanished, as other versions of the Earth flickered in and out of existence. And as they did, behind the other Doctor the Timeless Reign began to do all manner of things, light glowing from their hands, strange instruments in their arms. Devices that weren’t quite weapons strapped to legs and heads, ready to engage. Behind the Doctor, hundreds of sonic screwdrivers in a rainbow of colours were being taken out: flickering to life, and switching on.
“In the name of the Doctor!” the other Doctor shouted.
“For the ends of the Earth,” the Doctor said in reply.
For only a second, they both looked at each other in the eyes.
And then the armies were running towards each other, and the battle had begun—
Back to index
Reality spluttered and fractured around the Doctor— and then she was in the same place, and somewhere else. Another London, another time. Somewhere in the 2020s, judging by the skyline. And from the state of the streets, not long after something Not Good.
They were nearly deserted, at least by human beings. The only real noise was the sound of other Doctors nearby— attacking each other with zaps and flashes, spouting witticisms as they fought. A child in a flying wheelchair zoomed high above her, lasers firing at the dragon she used to be.
Posters lined the walls: about COVID, or something like it. The Doctor ordered them into a timeline by their various states of decay. STOP THE SPREAD. THE CURFEW CONTAINS. STAY ALIVE: STAY INSIDE.
She saw the freshest among them, and her hearts clenched.
CARRY ON, it said, with black background, bold text, a crown. The text obscured by bright pink spray, the word CARRION graffitiing it out.
The shadow of someone fell over her, long and tall in the afternoon light. She turned around to see a man with a curious smile, who was somehow even taller still.
“No time like the present, eh?” he said, a glint in his over-large spectacles. “Everything’s science fiction. Until it happens.”
The Doctor looked over to him, up at his eyes.
“You’re me,” she said.
The man nodded.
“That’s the size of it,” he said. “You’re giving a bit of special treatment to the loved ones, so I’ve heard.”
“And it’s understandable. Many do. Can’t let it happen, of course. Not on my watch.”
He twiddled a dial on the clock on the side of his wrist, its hands now rotating, spinning backwards. As they did, time reversed around both Doctors, a newsreel showing what had happened to this world. Black lorries shovelling corpses, then corpses piling up. The corpses when they were still people, collapsing down onto the street. Everything backwards until the Doctors were standing in an ordinary London morning, with everyone walking about like the world was normal.
The tall man watched, observing it all, his expression obscured under the cold frame of his glasses.
“Time was,” he said to the Doctor, “you understood why all this had to happen. But they’ve broken you, haven’t they? Gone fumbling about in your gears.”
He gave her a jolly grin.
“Not to worry, though,” he said. “I’ll have you back to normal in a tick. Or a tock. It’s this clock I have that does it, is what I mean.”
He took a pocket watch out of his shirt and gave it a cheery shake.
“Nice bit of kit you’ve got there,” said the Doctor. “There’s just one problem. I don’t need fixing.”
She raised her screwdriver, its orange bulb starting to glow. The tall man gave an appreciative whistle as he heard it begin to screech.
“Would you look at that!” he said. “Nothing like any weapon I’ve ever seen. Won’t work, I’m afraid. No weapons do. Might knock me about a little, of course. Make me someone shorter; no worries there. Been a hard time getting clothes in this body.”
“Don’t lose track of your tailor just yet,” said the Doctor as the sound increased to a deafening whirr. “Because this isn’t a weapon.”
“It’s a screwdriver,” she said.
The man’s eyes boggled in panic, racing over to the back of the watch. There, the screws are merrily coming loose from their tiny bolts.
”Well,” he muttered. “That’d do it.”
The watch erupted from the back in a hail of sand, pummelling into the tall man’s face, etching scars into his glasses. The Doctor started to run – to run anywhere, as long as it was away – but as she did the world went green around her—
—and she was in another Earth, this time with leaves everywhere. Really everywhere: covering the skyline, the buildings. There were leaf-covered lumps sticking up everywhere, and the Doctor knew that they must once have been people. There was a storm of oxygen in her nostrils, far too pure. This must be a place where the plants had fought back, then. There would be no other life living here, except for them.
Except, of course, there was other life passing through. Her other selves, standing tall in the wind-tousled leaves. On one side, a man in camouflaged medical overalls, an indigo face mask tucked in the pocket of his gown. Five other men beside him, cloaked with the same clothes and face, but with those faces coloured by masks all the colours of the rainbow. Blue was missing, though. They were every colour other than blue.
And on the other side, there was only one Doctor, her face an arched smile at her foes. She was tall. She was bald. And she carried a flaming sword.
The Doctor with the indigo face mask was shouting at her, his scalpel outstretched.
“Of course you’re going to use it!” he was saying.
“I told you,” replied the Doctor he was fighting. “The sword’s not used for violence.”
“You’re a Doctor,” replied the man in the indigo mask. “So ask any of my Surgeon Generals. Medicine and violence? They’re really only a matter of degree.”
Watching her past and future selves bicker, the Doctor felt the truth sink in: she didn’t really have a plan here, not at all. Only to survive long enough to be someone who’d pick up a flaming sword, then become extremely good at never using it. So for now, she hid behind the largest clump of leaves, trying her best not to become involved.
“You misunderstand me,” her future self was saying to the Surgeon Generals. “The sword’s not for violence. It’s for holding the violence back. If I don’t try very hard, it might escape.”
Nearer than should have been possible, there was an enormous and distinctly non plant-based roar.
“Oh,” said the future Doctor distantly. “My mind must have been somewhere else.”
“There aren’t any animals here!” spat the Chief of the Surgeon Generals. The plants wiped them all from the face of this Earth. Where could they even be from?”
“Eden,” the future Doctor said.
The Chief Surgeon General scowled. “But Eden isn’t real.”
“No,” said the future Doctor. “That’s why it was such a good place to hide them.”
From behind her clump of leaves, the Doctor ducked as lions and buffaloes and so many other animals burst out from under the greenness; their teeth bared, their claws outstretched. The masks over the Surgeon Generals’ faces couldn’t disguise their fear as the menagerie barrelled towards them.
“This animal rabble can’t ever stop us, Doctor!” the Chief of them desperately cried. “We’re military vets! With a veterinary degree!”
All six of them brandished their scalpels, and the tall, bald Doctor held her sword straight on—
And as the animals leapt towards the Generals the Doctor felt herself knocked to the ground, her big blue coat heavy against her back. There was a slash of red against the green, and for a moment the Doctor thought it must be blood—
But no. She was in another world, the woman and surgeons gone. A red sky under chimneys belching flame. A ginger-haired man, all dressed in black above her. Sneering at her, with a face made of pure contempt.
“You think you have the wit to truly be evil, Doctor?” he said, scoffing. “Mere fantasy. For you will weep when you see your precious world of man enslaved to the whims of the Valey—ow!”
He reeled from the stone which had smacked hard between his eyes.
“The Valeyow?” said the Doctor.
“No!” roared the man. “The Valeyard!”
The Doctor looked at him pityingly.
“If I’m being honest,” she said. “The Valeyow and the Valeyard. They’re both pretty equal in sounding unthreatening.”
The Valeyard glared through the bruise on his face, drawing himself to his full height.
“Folly, Doctor,” he said. “As now you will now be witness to just how threatening a Valeyard can be!”
He raised his hands and the flames from the chimneys burned bright, as a dreadful thrumming sound began to fill the air. Over his blue-bruised and red-haired face, the Valeyard began to grow a terrible grin—
And another stone hit him on the side of the head with a thwack. He gave a small, pathetic squeak, and fell to the ground.
The Doctor turned round to see a woman who was smiling, a a child’s catapult held inside he r hand. Her hair was dyed vivid red, and tattoos of question marks scrolled down her arms.
“Don’t worry,” said the woman. “You’ll be ginger on your own terms soon enough.”
The Doctor smiled back, getting ready to say something—
But then there was a crackle and she was somewhere else, which was white like death. Bone earth, bone sky. A silence. There was a disc in the sky that was flat and red. It stood cold in the air above her, a coin of a sun.
It was strange to hear silence, after all that fighting. There was only one other Doctor here, and she was standing still. A grey streak in her hair, a book clenched in her hand— its cover splattered with something like hardened sugar.
This other self regarded the Doctor strangely, like an old woman peering at a child. The Doctor, meanwhile, was observing that other self’s hands, where electricity crackled and seethed.
“You’re with the Reign,” she said.
The woman with the streak in her hair smiled.
“Is that what you think?” she said. “History’s always more complicated than it seems. You’d know that, if you’d read enough books. Or remembered them.”
She frowned, looking at the Doctor, and looking distant.
“I wonder how much you do remember,” she said. “Of everything you were.”
The Doctor looked at her as well, confused.
“You’re talking like you already know who I am,” she said.
Her other self smiled.
“The Timeless Reign has no idea. Don’t worry. Some of us made very sure of that.”
She gave the Doctor a sly wink, and a knowing grin.
“History is complicated”, she whispered.
“You were me, once,” she added. “And a long time after that you were her; you were the Doctor that summoned us here. So everything you need to know should already be in your head. And if it isn’t? It’ll be in here.”
She handed over the sugar-spattered book, and the Doctor tentatively flicked through its pages. Every one of them was completely and totally blank.
“I’m beginning to appreciate why other people might find me annoying,” said the Doctor.
“Don’t think about the Doctor you’re fighting,” her other self said. “Think about what happened next. Tiny moments of memory; fleeting images. You must have some idea.”
The Doctor frowned, scrunching up her face as she concentrated.
“I do remember some of it,” she said. “But it’s so strange. It feels like it can’t ever have happened.”
“Then maybe it didn’t,” said her other self.
The Doctor looked at her. “What’re you saying?”
“That everything that happened next is in there,” said her other self, gesturing at the book.
The Doctor looked down at the empty pages, hearing Judith’s voice from what now felt like so long ago. “Sometimes, it feels like the only way out is killing yourself,” it echoed in her mind.
“If you know all this,” she said to the other self before her, “why don’t you just tell me what’s going on?”
Her other self gave a half smile.
“Because from what I’ve read,” she said. “you’ve always been asking a question. And that means – deep down – that you already know the answer. It’s always been about whatever you really are.”
The Doctor frowned. “So you’re saying”—
“Your future’s an open book,” said her other self.
She smiled at her.
“Good luck,” she whispered.
And then she was gone, and that world was. The Doctor was falling down, back into the clearing, landing hard on the trampled grass. The real timeline, the real world.
She got up to her feet, her eyes locking onto Doctor Clayton. Above them in another world, Daleks turned the sky to orange fire.
“Let this end,” said the other Doctor. “Let it go.”
“That’s what you want?” said the Doctor, feeling her body shaking.
Not averting her eyes, she took her ray gun from a pocket in her coat, pointing it right at the other Doctor’s chest.
“Over my dead body,” she said.
Back to index
The other Doctor leapt at her future self, knocking the ray gun so it pointed into the air. Their bodies hit each other and they both fell to the ground, struggling with each other as the weapon flailed in the Doctor’s hands.
They fought for a while, rolling over and over. One moment the Doctor felt the cold dirt of the ground on her face; the next she saw Daleks roaring in the sky.
“Killing your earlier self creates a paradox,” the Doctor’s other self was shouting. “Do you know what’s going to happen if you do that?”
“I know what’s going to happen if I don’t!” the Doctor shouted back.
Her other self grabbed for the ray gun; the Doctor swiped it away. They scrambled at each other, scuffing the grass from the dirt.
“Then you don’t understand,” the other Doctor said as they fought. “No idea what you’re dealing with, once again.”
“You’re always talking about what I don’t understand,” said the Doctor. “You’re one to talk. Never living in a world, never really dying. You’ve no right to rule over those who do!”
“But you have a right to control it?” the other Doctor said. “To choose which of those little people count?”
In the palm of her hand was a soft and crackling glow.
“What that man in the submarine did doesn’t have to matter,” the other Doctor said. “There are other decisions being made; other choices. So many who can send this world to its fate. Really, I only have to show them the way.”
“I’ll open my mind to them now,” she said. “Maybe give a little speech. You might remember you used to be good at that.”
The Doctor gave a hollow and bitter laugh.
“You think you’ve got me all figured out, don’t you?” she said. “Like everything I can do you’ve already done, but better. And if you really think I’m just you with stuff taken away”—
The gun was cold and heavy in her hand.
—“Then I’ve got a question for you,” she said.
“What’s my name?” she said. “What’s my real name?”
The other Doctor frowned.
“They never gave me one,” she said. “The Doctor’s all I am.”
“No,” said the Doctor. “They’ve just not given it to you yet. So you don’t know… what that name really means. What a person with it might have done.”
“EXTERMINATE!” the Daleks roared in the sky above them. “EXTERMINATE!”
(She was running, the orange sky smearing with fire. One granddaughter safe, the others all already lost.)
“I had a family once,” said the Doctor. “I’ll never know what they knew about you. But I know this: whatever else they were, my family gave me that name. And they gave me a choice.”
“They weren’t really your family,” her other self said. “They weren’t even really your species.”
(Your family or the universe, she’d been told, and it had been true. That was always the first of the questions, and always the last. It was the only question that really mattered, if you thought you could ever do good.)
The Doctor shook her head.
“No,” she said. “Family’s not about where you’re from. It’s about what you know you’ll choose above everything else. If you find out there’s no other way.”
She pointed her ray gun right at the other Doctor, her hands shaking furiously no matter how firm their grip. The other Doctor grappled with it, trying to push it away. But the Doctor could tell that she wasn’t quite going to succeed.
(There was love, and there was justice. There was treating everyone equally; there was saving the people you saw. There was the story that you could serve both. And there was an ending.)
“You didn’t get it when I said that love always wins,” she said. “I was telling you to run.”
Another desperate grab at the gun, from the other Doctor. Another time that it was snatched, then wrestled away.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” her other self now said. “We both know that you won’t ever shoot me.”
(It had been hard to believe in good, the day that she’d lost her real name.)
“That’s the trick, isn’t it?” the Doctor said. “Some choices weren’t ever yours to make. All you can do is find out about the ones that were already made.”
(Unless you could stand with a different name. Unless there was another way.)
The Doctor hesitated, but only for a moment.
“That’s when,” she said—
She turned the gun around, the barrel right against her own chest.
—“You finally find out the consequences…”
The other Doctor’s eyes widened as she motioned to respond—
—and before she could, the Doctor pulled the trigger.
Back to index
There was a loud bang, and the sky turned calm and blue. The other Earths were gone from it, and so were the other Doctors. The Doctor looked down at the only other self who was still there, who was looking up at her now, in raw horror.
The back of the gun had blown off, and a bright flush of energy had swept over the other Doctor. Not a single shot, like it would have been from the front. Too diffuse to kill a Time Lord instantly. But deadly enough to do it, in the end.
“You knew,” said the other Doctor, very quietly.
“No I didn’t,” said the Doctor. “How could I?”
“That long speech; you were sizing me up!” her other self said. “Seeing if I expected you to shoot me.”
“Was I?” the Doctor replied.
“You saw me reverse a gunshot once and you knew I might do it again. Why else would you shoot your own chest?”
“I was trying to kill myself,” the Doctor said.
The other Doctor looked at her with an expression she knew very well, which she’d felt from the other side of her face. It was the one she made when she encountered the worst of the monsters: when she realised they were more terrible than she’d even dared to fear.
“It’s all an act,” she said. “Isn’t it? You’ve been pretending to be weak, all along. To be naive. You made me think they made you something less, when in fact… they turned you into something much, much worse.”
She took in the Doctor, the blue coat, the rainbows. All of the innocence of it, protesting too much.
“What are you?” the other Doctor whispered. “What are you really?”
“I’m the Doctor.”
The other Doctor nodded.
“Yes,” she said. “That’s exactly what I was afraid of.”
She struggled to her feet, wincing as she did.
“Do you know what you’ve done, by killing me?” she said. “Do you have any idea?”
“I do,” said the Doctor. “Because I know one thing for starters: I’ve not really killed you at all. Have I?”
The other Doctor scoffed.
“Of course you have!” she said. “A blast like that is corrosive on the cellular level. Regeneration becomes impossible.”
“For me?” said the Doctor. “For a Time Lord? Perhaps. But you’re made of stronger stuff. Aren’t you? Or that’s what another you implied. He was one for a tall tale, right enough. But I reckon that he wasn’t lying.”
An oddly formed spark flew off the other Doctor’s hand, and she watched it, horrified as it rushed away.
“No,” said the Doctor. “You’re planning to fall down, pretend to die. Regenerate when no one’s looking; have a crack at the Earth again. But it’s not going to work. I’ve got you by the book.”
She took it out, that blank book she’d been given, and as she did real fear appeared on her other self’s face.
“How can you have that?” her other self said. “How could you possibly”—
“Everything I remember after your life is so strange,” said the Doctor. “It’s one big contradictory jumble; I thought that it couldn’t be real. Because it wasn’t. It didn’t have to be.”
“We’re all stories in the end,” she said.
“No,” said her other self, and as she did the letters flew out of her mouth as orange sparks, slamming into the blank pages the Doctor was holding open. “No,” one now read, in tiny print.
“You don’t know what trapping me like this will do,” said the Doctor’s other self. “Regenerating into fiction’s not like the change that you’ve known. I’ll only keep my outline. A vague impression of what the Doctor is. It’ll be the end of what I’ve been for these billioned years. The end of the Reign!”
“Oh well,” said the Doctor, nonchalantly. “Sometimes we’re ready for a change. I’m always for taking down tyrants. Even when they turn out to be me.”
Orange sparks were shooting out of her other self from all over her, now, fireworks as furious as her expression.
“Tell me this, at least,” that other self now said. “How many Doctors have you been, since they changed you? I imagine not even a thousand”—
“Thirteen,” said the Doctor, quietly. “Give or take.”
Her other self laughed in disbelief, a splatter of letters coming out of her mouth as she did.
“Thirteen,” she said. “Unlucky for some.”
Orange light was spilling from her joints. Letters were spitting off her skin.
“Then listen,” she said. “I know you think you’ve done right by this world. That you’re wise. But there’s so much that you don’t know about what you’ve done.”
She shook her head.
“It’s not just what they’ve taken,” she said. “It’s what you’ve yet to learn. You’re not some font of ancient wisdom, Doctor. You’re a child.”
The orange glow was coursing through her whole body, now, and the book was rising into the air.
“Whoever you think you are,” she said—
“Wait,” said the Doctor. “Hold on.”
—“You’re only a child,” her other self said with a smile.
And then the smile was a wince and the wince was an explosion of orange light, a giant fire of sparks that engulfed her entire body. And the sparks were turning into letters and the pages of the book were flapping, its paper glowing too as every page of it turned full—
—then it fell hard to the ground with a thwump, and slammed tight closed. The Doctor watched as a title appeared on the cover. There were no sugar stains left on it at all.
She looked at it silently, only for a moment.
Then the silence was broken by a man and his angry cry.
“Doctor!” shouted Maltimundar. “Doctor!”
He was running towards her with a squadron of COPS clanking behind, and somehow he’d managed not to look jolly at all.
“We wanted you to stop her!” he shouted. “We didn’t think you were going to kill her!”
“More trouble,” the Doctor muttered to herself.
She looked down at the book, and sighed.
“Story of my life,” she said.
Back to index
“I didn’t kill her,” the Doctor said once Maltimundar was close enough to hear.
“We saw it,” he replied. “As we were running here. Everything going on in the sky, then suddenly stopping. The Doctor we’ve been tracking, exploding into light.”
He looked at her with an indefinable expression, something that wasn’t quite a smile.
“We didn’t know if it was even possible to kill her,” he said. “But I suppose if anyone could manage, it would be you.”
“She’s in here,” said the Doctor, holding up the book. “I forced her to regenerate into a story”—
“I’m not a fool, Doctor,” he said. “I believe in miracles. Not fairytales.”
The Doctor sighed. It was probably better just to go with it.
“Paradoxicide,” she said.
Maltimundar boggled at her.
“What did you say?” he said.
“Reserved for the greatest crimes of Time Lord society,” said the Doctor. “The guilty party executed by their future self.”
“I’m well aware,” said Maltimundar. “But we didn’t think the Doctor found out about that.”
“She didn’t,” said the Doctor. “And now she never will. But I found out, of course. Isn’t that contradiction the point?”
“Chekkow,” said the nearest COP. “Sitsvahlyd.”
Maltimundar nodded, reluctantly.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “But yes. You’ve already been punished for your crimes.”
“So we’re through, yeah?” said the Doctor. “My sentence is carried out. I’m not a fugitive to the Time Lords any more.”
“As far as I’m concerned?” said Maltimundar. “You’re a free woman. But I will tell you this.”
He frowned, looking up at the pale blue sky. Beyond it to the stars— which were invisible, but which still were there.
“I told you there were those loyal to the Reign, within the Division still,” he said. “And they’re traditionalists; they’ve no time for paradox. It’s not the kind of faction that they are. So they won’t be best pleased, when they learn that the Doctor is dead. And they’ll be even less pleased, when they find out that she’s still alive.”
“So some of us, you will have to worry about,” he said. “But I’ll do what I can.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “As it happens. There was something else, which I thought that you might want to do.”
She got out the CULLIS from a pocket of her coat, and held it out to Maltimunder with both hands.
“I think this is yours,” she said.
Maltimundar looked at it, taken aback.
“Oh, that’s not from the Division!” he said. “It’s the Porter’s. It’s personal property.”
“I know,” said the Doctor. “That’s why I’m giving it to the Porter right now.”
Maltimundar gave her a very strange look indeed, like he was reevaluating if she was intelligent after all.
“Maybe you’ve misunderstood,” he said. “That’s not a title passed down from person to person. It was his alone.”
“I don’t think it’s a title at all,” said the Doctor. “I think the Porter’s a story. Of looking for some way out, or some way through. Knowing that there are things you haven’t seen. And from what you’ve told me about the universe, where you’re from? It sounds like it’s a story they’re going to need.”
Maltimunder looked at the doorknob in her hands, uncertainly. Eventually, he sighed, and took it into his.
“I’ll try,” he said. “But it’s a lot to live up to.”
“It always is. Doors of perception and wardrobes to other worlds. Imagine. Having to live up to that legacy.”
She looked around at the glade, at the pale, slivering light over the world.
“It’s always strange as a month like this comes to an end,” she said. “The old year fading, the new one not quite being born.”
“November’s coming,” she said quietly. “And 1963.”
Maltimundar looked at her. “What?” he said.
The Doctor shook her head, and smiled.
“Just getting caught up in another story,” she said.
Maltimundar had only been half-listening, she could tell. He was squinting; looking up high to the sky.
“We should go,” he said. “The possibility space is collapsing. There’s just one future up there, now. The one… I don’t want to say the one that should have happened.”
“You can go,” said the Doctor. “I’m going to stay.”
“You want to stay and watch as a world dies. You got that from her.”
The Doctor looked back at him, awkward and sheepish.
“I was going to say it’s what she would’ve wanted,” she said. “She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t want any of what I did. But I’m going to do it anyway. I think I have to.”
“If you’re sure,” said Maltimunder. “Standing in the middle of a dozen nuclear explosions? It’s your funeral.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “That’s it exactly.”
Maltimunder smiled, and nodded.
“Doctor,” he said.
The Doctor nodded back.
“Until we meet again.”
Maltimunder – the Porter – held the CULLIS before him and the COPS, and they all watched as the doorknob began to glow. For an instant, they stood not quite motionless, but moving out in an impossible direction—
And then the Doctor was once again alone.
There was nothing to do now but watch, and wait.
It wouldn’t be long until she saw the end of the world.
Back to index
It was around her, now, as it had been when she’d been at the hospital. Another Earth, another branch of possibility. The closest one, the one that had leaked radiation. That had poisoned Allie, the nameless policeman, many others. An Earth that had been a killer, and which was about to die.
She was in the same overgrown crater, the same day. The world was as she’d seen it, only a short while ago. The same tune on the radio as when she’d confronted Doctor Clayton— but there were no Doctors here, not anymore. Only a few scattered passers-by: their hands in their pockets, their eyes firmly turned to the ground.
And the Doctor regarded the world that they lived in, now. Leaves trampled in the dirt with the mulch smell of late October. The air turning bitter, the wind blowing cold against her cheeks. When she travelled with human beings through time and space, they’d always say how history felt more real than they would have thought. The grass and the birds and the insects, all the same as they were in the present. The past was a foreign country, after all. It was always so similar to the place that you’d come from; you knew.
The music on the radio had stopped, and a voice was announcing something. The words washed over her, as she tried not to listen. To absorb the weight of them. She could feel her pale fists clenching against the cold.
There were people running towards buildings and some lying down on the ground, trying to cover their skin with their gloves and hats. And there were people doing nothing, and why would they, after all? They knew well enough that there would be no saving them now. Their eyes and expressions showed something beyond even fear. It was an emotion that deserved acknowledgment, which bore observing. It was the reason a Time Lord gave, when she said she should not look away.
As a child at the Academy she’d been told she should stand and watch, that this was the way of her people. That it wasn’t just a custom, but a Law of Time, and now she knew she was the one who had laid down those laws. And she was observing them now, as she stood and she stared, doing nothing. She was a good little Time Lord until the first of the hydrogen bombs.
In truth, the sight of it wasn’t anything. Only a light beyond light, merely a heat beyond heat. The centre of the sun turning up in the centre of London, obscuring the death it was causing, eclipsing the end. The heat and the fire veered round the Doctor, as she’d banked on. She was too much of an anomaly for the force of the bomb to hit. A lawmaker of physics, who’d committed too great of a crime.
“You can’t change history!” she’d once cried, to two teachers who should have been dead, been dying now, here in this city with the children who they had been teaching. They would be melting with millions of other human beings, because that was what her oath had always meant.
Her hands shaking, she took her Geiger counter out from her pocket, thumb pressed tight on the button to switch it on. It screamed, of course, because there was so much radiation around her, but that wasn’t what she was interested in, not right now.
She’d thought that changing history would mean she’d go mad with power. But this was the world that would happen if others agreed. Where Vasilai Arkipov had ordered his vessel to fire. Where Stanislav Petrov waged war against missiles that weren’t really there. Where they knew the end was inevitable, and so it became inevitable. Where they felt to way to withstand the force of despair.
The Doctor stood for fate, and the Doctor stood for hope.
But in the end, the Doctor was a choice.
She was pointing the Geiger counter at her chest and it was roaring at her, telling her this was how things had to be. Because of course the world had ended in 1962, everyone knew it, of course people couldn’t get out of a situation as hopeless as this. The bombs were still falling and the counter blared louder, and the whole world was nothing more than a terrible scream—
The Doctor yelled, and slammed the counter hard against her knee. There was a crack, and the sound stopped, and that world was gone.
She stood in the same glade, back in the living London. The sound of wind. Birds crowding the twigs of a tree. Laughter in the distance, from humans who were now not dead. She stared at it all before her with wild brown eyes.
A man walked past, then laughed when he saw her expression.
“Cheer up, love!” he called. “It might never happen!”
The Doctor glared at him poisonously, and he scuttled off.
Then she was alone again, without any Doctors or humans.
London stretched out before her, impossibly, unbearably, alive.
Back to index
It was later and the sun was setting, on that evening that shouldn’t have happened. Yaz and the Doctor were sitting on a hill, looking out to the distant skyline. Destiny said that none of it should have been there, not anymore. Only flames and soot, only death. None of this beauty.
Yaz was looking at the Doctor’s book in the fading light, the words in it still just about visible. At the illustration taking up half of a page, a bearded man with a ruff and a giant grin. His clothes a bit like you might see on Henry the Eighth. A perky feather askance in the brim of his hat.
“Run this by me again.” she said to the Doctor. “That’s you? He isn’t real. But he’s still you?”
The Doctor frowned.
“The story is,” she said. “It’s complicated. As far as I can tell?”
She hesitated, her face scrunching in the way it did when she had to explain something tricky.
“There were lots of them,” she said. “Eight separate stories, one after the other, winking in and out of existence. And what the Doctor was in each of them – what I was – it was always a little bit different. Sometimes a human; once maybe even an angel. But still me, somehow. Underneath it all.”
She took the book from Yaz, weighing it up in her hands.
“Eight different stories about eight very different Doctors,” she said. “Though they didn’t look that different, of course; they were all white men. Except”—
She was struggling to remember something, Yaz could tell. A dream within a dream, which somehow had still happened all the same.
“Except that wasn’t all they were,” the Doctor said. “Not exactly. They were works of fiction, after all. There were adaptations, remakes. Even fanfictions.”
“And all of that’s in here somewhere,” she said, tapping her head. “It’s a lot to take in. Assuming that I’d ever want to.”
Yaz stared at her for a while, uncertain. She was never sure how to respond to the Doctor at times like this. What could you even say? “Oh yeah, my friend Fran was fictional for a while. She said it was right difficult.”
No. The Doctor was a law unto her own. And that was fine, in its way. Even if it could sometimes make small talk pretty difficult.
She looked over to her friend, who was unimaginable. Extraordinary. And as she did, she thought the same thing she always thought.
“There’s one thing I don’t understand.” she said.
The Doctor frowned. “Only one?”
Yaz pointed up at the sky, to indicate time and space.
“I’ve been round there a lot, by now,” she said. “And there’s loads of folk out there like us; like human beings. Lots of planets like Earth. I keep thinking; we’re not that special really. Not like you seem to see us.”
And not like you, she thought but didn’t say.
“So— why us?” she said. “Why go to all that effort for this? A normal place that you’re not even from.”
The Doctor looked back at her oddly, as if she didn’t even understand the question.
“That’s not how love works, Yaz,” she said. “You don’t go out looking for the smartest planet, or the bravest one. You just come to one, and you see it a different way. And once you do, it’ll always be the best of them. The place that you have to defend.”
“And maybe that means you treat it differently, and maybe that makes you a monster. Maybe there’s no way to be The Doctor without becoming some kind of monster. But love— that’s what it is. It’s what it does.”
She squinted up at the roaring sun, at the clouds leaking red like the blood of the sky.
“Love’s beautiful and it’s terrible,” the Doctor said, “and I’m not sure Doctor Clayton saw either side. If those missiles ever fly, it’ll be because of love. And today, when they didn’t? It’s because of love as well.”
Yaz thought about Judith, then, how she’d talked of those missiles in the sky. How that had made her feel, to think about what a war with them would mean. It had felt so massive to her, unbearable. Something huge and secret, which you tried so hard to forget about. Something which seemed utterly inevitable, but which might never happen at all—
There were thoughts that felt too big to have, and words that felt too big to speak. The sun was a nuclear explosion in the heart of the sky.
“Doctor,” she said, feeling her own heart pounding. “Y’know what Judith said… about what we were?”
The Doctor sighed.
“You were right, Yaz,” she said. “I’m judging from the wrong standards”—
“No,” said Yaz. “I thought”—
“Do you want to be?” she said.
The Doctor looked right round to meet her eyes, totally shocked.
“That’s not how I wanted to say it,” Yaz said. “But I love you. I hate you a bit as well. But I love you. That’s the important bit.”
She laughed, and blushed, and felt very awkward indeed. The Doctor kept staring at her, speechless.
“I know,” said Yaz, biting her lip. “I know I’m a woman”—
“No!” said the Doctor. “That’s not it! It’s”—
She fiddled with her hands, clearly very awkward too.
“I thought I could just be a traveller again,” she said. “Run away from it all, at least for a while. But there’s so much I didn’t even know I was running away from; that I have to fight. There’s too much going on in my mind, for something like that.”
“I’m sorry.” she added, looking away at the sky.
Yaz tried not to let the disappointment take her. It had been the answer she knew she was going to get.
“Maybe it’s for the best,” she said with a sigh. “Everyone’s always said who I’m going to marry. I’ve known him since we were kids. We were thick as thieves.”
“And are you still?” said the Doctor, still looking out and away.
“It’s funny,” she said. “We get together sometimes, still. Talk about what we used to do. But honestly? It’s like we’re trying to get back what we had again. Or pretending it’s still really there.”
“But you have to keep on, don’t you?” she said. “Not just because people expect it. It feels like it’s— how things are supposed to be.”
The Doctor looked back from the sky and into Yaz’s eyes, right into them. There was an expression in her face that Yaz had never even thought could be there.
“Fuck how things are supposed to be,” the Doctor said.
Yaz laughed uncertainly, and looked back at her. “But you said”—
“I know. But… Life’s too short, Yaz. Even for me. It’s not worth pretending to be happy.”
“You’re still pretending?” said Yaz.
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “But there’s a way I wouldn’t have to anymore.”
“Then let’s stop pretending, eh?” she said. “For good. Forever.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “Let’s.”
And they moved towards each other with real fear in their eyes—
—and then Yaz was holding the Doctor and the Doctor was holding her, and they were kissing, and it felt like time itself had changed. And Yaz could feel her friend’s hearts pounding in her chest, could feel she was passionate too, and for the first time she understood that however big someone’s mind was, it never meant they didn’t still have a body. Had bodily thoughts, felt bodily things. The enormity of the Doctor was with her now; greater in a whole new way.
There were so many secrets in the world, so many lies. But right now they were two people true to each other, each letting the other one in.
The kiss went on for what should have been forever, before the Doctor broke out of it to glare. Two people were staring at them, scandalised, their fingers pointing in horror and dismay.
“Would you look at that,” the Doctor said. “Two women kissing, and they think it’s the end of the world.”
“Don’t stop,” said Yaz.
She didn’t. Perhaps she would have to, eventually. But for now, it was October the 27th, 1962— and that wasn’t a day for stopping, not at all.
Back to index
Late the next day, Yaz knocked gently on Judith’s door, and smiling gently as it opened. Maybe Judith saw they she was holding hands with the Doctor, and maybe she knew what that meant. But if she did, she didn’t choose to mention it, whatever she might have thought inside.
“We’re off,” the Doctor said to Judith. “Back to the future! That’s a reference. You’ll get it two decades from now.”
“Oh,” said Judith, looking unsure how to respond. “Well. Thank you. For keeping me company. It looks like everything’s going to work out after all. From what the radio’s saying.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help more,” said the Doctor. “But I’ve got something for you, all the same. As a parting gift. It’s a first edition.”
She held up the book in her hands, and Judith looked at it delightedly.
“Oh my!” she said. “The Doctor of Delaware Hall!”
“You’ve heard of it?” said Yaz.
“Of course I have!” said Judith. “I don’t live under a rock.”
“Everyone’s heard of it, I expect,” said the Doctor. “Although I bet that nobody had, back this morning.”
“I used to love it as a child,” said Judith. “The whole series. With the Lords of the Manor and the things in the woods.”
She looked down at the book, thumbing through the pages.
“There were so many published, though,” she said. “More than I ever thought I could read.”
“Well,” said the Doctor. “Perhaps now you’ll have the time.”
Judith took the book from her, and smiled too.
“I’ll try to read them,” she said.
“Thank you,” she added. “For showing me it doesn’t have to end.”
The Doctor nodded. “And thank you for reminding me that it can.”
They exchanged a smile very quickly, and Judith closed the door.
“Does the book itself matter?” said Yaz, once she was gone.
“The story matters,” said the Doctor. “That’s why I had to give it to her.”
“I think that I’m going to be in good hands,” she said.
Hoping no one in the sixties would notice, Yaz squeezed her hand tightly with her own. Just for a moment, they were there, together, present in the world.
And then – together – they got ready to leave it behind.
Back to index
They’d parked in a junkyard, when they had first arrived. Yaz had no idea why the Doctor had insisted on it. Humour me, she’d said, and of course Yaz had. Maybe that was all she ever did, in the end.
They were back there, now, the two of them together. Among the dusty and broken things, all used up and still going on. The light was dull in the late afternoon: the slate and endless grey of near November.
There was someone watching them near the junkyard’s dark blue doors, their body just as blue, as tough, as wooden. A figure with copper limbs and a policeman’s helmet. The logo of the Saint John’s Ambulance instead of a face.
“Ubble nop pur num,” they said. “Tobble nim.”
“I thought that they’d all gone,” said Yaz.
The Doctor shrugged.
“Maybe this one wanted to stay. Why wouldn’t you? There are much worse places than here.”
She took out her sonic screwdriver and scanned it over the COP, making the effort to do it thoughtfully. Gently.
“His Chameleon Circuit’s broken,” she said. “He’ll be like this forever now. But he’s handsome, really. Perhaps there’d be worse ways to look.”
Yaz smiled. “It’s what’s inside that counts,” she said.
The Doctor shook her head.
“No. It’s knowing there’s an inside; that it’s bigger. In everyone. And never forgetting it.”
Yaz looked around at the junkyard once again. When they’d arrived here the Doctor had said it was still around in the present, in 2020. Crazy to think of something like this, surviving and still going on.
“But to think of all that ending,” said Yaz. “For everyone. It’s just too huge.”
“But then it’s huge any way you slice it,” said the Doctor. “Being part of any world. Maybe I never really understood it. Or perhaps I was always too scared,” she sighed. “To admit it to myself.”
Yaz looked over at the TARDIS in the centre of the junkyard, an impossible policewoman there with that impossible box. It looked like she felt inside, exhausted and broken, like it belonged here with the rust and scrap, not in the world living outside. But that was how it felt to be part of helping that world. You might feel broken, but you’d still keep the world to be whole.
“It looks like she belongs here, doesn’t it? said the Doctor, reading her mind. A worn out bit of junk. But still she endures. Strange to think how long our stories might really have left. Hard to believe that they might only just be beginning.”
“Come on, Yaz,” she added, gently. “This hasn’t been much of a holiday.”
“Listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door. Let’s go.”
Yaz smiled back at her. A new relationship, and new places to go. Something to look forward to, again. And something to hope for.
She took the Doctor’s hand tightly in hers.
The panels closed behind them both as they stepped into their machine, the greyness having deepened to darkness, the day drawn in. Something that wasn’t a policeman watched as they entered that something that wasn’t a police box, as it roared, as it then faded, once it was gone.
He stood alone in that junkyard for a moment, watching and considering.
And then he travelled onwards, back into the vigilant night.
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