It is not there just to be looked at. It's also there to be looked from.
It never failed to surprise him, what survived the passage of time and what didn’t.
Take London, for instance.
Big Ben, the Tower, Buckingham Palace, the new Globe, the new new Globe, the Dome of the United European Nations, the World War VII Memorial Arch, Cameron’s Tri-Lotus Observatory, they’d all fallen away into dust as the years had passed. But this. This glorious conceit, this monumental merry-go-round on edge, it had survived. It had come down through the ages, eccentric, amusing, pointless, puzzling, incongruous.
Once, it had been dwarfed by the superscrapers that had grown up around it, the floating malls and flashing bill-buildings. Now, everything else had fallen. Everything. Zero hour had passed, and it alone stood, the tallest structure for miles around.
In the middle of what, so many thousands of years ago, had been London, and what, up until a few days ago, had been the living, bustling mega-beyond-even-megalopolis almost-nation that London had become, the London Eye survived.
It had taken some work to get it operating again, some scavenging in the ruins for replacement parts, the clever application of his sonic screwdriver, and a few well-placed blows from the TARDIS’ hammer. But there’d been no one to interrupt him, and the work had centered him, in the way only that blend of invention and improvisation could. He’d come out of it covered in grease, glasses lenses coated with dust, a perfectly good jumper ruined, but triumphant.
With one flip of a final switch, he’d stood back and watched the Eye blink to life, its lights shivering into gaudy brilliance, its capsules swinging their slow path up, around, down, back up again. That never-ending, ludicrous, futile progress, up, around, down, ending where it began, beginning where it ended, achieving nothing.
Well. Maybe not nothing. Not nothing so much as something ineffable, intangible, unquantifiable. Something about elevation and that wonderful, beautiful human desire to get up there, to see, to watch horizons expand and views shift, become new and unexpected and borderless.
He ducked into a capsule and rode it up, watching the gray lifelessness of the megalopolis stretch out further and further around him the higher he rose. No one travelled with him, not today, not now, to watch that expanding view. It was the Doctor sans one, sans every one, just him and the swirling, cloying, omnipresent dust, settling on his clothing, furling through the air around him.
When the capsule reached the wheel’s apex, he stopped it with another clever application of his sonic screwdriver and climbed out, onto the surrounding scaffolding and then up onto the top of the car itself. The ancient workman’s handholds still held firm on the capsule’s surface, restored and preserved, like the rest of the Eye, by thoughtful historians funded by culturally-minded citizens for millennia on end; and, with the constant wind and the dust, and the slick, rounded surface of the capsule, he blessed those preservationists, musty old academics though they might be, with their eye for detail and historical accuracy. Kept it all in working condition. Right down to this moment, when there was no one left to care and appreciate. No one but him.
On the top of the car, he stood, back to the wind, hands in trouser pockets and Converse gripping the transparent surface beneath him. The dust whipped into his eyes and made them water. Only the dust. Just the dust. Mm. He rubbed it away, and looked out at the city-that-had-been.
Looked out at a representative sample of the Earth-as-it-now-was.
All across the surface of the planet, exactly like this, the dust and the emptiness. The Delta Wave had swept the globe and shivered the molecular attractions of everything, all matter, all life, every building and every being, disrupting those tiny binding forces just long enough to steal the life from flesh and blood and the integrity from structure. Plants, animals, human beings–quavered away, puffed out into nothing, by the force of the Wave. In its wake, collapsed cities and terrible landslides and the dust. The everywhere, inescapable dust.
Biomass, they would have called it. His human beings, they had such a way with words. Turn it one way, and they wrote novels and dramas and soaring poetry; turn it another, and they came up with clever euphemisms to disguise the hard edges of the universe.
Biomass. The ashes of the dead. So many ashes, a constant whirling duststorm, the taste of them in his mouth, the grit of them collecting in the corners of his eyes, running down his face in tears of grime. Tears for and of the dead, and they tasted of salt and the sea and forces that could not be withstood.
Time. And channeling it, him. The Doctor, the man who was always there, the Time Lord, the servant of flux, the choice-maker, opening Schrodinger’s box with equal money down on death or life. Fixing one or the other into the flow of history by his actions, his presence, his decisions.
He draws a small engraved casket from one pocket, the metal it’s formed from as blue as the sky now always overcast by the dust. Unclasping its lid, he pours its contents carefully into one hand. Dust, but dust of a different color. It sparkles, shimmering, each grain throwing back light, pure and broken and full of brilliance. He shields it from the wind, close against his chest.
He hadn’t known what to do with their remains, when he had woken up alone, a new man, regenerated, surrounded by the ashes of the dead on the Game Station. Leave them? No. Scatter them on Earth? Ashes among more ashes, dust among more dust? No. Some of these had been Jack; some had been Lynda with a ‘y’; others men and women whose screams he had heard as they were killed by the Daleks, men and women murdered before the Wave came and destroyed their already-lifeless bodies. Give them something. He had to give them something.
Take their ashes. Convert them into beauty and endurance and color and light. Carbon can be ash, but it can equally well be diamond–and, if you’re clever and have a knack for invention and improvisation, it can be diamond of the highest fire and the greatest strength in the universe, yet fine enough to carry on a breeze, names and images worked into the atomic structure of each invisible facet. It can be soap bubbles formed of ash and memories, tiny and perfect and forever, delicate but indomitable.
He holds his hand out, lets the wind catch the diamonds. They shine out into the grayer dust, like spray on the edge of a dark sea, and he watches them go. Remembers the ending of a fairytale, where a woman died and became seafoam and then a spirit of the air, rising to the heavens, a soul born of the waves riding the wind.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m so sorry.”
And he rides the Eye back down, and goes off into the universe again, to do what he has always done: to heal the damage.
After all, it essentially has to fulfill only one function, and what a brilliantly inessential function it is: to lift people up from the ground, take them round a giant loop in the sky, then put them back down where they started.
- Quotes from Steve Rose, in a 2007 article on the London Eye.