1. Landing (How an Edwardian Adventuress Met An Old Fashioned Villain)
His ship was playing up again. He couldn’t be sure where or when he’d landed, but it appeared to be some benighted planet at the back end of the galaxy, judging by the view from the scanner.
He emerged and surveyed his surroundings for further clues.
“Oh, Doctor!” said a short, fair-haired, female human, on running up to him.
Well, now, that was unexpected. He studied her closely. “I fear you are labouring under a rather unflattering misapprehension, young lady.”
She drew back, looking at him with an almost comical frown on her face. “No. You’re not him, are you? But — you’ve got the TARDIS! Where is he? What have you done with him?”
“A TARDIS,” he corrected her. “And I couldn’t care less, I assure you.”
She nodded. “Oh. You must think me frightfully dim. You’re another Time Lord. But he always said that you all tended to stay at home and — well — stay at home. So that means -. Oh. Oh dear.”
Ah, he thought. It was only to be expected that the Doctor had mentioned him.
“That means,” she continued, “either you’re another renegade, in which case you’re probably up to no good and here to invade the planet, although, I can tell you there isn’t anything here and I should know. Or you’re someone terribly official who’s come to tell me I’ve no right to exist, even though the Doctor sorted all that out, which, I must say is jolly mean of you. Or maybe, if I’m very lucky, which doesn’t seem likely, you’ve decided to follow his example — you know, exploring new planets and setting the universe to rights and all that.”
He raised his eyebrows. “I’m afraid I find all of those ideas equally tedious. However, you intrigue me, I admit. You say you shouldn’t exist and that the Doctor abandoned you here?”
“Well, it wasn’t quite like that,” she said and then became suspicious. The foolish creature’s thoughts were all but written on her face. “Oh. I really shouldn’t be telling you any of this. I don’t know who you are. For all I know, you could be his mortal enemy. He does have rather a lot of those.”
The Master paused.
“Except, of course, I’m sure you couldn’t be anything so silly,” she added with a smile. “I’m sorry. I’m Charley — Charlotte Pollard. It’d probably be a lot simpler if I let you explain who you were, wouldn’t it?”
He found his usual answer to that question somewhat lacking in the circumstances. He would have liked to make a few things absolutely clear (silly, indeed), but not before he understood why one of the Doctor’s irritating pets was sitting here waiting for him — quite uselessly, it seemed, so possibly he had gained some unexpected sense since they had last met — and also claiming that she shouldn’t exist. It was a matter in need of investigation. “Oh, as you say, another Time Lord.” He hesitated again. “Some people call me the Reverend.”
“I don’t mean to be rude,” she said, very carefully, her brow furrowing, “but I think that sounds like a whopping fib to me. I can’t possibly call you that.”
So, he amended his verdict, intensely irritating, obviously, but perhaps not as stupid as she had first seemed. “Then shall we make it Mr Green until we find out whether we can trust one another?”
“Oh, I see,” she said, and laughed. “Like Cluedo? But — I told you my name.”
He sat own beside her. “Did the Doctor ever tell you his?”
“Well … no,” she admitted. “All right, then. ‘Mr Green’, it is, but I have to say, I’d be very surprised to learn that anyone else calls you that — and considering your outfit, I would have thought Mr Black would have been better.”
He glanced down at himself. “How remiss of me. I can see we shall get on like a burning building.”
“A house on fire, don’t you mean?”
She sniffed. “Well, I have to say, you shouldn’t go around lying when you’re not terribly good at it. Really -.”
He cut off this inane stream of chatter. “Now, I wanted to hear about you, my dear Miss Pollard. I have to tell you that I’m shocked — appalled even — to find that the Doctor should have abandoned you here in such a cavalier fashion.”
“I can’t explain all of it,” she said. “It’s jolly complicated and I think — I think something dreadful must have happened to him.”
“Oh, I sincerely trust not,” he returned and meant it. If anyone was going to put paid to the Doctor’s miserable existence, he hoped it was going to be him. “I’m sure you must be wrong, Miss Pollard. He has an infuriating tendency to prove all but indestructible.”
She sniffed. “Oh, I know, but I’ve been waiting and waiting — and he would have come back if he could, I know he would.”
That, he felt was undeniable, given the Doctor’s sentimental nature and fondness for unpromising humans. He was genuinely intrigued by this. “I can help you look for him, but first I would like to know why you imagine a Time Lord should come chasing you across the universe in order to tell you that you don’t exist. It sounds a little egotistical to me.”
Charley gave another short laugh. “It does rather, doesn’t it? It’s true, though. I should have died on the R101, you see — it was an Earth airship — but the Doctor saved me. Then that caused all sorts of horrible consequences and nearly ended the universe, but he managed to sort that out, too.”
“Yes, I suppose he would,” he murmured. He glanced at her. She looked exceptionally ordinary to him, as far as human females went. “The Doctor jeopardised the entire universe for your sake? How very… careless of him.”
She bit her lip before replying. “Well, it wasn’t on purpose, obviously.”
There was certainly something odd about the whole affair, he concluded and he was certain he could turn things to his advantage, if she could only lead him to the Doctor — whichever Doctor was hers. “Then, my dear, you should be very grateful that I came along. We can go back to where and when you last saw him and I shall reunite the pair of you. Indeed, I can hardly wait.”
“Oh, we shall, shall we?”
He stopped. “You can’t want to stay here, Miss Pollard.”
“This is where he left me,” she explained. “And I know he will come back. He will.”
The look on her face denied her words more plainly than anything. It was amusing. Of course, leaving her here, dead or alive, would be simpler, but he didn’t think she had told him everything yet and he wasn’t about to turn his back on such a rich opportunity to get the better of the Doctor.
“Miss Pollard, I can’t possibly leave you here alone, like this. My conscience would never allow it. I refuse to take no for an answer.”
2. Flight (Pretending To Be Better Than You Are Can Be Hazardous To Your Health)
“Well, this isn’t where I told you,” she announced, looking at the scanner. “It looks like the Sixteenth century to me, although I know I’m only an ignorant human. Even the Doctor isn’t this bad at steering.”
She had no idea how near she was to death, he thought darkly. It would be so easy, a pleasure, in fact, to silence her. The thought itself cheered him, despite the fact that it was entirely her precious Doctor’s fault that he couldn’t currently pilot his ship in the right direction. One of his most unappealing traits of many had to be this habit he had of preaching at him while stealing pieces of his ship behind his back.
“Please accept my sincere apologies,” he said. “If we can take a brief walk outside and gather the correct co-ordinates, I may be able to rectify that error.”
Charlotte looked at the scanner. “Oh, good. I love wandering about in Earth’s history. I should be used to it by now, but every time it gives me a thrill. I suppose it’s not as exciting when it’s not your planet.”
“Yes, you could say that,” he agreed. “And I merely propose to confirm the date and location and leave — no wandering about this time. We do have a mission, if you recall.”
She nodded. “Oh, absolutely.”
He made a mental note to remind himself simply to ask — no hypnotism in order to get a straight answer out of some unreliable human. The thought of hypnotism caused him to eye Charley with interest, but he had the uncomfortable feeling that she was one of those regrettable humans who would regard his efforts with interest and then laugh at him for trying. Before, presumably, storming out or forcing him to kill her and thereby losing his hope of finding his absent enemy.
The circumstances were almost poetic — the Doctor had stolen part of his directional circuitry, thereby causing him to materialise on the wretched planet where he had carelessly abandoned a companion. It was not an opportunity to allow to pass by. Even doing as little as smilingly returning the girl would be a revenge in itself — and of course, he had no intention of doing so little.
“Look here,” said Charley, once they were back in his TARDIS. “I’ve decided I’m going to call you Archibald.”
He had been on the point of forgetting his intentions and giving her his free and full opinion of her irresponsible behaviour and outright disobedience that had set off the chain of the past day’s events — none of which he wished to dwell upon — but this brought him up short. He should have remembered that the Doctor had a knack for finding the most impossible humans on the planet with which to spend his time. It was unaccountable. “Archibald?”
She nodded. “Archie for short. I can’t stand there yelling ‘Mr Green’. It’s just silly and, if you won’t give me your real name, I think Archie will do nicely. You look like an Archibald.”
“Miss Pollard -.”
“Charley, please. Yes, go on. What were you going to say? I have to tell you I thought you were splendid back there. I was sure we were for it and old King Henry was going to have a fit and I really didn’t intend to finish up with my head on the block in Tower Green. How you managed to persuade him to let us go, I have no idea, but I was jolly impressed.”
What did one say to the wretched girl? “Had you ignored that repulsive urchin’s plight, no such efforts on my part would have been necessary. Should there be a next time, I expect you to do so.”
“Oh, you couldn’t be so heartless,” she said, wrong on every count. “That brute would have killed him if I hadn’t done something. And, you know, in a funny way he reminded me of one of the village boys I used to know — he was always getting into trouble, too.”
He fell into a silent reverie, planning her eventual demise.
“Oh,” she added, “and I found your book before we landed. You left it lying about in the workings of the console, which can’t be a good thing. Honestly, you’re w-.”
He said, “If any of your next few words are going to include the phrase ‘the Doctor’, I should rethink them.”
“Oh, I’m awfully sorry,” she said, apparently genuine. “How very annoying of me. I shall try not to do that, only I do miss him, you see. You’ve been ever so helpful and everything, but you’re not him.”
There were no words, or none that he could think of. He watched her go and was a little unsure what those words should have been. Given the possibility that they were travelling in a universe without the Doctor, he wasn’t entirely sure that he didn’t sympathise with her a little. If that were not completely impossible, of course.
He retrieved the novel in question — Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There were times when he could almost understand the Doctor’s fascination with Earth, at least, so far as literature went.
“You know,” said Charley, “you’re not bad at saving planets, Archie. Almost as good as the Doctor.”
Almost as… He shuddered.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I did it again, didn’t I?” Then she paused. “There is one thing, though. I know their ruler was a terrible old tyrant and he deserved it if anybody did, but surely you didn’t mean to do that to him? I mean, I’ve heard people talk about their eyeballs popping out of their head, but I never expected to have to see it.”
“I had your safety at heart, Miss Pollard,” he said.
He had a dark gleam in his eyes as he watched her. If only the Doctor had not made such a mess of his poor ship, it would have been a straight-forward affair. As it was, he shivered. He’d always assumed that the Doctor’s behaviour — his mystifying insistence on going out of his way to right wrongs and generally be as interfering as possible — was largely down to his innate qualities, all the things he hated him for, but now he couldn’t help but wonder if at least a small part of that was a consequence of travelling round the universe constantly accompanied by at least one, if not more, of these infernal Jiminy Cricket humans. She was having a terrible effect on him and if this continued, he would have to kill her.
“And please refrain from calling me Archie.”
3. Falling Through the Cracks (How They Agreed to Disagree)
“Perhaps,” said Charley, “the Doctor isn’t anywhere for us to find.”
He tried yet again to fix the console. “One thing I know about the Doctor is if you want him, he’s nowhere to be found and the moment he’s the last person you want to see, there he is, as large as life and as maddening as ever.”
She paused. “Is it the dimensional stabiliser playing up?”
“Would you like me to pass you anything?”
He re-emerged. “What I would like from you, Miss Pollard, is a few minutes' blissful silence in which I can attempt to mend the damage — the problem, I should say. Then we shall resume our search.”
“One last try?”
He smiled to himself. “One final attempt. Indeed.”
“Sometimes things aren’t as good as you expect,” said Charley. “You know, teachers going on about how wonderful they must have been and then when you get to actually meet someone or whatever, you find it’s all a bit of yawn, but I must say that those Restoration comedies were as good as the Doctor always said.”
“And you were jolly quick there, stopping those spiky aliens from ruining the play.”
“I don’t believe anyone had informed them it’s extremely bad manners to interrupt a performance. Someone had to make the point. Besides, one of them was about to kill you. I don’t know how it is, Miss Pollard, but whenever I turn around, you’re always in some sort of danger.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Oh, I say, that’s unfair, when you know I was the one who had to rescue you from that scaly thing the other day.”
“You are very resourceful,” he agreed. “It was most instructive.” Yes, he must not make the mistake of underestimating her…
They entered the TARDIS and he rounded on her as the door shut behind them, pinning her to the wall, one black-gloved hand around her throat.
“And that, I promised myself, Miss Pollard, is the final straw. You have no idea who I am. Well, it’s high time you learned. You’re right: I’m not usually known as Mr Green. Nor am I in fact called Archibald. In future, you will refer to me the Master — and you will obey me. If you’re capable of that, which is something I begin to doubt.”
She pulled back, out of his hold and then choked back an odd sort of laugh. “Oh, you don’t really think I didn’t know that, did you? I was beginning to think the Doctor must have made up all those stories about you, but now I see he didn’t.”
He stared. “I beg your pardon?”
“Oh, that’s quite all right. The alien was much worse, so I suppose we’re even.”
“Miss Pollard -.”
She closed her eyes. “You turn up in a TARDIS and you know the Doctor — and there you were, all dressed in black, telling terrible fibs. I’m not completely stupid, you know.”
“I knew he would have mentioned me,” he said. “Very well, Miss Pollard. That being the case, whatever made you agree to come with me?”
“I suppose you thought you could use me against the Doctor somehow, so I didn’t imagine you’d just go off and leave me if I said no. I thought it would be a lot better to have free range of your ship than have to be kept prisoner or shot or hypnotised, or whatever it was you had in mind. And I thought — I did think — if anyone could track down the Doctor, it would be you. He said you were always turning up where you weren't wanted.”
“Isn’t this interesting?” he said. “And here we are, sealed inside my ship. I think you must be stupid after all, Miss Pollard. You’re entirely at my mercy — and mercy is a luxury I don’t often indulge in. Worse still, you’ve attempted to make a fool of me.”
“Well, you made that awfully easy,” she shot back. She really was the most impossible girl, the sort you’d have to describe as a plucky heroine, preferably before heaving her off a cliff. Trust the Doctor. “Besides, you’re clearly not anything like as bad as the Doctor says. He does have a dreadful tendency to exaggerate, you know. I mean, he can’t possibly have met every famous person he claims to be a close, personal friend of. He doesn’t send them all Christmas cards, I know that.”
“I could kill you,” said the Master, “but what you deserve is far worse than a swift death. I could keep you here, willingly or otherwise, as you so charmingly suggest, but there seems to be every possibility that you’d make a better Time Lord of me. I’m not sure that either of us — or the universe itself — would survive. Therefore, I shall return you to where I found you. The whole situation is perfectly clear to me — the Doctor had had more than enough of you and left you there, presumably running away as fast as he could. He won’t come back.”
She merely nodded.
He actually felt a twinge of guilt at the sight. Hastily, he set the co-ordinates before he changed his mind. She deserved her fate, whatever that might be.
The TARDIS seemed empty without her — peaceful, soothing and maybe just a little dull, admittedly. The Doctor, he thought, deserved everything he got for taking up with such a creature. And, as for her, once he next met and defeated the Doctor, her precious future incarnation would never have existed and that would leave her to meet the end the universe had planned for her. It would be better that way, far better.
On the other hand, there was a moment of uncharacteristic doubt, because if the Doctor had failed to return because he had indeed met some dreadful fate, then it seemed, despite everything, almost right that the two of them should attempt in some way to fill the yawning hole.
However, he told himself sternly, one thing one could always be certain of: the dratted Doctor would turn up somewhere unexpected when he was least wanted, very much alive and every bit as annoying as ever.
But if she’d stayed any longer…
The thought was too terrible to contemplate.
Coda: And Then…
Charley waited and waited.
And one day another TARDIS came.
Gosh, she thought, it’s like buses. And her heart thudded with the hope that this one would actually be the Doctor. She knew he’d survive; she knew he’d find a way back to her. She knew it.
“Doesn’t look very promising,” observed the Meddling Monk as he stepped out of his TARDIS onto the apparently deserted island with a shake of his head. “Quite dull. Oh, that Doctor, stealing pieces out of my lovely ship… Jealousy, that’s what it is. Nothing but jealousy!”
THE END (More or less)