Donna got angry. Furious. “What is this? How dare you!” She shoved him hard, and she was hefty and he was slight, and he hit the wall with some force. “What kind of woman do you think I am, that I would enjoy seeing this? How dare you show this to me!”
The Doctor watched as she stomped away in a huff. She sat on her bed fuming and refused to speak to him for several hours, and eventually she fell asleep.
When Martha saw it, she began to cry. She gasped once, sobbed, fell to her knees and then back on her haunches. She watched it and she wept for more than three hours, long, keening sobs as if she had lost someone she loved. When she was too exhausted to sob, she lay down on the floor of the TARDIS and stayed that way, giving the occasional hitching gasp and sigh, her eyes still leaking. She cried until she was so wrung out she couldn’t keep herself awake. The Doctor lifted her up and carried her to her bed, left her there to sleep it off. When she woke, she was full of questions, about her queasy headache and why her eyes were so swollen and sore, about having slept in her clothes, and the waffle-pattern bruises on her knees.
“Oh, Doctor,” Jack sighed, a look of beatific happiness on his face.
“What do you see?” the Doctor asked him, hands in the pockets of his leather jacket.
“It’s beautiful.” Jack’s eyes and his voice filled with tears of joy. “Thank you.”
“Not at all,” the Doctor said, and started to walk away. But Jack caught his arm, spun him around and kissed his mouth, touched his fingers to the space where his collarbones met, then wrapped one arm around his waist and pulled him in close.
The Doctor indulged him for a minute, but then gently disengaged himself from the embrace, smiled at Jack and said, “That’s not the way things are between us.”
Jack said, hoarsely, “I know.”
But telling him so took something out of him, leaving him hollow and hunched. He went to his room and stayed there until after his sleep erased his memory like it did everyone’s, leaving him happily oblivious. He emerged from the room full of energy and ready to explore the universe and flirt outrageously with everyone in it.
Mickey was horrified. “God!” He reeled back from the doorway, clutching onto the instrument panel for dear life, a grimace of terror on his youthful face. “What is it—what the hell is it?”
“It won’t hurt you,” the Doctor assured him. “Tell me what you see. Tell me what it looks like.”
“Close the door,” Mickey said, a pleading note in his voice.
The Doctor did.
Mickey sank to the floor, breathing heavy with relief. He never did tell the Doctor what it looked like.
Rose just looked at it, fascinated. For hours. Looked and looked and looked. She was transfixed, just as if a scene was playing out in front of her and she couldn’t tear her eyes away from it. Or perhaps as if she was trying to puzzle it out, or waiting for something to happen. The Doctor asked her what it looked like, and she didn’t say anything. The Doctor asked her if she wanted tea and she said “Yeah,” but when he brought her the steaming mug, she stood there in the doorway with it in her hand and didn’t sip from it once, and it got cold and eventually he slipped it out of her hand again and she didn’t seem to notice. After the first six hours, he brought her a chair and guided her into it. Hours yet after that, she nodded off and he carried her back to her room and put her to bed.
The Doctor knew there was a nebula in this part of space. Every star map he possessed and had ever seen showed it. Every instrument on the TARDIS insisted there was a nebula there, showed the shape of the cloud and every dust particle that comprised it. But the Doctor never saw anything there at all; not even the nebula itself. Not once.
And he never forgot it.