Time Out

by JJPOR [Reviews - 10]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Drama, Fluff, General, Humor, Introspection, Missing Scene, Mystery, Series, Vignette

Author's Notes:
This was written for johne's multi-author series "Really Stretching UNIT Dating", but I'm not sure it ended up being what he was looking for. I still hope he'll include it if he likes it, though! :D So, thoughts here on just what might be up with UNIT dating, and, well, I didn't care much for Cold Blood, but it was in parts a very amusing pastiche of Three-era Who, so the Brig and co actually popping up would surely only have improved it! And this is my first proper attempt at writing Eleven, so be gentle! As ever, Doctor Who and its associated copyrights very, very definitely do not belong to me, and be warned, MAJOR SPOILERS for NuWho S5 from Cold Blood onwards!

He held the object up to the door again and had another look. A second opinion. It was, the Doctor discovered, not actually any better than his first opinion. The piece fit perfectly, blending in almost invisibly against the background. Apart from the charring and the time residue around the edges, of course. Yes, perfectly; no denying it.

He looked down at the object in his hand, the broken, burned and battered corner of a wooden sign, black letters on white, edged in splintered, blackened blue.

Right, so at some point in the future, the TARDIS was going to explode and shatter spacetime. Right, then.

“Blimey,” he murmured.

Guiltily, he wrapped the fragment up in the handkerchief again, as if hiding it would do any good. He awkwardly turned his head from side to side, scanning the abandoned churchyard for onlookers, unable to shake the feeling that there was something looking over his shoulder. Something horrible; something very good at ducking behind gravestones at a moment’s notice too, if the empty scene behind him was any indication.

Not quite empty. Even as he stood there beside the TARDIS pondering his next move in a kind of blank, quiet panic, a vehicle turned into the lane. An olive-drab Land Rover with, he noticed, 1972 number plates. That couldn’t be right; last time he’d checked his watch it had been 2020, surely. He gave it another glance. Yes; 2020! He’d been right!

This didn’t prevent a whole convoy of equally ridiculous vehicles following it around the corner. Another couple of Land Rovers, then two big Bedford lorries in the same dull brownish-green paint scheme, and another Land Rover bringing up the rear. The whole convoy turned to park next to the graveyard wall, and then he saw the white circular symbol painted onto the driver’s door of every vehicle.

“Oh, come on now,” he grumbled to himself. “That’s just silly. You must be having a laugh…” He gave the nearby gravestones another suspicious glance: “Or somebody must be…”

The doors of the lead Land Rover opened decisively, even as the tailgates of the two lorries fell with a clang and soldiers in khaki started jumping to the ground. Beige berets, he noticed, with the same symbol as the vehicle doors.

“I want roadblocks here…and here,” ordered the upright uniformed figure that had emerged from the lead vehicle. “Sergeant Benton! Take a section and search house to house. I want to know where the villagers are before we advance on the drilling station. Hopefully, none of them were caught in that explosion…”

“Yes sir!” A burly soldier with sergeant’s stripes saluted and marched off to shout at some of the squaddies assembling near the churchyard gate. More shouts, accompanied by the metallic jingling of weapons, the sound of boots pounding on tarmac.

“Captain Yates!” the commanding officer called out. “Has there been any word from the Doctor? I thought he was supposed to be meeting us here in that contraption of his?”

“Well, sir,” said the Captain, “he and Miss Grant were…”

It was at this point that the two officers noted the Doctor standing a few feet away from them. They both stared at him for an awkward moment, the commander’s moustache twitching irritably.

“Er…” The Doctor shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. “Hi,” he managed eventually. “It’s me, the Doctor.”

“Of course you’re the Doctor,” the officer with the moustache replied with a frown. “And where on Earth is Miss Grant?”

“Jo?” For a moment the Doctor was lost in thought, before responding: “The last I heard, she was up the Amazon, saving the world by eating quorn and wearing plastic sandals. With a Welshman.” He paused awkwardly. “Yes…lovely flowing locks... And Jo’s hair didn’t look bad either. Anyway, yes, look; I’m the Doctor,” said the Doctor. “And you’re the Brigadier.”

“Yes,” said the Brigadier, exchanging quizzical glances with Captain Yates.

“Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart…”

“Yes,” the Brigadier repeated with growing impatience.

“Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart!” the Doctor exclaimed and gave the Brigadier’s chest a gentle poke with his forefinger.

“Good Lord!”

“You’re real!” the Doctor declared in astonishment and pulled out his sonic screwdriver, giving both the Brigadier and Yates a quick buzz. “And human…” he mused as he checked the readout. “Just what the…the spack is going on here?”

“A question I was about to ask you, Doctor,” the Brigadier answered with obvious concern. “I’ve always thought of you as something of an eccentric, but…well, are you feeling quite all right, old chap?”

“Could be a blow to the head, sir,” Yates theorised.

“It could very well be,” the Brigadier agreed as if the Doctor were not stood directly in front of him. “Perhaps we should contact Lieutenant Sullivan?”

“Yes, sir,” Yates concurred.

“And you recognise me?” the Doctor wondered, ignoring the concerns for his state of mind and looking up and down the lane at the bustling military activity.

“Or perhaps this is some sort of private joke, Doctor?” the Brigadier enquired. “Because if it is, I’m not in the mood.”

“And when were you ever in the mood?” The Doctor folded his gangly arms, then unfolded them and gave himself a few taps on the head with the sonic screwdriver, as if this would somehow aid his thought processes. “So,” he asked, eventually, “when you look at me, you see the patronising old duffer you were drinking tea and eating Jammy Dodgers with this morning? You know; white hair, big nose?” He tweaked his bowtie with a certain preening self-satisfaction: “No dress sense?”

“Maybe you should have a sit down,” the Brigadier suggested. “I can get Sergeant Benton to make you some tea.”

“No need,” the Doctor assured him, eyes on the convoy of parked UNIT vehicles. “Perfectly fine. So, Brigadier, what could you possibly be doing out here in the Valleys with all of these…soldier people…and…jeep-y things?”

By now, the Brigadier was starting to get annoyed:

“You know perfectly well what…”

“Humour me,” the Doctor said, softly.

“Yesterday,” said the Brigadier, “as you well know, we received a communication from the Ministry of Scientific Projects…”

“There isn’t a Ministry of Scientific Projects,” the Doctor pointed out. “Never has been.”

“Are you going to insist on questioning everything I tell you?”

“I thought you were humouring me?” The Doctor saw the Brigadier’s expression and gave an unreadable half-smile: “Not at all,” he said with a courteous yet awkward wave of his hand. “Please go on.”

“The Ministry of Scientific Projects,” the Brigadier continued, “advised us that they had lost contact with their experimental drilling station in Cwmtaff, Glamorganshire.”

“And isn’t it a lovely neck of the woods?” the Doctor asked, looking around forlornly. “Very…” He grimaced: “Very…tranquil.”

“And the local constabulary,” the Brigadier went on, with an exasperated sigh, “reported that the village was surrounded by some sort of impenetrable force barrier.”

“So, just another day at the office for UNIT,” the Doctor pointed out. “Just like old times, in fact…” And he did not sound particularly happy at this, looking thoughtfully at the ground beneath his feet as if he expected it to open up and eat him. “And what was I doing?” he wondered, suddenly looking at the Brigadier in alarm. “Where am I, with my cape and my ruffles and Bessie?” He looked around again as if lost: “Where’s Bessie? Good old Bessie,” he murmured distractedly.

“Well,” said the Brigadier, “you came up with some gibberish plan for breaking through the barrier, but it involved you and Miss Grant going off in that machine of yours.”

“The TARDIS?” the Doctor clarified.

“You said you’d meet us here,” the Brigadier said again. “And here you are. Now where the devil is Miss Grant?”

The Doctor ignored the question, suddenly rounding on Captain Yates:

“Mike! Good old…Mike…” He gave a despairing little sigh: “Mike, what year is it, Mike?”

“I’m sorry?” Yates was nonplussed.

“What year is it? Not a hard question; begins with “nineteen”, ends with…” The Doctor looked at the Captain hopefully: “Go on, now; it’s on the tip of your tongue. I can tell.”

“What do you mean what year is it?” the Brigadier demanded. “Of all the nonsensical questions, Doctor…”

“It’s not nonsensical,” the Doctor retorted. “In fact, in my professional opinion as your scientific advisor, it’s extremely…sensical.” His eyes alighted on Sergeant Benton standing by one of the lorries: “You! Sergeant Benton! My old mucker,” he added, unconvincingly. “Whatever your first name is… What year is it?”

“Say what, sir?” Benton looked confused. Even more confused than usual.

“Who won the FA Cup last year?” the Doctor asked him.

“Oh, that’s easy, sir,” Benton replied confidently. “It was Arsenal. Beat Liverpool two-nil!”

“Then what year is it?” the Doctor asked, with just a touch of frustration.

“Oh, it’s…” Benton’s brow furrowed. “Nineteen…seventy…no, wait…nineteen eighty…or is it…?”

“It’s 2020,” the Doctor snapped, turning back to the Brigadier. “The year two thousand and twenty!”

“Well, that’s right then,” said Captain Yates with a clueless sort of smile. “2020. That’s what I was just going to say.”

“You were, were you?” The Doctor nodded grimly. “Yes, you probably were at that…” he muttered anxiously to himself. “Brigadier, who’s the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?”

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” said the Brigadier, frowning again, “but I don’t see the relevance…”

“Well I do, so answer the question!” the Doctor replied, with obvious annoyance. “Who’s the PM, Brigadier? Come on, you’ve probably spoken to him or her on the phone before today.”

“Jeremy Thorpe,” the Brigadier replied instantly, still frowning, but there was something in his eyes, perhaps a growing realisation that all was not well, or perhaps just the worry that his scientific advisor really had gone over the edge.

“Jeremy Thorpe?” The Doctor was incredulous. “Jeremy Thorpe the leader of the Liberal Party?”

“That is correct,” the Brigadier confirmed stiffly.

“Jeremy Thorpe who resigned as leader of the Liberal Party in 1976 because it was alleged he’d hired a hitman to kill his alleged ex-boyfriend?” the Doctor went on. “That Jeremy Thorpe? You know, the Jeremy Thorpe who never had a hope in hell of being British Prime Minister and who would be about ninety by now even if he is still alive?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” said the Brigadier.

“Well, that’s all right because neither do I,” the Doctor answered, distractedly, pacing off a little way down the lane before turning around dramatically. “At least, I hope I’m wrong,” he added, talking mainly to himself. “Jeremy Thorpe as Prime Minister…Ministry of Scientific Projects…experimental drilling stations…it’s like some bad early-70s attempt to predict the near future…”

“So what happened to Jo, Doctor?” Yates suddenly interjected. The Doctor rounded on him furiously:

“Blimey, Mike, do you think you could just be quiet for a minute, I’m trying to think!” He subsided, lowering his voice and looking vaguely embarrassed for a moment. “Very…thinky sort of thoughts,” he added, as if that explained the outburst. “And a good man died today,” he went on. “He died because of me, and nobody else even remembers he ever existed, and on top of that the whole of creation might be at risk. Again. So you’ll forgive me if I seem a little…tetchy.”

“I see, Doctor,” nodded Yates, as if he really didn’t.

“Anyway, I told you, Mike; Jo, up the Amazon; married to a Welsh hippie; makes her own organic jewellery. Or something.” The Doctor saw the way Yates was staring at him in mild amazement, mouth opening and closing, and pointed an admonishing finger at him: “Okay, forget everything I just told you! It was a malicious tissue of lies!”

“I…” Yates looked even more confused than Sergeant Benton had a moment ago.

“Brigadier,” said the Doctor, turning around to pace back in the other direction, “what kind of gun is that soldier over there carrying?”

“It’s an L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle,” the Brigadier answered. “Now, will you please tell us where Miss Grant is and precisely what is going on?”

“The British Army stopped using those in 1991,” the Doctor told him, pointedly ignoring the question. “Arsenal beat Liverpool two-one in the 1971 Cup Final. And if it’s 2020, why do all of your brand new shiny vehicles have 1972 registration plates? That’s a continuity error if ever I saw one.”

The Brigadier regarded the Doctor for one long, tense moment, but said nothing.

“What year is it?” the Doctor asked him in a low, almost fearful tone of voice.

“I…” The Brigadier hesitated, taking a deep breath. “I don’t remember,” he admitted after a pause, and sounded shocked by his own words.

“That’s what I thought,” said the Doctor, not unkindly. He turned around again to take in the whole platoon of soldiers, most of whom were now staring at him with expressions not unlike those worn by Benton and Yates. “Don’t panic, Brigadier,” he advised in that same hushed tone, “you don’t have the face for it. Just go about your business as if nothing’s amiss, just the way you have been up to now, and I’ll see what I can do about it.”

“What can you do about it?” the Brigadier asked, bluntly.

“I don’t know,” the Doctor admitted. “Yet. But I’m sure I’ll think of something. I’m very good at that, you know.”

“I’d noticed,” the Brigadier agreed. “And where exactly is Miss Grant, for that matter?”

“Wherever I am,” the Doctor replied. “The other me…wherever he is…” He started back towards the TARDIS, leaving the soldiers to stare after him and wonder. And as he went he muttered fiercely to himself: “Cracks…don’t step on the cracks…timelines that never existed, Jeremy Thorpe for PM for goodness’ sake…the was and the will be and the never were, all bleeding into each other…two moments of time that should never touch, pressed…together…”

He reached the blue painted door and fished in his jacket pocket for the key, taking one look back at the Brigadier and his men. Then, he braced himself and went inside.

The Brigadier and Captain Yates watched the TARDIS slowly fade from view with that wheezing, groaning, grinding sound. Then they turned their attention back to the map spread across the bonnet of the Land Rover. In moments, the whole strange interlude seemed to fade like a dream, leaking out of their memories as they continued with their duties, existing as they had for as long as either of them could remember, in the eternal, ongoing present:

“Very well, Captain; I want the first section to take up positions at the top of the hill…here…ready to provide covering fire if necessary. And then we can…”

“Yes, sir. Very good, sir.”

And underneath the Land Rover, zig-zagging across the stony ground, across the rubber tyre and even across the empty air, the crack glowed and whispered, and waited.