'Get inside the church!' he'd once shouted to Rose. She hadn't understood at first, but she did when the Reapers rent and tore at the world outside.
That church was strong with time. The Doctor loved churches and cathedrals. He also loved castles, stone circles, and barrows–ancient places that had been built by humans and built to last.
But ever since he chose to give up Rose (to protect her, he kept telling himself), he found that he loved oceans more.
He began to seek them out. In the time of running (as he thought of it) between his disastrous sojourn on Mars and his final acceptance of the summons from Ood Sigma, he visited so many beaches that even his vast memory began to be muddled.
He visited beaches on remote planets: shores with sand or waves the colours of which no human could understand, or sometimes oceans with different gravity wells where water (or other kinds of liquid) rolled sluggishly or danced in high sprays. The Doctor particularly liked the low-gravity planets. There, the waves would crest with drops of ocean-spray that suspended for just a moment, flashing and gleaming in the suns before falling gently to the foam below.
But the oceans he loved best were those of Earth, and not just because he was especially fond of that planet. It was where Rose was from, and where she lived in the parallel universe.
He swam in warm waves at deserted northern Florida beaches in the winter. He would cross the continent and walk on Mission Beach in San Diego at dawn and watch the city's trucks, with giant mounted combs, drag bladder wrack into piles. He would swim among the jelly fish at Isu Shima, Japan, at dusk and then, when feeling especially melancholy, he'd return to England and at Brighton, or some other southwestern beach, hollow out a spot in the surprisingly comfortable pebbles and lie there, staring at the waves.
The most important thing was that he'd be alone.
The one beach he would never visit was Slem Ulv Stranden. In this universe, the Norwegian was a little different and Darlig meant 'poorly' rather than 'bad.’ At another time, the Doctor might have been fascinated by the linguistic difference between the two universes, but now he simply kept his distance.
One day, he travelled far into the future to a little-known moon orbiting a desolate planet. He had just settled himself into a hammock of vines and curiously-twisted roots of a tree that hung over a cliff, when he spied a curious procession on the aqua-marine beach below.
When he saw the great tank accompanied by guardians, he gave a shout of joy and scrambled forward. Without a thought, he swung forward over a branch, dangled for a moment from his hands and then dropped, plunging into the waves. By the time he scrambled out onto the shore, the attendants had retreated, and he and the Face of Boe were alone.
The Doctor talked with delight about his adventures and the Face of Boe listened. And then, when his chatter wound down and his clothes were almost dry, the Doctor sat down, leaning his back against the tank. They both watched the sea.
'I can't stop watching the waves,' the Doctor said. 'Anywhere I go. I've been to so many oceans. Can you imagine--there was one planet with more beaches than arable land, but the people there believe that only the Gods walk in such open, empty places. Anyone who willingly goes there is thought to be mad. I stayed on those beaches for days. I can tell you they thought me mad. Well... half of them. The other half thought I was one of the gods. Me! A god!' He chuckled.
The Face of Boe merely shifted a little within his tank and said, his voice deep and gentle, 'The oceans give you what you crave.'
'What do you mean by that?' the Doctor asked.
The Face of Boe said nothing.
'Ahh... I suppose you're right.' The Doctor ran his hands over his face and shook his head like a dog after a swim. 'I like oceans. They're strong in time. Always moving but never changing. Ebb and flow, seasons in, seasons out, but the oceans don't change. Civilizations rise and fall, buildings crumble, but oceans continue. Waves pound the shore. Land may erode, but the waves still roll in. I like that. Makes me feel grounded. And I can tell you, that's no mean feat for a Time Lord.'
He stopped talking then. Even he had run out of things to say.
They both watched the moon's planet, low and massive, slowly slide past the horizon. Its reflected light shimmered on the ocean. Only when the last glimpse of the huge disk had disappeared did the attendants come walking slowly to take their places by the great tank.
The Doctor stood slowly and gazed somberly out to sea. 'Thank you, my friend,' he said. 'I suppose I must be off.'
Waves rolled and crashed.
'It is time, Doctor,' the Face of Boe intoned.
The Doctor spun around. 'What do you mean?' he asked angrily.
The Face of Boe slowly squeezed his eyes shut. The attendants stepped forward, and ponderously the tank turned.
The Doctor watched, breathing hard, but it wasn't until the procession had dwindled in the distance that he moved, suddenly off like a shot, to the Tardis.
It was time to run again.
Five hundred years later, the tree that had hung out over the ocean had long since lost its grip on the cliffside and tumbled into the water to be dissolved. Its particles spread throughout the bay and beyond.
The Eleventh Doctor stood beside the great tank in companionable silence. The double twilight of planetset and sunrise softly lit the ocean waves, and phosphorescence glimmered on the shore.
'You are fond of this place,' said the Doctor. 'It is easy to track you here.' He knelt and ran his fingers through the aqua-marine sand.
'It is the last time,' murmured the Face of Boe.
'Yes,' said the Doctor. 'That is why I have come. The star will go supernova soon.' He paused for a moment and then said, ‘Each time you’ve seen me, every time, I’ve been different. Yet you know me.’
‘Different but the same,’ said the Face of Boe.
‘And yet,’ mused the Doctor, ‘at least two more times you will meet me as I was the last time we both stood on this shore. You will know a secret. There will be a legend. But every time I have met you, you have known me. Do you travel in time?’
‘I chose the slow path a long time ago,’ said the Face of Boe.
‘They say curiosity killed the cat,’ said the Doctor, ‘but I have 13 lives. I can outlive the cat. How long have you known that secret?’
Smoke swirled in the Face of Boe’s tank. Outside a breeze stirred the silky light grains of sand in eddies around and over the Doctor’s bare feet.
‘Time is circular,’ said the Face of Boe.
The Doctor crouched, balancing on the balls of his feet. ‘What do you mean by that? Do you mean that time itself is circular or that our perception of time is circular?’
The Face of Boe didn’t answer. The Doctor smiled and stood up. He walked forward a few steps and slowly dipped one foot in the dark blue water. Phosphorescence gathered between his toes.
‘I still like to watch the waves, to visit oceans,’ he said. ‘I no longer crave it.’ He moved his foot slowly back and forth. Glowing particles followed lazily, attracted to his skin.
‘Circular. Everything is circular. Each time a wave builds up, up, forward, it suspends for that one infinitesimally small moment when gravity has not yet won. That very moment comes again and again with each wave, when all things seem possible. Cracks have not yet closed. Anything could happen. Travel between universes. Undo mistakes. If I could catch that moment just before the crest breaks...
‘But it would always fall. And then the next wave came, built up. That split-second poised on the edge, when anything was possible…’ the Doctor dug his toes deeper into the soft, swirling sand. ‘That one moment--it was always just beyond reach. And I knew it. But still I hoped.’
‘You would not have done it,’ said the Face of Boe.
The Doctor turned and looked at him. The heavy-lidded eyes gazed back calmly.
‘No,’ said the Doctor at last. ‘No, I wouldn’t, even if I could have, even as I was then. I made that choice. They have each other, each for the rest of their lives, and that is how it should be. And now? I suppose the fact that I still like to watch the waves--a souvenir of my last incarnation if you will. I no longer see her so strongly. A gift of regeneration. A defence mechanism perhaps. But… absolutely a gift.’
‘Even survivors heal,’ said the Face of Boe.
The Doctor nodded. Then he smiled and leaned closer, his nose almost touching the glass. ‘I’ve never seen you so chatty.’
‘You listen more,’ said the Face of Boe.
‘I do,’ said the Doctor. ‘Another gift of time… of my new incarnation. Wiser, though. Note the comparative! I’ll never be done cooking, I think. But as a Time Lord who’s been around for a millennia, give or take a century, I often think I know myself. Sometimes, though, I feel you know me better.’
He sat down, as did his earlier self long ago, with his back resting against the glass. ‘I miss it. How I was. Passionate for everything to happen. Intense joy, excitement–just the pleasure of living was like a drug.’
Bulbous tendrils moved slightly around the great face.
‘Always a balance though, isn’t there,’ the Doctor said. ‘I don’t miss the other times. The darkness. No. Always time to move on.’
‘Same but different,’ said the Face of Boe.
‘Yeah,’ said the Doctor. ‘Calmer.’ He stood up. ‘I see your attendants coming. So, I must away. Adventures await, new things to learn and ponder.’
But just as he began to walk away, the Doctor stopped and looked over his shoulder. ‘Will you find another ocean to watch?’
‘They remind me of when I was young,’ said the Face of Boe.
The Doctor peered closely at the great face. ‘Ha-ha!’ A delighted grin spread over his face. ‘Of course they do.’ He straightened his bow tie and removed his hands with a flourish. ‘I won’t ask if or when we will or did meet again. We will both find or have found out when we do.’
And then the Doctor ran in a slow, contented lope up the hill to where a blue box waited.
And the waves crested and rolled in great, gleaming long tunnels of water, over and over.