Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

by EA Week [Reviews - 1]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Character Study, General, Introspection, Missing Scene

Author's Notes:
I wrote this after season four, as a kind of missing scene.

Author: E.A. Week


Summary:  Post “Journey’s End,” the Doctor doubles back through time to apologize to Harriet Jones.

Feedback: Comments are always welcome! Loved it? Hated it? Let me know why!

Disclaimers: Copyrights to all characters in this story belong to their respective creators, production companies, and studios. I'm just borrowing them, honest!  The story title is shamelessly stolen from Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

Story rating:  This story is rated K+.  Suitable for most readers.


Possible spoilers: This story takes place after season four.


The lights had gone out at the house.  Harriet toggled the switch, but nothing happened.  Maybe a fuse had burned out.  Dusk was settling over the countryside, making Harriet wish she’d returned from her walk sooner.  She started toward the kitchen, where she kept battery-operated torches and a kerosene lantern, but a disembodied voice, floating out of the darkened front room, stopped her.

“Harriet Jones.”

Frozen in her tracks, Harriet stared into the recesses of the room.  He was there, the voice was unmistakable, but she couldn’t see him.

“Have a seat.”

After a moment, Harriet felt her way to the nearest armchair and lowered herself into it.  Apprehension had set her heart pounding; the house was isolated, miles from its nearest neighbors.  Harriet preferred the solitude, though it put her at a certain amount of risk.  She knew the Doctor wasn’t a man of capricious violence, but then again, did she really know anything about him at all?

“What brings you here, Doctor?”

There was a bitter, self-deprecating irony in his voice when he said, “I came here to apologize to you.”

“Did you, now?”  Harriet kept her tone civil.

“I owe you at least that much.”

“Well, I suppose you had reason to be angry at me,” she said.

“But not enough to take you out of power.  I’m sorry, Harriet.  That was despicable of me.”

The sincerity of his tone took her back.  She thought she could see him now, seated on the sofa, the unmistakable shape of his head and shoulders a black-on-black silhouette.  The air between them was thick, muffled with grief and regret.  Harriet wondered what had driven him here.

“I owe you an apology, too, Doctor.  I’m sorry for not respecting your moral beliefs.  I’ve thought a lot about that time we were locked in the cabinet room at Downing Street, how you agonized over the decision to bomb the Slitheen.  I know you’d never make a decision like that lightly.”

“You were acting as the leader of a nation,” the Doctor said.  “I should have at least respected that.  Deposing you had consequences I never could have foreseen.”

Did he mean that idiot Harold Saxon?  Harriet said, “We both acted in the heat of the moment, Doctor.”

He fell quiet, then said, “Harriet, I don’t tell many people this, but my planet was destroyed in a war with the Daleks.”

Her breath whistled out.  “I’m sorry.”

“And I made that decision.  I was the one.”  The toneless quality of his voice took her aback.  “I destroyed the planet and annihilated my own species to keep the Daleks from taking control of all time and space.”

She began to see his anger in a new light.  “Doctor, I’m… that’s horrible.”

“If there’s one thing I can do for another being, it’s to spare them the guilt, the agony that comes after committing genocide.  I’d do anything to prevent that, Harriet.  Anything, even if it means dying myself, I’d do it.”

“I understand that, but don’t you think intelligent beings have the right to defend themselves?  Doctor, if you hadn’t been there–”

“But I was there,” he said.  He didn’t sound accusing, only sad.  “I took on the Sycorax leader to spare you that horrible choice, Harriet.  You might have felt willing to accept the burden of mass murder, but trust me when I say it comes with a price no one should ever have to pay.”

“You’re not always here, though,” said Harriet.  “And the Sycorax had already shown they were treacherous and couldn’t be trusted, even when they’d given their sworn word.  Would you want to come back here one day and find the planet a smoking cinder, or the human race enslaved?  Doctor, I’ve read the files on you.  How old are you?  Nine hundred?  A thousand?  Human beings don’t have the luxury of that longevity, or the benefit of your perspective and experience.  We have to protect ourselves–we can’t always afford your live-and-let-live philosophy.”

“What about that weapon you used?” the Doctor countered.  “Developed from alien technology?  Once that kind of genie is out of the bottle, you can never get it back inside.  After it’s been used to shoot down alien invaders, who does it get turned on next?  Someone whose political views you don’t share?  Whose religion you distrust?  Someone with resources that Britain covets?”  Harriet started to protest, but the Doctor cut her off.  “Now, you I trust, Harriet.  You’re a principled woman, and you’d never use a weapon like that unless the need was dire.  But what about your successors?  They might not be so scrupulous.”

Harriet sighed.  “It’s too bad we didn’t have time for this discussion when we were standing in that street on Christmas Day.  I had about five seconds to make a choice, and I made it based on my experience with the Sycorax and for what I believed were the best interests of humanity.  I’m sorry it wasn’t a choice you agreed with, but I stand by it, and I always will.”

“If I hadn’t been there, if your back had been genuinely against a wall, I could understand what you did.  But I was there, and you did have a choice.  You could have let them go and saved Torchwood’s weapon for a time when Earth had no other means of defense.  I understand you were frightened and you felt responsible for protecting humanity, but I still find using that kind of force on a retreating adversary reprehensible.”

“Well, we’re at an impasse, then,” Harriet said, too weary to argue further.  “Though I do accept your apology, and I appreciate your coming here to deliver it in person.”  Again, she wondered what had brought him here, and why he insisted on having this conversation in the darkness.

After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Harriet said, “Doctor, I think I’d feel more assured if there was some way to contact you when Earth is threatened.  Not that I expect you to be at the beck and call of one planet, but you’ve done a lot for this world, and I’m afraid we’ve rather come to rely on you.”

“So, develop a system,” he said.  “You certainly have enough hardware on hand.”

She wondered how long he’d been in the house, how many of her belongings he’d examined.  “I’ve been toying with the idea,” she admitted, “but a former prime minister hardly has access to the nation’s military–”

“You don’t need military access,” the Doctor said.  “Just a way to reach me.  There’s people who could help you.”

“How would I find them?” asked Harriet.

“Search on-line for the Mr. Copper Foundation, and when you contact him, tell him what you’re planning and that I told you to get in touch.  He knows me, and he can give you the software you need.”

“Copper, like the metal?” asked Harriet.

“Yes, Mr. Copper.  Lovely chap.”

“And who should I include in this project?  Jack Harkness at Torchwood Three, I assume?”

“Jack’s good.  If you need a contact at UNIT, Martha Jones–Dr. Jones.  And there’s a journalist in London, Sarah Jane Smith–we go way back.”

“I’ve never met her, but I’ve read her work,” said Harriet, committing the names to memory.  “Jack Harkness, Martha Jones, Sarah Jane Smith.”

“They’re the three best people,” the Doctor said.

There were names he hadn’t mentioned, and Harriet said, “Doctor, after the battle at Canary Wharf, lists of the missing were published.  Your friends the Tylers and Mickey Smith were all presumed dead.”  She faltered, not knowing what to say next.

“No, they’re alive,” he responded.  “They were trapped in a parallel universe during the battle, but they’re alive and well.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.  “You must miss them.”

He shifted on the sofa, and Harriet realized how many people he’d known who must be dead now, or otherwise lost to him.  Of course he must miss all of them.

“There’s one thing,” he said.  “When the time comes, when you contact Jack and Martha and Sarah Jane… don’t tell them I was here.  Don’t tell them anything I just told you.  You can tell them about the Mr. Copper Foundation, but not about me.  That’s vitally important, Harriet.  I know I’ve given you no reason to trust me, but can I trust you on this?”

“Of course,” she said.  “But Doctor, what if…”  Her sentence trailed off when a draft of cool air brushed her cheek.  He was gone.  A moment later, Harriet heard a sonic whine, followed by a thumping, groaning noise.  Then the lights blinked on.

Harriet sat still for a moment, befuddled by the encounter, wondering if she’d imagined the entire thing.  The grandfather clock struck, and Harriet jumped to her feet, hastening to write down the names before she forgot them.  Next, she booted up her computer and did a quick search for the Mr. Copper Foundation.


Less than fifteen minutes after she’d sent her e-mail, the phone rang, and Harriet spent an hour on the phone with Mr. Copper.  As it turned out, he’d been on the replica of the Titanic, the spaceship that had almost crashed into Buckingham Palace the previous Christmas.  Harriet was pleased to learn her guess had been correct, that the Doctor’s intervention had prevented an outright disaster.  Afterwards, Mr. Copper had opted to stay on earth, and in his retirement had established a foundation to develop technological innovations.  When Harriet mentioned the Doctor, Mr. Copper was delighted, and promised to assist her with anything she needed.

Later that evening, Harriet brewed a pot of tea and sat before the fire, thinking over the Doctor’s visit, replaying their conversation again and again in her mind.  She kept circling back to one question: why now?  What had prompted him to seek her out and apologize, three years after deposing her?  Why had his conscience suddenly gotten the better of him?

And why the insistence on darkness?  Could he not look her in the face?  That didn’t make sense; his tone had been sincere enough.  Had he been scarred in some battle, now so mutilated he couldn’t bear to show himself?  No, that didn’t make sense, either: if he’d been badly injured, his body would have changed, as it had in the past.  And the insistence on secrecy–why?  Why did he not want his friends to know about this visit?  Was he ashamed to have them know he’d humbled himself?  No, if he could swallow his pride enough to come here and apologize, his friends’ finding out about it would hardly bother him.

Vitally important, he’d said.  He would not have used those words lightly.

The answer struck Harriet from out of the clear blue: the Doctor must have come from the future.  He’d seen a need for her involvement, her ability to contact his friends at a time of dire urgency, and had come back in time to make sure it happened.

Harriet stared into the fire, her mind awhirl with possibilities.  He had come to her, Harriet Jones–deposed, out of the public eye, a civilian once more–someone who knew him, knew his friends, who could operate within a cloak of anonymity.  Harriet’s mouth went dry: if that were the case, it must mean that all other methods of communication were disabled or were being monitored by an alien presence.  Likewise, the world’s military forces and governments must also have been destroyed or rendered inoperable.  Harriet shuddered, realizing that the impending crisis must be nothing short of catastrophic.

The Doctor wouldn’t have wanted to reveal too much, lest Harriet unknowingly interfere with some crucial event.  And to enlist her aid, he must have felt he ought to apologize.

No, that didn’t seem right.  He’d come here to apologize first and foremost, of that Harriet felt very certain.  She’d been the one, not the Doctor, to prompt their discussion of how best to contact him.  So why double back through time?

The warm tea and cozy fire felt ice cold to Harriet at that moment.  Whatever was going to happen, Harriet herself would not survive.  The Doctor had come back to this point in time because she was still alive, and he wouldn’t have the opportunity to apologize to her later.  No wonder he’d insisted on darkness, likely fearing she would read her fate in his eyes.

Harriet clutched her tea mug.  She loved this life and had no wish to leave it.  She didn’t fear death, but she had no great love of pain.  Her panicky thoughts raced, wondering what would happen.  A quick assassination, or endless lingering agony?

Gaze darting to the computer, Harriet debated scrapping the project entirely.  By now, fear had all but glued her mouth shut.  Then she forced herself to be calm.  Whatever crisis loomed, the fate of humanity rested in her hands.  The Doctor had placed a tremendous amount of trust in her, and no matter their differences, Harriet knew she couldn’t disappoint him.

Harriet wondered how much time she had left–years, months, weeks, or only days?  Every moment seemed precious now; every breath felt like a miracle; every small, humble item in the house felt to her like a treasure beyond price.

She pulled herself to her feet and lurched on wooden legs across the room to her desk.  When the time came, she must be resolute.  In the greater balance of things, her life was nothing compared to the fate of the planet, the continued life and freedom of generations to come.  Others before her had been called upon to make a similar sacrifice, and Harriet hoped blindly that she could be equal to their courage and selflessness.

In the meantime, she had a life to be lived, to its fullest, every moment that remained to her, even though the long, dark shadow of death lay across her doorstep. 

A wave of brisk practicality swept over her, pushing aside her fears.  The world would keep turning after she was gone, and Harriet thought of all the mundane details that needed to be attended to.  She scribbled a note to contact her solicitor the next day; it was time she updated her will.

She wondered not for the first time how history would remember her.  As a politician, she’d learned how easily public opinion could be swayed.  People will remember you according to whatever spin the media puts on your death.  With a grim smile, Harriet sat down at her computer and began to compose her own obituary.  When the time came, Harriet would send the file as a quick email to Sarah Jane Smith.  Harriet regretted that she’d never had the opportunity to meet the journalist in person.  She seemed like such an interesting woman.

The End