Shaun elbowed open the front door. “Sylvia! I’ve found her!” He carried Donna into the living room and laid her on the settee. “She’s unconscious and she’s absolutely freezing! Can you get some blankets? We need to get her warmed up.”
Sylvia quickly went upstairs and brought some blankets down into the living room. She tucked them closely around her daughter.
Shaun was distraught. “I looked all over the place for her; I searched up and down the streets. I eventually found her in Wessex Lane. I don’t know how she got there.” He ran his hand over his head. “She was just lying there on the ground. For a moment I thought she was dead! But when I got close to her, I could see she was still breathing. She was so cold. I got her home as quickly as I could.” He rubbed her arms vigorously, trying to stimulate circulation.
Sylvia picked up the phone and dialled 999. It was engaged. She pressed redial, but had no better result. She knelt beside Donna and adjusted the cushions under her head. She brushed the hair away from her forehead. “Oh, Donna,” she whispered. “What happened to you?” Donna’s skin was so cold to the touch.
“Maybe a cup of tea would help to warm her up.”
“I’ll put the kettle on.” Sylvia knew tea couldn’t help unless Donna was awake, but she went into the kitchen anyway. She had to do something other than just stand there, worrying. She dialled emergency again while she waited for the kettle to boil. It was still engaged. Her thoughts turned to her father, who had gone off with the Doctor earlier. ‘All of this has got to have something to do with the Doctor. I just hope Dad’s alright.’ She pressed redial again, but it was useless.
She brought the cup into the living room. Shaun was anxiously feeling Donna’s forehead and cheeks. “It’s no good, she’s freezing! How long was she lying out there?” Sylvia handed the cup to Shaun and he put it on the floor. “It’s like hypothermia. Try them again!”
“I did. It was engaged. Everyone’s dialling 999. I can’t get through.”
“We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to wake her up.” He looked down at Donna. “Can you hear me? Donna...?”
Suddenly, Sylvia became aware of a familiar, unearthly sound that steadily grew louder and louder. She heard a quick intake of breath and looked down to see Donna’s eyes flutter open. Oh, thank goodness!
Shaun was overjoyed, “Donna, it's me! I'm here! You're safe. You're home!”
Donna slowly became aware of her surroundings, as Shaun and her mother looked down at her expectantly. “...but...what happened?” she spluttered. “I was... Did I miss something? Again?!”
Leaving Donna in the care of her very relieved fiancé, Sylvia opened the front door and looked out into the street. She smiled when she saw the TARDIS parked a short distance away. Its door opened and Wilf and the Doctor walked out. She waved, then watched as the Doctor and Wilf talked. After a few moments, the Doctor stepped back into the TARDIS and closed the door. Wilf turned and slowly made his way home as the blue box and its distinctive sound gradually faded away into nothing.
Sylvia was so happy; thankful that Wilf was safely home and that Donna had finally awoken from her inexplicable sleep. She was relieved that everything was beginning to return to normal - or as normal as it could be, considering that a gigantic planet had appeared, then disappeared in the sky above them that day.
Despite his rather cowardly and hasty departure earlier, she couldn’t wait to hear about the adventures her dad had been having with the Doctor. It would no doubt have been something spectacular. After the incident of the planets in the sky, she had learned to accept the extraordinary truths of the world, the Universe and the Doctor’s place in it.
She frowned at the troubled expression on her father’s face as he approached her.
Wilf stopped in front of her and looked sadly into her eyes. “Oh, Sylvia", he shook his head, as tears filled his eyes. “I’ve killed the Doctor”.
“What?! What are you talking about?” She gestured at the empty spot in the street where the TARDIS had just stood. “He was just there. He looked very much alive to me!”
“No, no.” He shook his head. “It’s something I did...and he’s going to die.”
Sylvia looked horrified. “Dad! What did you do?”
“I...I didn’t mean it, Sylvia. Really, I didn’t. I just didn’t realise at the time...I was trying to help someone and I trapped myself inside that bloody glass booth...”
“What booth? What are you talking about? I don’t understand...”
He edged past her into the hallway. “First, what about Donna? Is Donna alright?”
Sylvia looked sharply at her father. “How did you know...?”
“I can’t properly explain right now...but something terrible happened and the Doctor said that he’d protected her somehow. I want to see for myself,” Wilf replied.
He cut her off. “I said I’ll explain a bit later, Sylvia.” He gestured towards the door. “Where is she?”
“She’s in the living room. Shaun found her cold and unconscious in the lane and he carried her home. We’ve been trying to rouse her, but it wasn’t until we heard the sound of the Doctor’s blue box arriving that she opened her eyes. She seems to be fine, though I’d still like her to see a doctor to make sure.” She smiled briefly. “She must be alright, though. The moment she woke up, she was already complaining that she’d missed something!”
They entered the living room to find Shaun and Donna sitting together on the settee. She was wrapped in a blanket, a cup of tea in one hand and the TV remote in the other. She was flipping from one program to the next. They all displayed graphic images of the huge, burning red planet that had hovered above them earlier in the day.
Wilf sat down beside her. “Donna! How are you feeling, love?”
She put down the cup and absently rubbed her forehead. “I’ve got a bit of a headache, but it’s not too bad.” She shivered involuntarily and pulled the blanket closer around her. “I’m feeling so cold. Shaun said he found me out in the lane, but I don’t know how I got out there. I don’t remember anything.”
“Well, you’re safely home now.”
Donna nodded. She looked back at the TV and wrinkled her brow. “You know, I’m really confused.”
“What about, love?”
“I turned on the telly and everyone was talking about this giant planet appearing in the sky. ‘How seriously warped is that?’ I thought, ‘Bonkers, the lot of them!’, but then I saw the pictures! What’s it all about?”
She suddenly noticed that Wilf was wearing his outdoors jacket. She looked at him sharply. “And where’ve you been?”
“Oh, I just went out for a bit.”
She paused a moment. “What do you mean, ‘out’? It’s Christmas Day! Where would you be going on Christmas Day?”
Wilf tried to think quickly. “I...I wanted to see what was going on out there...” he began, pointing vaguely towards the sky.
Donna suddenly spied her mobile on the side table. She reached over and picked it up. “Sorry, Gramps, I have to call Nerys to see what she has to say about all these goings-on.”
Wilf let out the breath he had been holding as Donna pressed the speed dial on her phone. He stood and followed Sylvia into the kitchen. He took off his jacket and hung it over the back of the chair. Sitting down at the table, he cradled his head in his hands.
“Dad, what’s going on?!”
“So many extraordinary things have happened today, Sylvia. I just don’t know where to start...”
The sound of Donna’s voice cut into their conversation as she walked into the kitchen, mobile phone to her ear. Shaun hovered behind her. “...and we didn’t even have the turkey!” She frowned accusingly at her mother. “What kind of Christmas is that?” She paused as she listened to the response. “What, you too?! Nothing makes sense! What? Oh, OK. See you later.” She switched off the phone, only for it to ring a moment later. She put it back to her ear. “Veena! ...Where have I been? I’ve been unconscious, that’s where I’ve been! I don’t know...” She turned and disappeared back into the living room, Shaun following closely behind.
Wilf shook his head as a sad smile briefly touched his face. “She’s fine, isn’t she? Still the same old Donna. I’m glad.” He scrubbed his hands down his face. “I was so worried about her. She rang me in the middle of...of all the things that were happening. She was very distressed. I’m so relieved to see her up and about...and just...normal.” He stopped, shook his head and sighed. “I’m sorry, Sylvia. I really can’t explain any of this to you just yet. I need to get my thoughts together so that it makes some kind of sense before I put it into words. It’ll all come out in a jumble otherwise.”
Sylvia looked at him closely, and then nodded. “I suppose so. Are you alright?”
“I don’t know,” he sighed. “I suppose I will be once I’ve thought all this through.”
She looked at him a little uncertainly, but decided to leave it at that. “Donna seems to be all right. We’ll just have to keep an eye on her in case she has some kind of relapse.”
Wilf smiled. “You know, deep down, she still has a connection with the Doctor. Just hearing the TARDIS, even while unconscious, was enough to wake her up.” He glanced fondly toward the living room. “Even though she’ll never know it, she’ll always be linked to him in some way”. He paused, musing. “I wonder if he’ll come back and check on her after...” He closed his eyes and shook his head.
Sylvia looked at him with concern and squeezed his shoulder. She moved over to the pantry cupboard. “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry. We haven’t eaten all day.” She brought out a loaf of bread and then went to the fridge. “I’ll make some sandwiches. Could you switch the kettle on and get the tea started?”
Twenty minutes later, they took trays with tea and toasted sandwiches into the living room.
Donna was sitting on the settee with Shaun. She looked up from the TV. “What, we’re just having sandwiches for tea, Mum? But it’s Christmas!”
“I know darling, but so much has happened today. We’ve had another planet in the sky and earthquakes. I’m afraid sandwiches are at about the limit of my capability at the moment.”
“It just doesn’t make sense! Where would another planet come from? And go to? If I hadn’t seen it on the telly, I wouldn’t have believed it!” Donna shook her head and frowned. “I’m still not sure I believe it. There was that other time when everyone reckoned there were lots of planets in the sky. Do you think it’s related?” She flicked her hair back with one hand and laughed. “What are we, some kind of planet magnet? How long will it be before the next one pops up?”
Wilf shuddered. “Heaven forbid that happening again!”
He finished his sandwich and stood up. He needed some time on his own to digest the events of the day. He stifled a yawn. “I know it’s early, but I’m feeling a bit tired. I think I’ll go up to my room and see if I can get a bit of shut-eye.” He went to Donna and bent to kiss her on the cheek. “I’m really glad you’re feeling better now, love. Goodnight, Donna. Shaun.”
“Goodnight, Mr Mott.”
Sylvia followed him into the kitchen. He put his plate in the sink, and then turned and picked up his jacket from the back of the chair. “I’ll talk to you about this tomorrow, Sylvia.” She nodded silently and her eyes followed him anxiously as he walked slowly out of the kitchen.
As Wilf stepped into his bedroom, the first thing he saw was his old suitcase sitting open on the bed. Inside was the empty box that he’d kept his old service revolver in ever since his army days. He slowly reached into the pocket of his jacket and brought out the gun.
He sat heavily on the bed as he looked at it in his hand. The Doctor had picked it up from the floor in the mansion as they were leaving. Several expressions had crossed the Doctor’s face as he had looked down at the weapon. Then he’d simply said, ‘Thank you’, before handing it back to him. Wilf had replaced it in his jacket as they’d made their way back to the TARDIS.
He began to shake as images skittered through his mind. The Master taking it out of his pocket and dropping it onto the floor when Donna had rung; quickly bending down to retrieve it later as they were escaping from the mansion; trying to convince the Doctor to take it when they were on the space ship and being refused, over and over again. He shuddered as he remembered the terrible expression on the Doctor’s face when he finally took the gun from his hand and headed back to the flight deck. And again, the bleak look on his face as he dropped out of the hatch into thin air, gun in hand. He now knew that at that moment, the Doctor had believed that he was going to his death. Then finally, he saw the chilling image of the Doctor aiming the gun back and forth between the Master and the leader of the Time Lords. It was such a relief when the Doctor told the Master to move out of the way before that one shot rang out, bringing all the events of the terrible day relentlessly to its conclusion.
With a sigh, he wrapped the gun in the cloth, laid it in the box and replaced the lid. He closed the suitcase and put it back under his bed. He got ready for bed, but as soon as he lay down and closed his eyes, more visions of impossible things swirled through his mind. A blue police box that was enormous on the inside, with the Doctor feverishly adjusting levers, turning dials and pressing buttons. Tied up by a madman who turned every human being in the world into a copy of himself. Meeting aliens that looked like living green cactuses — cacti — and being teleported aboard their space ship. Looking down on the Earth from space — now that was something. The horrific and bizarre image of the Master shooting bolts of electricity out of his hands as he staggered toward the Time Lords before fading away along with them all... He knew that if he tried to tell anyone what he’d witnessed this day, they’d think he was stark, staring mad.
Then there had been all the running. He hadn’t run like that for years. His aching knees told him he wouldn’t be doing it again in a hurry if he had any say in the matter. He sighed. He was much too old for all of this. Ha! Yet he was just a child in comparison to the Doctor. That man - alien - was 906 years old! He was a powerful being who’d saved countless worlds, not to mention the universe... He could have looked upon humans as tiny and insignificant insects, yet he had so much compassion for one old man who had unwittingly made a terrible mistake.
Wilf tossed and turned and finally realised that he wouldn’t be getting any sleep with his mind constantly churning the way it was. He got out of bed and looked through the window. It was clear outside and he could see stars winking in the sky. Perhaps spending some time out there would help to clear his head. He dressed in warm clothing, packed up his telescope and grabbed a torch.
Sylvia was about to head upstairs to bed as he walked into the kitchen. “I can’t sleep.” He tapped his finger on his head. “There’s too much going on up here. I think I might just go up to the allotment and commune with the stars for a bit.”
She was worried. He really did need to talk about it, but she wasn’t going to push him, so she just nodded and patted him on the shoulder. “Donna’s gone up to bed. Shaun’s staying with her tonight. He didn’t want to leave her on her own.”
“That’s a good idea. She needs to have someone keep an eye on her.”
“See you later, Dad. Oh, and don’t forget your key,” she called after him. He turned back and took the key off the hook and quietly closed the door behind him.
Wilf soon arrived at his familiar spot on the hill. He hadn’t been up there for a while. He’d lost his enthusiasm for stargazing after Donna had come home with her memories wiped. He had grieved on her behalf for the loss of every memory of the extraordinary life she had led. She’d been changed by the adventures she’d had with the Doctor. When she’d returned home from time to time, he had seen that she had grown in so many ways. He remembered how her eyes had sparkled as she’d related her adventures to him.
But now all of that had gone. She’d reverted to her old ways. She was temping again, spending time on her phone chatting with her friends and going to the pub on Saturday nights. Then Shaun had come along. He’d made a positive impact on her life. Not quite like the Doctor had; nothing like that would ever happen again. Shaun was down to earth and he thought the world of Donna. And she loved him. They had a chance to live a happy and fulfilling life together. He couldn’t ask for more.
He unlocked the shed and shone the torch around inside. He found that his neatly stacked pile of wood had been scattered around the floor. Not surprising, he supposed, considering the way the Earth had been shaken by the various planetary movements of recent times. Setting some kindling and wood in the makeshift fireplace, he fished around in his coat pocket and brought out a box of matches. He lit a small fire, which he hoped would soon take some of the chill off the air.
He brought out his folding chair and placed it beside the fire. Then he set up his telescope and directed it towards a large red star. He looked through the view piece and adjusted the focus. He smiled. Ah, Betelgeuse, shining so brightly in the sky. It was so beautiful... Memories of Donna telling him about some of the places she and the Doctor had visited flooded through his mind. His eyes suddenly clouded with tears. She would never go back out there.
The Doctor was dying and he was responsible. He took a deep, shuddering breath as the vision of the Doctor curled up in agony on the floor of the radiation-filled booth seared through his mind.
How had it all come to this? Why? He remembered what the Doctor had said the other day in the cafe, ‘People have waited hundreds of years to find me. Then you manage it in a couple of hours. I keep on meeting you, Wilf. Over and over again. Like something's still connecting us. Why you?’
Indeed, why him? He mused over the times he had met the Doctor. Truly, every encounter he’d had with this man — alien — was extraordinary. The very first time he’d seen him, he’d been watching the newspaper stand for a friend a year ago on Christmas Eve, when a man had stopped to talk to him. Then without any warning, he’d just disappeared before his very eyes. That had certainly fuelled his long-held conviction that aliens had visited Earth! He remembered seeing him as a vague figure standing behind Donna in the doorway of the TARDIS as they flew over the very spot where he sat at the moment. Then, during the ATMOS debacle, he’d ended up trapped inside Sylvia’s car while the Doctor tried to neutralise the device. Although Sylvia had saved him that time, the Doctor had later saved the world from untold horrors. The last time he had seen him, the Doctor, Donna and his other former companions had saved the Universe, no less. But it had come with a terrible cost and the Doctor’s devastation as he’d brought her home, unconscious and oblivious of her adventures was heartbreaking.
His thoughts turned to the conversation he’d had with the Doctor at the cafe. He recalled the Doctor’s shocking revelation, ‘I’m going to die’. When he uttered those fatal words, ‘I was told, “He will knock four times”. That was the prophecy. Knock four times, and then...,’ the Doctor had just looked so...broken.
When he’d pointed out to the Doctor that he’d told him before that he could change instead of dying, he had said, ‘Even if I change, it feels like dying. Everything that I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away...and I’m dead,’ a shiver had gone through him. It was just so...so...alien.
He put another couple of pieces of wood on the fire and stared into the crackling flames.
Wilf relived that terrible moment when the penny dropped and he realised that it was he who had knocked four times; that it was he who would send the Doctor to his death. It had all come down to him. The Doctor’s words rang in his head, ‘‘Cause you had to go in there, didn't you?! You had to go and get stuck, oh yes! ‘Cause that's who you are, Wilfred. You were always this. Waiting for me. All this time.’
That weight bore heavily upon him. A tear rolled down his cheek. He didn’t mean to go and get stuck. He was just trying to help that poor man trapped in there...
Yet after all that had happened, who else but the Doctor would have sacrificed themselves for a foolish old man like him? He remembered the Doctor’s words as he prepared to open the booth and go to his doom, ‘Wilfred. It's my honour.’
Wilf sighed, as he realised that there was nothing he could have done that would have altered a thing. He could see now that the outcome was inevitable. He’d never believed in fate, but now it was obvious that this was always going to happen. It was always going to be him. He stared blankly into the flames for several minutes, before grudgingly accepting that there were bigger mysteries in the Universe than he could ever begin to understand.
He suddenly became aware of approaching footsteps. Someone was coming up the hill towards him. He quickly pulled out his handkerchief and scrubbed at his eyes.
It was Sylvia, well wrapped up in a warm coat and carrying a bag. “I hope you don’t mind me coming up here, Dad. I couldn’t sleep either.”
“No, of course not.” He got up and went into the shed. He brought out another chair and set it up beside his. “I‘m not surprised. Today wasn’t exactly what you’d call normal, was it?”
Sylvia shook her head. She sat down, then reached into the bag and brought out a thermos and two mugs. She unscrewed the top off the thermos and poured tea into the mugs. She handed one to Wilf, then brought out a box and offered him a fruit mince pie. She settled into her chair, sipping her tea. She looked up into the sky and stared at the bright points of light; the same stars that had begun to disappear just a few months earlier. Now they were back in their rightful place, thanks to the Doctor...and Donna. She still found it incredible that Donna had travelled to the stars. “Are there any stars that we can see from here that the Doctor took Donna to visit?” She motioned towards the sky. “Before...everything happened?”
“There are some.”
“Can you show me?”
Wilf put down his mug and adjusted the telescope slightly so that it pointed towards a group of small, bright stars. He moved out of his chair. “Come and sit here. Look through the view piece.”
Sylvia bent over the telescope and saw the brightly shining stars. “She went there?”
“That’s the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. It’s around 400 light years away from Earth. It’s made up of mostly young, hot blue stars which couldn’t support life like ours. Donna and the Doctor visited a planet relatively near there. She told me that she’d walked on a beach with pale pink sand, and swam in a purple sea. Those stars shone so brightly in the background that the sky was never dark, even in the middle of the night.” He sighed deeply. “When the Doctor wiped her memories, she lost all of that. Everything she had ever done with him; wonderful and terrible, all gone.”
Sylvia shook her head and sighed. Despite knowing that the most incredible things were possible, it was still a bit much to take it all in. She still had so much to learn. She returned to her chair, moving it a bit closer to the fire.
“Tell me what happened today, Dad, if you can. I know I probably wouldn’t understand much of it, but I think you need to talk about it. There’s nobody else you can tell.”
“That’s true.” Wilf looked up at her and sighed. “There’s so much, Sylvia. You’ll never believe the half of it.” He looked away, not voicing the rest of the sentence, ‘You never do.’
Sylvia’s lifelong safe and comfortable view of the world in which she lived had been shattered over the course of just a few months. She now understood that the Earth was just a tiny speck in the wide, wide Universe that was teeming with alien life. They were not alone. That was made perfectly clear to her when the Earth had been shifted to another part of the Universe and the sky had been filled with strange planets.
After the Doctor had brought Donna home with no knowledge of where she had been or what she had done, she’d thought it had been for the best. However, over the past few months, her dad had told her some of the stories that Donna had related of her travels with the Doctor in his incredible blue box. It was only then that she began to understand what an extraordinary life Donna had lived, and had lost.
She’d never believed in aliens, but the Doctor, whom she had once thought was some kind of eccentric adventurer or something, was just that — an alien. Of course he wasn’t one of those stereotypical science fiction aliens; he just looked like an ordinary man. How he travelled in space and time in that blue box of his was totally beyond her understanding, as was the undisputable fact that her Donna had been travelling the Universe with him for months and she had never known. Still, she wouldn’t have believed it anyway if she’d been told. She now understood that the Doctor spent his life saving people and worlds from all kinds of dangers and injustices. He had saved the Earth time and time again over the years, unbeknown to the billions of people who owed their very lives to him - and he had rarely received a word of thanks.
Coming face to face with the Daleks, those most ridiculous-looking metallic...things...that had invaded the Earth to threaten their very existence was terrifying. She was eternally thankful for the timely arrival of that young woman, Rose Tyler, who had appeared out of nowhere and had destroyed a Dalek just seconds before it would have killed them.
Then after the Earth had been returned, the Doctor had brought Donna home, unconscious and with her memories wiped.
She had been bitter that day, but the Doctor had hit her with some hard home truths. She now accepted that her relationship with Donna hadn’t been a healthy one. It had become easy to pick fault and complain. It had become a habit that she wasn’t proud of. She had never really appreciated her daughter for who she was, or her potential. When the Doctor had proclaimed Donna the most important woman in the Universe, she had snapped, stung that he seemingly valued her daughter more than she had.
Since then she had made an effort to curb the hurtful comments and retorts that always fell so easily from her tongue. Donna had responded well and they had become more at ease in each other’s company. She knew it was still a work in progress, but she could see that their relationship was definitely improving.
She reached out and squeezed her father’s hand. “Try me, Dad. I’m trying my best to understand and accept things I’ve always thought were impossible. It’s not something I’ve had a lot of practice with.” She smiled ruefully. “Everything that I’ve ever taken for granted has been turned on its head, but I’m ready to listen and try to understand.”
Wilf looked at his daughter. Living with Sylvia was not always easy. She’d always been very opinionated and critical and never held back from speaking her mind. Her sharp tongue tended to isolate her from people. However, ever since that terrible night when the Doctor had very directly suggested that she should show Donna how important she was to her, he’d noticed that she had begun to make an effort to change. She had toned down her criticisms and life had become a little less stressful for all of them. She had even listened to the few stories he had related to her of Donna’s adventures in time and space. Perhaps she really was ready to hear the truth of today’s events.
Wilf took a deep breath. “Well, it started last Wednesday...” He paused. "No. It was a bit before that. Do you remember having bad dreams, night after night?”
Sylvia nodded, and then shuddered as a fleeting image of a laughing man flashed before her mind’s eye and the sound of that demented laugh echoed through her head.
“Everyone had those bad dreams. That was the start of it all... Anyway, last Wednesday evening, I went out to do a bit of last minute Christmas shopping. You remember that?”
“Well, I was walking past the church where Donna was supposed to have been married. You know the one?” Sylvia nodded. “I heard the choir singing and I was drawn inside. It was very peaceful in there, with those sweet young voices singing. As I walked down the aisle, my eyes were drawn to the stained glass window behind the altar. I couldn’t believe what I saw! There, set into the window near the bottom, was a tiny replica of the Doctor’s TARDIS! Then suddenly, a woman spoke from behind me - just about jumped out of my skin, I did! She told me that the church had been built on the site of a convent in the 1300’s - and that a demon had fallen from the sky. Then a man appeared, in a blue box. They called him the sainted physician. She said he smote the demon and then he disappeared. I said it was a bit of a coincidence, because I’d heard stories like that before. She said there’s no such thing as coincidence, and that perhaps he was coming back.”
Sylvia shivered. “Who was she?”
Wilf shook his head. “I don’t know. I turned around and she had gone. Too many strange things have been happening lately. First it was those dreams, then the woman’s strange disappearance. Coincidence or not, I knew I had to find the Doctor. I didn’t know where to start, so I asked my mates to be on the lookout for the Doctor and his blue box. And you know what? We found him! Down in the wasteland near the docks. Oh, that Minnie! Took quite a liking to him, she did.”
Sylvia chuckled. “Minnie the Menace! She’d take a liking to anything that’s male and can walk on two legs, if you ask me.”
“Well, she wanted to have a photo taken with the Doctor. Oliver was having trouble getting the camera to work, and while they were standing there waiting, she goosed the poor man. Of course, that was the moment the camera snapped! Heh, heh. I wonder how the photo turned out...” He sighed, suddenly remembering. “I’d like to get a copy of it...”
“But what about Donna? What if she sees it? You know what the Doctor said...”
“She won’t see it. I’d make sure of that. I’ll never forget him, but if I want to see him after...” Wilf paused and stared into the distance. He shook himself. “...a photo will be the only way I can do it.”
Sylvia frowned, puzzled. “What?”
“Sorry to be cryptic. I’m coming to it soon.
“Oliver dropped us off at the cafe in the High Street. We went in and I bought us each a cup of tea. We sat there and it was a bit awkward at first; the Doctor was quiet and sort of brooding. I could see that he was troubled. He looked at me strangely, then said that us meeting up as often as we have was very odd. Then out of the blue he said that he was going to die.”
Sylvia gasped. “How could he know that?”
“He said it was a prophecy. That ‘He would knock four times,’ then he would die.” Wilf groaned, clutching his head in his hands. “Oh, jeez...”
“At that moment, I had no idea exactly how true those words would be.” He sighed. “Anyway, I’d lured the Doctor to that cafe on purpose. I knew that Donna and Shaun were shopping near there. When I saw them at the car...I was hoping he would talk to her.”
“I know, I know. I’m a foolish old man. I was just hoping he could do something to help her. He needed her. Really, he did. He’s been travelling alone. He said he’d done some things that he shouldn’t have. If he’d had someone with him, they could have stopped him. He was a wreck, Sylvia. Every time I’d seen him, he’d had that air of confidence and control, but at that moment, he looked so very human and broken...” Wilf pushed the vision away. “Anyway, he left the cafe after that and I came home.
“Well, this morning — or yesterday morning now — you remember that book that Donna gave me for Christmas?” Sylvia nodded. “If it hadn’t been for the man who wrote it, that Joshua Naismith, none of this would have happened. We left...” Wilf looked a bit embarrassed, yet somewhat gleeful. “Um, I got to ride in the blue box - the TARDIS. It really was just like Donna told me; it’s bigger on the inside, so much bigger. Anyway, within a few minutes, we’d arrived at Naismith’s mansion...”
“How much bigger?”
“Huge! I’ll tell you all about it some other time,” Wilf smiled. “Anyway, when we got inside the house, we found these two people in the basement, adjusting the equipment. Only they weren’t normal people. The Doctor pointed his screwdriver at them and they turned into cactuses!”
“Screwdriver? Cactuses?” Sylvia was confused. “Dad, what are you talking about?”
“They were aliens.” Wilf stuck his fingers up behind his head to imitate spikes. “They were green, and they had spikes sticking out of their heads! They’d used some sort of technology to make themselves look human, but the Doctor saw through it straight away and changed them back.
“They were from a race called the Vin...Vinvosh... Oh, I can’t remember what they were called now. Anyway, they were repairing some alien machinery. They told us it was a medical device. There was more of it upstairs — they called it a ‘gate’. The ‘cure’ for whatever disease was being treated would be placed inside this ‘gate’, and when it was activated, it would affect every person on a whole planet.
“The Doctor looked horrified when he heard that. He raced up the stairs and I tried to keep up. It turns out that nutter Naismith was going to use that machine to make his daughter immortal. They called it the ‘Immortality Gate’. There were more scientists working on it in that room...”
“Immortal...” Sylvia shook her head. Her dad was right. She didn’t understand...
“The thing was that the person they had chosen to help them was a man called the Master. He’s another Time Lord, like the Doctor, but he was nothing like the Doctor. He was some kind of megalomaniac. To make it worse, he was the same man that we all had those bad dreams about. It was HIM!”
“Yes, it was him! Well, he took control of this machine, and he changed every human being on Earth into a version of him!”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that everyone, even you and Shaun, became him!”
“But that’s ridiculous!” Silvia’s eyes were wide.
She swallowed and asked, “How?”
“He stood inside that ‘gate’, and then everyone’s head started to shake back and forth, even mine. It was weird and I felt dizzy. Then the Doctor made me get into the booth. It’s shielded somehow and then he did something with his fancy screwdriver thing, and my head stopped shaking.
“As everyone’s head shook, they slowly changed into the Master. It was unbelievable — all of those people, men and women, were standing there with his head on their shoulders.” He shuddered at the memory. “It only worked on humans, though. The Doctor and the Vin...cactuses weren’t human, so they didn’t change.”
Sylvia looked a bit dazed. “I do remember feeling a bit dizzy. And I lost time, too. Oh God! I feel sick just thinking about it.”
“After that, the Master got me out of the booth and tied me to a chair,” Wilf continued. “That’s when Donna rang me. The Master took my phone out of my pocket so that I could speak to her. She was distraught. She was having flashbacks of things she had seen when she travelled with the Doctor. She was starting to remember. She said she could see creatures and a giant wasp and then she said they, meaning a whole lot of people looking like the Master, were coming towards her. She cried out that her head was getting hotter and hotter. I told her to run, to get away, and the phone suddenly went dead. I was so worried. I thought she was going to die, but the Doctor said that she was still protected; that he’d never leave his best friend without a defence mechanism. I don’t know what he’d done, but whatever it was, it must have worked.”
Sylvia was speechless for a moment, mulling over what she had been told. “Dad, how did we all get back to normal?”
“It’s a long story.”
“We have plenty of time.”
Wilf threw some more wood on the fire.
“The Doctor had been restrained in this weird chair contraption and the Master was trying to get him to reveal where he’d hidden the TARDIS. He threatened to shoot me to make the Doctor tell him. It was awful.” He shuddered. “But the Doctor told him that one of the guards wearing a helmet was an inch taller that the rest of the ‘Masters’. Just at that moment, that guard hit the real Master with his gun and knocked him out. The guard took his helmet off and it turned out to be the green alien! They untied me and we got out of there fast! I picked up my gun on the way out...”
“Your gun? You took your old gun with you? Dad! What did you do that for?”
“It was that woman, the one that I saw in the church. She’d appeared on the TV when the Queen’s Christmas message was broadcast in the morning. She urged me to take up arms to help the Doctor. I’d put it in my pocket when the Doctor came around to the house. The Master had found it when he got my mobile out of my pocket when Donna rang.
“Anyway, we headed back down to the basement. They couldn’t get the Doctor out of the chair quickly enough, so they pushed him down the stairs. He was bumped down every step to the bottom. He wasn’t impressed, I can tell you! Once we got down there, the next thing I knew, a weird feeling swept over me, and by the time I’d blinked, I found myself on a spaceship!”
Sylvia’s eyes went round. “But...that’s impossible!”
Wilf chuckled. “A lot of impossible things happened today, Sylvia. This was just one of them! The Doctor was so annoyed; he was struggling to get out of the restraints and the moment he was out, he used his screwdriver and cut the power on the ship. Things were exploding all over the place. He said it was to stop the Master from finding us; he had possession of all the missiles on Earth and with the ship radiating heat from space we would be sitting ducks.
“I looked out of the window, and down below us was the Earth, a hundred thousand miles away. It was beautiful.” He stared into the fire.
“Well, the Master didn’t find us, but we had another problem. Without power for heating, it got very cold. The Doctor didn’t seem to have any plans as to what to do after that. We were stuck up there. He went off somewhere in the ship. I tried to follow, but I lost him. I was calling out to him, when that mysterious woman suddenly appeared behind me from out of nowhere. She asked me if I’d taken arms. I brought out my gun and asked her what I was supposed to do. She said it was the Doctor’s final battle and at the end of his life he must stand at arms, or lose himself and all this world, to the End of Time. I told her that he never carries guns; he just doesn’t do that...”
“Who was she?”
“I don’t know. I asked her, but all she said was that she had been lost, very long ago. It was all very mysterious. I looked away from her for a moment, and when I looked back up, she was gone. Again. It’s a bit disconcerting, this appearing and disappearing business.
“Anyway, I eventually found the Doctor. He was working on some wiring, trying to fix the heating. We were sitting near a window and I could see the Earth down there below us. What a sight that was! We were over the Mediterranean. It reminded me of the time I’d been down there when I was in the army. I wasn’t much more than a boy back then. I said he probably wouldn’t want to hear an old man’s stories. That’s when he told me that he was older than me. Did you know that he’s 906 years old?”
Sylvia looked at him incredulously. “How can that possibly be? No one can live that long!”
“A Time Lord can. I’ll tell you how that happens later.
“Anyway, we were having this discussion about saving himself from the Master. He had to do something! I tried several times to give him my old gun, but he wouldn’t take it. He doesn’t like them. Something terrible must have happened in his past for him to refuse to have anything to do with weapons...” He stopped. “Oh. It must have been the Time War that they were talking about... Such things he’s been through, I don’t know how he manages to go on...
“Well, the Master’s voice suddenly boomed over the speakers. He said that a star had fallen from the sky. The “star” was a diamond - a Whitepoint Star. You should have seen the look on the Doctor’s face! It was terrifying; it looked as if his worst nightmares were coming true. As it turns out, he was right... He became more and more agitated as he realised that the Master was bringing back the Time Lords. Suddenly, he took the gun from me and he headed back towards the ship’s flight deck. By the time I got there, he was pointing his screwdriver at different bits of machinery and suddenly everything came back to life. Next thing, he told me and the male alien to get into the laser pods so that we could shoot at the missiles that would soon be heading our way.”
“Missiles...” Sylvia swallowed.
“Yes. Missiles. The Master had the entire world’s arsenal at his fingertips and he wasn’t afraid to use it. At that, the Doctor turned the ship back towards Earth. The Vinv... alien captain wasn’t amused at his taking over her ship, but there wasn’t time to argue. We had to start dodging those missiles that were heading towards us. I was in this laser gun pod, shooting at the missiles.” Wilf chuckled. “I shouldn’t say this, because it was a serious situation, but it was a lot of fun! I felt like a kid again!”
Wilf cleared his throat. “Anyway, the Doctor had the ship ducking and weaving all over the place and there were explosions going off left, right and centre! Well, with his driving and our shooting, we managed to escape the missiles unscathed. The next thing I knew, we were heading for England. We were closing in on the mansion when the Doctor opened a hatch, and with my old gun in his hand, he just looked at me for a moment, and then he dropped right out of the hatch. He was gone, just like that! I made those aliens take me back to the mansion. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I couldn’t leave him down there on his own.”
Sylvia stared at him and shook her head. “I just can’t...” She sighed. “Dad?”
“I think I need another cup of tea. Do you want one, too?”
“What a good idea.” He smothered a yawn. “It’s time for a bit of a break. I’m getting a bit dry with all this talking.”
“And tired too, by the sound of it.” Sylvia brought out the thermos and refilled their mugs. “It’s all starting to catch up on you.” They sat in companionable silence; their eyes turned towards the sky, gazing at the stars as they quietly sipped their tea.
Wilf broke the silence. “You know, somewhere out there, lost in time, is a planet called Gallifrey; the Doctor’s home planet.” Wilf pointed into the sky. “That was the giant planet that we saw up there today. It materialised just as we were landing. It was chaos at that mansion; people were panicking and running outside. By this time, the people no longer looked like the Master, so something had happened to change them back before I got there. I’m guessing it was the Time Lords.”
Sylvia nodded. “Shaun and I found ourselves in the kitchen and then everything started to shake around us. We ran outside, and there it was, filling the sky above us! It was terrifying! That’s when Shaun ran off, looking for Donna.”
Wilf continued. “I went inside and there they were, the Time Lords, all dressed in their fancy red robes and looking so superior.” He made a rude noise. “The Doctor was there, on his knees in broken glass on the floor. He was a mess, covered in cuts and grazes. He must have calculated his exit from the ship perfectly, because he’d fallen right through the huge domed skylight and landed on the floor in between the Time Lords and the Master. I don’t know how he wasn’t killed by that fall. Nobody else could have survived.
“I could hear a man trying to get out of the glass booth that I’d been in before, so I went around the side and got in the other booth and pressed the door release button so that he could get out. I didn’t think any more of it; I just wanted to help him out. I could see everything that was happening from in there.
“The Master had connected that diamond into that infernal machine and somehow, it had brought the Time Lords here. It should have been impossible for them and Gallifrey to be here, but impossible seems to have become pretty much par for the course today.
“Their leader, Rassilon was his name, was a cold, calculating, condescending piece of work who looked upon everyone like they were the lower of the lowest.” He shuddered. “The Doctor had been involved in this Time War and his planet had been put in a Time Lock so that no one could get out and no one could get in. But Rassilon had devised a way to get out by planting a sound in the Master’s head when he was a child... He could hear a constant drumming sound. He could never escape it.”
Wilf smiled at Sylvia’s dazed expression. “Yes, I know, time travellers can go back and change things in the past. I don’t understand it at all, either.
“That drumming sent the Master mad, which in turn caused him to do the terrible things he had done. The Master was the link. Rassilon had launched the diamond into Earth’s atmosphere. It had been picked up and brought to the Master. He then used it in the machine to bring The Time Lords back.
“That Rassilon was evil. He and some other Time Lords had planned to destroy everything; even Time, while they rose to another plane as creatures of consciousness. Such arrogance...they were beyond belief!
“Someone had to stop them, somehow. I watched as the Doctor picked up my old gun, slowly stood, then aimed it at Rassilon. He stood there, holding that gun and I could see that he was struggling inside. Then he turned around and aimed it at the Master. But he couldn’t pull the trigger. He hates weapons, but he knew he had to end this somehow. He turned again towards Rassilon. Then I noticed that one of the Time Lords - no - Lady, that had been standing there with her hands over her eyes, slowly lowered her hands. The Doctor noticed too, and he appeared to recognise her. So did I. It was the woman that kept appearing to me and asking me to help him! Something seemed to pass between them and the Doctor turned back towards the Master, aiming the gun at him again. Then he told the Master to move out of the way. The moment he moved, the Doctor shot at the diamond in the machine. It was the connection that had made the planet transport thing work. Once that connection was broken, the process reversed. Everything began to shake as the planet disappeared. The Master was furious at Rassilon because he had ruined his life. He began to walk toward the Time Lords and started shooting bolts of electricity out of his hands at Rassilon. He just kept going, throwing bolt after bolt into him and then they all just faded away, even the Master.”
Sylvia just sat silently staring at her dad.
Wilf chuckled. “See, I told you that you wouldn’t believe me!”
“To tell you the truth, I...I don’t really know what to think. It’s just so extraordinary...”
“You’re not telling me a thing. How do you think I felt? I was there, watching it all happen. This poor old brain’s overloaded.”
“So what happened then?”
Tears welled up in Wilf’s eyes as he sighed. “Well, there I was, stuck in that glass booth. The place was empty, except for the Doctor and me. He was just lying there on the floor, in amongst all the broken glass. He slowly got to his knees, and he seemed to be amazed that he had survived. He had been so sure that he would die. Well, I was getting a bit worried, because the machinery in the booth was starting to make strange, sparking noises and lights were flashing. I wanted to get out of there. I tried to get his attention, so I knocked on the door of the booth. He didn’t seem to hear me, so I knocked again. And again. I didn’t realise at the time that I had knocked four times. You know, knock, knock, knock, knock. Four knocks.”
Sylvia stared at him in shock.
“The Doctor sat up and he looked over at me. The look on his face... All of the joy that had been there moments before had disappeared. He just looked defeated. He knew what was coming.” Wilf rubbed his eyes. “I asked him if he could let me out. He stood up and came over to the booth. He looked at it, and told me that the machine was powered by a nuclear bolt which had overloaded and that it had gone critical. The moment the door’s locking mechanism was released, the other booth would fill with a lethal dose of radiation.”
“As you might imagine, he was a bit upset - and rightly so. He railed a bit about the unfairness of it all. He even sniped at me, too and I can understand that. I deserved it. I told him to leave me in there, because I’m just an unimportant old man.”
“Well, in the scheme of things, I am. But he wouldn’t do that. He opened that door, stepped inside the other booth, and released the lock. I got out of there quickly. The radiation flooded the booth and I watched as he just curled up into a ball on the floor. He was in agony.” Wilf wiped his eyes as the emotion overcame him.
“Then everything stopped. I was shocked when he moved. I was so sure that he was dead. Then he got to his feet, opened the door and walked out. He looked a bit disorientated, but otherwise he just seemed to be himself. I didn’t know what to think. I commented that he still looked a bit of a mess, with the cuts and grazes all over his face and hands. Then he wiped his hands down his face, and they all disappeared. He looked at his hands and just said, ‘It’s started’. By that, he meant that the regeneration process was beginning. He was going to change.”
“What does that mean? Change what?”
“There’s this thing that Time Lords do. He told me that when a Time Lord dies, his body burns with golden energy and when it stops, he has changed into a different person. He has a different face and a different body. He could have different coloured hair and eyes. The only thing that stays the same is his intellect and all of his memories. That’s how he’s managed to live so long.”
Sylvia was stunned. She just sat there, trying to comprehend what her father had just told her. “He becomes a new person?”
“Yes. He told me that his present self is his 10th incarnation. He’ll soon change into the 11th.”
Sylvia stared into the fire for a few minutes. She looked up at Wilf, “Well, I did ask! I’m just not sure if I can take it all in just now.”
“I know. It’s a bit hard to comprehend.” He sighed. “I don’t know how long he can hold the regeneration back, but when he dropped me off at home, he told me that he was going for his reward. I certainly hope he gets everything he hopes for. He deserves the best.” He breathed out a sigh. “He said that we’ll see him one more time. I don’t know when that will be. He said to keep looking and one day he’ll be there.” He sat, staring out into space. “So that’s that.”
Sylvia sat quietly for several minutes, digesting all of what she had heard.
Wilf looked at her. “Mmm?”
He looked at her in confusion. “For what?”
“I thank you, and every living creature in the Universe should thank you for doing what you did today. You’re a hero.”
“What?” Wilf was stunned. “I’m no hero! It’s the Doctor who’s the hero, and now he’s going to die because of what I’ve done!”
“If you hadn’t gone along with the Doctor, and you hadn’t taken your old gun, where would we all be right now? Not just us, but the rest of the people in the world, not to mention the Universe? We’d all be gone; it would be as if we had ever existed. There would be nothing left except a few stuffy Time Lord thoughts floating around out there!
“It’s very sad that the Doctor is going to go through this regeneration thing soon, but he will still be around. He will still be saving the Universe. Perhaps we will get to see him again when he’s someone else?” She smiled. “We’re all still here, Dad! You helped to save all of Time.” She reached out and took hold of his hand. “The Doctor once said that Donna was the most important woman in the Universe. Right now, Dad, I believe that you are the most important man in the Universe. It was no coincidence that you kept meeting up with the Doctor. You were meant to be there. This was meant to happen.”
“I...” Wilf suddenly remembered that he’d come to the same conclusion earlier. He sighed, suddenly feeling incredibly exhausted. “I’m tired, Sylvia. I think I’m ready to get some sleep now. It’s been a rather busy day.”
Wilf scattered the dying embers of the fire, then they packed up the telescope and put the chairs back in the shed. As they slowly walked down the hill, Sylvia murmured, “So, shooting with Star Wars guns...?”
Wilf chuckled, “You should have seen me! The missiles were coming from every direction, and between the Vin...Vinvocci! That’s it! The Vinvocci! That’s what they’re called! We were blowing them out of the sky one after the other! Pow, pow, pow!”
True to his word, the Doctor returned three months later.
Wilf didn’t know if it had been three months for the Doctor. He had no idea how long he could survive after receiving such a massive dose of radiation. For all he knew, it could have been just three days or even three hours of the Doctor’s time. It was all very complicated, this time travel thing.
When he’d seen him outside the church yard at Donna’s wedding, the Doctor had looked calm and seemingly resigned to his fate.
He’d brought along a wedding gift for Donna and Shaun; a gift that would change their lives forever. The Doctor had made sure that their future would not be the constant struggle that would have otherwise been inevitable. He was still looking after her.
Wilf turned back towards the gate. The Doctor was still standing there with a sad expression on his face, as if he was memorising every detail of the scene in front of him. Wilf stood to attention and raised his hand in salute, honouring the most wonderful man he had ever known. As the Doctor turned and walked back to the TARDIS, Wilf fought back the tears as he realised that this was indeed goodbye.
It was a bright summer’s day as Wilf and Sylvia pulled up in the car park at the local club. They got out of the car and walked in through the door. Sylvia looked around until she spotted Donna and Shaun sitting at a table near the window. They made their way through the crowd and as they got closer, Wilf was surprised to see all his friends seated around the rest of the table.
“Surprise!” They cried out as they arrived. “Happy birthday, Wilf!”
“Well, blow me down! I wasn’t expecting to see you lot here!”
Wilf’s place at the table wasn’t hard to find. It was marked by a small pile of gifts and cards at the head of the table. A place for Sylvia was set beside his.
“Thank you, everyone! I was just expecting to have a quiet lunch with the family, and look at you all here!”
“Well, we could leave if you want us to!” That was Winston.
“Don’t you dare!” They all laughed.
Lunch was soon served and much frivolity ensued. It was a happy and noisy bunch of people that helped Wilf to celebrate his birthday.
They’d just finished their lunch when Minnie, who was sitting on his left, leaned towards him and winked. “Are you going to open your presents?”
He laughed. “Is it safe?” More laughs ensued as each gift was opened and each card read.
Wilf was thoroughly enjoying himself as they all poked a bit of fun at him and he joined them in their laughter. He had just brought his glass to his lips when he had an uncanny feeling that he was being watched. He glanced around, but couldn’t see anyone looking his way. He shrugged and turned back to the conversation.
“Oh, I just remembered! Wilf!” Minnie exclaimed as she rummaged through her handbag. “I keep meaning to give you this.” She handed him an envelope. He opened it and took out a photograph.
“Oh.” Wilf managed to get out. “Thank you, Minnie.” He swallowed as he looked at the group photo taken just before Christmas. The Doctor’s face wore an expression of complete and utter surprise. It was so different from how he had looked the last time he had seen him.
Minnie bumped his shoulder. “That doctor certainly was a looker,” she smiled. “Have you seen him lately?”
“No, not recently.” Wilf swallowed. “He’s gone away. I don’t expect I’ll see him again.” He quickly glanced over at Donna, but she was having an animated conversation with Shaun and hadn’t heard. He gave a sigh of relief.
“Oh, that’s a shame. I’d like to have seen him again.” Minnie patted his arm and turned away, rejoining her neighbour in conversation.
‘Me too,’ he thought to himself.
Just then, the feeling of being watched returned. He glanced out of the window. He saw a young man leaning against the wall at the corner of the building across the street. He wore a tweed jacket and a red bow tie. He was tall and his dark hair fell across his forehead and almost into his eyes. He was looking directly at him with a faint smile. Wilf gave him a questioning look. The man raised his right hand and gave him a casual salute. He quickly glanced down at the photo in his now shaking hands, then back at the man. The man smiled and gave him a brief nod.
Wilf’s mouth dropped open. He nudged Sylvia with his elbow. “Sylvia!” he whispered. “Look out there, through the window!”
“Quickly. Out the window. It’s him!”
Sylvia looked up and saw a young man smiling back at them. “Who is it?”
“It’s the new Doctor!”
They stared at each other with big grins on their faces. He looked back out of the window. The Doctor had gone. A few moments later, he heard a sound that he thought he would never hear again. The sound of wheezing, ancient engines rose, then slowly faded into the noise of the crowded pub.
He noticed that Donna had looked up with a puzzled expression on her face for a moment, then shook her head and went back to her conversation.
Wilf smiled and took a deep breath. He called over a bar steward and announced to his group of friends, “Come on, everybody! Place your order. This round is on me!”