When she agreed to travel with the Doctor, Martha hadn’t expected to end up living in a hostel. It was certainly better than living in the street, but she missed the comforts of the TARDIS, especially having her own room. They’d only been able to afford a quad-bed room; luckily, their roommates were both friendly and often absent.
Toweling her hair off, she stepped into the communal area. The familiar whir of the sonic screwdriver told her the Doctor was sitting at a table, working on a contraption. Dressed in his slim brown pin-stripe suit (wrinkled as usual) and trainers and wearing his horn-rims, he was oddly out-of-place among the groovy hostel guests in their orange, green, and yellow smocks, round glasses, and suede frilled jackets. But then the Doctor always appeared eccentric, and the other guests no longer paid him or the strange noises he made any mind.
She draped her towel over the shoulders of her blouse and plopped in the chair opposite the Doctor.
“There! All done!” The Doctor ripped off his specs, slapped the table with his empty hand, and leaned far back in his chair, proud.
“I think that’s the only time I’ve ever seen you actually drive a screw with that. So, what is that thing?” She reached over and turned it towards her. It was a plastic box with what looked like an audio tape reel (maybe - the last time she saw a reel-to-reel, it tucked away in the back of her grandfather’s attic) threaded to other bits of random machinery that were covered with a tacky postcard that read, “Wish you were here.” A telephone handset, one of those old bulky ones, hung from a hook on the side. The Doctor had added a carrying handle on the top and a leather shoulder strap.
“It’s a timey-wimey detector! Turn it on” - he flipped a switch and the reel started turning - “and it goes ‘Ding!’ when it detects artron energy. I’ll find anyone the angels zap back to us.” His wide grin told Martha that he clearly expected her to tell him how clever he was. She declined to do so.
“So that’s what you’re going to do all day, walk around London looking for poor sods ripped out of the future?”
“Yup. If we’re going to get out of this, we have to find Billy Shipton. I wish we knew when he arrived.” He picked up a folder of papers and photos from among the mess of doo-dads and mechanical parts on the table and began to leaf through them. Futile, Martha thought. They’d been through them repeatedly, and they held no details about what happened on this end of time, other than it was 1969. There wasn’t even an indication of what time of year they could expect him to appear.
“Well.” Martha switched the detector off and stood up. “While you are detecting timey-wimeys, I have to get to the shop. Keep us able to pay for our beds. See you later, Doctor.”
She nodded at him and headed for their room to drop off her towel and grab her keys. At a table near the door, a young hippie complained to his friend, “Look at this egg, cooked through! I asked for soft!”.
The detector’s strap slung over his shoulder, the Doctor stepped out onto the street. He switched the detector on, but it remained silent. He strolled down to the corner, then switched it off. Might as well enjoy the day while covering ground. Choosing a direction, he set off, his long stride propelling him forward, his overcoat flaring out behind him.
He never seemed to get to do this too often, just strolling about and watching life go on, and it was breath-taking. So many people, dashing about, working, playing, loving - just living life! Two women with prams, chatted on the sidewalk, one of them cradling her newborn so the other could see. Behind them, a bakery was stuffed with customers buying pasties and tea. Across the street, a group of children sat on the sidewalk talking, quiet and serious, probably skiving off. And beyond them, a couple of construction workers plodded to a work site.
The Doctor continued walking, fascinated. He couldn’t help himself - his eager eyes sought out each person he passed, to enjoy the tiny glimpses he caught of all of these lives. He occasionally stopped to peer at shops and houses, parks and lanes.
He had walked over fifteen blocks before he remembered what he was actually supposed to be doing. Switching the detector on, he was surprised by a loud “Ding!” Artron energy! Could he possibly be lucky enough to have Billy Shipton delivered right to his current time on the first try?
Grabbing the detector by the handle, he peered at the readings. The directional indicator was not working, but a slam of the heel of his hand on the casing fixed that. Couple of blocks in… that direction, probably down to the left. With the detector held out in front of him, he sprinted off, dodging among surprised pedestrians. One block, two blocks, slip across the street between stopped cars, down the road to the left. There, in that alley!
He ducked between the shops and skidded to a stop, almost bowling headlong into the closed door of a worn blue police box, tucked into the narrow corridor. The timey-wimey detector dinged insistently.
And he knew it couldn’t be. The coordinates he had prepared for Billy Shipton - the Billy Shipton he hadn’t yet met - to put on the DVDs did not point to here. And besides, this TARDIS felt wrong. It was definitely his, and yet it wasn’t. For the first time in his lives, the Doctor backed away from his own TARDIS.
As he stepped back onto the sidewalk, he spun around, looking for anything that might explain what was going on, and he found it. From the back, he saw a girl in a glittery deep-purple jumpsuit. Her dark hair was cut in a cute bob, very appropriate for 1969. He hadn’t seen her for over four hundred years, but she was unmistakable.
“Oh, brilliant!” he murmured.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
Her hands balled into nervous fists, Zoe stood on the corner and gazed after the Doctor. She wasn’t quite sure what information he intended to gain by wandering off in that direction. He had told her to stay here, and so far, she didn’t see the use of doing anything else. She watched as the Doctor, in his baggy frock coat, trousers, and bow tie and with his shaggy straight black hair, headed down the street, peering into shops and checking alleyways. Presently, he returned.
“Safe enough, I think, Zoe. Now, all we need to do is get to him first. What does the tracer say?”
Zoe pulled a device out of her pocket. She pressed a button on it, and its screen flickered with a readout. “It says half a mile. I wish this thing gave a direction. Let’s move so that we can triangulate.”
“Spendid! If he doesn’t move, of course. Come along, Zoe.” The Doctor turned, but before he could take a step, a man stepped in front of him.
“Hullo!” he said brightly.
The tall stranger in the dark suit and long overcoat, with his hands in his trouser pockets and odd device slung over his shoulder, had an open, eager, and friendly countenance. His hair was unfashionably short and stuck up oddly, but otherwise Zoe thought him rather handsome.
“Please excuse us, young man, we are in quite a hurry.” Bothered, the Doctor attempted to push past the stranger.
“Can I help? You look like you could use some help.”
The Doctor skirted around the man and headed down the street. Zoe smiled a pardon at the stranger and trotted after the Doctor. Somehow, she wasn’t surprised to see the man catch up with them. His hands still jammed in his pockets, he continued verbally prodding as he jogged with them.
“I could help, you know. You’re looking for someone. Or something.” The last was an obvious afterthought.
The Doctor stopped. “Yes. Yes, I suppose we are. Do you know this area well?”
The man shrugged. “Well enough.”
Zoe piped up. “We’re looking for a little boy, about six years old. We can trace him” - she held up the device - “but it only tells us how far away he is, not the direction. He’s about a half a mile away. Any idea which direction would be best? Towards a school or playground, perhaps?”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re going to triangulate with that, but might as well go in the right direction first if you can. I would think…” - he looked to his left - “...that a little boy…” - he looked to his right - “...would be…” - he spun around and pointed, using his whole arm in a dramatic flourish - “...thataway!”
“You seem terribly sure of yourself, young man.” The Doctor tapped the fingertips of his two hands together before stepping forward to peer in the stranger’s face.
“Oh, well, thataway’s residential. A school or home, eh?” While the reasoning was sound, Zoe couldn’t help but feel that the stranger was making an excuse for his oddly exact “guess.”
“Is it, now?” The Doctor peered in the indicated direction, not that anything could be seen beyond the shop buildings. “It’s as good a direction as any. Come along then, you two. Oh, and what’s your name?”
“Er, John. John Smith.”
“A pleasure to meet you, John. I’m the Doctor, and this is Zoe. Isn’t it funny, Zoe, how many John Smiths one meets?” The three proceeded down the street, the Doctor first with Zoe at his side and John behind them. If either had bothered to look, they would have seen John’s widest, most impish grin.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
Zoe tapped the button on the tracer. “Doctor! The distance keeps decreasing! John pointed us in almost the exact right direction!”
“Lucky guess.” John looked smug.
“That makes it easier. Hurry now, we’ve not much time.” The Doctor patted Zoe on the back to encourage her.
“But what do we do about the others? We don’t even know where they are, Doctor!”
“First things first, Zoe. Find him before they do, then worry about them.”
“This doesn’t sound like just finding a little boy, Doctor,” John called from behind them. “Racing against time, finding him before the others, and all that. What’s this, then?”
The Doctor laughed. “Oh ho, it really is simple. His mother wants him home. Now. His friends want to take him out. So we’re getting him home.” Zoe winced at the transparency of the lie.
“And his mother has a tracer on him?”
“Isn’t it a fabulous modern contraption? What will they think of next?” The Doctor hastened his step, beginning to outpace Zoe and John.
Zoe heard a murmur behind her. “So that’s what I sound like.”
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
So far, the little escapade had been less eventful than Zoe expected from travels with the Doctor. They found their quarry alone in a playground, and Zoe hefted him into her arms. There were no other children about. The Doctor removed a small wristlet from the boy’s arm.
He raised a finger to his lips. “Shh. We’ll get you safe. Now, for the distraction. Zoe, take him back to… where we came from. I’ll lead them in another direction.”
“Ohhh!” John gestured expansively with both arms. “They have a tracer, too, locked onto that bracelet! Who gives a little boy’s friends a tracer?”
“No matter, John. Thank you for your assistance. We best be parting now.”
“Oh, no. I’m not leaving. Give me the tracer. I’ll draw them off.”
“No, I can’t let you do that.”
“Pfah. His ‘friends’ won’t know me, now will they? I’ll go a ways off and ditch the bracelet in a bin.”
“That’s a good plan, Doctor.” Carrying the boy, Zoe was shifting from foot to foot, eager to return to the safety of the TARDIS. Somehow, though what he’d been saying didn’t quite make sense, she felt she could trust John.
“Yes, it is, but oh, oh, I can’t let you do that, John.” The Doctor’s hands twitched nervously.
“Sure you can. Easy. Off you go.” John winked and took the bracelet from the Doctor.
The older man seemed to search for the courage to snatch the bracelet back. “No, I really must insist… Oh, oh, all right. We haven’t the time to argue. Meet us back at where we met, when you can. That’s a good fellow.” The Doctor grasped John’s hand for a brief moment, then, putting his arm around Zoe’s shoulders, headed back to the TARDIS with her.
“Besides, I know just where those ‘friends’ are.” John turned and headed towards a street with a bakery full of customers.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
This was definitely the easiest thing Zoe had ever done with the Doctor. They’d never been so far ahead of their opposition, and they’d returned to the TARDIS without issue. She was glad for John’s help, for he had saved them a lot of time with his unbelievably exact choice of direction to search. And his offer to carry the tracer prevented her separation from the Doctor, a circumstance which historically resulted in disaster.
With their guest deposited in a comfortable room for their journey, she and the Doctor stood out on the street corner to wait for their friend. In a half hour’s time, John strode up the street, odd device still slung over his shoulder and hands again jammed in his pockets.
“All done, eh? All safe and sound with Mother, is he?” His broad smile betrayed that he had no doubt of the successful outcome.
“Quite right. All safe,” the Doctor agreed. “Thank you very much for your assistance, John. We are quite indebted to you. No problems on your end, eh?”
“None at all. I’m quite sure those friends won’t be bothering you.” John’s tone was breezy.
“Marvelous. Well, we should be off.” Shaking John’s hand, the Doctor cast a searching look into his eyes, then turned and headed towards the alley.
Zoe stepped up. “Yes, John, thank you.”
John took Zoe’s hand and kissed it, his eyes twinkling.
“But I have to ask. Who are you?”
John didn’t miss a beat. “A friend.”
“No. Tell me who you are. I can tell you aren’t telling me the truth.”
“Hmm?” Her statement seemed to amuse him.
“Because you might be hiding something from the Doctor, but you haven’t bothered to hide it from me. I heard what you said. You knew we were looking for someone. You knew where to find him, and where to find the ones chasing him. And you ask questions but accept the flimsiest answers. Who are you?”
“Oh, Zoe, you were always so clever.”
That wasn’t what she expected to hear. “You know me?”
“Of course I know you. Just like I know that the ‘boy’ is a Magravian, whose adults look like human six-year-olds, and that he’s a scientist on the run from cultist assassins. Just like I know that he’s safe in the TARDIS, and you and the Doctor are about to go to Magrav to return him to his people.”
Zoe stepped back. “How…?”
John spoke in a soft, gentle voice. “What you don’t know, Zoe, is that when a Time Lord dies, he doesn’t die, but he changes. He’s the same person, but he looks different and might act a bit different. For example, he might not play a recorder anymore.” He paused to let Zoe think about it. The confusion on her face transformed first into disbelief, then wonder.
“You’re… the Doctor.”
The Doctor’s face beamed with pride. Clever, clever Zoe. She thought, then she understood. No denial or incredulity.
“It’s hard to believe, but it all makes sense.”
“Yup. Someday, he will be me. But don’t tell him that.”
“And he didn’t, I mean, you didn’t have any suspicions about… yourself? Oh, these pronouns are difficult!”
He laughed. “They are, that. Oh, it’s been so long! Many, many years! I had completely forgotten about this little adventure until I saw the TARDIS in the alleyway. I didn’t even connect my face with the one I’d seen so long ago!
“But at the time, I suspected something was up. I wondered why ‘John’ accepted everything so easily. But,when it all goes so well, it’s best to not question it.
“I always wondered why the assassins never caught up to us. It’s because I saw them earlier, a group of children who were all too serious.” He puffed himself up in mock pride. “I gave them a stern talking to. It was me all along and I never knew. On the other hand…” he smiled fondly at Zoe, “that just means that you kept my secret.”
“I can’t say I understand all the intricacies of time travel, but I understand at least enough to know that I must.” She beamed at him. “Oh, Doctor, thank you. You’ve shown me so much, taught me about the world and the universe.”
He took her hand, and held it in both of his. “And you’ll learn so much more. Oh, the worlds you’ll visit! It was brilliant seeing you again today, Zoe. It’s been so long. Shame I missed Jamie. But, you shouldn’t keep me waiting.” He glanced towards the alley, then squeezed her hand once more and let it go.
“No, I shouldn’t. Farewell, Doctor.” She threw her arms around him in a tight hug, then ran off towards the TARDIS. She waved one last time before she disappeared.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
The Doctor stood on the corner, staring towards the alleyway, his thoughts hundreds of years away. Presently, the familiar whine of the time rotor crescendoed, then faded away. It wasn’t often that he heard it from the outside.
He turned and meandered in the general direction of the hostel, his search for temporal anomalies quite forgotten. It was always strange meeting himself, though this was a lot easier than other times, since he hadn’t revealed himself. I wonder if I would have liked me. I suppose precedent would say no. Crafty young man. I used to be so full of enthusiasm.
And Zoe. Dear Zoe. When will I ever stop lying to them? For he knew that her time with him was to end soon, that the Time Lords would call him to trial shortly. They would condemn him to Earth, wipe Jamie’s and Zoe’s memories of their travels with him, and send them back to their own times. All they had learned, everything they’d experienced, would be forgotten and lost.
He sniffed sadly. I never realize how much I miss them, until I see them again. Zoe and Jamie. And before Zoe, Victoria. And that was when I first met the Brigadier. Well, the Colonel at the time. I remember that time when…
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
From behind him, the voice cut through his reverie and he spun around. Lost in his memories that spanned hundreds of years, he must have wandered the better part of the day. “Martha!” He ran up and threw his arms around her, lifting her into the air in a huge bear hug. It was clearly not something she had expected.
“Wha? What was that for?” she sputtered when she was back on the ground.
“Nothing at all! Well, glad to see you. Well, just wanted to show some appreciation.”
“I like you, too, I guess. Find anything timey-wimey?” She jerked her head at the detector.
He glanced down at it and smiled tenderly. “Nope, not a thing. Not a single thing.”