The Doctor will never forget Mila. He never forgets any of them, really, but somehow he feels that this loss will sting more than others have done. For all it was her choice-- and a good choice, a wise choice, born of more maturity than he would have credited her with-- and why should he grieve at that? They parted on good terms; he’s lost companions to far worse fates. Poor Zoe and Jamie, Tegan, Adric, only a little younger than Mila when he’d died. And yet, he grieves.
Mila had been so young. Younger in mind than in years, perhaps, sprightly and selfish, with her bright green eyes. She’d been so impressed with him; too impressed. Enamoured, even, so much that it had at times itched at the Doctor, like a scratchy woolen jumper worn next to the skin, when she had smiled at him like an imp and gushed that she knew he could never fail, that she belonged here at his side. For all that, though, she had been sweet, clever and good in a pinch, and the Doctor should be glad that she’s grown up a little.
And yet it’s not Mila whom the Doctor dreams about, on occasion.
The dreams of Time Lords are different than those of humans. It is rare that they dream at all, but being telepathic-- and indeed, on a fundamental level, more mind than body-- most dreams are more conscious experiences than the dreams of other species. A mindscape in which one finds oneself, and can then explore at one’s leisure. But these-- these are like half-remembered scraps of vision, like he finds his mind pressed up against a frosted glass, straining to see through it.
It’s a girl, that much he can tell. Or, no, maybe more a woman. More solid than Mila, somehow, with a blonde bob and a face he can never quite focus on. She shows up amongst Daleks and empty houses, horsemen and tall shadows of cryotubes, and it frustrates the Doctor to no end that he is unable to figure out what his own brain is trying to tell him.
He wakes up after these dreams feeling distinctly unrested, with a pain in his chest he doesn’t at all care for. The Doctor wishes Evelyn were still here; she always had a way of knocking him out of his funks. As it is, on his own, he’s left stymied, the ache under his sternum feeling like inevitability. The TARDIS is never any help either; one time he tries reaching out to their shared bond (for what? an explanation? comfort?), but all he gets from his ship is a sense of prim disapproval. It leaves him feeling weirdly betrayed.
Usually, he goes and takes out his frustration on a good adventure. There are always fools who deserve a thorough shouting at, and the whole thing serves nicely as a distraction.
In his next regeneration, he’s much shrewder, much less straightforward in his thought processes, and he thinks he recognises the dream-glimpses for what they are. Memories, attempting to assert themselves from under a block. Or, no, not a mere block, he surely would have noticed something as crude as a block in his waking hours, but a patina of false memories that’s been laid over them. He watches in his dreams, a small, dark-eyed shadow even in his own mind.
‘Show yourself to me, hmm?’ he murmurs, ‘Who are you, I wonder? And why have I made myself forget you?’
‘I wish I could tell you,’ says the echo of the girl, her dream-face phasing between wry and rosy-cheeked and absolutely anguished. ‘I really wish I could.’
‘Merely thinking aloud, my dear,’ he assures her. ‘If I buried my memories of you, and quite frankly I cannot think of anyone but myself who would have done such a good job at it, I am sure I had an irreproachable reason for doing so at the time.’
She smiles like an out-of-tune television set. ‘The Web of Time, I know.’
‘Do you now?’
Still, he contemplates going in to fiddle with the false memories that have been implanted in his mind. It’s difficult to perform such work on oneself, of course, but he’s more skilled in mental manipulation now than he’s ever been; if anyone could do it, it’s him. He’s unsure exactly which version of himself it was who made the alterations, or allowed them to be made, but it’s most likely one of the past two. Both had their strong points, of course, but neither was much good at playing the long game, the fifth far too hesitant to act, and the sixth too passionate; whatever his previous selves thought too dangerous to remember, it’s possible he could handle it.
In the end, though, he does nothing more than contemplate, and, now and then, carry on incomprehensible, fragmented conversations with the memory of a girl in his head.
In the body after that, his eighth one, he has an unfortunate tendency towards amnesia. Though he dreams more vividly, more humanly, than he has in several lifetimes, he doesn’t remember a thing about the mysterious girl. So when he runs into Charlotte Pollard aboard the R101, there’s no tickle of memory, no sense of familiarity. She’s just one more human. A wonderful human with enough gall to sneak aboard an airship, and enough curiosity and heart to want to care for a sick alien rather than recoil from it, but still, just one amongst billions.
He likes her right away.