There was almost always a game standing on a side table in the lounge where the TARDIS residents gathered for meals. Well, always might be a relative term, but then, so was time. It was an unspoken accord that no one ever saw who moved the pieces.
By next mealtime or next morning, by next planet or next pause between crises, the pieces would have moved. A knight’s bold leap. A queening. A pawn’s en passant, a humble yet no less vital exchange. A checkmate waiting for the king to topple.
Adric might have scorned the simplistic human game, but for the fact that Romana played it. Soon, some of the moves were his, although he could not make up his mind whether to tamper with the white pieces or black – or rather, clear or silver.
After Romana’s departure, the game moved more quickly, more aggressively, more impatiently, minus her devastating long-term stratagems that unfolded with stately, diabolical artistry. Adric played by the numbers, but numbers were his toys, after all. He could beat the Doctor sometimes.
Assuming, of course, it was the Doctor’s hands that moved the pieces while Adric wasn’t looking.
Their skirmishes were a part of daily routine, as much as the gentle TARDIS hum.
When Nyssa joined the crew, she was immediately attracted to the odd ritual battlefield standing on a low table in the corner. Early in the morning after she and Tegan had settled in, Adric found her examining the pieces one by one with solemn curiosity.
"Don’t touch that!" he said crossly.
She raised her chin. “Why? Is it taboo?”
He wrinkled his nose. “You wouldn’t understand.”
"What, this?" She replaced the gleaming bishop precisely where it had been standing. "Well, if it’s not art or a symbolic form of recordkeeping, then it’s a game. In which case I assume there are rules?"
"Yes, of course." Adric huffed and thumped down on an ottoman next to her. The Doctor, puttering with the food machine in the next room, glanced over his shoulder towards the children with a smile.
"Two sides, black and white–" Adric began pedantically.
"Palladium and crystal."
"Yes. Now, each piece has limited movement."
"Except this one?" She tapped a spiked pillar.
"Yes, that’s a queen."
"Feel free to begin a new game, Adric," the Doctor called. "My mind is still a little hazy, but I believe you should have checkmate in twelve."
Adric was reluctant to give up the Doctor as an opponent, but the chance to teach Nyssa a thing or two was also appealing.
He trounced her exactly once. After that, the game proceeded at a considered, methodical pace. At first there was only one move per day, as Nyssa experimented as much to gain a sense for Adric’s methods as to learn the game itself. He beat her the second time, too, but she managed to stave off checkmate in a battle of attrition for three long weeks. That game ended when she succumbed to a rare a mental lapse and put her king in jeopardy while they were on final approach to Deva Loca.
The third game never finished.
Romana’s board was bundled away into storage. There was no chess in the TARDIS for almost a year.
However, some weeks after Tegan found herself bereft and abandoned on the windy roof of Heathrow, a new board appeared in the TARDIS lounge. The pieces were ugly acrylic, the board honey-yellow and faux-wood brown. It was a cheap set that the Doctor had picked up at a haulage rest stop in Sol’s asteroid belt.
The game resumed. Play was now more lighthearted, less cutthroat, although no less ingenious. Noting Nyssa’s sentimental reluctance to sacrifice knights, the Doctor politely found other ways to challenge her. She could not beat him, but she did not seem to mind. Her game improved slowly, and she learned to look farther and farther ahead.
One day she inquired whether there were any versions of chess utilizing three or more dimensions. Delighted, the Doctor spent a day hunting for Zoe’s old 4D set. To his surprise, Nyssa could sometimes trip him up, treating her entire side as a coordinated flock while he tended to concentrate on a toolset of a few core pieces launched forwards or backwards in time.
At last, Nyssa managed to checkmate him.
The next day she was gone.
Turlough discovered the homely acrylic board while they were picking up the mess left by their close encounter with Terminus. He challenged Tegan at once. They moved the board to the console room, playing face to face, watching each other like circling hounds. After a few pyrrhic battles and an uneasy truce, the board moved back to the dining lounge. The Doctor had to shepherd the game along from time to time, when one of them was too fed up with the other to continue.
It amused both Turlough and the Doctor that Turlough had always, since the day he came aboard, played the white pieces. The Doctor played black.