Nye County, Nevada. 1955 —
The Tardis materialised, wheezing and groaning like a broken whistle – dust twirled in the air around its landing space. With but a brief ‘clunk’, the Tardis landed. Only mere moments passed before the door creaked open. The Doctor leaned out of the doorway, his hand gripping the side of the box as he inspected his surroundings.
“Where were we off to?” said the Doctor in a vaguely defeated, even embarrassed tone. He furrowed his brow in contemplation.
Clara shoved the Doctor out of the doorway. “Oh move over, you…” she said.
Clara stepped out of the Tardis, pivoting around to inspect her surroundings. A barren, smelting desert – ferruginous sand and dirt littered with vegetation — cooking under the defeating sun. She bit her tongue and gave a sigh, suppressing her ire with a smile.
“Well, one things for sure…” she said, the Doctor beaming with optimism during her long, accentuated pause, “… not Tibet!!”
The Doctor scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Always so certain, Clara – certainty is no match for the inexplicable,” he said gruffly, exiting the Tardis in one swooping stride.
“Was on my way up Mount Everest once,” explained the Doctor, “Sontaran expedition –bit of a death march really– staggered into a highly convenient, if not unlikely tea shop run by descendants of the woolly mammoth. All in all: helluva micro-climate!”
Clara looked at the Doctor blankly – opening her mouth to respond. How thick can he be? She thought to herself. The Doctor murmured under his breath, “–full of surprises, Tibet. Ol’ K'anpo,” shaking his head, dewy-eyed with a pensive smile.
She frowned, giving him a scolding double-take.
“It’s still not Tibet!” said Clara, throwing her arms into the air. The Doctor looked at her blankly, scratching his head – Clara fumed. He stuttered out a quick, rather angry response.
“And how do you know that? Even the ‘roof of the world’ has its share of deserts, Clara,” he said defiantly with a touch of condescension.
Her nostrils flared as she held back from hitting him. “There’s no mountains!”
“Oh. OH–” said the Doctor, his mouth opening, extending his finger towards Clara as if he had an idea, “– perhaps something has flatten them?”
“Or someone!” said Clara, filling in the blanks, enthusiastically.
The Doctor frowned. “No — that’d be silly,” he said, turning around to stare at a tall, green cactus with a fierce, intelligent glare. “Terraforming. You introduce drastic changes to the surface of the Earth and…”
“What?” said Clara.
“Voilà! — something,” he said anticlimactically.
“That’s … it? ‘Something’?” said Clara. She sighed. “And you’re sure we didn’t just land in, I dunno, Nevada?”
“No cacti in Nevada, Clara – common misconception though,” said the Doctor with a grin, his eyebrows dancing as he turned and stared into the distance, surveying the surroundings along the horizon.
No trees nor water reserves, thought the Doctor. Assuming this was Earth, the temperature and signs of arid climate suggested that they were positioned near the equator, thus the sun would be travelling its normal, consistent path, high across the sky. Looking upwards, he squinted and raised his arm to shield his eyes from the sun.
“Noon or close to noon – give or take a hour,” he muttered authoritatively. Clara took a deep breath as her patience wore thin with watching the Doctor. He bent down to pick up a small rock.
“Clara, can I ask–?” he said, pausing to contemplate how to best approach his question.
Clara raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?” she said. The Doctor rose, grasping a rock tightly in his hand as he turned to address her.
“Why are you so upset we landed in the wrong place? I have a Tardis after all,” said the Doctor, adding, “I’ll get you to your Tibet, Clara. Promise”.
“You better,” said Clara. She gave a warm, subdued half-smile, looking towards the ground — slightly embarrassed. Gently tip-toeing her way to the Doctor as she spoke. “It’s just. Every time we land in places like this, I dunno –it’s silly– but I end up having to wait for you to check every rock, every dust cloud for a mystery or a monster. When you don’t find something wrong it’s an excuse for you to look harder…”
The Doctor licked the rock he was holding – his eyes widened. Dropping the rock instantly, he cacked and spit dirt and salvia. Iodine-131 was present with an overwhelming taste – “Haven’t tasted that one in a while!” the Doctor thought to himself with glee – not to mention strontium, cesium, and even some contaminants in the surface dust that vaguely resembled plutonium.
She tittered and continued. “Sure you can pop back in your Tardis, but you don’t, that’s what makes you… you, before you know it, you’re off, distracted by someth–”.
Clara looked up. “–Doctor!?” The Doctor was nowhere to be seen, having most certainly run off to somewhere in curiosity. She turned around, her heart rate rising as she began to panic. “Doctor?” she said in a worried voice, nostrils flaring, eyes wide open in fright. Where had he gone? Would he just leave her here?
Footsteps, thought Clara. They were in a desert, the Doctor must have left footsteps. Clara’s eyes darted towards the ground — a trail of footsteps in the sand led up the face of a nearby embankment. She sighed and stepped forward, ready to run after him, when suddenly she heard the familiar sound of the Tardis materialising –Huh? Clara stopped sharply and turned to see a strange oddity: a second Tardis had landed beside the Tardis.
Clara approached the Tardis slow and cautiously – she was almost near enough to touch it – its familiar hum continued to churn as she stepped ever closer to it. In an unanticipated fashion, the door swung opened with an extended creak –Clara took several steps backward as the door opened outwards.
The Doctor had stuck his head out from behind the door. “Get in,” he said. Retreating just as quickly as he appeared, he swung the door shut in Clara’s face with a loud thud. Clara fumed.
Another long pause came to pass before the Doctor opened the door once more, leaning out of the doorway to address Clara.
“Quickly!” said the Doctor, waving his hands furiously.
“How did you get a second Tardis?” said Clara.
“I didn’t,” he said, “it’s the same one. Just five minutes older. Now, come! – and don’t go eating any of the dirt.” Clara raised an eyebrow. “Don’t act coy, Clara – just keep your dirt cravings to your dish back home,” said the Doctor.
She groaned, “That’s a litter box …” the Doctor stared blankly. “For the cat?” she added.
“… Cat? You mean I was supposed to share!?” said the Doctor. Clara stifled her revulsion, giving herself the shivers. “No wonder he was spitting feathers – real potty-mouth on that one.”
The Doctor added, “Does this mean you’re a ‘cat-lady’ now?”
“I am not a ‘cat-lady’!” yelled Clara, kicking her feet into the ground as the Doctor rolled his eyes. He turned and walked towards the Tardis console at a casual pace. “So… why can’t I eat the dirt here?” she said.
“So you do like dirt. Well, for starters, it’s loaded in transuranic elements,” he said nonchalantly, attending to a few knobs on the console.
“Sorry?” she said.
“Radioactive carcinogens – bad for your puny human thyroids,” explained the Doctor. “Now get in.”
Clara entered the Tardis. The Doctor pulled a lever on the console dashboard, snapping the doors closed behind her as she stepped inside. He pulled a second, more central lever, engaging the time-rotor – the Tardis made several large screeches as it returned to flight; the floor rumbling just enough to toss the Doctor and Clara off their balance. Even from inside, one could hear the long trailing whistles that the Tardis made as it dematerialised.
“Where we off to?” said Clara, placing her hands on the rail.
“Not far,” said the Doctor.
The Tardis was a living, breathing mechanical beast. Its interior would huff and sneeze ever so often as the pistons lifted – the dials would spin and the lights would tinkle across its cold, metallic front. But certainly it was an improvement, thought Clara. The Doctor had redecorated the Tardis since she had started travelling with him – comfier sofas, a fireplace and some bookshelves. A bit… homier. A disarming face to an otherwise lonely home, perhaps; Clara often wondered though if he needed the new, more comforting atmosphere because being alone was harder for him than it was before. You never know with him, she thought.
There he stood, the Doctor, twisting knobs on the console – pretending to be busy. His eyes drifting only slightly to his peripheries on occasion to get a glimpse of Clara who stared at him furiously with her arms folded.
“Are you just going to continue staring at me like that?” said the Doctor.
“Oh – I could do so much worse,” said Clara coldly, kicking her heel into the Tardis’s steel mesh floor. The Doctor exhaled with frustration in his breath. “Well!?”
“Well, what?” said the Doctor.
“Where are we headed?” she said.
The Tardis landed suddenly with a loud thump – throwing both the Doctor and Clara against the guard-rails with a crashing wallop. Clara groaned and muttered under her breath, “Some warning would’ve been nice”.
“This is what I found, Clara,” he said reassuringly, gesturing towards the door. “Well come on, then!”