The Doctor moved around the console as he announced every step of the take-off procedure, his hands finding each control with accustomed ease. “Close down the gravitic anomaliser. Fire up the helmic regulator. And finally,” he paused, gazing at Martha with a sparkle in his eye, “the handbrake.” Flipping the last small lever with a theatrical flourish, he stepped around the console and grabbed the large toggle, currently sitting to the left of the monitor. “Ready?”
Martha couldn’t possibly know if she was. “No.”
“Off we go,” the Doctor murmured and threw the toggle.
The entire chamber shuddered and jerked, and both passengers clutched at the console in a panic. “Blimey, it’s a bit bumpy!” exclaimed Martha.
The Doctor reached a hand across to her, and she took it, shaking it firmly. “Welcome aboard, Miss Jones.”
“It’s my pleasure, Mr. Smith.”
Though she was sure that she’d be flung clear off the platform if she lost her grip on the console, Martha barely cared. An enchanted but goofy smile on her face, she stared around the great domed chamber, determined to sear every sensation from this journey in her brain forever. Most fascinating was the glass column above the control panel that oscillated in time with the metallic groaning noise, and though she made the effort to look around, to see everything at all times, her eyes were invariably drawn to it. She suspected that however this time machine worked, the column was central to it.
Time machine. Martha couldn’t get over it. She was travelling in time and space with an actual alien from an actual alien planet! To be sure, the Doctor wasn’t all that alien. His quirky, rather condescending behaviour aside, he looked human, and not a bad-looking one at that. If he were human, she’d certainly be interested, and his kissing skills were… All right, if she were to be honest, she was interested, but she also knew better than to press the point on someone on the rebound. He wasn’t ready to entertain the thought of another woman; that was crystal clear from his clumsy response to her flirting. She’d just need to keep the distance she’d already established until she could suss him out. Besides, she was in a time machine, and wasn’t that much more interesting at the moment?
“So we’re flying through time, then?” she called to the Doctor across the console. He seemed to be hanging on just as hard as she was, and as an errant lurch swung him off to the side, he peered over his shoulder at her.
“Time and space,” he corrected her.
“Time and space,” she repeated. “How does that work then? Are we slipping through the Earth, ‘out of phase’ like they say on the telly, in Star Trek and things?”
“Oh no, it doesn’t work like that.” With a concerted effort, the Doctor hauled himself onto the control panel and slapped a lever up. The craft around them creaked ominously and the jerking subsided. He pushed himself off the panel and settled back, bouncing on his toes as he buried his hands in his pockets. “It’s not like you can stick your hand out the door and tap your nan’s house from 1945 as we pass by. Nothing simple like that.”
Not quite trusting the sudden smoothness of the ride, Martha kept a firm hold on the edge of the panel as she straightened, to guard against the occasional slight bumps and slides.“Then what are we doing?”
“We’re flying through the time vortex,” he answered like it was common knowledge.
“What’s that, then?”
Frowning, the Doctor rubbed at the back of his neck as he tried to describe the concept in terms Martha could understand. “It’s a, well, a vortex, you know, a big, er, thing.” He tried to indicate the size of it by waving his hands about and nearly tumbled backwards as the craft bounced. The timing was so perfect that Martha might have thought that the craft was trying to bowl him over on purpose. “Made of time. You know.”
Martha couldn’t help but giggle at him. “No, I don’t.”
“Well,” he drawled as he tried to find the words. “It’s like space, but it’s time.” At her blank expectant stare, he brightened. “Okay, try again. Think of it like another dimension, that touches our own at all points at all times. From our universe, we slip into the time vortex, fly along a bit, and pop back out at another place and time. Got it?”
Martha tried to comprehend his words, but couldn’t even begin to picture it. “No, not a jot.”
He sniffed, his tall nose crinkling for an instant. “Then try this. Picture a lake. You’re standing on the shore, and if you want to get to any other point on the shore, you have to walk all the way around. That’s our world. Or you can get a boat and sail across. The lake’s the time vortex. It’s faster and you can get to anywhere or anywhen, but you need special equipment.”
That time, Martha got it. She smiled. “Your spaceship -”
She acknowledged the name with a sharp nod. “Right, the TARDIS. The TARDIS is your boat, and this is the bridge.” She looked around again. “But where’s the windscreen. Or the, what do they call them on spaceships, main view screen? How do you see out?”
“You don’t need to. There’s nothing in the vortex to see.”
“But there’s got to be.” She waved a hand at the blue police box door. “I mean, we’re somewhere, right? Even in the middle of a lake, there’s water to look at.”
The Doctor shook his head. “That was just an analogy. Trust me, there’s nothing out there to see.”
“All right, then.” Martha set her fists on her hips. “At least you’ve got to drive this thing, right? You’ve got to see to do that.”
“I did!” he insisted. He wiggled the fingers at the end of one long pinstriped arm at the keyboard jutting out from under the monitor screen. “Put the coordinates in right there and then flipped this lever here. You saw.”
“But you’re not doing anything now, so we’re just barreling down this vortex thing, blind as a bat?” Martha marched around the console and peered at the screen. The circles and lines that splayed across its surface made no sense to her. “How do you avoid collisions?”
“With what? There’s nothing out there!" he repeated. "Believe me, Martha: the vortex is empty.”
“What about other time travellers? Your people.” Shrugging, Martha spun around the console, waving her arms to indicate the vast vortex and the ships she imagined cruising through it. She didn’t see the Doctor’s face fall and his eyes cloud over. The hand that reached up and scrubbed down over his jaw was back in his pocket by the time she turned back. “They’ve got to be just zipping around this time vortex all the time, now don’t they? We would do that, humans, if we found out how to time travel. Tea with Lord Byron, future World Cup to find out if England ever wins again, shopping on planet Zovirax, and back in time for dinner.”
The Doctor cleared his throat, and when he spoke, his tone was sober and his words measured. ”No. No, there’s no chance of that. Time Lords, we don’t get out much. You’ll see it’s pretty empty out there.” Just then, the TARDIS lurched and shook, sending both of them sprawling. Martha flew into one of the jumpseats and managed to lunge back to the console, holding on to an unidentifiable metal structure for dear life. The Doctor wasn’t so lucky, landing on his bum and tossed about for a few bumps before he managed a steady grip on the metal grating that served as the floor.
Martha clung to the console and watched the Doctor pull himself up. “It’s all bumpy again. Shouldn’t have trusted when it got all nice. So, it’s just you, of all the Time Lords, bopping around the universe then?”
“Yup-ah. Just me,” the Doctor murmured, more to himself than anything; Martha could barely hear him over the noise of the time travel capsule. Then she startled back as he smacked the console hard with his palm, a manic grin on his face. “Besides! The TARDIS knows where she’s going. There’s nothing out there, but if there were, she knows to avoid it. We won’t be running into anyone else in the time vortex.”
“All right, all right! I believe you!” Martha laughed.
“And that’s enough with the questions. Coming in for a landing now.” Holding down a button with one hand, he reached across the console to turn three ratchety dials a quarter anticlockwise each. “We’re going into the past. Or the future,” he added, waggling his eyebrows at her. “You going to waste this opportunity asking silly questions?”
“Well, then!” he declared with a triumphant smile. He grabbed a handle under the console and spun it as he toed another lever up. Martha continued to concentrate on learning everything she could whilst not being thrown across the chamber.
“But how do you travel in time?” she asked again. “What makes it go?
“Oh,” the Doctor groaned, “let’s take the fun and mystery out of everything. Martha, you don’t want to know. It just does. Hold on tight.” Stretched across the console, he reached up and pulled a lever.
Martha lost her hold on the craft’s last jolt and she found herself on the floor, staring up at the Doctor’s shining eyes as everything settled into stability. She’d done it. Martha Jones had travelled in time. At that moment, there was nothing more important.