It wasn’t hard to find the Porter, once you knew that you should be looking for him. A few questions in the right places, a few people who’d say there was no one who matched his description. A few furrowed brows when they stopped and said, no, there actually was, in the rooms at the bottom of the older buildings, near where all the construction was underway. A nice man, they’d say, although they didn’t actually say why. And under their voices the Doctor heard the tiniest suggestion of fear.
He was in a shabby break room, sitting alone. Tall and thin and poised, like a predatory stick. Clothes more suited to a lost prince than a porter. Sometimes it was hard to tell if the person before you really was a Time Lord— and sometimes it really wasn’t, not at all. The Porter didn’t just look like he owned the room. He looked like he owned the whole galaxy.
“Mark Jones,” he said, stretching out a hand as the Doctor entered.
“That’s a very common name,” said the Doctor, not extending hers.
“I’m a very common man,” said the person in front of her, who’d probably never been a Mark Jones at all. His hand remained in front of him, like ice.
“You don’t give that impression,” said the Doctor.
“Grace and poise are not only the pursuit of the upper classes, Miss”—
“Doctor. Doctor Smith.”
The Porter smiled. “A very common name.”
The Doctor scowled.
“There’s a lot of people called Jones in Wales,” she said. “That where you’re from?”
He shook his head. “Somewhere much further away. You wouldn’t have heard of it; it’s very remote. A place called Gallifrey.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of it,” said the Doctor. “The architecture’s very pretty there. Timeless.”
The Porter nodded slightly, eyes narrowing.
“Although,” said the Doctor, “I’ve heard there’s increasing division”—
“Let’s drop the charade,” said the Porter. “I know there are those within the Division who don’t approve of what we’re doing”—
“Like the Doctor.”
“Well. We have been tracking her. And it looks like we might just bring her in after all.”
“Not if I have anything to do with it,” snarled the Doctor.
“A woman in a coat that’s far too big for her,” said the Porter. “Oh no.”
“And you’re a man whose ego’s too big for him,” said the Doctor. “Pride comes before a fall. Lay off the COPS.”
“Not until the end. If it helps, I’d still say that if I actually felt threatened by you.”
“You don’t know what you’re up against,” said the Doctor. “And you’ll never win. You know you never do.”
The Porter smiled. “To me that sounds like complacency,” he said.
“Well, to me that sounds like… a smarty pants!” spluttered the Doctor.
“Insulting my intelligence by saying I have a lot of it. A novel approach.It’s like what I’d already expected. You’re not quite what you used to be.”
The Doctor narrowed her eyes.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, I’m sure you have an idea already, Doctor Smith. I went through the records from the Judoon. They’d arrested a fugitive Doctor. Not the right one. But they did leave a description.”
“Guilty as charged,” said the Doctor, her mouth now forming a snarl.
“You’re lucky you’re not always like this,” said the Porter. “And we’re lucky you’re not always like her. I’ll be honest. A part of me is sad to see you sunk so low. I’ll bet you don’t even remember what this old thing might be.”
From a pocket in his trousers he took out a small doorknob, bronze and engraved with something like a Celtic design. It hovered above the palm of his hand, unbothered by gravity.
“Oh no, that,” said the Doctor. “I know all about that. Call me Ms Knowledge of… uh… Knowing Island”—
“The CULLIS is not a device that opens doors,” intoned the Porter as he ignored her completely. “As much as it opens your eyes. To the corridors that were always really there. To possibility…”
He took the CULLIS into his hand and held it to the air, like the knob was just one part of a wide and invisible door. And as he did the Doctor saw just what he had meant: how if you slipped behind the plastic chairs you might slip into a distant meadow, or if you ran towards just the right point in the wall you could find a corridor through all of time and space. Routes to other places that were everywhere, if only you had eyes to see—
“You’ve forgotten how much is out there, Doctor,” said the Porter with a smile. “But there’s still a possibility you might have missed. You can leave. Now. Keep the past to the past, before we slam another cell door in your face.”
“Never,” said the Doctor. “Whatever you might think of me. I am still the same old woman I know you fear.”
“Even if you are,” said the Porter. “You’ve no idea what you’re up against. Even we don’t know. But it is extremely strong. Impossibly powerful. And there are worse things to be running from than the Division.”
The Doctor tried not to look alarmed at the news she was up against anything.
“Until we fight again,” said the Porter, with a smile surprisingly warm. “Old foe. And older friend.”
–and he turned the CULLIS in his hand and was walking to another part of London, like anyone could have done in that room, if only they’d seen how–
—and then the Doctor blinked, and he was gone.
She looked around the tiny room, so cramped and normal. There weren’t any windows. The only possible exit was the door.
Just for a moment, the Doctor tried it. Scrunching up her face, focusing her mind. Trying as hard as she could to see all those pathways to other places, which had been so incredibly obvious a moment before. If she focused hard enough she might be able to do it—
—but there was only the room in front of her, nothing more.