The rain poured as Ian Chesterton arrived at the hall for his regular companion support group meeting. He sat in the car driven by his son and stared out at the rain for a moment, watching as each drop trickled down the pane. The water seemed to find a pathway, down and down until at last it stopped.
His son John helped him out of the car and held an umbrella over his father’s ageing head. “I’ll pick you up in an hour or two, shall I?”
“Oh, don’t worry, one of them always gives me a lift to the station. Last time Mel was lovely enough. You know her car is full of health drinks and nodding dogs?”
John smiled. “That’s nice. I like hearing about your friends, even if you won’t tell me what you’re telling each other. Alright. Well, we’ll see you later for dinner then?”
“Wouldn’t miss Jocelyn’s paella.”
John made sure his father was inside the building before he drove away and Ian smiled as he entered, neatening his thinning damp hair. As usual the others were mostly already present except Jo who was always late, mostly because she’d gotten on the wrong train or forgotten her glasses to read what station she was at.
They were gathered around together making tea in the little kitchen when he arrived and took off his coat.
“Hello, Ian,” Dan said, waving a mug in the air. “Fancy a brew?”
“Yeah, take a seat,” Tegan said. “We’ll bring you over a cup.”
“And some much-needed biccies,” Graham said, producing a pack from the biscuit tin. “I happen to know Dan’s a coconut ring kind of bloke.”
Dan spun to look at him. “Where you hear that?”
“Well, she was pulling your leg, I hate coconut. I like a ginger nut.”
Graham nudged Mel and laughed. “Here, Mel, Dan has a fancy for you.”
“Very funny, boys. Maybe it was about time the Doctor was ginger.”
Graham looked at Yaz. “You told me Dan likes a coconut ring.”
“I know.” She laughed.
“What kind of biscuit you want, Ian?” Graham called over. “We’ve got coconut rings, jammie dodgers or rich tea for proper dunking?”
“Rich tea please,” Ian replied, patting his stomach.
Sitting opposite Ian was the newest member of the group, Polly, who’d spent the previous meeting talking extensively about her time on the TARDIS including her surprise at the Doctor’s first ever change. Ian had been fascinated, and Polly was the only person there who’d known his Doctor, so in that sense there was a connection between them.
“How’s it all going, Polly?” Ian asked
“So many things to sort out what with the Hospice event. I’m all over the place these days. I’m far busier now I’m retired than I ever was in work! Still, I can’t complain.” She took a deep breath. “It’s what Ben would’ve wanted.”
Mel and Kate took seats on either side of Polly, and Kate smiled sympathetically. “How long has it been, Polly, since Ben…?”
“Three years now, but it doesn’t get easier.”
Reaching forward to touch her hand, Ian smiled gently. “But it helps to have friends around.”
At that moment as they thought on loved ones lost, the door flung open and in entered a drenched Jo Jones attempting to shake off her wet umbrella and wrestling with it.
“Sorry for being late. I got—”
“—on the wrong train!” Everyone said in unison.
Jo laughed as she took off her coat. “Well, actually it was the wrong bus so you’ll have to apologise to me!”
“Ere you’re soaked right through,” Graham said, handing Jo a mug of tea and a couple of biscuits. “Get that cuppa inside ya, warm ya cockles.”
“You’re just in time for Ian to have a talk to the group,” Ace said. “We’ve been waiting for this.”
Jo joined the others where they all waited patiently for Ian to talk. There was a sense of awkwardness at every meeting, especially at the beginning, waiting for that first bit of dialogue.
Ian took a sip of his tea and when his mouth wasn’t so dry, he spoke. “I’ve never talked to anyone about all this before, not in detail,” he said, his voice a little shaky. “Well, nobody but my Barbara.”
“Barbara was Ian’s late wife,” Graham said. “A few of us know what it’s like to lose a partner like that.”
“Did she travel with the Doctor too?” Yaz asked, nibbling on a biscuit.
“Yes, she did though she wasn’t my wife then. Only after.”
They all wolf-whistled.
“Love in the TARDIS!” Tegan said. “As long as there wasn’t any hanky-panky.”
“No, nothing like that.” Ian smiled. “It wasn’t any kind of whirlwind romance. We were mostly just trying to get home. It wasn’t the same for us maybe as some of you. We kind of got stuck with the Doctor, well more he kidnapped us and we had no choice.”
“You what? The Doctor kidnapped you?” Dan asked.
“Well, it wasn’t quite how I’d like to remember it. But we didn’t start off as friends, no. Barbara and I taught him a few things. We were teachers you see, so I suppose it was ingrained in us to lead by example. At Coal Hill we were quite the busybodies, well mostly Barbara, I just generally followed where she went.”
“Did you already have a bit of a thing for her?” Yaz asked.
“I suppose I did, though I was stubborn to admit that then.”
“The professor told me all about you two,” Ace said. “When I was at Coal Hill myself.”
Ian’s lip quivered. “You were at Coal Hill, Ace?”
“A passing visit to ‘63, didn’t do any damage or anything…well not much.”
Ian was deep in thought, thinking about the old school and Susan. “Coal Hill seems to hold quite the significance. I was a governor there a few years ago. Ran into a young woman named Clara. She also had knowledge of the Doctor. She travelled with that young one with the bowtie. Not quite sure what happened to her.”
“No, some do sort of drop off the radar,” Kate said.
“He gets around does our Doctor though,” Jo said. “I met him too, that young one I mean. Sarah-Jane and I. Oh I do miss Sarah-Jane.”
There was a moment of silence.
Kate took out a document from her bag. “Speaking of missing Sarah-Jane, perhaps we should take a moment to reflect on those friends of the Doctor that have since passed or live on some alien world or in the past or future, just that little bit out of reach. My father for example and Barbara, Ben, Adric, and all the others that can’t be with us today.”
There was a brief silence as the group bowed their heads and thought of those who were lost or far away. There was always a mix of emotions when they thought of all the many companions.
“I also have some rather sad news,” Kate said. “I’m afraid another one of us has gone on their next big journey. A certain Dodo Chaplet was reported in the obituaries this week.”
Polly’s eyes widened. “Oh, I am sorry to hear that. I met Dodo and she was quite something. Saw her a few times over the years and we always said hello.” She looked at Ian. “Dodo was a stowaway with our Doctor. She told me Steven Taylor looked out for her.”
There was a smile from Ian. “Barbara and I always thought Steven had died on Mechanus. It’s funny, sometimes I wonder whether I even remember half the things that happened, whether they were real or made-up stories in my head.”
“Why don’t you tell us more about your story? What was it like travelling?” Yaz asked.
“Well, the ship wasn’t the thing it is now. We couldn’t control where we were going. Each trip was an… unknown adventure. One time we landed on that Dalek home-world, oh what was it called? And another in Ancient Rome. Back then, no one else could ever have experienced what we did. When we came home, Barbara was the only one who knew how I felt. When she left us, I felt so alone, not only in missing her but in having someone to share in those experiences.”
“Now you have us,” Dan said.
“Yeah, and we all know life with the Doc can be mad as a box of frogs,” Graham said.
Ian’s eyes filled with tears. He wasn’t used to sharing his feelings with a group of people. And they were all so young, to him anyway. He felt old and tired and ancient. “The Doctor seems to stay young. When we first met, I was so fit and able and he was so frail and tired. Now…” Ian sighed. “Now, I can barely move one foot in front of the other without an ache or a pain. We’re reversed somewhat.”
“But your mind is as sharp as anything,” Jo said.
“I have a photograph of Barbara,” Ian said, slowly with shaking hands removing his wallet from his pocket. He passed the picture to Graham. “That’s her in the 70’s with our son.”
“What a cracker.”
Graham passed the photograph to Dan.
“You gotta love those old hair-dos.”
“And the ‘tache!” Tegan said with a grin. “Was that a phase, Ian?”
“Yes, lasted all of a few months.”
“No one can beat a moustache like your old dad,” Jo said, looking at Kate. “After that time Yates shaved it off whilst your father was asleep, well we begged him to grow it back as quickly as possible. Yates was in his bad books for weeks.”
“If you want to talk about fashion,” Mel said. “You should’ve met my first Doctor. All the colours of the rainbow weren’t enough.”
“At least he didn’t go around with a celery on his lapel,” Tegan said. “Never have touched the vegetable since. One time Nyssa and I yanked it off of the coat to find he just added another one. Imagine that, never-ending celery collection.”
“My Doctor got her clothes from a charity shop,” Yaz said, thinking fondly of her.
Jo laughed. “My one wouldn’t be caught dead in clothes that weren’t of the highest quality.”
“My second one wouldn’t be caught dead if he was,” Polly said, grinning.
“I remember they had quite a rivalry,” Jo said. “Your Doctor and mine, Polly. Oh, they were silly. Fancy having an argument with yourself. The only one they’d listen to was their original.”
“I can see that,” Ian said with a fond smile. “He could be scary at times but we knew just how to butter the old devil up. He had quite a mischievous side. And that chuckle of his, sometimes I still think I hear it. Along with the TARDIS.”
There was a collective agreement.
“Oh, still gives me chills,” Tegan said. “Or nightmares, one or the other.”
Graham looked up. “Sometimes I stand in my garden at night, when it’s real quiet-like and I just listen hard and think, is that it? Is that her?”
Dan shoved him. “And then you realise it’s your belly after a curry.”
“Dan, mate, that was one time.” He looked at the others. “He came over for a Ruby and he won’t let me live it down.”
“He couldn’t hold it down. Soft poncy southerner.”
“Grumpy northern git!”
“Boys, boys!” Yaz said laughing. “Everyone knows Sheffield’s the best anyway.”
“Well Shoreditch is where it all began for me,” Ian said. “It wasn’t very exotic then but that road to the junkyard on that foggy night, well, it makes me wonder. If I hadn’t have gone with Barbara. If Susan hadn’t been at our school, what would have changed?”
“History itself,” Mel said. “It’s like the Doctor regenerates, becomes someone new but we do that too in a way. We’re never the same as we were before. And the Doctor’s friends become new friends.”
“So, Ian, technically I’ve got you to thank for my house being shrunk?” Dan said.
Ian laughed. “Just be grateful you weren’t shrunk too. We nearly got eaten by a cat.”
“I don’t like cats anymore,” Ace said. “When you’ve seen a whole bunch of human-size ones it kind of puts you off.”
“At least it’s not an enormous dog following you about the cosmos,” Dan said.
“Are we really having a barney over who had it worse?” Graham said. “Because I have a list.”
Everyone started to laugh before falling into a deep contemplation.
“Look at us,” Jo said, taking Tegan’s hand. “Aren’t we the lucky ones?”
Yaz’s eyes filled with tears. “But don’t you ever just think, did I make a mistake, why did I leave? Whatever on earth now can ever be as good as that?”
“We all think like that sometimes,” Ace said. “Took me a long time to adjust.”
Ian smiled. “If you’d like my advice, Yaz, it’s not only being out there that can be an adventure. It’s being here too. It may not always seem like it but down here is pretty special. Barbara and I had a wonderful life together. To the world it may seem ordinary but to us it was extraordinary.”
“But what if the one person you wanna be with is the one person you can’t?”
Ace squeezed her hand. “You’ll find someone else who means just as much. I know it’s hard to measure up to the Professor but there are people just as good and just as fun and mad and dangerous.”
“Yeah, most of them are in here,” Dan said.
They all laughed again. How true it was. How many had devoted their lives to helping others since their travels. How they looked for places that needed them, how they were inspired to continue an adventure of sorts, to learn and grow and thrive.
“So, Ian,” Kate said, “I’m not usually one for gossip but I’ve always wondered, how did you and Barbara finally get together?”
He blushed but everyone else cheered.
“Don’t leave us in the dark now, mate,” Graham said. “Who made the first move?”
“I think it was rather mutual. The day we got home—”
“—that quick? Blimey, you move fast,” Tegan joked.
“We’d run around London, hopping on buses and larking about in Trafalgar Square and then it was just so right, so simple. We had no idea what we were going to do but it… didn’t seem to matter because we had each other. Being in the universe was a great experience but that day we got home was one of the happiest I’d ever felt in my life. Bittersweet too because we were going to miss the Doctor and Vicki.”
“That’s the worst part,” Jo said. “Missing them. I found it terribly hard to say goodbye. I felt I’d betrayed him somehow just by wanting a new chapter.”
“We all leave home in the end,” Polly said. “The duchess and the sailor couldn’t travel forever.”
Kate suddenly sat forward. “One thing I’ve always wanted to ask you, Ian, is what do you think of that internet rumour Sarah-Jane told me, that you and Barbara had never aged since the 60’s?”
Ian chuckled. “Oh that.” He winked. “Who do you think started it?”