Doctors past and present from Doctor Who have rallied together to support the nation’s real-life heroes during The Big Night In, taking place on BBC One this Thursday from 7pm.
Actors Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin have recorded a thank you for the NHS and all frontline workers shortly before the weekly ‘Clap For Carers’ in the UK at 8pm BST.
The Big Night In will celebrate the acts of kindness, humour and the spirit of hope and resilience that is keeping the nation going during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic with a special night of programming for BBC One in the UK.
This is the first time the BBC’s biggest charitable partners, BBC Children in Need and Comic Relief, have come together and the aim of the evening is to celebrate and reward those going the extra mile to support their communities in these troubled times.
The Big Night In will be on BBC One in the UK on Thursday 23rd April, from 7 - 10pm BST.
Graham wasn’t keen on bucket lists. He didn’t want to be ticking things off as if there’d come a point where he’d had his fill, and he knew that when the darkness loomed, he found as much solace in the small things – watching the garden birds, dusting Grace’s frog ornaments, hiding the TV remote from Ryan – as he would in bungee jumping off the mountains of Mars.
But when the Doctor offered him the chance to go wherever and whenever he wanted, he knew exactly what to ask for. A small thing, and yet the biggest – a simple kickabout with the first West Ham team to win the cup.
He’d dreamed about it for years. A quick trip back to the glory days of 1964 to tackle Bobby Moore on the training ground. Graham was fully prepared to fall flat on his face in the mud. It would be an honour and a privilege. But this… this was just bloody typical!
“That TARDIS hates me,” Graham despaired. The TARDIS had turned up in a noisy, filthy factory corner, nowhere near Bobby Moore.
“That’s weird,” said the Doctor, checking the sonic.
“No it’s not. It’s exactly what I’d expect. It’s been like that ever since I brought my own cushion along, as if it’s a personal criticism. I tried to explain – it’s memory foam – ”
“No, it’s weird because we are in the right place,” she managed to cut in. “West Ham. Monday 20th April, 1896.”
“Did West Ham even exist in 1896?” Yaz asked, trying to give a stuff about football for Graham’s sake.
“The place probably did, but not the football club,” said Ryan, who had tuned out as much of Graham’s West Ham trivia as he could, but had unwittingly picked bits up.
“No, hang about…” gasped Graham, his eyes starting to sparkle. “Listen.”
They tried to, but it wasn’t easy to hear anything with the CLANK-CLANK-CLANK of the factory racketing on.
“This is an ironworks – that’s what they were called at first – Thames Ironworks F.C. That’s why they’re called the Hammers.” Graham’s heart was CLANKING now.
“Surely it’s Hammers because of the Ham?” Yaz said.
Graham shot her a withering look, but was soon sparkling again as he figured it out. “I never said which cup, did I? So it’s brought us to our first ever final against Barking – the Charity Cup. Last rematch after drawing twice. We win the trophy 1-0 in our first ever season – today!”
“Keep it down, Granddad,” warned Ryan. “If the players are around, you don’t want to give the game away. If you jinx it and they lose, you’ll change the club’s whole history.”
“Did they play here in the Ironworks?” Yaz risked another withering look, but Graham was too enthused to admonish now.
“No, but they worked here, so they must be having a last kickabout before heading to the match. I take it back – I could kiss that TARDIS. I’m going to train with Charlie Dove!”
“Or maybe not,” the Doctor was suddenly grave. “What does this place make, Graham?”
“Ships, mostly. Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company, if memory serves.”
“That’s right. For the Navy. And some other countries – ”
“How about for aliens?”
He stared at her. They all did. She wasn’t kidding. They followed the trace the sonic had picked up, through the heat and cacophony of the ironworks to a large door that led into a vast workshop. Or that would have done, if it weren’t locked. A group of young men were hanging around outside, clutching a ball. Graham went quiet, like a shy little kid. The Doctor was still troubled – as were the men.
“Have you got us locked out?” said the man with the ball. “It’s the only empty space. We need to get in and practice, but the boss won’t let us because of some big customer.”
The whole team glared at them, suspicious of the strangers who seemed to fit the ‘big customer’ bill.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got a bone to pick with them too. Wait there, won’t be a tick,” the Doctor sonicked the lock and slipped inside. Yaz and Ryan followed, with Graham last, eyes riveted on his heroes, still unable to speak for fear he might only be able to squeak.
The gigantic room was indeed completely empty, until the Doctor revealed what was behind the perception filter. A leviathan of a spaceship. Iron-wrought like a WW1 dreadnought, but a very different shape, tooled for intergalactic skies not seas. Turrets rose on all sides, ready to be decked with alien armaments. A hundred canons at least.
“Draconian Galaxy-class battlecruiser,” the Doctor breathed in horror. “Early model, but I guess it’s another seven centuries before they use them to wage war on humans. I didn’t know you’d crossed paths yet.”
Before the others could get her to break that into bite-size chunks, another door opened and a man in a suit entered with a tall reptilian humanoid woman in a green robe. The gang needed no help to figure out that this was the boss with the big customer, who wasn’t happy to see them sniffing around her gunship. Before the Draconian could declare war, the Doctor was ready with her gambit, for once not even needing to fib.
“Morning! I’m the Doctor – your fifteenth Emperor made me a noble of Draconia. That’s all right, no need to bow, just tell me what on Earth you think you’re doing building gunships here on Earth?”
The Draconian frowned, but took her at her word and answered simply, “Where else should we build it? Our civilisation is too advanced to have our own people do such lowly labour. Our specialists will install the high-tech weaponry and systems, but the basic toil is best left to the basic species. It makes perfect economic sense for us both.”
The boss blushed at being dismissed as primitive and was keen to keep face. “Why wouldn’t she come here? We’re the best shipbuilders on the planet, and we’re almost bankrupt. I’ll take work wherever we can get it rather than see our people starve.”
The gang waited for the Doctor to lay into them both, to tell them the warship would be used against humans one day, and that any warship used against anyone was not good, and that humans weren’t expendable and exploitable by any empire that rocked up with a poxy chequebook… but the Doctor could see that the boss cared about his men, and that the Draconian was just a procurement clerk, and that warships would always be built by poorer worlds and used by richer worlds to destroy each other, and all of a sudden this nice day had nosedived and she felt the darkness loom and then she said –
“Brilliant! Makes perfect sense… except that I’ve brought my mate Graham here to have a kickabout with the guys waiting outside, so would you mind letting them in for fifteen minutes? Go on, you can stay and watch if you pop your perception filters back on.”
Graham never knew if it was the fifteenth Emperor’s honour or just the coolly authoritative way she said it that won them over, but before he knew it, the ship had vanished, the Draconian woman turned into another man in a suit, and soon the whistle was blowing and he was playing footie with Charlie Dove, and all the lads, booting the ball around the vast workshop, with Yaz and Ryan standing strategically to stop it hitting the ship.
The Doctor watched alongside the Draconian, commentating in such a way as to pass on all the fundamentals (including the offside rule) and a whole heap of passion, so that when the time was up, the ground was laid.
“Mind if I have this?” she stopped the ball on a rebound and booted it to the Draconian, who picked it up, curious.
“Such a simple object,” said she – or he, as the big customer guise appeared. “And yet, it’s quite fascinating. May I take this back with me to show the Emperor?”
Charlie Dove was about to protest – as was Graham, who’d hoped for a souvenir – but the Doctor cut in once more. “Please do. You never know, it might help you beat more people than a warship.”
She grinned. So did Graham, realising what she was up to. He reassured Charlie that the team would be fine without their lucky ball and gave them his West Ham pin instead.
“West Ham F.C.? That’s a good name for a team,” said Charlie. “Shame it’s taken.”
“It’s not – yet. I – uh – made it up. You can have it if you want,” Graham stammered, as the prototype Hammers thanked him and headed off to their match – to win the cup.
“Thank you!” Graham shouted, in the TARDIS, to the TARDIS, and to the Doctor and the universe, and whatever else had conspired to allow him to christen his favourite team. Who needed a bucket list when life could twist and turn and surprise you like this on a Monday morning?
The Doctor smiled. She doubted a quick kickabout could ever lead to saving the Earth, but sometimes the simplest things were the greatest things – like her favourite race, and like those beautiful, perfect spheres, on the pitch and spinning in all the solar systems. And if she’d learned one thing about the future, and the past, and the present, it was that she never really knew what would happen next. Which was why hope would always win.
The Doctor had brought them to Calapia for its rural charm, beautiful weather and magnificent ruins. The Calapians, she’d told Yaz, were ‘a wonderful bunch, throw a party at the drop of a hat, six heads, lots of hats’. She’d also said they didn’t like to talk about the ruins, and a bit later she’d added that she’d never figured out why, two facts which Yaz had placed in the drawer in her head marked, ‘Well, I hope that doesn’t bite us in the bottom’.
Calapia had turned out to be as advertised: rural; charming; beautiful and magnificent. But the Calapians had been nowhere to be found. As Yaz and her friends had explored the buildings in one of the planet’s major cities – buildings which looked like they’d had people in them yesterday, people who’d left and carefully locked their doors behind them – Yaz had thought to herself that that mental drawer of hers got opened a lot. That there wasn’t actually a lot left in there, because most of the things that she’d suspected would bite her and her friends in the bottom actually had.
She’d been thinking that when Graham had found the sign. It had said, the letters wobbling a little in the way that indicated the TARDIS was translating for them, ‘This way to the shelters’.
‘Am I over-reacting,’ Graham had said, ‘or is that just a tiny bit worrying?’
Which was how they’d ended up in a bare room, one hundred feet underground, sitting in a circle, with the names of famous people stuck to their foreheads.
The Calapian who’d opened the door of the shelter when they’d knocked on it had been shocked to find there were still tourists who didn’t know about the Death Moon that passed over the planet every 64 years. They had quickly ushered the Doctor and friends inside and had assigned them a room. They’d asked if they had any hats and had seemed pleasantly surprised when they hadn’t. Hat storage alone, they’d said, was taking up a whole corridor down here.
‘How long’s it going to be? I mean, this is a moon, that’ll come and go in a night, yeah?’ Ryan had asked.
The Calapian had looked awkward on all six of its faces. Then it had told them they would be down here for three of their Earth weeks. There were only minutes before the passage would begin. They had had no hope of getting back to the TARDIS.
‘Brilliant,’ the Doctor had said, a word which had been completely at odds with the sort of words Yaz had been about to utter. It hadn’t matched the looks on the faces of Graham and Ryan either. ‘Three weeks of indoor games! Result!’
It had become clear almost immediately that the Doctor, though she liked the idea of indoor games, didn’t actually know the rules of many. She’d had in her pocket a chess set, and she could play that, except she insisted on making individual noises for each piece when she moved. She’d also had a travel set of a game she insisted was really called ‘Scaribble’, despite what it said on the box, because that was how they pronounced it on a planet the name of which she couldn’t herself pronounce. They’d tried to play that first, but the Doctor kept putting down letter tiles which formed the names of places and beings she’d known, or just to make a pattern on the board. Then she’d rearrange other people’s tiles to suit that pattern and after half a day of that Graham had declared he was going on strike. He went to find the facilities, and came back reporting that, to everyone’s relief, things in that department were much like they were at home.
So the Doctor had asked them what they’d like to play. Ryan had played the game with the names stuck on foreheads at parties when he was younger, and if there was one thing the Doctor had in her pockets it was pens, as well as a handy gadget that could manufacture something like paper. ‘Except it decays into compost after a day. Or if it doesn’t it becomes, you know, highly explosive.’
Which was how they’d come to be all sitting in that circle.
From where she was, Yaz could see that the Doctor had a note reading ‘Lewis Capaldi’ stuck to her forehead, Graham had ‘Mel and Sue’ and Ryan had ‘Theodoric the Great’. She, of course, had no idea what was stuck to her own forehead. Though whatever it was clearly delighted Ryan and Graham, who’d come up with it between them.
‘All right,’ said Ryan. ‘So, am I… alive?’
The Doctor looked alarmed. ‘D’you think you might not be?’
‘Is this person alive?’ Ryan pointed to his piece of paper.
‘Wait, when is this?’ said Graham. ‘I mean, when is now? ‘Cause we’ll have to put down a rule to mean –’
‘Is this person,’ continued Ryan, ‘alive in 2020?’
‘That’s a terrible impersonation,’ said the Doctor.
‘Of him on the piece of paper. You sound nothing like him.’
‘Ah,’ said Graham, nudging Ryan, ‘it’s a him.’
Ryan pointed again at the piece of paper and paced his next sentence like there was a social media handclap between every word. ‘I don’t know who I am.’
‘Bit soon for that,’ said the Doctor, ‘we’ve only been here one day.’
It ended up being one of the longest party games Yaz had ever taken part in. Or maybe it just felt that way. Following Ryan’s painful discovery of the history of the late Roman empire and a bit of confusion about what the word ‘goth’ meant in that context, Graham’s correct guess about how he could be two people at once, and the Doctor’s anecdotes about playing the triangle for the ‘lovely Scottish lad and his dad’, Yaz decided to make a serious attempt to deduce whose name she was wearing. ‘Am I a woman?’ she said.
‘Yes,’ said Ryan and Graham quickly and immediately.
Yaz glanced over to see the Doctor open and close her mouth, as if deciding not to say something. Yaz wasn’t sure she’d ever seen the Doctor make that decision before.
‘Okay. Am I famous?’
‘Yeah, pretty much,’ said Ryan and Graham, but again, the Doctor looked as if she had a problem with that but didn’t quite want to voice it.
That, thought Yaz, was unique. Unique was where answers lived. One of her criminology lecturers had said that. Who wasn’t the Doctor sure about? To the point where she wasn’t even willing to commit to them being a particular gender? Oh. She pointed at the Doctor. ‘I’m you,’ she said.
Ryan and Graham shouted in defeat, and the Doctor smiled an enormous smile, like sunshine through clouds.
Shortly after, the Doctor fixed all their phones so they could follow stuff from home and added lots of games to them too, though a lot of them didn’t make much sense. The prospect of being shut up in here with her slowly changed from, as Ryan had put it in a whisper, ‘like being stuck in a lift with a bee’ to something a lot more relaxing. Yaz watched, fascinated, as she changed how she acted, almost every hour, just happening to start telling a relaxing, funny story as the night arrived, or turning out her pockets to find miniaturised books. Every now and then she would take herself off for a brisk walk around the room with one or the other of them when they needed to vent or just needed the exercise.
At one point, a small automated device arrived, carrying a basic meal of local fruit and what turned out to be a sort of bread. The Doctor used the sonic screwdriver to confirm they could eat it. Yaz noticed her sizing them all up as they did so, while they talked about what they’d do when they got home, a frown on her face, as if just for a second they’d disappointed her.
A little later that same day, Yaz joined the Doctor on one of her walks. She wanted to share what she’d observed. ‘I thought you said you were socially awkward?’ she said. ‘’Cause I’m not seeing that right now.’
The Doctor looked worried. ‘I am. Often. Seriously. But this is a task. I’m good at tasks. Thanks for noticing. Don’t tell the others. I don’t want them to start seeing me doing it. Or they’ll get tired too.’
‘You made yourself annoying so we’d feel relieved when you stopped.’
‘Oh. Yeah. Did that without thinking about it. Relief that summat’s better than you thought it would be will get you through a day or so of awfulness. I learned that at Woodstock.’
‘Do you do that a lot?’
‘What, go to 1970s hippy rock festivals? No. Never again. The mud. The poetry. The nudity. Or was that the Somme?’
‘I mean make yourself look smaller than you are.’
The Doctor’s face gurned as it only did when her brain was wrestling with something she didn’t particularly enjoy considering. ‘’S’pose. I used to like it when people underestimated me, but in this body it’s a bit rubbish, because when I go “Aha!” and I want people to stop underestimating me, they just keep right on underestimating me.’
Yaz felt that. ‘We don’t do that, though. None of us. I sometimes think if we could see all you were, at once, it’d be too much. We couldn’t deal.’
The Doctor looked bashful and pleased all at the same time, which was another of Yaz’s favourite looks of hers. ‘Well, I certainly can’t. I’m a bit too much for me. I’m more than I knew about. Still processing all that. I sometimes think that’s why I change personality instead of just making my body younger. I need to switch myself off and on again so I can handle all the memories, so a lot of it feels like it happened to someone else. I get a different perspective on what I’ve done. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. There’s this girl in a mirror. Where I put her. That doesn’t suit who I am now. When we get out of here… Oh, this is getting deep and meaningful, isn’t it?’ Yaz was about to say that was fine, but the Doctor swung to include the others, suddenly pulling another surprise from her pockets. ‘Balloon animals!’
Graham raised his hand, which was half a request and half an order for the Doctor to halt. ‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said, ‘about where that meal came from. I think we should go find some Calapians and say thanks.’
‘Yeah,’ said Ryan, ‘see if we can help out.’
And there on the Doctor’s face, Yaz saw that enormous smile again.
And so the days passed in balloon animals and yoga and karaoke and also in learning all sorts of things about what Calapians liked to do, as the Doctor and her friends cooked and distributed alongside them.
On the last night of the passing of the Death Moon everyone in the shelter came together and ate and were quiet, and all those heads lowered in remembrance of what had gone and those who’d been lost. The heads of the Doctor and her friends were lowered with them.
Yaz felt, by the end of it, that she’d had a rest, honestly, physically and spiritually. Something had been proven to her in isolation. The Doctor saw that look on her face as they waited for the big doors to open. ‘In the midst of death,’ she said, so gently that only Yaz could hear it, ‘we are in life. Together.’
The doors opened and they stepped out into the daylight. Graham and Ryan grabbed each other and laughed.
Yaz took a deep breath. And the air was good.
The reeking flesh mass was silent for a moment before twisting and stretching its upper, frontal skin lumps into a new configuration. Karpagnon’s visual circuits processed and pattern-matched the configuration within two nano-seconds: apparently the human was smiling. Karpagnon considered for a moment and elected not to retaliate.
“Did you hear me?” emitted the Human from its flapped aperture. “Did you understand? Do you understand what I’m saying?” The encoded sound stream was accompanied by a fresh flow of smells also emanating from the aperture. Karpagnon’s sensory filter began processing the new odours, while his tactical monitor noted that they were unlikely to be directly significant to the Human’s communication. The light spray of moisture was similarly dismissed. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning. Dr. Johnson and Dr. Ahmed will be here too. Do you remember them?”
No explicit threat detected, noted the Tactical Monitor, while the Strategic Oversight Junction added that an implied, non-explicit threat was still possible – but then the Strategic Oversight Junction was like that. Beef and onions advised the Sensory Filter.
Karpagnon scanned the habitation box again, but there was no new information of tactical value. There was the little bed (which he had to pretend to sleep in) the window (which was barred) and the door (which was open at the moment.) His scan ended on the Human (Dr. Petrie proffered a Context Activated memory bubble) who was sitting on the chair by the bed and clearly expecting a reply. Karpagnon sifted among the options presented by his various Diplomatic Interface Modules and selected appropriately. “Yes,” he said, “I received and understood your communication and I remember Dr. Johnson and Dr. Ahmed. I shall destroy your world and all who breed here in fire and anguish. I hope you enjoyed your beef and onions.”
“I’ll be seeing you then,” said Dr. Petrie, and rose to go. “I shall eviscerate you at the first opportunity,” replied Karpagnon. “Good night.”
As Dr. Petrie moved to the door, the Tactical Monitor advised: escape must be initiated in 2.7 hours in full darkness.
The Strategic Oversight Junction further advised: all humans in the installation should be destroyed before departure. The human designated as Dr. Petrie is the priority target.
The Sensory Filter noted: the sweat gland emissions from the human designated as Dr. Petrie reveals significant adrenal content. This indicates Dr. Petrie has a fear reaction in the upper quartile.
“And a big bottom,” added another voice.
… If Karpagnon could have frowned, he would have. Where did that come from? He did a quick internal scan but couldn’t source the unexpected data stream.
“I mean you wouldn’t expect it from the front, but then he turns round and boom!”
“Identify untagged data stream!” demanded Karpagnon.
“I mean, size of that thing! Could take your eye out.”
“Identify untagged data stream!” repeated Karpagnon.
No untagged data stream detected replied the Internal Data Relay Monitor.
Karpagnon considered for a moment. The additional stress of maintaining his holographic shell (currently projecting an image of a 12-year-old boy called David) could conceivably be causing glitches in the logic junctions. Perhaps it was no more than that. A temporary shutdown would fix the problem, and in any event it would be wise to refresh his systems before the escape.
For appearance’s sake, Karpagnon swung his legs round so that he could lie down on the bed and switched his hologram eyes to the closed position. As he lay there, he listened to his internal relays shutting down one by one.
Tactical Monitor going off-line.
Strategic Oversight Junction going off-line.
Sensory Filter entering sleep mode.
Internal delay on alert mode only.
For a moment there was only the ticking darkness.
The Karpagnon awoke. 2.7 hours had passed according to his chrono-register. He swiveled his head to look at the window and confirmed that darkness had fallen, then got up from the bed and checked his hologram status in the mirror. The shell was holding. He waited a moment, allowing his systems to come on line. As usual the Tactical Monitor was first.
Recommendation. Human casualties to be avoided during escape. Karpagnon notices his hologram shell was frowning in the mirror- which was odd because he didn’t know it could do that. “Sorry, could you repeat your last recommendation?”
Human casualties to be avoided during escape repeated the Tactical Monitor.
In the mirror the hologram shell was looking positively bewildered, which was definitely a new feature. “Why?” asked Karpagnon.
New protocol, replied the Tactical Monitor. Cruelty and cowardice to be avoided. Destruction of humans within this installation now designated as cruel and cowardly.
“What new protocol?” demanded Karpagnon.
“Oops, sorry that was probably me.” It was the voice again - the untagged data stream. But where was it coming from? “I got bored, you see,” the voice continued, “Thought I do a bit of housekeeping, long as I’m here. Love a bit of rewiring, me, and I get bored when I’m asleep. I can’t be doing with all that sleeping, there’s too many planets. What if you sleep and miss a whole planet. Nightmare, yeah?”
“Who are you?” demanded Karpagnon.
“Just a friend, who wants to help. We’re doing an escape, right? I’m top at escaping.”
“I require no assistance,” said Karpagnon. “Strategic Oversight Junction, please run a diagnostic on the Tactical Monitor. There seems to be some kind of interference.”
Karpagnon waited but there was no response. “Strategic Oversight Junction, please run a diagnostic on the Tactical – “
Can’t we at least discuss this? asked the Strategic Oversight Junction, with a new tone in the digital overlay that could only be described as cross. I mean why has it always got to be what you say? What if anyone else has an opinion? Did you ever think about that?
“Oh dear,” said the voice, “My influence, I’m afraid. You see, I do like a flat management structure. Always run one myself - from top to bottom. Obviously I have to be top. No offence to anyone else, it’s just a thing.”
“You are interfering with my systems??”
“Tell you what, I’ll just switch them off, shall I? Then we can get on with escaping.” There was a soft clicking as Karpagnon’s internal systems started shutting down.
“Who are you??” he demanded.
“Shouldn’t we be getting on with it, the escaping? Time to start sneaking downstairs, I think.”
“Who are you and what are you doing in my head?”
“Well who are you and what are you doing in this place?”
Karpagnon was about to refuse to answer the question, when, to his surprise, he found himself answering the question. “I am Karpagnon. A DeathBorg 400, warrior class. I was forged in the weapon groves of Villengard, and I am on a surveillance mission on 21st Century Earth.”
“In a children’s home?”
“The details of my assignment are forbidden knowledge.”
“Well I better not ask you about it in case you start telling me everything for no particular reason.”
“I am not so compliant,” snarled Karpagnon. But he couldn’t help noticing he had left the room and was now sneaking down the stairs – just as the voice had wanted him to.
“Deathborg 400,” she was saying, “Did they have 399 before you that didn’t work out? It’s not a reassuring number, is it?”
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Oh, Karpagnon, you know who I am. You’ve known all along.”
“I’m the Doctor.”
Karpagnon came to a halt four steps from the foot of the stairs. Had he been programmed for any kind of shock he would have been experiencing it now. The Doctor!
“Ooh, look at your memory banks lighting up! Heard of me then?” Heard of her?? “The Ka Faraq Gatri,” replied Karpagnon. “The oncoming storm, the bringer of darkness, the imp of the Pandorica! The final victor of the Time War.”
“A few of my hits. I’m glad you’ve been paying attention.”
“You are known to many as the greatest warrior in the universe.”
“I’m not a warrior, but have it your way.”
“How can you be in my mind?”
“What if I were to tell you, I’m talking to you through an earpiece?”
Karpagnon rapidly processed this intelligence. “How could my defences be breached and an earpiece applied?”
“How could an earpiece rewire my internal logic relays?”
“Still the wrong question.”
Karpagnon reached up to locate the earpiece, but –
“Don’t touch it,” snapped the Doctor. “Touch the earpiece, and this is over. I will not help you.”
“I do not take orders!” thundered Karpagnon – though he couldn’t help noticing he’d lowered his hand. “Why would a DeathBorg 400 need your help?” he protested, in a slightly higher register than he really intended.
“Because you want to get out of here,” replied the Doctor. “Which is fine by me, because I don’t want a DeathBorg 400 wandering around a children’s home. The front door is 20 feet in front of you, shall we get going?”
“First I must destroy this installation, and all humans within it.”
“It’s not an installation, it’s a children’s home.”
“First I must destroy this children’s home and all the humans within it.”
“Well that seems a bit mean to me, but okay. Better go to the kitchen, yeah?”
“Why the kitchen?”
“It’s where they keep all the burny stuff. You know where the kitchen is, don’t you, Karpagnon?”
“Of course!” Karpagnon descended the rest of the stairs and headed through the shadowed, silent corridors to the kitchen.
“Why are you so afraid of humans?” asked the Doctor.
“I do not fear humans. I despise them.”
“Oh, come on, I’m sitting in your ear, I can see your whole brain. Of course you fear them.”
“I hate all humanity.”
“Yeah, but that’s the point, isn’t it? You hate them. Hate is just fear out loud.”
“I know nothing of fear,” said Karpagnon, as he entered the deserted kitchen.
“Well I know everything. I’d have to, me. What with the Daleks, and the Cybermen, and the Weeping Angels.”
“These creatures are known to me.”
“Of course they are, everyone’s scared of them. And the Sontarans and the Slitheen. And of course, the Umpty Ums.”
Karpagnon scanned his data banks twice. “The … Umpty Ums?”
“Oh, they’re the worst. Nothing scares me like the Umpty Ums.”
“They are unknown to me!”
“Oh, if you know about me, you know about the Umpty Ums. But never mind that now. We’re in the kitchen! What are we actually going to do?”
Karpagon stood in the middle of the large, dark kitchen and found himself reluctant to do anything at all. Finally, he said: “This house must burn.”
“Oh, do you think so? Isn’t that a bit much?”
“This house must burn,” he insisted, louder this time
“All the people will burn too. That’s a bit unfair. There’s a lot of kids here, you know.
“I care nothing for humanity. This house will burn.”
“But the thing is … you don’t really want to do that – do you, Karpagnon?”
Karpagnon scanned his Function Drives. It was true, he was detecting … what was that? Reluctance? Had this strange, prattling woman, who was also the most dangerous warrior in the universe, interfered with his base programming?
“Do you want to know why you’re reluctant, Karpagon?”
“I am not reluctant,” he lied.
“Strategy! That’s all. Proper military strategy. I mean, you’re a DeathBorg 400 on an undercover mission on planet Earth – burning this house down will only draw attention to you.”
Karpagnon considered. “Correct!” he declared.
“So. Here’s a compromise. Instead of burning the house down, why don’t we …… turn the heating up really high!”
“Yeah. That’ll show ‘em! They’ll be sweating all night, the human fools! Oh, those sheets will de dripping.”
“But I require vengeance,” protested Karpagnon. “Vengeance isn’t turning the heating up.” But he couldn’t help noticing he’d already twisted the heating control dial right up to maximum.
“Well done, Karpagnon! They’ll know better than to mess with you in future. Now let’s get out of here and leave these puny humans to get uncomfortably hot!”
“No!” said Karpagnon.
“Oh, come on! This escape is taking forever. I mean, I like to draw them out a bit, but this is ridiculous.”
“First I must destroy the human known as Dr. Petrie.”
“Oh, okay. If we must, we must. Let’s pop along and destroy Dr. Petrie then. Where would we find him this time of night?”
As usual, Dr. Petrie had been working late in his office. When Karpagnon slipped silently through the door (maximum stealth mode) he saw Petrie sprawled in his chair, with his head hanging over the back. He was snoring so heavily it almost seemed to rattle the tea cup on his desk. Under the tea cup Karpagnon noticed a scatter of papers, mostly with photographs pinned to them. The photographs were all of David – Karpagnon’s hologram disguise.
“Well then, what shall we do with him?” asked the Doctor. “Melt him? Miniaturise him. Random phase his atomic structure? I don’t really know how to do that last one, but it sounds cool.”
Again, Karpagnon found himself reluctant to act. What was wrong with him? He hated Dr. Petrie more than any other living thing – and he hated quite a lot of living things.
“Why do you hate him, Karpagnon?”
Karpagnon hesitated. “He … humiliated me.”
“Oh, I don’t think he meant to. He was trying to help. Remember, he thinks you’re a little boy called David with a dissociative personality disorder. Not a DeathBorg 400 from the weapon groves of Villengard.”
“David is a fiction.”
“Oh, yeah, course he is. I know that. But you see you put so much detail into the disguise. Abandoned by his parents, all those people being so cruel to him … I don’t think Dr. Petrie was humiliating you, I think he was trying to help. He just didn’t know you were a DeathBorg – you must get that a lot.”
“No matter. I will not be pitied, I will have my vengeance. He will be destroyed.”
“Fair enough. Your call. On you go then – melt away.”
But once again Karpagnon found himself strangely reluctant to act.And Dr. Petrie just kept on snoring, louder and louder.
“You know what the problem is,” said the Doctor at last. “It’s strategy again. If you destroy Dr. Petrie, it will draw attention to you. You can’t blow your cover like that. So what we need is another clever compromise.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Well. Instead of boring old destroying him, why don’t we do the one thing human beings really can’t stand? Why don’t you … go with me on this … draw a moustache on him!”
“Drawing a moustache is not proper vengeance,” said the DeathBorg 400 as it reached for a marker pen.
At last the front door stood in front him - unguarded, noted Karpagnon, with grim satisfaction. Freedom was now only inches away.
“What are you waiting for?” said the Doctor in his ear. Karpagon reached for the door handle. Hesitated.
“Don’t worry, it’s quiet out there,” said the Doctor. “No Cybermen or Daleks. Not even a trace of an Umpty Um.”
Karpagnon steeled himself and opened the door. The cold air filled his lungs. The wind rushed in the trees, and distantly there was the sound of traffic. The sky was packed with clouds but the moon peeked through.
“Lungs?” said the Doctor, “what do you mean lungs?”
Karpagnon took another breath. So cold. He found himself shivering.
“How can you have lungs if you’re a DeathBorg 400. DeathBorgs don’t have lungs.”
A cat was slinking along a wall. It glanced at Karpagnon and flicked out of sight. The traffic sighed, and a train rattled, and the wind stirred in his hair.
The Doctor’s voice was gentler now. “Close the door, David. You’ll catch your death.”
“No!” roared the mind of Karpagnon. “No, this shall not be!” He strode out into the night. The concrete was freezing on his bare feet and the wind tugged at his pyjamas. He stumbled to a halt, and found himself rooted to the spot. He wasn’t programmed for terror, but somehow he was feeling it now.
“Come on, David,” said the Doctor. “You understand now, don’t you? I know you do!”
“Cease your words of lies!” cried Karpagnon.
“If you’re tired of my words, David, why don’t you take out the earpiece.
David reached to his ear. Then he tried the other ear. “There is no earpiece.”
“More to the point, there are ears. Why would a DeathBorg have ears, David? A DeathBorg with ears and lungs? What kind of cyborg are is that?”
“But I hear your voice.”
“I’m not in your ear, David. I’m in your head. And you’re not a DeathBorg, you are a little boy called David Karpagnon and it is way past your bedtime.”
“This is not true. You are using your Time Lord powers to disable and corrupt my data systems.”
“No, I’m not. And I couldn’t if I wanted to. Do you know why I couldn’t, David?”
“The Doctor is known to have telepathic skills beyond that of ordinary mortals.”
“Who told you that? How do you know so much about me? Where did you learn it all from?”
“I … “
Kapargnon broke off, as a terrible truth unfolded in his mind.
“I … “
It couldn’t be true. It simply couldn’t. And yet as he stood there in the cold and the dark he saw that it was as true as anything ever could be. He took another breath of the freezing air and said the words out loud. “I watched you on television.”
“Yeah. Great show, isn’t it?”
“That’s the one. That’s me. But I’m not allowed to call myself that on screen. I don’t know why, it’s a brilliant name.”
“You’re … not real.”
“Well not in the limited sense of real, no. But I kept you straight tonight, didn’t I. I’m real enough for that.”
“You’re a character … in a TV show.”
“Yes, that’s right, I am. But really, I’d like to direct.”
David stood in silence. He barely felt the cold now.
“Do you like the music by the way? Always scares me. Umpty-um umpty-um, umpty-um umpty-um.”
“I don’t understand …”
“Well it’s a scary noise, isn’t it? I always get wound up when I know I’m about to hear it. That’s why I start shouting towards the end of episodes.”
“But how can you be in my head?”
“I go where there are monsters to fight. We’ve been fighting monsters tonight, you and me. You see, that’s the story of the music, I always think. The Umpty-Ums, that’s the noise of the monsters. But then it goes Woo-Hoo. I think the Woo-Hoo is me riding to the rescue.”
“You can’t rescue anyone. You’re just a story.”
“We’re all stories in the end. But do you know what a story is, David? It’s an idea. And do you know what an idea is? It’s a thought so big and so clever it can outlive you. It can fly out of your head, and into other people’s. Like I’m in your head, right now. Keeping you right. Never cruel, never cowardly. Always the Doctor.”
David sighed. He was starting to feel the cold again. He looked back at the house, which suddenly looked so warm.
“It won’t be easy,” said the Doctor. “None of it will be easy, ever. But I’ll always be there.”
David walked back into the house, went up the stairs, and got into bed.
A few hours later David woke up and stared at the ceiling for a while, thinking about things.
“I get very scared sometimes,” he said.
“Woo-hoo,” said the Doctor.
The Doctor was feeling lonely. Most of the time, she could suppress those feelings and distract herself by saving a planet, averting a war, or emergency-deep-freezing Krynoid hatchlings. But not today. Today was different.
Today, she sat on the steps of the TARDIS console room, munching her last custard cream, watching the glowing control crystal rise and fall.
Rise and fall.
Rise and fall.
While her space/time machine was in Artron II Recharge Mode, the Doctor couldn’t allow anyone else on board, especially humans - the artron pulses played havoc with their DNA. She guiltily remembered that time with David Bowie, when his left pupil permanently dilated.
The Doctor sighed, savouring her final mouthful of biscuit. Her brain was still working thirteen million to the dozen, in the background, backing up like the biggest and best hard drive in the universe, but it felt dulled and distant. If mardy was an emotion, she was feeling it.
Then the TARDIS beeped. A friendly, quirky little sound she hadn’t heard before. It was like it knew what she was thinking (which of course, it secretly did). Curious, the Doctor scrambled to her feet, and in response a jet of steam hissed out of the console. Projected onto the steam was a line of old Gallifreyan text:
You have one unread message.
“What message??” the Doctor blurted out loud. “Since when did you start taking messages?”
Since ages ago,the TARDIS replied in a petulant series of hums and whistles.
“Well aren’t you chatty! Where were you last September when I ran out of monologues?”
Just read the message, the TARDIS seemed to say.
The Doctor jabbed a button on the console, then turned as a hologram fizzed into life. She felt a surge of emotion as she stared into the face before her.
The girl was in her mid-teens, with a shock of jet-black hair, a striped top and eyes twinkling with mischief. The sight of her cracked the Doctor’s dark mood like an egg.
“Hello Grandfather,” said the hologram.
The Doctor’s voice caught in her throat. “Hello Susan” she finally replied. This was clearly a recording made when her granddaughter was still a teenager. When they were travelling together, so many lifetimes ago.
Susan’s image crackled as she continued talking: “I’ve built a message bank and retrieval system into the TARDIS data core, for a rainy day. In case you need cheering up. I know what you’re like when you get bored, or lonely.”
“What am I like?” snapped the Doctor defensively.
“Grumpy,” Susan replied.
The Doctor clutched her braces and frowned.
“I know nothing lasts forever,” Susan continued, “and that eventually we’ll have to say goodbye. But when that day comes, I want to leave you with some memories of our time together.”
The Doctor’s eyes misted over. There was a lump in her throat.
“Not just of me, but of future friends. Future times and places. I’ve activated the TARDIS record mode, telepathically linked to your data extract. So if you’re ever feeling bored, or lonely, or sad, all you have to do is access the data bank, and retrieve a favourite memory. It’ll keep on recording until you tell it to stop. All your adventures, all your stories won’t go to waste. They’ll always be here, waiting for you, like an archive. Alive for eternity.”
Stunned, the Doctor watched a stream of text appearing on the screen. Old adventures, logged in a long list that seemingly scrolled forever.
“Some of the early ones might have gaps, sorry about that. You know what the TARDIS is like with integrating new systems.”
The TARDIS grumbled disapprovingly.
“Anyway, I’d better go or I’ll be late for school. I hope this message gets to you someday. When you need it most.”
With a final smile, Susan’s image flickered, then evaporated. The Doctor stared at the empty space for a very long time. Seconds, at least. Then she snapped into action, scrolling through the endless list of titles, unsure where to begin. ‘Crisis on Poosh,’ ‘Genesis Of The Daleks,’ ‘Attack Of The Postmen’, ‘The Timelash’, ‘100,000 BC aka An Unearthly Child aka The One In The Stone Age.’
“Intelligent labelling system’s a bit random,” thought the Doctor, her finger hovering over the activation button. Finally, she made her selection – and pressed PLAY.
The TARDIS console pinged again. Result! The custard creams had been replenished! The Doctor eagerly plucked one from the dispenser and settled back to watch hazy images form on the screen.
As she chewed, she decided she’d FaceTime Graham, Ryan and Yaz later, but for now she was happily distracted with the gift that Susan had left behind; an endless supply of stories; a comfort blanket of fond memories and old friends.
And a reminder.
That she was never, ever alone.