The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS and locked the door. It had been snowing and had peppered the pavements with a fine layer of dust. He held out his tongue and let a flake land on it. The flake melted on his tongue and he frowned. It tasted odd. It tasted alien.
He frowned, patted the TARDIS and then turned to walk away down the street.
“Well, Thornsby,” he said, “I’ve never been here before so let’s see what you have to offer me.”
Before the End
December 25th, 2012
It’s simple. I just walk into the pub, sit and have a drink and wait for him. How hard can it be?
Bloody hard, that’s how hard.
He takes me to the roughest pub in this backwater town, bungs a couple of Christmas songs on the jukebox, and says he’ll be back in twenty minutes.
I don’t even know where he’s going!
So, I walked into the pub with him, got a few looks (why’s she going out with a man his age!), and sat down. “Lonely This Christmas” came on the jukebox. He did a little jig to it, laughed, tapped my nose and then slid out of the door like he was really getting into the Christmas spirit.
The thing is, you need to experience the run-up to Christmas to actually get into the spirit. For the last few months I’ve been a disembodied thing floating around his TARDIS, getting angry and frightening the poor buggers who got me into that situation.
Then one of them dies and I just hop back in like I was never gone.
God, “Rock and Roll Christmas” by Gary Glitter is now on. A few punters are complaining to the barman about getting it turned off.
This bloke has now come over to me. He’s unshaven and has a tooth missing. His breath stinks of whiskey and I can barely understand a word he’s saying.
That’s it! He’s gone too far. Nobody puts their hands there! One leap up and I’m on the table. I give him a karate kick to his chops and he goes down like a sack of potatoes. I’ve definitely found a use for those muscles that Tylaya had built up for me.
I can hear a group of blokes cheering. They want me to continue laying into the guy. Not a chance in hell. I’m outta here. Need to find the Doctor quickly!
I make my escape just as “Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo” starts up…
Caroline sighed and then smiled as she popped the final plate into the dishwasher.
It had been a long, long day. But a wonderful, beautiful day. It had been the best Christmas she had experienced in a long time, and she wasn’t really ready for it to be over.
Three months ago, she and Danny had gathered up enough of their savings and had rented a little house in a quiet little close in the west part of Thornsby.
Danny had gotten a job with an advertising company in Yarathorpe, and Caroline had quit her job at Hypersave to become a full-time stay-at-home Mum.
Being a mum to four-month old William wasn’t her only job, however. She had taken to writing children’s books about a mysterious alien known as Professor Time, who travelled around in his mysterious red telephone box. Well, she thought, she couldn’t’t exactly use the true details for fear of someone at UNIT or Torchwood stopping them from being published.
Now she was just waiting for the first story, “Professor Time and the Battle Dogs”, to come back from the publishers. All in all, things had taken a turn for the better in her life. She was enjoying life.
Steve bustled into the kitchen, already pulling his coat on and wrapping his scarf around his neck.
“Oh, are you going?” said Caroline, closing up the dishwasher.
“Got to,” smiled Steve. “Mum and Dad are gonna be waiting for me. It took me forever to convince them to let me miss their Christmas dinner.”
Caroline smiled. Somewhere, deep down, there were still feelings for this man, but they had faded now. He was still little Will’s father, and she’d always love him because of that, but the two of them were moving on. Had moved on.
“I’ve kissed Will good night,” said Steve, a hint of sadness in his voice.
“You know you can come over whenever you want,” said Caroline, smiling warmly at him.
“Caroline,” said Steve, his brown eyes and smile making her remember the first time they met, “I still haven’t gotten over you. It’s going to take some time. You and I…well, we went through a lot in such a short space of time.”
“I know,” said Caroline. “I wish it was different.”
“But it’s okay,” smiled Steve. “Our main priority is to make sure William has the best life he can have, and you and Danny - and me - can give that to him.”
Caroline smiled and then gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, smiling again. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” said Caroline, as she watched him make his way out of the kitchen, say his goodbyes to her guests and then head out into the snow beyond.
She made her way back to the living room. Sat around the table, laughing and joking, each with a different beverage were the oddest collection of people you could meet.
On the surface they looked normal enough, but each one had a story to tell.
There was Danny, a lager in hand, now wearing a pair of glasses, who had just finished telling a joke. Then there was Margot and Ben, the two survivors from the Ancestors. They had gotten a flat in the Victoria Mills complex and had gotten part-time jobs, via Caroline, at Hypersave. They weren’t intending on staying there forever, of course, just earning enough to get them back on their feet.
And then there was Catherine and Tony Parker, Caroline’s adopted parents. Tony had recovered from his heart attack and was doing well, and little William had been the one to bring the family back together. There were still underlying regrets between Caroline and her parents, but they had gotten over the worst. They were building bridges finally.
And finally there was Thomas and Rebecca - Caroline’s real parents. They had opted to stay in Thornsby, firstly to assist Caroline in her powers, and secondly to be friends to Ben and Margot, as well as Lilly and Father Ainslie and the rest of the people who had been deposited in this time. Tom and Rebecca had set up a home for the refugee’s, and were helping them to reintegrate back into the world.
Caroline pulled up a chair and sat down.
“So,” said Tom, taking a sip of brandy, “I see Steve’s left.”
“Tom,” said Rebecca, her eyes flashing him a warning.
Caroline smiled. She never knew what to call her real parents. Initially she had wanted to call them Mum and Dad, and had tried it, but the two of them looked younger than her. So she had opted to call them their actual names.
“Tom,” said Caroline, “he is William’s father, but it’s difficult for him. You’ve gotta understand.”
“Hmm,” said Tom, a cheeky smile on his face, “I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.”
“You listen to your father,” said Tony, breaking into a big belly laugh.
“God,” said Tom, “I remember when you looked as young as us,” he said to Tony.
“Cheeky!” said Cath, slapping Tom on the arm.
Only Margot looked a bit glum. “I remember one Christmas,” she said, a sad smile playing on her face, “must have been, ooh, back in 1963, Jayne came back to the crypt with our Christmas dinner - sandwiches.”
Ben nodded, smiling at the memory.
“We never had a lot back then. We were always trying to keep an eye on the Apparites. We never had time to make money and go out there and have a good time.”
“Work, work, work,” said Ben. “Even when I was being a vicar I never got paid for it!”
“The point,” said Margot, sipping on her mineral water, “is that even back in those days, even when it was a nightmare and we were working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Jayne still made sure we had some sort of Christmas.”
Tom and Rebecca smiled.
“She always looked after us,” said Ben.
“To Jayne,” said Caroline, raising her recently made cup of tea.
“To Jayne!” chorused the group, each raising their glasses.
Some time passed. Caroline checked on the sleeping William and, when everyone was gathered around the tree, unwrapping their presents, she made her way back to the kitchen.
It was then that she spotted the man in the garden. Standing amongst the snow, watching from the fence at the back. He wore a long, black coat, blue shirt with a black tie, and a yellow smiley-face badge pinned to his lapel. It was the Doctor.
She took a quick look back at the living room, made sure nobody was watching, and then quickly unlocked the back door.
She slowly walked up the garden path, her feet crunching in the snow. Shivering, she stood in front of the Doctor.
He was leaning on an ornate walking stick and had a black scarf tied around him.
He smiled sadly. “Proper snow this time?”
Caroline nodded. “None of your alien stuff. This is the real deal.”
She flung her arms around him. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.” She broke away from him. “What happened? Are you okay?”
The Doctor smiled again. “I just wanted to come and see you one last time.”
“One last time?” Caroline frowned. “You mean…?”
The Doctor nodded slowly. “It’s pretty much the end now.”
Caroline put her hand to her mouth, her eyes flooding with tears.
“Don’t be sad, Caroline,” he said, taking her hands. “I’ve lived my life to the full. I’ve been travelling again.”
“On your own?”
“No,” he said. “I met a young woman - a teacher actually. Alice her name is. She’s from a little in your future.”
“And she understands what’s happening to you?”
He nodded. “She knows.”
“Is she having a good time?” said Caroline.
“She’s having the trip of a lifetime,” said the Doctor. “She’s just in the pub down the road now. Said I’d be back soon.”
“And there really is no way-?”
He cut her off. “I met someone who said they had found a way to save me,” said the Doctor, a dark look playing across his face.
“Then do it,” said Caroline.
“No,” said the Doctor, shaking his head. “The cost would be too high. I’m not willing to go that far to save myself.”
Caroline sighed. “You’re a stubborn git, you know?”
He smiled. “I know.” He nodded towards the house. “Having a party, are we?”
“Kind of. I got the rest of them round for dinner. Everyone’s getting on well. Margot and Ben have a flat and jobs, Tom and Rebecca are caring for the refugee’s. Steve’s - well - Steve’s just Steve. Mum and Dad have made up with me.”
“I’m good. William’s healthy.”
“Any problems with your powers?”
“Had a little accident a couple of months back,” she said sheepishly. “Burnt the shed down. But Tom and Rebecca are helping me. I’ll have it under control soon.”
The Doctor smiled. “Good.” He looked at her curiously. “You know, if you ever got those powers under control, I might be able to take you back to William. William Fieldgate, that is. We never really did find out what happened to him. As long as you were safe with your powers, you could have a life with him. It wouldn’t disrupt the web of time-”
“No,” said Caroline quickly.
“No,” she said again. “I’ve thought long and hard about William, and I’ve spent a long time trying to get over him. I’m in a happy place now. William was a wonderful thing that happened to me, but it was just one moment in my life. Something I would never want to spoil. I loved him - still love him - and he loves me.”
“I can find out what happened to him. You never did let me finish reading that bit of info on him.”
Caroline considered for a moment. This was her last chance to really find out. “No,” she said. “As long as he was happy, that’s all I needed to know.”
The Doctor pulled out a tablet from his coat pocket, checked the info on it and then smiled. “He was happy. It says it here in black and white. He led a happy, healthy life.”
She smiled. “I’m glad.”
“And how’s Danny Boy?”
“He’s good. You know, we’re kind of together. Well, as together as two best mates can be. I love him. He loves me. But it’s complicated. I think we’re always going to be together.”
“Marriage?” queried the Doctor.
“God, no!” said Caroline. “It’s just not like that with him and I. I guess you could call us…soul mates. God, that sounds cheesy.”
The Doctor laughed. “Take care of him,” said the Doctor. He suddenly clutched at his chest.
Caroline stepped forward to help him, but he motioned for her to stay back.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’ve gotta go pick up Alice from the pub. I need to take her home.”
She flung her arms around him again, hugging him tightly. “Thank you again.”
Just then Danny stepped out of the house. He looked at the Doctor and Caroline in shock.
“Hello there,” smiled the Doctor.
Danny gave a slight wave back at him, not really knowing what to think.
“Right,” said the Doctor, opening the back gate. “I’m off.” He smiled at Caroline. “Have a wonderful life, Miss Parker. And Merry Christmas.”
“Get help. Save yourself,” said Caroline, one last desperate attempt to save her friend. And then she smiled. “Merry Christmas.”
And she watched as he stepped into the dark alleyway behind the house, and slowly closed the gate.
“What was that all about?” said Danny, joining her at her side.
“He just came to say goodbye,” she said, sadly.
Danny put his arm around her. “Come on. Let’s go finish Christmas. There’s a bottle of Bailey’s with my name on it.”
So, I’m walking down the street when I spot him down an alleyway standing at a gate. I slip down the alley and wait in the shadows. I can hear him talking to a woman. He’s telling them that I’ve had the trip of a lifetime. What a joke! Okay, so it wasn’t all bad, but I never expected to die! Who ever expects that?
He’s closing the gate now and walking back down the alleyway. That’s when I decide to make my presence known.
“You lied to her,” said Alice.
“What? Alice, what are you doing here? I left you in the pub.”
“Bad move,” she said. “You told that woman I was having the trip of a lifetime.”
“I lied,” he said.
“I know that. Why did you lie?”
The Doctor looked uncomfortable as he marched her out of the alleyway and back onto the main road. “I lied because Caroline was a good friend of mine. I promised that I’d travel and make the most of my life. The last thing I want is her thinking that my last few months have descended into chaos. I didn’t want her to worry.”
“Ha!” laughed Alice.
“I wanted to say goodbye to her.”
“And you glazed over the whole dying thing I see.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You said the cost would be too high.”
“I didn’t want her getting her hopes up.”
“Oh, get lost, Doctor!” Alice turned and marched away from him, her arms folded. She turned back. “I don’t know why you don’t just deal with this once and for all. You heard what the Master said. There is a way. Get the bloody hell into that Nest and save yourself like you saved me!”
I feel bad as I march away, but the stupid idiot needs some sense knocking into that bald noggin of his. He flits between wanting to live and wanting to die. Right now I don’t care anymore, but he saved me, so I need to save him. I slip on a patch of ice and end up on my arse. I can feel the pain from the already-forming bruise and I scream up into the heavens. I’ve had enough of this. I’m cold. I’m tired. I want to go home.
He’s at my side in an instant and helping me back to my feet. He mumbles something about making sure I’m never hurt again, and then escorts me back to the TARDIS.
One Day Ago
Maxus sat on the end of the bed, his face transfixed to the roundels in front of him. He wasn’t really paying any attention to them, of course. He couldn’t. He just felt so lost. He had no desire to stare at anything really. He sniffed and then closed his eyes. The last few hours had been difficult to say the least. Once he’d gotten over the heartbreak of losing Tylaya, he’d left the Doctor to deal with her body - Alice’s body - and retired to his room. He had no idea what was going on back in the console room, but he sure as hell didn’t want to go back in there and see the place where the love of his life had died.
He heard footsteps coming up the corridor. He prayed it was the Doctor.
Alice opened the bedroom door a little and knocked on it.
“Come in,” said Maxus, not really wanting her in here.
She opened the door and smiled sadly at him. Her eyes were red, her skin pale and her lips were sore. She looked a complete mess, but she’d at least had the decency to take off the wedding dress. She was now in jeans and a top, her hair tied back.
She sat on the bed next to him. “I’m sorry.”
Maxus shook his head. “You have nothing to be sorry about, Alice.”
“I wasn’t exactly acting like myself.” She looked around the room. “I still don’t feel right. I feel sick.”
“I’m just glad the TARDIS gave us that one last day together.” He smiled. “She looked so beautiful.”
Alice smiled and then looked at her hand. She handed the wedding ring to him, placing it in his palm and closing his fingers around it. “This isn’t mine to keep. It’s Tylaya’s. It’s yours.”
Maxus nodded. “What will you do now?”
“What will you do now?” said Alice, unsure of her own immediate future.
“Ah, God knows,” said Maxus, turning the ring over and over in his fingers. “I can’t go back to Central City. There’s nothing for me there now.”
“Why don’t you stay on board the TARDIS?”
He shook his head. “Not an option. I can’t be here.”
The door was suddenly flung open and the Doctor burst in, clutching his cane. He looked stern and serious. “You two should get down to the console room now. We have a visitor.”
When they got there the scanner was showing a black telephone box suspended in the vortex right in front of the TARDIS.
“Who put that there?” said Alice, rubbing her forehead.
“An old friend. Or an old enemy. It depends on his mood today.”
The screen flickered to an image of the Master, his beard had been trimmed much neater and his hair tied back into a ponytail. He smiled when he saw the Doctor.
“I was wondering what happened to you after you rescued me from that collapsing dimension.”
The Master nodded. “I’ve been busy.”
“Oh yes? Up to no good as usual?”
“Not at all. I’ve been looking for a way to help you.”
The Doctor burst into a huge belly laugh and almost doubled over. When he finally composed himself he leant on the console and nodded at the Master. “You must be kidding me, yes?”
“No, Doctor. Believe it or not I’m here to help you to live again.”
The Doctor’s face went serious. “And why would you want to help me?”
“Because when I kill you I want it to be on our terms. I want you to go out dying like the strong minded, strong bodied man you really are.”
“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not.”
“Then follow me. I understand a woman called Helenia has been trying to make contact with you?” The Master smiled. “I see from the look in your eyes that she has. She’s also made contact with me.”
“I find it hard to believe.”
The Master sighed. “Will you allow me to come aboard?”
The Doctor thought for a moment and then nodded. “Prepare for temporal lock.”
A few seconds later both TARDISes had their doors open and they slowly floated towards each other before locking onto each other via the doorways. The Master stepped across from his TARDIS into the Doctor’s, his hands in his pockets.
“Welcome aboard. Again,” said the Doctor.
“May I?” asked the Master, gesturing the sofa.
Maxus stepped out of the way. He didn’t want to think of that sofa.
“Be my guest,” said the Doctor bluntly.
The Master sat down, arms stretched along either side of the back of the sofa, and then smiled.
“Go on then. Speakers corner is all yours,” said the Doctor, leaning against the console with his arms folded.
“Thank you, my friend.” He cleared his throat. “You’ve heard of the Nest?”
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “The place that my nephew claimed he had located.”
“Yes,” smiled the Master, smugly, “well, I can also tell-”
“- tell me that that is where Helenia is from and that’s what the nursery rhyme is all about,” interrupted the Doctor. “Yes, I know. Legend has it that there is a dimension out there were creatures known as the Swytch siphon off your regeneration energy and take it away to feed on. I know the story.”
The Master looked disappointed.
“I also know that it’s more than likely that you think you’ve found it and you want to get to it, yes?”
“That’s correct,” said the Master.
“And you have an ulterior motive for trying to locate it.”
“Not at all,” said the Master.
“Don’t lie to me.”
The Master lowered his head. “Call it a gesture. A way of thanking you for saving me. For helping me to become the man I am now.”
The Doctor laughed, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I am being honest, Doctor. You shouldn’t have to die. Not without me having some input on it.” He chuckled.
“Doctor,” said Alice, “maybe you should listen to him.”
“Maybe I should throw him off my TARDIS right now,” said the Doctor, marching up to the Master and looking down at him. “And I’d also assume that by going to this Nest I’d be absorbing some of those regeneration energies too like some kind of twisted vampire.”
“It’d help you,” said the Master. “It’d be like putting new batteries in you.”
“It’s too far, Master. Much too far.”
“Is it really?” said Alice. “Because if what you say is true those poor souls out there are just food for these Swytch things.”
“They aren’t souls,” said the Doctor, rounding on Alice. “Even if it were true, it’s just energy. Pure and simple energy.”
“Energy that has a mind of it’s own. Energy that has feelings and a consciousness,” said the Master.
“What do you mean?” queried the Doctor.
“Helenia sent me proof through. Some of your regeneration energy. Your Eighth incarnation. He’s expired now, sadly, but he was there all the same.” The Master scratched his chin and coughed.
The Doctor frowned.
Maxus piped up. “Doctor, you said there were houses there. When you dreamt of the place.”
“The point, Quinn?”
“The point is that these people-”
“They’re not people,” said the Doctor getting more and more exasperated.
“The point is that these people might very well have set up their own community. Or at least someone has.”
The Master nodded. “Helenia has been looking after them. Keeping them safe.”
“Still, the cost is too high. Even if Reikon and Caleb did go to the Nest, they never came back. I’m not willing to sacrifice people to get in there to save myself.”
The Master clapped his hands together and got up from the sofa. “I’ve got the readings from the experiment that your nephew put together that day. I am able to recreate - near enough - the same conditions and break us in.”
“I’m not going with you.”
“Well I am,” said the Master, closing in on him. “And I’ve got some of your friends with me too.”
“Ah, now that would be telling.” He smiled and walked towards the open doors leading to his TARDIS interior. He then stopped and walked back to the console. “I’m typing in coordinates, just in case you change your mind.” He smiled. “Celestia would be very happy to see you.”
One Day Later
Caroline sighed as she locked the front door. It had been a long, but very enjoyable day. The last of her and Danny’s guests had just left and Danny had gone up to put William to bed. She leant against the front door and smiled. Her life, for once, seemed so totally, utterly complete, no matter how weird it had been.
The knock on the door made her jump. She frowned, but wasn’t able to make out the person standing behind the frosted glass.
She unlocked the door quickly wondering if one of them had forgotten their phone or purse or something.
“Hi Caroline,” said the Irish woman with the long, red curls.
“Ivy,” said Caroline in surprise. “Ivy Coldstone!”
“Good to see you again, chick.”
“Who is it?” whispered Danny from up the stairs so as not to wake William.
“I think you better let me in. We need to talk,” said Ivy.
The Doctor returned to the TARDIS to find Alice standing outside the box with her arms folded.
“Why didn’t you let yourself in?” said the Doctor.
“Because you never let Tylaya have a key,” said Alice.
“Of course,” said the Doctor, going in his pocket and flicking her a key. “Here you go.”
“I don’t want it,” said Alice, letting it fall to the floor.
“What?” He unlocked the door and picked up the other key from the floor. “Why not?”
“Because you might as well take me back to Little Pebbleford now,” she said as she followed him inside. “You’re obviously not going to help yourself. You’ll be dead soon.”
“Jesus!” said Maxus, appearing at the interior door. “Are you two still on about this?”
“Maxus, did you enjoy your snooze?” said the Doctor.
He nodded. “Cleared my head a little, thanks.”
“Have you made a decision on where you want me to take you?”
Maxus shook his head. “I’ll tag along for now. If you two stop arguing, that is.”
“Try and make him see some sense,” said Alice.
“Look,” said the Doctor, sitting himself down on the sofa, “I don’t want to die. I want to live, but I’m not about to go flying into some mythical dimension on the off-chance that it exists and become some greedy vampire at the same time.”
“Right,” said Alice, nodding. “Reality check time. Stay here.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Maxus, keep him here. Don’t let him follow me.”
“Right you are,” said Maxus.
Alice frowned at the Doctor and then opened the doors, making her way back outside.
“More tea?” said Caroline, noticing that Ivy had drained her cup.
“None for me, ta,” she smiled.
Caroline nodded and then turned to look at Danny who just shrugged. The both of them had met Ivy Coldstone a long time ago on the jungle planet Theen. She had been a previous travelling companion to the Doctor and she had seemed pleasant enough, but now she was sitting here in their front room, it made Caroline realise that maybe their previous life as time travellers wasn’t completely finished.
It made Caroline’s blood run cold to think about it.
“So, how’s it going for you guys then? Getting married yet?”
“No,” said Danny and Caroline in horrified unison.
“Ah, come on,” said Ivy, “you two are made for each other.”
Caroline blushed whilst Danny looked away awkwardly.
“Maybe we should get down to why you’re here,” said Caroline. “I mean, no offence or anything, but it’s been a while since we had anything to do with the Doctor. We’re trying to lead normal lives now.”
Ivy laughed. “I tried that once.”
“Well it’s working so far,” said Danny.
“Easy, Danny Boy,” smiled Ivy. “It won’t take up much of your time.” She put her mug on the coffee table next to her and crossed her legs. “I’m looking for the Doctor actually, and my readings say he was here not too long ago.”
“Yeah he was skulking round the back. He came to say goodbye.”
Ivy nodded. “He’s dying. I know.”
“How did you even get here?” said Danny.
Ivy tapped her wrist. Attached to it was a leather strap with a device on the top. “Vortex manipulator. Allows me to travel through time and space.”
“Nice,” said Danny, trying to get a look at it.
There was a knock on the door. Caroline looked at Danny, confused, and then went to answer. When she opened the door she was surprised to find a young woman with brown hair whom she’d never seen before.
“Are you Caroline?” said the woman.
“Good,” said the woman. “My name is Alice Stokes.”
“ALICE!” shouted Ivy with glee, and the explanations began.
Next time: Does the Doctor have a choice in the matter? Coming Sunday December 14th 2014.