The Doctor sauntered nonchalantly along the sea road. His hands were in the pockets of his jacket so that his long overcoat swung behind him in what he thought was a rather cool way. And it was. The way the breeze blew his hair back completed the picture of a good looking young… ok, youngish…. man without a care in the world.

Two problems.

The only witnesses to that beautiful picture were the seagulls.

And he wasn’t, in fact, carefree.

He was on a case. He knew there was something strange going on around here and he knew it was the sort of strange that fell into his remit - defending the universe, and more often than not, this little corner of it called Earth, from that part of it that wanted to play outside the rules.

A car passed him on the lonely road. He didn’t think anything of it until it stopped a good fifty yards ahead of him and reversed. It stopped again and both doors opened. The young woman in the passenger seat extricated herself from her seatbelt first and was running towards him before the one in the driver’s seat managed to join her.

“Doctor!” she cried and he smiled as she wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him. It was a few moments before he remembered who she was.

“Araminta!” he said, recalling the pretty teenage Goth girl he had helped to escape from a mind-altering programme that had almost turned him into a data processing clerk called Dave. “Hello, how are you?”

“I’m great,” she said. “Only, nobody calls me Araminta any more.” She still wore the Goth look clothes, black with spiders-web lace, and her lips were blood red against a pale foundation and dark eyes.

The Doctor still thought she looked beautiful in her own unique, non-conforming way.

“Susan,” he said. “That’s your real name.”

“You remembered?” She was surprised. “I didn’t think you would even recognise me.”

“I like the name Susan,” he told her. He looked at the other occupant of the car. “Miss Watling… Nancy!” He greeted his other friend from that past adventure as she approached. She held out her hand to shake politely, but he reached out and drew her into a group hug with Susan/Araminta. “Good to see you, both. Is this a coincidence or are we on the same mission by any chance?”

“I just bet we’re on the same mission,” Susan exclaimed. “Doctor… we’re doing a story on the strange phenomena on the sands.”


“Come on,” Nancy said. “Let us give you a lift.” The Doctor agreed to that. Susan got into the back of the two door Renault Clio and he adjusted the passenger seat to accommodate his long legs.

“I’m working with Nancy on the paper,” Susan explained as the car moved off again. “We kept in touch after… you know, the Town Hall, and after I finished my A Levels she got me a job… junior reporter.”

“So how old are you now, Susan?” he asked out of interest.

“Nineteen,” she said.

Nineteen. The same age Rose was when he met her. He pushed the memory back down and swallowed the lump that came to his throat.

“So you’re covering this ‘strange phenomena’ story?” The Doctor said to both of them.

“Well, actually, I’m on leave and I sort of borrowed Susan to come with me on this one,” Nancy said. “I’m not sure if our local paper would be interested in this. It’s a bit… you know… sort of Twilight Zone.”

“Story of my life,” The Doctor said. “So… go on, fill me in. What do you know that I don’t?”

“Not much, I imagine,” Nancy laughed. “Nine people missing in the past week, five fishermen and four tourists. And two bodies turned up on the sands here. Both in a very strange condition.”

“By strange….”

“They had no skin left.”

“Ah.” The Doctor didn’t look as shocked by that as Nancy thought he should look.

“It’s what I heard, anyway.”

“Journalist’s sources?”


“Hmm.” The Doctor wondered if he ought to mention that on his planet only academic failures went into journalism.

Maybe not.

“I think we’re at the end of the line,” Susan noted, looking at the military cordon across the road. Nancy pulled the car to a stop. The Doctor got out and walked up to the barrier. Nancy and Susan watched him as he showed some kind of ID and chatted amiably with the soldiers. He walked back casually and got into the car.

“Drive on,” he told Nancy. “We’ve got special clearance as U.N.I.T. special advisors. The Prime Minister is a personal friend of mine, you know.”

“U.N.I.T.?” Susan asked.

“United Nations Task Force,” Nancy said. “I’ve seen their website. Are you REALLY a special advisor or was that you being really smart and clever like you were the last time we met you?”

“Oh, U.N.I.T. and I go right back,” he said. “Further than you would imagine. And your informant was on the ball, Nancy. Something IS going on here.”

“You know that because….”

“Because U.N.I.T. are here, and because I’m here! I spotted an anomalous reading in the area. Decided to have a look. But it seems like it's already a big Scooby gang mystery before I got here.”

They soon reached an inner cordon where those with clearance had parked their cars and gone on foot. Nancy pulled her car off the road and the three of them walked as casually as they could through the barrier, The Doctor flashing his ID.

“How come your ID gets us both through with you?” Susan asked.

“Psychic paper,” he answered, passing her the cheesy looking plastic wallet with a sheet of grubby paper inside. Susan looked at it and was surprised when words appeared on it.

“Susan, always trust The Doctor. He’ll never let you down.” She smiled and watched as it resolved into what looked like a REAL identification card with HER picture on.

“Wow!” she said as she gave it back to him. Then she looked ahead of her on the road. There was an ambulance waiting and as they came close to it they saw paramedics bringing a covered body up from the sands, flanked by soldiers. The soldiers and paramedics all looked disturbed.

“Another body?” Nancy wondered.

“Both of you stay here,” The Doctor said as he sprang forward. As they loaded the body into the ambulance he climbed aboard. Nobody thought to ask him who he was or what his business was.

He unzipped the black plastic bag and looked at the body. He had a strong stomach. He had seen some ghastly things in his time. But even he swallowed the bile that rose in his throat as he looked at this.

The body had no skin. Every inch of the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous layer was gone. Raw flesh suppurated and bled. He hoped the victim was dead before it was skinned. The alternative was too horrible to think about.

He took a reading with the sonic screwdriver and found the results interesting. Very interesting indeed. He fastened the body bag again and jumped out of the ambulance telling the paramedics that they could go now.

“Why didn’t you let us see?” Nancy demanded when he returned to them.

“Because that was something you didn’t need to see.”

“Doctor, really, the age of chivalry is long dead. We call it male chauvinism now. If you think I couldn’t handle it because I’m a woman….”

The Doctor took her by the arm and gently pointed her to where one of the soldiers and two of the paramedics, all male, were being sick at the side of the road. Even those who had kept the contents of their stomachs down looked unhappy.

“THOSE people are trained, experienced, USED to seeing bad things. And they couldn’t take it. Besides, I thought you were a serious investigative journalist, Nancy, not the sort of tabloid voyeur who would get a thrill out of seeing a gruesome body.”

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” she answered. “I was being silly.”

“Yes, you were. But we all learn from our mistakes. Come on…” Without another word he turned and dashed off down the road again. He stopped at the edge of the raised and reinforced dyke that prevented the high winter tides from sweeping in over what was, in this estuary area, mostly reclaimed land that lay below sea level and was always one step from being taken back by the waves. He looked out over the wide mouth of the river Ribble where it merged into the Irish Sea. Nancy and Susan caught up with him as he stood there, quietly watching.

His actions were puzzling but very interesting for the impartial observer to watch. He didn’t just look. He put his hand over his brow as if to shade his eyes. He made imaginary binoculars with his fingers and looked through them. He moved his head from side to side, closed one eye and then the other, blinked both eyes so rapidly that it brought tears to the eyes of the impartial observer. Finally, he took a pair of black-rimmed glasses out of his pocket and put them on. He looked at the scene through those for a few minutes and then put them back in his pocket. He looked around at Nancy and Susan and grinned widely.

“Well,” Susan demanded, unable to take the suspense much longer. “What IS it?”

“It’s a spaceship,” he said. “An alien spaceship. Parked across the sands.”

“But…” Nancy looked. There was nothing there.

“Yes there is,” he insisted. “Look at that bird.” He pointed to a seagull that was wheeling across the sands, maybe forty feet into the sky and some hundred yards from where they stood. Suddenly, it stopped in mid air. They distinctly heard the ‘awwkkk’ sound of a puzzled and stunned bird as it hit an invisible barrier at speed. They saw it fall from the sky to land on the wet sand below. Nancy and Susan both gasped in sympathy and watched the bird carefully for several minutes. They gave a sigh of relief when it came around and took off again after a few attempts and seemed not to be permanently hurt.

“I’m not going to say a word about Humans and misplaced sentimentality,” The Doctor said.

“I think you just did,” Nancy answered him. “But… yes, there’s something there. A…Oh dear, I am going to feel so silly saying this. A… force field.”

“A cloaking device,” Susan suggested, not caring at all about sounding silly. “It’s not Klingon is it?”

The Doctor laughed and reminded himself how much he loved the Human race in this era before they officially made first contact with extra-terrestrials, when television science fiction filled in the blanks for them.

“No,” he assured her. “It’s much more beautiful than a Klingon ship, and much, much, much bigger.”

“Wait a minute,” Nancy said next. “You can see it? How?”

“Human retinas have rods and cones. I have rods, cones and hexagons. They allow me to see things on a different optical frequency. And I see a spaceship. A HUGE spaceship. A REALLY huge spaceship.”

“What do you mean YOU have hexagons…” Nancy began.

“He’s an alien,” Susan told her.

“What?” Nancy looked at The Doctor. “No, don’t be silly, Susan. He’s Human. He’s just like the rest of us. He’s really clever, wonderful, and we owe him our sanity. But he’s Human.”

“Hold the thought about the clever and the wonderful,” The Doctor told Nancy. “Susan….”

“You ARE, aren’t you,” Susan continued. “I thought so the last time. You’re so different. Not in huge ways, but little things… you don’t blink as often as you should, and your skin is cool to the touch, and your heart is kind of strange. I felt it when I hugged you. ”

“I’ve got two of those,” he admitted. “And my normal body temperature is only 60 degrees. And I forget about the blinking sometimes. Yes, I’m an alien but I’m not… I don’t mean you any harm. I’m on your side.”

“Oh my God!” Nancy cried out. Then shriller. “Oh MY GOD! I had an alien in my car!”

“Nancy!” The Doctor looked more than a little aggrieved at her reaction. “Nancy, come on! It’s ME! You know me. I’m not a green slime thing in a Human skin…”

“How do I know that?, she demanded.

“Because I’m too thin. The green slime things only take the skins of big people. But that’s beside the point. The point is, Nancy, that I am the good guy here. Never mind how many hearts I have, or where I may or may not have come from, I’m here to help you and everyone on this planet. And anyone else who might actually need my help.”


“Nancy,” Susan said, putting her hand on her friend’s arm. “He IS The Doctor. We can trust him.”

“Of course you can,” he assured her. “Nancy… aliens are not all bad. Any more than all Humans are.”

“THESE ones are,” she protested. “They’ve killed five people.”

“So I heard,” The Doctor said. “Though I’m not so sure…” He looked out across the estuary. Several miles of sand, mud, channels and river, and beyond it the Fylde coast and in the far distance Blackpool Tower, the easiest landmark to identify.

And between all that, hovering over the sand and mud marked on the map as Horse Bank, there was a spacecraft of a size that boggled even his imagination.

It had to be at least three miles wide. It was the translucent white of fine porcelain and was a sort of mushroom shape, with a round dome and a short stalk below. The whole thing hovered about forty feet above the sand. Just about the right level to seriously confuse the seagulls.

And as far as he could see it had no windows or doors.

He was distracted from his perusal of the alien ship by the arrival of another alien ship – his own – on the back of a low-sided flatbed lorry with U.N.I.T.’s insignia on the door. He had asked them to pick it up for him when he flashed his ID at the checkpoint. He had told them it was specialised scanning equipment.

Which was true, in a way. He liked to keep the outright lies to a minimum. He was about to step up and take possession of his TARDIS when a woman ran forward from the group of U.N.I.T. personnel who stood nearby.

“Oh my WORD!” she cried. “What’s THAT doing here? Where is…. HE?”

The Doctor drew in breath and waited until she turned around. He knew he was going to have to go into some difficult explanations and he wasn’t really ready for them.

In his own universe, he and Harriet Jones fell out over her decision to order Torchwood to fire at the retreating Sycorax ship. In THIS universe, Nine was still friendly with her. He had saved the world with her blessing a couple more times and she had even gone to his wedding.

He was about to step forward and speak to her when another female gave a shriek and ran towards the lorry.

“No!” he thought. “This isn’t fair. I lead a good life. I don’t deserve this.”

He waited as the two women looked at each other then looked at the TARDIS as it was manhandled down from the lorry by the U.N.I.T. men. He winced as it landed with a crunch on the tarmac and forgot about all the other women in his life as he ran to the one female who had been there all his adult life without ever letting him down.

“No scratches,” he said to himself, running a soothing hand down the door as he reached for the key.

“Doctor?” He half-smiled as he recognised those home counties vowels pronouncing his name with both ‘o’s’ fully rounded and a distinct click to the ‘c’ in the middle.

“Yes, Sarah-Jane,” he replied, turning to the still attractive woman in her 50s who stepped nervously closer. “Yes, Sarah, it IS me.”

“Who’s me?” Harriet Jones asked. “Who are you? And…” She turned to look at Sarah Jane Smith. “Who are YOU? And what….” Nancy and Susan stepped closer, as if to remind The Doctor that they, too, were part of the equation.

“Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, please meet Sarah Jane Smith, a very fine journalist of many years standing, Nancy Watling, likewise, and Miss Susan Rawlings who probably hasn’t voted for you yet since she only came of age since the last General Election.”

“My dad did,” Susan said, a little in awe of the company she was keeping all of a sudden.

“Pleased to meet you all,” Harriet said. “But… I still don’t know who YOU are… and…”

“I’m The Doctor, Harriet. It’s a long story. And I don’t really have time to tell it right now but….” He turned to Sarah Jane. “Sarah… YOU know me better than anyone. You understand about regeneration. You’ve seen it happen. Please explain to Harriet why I look like this and not… not the man you both expected me to be, and explain to Nancy what sort of alien I am… and….” He stopped. He looked at all four of them, then he turned and went into the TARDIS.

“Well,” Sarah Jane took a deep breath and looked at Harriet and at Nancy and Susan. “You see, The Doctor… he has this ability….”

He looked at them on the viewscreen and smiled. Four women he admired for different reasons – or maybe for the same reason. Every one of them had the traits he most highly valued in any species. Courage, individuality, the guts to stand up and be counted. Harriet, for all the bitterness of his relationship with the other universe version of her, was a singular leader of her country. Sarah Jane had been an investigative journalist in the days when female journalists were supposed to do the fashion and ladies singles at Wimbledon and the problem page and leave the hard news to the men. Nancy had uncovered the highest level of corruption in her local council and not been afraid to file her copy. Susan dared to be different in a teenage world dictated by fashion magazines where the dominant colours were pastels.

Bless them all, especially Sarah Jane, who was carrying the can for him right now.

He turned from the view immediately outside the TARDIS and looked at the communications console. He examined the signal he had been receiving ever since he entered Earth’s atmosphere and zoned in on this location. It SEEMED to be an attempt at communication. And yet….

“Doctor….” He looked up as Susan stepped into the TARDIS and closed the door behind her. He watched her face as she realised where she was standing. “Oh my….” She turned and looked at the inside of the door which looked just like the inside of a police public call box door. There was the box containing the phone that wasn’t connected to any exchange at all and the two windows with six small panes in each, and the illuminated words “Police Public Call Box” in reverse. That was the size that, logically, the TARDIS SHOULD be on the inside. But the door was only a fraction of the interior. Logic had no say in dimensional relativity,

She put her hand on the door as if to run out again, then she turned around and looked at The Doctor as he stood by the console. Then she ran up the ramp from the door and hugged him.

“Ok, you’re an alien,” she said. “And there’s loads of other stuff Sarah was saying, about how you used to look totally different and all. But you’re still THE DOCTOR.”

“Well done, you understand,” he told her. “I knew you would. You’re SUSAN after all.”

She didn’t understand what THAT meant, but he became busy again at the console. Susan watched his hands flying over the keys on what seemed to her to be the weirdest looking computer in the world.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“The ‘aliens’ inside the ship are trying to communicate. But something is wrong. Something is VERY wrong. Because even if Earth monitoring stations and radar and radios are only picking up rubbish and gobbledegook, THIS is the TARDIS. It, and I, both know five billion languages and we SHOULD be able to understand. So should you. As soon as you stepped in here the background radiation should have worked on you so that this noise came through as English. But it isn’t working.”

“Your computer isn’t working?”

“My computer is working fine. But something is wrong with the transmission. The TARDIS is TRYING to lock onto the communication and make something of it, but it's struggling.” He patted the console almost as if it was a dog.

“Maybe it didn’t like being dropped by the soldiers,” she suggested, before she realised she was talking about a computer.

“She didn’t. She’s a sensitive old girl. She knows when she’s not being treated with dignity. But it would take more than a few clumsy soldiers to damage her. She just needs a bit of time to work this out.” He looked at Susan and smiled. “She must have liked you. That door should automatically lock. But she let you walk on in.”

“I just pushed the door and it opened,” she said. “That’s all right isn’t it?”

“If it’s alright by the TARDIS it's all right by me,” he told her. “Anyway….”

The TARDIS didn’t shake. Her shock absorbers were better than that. But they felt the vibration and they heard the noise of the explosion. The Doctor’s face changed in an instant from the indulgent smile he had for Susan to anger. Susan looked at him and was glad the look in his eyes right then was not for something she had done. He ran from the console, across the ramp and out of the door, yelling in a language that the TARDIS was too busy to translate. Susan followed at the same speed but without the alien profanities.

“*&$%£@#!£$%&!” he screamed as he saw a mortar shell explode noisily against the ‘cloak’ or ‘shield’ whichever it was. He turned and saw Harriet Jones still standing with Sarah and Nancy. He strode towards her and took hold of her by the shoulders.

“Tell them to stop that right now,” he demanded angrily. “Tell them to stop. And don’t let anyone else try any such thing. You won’t do that to me again.”

“Do what?” she answered, stunned by his rage. “Doctor… if it is you… I….”

“It’s ME,” he said, still fuming. “STOP the shelling.”

“I….” Harriet began again.

“Step away from the Prime Minister right now or I will shoot,” a voice ordered. The Doctor glanced around to see a man in a civilian suit but the unmistakeable bearing of a trained CPO. His handgun was trained on him. At the same time he heard the safety catches of rifles clicking off and a slow turn of his head revealed that he was surrounded by U.N.I.T. men with their weapons pointed at his head. He decided that discretion was the better part of valour and stepped away, his hands raised. One of the soldiers moved forward as if to handcuff him for his assault on the Prime Minister.

“No!” Sarah Jane exclaimed and she ran to defend him, pushing away the soldier and clinging to his arm. “No, he’s on YOUR side.” Nancy and Susan took their cue from her and ran to flank him, too.

The soldiers looked puzzled. The CPO looked nervous. Harriet stepped forward.

“Put the guns away. Don’t be silly. Norman, don’t be ridiculous. The Doctor would never harm me. Or anyone.”

“Well, if we’ve got THAT straight,” The Doctor said as the weapons were stood down. “Harriet, tell them to stop shelling. Or you and I will be falling out very fast.”

“I never told them to START shelling,” she said. “But please….” She turned to the man called Norman and told him to pass the message on to the military to cease firing.

“But you really should understand, Doctor,” she continued. “That this is a very serious situation. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

“You’re only here because your party political conference is going on in Blackpool,” Sarah Jane told her. “I came up when I heard about the bodies and the mystery. I never expected to find YOU here, Doctor. There was a time when I always HOPED you would. But you’re supposed to be RETIRED.”

“I’ll explain about that later. Meanwhile….”

“Meanwhile, we are sending a group of people to try to negotiate with the aliens,” Harriet said. “If you don’t cause any more trouble you and your friends may be allowed to observe.”

“Me! Cause trouble!” The Doctor looked indignant, but he walked with the Prime Minister to where they could view the estuary.

“So how come you got clearance as a journalist?” The Doctor asked Sarah Jane as they waited and watched several more puzzled seagulls make contact with the invisible ship.

“I still have my contacts with U.N.I.T.,” she said. “I do work for them from time to time. My press card serves as a useful front for undercover work.” She paused. “Since Harry died I’ve found myself more involved in the work. It’s something to do.…”

“Harry.…” The Doctor took a deep breath. The Sarah Jane of his universe had never married. She never actually said outright, but she seemed to have carried a brighter torch for him than he ever thought she did, and that got in the way of relationships – for which he felt a certain amount of guilt. But here in the other reality she had married Harry Sullivan, the charming and dashing young U.N.I.T. surgeon who he had dragged into several dangerous situations. “When did he.…”

“Doctor… you and Rose were at the funeral,” Sarah told him. “How could you have… Oh, I suppose the regeneration messes your head up a bit. You forgot…”

“Yes, I did,” he said. “I am terribly sorry.”

“I forgive you,” she told him. “I’ve forgiven you much worse.”

“Look,” Nancy called out. “The negotiator?”

They looked as a four man hovercraft set off across the sands towards the place where they had located the alien ship. The driver and one passenger were military. The other two were civilians in suits, not the most suitable clothing for travelling in an open topped vehicle that disturbed a fair amount of sand as it travelled.

“How do they expect to negotiate with aliens inside an invisible ship whose language they don’t understand?” Nancy asked.

“Good question,” The Doctor said. “What DO they expect to do, Harriet?”

“Make contact,” she said. “Try to find a way to communicate. Ask them to stop killing any more people. Or had you forgotten about those bodies?”

“Mmm.” The Doctor reached for his sonic screwdriver and seemed to be examining it closely. “Those bodies all went for autopsies, I presume?”

“Yes,” Harriet answered. “Obviously. Why?”

“You get any of the results back yet?”

“I don’t think so. Again, why?”

“I think you’re going to be rather surprised when you do.” He said nothing more at that point but went back to looking at the hovercraft as it neared the place where the steady rain of stunned seagulls marked the edge of the ship. The Doctor could see it, of course. He watched the hovercraft slip under the belly of the craft, which told him that the force-field didn’t extend to the ground.

Then the men disappeared. The hovercraft carried on moving of its own accord, but in an erratic path with nobody at the wheel. All four men just vanished. No flash of light, no ethereal beam. No shimmer. They just vanished.

“What!” Harriet Jones exclaimed in surprise and turned to her secretary who hovered behind her with a radio link in his ear. “What happened? Find out what happened. Where did they go?”

“Well I imagine…” The Doctor began. He looked around. Nancy and Sarah were both standing there staring out across the estuary at the empty hovercraft. But Susan….

He turned and saw that the TARDIS door was open again. And he KNEW he had closed it before.

“Susan….” The Doctor ran to the TARDIS. He was surprised enough that it had opened for her. He was even more surprised to see Susan at the console. He stepped towards her, then stopped, surprised.

“How did you do that?” he asked her.

“I didn’t,” she said. “The TARDIS did. It must have done what you said, worked out how to translate. While we were out there, watching, I started to sort of hear it in my head… the communication. Not so I could understand it, but sort of on the edge of my hearing. And I came back in here and… well… listen….”

The Doctor listened. The message he was hearing was interesting enough. And it explained a lot. But he was even more interested in Susan and how the TARDIS apparently contacted her instead of him when it was ready.

“What are you up to old girl?” he wondered. He touched the console lightly. “Are you trying to tell me something?”

“Doctor,” Harriet came into the TARDIS. Her CPO and secretary followed. Sarah Jane and Nancy came after them.

“You know, Harriet,” The Doctor said. “This is my private property. And it is polite to knock before you barge in.”

“You know, Doctor,” Harriet replied. “The correct way to address me is Madame Prime Minister. If you are going to call me Harriet, then I shall assume we ARE friends, as I always thought we were. In which case, surely you don’t object to me being here in your… your absolutely wonderful, marvellous TARDIS.”

“Whether we are friends or not depends on what you intend to DO next,” he told her. “Or what you intend to order the military to do.”

“Four more people have disappeared,” Harriet said. “I must do something. If they are prisoners then we have to impress upon the aliens that they cannot take hostages… that’s if they are hostages. They might be dead already like those other poor souls.”

“They’re not dead, they’re not being harmed,” Susan said. “The aliens are….”

But Harriet wasn’t listening to her. The secretary was relaying a message to her. She turned and looked at The Doctor. She didn’t look happy.

“I’m sorry,” she said to him. “I don’t quite know why I’m saying that. I AM the leader of this country, in command of its military and civil forces. And I certainly don’t need your permission to take any action whatsoever. But I AM sorry. I am sorry that I have to do something that you won’t like and that WILL harm our friendship.”

She turned away and left the TARDIS. Her CPO and Secretary followed. The Doctor stared at her retreating back.

“What’s she planning to do?” Sarah Jane asked. “Doctor…what is it that you won’t like?”

“Do you remember the Silurians and the Sea Devils?” he asked her.

“No,” she answered. “You’re getting me mixed up with Jo. She was with you when you dealt with those. Weren’t they the original intelligent life on Earth, long before Humans? They went into hibernation when the ice age came and when they woke they found us here.”

“And the military might of Britain destroying them,” The Doctor added. “I tried to negotiate. But they preferred to destroy. Humans… stupid. Sometimes you are all so stupid.”

“Doctor!” Susan cried out. “Do you mean she intends to order the destruction of the ship?”

“Yes,” I’m afraid it does.” He sighed.

“But she can’t!” Susan insisted. “You heard the communication. They’re not…. Nobody is….” Susan ran out of the TARDIS. Nancy and Sarah Jane followed.

“You think I ought to get a revolving door?” he asked the console, hardly expecting an answer. He sighed and switched off the still repeating communication from the alien ship and went to follow the women.

Outside there was something of a commotion, caused by the three women as they climbed down onto the sand and began to run towards the ship. He noticed that they all had mobile phones out and were using them as they ran.

“Come back,” Norman, the Prime Minister’s CPO called. “Come back, it’s not safe. The sands are dangerous.”

“What are they doing?” Harriet asked.

“Human shield,” The Doctor replied. “To stop you nuking the aliens.”

“Oh, how silly!” she responded.

“No, very clever,” The Doctor answered. “You know you can’t allow the ship to be fired on now.”

“Yes I could,” she said. “Three people’s lives aren’t more important than the safety of the whole country – maybe even the world.”

“You see,” The Doctor told her. “That’s how much you’ve changed. You used to think one life wasted wasn’t worth it. Power corrupts, Harriet. You need to take a long, hard look at yourself.”

“I.…” Harriet began to speak and gave up.

“Tell the planes to stand by, for NOW, at least,” she told her aide. “Get another hovercraft to pick up those silly people. They can’t be allowed to do this.”

“Of course they can,” The Doctor answered her. “Isn’t that the democracy people voted you in to protect?”

“Doctor….” Harriet began again, then sighed and stopped speaking. There was a look in his eyes that disturbed, even frightened her.

It frightened her because she had the feeling that her next move, if he didn’t approve of it, could lose her his friendship forever. And she strongly felt she NEEDED that friendship more than anything else in the world.

The uneasy impasse continued as they waited for the second hovercraft. After a half hour, just when Harriet snapped in annoyance at her secretary demanding to know where it was, they all heard a sound on the sands.

But it wasn’t her hovercraft. It was a sort of light-weight beach buggy. It had two passengers and it stopped near Susan, Nancy and Sarah Jane. The two male occupants got out of the buggy and stood with them, holding up a handwritten placard that The Doctor could just about see with his enhanced eye sight.

“E.T. is Welcome Here.”

Thank Spielberg for the friendly alien movie genre, The Doctor thought as the two were quickly joined by a dozen more assorted looking people who came running along the sands – neatly avoiding the security cordon across the road.

“The local UFO enthusiasts club, I’m thinking,” The Doctor said. “Alerted by Nancy, and that group there would be teenage Goths. I imagine that was who Susan called. And THAT is the BBC,” he added as a civilian helicopter flew overhead. “They would be here at Sarah’s behest. I somehow don’t think you’re going to blow up people live on TV.”

“You know,” Norman observed. “The tide comes in twice a day. They can’t stay out there forever.”

“Then we need to find a solution soon,” The Doctor answered him. “By the way, Harriet, did you get any news about those autopsies yet?”

“DID we?” she asked her secretary. He spoke quietly into his radio mike. A minute later a man approached them. He had a Navy medical corps badge along with his U.N.I.T. insignia. The Doctor thought sadly of Harry.

“You asked about the autopsies, Ma’am,” he said with the kind of respect to Harriet’s position that was studiedly lacking in The Doctor’s manner towards her.

“Yes,” she said. “Go on…”

“Well,” he continued. “None of the bodies retrieved were those of the missing fishermen. In fact, none of them were Human.”

“What?” Harriet glanced at The Doctor, who was standing within earshot with an expression she could only describe as smug. “But… then… They’re ALIENS?”

“No,” the officer answered. “Not that, either. They’re… well, it’s hard to describe. The bodies are flesh and blood… but it's like it's a copy of Human flesh and blood. But without any blood type, any DNA as we know it….”

“Facsimile clones,” The Doctor said. “Probably facsimiles of your missing people. A facsimile looks like the original, but it isn’t.”

“But those bodies were…. Well, they were bodies, and they had no skin,” Harriet pointed out. “They weren’t very GOOD facsimiles.”

“Yes, I don’t really know why that is,” The Doctor said. “I don’t know if it’s important, either. But I do know that it’s time we went and talked to the aliens. Are you ready, Harriet?”

“Ready for….”

“Coming with me to visit the neighbours. That’s if you can hold off Armageddon for an hour or so.” He looked around at the now significant crowd standing in front of the still invisible ship. There were dozens of hastily erected placards proclaiming that the crowd LOVED aliens and wanted them to stay. The Doctor smiled ironically.

“You’d better find some more hovercrafts and get ready to evacuate them if this doesn’t get sorted out before the tide comes in. But I think we’ll be done and dusted by then.”

Harriet looked at him and bit her lip. She looked at the TARDIS. She looked out to sea at the crowd of British citizens who weren’t altogether happy with her policies just now. She looked up at the BBC helicopter hovering overhead. It surely knew she was there, expecting her to make a decision.

“I always trusted you before, Doctor,” she said quietly. “I have no reason not to.”

“Ok, come on then. Storming Norman and Mr Secretary will be joining us, I presume?”

“They will.”

“Norman, keep your gun holstered and Mr Secretary keep your pen in your pocket. This is going to be a friendly, diplomatic mission and strictly off the record.”

He turned and strode off towards the TARDIS again. Harriet took that as her cue to follow and her CPO and Secretary came along behind her.

“Shut the door, Norman, there’s a good chap,” The Doctor said without looking up. “Then everyone find something to hold onto. I have to take the TARDIS through their energy field and it might be a tad bumpy.”

“A TAD bumpy?” Harriet repeated as she picked herself up from the floor, adjusting her hair and the neat row of pearls around her neck and trying to look like a self-assured leader of a country. She wondered if he had done it deliberately in order to shake her both literally and figuratively and assert his own authority on the proceedings.

Except that he already WAS very clearly in charge. She wondered WHY they needed organisations like U.N.I.T. and Torchwood when The Doctor just came along and made them both redundant.

“Because I’m not a British subject. I’m not even a citizen of this PLANET. And it needs to look after itself. But NOT by shooting everything that looks unusual.”

“But we haven’t. You act as if I’ve been responsible for something horrendous. Yes, I know about the Silurians and the Sea Devils. I’ve read the old U.N.I.T. files. But that was three decades ago. We have learnt from the mistakes of the past.”

“Have you?” He asked coldly.

Doctor… WHEN did I offend you? HOW?”

“We don’t have time for this,” he said. “We’ve got to talk to the aliens.” He walked to the door and opened it. Harriet stepped beside him.

“I AM the elected leader of this country,” she said. “I should be first.”

“Go ahead,” he told her. She hesitated and looked at him nervously.

“Doctor… I…”

“Harriet,” he said with a slightly warmer smile. He held out his arm to her. “Come on.”

They stepped out into a vast, white room - so white it almost hurt the eyes. It seemed to contain nothing at all in the way of technology, and it contained no aliens.

It did seem to contain a lot of Humans. Some of them were the original missing fishermen, several obvious tourists, and the crew of the hovercraft who had disappeared an hour ago. They were all looking curiously at the new arrivals.

“It’s Harriet Jones,” somebody said and the loudest Chinese whisper in history susurrated around the room.

“Ma’am,” one of the army officers came to her. “Are you a hostage too, or are you here to negotiate.”

“Nobody is a hostage,” The Doctor said. “You’re all here because of a simple breakdown in communications.” He glanced around at the white walls and then spoke again, apparently TO the walls.

“You can speak to me. I understand you,” he said. He paused and listened as something that might have been a form of communication came back in response. To the others it sounded like a clicking and hissing.

“Yes,” he said after a while. “Yes, I understand. You didn’t mean these people any harm. Yes, I see that they HAVE been well treated. No, you won’t be attacked again. The bombs were a mistake. This woman here is the leader of these people and she apologises unreservedly for the hurt caused to you, don’t you, Harriet.”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I apologise, absolutely. Unreservedly.” She looked at The Doctor. “Can they understand me?”

“Not they,” he told her. “It. This isn’t a ship as such, it IS the alien. We are inside it. In… well, it’s stomach, I suppose. But don’t worry. We’re not going to be eaten. It only consumes minerals. For preference sodium and silica.”

“Salt and sand? It came to the beach?”

“Quite so. Only it is a polite alien and it wanted to ask permission. Hence it took up the people you see here. They came within its transporter range underneath the belly. But it found it couldn’t communicate with them. So it created the facsimiles based on scans of the Humans and sent them to make contact. But there was a flaw in their design, or some kind of incompatibility. As soon as they were exposed to the air the facsimiles started to ‘corrode’ for want of a better word. You saw the results, of course. Not Human, not alien, and hopefully not aware of the pain of such a death for very long.”

“I see,” Harriet said. “How much sand and salt would it need? Are we talking about dredging the whole estuary or…”

“A few tons,” The Doctor told her. “No more than ordinary industry uses around these parts.”

“Are you sure of that?” Harriet asked. “Are you sure it won’t just take it all? You HAVE been wrong about this sort of thing, Doctor. Remember the Gelth. Rose told me all about that when you two were over at No. 10 for dinner once.”

“Yes, I have been wrong sometimes,” he said. “But not this time. I can feel its mind. It has no base intentions. A few tons of sand, taken when the tide turns and it’s saturated with sea water. That’s all it needs. And by the way, congratulations are in order to the environmental agencies that have cleaned this estuary up no end. Time was the sand around here would have made our friend here rather sick. And you don’t need a three mile wide alien being sick on your beaches!”

“It just wants it the once?” Harriet asked cautiously. “Just this once? It doesn’t want a long term contract?”

“Just this once. It is aware of the ecological damage caused by long term use of a single resource. It visits different planets looking for what it needs. It won’t be back here for another 10,000 years. It won’t be your job to accommodate it then.”

“Well,” Harriet said. “I can see no reason why not. Yes, of course it can take some sand. But can we take our people back?”

“Absolutely,” The Doctor replied. “Come on, you lot. In through the blue door there. You know, every time I have dealings with Earth I seem to wind up using the TARDIS as a free bus service for Humans. Back in the old days my people would have taken a VERY dim view of me misusing it in that way.”

“We could compensate you for the inconvenience, Doctor,” Harriet said. The Doctor laughed and said something under his breath that sounded like ‘That would be the day,” before he took his leave formally from the alien and returned to the TARDIS.

Sarah Jane was looking nervously at her feet. They were starting to feel damp. They were standing on sand that was beginning to become mud and in a little while would become a sea bed when the tide came in. The bold, brave gesture was starting to look a little foolhardy now.

“Do you think we ought to make a run for it?” Nancy asked as she looked out to sea at the incoming waves. “You know, this area is known for quicksands and undercurrents.”

“Look!” Susan cried out and everyone forgot that they were standing in rapidly deepening puddles as they saw the invisible alien ship become visible. They had only been able to guess up to now just how big it was, but now they gazed up at the sleek, translucent white, curving walls that gave off a soft diffused glow reminiscent of a huge pearl light bulb. There was a murmur of excitement and they heard shouts from the soldiers up on the road, and the BBC helicopter hovered closer.

The TARDIS materialised a few feet above the sand. The door opened and The Doctor reached out his hand. Sarah Jane was the first to run through the three inches of seawater and soft sand to take his hand. Nancy and Susan followed. He looked out at the other people.

“That space ship isn’t giving any more free rides,” he said. “But mine is, as long as you all leave your muddy wellies at the door as you come in.”

The alien took three hours to complete its task of gathering up sand and sea water from the Horse Bank. For those hours it was a tourist sensation and the BBC were joined by ITN, Sky news and CNN to capture the amazing phenomena. Rock FM had set up a booth and space related music was interspersed with racy accounts of what was happening. A mobile burger van was doing a roaring trade in ‘space burgers’.

The Doctor and his friends watched from the sea road. It gave him time to explain a few things he felt he ought to explain.

“So… there are two Doctors now,” Sarah Jane said. “You and MY Doctor… the one who married Rose and goes to dinner with Harriet and… and who was at the funeral.”

“Yes. Though… if I’d known, I would have been there, too. I would have liked to have paid my respects. Harry was a good man.”

“In the other universe where you came from… I was there, too.”

“Yes, only… you didn’t get married. You were a career lady, very committed to your work. I think you were happy. I got the feeling you were, mostly anyway. As much as Humans ever ARE happy.”

Sarah Jane thought about that for a while.

“I was happy in this universe with Harry,” she said. “I know that other me was spared the grief of losing him, but… that’s the difference between us and you, Doctor. Grief and loss is a part of our lives and we accept it.”

“We’re not THAT different as far as that goes, Sarah,” he told her in an unusually quiet voice. “But I’m glad you understand.”

“In your universe I did something wrong?” Harriet asked him. “That’s why you… Is there any point in me asking what it was?”

“Things happened differently here,” he told her. “The events we fell out over there never happened here. Other things happened and Nine sorted them out.”

“Nine…” Sarah laughed at the way he had explained how the two versions of himself knew each other by their reginal numbers. She had a passing fond thought for Three and Four before she spoke again. “So we will see him again?”

“He is SUPPOSED to be retired and living in the 23rd century,” The Doctor told her. “If you do see him it will be social. Supper at No. 10, birthday parties and anniversaries. You’ll see me when there’s trouble.”

“That doesn’t seem fair, somehow,” Sarah Jane said. “I think I ought to invite you to supper some time.”

“I agree,” Harriet said. “That is if we ARE friends in this universe?”

“We are,” he assured her. Then he turned his attention to the ship. The helicopters all seemed to realise at once that it was time to get out of the way. They backed off safely as the ship began to rise up, a downdraught doing fascinating things to the incoming tide, but otherwise causing no harm to the planet it was preparing to leave. The sight of a three mile wide ship rising into the sky was captured by several hundred tourist video cameras and official military cameras for U.N.I.T.’s records, and by the professional news gatherers. The Doctor smiled knowingly. He knew it would be a sensation for a week or two, and then gradually people would forget. It would be consigned to the UFO websites and the fringe people who liked that sort of thing. So would any number of pictures of the police public call box incongruously sitting in the middle of the excitement. But there were always rumours about THAT alien space ship floating around. He was used to it by now.

“Sarah,” he said when it was over and the crowds began to thin. “Did you drive up here from South Croydon?”

“No,” she answered. “I took the train.”

“Fancy a lift?” he asked. “I promise it WILL be South Croydon, not Aberdeen this time.”

“I’ll trust you this once,” she answered.

“There we are then,” he said. “Nancy, Susan, would you like to come along for the ride?”

“I DID come by car,” Nancy said. “And I should go and file my story before anyone else gets in there. You know, Doctor, one day, somebody should do an article on you. There’s a story there worth telling, I think.”

“You’d need a very big newspaper to put it in,” Sarah Jane told her. She passed Nancy a card. “Give me a call some time. I’ll tell you some stories about him that would make your hair curl.”

“Susan,” The Doctor said, turning to her. “I KNOW you fancy a spin in the TARDIS.” Susan’s face practically lit up. He reached his hand out to her as he bid goodbye to Harriet and to Nancy. “Let me give you the grand tour,” he added. “You’ve not seen it all yet.”

He showed her everything as they travelled to South Croydon. The kitchen, the bathroom, the wardrobe, the bedrooms, the martial arts dojo, the swimming pool, the cloister room, the engine room. Susan stared in astonishment at it all. Sarah Jane smiled wistfully and enjoyed reliving the past, but she was adamant that this was a short hop to South Croydon and nothing more.

“What do you think?” he asked when they returned to the console room.

“It’s amazing,” Susan said. “I love it. It’s beautiful. The TARDIS. It has everything.”

“Not quite everything,” he said. “There’s one thing it doesn’t have. It doesn’t have a Susan.”


“How about it? Susan… the TARDIS saw it in you - the potential to be more than you ever dreamed you could be. That’s why it opened the doors for you, why you understood the alien communication. I know you want to be a journalist like Sarah and Nancy, and I think you will, yet. But how about taking some time out and seeing some wonders known only to a very select few.”

“Oh, Doctor…” she breathed. “Do you mean… I can….”

“Come with me, for a little while, or a long while. Up to you. When you’re tired of travelling with me, I’ll bring you back. I’ll bring you back to your old life, and Nancy will be there to meet you. But meanwhile, the TARDIS needs a Susan. So do I. It’s what we’ve both needed for a long time. It’s what was missing for longer than I want to remember.”

“Doctor….” Susan reached out to him. She took his hand and was surprised to find that it was trembling. She didn’t quite fully understand what he was saying. But she guessed one thing. It took a lot for him to wear his heart – hearts – on his sleeve and say so very much to her.

She glanced at Sarah Jane.

“Go on,” she said. “He’s asking you He’s giving you the choice. I came with him more or less by accident. But if he had asked me, I know I couldn’t have said no. I’d have regretted it for the rest of my life.”

But Susan had already realised THAT.

“Doctor.…” She squeezed his hand. He looked down at it and smiled.

“Good luck, both of you,” Sarah Jane said as the TARDIS materialised in what she recognised as her own back garden. She hugged Susan and kissed The Doctor on the cheek, and then she turned and went out through the door. She stood by her own back door and watched as the TARDIS dematerialised again in a gust of wind and a grinding yet organic engine sound that she would never forget until the day she died.

“Good luck, and God bless,” she whispered. “Bon Voyage, Doctor and Susan.”