Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

Tea With Jackie: An Interlude

Jackie’s cooking was intergalactically famous - for being utterly inedible. In its wake, The Doctor sat on the sofa in the living room of the Tyler flat trying not to think about what his Gallifreyan digestive system was making of her lasagne. Rose was sitting on a cushion very close in front of the television, watching the DVD of James Cameron’s Titanic. The Doctor grimaced as he remembered the dark reality that film didn’t quite live up to. He could still feel the numbness of trying to survive in the sub-zero waters and the terrible aching feeling of being utterly alone amongst sudden death.

“Doctor.…” He looked up as Jackie held out a coffee mug to him.

“Thanks,” Curiously, having tasted some of the best and worst cuisine in the universe, instant coffee with powdered cream actually was something he liked the taste of. “World’s greatest dad?” He looked at the words on the brightly coloured mug. “This isn’t your late husband’s is it?”

“Oh, no,” she assured him. “It came in a job lot from the car boot. I didn’t even look which one it was. It’s ok isn’t it?”

“It’s fine… it’s just….” He paused and looked at the mug again and took a sip from it. “World’s greatest dad…. We didn’t really go in for souvenir mugs on Gallifrey…. But there was a time… a very long time ago… when somebody might have thought that applied to me.”

“You’ve been a dad?” Jackie’s surprise was evident on her face. “I didn’t know that.”

“Nobody does.” His glance at Rose indicated that by ‘nobody’ what he meant was that ROSE didn’t know. “I don’t even know why I mentioned it. I must be going soft. All this fantastic lasagne and people bringing me coffee on the sofa in front of the telly – I’m getting domestic.” He made light of it, but he knew he had let the cloak of mystery about himself fall and Jackie was not going to let him put it back up just yet.

But maybe some secrets needed to come out in the open.

“Well, if you’ve been a dad, does that mean you’ve been married? Do people from - where you said - do they get married?” Jackie settled beside him on the sofa with her coffee as she asked the question.

“Yes, they do. Our ceremonies are a bit different to Earth ones. They last twelve hours for one thing. But, yes, we do. I did once. We had a son. My wife died. I spent a long time missing her.”

“I understand,” Jackie sighed. “That I DO understand. Rose was six months old when her dad died.”

The Doctor smiled wryly.

“Yes, you DO understand. Except my son was 60 years old when my wife died of old age at 83 years old.”

Jackie nearly choked on her coffee.

“Come again?”

“I’m not Human, Jackie. I look Human. My race looks the same as humans on the outside. But inside we have two hearts, blood that contains no haemoglobin, a number of more advanced higher brain functions, extra components in our eyes and a couple of other biological differences.”

Jackie gave him a look that was just a bit TOO interested in those biological differences. “No,” he assured her quickly. “In THAT area we’re about the same.” Jackie looked away but he caught her blush and smiled. Jackie disconcerted was something to be savoured.

“Anyway, the most important difference is that we live exponentially longer than humans. I am nine hundred and forty nine and that is no more than middle aged. I was a young, idealistic, two hundred years old when I fell in love with a Human woman. My father warned me that I was setting myself up for the inevitable heartbreak. He knew because he had ALSO married a Human woman – my mother - who I barely remembered because she died when I was only a boy. But I told him I knew what I was doing. And I DID know. But two hearts sometimes overrule one head. I married my beautiful Human woman. I loved her dearly. We were happy. We were devoted to each other. Our son was a perfect child. And even at an early age we knew he would become as high placed in Gallifreyan society as I was, and my father before me. Life was as good as it gets.”

He paused and sipped coffee as he contemplated the rest of this story.

“There’s a ‘but’ here, isn’t there?” Jackie wasn’t the brightest woman in the world, but she could see something in his eyes that wasn’t a fairytale happy ever after.

“A big one,” The Doctor answered with a half smile, glad Jack wasn’t around to insert an innuendo there. “At two hundred a Gallifreyan looks about the same age as a twenty five year old human. I married a twenty-three year old human woman and if we lived down this street nobody would think anything of it. But twenty years later, I still looked thirty and she looked forty-three. Twenty years after that, she was an old woman and I was STILL a young man. Twenty years after that, she was a frail, elderly whisp of a shell of herself and I could lift her from her bed without feeling the weight of her at all. When she died … just of running out of life…. You don’t know the meaning of heartbroken until you’ve had two hearts broken at once. I missed her so much. The time we had together seemed so short and the future so long and empty.”

“God, I know how that feels,” Jackie told him. “When Pete was killed, I felt like my world had ended. If I didn’t have Rose….”

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “Yes. My son was my one reason for going on. He was a reason to be proud. I watched his progress through the Time Lord Academy and knew his mother would have been as proud as I was. He became a brilliant, acclaimed philosopher and a respected politician. A credit to our family, despite a great many who had muttered darkly about our watered DNA – if I was half human through my mother, then my son ought to have been even more so. Except it doesn’t work that way. Gallifreyan DNA overwrites any lesser DNA – I am my father’s son, born of my mother. My son was born by my wife, but MY blood ran in his veins. We were ALL pure Gallifreyan. There was no weakening of pedigree….” He said that last word so forcefully that Jackie was startled.

“The high caste families of Gallifrey mixed the political and the personal too much.” He sighed deeply as these memories came back to him. “When my son married the daughter of a rival family it was a match that was politically, intellectually and financially advantageous and approved of by all. All except one other suitor for my daughter in law. My granddaughter was only a baby – like Rose was - when my son and his wife were murdered.”

“Oh!” Jackie gasped out loud. She looked at Rose but she was still watching the film and hadn’t noticed the conversation between them. “Oh, I am sorry.” She reached out and touched his hand and he smiled at her with something like gratitude. From somebody who was not even born when the dreadful deed had happened that “I’m sorry” might sound trite, but he appreciated the simple human empathy.

“The murderer was caught and executed according to Gallifreyan law,” he went on. “Justice was done. But… for me, it was the last blow. I could no longer care about the family position in Gallifreyan society. Or the very idea of Time Lord rule. I began to question our inactivity. I hated the fact that we, with our power over time and space, sat back and let the power hungry crush the innocent. I wanted to right wrongs. I wanted to fight what was wrong in the whole universe. But it was against our law to do anything but observe. I tried to argue it was not enough. But they wouldn’t listen. I just got labelled as a political radical and lost a lot of credibility in the hierarchy.”

He paused. This was a story he had rarely told to anyone in the intervening years.

“The family name still counted for a lot, so I wasn’t deposed or discredited completely. But a lot of people I counted as friends started to act very cold. I stuck it out for a few more years, but finally, I decided I had to make a stand. I took the TARDIS and my granddaughter and I left Gallifrey – forever we thought, for what I had done meant banishment. But I was free to travel in time and space and right wrongs, free oppressed races, fight for justice. My granddaughter was my companion in all my efforts, loyal, faithful, loving – even though I was so wrapped up in my own obsessions I forgot to return her love so often. But it was a futile fight. I was Don Quixote tilting at windmills. The task was too great. The universe contained so much injustice. I had no more than scratched the surface. We eventually found our way to Earth, and she liked the idea of being ‘normal’ – Earth normal, attending a school, even though there was NOTHING they could teach her, listening to pop music, flirting with boys. So we stayed on Earth and I let my bitterness, my rage against the whole imperfect universe fester. It made me pretty unpleasant company for a young girl. But she never wavered in her love for her crotchety old grandfather. And she had faith in what I was doing even when I lost it.”

“So where is she now?” Jackie asked. “Is she dead, too?”

“No. From THIS present she isn’t born yet. She followed in her granddad’s footsteps only too well. SHE fell in love with a human man – and stayed on Earth in the twenty-second century – she’s about two hundred years ahead of us here.”

Jackie tried and failed to grasp the fourth dimension in personal relationships. But one thing she did understand.

“You could see her if you wanted? Your TARDIS can go anywhere.”

“Yes. I could.”

“But you haven’t….”

“She has her life. I’m just her grandfather. She doesn’t need me.”

“On Earth we call that cutting off your nose to spite your face,”

“And with a nose like mine.…” The Doctor smiled despite himself.

“You said it.” There was a silence for a while, broken only by Leonardo de Caprio’s struggles with a locked stairwell on a sinking ship that made The Doctor feel glad to have his sonic screwdriver in his pocket.

“You never thought of remarrying?” Jackie broke the silence, and broke down yet another of the emotional walls he had put around his hearts long ago. “I know it’s none of my business. But I never planned to be a single parent. If I could have found a bloke who was interested in me with a kid in tow…. Didn’t you ever.…”

“No. I never wanted to go through that again. I have had friends... companions… people who have shared my travels with me as Rose has. I cared for them deeply, but not so deeply that it would tear me apart if I lost one of them. I kept them at a distance.”

“How old did you say you were?” Jackie asked.

“Nine hundred and forty-nine.”

“And you lost your wife when you were….”

“Two hundred and sixty-nine,” The Doctor said.

“That’s.…” She tried to calculate those empty years but her maths was not up to it. “That’s a long time to be that alone.” Jackie paused in thought. “Intergalactic space traveller is not one of the ambitions I had for Rose when she was growing up. One ambition I DID have was that she would meet a good man who would take care of her. One who would love her all her life, till the day she died, and never look at a younger model.” Jackie paused again, wondering if she was making herself clear enough.

Yes, she seemed to be.

“Jackie….” The Doctor began. “I….”

“What I’m saying is,” Jackie cut in quickly. “You’re not what I ever imagined for her. But she could do worse. And so could you.”

“I’ve never,…” The Doctor began again as the startling idea played havoc with his superior brain functions. “We’re not.….”

“I know,” Jackie said. “But maybe you shouldn’t shut out the option. That’s what I’m saying.”

He looked at her. Higher brain functions or not, he had no answer to her, but maybe he didn’t need one. She pulled a tissue from a box by the sofa. “Before Rose sees you,” she said, and reached to wipe the tear that had escaped down his cheek despite his efforts not to show his feelings.

“You know what,” she said. “I think you ought to take Rose to see your granddaughter. Family should stick together.”

“What was going on between you and my mum back there?” Rose demanded as they set off back to the TARDIS. “Was she trying to cop off with you?

“No, of course not.”

“I wouldn’t put it past her. She is still pretty, young looking and I know she flirts with my boyfriends….”

“Rose…” The Doctor stood still suddenly. She stopped and looked at him. “Rose… I’m NOT your boyfriend…”

“No,” she replied. “You’re much more than that to me. Boyfriends come and go. But you’re… you’re forever.”

“I can live with that. No, your mum wasn’t trying to “cop off” with me. Your mum - who cares about you a lot - your mum and I had a long talk that made me realise a few things about myself, and about what I ought to do.”

“You don’t even like my mum.”

“That’s not true. I like her very much. And I think maybe she’s coming around to me a bit.”

“So what did you talk about?”

“Family,” The Doctor said.

“Family?” Rose questioned suspiciously. “Sounds domestic. You don’t DO domestic.”

“I did once.” They reached the TARDIS and he took out the key, looking for a moment at the symbol on the fob. It was the constellation in which Gallifrey was before it was destroyed in the Time War. “That’s why… that’s why I need to tell you a lot more about me. You need to understand some enormous things that might frighten you. And then… if you understand those things… and you still want me to be your boyfriend…. Well, then at least you will understand what a big thing that would be. And maybe….”

“Doctor?” Rose only half understood the reason for this strange mood of his. She knew he was trying to tell her something that mattered a very great deal. She wasn’t quite sure what, yet. But she had hopes.

“I think when we get back to 2007 we’ll go to supper with an old friend of mine who cooks better than Jackie,” he said with a smile she couldn’t begin to interpret.