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

Jo Grant Jones was sifting through the crumbling earth that had been dug out of an exploratory trench in what they were almost sure was another pre-Christian burial site. With a new motorway development about to bulldoze over the whole area, time was of the essence, but this was a job that needed patience and concentration.

Concentration was definitely disrupted a moment later when a sudden inrush of wind caught the soil in her sifter and blew it in her face. As she cleaned herself off she heard a sound that had once been as familiar as Clifford’s car starting in the morning. She turned around, unable to believe her eyes, as the TARDIS materialised at the edge of the dig site. She ran towards it then stopped, suddenly uncertain. After all these years….

She was startled when the door opened and a young girl of twenty or so emerged, followed by a fortyish woman. The next to emerge was her friend, Sarah Jane, who like her was in her mid fifties now. The last occupant of the impossible blue box had to be The Doctor, though the slim forty-something man in the leather jacket and close cropped black hair looked so unlike the silver haired scientist and gadget wizard who was HER Doctor.

She ran to him, stopping a few feet away. “Doctor? Is it you? Is it REALLY you?”

“It’s really me,” he said with a smile as he hugged Jo tenderly. “You see, Ace, THIS is how you greet an old friend, not with a crack on the bonce.”

“So I see,” Ace grinned.

“I thought Sarah Jane was coming by ordinary transport,” Jo said as she brought them to the archaeological camp site, a rather well organised tent village that she proudly showed them around, pointing out the shower unit and toilets and also a communal mess hall and even a medical tent. In the mess she organised coffee for them all.

“We decided to take the scenic route,” Sarah said. “Cumbria, the Omega Galaxy and a slingshot around the moons of Jupiter.”

“Will you lot STOP disparaging my beautiful TARDIS,” the Doctor protested. “At least nobody ever got seasick travelling with me.”

“Speak for yourself,” Rose said. “That lifeboat was horrible.”

“Anyway, Jo,” the Doctor continued. “Apparently there is some sort of mystery around here.”

“Yes,” she said. “Well, as Sarah might have told you, the Irish Government are building a motorway through this area – as you can see it runs quite close to the Hill of Tara and even though that is in no danger several smaller sites of archaeological interest are in its path. We have been given a chance to excavate the sites, but we’re working against time. That much is public knowledge, of course. But then there is the curse.…”

“Curse?” The Doctor looked and sounded sceptical. “Jo! This is Ireland. You’re a British archaeological dig. The locals are having a laugh at your expense. I bet you first heard about this curse at the pub.”

“Yes, we did,” Jo said. “But only AFTER three members of the team and one local disappeared. And yesterday one of the bodies – the local man - turned up….”

“Dead?” Rose asked.

“Bodies tend to be,” Jo answered shortly. “But this one was deader than dead. It was completely bloodless like a dried out pine cone.”


Rose couldn’t help noticing how the Doctor sat up, suddenly alert at this news.

“Ex everything.”

“Where is the body?” The Doctor asked.

“At the local hospital. The authorities want to keep it quiet. The state of the body… they don’t want any more rumours starting up. They’re not letting anyone near.”

“Hospital it is, then,” the Doctor decided. He reached in his pocket for the TARDIS key. Sarah made an impatient noise. “What?”

“It’s two miles that way by car.” Jo reached in her pocket for a more normal looking set of car keys. “Take my Land-rover.”

“I can’t drive,” the Doctor said.

“Oh come on!” Ace took the key from Jo. “I learnt to drive when I was twelve.”

“Yes, but did you ever get a licence?” The Doctor asked.

“Did you ever get a licence for the TARDIS?” Ace responded. “Come on, stop messing about.”

“I’m finishing my coffee,” The Doctor said, draining the dregs from his cup. He got up and turned to Rose. “Coming?”

“Actually, I think I’ll hang out around here,” Rose answered. “Examining exsanguinated bodies isn’t my thing.”

As Ace and the Doctor went to find Jo’s Land-rover, the three remaining companions went the other way. Jo wanted Rose and Sarah to see the archaeological site properly.

“It’s really quite exciting,” she explained. “We found three layers of ancient society on top of each other.” She pointed to three apparently identical strata of soil in the excavated pit. “At the very bottom is a Ring Fort, maybe 3,000 years old. Above that, we found a pagan burial site with about fifty bodies in it, all apparently warriors who died in a battle, all with their grave goods intact. That dated from about the first century AD. And above that, we found an early Christian tomb with a hundred bodies, dated from about the tenth century. The same site has been used for the same purpose by pagan and Christian.”

“The Doctor DOES drive,” Sarah said, out of the blue. “He did when I knew him.” Jo looked at her.

“Hang on… You’re right.” Jo agreed. “What’s he playing at?”

“Maybe he forgot,” Rose suggested. “He does have a heck of a lot of things to remember.”

“Or maybe he’s just playing silly beggers with us as usual,” Sarah said. “When you know him like I do you’ll know he can get up to anything and tell a bare-faced lie about it with no shame.”

“I DO know him as well as you do,” Rose said, slightly annoyed. “Better maybe. It’s been ages since you were with him. He’s MY Doctor now. I understand him perfectly well.”

“Hey… I….” Sarah realised she had touched a nerve with Rose. “I didn’t mean….”

“We know he is YOUR Doctor now,” Jo told her. “And that’s fine, you know. We’re not… I’m not jealous. I am glad he has somebody to look after him. He may be a Time Lord and so clever and strong and a right know it all, but he still needs somebody to take care of him - to care for him. I’m glad he has you.”

“Me too,” Sarah said. “Although… when Ace decked him and you were at his side first… holding him… crying because you thought he was really hurt…. It was like seeing myself twenty years ago through somebody else’s eyes. That gave me a kick. It really did. But like Jo said, I’m glad you’re there for him.”

“Oh.” Rose looked at the two women and shook her head. “It’s not that. I think… I am jealous of you two. You knew him before… before.…”

“Before he became sad,” Jo said. “He was already a cranky, bad tempered old sod at times. Nothing has changed there. But now he’s sad. Underneath everything, he is holding something in that hurts him.”

“Oh, I know about that,” Rose said. “Didn’t you hear? His planet was destroyed.”

“Gallifrey?” Sarah gasped in shock.

“Yes. There was a war. The planet burned up. He was the only one who escaped.”

“Oh, my!” Jo exclaimed. “That’s awful.”

“He hated Gallifrey,” Sarah remembered. “He always talked about it as if it was the last place in the universe he wanted to be. But still.…”

“It was his home,” Rose said. “And he saw it burn. Everything… everyone… gone. That had to hurt. But he never… he doesn’t…. He keeps it all inside of him.”

“That’s not being a Time Lord,” Sarah told her. “That’s being a man. Harry is like that about his work. When he’s lost a patient no matter how hard he tried….”

“Yes, you have to remember that,” Jo said. “Time Lord he may be, two hearts, able to repair a cracked skull in minutes, but he is, above all, a MAN.”

“Oh, I know that, too.” Rose smiled a smile that the two older women recognised at once.

“Oh my!” Sarah murmured.

“She’s in love with him,” Jo exclaimed.

“He’s in love with her,” Sarah added.

“What?” Rose looked at Sarah. “Do you think so?”

“Yes.” Sarah said. “I thought so yesterday. The way he looks at you. I would have given ANYTHING for him to look at me that way. He loved me as a friend. Nothing more. But you….”

“Oh, Rose!” Jo hugged her. “I am so glad. It’s exactly what he needs. Maybe he’s ALWAYS needed it. Just… just promise to be true to him. Don’t let him down. Don’t break his hearts.”

“Don’t let him break your heart, either,” Sarah warned. “Don’t let him push you away. He DOES love you. He has to admit it. Make him tell you how he feels.”

“I will,” she said. “I intend to… but…. Agghghh.” She looked down at the trench beside them. There was a body there, and it didn’t come from the first century AD, although it couldn’t have been much worse if it did. The body was dried out like an Egyptian mummy without its wrappings.


Desiccated was a closer description.

“It’s Mike Hayes!” Jo gasped. “One of the team who disappeared. I recognise his clothes… But what on Earth could do that?”

“Nothing on Earth could do that.” The three women turned to see Harry standing there. Sarah ran to him and he hugged her. “U.N.I.T. have been called in. The local Irish section obviously, but I insisted on being attached as medical officer.” He dropped down into the trench and bent over the body. “Every last drop of fluid has been drained from this body. I don’t know what did it, but it is NOTHING natural to our planet.”

“Excellent diagnosis, Doctor Sullivan,” The Doctor said, coming onto the scene just moments behind Harry. Rose turned and ran to him. Sarah and Jo nodded to each other in shared understanding as he put his arms around her and kissed her on the forehead. “Your U.N.I.T. lot have the hospital morgue locked down,” he told Harry. “Even psychic paper won’t get me in. But we have another specimen here anyway. Get it down to the camp and we can examine it properly.”

“It!” Jo looked at him in horror. “Doctor! That ‘specimen’ was a friend of mine.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But if I’m right - and you know I am, because I’m never wrong - everyone here is in danger. Making sure nobody else is killed comes before tears for one beyond our help.”

“The village has been sealed off,” Harry added. “They think it’s some kind of plague. They have been trying to keep a lid on it, but there have been others. Eight in all, local farmers mostly. People not missed for days on end.”

“It’s not a plague,” The Doctor told him. “The village should be evacuated. So should the next one. The less people there are for these things to feed upon….”

“Things?” Rose looked at the corpse that Harry and one of the people from the dig were wrapping in a tarpaulin for transfer back to the camp. “Feeding?”

The Doctor said nothing more as they made their way to the Camp. At the medical tent, U.N.I.T. people were bringing in power generators and equipment. Near to them was a man who had ‘government minister’ practically written all over him, and a priest. Both seemed to be arguing with Clifford, Jo’s husband and head of the dig site.

“Oh, what now?” The Doctor groaned impatiently as he marched right up to them. “Hello, Cliff, good to see you again. And who might you be?” He stared at the government minister who stopped in mid-bluster.

“I’m taking charge of things here,” the man said.

“No, you’re not. I’m in charge.” The Doctor answered and nobody who knew him doubted that. “So who are you?”

“I am Diarmuid Ó Múireadach. I am Minister for Transport. I am here to find out why there have been so many deaths and disappearances associated with the motorway project.”

“No you’re not. Mícháel Ó Loinsigh is Minister for Transport.” The Minister was surprised. Not only did the doctor know the names of the Cabinet of the Irish Government, but he could pronounce their names fluently. Rose, Ace, Sarah and Jo just grinned at each other, enjoying the Doctor in full High Gallifreyan autocrat mode. “You are from an unnamed and secret ministry of the Irish Government who are brought into action when the protocols all U.N.I.T. member countries observe are breached. You are here because there is an alien incursion into your country.”

“I….” the Minister began. The Doctor turned the full force of his hypnotic stare on him. Rose almost felt sorry for him. The Doctor in full stare mode withered the willpower.

“Go back to Dublin,” he told him forcefully. “And tell your government that the alien incursion is being dealt with by people who know what they are doing. And then tell the REAL Minister of Transport that even if he has to build the world’s biggest bridge and divert the motorway through Lancashire, it does NOT come this way. You have no idea what you have awoken beneath this soil. And you have no idea how important THAT hill is to the future existence of this world. Now go away. You are no use to me here.” The man blinked once then turned and did exactly as The Doctor said.

“That’s a neat trick,” Clifford said. The Doctor turned to the priest.

“And what can you do to help in this situation?” Rose thought he seemed a little less impatient with the Priest, but only just a little. As he waited for a response he ushered Harry and Clifford into the medical tent with the body. Clifford was the head of the archaeological investigation, Harry was a senior naval surgeon, but somehow both had become subordinates the moment the Doctor said “I’m in charge.” Now they did what he wanted without even having to ask. The body was laid on the examination table.

“I’m here to bless this camp and drive out the evil spirits awoken by the disturbance of an ancient grave site,” the Priest said. “And… perhaps I can say a prayer for the soul of that poor man.”

“His soul is long gone,” The Doctor said. “But you might as well try.” He pulled back the tarpaulin to reveal the desiccated husk of what had been a man. The Priest’s face blanched. “Carry on,” the Doctor told him.

The priest bent over the body and went through the motions of administering the Last Rites, but it was clearly useless. Even he knew it. Harry moved him gently aside in order to conduct the post-mortem. They all watched with fascinated horror as Harry opened up the chest of the very late Mike Hayes to find every single organ as dried out as the outer body had been.

“But… Professor….” Ace asked. “What IS going on here? What is the thing with the hill and what attacked these people?”

“The Hill is nothing to do with the attacks.” The Doctor said. “It shouldn’t be messed with because a great power lies beneath it – a power meant for good - but which could very easily be used for evil.” He paused for a moment. “Do any of you know what the Hill of Tara actually is?

“It is the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland,” Jo said.

“Yes, it was that in Pagan times,” the priest added. “It may also be an ancient burial place. Which is why many people believe it should not be tampered with.”

“Oh, it’s that all right,” the Doctor said. He moved outside now, and the rest of the group, having no instructions yet, and curious to know what was going on, followed. He stood by the main archaeological trench and looked at the round hill not two miles away. It was the object of folklore and myth for thousands of years and at the moment the object of an unknown fear. “And I fully agree about it not being tampered with.” He paused a moment before telling the story.

“In what your historians call the sixth century BC, a ship foundered off the Irish coast. Among the passengers who made it safely to shore were three strangers from the Far East, a sage, named Ollamh Fodhla, his secretary, Simon Bruach, and a Babylonian Princess, Tamar Tephi, who was a descendent of King David of Israel. They brought with them three treasures; King David's harp, a large rough stone that came to be known as the Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny, but was originally the stone that Jacob lay his head upon - Jacob's pillow or pillar; and a chest whose contents nobody was allowed to see, but which was believed to be the remains of the Ark of the Covenant. All these treasures were brought to the Hall of Tara when Tamar Tephi was married to the High King of Ireland, Eochaidh. When they were married, it is said that the harp played itself and the stone spoke, declaring the High King and his new Queen to be of true royal blood. From this the Irish have the legend of the Tara Harp and it is the reason why a harp is the symbol on their official crest. The Stone of Destiny is now in a hidden location in Scotland and the English have a fake they think is the real thing in London under the coronation seat of their monarchs. But the Ark of the Covenant is under the Hill of Tara in the tomb of Tamar Tephi.”

“The Ark of the Covenant?” Jo said. “The box containing the tablets on which the ten commandments were written?”


“That’s here… in Ireland?” Sarah asked.


“Heavens above!” the priest exclaimed.


“Indiana Jones was way off then,” Rose said. The Doctor smiled at her. In a roundabout way she had got to the core of it.

“Yes, he was. And his outfits were naff too.” Sarah Jane giggled at that and said something under her breath about the pot calling the kettle. “The film makers were right about one thing, though. Remember the bright light coming from the Ark. They called it a transistor for talking to God. That bit was wrong. The contents of the Ark weren’t stone tablets, or anything to do with your God, Father. The Ark contains a fragment of a star called the Eye of Harmony, whose pieces were scattered across the universe in a great cataclysm a billion years ago. They became objects of worship all over the universe in different cultures because anyone exposed to them either lived or died according to whether they were good or bad.”

“Wow!” Rose said softly.

“Sir!” the priest interjected. “I don’t know what you mean by “Your God.” I take it you do not believe.…”

“Oh I believe. I’ve never actually met your God, but I did bump into his Son once. Great guy, a bit intense…”

“Sir!” The priest stared at the Doctor, wondering if he had just heard something utterly blasphemous or utterly profound.

“Father,” the Doctor said kindly, “Believe me, you are out of your league here. This is beyond your religion.”

“I didn’t think anything was beyond God,” the priest said. “If what you say is true… if one of the greatest holy relics of all time lies not more than a few miles from where we are….”

“It does, and it stays there,” the Doctor insisted. “Humans are not all evil or all good – you’re not angels and devils. I am glad to say that most of you are a little of both. The best of you have your vices. The worst of you have some element of good. And that’s one reason why I love humanity. Because pure good and pure evil are a bloody nuisance most of the time. And something that tries to judge you on those criteria must stay right where it is, forever. But anyway, it has nothing to do with what is happening now. What you have here is a plain case of vampyrism.”

Again the Doctor was on the move, jumping down into the pit and examining the soil at different levels with his sonic screwdriver.

“What?” This time it was Sarah who had the cultural reference to hand. “Like Dracula?”

“Dracula was a fictional character invented by a nineteenth century Dubliner who needed to get out in the fresh air more often. Vampyres are an alien race who scavenge the universe sucking their victims dry. When they find a rich harvest on a well populated planet they feast until the population is near depleted, then they hibernate, sometimes for five hundred – even a thousand - years before awakening to feast again. That’s why you have the two grave sites on top of each other. Victims in mass graves. There was a nest of Vampyres here. The motorway builders, or your archaeological dig, disturbed the nest. And now they are feeding.”

“What can we do?” Clifford asked the fundamental question.

“You can….” The Doctor began to speak, then stopped. His eyes, which weren’t partially blinded by the direct sunlight as Humans would be, saw something streaking through the sky, growing rapidly bigger. “Look out!” As he yelled his warning he grabbed the nearest two people and pulled them down into the pit. Sarah and Jo both yelped in pain as they slithered down the loose soil. The Doctor meanwhile was scrambling out of the pit. But it was too late. The three Vampyres were upon them.

Contrary to anything Bram Stoker imagined, they were not Human, or even humanoid. They looked more like taloned and fanged dogs with scaly skin and leathery wings. Before he could do anything two of the creatures had grabbed Clifford and the Priest and were rising up into the sky. The third had Rose.

“No!” The Doctor screamed and raced towards the creature. Ace, at the same time, raised her baseball bat and hit it around the head. She got in two full swings before the Doctor – there was no other word for it – zapped the creature between the eyes with a beam of pure light from the sonic screwdriver. The thing howled in fury and pain and managed to fly a few feet up in the air before it evaporated into dust before their eyes. Rose fell like a stone, but the Doctor was there. He caught her in his arms.

“Rose! My Rose!” He cried out as he saw her pale face and felt her blood pouring from a gaping hole torn in her neck. “Oh no, no… no.…” She already felt weightless, as if her body was an empty husk.

The Doctor ran to the medical tent, clutching Rose tight in his arms. “Help me,” he yelled to Harry who tried to take her from him. “No, I’ll deal with her. You find what you need to do a blood transfusion now.”

“I can’t do that,” Harry said. “We don’t have any blood units here. And besides, it’s too late. Look at her. She’s lost too much blood. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t tell me it’s too late. A transfusion can save her if you stop talking and move.”

Though he knew it was useless, Harry was already setting up what was needed from the equipment delivered by U.N.I.T. a few hours ago. “But we don’t even know her blood type.”

“It doesn’t matter,” the Doctor said, laying Rose down on the examination table and pulling off his jacket, trying not to look at the thick, sticky gore of blood that covered it. “You’re going to give her my blood.”

“You’re an alien. Your blood is less likely to be a match than anyone,” Harry said.

“On the contrary,” The Doctor said. “My blood has no type. It matches anyone’s. And it’s what she needs to save her life. Now stop blathering and get on with it.” The Doctor caressed Rose’s hair gently and whispered to her. “You’re going to live, Rose. You have to. I promised your mum I would look after you till the day you died. But I meant that to be a long time away.”

Harry swabbed the Doctor’s arm and inserted a needle attached to a thin tube. He inserted the other end into Rose’s arm and fastened both down with surgical tape. “Stand up,” he said. “We need to let gravity work.” The Doctor did as he said. The blood flowed from his arm, down the tube, into Rose’s arm. Almost immediately she began to look better. Her face, deadly pale, began to take on a tinge of health and The Doctor gasped with relief when he heard her take a deep, long breath as she fought for consciousness. Harry held her arm still while he timed the transfusion. “That’s enough”, he said after a while.

“A little more,” the Doctor said. “She needs it.”

“So do you,” Harry said. “Alien or no alien, you can’t live without blood either.” He stopped the transfusion.

“Take another pint,” the Doctor said, “I can spare it. My body is capable of restoring the blood in a few minutes. I’m an alien, Harry. Don’t forget that.”


“Just do it,” The Doctor insisted.

Reluctantly, Harry did as he said and siphoned into a sterile container a pint of the Doctor’s curiously light orange coloured blood that was devoid of the red corpuscles of Human blood. “All right,” the Doctor said as he rubbed his arm. Repairing a small incision into his flesh like that was an easy job for his regenerative cells, but it itched like hell afterwards. He turned to look at Rose. He watched the ugly wound on her neck vanish. It was as he hoped. Once his blood circulated through her body it would repair even the bite of the Vampyre. From a fretful near coma she slipped into ordinary sleep that, along with his strong blood, would restore her to full health in a short while. He turned from her and began to instruct Harry in how to make a serum from his blood. “When you have it, inoculate every one in the camp, and in the village, too.”

“What does it do?” Harry asked.

“It will make them very unpalatable to the Vampyre – you’ve heard of food disagreeing with people. Well, Time Lord blood really disagrees with them.”

“You know that?” Harry asked and wished he hadn’t.

“They tried once before,” he said. “They didn’t like the taste of me at all.”

“Doctor?” He turned around and Rose was sitting up. She looked, if anything, healthier than ever. “What happened? Why am I here?”

“You fell when we were attacked by the Vampyre” he said. “Bumped your head.”

“So why does my throat hurt?” she asked.

“Never mind,” he said. “Come on, I can’t hang about here teaching Harry basic biology. We need to catch some Vampyres.” She jumped down off the table as spryly as any healthy twenty-year old. Even the Doctor was a little startled at HOW well she was. She seemed unaware of the trauma, for which he was thankful. He just hoped she didn’t notice that her T. shirt was still covered in dried blood.

Sarah and Jo both rushed at him as he came out of the medical tent. They both stared in amazement at Rose as she followed him.

“No time for chin-wagging,” he said briskly. “One Vampyre is history. Two got away - with Clifford and the Priest.” He looked at Jo and put a hand on her shoulder. “They take one to feed on and one to store for later – as live food. Either Cliff or the priest is already dead. I’m sorry. If I get going now there is a 50-50 chance. If I hang about it’s no chance. Sarah, Jo, I want you to help Harry. He has a job to do in the village. Ace…” He looked at his last companion but one. Something of the sixteen year old hellraiser seemed to have emerged from the forty year old housemistress. And it had nothing to do with the magazine belt, pocket full of grenades, the P-90 assault machine gun and the hand held rocket launcher she had accessorised her outfit with. “Ace… lose the rocket launcher and go and see Harry first. He needs to give you an inoculation. Then you can come with me. Rose….” He headed for Jo’s Land-rover. “Get in,” he said to her and to Ace as she came hurrying back, rubbing her shoulder where she had been given a shot of the serum made from the Doctor’s alien blood.

“Wait a minute,” Rose said, as he started up the Land-rover. “You CAN drive.” Ace and her mini armoury was in the back seat. Rose was at his side.

“Oh yes, so I can.” The Doctor flashed her one of his inscrutable smiles. He passed her the sonic screwdriver. “I think I know where we’re going, but just in case, set it to Omicron Zeta.” He knew perfectly well that the Greek alphabet was not taught in your average North London comprehensive school, but she set the sonic screwdriver exactly right without needing any further explanation.

It wouldn’t last more than a day before her own blood thinned out his, but for a while she had at least some of the mental and physical capabilities of a Time Lord. He wished there was a permanent way. He was pretty sure there was one, but Gallifreyan scientists had never looked hard at the genetic compatibility of Human and Time Lord. They preferred, against the living evidence of individuals like himself, born of a Human mother, to deny that it was even possible. Then he remembered with an even deeper pang of sorrow that there were no Gallifreyan scientists any more, no High Council issuing their imperious commands.

He swallowed deeply, choking back the emotions that had crept unbidden through the chinks in his mental armour that had taken enough of a battering just recently. He turned his attention to the sonic screwdriver as it hummed and vibrated slightly in Rose’s hands. “Hold it up a bit,” he said and as she did so he read the co-ordinates it was picking up.

“Alien DNA dead ahead. Buckle up both of you. We’re taking the off road short cut.” Rose and Ace barely had time to obey before he swung the Land-rover sharply left through the open gate of a field and put his foot down on the accelerator. The Land-rover bumped across the field and the Doctor simply drove straight through the rickety wooden gate that closed off the other end then floored it as, against all expectations even for an all terrain vehicle, it flew over the drainage ditch on the other side and carried on with only a minor complaint from the back axle.

It was a long time since he had driven, he thought with a wry smile. And it was true he had never seen the inside of a testing centre. Nor had the licensing office at Swansea had never had to write back and ask for his full name – a tricky question at the best of times. But he COULD drive. He used to drive a lot. A long time back, when Jo was a bit older than Rose was now, the Time Lords had made Earth his prison by the simple device of disabling the TARDIS’s space travel circuits. That was the least physically painful part of their punishment for his rebellion against their non-interference statutes. He had driven a lot, then, because they had made his TARDIS useless for most purposes.

Again, there was a pang of sorrow even for the most arrogant features of Time Lord society when he realised that society had burned up as his planet died a terrible death. This time Rose was the distraction from those thoughts. Her question was hardly relevant to the life and death chase they were on, but it WAS very much the distraction he needed.

“Doctor, tell me something,” she said. “The reason you brought me here with all the others - Sarah, Jo, Ace - Are you trying to soften me up to dump me off like you did them?”

“I did not ‘dump them off,’” he protested. “They all left me because they wanted a normal life again. It can get tedious going around the universe righting wrongs. Sometimes a bit of domestic can feel like a nice change. Jo - she fell in love with Clifford while we were fighting giant radioactive slugs in a Welsh coalmine. Sarah you know about - she married Harry and settled in suburbia. Ace….” He glanced at her in the rear view mirror. “Ace hated Earth and wanted to travel the universe, but even she realised, eventually, that home is where the heart is.”

“So I tell myself,” Ace said as she lovingly adjusted the rocket launcher she had brought along despite the Doctor’s injunction. “No, he’s right. I left of my own accord. Honest.”

“See. And as for you - if you tire of my company next week, I’ll take you home to your old life – Jackie, Mickey, chips and beans and everything that is normal life to you. And I’ll wish you all the best. I’ll mean it, too, because I wouldn’t wish anything else for you. But if you stay - you can stay forever - or as long as forever is for a Human. I’ll do my best to look after you, and look after myself, too, because I’d feel guilty about getting myself killed and leaving you stranded in the Omega Galaxy. But if you choose to stay with me till you’re an old lady of eighty-three I would still want you. You’ll still be my Rose and I’ll want you with me.”

“That’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me,” she said. She smiled at him. He smiled back. He wondered if it really could be. ‘Take care of her, never look for a younger model.’ He could do that. No problem. If it was what she wanted. He hoped it was, because he wasn’t sure he COULD give her up to chips and beans and normality.

He glanced at the readings on the sonic screwdriver again as Rose held it up like a divining rod. As he thought, they were on a heading straight for the Hill of Tara. There were, he knew, by-laws against driving on the hill. But time was of the essence, and though he pretended otherwise, replacing almost three-quarters of his blood supply in the past half hour had sapped his strength. The further he could get them under motor power the better.

“Doctor!” Ace’s scream pierced his skull nearly as painfully as her baseball bat attack. He jammed the brake and the Land-Rover slewed to a stop at a right angle to its original direction. He had released his seatbelt and twisted around just as the roof of the vehicle was ripped right off. The Vampyre shut out the sunlight as it hovered ready to pluck them out of their seats. He threw himself over Rose, determined she would not be the victim a second time. In the same moment he saw Ace release her seatbelt, kick the back side door out, dive out into a forward roll, come up into a kneeling position and fire the rocket launcher. The Vampyre rose rapidly, the missile lodged in what passed for a stomach. It was about thirty feet in the air when the missile exploded.

“I’m glad I made you bring that rocket launcher,” the Doctor said as he helped Rose out of the wreckage of the Land-Rover. Ace tossed aside the one use rocket launcher and locked and loaded the P-90. “I don’t know which of you was worse,” he sighed. “You with your projectile weapons or Leela….”

“Another of your harem?” Rose asked.

“Oh, Leela!” The Doctor smiled. “Xena, Warrior Princess with a death fixation. It took me a long time to teach her that there are better ways of dealing with your enemies than slitting their throats.” He took the sonic screwdriver from Rose’s slightly trembling hands and looked at it. “Come on, this way.” He stalked up the steep side of the great Hill of Tara. Rose and Ace looked at each other then hurried after him. He slackened the pace a little as they caught up, because he really WAS feeling it a bit. Rose looked absolutely ENERGISED as she passed him and carried on walking, and he reflected that he would have given her his last drop of blood any day. It would have been worth it.

“Doctor!” He heard her call out and hurried to catch her up. They were maybe halfway up the hill at the dark entrance of what looked like a man-made cave. Man-made? he thought ruefully. Vampyre-made! Just inside the entrance was the exsanguinated body of the priest. The Doctor bent over the body and touched it briefly.

“May the God you believed in keep you,” he whispered. Then he straightened up. “We have to hurry. There is one Vampyre and one live meal left… Cliff. I can’t go back to Jo and tell her we failed.” They stepped around the body of the priest and entered the tunnel. The Doctor’s superior eyes allowed him to see in the dark. He took hold of Rose’s hand and looked around for Ace. She took a glo-stick from her pocket and ignited it. The Doctor’s eyes immediately adjusted to the green light and they walked on quickly.

“We’re going downhill,.” Rose observed after a few minutes.

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “I noticed.”

“Are we going to find the Ark?”

“I don’t think we’re going that far down. Besides I would be getting stranger readings on the sonic screwdriver than I have.”

“Pity. I’d kind of like to see that.”

“No,” The Doctor insisted. “I said already. Some things shouldn’t be tampered with. Some things should be left alone.”

“The Eye of Harmony,” Rose remembered. “You sounded like you knew about it.”

“Yes. It’s the heart of Time Lord technology.” He enclosed her hand, noticing how small and fragile it was. “Very powerful stuff. A piece you could hold in your fist powers the TARDIS.”

“So how did this bit end up in the Ark of the Covenant?”

“No idea,” he said. “Before my time. I imagine a fragment landed on Earth and was somehow mixed up in the Israelite religious rites. But they couldn’t have found a better place to hide it than here. Smart thinking. Or maybe just luck. But here it stays.” The tunnel dropped lower and split into two passages. The Doctor looked at the sonic screwdriver and turned right, he and Rose walking abreast, Ace behind them.

“Professor,” Ace said as they continued walking in the semi-darkness. “Tell me something…. I have wondered all these years….”

“Oh dear.” He sighed. “This is going to be one of the awkward questions, isn’t it.”

“Who ARE you?” Ace asked. “What is your name? Your real name, I mean. Not….”

“He won’t tell me that, either.” Rose said.

“I can’t tell you,” he told them. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? How can anyone not know their own name?” He tightened his hold on Rose’s hand as he gathered his thoughts to give them a reply that was adequate.

“In nine hundred and forty nine years, I have been shot at, zapped at, irradiated, contaminated, poisoned, strangled, mind-melded more times than I can count. I was about five hundred years old when my memory got partially wiped by a crazy alien memory modifier – I can remember everything about Gallifrey, about my childhood, my parents, Time Lord Academy, my whole family, everything except my own name. Sometimes, I feel as if it’s there, just out of reach. When I concentrate, I almost think I have it, but then it goes. And I always feel so empty afterwards that it’s easier not to try. I just… I don’t try any more.”

“Oh!” Rose paused, thinking over what he had said. “But….”

He braced himself for another difficult question. But at that moment the Sonic Screwdriver emitted a warning whistle. “Get back!” he yelled, but it was too late. There was a blinding flash of light that left the shadow of the Vampyre standing before them imprinted on his retina for several seconds afterwards. In those seconds, he felt Rose wrenched from his grasp. The Vampyre held her aloft with one of its leathery arms, the talon on the end of the other poised over her neck.

“One step more, and this one dies,” the Vampyre said in a rasping voice.

“I don’t think so,” The Doctor answered it. He heard Ace behind him take the safety catch off the machine gun. “No,” he hissed urgently. “You might hit Rose.” He stepped forward towards the creature. Ace gave a soft scream as she saw the talon rip into Rose’s shoulder. Blood poured from the wound and the creature raised its head and drank as if she was some kind of fountain pouring her life blood out for his pleasure. The Doctor stepped forward again. The Vampyre screamed and threw Rose’s limp body at him. He caught her in his arms. She was conscious but crying with shock at being a Vampyre’s refreshment and at the pain of the still bleeding wound.

“It’s all right, Rose,” he said as he pressed her close to him. He looked up at the Vampyre. “You’re the one dying. She has MY blood in her…. And MY blood is fatal to you.”

It was true. The Vampyre was screaming in agony as its body convulsed and seemed to split as if at the seams. “Ace!” The Doctor shouted. “Now! Aim for the wounds!”

Ace needed no further encouragement. Over the Doctor’s head as he crouched over Rose, she opened fire at the Vampyre with the 5.7mm subsonic rounds. Incredibly, although these bullets could pierce Kevlar body armour, those that hit the Vampyre’s tough outer skin bounced off, but where the skin was cracking and splitting they hit home.

The bullets were not killing it, only holding off its advance towards them. It was dying from inside. Even Ace felt her stomach churn as the Vampyre’s body cracked open and its innards spilled out onto the cave floor. The body collapsed on top of the foul mess and almost immediately desiccated and crumbled to dust. In the sudden silence as its screams cut off, she heard the bullets that had pierced it clatter, metallically, on the ground.

The Doctor was not looking at it. In the light of Ace’s glo-light Rose had his full attention. The wound in her shoulder was mending itself, as he knew it would. She was still crying though, perhaps more with shock than pain. He pressed his hand against her heart and felt it racing. He closed his eyes and let himself into a time-slow meditation. As he hoped, she became calmer. The tie of blood was strong enough to calm her heart. She stopped crying and looked up at him. “Doctor?”

“It’s all right. It’s over. I’m sorry this happened to you. I knew it would be killed if it tried to feed from you. But I didn’t think how awful that would be for you.” He stood up and lifted her to her feet, still holding her tightly. They heard a hoarse call for help from somewhere down the tunnel. “Clifford!” The Doctor said. “Alive.” Ace had already rushed past him. He heard the sound of a gunshot and of metal splitting and guessed she was shooting a lock off wherever Clifford had been imprisoned. He turned his attention back to Rose. “Forgive me, Rose.”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” she told him. “We got them all, didn’t we?”

“Yes. We got them.” He heard footsteps and Ace and Clifford were with them. “Let’s get out of here.”

Nobody needed to be told that twice. They moved quickly back up the sloping passage. At last they reached the entrance. The Doctor looked at the body of the old priest and made a decision. He had Clifford move the body further inside and then he told Ace to make use of some of those grenades. As they made a hasty retreat downhill, the explosion closed the entrance to the cave over the priest’s body and the lair of the Vampyres.

“That’s that sorted,” The Doctor said. “Come on, let’s get on. We’ve got to walk back. I wrecked the Land-Rover.”

“Jo’s Land-Rover?” Clifford said.

“Yes, sorry. But you wanted rescuing didn’t you?”

“Professor!” Ace rounded on him angrily. “You used Rose. You knew the Vampyre would grab her.”

“No, I didn’t. It could have grabbed me. Same difference. Either way my Time Lord blood would have killed it. Its poison to them.”

“Hang on!” Rose interrupted. “How have I got Time Lord blood?”

“From the transfusion you had earlier,” the Doctor admitted. “You didn’t bump your head. I lied about that. When Humans get Time Lord blood it temporarily gives them the powers of healing we have. You were bitten by those things twice and there isn’t a mark on you.”

“It was dangerous, all the same,” Ace continued. “You had no business putting her at risk.”

“Course he had,” Rose said. “We’re a team. We look after each other. And… we’re more than that. At the moment… for a few hours… while I still have his blood in me…we’re RELATED.”

“Course we are.” The Doctor squeezed her hand. “We’re family.”

Down at the camp, Jo’s reunion with Clifford was one of the things that made the Doctor’s job seem almost worthwhile.

“Doctor,” Jo exclaimed, hugging the Doctor. “I can’t thank you enough. Cliff would be dead for sure if you hadn’t got to him.”

“It wasn’t just me,” he said. “Rose did her bit. So did Ace.”

“I can’t thank you enough, either.” Jo hugged Rose. Sarah and Harry emerged from the medical tent. Ace was divesting herself of the remains of her armoury. The Doctor noticed the longing look she gave to the P-90 before she handed it over to the U.N.I.T. officer. She hadn’t changed. None of them had. Time had aged them from the young women they were when they had kept him company. But they were still everything that had made them, in their turn, special to him.

And now he had Rose. He turned to look at her. It HAD been dangerous taking her with them to fight the Vampyre. Ace was right about that. The creature could have ripped her in half before his eyes. His hearts both died a little at the mere thought of seeing her killed. But though keeping her with him meant that he ran that risk almost continuously, he couldn’t bear the thought of her safe - back with Jackie and Mickey and chips and beans – and not with him.

Besides, she had accepted the danger. She may just be the product of a London council estate, with no qualifications anybody in the universe recognised, nothing to mark her out with any distinction from all the other apes on this planet. But that slender, delicate frame enclosed a heart equal to his two. Beneath that blonde hair and behind those beautiful brown eyes was a brain that sometimes worked things out faster than he did, a yearning to learn, to outgrow the limitations of her world. And above all, there was her courage, her loyalty, her unspoken love for him. These qualities would NEVER be recognised by anyone but him. And if he could help it, he would NEVER let her go back to being unrecognised and unappreciated by this world.

He followed the crowd into the mess tent and sat with them as they ordered coffee and talked with the aimless relief that comes at the resolution of a difficult time. He looked at the four women who at different times had shared his life, talking together, as women do, the three older women giving Rose various pieces of advice. He heard Jo warning her that aspirin was deadly to Time Lords and that peppermint brought him out in a bad rash, and Ace telling her that there was a stash of nitro-9 in the TARDIS still, if she should ever need it. Rose was enjoying the shared experiences of life with him. She knew a little more about him now, at least.

A tinny alarm intruded on the conversation. Rose looked at her watch and smiled.

“It’s my birthday,” she said.

“It can’t be,” the Doctor protested. It’s only a few weeks since your last one.”

“Fifty two weeks,” she said. “You know my dad’s watch never lies.”

“What’s that?” Sarah asked, and Rose told them how, quite soon after she joined him in the TARDIS she had found how easy it was to lose track of time. She also had realised that her watch kept Earth time no matter where or when they went in Time and Space. It was, indeed, her late father’s watch, given to her by Jackie when she turned 18, as a remembrance of him. She had used it, sensibly, The Doctor thought, to keep her feet on the ground even when they were flying through space at the speed of infinity. When home called to her it was easy to set the right co-ordinates to bring her back to Earth for Sunday lunch with Jackie. Or for Christmas – She hadn’t wanted to spend that anywhere in the universe but with her mum. His stomach acids gurgled in remembrance of the turkey.

And she was well aware – as he was - that this was the third birthday she had spent in his company. She had turned nineteen a few weeks after she joined him in the TARDIS and three hundred and sixty-five Earth days ago, he had taken her to Upsilon Gamelon, a planetary theme park with two thousand roller coasters. He lost count after the first fifty.

“Well, Happy Birthday,” Sarah said. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-one,” she replied promptly.

“Wow!” Jo said. “That’s special. Doctor, you’d better have somewhere nice to take her.”

“Where do you want to go?” he asked Rose.

“Mickey promised to take me to Paris for my twenty-first birthday.”

“You want to go to Paris with Mickey?” he asked, his hearts suddenly frozen.

“No,” she said. “I want to go to Paris with you.” His hearts began to beat again. A little faster, even.

“Well,” Sarah decided the matter. “Harry can get Ace and me back home to England with U.N.I.T.. So why don’t you take Rose for a romantic dinner for two in Paris.”

“I think I might as well do that,” he said. “Come on, Birthday girl.” He held out his hand and she came, smiling in that sweet way that speeded his hearts up yet another notch.