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

As soon as he was inside the TARDIS the Doctor began working urgently at interfacing the sonic screwdriver - which was still emitting the soft but insistent signal - with the TARDIS guidance. Rose had nothing to do for the moment except think.

"I thought you didn't know your name," she said.

"I didn't… until just recently," he answered.

"Susan told you, didn't she?" Rose worked it out much faster than he thought.

"Yes. But I didn't want to say back then - if your mum knew about her - me being a great-grandfather…"

"She'd freak."

"Yes." Funnily enough, he thought, in 2012 he HAD told Jackie and she hadn't freaked. She had been kind and understanding. But that was then. In this year Jackie was still only just the right side of tolerant of him.

"I wish she was nicer to you," Rose said. "You don't deserve the way she goes on. And I wish everyone I know would stop going on about our sleeping arrangements. When I went to the loo earlier Shireen wanted to know if you were any good."

"Good at what?" He asked, though he knew well enough. She blushed and grinned. As urgent as his work was he stopped briefly to put his arms around her and hug her affectionately. "Never mind what they think. As long as we know what we're about."

"I can't get into calling you Chrístõ though."

"I don't really want you to," The Doctor answered as he tried once again to get a lock on the signal through time and space. "I've not been called that for at least 500 years. As for the full version…"

"Its worse than the Slitheen homeworld," Rose smiled. "Christodav… lung… whatever…."

"Don't worry about it. Because if you do get it right I have no intention of answering to it. Do me a favour though…. Write it down and put it somewhere in case I forget it again."

"Ok, it's a deal."

"Oh….*#*^&%$#" Rose didn't recognise the word he said. It might have been a Gallifreyan swear word. But she saw his face turn pale and his eyes looked suddenly like two black holes of utter despair.

"The signal! I don't know how, but Susan sent it… through time. She must be in trouble."

"Well what are we doing here, chin-wagging." Rose echoed one of his expressions. "Lets get to her."

"I'm trying. We're at the right temporal orbit now, but something is interfering." He pressed the button that switched on the view screen and they both looked in horror at the view of the Earth under bombardment from space. The very atmosphere around the planet was boiling and they saw what could only be cities burning on almost every continent. "I have to take us in fast, to avoid being hit. Brace yourself."

Rose grabbed one of the pillars that supported the roof of the TARDIS console room and clung on as they were buffeted and shook and an unearthly noise filled the room. Then they landed with a crash that knocked her sideways. The Doctor had kept his feet and as soon as they materialised he opened the doors.

They were in the garden of Susan's house, near the French doors. But the sky above them was black and orange alternatively as a strange kind of lightning forked across it. Even as they looked in horror, a firebomb landed in the garden setting alight the children's play hut. A screaming Doppler sound made Rose look up as a larger piece hit the house itself. At that moment the French doors burst open and Susan, carrying the baby and with the two boys clinging to her, ran out.

"Get in the TARDIS," the Doctor yelled. "Rose, help them!" She didn't need to be told. She had already run forward and picked up one of the boys while the Doctor grabbed the other. The three of them raced to the TARDIS door. As it closed, sealing them off from danger, they saw the house engulfed in flames. The Doctor closed off the screen, hiding it from view of the hysterical children and from Susan who was deeply distressed. He hit buttons rapidly and moments later Rose realised they were in orbit again. They had a moment to think.

"Where's David?" he asked Susan. Rose had a horrible thought as she remembered the way the house had gone up. Had they left anyone behind in that?

"He's still at work. At least I hope he is. There's a bunker there. He might be safe." The hope was clearly the only thing keeping her from complete breakdown. The Doctor decided quickly what to do.

"We'll get you out of here," he said. "To safety. Then we'll come back and find David and find out what’s going on here."

"Where's safe?" Susan asked.

"Well!" He flashed a look at Rose. "If you don't mind undercooked lasagne, I know one place."

Jackie Tyler had just opened the door to her flat. She was angry and worried at the way Rose had gone off with the Doctor. It actually would make more sense if they WERE an item sexually. That kind of obsession made sense. But where did her daughter get the urge to rush off into dangerous situations every five minutes involving killer shop dummies and - what the hell were those things she had been told about - Daleks?

She didn't get it.

As she closed the door, Jackie heard the sound of crockery crashing from the draining board and then the unearthly and indescribable sound of the TARDIS materialising. She opened the kitchen door and vented her frustration and anger at the weird blue box that was at the centre of all the trouble. "I TOLD YOU…NOT ON MY BLOODY LINO!"

She watched as the door opened and Rose and the Doctor came out, accompanied by a woman with a baby and two children, all looking like refugees from a war.

"Sorry," the Doctor told her. "But this was an emergency. We can't stop long, but this is Susan Campbell and her children. Their house has just been blitzed by an alien bombardment of twenty-third century Earth. I need you to look after them while we go find her husband and try to stop their world being destroyed."

Jackie was flabbergasted, but the mother instinct in her took one look at the boys and the baby still clutched in Susan's arms and rose to the occasion. "The boys can sleep on the sofa," she said. “You and the baby can manage in Rose's old room. The sheets are fresh in case she needs it…."

Susan was still too shocked to care about clean sheets or whose bed she would sleep in, but having the responsibility taken off her shoulders was a relief. Jackie took the baby from her and petted it in a way Rose found strangely surprising. Her mum never seemed the maternal sort.

Susan turned to the Doctor.

"Gr…." She began and caught a look on his face, or possibly a psychic warning not to reveal their relationship in front of Jackie. "Doctor," she said. "Thank you… for everything. Even if you can't help… thank you."

"Susan," he said, hugging her quickly, anxious to be off. "You know me well enough. I'll do EVERYTHING I can." Then he strode back to the TARDIS. Rose went to follow. He barred the way with his arm. "Are you sure? You've seen what’s happening. I don't even know what we're up against yet, but it’s bad. If you want to stay…."

"Oh, come on!" She turned to her mum briefly. "We'll be back. Soon."

"PARK OUTSIDE WHEN YOU GET BACK!" Jackie shouted above the dematerialisation noise.

Again, the TARDIS landed heavily as they came in fast. He sent it to the same co-ordinate as before, because that made the guidance much easier. It was a few hours later, and the fire was out. The house was destroyed though. They walked in the wreckage. There was nothing left of the beautiful room they had sat in only a few days ago. They were still looking around in stunned silence when they heard the door of a hover car slam and footsteps running to the ruined front door.

“Susan!” They heard a man scream in terror and grief. “My boys…!” The Doctor reached what had been the front door as the man stumbled inside.

“David!” he called. “It’s ok.”

“Who is that?” David Campbell asked raising his fists defensively.

“It’s me… the Doctor… Susan’s grandfather.”

“Where is she?” David asked. “Where is my wife… my children?”

“They’re safe.” The Doctor held the distraught man by the shoulders. “I got them out. I came back for you.” David was having trouble comprehending anything other than the fact that his family had not been killed in the inferno of their home, but they managed to get him back to the TARDIS.

“Rose,” the Doctor said. “I need you to do this by yourself. I’m going to stay here and find out what I can.” He set several different switches on the TARDIS’s remote control guidance system. “I’m making it easy for you. Don’t touch anything here and it will get you home to your mum’s. Sorry, but it WILL be on the lino – going to the last co-ordinate is simplest. Get David to Susan, ignore anything your mum says, and get back in the TARDIS. Press THIS button – nothing else - it will bring you to WHEREVER I am. It’s set to look for me and home in.”

“I can’t,” she protested. “I can’t fly the TARDIS without you.”

“Rose,” The Doctor told her gently. “You can do anything you set your courageous heart to doing. I believe in you.” He held her momentarily and kissed her on the forehead. Then he was off. She closed the door and at once it began to dematerialise.

As soon as the TARDIS was gone the Doctor took off as fast as he could down the road. The bombardment had stopped, but there were other houses still alight and other casualties. A lot were beyond help. The sight and acrid smell of blackened bodies being pulled from the ruins of homes was nearly overwhelming.

He turned a corner and saw another building well alight. It was three stories high and from the garbled words among the screams he knew that there were people trapped at the top. He didn’t even hesitate. He turned to the hysterical woman who was being restrained by neighbours. She was screaming for her child that was among those trapped. He slipped off his jacket and thrust it at her, telling her he’d be back for it in a few moments, then he ran into the burning building.

Time Lords could burn as well as anyone could. He couldn’t walk through fire. But what he could do was slow his breathing almost to a stop so he didn’t choke on the smoke. He could also bear much higher temperatures than a Human before being overcome. He had an advantage.

He raced up the stairs, jumping over the flames that lapped across his path, up the smoke-filled second flight and through the door to the nursery. The first thing that met his eyes was the hole in the ceiling and the corresponding one in the floor where the incendiary had gone straight through, right down to the ground floor where it had ignited the house. There was a woman in a nanny’s uniform lying near the hole. When he bent over her, even he, who had seen so much, felt a moment of nauseated shock. There was a cauterised hole right through her torso – the incendiary had gone straight through everything in its path – including her. Resisting the urge to breathe, he turned his attention to the children it had been her job to evacuate from the burning house. A little girl crouched next to a cabin bed clutching a teddy bear and crying softly and in a cot nearby a baby was fretting as babies do, unaware of the imminence of death.

He snatched up the baby and reached for the girl. He was still blocking his own breathing, so his voice sounded strangely hoarse and ethereal and just a bit frightening, but when he said “come here…” she came. He lifted her onto his back, piggy back style. She wasn’t heavy, but if he had wanted to breathe he couldn’t with her clinging so tightly to his neck.

“Don’t be afraid,” he told her. “You’re with The Doctor now. Nobody needs be afraid when I’m around.” And he turned to the door he had come through. A glow told him the fire had reached this floor. The flames licked along the frame. He was going to need some serious Time Lord action. He focussed his mind on the moment, and forced it to look back at him. Time slowed. The flames still licked along the floor and all up the staircase, but very slowly, predictably.

He pushed the door open and stepped over the slow, crawling fire. He moved quickly down the stairs, aware of the little girl’s coughing and the baby struggling in his arms. Although he had brought them outside of real time, they were still affected by the smoke and heat in the way he wasn’t. But they were nearly there. He reached the ground floor and dashed out of the house before he released himself from the slow time envelope and took a long, acrid, but welcome breath of air.

The mother of the two children broke free of those restraining her and rushed towards him. He thrust the baby in her arms and put the little girl down on her own two feet. Hardly hearing the gabble of grateful words he walked away.

“Typical,” he said to himself, with his first breath of air in fifteen minutes. “I ask somebody to mind my jacket….” He retrieved it from the ground where the distraught mother had dropped it and put it on. He looked around. There were homes all around him. This was a huge residential area that fed the nearby industrial and commercial zone. At least three-quarters of the houses were on fire and in almost all of them he could hear screaming, both in the audible range and overwhelming his psychic functions with the strength of the collective fear.

Others were trying to help, of course. Small acts of heroism were happening all around as neighbours tried to help each other, but it was a losing battle. More were going to die than could be saved. Even by him. But he knew he had to try. He took his jacket off again and laid it on the ground, then he took a breath and held it again. He slowed the time and then ran in the direction of the nearest and loudest screams.

When Rose opened the door of the TARDIS the first thing she saw was the leather jacket on the ground. She picked it up and looked around. “Doctor?” she called out, but there was still so much noise he could never have heard her voice from more than a few yards away. “Doctor… where are you?”

“Maybe he’s dead,” Mickey Smith said after taking one look at the chaos and carnage outside.

“No, I’d know if he was.” Rose called his name again. She didn’t know why she said that. She just felt she would know. So would the TARDIS. It didn’t think he was dead. It just couldn’t find him at the co-ordinates its logic circuits said he ought to be.

“Oh my!” The shock in Jack’s voice made her turn. Anything scary enough to disturb his cool got her attention. He was looking at the life signs instrument panel. “He’s in a slow time envelope. He’s been in it for an hour. Even for Time Lords five minutes is long enough.”

“He’s what?” Rose asked. This didn’t sound good.

“He’s out there… close,” Jack said. “But you won’t be able to see him. He has slowed his own personal time so that he can rescue as many people as possible.”

While Rose was trying to process in her mind what that meant and how to deal with it, Mickey suddenly dashed past her. He ran towards a building that had suddenly gone up in flames, a slow burning incendiary having reached something flammable. She saw him silhouetted against the flames for a moment and then he was gone. A long, long minute passed before she saw him appear, carrying a small child in his arms. Rose cried out in relief - the Doctor was with him, burdened with two more children. She rushed to him as he gave the children to their frantic parents.

“Doctor!” She nearly screamed when she saw his face. He was blistered and burnt all down one side - all of his face, neck, arm and torso in the ragged remnants of his shirt. Jack was beside her a moment later and it was he who took hold of him and half carried him back into the TARDIS.

As the door closed, the Doctor slid to the floor on his hands and knees. He was breathing strangely, and his body shook, but the burns were beginning to heal. Rose watched in horrified fascination as the blistered and blackened flesh slowly melted away and he restored himself. Finally, she could stand it no more. She had to reach out to him. She knelt beside him and held him by the shoulders. Only then did he seem aware that she was there.

“So many people dying,” he said to her. “I saved some… but there are so many others.…”

“I saved one,” Mickey said nearby but somehow distant from the small part of the room the Doctor was occupying. “I saw somebody in the house,” he went on. “And I knew I could get to them. I was helping…. Then he appeared out of nowhere and found the kids hiding in the cupboard…. I didn’t even know they were there.”

“Mickey the hero!” The Doctor said as he stood up and looked around him. “Well done. Really… really well done. One more person is alive because of you.”

Mickey, so used to insults from the Doctor, didn’t realise for a moment that he was being complimented. But the Doctor’s attention was elsewhere again, anyway. He was staring at the panel that showed the activity outside the TARDIS.

“I saved a lot of them. But there are so many others….”

“You nearly burned to death in slow time,” Jack told him. “What did you think you were doing?”

“What I had to do.” Rose looked at him. He didn’t seem quite WITH them yet. His eyes were unfocussed on the same time or place as the rest of them. “So many needless deaths… so many dying right now.”

“Doctor.…” Jack reached out to him. “The bombardment ended nearly an hour ago. The ordinary rescue services have been out since, plus everyone who was fit and able to help. Human beings are doing what they can for each other like they always do when The Doctor isn’t around. Anyone dying now, is going to die no matter what you do.”

“I can help them.…”

“Not like that,” Rose said, understanding at last. “Running into burning buildings… that’s what ordinary people - like Mickey - do. You don’t do that. You see the big picture. You SAVE THE WHOLE PLANET.”

At that, he finally slipped back into the same reality the rest of them were occupying. He looked around.

“Mickey… good work,” he said. “But why are you here?”

“Jackie made me come. She said Rose couldn’t come back to you on her own….”

“And what help did she think YOU would be?” he asked, some of his old sardonic tone back.

“He found YOU,” Rose told him. “So shut up and stop picking on him.”

“How did you get into this,” The Doctor said, turning to Jack. “This is a job for real men.”

“Rose hit the emergency transporter and dragged me in. AS USUAL I was having a good time and you guys pull me into a war.”

“I thought we could use the extra hands on deck,” Rose explained.

“Well as long as that’s the only place his hands are,” The Doctor responded. “Hang in there, Jack. I’ll find a use for you yet.” He began hitting buttons and turning dials on the TARDIS console. “And you, Mickey,” he added.

“What about Rose?” Mickey asked.

“I always have a use for her,” he said with a grin that made her giggle despite the seriousness of the situation. She was still worried about what had been happening here while she was gone. It had been so out of character for him. Although he WAS a hero, in every fibre of his being, although he had more courage than anyone she had ever met, it wasn’t the heroism of firemen and policemen and fighter pilots and people who did their little bit each day – the sort of people who, as Jack said, were out there now in London as it burned, trying to do what they could. That wasn’t him. He didn’t save people from burning buildings, he saved the planet from burning.

“It’s you lot,” he said out of the blue. “I’ve become too close to you all.” He looked around at the two twenty-first century and one fifty-first century Humans who stared back at him in non-comprehension. “Humanity… homo sapiens… the apes who built themselves Top Shop and Carphone Warehouse and then decided that was the height of sophistication. I’m too close to you all. That’s why I did it wrong. Rose is right. I don’t do things that way. I save the whole planet – so that those who survive have a future.”

He went quiet for a moment, concentrating on the instrument panels again.

Rose stepped closer to him but she couldn’t think of anything to say. She turned and looked at Jack and he shook his head slowly. Neither of them were telepathic, but the same thought entered their heads at the same time.

“He’s losing it….”

“It’s not wrong to want to save as many people as you can,” Mickey said. “That’s HUMAN. You did the Human thing for once… and now you’re mad at yourself for it… because for once you reacted like a NORMAL person.”

“A normal HUMAN, Mickey,” he said. “I’m NOT Human.”

“Part of you is,” Jack told him. “I can read DNA signatures, don’t forget. I’m guessing it’s on your mother’s side.”

“I’m Gallifreyan. A Time Lord of the highest rank… the LAST Time Lord.”

“Yeah,” Jack said. “And if Time Lords have a Heaven and they’re looking down on us, they must be real bummed that the only one left is the hybrid.”

“He’s part Human?” Mickey asked, grasping the one easy fact.


“Right!” Mickey walked around the console to where the Doctor was still pressing buttons. Mickey suspected some of them just made lights come on in different parts of the panel and made it LOOK like he was busy so he didn’t have to explain what he was doing to the ‘stupid apes’. “The Human bits of you aren’t a design flaw,” he said. “Have you ever thought that maybe it’s the better part of you?”

“All the time, Mickey,” he said. “But sometimes I think this planet is never going to leave me in peace. Rose, how many times have we defended Earth from some kind of alien entity in the time you’ve been knocking about with me?”

“About… fifteen times,” she answered.

“And other planets?”

“Three I reckon, not counting Platform one and Satellite 5, which weren’t planets.”

“See what I mean.”

“Hey,” Rose said to him. “We’re ALWAYS grateful for that, you know.”

“Most of you don’t even know I’ve done it. I usually fix it so you carry on your little lives and never even know it.”

“So?” Mickey commented. “What? You’re feeling unappreciated? So when you’ve saved the Earth this time we’ll see you get a medal for it. But right now, I think you should stop whingeing and get on with doing it.”

“I AM doing it,” the Doctor replied. “And I don’t whinge.” He pressed a final button and they heard the TARDIS re-materialising. “We’re on the warship that’s in orbit around Earth and we’re going to see if we can negotiate a truce.”

“We are?” Jack looked surprised. His first instinct would be to blast the warship out of the sky. He had been wondering how an inoffensive craft like the TARDIS, without even a photon torpedo aboard, was going to do that.

“Are we?” Mickey asked.

“Well of course,” Rose said. “You’re with the Doctor – not Captain Kirk. He doesn’t shoot first and ask questions later. And he doesn’t kill anything without asking it to leave peacefully first.”

“Exactly.” The Doctor opened the TARDIS doors. Mickey hung back as the other three moved to go. The Doctor turned to him. “Come on, Mickey, nobody believes you’re a coward any more. We all saw you run into a burning building.”

“Burning buildings are ok,” he said. “But this is where the burning comes from.”

But he came anyway.

Why was it, Rose thought, that the echoing metal floor of the corridor they made their way along was no different to any spaceship on any TV show she had ever seen. Was the TARDIS the only spaceship in the universe that wasn’t modelled on the Starship Enterprise?

“So… do you know where you are going?” she asked the Doctor.

“Ship’s bridge,” he said.

“Right… and how do you know where that is?”

“I speak five billion languages. The one on that panel there says the bridge is this way.”

“You are such a liar….” Rose laughed at him. “There aren’t five billion languages in the universe.”

“Oh, I know all Earth people think the rest of the universe speaks English with a mid-Atlantic accent, but you’d be AMAZED how many other languages there are. Besides, I told you ages ago – when you travel with the TARDIS it imprints on your brain and allows you to understand alien languages. And no, Mickey, were not going to Ibiza to see if it will help you score with Spanish women.”

“How did you know….” Mickey turned to Rose. “Can he read minds? Is he tele..whatsit?”

“He can do anything,” Rose said with a tinge of pride in her voice. “Except I don’t believe the five billion languages, and I definitely DON’T believe he ever had a trial for Preston North End.”

“Preston North End?” Mickey laughed disparagingly.

“Oi,” the Doctor said, “That’s an airlock over there.”

“Anyway, Doctor… if the TARDIS translates everything how do we even know what language you’re speaking. Have you ever thought, Rose, he could be coming onto you in Martian?”

“He can come onto me in any language he wants,” Rose said. “But Mars is the Tower Hamlets of the universe. My Doctor comes from a much cooler planet than that.”

“YOUR Doctor….”

“Airlock!” The Doctor said again warningly. Mickey stepped back gingerly. “And let’s have a bit of hush all round. We ARE on a hostile ship. I’m only surprised we haven’t been picked up on the ship’s sensors by now.” A warning siren suddenly split the air. “Oh, me and my big mouth!”

He stepped forward in front of his companions, right into the path of the stun gun burst from the guards that appeared ahead of them. He tried not to scream in front of Mickey and Jack. He didn’t want them to think he was the screaming sort, but it was hard not to as every nerve in his body sent ‘pain’ signals to his brain at once. Whatever setting the thing was on, though, it was not enough to do anything but hurt like hell to a Time Lord. He stood up straight again just as the guard prepared to take another shot. He pushed Rose behind him and shielded all of them with his body. “No!” he yelled. “No. We… we surrender. Take us to your leader.”

“Did he really SAY that?” Mickey asked as they were all taken prisoner. Surprisingly, Mickey was handling being restrained by a seven foot man with pale green skin the texture of fish scales fairly well. It was, after all, exactly what he figured would happen if they went into outer space with an alien who supported Preston North End.

Rose was scared. She had seen the devastation on Earth and knew these people were the ones who had done it. But the Doctor was with her – even if he was a captive as well. She knew he would sort it out.

Only when they reached the detention cell into which she, Mickey and Jack were thrust did she panic - when she turned to see the door closing and the Doctor was not with them.

“No!” she screamed, pulling at the bars. “Doctor!” But the guards had pulled him away, four of them flanking him as they forced him back down the corridor.

“He’ll be okay,” Jack reassured her. “You know him.”

“Yeah… he’ll be ok,” Mickey said. “Not sure about us though.”

“Don’t say that.” She snapped at him. “He… he won’t let us down.”

“Well, are we going to just sit here?” Jack asked, looking around the cell. “This is nothing sophisticated, just an ordinary brig. We ought to be able to break out.”

The Doctor was equally concerned for his friends. Rose’s anguished cry to him still echoed in his head as he was brought where he asked to be taken – to the leader. And yes, he knew it was a corny line. The funny thing was, every time he had used it, it worked. They ALWAYS did what he asked.

The LEADER of what he realised from the insignia was a Greevascian space corps unit, was a smartly dressed fleet admiral. As the Doctor was brought in he stood up from his command seat, which would have reminded Rose once again of the Enterprise – there was a universal standard for this sort of thing – and faced him. One of the guards handed the Admiral a data reader which he stared at before looking once again at the Doctor.

“Why are you here?” he demanded. “Who are you? And why did you bring those Humans here?”

“I am The Doctor. I am here to find out why you launched an unprovoked attack on the planet below you.”

“You are not from that planet.” The Greevascian Admiral said. “We have scanned you. You are different. You are an unknown species.”

“I’m a very rare species.” The Doctor thought ironically of Jack’s comment about his part Human DNA. “But I know your species. Greevascians are explorers and colonisers, not aggressors. Why did you attack Earth? Nothing from that planet has ever been of the slightest harm to any other race or being in the universe. They, too, are explorers and colonisers.”

“That planet is the source of the bane that destroyed Greevascia 4 – the furthest outpost of our solar system. Many thousands of colonists – including the very young – were mercilessly destroyed.”

“There must be a mistake,” the Doctor insisted. “I don’t believe Earth people would do that. Yes, in their past history they have been a violent species, but only against each other. When they learnt the secret of inter-galactic travel they resolved many of their own political differences and set out to make contact with other species in a spirit of peace.”

“There is no mistake.” The Greevascian Admiral turned to his subordinate and growled an order. Minutes later the Doctor heard the sound of struggling and muffled yells and the three Human prisoners were manhandled onto the bridge. They were brought in front of the Admiral and forced, roughly, onto their knees.

The Doctor ran to Rose and bent to embrace her. One of the guards tried to pull him away, but with a quick wrist movement he landed the man flat on his back. Another stepped forward but The Doctor turned on him.

“Back off,” he said. “I’m not in the mood for a fight, but you can have one if you want.” He turned back to Rose. “Are you all right?” he asked her. “Are you all ok?”

“We’re having a ball here, Doctor,” Jack said. “Don’t you worry.”

“Get us out of here,” Mickey pleaded.

“I’m working on it,” The Doctor told him. He stood up and turned back to the Greevascian Admiral. “They are innocent. The people you killed on the planet are innocent.”

“Humans are responsible for genocide,” the Admiral repeated and he waved an imperious hand towards a large viewscreen. At once, the screen was filled with the horrifying sight of a massacre. Greevascians, young and old, lay dead or dying in a smouldering landscape that would have stood as a visual definition of the term “scorched earth”. As they looked at blackened bodies of whole families in the wreckage of their homes The Doctor thought of the Earth he had left, and the countless victims he had seen.

But it was quite clear that this was not Earth. It was Greevascia 4, and something terrible had gone on there. “This is the work of your peaceful Human colonists.” The Admiral said. “This is the work of such as these you seek to protect, Time Lord.”

“Time Lord… how did you know…?” The Doctor looked from the ghastly images to the Admiral. “Of course, you’re telepathic. But then you KNOW that these are innocent of this. These Humans have never even been to your galaxy, let alone caused it harm. Look into their minds – see what they show.” He pointed to Mickey. “That one… he hasn’t got a genocidal bone in his body. The only person in the universe he has a grudge against is me… and that’s just personal. He isn’t a murderer… he’s… What DO you do, Mickey?”

“I’m a mechanic,” Mickey said, and to his astonishment images of himself doing just that flashed onto the screen, mixed with various other aspects of Mickey’s daily life, including a lot of chips, mugs of tea and, in sudden flashes, images of Rose.

“Yes, alright,” The Doctor said, waving his hand in the same manner as the Admiral and freezing the screen on Mickey in the middle of eating several French fries at once. “This one….” The Doctor waved at Jack and the screen changed to various scenes of flirtation and gratuitousness involving Humans of both sexes which the Doctor stopped when they, too, began to involve flashes of Rose.

“As for this one….” He bent and lifted Rose to her feet. “There is nothing in her mind that could harm anyone.”

Her most recent memories flashed onto the screen. Paris featured highly. So did their brief romantic interlude when she had declared her love for him.

He stopped the vision quickly, and replaced it with the most recent memories he had, of a young woman with a cauterised hole where her stomach ought to be, of a mother and baby that were beyond his help in another burning house; image after image of the dead that would stay in his memory forever.

“THIS was your doing. And what makes your deed righteous? Because Earth people killed those on your planet, does that give you the right to murder indiscriminately? Does it give you the right to kill anyone Human?”

“We seek revenge… we seek justice.”

“Well which?” he asked. “Because they’re not the same.”

“Greevascia 4?” Jack queried. “I know that name. I was there.”

“Murderer!” The Admiral screamed and a stunner was aimed at Jack. The Doctor dived in front of him, again receiving a full blow that made every bone in his body ache and every nerve ending scream for mercy.

“Stop doing that,” he demanded as he straightened himself out again. “Jack! Tell us what you know.”

“It WAS a massacre,” Jack said. “But not deliberate. These… they… Greevascians are a potassium based life form – Humans are carbon-based. So is all animal life on Earth. The sensors on board the ship that was scouting for potential colony planets only looked for THEIR definition of life. They found none – but they did find that the planet was covered in a poisonous vegetation, so they used terra-forming lasers to remove the vegetation. They never went down to the planet to look. They started right away….” As Jack spoke, images of the consequences of the terrible mistake flashed onto the screen. “I was in a party that arrived the day after – we went down onto the planet – found the bodies – ALL the bodies – and put the ship responsible under arrest. The captain - I think he must have been a little space crazy to start with - but when he was shown the evidence of his actions he went right over the edge. We were getting ready to escort the ship to the nearest Earth starbase for court-martial when he set the self destruct and blew it up – all hands lost.” The scene on the screen changed to the destruction of a space ship and the screams of the dying suddenly cut off in the vacuum of space as it disintegrated.

Rose, horrified by the succession of images of death and destruction gave a sob of despair and turned away. The Doctor, despite a threatening movement from the Greevascian guards put his arms around her in comfort. Her thoughts of grief and sorrow at what she had seen threw strange patterns of interference onto the screen.

“So,” the Doctor continued. “The one responsible for the ACCIDENT took his own life – and that of his crew members who had obeyed his orders. You had your ‘justice’. This was, without doubt, the stupidest thing a Human being has done since their own wars of the twentieth century. But it was done. It should have ended there. Why did YOU come looking for REVENGE on top of JUSTICE? You were fully entitled to the one, but you have no right to take the other out on the innocent.”

Again images of the dead and dying on Earth filled the screen. The Doctor thought his own head would burst as he poured it all out before them, the things he had seen in just a few hours on the planet trying to save as many as he could. Rose, who had turned to him for comfort, now held him as the images seemed to overwhelm him. “So much death… So many I couldn’t save. Does it satisfy your bloodlust?”

“ENOUGH!” the Greevascian Admiral raised his hand and blocked the stream of images. Rose felt the Doctor shudder in obvious pain as the psychic connection was so suddenly severed. He stumbled and might have fallen if she hadn’t been there to hold him. But a moment later he stood up tall and turned to the screen again. It flashed onto a view of a circular chamber in which Humans were talking to each other in apparent panic. Something about it told Rose, though she had no idea why, that it was the British Parliament in the New Millennium Dome the Doctor had told her about. He had apparently made live contact with it because a moment later a figure appeared on the screen demanding to know who he was.

“I am The Doctor,” he said. Rose could tell that name meant something. The Chamber seemed to go quiet as they waited for his words. “Madame President of the British Federation and colonies, are you in contact with your fellow leaders in other nations affected by this holocaust?” The President said that she was. “Then tell them that in 30 minutes a delegation from the aggressors will be arriving there, under a flag of truce - which I will guarantee. They will discuss peace terms, and you will accept those terms on behalf of the leaders of Earth.” He turned to the Greevascian Admiral. “I trust you have no argument with that?”

The Admiral looked oddly defeated. He tried to demand that Rose, Mickey and Jack remained on board as hostages, but the Doctor turned one of his stares on him and no more was said. “Thirty minutes, Madame President,” he said, apparently taking no argument from her, either.

He took the TARDIS key from his pocket and summoned it to the bridge. Its appearance caused a stir among the Greevascian crew. Some of them must have heard some kind of legend about the traveller in a blue box who was a force to be reckoned with. When he turned towards them they shrank back, especially the one who had twice tried to stun him.

He told his companions to go into the TARDIS. Mickey, still kneeling on the floor with a glazed look didn’t move. Rose and the Doctor both bent over him. “It’s OK, Mickey,” the Doctor told him. “It’s all over now. And you did fine.” Mickey slowly stood up, stumbling slightly as he recovered the feeling in his legs. Rose held him as they went into the TARDIS, to safety and sanctuary, while the Doctor finished sorting out which of the Greevascians would accompany them to Earth.

“Well,” Jack said as they returned to the TARDIS after the Doctor had successfully negotiated a pact of mutual co-operation and non-aggression between Earth and Greevascia and seen the war fleet leave the solar system. “That was easy. All you need is a Time Lord who takes no nonsense from anyone.”

“Easy?” The Doctor flared angrily at him. “When anything costs the life of even one individual it is neither easy nor cheap. So many dead… on both sides… for a stupid misunderstanding.”

Jack murmured an apology for his insensitivity. Rose looked at The Doctor silently. He had been as magnificent in the Parliament chamber as he had been on the alien ship. He had overruled the demands of Earth’s leaders that the Greevascians be held for war crimes, hammering home to them that this problem arose because of the actions of Humans in the first place. He made it clear to the Greevascians that Earth owed THEM no reparations for the foolish actions of individuals. Both sides acquiesced to him. She wondered if Earth would have had so many wars if The Doctor had been around to bang heads together.

“Yes, you would,” he said, and she remembered that such deep thoughts close to somebody with telepathy was a risky business. “I tried. You have no idea how many times I tried. Just in the twentieth century - I almost had it sorted in 1914, but the stupid apes went ahead anyway. 1936… well there wasn’t a lot I could do. Adolf Hitler was a nutter…. All those other wars… your Middle East problems… The stupid things you all did to each other…. I would have prevented them if I could… every foolish act of genocide, terrorism, counter-offensives.… I tried. Eventually, without my help, you did learn to live with each other. Humanity worked it out. That’s one reason why I never gave up on you. You made mistakes even then. We’ve just seen the consequences of that. You’ll go on making them. Maybe I’ll be there to sort out the mess, or maybe I’ll be too busy, or too tired, or just not there and you’ll have to work it out for yourself.”

And that was it, Rose thought. Too tired. When had he EVER been too tired? He made everyone else tired just looking at him. He almost never stood still. He only occasionally sat down and ate and then because he was with people who expected to do that. If he was alone, he would never rest or eat. He lived on adrenaline. Danger and adventure stoked that adrenaline. Peace and quiet just bored him. But now he really DID look and sound tired, not just physically, but mentally. And she was worried.

“Mickey,” the Doctor said, turning to the quietest of the group. “I didn’t have to put you in an airlock after all. You did well for your first adventure in time and space.”

“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “I was useless. You did everything.”

“Well, obviously,” The Doctor said. “Because I’m brilliant. But there is a Human who survived back there because you were there. That was good. Don’t forget that. Nobody is going to give either of us medals for it. As they rebuild their communities, we’ll be forgotten, our part in it. But you will know you saved a life. One precious life. You have a right to be proud of that.”

Mickey nodded and seemed to cheer up a little. But when Rose turned back to the Doctor he looked as remote and depressed looking as ever. She, as Mickey had done earlier, strongly suspected he was not doing anything at the console that had anything to do with piloting the TARDIS back to Earth in 2008. She turned to Jack and asked what he thought.

“I don’t know,” Jack said. “If it was anyone else, I’d say he was close to burn out. He’s his own worst critic and he never gives himself an even break. If he was Human I’d be watching out for him going into mental meltdown any time. But he’s not Human. He’s The Doctor and I can’t imagine him burning out. Or if he did… I don’t want to be around when it happens. I’m not sure you do, either.”

“I’ll be there for him, no matter what,” Rose said. It was hard to imagine The Doctor – her Doctor, the one who protected them all – breaking down through pressure. But he looked it. When he wasn’t baiting Mickey he seemed so sad and withdrawn. Even she couldn’t completely penetrate the shell he was building around himself.

Rose unlocked the door to the flat and went in, followed by Mickey and Jack, and finally by the Doctor. He stood in the doorway and looked at the crowded living room. Susan and Jackie were sitting on the sofa in front of the television watching Cliff Richards’ Summer Holiday. David and the two boys were sitting at the table playing snap. Jackie got up when she saw Rose and hugged her. Susan looked around for her Grandfather, but by then he was gone.

After all the things he had faced that living room was something he was not yet ready for. He stepped back into the hall and through the nearest door into the bathroom. He ran cold water into the sink and bathed his face. He felt wearier than he ought to feel. He wondered if it was an after effect of giving up so much of his blood not so very long ago. Or was he ill? His race were not often ill, but it was not impossible. He looked at himself in the mirror, and jumped as he saw Jackie Tyler behind him.

“Jackie! I… am in the bathroom. I could have been doing ANYTHING!”

“I want to talk to you,” she said, and her tone was one that he needed no psychic power to interpret. “About Susan.”

“Jackie, I have come to the conclusion that you are some kind of punishment on me from some higher being. And I wish I could remember what I did that was so terrible as to deserve such a fate.” He sighed again. “Go back into the living room. Sit down, shut up. And wait until I am ready.”

If she had argued, he thought his head would have exploded. To his immense relief, she did as he told her. He breathed in deeply and put himself into slow time meditation and searched his body for any sign of virus or infection. There was nothing obvious. Perhaps he WAS just tired.

He went back into the living room after a while. Cliff Richard was doing his thing on TV still, but Jackie sensibly turned him off. He stood in front of the TV, which was, he found, a very good way of getting the attention of Earth-dwellers, even twenty-third century ones.

“I just want to say a few things to all of you,” he said. “First of all, I want you all… to just for once… think for a change. I have just been through seven shades of hell trying to stop Earth 200 years from now being fried to a crisp. I did it… but not until many thousands of people had died. I know….” He looked around at Susan and the children and David. “I know I saved a lot of them. But I can’t help thinking how many more I could have saved if I hadn’t taken so much time making it personal, saving those I care about, instead of trying to save the whole of mankind. As glad I am to have you all safe here, I’m not sure I didn’t make a bad judgement call, and I have to live with that, along with countless other decisions I’ve made over the years that none of you - any of you - can begin to understand. But all of you, even you, Jackie, COULD help make the burden a lot easier by at least not asking stupid questions. But what do I get? Yet more questions.”

He took a deep breath before he continued. “YES, Susan is related to me. But not in whatever twisted way you imagine, Jackie. David is the father of those children, not me. I DON’T have a harem spread across two hundred years of Earth history. And I have never done anything to or with Rose that anyone could complain about, least of all YOU.”

“I just want to know if you intend to do right by Rose,” Jackie protested.

“Yes…” The Doctor sighed. “And would you please, once and for all, tell me what exactly that means. Because I can see two ways of looking at that. Either you mean you want me to give her up - and how is that doing right by he, when she so obviously wants to be with me. And the other interpretation is that you want me to marry her.”

He heard Rose gasp out loud at that. “Well, Rose, I am sorry but I couldn’t do that. Not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t see any way I could. I think your mum imagines we could all dress up in our best gear and go down to the registry office where her and your dad were married. But British law requires both parties supply birth certificates, and I haven’t seen mine for about 850 years and I doubt the registrar can read Gallifreyan anyway.”

He paused again while his audience took in his words.

“For me, marriage would have to be in the tradition of my world. The ceremony takes twelve hours, three of which involve the mother of the bride pledging her undying devotion to the House of the groom. And while I would almost consider going through that just for the joy of seeing Jackie fulfil her part, it is completely impossible because Susan and I are the only Gallifreyans left in the Universe and she doesn’t know the ceremony. So, Rose, the best I can offer you is a completely platonic relationship with intergalactic travel, adventures in time, excitement, scary stuff, and the occasional night of dancing under a full moon by the Seinne. If that’s good enough for you, then your mother can like it or lump it.”

“It’s good enough for me,” Rose said with a wide smile at him. Susan smiled at him, too. He had brought closure on the bone of contention that lay between them. Jackie was still struggling with the image of the three hour pledging session of the Gallifreyan marriage rite. His twenty-first century ‘family’ settled though, he moved on to the twenty-third century part.

“Susan, David, I know this is a difficult time for you. You have nothing to go back to in the life you knew. Your home is gone, David’s work, many of your friends are dead. I can’t soften the blow for you. I wish I could. You have two choices as I see it - to return to your time and make the best of it – or you COULD stay here in this time. The Earth of this century is possibly the most argumentative planet this side of the Alterian nebula. Every section of it is warring or planning to war with some other section. But it’s actually, relatively speaking, SAFE. And for me it would be preferable. I can’t stop any of you getting run over by a bus but I can just about manage to keep alien entities from wiping out this century – a lot easier than trying to protect this and the twenty-third century at the same time. I could at least be sure that all the people who matter to me - and that includes you, Jackie - and even you, Mickey - are all in the one place and are SAFE. And that would make my job a lot easier.”

“Job?” Mickey queried, slightly disturbed by being included as one of the Doctor’s loved ones.

“Yes, Mickey, my job. Ok, I never went down the job centre and picked out the card that said ‘saviour of the universe - must be available day or night’. But I accepted the responsibility long before any of you were born. And since I don’t even seem to get an evening of Karaoke and lager without having to go and save another bit of it, early retirement isn’t an option just now.”

Susan and David looked at each other and seemed to be considering their options. It was David, with his arm around his wife, who made the decision for them.

“Doctor, what you said there made a lot of sense. And going back is not something I look forward to. But I think we have to. We belong there. I was born in that time. So were the children, and Susan has lived there longer than she lived on your planet. THAT is our home. I think Susan and the boys need a little time to recover from the shock, but eventually we should go back.”

“We’re sorry,” Susan said. “But we do want you to visit us as often as you can.”

“And I will,” the Doctor promised. He looked around at the assembled group: Rose, Susan, Jackie, three women who between them complicated his life so much. He could not imagine being without any of them. David and Mickey, the innocent bystanders of it all; Jack, for whom this domestic scene was something of a novelty; the two boys, and the baby, sleeping soundly in an old carry cot that he thought he remembered seeing in 1986 with Rose as a baby in it.

He put his arms out to the two boys and whispered to them, “Come to me.” To his delight, they did so. Holding them in his arms at that moment felt better than holding Rose. They really WERE the reason he had to keep going. They were the reason why the universe had to be saved by him - so that THEY would have a future.

“Does anyone else have any questions?” he asked when the boys had gone back to their mother. Nobody did. “Ok. Fine… then… I think I’m done here for now…”

And having surprised all of them in the course of the last fifteen minutes, he surprised them all again, though not by choice, by suddenly passing out cold.

Time Lords don’t have to sleep more than once every few weeks. But even he, it seemed, had limitations. He slept nearly a whole day and night, put to bed by David and Jack, in Rose’s pink bedroom, which Jackie absolutely banned Rose from entering. When he did wake up, it was to find his twenty-first and twenty-third century families bonding. Mickey, David, Jack and the boys had spent the afternoon watching Crystal Palace play Preston North End - a satisfying win for the northern team. Jackie, Rose and Susan with the baby in tow had been shopping – with one of HIS credit cards. Apart from what looked like the entire contents of Debenhams and Mothercare, they had purchased a DVD player and the complete movies of Cliff Richard. Whether he liked it or not, domesticity was looking at him from every corner. A small corner of his soul – was it the Human part – DID like it, and there was something to be said for having one place in the universe where he could depend on everything staying the same. But still….

“Ok,” he said, “Anyone not staying in this century stop chin-wagging, grab your bags and get into the TARDIS.” Susan hugged Jackie fondly and then she and David and the children did as he told them. Jack was already setting co-ordinates for him. Mickey stood on the periphery of the scene, as usual. He turned to him. “Want to come along for the ride?” he asked. But Mickey made an excuse about having stuff to do.

Then that left Jackie. “Rose,” he said. “Give your mum a big hug and a kiss, because after we drop everyone off in the 23rd century I am planning on taking you on a long tour of the Milky Way’s most distant star systems and it could be months before we have to experience her lasagne again.”

Rose did so. Her mum looked, as always, one step away from tears or anger at her going off with HIM. But she did not argue.

“Right then,” he said as they dematerialised. “Oh yes, one more thing. David, Susan, I want you to have this.…” He pulled an envelope from his pocket. “It will take six months or so for the stock markets to recover, but when they do, this will be worth something. It will set you right.”

“What is it?” David asked, taking the envelope from him.

“When I lived on Earth in the 70s, I bought a few shares in a fruit company,” he said. “Just in case I ever chose Earth as a retirement planet and wanted a bit of financial security.”

Rose looked at the familiar company logo on the corner of the envelope and laughed. “Fruit company… Apple!” But The Doctor just smiled and pretended to be busy. A little later he turned and looked at her.

“Should the time come when you want to move on…. Well, I also bought shares in another computer company. They’re yours. You can be what you want to be, Rose. Be anything I know you’re capable of. Don’t let that council estate ever hold you back.”

“You don’t get rid of me that easily,” she said. “Thanks, anyway. But I’m here for the long haul.” She kissed him on the cheek sweetly. David and Susan smiled to each other. Jack caught Rose’s eye and gave her a twinkling grin. The Doctor saw all the meaningful looks and smiled himself. The mood wouldn’t last. Something in the universe was bound to mess it up, but for the moment, he actually felt happy.