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

By Rose’s Earth bound watch it was early evening and the time travellers had nothing to do for the time being. Rose lounged on her cabin bed reading a book and drinking a can of cola from the vending machine she had found in one of the TARDIS’s strange corridors. Jack was sitting with his back against the side of the bed, also reading. Only the Doctor was active, working down on the console floor at some exposed wiring that he was re-connecting with great concentration. Neither Rose nor Jack had a clue what he was doing. Rose half suspected that the feverish work was actually achieving nothing except giving him something for his hands to be doing while he let his thoughts run free over whatever he needed to think about. Since SangC’lune, the burdens that usually weighed him down seemed to have lightened some and he had even been caught humming as he worked from time to time. The Wind Beneath My Wings was the tune he commonly sang and Rose always smiled because she knew he sang it for her.

“Hey,” Jack said and nudged Rose. She took the magazine he was reading and read the piece he pointed out.

“Urban Myths – The Time Lords – For millennia, sentient lifeforms throughout the universe have spoken of the Time Lords in awe. The Great Battle known as the Time War, between the Time Lords and the Daleks is subject of numberless books, songs and holomovies. And yet, not a single word can be proven to be true. Daleks did once exist. There is archaeological proof on many planets. But their demise was as a result of a natural disaster similar to that which killed the dinosaurs on Earth or the fish-based life forms of Matrix 11. Time Lords never existed. They are a mere fiction no more real than the old earth tales of Merlin or the sea-people of Aquaria. See page 5 for details of the major works of fiction that spread the myth throughout the universe.”

Rose looked at the front of the magazine. Intergalactic Enquirer! She had never seen it before, not being the kind of girl who frequented magazine racks in space docks, but the type was universal. On Earth, her mother devoured this sort of glossy magazine with its lurid stories about celebrity marriages and fashion and make up tips.

“Well, its rubbish,” she said. “We know it is. We LIVE with a Time Lord. And after SangC’lune we KNOW the rest of them USED to exist.” She looked at The Doctor as he worked away. “But don’t let HIM see, all the same.”

HE didn’t have to see. He WAS a Time Lord, and hearing whispered conversations on the other side of the room was child’s play. He didn’t often eavesdrop on the chat between his two human companions. Usually it was too trivial to bother with anyway. Anything serious in the TARDIS usually involved him, but when they had anything idle to talk about it was between themselves. Something in the sideways glances that he caught from both of them, though, made him listen in more closely.

So… he thought bitterly. The population of the universe believe in Daleks, but not in me! There’s gratitude. There’s a bloody great kick in the teeth for all he had done for them. Since SangC’lune he had felt pretty good about life generally and the awesome responsibilities that sat upon him. For a moment, now, though, he found himself thinking of how easy it would have been to just let himself die in the wake of his home planet’s death. He could have opened the TARDIS doors and let the full force of the radiation blast turn his body to sub-atomic particles. It would have been less painful than struggling on. Oblivion….

And look at what you would have missed, his better angels told him and forced him to look up into those brown eyes that trusted in him and loved him and were now asking him a question he hadn’t even heard, so locked up was he in a stupid moment of depression.

“What was that?” he said, shaking his head. But whatever her question had been she never had a chance to repeat it. The TARDIS suddenly lurched out of the space-time vortex into real time without passing through temporal orbit. Rose, who had been leaning over to talk to him down on the floor was pitched on top of him in a way he would have enjoyed if he had not been worried about what had happened to the TARDIS. He suspected it was something he had done to the wiring when he had let his concentration wander. To his relief, he heard the sound of the TARDIS materialising. At least they were landing SOMEWHERE.

Rose was the first to recover her feet. She went to the time-circuit panel and read the data. “Earth,” she said, “July 1st, 1916…. 7.28 a.m.” Her eyes widened. History was one of her worst subjects at school, but there were some dates she knew. “Doctor,” she said. “That’s….”

The Doctor groaned. Because although there was an entire planet the TARDIS could have landed on at that time and date, most of which was relatively quiet, its own version of Murphy’s Law meant that in fact there was only one place it was BOUND to have landed.

“Rose… quickly, come back down here on the floor and hold on. Jack, come here, too.” They both obeyed. There was something in his voice that told them not to argue. Rose flung herself down on the floor next to The Doctor and he put his arm across her shoulder protectively. Jack hit the ground the other side of him and was startled when The Doctor reached out to him, too. A moment later the TARDIS shook as something exploded outside. A second explosion, and the floor they were on lurched sideways. The Doctor tightened his hold on both his companions and told them to be calm.

“What the hell is that?” Jack asked.

“The Battle of the Somme,” Rose said. “I am right, aren’t I? I knew the date because my great granddad was there. My gran still has a picture and his medals and things.”

“You’re right,” the Doctor said. “And WE shouldn’t be here. This is the last place time travellers should be. Some things just can’t take temporal interference. This is a really bad year for the whole world, but the things that happened here set in motion events that impacted on the century that followed for good or bad. There isn’t a fraction of detail that can change without it impacting on the future. So we’re not going out there. We’re just going to wait right here until the battle quietens, then we’re going to get back into orbit.”

“How long could that be?” Jack asked.

“Three hours,” Rose said. She remembered being told that once. Three hours and so many thousands died.

“You want us to stay down here for three hours?” Jack liked being this close to The Doctor, but he would have preferred it to be in a quieter place and time.

“No. Just for the next half hour while the British are shelling the German trenches in preparation for ‘going over the top.’” The Doctor explained that the way warfare happened in 1916, artillery shells would first be launched against the enemy, with the intention of destroying their machine gun posts. Then when the guns stopped the troops came out of the trenches, with bayonets fixed, and ran towards the enemy.

“Unfortunately, as history records, the artillery fell short. The machine guns were still in place. HUNDREDS of thousands of men are going to die out there in the next few hours. And no, I can’t stop it. Even if I COULD, I wouldn’t.”

Another shell fell somewhere close to the TARDIS. It shook and settled still further at an angle.

“On the outside… the TARDIS is a wooden box,” Rose said. “What if one of those things hits us - we could be blown to smithereens.”

“Rose,” The Doctor said gently. “Surely you know the TARDIS better than that. The wooden box is just an illusion. A direct hit could blow some fuses. But smithereens isn’t in it.”

“Are you sure?”

“If I couldn’t die in the Time War that destroyed my own world, I’m certainly not going to die in the stupidest campaign of the stupidest war of YOUR world. Trust me.”

She always did, but as they waited, helplessly for the bombardment to end, even The Doctor wasn’t entirely sure himself what would happen if the TARDIS took a direct hit from a high explosive shell. He doubted it could be totally destroyed, but if it was disabled enough to prevent them getting away… this was a lousy year for most of the world. He wasn’t sure he wanted to have to live in it.

As suddenly as it began, the bombardments ended. And as the Doctor got to his feet and went to the console he knew the worst was just starting. They heard all the sounds of the battle; the eerie echo of whistles blown all up and down the miles of trenches to signal the moment, shouts, running feet, gunfire and cries of pain and death. They all found it horrifying, but The Doctor felt it worst, because he could feel it within him. He always could when he was in the presence of death. When it was many deaths all at once, when he felt multiple souls cry out, it was like a physical pain. He blinked back the tears of empathy and tried to concentrate on the job in hand. There WAS something wrong with the TARDIS. He put it into a diagnostic mode and waited for it to tell him what was wrong with itself, hoping it was something he could fix. When he got the results he burst out into near hysterical laughter that disturbed his companions.

“Oh this is fantastic. Both the temporal and spatial drives are offline – it’ll take about 24 hours to recharge them before we can get out of here. But the chameleon circuit has kicked in. We actually have a TARDIS that is blending in with its background for once. Just as well really. This is not the kind of place you want to look out of place.” He flipped a switch in frustration and the TARDIS responded momentarily, only to stall again. “Oh well, that helps – NOT. Apparently we have shifted 800 yards from our previous position and five hours later.”

“I hope we moved nearer the British lines,” Jack said.

“So do I,” The Doctor agreed. “Yes,” he added before Rose formed the question. “German IS one of the five billion languages I know. But I don’t really want to have to use it to explain what I’m doing here with you two.”

“We’re going out there?” Rose asked.

“Yes. Because on top of everything else I don’t actually think we are here by coincidence.” He had been looking at other panels on the TARDIS. “And I don’t think we crashed because of anything I did. Jack, what do you reckon this reading is?” Jack looked at the screen and gave his answer immediately.

“A Cloaked Berrisian Space Capsule. Oh hell!”

“Hell on Earth. Which this place is right now. Ok, children, we’re going to play Doctor’s and Nurses. To the Wardrobe.”

“I thought you were kidding about the doctors and nurses,” Rose laughed as she emerged from behind a discreet dressing screen in the uniform of a World War One Red Cross Nurse. When she saw The Doctor she did a double take. Instead of his usual extremely shabby leather jacket, jumper and black jeans, he was dressed in the uniform of a World War One Royal Army Medical Corps officer.

“I remembered Jack’s first reaction to me when we met in the Blitz,” he said. “And decided not to get mistaken for a U-Boat captain.”

“Isn’t anyone going to mention how devilishly gorgeous I look?” Jack demanded. Rose and The Doctor turned to look at Captain Jack Harkness back in uniform, this time as a Captain in the British Army.

“You look devilishly gorgeous,” The Doctor said with an impish wink and blew him a kiss. Rose laughed. So did Jack.

“If I thought you meant it, I’d feel complimented,” Jack sighed. “But everyone in the universe knows you’re a one-woman-man, Doctor!”

“Everyone in the universe thinks I’m a myth,” The Doctor replied sarcastically. “So their opinion really doesn’t count. And by the way, Merlin graduated from the Prydonian Academy when I was a junior.”

“Are you actually a medical doctor?” Rose asked the Doctor as they stepped out of the TARDIS and turned to look at it, seeing, to their astonishment, not the familiar blue box, but an old-fashioned army ambulance.

“Yes, actually, when I was a student – a callow youth of 190 - I went on a field trip to Earth and studied medicine with the Society of Apothecaries in London in the 1860s.” There was a wistful glint in his eye that made both Jack and Rose look at him. “Yes, ok, I did it for love. Oh, Elizabeth Garret, how she made my hearts beat. But she only wanted to be friends. She had her eye on another fellow.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Elizabeth Garret, the first woman in Britain to qualify as a doctor?” Jack asked.

“That wasn’t what was worrying me,” Rose pointed out. What WAS worrying her was how jealous she had felt about the idea of the Doctor, all those hundreds of years ago, fancying a woman who was probably long dead now. “What did you look like when you were a hundred and ninety years old?” she asked him. “Should she have fancied you?”

“You know, I can’t actually remember,” he said. “I’ve been through so many faces I sometimes forget which one I have right now. But one hundred and ninety in Gallifrey years is about nineteen in Earth years. I was probably a bit of a gormless teenager with high hopes. Anyway, I AM a qualified doctor at least by Victorian standards. It’s not what I qualified in at the Prydonian Academy though. That was Gallifreyan law and thermodynamics.”

“You’re a lawyer as well?” Jack said.

“Would be if I had ever practised law,” he said. “You have no idea how dull our legal system was! I did lead the campaign against banning inter-breeding with humans, but we lost that one.”

“Inter…But your wife was human.” Rose said. “And your mother.”

“Yes.” The Doctor said. “They brought in the law about five years after my Julia died. They said it was for the protection of humans. But really it was just ‘pure blood’ eugenics. What they were really scared of was more half-bloods like me rising through the ranks and telling them what to do. It was nonsense anyway. I have less than two percent human DNA. My father’s blood overwhelmed my mother’s. It was the same with my son. But the “pure bloods” had their way.” He looked sad and bitter for a moment then he shook his head and sighed. “Gallifreyan eugenics died with Gallifrey. To hell with them.”

“Who the devil are you?” a stern voice demanded and The Doctor turned, pulling his psychic paper from his pocket.

“I’m The Doctor,” he said. “These two are with me.”

“Of course, Sir.” The lieutenant who had challenged them snapped to attention and saluted The Doctor, who wore the single crown denoting the rank of major on his shoulders. “You’ll be wanting to get started at the field hospital.”

“Lead the way,” he said.

Not for the first time, Rose wondered about The Doctor’s apparent ability to look like he was in charge in any given situation. All he had said was, “I am the Doctor.” She was sure that he ought to have given more information than that on being challenged in the middle of a World War One front line army camp. Was it hypnotism or just the natural authority he somehow exuded. Who, other than her mum, would ever dare cross him?

The hospital was in a dreadful state. The wounded of the awful battle they had heard going on outside the TARDIS were lying on stretchers on almost every surface; bloody, burnt, limbless, blind, wounds impossible to imagine or describe. A sound of sobbing, groaning and shrill cries of pain filled the air. Rose found it hard to look. Everywhere her eyes met yet more horror. She felt slightly sick. But two things made her keep going. One was the fact that she WAS wearing a nurse’s uniform – even if she wasn’t a real nurse. And the other was that she didn’t want The Doctor to think she couldn’t hack it.

“Thank God you’re here!” A man in a matching RAMC uniform, but covered in an apron stained with blood and possibly worse, greeted The Doctor with relieved warmth. “I told them I needed another doctor on hand, but I didn’t think they’d listened.”

The Doctor looked around at Jack. “You know what we’re looking for,” he said. “Check out the area and report back here. I have a feeling this is exactly where I’ll be for a good while.” He turned to Rose. “You’re with me. I know this is pretty gruesome, but you’ve seen worse and I have faith in you.”

He stepped into the “operating theatre” of the field hospital where the other doctor was busy performing an emergency amputation at one table. The Doctor grabbed a surgical apron and fastened it on and then moved to the second operating table where a young man lay, moaning softly as blood seeped through the front of his uniform. The Doctor pressed his fingers against the wounded man’s temples and he became calm at once. Then with Rose’s assistance – and he had to admire her for adapting very quickly to the role of field nurse – he cut through his clothes to reveal the dreadful wound in his stomach.

The Doctor had, in fact, acquired a good deal of medical knowledge in more advanced times and places than 1860, and he knew instantly that this man was beyond help. His organs were pulped by the bullets that had ripped through him. He took the young soldier’s hand in his as he felt his life slip away and then he closed the dead eyes and called for a stretcher bearer to remove him.

“No!” A scream pierced the air and a young soldier pushed his way past those who would stop him reaching the table where the man had just died. “He can’t be dead. He shouldn’t even be here… It’s my fault…. I thought it would be great to join up together… He’s only seventeen… Our mam’ll kill me…. I’m supposed to look after him.”

“He’s your brother?” The Doctor put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, but his injuries were too extreme to begin to treat.”

The soldier looked up at The Doctor.

“You’re an officer,” he said. “But you SOUND like one of us..” Rose was puzzled for a moment, until she remembered how odd The Doctor’s accent had sounded the first time she met him. She hardly noticed it now. It was HIS voice. But she realised this young soldier had the same accent. “We’re in the Salford Pals,” he said. “From Chapel Street, We all of us joined up from the Mill.”

“Chapel Street? I know it well,” The Doctor said. “Drank many a pint in the Old Ship. I’m sorry, I really am. I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything for your brother. Please, take him now, to wherever they are laying the dead, say the prayers you need to say, and thank any God you believe in that you’re alive. Your mam - when she’s finished killing you for letting your brother die - will at least bless the fact that you made it. And that’s the only consolation there is in all this.”

He gently lifted the dead man from the table and laid him in his brother’s arms. As the soldier turned with his sad burden the stretcher bearers laid before The Doctor another screaming victim of ‘the stupidest campaign of the stupidest war’ as he had accurately called it. He prepared to do what he could so that at least this one’s loved ones got back half a man in a wheelchair.

“Chapel Street? The Old Ship?” Rose questioned as she passed him fearful looking instruments and swabbed bloody wounds. “You really know the place?”

“No. I saw the pub in his memory. But it made him think not all officers are murdering upper class fools. I don’t know WHY I have a working class Manchester accent. I’ve only been there once – at the Peterloo Massacre, 1819. How I look and sound is a malevolent whim of the regeneration process.” He had finished doing what he could for that patient and the stretcher bearers substituted another one.

That was the pattern for hours on end. They never stopped coming. Rose was relieved by another nurse and sent off to rest. She was reluctant to go, but The Doctor persuaded her to go back to the TARDIS on pretext of checking some readings for him. When he had a moment to check on her he found her asleep on her cabin bed by the softly murmuring console as it recharged the drives.

That was fine. She was, after all, only Human. But he wasn’t. His superior stamina was tested to the limit as hour after hour the wounded came to him, to be treated, to live, to die. Far too many of them died. He knew that in most of those cases it was wasting his time to try. They needed a triage system. They needed to decide which it was possible to save and which they should just give a shot of morphine and leave to quietly and quickly die. As harsh as it sounded, it would have given him and the REAL doctor a chance of saving far more of those who COULD be saved.

He looked across at the other doctor. Despite NOT being of Gallifreyan birth, with two hearts and superior stamina, he never stopped working either. The Doctor admired his courage and his steadfastness. As ceaselessly as they both worked, injured were brought in; men who were hardly recognisable as men any more, such were their injuries, screaming, crying for their mothers, praying to their God or more often cursing Him for leaving them only half alive.

In comparison, the Time War had been clean. There were no half men struggling to survive in its aftermath. No shell-shocked and insane - unless he himself counted.

He had been a half-man, half insane, when he had put himself into stasis, unable to finish himself off with some quick death and end the Time Lord race for ever, too weary and heartsick to initiate regeneration and begin again. He understood what these men were suffering better than any of them could guess. And that was why, although he never should have been there, in the midst of a major temporal event that could not be interfered with without seriously damaging the future history of the planet, he did what he could to ease the pain of those who were living or dying anyway with or without his help.

As night fell, the pace slackened and both doctors were able to step back from their operating tables and know the worst was over for one day. The other man went to find clean clothes and a place to rest for a few hours before it all started again. The Doctor stayed on duty. He felt sick in both his hearts from the suffering he had seen at too close quarters but his mind and body were still fit and able to carry on. And after hours of frustration at being able to do so little, there was one thing he could do.

It was a dreadful thing, and if he had ever taken the Hippocratic oath he knew he could not have done it. The family Lœngbærrow took oaths seriously, even archaic ones. But having been thrown over by the lovely Elizabeth just before the final examination, he never actually made that commitment to the medical profession.

So there was nothing to stop him doing what he did now.

He walked through the field hospital like an Old Testament Angel of Death. At each bed he touched the forehead of the man lying there and in his soul he knew when this man was fated to die. It was another of his Time Lord skills but one he rarely practiced, because knowing the length of somebody’s lifespan just by touching them is too much of a burden to carry.

He used it now. When he touched one that was doomed only to a few hours of pain and suffering he made it easy for them. No, he didn’t kill them. He consoled his conscience with that. What he did was show the soul the way to leave the stricken body. The free will of each man, if it was strong enough, could turn away from the portal he opened. One or two did. But most seemed grateful for the relief he offered.

Some, when he touched them, he saw immediate pain. But he also saw beyond that, to a life that stretched beyond the now, beyond the battlefield. He saw their children and grandchildren, and a far off death at the end of a natural lifespan. Still others, he saw maybe a few more months of life, a year, perhaps, before the same fate they escaped this time finally caught up with them.

These he gave a different gift, a relief for a few hours from pain, without the addictive drugs of the field hospital. He felt sadness for those doomed to live now only to die on another battlefield, but he couldn’t interfere with causality. Besides, those he knew would live a long and fruitful life made the whole thing seem a little less ghastly and pointless.

He touched the patient in the end bed and he saw that this, too, was a survivor. He saw children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren before the man died a very old man by human standards in the 1980s. Very nearly the other end of the century - Rose’s generation.

It was as he thought of Rose that he realised that he was seeing something strangely familiar. Gently, he probed further and realised what it was.

“Nurse!” He called quietly and the slight young thing in a nurse’s uniform who had been sitting at a desk under a lamp labelling pill boxes came to his side. “Do you have this man’s chart?” he asked. “I can’t seem to see it.”

“It’s here, sir,” she said, bending and picking up the clipboard that had dropped off the end of the bed and pushed underneath. The Doctor looked at the name at the top of the page. “Private Michael Tyler, aged nineteen.” He read.

“Same age as me,” the nurse said in a soft cockney accent that made the Doctor look at her twice. In the lamplight he saw two liquid brown eyes framed by nut brown hair. Well, he knew his Rose was not a natural blonde. When they were too long away from a Boots Chemist her roots did start to show. If she had been born before girls of her class dyed their hair and wore make up and fashion jewellery the girl standing before him here would have been her.

“What is your name?” he asked, although he didn’t need to be told.

“Rose Cotton,” she said. “Nurse Rose Cotton.”

The Doctor smiled at her. “Nurse Rose Cotton, aged nineteen, this is Private Michael Tyler, aged nineteen.” He took the nurse’s hand and put it into the limp hand of the sleeping soldier and closed his around them both. “The two of you are going to have a long and fantastic life. I promise you.” Nurse Rose Cotton looked up at his soft slate-grey eyes and though she didn’t understand what he had just told her, and it was the strangest thing she had ever heard an officer say, she believed him. She looked at the sleeping form of Private Michael Tyler and then turned and looked for the Doctor.

He was not there.

Outside in the dark the Doctor smiled to himself. That last encounter had totally restored his faith in humanity’s chances of survival. No wonder his Rose was such a brave young thing. Her great grandparents, at the same age she had been when she stepped on board his TARDIS and accepted her share of his burden, had both signed up for the big adventure that was called the Great War until a greater one came along. They had come through a day that was known in the history of Earth as the most bloody and pointless and futile day in that history and they were alive. Their future was theirs to make what they could of it. The end product of it all, insignificant in terms of world history, was his Rose.

As if thinking of her had brought her to his side, he felt her slip her hand in his. Wordlessly he drew her close. He had that to be thankful for. Apart from Michael Tyler, lying there asleep, not even knowing that his future wife was by his side, he was the only man in this great camp who had the comfort of a woman’s love to sustain him.

“Hey, you two lovebirds,” Jack called out softly in the dark. “Come on, there’s work to be done.”

“You found the craft?” The Doctor asked him.

“Took me all day, but yes. It’s out there – in No Man’s Land. They’re feeding.”

“What are?” Rose said. “The B…what you said earlier?”

“Berrisian,” The Doctor explained. “Their capsule must have cut across our path while we were in the vortex and pulled us into their wake. I thought it was me, but the circuits I was working on had nothing to do with either of the main drives. I was….” He laughed at himself. “I was just trying to get clearer pictures on the viewscreen.”

“But what ARE Berrisian?” Rose asked again.

“Space ghouls, feeding on the dead,” Jack said. “I’ve come across them before. They love battlefields. And this one is a feast to them.”

“Uggh,” Rose shuddered.

“Uggh is the word,” said The Doctor. “It’s certainly not something you ought to be looking at, Rose. There’s a very nice young nurse working all by herself in there. Why don’t you go keep her company.”

“You’re sending me off to play nurse while the big men do the hard work,” she protested.

“I know I am,” The Doctor admitted. “And I am sorry. I know its wrong of me. But I don’t want you out there. So, please, do as I ask.” He held her close to him for a few moments before sending her on her way back to the field hospital while he and Jack made their way towards the No Man’s Land of the Somme offensive.

“You know, Doctor,” Jack said. “Rose has a point. You DID send her off to play nurses.”

“I want her safe.”

“Yes, and everyone knows why. You’re in love with her and you don’t want to see her hurt.”

“Well, of course I don’t. Do you?”

“You’re the one with the superior intellect,” Jack responded. “You don’t need me to spell it out. You put her safety first. One of these days you’ll put us all at risk to do that, or you’ll let somebody else be hurt in order to protect her. You can’t do that.”

Jack was right, of course. He knew it. But he wasn’t sure he could change anything. He didn’t want her hurt. He DID love her too much. Was it his weakness, his Achilles Heel? If it was, he didn’t know what he should do about it.

“Just let her do what SHE feels is right,” Jack told him. “If that means being with you through thick and thin, well consider yourself a lucky man. I wish somebody cared that much for me.”

“You don’t let anyone care for you, Jack.” The Doctor said. “You run away from commitment.”

“I used to,” he said. “Till I met you. Now I’m signed up for the hardest job in the universe and don’t even get paid for it. You don’t even kiss me,” he added.

“One woman man, Jack,” The Doctor reminded him. “Sorry.”

“Yeah,” Jack smiled. But the witty riposte he was about to make never happened. They were in the area known as ‘No Man’s Land’, between two great armies in the aftermath of one of its most bloody days. The field was littered with bodies still, and that was gruesome enough. But what made it worse was the fact that the bodies were being eaten by hundreds of two foot tall creatures with skin like a muddy potato and teeth like piranha fish.

The Doctor looked deep into the night. The tiny part of his DNA that came from his human mother was concentrated in his eyes. They had a human retinal pattern. But at the same time, he had the extra ‘features’ of Gallifreyan eyes, including a filter against strong light that allowed him to look into the sun, telescopic and microscopic sight and, of course, night vision. He looked, using both the telescopic and night vision abilities, all across No Man’s Land and he could see thousands of the gruesome little scavengers. A sickening sound of chewing and crunching hung on the air.

“Where’s the ship?” The Doctor asked. Jack pointed to a slight rise in the ground. “It’s cloaked, but I picked up the wave form of its engines on the TARDIS’s scanners. It’s big enough to carry 10,000 of those things. And you KNOW what happens after they feed.”

The Doctor nodded. After feeding on the dead, they would go into their ship and ‘pupate’ just like caterpillars turning to butterflies - except these would turn into a dozen new flesh eating ghouls, their numbers growing exponentially. Granted, they fed on the dead, and were no threat to the living. In a gruesome way, they even provided a kind of service – cleaning the battlefields of rotting dead flesh. But they were wrong. They didn’t belong here. Stupid and futile as this battlefield was, it was a HUMAN place. Nothing else ought to be here. Nothing alien, not even him. But HE couldn’t leave yet.

“We need to get to the ship,” The Doctor said.

“Yeah, I figured we might,” Jack said. “Just one problem. Well, two problems. Somewhere out THERE is a German machine gun post capable of turning both of us into fresh Berrisian food. And back THERE – a British post that can do likewise.”

“Yeah,” The Doctor grimaced. “If the TARDIS was working ok we’d have no problem.” He sighed. He actually felt a little too tired to do this. “Jack, please remember that I AM a one-woman-man and give me your hand. I need actual physical contact with you to fold time around us both.” Jack reached out to him and The Doctor closed his hand around his. His touch, Jack noticed, was like a charge of static electricity. And it did something else. Jack looked around and saw that all movement beyond a metre or so around the two of them had slowed to a near stop. The gruesome ghouls looked as if they were chewing absently and thoughtfully rather than indulging a feeding frenzy. He expected to move as if through treacle but it was not like that. Everything else was slowed down, but they moved at normal speed across the battlefield to where the alien ship was hidden.

Or was time normal and THEY speeded up? He wasn’t sure, but the effect was the same. If the men at the machine gun posts saw anything, it was a momentary shadow put down to overtiredness.

The cloaking mechanism was good. Even right on top of it, neither of them would have known it was there if they didn’t have the sonic screwdriver’s insistent signal telling them it was. The Doctor punched in a code and pointed it at the empty space they knew was not empty. The ship solidified in front of them. “Watch my back,” the Doctor said as he moved underneath the main bulkhead of the ship and used the sonic screwdriver to UNSCREW an access panel. Jack thought it was the first time he had seen it DO anything that normal. But his job was to watch The Doctor’s back, and he did so. He drew the service pistol that came with the uniform and kept his eye out for alien ghouls that might decide to try live flesh instead.

“That does it,” the Doctor said after a few minutes apparently aimlessly tinkering in the underbelly of the alien ship. He clasped Jack’s hand again and he felt the time slow – or speed up, whichever it was.

They were halfway across no-man’s land when The Doctor heard the high pitched homing signal he had set off. All around them Berrisian ghouls paused in their gruesome meals and began to rush back towards their ship. For a moment, even in their folded time, they couldn’t move as the creatures flew past them. As soon as the air cleared they ran for it back to the British lines.

The Doctor released them from the time fold and they turned to look as the Berrisian ship’s engines fired into life with a high pitched whine that alerted the sentries and machine gunners on the British side as it must have done the Germans some half mile away. But neither could see anything. At least not until the ship was a hundred feet into the air and it exploded with a brilliance that brought a false dawn to the Somme battlefield for a few seconds.

The Doctor, whose eyes had immediately shielded themselves, was the only one who saw clearly the craft explode into a million pieces of burning metal that would fall back to Earth and bury themselves in soil that was already littered with so much shrapnel and detritus of battle that, even in Rose’s time, farmers ploughing peaceful fields on this spot would still turn up pieces from time to time.

None would ever suspect the mangled and fused lumps were anything out of the ordinary, while hungry dog packs would be the explanation should anyone ask what happened to the bodies that lay there overnight. Not that very many people would ask. The trenches were already starting to fill with men who were preparing to repeat yesterday’s stupid manoeuvre in the hope that THIS time it would work. The Doctor sighed as he turned away and consoled himself with the knowledge that the same bull-headed determination actually helped humanity achieve a great deal in times of peace.

The TARDIS’s space and time drives were fully rebooted and engaged. There were some loose ends to tie up before they could go, though. As he stepped outside again, dressed in his incongruous black leather jacket once more, The Doctor saw an ambulance just like the one the TARDIS had disguised itself as pull up. He stepped into the shadows and watched as a man in a smart RAMC officer’s uniform climbed out, accompanied by two nurses and a youthful looking Captain. The doctor he had worked with for a day and a night emerged from the field hospital to greet them.

“Sorry we’re late,” the new doctor said in the more usual clipped Home Counties tones that had never seen the inside of a Salford pub. “Heard you needed back up here. But this was the soonest we could make it.”

“That’s all right,” the doctor said. “The chap who came on ahead did fine.”

“What other chap?” The new doctor asked.

The Doctor smiled. That was his exit cue. One more thing, though, before he and his companions faded into the night. He adjusted the sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the TARDIS. It gave a rumble and the pre-dawn air shimmered. A blue police public call box of the 1950s stood incongruously next to the newly arrived 1916 army ambulance.

“You changed it back,” Rose said as she came beside him, followed by Jack. “Good. Didn’t seem the same, somehow.” She patted the door frame of the old, familiar, trusty TARDIS as she passed over its threshold. While the Doctor set their course to leave she slipped away and changed out of the nurses uniform. When she returned they were in temporal orbit and preparing to enter the space-time vortex. The Doctor was pretending to be busy at the console.

“Doctor….” He turned as Rose called softly to him and was not entirely displeased when she hugged him. “I was mad at you. And I shouldn’t have been. I realise now you didn’t want to leave me out of the dangerous bit. You just wanted me to meet Rose Cotton - my great grandmother. That was sweet of you. I was mad at you and had no way of telling you I’m sorry if you didn’t come back.”

“I always come back,” he said in reply. “You can depend on that.” He glanced at Jack momentarily and went on. “I don’t mean to keep you away from the danger. You came on board the TARDIS with me, knowing that it would take you to terrors you couldn’t begin to imagine. And you’ve faced them all down. I’m proud of you, Rose Tyler. You are fantastic. And if sometimes this ancient old duffer forgets that you’re not a little girl who has to be protected, remind me how fantastic you are and overrule me.”

“Ok, it’s a deal.”

Another thought crossed her mind. “It was so strange in the hospital. Nurse Cotton… she said she had never seen it so quiet. We looked at the patients – a lot of them were dead. She said that happens every night, but usually not so quietly. All of the others… they were so calm. One of them woke up and he said an angel had taken away his pain.”

The Doctor said nothing.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” He still didn’t say anything, but his eyes gave her the answer. From their usual clear, soft slate-grey they seemed to harden to something like dark granite and for a fleeting moment they seemed like portals into either heaven or hell. Rose wasn’t quite sure which, but she had the feeling he knew which of the two any man’s soul was destined for – except possibly his own.

The moment passed and he looked at her and smiled and she remembered that this was the man whose love for her even a Dalek had recognised.