Haresh Chandra was enjoying a cup of tea and a quiet moment to read the evening paper. Everyone in the house knew he valued this quiet time in the evening, so he was surprised when his daughter sat down next to him with an earnest expression on her face.
“Dad,” she said. “Can you make up a reason to drive Sky to and from school with you for a couple of days without scaring her in any way?”
“I… could suggest it as a good way to get some extra revision in before class time,” he answered after a moment’s thought. “Why?”
“I hoped you wouldn’t ask,” Rani answered. “But… well, Sky said something to me earlier. And it made me think that… maybe… somebody is stalking her.”
Haresh put down his newspaper and stared at his daughter.
“No, Dad, don’t panic. I don’t think we need to call the police, and I don’t want it to be a big thing, in case it really is nothing. But… you know, we’re looking after her while Sarah-Jane is in Geneva, and what if….”
“She is adopted, of course,” Haresh noted. “Sarah-Jane never actually told us about her background, but it wouldn’t be the first time a birth parent made trouble in that way. I’ve got a list of them in my office who aren’t allowed on school premises.”
“Yes… I suppose it might be something like that,” Rani agreed. Though if THAT was the case there was more of a problem than the usual disputed custody case. The Metalkind would take more than a court injunction if they were really determined. “Anyway, don’t tell Sky I spoke to you. It feels a bit like telling tales, but….”
“I understand,” Haresh told his daughter. “Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I’ll try to keep it discreet. Though if I DO spot anyone around the school I will have to call the police.”
“Yes, of course. Thanks, dad.”
Rani kissed her father on the cheek, something she just about felt young enough to do. She was, after all, holding down a full-time job as a journalist. And she was older than Sarah-Jane was when she was travelling around the universe with The Doctor.
Both of which made her appreciate having an old-fashioned, down to earth, straight-forward thinking father to turn to at times like this.
She really wasn’t sure who else she COULD turn to. Ordinarily this would have gone straight to Sarah-Jane, but she was at a conference in Geneva, the world headquarters of UNIT. There was something important being discussed, and Sarah-Jane was there as a sort of ‘expert witness’ because of her time with The Doctor. Sarah-Jane had hoped it was nothing to do with Daleks… or Cybermen… or Sontarans… or Zygons.
Anyway, she was away, and Rani’s parents were taking care of Sky, although she HAD put up a case for staying at home with Mr Smith and K9 for protection. Sarah-Jane dismissed that idea out of hand.
Mr Smith was having some downtime with a deadlock seal on his wall panel and K9 had gone to Geneva with Sarah-Jane. Exactly what HE could do there was even more mysterious, but he had gone in a UNIT transport plane, bypassing any awkward questions at Customs.
That left Rani as the closest adult with any understanding of these things that Sky had been able to talk to about the stranger who had stopped her in Bannerman Road on the way home from school.
At that time, just before four o’clock, Mr Chandra was still at Park Vale School. As Headmaster he was always the last to leave, barring the janitor. Mrs Chandra was at her shop on Ealing Broadway. Rani was on the tedious Tube journey from King’s Cross to Ealing on a wet February afternoon.
Sky had a key to the Chandra house and permission to make snacks and coffee for herself. She wasn’t thinking of anything else but those refreshments when a man stepped in front of her, blocking the pavement.
At first, she thought it was a neighbour, but when she looked at his face she didn’t recognise him at all. He didn’t look especially dangerous. He had a roundish face and a slender body, making him look a bit like a Belisha beacon on legs. He was wearing ordinary clothes, trousers, a v neck jumper, nothing special.
But then, dangerous people often did look ordinary. She knew that as well, if not better, than any other girl of her age.
She backed away a few steps, suspiciously. She got ready to scream, if necessary, bringing any number of neighbours running to the scene.
“Hello, Sky,” he said to her.
“How… do you know my name?” she asked, then realised that was a bad thing to say. Now he DEFINITELY knew her name.
“It’s quite all right, Sky,” the man responded. “You know me. I’m The Doctor.”
“What?” Sky took another step back and looked at him curiously. She had met two versions of that amazing time traveller called The Doctor and seen pictures of four others.
This was none of them.
“How’s your mum?” he asked while she was thinking of something to say.
“She’s… she’s fine,” Sky answered. “She’s expecting me home for tea. I’ve got to go.”
“Of course, she is,” the man calling himself The Doctor answered. “Give her my fond regards.”
Sky hurried off towards her home, then hid in the bushes at the gate to see where the man went before running across the road and letting herself into the Chandra house.
Fortunately, Rani came home long before either of her parents. Sky told her everything.
“But we saw The Doctor at Christmas,” Rani pointed out. He’s a woman, now. I mean… she’s a woman, I think. I’m still not sure about the pronouns. But she was here.”
“Well… yes, I thought about that. But… she… he… could have changed AGAIN. Or… Time Lord, TARDIS… crossing time lines and all that. He could be an earlier or later version we’ve never met before.”
“That’s true,” Rani admitted. “But… then why was he lurking in the street like a… child abductor... or something?”
“I don’t know. But… you know I never felt scared of The Doctor. All mum’s stories… and yours and from Luke and Clyde. You know he’s an amazing GOOD guy… or GOOD woman, whatever. But this time… I felt….”
Sky couldn’t quite explain what she had felt, except that she had lied about her mum being home. She had felt uncomfortable enough in his presence to do that.
“Is it possible that The Doctor has regenerated into a BAD person? I mean… could that happen? It would be horrible if that happened. But… could it happen?”
“I don’t know enough about The Doctor or about Time Lords generally, to say for sure,” Rani admitted. “Even your mum doesn’t know EVERYTHING. She said ages ago they could only change faces twelve times, but he… she… has done it more than that already. What do we really know about how their personalities change each time? I suppose he could have gone bad. Or maybe it’s something wrong with the regeneration… he doesn’t quite know who he is, yet?”
“He knew my name,” Sky said.
“Yes, but… after all, that’s a trick ordinary human conmen use. You’re in the school newspaper with the hockey team. You get letters from your South African pen pal… envelopes that get put in the bin, that he could find. It happens.”
“But an ordinary conman wouldn’t say he was The Doctor. An ordinary conman wouldn’t know about The Doctor.”
“That’s true. But, still.…”
“Maybe I should have believed him… maybe I should have waited to see what he had to say. I mean… The Doctor… here… it could be important.”
“But you didn’t…” Rani left the question hanging.
“I don’t know. Even though he did know all that… I just wasn’t sure. Maybe… it WASN’T him? I don’t know. I feel… confused, upset… in a way I never expected to feel about HIM. Of all the people in the world… I believed in The Doctor before I believed in Father Christmas. And I trusted him the way I trusted Father Christmas. I can’t even explain to myself why I felt as if… as if I didn’t trust him at all this time.”
“You don’t have to explain. If you felt something wasn’t right, then you were right to get away from him. That’s what a girl your age is SUPPOSED to do when a man worries you. It’s what a girl MY age is supposed to do, for that matter. Where did he go, do you know?”
“Into the garden next door to our house. You know, the bungalow that doesn’t look like any of the other architecture in the street. Mum said the original house was the only one in Bannerman Road hit by a bomb in the war. They built the bungalow in the 1960s when they thought square, boring buildings were the way of the future.”
Rani knew the building well enough. It was the dull, boring, suburban view from her bedroom window.
“It’s empty, at the moment, isn’t it? The tenant, Mr Argyle, moved out before Christmas. There WAS a letting sign but it blew down in the storms last month and nobody put it back.”
“I don’t think The Doctor rented a house next door to us,” Sky decided. “Doesn’t seem his style.”
“No… it doesn’t. Look, it’s a school night and nearly dark. There’s no reason why you should be outside to meet anyone tonight. If it really IS The Doctor, he’ll introduce himself properly. If it’s a… I don’t know, a really well-informed troublemaker… then… well, it’s a cold night for lurking in bushes, and he won’t enjoy himself at all. Just… close your curtains before you get undressed.”
“I always DO,” Sky assured her friend.
Sky did her best not to worry and as Haresh and Gita arrived home and normal life surrounded her she settled down to her homework, television, supper and bed like any ordinary fifteen year old with nothing to worry about. She had been a little surprised by the offer of a lift to school in the morning, but accepted it, as well as the chance of peaceful revision time.
Rani tried not to worry too much about everything Sky had said… or at least she tried not to show it. Several times as she sat on the sofa watching television she wondered if she ought to have gone over to the house to see for herself.
Or just called the police.
When she went to bed she absolutely remembered to close the curtains before undressing. Then she put out the light and opened them again. She sat in the gloom and watched the opposite side of the road.
Usually, there were lights on in the attic at number thirteen until quite late. It was strange, and just a little lonely to see that house as a dark silhouette beyond the hedge.
The bungalow, oddly enough, didn’t have a house number. Some time after the war but before it was built, Bannerman Road had been re-numbered – probably when the houses on this side were put up in the early nineteen-sixties to try to ease a housing shortage of that time. The bungalow was either known as 13a or 15b. Neither made sense, but the postman delivered most of the mail there. Sarah-Jane and the owner of number fifteen occasionally took around misdirected letters.
In any case, it WAS empty just now.
So there shouldn’t have been lights at the front window.
They weren’t ordinary lights from electric ceiling bulbs. They were flickering, as if somebody was moving around with a torch.
Two simple though worrying explanations sprang to mind.
What was the point of burgling an empty house? The second was more likely.
Or it was the light on top of a police box….
No, Rani decided. It really WASN’T that. She forced herself not to think of anything so reassuring as the police box.
Well, whatever it was, it was nearly midnight and raining. And, after all, she wasn’t THAT sort of journalist- or that sort of girl - who would go out in the dark to investigate lights in an empty house.
The mystery could wait until daylight.
She closed the curtains and went to bed.
She fell asleep quickly. A long day at work, then this strange crisis at home, took their toll.
But only a few hours later something woke her. She wasn’t sure what it was, exactly, a sudden noise that penetrated her dreams.
It was something that disturbed more than her sleep.
She sat up quickly and went to the window.
“No!” she groaned as she spotted a slight figure slipping through the garden gate and running across the road to the bungalow. “Oh, for goodness sake, Sky!”
She hurriedly dressed and crept quietly downstairs, wondering if she was doing the right thing. Waking her dad and getting him to call the police would be the SENSIBLE thing. But that wasn’t necessarily the same as the RIGHT thing to do.
It was still raining and just hurrying across the road was unpleasant. She was almost grateful to be in the lea of the low building as she moved around, looking for a way inside.
Surprisingly, the back door, leading into the small kitchen, was unlocked. She opened the door slowly and slipped inside.
It was very dark. This side of the house there were thick bushes that screened it from the lights in the street adjacent to Bannerman Road. She moved cautiously, hoping she wouldn’t trip over the pedal bin or something equally noisy that would give her away to… whoever might be here.
She didn’t want the police coming after all to arrest her as a burglar.
She tiptoed through to the short corridor beyond the kitchen with living room, bedroom and bathroom doors all wedged open and empty of furniture….
In the living room, the room with a window onto the street, the window facing Rani’s bedroom, lit with the yellow light of a street lamp, was a familiar shaped blue box with a lantern on top that gave off its own pale blue light.
Seeing it actually gave Rani some hope for a little while. It WAS the TARDIS. It had to be all right, after all.
WAS it the TARDIS? The windows looked a little different from the last time she had seen it. So did the door and the rectangle sign with instructions for using the phone.
But did that mean anything? The TARDIS could change just like its owner. The one she had seen at Christmas was different to the one a few years ago when the Doctor had been a youngish man and wore a strangely timeless tweed jacket and bow tie.
This one was different again. She reached out and touched it.
There was something else about it. The feel of it, the way the paint filled the grain of the wooden panels, all felt wrong.
For a start, even though the TARDIS looked like it was made of wood, it never felt as if it was. Touching it was a very different experience than that.
And there was no vibration. She knew enough about the TARDIS to know that it had a very slight vibration even when it was empty.
Something else worried her even more than discrepancies in the exterior of a police box.
Where was Sky?
And where was The Doctor?
Of course, the answer was obvious.
She knocked on the TARDIS door.
“Sky, are you there? Are you in there?” she asked in a loud whisper.
“Yes,” Sky’s voice responded, muffled by the door. “But this isn’t… It’s not….”
Rani yelped in shock as a bright overhead light snapped on. She turned to see the man who strongly resembled a Belisha beacon. He was standing inside the door that led to a front vestibule not much bigger than the outside of the TARDIS, his hand on the light switch.
“Rani, my dear,” he said with a smile she didn’t find at all reassuring. “How delightful to see you, though I am surprised that you didn’t knock at the front door politely. But… of course, you are a journalist. I suppose being a little deceitful comes natural to you. Sarah-Jane Smith was just the same. I never could, quite, completely trust her.”
“That’s not true,” Rani answered. “The Doctor trusted Sarah-Jane with his life. And she trusted him.”
“Yes, I expect she told you that. But I AM The Doctor. I know the truth. It wasn’t quite how Miss Smith likes to make it all up for her bedtime stories.”
“You’re NOT The Doctor,” Rani told him. She tapped on the TARDIS door. “Sky… are you all right?”
“I’m a bit scared, but I’m all right,” she answered. “Except….”
Rani didn’t hear the rest of her words. They were drowned out by an angry shout before she was grabbed by the arm and pulled roughly away from the TARDIS.
“I AM THE DOCTOR,” bellowed the thin man with the round head. “I am The Doctor. You must believe me.”
He pulled her around to face him and it was almost as if he was trying to hypnotise her as he repeated those words as a sort of mantra.
“I am The Doctor. I AM The Doctor. You must… you must believe me.”
“No, I mustn’t,” Rani answered. “I don’t believe you. I don’t know what is happening, here, but The Doctor would never shout at me in that way. You’re not MY Doctor, and you’re not Sky’s Doctor. You’re certainly not Sarah-Jane’s Doctor. You’re NOT The Doctor.”
She ducked as his arm came around to hit her. If there had been a shadow of a doubt up until then, the violence of that action convinced her.
The Doctor would never hit her.
HER Doctor wouldn’t.
“You’re NOT The Doctor,” she said again. That made him even more angry and he again prepared to strike her.
She turned as his blow missed its target a second time and he slightly lost his balance. She took advantage of that to raise her own tightly clenched fist. She hit him back with all the strength her slender body has within it. She had never hit anyone before. It was not something she ever expected to do. But it worked far better than she expected. The blow caught him on the chin and slammed his head back against the TARDIS door. He slithered down onto the floor, unconscious.
“Ohhh!” Rani groaned in momentary panic. Had she killed him?
She quickly examined him and was assured that he was alive. She was assured of something else, too, in consequence of that examination. But that could wait, for now. She quickly checked his pockets and found a brass Yale key, his only possession.
She put the key in the TARDIS door lock and turned it. There was a reassuring snick and she pushed the door open. Sky fell out of the space behind and hugged her joyfully.
“It’s NOT a real TARDIS,” Sky said.
“I can see that,” Rani answered her. She looked at the unfinished wooden interior of the box that was certainly smaller than the outside. “And he’s not real, either. He only has one heart, to begin with.”
She nudged the still unconscious man with her toe. Sky looked at him in disgust.
“He called my phone,” she said. “He told me there was something important… something that put mum and Luke in terrible danger. I know. I shouldn’t have believed him. But… I suppose I sort of… WANTED to believe it was him… The Doctor. We all do, don’t we? We WANT to see him… her… around here as often as possible.”
“Yes, we do,” Rani admitted. Deep down she had hoped it, too, even though this hadn’t seemed anything like HER Doctor.
“What are we going to do?” Sky asked. “About him?”
“Nothing, yet,” Rani answered. It was only when Sky asked the question that any plan occurred to her at all. “Not until morning, after you’ve gone to school with my dad, and mum’s off to ‘Bloomin’ Lovely’. I don’t want them to have anything more to worry about this soon after Christmas and all that palaver. I’ll tell you all about it when you get home.”
Sky was a bit disappointed, but really she was tired from lack of sleep and the truly awful fear she had experienced locked inside a dark, claustrophobic box by a man whom she had discovered to be a fake. That big disappointment overshadowed all others.
“Our Doctor is out there,” Rani assured her. “She’s bound to be busy saving the universe. But she’ll drop by when she can.”
Sky was reassured. Of course, that was true.
“Give me a hand with him, before we’re done,” Rani added. Between them they hauled the fake Doctor into the fake TARDIS. Rani locked the door and put the key in her pocket. Then the two girls quietly slipped out of the house and across the road. Haresh and Gita Chandra were still asleep, unaware of the danger their daughter and the child they were looking after had found themselves in.
In the morning, Rani waited until they were gone before making a phone call.
“Code Thirteen,” she said to the UNIT telephone receptionist. “There is trouble at Bannerman Road. Can I please speak to…. Oh, Kate Stewart is in Geneva, Isn’t she? Ok… what about Osgood? She’s in Geneva, too? What? Yes, I’ll talk to the OTHER Osgood, absolutely.”
Anywhere but UNIT that conversation would have made no sense. Anywhere but UNIT her story would have been given short shrift.
At least they kept it discreet. One unmarked car came to get the fake Doctor. He looked oddly deflated and a bit stiff after several hours in that cramped space.
His fake TARDIS was put, sideways, into an unmarked van.
Osgood came and sat in the Chandra kitchen drinking coffee and explained how the situation had arisen.
“His name is Gerald Cartwright,” she explained. “He worked for us. He used to be an archivist. He was as brilliant with the written and digital files as Doctor Malcolm Taylor is with particle physics. But… something happened to his mind. We didn’t realise at first. He worked alone a lot of the time. We didn’t even realise he was becoming obsessed about The Doctor and all of his Earth friends. Well, we’re ALL a bit obsessed with The Doctor, of course. Nothing would have been strange about that.”
Osgood smiled and tugged at her multicoloured knitted scarf that she was wearing even though the central heating kept the kitchen ambient.
“Most of us… except for Doctor Malcolm, maybe, know how to curb our obsession. But Cartwright didn’t. It grew… until we realised he had come to believe he WAS an incarnation of The Doctor. He had memorised all of the top secret case files going back to the nineteen sixties, and all our files on The Doctor’s friends… Sarah-Jane, and Luke and Sky, you and your family, too.”
“Oh my!” Rani exclaimed, wondering what she ought to think about having a file with her name on it in UNIT’s archive.
“Exactly. He built his TARDIS from exterior drawings and photographs. It’s actually an out of date look from the nineteen seventies. When he was given his medical discharge on mental health grounds somebody made the mistake of letting him keep his TARDIS. It probably seemed like a kindness, but it meant he could still retreat into his delusion, even when he was getting daily home visits from a psychiatric team. And… well, two days ago, he went missing from his home. We’ve had the police working with us, but we were looking elsewhere… at places where The Doctor’s cases in the nineteen-seventies had taken place. We never thought of him coming here to bother you.”
“Poor man.” Rani observed. “It’s sad. If he ever gets over the delusion he’ll feel really foolish.”
“That may be some time. Besides, he WILL have to be institutionalised. UNIT will make sure he’s looked after… for his safety and others.”
“Yes,” Rani agreed. “Quite right. But, poor man, after all.”
Osgood nodded and then smiled widely. She looked in her satchel and brought out some photographs loosely gathered together.
“The Doctor sent some pictures of herself and her new friends. They’re having an interesting time.”
“So, I see,” Rani commented. “Yes, THAT is MY Doctor.”
“Mine, too,” Osgood concurred with an even wider smile and another tug at her scarf. They were ALL her Doctor.