Farewell to Shadowlands
The Doctor wasn’t sure how long he’d been lying on the ground, staring up at the sky. He seemed to have been doing it for a while but was only now aware he had been doing so. In fact, it was only now he realized where he was lying. He was in a forest, lying in the foliage of a hill overlooking a deep green sea. The sky was clear and cobalt blue, the sun a brilliant ball of white illuminating the world below and warming the surfaces around him. A cool breeze from the sea kept the temperature just right.
With some effort he lifted his head to look around. Strangely, his head was aching, though a quick check found no bumps or blood. The pain was more centred in his face, but that didn’t seem to be damaged. There was a nasty, bunt sensation beneath his healthy skin. Yet even as he thought of it, the pain seemed to fade to a bearable ache on the edge of his consciousness.
He gently felt his face. Had someone punched him in the face? Knocked him down onto the grass? Had he been robbed? Thieves in the forest? The Doctor couldn’t find any of his possessions in his pockets, but reminded himself he didn’t carry much stuff on his person since... since...
Come to think of it, where was his leather jacket?
The jacket he wore was a crushed velvet frock coat, the colour of which was hard to define. Chocolate brown? Bottle green? TARDIS blue? Vermilion? The Doctor tugged at the knot of his cravat, loosening its grip around the wing-collar shirt he was wearing. He hadn’t dressed like this in ages. He tried to remember the last thing that had happened. Something about the Crystal Palace and mistaken identities.
‘Oh no,’ he grumbled. ‘Not amnesia. Again!’ He’d forgotten how often he’d lost his memory. Well, that made sense. But hopefully it was just a mild daze from his mugging – if that was what had happened at all. There was still an ache in his head, despite there being no physical damage.
The Doctor looked around the forest, noting for the first time the sun was sinking towards the horizon. Shadows were forming and growing between the trees and the sky had turned a burned orange colour that, combined with a curious effect that made the leaves seem silver, was oddly nostalgic. He had been lying there for a while. He best start moving while he could still see. His eyesight was good, but in situations like this it paid to have the option of a powerful torch – and all his pockets were empty.
He hoped he’d get his stuff back. He was getting sick of building sonic screwdrivers.
The Doctor peered down the path into the gathering gloom and decided to head towards the sunset, which would hopefully give him more visibility than the alternative. But no sooner did his perfectly-tailored shoes touch the worn dirt path, a feeling of total unease wrapped itself around him.
Where were his companions? His fellow travelers? His friends? He hated to travel alone, but was he, on this occasion, travelling solo? Or had his friends been kidnapped? Or gone off for help? Were they back at the TARDIS? Was the TARDIS in the same time and space location as he was?
The Doctor looked into the gathering darkness behind him. He was almost paralyzed with indecision. Should he stay or should he go? Well, standing around here wouldn’t help him and with luck he’d find some evidence of his companions’ movement – or even existence – and would work from there. His pleasant surroundings seemed less pleasant now he was alone. Still, it was a glorious sunset, and he could enjoy that if nothing else.
The Doctor moved up the path and over the hill as the sun finally dipped below the horizon, nevertheless still providing enough golden light for him to navigate through the trees. His tracking skills didn’t seem to have deserted him, but there was no trace of anyone else heading up this path. No injured saplings, bent grass, human skin cells. Nothing. In fact, it looked like no one had used this path before. Ever.
He paused as the first of several bushes blocked his path. The track had ended here, leading deeper into the forest. He stayed where he was as the shadows grew deeper and darker around him and then realized he couldn’t move. At all. And was that his imagination, or was there something flat and solid pressing into his back? The ache in his skull was getting worse.
Can’t move. Can’t breathe. Can’t think. So much blood and he—
Just as the Doctor felt the first signs of panic strike him, the paralysis vanished like an idea forgotten. The pain in his face took a moment to subside and did not disappear completely. He looked around and saw that dusk had nearly become night. There was only a distant splash of sunset to illuminate the tall, dark shapes of the trees around him, sinking into the irregular sea of foliage that surrounded them.
The Doctor noted with unease that the sunset had provoked no chorus from the birds in the trees. He then noted there were no birds. No animals in the forest at all. He wondered if the sea he had awoken near had ever contained a fish. He was alone.
So why could he hear music? Classical music by human standards. Puccini. Madame Butterfly.
Such a nice tune. Shame it brought back bad memories. Well, come to think of it, the Doctor couldn’t think of the last time he’d heard it. Just a nagging sense of failure, of shame, of fear. Maybe he’d had a bad night at the opera? Or maybe...
“You’re not lost, are you?” asked a drawling female voice nearby.
The Doctor peered through the darkness to the owner of the voice. A slender, tall shape stepped forward, the last rays of sunshine bouncing off her mane of green tendrils that framed a blue oval face, glinting on her cheek scales. The mouth of needle-sharp teeth was smiling, and the large turquoise eyes were friendly.
“I’ve been lost most of my life,” the Doctor admitted calmly. “But then, I didn’t really have anywhere in mind to go, so there are compensations. Where are we, Destrii? Do you know?”
“We’re a long way out,” said his friend, shrugging her bare shoulders.
“In deep space you mean?”
“Deepest space,” Destrii replied, turning to look in the direction of the sunset.
“There’s nothing out there, Destrii,” the Doctor said reprovingly. “It’s a fact nursery children on my world understand. Nursery children,” he repeated. Odd. The sentence made him sad for some reason. “Do you know when we are?”
“No. But I like it here. It feels...”
“Like something’s going to happen here?” the Doctor suggested.
Destrii flashed him another predatory grin. “Right. Like the future’s going to be made here very soon.”
“The first days of the rest of our lives,” he surmised in response.
Destrii slipped a cool arm around his shoulders. “Stay as sweet as you are,” she advised him. “Come on, it’s getting dark. We can worry about this in the morning.”
“Procrastination is the thief of time,” the Doctor reminded her, but let Destrii lead him through the bushes further into the gloom. “Do you remember how you got here? Where the TARDIS is? Or where we were trying to get to?”
“Well, in strict order of asking: not really, no idea, and haven’t the foggiest.”
“What do you last remember, then?” the Doctor asked as they pass under a low branch.
“Oh, that thing with the Cybermen in Camden market. Everything after that is blurry. Then I was having a doze down on the beach. The sea water’s great here. We ought to bottle it and put it in the pool.”
“What pool? The TARDIS pool?”
He felt Destrii shrug again. “The TARDIS is old enough to look after itself. Let’s just get inside and relax for once, huh?”
“Inside where?” the Doctor pressed.
It was then that he saw, in the diffused light, a secluded lodge sitting in the clearing below him. It was a simple two-story structure built from expertly carved wooden logs. There was a weak light behind the windows and the Doctor realized the Puccini tune was emerging from building. Destrii was already heading up the short flight of steps onto the balcony. “Is this a hunting lodge?” he asked her.
“Nah, more a bed and breakfast,” the alien girl laughed. She moved across the area and pushed open the doors to reveal a long room that filled most of the lower floor of the house. A long table sat in the centre of the room, laden with food and drink, surrounded by lounges half-buried in cushions. The soft lighting was provided by lamps on the walls, and made it somehow more appealing. The music was emerging from a brand-new gramophone placed near the stone fireplace, containing a fire on the point of going out.
Destrii gave a happy sigh as she stepped inside the room and leant by the short steps that lead to the upper level of the house and the sleeping quarters. “I’m feeling better already. How about you?”
The Doctor’s eyes scanned the room. The pain in his head had dwindled, certainly. “You weren’t feeling well then, I take it, Destrii?” he muttered, turning to face her again. “Are you in pain?”
Destrii stroked her exposed midriff. “Just some stomach aches. Must have been bugging me for ages, but I can barely feel them now. Just gets better and better. How about you?”
The Doctor was concentrating on the two figures sitting near the fire. “Oh, I can’t complain, but my face was hurting when I woke up. It hasn’t quite gone away.”
“Probably just the strain of hiding all your surprise,” suggested a husky voice behind him. Leaning on the banister rail, arms folded, was the owner of the voice in a figure-hugging green dress. Her long blonde locks were confined by two pony-tails on either side of her head. She grinned happily as the Doctor turned to look at her and this time at least did not hide the surprise he felt.
“Did you enjoy the sunset?” she asked, moving down the stairs to embrace him.
“Well, yes,” the Doctor admitted, still taken aback at her presence. Why was he surprised to see her again when he clearly remembered travelling with her only hours ago? But he had traveled with Destrii after he had been with Charley, hadn’t he?
“I’ve seen better,” Destrii opined, pulling the doors closed behind her.
“You’re such a liar,” mocked a voice from the fireplace cheerfully. “You could show her the seven wonders of the world and she’d still be more impressed by the carpets.”
“You get a concept of worth when you’re a princess,” Destrii sniffed before letting out her shrill gurgle that was her equivalent of a happy laugh.
The Doctor approached the fire place. A girl of less than twenty was sprawled in a chair, a leg hooked over the arm rest. Her red hair feathered around her face and her pale green eyes were narrowed. Her crooked smile widened as she saw the Doctor. “You took your time, Skipper,” she observed.
“Gemma,” the Doctor identified, no longer surprised. “Where’s Sam?”
“Samson, as he likes to be called, will be here in his own free time,” Gemma replied, as if quoting her bother verbatim. “He’ll be here eventually though. Who’d miss a party like this?”
“I nearly did,” the other figure by the figure replied. “I only got here ahead of you, Doctor.”
“And how did you arrive exactly, C’Rizz?” he asked.
The Eutermisan leaned back in his chair. The light of the fire danced across his exoskeleton, gleaming off the tiny spikes on his forehead and chin. His casual sweater and jeans contrasted with his hoofed feet. For some reason his flesh remained slate grey and had not blended itself in to the colour scheme of his surroundings. “The last thing I remember is leaving Endarra with you and Charlotte...”
“Charley!” the other occupants of the lodge corrected.
C’Rizz’s thin lips twisted into a smile. “...Charley. After that, it was a blur. Then I was lying near the cliff with the sun in my eyes. The others were already here.”
The Doctor looked around. He was relaxed. Very relaxed. “But where’s Izzy? And Fey? And Stacy? And Ssard? And Grace? And Lee? And Angela? Will? Jadi? Kirena? Luke? What about the other Sam? And Fitz? And Compassion and Trix and Anji and Miranda and Lorenzo and Delilah and Frank and Claudia and Deborah and Jemimah-Katy and Nina and Mina and Bernice and...?”
“Hang on,” Destrii butted in. “You’re making that up!”
The Doctor broke into a smile. “Just testing. I didn’t want this to turn out be some kind of drug-induced, electronic dream by some super villain to break my resolve and reveal the secrets of time.”
“Guess there goes the after-dinner cabaret,” Gemma sighed. Charley laughed.
“Since the Doctor’s here, can we start eating?” she asked, already heading for the table. “I don’t know about the rest of you lot, but I’m starving.”
“Been waiting long, have you?” the Doctor asked, finding himself at the head of the table.
“Long enough,” Destrii replied, pouring herself a glass of sea water.
“I hope you’re not about to say that time is an illusion and lunchtime is doubly so.”
“I wasn’t, actually,” C’Rizz frowned with mock petulance, causing others to laugh.
The Doctor took the teapot and poured himself a cup. The spread covered all the foods his companions could both stomach and actually enjoyed, as if laid out specifically for them. There was fresh sea life and junk food for Destrii, a plough man’s dinner for Charley, a meal of nuts and berries for C’Rizz, Gemma had her favorite of spaghetti bolognaise and he had a mass of ham-cheese-tomato-and mustard sandwiches with just the right amount of butter. One bite proved not at all toxic – there were no chemical additives, poisons or steroids. The food was perfectly good to eat and hadn’t been tampered with.
“I coulda told you it was safe,” Destrii said, watching him. “Relax, Doc! You’ll live longer.”
“But none of us know how we got here,” the Doctor reminded her through a mouthful of sandwich. “This planet may look like Earth, but the gravity, temperature, oxygen content are all wrong. There’s no sign of the TARDIS and the fact that I and my former companions have been brought together here suggests we’re either being rewarded for something or being imprisoned.”
“I like the reward option myself,” Charley shrugged, taking her cup of tea. “We’ve done good, haven’t we? Fought off Daleks, Cybermen and goodness knows what else? If we can’t get a night off to enjoy ourselves, I mean, it’s the least the universe owes us.”
“Owes me more,” Destrii smiled.
“Plus interest,” Gemma laughed. “We’re safe here. There’s nothing and no one to hurt us and there’s more than enough food and drink. I’m not even missing the TV.”
“There’s one of those things in the bedroom,” C’Rizz replied.
“I’m just saying I’m happy here. Aren’t you?”
There was a nod from the others. The Doctor shrugged. “I feel good here, I admit, but... no, that pain in my face still hasn’t gone away. And Destrii had stomach cramps.”
“Not any more,” Destrii said, leaning forward to snatch up some more sea slugs. “I’m working on a new one, though.”
“Yes, I was a little sore when I got here,” Charley noted. “Like sunburn. Allover. Gone by the time I found the house. Gemma was already here.”
“And, before you ask, I had a stiff neck,” Gemma interrupted. She moved her head. “All better.” She turned to her companion. “What about you, lizard boy?”
C’Rizz pulled out his cheeks. “My back is a little sore, but it’s not worth worrying about. To be honest, Doctor, I don’t know where we are or how we got here. All I know is that I don’t particularly want to leave. This place is peaceful, beautiful.” His amber eyes roved over the girls. “The company here is even tolerable on occasion!”
Gemma, Charley and Destrii replied with a volley of abuse that their food managed to obscure.
“Yes, I know, it’s lovely here,” the Doctor agreed as he reached for some ice cream. “But I don’t think I’m ready to retire. Tomorrow morning, I’m going looking for the TARDIS. If you want, you can stay here. It’d be nice to pop by...” The Doctor shook his head to clear it, and the ache behind his eyes got worse. “But there are still so many places to be, to see, to go. I haven’t done it all yet and until I’m close, I’m not sure I can hang up my travelling shoes...”
“Which fit perfectly, by the way,” Gemma informed the others.
The Doctor drained his cup of tea. “I’m off for another walk. The stars will be out soon and I’m rather good with constellations. I can work out where if not when we are. And if we’re alone on this planet.”
Charley sighed. “You won’t be satisfied until this place is surrounded by monsters who want to conquer the universe, will you? Why can’t you just be satisfied?”
The Doctor rose. “Force of habit, Charley. Always moving on. Staying still too long and you take root.”
“Aw, come on, gorgeous,” Destrii complain. “Sit down. The stars’ll be there for ages. Let’s just relax. Tomorrow we can work out what evil genius is running this. We’ve got all the time in the world to sort it out.” She stretched and lay back on her couch.
“Wearing that bikini must be very tough on the nerves,” Gemma observed before yawning. “She’s got a point though, Skipper. We’re all dog tired and very full. Let’s count our blessings and in the morning look the gift horse in the mouth.”
The Doctor moved to the door. It struck him he did feel rather tired. Very tired in fact. He rubbed his eyes. “Good company, good food, fine music and pleasant surroundings. I must try and run into this super villain more often. I’m sure he just needs some understanding and a Swiss bank account.”
He yawned and found a chaise lounge beside the door, ready to use. As he sat down on it, he tried to review the situation, but the drowsiness got worse. He was feeling a contentedness he had not felt before. Almost resigned, even. It was like reaching the last page in an extremely fine book, the satisfaction of resolution mixed in with sadness because such a nice story had to end. But all things ended. That was the point of it all, in the end. To enjoy things while they last.
He found the strength to look up and saw that C’Rizz was tucking Gemma onto another low couch, slumping down in the chair beside her. Charley was sitting beside him, resting her head on his shoulder. The warmth of her body and the smell of her hair seemed far too much to concentrate on. Wrapping an arm around her shoulder, he let sleep wash over him.
“Wake me up when the world ends,” he informed the others before he fell fast asleep.
Or has he fallen awake? His eyes are open. And they hurt. A lot. He can only see out one eye, and find himself unable to move even that. There’s a draft. Is his mouth open? A horrible smell of copper and marrow and... hot plastic? Oh, and pain. Don’t forget the pain.
It’s agony. Excruciating agony in his head, as if it’s been smashed in. Can barely see a thing through the blood and he can’t breathe. Getting so bad. Hurts. Hard to think. And on top of that there’s a buzzing in his ears, sounding very familiar. His sonic screwdriver! That’s what it is.
Something gurgles in his throat. Where there’s a draft.
Something’s happened to his head. Something terrible.
One of his ears is still working though. He can hear a voice, calling in the distance.
“Wilson? I’ve got the lottery money. Wilson? Are you there?”
Is this a dream? A nightmare? Is he stuck in it? Or was the other place a dream? Is this the real one?
The Doctor finally found his voice and howled in agony.
The lodge was almost in pitch darkness. The fire had gone out and only the faintest of light came through the window. Charley was lifting her head, still half asleep. There was a groan from Destrii, but she did not break from her slumber. Gemma didn’t move at all, still fast asleep, so still she almost disappeared into the dark. C’Rizz was wide awake however.
“What is it, Doctor?” he called sleepily. “What’s wrong?”
“Just a bad dream,” Charley mumbled. “Go back to sleep.”
The Doctor whimpered in the pain that seemed to be starting between his hearts. It was rippling outwards like a tsunami of white-hot lava. His skin and flesh was untouched but he could still feel it getting worse and worse. “No... not a dream... This can’t be happening?”
Charley looked at him. Her expression was still sleepy, but she was upset. “Doctor, please. We waited for you. We can’t wait much longer. If you go back...”
The Doctor sobbed as the invisible fire engulfed him. “How can Gemma be here? Gemma is dead!”
Gemma, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn’t move.
“She died with C’Rizz... and you died too, C’Rizz, didn’t you?”
“More than once,” the Eutermisan replied emotionlessly.
“The final battle. You were on Gallifrey.” The Doctor tore his eyes towards Charley. “And you’re dead too Charley. Not on the R101, not on Bortresoye, on Tyron Beta. Destroyed the entire Dalek taskforce. In the war. You’re dead, Charley... you left me... and the Daleks killed Destrii...”
Charley stared into the Doctor’s eyes. “And you’re dead too.”
“You’re dead enough. Just. Just enough for us to reach you. Now you’ve got to make a choice.”
The Doctor screamed again.
Burning! He’s on fire! Bleeding... light? Orange light! Orange, yellow, white... moving through the spectrum. Bones twisting, contracting, expanding. He’s changing, repairing his body. Slowly. So very slowly. The pain’s getting worse. If he gives up now...
“Wilson?” Then something he couldn’t hear. “Is that someone mucking about?”
He remembers. The lure. The Autons. The Nestene. That idiot activating it too soon. The Autons coming to life and killing them. And now he’s dying and now he’s being born but the Autons are alive and the owner of that voice is in danger and he’s just lying there...
“OK, you got me, very funny...”
They’ll kill her.
Blackness swept over him. He was back in the lodge, or at least he seemed to be. He could barely see a thing. He had the oddest feeling of loss, as though a train were departing without him when he should have been on it. Charley was beside him.
“We’re going now, Doctor. It’s now or never. We might not get this chance again.” She placed her hands on his shoulders, despite the agony it caused. “Stop it, stay here and come with us. Gemma’s already gone. I’m next. Please.”
The Doctor could feel the agony of the front of his skull regrowing. “I got the electrician killed, Charley... There’s a girl there... They’ll kill her too. The Nestenes...” He grunted as the pain. “There’s no one left to fight anymore, Charley. No one except me. Do you really want me to stay?”
Charley smiled, her teeth sparkling as the last of the light faded away.
“I never doubted you,” she told him. “And I never will.”
Charley was fading now. The pain in his body was so powerful it almost masked out the duller pain in the remains of his head. The images seemed to flicker as if he was on the brink of reality before both became nothingness for a moment. The blackness began to dissolve, taking with it his friends, the hunting lodge and the world outside it, the dimness replaced by
a brilliant blinding light shines straight into his eyes.
The Doctor stretches, all the pain gone, wearing his leather jacket and lying sprawled on cold concrete in puddle of crusted blood. It is all too real for him and he lies there for a moment, rubbing his face. It has grown back – but not the same as before. Bonier. Harsher. His hair is so short now.
Something important. He came back to do something important.
A girl’s voice, tight with rising panic, fills his new, larger ears. “Right, I’ve got the joke! Whose idea was it? Was it Derek? Is it? Derek, is this you?”
Time to save the girl, the world and probably the universe if his luck hasn’t changed.
For a moment, he wishes he’d stayed in the darkened lodge with the warmth of his friends, in luxurious surroundings. If he does save her, what then? What’s left? All the others are gone and he should have stayed in heaven with them!
But he is the Doctor.
He gets to his feet, regains his balance and goes off to save the girl, the world, the universe and his soul.
In that order.
Never The End...