Anyway, as my mind tried to wring a plot out of the epic Sixth Doctor finale, Gallifrey, which would have had the Master, the Rani, the Daleks, Peri, Sil, Mel, lots of explosions and righteous fury. The Apocalypse Element meets The Ancestor Cell meets Trial of a Time Lord.
"But what," my idle mind wondered, "would happen next?"
In this Grade-free world, Season 25 had ended with Mel and a regenerating Doctor stuck in a ruined TARDIS floating above the dust that was once Gallifrey, everything else seeming to have crashed and burned. How would you follow a story like that? The original authors never bothered to say, taking the CS Lewis method of “really great shit happened but I’m not allowed to tell you what it was”, which made the ending of The Last Battle so damn endearing.
As I pondered what would happen next if, say, I were in charge, I came up with an idea... and almost a year later I finally bothered to write it down...
The sun sets over the tops of trees in a forest surrounding an ancient castle. Pleasant medieval flute music plays.
2. TOWER ROOM
The sunshine pours through the window, illuminating an elegant circular room full of books, parchments, scrolls and crude astrological equipment. Sitting on a bed half-buried in books is the Seventh Doctor, dressed in a simple tunic, waistcoat and leggings, thoroughly absorbed in his readings. Reaching out with one arm, he pours himself a goblet of wine, collects it, drinks it and returns it without looking.
The goblet rattles on the bench. The Doctor notices. Distantly, there is the familiar faint sounds of wheezing and groaning, getting louder before falling silent. The Doctor frowns.
DOCTOR: Well, well. [calls] Squire!
The door to the room opens and a young squire of about 17 enters. He is wearing appropriate garb, except for the futuristic laser pistol holstered to the belt around his waist.
SQUIRE: My Lord Doctor?
DOCTOR: Ah, there you are. Be so good as to draw me a bath, will you?
SQUIRE: [tugs forelock] Certainly, my Lord.
DOCTOR: Yes, I must look my best.
SQUIRE: Oh, my Lord? Is it some special occasion?
DOCTOR: Of course, dear boy. The Rani is in residence once more!
He snaps shut the book and rises.
DOCTOR: Yes, it’s the end of these quiet and complacent days when you could hear a dropped pin on the weathered wood floor. I heard the noise of her arrival up that very curving staircase, you know.
SQUIRE: [calls from next room] Did you, my Lord? I didn’t hear a thing. Your hearing is much better than mine.
DOCTOR: [puzzled] Is it? Perhaps it’s just the sound of her arrival is distinctive to me? Anyway, no doubt I shall dine with the Rani tonight. I mean, it’s what we do whenever she’s at the castle. I don’t want to break tradition. I want my full court regalia ready for the occasion.
He crosses to a wardrobe and opens it. Within are held on racks various historical garments. He picks out a simple white linen suit and examines it.
DOCTOR: Mmmm. She does like me in this one. It might please her tonight to see me wear it, but then again...
He reaches to the back of the wardrobe and brings out a distinctive patchwork coat of many colours.
DOCTOR: Of course I could always wear this thing. But she said it made her nervous. Why would this made anyone nervous? Nauseous, I could understand, but nervous? I’m not even sure why I own it, it’s far too large for me...
The Squire emerges from the bathroom, steam wafting from the door.
SQUIRE: Your bath is ready, my Lord.
The Doctor continues to regard the coat.
SQUIRE: My Lord? My Lord Doctor?
DOCTOR: Mmm? Yes?
SQUIRE: Are you quite all right my Lord?
DOCTOR: Oh yes, quite. Just... I feel a bit strange.
SQUIRE: Strange, my Lord?
DOCTOR: Yes. A sort of... mix... of excitement. Yes, excitement and fear.
SQUIRE: That the Rani has returned?
DOCTOR: Yes. I can understand the excitement. This castle’s a lifeless hulk whenever she’s absent. It’s a pleasant enough place to catch up on one’s reading but... it does get a little...
DOCTOR: No. No, not boring. Lonely. Almost too lonely.
SQUIRE: My Lord Doctor, I thought you preferred a solitary existence?
DOCTOR: Do I? I suppose I must have. But even I can get lonely. Lonely and afraid.
SQUIRE: Why would you be afraid of the Rani, my Lord?
DOCTOR: I’ve no idea. Probably just some fleeting whimsy, there without reason or rhyme, like vapor on the window or whispers on a cloudless day. [frowns] Did I get that right way around?
An awkward pause.
SQUIRE: Your bath is ready, my Lord.
DOCTOR: Ah yes! Excellent! Cheer up, squire!
He throws down the patchwork coat, picks up the white outfit and heads for the bathroom, beaming at the squire.
DOCTOR: After almost two weeks, our monarch is once more in residence!
3. GREAT HALL
A long table set for three diners dominated the hall. There are bunches of flowers and servants tending to things. Now wearing his white outfit and a straw hat, the Doctor enters. His squire follows.
DOCTOR: Ah, the robust fragrance of fresh-cut flowers and mulled wine!
The Doctor crosses to the sideboard to take a cup.
SQUIRE: Allow me, my Lord?
DOCTOR: Oh. Yes, of course. We don’t want to put you out of a job do we, old chap?
The squire hands him the cup.
DOCTOR: Thank you.
SQUIRE: No thanks are needed, my Lord.
DOCTOR: Well, they are given freely, my squire. Hang on, I don’t even know your name!
SQUIRE: Does it matter, my Lord?
DOCTOR: Does it matter? I get you to wait on me tooth and claw and I don’t even know your name! That doesn’t seem fair, does it? You deserve some kind of recognition for your service, at least I should know your name.
SQUIRE: My Lord, what is *your* name?
DOCTOR: My name? I’m the Lord Doctor of course. No. Wait. I see your point. That’s not a name either. Perhaps we both need names.
SQUIRE: Forgive me, my Lord, but if we needed names, surely we would have them already?
DOCTOR: Your logic is impeccable, squire. But still... I think I should call you David.
SQUIRE: “David”, my Lord?
DOCTOR: Do you like it?
SQUIRE: It is as good a name as any, my Lord. But why did you choose that?
DOCTOR: [blinks] You know, I’m not entirely certain. Maybe it’s a family name. Do I have any family called David? I must have. Everyone knows someone called David.
SQUIRE: I think it might be best if we continued without names, my Lord.
DOCTOR: Oh. Why?
SQUIRE: It is simply the way things are.
DOCTOR: “The way things are”. One of the Rani’s favorite sayings.
SQUIRE: Indeed, my Lord.
DOCTOR: It’s a phrase she uses to explain all manner of idiosyncrasies. Like that strange accessory you all wear.
He waves at the squire’s gun.
DOCTOR: All the serving class wear those things in those scabbards. The squires like you, the cooks, the footmen, the ladies-in-waiting... Now, if you carried some kind of dagger or sword, I might understand why. But what are those things for?
SQUIRE: The Rani wishes it part out of our wardrobe.
DOCTOR: I can’t see why. It doesn’t have any practical purpose, it doesn’t even look aesthetically pleasing...
SQUIRE: Perhaps you should discuss this with the Rani.
DOCTOR: I did. She said I shouldn’t worry about it.
SQUIRE: It is simply the way things are.
DOCTOR: David, you took the words right out of my mouth.
The Doctor heads over to the table.
DOCTOR: Oh no.
SQUIRE: My Lord?
DOCTOR: There are three places set! The boy must have returned as well...
SQUIRE: The boy?
DOCTOR: Lord Cyrian.
SQUIRE: Hardly a boy though, my Lord.
DOCTOR: Maybe not in the strictest sense. He’s physically mature, but there’s this sort of air of childish innocence about him. Why couldn’t he be more like me? Anyway, David, his gangly shadow has been absent from the castle for at least five days. So he must have gone somewhere and thus has now returned.
SQUIRE: Maybe he was with the Rani?
DOCTOR: Maybe. Hello?
They head for the other end of the dining table where servants are placing wrapped packages in a pile, almost like Christmas presents. The Doctor grins and crosses over to them.
DOCTOR: Ah! The Rani’s kindly brought me some presents.
The Squire indicates there are two piles of presents.
SQUIRE: And for Lord Cyrian, my Lord.
DOCTOR: [scowls] Oh, come on, that’s hardly fair. He’s already getting trips away from the castle. That’s more luxury than I get. On top of that, he gets gifts as well! This is the straw that lead the horse to water...
They both look up as a young, good-looking man in similar clothing enters.
CYRIAN: Good evening, Lord Doctor.
DOCTOR: [frostily] Lord Cyrian. I suppose... [frowns] You look a little pale. Are you quite well?
CYRIAN: [interrupts] Oh, gifts! I love gifts!
Cyrian hurries past them to the presents.
DOCTOR: See, David. No maturity. Nothing like me at all.
There is grand trumpeting. All turn to see the Rani arriving, in a fabulous period ball gown. She enters with a smug, controlled expression and crosses to the Doctor and Cyrian. She holds out a hand.
RANI: My Lord Doctor?
The Doctor immediately goes down on one knee and kisses her hand.
RANI: You may rise. Have you missed me?
DOCTOR: As a fish misses a bicycle, my liege.
RANI: How delightful. Have you been reading the books I have procured for you?
DOCTOR: Of course. But then, during your long absence, they’re all I’ve had for company – bar my squire David, [flings arm around the squire] my trusty companion.
The Rani looks hard at him.
RANI: You have no need of companions any more, my Lord.
DOCTOR: [looks lost] I don’t? No. No, I suppose not. [to himself] Though obviously I once did.
RANI: And my Lord Cyrian?
He kneels and kisses her hand.
CYRIAN: Oh, my regal lady, I have missed you so much.
DOCTOR: So you haven’t been together? I suppose I can’t begrudge a few presents after all... [claps] Well then, shall we have supper?
Night has fallen. Light burns behind windows.
5. GREAT HALL
The servants are clearing away the plates. The Doctor is sitting, chin resting on his hand, glaring at Cyrian who looks rather ill. The Rani finishes her goblet of wine.
RANI: Well, Lord Cyrian. Would you like to open your present now?
CYRIAN: [eagerly] Indeed, my Lady.
A servant hands him a parcel he all but tears apart, to reveal a familiar-looking golden-coloured head adornment.
CYRIAN: [impressed] It is beautiful.
RANI: [indulgently] Why not try it on?
Cyrian does so.
DOCTOR: You know, that circlet looks very familiar.
RANI: It is a coronet, my Lord Doctor.
DOCTOR: No. The Coronet, I feel sure. Definite articles, capital letters, you can spot it a mile off. Might I ask, my Lady, where the Coronet comes from?
RANI: You might ask.
DOCTOR: And might I get an answer?
RANI: It once belonged to man called Rassilon, now long dead.
CYRIAN: A strange name, but we must be of the same size. It fits perfectly.
DOCTOR: Rassilon. I think I know that name.
The Rani focuses her gaze on the Doctor.
RANI: It is a name from mythology.
DOCTOR: Is it? I do love a good myth.
RANI: A good story was not my guarantee, my Lord. Perhaps you should turn to your own gifts?
DOCTOR: Oh yes, I’d forgotten about them.
The squire hands the Doctor a parcel, which he effortlessly opens to reveal another leather-bound book.
RANI: You appreciate my gift?
DOCTOR: [distant] Yes, Your Majesty. Most impressive.
He drops the book to the table, completely losing interest in it.
DOCTOR: But this name, Rassilon. It will drive me round the bouts and on the swings until I remember who he was. I take it he was a he?
RANI: Very well, then I shall satisfy your curiosity. The story tells of a wanderer, a man without a home, who travels the world. In his travels he comes across a desert of dust. Not sand, but dust. He walks the desert for days and nights and finds nothing. Not a trace of any life at any time until he comes across a monument, a black obelisk inscribed with ancient runes.
DOCTOR: Symbolic language.
CYRIAN: And what did the runes say?
RANI: That all around the obelisk are the marvels and works of the Great Rassilon himself, whose works and deeds would live forever.
CYRIAN: But the obelisk was in a desert.
DOCTOR: Indeed. And until it was read no one had heard of the Great Rassilon.
CYRIAN: ...I’m not certain I grasp the purpose of the story.
DOCTOR: [softly] The Great Rassilon did mighty things, Cyrian. He forged a vast kingdom and made incredible achievements. But neither he nor his property were immortal, and one day, both were lost in desolation. Now the desert is more vast than the empire of Rassilon ever was, and Rassilon and his kingdom are so forgotten as to be unknown. The march of time was unimpressed by his arrogance and ground everything he had into dust. [sighs] The moral of the story, Cyrian, is that nothing lasts forever. Nothing. At. All.
An awkward silence falls over the table. Only Cyrian is unaffected and picks up a strange string instrument somewhere between a harp, a cello and a banjo.
CYRIAN: Enough of this misery. Would you like me to play for you, my Lady?
RANI: [quiet] Not tonight, Cyrian. You need your rest. Now get to bed.
CYRIAN: [grins] Yes, Rani.
Happily, Cyrian starts to leave, collecting presents as he leaves. The Doctor continues to glare at him.
RANI: You look disgruntled.
DOCTOR: Do I?
RANI: Are you jealous, perhaps?
DOCTOR: What should I be jealous? In fact, I shouldn’t be jealous!
RANI: No, you shouldn’t. You don’t need presents, trinkets, toys and silk... it’s knowledge you want, my Lord Doctor. And that’s what I’ve given you.
DOCTOR: True enough, my unequaled queen. I have a hunger for new experiences beyond the confines of the citadel. Since I can’t leave, books are a bromide for the soul, like stories of that Rassilon chap, legends of times long past and places far away... [idly] Why exactly can’t I leave again?
RANI: It is simply the way things are.
DOCTOR: Yes, I had a feeling you might say something along those lines.
RANI: Now come, Lord Doctor. For you have another gift.
DOCTOR: Another one?
RANI: The servants have been installing it in your quarters while we dined.
DOCTOR: Installing....? It’s not another complete set of encyclopedias then?
RANI: [patiently] You desire first-hand experience, so let us discover the truth ourselves rather than rely on the knowledge of others.
DOCTOR: Ah. My own words thrown back at me.
The Rani rises and the Doctor follows her out, as do the servants.
DOCTOR: Hoisted by my own curiosity, live by the cat, die by the satisfaction...
6. TOWER ROOM
The Rani enters the room grandly, followed by the Doctor. He pauses as he sees the present: a battered blue police telephone box filling up the far side of the room, looking rather worse for wear.
DOCTOR: [intrigued] What is it?
RANI: [careful] You do not know?
DOCTOR: It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
RANI: Not in this life?
DOCTOR: [nods] At the very least.
Curious, he brushes a hand over the doors.
RANI: It is a TARDIS.
DOCTOR: Tar-diss. [disappointed] Never heard of it. As gifts go, this is a bit... inexplicable, isn’t it, my Lady?
RANI: Now, perhaps. But, one day, you will come to cherish it.
DOCTOR: [shrewd] Promise?
RANI: I promise.
Smiling, she turns and leaves the Doctor alone with the TARDIS. He turns to look back at the blue box, then crosses to the door and peers at the notice there.
DOCTOR: Writing... "Police... tele... elephon... tel elephant... tell the elephant... no, telephone! Free... for use... of pub lice... public... something and officers something... all calls... all urgent calls... pull to... open.”
He pulls on the door. Nothing.
DOCTOR: Locked. Which means it needs a key.
The Doctor’s eyes widen. He takes off his hat, upends it and finds a distinctive metallic key, with the Seal of Rassilon engraved into it.
DOCTOR: There’s that feeling again, David. Excitement. And fear.
The Doctor puts the key in his pocket.
DOCTOR: [troubled] Another new day has only just begun and now something wicked this way comes. By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. All the land turns to dust and crumbs when something wicked this way comes and isn’t that right Mel?
He stops short.
- to be continued...