Authors: Glyn Jones
Tags: #Science-Fiction:Doctor Who
Vicki coughed. The Doctor turned back to peer at her. She held out the glass of water. He reached out and took it.
‘Oh, my dear, pardon me. What terrible manners. While we were so busy arguing...’ He cast a significant accusatory glance at Ian ‘... You’ve been standing there so patiently with my water. Thank you.’ He took a sip.
‘Does it taste all right?’ she asked.
The Doctor seemed somewhat surprised at this. ‘Taste?’ he said. ‘All right? Well, of course it tastes all right. Why shouldn’t it?’
‘Because it’s been all over the deck.’
‘The water has. And the glass.’
‘What are you talking about, child?’
‘I dropped it.’
‘I dropped it.’ Vicki paused for dramatic effect. ‘And it smashed - into smithereens.’ Another pause for added dramatic effect. ‘And, as I stood there, in front of my eyes, it all came together again and leapt into my hand, water and all.’
‘Leapt into your hand!’
‘I could hardly believe it.’
‘And neither can I.’ The Doctor scratched the side of his neck. ‘Leapt? Came together again?’ He transferred the glass from one hand to the other and scratched the otherside of his neck. Then he sniffed and looked from the glass to Vicki and back to the glass.
‘You think I imagined it, don’t you?’ the girl asked. The Doctor sniffed again.
‘Well, drop it and see.’
‘No, no,’ he said, ‘I don’t think I’ll bother. I will assume it also has something to do with the friction. And don’t ask me what!’ he added hastily to Ian.
‘I wasn’t going to,’ Ian said.
The Doctor put down the glass and they all turned their attention to the screen and the panel of instruments. After a moment the Doctor continued. ‘Yes... well... we seem to have arrived on a remarkable little planet and it appears to be quite safe. So why don’t we venture outside, hmm? We’re not going to get any answers staying here, are we?’
‘Safe?’ Vicki squeaked. ‘I think it might be a bit dangerous. I mean, there’s the clock, and the glass, and all of us blacking out. I don’t think...’
‘She’s right,’ Ian said. ‘It’s all too quiet. No sign of life anywhere. I don’t like it.’
‘But you were the one, a short while ago, who wanted to go out. Now what is worrying you? I know exactly where we are.’
‘You do?’ It. was a choral response.
‘Of course I do! Look, what is that?’ The Doctor pointed to the scanner screen. His three companions peered at the object in question.
‘I don’t know,’ Ian admitted. He turned to Barbara. ‘Do you?’ Barbara shrugged. He turned to Vicki.
‘It’s a communications satellite,’ she said, ‘From Earth. Russian by the look of it, about 1980.’
‘Oh, is it?’ said Ian sceptically.
‘Yes, it is,’ the Doctor concurred. Vicki smiled at Ian. If she hadn’t been a well-mannered young lady she might have been tempted to put out her tongue but, from the look on Ian’s face, it would seem the smile sufficed.
‘Now, what do we have here, hmm?’ the Doctor went on.
‘Obviously it got lost in space, went out of orbit and landed here, or crashed rather,’ said Ian.
‘Nonsense, my boy. It may be a bit tarnished with a dent here or there but it’s all in one piece. No, my opinion is, it was brought here, together with everything else.’ There was a hint of excitement in the Doctor’s voice and the tempo of his speech increased. ‘If you look at each of those objects beyond the satellite - each ship, each rocket - you will notice that each one is advanced in design. It’s a natural progression. And that is precisely why I know where we are. There’s nothing random about the positioning of any of these objects. They’ve been placed like that.’
‘You mean it’s like a... a museum?’ Barbara asked. ‘Precisely!’ The Doctor was at his most triumphant, ‘A space museum.’
‘Then there must be somebody to look after it,’ Ian said.
‘A distinct possibility.’ The Doctor rose to his feet. ‘Shall we go and find out?’ He nonchalantly flicked a switch on the control panel and the doors of the TARDIS slid open. No-one moved.
‘Well?’ the Doctor queried, ‘Have you no sense of scientific curiosity? No sense of adventure? Vicki, what about you? What about the glass? Aren’t you just a tiny hit curious?’
‘A little,’ Vicki said.
‘A little is enough. Come.’ And, without bothering to see who followed, the Doctor turned and led the way.
Unexpectedly, the air was quite mild. They stood outside the TARDIS and looked around. Ian squinted up at the sky. There were two suns, quite small and very far away, but two nevertheless. This would explain both the light and the coolness of the atmosphere. The silence was broken by the Doctor.
‘Close the door, Chesterton,’ he commanded. ‘You weren’t born in a barn. I believe that is the quaint colloquial expression.’ Ian bit his tongue and obliged and, with the TARDIS safely locked, they moved away, their feet making no sound and sinking quite deeply in the white dust that covered the surface. The Doctor rubbed his hand on a rock and looked at his palm.
‘Steatite,’ he muttered.
‘Dust, I’d call it,’ Ian replied, forgetting for a moment that he had determined to keep his opinions to himself for a while. Everything today - whatever day it was; probably some Friday the 13th - seemed to be conspiring against him. Maybe his bio-rhythms were at rock bottom. Certainly the Doctor seemed to have it in for him. But then, maybe he wasn’t feeling all that secure himself, and that would explain his testiness. But, for once, they seemed to be in accord.
‘Yes, that’s exactly what it is,’ the Doctor agreed. ‘I’ve never seen erosion in such an advanced stage. The whole planet would seem to be completely dead.’
Once again Ian forgot his resolution. ‘How can you make such a sweeping statement?’ he challenged, ‘We’ve only seen a few square yards of it. I’ve always associated planetary extinction with extreme cold. You know, like the dark side of the moon. Our moon.’
‘Oh!’ the Doctor blasted back, ‘You’ve been there, have you?’ And then, on a quieter note but still with an edge, ‘No, no, of course not. I beg your pardon.’
Barbara decided to intervene. She had no idea how long they had all slept but the rest obviously hadn’t done these two much good, hissing at each other like a couple of alley cats.
‘The climate seems quite pleasant..’
Ian turned on her.
‘Maybe it gets colder when it’s dark,’ she added hurriedly.
‘And there’s another thing,’ Ian persisted, turning back to the Doctor, ‘if the entire planet...’ He stressed the word with such vehemence it sounded like the release of a slingshot... ‘is dead, then where is the oxygen coming from? The atmosphere is not only pleasant, we happen to be breathing it.’ Game, set and match, Ian thought.
‘It could be artificially manufactured,’ the Doctor replied and, before Ian could argue further, went on: ‘But it’s no good standing here speculating. Let’s go and search for some answers, hmm?’ He smiled placatingly. ‘But keep together, is that clear?’ They all nodded and, led by the Doctor, started to move in the direction of the building they had seen on the scanner. They had gone only a few steps when Ian stopped and called: ‘Doctor!’
‘Oh, what is it now, Chesterton?’ The Doctor was growing more than a little impatient. He stopped, turned, and glared at Ian. But Ian was not going to be put off. He glanced around to make sure they were all looking at him and, having their attention, he said, ‘You’d agree that we’re walking on some sort of dust, I’d say at least an inch deep, wouldn’t you?’
‘Yes, yes, of course. What of it?’ The Doctor’s manner was even more testy. If someone had something to say why not.. just say it instead of beating about the bush?
Ian dropped his bombshell: ‘Then why aren’t we leaving footprints?’ His voice was very quiet and it was seconds before the others could take their eyes off his face and look down at their feet.
There were no footprints.
They stood for a moment, not knowing what to do or what to say. Then Ian took a few steps. His feet made prints in the dust which they all saw but then, as they watched, the prints disappeared and it was as if no-one had walked there. They all turned to look at the Doctor who merely shook his head, as bewildered as they were. ‘Strange,’ he said, ‘Most strange.’
‘Any theories?’ Ian asked blithely.
The Doctor shook his head again. ‘No, my boy, none whatsoever. But I’m sure an explanation will present itself sooner or later. Let’s continue our journey shall we?’
They set off once more, none of them being able to resist looking around every now and again to watch their footsteps disappear behind them. But, after a while, the game lost its novelty and they turned their attention to the exhibits lining either side of their route. For, by now, they had come to accept that this was what they were.
‘I’m tired,’ Vicki complained after a while. ‘It isn’t easy walking in this stuff.’ She stamped her foot a couple of times, sending up little showers of white dust, and puffed out her cheeks to emphasise her point.
‘Actually.’ the Doctor said, ‘the air is a bit rarified. It’s that, rather than the sand, that makes walking such an exertion. I wonder how far it is now.’
Ian looked up at the colossal hull of the spaceship by which they had stopped. ‘We must be nearly there,’ he said. ‘I remember seeing this on the scanner, with the buildings...’ He looked around and then pointed: ‘That way.’
‘I wonder where this came from,’ Vicki whispered, gazing at the awesome giant that towered above them.
‘Who knows, Vicki?’ Ian said. ‘But I doubt it would ever get back there. Look at that rust. It must have been standing there for years.’
‘Rust means moisture,’ the Doctor chipped in. ‘You were right, my boy, the planet may not be as dead as I thought. Unless, of course, the ship rusted on its journey here.’
Vicki gazed up at the gigantic wreck. It seemed too bulky to have been a fighting ship. A freighter maybe. She wondered what vast distances it had travelled and what its cargo could have been. On what far away planet had it been constructed? And what kind of creatures constituted its crew? What adventures did they have, and where were they now? She shuddered. ‘It’s so dead,’ she said, ‘Let’s get away from here.’
‘Yes, yes,’ the Doctor agreed, ‘Come on, you two.’ And he and Vicki moved away.
Barbara turned to Ian. ‘I think we should go back,’ she said. Ian shook his head. ‘We can’t now.’ He looked around, at the motley collection of obsolete and decaying high-tech that surrounded them, from satellites that would fit comfortably in the back of a shooting brake to the huge ships from which, he imagined, a thousand or more ghosts were silently mocking him. ‘I have a terrible feeling that to go back would be more dangerous than to go on,’ he said. The Doctor and Vicki were now some distance away and he remembered the Doctor’s admonition to stay together. ‘Come on, Barbara,’ he urged, and they set off after the others.
The building was further from their landing point than had appeared on the scanner and it took the little group some time to reach it. It was also much larger than they had expected. There appeared to be no fenestration and they found themselves standing before what appeared to be the only entrance: sliding doors, now closed, and with no indication of how they could be opened.
‘I wonder how we get in,’ the Doctor mused. ‘There seems to be absolutely no way of opening these doors.’
‘No bell marked Caretaker?’ Ian chuckled. But, like Queen Victoria, the Doctor was not amused.
‘Don’t make jokes, Chesterton,’ he snapped. ‘Make yourself useful instead. Look around for something.’
‘Like what? Like what?’ Ian gasped. He was finding it more and more difficult to breathe and was beginning to feel distinctly light-headed. ‘Maybe you’d like me to call the AA: "Excuse me, we’re stranded on this planet. There isn’t a living creature in sight. Would you come and pick us up please? How long will it take for you to get here? Oh, I see, about a hundred light years. Well, that’s fine, we’ll wait. We’re not going anywhere."’ Suddenly he wished he’d taken the Doctor’s advice and kept his mouth shut. He gasped for breath and the light-headedness turned into dizziness. There was a ringing in his ears and a myriad tiny lights flashed and danced before his eyes. His knees suddenly buckled and Barbara and the Doctor reached out just in time to stop him from falling.
‘Easy, my boy, easy,’ the Doctor said.
‘Sorry,’ Ian mumbled, ‘sorry.’
They supported him for a few moments until the dizzy spell passed.
‘I’m all right now,’ he said, ‘Thank you.’ His breathing was still laboured and shallow, through the open mouth, but he moved away from their supporting hands to show that all was well.
‘Perhaps Ian is right,’ Vicki said, looking uneasily about her, ‘perhaps there isn’t anything alive here.’ She was beginning to feel a slight tingling sensation in her nostrils and the back of her throat and, almost unconsciously, caressed her neck with thumb and forefinger.
‘And there’s something else,’ Barbara added, ‘Something very peculiar. Have you noticed?’
‘Everything is peculiar,’ Ian said, but Vicki and the Doctor were both intrigued by Barbara’s question and wanted to know more.
‘It’s the silence,’ she said. ‘When we stop talking there isn’t a sound. Listen.’
Ian closed his mouth to stop the sound of his own breathing and they listened.
‘It’s the kind of silence you can almost hear,’ Barbara concluded.
‘More and more like a graveyard,’ Ian said.
‘Now, stop it! Stop it, the both of you,’ the Doctor ordered sternly. ‘You’ll all start imagining things. There’s always an expla -’ He stopped short as he noticed the sudden reaction on the faces of his companions and, looking around, saw the doors behind him slowly and silently sliding open.
‘Quick!’ he hissed, and the four darted to one side and flattened themselves against the building.
‘Did you see anything?’ Barbara whispered to Ian.
He nodded. ‘A very large room, and two men coming out.’
‘Well, they look like men, in uniforms, white, with sort of red flashes across the chest. And they’re armed... I think.’ He nodded again. ‘They must have seen us.’