Authors: Glyn Jones
Tags: #Science-Fiction:Doctor Who
Ian felt suddenly drained. Although his breathing had returned to normal minutes after entering the museum, his legs began to feel very shaky and he started to lower himself onto a handy plinth in order to take a rest. He was half way to a sitting position when he straightened up again. If the plinth weren’t actually there he was going to look a right clown sprawled across the floor. ‘Well, what about this then?’ He walked over to another cabinet and placed his hand on it. It was as insubstantial as the first. His hand passed right through it. He raised and lowered his hand a number of times. ‘It feels very odd,’ he said, ‘Just as if there were nothing there. Though Vicki’s right, of course,’ he insisted, ‘there must be something there.’
‘She is not right.’ A note of real anxiety had now crept into the Doctor’s voice. There was inherent danger in the situation and his mind was racing. But still he could not come up with an answer.
By now, Barbara had wandered off on her own to select another cabinet and experience for herself the peculiar sensation of trying to touch something that was not there. The cabinet was a tall one containing a NASA spacesuit of the latter part of the twentieth century. The suit appeared to be in pristine condition. Barbara stared at the small Stars and Stripes on the chest and the name tag which read DAVID HARTWELL. She wondered what had happened to David Hartwell that his suit had ended up here. Her glance travelled upwards to the helmet: to the opaque, almost black visor staring back at her; ominous, menacing. For a moment she imagined there was still someone in there, watching her. Did she see the suit move? Her heartbeat quickened. She took a deep breath and slowly extended her arm, her trembling fingers reaching out towards the case. She touched the surface - nothing. She touched the suit - nothing. Her hand went straight through it all. Ian walked around to the opposite side and put his own hand through to grasp hers and, together, they walked free of the cabinet.
‘What about that!’ He cried, and Vicki, sensing his excitement, couldn’t resist having another go herself.
‘Watch me then!’ She commanded and jauntily approached another tall cabinet containing an upright creature of saurian ugliness; a creature that, under normal circumstances, would most probably have terrified her out of her mind. Her air of happy confidence was bought to an abrupt halt when, with a little cry of pain, she slammed head first into an obviously solid object. Barbara and Ian burst out laughing, and even the Doctor couldn’t resist a smile, as Vicki staggered back and stood there, ruefully rubbing her forehead.
‘Well, that one’s solid all right,’ Ian exclaimed, stating the painfully obvious. Vicki glared at him. Her fright and the bump on her forehead were no laughing matter.
‘So is this one,’ Barbara added, running her hand over the surface of another cabinet.
‘Are you all right, Vicki?’ There was concern in the Doctor’s voice.
‘I think so,’ Vicki nodded, though now she was tenderly touching the bruise on her forehead.
‘That’s a lesson to you all not to take things for granted.’ The Doctor hoped he didn’t sound too pompous or self-righteous. Why was it he so often sounded that way when all he wanted to do was give good advice? He smiled benignly, hoping this would soften the expression, but no-one seemed to be paying any attention anyway. Vicki was still teasing her hurt, Ian was edging his way against a wall, examining it carefully, and Barbara seemed to be lost in thought. ‘It’s beyond me,’ she said eventually, shaking her head. ‘Why should some of these things have substance and not others?’
‘At least, the building appears to be solid.’ Ian pressed heavily with both palms against the wall. ‘But, I agree, it doesn’t seem to make any sense.’ He turned away from the wall and started to move back towards his companions. But he hadn’t taken more than a couple of steps when, with a sudden yell, he pitched forward and sprawled face down on the floor. Before anyone could move, he rolled over and sat up, moaning and rubbing his shin. ‘There’s something there,’ he groaned. ‘There’s something there in that empty space.’ He rolled up his trouser leg to reveal a half inch cut on his shin and a bruise developing on the swelling surrounding it. ‘Look at that!’ he cried, pointing to the wounded leg which, to his secret satisfaction, was beginning to look rather gory. Ian let out another groan but, as nobody was making any attempt to baby him, he rolled down the trouser leg, got to his knees, leaned forward and gingerly stretched out his hand. Nothing. He tried again to one side, a little too forcibly and let out another yell, hastily withdrawing his hand and shaking his fingers. ‘Now I’ve dislocated my finger!’ he bawled, massaging his knuckle.
‘Don’t be such a big baby,’ Barbara said with some exasperation.
‘All men are when they’re hurt,’ Vicki proclaimed with all the wisdom of her years and somewhat enjoying Ian’s discomforture. He scowled at her and reached out again, with a little more caution this time.
‘It’s cold to the touch, metal I would say.’ He put out his other hand and his fingers curled around the invisible object. ‘Cylindrical.’ His hands moved up. ‘Quite tall.’ His hands moved down and then horizontally outwards. They watched him, fascinated. ‘And this is what it’s standing on. This is what caught my shin.’ He turned and looked up at the Doctor. ‘Well?’ he enquired, ‘And what do you make of that?’
‘There will be a logical explanation. There is a logical explanation for everything.’ The Doctor assumed an urbane manner, trying to make up for his earlier testiness, though he was still deeply worried. ‘It is merely a matter of taking the facts you know and putting them together to make another... fact... logical... fact. Let’s find out what we have: firstly, we all have a black-out and, when we come to, we find the clock has isolated itself; then we find ourselves on a planet which gives every appearance of being nothing but a giant museum, where half the objects are solid and half are not, and some are solid but invisible, where we can see the inhabitants but can’t hear them, and where we seem to be invisible to them.’
‘You’ve left out the footprints,’ Ian remarked dryly. ‘And the glass of water!’ Vicki added.
The Doctor looked at Barbara, waiting for her to add her pennyworth, but she shook her head. ‘So, what have we got then?’ He nodded his head and rubbed the side of his nose. They waited expectantly for the facts to produce another fact but, when they failed to do so, Ian decided to spur things on.
‘Well?’ he enquired.
The Doctor continued to nod his head and rub his nose. Then he stopped the rubbing and tapped with his forefinger instead. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I think I’ve got it.’ But, before he could say what it was he had got, Vicki broke in with an urgent whisper.
‘There’s someone coming!’ She indicated the doorway at the end of the room, being the only one in a position to see through it, and hurriedly moving out of that position.
‘Good,’ the Doctor replied, ‘We might have a little more luck this time.’
‘Aren’t we going to hide?’ It was Barbara, now showing more than a trace of anxiety.
But the Doctor was all complacency. ‘Bearing in mind what happened last time we met the inhabitants of this planet there doesn’t appear to be much point in hiding. Remember, we’re invisible,’ he said, giving them all the benefit of his most reassuring smile which didn’t reassure them at all. They turned back to look towards the doorway just as one of the young men they had seen earlier reappeared walking towards them. He still seemed apprehensive, glancing over his shoulder as though afraid of being followed. He was closing in on them fast.
‘Start talking,’ the Doctor commanded.
‘What for?’ Ian responded with some surprise. The Doctor really could be most extraordinary at times. Here they were on an unknown planet, faced with a creature who looked human but who, in all probability was not, and they were expected to start a conversation? Even if they did, the chance of the young man speaking English was probably billions to one, and they had already experienced their inability to hear him anyway. He felt the question was perfectly justified. The Doctor, on the other hand, did not.
‘Do as’ you’re told!’ he snapped. Why was everyone being so disobedient? ‘If they can’t see us, let’s try and make them hear us.’ He stepped into the path of the oncoming youth, waved his arms violently, and yelled; ‘Hey, you! You there! Stop!’ But the youth came on, looking straight towards the Doctor but seemingly oblivious to his presence, and the Doctor stepped aside to let him pass. Ian didn’t. The youth was approaching the other doorway when Ian ran ahead of him, turned, and planted himself firmly in his path. Ian saw every feature distinctly; the fair hair, the pale grey eyes, the grim expression on the slightly gaunt face. They were almost nose to nose. The next step and the boy would bump into him. But he didn’t. Instead he walked straight through Ian and disappeared into the adjoining room. Ian swung around to stare at his receding back and then turned around again to face the others. There was a shocked silence finally broken by Ian finding only part of his voice.
‘Did you see that?’ He squeaked, as if they could have missed it. ‘Did you see that? He walked right through me!’
‘Of course he did,’ the Doctor replied, as though it were a perfectly natural and everyday occurrence. ‘You’re not here. Let’s follow him. He may provide an answer to the whole mystery. Come on or we’ll lose him.’ The Doctor was already on his way and the others dutifully fell in behind, but not very happily.
‘All right, but I’d like to know what it is we’re following,’ Ian complained. ‘There isn’t much point in following something that isn’t there.’
‘Don’t be tiresome, Ian.’ The Doctor’s stride never lessened. ‘I didn’t say he wasn’t here. I said you’re not here.’
‘Oh, really?’ was the rejoinder. ‘Then just where am I supposed to be?’
‘I’ve told you about time dimensions before. Now do keep up. I don’t want to lose sight of that young man.’ And the Doctor disappeared through the doorway.
Ian stopped dead and turned an aggrieved face towards the girls: ‘What’s he on about? He never said anything to me about time dimensions.’
‘I don’t remember ever hearing anything about it,’ Barbara agreed.
‘How about you, Vicki?’ Ian turned to her.
‘Oh yes,’ she replied, with a slight air of smugness, ‘I know all about it.’
‘Do you now?’ Legs astride, Ian placed his fists on his hips in the manner of Holbein’s Henry the Eighth. It was meant to look impressive and accompany the slight note of sarcasm in his voice. ‘Then maybe you’ll be so good as to enlighten us.
‘Certainly,’ was the confident response. Vicki wasn’t in the least impressed with Ian’s heroic stance. In fact, she thought it looked rather ridiculous. ‘He was referring to the four dimensions of time. Time, like space, although a dimension in itself, also has dimensions of its own. We are existing in one dimension and that boy is in another. All right?’
Ian cast a slightly perplexed glance towards Barbara and then looked back at Vicki. ‘Not really,’ he said.
She smiled. ‘And you a school teacher.’
‘All right, there’s no need to get hoity-toity,’ Ian snorted,
‘Well, it’s like this...’ Vicki said with elaborate patience, as though solemnly explaining some simple fact of life to a small child, ‘What we’re seeing hasn’t happened yet, and we can’t be seen because we’re... Oh, it is a little confusing, isn’t it?’
Ian responded with a satisfied smirk before Barbara’s interjection wiped it from his face. ‘I think we’d best get after the Doctor,’ she suggested. ‘And let him explain.’ She moved quickly towards the doorway and the other two, unable to resist a sly glance at each other, followed.
They did not have far to go. The Doctor was standing only a few yards away inside the adjoining room. Arms folded across his chest he was engrossed in a pantomime being played out before him. This room was vast and the exhibits in it much larger. Among them, suspended from the ceiling, was a space shuttle - The Robert E. Lee - and, beneath it a number of young men, all in the black uniform, were engaged in what looked like a heated debate. In their midst was the boy who, only a few minutes earlier, had nearly given Ian a heart attack by passing right through him. He was talking excitedly and pointing in the direction from which he had come and where the travellers were standing. The Doctor noticed his companions had joined him and inclined his head in the youth’s direction.
‘As you’ll notice,’ he said, ‘he didn’t get very far. It would appear to be some sort of big pow-wow,’ - the Doctor was obviously under the influence of The Robert E. Lee - ‘And that boy is trying to impress something on the others.’
‘Why don’t we get closer?’ Ian suggested. ‘They can’t see us.
‘Yes, I know,’ was the answer, ‘but there’s no point in tempting fate. We don’t know anything about them or how they would react to us so it wouldn’t do to suddenly materialise in their midst, now would it?’
‘Materialise!’ Ian cried. ‘What are you talking about? I’m here, I’m real, I’m solid. I talk, I feel, I breathe, I’m alive! My leg hurts. The pain is real. Cogito, ergo sum. Quod Brat demonstrandum. I don’t have to materialise!’
‘Yes you do,’ the Doctor replied calmly, pointing to the group of young men. ‘To them, when you arrive. So, we’ll just stay here and watch.’
‘Why do you think that one keeps pointing through there?’ Barbara asked. ‘Do you think he’s found the TARDIS?’
Of course not. If we haven’t arrived, the TARDIS hasn’t arrived.’
‘Would someone please tell me what is going on!’ Ian insisted with increasing impatience. ‘Look, about this time dimension thing...’
‘Not now, Chesterton. We’ll just keep watching and see how events turn out.’
Ian folded his arms and gazed around the room. ‘I don’t know about anyone else,’ he said, ‘but I get a bit tired of dumb show after a while.’ And, as though to prove his point, he glanced over his shoulder. His arms fell to his sides. ‘Oh, heck!’ he whispered, ‘We’re in trouble. Doctor!’ He grabbed the Doctor’s sleeve and they all turned. Marching towards them, through the room they had just left, was a squad of white uniforms, led by one who was obviously their officer and who already had his weapon drawn. ‘What do we do now?’ Ian hissed.