Authors: Ian Stuart Black
Tags: #Science-Fiction:Doctor Who
By IAN STUART BLACK
Based on the BBC television series by Ian Stuart Black by arrangement with BBC Books, a division of BBC Enterprises Ltd
Number 136 in the
Doctor Who Library
A TARGET BOOK
the Paperback Division of W. H. ALLEN & CO. PLC
‘Right on time!’ called the Doctor.
Of course he knew that in one sense Time was a fiction – an attempt by man to measure duration with reference to the sun and stars. But he also knew that although such measurements were based on an impressive formula, all man’s concepts were fraught with error. Time was not as it was supposed to be, for here they were, he and his single crew-member, Dodo, travelling fortuitously across space, splitting Time into fragments – or more exactly, ignoring the passage of time, the rising and setting of the sun, the ebb and flow of tides, the coming and going of the galaxy in which they voyaged.
‘Stand by!’ called the Doctor. He had a split-second awareness of where they were, and knew how much it would mean to the girl, this home-coming.
‘I’m logging it on the computers,’ Dodo told him. ‘I’ve timed the entries. You can see it on the graph.’
It was odd she should talk about time. They had their own time in this encapsulated world of theirs, the TARDIS.
‘Watch the screen,’ she said proudly. ‘Pressing "Re-call"
The graph came up, a bold, splendid curve. Their progress was unblemished. He could predict exactly where they would materialise, but he said nothing.
Mixed with the pleasure he felt about their arrival, the Doctor experienced a sense of concern, as though he were being given a whispered warning, an uneasy sensation.
Dodo manipulated the instruments, sending a stream of data across the screen. In the past Steven had handled this task, but now he was no longer with them, she had taken over such calculations. It was still a new toy to her.
There was a brief, panoramic image of the city into whose ambit they were emerging. Tall buildings were springing up where once Georgian squares had stood, where the rubble of a recent war had lain. Now the city had been rebuilt, and London rose, very much as it was.. And yet to the Doctor’s eyes, also very different. One style was going – one tempo was giving place to another. A generation had grown up which hardly remembered the carnage and they were reconstructing their own capital.
Perhaps the thing that caught the Doctor’s attention – before he even saw it, in fact – was the tall, graceful tower that stood head and shoulders above the rest of London. What was it they had called it? The Post Office Tower? In all probability they would change that name, but that was what they had first called it. ‘The Post Office Tower,’ he repeated to himself. A symbol of recovery, he thought with satisfaction. He had always enjoyed England, and in spite of this warning whisper he looked forward to this visit. It was almost a holiday feeling.
He looked up at the screen. ‘Do you know where you are?’ he called.
Dodo saw the flickering pictures as they homed in. The focus steadied and cleared. The scene was suddenly familiar– and yet she didn’t recognise everything... She couldn’t be sure... But there! The bridges across the Thames! The Parks! The great sprawling city!
‘It’s London!’ she shouted. She could hardly believe it! They had returned to her own town... ! But when? How much later than when she had last been here?
Or perhaps it was earlier? That confused her. How could she be in a place... her own world... older, even wiser... yet before she had left? Perhaps before she was born?
The Doctor must have caught her thoughts. ‘A little time has passed, Dodo. You won’t be out of place. What has happened – or not happened – will synchronise with you and you will be totally accepted. You are back home.’
As they seemed to settle – that was the way she thought of it as the TARDIS materialised – the pulse died in the dynamos and she could hardly wait to get out, to see her own people again, to breathe her own air, mix with her own kind and be back in a world she had thought she would never see again.
The Doctor watched, saying nothing, but guessing that she had travelled with him for the last time. He would miss her – as indeed he regretted losing so many of his fellow-travellers.
The scanner played over the city below them. The sensors of the TARDIS – programmed by the Doctor over many journeys – fed responses to the Control factor– that area the Doctor thought of as the brain.
He drew her attention to the pictures on the screen. People were hurrying along a crowded street.
‘Do you see any changes?’ he asked.
She began to laugh. ‘Look at their hair! The length of it. Even the men!’
The Doctor saw little to laugh about. His own hair was as long as any man’s in the streets of London on this spring day in the 1960s.
‘And the skirts!’ Dodo pointed. ‘They’re even shorter! And so many are in jeans. What’s happened to the old "short back and sides", and the smart jacket and ties?’ ‘There are some,’ pointed out the Doctor.
The screen showed a busy road, not far from elegant Regent Street.
‘It’s like a holiday town,’ said Dodo. ‘I don’t remember all those boutiques, and that sort of music playing. Certainly not from shops... And all the people are so young! It’s as though a new generation has taken over London.’
‘They’ve taken quite a step in that direction,’ agreed the Doctor a little critically.
The scanner panned along a narrow alleyway. Perhaps it was still searching for an appropriate place to ‘land’. As they panned past the corner, Dodo saw the street name.
‘Carnaby Street,’ she frowned. ‘I don’t remember that. It wasn’t there before.’
‘Everything changes,’ said the Doctor. ‘It’s all a fashion, my dear. What you and I think is solid and permanent, is only a passing shadow. Part of the time you lived in – your own time – is a memory to these young people.’
A quiet, old-fashioned London square, one that had as yet not suffered the planners’ vandalism, came up on the screen, and she guessed this was where they would make contact with Earth.
The outer door opened, but at the last moment Dodo didn’t race out into the sunlight. She hesitated, running her hand over the structure of the ‘ship’ around her. She had grown to love it – perhaps like the cave, the primitive safe place that mankind – and certainly womankind –had relied on since the beginning of time. And now, all at once, she had a feeling she was saying goodbye.
‘Come along!’ called the Doctor breezily. He was not one for sentimental moments, nor for prolonging partings.
He strode sharply to the door.
And Dodo hurried after him.
The square was something of a cul-de-sac, and the corner in which the TARDIS had materialised was tucked out of the way.
A few pedestrians hurried past, and a couple came out of one of the houses. No one seemed to notice anything unusual.
The Doctor took a deep breath, savouring the bright morning. ‘Wonderful,’ he said. ‘Wonderful! What a pleasure to find ourselves here.’
‘What a home-coming!’ said Dodo.
‘So you know where you are?’ he teased her.
‘Of course. It’s marvellous to be back. It’s ages since I was here.’
He looked at her drily. ‘When you’ve seen as many ages as I have, you won’t use that term so freely. In fact, it’s been no time at all.’
‘Right, Doctor. Let’s get moving.’
He was carrying a placard which he began to fix to the door of the TARDIS. As he stepped back she saw it was a printed sign. It read: ‘OUT OF ORDER’. She laughed. ‘What’s that for?’
He looked reproving. ‘The problem about being back in the twentieth century is that the TARDIS could easily be taken to be what it appears to be... if you follow me.’
Dodo lifted a finger. ‘Test Number One coming up,’ she said.
The young police officer had turned the corner. He saw the TARDIS, then walked towards it. He had put his hand on the door when he saw the sign, gave a grunt of annoyance and hurried away.
‘Test Number One, okay,’ said the Doctor with satisfaction.
‘But no one can get in anyhow,’ said Dodo. ‘I mean, not even the police could open the door.’
The Doctor gave a thin smile. ‘Exactly... otherwise Scotland Yard could be whipped off into time and space.’
Dodo was impatient. ‘Come on, Doc.’ She strode ahead.
A tall shadow lay at an angle across the square. As they reached it the Doctor looked up, sunlight causing him to screw up his eyes.
‘So that’s it,’ he said.
‘What is?’ Dodo didn’t stop walking.
‘The Tower,’ the Doctor told her. ‘The Post Office Tower. Look!’ He pointed to where it rose not far away – tall, graceful, dramatic. ‘It’s finished,’ he said.
She stopped and looked up. She wasn’t sure whether the building had been started when she was last in London, and now it was complete – a landmark, a symbol of a new age.
Even Dodo was impressed.
As the Doctor murmured to himself, ‘Very impressive,’ she had a sense of pride.
‘Fab, isn’t it? That’s something Steven would have approved of.’ Steven, her fellow space-traveller, was still very much in her thoughts.
‘Steven is too far away, and too busy right now,’ said the Doctor, ‘to worry about... ’ He hesitated.
She stared at him. ‘What’s there to worry about?’ He made light of it. ‘There’s always something, you know. Things that need ironing out.’
She scoffed. ‘You’re imagining things.’
He looked at her. ‘You should know better than to say that, my child.’
She caught the serious note in his voice. ‘What is it, Doctor?’
‘I don’t know exactly. Just something alien.’ He looked at the Tower again.
‘Something to do with that?’
‘It could be... I’m not sure... but something... Not quite a threat... but... ’ He made a gesture. ‘I just scent it.’
‘You scent it?’ Dodo grinned. ‘That’s good old London smog.’
He might have pointed out how free the city was from smoke, but he was too absorbed.
As they left the square, he stopped and pulled back the sleeve of his jacket.
‘What’s the matter, Doctor?’
‘A prickling sensation,’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Our nervous system gives us messages, Dodo. If we care to listen to them,’ he said.
She could hardly take him seriously. On this sunny morning in familiar London there was nothing but harmony and light.
‘Look at my skin,’ he said. ‘It’s like being stung by nettles. I get it when something threatens – something powerful and inhuman.’
‘It’s very like my reaction to the presence of the Daleks,’ he added.
‘Daleks? What are they?’
‘Ah. You haven’t met my old enemies, have you? And I trust you never will.’
He came to an abrupt decision... out of nowhere, it seemed to Dodo.
‘I must investigate that Tower,’ he said, and set off smartly.
Dodo trailed along in his wake. It wasn’t exactly the first thing she would have done on this home-coming, but the Doctor was determined, and anyhow it was a pleasure just to walk through the streets.
They stopped once not far from the Tower.
‘I remember a little milk-bar near here,’ said the Doctor. ‘We could both do with refreshment.’
‘A milk-bar? What’s that?’ Dodo had never heard of one.
‘Ah, yes. Before your time,’ said the Doctor. ‘I wonder what is all the rage today.’ He found the building and gave it a quick glance before they went in. ‘Roughly the same idea,’ he said. ‘But not milk. More like coffee. At least I hope it’s coffee that comes from that contraption.’
A great metal instrument with an array of pipes, steamed behind the counter.
‘Two espressos coming up!’ said the assistant by way of greeting.
‘Taste’s not bad,’ said Dodo, after they settled into an alcove. Round them was a sprinkling of customers, young office workers and the like.
‘From the Post Office,’ said the Doctor. ‘Engineers, technicians, I suppose. They must employ quite an army to keep today’s communication system going.’
He took a batch of papers from an inside pocket. It always amazed Dodo how much the Doctor managed to carry on his person. He would delve into his floppy, velvet jacket, and fumble through documents, scraps of scribbled formulae, a diary, some letters... ‘Ah, this could be it.’
He began to make notes, putting odd pages together, while Dodo watched the crowd around her. She would have liked to join in the conversation, but it was best to listen, to pick up bits of news that gave her an idea what had been happening.
The Doctor looked up from his papers. ‘Did you ever come across one of my former companions, Ian Chesterton?’ and before she had time to reply he answered himself: ‘No, of course not. That was long before our paths crossed. A clever fellow, Mr Chesterton. A name to be conjured with. I imagine in today’s world of Technology, a name to be respected. I shouldn’t wonder if he didn’t have some hand in establishing this very system.’
‘This famous Tower... Yes, Ian would probably have trained today’s scientists... Now, let me think.’ He made some quick calculations. ‘It’s so easy to get one’s dates mixed, what with all this jumping about in time. But I suppose he turned out to be a professor or a don, or whatever they call them. Anyhow, he made a big impact on science at the start of this decade. So I’ll take a chance.’