Summary: I bring life, Rose says and Jack last gasps in reverse and far away, too far away for the imagination to encompass, Gallifrey coalesces in the darkness. The Doctor, racked by regeneration, mistakes the change for part of his own.
Fandom: Doctor Who
Warnings: Character death referred to.
Spoilers: Spoilers for the end of Series 3. Very minor spoilers for 'The Fires of Pompeii'
Original Story: Return by nopejr
I bring life, Rose says and Jack last gasps in reverse and far away, too far away for the imagination to encompass, Gallifrey coalesces in the darkness. The Doctor, racked by regeneration, mistakes the change for part of his own. Time passes.
“All right,” the Doctor says, slamming the hand break down. “London, 2008. Not very exciting, but not a bad year all in all. Well, not any more. Perfect location for all your twenty-first century shopping needs.”
“I don’t get why you don’t just have DVDs already,” Donna grumbles. She has adapted well to time travel on the whole, but there are times when the Doctor wants to read or just be alone and Donna doesn’t sleep as much as any of his previous companions. She gave him a very stern look when he suggested she take up knitting to fill the time. “How many years have you been flying this thing?” she says now. “Don’t you ever get bored?”
“Why would I?” the Doctor says. "I’ve got books. And a time machine,” He pulls on his coat, ruffles his hair and bounds down the gangway. “Anyway, I have DVDs.”
“You mean those two random bookcases of Carry On films in the bathroom.”
“Yup. Don’t know where they came from, can’t get rid of them in case the universe implodes. Shall we be off?”
He holds out his hand and they step out into Regent Street, which looks almost exactly the same as the last time he was here. Despite this, the Doctor knows something has changed before the TARDIS doors have even shut behind him. It’s not bad necessarily, but it’s definitely different. He sniffs the air, which seems somehow cleaner. Perhaps it’s just the smoking ban kicking in, but that shouldn’t have any real affect on the atmosphere for another two or three years.
Donna has already started off down the street, turning to say, “Well, come on then,” only when she is already six shops away and almost lost in the crowd. The Doctor jogs to catch up with her and she takes his arm, ready to pull him along if necessary. He pretends to listen to her vocalised internal monologue, and even suggests that he’d prefer it if she didn’t buy Titanic, but he can’t concentrate and, eventually, Donna prods him in the arm.
“Hey,” she says. “You all right? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” the Doctor says. “It might be nothing, but it feels like there’s some sort of temporal disturbance in the-”
Donna stops walking and the Doctor is yanked roughly backwards mid-sentence. “What?” he says.
Donna jerks her head to the side. “Look at that.”
“Look at what?”
“I thought you said this was 2008. Since when did we have a king?”
“Oh, don’t start that again. Look. There. Look at that.” She points to a metal stand filled with newspapers, all of which carry a headline about the recent meeting between King Charles III and the American president, except the Express which claims to have unearthed new evidence about the death of Princess Diana. “We definitely had a queen in 2008," Donna says.
The Doctor’s eyes widen and he grabs a copy of The Times. “Good point,” he says, skimming the article. “Even if the queen’s dead, and she really shouldn’t be, this is the year the monarchy is abolished. Old Charles never gets a go at the crown.”
Donna raises her eyebrows, and the Doctor grins at her before returning to the paper.
“History has been changed… and not by me, which is a bit worrying.” He closes and opens the paper again at a different page, which is about the recent divorce of Heather Mills and Sir John Lennon. This time period has been reworked so often and worn so thin that he’s almost forgotten how it was supposed to go originally, but it hasn’t looked like this for years. He opens the paper again at another random point and again and again. Nothing is quite right.
The man behind the counter ambles outside to ask whether the Doctor would consider paying for the paper if he’s going to treat it like that, but refuses the Doctor’s offered fiver.
“We stopped accepting those last week,” he explains, as the Doctor crunches the paper in his left hand and his hair with the other. “Where’ve you been? Paper’s a Euro fifty.”
“Right. Yes. Of course. Sorry,” the Doctor says. He finds the right currency in his back pocket and hands it over. When he looks back at the paper he has just paid for, the front-page headline reads ‘Fines for litterbugs caught on camera’, with no mention of the erstwhile English king. He blinks. “Now… that’s odd.”
“Did that paper just change?” Donna asks, peering over his shoulder.
“Yes. Strangely enough it did,” the Doctor says and, as he does so, the paper changes again. He frowns. “We probably ought to go.”
“No arguments from me” Donna says. She takes his arm again and they weave through the crowds, back towards the TARDIS. “What’s wrong with this freaky dimension anyway?”
“Oh, it’s our dimension, all right,” the Doctor explains. “It’s just someone’s been meddling with it, poking their sticky fingers around in the time stream. Why do people do that? I mean, what’s the point? It’s just a big waste of everyone’s time until I can fix it.”
“You know how to fix it then?”
“Oh yes,” he says, and grins. “All we need to do is work out when the earliest change occurred and change it back again. No problem. Quick stop off at the rift to get a decent reading on this time line, match it up with the one stored in the TARDIS data banks, then another jump to the anomaly. Fifth century BC, I reckon, going by this,” he gestures with the paper. “One of my favourites. I’ll just give Jack, my friend Jack, a ring. Let him know we’re coming. He might even have something to do with this, knowing him…”
Then he realises what’s wrong. Well, everything’s wrong, but what’s particularly wrong.
There is no longer a Jack Harkness shaped hole in time. Every moment of every day for the last two years he’s felt that horrible queasy sensation caused by the impossibility that is Jack. Now it’s gone, which is impossible in itself.
“Give me your phone,” he says. Donna purses her lips, but hands it over. The Doctor rings all the numbers he remembers belonging to Torchwood, none of which are connected to the phone network. Then he calls the pizza delivery company in the plaza, who are connected, but who have never heard of a secret alien fighting organisation in Cardiff. When he’s certain that Torchwood no longer exist, he calls Martha, though he half expects her not to exist either. The phone rings three times, then there is a gap and Martha’s voice says “Hello?” calmly.
“Martha,” the Doctor says, almost embarrassingly relieved. “It’s me. Listen, something’s wrong with time again. Jack’s actually dead. I know, I know I said it was impossible, but he could never resist a challenge, so, I need you to contact Brigadier Leftbridge-Stewart and tell him-”
“Slow down,” Martha says. “Who is this? Is someone hurt?”
“It’s me. It’s the Doctor.”
“All right, Doctor who? I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to narrow it down a bit.” She laughs. “I’m a doctor myself so I know a lot of doctors.”
“Sorry, wrong number,” the Doctor says and hangs up quickly.
“What’s happening?” Donna asks. “Doctor, what is going on?”
“She doesn’t remember me,’ the Doctor says. ‘More than that… it’s as if, as if I never even existed for her.’
On impulse, he dials the Tyler residence and pretends to be conducting a survey about double-glazing when Jackie answers. He hands the phone back to Donna and looks down at the front page of paper again, which now carries a large picture of Harriet Jones standing in front of a new hospital.
“Well?” Donna says.
“It’s me,” the Doctor says. “I’ve been removed from time. Everything I’ve done, everything I’ve changed in the last four years has been put back the way it was. That’s what’s different.”
“But you’re still here,” Donna says. “Shouldn’t you have faded away or something? Oh my God, are you going to fade away?”
The Doctor shakes his head and starts walking faster. “Time Lords have linear life spans. We can’t kill ourselves or meet ourselves. Well, no, we can, but it’s very bad for the universe so we don’t. Often. Anyway. We can’t change our own history and nor can anyone else. That much is fact. It should be completely impossible to even change events around me, let alone enact something on this scale, without the universe collapsing in on itself. That it hasn’t means that whoever’s done this is very smart and in control of a massive amount of energy, which is bad.”
They arrive in Cardiff seconds after leaving London thanks, the Doctor suspects, largely to Donna who hasn’t accepted any sort of whimsical nonsense from the TARDIS since the Rome/Pompeii mix-up. Even though he has already concluded that Torchwood have been erased, the Doctor is still surprised and upset when he reaches the Water Tower and discovers the lift into the hub is missing. Fortunately, the rift is still there, though it’s returned to the docile state it was in before Gwyneth ripped it open to let the Gelth through. The Doctor pulls his sonic screwdriver out of his jacket and starts loosening the cement holding the paving slabs together.
“Donna?” he shouts, over his shoulder. “I’m going to need the long blue cable in the second drawer to the right of the hat stand.” He tugs the first paving slab loose and sets to work on a second and then a third. “Donna?” he yells again. “I need that cable now.”
When she doesn’t reply, he stands and runs back to the TARDIS to check she isn’t still looking for the right drawer, but she isn’t. Swearing more than he has since his years of teenage rebellion, the Doctor finds the cable himself, plugs it into the console and runs back outside. Working quickly, he attaches a rift monitor and begins to feed the cable down through the newly revealed soil, until the monitor starts beeping. The Doctor just has time to feel triumphant, before the beeping stops and the console goes dead.
“No, no, no, come on!"
He hits a couple of times, and then throws it away with a howl of frustration, where it clangs against the sculpture.
“Destroying public property again, are we, Doctor?” someone shouts from across the plaza.
The Doctor turns to find the Master leaning against a bollard about twenty metres away. He is still in his Harold Saxon regeneration; the suit is the same one he died in. He grins and waves slightly. “Looking for the indefatigable Captain Harkness? He’s not in, I checked. In fact, there’s nothing there at all except a rather unpleasant sewage system. Torchwood has finally been flushed away.” As the Doctor runs towards him, he counts the other members of Jack’s team off on his fingers. “The lovely Gwen Cooper is still working for the police, Toshiko Sato was killed by the family Sliveen… that was nasty, Doctor Harper-”
“I should have known,” the Doctor interrupts, “because it’s always you, isn’t it? It’s always you. The universe could implode any minute, but, of course, you don't care. My entire existence is now a paradox. How have you done this? Tell me.”
“I’m flattered,” the Master says, “but actually this is nothing to do with me. In fact, I haven’t done anything at all. How disappointing is that? I think I had a plan to bring myself back, but I’ve forgotten it now.” He smiles disarmingly. “Memory loss. One of the side effects of dying no one warns you about.”
“I’m only going to ask you nicely once more,” the Doctor says, keeping his voice steady. “Then I’m going to get really angry.”
“Ooh, is that a promise?” the Master says, like this is a lewd suggestion. “Are you sure you don’t still forgive me?”
The Doctor paces away, which starts the Master laughing. “As it happens,” he says, “you don’t need to. This isn’t my fault, you have my word on that. All I did was find you and keep you talking long enough for them to arrive, and that was only to save my own life so I don’t think it counts.”
The Doctor turns back. “What?”
“This is a trap,” the Master explains. “I thought you would have worked that out by now. I agreed to trap you in exchange for a complete pardon. Ironically, you see, they’re far more angry with you than they are with me. I’m only a deserter. You’re a genocidal maniac. Funny, isn’t it?” The Doctor stares at him and the Master shrugs. “Well, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it later.”
“How is this even possible?”
“Ask them yourself,” the Master says, nodding towards something behind the Doctor’s head.
When he turns around, there is an apparently empty glass telephone booth parked next to his own police box in front of the Water Tower. None of the people walking their dogs or cycling or talking on their mobiles seem to have noticed its sudden appearance and none of them pay any attention when a man and woman step out of it without appearing to have been inside. No one points and laughs at the long robes of the woman, or the ridiculous faux-Roman uniform of the man. This, more than anything else that has gone before, proves what the Master has been saying. His people are back in control. Time and space bend to their will.
The Doctor knows they have come to arrest him, but he feels so desperately glad. Everything is going to be all right after all. He feels like crying with relief as the two Gallifreyans walk towards him across the plaza.
“Hello,” he says, feeling hope and grief fighting for purchase on his face. Then, "I'm sorry.”
The woman smiles sadly, and he realises that she must be Councillor Flavia, possibly two regenerations further on than the last time they met. The arch of her eyebrows is the same and there, in the corner of his mind he closed off again after the Master’s funeral pyre had burnt, there is the tickle of her familiar personality, polished hard and sharp by the War.
“I’m so sorry,” he says again, because it seems worth reiterating.
“So am I, Doctor,” Flavia says and shoots him between the hearts. “…I really thought you’d run.”
There is a trial. It is all very proper. The entire council sit to pass judgement on him in an ornate, spatially enhanced hall at the back of the citadel, in which, ten lifetimes ago, he once received his diploma to polite applause. Now, the stalls and the galleries overhead are filled with hoard of mostly unfamiliar faces that now belong to his friends, enemies and acquaintances. Their thoughts crowd into his consciousness: anxious and excited and angry.
To the left of the new Lord President, Decassus, he recognises Romana and waves, but she doesn’t wave back. It has been three years in the immutable time of Gallifrey since its return, during which she must have been deposed like Churchill after Earth’s second world war, and then reinstated in a position of lesser power. She looks tired, he thinks. Her small, dark face is pinched with worry.
Meanwhile, the Doctor has no idea what his own face looks like. There’s definitely a large nose in the middle of it, thin eyebrows, smaller ears than on his ninth body, and maybe older skin than he had last time, but they haven’t allowed him a mirror so he can’t be sure if the overall effect is dignified or comical. He finds he doesn’t care exceedingly.
He knows he’s still very tall, but substantially broader than his narrow tenth frame. The regeneration process pulled his beloved suit jacket apart at the seams. The man who had worn it would have been full of outraged exclamations (“You tore my suit! I love this suit!”), but the man he is now accepted the scarlet robes Flavia leant him for the journey and pointedly said nothing about the manacles that had been strapped to his wrists whilst he was too busy changing every cell in his body to protest. He wouldn’t let her take the suit away though. He feels great affection for his silly, energetic younger self, who talked constantly to cover the silence in his head and who had to work so hard to remember he wasn’t alone. Now that his mind is once more filled with the voices of the rest of his kind, he doesn’t want to give away the only thing he has left of that man. And he did love that suit.
The robes are surprising acceptable though. The long sleeves cover the hands he is not yet used to, and, for once, he doesn’t feel like a fraud in a ludicrous costume. Besides, it’s probably for the best that whilst on trial for treason or whatever it is, he doesn’t look like a deliberate outsider. Everyone else in the room is in official dress, except for the Master who is about three rows back in the stalls, and three or four others.
There is a complete, rather disquieting silence until the Lord President rises from his seat.
“The charge,” he says grimly, “is genocide: that you did wilfully embark upon a course of actions that led to the destruction of this planet and all its inhabitants, save yourself and the coward who calls himself the Master. Do you deny it?”
“No,” the Doctor says, mildly. “Though I feel I ought to point out that you have all survived, and, it seems, some of you even in the same regenerations. I’ve been out of the loop for a while, but isn’t one of the prerequisites of genocide the death of an entire race? Forgive me if the definition has changed.”
This causes vocal uproar from the crowds watching which is surely a breech of decorum, but the council are talking amongst themselves and let it slide. The Doctor smiles and waits without fidgeting. He finds the Rani staring at him from his left and winks at her.
She rewards him with a wry smile and mouths, You idiot.
The Doctor nods. Yes, I know.
When the Lord President calls the room to order, the charge has been amended to attempted genocide, though the Doctor now stands accused of conspiring to pervert the time stream. Romana looks furious. Rose Tyler is condemned as an abomination: when the Doctor's trial is over, she will be removed from history forever to ensure that she never again has the opportunity to avert its rightful course.
“But she saved the Earth!” the Doctor shouts, when they tell him. “She saved you. Would you rather be dead?”
"We are Time Lords,” the Lord President says, and the Doctor knows, then, he has already lost. “We would rather the universe continued along its rightful course.”
He looks past the Doctor into the crowds beyond. "You have heard the charges levelled against this man. Now, who will stand for him?"
There is a short pause, a fraction of a second, in which the Doctor thinks that nobody is going to support him, and then the Master says, "I will.”
“You are still being held in contempt,” the Lord President says as the Master walks up from the audience to stand next to the Doctor. “Your testimony is worthless.
“I know,” the Master says. “That’s mostly why I’m doing this. That and you called me a coward, which annoyed me. But I also thought that I’d enjoy pointing out on record what self-righteous, fat-headed hypocrites you are. Ooh, I was right. It is fun. You’re all hypocrites. Three years ago you idiots sat down and voted to resurrect me just so I could fight in your stupid Time War. Then you did it again so you could yell at me for refusing to die in it. I’ve been dead twice. This is my twenty-third regeneration. I’m just wondering what exactly you thought you were doing when you agreed to that.”
“We’ll deal with you later,” the Lord President says.
“Oh, I hope so,” the Master says and grins.
"I will speak for him," the Rani says into the silence that follows. She falls into place beside the Master. “Even before the war, the universe was dangerously unstable. Whole planets were being lost in the time stream on an almost weekly basis. You can deny it all you like, but whatever it is that the girl has done has stabilised time and even you cretins should be able to feel the difference. It might not have been the “right” thing to do according to our hopelessly outdated legal system, but it was certainly a beneficial decision for all of us.”
"I will speak for him," Romana says, rising from her seat on the dais and walking down to stand next to the Doctor. “It was the right thing to do. He saved millions of lives and countless systems. If I could have done it myself I would have. Oh, and before you point out that council members can’t testify, I resign, because the Master’s right: you’re all hypocrites.”
“You forgot fat-headed,” the Master adds.
"I don’t think we need to descend to name calling.”
“Oh, don't be like that. He started it.”
The Doctor begins to laugh, which prompts the council to commit him for contempt of the court for not taking his own trial seriously.
"You surround yourself with criminals and insurrectionists,” the Lord President says.
“I know,” the Doctor says, beaming. “It’s brill… No. That’s not right. I need a new word again. Awesome. Super. Excellent. Marvellous? No. Never mind, I’ll work on that. It’s very much appreciated whatever else it is.”
“Do you have anything left to say for yourself before I pass judgement?”
“Yes,” the Doctor says, though he knows he shouldn’t and that he’s only making it worse if, indeed, it can possibly get any worse. “Not for myself though. For you. All of you. Just look at yourselves. Is this it? Are you really content just to go back to the way it was, same old life: watching and observing? We were real, once. We grappled the elemental forces of nature and we won. We bent time and space to our wills. We were great and glorious, but we were not wise. Our action destroyed civilisations. Our inaction destroyed galaxies. Because we stood apart, mired in tradition. Because we kept our distance. Because we didn't feel or think or understand. There's no big answer. There's no massive Right and Truth and Beauty. There's just us. Going where we go. Doing what we can to help, doing our best not to harm. Living our lives. Because that's the gift, isn't it? Life? All that potential, all that power? That's what we have. That's what you have now! You have life! You don't have to repeat the old patterns, you don't have to get stuck in that endless loop, dying and regenerating over and over! We can be better than this!"
"No,” the Lord President says. “We are what we are. That is all there is. Doctor, you are found guilty of attempted genocide and gross manipulation of the accepted time stream. Do you confess to these crimes?”
“I do not,” the Doctor says. “I just lived. I think did the best that could be done in the worst of circumstances and perhaps I failed, but at least I tried. My conscience is clean.”
They force him to regenerate, and ask him again. Still in the first 24 hours of his last regeneration cycle, this floods the Doctor’s systems with a second uncontrollable rush of endorphins. He starts giggling, which turns into full blown manic laughter when a long fringe of bright hair flops over his eyes.
“Look, Romana,” he says, between gasps. “I’m ginger!”
They inject him with mood stabilisers and force him to regenerate again.
"Your last life," the Lord President says. "Will you confess?"
"Yes," the Doctor says, hearing his own voice ring out in the superb acoustics of the hall, deeper and stronger than before. "I confess. I confess that I am the Doctor and that is all I have ever wanted to be. I confess that there are worlds out there where the skies burn and the seas sleep and the rivers dream and there is danger and injustice and tea and work to be done. I confess that while free I will do it. And I confess that I stole the Master's Stattenheim remote control when he was testifying earlier.”
He grins and holds up the device, which he has been carefully reprogramming underneath his ridiculous sleeves for the last twenty minutes. As the blue police box materialises around him, the Doctor waves and smiles, and the Time Lords cries are lost under the groans of randomised dematerialisation.
"On the run from my own people in a rackety old TARDIS," he says, careening around the Time Vortex, "with just one life to live." He beams at his new reflection in the console room screen.