Fandom: Doctor Who (Tenth Doctor)
Summary: At the age of three-and-twenty, Jane Austen was not a young woman anyone would have supposed destined for a remarkable life. And then she met the peculiar Dr. Smith.
Spoilers: None, really
The three of them — Dr. Smith, Jane, and the thing now masquerading as Martha — had no trouble whatsoever slipping unnoticed out of the parsonage, preoccupied as everyone else was with the untimely expiring of Sir Thomas and the nervous collapse of the Debary women. Now, trudging through the muddy countryside (though the rain had blessedly stopped, for which Jane gave thanks) to the secret location of Dr. Smith’s mysterious flying machine, Jane felt a thrill of hope course through her. A hope that was almost immediately tempered by fear. She quickened her step to come up alongside the doctor. “Dr. Smith?” she ventured.
“The Doctor,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“My name. It’s not Smith, it’s the Doctor.”
“Just the Doctor?”
“That’s me,” he said, giving a friendly wave.
“Don’t be absurd, that’s no proper name for civilized society. I believe I shall stick with Dr. Smith, if you don’t mind.”
He shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
She cast a worried glance back at Martha, following dutifully behind them. “Will it work, do you think? That is to say, Martha is still in there, is she not? If you find another host will my Martha be my Martha again, whole and well?”
The Doctor nodded. “Should do. Assuming we get Panthalassa out of there soon enough.”
“How soon is soon enough?”
“In the next hour, I’d guess.”
Jane felt all her hope drain away. “Is that even possible? How should we travel to another world in such a short time?”
The Doctor gave her a reassuring smile. “You leave that to me.”
Another ten minutes of squelching through the quagmire brought the three mud-soaked figures to a stand of very damp trees upon a low hill. In the moonlight Jane could just make out the shape of a tall, rectangular wooden box, looking very out of place amongst the rest of the landscape.
“Here we are!” cried the Doctor merrily.
“That?” asked Jane skeptically as she attempted to brush some of the muck off her skirts. “But it’s just a box. And not a terribly large one, at that.”
“Wait’ll you see the inside.” He unlocked a narrow wooden door and beckoned for the others to precede him, which they did.
Martha led the way, looking around approvingly as they stepped into the Doctor’s box. “Very impressive,” she said in that eerily flat voice of Panthalassa’s.
Jane suppressed a shiver. She despised that voice and she despised the thing that had taken over her beloved Martha. Then she took in the room around her and was forced to suppress another shiver, for she’d never in her life been anywhere so strange, so utterly and completely alien. For the first time since making the Doctor’s acquaintance, Jane truly understood that he was from another world. His flying machine was indeed bigger than it looked and wasn’t the least bit box-like on the inside. In fact, despite the presence of a number of obviously mechanical contraptions, standing inside it seemed like nothing so much as being inside another living thing. She wondered if this was what Jonah had felt like inside the whale; then it occurred to her to wonder if this was what Panthalassa felt like inside of Martha.
“How do you like her, now?” the Doctor asked Jane eagerly — boyishly so, in fact. He seemed to want very much for her to approve.
Not desiring to hurt his feelings, she forced herself to say “Very well,” while doing her best to look impressed and not discomfited as she felt.
“Right, let’s get this show on the road, shall we?” The Doctor strode to a large bank of controls in the middle of the room and began throwing levers and turning knobs with wild abandon while muttering to himself. “Theta waves... Who’s got theta waves to spare? There’s the giant gastropods of Jaconda, of course. Oh, but the slime! Wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
He tapped his chin thoughtfully for a moment. “I’ve got it!” he cried, so abruptly it made Jane start, and began pushing buttons and flipping switches with renewed vigor. “It’s so obvious! Can’t believe I didn’t think of it right away. Hold on everyone!” The Doctor smiled winningly as his contraption proceeded to do a great deal of shuddering and not a little lurching about. But after no more than twenty or thirty seconds the turbulence ceased altogether, and he announced that they had arrived.
“Is that it?” asked Jane.
“What do you mean, is that it?” cried the Doctor, affronted. “I’ll have you know we’ve just crossed three and a half galaxies and several centuries via the finest in Gallifreyan spatio-temporal mechanics, the likes of which the universe will never see again!”
“Yes, but where are we?” Jane was beginning to weary of the Doctor’s persistent showing off.
“Why don’t you open the door and see for yourself.” He cocked his head smugly. “Go on.”
Jane moved to the door of the vessel and opened it as instructed. And then stood there, her mouth agape in wonder, as she beheld the most magnificent landscape she’d ever beheld or even imagined in the most fantastical of childhood dreams. The sky was a vivid, deep magenta, fading to pale pink at the horizon and dotted with clouds the color of emeralds. Beneath a brilliant purple sun was a field of blue-green grass that sparkled as the blades waved in the gentle breeze. And oh, the breeze! It carried with it the scent of the most wonderful, exotic flowers imaginable, but like nothing Jane had ever smelt before. Not far off, a herd of large slow-moving animals, resembling nothing so much as giant golden sheep, grazed upon the glittering grasses; several of the elephantine beasts raised their heads to gaze placidly at the newcomers.
“Knew I’d impress you eventually,” said the Doctor, coming to stand beside her in the doorway.
“My home,” said the creature controlling Martha with as much emotion as Jane had yet heard that eerie voice betray. “You’ve brought me back to Kaluthrix.” As she stood gazing out the doorway a single tear traced a path down Martha’s cheek.
“That’s right,” said the Doctor proudly. “Five hundred years before your sun goes supernova. And if I’m not mistaken, those great fluffy things over there are your skagras.”
“But how is this possible?”
“Did I forget to mention this lovely machine travels in time as well space? What with me being a Time Lord, you see.”
“I am grateful beyond words for this gift, Doctor.” Martha’s cold, alien eyes turned once more upon Jane. “And I am truly very sorry for the human lives that were lost. Please know that I never meant any harm.”
Jane nodded numbly.
“Go on, now,” said the Doctor. “Leave Miss Lloyd here and get on with you. And do try not to end up as your own grandmother... or grandfather... or variations thereupon.”
Martha’s body tensed and it was all Jane could do not to look away in distaste as the silvery creature crawled out of her friend’s nostril, down to the floor and out the door, where it disappeared amongst the tall grasses. As soon as it was gone, Martha’s eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed limply to the floor. Jane cried out in alarm and rushed to gather her friend in her arms. The Doctor knelt at her side and once more pointed his strange silver device at her. “She’s fine,” he said after a brief moment.
“You’re certain?” asked Jane anxiously.
“Cross my hearts. She just needs a few hours to sleep off the effects of the parasitic infection and she’ll be good as new again.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” said Jane hesitantly. “I was so very frightened for her.”
He gazed down at Martha fondly. “I had a friend named Martha, too, you know. She was brilliant.”
Jane observed something in the Doctor’s attitude — a tension in the shoulders perhaps, or a strain round the eyes — that hinted at depths of sorrow hidden beneath his outwardly careless manner. “What happened to your Martha, Dr. Smith?” she asked.
“She left me. Twice, in fact. Always was a clever one, my Martha.” He smiled wistfully, then hauled himself to his feet and wandered back over to the control panel.
“That was very kind,” she said. “What you did for that creature.”
“Ah,” he said. “Well. No one should be alone in the universe.” The shadow that had been hovering behind his expression became slightly more pronounced.
“As you are?”
The Doctor was silent. Then: “Guess we’d better get you home, eh?”
“Are you truly the very last of your kind?” she persisted.
“I am,” he said, fiddling absently with a knob.
Just then, standing at the controls of his magical apparatus, alone at the center of all that wonder, Jane thought he looked very much like a little lost boy.
“But if you can travel in both space and time,” she asked, “cannot you take yourself back to a past when your people were still alive?”
He gave her a sad smile. “I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that. Not for me.” His gaze wandered forlornly around the time machine for a moment. But then his mood seemed to shift, brightening as abruptly as it had clouded before. “Anyhow. Like I was saying. Home? That is... unless you fancy a quick trip?”
“A trip to where?”
“Oh, anywhere you like. Spy on Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, stop off for a sherbet on Xadamos 12, catch a ride on a falling star...”
Jane was sorely tempted. To observe with her own eyes the wonders that lay beyond the heavens? To know more about the world than even the greatest scholars of the day? It would be the most extraordinary adventure imaginable! She could feel the pull of distant stars rising in her blood like a hunger.
But there was Martha, cradled lovingly in her lap. Dearest Martha, her truest, most affectionate friend, who might have perished tonight because Jane had drawn her — entirely unwillingly — into an adventure. Her conscience would not allow her to impose further dangers upon Martha. And what use was an adventure without such a friend to share it?
She bit her lip to quell the pounding of her pulse. “I think perhaps I ought see Martha home without further delay.”
The Doctor nodded solemnly. “Right. In that case...” He once more adjusted the controls of his ship, then looked up at her and smiled. “Allons-y!”
The bumping and swaying were less pronounced this time, or perhaps Jane was becoming to inured to space travel so that they only seemed so. In any case, the return journey was over almost before she knew it had begun. Where, precisely, the Doctor had brought them, she could not discover until he threw open the door and she observed that they had landed right in the little garden behind Ibthorpe House. Gently, and with tremendous care, the Doctor gathered the unconscious Martha in his arms.
The rest of the household seemed to be asleep, and blessedly remained so as Jane guided him quietly up the narrow back stairs to Martha’s little room.
“Well!” said the Doctor, once Martha was safely lain upon the bed. “It’s been a great pleasure, Miss Austen. Truly.”
Jane unfolded a wool rug to cover the sleeping young woman. “Will you pay a call tomorrow, Dr. Smith? I’m certain Martha would wish to convey her gratitude for all your aid.”
The Doctor sidled towards the door. “I think not. Got to be off soon. Never really been fond of thank-yous, anyway.”
“In that case I’ll refrain from voicing mine, with the understanding that they are no less heartfelt for all that they remain unspoken.”
“I appreciate that.”
Still he was edging away, moving inevitably closer to the moment when he would make his exit. Jane took a step towards him to stay his escape, if only for a few more moments. “And that’s it I imagine? You’ll get back in your little box and fly away to another world and I never shall see you again?”
“Well...” he said, reaching up to ruffle the back of his hair. “Never say never. But yeah, pretty much.”
“I imagine it must be exciting, hopping from one adventure to the next. But it also seems a very lonely way to live.”
“Can be, at times,” he admitted.
“Then why do it? Why not settle down somewhere and make a home for yourself?”
He smiled. “I’ll tell you why I travel if you tell me why you write.”
She considered a glib response, something blithe and witty, but in the end she decided on the truth — a truth she rarely admitted, even to herself. “I write because sometimes, when I’m very still, I can feel insanity lurking in the dark corners of my tiny little life, stalking me in my idle moments. Writing... seems to keep it at bay, somehow.”
He nodded gravely. “Exactly so.”
Jane considered this. And then she thought about a life spent flying around in that magnificent machine — skipping between worlds, spinning through the stars, all the wide wonders of the universe spread out within your grasp. She felt a renewed longing for such a life manifest itself as an ache somewhere between her stomach and her heart, the same place where her clergyman father had once told her the Holy Spirit resides.
She looked up at the Doctor. “You extended an invitation before. Might I still accept?”
He gazed at her a moment, long enough that she almost thought he might say yes, but then he shook his head. “I’d love you to come, but... best not. As it is you may end up writing The Time Machine instead of Northanger Abbey like you ought, and then I’ll really be in for it with the English teachers.”
“You are an exceedingly puzzling man, Dr. Smith.”
“Aren’t I just?” And then he took her hand and placed a very impertinent kiss upon it. Jane felt her cheeks flush, but she didn’t object, nor pull away. The Doctor gifted her with one last brilliant smile before exiting the room and, in all probability, her life. The thought made her very sad, indeed.
She moved to the window overlooking the garden and watched as he slipped into his box below. An unearthly grinding noise filled the night and the box gradually faded from view until it was gone altogether. Jane’s gaze lifted to the curtain of stars glittering in the sky above, and there it stayed, for a very long time.