April 01, 2020
In a new Doctor Who story by Kerblam! and Praxeus writer Pete McTighe, the Doctor gets a friendly message dating back from long, long ago…
The Doctor was feeling lonely. Most of the time, she could suppress those feelings and distract herself by saving a planet, averting a war, or emergency-deep-freezing Krynoid hatchlings. But not today. Today was different.
Today, she sat on the steps of the TARDIS console room, munching her last custard cream, watching the glowing control crystal rise and fall.
Rise and fall.
Rise and fall.
While her space/time machine was in Artron II Recharge Mode, the Doctor couldn’t allow anyone else on board, especially humans - the artron pulses played havoc with their DNA. She guiltily remembered that time with David Bowie, when his left pupil permanently dilated.
The Doctor sighed, savouring her final mouthful of biscuit. Her brain was still working thirteen million to the dozen, in the background, backing up like the biggest and best hard drive in the universe, but it felt dulled and distant. If mardy was an emotion, she was feeling it.
Then the TARDIS beeped. A friendly, quirky little sound she hadn’t heard before. It was like it knew what she was thinking (which of course, it secretly did). Curious, the Doctor scrambled to her feet, and in response a jet of steam hissed out of the console. Projected onto the steam was a line of old Gallifreyan text:
You have one unread message.
“What message??” the Doctor blurted out loud. “Since when did you start taking messages?”
Since ages ago, the TARDIS replied in a petulant series of hums and whistles.
“Well aren’t you chatty! Where were you last September when I ran out of monologues?”
Just read the message, the TARDIS seemed to say.
The Doctor jabbed a button on the console, then turned as a hologram fizzed into life. She felt a surge of emotion as she stared into the face before her.
The girl was in her mid-teens, with a shock of jet-black hair, a striped top and eyes twinkling with mischief. The sight of her cracked the Doctor’s dark mood like an egg.
“Hello Grandfather,” said the hologram.
The Doctor’s voice caught in her throat. “Hello Susan” she finally replied. This was clearly a recording made when her granddaughter was still a teenager. When they were travelling together, so many lifetimes ago.
Susan’s image crackled as she continued talking: “I’ve built a message bank and retrieval system into the TARDIS data core, for a rainy day. In case you need cheering up. I know what you’re like when you get bored, or lonely.”
“What am I like?” snapped the Doctor defensively.
“Grumpy,” Susan replied.
The Doctor clutched her braces and frowned.
“I know nothing lasts forever,” Susan continued, “and that eventually we’ll have to say goodbye. But when that day comes, I want to leave you with some memories of our time together.”
The Doctor’s eyes misted over. There was a lump in her throat.
“Not just of me, but of future friends. Future times and places. I’ve activated the TARDIS record mode, telepathically linked to your data extract. So if you’re ever feeling bored, or lonely, or sad, all you have to do is access the data bank, and retrieve a favourite memory. It’ll keep on recording until you tell it to stop. All your adventures, all your stories won’t go to waste. They’ll always be here, waiting for you, like an archive. Alive for eternity.”
Stunned, the Doctor watched a stream of text appearing on the screen. Old adventures, logged in a long list that seemingly scrolled forever.
“Some of the early ones might have gaps, sorry about that. You know what the TARDIS is like with integrating new systems.”
The TARDIS grumbled disapprovingly.
“Anyway, I’d better go or I’ll be late for school. I hope this message gets to you someday. When you need it most.”
With a final smile, Susan’s image flickered, then evaporated. The Doctor stared at the empty space for a very long time. Seconds, at least. Then she snapped into action, scrolling through the endless list of titles, unsure where to begin. ‘Crisis on Poosh,’ ‘Genesis Of The Daleks,’ ‘Attack Of The Postmen’, ‘The Timelash’, ‘100,000 BC aka An Unearthly Child aka The One In The Stone Age.’
“Intelligent labelling system’s a bit random,” thought the Doctor, her finger hovering over the activation button. Finally, she made her selection – and pressed PLAY.
The TARDIS console pinged again. Result! The custard creams had been replenished! The Doctor eagerly plucked one from the dispenser and settled back to watch hazy images form on the screen.
As she chewed, she decided she’d FaceTime Graham, Ryan and Yaz later, but for now she was happily distracted with the gift that Susan had left behind; an endless supply of stories; a comfort blanket of fond memories and old friends.
And a reminder.
That she was never, ever alone.
You can find more short stories from Chris Chibnall and Russell T Davies on the DoctorWho.tv website.