Who wants some Doctor Who fan fiction? I think I’m not alone in mostly disliking the past couple seasons, though I’ve noted positive qualities here and there. It’s easy to be a critic from the sidelines so I thought I’d try the other side of the equation and demonstrate some of the things I’d have liked to have seen on the show in the process. I’ll post this as a four part serial over the next few weeks.
“The New Model Tomb”
Rob Fenner jumped to his feet. He was the first. The men of the afternoon watch looked sleepily at the captain, some of them sitting on the deck, as Rob had been. “You heard the captain!” said the bosun, Harry Clay, stomping down the ladder from the quarterdeck. “Ready about! To the masts! Mr. Fenner!”
Rob, the bosun’s mate, nodded and hastily strode along the starboard side of the old man-o’-war, watching the men forming groups, taking lines by the masts. Fifteen year old Tommy Parker looked dazed beside the foremast, men twenty years his senior looking to him for guidance but taking no shame in a few additional seconds rest before hauling. “Look alive!” called Rob, his voice cracking. He was himself only eighteen, his ruddy face gaunt from slim rations, his blonde hair brown and overgrown, in a ponytail over his back. He wore a dark grey and blue check shirt, the pattern almost indistinguishable for the grime, and tattered, pale grey slops. The other men looked no better, some of them worse, after days at sea with no end in sight. But now it seemed something had happened and Rob scarcely had time to wonder what.
“Rise tacks and sheets!” called the captain and sunburned, ragged men reluctantly began hauling away on leechlines and buntlines so that the sails aloft began to take wind properly. Moving east with the trade wind. Walking aft on the larboard side, Rob took a moment and peered out over the rail.
There was a ship.
Not a league eastward as he guessed, a little brown shape against the empty blue sky. He could see it was a barque, not a big one but at least a fourth rate. He couldn’t see any guns and her sails were stowed in their gear. She wasn’t trying to get away.
“Are they with the Prince, then, Mr. Clay?” Asked Rob, coming back to the bosun’s side.
“Damned if I know.” Clay was in his forties, his face cracked with a thousand wrinkles, his grey eyes keen. “’spect we’ll see.” Rob knew better than to ask more.
Silently the strange ship awaited their approach. Minutes passed slowly as they drew near. A single warning shot was the only fire ordered by the captain and the mysterious ship obliged by making absolutely no change in slowly drifting with the feeble current.
“Steady! Stay sharp!” barked the captain. Rob looked up at Captain Seward, the man’s bulging flesh lobster red above his clean white collar, his round eyes bloodshot and fixed on the strange ship. Rob looked back at the ship and saw now he could descry a crew, a dozen men or so, all standing inert, watching the man o’ war. Four officers on the quarterdeck stood similarly submissive as well as . . .
“A woman,” whispered an old Welsh seaman in a greedy tone, holding fast by a line for the fore topsail.
Beside a few famished gentlemen as ragged as Rob’s own crewmates was not only a woman but, by appearances, a lady. A thin lady with pleasantly rosy cheeks but with a long nose and bulging, sunken eyes. Cunning eyebrows arched over drooping lids which, complemented by a smile on her thin mulberry coloured lips, suggested she was peculiarly at ease. She wore what looked like a man’s burgundy velvet banyan coat but cut for her slender shape. It was layered over a charcoal corset fastened with ivory bows and her skirt was a dove grey, fashionably pinned up at the front to reveal a white petticoat. A silver pendant watch, its face visible due to a glass cover, lay on her breast and she wore a bright, greenish blue ribbon about her neck which fluttered in the breeze.
In short time, the ships were close abeam, hooks were thrown across and Rob and his crewmates clambered over gangplanks. “See that she’s secure below decks, Mr. Stevens!” the bosun barked.
Rob, after Stevens, led three men down a hatch, calling ahead into the darkness, “Stand down—lay down your arms!” his heart pounding. But there was no-one there when his eyes adjusted. Empty, mouldering hammocks swung mutely in the gloom.
Rob joined a few more of his crewmates in the hold where sacks were opened to reveal an abundant cargo of sugar. “There’s five hundred pounds here if there’s a farthing!” exclaimed the weathered old quartermaster in a hushed tone. In one corner, Rob could just make out, in the slashes of light filtering between the boards of the hull, a tall, blue wooden box with what looked like window panes built into the upper parts of its sides.
“Now what might this be?” he asked, running his hand along the side. It had what he might have at first called a strange warmth about it but then he thought maybe it was more like a vibration.
“Some Princely nonsense, no doubt,” scoffed one of the Puritans in the crew. “Some impious curiosity cabinet.”
As Rob returned topside the sun blinded him a moment. “Am I to believe you’re unaware that we’re at war with the Dutch?!” he heard the Captain saying, the voice shrill between laboured breaths.
“And how was he to know?” said a woman’s voice, deep and faintly melodious, like a stage actor. “The first Anglo-Dutch War only began a month ago. Hardly time for word to reach the West Indies.”
“The ‘first’ Anglo-Dutch War?” asked Rob but no-one else seemed to catch the odd term. His eyes adjusted to see Captain Seward confronting the five captive officers and the woman on the quarterdeck. If anyone had heard him speak they showed no sign. Captain Seward was carrying on unabated.
“This cargo of sugar would do much to fund the exiled court, wouldn’t it?” Captain Seward wheezed, pacing before his captives.
“We aren’t Royalists!” pleaded the captive captain, a tall, thin, bearded man who indeed, in his humble grey doublet, hardly looked the cavalier. “We trade with several plantations—”
“Sir, I really think—” began Seward’s long suffering first mate before Seward interrupted him.
“And this—harlotry,” he sneered, taking the corner of the woman’s coat between two meaty fingers. “Prince Rupert’s taste in women is well known!” He backed away from the woman in disgust while she, a bemused smile on her face, said nothing. There was something unnerving and almost comical about her round eyes which seemed ready to pop out of her face. The last thing Rob could imagine this woman being was a harlot but, then, he really couldn’t imagine what sort of woman she could be. “We’ve hunted your kind for months and now at last Providence has rewarded us!”
“Captain,” the woman cooed, “Really, I’ve not had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of His Royal Highness but I have met General Cromwell and I think we both know he’d advise against anything so rash as what you have in mind. Incidentally, are you feeling quite well?”
Seward huffed, apoplectic, and actually drew his sword. “Under my authority! The lot of ye—whoreson dogs and ye blistering wench—that is . . .” He wiped his brow with his sleeve, glancing around. Most of his own crew watched him in mute fascination, the fatigue of long weeks making their eyes dull. Nonetheless, Seward amended his tone. “That is, it is my duty to hereby inform you that you have been found guilty of treason against the Commonwealth and shall, for your crime, be shot dead.”
“Now, see here!” Rob, in his indignation, scarcely knew what he said. He’d hardly realised what he was doing when he crossed the distance to the quarterdeck and now he stood between the captain and the strange woman. “You can’t do that—these may well be honest merchants!”
“Avast, Mr. Fenner!” cried the bosun, shocked but too stunned or tired to move from his perch on the Samson post.
“Aye, Fenner’s right!” said another mariner. “If these be Royalists, then I be Charles himself!”
“The woman’s a clear Jezebel!” said another, “This being what we’re here for, ain’t it? Let’s shoot the lot and go home!”
“Aye, cut ‘em down!” cried other men. Some called for hangings from the yard arm, a few more for pistols or even cannons. One or two took Rob’s side.
“Listen!” he pleaded. “We can’t—” he heard the sound of steel being drawn at this side. “My sword—?!” He wheeled around to see his rapier gripped in the woman’s bony hand.
“You don’t mind, do you?” she asked off-handedly and in less than a second she dashed toward Captain Seward, causing the sweaty man’s own blade to fly from his grasp and clatter onto the deck.
“Well!” said the woman. “And I thought I was rusty.” She had little time to savour her victory before the first and second mates both drew their swords. Though both men were hesitant to do more beyond that and all over the ship there was a sudden stillness.
“Ah, may I venture to hope your better natures have prevailed?” the woman asked.
“Kill the woman!” shrieked Captain Seward, being disarmed having evidently untethered the last of his restraint. “Run her through! Cut her to ribbons, lads!” The two officers stared at him in astonishment but for all too many seamen this was an irresistible call—the captive officers were shoved aside and the woman found herself rapidly parrying five men at once, descending from the poop deck.
Rob turned the other way and saw sudden melee erupting on the main deck. Five or six men held ground by the main mast but sadly this was Rob’s faction. A dozen were filing up the ladder, led by the bosun, Mr. Clay.
“Move aside, Mr. Fenner!” he cried.
“I can’t do that, Mr. Clay!” said Rob. “Recollect yourselves, for pity’s sake!” He drew his dagger but then he felt himself falling backward as a hand gripped his shirt, pulling him down. He was aware of a massive shape swinging down above him, catching the bosun square in the face and sending him and six others sprawling back on the deck.
“That should level the playing field a bit,” said the woman and now she was leading Rob down the larboard ladder onto the main deck. He glanced back and was just barely able to register the evidence of his eyes—her five assailants from the poop deck were all lying inert on the quarterdeck as was Captain Seward. In addition, the lateen yard had been cut loose, the massive spar being the dark shape Rob had seen, and it banged loudly against the mizzenmast.
“How the devil—ow!” His head smacked against the side of the hatch as she pulled him into the dark below.
“Very sorry!” she said. He looked down and her wide, round white eyes stood out in the dark, her pale face shiny with sweat, her mouth split in an improbably wide, good natured grin. “Come on!”
Hazily, he followed her down into the hold, not quite sure why he should. But so much had happened so quickly his capacity for decision making was well outpaced.
“It wasn’t very considerate of me to leave you unarmed,” said the woman, offering him the pommel of his rapier. He took it, his numb fingers closing on the grip. “What’s your name? I’m the Doctor, by the way.”
“Robert Fenner,” he said, finding himself back among sacks of sugar near the strange blue box. “My friends call me Rob. ‘Doctor,’ did you say?”
She was taking a little key out of her coat pocket and putting it into a lock on the blue box and he realised it had a door on one side. “Things should sort themselves out up there now,” she said, glancing up. “I do believe your captain had a stroke—eh, falling sickness. At any rate, I’ve seen what I came for. It was nice meeting you, Robert Fenner!” And into the box she went.
Robert automatically followed only later wondering what he expected to find in a small blue box. No thought like this entered his head now, though, as he found himself in the strangest place he’d ever seen in all his eighteen years. A chamber, it seemed, the size of a small chapel, brilliant white and bright as day despite the fact that he could see no windows. The walls bore a series of uniform round circles and in the centre of the chamber there was, as he thought, a sort of large silver and white capstan adorned with peculiar knobs and glowing gems. At the centre of this capstan was a glass pillar containing a red glowing vertical shaft.
The Doctor leaned on one arm against the capstan, the other on her hip. “Well, Mr. Fenner, is there something else you wanted?”
“What is this place?!” Everything seemed impossibly clean except a few incongruous items here and there, including a rack which held a few dusty scarves and hats. A raised platform—quarterdeck?—held a desk with scattered books and papers.
“This, Mr. Fenner, is my ship,” said the Doctor, her irritation seeming now a thin layer over an irrepressible pride in the topic of discussion. “She’s called a TARDIS—Time and Relative Dimensions In Space. Instead of the sea, she travels all time and space.” She turned away from him to walk around the capstan as she spoke, then turned abruptly on her heel to face him, folding her arms and leaning her elbows on the capstan. “Would you like to go with me?”
“Go—go, m’Lady? Go where?” He asked, hardly able to see anything now beyond those peculiar eyes of hers under quizzically raised brows. He wasn’t sure he understood a word of what she said yet he felt an inexplicable, growing excitement.
“Oh . . .” She looked demurely down at the knobs and gems, twisting and pushing one after another. “A million leagues from here, a million years from now. Or a thousand years ago and a hundred leagues from here.”
“You can do that?”
“Oh, yes,” she grinned. “We can do that. Where would you like to go?”
It seemed absurd. But everything in the past—what? Could it only have been twenty, thirty minutes?—had seemed absurd. “Well, Mistress—”
“Doctor” she corrected him.
“Oof, you sound like K-9.” she chided, twisting and punching more knobs. Some made loud clacking noises and little squeals. “Just ‘Doctor’, if you please.”
“Not Mephistopheles, then?” he asked, suddenly bethinking himself.
She laughed. “A good question. No, and you’re no Faustus. I’m really just a simple Time Lady. Well?”
Despite her words, Rob really had no way of knowing whether or not the power of Satan was at hand. The closest things he had for frame of reference—plays, sermons, pamphlets—all would have branded this the Devil’s work. Yet he didn’t think it was, somehow. Anyway, he could see no practical alternative—he doubted he could rejoin his comrades after such a flagrant display of insubordination. “Well,” he said at last “. . . There was another play I saw once. It was set in ancient Greece,” he said hesitatingly.
“Oh, that narrows it down,” she said dryly. “Hoping to meet a comely nymph?”
He reddened. “I should like to see ancient Greece. If that’s really something you can do.”
“Ancient Greece! I know quite a few of your contemporaries who’d ask the same but most of them have been to university.”
“I’ve had some tutoring,” he said slowly, reluctant to divulge much about himself.
She immediately seemed to catch this. “You don’t share much about yourself easily, do you?”
“I’m not one for needless prattle.” He looked uncomfortably at the white walls.
“Wise lad!” she said loudly. “It took some fortitude to stand up to your captain that way. When your mates hold forth on the perversions of Royalists or on their own little dramas, you tend to hold your peace, don’t you?”
He said nothing.
“Ancient Greece it is!” She pulled a lever and there was a soft ringing in the air. The door behind him shut and there was a sound, like something muffled and heavy being dropped into a hole, followed by a sort of wail which repeated and grew louder as it did.
Now fear gripped him and he had the sickening feeling of having gotten himself in way over his head. The light pulsed throughout the room and the glass column in the centre of the capstan began to move up and down of its own accord.
“Don’t panic,” she said, not looking at him but at the capstan, continually pressing and twisting the parts on its surface. She stepped back and pondered the column a moment. Then she raised a hand as though remembering something and started up a ladder to the raised platform. “You should eat something.” That was all she said on the subject having now become completely immersed in shuffling papers about and sliding this then that book off the shelf. She took off her velvet coat revealing fashionably slashed sleeves through which parts of her white shift ballooned out. She began rapidly writing something.
“You said you . . . you came to see something,” he said, slowly edging his way toward the wall, wondering if he’d be sick.
“Yes!” she said, warming to the topic swiftly. “Some notes I came across in 1954. From the notebook of the merchantman’s surgeon. He’d sketched a reptile, a lizard, the like of which I’d not seen in ten light years of Earth. So I came back to see this creature for myself.”
“Did you find it?”
“Mmm, yes. Turns out the surgeon simply wasn’t good at drawing iguanas.”
“Oh,” said Rob, wondering what an iguana was.
Just then, the wailing started again followed by that heavy drop sound. The column ceased to move and the ambient noise reverted to a faint hum. “Ah,” said the Doctor. “We’ve arrived.”
She pulled off the blue ribbon about her throat, “It’s been quite some time since I wore a peplos. Well, I’m not in the mood. No-one’s going to mind an anachronism in Athens, anyway.” She took a green velvet coat and white scarf off the rack and put them on before she pulled the same lever she pulled earlier. The door swung open but from where he stood Rob couldn’t see outside yet. “Shall we?” said the Doctor.
Rob nodded and followed her out.
They really were somewhere else. They were outside and somehow he barely noticed the blue box he emerged from couldn’t have been a tenth of the size of the strange white room. The wonder he felt at clear evidence of vast travel, though, gave way very quickly to some puzzling particulars.
It wasn’t much like how he imagined Ancient Greece. It was dusk and strange, featureless buildings like stacked blocks towered over them on either side. The street was a smooth grey where it wasn’t broken to rubble here and there. Colourful rubbish was also in great evidence.
“Hmmm.” The Doctor looked about. “Well . . . Not ancient by how you’d reckon it. Quite the opposite. I wonder if it’s at least Greece.”
Suddenly, from the shadows, about twenty men and women, all of them filthy and in rags, crept out from behind the buildings and various bits of cover. Some had cudgels and others had what Rob took to be pistols.
“Doctor, we must flee,” said Rob, putting his hand on his sword. “This is a strange place but I know brigands when I see them.”
Before they could move an inch, though, a woman with torn and matted blonde hair pointed her pistol at the Doctor and demanded, “Well, where is it?! Ten thousand toktols now or you’re dead!”
TO BE CONTINUED