Saturday, 20 November 2010

Thine Own Self

Oh, but four weeks left now! Where's the time gone? So, with Christmas coming – and with it a two Doctor-featuring special – we're onto story 8, and Russell Williams has stepped up to very graciously help out with a vacated story slot once more. It's a lovely little tale with the Fifth Doctor, who wasn't one of Russell's favourites initially, but he's grown to appreciate the 'open-faced' incarnation as he wrote the story. It's a lovely change of pace this week, just before the last few stories leading up to the finale. So, sit down with a mug of tea and enjoy:
Thine Own Self
    Perpugilliam Brown stared out of the large bay windows in her bedroom, surveying the lush gardens of the monastery and the vast green rolling hills beyond. She was reminded of the fall mornings back home in the States, the leaves of the trees were starting to turn orange and golden and the early morning mist was still lingering in the air. The Eye of Orion was certainly one of the most tranquil places she had ever visited, exactly as the Doctor had told her.
    Unfortunately, tranquility only had appeal for a brief period of time, especially for a twenty-year-old student who had signed on for adventure and experiencing the wonders of the universe. Not that the Vraylaxians were boring company, far from it, but one could only take so many stories around the fireplace or reading in the monasteries vast library. She had enjoyed a walk around the gardens, taking in the variety of alien plant species that had been grown here since its establishment three-hundred-years earlier.
    But even that grew boring. Peri wanted to leave, but in order to leave this planet she needed the Doctor. And therein lay the problem. Following the harrowing and almost fatal visit to Androzani Minor a month earlier, the Doctor had withdrawn into himself, setting the TARDIS to land here and then entering seclusion with the monks to meditate: leaving Peri alone with a bunch of alien monks that she had never met in her life. Charming and so unlike the Doctor she thought she knew.
    Shaking her head, Peri turned around to face the room and saw Lom, the Vraylaxian prylar who had been assigned to her, standing in the doorway, his head bowed.
    "Morning Lom, how are you today?" Peri asked smiling.
    Lom bowed his head further and looked up at Peri. "Good morning, Miss Brown. I am fine, thank you. Did you sleep well?"
    Thank God these monks haven't taken a vow of silence. Peri thought. "Yes, I did thank you. Tell me Lom, is there any word of the Doctor?"
    Lom shuffled his feet uncomfortably, which was no mean feat considering he had four of them, and made a considerable noise as the shoe leather scraped against the stone floor.
    "I'm afraid not, Miss Brown. He is still deep in seclusion with our Elders, and doesn't wish to be disturbed. Although I am informed that he makes constant enquiries with regards to your wellbeing and made it clear to ensure you that he is fine."
    "That's all well and good Lom, but I want to see him. Why won't he let me?" Peri shouted, visibly becoming quite emotional.
    "I assure you that I cannot say. The Doctor will return when he feels that he has resolved any issues that he is dealing with. It is common knowledge that he suffered in the days following your arrival here."
    "Yeah? Well he wasn't the only one, and you don't find me hiding myself away!" Peri shouted.
    "My apologies. I meant no offense." Lom whispered, his head once again bowed. "Please, Miss Brown, we only wish to help you both through this difficult time. Perhaps a visit to the library or gardens would lift your spirits."
    "Yeah. Sounds marvellous," Peri said, sarcastically.
    A few hours later, in the monastery's garden, the Doctor, dressed in a simple purple gown, was sat in the middle of a patch of grass in the lotus position, his eyes closed. Physically, the Doctor was the same one who had landed on Androzani Minor a month earlier, but mentally he was in a completely different place.
    Regeneration. A unique trait in Time Lord biology, a way of cheating death as he often thought of it. When the process went well, the Doctor would be changed both inside and out and essentially, a new man would walk away. However, it had been rather different this time as the process had been stopped at the initial stage.
    Lying on the TARDIS floor in agony as the spectrox toxemia did its deadly work, the Doctor had made a grab at the vial of bat's milk that he thought he had used up to rescue Peri from his fate. In his death throws, he lifted the vial to his mouth and drunk up the remnants of what was inside. Then he had faded into blackness.
    Suddenly the silence inside the dark was shattered with a quiet "Doctor?" Despite his best attempts to answer, he couldn't quite do it. Suddenly his name was repeated a bit louder. Still he could not reply, and then he felt a shaking as if someone had grabbed him roughly by the shoulders. Finding the strength from somewhere, the Doctor quickly opened his eyes and saw a figure standing over him. Peri was alive. He had succeeded.
    "Hmm. My dear girl... when I say... reverse the polarity of the... jelly baby... before breakfast.." The Doctor shook his head and then rubbed his eyes. "Peri? Peri you're okay. Thank heavens."
    "I think I'm okay, but what about you. What's all the babble about jelly babies? And what is a jelly baby?" Peri asked confused.    
    "Jelly babies? A type of sweet... erm, candy. I used to be quite fond of them back in the day. Not now though, I'd much rather have a mint imperial, less likely to rot your teeth and at my age that's a real concern."
    The Doctor finally got up and staggered over to the console, where he proceeded to check all of the instruments. His checks done he looked over at Peri.
    "You'll be pleased to know that we've left Androzani Minor." The Doctor looked momentarily lost in thought, before he moved over to the interior door of the TARDIS.
    "Doctor, where are you going? We haven't landed yet."
    "Don't question me child. I've been piloting the TARDIS for longer than your entire family line has existed. I think I know what I'm doing," the Doctor shouted.
    Shocked at his outburst, Peri slumped into the wicker chair and watched as the Doctor left the console room, slamming the internal door behind him.
    The horrible memories of previous events forced the Doctor to open his eyes wide. Standing in front of him was the head monk, Praris, a female Vraylaxian in the senior phase of her life judging by the slightly muted hue of her skin colour when compared to younger members of her species. Out of respect, the Doctor got up out of the lotus position and bowed at the elder.
    "Elder Praris, I did not know that you were meditating in the garden today, or else I would not have disturbed you. My apologies."
    Praris raised her hand and placed it upon the Doctor's forehead. The Time Lord was slightly startled by the gesture, but wisely, decided not to move.
    "Think nothing of it Doctor. You are our guest here and all of our facilities are at your disposal as you have been made aware."
    "Thank you, Elder." The Doctor once again bowed in respect.
    "You seem troubled, Doctor. Perhaps more so than the day you arrived here. Walk with me." Praris began to move off, leaving the Time Lord little alternative but to follow.
    "Do I seem more troubled? The meditation and the break from routine has certainly 'recharged my batteries' to use a Human expression."
    "And yet you still relive the memories of your aborted regeneration."
    The Doctor stopped for a second, slightly shocked that Praris was able to interpret his memories, before he remembered some of the capabilities possessed by the highest clerics of the Vraylaxians. Yet still he was impressed, and a little bit disturbed that Praris had "read him like a book".
    "It is true, yes. But I am deeply disturbed by what personality aberration occurred within me. For a second, I was filled with hatred and rage and I directed it at my companion. Who knows what would have happened had I acted upon it?"
    "It is indeed disturbing Doctor, but as you say, you did not act upon the impulse. Instead you came here to seek meditation and counselling. Yet, there are some among us who feel that you should have turned to your own people in your hour of need."
    "The Time Lords? I think not!" The Doctor raised his voice, uncharacteristically.
    "Why ever not, Doctor? While you and your companion are most welcome, you have been here for a month and appear to have made little progress in centring yourself."
    "Besides the fact that during our last few encounters I have been chased and sentenced to death, and then being forced to go on the run after being declared President!" Praris glared at the Doctor, but he continued. "Among my people, those Time Lords who have aborted their regenerations are regarded as "abnormal". Typically, the only treatment given is to force a regeneration, and that's certainly not a pleasurable experience, I can tell you."
    "A harsh treatment indeed, Doctor, but perhaps it could be for the best. Your mind has been torn apart by this change, is it not right that it should be brought to its conclusion? It would alleviate your suffering, as well as that of your companion."
    "Peri! How is she suffering? Is she ill? Negative side effects of the spectrox or the bat's milk?" the Doctor asked, more animated than he had been in weeks. Praris, sensing his panic, once again rested her hand on his head, calming the Time Lord.
    "Peri is absolutely fine, Doctor. There is no sign of the spectrox, our physician has been monitoring her constantly as you asked. I'm afraid the only mallady that is affecting her is boredom and concern over your wellbeing."
    "Thank you, Praris. You have put my mind at ease."
    "If only that were the case, Doctor. I suggest you think on what has been said, this day."
    With the rather limited options presented to her, Peri decided to go for the least boring option and decided to visit the library with Lom. Despite herself, Peri couldn't help but be in awe of the tremendous library that was housed inside the building, a cathedral sized room with rows and rows of wooden book cases with literally thousands of books on every subject in the cosmos. During her stay, Peri had visited quite a few times and had wiled the evenings away studying up on her botany. She'd certainly wow a few people back home. If she ever made it back that was.
    Now don't be stupid, Perpugilliam. Of course the Doctor will get you back home, Peri chided herself, as she moved over to the botany section and began studying the book titles to see anything she hadn't read yet or hadn't jumped out at her before. Distractingly, Lom was still stood behind her just staring. Peri turned around to confront him.
    "Y'know, I'm going to be here a while, Lom, why don't you go off and find something that interests you. I'm certain I know my way around by now, and you won't be too far away, I'm sure." Peri smiled.
    "As you wish, Miss Brown. Do not hesitate to call upon me if I can assist you." Lom bowed and walked off.
    Thank God. I hate having a chaperone, reminds me of Howard at the Prom. Poor Dylan. Peri shivered and continued look at the titles.
    After a few minutes of browsing, she found nothing of interest and set out to explore the other areas of the library now she felt more free to move about. As she moved around the vast cases, she found it very odd that there were very few people apart from the librarian and, of course, Lom. Not too surprising that there weren't many tourists; after all the Eye of Orion wasn't noted as a top destination, but she expected a few clerics at least.
    As Peri rounded a corner, she noticed that there was a small desk and chair located underneath one of the large cathedral-style windows. As she passed she saw that a book had been left, open, on the table. Cursing the carelessness of some, Peri was about to close the book up and put it back on the shelf when she saw something inside which shook her to her core: A faint pencil drawing of The Master.
    Slipping into the chair to gather herself, she began flicking through the book and found various other pictures of people, places and creatures that she didn't recognize: bizarre people in armour with funny masks; some form of pepper-pot with a plunger and a whisk sticking out of it; and a bizarre Rhino creature wearing a skirt. As Peri flicked through a few more pages, she suddenly stopped when she noticed another all too familiar face in the book: The Doctor.
    Peri jumped up, taking the book with her, and ran across the library. "Lom! Lom!" she shouted, which drew the attention of the nearby librarian who shushed her, causing Peri to cry out, "Oh, shush yourself! This is important!" All the commotion quickly drew the attention of Lom, who suddenly appeared from behind a bookshelf.
    "Miss Brown, what is the matter? Are you well?" he asked, concerned.
    "Lom, where did this book come from?" Peri said as she offered him the book, which he took, and started to examine the cover. Unfortunately it was very well worn and much of the lettering had been obliterated.
    "I do not know, I have never seen this before. Perhaps if you asked the librarian..."
    Peri took back the book and they both made their way over to the librarian's desk to find the librarian stood with her arms crossed and a very haughty expression on her face.
    "Oh, ah... Hi. Look I'm really sorry about a minute ago, I just had a bit of a shock and was overcome. I didn't mean to be rude."
    The librarian stood unmoved for a few seconds, before finally smiling and nodding her acceptance of Peri's apology. "What can I do for you, Miss?"
    "Thank you. I was just wondering if you could tell me anything about this book." Peri handed the book over for the librarian to study. After several minutes studying the cover and the contents, she didn't seem to have any more luck deciphering its presence in the library than Lom did.
    "I'm sorry, I really can't help you. You must understand that the library has been around for two hundred years and our records weren't that extensive in those days. This book certainly looks like it has been here for some time."
    "Well thank you for checking anyway. Do you mind if I borrow it? I really need to show it to a friend."
    The librarian nodded, and Peri ran off out of the library, quickly followed by Lom.
    The Doctor was dozing peacefully in his room when suddenly a loud bang, followed by more bangs woke him up from his slumber. Realizing it was the door, he got up off his bed and moved to open the door. As he reached for the handle, he heard some scuffling outside, and quickly opened the door to see what all the commotion was about. The first thing he saw was Peri waving a book above her head and shouting at a young cleric; Lom, he seemed to remember. Just for a second he was reminded of his former companion, Tegan. What is it with Human females?
    "Would someone mind telling me why there is a riot going on outside my room?"
    "Doctor!" Both Peri and Lom said in unison.
    Lom continued, "Doctor, I'm sorry that we disturbed your rest time, but Miss Brown was quite... insistent on seeing you."
    "Damn right I was. You saw the book, Lom. You know it's important!" Peri shouted. "Doctor, please?"
    The Doctor sighed a little before nodding and welcoming Peri into his room, closing the door behind them and leaving a ruffled Lom outside. Peri proceeded to sit on the bed as the Doctor stood in the doorway.
    "Peri. You can't go around treating our hosts that way, it's just not... cricket." The Doctor admonished, before his face softened. "Are you alright?"
    "I'm fine, I've just been worried about you. I haven't seen you in weeks and I just wanted to talk to you, but Praris and Lom kept fobbing me off."
    "I really am sorry, Peri. I've been selfish, trying to figure out my own problems, forgetting that you've suffered just as much as I have. I've been neglectful. Well no longer." The Doctor slumped down on the bed next to Peri.
    "What do you mean?" Peri asked, deeply concerned.
    "I've decided that I can't deal with this life anymore as I realized that I can't carry on placing those I care about in danger. I once vowed to change my ways after Tegan left unexpectedly, but have I really? You nearly died on Androzani."
    "But I didn't, Doctor. We both made it through and live to have adventures for another day."
    "True, we were lucky. But what about those who I've travelled with who haven't been so lucky? Every day I see the faces of Katarina, Sara and Adric in my mind, reminding me that the cost of living for me is the deaths of my friends. Well no more, Peri. Tomorrow we're going to return to the TARDIS and then I'm going to take you back home."
    "No, Doctor, you can't just give in like this. What're you going to do?"
    "What I should have done a long time ago, but I was too cowardly to do it. I'm returning to Gallifrey and taking my place as Lord President. Forced regeneration or not."
    "That's not you, Doctor. I know it isn't. Your destiny lies elsewhere, I've seen it."
    "What do you mean?"
    "This book, Doctor! I found it in the library here. I think you should take a look at it, and decide for yourself." Peri left the book on the bed as she got up and exited the room, concealing her tears as she went.
    That night, the Doctor decided to do exactly as Peri had suggested and choose to read the book that she was insistent on him seeing. Noting the battered cover with no discernable marks, he decided to read on with some trepidation and was slightly taken aback when he noted some Gallifreyan text on the tattered and ripped opening page and it read:
A Journal of Impossible Things by John Smith
    Against his better judgement, the Doctor continued to read through the book of half-remembered stories and childlike images of the many companions and enemies he had fought over the years: the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master, the Sontarans and the multitude of other villains both alien and human alike. As he read on further, he finally got to one page which displayed ten different faces: five he recognized, five he didn't. They were his faces.
    When he finally finished, and after admoninshing hiself for violating several Laws of Time, the Doctor stood up, no longer the slightly cowed man of recent days, he once again had the swagger and confidence of a Time Lord. He walked over to the mirror on the far wall and stared at himself and then smiled.
    "I AM The Doctor."
    "Here we are then. Home. Like we've never been away." The Doctor said as he walked over to the TARDIS console. As he arrived, he affectionately patted it ,which drew a smile from Peri.
    "I never thought I'd miss these bland white walls and roundels," Peri quipped.
    "I don't know, I've always liked it. Better than the mahogany and brass of the secondary control room. Oh, and don't forget the leopard skin. Ghastly. Wouldn't mind trying out the coral one day though..." The Doctor mused.
    "Leopard skin? Coral? Doctor, this machine of yours never ceases to amaze me. Every bit as baffling as her owner." Peri laughed as the Doctor gave her an affectionate smile.
    "Talking of changes, I supposed I'd better get changed. While I don't mind purple, I can't really see it going down well on the planet Melfuzius."
    "Why?" Peri asked.
    "Well the Melfuzians have a rather bizarre visual spectrum and they are blind to any hue of purple. They're not too clever with yellow either so I'd be like the Invisible Man."
    Peri laughed as the Doctor exited the console room through the internal door. After a few minutes she decided to follow as the sounds of shuffling drew Peri in the direction of the wardrobe room. As she entered the Doctor was contemplating himself in a full-length dress mirror wearing his usual outfit, without his jacket and wearing a slightly different jumper.
    "Is that a new jumper? I don't think I've seen that before."
    "Hmm? The jumper. No, it's my old one, I thought I'd try it out again. Seems the old one was somewhat ruined. I'm not sure about the shirt though."
    The Doctor took off his jumper and threw it over the mirror, before moving to examine his shirt in the mirror more thoroughly.
    "The shirt's fine. Never understood those question marks though, what's that all about?"
    "Those stupid things!" The Doctor laughed. "My previous self lost a rather large bet to my old friend, Azmael, which meant I have to wear these things for the next two hundred years. The old rogue even got aboard the TARDIS and had all my clothing altered. Still, time to put the past to rest I think."
    The Doctor disappeared into a walk-in wardrobe and out of Peri's sight. A few minutes later, he reappeared wearing a light blue coloured shirt (sans question marks), a white cricket jumper with a red pattern round the neck, a pair of cream coloured trousers and a pair of white shoes. At the sight of the Doctor, Peri jumped up in surprise.
    "Why Doctor, definitely an improvement! Those striped trousers used to give me a headache."
    "Thank you, Peri, I'm glad you like it. Now all I need is a jacket, the old one doesn't feel quite right now."
    Peri rummaged amongst the various racking and railings pulling out various jackets at random, eventually pulling out a rather monstrous multi-coloured jacket.
    "Yuck! Where ever did you get this from, Doctor? Another bet?"
    The Doctor laughed. "Do you know, I believe it was. Not quite fitting though."
    Peri returned to the rack and continued to examine various items until she pulled out a navy blue jacket with white buttons. She offered it to the Doctor, who gently took it from her and put it on, before checking himself out in the mirror.
    "Peri, you have a real eye. Marvellous. What do you think?"
    Peri gave the Doctor the once over before giving him the thumbs up. "Oh, just one thing missing." Peri moved over to behind the mirror and picked up the Doctor's old jumper, before dumping it on the floor again. Hiding something in her hand, she moved over to the Doctor and affixed something to his jacket. The celery. "There. That completes it. You look wonderful."
    "Thank you, Peri. Now I'm suitably attired, where shall we head to? The universe is your oyster!"
    "What, really?" Peri gasped.
    "Why not, I think you've definitely earned it after recent events."
    "In that case, there's been one thing I've always wanted to see up close since I was a little girl."
    "Go on."
    "Halley's comet."

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