The South Wales Valleys, 6.07 p.m.
The TARDIS shuddered to a halt and the familiar wheezing, groaning sound died away. The Doctor got to his feet and consulted the display console. Amazement spread across his face as he read the screen.
‘What?’ he said loudly, shaking his head.
He tapped one of the displays arranged around the flight deck, much as a retired brigadier might tap a recalcitrant barometer in the hope of delaying the inevitable thunderstorm. For all his efforts, the readings remained stubbornly unchanged.
‘What?’ His voice was an octave higher than before.
He scanned the dials again, and made some rapid calculations in his mind.
‘What?’ His frenzied voice was approaching a point where only dogs and Silurians would be able to to hear him.
Realization slowly dawned across his face as he read the date and time from the screen again, and he slapped his forehead.
‘No, no, no, no, no – I forgot about the bloody leap second!
With that, the lights flickered and died. The TARDIS was out of fuel, and would be going nowhere fast. Even an emergency charging cycle would take twenty-four hours. The Doctor groaned and leaned back against the wall, shaking his head in despair as the awful truth sank in.
The on-board systems, while taking account of the Earth’s movement through space, had failed (like most New Year’s Eve revellers) to take account of the extra second at the end of 2008. It might have been the merest blink of an eye in terms of the Universe’s existence, but it was enough to throw the TARDIS off course. It had come to rest, not in Cardiff for its regular refuelling stop on the Rift in the Space-time continuum, but somewhere else entirely.
The Doctor ran his hand through his hair in confusion and annoyance. He checked the dials again. The atmosphere was breathable, and there was no sign of dangerous radiation. He braced himself for another adventure. Who knew what terrifying life-forms awaited him?
With one heart in his mouth, he unlatched the door and peered outside. He waved his sonic screwdriver this way and that. Once he was sure it was safe, he pocketed the device and stepped outside, locking the door behind him. The view that greeted him was not encouraging.
The TARDIS was standing in a roughly surfaced back lane, between two rows of terraced houses. Rain was hammering down and bouncing from the gravel at his feet. A few yards away, a bright yellow skip was filled with household junk and pieces of broken timber. There was a telephone number painted on the side of the skip. It was a Merthyr Tydfil number.
‘Welcome to Wales,’ he muttered.
It was time to explore. He set off along the lane, and soon came to a road with a few shops on one side. A high-pitched wail, clearly electronic in source, split the silence as he surveyed his surroundings. It seemed to emanate from a large building at the end of the road.
The Doctor put his hands to his ears and hooted with laughter, sensing trouble as usual. As he approached the corner, he caught sight of a small knot of people milling around outside. His instincts told him that whatever was responsible for the shrieking sound was inside the building. He quickened his pace and the sound died away as suddenly as it had arisen.
On a grass verge at the side of the building, a white Transit van was parked. Nobody was paying it any attention. He examined it quickly, but the vehicle was not fitted with ATMOS, nor was its radio connected to the ARCHANGEL network. He scanned it quickly with his sonic screwdriver, but there was absolutely no sign of alien technology. It was an ordinary white Transit van, with a hire company logo painted on the door.
The unearthly shriek rang out again, dying out within moments.
A voice from inside the building boomed out: ‘One, one, two, one two! Two-two-two-one, two!’
Instantly he began running the numbers through his mind, converting them first to decimal, then to binary. When they produced no sensible results he tried octal, and finally hexadecimal. Still nothing. Whatever the distorted voice was trying to communicate, it was in no language he’d ever encountered.
Outside the building a crowd of people were standing near the door, seemingly unconcerned by the sound. They were chatting, smoking cigarettes, giggling, and taking gulps from beer glasses. The Doctor realised with some relief that the place was a pub, but still he felt apprehensive as he took his courage in both hands and decided to investigate.
He made his way through the bar and into the lounge. The place was packed with guys in jeans and t-shirts, and women in their Sunday ‘smart casual’ best, and he felt decidedly out of place in his suit and long coat. The electronic howling started up again, and he winced as the sound pierced his brain. He became aware that several large men were staring at him, so he shrugged off his coat and peered into the dimly lit room, trying to look as if he was seeking someone in particular.
‘Where are the Judoon when you need them?’ he mused. ‘Quick scan for alien life – they’d find a few likely suspects straight away.’
He felt very conspicuous among the crowd, like a hippy at a BNP meeting. Bringing Martha to this place would definitely have been a bad idea. He recalled his second meeting with the young medical student, standing in the rain outside a pub after a family argument, and realized that this was how the humans of the early 21st century spent their free time.
‘Sad bastards!’ he muttered as he elbowed his way through the throng. A sandy-haired chap growled at him as he made his way into the room, and the Doctor glanced back at him. The man suddenly smiled and gave him a big thumbs-up – the Doctor smiled back and hurried on.
At the far end of the room some guys were setting up musical instruments and a PA. Another shriek of feedback rang out, and the Doctor realized what was going on. His eyes lit up.
‘Oh, I haven’t been to a gig for years!’ he exclaimed to nobody in particular.
Buffeted from all sides by heaving bodies, he made his way towards the bar. Half a dozen beefy blokes with shaved heads and tattoos blocked his path as he tried to catch the barmaid’s eye.
‘You’re not from round here,’ one of them snarled, staring menacingly at the new arrival.
The Doctor grinned and produced his psychic paper, flashing it in the bruiser’s face.
‘John Smith, Gallifrey Records,’ he said brightly. ‘Here to check out the band.’
The thug pretended to read the paper before it vanished into the Doctor’s capacious pocket. A few words were exchanged and the knot of muscle parted to allow the Doctor through. In a corner, a TV screen tuned to THE HITS played ‘Girlfriend’ by Billie Piper. The Doctor stared at the screen for a full minute, transfixed by the video.
‘She looks very familiar,’ he mused. However, instead of Rose’s name, Donna’s face came to mind, her passive-aggressive jealousy stinging his memory.
‘Bloody women,’ he muttered. ‘You wait nine hundred years for one, and then three come along together!’
He bought a half of lager and sipped it moodily at the bar. He was rapidly becoming the centre of attention. For a moment he wished he’d slung the TARDIS key around his neck and slipped below the level of general perception. The humans around him were staring at him, half-amused and half-threatening. One woman in particular, with enough gold around her neck to kill an army of old-school Cybermen, couldn’t take her eyes off him. In common with many of the others, her arms and shoulders were covered with elaborate tattoos. The Doctor wondered whether these people were related to the Futurekind he’d managed to outrun on Malcassairo. He gulped his drink and wondered how long it would take him to get to Cardiff by public transport on a Sunday. An idea occurred to him, and he looked around for a payphone. Maybe Martha could help him out.
A tremor shook the room and instinctively the Doctor took a deep breath. In the back of his mind he was hoping for some terrible cataclysm, to give him an excuse to shine for a moment before disappearing again, leaving more questions than answers in his wake. What could possibly generate vibrations powerful enough to shake an entire pub?
He looked around and saw an bulky, bearded guy in his early fifties dancing energetically to the music on the TV. Dancing with him was a younger woman, half his size but twice as drunk. The floor had cleared to make room for them, and a few people were laughing behind their hands. The Doctor relaxed and joined in the laughter. For once he could look forward to a day off. There were no monsters, no aliens, and no need to for him to save the world. The TARDIS would be safe enough until the morning, when he could sort out emergency refuelling. All he had to do was remove the helmic regulator, and it would stay exactly where he’d left it.
With a pleasant nod to the barmaid, he slung his coat over his shoulder and headed for the door. A volley of abuse came his way as he crossed the room. The shaven-headed contingent at the bar were casting aspersions about his sexuality. It was a good thing Captain Jack wasn’t there, the Doctor mused – they’d have been in real trouble.
As the Doctor headed for the door, he felt someone tugging at his sleeve. He looked around in surprise. It was the tattooed woman he had noticed earlier on. She was wearing tight jeans, a tight t-shirt and a tight expression, and clung to his arm as if for support.
‘Not going already, are you?’ she slurred.
The Doctor tried to dislodge her claw-like fingers from his sleeve.
‘I’ve just got to pop out for a minute.’
‘No, don’t go! Stay and talk to me for a while.’ She looked appealingly into his eyes, clinging on to him. ‘You’re so … different.’
Having picked up and abandoned dozens of female companions over the course of his time on Earth, the Doctor shrugged. He was surprised to find himself feeling sorry for her. She was just the latest in a long line of women who’d attached themselves to him over four decades. Once he’d refuelled, he would take her for a trip in the TARDIS and return her to the pub mere seconds later – it was all in a day’s work for a Time Lord.
‘Have you got a car?’ the woman wheedled.
‘I’ve got transport,’ he grinned. ‘I’m just a bit low on fuel. Come and have a look if you like. Sorry – what’s your name?’
‘Pleased to meet you, Pam!’
She needed no further encouragement. She wrapped her arms around his waist and together they walked out of the pub.
A dog was cocking its leg against the TARDIS as they entered the back lane. Appalled, the Doctor drew his sonic screwdriver and sent the animal scurrying for cover with a blast of ultrasound. Clearly impressed, Pam pushed the Doctor up against the TARDIS and started fumbling with the buttons of his suit, while he struggled to unlock the door.
‘You’re not like any man I’ve met before,’ she drooled, finally managing to unfasten his flies.
The door swung open under their combined weight and they tumbled to the floor of the TARDIS. Pam’s face fell as she beheld the ultimate weapon of the last of the Time Lords. Its reputation alone had terrified extraterrestrial menaces from the Daleks to the Vashta Narada – and it wasn’t much to behold.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow mischievously.
‘Don’t worry,’ he grinned. ‘It’s much bigger inside.’
© Stephen G. O’Gorman and An Autobiography in Random Chapters, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephen G. O’Gorman and An Autobiography in Random Chapters, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.