"Oh No! Not Again"

By Michael Smeaton

A Doctor Who/Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy crossover story

The black spaceship dove towards the sun. The single occupant stared morosely at the nuclear furnace, which was rapidly filling the viewscreen. Only he was left, all the others having escaped by matter transmitter, and now, as the black upholstery started to smoulder in the ever-increasing heat, he felt a wave of utter depression sweep over him.

Most people would feel justifiably depressed in these circumstances. However, it is only fair to point out at this stage in the narrative that the occupant is not a person, in the strictest sense of the term, nor is it usual for him to feel depressed. Nor is the sun, which the spaceship is diving towards that known to its nearby inhabitants as Sol.

‘I wonder how I shall feel when I am dead?’ Marvin said to himself as the blazing white sun of Kakrafoon rushed to meet him. ‘Not very nice I expect, if life has been anything to go by. Still, it can't get much worse than this, although I expect that it shall try very hard to.’ He paused to watch the flames, which were dancing merrily along the length of the black flight console. The heat was beginning to melt the exterior casing of his body. ‘I wonder where the others are? Having a thoroughly miserable time I should expect. Mind you,’ he reflected, ‘I don't know why I'm asking myself this because soon it won't really matter at all.’

A solar flare rocked Hotblack Desiato's stuntship throwing the heavy android off balance. Marvin stumbled backwards, the backs of his knees connected with something soft, and he sat down heavily. ‘I wonder where that came from?’ Marvin asked himself as the burning ship entered the sun's atmosphere.

Moments later the antimatter charge which the stuntship carried as cargo exploded, ripping a hole in the sun's surface and blasting solar matter towards Kakrafoon millions of miles distant, timed to wash over the planet at the climax of the Disaster Area concert.

The Doctor finished making minute adjustments to the randomiser, newly installed on the control console of the TARDIS. Yes, it seemed to be working perfectly. He looked up and glanced at Romana. ‘That should keep the Black Guardian guessing for a while.’

Romana gave a relieved smile. ‘I hope so. For our sakes. If he ever caught up with us...’ She shuddered.

Moving around the console, the Doctor put a comforting arm around her. ‘Now, now. There's no point in worrying about it, is there? I mean, if he knew that we were worried, then he'd be happy, wouldn't he? And I won't have that.’ He glanced around the reassuringly familiar TARDIS interior. ‘ I know, why don't we pop in on the Brigadier? That'll cheer you up.’

Romana gave a chuckle. ‘Because the randomiser randomises our co-ordinates, and even the TARDIS doesn't know where she's going.’

‘Ah yes. Oh well, we can always do a spot of relaxing by the pool. Care for a dip?’

Romana nodded her assent. Just then a small panel on the control console exploded with a sharp bang. Something went pop deep within the main column and a mass of blue smoke wafted up from the randomiser control. Six different alarms went off simultaneously.

Covering his mouth with his scarf the Doctor leapt towards the console and began flicking switches. The time rotor ground to a halt. One by one the alarms clattered into silence. ‘Blast and damn,’ swore the Doctor, thumping the console in frustration.

‘What's happening?’ Romana wanted to know, stunned by the rapid succession of events.

‘I'll soon find out.’ He disappeared under the console.

‘Do you know what has happened K9?’

The mechanical dog waggled its ears furiously. ‘Insufficient data Mistress.’

‘You never know,’ accused Romana, and decided to help the doctor instead.

A short time later the Doctor gave a cry of triumph and emerged from under the console holding a blackened piece of circuitry. ‘This is the culprit,’ he said grinning broadly.

Romana examined the burnt-out remains. ‘This looks like it could be from the randomiser,’ she ventured.

‘It is.’ The Doctor's grin broadened.

‘But why has it burnt out?’

‘A very good question. Theoretically it is impossible unless...’ he shot to his feet and began to pace back and forth thinking furiously muttering things like ‘...time differential...’ and ‘...spatial anomaly...’

Not to be outdone, Romana had a try at solving the problem herself. ‘The randomiser has burnt out. The randomiser is connected directly to the temporal/spatial co-ordinate plotter, which in turn controls the time rotor.’ She dredged up some Gallifreyan temporal hyperphysics. ‘Theoretically it is impossible for the randomiser to short circuit unless... unless the timefields encounter a temporal anomaly which results in a feedback loop.’ Romana chewed this over. ‘The probabilities of the TARDIS encountering a random temporal anomaly are minute, unless the finite improbability generator in the randomiser has altered the probability of the event occurring...’

‘The time vortex,’ both the Doctor and Romana said simultaneously. The Doctor beat her to the viewer controls, and the swirling, multi-coloured, spinning vortex swam into view. It continued to spin very much the same as it had since time began as they watched.

Disappointed, Romana turned to the Doctor. ‘Did you have the same theory?’

‘Hmmm? About the probability of an object being caught in the time fields becoming a definite certainty? As a matter of fact I did.’ As he moved to switch the viewer off something drifted across the screen. The Doctor goggled. He veritably gaped.

Romana had seen it too. ‘Did you see that?’ she asked somewhat redundantly.

‘I hope not.’

It drifted across the screen again, a little closer this time. ‘It looks like a... like a...’

‘Sofa?’ The Doctor supplied. ‘A slightly singed velvet paisley-covered Chesterfield sofa,’ he said dreamily.

Romana, who could barely make out the object as it bobbed along on the time eddies, glanced around in surprise. ‘How do you know?’

‘Oh, I will be seeing it somewhere after.’

‘There's a person sitting on it!’ Exclaimed Romana.

A little later she noted that the person seemed to be wearing a silver spacesuit.

The sofa continued to drift closer, attracted - in the same way that sand is attracted to the hole in an hourglass - by the time displacement of the TARDIS. As it got closer Romana became increasing worried until at last she was forced to speak again.

‘Er, Doctor.’ She hesitated. ‘You don't think that it could be another TARDIS do you? I mean the Black Guardian could...’

‘No, no. Besides, as I told you, I will know that sofa from somewhere.’ At that moment there came a soft bump.

‘Well I suppose that we'd better let them in,’ said the Doctor, reaching for the door control.

‘Do you think that's wise? I mean, they could be unfriendly.’

The Doctor looked at his companion aghast. ‘Are you seriously suggesting that we should just leave them to drift along in the time vortex until they drop out goodness knows where?’

‘Er, no. Well, go ahead.’ Actually Romana thought that just letting them fall out of the vortex where they would was an excellent idea. But, since the Doctor had obviously made up his mind to open the door, and since she had warned him against such a rash action, she felt that she had done enough.

‘Right then.’ The Doctor operated the outer door controls. Romana snapped her fingers to gain K9's attention. After a while nothing happened. With increasing monotony nothing continued to happen.

Eventually Romana gave up and opened the inner doors. A robot about the size of a tall man was standing there. Its body had a slightly melted look about it. The robot stood there and regarded them with baleful red triangles of eyes.

Both Timelords took an involuntary step backwards. The robot just glared at them. Romana reached for the door controls but was stopped by a signal from the Doctor.

The robot still stood in the doorway as if it had all the time in the world, which in fact it felt it had. ‘It doesn't seem to be doing much,’ the Doctor whispered at last.

‘People don't usually expect me to do much,’ the robot said in doleful tones. ‘And anyway I'm a he, not an it. Not that anybody seems to notice.’

‘He speaks!’ exclaimed Romana.

‘What an unusually perceptive observation,’ said the robot. ‘Of course I speak, I'm at least fifteen thousand times smarter than you.’

‘Then why didn't you come in through the door when we opened it?’

‘Because there didn't seem to be much point really.’ Having said this the robot entered the control room. It seemed to be limping slightly and made a sort of pained hydraulic hissing sound as it walked.

Intrigued despite herself by this piece of animated time-flotsam Romana inched closer. The robot swivelled its head to look at her. ‘Do you know why I was out there?’ It waved in the general direction of the vortex. ‘ No of course you don't, which makes asking the question completely pointless. In fact I don't know why I bothered to ask it at all.’

‘Tell me,’ the Doctor asked. ‘What is your name?’

‘Marvin.’ The deep harmonics in that single word would have reduced a lesser woman to a quivering heap, but Romana bravely stood her ground.

‘What were you doing in the vortex?’ she asked.

‘Sitting on a sofa.’

‘And why were you sitting on a sofa?’ Romana mentally ground her teeth.

‘I don't know. One moment I had been deserted by my friends and left to die on a spaceship which was crashing into a sun. The next moment I was sitting on a sofa.’ the red triangles glowed brightly. ‘If you like, you can try to explain it.’

Deeply moved by this story Romana reached out a hand to lightly touch Marvin's arm. ‘That must have been awful.’

‘You get used to that sort of thing when you're just a menial robot. 'Marvin open this door,' 'Marvin put the alien out,' 'Marvin operate the teleport so that we can save our miserable hides.' It's enough to make you severely depressed, which I am anyway.’

‘Master?’ It was K9 wiggling his ears furiously.

‘Hmmm?’

‘Danger Master.’

‘What?’ The Doctor looked around sharply. Nothing seemed to be amiss. ‘Where K9?’ he asked the metal dog.

‘The robot Master.’

The Doctor looked over to where Marvin was telling Romana about this pain he had with some of his diodes. The only danger, and at that a remote one, appeared to be that Romana would rush to her room wailing hysterically. What could possibly have, or be, going wrong?

He sniffed.

Nothing.

He looked about carefully.

Still nothing.

But there was something wrong. He could feel it. Something different in the never ceasing rhythm of activity that told him the TARDIS was in flight. The Doctor strove to pin down that 'wrong' feeling.

Did he feel cold... almost chilled? Did he feel the spectre of Death creeping up on him on aged bones? Was there a sudden sense of mortality, almost of morbidity?

Strangely enough, the atmosphere of the control room itself seemed to have become rather dark and morbid. Not to mention chilly. In fact it was dark and chilly. But why? And how was the robot causing it, if Marvin was at fault at all. ‘More data K9.’

‘Empathy circuits, Master.’

The empathy circuits? But they tied a tiny unconscious part of his mind into the TARDIS herself. They formed the unbreakable (while he still lived, the Doctor hastened to add) bond between a Timelord and his machine. The empathy circuits made the TARDIS almost a part of his own body, and he a tiny part of the machine. Could the robot...?

Yes, of course! If Marvin had tapped into the empathy circuits then... No, wait! What if the empathy circuits were somehow picking up Marvin's mood? That would be all that it would take and, the Doctor realized with a real feeling of dread, he could do nothing to prevent it. Unless...

He rushed over to the robot.

‘Marvin, you don't think that you could cheer yourself up a bit do you?’

Marvin looked at the Doctor, the red triangles pouring forth scorn. ‘Cheery? Cheery? Would you feel cheery if you were me?’

The Doctor considered this for a moment. ‘No, I don't suppose I would.’ He hesitated. ‘Ah Marvin. In that case...’

‘Would I be so obliging as to walk out of your ship?’

‘What?’ asked Romana, who hadn't been following the conversation at all.

‘How did you know I was going to ask you to do that?’ the Doctor asked, utterly astounded.

‘Because I've got a brain the size of a planet which makes me at least fifteen thousand times smarter than you.’

‘Just what is going on?’ Romana wanted to know, tugging on the Doctor's sleeve to get his attention. ‘Why does Marvin think you want to throw him off the TARDIS?’

‘Because the poor old girl is picking up his mood on her empathy circuits, and it's making her depressed.’ He gazed levelly into his companion's eyes. ‘I don't need to tell you what would happen then, do I?’

Romana thought about the TARDIS getting depressed enough to close down all her systems and shuddered.

‘Don't feel bad about this,’ Marvin said walking stiffly towards the door. ‘Not that you will anyway, but I knew this would happen. This sort of thing happens to me all the time, you see. I should be getting used to it by now, but of course I'm not,’ he added even more bitterly than usual.

The Doctor operated the door controls.

The robot stood just over the threshold and favoured them with a last pitying look. ‘I told you that there wasn't much point,’ he said.

They watched as the wildly spinning figure slowly drifted away from them, carried off by the time-vortex.

‘Look Doctor, one of his legs has come off,’ exclaimed Romana in horror.

‘Well, it was probably loose anyway,’ the Doctor said, more to make himself feel better than to comfort his companion. Then to change the subject, ‘Come on. Let's get the randomiser fixed. With the couch gone it should work perfectly.’

With the console repaired the TARDIS was working perfectly. Perfectly for the TARDIS that is, which is to say moderately well. The lights had come back to full intensity and the oppressive sense of gloom was rapidly lifting. So it was a complete surprise to the Doctor why Romana swayed to her feet and almost fell. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked, even though it was perfectly obvious that she wasn't.

‘Uh, yes.’ She brought a hand to her brow.

‘It's not...?’

Romana glared at him. ‘No it is not.’

‘Then?’

‘I would know, and it's not that either.’

The Doctor ran his hand through his curly hair. ‘In that case...’

Romana gazed at him like a transfixed rabbit. ‘I think... I think that it's my time. She rushed off to her room.

He let her go without comment. Early regenerations were often stressful for a young Time Lord.

The Acturian salvage drone's brain trilled with joy. Here, against all the odds, where it had least expected to find something was a fine lump of metal. It moved in to capture the find in its tractor field.

Marvin eyed the approaching machine with utter contempt. True, he had actually started to like the thought of drifting endlessly through space, but he knew it was too good to last. Life just wasn't going to let him go that easily.

Not Quite THE END

Appendix

To find out where Marvin ended up, and what happened to him before he ended up there, read Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams.

To find out where the Doctor and Romana ended up, watch Destiny of the Daleks.

Any resemblance between the characters in this story and any persons alive or...

This item appeared in Timestreams 1 (August 1990).

Index nodes: Fiction