Death of a Time Lord

By Craig Young

The Doctor sat in the TARDIS cloister room, gazing at his gaunt and haggard face in the mirror. His ninth regeneration had been one of his most traumatic to date, and probably only the return of Romana, herself in a third incarnation, had saved him this time.

He wasn't sure whether this was just post-regenerative depression, but familiar feelings of doubt and foreboding had resurfaced, and also the memories that he'd tried to suppress. They centred on his own future, at some stage he would become the Valeyard, whose crimes were many. He'd kept encountering traces of them during his eighth incarnation and his companions had worried that he'd become obsessed with the one future he could not foresee. And what had he found but that the Valeyard was a monster, a mass murderer beyond the worst excesses of the Daleks or Cybermen combined. He was confronting his own capacity for evil and the prospect cut into his soul.

The companions had tried to convince him that he would regenerate into other selves after the Valeyard, compensate for what his present self was encountering. But then the obsession, his growing self-hatred and acts of uncharacteristic inhumanity towards his foes drove them away one by one - until the Virwirrung attack on the Tsienli anti-matter universe energy conduit killed the last of them.

Not for the first time, the Doctor considered suicide, or leaving the TARDIS to Romana and deliberately stranding himself. Then he heard the sound of a cleared throat, and turned to see her. That was the other side of his confusion, what Romana had become. Her third incarnation did not resemble him in dress; she wore black leather cap, jacket, skirts, boots, black nylons and mirrorshades. She had become colder and harder. The secrets were poisoning their newfound cohabitation as well. Was it about to change?


‘You'd like to talk, Romana. Where do we begin?’

‘I'm glad you finally left the Zero Room. Look, I consulted the log while you were recovering. I know about Adric and I'm sorry.’

‘The first of many, Romana. Do you want to tell me about E-Space?’

She leant against a column, and looked wearily away from him. ‘Someone, something used an aborter matrix on the area, it was wiped out and so were the Tharils. K9... sacrificed himself to permit me time to escape.’

‘The Pharos Project... I should have known the Master would have tried something like that. It was my fault. Again,’ the Doctor realized.

‘Just before your regeneration into your fifth self. No Time Lord is completely rational at those times.’

‘Don't make excuses for me, Romana.’

‘An unrealistic sense of responsibility won't bring any of them back, Doctor. Rassilon knows, I wish it could. You, though... you're so introspective, depressed and withdrawn. And don't tell me it's just PRD.’

‘I have a choice to make, Romana. There was a log entry that my wretched seventh self labelled ‘The Ultimate Foe’. That means I will regenerate into a mockery of all I have held moral and just. I have been encountering traces of it through most of my last self and its cases. It even exists in my behaviour, then. I will become the Valeyard.’

‘Years from now. Don't torment yourself.’

‘How do I know that?’

‘What will you become later, though?’

‘What could I become, that would compensate for his atrocities?’

‘This soon after a regeneration is too soon to be worrying about something like this.’

‘How would you feel if I left you the TARDIS?’

‘Don't talk like that, Doctor, please. You forget, I have decisions to make too. I'm still a deserter an Gallifrey.’

‘By your tone...’

‘I'm not going to put you at risk.’

‘I ... ‘


‘Nothing, Romana. I owe you my life. I wish there was a way to repay that debt.’

‘Friends don't owe each other debts, Doctor.’

They were suddenly aware of each other in a new way, but they could not voice what their eyes communicated. That would have meant weighing their feelings, and both were too confused, uncertain and guarded to do so. They left the cloister room through different doors leading onto different corridors within the polydimensional TARDIS interior.

The TARDIS main control column rose and fell, but then stalled for a moment. For that instant, there was an abrupt sensation of void and oblivion for both Time Lords before the equally sudden return to being. The Doctor reached the control deck first.


‘Was that what I hope it wasn't, Doctor? An occlusion zone? What do the instruments say?’

‘Nothing. It's no use checking data retrieval either, there'll just be a gap in the sensor records for that instant.’

‘Our power systems...’

‘Exactly, this is a homeostatic craft, the occlusions disrupt the internal energy flow and -


- we can't take many more of those. Another one. I'm setting the TARDIS down in the nearest habitable area. What do the readings say?’

Romana stared. ‘England, 1992.’

Glen Martin cursed his luck as he crashed through the forest undergrowth, blood pumping from the khaki bandage that had hastily been applied to his arm. Gunshot raked the tree on his left and he propelled himself on despite the pain.

Damn it, why hadn't he noticed what was going on before the junta forces ambushed his squad? Now he was the only survivor. Still, going to university here had to have some benefits. Keep your mind on escape, mate. There'll be time fox memories when you're safe.’

But the moments of distracted thought had already enabled a sniper to target his left side. The shot rang out as he broke into an unexpected clearing.

Several minutes earlier, the TARDIS had materialized. Its sensors had monitored the surroundings and were now screening the data to its occupants.

‘Usually, I'd only bother with immediate environmental data,’ the Doctor tetchily observed.

‘I had to do this in E-Space, it was safer that way.’

He looked outside, through the biosensor visual display screen. ‘There's nothing like England in May, Romana. Remember Cambridge?’

‘Yes, it was lovely. And Paris. It's a shame the politics of this place doesn't match that beauty. This England is at civil war between its impoverished North and affluent South, now ruled by a military junta.’

‘I... have friends here...’

‘In which case, they could be in exile.’

‘Or imprisoned. Or in an unmarked grave somewhere.’

‘I'm going out there prepared...’ she stepped toward an equipment locker and removed a thin metal tube. The Doctor recognized it as Tegan's souvenir of the time they'd lost Adric, a blaster-bazooka.

‘What do you intend to do with that?’ asked the Doctor uneasily.

‘Like I said, protect myself.’

‘You know I don't believe in the use of weapons except-’

‘In an intractable situation. Have you considered that I have different views on the morality of carrying weapons?’

Abruptly, discussion was terminated as Glen Martin was grounded by gunfire on the far side of the clearing. Romana snapped on the powerpack.

‘Open those doors, Doctor.’

‘All right, but I promise you, we'll talk about this.’

‘Yes, preferably when a man's life isn't at stake.’ But she was unprepared for his sprint past her and across the grass and twigs. She cursed to herself, disturbed that he hadn't bothered to check the presence of possible assailants. Her sensor had infrared traces on several - one perilously close to the Doctor.

The sight of the screaming young man with his bloodied leg angered her and her face contorted into a feral mask. The sightscan locked onto his attackers and the barrel jerked in her hands as a pulse slammed from the powerpack and across the summer battlefield. Blood, bone chips and grey and black matter splattered the Doctor as he slung the other over his shoulders and ran back to the safety of the TARDIS. Romana dispatched a second group of potential attackers.

They met at the door. ‘After we see to him, we are going to have a discussion about what you've just done.’

Romana said nothing, but glared after him.

Glen was well out of danger and resting in the TARDIS medical bay. As Romana left the bay, she noticed the Doctor waiting for her.

‘Right, his name is Glen Martin, he's a guerrilla in the Northern England Liberation Army and an opponent to the dictatorship here.’

‘That much I know. All right, when's the lecture?’

‘You shot down several men with a 25th century energy weapon in a context where they won't exist for centuries. Is that fair combat?’

‘I have done nothing that I will apologize for, Doctor. If I hadn't used that weapon, that man in there would be dead. We have different values, leave it at that.’

‘If any of them survived, the situation here will escalate. Granted, you saved him, but how many others will die because the junta here thinks their resistance has a local advantage that needs negation?’

‘What the hell's gotten into you, Doctor? Those men were military combatants that were serving a regime. And you risking your life out there like that...’

‘I have dealt with many situations like this over the centuries. Venusian Aikido...’

‘Oh yes? I've always wondered, how many others died because of your precious commitment to the absolute value of unarmed combat - oh, no. Doctor, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. You almost killed yourself out there today. Why?’

He remained silent and turned away from her. ‘I'm off to check the occlusion data,’ he said.

‘Doctor... it's just not working out. We've both changed too much, grown apart. We have our own lives to lead. I resent you treating me like a naive Academy graduate. If you want to throw away your life on an impetuous decision, I suppose I can't stop you.’ She called after him. ‘I'm not a gullible adolescent like Adric..!’

He watched from the cloister room screens as she packed her bags and then left through the TARDIS doors. He turned away, his eyes blinded with tears. Another act of deliberate alienation and rejection on his part. How could he tell her about how he felt for her now?

He had no way of seeing Romana's own stricken face as she turned to face the TARDIS for what she believed was the last time. Why hadn't she been able to tell him? She didn't want to be there when his death-wish consummated itself. She had seen too many people she loved destroyed when E-Space was aborted. She couldn't take another loss. Especially not his.

Glen was sitting up in bed with a plastic tray with muesli, tea and scrambled eggs on toast. ‘This is delicious, Doctor. I'd almost forgotten what stuff like this tastes like.’

‘I'm glad you like it. Romana programmed it, though. She's just left.’

‘We don't even get grub this good back at HQ. God... how will I tell Jack that Mary bought it.’

‘Do you remember much about being brought in here?’

‘Only that it can't be here, from the recces we did.’

‘I'm a time-traveller. In a way, we're very much alike, only I don't use guns. Unlike Romana.’

‘She was crying when she talked to me earlier. You two seem to care a lot for each other.’

The Doctor sighed. ‘Very much, just not enough to stay together. I'm a nomad. She is a very courageous, intelligent woman - but somehow, there's a degree of ruthlessness that has crept in. I can't deal with that side of her, she reminds me of the evil in myself. One day, I may become a greater menace myself than any corruption I've fought in the past.’

‘I know what that sort of frustration's like. I'm down here for similar reasons, really. Her name is Toni.’

‘Another rebel?’

‘I wish she was. No, she's working for the junta's butchers... if she's still alive.’

‘Does she still love you? Or is it power above principles?’

‘I don't have any idea. I want to tell her why I wasn't there when our baby died, that she has a life with the resistance if she defects with me. At least Romana and you are on the same side. Are you going after her?’

‘It was her choice to leave; if she wants to remain here, I respect that. It's just that I have other responsibilities. There are disturbances in the time flow near here that could destroy this world if untraced.’

‘I want you to know how grateful I am for rescuing me.’

‘I hope you find Toni, Glen.’

Glen stepped outside the TARDIS. From the interior sensors, the Doctor could almost predict his expression of surprise at his craft's dimensional transcendence. He prepared to take his leave of the troubled land and touched the activator plate that ignited the TARDIS time-drive.

The materialization indicator pulsed as the TARDIS vanished, but as soon as it reached intangibility, an unfamiliar grating sound echoed through the control room. Suddenly, it was blanketed with a white pulse of alien energies...

The TARDIS coalesced only a mile away, behind razor wire and gun emplacements. The Time Lord within regained consciousness as he saw the doors of his vessel open, apparently of their own volition.


He had assumed them dead in this alternate future. It had not occurred to them that he would recognize them almost instantly despite the changes wrought by age. There were five of them. Warrant Officer Benton. Mike Yates. Clifford Jones. Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart. Liz Shaw.

Shaw turned. ‘He's not the one I remember, Brigadier.’

‘I've come across at least six of his incarnations, Professor Shaw. This must be the latest...’

‘Alastair,’ gasped the Doctor, ‘Liz, Cliff, Benton, you can't be working for this sort of society. You were my friends, my companions. People like you don't torture, don't conduct secret police interrogations...’

The Brigadier shook his head. ‘And the Doctor we knew didn't collaborate with enemies of the realm.’

‘Never mind, Brigadier. The MITT could have grabbed any of the Time Lords with the necessary transit vehicles - the Master, the Rani; any of them would have sufficed. You're about to help us end the bloodshed outside, Doctor. The Command would value your alien science.’

‘What has happened to all of you?’

‘Nothing, Doctor. I'm only following my duty as an officer of the crown.’

‘No. I will not consent to this.’

‘In that case...’ The Doctor felt a needle plunge into his arm, then he lost his consciousness. He woke on a metal bed, with plastic restraints holding him down. In the next instant, there was a blur of white pain, then senses returned. The Process repeated itself. Halfway before the sixteenth electroshock treatment, he saw a white outline. Then, abruptly, it was enshrouded in a black haze. His blood ran cold as he felt the beginnings of a faint psionic feedback murmur. It was a Watcher.

In the interlude between the sixteenth and seventeenth periods of torture, the Dark Watcher was still there. It smiled at him, and he was reminded of a carrion bird that awaited the death of its source of nutrition.

If you had asked the ex-UNIT personnel who were trying to subdue their former ally what justified their actions against their friend, they would have come up with an array of answers. Lethbridge-Stewart would have reminisced about his service days in Northern Ireland. Benton would have replied that he was only following orders. Cliff would have made a short reference to the bomb blast that had taken the life of Jo and their son. Liz would have said that it was a job, and that they were rare enough for women in her field nowadays. Then you would notice the trace of whiskey on her breath.

Toni Haskell was Liz' assistant. She felt frightened of the older woman's nihilism sometimes.

The justifications would have sounded insecure, banal, at best out of a sense of indiscriminate vengeance. They had detached emotional responses from what they were doing. Had the Doctor been able to notice, another reason for their behaviour would have been obvious. The mirror above the Doctor's bed didn't reflect their forms.

Romana saw the Dark Watcher for the first time that evening, on the periphery of her vision. She realized what it meant as well - its approach to her had been a case of mistaken identity on its part, there was no subliminal rapport with its mind on her part. It meant the Doctor was in danger somewhere near her, enough to warrant a Time Lord release of a template for its imminent regeneration.

This soon after its ninth? Damn her, she should never have left the Doctor, but what could she do now? Where was he? As if in answer to her thoughts, Glen Martin appeared alongside her. ‘Romana. I thought you'd be long gone.’

‘The Doctor's in danger, Glen. What's the nearest military installation to this place?’

‘Weybridge. Why do you ask?’

‘Are they into specialized technologies?’

‘Used to be an old UNIT outpost before the UN broke up back in ‘90.’

‘Of course. Technology leech, someone knows he's a Time Lord.’

‘Do you have any evidence for this?’

Romana pointed to the Dark Watcher, which had again appeared during her last sentence. At this paint it only had rudimentary intelligence, and was shadowing her out of a sense of familiarity.

‘Did the Doctor tell you about our capacity to regenerate? That object is a Watcher, a sort of projection of the Doctor's next self in embryo.’

‘Do you usually change appearances so fast?’

‘Definitely not. He only changed from his eighth to his ninth and current self a fortnight ago. If he shifts so soon, he could die, or go mad.’ Then she asked, ‘Can you help me?’

‘I've just met up with a local NELF unit, we're preparing to attack Weybridge right now. Don't worry, Romana, we'll get him out of there.’

‘Hello, Valeyard.’

The obsidian globe of energy that encircled his darker self grew still more translucent as the entity became closer to a state of actual existence. It had stolen enough of the Doctor's capacities to gain awareness of what it was as it replied.

‘You cannot last much longer, Doctor.’

‘I will not surrender to you. Even if I have to die to prevent your existence from occurring, then I will do it.’

‘You can't deny fate, Doctor. I am part of your past, part of you, and your future.’

‘If you're talking about my trial, that occurred outside normal causality. Your existence is not inevitable.’

‘Not until now.’

‘What do you mean?’ The Doctor heard nothing but the sound of mocking laughter, and then the sound of footsteps in the corridor as his friends turned his torturers returned. He looked through the Venetians at the moon - then realized something.

He now knew how to resolve this dilemma and kept it guarded from the tidal pull of his future self and its projection.

The attack occurred at midnight, the isolation of Weybridge gave the NELF a good strategic advantage as communication lines were cut. Benton was cut down in the courtyard of the converted farmhouse. Yates turned angrily to the Brigadier.

‘We can't win this situation. Damn it, Brigadier, we're sacrificial goats. Why the hell didn't you order reinforcements while there was still time?’

‘I...’ The Brigadier hesitated, the words and concepts on the tip of his tongue. He would never speak them, for an instant later, Glen threw an incendiary into the office and two former friends of the captive Time Lord died.

In the torture cell, the Valeyard's form oscillated. The Doctor almost smiled as Liz connected his failing body to the power source.

‘Suppose I were to offer to share my scientific knowledge with you, Liz? It wouldn't make any difference, would it? You'd still continue to torture me.’

Liz made no reply.

Glen threw himself over the side of a truck and entered a corridor alongside Romana. There were two people in the foyer in front of them, and their arrival caused one to fire in anger and rage, missing both. He ran towards Romana, bringing the gun up, but Glen shot him where he stood. The shot took Cliff in the chest and he almost fell into the other, a young woman with short-cropped hair. In rage and fear, the woman shot back at them as Glen started to say her name. He was dead before he'd finished Toni's name.

Toni looked down at the body of her dead, estranged husband before Romana shot her down. Then her blaster telemetry began to register a time contour. The Doctor's cry took her attention away from the bodies of her friends and enemies scattered across the site of engagement. Then she picked up a photograph of a woman and child from Cliff's body. She recognized her as Jo Grant, one of the Doctor's old companions. Then she saw the date on the calendar in the background and compared it to the woman's face.

The doors broke down as Liz Shaw turned from the Doctor's pain-wracked body. She held the rifle steadily on the scientist who stared impassively at her.

‘You'd better hope that he's not dead, Shaw, or I'll make you pay. He trusted you once. How you could be capable of this, I-’

‘It's... all right, Romana, don't waste your time. You know as well as I do, or should, that she's not responsible for her own actions...’

The Doctor's brief interruption had given Shaw enough time to grab a live cable, electrocuting herself. Her part in this game was over.

Romana watched as the Dark Watcher regained its visibility, then noticed a burst of illumination from the Doctor on the bed across the room. The ordeal had finally pushed the ninth Doctor beyond the limits of his resistance, and he was only retaining his present form with supreme effort as the stygian cloud of the Valeyard grew, its entry into the timestream as the Doctor's tenth incarnation imminent.

‘Doctor, what can I do?’

‘You have no other choice, Romana. Kill me.’

‘No! There must be some other way.’

The Doctor's voice grew weaker. ‘Romana, I can't hold him back much longer. He will be my next self, he knows the secret of the elixir of life and unless he's stopped he will remain in that form forever. Don't let this butcher come into existence. Kill me, and you abort his existence. Do it now. Please...’

Romana's body shook as she brought up the blaster, and she let out a shuddering sob as she touched the firing plate. The pulse hit the Doctor's form and he convulsed once.

An ear-splitting cry hit her as the Valeyard burst into flame and then faded into final non-existence, with the inhuman cries of the damned echoing until quiescence.

‘Romana...’ croaked the hideously burnt body of the Doctor.

She ran across and took his hand in her own; willing him to live although she knew it was hopeless. ‘Don't talk, I'll get you to the TARDIS, you'll be all right.’

‘Not this time... you saved my honour.’

‘By killing you. I love you. I don't want you to die. Please don't die.’

‘I... loved you too. I wish it could have been different... TARDIS keys. Leave. Now. Goodbye...’

Then his form went limp in her arms. The Doctor was dead. Romana felt the ground give way beneath her, the magnitude of her act seared into her as if acid.

He had been right. She was brutal, she was cold, she was ruthless. What had she turned into?

An instant later, an ebony vortex began to form in the area where the Valeyard had ceased to exist a minute before. Part of her wanted to die with the man she loved, but Romana's survival instincts won instead. She ran inside the TARDIS. It flickered uncertainly as it attempted to depart the maelstrom, which was engulfing the lineaments of the world around it. Finally, though, the lineaments were no more.

The familiar computer-generated graphics of the timescape had since surrounded the TARDIS as it had so many times before. Its surviving occupant sat and tried to work out what had happened despite the gaping wound of her grief.

‘England, 1992’ was a block computation transfer created by the Valeyard, obviously recalling the Master's Castrovalva in intent. It had been designed as a trap, to ensure the Doctor was forced into regenerating into his malignant future incarnation. The simulacra of his UNIT friends were garnishing, intended to facilitate the process. Glen and the NELF were signs of latent schizophrenia in the mind that engineered the construct.

The other implication was obvious. For something like this block computation transfer to exist on this scale meant that the Time Lords must have known about this deliberate defiance of the Laws of Time. Indeed, it probably implied that the High Council itself had been hopelessly corrupted by their culture's monopoly on time travel under their jurisdiction.

They had permitted the genesis of a world to kill one man, not even caring about the destruction of its inhabitants once its purpose was fulfilled. And that one death... she would have vengeance for this. She would send the Time Lords abused monopoly into decay and ruin. Nothing else mattered any more.

She had lost track of time after setting the TARDIS on autopilot, leaving her to wander her unwanted domain. By accident, she found herself in the TARDIS fitting rooms amidst the debris of a life. She cast her eyes across the personal effects of her heart's desire. She knelt and suddenly felt cold, pulling a wine coat and rainbow-hued scarf around her. She threw aside a cricket bat and umbrella as she finally found what she was looking for - a recorder. She began to play it, but found she couldn't continue a mere quarter of the way through it.

Her tears took over again, and she sprawled across the clothing he had once worn, grinding her face into it. Other than memory, it was all she had left of him now. And in that memory, she would carry on his work.

Time will say nothing but I told you so
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know
Because I love you more than I can say
If I could tell you I would let you know
Will time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

- ‘If I could tell you...’ - W. H. Auden.

This item appeared in Timestreams 3 (August 1991).

Index nodes: Fiction