Return to Earth

By Jamas Enright

The Doctor's hands moved over the controls. The Doctor watched himself do this, as if he was watching someone else control the TARDIS from a great distance. He had a strange, fascinated look on his face, but mixed in with this was a lot of nostalgia.

Adric came in through the inner door, discussing something with Nyssa. He looked up to see the Doctor yet again fiddling with the controls. He asked what all of the Doctor's companions ended up asking.

‘Where are we going, Doctor?’

Nyssa noticed the look of the Doctor's face, and kept quiet, a thoughtful one coming on her own face.

‘There's something I have to do. I got side-tracked before I could return. The thing is, though,’ a frown creased the Doctor's features, even though his hands didn't stop moving, ‘I know where to set the controls for, but I can't remember what's there.’

Nyssa piped up. ‘Perhaps it was something you did just before your regeneration. Your memory hasn't fully returned yet,’ she reminded him.

‘I don't think so.’ The Doctor's voice was doubtful. ‘I think it's more likely to be just after some other regeneration, which is why I'm remembering it now. It's part of the relative occasion effect.’

Full of curiosity as always, Adric asked, ‘What's that?’

The Doctor tried to remember the full explanation, but soon gave up and paraphrased. ‘With Time Lords, their past lives are very much interlinked with their present selves. What happens in the past can be remembered, or occur again, after the same amount of time from the beginning of that incarnation. This must have happened just after my regeneration into my last self.’

‘That isn't much help,’ complained Adric.

‘Well, it's a very boring subject,’ replied the Doctor, trying to cover up the fact that he didn't really understand it himself.

‘What were you doing after your regeneration?’ asked Nyssa practically.

The Doctor struggled to remember. ‘There was that affair with the Robot, then I took a trip to the moon.’ The Doctor's face brightened. ‘No, I didn't. Harry played with the Helmic Orientators. We went to the Space Ark. I helped Vira with the Wirrrn, then fixed the transmat. That's it! I never told her I fixed it.’

Nyssa was pleased that the Doctor had worked out what was puzzling him, but was still confused as to what he had worked out. ‘Space Ark? Vira?’

The Doctor looked at her in mild amusement. ‘A bit before your time. Don't worry, I'll soon have everything fixed up.’

A frown passed over the Doctor's face, as if he was trying to remember something that pertained to the present. ‘Where's Tegan?’

It was Adric who answered this. ‘She was packing her things, getting ready to leave, when she said she had left something in the cloister room.’

‘Oh dear.’ Despite this comment, the Doctor didn't look too worried. ‘Since that part of the TARDIS was jettisoned, the interior configuration has changed. It could take her a while to find the cloisters.’

The central column slowed and stopped. The Doctor opened the door with a flourish, and headed outside. ‘Wait here. I won't be long,’ he called back.

Outside, the Doctor did not find what he expected. It was a long dark tunnel, ending in a cave mouth, leading out onto a beach.

The beach itself was a narrow strip of sand, the tide nearly right up to the shore. The Doctor stepped onto it carefully, and looked around. He spotted a path leading up the cliff from which he had emerged.

After a strenuous climb, he looked at a bleak landscape of rocks and scrub. In the distance he saw something shiny, and shielding his eyes, he managed to make it out into a small globe.

As he watched, the globe seemed to grow, then exploded in a flash of light. A memory came into his mind of a Sontaran, who was trying experiments on Earth.

‘Oops,’ understated the Doctor.

He looked up, but knew that he would be unable to see anything, unable to see the Space Ark circling over head. Unable to see the people on it waiting to return to the Earth.

The Doctor re-entered the TARDIS, and with an apologetic look as his two companions, said, ‘Not quite right.’

As he reached for the main dematerialising lever, Adric said accusingly, ‘You mucked it up again, didn't you?’

‘You can't expect perfection from anyone first time round, even me,’ he said defensively.

‘But you did though, didn't you?’

‘Yes,’ he said slowly, ‘but the TARDIS isn't really used to going where she has to. Unless it's a dire emergency,’ he added.

‘Are you going to try again?’ Nyssa asked.

The Doctor looked affronted, as if there was any doubt. ‘Of course I am. Did you really expect me not to?’ He pulled the dematerialising lever, and went around the console, retuning the controls. ‘I didn't do too badly this time. I only missed by several hundred miles.’

Moments later, the central column slowed and stopped again. He opened the door and stepped out, followed by Adric and Nyssa.

The Doctor exited from the TARDIS, and immediately ran into a console. The TARDIS had decided to place her doors up against the main transmat controls.

There was only one way to get out. ‘You'll have to watch your step,’ the Doctor said over his shoulder. He heaved himself on top of the control bank, and jumped onto the floor. Adric followed and helped Nyssa as she left.

‘What part of the Ark is this?’ asked Adric. This question was just a small adaption of ‘Where are we?’, but just slightly more original.

‘It looks like the front transmat control room,’ said the Doctor, and left along one of the corridors leading off the room.

Adric turned to Nyssa, who shrugged. Neither of them had much idea what the Doctor was talking about. The only thing they could do was follow him.

Tegan went through yet another door, and looked around in despair. She was in the console room. She sighed. Sometimes it didn't pay to get out of bed.

She eventually noticed that the column wasn't moving and that the doors were open. Upon leaving, she was slightly puzzled by the control bank, but managed to clamber over it.

She stared around in wonder at the controls, and at the annex set into the walls. She then noticed the corridors leading off, and decided to follow one.

The Doctor had found Vira. However, Vira had not found the Doctor.

‘You can't possibly be the Doctor. He looks nothing like you,’ she said.

‘But, he did,’ put in Adric, confusingly.

‘He regenerated,’ added Nyssa, unhelpfully.

‘Regenerated?’ repeated Vira, who had never heard of such a thing.

‘Yes,’ assured the Doctor. ‘My race has the ability to change their appearance. Why don't you just accept it? It would make things a lot easier.’

Vira was first Medtech and wasn't use to being treated in this way. ‘Give me some proof,’ she said at last.

The Doctor was relieved. ‘I had two different companions, Harry and Sarah. We came here, and Dune was missing and Noah was taken over by the Wirrrn. He then led the Wirrrn out into space, then blew up the ship.’

A tear came to Vira's eye as she remember his sacrifice. The events were a rather potted history of what happened, but more or less correct. She had to face the fact that this could just possibly be the Doctor.

‘If you really are the Doctor, why have you returned?’ she asked.

‘To tell you I've fixed the transmat. You can now leave.’

Vira's face lit up with excitement. ‘Return to Earth,’ she whispered.

Tegan followed the corridor as it curved around. So far, all this corridor seemed to do was curve.

A door was open to her left, and just to change her surroundings she went through it. She failed to notice the sign which read:

Solar Plasma Cells
EXTREME RADIATION HAZARD
First Technops Only

Inside, she saw a figure lying on the floor. Bending down to look at it, she discovered that it was a dead, radiation-suited male. The worst kind, Tegan thought to herself hysterically.

A shadow loomed over her and she looked up. It appeared to be a large kind of ant.

Terrific, she thought, first a dead male, then a large ant. I never should have taken that air hostess job.

Quite simply because she couldn't be bothered doing anything else, Tegan fainted.

The Doctor was returning to the TARDIS, talking all the while to Vira, when he noticed the open door. Poking his head in, he took in all the relevant details, then acted.

Grabbing a cricket ball from his coat, he moved forward and threw it at the Wirrrn's head.

It contacted with the Wirrrn square between the antennae and dazed the creature. The Doctor took advantage of this, and dragged Tegan clear.

He threw Tegan out of the door ahead of him, and slammed the door shut, locking it.

‘What was it?’ Vira was unable to see what was behind the door, and therefore had to ask.

‘A Wirrrn,’ replied the Doctor, and noticed Vira's face visibly pale. ‘One must have stayed behind. If that thing gets out...’ There was no need to elaborate for Vira's benefit.

The Doctor noticed Tegan recovering and asked, ‘Are you all right?’ Tegan managed to nod.

‘How can we kill it?’ Vira's voice was thick with revenge. Revenge for what the Wirrrn had done to Noah.

The Doctor's voice was emotionless. ‘Blow it up.’

Vira gasped. ‘But that would destroy everything on the Ark. We have barely half of our people revived. As for the animal and botanic section...’

‘I know, but you must get everyone off this beacon.’ The Doctor was already moving, leaving everyone to trail behind him.

As usual, the Doctor had taken command of things. Under his guidance, the newly revived population were being ferried down via the transmat, which wasn't easy, as the TARDIS was parked directly in between the controls and the actual transmat.

Trixal, the new first Technop, was supervising this operation, and the Doctor was looking on. Seeing everything was running satisfactorily, he turned to his companions.

‘Now, I want all of you to go down to the Earth with Vira.’ As he saw them about to protest, he hastily added, ‘What I'm going to do is very dangerous. I don't want to have to worry about you as well.’

‘But, what is a Wirrrn?’ asked Tegan.

‘A large and hungry space insect,’ simplified the Doctor. ‘Very hard to kill. Which is why I'm sending the Ark into the Sun.’

Vira had overheard this last sentence. ‘Why?’

‘We can't electrocute it. It has control of the Solar Cells. We can't use a bomb, we haven't anything large enough. The only thing we can do is force it into the Sun. I only hope it stays aboard.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Nyssa.

‘The Wirrrn lives in space. It only stops at places to refuel, as it were. It could leave now and still survive. It's a risk I'm going to have to take.’

He ushered his companions onto the platform. ‘I'll meet you on Earth. Now Trixal.’ On command, Trixal operated the controls. Tegan, Nyssa and Adric disappeared.

‘How many more to go down?’ the Doctor asked Vira.

‘Only us,’ she replied.

‘Right, I'll send you down.’ Trixal and Vira stepped onto the platform and disappeared.

‘Now, there's just me, a Wirrrn and a little trip into the Sun,’ he muttered.

Entering the main control room, he started moving the beacon. He felt the engines respond, as the Ark left its orbit, entering its new course.

The Doctor gave the controls a final glance, adjusted a few settings, then turned around to re-enter the TARDIS. It was then he saw the Wirrrn in the doorway.

Down on the Earth, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan were just sitting on the ground, waiting for the Doctor. Nyssa heard someone approach and looked up to see Vira come toward them.

She crouched down beside them and said, ‘Don't worry, I'm sure he'll be here soon. He's probably in no trouble whatsoever.’

Knowing the Doctor, no-one believed what Vira said, not even Vira.

‘Er, hello,’ the Doctor raised his hat. ‘How do you do?’

The Wirrrn didn't reply, but lurched towards the Doctor. The Doctor backed away, trying to circle around to the TARDIS.

‘Don't worry, I wont hurt you. Just stay here for a minute or two, won't you?’ The Doctor dived around to the front of the transmat controls. He still had to get over them, and knew that the Wirrrn would catch him before he got inside.

The Doctor felt through all his pockets, but couldn't find anything useful. ‘Don't suppose you found a cricket ball on the way here, did you?’

At last he found something. It was another cricket ball. ‘How did that get there?’ the Doctor wondered aloud, but wasn't going to go around looking in gift horses' mouths.

‘Here, catch,’ he said, and again threw the ball at the Wirrrn. It hit the Wirrrn, making it retreat violently, obviously unwilling to face another attack. This gave the Doctor the time he needed to get into the TARDIS.

By the time the creature was ready, the TARDIS had dematerialised.

After stopping off to pick up an impatient Tegan, Nyssa and Adric, and saying goodbye to Vira, he watched as the beacon plunged into the Sun.

‘So, it's gone then,’ said Tegan, dully.

‘I can only hope so,’ replied the Doctor.

But he could never be sure. The Wirrrn had had some time in which to escape, and if it had the consequences would be terrible.

This item appeared in Timestreams 4 (April 1992).

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