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The Companions of Doctor Who: The Return of Romana

By Paul Scoones

Nosivad was a wilderness, a barren windswept world. The ancient stone tower building was the only feature on the scrub-littered surface of the tiny planet. Its face had been wiped clean, save for the tower, by a vicious and devastating battle when Nosivad had still been an outpost of the once-mighty Tharil Empire.

The Coming of the Gundans was now deep in the past, and Tharils once again occupied the impressively tall, weather-beaten tower. To the Tharils, the past was everything, and the Battle of Nosivad gave the world a powerful aura detected by the time sensitive race. It was in some ways a ghostly reminder of their current fight to free their kin from brutal slavery. Nosivad's temporal aura may have been lost on a non-Tharil, but their current cause was not.

One of their leading campaigners now stood on the square tower roof and stared out over the inhospitable landscape without really seeing it. Hunched deep in a warm cloak, Romana found herself recalling the circumstances under which she joined the fight. In her mind's eye she could see the Doctor's troubled face as she hurriedly explained to him her intentions. They both knew it was for the best; the Doctor's features had broken into that familiar broad grin in recognition of the fact, and then it had been goodbye. How long ago was that, she wondered. Too long - Time Lords all seemed to have an ironic lack of perception of the flow of personal time.

The Time Lords. Romana no longer felt she belonged to that high-and- mighty society. The Doctor had taught her more about life than the rest of the Gallifreyans put together. When she had been summoned back for final training, every instinct in her body told her to run in the opposite direction. ‘Final training’ was a prelude to a life of monitoring the Universe from the complacent safety of the Capitol on Gallifrey, never again likely to step outside the city, much let alone the planet. Once returned home there was little prospect of ever meeting the Doctor again, and no chance at all of ever mimicking his wandering existence. A life with the Tharils in E-Space denied both of these, but at least her life had direction and cause, if not the wandering eccentricity she had seen in her fellow Time Lord who had given her guidance.

Again, her thoughts turned to the message she had received from another universe two days ago. Essentially it had asked her to come home as all was forgiven. A change in Time Lord policy allowed for a degree of restricted intervention, and in the absence of the Doctor's co-operation, Romana was the best choice for the job. With it came ownership of a type 65 TARDIS (the latest model), and the (relative) freedom to work in time and space as she had done with the Doctor. The offer was tempting, but there were other considerations, most importantly her unfinished work in Exo-Space, domain of the Tharils.

A short time later, a Tharil emerged from the rooftop stairwell and came over to where Romana still stood. She saw that it was Lazlo, the one she was closest to out of the small band she worked with. His deceptively soft leonine eyes studied her troubled face. ‘Will you stay?’ he asked.

Romana shrugged helplessly. ‘I don't know. It's not an easy decision to make.’

‘It must be yours alone,’ Lazlo told her. ‘The gateway is waiting to take you home if that is your wish.’

Romana acknowledged this and said, ‘If only K9 were here to help me decide.’

‘I'm sorry about the loss of your computer,’ replied Lazlo, and meant it.

Romana shook her head. ‘It wasn't your fault.’ She referred to a crisis not very long ago. The events that led up to the loss of the mechanical dog were still fresh in her mind.

It was the last in a series of attacks directed against slavers trying to gather Tharils from their villages. The humans would fly in low over the settlement and dump a cloud of knockout gas which left the time sensitives unconscious for hours. By the time they awoke, they would all be strapped up in the hold of the privateer. It was an easy operation for the slavers, and one that the Tharils had concentrated their opposition against, attacking the slavery at its source.

The pattern was a successful one; Romana, K9 and Lazlo went aboard the Privateer and rendered it incapable of leaving, whilst Biroc and his group attacked the slavers and reawakened the drugged Tharils using an antidote developed by Romana. Twenty-four raids on the slavery operation were carried out in this fashion without a hitch. The twenty-fifth was different.

As usual, the trio slipped aboard the privateer craft without encountering any resistance - most of the crew were out in the field gathering up their bounty as quickly as possible. Reaching the bridge they encountered a group of men on watch, but K9 was able to stun them before they could react. K9 was plugged in to override the ship's computer whilst Lazlo and Romana searched for any Tharils already aboard, including the usual individual in the navigator's position.

It was while releasing this Tharil on the bridge that the unforeseen attack started. There had been no anticipation of a rival slaver moving in to take the drugged Tharils for themselves, and it was only when powerful laser bolts began slicing through the hull that this possibility was realised.

Instantly and instinctively, Lazlo slipped cut of phase. Romana pulled loose the last bindings holding down the Tharil, and he too began to slip away from the danger. Lazlo reached for Romana with an outstretched paw, but she was already moving away from him, towards K9 on the other side of the bridge. ‘K9!’ she shouted, and the automaton responded by detaching himself from the console and gliding across the deck. Suddenly, a roof strut crashed down amidst blazing debris, and many control systems caught fire in chain reaction. K9 made a wide detour to avoid the beam, and Romana scrambled towards him, but Lazlo sensed all possible futures - he knew the futility of her action, and in a rapid movement, grabbed hold of her arm. She too, slipped out of phase, and as she did so, she saw a second strut come down, this time crashing straight over K9, who disintegrated under the impact.

Moments later, the privateer's engines were caught in the blaze, and the whole ship was engulfed in a massive explosion. Romana and the Tharils rode out the blast wave in safety, disconnected with the present reality. The village was decimated, but the Tharils had had time to escape - the slavers had not.

K9, the Mk II version, built by the Doctor and later given to Romana as a parting gift, was no more.

‘He was very close to you,’ said Lazlo softly.

‘So are you,’ replied Romana, ‘but I can't help feeling that the best of my work has already been done here.’

‘There is still much to be done...’

‘Yes, but nothing that you can't now handle just as well without me.’

‘Thanks to you, our race is sure to be united once more an its former glory,’ said Lazlo proudly.

‘Without slavery,’ added Romana, and her furry companion nodded. The Tharil race had once been the aggressors and the slavers themselves. Part of Romana's task was to make sure history didn't repeat itself.

Another Tharil emerged onto the roof. He wasn't quite as tall as Lazlo, yet Romana knew him just as well. Biroc came over to them. ‘The mirrors are aligned to take you where you want to go, Romana,’ he told her. ‘Have you decided?’

Romana looked first at Biroc, and then at Lazlo. Both were now very fond of her, and she of them. Together they had been through a lot, and as Lazlo had correctly pointed out, there was more to be done. On the other hand, though, they were no longer dependent on her knowledge and guidance, and a job awaited her back in her own universe that would allow her to truly follow the Doctor's example and travel throughout space and time.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I've made my decision.’

This item appeared in TSV 8 (August 1988).

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