A short story competition entry
An electronic sigh and the lights dimmed again. Ever since the amorphic pattern stabiliser had become unstable in the Chameleon Circuit, the system default had returned the TARDIS to looking like an early twentieth century, London Police Telephone Box. And as the Doctor had made the Earth his preferred home, continuing to return at regular and consecutive time intervals, it was getting increasingly difficult, not to say problematic, to find a ‘parking space’ where the TARDIS could remain unobtrusive and left unattended in reasonable safety. He had spent several months considering the problem.
“If only I could get the imaging control operational again.” he sighed. “Even a few different changes would be better than being stuck as a Police Box forever!”
Not that the Doctor hadn’t developed a somewhat warm affection for the TARDIS’s chosen appearance. It was just that… well… you know…
The TARDIS had never been straightforward. It wasn’t a simple matter of removing one module and chucking in another. The TARDIS had soul. Modules and systems became used to, and comfortable with, one another. It was a bit like playing from music manuscript. Eventually, playing without the sheets present, you start to alter one or two notes or expressions here and there, building in your own feel and interpretation. In the same way, the TARDIS had gradually modified some components to accept the faults in image stabilisation. One might say, it had even developed rigid habits. The Doctor blamed himself for not addressing the problem light years ago.
There was a sudden shrinkage distortion (anyone looking from outside would have briefly seen an oak tree appear on Brighton beach) and then the sound of the sigh again – although this time the lights stayed bright.
Materialising in just the right place was also proving to be a problem. He’d set the controls for contemporary London, but missed the centre by several miles! Fortunately the tide was out, he was close to the mainland, and it was only four in the morning, local time. As he’d intended to make this planet his base, he would have to consider making more use of the Earth’s global satellite positioning system. He felt sure the TARDIS could be modified to accept and use the signals. It was high time the TARDIS gave him some say in terms of where it was going to land.
“For goodness sake!” the Doctor was exasperated, yet excited. Grabbing the sonic screwdriver he made another fine adjustment inside an exposed conduit. Outside, the TARDIS morphed into a rather pleasing beach hut with decorative pointy bits.
“Ah… now we’re getting somewhere.” he breathed with relief. “Perhaps I’ll leave it like this for a while until I can find some more Terbium for the photon accelerator exchanger.”
This decided he gathered together a few items, grabbed his coat and scarf, and strolled out onto the beach.
Meanwhile, several miles Northeast in the little coastal town of Southwold, another beach hut had appeared, taking up position neatly at the end of an existing row of individually named huts. Sea Breeze; Albatross; Marina; Swiss Cottage; Frank’s Plaice… Calverdier; Skylark; Gulliver; Windlass; Atlanta; Terraqueous. (Some of the names were rather odd, and Terraqueous certainly didn’t look out of place among them).
The Doctor glanced towards the majestic pier ahead of him. Sunrise was inspiring. Beams of light needled through the pier’s supports. “There’s nowhere quite like the Earth.” he exclaimed.
Startled from his musings, the Doctor turned to find a young man in an oilskin jacket walking rapidly to catch up with him.
“What was that?” the man asked. The Doctor stopped and looked quizzically at him.
“Something about the Earth?” the man persisted.
“I was just admiring the view.” replied the Doctor.
“Oh, right.” The man sounded crestfallen, but then rallied with renewed enthusiasm. “Jack, pleased to meet you.”
The Doctor smiled at the outstretched hand and without taking it replied, “You can call me the Doctor.”
“Are you a local Doctor?”
“No, just visiting.”
“Me too.” Jack said brightening up again.
“It’s rather early to be out, isn’t it?” asked the Doctor.
“Speak for yourself Doc. Anyway, I’ve been coming here quite often at this time.”
“Oh?” the Doctor questioned – his curiosity rousing.
“Yeh. It’s the best time of day for inspiration; a clear head, and all that….”
“Right.” the Doctor agreed.
“It helps my creativity.” Jack finished.
“What do you do Jack?”
“This and that. Invent things, you know…”
“Me too.” The Doctor found Jack strangely likeable, even though he had imposed himself to some extent on the previous tranquillity.
“Do you know where I can get some Terbium?” asked the Doctor.
The sea at Southwold shimmered in colours. And the hut named Terraqueous changed in tandem with those same colours – in readiness for the moment to come.
They were beneath the great pier now. It’s massive supports extending out to sea.
“What’s Terbium?” asked Jack.
“Oh, it’s a sort of metal. You get it in certain yttrium minerals…”
A bright scarlet flash across the sky ahead stopped them in their tracks.
“Shit! What’s that?” Jack exclaimed.
“I don’t know?” The Doctor looked puzzled. “It’s certainly not the northern lights… I wonder… No it couldn’t be…”
“What?” pressured Jack.
“No” repeated the Doctor.
“No what?” persisted Jack impatiently.
“Oh, nothing. I don’t know.” insisted the Doctor.
“Perhaps it’s lightning?” pondered Jack – determined not to be left with a mystery on his hands.
“Probably.” The Doctor had gone all distant.
They continued to walk in silence, climbed some steps, and found themselves heading into town. Jack led and the Doctor followed, without really concentrating on where they were going.
“You’re very quite Doc. What you thinking?”
“Oh, nothing really. Is there anywhere we can get a hot drink or something?”
Jack glanced at his watch. “Sandy might be around. We could go there.” Jack volunteered.
The Doctor was battling with his memory. Something he knew wouldn’t come to the surface.
Terraqueous was humming and the humming was words. “Land and water, land and water, land and water, land and water.” The sea began to heave upwards, becoming a formed rectangular block. The door to Terraqueous flew open as if someone were about to run out. Instead, all that could be seen was darkness. A void so black it made hell seem colourful. The sort of black that eats all lights and creates all fears. The sea shape churned in its rectangular guise, lifted from the surface, and propelled itself towards and through the open doorway.
“Here.” Jack raised his arm towards an archway. “My friend, Sandy, will make us a drink.”
The Doctor motioned Jack to lead on. Through the archway was a small café. The smell of ground coffee and warm bread met them as Jack opened the door.
“Hello Jack. Hello.” She addressed the Doctor.
“This is the Doc.” Jack responded to her visual enquiry.
“Are you off colour Jack?” asked Sandy.
“No. I just call him Doc.”
“Oh, right. What would you like?”
The TARDIS in its new form seemed strangely oblivious to the events of the day so far. It had hardly noticed it was changing colour from time to time and was indeed otherwise at rest.
“Sandy’s standing in for her cousin for a few days.” volunteered Jack. “He’s back today.”
“Tell me Jack, why were you so interested in what I was saying earlier?”
“What, about the Earth thing?”
Jack briefly glanced about him before continuing in a low voice. “It’s something I was told recently… well, yesterday actually. Some bloke on the beach… Said something about someone who was going to be important to the Earth, and that I was going to have to help with something. I thought it might be you.”
Southwold was quiet. Terraqueous was quiet. But the sea was also quiet. In fact, it had disappeared from view.
Sandy joined them at the table. They sipped their drinks and ate hot buttered toast, while Jack told them about some of the inventions he had made.
“…And that was how I managed to open the door using sound.” Finished Jack.
“Very impressive.” Said the Doctor.
“I was also experimenting with flow forms.” Continued Jack. “It’s really interesting how water behaves when…”
The Doctor had jumped to his feet. “That’s it!” he exclaimed. “I knew I’d seen it somewhere before!”
“Seen what, Doctor?” exclaimed Jack. The Doctor was heading for the door.
“Hey! Wait!” shouted Sandy. “You’ve left your hat!”
“I’m going after him.” Jack yelled.
“I’ll come too.” Sandy grabbed her coat and followed Jack out, locking the door behind her.
“What about the shop?” Jack called back.
“It’ll be okay for a minute, Jack.”
The Doctor had got halfway to the pier before they caught up with him.
“Where are you going?” called Jack.
“I have to get to the TARDIS.”
“The what? Hey! What are you on about?”
A few minutes later they arrived at the beach hut. The Doctor raced up the steps, opened the door, and disappeared inside. Jack and Sandy stopped abruptly outside the now closed entrance.
“Oh, come on.” Jack said pathetically to Sandy, and opened the door.
They could only be described as shocked and speechless as their minds struggled to cope with the huge size of the room they found themselves in. The Doctor meanwhile was wrestling with the conduit panel.
“It’s stuck!” exasperated the Doctor.
Jack sprang out of his trance. “Here, let me try.”
The panel juddered to the right a fraction.
“It’s no good. It’s like a limpet.” exclaimed Jack.
The Doctor moved around his controls, tutting and twitching with his fingers poised and then removed from various buttons and levers.
“Ah ha!” He pulled out a metal tube-like thing, turned it over and replaced it. The panel came away and Jack fell backwards clutching it to his head. Inside the conduit, a turbulent black sea swirled to the tune of Terraqueous Terata.
“We have to stop it.” The Doctor cried. “You hear it?” Jack and Sandy glanced at each other.
“Terraqueous Terata.” Exclaimed the Doctor as he struggled to pull a long cable out of a storage unit.
“Of land and water. Monsters!” Jack and Sandy were obviously no wiser.
“I’ve accidentally triggered the process. I have to neutralise the terbium resonance synchroniser.”
Sensing renewed urgency, Jack screamed back. “What can we do Doctor?”
“I need something to join that coupling over there to this cable.” The Doctor waved the cable’s end in the air.
Jack searched his pockets. Pulling out a handful of screws, nails and other bits, he extracted two bulldog clips and a crocodile clip. “Any of these any use?”
The Doctor grabbed the clips and proceeded to fiddle with his cable inside the conduit.
In Southwold, the beach hut door began to strain to the motion of a black sea. Suddenly, the door flew open and all the shapes of hell fought for supremacy over the exit. The leaders galloping towards the sand that was once ocean.
“Come on come on. We don’t have much time.” The Doctor muttered anxiously.
“Jack. Push that blue lever.”
There was a gushing sound, the lights dimmed and the walls turned black. Bubbles of water formed like stars around the room and everyone started to drown.
“I can’t breathe!” cried Sandy.
The Doctor struggled for control. “Quick Jack! The other lever! I can’t reach it!”
Jack made a final attempt, caught the lever with the tip of his finger and pulled it down.
On Southwold beach the hut vanished. Air-bound water creatures turned to rain and sea-bound devils spread outwards as rippling waves.
The Doctor caught his breath and looked at his new companions. “Right. Good. That seems to have done the trick.”
With that, he turned away and left the room. Jack and Sandy gawped at each other in disbelief. Who was this man called ‘Doctor’?
© Richard Gentle 1999