Chatoyance: Chapter 4: Shades of Reality
The day had not gone well in studio.
Knowing that this was to be Alan Eastman's final scene as the Doctor, the studio was milling with extra visitors. Corporation bigwigs, the press, friends of friends, competition winners and so on.
There were flubs, fluffs and technical hitches which all added to the slightly manic feel. They were running very late.
But at last they got to the regeneration scene – much to Alan's loud relief.
"Right, " said the harassed-looking director. "Alan, Amanda; you are standing together on a mountain. Behind you, on the green screen we will be having the mother and father of a thunderstorm. Are you good to go?"
"For the past twelve months, mate." muttered Alan, sourly.
"Right. Quiet everybody! This is a take. Action!"
"But Doctor, you can't die. Don't leave me..."
"Sorry, Kim. The infection of the Cyberworm is too strong. I can't fight it any more. Not like this..." Alan turned away to look at the blank green-screen 'sky'. "But there is one last chance..." He threw back his head and stretched out his arms in the familiar crucifix pose. Amanda contributed a scream of anguish.
"OK, Alan. Hold it just a second and....CUT!"
There was a ripple of applause around the studio and Alan Eastman punched the air. "YES! It's off to the RSC for me !"
He surprised Amanda by giving her a quick peck on the cheek, shook hands with the director and a few of the crew and walked off the set without a backward glance.
"OK, everybody!" The director clapped his hands. "We've just got the final scene to shoot. Amanda, you stay in place please, love. Is Phil ready?"
Phil Mason, the surprise choice to play the thirteenth Doctor, was hustled into position by the AFM. He was dressed exactly as Alan Eastman had been, duffle-coat and all. He adopted the same pose, with his back to Amanda for the big reveal scene.
Such was the chaos of the day that Amanda hadn't even had the chance to meet Phil and say hello, so it really would be a big reveal for her, too.
"OK! Sorry for the rush but we need to get this in the can. Ready, Amanda? OK, Phil? Right, give it a moment for the regeneration effect to finish. Quiet everybody. Action!"
After a momentary pause Amanda whispered, "Doctor? Doctor? Is it you..?"
The actor's arms dropped slowly to his sides. "Yes, Kim. It's me."
He turned to face Amanda, who burst into a peal of surprised laughter.
Alan Eastman gazed down steadily at her.
"CUT! Christ, Amanda, we haven't got time! What's so funny?" The director's voice was shrill with stress.
Amanda pointed to Alan. "It's not my idea. It's Alan, of course. Good joke. Nice one."
"What do do you mean?"
She pointed again. "He's sneaked back on set..."
The director looked up at Alan, who was still in position. "Sorry, Phil. It's not in very good taste...she's normally more professional than this..."
"Look," said Amanda, hotly. "I've told you. It's not my fault! Have a go at Alan if you like..."
Alan Eastman took a few steps down the artificial incline of the mountain and stood in front of a bemused Amanda. "Don't worry," he said. "You're right, it's not your fault. None of it."
He put out his arms, palms up, in front of him.
"Take my hands," he said.
"Oh no...no, no, no, no, NO!" Mike Aster marched forward, shaking his head. "Stick to the script..."
Alan turned sharply and gave Mike such a withering look that the Executive Producer pulled up in his tracks.
"And you can shut up!" growled Alan, with a voice that seemed to come from his boots. "No more scripts!"
The two men looked at each other in the dead silence that had enveloped the studio. It seemed to last an eternity and you could almost smell the testosterone. But Mike finally looked away. He gave Amanda a wry, defeated grin then stalked off set and out through the studio doors, which banged behind him.
"Take my hands, please," said Alan, gently.
Amanda shrugged then did so, very aware of the silent crew and visitors looking on.
"Now. Say the word."
A smile, ever so tiny, played at the corner of Alan's lips. "Sontaran."
Was he pissed ? "What the hell are you talking about?"
"You want me to say it in character? Snotaran. There, I've said it. Happy?"
She tried to pull her hands away but he held firm.
"No, not in character. I want to hear Amanda Clay say it."
She puffed out her cheeks. Why didn't somebody do something?
Amanda's eyes flickered at the realisation and a tingle danced in the pit of her stomach.
She was Amanda Clay for God's sake! RADA graduate. Twice Bafta-nominated actress...
But she couldn't say 'Sontaran'!
Alan's smile grew broader as the studio, the crew and the cameras melted into each other like chalk on a wet pavement. He started to laugh, delightedly.
Around them, reality bent.
They were in the eye of a roaring storm but they were serene. She felt very calm.
They were still holding hands at arms length when the chaos around them faded into the familiar hum of the Tardis control-room.
His eyes twinkled as she looked up into them.
"Welcome back, Kim," said the Doctor.
Despite her objections the Doctor had insisted that Kim take some time out to relax before they talked.
As she luxuriated in a hot, deep bath Kim turned things over in her mind and by the time she returned to the control room she thought that she had got it.
"Parallel Universe, " Kim said as the Doctor looked up from his controls. "I'm right, aren't I? A place where all this is some kind of fiction. A TV series."
The Doctor handed her a plate containing a bacon and egg sandwich and which was giving off, in Kim's considered opinion, the best aroma in any universe.
"Good thinking. Wrong, but good," said the Doctor, as Kim took a massive bite.
"What then?" she managed, chewing. "Don't tell me it was all a dream..."
He smiled and shook his head. "What is the last thing you remember? Back in Warsaw?"
Kim swallowed. "The Uprising," she whispered. "I was in the warehouse on Podelski street. Trying to get back to the Tardis. The place was on fire. Full of smoke. I couldn't see. I called out for you. Outside there was the sound of gunfire. People screaming....it was horrible.."
The Doctor nodded. "Go on."
"Then I saw it. Through the smoke. In the corner. The Tardis. The door was open and I managed to get inside." Kim frowned. "There was a bright light..."
"It wasn't the Tardis, Kim. You were in the wrong building. It was his trap. A matrix generator."
"An old acquaintance of mine. It's been a good while since I've seen him but he's always out there, scheming away."
"Can't you guess?"
"I wouldn't be asking, would I ?"
The Doctor chuckled."Typical of his arrogance and conceit. The showrunner. The Executive Producer. Mike Aster. M. Aster. Master."
"One of my own people. A maverick and trouble maker on a quite monumental scale. He created a reality and sucked you into it, using matrix technology brilliantly combined with block transfer calculation. He even managed to incorporate you physically into his world, as well as himself. Sheer genius. Except...."
"Well, when he created his world he overlooked one thing. Your inability to say the word 'Sontaran'. That created a bridge back to reality. A very small bridge but it was there, nevertheless. It took me a while but eventually I was able to hack into his matrix using that bridge and fetch you back."
"How long is a while?"
"Oh, I think it was 1951 before I cracked it."
Kim spat out her sandwich. "Seven years!"
The Doctor nodded. "I set up in a little shop in Podolski Street. Repairing clocks and watches. Had quite a jolly time actually. I had to stay close to the nexus so that I could carry on hacking into the matrix via the Tardis systems."
Kim stared at him. "You did all that for me? Seven years? I'm not worth seven years..."
"Hey! Who invited the old Kim Gideon back ?"
Kim pushed away the frightened child, into the lock and key safety of her subconscious. "Thank you." she said. "For coming to get me."
"You're worth it."
There was a quiet moment.
"Why did he do it?"
"The Master? To get at me, via you I guess. We have a bit of a history. If you had ever fully become Amanda Clay, if they had killed off Kim Gideon, then I would have lost you forever."
"He could have just stabbed me in the back; blown my head off..."
The Doctor shook his head. "Not his style. Firstly this was an intellectual challenge. A joke of massive complexity. I told you he is a genius? It takes a genius to create a world like that."
"Secondly, he's as nutty as a bag of Brazils."
Kim laughed. "So where is he now?"
The Doctor waved his hand airily. "Out there. Somewhere. Frustrated. We'll have to be on our guard in future, Kim. That was just a calling card. An hors-d'oeuvre by his standards."
Kim finished her sandwich. Nervously she touched the Doctor's arm. He looked up from his controls.
"Doctor, there's something..."
"This might sound bonkers. But this reality business. How do I know I'm back in reality? My reality?"
He regarded her for a moment. "That's not bonkers at all, Kim. It's a question that all sentient beings have to face at some time or other. One of these days we'll have to have a long discussion about the theory of Solipsism. I can't prove that this reality is any more valid than any other..."
He turned back to his controls.
"But maybe this will help..."
It was a beautifully pastoral scene. The air was pure, the birds were singing in the trees and the sky was crystal clear.
The Doctor and Kim were standing in a lane, talking to a family of humanoid molluscs.
Antennae fluttered in their direction. "The festival of the Harvest is an important event in our cycle," said the tallest of the family group, in a fluting voice. "You are most welcome to attend and learn of our ways. Afterwards you could take refreshment at my family nest as our guests."
The Doctor inclined his head. "We would be honoured."
The creatures bowed slightly and moved slowly off down the lane.
"Peaceful. Gentle. Welcoming. All I have heard about the Quib is true."
Kim smiled. "So this is Quillan." She scanned the sky. "And no Sontarans?"
"On the other side of the Galaxy. Far too busy fighting wars to ever come here. Did you notice, Kim? You said 'Sontarans'"
"Sontarans. Son-tar-ans." Kim smiled. "Well what do you know! Let's hope I never have to say it again!"
The Doctor went to say something but hesitated. "Kim..."
" What was it like? To be somebody else?"