This fic is dedicated to the memory of Elisabeth Sladen
Down To Earth
The most exciting chapter in my life so far was at an end.
I'd stood there as the TARDIS faded out of sight and out of my life, taking the Doctor with it. As always, its departure had been accompanied by that metallic whooshing sound I'd heard so many times before from inside the TARDIS, as it took the Doctor and myself to some distant planet or to some point in Earth's history. Now, however, all that was over; the Doctor had been summoned back to his home planet of Gallifrey and he had to go alone. That was why he had dropped me off on Earth.
There was only one problem; the street where the TARDIS had materialised wasn't Hillview Road, South Croydon. In fact, I had no idea where it was, but, judging by the presence of television aerials on the roofs and the cars I could see parked nearby, the Doctor had at least managed to get me back to my own time. I could have ended up stuck in Medieval times (the period I'd visited on my first trip in the TARDIS) or any point in Earth's timeline other than the one I'd originally come from. Or, worse than that, on a completely different planet. And, while I knew there were some wonderful planets out there in the Universe, there were also plenty of planets I never wanted to set foot on again. Planets such as Skaro, although it might not have been so bad before the Thals and the Kaleds started fighting each other . . .
Not that it mattered anymore. My travels with the Doctor were at an end and the only thing left to do was figure out how I was going to get home. And that could be easier said than done when I had no idea where I was, beyond the fact that it was somewhere in the UK, and no money in my pocket. True I'd laughed about how the Doctor had "blown it", even stopping to tell a dog I saw sitting on the pavement. But, now, the practicalities of the situation were starting to sink in. There was no way I could hop back in the TARDIS and try again; the Doctor must be halfway to Gallifrey by now, if he wasn't there already.
As I walked along the pavement, whistling Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me A Bow-wow to keep my spirits up, I heard a car approaching. When the car, a blue Ford Cortina with luggage strapped to the roof-rack, drew level with me, the driver stopped and wound his window down, before calling me over. "Going somewhere?" he asked in a Scottish accent, looking closely at the stuff I was carrying. Just before the Doctor received the summons to Gallifrey, I had told him I'd had enough of travelling with him and the danger that often entailed, then gone to my quarters to pack my things. I had returned to find that he had been called back home but couldn't take me with him. Apparently, outsiders were not welcome on the Time Lords' home planet. That was why I was standing on an unfamiliar pavement in an unfamiliar street, my arms full of my personal belongings.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am," I said. "I'm trying to get to Hillview Road."
"Hillview Road? Never heard of it."
"South Croydon?" I tried, thinking to myself that it was just my luck that the first person I met after the Doctor left me God knew how far from my home didn't know how to get there. Not that I was playing the "damsel in distress" role; I've never had any patience with people (mostly men) who assume that being female automatically makes you weak and helpless. Indeed, I'd once given an impromptu talk on Women's Lib to Thalira, a young queen whose people, the Peladonians, had only crowned her because her father had no male heir; I'd told her to stand up for herself and that there was "nothing "only" about being a girl".
"You're a long way from South Croydon, lass," the man in the car said. "This is Aberdeen."
"Oh!" I let out a frustrated groan. I'd hoped the Doctor had only missed South Croydon by a few miles at the most, instead of which he had landed me in Aber-blooming-deen. And that was in the north of Scotland, several hundred miles from where I wanted to be. Why hadn't the Doctor double-checked before going off and leaving me in the lurch like this?
"What's going on?" asked the young blonde woman sitting in the front passenger seat, addressing the man next to her.
"Oh, some young woman trying to get to South Croydon," the man replied. "Hitch-hiker, I shouldn't wonder."
I resisted the urge to respond with a sarcastic: "Thank you very much."
"Well, we can't just leave her. Look, why don't we give her a lift as far as Newcastle?"
At least Newcastle was nearer to South Croydon than Aberdeen was. But it was still quite a distance from where I wanted to be and I still had no idea how I was going to travel the rest of the way. For some time, I'd been used to being able to travel anywhere in space and time, but all that was over now and I was stuck with 20th Century transport. So, knowing the alternative was walking for hundreds of miles, I accepted the offer of a lift as far as Newcastle.
Of course, accepting a lift from a couple of strangers was risky, but I didn't exactly have much choice. Besides, having spent time with the Doctor, I was used to danger, even if I did find it exhausting sometimes.
"Name's Neil McCrimmon," the man said, as I settled myself on the back seat. No seat belt - cars didn't come with seat belts in those days. "This is my wife, Rachel," he added, gesturing towards the young woman next to him.
"Sarah Jane Smith," I told Neil and Rachel, as I had just learned the young couple were called. From what I'd seen of them so far, they seemed a nice enough couple, but there was something familiar about them that I couldn't quite place . . . As Neil drove off, I realised what that something was; their surname was McCrimmon, a name I'd heard somewhere before. But where? As far as I could remember, I'd never met anyone by that name in my life, until now.
But the Doctor, I recalled, had. During a rare respite from fighting Daleks and Cybermen and other assorted monsters, he'd told me a little about his past travelling companions. One of those companions had been a young man from 18th Century Scotland called Jamie McCrimmon, who joined up with the Doctor not long after he (the Doctor, not Jamie) regenerated for the first time. And it was Jamie and a young girl called Zoe (who came from the 21st Century) who were with the Doctor when the Time Lords caught up with him, put him on trial and exiled him to Earth - with a new appearance, the appearance he had when I first met him. As for Jamie and Zoe, they were sent back to their own times and their memories of travelling with the Doctor were erased.
Now, I had met a couple called Neil and Rachel McCrimmon and I couldn't help wondering if it was just a coincidence that they and Jamie shared a surname. Or were they related in some way? In particular, was Neil one of Jamie's direct descendants? The investigative journalist in me longed to find out, but, even if Neil had traced his family tree as far back as the 18th Century, I couldn't think of any way to ask him that would avoid awkward questions. Talking of awkward questions . . .
"So what are you doing in Aberdeen?" Rachel asked me.
I had no idea how to answer that. If I said something along the lines of: "Oh, I've been travelling in space and time with a man who looks human, but is really an alien with two hearts who changes into someone else when he's about to die", they might think I was some kind of nutcase. And I don't think I'd be able to blame them; after all, I'd seen things which most people think only exist in the pages of science fiction novels. I'd witnessed the birth of the Daleks, met a mad scientist who'd built a . . . thing out of assorted body parts, glimpsed a devastated version of the world I knew when the Doctor took me into what he refered to as "alternative time" - and those were only three of the things I'd seen.
And, then, there was my most recent adventure with the Doctor, the one which had just ended when the Doctor got the call from Gallifrey. This had involved a humanoid hand found in a quarry, which took control of anyone who touched it (including myself) and could absorb radiation and use it to build itself a new body. Unfortunately, it turned out that it had belonged to Eldrad, a notorious criminal from the planet Kastria, whose people had tried to destroy him millions of years ago. Anyway, the Doctor had managed to destroy Eldrad again - hopefully for good this time.
But I couldn't tell Neil and Rachel all this. For one thing, I hardly knew where to begin, for another, I knew it was unlikely they would believe half of it. Over the years, I've learned to be careful who I talk to about my past, not that it's easy when my present consists of seeing off alien invaders nearly every week and I've got a genetically engineered genius for a son. But, though I was much younger then, I knew enough to know it was better not to talk about my experiences too openly.
I gave a fake laugh. "Oh, just a little mistake," I said, knowing I was making an understatement. And it would be many years before I would have the opportunity to confront the Doctor about his "little mistake"; by then, however, he had undergone a few more regenerations.
Luckily for me, Neil and Rachel didn't ask any follow-up questions. Instead, they started talking about how they were on their way to visit Rachel's sister in Newcastle. When Neil saw me walking along the pavement with my arms full of my things, he had pulled over and . . . Well, you know the rest.
The journey to Newcastle passed without incident, though a traffic jam just outside Edinburgh made me long to be able to press a button and be whisked off to anywhere in time and space. But that was no longer possible; I was back on 20th Century Earth and I would have to get used to living an ordinary life again. But how could I do that after all the things I'd seen? If there's one thing I've learned about the Doctor, it's that spending time with him changes you so that you never look at things in quite the same way again. I myself had never given any thought to the possibility that there might be life on other planets, until the day I met the Doctor. And that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't decided the disappearances of several scientists would make an interesting news story . . .
Anyway, after a few hours, Neil pulled up outside a house. A few minutes after that, I was standing just behind Neil and Rachel as a woman with a small boy in her arms opened the front door. This was clearly Rachel's sister and she was about to tell Neil and Rachel to come in when she spotted me. "Who's this?" she asked. "Is she a friend of yours?"
Neil shook his head. "We met her just as we were setting out," he told her. "She's trying to get to South Croydon."
Rachel's sister - I later learned that her name was Tricia and her son's name was Darren - looked at me for a moment, then told me to come in. Nowadays, of course, most people would be wary of inviting a stranger into their home, but things were different back then. Anyway, I followed Neil and Rachel inside, thinking longingly of being able to get some rest; it had been several hours since the Doctor dropped me off and I was still wearing the red-and-white dungarees I'd had on when that business with Eldrad started.
"Do you mind if I freshen up a little?" I asked Tricia, recalling how I'd complained about needing a bath while I was still in the TARDIS.
Tricia nodded. "Straight upstairs and on your left," she told me.
After a good long soak, I made my way back downstairs, now dressed in a pair of maroon trousers and a black short-sleeved top. I joined Neil and Rachel in the living room, where they were talking to Tricia and a man I took to be Tricia's husband, while Darren played with his toys on the floor. As soon as she saw me, Rachel called me over and introduced me to Tricia and Darren, who, I learned, was eighteen months old and "a right handful". Tricia's husband, meanwhile, was called Ken. Anyway, after the usual small talk about family matters, Tricia turned to me and asked me to tell them about myself.
That was the question I'd been dreading and I paused to consider how best to answer it. "Well, I'm a journalist," I said finally. "And I've been doing a bit of travelling." I tried to make it sound as though all my travelling had been done on present-day Earth, even though that was not the case.
"And have you been anywhere exciting?"
"Well . . . Italy." I'd been to Italy all right; trouble was, it had been Italy a few centuries ago, but I couldn't tell these people that. During my travels with the Doctor, I'd seen things they couldn't begin to imagine, things I could not talk about openly. I decided to try and change the subject. "Do you have a phone?" I asked, recalling that I still needed to get home.
Tricia shook her head; in those days, many people still didn't have telephones in their houses. But, she told me, there was a phonebox at the end of the street that I could use. I thanked her, then asked if she could lend me some change since I didn't have any. That was just one of the things I was going to have to get used to again now that I was back in my own time; mobile phones would not even be invented for several years.
Anyway, with a few coins given to me by Tricia in my pocket, I made my way to the phonebox. As I looked at it, bright red and with the word Telephone painted across the top, I thought about the TARDIS and how it appeared to be an ordinary police box - until you got inside. But I forced myself to stop thinking about the TARDIS and opened the door to the phonebox, finding the confined space a little disconcerting. But that was hardly surprising when I'd been used to the TARDIS and its impossibly (to my mind) large interior.
I tried Aunt Lavinia's number first, but got no reply. Heaving a sigh, I inserted another coin and dialled Harry's number. If this didn't work, I was going to try the Brigadier at UNIT, the organisation the Doctor had been working for when I'd first met him. I listened to the phone ringing for a few seconds, before someone picked up the receiver at the other end. "Hello," a male voice said into my ear. Harry's voice . . .
"Harry, listen," I said. "I need you to do something for me."
"Certainly, old thing. What can I . . .?"
I cleared my throat loudly; I'd told Harry about calling me "old thing" before.
"Sorry, Sarah." Back then, people often called me Sarah, instead of the full Sarah Jane. "Anyway," Harry went on, "what can I do for you?"
"Listen," I said. "I need you to come up to Newcastle."
"You do? Where's the Doctor?"
When I heard those words, I felt a lump in my throat. The Doctor had been one of the best friends I'd ever had; we'd done so much together and it had seemed like our adventures together would never end. Now, however, he had been called back to Gallifrey and I was back on Earth in my own time. I wondered if I would ever see that curly hair, that ridiculously long scarf again . . . I would even have been glad to see the sonic screwdriver, the same sonic screwdriver I'd told the Doctor I was sick of. But I maintained my composure and answered Harry's question. "He's gone back to Gallifrey," I said. And I told Harry everything that had happened, pausing occasionally to insert more coins into the slot.
"Anyway," I said when I had finished, "could you come up here and pick me up?" As I said that, it suddenly occured to me that I hadn't phoned someone to ask them to pick me up from somewhere since I was fifteen. Although, if the Doctor had managed to get me to Hillview Road, or at least somewhere near it, I wouldn't been in this position right now.
"Of course, old . . . Sarah. But I don't think I can make it until tomorrow. Do you have anywhere to stay tonight?"
"Yes, if Tricia and Ken don't mind putting me up for the night."
"Tricia and Ken?"
"Remember the couple I met in Aberdeen?" I asked. "Well, Tricia and Ken are the people they were on their way to visit . . ." I paused to pull a piece of paper out of my pocket; it contained Tricia and Ken's address, which I read out to Harry. "16, Summerfield Place - you got that? There's a pub nearby called The Crown," I added, hoping this information might be helpful. It wasn't much, but it might help Harry if he had to ask for directions.
Anyway, Harry and I arranged that he should come up to Newcastle by train, bringing with him the money I would need to pay for a single ticket from Newcastle to London. I had no idea how much that would be, but I promised that I would pay him back as soon as I could. We would have carried on talking, but my money was starting to run out and I had no more coins in my pocket. "Look, Harry," I said, "I'd love to keep chatting, but I'm in a phonebox and I'm almost out of money."
"OK, then. See you soon."
"You too," I told him. And, with that, I hung up and stepped out of the phonebox and into an ordinary street on 20th Century Earth. There was no-one about, except two elderly women gossiping on one of the doorsteps and neither of them gave me a second glance. But, even if they had, they would not have guessed that I had, until a few hours ago, been a traveller in space and time.
I looked up at the sky, thinking of all the things out there, of the planets most people from my time didn't even know existed, of the various life-forms with which we humans shared the Universe. I knew I had been given a rare privilege, that I had seen things most people couldn't begin to imagine, and I couldn't help but wonder if anything in my life could ever surpass those experiences. Then, I thought of the Doctor and wondered if I would ever find out why he had been called back to Gallifrey. Perhaps, once whatever was happening there was sorted out, he would come back to see me and I would have the chance to ask him.
For now, though, I just said five words in my head. And those words were: "Until we meet again, Doctor."