When Romana opens the door, she finds herself staring at a room she's never seen before.
It's a TARDIS console room. Romana can tell that at a glance even though it's configured more grandly than any she's set eyes on. There are glass floors and staircases and a time rotor apparently made of blown glass. The man in charge – loosely speaking – is gangly and gauche in his ridiculous outfit of too-short trousers, tailored tweed jacket and blue bow tie, and he's darting around the control panel like someone demented. It's perfectly obvious who he is.
Romana clears her throat. The man jumps like a startled hare, freezes for a second and then turns to face her with a certain amount of trepidation.
'Oops!' He laces his fingers as if about to offer up a prayer and then settles for running a hand over his smooth quiff of dark hair and giving her a rueful smile. 'Romana! Hello! I'm the –'
'The Doctor. Yes, I know.' Romana smiles politely back at him. He has the appearance of a awkward adolescent, but with their species looks can be particularly deceptive and she can see something in his eyes that gives the lie to youth. 'You're one of the later ones, I suspect.'
'Oh yes. Definitely later. And definitely shouldn't be here, either. Although that probably goes without saying. Pity you can't help with this. Get it sorted in half the time if you could. But my console room does not belong in your console room, so I strongly advise you to stay put in that doorway.' He pauses – possibly for breath – and stares at her. 'Which you already are. Because you're Romanadvoratrelundar and can work things like that out for yourself.'
'Yes, I can, thank you. So, how did this happen?'
'Well, there was a ... thing .' He waves his hands in a vague and unhelpful manner. 'And then there was another ... thing, and well ... the truth is it's all gone wrong in some wibbly wobbly way that you mustn't know about. Because of spoilers.'
'Oh, those. I see.'
He shoots her a look of astonishment. 'You know about spoilers?'
'Of course I do. When Professor River Song and I were –'
'Don't!' He sends his hands flying up around his ears to make the point. 'That's spoilers, too. I don't ... didn't ... even know you and River met, let alone what you were doing together... ' He looks a little flustered for a moment and then blinks rapidly, clearing his throat. 'Anyway. Like I said, spoilers.'
'So you're River Song's Doctor.'
'What?' His voice rises indignantly. 'No, I am not River Song's Doctor. That makes me sound like I'm her pet or something!'
'I'm so sorry,' Romana says with sweet insincerity. 'But this is very interesting. River did mention you were mostly living your lives back to front. I hadn't realised she meant it quite so literally.'
'Yes, well. It's complicated.' He turns away and loses himself in sudden burst of energy back at the control panels, presumably his version of a cat licking its fur to soothe ruffled feelings. 'We have diaries.'
'I know you do.'
'River let you see her diary? ' He throttles back a lever with a little more force than is strictly necessary.
'I only got to see the TARDIS-style cover. I thought it was charming.'
'Well, there's no need to be sarcastic.'
Romana lifts her eyebrows and he throws her a sidelong glance, twitching his lips with barely suppressed amusement. Then he turns a tap anticlockwise with a flourish before twirling around to face her.
'And now you're doing the eyebrows! Oh, I remember the eyebrows. Every time I said something you disapproved of, which was most of the time, up they'd fly like ... like wings, tiny little wings of disapproval.'
He flicks his fingers up by his eyes and Romana wants to laugh. In this incarnation his own eyebrows are pale and verging on invisible, rendering his complaint especially entertaining.
'Oh Romana, you were so cool and sophisticated, you were absolutely terrifying! Of course I was rather juvenile back then. I mean, the scarf and the hair? I don't know what I was thinking.' He gestures above his head, presumably to indicate bouffant curls.
'Whereas now I can see you have excellent sartorial sense and a new-found maturity to match.' Romana's tongue is very firmly planted in her cheek, but he chooses to take her comments at face value this time.
'Not really. I'm still a madman with a box. I just have less teeth and more chin.' Then he adjusts his neckwear with a sense of injured pride. 'But bow ties are cool.'
'Well, they're certainly very you.' She suspects he takes this sarcastically, but she actually means every word. The bow tie is a quirky affectation that suits him every bit as much as insanely long scarves do her Doctor.
He glances at his watch and then stoops over to peer at an instrument on the console. 'Ah! It's stabilised. Finally. Time for me to go.'
'I'm sure it is.' Romana steps well back from the door. On a sudden, possibly craven, impulse, she asks, ''As you keep talking about me in the past tense, clearly I'm no longer travelling with you. Am I going to be all right?'
'All right?' He echoes, sounding annoyed and very much like her Doctor – which she finds both amusing and reassuring. Then he straightens up, staring at her and grinning as if at some joke she can't share. 'Oh Romana, you're not going to be anything as ordinary as "all right". You're going to be superb.'
'Thank you.' Romana blinks back her surprise. Not only does she appreciate the compliment, she also admires how nicely his response sidesteps spoilers. 'That's good to know.'
'Yes, it is. Goodbye, Fred.' He offers up one last smile as he pulls the final lever and in that moment she sees a familiar light in his eyes. The pure, distilled Doctor, as it were. And she has to smile back.