Do you want to travel backwards in time? Then look up. See them? All those reassuring stars. And in between,nothing. That's the universe. Incomprehensible, scary, wonderful and gone. All gone. Those stars are not your stars. The light is not their present light. Its journey began from suns that burnt long before gunslingers slung or romans conquered or Mona Lisa thought it would be a very lovely day to sit for a painting. Since before there was life on Earth that light has been tumbling through space and time to meet you. If you look up you can see the universe of the past.
All right, so it's a time trick, rather than travel. An illusion, light refracting through a lens of infinite space. And we sit on Earth watching echoes of what went before us laid out across the night. This is a story about an echo. A story about the Doctor as he was in past. You know about the Doctor don't you? Of course you do, everyone knows about the Doctor.
Jamie McCrimmon knew about the Doctor, which was why he was spying on him. "Protecting", thought Jamie as he fastened his knife to his belt and watched the Timelord head towards the Tardis outer door, " that's what I'm doing, protecting". Although he imagined the Doctor would use a much less amicable word like 'sneaking'.
As the Doctor slipped darkly out, Jamie dashed from his hiding place in the shadows. There was a click of a yale bolt jumping. The Doctor had locked the doors! The Doctor had locked him in! " You ungrateful, stubborn fool! What are you up to?" Jamie shouted. Through the windows he could see a figure turn and head away. Jamie didn't know how a shadow could look so craftily pleased with itself, but trust the Doctor to manage it.
He kicked the door a few times and paced the console room, muttering threats and insults most of which ended with the word "dunderhead." And then, after a few minutes, the doors opened. They just opened." Thank you" he called back to the Tardis, " All right I'm sneaking, but it's sneaking in his best interests". Watching the small blue light of a screwdriver and the goblin-like silhouette of it's owner shift across the distance, Jamie wondered who's interests the Doctor was working on behalf of tonight.
As he ran away, the Tardis hummed.
The field beneath Jamie's feet was that unique type of squelchy mud that could only mean one thing - Britain.
Up ahead, he could make out a stone circle. Remembering childhood stories about red-robed druids, mistletoe and human sacrifices, Jamie knew that the Doctor couldn't be far. The timelord and human sacrifices went hand in hand.
The Doctor wasn't there, but he had been. Distinctly doctoresque contraptions littered the ground, all a-whurr and ticking and a mystery to Jamie. Except for Victoria's forgotten metronome. It sat in the centre of the wires, tick-tocking to and fro.
Jamie paced around the circle, mist and moonlight pooling around him. In the absence of the Doctor or a better plan, he continued the tirade he had started in the console room. That made him feel better, until he noticed the central stone column. It was taller but otherwise troublingly resembled an altar. Jamie felt a strange need to look closer if only to check for any recent blood stains.
It certainly looked like stone. He stretched out his hand- Tock, tock, tock! Behind him he heard the metronome alarm excitedly. Jamie glanced back, but now it steadily kept time. Tick. , tock. He raised his hand again and touched the stone.
It felt cold, just like it was supposed to. Ordinary stone beneath his palm. And then, it shuddered very slightly.
The sound of a Tardis. The Tardis. The sound of the central column shifting up and down
Jamie snatched back his hand. He turned and ran, stumbling into a dark figure that knocked him heavily to the ground. Despite his smaller size, the other man remained standing, still and pale in the starlight.
"It's the TARDIS" cried Jamie.
"I know" said the Doctor "Don't touch it again."
The bones of the Tardis. If you really looked you could tell. There was the control panel in the middle, and here the two entrances stones where the door used to be, and all around the arched stone structures of supporting beams. Jamie wondered how he hadn't seen it before. "But this is only the console room, what happened to the rest?"
The Doctor grinned, "Elsewhere. Destroyed? Maybe with a dead Tardis everything but the bare bone of the console room decays away. Like flesh, eyes and muscle on a human corpse," His expression turned grim and he glanced to where the metronome was slowly ticking away.
" It is dead then?"
" As much as it can be. This is all I can do, check it's time-pulse" the Doctor gestured to the metronome. " If I switch off these dampeners, it would die. It will never fly again. This is the last resting place of the Tardis". He looked up into the night sky and sniffed," Chameleon circuit still works though, or rather, I should say, still doesnt work." He smiled at the central rock, " You silly thing- can't get it right. This type of stone isn't found for 200 miles! Mind you," he chuckled, "keeps all those nosey historians and archaeologists puzzled, keeps them all digging and proding and busy".
He clapped his hands together gleefully and the metronome ticked audibly faster to match his rhythm. The Doctor tensed, " yes, the Tardis always likes to keep me busy, after all it brought me you".
Jamie was cheered by this, "I wonder if it ever thinks about me?"
"I think it's been thinking about you for a while now Jamie." The Doctor flashed him a dangerous smile "Let's go shall we."
Jamie shouted after the departing blur "Go?! We can't just leave it!".
The Doctor didn't look back, "Why ever not? I have a Tardis, my Tardis- a working Tardis. This one is useless and broken".
Strange words began to form in Jamie's mind, " Switch the equipment off. Turn the inhibitors down. Please."
The Doctor stopped "Mmm, I would but I can't do that, Jamie". The accusation in the word "Jamie" snapped him back to his surroundings. He blinked and the Timelord rewarded him with a smile. "Why not?"
The Doctor spoke with a calm politeness, "You touched the stone, and when you did the Tardis linked with you and took your energy. You're helping to keep it conscious. If it dies, you die"
"You mean, if we switch these contraptions off, I die too?"
"Even that won't work now. A Tardis link once made is ship has become too much a part of its surroundings. The only way for it to die would be for a sacrifice to leave their blood on the alter stone. Even if they did, you'd still die".
Jamie's mind clouded, something wasn't quite right here, but the Timelord smiled and twinkled at him, "Okay Doctor, I trust you."
"Good boy. It isn't lonely. Here it can watch the world change. Thousands of people travel miles to see it, families have picnics on it and at night it can see the stars and dream." he lightly touched his arm. "Come on."
They walked towards the circle edge, but as they reached the threshold between tardis and earth a pearl wall shimmered into existence, physically pushing them back to the centre. The Doctor got back on his feet much quicker than his companion and began muttering, " Forcefield. Clever, can't get out".
Jamie sat up, " What happened?"
"It's come to drink the energy the Tardis heart provides!" declared the Doctor.
"The thing that's trapping us here."The Doctor kicked the stone central column with his boot, "The thing out there".He gestured wildly.
Jamie looked outside the circle. In the gloom, there could be something large and hungry. He took a few steps closer to the Doctor " Well if it's thirsty", he conspired, "why can't we let it drink the energy? The Tardis isn't using it".
" That would be very bad!"
Jamie nervously grasped at the Doctor's shirt, " It's evil then this... thing."
The Doctor scoffed "Evil...evil!" He leaned in and spoke to the central column. "You hear that- he asks if it's evil. Have you ever heard tell of the Jabberwock?"
Jamie shook his head
The Doctor's lip curled in a smile "No, I didn't think you would have. The Jabberwock, my beamish boy..." his eyes twinkled, " is made of darkness and teeth. It only has to open its jaws for men to be filled with unutterable terror. It is death to life and life to fear. It stalks the minds of those in need and consumes them in a fog of nothingness. Whole planets are it's prey of choice but first it has to start small - as a whisper." The Doctor paused for effect. "Noooo, I'm afraid we're trapped and all we can do is wait"
" A way out".
The dampeners pulsated with the energy flow, matching the rhythm of Jamie's increasing heartbeat. Understanding came with materialising clarity. Death then; the most assured of way outs. The life the darkness demanded was his. Had the Doctor realised before? Was that why he'd locked the Tardis?
The Tardis. It was an escape, it was freedom. A way to travel beyond the small prison of years that mortality dictated. No responsibility, no chains, nothing but an offer of unlimited possibility; at least for the Doctor. Even near death the offer was there, but the price this time was Jamie. All it offered him was some dignity in being a willing sacrifice.
"Doctor," Jamie steeled his voice and his knife, tracing a practice line across his palm "I've found it"
With a violent pull he slashed the blade downwards.
"A way out."
He smeared his hand along the central stone. The stone which had once been the controls for a machine that would take you to the sunsets of a thousand worlds.
And nothing happened. Jamie's ragged breath spilt into the darkness. It hadn't worked! The Doctor regarded his companion as if he held a gun to his head. Jamie realised the Timelord was scared to the point of speechlessness.
He searched his young companion's face "Why did you do that?"
"Beause you said. If I die, the Tardis dies and so does that creature. This way you survive."
"I never asked you to do that, I never once asked you to do that!"
Jamie felt very young and very stupid, "But the Jabberwock's gone? We stopped it, I stopped it." Why was the Doctor so angry?,..."I should be dead," he realised, " but I'm not..."
Unsettled blue aliens eyes watched the human. Jamie couldn't shake the feeling that the intelligence of his species was being assessed "There never was a creature?"
"No," replied the Doctor.
"Yes." The Doctor was guilty and old, but not especially remorseful.
"I'm the Doctor."
"Don't give me that. That's just a word for you to hide behind. Words, you're so full of them, and all this..." Jamie gestured at the stones, "...is another of your tales. I've seen you do it, don't think I haven't seen you do it - talking people into taking their own lives. It's astounding what the right whisper will do when applied with the correct amount of emotional leverage isn't it Doctor? No you never ask directly, but then that's not the way you operate. And for what? What was it all for this time?
The steady beat of the metronome continued to fill the silence.
" It's the Tardis that's keeping us here, not that fairytale monster you created. What does it want from you?"
The Doctor's voice was angry. "It wants me to let it die. To turn off the equipment and let it go. But I can't. Don't you understand. You may have given in but I won't. Life if life and I will fight and burn and rage for it. I'll will do everything in my power to protect it and yes, I will scheme and lie and cheat for it too."
Jamie looked down at the angry red cut across his palm and clenched his fist into pain.
"And it's my Tardis." the Doctor whirled, "Mine. My Tardis that's flown and sung through purple suns. That's danced on the shock wave of the big bang. It's tumbled and twisted through the cataracts of Volturnus and blazed across time, and it has to fight. I need it to fight. I need it to live-"
The Doctor halted in mid-tirade and his smile curled"It's up to something. It's fighting me. What its using?"
His eyes flickered around and settled on Jamie. "It's you. You're the distraction."
The Doctor let out a yelp "It's quiet!". He scurried to the metronome. The pendulum bounced back and forth in a silent blur.
"The sound's gone," Jamie touched the base of the metronome with his finger, "how'd it manage that?"
"Muted reality pocket-;very clever." The Doctor sonicked the metronome and sound burst back into Jamie's ears, ticking so quickly it was a continuous hum. " No, shouted the Doctor, " No, no, no". He broke into the dampeners. "The TARDIS is channelling the energy into the central stone. It's trying to burn itself out!"
Above the nights clouds rushed towards the hillside. Jamie tasted electricity in the air. He called to the Doctor. "Can you stop it?"
"If you let me."
"Is she hurting?"
"I don't know" said the Doctor, frantically rewiring. He stopped, "Maybe," he admitted, " Yes. A lot".
"Then you're the Doctor. Help her".
The Timelord looked up to the stars for help and smiled, "I can do better than that". He flicked the off-switch, and the equipment powered down. "I can send her back into the Universe"
The Doctor ran into the middle of the circle, blue lightening crackling through the wires of the relay. " Now listen you - I have an idea. But you're going to have to get used to traveling a bit slower. How does that sound?" The relays sparked appreciatively. The Doctor set the metronomes speed to the fast rhythm. "From now on you'll be strictly limited to the speed of light!
The central column burst into a jet of blue light, shooting high into the clouds. Jamie was knocked off his feet, but the Timelord remained standing beneath the explosion, leaping high into the air as whatever was left of the Tardis streamed into the cosmos.
Then abruptly, it stopped. The silence broken by a metronome accurately keeping time. The Doctor still looked up, watching the final beams of light fly away " Goodbye" he whispered.
And 400,000 light years later - a new faintly blue star appeared in the night skies of a thousand worlds.