Characters: Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble
Genre: Gen, drama
Spoilers: Minor spoilers for the first two episodes of Series 4.
Summary: A star empire is menaced by deadly creatures from the time of Rassilon. Will one lone Time Lord and a human companion be enough to defeat them?
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to RTD and the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes.
A/N: This story takes place sometime between Planet of the Ood and The Sontaran Stratagem. The Doctor is still recovering from The Year That Never Was -- an experience that he has not mentioned to Donna.
Previous chapters: Chapter 1 Chapter 2
Chapter 3, in which Donna learns more about Rassilon, and the Doctor reads a fairy tale.
"Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in any truth that is taught in life."
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller
Donna has seen many strange things since she first met the Doctor: lava monsters; creatures of living fat, telepathic aliens that carry their brains in their hands. She deals with it all the same way that she deals with being the new temp in a strange office. In either case, there is a pecking order to be learned, customs to be followed, and dangers to be avoided. Whether she’s facing murderous soothsayers with knives or water-cooler casanovas with roaming hands, it’s all part of the job. You just have to watch and listen, and ask the right questions of the right people.
“So, how can something eat memories?”
The Doctor looks distracted. “Donna, I don’t have time right now to explain fourth-dimensional quantum biology. Sorry.”
Jrzek F’lall looks at her. “And this creature is the sarthain of a Time Lord? A primitive from a Class 5 planet? There are Paalgi of the highest houses who would vie to be your sarthain, Doctor – to travel, to learn, and to serve.”
“For somebody who wants a favour, you’re very free with the insults, Sunshine,” Donna says with more calmness than she feels. “If you need a Time Lord to help you, it’s a bit daft to bad mouth the only one in the neighbourhood.” The High Minister looks sour; the Doctor, quietly amused. “I guess you only meant to insult me – primitive human and all that – but you just told the former Lord President of Gallifrey that he’s either stupid or mental or has really bad taste in companions.”
The High Minister looks gobsmacked; the Doctor is still smiling, but the amusement is now mixed with affection, and with pride. “I only travel with the best.” He springs to his feet. “Right. There’s work to be done. Allons-y!”
Donna rubs a hand over her forehead. They’ve been in the Paaligiou Imperial Archives for hours now, researching mnemophages. Actually, the Doctor has been doing all of the research while she alternately sits and paces. She tried to help at first, but even the data files that the TARDIS can translate for her are still too technical for her to understand. She could go back to the TARDIS, or up to the suite of rooms that has been set aside for them at the Palace. She’s not going anywhere. She needs to keep an eye on the Doctor. There’s something upsetting him. He’s working with a feverish intensity that seems out of proportion to the situation.
She decides to see if she can find information – not for the Doctor, but for her. The Archives’ databank is huge, and it can’t all be technical stuff. If she pokes around a bit, maybe she can find an intergalactic Wikipedia, or the Paalgi equivalent of The Children’s Illustrated Encyclopedia. It takes half an hour, trying different combinations of key words, and the information turns up in a very unexpected place. Donna reads it through twice before showing her find to the Doctor.
“Donna, I’m over nine hundred – I think I’m just a little too old for fairy tales.” Nevertheless, his eyes skim down the screen. She can tell the exact millisecond when he sees the title: Rassilon and the Memory Monsters.
He is motionless and very pale. “Doctor? Are you all right?” It’s a stupid question, she knows, because clearly he isn’t all right, but she has to say something.
“Yep. Course I am. Just thinking deep thoughts. Deep thinker, that’s me. Verrry, verrry deep. This explains why I wasn’t finding any information. The Time Lords went through the technical and historical sections of the archives, and purged all the relevant stuff, but they didn’t think to look at children’s literature. You know, there’s a lot more to fairy tales than meets the eye. The Brothers Grimm – now, there were a couple of blokes who knew a few things about aliens—” He’s gabbling at that million-words-a-minute pace that means his mouth is on autopilot while his mind is elsewhere.
Donna tries to gently tug him back to the conversation. “So, Rassilon did imprison the Hrul instead of killing them?”
“Looks that way,” the Doctor says. “The story, being written for kiddies, tries to make out that he was being merciful.”
“Wasn’t he?” The Doctor doesn’t talk much about his lost world – no surprise there – but she’s gotten the idea that it was one of the most fantastic civilizations in the Universe. Like ancient Greece, Egypt, imperial China, and Renaissance Italy all rolled into one, with large dashes of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Mr. Spock thrown into the mix. Magnificent and brainy and very, very ancient. “You said he was the greatest Time Lord ever.”
“Oh, he was, he was. Rassilon was a genius, even by the standards of my people. He invented time-travel, perfected stellar engineering and transdimensional mechanics – doesn’t mean that he was a nice person, ‘cos he wasn’t. He was devious, arrogant, obsessive, and completely ruthless. Very scary bloke.”
A bit like you, Donna thinks, though she doesn’t say it aloud. The man standing next to her – man, yeah, but not human, even though he looks like one – is really two people. On the surface is the Doctor. He’s impulsive and curious, a wanderer whose sharp edges have been softened by loneliness and loss, and by years spent in the company of humans. He enjoys Elvis, Shakespeare, yo-yos, marmalade, and saving planets. The Doctor is real, not a mask or façade, but at the core of him is another person, born on another world and shaped by its culture and values. At the core of the Doctor is the Time Lord who conceals his true name. The Time Lord is detached and analytical, certain of his authority and his right to dispense life and death, with an intellect as dazzling as a supernova – and equally as dangerous.
Take the Time Lord and strip away the Doctor. Strip away the sense of humor, the compassion, the willingness to admit that he needs someone. Add a large dose of political ambition, scientific single-mindedness, and a disdain for any race other than his own… She remembers the cold, remorseless being who destroyed the Empress of the Racnoss and all of her children. He had terrified her, even though he had acted to save Donna’s life, to save all of humanity. What would he have been like, if he had been moved only by self-interest? She represses a shudder.
“He trapped them in a ‘magic box’,” the Doctor says, continuing to read. “Blimey, that’s helpful. Some kind of stasis container, maybe. It’s not easy to imprison transdimensional entities. They tend to slip through the cracks. Have to figure out how to lure them in and grab them.” He mutters something indistinct that sounds like it might be, “First catch your Hrul…”
“Further on, there’s a bit about him using some kind of magical eye to seal the box,” Donna interjects. “Magical – or maybe musical. They called it the Eye of—“
“—Harmony.” The Doctor finishes the phrase a split second before she does.
In Pompeii, Donna saw people who were literally turning to stone. The Doctor is now doing a fair imitation of that transformation. All of a sudden she hates this situation, hates this world, hates the Paalgi – not because they’re a bunch of stuck-up gits, but because they’ve put That Look back into the Doctor’s eyes. The look that says he’s remembering the world that he lost and the war he never talks about.
“You know, you don’t have to be the one who sorts this,” Donna says, knowing in advance that it’s useless. As far as she can tell, the Doctor never met a problem that he didn’t feel obliged to take care of – aside from fixed historical events. “Just because Rassilon was a Time Lord, it doesn’t mean that you have to clean up his mess. It’s not your responsibility.”
“It is my responsibilty, Donna” the Doctor says, in a flat, emotionless voice so quiet that she can barely hear him. “I’m the one who let the Hrul out.”
Continued in Chapter 4