Chapter Nine

“Will ten minutes be enough?” the Doctor murmured, as he looked at the time rotor filled with the purple dust cloud. He knew that it would have to be. Only ten Earth minutes for him to restabilise the purple dust before he could reanalyse it. Now that he realised its place of origin and function, he could use that knowledge to halt the progression of the purple dust. This was thanks to the information supplied to him by Officer Tell which filled in the gaps in the puzzle for him.

He stretched his hands out to the keyboard attached to the scanner and quickly started typing the information required to reinitiate the stabilisation program to hold the purple dust until he could reanalyse the purple dust with the new information included. His time was rapidly running out to close off the existing program execution and reinitiate it before the purple dust was set in motion again. That was, until he looked up and saw Catherine standing on the opposite side of the console. A broad grin broke out across his face as he had an idea.

Before the Doctor could say anything, Catherine asked, “Doctor, may I help?”

She didn’t say ‘can’ she help as she was fairly sure that there must be something she could do. But whether the Doctor would [u]allow[/u] her to help was another thing. It seemed to her, from the way he looked at the purple dust, that the Doctor regarded this as a personal challenge.

Whether she was correct in this or not, he nodded in response to her question and added, “There’s a lever to your left.” As Catherine touched a brown-coloured rod on the console, he added, “Yes, that’s the one. When I say ‘now’, pull it as hard as you can towards you.”

There were now only five Earth minutes left. Updated parameters had been successfully entered and the old stabilisation program’s run was nearing its end. However, if the Doctor just terminated its execution, he wouldn’t avoid the ‘abnormal end’ result which would destabilise the purple dust in the time rotor. What he needed to do was to bypass the abnormal end physically at [u]exactly[/u] the same instant that he initiated the same program but with revised parameters. The time was nearly right. He held his hand above the run key, awaiting the exact moment to press his plan into action.

“[u]Now![/u]” the Doctor yelled at Catherine.

Catherine pulled the lever with all her strength towards her and held on. At the very same instant, the Doctor thumped the run key. He looked at the readings on the scanner and his frown cleared immediately in relief. His plan had worked.

Catherine looked at the Doctor and he smiled – a smile that lit up his whole face to end in a twinkle in his expressive blue eyes.

He quietly said, “Thanks. I couldn’t have done that without you.”

Catherine, curious to find out exactly what she had done, asked, “What did pulling the lever actually do?”

There were many flippant replies that the Doctor could have made, but he rejected them all and replied, seriously, “It forced the stabilisation program to stop immediately and switch control back to the scanner. I set the updated version to run at the same time, so it replaced the old with the new.”

“How secure is the purple dust?” Catherine asked, as she looked at the time rotor. “Will it cause any damage to the TARDIS?”

“It should be secure providing we don’t dematerialise for a while,” the Doctor replied. “As to whether it will cause damage – depends on what you call damage.” He paused to gather his thoughts before continuing, “The purple dust is a mixture of living and non-living matter. Mostly, the living matter is inanimate, so while it’s stable, no problem. But when it animates, [u]that’s[/u] when the real fun starts!”

Catherine ignored the obvious question that sprang to her mind and asked, “So the purple dust is stable, now?”

The Doctor looked at the time rotor, his hands jammed into the outer pockets of his leather jacket. He replied, “Yes – for the moment. But our problems are not over yet, Catherine.”

Catherine was relieved that the purple dust in the console room was now under control for the moment, even if it hadn’t been removed and they couldn’t dematerialise as yet. But she [u]did[/u] wonder why the Doctor’s face had become so serious again. His frown had reappeared and had deepened so much that she thought it looked as if his eyebrows were about to join together and meet across the top of his large nose. She watched him, part concerned, part puzzled.

The Doctor must have realised that she was staring at him as he forced the deep frown to lighten. He turned to look at her and said in a very serious voice, “The time rotor is only the tip of the iceberg, Catherine.” The Doctor didn’t elaborate any further. How could he even begin to describe either the TARDIS Eye of Harmony or the Cloister room to someone who had never seen either and didn’t have even the remotest idea of how the TARDIS functions?

No sooner had this thought occurred to him, than he was promptly thoroughly ashamed of himself. It wasn’t often that the patronising attitudes of his first incarnation sneaked back into view, but whenever they did – as now – the Doctor kicked himself inwardly and he kicked hard! Hard enough to jolt him back to the present and his more mature, balanced and open outlook on the universe.

“Doctor?” Catherine queried, now more concerned than puzzled.

The Doctor finally jerked himself out of his introspection and smiled at Catherine.

“Come on,” he said. “I’ve something special to show you. You’ll love it!”

Without waiting for her comment, the Doctor grabbed her hand and pulled her through the console room’s internal door into the corridor beyond. He raced towards the Cloister room, dragging a bemused Catherine after him.

In her short time as a traveller in the TARDIS, Catherine had never been much beyond the console room. This corridor and those leading away from it towards the only other TARDIS rooms she had visited – her airy bedroom which she chose to be decorated like her old room in the mobile regional operations site, only larger, and its marble-tiled ensuite bathroom, the magnificent kitchen and, of course, the TARDIS wardrobe room – were the only other parts of the TARDIS she knew. Logically, she knew that there must be a power source for the TARDIS somewhere and probably all sorts of other rooms, but the Doctor was yet to take her on a guided tour. Not that she had asked for one – the opportunity hadn’t really presented itself.

They turned down a short corridor and came upon the Cloister room, its doors closed. The Doctor opened the doors and said, “Catherine, welcome to the Cloister room,” as he ushered her into the magnificent room ahead of him.

He grinned as he watched her initial reaction. She stood just inside the doorway and looked around as if she was trying to take it all in at once.

In all her travels during her career with Central Orion Protection and Security, Catherine had never seen a room quite like this one. However, having become used to the expanse that was the console room, she was not surprised by the Cloister room’s enormous dimensions and shape. But she [u]was[/u] surprised by the richness of its décor.

When she recovered from her initial surprise, Catherine walked slowly across the room to the closest of the tree-like support structures that were so similar to those in the console room. She reached out to touch its surface – it too was covered in a coral-like textured substance. But where the structures in the console room were slightly cool to the touch, these were much warmer. Catherine wasn’t usually prone to flights of fancy or illogical imaginings, but these structures felt to her as if they were somehow alive. She thought that maybe they were in a way. This whole room had a different feel to it than the console room. While the console room was so clearly the control centre of the TARDIS, the Cloister room was different. It seemed to her to have a personality.

The Doctor quietly walked up behind Catherine and asked, seriously, “What do you think of it?”

Catherine didn’t reply immediately, but continued to look around her. Her gaze took in the spaces between the support structures until she saw the well in the centre of the room. To her, the well reminded her of a giant eye, edged in purple eyeliner. But this eye did not have eyelashes and it was located in a raised structure. She turned towards the Doctor and, borrowing from his vocabulary, replied, “It’s fantastic.”

The Doctor grinned again and his eyes twinkled in delight. He always loved to hear admiration of the TARDIS.

As Catherine walked over to the ‘eye’, she asked, “What does this do, Doctor?”

The Doctor followed her and watched her taking in the huge size of the ‘eye’ and its coral-like texture before he replied. “It’s the main power source for the TARDIS, Catherine. Also known as the Eye of Harmony.” He shivered slightly as he thought about the true Gallifreyan Eye of Harmony that this power source was named after.

Before Catherine thought to ask the Doctor for any more information, she caught sight of the huge mural that was the focal point for the room. She just couldn’t take her eyes away from it. It was quite beautiful, but mesmerising – a painting of a planet suspended in space in the background with nine very different men depicted in the foreground. One of these men was clearly the Doctor. But who were the other eight?

The Doctor turned and saw the direction of her gaze. His grin disappeared and the twinkle in his eyes faded. It was a painting designed to draw its viewers to it. So he was not surprised that Catherine was drawn towards it.
He knew how powerful an effect that painting had upon him, particularly with the personal nature of its subject matter, and Catherine and he did share a strong emotional bond with each other.

“That mural is fantastic,” Catherine commented, borrowing yet again from the Doctor’s vocabulary. Fantastic was a word she was increasingly using when it came to things related to the Doctor. Turning back towards him, she added, “One of the men in the painting is obviously you, but who are the others? And what is the significance of the planet in the centre?”

Although the Doctor wasn’t quite ready to explain Time Lord regeneration to Catherine yet and was nearly as reluctant to expand in detail about Gallifrey and the meaning of the mural, she did deserve some form of response to her logical question. But it didn’t have to be a completely serious response!

“Do you really think he looks like me?” the Doctor asked, his eyebrows lifted in mock indignation.

Catherine walked over to take a closer look at the mural. She nodded and replied, “Yes, very much. The features and the clothes are exact, even down to the scuff marks on your leather jacket.”

The Doctor didn’t comment.

While Catherine tried to make some sense of the mural’s subject, he directed all his attention back to the TARDIS Eye of Harmony. Of course, the Doctor hadn’t brought Catherine to the Cloister room just for a tour or to admire the décor. The removal of the purple dust was always his main consideration. And there wasn’t unlimited time to deal with it.

The Doctor knew that this was likely to be the most difficult part of the removal of the purple dust from the TARDIS. There was now no easy way for the power source to be accessed directly. It had always been connected inexplicably to the power from the Gallifreyan Eye of Harmony, so while that power existed, the TARDIS Eye of Harmony could be accessed flexibly by a variety of means – even by human eye contact at one time. But that method of access had been closed off permanently by his previous incarnation.

It was one emergency access method that had always been open to abuse by any unscrupulous person who managed to gain entry to the Cloister room. While the Doctor was recovering from his previous regeneration, the Master had hijacked the TARDIS and had done precisely that. The Doctor’s two companions at the time were nearly fatally injured as a result of that involvement. He vowed after that that [u]never[/u] again would he allow that to happen. When the opportunity presented itself, he redirected that particular circuit back through the console so that option was disconnected permanently.

Normal control over the TARDIS Eye of Harmony was via the console, for both convenience and safety, so this had been a logical move. Except that the Doctor had never expected to have to disconnect the console from its connection to the power of the Eye. But then he hadn’t expected that the Eye or the time rotor would be invaded by something that would become animate when it had access to a power source.

Although the Doctor reasoned that this situation was an extremely unusual one, he took himself to task for not having planned for it anyway. “Just because it was unlikely was no excuse,” the Doctor thought, once again kicking himself inwardly for not doing the impossible. He walked around the well-like structure that contained the power source, contemplating alternative methods for accessing it.

Catherine looked back at the Doctor and the structure that he called the Eye of Harmony. Even from across that enormous room, it still looked like a giant eye. The Doctor had described it as the power source of the TARDIS, but she wondered if it could also be likened to the eye of a storm. It was so calm in the Cloister room, yet if the purple dust were to gain control of the power source wouldn’t this cause some sort of tempest of its own?

Catherine was convinced there was something special about the planet in the centre of the painting. The perspective of the painting drew the viewer’s eye towards the planet – like another mural called ‘The Last Supper’ that drew the eye towards a central figure. On a visit to an antiquities museum some time ago, she had seen a copy of this famous mural and had been impressed by the artist’s technique, but had never expected to see the technique used in a mural in the TARDIS. Catherine wondered who the TARDIS artist was.

The Doctor hadn’t been able to determine an alternative method of accessing the TARDIS Eye of Harmony – at least, not one that was guaranteed to be both successful and completely safe for both Catherine and him. The Eye could be opened using the sonic screwdriver, but there was a risk of the purple dust escaping into the room as well as the power stream itself. Of the two, the purple dust was the greater risk because its spread could not be controlled. He had been reluctant to expose Catherine to the risk of escaping purple dust from the very start, but now that he realised its origins, he was even more reluctant to do so.

But the purple dust had to be removed from the TARDIS, somehow. He pursed his lips as he considered what needed to be done.

Yes, he needed Catherine’s help with this problem of the purple dust.

The Doctor looked back towards the mural, knowing that Catherine would be as fascinated by it as he was, although she wouldn’t understand its meaning. She was staring at the mural, particularly at the depiction of the planet at its centre.

“The planet’s name is Gallifrey, Catherine,” the Doctor said. Catherine came over to stand beside him. Before she had time to ask what was the significance of Gallifrey in the painting, the Doctor added, “It is – was – my home planet.”

The expression in his eyes was a mixture of still too recent and raw grief and shock. His eyes filled with tears and a few stray drops overflowed his lids and dripped slowly down his cheeks. He made no effort to stop them or to explain them.

“My planet’s gone, Catherine,” he said. “Gallifrey only lives on in my memory and in the TARDIS, now.”

Catherine did not comment. She remembered something the Doctor said to her when he was helping her with her last job in her work for Central Orion Protection and Security; before she had accepted his invitation to travel with him in the TARDIS.

The Doctor told her then that he was the last of the Time Lords, but she hadn’t enquired further. She suddenly realised with horror what he meant. He was literally the last one of his kind left. His people and his planet were all no more.

Catherine’s first instinct was to ask him if he was alright, but she stopped herself. That would have been totally inadequate under the circumstances. She felt like crying for his loss too, but she thought she didn’t really have the right to do so. So she reached out and gently touched him on the shoulder, saying, “I’m so sorry, Doctor.”

He reached up to touch her hand lightly and smiled in acknowledgement and appreciation of her compassion. Then, as if to forcefully put the mood aside, he took a deep breath, brushed aside his tears and stepped back energetically from the Eye to pretend to look at it anew.

“Catherine,” he asked, “How would [u]you[/u] safely open the Eye of Harmony?”

(* To be continued….. *)