Chapter Four

The TARDIS jerked slightly, causing the Doctor to be momentarily shaken out of his physical composure, but unfortunately, not enough to prevent the ever-crowding memories from flooding back. If he hadn’t been gripping tightly to the console at the time, he would have ended up on the floor of the TARDIS – not the most comfortable place to be when in flight! He adjusted one of the knobs on the console. As none of these were labelled, only he understood their purpose. In fact, many of these knobs were his additions, not just running repairs. He had always been one for tinkering about with things – particularly the TARDIS. As he remembered Andred telling him of the circumstances of Susan’s death, his tears overflowed his lower eyelids, rushing through his dark eyelashes to run down his cheeks like the first spring thaw of twin icy rivers.

He didn’t notice as they dripped on the sleeve of his battered leather jacket. He didn’t even seem to notice as they dripped on the TARDIS console. To an onlooker, the fast-flowing tears would have seemed at odds with the Doctor’s tough, masculine appearance, but Susan’s death was the Doctor’s first signpost to a personal hell and nothing could change that. It wasn’t just a mental pain he felt, but a real physical pain as well. Although he could control his tears, and did as soon as he was aware of them, the memories still continued to flood back, as if once the floodgates had opened, the flow could not be controlled until it had emptied itself out completely…..

Andred had looked impassively at the Doctor, but inside he was concerned about his former colleague. He knew something of the Doctor’s past exploits – his late wife, Leela, had told and retold of her experiences travelling with the Doctor, always with immense awe and admiration. The Doctor’s besetting sin was always becoming emotionally involved, particularly if it were something that he was most passionate about. Such a man should never be able to look as blank as the Doctor did at this moment. It was as if a part of him had died with Susan, his last surviving Time Lord relative.

Andred did not know how to handle this, from a personal perspective. He could not even begin to imagine the conflicting thoughts that must have been going through the Doctor’s head at the time, so he had no idea how he should respond. If the Doctor had only shown some expression, maybe then he could have reacted appropriately. But there was nothing, not even in his eyes. It was as if the Doctor had completely directed his expressions internally.

However, Andred was able to handle it from an official perspective. Part of a Castellan’s role involved close attention to administrative detail, particularly when requested to carry out duties by the High Council. This was something guaranteed to irritate the Doctor, who was not known for his patience with bureaucracy, especially the High Council. But Andred knew that that was the only way to make the Doctor irritated enough to return from the enormous shock that he had received. He spoke, in his best official voice, saying, “Doctor. We must be moving on. There is much more important information that must be discussed. Gallifrey’s future is at stake. The High Council requests your presence on a matter of..” He broke off in mid sentence.

His strategy had worked – almost too well. The Doctor’s blank face had cleared to one of extreme anger, but Andred was just pleased to see the blankness disappear and some expression return to his eyes. Something of Andred’s relief must have shown in his face, because the Doctor’s angry expression disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, to be replaced by a calmer, more open expression. It was not an indicator of a lack of feeling, but a sign that the Doctor was in control of himself again.

“Of grave importance, is it?” the Doctor had completed Andred’s sentence for him, before adding briskly, “Well, let’s get it over and done with, then.” The Castellan moved past the Doctor to show him the way – and ensure that he followed. Andred took nothing for granted with the Doctor. He had always been unpredictable, but at this point of time Gallifrey needed him too much to delay his meeting with the High Council any longer.

They had walked about, in Earth terms, fifty metres when Andred paused by what appeared to be a large marble wall-panel. He pushed a small bell-push on the wall to its right. A loud rumbling like the onset of thunder was heard and the wall-panel slid open to reveal a lift. This was the High Council’s own private lift – for use by the councillors and those who were fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough, to have audience with them. Andred ushered the Doctor inside just as a voice echoed, seemingly from nowhere, but actually simulated within the lift, “Please give your identification, purpose and authorisation.”

Andred replied, “Castellan Andred, escorting the Doctor to an audience with the Executive of the High Council, on authority from the President.” The lift started to move upwards, as Andred turned to view the Doctor’s reaction. But there was no real reaction from the Doctor, just an impression of thinly veiled impatience mixed with some inner tension and another emotion that the Castellan could not even begin to guess at. It had been very tempting to ask, but he had been an official long enough now to know when he was likely to receive an answer to that sort of question or not. He didn’t ask.

While Andred had been contemplating the Doctor’s reaction to his summons, the Doctor had been thinking as well. “The sooner this is over, the better - at least I will know what it is they want of me,” he had thought to himself. “It must be something to do with my knowledge of Daleks,” he had pondered, “a means to avert the ongoing carnage of the Time War, I expect. Better late than never, I suppose!” He had prevented himself from thinking of the many things he could say to the High Council about their disastrous and short-sighted inclusion of Susan in their original plans – she would always have been a sitting target for the Daleks in that situation….. At this point, he had known that it would be a pain in his soul that he would never fully recover from, but also that he would not gain anything from the High Council by berating them about it. His face had all the external appearance of calm innocence as the lift reached its programmed destination. The lift stopped and its doors opened. Waiting to greet them was the Chancellor of Gallifrey – the most high-ranking Time Lord, with the exception of the President.

“Welcome, Doctor,” the Chancellor had said with an ironic smile, “it has been such a long time since you last graced us with your presence!” The Chancellor continued, “Thankyou for persuading the Doctor to visit us, Castellan. You may go now.” Although reluctant to leave the Doctor, in case the situation became impossible for him, Andred had no choice, but to leave. It was never wise to disobey members of the High Council – as the Doctor had found out on previous occasions. Just before stepping into the lift to return the way they had come, Andred had quickly looked towards the Doctor, to be met with a most sympathetic and understanding look – a look which seemed to express gratitude, regret and friendship all at the same time. He had nodded acknowledgement of the look and then left the Doctor to whatever the High Council had in store for him. Andred had hoped that whatever the High Council had planned for the Doctor would not be too onerous or impossible a task. However, knowing many of the councillors’ views on the Doctor, he hadn’t been too optimistic.

The Doctor had always mistrusted High Councillors when they attempted to be friendly or ironic. It was never something that really sat well with their personas. This Chancellor was not a Time Lord he had met previously, so the Doctor had wondered at the time what gave him the right to behave as if he were an old and trusted friend. None of these thoughts had showed on his face, of course. The Doctor’s eighth incarnation might have, at times, appeared a bit more flighty than would normally be expected – he grinned to himself at the memory of his previous incarnation – but it was only those that knew him well or the chosen few that he had allowed to be close to him that realised that this had always been a pose; a means to ‘put the dogs off the scent’ to use the Earth hunting vernacular.

To the Chancellor, the appearance of the Doctor’s eighth incarnation had seemed to confirm all the stories about his unreliability. Velvet jackets and long wavy hair were not exactly the ingredients expected for a man who had become almost legendary in his knowledge of Dalek history; the only man to be regarded as a real threat to them in his own right and the man the President and the majority of the High Council hoped would provide Gallifrey with a solution to their current problems! As the Chancellor considered his next move, the Doctor had looked at him with that deceptively innocent expression which had caught so many by surprise in the past. “Why do the lines ‘welcome to my parlour, said the spider to the fly’ come to mind, I wonder,” the Doctor had thought…..

(* To be continued….. *)