Doctor Who Fiction – “Whatever’s For Us”
by Michael E.P. Stevens
In his dreams, Turlough stood next to the great grey obelisk from his aching teenagehood of so many years ago. The stone finger seemed to tower endlessly above him, ever pointing to the sky and “outer space”.
“Outer Space” – the primitive terminology brushed him with tingly fingers; he remembered his despicable friend Ibbotson. It was “Hippo” who had always pondered and enthused on the subject of “Outer Space” and the possibility of Life existing within it. Turlough had spent many tiresome nights keeping his mouth firmly closed on the matter.
The obelisk was old now in the dream. But whilst pallid lichen and many-tendrilled creepers climbed the rock, scaling and pulling, always searching, like vegetable builders of Babel, the rolling green hills tumbling down from the monument remained constant, ever-changing yet never-changing. Turlough began to run.
He came, by way of a route he tried not to fathom, to the square in the city where he had often waited. Always furtively he had stood, on the very corner where he was now, and looked out onto the passing humans, looking and listening for the one who was different, his one contact with the homeplanet Trion.
But this time, just as with all the other times, the man did not appear. The utter dejection and isolation of before threatened to smother Turlough, and so he ran again, this time back to the school.
Cold white corridors echoed with the Brigadier’s strong advice and the Headmaster’s patronising placations. Lessons in child’s play rekindled themselves in every passing room, and the purple stains of other people’s blood seemed to resurface on Turlough’s white hands. He had been such an errant ambassador for his planet. His ghost came to a desk and his fingers tried to trace the vague pattern of a lazy carving:
“Hippo is an alien by Turlough”
Turlough’s bitter tears made him run again. He must waste no more time within the confines of the old and hateful school.
Back on the hill, there were people examining the inscriptions on the stone finger. A lonely boy distanced himself from the others and seemed to stand back from the statue, watching it reverently and with a bubbling, breaking, seeking eagerness. And then, in one movement, graceful as the butterfly’s first wing from the cocoon, he reached forward and embraced the finger with two measly arms of kinship, understanding, and thanks. Somebody laughed at him.
Turlough stood for a while before leaving, and the boy gave him cause to wonder. What would happen when the obelisk was there no more to point irresolute souls to “Outer Space”?
* * *
Turlough woke, next to his sleeping companion. He had waited a long time for love, and during that waiting time he had felt his heart tighten from rejection more often than he cared to think about. Desperation had made him a permissive beast, available to whoever suitable came along first. Turlough was unproud of those wanton days. But now, with his beautiful companion beside him, his heart had unwound and grasped another, existing in perfect symbiosis with a heart of similar needs. No-one could question Turlough’s loyalty now.
Loyalty – that old millstone again. Turlough had left the Doctor after learning so much from him. Able to exist independently of the Time Lord, he had done just that – was that disloyalty of the purest kind?
But in amidst the toiling neurones of his brain came Man’s worst enemy, fatigue. To the early morning sunlight Turlough was overcome by the urge to escape his conscience again, and so he allowed himself to sleep further.
Yet a true escape he could not effect, because with the sleep returned the dreams, and someone was trying to speak to him…
Turlough’s ghost was walking along a road on Trion, an old and familiar way – he was going home. It was pitch black, for Turlough was late and he tried to hurry along the road. Yet stories had been told for centuries about such roads at such ungodly hours, and the syrup-headed man feared that he might never reach safety. Someone was following him…
* * *
The bushes rustled to his side, and the water under the bridge ahead hissed with an unworded threat. Turlough looked up, looked skywards to the old answer – Hippo’s Outer Space – but he was only to witness the stars receding suddenly, soon to disappear from sight. Turlough was on his own now. Yet someone was nearby…
And suddenly his conceptions of fear were given cause to grow, for with an ugly and deafening roar the bushes parted. A face of unrefined evil, pure raw hatred, leered out at Turlough. He tried to run from the monster but his legs had slowed and he couldn’t seem to remember how to make them work faster… He tried to scream, for there were people living a mile or so away, but his throat was completely taut, and he could make no sound louder than a whimper. The monster, made of something dark and scaly and utterly revolting, stepped clear of the foliage and came towards him.
The orifice which had emitted the animal cry now changed shape to become a speaking mouth. And as the creature made words Turlough felt as if he knew them of old.
“Why were you exiled from Trion? Why did you make a pact with the Guardian of Darkness? Why did you attempt to kill the Doctor?”
The accusing cast of rhetoric showed that there was no need for an answer from Turlough. The fact of the questions was a lesson enough to the man, once young and impetuous, now older and more mellow. For a second he imagined he could see a multiple image of himself – as he had been in his youth, as he was now, and as he would be in the future. It was like being a man who finds he has cast three shadows on the ground and wonders which one is really him. But soon the shadows faded into blackness.
When the probing into his past actions was over the monster, an amalgam of all the elements of Turlough’s darker side, disappeared into the night sky. Turlough looked up and the twinkling of a thousand lights looked back at him. The stars had returned, and, alone on the silent road once again, Turlough was now the finger pointing up to them.
* * *
On it’s endless way home, the ghost was met by another. In the darkness Turlough could barely make out the cream-hued culottes and top. The breeze ruffled first the other being’s hair and then his. Something in that wind, received second-hand, informed Turlough with no room for doubt that he was facing Tegan Jovanka. The same old harshness was there, and he found his own eyes narrowing, glaring to match hers.
He sighed. “Hello.”
Tegan’s voice, plain, slightly suspicious as always, answered. “Hello Turlough. Still up to your old tricks?”
He sneered. “Well you’re still as small-minded as ever, I see.”
But before they went any further, before they proceeded to cover the same ground as they had covered years before, Turlough secured a hold on himself. He made himself fight his own natural instinct to fight her.
“Wait,” he said. “I… want it to be different, Tegan.”
“It’ll never be different. I’ll always be able to see you for what you really are, Turlough.”
“No! I’ve changed. Look, we spent all that time together. Did we never find anything we really liked about each other?”
Silence. He continued.
“Listen. On Earth, before I met you and the Doctor, I wasted so much time being nothing but hateful! And then when I travelled in the TARDIS I still wasted time, always arguing with you instead of relaxing my anger and looking outwards instead of inwards.”
Tegan’s voice said, “So?” and Turlough replied, “I can’t afford to waste any more time. Please – I want to be friends now. No more animosity. What do you say?”
In answer the other ghost disappeared. Turlough looked around. In his mind, the tormenting vision of an arguing Tegan had gone with it.
* * *
Turlough woke again. The dreams had faded for good. His friend still lay sound asleep, but Turlough had to rise. He dressed and went outside.
In the garden, coming across the dewy grass towards him, was the bent figure of an old man, his head down as he concentrated on the task of traversing the slippery lawn. Turlough watched for a moment, lost between the borders of his own fiction and reality. He blinked away the sleep in his eyes and looked again, yet still this stiff old figure was heading his way. This truly was reality, for Turlough had left sleep behind in his house.
“Ah, young man,” said a cracked voice when the man had stopped to examine Turlough at close quarters. “Can you help me? I appear to have mis-navigated my craft somewhat.”
Turlough knew the person, yet there was no recognition in the newcomer’s eyes. Some quirk of Time and Space had brought them together at the wrong points in their life-cycles.
The man had little experience of other life-forms, yet he knew confusion when he saw it. He laid a calming hand on Turlough’s quaking frame. “Did I startle you? I’m most sorry. What is this planet?”
“It – it is a Trionic colony.”
The man was obviously disappointed. “Not Earth then,” he said. He began to walk away absent-mindedly.
Turlough felt he could not let the Doctor go without trying to glean a few more answers to his problemed conscience. Here was both the source and the healing of his troubles. “Wait, please,” he said. The man turned around with a questioning smile.
* * *
“I – I too am lost,” Turlough said. “I’m a long way from where I began.”
The man was immediately interested. “Are you far from home?”
“No – that is my home.” He pointed to a glowing orb in the sky which was Trion.
“Then how are you lost?”
“It’s … difficult to explain. This Earth you asked about – I’ve been there. I know why you like it.”
The man was taken aback. “Dear boy, I can hardly say I like it until I have visited it. Is it far from here?”
“No – the next galaxy.” Turlough pointed over to where many stars clustered defensively together. “You see?”
“No, not quite. Please hold your finger still!” And while they were looking, Turlough told part of his story. When he had finished he looked to the Doctor for advice.
“My boy – I am far from my home. I imagine that we each know how the other feels, and we should take comfort in that. You are an example to me, you know – yes, you are. Your story is one of expulsion, rebellion, exploration – and now you are here, fulfilled and close to home. Your exile, and the travels which followed it, all took place in order that you might return home a better man, a new man even.
I believe quite strongly that we cannot control our futures – at least, not entirely. Some of it is mapped out already, and we have to follow and fall in with what will be. After hearing you speak tonight, I can still hope for my own destiny. One day I should very much like to return home.
And as for your own indecision, those doubts about your self-integrity, you should look at me! I was once a nobleman on my own planet, but now they must speak of me with derision because of what I have done. But I know that there was no other way for me to go.”
Turlough, immobilised against the starry backdrop, breathed heavily at the old rebel’s tale. “I… hope you return home, Doctor.”
The man chuckled. “What a funny thing to call me! Have I really helped you that much? Doctor! Doctor! I like it!” And suddenly something flared in the cluster of stars. A planet was being born.
Turlough whispered one of his race’s old sayings in respect for the myriad shooting stars which flew away into the dark. “Another soul gone to Heaven.”
“I see it! Yes, I see it!” At last the old man found the light at the end of Turlough’s pointing finger. He patted the boy again, and moved away. “I shall be there in a moment,” he called to Earth’s galaxy. “Good-bye young man. My granddaughter is waiting, we must be on our way. Goodbye!”
Turlough ran his free hand over the lines in his middle-aged face, and supposed that he must have aged considerably since his travels in the man’s blue box. He wondered how many others from the olden days would fail to recognise the new man he had become.
And with the wheezing and groaning of the Doctor’s final disappearance from his life, Turlough dropped his finger and turned. Way, way ahead, in Hippo’s Outer Space, the TARDIS was pointing the way to the old grey obelisk.
First published: May 1990