If at First You Don’t Succeed
If at First You Don’t Succeed
After the third time of trying to get his attention, Liz gave up. Switching the oscillator off herself, she studied the Doctor’s face as the machinery whined down. He looked … defeated. Although she had only recently met him that was not an expression she was used to seeing. Proud, confident, angry, mischievous and, occasionally toe curlingly arrogant, yes. Defeated, no. Well, until last night.
“Doctor,” she began, “You really shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. There was nothing you could have done…”
Just as though a light switch had been flicked on, the Doctor snapped back into life. Slamming a hand down on his lab bench, he turned and rose from the stool in one, swift movement. Although his back was toward her, Liz automatically knew from his stance that he was angry again.
“Nothing I could do?” he asked, his tone almost self ridiculing, “I’m a Time Lord, Liz. I should have been able to save her.” Walking over to the tall blue box that he insisted was his space ship, he laid a surprisingly calm hand on one corner. “And if I had this at my disposal, I would have. But instead, I’m a geographical and temporal prisoner, forced by own people to be a helpless bystander.” Turning on his heels, he fixed Liz with a steely gaze. “They condemned her, Liz. Not me.”
Liz looked away.
Between them, she and the Doctor never addressed the events of that previous evening again.
The snow fell slowly but steadily. In the morning, there would be a solid carpet of it across town. Fortunately, she would not be there to see it. She had booked herself on a holiday to paradise; a one way ticket with no possibility of a refund. After the year she had had, though, Jane decided she deserved it.
It has all started so quietly, so normally. Christmas has been the usual gambit of expectation, over indulgence and Morecambe and Wise, and the New Year had been drunkenly welcomed in by Frank and herself with the traditional sherry and a round of resolutions they had both broken several times by January 7th. By January the 10th she would have broken several Commandments as well as resolutions. That was the day the police called round to inform her that Frank had been killed in a pub brawl.
At first, it hadn’t sunk in. She still ironed his work things, cooked his meals and spoke to him as though he were there. It was only when she caught herself scraping yet another untouched Sunday lunch into the peddle bin that the reality had hit home. As the plate fell and smashed, her kids had rushed to comfort her. Huddled on the floor, the three had openly wept, together, for the first time since Frank’s death.
She sighed. Frank. Whatever had he seen in her? There had never been a queue of lads waiting to ask her out. Then again, even if there had been, she wouldn’t have noticed. Her animals had been her concern. Whatever he had seen in her, he obviously valued it because he persevered and, eventually, broke through her wall. She still remembered the evening he had asked her to marry him. They’d just been to see the latest Bond movie. While Jane hadn’t been overly impressed with the film, she took her enjoyment from watching Frank totally immerse himself in the fictional world of spies and espionage. Upon leaving the cinema, he’d treated them to a bag of chips, insisting she wait outside while he bought them. They’d walked along the pavement, Frank holding the bag, Jane occasionally dipping in to grab one when she felt hungry. He’d stopped under a street light, looking confused. When she’d asked him what was wrong, Frank had pointed into the chip bag. Peering inside, she saw something sparkle at the bottom. Scarcely able to believe what was happening, she gasped as Frank knelt down, offering her the chip bag, a ring and his hand in marriage.
“Not exactly 007, I know,” he’d shrugged, “But would you make me the happiest man alive and agree to be my Moneypenny?”
Jane had squealed, agreeing without hesitation.
He’d surprised her even further when he asked to have children with her. Not biologically, obviously, that was impossible, but through fostering. Patiently, he’d waited as interview followed interview and both were assessed for suitability. However, it hadn’t taken that long – the service obviously saw something in her as well. Shortly after her wedding, she had everything. A husband, a house, countless pets and two beautiful children. She knew they weren’t hers forever, but for the time they were with her she was determined to give them the best start in life.
Which is why their removal hit her so hard.
Unable to cope in the aftermath of Frank’s death, she unintentionally neglected the welfare of the children. Neighbours being neighbours, they quickly reported her to the authorities and the children were taken back.
And then only last week, the RSPCA had come round to take her cats and dogs away from her.
With nothing left but the realization that she had always been correct in her own self evaluation, Jane had started planning her holiday. To paradise.
Slowly, she climbed onto the bridge wall. Looking down, she saw the water sparkle below her like a diamond ring in a chip bag from long ago. Thoughts of Frank ebbed and flowed along with the water, drawing her balance … The sound of a car pulling up behind her only just broke through.
“Madam,” a strong, authoritive voice called out, “Please get down from there!”
As they tore down the country lane, Liz smiled. The Doctor was in his element. Having picked up the car that morning, the Doctor had insisted that she accompany him and “Bessie” on another test drive. It was clear to Liz within seconds that the yellow vehicle had more than passed its “test”. It was also traveling rather faster than she had anticipated upon first seeing it.
She was still getting used to her new life. If what the Brigadier had told her was correct, then this was one of the most surreal moments she had ever experienced. She was with an alien who could transform his whole physical appearance, but she was not in some space ship but a vintage car. It was like Quatermass meets the Avengers.
“What do you think, Liz?” the Doctor asked.
“It’s quite nippy for an antique, Doctor.”
The Doctor beamed, “Well, I have tinkered with her, you know.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
“No. I didn’t think it would. Right. Fancy a bite to eat?”
“Why? Have you brought a pic nic with you?”
“No,” the Doctor said, pointing a few hundred yards down the road. “They forecast snow. However, I think that hostilliery will provide an excellent alternative.”
Liz squinted against the speeding breeze and saw a quaint brick pub complete with a smoking chimney. “Looks good to me.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
“Yes, err, you see, you’re paying.”
Laughing, they drove the remainder of the way to the Inn.
Over lunch, it hadn’t taken Liz long to work out that the Doctor was just as interested in finding out as much about her as she was him. And he was being more successful in finding out. Between mouthfuls of homemade pie, she’d told him everything. Well, everything that mattered. Taking a sip from her wine, she turned the table.
“What about you, then? UNIT’s great Mystery Man?”
Instead of replying, the Doctor had grimaced.
“What? Don’t you like that name?”
The Doctor shook his head, pointing at his plate. “Processed cheese. You humans really do invent some strange things.”
Liz took another sip. Keeping her voice low, she asked, “So, it is true then. You really are an alien.”
The Doctor grinned, years falling from his face. Leaning back, he cupped his hands behind his head. Making no attempt to keep his voice quiet, he said, “Alien, Miss Shaw? Me? I thought we’d already established my otherworldedly credentials.”
Liz felt herself blush, catching the interested looks their conversation was creating. “I know,” she said, “But with my background you can’t blame me for wanting concrete proof.”
“What would you like? Green blood? Tales of abduction? I could speak in tongues, if you like. I do it remarkably well.”
Liz shook her head, “No, no I believe you, it’s you look so …”
“Thank you, Miss Shaw. I’ll try not to take that as an insult.”
“I didn’t mean –“
The Doctor was smiling again, “I know you didn’t. Look, you’re human, I’m not and yet we both work together. And very well, I might add. Shall we just enjoy the ride?”
Liz nodded, accepting the offer of a light that had just been extended. As she took a drag, the Doctor tut-tutted.
“That’s very bad for your lungs, you know.”
Catching his gaze, Liz blanched, “Oh no. Not X-Ray vision?”
The Doctor winked. “That’s for me to know, Liz.”
Night was falling as they started their journey back to UNIT HQ. A slight dusting of snow was falling, making the Doctor erect Bessie’s hood. The flakes still drifted in from the sides, but Liz appreciated the gesture.
Having brushed the seats clear and dry, they’d set off.
After awhile, Liz asked, “So, the Brigadier made the right choice, then?”
“In what, my dear?”
“Ah, Bessie,” the Doctor said, patting the steering wheel. “Yes. Indeed he did. He’s not a bad chap, Lethbridge-Stewart.”
“He can be a bit…”
“Well, yes. Only to be expected, really.”
“That’s the wonderful thing about the military mind, Liz. It never surprises you. Duty, regulations and explosions. For every other need, they create a department and hire –“
“Yes, well, acquire those who can think around corners rather than blowing them up. Good job, really. Otherwise we would never have met.”
“Every cloud …”
“Exactly. They say that on Venus, too.”
Liz laughed. “Ok, you can stop that now.”
The Doctor looked bemused. “What?”
“You’re alien. I believe you.”
“You want to know the strange thing?”
“To me, you’re the alien!”
Liz started. “I never even thought of that …”
The Doctor didn’t reply and they drove on in silence.
As they approached UNIT HQ, the snow was falling heavily. Bessie’s windscreen wiper battled against the downpour and Liz strained to see what was ahead of them. Suddenly, she caught sight of something out of the ordinary.
“Doctor!” she called out, “Over there! The bridge!”
“I know, Liz. I can see her.”
The Doctor pulled Bessie to a halt. A woman was balanced precariously on the top of the bridge’s wall. Her intent was obvious.
“Madam,” the Doctor called out, “Please get down from there!”
Liz saw the woman jolt, the Doctor’s voice clearly calling her back from heavy introspection. Before she even realised he had left Bessie, the Doctor was at the wall and by the woman’s side. His arms outstretched, his cape blowing in the breeze, he looked every inch the archetypical movie hero. The human movie hero.
Liz mentally shook herself. This was no time for her lingering unease. A woman was clearly in need of help – and from herself. Steeling herself against the cold, she left Bessie and crossed over to the Doctor.
“Err, hello,” she said, “My name’s Liz, Elizabeth Shaw. That’s the Doctor. We can help you.”
The woman laughed, hollowly. “What is this? Roadside diagnosis? Please, just go away.”
“Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad.”
The woman ignored the Doctor and without care for her balance turned to face Liz. “You ever been married, love?”
Liz paled, the woman’s haunted face startling her. “Err, no.”
“No, then you’ve never had a husband murdered, have you? Your kids taken away…”
Liz looked at the Doctor for help, but he looked lost. Liz was amazed. He’d just defeated an army of Autons – living plastic mannequins controlled by the Nestene consciousness. They’d terrorized the streets, gunning down dozens of innocent people. He had, basically, just saved the world. And yet here, faced with a basic of humanity, he was powerless.
Liz gulped. In that moment she truly realised just how alien the Doctor was.
“Not that they were my kids. Not really. I was just looking after them …”
Unconsciously, Liz pieced together the scenario at play and snapped into action. “And I’m sure you were an excellent foster mother… until things got out of control. What was his name?”
The woman’s eyes stared straight ahead, lost in time. “Frank. Frank Oakley.”
“And you are?”
“Mrs. Oakley, you are clearly someone. Somone who cares. Deeply. Please, let us help you. What is your name?”
“What does it matter?”
Liz was about to continue, but the Doctor cut her off. “Just one minute. Your name, your Christian name. It wouldn’t be Jane, would it?”
The woman shrugged. “So what if it is?”
The Doctor’s faced flushed and Liz could almost see the thoughts cascading through his mind. His alien mind.
Stop it Liz! Stop it!
“But you’re Jane Oakley,” the Doctor was saying, his voice full of import. “You are the most renowned name in foster care this planet has ever known!”
Jane looked at Liz, a “what’s he on?” expression on her face. “This planet?”
Liz smiled, apologetically. “Don’t mind him. He gets excited when he’s helping someone. I think he sees medicine as his universal quest.”
“Oh yeah, you said he was a doctor.”
“A doctor? I am the Doctor, Jane Oakley – and I know that you are, or will be… No, no, no… I can’t say too much.”
Liz shot him a glance, “Doctor, if you think it will help…”
The Doctor paused. Looking thoughtful for awhile, he appeared to be weighing up his options. Looking the Liz, then Jane and then the sky he shrugged, pulling his cloak closer. Casting a disdainful look back at the darkened sky, he nodded, turning his full attention to Jane.
“Very well. Dame Jane Oakley, it is my honour and my privilege to meet you. In twenty years from now you will be what I have just addressed you as. You will have met the Queen of England … Charming lady, you must remember me to her. It does not end here. Not now. Not tonight. If I had my TARDIS I could show you. I shouldn’t, but I could. Alas, I can’t…They’ve taken that away from me.”
Jane laughed. “Oh, you two are priceless! Priceless! So, what you’re saying is, you have a magic carpet to the future, but it’s at the dry cleaners?”
The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck apologetically. “Well, not in so many words, but …”
“Look. Thank you for trying. Really. I appreciate it. In the past five minutes, I’ve had more human contact that I have since… Well, you know.. But please, just go!”
So saying, Jane turned to place her back to them. Doing so, she lost her footing slightly. Before Liz could reach forward, Jane fell from view, toppling forward.
Liz screamed, “Doctor!”
Rushing forward she felt the Doctor hold her back. Swinging around, she saw the futility to her questions in the Doctor’s bleak, old face.
Without saying a word, he ushered them back toward Bessie.
The ride back to UNIT HQ was one Liz never wanted to experience again in her life.
Despite being winded, Jane laughed. Why? Why had she reached out? She wanted to die and yet upon falling instinct had kicked in and she’d turned around, grabbing for a hand hold. And she’d found one. And clung on.
The snow whipped around her face. It danced in front of her eyes. Sparkling.
Drawing a deep, deep breath she climbed back onto the wall. Steadying herself, she said a mental prayer. This was it, no turning back.
She looked down, steeling herself to take just one more step… her final step. As her vision misted with tears she didn’t want, she heard footfall approaching – and at speed.
“Doctor,” a female voice panted, “We’re not too late, are we?”
Jane closed her eyes. Not him again. Why couldn’t he just leave her alone? Taking a further deep breath, she brought her leg forward and … felt the world spin around her as something grabbed her elbow and pulled her backward. Falling, she landed in a layer of snow.
Blinking, she looked upward. A man was leaning over her, resting on a bizarrely shaped umbrella. He smiled. It was a benign, if slightly crooked smile.
“Oh no, Ace,” he said, “I think we’re just in time.”
As Jane fell into unconsciousness, she just managed to see what the young girl was holding. A newspaper. With a picture. Of her. With the Queen…