Teaser: “The Ninth Circle”
THE TARDIS control room was serene, bathed in a warm, pulsating glow and silent save for the gentle hum of its mysterious, timeless heartbeat.
The mood was shattered in an instant as the doors burst open and the Doctor and Riddell practically fell through them before turning and slamming them shut again. Breathlessly, they exchanged a nervous glance then laughed in relief.
“Y’know, you’d think the stewards would be more grateful that we’d helped them out,” Riddell complained.
“Absolutely,” agreed the Doctor, dusting himself down, regaining his composure, and stepping into the control room. “Having a Krynoid loose in Kew Gardens was a serious matter. It would have eaten the entire collection—not to mention their visitors! And it’s not like they can’t rebuild the Temperate House. I’ll be having a few sharp words with George next time I see him, I can assure you of that.”
“George?” queried Riddell. “Wait. You mean… King George? George the Third? You know King George the Third?”
The Doctor grinned and flashed Riddell one of his knowing, mischievous glances.
“Right, of course you know King George the Third,” Riddell confirmed for himself.
At that moment a series of loud, urgent knocks started to rain down on the TARDIS doors from outside. “And that would be our cue to leave,” exclaimed the Doctor, launching himself at the console.
Riddell was unperturbed, though, brushing off the clamour from outside. “It’s not like they can get in or anything, though, right?”
“Of course not,” agreed the Doctor. “But, at the very least, they may well damage the paintwork. So unless you want to spend the rest of the day touching it up again—”
“What are we waiting for?” Riddell interrupted, joining his friend at the console. The Doctor set about the controls with his usual flair but was then halted in his tracks when a small coil sprang loose from amidst the console, springing into the air between them before fizzing and dissolving into a cloud of golden energy. The Time Lord looked back down at the controls, and his confident countenance suddenly evaporated too.
“Well, that’s not good,” he said gravely. “In fact, that’s very, very bad.”
Riddell shrugged off this seemingly minor, albeit strange event, barely giving it a second thought. “Well, what are you waiting for? Do your thing.” He reached out for the controls himself before the Doctor intervened to stop him.
“It may look haphazard, John, and it’s true that there is an art to piloting a TARDIS, but I can assure you there is method in my madness.” He paused, then added as an aside, “Well, most of the time.”
Meanwhile, the pounding on the TARDIS doors continued, aggravating Riddell’s impatience. “Oh, come now, Doctor. Cut the dramatics. Let’s be on our way.”
“No, I need a moment.” The Doctor looked lost in thought before talking as though to himself. “Not this, not now. Here I am, still trying to piece together why I even left Gallifrey in the first place. This body, this malfunctioning excuse for a brain”—he slapped the side of his head hard in frustration—“can’t remember any of it. All I do know is that my very act of forgetting indicates that it’s nothing good. So here we are, blundering blindly through time and space, running from who knows what or why, and now it appears it’s all about to catch up with me.”
“What are you talking about, Doctor?” challenged an exasperated Riddell. “Why are you even getting into this again right now? I’ve seen the TARDIS take far more of a beating than whatever that just was. We fell through a hole in time right into the battlefields of the Great War. There was that whole episode with the… psionovore, or whatever it was called. She always bounces back, your ‘old girl.’” He smiled as he used that phrase, hoping to cajole the Doctor out of his sudden descent into darkness.
“But that’s entirely the point, John,” the Doctor continued in a grave tone. “The TARDIS has endured way too much of late. I should have seen this coming. Too many distractions, I suppose.” He slapped his head again before admonishing himself: “Stupid Doctor!”
“Seen what coming?” Riddell was getting anxious now.
The doors were still under a noisy assault.
The Doctor pointed down at the console. “Look at the randomiser, John.”
Riddell followed his gesture. Usually glowing brightly, the big red button was a dark, dulled, lifeless shade of crimson. Slowly, the implication began to dawn on him, just as the Doctor spelled out their predicament.
“The randomiser is no longer working. I have no means of fixing it. Which means next time we dematerialise, the Time Lords will know exactly where and when we are.”