THEIR FEET thudded onto the frozen tundra as the Doctor and Riddell jumped from the motionless train, breaking the silence of the night. It was pitch black save for the faint glow of lights from within the carriage, moon and starlight gazing down from the clear sky, and the light afforded by a gas lamp that Riddell was carrying in one hand.
The Doctor, casting a striking figure in a light tan trenchcoat as protection from the chill air, stepped out into the darkness beyond the glow from the train, then immediately gazed up to take in the night sky. “Earth, then,” he proclaimed. “Northern hemisphere, Anthropocene Age.” His nostrils flared as he took in a deep breath of the crisp night air, adding, “Post-industrial. Twenty-first century, I’d say.”
THE FAMILIAR wheezing and groaning sound of the TARDIS had inspired many a rush of emotions for John Riddell in his travels with the Doctor: the thrill of danger, the hope of rescue, the promise of a new adventure, and much more besides. This time, though, he felt a novel and incongruous combination of relief and regret.
The door creaked opened and the Doctor greeted his friend with a broad smile and a doff of his Panama, before standing to one side and gesturing for him to enter. Riddell eschewed the welcome, trudging inside in silence, eager to leave behind the Helios starliner and all of which it still reminded him.
“What’s wrong, John? Did someone spike your drink?” the Doctor quipped, punctuating the question with a characteristic short, explosive laugh that irritated Riddell in moments such as this.
THIS WAS a delicate procedure requiring precision and the utmost concentration. His hand almost imperceptibly shaking and his brow furrowed into a intense expression of complete focus, a balding, professorial-looking middle-aged man in a lab coat held a pipette precariously over a bulbous flask. The flask, filled with a bubbling lime-green liquid, was poised above a flaming Bunsen burner and connected via rubber tubing to a maze of similar paraphernalia, a symphony of Erlenmeyer flasks, and test tubes. He was sat alone and by necessity in silence save for the gentle bubbling of the viscous liquid in the flask. The slightest error and the entire endeavour, representing weeks of work, would be ruined.
At this very moment there came an abrupt and urgent knock at the door. The scientist slipped from his stool and dropped the pipette straight into the flask in surprise, cursing loudly and coarsely in a broad American accent. Perhaps taking this outburst as an invitation, the door swung wide open and a distinctive figure stepped into the doorway.
“WHAT IS it, old man?”
The Doctor had been unusually introspective and subdued ever since they had left Kyrstal on Oomahn. It was a marked shift from his usual mood that Riddell couldn’t help but notice. The Time Lord stood at the TARDIS’ bulbous console, mulling the controls—and, specifically, the glaring red button of the randomiser.
After a pregnant pause, the Doctor finally spoke. “You know, I might have been able to get Kyrstal back home. Back to her own place and time. I might yet be able to do the same for you.” He chuckled. “I might even be able to do the same for me.”
“SO, IN summary, yes—she’s bigger on the inside and travels anywhere in time and space,” beamed the Doctor to his latest impromptu travelling companion, unable to conceal a sense of pride in his brand new and ancient TARDIS control room and excitement at having someone new to whom to show it off.
His voice echoed through the cavernous space, its stone-like form resembling the interior of some otherworldly cathedral, with a high, curved ceiling segmented by six translucent panels patterned with Gallifreyan symbols. Through them fell soft blue light in varying, shifting shades that created a mosaic on the control room floor. Suspended from the centre of the ceiling was the time rotor within a marbled blue cylinder and, beneath that, the console, the smooth curves of its bulbous form suggesting a reflection of the ceiling’s hexagonal design.
THE DOCTOR bounded forth through the TARDIS doors. A few seconds later the more cautious figure of John Riddell appeared open-mouthed in the doorway, gesturing behind him.
“But how did the TARDIS just change like that, Doctor?” he asked, dumbfounded. “First you, and now… this. It’s incredible!”
“Yes!” exclaimed the Doctor enthusiastically. “She was so badly damaged that she simply followed my lead and regenerated herself into a brand new architectural configuration. Beautiful, isn’t she! Quite unlike, I must say, wherever her new randomiser circuit has brought us.”
SHARDS OF fiery regeneration energy spewed forth from the Doctor’s hands, feet, and neck as he was violently thrown back against the central console, his arms and legs straining against the power of it, his features beginning to transform. He let out a shout somewhere between a cry of agony and a scream of ecstasy. As the sound of it rose amid the chamber, the timbre of his voice seemed to shift in pitch to a higher, lighter tone.
Once the sparks of regeneration energy had subsided, a new man stood in the old Doctor’s place. Just marginally shorter than his predecessor, this lean figure had a brand new face: narrow and eager, with a long nose, and—most notable of all—wild, inquisitive brown eyes. There was a moment during which it seemed he was sensing the physicality of this new body he inhabited. He took a deep breath and carefully exhaled. Then, bizarrely, he broke into a wide, open-mouthed grin. Finally he spoke, and in frenetic, theatrical tones: “Oh, these facial muscles are much, much more supple. Look. I can smile! Smiling is wonderful. I must do that more often!”