In December 2006, Craig Hinton, author and Who fan extraordinaire, passed away. I knew him but a little, purely through email exchange. He was a nice guy, always happy to share his thoughts on some arcane Whoniverse subject.
In December 2008, Shelf Life was published. A 'fanthology,' it was collected and edited by Jay Eales, Adrian Middleton and David McIntee, as a celebration of Craig's life and his unique view of Doctor Who. Dozens of writers and would-be-writers worked to create stories that we felt were somehow 'Craigish.' If not the sort of thing he might have written, at least what he might have enjoyed reading. Those of us who had not been published before were assigned mentors to help us hone our stories into something readable. I was lucky enough to get the very talented Dale Smith, who wrote 'The League of Extraterrestrial Gentlemen' for the book, predating the Paternoster Gang by several years.
As I sit here, it is December 2013. The book was published five years ago. I think it's time I set this story free onto the web. For those who aren't so worryingly immersed in Who continuity, there was a period the noughties in which the BBC eighth Doctor books were set entirely on Earth. The eighth Doctor spent a century stranded on Earth, with no memory of his former life as a time traveller. This story takes place during that period of exile.
Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.
The cheers and whoops of revellers filled the air, drowning out the sounds of the few carriages that clattered along the night time streets. Hundreds of people were swarming the streets, more and more flooding into the square in readiness for the onset of the New Year. Peddlers, after an easy buck, sold flyers and flags, imprinted with ‘Happy New Century’ or ‘Welcome to 1900!’ to those who could spare more change than sense. The city of San Francisco was waiting, with undisguised excitement and agitation, for the onset of the January the 1st.
The Doctor stood in the square, unsure what to do. He stared at the girl, her red hair shaking as she laughed, and was unable to move. He had no idea how to proceed – this was not a situation that he was prepared for. His hearts beat faster, his mouth was dry. He swallowed, closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
Just get on with it, he thought to himself.
The Doctor pulled his coat around himself, and walked towards her.
‘Hello,’ he said, but she didn’t hear him. Swallowing, he tried again, licking his lips to try to moisten his suddenly dry mouth. ‘Hello again,’ he said louder, and she turned round.
‘Hey there,’ she said, smiling the captivating smile she’d shown him earlier. In the glow of the street lamps he could now see that her eyes were a brilliant green. He let his gaze drop to his feet, unable to look her in the eye.
‘I’m Anne,’ she said, trying to follow his eyes downwards.
‘Oh, I’m the – I’m John,’ he stumbled, feeling suddenly very self-conscious and deeply uncomfortable. He needed to get this over with, or he’d never go through with it. He looked at her properly again. ‘Are you enjoying your evening?’
‘Well, I was, but I’m having a better one now. So, you sound like you’re from England?’
‘Yes, I suppose I do.’ He hadn’t intended this as a joke, but Anne laughed anyway. It struck him how odd a comment it was, and chuckled a little in reply. ‘I mean, yes, I’m from England.’ He knew, somehow, that this wasn’t quite true, but he’d lived there for as long as he could recall. It seemed true enough for now. ‘People usually just call me the Doctor,’ he said, and realised how odd that must sound, too. He really should have made more of an effort to get into this sort of situation before.
‘Shall we pop to a bar? I could buy you a drink to see in the New Year.’
‘Sure, “Doctor”,’ she said, giggling again.
The two of them wandered into one of the many side streets. As they walked away from the square, the glow of the streetlights receded.
‘What brings you to San Francisco?’ she asked, hooking her arm around his.
The Doctor swallowed nervously, as he thought for a reply.
‘Just travelling. I tend to move around a lot. I’m not so much from England, as from – everywhere, really. I try not to stay in one place for too long. I feel happier if I’m on the go. I’ve been here three weeks now, and I’m already feeling antsy.’
‘Antsy?’ she said, with both a laugh and a question in her voice. ‘Is that a British thing?’
‘I suppose it must be. I must have picked it up somewhere. You know, ants in your pants?’
She gave him a bemused look.
‘Oh. Perhaps I made it up.’
‘Are all Englishmen as strange as you?’
‘No, I don’t think so. I’m sure I’m quite different to the others.’
She stopped walking, pulling him to a halt.
‘I don’t think we need to go to a bar just yet,’ she said, and kissed him again.
The Doctor pulled away. ‘My, you really are very… forward…’
‘Maybe I don’t like staying still either. So, why do people call you Doctor? You’re not a surgeon or something, are you?’
‘Perhaps,’ muttered the Doctor, as he drew the knife and held it up against her throat.
The Doctor scarcely noticed the cold of the wind on his cheeks as he walked through the night. Trudging down Market Street away from the Baldwin Hotel, he only barely registered his direction and the sights around him as he let his mind wander. He often felt like this – hemmed in, uncomfortable in one place for too long. He’d travelled to San Francisco
roughly three weeks earlier, and already felt the need to move on. So he walked, not caring where he might end up. He could return to the hotel for his belongings later. Not that he carried much with him – a handful of personal effects, and his box. The box that was the one permanent reminder that he possessed a past that he could not reclaim. The box that must surely hold the key to who he was.
He heard the single strike of the bell of the city clock, and absently glanced at his watch. Half past ten. He felt a slight reassurance at knowing the precise time. Nudged gently out of his introspection, he noticed the number of people around. Dozens, of varying ages, though mostly young adults, were milling in the wide street. A couple walked past him, their hands clasped, giggling, while a trio of young men laugh uproariously, and, he guessed, drunkenly. A police officer stood on the corner of Third Street, his face set and as grim as his dark uniform.
‘Good evening, officer. Not enjoying the festivities?’ he said, eager for some kind of discourse to occupy him.
‘Afraid not, sir,’ replied the officer, gruffly. ‘Chief Sullivan has ordered a man on every block, to keep an eye out for public indecency. We don’t want people getting out of hand again.’
‘Indeed, not,’ said the Doctor, glumly realising that ‘public indecency’ meant public affection. No kissing on the street, orders from the top. As he continued down the street, he couldn’t help thinking that it felt wrong; romance was right for this night of the year.
Somehow, in spite of his limited experience and interest in such pursuits, he felt sure that a kiss at midnight was exactly the kind of tradition that was worth upholding.
He drifted back into his thoughts. Was there a reason that this city felt so familiar? It was his first visit; yet, as soon as he arrived he had felt that he’d been here before. Had he come to the city before the occurrence of whatever event lost him his memory? His spirits sank further. Over ten years now, and still no idea who he was. Ten years since awakening in that carriage, only a slip of paper and a small box as clues to his identity. He knew that he was the Doctor, and that he knew somebody called Fitz, but that was all. Who was he? Hadn’t he learnt anything about himself? Couldn’t he deduce something? His voice was cultured, educated, but with a faint northern lilt – possible Liverpudlian. He thought of his clothes – while everyone around was thoroughly wrapped up to endure the cold, he wore a brown velvet frock coat with a waistcoat, a dress shirt and thin trousers. The cold didn’t really bother him, but were the clothes he wore a clue to his past? His predilection for this formal wear could perhaps indicate an aristocratic background. He dismissed the thought – although it felt somehow right, that he had been born into a life of privilege, his researches over the years had called up no missing persons cases that matched his description.
Did he even look any older? He knew that people said you couldn’t see yourself age, but he’d noticed others ageing. During his travels, he’d experimented with many activities. Anything that could perhaps put his existence in a different light, or allow him to access his own secrets. He had tried acids and opiates, to little effect. He found that he could shake off drunkenness with a little concentration. He’d tried sex, but, although enjoyable, he had never really felt truly comfortable with it. Trances and hypnotism revealed nothing. Medical examination raised only further questions. The colour of his blood was slightly off. Most peculiar of all, two hearts beat in his chest, one on either side. He remembered being surprised to learn that this wasn’t generally the case. It had confirmed his suspicion that he didn’t belong here, that he originated somewhere different. So why, then, did San Francisco seem so familiar? It felt, in a way, almost like a memory, but vague, on the cusp of his conscious mind. Much like he had heard memories of early childhood described to him. He glanced up, noticing that he was passing a small hospital, its walls whitewashed. Even from the outside he could sense the pain and illness inside. A sudden panic ran through him, and he moved on quickly. Why was that? A phobia, some deeply buried memory?
Another group of revellers passed him. Three men, two women, all in their early twenties. One of the women, a strikingly beautiful redhead, wearing a green dress beneath her coat, smiled at him.
‘Happy New Year!’ she said, happily.
Her enthusiasm was infectious, and the Doctor found himself smiling. ‘Isn’t it a little early?’ he asked.
She shrugged, walking up to him. She put her arms around his waist, and, before he could object, kissed him full on the lips. Surprised, he resisted for a second, but then kissed her back. He tasted wine on her. Pulling apart, they smiled at each other again, and, unable to resist, he kissed her again.
‘Stop that!’ A deep cry came from behind them. Police. Of course, the ‘public indecency’ ban.
They pulled apart again. ‘Sorry, officer, it won’t happen again,’ he said, noticing that it was the same officer that he’d spoken to earlier. Clearly he’d been keeping his eye on him.
‘I’ll keep a look out for you,’ said the girl, walking back to her friends, who were now in fits of giggles.
The Doctor continued wandering, his spirits now somewhat lifted. Although he rarely felt the need for romance, he couldn’t help but feel that nights like this were different. As his
mind drifted onto fruitier subjects, he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, something deep blue.
He turned. There, on the corner of the street, was his box. Standing proudly, seven feet of oblong, blue-painted wood. How did it get here? He approached it, realising that it wasn’t his at all. It had more detail; panelling and lettering on its surface. The words ‘Police Public Call Box’ were inscribed upon it. Somehow, though, he could sense the connection. He placed his hand upon it – yes, the ever-so-faint, rhythmic hum, always present on his own block, was there. It had to be of the same origin. His hearts leapt – after all this time, could this finally be it? A link to his past?
There was somebody behind him. He could hear their footsteps, hard soles clicking on the cobbles. He turned. A tall man approached. He was dressed in funereal black, wearing a long-coated suit, cloak and top hat, and was carrying a silver-tipped cane.
‘Good evening,’ said the stranger. His voice was cultured, deep yet soft, but with a grittiness to it. ‘You seem to have an interest in my device.’
‘Who are you?’ asked the Doctor. It seemed the best thing to ask. Somehow, his usual confidence had faded upon this man’s approach. His hearts felt heavier. He fond himself staring at the man’s cravat, entranced by the silver whorls on the black silk.
‘I have had many names, my dear sir, but for now, perhaps you should refer to me as Pendragon – an alias from my recent past, that I confess I’ve become rather fond of. You, of course, are the Doctor.’
‘How do you know me?’ said the Doctor, trying to regain his composure.
‘We share an origin, Doctor.’ Pendragon’s black eyes looked hard into the Doctor’s own.
‘Tell me more,’ the Doctor demanded, silently adding please, desperate to know.
Pendragon smiled. It was a thin smile, without kindness. ‘Wouldn’t you rather remember for yourself?’
‘Is that possible?’ said the Doctor, his voice a whisper. If there was any chance that this was true, that after ten years he’d finally know himself…
‘As long as the correct procedures are followed.’
‘The Universe is run on fairly simple lines, Doctor. Time and space are governed by certain beings. Entities would be perhaps a more appropriate term. They are more functions of the structure of reality than life forms in their own right. These eternal beings can be invoked by utilising the correct rituals.’
The Doctor, though fascinated, couldn’t really believe this. ‘I’m a rationalist. I can’t accept the use of rituals or the existence of spirits.’ Was this man an occultist? It would certainly explain the name. Clearly styles himself as a modern Merlin, though the
‘I can assure you that it is all true. Explain, if you will, the fire-based being you encountered ten years ago?’
‘How do you know about that?’
‘I know a great deal about you, Doctor. I have been searching for you. And I promise you, these beings exist. They are all part of the Universe’s myriad ways of expressing itself. There are many wonders… and terrors… to be seen.’
The Doctor thought of some of the things he had heard recently. Keeping his ear to the ground for any information that might explain his background, he’d listened out for stories and rumours of unusual events. He’d heard tales of a Chinese vampire stalking young girls in London; that a young girl had been found, perfectly preserved and alive in an Egyptian sarcophagus; and that, just a few weeks previously, the Thames had been beset by a flurry of living crystals. Not to mention the many theories on the identity of the Ripper. He had always felt that there was more to the world than he was seeing.
‘Very well,’ said the Doctor. ‘How do I get my memory back?’
‘Walk with me,’ said Pendragon, turning. The Doctor followed.
They walked back up the street, retracing the Doctor’s steps. There were more people out than before, and Pendragon had to raise his voice to be heard over their conversations and cheers.
‘We need to summon a being known as Mnemosyne. No doubt the name is familiar to you.’
‘A Greek Titan,’ said the Doctor, with barely a thought. ‘She personified memory and identity.’ It was clear where this was going, but it still seemed somehow far-fetched.
‘Indeed. Many of the classical myths have their basis in reality; horned species travelled to Earth in the past and inspired tales of the Devil; the gods of Egypt were vast and advanced star-travellers. Mnemosyne is of the order of beings of which I spoke. It is she who has the power to restore you.’
If you say so, thought the Doctor. ‘How do we summon her?’
‘We shall require a sacrifice.’
The Doctor stopped. ‘A sacrifice? What kind of sacrifice?’
‘Keep walking, Doctor. Regrettable though it is,’ said Pendragon, in a way that suggested he didn’t regret it in the slightest, ‘a human sacrifice must be made. Mnemosyne does not dwell in this plane of existence. She inhabits the Vortex, and the only available way to access the Vortex is through a biodata ritual. Her life energy and essence will open the way and draw the Eternal to us.’
They had reached the environs of the city hall, where a thriving crowd had amassed. Pendragon pointed to a woman standing a few yards away. It was the redhead
who the Doctor had met earlier. She was laughing with her friends, and having a generally good time by the looks of things.
‘Not her,’ said the Doctor, ‘someone else.’ He could hardly believe he was even considering this course of action, but somehow Pendragon made it sound justifiable. If it was the only way he could regain his memories…
‘She will be easy to draw away from the crowd, seeing as you are already ‘acquainted.’’ He reached into his pocket, drawing out an ornate knife, its surface inscribed with complex designs of concentric circles. ‘Use this. The inscriptions will begin the ritual upon the touch of her blood.’
The Doctor took the knife gingerly, a wave of nausea passing over him. He looked at Pendragon, needing to know why this must be done. He couldn’t do it, could he? Pendragon just looked back at him, staring deep into his eyes. The Doctor felt his resolve waver, his hearts jump. Something in that gaze penetrated deep into the darkest pits of his soul. Pendragon turned, and walked away, fading into the shadows at the side of the street. The Doctor slipped the knife into his belt, and, pulling his coat around him, approached the girl.
With his free arm, he pushed her against the wall of the alley, into the shadows. The blade pushed against her throat, scratching her skin. A thin trickle of blood dribbled down her neck. The hilt was cold in his hand, which ached where he was gripping it so hard.
The happiness and seductiveness in her eyes transformed immediately into absolute fear. Even through the darkness he could see them, wide open and flitting from side to side. She was holding her breath, and the Doctor could feel her quickening pulse, travelling through the blade into his hand.
His hearts pumped faster too, blood pounding in his ears. He still felt revulsion at what he was about to do, and yet, something within him, something in the pit of his stomach, in the rush of his blood, was desperate to do it. Some part of him was going to enjoy this. He could feel this part of himself willing him to go on, and the Doctor found himself wondering how the blood would look as it poured from her neck.
A low hum sounded from behind him. For an instant he was alarmed, but he recognised it – it was Pendragon’s voice. He didn’t know where it was coming from, but there was a deep whispering, some language he didn’t understand. A chant, and incantation, perhaps. Pendragon was playing his part in the ritual, and the Doctor knew it was the moment to do it.
He pushed the knife just a little harder into her, and she looked at him, right into his eyes. A look of complete loss and desperation. She’d never understand why she had died, what he had being trying to achieve. Why he had cut her life short.
He pulled the knife away from her, and staggered backwards.
‘Run,’ he said, his voice hoarse.
She looked at him for a moment, then turned and sprinted back towards the square.
The Doctor watched her run into the night, tears beginning to well in his eyes. How could he even think of killing someone, just for his own selfish gain? Especially someone like her, so full of the life he was about to take. What was going through his mind?
The shadows shifted, and a figure stepped out in front of him. The face of Pendragon looked down at him, twisted in barely suppressed rage.
‘You coward!’ he snarled. ‘You pathetic moral cripple! You’ve just allowed your best chance of freedom escape!’ He swung out with his cane, cracking the Doctor across the jaw, sending him sprawling him into the alley wall with its force. The Doctor clutched his jaw, and then snatched his hand away from the pain. There was blood on his fingers, and he could feel it trickling down his neck. He looked up at Pendragon, all semblance of his earlier civility gone.
‘I couldn’t do it, Pendragon. I just couldn’t,’ responded the Doctor. ‘I suppose I’m just not like you.’
‘You’re more like me than you realise, Doctor.’
‘Just how are you like me?’ demanded the Doctor, staggering to his feet.
‘Do you want to know Doctor? Truly?’
‘Tell me,’ insisted the Doctor.
‘I am you.’
For a moment, the Doctor assumed he had misheard.
‘I am you,’ growled Pendragon. ‘That is the truth.’
‘Rubbish!’ retorted the Doctor, spitting blood onto the pavement. ‘Unmitigated rubbish! How can you possibly be me?’ However, even as he said it, he felt the horrible realisation that it was somehow true.
‘I am your dark heart, Doctor. The side of your soul that you keep hidden away. I am your every depraved thought, given freedom and form. One day, you will succumb to the hatred; the anger and the fear that you fool yourself you control. You will give into the madness, and you will become me.’
‘That can’t be true,’ the Doctor whispered, too terrified to accept it. Could it be true? Could this individual, who looked nothing like him, be a part of him? It sounded absurd, but within him he knew it was possible. Something in the depths of his shuttered mind confirmed it.
‘Why are you here?’ he asked.
‘I am merely ensuring that your destiny follows its course,’ said Pendragon, composing himself.
‘I don’t believe in destiny,’ scoffed the Doctor, desperate for a straw to clutch at. He squared up to Pendragon, looking him in his black eyes. ‘The future is not set. I can be whomever, or whatever, I decide. My destiny is my own choice.’
Pendragon laughed a cruel, hollow sound. ‘I beg to differ.’
The Doctor smiled back at him, a new notion coming to him.
‘You may be me. Somehow, I don’t know how, maybe I can become you. But that is simply one possible future, isn’t it? You’re one way my life can go, but not the only way. Why else would you be here? Ha!’ The Doctor laughed.
A look of pure hatred crossed Pendragon’s face. ‘How dare you laugh at me?’ he demanded.
‘You’re frightened, aren’t you?’ retorted the Doctor. ‘You’re terrified that you’ll never exist. You’ve come back to push me into the darkness, to ensure that I become you, because I don’t have to. Well, I’m telling you, I won’t! I’d rather live forever in ignorance, as a lost soul, than remember my past and condemn myself to a future as one like you. One who values life so little.’ He wiped the blood off his mouth.
Pendragon smiled. ‘You think that’s the only blood on your hands, Doctor? You really have no idea what you are capable of. The things you have done, the things you will do. The things that will drive you to become me.’
‘Whatever I may have done in the past, I can choose what I will do in the future. This has to be true. You said you were searching for me – why, if you are me? Surely you could just remember where I was! No, I think things are already changing. Your past is unravelling, Pendragon, and you’re losing track of it! You needed a time when I was weak, easy to influence, so that you could push me back onto the path to becoming you. But you had to search for me, trawl your own changing history! You really must be desperate. And so, so scared.’
Pendragon’s face showed only hatred. He stepped closer to the Doctor, leaning forward so that they were almost nose-to-nose.
‘At least your deductive skills have not suffered during your time on Earth. Yes, I am but one possible future for you, Doctor, but your destiny remains in flux. I will do anything necessary to ensure my existence. I am your truest form, stripped of the moral, human uncertainties. You should not fight me; you should embrace your potential.’
Pendragon was slowly fading, the bricks of the wall behind him becoming visible through his shadowy form.
‘There will be further moments of darkness ahead, do not doubt that. My grasp
on existence may be weak, but I still have enough power to take full advantage of each one of them. Until we next…’
With that, he faded to nothing. A moment of panic hit the Doctor, as he realised what he had let go.
‘Wait! Come back! Please!’
The Doctor looked around desperately for any sign of him. He ran out into the next street, the cheers of the crowd now loud enough to hear.
‘Please! Tell me who I am!’
He looked up at the stars, as the cheers grew ever louder, and the clock in the square began to chime.
‘WHO AM I?’ he screamed, as it finally struck twelve.