Series 7 Episode 14 The Fall of Sarah Jane Smith Part Two Written by Janine Rivers
The Doctor reached inside his pocket, and pulled out the TARDIS key. He walked up to his ship, but the key shot out of his hand as he pulled his arm away, recoiling from something. Sarah Jane ran forward, outstretched her own arm, and felt it too: the electric shock of a force-field. “Someone’s sealed the TARDIS off,” uttered the Doctor. Sarah Jane knew one thing for sure: the scariest things about travelling with the Doctor were now ten times scarier delivered in a Scottish accent. “Co-rrect,” spoke a voice from behind them. It should have been a soothing woman’s voice, the kind of dulcet tones you’d find if you searched hard enough on YouTube, but they were broken into little syllables, each cut off from each other, like a bad telephone line. “The-TAR-DIS-has-been-sealed-off-you-will-be-ann-ih-il-ate-ed-now.” Sarah Jane had to blink before she could see the source of the voice. It was thin, at first; a disc spinning in the air in front of them. A pole shot out of it, and rested on the carpet; then two pointers, each topped off with a weapon – a laser and a cutter of some kind – sprouted out of the pole. The disc spun as the robot talked; and when it completed its sentence, the disk flew off, heading straight for the Doctor and Sarah Jane. They ducked, and it hit the force-field, ricocheting back. “What is that thing?” cried Sarah Jane. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” “We-are-the-sur-vey-ors,” answered the robot. This time, it fired a blast from yet another concealed weapon. The Doctor ducked to avoid it, and it bounced back again. The robot tried a different approach. Within moments, it had morphed into a metal cylinder, suspended in the air, a red light glowing out of one end. On the wall behind it, a timer was counting down. 00:05 00:04 00:03 “And we’re in big trouble,” said the Doctor, gripping Sarah Jane’s hand. 00:02 00:01 00:00
Sarah Jane watched the time rotor, half-expecting it to move up and down. It didn’t. That was disconcerting in its own way, though there was something she loved about this new design: the warmth at its heart, juxtaposed against the cold outer edges, a profound symbolism which, fittingly, went right over the Doctor’s head. She took a deep breath. She’d just about got past the oxygen deficiency, and she was feeling okay again. As okay, at least, as it was possible to feel when your friend had changed his face and announced that you’d been missing for a week. “I know this is probably a lot to take in,” said the Doctor, sounding as if he didn’t really care about that. This new one, Sarah Jane thought, was very good at doing that. “I understand.” He didn’t. “So ask as many questions as you like, but try to make them quick, and don’t ask many questions.” Sarah Jane frowned at that sentence. “But any questions. Any at all. Ask me… anything.” “One question,” decided Sarah Jane, and she knew instantly what it would be. “How did we escape?”
The robot transformed one last time. The cylinder collapsed back into a single disc, and then the disc’s rounded edges squared themselves out. It spun around in the air, at such a speed that the Doctor and Sarah Jane felt a gentle breeze. Then, it expanded again, forming a cube shape, out of which a nozzle pointed. This, unfortunately, did not provide a gentle breeze.
A ray shot out of it, bright and red and full of death. The Doctor, whose reflexes rivalled that of the machine, pulled out his sonic screwdriver, pointed, and directed his thoughts.
Sarah Jane found herself preparing for the end as the ray approached her, oddly at peace with her life. She raised her arms to shield her eyes from the light of the thing that was about to kill her, only…
It didn’t. It was deflected by a shield which, somehow, the Doctor had just created.
“I THOUGHT THAT THING COULDN’T DEFLECT DEATH RAYS!” yelled Sarah Jane, allowing her relief, in some convoluted emotional process, to become translated as anger.
“It can’t,” the Doctor elaborated, setting the coordinates slowly and calmly, as if they had all the time in the world. Well, they were in a time machine – in a manner of speaking, they did. “Usually,” he added, changing the context of his claim altogether. “Tell me, Sarah Jane, how do you think I got here?”
Sarah Jane was at first surprised to realise that she hadn’t considered that, but then remembered that, since realising he was the Doctor, she had been starved of oxygen, shot at, and hauled into a new and daunting TARDIS console room. Suddenly, she didn’t feel so bad about it.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s because your friends contacted me. They called the TARDIS, told me you’d been gone for a week. I grew concerned, so I looked into it. Managed to call you. Which is funny, really, because the rest of them had tried and failed, and I’d given them enhancements and everything. Which means it’s something unique about the TARDIS phone.” He frowned, puzzling, then went back to piloting his ship.
“That still doesn’t explain how we escaped.”
“Ah, yes.” The Doctor had forgotten the original question. “Well, very shortly after your little companions described the sequence of events to me, I realised that we might be fighting a more dangerous and elusive threat than usual. So I transferred Sentinel to my sonic screwdriver. He amplified its capabilities, allowing me to deflect weaponry, which, as I suspected, came in terribly useful. And I, uh…” His voice went quiet and almost squeaky for that last bit, and he suddenly accelerated around the console, driving furiously like he was late for that promised lunch-break.
“You what?” asked Sarah Jane, following him around indignantly.
“I… it doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does.”
“I muted him!” cried the Doctor, looking away, and trying to move on as quickly as possible. “He was annoying me…”
“You mutedSentinel? I thought you two got along well?”
“Until he went and changed. Got all impatient and his voice went weird.”
“Actually…” Sarah Jane squinted, giving that some thought. “I thinkthat might have been you…”
“Shh,” hissed the Doctor. “Don’t you want to hear the rest of the story?”
The rays bounced off the field generated by the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, and turned on the beings that had fired them. Rather than transforming, the robots simply vanished, collapsing in on themselves until nothing was left, in an extremely disconcerting display. The rays went straight through where they would have been, and continued down the corridor. “Go!” urged the Doctor, and Sarah Jane remembered the rule about being with the Doctor: make a speech or run for it. She opted for the second option, and, realising she was still holding his free hand, followed him into the TARDIS, the force-field around it now apparently absent.
Sarah Jane asked him how they escaped, and he began his very long and very proud explanation.
“The Surveyors had a second to act,” explained the Doctor. “Two choices: they could stay; continue to stop us from re-entering the TARDIS. But their own rays had been deflected back at them. They would have been wiped out. So they emergency teleported – in the process, they had to cancel the force-field, which was being generated by their presence. So, hey presto, I could get back into the TARDIS.”
“And you… planned all that on the spot?”
The Doctor smiled proudly, and held onto his lapels, which looked a little ridiculous over the top of a hoodie.
Sarah Jane twigged, and shook her head in disbelief. The man under the hoodie was the same one who’d worn the bow-tie, and even the scarf. And he thought he’d got the better of her.
“You fibber! You just got lucky.”
“Luck?” The Doctor scoffed.
“One more question, then,” tried Sarah Jane. The Doctor rolled his eyes. Only she could turn a friendly reunion into an interrogation. “That countdown reached zero. Why didn’t the bomb go off?”
“Because…” the Doctor, trying to be a magician, made some mysterious and slightly demented hand gestures. “There wasn’t a bomb.” He began to fly the ship again, and it started to judder. After all these years, that was comforting. Only the stillness set Sarah Jane on edge.
“The Surveyors set this all up,” the Doctor continued. “A way of luring both of us into the same place at the same time. They wouldn’t really have blown us up – that would have destroyed their ship. They just wanted us both there, together, on their turf. An ingenious plan. Almost as ingenious as their prisoner’s plan.”
“My plan?” asked Sarah Jane, beaming. “Thanks!”
The Doctor glowered behind the console unit. His eyebrows threatened something terrible.
“And now for your next question!” pre-empted the Doctor, parking the TARDIS carefully. Foxgrove was a tight spot. “Who are the Surveyors?”
“Who are the Surveyors?” repeated Sarah Jane.
“They’re not invaders. They’re worse. There are a lot of invaders out there, Sarah Jane. Monsters, hovering in the sky, waiting to swoop down and destroy your planet, convert your atmosphere, eat your children…”
There went the hand gestures again. Sarah Jane raised an eyebrow. Is he trying to explain, or scare me?
“The invaders want nothing more than to take your little planet for their own. But they aren’t always capable.”
Sarah Jane thought back to a few of the threats she’d faced. Slitheen, Shansheeth, Fleshkind… the Doctor was probably right.
He went on. “See, your planet has some strong defences. Not just the military – militaries are easy to stop. No, people like you and I… we make it very difficult to successfullyinvade Earth. So if an alien race has its eye on a planet which might be just a little way out of their league, they consult the Surveyors. The Surveyors visit the planet, carry out observations, make notes, and then take the appropriate measures to preparing it for the invaders.”
“So it’s like… a pre-invasion?”
“Exactly.” The Doctor’s eyes were wide, like he both loved and despised the idea at once. “Covert, low-scale, and targeted. Thwarting any hope the planet ever had of being saved. Which means the Surveyors have been hired.”
“And they’re a robot race, these Surveyors? Do we know who created them?”
“One race,” the Doctor answered vaguely, “a long time ago. Once they’d run out of uses for them, rather than being decommissioned, the Surveyors left, seeking out other races who required their services. They continued to evolve until they could take on bigger, better projects. Larger-scale surveys, pre-invasions, higher-level civilisations. Kept on evolving – these days they have no fixed form. They change depending on who they’re fighting. One minute they’re your basic tin robots. The next, they’re radioactive orbs, floating in the air like some celestial power. And nothing can stop them. They keep on evolving, keep on taking on new projects.”
“And for what purpose?”
The Doctor interrupted his grim narrative with a shrug. “Money,” he guessed.
“Why would robots want money?”
“New parts are expensive, but to their mind, essential. Keep evolving, keep carrying on. It’s all they know how to do. They’re not that different to us, not really…”
“So,” said Sarah Jane, placing her hands on her hips. “Aliens. I knew aliens would be behind this, somewhere…”
The sun was setting over Foxgrove, using the last of its energy to shine through the windows of Sarah Jane’s house and bring life to them, the whole room glowing golden. Sitting patiently on the sofas, half-watching a television murmuring away at a low volume, were Zoe, Beth, and Alfie.
“Why are we even watching this?” Zoe grumbled, glaring at the programme irritatedly.
Alfie snorted. “Nah, mate. It’s just a stoned dude with a straw hat running around pretending to be a pirate.” He collapsed into Zoe, and the pair broke into a fit of giggles.
“Mhm. Sounds a bit like you.”
“Oi!” Alfie bristled at the insult. “That ain’t true.”
“Yeah, Beth. At least Monkey boy over there doesn’t make promises he can’t keep.” Zoe smirked teasingly when Alfie crossed his arms self-defensively and cursed a string of words that were not appropriate for a boy of his age. They missed the sound of the TARDIS completely; the window were open, and leaves were rustling in the breeze, competing against the sound of Gita Chandra’s lawnmower across the road, and hiding the sound of the TARDIS’s arrival. The Doctor made them jump, striding straight in without knocking.
“I’ve found her!” he announced proudly, like he’d been the first to spot Wally. Sarah Jane followed behind him, and Alfie whooped. The girls started to cheer, the Doctor looked pleased with himself, and Sarah Jane blushed.
“Hello, you three,” Sarah Jane waved, scanning the faces and frowning thoughtfully. “No Dan today?”
“He’s up in Scotland for the week,” Zoe replied. Sarah Jane nodded in understanding. A break away from Foxgrove would do him good, especially considering the martial law put in place by UNIT for the foreseeable.
“There are soldiers outside,” said Beth, once the team had quietened down. She didn’t sound happy about it.
The Doctor looked even more frustrated himself, but surprisingly, forced himself to nod. “I suggested it might be a good idea,” he explained. “I contacted UNIT, told them to seal the area off using alien technology. Surprisingly, they were already here!” He turned to Sarah Jane with a raised attack eyebrow.
Sarah Jane merely shrugged. “Long story.”
Her young friends echoed similar platitudes. The Doctor stared at her, and Sarah Jane could already tell his brain was whirring away in his skull, but he didn’t comment. “There’s a force-field around Foxgrove – which means no one can get in and no one can get out. There are troops on both sides. I like soldiers as much as the next holey-jumper-wearing-hippie, but there are times when there’s no other choice.”
“Innit, Gramps,” agreed Alfie. Sarah Jane raised an eyebrow, but the others seemed fine with it.
“You’re still my favourite, Alfster.” The Doctor bumped fists with Alfie, and then they both retreated their arms in a sort of upwards wave, making a swooshing noise. “But never call me Gramps again.”
“I have no idea what’s happening,” said Sarah Jane, “but I’m pretty sure I’m still high on whatever they were pumping into this room.”
“You’re wish,” answered Beth.
“We just like this Doctor,” added Zoe. “A lot.”
“But I thought you liked the last one?”
“Yeah, but this one’s Scottish. And old!”
The Doctor frowned, pulling down a strand of hair to check the colour. “Oh, I suppose you’re one to talk, with your —” he gestured wildly at Zoe’s jacket — “cosplay.”
“Oi,” Zoe bristled. “Ace gave me this, so shut your face.”
“Wow,” the Doctor tilted his head in mock-awe. “'Shut your face' — ingenious insult. It’s foolproof.”
Zoe huffed and turned to Sarah Jane. “He’s a sarcastic loser, but I like him.”
“So much you’ve got secret handshakes already.” Sarah Jane placed her hands on her hips and huffed. “Well, he’s definitely sarcastic, I got that impression.” The kids smiled, and Sarah Jane loosened up a bit. “Oh, okay then, whatever helps you get along, I suppose. What’s the plan?”
“We wait,” said the Doctor, straightforwardly. “With a bit of luck, the Surveyors will see that Earth is a very poor investment opportunity, and then they’ll leave and search for a new planet to invade. Generic Evil Aliens will carry on claiming worlds for themselves, but your little planet and its twee little villages will remain safe, untouched. Which was what you wanted, wasn’t it?” Sarah Jane had the strangest feeling the Doctor was mocking her, just slightly.
“Right,” she decided, saving it for later. “It’s getting late. Zoe, Beth, Alfie, you’d better head off home. We,” she turned to address the Doctor, “have some catching up to do.”
“I’ll deck you,” threatened Zoe, “if you don’t shut up.”
“Get a load of — fine!” Alfie narrowly avoided a punch to the face. “I’m chill.”
“Wazzat supposed to mean?”
Zoe ribbed him in the side teasingly. “You’re never chill.”
“Shows what you know,” scoffed Alfie.
“Why are you even here?” asked Zoe, starting to get annoyed by his presence.
“Your house is literally opposite Sarah Jane’s.”
Alfie leaned into her side with a cheeky smile, but he didn’t answer. Zoe sighed resignedly, but she didn’t comment. He clearly didn’t have a reason.
The pair travelled down a route on the outskirts of Diamond Way, past the old farm houses, the dilapidated barns, and the wearied crop. The old, humdrum farmyard style was such a stark contrast to the modernised inner realm of Foxgrove that it baffled Alfie.
They kept walking, and eventually stumbled upon a yellow cordon. The mere sight of the tape depressed them, reminding them of the explosion that had rocked Foxgrove last week – the one that had driven Marisol and Felix out of the village for a brief holiday. The cataclysmic event had left them all grappling, trying to figure out why their sleepy, quiet village out in the middle of Essex was targeted for apparently no reason.
Of course, Sarah Jane and her friends knew better. They knew it was their fault for meddling – though meddling with whom was the true bewildering question – and they tried to come to terms with that, with varying degrees of success; Sarah Jane had refocused her attention on hunting down the instigators before she had been abducted, Zoe had expelled her rage and helplessness on her punching bag, Beth was having trouble sleeping, Alfie was still having problems with nightmares, and Dan was blissfully out of the village, so he wasn’t subjected to the aftermath – out of sight, out of mind.
Alfie nudged Zoe’s side, hoping to distract her from the sight. “C’mon,” he said lightly, “just keep swimming.”
Zoe rolled her eyes. “You’re actually an idiot.”
As the sun went in, the Doctor and Sarah Jane went out, sitting together round the patio table and gazing up at the stars. The Doctor watched Sarah Jane’s neighbours – the Chandras – out the corner of his eye. They still hadn’t closed their curtains, and were finishing off making biscuits in the kitchen, their clothes covered in silvery powder. With a mischievous smile, Gita reached over and grabbed Alfie by the scruff of his hoodie, dumping flour down his back. The young boy straightened in alarm. It was short-lived, and soon he was retaliating Gita's assault with flour of his own.
Gita stared at him in disblief, as if she couldn't quite believe he would respond in such a manner, before matching grins broke across their faces and they hurled clumps of flour at each other, while Haresh heaved a heavy, resigned sigh at their antics.
"Why do you keep looking at it?" asked the Doctor.
Sarah Jane tensed from sheer surprise, having been caught off-guard by the question. The Doctor was still looking at the Chandras, his gaze away from hers.
"It's a nice necklace," he continued after a long pause, as if to break the silence. "It's ugly and pathetically breakable, but... it's nice."
"Thank you," Sarah Jane smiled knowingly. "It was a gift from a friend."
"Do I know them?"
"Not quite. But you couldn't be more familiar."
The Doctor smiled, before the eyebrows decided to take over again, and he looked back up at the stars.
“There was an old fable about a shepherd’s boy,” recalled the Doctor. “He was so wise that the king sought him out, and asked him for answers to the only questions he couldn’t answer. He said to the boy: how many stars are in the sky? And the boy took a piece of paper and a pen, and took his time making a number of fine points. When he was finished, he said to the king that the number of stars in the sky was the same as the number of points on the paper – or something like that.” He waved his hand aside casually. “He always struck me as…” the sentence reached a crescendo, before dropping into anti-climax. “An idiot. But you could see his logic – his answer held some basic weight because no one could prove that he was wrong, and the king didn’t have the sense to ask for a number.”
“Point being?” asked Sarah Jane. She was sure something was coming, something with a deep metaphorical resonance, which she’d both hate him and love him for at once.
“That I wish I’d been a shepherd’s boy,” answered the Doctor. “I’d have stolen a march on that little pudding-brain – I know exactlyhow many stars there are in the sky.”
“How many roundels are there in the TARDIS?”
Sarah Jane rolled her eyes. The Doctor pointed up to a corner of the sky, just over the steeple of a church in the distance.
“That’s a new one,” he remarked. It took her a moment to realise he meant the star, and not the church. “Wonder if there are any planets around it yet. Maybe there are. Maybe that’s where the invaders come from…”
“A new star,” marvelled Sarah Jane. “Things have changed so much, including me.” She turned to the Doctor, a little self-conscious, her face now lit up by the lamps along the grass. “Do I look older to you now?”
The Doctor shrugged. “I can’t see a difference. Don’t worry about it – you still look well under two-hundred.”
“Thanks.” A thought crossed Sarah Jane’s mind, and before she could stop herself, she articulated it. “You must be on your last life, now. Thirteen, wasn’t it? I wish I could do something.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it. Everyone lives, everyone dies, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Even Melody?” asked Sarah Jane tentatively.
“What happened to her, in the end?” The Doctor didn’t respond. His expression was reticent, closed-off, so Sarah Jane changed tactics. “And Amy and Rory? What about them?”
“Lived,” answered the Doctor, a trace of sadness and regret laced in his tone. “And died, eventually. Old and happy. You know when it’s your time, I think. There’s peace at the end.”
“I felt peace, today,” admitted Sarah Jane. “Does that mean it’s my time now? That I’m the next?”
The Doctor didn’t seem to like that. He shifted in his seat, regarding her like she’d just said something inexplicable. “Is something getting to you, Sarah? Ever since I came back, you’ve seemed… different.”
“I just miss it, that’s all. Seeing you, sometimes it reminds me. I miss time travel, I miss being important, I miss being able to save people and all that.”
“You turned it down.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t miss it.”
The Doctor thought about that. As he did, his eyes wandering again, he noticed Sarah Jane’s neighbours now drawing the curtains, another source of light disappearing. He turned back to the stars, back to that new one on the edge of the horizon.
“You still travel in time, Sarah,” said the Doctor. She sat forward, intrigued. “Look up there.” The Doctor pointed upwards this time, not at one star but at all of them, clustered together in a random, meaningless formation which someone probably called a constellation. “Some of those stars are dead now, burned out centuries ago, but you still see them because their light has only just reached you. You’re not seeing ghosts, though – you’re seeing life. Every time you lot look up at the stars, you travel in time.”
Sarah Jane smiled, feeling the starlight reflected in her eyes. Suddenly, after all these years, she understood why she loved the night sky.
“Sarah,” the Doctor began, and Sarah Jane listened in keenly. She suspected this Doctor would rarely open up like he was now – she wished she had a video recorder handy. “I meant what I said earlier – about you not being able to die. Sarah Jane Smith, you’re like the stars. Years after you’re gone, there are people out there who will only be beginning to see you shining. Your light gets everywhere, and it lasts forever.” Sarah Jane smiled. Then, the Doctor said something else, something which, she realised, would change things indefinitely.
“I saved Gallifrey.”
Sarah Jane gasped. They both looked away from the stars and at each other, shivering in the cold night, their hearts still beating with joy.
“I went back across my own timeline, and I saved Gallifrey. And then in return, Gallifrey saved me. I’m not at the end of my life – I’m at the start of a new one. Incarnation fourteen, if you like, though some people just prefer twelve; the first in many more. I’ve got a long way ahead of me. I didn’t have to face my mistakes, in the end – and I didn’t have to face death, either. Sometimes we don’t have to accept the things that happen to us. Sometimes, just sometimes, we can fight them.”
They were quiet, just for a moment. Then, another sound came from beyond their garden; an officer, out on the street, barking an order to one of his men. The Doctor smiled a sad smile, and stood up, preparing to head back inside for the night.
“We’ll get through this, Sarah,” he promised. “Just like we’ve got through everything else.”
Sarah Jane lay in bed, thinking of the Doctor and his many lives. All the ones she saw, all the ones she didn’t see, all the ones she’d get to see…
…and all the ones she wouldn’t get to see.
That scene continued to flash before her eyes, and she felt her hand trembling. The white walls of the spaceship, what seemed like the knowledge that it was all over. The ticking of the bomb that hadn’t even been a bomb. And that feeling, just for one moment, that she had been ready.
Am I ready?She hated that. The thought that a mortal, probably healthy woman was so ready to greet the arms of death was a cynical one. She’d just been watching the night sky, that beautiful, impossible picture, and she was somehow so ready to give it up.
Was the Doctor ever ready? Sarah Jane questioned that. For a while, she had wondered if she would outlive him. She knew the bow tie was the final incarnation, but had tried not to bring it up. Then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. There was someone else; someone new, full of new ideas and promises of things saved. Suddenly, it occurred to her that he would outlive her, and even more startlingly, she was okay with that.
Is he still my Doctor?At last, a question she knew the answer to. Yes. He was sharper, this new one; he didn’t bother with catchphrases or fancy gizmos, he didn’t hide the truth, and he definitely didn’t go out of his way to charm anyone. But that thing that still made him the Doctor – that was there, more desperate to get out than ever, overcoming all his other, more transient qualities. He was, perhaps, more the Doctor than any other, and as much as she felt the weight of those two thousand years every time he spoke, she also felt the vulnerability and fallibility of that ultimately very ordinary man underneath.
There was a knock at the door. Sarah Jane rushed down the stairs, pleased to have something to distract her from her thoughts. The Doctor stood by the door, waiting for Sarah Jane to open it, as if he had forgotten what a doorknob was. She opened it slowly, and on the other side, Beth stood out in the cold night, shivering in her pyjamas and dressing gown.
“The Bethinator!” cried the Doctor.
“Stop it,” snapped Sarah Jane. “Beth, come inside, you’ll catch your death out there.” She hurried the girl in and shut the door.
“What’s wrong? Do you want a hot drink?”
“There’s no time,” said Beth. “I think we’ve… you’ve… messed up."
“What do you mean?”
“They teleported you into space, right? And were about to zap you?”
Sarah Jane nodded. It wasn’t an eloquent or particularly romantic description, but it was true.
“Why?” Beth asked. The Doctor and Sarah Jane exchanged a confused look, and gave it some thought. It seemed like an obvious answer.
The Doctor gasped, realising that it wasn’t.
“Of course, Bethinator, you’re a genius.”
“You’re not cool,” muttered Sarah Jane, looking away, “so stop trying to show off by using cool names…”
“Sarah Jane,” started the Doctor, more gravely this time, “don’t you see? Look at you. You’re not just mortal, you’re very, very mortal; one quick drop or snap or flick or squish and you’d be dealt with instantly. There are so many ways to kill you.”
Thanks, thought Sarah Jane. Thanks, what a great way to calm my anxieties about my own mortality.
“They could have you shot as you left your house,” recited the Doctor, “have you run over crossing the road, have the house blown up, poison the food in your local supermarket…” he gestured to Beth for a few more suggestions.
“They could drop a piano on you,” suggested Beth.
“Yes, good one,” the Doctor said, “very inventive with a poetic, meaningful side. And then there are others… they could try an electromagnetic pulse, fake a geological accident, fry your brain cells…”
Beth nudged him. “You might want to stop.”
“…or there’s always the classic ‘shovel to the head’ trick…”
“I think I get the idea,” said Sarah Jane, and the Doctor gulped, realising that she was quite shaken up. “What are you trying to say?”
“That for someone who could be assassinated so very easily, the Surveyors went to very extreme measures to kill you.”
Sarah Jane’s eyes widened. “You’re right!”
Their conversation was cut short as a sudden supersonic shudder ran over the three of them, not unlike the Doctor’s imagined electromagnetic assassination wave. Oh Dear, said the Doctor’s face. I’ve Been A Total Idiot And For Once In My Life I Think I Might Have Got A Bunch Of Children Killed.
The Doctor said nothing.
He ran to the TARDIS, which was parked just inside the kitchen, but recoiled his hand as he reached out to touch it. He held it for a moment, feeling dreadfully sorry for himself as he nursed a burn, then returned to business.
“They’ve sealed the TARDIS off,” he uttered. “It’s all a trap.”
The windows began to clatter, all around and constant like the room was taking off. Beth hated it. She raised her fingers to her ears, blocking out the sound. She felt like she wanted to collapse. It finally stopped, and she gripped onto the wall to keep her balance. Sarah Jane didn’t look much better, and even the Doctor seemed a little shaken up.
He pulled himself together, straightened his jacket, and – much to Beth’s surprise – gave Sarah Jane a supportive pat on the shoulder.
In front of them stood two surveyors, a good distance apart. They were in a simple enough robotic form, humanoid-looking, and somewhat feminine; their bodies were curved, their postures well-controlled, but they stood tall, slender silver heads with tiny indents for eyes, towering over the team. “I understand now,” said the Doctor, taking a step forward. “None of this was about Sarah Jane at all. It was about me. Getting me here – she was just my weak-point. Everyone has one. Control Sarah Jane Smith…” he turned around, and gestured to his friend, “and you control the Doctor.” He gave a mocking clap to the Surveyors. “You managed it – brought me all the way to Earth and isolated me here. Now you can finish the plan – nuke this place.”
Beth shuddered. She was glad, deep down, that Zoe, Dan and Alfie weren’t here to see this. They wouldn’t even know. One minute they would be sleeping, and then the next…
“We-will-first-att-empt-a-more-eff-ic-i-ent-strat-eg-y,” spoke the Surveyor on the left. As the Doctor realised what it meant, the one on the right raised an arm, sending another ray the Doctor’s way. He pulled out his sonic to deflect it, but nothing happened, and in the split second he had left, he pulled Sarah Jane to one side.
The blast hit a flower-pot, sending it smashing to the floor. Sarah Jane sighed – Derren Brown had bought her those. They changed colour every day.
As the Doctor hit the wall, the sonic shot out of his hand, sliding across the floor. The other Surveyor stepped out, and stamped on it.
“Not another one! I’m sure there are regulations against you doing that.” The Doctor quickly got his priorities straight, and lifted up an unfinished cup of tea. The contents went flying across the room, and simultaneously, so did another ray. The Doctor caught it inside the cup, and it smashed in his hand.
“That’s the problem with you. You’re all about efficiency. Me, I love to waste time. You should try it, there’s nothing more satisf-“
This time, both Surveyors fired rays, which converged on the Doctor. He ducked, and they smashed through the window.
As he went to stand back up, he noticed himself flagging, even wheezing. The Surveyors were right. It would be more logical to give up now. But as Sarah Jane correctly observed, he wasn’t ready.
It wasn’t his time yet. So he used the last of his energy to cry out.
“EMERGENCY PROTOCOL ONE!”
The Surveyors froze. They shared a glance, probably exchanging information, and then looked back to the Doctor. He was standing up now, brushing the dust off his trousers.
“I’m getting a bit rusty with you lot, but I think I can… just about remember.” He exhaled quickly, and turned back around momentarily, grinning at Sarah Jane and Beth. They tried their best to smile back. “Yes,” continued the Doctor. “Emergency Protocol One, the final attempt any citizen of a designated planet has to exercise their one and only right – knowledge. You are legally obliged to tell me on whose behalf you are working. So go on. Who’s the alien invader this time?”
“They don’t need to,” came a voice from the next room. It was followed by the clicking of heels across the floor, and in entered a woman, late-fifties, wearing a pencil skirt, plain shirt and blazer, with dark blonde (and greying) hair reaching her shoulders. She looks like a headmistress, thought Beth.
The woman went and stood between the two Surveyors, and smirked at Sarah Jane.
“TheWorldView is so glad to meet you at last, Sarah Jane Smith.”
Sarah Jane gasped. “Sandra…”
“Think I was a front, did you? A name the Surveyors plucked from a list, in order to lure you to the spaceship? Please. I’m the brains behind the operation.”
“Human? Yes. You know your problem, Sarah Jane? Doctor? Even you, Beth, though you’re hardly to be blamed.”
Beth scowled. Sandra ignored her, but with a look on her face that told everyone in the room that she really didn’t like children.
“Your problem,” Sandra continued, “is that you’re too reductive. You think you understand the way invasions work. You think, when a planet is successfully invaded, that the invaders win and the natives lose. But that’s not the case. The Surveyors came to me with a deal, Sarah Jane. You see, I represent the military, and in return for strategic information, they promised to ensure a low-scale invasion of the planet from an alien body.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I think I do,” said the Doctor. “Almost. You see Sandra here, she’s a soldier.” He said the word with derision. “Not only that, but she’s a very important soldier, so that all the other soldiers in the room say dib dob, dib dob when she walks in.” Sarah Jane wondered if the Doctor was joking, or if he genuinely thought that was how it went. “She has, well…” the Doctor chuckled. “She thinks they’re ‘responsibilities’. And she’s a businesswoman, too – she knows a bit about profit. She knows, for instance, that if some fairly rubbish alien invaders come along, who cause a bit of fuss but can, in the end, be beaten… she knows all of a sudden, all the ordinary people will turn to the soldiers. Dib dob… dib dob.”
“And the military will receive funding like it’s never dreamed of,” finished Sandra. “With the Doctor and other vigilantes-“ she spat the word “-taken out of the picture by the Surveyors, the government will have no choice but to entrust us with alien technology. Imagine it – research with a budget of trillions. Weaponry beyond even the hydrogen bomb.”
“I am imagining it,” said the Doctor, grimacing. “It’s monstrous.”
“We use it to wipe out the invaders. The research funding then goes into creating the Surveyors’ parts. Once we’ve provided them, the deal is over, and society begins to realise how important it is to be ready for alien attacks.”
“There was another organisation once, which thought like you,” said the Doctor. “The twenty-first century is when everything changes, that’s what they said, and you’ve got to be ready. And do you want to know a secret? They never were. But they were too busy polishing the barrels of their guns to see the real problem – that terrible things come from within and not beyond.” Sarah Jane swallowed as the Doctor spoke those words, and looked to the floor. “So those things wiped them out. And they’ll do the same to you. Soldiers, soldiers, soldiers. You’re all the same, never seeing the bigger picture.”
“You should be thanking me,” snapped Sandra – failing, much as the Doctor had expected, to see the bigger picture. “I at least came to see you before the end. Let it not be said that the military is bad-mannered.”
“You came to gloat.”
“And what a plan it was. Use Sarah Jane Smith to lure the Doctor to Earth and kill him for good.” Sandra noticed Sarah Jane, stood back so far she was almost cowering, and tilted her head pitifully at her. “Aw, Sarah Jane, did you think you were anything more than a pawn in my operation? You do realise how minimal your impact on this planet is, I hope? At least the Doctor gets a dramatic demise, and one he can call his own – an explosive end to an explosive life. But you, you just get caught in the blast, old woman.”
Sarah Jane closed her eyes. The room went dark, and she tried to make it silent, too. She took a deep breath, and counted to three.
Then, she stepped forward.
“Right.” She placed her hands on her hips. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding here, so let me just set this straight, for the sake of the ‘interview’.” She waggled her fingers as she said the word. “First of all, you might think you’re impressive, but believe me, you’re not, you old cow.”
Sandra crinkled her nose, appalled.
“Yes!” yelled Sarah Jane. “Yes, I did just say that, because you are! And for the record, I am not old. I’d say I’m a good few years younger than you, in fact – I’m sixty-two. You’re, what, eighty? You look it, anyway. I mean, seriously.” Sarah Jane scoffed, running her eyes up and down the woman. “Look at yourself. You need some kids in your life. They might bring you into the twenty-first century. Still, I suppose it explains your archaic values.”
Beth was beaming, and so was the Doctor. My Sarah Jane, he thought, at last. Playing the monster at its own game – and winning. “You might think y-“
“I’m not finished!” snapped Sarah Jane, cutting Sandra off before she could make anything resembling a threat, and leaving her with her mouth hanging open like an idiot. “You know, Sandra, for a while you really made me believe I was worth nothing. I’ve often believed that – I might look confident, and arrogant, and like I think I’m the best thing in the universe, but believe me when I say I don’t.
"Every day I question whether I have any influence at all – and today was the worst of those days! Because I thought about death, and I thought I was ready for it, and I thought no one would notice if I just slipped out of this life.” She took a step forward. “I was wrong. The Doctor’s right – I’m not going anywhere. That’s not something that happens. There are people who depend on me – there’s a whole planet that depends on me!
"And who would the Doctor be without me? Would he still be stepping in, or would he be buried somewhere himself? You got the wrong end of the stick, Sandra, because the game isn’t against the Doctor – it’s the Doctor and Sarah Jane, that’s the deal. Earth and space, working together to fight monsters. The universe needs bothof us, which is why I know – I’m not ready to die. Because I am good at my job. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes,” said the Doctor, standing up. “Yes, we are.” He shrugged dismissively at Sandra. Suddenly, she had no menace at all – she was nothing, compared to the woman in front of her, who stood so tall, so confident, so brilliant. “You know,” joked the Doctor, “technically this is your fault. You asked her for an interview. And once you get Sarah Jane Smith talking…”
The Doctor winked at his friend.
“This doesn’t change anything,” said Sandra, as passively as she could manage. “You’re still both about to die. You're going to Hell.”
“Are we?” asked the Doctor, and walked back over to his TARDIS. He held his hand over the door, and, by some miracle, it opened to the touch. Without as much as a goodbye, he stepped inside, closed the door behind him, and dematerialised the ship.
There was silence, as the two enemies decided what to do. Then, something else decided for them. The two Surveyors disappeared altogether, and UNIT troops finally entered the room, escorting Sandra out of the house. It was all so simple, and at the same time, none of it made sense.
Sarah Jane wondered if this time, it would just end there. But the Doctor owed her the same thing he always did: an explanation.
One Week Later - 15th November 2013
Sarah Jane gave the new windows a polish, as the first marks began to emerge, and moved the new vase on the table. The mess was clear, and the living room felt new again, almost unlived-in. She made a note to herself to bill the Doctor for this, one day. He’d cost her a lot in furniture, over the years, and her insurance premiums were ridiculous.
“And I got the blame for the prank!” Zoe was saying. “I told Alfie to ‘fess up but he just grinned at me like some idiot. And Dan’s not getting the blame like he usually does because he’s always gallivanting with Felix!” She growled. “He’s soannoying sometimes."
Sarah Jane smiled faintly, in truth only paying half-attention. She loved having Zoe around, but her energy seemed to know no bounds. Even at the young age of sixty-two, it sometimes got a bit much for her.
At last, in the middle of that conversation, it happened. The noise started again, and this time they both knew it wasn’t the lawn mowers outside. The TARDIS materialised right in front of them, and out stepped the Doctor, now in a different set of clothes. Sarah Jane cringed at the trousers.
“Hello, Sarah Jane.” The Doctor turned to her young companion. “Hello, Zoe. Mind if I spend a moment alone with Sarah Jane?”
“Sure,” said Zoe, with surprisingly little fuss. "Later, Doctor."
As she turned to leave the room, Sarah Jane called back.
“No beating up Alfie!”
“Fine,” sighed Zoe, and left through the front entrance. Sarah Jane laughed. The Doctor looked on, uncertainly, and stepped out the box.
“Take a seat.” Sarah Jane gestured to the sofa, and joined him on it. Finally, she asked: “How did you do it? How did you win?”
The Doctor sighed, and delivered the explanation with none of his usual pride. He kept eye contact with Sarah Jane the whole way through. There were tears in there, somewhere, waiting for their time.
“I went back in time,” he explained. “Right back to before the invasion. And Ihired the Surveyors. Paid them to make the offer to Sandra, make her think they were on her side, when the whole time, I was the one who contracted them. I had to make sure the plan played out exactly as we saw – which meant setting up the fake bomb, trapping you in space, all of it. Just for the time-streams. Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I planned it all, right until the moment I’d left, and I instructed the Surveyors to leave at that precise moment.”
“That’swhy they disappeared!” cried Sarah Jane. “I’d been wondering for a week!”
“A week?” The Doctor checked his watch. “Whoops.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve been busy myself.” Sarah Jane rubbed her head, going over the Doctor’s recapitulation. “So, hang on, you went back in time, changed their allegiance, but didn’t change the stuff you’d seen?”
“Who’s to say I changed their allegiance? In a way, they were always working for me. I just had to realise it was possible.” He smirked, and that pride was back. “Circular paradox. Don’t you love them?”
“No,” said Sarah Jane resolutely. “But you… you employed them yourself? To save my life?”
The Doctor shrugged. “I had the parts they wanted. They won’t be helping any invaders for a long while now. Who knows – maybe they’ll keep evolving until they grow out of it. They might even find themselves with enough parts to build a conscience. That’s all our consciences are in the end – collected parts.”
“That’s not important. You… broke the laws of time.”
“I pushed boundaries. Sometimes you have to, in order to save those you love.”
“And how far would you push?”
The Doctor considered, staring into the tiles on Sarah Jane’s new vase. “I don’t know,” he decided. “I hope I never have to. But I’ve been pushing more and more lately – first with Davros, then before that flood, then Ashildr… and now I’ve done it again. I’m slowly becoming aware of the things I apparently can’t change, and I’m seeing how malleable they really are. I just don’t want to lose…” he snapped out of it. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. You haven’t met her.”
Sarah Jane sensed that the Doctor wanted to change the subject, and went with it, not wanting him to feel uncomfortable.
“They arrested Sandra,” she said. “UNIT, I mean. Turned out it was a very small military unit, in the end, that Sandra commanded. The British Army offered a formal apology. They’re not all bad. I think…” She bit her lip. “I think maybe we both let our own prejudices get in the way, this time. You spent too long focusing on the soldiers, and I assumed it was aliens, when aliens had nothing to do with it. They weren’t hurting anyone – we were too busy hurting each other. The only aliens who were involved turned out to be on your side, and they didn’t have any morals at all – they were neither good nor bad. I wish I wouldn’t make assumptions like that!”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it. We all make mistakes.” The Doctor looked back at his friend, and smiled. Sarah Jane knew that smile – it was the one he wore on all his faces. “You were right, what you said, about being important. I’m so glad you saw it, even just for that moment, Sarah. You do so much for the Earth, so good a job that I don’t think anyone even realises you’re doing it. No hope of reward, and definitely no hope of payment, which makes you a hundred times better than the Surveyors will ever be, no matter whose side they’re on.”
“I learnt from the best,” said Sarah Jane, just as she always did. “You know, a week ago, it felt like the good old days, zipping around through space and time with that madman in a scarf. You’re so much like him, even after all these years. I just worry that one of these times will be the last.”
The Doctor shook his head, and laughed knowingly. “Oh, Sarah Jane – that’s the beauty of the universe. There’s never a last time. As long as there are stars in the sky and people to see them, nothing is ever truly gone.
“There’s something else,” said Sarah Jane. She spoke with hesitance. “I’d completely forgotten about it last week with all the chaos, but… you said you saved Gallifrey?”
“Yes,” replied the Doctor, his eyebrows knitted in visible confusion. His tone was impatient. “Why?”
Sarah Jane considered what she was about to say, to reveal. She was fully aware of the potential consequences that could arise if she put the Doctor in conflict with the enigmatic individual. “Three months ago, I met someone. A Time Lord. He called himself the Phoenix.” Sarah Jane studied the Doctor’s expression, searching for any reaction, but his features were smooth, neutral. “He said the Time Lords were his people to control, and that he didn’t know they were all gone. I lied to him about that, told him you didn’t exist. I’m sorry. I didn’t want him to know about you.”
“It’s okay,” said the Doctor with surprising tenderness.
“Do you know him?” Sarah Jane pressed insistently. “Doctor?”
“No,” said the Doctor blankly. “But I wouldn’t worry about it anymore, Sarah.”
Sarah Jane bit the inside of her cheek. She wasn’t sure if she believed him or not.