So, the Doctor always says ‘don’t wander off’, right? Except sometimes I look up, and it’s the old geezer who’s disappeared. He’s usually just around the next corner, distracted by some gizmo or wotsit – or, on one notable occasion, being held at gunpoint by a trio of seven-foot-tall kitten warriors with laser pistols – but the point is, it’s often the Doctor who’s the one that wanders off. He has a short attention span. It happens. You just have to track him down (and half the time he hasn’t even noticed you’re gone yet.)
On this particular day, I’d lost him again. We’d landed on this new planet about ten minutes before, and left the TARDIS to explore the crowded bazaar we found ourselves in. It was a great place. Full of music and scrummy smells. I should have realised that this was exactly the sort of place to have ancient artefacts and advanced gadgetry coexisting on the back shelves of one of the merchants, and kept a closer eye on the professor, but, well, hindsight’s called hindsight for a reason. I stopped for two minutes to look at a tray of shiny necklaces that sung when you stroked their central gems, and when I looked up, hey presto! No skinny dude with dramatic eyebrows anywhere to be seen.
“Um,” I said, eloquently. “Did you see which way my grandfather went?”
(The Doctor doesn’t really like it when I call him my grandfather – he’s got some idea it makes him seem old, bless his heart - but it saves a lot of explanations. ‘My professor who has a time-travelling spaceship and fights monsters/aliens and once saved the Earth from a creature under the Thames’ is a real mouthful.)
The nice lady who was attempting to sell me a necklace at probably ten times its actual worth seemed a bit mournful to lose my business, but she pointed the way civilly enough. Probably hoped I’d come back, and I might’ve done, if I’d had any chance of retracing my steps. The bazaar was a maze, which I soon found out as I threaded my way down its narrow paths, periodically calling out ‘Doctor?’
It was no use. Too many people, all chattering at once. Plus the Doctor can get pretty single-minded when he’s absorbed in something – he’d probably only notice me if I wandered straight into him. Still, the other alternative was to go back to the TARDIS and wait, and a) I don’t like waiting around like a lost kid, and b) I wasn’t sure I could find it. So I kept going, calling his name every once in a while, and trying to avoid getting sucked in to the very alluring stalls all around me.
I was peering in at a gorgeous stand of scarves when the woman tapped me on the arm. “Excuse me,” she said, then repeated herself when I was a little slow in turning. “Excuse me! Do you need a doctor?”
Oh. Oops. Not the first time that particular mistake had been made. “No,” I started to reply, but by then I’d turned and seen who was speaking to me.
She was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen, on Earth or anywhere else. Her face was so gorgeous it could have stopped planets in their tracks, and she had the prettiest pair of dark, dancing eyes…
“Are you a doctor?” I asked, with my most winning smile.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, I should’ve kept looking for the Doctor, not taken a break to flirt. But you weren’t there, you didn’t see her. She was hot. Besides, the Doctor was probably just a couple of rows over making scornful remarks about the provenance of some gadget that looked like a space wrench.)
The woman smiled back. I have a very infectious smile. “I am,” she said. “I heard you calling for a doctor. Are you hurt?”
“Well,” I said, prevaricating. “My heart is racing a bit. Though that might be the company.”
Oh, very smooth, Bill Potts. Very smooth indeed.
But the woman didn’t seem to mind. She laughed. “I see.”
“We could talk about it over a hot beverage?” I asked, hopefully. There didn’t seem to be any jealous partner nearby, so maybe my luck was in. “You could give me your professional opinion on whether I need to seek treatment.”
She hesitated. “Well…” Then she seemed to come to a decision. “What the hell. Sure.”
We walked together to a nearby restaurant, which had a few tables under umbrellas. I wasn’t entirely sure what the steaming cup in my hand was, but it smelled vaguely like coffee, and a cup of joe is a cup of joe, the whole universe over.
“I’m Bill,” I said. “It’s my first time on-planet, but I like the bazaar. You?”
“Martha. And it’s my first time too. My friend and I are here for the Orchid Festival.”
The Doctor had said something about an Orchid Festival. Or, more accurately, he’d said there was something mysterious about the Orchid Festival and we would try to steer clear of it. Of course I knew that meant we’d be right in the thick of things before long. The Doctor and trouble are two magnets destined to always snap together in the end.
“I heard the Orchid Festival is mysterious,” I said, sipping the coffee. It tasted a bit like bacon, but somehow it made it work. I tried not to think about what it might be made of. That was always the best way.
Martha nodded. “That’s what my friend said. People go missing.”
People go missing…. Uh-oh. “I came here with a friend too,” I said, setting my cup down. I wasn’t thirsty anymore. “He gets lost a lot, so I thought he was just in the back of one of the stalls. But do you think?”
Martha’s eyebrows shot up, but before she could answer, someone came up behind her. “There you are, Martha,” he said, in a lazy drawl. “I thought you’d been eaten by the mountain. Found a friend, have we?”
“This is Bill,” Martha said. “She’s lost her friend in the bazaar.”
“Have you now?” the man said, his attention snapping to me. He had penetrating, sharp eyes, and was too skinny by half. “When did you last see him?”
“About fifteen minutes ago,” I said, returning him stare for stare. “He can probably take care of himself, but if you know where he is, show me.”
The man turned to look at the mountain looming over the bazaar. “Waaaaall,” he said, “given that the opening in the cliff face has started to belch green smoke, and it wasn’t doing that when we got here, I’d say up there would be a good place to start looking.”
I exchanged glances with Martha. We left the cups behind.
“This is the doctor,” Martha said, as we jogged behind the man, out of the bazaar and up the narrow winding path to the mountain. She misread my look of surprise. “We’re both doctors. But I’m Doctor Jones, and he’s, you know, The Doctor. The definite article, I guess you’d say.”
“He wouldn’t happen to have two hearts and a time-traveling spaceship, would he?” I said, just joking, because like, he obviously wasn’t The Doctor – not even a thirty-years-younger version, which could be possible with time-travel and all. He didn't have the eyebrows, for one.
Martha stopped in her tracks. “What did you say?”
I looked at her, and she looked at me. “Uh,” I said, then, “No way.”
“Doctor,” she called, and the man came jogging back, looking a bit annoyed.
“Things are starting to really kick off up there,” he said. “We’d better hurry, or your friend might end up being … well, whatever they do up there. A sacrifice to the gods? Food for the local populace? Turned into a god himself? I really don’t know, so –”
“She knows who you are,” Martha said, cutting him off, like she was used to him rambling all the time.
I’d spent the time searching his face. Could he really be the Doctor? He didn’t look like the Doctor. Maybe there was more than one of them? That could be. The Doctor didn’t like to talk about his past or his people, as a general rule. “Are there a lot of people named The Doctor?” I asked, when his attention turned to me. “Like, are you part of a club or a cult or something? Two hearts, spaceships, go around picking up women to travel with?” Put like that, it all sounded extremely dubious.
The man stared at me. “What did you say your name was?”
“Bill Potts,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. “And my friend’s name is The Doctor, so I’d like an explanation pretty quickish, please.”
There was a boom from the mountainside, and blue smoke joined the green. That didn’t look good.
“I’m the Doctor,” the man said, “and since I don’t remember you, your Doctor is probably me from the future. Let’s go rescue him before he gets turned into pyrotechnics, yeah?”
I still wasn’t sure about him, but Martha seemed trustworthy enough, and I didn’t have any better ideas. “Okay,” I said, and started running up the path.
“He really is the Doctor,” Martha panted to me as we ran. (The path was quite steep.) “What is yours like?”
“Well,” I said, “a bit older than yours?”
“Hurry up,” the Doctor called back, then vanished around the corner into the mountain cavern’s mouth.
There was a boom, and the undeniable sound of something massive sliding shut.
“Tell me the cavern door didn’t just shut with both of them inside,” I said, grimly.
Martha stopped in the middle of the path, put her hands on her hips, and sighed. “If he would stop wandering off.”
I was relieved by the fact that she looked annoyed, not frightened or devastated. “Well, Doctor Martha Jones,” I said, “what should we do next?”
She looked at me, tipping her head to one side. “I don’t suppose you can fly the TARDIS?” I shook my head. “Well, then, we have two TARDISes, neither of which we can fly, two Companions, and two captured Doctors. Let’s get to work.”
Even in the midst of peril, I couldn’t help noticing the way her cheek dimpled when she smiled. But then I already told you, she was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. That’s distracting.
“So,” I said, as we headed to a nearby cluster of rocks to hunker down and make a plan, “you doing anything later?”
It took us five hours to find the concealed back door to the mountain cavern, and by then it was dark. We slept on the floor of the tunnel, one of us sleeping pillowed on the other’s lap while the other stood watch. Then we started making our slow way through the decrepit tunnel, which looked as if it hadn’t been touched in at least fifty years. Rocks everywhere, and I am not a rocks person. Plus we had to be quiet, because for a flanking manoeuvre to work you need the element of surprise.
By the next afternoon, we’d made it through. We snuck into the back of the cavern, towards the flickering firelight. I met Martha’s eyes. There didn’t seem to be a lot of shapes by the fire. Hopefully there weren’t very many captors. I’d taken kickboxing at university, but I’d never been extremely coordinated. Most of the times I’d landed kicks were by accident.
“Oh hello!” said the Doctor – my Doctor – waving in our direction. “The cavalry’s here.”
There were spiderwebs in my hair. I wasn’t in the greatest of moods. “You weren’t captured?”
“Ah,” he said, looking a little abashed. “I met Quantz here in the bazaar, and he told me about the cave drawings that told of the history of the Orchid Festival. I’d lost you – do you always tell them not to wander off? They never listen to me – so I thought I’d just come back and find you again later.”
My patience hadn’t been improved by the aside to Martha’s Doctor. “I thought you’d been captured! Possibly being eaten or turned into a god!”
“Or both, on Midian Prime,” Martha’s Doctor said, sotto voce.
“What was the smoke?” Martha asked.
My Doctor brightened. “The cave drawings are in invisible ink. The smoke brings them to life.”
“And the cave door shutting?”
“That was me,” Martha’s Doctor said, trying to look apologetic but not succeeding. “I tripped over the doorstop.”
“But we knew you’d rescue us,” my Doctor said, consolingly.
I had only one more question. “So, were the drawings worth it?”
For some reason, that made my Doctor look embarrassed. “It’s, erm, a long story. A message from an old friend.”
“Rose?” Martha asked.
“No,” my Doctor said, and I could have sworn he almost blushed. But I never did find out what exactly was up with that. Some stories never get told.
We backtracked the way we’d come, Martha and me, the two Doctors, and Quantz. The way back didn’t take as long, especially since we didn’t have to be silent as the grave anymore, and we made it out just as the suns were setting. It was a beautiful sight, and I caught Martha’s arm, pointing to the way the first sun was dipping below the horizon, bathing the sky in a serene purple light.
“How beautiful,” Martha said, her hand coming to rest over mine.
The Doctors were arguing over some esoteric point on TARDIS maintenance – I’d stopped listening an hour before – and neither was paying attention to us. I smiled at Martha. “Not the most beautiful thing on this mountainside.”
“I like you, Bill Potts,” she said. Her laugh was the sweetest sound, and I wanted to hear it again and again.
“I like you too, Doctor Martha,” I said, and leaned in for a kiss, in the lavender-light of the setting suns.
We grinned shyly at each other when we broke apart. There were sparks there, enough to light a bonfire. I wanted to take her back to my room on the TARDIS and –
“Do you have a phone?”
I handed it to her.
Her tongue poked out of the side of her mouth as her finger tapped the touchscreen. It was adorable. “Here,” she said, handing it back. “Call me. If we’re ever on Earth at the same time, we should meet up.”
“I look forward to it,” I said, meeting her eyes with promise.
Then she was running down the path to join her impatient Doctor, and our first adventure together was over.
“Did you like her?” my Doctor asked, coming up behind me from where he’d been paying off Quantz (who had never bargained for getting shut up in a tiny mountain cavern with two time-travellers with very short attention spans).
“I more than liked her, old man,” I said, winking, and laughed when he made a face.
We walked down the mountainside towards the bazaar, which looked like it was getting ready for a night of revelry. The Orchid Festival was upon us. That reminded me –
“Hey,” I said, nudging the Doctor in the ribs. “Is that what you meant when you said the Orchid Festival was mysterious? That we were going to meet past-you and Martha?”
He shook his head. “I knew I’d visited here before, but I couldn’t remember what was up on the mountain. When two versions of me meet each other, the younger one can’t retain the memories.”
“So you had a mysterious gap,” I said. “Which you proceeded to poke with a stick.”
He looked sheepish.
“S’okay. All’s well that ends well. Can we get chips?”
He smiled. “We can get chips.”