The Doctor strolls through the twisting corridors, left, right, up the stairs, down a ramp, left again. He doesn’t bother to see if the new girl, Ace, is following. He can hear her footsteps, echoing out of time as she walks after him, then hesitates, then hurries to catch up.
“How far do these corridors go?” asks Ace. Her voice is a bit out of breath, but taut with curiosity.
“How far can you imagine?” asks the Doctor, and stops moving. Ace very nearly stumbles into his back – he smiles as she catches herself. He pushes on a wall, which becomes a door, which opens to show a room with a bed and a chest-of-drawers and other such inanities. “Here, this can be your room, if you like.”
“How did that get there?” asks Ace. She prods the door, and it swings a little further open.
“How do you think?” asks the Doctor. Ace shrugs, steps into the room, looks around, steps out again.
“I can sleep here,” she says. “As long as the door stays put.”
“It almost certainly will,” assures the Doctor. “Now, the bathroom is just across the hall, and the kitchen is around the corner and on the left. No, it’s a Tuesday, isn’t it? It’s on the right.”
“How am I supposed to find my way around?” asks Ace. She crosses her arms and glares, the gesture made larger by her oversized jacket.
“With difficulty, in my experience,” says the Doctor. “The TARDIS takes some getting used to. But she’ll guide you, if you let her.” Just past Ace is a beam of light, streaming into the bedroom. The Doctor’s eyes follow it up to the wall, and then he pushes past Ace and her arm-crossing to see better. “Is that a window?”
“It’s your ship,” says Ace. “You tell me.”
She’s a young woman with a chip on her shoulder, wearing a big jacket in order to puff herself up and fill the room with her presence. Her scowl is growing darker as her excitement wears off and the realities of living with an alien in his bizarre ship start to reveal themselves. The Doctor’s not sure how long she’ll stay, and he can’t decide whether to encourage Ace or let her make her own decisions. She’ll come to terms with the TARDIS and its owner, or she won’t, isn’t that how it always is? You can’t force this life on anyone, although it does seem to grow on some people who may or may not have been accidentally kidnapped.
“–tried to ask Mel, but it was all nonsense,” says Ace. “Techno gobbledygook.”
“Hm?” The Doctor pulls the window’s curtain to one side, trying to see if there’s anything out there. Just the vortex. He’s not sure where the sunlight could be coming from. “What was that?”
“I said, how does it work?”
“The window? I believe it’s a transposed image relay, using–”
“No.” Ace glances at the window, scowl melting into puzzlement. “How does the TARDIS work?”
“What an excellent question,” says the Doctor. “Tell me if you find any answers, won’t you?”
Barbara doesn't understand the TARDIS, and she doesn't trust it. She still remembers when she and Ian were locked up with two strange aliens in a malfunctioning time machine, lost and uncertain. The aliens are a little less strange, now, but the time machine still malfunctions. Barbara would like to think that she’s moved past being lost and uncertain, but it would help if the TARDIS would support Barbara’s burgeoning confidence, rather than undermining it.
It’s too much to hope for. When the Doctor hits the button that's supposed to take them away from this planet, the TARDIS shudders, slowly, and an odd noise comes from under their feet.
Barbara crosses her arms and rolls her eyes. She smiles, a little, when she sees Susan copying her.
"What's wrong now?" asks Barbara.
"Well, well, how the devil should I know?" The Doctor taps his cane against the console, as if he can chide the TARDIS into functioning.
"Sounds like the gearbox is shot," says Ian, rubbing his chin. His gearbox broke when he and Barbara were riding in his car, once, and they'd had to trek to a mechanic and get a whole new one put it. A fortune to replace, said Ian, but nothing else for it.
"Don't be absurd, Chatterton," says the Doctor. "The TARDIS doesn't have a gearbox."
The Doctor begins the dematerialization sequence, and the TARDIS shudders, slowly. She groans beneath his feet, displeased with him.
"Oh no, what's wrong now?" asks Ace. She's new enough that she sounds surprised when something goes wrong, experienced enough to already sound exasperated. The Doctor checks the warning lights and clicks his tongue.
"It's the gearbox," says the Doctor. "It's run out of gears."
Out comes the sonic screwdriver, and he's got a floorpanel open and his jacket off, sharp practiced movements from several lifetimes of making repairs.
"That's not how a gearbox works," says Ace. "You mean the gears have worn down or something."
"No." The Doctor searches for the little box that rests in the left ventricle of the TARDIS' kidney. Ace steps forward, and he produces the box with a flourish. She looks at him, briefly, then opens the box without waiting for permission.
The Doctor likes that about Ace. The way she gauges a situation before blundering in, and then blunders in anyway.
A solitary gear rests in the box, surrounded by metal filings. The Doctor blows on it and the gear crumbles into the filings, form melting into chaos. Ace coughs, waving a hand at the little cloud of metal dust that rises into her face.
"Haven't got any gears on you, do you?" asks the Doctor.
"I'm not a walking mechanic's, am I?" says Ace, once she’s stopped coughing.
"Pity," says the Doctor, but luckily enough he has a sack of gears right in the umbrella stand, left over from his many attempts to repair K-9. Ace picks out the gears, one by one, sets them in the box. The Doctor snaps it closed, sets the box back within the TARDIS, closes the panel.
The dematerialization resumes, properly this time.
"Weird," says Ace. “How does it work?”
“Entropic resistance buffer,” says the Doctor. “The gears serve as a focus for all the surrounding entropy, so the TARDIS is free from the predations of time and age. If the gears all crumble, they have to be replaced or the entropy turns on the TARDIS.”
Ace eyes the Doctor, that moment of gauging before she blunders in. The TARDIS lands.
“Let’s go outside,” says the Doctor. “Time to explore.”
"Now, we should be landing very shortly," says the Doctor. He makes a futile attempt to straighten his tie and smooth his hair. "Jamie, have you found the umbrellas?"
"No," says Jamie. "But I did find some wooden fish. Your cupboards are a right mess."
Zoe giggles at the Doctor's expression, giggles at the wooden fish, keeps on giggling as the TARDIS stalls underneath them and the lights go out, one by one.
"Oh dear," says the Doctor, and Zoe feels abruptly serious. Something really is wrong.
"What's happening?" asks Jamie.
"I don't know," says the Doctor. "We haven't actually landed, not yet." He starts fidgeting with the dead switches on the TARDIS console, Jamie hovering over him like a concerned goose. Zoe stands still and thinks back on her mechanics learning modules.
"We're trapped," mutters the Doctor. "Some alien force has caught the TARDIS, perhaps, and–"
"Doctor," says Zoe, "this might be a silly question, but when was the last time you replaced the sparkplugs?"
"Sparkplugs?" asks Jamie. "What are you talking about?"
"Of course you wouldn't know," says Zoe. She tries not to be judgmental about it, it’s just an observation that Jamie comes from a pre-industrial age. The Doctor will understand basic electronics – he's the highly-evolved alien with the magnificent time machine, after all. Zoe raises her eyebrows at him.
"Sparkplugs?" asks the Doctor, deep in bewilderment.
"Where are those snowshoes?" asks the Doctor, on another day. "We'll be landing any moment now."
"I've found five snowshoes, all different sizes, and half of a tire," says Ace. "Listen, do you ever clean this place?"
"No," says the Doctor. "The last time I did a bit of spring cleaning, they wanted me to actually get rid of the dust! Imagine, just throwing dust away, as if it were useless."
Ace's lips quirk, and the TARDIS stalls and her lights go out, one by one. Ace’s smile dims to match. The Doctor sighs and pulls open one of the bulkheads.
"What's happening?" asks Ace. "Need more gears?"
"The sparkplug's burnt out," mutters the Doctor. "Look."
Behind the bulkhead is a gap, half-filled with a tattered piece of molten rubber. The Doctor prods it, gently, and the rubber crumbles into ash. Beyond it is a seething hole of electricity, sparks jumping in and out, beginning to escape.
"I've seen sparkplugs before," says Ace. "That's not a sparkplug."
"Correct," says the Doctor. "It is a pile of ash. But it did used to be a sparkplug."
Ace rolls her eyes and takes a step forward, but the Doctor shakes his head. "It's not safe," he says. "We need something to hold the sparks back, before they begin filling the TARDIS with lethal electricity."
"You can't be serious," says Ace.
"It wouldn't be that much of a problem," says the Doctor, ignoring Ace’s skepticism, "but the shock absorbers haven't worked in centuries."
Ace looks at him hard. The Doctor looks back at her softly, blankly. Someday she’ll realize that he doesn’t need to blink, and that she can’t win a staring contest. The Doctor likes to think that she’ll keep trying anyway.
For now, Ace blinks, and sighs, and hands him the half of a tire. Together they cram it into the hole.
The TARDIS' lights come back on. The landing resumes. The Doctor checks the console to make sure they aren’t plummeting into a canyon or the beginning of the universe or something equally unhelpful, but everything seems to be running smoothly.
“Close that bulkhead, will you?” he asks. He can hear the squeak of hinges as Ace complies.
“Hey, Professor,” says Ace. “How does all of this work, anyway? In words I can understand.”
“It works,” says the Doctor, and shrugs. “Aren’t you happy that it does?”
The Doctor is tinkering again. Not in his very expensive UNIT-sponsored laboratory, of course, but in the blue box he calls a ship and Alistair calls an obstructive nuisance. But there he is, so Alistair, important file in hand, steps into the TARDIS. The ship is dark except for the Doctor's penlight shining out from under the column. The Doctor's legs are visible, the rest of him hidden beneath the column.
"Doctor," says Alistair. "What are you doing down there?"
It would be very gratifying if the Doctor would startle, bang his head on the TARDIS, or do something undignified. Instead the Doctor just inches out until he can glare at Alistair freely, no longer blocked by the TARDIS.
"I'm attempting to repair my ship," says the Doctor. "As usual. Can I help you with something?"
"Odd radiation readings in Kent," says Alistair. "Any closer to leaving us, Doctor?"
"No," says the Doctor. He grimaces, wiping his hands on a cloth from his pocket. "I don't even know what I'm looking at."
Alistair's not sure what he would do if the Doctor left. He’d have to request a new scientific advisor, and file a report, and, he supposes, he’d miss the Doctor, just a bit. All in all, Alistair thinks that he’d prefer if the Doctor stayed, if only to avoid more paperwork. But the Doctor looks so damn irritated. Alistair takes off his hat and hands it to the Doctor, along with the file.
"What am I supposed to do with these?" asks the Doctor.
"Just budge over, there’s a good chap," says Alistair, and then slides under the column. It's all wires and odd shapes, but right there, he recognizes something. "Where’s that penlight?" asks Alistair, and the Doctor passes it to him. The light picks out drums and shoes and pads and labels in a language Alistair doesn’t understand, but it’s familiar enough that he doesn’t need them. "You must be in the brakes,” he says. “I didn’t know spaceships had brakes.”
“How else would they stop?” asks the Doctor. Alistair would chide him for impertinence, but the Doctor sounds more wondering than sarcastic. “Can you see what’s wrong?”
“I’m not a mechanic,” says Alistair. “We should get a good technician in here, see what he can do.”
There's a silence, and finally Alistair pushes himself back out so he can see the Doctor. The man's turning Alistair's hat in his hands, and Alistair snatches it back before the Doctor can do too much damage. It's still a bit out of shape and oily as Alistair jams it back on his head.
"Brakes," says the Doctor, testing the word. "Thank you."
They’ve been traveling for a month when the Doctor lands the TARDIS on one of Sirius' satellites, on top of a hill in the country. The TARDIS squeaks to a halt, the squeak lasting long after the other noises of materialization have faded away, and the Doctor winces. He’s waited too long, left things go when he should have made repairs.
The wind smells like cut grass, even though there’s no grass on this moon. The Doctor walks along an old road, into the valley. Behind him, he can hear Ace pulling on her boots, trying to follow.
In a moment, her voice rings out behind him. "Hey, Professor! What are you doing down there?"
"Getting parts!" calls the Doctor, and continues downwards. There's a shop there, all alone, and it's been decades since he visited. Ace stomps up behind him, losing her balance as she hurries down the steep hill. The Doctor catches her arm as she passes him, and she swivels, laughing, using him as the center for a spin.
"Wait here while I talk to the owner," says the Doctor, when they're standing in front of the shop. "It wouldn't do to crowd him. An artistic temperament."
Ace makes a face, but she stays, looking around with curiosity at the green Sirian sky. Another one of her impossible staring contests, perhaps. She's still looking when the Doctor reemerges from the dark confines of the shop, his purchases in hand. Or, rather, a few in hand and the rest in a small cart that he pushes in front of him.
"Drums," says Ace. "Are we in a band, now? And what's with all the shoes?"
"I need to repair the TARDIS' brakes," says the Doctor, and hands Ace a pair of slippers. “And brakes are made up of drums and shoes.” Ace stuffs the slippers in one pocket of her bomber jacket, and the Doctor hands her a pair of red high heels as well.
"I think the TARDIS takes things too literally," says Ace. Perhaps she's beginning to understand. The Doctor smiles, and continues to empty the cart.
The small djembe they can carry, but the bass drum is larger than is easily hefted. Ace rolls it up the hill to the TARDIS, a bit too fast and a bit too careless. It escapes her twice, and she pelts down the hill after it, laughing again.
"A Sisyphean task," murmurs the Doctor, as he hooks the sneakers up to the brake cable. If Ace hears him, she doesn’t ask about the reference, just keeps pushing the drum. The Doctor finishes taping the shoe laces to the wires, and goes out to help.
“How does this work, then?” asks Ace, when the bass drum is finally in the TARDIS, heads gripped between the two slippers.
“It’s a metaphor,” says the Doctor. “Or a joke, I’m not sure. The important part is that it stops that squeaking.”
The Doctor pushes a button, and nothing happens. He peers at the console, using his scarf to polish a glass dial. Finally he pushes a lever, and the lever falls off. He stomps around the console for a while, and then prods a switch. The TARDIS lurches to the side.
Romana watches all this from the doorway. She has to cling to the walls a few times in order to keep from stumbling, or brush her new blonde hair out of her eyes at the gravity shifts, but the amusement is worth it.
The Doctor thumps the console and turns away, scuffing his feet on the floor. Romana draws back, but he catches her looking, performs a scowl that Romana's sure she's supposed to find intimidating rather than adorable.
"How long have you been skulking there?" asks the Doctor.
"I've been standing here for a few minutes," says Romana. "Having trouble?"
"No," says the Doctor. "Trouble? No."
The TARDIS lurches again, and the console emits a high-pitched whine. The Doctor's expression slowly sags from bluff to despondent.
"Perhaps a little," he says, and Romana shoves past him to look at the poor console. Everything is completely off-kilter, and she loses herself for a moment in fretting and rewiring.
"You seem to know a lot about this," says the Doctor, in her ear. Romana smiles, feeling his breath on the nape of her neck.
"TARDIS maintenance is a standard part of any Time Lord's education," she says, carefully stripping a wire with a pair of pliers she found shoved in the ignition. "In my day, anyway. I don't know how it was in the dark ages when you were in the Academy."
"When I was in the Academy," says the Doctor, "Vortisaurs roamed the Vortex."
"Yes." Romana blinks. "Yes, they still do that."
There's a beat of silence, and then the Doctor laughs with all of his teeth. Romana twists wires together, and the TARDIS’ whine disappears.
"Your harmonic balancer is missing," she says. "What happened to it?"
"Never had one," says the Doctor.
"You must have had one." Romana straightens, brushing her hands on her skirt. "Without a harmonic balancer, the TARDIS would be constantly malfunctioning and- oh. Yes, that does make sense."
"Harmonic balancer," says the Doctor. "Do I need one of those?"
Ace is alone in the console room, and the Doctor is sleeping. Thinking, he calls it, but it's thinking with his eyes closed and a bit of snoring. Plenty of time for Ace to explore. She's been on the TARDIS for a long time now, but there's still a lot to learn.
She pushes a button, and nothing happens. She pushes a lever, and the lever falls off. She paces around the console, trying to find something that works, but prodding a switch just makes the TARDIS lurch and groan unhappily. Ace growls and kicks the console.
When she looks up again, the Doctor is in the doorway.
"How long have you been there?" she asks.
The Doctor shrugs. "Not that long," he says. "Having trouble?"
"I was just testing it out," says Ace. "Nothing to worry about."
"Of course," says the Doctor.
The TARDIS starts to whine, and Ace winces, shoulders hunching and eyes on the Doctor. He nods and walks around her, bending over the console.
"You didn't do anything wrong," he says. "The harmonic balancer is out of joint, that's all."
"Harmonic balancer?" says Ace. She's not surprised when the Doctor produces a shiny silver harmonica from his pocket.
"Where does that even go?" asks Ace. The Doctor's eyes flicker, and he sets the harmonica in the middle of the console, resting on the column. The whining doesn't stop.
"Perhaps it's a problem with the tie bar," he says. "Do you wear a tie, Ace?"
"No, and I don't have a bar for one," says Ace.
"I wonder if it's the spider gears,” says the Doctor, as if he didn’t hear her. “There might be some cobwebs blocking them. Or the poppet valve, that doll must be getting a little threadbare since I last replaced it."
The Doctor's eyes are narrow and his forehead is tight with concentration, but Ace has finally learned to tell when she's being had.
“Aren’t you going to ask me how she works?” says the Doctor, tapping his fingers along the console.
"No,” says Ace. “You don't have any idea what you're doing, do you?"
The Doctor smiles, quick and pleased. "It must be the rocker arm," he says. "Yes, I think it's snapped."
His eyes flick to the rocking chair sitting in the corner of the console room, then back to Ace, who groans and goes to dismantle some furniture.
Erimem finds the Doctor in the room with all the ducks. She's been here before, exploring with Peri. The ducks are moody and violent, but they do look nice. They remind both Peri and Erimem of home – ducks appear to be one of the constants of Earth. The room isn't a place she would like to stay, however, nor does she understand why the Doctor is sitting in a patch of mud, staining his light-colored clothes a dismal brown.
"Are you all right, Doctor?" she calls. The Doctor says something in response, but he is too far away. Erimem steps further into the room, keeping a careful eye on the nearby ducks.
"I'm fine, Erimem," says the Doctor, once she's near enough to hear. "Bird watching."
"I think these birds are watching us," says Erimem. A duck hisses, somewhere in the water, and Erimem glares at it.
"They're not actually real," says the Doctor. "Or, I should say, they are real, but not exactly ducks."
Erimem blinks at the Doctor slowly, the way she does when he makes no sense at all. He smiles awkwardly and sinks a little deeper into the mud. If Peri were here, she'd be laughing until she made herself ill. It is just as well that she is asleep.
"What's wrong with the TARDIS?" asks Erimem. "Why haven't we landed?"
The Doctor opens his mouth, closes it. Opens it again. "The stabilizing ominiconductor is shot." His voice sounds a little uncertain.
"How shall we fix it?" asks Erimem.
The Doctor looks even more uncertain. For a moment, Erimem feels as if he's waiting for her to tell him. But that is foolish – she knows nothing of his alien machinery. So Erimem waits, watching one of the ducks preen itself. It does even that with a kind of dark-hearted resentment, the vile thing.
"A penny," says the Doctor, at last. "You haven't got a penny, have you?"
"No," says Erimem. "What is that?"
"A small, round, flat piece of conductive zinc-copper alloy," says the Doctor. "You're sure? Well, never mind. I must have some pennies somewhere..."
The Doctor levers himself out of the mud and strolls toward the door. The ducks' heads turn, following the movement, and Erimem laughs at the absurdity of them, and this room, and the Doctor. Then she hurries very quickly after the Doctor so that she will not be alone with the ducks. She could fight them off if they tried anything, certainly. But she would rather not give them the opportunity.
The anatidae chamber is restful, in its own way. The ducks are serene, swimming purposefully around the pond. They attack if you get too close, of course, but the Doctor is willing to either admire from a distance, or chance it and get bitten for his troubles.
He's not sure if the ducks are meant to be violent or not, but he would rather the Time Lords built them that way, rather than the ducks being a manifestation of the TARDIS’ mean streak. He’d rather she didn’t have a mean streak at all, so he pretends that she doesn’t.
With any luck, Ace is still lying in bed and resting. She’s been complaining incessantly about her broken leg and trying to get the Doctor to take her cast off. She says it itches. The Doctor thinks that the itchiness of casts is a reminder not to break your limbs while trying to climb sentient trees, and anyway, Ace’s leg needs another good week of rest. He understands that much of legs, and their repair.
The duck at the edge of the pond is broken, a mess of gears and wire that don't quite connect. The Doctor could fix it, without weeks of recovery or rest, if only he had the proper tools.
The TARDIS is whirling in the vortex, a quantum wave unable to collapse. The Doctor could fix her, if only she would tell him how. If only he knew the true names of her functions, or if his manual made any sense.
The duck needs something to bridge the gap between these two wires. The Doctor's searching his pockets when he hears the soft thump of Ace's crutches.
"There you are, Ace," he says. "Do you have a penny?"
Ace doesn't say anything, but he can hear her rummaging, then metal singing through the air, and he catches it. The penny is shiny and new, for a relative value of new, and the Doctor likes the way it cuts through the air in here, the air which is stifling, close, and tastes of Gallifrey. He flips the coin a few times, thinking.
"-your thoughts?" says Ace. She's been speaking for a while, and the Doctor's hearing is good but his attention wasn't there. He takes a moment to refocus before answering.
"This duck is malfunctioning," he says. Ace stares at him, confused, and the Doctor waves a hand at the paused metal carcass at his feet. Ace leans in, asking questions, and the Doctor flips the coin again. He catches it in his palm, and there is Abraham Lincoln, a man who laughed too much at Ace's inappropriate jokes and who was far too enamored of explosives for a sitting president.
The Doctor shoves the penny into the machine, and electricity leaps across it, bringing the duck back to snapping, flapping life.
“Hold still,” snaps the Doctor. “You’re not secure yet.” But robot ducks may or may not comprehend spoken language, and this one keeps trying to escape regardless of the swinging panel at its belly.
Ace tries to help and it all ends in success and disaster – the duck is repaired, all of them are covered in mud, and the duck has managed to bite the Doctor after all. He sucks his finger and grimaces at the taste of his home soil on his tongue.
Ace sits down in the mud. The cast on her broken leg will need to be replaced. It's still far too early to do away with it all together.
"What's wrong with the TARDIS, then?" she asks.
The Doctor takes a moment and listens, really listens to the thrum of the TARDIS, her occasional jolts of energy and motion, the words she’s whispering to him in her own language of machinery and grace.
"Stabilizing omniconductor," says the Doctor. He knows it's true as soon as he says it. "We need a small, round, flat piece of conductive zinc-copper alloy. Either that, or float in the vortex forever."
"We need a penny," says Ace. "You gave our penny to that duck."
The Doctor shrugs. "The duck is part of the TARDIS too."
Ace makes a face and doesn't say anything. But the Doctor can hear the splash of water, a duck trying to sneak up on them, and Ace rummaging in her pocket.
"Sometimes I think you know everything," she says. "And then sometimes I think you've got no idea at all and that it's all a joke on me."
"Sometimes I think I'm being fed my lines," says the Doctor. "And then the script runs out."
Ace breathes out, in. She shouldn't be sitting in the mud with her leg broken, but the Doctor isn't inclined to move.
"Well then," she says. "I guess we'll just drift around until we go mad – hey, what's this here?"
"What?" The Doctor flinches, just a little, as Ace's fingers circle his ear, but then they are back in his range of vision and there is another shiny penny, clasped between her finger and thumb.
Ace grins at him. For a moment, the Doctor doesn't know what this means, or what he should say.
"Ace," he says, taking the penny, and then the duck attacks.
Ace's smile turns to shrieks turn to laughter, and they break a crutch trying to fend the duck off and escape, but the Doctor helps her hobble away.
“If the duck is part of the TARDIS,” says Ace, eyes glimmering with humor and understanding, “I think the TARDIS wants us to stop talking and get to work.”
“I think you’re right,” says the Doctor. “Lead the way to the console?”
Ace stumbles along with one crutch and a muddy cast, and she never makes a wrong turn.
"Mel!" The Doctor's cries echo through the TARDIS, and Mel hurries through the corridors, trying to find their source. "Mel!"
"I'm coming, Doctor!" she pants. Why couldn't he have gotten into trouble somewhere nearby?
She finally finds him in the southwest corridors, behind a locked door. Mel thumps on the blank door, but it doesn't shift, not like the other TARDIS doors that are motion sensitive or at least have doorknobs.
"Doctor, it's me," she says. "You can open the door."
"No, I can't," says the Doctor, with an air of great forbearance. Mel can just imagine him, with his hands on his hips and his chest puffed out, coat blazing. "That's the trouble."
"You haven’t locked yourself in?" asks Mel. She looks around the door, but she can't find a keyhole of any sort of switch.
"I think the central locking system is jammed," says the Doctor. "I should have never installed those child-proof locks."
"Well, what do you want me to do about it?" asks Mel. "Do I need to reset something?" There's a long pause. "Doctor? Do you need me to get the manual?"
"No, I don't need the manual," snaps the Doctor. "I'm afraid – I'm afraid there's nothing to be done but wait for the TARDIS to unlock herself."
"You don't know how it works?" Mel pushes at the door, but it doesn't move. "Isn't this your ship?"
"Yes," says the Doctor. "Yes, of course she is. But sometimes ships break down and lock you in a room with no way to interfere with the natural self-repairing mechanism of a TARDIS."
"Shame," says Mel, though she's not sure she likes the implication that this is a normal occurrence. "You won't starve to death while waiting, will you? I could slide crackers under the door–"
"I should hope it won't take that long," says the Doctor. "An hour or two at most. And crackers, Mel? That's no meal for a man in the prime of life–"
"Doctor," says Mel. She'll be patient with the Doctor, but not that patient. "Why were you calling me?"
There's another long pause, until Mel is tapping her foot idly against the unmoving door.
"It's very boring in here," says the Doctor, at last. "I think I'm in one of the old stationary cupboards. I was hoping you might keep me company."
“I think you’re being defeatist,” says Mel. “I’m sure I could reset the locks if I went to the console room. The coding can’t be that difficult.”
“If you must go,” sniffs the Doctor. “I suppose I shall have to bear these times of solitude.”
Mel shrugs and starts to walk away.
"Are you still there?" asks the Doctor, trying to sound piteous. Mel sighs and walks back.
“I’ll keep you company for a few minutes,” she says. “But when you get out, I’m teaching you about how to change automatic lock settings.”
“Automatic settings?” demands the Doctor. “Automatic settings? Mel, I have had the TARDIS for centuries, and I have spent thousands of hours working with her and tweaking her systems. There’s not an original setting left in her.”
“So you meant to get locked in?” asks Mel.
There’s silence on the other side of the door, and then the Doctor clears his throat.
“Automatic settings,” he says. “Really, Mel.”
"Doctor!" Hex's shout echoes through the TARDIS, and the Doctor ambles along, feeling the TARDIS shift her corridors to guide him to the sound. "Doctor!"
"Give it a rest," says Ace, just loud enough to be heard. "The Professor's not coming."
"How else are we supposed to get out of here?" asks Hex. "Smash through the door? It’s too heavy for that."
The Doctor ends up in front of a blank gray door, no doorknobs or handles. It is, as Hex has implied, stuck. The Doctor should probably knock and announce his presence, but he hesitates, knuckles brushing the hard plastic of the door.
"All I’m saying is, it won’t help to shout," says Ace. "The central locking mechanism's gone haywire. Probably every door in the TARDIS is broken."
"So that's why the Doctor hasn't rescued us?" says Hex.
"Exactly," says Ace. "It's up to us to repair the TARDIS and get out of here."
"Does this happen often?" asks Hex. He's new enough to the TARDIS that he sounds a bit uncertain, but experienced enough that he wouldn't be surprised if the TARDIS were an interlocking maze of randomly closed doors. Which is fortunate, reflects the Doctor, as that can be a very good description of his ship.
"Sometimes," says Ace. "But don't worry. This sort of thing is easy to fix."
The Doctor smiles, and lets his hand fall from the door.
"It's probably something wrong with the relay," says Ace, authoritatively. "Or – Hex, give me your shoes."
"What?" says Hex.
"I need your shoes to repair the TARDIS!" says Ace. "Give over!"
"Use your own shoes," says Hex, and the rest is scuffling and a few giggles. The Doctor walks away. Ace seems to have the situation under control, so he should probably let them out before Hex starts to doubt her powers. They have to stick together, don’t they? He and Ace are charlatans and amateur mechanics, hiding behind honesty and ideas that shouldn’t work.
Mel showed the Doctor how to reset the locks, once. You just have to hold down a button for five seconds, no more and no less, and then every inner door in the TARDIS will pop open. He’s not sure why five seconds, especially inexact Human seconds, rather than the Gallifreyan microspans the TARDIS was built to follow, but it does the job.
"I'll never understand you completely, will I?" asks the Doctor of the corridors and the console and, yes, of the ducks. The corridors are silent, and the console thrums, and the ducks growl and try to bite him. The Doctor decides to preserve his health and stop asking rhetorical questions.
In the console he holds the button down for six seconds, because he was distracted, then four because he was trying to hurry, and then five because he can finally be bothered to do it properly. Hex and Ace walk in after a few minutes, triumphant. Hex is missing his shoes, and the Doctor thinks about removing his hat to keep him company.
"Everything all right?" he asks, instead.
"The TARDIS locked us in a room for ages," says Hex. "Lucky Ace knew what to do. Just had to put my shoes in this cupboard and the TARDIS opened right up."
"It was simple," says Ace, and her grin edges wider. "Done it loads of times, haven't I, Professor?"
"Oh, yes," says the Doctor, and taps his nose.
Hex looks between them, eyes wide and then narrowed, and Ace and the Doctor keep their faces perfectly and implacably straight.
“Hold on,” Hex says. “What is the TARDIS going to do with my shoes? How does this all work, anyway?”
“Those are some great questions,” says Ace, grinning. “Tell us if you figure it out, won’t you?”