“I only asked a question,” said Donna loudly as they walked through damp and dripping woodland. “I didn’t say anything about going for a long walk in the 1970s. It’s raining, in case you hadn’t noticed and I didn’t bring an umbrella.”
“So,” said Donna, thinking it over as they were both standing by the TARDIS console, “if you hate soldiers that much, how come you ever worked for UNIT?”
He had been pressing buttons maniacally. Now he stopped and looked up. “What?”
“I said,” she repeated, raising her voice, “how come you -”
“All right, all right,” he said, before her volume increased any further. “I told you. It was different back then. I was different.”
He drew in his breath. “So different you wouldn’t believe.”
“Doesn’t really answer my question, though,” she said.
The Doctor stared at the console for a moment, a thought occurring to him. “It’d be breaking the rules, of course. Well, twisting them a bit, maybe. Difficult, but not actually impossible. Have to find the right time, though; there’s nothing worse than walking in on yourself unannounced. Oh, yes! That conference. Aha!”
“Excuse me, but what did I just ask?” she demanded. “Are you just going to stand there gibbering to yourself or are you going to answer me?” She watched as he raced around the console, having to step out of the way more than once. “Stupid question,” she said under her breath.
He looked over instantly. “I heard that! Look, it’s not something I should do – bending the laws of time travel and all that, but then if I can’t give them a tweak every now and then, who can? And, as I know exactly when and where to go, shouldn’t be any awkward messing around with my personal timestream.”
“That doesn’t sound reassuring,” she said with emphasis. “Look, I only asked a perfectly reasonable question. I don’t see why you can’t give me an answer without all this laws of time guff.”
“Guff?” he said as he set the TARDIS in motion. “It’s not ‘guff’- we can’t just turn up anywhere, you know. The universe’d be in a right state.”
She shrugged. “Well, where are we going?”
“In a funny sort of way,” he responded distantly, “you might even say home.”
“Great,” she said to herself. “Thanks, Doctor. Really answers my question, that does.”
Now they were striding through the woods in the drizzle, he tried to explain.
“Thought I’d show you how things used to be,” he told her, ducking a dripping tree branch. “Of course, it’s bending the rules a bit, but who’s to know? And I’m away at a conference this weekend – went to give Professor – what was his name?- a piece of my mind about some ridiculous time-travel proposal he’d come up with. You wouldn’t believe how arrogant I could be in those days. So we’ll pop in, meet some old friends and be on our way again, without me ever having to know I’ve been there. Won’t even do a whisper of damage to the web of time.”
She shook her head. “You know, you’re not making sense. I mean, even for you.”
“Thanks,” he said, with a grin. “Remind me why I put up with you?”
She smiled back. “Well, for a start, I’m willing to listen to your mad ramblings.”
“Right,” he said and then pointed to a building ahead. “UNIT HQ. Well, one of them at any rate. My temporary home of sorts when the Time Lords exiled me.”
She looked at him, to check he was serious. “Sorry. When who did what? Why?”
“Exiled me. To Earth,” he said grimly. “Stuck in one time and one place. And I ask you, of all the times and places to be stuck in -- Come on, Donna!”
The Doctor led the way through the security at the front gate by means of his psychic paper masquerading as a UNIT pass, although, as he pointed out to Donna, ironically he did have a pass of his own, but using it at this point would cause all the trouble he was trying to avoid.
Striding in through the main door, he was stopped by a brown-haired sergeant. “Excuse me, but what are you doing? You can’t just wander round in here, you know.”
“Oh, I’m here to see the Doctor,” he told him, waving the paper about again. “That’s all right, isn’t it, Sergeant – Sergeant – what did you say your name was?”
He frowned at the ‘pass’. “I’m afraid the Doctor’s not here, sir. You’d better come with me to see the Brigadier.”
As he led them off down the corridor, Donna kicked the Doctor hard. He turned in whispered outrage. “Ow. What was that for?”
“If you keep on grinning like that they’ll have you carted off to the nearest looney-bin,” she hissed. “Talk about Cheshire cats.”
He looked insulted. “I resent that. I’m naturally pleased at the prospect of meeting an old friend, that’s all.”
“Well, whatever it is, don’t do it again,” she said. “It’s scary.”
“Sir,” said the Sergeant, ushering them into his superior’s office. “Found these two wandering around. Said they were looking for the Doctor.”
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart glanced up at his intruders. “I’m afraid the Doctor’s not here. Now how did you two get in here?”
“I’ve got a pass,” the Doctor said, holding it up for him.
Donna was busying herself taking in her surroundings and while she was still suspicious of a high-ranking soldier, she decided he immediately got points over Colonel Mace simply for not being so colourless. This one had dark-brown hair, hazel eyes and although it was difficult to tell as yet, she suspected a sense of humour.
The Brigadier frowned and took the item from him. “And where did you get that?”
“I’ve got an appointment to see the Doctor – he gave it to me -”
Lethbridge-Stewart paused and removed the psychic paper. “Well, forgive me, but until I can confirm it with him, I think I’ll keep this. What did you say your names were?”
“They didn’t,” put in the Sergeant.
The Doctor was still staring. “You can’t do that! Oh, I might have known; it’s absolutely typical – now give it back, A-”
Donna tread on his foot this time. “I’m sorry,” she said, leaning past him, “but Professor Smith -”
“Wellington,” put in the Doctor hastily at the same moment.
She made this best of this. “Professor Smith-Wellington has got something vitally important to discuss with the Doctor and – well, you know what these scientists are like, sir.”
“Yes,” he said dryly, rising to make the introductions properly. “Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Miss -”
This time the Doctor kicked her.
“Donna Noble,” she said, giving the Brigadier her hand, although glaring briefly at the Doctor for that. "No double-barrels for me."
UNIT's CO smiled at her. “I’m afraid that the Doctor is away this weekend. Some scientific conference he was keen to attend. Mind you, that doesn’t mean to say he couldn’t have forgotten your appointment, Professor Smith-Wellington.”
“I’m shocked,” said the Doctor, sucking in his breath. “Aren’t you shocked, Miss Noble?”
She nodded. “Yes, shocking, Professor S-W.”
“Running off after he asked me to come down today.” He shook his head. “Perhaps I could leave a message with someone?”
The Brigadier nodded briefly. “Don’t see what harm it could do. Benton, take them to see Miss Grant and then escort them off the premises.”
“Why don’t any of them recognise you?” asked Donna as they followed Sergeant Benton down the corridor.
The Doctor glanced at her. “Oh. Haven’t I told you about that? When I said I was a different person, I meant it. And Professor Smith? Was that the best you could do?”
“Wellington?” she countered.
He grimaced. “And don’t let me get started on Smith-Wellington -”
“Who’s this?” asked a young man in a captain’s uniform, approaching from the opposite direction.
Benton grinned at his immediate superior. “Visitors for the Doctor, Captain Yates. The Brigadier said to let them see Miss Grant.”
“I see,” the Captain said, giving them a brief smile. “Well, she’s in the lab. I’m sure she’ll be pleased to have someone to talk to. I’ll see you presently – had the strangest message a moment ago and I’d better find out what’s going on.”
Donna glanced at the Doctor as the sergeant opened the door to the lab. “You’re doing that freaky grinning thing again.”
“I am not,” he said and frowned heavily just to prove a point.
She only smiled to herself. “So, who’s Miss Grant, then?”
Josephine Grant looked up as Sergeant Benton entered, followed by two unlikely looking strangers – a skinny young man wearing a pin-striped suit and trainers and a red-haired woman whose clothes were somehow not quite right.
“Hello,” she said cheerfully enough, since anything was better than sitting in here, babysitting one of the Doctor’s experiments.
He’d left it surrounded by notes saying things like: ‘Don’t Touch’ and ‘If It Turns Red, Turn Off Power Supply and Leave the Room’. When he came back, she would have to have words with him about that. She knew she wasn’t all that good at science, but even she wasn’t stupid enough to -
She stopped in guilty alarm as she knocked one carefully arranged test tube in her haste to stand and it tilted dangerously.
The stranger was there before her, catching it and fixing it back in place. “You don’t want to go doing that,” he said with a smile at her.
She smiled back, liking him instinctively. “Thank you.”
“Jo, this is Professor Smith-Wellington and Miss Noble,” Sergeant Benton informed her. “They say they’re here to see the Doctor.”
She held out a hand to the professor first and then to the woman with him. “I’m Jo Grant. I’m sorry, but the Doctor’s away this weekend. I could take a message for you, but I’m afraid that’s about all.”
“Oh, don’t put yourself down like that,” said the newcomer. “I’m Professor Smith-Wellington, but you can call me – Albert.”
The red-headed young woman glanced at him. “Albert?”
“What?” he said. “What’s wrong with that?”
She turned back to Jo. “I’m Donna. I’m his secretary, unfortunately for me.”
“Well, what did you want to see the Doctor about?” asked Jo, wondering what was going on.
She looked at Sergeant Benton. It was clear he wasn’t entirely sure what to make of these two, either. She liked them, and they didn’t seem dangerous, but there was certainly something not quite right about them.
Professor Albert Smith-Wellington (if that was his name at all) instead looked at the experiment left on the workbench. “Dear, oh, dear,” he said in amusement. “What was I thinking?”
“I’m sorry?” asked Jo, thinking that she couldn’t have heard right.
He straightened up hastily. “Yes! Right, of course – no idea what that is! Now, we had to speak to him about these weird things we’ve been noticing back in -.”
“Chiswick,” said Donna for him. “You wouldn’t believe the goings-on down there.”
Jo was laughing at them. “You’re funny,” she said, “but what do you really want?”
“Ah,” said the young man, sobering suddenly. “That’s difficult to say, Jo. But we don’t mean any harm. Just needed a quick word with the Doctor about – well, it’s top secret. Isn’t it, Donna?”
She gave Jo a sympathetic smile. “Yeah, so secret, he won’t even tell me.”
“I think you two should leave if you don’t have anything to say,” said Benton from behind them. “Can’t have you hanging round here like this. I’ll show you out.”
“I must say, that was worth it,” said Donna with sarcasm, as the sergeant marched them back to the gate. “Well, done, Albert!”
He was thinking hastily. “We can’t just go. Otherwise the Brigadier’ll show that psychic paper to me and there’ll be trouble. ‘Cos I know that didn’t happen.”
“And, of course,” said Donna, tugging at his sleeve, “there’s the slight problem that those soldiers have just driven past us with the TARDIS loaded onto a truck.”
“We’ve got to go back inside!” said the Doctor, suddenly and desperately turning and begging. “Sergeant, it’s absolutely vital that we come back with you.”
He said, “Now, sir, you can’t expect me to let you in again -”
“It’s hardly that,” he said evasively. “We haven’t even left yet.”
Donna swallowed. “Look, it’s really important. We’ll explain everything this time, I promise.”
“We’re harmless enough,” the Doctor added. “I mean, have either of us threatened anyone, or done anything dangerous? The Doctor asked us not to tell anyone and it’s all a bit awkward. And we did have a pass until the Brigadier went and confiscated it.”
She decided to improvise again. “You know what the Doctor’s like, Sergeant. Anything to do with him’s bound to be a bit weird, isn’t it?”
“Oh, all right,” the Sergeant said eventually. “But you’d better have a good reason.”
The Doctor was giving Donna a look. “What d’you mean by that?”
“Oh, come on,” she muttered. “Tell me one thing about your life that isn’t weird. In the nicest possible way, Doctor. I mean, Albert. What’s wrong with John Smith this time?”
The Doctor flashed her a quick smile. “I’m already using that one.”
“Look at this,” said Mike to Jo as several other soldiers carried the TARDIS into the lab. “Found it out in the woods, although how it got out there without anyone noticing, I’ve no idea. You don’t think it was the Doctor -?”
She stared at it in disbelief. “But the TARDIS is still here!”
He saw for himself now and looked back at her. “Well, that’s even stranger.”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” said Jo thoughtfully. “I wonder if those two visitors had something to do with it.”
He studied the extra TARDIS and grinned at her. “Maybe this one really is a police box?”
“No,” said Jo, putting her hands to the side of it. “It feels just the same. Mike, what if it’s something to do with the Master?”
As she moved back, the two TARDISes suddenly blurred and merged together.
“Am I seeing things or are you?” he asked wryly.
She shrugged with characteristic exaggeration. “Beats me. I think we should phone the conference and ask the Doctor to come back.”
The Doctor entered the lab at a run and saw Jo and Captain Yates staring at the solitary TARDIS. “Oh,” he said. “Ah.”
“Do you know something about this, sir?” Yates asked, turning.
The Doctor looked back at him. “Something about what, Captain?”
“About – er – this box,” he said lamely.
The Doctor smiled then. “What, this police box?”
“Yes,” said Jo.
He folded his arms. “No. What’s it doing in here? Funny place for a police box, if you ask me.”
The Doctor had asked Donna to get the psychic paper back. She was feeling annoyed about the request, since she didn’t imagine that the Brigadier was going to hand it over even if she asked nicely. He’d been polite enough earlier, but she knew this was going to get her nowhere.
Sergeant Benton led her into the office. This time it was empty. “I’ll go and find him for you,” he said. “Don’t you move anywhere, Miss!”
“Oh,” said Donna as he disappeared, surprised by the convenient opportunity. She hurried over to the desk. “Thanks, Sergeant thingy.”
Jo had a thought. She looked at the contraption of wires, test-tubes and incomprehensible bits of machinery and said carefully, “You know, I think it is turning red.”
Smith-Wellington (and she didn’t believe that was his name now) grabbed hold of her swiftly, pushing her towards Yates.
“Get her out of here, Mike!” he yelled and then threw himself at the workbench, preparing to dismantle everything, only to stop and turn back, seeing what she’d done. He looked, she thought, like a guilty schoolboy and she had to put her hand to her mouth to keep from laughing. “Ah.”
“I don’t understand,” said Mike Yates slowly.
Jo nodded at him. “I think you should go and get the Brigadier.”
The Captain hesitated and then left at a run.
“Oh, don’t do that,” the Doctor said. “This has already got complicated enough and he’ll probably only confiscate my sonic screwdriver as well.”
She looked at him slowly. “It’s you, isn’t it?” Then she halted and paled sharply, almost in tears within the instant. “Oh! Doctor, did something happen to you?”
He saw her pale face and wide dark eyes, her thoughts instantly as readable as ever in her expressive face and he laughed, catching hold of her. “No, no, Jo. I’m fine – absolutely fine, out there telling Professor Thingumy what I think of his theories. I’m a future me.”
“I see,” she said with a frown that clearly indicated that she didn’t, not entirely.
He smiled at her. “Of course. You met those other ‘me’s not so long ago.” He reflected that if that was so, it wasn’t so long until she would leave him. They all left, in the end. “What gave it away?”
She couldn’t help but giggle then. “You came in the TARDIS! You weren’t exactly being sneaky.”
He put his hands in his pockets. “Oh. No, s’pose not. Still, neat trick there.”
“Thank you,” she said.
The new Doctor grinned then and hugged her.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, still worried, despite his cheerful attitude. “Is there some trouble? Not Omega again?”
He said, embarrassed, “No, just nipped back for a visit.”
“Isn’t that -?” She paused. “I thought it was supposed to be terribly difficult and you really, really shouldn't be in the same time and place?”
He shrugged. “Yes, well, I’m not here, am I? So that’s all right.”
“No,” she said. “But Doctor, why are you here? You can tell me.”
They both turned as they heard voices outside the door.
“That’ll be the Brigadier,” said Jo, nodding at him with mock-sternness. “You’ll have to explain to him as well.”
“Really, it’d be better if I didn’t. He never likes it when there’s more than one of me around.”
“I tell you, I certainly haven’t invited anyone down here,” came a voice that he recognised only too well. “What did you say his name was? Smith-Wellington? Obviously false. Really, Lethbridge-Stewart, I’d have thought even you would have spotted that.”
Jo’s brown eyes widened still further. “It’s the Doctor!”
The Doctor dived down behind the workbench in a wild panic. “I forgot! I came back early.”
“Yes,” she agreed, trying not to giggle. “It sounds as though you have.”
“Say I’ve gone!”
“Jo,” said the other Doctor, striding in. She hugged him in greeting, glad to see him safe, whatever the new Doctor might say. “Are you all right? Where’s this Smith-Wellington fellow?”
Jo bit her lip unsteadily. “Oh, um, I think – I don’t know!”
The Brigadier followed the Doctor into the room, Sergeant Benton coming after with a hand on Donna’s arm as he marched her in.
“I had a good reason!” she protested loudly. “Let go of me. I’m not going to run off anywhere and I’m not a thief.”
Jo stared. “Um, Brigadier -.”
“Found her rifling through my desk,” Lethbridge-Stewart explained briefly. “Miss Grant, did you see where the fellow went?”
Jo sighed and leant over the workbench. “Doctor, I really think you’re going to have to explain.”
“Me?” said her Doctor in surprise. “Jo, whatever do you mean?”
His future self emerged with his hands up and coughed. “No, she means me.”
“Good grief,” said his old self slowly. “It can’t be.”
The Brigadier glanced at him curiously. “What? Who is he?”
“It’s me,” UNIT's usual Doctor said in disbelief, surveying his future incarnation carefully and with considerable dissatisfaction. “What is it? What do They want this time? Whatever it is, you can tell them I’ve had enough of running errands for that lot of officious -”
He swallowed. “No. It’s not the Time Lords. Unfortunately.”
“What do you mean?” he asked sharply.
Donna's Doctor said, “Oh, nothing you want to know – remember?”
“Yes, true,” the white-haired Doctor said. “Nothing’s more tedious than knowing your own future.”
He grinned. “Well, quite. And since we’ve established that I’m me and not an intruder, the Brigadier can give me back that pass of mine and Donna and I will be on our way.”
“So that’s what you were doing,” the Brigadier said briefly to Donna. “I see. Benton, release her.”
She said haughtily, “Thank you.”
The Brigadier was not satisfied. “I’m afraid you’ll have to do a little better than that. Now who are you and what exactly are you doing here?”
“He’s me,” said Jo’s Doctor. “We’ve just been through all that. I do wish you’d keep up, old chap.”
Donna was the one staring now. She rejoined her Doctor. “That is you?”
She stared at him and then back at the tall, white-haired, elegant figure in the velvet jacket and Edwardian cape. “You weren’t joking when you said you used to be different. I mean, as different goes that’s … different and a half.”
“He’s you?” said the Brigadier, frowning worriedly. He coughed, “Doctor, if this sort of thing is going to keep happening -”
The earlier Doctor glared. “No, it isn’t. And what do you think you’re doing here?”
“Look, it’s only a visit,” his other self said. “That’s all. Donna and I’ll leave right now in the TARDIS and that’ll be it -”
“I wouldn’t attempt to break the laws of time for a mere whim. There must be another reason.”
“Well, maybe not,” he agreed, “but some of me certainly would. What about the last one? Oh, and the next one, if it comes to that.”
“You’ve endangered the stability of the entire universe merely for some passing fancy of yours?”
“Why, is there something wrong with that?”
His old self said, “This sort of thing only happens in the direst emergencies and you’re casually popping back for a cup of tea?”
“Ooh, what a good idea,” he said instantly. “No one’s offered us a cup of tea yet. That’d do nicely. Donna?”
She said, “Yes, please. Just milk, thanks. No sugar.”
The Brigadier glanced back at Benton. “Sergeant; tea. I suspect it’s going to be a while before we get any sense out of either of them.”
“So,” said the earlier Doctor, smiling at Donna, “who might you be?”
She took his hand, still dazed. This wasn’t some sort of disguise or whatever she might have imagined. He was a completely different person. With manners, arrogance and blue eyes. “I’m Donna Noble. I travel with him – you, I mean. Or do I?”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye at her confusion. “Now, I think I need to have a word with this irresponsible young fellow!”
“Young?” he said as they both moved nearer to the TARDIS. “I’m several hundred years older than you and I resent that!”
Jo looked at Donna humorously. “Oh, dear.”
“Miss Grant,” said the Brigadier wearily. “Do you know what’s going on?”
She said, “I’m sorry, Brigadier, but not really.”
“It’s sort of my fault,” said Donna. “I asked him why he – I mean – I asked him what it was like when he used to work for UNIT and he decided to show me.”
They both looked back at her in incomprehension.
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “Think he liked the idea of seeing you all again. He’s kind of lonely at times and I suppose -” She trailed off. She felt as if she was digging herself in deeper with every word.
“The Doctor?” said the Brigadier quizzically. “I don’t think so.”
She said, “Look, I’m sorry. I can’t explain properly or I’d be saying things I shouldn’t about the future.”
“You mean,” said Jo slowly, “he came back because he missed us?”
Donna nodded. “You know, I think underneath all the stuff about the web of time, that’s what it boiled down to. I asked the question and it was all the excuse he needed. But don’t let him know I said that or he’ll probably drop me right off at home, or worse.”
“No,” said the Brigadier, while Jo still looked thoughtful. “No offence, Miss Noble, but last time there was more than one of him around, UNIT HQ got whisked off through a black hole thanks to some power-crazed lunatic who was attacking the Doctor’s people. If he’s here, there’s bound to be trouble!”
Donna said, “Seriously -” Then she frowned and looked at them both. “Wait a minute. You said ‘last time’. You’ve met other versions of him before?”
“Yes,” Jo said, nodding. “There was the old one who said he was the original and the other one, who really annoyed my Doctor -”
The Brigadier was smiling faintly. “She means the Doctor I first met. Short chap with a mop of hair and baggy trousers. And that dratted recorder…”
“How many of him are there?” asked Donna more to herself than everyone else. She narrowed her eyes as she glanced back at the two Doctors. The things a passing alien didn’t bother to tell you when you climbed on board his space ship… There were several whole people more to him than she’d dreamt.
The two Doctors had now moved on to arguing about the TARDIS. The white-haired one had pushed the door open and then glared at her Doctor, demanding to know what he’d done to his ship.
“Oh, now that’s rich coming from you,” he retorted instantly. “You had the whole console out – she’s never been the same since. And as for the washing-up bowls on the walls… Well, that look was never going to catch on.”
“Look,” said Donna to Jo, realising that the Brigadier was right and this battle of words was by no means over. “Is there a loo somewhere round here?”
“Donna,” said the Doctor, popping his head back out of the TARDIS. “We really ought to be going before we do some serious damage to the time stream -- Where is she?”
Jo said, embarrassed, “She had to go to the bathroom, Doctor.”
“Oh, so now you’re thinking about consequences, are you?” said the Third Doctor. “It’s a shame you couldn’t have considered that earlier and not blundered in here, wasting everyone’s time. You might have -”
“Caused some massive disturbance to the space/time continuum?” said Donna, coming back in the door. “Is that true?”
Her Doctor frowned slightly. “Donna, who told you that?”
“I dunno,” said Donna, “he had a weird little beard, but really polite and sort of distinguished looking…”
Both Doctors raced for the door before she’d even finished, the Brigadier following at a run, reaching for his revolver.
“Okay,” she said, beginning to feel put upon. “Something else I don’t know, then. Who was it I just spoke to?”
Jo was on her way to the door. “It must be the Master! Come on!”
“Who?” said Donna, marching after. “I wish people would tell me what’s going on in this madhouse.”
Jo paused. “Well, the Doctor says he’s sort of his ‘best enemy’.”
“His what?” demanded the older woman. “Best enemy? Don’t be daft. You don’t have best enemies. You have friends or enemies. At least, normal people do.”
Jo said, “Well, I don’t really understand, but the Doctor says that they were at school together.”
“At school?” said Donna, struck by the thought. “Somehow that’s really hard to imagine. Bet he knew all the answers even then.”
She stopped and laughed breathlessly, leaning against the lab bench. “I expect he did!”
I like her, she thought to herself. I was beginning to wonder how many adoring women he’d left littered round the universe, but she’s all right. “How did you meet the Doctor?” she asked.
Jo caught at her arm. “Come on – we can’t just stand here – he might be in trouble!”
All that immediate worry and alarm – it was all genuine, she realised. “Yeah, I suppose he might,” she agreed with a grin. “Let’s go. Oh. Or we could wait until here until the nice man with the gun says we can go.”
The stranger she had run into in the corridor had slipped into the room while they were talking and now he faced them, aiming a gun at them.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “to be so obvious at this point in our acquaintance. Stand back, both of you; I need to have a look at the Doctor’s TARDIS.”
Jo’s face was screwed up now. “You!” she said with such disgust that Donna raised both eyebrows. “What do you want?”
“You may not believe this,” the Master said with a slight smile, “but I’ve come to save the world from the Doctor and his careless – one might almost say criminal – misuse of his TARDIS.”
She backed up against the police box. “You can’t!”
“Miss Grant, it would be such a shame to have to end our relationship like this,” he said regretfully, his finger tightening on the trigger.
Donna had been watching him in amazement. Now her face cleared. “Is this some kind of game? You can’t be real. I mean, no one goes around doing that clichéd villain stuff. Are you another one of this UNIT lot having a laugh?”
She glimpsed Jo’s terrified face and realised that it couldn’t be and that probably hadn’t been the best thing to say. “Whoops.”
He glanced at her with some interest. “And who might you be? I take it you’re another one of the Doctor’s little friends?”
“Not so much of the little, thank you,” she said. “I’m Donna Noble. Who the hell are you?”
“Enough of the pleasantries. Now, both of you, step away from the TARDIS.”
“Where did he go to?” The Doctor ran back down the corridor, nearly careering into the Brigadier. “I can’t see him anywhere.”
Benton and Yates were already there. “There’s no sign of him anywhere in the building.”
“You know what he’s like,” said the Brigadier grimly. “He’ll be here somewhere.”
The earlier Doctor lifted his head suddenly. “The TARDIS! He told Miss Noble to pass that message on because he knew we’d come looking for him. He must be in the lab – and we left Jo and Miss Noble in there!”
“I’m sure they’ll be all right,” said the Doctor. “I mean, it’s only the Master, isn’t it?”
He found he was talking to thin air.
“Right,” he said to himself, dashing after, “must remember: he’s dangerous. Mind you, he won’t know what he’s let himself in for with Donna.”
As Donna and Jo reluctantly moved to one side, the door to the lab burst open and the other Doctor came in, closely followed by the Brigadier, Captain Yates and at a considerable distance, Donna’s Doctor.
“I knew it!” declared the old Doctor.
The Brigadier said coldly, “Drop the weapon. You’re surrounded.”
He did so and then raised his hands. “Doctor, I see you’re beside yourself, as always.”
“What do you want?”
The Master sighed and then said, “I was innocently travelling through time and space and what do I notice in 1970s Earth but a terrible tangle in the web of time? I thought I’d better come and help you do something about it before you destroyed your own future – or past – and your favourite planet.”
“And why should I believe you?”
“Check your own instruments, Doctor. Look at what the TARDIS is telling you. The same ship shouldn’t be trying to occupy the same space and time together. It’s putting a strain on the universe itself.”
“I hate it when he’s right,” said the Doctor, moving over to her. His previous self disappeared into the TARDIS, audibly grumbling about its appearance.” Donna, I think I’ve landed us all in big trouble.”
She didn’t even look at him. “I knew it. I knew when you started talking to yourself back there in the TARDIS that this would be a bad idea. If you had to talk yourself into it that hard, it had to be, didn’t it?”
“Well?” said the Master. “Are you going to let me help you save the world or is the Brigadier going to have to shoot me?”
The earlier Doctor emerged from the TARDIS. “He’s right,” he said with great reluctance. Then he glared at his enemy. “That does not mean, however, that I am in any need of assistance from you!”
“Well,” said her Doctor, “he’s handy with these sort of things and there are two of us to keep an eye on one of him.”
Jo, Donna observed, was visibly distressed, catching hold of the other Doctor by the arm. “But you can’t trust him. You can’t!”
“If this is going to go on for much longer,” said the Master, “I’d rather someone did shoot me.”
The Brigadier still had him covered. “Don’t tempt me.”
I was right, thought Donna. A sense of humour. Sort of.
“All right!” snapped the white-haired Doctor. “Come in and make yourself useful, but I warn you, one false move and -”
He moved past him into the TARDIS. “I don’t know why I bother.”
“Okay,” said Donna as the three Time Lords present vanished into the TARDIS, “somebody explain to me what that was about.”
Jo had her arms folded. “The Master’s up to no good,” she said. “I know it.”
“No, no,” she said. “He’s some guy who knows the Doctor and – what? – wonders round the universe trying to kill him, but today he’s decided to help him or possibly just annoy him to death?”
The Brigadier smiled at her in amusement. “That’s about the size of it. Miss Grant is right, however. He’ll help the Doctor when he’s forced to, but you can’t risk taking your eyes off him for a second or he’ll be gone, probably with a trail of dead bodies or hypnotized victims left in his wake. Don’t be deceived, Miss Noble, he’s dangerous.”
“So should we be worried that he’s in the TARDIS with the Doctor?” she said. “Doctors, I mean.”
Jo said, “Yes.”
“Frankly,” said the Brigadier at the same moment, “if he’s in there trying to work with both of them, he has my sympathy.”
“What have you been doing here?” asked the Master, looking at the redesigned TARDIS in surprise. “I suppose at least it’s in better condition than last time.”
“Nobody asked for your opinion. If you ask me, the whole look is garish and unnecessarily flamboyant!”
The Tenth Doctor pulled out one of the floor panels. “Hah. Did you really just accuse me of being flamboyant? Hark who’s talking! Have you seen your outfit?”
“Unlike some people,” he retorted instantly, “I take a pride in my appearance. Do you realise that your hair is standing on end?”
“Mind you,” he muttered, “I suppose I’ve worn worse… Will have worn worse?”
“Doctors,” said the Master, crouching down beside the future version of his enemy. “We don’t have much time. And while it would surely be poetic justice to see you destroyed by your own mistake, I’ve no desire to go with you.”
The Third Doctor examined the console in irritation. “You’ve moved everything. How am I supposed to work in here?”
“Why did you come?” asked his other self to the Master quietly as he started work on the wiring.
“Oh, doubtless just to plot your end in some dark and devious fashion. What else?”
“Right,” he said. “Hold that, then, will you?”
“Basically,” said Donna, “he’s a nutter, is he? Right, I’m going in there!”
“Can I help?” asked Donna, marching into the TARDIS.
Her Doctor reappeared from halfway down one of the floor panels. “Yes. Donna, get the psychic paper back, can’t you? Once we get this sorted, we’ll need to leave right away or the whole trouble’ll start again.”
“Right,” she said, with a glance at the Master, who was quietly engaged in a spot of wiring. “Okay, then.”
The Third Doctor coughed tentatively as she made her exit. “So, which me are you, then?”
Donna emerged and gave Jo a wry smile. “They’re getting on fine in there. Lots of rewiring, button-pushing and arguing. All things the Doctor’s an expert at.”
“Oh,” said Jo.
She turned to the Brigadier, who was looking amused at her remark. “The Doctor says can he have his psychic paper – I mean, his UNIT pass back, please?”
“He said please?” responded the Brigadier, raising his eyebrows. “Things must be getting desperate.”
Donna grinned. “No, that was me. He needs it, though.”
“Of course,” the Brigadier said and led the way into the corridor. “But what did you say it was?”
She started guiltily. “Oh, nothing.”
“I knew it wasn’t a genuine UNIT pass,” he said, with a slight twitch of his mouth that she suspected was a smile. “Come along, Miss Noble.”
“Which am I?”
His earlier self nodded as he moved one of the levers carefully. “Just out of interest. How many regenerations?”
“Oh,” he said. “I see.”
The Master glanced up as well. “This is most depressing,” he reflected. “It implies that my attempts to be rid of you aren’t going to be successful for a while yet.”
“Ninth regeneration,” the Doctor said indistinctly, momentarily holding the sonic screwdriver in his mouth. “Tenth persona.” He used the screwdriver to finish his work. “Best yet, if you ask me.”
The Master shook his head. “Clearly, I’m going to have to risk some damage to the timestream in order to get rid of you, but it’ll be worth it.”
“Or you could stop that nonsense and play nicely,” said the future Doctor.
The Master turned a dial underneath the console. “Doctor, I don’t know what you’re implying. I’ve offered to let you join me in several of my projects, but you always have to be so self-righteously smug and ruin all my fun.”
“Fun!” said the Third Doctor, glaring. “Is that what you call it? Last time I saw him, he was trying to provoke war between two galactic empires and working with the Daleks. But then, you know that. So stop wasting time trying to reason with him and tell me if that’s worked. I’ve set up the old girl for dematerialisation -”
He frowned suddenly. “But – wait – there’s going to be a massive discharge of energy once we do that. How do we stop that doing any damage here?”
“Ah,” said the Master, “I believe I may be able to help.”
“Oh?” the earlier Doctor said sceptically. “How do you propose to do that?”
He told them.
“Thanks,” said Donna, pocketing the psychic paper.
He held open the door for her. “We’d better get back to the Doctor.”
“Yes,” she said, “but you could answer a question for me first, since he never did, not really.”
He paused. “What would that be?”
“How on earth did he come to be working for you people?”
The Brigadier smiled and led the way down the corridor at a brisk pace. “Well, it’s a long story, but I first met him during that business with the Yeti in the Underground. After that, it became obvious that some sort of organisation was needed to deal with alien invasions -”
“It did?” said Donna, surprised. “You mean all this stuff with Cybermen and Daleks and what-have-you has been going on since the 70s? People should be told!”
He glanced across at her curiously.
“I’m sort of from the future, too,” she confessed.
He nodded. “I see. At any rate, I was put in charge of UNIT and ran into the Doctor again when we faced our first real challenge. This version of him turned up in the middle of some odd UFO activity and once I’d accepted it was the same man, I offered him a job here. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll keep him here, though.”
“Right,” said Donna. She gave a quick smile. “Thanks.”
“Oh, I knew it,” said the earlier Doctor, in the absence of the Master, “he’s always got his own underhand reasons for everything he does.”
His later self grinned ruefully. “True. Mind you, on the other hand, can’t think of anything more helpful to absorb the excess energy.”
“Kick-starting his TARDIS?” queried the other. “I thought we might finally be able to put him under lock and key. Now he’ll get away and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Probably as well. I’ve mucked up the timeline enough as it is coming here. He might not have turned up otherwise and he’ll have places he’s meant to be.”
“Really?” said the Third Doctor, startled. “You mean -?”
He looked up sharply. “No, I didn’t. I don’t know what happens to him. Well, not this him, anyway.”
“You’ve got some idea, though,” he said softly. “I’d stop thinking about it, if I were you.”
The newest Doctor added, slowly, “Whatever it was, it must have been nasty.”
“I should probably be a bit nicer to him,” his other self mused and for the first time they shared the joke.
“Now what’s going on?” asked Donna, watching as the Master laid down cables between the TARDIS and a tall ionic column she was sure hadn’t been here earlier.
The Brigadier frowned. “That’s what I’d like to know.”
“Oh, it’s all right,” said Jo humorously, “the Doctor says it’s the best way to stop UNIT HQ from blowing up when the TARDISES separate. He says the temporal buffers are all wonky and if the Master doesn’t absorb the excess energy that’ll cause, there’ll be some weird things happening, which he blames on a wibbly-wobbly time-wimey thing and there’ll be a big bang.”
The Brigadier stared at her.
“That’ll be my Doctor,” said Donna. “He always talks like that, but he knows what he’s doing.” She crossed her fingers behind her back.
Captain Yates re-entered. “Sir, do we let him get away with this?” He nodded at the Master. “Shouldn’t we do something?”
“Apparently,” said the Brigadier dryly, “we need to leave him alone or risk blowing everyone sky-high.”
Donna tried to help. “If he ever suggests doing something like this again, I’ll brain him, I promise.”
They all looked at her and she shrugged.
“That’s done,” said the Master.
The later Doctor leant over and shook his hand heartily. “It’s been a pleasure. Really.”
“Yes, nice to see you making yourself useful for once,” said the usual Doctor apparently seriously. “Now, run along and get into position.”
The Master looked from one to the other. “No last insults? That really isn’t like you, Doctor.”
“No, well,” his usual arch-rival said awkwardly, “I suppose I may have been unkind in the past -”
He stared at them over the console. “What is it? You know something about me – what happens to me?”
“Maybe,” said the later Doctor, “but that would be telling, wouldn’t it?”
The other Doctor said soberly, “I’m so sorry, my dear fellow. Although I suppose nobody deserves it more…”
The Master's expression grew alarmed, and he moved away slowly. “Oh, I’ll always find some way to cheat fate, I promise you.”
As he left, the Tenth Doctor made a face to himself. “Same as ever.”
“Listen,” said his past self, “it’s good to know I’ve got a future – even if I don’t like the look of it – but why did you come? You must have had a reason.”
He grinned. “Yeah, but it doesn’t matter. You’d never believe me. Irritating, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said emphatically.
“Donna!” called the Doctor. “Come on, stop yapping; we need to go.”
She gave the Brigadier, Yates and Jo an apologetic look. Jo hugged her impulsively and the Brigadier shook her hand again.
“Bye,” she said, heading for the TARDIS only to be all but knocked over by the Doctor careering out of it. The other Doctor emerged with more dignity behind him.
Her Doctor was breathless. “Nearly forgot to say goodbye,” he said, enveloping Jo in a hug.
“Oof,” she said and grinned at him. “Nice to see you, Doctor.”
The Doctor put an arm round her as his future self turned to the Brigadier enthusiastically and then checked himself. “Right. We don’t hug. Obviously.”
The Brigadier gave him his hand which he shook too hard.
“Come on, Donna,” he said. “We need to go!”
“Next time,” said Donna, once they’d successfully dematerialised without destroying the planet, the universe, the timeline or even UNIT HQ, “just answer my question without the practical demonstration.”
He leant on the console and she saw that he was grinning at her. “Yeah, but it was fun, wasn’t it?”
“Doctor, you’re weirder than I thought,” she informed him. “Now I learn you’re like some sort of chameleon and you’ve got a ‘best enemy’ – and, yes, it was. I’ll say one thing for you – you’ve got good taste in friends.”
He smiled again. “Yeah,” he said, reflecting on it for one moment, before he turned back to the console. “Where next, Donna?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Surprise me.”
He winked at her.
“But don’t double back on your own timeline and annoy people, okay? Once is enough.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “There’s only so much of myself I can take for one day. Can you believe I used to be that arrogant? Always so sure I was right. I don’t think I could have stood much more of myself.”
Donna said, deadpan, “Yeah, it’s shocking.”
“Well, he’s gone,” said the Doctor in relief. “Thank goodness for that.”
The Brigadier glanced at the corner where the column had been. “So has the Master.”
“Yes, well, there wasn’t much we could do about that,” he apologised. “I’m sorry about this, Brigadier. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Jo had her arm through the Doctor’s. “Oh, I thought he was sweet.”
“No, he wasn’t,” he snapped instantly. “He was irresponsible, scruffy, skinny – and he never keeps still or shuts up. I shall be having nightmares. It’s the outside of enough when the Master has to turn up to rescue you from the folly of your future self.”
Jo sighed. “How did the conference go? Did you give that professor a piece of your mind?”
“No,” he said, smiling at her. “I realised, as I was standing there listening to him talk, that really, it was all rather petty of me and I thought I’d better come back here and make myself useful.”
The Brigadier took an interest at that. “In that case, Doctor, I’ve got some reports you might like to take a look at -”
“My dear fellow, I’ve got to check the TARDIS hasn’t been damaged by that little experience,” he protested. “And then I need to see about wiring in those co-ordinates for Metebelis 3 -. I might have time in a week or so, but I can’t make promises.”
Before he’d finished, the Brigadier took his leave of them, a resigned expression on his face.
“I still don’t know why he came,” the Doctor said more to himself than to Jo. “There must have been something. I can’t believe I’d change that much.”
Jo looked at him curiously. “Donna said she thought it was because he missed us.”
“This place?” he said in instant protest. “What a ridiculous idea! I don’t know why I still come back here, letting the Brigadier pester me with his idiotic reports and orders.”
“That’s what she said,” said Jo with a shrug.
He smiled faintly, “Well, maybe for you, Jo. And, after all, I’ve always said that Sergeant Benton is one of the best coffee makers in the universe.”
“Oh, that’d be it, then,” she said, humouring him and laughing. “That explains it all.”