Sarah Jane turned the television up on her dash through the living room – she was fascinated to hear what the Prime Minister would say, but she was in a hurry to get going, too.
‘Did we ask about the Royal Family?’ the Prime Minister was saying, as Sarah threw into her bag whatever she could think of to take, all the while still cursing the fact that she had been late to hear the news.
‘Doctor, if you’re out there…’ said the Prime Minister.
Sarah’s head whipped round; she gawped at the screen.
‘If anyone knows the Doctor, if anyone can find him…’ the Prime Minister continued.
Sarah didn’t hear any more – she was already grabbing her bag and running out of the house, not even locking the door on the way out.
The roads were deserted. Nobody liked to drive at Christmas anyway, and the few people that might have been out were either waiting, terrified, in their living rooms, or on the roof of the nearest tall building. Speeding towards the city, Sarah saw the rows and rows of people standing on the edges of things. She shivered.
In her bag on the passenger seat, her phone rang. She squealed in surprise, and leaned over to answer it, her eyes still on the road.
‘Sarah! It’s me!’
‘Nat, what’s wrong?’
‘It’s Josh! He’s on the roof! He won’t come down!’
‘All right, five minutes. Stay calm, Nat.’
She hung up, and turned the steering wheel violently – the car spun on the spot with a painful screeching noise, until it was pointing back the way it had come, and sped back down the motorway.
Sarah never got to where the action was that day. Not the main action, anyway. Her day was spent dashing between Josh, on the roof, and Nat, downstairs, coaxing and pleading with one, and trying to reassure the other. After it was all over, there were tears and hugs on all sides, and what with one thing and another Sarah didn’t have time to properly think about what she had heard that day.
Oh, it was there, of course, hovering at the back of her mind. But it was late January before she decided to give it the attention it deserved.
Not many people marched up to Number Ten, Downing Street, demanded to be let in, and succeeded – but Sarah did.
‘I want to speak to the Prime Minister,’ she said, imperiously. ‘It’s about the Doctor.’
Since the Christmas broadcast, a few cranks had tried this. The guard on the door made an apologetic face and started to give his usual spiel, but Sarah shushed him impatiently and waved her UNIT ID under his nose.
It was old, but apparently it was still good, because he let her in right away, with an effusive ‘So sorry, Miss Smith!’
She was ushered into a little sitting room, offered tea, coffee – she refused both. As it transpired, she wasn’t waiting long anyway. Within two minutes she was in the Prime Minister’s office.
The Prime Minister, behind her desk and framed by stacks of paper, stood up and leaned across to take the hand Sarah offered.
‘Sarah Jane Smith, journalist,’ Sarah said briskly.
‘Harriet Jones, Prime Minister,’ the Prime Minister replied as Sarah sat down, raising an eyebrow to indicate that this was a little joke.
‘It’s about the Doctor? Do you have some news of him?’
Sarah tipped her head to one side and frowned. This was the tricky bit.
‘To be honest,’ she said, ‘No. I don’t. I suppose I was hoping that you did. I know it’s an awful cheek and you must be terribly busy…’
‘Excuse me, do you actually know who the Doctor is, or are you just…’
‘Of course I know the Doctor!’ Sarah flashed indignantly.
‘Well, people will try it on,’ said the Prime Minister, with a weary shrug.
Sarah sighed. ‘I knew him, at least. You’re familiar with the TARDIS, I suppose?’
The Prime Minister nodded and gave her a tight little smile.
‘I lived there,’ said Sarah. ‘I travelled with the Doctor for quite a while. It was… a long time ago. I suppose I wanted to find out what he’s doing now.’
‘Well may you ask,’ said the Prime Minister, darkly. ‘Well, I think this is going to take at least one pot of tea…?’
‘Oh, that sounds lovely!’ sighed Sarah.
‘Oh, good!’ said the Prime Minister, then pressed a button and issued the tea order down the intercom. ‘Now, Miss Smith…’
‘Oh, won’t you call me Sarah?’ Sarah asked.
This wasn’t her usual style – she believed in professional distance – but she felt a kinship with the other woman and her instincts led her towards informality.
‘And you must call me Harriet,’ the Prime Minister agreed at once. ‘Hardly anybody seems to these days, and I rather miss it.’ She paused. ‘Biscuits with the tea? It’s awful, I know, but I’ve taken to keeping a secret stash.’
She opened one of her desk drawers and drew out half a packet of chocolate digestives. Sarah took one, Harriet took one, and they both nibbled for a moment in contemplative silence.
‘The Doctor and I had… a difference of opinion,’ Harriet said. ‘At Christmas. I haven’t seen him since. Not that I was in the habit of seeing him regularly, you understand – I only met him the once before that, but… he was very angry with me.’
Sarah’s eyes were wide. ‘What did you do?’
‘I destroyed the Sycorax ship.’
‘Wasn’t that a good thing?’ Sarah frowned.
‘Apparently not. He had their word that they wouldn’t return, and that was good enough for him, it seems.’
Sarah tutted. ‘Did he honestly believe…’
‘How can someone so clever be so stupid at the same time?’ Sarah wondered.
There was a pause as someone brought in the tea. Sarah and Harriet both stirred, tapped their spoons on the sides of their cups, and dunked their half-eaten biscuits.
‘It wasn’t stupid,’ said Harriet. ‘Just trusting. And the noble thing to do. The morally right thing to do.’
‘There’s such a thing as too much conscience,’ Sarah said.
‘And the Doctor’s got it!’ Harriet said, with sudden venom.
Sarah bit her lip. ‘You said he was angry.’
‘Oh, he was. Frighteningly so. It’s all his fault, all of this…’
‘All of what?’ asked Sarah.
‘All of the rumours, about my health. He said he’d bring down my government.’
‘“Don’t you think she looks tired?” – that’s all he said. All he needed to say, to turn everything upside-down and backwards. And now everyone’s wondering, everyone’s trying to find out, and there’s talk of a vote of no confidence, and…’
‘The Doctor, he started that?’ Sarah couldn’t keep the dismay from her voice. It seemed such a petty thing for him to do. Perhaps he had changed a lot since she last saw him.
Harriet nodded miserably. ‘And he’s right. I am tired. But it’s bloody hard work, being the Prime Minister! Who does he think he is, anyway, telling me what I can and can’t do? This isn’t his planet!’
‘No,’ Sarah began, soothingly, ‘But he has done quite a lot over the…’
‘Do you know, he duelled with the Sycorax leader for the fate of Earth? What right did he have? The self-righteous… he didn’t even ask!’
‘No, he doesn’t tend to,’ said Sarah.
‘The Golden Age, he said, and now he turns on me like this! I was only doing what I had to!’ Harriet blinked away angry tears and looked earnestly at Sarah. ‘Was it wrong?’ she asked. ‘Was it really so wrong?’
‘I…’ Sarah began, but Harriet answered her own question.
‘I mean, yes, of course, it was wrong, in a sense. I mean, yes, it was murder, I suppose. Yes, I killed them all. But they tried to kill us first! And they would have come back! I don’t care what he says, they would have, and we would have paid for it!’ She sniffed. ‘It was a question of the lesser of two evils. And perhaps this is a blinkered attitude, perhaps it’s old-fashioned – I always was, rather. But I think that the course that saves humankind from enslavement is always going to be preferable. I’d do it again in a second.’ She took a deep breath, and waved her hands, searching for words. ‘I’m sorry about it,’ she said, finally. ‘But I don’t regret it.’
Sarah handed her a tissue. Harriet dried her eyes, blew her nose noisily, and took a long drink from her teacup.
‘Feel better?’ Sarah asked.
Harriet considered. ‘A bit,’ she said. ‘Helps to tell someone, I suppose.’
‘I still can’t believe the Doctor would…’ Sarah shook her head. ‘It seems so harsh to do this to you…’
‘I suppose I brought it on myself,’ Harriet sighed. ‘I practically dared him to try.’
Sarah made a face. ‘Ah, that mightn’t have helped…’
‘Sarah, can I ask you something? You don’t have to answer. I mean… I won’t be offended, whatever you say.’
‘Of course, ask away,’ Sarah said, intrigued.
‘Well… what would you have done? If you had the power to destroy that ship? Would you have defied him?’
Sarah took a deep breath. She drew her knees up to her chest and rocked a little on the chair. Harriet looked at her. She looked composed, but Sarah sensed that a lot was riding on her answer. The trouble was that she wasn’t sure herself what it was.
‘Harriet, I don’t know that I even…’ she began. She sighed and started again. ‘It’s difficult, with the Doctor. Back when I was travelling with him, I always – well, I didn’t always do what he told me, not by a long chalk – but in general I agreed with his intentions, and even when I didn’t I usually went along, because he was the Doctor, and he was usually right about those sorts of things. But now…’
Harriet nodded, listening carefully. Sarah took another biscuit and dunked it, thinking about what to say next.
‘It’s different now,’ she said. ‘I was always with the Doctor then, he was always there. And then I had to get used to him not being there, and it was hard. Things didn’t always work the way they were meant to. I had to… start doing things differently. I had to be a different person. I had to be more independent, more strong and decisive than ever, because now I knew so much more.’
She looked Harriet in the eye. ‘I can’t honestly say what I would have done if I had been in your precise situation, with the Doctor there,’ she said. ‘But… I do think you were right.’
She shuddered a bit at the admission. It made her feel odd to side against the Doctor. But the Doctor wasn’t here now.
‘That means a lot,’ said Harriet. ‘There’s nobody else I can ask, you see – not and get an honest answer. Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome,’ said Sarah. ‘Any time. And for what it’s worth… I think you’re a great Prime Minister. The Doctor’s been wrong before. You’ll get past this, I’m sure you will.’
She patted Harriet’s hand across the desk.
Harriet grinned. ‘That means a lot,’ she said again.
Sarah grinned back.
Next week, there was an article in the Sunday Times, defending the Prime Minister and pointing out all she had achieved in her – so far only short – term in office. It seemed to the Prime Minister that, after that, the tide of public opinion began the slow shift back in her favour. She was still tired. Running the country was still hard work. Some days she felt surrounded by enemies, weighed down by countless duties, pressed on all sides by questions, always questions, and doubts.
But there was always tea and biscuits, and Sarah had an open invitation to Number Ten.