It took much longer for the Doctor to regenerate this time. Or maybe he was just fighting it more. Either way, it meant that he had time to do a few things before he went. And what he wanted to do was say goodbye. Not just to Rose and Wilf, but to everyone. All of his companions. He had asked Rose if she had wanted to join him but she realised that this was something that he should do alone and decided to stay in the TARDIS.
Before he left each time, he would tell her exactly who he was visiting but after the first five or so stops, Rose lost track. It didn’t matter to her anyway. These were the Doctor’s last few hours and he deserved this chance to visit all the people who had made his life special. Despite not knowing much about those people, Rose found herself feeling an extreme amount of gratitude towards them just for being there for the Doctor at some point in his life. She made a mental note to make sure the Doctor told her all about them properly one day.
The Doctor walked back into the TARDIS after visiting someone who had used to work at UNIT with him (Jo, was it?) and went straight back to the controls. ‘Just a couple of quick errands before we go see the next one,’ he said.
‘Errands?’ asked Rose.
‘Mmhm. Very important.’
Rose decided not to push him for a more direct answer. She just didn’t have the energy.
The errands that the Doctor had had to make were mercifully quick. The longest they stayed in one place was five minutes. The TARDIS made its usual wheezing sound as it landed again. ‘Here we are,’ said the Doctor with forced cheeriness. It may have even been believable if it weren’t for the slight groan of pain that escaped him at the end. He recovered quickly and then held his hand out to Rose. ‘You’ll want to see this one,’ he told her.
Rose took his hand. ‘Why, where are we?’ she asked him as she allowed him to lead her away from the console.
He opened the doors and they walked out into an English churchyard. The sun was shining and the church bells were ringing. Rose opened her mouth to ask what they were doing here but stopped when the sound of laughter echoed across the yard. She looked towards the church and saw a very familiar redhead wearing a white dress – just like she had been the first time the Doctor and Rose had met her. But this time, Donna Noble had made it all the way down the aisle and was now standing hand in hand with her new husband who looked at her with nothing but love in his eyes.
‘Nice?’ the Doctor finished for her. ‘According to Wilf he is. And if Wilf says he’s nice then that is good enough for me.’
Rose smiled. ‘Me too.’
She looked over all the smiling guests and her eyes fell on a man who was watching from the other side of the yard, much like she and the Doctor were. Rose knew the reason he was keeping his distance, it was for the same reason that they were. He didn’t want Donna to remember him. As if sensing she was watching, the Metacrisis Doctor’s eyes locked onto Rose’s and he gave her a small smile. She returned the smile and added an awkward wave.
The sound of Wilf and Sylvia approaching distracted her for a moment and when she looked back, he had gone.
‘And here you are, eh?’ said Wilf as he and Sylvia came to a stop in front of the Doctor and Rose. ‘Same old face. Didn't I tell you you'd be all right? Oh! They've arrested Mister Naismith. It was on the news. Crimes undisclosed. And his daughter. Both of them, locked up.’ He sobered a bit and his expression became more serious. ‘But I keep thinking, Doctor, there's one thing you never told me. That woman. Who was she?’
‘What woman?’ asked Rose. She had obviously missed something while being tied to a chair for the better part of two days.
The Doctor gave her a look that promised her answers later and then turned to Wilf. ‘I just wanted to give you this,’ he said as he pulled an envelope out of his coat pocket and handed it over. He nodded towards where Donna was laughing with her husband and some of their friends. ‘Wedding present. Thing is, I never carry money, so I just popped back in time, borrowed a quid off a really lovely man. Geoffrey Noble, his name was. Have it, he said. Have that on me.’
Now Rose understood why the Doctor had had to run all those errands. She felt an enormous swell of pride for him in that moment. He had given Donna a wedding present that only he could give: a gift from her father.
Sylvia almost burst into tears at the sound of her late husband’s name, obviously touched. Wilf stroked her back comfortingly and mouthed ‘thank you’ to the Doctor. He wasn’t crying but there was still so much emotion in his eyes.
The Doctor nodded his understanding and Wilf and Sylvia walked back to the church to give Donna her present.
‘What was in the envelope?’ Rose asked the Doctor once they were alone again.
Rose just stared open mouthed at him for a few seconds before she burst out laughing. ‘Couldn’t think of anyone who deserves it more,’ she said, deciding that, just this once, the universe could let them abuse their time travelling privileges.
The Doctor smiled too – his first proper smile since he had absorbed the radiation that was now slowly killing him. ‘Me neither,’ he agreed.
Wilf and Sylvia had obviously just realised what the present was too, judging by the excited smiles they had on their faces. They turned back to face them and Rose gave them a small wave. They waved back but Wilf must have sensed that this was goodbye because his smile faded and he gave them a salute. The Doctor gave him a small smile in return and then took Rose’s hand.
‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Time to go.’
Rose gave an understanding nod and followed him back to the TARDIS. She was glad that he had brought her with him for this visit. It was good to know that Donna was going to have the brilliant life she deserved.
Once inside the TARDIS, the Doctor moved over to the controls and sent them away from England. But not too far away. They were now in orbit above planet Earth. ‘Just one more person to say goodbye to,’ said the Doctor once the central column had stilled.
‘Who?’ asked Rose.
He looked up at her then and she knew that his pained expression was because of more than just the radiation poisoning.
Rose fought back the tears that she had been keeping at bay for the past couple of hours. ‘This isn’t goodbye,’ she said. The words for her benefit just as much as the Doctor’s. ‘I’ll still be here when… when…’
She couldn’t seem to finish her sentence but luckily the Doctor understood. ‘I know you will,’ he said. ‘And I’m so grateful for that. I’m so grateful for you.’ He walked around the console to stand in front of her and he took both her hands in his. ‘All the things I’ve been through in this body. Being trapped underneath a black hole with no TARDIS. Losing Jenny and then Donna. Mars. I don’t know how I would have gotten through all that without you. So thank you. My Rose. Just… Thank you.’
Rose lost her battle against the tears at that. She couldn’t find any words to match his so she kissed him instead. At first it started off as sweet and chaste but when the Doctor let go of her hands and wrapped his arms around her, bringing her closer, it soon turned into something more desperate. This was their last kiss - for this Doctor anyway - and they were going to make it count.
When the need for air kicked in, Rose reluctantly broke away. ‘I’m going to miss this you,’ she said. ‘We’ve been through so much together and I know we’ve still got so much more to come… but I will always remember this part of our lives.’ She smiled through the tears. ‘We made a good team, didn’t we?’
The Doctor nodded and matched her smile. ‘The best.’ He looked down at his hand. It was now glowing gold.
It was time.
He looked back up at her, his smile gone. ‘You’d better stand back,’ he said.
Rose desperately wanted to stay where she was and hold his hand but she knew she couldn’t. He was right; she should be standing back for this. His whole body was starting to glow with the beginnings of regeneration energy now and it was only a matter of seconds before it totally overcame him.
‘I love you,’ she sobbed as she took a few steps backwards. She needed to tell him one last time before he changed.
The Doctor gave her a pained smile. ‘Quite right too,’ he said.
Rose would have chuckled at that if she weren’t crying so much. She gave a shaky nod of agreement instead.
‘And I suppose, if it’s my last chance to say it… Rose Tyler-’
He didn’t get the chance to finish his sentence before the golden light fully engulfed him.
This regeneration was far more explosive than the last one Rose had seen and she stumbled back a bit as she shielded her eyes. The regeneration energy coming from the Doctor was so forceful that the console room shook violently and small fires started to break out. The coral struts began to come apart and Rose jumped out of the way of one of the falling pieces but she lost her footing in her haste and went flying towards the grating, hitting her head on the console on the way down.
The bright light of the Doctor’s regeneration energy was still filling the room as Rose closed her eyes and lost consciousness. She didn’t get to see the new man standing at the console shouting, ‘Geronimo!’