The Doctor shifted his weight against the cliff-face, tightening his grip on the small outcrop he was currently hanging onto, careful not to look down. “Come on,” he muttered, trying to pull himself further up. “You can do this – easy –” But the ledge above remained obstinately out of his reach and while Time Lord physiology had some definite advantages over many other species, they hadn’t yet developed anything as currently useful as, say, suckers on their hands and feet.
He concentrated his mind on logic: surveying the wall of rock above him for the best path upwards, and failing to find it again. He shut his eyes, cursing himself for his carelessness, his error in trusting the wrong person. Worse still, Nyssa and Tegan were being held as hostages somewhere on the other side of this chasm for his safe return with the promised batteries, and if he fell here, the chances were that they’d be dead before he could make it back to them – even assuming he survived or regenerated. The idea of wasting another life on falling bothered him more than he liked to admit.
He gritted his teeth and set his gaze on the nearest, more promising handhold in the rocks and tried to stretch up again, halted this time by the unexpected sight of a rope sliding down the rock face beside him. The Doctor hesitated and then gave it a cautious tug with one hand. It didn’t give.
“Come on,” said a voice from somewhere above him. “You don’t want to stay hanging about like that all day, do you?”
The Doctor grinned, and caught hold of the rope and climbed up it to the wider ledge, his rescuer helping to pull him over the top, holding onto his hand for a few moments longer, until he’d recovered his breath.
“What were you doing down there?”
“Trying not to fall, mainly.” The Doctor dusted himself down and gave her a smile. “I think I’m starting to take against heights, or they’ve taken against me. Thank you.”
She gave a short nod. “My pleasure. You don’t happen to have a space ship stashed about somewhere, do you? I mean, I don’t ask that of everyone, but I haven’t seen you about before.”
The Doctor, busy dusting himself down, straightened himself up and surveyed her more carefully: she was short, dark-haired, and apparently human, unlike the rest of the planet’s inhabitants, although, of course, appearances could be deceiving. “Yes, my friends and I are just passing. From – ah – over that way somewhere.”
She stared back at him for a while and then said, “Yeah, nice try, but nothing lives over that way. There’s a toxic desert the size of small continent, and then a few empty islands, and the sea, which accounts for most of the rest of this planet. It wasn’t very well thought-out when they designed it. So, either you’ve crashed or transported down, or you’ve got a space ship stashed somewhere.”
The Doctor was only semi-listening, also occupied with surveying his situation, calculating how much further he had to go down – by a more sensible and less dangerously direct route – and back up and along, how many hours till nightfall, and if those two added up to any chance of him getting back to the Citadel before sunset, in time to save Nyssa and Tegan.
“Ah,” he murmured, “that explains a great deal. So, what, may I ask, are you doing here?”
She leant back against the rock wall, giving a shrug. “Stupid accident with the transporter. We were circling above in orbit for a bit and I might possibly have pressed some buttons I shouldn’t have and then, bam, trapped here forever. I’d have thought someone would have noticed, but they haven’t been back yet and it’s been at least a year now. I fell from the sky like a shooting star, that’s how I like to put it – or maybe just a leaf from a tree.”
“In that case you’re the only one here,” he said, and grinned, inviting her to share in his small joke, but she looked blank. “Leaves,” he added. “There aren’t any here. No trees.”
“No. Weird that,” she said, and then held out her hand. “I’m Clara, by the way. Who are you?”
“I’m the Doctor, and I need to get back to the East Citadel before nightfall or some rather unfriendly and suspicious people are going to execute my friends.”
“Well, in that case you’re going the wrong way. You’ll never make it.”
“I was beginning to come to that conclusion,” he said. “I wasn’t aware there was another option, though.”
She bit her lip. “Yeah, well –”
“You know how you said you’d gone off heights? Might not be your cup of tea,” she said, and pointed back along the chasm, where, through the shifting white fog, the Doctor could now see a narrow bridge spanning the ravine. “You need to go that way, or you’ll never do it.”
He stood, dusted himself down. “Well, then. Best to get on with it, isn’t it? After all, if I’m late again, Tegan will never let me live it down. Should we both survive, that is. I suppose there’s a bright side to everything.”
“Follow me, then,” said Clara. “It’s a bit tricky getting there and we don’t want you going over the edge again, do we?”
The Doctor was once more careful not to look down. “No.”
“And besides, I know you must have a space ship. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
The bridge was a good deal wider than it had looked from a distance, but that wasn’t saying very much – it was still narrow and precarious and the ground below was lost in distant mists. It looked as if it was a natural formation of the rock, but the Doctor was sure it must have been constructed by someone at some point. Clever work, he thought, putting a hand to it, pressing down and testing its strength. He wished they’d thought about more in the way of safety features, but maybe balance had come naturally to its original users and if they were ancestors or relatives of the Gamori people he’d left Tegan and Nyssa with, whoever they were, they were also likely to have been a good deal smaller than the two of them.
“It’s safe enough,” said Clara, seeing his actions. “I’ve used it before. It’s just a bit hair-raising if you look down. So, don’t. And be careful.”
The Doctor gave her a grin. “Noted. Do you want to go first, or shall I?”
“Beauty before brains,” she said, standing back for him.
He chose to ignore that, and set off across the bridge. It was wide enough that he decided on walking over, although Clara, behind him, followed on all fours, a rather comically set expression on her face.
With his earlier experience all too clear in his mind, he kept his attention on the other side, reaching it with some relief even as there was a shout from somewhere below in the canyon. It echoed against the rocks, followed shortly by a shot that missed Clara by inches, causing her to yell and pull back, and then grab at the bridge before finally over-balancing with a cry.
The Doctor lunged for her without thought, but even as he did, calculations in his mind demonstrated the impossibility of his succeeding. He ignored them, but he thought he’d lost her for a moment until he registered that he had hold of her jacket by the collar. Flat on the ground at the edge now, he shifted his precarious hold on her even as she caught at his arm, yelping and flailing about below. He hauled her up and onto the safety of the other side with him, not letting go as another shot fired over their heads; a green streak in the sky that left an acrid smell behind it.
“Sorry about that,” he said, slightly breathless. “I don’t think they were that keen on parting with the battery fluid, which –” He stopped, realising suddenly that he didn’t seem to have the vital batteries on his person any longer.
Somewhere down below, an explosion rocked the whole canyon.
“Ah,” said the Doctor, after waiting for all the dust and noise to subside. “So, that’s where they got to.” That was extremely inconvenient. He’d have to explain to the Gamori and think of some other way of rescuing Nyssa and Tegan. If, of course, they hadn’t found some way to extract themselves from the situation already. They rarely stayed where he’d left them, after all.
Clara was still gripping hold of him, shaking, her fingers digging into his arm, and he slowly turned his attention from the lost batteries and the canyon back to her. Everything seemed to have gone still below, he noted with faint guilt – the explosion seemed to have inadvertently put paid to whoever had been shooting at them.
Tears were running down her face. “I sh-shouldn’t be here,” she said, incoherent with distress, eyes wide, breath ragged. “Doctor. You shouldn’t – I shouldn’t be here. What am I going to do?”
He opened his mouth to try and cheer her up and extract himself from her hold, but he saw, for a moment, some other landscape reflected in her eyes, one of darkness and dust and flame, and hesitated, but when he looked back, it had gone.
“Er, well,” he said, and pulled away, although pausing to pat her awkwardly on the shoulder. “I’m sure we’ll think of something. In the meantime, I really do need to get back to my friends before it’s too late.”
Clara sat up and wiped her eyes, although she was still pale and unsteady. “Honestly, Doctor, you just –” She stopped and sighed. “You’re you, I suppose.” Then she let him help her to her feet, and caught him by surprise with a quick hug. “I mean, thank you. And I think I know how you feel about heights. All of a sudden I’ve gone right off depths.”
“One good turn deserves another,” he said, glancing down at her. “Do you think you can walk? We’ve still got a mile or two to go before sunset.”
She forced a smile and nodded, keeping pace with his airy strides as best as she could. “So, what are you going to do without those batteries?”
“I don’t know,” the Doctor said, but he gave her a bright smile. “Still, I’m sure we’ll think of something before we get there.”