The Doctor took a solid two weeks (Earth time) to materialize from out of the vortex. She didn’t know where she was going, or what she would do, or how she would go about doing it. All she knew was that she couldn’t take anymore of this limbo between adventures. She was a nonstop person. She needed to be doing things all the time.
The problem was, her companions didn’t seem to want all that much to do with her. Yaz had been the most understanding, but Yaz had gone off with Ryan on an adventure into the TARDIS once she was able to walk on her own, and the Doctor hadn’t seen her since then. Graham was staying in his room, refusing to speak to her. She’d seen him leave once, only to haul a food machine back into his room.
It was all very discouraging. She’d thought they’d be able to move past what had happened on Faure. That they’d be back to normal as soon as Yaz was healed. That’s how it should have been.
She’d somehow overestimated the strength of their bond. She’d thought that they were a team. A family. But she had clearly been wrong. The first sign of trouble, and they were immediately distancing themselves from her.
How had it all gone so wrong? In all of their travels, in all of their adventures, nothing had ever succeeded in driving them apart. But the goddess had managed it. Two weeks on Faure had managed it.
She sighed and rested her head in her hands, waiting for the TARDIS to finish materializing. She didn’t know where they were, or what was going on out there, but she hoped it would help repair some of the broken bonds. She just didn’t know where to start.
She made her way down the softly-lit corridor to Graham’s room, since she still didn’t know where Ryan and Yaz were. The door was shut, which was normal. What wasn’t normal was the fact that the Doctor knew she wasn’t welcome. She knocked gingerly, already wondering if she made the right choice. Graham was angry. She didn’t know if he would even talk to her.
To her surprise, the door opened a crack, and one of Graham’s eyes peered out at her. She quickly stuck her foot in the crack, making sure he couldn’t shut the door once he saw it was her.
“What do you want?” Graham asked shortly. He still sounded angry, but the Doctor could deal with that. At least he was speaking to her again.
The Doctor opened her mouth to speak, forgot what she was going to say, shut her mouth, and shrugged her shoulders, hands spread wide. “We’ve finally landed,” she finally tried. “I was wondering if you wanted to go and see what’s out there.”
Graham opened the door a little bit more, just enough for the Doctor to see him roll his eyes. That wasn’t a good sign. “And find another Faure?” he asked. “I think I’ll sit this one out.”
“I don’t know,” the Doctor replied honestly. “This was a random materialization. We could be anywhere in time and space. Doesn’t that excite you?”
“No,” Graham replied. The Doctor hadn’t been expecting such bluntness. “Not really,” he continued. “Not since you destroyed an entire planet, even when you could have saved them.”
The Doctor could feel her face crumpling. “I tried to explain to you, there was nothing I could do!” she cried, her voice dropping to a strained whisper.
“And that’s not a good enough explanation for any of us,” said Graham.
“Listen,” the Doctor tried. “Let’s just forget all of that and move on. It was a dark time for all of us. I didn’t like what I did anymore than you do. But the only way to rebuild is to move on. And I’m trying to provide an opportunity for it!”
“Thanks,” said Graham, sounding not very thankful. “But I don’t think I want to be in the same room with you for any length of time. Maybe when Ryan and Yaz get back.”
“Who knows when that will happen?” the Doctor asked bitterly. “The TARDIS is functionally limitless. Even I don’t know her full extent.” She decided not to add the part about the chances of their getting lost in the TARDIS and never finding their way back to the console room. That was always a possibility, but she didn’t want Graham even angrier at her.
“All the same, I’m going to wait for them,” Graham replied. “You can go on ahead, and we’ll catch you up.”
“Alright,” the Doctor agreed reluctantly. “But part of the fun is discovering new things with your friends.”
“No offense to you, Doc,” Graham said, “but I don’t think you’re our friend anymore.” He pushed her foot out of the doorway and shut the door in her face.
The Doctor stood before the door for a few moments longer, too stunned to move. She knew things were bad, but she had assumed their friendship was going through a rough patch. She hadn’t ever doubted that they were still friends.
She crossed her arms, then uncrossed them, then hugged herself as she began to walk away, back to the console room. She wondered if there was something she could do to salvage their friendship, or if she should just take them all back to Earth and drop them off. Let them continue with their ordinary, boring lives. The lives she’d rescued them from.
As she walked around the console, she decided against that course of action. They might get angrier at her if she arbitrarily decided to take them home. They hadn’t actually requested it. Maybe that meant there was some hope for them, after all. No, she wouldn’t take them home until they actually asked her. And if they were gone exploring the TARDIS (or, in Graham’s case, sulking in his bedroom and refusing to speak to her), then they couldn’t ask her to go home. She’d go explore alone, then. It would be fine. It would be fantastic. Brilliant, even.
Despite her assurances to herself, the Doctor’s shoulders slumped as she made her way to the door and walked out. It just wasn’t the same when you were by yourself.
But once she was outside, on the surface of the planet, it was impossible for her bad mood to stay. It was beautiful. It reminded the Doctor of why she had wanted to travel in the first place, millennia ago.
The sun was setting, bathing the sky in reds and pinks and violets, the oncoming night sky a deep blue. The TARDIS had landed on top of a hill, and the Doctor could survey the surrounding countryside. Below, smaller hills, covered in broad-leafed trees filled the landscape, the reds and golds of the leaves reflecting the dying sunlight. Directly below, at the bottom of the hill (or mountain, the Doctor supposed) there was a small settlement. The Doctor could spot the distinctive architecture of the Tractite race, but it was mixed with other, more unfamiliar elements. She wondered if it was a mixed colony, perhaps. She remembered the Tractites vaguely. That had been several incarnations ago. They had caused a lot of problems. She reminded herself that these Tractites would have no idea what had happened, as those events had all been part of a potentially universe-ending paradox, and, as a result, the offending parties didn’t really exist anymore.
She was glad of the long-sleeved shirt she was wearing underneath her short sleeves, though: as the night progressed, she could feel the temperature dropping. It wasn’t cold, certainly not like Faure, but it was noticeable. She wondered if the colors of the trees meant it was autumn in this part of the planet, or if the trees were naturally autumnal colors. The exciting part about being on an unknown planet was not knowing simple things like that.
She began to make her way down the hillside, stopping to appreciate the unusual flowers and insects. She could truly say that she had never been to this planet before. The only familiar thing for miles around was the settlement with Tractite architecture.
The settlement was mostly quiet by the time she arrived in it. That made sense, she reflected, since it was getting dark out. She didn’t like it at all, though—empty towns always made her uneasy. Too much of an opportunity for a jump scare.
But this town seemed harmless enough. She began to wander through the streets, inspecting the houses and buildings, looking for some sign of life. Somewhere where she could stay for the night, hopefully. She didn’t want to go back to the TARDIS. Not the way the current atmosphere was.
She saw a thin strip of light beneath one of the doors, and cautiously knocked. This house wasn’t in the Tractite style, that much was patently obvious. And sure enough, when the door opened up, it was a human who stood in the doorway, looking annoyed.
“Mauvril, if you’re trying to borrow my—” She broke off quickly upon seeing the Doctor. She was a pretty enough woman—old enough to have a few white hairs dotting her head, but young enough that her skin was unlined, save for the smile-lines around her mouth. Her eyes were large, or perhaps she was just surprised. “Who are you?” she asked, rather rudely.
The Doctor had a sudden urge to introduce herself while politely lifting a hat from her head, and then she remembered that she wasn’t wearing a hat. Oh, well. She’d just have to grab one the next time she was in the TARDIS. “Sorry to bother you,” she said, deciding that, since she couldn’t doff her hat, an apologetic tone would be better. “But I’m new around here and haven’t anywhere to stay. I’m the Doctor, by the way. What did you say your name was?”
The woman still looked confused. “A doctor?” she asked. “We don’t need any doctors around here.”
The Doctor grinned. “Not a medical doctor, not usually,” she assured the woman. “May I step inside?” Without waiting for a response, she did just that. The woman continued to stare.
“I’m sorry, but I really have no clue who you are,” she finally said.
“I already told you!” The Doctor flashed a bright smile at her. “I’m the Doctor.”
“Yes, but Doctor who? Doctor of what? You can’t expect me to trust you just from learning your title. There are plenty of folks who use a title as a way to hide their true identity so they can do bad things. How do I know you won’t murder me in my sleep?” She paused, then added, rather lamely, “...or something like that?”
“You’ll just have to trust me,” the Doctor replied. “I promise I don’t bite. Or murder.”
The woman laughed, almost in spite of herself. “Those two things are very dissimilar.” She held out her hand. “I’m Maesa, by the way. You asked before.”
The Doctor shook her hand. She hated shaking hands; she was never sure how long it should go before it got awkward. But it seemed to satisfy Maesa, and the Doctor’s number one priority was to keep Maesa happy. If she could keep her happy, then she could learn about the planet and also have a place to stay.
“Now,” said Maesa, “could you please move out of the doorway so I can actually shut the door? It’s getting cold out.”
The Doctor obliged, and soon she was sitting at Maesa’s table, drinking some sort of tea, and learning as much as she could about where she was.
“This is going to sound like a really stupid question,” the Doctor began, “but the navigation on my ship doesn’t always work, and I have no idea where in the universe I am. I was wondering what planet this is?”
“Aren’t we all,” Maesa said quietly. “This planet has an official designation, but no one who lives here actually likes it. And the humans and Tractites can’t agree on a colloquial name, so at the moment we’re stuck.”
“What’s the official designation, then?”
“K’rox’r.” She sighed. “Like I said, no one here actually likes it. It’s the one spot of contention between us and the Tractites.” She took a sip of tea and studied the Doctor’s face. “You do know who—and what—the Tractites are, don’t you?”
“Of course I do!” the Doctor replied indignantly. “Four eyes? Three fingers? Sort of like a cross between a horse and an ox?” She lowered her mug of tea. “I’ve had to deal with rogue Tractites before.”
Maesa’s eyes widened. “Really? They’re so peaceful , though. I can’t imagine any of them ever going rogue.” She clicked her tongue. “Now us humans, on the other hand…”
The Doctor smiled ruefully. “I know. I’ve dealt with rogue humans, too.”
“So are you some sort of, I don’t know, adjudicator?” Maesa asked.
“Not really,” the Doctor replied quickly. “Just an inveterate do-gooder. But right now what I need is some rest.”
She wasn’t going to tell Maesa anything else; she didn’t need another person angry or afraid or whatever emotion it was that Graham and Ryan and Yaz were feeling. Maesa was a new person, and a sweet person. The Doctor wasn’t about to frighten her off.
She wondered when Graham and the others would appear. If they appeared. To her surprise, she was almost hoping that they wouldn’t.