To celebrate the Doctor’s 49th birthday today, author and FTN writer Owen Quinn put his passion for the world’s most famous time-traveller into a short story that knits the past, present and future together. We all love it here and we hope you all will too.
FTN presents: Doctor Who: The Candle
The Doctor closed his eyes as the Tardis began its familiar materialisation procedure. He shut the wheezing, groaning crescendo from his senses, letting the temporal vibrations wash through him. He had heard her a million times before but had never taken the time to try and feel how she felt when the time machine slipped through the depth of the time vortex, choosing its destination and pushing though into a new reality like a newborn coming into the world. Ever since he’d met the Tardis’ soul in the body of Idris out there in House’s domain, the Doctor had seen her in a different light. At times, he could still see her out of the corner of his eye, flitting round the console room like a fairy at the bottom of a garden in that golden trial like a billion gold stars at the end of a rainbow.
He took his hands off the console and raised his bowed head in an instant as if he’d been electrocuted. He frowned as his eyes darted over the place as he seemed like a kid that had just been caught dipping his finger in the strawberry jam after he’d handled worms.
“We’ve never done that before. I’m so sorry, old girl,” he said out loud. “All these centuries and we’ve never been to the end of the rainbow.” His voice was tinged with disbelieving regret.
“Still, maybe that’s a good thing. Imagine what the leprechauns would say if we spilt their pot of gold. They’re such fussy people; I never had that trouble with the Oompa Loompas.” He shook away thoughts of complaining short people as he raced around the console, fingers dancing like seasoned ballerinas. No, he decided, holding his hands in the air. Let’s live a little. Bounding to the Tardis doors, the Doctor took a deep breath, wishing for a second that he had gone to pick up Amy and Rory. It seemed like an eternity since he’d seen either them or River Song but then, in the life of a Time Lord, it could well have been an eternity. A small grin played about his face. Timey, wimey, spacey, wacey… oh, I really need a new phrase.
A damp chill clamped to his skin the minute he stepped outside, the beginnings of a thin mist forming in the early autumn night air. He licked the mist and smacked his lips.
“Hmm, five fifteen in the afternoon, November 23rd 1963, not a bad year,” he muttered wishing he’d worn his Stetson and that super scarf he used to sport back in the day. Super scarves were cool, but now bowties were even cooler, he thought wryly, spinning slowly on his heel to look around. He made a mild cooing sound of delight as he saw the familiar sight of a hospital. There’s bound to be a shop he almost clapped and it would still be open. As thoughts of jelly babies and brandy balls swirled in his head, he began rifling through his pockets and found some pound coins. With an enthusiastic rub of his hands, he set off, doffing an imaginary hat to a passing ambulance. He stopped, briefly watching it disappear, wondering if they needed his help. Thoughts of Rory came to him, so he made a mental note to go collect them when he had his bag of sweets. He went to walk when a shape in the mist caught his eye. It looked like a Rutan. It seemed to twist and twirl upwards and it was then something caught his eye.
In the greying veiled world of fog he could see a solitary light above him. Despite the darkness and shrouding fog, the light seemed almost smeared like a jaundice smudge. It reminded the Doctor of a single child staring into the darkness pleading for help. The Doctor stood staring at it for a few seconds oblivious to everything else. It called to him, sending out waves that it was calling to him. He threw the silhouetted Tardis a withering look.
“You’ve done it again, sexy,” he chided sweetly. Drawn like the proverbial moth, the Doctor set off towards it.
When he discovered that not only was there no shop but his pound coins were useless, sometimes the time zones blurred into one for him, making him forget that each had their own particular means and protocols, he grumped. He worked out where the light he had seen was coming from and slipped through the warren corridors like a ghost on a mission. The Doctor waved his psychic paper to a ward sister who stood blocking his way like a Zygon in a Skaresen nursery. She gave him a Sil like glare but melted upon reading his paper.
“You seem very young for a Sir,” she purred uncertainly, grey eyes flicking from the paper to meet his. He gave her his most disarming smile.
“Appearances can be deceiving Matron but we are making huge bounds in the medical world,” he assured her. Leaning forward, he picked his paper from her hands and grinned. “And before you know it, we’ll even have a little shop at the front as you come in. Medicine is more than needles and popping pills after all. Think of all those patients lying bored senseless all day and dreaming of sucking on a strawberry bonbon.” He gave her a stern look.
“Matron Billings, it will change the face of medicine as we know it. Trust me, I’m the Doctor.” He took her hand and kissed the back of it gallantly with a playful wink. “Carry on matron.”
Blushing, she went on her way.
The Doctor made his way down the corridor, artificial lighting making his eyes hurt. He disliked artificial lights; it reminded him of the Capitol on Gallifrey. He was five floors up and he had worked out in ten seconds exactly where the light was coming from. He paused for a moment, calculating his approach through every possible obstacle or outcome. Even to the Time Lord brain, hospital corridors could seem like a maze, the monotony, the sterility, the sameness, all reasons that contributed to his leaving his homeworld. He rarely mentioned it these days. He never needed to. There were bigger issues now. He whipped out his sonic screwdriver, its familiar ping the only sound as he waved it like some great wizard weaving magic. Hospitals were places where even time was distorted. Minutes seemed like hours and days were robbed of their very names. Wards were battlegrounds that saw the strong fight to return to their own lives while others lost the struggle. The Doctor could feel death sliding along the walls like an oil slick seeking his next victim. He checked the shadows; not Vashta Nerada then. He was fresh out of chicken legs anyway. The Doctor then looked sideways to a blue door, the green from the tip of his sonic reflecting in his narrowed eyes. Flicking it off he pushed the door opened and strode in like he owned the place. An elderly woman of around seventy looked at him in puzzlement. He stood there beaming, sonic screwdriver hidden up his sleeve as eyes shot round the room. She stared at him, pulling her neck high nightie even tighter around her neck not knowing what to expect. There it was. The light source he had seen from the grounds; the reason the Tardis had brought him here.
“Hello, don’t mind me. Carry on what you were doing!” he said cheerfully as he moved cross the room towards the simple candle on the window sill. As deftly as the best magician on the planet, his sonic reappeared, whirring again as he waved it over the candle. It was about six inches high sitting on a small circular glass plate, caked with melted wax in little mountain ranges and emitting a waxy smell. He could see beads of condensation on the window catching the flickering yellow flame and casting its reflection across the glass like a hundred tiny candles straining at the night. He flicked his sonic again and took in the readings, frowning at the result. He turned when the old lady made an exaggerated clearing of her throat. She had white curly hair, piercing green eyes that reminded him of ones he had when he was in his sixth incarnation and a demanding look on her face that made him squirm.
“You’re not a Plasmavore then,” he muttered before slipping cross legged into the chair by her bed. He extended his hand and she took it awkwardly. “Hello, I’m the Doctor, you’re looking well, Mrs….” He dipped to the side to look at her chart. “Bush.” The name dropped from his mouth like a stone as he looked at her. She stared back expectantly. The Doctor stared at her, words locked in his throat.
“I knew it,” she croaked. “I knew you’d come in my last hours.” She reached a wrinkled hand for him and he moved forward to take it, more to reassure himself this was real and not some trick of an Eternal or the Celestial Toymaker. He continued to stare at her, unable to find the words.
“Did you regenerate without a tongue? But at least you don’t have to drink any carrot juice with that waistline,” she teased. He bowed his head, almost in shame.
“Hello Mel. I’m sorry, but how? It’s 1963.” He could still see the curly red haired computer genius that had travelled with his sixth incarnation with her hyer-personality and determination to get his rather ample waisted persona fit and healthy. Funny enough he had never drank carrot juice since. Then again, it would probably have taken a couple of weeks stranded in a jungle to shift the pounds in those days.
“They got you,” he said simply.
She nodded in answer, hiding the regret and sorrow of the decades. “It was after I left you. I got back to Earth and settled back into life, but one night I found myself being chased by a stone statue. At first I thought I was imaging things. It didn’t seem normal for the things that happened to us in the Tardis would ever follow me back home, but they did. I found myself alone back in the past. I had to survive on my own, using my skills without becoming obvious.”
“I’m so sorry Mel. I didn’t know. I checked on all my companions a couple of years back when things were not good with me and you were fine. I’m so sorry.”
She tried to hold back a vengeful glare. She pulled her hand away, “I thought you would come back and rescue me. There was no UNIT for me to call, but I did work for Winston during the Second World War. I was his favourite code cracker but could I get him to stop those cigars?” She laughed at the memory.
“And before you ask, I was there when he used those Daleks as a new weapon. He kept me a secret from you because of the timelines at my request. I assumed you had a good reason for not coming for me so I thought it best not to upset history.”
The Doctor leaned forward fixing her with his eyes: “You always were the clever one, at times more clever than me. The Angels consume their victim’s future lives so they have to live their remaining lives in the past. Not even the Tardis can bring them back. I am so sorry.”
“I knew it. I knew you wouldn’t just abandon me, but then again I felt like you did.”
“I never knew Mel. But then that’s me, I suppose. I check once and think that’s it. Everyone’s sorted; life after the Tardis is great. Were you happy?”
She waved away his concern breaking into a burst of excitable energy before suddenly deflating again. She pulled at her blanket, her emotions stirring.
“I made do,” she admitted, “no point in filling you full of waffle, not at my age. I resented you for not finding me. I was so tempted to grab you in Churchill’s war room and run back into the Tardis.” She fixed him with a stare filled with regret.
“I did meet someone but he was killed in the Blitz. I never had children. I always wanted children. There was a group called Torchwood who were set against you.”
“Well, I kept removing any talk or reports of you from any archives. Churchill agreed. It was better they knew as little about you as possible.”
“Thank you,” the Doctor muttered sincerely as he held her hand tightly.
“Watch the circulation Doctor; it’s not as good as it was. Not that I expect it to be at ninety six.”
“You’re ninety six!” he cried disbelievingly. “I’d swear you were late sixties at most.” Mel chuckled.
“I told you to drink carrot juice. We can’t all regenerate when the going gets tough.”
“But what did you mean ‘your last hours’?” he asked, tucking her blanket in just to do something as guilt overran him.
She patted his hand feeling how young it was beneath her wrinkled skin.
“The old ticker is on its way out. I won’t last til the morning, apparently,” she explained. “But that’s fine. You’re here to see me on my way.”
“Where there’s life…” The Doctor encouraged her.
“You were my life, Doctor. Even when you were gone and I fell foul for those bloody angels, you were still my life. I fought the good fight all the way in honour of you.”
He held her hand and brought it to his forehead. She could see him welling up, something that she never expected to see. She could hardly imagine her Doctor being so emotional.
“Tears, Doctor? The older you get, the softer you get,” she commented. “It seems that applies to Time Lords too.” She took her hand back and wiped a tear from his cheek with her thumb.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated.
“Stop apologising,” she chastised, giving him a slight slap on the arm. “The good times out-weighed the regret and resentment, believe me.”
A wave of fatigue came over her, making her lay back against her pillow. Concerned, the Doctor waved his sonic over her and checked the readings. Her breathing was becoming shallower and he fluffed her pillow, making her comfortable. Mel managed a smile at him.
“I can still see you in there no matter how many times you change your face, you know.”
“Only those I let into my hearts have ever said that. I never did thank you Mel for trying to help me. You were a calming force for me back then. Although I never really cared for all that exercise stuff; Time Lords aren’t made for it. There has never been a track suit on Gallifrey never mind a pair of shorts.” Her laughter made him smile.
“You have a beautiful eyes,” she sighed. “I never really noticed that before. They light up when you smile.”
“You were always beautiful. Even more beautiful than a Vervoid or the Rani, especially when she impersonated you.” He cocked his head as he rested his elbows on the edge of her bed. He was barely containing his emotion and hoped the guilt consuming him wasn’t evident.
“Why the candle?” he asked. “Is it religious?”
She blinked at him.
“No,” she said simply, “there’s a tradition that if you put a light in a window it will draw lost souls home once more. So I figured since I was lost, it would draw me to you one last time.”
“You lit it for me?” His voice almost cracked, but he held it together.
She asked for a sip of water which he gave her gratefully. With a smile, her old eyes glanced at the candle.
“It’s been lit for eleven days,” she admitted. “I had never given up, even when the doctors told me the bad news; although ninety six years can hardly be called a bad run. My will is set and everything has been arranged and paid for.”
“Ninety six; pretty good for a human,” the Doctor nodded. He settled in his chair. “It worked Mel. Your candle brought me to you in your hour of need. And I won’t leave your side, I promise.” She blinked back tears.
“Promise me one thing Doctor; promise me you’ll always fight things like the Angels. Fight the good fight, no matter who you lose or what comes to test you. Don’t let them take any more like me.”
“Easy words Mel, but I will try.” She gripped his hand tightly.
“No!” she snapped. “You’ll do it. You are so lucky to live life again and again but we get only one shot. You will never know how hard it was watching the Tardis disappear from Churchill’s chambers that night, but I resisted.” She bit her lower lip as she felt her life ebbing away. “You are the Doctor, you always will be. You give people like me hope. My time with you was all I had when the Angels took me so please don’t ever give up or look back. Continue the fight, not only in my name but for all the others who’ve travelled in that beautiful, big, blue magic box. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last but I’ll live on in the hearts of a Time Lord.”
He stroked her hair sadly, nodding, the words caught in his throat. She put a frail hand on his cheek where he held it to his skin as if trying to give her some of his regenerative energy.
“What more could I ask for Doctor? What more could I need?”
The Doctor nodded. “You will forever be here.” He touched the left hand side of his chest, “and here.” He touched the right.
“I will not leave until the last grains of the sands of your time run out.” He brushed a stray wisp of hair from her fringe drinking in every moment of her. “Now sleep Melanie Bush. Move on, knowing the candle worked and brought this lost soul back to you. And know I will forever be proud to have known you and to call you friend.”
He sat there not moving, struggling to fight the slow pass of time. Mel slept peacefully and he checked her over, knowing the end was near. When she took her final breath, he offered a Tibetan prayer for her soul and gently kissed her forehead. He stood, limbs stiff, and turned to the candle. He stared at the flame for a few seconds. He had never watched death like this, not up close and personal. He watched the morning dew run down the window and, like the morning, was weeping for his lost friend. He vowed to Mel that he would fight on, cutting the head of evil as it rose, no matter where it was and he would protect his friends with his life, even the ones he hadn’t met yet. The Doctor wiped tears from his eyes before using his thumb to extinguish the flame. He walked to the door before giving Mel one final look. He lifted the melted candle deciding he had a nice spot for it in the Tardis. He whispered goodbye before fetching the nurse.
He stood by the Tardis door. He ran his hand down her panel.
“Thank you old girl,” he muttered. His breath fogged on the dawn air. His looked back at her room five floors up and smiled. Time to honour her and make sure nothing like that ever happened again.
“Heads up Ponds,” he said. “Here we go again.”