Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who. This story is set a few days after the events in Orphan 55. The TARDIS is back on Earth for a short period before the next adventure.
Author’s note: Okay this is not likely to go anywhere, but I consider this story a starting point for a new adventure leading to one of two possible masterminds behind the orphan planets that have been blamed on their population: the Time Lords or something a little bigger.

The Real Issue

The TARDIS was a complex machine. Large, advanced technology with engines that stretched for miles and a power core that in its current configuration resembled a trapped supernova. Technicians spent months working on such machines to keep them in working order and that was just for routine maintenance issues. Regular longer distance services could take decades to complete and required a complete strip down and rebuild of most of the craft’s components.

So naturally when she was well aware that the first step in the servicing of a TARDIS was to empty every room and then switch off the circuits that allowed it to be bigger on the inside, the Doctor had opted instead to treat like a human would treat an automobile in need of an oil change. It was the sort of make do engineering that likely ensured that none of her planet’s technicians would have the slightest idea where to start with an approved service; some parts had been so heavily modifies that eve the Doctor was not aware of how they continued to work.

It was during one of these unorthodox overhauls of the left side landing coupling, which involved the delicate application of a hammer to a small crystal, that Graham walked in.

Her three companions had been a little quiet since their return from Orphan 55. If she were honest with herself the Doctor realised that was likely her fault. She had launched into a rant about how the planet they had visited could have been Earth. She had pointed out the likely path that had led to the devastated and lifeless world. She had pressed to them that the decisions made in their own time could have been the starting point that led to the world’s decision. And her words had hit home a little harder than she would have wanted.

“You okay there Doc?” Graham asked as he walked in, taking in the work that she had been doing.

During his time travelling with the Doctor, Graham had found he could assess her mood by the sort of work she was doing. Heavy violence with small breakable objects meant that she was thinking about something.

“How are they?” she asked, referring to Yaz and Ryan.

All three companions had been taken aback by her speech, but the younger travellers had taken things a lot more to heart. She hadn’t seen them for a couple of days after an awkward return to Earth.

“Yaz is catching up with paperwork,” Graham replied, watching as the hammer struck the crystal again. “Shouldn’t that break?”

“Vesuvium Tear Crystal,” the Doctor replied, delivering another sharp blow. “Formed in the heart of a dwarf star and then dropped into the core of an ice planet… cosmic Prince Rupert Drop I guess you could say. As long as you stay away from the tail it’s almost unbreakable.”

“And if you hit the tail?”

“Oh you end up shattering the structure and unleashing all the solar radiation trapped in side, likely vaporise a few star systems in the process.”

“Right, don’t break the tail,” Graham confirmed.

There was a short silence as the Doctor studied where to place the next hammer blow. For such a brutal operation it required a great deal of thought and consideration.

“I came on a little too strong, didn’t I?” the Doctor asked after a while.

“Full Sermon on the Mount, Doc,” Graham replied. “Really channelled your inner Thunberg.”

“Right, bit strong,” she agreed. There was another pause as she brought the hammer down hard before smelling as it lit up. “Thing is though, it got me thinking. I knew there were orphan planets out there. They’ve been around for centuries and I was always told that that was how they came about. Never really thought twice about it to be honest. But Orphan 55… that was Earth. I know Earth, I keep some of my stuff here. I’ve seen where Earth goes and what happens to it. Ending up as Orphan 55 wasn’t what I expected.”

“Yeah about that Doc,” Graham said. “Cause you told us that was one possible future and we were wondering, does us knowing about it change what happens?”

The Doctor did not reply immediately. She needed to be as honest as possible without hiding the truth.

“Everything dies eventually Graham. People, planets… even this big old universe has a time when it will fade… although that changed too for a while. Point is that one day the Earth will die, nothing can change that. Nothing lives forever. But the when and the how, well those are things that can be influenced and perhaps knowing is half the battle.”

“Right,” Graham said, sort of understanding.

“Look, time is a funny thing,” the Doctor continued. “You have your fixed points sticking up above the water line that absolutely cannot be changed. End of the world with a piece of tape stretched across a finish line. Cross the line and that event is done. But then you have the rest of time, rough currents, gentle rivers, the occasional calm lake with the surprise whirlpool in the centre. You might find a few foot holds just beneath the surface to guide you on the way, but ultimately how you reach that finish line and how long it takes you… sprinter or marathon running in a diving bell?”

She closed the lid on the crystal.

“I’ve seen the end of the Earth,” she admitted. “I watched as the planet was destroyed after a long life. The humans and other life on the planet had long since spread their space wings and the world just passed into the night with a final bang.” She smiled fondly. “Tough old thing the Earth. Do you know it has been moved through space multiple times and been towed by an obsolete TARDIS? And it survived all that. It’s been bombed, drilled, invaded and used as a galactic dumping ground, and still held in there.”

“So why does Orphan 55 have you so upset?” Graham asked. “Cause I can see it bothered you.”

“Fifty Five,” was the response. “All this time I’ve known about orphan planets and how they came about. I never questioned it, they were just a passing topic in Galactic History class. That was Orphan 55. I never thought about how many there were out there or where they were… Look!”

She pulled round the monitor so that Graham could see a map of the stars. Orphan 55 was highlighted with glowing red text. Around it were other worlds labelled orphans.

“One world on its own driven to the brink of extinction, yeah I can accept that. But you humans are not stupid enough to ignore the signs. If somebody saw a nearby world do that to itself, do you think they wouldn’t ask why and take steps to prevent it?”

And there it was, the problem that had been bothering her since they had returned to Earth. Oh she had given them the speech and in all likelihood had given Yaz and especially Ryan a lot to think about. But afterwards when left on her own she had thought about Orphan 55 and the worlds around it that had also become orphan planets. There were hundreds of them, spreading out across the stars, all within travelling distance by the time of their eventual demise. So what had really happened and why had she been taught something that barely stood up to scrutiny?

“Sounds like you have a bit of a mystery there Doc,” Graham commented.

“Oh I’ll solve it, don’t you worry,” the Doctor promised.

And when she did she wondered if she regret not just accepting what she had been told.

“Still as holidays go, I think we should have gone to Butlins,” Graham confided, forgetting that the whole thing had started because of his free tickets. “You know, stick to some holiday camp on Earth.”

“That didn’t work out so well last time,” the Doctor answered. Come to think of it she couldn’t remember the last time she had attempted to take a holiday and it had worked out well.

“Oh, tell me more,” Graham insisted, earning a chuckle from the Doctor.

There would be time to investigate later, for now the opportunity for a diversion was just too tempting/

“Well there was this one time I decided to visit a carnival…”

End


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