Doctor Who: Once is Never Enough
By Leslie McMurtry
“School Reunion” has made it impossible ever to think of Sarah’s relationship to the Doctor in the same way, and while I’m certainly not harboring any feelings for Baker or Pertwee (!) Sarah was clearly very attached to her second Doctor. Watching “The Five Doctors” and realizing that, potentially, she had the chance to travel with him again, made me want to explore her thoughts (though I’m sure Terrance Dicks never intended the fluffy logic of “Five Doctors” to be pursued!). Plus I had read about Charley Pollard expecting to find the Doctor she loved (Eight) and finding Six instead, which seemed an interesting proposition.
The walls were the same. That faint electronic whirr of something not-quite technology, not-quite alive was so familiar. She’d been yearning for it with the marrow of her bones for years. The strangely calming roundels, almost as mindless as looking out into the sea, were there. She was breathing the same air. She blinked and pinched herself. It was real. Well, as real as anything concerning the Doctor ever was.
Running around on alien moorland, her heart thrumming as a sleek abomination left a Cyberman graveyard in its wake, a flash and flush of faces known and unknown, yet somehow deeply familiar-all of that had happened and she hadn’t had time to question or analyze it. She had been trying to survive, as she so often had with the Doctor. It had been a weariness of this very condition that had caused her to, in a huff she had instantly regretted, ask to be put down in Croydon. He hadn’t succeeded even in that, but she’d never given up hope that he would return.
And still, it wasn’t quite like she’d imagined it. She’d known this Doctor briefly, and they’d enjoyed themselves immensely. With him, she’d seen Peladon, traveled to the Middle Ages, been attacked by giant spiders and dinosaurs and Daleks-and he was wonderful. But when imagining his return, she’d always seen him after the regeneration. She didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but it wasn’t what she’d been wishing for all these years. Still!
“Now, Sarah, tell me where I’m to drop you off.”
She was prepared for this. “But what about Bessie, Doctor? Shouldn’t we go back and get her?”
His smile was kind, avuncular, a bit patronizing without meaning to be. “You mean to tell me your really want to go back into the Death Zone to get an automobile?”
Her smile was uncertain. “No, of course not.” She couldn’t tell him what she was expecting. “Doctor,” she said to change the subject, “I’ve been thinking about this, and I still can’t make heads or tails of it.”
She knew any excuse to explain something would galvanize him. She was right. He was pretending to be interested in the console but was looking at her out of the corner of his eye. “If you know me, and you know that I know about your next regeneration, but you’re still you-you and presumably this is taking place some time between when I met you and when you will regenerate-” He had his fists on his hips now, looking down at her in that faintly ridiculous plaid driving coat.
“Careful, Sarah, you don’t want to tell me too much about my future, even if it is your past.”
“Yes, I know, but-if it’s my past, how is it I don’t remember this?”
He lifted one snowy-white eyebrow. “Remember that I went off in the TARDIS by myself and lost Bessie?” She nodded slowly, counting on her fingers to make sure she was right in her own mind.
“Because I probably didn’t tell you.”
“Oh. I see.” She leaned against the wall, feeling suddenly a bit light-headed.
“Here, why don’t I get you a chair? You look a bit peaked.”
She let him fetch her a chair; she was too tired to protest. “I suppose K9 will have to look after himself,” she murmured.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to say anything.”
The Doctor looked doubtful. “My future, is it? All right, Sarah, I won’t ask.” Though he kept muttering to himself the words “K9” ruefully.
“Shall I make us some tea?” she asked.
He grinned; his blue eyes gleamed. “You? Make tea? I thought you were against such sexist practices.”
“Hey, it’s not sexist! If I make it for a friend, and I’m not ordered to do so.”
“Yes, all right. You remember the way to the kitchen?”
“Then don’t be too long. You’ve still got to tell me the year.”
She’d thought she could have hid out a little longer in the kitchen. It was boiling the hot water and being unable to find the pot that she’d burnt herself and realized that smoothing the ribbon of time, not complicating it with her own selfish desires, was her task and not the Doctor’s.
“You did realize, didn’t you, that I wanted some tea?” Then he saw that she was sitting on the kitchen floor. She wiped her tears away quickly enough, but she thought he saw them anyway. “Oh, Sarah. What’s the matter?”
“I was going to find some way to stay on board, you know,” she said, moving past him to where the hot water was still boiling in the kettle. “I was going to find some way to trick you. I would have hid out in the wardrobe room if I’d had to. You’d have had to drag me out!”
“I’d never have forced you to leave, you know that!” His brow creased. She’d seen that so many times. Scrutinizing plots, devising schemes, worried over the underdogs of the universe. So many times. And another brow, his too, just... different...
“You did! You will. Oh, never mind.”
“I see,” he said slowly.
“I knew you’d say that, but I wouldn’t have cared,” she said. “I have a job, I have a house, I have a life now. A life without you.”
“Well, that’s just fine,” said the Doctor.
“No, it isn’t. It’s not what I want.” Their eyes met. “And why not travel the universe again, this time with you? We did great the first time, didn’t we?”
“Yes, we did,” he said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “And we still are. The younger version of you, I mean.”
She nodded. “Yes. And you’ve got to go back there. To the old Sarah Jane Smith, and UNIT. Otherwise everything that happens-”
He turned around, a wave of plaid material. “Oh, I see, old girl.” She bit back a laugh; only Harry had dared to say something that ludicrous in a long time.
“So you’ve got to go, and I’ve got to wait. Even though it’s breaking my heart.”
He gently put a hand on her shoulder. She smiled faintly. He was trying. He was trying to fathom how she felt. That was the trouble with the Doctor, most of the time. He didn’t understand what it was to be human. Sometimes that was awe-inspiring and fascinating. But mostly it had made her feel small and alone. But this time, he did seem to have an inkling. Well, for his sake, she’d try to be cheerful. She was good at pretending.
“Oh, I’m not saying I wouldn’t have liked to have seen ‘old’ Sarah,” she laughed. “Could have given her some fashion advice. Where to put her money in the stock market. Which of her stories were going to get panned. Sarah in 1983.”
“We’ve still got time for a cup of tea, though,” said the Doctor seriously, though he managed a faint smile.
“No, I don’t think that’s wise,” she said.
“Come along now,” said the Doctor. “I learned to brew tea from Richard Twining himself.” Sarah laughed, despite herself. Which of those faces she had just seen had been there in eighteenth-century London? The forbidding old man? The little fellow, so irascible? The young one?
“How did you know about...” she struggled, knowing to say it would be something of an injustice, “ ‘teeth and curls’? Can you see your own future? And how do your old selves not remember what happened in their past and future at the same time? Does it cancel itself out?”
The Doctor laughed. “I can’t answer your questions in a way that you’ll understand.”
“Oh! We’re through being sexist but not being patronizing!”
“Don’t get angry. It’s infernally complex-”
“Don’t bother, then,” she snapped. He was silent until he tried to hand her a cup of tea. “No, I don’t want the tea. Let’s just hurry up and get this over with! I can’t bear to say goodbye again!”
“Let’s just say,” he said, his voice low, “there are certain echoes, or premonitions you might call them, that Time Lords can sometimes perceive, of their future selves.” She was listening, absently taking the tea. “If one cares to look. It’s exceedingly dangerous to do more than glimpse.”
She managed one sip of tea. “I’m sure it is. But-”
“Sarah, I know what you wanted to say to me-the next me. Or want to say to the next me.”
She put down the tea. “You do?” She tried to be level, calm.
“Yes. Yes, well, to it all.”
She took a breath to say something and fainted quite gracefully. The Doctor managed to catch her before she knocked her head on the side of the counter. He gently moved her to an armchair in the kitchen. She was in and out of consciousness.
“The tea... you did something... to it...”
“It’s for the best. I can’t say I’ll ever forgive myself for this. I know what it is to have your memories erased against your will.”
Sarah faded from consciousness and slept on the armchair. The Doctor patted her hand. “Leaving one Sarah, only to leave her again someday. No, I’ll never forgive myself for that either.”