3. A Chance to Reconnect
This story is for The Classics Are Ace whose request was: The 4th Doctor meets his former companion Jo Jones and discusses with her what happened with the crystal he’s got from Metebelis III.
She paused at the main gate of U.N.I.T Headquarters and wondered for maybe the hundredth time if she wasn’t going to regret this little escapade. She had seen an opportunity to visit her friends and former colleagues when her husband had been invited to give a series of lectures in the vicinity. She had been counting the days, looking forward to this impromptu reunion with all those wonderful people she had worked with. As she was about to enter the premises, she felt a bit unsecure. The guard took the decision for her when he opened the door and motioned her to enter. She took a deep breath and stepped in. Despite the fact that she hadn’t been around for a long time, she still managed to find her way in the building. She stopped in front of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s office and knocked on the door. A familiar and authoritative voice ordered her to enter. The man hadn’t changed a bit. He was sitting at his desk, barking orders on the phone. He certainly meant business. He seemed briefly surprised to see her, but it was only when he hung up that his face lightened a little.
“How are you Miss Grant? I mean, Misses Jones?”
He got up and shook her hand, before inviting her to sit on one of the chairs in front of his desk. Jo felt a bit disappointed. She had hoped for a less formal meeting. Lethbridge-Stewart had been in the military too long and had forgotten how to be natural.
“I’m fine, thank you,” she replied.
The Brigadier asked her about her life, her work as a humanitarian and her travels. She spoke freely, sharing anecdotes and stories while her former boss listened politely, obviously amused by the fact that she was still the same go-ahead person she used to be when she worked for U.N.I.T.
“And you? How are you doing?” She finally asked.
The reply was as disappointing as the welcome. The man couldn’t speak openly. She was no longer a member of the staff, therefore she wasn’t supposed to know about U.N.I.T’s missions and projects.
“At least, can you tell me how is the Doctor? Is he still around?”
A shadow crossed the Brigadier’s face and Jo suddenly feared the answer to her questions. She still recalled vividly the last time she had seen him. The mixture of pride and sadness in him had moved her. That evening, when she was celebrating her engagement, he had stepped out of her life and she had feared that he had gone away for good, leaving Earth with his TARDIS.
“Yes, he is still around, sometimes. When it suits him,” finally said Lethbridge-Stewart. “You know how he is. Since his machine is fixed, he comes and goes. We don’t see him for weeks sometimes.”
The soldier noticed Jo’s anxious look and immediately reassured her:
“Yes, he is presently here. You may find him in his laboratory. I’ll ask Sergeant Benton to escort you down there.”
The former U.N.I.T member was about to protest, but she remembered that she was no longer part of the family and the rules were clear: no stranger was allowed to wander alone in the building. At least, she would get an opportunity to see a friendly face. And indeed, Benton looked very happy to see her. Unlike the Brigadier, he welcomed her warmly and chatted on their way to the laboratory, sharing general news about her former colleagues as well as a few harmless anecdotes.
They were approaching the laboratory and Jo noticed that her companion had slowed down.
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
She wasn’t worried yet, she just felt uncomfortable.
“Nothing is wrong, not really,” clumsily explained the sergeant. “It’s simply that…”
He stopped to face her.
“I really don’t know how to tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“Maybe you should see by yourself.”
His hesitation was driving Jo crazy. As he was about to resume walking, she grabbed his arm firmly and forced him to confront him.
“You better tell me now. I know that something isn’t right. The Brigadier acted strangely too when I mentioned the Doctor. So now is your chance to tell me exactly what is going on.”
Benton sighed heavily:
“Alright. The Doctor. He is not the one you knew. He is…changed.”
Her companion pulled a face and pointed towards the laboratory:
“You really should see by yourself.”
As they walked the few meters that separated them from the laboratory, Jo did her best to mentally prepare herself to anything. All sorts of scenarios went through her mind. Maybe one of his experiments had gone wrong and the Doctor had been horribly disfigured. Maybe he had decided to change his wardrobe and had cut his beautiful hair. When Benton knocked at the door, a deep voice shouted “Enter!”. Jo’s first thought was that the Doctor’s new assistant had quite a nice voice. Both the sergeant and she entered. The woman’s eyes fell on the TARDIS still parked at her usual place. The familiar sight brought a smile on Jo’s face. Then she saw a tall and thin man starring at her. He looked totally out of place in the environment, mostly because of his strange choice of clothes. He had an agreeable face however, brown curly hair and his eyes betrayed an acute intelligence.
“Who are you?” Asked Jo. “Where is the Doctor?”
“Jo, he is the Doctor,” Benton said gently.
He felt sorry for his former colleague when he saw the expression of shock on her features. The scientific advisor didn’t seem otherwise moved by her reaction. Instead, he smiled broadly and took a paper bag from his pocket:
“Care for a jelly baby?” He offered.
There was something touching about the way the Doctor behaved. He seemed unable to decide how to deal with his visitor who looked like she was about to start crying. She managed to get hold of herself and took a few steps towards the Doctor who was still smiling. She placed a hand on his cheek and whispered:
“Is it you? Is it really you?”
“Oh course it’s me!”
The Time Lord gently took the woman’s hand away.
“It’s Jo, right? Jo Grant, my assistant.”
“Your former assistant. And it’s Jo Jones now.”
She read confusion in the Doctor’s eyes and she went on:
“I married Clifford Jones, remember? And I quit U.N.I.T. We travelled to the Amazon.”
“And you returned me the blue crystal from Metebelis III…” Said dreamingly the Time Lord.
Benton realised that the conversation was about to take a very personal turn and that his presence wasn’t required anymore. He motioned Jo to give him a call when she would be ready to leave and he silently left the laboratory.
“What happened, Doctor?” Asked the scientific advisor’s former assistant.
“Oh, nothing very important. Did you know that it was really a silly mistake to steal the crystal in the first place? It always comes back to you eventually! That’s a lesson I should try to remember.”
Jo realised that the Doctor seemed to focus on the blue crystal. She remembered the warnings of the locals when they had first set their eyes on the blue stone. She had been scared which enough to return the crystal to the man who had offered it to her in the first place. She tried to remember what she wrote in her letter. She had explained the reason why she was forced to part with it, because she felt that she should be apologising to the Doctor. The crystal had been a testimony of the happiest time in her life, one that was strangely tainted with sadness at the same time.
“What happened, Doctor?” She insisted.
The Time Lord winced in pain and Jo realised that his efforts to remember were causing him a great distress. She looked around and saw two chairs against the wall. She quickly fetched them and they both sat, facing each other.
He starred at her. Confusion could be read again on his face. Just as she was about to speak, something jumped on the Time Lord’s lap and Jo startled violently. Next thing she knew she was laughing nervously. A Chartreux cat was now resting on the Doctor, his golden eyes fixed on her. There was something quite disturbing about the way he looked at her and she got the feeling that the pet was very protective about the scientific advisor.
“Since when do you have a cat?”
“Oh, meet Eccleston. I found him a long time ago.”
Puzzled, Jo wondered what he meant by “a long time ago”. Her Doctor never had any pet…
“Metebelis III was my mistake,” the Time Lord suddenly said. “And I had to fix it.”
“Your mistake?” Repeated Jo. “I don’t understand.”
The scientific advisor sent her a warm smile. Suddenly he seemed quite himself again.
“I’m sorry if I’m confusing you. Let me explain properly. Giant spiders came on Earth to retrieve the blue crystal I had stolen on Metebelis III long before they crashed.”
“What? Who crashed? And where did those giant spiders come from? I don’t follow, Doctor!”
“Oh my, I forgot how patient I had to be with you. Some things never change, do they?”
Jo wasn’t entirely sure whether he meant this as a token to his affection for her or if he was insulting her. She decided to ignore his comment and tried hard to make sense of what he had said before.
“Let me get it straight. You stole the blue crystal and some giant spiders from Metebelis III followed you on Earth to retrieve it.”
The Doctor made a strange face but nodded:
“Yes, that’s more or less accurate. Now, I had to go back to Metebelis III to…”
“…defeat the giant spiders!” Finished Jo. “See? I got it!”
The Time Lord looked down at the cat and started petting him. Silence fell on the laboratory and Jo wondered once again if coming here had been a good idea. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something had happened and that she was in part responsible. Furthermore, the Doctor seemed distant and it hurt. She recalled her time with “her” scientific advisor and a feeling of nostalgia overwhelmed her.
“I have missed you,” she finally said. “Life with Clifford is exciting and he is a lovely man, but he is not you.”
As soon as she spoke the words, she realised how stupid she sounded. The Doctor had changed and she found it very hard to acknowledge the fact that he was the same person only in a different body. She decided that it was best for her to leave. She felt out of place. Even the cat seemed more at ease than her in the laboratory. She got up and the Time Lord raised his head, a quizzical look on his face.
“Regeneration is a tricky business. It’s not easy to adjust to the change.”
Jo sat back.
“I don’t understand. What happened to you? Why did you change?”
“In order to defeat the giant spider as you named it, I had to go in her lair. My previous body couldn’t stand the radiation levels. You might say that I died of radiation poisoning.”
“But, if you died, then…”
The scientific advisor winked.
“I’m a Time Lord. We regenerate in a new body. Call it the secret of our extended lifespan. But trust my word on this, it’s not as easy as it sounds. We usually experience confusion, dizziness, sometimes even memory losses. For instance, I don’t remember how Eccleston got back here. I know that he is my cat, at least that’s what he claims…”
“And this doesn’t bother you?” Asked his former assistant. “I know that I would hate the feeling.”
The big smile was back. One thing was sure, this Doctor seemed a lot more cheerfull than his previous self.
“I didn’t say that I liked it, I still need to find my balance, so to speak. Your visit triggered some old memories and I need to sort them out, put them in the right order, preferably chronologically.”
Jo couldn’t help it but started laughing.
“I am so glad that I dropped by. I’m glad that I met the new you.”
“Well, you know, there is still room for you on the TARDIS if you miss your old life. The old girl is still in working order.”
The cat didn’t seem to like what he heard. He jumped down and walked towards the time machine, much to Jo’s amazement. He then disappeared inside.
“Of course, Eccleston might be a bit difficult at first. He is very picky when it comes to assistants and he likes being consulted beforehand, hence his reaction right now. He probably didn’t like the fact that I invited you without consulting him.”
“Oh, I see,” smiled Jo. “It’s okay. I’m afraid I have to decline the invitation anyway. I’m really touched, but Clifford might not be very happy to loose his assistant and wife you see.”
“Of course, I’m sorry, I was being selfish again.”
“It’s quite alright. I better get going. We are running on a tight schedule.”
She got up and reached for the phone. She still remembered Benton’s extension number and she was glad when he picked up instantly.
“Would you mind coming down and escort me back to the main gate?”
Jo was grateful to the sergeant who showed up in less than five minutes. She was standing near the door while the Doctor remained sitted. An awkward silence had filled the room.
For the faintest of moments, the Time Lord sounded like the one she had been used to, up to the way he looked at her. There was kindness in his eyes.
Jo followed Benton into the corridor and they walked in silence until the sergeant couldn’t bear it anymore.
“You don’t look very happy…”
“I’m sorry,” Jo sighed. “It’s just that I didn’t expect him to be so different.”
“He is not that different, you know. A bit sillier, maybe, but one gets used to it.”
That was just the thing. Jo wasn’t part of U.N.I.T anymore, there was no chance she could get used to the change. She didn’t even find him silly. To her, he looked like a confused man struggling to fit in a new environment.
As they were about to reach the main door, they saw a young woman enter the building. She smiled at Benton when she walked past them and he smiled back. She seemed a bit in a hurry and Jo wondered who she might be. She was not wearing the mandatory U.N.I.T uniform and she wasn’t behaving like a soldier. She also didn’t look like a member of the administrative staff.
“That was Sarah Jane Smith, the Doctor’s assistant. She is a journalist,” explained Benton. “And a fine one with that.”
“Oh, I see.”
Jo suddenly wished that she hadn’t come. It had been definitively a bad idea.
“Did you ever see her again?”
“Your former assistant, Jo.”
The Doctor nodded.
“Yes. Years later I got a chance to see her again. She has led a very interesting life, you know. One could even say that she fulfilled her dreams.”
I glanced at the Doctor. He looked nostalgic. He was probably thinking about Jo, how time had passed for her without him.
“I know that they always leave me. She chose Clifford and I was proud that she followed such a brilliant mind. But I don’t like goodbyes and I didn’t know how to react when she dropped by. I think that I drove her away. I wasn’t ready for that discussion.”
And you still aren’t, I thought for myself.
For the first time since I knew the Doctor, I realised that the most unstable person in the galaxy, the perpetual traveller, was desperately looking for a form of stability in his life.
My eyes fell on Eccleston. I briefly got the feeling that the cat was smiling. There it was; the stable element in the Doctor’s unstable life. I smiled too and petted the Time Lord’s furry companion who purred in answer.