4. The Daleks Strike Back
This story is for RassilonsEyebrows whose request was: The 4th Doctor and Romana II encounter some Daleks.
“For the last time, let me check those settings! I tell you that something is wrong!”
Romana was standing on the other side of the console. The Doctor was fumbling with the controls, obviously ignoring her. The series of malfunctions that had plagued the TARDIS for the last hour or so was worrying to say the least but the scientist had been as stubborn as usual. His companion’s patience was starting to wear thin.
“It’s nothing, the old girl is tired, that’s all. She deserves a holiday like the rest of us,” was the Doctor’s comment on their situation.
When the power loss occurred, Romana insisted once again to check the instruments and once again, the Doctor ignored her.
“K9, please check all systems,” she finally ordered, taking it up on herself to fix the problem.
The robotic dog approached the console but stopped when the Doctor’s deep voice cancelled the order.
“Oh come on, Doctor!”
There was anger in his companion’s voice and he found it wiser to give up.
“Alright, alright. K9, carry on Romana’s orders.”
The buzzing sound of the dog’s antenna was the only noise that filled the TARDIS except for the gentle humming signalling that the time machine was flying. The Doctor sat on a chair nearby and waited. Romana saw his crooked grin and silently hoped that K9 would confirm her theory, just for the sake of being right.
“Minor malfunctions in multiple areas. Cause unknown. Suggest repairs as soon as possible.”
The Doctor jumped on his feet and danced to the console:
“See? I told you. Nothing to worry about!”
His companion shot an angry look at the dog:
“Traitor,” she said through gritted teeth.
Then she realised that the Doctor wasn’t gloating as she expected him to. In fact, he almost looked worried and Romana’s first thought was that he was imitating her, thus mocking her.
“You made your point, Doctor. You were right and I was wrong. No need to make a fuss about it,” she commented rather coldly.
The scientist looked up:
“What? No, I’m sorry, you were right and I was wrong.”
At first, she couldn’t believe her ears; but he was very serious, she could feel it. His tone, the way he checked the readings, everything screamed for imminent catastrophe.
“K9, check the systems again,” she ordered urgently.
Romana noticed that more and more lights were flickering on the panel.
“Minor malfunctions in multiple areas. Cause unknown. Suggest repairs as soon as possible.”
“It can’t be! Everything is breaking down, there must be a reason! Doctor?”
She hoped that he would have a theory. After all, it was his time machine. After centuries of travelling with her, he should know her by heart and yet it always seemed like he didn’t know how to operate it properly.
“I don’t understand,” grunted the scientist. “It should be working. Let’s try the Earth method.”
And with that, he slammed his hand against the console. The result was obviously not the one he had expected. More lights started to flicker and Romana rolled her eyes.
“A proven scientific method I presume?”
The Doctor smiled broadly:
“Indeed! And by the way, it seems like we have landed!”
His companion glanced suspiciously at the central column. For all she knew it could be another fault. She then operated the scanner and discovered that they had landed alright. The TARDIS had materialised on a rather inhospitable land. A dead forest by the look of it.
“Do we still have access to the radiation and oxygen readings?” She asked.
“All perfectly normal,” announced the scientist. “We can go and have a look around.”
Romana couldn’t help but grin at the Doctor’s twisted sense of priorities. No wonder the TARDIS was breaking down. He obviously didn’t care for basic maintenance.
“One of those days, you’ll be stranded on a boring planet with a non functional TARDIS if you keep being that careless.”
He looked amused and she suddenly realised how silly her comment must have sounded. What she just prophesised had already happened to him. He had been exiled on Earth by his own people with no means of operating the TARDIS.
“K9, you stay here. Try to fix as many faults as you can.”
The Doctor opened the doors and walked out of the TARDIS, followed by Romana.
The surroundings were depressing. What had been obviously a green forest full of life was now a petrified and gloomy setting. No sound could be heard, no wind was blowing. An eerie silence enveloped everything and Romana shivered. She had a very bad feeling about the place.
The Doctor was his usual self. He walked around, checking here and there to determine what had been the cause of the nature’s decay.
“It’s quite odd,” he finally said. “I think that I came here once. If only I could remember when it was.”
“Or where we are,” suggested his companion.
“That too. Let’s have a proper look around. Maybe it will come back to me.”
It did come back to him eventually; but when it did, it was far too late. Romana should never forget the horrified look on his face when they saw the city. In fact, it scared the wits out of her.
“Oh my, not again…”
The Doctor had turned pale. He firmly grabbed her arm and dragged her back towards the petrified forest, towards the TARDIS.
“Let’s go, we can’t stay here.”
His harsh tone convinced her not to argue. She didn’t even ask for an explanation. Soon she realised that she didn’t need to. Not after the Daleks surrounded them.
“Oh no, not again,” she moaned.
She felt the Doctor reach for her hand. He gently squeezed it as if to comfort her. It was pointless. The fright of her first encounter with the Daleks was still imprinted on her mind. She was terrified.
“Do not move. You are our prisoners. Do not move.”
It didn’t take long for the scientist to realise that those Daleks were not the ones he encountered on his first visit on Skaro. They had evolved and were now about to move outside the town, a bad news for the Thals if they were still around.
“What are we going to do?” Whispered Romana in the Doctor’s ear.
He didn’t reply. He was focusing on the petrified vegetation behind the Daleks. His companion looked in the same direction with close attention. There, in the dead bushes, she could see the faintest of movements. Something or someone was watching them.
“Alright,” suddenly said the Doctor in a cheerful way. “You caught me. Now what?”
“You are the Doctor. You are the enemy of the Daleks. You shall be exterminated.”
“Right… So what are you waiting for?”
Romana couldn’t believe her ears. Did he have a death wish? She realised that he was gently pushing her on the side. She was tempted to get closer to him, but then she picked that movement in the dead vegetation again. Whoever or whatever was hidden there was getting closer and the Doctor was cautiously pushing her in that direction.
“You will follow us.”
The Daleks started to move in formation. This was the opportunity the Doctor was waiting. He hurriedly whispered to Romana “Trust the Thals” before seizing her and throwing her unceremoniously into the petrified vegetation. She didn’t even have time to scream. The Doctor’s unexpected gesture confused the Daleks long enough for Romana to get into relative safety. As soon as she landed on the ground, someone grabbed her and dragged her away from her position. Seconds later a laser beam hit the dead vegetation where she had landed in the first place. Her saviour, a blond man, put a finger on his lips and motioned her to follow him. They crawled away, out of danger, but still in range to see what was happening.
“The girl is unimportant. We have the Doctor. He shall be exterminated.”
The Daleks start moving, forcing their prisoner to walk in front of them. The scientist looked one last time over his shoulder and Romana saw that he was smiling.
“Your friend is very brave. He gave his life to save yours,” said the blond man. “I’m sorry that you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.”
The Time Lady shook her head:
“Knowing him, he’s a got a plan. He always gets himself into trouble, that’s his thing. The Daleks and him have quite a history together. He will think of something. Are you one of those Thals he told me about?”
Her companion starred at her quizzically.
“He knows about us? How?”
“I think that he encountered some of your people during his travels…” replied evasively Romana.
The Thal didn’t seem entirely convinced by her explanation, but didn’t contradict her.
“Come now, we should go back to my camp. You need the anti-radiation drug.”
Romana froze as memories.
“Are we on Skaro?” She asked.
The blond man nodded: “Yes.”
“And it’s already been irradiated.”
“Yes. Everything died. Look at the forest. It wasn’t like this before the war started.”
But the forest wasn’t Romana’s main concern.
“The Doctor…” She said weakly.
“I’m sorry. Even if the Daleks don’t kill him, the radiation levels will soon. There is nothing we can do for him.”
The Thal seemed genuinely sorry for her.
“We really should ger going before the radiations affect you,” he went on.
He started walking and Romana followed mechanically, her mind elsewhere.
The Doctor’s first assumption that the Daleks would escort him to the city proved right. As soon as they reached the first buildings, the scientist recognised his surroundings and memories came back to him.
“It’s been a long time since I went here. Things haven’t changed a bit,” he noted casually.
“How long since you were there? Oh but let me guess, it’s your first time, right? I can tell that you are not from this period of time. How did you get here?”
“Silence. You will obey.”
The Daleks pushed their prisoner and led him through a net of corridors until they reached the main control room.
“Fascinating,” reacted the Doctor when all Daleks were together.
The past was meeting the future. Two versions of the Daleks were represented. They had apparently managed to work together without any trouble, following the Dalek logic that to achieve their goal they had to be as efficient as possible, therefore forging an alliance with themselves. It was clear that a paradox was currently happening.
“Do you realise what you’re doing? Your future selves are going to erase you!” Warned the Doctor to the primitive version of the Daleks.
“We shall conquer. Sacrifices are necessary,” replied the original Dalek.
Nothing surprising here.
“You’re willing to rewrite history? That’s very dangerous. It requires a certain touch…”
“We are rewriting a chapter of Dalek history,” said the Dalek from the future. “We must exterminate the Doctor and erase him from Dalek history. He shall not interfere in our future.”
The scientist just sneered. He was starting to feel increasingly tired. He searched his pockets hoping to find some anti-radiation pills. Sadly he had forgotten them in the TARDIS.
“The radiation effects are starting to show up,” announced the original Dalek. “It should not take long now.”
“I’m sorry, I’m still here and I can hear you. You wouldn’t keep some spare anti-radiation drugs around any chance?”
He passed a hand on his forehead, confirming that he was running a fever. The Dalek was right, the first symptoms of radiation poisoning had started to show up.
“So what is your mastermind plan? And where is my friend Davros by the way?”
The Doctor forced himself to sound cheerful. He had a feeling that Davros was watching everything. There was no chance the Time Lord would show any weaknesses. He couldn’t afford it. His pride was at stake.
“Davros has sent us in the past to deal with you. We shall not fail.”
The flaw in the Daleks’ plan suddenly appeared to the Doctor.
“Oh, how stupid of you,” he whispered.
The Daleks had planned to rewrite their first encounter with him. Only they didn’t expect anything to go wrong, but he was, in his fourth regeneration and his enemies had no idea that they were experiencing a case of mistaken identity. All he needed was to get rid of the Daleks from the future to prevent them from sharing their technology with their ancestors.
“Tell me, how many of you are there? I didn’t see your ship, it must be quite small.”
“There are three of us. It is enough to carry out our mission.”
The Doctor was about to react when his legs suddenly gave way beneath him and he collapsed. He was feeling exhausted and his body ached. He heard one Dalek order him to stand up and he struggled to obey. He was escorted to a cell, not unlike the one he had been imprisoned in centuries ago. He let himself fall on a stone bench and got rid of his hat, his scarf and his coat. He then rested his back against the wall, trying to ignore the disturbing feeling of déjà vu. He was having difficulties to breath. He fumbled in his jacket pocket and took hold of his sonic screwdriver. If he could escape his cell, maybe he could make it out to the TARDIS. He closed his eyes as a silent laugh came out of his dry lips. There was no way he could escape; he didn’t have the strength to get up, let alone to walk. His last thought before he blacked out was for Romana.
The Thals’ settlement was primitive but functional. Romana’s guide, Antonus, introduced her to his leader who listened to their story with great attention. The news of Daleks travelling out of the city provoked quite a shock amongst the Thals who explained that their enemies had been confined to the city until now.
“They don’t have the technology,” insisted the leader, Emmonus.
The information given by the Thals combined with what she had been witnessing convinced the Time Lady that the Daleks had managed to go back in their own past and were decided to change the curse of their history. Something told her that the Doctor had a part in it and she regretted that he didn’t share this story with her. If her theory was correct, she was now facing two problems. First, she had to save the Doctor and second, she needed to find the Daleks’ time capsule in order to destroy it or at least, make sure it would be disabled.
“Did you ever meet the Doctor?” She asked out of curiosity.
The Thals looked at each other.
“Was that the man you were with?”
“No, he is a stranger to us. Well, he was until you told us about him,” smiled Antonus.
Strange. The scientist had urged her to trust the Thals and yet they seemed to know nothing about him. Romana decided to follow the Doctor’s advice and she told Emmonus and Antonus about the two problems she had to solve.
“We can help you search for the ship. If what you say is true, then we don’t want those Daleks to be able to control history. We can’t allow that as it would mean the extinction of our race.”
“What about the Doctor?”
The Time Lady had the disturbing feeling that the Thals didn’t want to consider a rescue party.
“Your friend gave your life to save you,” gently repeated Emmonus. “That’s how you should remember him.”
“But you saw him! They took him in the city!”
“And by then, he is either dead because of the radiation poisoning or because they killed him. Either way, he is most probably no longer with us.”
Romana shook her head:
“No, I can’t accept that. If you won’t help me, then I shall find him myself.”
A heavy silence greeted her words. Finally Antonus broke it:
“He must really be important to you. I see that we cannot change your mind. I will guide you to the city and help you enter unnoticed. I will also provide you with the anti-radiation drug, the same we gave you, just in case you are lucky.”
“In the meantime, I’ll lead a search party to look for that Dalek ship and do as many damage as I can,” decided Emmonus.
“Please be careful, it might be guarded. And those Daleks are very dangerous.”
Antonus kept his promise. He guided Romana through the petrified forest until they reached the town. There, he directed the Time Lady to the main control building where he supposed the Doctor had been taken and he watched her make her way through the silent city.
There was something unnerving about the city. It had probably something to do with the fact that all building looked exactly the same and everything was deserted. Romana was no foul; she suspected that surveillance devices had been installed. As impatient as she was to find the scientist, she walked with caution, checking every corner. She spotted the cameras and worked her way around them. It was a tedious journey and she soon lost track of time. She clung to the anti-radiation drug as if to remind herself that she was holding the Doctor’s only hope of survival. She simply refused to believe that she might be too late to save him.
The Doctor slowly opened his eyes. The bright light in the white room dazzled him for a moment but he forced himself to keep his eyes open. His sonic screwdriver was still in his hand and the door right in front of him. He tried to get up and failed, crashing on the floor. He wasn’t going to give up so easily however. He called upon his remaining strength and crawled towards the door. He felt like moving in slow motion and he was out of breath when he finally reached his destination. Getting up was an equally agonising exercise. If the Daleks were monitoring him from the safety of the control room, no doubt that they were enjoying the show. He managed to rest on the wall and held his sonic device against the door with a trembling hand. A smooth sound could soon be heard and the door slowly shifted open. He reached for the opening, but as soon as he left the support of the wall, he collapsed again. His mind was so clouded that he didn’t realise that someone had witnessed his fall. He heard a gentle and soft voice talking to him but couldn’t make the words.
“Don’t worry my child,” he whispered in a hollow voice. “Ian and Barbara will look after me. Go now. Get the anti-radiation drug…”
Entering the building proved less tricky than she feared and Romana guessed that the Daleks weren’t expecting trouble from the Thals. They were a pacifist race and the Time Lady was already surprised that they agreed to search and destroy the Daleks’ ship so easily. At least, it allowed her to focus on her own search. She moved around carefully, well aware that she would probably be killed on sight if the Daleks spotted her. Locating the scientist was another major issue. All corridors looked the same and she couldn’t tell what was behind the many doors from the outside. There were no labels of any sort; she had to open them to check. She had relied on her luck so far and her stress levels were increasing. Sooner or later she would find herself facing a Dalek.
Just as this thought occurred to her a door shifted open and she quickly flattened against the wall. To her greatest surprise, the Doctor collapsed in the corridor. Romana didn’t think twice and kneeled beside him. He was laying face down and she gently turned him around. He looked awful. He was terribly pale with dark circles around his eyes. She brushed his hair to put a hand on his forehead and found it burning with a fever. The scientist moaned and whispered in a hollow voice:
“Don’t worry my child, Ian and Barbara will look after me. Go now. Get the anti-radiation drug…”
“He is delirious, the radiations hit him very badly,” said another voice behind Romana.
She jumped on her feet and turned to face her guide.
“Antonus! What are you doing here?”
She was both pleased and surprised.
“I felt bad leaving you on your own to look after your friend. Give him the antidote; it won’t be long before the Daleks realise that he is gone.”
Romana complied while Antonus entered the cell to fetch the Doctor’s coat and scarf. When he came out, his face was expressing some concern.
“We have even less time than I thought. He was under surveillance. Let’s go.”
Romana found herself carrying the coat and scarf, while the Thal carried the Doctor. He didn’t seem bothered at all by the extra weight and walked a quick pace, hoping to reach the exit before the Daleks caught up with them.
“How long will it take for him to recover?”
Antonus answered without slowing down:
“It depends. He needs to rest.”
Romana thought about the TARDIS. If they could bring him back there, he would be able to recover in a familiar environment. A disembodied voice interrupted the course of her thoughts.
“Stop or you will be exterminated.”
Two Daleks were behind them. Antonus and Romana stopped and turned slowly, facing the two Daleks from the future. The Time Lady realised that destroying the ship wouldn’t be enough. They would have to get rid of the enhanced Daleks to prevent them from sharing their knowledge and technology with their ancestors, and change history despite behind stranded in the past. She glanced at the Doctor, but he was still unconscious. Now more than ever she needed his advice and he was in no condition to give it to her. Her eyes fell on the sonic screwdriver he was still holding in his hand and an idea formed in her mind. She motioned Antonus to obey the Daleks and came closer to him, trying to take hold of the sonic device as discreetly as possible.
“When I tell you to duck, do as I said. Don’t ask questions,” she whispered quickly.
They placed themselves between the two Daleks. Romana’s mind was racing; she knew that their chances to succeed were very low. She took a deep breath, held the sonic screwdriver in front of her and screamed:
Antonus ducked instantly, holding the Doctor tight in a protective manner. Romana had flattened down as well, her eyes fixed on the Dalek she had aimed with the sonic device, hoping that she didn’t miscalculated the creature’s logical reaction.
As she expected, the Daleks felt threatened and fired instantly. Instead of firing on their targets, they fired on each other, effectively destroying themselves in the process.
“For improved creatures, you can be so stupid,” muttered the Time Lady.
She was already up, when her companion spoke:
“Romana, your friend is awake. I think that he will make it if we can get out of there.”
She immediately kneeled down. Antonus was supporting the Doctor whose clouded eyes were open.
“Doctor! How do you feel?”
The scientist tried to speak but was unable to get a sound out of his throat. Frustration appeared on his features and Romana guessed that he had something important to tell her. He was still very weak and it took him a great deal of efforts to point at one of the destroyed Daleks.
“Yes, we did that,” said his companion warmly.
Again, he looked frustrated.
“That’s not what you want us to know…”
He pointed at the Dalek again and traced the sign “1” on the floor. Puzzled, Romana exchanged a glance with Antonus.
“One Dalek?” Asked the Thal.
The scientist smiled weakly. He seemed worn out and his companion feared that he might lose consciousness before she understood what he meant to tell her.
“One Dalek? What does that mean?” Sighed Romana. “There are probably hundreds, even thousands of them in the city!”
“Maybe he is referring to those Daleks from the future?” Suggested Antonus.
The Doctor grabbed the Thal’s arm and starred at him intensely.
“One Dalek from the future… We destroyed two of them…”
Romana was thinking out loud. Suddenly, everything became clear.
“Of course! There are three of them! That’s what you mean, right? We destroyed two and there is one remaining that we need to destroy as well.”
Relief washed over the Doctor’s face and then he fainted.
Antonius placed the Doctor’s motionless body over his shoulder and resumed walking, Romana at his side.
“How are we going to find that Dalek, let alone destroy him?” He asked with concern in his voice.
His companion had already an idea about it:
“We need to find their ship as quickly as possible. The Dalek is probably there. Also, we need to prevent him from calling for help.”
“And how do you propose we achieve that?”
Romana smiled: “By jamming the ship’s communication systems from the TARDIS.”
Seeing the Thal’s confusion, she explained what the TARDIS was.
“The Daleks are not the only ones mastering the ability to travel in space and time,” she concluded.
They remained silent during the rest of their journey, crossing the town with the same care as before. When they reached the safe pathway leading in and outside the city, they were surprised to find a welcome comity. Emmonus and a group of Thals were expecting them.
“When Antonus didn’t return, I suspected that he went after you,” explained the Thal leader. “We decided to come and check for you. I’m glad to see that you’re alright.”
He then announced that they had located the Dalek ship.
“We don’t have the technology to destroy it,” he sadly confessed.
Romana urged the group to accompany her to the TARDIS. She explained her plan on the way and was pleased to see that they all agreed on carrying it on.
She glanced at the Doctor. She had the feeling that he wouldn’t have approved such drastic measures, but he was still unconscious, leaving her in charge.
“He will recover soon,” Antonus comforted her.
Once in the TARDIS, Romana didn’t waste any time and started working on the controls in order to jam all communications from the Daleks, hoping that she wasn’t too late already. The city would be unable to contact the ship that in turn would be unable to contact anyone beyond space and time.
The Thals had installed the Doctor in Romana’s bedroom as it was closer to the main control area.
When she was done jamming the communications, the Time Lady worked on the next step of her plan, all the while hoping that the Doctor wouldn’t suddenly wake up and interfere.
“I can leave someone behind to attend to your friend,” offered Emmonus as they were ready to go.
“That won’t be necessary. He should be perfectly safe in the TARDIS. But thank you.”
I looked at the Doctor, waiting for him to tell me the end of the story, but he had fallen silent forcing me to ask:
“And? What happened next?”
“I don’t know,” was the answer.
I frowned. My first thought was that he was playing me, but he sounded sincere. He himself didn’t seem to know what happened next, and this was quite unnerving, worrying even.
“All I know is what Romana agreed to tell me,” he went on. “When I woke up, we had already left Skaro. I tried to know what happened to the Dalek ship, but she insisted that history had been restored and that it was all I needed to know.”
“But you kept asking her, right?”
“Of course I did. I was certain that she would give up eventually and tell me everything. Only she didn’t. She claimed that since I kept secrets from her, it was only fair that she had some of her own. All she agreed to say was that sacrifices had been made and lives had been lost. That’s when I remembered that I had never encountered the two Thals she was talking about.”
I took a few moments to think about what the Doctor had told me. A new thought occurred to me:
“What does this story have to do with Eccleston? You never mentioned him in your story.”
“Oh that! It’s just that I was displeased with K9. He was unable to make the necessary repairs in the TARDIS and as a result we experienced a few more malfunctions. That’s when I told him that I should have kept Eccleston because he was more intelligent than a tin dog. In the end both Romana and K9 were upset and they stopped talking to me.”
“Wait, why did Romana stop talking to you? It doesn’t make sense. You saved her life on Skaro! And you stopped insisting on knowing what happened!”
I was finding it hard to follow him. He made a funny face, turned towards me and smiled:
“Oh I’m sorry, I was already thinking about what happened after Skaro; that is my next story…”