The gentle TARDIS hum was unheard against the chaos and noise surrounding Cambridge University. The human lives around it were barely disturbed by the presence of something entirely alien. Except Freddie Chesterton who had seen the blue box appearing.
His eyes reflected the TARDIS image as it fully materialised in a deserted area behind one of the university buildings. His expression widened further, little tears forming in the corners of his eyes. He blinked, the image of the blue box still clear as day in front of him.
“TARDIS?” he whispered. He moved with speed and determination as he ran away from the building, his trainers throwing off sparks of static electricity against the roughness of the ground. He ran...ran so fast...
“Storms due tonight, Barbara,” Ian said as his eyes skimmed the paper he was reading in his office at the university.
Barbara nodded, speculating about how her husband’s fascination with the weather had only worsened with age.
He and Barbara often lectured at the university and were used to spending time at work even long after the normal retirement age. It was as if ‘inside’ they had never aged. They were quite happy to continue teaching for as long as possible, shaping young minds and setting them off into the world.
“Hear what I said, Barbara, storms!” Ian said. “You should get yourself home early in case you get caught in it.”
Barbara bit her lip to stop herself giving him the third degree. “Ian, I will stay until you’ve finished your lecture and I’m fine, honestly, it was flu and I’m over it now, so stop fussing.”
Ian admitted defeat from his strong-willed wife and put down the paper, placing his frail hand into hers and stroking her fingers tenderly the way he had always done. “I’m not fussing. I’m worrying about you.”
She smiled and placed her arms around his neck, kissing him on the lips.
“Eeewh!” Freddie said as he barged into the room. “You’re oldies!”
Ian gave Barbara a sideways glare and realised it was their grandson Freddie again, interrupting a precious moment of intimacy that they didn’t get a lot of time to share.
“And to what do we owe the pleasure of the visit from our grandson?” Ian muttered in good humour, forgiving him immediately when he saw the young innocent face and wide brown eyes.
Freddie was breathless from running, and Barbara, with her usual maternal instinct, handed him a glass of water. “Freddie, what on earth’s the matter?” She motioned for him to sit between her and Ian on the leather sofa.
“I’ve seen something,” Freddie said as he hastily drank the water, which dribbled down his chin like he was a child.
“Seen what?” Ian asked.
“Now I’m telling the truth, ok...but I saw it...”
“Saw what?” Barbara asked, gently stroking his hair as he looked up at her.
“The TARDIS.” Freddie waited for their reactions, and at first, they were speechless.
They then got to their feet and started pacing. They had not mentioned the ship or the Doctor in a long time, and hearing that word again made them shiver with fear, excitement and anticipation. Could the Doctor really be back, after all these years? They turned to their grandson and remembered the countless nights babysitting him as a boy and telling him stories of the Doctor, recounting tales of the broken TARDIS and the terrifying Daleks on Skaro. Every time they told him, it was like they re-lived the adventure again. And that at least was a way of keeping the Doctor alive.
“Tell us everything,” Ian said.
Freddie ran down the stairwell, determined to reach the TARDIS and meet the Doctor before he was gone forever- if not for himself than for his grandparents and all they had been through with the wise or not so wise old traveller. The stories he had heard from his father John and from his grandparents had been such an inspiration to him that he had decided to become a writer and publish their adventures one day. He had a dream that he would one day describe the acid seas of Marinus and talk of the planet overrun by insects and speak of questing knights and Aztec Gods.
As a teenager he had been sceptical about all the details, but when the Daleks and Cybermen had attacked London and he had seen the destruction and horror and the look on his grandparent’s faces as they re-lived their nightmares, he could no longer deny that these evils existed.
He ran faster- so fast that he could sense other university students laughing at the way he ran with arms flailing about- but he didn’t care, he had to reach the Doctor. He was so caught up now in his own thoughts that he collided quite heavily in the corridor with a man wearing a bow tie.
“Well, we’re in a bit of a hurry, aren’t we?” the man said, a smile beaming across his youthful yet somehow old face.
Freddie forced a smile. The man must have been one of the science professors. His tweed blazer looked similar to his grandfather's and he was certainly eccentric. Freddie tried to move and wondered why the man seemed to be blocking his path.
“You look familiar,” the man in tweed said to him, glancing at his face with deep inspection.
The man thrust a strange contraption into Freddie’s face. It flashed an eerie green light and the cylinder-shaped instrument made a whirring noise.
Freddie held his hands up in protest. “What the hell are you doing? What is that thing?”
The man laughed and dropped the device back into his breast pocket haphazardly. “Dreadfully sorry, no harm done. You’re not a Chesterton, by any chance, are you?”
Freddie gazed suspiciously at the man. “Yes, Freddie Chesterton, why?”
The man threw his hands up in the air. “Yes, I was right!” he yelled, motioning for a high five, which Freddie didn’t retaliate.
Freddie glanced around, making sure no-one was watching this strange encounter with a peculiar professor.
The man opened his mouth widely like a fish. “You’re Ian Chesterton’s son...wait, what year are we...ah, yes, 2011...his grandson?”
“Yeah, who are you?”
“This is really good! I mean, really, you look like him, maybe not quite so handsome, or quite possibly more handsome, it’s hard to say!”
Freddie laughed nervously, not quite sure what was going on.
“Is he here, your grandfather?” the man said as he pirouetted on the spot like a clumsy dancer. “Oh, and wait...what about Barbara Wright?”
“You mean Barbara Chesterton, my nan?”
The man laughed. “Oh, yes, of course she’s a Chesterton now too. I’m so used to men taking their wives' names.”
Freddie stammered. It only just occurred to him that the man he’d been searching for was standing right in front of him, rambling incessantly. “You’re not the Doctor, are you?”
The Doctor stared at him with a fixed excited expression. “Yes, I’m the Doctor, and who are you again, young Chatterton?”
“It’s Freddie Chesterton.”
“Freddie huh? Nice. Reminds me of old Fred Astaire. Met him once you know? We danced together when old Ginge had a toe injury. Now that bit didn’t make the movies sadly. Nice fella though.”
Freddie laughed, unashamedly, wholly, utterly thrilled with the prospect that the hero of his childhood was in front of him, albeit a lot different than the man his grandparents had travelled with and described. To his grandparents, the Doctor had appeared an old man, new to the possibilities of the universe, and this man appeared young and strangely innocent despite the fact he was probably a lot older. The Doctor could change his face, that’s how the stories went- and changed his face he certainly had.
Ian rushed into the lecture hall, the papers resting under his chin and he seemed distracted as he headed to the desk at the front. The sea of faces of students still daunted him even in his older age, but he felt an exhilaration at teaching a room full of people.
Truth be told, he was a little pre-occupied with Freddie’s announcement and he was also feeling a little tense about Barbara’s well-being, knowing her tendency to want to investigate- he was worried she was going to look for the Doctor and fall unwell again.
He started the lecture and placed his spectacles on the edge of his nose as he adjusted the microphone. It was muffled, and Ian was tapping and muttering to himself about the modern advance of technology that was consistently breaking.
“Can I help you with that?” said a voice from a man who looked in his twenties. He was wearing the most unusual clothes for someone so young and Ian stared at the bow tie and the tweed blazer not unlike the one he was wearing.
“Do you know anything about sound equipment?” Ian asked him.
“Not really, but I do have a very useful instrument.”
Ian didn’t know how to reply and stared open mouthed as did the rest of the students as the strange man pulled out a silver cylinder device and held it to the microphone. He pressed a button so that it lit bright green and started whirring.
Without warning, there was a surge of high-pitched, deafening noise. Ian covered his ears in pain. “Turn that blasted thing off!” he shouted.
The sound ceased immediately at his command, and the man sheepishly stood facing him, with a look painted on his face of that of a naughty schoolboy.
“Sorry,” he said, putting his hands in his pockets.
“Who are you? I don’t remember seeing you before,” Ian asked with a hint of suspicion.
“Well, I’m sort of travelling really. I’m passing through.” He stopped and looked at Ian. “I can’t believe how old you are!”
There was snickering from the lecture hall and Ian frowned. “I’m not too old to tell you off for a comment like that.”
The man smiled and backed away. “I didn’t mean anything by it, Chesterton, I was just saying that you are old, which, let’s be honest you are, well, not as old as me but you know....”
Ian interrupted him. “What are you talking about, do I know you?”
“Do you know what I love most about old Chesterton?” the man said, ignoring the question.
Ian humoured him and stayed silent. He half wanted to throw him out for disruption and half wanted to hear him out and see what he had to say.
“What I love most about old Chesterton is that he is still really the same as young Chesterton, apart from a few wrinkles and the grey hair. You know, he’s still doing the thing, teaching, doing human things. I met your grandson, nice boy, he looks like you but a bit more handsome, or less handsome, I forget which.”
Ian stared deeply at the young man in tweed and his face fell. There was something about the eyes.
The student union was thriving with life and culture, noise filled the room and each table was crammed with students and teachers having vibrant conversations. Freddie was just leaving when he collided with the Doctor by the entrance.
“You again,” Freddie said. “You still here? Did you find my grandparents?”
“Sort of. Your grandfather had to escort me from his lecture for being a clever dick.”
“Look, Doctor, is there any particular reason why you’re here at Cambridge?” Freddie said as he started to walk outside into the now increasing wind and rain. He lifted his hood up.
The Doctor followed and watched as Freddie began lighting a cigarette. The Doctor stared at him. His mouth gaped open and he grabbed the cigarette from Freddie’s mouth and threw it onto the ground and started stomping on it with heavy footsteps.
“Hey, that was my last fag!” Freddie protested.
“If I could quit the old pipe, then you can stop with those filthy things, they kill you.”
“You put yourself in mortal danger every day, and you’re worried about cigarettes?”
“Always worry about cigarettes, they taste disgusting.”
“Anyway, you didn’t answer my question. What are you actually doing here, is there some alien threat again? Because I’m sick of this world, Doctor and all the bad stuff going on. If you’re here does that mean we’re in danger?”
The Doctor grabbed hold of Freddie’s shoulders and looked deeply into his eyes. Freddie wondered for a moment what he was going to do.
“Are you going to kiss me?” Freddie said, confused of his intentions.
“Why would I kiss you?” the Doctor retorted as if the whole concept was ridiculous to him. “I was going to say that you shouldn’t worry about Earth, Freddie. Yes, it has its problems but it survives, unlike some places.”
The Doctor’s eyes seemed deep and sad, and Freddie didn’t quite want to ask what he meant by the comment but he could tell whatever it was that it hurt him.
“So, it was just a visit to spy on my grandparents then? Why don’t you just say hello to them instead of acting all suspicious? My granddad threw you out because he thought you were some weirdo.”
The Doctor thought for a moment. He almost looked vulnerable. “I’m afraid they won’t like me.”
“I can’t possibly understand why!” Freddie retorted sarcastically as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small canister of drink. Before he had a chance to take a sip, the Doctor snatched it and took a big swig. His eyes widened and a moment later he spat the contents onto the floor and was scrunching his face up like a baby in pain.
“Eww what on earth is that?!”
“It’s vodka. Don’t they have vodka in outer space?”
“Vodka? I thought it was lemonade!”
Freddie laughed at the situation. For a man who apparently visited Earth a lot, he was still completely and utterly alien.
“Look, I’m late for a lecture,” Freddie said finally, “Doctor do yourself a favour, stop putting it off and go and talk to them. They’d like to see you and they’ll be at the allotment later, that’s if the storm clears up anyway.”
The Doctor pulled Freddie back by his hood. “Before you go, young Chesterton, remember that the universe is full of places to see.”
“Yeah, but I’m not out in the universe, Doctor, I’m here, on Earth, living a normal life.”
“You don’t have to be,” the Doctor said, a smile forming. “Tell you what, Fred, why don’t you pop by the allotment too after your lecture, I’d like to say goodbye?”
Freddie smiled and shook the Doctor’s hand. “It’s a date.”
The storm had cleared earlier than expected, the rain subsiding and the sun trying to find its way from behind the clouds. Ian in his anorak and wellington boots was sitting on the bench outside of the allotment and was reading another newspaper. Barbara was standing in the wet mud above a bunch of carrots holding a rake- her dyed brown hair scraped underneath a head scarf. She had brown mud smeared across one of her cheeks. Ian looked up from the paper. Looking at his wife, he started to laugh.
“New beauty treatment?” he said, pointing at her dirty face.
Barbara swatted him. “Oh, shut up, Ian, I’m working hard.”
“You can sit down now, darling, take a rest for a moment. We can sort out the carrots tomorrow.” Ian had never felt quite the same enthusiasm for gardening as his wife and found the appeal of an allotment was to sit and read a newspaper in peace away from all the students.
“I’m quite alright, Ian. I’d really like to finish this section.”
Barbara looked at Ian’s concerned face and gave in to his worries. She didn’t want him to feel anxious about her so she threw down the muddy rake and sat by her husband’s side on the bench. She leaned her head upon his shoulder and it felt so comforting and safe as she stared across the field of allotments.
“This would be more romantic if you didn’t smell of cabbages,” Ian let out suddenly.
Barbara grumbled and hit him on the arm playfully. “Well, if you didn’t want me to smell like an old allotment, then you should have let us join the rough ramblers instead, a much more interesting hobby than me doing all the work and you sitting there watching.”
“Too much walking for me!”
“Ian?” Barbara asked after a moment’s reflection. “Do you think Freddie found the Doctor?”
“I don’t know, maybe. I expect the Doctor’s long gone now, though. Never seems to want to talk to us these days. Been replaced somewhat eh?”
“Not quite,” came a voice from behind them.
They looked around to where Ian recognised the strange man from his lecture standing behind them wearing the same tweed blazer and bow tie but he was also wearing a pair of wellington boots in bright red.
“You again!” Ian said. “In wellies?”
“I wear wellies now, wellies are cool.”
“Look, who are you, and why are you standing in my cauliflower?” Ian said, his voice slightly raised.
Barbara hushed him, using her usual calming influence. She walked toward the Doctor, peering into his eyes and looking at him with deep interest. “Doctor?” she asked.
“Hello!” he replied, waving at her.
“What?” Ian said, spluttering his words. “Please don’t tell me you’re the Doctor?”
“Ok, I won’t tell you, but I will tell that you haven’t changed one bit, Chartow.”
Ian and Barbara looked at each other. They both felt speechless and almost afraid that their Doctor had returned to them looking like another person. UNIT had told them about his regeneration process but it didn’t prepare them for seeing him for the first time, looking like a man in his twenties. They were now old and he was young. And what was worse was that the face and personality of their Doctor was gone forever, lost to time, only kept alive in their memories. And this new man took his place, charming and friendly, but not quite the same. Never the same.
“Doctor, it’s been so long. We’ve missed you. You’re not the only one who’s changed.” She looked away, covering her face. “I wish you’d visited earlier, not now, not when I’m old.”
The Doctor laughed. “Nonsense, you’re like cheese.”
She frowned. “I beg your pardon?”
The Doctor laughed, realising his mistake, and saw Ian’s smirk. “I meant getting more mature, you know, like stinky cheese.”
Ian laughed hysterically until a swift rib nudge from Barbara stopped his giggles.
“We all age, Barbara,” the Doctor said more seriously now. “Nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Except you don’t age, it would seem,” said Ian as he approached the Doctor with trepidation. “When we met, you were old and grey and Susan called you Grandfather and now... and now...it’s me who’s old and grey and being called Grandfather.”
Ian looked sadly ahead, feeling a sudden pain thinking of how the years had flown by, feeling the inevitable that he and Barbara were reaching their final years and his time with the Doctor had been long ago. The old man he once saved from cavemen now looked younger than he even did in the sixties. It was hard to accept the inevitable passing of time.
There was a mutual understanding between the three of them though, and for a moment the sound of the gentle rain which had now started to fall was the only sound audible. The rain on Barbara’s cheeks looked like fallen teardrops. She was the first to speak. Her voice remained slightly cracked from sadness. “Doctor, did you come here just to see us?”
The Doctor smiled. “I’ve been meaning to for a long time.”
“Then why did you leave it so long?” Ian asked. “Were you here when the Daleks invaded? Why didn’t you come and see us sooner? We always wondered where you were.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“So have we,” Barbara said.
The Doctor was about to reply when Freddie came into view, wet from the sudden shower and carrying a university satchel. “I see you’re getting re-acquainted.”
Barbara smiled and motioned for her grandson to join them. He embraced Barbara and then turned to the Doctor.
“It’s nice meeting the man who was my childhood hero.”
“I’m not a hero,” the Doctor said. “The heroes are the everyday people like your grandparents, like the milkman...like you, Freddie.”
“Me?” Freddie said. “What do I have to offer? I’m a pessimistic average writer who has no sense of direction and no friends.”
“Don’t say such things, Freddie!” Barbara protested in his defence. “You’re much more than that.”
The Doctor placed his arm around Freddie’s shoulder. “And who does have a sense of direction? I haven’t for over a thousand years. Never know where I’m going and never want to!”
Freddie smiled. “But I don’t know what I’m going to do, whilst you have everything at your disposal. You said earlier you have the whole universe.”
The Doctor thought for a moment and then looked at the TARDIS which was perched on the hill, slightly askew and sinking in the mud. “Then why don’t you come with me and find out what you’re capable of?”
“You mean travel with you in a time machine?”
The Doctor nodded but Ian and Barbara exchanged worried glances as they waited for Freddie’s reply. They didn’t know what had changed since they’d left, but in their day, it wasn’t so easy to be returned home.
“Doctor, do you mind giving us some privacy for a moment, I need to talk to my grandparents?” Freddie asked.
The Doctor agreed and moved away, heading further across the allotment to leave the family to talk.
“Well?” Freddie asked. “An offer of a lifetime or possible death on another planet or both?”
Ian hugged his grandson. “We can’t tell you what to do, Freddie, you know the dangers, we’ve told you about all we went through. But what do you want?”
Barbara hugged him next. She looked into his eyes and he was no longer the little boy who stayed at their house whilst his pop-star father was on tour. He was no longer their little Freddie. He was a young man with a life to lead and a purpose to find. “You want to go, don’t you?”
Freddie held his grandmother close. “I don’t know. Maybe. I think yes.”
Barbara loosened her grip, knowing she’d have to let him go eventually. “Then you do it, Freddie, do it for you.”
Ian placed his arm around his grandson’s shoulder. “There are things to consider. Freddie, things about travelling that are dangerous and uncertain. For all the wonderful things to see there is also horrors beyond your wildest imagination.”
“You don’t want me to go?”
Ian softened. “No, I didn’t say that. I just want you to be sure. Do I want you to leave us? No. But do I want you to be happy? Yes.”
Freddie was about to reply when he noticed the Doctor behind them had his boots stuck in a mound of sludgy mud. The three of them laughed as they watched him try to free himself. The Doctor, noticing their laughter, waved at them not bothered in the slightest at the spectacle he was causing.
“I think he needs someone to look out for him,” Freddie said.
“You go Freddie,” Ian said.
Freddie smiled, embracing Ian and Barbara at the same time in a bear hug.
“You make us proud,” Barbara said.
The Doctor ran over and grabbed Ian’s hand and they shook in a firm manly grip. The Doctor then hugged Barbara tightly, making ‘aww’ noises as they embraced.
“You better look after him,” Ian said. “I think you owe us that.”
“And no getting him home two years late,” Barbara said, “he has exams coming up!”
Freddie smiled and thought how much he loved them. It really was hard to say goodbye and he wondered how they would tell his parents that he was gone. They would say he was travelling he supposed. He didn’t have time to ask.
Ian and Barbara wondered whether to walk with them to the TARDIS and have a peek inside at the ship they once called home but they decided they would not. That part of their lives was over, they had each other and they were happy- they’d had their adventure and now it was someone else’s turn.
Freddie smiled as he stepped inside the blue box. The Doctor saluted to Ian and Barbara before he went inside for the next journey that lay ahead.
“Goodbye, Doctor,” Barbara said.
“Goodbye, Doctor, thanks for the ride.”
Inside the TARDIS, there was no ‘It’s bigger on the inside’ joke because Freddie had known the dimensions since he was a boy and knew that this wonderful machine existed. He would not have the same doubts as Ian did when he had made the same trip back in 1963.
“It’s truly magnificent, Doctor, not exactly like I’ve been told but still, wow.”
The Doctor grinned from ear to ear. “So where to, Chatterton?”