It all happened much too quickly for it to really sink in. There was no time for Susan to further consider her decision, no time to think about the people she might never see again.
She, Susan Foreman, was going to fight in the biggest war the universe had ever seen.
Once she was escorted to Gallifrey by a taciturn old time lord, she was immediately taken to a briefing. She couldn’t believe that things had gotten so bad without her knowing; entire galaxies had been destroyed in the tumult of this war.
One of the things Susan had considered on the way there was that she might earn strange looks from everyone or be treated as a sort of outcast. “Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter,” they would say. “There she is, the runaway time lady, come home after hundreds of years.”
But no one so much as cast her a second glance. Even the few people she thought she recognised didn’t acknowledge her in any sort of way. A grim, sombre atmosphere reigned over the soldiers.
Before she knew it, a gun was placed in her hands. She tested the weight of the blaster in her arms and a metallic clink followed. A memory resurfaced from her time on Earth fighting the Daleks, and fear clutched her gut in its sharp, cold fingers.
She and her fellow soldiers were taken to a larger city on Gallifrey, close to Arcadia. As soon as Susan stepped out of the transport TARDIS, the clamour of war assaulted her ears: neverending wailing, screaming, crying, and above all, the grating mechanical voices of the Daleks.
As Susan surveyed the war-torn city, it reminded her too much of the Dalek occupations on Earth. She found herself frozen where she stood, taking in rapid, shallow breaths. A voice, probably a commanding officer, urged her on, and Susan finally stepped out into war.
A large explosion erupted several yards to Susan’s right, throwing her off balance. She pointed her blaster in that direction, and after a moment a soft blue glow appeared in the midst of smoke.
The eyestalk of a Dalek.
Susan shot right at the light, but her laser seemed to be absorbed before it could even make contact. She tried again. Others joined her as the full Dalek emerged into view. It came forward calmly, as if their fire wasn’t even hindering it at all, and rotated its weapon. It fired and emitted an electric blue laser that struck a soldier only a few feet away from Susan. He screamed and crumpled to the ground.
Real terror gripped Susan’s hearts. They had been sent out here with weapons that didn’t even work against the Daleks. The War Council had to know that.
She realised, suddenly, that they weren’t meant to win. They were meant to buy time.
The thought enraged her, and she reached down to pick up the dropped gun from one of the dead soldiers. Filled with anger, she began firing double time at the Dalek as it came ever closer.
Yet, once the initial indignation passed, Susan reminded herself that this was why she had left with Grandfather in the first place. Hadn’t he told her that the time lords had little respect for individual lives? And as time had passed, his respect for his people had only lessened.
But after being away from home for so long, Susan knew she had imagined her people being very different. She had wanted to see Gallifrey again so badly that she had told herself they weren’t all that bad, and she had started to believe it, too. She had forgotten what it was truly like. This was who the time lords were.
Finally, with enough soldiers shooting at the lone Dalek, they penetrated its armour and its top half exploded in a shower of sparks. A cheer sprung up among the soldiers, but Susan didn’t join in. She looked around and saw that seven soldiers were already dead. They wouldn’t survive for much longer if it took this much effort to kill a single Dalek. Still, she checked on the fallen bodies to be certain they were all dead.
Of course they were.
It turned into a slaughter; one Dalek for every ten or twenty Gallifreyan soldiers. They didn’t come across anyone they needed to evacuate or rescue. There didn’t seem to be any point to their fighting. Death surrounded them, and into its cruel hands they would all fall sooner or later.
That had been the plan all along, Susan suspected. The War Council had expected all of them to die, and they didn’t care. Maybe they had even wished for it and selected this regiment from the pool of troublemakers they didn’t want to deal with.
Susan shivered. The idea was horrifying, but sadly, she could believe it.
As the fighting continued, Susan was surprised to find herself still alive. She shot blasts when she could, helped the wounded, and tried to do everything she could to stop the deaths. She grew tired. Sweat dripped into her eyes and coated her from head to foot.
Eventually, as the seconds ticked by into hours, she made a mistake. In redirecting a Dalek’s attention from a wounded soldier, she made herself a prime target as she ran inside of a building that was now no more than metal infrastructure. She hid behind a large pile of rubble and watched the Dalek, making sure it didn’t go back to kill the soldier she had just saved.
Susan hardly dared to breathe as she watched through a small gap in the debris. The Dalek rolled into the building slowly, as if savouring every moment of the chase. Then it stopped. Susan clutched her blaster so tightly that she could no longer feel her fingers.
The Dalek fired its blaster and Susan ducked. It seemed to have missed her entirely, but too late Susan realised that she hadn’t been the creature’s target.
A large hunk of metal from the top of the rubble let out a drawn out groan as it shifted and began to topple over. Susan leapt away from the falling debris, but a huge weight crushed her left leg and pinned it down. She only had a moment to scream before her chest hit the ground forcefully, knocking the wind out of her. Her blaster went spinning several feet away. Tears forced themselves from her eyes. As pain throbbed through her leg, she bit her lip to keep from crying out. If these were her last moments, she wasn’t going to give the Dalek the satisfaction of seeing her afraid and in pain.
The mechanical whir of the Dalek grew closer. Susan tried to tug her leg free, but that only made the pain worse. Clenching her teeth, she reached toward her gun, and it was like a thousand knives stabbing into her wounded leg. She bit back a scream and finally fell back to the ground, limp. It was no use. It was over.
“You will be exterminated!” the Dalek cried as its body came into view.
Susan lifted her head to look right into its eyestalk, and, in one last streak of defiance, she claimed, “You’ll never win! We’re going to beat you, and then wipe every last trace of you from the universe!”
The Dalek trained its blaster at her head. “False!” it said, but its voice was drowned out by another noise, one that Susan thought she would never hear again. She watched in awe as a blue police box materialised right next to the Dalek.
Just as the TARDIS became solid the Dalek turned towards it and fired. The TARDIS absorbed the blast.
The lights on the Dalek’s head began to flash wildly. “The Doctor is here!” it screamed, its body shifting back and forth in a sort of panic. “The Doctor is here! Converge! Exterminate!”
Susan’s vision blurred with tears of relief as the TARDIS door creaked open. An unfamiliar version of the Doctor stepped out, his dark, steely eyes set in a gruff old face.
The Dalek shot again, but the laser didn’t even touch the Doctor. Susan knew that hardly anything could get past the TARDIS’ shield.
“Emergency! Emergency!” the Dalek screeched.
The Doctor reached down and grabbed Susan’s weapon from the ground. He leveled it at the Dalek and fired several shots in rapid succession at the eyestalk. The top of the Dalek blew straight off with one last strangled cry.
Throwing down the gun, the Doctor hurried back towards Susan. He knelt by her side, allowing her to get a much better look at his rough white beard and matching spiked hair. His clothes were torn and dirty, like he had been in battle.
His expression was grim as he eyed the lump of metal pinning her leg. “I’m going to try and lift this, and as soon as I do, pull yourself out from under it.” She couldn’t help noting how different his voice was. With a shake of her head she chased the thought away and grabbed onto the base of the TARDIS.
“I’m ready,” she said.
The Doctor grunted, and suddenly the weight on Susan’s leg disappeared. Using the TARDIS as an anchor, she pulled her legs out of the way and twisted onto her back just in time to see the Doctor drop the metal back to the ground. Without wasting a second he started forward and scooped her up in his arms.
“No time to waste. That Dalek was calling more,” he explained as he carried her inside the TARDIS.
Susan knew it was him, but as he set her on the ground beside the console she asked, “Grandfather?”
Pain filled his eyes. He approached the console and quickly managed the controls. “I don’t deserve to be your grandfather now, Susan,” he grumbled.
“Why ever not?” Susan asked. “You saved me!”
The TARDIS’ old racket started up. Susan hadn’t heard it in ages, and she had almost forgotten what it sounded like. Now, she wondered how she could ever forget it. It was such a unique noise, like nothing else in the universe.
“I’m not a doctor anymore,” he said quietly as he stepped back from the controls. His eyes met hers for only a brief moment before he dropped his gaze. “I’m a warrior now.”
Her Grandfather? A warrior?
Part of her was glad that he was finally taking part in the conflict, while another part of her recoiled at the idea of Grandfather embroiled in the fight.
“But you said you weren’t going to get involved.” Susan matched his volume. She knew that what he needed from her wasn’t chastisement, but comfort. He was ashamed.
The Doctor’s hands tightened into fists at his sides. Something had happened to him. Something terrible.
The Doctor sighed. “I finally realised that there was no getting around it.” He reached down and helped her to stand up, letting her use him as a crutch as she hobbled out of the control room.
“How did you find me?” she asked as they entered the corridor.
Once again, he avoided her eyes. “I couldn’t let you go out there unprotected.”
They entered a room that Susan realised was the sickbay, but she froze once it hit her. “You followed me? I told you, it was my choice to make!”
The Doctor nudged her forward and Susan complied, steaming. He could just never let things alone, could he? Everything always had to be done his way.
“I know,” he murmured softly, as if he could read her thoughts. He helped her down onto a cot. Finally he looked at her, and she could see that behind that hard and weary face was a pair of soft eyes. “What sort of grandfather would I be if I just let that happen?”
“So you are still my Grandfather, then,” Susan replied smugly.
She almost expected him to get angry, but instead he smiled. And while it was a different smile than she had ever seen on her Grandfather, it was a pleasant one that warmed her heart. She couldn’t stay mad at him; he had just saved her life.
The Doctor then started tending to her crushed leg. Despite his rough appearance, his care was very gentle, and he didn’t speak much. Susan was okay with that. She was just glad to be with him.
As her leg took time to heal, the Doctor sat with her. He read her books and told her tales of some of his old adventures, though nothing recent it seemed. It all reminded Susan of when she was a little girl; her Grandfather had taken every chance he’d gotten to tell her wild stories at night until she fell asleep.
Days later, once Susan could stand, the Doctor looked at her and stated, “You can’t go back.”
Susan huffed. She had known they would have to get back around to this eventually. “I already told you, Grandfather,” she said evenly, “this is my decision.”
“I won’t let you go back out there,” he argued. “You’ll die for nothing.”
“I have to do what I can!” She tried to keep her emotions in check, but she had to make him understand that this was her life, her choice. “We must win this war. You know that.”
That silenced him for a moment. “No more,” he muttered to himself. He looked into her eyes, as if searching for compliance in them. Finally, he sighed, his eyes falling.
“I’m going to end it, Susan. That’s why you can’t go back.”
“End it?” she echoed. “The Time War? How?” She ducked her head, trying to meet his gaze, but he wouldn’t look at her.
“In my own way. It’s gotten too out of hand. Even the time lords are killing their own people just to get the upper hand. It has to stop. All of it.”
Susan stared at him, trying to make sense of his words. “I don’t understand, Grandfather. What are you going to do?”
He shook his head. “I can’t tell you.” Finally those old eyes looked into hers, imploring. “Don’t you still trust me, my dear?”
While still her Grandfather, he was also the one who had robbed her of choice again and again, and hadn’t learned his lesson. “Trust is given both ways. Not just one.” She kept her stare hard and defiant.
He heaved a great sigh and stood. “I don’t want to argue with you; you still need rest.”
Susan almost rolled her eyes. He had always avoided arguments with her by saying similar things.
Halfway to the door, the Doctor paused. He looked over his shoulder at her. “How would you like to see Ian and Barbara again?”
Susan’s breath caught at the suggestion. She had never hoped of seeing them again after the TARDIS had left her on Earth, but she had often dreamed of it. Yet after feeling joy, in the next moment she was sceptic.
“If this is a trick, I won’t fall for it. I’m going back to fight!”
The Doctor turned fully around, and his eyes flashed fire. For a moment, Susan realised what he had meant when he’d said that he wasn’t her Grandfather anymore. He looked cold and hard, like a soldier in the middle of battle. Her Grandfather had never looked like that before.
“Susan, you are going to stay with Ian and Barbara while I end this war. There’s no room for argument, and that’s final.” And with that he left in a huff, before Susan could say anything else.
If she had been able, she would have left the TARDIS, no matter where it was. Her stomach boiled with anger, and with a cry of frustration she slammed her fist against her bed. He was infuriating. He acted as if she were still a child!
“He was right,” she muttered to herself. “I don’t know who he is anymore.”
Or...had he been like this all along?
When the Doctor came back eventually, he was calm, and pretended like nothing had happened. He read to her again and brought her food. Susan tried to ignore him as best as possible, showing she was still angry with him. But over time, as her leg fully healed, she was as reluctant to get back to their argument as the Doctor seemed to be. Yes, she still believed her duty lied with Gallifrey, but the more she had considered her Grandfather’s claims about ending the Time War, the more worried she had become. She had started to wonder if it would be more beneficial to the universe to stay with the Doctor and keep him safe, rather than join one of the thousands who would surely die at the hands of the Daleks.
Then came the day that she could feel that she was totally recovered. The Doctor had taken her on longer and longer walks through the TARDIS as her leg had continued to heal, and today he had even landed in a city and pointed out the various buildings to her. It was only after a considerable amount of time that Susan realised it was London, far after 1963 but still decades before the first Dalek occupation.
Susan thoroughly enjoyed the sightseeing, and she forgot all about the Time War. However, as the Doctor led her to a charming little house just outside of central London, Susan picked up on his suspicious behaviour as he wouldn’t tell her where they were going.
Then the Doctor buzzed the doorbell. The door swung open after a few moments, and Susan, for a moment, felt like a child again.
“Barbara! Ian!” She let go of the Doctor and barrelled straight into their arms, hugging them both at once. Tears stung her eyes and, to her chagrin, she started crying. She had always imagined that she’d prove to Ian and Barbara how grown up she was now if she ever saw them again; what a way to start! But it made her feel better as she heard Barbara sniffling too.
“Oh, Susan,” Barbara said, holding her close. So many emotions swept through Susan, and she remembered just how safe and secure she had felt with Barbara. And Ian, too, for that matter.
“It’s so good to see you again!” Ian said with that ever-present enthusiasm in his voice. “We always wondered if we ever would.”
She pulled away grinning. “I can’t believe it!” Then she noticed something rather strange. “But you haven’t aged a day since I last saw you.”
Ian and Barbara shared a knowing look, and then glanced over Susan’s shoulder at the Doctor. Susan followed their gazes and locked eyes with her grandfather. “Do you have something to do with that, Grandfather?”
He cleared his throat and remained on the doorstep. “Me? Nonsense.” But there was an old twinkle in his eyes that Susan knew well.
“Won’t you stay, Doctor?” Barbara asked. “I know you said you wouldn’t, but Ian and I have missed you so much!”
Susan looked between them. “You’ve seen him before?”
Ian nodded. “He came to tell us he’d be dropping you off. He said he had some urgent business, and that you needed somewhere to stay.”
“We were only too happy to help,” Barbara added. “It’s been too long since we’ve seen you, Susan, and we want to hear all about what you’ve been up to!”
The idea of staying with Ian and Barbara (and yes, she had noticed that they were living together and wore wedding rings on their fingers) made her hearts soar, but she turned around to face the Doctor. She knew she would lose her argument. He wouldn’t take her back to Gallifrey. She’d admit that she’d enjoy the break with Ian and Barbara, too. But she was worried about him.
Ian and Barbara seemed to understand. They walked further into the house, and Barbara touched her shoulder, saying, “I have some tea, whenever you’re ready.”
And then they were alone. The Doctor looked at the ground and shuffled his feet. “You’ll be happy with them, won’t you?”
“Of course I will. But don’t think that gets you off. I’m still cross.”
When he looked up at her, he looked so, so tired. Like he really was a thousand years old, or maybe even older at this point.
“I don’t expect you to understand. I’ve had to make so many sacrifices to get here, to end the war, and now it seems I only have one left.”
It felt so final to Susan that she felt tears pricking at her eyes again. All her anger left in a moment. “Just tell me I’ll see you again.”
A small smile lifted the Doctor’s lips. “I hope so, my dear. One day, I certainly hope so.”
Susan hated the defeated sound in his voice. She flung herself into his arms and hugged him tightly. “Be careful, Grandfather,” she whispered, trying to hold herself together.
“Goodbye, my dear.” He pulled away only slightly, and then pressed a kiss to her forehead.
A sob escaped Susan’s lips, and she attempted to swallow the rest of them. She couldn’t bring herself to say goodbye; it would be too final.
“I will end this war,” he promised her, determination in his eyes. “The universe will be at peace again.”
Susan nodded. That’s who he was: the Doctor, the righter of all the wrongs in the universe. “I know you will.”
And then that was it. He was gone.
She worried about him, confessing her anxieties to Ian and Barbara. They, too, had admitted that they’d had their doubts when the Doctor had vaguely told them about the war and his plan to end it. But they’d concluded that he was the Doctor, and there was no changing his mind. All they could do was hope and believe in him.
And so Susan did.
The sight was so overwhelming that it threw Susan into a stupor for at least a minute.
At first she thought it was a prop, or some kind of trick, but in her soul she felt it. The telepathic sensors in her mind, for so long underused, reached out and felt the sentient presence of the TARDIS. The police box was alive.
How had it appeared here, right at this moment when she was taking a random stroll? How had he known? Could it really be...him? After all this time?
Susan took a deep breath and strode forward, worrying that once she touched the police box, it would disappear. But there it remained, solid, and as her fingertips barely grazed the handle, the door clicked and swung open a crack, all on its own. It creaked slightly, and Susan smiled. It was the TARDIS.
There was a clunk, and a figure raced towards her from the other side of the console, only to stop dead in his tracks as he came in view. His body physically seemed to freeze and his mouth dropped open, eyes wide with shock. Fierce, bushy eyebrows almost disappeared into a mass of curly grey hair as they rose high on the stranger’s forehead. He stumbled back into the console, like he was looking for something to ground him.
Susan’s hearts soared. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this wasn’t a stranger. Not really. He was her Grandfather.
And he was alive.
Susan grinned as she observed his shock. “Aren’t you happy to see me, Grandfather?”
“Susan,” the Doctor whispered, as if still trying to process her unexpected presence.
Susan stepped fully into the TARDIS. She noticed that the interior was vastly different than she had ever seen it, but she couldn’t focus on it at the moment; all that mattered was that he was here.
“You look as if you’ve seen a ghost!” she teased him, still enjoying his reaction. “You are my Grandfather, aren’t you?” She wondered, after the last version of him had responded, how this one would answer.
“Yes,” he said quietly, regaining some composure. He straightened up and his eyes softened, heavy with guilt. “It’s me,” he continued, “and I’m so—”
But he was cut short as Susan couldn’t stand it anymore. She rushed to him and flung her arms around his middle, barely containing tears.
The Doctor stood stock still for a moment as Susan squeezed him in a hug. Finally, she let it out and began to cry. After so many years, after no word, no sight of the TARDIS, she had thought for sure that he was gone. But yet, here he was.
Finally, after a moment, he hugged her back, and it was the best hug that Susan could ever remember. His arms held her so close, and she heard him let out a long sigh. All he said was, “I’m so sorry, Susan.”
He was...apologising? Had he ever apologised to her before?
She pulled away from him. By the look in his eyes, she thought she understood. He had been scared, ashamed, expecting a reprimand. And he almost deserved one; in fact, he did, but right now, she was just too glad that he was here at last.
Laying her head back on his chest, she hugged him again. “Have you been worrying about me all this time?”
“Of course I have. That’s my job as your grandfather.”
She smiled, and, giving him one last hearty squeeze, stepped back to look at him. She took a moment to study his face; the cold blue eyes, the bushy eyebrows. She raised her hand and gently traced some of his wrinkles.
“How many faces, Grandfather?”
“Too many,” he said in reply, and the look in his eyes grew darker.
Susan froze, her hand falling from his face. “This isn’t your last life, is it?”
He shook his head, and Susan sighed with relief. “The Council granted me another cycle,” he explained, “but that’s a story for another time.” He swallowed, and seemed like he had more to say. “Susan...”
She noticed how he called her by her name; not “child” or “dear.”
“...I thought I was doing the right thing.” The muscles in his jaw tightened. “All I ever wanted was to protect you.”
She stretched up on her toes to kiss his cheek. She gathered his hands in hers and squeezed them. After all this time, she could say, truly: “I forgive you.”
He smiled, and it was such a beautiful, warm smile.
“I was so worried about you,” Susan said. “What happened with the Time War? I know it ended, but no one seems to know how!”
His expression grew lighter. “I’ll tell you the whole story. But first thing’s first.” He gestured to the console. “Where do you want to go? Anywhere. Any when. I owe it to you.”
Susan squeezed his hand. “Grandfather, all I want is to stay with you for a while.”
He grinned at her and reached for a lever on the console. “Just like old times,” he agreed. He pulled a lever on the console and the TARDIS engines started up. Susan grinned too.
And the Doctor and Susan launched into the vortex together hand in hand, just like they had hundreds of years ago when they had first left Gallifrey.