Back in 2020, I wrote a short story for a charity Doctor Who fanzine that was ultimately never published. I’ve held off posting it anywhere else but I think enough time has passed that I can safely put it online here without any problem…
A Mutual Kicking Me Out
Ancient dust shook from the ancient rafters and powdered the heads of ancient people, cowering in the hallways of the Panopticon. The howl of staser fire was growing louder. Explosions rattled the marble floor. The air was thick and acrid. Enemy at the door.
Dalek saucers had breached the sky trenches, cracking open the glass dome that had come to symbolise Gallifrey’s inviolability among the planet’s citizenry. Now the Time Lord Citadel was exposed and the Daleks had wasted no time in strafing the planet’s surface. What few remaining Chancellery Guard forces the War Council could scrape together were engaging Dalek drones in the streets and being summarily exterminated.
The leaders of every Great House had gathered in the Panopticon – coincidentally the safest and most fortified structure in the Citadel – to hear how they would survive the first (and last) Battle of Gallifrey. But their own actions had condemned them. Lady Romana vetoed the Time Lock initiative before her disappearance but, with her gone and Gallifrey’s most desperate hour upon them, the High Council opted to deploy it. However, rather than protecting Gallifrey in a bubble of null-time, it trapped the Time Lords and the Daleks together in this – now literally endless – war. No ship could breach the time lock, every TARDIS was grounded, powerless.
Then came the Lord President Eternal, Rassilon. The resurrected founder of Time Lord society had presented the Final Sanction. Manipulating the mind of one of the war’s few foretold survivors – a bloodthirsty renegade called The Master – Rassilon would break through the time lock, to a small backspace world named Earth, and pull Gallifrey clear of the Time War. The High Council had assented loudly to Rassilon’s plan before he and his entourage had torn open a rift in the heart of the Panopticon and vanished.
Since then: nothing. No salvation. More than a few members of the High Council – the older and more cynical ones – were starting to wonder if they’d just given their captain permission to abandon ship, when there was a shift. Creases in the folds of reality suddenly fell flat, like a blanket pulled taut. Every time-sensitive being in the universe sensed a fresh new fixed event. He’d done it. Rassilon was returning.
Bolts of lightning flared in the middle of the room to yelps of fear and surprise; several Time Lords regenerated from sheer fright. Through the haze, two beings were grappling beneath broad, quivering arcs of electricity. One wore the full regalia of the Lord President. Rassilon screamed as the other figure clawed at his face, chiseled features melting and scalding at its touch. With a roar, the creature released its grip and the smoldering husk that had once been Rassilon dropped to the emerald floor.
The new arrival was a short, rumpled man in torn black clothes, sharp stubble and a mop of clumsily-dyed blonde hair. He surveyed the room and cackled viciously. As he raised his head, his scarred and sallow skin seemed to vanish, replaced by a deep blue skull with darting, lidless eyes. Moments later, the flesh reformed around his face, like jelly poured into a mould, and glued a smirk over the rancid, black teeth. He surveyed the room.
“New audience. Lovely. Now then! I address the High Council of Time Lords. Rassilon, Lord President Not-So-Eternal, is dead! I claim the title, supreme ruler of Gallifrey! I am The Master and you will obey m-”
A violet bolt of light struck him in the back and the Master flopped to the floor like a rag doll besides the charred remains of Rassilon. A stern woman had materialised from thin air, conjured a staser from beneath her robes and, with marksman precision, shot the Master down. The assembly recognised the new arrival, she’d opposed the Final Sanction and been dragged to Earth by Rassilon in shame. Now the Woman was back and very much in charge.
“Take the Lord President to a regeneration chamber,” she called to the closest Time Lords, who scrambled to obey. “As for the Master, he will be destroyed!”
The Master was burning, tearing apart as pain stabbed at every atom of his being. He writhed in a void, filled only with the smoke of his searing flesh. The Master defied the flames, holding himself together through raw willpower. The drums were beating still. A swift rhythm of four; louder than ever. He felt every pelt through his chest, as though he were clinging to the cold dead skin of the drumhead itself.
Through hazy, corrupted eyes, he saw a figure watching him. A humanoid with mottled blue skin and a segmented head the shape of an insectoid carapace. Two stubby pincers twitched on each side of her mouth. Chantho was levelling a laser pistol at the Master’s hearts.
She just had time to say it before the smoke billowed and consumed her. She was replaced by a pale blonde woman in a red satin dress. The laser had become a handgun, which Lucy Saxon eyed hungrily.
“Harry,” she said bitterly.
Lucy fell back into the smoke and another figure emerged. A man this time. Skinny, brown pinstripe suit and spiked hair. He too was holding a gun, now an old service revolver, and thrust it in the Master’s face, aiming between his eyes.
“Master,” seethed the Doctor, before throwing the gun to the floor.
The Doctor drew a deep breath and turned away, wandering into the smoke. Just before he vanished, the Doctor regarded another figure approaching from the haze. A small boy, wearing the ceremonial robes of an initiate to the Prydonian Academy. Without acknowleding his future self, the boy gathered up the gun with both hands and aimed it, not at the Master, but at himself.
No, the Master thought. Not me, it was him. Rassilon did this to us. Don’t let it destroy you!
As if in answer, one last figure swept from the smoke. A severe, imposing woman in plain burgundy robes. She was old, her chestnut hair dusted with silver. The Woman snatched the gun away from the boy and crushed it in her fist as though it were made of paper. When she opened her hand again, the gun had been replaced with a diamond – a white point star. The Woman gave the diamond to the boy, who approached the thrashing, burning form of the Master. The boy reached out a hand containing the diamond to him. With an agonising lurch, the Master seized the boy’s hand. The pain vanished. The drums were stilled, forever.
The Master woke up in what appeared to be a disused hospital ward. The white bronze walls and hexagonal consoles distinguished it as a Time Lord medical bay. He was strapped to a bed at the wrists and ankles. As he came to his senses, a spherical medi-bot the size of a bowling ball floated into view. Through its translucent shell, the Master could see a swirl of deep reds and blues at its core. An array of medical implements fanned out like wings on each side of the sphere, one of which protruded out and started jabbing at the Master’s face.
“Gerroff!” the Master spat at the thing, which drifted away.
“You’re awake,” said a familiar voice. The Master turned his head and locked eyes with the stern woman from his dream, sitting at a console across the room.
“As though my day couldn’t get any worse,” the Master muttered. “I thought that was you, clinging onto Rassilon’s skirt tails at the Naismith mansion. It’s been a long time.”
The Woman didn’t respond. She templed her fingers and considered him carefully.
“Where am I?” he asked.
“Exactly where you wanted to be; the last day of the Time War,” said the Woman. “You dragged Rassilon back here and sealed up the time lock behind you.”
“Is he dead?”
“Oh no, he’s having his regeneration overseen by top specialists. For yours, however, I needed a more clandestine approach. Nobody knows you’re here.”
Curious, the Master thought, he’d gone through every kind of regeneration – good and bad, natural and unnatural – and this didn’t feel like any of them. He felt refreshed but not changed. The Master cast around for a reflective surface.
“Not quite,” the Woman said. “I’ve granted you a new regeneration cycle to fix your…condition. It was the only thing that would save you. But we were able to siphon off the excess energy into a genetic receptacle and prevent your appearance from changing. See for yourself.”
The Woman stood up and approached, presenting him with two objects. One a small mirror and the other a diamond – the white point star – now shimmering with a strange orange aura.
“How did that manage to store my regeneration?” the Master demanded, ignoring the mirror.
“Rassilon sent the white point star into your past,” the Woman explained. “It’s become intrinsically linked to your timeline and so, in Time Lord terms, a genetic marker.”
“That was stupid of him. Although, he’s the only one who can grant a new regeneration cycle. Since I’m probably off his Christmas card list, how did you manage it?”
“I have my ways.”
“More to the point, why? Last day of the Time War, Daleks closing in, stuck behind a time lock. So we’ve got … What? A few hours at best. Why all that trouble when we’re going to die anyway?”
The Woman looked sad at this, ashamed.
“You were a nasty little boy. Ever since you and the Doctor entered the Academy you’ve been on different paths. I thought you were a bad influence on him. Today I discovered you were sent down that path by a selfish, scared little man. All things considered, showing you a single kindness before the end felt like the least we could do.”
“And I’m strapped to a bed because…”
“Because, despite what Rassilon did and even though you saved the Doctor from him, you are still you,” the Woman replied. “The people of this world are suffering enough today without setting the Master loose among them.”
The Master conceded the point.
After that, the Woman – though the Master knew her by another name – left him alone while chaos reigned close by. The Master felt like a child stuck indoors on a summer evening, watching from the window as the other children play.
The medi-bot, also known as MARBLE – Medical Assistant Robot Bearing Levitation Equipment – was drifting around the room like a bored party balloon. So the Master occupied himself giving it nonsensical orders and watching it zip about in confusion. Eventually he ordered it to hold up the mirror and inspected his semi-regenerated face. No cobalt blue skull stared back, which was a good start. The blonde streaks in his hair had been burnt away but he was otherwise unchanged. His hands were unblemished by the scratches and blisters he’d picked up living on that dump. Earth, they called it. He felt like his old self again. Perhaps he’d grow a beard, if he had time between now and the apocalypse.
Then something changed. The Master felt the shiftand sniffed the air forcefully. Someone was messing about with the timelines again. Causality was having quite a day.
“MARBLE!” the Master barked at the medi-bot, “What’s going on? Show me a feed!”
Obligingly, MARBLE projected a hologram of the Public Register Video – the Time Lord news service. But there was no news. Just two words, broadcasting on every channel.
The Master stared at the message, suspicion dawning. Then a sound broke in – a cacophony of multiple TARDIS in flight. Not just any TARDIS. The Master had heard it often enough to recognise that sound: it was the Doctor’s TARDIS! Three of them, at least. Then a grinning, young face appeared, with a large chin and a swoop of hair over his brow. The boy wore a bow tie around his neck. It couldn’t be.
The Master, still strapped to the bed, watched dumbfounded as three Doctors – bow tie, spiky-haired pinstripes and the old, beardy one the Master was rather fond of – laid out their plans. They were going to extract Gallifrey from the time lock and hide it away in a pocket dimension, safe from the Dalek attack but trapped and isolated. All three Doctors were insufferably pleased with themselves.
“Oh no you don’t, Doctor!” the Master snarled at the hologram. “You’re not trapping me here with this lot!”
Death was one thing – he’d bounced back from that plenty of times, sometimes accidentally – but being stuck on Gallifrey, planet of the status quo, was more than the Master could stomach. The fact that a freshly-regenerated Rassilon would soon be baying for his blood was an added incentive.
“MARBLE! Pass me that mirror now!” he commanded. The medi-bot bounced into action, scooping up the small, circular mirror with its wing and placing it in the Master’s bound left hand.
Then the Master died.
MARBLE twirled in surprise as the hearts monitor droned a single flat note. Without warning, both of the Master’s hearts had stopped simultaneously. MARBLE knew hearts failure so soon after regeneration could be fatal and double-defibrillation was risky. Surgery was required, MARBLE’s programming reminded it urgently. MARBLE activated its laser scalpel and drew close to the Master’s chest. Before the beam could touch his skin, however, the mirror skimmed in-between and deflected the laser, blasting one of the bed’s wrist straps to molten leather. The Master’s eyes shot open and, with his freed fist, delivered a heavy blow that sent MARBLE spinning away wildly.
With nimble fingers, the Master loosened the other straps and hopped up from the bed. Time to go out and play.
It wasn’t until the Master had escaped the medical bay, run down winding bronze corridors and shot out into deserted Citadel streets that he realised he was being followed. Whirling around, the Master caught MARBLE in both hands as it glided after him. He peered into the medi-bot’s single eye sensor.
“Oh right. You’re programmed to keep me alive, even if I go swanning off into a warzone.” the Master deduced.
Lacking a voice-synth, MARBLE chirped in what it hoped was an obliging way.
The Master released it and shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
“HALT! OR YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED!” came a rough, rasping voice. A bronze Dalek drone had emerged from an alley and was bearing down on them, gunstick raised. Before the Master could react, MARBLE span to face the Dalek and shot its laser scalpel directly into the Dalek’s eyestalk. Not enough to destroy it, but enough to blind it temporarily.
“VISION IMPAIRED! VISION IMPAIRED! I CANNOT SEE!” The Dalek wailed and began firing erratically. The Master seized the opportunity and ran, MARBLE followed attentively behind, dodging gunstick fire from the blinded Dalek.
The Master needed a TARDIS. Luckily, a long time ago, the Master had helped an old friend and his granddaughter to a nearby repair yard and distracted the Chancellery Guard while they made their escape. The Master zipped through deserted streets and past crumbling buildings. The lack of bodies or any more stray Dalek drones was curious. The Master surmised that the Daleks, getting wise to the Doctor’s plans, had withdrawn their forces. They didn’t want to get trapped on Gallifrey any more than he did.
Barrelling into the abandoned repair yard, the Master stopped to catch his breath as MARBLE drifted in after him. Dusty rows of assorted TARDIS models stood vigil along the walls, casting long shadows in the setting sunlight. The Master produced the white point star from his pocket and fell to his knees in front of the nearest TARDIS – an anonymous slate-grey cylinder with a sliding door. He held the diamond aloft like a proposal.
“Look, you’re a TARDIS, I’m a psychopath. Neither of us are meant to stay in one place.”
He indicated the diamond.
“This thing is fizzing with my regeneration energy. We don’t have time to get to know each other, but we can use it to form a makeshift psychic link and blow a hole in the time lock. Well, hopefully. But it’s either take your chances with me or grow moss sitting here. So … Whaddya say?”
The Master sensed the TARDIS mulling it over. Hurry up, he thought to himself. What part of stasis-engineered-pocket-dimension didn’t this oversized tin can understand? After a few moments, the TARDIS warbled dubiously.
“Fine,” the Master snapped. “MARBLE, make yourself useful and pick the lock. Have you got anything for treating temporal displacement? It should make short work of a TARDIS entry system.”
MARBLE zipped forward and produced a thin metal instrument from among its implement-array wings. It looked like a long toothpick, but its tip shuddered in and out of existence; sometimes it reappeared with attachments, or it was shorter or longer, sometimes it was covered in blood, or flowers, or it was screaming. Perfect, the Master thought, as MARBLE attacked the TARDIS door with it.
The Master stood up but, suddenly, found himself paralysed. His frozen limbs refused to obey. Instead, his legs were turning him around against his will. As he turned, he found he was not alone.
A bald and very angry looking man was glaring at him, flanked by a dozen Chancellery Guard soldiers. He was shorter than his previous incarnation, drowning in the gold Presidential robes and struggling to keep his neck up under the weight of the collar. The gauntlet on his outstretched left hand glowed a bright and icy blue. Rassilon’s new face sneered at the Master in a way that suggested the expression was permanent.
“Leaving so soon?” Rassilon taunted. “After all we went through to get here?”
The Master couldn’t speak, the effect of Rassilon’s gauntlet clamping his jaw shut.
“I’m going to enjoy this immensely,” Rassilon oozed.
“Stop!” a voice rang through the repair yard. From a side door, the Woman strode into the room and stood between the two Time Lords.
“Let him go, Rassilon. You owe him your life,” said the Woman.
“Stay out of this!” Rassilon snapped, waving her away. “I owe this creature nothing!”
“Is that so?” said the Woman, pointing to the sky. “Right now, the Doctor is up there saving all our lives. A future Doctor – an incarnation after the one you tried to destroy. The Master saved the Doctor from you, making sure he lived long enough to reach his next regeneration. Whereas your plan would have destroyed the universe and us with it. So yes, Lord President, you owe him!”
One of the Chancellary Guards stepped forward and roughly pushed the Woman aside. Rassilon fixed his eyes on the Master. The glow from his gauntlet flared and the Master grunted in pain. There was fiery fingers tugging at the seams of his newly-repaired cells, preparing to rip him apart. The Master heard the Woman shout a single word.
The pain vanished. The Master opened his eyes. The Woman and Rassilon, gauntlet gone, were floating with him in an empty white void.
“Where are we?” Rassilon demanded.
“Inside the Matrix,” said the Woman, her voice echoing ethereally.
“Without a portal? That’s impossible,” said the Master, his voice restored.
“Not for me,” the Woman winked at him. “Now, let’s review.”
In a flash, a cavernous dining room had materialised around them. The Naismith mansion, in silent disarray. Amongst the upturned tables and broken glass, two ghostly figures cowered before an archway of computer panels and wires. Beneath the arch, Rassilon – his previous self – stood, gauntleted hand raised. Matrix projections of the Doctor and the Master were staring in frozen horror as Rassilon prepared to destroy the two old friends.
“Now that the Time War is over,” the Woman began, striding amongst the debris. “Questions will be asked in the Panopticon. The High Council will want to know what happened here and they’ll consult the Matrix. They’ll see this.”
The Woman opened her arms wide, indicating the scene.
“Evidence that you tried to kill the Doctor. That Gallifrey’s salvation was almost lost because of you. And that you conspired to destroy the entire universe to ensure your survival.”
“So what?!” Rassilon spat. “I am President Eternal. I can do what I like!”
The Master chimed in, catching on. “During the Time War, perhaps. But, like she said, it’s over now. Eternity is longer than it used to be. Do you think the High Council will want you around when they see this? Or will they ship you back to your tomb?”
Rassilon glared back at him. The Woman stepped over to the projection of the Doctor and looked into his eyes.
“In this account, you tried to kill the Doctor and the Master saved his life,” she said. “But, with a small tweak to the order of things…”
The Woman clicked her fingers and the projections shimmered away like an invisible cloak had been draped over them. When they reappeared, the Master was standing, pressing a revolver between the Doctor’s eyes. The Doctor was on his knees, an expression of utter panic and desperation. Even in their worst moments, the Master had never seen the Doctor looking so very small and scared.
In slow motion, the Matrix projection of Rassilon waved his gauntleted fist and the gun dissolved in the hands of the Master projection. The Master, blonde hair and sallow skin, shot Rassilon a furious, manic look. A beam of electricity erupted from his now-empty hands, hitting the Lord President square in the chest.
“Freeze,” declared the Woman and the scene stopped, stilled bolts of thunder hanging expectantly in the air.
“If I choose it,” the Woman continued. “The Time Lords will look into the Matrix and find this. Rassilon saving the Doctor’s life and dragging the Master back into the Time War, sacrificing a regeneration in the process.”
“You’ll be a hero,” the Master said to Rassilon.
“You can’t change the Matrix records!” cried Rassilon insistently.
The Master and the Woman shot him a pair of withering looks.
“Maybe not in your time, gramps,” said the Master.
“All you have to do is let the Master go,” said the Woman gently.
The Woman closed her eyes and the Naismith mansion vanished. They were back in the repair yard. The Master fell to his knees as he regained control of his body. The Woman looked on as Rassilon gestured to the Chancellery Guard. The soldiers filed out obediently.
“Fine. Let him try to escape if he wants,” said Rassilon sharply. “He’ll smash into the time lock like a bug on a solar windshield anyway.”
“Oh of course, Lord President, you’re absolutely right. After all…”
MARBLE trilled excitedly as the TARDIS door swung open.
“What do I know about locks?”
The control room was dark, lit only by the orange glow of the white point star wired into the console. The TARDIS was tearing through space away from Gallifrey, building up enough momentum to break through the time lock. The Master watched on the scanner as his home planet receded from view.
There was a distant flash of light. Shattered Dalek saucers began tumbling away from the void. Gallifrey was gone.
MARBLE let out a low, sad beep at the loss. Gallifrey was his home too.
“Oh don’t be such a girl,” the Master told MARBLE. “Gallifrey isn’t gone, just hidden. They’ll be back and I’ll be ready. Rassilon did this to me. He manipulated me. Deformed me. Turned me into a monster. He thinks he can just kick me out and forget about it. No!”
The Master turned away from the scanner and yanked a lever on the console. The TARDIS picked up speed, the console room shook wildly. The time lock was approaching fast. The Master screamed with joy as he ran round the console, hammering the ship forwards.
“If it takes a thousand regenerations, I will have my revenge on him and all his precious Time Lords. I’ll make monsters of them and lay waste to their world. Mark my words, I am the Master and I am coming back!”
The Master howled as all around him the timelines rippled and convulsed. He laughed himself back into the universe.