The real reason Holmes didn't come straight home after the Final Problem? A certain Time Lord still can't land the TARDIS properly...
The Adventure of the Blue Box
Holmes feels his victory and its price in the same instant. Moriarty clutches at him and tries to hurl himself forward but it’s done, it’s too late, they have both slipped too far. Holmes’ heart lurches in anticipation as his feet leave the rock, as his weight and Moriarty’s drag him, head downwards, into the air.
A dreadful howl breaks from Moriarty. Holmes draws a breath, lets the emptiness take him in silence. He lets Moriarty go, and, free of each other, finally, finally
they are falling between the floating sheets of atomised water.
It is, as he allowed himself to hope when he first understood the shape of his approaching death, almost exhilarating, almost like flight. The cool wet air sings past him. He resists the temptation to close his eyes. He wants to see it all, he wants everything these last seconds have for him –
Light breaking into arcs of colour in the spray, the milky boiling of the water below him, the black rocks that will break him, and, oh, a kind of peace, safety at last from whatever it is that’s chased him all these years. And yet is seems he does want more, he wants everything
Directly below him, where there was nothing but mist and spray – hanging, impossibly unsupported in space – is ... something. The small, square, blue-painted roof
of, of –
The breath is knocked out of Holmes by the impact. He slides a little and clings automatically to – to what
, for God’s sake?
Moriarty’s shriek rings one last time and breaks off. Dead. While Holmes is alive, to all appearances, and spreadeagled upon... an object
, hovering in mid-air.
He sits up, gripping warily at the edges of the... structure
, and looks from this unexpected angle at the falls and confirms that there is nothing holding him up. And then the... box
upon which he is perched begins an abrupt ascent towards the sky.
Holmes, who a moment before was plummeting to his death in open-eyed silence, screams.
“Everything all right up there?” inquires a sympathetic, Estuary-accented voice from somewhere beneath him.
The box swoops up past the cliffs and for a moment, Holmes is face to whiskered face with an extremely startled Colonel Sebastian Moran. They stare at one another in a kind of brief solidarity of utter shock. Then Moran collects himself very creditably and starts shooting at him.
“Oh, whoops,” says the voice from below, as bullets bounce off the wooden walls of the... thing
and Holmes ducks and clutches at the edges for dear life. “Time we were going. Get in.” A hand closes around Holmes’ ankle and Holmes screams again.
“Come on, get in!” repeats his rescuer and it is really most impressive that Moran is managing to make so many hits on such a rapidly moving target. Holmes sees no option but to scramble down, half-dragged by his as-yet-unseen saviour. He finds himself reeling on the threshhold of something called a police box
– and don’t they have those in Glasgow? – and almost topples again towards the chasm but someone seizes him by the shirt-front and drags him inside. He collapses onto the floor of an extremely large
room, and lies there, gasping.
A wild-haired, wild-eyed man in a brown pin-stripe suit, apparently roughly his own age, tall and thin as himself crouches over him, beaming. He seizes Holmes’ hand and starts pumping it energetically up and down.
“Why?” inquires Holmes, weakly, and for now, can’t manage another word.
The stranger fairly capers before him. “Oh, Mr Holmes, MISTER SHERLOCK HOLMES –” he appears to relish every syllable. “It is my HONOUR. I am SUCH a fan!” He releases Holmes’ hand at last and flings his arms wide, apparently indicating everything in the cavernous, copper-coloured chamber and himself at once. “Oh, oh, oh, oh! Go on, do the the thing!”
“The what?” croaks Holmes.
“YOUR thing! The detectiving, deducing thing! The, the, the, the, when you, when you just like GLANCE at someone and know EVERYTHING. Because I think it’s BRILLIANT. ”
Holmes recoils slightly and closes his eyes under this barrage of enthusiasm. His new acquaintance does not seem to be able to go more than a few words at a time without shouting. And Holmes is aching from the impact with the roof of this impossible machine and with Moriarty’s blows; his heart is still racing – his heart
is still racing
, which it shouldn’t be, because he is supposed to be dead
. He is not in any mood to perform tricks for the amusement of this... this person.
However, even with his eyes now shut, the tide of impressions is still coursing through his unwilling brain, and he must start to sift it into sense or it will drown him. He breathes, “You are not human.” The stranger chuckles encouragingly. Ice creeps down Holmes’ spine, but he continues, “This chamber is part of a craft... which travels both space and time.”
“That’s what I’m talking about!” bellows the stranger. “That’s some really good deducing, that is. Most people are just like, ‘ooooh, the inside is bigger than the outside!’ and ‘eeeeh, who ARE you?’ But YOU’RE like –WHOOSH!” He waves his hands about, clicking his fingers several times in front of Holmes’ face. “Working it all out.” He taps, irritatingly, on Holmes’ skull with his knuckles. “Just a little monkey brain in there, but don’t you make it go?”
Holmes grimaces and stares up at him, fixing the stranger with his sharpest and most ruthless gaze. He says more loudly, “Despite not being one of us, you are obsessively preoccupied with our species. This conversation furnishes us with proof of two planets inhabited by intelligent beings; I must assume that there are many more. Yet with countless worlds to explore, Earth is, perhaps, your favourite, and you seem to hold my own nation in particular esteem.”
The man grins and bounces like one of the Irregulars with a cream bun. “Oh, go on,” he bubbles happily. “How’d you do all that?”
“Surely to a being such as yourself it is quite transparent. The discrepancy between the internal and external dimensions of this extraordinary craft is, in itself, almost sufficient to tell me everything. The unity of space and time is an ancient concept; it is hardly likely that a vessel that violates all laws associated with space so entirely should find time any challenge at all. I suppose it might just be feasible that mankind might at some very distant time create such things. However those illuminated symbols upon that column must be a form of writing, but I am quite sure they are not from any script of Earth. And finally," his voice wavers very slightly, "You have a second, asynchronous pulse in your throat where no pulse should be: You have two hearts. As to your fixation with humanity, you rescued me, and you appear to know me. It is unlikely a creature who would act so would choose me as your sole protégé. Then there is your accent, and your suit, which is oddly cut, yet is nothing more exotic than wool. There is a banana on the floor. There are biscuit crumbs on your shirt. You smell faintly of tea. And I can see no signs of similar attachment to any other place – the alien devices I see around me all appear quite functional. All your little comforts are of Earth.”
The stranger rubs his hands exultantly, his eyes shining with glee. “Yeah, I love it. Sherlock Hooooolmes, in my TARDIS. Anyway, I’m the Doctor, this...”
He’s about to bound to his feet and move on to other topics. Holmes has thus far delivered his remarks while still lying, limp as a wet rag, on the curiously curved metallic floor. He sits up now and holds the stranger in place with a firm grip to the shoulder. “You asked for my my observations; I have not finished them. You are estranged from your own kind, or you are the only survivor of an otherwise extinct race, or perhaps both. You pride yourself on saving lives and doing good works. But you arrogate to yourself more authority than belongs to any mortal creature – and you are
mortal, I think, though you are far longer-lived than we.”
It is, he must admit, satisfying to make this ancient, boisterous, meddling being back slightly away from him in alarm. “Here,” the man protests. “That’s enough out of you. I just rescued you, you know.”
“I have just nearly died and had my understanding of the universe turned on its head, you know,” snaps Holmes, “It has been altogether a most trying day.” He flops back for a moment on the floor, and murmurs, “I was ready to die.”
“Rubbish!” chirps the stranger, whose mood has apparently veered back towards manic exuberance. “You’re not ready to die at all. Die?! You?! Sherlock Holmes?! Die?! Falling off a waterfall?! NOOOO!” The last word is a cheerful yet rather terrifying drawn-out howl. He leaps over to a bank of strange switches and buttons, slams a lever and there is an extraordinary lurching that seems to set Holmes’ every cell shivering with the strangeness of it. ”Oh, no, Mr Holmes. The universe isn’t finished with you yet. And by the way a thank you
would be nice.”
“Thank you,” concedes Holmes, passing a still-trembing hand over his face and then getting up. “You said you are...?”
“Where are you taking me, Doctor?”
‘The Doctor’ is plainly the only name the man is likely to give him, but Holmes does not feel particularly happy about it. As far as he is concerned, “The Doctor” is somebody else. The Doctor eclipses and predominates the whole of his profession...
“I dunno,” answers this
Doctor. “Where would you like?”
Holmes tries to work out to connect this experience with events back on the ground. “I must return to Meiringen at once.”
“Got to mind that bloke with the gun, though,” warns the Doctor.
“But my friend... Oh, heavens, he will find my note. What he will think...”
“Well, sure,” agrees the Doctor. “Sure, of course you have to go BACK, yeah, obviously, you have to go BACK, but, have you ever fancied seeing the ruins on the Eye of Orion, or the crimson lightning over the Pyramids of Sava first?”
“You are... speaking of other worlds,” whispers Holmes, and an electric thrill of curiosity and terror and awe courses through him, headier than anything he’s ever pumped into his veins.
The Doctor shoves his hands in his pockets and grins smugly. “Oh yeah. Could use someone around who’s almost as clever as me.”
“But I ... I have no time, I cannot allow people to believe that I’m...”
“Mr Holmes. What did you just deduce? I can take you right back to whenever you like.”
This is a statement, Holmes will later discover, that should have been made only with certain important qualifications.
* * *
Six weeks later, (The Doctor is very vague about time aboard the TARDIS but Holmes keeps track of the days in one of the TARDIS’s many bathrooms by paying attention to the rate of growth of stubble on his jaw), Holmes is a discontented prey to conflicting sentiments.
He wonders how he will ever be able to go home. After all this
, after staring into the birth of a galaxy, after witnessing the of the construction of the Colossus at Rhodes, after the adventure of the Queen of Calasra, after learning the extraordinary secret of the Wheel of Ufiolos, surely London – Victorian
London, as he has come to think of it – will seem intolerably small. His mind will be so cramped he thinks he might even die of it. The worthiest opponent of his own place and time is dead, after all. He
is supposed to be dead. (Though there is still Moran, about whom he really will have to do something before he is very much older). And out here there are Tetraps and Chronovores and Sontarans, there are a vast number of things that are unhealthily preoccupied with destroying the Earth and a smaller but still sizeable group that wish to destroy the universe entire.
He and the Doctor hurtle about the place, stopping
Sometimes, he thinks all it would need to make this unexpected extension of his life perfect would be to persuade This
Doctor to swing past Earth again and scoop up The
Doctor. He imagines Watson at his side, running up corridors and through labyrinths and over heaths and along beaches and down more corridors, (there is a lot of running) and shooting Exxilons with his service revolver and scribbling everything down in his notebook afterwards...
(Though for whom? No one would believe
these stories – would The Strand
accept them as fiction?)
It never quite seems to fit, he cannot convince himself Watson belongs out here. The Doctor would probably confiscate his revolver, for a start, which would be sure to annoy him. (The Doctor is perfectly happy to avail of himself of things with buttons and levers that wreak inevitable obliteration upon their foes but for some reason guns are out). Some of the things he has seen – the destruction of planets, the deaths of innocents, and the century of dreadful carnage which is about to dawn upon their own world – they have all shaken Holmes badly, but he thinks they would have broken Watson’s heart. And what about Mrs Watson... he winces a little. No, Watson has his life, which Holmes has a bad habit of endangering, and perhaps if Holmes had a scrap of decency he would stay here among the stars until the poisoned tentacles of a Closrophraw or the psionic sword of a Keshian Warrior get him, and leave him to it. He is supposed to be dead, after all, so in a sense it surely does not matter what he does.
But no, he cannot commit himself to living and never seeing his friend again. Sooner or later, then, he must go home.
And there is this
The Time Lord is an fascinating creature, a fitting subject for endless study. Unique, it seems, even within his own lost race of chrononautical Titans – brilliant, mercurial, heroic. Holmes has never been bored
in the Doctor’s company, not for an instant. It is not that he does not like
the Doctor, exactly, and certainly not that he is ungrateful.
He has, however, very often wanted to throttle him.
The man’s self-regard is so immense that Holmes wonders how even the infinite reaches of the TARDIS manage to contain it. Holmes has never counted modesty among the virtues before but dear heavens, if there was ever a creature to teach him the value of it. Holmes has learned to dread the almost inevitable moment in their every adventure when some imperilled victim or sneering monster has the folly to ask him, “Who are you
“I’m the Doctor,” Holmes hears, echoing from somewhere below while he is crawling through the ventilation system of a gigantic space-prison adrift in the Horsehead Nebula, trying to sabotage the device that’s about to poison them all, with a young lady called Bethany Brown behind him. “I’m the last of the Time Lords. I’m the man who’s going to break open those gates and set every prisoner on this ship free, and then I’m going to bring the sunlight back to that planet down there...” And Holmes can just picture the way his stern, pale countenance breaks into a daft and boundlessly self-admiring grin even from here... “And if you’re very, very lucky, I’m going to let you watch me do it.”
“Oh good God please shut up,
” Holmes grits out through his teeth to the indignant surprise of Bethany whom, the Doctor ‘snogged’, as he put it, half an hour ago, and thinks the Doctor is marvellous.
And yes, yes, of course he is
. If he is arrogant he has every reason to be. He thinks he is extraordinary and he is
extraordinary, he thinks he is brilliant and he is
brilliant. Though, capacious as it may be, Holmes considers the Doctor’s mind to be lamentably ill-disciplined. “Will
you,” he growls, one night on the third moon of Paxicafarolon, “Kindly try to concentrate on the matter in hand?”
To which the Doctor replies, “Yeah, you’ve got a point OH LOOK A HUGE FISH,” and runs off. Holmes sighs, lifts his eyes to the emerald sky, and follows.
He has been doing a lot of following
lately.>> Part II