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 - Part II
Bethany has nowhere particular to go after they destroy the prison ship; the human colony on the planet below is free and bathed in sunlight again, but Bethany’s family were disintegrated before her eyes when she was only a child. So she knocks around with them in the TARDIS for a while.
She is much preoccupied with trying to ease the Doctor’s woes. “It’s a good thing he’s got us, isn’t it, Mr Holmes?” she says, as they pursue a lost baby Chaffaru through the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, some summer day during the sixth century before Christ. She would prefer to call him Sherlock, social mores evidently being pretty informal in the 34th century where she comes from, but she has accepted that this makes Holmes terribly uncomfortable. “He’s like our guardian angel
, the way he swooped in and saved us both, and yet he’s so sad underneath. Like a lonely little boy.”
Holmes wonders if the furtive eyeroll he gives when Bethany isn’t looking is unworthy. It is true that the Doctor is, at times, intensely sad. And he has every right to be. Holmes is often very sad, after all, and he is not even sure exactly why, he certainly does not have the excuse of the loss of his whole planet and species, for heaven’s sake. Close as he now knows it’s come, a few times. The Doctor’s loneliness is entirely understandable.
Sometimes, however, Holmes does gets a little sick of people going on about it all the time.
He warns Bethany, “Do bear in mind he is more than sixty times your age, Miss Brown.”
Bethany may be annoyingly sentimental where the Doctor is concerned, but she is bright enough. She frowns, and then gives Holmes a sunny grin. “Oh come on. He’s only forty-five times my age. He said he’s nine hundred and seven.”
“He lies,” says Holmes, darkly.
“There it is!” cries Bethany, pouncing on the baby alien and bundling it up in her coat. They carry it, squirming, back to the TARDIS. The Doctor is nowhere to be seen.
“What’s happened to him?” Bethany frets.
Holmes looks around and points to a silvery trail of drying mucus on a sun-warmed marble wall, and then the prints of the curious shoes called ‘converse’ in the sand. “The Doctor has engaged the creature’s mother,” he says. “Either he is chasing it, or it is chasing him.”
“Either way...” says Bethany.
“Run,” Holmes agrees.
“You know,” says Bethany, as they follow the trail, “Apart from how you can’t regenerate or give people amnesia, and apart from how you don’t have a time machine or two hearts or really good hair, you’re a lot like him.”
Holmes swallows back a childish cry of “I am not!” and instead says, “My dear Miss Brown, the comparison is fanciful.”
But he has already had moments of reluctant awareness that the things that infuriate him most about the Doctor – the bursts of wild energy punctuated by fits of depressive moping, the assumption he is always the most brilliant and compelling person anyone has ever met – are uncomfortably familiar.
The Doctor praises Holmes to the skies whenever he so much as points out the tooth-marks on a corpse do not
match the fangs of the creature the locals say inflicted the wound, yet Holmes always feels faintly suspicious he is not being taken quite seriously. As for Bethany, the Doctor seems not to have lured her into anything more improper than the occasional “snog”, but he drinks up her admiration, her constant desire to please and help him, and what does Bethany really
get back for it?
Holmes is rather afraid this is how he treats Watson all the time.
When he goes home, he resolves, he will change.
Well, at least he will try.
Well. While he is engaging in all this honesty and self-awareness, he might as well admit that probably he will not try. But he will
be more appreciative.
God, even his thoughts are starting to sound
like the Doctor.
* * *
That night, (if it is ever really night when one is rattling around the Time Vortex) Holmes suddenly sits up in bed having deduced that Bethany’s mother and sister are not
dead but had actually been teleported to a mining ship in an asteroid field . A quick rescue later the family is reunited and it’s just the Holmes and the Doctor again.
Holmes had, it is true, begun to feel a certain... companionship
with Bethany, unusual for him, but then he has never been compelled to share lodgings with a young lady before. But the resolution to her case is so satisfying that he really has no reason to think of her again. The Doctor, however, misses her. The Doctor misses a lot of people, it seems. A great number of people seem to have travelled with him, judging from the contents of the large wardrobe room, and most of them seem to have been young ladies. The Doctor drops hints at unguarded moments but will not be drawn on exactly what happened to them. “Gone
,” is all he’ll say when pressed.
Holmes pieces together what clues he can and constructs certain theories. This one left for something better. That one is stuck in a parallel universe. What became of the woman whose strands of long, auburn hair he finds clinging to a feathered hat in an abandoned box, he cannot
work out. A few of them are certainly dead. But, hearteningly for his own future, mostly they seem to have survived.
And yet the Doctor seems to consider them all
irretrievable– even though they are not all, like the Doctor’s people, erased from history. Holmes can supply explanations: the pain, for an extremely long-lived being, of watching very mortal friends age – alongside the Doctor’s extreme proneness to distraction. But still, he finds it curious that the Doctor never seems to go back, and the thought makes him strangely uneasy. “I
will come back,” he promises inwardly to the only two people he misses himself.
As far as they are concerned, he will never even have left.
* * *
The Doctor does not believe in any God, and looks faintly disappointed and pitying when he discovers Holmes does. This does not bother Holmes unduly; he does not consider proselytising to Time Lords to be his job. That the Doctor sometimes talks about himself as if he were all three persons of the Trinity and six or seven other persons thrown in for good measure, bothers him far more. It is downright blasphemous.
It does not help that from time to time the very universe seems to conspire in the Doctor’s posturing. A star in the distance goes supernova and frames his tousled head in a perfect halo just
as he has managed to mend a matter-replicator to supply five thousand starving people stranded on a crippled warship in the Sagittarius Star Cloud with food. The machine emits a surprisingly musical – an almost choral
– hum and starts turning out bread and fishes. Holmes groans.
He could almost take these incidents as signs the Doctor really is touched by the divine, but damn it, he refuses to take them as evidence of anything but the fact that the universe is stupid
sometimes. And he will not encourage the Doctor’s messianic antics.
But they meet plenty of people who will.
“He has descended among us from the heavens!” burbles the Priestess of Rahyldra, fixing the Doctor with her mad eyes. “The Lonely God, the one who wanders the darkness, forever a stranger, he who dies and rises again like the sun...” She glances vaguely at Holmes. “...And his companion.”
Holmes scowls. He and the Doctor are currently chained to pillars and about to be fed to gigantic, iridescent, Halvragar Worms. But the Doctor gets that look
which warns Holmes that even when they get out of this he’s in for days of moping.
It turns out that under the Temple of Rahyldra is an ancient superweapon that is, inevitably, about to go off and kill everyone on the planet. The Doctor ends up saving them all by channeling a ray of deadly epsilon energy through himself. This very nearly kills him, and somehow
it is necessary in the course of this that he must be bathed in ethereal light, and when he falls back, miraculously still alive, he must have his arms stretched wide, and a martyred expression on his face.
“Oh! Snap out of it
!” snarls Holmes, charging across the room and grabbing the crumpled Doctor away from the jaws of a Halvragar Worm which is back and hungrier than ever.
* * *
They have a furious row after the Doctor finds the notes Holmes has been making on various topics throughout most of his stay.
Holmes has examined the TARDIS carefully, but without such an unimaginable source of power on Earth as the Eye of Harmony, it seems likely that the secret of time travel will remain out of his reach. However, he has come to certain conclusions on sonic waves and their applications that, while incomplete (and after all he is not a physicist), may prove useful with further study and the involvement of the Royal Society.
The field of forensics, of course, has always fascinated him, and he has seen astonishing conclusions drawn from a mere drop of blood – even a single cell. “DNA” is a term the Doctor bandied about in his hearing and it is clear it is part of the answer. Holmes puzzled over it for days and then remembered Miescher’s experiments, which he had studied years ago during his own investigations into haemoglobin. Nuclein
. Amino acids. Their properties must be explored in more detail. He was also highly struck by the advances to be made – relatively soon but too late for so many – in the field of antibiotics.
The Doctor snatches the notebook, tosses it through an unexpected hatch in the TARDIS’ wall and ejects it into space.
“Britannia not ruling enough waves, is it?” the Doctor cries, “Going to make it mightier yet? Not on my watch.”
“I thought I could, at least,” says Holmes stiffly, “Prevent quite so many children dying of typhus. I could catch more criminals. I could save innocent men from the noose. ”
“Well, tough. You knew you weren’t supposed to do this. Oh, you knew all right, or you wouldn’t have hidden it from me.”
“I did not consider your approval as a factor one way or the other, strange as it may sound to you.”
“Well you should have! Before you ran around stealing things you’re not supposed to have!”
“I stole nothing! I merely observed!”
“HOLMES,” howls the Doctor, exasperated, “Time Lord stuff – future
stuff – stuff from 3368 – is not supposed to be in 1891! You KNOW that!”
“But gentlemen from 1891 are supposed to be 3368?” protests Holmes. “Young ladies from 3368 are supposed to be in pre-Christian Babylon? Doctor, from one end of time to another, my presence has already wrought incalculable historic changes. I have been the means by which innumerable anomalies have been created, and you are the one who created them! And you may destroy my notes, but I have knowledge I could never have attained had I remained in my own time, unless you propose to wipe it out of my head – ” his breath catches for an instant and he draws back, chilled, as it occurs to him – of course, the Doctor could
. And yet he pushes on regardless, “Did you truly expect me not to reflect on what I saw? If so, allow me to say that bringing me along was most unwise. What is such a journey for if not to learn? What is knowledge for if not to be used? And if I may use what I know to help others in your company, then why not outside it? Not to mention what you do yourself! Why can you use the insights you have gained in your wanderings to save lives if I cannot?”
The Doctor’s gesticulates wildly in the air. “There are just – things you can’t do
! Not all lives are meant to be saved!”
“Nor was mine!” shouts Holmes.
“Yes,” the Doctor growls, “Yours was.”
The Doctor folds his arms haughtily. “Me
There is a grinding pause while they glare at each other. Holmes’ fists close and open. At last he points out “You mean,‘I’.”
It is somewhere between a genuine dig at the Doctor’s grammar and a joke meant to break the tension, and the Doctor takes it in the complicated spirit in which it is meant. His eyes flare with renewed annoyance and at the same time a half-smile twitches at his lips. For a moment they could almost let the argument drop and laugh.
But not quite.
,” continues the Doctor, pointedly, “am a Time Lord. I know what I’m doing. You don’t.”
“Do you?” hisses Holmes, freshly incensed. “To the untrained observer it often appears otherwise. Tell me more about fixed points
, for example; their precise nature seems to alter every time you mention the subject.”
The flicker of humour wrenches away from the Doctor’s face leaving nothing but fury. He springs to the controls of the TARDIS and yanks at a lever. “Tell you what,” he says, slamming his fist onto another button. The doors fly open on a empty blue plain lit by frosty stars. “Why don’t you walk home
Holmes drags in an enraged breath but forces himself to be still, gritting his teeth. He stands motionless with the breeze of the alien world fluttering his hair.
“Yes,” he says at last. “Of course you always have the power to do that. With that threat in your pocket, you have no need of a rational argument to compel me to make any concession you wish.” He brings his hands together in a parody of prayer. “I humbly beg that you will be merciful and not maroon me, you will take me home at once.”
They glare at each other in taut silence. Then the Doctor grimaces and slams the doors shut. Holmes stalks off to his room.
* * *
The Doctor does not maroon him and nor does he take him directly home. Neither of them apologises but they spend a day in 16th Century Rome which is clearly meant as a conciliatory gesture, and as Holmes spends a fascinating afternoon talking to the young Lassus about chromaticism he can hardly help but appreciate it. For once, nothing goes wrong. The statues do not come to life. The nuns do not get possessed by anything. There are no screams for help. It is quite the quietest day Holmes has had since he tumbled off the Reichenbach Falls – well, since long before that, actually. When they run into Bruegel the Elder the Doctor still introduces him, as he has since their very first outing, as “my friend, Sherlock Holmes,” and though according to Holmes’ lights they are not friends – not because of the quarrel but because no one is your friend until you have known him a bare minimum of two years –he is, grudgingly, rather touched. He thinks of how the Doctor has the most innocent, open-hearted habit of grabbing the hand of whomever he happens to be running up a corridor or through a labyrinth with at the time. It is a little peculiar, but Holmes has got used to it. He wonders if he will miss the Doctor.
He feels rather sorry when he concludes the answer is no.
They sit on the Ponte Sisto in the evening sun.
“You sure you want to go?” the Doctor asks.
“Yes, I am,” says Holmes quietly. He is somehow no longer worried about London seeming small. “I must go home. My renewed thanks for the journey, Doctor, but let us conclude this so you may be on your way. I am sure somebody needs you.”
The Doctor swings his legs like a schoolboy and chucks a pebble into the Tiber and grins at him. “But you don’t, do you, Mr Holmes?”
“No,” says Holmes. “I do not.” Before this can sound too brutal he goes on, “And neither do you do need me. You need...”
“...Someone to pass me my test tubes and tell me how brilliant I am?” supplies the Doctor lightly. “It’s been said before.”
Holmes writhes with another uncomfortable pang of recognition.
“I need to go home,” he repeats. “I need to see my Doctor."