The message was, of course, urgent. “Typical,” the Doctor had thought at the time, “everything is always urgent with Gallifrey. They seem to delight in leaving everything until the last possible moment, then throw you in at the deep end and expect you to pull them out of trouble!” It also didn’t help that the High Council gave no reason for the summons – they were not required to under their rule of charter and the High Council were not renowned for exerting themselves more than they were legally required to do. But, as usual, they had underestimated the Doctor. Or had they? He had turned to set the coordinates for Gallifrey and found that they were already set. Even at this juncture, the High Council ensured no deviation could take place. The fact that the High Council did not trust him enough to set the coordinates to head there immediately himself, was something that even now, amidst all his other thoughts and painful memories, caused him real undiluted anger, pointless as it was.
The Doctor had been angry at the time, too. “I’ve been fighting their battles through the universe for so long, now, you’d think that they would trust me just once, wouldn’t you?” he had growled at the TARDIS, as he turned the dial to activate the coordinates and direct the TARDIS to the Time Lord home world. He could never think of Gallifrey really as home – he had been away from it for too long. The TARDIS was more his home than anywhere else. Still, Gallifrey represented the baseline of his existence and the centre of the Time Lords’ power, so if that was a definition of “home”, then he supposed Gallifrey was as good as any other place for that. “At least, this time, the High Council has really summoned me, so I don’t imagine I’ll be facing arrest!” he had thought to himself. “I wonder what they do want from me. It could be I have some knowledge they need – more likely there’s some task they find too difficult or don’t want to be seen to be involved in. Or both,” he had thought, bitterly.
All he could be certain of was that there was not one member on the High Council who was likely to either enlighten him immediately or to respond if questioned. That would have been against their code of conduct. “Too much to expect one of them to break the code for my sake,” he had thought. “But if it were for Gallifrey’s sake…..” If he was to find out anything about the reasons behind this summons, he would need to exercise all the tact and patience that he could. He knew he could be tactful, if he had to, but patience had never been one of his virtues! His impatience had caused him to become embroiled in dangerous situations before now, but for him, it was always jump in first, ask questions later.
As the TARDIS had neared the transduction barriers, he sensed something was terribly wrong. There was nothing he could definitely point to as wrong – just a feeling of foreboding. “Like I told Shakespeare when he was writing that Scottish tragedy, ‘by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’,” he had murmured out loud, as the TARDIS slipped through the barriers to land smoothly at the designated landing point, making an almost obscene entry with its characteristic whining sound. The landing point that was chosen, at the request of the High Council, was inside a corridor within reach of the Panopticon. After checking the scanner to ensure that he really was on Gallifrey, he sighed resignedly. “They could have chosen a more interesting location than here,” the Doctor thought. “How typical of them to place me in a Panopticon service corridor where they can keep an eye on me!” He shook his head, before taking a long look around the TARDIS console room, and reluctantly walking across it to the outside doors of the TARDIS.
As he stepped through the doors, the Doctor took a good look at the décor around him. It had been a long time since he was last on Gallifrey, but its appearance didn’t surprise him. The Society of Time Lords, and the High Council in particular, was not known for creative imagination and it showed. The Doctor shook his head and wondered where the ‘welcoming committee’ was. He was about to find out.
As he turned to lock the TARDIS doors, a voice spoke to him. “Doctor, welcome to Gallifrey,” the voice said. Slightly surprised, the Doctor turned slowly to face the owner of the voice. The face was not familiar, neither was the voice. But he sensed that the Time Lord was not unknown to him. In fact, this Time Lord had been one of the first to ‘welcome’ him to Gallifrey on a previous occasion, so recognised the TARDIS easily, although the Doctor’s appearance had undergone four regenerations since they last met. There was only one type forty time capsule still in operation and not only did that belong to the Doctor, but it was well-known that its eccentric and notorious owner had retained its outward appearance as a London police public call box! This was not a very appropriate appearance for Gallifrey, but the Doctor was not known for his desire to fit into the appropriateness of his Gallifreyan surroundings. In fact, he had always delighted in the opposite.
“It is a long time since we last met, Doctor. I wonder if you remember…..” The Time Lord had paused, as the Doctor searched his memory. He remembered a tall, young guard – brave and flexible of mind – that had assisted him, then in an earlier incarnation, in a desperate fight against an aborted Sontaran invasion of Gallifrey. Once this threat was averted, this young man had gone on to marry one of the Doctor’s travelling companions, Leela. So long ago…..
“Andred?” the Doctor had queried, then recognising the insignia of office, added, “But it’s not Commander any more, though, is it? You’ve been promoted to Castellan! Congratulations!” Castellan Andred nodded in agreement. “And Leela?” the Doctor asked.
There was a brief pause before Andred replied. “Leela died nearly fifty years ago, Doctor. She always spoke of you with great admiration.” The Doctor did not say anything further. There was really nothing further he could say. To stay on Gallifrey had been her choice.
But before the Doctor even had time to shake Andred’s hand in welcome and in sympathy, the Castellan had continued in a grave voice, “Doctor, the High Councillors, unfortunately, could not meet you themselves.” The Doctor raised his eyebrows, but did not look surprised. The Castellan continued, “However, they sent me in their stead. They have need of your particular and peculiar talents – and your vast knowledge and experience.” The Doctor had made no comment, sensing – knowing – that there was more to come. High Council messages always had a sting in the tail, particularly when the High Councillors wanted something, at least in the Doctor’s experience. But the information he was about to hear had nothing to do with the High Council – at least, not directly – and it was completely unexpected.
Andred continued quietly, “But first, I am the bearer of bad news, I’m afraid, Doctor. Your granddaughter, Susan, is dead.” The Doctor was highly shocked. He looked lost – rather like he looked when he had newly regenerated for the seventh time after being shot. His first thought was that it couldn’t be true – it couldn’t. It was hundreds of years since he had left Susan on Earth after Daleks had attempted to invade the planet. It was in her best interests at the time. He had known that; had insisted upon it. She was in love; she was safe; on Earth she would be protected from harm. At least that was what he had thought. What he didn’t understand was how Andred would know. Why he would know.
The Doctor started to ask Andred, “How…?” Before he could complete his question, Andred continued.
“She, too, was to be brought to Gallifrey to assist us in our time of greatest peril, but never reached here.” Andred assumed that the Doctor would know why Susan had been brought to Gallifrey. But he didn’t know.
“Why was she summoned to Gallifrey? She was safe on Earth, away from the Time War, away from all this. Yet someone took the effort to send a ship all that way for her. Why?” the Doctor asked, with barely suppressed anger, then almost shouted, “Why?”
“Gallifrey was absolutely desperate for the advice from someone with practical experience and in-depth knowledge of Daleks, Doctor. Next to you, Susan is the one from Gallifrey with the most field experience and detailed knowledge,” the Castellan replied. He looked at the Doctor, who appeared to be both extremely angry and shocked at the same time. Andred, being on the periphery of the High Council because of his security responsibilities, knew, of course, why the High Council summoned Susan rather than the Doctor himself. In his role of Castellan, he knew that he should not tell the Doctor why. However, as a former colleague and as Leela’s widowed husband, he thought he owed the Doctor the truth – but only if he asked.
One look at Andred’s face was enough for the Doctor. He knew without asking why the High Council had summoned Susan, rather than himself. Some of the High Council did not trust him; some of the High Council had not forgiven him for some of his past and thought he was unreliable. “If I were as petty-minded as some of them….,” the Doctor thought. Luckily for him, and for Gallifrey, he was not. The Doctor shelved his anger to one side to ask Andred how Susan was killed. It was not Andred’s fault that he was the bearer of such terrible news and it was important for him to know.
The Castellan replied, “Her ship was destroyed in a direct hit by a Dalek missile. From the little we have been able to piece together, we think it may have been at the instigation of the Emperor of the Daleks, himself. One of the last communications from the pilot of Susan’s ship indicated that they were being tracked from another powerful source.” The Doctor looked at him, with an unfathomable, almost blank, but chilling expression on his face…..
(* To be continued….. *)