As The Fifth Doctor bids farewell to his previous selves, he finds one of those selves may be a little further ahead
THE MAN I WAS
The game of Rassilon was over, the price for playing it had been paid in full by the now deposed Borusa, President Eternal, now ruling alongside many other prize claimers over a tomb.
Within moments Chancellor Flavia and her guards would be descending on the chamber to secure the area and to instruct those who had survived the game to make a full statement of their ordeals.
The Doctor knew he had to make good his escape before that could happen. Celestial Intervention Agency’s regular lines of inquiry were always so bothersome to him.
He also knew that each of his incarnations would have the most terrible trouble keeping their singular narrative straight, having experienced four separate challenges all at once.
He envied his fourth incarnation, who had managed to elude the whole procedure purely on an error on Borusa’s part.
The window open to his remaining selves were narrowing, he knew if they all took their leave now, there would be no chance of him being able to properly recollect due to the timelines being thrown back into synch, he would not be able to retain the memory, and the CIA would be far too tangled up in red tape to bother pursuing the matter further.
Temporal fission was the solution; another product of Rassilon’s misguided but fair genius. Those who had participated in the game would be returned to their customary times and places.
As they all came up to him to say goodbye, the kindly elderly soul reunited at last with his granddaughter, the inconsistently tempered cosmic hobo accompanied by a respected Brigadier, and finally his third incarnation, accompanied by perhaps the best of companions.
Sarah Jane Smith.
“Well goodbye me dear chap, I must say I’ve had the time of my lives, haven’t we Sarah Jane?” asked the third, extending his hand out to shake his other selves’.
“Have we? Well, I only have one life and I’ve had too much already” she said.
She reached to extend her own hand and bid farewell
“Goodbye” she began, than something came over her.
Some more rational people would call this an instance of recognition, and a chance to make something of the moment before them.
The realization had to have been dawning on Sarah by now this was the latest version of The Doctor, the form that had succeeded his fourth, the last face Sarah saw.
The one that left her behind on Earth on the flimsy basis no human was to step forth on Gallifrey, his home world.
In truth, he just didn’t want her to know him better than any of his prior companions. The last two to step forth on his world had their memories stolen from them, their times with him on his travels brutishly cut short.
Things had changed in his lives since then; experience had taught him that a greater loss can occur on his adventures whether or not they be tied to Gallifrey and its own dangers. The late Adric had seen to that.
He had tapped into the minds of all his incarnations when they had linked together to free him from Borusa’s control, and from what he had glimpsed of his third incarnation’s dealings in the Zone he had found it the most casual, almost no drama to be had other than bearing witness to a Raston robot’s crude despatch of Cyberman forces.
He reflected on how Sarah had dealt with witnessing one of the deadliest killing machines devised, and she had barely blinked.
This was the woman he deemed impossible to take with him?
What if she told him, in this moment, how she felt? Would she thank him for the times he spent with her? Would he thank her for sending her a version of K9 as a Christmas present? Would she give him a piece of her mind?
His heartbeats beat faster, his aloof expression almost crumbled.
Then the moment passed as quickly as it had started with a formal handshake and a quiet goodbye.
“Erm, it was very nice meeting you”
The Third Doctor ceased the opportunity to make light commentary on this
“Thankyou Sarah, it was nice meeting you too”
“I’ll explain later” he said, giving his other incarnation a wink.
It was at this moment that The Fifth Doctor reflected on another memory of his third self created by this day’s events, another exchange between him and Sarah Jane when they had first met up in the Death Zone.
“No, no, it’s you you”
“No, No, you changed remember? You became all, er…”
“Teeth and Curls?”
He had remembered what his fourth incarnation was fated to look like. Usually a time lord can only be certain of his own reflection for as long as his timeline is out-of-synch, then they forget as soon as the adventure with them has concluded. In times of greater danger, the future self manifests as a projection, occasionally the projection will be camouflaged to prevent the reflection becoming clearer , presumably not to shake the focus of those they’re assisting to move on to the next phase as they combine wits to solve a problem.
Another response from the exchange rattled The Doctor further.
“Yes, well, maybe I did, but I haven’t yet”
He was trying to make things simpler for Sarah on their adventure together, but he holding something back from her, he had planted a lie inside a truth.
He had become teeth and curls; he just hadn’t become him again.
Retro regeneration was, after all, possible.
Perhaps Borusa’s time scoop had malfunctioned twice, displacing his fourth incarnation, and bringing another incarnation that happened to take the face of a previous self forward. The pain he had felt when he was initially taken perhaps could have been because they were in the midst of a forgotten adventure together and his role in that encounter was essential to keeping him alive.
If his luck held out, perhaps the explanation to Sarah was one about to come rather than yet to come.
Sarah could sleep soundly in bed today knowing she could see the faces of all those Doctors she knew again, replenished, and renewed.
And if there ever came a day where he would revisit a few of those old faces, he would make up for the mistakes in the lives they had led earlier.
Next time, he would not let her go.
As he watched the ‘Third’ Doctor and Sarah Jane enter the TARDIS, The Doctor spoke to his companions, a part of him cursed himself for not saying much to Sarah Jane in that crucial moment, but a part of him was overjoyed at realising what sort of person he’d travelled far from
“I’m definitely not the man I was. Thank goodness”