The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller
by Joanne Harris
After the defeat of the Queen Spider on Metebellis III exposes him to a lethal level of radiation, a mortally wounded Doctor only just manages to make it to safety in time. Whilst his friends fear the worst, Sarah-Jane and The Brigadier are heartened to hear the familiar grating noises of the TARDIS engines as she returns him back to them. But the Gallifreyan barely makes it out of the doors before he finally collapses to floor, breathing his last breath. And, with the help of his Time Lord mentor and guru K'anpo Rimpoche, the natural regeneration process is instigated… So ends the very last adventure for the third incarnation of The Doctor…
Or was it?
In that final scene, we are told The Doctor's delay in getting back to UNIT HQ was because he was "lost in the vortex" and it's only now we discover what that genuinely meant. This is a new mini adventure for the Third Doctor whilst on his journey from the planet of the spiders to Earth. Told in Chocolat author Joanne Harris The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller, this short story as part of the on-going Time Trips digital Doctor Who series published by BBC Books.
Our story begins in a idyllic English village. Following a parade, we are introduced to several of its occupants: from the Baker in his white hat; a Postman with his satchel; and the Milkman in his clean smock, brandishing a crate of empties… It all seems completely perfect, if a little too perfect. For this is no ordinary village. It's a place with a disturbing twisted secret at its core. The villagers are on tenterhooks, desperate to remain happy, terrified of the alternatives that may befall them if they say or do anything different to what they are told… But when the Milkman eventually cracks, the entire sky opens up ready to swallow him in a funnel of stars known simply as "The Gyre"… As other villagers watch and coo at the familiar site, things take a sudden turn with the arrival of the familiar blue police box and the white haired man in the frilled shirt who falls on to the village lawn.
When the frail Doctor is temporarily revived, he discovers the TARDIS has gone. Separated from his craft, he finds himself all alone, trapped on a bizarre world with a mystery that he can resist trying to solve. As the story unfolds, the pace ramps up and there is a building sinister sense of danger and unease that threatens him and the villagers.
This wonderfully eerie setting is familiar one and it wouldn't seem lost with Fendhals, Krynoids, Androids or Azal walking its cobbled streets. It also puts you in mind of Wyndham, by way of The Prisoner, all mixed up in a particularly disturbing episode of The Avengers. But this isn't merely some fantasy fan wish list and as you'd expect, it uses the ideas and backdrop very effectively.
Unsurprisingly, in spite of the limitations of a short story, Joanne Harris really manages to breathe life into the characters contained within the piece. From the instantly recognisable third incarnation of The Doctor, who buts against this impossible world to the other villagers and specifically the Queen. Every one of them come off the page fully formed and three dimension, consumed by very real human emotions and frailties.
But where this excels is the emotional depth of the story which deals with very big themes like death and loss. It chimes perfectly, being sandwiched beautifully within the events of Pertwee's swan song as The Doctor is forced to deal with his inevitable fate. As a result, this story acts as a wonderful love-letter to the third Doctor's era and its both resonant, poignant and stays with you for some time afterwards. I highly recommend.
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