And here's the second story for today. Sarah Jane, like the Brigadier, is a friend who's been around for a while. She first debuted at the end of the 3rd Doctor's era, and since then she's been close by. It's not as obvious as with the Brig, but Sarah Jane has also met up with almost all of the Doctors: the 1st and 2nd in The Five Doctors, the 3rd and 4th as their companions, the 5th also in The Five Doctors, the 6th in my own Time's Champion, the 7th in Bullet Time, the 8th in Interference book two, and the 10th in School Reunion/Journey's End. So, once again, the 9th Doctor is the odd man out in connection with this particular character. As it happens with these stories so far, you have to be careful how you attempt a 9th Doctor meeting, as Sarah Jane seems to indicate in School Reunion that she hasn't met the Doctor AT ALL since The Hand of Fear. Laying whatever that means aside, I needed to figure out how her dialouge wouldn't clash with this story. Then I remembered the Big Finish Sarah Jane Investigates audio series, particularly Dreamland, the last of series 2, released in April 2006 (the same month as School Reunion ironically enough), which ended on a cliffhanger with Sarah Jane trapped in a damaged space shuttle, with the sound much like the TARDIS in her ears...
A 9th Doctor/Sarah Jane Smith story, with the Brigadier and K9, and set before the regeneration sequence of The Parting of the Ways. For Sarah Jane, this takes place immediately after the events of Sarah Jane Smith: Dreamland
By Chris McKeon
27 September, 2006
Sarah Jane Smith was about to die. She could barely remember the twisted chain of events which had brought her to this, the frozen end of her wasted life. Once she had been an aspiring journalist, full of desire to investigate and expose the mysteries and conspiracies of the world. Then she had met the Doctor, an extraordinary man –more than a man, a unique alien of many faces- who whisked her away to worlds more mysterious and wondrous than anything the Earth could offer her. For some time they traveled together. Then, suddenly, without warning or hesitation, he had left her behind on Earth, simply saying he had to go home. No explanations, not even a goodbye. He had even left her behind in the wrong place.
That was almost thirty years ago now. Since then, she had tried to move on with her life, had tried to return to her stories, her investigations, her mysteries. But nothing was the same, nothing could compare to the life beyond the pale she had known, and the friend she could never replace.
“But did he replace me?”
Nevertheless, her life had trudged onward; she had forged ahead in her career, had kept in touch with her old friends at UNIT. She had even seen some of the other Doctors, both earlier and later than hers, from time to time. But they had never stayed for more than a moment, had never bothered to answer her one, undying question:
“How could you abandon me?”
Maybe she had been looking for the Doctor all this time, hoping he would answer her question, even if she might not like what he would have to say. Maybe that was why she started to listen to the mysteries again, why the unexplained had started piquing her interest once more. Maybe that was the reason she had boarded The Dauntless, an experimental civilian shuttle, to investigate a mysterious comet headed for Earth. Unfortunately the comet had inspired a cult following, which soon split into two rival factions. The pilot and fellow passenger of The Dauntless –both members of the warring cult- were dead, the ship’s guidance and life-support systems were damaged beyond repair, and all communications with Earth were cut off. All the while the ship was growing ever colder.
Sarah Jane Smith huddled against the biting chill and the thinning air. She let her thoughts settle upon the last time in her life she had been truly happy. She drifted back to the days when she had been the Doctor’s best friend, flying fast in his incredible blue box, its engines roaring, just like the roaring in her head she heard at that moment, as her thoughts disappeared and her mind slipped into the dark…
* * *
That same evening, Sir General Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, former head of the British branch of UNIT, ever and always the Brigadier, stood with rapt attention in his living room, watching the Breaking News broadcast on the television screen before him. That silly civilian excuse for space-flight, The Dauntless, had somehow malfunctioned while attempting orbit. Lethbridge-Stewart knew many investors would be tearing at their hair over the failure of this voyage, but he had a more personal involvement in the catastrophe: Miss Smith was aboard that craft.
He had of course made an immediate rallying cry to Mike Yates and Mr. Benton at UNIT HQ, and while NASA was scrambling to prepare a rescue attempt, his own organization had already launched a recovery capsule mere minutes ago. He had personally instructed the flight crew that they were to succeed at all costs, or answer to him personally. But now all he could do was wait and hope for the best, anything to fight the helplessness he felt. The minutes passed. Lethbridge-Stewart paced his living room. Still no word from HQ, still no results.
“If only I could help!” he thought, pounding a fist into his palm, just as a frantic pounding at his front door shattered his concentration startled him back to earth.
The Brigadier hurried over to the door, not bothering to check through the curtains to see who was on the other side. He threw the door open to reveal the Doctor –the same version he had encountered almost seven months prior during the Slitheen event- cradling in his arms the pale, space-suited body of Sarah Jane Smith.
“Help me, Brigadier,” the Doctor pleaded. Lethbridge-Stewart did so without hesitation.
* * *
“She was the only survivor; I only got to her just in time. I heard her ship’s communications as I was passing through the Vortex,” the Doctor commented, with folded arms. He and the Brigadier were standing at the side of the latter’s guest bed, in which Sarah Jane lay sleeping. They had just spent a hurried few minutes getting Sarah Jane upstairs into the guest bedroom, while the Brigadier’s wife, Doris, had removed Sarah Jane’s space-suit and had dressed her in a pair of her own pajamas before placing her under the covers. Doris was now downstairs preparing a light meal for when Sarah Jane would wake up. As they waited, the Brigadier stared down at Sarah Jane’s face, and his heart ached that, even asleep, the young and happy young woman he once knew now appeared so tired and careworn. He turned to the Doctor.
“At least Miss Smith was fortunate enough to have you close by to rescue her. I understand her shuttle was stalled directly in the path of some sort of comet; did you have any difficulty with that?”
“No, I just used the TARDIS to throw the comet back along its own course. It should come around again in the next few years, though. I’d be on the lookout if I were you.”
“Oh, we at UNIT always are, Doctor.” The Brigadier studied his old friend, physically unchanged since their last meeting save for the colour of his jumper, a purple so dark it looked almost black. There was, however, something odd about the Doctor, something subtly unsettled, nervous, as if he were about to leap out of his skin. He had to ask. “Are you in distress, Doctor?”
“No, not really. I’m just dying.”
“Good heavens! What happened? Is the world in any danger?”
“It’s nothing for you to spin your head over, Alistair! Just another tussle with the Daleks, that’s all. We stopped them though, a real show-stopper of an end too!”
The Doctor laughed, loud and long, and then he shuddered as his eyes brightened with golden light. As the dying Time Lord’s body stooped, the Brigadier caught him and supported his weight. The Doctor continued to speak.
“Looks like I’ve got less time than I thought. This time it’s coming on quick!”
The Doctor’s breathing was coming quick and laboured. The Brigadier’s heart ached to see his friend in such pain.
“I can’t believe this is happening to you again, and so soon!”
“Believe me, it’s been a lot longer for me than for you. But don’t worry, I’ll regenerate; it’s happened before! And you’ll see me again, my friend, and whoever else comes after.”
“Is there anything I can do to help you, old friend?”
“Yeah, take care of Sarah Jane for me, right? I wanted to stay and give her a sweet goodbye when she woke up, but I don’t think I’ll last that long. That’s why I brought her to you: I trust you to be good to her, until she gets better, ok?”
“I promise. But what about you?”
The Doctor grinned as he draped his arm over the Brigadier’s shoulders.
“Just help me get back to the TARDIS, Brigadier. I’ve got a little something special for Sarah Jane. One last gift…”
* * *
Several hours later she awoke. She remembered the deathly silence of the dying shuttle, the icy chill of space seeping through her skin, and the roaring in her ears. Then there was the darkness. Darkness then, darkness now, and the cold bed sheets and blanket upon her sensitive body seemed like the suffocating covering of an icy coffin. She panicked, tried to rip the sheets off away from her. From out of the darkness, came a voice.
“Alistair, she’s awake. The light,” came the sound of a woman’s voice by her side.
There was a soft click and her vision was awash with a soft, white light from a bedside lamp. Sarah Jane blinked. She was in a bed, in a small, clean, green-walled room with a white ceiling. Standing at the side of the bed were two faces she recognized: Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart –her Brig- and his wife, Doris. Sarah Jane was amongst friends. She smiled weakly.
“There…aren’t enough people here…for the…Wizard of Oz ending.”
The Brigadier smiled and leaned down, holding Sarah Jane’s hand between his own.
“Don’t worry, my dear, Mr. Benton and Mike will be along soon to add their welcome.”
Sarah Jane tried to chuckle, but her efforts dissolved into a hacking cough. Doris, having anticipated Sarah Jane’s condition, picked up a glass of water from the bedside table, approached the bed, and brought the glass to Sarah Jane’s lips, who gratefully sipped its contents. A few moments later, her eyes widened and she spoke again.
“The ship! Where is it?”
“The ship is being brought down by a UNIT recovery capsule as we speak. You were the only survivor, I’m afraid. NASA is being briefed on how to inform the world in the most mundane way of your rescue.”
Sarah Jane frowned and furrowed her brow.
“It’s being brought down now? But then how did I get…” She made the connection, and a light shone in her eyes as a smile quivered upon her lips.
“Oh my. I was right, wasn’t I? I knew I heard him. I knew it was the Doctor! Where is he, is he here?”
“He’s already gone, Miss Smith. He wanted to say hello, but he couldn’t stay.”
Sarah Jane heaved one shallow breath, like an ironic laugh. The light in her eyes dulled as she closed them slowly.
“Oh no? After all this time, after leaving me here alone so long ago, he comes back now and keeps me alive and he can’t even say hello? Am I just someone to save and not to remember?”
Already fatigued with physical stress, a wave of crushing disappointment drowned Sarah Jane as bitter tears flowed from her eyes. She turned over on her side and buried her face in her pillow. Watching her crumple, the Brigadier frowned sadly, then took Doris by the hand and led her out of the room.
“She needs some time to herself, my dear.”
“You’re right, Alistair. I think she’s needed to grieve about this for a long time.”
“I only hope the Doctor’s present will soften her…”
* * *
A short time later, just as the sun’s first rays were about to break, Sarah Jane rolled over and sighed. Her heart was heavy. She felt old.
“Oh, Doctor, why do always leave me so alone?”
Out of the corner of her eye, the early morning sunlight rose over the horizon and streamed through the guestroom window, slowly brightening the space around her. At first she wished she could remain hidden in the darkness, alone with her sorrow. But she always had loved sunrises, and in a few moments she turned to her side to watch the sun’s ascension. She gasped. On the windowsill, framed in the morning light, was the metal figure of K9 Mark III, a gift from the Doctor long ago, and so it seemed, once more today.
Sarah Jane eased herself out of the bed and walked over to the window. She knelt by the dog, now quite old and rusty, and had long since fallen into disrepair. But he was here, he was real, and there was only one way he could have gotten there. Sarah Jane noticed a small white placard hung by a plastic thread around the mechanical dog’s collared neck. She held it in her fingers and read the words scrawled on its surface.
Thankfully our paths crossed just when it mattered most. I’m sorry I didn’t have time to clean out the old boy for you or stick around to say hello. Time moves quickly and unfortunately it didn’t allow me enough shore leave this time around. I promise I’ll make it up to you soon. Keep being the fantastic journalist you’ve always been. Maybe you’ll find me in your next story.
Sarah Jane let go of the card, looking up into the now strong sunlight. She let it bathe over her face, highlighting the tears of joy that shown on her cheek.
“Thank you, Doctor, thank you for remembering me. Until we meet again; I’m counting the days.”
Less than a hundred days had passed before their paths crossed again.