Into the Vortex
As Skagra's army of mind-controlled prisoners grew closer, the Doctor called out, ‘K9!’
K9 immediately fired at the prisoners, and one - the executioner - fell, knocked out by the robot dog's stun beam. Unfortunately, this did not deter the others, who continued their menacing advance on the Doctor. The Krarg let go of Romana and advanced on K9. The robot dog prepared to fire on the creature as it lumbered towards him.
‘No, K9!’ yelled the Doctor. ‘Don't shoot!’
The dog obeyed, and the Krarg seized the advantage. Picking up the small automaton with ease, it threw him out into the corridor.
‘Romana! Run!’ shouted the Doctor, and ducked out of the way of the prisoners. Romana easily dodged the slow-moving Krarg and followed the Doctor out of the chamber.
Just outside, the Doctor almost collided with Clare. ‘I told you to stay in the room,’ he said sternly.
‘Yes, but -’ Clare objected.
‘Come on,’ the Doctor ordered firmly.
Clare hesitated. ‘But Chris...’
Romana located K9 lying on his side and returned him to an upright position. ‘Thank you, Mistress,’ said K9. The robot dog had sustained only a few minor dents in his casing.
The Doctor ran past them, accompanied by Clare. ‘To the TARDIS!’ he called.
The foursome hurried up the corridor to the reception area. As they came within sight of the police box, the two Krargs that had been left on guard spotted them and set off in pursuit.
The Doctor, Romana, Clare and K9 hastily backtracked to the Professor's TARDIS. The Doctor reached the wooden door first, and held open the door politely. ‘Come in, come in,’ he called, and dived in after his friends. The Doctor narrowly managed to shut the door before the Krargs arrived and opened fire on the impervious door.
‘Sit down,’ the Doctor instructed, indicating the sofa. Romana and Clare sat, and watched as the Doctor paced up and down, his head in his hands. ‘Got it!’ he muttered, thinking hard.
‘Well, what are we going to do?’ Clare asked.
Romana shrugged. ‘So far he's beaten us on every point.’
‘He's even got Chris,’ Clare reminded them. ‘He's taken him over!’
‘Quiet! I'm thinking,’ said the Doctor, and sat down on the sofa between them.
‘Well he has, hasn't he?’ Romana persisted.
‘Yes, he's got Chris. Yes, he's beaten us at every point, now will you let me think?’ asked the Doctor in a slight aggrieved tone.
‘Just trying to help,’ replied Romana.
‘Thank you,’ said the Doctor as graciously as he could muster, and lapsed back into thought. After a few moments of silence, he spoke again. ‘It's no good,’ he concluded.
‘What?’ asked Romana.
‘I've been thinking, and it depresses me. Skagra's little zombie gang have got the brain power of the greatest intellects of the Universe shared out among them.’
This was news to Romana. ‘What?’
‘The Think Tank,’ the Doctor explained.
‘Who?’ asked Clare.
‘Never mind about that,’ said the Doctor. ‘Just believe me. All the minds that Skagra's stolen are now in the melting pot along with his own and they are all operating as one.’
‘All of them?’ asked Romana, the beginnings of a smile on her face.
‘Yes, and with the Professor's... I mean with Salyavin's mind in there too...’
‘Did you say all of them?’ Romana persisted.
‘Yes I did,’ the Doctor confirmed. ‘They can now control anyone... They can control everyone! They'll be invincible!’
Romana got up, still smiling. ‘But Doctor, don't you see what that means?’
‘Yes. Skagra's grand plan will work. With every new mind that gets thrown in the melting pot they get stronger and stronger, till all life forms eventually merge into one new life form. Skagra as God. It doesn't bear thinking about.’
‘Doctor?’ said Romana patiently.
‘May I just remind you of something?’
‘All the minds that Skagra's stolen are in the melting pot,’ she reiterated.
‘Yes,’ agreed the Doctor.
‘That means yours is in there too.’
‘Yes!’ exclaimed the Doctor, finally realising the implications. ‘Romana?’
The Doctor got up and faced his companion. ‘Romana, I want you to do something for me.’
He dug in his pockets and produced a small medal. ‘Stand there,’ he instructed. ‘I want you to wear this.’ He pinned the medal on Romana's dress. The medal had the words “I AM A GENIUS” inscribed on it. The Doctor hugged her and then saluted her. Romana saluted him back, smiling.
The Doctor took a deep breath. ‘Well now I can think,’ he declared.
Skagra and his enslaved group of prisoners marched along the corridor towards the reception area. He halted as they reached the junction, where the two Krargs were trying to batter down the wooden door of the Professor's TARDIS using brute force, without success.
‘What is this?’ Skagra demanded.
The Krargs ceased their hammering. ‘The Doctor is in there, my Lord,’ one of the Krargs explained.
‘In there?’ Skagra asked, unbelievingly.
‘We think it is some kind of travelling machine,’ continued the Krarg. ‘We have tried to open it, but it stands up to everything.’
Skagra pondered for a moment, and then smiled. ‘The Doctor. A poor little man, a pinprick on an irrelevancy. Let him amuse himself with his tricks. They are merely the tiny antics of an insect threatened with inevitable extinction. We will go.’ He marched off down the corridor with his army of mind-slaves. The Krargs took up the rear of the procession.
Reaching the TARDIS, Skagra opened the door. ‘Come,’ he instructed, and Skagra's motley army entered the police box. Once they were all assembled in the console room, Skagra followed them in and shut the doors. ‘We will return to the carrier ship,’ he announced. ‘There, a fleet of small craft will take each of us to selected centres of population and the great mind revolution will begin.’ Skagra began to set the controls.
The reception area was filled with the sound of the TARDIS dematerialising. Soon after it had gone, another very similar noise echoed through the empty chamber as, some way down the corridor, a certain wooden door also disappeared.
The Doctor and Romana were pacing the floor, discussing their plan.
‘It'll be tricky,’ said the Doctor.
‘And dangerous,’ pointed out Romana unhappily.
The Doctor shrugged it off. ‘A touch.’
‘Doctor, it will be terribly, terribly dangerous for you. You'll stand about as much chance as a...’
‘As what?’ asked the Doctor. ‘Your similes letting you down?’
‘Yes. There isn't anything that will stand just as much chance as you will out there.’
‘Is that so?’ retorted the Doctor. ‘Well, I'll just have to be very, very brave, won't I?’
‘Doctor,’ Romana sighed, ‘it isn't funny.’
‘Listen, I can do my part if you can do yours,’ he assured her.
‘I'll try,’ she promised, but her voice lacked conviction.
‘You'll be all right. You're a genius, remember?’ the Doctor reminded Romana. ‘Clare?’
‘Yes Doctor?’ said Clare.
‘Hold on very, very tight,’ the Doctor advised.
Clare grasped the arm of the sofa and watched nervously as the the Doctor and Romana operated various switches and levers on the ancient TARDIS console.
‘Ready?’ asked the Doctor at last.
‘Yes,’ replied Romana tersely.
‘Ready, Doctor,’ she replied.
‘Hold tight,’ he said, and gripped a lever. ‘Now!’
Skagra worked the controls of the Doctor's TARDIS, concentrating hard. His mind-slaves stood in a line against the console room walls, mimicking Skagra's slight movements of his hands at the console with their own, operating non-existent controls in the air. Even the Dalek's sucker arm waggled about in an approximation of the movements.
A small explosion on the TARDIS console momentarily disrupted Skagra's concentration. He immediately began to test other controls.
‘Something's wrong,’ he said. ‘Something's interfering with these controls. They're jammed.’
The only inhabitants of the TARDIS capable of responding to Skagra were the three Krargs. ‘What is the cause my Lord?’ asked one of the Krargs.
Skagra thought hard. ‘There must be something out there in the Space-Time Vortex with us. Something...’ Skagra moved to another panel on the console and operated a switch. The scanner screen activated, revealing the swirling colours of the vortex. Dominating the picture was a small, irregularly shaped brick building incongruously travelling alongside the TARDIS. It was Professor Chronotis's own time craft. ‘The Doctor!’ exclaimed Skagra incredulously. ‘In that absurd machine!’
The Doctor studied his readings. ‘Got them!’ he announced delightedly. ‘Well done Romana.’
‘We haven't got to the hard bit yet,’ she reminded him.
‘I know,’ the Doctor agreed. ‘We haven't got long either. Clare?’
‘Yes, I'm holding on,’ she replied, anticipating his next response.
‘Come over and hold on to this, then,’ the Doctor instructed.
Clare jumped up from the sofa, and came over to take over holding down a lever on the console.
‘Now, whatever you do, don't let go,’ the Doctor told her, ‘because we're in for a very, very rough ride.’
In the Space-Time Vortex, the two TARDISes floated next to each other. The police box was enveloped in an opaque force field emanating from the Professor's rooms. The blue box was bucking about, trying to escape.
‘A foolish attempt, Doctor,’ Skagra observed, as he watched the tussle between the two TARDISes on the scanner screen. ‘The force field is weakening already. In two minutes it will break and you will have achieved nothing.’
As Clare continued to hold down the lever, Romana moved another control into position. The Doctor was finishing a long speech, whilst rubbing his temples with the Professor's back-scratcher. ‘... And twenty-thirdly, out there in the Space-Time Vortex, time and distance have no meaning. But here in this little, little room...’
Romana was becoming annoyed with the Doctor's apparent procrastination. ‘Oh, get on with it, Doctor!’
‘Romana!’ said the Doctor.
‘I want you to switch off the vortex shields in this small area.’ He pointed with the back-scratcher to a space between the sofa and two chairs.
Romana went to touch the controls, and then frowned nervously.
‘Come on, you can do it,’ the Doctor continued encouragingly. ‘I showed you how to do it. Come on - just one little bit of timelessness and spacelessness over here behind the sofa.’
Romana swallowed her fears, and pulled the appropriate lever.
A vertical, rippling line appeared close to the area indicated by the Doctor. Space around the line began to distort, and the line wavered slightly. The Professor's paisley-covered Chesterfield sofa disappeared into the rift.
‘Behind the sofa I said - not in the middle of it!’ yelled the Doctor.
‘I'm sorry,’ apologised Romana as she struggled with the controls, ‘but it's very difficult.’
‘Focus it,’ the Doctor instructed, ‘steady now, just one steady line...’
The line began to stabilise, and then distorted suddenly, claiming the Professor's tea trolley. ‘Hold it!’ the Doctor exclaimed.
‘I'm trying, Doctor, I'm trying,’ Romana assured him, and the rift stablised once more into a straight vertical line.
‘Good,’ said the Doctor with relief, and put down the back-scratcher. ‘Right, now this is a little trick I learnt from an ancient space-time mystic in the Qualactin zones.’ As he said this, the Doctor edged cautiously towards the rift. ‘He made it look terribly easy,’ he continued, and stepped through the line.
‘He did it!’ exclaimed Clare in disbelief, putting her hands over her mouth.
‘Hold that switch down!’ yelled Romana.
Clare gasped, and immediately grabbed the lever again.
The Doctor suddenly winked into existence in the psychedelic landscape of the Space-Time Vortex. His body spun wildly, his features contorted in great pain as powerful forces threatened to rip him apart.
Very slowly, and with great concentration, he managed to orient himself towards a shimmering line further up the Vortex, and began to pull himself towards it. Every now and then, he began to spin, and it was taking great concentration to stop and re-orient himself...
Unaware of the Doctor's current predicament, Skagra worked to free the TARDIS from the force field. ‘The field is fading fast,’ he observed. ‘This is a futile exercise, Doctor.’
Romana was also aware of this fact. With growing alarm, she watched the dial on the console that indicated the field strength. ‘It won't hold much longer,’ she observed. ‘It's fading even faster than the Doctor said it would. K9,’ she called. ‘K9, wake up and come here.’
K9 had been recharging in a corner of the room. He came to life and glided over to the console.
Romana got Clare to hold down another control and then ducked down and opened a door beneath the console, revealing a bank of circuitry. ‘Check out the sub-neutron circuits,’ she instructed.
K9 glided closer and extended his probe. ‘Affirmative, Mistress.’ He scanned the inner workings of the console for a moment. ‘Detect circuit malfunction, Mistress,’ he reported.
Romana and Clare exchanged worried looks.
The Doctor was experiencing increasing difficulty. As he neared the shimmering line that was his destination, his pace was becoming progressively slower. With a great effort, he managed to get part of one of his arms through the gap.
K9 pulled away from the console. ‘Impossible to effect repair in time available, Mistress.’
Romana bent down next to him, one arm stretched up to hold down a lever on the console. ‘Well hold it, K9,’ she said desperately. ‘Stop it deteriorating.’
‘Impossible to stop it, Mistress,’ replied the automaton. ‘I can only slow down circuit deterioration.’
‘The Doctor needs every second we can give him,’ Romana said. K9 moved back to the circuitry.
‘This switch is getting very hot!’ Clare said suddenly.
Romana got up. ‘You must hold it down,’ she insisted.
‘But I can't!’ protested Clare. ‘It's getting hotter!’
Having got his arm through, the Doctor found any further progress impossible. Much as he tried, he couldn't get any more of his body through the gap in the Vortex. Instead he began to find himself sliding backwards out of it, and there was nothing he could do to stop himself.
Clare was now in some pain. ‘It's burning me!’ she cried.
‘Well hold it down with a pencil,’ Romana suggested.
‘But I haven't got one.’
Romana looked around, and spied a pencil on a nearby table. She reached out for it with one hand whilst the other continued to hold down a lever. The pencil remained just out of her reach.
‘I can't reach it,’ she told Clare.
‘Oh, I'll get it,’ said Clare casually, and absent-mindedly let go of her control. The console exploded, throwing Romana and Clare away from the controls.
K9 pulled back from the console as smoke billowed out of it. ‘It's broken,’ K9 reported, somewhat unnecessarily.
The force field destroyed, the two TARDISes spun away from each other. The Doctor was also spinning through the Vortex, completely out of control. His body faded slowly away.
Skagra struggled with the controls of the violently lurching TARDIS, trying to stabilise the craft. He had summoned several of the prisoners, including Chris, to operate controls at the console. Working together as a team, they quickly brought the TARDIS back to normal.
‘Good, we make an excellent team,’ observed Skagra. ‘A concert of the mind.’ He smiled in triumph, and eerily, so did the prisoners in unison. ‘Now that the Doctor has finished wasting our time with his foolish tricks we can continue,’ he said. ‘We will shortly materialise on the carrier ship.’
As K9 performed repairs to the damaged circuits, Romana busied herself bandaging Clare's burned hand.
‘I'm sorry,’ apologised Clare. ‘I did what I could.’
‘It's not your fault,’ Romana assured her.
‘What about the Doctor?’
‘I don't know,’ Romana admitted. ‘It was a very dangerous idea trying to make that crossing. He didn't get as much time as he wanted. I just don't know.’
‘Well, what should we do?’ asked Clare.
‘We'll just go ahead as planned.’ Romana finished bandaging the hand. ‘There. How's that?’
‘Fine, thank you. It wasn't a bad burn.’ Clare hesitated. ‘Do you think the Doctor will be all right?’
Romana sighed. ‘We'll just go ahead as planned,’ she repeated.
The Doctor slowly opened his eyes. He was lying on the floor of a small room occupied by several metal tables piled high with electronic equipment. A broad smile appeared on his face as he recognised one of the many storerooms aboard his own TARDIS. He carefully got to his feet and looked around with an evident air of satisfaction. ‘Good,’ he said to himself, and promptly proceeded to search out bits of equipment, whilst clearly wanting to be as quiet about it as possible. At one stage, he knocked a circuit board off the edge of a table, and froze as it clattered loudly on the floor.
When nothing came of this, he continued his search with greater caution. Rummaging on a shelf, he found one of the bits he was looking for. ‘Good,’ he said, and then found another. ‘Good.’
He turned to a set of drawers, and pulling open the top one, found another essential component. ‘Good.’ Suddenly, it fell apart in his hands. ‘Oh bad.’
The TARDIS materialised back on the command deck of the Krarg carrier ship. The door opened, and the prisoners trooped out in single file, followed by the trio of Krargs. Skagra brought up the rear of the procession. He closed the door and then stood and regarded his small army with satisfaction. Then he turned to the wide panoramic window, and looked out across the galaxy.
‘And soon,’ he murmured to himself, ‘an infinite concert of the mind...’