The crowd gathered solemnly at the burial site as the minister prepared to pray over the coffin. They had lived here peacefully for the past few decades, resolving to spend their final days together. The area reminded them of being back at Cambridge during the spring, although it was hard to miss the giant presence looming in the sky of the planet Saturn and its many moons.
Here in the 31st century, Earth was a shadow of its former self with overcrowded grey cities linked by grey highways that traversed grey deserts. The wealthy citizens lived in floating sky cities where they could literally look down on the impoverished.
Many, however, had chosen to escape to colonies outside the solar system and start afresh, or to settle on nearby terraformed planets or moons. Ian and Barbara had decided decades ago to move to Titan.
You claim to be the Doctor I met all those years ago — that cranky old man?
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” spoke the minister as the coffin was lowered, and as Ian glumly contemplated how he was now finally alone without the woman who had been by his side for over a thousand years. He didn’t feel very comforted.
At the fringe of the assembly was a younger-looking man dressed in a brown frock coat, brown pants, a brown waistcoat over a cream shirt, wearing a brown bow tie and a brown dented top hat. He looked like a well-to-do man from Victorian England, but that was a long time ago. It was even before Ian’s time.
The man took a small cylindrical device out of his pocket and pointed it at the coffin. A high-pitched noise emitted from the tool and the tip of it glowed a bright green. Ian stared quizzically at him, wondering what he was doing.
As the service came to an end, well-wishers offered their condolences for his loss. Ian decided to approach the man and asked, “Excuse, me young man, have we met before?”
“Hello!” replied the young man, quickly slipping the device back into his pocket, “Blimey! Have we ever met before!”
Ian frowned. “You’ll have to forgive me but I am an old man and have met many people —”
“Oh, you’re not that old,” cut in the young man. “I’ll give you a hint.” He grinned and moved his head to motion behind him to the edge of a forest of trees, where Ian spotted a familiar blue box standing proud.
“Well, it can’t be!” gasped Ian. “Never in a million years would I have thought to see that old police box again!”
“It’s been about a thousand years, give or take,” laughed the young man. “It’s good to see you again, Chesterton!”
Ian was puzzled. Who was this strange young man who claimed to know him? Could he belong to the same people of that Doctor character — that crazy old man he and Barbara once met in a junkyard in London in 1963, who traveled throughout space and time with his granddaughter in a time machine that was bigger on the inside?
“Could you be —” Ian stuttered, ” — are you one of the Doctor’s people?”
“Ha ha ha!! I am the Doctor!” revealed the young man while smirking. Ian blinked in disbelief. The last time he saw the Doctor he was a grumpy old man with grey hair who appeared to be even older than him now. Here instead was a young, fresh-faced man appearing to be in his twenties. This wasn’t possible.
However, he would’ve once thought that travel in time and space was impossible. He would’ve once thought it impossible to still be alive in the 31st century. Here he was, though, on Titan, staring at that same blue police box that first changed his life all that time ago.
Ian stared blankly at the Doctor as he struggled to understand.
“Right. I never really did say where I came from when we last met a millennium ago, did I?”
Ian just continued to stare at this young man who was claiming to be the same old man he and Barbara once knew who changed their lives.
“My people come from the planet Gallifrey,” explained the Doctor. “I’m a Time Lord. When our bodies are near death, we have this trick where we can regenerate every cell in our body and still live. I’ve done it a number of times since we last met. Does that about cover it?”
“You claim to be the Doctor I met all those years ago — that cranky old man?” Ian asked, attempting to comprehend. There was so much he never knew about the Doctor, he had to admit. As preposterous as it sounded, perhaps this man here claiming to be the Doctor could be telling the truth.
“Yeah, I was a cranky grouch, wasn’t I?” agreed the Doctor. “You’re like that when you’re young. You think you know everything, but then I met Barbara and you and I changed. You changed me, Chaserdon!”
“Chesterton!” Ian corrected.
The Doctor smirked. “Ian Chesterton it is indeed! I’m just playing with you, as I was back then.”
Ian had to concede that as far-fetched as it sounded, in his long life he had seen sights that as a science teacher at Coal Hill school back in 1963 he would never have dreamed of.
Ian sighed, accepting.
You are older than Methuselah, but he was a proper old grump.
“Very well,” Ian shrugged. “I don’t know why I believe you, but I do. That is the TARDIS I once wandered into that changed my life. I’ll never forget it. Meet me at my house in an hour. It’s just beyond the forest behind the TARDIS. You can’t miss it. We can talk more there.”
An hour later, having said his goodbyes to his friends at the funeral, Ian made his way home and saw the Doctor waiting. He had many questions to ask.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Ian offered as he opened the door and they entered the quaint little cottage sitting in a clearing of trees here on Saturn’s moon Titan.
“Oh, now you’re talking!” beamed the Doctor and inquired, “Do you have any Jammie Dodgers also?”
Ian nodded and prepared the tea and biscuits.
“Tea has amazing healing properties,” the Doctor stated as he placed he placed his hat on the table and took his cup of tea from Ian’s hands. “You’ll find it in many cultures in various forms all across the galaxy. But you know that already, don’t you, Chesterton?”
The Doctor’s eyes narrowed.
Ian came straight out with it and asked, “Doctor, it’s the 31st century! How am I still alive? You’re an alien from another world, but I’m just a human that last met you in the 1960s. How am I still here?”
The Doctor stirred his tea and softly spoke, “I’d wondered that myself. I’d heard about the longevity of you two. At first I thought that you might be fixed points in time, unchangeable, immovable and immortal. But we know that’s not the case now.”
Ian shuddered as the fresh memory of Barbara’s death struck him. “No, we’re not immortal,” Ian exhaled. “We had both been ill at times over the centuries as anyone can and we came close to death multiple times even, but we made it this far and I began to think we’d be together forever. It felt that way…” Ian trailed off as he gulped a slow sip of tea.
“You were the first two humans ever in the TARDIS,” said the Doctor. “Perhaps she did something to you. Perhaps she slowed down your rate of apoptosis and made you live longer than any human.”
“Oh yes, she! She’s more than a machine, and I think it’s because of her that you’ve lived this long.”
Ian stared at the Doctor but his thoughts were on Barbara. “Then why is Barbara here no more?”
The Doctor removed his sonic screwdriver from his pocket. “I scanned her body with my sonic screwdriver at the funeral. I’m sorry, Ian, she died from the Great Space Plague. It spread through the solar system in this time. You’re lucky to have survived yourself.”
Ian didn’t feel very lucky. “We almost didn’t survive this long. When the solar flares came a century ago we fled here to Titan and started a new life. We were done with running, changing our location every few decades when people became suspicious of us not aging. But that’s over now. I’m so old.”
“Nonsense!” the Doctor scoffed. “I’m much older!”
“What do I do then, Doctor? We never had any children. She was all I had. I don’t know how to live without her.”
“I thought that too when I lost my family,” reflected the Doctor.
“Your family?” interrupted Ian. “Susan! Yes of course! Your granddaughter!” remembered Ian. “Did you ever see her again?”
“No, not as such”, mulled the Doctor. “There was a war in time, between my people and the Daleks. They’re all gone now. I went back to look for Susan but I couldn’t find her where I left her. I don’t know where she is.”
“I’m sorry,” Ian apologized. He could tell that this was hard for the Doctor.
“But that’s the thing!” asserted the Doctor, this time with a renewed confidence, “My family is gone, my people are gone, but life goes on! There are other people out there and a whole universe to explore. There are mysteries to be solved! That keeps me going!”
Ian shook his head. “I wish I had your optimism, but I’m just an old man. I’m older than Methuselah.”
The Doctor laughed. “You are older than Methuselah, but he was a proper old grump. You’re Ian Chesterton. You’ve traveled through space and time, and you’re living in the 31st century!”
Ian smiled at last. He didn’t doubt now that Methuselah had really lived and that the Doctor had met him. Anything was possible with the Doctor.
“The 31st century isn’t that brilliant, Doctor. Last I heard, Earth was an overcrowded, polluted dump.”
“It’s never too late to start something new and live a new dream,” declared the Doctor. “I should know. There are always more mysteries to solve”
“It has been,” the Doctor conceded, “but that’s now changing. The time of the Earth Empire is at its end. This is the era of all space cities and monorails. They’ll soon have little suitcases that turn into flying cars just like in The Jetsons! You should buy yourself one!”
“I could.” Ian chuckled and struggled to recall the 20th century pop culture reference. “I could travel to some of the new Earth colonies. Some of them sound truly marvelous.”
“You certainly can!” enthused the Doctor as he quickly scanned Ian with his sonic screwdriver. “And by my estimates, if you stay in good health, you’ll still be alive for another few centuries, at the very least.”
Perhaps this wasn’t the end, Ian mused. Perhaps this was a new beginning.
“It’s never too late to start something new and live a new dream,” declared the Doctor. “I should know. There are always more mysteries to solve.”
Ian now felt that maybe it wasn’t the end and it wasn’t too late for him to live again now that Barbara had gone. As he looked to the Doctor, who was now enthusiastically munching down on a Jammie Dodger, he knew that this encounter was beneficial for both of them. The Doctor had mysteries to solve, and he had a new life to take hold of and find somewhere out there.
Follow Mark Duval on Twitter @MarkDuval.