This is another Doctor Who story that I wrote for a Big Finish contest and, sadly, did not make the final cut.
Still, I hope you enjoy it.
The Tender Dolls
a Seventh Doctor & Ace story
Peter awoke with the sudden knowledge that there were monsters outside his house. He did not know how he knew this, but he knew it. So when he left his bed, went to the window, and looked down into the street, he wasn’t surprised to see three tall, dark shapes looking up at his window, waiting for him. Peter grew cold as the three faces stared up with dead eyes.
He wanted to scream.
He wanted to run to his mother and father for protection. He wanted to wake up and realize this was just a bad dream. Then he heard the whispering in his head and he knew that this was no dream, and that nobody, not even his mother or his father, could protect him.
The whispering grew louder. He couldn’t understand what the monsters were saying; didn’t know what they were doing to him, but he knew that his brain was changing. His mind was being rewritten. He stood at the window as whispering and fear and despair filled his ten year old body.
The small man’s voice was quiet but as implacable as a black hole.
“But Professor . . .” Ace said, stepping back from the Sentic that cowered at her feet. Its blue fur was raised in fear, and its six limbs splayed like a multi-jointed spider. It stared up at her with large, pale eyes that showed fear, but also determination and disdain.
“It’s not going to talk unless . . . “
Ace trailed off as she turned and saw the look in the Doctor’s eyes. The look that meant he was very, very angry. She shivered and stepped further back as the Doctor took two steps forward. He hooked his umbrella on his left arm and somehow managed to approximate the traditional Sentic greeting with only two hands. When he spoke, his voice was even softer than before.
“Please stand, Otesh of the Sentic-Al. You will not be harmed. My . . . associate is young and foolhardy.”
Ace thought to herself, “not so young anymore.” She did not, however, say it aloud. The long space of the warehouse seemed to shrink with each word that the Doctor uttered.
The Sentic stood but did not return the greeting. Instead it hissed and spit, then screeched out in a high voice, “Go away. I will not help you.”
The Doctor smiled and the Sentic had the intelligence to be afraid.
“They will kill me if I say,” it screeched again, this time with far less defiance and far more fear. The Doctor moved closer. His voice flat and barely audible.
“When you were barely a furling, you performed the kindest act of your life, Otesh of the Sentic-Al, and saved your cousin when she was drowning. At great risk to your own life. The Gods had indeed smiled on her that day as you were along the path of the river at precisely the right moment.”
“I . . . “
“You have heard the Legend of Grantou, the Time Being?”
“I . . . “
“Chance is such a fragile thread, so easily snapped. A random occurrence . . . perhaps a stranger had been in the village and asked you directions to the Temple of Ashi. You might very well have been too late.”
The Sentic’s eyes grew larger, as big as dinner plates.
“I . . . not you. You are not . . . Grantou is a myth.”
The Doctor did not smile.
“Only to some. To others I am quite real.”
Silence hung heavy. Ace could practically hear the sound of blood moving through the Sentic’s veins.
The Doctor spoke one more time.
“Where are they?”
Later, in the TARDIS, Ace considered, briefly, the possibility that the Doctor would have made good on his threat. No, she thought, he would never sacrifice an innocent to save another innocent. Still, she had to admit, he’d been very convincing.
“Ready to fight monsters, Ace?”
He started the TARDIS engines.
“Ready as ever, Professor.”
Peter was on fire, was freezing, was being turned inside out. He tasted blood in his mouth. His eyelids didn’t work properly. His skin felt prickly and raw, like when he’d fallen off his hoverbike into a patch of gravel and torn the skin from his left shoulder down to his wrist and across his chest. But this pain was everywhere, even inside him.
They’d stolen his voice. He couldn’t move. There were . . . things in his head. Things ripping out his memories, tearing them out by the roots and leaving him empty. Cold. Hollow.
“Who are they,” Ace asked as she looked at the image on the control room view screen. Three beings, predictably malevolent and wearing black, hooded robes: the seemingly required uniform for a certain kind of bad guy. Nothing special and nothing particularly fearsome. But their faces, bone white and featureless, almost flat, and with corpse-like eyes, were definitely creepy.
“Hmm? Oh,” said the Doctor as he fiddled with a control, “They’re a myth. A dream. Well, nightmare really. Though fairly rare these days. It’s been nearly 500 years since I’ve come across them. They eat your mind and then move inside your head.”
“Like adverts,” Ace asked, grinning.
“No, that’s another species entirely,” the Doctor said, completely dead-pan.
“I meant . . . ” Ace started, but stopped when he looked at her, smiling.
“No, really,” he continued, “there is a species called Adverts. But these?” He waved a hand at the screen and went back to fiddling. “These are called by many names, but mostly they are known as The Tender Dolls.”
“Sounds like a doo-wop band my mum used to listen to.”
“And when they choose a victim, it becomes very much their party and they do whatever they want to the mind of the child as they dig themselves in.”
“Yes, Ace,” his voice turned to steel as he continued, “they use only children because an adult mind is too inflexible to accommodate their taking up residence.”
Oh, she thought.
While the Doctor never seemed to seek out children or spend much time with them, Ace had only seen him come close to losing emotional control when a child was threatened. And when he was around children, something in him seemed to glow brighter than usual with joy and wonder.
“Bad monsters then,” she said.
“Bad monsters indeed, Ace.”
Peter watched as the things in his head–all blurring teeth and whispers that cut–ate his memories. The shape of his mother’s nose, the taste of fish, how to tie his shoes, the sound of his father’s voice, the way sunlight felt on his skin, his pet’s name, his own name, how it felt to hold your breath for a long time, the feeling of mud squishing between bare toes . . . all gone. He ached. An ache so deep it threatened to swallow what was left of him. He knew he was missing something very important but didn’t know what the something was.
The whispers kept climbing into him and he forgot what the sun was, the smell of summer thunderstorms, the feeling of his mother holding his hand, the taste of his tears. Forgot, even, what tears were. Hope was swallowed by black things with glittering teeth and flashing eyes. Love stayed on a little longer, but it too was devoured. Fear though, fear stayed with him for a long, long time.
The air was chilly and thin outside the TARDIS. Ace’s breath clouded as she breathed hard to get enough oxygen. The Doctor, of course, looked perfectly at ease. He sniffed the air as he tapped the ground with the point of his umbrella.
“Are they near,” Ace gasped, still acclimating to the atmosphere. She shifted the rucksack that was slung over her left shoulder, trying to calculate how the reduced oxygen might affect the explosives she carried.
“Yes. Near. Come on Ace. This way.”
The Doctor didn’t wait, but strode fast down the hill toward a small group of houses.
“Oi, Professor, wait up,” Ace gasped as she tried to jog after him.
“What’s the plan,” she asked as she caught up, panting like an elderly woman who’d just ran a mile. The Doctor grinned.
“Oh, the usual Ace. The usual.”
“Winging it then?”
Then his smile vanished and the Doctor’s head jerked to the left.
something-not-black was surrounded by black but the something was becoming nothing fading almost gone dissolving
new-something brightened all of everything
-Are you still there?-
new-something brought memories that flooded into the something-not-black and a shape emerged from new-something’s words (words, they were called words)
-I’m here to help. I’m the Doctor. What’s your name?-
something-not-black thought about the word “name” and couldn’t remember what it meant but then by thinking about it remembered that it was a boy and the boy did have a name and it was named Peter
and Peter was very, very scared.
He screamed. The blackness swirled like a hard rain in a strong wind. The new-something was a man, Peter thought. He is a man. I am a boy. My name is Peter and there are monsters eating me. There was a sound of metal teeth and the smell of burning hair. A voice like violence stabbed Peter.
-He is ours, Time Lord, you hold no jurisdiction here,- the voice said. Peter could remember more things now but he could also remember the feeling of losing all of who he was to the things inside his head and he did not want to feel that ever again. Peter remembered something else he’d forgotten.
-Get out of my head, he screamed, I don’t like you!-
The Doctor grinned and came close, but the blackness screeched between him and Peter.
-Very good,- the Doctor shouted, -they say anger is bad for the soul, but sometimes it’s just what the Doctor ordered.-
The wind keened and sliced, the blackness beat at Peter.
-What’s your name?-
Saying his name gave Peter the strength to push closer to the Doctor, who took an umbrella with a curving handle and extended to the boy. Peter reached out, but couldn’t quite grasp it.
-NO! HE IS OURS. WE MUST SPAWN.-
-I know. I’m sorry. If there was another way for you to live … But you cannot live by destroying.-
-We will die. Killed by you.-
Peter felt a sense of deep guilt wash over him. The Doctor’s eyes looked sad. Haunted. Suddenly, Peter was no longer reaching out in fear. Instead, he reached toward the Doctor because something about the man seemed so lost, so in need of a hug.
Their hands touched and Peter’s world exploded with light and a high-pitched scream. Suddenly he was falling and drowning and being folded inside out at all the same time. But something held onto his wrist. Someone. As light and dark whipped around him like a tornado, he saw the man’s face and remembered again that the man had called himself the Doctor.
-Help me,- Peter cried out.
-I will, Peter, but you have to help me help you.-
Something like teeth or claws or knives cut at Peter.
-Do you know how to swim,- the Doctor asked.
Pain shot through Peter’s arm as he was tugged sharply down. The Doctor did not let go.
-I . . . yes. I’m not very good though. At swimming. And we aren’t in water.-
-Right you are. But I need to you think swimming for me right now. I need you to imagine we are underwater and we are going to swim up to the surface. Together.-
-But we’re not really swimming, right?-
-No, but it’s just like swimming.-
The Doctor paused, pain flashed across his face as a sharp blackness slashed his back. His grip tightened on Peter’s wrist.
-Except,- he continued, -when it’s not.-
-Ok,- Peter said, and imagined that he was swimming hard.
The darkness didn’t want to let them go and it slashed at them, or tried to smother them. Even though the Doctor was shielding Peter from the worst attacks, his mind felt bruised and very tired. Every time he almost gave up and stopped swimming so he could rest and just sink into the dark instead of fighting it, the Doctor looked at him with deep, eternal eyes, and smiled. Peter would feel energy flow into him and he would imagine that he was swimming even harder. So he would think hard about swimming up and up and up. Finally, after what seemed like forever, they broke through the black and into the light.
Ace watched the Tender Dolls. The Doctor sat in one of his psychic trances on the ground near the house, cross-legged, eyes shut, and barely breathing. But the muscles of his forehead, cheeks, lips, and neck twitched and spasmed. Like, she thought, he was being hit.
She wished one of the figures would attack or at least move so she could do something. She felt useless. She hated feeling useless.
Suddenly, the Doctor let out a loud sigh and opened his eyes. Even in the dim light Ace saw that they sparkled with joy. Behind her, the three figures collapsed in upon themselves, reminding Ace of how vampires turned to dust in the movies.
“Is it over,” she asked, kicking at the empty fabric of the cloaks.
“Yes,” he said.
“For this time, at least,” he added as he stood, turned, and looked up at the window on the second floor. Ace followed his gaze, and looked into the eyes of a ginger-haired boy who stared down at them. She smiled and waved. He waved back. It was a half-hearted gesture full of exhaustion, but the smile he gave the Doctor was full and deep and only slightly tinged with sadness.
“Wish I could have helped more,” she said, watching the Doctor watch the boy. A look of genuine surprise flashed across the Time Lord’s face. He turned to look directly into her eyes.
“I couldn’t have gone into a trance that deep that fast if I you weren’t there in case something unexpected happened.”
He looked back up at the boy.
He smiled, turned, took her arm in his, and began walking briskly toward the TARDIS.
“Oh, quiet really, Ace. Quite really.”
Peter watched the man and the girl walk away. He felt much older than when he’d gone to bed that night. Monsters, he thought as he turned away from the window, were real. That was a scary thought. But monsters, he had also learned, can be beat, and that thought made him smile.