Accustomed to your face
DISCLAIMER: Doctor Who belongs to the BBC and thank you RTD for helping to bring him back. This is an exercise of love and no money is being made from it.
Gone, he was gone. One second he was standing in front of her as she begged him to stay and the next, there was a flash of light and a complete stranger stood before her in his clothing. How was that possible? In what part of the universe did this seem possible?
Of course Clara knew about a Time Lord’s ability to regenerate. After all hadn’t she thrown herself into the Doctor’s time stream, scattering herself through all his lives? Clara still had faint memories of those times, faint remembrances that occasionally popped up in her dreams. The Doctor had said these would fade in time, that this life would assert its dominance and the rest would become mere figments of her imagination. And she had personally met two other versions of the Doctor only recently. She had liked them, they were nice and she could see shades of her Doctor in their actions and beliefs. But they were not him, like this one was not him.
He would never be him. Never again would Clara see that mad glint in her Doctor’s eye as he threw them headlong into another adventure. Never again would she see that stupid hair, that silly grin, his chin that she always teased him for – even if it wasn’t half as bad as she implied. She loved to watch as he rubbed his hands together and tried desperately to be cool. How could someone so smart be so clueless at the same time? She would miss his hugs, kisses on the top of her head and those puppy dog eyes. Oh how she was going to miss those sad puppy dog eyes.
It was bad enough when Clara had thought the Doctor was going to die, how she had watched him age; grow sadder and more resigned to never seeing any more of the universe than that one small planet, Trenzalore. She knew he had tried to spare her by sending her back home and there were times she had forgiven him that small selfishness. Didn’t he understand that he needed her more there by his side than anywhere else? Who else truly understood him, would never leave him? Except now he had left her alone, alone with some stranger.
Clara watched this new man, this new Doctor, as he moved quietly about the console. There had been a moment when he had first changed; where she thought they were both going to die. When he had rambled on about his kidneys and then asked her if she knew how to fly the TARDIS, but then he had turned his back on her and began circling the six sided console, hands reaching out, fingers caressing the panels. As he continued to circle his movements became more confident, more self-assured. To Clara it was like seeing a baby animal standing on its feet for the first time. She had seen it on documentaries, that first stumbling steps as the newborn tried out its legs, the uncertainty at first as it explored the new world. Then in mere minutes it was gambolling about next to its mother, oozing confidence like it had always been there.
That was what it had been like with this man, indecision quickly followed by self-belief as the TARDIS responded to his touch. The machine seemed to accept the change. Clara frowned, stupid cow, she thought they had come to some sort of understanding. So why was it betraying her Doctor’s memory with this new version?
Clara’s eyes began to well with tears as she realised once more she would never see him again. This was worse than dying, at least when someone died there was a finality to it all. When her mum had died, it had hurt for quite a while but there was a sense that in time the hard edges would fade and the good memories would rise to the surface. But how can you mourn when the person in front of you is still there? Oh he doesn’t look the same; he doesn’t even sound the same. But if what the Doctor had told her was true, somewhere inside that man was her bow tie wearing Doctor.
Clara’s eyes widened and she looked about the floor. Where was it, he had taken it off and let it fall to the floor. Where was his bow tie? The spot where it had fallen was empty. Somehow the other one must have kicked it away during one of his many circuits around the console. It wasn’t fair! Clara had lost so much and now she was going to lose this little thing too? No, wait, wait a minute. There it was pushed up against the base of the console. Clara breathed a small sigh of relief, not lost then.
Clara waited until the other one’s back was turned then she quickly bent down and picked up the discarded piece of cloth. Winding the dark purple fabric around her fingers she lifted it to her nose and inhaled, trying to find his scent. It was stupid she supposed, it was just a bow tie; but she remembered the day after her mum had died. Clara had waited until her dad was on the phone or was talking to one of the many visitors offering their condolences, she couldn’t really remember. What she vividly recalled was rushing to her parent’s bedroom and pulling out one of her mother’s nightgowns before hurrying to hide it in her room. Every night for weeks after the funeral she would take it out and wear it to bed, trying in vain to reconnect with her mother through a faded cotton nightie.
Clara dropped her hand and looked at the fabric, she couldn’t remember when she had stopped wearing that nightgown to bed, and she wasn’t even sure where it was now. Had she thrown it out, had her dad? One day would she forget where she had hidden the Doctor’s bow tie? Sighing Clara looked up to see the other one staring at her. Gulping at the intensity of his gaze she hid the bow tie behind her back and tried to smile.
How could she do this, how could she accept that this stranger before her was the Doctor? It was asking too much of her.
Oh, Doctor, please come back to me.
Regeneration was like riding a bicycle; you never really forgot how to do it, except he had never ridden one before. Though he did have memories of riding a bicycle in a past life, so did that mean that regeneration was like remembering you remembered how to ride a bicycle?
No, regeneration was not so much like riding a bicycle after many years; it was more like spontaneously regaining memories you never knew you even had while having no idea who you really were. The memories were there, they just took a little time to emerge.
Like flying the TARDIS, he genuinely had no idea in the first moments of his new life how anything worked. Fortunately instincts and muscle memory kicked in and he was able to steer the old girl to a safe landing. Although muscle memory might be a bit of an exaggeration, how can muscles remember anything when they didn’t even exist mere minutes ago?
In fact up until he had actually seen the beginning of the regenerative energy glow and felt his old body begin to change the Doctor was convinced it wouldn’t even happen. Which was typical, he had just resigned himself to finally dying, to stop running away and accept his lot and what happened? The universe had gone and kicked him squarely up the jacksie with another cycle of regenerations. The Time Lord Council must be really desperate to get back if they were willing to let the Doctor loose on the universe again. Still he was the one who had put them in that pocket universe in the first place so . . .
The Doctor rested his hands on the TARDIS console. ‘Still alive, old girl.’ He muttered.
But who was he? He looked at his hands, long fingers perfect for pointing. The Doctor tried a few gestures at the rotor, oh yes, pointing was coo –. The Doctor swallowed as he felt the last one stir a little in the back of his mind. No, that was the other’s word, not his. But mental note, pointing was nice. He looked at his wrists and noticed that the cuffs on the shirt were too tight. The Doctor loosened the buttons, much better. So pointing fingers, slightly longer arms, the Doctor looked at his hands again. They seemed finer, the skin tighter letting the veins stand out a little. And they seemed older, was he older?!
He reached up and touched his face; a thinner face, definite lines around the mouth. His fingers continued to explore, there were bags under his eyes and was that wrinkles? The Doctor began to smile, wrinkles! No more baby face, no more not being taken seriously and jokes about looking twelve years old. He ran long fingers through his hair, it felt short with a hint of a curl maybe. No floppy haired fringe this time to make him look like a reject from an 80’s boy band. Oh, the Doctor’s eyes widened in surprise, a musical reference how delightful.
A small sob behind the Doctor caused him to close his eyes. Clara, how could he have forgotten about Clara? What kind of person forgets about his best friend? The Doctor opened his eyes, was she still his friend? Regenerations can be messy and tricky for the person involved, but for anyone standing back and watching it can be completely incomprehensible. One minute someone you know is there and the next a complete stranger is in their place. Would she accept him?
The Doctor’s hearts seemed to stutter and skip a beat at the thought. Surely she would accept him, she was the Impossible Girl. The one who had sacrificed herself to save him, of all the people she should understand that while his form might change he was still the same man inside. She had to see that, she couldn’t abandon him now. She was his constant, a fixed point through all his lives. He couldn’t imagine standing in the TARDIS and not seeing her there.
He needed her, he needed the familiarity of a friend, it was one of the reasons why he preferred to regenerate in the TARDIS. When you didn’t even know what face you were going to see in the mirror having someone familiar to reassure you that you were still you. The Doctor stopped his rambling thoughts, could you even use that many ‘yous’ in one sentence?
There, again he could hear the faintest sob. Clara was mourning the bow tied version of himself and here he was worrying about sentence structure. Sighing the Doctor clutched at the lapels of his jacket and stopped when he realised what he was doing. No, no, that wasn’t who he was anymore. Hands clenched at his sides the Doctor turned around and looked at Clara.
She stood there, head bowed and staring at something in her hand. It took her several minutes to realise what he was doing. With a start she slipped her hands behind her back and tried to smile at him. She could barely look him in the eye and when she did Clara seemed to flinch. Think, think, Doctor, what can you do to make her feel better? What could he do to lift that sad expression from her face?
Humour always worked didn’t it? The Doctor holding both hands out to his sides, bowed slightly from the waist. ‘So, what do you think, am I rocking it or what?’
Clara gasped, hands rising to cover her mouth.
The Doctor grimaced, hands falling to his side. ‘That sounded like him, didn’t it?’
Clara nodded, tears in her eyes.
The Doctor straightened and clasped his hands behind his back. ‘I’m not him.’
Clara nodded again. ‘I know,’ she whispered.
‘But he will always be a part of me, Clara,’ the Doctor tried to explain. ‘You were his Impossible Girl, but,’ he took a deep breath, ‘but I hope that you will be my friend.’
Clara looked from the Doctor to the piece of cloth she was holding in her hands. The silence seemed to echo through the console room.
‘Please say something.’ The Doctor asked.
Clara sniffed and she seemed to come to some sort of decision. ‘Why do you sound Scottish?’
The Doctor blinked at the change of conversation. ‘I’m not –’ he stopped and tilted his head slightly, a small smile crossing his face. ‘I do sound Scottish!’ He looked over at Clara. ‘Do you like it?’
Clara thought about that for a moment before shrugging. ‘It’s different.’
‘It’s not the first time I’ve sounded like this,’ the Doctor said, ‘do you remember?’
Clara crossed her arms and frowned at the Doctor.
The Doctor raised his eyebrows in an enquiring manner. ‘Small fellow, umbrella?’ He watched as Clara’s frown deepened. ‘Had a thing for question marks.’
Clara blinked, and then her face lit up as the memories swam to the surface. ‘It was an ice world,’ she said, ‘he was in trouble.’
The Doctor nodded. ‘Usually of his own making, so you do remember.’
‘We never talked, though,’ Clara said. ‘I’m not sure he even saw me.’
Clara tilted her head to one side. ‘Is this your way of reminding me that even though you change you’re all still the same person?’
Actually he had just been trying to cheer her up, unless he was even cleverer than he thought he was. Which was always a possibility, after all who was he now? ‘Sure, although I’d more describe it as not exactly the same person, more from the same family.’ The Doctor’s hands moved around the front of his body and tried to rub each other.
Clara saw the gesture and her whole demeanour seemed to crumble. She bought the hand holding a piece of cloth up to her mouth.
One step forward, three steps back, Doctor. He gestured towards her hand. ‘Is that his?’
Clara looked at the bow tie wound about her right hand before holding out the cloth towards the Doctor. ‘Do you want it?’
The Doctor waved away the gesture. ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘I’m sure he would have wanted you to have it.’ There was that stirring in his mind again; the other one definitely wanted her to have it.
Clara looked down at her hand and bit her bottom lip. ‘Where is he?’ she whispered.
The Doctor waited until she looked up at him before answering. ‘In here,’ he touched the side of his head, ‘and here.’ Using both hands he tapped the spot over his hearts.
Clara swallowed and took a deep breath. ‘Can I talk to him?’
The Doctor shook his head regretfully. ‘It doesn’t work like that. He’s slipping into a deep sleep in my mind. Soon he will just be a part of my memories.’
Clara blinked back tears. ‘I miss him.’
The Doctor just nodded; there was nothing he could say to ease the pain. He stretched his arms out in front of him and looked down at them. ‘I’m wearing his clothes.’
Clara looked at the Doctor in confusion. ‘What?’
‘No, no, this will not do.’ The Doctor turned to walk away from Clara before turning back. ‘Is the wardrobe room still that way?’ he pointed up the stairs towards the rest of the TARDIS. ‘Turn left, left, right, left, straight ahead for six minutes at the T junction, then don’t go down the next corridor unless you see the purple door then its the third door on your right?’
Clara tried to comprehend the instructions. ‘I don’t –’
‘Never mind,’ the Doctor said. ‘I’m sure it will be there.’
Clara watched this man who seemed to be the Doctor walk away.
Halfway up the stairs he stopped again and turned to address her. ‘Will you be here when I come back?’
Clara frowned at his words. ‘Where else can I go?’
‘You could go home.’ The Doctor pointed towards the TARDIS doors. ‘Earth is right out that door. Assuming I landed correctly, of course.’
Clara looked from the doors to the Doctor.
The Doctor smiled sadly down at Clara. ‘I hope you give me a chance.’ Turning his back he walked up the stairs and disappeared into the further reaches of the TARDIS.
Clara carefully unwound the bow tie from her hand and looked at the purple fabric. ‘What do you think?’ she asked the inanimate object. Sighing she looked around the quiet console room. Slowly she walked over and sat down on the seat near one of the side consoles. The least she could do was hear him out; after all she could always go home tomorrow.