Characters: Ten, Martha, assorted old school Doctors and companions.
Summary: There are ghosts in the TARDIS
There are ghosts in the TARDIS.
Some Martha sees quite frequently, the elderly man with the walking stick, the bloke wearing the comedy scarf, the man with the blonde curls who dressed like he'd been hit by a fast moving circus tent.
Some she's only seen once or twice, the cute boy in the kilt, the woman dressed as an air hostess, the girl in the animal skins.
"Are they ghosts, or premonitions or what?"
"I think you must be imaging things again, Martha."
"Oh, come on. You must have seen them, all these different people, you can sort of see through them, just walking around the TARDIS."
"Maybe once or twice. Hey, know where's lovely this time of year, Dravidian."
The Doctor rattles off the seasonal charms of Dravidian as he dashes around the console setting the coordinates.
There are ghosts in the TARDIS, they walk through walls and through people, silently carrying on long forgotten conversations. They don't bother Martha, sometimes she even talks to them. Then they begin to talk back.
In the kitchen sitting at the table is the teenager with legend 'Ace' printed across the back of her bomber jacket.
Martha ignores the ghost and sets about making a cup of tea, until the girl looks sharply up at her.
"Who the bloody hell are you?" she demands.
"They can talk now."
"Really," the Doctor murmurs, flicking switches and utterly ignoring Martha's, really quite important, point that the TARDIS ghosts could now see and speak to them.
"Fat lot of good you are, I'd be as well asking the ghosts what's going on."
"They're probably just a glitch in the TARDIS's temporal placement sensors. I'll fix it when we come back from the tropical paradise of..."
The Doctor dashes over to the doors, throws them open and only just manages to stop himself before he steps out into nothing. No planet, no ground, no sky, no stars, just nothing.
The Doctor calls them temporal echoes, residual images of people who used to travel in the TARDIS. Martha can't help thinking of them as ghosts. She learns more about them now that she can hear them talking, the air hostess is Australian, the man dressed in the circus tent bickers constantly with an American girl.
She gets used to seeing them. Once you've travelled through time in a wooden space ship you appreciate that the human mind can adjust to almost anything. What she never gets used to is being treated as though she's the one who isn't real.
She's walking along a corridor in search of the Doctor when she passes two of them, a young man and woman. They both stop suddenly and stare at her like they've just seen a ghost.
"I say, old girl, do you see that?"
"Oh, Harry, that'll just be one of the temporal echoes the Doctor was telling us about."
"Oi," Martha demands, "you know the Doctor!" but the man and the woman have already vanished.
"Hey!" Martha demands, "You can't just chuck me off the TARDIS when things get rough."
But the Doctor has her firmly by the elbow, a bag of her belongings in his other hand, and he is guiding her firmly towards the door.
"It's just for a while, until I fix what's happen-" the door is only open for a split second before the Doctor slams it closed, pushes Martha backwards and starts babbling about how maybe it's best if she stays after all.
But it's long enough for Martha to see that they haven't materialised in her flat, or anywhere on Earth. Or anywhere at all.
After three failed materialisation attempts Martha stops believing that it's a fault with the TARDIS, after five she can no longer convince herself that the Doctor has just forgotten how to park his ship.
2007, 2006, 2000, 1985, 1969, 1869...
They scour the timeline for the Earth. It's going to be fine, the Doctor assures her with a big grin, all he needs to do is get to a point in time before the planet disappeared, stop whatever did it and everything will be fine.
But the Doctor says this without looking her in the eye and Martha's always been good at knowing when people are lying to her.
The beginning of the universe is beautiful, not that Martha is paying any attention to it.
The Doctor's got his back to her, he doesn't turn around when he says, "I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry."
She rages at the Doctor, shouts, demands explanations; how could a whole planet vanish just like that!?
He turns, looks at her sadly, "it's not just your planet."
There's an overgrown garden in the depths of the TARDIS, Martha sits on a stone bench and tries to cry, for her mum and dad, for Leo and Tish, even for stupid bloody Analise. She can't, how do you mourn for people who never really existed?
The TARDIS ghosts make their appearance. A girl in elaborate Edwardian get up sobs uncontrollably into her arms, another girl dressed all in maroon with brown curly hair sniffs and tries desperately not to break into tears.
Martha wonders how many people have sat in this garden over the years and cried, she wonders how many of them have done it because they were mourning the loss of their entire planet.
Skaro, Mondas, Woman Wept.
Martha waits for the Doctor to hug her, to start spewing out techno-babble and clambering all over the console because that will mean he's worked out how to fix this.
It never happens.
New Earth, Draconia, Nekistani, Kal-Tor.
The list of vanished planets gets longer and longer, Martha can't remember all their names, the Doctor can, he whispers the litany of names under his breath like a prayer.
When Martha hears the yelling her first thought is that the Doctor has gone mad. Which might be nice, God knows Martha feels like she's been going out of her mind since Earth, it'd be good to have the company.
She breaks into a run and throws open the door to the console room. And there's the Doctor pacing around the room, waving his arms and shouting.
"You did this, you were the one who had to go and poke the Daleks with a stick, you started the war. I just, I didn't want... You started it."
The ghost that's the focus of the Doctor's wrath regards him from under an imperiously arched eyebrow.
"That really doesn't sound like something I would do."
The Doctor stops pacing, sucks in deep breaths that might be laughter, or tears, or both. He reaches for the ghost, "Romana..."
But she's gone. And the Doctor collapses against the console, sinks down onto the floor.
Martha sits opposite him, crosses her legs and asks, "What's happening?"
"It was near the end of the war and we'd already lost. The Daleks were swarming all over Gallifrey, they'd almost found the eye of harmony."
Martha listens, ignoring the fact that he isn't answering her question. "Someone had to end it, I had to end it. I took the Daleks out of time, the Time Lords too. I thought I was saving everyone else, I thought the timeline would heal. But it's collapsing and there's nothing I can do. It all comes down to entropy in the end."
He reaches out for Martha's hand, squeezes. "I didn't know this would happen. Martha, you've got to believe me, I didn't know."
"And the ghosts?"
"The TARDIS is protecting us from the collapsing timelines, sort of, a bit, for a while. But the temporal fields are collapsing and nine hundred years worth of people who travelled in the TARDIS are trying to exist in the same second. Which is not actually possible, so..."
"What can we do?"
He laughs, "Nothing."
"How long have we got?"
They sit, facing each other, still holding hands. And after a while they stop seeing the ghosts.
A while after that they stop seeing anything at all.