Sunday, November 25, 2012

Breadcrumbs - my story from Short Trips: Transmissions

My first published short story appeared in Short Trips: Transmissions, edited by Richard Salter (who also edited the shared world anthology World's Collider, also with a story by me, which you can get here) back in 2008. I wrote another story for Short Trips: Christmas Around the World, which  also came out in 2008.

Sadly, the Short Trips books are now out of print, and used copies are going for silly prices on Amazon and eBay. But I've got permission to post both of mine here, for free - treat them as fan fiction, not for profit, etc etc. Please don't repost, just link if you want to share them. I'll post the first one now, and the Christmas one around Christmas time. Thank you to Big Finish and the BBC for letting me put them on here. By the way, I've pasted the story from my final text copy, so any grammatical errors are my fault and not the editor's - he fixed a few things in the printed version!

Story notes: When asked to write a Doctor Who story, there was only one choice of Doctor for me - the Fourth. I grew up watching him and Romana II, and had been dying to write for them. Which is why it features plenty of jaunty bickering, silliness, time twisting, and a slightly unco-operative TARDIS. It's heavily influenced by City of Death, the first episode I remember seeing - and one that snuck into The Fires of Pompeii in a few references for my own amusement.

Doctor Who original series broadcast on BBC Television. Format copyright © BBC 1963. Story originally published by Big Finish 2008, reproduced with permission from BBC Worldwide.


An adventure of the Fourth Doctor, with Romana

By James Moran

The Doctor looked around, sighing. The island was so small, he could actually see all the way across it. Three stubby, embarrassed looking trees skulked here and there, while bleached patches of grass stained the rest of it. No people, no shelter, no help. He sighed again, then once more for effect.

“Oh well,” he said, to nobody in particular. “Better get on with it, I suppose. At least I know it’ll work.”

* * *

Romana had been dropping some seriously heavy hints for quite a while. She wanted a holiday, some time off from the trouble they always seemed to get into. But if she just said it outright, the Doctor might not be keen. Better to let him think it was his idea all along. Which is why she had been wearing a succession of holiday outfits, “just seeing if they fit”, in the ever decreasing hope that he’d get the message.

The Doctor, on the other hand, had noticed the hints, but was trying to see how long he could pretend not to notice them before she caved in. If they hadn’t picked up the strange signal, the game might have dragged on for months.

“That’s odd,” said the Doctor, tapping a dial. “Seems to be coming from several different directions at the same time.”

“Does it,” said Romana, determinedly bouncing a beach ball off the console.

“Yes. Could be a sensor echo, the multiple signals are all the same.”

The ball bounced towards the Doctor, stopping by his feet. Romana coughed. Then again, louder.

“Could you throw the ball back over here?”


“The ball. The beach ball.”

“Oh, is that what it is?”

He idly kicked it back to her. She rolled her eyes, and went to the console, calling up information on the signal.

“It’s not a sensor echo,” she said. “And they’re not the same. It’s lots of very similar signals. There you go, mystery solved. Now, where should we go next? Maybe somewhere we can use this beach ball…”

The Doctor stared at the data displayed on the screen.

“You’re right. I mean, of course you’re right, why wouldn’t you be, but look at this. They’re not signals at all, they’re… fragments. Physical signal fragments, I’ve never seen anything like it. The TARDIS is picking them up, but they’re not transmitting, not in the usual sense. Can you feel them? Like a time disturbance, but more gentle, like little pinpricks in the arm. Can’t you feel them?”


“Can’t be a time disturbance then, or we’d both feel it. Let’s collect a few of them, and see what happens.”

The beach ball bounced off his head, a little bit too hard. Romana strode out of the room, annoyed. The Doctor watched her go, amused, and called after her.

“You forgot your beach ball!”

* * *

Several hours later, ten of the signal fragments had been collected. They were strange things, little blurs of sound and light, contained in a large glass container that used to house some fish. The fish had met with an unfortunate accident one day when the Doctor was doing some chemistry experiments. He didn’t get any more. Timelords aren’t very good with pets.

He flicked some buttons, and turned a dial. The fragments in the glass box glowed slightly, then went back to the way they were. The Doctor’s face fell.

“Ah. Come on, don’t be like that.”

He turned the dial again, with the same result. Romana strolled in, wearing a different outfit.


“It’s a three dimensional signal, broken up into these fragments. But the signal won’t decode, I don’t have all the pieces yet. And I don’t even have anything that could decode it.”

“Oh well, never mind. Look, this one still fits, too. Haven’t worn it for ages. When’s the last time I wore it, let me think… oh yes! It was in Paris, when we were on holiday. Over a year ago. That was a lovely holiday, that holiday in Paris we had, over a year ago. Paris is perfect for holidays, isn’t it? Just sitting around, in Paris, on holiday, enjoying the holiday in Paris, with--”

The Doctor clapped his hands together suddenly, and leaped up.



“Do you know what we need to do?”


“Collect all the fragments, then rewire a Centauran Matter Disperser, run them through it backwards, and voila! A reconstituted signal! What do you think?”

“I think I’m going back to my room. To read. About Paris.”

She left, fed up.

The Doctor started calibrating the scanners, thrilled at the thought of a new puzzle to solve.

* * *

It was around the eighty seventh or eighty eighth fragment when Romana snapped. She walked into the console room, to find the Doctor racing around the console.

“Are you still looking for those fragments?”

“Oh yes! I’m going to collect every single one, and then find out what the message is. Won’t that be exciting? What’s that for?”

He had just noticed the small suitcase on the floor next to her.

“Clothes. You can drop me off on your way.”

“You’re not… you’re not leaving, are you?”

For a moment, a look of utter panic crossed his face, before he banished it quickly. But not quickly enough. Romana smiled.

“No, of course not. I’m just having a break, while you get this out of your system. I have no intention whatsoever of sitting around while you run around collecting bits and pieces of some old signal that could be who knows how old, or damaged, or anything.”

“Oh. Good.”

“Leaving, honestly… As if you’d be able to manage without me.”

“I’d manage perfectly well without you, thank you very much. How’d you think I managed before you arrived?”

“With great difficulty, I should imagine.”

“I’ve been around for a very long time, young lady.”

“I know. And if I’d been around, keeping an eye on you, maybe you wouldn’t have gone through so many regenerations.”

“That is completely untrue. All right, maybe you’d have helped out a bit when- now look! I do my own thing, I’m a maverick. A loner. I don’t need anyone to keep an eye on me.”

“Really? I’m going for two weeks, I’ve calculated that that should be enough time for you to collect the rest of the fragments. If I get back here and you haven’t been killed, or kidnapped, or broken the TARDIS, or got yourself into some kind of life-threatening trouble… well, I’ll be very surprised.”

“I’ll be fine! And when you get back here and see everything’s wonderful, you can take me to the restaurant on Surrifleq 9 to apologise. And you’re paying.”

“Done. And vice versa, if I’m right then you’re paying.”




“Okay then!”

There was a brief pause. The Doctor twiddled his thumbs.

“So where am I dropping you off?”

* * *

The Doctor nearly lost the bet within an hour, when he yanked a lever off in anger. For a moment, the TARDIS began heading directly into the path of a sun, with the doors about to open, before he managed to cram a fountain pen into the lever socket and stave off disaster.

“Must get that lever fixed,” he muttered. “Roma- oh, yes, of course.”

He looked around, embarrassed, but nobody was there to see his mistake.

“Well, then.”

The next few days were spent collecting more fragments. The silence was getting to him, but he refused to admit that he needed Romana around to keep him sane. He’d just got used to things being the way they were, that’s all. That’s all.

* * *

A week into the bet, the Doctor was alarmed to start hearing strange voices echoing around the TARDIS corridors. The internal scanners picked up nothing, but there must be an intruder on board, it was the only explanation. Maybe if he locked himself in one room, and evacuated all the air from the rest of the TARDIS, that would bring the intruder into the open? It was an excellent plan, with only two flaws: one, the intruder might not need to breathe, and two, he had no idea how to evacuate the air, or even if it could be done. But how to find him, or her, or it, or they? It was a conundrum.

Several hours later, the Doctor realised that the “voices” were his own voice. He’d been talking to himself, out loud, and didn’t realise he was doing it.

* * *

Later that same day, he did it again. Twice.

* * *

A week and half into the bet, he had got used to the fact that he was talking to himself, and decided that it was a sign of intelligence, his own mind insisting on talking things through in the absence of another sounding board.

All the while, he was collecting more and more fragments. Another day, and he’d have them all. Then all he needed to do was run them backwards through a rewired Centauran Matter Disperser.

The only slight stumbling block now was the fact that he didn’t have a Centauran Matter Disperser, rewired or otherwise.

But he knew a man who knew a man who did.

Unfortunately, the man (the one who did) was the notoriously violent and bad tempered G’rlanix who, it turned out, had murdered the other man (the one who knew him), who was called Sjad. The Doctor discovered this when he went to visit Sjad, and found a smoking crater in the ground where his house (and, indeed, his city) had been.

The Doctor had planned to ask Sjad to convince G’rlanix to lend him the Centauran Matter Disperser, as Sjad got on quite well with him (or at least he used to, before things clearly took a turn for the worse). The whole smoking crater thing put a severe crimp in that plan. And made things a lot more dangerous.

Now he was going to have to go and see G’rlanix, and ask if he could borrow the Disperser. Without ending up as a smoking crater himself.

It was all incredibly dangerous, and a bad idea from start to finish. Which is why the Doctor decided to just steal the Disperser instead.

* * *

The plan was, materialise inside G’rlanix’s museum right in front of the display case containing the Disperser, open the doors, reach out, grab it, shut the doors, and dematerialise before anyone knew what was happening. There was no way it could go wrong, no way that anyone could know who did it, or follow him. It was flawless. But, as most sensible people know, it’s the flawless plans that always go horribly wrong.

The TARDIS materialised inside the museum, as planned, in front of the display case, as planned. But the Disperser wasn’t there.

The Doctor dithered. Should he just go? He was only supposed to be here for a few seconds, and it had already been thirty seconds now. But he needed that Disperser. Gingerly, he stepped out.

The museum was empty, apart from the exhibits. Lots and lots of weapons, and a few stuffed animal heads. When the Doctor looked closer, he corrected himself: lots of weapon cases, and hardly any actual weapons. Most of them had been removed, some by force, some by unlocking the display cases.

This was not good. Lots of dangerous weapons in the wrong hands spelled trouble for an intruder. And when it came to the these sort of weapons, pretty much any hands were the wrong hands, because those hands were usually aiming the weapons at you.

The Doctor ventured further into the complex. He listened carefully for any sounds of weapons fire, but there was nothing. He continued walking into the eerie silence.

He turned a corner, and saw a dead body lying near a door. There were no visible signs of injury, but some of the most terrible weapons were ones that left no marks on the surface. He crept closer, and saw that the man was holding the Centauran Matter Disperser. The Doctor’s eyebrows shot up, and he started to walk forwards.

He stopped himself.

When something looks too good to be true, it usually is. The nearby door was slightly ajar, maybe half an inch, and some sort of flickering light was coming through the gap. Maybe a viewscreen on the blink? A broken light fitting? The Doctor didn’t know. But for now, there was no noise, so he tried not to worry about it.

He lifted the Disperser out of the hands of the dead man.

“Sorry old chap,” he whispered. He turned to go back the way he came, but his natural curiosity got the better of him. He had to know what was on the other side of that door.

He edged towards it, and nudged it open with his foot, slowly.

Inside the room, he noticed three things immediately.

The first thing he noticed was that a massive gunfight was taking place, in utter silence, between G’rlanix’s guards, and some thieves who had crashed their ship into the outer shell of the building. Muzzle flashes from the gunfire flickered wildly.

The second thing was the dark green light over the top of the door which indicated that the room had an electronic soundproofing system fitted.

The third thing was G’rlanix, mortally wounded, inputting the code into the self destruct panel on his computer wall. He hit the confirmation key, and a countdown started on the screen – 30 seconds. 29. 28.

G’rlanix saw the Doctor, and pointed at him angrily. With a weapon. He fired.

The blast missed the Doctor, but hit the soundproofing box over the door, smashing it. Suddenly the full sound and fury of the battle came blasting out, snapping the Doctor out of his stunned reverie. He turned and ran, pursued by G’rlanix.

“It’s all right,” shouted the Doctor over his shoulder. “Don’t mind me, just pretend I’m not here.”

Another blast exploded a bit too close for comfort.

“Really, I was just leaving anyway,” shouted the Doctor.

The Doctor raced back to the TARDIS, clutching the Disperser, dodging blasts fired by G’rlanix. Luckily, the injured man was weaving all over the place, had blurred vision in both eyes, and seemed unable to figure out which of the three Doctors to fire at.

All the while, the countdown timer was heading towards zero.

The Doctor leaped inside the open TARDIS doors, and started to close them. Just then, a lucky shot from G’rlanix slipped through the gap, and blasted a hole in the central console. The doors closed. The Doctor looked at G’rlanix on the viewscreen, and hesitated. He switched on the external speakers, and spoke to him.

“Can I give you a lift? No hard feelings, honestly.”

G’rlanix answered by unleashing a volley of gunfire at the TARDIS doors.

“Look, I have to go! You’re welcome to come along, I can drop you off anywhere you like.”

G’rlanix dropped his weapon, and picked up a much larger one. He aimed it at the TARDIS.

The Doctor’s eyes widened. He quickly started the engines, and the TARDIS dematerialised.

Back in his museum, G’rlanix roared in anger, just as the self destruct countdown reached zero.

* * *

The Doctor slumped down, frustrated and out of breath. He looked at the Disperser.

“You’d better be worth it,” he muttered. He waved away the smoke from the hole in the console, inspecting the damage.

“Not too bad, could be worse I suppose. Better fix it before Romana gets back, otherwise… I’m talking to myself again, aren’t I? Yes. Must stop doing that.”

He grabbed his toolbox, and set to work rewiring the Disperser.

* * *

The Doctor picked up Romana on the final day of the bet, making a big show of how he was still alive and the TARDIS was in one piece. Romana was quite surprised that he even turned up on time, never mind anything else. And she had been convinced that he’d be on his next regeneration, even in the short time she’d been away. He must have been extra careful.

The Doctor, for his part, was just glad that she didn’t notice the slight burn mark in the side of the console. He’d patched up the hole as best he could, and hoped that if she did spot it, it wouldn’t be for a while. At which point he would shrug, and insist that it had been there for years.

He spent the rest of the day making the last adjustments to the Disperser. At last, it was rewired, reconfigured, repurposed. Half of the work was incredibly complex and imaginative, half of it amounted to snapping bits off and sticking them elsewhere with chewing gum. But it worked. More or less.

All he needed now was the final fragment, and he could put the signal together.

* * *

The missing piece was on a dusty planetoid with a minimal atmosphere. Breathable, not very warm, but they wouldn’t be there for too long.

“Keep an eye out for those wormholes,” said Romana, before they left the TARDIS.

“What wormholes?”

“The seventeen small wormholes that are drifting around on the surface. You wouldn’t want to get into trouble with one, especially after you’ve been managing so well.”

“Ah yes, of course.”

The Doctor felt a pang of guilt. But what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. As far as she knew, he hadn’t got into any trouble at all. After all, he was alive, wasn’t he? And surely that’s what mattered, in the great scheme of things.

He set up the Disperser, placing it on a handy rock near to the glass box. The TARDIS collected the final fragment, sending it into the box. The Doctor switched on the rewired Disperser.

“Right, here we are then, let’s see what you’re made of.”

He manipulated the Disperser, which jerked into life. The fragments flew out of the box, and were sucked into the open end of the Disperser. When they had all gone in, the device shook, and a solid beam of light came out the other end.

It aimed itself a few feet away, but instead of forming into a message, it formed the shape of a man. The figure was still too bright to see properly.

Seconds later, the light faded, and revealed the man. Curly hair, long coat, scarf, enormous grin - it was the Doctor. Another Doctor, an exact duplicate.

The original Doctor, crouched over the Disperser, stared in amazement.

“There you are! Hello!” said the New Doctor, just before turning to Romana with an anxious look. “Listen, you haven’t looked at the sensor logs recently, have you?”

Romana looked at him, unable to speak temporarily. The original Doctor cleared his throat, trying to regain control of the situation.

“Now look here,” he began, before the New Doctor interrupted him.

“Sorry old bean,” he said. “No time for explanations, but you’ll figure it out. Good luck, by the way, you’ll be fine. Should be happening around… now.”

“What should?” asked the original Doctor, a second before a passing wormhole that had been hidden behind a nearby rock sucked him and the Disperser into its vortex.

* * *

The Doctor felt like he was falling, for a long time, but it must have been only a few seconds. He’d never been sucked through a mini wormhole before, and he couldn’t honestly say that it was an enjoyable experience.

He clung on to the Disperser, because it was the only other solid thing nearby, and felt reassuringly chunky and heavy.

A light approached. For a terrible nanosecond, the Doctor felt as if he was being stretched the entire diameter of the universe, until-

* * *

-he came flying out the other end of the wormhole, landing on a soft, sandy beach.

The Disperser landed next to him, just missing his head.

The Doctor let out a loud groan, before checking himself thoroughly to make sure that nothing was missing, and that his head was on the right way around. Everything seemed more or less intact. He groaned again.

Struggling to his feet, he looked around. He was on a tiny island in the middle of a vast ocean. He had no idea what planet, what sector, what galaxy, or even if he was in the same universe.

And he had no way of getting back. The wormhole was still there, but it had drastically reduced in size. He could probably just about get his head in, or maybe a leg, but that was no good to anyone. Besides, who knows where he’d end up? If it was a random destination, then he might be in the same position he was in now. At least here he had air to breathe, and land to stand on.  Assuming he ended up somewhere that wasn’t fatal, he had no way of contacting anyone to get a lift back to the TARDIS.

Maybe he could send some sort of signal with the Disperser. He could rewire it back to the way it was, feed some sand or rocks into it, and encode them with a unique signature. Fire them through the wormhole, and- but how would they find him from those signals? He didn’t even know where he was. Unless he was the signal himself…

Yes, that was it – if he fixed the Disperser, adjusted the settings, fiddled with it a bit, then it could break him down into thousands of tiny pieces, convert them into three dimensional signal fragments, and-

And there it was. The puzzle was solved. The fragments he had already been searching for were pieces of himself, sent through a wormhole and scattered across a whole region of the galaxy. The wormhole must have sent him backwards in time, too, because the fragments appeared several weeks ago, out of nowhere. That explained how he was able to sense them when they were nearby – because they were part of him.

He sat down, wondering how long it would take to fix the Disperser. He’d been pretty rough with it, and parts were already falling off. A quick search of his pockets revealed several interesting items, the most useful of which were half a jar of marmalade, a broken telescope and a packet of toothpicks. Tragically, he had completely run out of jelly babies.

The Doctor sat down and looked around, sighing. The island was so small, he could actually see all the way across it. Three stubby, embarrassed looking trees skulked here and there, while bleached patches of grass stained the rest of it. No people, no shelter, no help. He sighed again, then once more for effect.

“Oh well,” he said, to nobody in particular. “Better get on with it, I suppose. At least I know it’ll work.”

Before he started, a thought struck him. What if Romana had looked through the sensor logs? She’d find out all the near misses and accidents he’d had while she was away. He’d lose the bet. He made a mental note to double check with her as soon as he got back. Technically it was cheating, but he really didn’t want to lose the bet.

After all, the restaurant on Surrifleq 9 was very, very expensive.

* * *

Finally, it was ready. The Doctor got into position, and flicked on the Disperser. For a moment, nothing happened, until, with an agonising yank, he was converted into thousands of signal fragments and shot through the wormhole.

And suddenly, he was standing on the dusty planetoid, watching his old self and Romana gaping at him in amazement. It felt instantaneous, but he knew that he had been floating around the galaxy for weeks, in tiny pieces. He stretched, and beamed at his old self.

“There you are! Hello!” he said. Now, what was it he was supposed to remember? Oh yes – the logs… He turned to Romana, quickly. “Listen, you haven’t looked at the sensor logs recently, have you?”

Romana just stared at him. Probably not the best time to have a conversation about this. Another thought struck him. Should he tell his old self what to do, how to get out of the situation? Then again, he figured it out, so maybe he didn’t need to. Besides, there wasn’t really enough time to go into details.

“Now look here,” said his old self.

“Sorry old bean,” said the Doctor. “No time for explanations, but you’ll figure it out. Good luck, by the way, you’ll be fine. Should be happening around… now.”

“What should?”

The Doctor watched, wincing, as the passing wormhole whisked his old self away. He turned to Romana, clapping his hands together.

“Right! Shall we get on, then?”

“The signal was you, all along?”

“Yes. I got taken by the wormhole, and had to send myself as a signal, to myself, through the same wormhole. And here I am, safe and sound. Good job I collected all those signal fragments, eh?”

“Yes… but if you hadn’t collected them all, we would never have come here, and you wouldn’t have been taken by the wormhole.”

“Ah yes, but if I hadn’t been taken by the wormhole, then the fragments wouldn’t have existed in the first place. And because they did exist, if I hadn’t come here to create them, then… oh, who knows? That’s the trouble with time paradoxes and recursive loops, if you try to make sense of it all you just end up with a blinding headache.”

“So where did you go?”

“Long story. Well, actually, not really, but I’ll gladly embellish it for you and make it into one. Come on, I’ll tell you all about it over dinner at Surrifleq 9.”

He strode back towards the TARDIS, followed by Romana. She smiled.

“Fair enough. You’re paying, by the way,” she said.

The Doctor stopped just inside the door.

“You looked at the sensor logs?“

“I knew you couldn’t stay out of trouble for five minutes.”

“It was longer than five minutes!”

“Still. I won the bet, fair and square. Pay up, and stop being a bad loser.”

“I may be a bad loser, but you’re showing no grace in victory.”

“Would you?”

“Definitely not. What’s the point of winning if you can’t gloat about it?”

They walked inside, and the doors shut behind them. The Doctor began to operate the central console. He stopped, and turned to Romana.

“You didn’t even look at the logs, did you? You didn’t have time.”

“Didn’t need to.”

“That’s cheating!”

“So is sneakily wiping the sensor logs.”

“I wouldn’t have done that!”

Romana looked at him, one eyebrow raised. He threw his hands up in defeat, and pulled a lever.

The TARDIS began to dematerialise, until finally it was gone, leaving nothing but the sound of the engines fading away into the distance.

With a grinding noise, it reappeared, listing to one side. An embarrassed cough came from inside, before the Doctor spoke.

“Ah. Never did get that lever fixed…”

The End