Pickled in Time
The Doctor was not the only Time Lord to possess a TARDIS. Indeed, it had been a standard issue for many centuries when the Time Lords had been the self-appointed guardians of all the tributaries and backwaters of the time vortex. After a catastrophic incident that had seen an entire race almost completely wiped out, the Time Lords had retreated to their citadel on Gallifrey and introduced a policy of isolationism and strict non-intervention. Through the ensuing millennia, very few Time Lords had ever dared to break these rules. The Doctor was one.
Initially, he had simply wanted to explore the universe. He applied for leave from the High Council to continue his studies away from the dusty cloisters of the Capitol. His request was denied. He applied again, stressing the great value in observing other civilisations as a disinterested observer. Once more, his request was refused. Then the Doctor discovered something that shocked him to his core.
One of his fellow graduates from the Academy had already caused some consternation when one of her experiments, a rather feral feline, managed to get loose from her laboratory and somehow managed to devour the leg of the Time Lord president. Rather than face the consequences, she simply absconded, leaving Gallifrey without permission!
So incensed was the Doctor by the Rani’s cold disregard for fair play, he decided to follow her lead. But he had waited so long for official sanction from his masters that he was now an old man near the end of his first incarnation. Accompanied by his young granddaughter, Susan, he stole a TARDIS from the repair bay and escaped the confines of the Capitol. Though the Time Lords eventually caught up with him and put him on trial, they let him loose on a very long lead; he was a useful idiot to have around the universe and could undertake little tasks for them under the guise of total deniability should anything go wrong.
The Rani however managed to continue her amoral activities entirely free from Time Lord interference.
Unlike the Doctor’s TARDIS, which was stuck in its police-box form, the Rani’s time/space vessel had a fully working chameleon device, which enabled it to disguise its exterior to remain undetected from prying eyes. At this very moment, hovering on the cusp of the time-space vortex, the Rani’s TARDIS had taken the form of a commercial mining freighter. On the outside, it was a squat cluster of tubes and rivets of the kind seen on industrial vehicles across the galaxy. Inside, it reflected the personality of the Rani: Elegant and stylish, but cold and sparse.
Flat, grey circles were embossed around the cool, grey walls of the main chamber. Evidence of experiments in various stages of progress lay in glass tubes mounted on sturdy grey stands. Dominating the middle of the control chamber was a smooth, circular console like a grey, stone mushroom. Subtle lights flickered in unison and in the centre of the console, metallic rings rotated, flashing under the sharp pin-lights in the ceiling, punctuating the dull, sterile atmosphere.
The Rani stood in command of her ship. She was a vision in purple and black, like a theatrical buccaneer. Tight trews hugged svelte hips before tapering into knee-length boots. There was still something of the Time Lord about her silhouette – the wide epaulettes came to a severe point and her shimmering violet blouse was belted into a slender waist before flaring into a peplum, creating a severe ‘V’ shape. Her long, brunette tresses framed her exquisitely sculptured face. In many civilisations across the universe, the Rani would be considered beautiful, were it not for her expression of utter disdain, effected by one arched eyebrow and tightly pursed lips. Even the Doctor acknowledged her brilliance, but he would always concede regretfully that she was devoid of compassion and her zealous pursuit of scientific knowledge came at the cost of any being who might stand in her way.
She flicked a switch on the console and instantaneously two objects began spinning around the chamber. They were heads. One was that of an old man, with flowing white hair and a proud, imperious face; the other was a little younger – yet somehow older – with a gentle, rather comical face and a shock of untidy black hair. Only someone as callous as the Rani could have devised such unpleasant avatars, as the disembodied heads represented the forms of the first and second Doctors, who lay frozen in suspended animation, locked in capsules hidden away in the depths of the Rani’s TARDIS. The Rani permitted herself a smile.
‘Pickled in time like gherkins in a jar.’
A hidden door slid open to reveal a corridor, home to those other capsules that contained a menagerie of alien forms, every one of whom had at one time or another crossed swords with the Doctor – and lost. A Cyberman, a Wirrn, the last surviving Vervoid in the universe – even a representative of the Time Lords, with an expression of sheer contempt frozen onto his face. Now, they were all captives of the Rani – including the first two Doctors!
From behind a row of capsules stepped a young man. Of medium build, with short fair hair cropped tightly at the sides, the Rani’s assistant, Cyrian, checked the readings on each capsule meticulously. Confident that every detail was perfect, he entered the control chamber.
‘Mistress Rani, the Time Tunnel is ready to receive its first guests.’
‘Then proceed.’ The Rani flicked another switch and the avatars of the Doctor’s heads span off down the corridor before merging with the sleeping bodies of the real Doctors.
‘Fated to wander a dismal corner of the universe for twenty years; helpless, paralysed.’ She smirked. ‘It’ll drive them insane.’
Cyrian cleared his throat. ‘The menagerie is almost complete. Only one more specimen is needed, Mistress. An Earthling.’
‘Time is literally of the essence. The Doctor’s remaining incarnations are teetering on the edge of a precipice.’
Though his Mistress’s dedication to her cause bordered on obsession, Cyrian could not fail to be impressed by her ambition. ‘You asked me to remind you not to forget what we came here for,’ he said with a modicum of pride.
‘Earthlings pose no threat to my technology. It’s the Doctor I want out of the way.’
The image on the scanner screen shivered slightly as it displayed a familiar sight – a police box spinning cheerfully through the time vortex. The Rani strode across the chamber and picked up a device that looked like some kind of futuristic harpoon. Raising the device to her shoulder, she pointed it at the police box on the screen, her finger poised on the trigger.
‘Interception in five seconds, Rani,’ said Cyrian. ‘Three… two… One!’
‘Activate!’ cried the Rani as light from the harpoon filled the room before soaring through the screen, engulfing the police box and drawing it down… down… down through the vortex to…