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13 Times the TARDIS Didn't Land in Sheffield and the One Time It Still Didn't

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            The Doctor watched the wonder on her friends’ faces as the TARDIS engines started up. She always loved seeing their expressions the first time. It brought back the memory from hundreds—thousands?—of years ago when she had first frantically started up the engines to get away from Gallifrey. She’d thought that the rumble of the engines was the most beautiful sound she had ever heard.

            “Wow,” Yaz breathed, her mouth spread in a wide grin.

            “Home,” Graham said in wonder, as if he couldn’t believe the prospect of it. “I can change into some clothes that aren’t covered in sand,” he added, brushing a hand over his sleeve.

            “No need to wait for that,” the Doctor said. “The TARDIS has a wardrobe.”

            “No way!” Yaz said. Her smile got impossibly bigger.

            The Doctor pointed towards the corridor. “First left, second right, right two more times, then the door is on the left. Probably. Well, I say probably…” She patted the control panel and looked up at the time rotor. “You’ll show us where it is, won’t you?”

            “Why are you talking to it?” Ryan asked. “It’s just a ship.” Yaz nudged him with her elbow and he murmured, “Ow.”

            “It’s a bit more than just a ship, Ryan.” She nodded at the exit doorway. “Go on, I’ll catch up in a minute.”

            Yaz moved first, hesitantly, to where the Doctor had directed them. Ryan followed, but Graham lingered behind as the TARDIS announced their arrival with a thump.

            “So we’re home, then?” he asked.

            The Doctor tried to make sense of the readings. The display was different, and the more she stared at it, the more confusing it got. She dashed over to the doors, flung one open, and stared at a barren, rocky planet with a clear view of space above.

            “Why are you doing this when I’m trying to impress my new friends?” she muttered with a frown. She closed the door and rushed back to the console.

            “Not home,” Graham said.

            “We’re getting there,” the Doctor said hopefully, glancing at the display again. Okay…now it was starting to make a bit of sense. “A few galaxies nearer. Time for another go.” She started up the engines again, setting the coordinates for the same time and place. As the engines began to wheeze and groan, the Doctor straightened and looked at Graham. “We’d better make sure they don’t get lost. The TARDIS sort of goes on forever.”

            “Really? How big is it?” He looked around, eyebrows furrowing low on his forehead. “How much can you fit inside this police box?”

            “I told you: it goes on forever.” And with that, she dashed to catch up with Ryan and Yaz, hearing Graham protest behind her as he tried to keep up.

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            “Ta-da!” The Doctor flung open the TARDIS doors to reveal—

            —definitely not Earth.

            “I don’t think this is home,” Ryan said.

            “Not unless Sheffield is suddenly home to two-headed aliens,” Yaz agreed.

            The Doctor sighed. “The TARDIS is just getting warmed up. Sometimes it takes a bit after regeneration.” She gazed out at the colony of aliens that seemed to have made their homes on treetops. Hopefully this was at least a little closer to Earth…

            Ryan took a step toward the doors. “Can I go out there?”

            “No!”

            Her exclamation stopped him short. Graham put a hand on his shoulder.

            “The air is toxic for humans.”

            “How can you tell?” Graham asked.

            The Doctor tapped the side of her nose. “I can smell it.” She closed the doors and went back to the console. “Third time’s the charm,” she said to herself before managing the controls that were already starting to become very familiar.

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            The wide-open expanse only a step away was so inviting that the Doctor just had to answer its call. She strode straight out the TARDIS doors, so caught up in the sight that she didn’t even glance back at her friends.

            The view was simple, but beautiful. A wide field of short green grass stretched on for eternity, flanked on either side by tall trees. Giant leaves lay scattered all around, speckled and brown. Half of the sky was thrown in rainbow hues, while the other half shone bright blue. Four suns: two already risen, two setting.

            “Woah,” Ryan said behind her. “This place is safe, right?”

            “Looks safe enough.” The Doctor hopped once. “Gravity’s a bit light, but the air is okay.”

            Ryan, followed by Graham and Yaz, exited the TARDIS. Yaz shut the door behind her.

            “Still not home,” Graham pointed out.

            “No, but a bit closer.”

            “Cool!” Ryan picked up one of the leaves and held it in front of Yaz. “It’s bigger than your face!”

            “Is that supposed to mean something?” Yaz asked, a smile twitching at her lips.

            “No.” Ryan stuck the leaf in front of his face. “It’s bigger than my face too.”

            The Doctor smiled at their exchange. “These are pretty good, aren’t they?” She leaped onto one of the leaves and smiled at the satisfying crackle that sounded. “Crunchy leaves! I love crunchy leaves.”

            “This is great and all,” Graham said, “but shouldn’t we be focusing on getting back to Sheffield?”

            The Doctor sighed. “Suppose you’re right. Come on, team! Back inside the box.”

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            This time, the Doctor was alone as she rushed to the doors.

            “Aren’t you coming?” she asked, looking back over her shoulder.

            Ryan circled the console slowly, hands behind his back, seeming to scrutinise every detail of it. Yaz’s eyes followed Ryan’s progress, but she glanced up after the Doctor spoke. Graham leaned against one of the crystal arches with his arms crossed over his chest.

            “You don’t even have to check outside, do you? You can just look on that little scanner of yours,” he said, waving in the direction of the central console.

            “I could, but it’s much more fun this way.” Shrugging off Graham’s negativity, the Doctor threw open the TARDIS doors.

            They were inside some sort of stone structure, facing straight down a corridor.

            The Doctor sniffed the air. Still not Earth.

            She closed the doors and walked a little slower back to the console. “I’m sorry,” she said, looking at all three of her friends in turn. “I am trying, but she’s not cooperating.” She shot a pointed look at the console.

            They were silent for a moment.

            “We’ll still get there eventually, right?” Yaz said. “It’ll just take a bit longer than we thought.”

            “Yeah, at least we’re safe in here,” Ryan added, “and not being attacked by killer strips of cloth.”

            “Or murderous aliens,” Graham chimed in. He yawned and covered his mouth.

            The Doctor realised she had been so caught up in trying to get them home that she hadn’t even taken a moment to consider their human needs. Food. Sleep. “Are you all tired? I always forget that humans need sleep.”

            “Don’t you sleep?” Yaz asked, obviously trying very hard not to copy Graham’s yawn.

            The Doctor shook her head. “Nah. Too busy.” She looked down at the TARDIS controls and felt a surge of confidence. She met her friends’ eyes. “Just give me one more go. If we don’t make it, you lot can sleep while I keep trying.”

            “Sounds fair,” Ryan said, looking at Yaz and Graham for approval. They both nodded.

            The Doctor smiled and started up the engines again. “Come on, Old Girl,” she whispered, “give me this one.”

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            “Now she’s just being mean.”

            A world of deep blue surrounded the TARDIS. Colourful schools of fish swam by and clusters of bright coral dotted the area.

            “Are we underwater?” Yaz asked at the Doctor’s side.

            The Doctor smiled at her. “Watch this.” She leaned outside the TARDIS and stretched her arm in front of her as far as it would go until she felt cool water at her fingertips. She pulled her hand back in and displayed it for Yaz to see.

             Yaz grinned and copied the Doctor’s actions, extending her arm out beyond the TARDIS doors. She retracted it after a moment and stared at the water droplets dripping from her hand.

            “Isn’t it amazing?” the Doctor asked, looking back out into the ocean.

            “How’s the water not coming in?” asked Ryan, his footsteps approaching behind the Doctor.

            “The TARDIS is shielded. Mostly for keeping out intruders, but it’s an atmosphere bubble too. Useful for when you want to float out in space.”

            “I think I’ve had enough of that,” Yaz said with a laugh.

            “So are we on Earth?” Graham finally joined them at the doors.

            The Doctor sighed and shook her head. “No. One galaxy closer, but still not there.” As if to exaggerate the statement, a medium sized octopus-like creature with a stinger protruding from its head jetted past them, spitting out green ink.

            The Doctor took one last look at the beautiful scene and then closed the TARDIS doors. She turned to face her friends.

            “Well,” Graham said, stretching his arms in front of him, “I think it’s about time for some shut-eye.”

            “You all deserve it,” the Doctor agreed. “I’ll keep trying. I’m sorry I haven’t gotten us there yet.”

            Ryan shifted his footing and frowned. “So,” he said, looking back at the console, “do we sleep on the floor, or…”

            The Doctor scoffed. “What do you think all those rooms back there are for, Ryan?” She gestured to the corridor they had walked through earlier to get to the wardrobe. “There’ll be a room for each of you back there.”

            “Seriously?” Ryan asked with a grin. “This ship just keeps getting cooler.”

            “She’s pretty much the coolest ship there ever was. When she’s working properly,” she added with a frown, casting a caustic glance up at the ceiling.

            A high-pitched whirring noise came from the console like a protest, and the Doctor hoped that she hadn’t just made the situation even worse.

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            Ryan fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

            His dreams were probably the strangest he had ever had, all swirling around Nan, aliens, deserts, and those killer strips of cloth…

            He woke up instantly alert. He took a look around the room and controlled his rapid breathing. For a spaceship, it was a lot quieter than he would have imagined. He couldn’t hear the engines like he had in the main room; in fact, he couldn’t feel anything either.

            Ryan sighed and flopped back down on his back. So many new and impossible things had been thrown at him in the past few days that it felt like his head was constantly spinning.

            He closed his eyes and tried to clear his head, but he found his thoughts drifting towards the question: Would the Doctor ever get them home? Here in this room, he couldn’t even feel if the ship had stopped again or not.

            But as Ryan drifted off once more, a different question echoed in his mind: Did he really want to go home?

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            As Yaz slowly became conscious, she pulled her blanket more firmly around her body as an act of rebellion. She didn’t want to get up for work and have to deal with the same kinds of people in the same kinds of places…

            Then she remembered.

            Yaz opened her eyes and examined the room she had claimed as hers in the TARDIS. It was rather empty, but as if to compensate the room was the perfect temperature and a soft light shone in one of the walls.

            Yaz sighed and wondered how long she’d been asleep, and what had woken her up. She looked for a clock, only to realise that time probably wasn’t relevant inside a time machine. Right…

            So what had woken her up? Her body’s normal routine, or something else? Had the Doctor tried to land the ship again?

            She strained her ears, but couldn’t hear anything. Maybe the rooms were soundproof, or maybe her room was just far enough away from the engines.

            A small voice in the back of her mind wondered how many more times the Doctor would try before she got them home. What if…what if they could never get back?

            Yaz shook away the disturbing thought and tried to go back to sleep.

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            Graham lay on an unfamiliar bed in an empty room of the TARDIS and stared up at the ceiling.

            His thoughts swirled in a jumbled mess. Sadness about Grace. The desire to keep Ryan safe. The mystery of the Doctor. Wanting Ryan to accept him. Keeping himself alive in this madness.

            Up until a few days ago, his life had made perfect sense. Now, he had seen so many impossible things that he’d believe just about anything.

            A slight shift in the room pulled Graham from his thoughts. He sat up, but couldn’t hear any clues as to the ship’s whereabouts. Had he imagined it?

            No. He could feel it. They had landed again.

            He thought about getting up to see if they were home, but before he could make up his mind he could feel the ship moving.

            A little while later, Graham felt the subtle disturbance pattern twice in quick succession. He hoped that meant the Doctor was trying to hurry things along. That would be the eighth time the ship had landed somewhere other than Sheffield.

            Graham sighed and shook his head. Would they ever get back home?

           

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            “Do you trust food from an alien spaceship?” Ryan held up a bacon sandwich and squinted at it. He would have been sceptical anyway, but the fact that food for each of them had already been placed on the table depending on their specific tastes was just plain weird.

            Graham shrugged and took a bite of his. He swallowed. “The Doctor hasn’t—” He stopped short and chuckled.

            Yaz smiled. “You were going to say she hasn’t steered us wrong, weren’t you?”

            They both laughed, and Ryan joined in.

            “Metaphorically speaking she hasn’t,” Graham said. “If there was a chance the food wasn’t safe, she would have told us.”

            “Yeah, guess so,” Ryan agreed. He took a bite of his sandwich, and it tasted perfectly normal. “So,” he continued quietly, afraid that the Doctor would somehow be able to hear him, “do you think she can get us home? I mean what if we’re just stuck here, going to a bunch of different planets?”

            “She’ll get us home,” Yaz said confidently.

            “She’s already tried six times,” Ryan insisted.

            “Nine,” Graham corrected.

            Yaz frowned at him. “What?”

            “We’ve landed three more times since we left that main room. You can sort of feel it, a slight shift in balance.”

            “Time traveling expert, eh, Graham?” Ryan said with a chuckle.

            “No, but I can feel it, trust me. Bus driver’s instincts,” he said, tapping his head. Ryan rolled his eyes.

            “And I bet she won’t tell us she’s tried a few more times since we’ve been back here either,” Graham finished.

            “She’s doing her best,” Yaz said.

            Ryan sighed and looked out the kitchen door into the corridor. Thoughts of home brought up conflicting emotions in his head. One the one hand, forever leaving behind everything familiar was a little terrifying. Conversely, the thought of going back to work and living his same old boring life after all of this was repulsive.

            He’d never say any of his musings out loud. Instead, he went along with the general desire to get home. “I hope so.”

            The Doctor suddenly appeared in the doorway with a grin. “Come on, you lot! I think I figured out what was wrong!” She dashed away just as quickly as she had come.

            The three looked at each other. Graham eyed his hardly touched sandwich, sighed, and followed the Doctor beside Ryan and Yaz.

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            “Fluid link!” the Doctor explained as they entered the console room. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. New fluid link, and she’ll work perfectly.”

            “Well where do we get one of those?” Graham asked.

            The Doctor frowned. “Not too many around for my TARDIS, but I know a place.”

            “Great, so now we have to get to another planet first before getting home?”

            “She’ll get us there.” The TARDIS landed and the Doctor grinned at the display. It was getting easier to read now. “Brilliant! I won’t be but a minute. Stay here, and don’t touch anything,” she said, drilling Ryan with a hard stare.

            The Doctor left the TARDIS and paused for a moment as she beheld the spaceport of Calibris in all its clamouring, grimy glory. She wrinkled her nose.

            “Why did I ever like this place?” she wondered as she began marching as quickly as possible through the crowds of quickly moving people.

            She arrived at a little shop and walked in, pleased to see that things seemed a bit more in order than they had been during her last visit to obtain a fluid link. Her friend Soren was a bit startled by her new appearance, but after some explaining, she got a new fluid link and the same story of “one day they’re gonna run out.” She said goodbye and left just as quickly as she had arrived. Not only was the planet too chaotic for her liking, but she was also a tiny bit worried about Ryan getting too curious about the TARDIS control panel.

            She made it back to the TARDIS in record time and breathed a sigh of relief as it looked untouched on the outside. Any number of the thieves who skulked through Calibris would love to get their hands on her time and space machine.

            “Hello, team!” she said as she walked back in the TARDIS. She still hadn’t decided on what to call them yet. “Got the fluid link.” She held it up for them to see, and then sat next to the control panel, prying open a door to reveal the machinery inside.

            Then she realised: they were all much too quiet.

            “You three all right?” she asked as she installed the fluid link. It took only a moment and then she jumped to her feet.

            “Fine,” Ryan said a little too quickly. The Doctor frowned and touched the first control to start up the engines…

            …and the room turned sideways.

            “Woah!” Ryan exclaimed as he slammed into one of the crystal arches. Yaz started to fall past him towards the doors, but Ryan grabbed her arm. Graham clutched onto the edge of the console, and the Doctor leaned against the opposite side of the control panel with a direct view, straight down, of the TARDIS doors.

            “Ryan?” the Doctor asked.

            “I didn’t even do anything!” he protested. An alarm began blaring. “I just wanted to touch it, all right?”

            The Doctor sighed and tried some different controls on the panel to right everything. In a moment, the TARDIS was back to normal. Ryan, Yaz, and Graham all relaxed, though their wide eyes told that they were still a bit shocked.

            “Thanks,” Yaz told Ryan.

            “No problem,” he said. “Though I think I’m the reason why that happened in the first place.” He managed to look sheepish as he met the Doctor’s eyes.

            “Humans!” she exclaimed. “What did I tell you? Don’t touch anything! She doesn’t like it when other people try to control her!” She sighed. “I get it. She is really pretty, isn’t she?”

            “Sorry,” Ryan said.

            “That’s all right. Fluid link is in place now, we should be able to get to Sheffield immediately.” She looked at each of them. “Fingers crossed.” And the TARDIS engines started up.

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            “Who’s up for a picnic?” The Doctor looked over at Graham, Ryan, and Yaz in turn.

            “I am,” Yaz said. The flowery green field outside the TARDIS with an incredible view was a sight that she could drink in for days, not to mention she hadn’t had a chance to eat too much since they had arrived on the TARDIS.

            “As long as there’s food involved, sure,” Graham said.

            Ryan shrugged. “Why not?”

            The Doctor grinned. “Brilliant! Let’s raid the kitchen!” She spun around and marched resolutely out of the console room, muttering to herself, “Last time I said that, Joan and I were being chased by a hungry vampire.”

            Yaz looked at Ryan, and Ryan raised an eyebrow at Graham.

            “Joan?” Graham asked.

            “Joan of Arc! Brilliant girl, right laugh too.”

            Yaz smiled and shook her head in disbelief. Sometimes when the Doctor said things like that, she wasn’t sure whether to believe them or not.

            When they arrived in the TARDIS kitchen, a picnic basket was already waiting for them on a table.

            “Spooky,” Ryan said.

            They packed up the basket with sandwiches and snacks and then made their way outside. As soon as Yaz stepped over the threshold of the TARDIS, a fragrant, fresh aroma that she couldn’t name filled the air.

            “What is that?” she asked as they walked through the ankle-high grass. Yaz looked out and realised that they were high up on a mountain. The valley below was vast and green, though tiny brown dwellings dotted one area of the terrain.

            The Doctor inhaled a deep breath. “Fechol. It’s a common herb on this planet.”

            “And what’s that?” Graham asked, pointing up at the sky.

            As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Yaz heard a loud screech. She looked up and saw some sort of giant winged beast rushing towards them at breakneck speed.

            “That is the terber beast, which is attracted to the scent of fechol.” The Doctor put one hand on Yaz’s shoulder and the other on Graham’s and pushed. “Time to be going!”

            Ryan was already running towards the TARDIS.

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            “Okay. This time, if we don’t land in Sheffield, we’re not leaving the TARDIS,” the Doctor told her friends seriously, as if they were the ones asking for jaunts outside.

            “Agreed,” Graham said. His stomach grumbled and he glanced at the discarded picnic basket on the ground.

            The Doctor set her jaw and pulled down on a lever. The TARDIS made its strange wheezing noise and it stopped a few moments later. The Doctor took a step towards the doors, but Graham held out his hand.

            “No, no, no, wait.” He stepped into her path. “Just check on the computer thing,” he said, gesturing towards the console.

            “I already told you, Graham,” the Doctor said, “It takes all the fun out of it!”

            “I realise that, but if you look out there, you’re going to want to go.” Graham sighed. “No hard feelings, Doc, but I want to get home.”

            The Doctor echoed his sigh. “You’re right.”

            “It looks like a shopping mall.” Ryan’s voice sounded behind Graham. He looked over his shoulder to see Ryan poking his head out one of the TARDIS’ doors, Yaz on his heels.

            The Doctor’s expression brightened like she was a child on Christmas. “A shopping mall? I love shopping malls!” The Doctor ran past Graham and joined Ryan and Yaz at the door.

            Graham sighed and shook his head. “Here we go again.”

           

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            The Doctor felt all eyes on her as she readied the TARDIS for flight again.

            “Please,” she said under her breath, “please.”

            She pulled the last lever, launching them into the vortex. The ride was rather smooth this time, and the Doctor smiled at the time rotor. “See? That wasn’t so hard.”

            The TARDIS landed softly, announcing its arrival with the trumpeting of its engines. The Doctor held her breath as she looked at the readings.

            “Milky Way!” she exclaimed.

            “We’re home?” Ryan asked.

            She examined the readings further, trying to work them out. “Not quite. But close this time. Same galaxy.”

            “Oh great, where are we now? Jupiter?” Graham asked.

            The Doctor got to a point where she couldn’t understand the details of the displays; she was still getting used to them. Instead, she sprinted over to the doors and opened them.

            “Mars!” she exclaimed.

            “No way!” Yaz said, joining the Doctor at the doors.

            “Cool,” Ryan breathed just behind Yaz.

            Graham spoke up, “There better not be another shopping mall.”

            “Nah, this is closer to your time,” the Doctor said. “There won’t be a shopping mall here for another couple hundred years. We’re staying clear of Mars, anyway.”

            “Why?” Ryan asked.

            The Doctor shrugged. “I’ve never had good luck on Mars. Water, Ice Warriors, Osirans…”

            She gazed out at the rusty terrain and some of the memories came flooding back. She winced. Remembering with a new mind was always…strange.

            “You all right there, Doc?”

            “Fine!” She shut the doors, pushing away her memories, and made her way back to the console. “We should be able to make it to Earth this time.” She managed the controls and realised she’d lost count of how many attempts they’d made. Five? Eight?

            She glanced up at her friends who were still over by the doors, laughing at something Ryan had said. Maybe the TARDIS knew that the Doctor wanted more time with her friends. In the midst of figuring out who she was, they were constant. They were…family.

            The Doctor’s hearts sank as she considered the inevitable goodbye. She gripped the cool metal of the lever on the console, having already set the coordinates for Sheffield. Before she started the engines, she couldn’t help but cast a thought towards the TARDIS: Maybe one more detour?

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            The Doctor poked her head out of the TARDIS. “Eh. Nearly!” She closed the door and walked back towards the central console.

            “Sheffield?” Yaz asked hopefully.

            “Almost! Really close.”

            “So not Sheffield, then,” Graham said.

            “You’re doing this deliberately, aren’t you?” the Doctor asked the TARDIS. She scanned the console and turned a dial. Maybe something was amiss with her time and space machine…

            “Who are you talking to?” Yaz asked.

            “If it’s me, I haven’t touched anything,” Ryan added.

            “I’m talking to the TARDIS. Because this is our ninth attempt,” she said accusingly at the time rotor.

            “Fourteenth,” Graham corrected. “You can’t control this thing, can you?”

            Fourteenth? The Doctor almost got caught up in that before she realised what else Graham had said. She shot up and faced him. “Excuse me! Yes I can. Most of the time. Just sometimes, like now, it has a mind of its own.”

            “So where are we, actually?” Yaz asked.

            “Earth. United States.” She glanced down at the display to make sure. “1955, Montgomery, Alabama. If I’m reading this properly,” she added. “New displays. Still figuring them out.”

            Then came the alarms telling of artron energy, and the Doctor was properly excited at having an excuse to leave. Somewhere, deep down, she had a feeling that this wasn’t going to be a short trip.

            “Hey Doc,” Graham said as they exited the TARDIS. “Are we ever going to make it home?”

            Ryan and Yaz, already ahead, paused and turned back to look at the Doctor. She could read the same question in their eyes.

            The Doctor grinned at them all. “Fifteenth time’s the charm?”