Jenna Coleman closed down the Twitter app on her mobile, slipped it into her purse and smiled. She’d just retweeted a beautiful portrait of Queen Victoria and Lord Melbourne that she’d found on an account by someone who was actually pretending to be the Queen. She got a kick out of those role-playing accounts, like the ones pretending to be the character she’d recently played in a popular science-fiction TV show.
Which reminded her: she had to touch base with her friend and former co-star on that show, P.C., when she had a chance.
She’d recently been to San Francisco for a sci-fi convention and she’d taken advantage of having an extra free day to visit Muir Woods where she’d taken some amusing photos. A couple she had posted for her fans on Instagram—she claimed she was searching for Yogi Bear in one, and she eventually found a life-size (well, for the five-foot-two actress, it was life-size) wooden carving of a bear at the visitor’s centre. “Found him,” she pronounced to the world, though one of her fans replied it was more likely Yogi’s sidekick, Boo-Boo. She’d taken a ton of other photos and had a few she wanted to share with P.C., like the one of a tree that she thought looked like him.
Right now, though, she was back in London, still vaguely jet-lagged (though she’d travelled back and forth to North America so often in the last few months—conventions, promotions for Victoria, meetings about possible future work in the States—you’d think she was used to it by now). It was still fairly early, about 10 a.m., though it still felt like the middle of the night for her, which was as good an excuse as any to get some coffee.
Eschewing the big chains, she chose a smaller, mom-and-pop café not far from her house. The last vestiges of summer had not yet turned to a chilly autumn, so there were still chairs and tables set out on the patio, and she noted that one of them was occupied by a lanky, grey-haired man—attired, for some reason, in a velvet dinner jacket—who seemed immersed in a book. Jenna went inside and ordered her favourite brew and took a seat outside.
One reason she liked this place was she was enough of a regular that the novelty of having a well-known TV star buying a cuppa had long since worn off, though she still appreciated the owner praising her work on Victoria a few days earlier. She’d been in Frisco the night Episode 3 aired on ITV and it wasn’t due to air in the States until the New Year, but she’d heard the rooks scene had gone down a treat. She couldn’t help but be faintly annoyed that so many people were comparing the whole Victoria-Lord M relationship to the one she shared on screen in her previous job with P.C., if only because she didn’t intend for that to happen. But the fans liked it; Daisy, the show’s writer, liked it even. She had to admit she and co-star Rufus Sewell did look good together on screen (though she was looking forward to the episodes with Tom Hughes as Prince Albert). So it was all good.
She also liked the café because it seemed to be off the paparazzi’s radar. Of course, she’d gotten used to photographers snapping her every move when they came across her (she wondered what her fans made of those pics of her carrying a guitar around New York City), and she understood it came with the territory, and it’s not as if she had anything to hide anyway. But a chance to kick back in a quiet sidewalk café by herself was always appreciated. She wondered how long she’d be able to enjoy such pleasures, especially if Victoria was a big hit stateside.
Jenna chose a table next to the one where the grey-haired, velvet-jacketed man was reading his book. She smiled at the fact he was reading a real paper-and-covers book; they were always the best kind.
“But that’s not right,” she heard him mutter in a rather pronounced Scottish accent. “That’s not right at all.”
With a look of disgust, the man slapped the hardcover book shut and dropped it on the table with a huff. He continued muttering to himself as he took a sip of a cappuccino. Jenna noticed the book was about Queen Victoria.
“Pardon me for asking, but what did they get wrong?” Jenna asked with an amused smile. Not that she felt like she could write a Ph.D thesis on the subject or anything, but she had spent almost the entire previous year researching Victoria, never mind living the monarch’s life for months on end, and she was curious what the book—which seemed to be of recent vintage—got so wrong.
The grey-haired man, who Jenna now noticed had piercing blue-grey eyes and a truly impressive set of eyebrows, glared at her for a moment. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you,” she said.
“No, that’s quite all right. I just didn’t notice you there and you startled me,” the man said.
Jenna removed her sunglasses, and noticed the lack of recognition in the man’s face as she did so. Not that she expected everyone on the street to recognize her—her ego wasn’t that inflated, regardless how much P.C. kept ribbing her about shortening her name a few years earlier—but considering she was starring in a high-profile TV show about the subject of the book the man was scoffing at, she was surprised the guy didn’t make the connection. Maybe he didn’t watch TV?
“I’m Jenna, by the way.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m the Doctor.”
Jenna cocked her head slightly at the apparent non sequitur. University prof, obviously, she thought. Or magician. Maybe both.
“So what did they get wrong?” she asked again.
“It’s carelessness, really. The writer keeps saying that there was nothing between Queen Victoria and her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, that they were just friends or even worse, a father-daughter surrogate. It was plain as the huge eyes on your face that they were in love. In fact, Melbourne told me over drinks that he was in love with Victoria and that the feeling was mutual.”
“He told you.” Uh-oh, Jenna thought. True, she herself had said in a couple interviews how she felt like Victoria’s ghost had contacted her, but that was just tongue-in-cheek. If this floofy-haired guy thinks he talks to dead people, maybe I better get my caffeine fix quickly and get the hell out of here before he tries to saw me in half or something, she thought.
“It’s a long story. Have I seen you somewhere before?” the Doctor subject-changed as he seemed to notice her again for the first time.
Here it comes, she thought. Emmerdale, Waterloo Road, Captain America, that show with P.C. Any of the above. “Possibly. Maybe on TV?”
“No, no it wasn’t that. Have you ever been to Nevada?”
“I’ve been to Vegas.”
“No, no, the other end of Nevada; the desert, near Utah. There’s a diner. There was a diner. Was there a diner?”
The Doctor started to look confused. Although there was every reason why she should probably have left, there was a sudden sadness that came over the Doctor’s face that compelled Jenna to stay.
“I lost someone very special to me,” the Doctor explained as he noticed her concerned look. “Problem is I don’t remember her. I … something happened that caused me to lose some of my memories.”
“I’m sorry. Was it an accident?”
“More like a self-inflicted injury. I remember a few things about her. I know we travelled together for a while. I know she was very special to me, but I can’t remember why. And I can’t remember what she looked like. I know I met her in a diner in Nevada afterwards. But I couldn’t retain the memory.”
“I’m so sorry,” Jenna said. She’d met individuals with brain damage and she knew how frustrating it could be.
“Don’t be sorry. It was all for the best, I think. She needed to live on without me, even after she died.”
“I’m afraid you lost me there,” Jenna said, wondering if memory loss was the least of this man’s problems.
“Never mind. You remind me of her, in some way. I do occasionally get flashes of memory. Her eyes, mostly. Yes, her eyes. You have the same eyes.”
Jenna smiled. She often felt her eyes were her best feature. “Are you looking for her?”
“I tried for a long time, but I eventually realized I had to get on with my life. She’ll find me again, if she wants to, but I decided long ago there was no point in moping about it. Sometimes, just like with Victoria and Melbourne’s relationship, you have to accept an ending, even if you don’t like it.”
“I think Victoria and Melbourne were a very sweet couple,” Jenna said. “They shared so many things in common, and the fact he was older really didn’t matter. She didn’t care. He was her soulmate. Part of me wishes they’d stayed together.” Her own memory flashed back to filming the rooks scene where Victoria and Melbourne basically said how they felt about each other; historians screamed, of course (probably including the author of the Doctor’s book), but it made for a great bit of drama. There had actually been a fan petition for the show kicking around to change history and cancel the arrival of Prince Albert altogether.
“You seem well-versed on the topic,” the Doctor said.
Clearly he didn’t recognize her, which was cool. “I’m an actress. I’m actually starring in a TV series about Victoria right now and we just spent several episodes basically depicting a romance between her and Lord M.”
“So you saw it as a romance, too?”
Jenna nodded. “Oh yeah. But it was an impossible romance.”
“Victoria was an impossible girl. I’ll have to watch it,” he said as he took a sip of his drink. “So what do you like doing besides pretending to be Queen Victoria?”
Normally, such a forward question was reserved for newspaper interviews and awkward first dates, but the Doctor seemed so earnest, she felt compelled to answer. “Photography, travel. I’ve spent basically the last four years or so solidly working, so I’m getting out there and exploring the world a bit. I get to visit conventions, too, because I did a TV show that has a big cult following…”
“Cults are kind of dangerous, aren’t they? They don’t go around kidnapping people or forcing them to live in camps, do they?” The Doctor’s sudden interest gave Jenna the impression of someone about to spring into action and save the day. She couldn’t tell if he was joking.
“Not that kind of a cult! A good kind. Anyway, I travel to places where fans of the show gather and I get to meet lots of nice people and tell stories and answer questions and pose for photos with people dressed like me. I’ve been trying different hobbies out, too, like learning to play the guitar. I tried baking soufflés, but that was a lost cause.”
“‘The soufflé isn’t the soufflé, the soufflé is the recipe,’” the Doctor replied.
“Just something I heard once.”
“Maybe you’ve met my mum. She said the same thing.”
“A wise woman, your mum.”
Jenna smiled at that sentiment. She took another sip of her coffee, having actually forgotten about it as she conversed with this somewhat compelling stranger. A line of dialogue from one of her TV episodes with P.C. suddenly popped into her head: “You find yourself with a strangely compelling masculine figure.” Ah, but probably one with a significant other and three kids at home, she mused.
“What’s so funny?” the Doctor asked.
Jenna didn’t realize she’d been smiling. “Sorry, just an amusing memory. So what brings you to this quiet corner of London? Or as quiet as corners in London can get, anyway.”
“I don’t actually know. My TA… I just found myself here. Found this book in a bookshop a few blocks over and decided to, how do you put it, ‘chill out.’”
“I can relate. I’ve put on more frequent flyer miles these past few months than I know what to do with. I just bought a house and I’m trying to find time to decorate it with all the work I have to do.”
“I usually let my house do her own redecorating.”
By this point, Jenna knew another variant of “Pardon me?” would have been superfluous.
“You’re a very pleasant young woman,” the Doctor said. “I still wonder if we’ve met before. Or maybe we’ve yet to meet? I have a strange relationship with déjà vu.”
“You’ve never seen me on TV? Did you ever see the first Captain America film? I was in it for about thirty seconds. Or maybe on D-.”
“I know where I’ve seen you before!” he interrupted.
Jenna cocked her eyebrow.
“Victorian London. I know I saw you in Victorian London.”
“Well, I am playing Queen Victoria on TV, right?”
“No, not that—no, that couldn’t have been you. My mistake. Were you ever a schoolteacher?”
Jenna frowned a little and sighed as she now realized whom the Doctor was referring to.
“That wasn’t me, Doctor.”
She remembered seeing the headlines. A young schoolteacher who’d been found dead in her home. It had made the news because the cause of death could not be determined and there was a brief panic of a possible killer on the loose, until it was determined there was no foul play involved. Just a young woman who’d apparently just gone to bed and never woke up again. It happens, after all; some people just … end. Even young people. Jenna knew the story because when the tabloids ran photos of the schoolteacher—Clara Oswald was her name—there had been a short-lived rumour that it had actually been Jenna Coleman who had died, as the two looked so close as to be twins. Jenna felt compelled to send flowers to the woman’s funeral and donate some money to a memorial constructed at the recently expanded Coal Hill Academy in Clara’s honour. It also had impressed on her how short life was. There but for the grace of God go I, she’d thought. Maybe it was one of the reasons she’d decided to live life to the fullest while she could.
Jenna considered telling the Doctor all this, but, almost as if a switch had been flipped, the Doctor had shrugged and dropped the subject. She entertained the distressing thought that Clara might have been the same woman the Doctor had forgotten. She hoped not. He might have been a bit loopy, but he seemed a very nice man. Just lonely.
Suddenly, her mobile beeped as a text message arrived. It was her agent reminding her she had a TV interview related to Victoria in an hour and then she was supposed to call S.M. about a secret project they’d been discussing. She sighed. She actually had been enjoying talking to the odd man with the intense eyes.
“Boyfriend? Girlfriend?” (Somehow the Doctor managed to ask that without sounding creepy or inappropriate. Just pure curiosity.)
“Agent. I have to get to a meeting in an hour and I need to cross town to get there. It’s been lovely talking to you, Doctor.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, too, Jenna Coleman,” the Doctor replied. They shook hands and the Doctor looked her square in the eye as if somehow managing to extract a piece of knowledge from her dark pupils. “Just be careful on that first step. You don’t want to trip on it like Jennifer Lawrence did.”
“What first step?”
“In that theatre where they host the Oscars.”
“Uh-huh. Wishful thinking, Doctor!”
Jenna laughed, stood up and headed down the sidewalk towards the nearest tube station.
The Doctor watched her depart and smiled. Then he took another quick glance at the book on Victoria. “Rubbish,” he muttered.
He drained his cup, having actually forgotten about it as he’d conversed with the somewhat compelling and familiar-looking young woman. He remembered how in a past life he might have flirted with her, maybe even invited her for a spin in the TARDIS. But those days were past. After losing his memories of Clara—he somehow remembered her name, and the basics of their adventures together, and for some reason nearly every detail leading up to activating the neuroblock, except those related to Clara—and after having to finally say goodbye to River not long afterwards, he wasn’t ready to have another companion again. Who could possibly measure up to them?
The Doctor got up to leave, dropping a gold sovereign on the table as a tip and leaving the book behind (let someone else warp their knowledge of history, he thought).
The TARDIS was parked just down an alley. He still wasn’t sure why she’d decided to drop him here. Unless perhaps she thought he’d enjoy conversing with a clearly intelligent young actress in a streetside café patio. If that was her intent, then mission accomplished. There were far worse ways to spend a morning.
The Doctor stepped out into the street.
The problem with electric cars is so many of them run so quietly, they may as well be silent, just the crunch of the tires on pavement. Which is why even the Doctor’s attuned hearing didn’t notice the vehicle bearing down on him. The driver must not have noticed him because he didn’t even sound his horn.
“Look out!” came a voice and, suddenly, the Doctor found himself lying on the ground next to Jenna Coleman, who had used a combination of adrenaline and a few tricks learned in a self-defence class to bodily pull the Doctor out of harm’s way, and they’d toppled to the ground.
The café owner came out. “I saw. Do you need a doctor?” the woman asked.
“Already got one, thanks,” the Doctor replied as he picked himself up and reached down to help Jenna up. Neither seemed the worse for wear though Jenna expected her stylist would give her hell for scuffing her blouse and trousers on the pavement.
“I guess I should thank you, Miss Coleman. That car might have run me over. And then I’d have really been upset.”
Jenna was still panting from the effort. “I forgot my purse. Lucky thing. That guy seemed to be aiming right for you.”
“He was probably texting behind the wheel,” the Doctor suggested, not entirely convinced.
“Or maybe he was late for a funeral. I could have sworn he was wearing a top hat,” Jenna said.
“Well, thank you again. Are you all right? Can I help you get to your meeting?” The Doctor figured Jenna had earned herself a spin in the TARDIS for saving at least his regeneration, if not his life.
“I’ll be okay. I’ll order an Uber. Are you okay?”
“One of these days I’ll trip over a brick and it’ll be all over, but for now, I’m fine,” he said. And then, more awkwardly than he intended, he added, “Guess I’ve got to run. You take care of yourself.”
“You, too. Goodbye.”
Jenna watched the Doctor head across the street, this time looking back and forth constantly as he did so. She kept watching until he’d disappeared down an alleyway.
Now this was a story she’d have to tell P.C. later.
As Jenna went to retrieve her bag, yet another memory popped into her head. Not a memory so much as a sentence. It was a sentence that puzzled her because she knew she’d heard it somewhere. Or maybe she’d said it herself. But for the life of her, she just couldn’t remember where. And she couldn’t help but say it aloud as she turned and gazed in the direction of the Doctor’s departure.
“Run you clever boy, and remember me.”
Jenna Coleman shrugged off the odd moment, slung her purse over her shoulder, and left the café.