As he took a step away from the throngs of people which filled the busy marketplace, Ian drew in a breath, and marvelled at the experience, as he often found himself doing. The vibrant colours, the sounds, the smells – every day, all new. Every day he was in an all new place. No one in the universe could do what he was doing, and, despite everything, Ian was glad of the opportunity. Of course he was; he walked in times long since gone, times yet to be, upon planets that should just have been a glint in the sky.
Of course, this life wasn’t without its problems, even when they were on Earth. Now, or then – verb tenses in time travel were an ever complicated mystery to Ian – in the late 19th Century, slavery was treated as normal. He detested the sheer corruptness of it all, exploiting people simply because it suited those more powerful. As much as he wanted to step in and stop it all, he knew it had to continue, at least for a few more years, until it reached its natural end.
Barbara, a fellow teacher turned time traveller, shared his feelings, he knew, if not felt them even more strongly. As she had been a history teacher before the… beginning of their travels, she knew the way history went better than Ian, and often wanted to change its course. She never did though, just like the Doctor told them.
Ah, the Doctor. A question inside a riddle, wrapped up in an enigma under an old Edwardian coat, without even a proper name. Even now, several months into their travelling together, Ian knew very little about him. He was an alien from another time; he had an understanding of sciences far beyond Ian’s comprehension; Susan, his granddaughter had enrolled in Coal Hill School – where they had all first met – for a few months, whilst they stayed in 1963, evading their people, running from their home. Ian didn’t truly understand that either – he knew something had made both the Doctor and Susan pariahs, but not what. Running from their home, the reason just as much a mystery to Ian as the way the time Ship worked...
Home. 1963. Or ’64 now, they’d spent so long trying to get home. The Doctor, despite what he said, had very little control over his machine; that much Ian could tell. And so they continued wandering throughout time, never knowing where - or when – they would land.
Barbara’s voice cut through Ian’s musings. Smiling, he turned to see her running towards him, as fast as she could.
“Ian, do you remember that slave market we passed earlier?” Barbara gasped, her face florid from running.
“Yes, I remember…” Ian spoke slowly; how could he have forgotten that place? The two of them had passed it earlier, and stood, disgusted, horrified. Ian had walked on soon afterwards, not wanting to be in the presence of such a place any longer than he had to – Barbara, however, had waited there, deep in thought.
“Well… I bought a slave, with that money the Doctor gave us, and set him free!” Barbara had a triumphant look on her face.
Pulling her aside, away from the bustling crowds, away from where they could be overheard, Ian whispered;
“Isn’t that changing time? What the Doctor told us not to do?”
“Well, possibly, we don’t know what happened to him expressly, so he might have been destined to be freed anyway” Barbara didn’t meet Ian’s eyes; even she didn’t quite believe her unconvincing argument.
“Well… look, I won’t tell him if you don’t want me to, but it is something you’ll need to let him know eventually.”
“Thank you Ian! I’m sure it’ll be fine anyway though. What difference will one person make?”
Entering the gleaming white console room, Ian saw the Doctor. Nearly running around the room, his hands frantically operating on the central console, a glint in his eye like Ian had never seen before.
“Doctor, what on Earth are you doing?”
The Doctor looked up, momentarily distracted. “Chesterton, my dear boy, I have wonderful news!”
“What is it?” Ian felt his hopes rising, but tried to quell them – he didn’t want to be let down again.
“I believe I can get both you and Miss Wright home once more.”
“That’s fantastic Doctor!”
“Yes, well, go! Tell the others, hmm?”
Ian smiled at the Doctor, and ran further into the Ship, his excitement building.
“Just like that? We can go home again?”
Ian nodded. Barbara’s eyes lit up – just like him, she had wanted to return home for a long time, despite enjoying her travels so much.
“Well that’s fantastic, isn’t it?” There was a slight catch in Barbara’s voice though – some reservations about their homecoming?
“What is it?” Ian asked as he sat down next to her.
“What will we do though? Teach again?”
It would certainly be bizarre, Ian realised. After everything they’d seen, they could never just settle back into their old lives again. When Ian taught science, would he always think of metal monsters and time machines? As Barbara recited dates in front of pupils, how would her first-hand experience of cavemen, Marco Polo and the French Revolution change the way she thought?
“I suppose so. Why, what do you think we should do?”
“I don’t really know…” replied Barbara, smiling slightly.
There was a knock on the door, interrupting the two from their conversation. “Come in!” called Barbara.
The door opened, and Susan looked in. “We’ve landed”
Ian smiled at Barbara, and then turned to talk to Susan - but she was gone.
“I suppose she doesn’t really want us to go, does she?” Barbara mused.
“I never thought about that… how long do you suppose she had travelled with the Doctor before meeting us?”
Barbara didn’t have an answer to that. They both knew that the Doctor and Susan had been to a few planets before Earth – they had once mentioned Akhaten, and another place called Quinnis – but Ian and Barbara had no idea of the time scale. They might have lived on those planets for months, just as they had Earth. Or maybe those journeys had only been a few days, and the Doctor and Susan had fled their planet much more recently than they had indicated.
The police box that wasn’t a police box tumbled through the time vortex, phasing through dimensions and skirting past paradoxes. Years came and went, millennia passed, and days yet to come became those from long ago.
And suddenly it stops, changes, revolves. Time tracks alter, take new paths. Ripples spread through the vortex; small changes become big ones, new worlds come into being.
And the police box that wasn’t a police box tumbles into one of these new worlds.
As Ian stepped out of the Ship, a breath caught in his throat.
It was Totter’s Lane. IM Foreman’s yard. And nothing had changed. Old car wheels were in the exact same place. A broken ladder hadn’t moved. Even the old dummy had remained where it was.
And outside those gates… was their world.
London. 1963. Just a few streets away would be Coal Hill School. A few streets further would be Ian’s house.
A world that was totally, brilliantly mundane. No Daleks, no Voords, no crusaders.
Perfectly, fantastically sane. Just the world that Ian had dreamed of for months.
He felt Barbara take his hand. Smiling as they walked, Ian and Barbara opened the gates and left the junkyard, overjoyed to be home again.
Watching them leave, the Doctor glanced at the sky. Since they’d landed, he had felt… odd. Different. There was an innate… wrongness about this place, this time.
He’d never been the top of his class, for any of his studies, but… he knew as well as any other Time Lord when there was a temporal disturbance. That sixth sense was one which all Time Lords had honed over the years.
He looked over at Susan, wondering if she could sense anything either. She seemed somewhat under the weather, as Chesterton would say, but that didn’t mean Susan had sensed anything. The Doctor thought to call after her, but she started to run to catch up with Ian and Barbara
It’s probably nothing, he mused, and followed Susan out of the junkyard.
Muttering under his breath as he walked, and bemoaning the fact he wasn’t as young as he once was, the Doctor reached the others, who had stopped a short distance outside the gates.
Waiting for me, no doubt, the Doctor thought, a proud smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
Catching up with Ian, Barbara and Susan, the Doctor began to speak – and then saw what had stopped the others in their tracks.
Everything just got a little bit more complicated, the Doctor realised…
It was a London that had no place anymore, not in this time. It was anachronistic, backwards, and regressive.
It was a London of high collars and cravats. A London of women in corsets and petticoats.
A London rife with corruption, rotten to the core.
A London in which people are enslaved.
“Do you know where I could find the history section?”
The library clerk motioned to a man in a grey boiler suit with a lazy flick of his wrist. As the man led Ian past rows and rows of bookshelves, he tried to hazard a guess at the man’s past. Appearing to be in his early twenties, the man was clearly of African descent – although, if the slave trade of 1800s never ended, that was probably to have been expected. He had a long scar running along the side of his face – perhaps from some sort of punishment? Would whipping have caused a scar like that? Ian was no doctor, but he was certain that that wasn’t an accident.
Arriving in the history section, the man turned to leave. Ian was reluctant to let him go… but also, he wasn’t sure what he should say to him. Thank him? Ask if he had a name? Given that he hadn’t yet uttered a word at all, he might not even have spoken English. Or perhaps he was a mute – would his tongue have been cut out, to stop him from talking back? History was Barbara’s speciality, not Ian, but he was relatively sure that the removal of tongues was a punishment for slaves at one time or another…
Shaking those thoughts away, Ian took a look at the bookcase, wondering which would be best to pick up.
After the shock they had received at Totter’s Lane, the Doctor had quite quickly regained his composure and led the four of them to the local library. As they made the journey, the Doctor explained that time had, in fact, been changed. The trip to the library was for the purpose of finding the origin of the change. Right now, the Doctor, Barbara and Susan were set up in another corner of the library, quietly discussing their next move. After all, it had quickly become clear that Ian and Barbara couldn’t stay here now, not with the time line in this state.
Ian remembered how sad the Doctor had seemed when he informed them of the fact. No, not sad. Disappointed. Perhaps, Ian wondered, the Doctor believed he had let Ian and Barbara down. Not that it’s really the Doctor’s fault, Ian thought, especially if this was a deliberate change to the timeline.
Like someone setting free a slave they weren’t meant to.
Both Ian and Barbara had reached the same conclusion about the source of the change as soon as the Doctor had explained his theory – Ian could tell as much when Barbara refused to meet his gaze, spending most of the walk over to the library in silence. They hadn’t told the Doctor, obviously. Barbara hadn’t wanted to, and Ian didn’t think it was his place to say.
Yet. If the Doctor was about to embark on some ridiculous scheme to stop the time change, then Ian would have to tell him. After all, that did seem to be what the Doctor was planning – why else would he want to know how it began?
Looking at the shelves, Ian decided to pick up a book called A Potted History: The 19th Century, another entitled Tragical History Tour: Slavery through the ages, and a final book including the history of the world as a whole.
That should give us an indication of what’s happened, Ian thought as he joined Barbara, Susan and the Doctor at a table in the corner of the library.
“Ian’s back, Grandfather.” Susan motioned to the Doctor, who had been looking across the room at a pair of slaves who were reorganising a set of shelves. His expression was blank, and his thoughts impossible to perceive… but surely he was questioning the injustice of it all?
Or maybe it reminds him of home, Ian realised, slightly horrified at the thought. He’d always imagined the Doctor to have come from a race that was relatively civilised – surely one so technologically advanced had to be socially advanced as well?
“Ah, yes, thank you Chesterton.” The Doctor started to take the books from Ian, jolting him out of his thoughts. The Doctor handed one book to Barbara, and another to Susan, keeping the final one for himself.
“I believe if we begin to check the indexes, we could perhaps find the source of the displacement, hmm?”
Susan spoke up. “Well, maybe we should just check for things that ended slavery. Research campaigners, and the economy, things like that. What do you think Barbara?”
Barbara nodded, slightly dazed still. “Uh, yes, yes of course. Good idea Susan.”
Susan, Barbara and the Doctor read in silence for a few moments. Just as Ian was beginning to feel slightly useless, Susan started to read from one of the books.
“Whilst small, fledgling campaigns were started at various points throughout the history of the slave trade – most notable whilst it was still in its early stages – none of them ever gained any weight, nor respect from the masses. Some people have believed that had the statements of ex-slaves, if any had been available, could have made some influential people back the anti-slavery campaigns.”
The four were quiet for a moment, before the Doctor spoke “Well, that doesn’t really narrow it down much, hmm? Is there anything else in the book?”
“No Grandfather, there’s nothing.” Susan paused for a moment.
“Grandfather, what do you want to do?”
Ian looked at the pair of them, and saw the Doctor look… conflicted. More so than he had ever seen him to be before. There was, quite obviously, a huge decision playing upon his mind.
“This is… this has become too big for me, I’m afraid. It would appear that I will need… help, hmm?” The Doctor sighed as he spoke
Susan practically recoiled in horror at him, shocked at his choice. “No Grandfather, you can’t! You can’t call them here, you mustn’t. Think of what they might do to you!”
The Doctor looked grave, yet shook his head anyway. “I’m afraid my dear that I have weighed all the options and this is truly our only choice.”
Ian and Barbara exchanged a look. Whatever he’s decided to do, it’s not a light decision. You must tell them, Ian tried to say.
Barbara seemed to get the message, and spoke up in a quiet voice. “I think it was me.”
“I’m sorry?” The Doctor seemed to be genuinely confused.
“A few days ago, when we were in the Caribbean… I bought a slave and set him free. I suppose… I suppose he would have been an important campaigner. Maybe an inspiration for the others.” Barbara looked the Doctor in the eyes, resolute – although she still had the grace to seem ashamed of herself.
Susan’s hand flew to her mouth in shock. A look of intense rage flitted across the Doctor’s face, and Ian expected him to explode in righteous fury – he’d often warned them of the dangers of changing time, after all, and they were only in this mess because Barbara hadn’t heeded those warnings.
Rather than react, however, the Doctor simply walked out of the library at a swift pace, with Susan following him shortly after.
Ian and Barbara exchanged a quick glance – Now what? – and then followed their alien friends out of the library.
It was a strange sense of déjà vu that nagged at the back of Ian’s mind. He was back in the market place once again, the same one from just a few days earlier. In a strange way, it illustrated the reality of time travel to him in a way he’d never truly been aware of – walking in times long since gone was, somehow, easier to get your head around than walking around just a few days earlier. Especially when you could see yourself, standing just a stone’s throw away.
Is that really what the back of my head looks like? Ian wondered, absentmindedly bringing a hand to his hair.
He was here, again, to stop Barbara from buying the slave. The four of them had managed to work out a vague plan when they’d returned to the ship, not that Ian particularly understood it.
“Are we changing time to stop time changing?” he’d asked the Doctor.
Still irate, and angry at Barbara, the Doctor had ignored him – but Susan had jumped in with an answer. “Well, yes, exactly.”
“But… won’t that mean we’d never have changed time, then in turn won’t have come back to stop time changing, which means time would have changed?”
The Doctor snorted derisively at Ian’s attempt to apply logic to time travel. Susan shot him a look, and then smiled at Ian kindly. “It’s a little bit more complicated than that.”
“It’s complicated enough as it is” muttered Ian.
“Just don’t worry about it. It’ll be fine.”
It better be, thought Ian ruefully.
He reached the slave market, and felt the same horror as he had just a few days earlier. It was a terrible thing – huge amounts of people, gathered together, caged and frightened. The majority of them wouldn’t even speak English; the large market, with people yelling and squabbling and placing bids would be a truly frightening experience. And, of course, they would have already been through an arduous and harrowing journey from their home to here in America – chained into small, cupboard like bunks, and in conditions so claustrophobic disease spread like wildfire, where they would be whipped at the first sign of disobedience. Those scars would later be filled with tar, so as to conceal them, and make the slaves more marketable, a more appealing purchase.
Ian shuddered. Sometimes he wished he didn’t know those things – but equally, he knew that people had to know about their ancestors’ mistakes, to stop history repeating itself.
He spotted Barbara a short way across the market, and made a beeline for her. He had wanted to stop her before she had even started speaking to the traders, to make the encounter easier, but it seemed that wouldn’t be possible.
“Hello darling” Ian said, earning an odd look from Barbara. Ignoring her, he turned to address the trader.
“I do apologise sir, but my, ah, wife here is not to buy a slave today.”
The trader smiled good naturedly – or at least, as good naturedly as a trader who just lost a sale could. “Ideas above her station? I see, I see. Mine is just the same.”
Ian echoed the man’s laughter as he guided Barbara out – who, by this point, was rather confused by the whole affair.
“What was that about?” Barbara asked when they were clear of the market.
“You’re not to change time, remember? ‘Not one line’ the Doctor always says.” Ian gave her a pointed look.
“Oh, just one man Ian. What difference would he make?” Barbara argued back, sounding very defensive.
More than you would know, Ian thought. “Look, don’t worry. Look, I’ll meet you by the fruit stall over there, okay? I just have to take care of something.”
At that, Ian strolled back to the TARDIS – or at the least, the one he’d come from this time. Not the last time.
Time travel is ridiculous, he thought.
“It’s strange, really” said Barbara, quite matter of factly.
Ian, who was sat with Barbara in her room playing checkers, laughed at what she said.
“That’s a bit of an understatement. Care to elaborate?”
“I have two sets of memories. I remember what happened the first time, and then the second, after you changed things back.”
Ian nodded. “Me too. And… I still don’t know how everything realigned. After I sent the old you back to the old TARDIS, what happened then?”
A voice intoned from the doorway: “Well, Chesterton, the very nature of the causal nexus is rather more flexible than you would believe. When we re-entered the Ship, our memories, and indeed time itself, realigned around the smaller change which you had made.”
The Doctor walked over and joined them, sitting down next to Barbara. Ian noticed her tense slightly; the Doctor and Barbara hadn't spoken since leaving the alternate timeline.
“I just came to tell that there’s no need to worry too much about the, ahem, incident.” The Doctor frowned as he spoke.
Barbara raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
“Yes, well, it would be most hypocritical for me to hold it against you.” The Doctor bristled at her reaction.
“You mean you’ve changed time yourself?” Both Barbara and Ian were shocked to hear that – the Doctor had, after all, been very resolute in his rule to leave everything as it was.
The Doctor nodded slightly, leading Barbara into a barrage of questions.
“Well, why? What did you change? When? Was it changed back? What happened after you changed it? Was it the reason you left your home?” Barbara’s words were tripping over each other she was asking the questions so quickly.
Raising his hands slightly to stop her interrogation, the Doctor gave a wry smile tinged with sadness, recalling the events he had just alluded to. “Best leave it at that my dear child” he said, his voice melancholy, “Yes, best leave it at that”