Snow flurried across the heavy winter sky, dark already at four o’clock. The car park at New Street Station was full; Birmingham was packed with last-minute shoppers this Christmas Eve.
Eyes down, heads bent against the weather, none of those passers-by noticed the blue police telephone box tucked neatly in a corner space on the top floor of the car park.
The door opened and a fair-haired woman stepped out briskly. She was clad from head to toe in a brown robe which obscured her figure, with a hood shielding her face from the world; she could have been thirty-five, or thousands of years old.
A great metallic clattering interrupted the stillness. A hulking silver figure appeared, marching towards the hooded woman. As the gap between them closed, he raised a gun and pointed it at her.
I had a few problems I wanted to talk about, so I’m glad I’m seeing a nice lady doctor
‘The Thirteenth Doctor! You will be assimilated!’
The woman lunged forward. Her hood fell back, and for the first time the silver creature – a Cyberman – saw that she was female. His demeanour, until now so taut and angry, visibly relaxed.
‘Oh!’ said the Cyberman. ‘I didn’t realise that I was seeing a lady doctor.’ He hopped from foot to foot awkwardly. ‘He cleared his throat. ‘I actually had a few problems I wanted to talk about, so I’m glad I’m seeing a nice lady doctor.’
The Doctor glanced at her watch. She did try to enforce a one-problem-per-appointment policy, but inevitably she often ran late. The other Time Lords were usually finished and out of the building by the time she came to the end of afternoon surgery.
‘I find that I’m tired all the time,’ the Cyberman explained. ‘I’ve been assuming it’s down to my fibromyalgia, but I thought I should get it checked out. You can’t be too careful. I want to be better in time for Christmas.’
The Doctor groaned inwardly. She was in a hurry: her sworn enemy, the Master, would be in Birmingham this afternoon, and she needed to intercept him.
The Master had sparred with most of the Doctor’s previous incarnations in his attempt to spread misery and pain. This time around, he had taken the form of an Earthling human called Jeremy, and he was causing untold suffering to millions of people by systematically destroying the NHS. The Doctor had to stop him, and her schedule this afternoon would not allow time to explore the ideas, concerns and expectations of a hunk of metal who was feeling a bit sad.
’And another thing,’ the Cyberman continued. ‘I can’t sleep. I literally haven’t ever had a wink of sleep. Cybermen are machines, and don’t strictly need to sleep, but I was wondering if you’d give me some diazzies anyway. The other lady doctor used to. Oh, and while I’m here, I’ve had back pain for years. I saw a specialist a while ago and he said there was nothing he could do. But it’s getting worse, so I want you to refer me for a scan.’
The Nice Lady Doctor tensed her jaw. She suspected an alien made entirely of metal would not be compatible with an MRI scanner. She should find a tactful way of saying no, but her appraisal was due and she needed a good rating in her patient satisfaction questionnaire so she was tempted just to give him whatever he wanted.
‘Look,’ she began gently. ‘I’m afraid we’re unlikely to have time to explore all of your issues in one appointment. Can you tell me which is most important to you so we can focus on that today?’
Their dialogue was interrupted by a barely audible squeak, as a human-sized pepper pot moved towards them: a Dalek.
‘REVALIDATE!’ it said in its staccato voice. ‘REVALIDATE!’
Then, as it came closer, its eye-stalk twitched, and it stopped still.
‘I DID NOT REALISE YOU WERE A FEMALE DOCTOR.’
Daleks were notorious for their poor vision, a weakness her predecessors had often exploited.
‘WHILE I AM HERE, DOCTOR, CAN YOU DO ME A LETTER FOR THE HOUSING? I NEED A GROUND FLOOR COUNCIL FLAT BECAUSE I CANNOT CLIMB THE STAIRS.’
The Doctor didn’t have time to deliver Dalek-shaped care today. Smiling politely, she handed the Cyberman a blood form and invited him to book a further appointment to discuss his tiredness when the results were available.
She already knew the results would be normal, but she didn’t have time to get bogged down in a long discussion: she had to get to the Master in time to implement her plan. It was genius, really: she had already signed a form stating he was fit to take part in a charity parachute jump. It was taking place that afternoon; she just needed to make it to the airfield in time to sabotage his parachute.
Before the Doctor could reply to the Dalek, her phone vibrated. She glanced at the screen and her heart lurched in her chest. The sender: ‘Care Quality Commission.’ The subject line: ‘Inspection 7th January.’
She glanced backwards at the Tardis, her stomach churning. The CQC would never approve of her sonic screwdriver: it wasn’t laminated. And she didn’t have a DBS check on file for each of her previous companions. Would the CQC achieve what no monster had for 54 years and defeat the Doctor?