Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.
(This story is told in first person perspective, and the narrator is not named at any time. Apologies for any awkwardness that may result in my summary.)
The narrator kisses his wife, Cass, goodbye as she goes out jogging. She never returns. Later, the police escort him to a hospital, where he learns that she was close to a local cathedral when its bell tower was struck by lightning; she was caught in the glare and blast. She lived, and was mostly uninjured; but during her brief hospital stay she picks up a secondary infection around her eyes, requiring them to be bandaged for some weeks. The narrator becomes her eyes for a time; but when the bandages come off, something is wrong. Strong headaches become persistent; and in every mirror, every reflective surface, she sees a man in a leather coat reaching for her. She becomes increasingly more paranoid, and the headaches grow worse. The narrator takes her for a holiday by a lake. In the lakeside hotel, she sees the man in her cup of tea…and the narrator learns that she is not hallucinating, when a hand bursts from the top of the cup, reaching for her. He dashes the cup against the wall, and the hand disappears. Later, as they walk by the lake, they discover that a lake can be a mirror too; and this time, the narrator also sees the man, rising through the water. He breaks the surface, and lands at their feet.
He is the War Doctor, though he doesn’t call himself that. Cass is afraid at first, but he asks her not to fear him. He explains that he met her at the Cathedral as she ran by; he was on the bell tower, fighting for his life, against
“Something ancient and overlooked escaped from the Apparitia of Nameless Forms; something appallingly attractive and dangerously destructive. A beast of light and mirrors. It hid in the Eye of my Ship. I brought it here by accident.”
Cass remembers the beast, like lightning. He calls it the Mirrorlon, a name he makes up on the spot. His goal had been to tame it, to use it in the Time War, but he underestimated it, and it turned on him when he freed it. He had used the bells in the tower to dissipate the beast, but he was prismatically absorbed in the process, pulled into a dimension of light and mirrors…and a fragment of the beast’s disjecta membra—its “scattered members”—made it into Cass’s eye, and lodged there. However, though it harmed Cass, this ultimately saved the War Doctor, by allowing the light in her eyes to project him back into reality via any reflective surface. He only regrets that it was so hard to reach her. To show his gratitude, he uses his sonic screwdriver to dissipate the Mirrorlon fragment in her eye, freeing her from both headaches and visions; and he can be trusted on this, for he is a… good man.
This story gives us only a glancing view of the Time War, but it’s still an interesting glimpse. Happening as the War Doctor edges toward middle age (a detail I’m basing strictly on its placement in the book—he isn’t well described here), it makes me wonder just how desperate things were becoming, if he was looking to such alternate weapons as the Mirrorlon. I’m not sure that they were intentional, but there are some nice little nods to past Doctors here; the Mirrorlon, hailing from the “Apparitia of Nameless Forms”, would be right at home among some of the more mystical or gothic stories of the past (I’m thinkng The Daemons or Image of the Fendahl). The Doctor’s speech patterns here remind me of the Seventh Doctor, with his alliterations and grandiose descriptions and fondness for phrases from other languages. The explanations that do more to confuse than enlighten the nearby humans are a trait more common to the Fourth Doctor. For a future reference, naming the creature at random is reminiscent of the Twelfth Doctor naming the Boneless in Flatline, although I’m not certain if it was intentional (but it could be; the timing allows for it).
This story was written by Elton Townend-Jones in memory of a friend, Derek Watson, who died at the age of 51 after a lengthy illness in January, 2015. Derek Watson didn’t get to see the story in print, but the author is convinced he would have loved it. There’s a brief, but poignant tribute to him attached at the end. The Doctor, at the end of the story, starts to comment that he is a doctor, before switching over and calling himself a good man; but good man or doctor, he would approve of this tribute. Life, after all, is to be preserved when possible, and honored when not.
Disjecta Membra was written by Elton Townend-Jones, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next: Loop, by Declan May. See you there!