This is the original outline for the short story “Moving On” that I submitted to the editors at Virgin.
YESTERDAY: “She hated Scott Wojzek. She hated his mean self interest, his Lotus Esprit, his easy familiarity with the secretarial staff. She hated his phoney sincerity and long lunches. She hated his male pattern baldness. And she had no guilt when she felt the same after he’d died in a traffic accident. So when she saw him walking towards her across Kensington High Street, she knew at once what had been happening to her for the past eight weeks.”
TWO MONTHS AGO: Sarah Jane Smith is sitting in her study at home, staring gloomily into a drawer which contains her unfinished novel. She has been features editor on Metropolitan now for a few years, having re-established herself on the magazine Metropolitan since she left the TARDIS. (She tells her colleagues that she went away to research her novel – she is always evasive about what she was actually doing over the missing time, though she jokes that returning to work has “brought her down to Earth with a bump”. )
Sarah’s day doesn’t start well. She sees that she’s getting grey hairs, and remembers some things her Aunt Lavinia said about middle-aged women. She discusses some of these on the phone with her oldest girlfriend, college contemporary Katy Pickering, as they are planning a lunch date. Talking to Katy always makes her feel guilty that her house is such a mess, so afterwards she tidies up – finding a toy dinosaur left by her editor’s toddler son the previous day. She puts it in her handbag, so that she can return it.
K-9’s has become increasingly erratic lately. Never very adept technically, Sarah feels even more lost than before she went away – electronic gadgets seem to have sprung up for everything, and she has barely mastered the microwave, let alone robot diagnostics. She struggles to replace K-9’s tickertape, and doesn’t understand the “on-line documentation” that K-9 displays on his monitor, and is starting to realise that K-9 is slowly falling to pieces. (Brendan is no help – he’s at University.)
Meantime at work, her editor has asked her to write an article on new technologies, and their effect on traditional working life. Rather than struggle with concepts like e-mail, desktop publishing, and office software suites, Sarah has turned the idea around and is going to write about the work and family lives of new technologists in Britain. She has identified three people: a typesetter, coming to terms with changes in his industry; the international sales manager of a plush toy company, who talks to her clients and her family with a videoconferencing system; and Scott Wojzek, the young director of an IT company called Tonska, which is developing new communications technologies.
After only one brief telephone conversation with Wojzek, Sarah decides she dislikes him. She arranges an interview with him in his London offices, and suffers several indignities with video cameras and badge-locked doors before getting to Wojzek’s office. There, he doesn’t endear himself to her any further: “Inside every thin woman journalist, there’s a fat book struggling to get out” he declares at one stage. “Invariably, that’s where it should stay.” Does he enjoy his position of control and autonomy in the business? “Do bears shit in the woods?” he retorts.
However, he gives her a demonstration of some of Tonska’s technology, including desktop conferencing, video telephony, three-dimensional imaging, and remote control of robots with virtual reality technology. Sarah tries the robot controller, and is impressed technically – but she can’t help feeling that everything is designed to eliminate human contact rather than facilitate real communication. She declines Wojzek’s lunch invitation, but he insists on showing her out of the offices and to her car in the company car park (also deserted). He helps her into her car, guiding the back of her head patronisingly so that she doesn’t bump it on the door. Sarah reacts as though stung. Wojzek meanders off at once, Sarah assuming he can’t believe that his clumsy pass failed.
Sarah gets into her car, and drives around the block. Everywhere seems deserted. She drives around the city for a while, and sees no traffic, no people… Eventually, she drives back towards Tonska’s offices, and parks on a double yellow line in Tottenham Court Road, looking around in disbelief. A shattering roar from above one of the buildings makes her look up – it’s a tyrannosaurus rex. She freezes as it sniffs the air. A voice behind Sarah says: “Oi lady, you can’t leave it there.” She turns her head and sees a traffic warden pointing at her car. Tottenham Court Road is full of people and noise again.
Sarah promises to move her car at once. There is a commotion at the end of the street, and she sees that someone has been run over by a bus. She investigates, and sees it is Wojzek, who is plainly dead. It seems that he just threw himself out of an office window into the street.
Sarah takes her keys from her handbag to get back into her untidy car – and finds the toy dinosaur she put there earlier. She sits there, shaken, for a long time.
LAST MONTH: Sarah is struggling with the fuse box in her house. She also worries about her cordless kettle, pre-fitted plugs, her grotty old toaster. Her vacuum cleaner is so old, they’ve stopped making parts for it. She realises that the problem with K-9, however, is that they haven’t started making parts for him. Her laptop seem to be on the blink – she thinks it may be a computer virus, though it could also be that she accidentally trashed her system files last week (she leaves all the system stuff to the tech boys in the office). When she switches on her TV, though, the same pattern of interference appears there too.
She feels absolutely exhausted, despite a week of early nights. Nevertheless, she goes to lunch with Katy Pickering, who has started working for breakfast television and now has a fund of irreverent stories about her more famous colleagues. Katy’s life has changed around – she has put off having children, she has broken up with her trade press boyfriend, and is starting to question whether she’s given up too much for her career. The two women rate the men in the restaurant, as they used to when they were cub reporters. “What a dire bunch,” says Katy, just a bit too loudly for Sarah’s comfort. “Not one of them above a 7.” They discuss their ideal men, and Katy teases her that Sarah’s dream man – intelligent, mature, someone she could learn from and talk with – might as well be her father. Or her college tutor.
Katy is still as obsessive about tidiness as ever, to Sarah’s amusement. Sarah goes round to her flat, and threatens to rearrange everything in her cupboards while she is out of the room. “I know you’re joking, Sarah. And I’d laugh myself if I didn’t know that, this evening, I won’t be able to stop myself checking every cupboard – just in case…” Sarah realises that she’s obsessive about some things, as Katy points out – “you never talk much about your time away, Sarah.”
Sarah talks instead about the article she has just published about IT, and the mystery of Wojzek’s sudden death. Through press contacts, she has spoken with the dead man’s brother and widowed mother. They explain that Wojzek’s business partner, Kendrick, died in similarly bizarre circumstances, and that Wojzek hadn’t been the same person some months after that. The business partner was the one who had brought him some of his leading technological innovations – including the robotics and imaging technology. Wojzek had, unexpectedly, cut off all contact with his family and friends a year ago; they had only learned about the death of this once-popular and gregarious young man through the police or the press. “Work changes you,” Katy suggests.
Back at home, Sarah walks into her living room and sees Brendan opening a box – it is the box that K-9 was delivered in. Sarah relives the experience of seeing K-9 for the first time again, and also the mixed emotions – the Doctor did remember, but this is a parting gift with all that such a present entails. She asks Brendan a question, but only K-9 answers – and she realises that she has been daydreaming.
LAST WEEK: Sarah has just returned from a business trip abroad, feeling greatly refreshed . Things have changed almost imperceptibly since she went away – the temperature, the latest silly season story in the papers, the Top Ten. Her editor, Jane Highsmith, has dropped in to see her at home in the evening. Sarah is fascinated by her editor’s flexible working pattern – working from the office, or from her car, or from home. Sarah ponders how people’s attitudes and behaviours changed while she was away – whether it’s their work patterns, or their dress sense, or their personal aspirations, or their views on the weather. How did she change? Other people had moved on, but had she? She had tried to slot back into her old life, but her old life no longer existed. Others had changed slowly, even if they hadn’t wanted too – or even realising that they didn’t want to.
Jane and Sarah discuss personnel changes at Metropolitan. Sarah says that she has been thinking about her own future. Jane asks her about her novel – telling Sarah the sort of bonkbuster she should be writing, and how Metropolitan could serialise it.
Jane connects her laptop to her mobile phone, and tries to link through to the office. She and Sarah see the sort of interference that Sarah saw previously. Sarah also remembers that her neighbours were complaining about their TV reception. Sarah asks K-9 whether he can account for the problem, but he is strangely evasive. The interference seems to have cleared, however, so Jane connects to the office, and has a video conference with Scott Wojzek. Sarah doesn’t want to be involved, so she goes out into the garden…
…but instead of stepping onto her back lawn, she is on a suburban high street. She turns to look at her back door, and sees instead the TARDIS fading away. The Doctor has just left her on Earth before returning to Gallifrey – and has not even got her back to South Croydon. All the old feelings of abandonment and loss well up in her. It starts to rain, and she is completely lost. She meets a stranger in the street, who guides her to a bus stop where she can catch the right bus home. She hasn’t got the money, but he gives her some change.
Sarah goes upstairs on the bus, but realises that it isn’t raining on the top deck – even though it is raining on the bottom deck. She rushes downstairs to check – yes, water is pouring down the windows. She goes to the driver – it is the same person who guided her to the bus. A woman behind her says “Hello?” as though she wants to step past. Sarah turns to see Jane Highsmith looking at her strangely from her own back doorstep. She is back in her own garden.
LAST WEDNESDAY: Sarah has been taking a few days off work, at Jane’s suggestion. She has started to file tired and wretched again. She tries to write some of her novel, scanning through it. Then she throws it in the bin – it’s the kind of book her editor wants her to write, not the kind of book she wants to write herself.
She starts to delete files on her computer, but it switches off. A house fuse has blown, so she takes a torch and goes down into the cellar with a torch to fix it. She gets to the bottom of the cellar steps and hears a hoarse breathing sound behind her. She whirls around, but drops the torch which switches off. In the darkness, she realises that…
…she is blind, and back on Karn. Sarah is terrified and alone in her worst memory. She stumbles across her nightmare landscape to the Sisterhood, where she asks them where the Doctor is. They tell her that the Doctor has already left the planet. She realises something is amiss when one of the sisterhood uses an Earth colloquialism: “Does the Pope wear a pointy hat?”. At this point, whatever Sarah has been holding in her hands turns out to be a torch, which snaps on to reveal she is back in her cellar.
YESTERDAY: Sarah recognises the electrical interference is coming from K-9 intermittently. She discusses problems with him – he confesses that he is suffering irreparable damage. She challenges K-9 about the problems. And the signal he’s emitting. K-9 won’t tell her, and only says that off-world technology can save him.
She meets Wojzek in the street (as at the start of the story), and she recognises his involvement in her recent dreams. Is this a dream? She reluctantly goes with him to a coffee shop. She notices that the same people appear to be wandering past the shop window, as though on a loop of film.
The creature talking to her now is an alien from a race called the Tonska. He knows that she is a friend of the Doctor, whose technological intervention in the previous Decalog story caused the Wojzek creature to be trapped on Earth. Wojzek has been trying to escape, using what little technology was available on Earth today. By adapting leading edge technology, he was able to attract the brightest and best minds to come to him. He scanned their minds with the virtual reality machinery, and then used their knowledge to develop further technologies. When by chance Sarah came to him, he discovered to his great surprise that she knew the Doctor, and owned some advanced technology in the form of K-9. The computer could help him escape from Earth.
The alien wants Sarah to get K-9 to help him, but Sarah is suspicious. Wojzek is dead – and what happened to the real Wojzek that his family described to her? What happened to his former partner, Kendrick? At which point, Sarah gets up and leaves the restaurant.
Wojzek trails behind Sarah, taunting her. He says that she needs his help, just as she needed the Doctor’s help. She has never escaped the Doctor, and never will. He used her, as he uses all his companions, because he knows no better. She is still waiting for him to return, and she knows that he never will. Out of sight, out of mind. Frustratingly, every time Sarah turns a corner in the street, it seems that she has turned back onto the street with the coffee shop (which is impossible).
Wojzek says: “Come on, you know that K-9 will deteriorate until he’s a write-off. And he’s already told you that no human technology can repair him…” Sarah realises with a jolt that there’s no way Wojzek could know what K-9 told her earlier, unless Wojzek is somehow in her mind – like a virus that can spring up at any time. Sarah awakes at home with a shriek.
Out of sight, out of mind, she ponders.
TODAY: Sarah has been considering Wojzek’s words all night, aware that there is no-one she can discuss this with without going back to a life she has tried to leave behind – Harry, UNIT, etc. She challenges K-9 again, pointing out that she is acting in loco parentis. K-9 is happy to explain that she herself forbade him to tell her what was happening, which puzzles Sarah. K-9 explains that the Doctor programmed into him a sub-space transmission for when he couldn’t self-repair, or when replacement parts were unavailable. (“Lucky that didn’t break down first then, eh?”) Sarah gets K-9 to play her the transmission – it is a hologram of her, stooped over as though talking to the robot. “Terrific,” snorts Sarah. “Help us Obi Wan, you are our only hope. Well not this time, Doctor. Stop transmitting, K-9.”
Sarah asks when this was recorded. K-9 gives her a date and a time – the middle of the night several weeks ago. She asks more, and K-9 explains that she has been trying to repair him throughout several nights, without success, finally stumbling upon the Doctor’s communications program. Repairs in her sleep – no wonder she has been so tired. But how did she manage when she can barely program her video. K-9 is explaining about alien symbiosis, that Sarah is currently the host for the Tonska’s physical form, when the TARDIS arrives in her home.
The Doctor has returned for her after all, having received K-9’s emergency signal. He asks her to join him again back in the TARDIS. She goes into the TARDIS with him, and is puzzled by his attitude – he doesn’t start the TARDIS, he asks her questions – does she remember how it felt to be in the TARDIS, to experience the Space-Time Vortex, etc. Then Sarah recognises that one of the Doctor’s gestures is familiar, but not for the Doctor – pushing invisible glasses up his nose with his middle finger. She realises that this is also a dream, and “the Doctor” is really the Wojzek-alien. Through controlling Sarah’s mind, strongest when she is sleeping, he introduced the virus into K-9 which has been destroying the robot dog. His intention is to get the Doctor to return to Earth, but now Sarah has stopped the emergency transmission which would make this happen.
The alien has been growing within her since the day she first met him – it left the husk of its parent form in Wojzek’s body which, suddenly released from any higher-brain control, had blundered to its death – like Kendrick’s before it. The alien’s struggle to establish control over Sarah means she has been experiencing very vivid flashback dreams. Although these flashbacks of her most vivid memories are a side effect of the Tomska’s parasitic invasion, the alien has been able to begin manipulating her dreams as it has grown in size and strength. Sarah recognises that the alien has not been able to disguise all its involvement in her dreams, and that she must have some control of the dreams herself. So she concentrates, trying to make the TARDIS vanish; suddenly, she is back in her own kitchen with K-9 and the alien (still looking like the Doctor).
The Doctor-alien tells her that she can achieve so much more with her life if she allows it to develop this symbiotic relationship – it knows what she thinks of herself, because it’s been living in her mind for long enough. She doesn’t fit into her old life – having experienced other worlds and times, she knows that she needs more. And she deserves better than the Doctor gave her: “The Doctor dumped you when he tired of you. You could expect no better. What had you hoped for, what could you really expect? What can any companion of the Doctor expect? The nagging knowledge that you led a second-hand life, that’s what. Shadowing someone else’s needs and desires. Just another time groupie with a hole in your life, looking for an easy escape from the trap you yourself created. And after all that, no thank yous. No rewards. Except maybe an unheroic farewell, or a grave too far from home.”
Sarah retorts that it is an unequal relationship, not a symbiotic one; power and control, not a partnership. The alien cannot survive without controlling her completely, and when it has no further need for her it will drop her without caring what happens. She realises that this sounds familiar… She takes her pent-up feelings of dependence and betrayal by the Doctor, and focuses it on “the Doctor”. She blasts him into nothingness, and the real alien appears at the last minute as a starfish-shaped parasite, surrounded by a series of electrical flashes – like a spoon left in a microwaved coffee. This is her visualisation of the creature inside her. Sarah feels a searing pain at the back of her neck, where Wojzek implanted the alien’s spoor months ago. The image of the starfish-creature sparkles into nothingness. Sarah looks round her boring old kitchen – it’s like seeing somewhere you know really well but haven’t been for ages.
Can she be sure the alien is gone? Only by taking control of her own mind. She asks K-9 to show her the message again. K-9 skips through several hologrammatic projections, a mixture of Sarah’s recorded plea and a variety of events he has scanned from commercial and private satellite communications traffic. Sarah tells K-9 to erase the recordings, and to delete the program which broadcasts the signal. She also asks K-9 whether she is free of the Tonska; he explains that the creature inside her is dead, and that her body will eventually break down the remains (ugh!). Then K-9 says: “Program erased, mistress.”
Sarah starts to plan ways of repairing K-9: she caused the problem in the first place, so she should be able to fix it.
TEN YEARS FROM NOW: Sarah is on television, reading from a novel. The lines are the same as this short story begins with: “She hated Scott Wojzek. She hated his mean self interest, his Lotus Esprit, his easy familiarity with the secretarial staff…” She is reading from her final “Doctor” novel. The programme’s interviewer asks her about the character who has made her an international bestseller over the past decade. Sarah talks about “the Doctor”, and how she has used his unspecified alien background to allow her to explore what it means for other characters to be human. Aren’t some of the Doctor’s assistants rather feeble caricatures of helpless women, asks the interviewer. Sarah explains that they can allow themselves to be led, or choose to use the Doctor’s strengths and weaknesses with their own initiative – and offers a few examples from her books and short stories.
So why bring the series to a close now, when it has been such a great success – and with Amblin expressing interest in developing a TV series? Sarah explains that, while it’s good to allow your characters a life of their own in your writing, it’s also important to retain some control over them. It’s like a job, or a house, or a hobby, Sarah says: no matter how fond you are of them, you should make your own choice when you realise that it’s time to move on.
Last page: publisher’s list of novels and short stories by Sarah Jane Smith.
© Peter Anghelides 1996