Updated: Jun 30, 2021
I’ve been a science fiction fan since forever, growing up on the likes of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle etc. So, it was a delight when my cousin showed me a used paperback novelisation of Doctor Who and The Dalek Invasion of the Earth. It hooked both of us into a quintessentially British sci-fi Universe of Time Lords, strange aliens and Lovecraftian monsters. Time and Relative Dimension in Space became a buzz word between us. We bought many more Dr. Who novelisations later, but the one incarnation of the Doctor that I loved was the Fourth Doctor and the brilliant British actor, Tom Baker, who portrayed him in the 1970s television series.
So what follows, is not so much a story as an encounter snippet, but mostly is a homage to Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor. 'Have a jelly baby!'
There was a man, standing by the door to the room at the top of the stairs. The door was open, and she could see a dusty room with an old rocking chair in the corner. He closed the door as he greeted her.
“Hello!” said the man, with a smile.
“What… who’re you?” asked Lucy, shocked and perplexed. Her hand slowly slipped into her sling bag, for the pepper spray.
“John, nice to meet you,” said the man enthusiastically. He pretended to not have seen her reaching into her bag.
“What’re you doing here?” Lucy asked, expressing her displeasure.
“Oh, just exploring… this is an interesting house… the door was open,” he gestured. “So, I thought it might be fun to… explore,” he finished after a pause with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“There’s no door,” Lucy responded. “This house has been abandoned for years.” She did not like his attitude.
“Exactly!” he said wide-eyed. “Unless this was your house and you abandoned it and you don’t like strangers in your “abandoned” house?” he asked with an exaggerated frown.
“Don’t be absurd! This is not my house! I came here to check where the sound was coming from! Was it you, making that strange sound?” she demanded.
“Aha! you heard it, did you? Interesting how you can hear the subsonics of a quantum foam wobbler without auditory sensor amplification, mmm!” he said excitedly.
“Don’t worry. You don’t have to answer that. That was a rhetorical question. In fact, you cannot answer it!” he interjected mischievously.
Good Lord! So frustratingly excited. He’s the Cheshire Cat in human form! She couldn’t help thinking.
“Quantum what?? What the hell are you talking about?” her irritation was clear in her voice. She was walking to the supermarket when the noise jarred her. It was deafening at first and then a steady dull drone. She followed the sound, or rather it was the opposite; the sound guided her. It was enough that she was troubled by that experience but now this crazy man before her made it worse, with his eccentric mannerisms. But her curiosity overcame her need to get out of this dilapidated, abandoned house.
“Quantum foam wobbler” he repeated.
“Sure, that explains everything! I don’t know what that is! Look now, Mr... ,” she nearly shouted at him.
“John, John Smith. Please don’t be mad. Let me explain, miss… ,” he waited.
She just looked at him. She was close to giving him the finger, but she managed to calm herself down.
“Lucy Parker,” she mumbled, gritting her teeth.
“Miss Parker, Quantum foam… ,” he paused, "May I call you Lucy? I’ve never been comfortable with surnames,” he asked apologetically. But his eyes twinkled.
“Certainly not!” she retorted. His twinkling eyes caught her attention, again. They were endearing, and she was angry with herself for warming to it.
“Excellent!” he clapped his hands together. “So, Lucy, quantum foam wobbler — it wobbles the quantum foam. I’m sorry there’s no easy way to explain it."
Lucy was livid.
“… but let me try to explain it or rather try and show you?” he backed up, probably seeing her turn beet red.
She stared at him, unable to speak.
“Doors divide spaces, Lucy. Keeps things separate. This house has no front door and therefore the space outside and the space inside are no longer separated. But the rooms of this house have doors, at least the ones that require doors, which is good,” he looked embarrassed as though realising he was doing a poor job of explaining what he wanted to explain.
She had no idea what he was going on about and wanted to smile but looked at him with a straight face.
“I think it’s better if I show you. Do you mind standing back a little? Good.”
He turned to face the door and took a torch out of his coat pocket.
A torch? Lucy looked on in bewilderment. This was broad daylight and there was ample light where they stood. Why would you need a torch? At least it looked like one of those old silver torches with a bulb head like the old camera flashes, except this “torch” had a long thin silver rod sticking out of where the bulb should have been. He seemed to turn the battery cap or some other rotary element. There came a very low hum.
He turned to her, and she saw that he had the thrill of an adventure plastered over his face, like a kid about to take his homemade toboggan for a test ride, down the hill. He infectiously smiled at her and pointed the torch at the door and turned it on.
At first, Lucy could not see any visible changes. Then much to her astonishment, the walls on either side of the door turned translucent, seemed to flicker a bit and then became clear as glass. There was machinery, unlike anything she had ever seen, connected to the frame of the door. It looked quite dense — the limited wall space crammed with impossible machinery. There was a bluish glow emanating from two tubular structures parallel to the vertical door frame.
‘Bigger within the walls than outside.’ What? She was puzzled at that strange phrase that crossed her mind. Probably her brain trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
There was a flicker, the walls became translucent and then they became just that — walls — supporting a door and its frame. The hum stopped.
“Bummer! The shielding looks strong. But not to worry, just the right amount of time to send an authentication signal,” beamed John Smith at Lucy Parker.
“What was that? Just what the hell did I just see? How did the… what was the… ,” Lucy realised she was stammering as she struggled to find the words to describe what she just saw. A humongous brain fart moment. She stumbled a couple of steps back.
“Whoa, careful now,” he held her lightly at the elbow and steadied her. “That, my dear Lucy, was just a scrambler beam doing its thing to… scramble the Copperfield circuits that were creating a reality distortion field. And what you saw, in the real, were stabilising mechanisms for an exotic matter conduit embedded in a recursive dimension. In other words, a Quantum Foam Wobbler. This particular door does not just separate spaces, it looks like.”
“What do you mean?” Lucy was bewildered. “Wait, first, reality distortion field? You mean this is an illusion?”
John looked like he was going to hug her and give a smacking kiss on her lips.
“On the dot! Precisely! Correct! Right! You caught on quite quickly!” He was ecstatic and seemed to be proud of her, which for some reason made Lucy very happy and proud of herself.
“Where did it come from? Who put it here?” she blurted out the next set of questions.
Before John could reply, she interrupted herself.
“You said this door does not separate spaces? What did you mean by that?”
John shook his head, “Uh-huh, no, no, no! I said it does not JUST separate spaces. Let’s find out, shall we?”
He made some adjustments on his “torch”, pointed it at the door and turned it on.
“What is that thing?”
“This? Ah, this is a screwdriver. Very handy thing, screwdrivers. Always carry one.”
It did not look like any screwdriver she had seen until then but did not press the matter. It seemed like his eccentricity extended to his gadgets too.
It emitted a low pulse of barely perceptible amplitude and stopped. An audible click came from the door.
“Shall we?” he eagerly asked her.
“Shall we what?” Lucy responded.
“Why, open the door, of course, and see what else the door separates,” he grinned.
She didn’t reply but found herself nodding.
John grabbed the door handle. He paused for a tiny moment, which to Lucy felt like an infinity. Then he turned the handle and pushed the door open.
Bright light came through, accompanied by a cold wind.
Corn fields! Blue sky! Iowa!
That was Lucy’s brain falling back on familiar sights when she saw the cornfields and the blue sky through the door. Vast corn fields. But her brain had nothing to fall back on when she saw two massive moons in the sky and four giant artificial rings arranged in a horizontal line in the sky, high above the corn fields. Between the rings, hovered a gigantic vehicle with enormous aft engines. She felt as though space shifted and the vehicle vanished, winked out of existence. The wind was cold and she felt her knees buckle. Then her brain snapped back to that basic question that was struggling to come up for air: where was the room with the rocking chair?
John quickly shut the door and rushed to her side.
“Hey-hey, are you alright, Lucy?” John looked at her with concern.
Lucy was sitting on the floor, out of breath. She paused and breathed deeply, before looking up at him.
“That was not Iowa!” she said calmly.
John looked at her in shock for a moment and then burst out laughing.
“Iowa! Oh, my dear dear Lucy! No, that was not Iowa, indeed!”
She waited till his laughter subsided.
“Ok, so the door opened to another planet, is that it? Or dimension or what? Where is it?” Lucy asked calmly, again. She felt extremely calm. Really, what was happening to her? She questioned herself.
“I’m impressed, Lucy Parker. Right again! My feeling that our meeting was not merely a chance occurrence is strengthened. We were meant to meet. Tell me, would you like to accompany me and take the first steps through the door and find answers to all your questions? I promise you, Lucy, it will be an adventure of a life-time” he winked as he smiled at her.
He helped her up. She was silently contemplating as she brushed her skirt. He was looking at her, smiling and prompting her for an answer with raised eyebrows.
His eccentric charms swayed her. And she was yearning for an adventure of a life-time — a timely respite from her otherwise mundane life.
“How will we get back? Is there a door on the other side?” she asked.
“I'll take that as a yes,” he said as he straightened up. “Oh, we can always get back. The universe has many such doors. And in the off chance that we don't find one, we'll try to get to a police box and call for help,” he smiled, as though at a secret that only he was privy to.
She thought he was mad. Police box?
“Now it’s a bit chilly and windy out there, as you just experienced, let me get you something warm,” he said rummaging through his coat pocket. “Ah! here it is!” he was pulling out an extremely long scarf from his pocket. He reminded her of a stage magician. The scarf was made of multi-coloured patches.
He wrapped the scarf around her neck.
“There you go, nice and warm and dandy. There’s just one more thing I need.”
Again, he searched his coat pockets, “Got it!” he pulled out a felt hat which he plonked on his head, covering his curly dark hair.
“A gentleman never travels without his hat,” he announced boldly as he adjusted his collar.
Lucy could not help but giggle.
“Mr. Smith, somehow I feel you have done this before and you know more than what you’re letting on,” she accused.
John Smith chuckled. He gave her his arm.
“My dear lady, as I said before, I’m not comfortable with surnames. Please, call me John. Or better yet, you can call me the Doctor.”