In honour of Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary, I am posting my Time Lord fan fiction The Blue Cuckoo in five installments. This story does not feature any particular Doctor or Companion or in fact any characters from the series. But it does feature a Time Lord and is heavily inspired by Family of Blood and Human Nature.
The Blue Cuckoo
by Katharine Elmer
‘Juliet Annah, stop talking rubbish!’
‘It’s not rubbish because you don’t understand it, Mr Barker.’
‘The mathematics of relativity can’t be applied to quantum mechanics. Everyone knows that—‘
‘It can. You just carry the infinity and divide it by—‘
‘Your limited understanding of Higg’s boson is ridiculous nonsense! Honestly, Sir. Do you know nothing of Unified Theory?’
The classroom gasps in fascinated horror. Mr Barker’s face looks like a nuclear detonation as I punctuate my statement with a derisive chuckle. Possibly it’s the chuckle which motivates him to remove me from his classroom. He isolates me in the hallway outside Lab 4 then rounds on me.
‘Who do you think you are?’
‘I’m not sure I—‘
‘How could you presume—‘
‘Not my fault you can’t cross multiply Einstein by Newton!’
‘How dare you speak to me like that?’
I’ve done it now. I made a teacher lose control. This is not affected fury meant to frighten me. Mr B’s bollocking is heartfelt.
‘I am your teacher! you will show respect!’ Barker stutters more half-formed warnings before winding down. ‘I never thought you of all people,’ he sighs bewildered.
Me either. I never thought me either. Mr Barker glares then pronounces sentence.
‘Juliet, report to Room 17.’ I try not to panic.
‘I don’t know where Room 17 is.’
This is a lie. Everyone knows where it is. They just hope they never need to.
‘Now!’ Mr Barker jabs his finger along my appointed route.
‘But sir, I only told the truth!’ I protest.
Barker inhales and clenches before repeating my instructions. ‘Room 17. Now.’
Fine. I will go to Room 17. But I will not go quietly.
‘Mr Barker, sir.’ I make my voice polite and contrite. ‘I apologise for my inappropriate behaviour. I’m sorry you do not understand physics as well as I do. I am sorry you find it difficult to be challenged by a student—and a girl,’ I add with minimal snarl. ‘And I am truly sorry you are so disappointed in me. Believe me when I say, sir, that I don’t know, as you say, who I think I am because who I think I am is not who I thought I was and I think who I am might be someone who you don’t want to know. But I shall take myself—whoever I think I am—to Room 17 as per your request. Sir.’
I drop a curtsey then spin on my heel to flounce down the hallway. Only I turn so sharply my neat plaits smack me across the face. Epic dramatic exit fail.
If a piece of interior architecture can harbour homicidal intentions then Room 17, with its expressionless grey walls and precise geometry, is a stone-cold killer. I have known of Room 17’s existence for some time and I’ve seen the faces of those who’ve endured its tortures: cadaver grey to match the walls.
‘Sit,’ instructs Miss Pemberg, 17’s bullish warden. I sit.
Rumour claims Pemberg was a West Yorkshire Police Officer. Now she is the Detention Supervisor for Wellsthorpe Grammar where her Northern accent terrifies everyone (assuming they can understand her). She receives the most severe classroom offenders, those who violate the rules of academic behaviour to the nth degree.
Like me. And Alistair Jordan. Judging by his gormless expression Jordan has been quarantined here for some time, possibly since his first term at Wellsthorpe. He’s a short, pug-faced tosser who compensates for his stupidity with violence.
I choose a grey plastic chair far from Tosser Jordan and deposit my bag on a square grey desk. At a glare from Miss Pemberg I reposition my bag under my chair.
‘How long will I—
‘SHUT IT!’ bellows Pemberg with vowels which betray her origins.
Right. Fantastic. Visual and verbal silence. How did I get here? How did this happen?
It happened because I opened my stupid gob. I ignored my own strict rules for survival. Now everyone knows what my teachers in primary school knew.
The first day of Reception I arrived fresh-faced, eager. I knew my times tables to twelve and clutched an abridged Oliver Twist. I wanted to impress my teachers. My teachers wanted to test me for Autism.
‘Just because she’s clever doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with her’, my father protested.
He was wrong, of course. No four-year-old should be that clever. No twelve-year-old should be either. So I hide it.
Academically, this is easy. Teachers are predators: only bright objects and sudden movements attract their attention. Visually muted and motionless, I fall under their radar. Ask any teacher who Juliet Annah is and they will look blank, blink then refer to the photos on their electronic register.
‘Oh yes. Round girl, brown plaits, third row. She’s lovely.’
“Lovely” means I don’t misbehave and perform precisely as my test results indicate. Final year of Primary School, I faked my exams to make certain I achieved a moderate standard. Nothing too high or too low—both would draw unwanted attention.
Socially hiding is harder. Teenagers gravitate to anyone remarkably marvellous or ridiculously odd. Since I am potentially both, I force myself to remain blandly ordinary. I orbit the fringes of a modest circle of girlfriends. These average creatures gossip and giggle so energetically I can easily drift in their magnetic pull. The girls assume I am giggling and gossiping with them.
Survival. That’s all I ask for until I am old enough for this much clever to make sense. Today killed that. I’m on the radar now. I may as well paint my face purple then dance on this desk while serenading Miss Pemberg and Tosser Jordan with an aria from Faust.
It’s that damned clue cuckoo clock! The cuckoo clock in Granddad’s attic. His cuckoo clock changed everything last week-end.
Alfred Annah, legendary Wellsthorpe Grammar Physics teacher and my Granddad, died three years ago. My parents have tried persuading Granny Joyce to move from the massive family home into a manageable flat. Last week she agreed. Last weekend we agreed to help.
I did not want to be there, but I love my Granny. I loved Granddad too. Or I tried. So, brandishing a roll of bin liners alongside Mum and Dad, I charged in. We excavated ordinance survey maps, various scientific instruments in various states of disrepair, and many, many clocks. Pocket watches, wrist watches, digital, wind-up, carriage clocks, clock radios: anything anyone had ever used to tell the time anywhere ever.
I had just filled my third bag of clock parts and watches when I found a wooden crate slightly larger than a shoe box. Dust and neglect frosted its surface. When I picked it up the box lid flapped at me like an irritated bird. When I opened it a bird’s face greeted me.
It was an extraordinary, ancient blue cuckoo clock shaped like a house or a barn. An owl spread its wings across the top, like a real bird might perch on a roof. I wiped grime from the enamelled face with my thumb and concluded it had originally been pearl white. Tiny wheel-shaped indigo flowers ran along the edges like faded forget-me-nots.
These metal flowers had tarnished into pale blue stains, though etched details showed the true blue of its original paintwork. Above the clock face two dusky blue doors stood sentinel. The cuckoo must come through there to chime the hours. I tried to pry open the doors. Fail.
‘Does this still work?’ I asked no one in particular.
‘That clock’s never worked.” Granny had climbed the attic stairs to supervise.
‘Not even when it was new?’
‘That clock’s not been new for a long time,’ chuckled Granny.
I stroked the clock’s face. ‘Too pretty to throw out,’
Granny squeezed my shoulder. ‘It should be yours, love. You’re clever. Maybe you can get it to work.’
I replaced the clock in its wooden crate. I closed the lid. With a strange weight of prophecy my forefinger embossed three words in the layer of dust: Save for Juliet.
Coming soon: Episode Two…