“You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
It is therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.”
Edgar Allan Poe
The voice boomed from somewhere, deep within, at once as loud as any imagined god and as subtle as the whispers of a shell picked up from a beach and placed to the ear. Its whisperings were the cries of greatness; in its tumult, a quiet compassion.
The Doctor knew that he was dreaming, yet to be truly lucid in dreams also entails some measure of control—but he felt blurred, unsure, and at the mercy of his unconscious. He had so often tried to exert some influence on the panoramas he found himself in, but he was always failing—and will always fail.
‘This is the nature of things’ - said the still, loud voice, ‘No Pandora’s Box escape from failure...Yet’ -
There was a pause, and then came the images, as he knew they must. An old black and white film – a cartoon of a child trying to kick an American football, and always failing - a trench in war-time - a Tarot card, unturned - a necklace of teeth - Tegan, crying - a railway station - a grave - a cliff-top - a snowman - a curled snake.
Then it went dark, and nothing happened, no one moved, nobody spoke.
And he awoke, almost feeling that the final darkness was an over-sight, like sitting right through to the end of a film and still the houselights hadn’t come up - and then they did, with an apology from the manager through the speakers, tiny and faint in the final relief.
Relief. Yes, amongst the jumbled post-dream emotions and recollections, there was some form of relief - and a fear, the oldest fear.
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future.
What might have been and what has been
Point to the one, which is always present.”
All that he had already seen was happening, the little threads already knitting together into a final sadness.
The Doctor sighed, many things on his mind, as ever, and pushed open the TARDIS door. Had he really seen what his eyes a few scant minutes ago had told him was there, or was it a waking dream? A trick of the light, or…
It didn’t really matter, he decided - the implication was enough.
Tegan looked up as he walked into the console room. ‘Enjoy your walk?’
‘To be honest...No. The archetypical long, lonely walk is supposed to allow you to collect your thoughts, not suddenly make them seem yet more chaotic.’
Tegan touched his arm, gently. ‘Is there something I can do? If there’s something to talk about…’
The Doctor smiled, and there was a measure of warmth in his face again. ‘There’s little I could put into words...But thank you anyway - you have a gift of being concerned at precisely the right moment, and that alone is enough.’
‘All part of air hostess training,’ she laughed, still a little worried.
‘You do yourself a disservice if you claim it’s training, you know.’ His tone was serious again, his eyes - although not cold - had returned to their former grey apprehension. There seemed to be something troubling him even now - something that, as much as he might like to, he could not tell her.
His hands began moving over the console, and Tegan watched him, suddenly as fascinated as she had been the first time, almost as if she was expecting this man to be revealed as a joker, or that everything that had taken place since was a bizarre dream.
But the TARDIS left the place where it had once been, just as Tegan knew it must, and moved to where it always had to be at that precise moment, which was nowhere that anyone could ever reach through natural means.
The dream flowed on.
'You must always tell people what’s on your mind, Tegan. Words fall so far short of your ‘inner reality’ at the best of times, but even an attempt at words is better than nothing. How can you put any feelings into words? I certainly wouldn’t even like to try, but I might have to…?’
‘Then why can’t you talk to me?’
The Doctor sighed. ‘Perhaps this is different. As a Time Lord, I am privileged to certain secrets and facts that I can’t share. That is my dilemma…’
He turned to Tegan and shook his head, something approaching embarrassment flickering through his features. ‘I’m sorry...You’ll have to excuse me. I’m just rambling away, thinking out loud...It’s just that sometimes you see something - in a dream, or in reality - that you want to express, but you can’t…’
‘Well, that’s life,’ said Tegan, concerned but unable to follow quite what the Doctor was getting at.
‘Yes, you’re right - as you always are in that matter-of-fact way of yours...It’s often the most obvious things you can’t express. What I’ve seen, Tegan, you already know.’ There was a long silence, it’s emptiness negating even the hum of the console room.
He turned, folded the coat over his arm. ‘Hungry? I don’t think I’ve eaten for a day or two, and I feel quite peckish. Perhaps I’m even starving enough to appreciate mu own cuisine.’
‘I’ll join you,’ said Tegan, smiling. ‘But please, no more amateur philosophy.’
‘Agreed. Conversation will remain distinctly...trivial!’
‘Define ‘trivial’ then…’
They walked through the TARDIS corridors, the warmth rekindled between them - Tegan, pleased that the Doctor seemed more like his old self; the Doctor, acknowledging that he could not tell Tegan that, in some strange way, he had dreamt of her leaving, or that he had just seen her grave, dulled by age in a neglected corner of a small graveyard.