Date: July 6, 2011
Podcaster: Megan Argo
Links: Dr Who: http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/
The Jodcast: http://www.jodcast.net/
Description: Could Dr. Who go back in time to view a meteor impact on Earth? Following on from “Doctor Who and the SIlver Spiral,” which was a short science-inspired story that went out aired on 365 Days of Astronomy March 31, 2010, Megan Argo has written another short fictional story using Doctor Who, to play explain the science of meteor impacts.
Bio: When not writing Doctor Who stories, Megan is a professional radio astronomer. She is currently working on commissioning e-MERLIN, a major upgrade of the UK’s radio telescope network which is operated by the University of Manchester. She also produces the news segment of the Jodcast each month.
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Out of the window was a tortured landscape. A mountain range stretched out below for hundreds of kilometres, a folded and twisted mass of rock, moulded over countless millennia by unimaginable forces generated by the movement of entire continents. Sharp edged ridges protruded up from steep-sided valleys filled with deep cobalt blue lakes. The ground was rocky and a thousand shades of brown, the only vegetation was low scrawny bushes and clumps of hardy grasses. Inside the cabin, a small pair of eyes stared down at a console; Niko was engrossed in his copy of Uprising, the latest computer game from Serfs. He hardly noticed when the oddly-dressed man sat down in the seat opposite and started staring out the window.
“What’s that you’re playing?” asked the strange man after a few minutes. Niko ignored him. He was near the end of the level and had to concentrate. “Must be exciting,” continued the man. Niko looked up just long enough to throw the man a look that said *be quiet*.
“I love this journey,” the man went on. “Such a fascinating place,” he paused and looked over at Niko, “don’t you think?”
“I guess,” Niko grunted. He was annoyed, he was trying to get past a sniper that he knew was hiding somewhere nearby, he just wasn’t sure where.
“It’s hard to imagine continents moving, until you see a landscape like this,” the man in the striped trousers continued. “The force it takes to fold the rock like that just incredible!”
Taking a chance, Niko jumped behind an industrial bin. He pushed it down the street, using it as a shield, and then darted down an alleyway. A couple of shots rang out, but they missed. “Yes!” he exclaimed. He’d got past the sniper.
The man gave him a curious look. He took off his hat, stuck it on his knee and, adjusting the stick of celery in his buttonhole, went back to looking out of the window.
They were travelling on one of the latest airliners, big lumbering aircraft that looked highly implausible. The laws of physics said they should be capable of flight, but in the air they looked so ungainly and out of place. Designed more like old train carriages, the passenger deck was separated into small compartments, each with a table and three seats either side. The windows were thick but large, so the passengers could easily get a good view without having to stretch. The man was sitting next to the window, staring at the ground beneath like an excited child. Niko wondered in passing whether the man was quite normal. It was just rock, after all.
He’d made it to the end of the darkened alley and was trying to find a safe route across the next street. Niko knew there was another sniper around somewhere, but he hadn’t worked out where. He was trying hard to concentrate but had an uncomfortable feeling creeping slowly up the back of his neck; he was being watched. Annoyed, he paused the game and glared at the stranger. “What?” he demanded indignantly.
“Oh, I’m just curious what could be more fascinating than the view out of the window,” replied the spectacled man.
“It’s just a few hills, what’s the big deal?” replied Niko in bewilderment.
The man looked at him in astonishment. “Just a few hills? This is one of the oldest landscapes on this planet, there’s millions of years of history down there!”
Niko stared at him. “So? Who are you, anyway? I came in here because it was quiet!”
“I’m the Doctor,” the man said brightly, extending his hand across the table. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Niko,” replied the boy reluctantly. “Are you going to keep talking for the whole flight?”
“Probably!” replied the Doctor brightly.
Niko looked at the hand the Doctor had offered him, still hovering over the table between them. Gingerly, as if he was expecting an electric shock, Niko shook the older man’s hand.
“That’s more like it,” he said, seemingly ignoring the expression on the boy’s face as his hand was shaken enthusiastically. “Look, here’s my favourite part of the journey….”
Niko gave him a puzzled look. “Wait, your favourite part? But this is the *first* flight of this plane, it’s brand new. How can you have a favourite part of the journey?”
The Doctor sighed and took off his glasses. “Oh, not again, I really must fix that circuit….”
“What are you on about?”
“My ship travels in time, but it’s a bit… temperamental. I landed here a bit earlier than I was intending to.”
“You have a *time machine*?!” exclaimed Niko, suddenly very interested. The video game lay on an empty seat, forgotten.
“Oh yes. It’s called the TARDIS, stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. She’s a good ship, but she’s getting a bit old,” he paused, “like me I suppose.”
“Yeah, right. I don’t believe you, you’re making it up!” retorted Niko. That settles it, he thought, he must be mad or something. After all, who wears vegetables on their clothes?
“It’s true!” replied the Doctor indignantly. “It’s parked down in the cargo hold.”
“Come on, someone would have noticed another ship suddenly appearing on board!” Niko didn’t believe a word of it.
“It’s really quite small,” said the Doctor, “well, on the outside anyway.”
Niko snorted and picked up his game. “Aha. Right.”
“You don’t believe me do you?”
Niko ignored him and resumed his search for the hidden sniper.
“I’ll prove it,” said the Doctor. “Do you see that ridge down there?”
Niko paused the game again and looked out of the window. “That one that looks like half of a circle?”
“That’s the one! It’s a bit different to the other ridges down there. *That* one was caused by an asteroid impact.”
Niko looked at him in disbelief. “You’re joking, right? That stuff only happens in geeky science fiction movies.”
“Not a bit of it! It happens in real life, too. They can wipe out whole civilisations if they’re big enough.”
The Doctor nodded.
“Imagine it’s a full circle, can you see the hill in the middle?”
“That little bump?”
“That’s where the asteroid hit.” He paused and looked sideways at Niko. “How would you like to see it happen?”
Niko stared. “Are you serious?”
“Absolutely. It’s only a short hop, relatively. Barely half a million years ago.”
“Errr…. ok, I guess,” he said slowly. He didn’t really know what to believe, but they couldn’t go very far on the airliner so he figured he might as well play along. “My Dad will wonder where I’ve gone though, I’d better go tell him…” he trailed off. Well, he thought to himself, what *do* I tell him?
“It travels in time, you’ll be back before anyone notices you’re gone,” the Doctor reassured him.
It looked nothing like a time machine ought to look, from the outside anyway. He’d been expecting a shiny metallic pod with gleaming control panels and smooth looking fins, not a wooden box. Niko hadn’t believed a word of it, until he’d stepped through the doors. The inside of the TARDIS was a curious place. As he’d stepped through the door he felt such a peculiar sensation, all his hairs had stood on end and his skin had tingled. He looked around the impossible room in astonishment. May be this guy’s not so mad after all, he thought.
The Doctor was busy at the controls in the centre of the room. There was a low hum building in volume and the whole place had started to shake slightly. He turned to Niko. “Are you ready?” he asked.
Without waiting for an answer, the Doctor pulled a final lever with a theatrical flourish. The column in the middle of the desk started moving up and down with a loud grating noise and the whole room began to shake violently.
The Doctor must have noticed the worried expression on Niko’s face. “It’s ok,” he said, “it’s perfectly safe!”
“How long does it take to travel half a million years?” asked the boy, nervously.
“We’ll be there before you know it!” replied the Doctor brightly. “Hang on!”
With a final shudder, the TARDIS landed on a rocky outcrop. The door opened and the Doctor bounded out enthusiastically, his hat in one hand. “Come on, quick, you don’t want to miss this Niko!” he yelled over his shoulder as he scrambled up to the top of the ridge.
Niko stood in the door of the TARDIS and looked out over the barren landscape at the twisted rock around him. The hills looked pretty much the same as they had from the airliner, he thought, but he couldn’t make out the same features he’d seen from above. He looked up to where the Doctor was perched on the top of the outcrop. From where he stood it looked like a line of huge jagged teeth protruding from the top of the hill. He shivered, despite the hot, dry wind that was blowing up the slope from the valley below. Quickly, he scrambled up to join the Doctor on top of the hill.
Together, they watched the shadows chase each other over the landscape as the thin clouds raced overhead. The Doctor pointed to something in the distance. “Do you see that line of hills there?” he asked.
“That one that looks like there’s a castle in the middle of it?”
The Doctor looked at it again. “It does look a bit like that, yes. Well, that’s where the asteroid is going to hit in about, oh,” he looked up at the Sun, “I’d say about two minutes.”
“Are we safe here?” Niko asked worriedly. “Isn’t there going to be a big shockwave or something?”
“Quite right, the impact will produce a huge blast that will sweep out for hundreds of miles in every direction. We’ll be fine though,” he continued, “as long as we don’t go too far from the TARDIS.”
Niko wasn’t convinced, but he had little choice but to trust this peculiar man now that he was here.
“Do you hear that?” asked the Doctor.
Niko listened. Just audible over the wind was a new sound, like nothing he’d ever heard before, and it was getting louder rapidly.
“It’s here, look!” the Doctor almost shouted in excitement.
Niko looked up and saw a fireball rushing through the atmosphere, too fast for him to follow it as it moved. It looked as though it was heading straight for them and he ducked in fright as his reflexes took over.
It smashed into the line of hills the Doctor had indicated, and debris was scattered high into the air. Several seconds later, there was a frighteningly loud explosion as the sound waves arrived, travelling slower through the air than the light. Niko clamped his hands tightly over his ears and gritted his teeth, it felt like his head was about to explode as the pressure wave buffeted them. Clouds of dust rose into the sky in great swirling patterns, casting tenuous slow-moving shadows across the landscape while the clouds above continued to fly past. The debris rained down across the landscape, creating smaller secondary craters where the larger pieces landed on the hard ground.
Niko stared at the spectacle. He suddenly realised he was gaping and, with a snap, he closed his mouth. The Doctor laughed and smiled at him warmly. “So, still think this landscape is boring?” he asked with a grin on his face.
Niko stared at him, utterly speechless. “I… that was….” he stammered. “Wow,” he finished. “That was totally awesome!”
The Doctor looked pleased with himself as he started to pick his way back down the rock-strewn slope towards the TARDIS. “Come on, let’s get you back to your computer game, then.”
Niko gaped at him, “that old thing? It doesn’t seem quite so exciting now.”
The Doctor just smiled.
Back on the airliner, Niko ran back to the compartment where his father had been having a business meeting with some other executives, but there was no one there. Puzzled, he turned back into the corridor. He wandered back to where he had met the Doctor and found his father shouting loudly at a petrified-looking member of the cabin crew. “What do you mean, you don’t know? How can a thirteen year old boy go missing on an airliner? It’s not like he can pop outside for a walk and get lost, is it?”
“I… I don’t know….” stammered the girl.
“He’s got to be here somewhere, go and search again. Pull up the seats if you have to, but *find him*!”
Niko coughed nervously. “Hi, Dad. Ummm,” he trailed off as his father turned towards him.
“Niko, where have you been? We’ve searched the entire airliner for you!” yelled his father.
The boy shrugged, “I was with the Doctor, we were looking at meteor craters.”
“Which doctor?” demanded his father, “I didn’t know there was one on board.”
“I’ll show you,” replied Niko quietly. Dad will never believe this unless I show him, he thought.
Niko led his father down to the cargo hold, telling him about how the asteroid had whistled though the sky, the size of the swirling dust cloud and how his head nearly imploded when the sound hit them. His father shook his head in disbelief.
“Just wait, I’ll show you the time machine, it’s just down here.” said Niko, leading the way down the cargo hold with half the cabin crew now in tow.
He turned the corner and stopped suddenly: the wooden box was gone. Niko stared in shock. “B-b-but, it was just here a minute ago!” he stammered.
His father sighed. “That’s quite enough of those computer games for this trip. It’s time for lunch, come on.”
Sullenly, Niko followed the crowd back up the stairs to the passenger deck. How could the Doctor just disappear like that? It just wasn’t fair!
They were just finishing their meals when a movement caught Niko’s eye. He looked out of the window and there, riding along near the wing, was a small blue box. Niko opened his mouth to tell his father, but then stopped. Who cares if no one believed him? He knew it had happened. Thank you Doctor, he thought as he waved to the little box as it vanished into thin air
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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