Anaesthesia: The DVD Commentary


by Kathryn A

Welcome to the DVD commentary for my story, "Anaesthesia". For those of you eating popcorn at the back, this is where, I, the author, make comments about this story, which are helpfully put in this style in bits between the actual story. Like a commentary track on a DVD. Please bear with me, I've never done one of these before.

Written for: Bad Cliches Made Good ficathon
Request: "Amnesia!" requested by AstroGirl2

It was actually AstroGirl's request in the "Bad Cliches Made Good" ficathon that made me want to join in. Not only her "Amnesia" request (though I liked that so much that I also put "Amnesia" down for one of my requests) but also her other ones sounded interesting too. And I actually made no secret of the fact... So I was delighted when I got AstroGirl as my recipient.

Universe: Doctor Who (9th Doctor, pre-"Rose")
Spoilers: 9th Doctor through to "Dalek"
Words: 5000

As I said in the actual Author's Notes below, I had originally intended to do this as a 4th-Doctor amnesia story. If I recall correctly, I had even started writing part of the first scene (but more on that later). I chose the 4th Doctor because the 5th and the 8th were too expected (after all, the 8th already had had amnesia, and the 5th was just so much of an angst-bunny that he would be too easy a target. But I wanted him to learn something, because otherwise it would be a boring sort of story. Except that the 4th Doctor is so confident, it's really rather hard to think of something emotionally significant that he could learn.

After I saw "Dalek", I realised the amnesia idea would be perfect for the 9th Doctor, because, like, the whole end of the Time War would be something he'd really want to forget, and yet he'd have to come to terms with it in the end (at least to the non-degree that he had by the time we see him "Rose"). Indeed, so perfect an idea did it prove, that AstroGirl, who, by some strange mystical coincidence known as The Organiser, had been given my requests, also decided to do the 9th Doctor with Amnesia. Which just goes to show that "there's no such thing as an original idea, only an original treatment."

Someone was singing.

"Wake up pretty darlin', I know you got the Blues,
But you're still breathin', and as sure as fusion fuse,
If you lost it all, you got nothin' left to lose
Don't let the Empty get you down
Don't let the Empty get you down."

This part of the story just came to me out of the blue; the Doctor waking somewhere in the dark, with a woman singing the Blues. This was even before I changed Doctors. This woman then became central to the plot -- who was she? Why was she singing the blues?

The voice was dark and sweet, like... like something dark and sweet that he couldn't remember the name of.

This was meant to be a subtle hint of amnesia, that he couldn't remember the name of "molasses" -- besides, I like the non-cliche-ness of that sentence.

"Keep on, pretty darlin', don't let them make you crawl. Take one step and another, though you can't see at all," the voice continued.

It occurred to him that it was dark, and he was lying on something flat. He opened his eyes to dimness and shadows. The light in the place, what little there was of it, was green; not the green of trees, but something harsher. A woman was bending over him.

"You just keep --" the voice broke off. "You're awake!" He could see the flash of her smile against her dark face. He felt her hand on his brow. "Don't you worry, Elly's gonna look after you."

I did not consciously call Elly after Ella Fitzgerald, but I was very happy with the coincidence. Besides, Elly refused to be called anything else.

He smiled at her. "I feel fine, thanks," he said.

Her eyes widened. "You understood me!"

"Shouldn't I?"

"Maybe there's some hope, then, for the others," she said.

"What others?"

"The ghost took their souls," she said. "Big Jem and Ferkle and Melda and the others. Sittin' in a corner and the water got in their brains. Gone," she said sadly. "No more knowing than a bunch of vat-yeast."

Here we introduce the Big Mystery of the story. I did a LOT of brainstorming with Jonathan about this. I wanted an external cause for the amnesia, not the old "bumped his head" thing, nor psychological suppression; even though it possibly could have been plausible, since the Doctor really wouldn't want to remember his whole planet was gone, it was just... it didn't sit right with me. Of course AstroGirl's version of this, she used regeneration amnesia, which actually did make sense, but for some reason it didn't occur to me to do that.

So, anyway, an external cause was needed... so what if there was something attacking people, and the Doctor was the only one, or the first one, to survive being attacked? It tossed back and forth between whether he was the first one to not be dead, or the first one to be coherent, and as you can see, I chose the latter.

He sat up, and banged his head against an overhang. "Ow!"

I actually made him sit up and bang his head at this point because this scene was stuck, after Elly's dramatic and picturesque pronouncement, and I couldn't think of anything for the Doctor to say!

She laughed.

He glared at her, rubbing his head.

"Sorry, but you looked so surprised!"

The obstruction turned out to be a large pipe; he'd been lying on a sort of shelf underneath it, about two feet higher than the floor. Other pipes travelled up and across the walls. Rectangular shapes, boxes, huddled in clusters, their outlines broken by objects on top of them or spilling out of them. The light came from a green glowing rod sticking out of a cup on top of a box in the middle of the area. It wasn't really a room. More like a nook; a dark curtain partitioned it off from the outside.

Here we get the description of Elly's lair. A lot of brainstorming went into who Elly was, because, like, all I knew at the start was that Elly is singing the Blues because she's part of an underclass, but where and when? Making it a Generation Ship came up fairly early, because it gives a claustrophobic and desperate feel, because there's nowhere to go, nowhere to escape to, and the resources are limited. So Elly is a scavenger, and these are the things she's scavenged.

He twisted around and sat up more carefully. He touched the wall next to him, and put his feet on the floor. He could feel it all moving: a curve over an ellipse over a spiral. He recognised the particular twist of it. "We're in orbit above a planet, aren't we?"

This, of course, is an allusion to the bit in "Rose" where the Doctor tells Rose that he can feel the Earth moving. I wanted something that would be peculiarly Doctorish, which he would still have even though he has forgotten all of his past and all his know-how and all he is -- he can still feel the world turning. Or, in this case, orbiting.
"Rose" was fresh in my mind because I was re-watching the episodes I had (not all of them had been shown in Australia at the time I was writing this) so that I could attempt to get a handle on the character of the 9th Doctor, which I really wasn't that confident about being able to do.

"How can you not know that? Who are you?"

"I'm supposed to know?"

Gotta thank Jonathan for the "I'm supposed to know?" line; he'd suggested the line "You mean, people know who they are? Fascinating." I didn't end up using the line, but I'm grateful for the idea, because it turns the usual "oh no, I can't remember who I am" thing on its head.

"You don't know who you are? Your name? Your Eydee?"

Some of Elly's dialect shows here; either that or the Doctor didn't immediately translate "Eydee" as "I.D." -- either interpretation works.

"No," he shook his head.

"Your parentage? Your living space?"

"No." He frowned. "I take it that's a problem."

"Seems you're not so far better off than the others."

"I'm a little more knowing than a bunch of vat-yeast."

She smiled. "Truth," she said. "But you've still fallen. I thought you might be a Reg, but if you can't prove Eydee then you're a None just like me."

"Eydee? You mean like Identification?" He patted the pockets of his leather jacket. "I didn't have anything on me?"

Elly gestured at a pile of objects on a box near his improvised bed. "That was all you had on you."

Wonderfully honest, she was. Isn't that nice?
Yeah, it did bother me a little that she didn't just steal everything of his, because that would seem more pragmatic, especially since she'd gone to all the effort of stripping his stuff. Maybe she thought better of it when he woke up coherent.

He poked through the pile. Lumpy things like half-melted plastic and clockwork. Bits of plastic and metal. A ball of string.

I can't remember which Doctor had a ball of string in his pocket, but even if it isn't canonical, it is just the kind of thing that he would have in his pocket.

A leather wallet with a clear partition holding a completely blank piece of paper.

This of course is his piece of slightly psychic paper.

A pouch that contained disks of metal, some flat plastic squares, and something that looked like a large beetle.

This is meant to be a reference to the money-pouch belonging to the 7th Doctor, which, if I recall correctly, did include a large black beetle, which was currency on some peculiar world. But I admit I didn't go back and check.

A metal cylinder with recessed buttons and a sphere attached to the end.

This is meant to be a vague description of his sonic screwdriver.

He recognised none of it.

He tapped at the wallet, and its blank piece of paper. "That looks as if there should be something there," he said. "But there isn't. Bit like my mind, really."

Even more of a hint that this is the psychic paper, since something should be there, for perhaps the paper only looks blank because his mind is blank.

He frowned as he put the objects in various pockets. He didn't want to think about the blankness of his mind, though every item he put away reminded him of his lack of knowledge. He'd rather get his mind off... how much was off his mind.

Thanks to Vilakins for helping me strengthen this bit; she suggested that there was too abrupt a jump between looking at the psychic paper, and him suddenly going into investigation mode. So I put this bit in.

It would be even better if he could find a solution to the problem. "You mentioned others," he said to Elly. "Others who were vegetables."

"The ghost got them."

I wanted the Menace to be Sinister and Creepy. So why not have people think it was a ghost? They didn't have to be correct.

"Ghost? Maybe. Or something that seems like a ghost. There has to be something that's causing it. People don't just lose their memories, or their minds, for no reason. What did they have in common?"

Ah, the Scientific Method.

"Big Jem and Ferkle, they were bad, rough. But even the likes of them didn't deserve that. Melda, nobody would miss her neither; tongue as sharp and bitter as blight. But Withy, everyone will miss Withy. Sad little thing, scared of everything, but wouldn't harm nobody."

More on Withy later.

"Any mysterious deaths?"


He raised an eyebrow inquiringly.

"Old Githa, she was found dead without a mark on her. But she was as tough as cable, it wasn't old age she died of. The Regs, they didn't bother checking why. If it's just Nones dying, they don't care. Off to the furnace, put the ashes in recyc, that's it."

"So what are Regs and Nones?"

"A Reg, it means you're registered, on the ShipComp. You have work, you get food, living space. A None, it means you're nobody. Don't get nothing but what you can scrounge, or steal." She lifted her head defiantly. "I'm the best scrounger there is."

The Nones and the Regs came out of more brainstorming; "None" being the name for an "un-registered" -- not registered on the Ship's Computer, and of course, if you don't exist in the Computer, you have nothing. That being the underclass.

He jumped to his feet. "Let's go scrounge some information, then. Elly, isn't it?"

"Yes, I'm Elly." She assessed him with her eyes. "I think I'll call you Will."

He looked at her and shrugged. "It'll do."

I did a lot of wrestling with the name that the Doctor was called by Elly. It was Will originally, but I thought that sounded too 20th Century, so I kept on changing it around, Vil (except that was too like Vila and Villain), looking things up in my Book of Names, trying to find things that had good meanings, were suitably evocative, and could be put into forms that sounded not so contemporary. But I ended up going back to Will in the end. I liked that it has the meaning of a plain word: "will" -- as in determination, will to live and so on -- and yet is also recognisably a name and not a weird collection of letters. And I figured that if I already had an "Elly", then I could get away with a "Will", provided that the other names were suitably exotic.

Over the next few hours, it seemed like Will was leading and Elly following, instead of the other way around. Nobody they asked had seen him before, nobody knew who he was. But he didn't stop there; he asked questions of everybody about everything.

"Where does the food come from?"

"From the dispensers."

"Where do the dispensers get it?"

"From the gardens."

"Who looks after the gardens?"

"Reg BioTechs."

Again, this is like the 9th Doctor would be -- I'd seen "The Long Game" by this time, and the way he chided Cathica for lack of curiosity made me think that an amnesiac 9th Doctor would have the opposite of this trait and ask questions about everything, questioning everyone's assumptions, not taking things for granted. Plus, of course, being amnesiac, he doesn't really have assumptions to have.

And half the time the answer would be "Ask Elly, she's got a song for that."

He asked Elly about the world they were orbiting. And she sang of the fathers' fathers, who sought a new land in the skies. And how they built a Ship to sail between the stars, which could go no faster than the starlight, and so the fathers' fathers would die before they came to the land they sought. But for their children's children they would go. And so they went, in this ark, with all that was needful for life, and things that would be needful for when they arrived, and the ShipComp to run it all. And at long last, they came to journey's end, and found it an end indeed, for the planet they claimed for their new home was a doom and a curse, for though it was full of life as their seekings had said, the very ground was poison to humankind. But the Ship had no more fuel, there was nowhere they could go. So they hung above the world, trapped between death and death.

I suppose I could have written the song in question, but I wasn't sure I could do it justice in the time I had, and I felt it was more important to convey both the gist and the atmosphere of both legend and tragedy. Also establishing that Elly sings the blues almost like breathing -- she's a breath of song. That's what helps her cope.

I had a discussion with Vilakins as to whether it should be fathers' fathers or parents' parents or even mothers' mothers... I went with fathers' fathers because I felt it would have interrupted the legendary atmosphere I was trying to build if I'd gone with something less traditional.

His eyes were wet when when she was done. He shook his head sharply. "Why?" he asked. "Why is it a trap? Your fathers lived on the Ship, why can't you?"

Note that he says "your fathers", not "our fathers". He unconsciously knows that he's an outsider even now. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Logically, he probably should have said "our fathers", but I just couldn't make myself do it.

"Ship won't last forever."

"Planets don't, either."

"They last longer. And don't need Techs to keep them running."

He touched his nose and held one finger up. "Point."

"Hello, Joon," Elly said to a woman with iron-grey hair. "Glad to see you're holding up so well."

One way to make names less 20th-Century is to spell them differently, truncate them and such. (Such as was done in Blake's 7, with "Roj" instead of "Roger" for example). So here we have Joon instead of "June". Though now that I think about it, wasn't there a movie with a character called "Joon"? Oh well.

Joon shrugged. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Sorry about your husband," Elly continued.

Joon frowned. "I haven't got a husband."

"Yes, I know," Elly said, a bit puzzled. She said to Will, "Her husband's dead."

"Is this some kind of joke?" Joon said. "You're the second person to say that. I haven't got a husband, I never had a husband.

Jonathan and I were trying to come up with good and creepy examples of the kind of memory loss that would come from a creature whose function was to remove painful memories. This was the best one, I think, and I can't remember which one of us thought of it, though I think it was me. I was reminded of the bit in "Shadowlands", where Joy says to Lewis that the happiness now is going to be part of the pain later. And thus, in order to remove all the pain, the creature would have to remove all the joy that caused the pain. A point which is explicitly made later on.

You're mizzled. Completely looned.

Misled and loony, of course. I wanted to have a dialect here that felt like the kind of dialect that an underclass would speak, but which couldn't be pinned down to any specific culture, so that it would sound non-20th-Century. So I tried pinching bits from US and British slang, and bending them a little.

How can you mourn for someone who never existed?"

"Quite easily," said Will. "But you have to remember them first."

I like this shivery unconscious reference to the Time War.

He turned to Elly. "Exhibit B," he said quietly.

Himself being Exhibit A, of course.

"But our ghost seems to be getting more sophisticated."

The first reference to the fact that the beastie has gotten smarter. More on that later.

They questioned Joon closely about her movements, after they managed to convince her that they weren't insane. But there were no clues.

Will sighed. "I guess we shouldn't have expected anything. After all, if this 'ghost' can take away people's memories, it could certainly take away any memory of an encounter someone had with it."

"Excuse me, I seem to be a bit turned around," said a man in what had once been fine clothing, but was now grubby and torn.

"You're lost?" Will asked.

"Oh, I know where I am," the man said. "It's just that I shouldn't be here, in the maintenance area. I need to get back to Residential."

Elly rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, for the hundredth time, Lu."

Another truncated and change-the-spelling name; here we have Lu instead of "Louis". Though I guess some people would assume it was meant to be Chinese.

The man blinked. "How did you know my name?"

"Everybody knows Lazy Lu," Elly said.

"What did you call me?" Lu said.

"He's Lazy Lu because...?" Will asked.

"Got made None a few months back. Couldn't accept it. Said he was above menial work. That it was all a mistake."

"I don't know what you're talking about, girl," Lu said. "My doorcode doesn't seem to be working, that's all. Somebody's idea of a joke."

"And the clothes are a joke too?" Elly said.

Lu frowned. "Do you think I'd really dress in rags on purpose?"

"Exhibit C, perhaps?" Will said. "Where's this door?"

We thought of another example, where a guy forgets that he's made his girlfriend pregnant, and possibly even forgot her altogether; it would have been a scene where the Doctor and Elly stumble across the girl's brother getting into fisticuffs with the boyfriend, but I felt that there were too many difficulties with it, not least being that it would be too hard to establish that said boyfriend had genuinely forgotten, as distinct from just lying through his teeth to the girlfriend's brother. Also it was a rather sordid idea. I decided that three examples (including the Doctor) was enough.


"The one you lost the code to."

"That would be the door to the main ship areas," Elly said. "Can't get through without the right code. It's how they separate the Nones from the Regs."

"Let's go look at it."

The other good thing about the Lu example is that it then got our characters where I wanted them to go -- that is, into the Reg section of the ship, where they would be one step closer to finding out about the Sekrit Experimints of the idealistic but foolish biologist who had created the critter.

Will peered at the door, his nose almost touching the security keypad.

"What are you looking at?"

"The keys," Will said. "Seeing which ones are more worn." He straightened up and asked Lu, "How many digits in the code?"

"Five. Why?"

"Five? That shouldn't be too hard, then." Will started rapidly tapping five-digit codes into the pad, clearing and starting again when each code didn't work. "There's only a finite number of combinations after all," he said, still tapping at a rate they almost couldn't follow. "And if you take into account which keys are most worn, the probability that a correct code contains one of those keys is higher."

"But.." Elly said.

"I'm surprised people haven't tried this before. Five digits is really too small," Will said, still tapping.

"Most people can't type that fast," Elly said dryly.

"Really?" said Will. "I guess that's another thing we know about me. Speedy fingers."

I had, as part of my Research when I thought I was going to write this for the 4th Doctor, been watching 4th Doctor adventures, starting with his first, "Robot", where he demonstrated an amazing speed-typing ability. I figured that the Doctor would still have this skill, and probably not even realise that it was unusual.

The door clicked open. Brighter light streamed around the edges.

Elly blinked in surprise. "You did it!"

"At last!" Lu pushed the door open all the way and went through.

Will stepped through behind him, then paused when he noticed that Elly wasn't following. "Aren't you coming?"

"Nones aren't allowed," she said.

He tapped his head and grinned. "Ah, but I don't know that I'm not allowed."

As the 5th Doctor demonstrated in "The Visitation" (which I'd been watching for Research for another story before this one), where his local ally was trying to persuade the Doctor to go to the servants' entrance of the manor, and the Doctor refused to fall into that role. "I want to see the Lord, not his servants" is basically what he said. So, no, the Doctor doesn't ever know that he's not allowed, even when people tell him so. This time he could gleefully use his amnesia as an excuse, but he would have done it anyway.


He held out a hand. "Come on Elly, live a little! What's the worst they can do to you?"

She laughed. "When you put it that way..." She took his hand and stepped through the door.

The corridor beyond was grey, but it seemed bright compared with the dimmer lighting they'd come from. There was no sign of Lu.

I wasn't sure whether I needed to have Lu in tow for later, but I thought I'd try it first without him there, as fewer characters were easier to deal with. And I didn't end up needing him, so that was good.

They walked down the corridor, taking turns at random. They saw no sign of anyone, just closed doors at regular and irregular intervals. Their footsteps seemed louder and louder in the quiet.

Elly began to sing.

"Come on pretty darlin', come dancin' on the ring
Stomp to the rhythm, step to the swing,
They can't defeat you, so long as you can sing
Don't let the silence get you down
Don't let the silence get you down."

Interestingly enough, this third verse of Elly's song I actually wrote before I got to this scene where it was used -- I wrote that verse without knowing whether it would be used or not, wheras the first two verses were written for Scene 1, where they appeared. But I was happy to find that I could fit it in here.

"Too right," he said.

I'm not too comfortable about that, since it's too close to the Australianism "Too right, mate", but neither of my beta-readers complained about it, so it probably isn't a problem, I hope.

He started humming along. Then he said, "Wandering around like this isn't getting us anywhere."

He knocked on the next door they came to. And kept on knocking.

The door jerked open, and a man with tousled hair glared at them.

"What do you want?"

"Hello, do you know me?" Will said.

I love that line.

"Who are you people?"

"That's just what I was asking you," Will said. "You see, I have amnesia."

"If you're ill, then go to Medical," the man snapped.

Even though I'd managed to get the Doctor and Elly into the Reg section of the ship, I hadn't figured out exactly how they were going to get to the BioTech's records in order to figure out the cause of it all. So I was very happy when writing this scene and that line came along and showed me the way.

"Where's that?" Will said. "Some directions would be nice." He beamed cheerily at the man.

Thanks to one of my beta-readers (I can't remember which one) for making a remark which prompted me to add the "he beamed cheerily" bit, making it more 9th-Doctorish.

The man grumpily gave them directions which involved corridors and levels in a dizzying jumble, but Will seemed satisfied, and thanked him. Then followed more corridors, some level changes, and more turns and corridors, but finally they were outside a door labelled "Medical". The area seemed more populated, but most of the people either ignored them or stared at them rudely.

Will pushed the door open and a loud buzzer sounded. The room they entered had seats around the walls, and a window at which a bored-looking woman was sitting.

"ID please," she said.

Will smiled ruefully. "That's just the problem. I've got amnesia. I don't know who I am, let alone what my ID code should be."

"Amnesia?" The woman looked sceptical.

"Yes, there's been sort of an outbreak of it," Will said, speaking in a carrying tone. "Also a bunch of people with brains like vegetables. Had any similar cases recently?"

He's just the type to barge in, y'see.

"I'm not --" the woman began, but was interrupted by a voice behind her.

"Send them through." It was an older man in a rumpled green uniform with three bands on his arm.

I wanted to convey this MedTech as being sympathetic and rather worried about this puzzling medical conundrum, and I figured a rumpled uniform would convey that he was more interested in getting the work done than being a stickler for regulations.

The woman buzzed them through.

"I'm MedTech Klane," the man said, as they followed him into a medical examination room. "You say you've seen other cases of brain-trauma?"

I had a lot of problems with Klane's name. He wanted to be Kline, but of course, that's too similar to Klyn from Blake's 7, and I think another Kline as well. Which would be too distracting for me and my audience. But I wanted something similar-sounding.

"Not me, Elly here," Will said.

"I haven't had any other cases reported," Klane said.

"They were Nones," Elly said. "Of course they weren't reported."

Killing two birds with one stone: establishing yet again how the Nones are an underclass, and pointing out that the MedTech doesn't know the full direness of the situation.

"Other cases?" Will said. "I take it you have at least one case here?"

Quick off the mark, is our Doctor.

"I am not at liberty to discuss --" Klane began.

Will interrupted him. "Come on, man, people are dying! We need to find what's causing this, find a pattern!"

"People are dying?" Klane said.

"One death so far, an old woman," Will said. "Her body's ashes now, so it's a bit late for a forensic examination."

Another bit of serendipity. This being a Generation Ship, I'd mentioned that her body would have gone into recycling, but it didn't occur to me until I got to this bit that that would also prove conveniently an impediment for investigation.

"You have no evidence that it's connected," Klane said.

Will tapped his nose. "The nose knows," he said. "It does fit. The other people who were affected, they were young, healthy, right? But having your brains scrambled would be a heck of a shock to the system. Old woman, not so robust, big shock, probably scrambled the body's electrical system -- boom -- heart attack."

I had to imply that part of his deduction was intuition, because, even though I, the author, knew that was the reason for the death, nobody had any actual evidence for it.

"You certainly don't sound like a None..." Klane said musingly.

He never does.

"Yeah, Elly didn't think so either," Will said. "Me, I don't know. I just woke up a few hours ago with no memory of who I was."

"But you're functioning," Klane said.

"Yeah, interesting, isn't it?" Will said. "If I'd lost every single memory, then I wouldn't even remember how to speak. So even if it's a case of damaged neural connections, it's something very selective, very precise."

However much I do enjoy them, I also get a bit tired of the medical inaccuracy of the classic loss-of-identity amnesia story, because, contrary to the cliche, you don't get it by being bopped on the head by a frying pan. The most usual sort of amnesia is Traumatic Amnesia, where one forgets the moments (hours) before a head-trauma injury, because the injury itself causes some damage which disrupts those memories. But losing one's identity is more likely to be Hysterical Amnesia, something completely psychological, and even then, that's more likely to be the suppression of a particular traumatic event, rather than a complete loss of identity. Otherwise, if one had had sufficient actual brain damage to make one forget one's identity, one would be suffering from, like, brain damage, y'know? Which would give you things like blindness and speech impediments and stuff. So I wanted to make a bit of a point about that.

"But you said there was an outbreak of amnesia...?"

"Yeah, we've come across at least two other cases: one a man who'd forgotten that he'd been deregistered, and another of a woman who not only forgot that her husband was dead, but forgot that she'd ever had a husband. As I said, very selective and precise. Which is why I don't think it's a disease. People are being attacked, by something with intelligence." Will caught Klane's eyes and held them in an unblinking stare. "So tell me about this other case of yours."

The unblinking stare is meant to evoke that way that the 7th Doctor has of, shall we say, mesmerising people sometimes. Because it's true, as one of my beta-readers pointed out, that there's no real reason why Klane would give the Doctor the information -- but he had to have the information for the plot. So I had to solve this somehow.

Without really understanding why, Klane found himself bringing up the details of the case. BioTech Level 3 Marton, found by his assistant at the start of daycycle about a workcycle ago.

"So what was he working on?" Will asked. "What biological thing was he studying?"

"Not a disease," Klane said. "That was checked first thing. He wasn't in the low-class biologicals area. He was studying a lifeform from the planet below."

"He was studying an alien lifeform? And you didn't think that was suspicious?"

"It was perfectly harmless! Wouldn't have been let on board otherwise."

Thus do plot-strands cling together. The Amnesia Monster had to come from somewhere. But if this was a Generation Ship, they wouldn't be getting things from elsewhere, but if they were in orbit above a planet, they would. (And, no, I didn't think a Random Alien Intruder In The Middle Of Deep Space was all that likely) But if they were in orbit above a planet, why was there an underclass? Why were they stuck on the ship? Well, they were stuck on the ship because... they couldn't leave. Because the planet was uninhabitable but they didn't have the resources to leave.
That's basically how all these things led to each other.

"But maybe Marton did something to it," Will said. "Something that made it not harmless. Did you look at his notes?"

"They were password-locked," Klane said.

"Surely you could use an emergency override," Will said. "'Cause I'm telling you, this looks like an emergency to me."

"Yes, I do see your point," Klane said testily. He typed in a few commands, and Marton's notes appeared on the screen.

Well, there had to be a reason why Klane hadn't read Marton's notes.

Will read them impatiently over Klane's shoulder.

"Oh my," said Klane.

"Fool!" Will said. "Idealistic fool. Well, he paid for it in the end, though it looks like others have paid too. Including me."

"What did he do?" Elly asked.

"He took a relatively harmless animal, took its genes and bred the creature that became your ghost. All with the best of intentions." Will sighed. "There is an animal that lives on the planet below, which has a fascinating self-defence mechanism. When a hungry or angry predator threatens it, it makes them forget that they want to attack. Shuts down their hunger or anger. Marton got the idea that if he could enhance that ability, tune it towards emotional pain, that he would have the perfect solution to this crowded death-trap. An opiate for the people. To make them forget how unhappy they are."

Jonathan and I did a lot of brainstorming about the nature of the creature which was causing the amnesia. Was it an alien? A monster? A mutated None? A "reactor-room rat"? An over-zealous robot created by an idealistic fool as a way to solve the "None Problem"? Problem was, how could we have something that would be able to wipe memories so selectively, and without people realising what had happened? If it was a natural critter, why would it be making people forget things? How could amnesia-induction have evolved naturally? But if it was a robot, why was it killing and/or damaging people? If it was an alien, what was it doing on the Ship? If it was a mutant, what survival-of-the-fittest mechanism would make it an amnesia-inducer, and why this specific kind of amnesia? I really liked the idea of a natural alien beastie which had a self-defence mechanism against predators, which involved mind-wiping (and if it was a psi power, then that would take care of all the handwaving and memory restoration problems). Then we have a BioTech who takes the genes from the original creature and makes a super-amnesia-beastie which is designed to make people forget emotional pain, which he does for purely idealistic reasons...

I was slightly worried about having Will say "an opiate for the people" since it was an allusion to a classic quote which he shouldn't be able to remember. But it was so fitting that I decided to leave it in anyway.

Klane tapped the screen. "And then when he realised he'd made a mistake, made it too powerful, realised it had to be destroyed..."

"He probably tried to destroy it," Will finished, "and it attacked him. "Only this creature is so powerful it didn't just make Marton forget, it scrambled his brains."

Automatic instinctive self-defence mechanism. How to have a dangerous monster without it being an evil monster.

"And now this thing is loose on the Ship?" Elly said. "Attacking people who attack it?"

"Or attacking people who are afraid of it," Will said thoughtfully. "You said that Withy wouldn't harm anyone, was afraid of everything."

When I was nutting out this story, I wasn't sure whether the Monster should be evil and to-be-vanquished (thus the Doctor would get his memories back when he killed it), or whether it should be a poor misunderstood critter who only attacked people because of ignorance and instinct, who could be redeemed. I preferred the redemption path; for one thing, it wouldn't be fitting that the Doctor solved this problem with a death, when the stuff that he'd forgotten was death on the grandest scale. It wouldn't be very healing for him.

"Would it be so bad to let it stay where it is?" Klane said. "After all, it is doing its job -- making people forget their pain. It's amazing -- instant happiness!"

Naive, idealistic simplistic assumption about the nature of pain and happiness on Klane's part, and of course on Marton's part when he made the beastie. All too common a fallacy.

"It's not amazing, it's appalling," said Will. "It isn't instant happiness, it's instant numbness. Pain has got its place. Pain tells you that something is wrong. If you have a splinter in your finger, it hurts, and you take it out. But what if it didn't hurt? The finger would get infected, but you wouldn't mind, because you wouldn't be in any pain. And then the finger gets so badly infected it just rots to the bone. Maybe you'd notice it then, but it's too late -- you've lost your finger."

Example taken from the fact (gotten from various sources including that most interesting book, "The Problem of Pain") that people actually misunderstood for centuries why it was that leprosy was so disfiguring, causing people to have rotting sores and lose their fingers and so on. It wasn't actually because leprosy caused the rotting itself, it was because leprosy destroys the pain nerves -- which means that people can't detect when their body has been damaged, so they don't do anything to remedy the damage (such as not walking on feet with sores on them) and so the damage just gets worse, either actively or simply from sheer neglect. Hence the disfigurements.

"And if you have a pain for which there is no cure?" Klane said. "If the patient is dying, numbness is a mercy."

And this is really the reason for the title of the story, too. The amnesia the Doctor had been given was anaesthesia; a numbness which side-tracked the pain, but didn't help him deal with it. Mind you, in this scenario, the anaesthesia was probably helpful, as a temporary measure to help him get his feet under him, (and prevent him from becoming a terminal patient) but anaesthesia is never a cure for anything.

"I'm not going to assume that this patient is dying," Will said.

Here is a key: is the patient dying or not? Is the cause hopeless or not? The Doctor never assumes that the cause is hopeless. Even if he himself has to die to save the cause (as we know from "Dalek" and "World War Three" and "Parting of the Ways").

"But sometimes a patient is in so much pain that they take their own life," Klane said gently.

"It's got to be better to have a choice," Will said. "It's got to be."

"You forgot your whole life," Elly said. "What kind of pain would that have been?"

Another key point, of course. The Doctor has forgotten his whole life, because everything about his past, his identity, is tied up with the pain of the fact that he's the last Time Lord in existence.

"Yeah, that sort of worries me," Will said softly.

"Don't let the Empty get you down," Elly whispered.

Yay, Elly!

He smiled at her. "Right," he said. He turned to Klane. "We need to find this creature."

"But you can't attack it, it will destroy you," Klane said.

"I'm not going to attack it," Will said. "I'm going to reason with it."

Again, the way the Doctor is: negotiate first, toss in the anti-plastic only as a last resort.

"But it's just a dumb animal," Klane said.

"Maybe," Will said. "Maybe not. We still have to find it. How?"

"If Marton followed the protocols, it should have a radioactive tag. A security scan should reveal its location." Klane tapped a few commands. A schematic of the ship showed on the screen, with a cluster of glowing dots in one area. "That's Zoological, that's where the experimental animals are... and they're all accounted for. Except for Marton's creature. It isn't anywhere on the ship."

"Oh, it's here all right," Will said. "It's hiding."

"Or Marton didn't follow the protocol," Klane said.

"Oh, I think he did," Will said. "He wouldn't have any reason not to, not when he started. Run the scan back to yesterday, see what it shows."

Klane did so. The dots had moved around, but there was another dot, far away from the others.

"That's the maintenance area," Elly said.

"There's your ghost," Will said.

"But how could it hide from the scan?" Klane said. "The tags are indelible."

"I know where it is," Will said. "In the reactor area. If it's well-shielded, that will block the scan. If it isn't, then the radiation will interfere with the signal. Either way, it's hidden." He raised his eyebrows. "So much for the 'dumb animal' theory."

I love it when a plan comes together. I had always intended that the beastie would have gotten demonstrably smarter (due to getting an intelligence boost by absorbing the Doctor's memories) but, since it was lurking away in the shadows, it would be rather hard to actually demonstrate that it was smarter. But when I got to writing this bit, it turned out all nicely.

Klane managed to rustle up a tranqulizer gun from Zoological, as well as a portable detector. Nobody questioned that Will was the one who was going to search for the creature.

"I'm going with you," Elly said.

As a good companion should. (grin)

"No you're not. It's too dangerous."

"I'm not afraid," she said.

"I know. But I am," Will said. "I'm afraid that if you meet this creature, it will take away what makes you you. You have a way of taking your pain and transmuting it into something beautiful." He put his hand to her cheek. "That's something precious, and I couldn't bear to see it anaesthetised away."

"But what if it does that to you?"

"It already has. How does your song go? If you lost it all, you got nothing left to lose." He smiled at her. "But I've got one thing left to lose: you. Don't follow me."

One never really has nothing to lose.

It was stark and bright in the reactor area; stark and full of shadows. Will looked down at the detector but it was useless. He shoved it in a pocket. He could feel a prickle on his skin; the tingle of beta particles in the air. Coolant tubes gathered overhead; rows of cylinders surrounded him.

He heard a quiet scuffle behind him. Will whirled and pointed the tranq gun in the direction of the noise. Then he put it down with a sigh. "Elly! I told you not to follow me!"

Elly smiled ruefully. "I do never stay put," she said.

I rewrote that line a few times, because I wanted it to be dialect, but not too much one way or another.

"Stay behind me, at least," said Will.

They walked on in silence. They saw nothing.

"This is stupid," Will muttered, and put the tranq gun in another pocket. He called out, "I just want to talk with you!"

There was a skittering noise, and Elly gasped. Will whirled. Something had dropped from above, and was clinging to the top of her head. Something not large, about the size of a squirrel, with delicate jointed legs and feather-like dove-grey fur; the creature itself. Elly stood quite still, frozen.

I wanted the beastie to be something alien, yet small and fragile, something which is not a predator, but prey that hides like a rabbit hides -- after all, something with a defence mechanism of induced amnesia isn't the kind of thing which is a predator, is it? I also wanted it to be something that was alien, but not ugly. The description is rather vague, I know. It just felt as if it would be rather lame to describe it as a cross between a squirrel, a crab, and a bird...

"Don't!" Will cried. "Don't harm her!"

I do not harm those who intend me no harm.

"You're telepathic."

This mouth was not made for speech.

I had to make it telepathic, because, like, how was it going to communicate otherwise? It wouldn't have had speech organs, it had been created from a dumb critter.

But I have learned so much since I was born. I am a thousand times smarter since then.

Yes, I know "I've grown a thousand times smarter since then" is from TRON.

But there are still things I do not understand. You have fear and pain. Why? I took your pain away. Why do you fear again?

"I fear for Elly. For what you could do to her."

I take away the painful memories. I make things better.

The creature reflecting the attitudes of its creator.

"No, you don't make things better! You take away the memories of the problem, but the problem is still there."

Some problems cannot be overcome.

"That doesn't matter. Look at her," Will said. "Look at her mind."

This mind is different. She has pain, but she does not fear it.

"Yes!" Will said. "She's overcome her pain, and is the stronger for it."

"...suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope." (Romans 5:3-4)

But others cannot. It is better to forget, than to despair of life.

"Like that woman Joon? She lost her husband, and despaired? But don't you understand? You took away more than her pain. You took away her joy. All her memories of her husband, all the things that made her love him, all the good things, you took them away too. You took it away, because the pain was tied with the love."

Ref "Shadowlands" as I mentioned above.

I was not speaking of Joon. I was speaking of you.

Will gaped at it. Before he could say anything, the creature jumped off Elly's head and onto Will's shoulder. He stood very still, aware of its feathery softness brushing against his ear. Elly blinked and stirred in front of him.

"Why?" he asked it. "Who did I lose? Wife? Child? Who?"


I love how this line tells the absolute truth, yet is misleading at the same time.

"Okay, so I lost everyone. I don't exactly have them now either, do I?"

And it was your fault.

Will was silent.

Speechless, in fact. I couldn't think of a retort for him, so that's why Elly jumps into the conversation at this point.

Elly addressed the creature. "Why did you kill old woman Githa?"

It was an accident.

"But MedTech Marton wasn't an accident, was it?"

He tried to kill me. I defended myself. Instinct.

"And I suppose you were defending yourself from Big Jem and Ferkle," Elly said. "But there is no way in the world you were defending yourself against Withy!"

I was afraid. She was so afraid. The fear! It was too much. I'm sorry.

"But sorry isn't good enough," Will said implacably. "Sorry isn't ever good enough. Wouldn't it be better if you just forgot? Forgot the pain of the guilt?"

I love it when a plan comes together, even when one isn't planning it. When I'd written the paragraph describing the victims including Withy, she was just a throwaway line. But even though I knew that the Beastie would have to be persuaded to give the Doctor's memories back, I didn't know what the clinching argument would be until I was actually writing this scene.


"Wouldn't it?" Will said in a voice of iron.


"I want my life back!" Will said. "Despite the pain. I need to know!"

This, of course, was the lesson that the 9th Doctor needed to learn; to come to realise that it's better to know yourself, even if there is pain, than to be half a person living in blissful ignorance.

Even if the pain is too much to bear?

"He's not gonna take his life," Elly said. She gazed unflinchingly at Will. "Because he's gonna promise me not to, aren't you, Will?"

Will pursed his lips, then nodded. "I promise."

Go, Elly!

Very well. Will felt a prickle against the side of his face, as the creature touched him.

He had thought he was prepared for the worst. He wasn't.

Nine hundred years of joy and pain crashed in on him. He remembered starry Gallifreyan nights, building his first sonic screwdriver, learning Venusian karate; travelling, ever wandering, Orion, Draconis, Mars, Earth; dear sweet Jo Grant, the eternal Brigadier, feisty Sarah-Jane, huntress Leela, explosive Ace, incomparable Romana; saving the world, again and again, the Zygons, the Autons, the Silurians, the Daleks.

He remembered. He remembered it all. The death, the destruction, the War. And the Burning. Ten million sudden stars as the Dalek fleet burned, the Pyrrhic victory to end all Pyrrhic victories: his people, his planet burning in the same conflagration. By his hand. Dead by his hand. He should never have survived.

Pain and grief drove him to his knees. He wept.

I wrote the "remembrance" bits above before I wrote the scene they were part of. There was quite a bit of that in this story; writing things out of order. It seemed to work anyway.

I went back and watched "Dalek" (and transcribed that first scene between the Doctor and the Dalek) to find out precisely what was said about the destruction of Gallifrey -- how many Dalek ships and so on. I didn't know if more had been said later on in the series (I hadn't seen the whole series yet at that point) but I wanted to be as accurate as I could be, and as vague as I could get away with. Much polishing was done on those paragraphs.

Someone was hugging him, speaking soothingly in his ear.

"It's okay, it's okay," Elly said. "Just you cry then, it's okay."

"It's not okay," he said.

"You lost your family, I know that's bad..." Elly said.

"You don't understand," he said. "I didn't lose my family. I destroyed my people. My entire race."

Aye, there's the rub, the sting in the tail... Ah, the angst, the angst! (evil grin)

"It was an accident, right?" Elly asked.

"Is friendly fire an accident?" he said. "To destroy our enemies, I destroyed my people as well. Thought I was saving the universe."

"Well, the universe is still here," Elly said. "Guess you saved it."

"Guess I did," he said.

I didn't anticipate those last two lines, very glad of them when they came. Turns despair into hope.

"Come with me, Elly. Come travel the universe with me."

They stood outside a tall blue box with double doors at the front. It looked incongruous against the steely grey walls. The creature was sitting on Elly's shoulder. She'd decided to call it Vilka.

Elly is one who Names. I'd toyed with the idea of making it so that the Nones were the only ones who actually had names, while the Regs just went by their job designation and ID, but that would probably have been belabouring the point, and Jonathan persuaded me not to.
Vilakins actually wondered if I'd named Vilka after Vila Restal, but if that was the case, it wasn't conscious.

Elly shook her head.

"Why ever not?"

"If I went with you, I'd be running away. I do never run away from nothing my whole life, not gonna start now. I have my songs to sing. You have to make your own songs, Will."

"Doctor. I'm the Doctor," he said.

"You're a MedTech, then?"

"Not that kind of doctor," he said. "Though I do try to make things better. Save the world, that sort of thing."

It's a pity I deleted my notes after I'd finished this. I have a vague recollection that I was originally going to end the story with a line something like: "I'm the Doctor. Saving the world is what I do."

He looked at her. "Are you sure you won't come with me?"

"I have a job to do." She touched Vilka on her shoulder. "We have a job to do."


Vilka answered, To make the planet fit for humans -- or humans fit for the planet. Heavy metal poisons are not insurmountable.

I stole the "heavy metal poisons" idea from the planet Grayson in the Honor Harrington series.

"I know that but --"

I know what you know, Vilka sent. And what the Tech who created me knew. We can bridge the gap.

This is the closest I came to explaining what had actually happened; that the beastie, when it did its thing, actually took the memories of those it zapped -- so of course, when it zapped the Doctor's memories, it got all his memories, and became a thousand times smarter.

"Because I'm not afraid of him," Elly said. "We don't have to die on the Ship. We can have a new home. But only if I stay and help. I can't go."

When Jonathan and I were brainstorming, there was more emphasis on the fact that Elly wasn't afraid, and therefore was the only person who could interact with the beastie without getting zapped. It only just got this mention in the actual story...

"And I can't stay," the Doctor said. "I don't belong here."

"Why not?" Elly said. "You could help."

He shook his head. "I'm not human, Elly. I couldn't stay." He snorted. "Besides, terraforming is a long, boring business. Not my style." He gazed at Elly. "Are you sure you won't come?"

It was tough writing this bit, because I knew that the Doctor would have to leave Elly behind, but I didn't want him to be crushed by her rejection, because, like, he's very emotionally vulnerable at this point, because he's having to come to terms all over again with the destruction of Gallifrey. So I was very glad that it occurred to me that he probably would find terraforming (or bio-adaption) a rather long, boring process that he wouldn't want to stick around for.

She shook her head.

"Right. I'll be off then," said the Doctor.

Very 9th-Doctor.

The console room felt cold and empty, despite the warm yellow light.

Still sad, of course, but not completely crushed.

"Sing my own songs? She must be joking!" He spread his fingers over the newly-familiar controls, and initiated the dematerialization sequence, no particular destination in mind. He would never fit in there. Would never fit in anywhere. And she wanted him to sing?

"Oh, what the hell. Can't hurt."

He thought for a few minutes, and began to sing, stealing the tune and half the words from a popular Earth singer; it seemed appropriate.

"It's 'bout as bad as it could be
Seems everybody's hunting me
I should be dead and in decay
Yeah, it just ain't been my day
On the edge of lunacy

Up - up - up -
Can only go up from here
Up - up - up -
Up where the clouds gonna clear
Up - up - up -
There's no way but up from here!"

He broke off and shook his head. "Nuts!" But despite himself he smiled. He patted the edge of the console. "Just you and me, old girl. Just you and me. The universe is waiting."

I actually wrote this scene when I was about half-way through the story. I'd heard Shania Twain's "Up" on the radio, and thought that it was perfect for the mood I wanted at the end of this story; that "It's 'bout as bad as is can be, but there's no way but up from here." Though I hadn't actually written the scene where Elly declines to come along with the Doctor, I knew that it would have to end that way (since I wasn't wanting to make this AU) and I did have scribbled down that she'd tell the Doctor that he would have to sing his own songs... but it was still pure self-indulgence on my part to have the Doctor compose a filk. (grin)

Author's Notes:

Written for the "Bad Cliches Made Good" ficathon, with this request of AstroGirl: "Amnesia!", in Doctor Who.

I was originally intending to do this with the 4th Doctor, as a challenge, but then I saw "Dalek" and knew that the 9th Doctor was the perfect candidate.

Thanks muchly to Jonathan Burns for brainstorming, and to Nicola Mody and John Hall for beta-reading.

As you can see from above, there was much brainstorming with Jonathan!

For the curious, the song which the Doctor filked was "Up" by Shania Twain. Elly's song was her own.

The full text of Elly's song is as follows (including the verse that got interrupted):

Elly's Song

Wake up pretty darlin', I know you got the Blues,
But you're still breathin', and as sure as fusion fuse,
If you lost it all, you got nothin' left to lose
Don't let the Empty get you down
Don't let the Empty get you down.

Keep on, pretty darlin', don't let them make you crawl
Take one step and another, though you can't see at all
You just keep going, 'cause it's fear that makes you fall
Don't let the darkness get you down
Don't let the darkness get you down

Come on pretty darlin', come dancin' on the ring
Stomp to the rhythm, step to the swing,
They can't defeat you, so long as you can sing
Don't let the silence get you down
Don't let the silence get you down

I went and purchased some classic blues compilation CDs just to get more of a feel for the Blues, for when I was writing this. No, I don't know what the tune is for this, except that I did try to make the words feel like they were sung to some sort of Blues tune...

For the even more curious, I actually wrote a longer filk for the Doctor, though only stuck to the first verse in the story.

I just couldn't resist doing the whole filk.

The third verse, strangely enough, needs to be sung with an American accent or it won't rhyme. Too much listening to Shania Twain on my part, I think.

Well, every time that song came up in my random mix of .ogg files playing on my computer, I'd sing the Doctor version over the top of the original. But I'd always forget the first line of the third verse...

Doctor Looking Up

It's a lame title, but I couldn't think of a better one. I'd mentally dubbed it "The Doctor's Song", maybe I should have stuck with that...

(a filk of "Up" by Shania Twain, from the point of view of the 9th Doctor)

It's 'bout as bad as it could be
Seems everybody's hunting me
I should be dead and in decay
Yeah, it just ain't been my day
On the edge of lunacy

Now my companion's acting weird
It's even badder than I feared
I'd rather go to different spots --
not play connect the dots
I just wanna disappear

Up - up - up -
Can only go up from here
Up - up - up -
Up where the clouds gonna clear
Up - up - up -
There's no way but up from here

So now we're dodging laser blasts
Evading clouds of poison gas
There are so many reasons why
Things like that can make you die
Just gotta learn to run real fast


When everything is goin' wrong
Don't worry it won't last for long
Yeah, it's all gonna come around
Don't go let it get you down
You gotta keep on holding on

It's 'bout as bad as it could be
Seems everybody's hunting me
I should be dead and in decay
It just ain't been my day
On the edge of lunacy


Tha-a-at's all folks!

Feel free to make a comment.