The Doctor knew better than anyone that the TARDIS’ rooms and passages tended not to be fixed points in space, but he had always felt as if he knew every nook and cranny like the back of his…well…whatever the back of his current hand looked like.
He had been traveling longer in his TARDIS than any other Time Lord had ever spent with theirs, and so he presumed he had a handle on the rooms and passages not always being where they were the last time they were…well…wherever they were. It seemed now that he was mistaken.
It was a problem the Doctor mulled over as he wandered down one unparticular passage he was sure he’d never seen before. Well, he couldn’t be too sure, but he thought he was sure, at least so far as he could be sure that he was sure. Perhaps he was just in a daze since the urge to see it again had struck him suddenly out of nowhere. It had been nagging at him like a ceaseless whisper in his ear for long enough to become an incessant itch that needed to be scratched. He had to see it!
He was starting to get a headache. He’d been wandering around for what felt like a decade and he still hadn’t found what he was looking for. What confounded the issue was that the Doctor could find some rooms without any problem—or too much of a problem. The control room, for example, always seemed fairly simple to get back to, although there was that one instance, just after having regenerated for the fourth time, when he used his previous self’s absurdly long scarf as a sort of breadcrumb trail to find his way back. But he had attributed that bout of disorientation to a particularly traumatic regeneration. All in all, the control room always seemed to be where and when he needed it. Likewise, whatever rooms his various companions used as their own personal space during their stay generally kept close to the control room and could easily be found. The bathroom, too, always seemed within a hop, skip, and a short jump. It was a feature all his companions had always seemed thankful for.
Even the swimming pool tended to stay in the same general vicinity of wherever it previously was. The Doctor presumed it had something to do with drainage but he wasn’t completely convinced. And the library was always two lefts, five rights, and down the spiral stairs. Except for that one time it wasn’t, but that was K-9’s fault. The silly little dog though it was unnecessary for there to be a library when he had already stored all the books in his databanks, and subsequently decided to delete it. Luckily the Doctor was able to restore it, although not without the tragic loss of an entire collection of choose-your-own-adventure novels. He quite missed those.
The Doctor rounded a bend, strolled down a corridor, made two left turns followed by three right turns, and had no idea where he was. How was this possible? He wasn’t sure it was even remotely probable. Nevertheless, it was undeniable. He was lost in his own TARDIS. If the Corsair was still alive to hear about this the Doctor would hear no end of it!
He sort of recognised the area; this part of the TARDIS, like most areas, wasn’t quite the same as the rest. All the surfaces here were a coppery color, and the floor was made of fibercrete grating that allowed the blue sub-lighting to rise up and illuminate the corridors in a pleasant, if not haunting glow the Doctor always found soothing. He was pretty sure he’d been here before. Yes, he had been here, he was sure of it! A particularly nondescript door to his left looked very familiar indeed. This was it. This was the room he was looking for!
The Doctor rushed over and slammed the heel of his fist onto the access key and stood there with a broad, delirious grin as the door slid open. His joy waned, as did his smile, the instant he saw that he had only found the pantry. Not what he was looking for, although quite useful if he could ever find his way back. He wasn’t sure he could. He starred blankly as the door slid closed. Feeling defeated, he continued onward.
The Doctor kept walking until things started to look different again. This area of the TARDIS was stark hospital white, with a repeating pattern of arrows every two feet along the center of the walls. The arrows on both walls all pointed in the same direction, and although the Doctor couldn’t be sure they were pointing in the direction he wanted to go at least there was a general feeling of heading towards something. So when he skidded to a halt the instant he recognised a door he had just taken two steps passed, optimism quickly took hold. This was definitely the door he’d been looking for!
He slammed the heel of his palm on the access key, and this time he was surprised to be so pleasantly disappointed. It still wasn’t the room he was looking for, but it was a room he had completely forgotten about for some time, a room that had once brought him, as well as a few of his companions, great joy.
The Esher room, as they had called it, was an example of insanity expressed through architecture; stairways going horizontal, or coming down from the ceiling, walkways doing the same, and all sorts of bridges, tunnels, and crevices that defied any rational orientation of a three-dimensional structure obeying the laws of gravity. He had the TARDIS construct it on a dare, so to speak, or more aptly, to prove to his companion Tegan that such a structure could indeed exist. The inspiration came from the mind of M. C. Esher, one of Tegan's favorite artists. Even after fully accepting the TARDIS as an extra dimensional space she didn’t believe it was possible to actually build a room like those in Esher’s paintings. But the Doctor had done it, or, more accurately, he had loosely programmed the concept into the TARDIS and the TARDIS had managed to construct it.
The Doctor took a step into the room but froze before the heel of his shoe landed. All the memories of the times he, Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric had in this room flooded back to him. He suddenly didn’t want to go in. He remembered how it had made Adric smile, which was something of a small miracle. The boy was insufferably serious all the time, but the Esher room had coaxed to the surface the simple folly of youth he kept sequestered deep within himself.
The games of hind-and-seek that had taken place here were the stuff of legend. If he listened carefully, the Doctor could still hear the echoes of laughter reverberating throughout the infinite hallways and passages.
With the ghosts of joy still ringing in his mind he backed away from the door, letting it slide close with a whimpering hiss. He wasn’t sure he could ever step inside the Esher room again. The thought of jettisoning it briefly came to mind before it was chased away by nostalgic ghosts.
The Doctor dragged his feet down the corridor and stopped at a five-way intersection. With his hands on his hips he took stock of the situation. At the rate he was going he wasn’t sure he’d ever find the room he was looking for. He almost wanted to turn back. It would be easy now. He could chalk it up to a valiant effort thwarted by his ancient memory and the TARDIS’ folly.
No, he had to go on. It called to him.
The passage gradually turned to dull silver as he continued searching for his destination, and with each door he passed, and each turn he took, he became more certain he would never find it. And maybe that was for the best, he thought. It wasn’t as if what he was looking for was going to make him happy, in fact, it would probably make his mood even more sullen. But that didn’t matter, not really. He wanted to see it. He needed to see it.
His mind wandered towards darker memories until he happened upon a door after rounding an awkwardly angled bend in the corridor. He didn’t let his hopes get the better of him as he approached the door with suspicion and slowly placed his hand against the access key. He hadn’t realised his eyes were closed until the door hissed open and he didn’t see anything. Slowly, he peeked out from between his hopes and fears.
Once again it wasn’t the correct room, but the faint aroma of popcorn was too enticing to ignore. With his mouth watering, he stepped in.
The Doctor reached out to his sides as he walked down the gently sloped center aisle that was lit by a row of sequent lights on either side, and brushed his hands along the backs of the wide, comfy seats as he made his way towards the wall-filling screen at the far end of the room. He walked all the way down to the bottom of the slope where the massive screen was just a few meters away and took up his entire field of vision, and plopped down in the aisle seat to his left.
He chuckled at the memory of Romana protesting such close proximity to the screen. “It will ruin your eyes”, she always scolded. Only occasionally could he convince her to sit so close, and although she said she hated it, he caught her wearing a smile more than once as her eyes grew wide and filled with awe.
The two of them had come here many times to watch old Earth films. Some she enjoyed, some not so much, but he always had fun watching movies with her. He thought films should be watched with friends, and he never liked watching them alone. He had taken most of his companions here at one time or another, and his greatest joy was seeing how each of them reacted to all kinds of different films. Adric adored westerns; Sara Jane loved murder mysteries; Jamie made him play Braveheart nearly a dozen times. Tegan and Nyssa made him watch romance films from countless eras of Earth’s history. He only watched one film with Captain Jack. It was the Captain’s choice and The Doctor thought it was a tad too gratuitous.
For an instant he thought he heard the projector’s mechanical thrum and the flapping of film from behind him, but when he turned to look all he saw was rows of empty seats. The room suddenly felt too big and too small all at the same time and with that the Doctor left the cinema room with the sounds of laughter and good conversation echoing in his thoughts, and continued on his trek to find the room he was looking for. He was starting to think seriously that he might not be able to find it. Maybe the TARDIS was trying to tell him something by messing with its arrangement.
'You would do that, wouldn’t you?'
As if the TARDIS understood, a fluorescent orange glow swelled from down the corridor to his right. 'Thanks, old girl,' he said, before darting off in the direction of the glow.
As he carefully took one step after another he began to get the feeling that he might be on the right path after all. The sweet, faintly coppery scent that swelled the closer he got to the orange glow caused rippling waves of nostalgia to wash over him. The Doctor’s hearts fluttered in response, and he knew that he was indeed headed in the right direction at last.
A staircase leading downward before veering diagonally to the right brought him to a dead end that was filled with warm orange light. The light came from a thin illuminated strip bordering a door he hadn’t seen in far longer than he cared to remember. The wistfully familiar smell was strong, and he knew that once he opened the door it would be overpowering. The door itself had no access key to open it because it didn’t need one. This door would only open in the presence of someone from the planet Gallifrey. He had never shown the room to any of his companions as it was a secret too powerful to entrust even to his closest friends, to even his family.
As the Doctor took another step closer it hissed open. His knees buckled, and he leaned on the wall to his right for support as the rich, powerful aroma of his home planet filled his lungs. Beyond the door was a room of unremarkable proportions, at least in no way unusual for the TARDIS, but still beautifully designed. Seemingly endless rows and tiers of vibrant, richly hued plants filled the space. Colours ranged from deep maroon to fiery orange, blazing yellows to luscious pinks. The occasional purple and blue flowers with contrasting leaves rounded out the full range of the typical Gallifreyan colour palette.
The Doctor slowly—humbly—walked through the arboretum, occasionally grazing a leaf with his fingertips, or bringing a vibrant flower up to his nose for a long sniff. As he inhaled the aroma of a particularly spectacular Sun-Nova orchid, a single teardrop splashed onto one of its fluorescent petals. He could barely bring himself to speak in its presence, but managed to clear the lump in his throat just enough to softly utter a few precious words. 'Mother always adored you.'
He continued through the maze of lush foliage, taking less notice of his surroundings the closer he got to what he was looking for. Eventually he happened upon a small circular grotto. It was only a few meters across, but the glimmering ball of light that hung above it made the space feel much larger. This was the place he was looking for. The sight of it made his hearts twinge and quiver. Now that he was here he almost didn’t want to go any further. He wanted to turn and run away. He didn’t want to see it, but he did. He really did.
There was a semi-circular stone bench engraved with High Gallifreyan symbols upon which the Doctor sat reverently. He focused his water-logged eyes on the squat bluestone pillar in the center of the grotto, which was filled with dark moist earth perfectly level with its walls. In the center grew a single plant with dagger-sharp thorns, it’s only flower a cream-white rose with yellow-edged petals.