20th July, 1969.
Justin's weekend had not been one of his best, passing by in sporadic bursts of pointless interrogation, canteen food and listening to the Doctor's incessant chattering.
The Doctor on the other hand had regarded the weekend as a chance to finally have a go at drawing up a list of all the alien races he'd encountered on his travels, ranked according to how much he liked them. He was having a whale of a time.
He chewed his pen and ran a finger up and down the ream of printer paper which was now almost completely full. 'Silurians... Silurians, where shall I put you?'
'Oh for crying out loud Doctor, be quiet! You're driving me nuts!' If there had been a window in the room, Justin would have jumped.
'If you don't have anything constructive to say, Justin, don't say anything at all. We've got until Sunday before I start running out of time, so stop fretting.'
'Doctor, it is Sunday.'
'What? Well why didn't you say so? We have to get out of here!' He strode over to the door and produced a stethoscope. Justin rolled his eyes.
The Doctor listened. 'Doesn't sound like there's anyone on the other side, but then it didn't sound like there was anyone there the last four times.' He turned to his companion. 'Shall I risk it?'
Before Justin could begin releasing a long pent up torrent of abuse, the door opened from the outside, smacking the Doctor in the side of the face.
'Ow! That's my sore side!' he yelped. Justin felt satisfied.
It was Cliff.
'Sorry Doctor, uh, why were you standing behind the door?'
The Doctor sighed. 'If you must know, I was about to commit a daring escape, which you've now spoiled.' He ignored the snort of derision from the corner and gave Cliff a quick hug. 'But thank you anyway.'
'There's a back exit I can take you to, the agents are busy monitoring the descent. I'm sorry I couldn't have come any earlier, but as much as I like you, Doctor, my first priority is to the men in that capsule.'
'Quite right too. How long 'til they land?'
'About eight hours, so whatever plan you have, Doctor, I hope it's a good one. I've just been relieved of duty. Gene's taking over for the last leg. I don't think Spencer or Milledge trust me to keep my mouth shut, so if there's anything I can do to help...'
The Doctor patted him on the shoulder. 'It's fine, Cliff, you've done a brilliant job, don't worry about it.'
For a moment Cliff looked achingly tired. 'It's just, I didn't want any part of this, these secrets and politics and conspiracies. I wanted to put a man on the Moon. That's all.'
He received a much longer hug this time.
'I know Cliff, I know.' He paused. 'Right! To the TARDIS!'
He pointed his hand down the corridor like Superman, only to be halted by a word from Justin.
'But, what exactly is your plan, Doctor?
The Doctor turned back and held up the Dictaphone. 'Okay, well, in short, on this Dictaphone is the alien language. Now I can understand it, maybe even speak it if I have to. But without the broadcast frequency you couldn't trace, I can't simply contact them via radio, so I need to find a way to get my message across. Luckily I have a time and space ship parked around the corner that is brilliant because, apart from the whole time and space part, it also has a very sophisticated translation computer, which hopefully, when I run this tape through, will be able to produce a visualisation of the sounds we heard. Put that visualisation somewhere obvious where they can see it, and Bob's your uncle. They'll come and find out what all the fuss is about. Hopefully.'
He paused for breath. 'Any questions?' Both men raised their hands. 'Well I'm sorry but we're all out of time. Great to meet you both.' He shook their hands warmly. 'And I'm sure it will all turn out fine. Chin up!'
With that, he was gone.
The Doctor raced across the tarmac, the heat making it stick to his trainers. After so long under artificial light, the glare of the sun was almost blinding him. He hadn't wanted to tell Justin or Cliff, but he was running out of time.
'It's alright, it's alright, I can go back, I've got a time machine, go back a couple of days, sorted.'
But he knew that that was a dangerous avenue to try. The events in Mission Control may have panned out very differently if he went back too far, Apollo might not have picked up the signal, he may not have had time to record the chord. If the events that had happened were undone, he might not even have been aware of the agents' plans until too late. Better to play it safe, to do it now, the old fashioned cause and effect way.
But he was running out of time.
At last the battered old police box came into view. The Doctor smiled with the greatest of affection before cannoning into it.
'I promise I will never leave you out in the sun for so long again,' he said, fishing for his key. 'Now let's get you into some shade.'
The Doctor disappeared inside the TARDIS and a few seconds later, the TARDIS followed.
Inside the towering control room the Doctor was searching for the cassette adapter.
'I'm sure I had one somewhere... Ah!' He pressed a button on the console and a small panel flipped open. He slotted the Dictaphone tape inside and pressed rewind. The cassette squealed for a few seconds and then started to play back.
The sequence echoed around the Doctor's head. Without the limitations of nineteen sixties speakers it was more elegant than ever. The Doctor paused to absorb it before engaging the TARDIS language circuits. He checked his watch, found that it was in Tokyo time and quickly did some mental calculations.
Only five hours to go.
'Come on, come on.' He impatiently tapped the screen as geometric shapes swirled out a binary pattern in time to the music.
'Hurry up!' he shouted. The tape stopped its playback.
'I'm sorry I'm sorry, I promised I wouldn't speak to you like that again. Now, if you would be so kind as to continue,' he said patting the console affectionately. The tape restarted begrudgingly.
Eventually the swirling shapes condensed into a few elegant pictograms, concentric circles and minimalist lines.
'Got it!' yelled the Doctor triumphantly and slammed a lever, rocketing the TARDIS toward the Moon.
The aching stillness of the lunar surface belied the urgency of the Doctor's mission. Here, on the edge of the dawn, the craters were picked out in long shadows and stark highlights. Suspended above the horizon was Earth, a blue Moon.
The TARDIS materialised silently in the near vacuum.
The Doctor stumbled out, clumsy in his space suit. Under his padded arms he carried a broom, a spade and a wireless radio. He surveyed the crater and satisfied, dropped his tools in the centre.
'I hope there's something good on,' he muttered, gloved hands slipping on the radio knobs. He turned the tuner carefully. Static, static, static, wait.
'And now on Radio 4, the afternoon play.'
'Perfect.' The Doctor smiled.
He set to work.
It was the sweeping that took the longest time, carefully brushing away the top layer of fine dust that lined the floor of the crater.
Every time he thought he'd cleared a patch his boots kicked up another cloud. But finally he was satisfied. He propped the broom against the TARDIS and went back for the spade.
The symbol was drawn on a post it note he'd stuck to the back of his glove and he marked the outline with the edge of his tool. Then came the hard graft, digging out the shape.
By the time the Doctor had finished his visor had steamed across with the exertion. He trudged to the rim and surveyed his handiwork. A network of concentric circles and lines spread before him.
'Not bad, even if I say so myself,' he said proudly, hands on hips. 'Almost be a shame when I have to fill it back in.' He looked to the sky at the faded pin pricks of the stars, their colour washed out by the bright glare of the sun reflecting off the Moon's surface. No sign yet. And the afternoon play had ended.
He walked slowly back to the TARDIS in search of his deckchair as the familiar theme tune to The Archers piped across his earpiece.
The Doctor folded his arms across his eyes as an impossibly bright haze poured into the crater from above, so strong that the he could almost feel the dust rippling out from around his feet.
'Thank you for coming,' he said. 'There's something I'd like to say.'
'The Eagle has landed, I repeat, the Eagle has landed.'
The astronaut's transmission was drowned out by the roar of the crowd in Mission Control. Tears, hugs, the odd shirt were thrown around with abandon.
Man had landed on the Moon, nothing more, nothing less.
Milledge looked to Spencer, Spencer looked to Milledge.
'They're not there.'
'I can see that.'
'But how? You think the Doctor-?'
'Don't be so stupid! What do you think he could have done? Flown to the Moon and asked the saucers politely not to contact us after all?'
He turned on his heel and walked out.
In the back room, Justin and Cliff were in the chairs they'd been escorted to, broad smiles across their faces.
'So what happens to us now?' asked Justin. Spencer scowled.
'Nothing, you're free to go, we weren't here, nothing untoward ever happened, we're taking the radio transcripts and putting them in a safe place. You won't be able to prove anything either way.'
'Why would I want to?' said Cliff, 'I helped put a man on the Moon! Who could ask for anything more?'
Milledge paused. 'Well, congratulations.'
In an odd sort of way, he meant it.
The agents gone, Justin and Cliff returned to the control room to join the celebrations.
'This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.'
At 20:17 on July 20th, 1969, Armstrong stepped onto the Moon. Four hundred thousand kilometres away, Earth cheered.
On the rim of the farthest crater, the Doctor watched, a smile tickling his lips. And was that a tear in his eye?
He was glad the saucers had understood; humanity needed to find its own way.
'A very polite race, actually,' he said to himself. He must remember to add them to his list.
The Doctor turned and stepped into the TARDIS.
As Armstrong planted the flag, he thought he heard a sound fading over his earpiece. A kind of wheezing, groaning noise. He felt a tiny breeze inside his space suit as the particles of the universe shifted ever so slightly.
The flag fluttered in his hand.
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