The Timelord picked out a secure looking maintenance ladder close to the recharging automaton and gestured for Dodo to follow him. They scurried across the open ground, between the oblivious sentries and hurried up the old metal ladder as quietly as they could, stopping only when they reached the wide expanse of the flat roof.
In the gathering twilight the companions could make out the hundreds of hatchways which had once led down into the base below. Many had fallen victim to the ravages of time, alarmingly leaving gaping, unprotected black holes in their stead. Dodo was confused to see what appeared to be a small door standing open and leading into the head of the nearest mechanical trooper. She considered asking the Doctor to explain, but he was already heading purposefully towards it. As if noticing her absence at his side the Timelord stopped and turned to face her in the evening gloom. “Well do come along.” He said.
She tiptoed after him, nervously aware of the voids left by the fallen hatches, until she was able to gratefully take him by the arm. The pair edged gingerly towards the door in the rear of the automaton and peered inside. They could make out a small cockpit, illuminated by the dull green glow from numerous control screens, and dominated by a large, throne like chair in its centre. The Doctor strode inside with an air of calm authority, taking in every detail of the technology which surrounded him.
Dodo cautiously stepped past her companion, aiming to peer at the view through the grime covered plexi-glass. As she passed the over sized chair she glimpsed something that made her blood run cold. The skeletal remains of the pilot were still sat there, clad in a ragged, moth eaten uniform and, most sinister of all, without a head. Dodo squealed in fear, her eyes fixed on the dry bones and unable to move. The Doctor moved quickly around to comfort her. “Ah yes,” he said “I thought as much. Symbiotic control, there, see? Look.” He pointed above the pilot’s seat where a tangle of cables and wires hung like an alien nest from the ceiling. Knotted within them was the grinning remains of a skull. A number of the cables disappeared into the top the skull as if drilled right through and attached directly into the brain.
“All very clever you see,” continued the Doctor, “the perfect melding of man and machine. Whatever the pilot thinks, well that is to say, thought, the machine thinks too. Really quite a clever idea, although, sadly not so bright in practice.” He was cut off from explaining further as the door slammed shut unexpectedly, trapping the companions inside.
Dodo’s scream ended abruptly as the cramped cockpit shuddered in an alarming manner, causing the companions to stumble against the sinister chair. The skull swung dangerously above their heads, grinning in the half light. Instinctively she turned her gaze to the Doctor, safe in the knowledge that he would be able to save them. Or so she hoped.
The timelord had braced himself against the damaged dashboard and was hurriedly investigating the dials and screens which were sparking alarmingly. “This is most worrying Dodo.” He warned, “It appears that our new mode of transport has returned to patrolling the battlefield. And what if he was to take a tumble over a cliff hmmm? What then indeed?” That thought made Dodo’s spirits sink further.
“Ahah!” Exclaimed the Doctor, “It’s just what I thought. Like so many things its all in the communication hmmm?” He turned and, using his cane, gestured at the human remains behind him. “This poor fellow,” the timelord continued, “became so attached to his machine, mentally as well as physically, that the programming took on some of his personality, some of his soul if you like. Now, decades after the young man passed on, the machine still thinks, acts and patrols as if he is still alive and still attached.” The Doctor pointed the tip of his cane up towards the skull. Dodo shuddered.
“Now I’ve not used this programming language in a very long time,” announced the Doctor, “but I think I can put an end to all this.” With that he brushed the skeleton, uniform and all, onto the floor and settled down in the large chair. His long, surprisingly nimble fingers were a flutter of movement across the still smoking dashboard. Aware of the human remains at her feet Dodo found herself repressing a terrified shudder.
For a while it appeared that the old man had been mistaken as the mechanical warrior still made its relentless progress across the blasted landscape, occasionally listing terrifyingly to one side or the other, until it ground to a shuddering halt. The Doctor beamed triumphantly at his young companion. “Not only,” he confided, “have I taken this machine under manual control, I have sent out a signal to all the other active units which will shut them down and release them all from their endless war. Now let me see, I should be able to programme this old thing to give us a lift back to the Tardis. What do you say then child? Have we had enough of this world?”
Dodo chewed on her lip, smiling and nodding her head. Next time, she thought, perhaps the Doctor’s botanical interests could take them somewhere altogether more welcoming.