2nd Doctor
The Dark Path
by David A. McIntee
Missing Adventures
Cover Blurb
The Dark Path

'He's one of my own people, Victoria, and he's hunting me.'

Darkheart: a faded neutron star surrounded by dead planets. But there is life on one of these icy rocks - the last enclave of the Earth Empire, frozen in the image of another time. As the rest of the galaxy enjoys the fruits of the fledgling Federation, these isolated Imperials, bound to obey a forgotten ideal, harbour a dark obsession.

The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive to find that the Federation has at last come to reintegrate this lost colony, whether they like it or not. But all is not well in the Federation camp: relations and allegiances are changing. The fierce Veltrochni - angered by the murder of their kinsmen - have an entirely different agenda. And someone else is manipulating the mission for his own mysterious reasons - another time traveller, a suave and assured master of his work.

The Doctor must uncover the terrible secret which brought the Empire to this desolate sector, and find the source of the strange power maintaining their society. But can a Time Lord, facing the ultimate temptation, control his own desires?

  • Released: March 1997

  • ISBN: 0 426 20503 0

Some time after the fall of the Earth Empire, a Veltrochni fleet crewed by the Pack Huthakh finds evidence that a lost Imperial colony exists beyond the galactic rim. They transmit their report back to the Federation Chair, but the transmission is picked up the Imperial colonists, who destroy the entire fleet and capture a single cruiser intact to study its technology and learn more about this so-called "Federation". Unaware of the Veltrochni's fate, a Federation ship captained by Gillian Sherwin, the Piri Reis, sets off to contact the lost colony and integrate them into the Federation -- although the Imperials are likely to be suspicious of the new galactic order in which humans and all other species share equal status. Meanwhile, the Veltrochni send a follow-up expedition to find out what has happened to the lost Pack Huthakh.

The TARDIS' time path indicator detects another time machine on the Doctor's trail, and as the Doctor tries to evade it he encounters a ripple of time distortion and decides to investigate. The TARDIS arrives on the Imperial colony, a terraformed area of a dead planet circling a red giant with a companion neutron star not quite massive enough to collapse into a black hole. The Doctor and his companions are mistaken for advance envoys from the Piri Reis and are taken back to the city, just ahead of an invisible "demon" which has been killing Adjudicators. Their reception seems friendly enough, but the colony's chief Adjudicator, Terrell, in fact has their guest quarters bugged, suspecting that the Doctor and his companions are spies sent to find out the colony's true, secret purpose.

As the Piri Reis arrives in orbit, another TARDIS materializes on board. Its pilot, Koschei, uses some judicious hypnotism to convince a few crew members that he and his companion Ailla have been aboard the ship all along but have spent the journey in their cabin, studying their briefing on the Darkheart situation. Once a few crewmen are seen to accept their presence the others rationalise their not having seen them before. Koschei, claiming that Ailla is an expert on Imperial customs, convinces Sherwin to let her accompany the diplomatic party to the planet for a function at which they will meet the leaders of the colony.

Viscount Gothard is beginning to have doubts about the Darkheart project, and he gladly welcomes the newcomers, the first new faces he's seen in a long time. Terrell worries that Gothard may be a weak link, and is even more disturbed when the colony databanks find a match for the newcomers -- during the Brittanicus Base Ice Warrior incident, which took place centuries ago. If the Doctor has access to some sort of time technology, this may impact upon the project. At the diplomatic function, the Doctor is brought face-to-face with Sherwin and is forced to admit that he is not really from the Federation ship -- and becomes suspicious when the Imperials don't automatically arrest him...

Ailla slips away from the function and meets Koschei, who has travelled to the planet in his TARDIS. They break into Gothard's office but find access to his computer protected by a cellular recognition system, and must wait for Gothard to arrive. Unfortunately Gothard resists Koschei's attempt to hypnotise him, and Koschei must kill Gothard in self-defense. After opening Gothard's computer files, Koschei pushes his body into an elevator shaft to avoid detection. From Gothard's notes, he determines that the pyramidal structure in the heart of the colony is central to whatever project the Imperials are working on. Koschei disguises himself as Gothard and leaves a false trail away from the building while Ailla slips away. The invisible "demon" then arrives in the city, having followed the newcomers, and it breaks into the Adjudication Lodge to get to them, killing any Adjudicators in its way. When Gothard's body is found, his murder is initially assumed to be the work of the demon.

Victoria, feeling dislocated from her own time, wanders off to spend some time alone, and meets Ailla. Ailla takes Victoria to Koschei's TARDIS, and explains that they have been travelling together ever since he saved her life in the 28th century. The Doctor and Jamie, unable to find Victoria, report her disappearance to Terrell, who decides to take the opportunity to bring her in for interrogation and determine how much the intruders really know about the Darkheart. Victoria gets back to the newcomers' quarters first and tells the Doctor what she's learned, and the Doctor fears that Koschei, a former friend, is hunting him with the intention of returning him to their own people. At the same moment the demon arrives at their quarters and the Adjudicators arrive to arrest them, and in the confused firefight which follows they manage to escape. Pursued by Adjudicators, they have no choice but to hide in Koschei's TARDIS, where the Doctor and Ailla compare notes and realize that they were both attracted to this planet by the time distortion which they noted in passing. According to Koschei's TARDIS, the disturbances are getting worse -- and when they access the colony medical records, seeking further clues, they find no birth or death records. The people living here are the same people who first founded the colony three hundred years ago.

Using elements from the quantum lance of the captured Veltrochni battleship, chief scientist Vocano is finally able to fine-tune the Darkheart, and the Imperials begin the first stage of their master plan. Every non-human crew member aboard the Piri Reis either vanishes or is replaced by a human who claims to be the missing person in question. At first, Sherwin has the "impostors" arrested, but her formerly Draconian first officer, Salamanca, manages to convince her that he truly believes he is who he says he is -- a human being, native to the planet Draconia.

Victoria, at a loose end, sees Terrell entering the pyramid and follows him, hoping to learn what's going on. The Doctor and Jamie follow her, and find inside the pyramid a stairwell which leads into the centre of the planet. The planet is in fact a hollow bubble of neutron star shell material, linked to the star itself via a dimensional bridge -- and filled with abandoned alien technology. There, they meet Koschei, who has determined that the Darkheart has the power to manipulate the structure of spacetime, technology which must be kept out of the Imperials' hands at all cost. Koschei intends to activate a feedback loop to destroy the alien machinery, but the Doctor objects, believing that this will cause the planet to explode. He returns to Koschei's TARDIS and sends Ailla to talk sense into Koschei. But as Ailla enters the pyramid, the Adjudicators detect intruders and send a team in. When they encounter Koschei tampering with the Darkheart, a firefight breaks out. Ailla walks right into it -- and Koschei, who hadn't expected her to be anywhere near, accidentally shoots and kills her...

The Doctor sends Jamie and Victoria to his TARDIS, which has been brought into the city, to warn the Piri Reis of the danger while he tries to find a way back into the now heavily guarded pyramid. Upon arriving, however, they are confronted by the demon, and Victoria flees while Jamie tries to hold it off -- only to learn that it is in fact a Veltrochni named Hakkauth, the last survivor of Pack Huthakh, and that he has been trying to contact them for help, believing them to be from the Federation ship. The Doctor, meanwhile, finds Ailla's body being removed from the pyramid and notices something odd about it. Unable to enter the pyramid, he instead gets to a transmat station and beams himself back up to the Piri Reis, but shortly afterwards the Adjudicators put up a defensive shield around their planet, taking hostage the Federation envoys still on the planet.

Another Veltrochni fleet has been in the Darkheart system for some time now, investigating the destruction of the Huthakh, and when the shield goes up, Pack-Mother Brokhyth aboard the Zathakh makes her presence known. Her arrival serves only to convince Terrell that humans are now second-class citizens in a Federation run by aliens, and that Sherwin is a traitor to the human race. Koschei contacts Terrell and offers to help him understand the proper functions of the Darkheart, and Terrell, convinced that Koschei is on his side, agrees to let him experiment with the machinery. When Victoria is captured, Koschei uses his new influence to save her from arrest, and tells her that Ailla is dead. In a single moment, she was taken from him forever due to a foolish snap decision, made when he wasn't paying attention. But he will not accept her death -- not now that he has an alternative...

The Darkheart was built by the creatures who evolved into Chronovores, and its true purpose was to focus temporal energy through time and space to any location where the creatures needed healing. It is capable of rewriting living species' morphic fields, and the Imperials have already used it to grant themselves immortality; now they intend to change all species in the galaxy to a human template. Any species which evolved on a planet where humans could not have survived has simply been erased from existence, while all others have become human. Koschei must act before the effect is spread throughout the Universe -- but since the Darkheart is capable of changing history without paradox, he intends to use it first to save Ailla. Thus, in order to delay the Imperials, he shows Terrell how to use the machinery to focus a blast of temporal energy anywhere in space and time. Following his instructions, Terrell tests his new-found control by using the Darkheart to destroy the planet Terileptus, home of the Terileptil species, as Koschei stands by and watches...

The Doctor transmats himself to an Imperial ship in orbit, intending to find a way to shut down the defense shield. Victoria then contacts the Piri Reis to tell them that Koschei is pretending to work with the Imperials so he can shut down the Darkheart, and learns of the Doctor's intentions. She innocently informs Koschei, who warns Terrell in order to stop the Doctor from interfering in his own plans. The Doctor is thus captured and taken down to the planet in a shuttle, but Jamie and Hakkauth rescue him, having already contacted Brokhyth to tell her of Pack Huthakh's fate. They escape to Koschei's TARDIS to avoid patrols, and the Doctor programmes it to work in parallel with his own, so he can use Koschei's functioning navigational system to send the Federation hostages to safety in his own TARDIS. While going so he detects another life form in the TARDIS, and in the depths of the ship he finds a very different Ailla, recovering from her regeneration in the Zero Room. She has been an agent for the High Council all along, as they feared that Koschei was unstable and wanted one of their own to keep an eye on him in secret.

Brokhyth attacks the Imperial fleet in retaliation for the slaughter of Pack Huthakh, and although the Veltrochni easily destroy the 300-year-old ships, Koschei turns the power of the Darkheart on them and threatens to destroy their homeworld unless they back off. Terrell then discovers that Koschei is working on a remote control through which he will be able to control the Darkheart from his TARDIS, and in order to buy time and appease Terrell, Koschei shows him how to use the Darkheart to destroy Veltrochni -- three million years in the past, before life ever evolved. Victoria is horrified by the suggestion until Koschei points out that destroying a planet is not such a terrible act; what if he were to destroy Skaro, home of the Daleks who killed her father? Slowly, Victoria is falling under his spell...

Koschei returns to his TARDIS to complete his work, only to find the Doctor -- and Ailla -- waiting. The Doctor realizes that Koschei must have told Terrell how to destroy Terileptus, and Ailla is horrified to realize what Koschei has done for her sake. Koschei is stunned to realize that Ailla was never really a loyal human companion, but a spy sent by the High Council to monitor his behaviour. He has destroyed an entire world and its people for no reason whatsoever, and Ailla's betrayal finally pushes him over the edge. He orders Terrell to arrest the Doctor and Ailla and returns to work, to control the powers of the Darkheart and reshape the Universe to his own design. The Koschei whom the Doctor knew as a friend is now dead.

The Doctor and Ailla escape, while Jamie and Hakkauth evacuate the Fedeation hostages to the Doctor's TARDIS. The Veltrochni manage to breach the shield and attack the city, storm the pyramid complex and arrest Terrell. Koschei, now playing both sides, slips Terrell a weapon and shoots him, claiming that he was about to kill Ailla. The Doctor, however, discovers that Koschei has continued work through the fighting, and that the link between his TARDIS and the Darkheart are now nearly complete. The Doctor tries to talk reason into his old friend, but Koschei will have none of it. With the Darkheart he can impose order upon a chaotic Universe, bringing reason where there was confusion and darkness; there will be no more freedom, but Koschei no longer cares. He orders the hypnotised Victoria to shoot herself if the Doctor tries to interfere. Soon he will have complete control over all space and time, and even the Doctor will one day come to call him Master...

Jamie arrives just as Koschei returns to his TARDIS, and since Koschei did not give Victoria any orders regarding Jamie, he is able to take the gun out of her hands. The Doctor sabotages the Darkheart's controls and he and his companions flee back to his TARDIS. Sherwin evacuates the population of the colony, and she and the Veltrochni get to safety just as Koschei activates the Darkheart. Thanks to the Doctor's sabotage, the dimensional bridge shorts out, and the combined masses of the neutron star and the planet-shell reach critical mass and collapse into a black hole. As the Piri Reis departs, Ailla attempts to arrest the Doctor on behalf of the High Council, but Sherwin and Hakkauth hold her off while the Doctor and his companions escape. But Victoria has now seen too much horror and death, and decides to leave the Doctor the next time they arrive on Earth. As for Koschei, he and his TARDIS are now trapped within the black hole, to remain there forever. Unless he escapes...

Source: Cameron Dixon

Continuity Notes:
  • We learn a bit more about Koschei before he became the Master in the Fifth Doctor's flashback in Divided Loyalties.
  • The time path indicator is used again in the Timewyrm saga, when the Seventh Doctor and Ace use it to track the Timewyrm.
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