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the first trainspotters

It never ceased to amaze Ace the variety of different times and places that the TARDIS brought her and the Doctor to. This time was no exception. She and the Doctor were currently trudging through the wet, muddy field for no apparent reason. Ace was cold, fed up and lagging behind the Doctor.

'Professor!' Ace called, 'Hang on!'

The Doctor stopped, turned around and motioned for his young companion to catch up. Ace quickened her pace until she had reached him.

'Professor, what are you doing here?' she asked, panting to catch her breath. 'Where are we anyway? And why?'

The Doctor sighed. 'Questions, questions, Ace. We are here to see an event that I have been meaning to see for a long time. We need a change from fighting evil don't you think?'

'So, where and when are we?'

'You'll be pleased to know that we're in your home country,' the Doctor elaborated, pointing at her with his umbrella.

It was Ace's turn to sigh. 'Not again...' she said disappointedly. 'There are millions of their planets out there you know, Professor!'

'Hmmm...oh, we are in 1825 by the way.'

Ace sighed even more deeply. 'Oh no, not history. I hate history - it's so boring. I had enough of it when I was in school.' Ace felt a lecture coming on even as she said these words.

She was right.

'History isn't boring, Ace, and it's not history to the people living here...' He broke off, remembering something. 'Ah yes...I was forgetting that you were a scientist. Very wise.'

The field seemed to be getting muddier by the minute, and the Doctor was eager to get on with whatever he wanted to get on with. Setting off at a brisk pace, the Doctor seemed to be yards ahead of Ace within seconds.

'Come along, Ace,' he urged. Ace followed - slowly.

Not long after, they were both a little further on: still getting wet and still getting muddy. 'We are in Darlington, County Durham, Ace,' explained the Doctor. 'And today is a very important day.'

'What's so special about 1820's Darlington then?' Ace queried.

Sometimes the Doctor could not believe his human companion. 'You know, Ace, I'm amazed by your lack of knowledge about your won world. You should at least have been taught about this day at school'

'What day, Professor?' urged Ace, wishing for once that she was back in the TARDIS.

The Doctor continued: 'Railways of course! Quite possibly Britain's greatest ever contributions to civilization. Today is the day that the railways really began, and you should know that!' He wished that for once, all of the explaining was not to him. 'Today signifies the beginning of one of Earth's greatest ever inventions.' ( The Doctor was in his element, Ace decided.) 'And,' he continued, 'the first conquest of space.'

'Conquest of space? Come on, Professor!' Ace said scornfully.

Think about it, Ace; how far could you get in a day before railways? Not very far. From these humble beginnings will emerge the greatest human engineering achievement since the building of the pyramids.'

Ace found this difficult to believe, considering the state that the rail network was in, in her own time. 'So we've come to see the first train then?'

'Yes, yes, Ace. Do come along or we'll miss it.' the Doctor answered.

'Sounds fascinating,' she said dourly.

The pair reached the top of a not so very high hill, and surveyed the scene before them, three hundred yards away in the valley below. There was a small crowd gathered in one spot, eagerly waiting the demonstration. There were lots of Victorian-looking gentlemen in black suits and top hats and a few ladies in posh frocks and ludicrously large hats.

'I think we're going to look just a little out of place you know, Professor.' said Ace.

The Doctor shook his head slightly. 'Never mind about that Ace, it's the occasion that we are here for, not the dress codes. Anyway, it's never mattered before has it?'

Ace could see what she presumed was the train, stationary at the end of the line. The engine, Locomotion the Doctor had informed her, was a complicated affair consisting of wheels, cogs and a huge wood enclosed boiler. A huge funnel belched out filthy black sooty smoke. Behind the engine were three open-topped carriages, containing more of the well-to-do members of society.

'I've seen that before, Professor - on TV!' Ace said knowingly. 'It was invented by George Stephenson wasn't it?'

The Doctor smiled. 'Very good, Ace. George and his son Robert invented that particular engine, with a little help.'

'George eh? You two on first name terms then?'

'Of course. George is an old friend of mine.'

'Where's this contraption headed again, Doctor?' Ace enquired.

'All twenty-five miles east to Stockton, Ace. This is the return journey.'

Her interest perked up, Ace set off towards the crowd with the Doctor in tow.

~~~ 

The gathered crowd was beginning to show signs of unrest and had no idea of what was happening. A middle-aged man was flapping around, talking to nobody in particular.

'Oh dear, oh dear. Whatever shall I do? It can't go wrong, we had it a; planned - this wasn't suppose to happen.'

The train had successfully managed the first leg of the journey, but it was stubbornly refusing to move from where it was stationed. George Stephenson had no idea what was wrong. His invention had to work - he had spent so long developing it. He was worried that the gathered industrialists would shun him and his engine if anything went wrong. After all, it was for their uses that the train was utilised.

A rotund fellow with a fat red face accosted Stephenson. 'I say, what on earth is happening here? Are we going anywhere or not?'

George muttered an apology then moved off again in the direction from which he had just come. As he did so he noticed two strangers that he had not seen before, approaching him. He moved towards the strangely attired pair with interest. 'Let me do the talking, Ace.' the man said. 'Ah, hello George,' the Doctor said, greeting the man. Stephenson looked slightly perplexed at the unknown's salutations. 'What seems to be the problem?' the Doctor asked.

George had no idea who this man was and frowned at the sight of the indecently dressed young woman who accompanied him.
'Er...well yes we do appear to be having problems with something. We have no idea what it is though.'

The Doctor simply smiled and put his hand into one of his pockets. From it he produced a large-looking nut and bolt. He handed the nut and bolt to George who took it, a puzzled expression on his face.

'We can't have the demonstration going wrong can we, George?'

Stephenson was perplexed. Who was this man and how did he know what the problem was with the engine? How did he get here? 'Well, err...thank you sir. Thank you very much - you seemed to have saved the day. I only hope that this will do the trick.' he said, indicating the nut and bolt.

The young woman seemed to be trying to attract the man's attention, so George prepared to get to work on Locomotion, pausing only to ask him a question 'Excuse me for asking, sir, but who exactly are you?'

The man smiled and simply said, 'I'm a friend, a friend of the Doctor.' He turned to his companion and motioned her to go back up the hill. 'We had better be off now,' he told George, 'Goodbye, George.'

'Erm, goodbye, sir and thank you very much! May God bless you.'

The friend of the Doctor was already away up the hill and George was heading back to make an announcement to the waiting crowd. He had forgotten about the Doctor until this chap appeared. Without the contribution of the Doctor, George would probably never had seen today. He smiled happily, lost in his memories.

A little while later the Doctor and Ace watched contentedly as Locomotion One began it's return journey to Stockton-upon-Tees.

'You knew that the engine would break down here didn't you, Professor?' asked Ace.

The Doctor looked at her and said, 'Oh I wouldn't say that I knew exactly, Ace. I just came prepared for any eventuality. Today is recorded in history as happening, so I had to make sure that it did. Nobody will ever know of my involvement here.'

'Apart from George Stephenson you mean,' said Ace.

'Yes, Ace. Apart from George. Now come along, there's plenty more work to do you know.'

They both smiled to each other and headed off back to the TARDIS - a majestic piece of space-conquering technology from the future - just as the first piece of space-conquering technology puffed off into the distance.

written by
CHRIS ORTON
copyright 2008

artwork by
COLIN JOHN
copyright 2008