mostly harmless

“Why Earth?” Fitz had asked, perched at the top of ladder by a shelf-full of dusty and slightly foxed volumes.

“I beg your pardon?” the Doctor had asked, without looking up from the cheap Margery Allingham paperback that had been engrossing him for a surprisingly long time, considering he had a reading speed faster than Fitz would normally believe possible.

“Okay, given there’s a nearly infinite number of worlds out there – “

“Now that’s an exaggeration you know – “

“Just go with me on this one. There’s a nearly infinite number of worlds out there. There’s a nearly infinite amount of time to choose from – “

“Now that’s a *definite* exaggeration, the TARDIS gets crotchety if you try to operate her outside the time-space parameters of our current universe – “

“Again, just go with me here,” Fitz had persevered doggedly. “So you’ve got an infinite number of worlds and an infinite amount of history…”

“I don’t think I quite understand your point here,” the Doctor had said, still holding the book up in front of his face.

“My point is, you’ve played tiddlywinks with the Tsarina. You know what colour Lenin’s pyjamas were. You went for piss-ups with Pythagoras, and you’ve still got Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stethoscope in one of your coat pockets.”


Fitz had edged his way carefully down the ladder, trying not to dislodge any of the precariously balanced candelabra. “I’m just saying, you’ve spent lots of time on Earth. I mean, in any given year there’s got to be at least a couple of different versions of you – picking up names to drop or saving the world or something. *Every* year. Doesn’t strike me as a very effective use of time, somehow.”

The Doctor had huffed, and shot Fitz a look over the top of the green-striped cover. “It’s not as though I don’t have the time to spare,” he had commented, dryly.

“Well, yeah, by most people’s standards six or seven thousand years is a pretty long time,” Fitz had conceded. “But it’s not forever. And there’ve got to be loads of planets out there as interesting as Earth. Why don’t you spend your time on them as well? Or instead, for that matter?”

“It’s a nice planet!” the Doctor had protested. “Pleasant sort of climate, breathable atmosphere, amusing semi-intelligent natives – “

“I resemble that remark,” Fitz had muttered.

“ – not to mention the culture, that’s not bad either – “

“You’ve always said Venusians were better musicians than humans,” Fitz had pointed out. “And you said you slept through the first performance of Hamlet.”

The Doctor had placed his book face down on his chest, and glared at Fitz balefully. “Et tu, Fitz?”

“I just want to know why you think Earth is so special, that’s all,” Fitz had said. It was…important, in some way he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He’d spent so much of his life trying to run away from the uncomfortable realities of terrestrial life, had been so bloody glad to be out of it –

The Doctor had shut the book with a snap and bounded to his feet, mercurial grin suddenly in place. “All right. I’ll show you.”

Which was what had brought them here, though Fitz, stamping cold feet against cobblestones as suspiciously northern rain insinuated its way down inside the collar of his coat, couldn’t quite work out how. He had looked about himself suspiciously after the TARDIS had materialised and the Doctor had bounded off in typically high-spirited fashion. The heavy grey clouds, the constant drizzle, the rows of squat red-brick houses and the cobbled streets all suggested somewhere Northern and probably depressed, Fitz had thought as he trudged after the Time Lord.

It was no good. He just couldn’t believe that whatever was so special about Earth had anything to do with Manchester.

The Doctor had been perhaps a hundred yards ahead of him when he shouted ‘Wait there, I’ll be back in a moment!’ and disappeared into a small, dark shop at the side of the street. Fitz had stopped, obediently, and shrunk himself deeper into his shapeless leather jacket in the vague hope that it’d keep the seeping dampness at bay.

It didn’t.

He was cold and thinking dark thoughts by the time the Doctor reappeared. The Doctor hurried over to him with that usual barely-suppressed energy, and smiled his most charming smile as he held up a large paper bag.

Fits shot him a suspicious look, and opened the bag.

The next look was considerably darker, with an underlying edge of incredulity.

“You must be sodding joking.”

The Doctor’s face fell, in much the manner of a dog which thinks it has performed a very clever trick in bringing the decomposing hedgehog into the house, and can’t quite understand why its owners seem less than enthused.

“What?” he asked plaintively. “That shop sells the best jellybabies in the world. I know, I’ve looked.”

“Doctor, they’re still sodding jellybabies!”


“So I can’t believe you like this planet so much just because it sells your favourite sweet!”

The Doctor crumpled the bag, and pushed it in the general direction of his pocket. He turned and began to walk back in the direction of the TARDIS, and this time Fitz hurried to keep up.

“Did you know, just about every sort of sentient life-form has discovered fire?” said the Doctor, conversationally.

Fitz rolled his eyes. Marvellous, time for the bloody non-sequitur game again. “I didn’t, actually.”

“Oh yes,” the Doctor breezed on. “Allowing for local variation, obviously – so the reptilian creatures who swim in the methane sea of Mother Ocean, as they call their planet, discovered that if you rub two sorts of coral together you get a bioluminescent substance that emits a sizeable amount of heat, yet remains impressively unreactive.”

“Is that a fact.”

“The wheel, too – that’s a pretty common one,” the Doctor continued, sweeping slightly ahead and apparently not noticing the beads of condensed mist that were bedewing his unruly hair. “I’d say about seventy per cent of intelligent life forms I’m acquainted with have discovered the wheel. The internal combustion engine’s a little trickier, and obviously it relies on having the sort of planet that produces fossil fuels, the sort of social structures that allow long-distance travel, that sort of thing. But it still crops up with impressive regularity. Something about the way life evolves seems to make certain patterns come up again and again.”

Fitz sighed. He’d learned quite some time ago that the only thing to do when the Doctor got into lecture mode was to smile, nod, and switch off higher brain functions. He wasn’t like Sam, trying to second-guess, irritate or amuse all the time. He was quite happy just to let the Doctor get on with it, if it made him happy.

“Even some things which you might imagine were all but unique, a quirk of design  or human decision making – the jet engine, the silicon chip, the particular curve of an Art Deco leaf – there’s always some other species that has come up with something pretty similar.”

They had reached the door of the TARDIS now, and the Doctor turned on his heel so sharply that the sleep-walking Fitz almost cannoned into him.

“Of all the races I know of,” the Doctor said, looking at Fitz with great seriousness, “human beings are the only ones who put together an unappetising cocktail of complex sugars, cows’ hooves, and artificial flavourings, shape them into a grotesque parody of their own young and then feed them to their offspring as treats.”

Fitz blinked, brought up short. “So…of all the things which every race in the universe has got, human beings are the only ones sick enough to have invented jellybabies?”

The Doctor smiled the sort of smile that could light up rooms. As he unlocked the TARDIS door, he proffered the paper bag again.

Fitz took one of the sweets as they entered the cathedral-high space of the console room. He popped it into his mouth and chewed on it meditatively, watching the Doctor as he poked a few buttons on the console and then lay back down on the chaise long with a sigh of satisfaction, placing the bag of sweets on his stomach and picking up his paperback.

Fitz swallowed. “This isn’t really about jellybabies, is it.”

For a moment the Doctor’s eyes glittered blue-green at him over the top of the book. “It’s all about jellybabies.”

Fitz grinned, and returned to the library.