Some time ago I was asked to contribute something to a very special book, in which several writers approached the subject of Doctor Who encountering Lawrence of Arabia. I chose to concentrate on Lawrence’s attendance at the Paris Peace Conference, and because I could only spare two days to do it, wrote it as a 300-line poem. The book was made as a very personal wedding gift for a Dr Who fan from his frankly loopy wife, so I think there are only about five copies in existence. And I’ve got one! I usually write for money, so it’s probably the only fan fiction I am ever likely to produce, but I was quite pleased to have crammed all 12 Doctors into a single work. There are many Easter Eggs in here for those who know the worlds of Who… or indeed Lawrence, or I suppose, the Paris Peace Conference.
Ohana hungered for the gaze
Of others, basking in the praise of their attentions at Grand Balls
At gin-soaked parties, vaulted halls. She waited eagerly for cards
Of invitation – vellum shards for Hotel Somethings, Palais Thats
Where through a sea of diplomats she’d glide in elegant brocades,
Black hair a sculpture in pomades, her skin a doll-like ivory
A beauty there for all to see. Some of the men had brought their wives
Who stared at her with eyes like knives and whispered that this child of Asia
Was merely a transplanted geisha, which was the truth. And to be sure,
She was a youthful twenty-four, a little girl from far away,
Her task to make an evening gay with laughter, jokes or samisen
A haiku line or five or ten. A revered art in Tokyo
But here in Europe, who could know her fine poetic masteries
When only parsed in Japanese? Unable to correct this flaw,
They thought her just Saionji’s whore. Her aging Prince, with leathered face
Could wow the crowd with mots francais. He spoke it well to much delight
And so at every Paris night, when talk soon turned to books and songs,
The Conference and righting wrongs, Saionji got along just fine.
Ohana sunk her woes in wine. She sneaked out to the balconies
For cigarettes in twos and threes. She walked among the breathless throng
A sight that lasted for too long. A striking red-clad Japanese
Amazed Versailles societies, but with the summer turning cold
She felt her novelty grow old. A newer belle called Oei Hui-Lan
Fluttered beneath a feathered fan. She chased the Chinese delegate
And caused the press to speculate that marriage might be on the way,
Which made the news reporters’ day but left Ohana in the dust.
Though stay she did, as stay she must. The jealous women bad enough,
Ohana found it even tougher dealing with the leering men
Who gathered at the bar, and then would proffer drinks or light a match
And always try their best to snatch a foreign woman to their bed.
She hated them. Except for Ned. Her eyes lit up when he arrived,
She loved the evenings by his side. Like her, his costume marked him out
There never could be any doubt when Faisal’s delegation came
No party ever was the same, as swirling cloaks and desert hoods
Asserted oriental moods. Perhaps too much, as Ned confided
Such exotic sights elided Western thoughts of desert rule
With base desires to play the fool, to show the Arabs scant regard
As if their clothes tried much too hard to push their suit for liberty.
Ned wished for things that could not be. “Days seem to dawn” he said. “Suns shine.
Each evening to the bed that’s mine, I fall into a fitful sleep.
I muse on futures, thinking deep. I wonder what it is I’ve done?
Have I brought peace to anyone? I’m puzzled by the Western sneaks
Who kiss my Arab prince’s cheeks but turn to wink at secret deals.
Sometimes this hapless ‘hero’ feels as leaves dropped from an autumn tree.”
Ohana smiled in sympathy. And Ned spoke on about a friend
Whose labours were without an end, a man who shunned a global fame
(Indeed, she never caught his name). He said celebrity sans fail
Was like a can tied to the tail of some revolting yappy dog.
And tired of being but a cog in politics’ great world machine.
And yet in Ned were embers seen, of noble cause, of vital strife.
She asked him if he had a wife. He shook his head and said no more.
They stared for moments at the floor. She changed the subject quickly, then
And asked him of the rule of men, of winning battles in the sands
And how to gather many hands to greater purpose ’gainst the Turk.
He laughed and answered with a smirk that any fool might win a war.
“Nine tenths of tactics can be sure, and taught in books. But it’s the tenth
That calls upon an inner strength. Kingfishers flashing ’cross a pool
Present those instants not in school. These vital hinges in our time
Can test a general, make him shine.” She asked him whence such wisdom came.
He answered with a nameless name: “The Doctor, as he’s always known.
My friend who many times has shown me that I am most qualified
And bigger on the inner side. Although a hero’s task I shun
He tells me that near anyone can find a moment in themself
To take their courage from the shelf and make their stand for all that’s good.”
“I like that thought,” she said. “You should,” he smiled, and then begged leave to go.
She winced, but knew that this fine beau had other obligations close:
An Arab prince who played the host. And so she waved him her farewell,
And climbed the staircase of Hotel Bristol, where her suite was found,
To hide alone, to go to ground. She went to sleep, a fitful doze,
And as on days before she rose when sunlight streamed through curtain gauze.
And then she wondered where she was. She stood. She looked. She turned about.
Without a reason, without doubt, she’d strayed from normal day routines.
“I wonder,” said she, “what this means? I’m sure I did not drink too much.
Nor took I opium or such.” And yet she stood, in dressing gown,
In gardens outside Paris town. Some hours of life had disappeared.
She spoke not of it, as she feared Saionji’s wrath for honours missed.
Instead she wandered through the mist, fixing ahead the Tour Eiffel
A looming landmark, marked it well. She sneaked back in the kitchen door
And took the back stairs to her floor. Saionji was (as ever) gone,
And so she told it to no-one, until that night when, Ned returned
And while the autumn fire-logs burned within the Hotel Bristol’s hearth,
She told him of her curious path. Their time was brief, their chatter short
For all around them tyros fought a battle of great words and small
As if this Conference would all the problems of the world dispel.
But Ned paid heed, and listened well. And told her not to fret too much.
Instead she sat among the Dutch, the Germans, Czechs, the Poles and French
Enduring still the acrid stench of old tobacco, till the time
When once again the stairs she climbed, alone once more into her suite.
She shut the door, put up her feet, took off her wig and wiped her face.
She doffed kimono, still with grace, and slipped between the satin folds.
And soon she snored, midst bronze and golds. She dreamed of things unknown, and then,
The nightmare soon returned again. It was as if a tall, thin man,
Sat looming on her plush divan, a skull-like face drew ever near
And whispered poisons in her ear. And while she dreamt, a voice reminded
Her that senses seemed as blinded. Why did this seem everyday?
Did this the rules of sense obey? For if it had, she would recall
But had no memories at all, of any former visitings
By lurking, snarling, howling things. And when it left, she rose again
And set out with a new-found yen to walk the corridors at noon.
Already it was day and soon the diplomats were all outside
With meetings held both far and wide, across the city leaving her
Alone, unwatched, a saboteur (perhaps, for not even she
Recalled the dread, severe decree that planted in her mind had been
By forces cunning and unseen). And so she slept but also walked,
The hotel staff pointed and talked but did not dare distract her march
Through corridors, and halls and archways, on an odd, unknowing quest.
She wandered to the south annex, and near a small, cheap meeting salle
Hosting a Conférence Medicale. She passed on by, so did not see
The table set with filigree, and round it in Edwardian clothes
A dozen figures in the throes of long discussions politiques
Of pasts and futures quite unique, of presents yet to fully rise
Of plots and plans and by-the-bys. They bickered, chatted, sometimes laughed
Together as if choreographed. The eldest of their number mused
Alone as if quite far confused – a white-haired man with shining eyes
He seemed to quietly agonise on matters of great gravity.
And yet, he almost seemed to be the youngest in the room by far.
The others bore the subtle scars of long lives lived, of terrors fought,
Of distant travels. Victories bought with hard-won struggles never seen
Glowed on their faces, each a mien that spoke of monsters, plagues and wars,
Of flights down endless corridors, of loved ones lost, of time and space,
Of ceaseless wand’rings, ne’er a place to call their own.
And so they sat without a home: a fop; a dandy in a suit;
A man who fiddled with a flute; a brooding menace in a scarf;
A motley fool with braying laugh; a collar bearing celery;
A navvy frowning predat’ry; and one who wore his hat indoors.
The tott’ring elder paced the floors, and mused that matters “could be worse”
Past custom All-Star white Converse, a futuristic pair of shoes
Whose owner kept them full in view, and resting on the table top.
The “eldest’s” pacing came to stop before a young man in a bow
(Such ties are cool, if you don’t know). And of the twelfth, ’twas hard to see.
He might have even been a she. The sixth stood up and called for quiet
Enough to quell the bustling, riotous voices of the dozen throng:
“We have dithered far too long. My friends, good Doctors one to twelve,
It’s time for us to carefully delve into the schemes of unknown powers.
For here among the autumn flowers of Paris in her russet hues
You must beware of errant clues. The nations of the world have come
In search of peace, for justice done, and yet I fear this gathering
Has drawn a gaze unwelcoming, of alien menace, off-world threat.
And so I call in all your debts. I… you… we love this century,
This troubled twentieth of Sol 3. It is the world that we have made,
And some have lived here for decades: our First, our Third our Eighth and Seventh
Have drawn from it a greater strength. For fifteen years deliv’ring post,
Ten may have loved and lost the most. But by some chance
The twentieth century shall dance in all our memories best of all.
We love its verve, its vim; its pall of dread disaster might be sad
But we know life was twice as bad before and since. So let us try
To cling with all our might, to vie for mastery of this, our time,
To make a stand, to hold the line, ’gainst worse alternatives such as
The Nazi use of mustard gas, and let us strive that we not let
Great Britain become Soviet. Apocalypse atomic looms
If in those dark and smoky rooms of Kennedy’s great Camelot,
Someone does not untie the knot of international diplomats
Who fight and scratch like angry cats. But all these unseen futures seem
To stem from here, 1919. This Conference of babbling Powers
Seeks to spend its countless hours in hashing out an order new
Where Earthbound nations can be true to lofty aims of peace and love.
Eight scoffs! Three snorts! Heavens above, I know this enterprise will fail!
These treaties form a paper trail that leads to Hitler, Stalin, Mao,
But we must do it anyhow, however bad the global loss
It’s better this than King Davros – a future not too far away
Unless we clear our foes this day, and leave this Conference to be
To make mistakes so easily. In peace not every nation wins
I fear for the new-minted Finns; Korean rebels go unheard,
From Russia there’s been not a word, while Indo-Chinese rebels flock
To standards raised by Nguyen Ai Quoc, a patriotic pastry chef
To whom all Europe’s powers are deaf. And what, indeed, of Araby,
Which fought in sands that it be free? Of promises to Jews and Greeks?
Of new-formed lands like circus freaks? But let us leave the humans frail
To argue out their great travail. It is our duty now and here,
From Paris all our foes to clear. Collaborate within this day
To shoo the aliens far away, to rid the streets of Paris, France
Of Daleks, Macra, Sontarans, that when the off-world foes have run
It shall be humankind alone that plots its course for years to come.
And so, so that our foes be gone: we are aware, in early days,
A terror group called Loups Mauvaises did try to bump off Clemenceau.
In readiness, our Eight did go into the streets to trail his coach
And act as if above reproach, in order to be there on time
To thwart this pointless, deathly crime. Meanwhile, some Mannequins Néstenes
Are lurking on the Rue Vincennes. We’ll leave that job to Three and Five
To see the shoppers kept alive. A mirrored hall on Treaty Day
Keeps Weeping Angels far at bay. To reach this aim, our Ten has toiled,
Although lest futures be despoiled, we cannot know quite what this means.
Enough that we know evil schemes are dealt with through such plans again.
Which brings me to the Cybermen….” But as the motley-coloured man
Went on with plots and tricks and plans, the youngest looking scamp of all,
The bow-tied one, slipped from the hall. And with an upraised hand he asked
His friends to leave him to his task. He sensed a wrongness, clammy, slimy,
For reasons wobbly/timey-wimey. For something seemed to be amiss.
A sight of utmost silliness. “Ned?” the Doctor spoke, unsure.
“What are you doing on the floor?” For T.E. Lawrence lay there prone,
Behind a pot-plant all his own. “I’m trailing suspect number one,”
Ned said. “Guessed you right. The bet is done. La Japonaise who drew all eyes
Now seems to have been hypnotised by foes unknown.” “Well, fancy that,”
Observed the Doctor, his cravat adjusting in a looking glass.
“It’s time to end this evil farce. I’ll wake the geisha, see her home,
And leave you to stand watch alone. I see no evidence of wrongs.
No ectoplasm, alien pongs, no prints, no tracks, nor yet a trace,
Which makes me wonder, do we face, some creature that a way can find
To wipe away the human mind and clear it of all sights and sound?
I know a race whose skills abound in mesmery, of humans fooled
The Silence are they often called. An enemy I often rue,
So this is what I say we’ll do…” And whispered he at volume low
Such that this poem cannot know exactly what was plotted there.
But that night on the hotel stair, kimono’d hand opened a door
As it had done on times before, it tiptoed in the room and then
A painted lady flopped again onto her bed with ling’ring sigh.
And then soon, as like a devious spy, a skull-faced figure crept within
With dapper suit and raddled skin. It lurked in menace by the bed
And thus was much surprised, instead of harmless geisha mind to troll
It found a man in silk blindfold. Lay Lawrence on the bed disguised
As geisha maid to fool the eyes, not well enough to deceive man
But in the dark a sure-fire plan to snag a Silence in a trap.
It saw its danger in a snap. The creature made away to twist
But Lawrence struck out with his fist. His fingers closed around its neck
And dragged it to the outdoor deck. They fought in darkness, for the light
Had been extinguished. While the fight drew on, the Silence tried the same
Old tactic on the brain of humans that had always worked. A sight
So full of mortal fright that it was sure to clear the mind
But Lawrence was, as planned, quite blind. And ready to put up a fight.
His throttling fingers drew in tight. The Silence fought, it wailed, it shook
While T.E. Lawrence took no joy in crushing out its life.
As surely as an Arab knife. His foe defeated, up he stood.
Lifting the obscuring hood, so that he might look upon the foe.
Except, as regular viewers know, as soon as eyes laid on the dead.
And looked away, it left his head. And he forgot all he had seen.
All that he knew was some sense keen that he had struck, and fought, and won.
Now was the war on Silence done. He staggered out into the hall
To tell the Doctor of a cruel and deadly danger, just now brooked.
But when the Doctor too had looked upon their secret mission’s sight
His mind’s grip on the facts grew light. He, too, forgot what he had seen
As if the threat had never been. Instead, to his amused distress,
He stood with Lawrence in a dress. “We’re done,” said he, “but cannot brag.
Let’s get you out of Asian drag, while to the other Doctors we
Shall tell of this strange irony: that know we of a plan destroyed,
Although our minds are unemployed in memories of the deed we did.
On this we’ll keep a quiet lid. I’ll to the geisha go and tell
That thing which troubled her’s in hell.” “But Doctor, tell, in some strange way
Did we save dreamers of the day, from some foul strategy so vile?”
“Let’s hope so,” said he with a smile. “I, too, cannot remember if
Our actions made the slightest difference, but let’s imagine so.
And someday maybe we will know, what monsters lurked in Paris halls,
What evil forces walked so tall. Humanity’s imperilled, true,
But saving it is what I do. Great danger ever-present lies
Beneath the earth, above the skies. True, furtive menace strikes again,
But we, Ned, we are dangerous men.