The TARDIS whirled through Space/Time. Its last stop had been somewhere the Doctor was sure, he’d told Amy, that she’d love. ‘The Arcadia Institute!’ the Doctor said as he’d punched the coordinates into the TARDIS’s navigational computer. ‘It’s a botanical preserve just a smidge beyond the Horsehead Nebula. Home to all manner of flora rescued from planets on the verge of destruction, some of them the most beautiful in the universe. Quite magical. It’ll blow you away, Pond.’
Amy had loved it as much as the Doctor said she would. Most of the flowers and plants came in colours not seen on Earth. Some of the specimens were incredibly gorgeous while one, which reminded Amy of a cheese plant – but gigantic – had a perfume so sweet it had made her cry.
Having left the Institute, the Doctor revealed where they were going next: the planet Lal Shanoor. ‘To see, specifically,’ he went on, ‘the Dalin Mountains. The snow that caps them is the colour of gold. Very, very, cool! We’ll fly in close so we can get the best view.’
As they waited at the console to arrive, a honking burst across the soft surge of the engines. Amy sighed. Wonder what this is… So far in her travels with the Doctor, loud noises in the TARDIS were never a good sign. ‘Doctor – ’
‘It’s not a big deal, Pond, no stress. It’s just the early warning signal that we’re about to run low’ish on fuel.’ The Doctor fussed a row of instruments to his left and the noise died.
‘So,’ Amy said, ‘where does the TARDIS fill up, then?’
She flashed him a sour smile. ‘Yeah, yeah, very funny.’
‘Nice one, chuckles. Hilarious.’
‘It’s not a gag.’
Amy gawped. ‘Wales! Shut your mouth! What the hell does an alien time machine need in Wales?’ Amy thought again. On reflection, it made as much sense as anything else around the Doctor. ‘You know what? I don’t know what I’m talking about. With the atmosphere of super weirdness round here, this thing refuelling in ‘Gavin & Stacey’ land sounds just about right.’
The Doctor smiled. ‘Very true, Pond – and it’ll be fine this time around.’
‘Oh? What went on? And just what does the TARDIS get from Cardiff?’
‘Well, there was a problem that’s now been dealt with so it’s no longer a problem. But this problem sent things totally bonkers and we got blasted to Malcassairo. Worst – planet – ever! It’s at the very end of the universe and, appropriately enough – given that it’s just rocks, feral humans and endless night – it’s the very last place you’d want to be. Ooh, but they did have a big, rocket-y thing there, too. That was awesome. I love a big, rocket-y thing!
‘Anyway, that was then and this, very definitely, is now. So, we’ll put Lal Shanoor on hold and make a pit stop. We’ve ages before we get the really serious fuel warning but, knowing my life, tonnes of things could get in the way…’ The Doctor began to reset the coordinates.
‘Er, hullo..?’ Amy said, frowning. ‘Keeping me hanging, here..! You haven’t answered my question – about what powers the TARDIS?’
The Doctor looked at her and stopped what he was doing. ‘Question? Ah yes, of course! Sorry… Yes, I do get into a world of my own. Hang on, give me two secs.’ The Doctor’s face darted back to the navigation computer and he finished laying in the course. ‘So,’ he said, turning to Amy, ‘why Cardiff? Well, because above the city is a dimensional rift that has lashings of something called Artron energy. Takes about twelve hours for the TARDIS to suck up enough Artron-y goodness to fill the tank.’
A speaker to the Doctor’s right began a long, electronic squeal, like a note pulled from a theremin. ‘Oh, here we go...’ Amy said. Maybe that early warning came a bit too late…
‘Listen, are you sure – ’
‘Oh, it’s nothing to do with the fuel situation,’ the Doctor said casually, his hands flapping. ‘It’s quite different. Yes, haven’t heard this particular announcement in a while… Last time, I got a solarium and a karaoke bar – ooh, and a new Zero Room!’
‘Karaoke bar? What are you talking about?’
The squeal stopped and a panel above the speaker opened. From below, what looked to Amy like a mini DVD player rose on a stand. Its lid had a plaque which read Finite Occupancy Terminal. The Doctor opened the lid, revealing a screen on its other side. Below was a computer keypad. The screen showed a message, in capitals of green’ish copper:
‘TARDIS HAS REACHED FINITE OCCUPANCY,’ Amy read. ‘IN ORDER TO MANAGE NEW ENVIRONMENTS, SELECT STRUCTURUAL ADDITIONS FOLDER. OPEN NEW ENVIRONMENTS MENU AND FOLLOW RETAIN/DELETE OPTIONS.’ She frowned. Finite Occupancy?
‘This is one of the best things the TARDIS does,’ the Doctor said. ‘The dear old darling!’ He patted the console. ‘Isn’t she a honey? A percentage of her space, Amy, is developmental; meaning, therefore, that she grows new rooms – and their contents, of course! – whatever she thinks might tickle my fancy or that I’ll genuinely need. Well, actually, the creative energy involved isn’t just all for me. The TARDIS reserves a bit for the console room, you see, because she likes to do the occasional make-over. Anyway, as the TARDIS creates the rooms, she tweaks the pre-existing architecture around them and fixes things so stuff doesn’t get all squashed up. The creation process takes hundreds of years. And when there’s no more space left in the developmental portion, Finite Occupancy is reached. Ta da! The TARDIS is full and I get a message so I can decide what to keep and what to chuck.’
‘So, you can lose rooms?’
‘That’s right. It means the architecture can be managed according to the operator’s preferences. I’m probably not going to want everything she makes, you see – she knows me but she doesn’t know everything.’
‘Hang on,’ Amy said. ‘So what would happen if you ever got to a point when, you know, what with dumping rooms and keeping others, you had a perfect mix and didn’t want to shed anything? Would the TARDIS stop growing new stuff?’
‘Yes. The growth impulse would go into hibernation because there’d be no space left. And that’s exactly what happens at the Finite Occupancy point, and for the same reason. In both scenarios, new rooms can only start growing if and when I decide to make changes that free some space for them.’
The surge of the engines fired up as the TARDIS began to materialize. ‘Hello, Cardiff!’ the Doctor said and moved around the console to the engineering panel. He flicked a dial that sat below two levers that always reminded Amy of the gear stick of her Ford Focus.
When the engines stopped, the Doctor pulled down the levers. ‘Engine Filters open. Now, let’s see what she’s come up with...’ Going back to the terminal, he started to type. ‘OK… Ah – there’s the folder... Open Menu… Blimey! Some of these are no-brainers. Aerodrome? Fifty extra miles of cloister? Don’t – want – those.’ The Doctor took a notebook and pencil from his inside jacket pocket. ‘Right, let’s make some lists.’
Fourteen hours later…
Pitches (Football, Croquet)
Martial Arts dojo
Ski slopes (dry)
‘… and wine cellar. Yeah, happy with all those.’ The Doctor closed his notebook and slipped it into his jacket. ‘Sorry about all the rechecking, Pond, all the changes of mind; I want to make sure I’ve got this right as all decisions are final.’
‘No worries,’ Amy said. She pointed. ‘Don’t forget your pencil.’
‘Oh, right – thank you,’ the Doctor said. He took it from behind his right ear and put it with his notebook. ‘Fun fact: Leonardo did the ear thing with his pencil. Saw that when he was taking a break from making sketches for ‘The Last Supper’ – ooh, and Van Gogh did it too, so I’m told.’
‘Oh, I love his paintings,’ Amy said.
‘Oh yeah. ‘The Starry Night’, ‘Sunflowers’… The one with the café…’
‘I’m a big fan, too. Actually, you know, all this talk about Van Gogh has made me just really wanna go – right now – and check out some of his pictures face to face.’
‘Hell, yeah! Sounds awesome, let’s do it.’ Can’t wait, Amy thought.
‘Right, that’s that,’ the Doctor said, snapping his fingers. ‘We’re bumping Lal Shanoor for Paris. There’s at least one gallery there with the great man’s stuff, I’m sure – anyway, back to business. So then, after much deliberation, no further changes to be made, provisional room choices are logged: Now, let’s lock them in – keep.’ The Doctor pressed a key on the terminal’s keypad. He pressed a second. ‘Chuck.’
From all around, Amy heard a riot of deep clicks, knocks and bumps. After thirty seconds or so they faded out. The Doctor then shut the terminal and it dropped away, the panel sliding back over. ‘And there we are,’ he said. ‘So: Paris! Let’s put some miles between here and there.'
Across the TARDIS, moments after the Doctor had put away the terminal, rooms began to blossom.