the pearl

Southend, July 29th, 1976

He first saw the Doctor when he was 12.

He was on holiday with his mum and sister — it was right after Da left — and they couldn't afford to go to Majorca or Tenerife like the other kids, so they went to Southend, where Clive got picked on by the other kids playing on the beach, so he spent most of his time in the hotel, trying to talk the manager into letting him watch the telly.

When he did go out, it was just to walk the pier, walking up and down the "world's longest" pier so that his mum wouldn't complain about how he wasn't getting "any exercise".

He got sunburned after his first time, so he started taking the train instead, just telling his mum he was going on walks. She was busy with his sister, and with pretending that "everything was fine, Clive, really...", so she didn't notice that the 50p she gave him for a "proper" lunch each day went to train fare and a bag of chips at the end, with some left over to stick in the battered suitcase that used to be his Da's.

So he'd sit at the end of the pier, "a mile and a quarter" out into the sea, on a scratched and weather-beaten bench next to the pavillion, eat his chips, and stare out at the sand and waves, watching the tide go in and out, until it was late afternoon and time to go back to the hotel for tea.

It was a windy day the day he saw him — strong winds blowing crisp packets and other litter across the pier as he sat there, stuffing his face full of chips and wondering what his Da was doing right then.

And, suddenly, there was a man standing in front of him. He thought he was Da, at first, but Da never wore a leather coat like those punk rockers he had seen on the telly. And the man smiled, and looked at him like he was someone, and that wasn't like Da at all.

"Hello there," the man said, his voice completely not like Clive's father's voice, but was Northern, like his gran's.

Clive looked up, squinting. "Hello."

The man sat down next to him. "Can I nick a chip?"

Clive stared at him blankly, then, before he could react, the man had grabbed a chip and smiled. "Cheers," he said, just before popping it into his mouth. He chewed it and turned back to Clive, grinning. "So what's your name, then?"

Clive blinked a few times. "Clive," he finally said.

"Well, Clive," the man said, still smiling, but there was a weird feeling about him, like when Mum and Da used to be suddenly silent when he walked into the room. "Are you enjoying your holiday?"

Clive shrugged. "Dunno." He frowned, looking at the man. "How'd you know I was on holiday?"

The man tilted his head slightly. "You don't look like you're from around here, boy," he said, faking an accent that sounded kind of like what those people in America sounded like on the telly — not the people on the news or things like that, but like the people in the movies, the old cowboy movies that he liked to watch.

Clive smiled, and the man leaned back, grinning at him. "Knew that'd get a grin out of you," he said. He looked back out towards the sea, and sighed. " out here with family, Clive? Your mum, your dad—"

"Not Da," Clive said, sharply, looking down at the ground, his cheeks flaming red even as he said it. "Da doesn't live with us anymore."

"Oh." The man tilted his head again, seeming to...smell something. Or hear something. Clive wasn't sure which. "That's good, though," he finally said. "You know why?'

Clive frowned, looking up at the man again. "Why?"

"Because, if he was here, you'd be with him. And then you wouldn't listen to me when I told you that you should go back to the hotel. Right away."

Clive's frown got deeper. "What?"

The man stood up. "You heard me," he said. "Go back to the hotel." And something changed, and the man looked even more like his Da, because he looked angry and scared at the same time. "Now."

And although Clive didn't always listen to his Mum or his Gran or even that teacher at school who always gave him science fiction books and told him it was perfectly okay to like movies about space, he listened to this man.


"What's your name?" he asked, still looking up at the man.

The man frowned, and glared at him slightly. "I'm the Doctor. Now go." He stepped back, looking down at his feet, almost as if he was looking through the pier boards. "Go!"

Clive stared at him, then, even though he had refused to do it for years, he ran.

He ran up the pier to the train and jumped onto the train and watched the pavillion recede in the distance as the train moved on. He thought he saw a bit of smoke from where the man was, but he definitely did see the man get into an old police box, a blonde girl opening the door for him.

The smoke grew stronger as the train stopped at the station, and a few people made comments about it. Clive walked back to his hotel, occasionally turning back to see the smoke that had taken over the pier, and looking for the phone box that had disappeared.

This Doctor Who story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at