Eventually, she stopped, swallowed, inhaled and addressed the TARDIS. “This,” she said slowly, lying flat on her back with hands on her face, “cannot be happening.”
The TARDIS merely purred under her head. At least, the Doctor thought it was the TARDIS. Looking up properly, she noticed a large, grey striped cat sitting peacefully by her feet, waving its tail.
The Doctor sat up and put her hands on her hips. “Not only am I suddenly a woman,” she said dangerously, “I’m now the sort of woman who lives alone with a cat?”
Neither the TARDIS nor the cat answered. Still grumbling, the Doctor got to her feet. “I’ll need new clothes,” she said to both of them, and stamped off in the direction of the wardrobe.
Once she’d got there, though, she sat on the floor and didn’t look at any of the clothes on the hangers. “It’s not like it’s a bad thing,” she said, after a while. “I can be a strong, independent woman who lives alone with a cat.” She paused. “I mean... I’m the Doctor. Strong and independent is basically a given.” Another pause. “But I never had to talk about it before.”
An even longer pause, which the cat filled by stretching out fully, making claw marks in the floor. The Doctor watched it, thinking. “I suppose,” she said carefully, “I am still the Doctor? I mean, I remember being the Doctor...”
Thinking about it, she stood up and looked in the mirror. “Curls,” she said, running her hands through the lush richness of them, “are okay. I’ve had curls. I can deal with curls. I can be the Doctor with curls.”
Less easy to deal with were the delicate lines of her features, long, upturned eyelashes, and the uncomfortable sensation of clothes that were never designed for being forced to bunch and wrap over curves. She stared a second longer and said, tentatively, “That is... if I’m the Doctor?”
This time the TARDIS was definitely purring, and the clothes racks began to spin of their own accord. The Doctor took the hint. After some digging, she found a pair of jeans that could have belonged to Rose or Tegan or Ace, and a plain cotton white t-shirt that could have belonged to anyone. Actually getting dressed was something she rushed through. She’d take a bath later and, um, inspect things. If that wasn’t thoroughly perverted.
“Oh, god,” she said aloud, and took a long, shuddering breath. Standing up, she kicked her old clothes into a pile and walked barefoot around in a circle. “Right, Doctor,” she said clearly. “Pull yourself together. It could be worse. List good points.”
The silence was getting to her. She cleared her throat and went on, “Good points. I’m alive. My TARDIS still loves me. Um... I have a cat? Is that a good point?” The cat hissed. “Yes, yes, it is. I’m alive, I have a cat. I’m the Doctor.”
She stopped for a moment. “Bad points. I am a woman. This is not,” she went on hurriedly, “a bad point all by itself. It’s just I’ve lived a long time not being one and it’s a little bit of a shock. Also, I’m walking around in a thin cotton t-shirt and no bra, which I’m informed is somehow obscene. I can’t save planets because I’m in the middle of an identity crisis.” She stopped and kicked the wall. “I am having an identity crisis! And I have broken my foot!”
By the time she was sitting on the floor, elevating her bleeding foot above her hearts, the cat had bounded across and begun to mew. The Doctor stroked it with her fingertips. “I know,” she said gently, “I know, I’m an idiot and self-injury is not the answer. But what is the answer?” Her voice was beginning to sound plaintive, but she ignored that. “I don’t want to settle down and learn to cook! I’m not that sort of girl! I’m not any sort of girl! I had a penis for nine hundred years!”
The silence stretched out. The cat started licking its paws. The Doctor tried a different tack. “And where did you come from?” she demanded. “Unless this is all some crazy, crazy dream, I didn’t have a cat! Do you think I need company, old girl?” This last was addressed to the TARDIS. “To stop me going crazy? I’m already going crazy. I’ve spent the last ten minutes having an argument with myself.”
The Doctor stopped there, and watched the cat intently. “Having an argument... that’s it, isn’t it? That’s the answer.”
Standing up, she limped decisively back to the console room.
Her first incarnation tried to get her to make tea. “You chauvinistic bastard,” growled the Doctor. “Just tell me... what would you do if you woke up as a woman?”
The First Doctor stared at her for a moment. “Young lady, I would do no such thing. But if I did, I would spend far less time abroad on foggy London evenings.”
The Doctor looked angrily around her, shook some of the condensing drizzle off her curls, and stomped off into the night.
“I’d invest in smaller shoes,” he said thoughtfully, and played a little tune.
“You are bloody useless,” said the Doctor.
“Madam, you are clearly in need of professional help.”
“I’m in need of professional help? You chug along in a lemon-yellow roadster souped-up to be a handy penis substitute and I’m in need of professional help? Yes, I’m going, you don’t have to escort me off the premises, Brigadier!
“Although,” she added, reaching the door just as Sergeant Benton was closing in, “it’s not you who really needs the penis substitute...”
“No! NO! I do not want a jelly baby! I don’t want a cup of tea and a sit down! I want to know what went wrong with my life!
“Oh… I’m sorry. Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shout. I’m actually quite fond of you, or what I remember of you, and I’m glad to see you again, and yes I’m aware you have no idea who I am and goodbye, now...”
He just stared at her, eyes wide and lips parted. For someone who voluntarily wore celery, thought the Doctor grouchily, he was one to stare. After a moment she rolled her eyes and followed his gaze.
“Right,” she said after a while. “It was raining in 1963 and I still haven’t found a bra. Excuse me.”
She left. He was still staring.
“I think I would be terribly surprised. But I’d like to see how the other half lives.”
The Doctor nodded fervently. “That was a sensible answer. That was the only sensible answer. Thank you. Thank you very much. No, no carrot juice. Thank you!”
“I’ve never been asked that before,” he said.
“Bloody right you haven’t.” The Doctor pouted a bit, then turned to the companion. “Ace! What would you do?”
“Check into the local loony bin,” said Ace matter-of-factly. “Seeing as I already am a woman, and all.”
The Doctor blinked. "Oh."
“You’re more than you seem,” he said, contemplatively.
“Yeah, I am,” said the Doctor. It seemed a little churlish to say I’m you, you idiotic dandy, so she kept her mouth shut.
“I’d ask myself why I was asking that question. And try Simone de Beauvoir.” He handed her a book.
“Oh, for god’s sake, you’re more feminine than I am,” said the Doctor, and left.
A desolate, windswept landscape, this time. A solitary, leather-jacketed figure mooching moodily along, going from nowhere to nowhere by means of the long and winding road.
“You have your own problems,” whispered the Doctor, and crept away before he saw her.
Back at home in her own TARDIS, the Doctor hunted for a bathroom. It seemed a little different when at last she did find it – she was sure she’d never bought, stolen or wished into existence a bottle of vanilla shampoo, or another of red nail varnish – but she ran the water anyway and only blinked when the cat strolled serenely in. It bounced onto the taps and began to lick at its paws. “I thought cats didn’t like water,” the Doctor told it. “No, no, forget I said anything, you carry on.”
The TARDIS provided big fluffy towels, as expected, and the Doctor hung one carefully over the side of the bath and rested the book she’d been given on top of it. “The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir,” she read.
By the time she’d finished it, the cat was asleep and the water was getting cold, but she didn’t mind, resolving to read Mary Wollstonecraft next. Clambering out, she drew a fresh towel around her and murmured, “This is not perverted. This is my feminine side getting a look-in at last.”
The mirror was steamed up, and she decided making an effort to wipe it really would be perverted and started drying her hair. Then she dropped the towel and wiped the mirror anyway.
“Ah,” she said after a minute. “That’s all right, then.”
The cat opened one eye, then went back to sleep. The Doctor opened the door softly, as not to wake it, and wandered back through to the wardrobe room, which was still strewn with rejected items off the racks. She would have to decide about clothes later, she thought, but not now. There was all the time in the world.
“And as for you,” she said, addressing the thrown-off clothes, “I know what you’d do if you woke up as a woman, because I’m doing it.” She finished shaking excess water off her curls and reached downwards. She folded the tie, the dress shirt, the loose brown jacket, and placed them in a neat pile in the corner.
“That’s for you,” she said. “For you, Doctor, who I was proud to be. Not because a double-X chromosome makes you congenitally neat and tidy, because it doesn’t. And not because I’m not still the Doctor, because I am. And still being the Doctor, I’m not travelling naked through time and space.”
She picked another plain cotton t-shirt, black this time, and after a second’s thought, tugged a red skirt from the racks, childishly pleased at the idea of not wearing trousers. “I’ve never worn anything else,” she said, getting resigned to the fact she was talking to herself, whether or not she ostensibly addressed herself to the cat or the TARDIS. “I suppose swaddling clothes aren’t trousers, but beyond that...”
Twirling so the material lifted in a flat circle around her, she grinned and lifted a red flower out of a vase and tucked it behind one ear. Thus attired and still barefoot, she went through to the console room and touched the controls. They responded, and the familiar lurch through time and space was a welcome one. She grinned at her reflection, pale and washed-out in the polished surfaces. “Where to now, Doctor?”
Unsurprisingly, her reflection said nothing, but the sound of movement made her look round. The cat was back. The turn of her head made the flower slip through her curls and into her waiting hand.
“Is that a hint? That’s a hint,” she said, looking at the console, and the purring sound lifted. The rose went back behind her ear as the TARDIS arrived in London, 2006.