Doctor Who: Skeletons on a Space Station

Responding to a distress signal, the Twelfth Doctor and Clara arrive on a space station where the only living thing is death.

The interchange was empty; a square space with open arch-like doorways in the centre of each of the four walls. Fluorescent lighting strips crossed the ceiling horizontally from wall to wall, three of them spaced evenly apart. They bathed the interchange with brilliant white light that accented the signs of disrepair and neglect. The communication screens and door controls built into the walls were caked in a layer of dust, the same dust that swirled slowly through the air, kept in perpetual motion by the station’s air conditioning units.

The cold silence was disturbed by a mechanical groan, a laboured wheezing that grew in volume as the empty space it emanated from excited the dust, sucking it from its slumber into a small whirlwind as a 1960’s dark blue police public call box faded into reality in the far right corner of the intersection. With a thud, the TARDIS completed its materialisation into a solid form and the silence returned.

The door to the TARDIS swung inwards and a head emerged. It looked from left to right, the thin face fixed in a stern expression. Seemingly satisfied, the head disappeared from view briefly before reemerging complete with the rest of its body. The Doctor stepped away from the TARDIS, his grey hair silvery in the bright overhead lighting. He turned in a full circle.

“Well,” he called back towards his time machine. “The air seems breathable. Enough oxygen for your fragile lungs to survive unaided.” The Doctor turned again, his intense eyes scrutinising the surroundings from beneath his unruly eyebrows.

“I told you, I don’t have fragile lungs,” came a voice from within the TARDIS, closely followed by a brown haired girl’s exit. Without turning back, Clara pulled the door closed behind her. “You could have given me more of a warning about the atmosphere.”

“If you’re going to just run out of the TARDIS at the sight of a sandy beach, then you only have yourself to blame.”

Clara rolled her eyes as she drew up alongside the Doctor’s tall, thin frame. “So, what have you deduced?”

“The air is definitely recycled beyond acceptable standards. Maybe I should file a complaint.”

“If the crew set up the broadcast of a distress signal, I think the quality of air is not high on their list of priorities.”

The Doctor did not respond. Instead he walked away from her towards one of the open doorways. Clara watched as he disappeared from view. “I don’t think anything is of high priority to the crew anymore,” the Doctor’s voice called from beyond the doorway.

“What do you mean?” Clara replied, her face creased into a frown as she followed the footprints the Doctor’s shoes had left scuffed in the thin layer of dust that covered the walkways. Better to be safe than sorry, she thought, especially when his voice changes tone without warning. She passed through the doorway into the section of corridor that connected to it and stretched off before her. She stopped dead in her tracks a few paces behind the Doctor. “Oh.” She saw what he did.

“Indeed,” the Doctor deadpanned.

Littered down the corridor were slumped bodies, their spacesuits haphazardly scattered like discarded piles of clothes dumped around teenage bedrooms.

“There must be at least twenty bodies in this stretch alone,” the Doctor said as he moved towards the nearest spacesuit. He kicked it gently with his foot, which caused the once humanoid shape to crumple flat like an unplugged inflatable. “Dust, that unfortunate soul must have forgot to set his alarm.” The Doctor’s stern face did not change. He crouched down beside another spacesuit a few paces away. “This one seems to have more to him than old dusty over there.”

“So they didn’t all die at the same time?”

“I think that is highly probable, Clara. Even in this small section of this space station I can see several generations of spacesuit design. People have been decaying here for, well, give or take, at least thirty years.” The Doctor turned to Clara. “I’m sure if we were to choose a different corridor, the same story will be told. If this was once, maybe, a colony space station, given the multitude of suit advancements, why would they have no respect for their deceased?” He paused for a second, his eyes searching for clues. “Something happened here, Clara, or rather something has been happening here.”

“What could have caused this?” Clara stepped towards one of the slumped corpses. Through the tinted visor, she could make out the blackened sockets that once contained the fallen spaceman’s eyes.

The Doctor passed his sonic screwdriver over the next body he inspected. “Who knows? Maybe a virus or space plague. There doesn’t appear to be any signs of trauma.”

“A virus?” Clara stood up straight quickly. She jumped back towards the centre of the corridor, as far away from the bodies as she could. The fact that all of them wore closed helmets hit her like a freight train of realisation. “And we’re stood here without any breathing filtration?”

“Calm down, I told you the only issue with the air is its quality. I can’t detect anything untoward floating around in it, and the sonic screwdriver didn’t detect anything either.” He stood up and joined Clara in the centre of the corridor. “If it was an airborne pathogen of any design, it must have been neutralised or gone dormant.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any more at ease, Doctor.”

“If we’re going to find any answers to our questions, then we need to find the control room and access the station’s logs.” The Doctor strolled casually to the nearest communication screen set into the wall. He tapped the screen with the knuckle of his left hand’s middle finger. It remained blank. He rapped against it again, harder. Nothing. His eyebrows furrowed as his lips thinned with irritation. He pulled his sonic screwdriver from his jacket pocket and pointed it at the dead screen. Nothing. He adjusted the settings. A burst of green static crackled across the black before the screen flicked into life.


The Doctor ignored Clara, his fingers tapping and dragging different windows around the screen.

“Doctor?” Clara repeated, her voice louder, its tone sharper.

The Doctor waved his hand dismissively at her.


“Can’t you see I’m busy, Clara. Unless you can point us in the direction we need to go, then could you just—”

“It’s about the bodies,” Clara cut over the Doctor, her voice clearly ending his sentence with a forced period. “Look.”

“What about them?”

“The spacesuits are not generational. They’re all different, the identification patches are all from different crews and agencies.”

“Really?” The Doctor spun from the screen and scanned the corridor; his eyes absorbed the different company logos. “You’re right, Clara. How did I not notice that? I can count about six different logos.” He paused. “That can mean only one thing.”

“We’re not the first to respond to the distress signal.”

“We most certainly are not.” He pointed his sonic screwdriver back at the screen. He kept it activated until finally the schematics of the station flashed and filled the screen. “Something is seriously wrong here, Clara. We need to get to the bottom of it, otherwise we won’t be the last to respond to that signal.”

“The control room should just be through the door at the end of this corridor.” The Doctor walked briskly down another corridor that looked exactly the same as the previous. Always three strides ahead of Clara, he kept to the centre of the walkways, this allowed him to ignore the sporadic corpses that, although seemingly endless in numbers, were decreasing the closer they drew towards the station’s control room.

“You said that three corridors ago. Are you sure you know where you’re going, and not just leading us in circles?” Clara said sarcastically. She had seen enough corpses for one day and certainly did not want them to get lost, thus raising their chances of being the next additions to the Good Samaritan graveyard.

The corridor continued to curve in front of them, until the Doctor let out a cry of relief and excitement as the door to the control room rolled into view. He drew out his sonic screwdriver as he made the final approach and set to work immediately as he reached the door’s control panel.

Clara arrived beside him just as the door panel slid upwards, revealing a large circular room with a high ceiling that after endless corridors made Clara feel like she stepped out from an underground tunnel network into the fresh open air of the outside. She breathed in deeply then regretted it immediately as the stale air dried her throat and caused her to cough.

The Doctor looked at her, his thick eyebrows lopsided by a look of puzzlement. “Why would you go and do that?” he asked. “I told you when we arrived that the air is recycled beyond acceptable standards, and with all these bodies lying about who knows who you’ve just inhaled with such gusto.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Your concern for my wellbeing has been duly noted.”

“Now, where to begin?” The Doctor looked around, a pained look on his face. “Why is nothing easy?”

Around the walls of the room were continuous control banks that broke only for doorways. Across their multi-buttoned, multi-dialled surfaces lights flickered with no consistent pattern. Some blinked steadily, and just as the Doctor thought he had worked out its rhythm, they would go static or dead, some never returning to its previous state.

“A distress signal of this magnitude must have been set up by someone high ranking.” The Doctor switched his attention from the control banks to the slumped bodies dotted around the room. “None of these are wearing spacesuits, which clearly indicates this must be the original crew. Help me look for anything that could designate superiority.”

Clara did as the Doctor asked. “If it’s only the original crew in here, Doctor, that means no one who answered the distress signal made it this far.”

“I know.”

“Then how did we manage to make it?”

“I don’t know, and that doesn’t sit very well with me.” The Doctor knocked a skeleton over as he passed; it collapsed noisily, causing the Doctor to spin around and catch the end of its final journey. He noticed that its right hand, snapped free from the wrist, remained gripped to the keyboard it had been working at. “Got it,” the Doctor shouted. “This has to be it. Look.” He pointed Clara’s attention to the hand. “He must have died as he set up the signal broadcast. He was pressing so strongly that his sudden death caused his fingers to fuse to the controls.” He brushed away the hand roughly and started pressing keys and flicking switches.


The Doctor paused suddenly, stood up straight and stepped away from the control panel. “Something isn’t right, Clara. It’s what you just said. Why and how are we the only ones to make it this far without suffering the same fate as everyone else?”

“Luck?” Clara replied, hoping that just for once that would be the right answer.

“In a manner of speaking. But not so much now.”

Clara frowned at the Doctor.

“I have a sudden feeling that we are being watched.” The Doctor’s eyes trailed slowly towards the door they had entered through and not closed behind them. His silence caused Clara to look in the same direction. She joined the Doctor in his silence as her heart, as did the Doctor’s, sunk.

In the doorway stood a figure in full spacesuit, the interior of its helmet lit with a dull blue light that shadowed the sharp features of the skull menacingly.

“Wh– what is that, Doctor?” Clara stuttered, keeping her voice low.

“The Vashta Nerada.”

“That doesn’t really answer the question.”

“The Vashta Nerada,” he replied irritably. “Swarming, carnivorous creatures. Nasty. Piranhas of the air nasty.”

“But it’s just a skeleton in a spacesuit.”

“The Vashta Nerada live in swarms, and that swarm is co-ordinating its efforts to animate that poor fellow. It’s not a skeleton by age, Clara. The Vashta Nerada, shadows that devour flesh.”

“So why did we get further than everyone else?”

“I would have thought that conclusion is pretty obvious now. They have probably set up camp near the airlocks, far enough away to lure in unsuspecting victims, but close enough to prevent anyone stopping their free meal ticket. We arrived by the TARDIS, we didn’t alert them straight away. They’ve been playing chase and now they’ve found us.” The Doctor spun back to the control desk, his sonic screwdriver emitting varying chirps of sounds as he worked quickly.

“So what do we do?”

“It’s currently surveying the scene, that’s why is hasn’t moved. Stay in the light, stay away from shadows. Count the shadows.” Pushing his screwdriver back into his jacket pocket, he leaned in close to Clara’s ear and whispered, “And when I say run, run.” He patted her on the shoulder. “Run, Clara, run.”

Both the Doctor and Clara set off quickly. They charged towards the spaceman, splitting at the last moment as they each took through the doorway either side of the stationary form.

“Don’t stop running until you’re inside the TARDIS with the doors closed tightly behind you,” the Doctor shouted over his shoulder. “Don’t stop, or pause to catch your breath. Stay focused, avoid stepping in shadows, stay in the light and don’t look back. That controlled skeleton is definitely following us, so don’t distract yourself checking.”


“No buts; they catch up with you, you’re dinner. So for once, do as I say.”

“What about the distress signal?”

“Sorted. Restaurant closed. Now run with your feet, not your mouth.”

Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor ran to the console and instantly flicked switches and pressed buttons until the central column began to rise and fall as the engines groaned into life and the TARDIS dematerialised into the time vortex.

“So?” Clara broke the silence, her breathing returning to normal, her lungs still burning from the nonstop dash through the space station.

“So?” the Doctor replied, eyebrows raised. Apart from a few hairs on his head being out of place, he did not show any signs of exhaustion.

“Are you going to explain the last five minutes? Are you seriously just going to leave those creatures on that station?”

“What else would I do with them?”

“I don’t know, maybe move them, contain them.”

“But that station is their home. The Vashta Nerada exist on billions of planets across the universe, they must have snuck onto the station during its construction. Their colony clearly got out of control at some point or reason, and they got a little bit carried away.”

“A little bit?”

“They didn’t set up the distress signal, they just took advantage of the situation. I took care of that. I changed the call for help into a warning of extreme danger. Only someone extremely stupid would choose to step foot on that station.”

Clara was not convinced, she folded her arms across her chest. “Stupid, or just curious.”

The Doctor shrugged his shoulders and turned away from her, concentrating on the TARDIS console. “You know what they say, ‘Curiosity killed the cat.’ ”


He turned back to stare at the disgruntled Clara. “When you’ve done this for as long as I have,” he said, his voice steady, calm, “you learn that you have to choose your battles wisely; knowing when to stand and fight, and when to run away. The Vashta Nerada aboard that station do not care about being there or not. They are not suffering. However, if I moved them to another world or environment, they could go on to digest the local wildlife. Other than destroying the station and everything aboard, I think I chose the best option.”

Clara remained silent, trying to resist the Doctor’s hard stare. She did not last longer than a few seconds. “Okay, I guess you’re right.”

The Doctor’s face broke out into a wide smile. “Of course I’m right, no guessing about it.” He pointed Clara towards a button on the console. “Hold that down for me, and whilst you’re doing that, think about where you’d like to go next.”

Skeletons on a Space Station is a short story based on the BBC television series Doctor Who. It features the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, as played by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.

Read on Archive of Our Own.

Copyright © Dominic Lyne, 2019

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