The key is tied to a string.
The string is made of dust.
The dust is made of little lives. Crawling, writhing, squirming little lives, so far away from their books and their quiet.
And they, those quiet little lives, are in the Doctor’s hands, being tossed at the bars of his little stone cage repeatedly.
“Oh jellies I’m old. I’m losing my touch! Let’s just try again, shall we? When one comes by, get into position. Your cousins will do all the work. When they get here.”
He looks at his dubious watch, then tosses the key on the living string against the bars; finally, it catches, swinging round and falling down the other side of the wall with a satisfying clunk.
“Good,” he breathes, encouraging them with a smile he’s long since forgotten they can’t see, “now I want you to extend the string beyond the guard station; make sure they see the key shining. When one of them starts to come round, drag your little dusty bums back here and I’ll be waiting, playing dead. I’m good at that, you know. Playing dead. On with you now! Go on, it’s all right. If they hurt you,” he adds, smoothing out every muscle in his face so very slowly, “they’ll just have to answer to little old me. Run along, do your bit. I’ll be in here, nursing my signature Hollywood malaise. Although they didn’t exactly love me at the Globe...”
He settles himself on the floor, in the wet bit of dark near the cot they gave him, and musses his hair up, his wide lips calculating the perfect pitch of a trembling moan, in case the string is missed.
“Now, whatever you do, team, don’t kill them, and don’t let them get the key... it won’t be easy,” he murmurs, before hanging his mouth open wide and slowing his breathing, “... ‘cause there ain’t no party like a Time Lord party.”
Then with a last grin at the shadows, he closes his eyes to wait.