Their guide used his communication device to ask for the Doctor’s current location before leading Jack and Rose across the museum. They found him after a fifteen minute walk through several exhibits of some of the strangest looking things they had ever seen.
“How much farther?” Rose had asked at one point.
Their guide replied that it was a considerable journey, nearly to the other side of that section of the museum, since their friend had gone to the exhibit that contained instruments and sounds from unidentified cultures.
“It is a fairly large exhibit,” he explained. “There is so much music in the Universe, so little of it is known and understood. We have artifacts and records that have arrived here anonymously or from archaeological surveys of long dead planets about which almost nothing is known. We make progress on identifying them every day, but some will never be catalogued.”
Rose and Jack shared a look as they followed their guide, each realizing why the Doctor had wanted to see this particular exhibit. It was for the same reason each of them had been interested to see the exhibit for their own native time.
When they found the Doctor, he was busy using the sonic screwdriver to break into one of the display cases. Focused on his task and characteristically oblivious to the rest of his surroundings, he did not notice the short scuffle that ensued in the hallway as the guide stepped forward with a complaint half formed on his lips and Jack reached out to pull him back.
“Wait,” Jack hissed quietly.
“We’re allowed to play, just use your recording thingy from back here,” Rose whispered. “If we let him know we’re here, he won’t play, trust me.”
Their guide looked skeptical, but when he turned back to look at the Doctor again he changed his mind.
The case the Doctor had opened contained an instrument Rose could actually identify. It was a harp. He handled it with such reverent care that the guide decided to follow his charge’s advice.
As he pulled out his recording device and prepared it to record the harp, the Doctor sat beside the display case with the instrument in his lap.
Still oblivious to his audience in the hallway, he stared at the harp as if expecting it to suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke. He placed a shaking hand against the strings and tentatively plucked a few notes, strummed once, and then plucked the notes again with a steadier hand. He was clearly deciding if he wanted to actually play or not.
“Does he actually know that instrument?” the guide whispered. “It looks like it should be from ancient Earth, probably a place called ancient Greece. But the design isn’t quite right and the markings on it are all wrong, they aren’t anything we’ve ever seen before here. That’s why it wound up in this exhibit.”
Rose shook her head, and Jack explained, “We don’t know much about his people, or where he came from. It certainly looks like he knows it, though.”
Just then, the Doctor began to play.
He began with the same sequence of rising notes he had played tentatively before, but now his playing was sure and confident. The music was soothing, like a lullaby, but the strangely non-symmetrical beat seemed to continuously push the listener forward into the next phrase.
Some parts were lyrical while other parts held tension that the Doctor seemed to resonate with as he played. The tension would build and then be left hanging as the piece returned to the lyrical melody of the lullaby.
It didn’t sound like what Rose imagined alien music might sound, instead it seemed very much like something a human would compose and play. But parts of it seemed to wander around the melody in a way both Rose and Jack found a little strange to listen to. It was almost like improvisation, as if the melody was intended to be played how the musician felt it instead of in a strictly defined pattern.
Jack found himself paying close attention to the Doctor’s face, watching as various emotions played across his features in response to the music. At some times he seemed blissfully happy, and at others he winced almost as if in pain.
Similarly, Rose focused on his hands. She was used to seeing those fingers working on the TARDIS console or tangled in her own as they ran for their lives. She found herself fascinated to watch them caress the harp and gracefully coax music from it.
The piece wound down to a close with a several repetitions of that same rising scale the Doctor had first played, shifting the rhythm slightly and finally ending with a snippet of melody that seemed to cry out longingly for something more.
The Doctor’s hands hovered over the harp strings for a breathless moment, and then he sighed and rested his hands around the base of the harp in his lap.
“You can come in, now,” he said, his voice as shaky as his hands had been when they had first held the harp.
Rose, Jack, and their guide stepped into the room and approached the Doctor with various degrees of guilty looks on their faces.
“Hello,” Rose said quietly when they’d reached him, as if she didn’t want to dispel the lingering echoes of the Doctor’s song.
“Are you okay?” Jack asked in a similarly subdued voice.
The Doctor nodded, leaning his head back against the display case behind him and closing his eyes with a sigh.
Jack and Rose moved closer, each settling down on the floor on one side of their friend. They each placed a hand over one of the Doctor’s as he continued to cradle the harp in his lap.
He did not react to their touch other than a small smile that slowly spread across his face.
“Did you like it?” he asked a moment later.
“It was beautiful,” Rose answered him, and Jack squeezed his hand in agreement.
“It’s… a sort of lullaby, I guess,” the Doctor continued. “Music from home…”
He trailed off wistfully, fondly remembering his home for the first time since the war.
“Thank you,” the museum employee said.
The Doctor opened his eyes to peer up at the alien, regarding him and the recording device in his hand for a moment.
“No,” he replied then. “Thank you.”
The guide then solemnly handed him one of the recording tabs, which the Doctor took and carefully deposited in a pocket of his leather jacket. He caressed the harp again, taking a moment to run his fingers across the strings and the swirling writing on the base that Rose and Jack both recognized from the TARDIS console. Then the Doctor handed the harp up to the guide and reached out to take Rose and Jack’s hands again, standing and pulling them both to their feet with him.
“So what have you two been up to?” he asked cheerfully, though his voice was still suspiciously rough and his eyes shone with the emotions he’d just experienced.
“We got lost! And then we visited my time period’s exhibit, and Jack’s,” Rose explained.
“I showed her a key synth, and she composed a song. We have recordings,” Jack continued.
“Jack helped, it’s just as much his song,” Rose corrected, at which Jack smiled. “We did it together.”
“You’ll have to play it for me later,” the Doctor said. “Right now, what would you say to food? There’s a café on the bottom floor.”
“That sounds great,” Jack agreed.
“I wonder if they have chips,” Rose said as they started to walk towards the hallway, still hand in hand.
As they stepped through the doorway, the Doctor looked back at the harp once more, just as Jack had looked back longingly at the key synth.
Then they left, leaving the museum guide to finish locking up the exhibit and make some notations on what he’d learned about the instrument.