“Doctor!” Susan screamed as she held onto one of the coral like pillars that supported the console room ceiling. “What’s happening?” She was trying to reach the console to help him, though the way sparks kept flying off it she wasn’t sure it was a good idea to try.

“Somebody or something has caused a rift in the temporal continuum,” he answered. “We’re travelling in the vortex so we’re hit by it like a boat caught up in the path of a hurricane.”

“That’s not a cheerful analogy, Doctor. I’ve seen The Perfect Storm fifty-five times, you know.” She risked letting go of the pillar and dashed across the mesh floor while it was relatively flat. She grabbed a handhold on the console just as they went into another stomach churning drop that felt like the TARDIS was a lift with the brakes failing. She expected a bone crunching, spine-snapping crash at the end of it.

In fact, the landing was relatively smooth. They were both standing, anyway.

“Wow! What a ride!” The Doctor laughed as he powered down the vortex drive. He turned to look at Susan. “Fifty-five times?”

“My mum WORSHIPS George Clooney,” she answered. “I always thought it had more to do with her leaving than dad’s drinking.”

“Right.” The Doctor decided to draw a veil over that aspect of Rawlings domesticity. “Let’s find out where we are, shall we? Hopefully the old girl managed to get us fairly close to the source of the anomaly.” He patted the console tenderly.

“Right.” Susan laughed with relief that they were, in fact, still alive, and wondered if The Doctor had ever had a domestic split due to the fact that the TARDIS was practically another woman in his life. “And you were saying about… rifts in the temporal whatsit.…”

“A temporal whatsit?” The Doctor laughed. “That would be a small yellow corn snack that travels in time. The word you were looking for is continuum. With two u’s.” He turned to the screen that told him their present time and place. “March 18th, 1882, Earth, West of Ireland.”

“Ireland? That’s interesting. My mum and her new boyfriend moved there. Not in 1882 though, obviously. Whereabouts, exactly?”

“Near a place called Uachtar Ard.”

“And that IS a place on Earth, is it?” she asked. “Sounds more unpronounceable than some of the planets we’ve been to.”

“You’re not meant to pronounce it,” he answered with a smile. “You’re English. They don’t like you too much here. Bit like when I met a young laddie in Scotland who had a thing about Redcoats. Jamie his name was. Bright boy….”

He broke off as the TARDIS did something it wasn’t supposed to do. The doors opened. He reached for the control to close them again, but in the few seconds several things happened at once.

First, a man ran inside.

Second, a hail of bullets followed him.

Susan screamed as one of them nicked her arm and lodged in the ceramic panelling of the console. The Doctor didn’t scream as one went into his shoulder, but he looked at the wound with a puzzled expression, as if wondering how he got shot in his own TARDIS. The doors closed anyway and he reached for the dematerialisation switch just before he fainted from the delayed shock.

He was only out for a few minutes. He sat up quickly and reached for his injured shoulder. The damage to his body was repairing as it should. The misshapen lead bullet fell to the floor as he put his finger through the hole in his jacket and shirt.

“Ok, who shot me?” he asked. “And why?”

“Er… I think he could tell you,” Susan said as she helped him to stand and they both turned to the stranger who stood there, a gun in his shaking hand pointed at them. His face was intense. He was dressed in the style of a manual labourer of the late 19th century, in trousers and shirt of an uncertain grey colour and a flat cap.

“Put the gun away,” The Doctor said. “I don’t think you really want to shoot me.”

“I might, if you don’t do as I say,” he answered. “This is a spaceship isn’t it? Get me away from here and nobody will be hurt.”

The Doctor glanced at the viewscreen. They were in temporal orbit.

“We already are away and I suggest you don’t TRY to hurt anyone.” The Doctor’s voice when he said the last part of that sentence had a coldness in it that chilled Susan standing beside him. The effect on the stranger was even more pronounced. He dropped his gun and stepped back towards the door. Susan was quite surprised that it opened when he tried. She began to call out a warning but the man realised in time that the door opened out onto the vacuum of space. The Doctor calmly picked up the pistol, opened the breech and put the bullets in his pocket before tossing the gun in the waste paper bin he kept in the console room whenever there were messy humans travelling with him.

“That can go in the trash compactor later,” The Doctor said as the gunman turned. “If you’ve finished messing about, go in that cupboard there under the console and get me the first aid kit.” He took hold of Susan’s arm gently. It was bleeding still. “You left a young woman wounded? Not much of a gentleman are you?”

“It’s not so bad, Doctor,” Susan told him. “I thought you were hurt much worse.”

“I was, but I’m all right now. You’re not.” The stranger brought the first aid kit and The Doctor cleaned the flesh wound before applying gauze and bandage. “That’s better. You’ll live.”

“You’re The Doctor, I’ll believe you,” she said. The wound had been worth it, she thought, to experience the tender way he had treated her. She knew he wasn’t REALLY a medical doctor. But she thought that a crying shame. His patients would be queuing up to be ill. “But what about him? Who is he?”

“Good question.” He turned and looked steadily at the man. “Who are you?”

“My name is Marcas O’Murchu,” he answered.

“That would be Mark Murphy to you,” The Doctor told Susan with a wink. “And what’s your game? Who was shooting at you?”

“The peelers,” he replied.

“The what?” Susan asked.

“Peelers,” The Doctor said. “Slang word for policemen, after Sir Robert Peel, founder of the modern British police.” He looked at O’Murchu. “Why were they after you?”

“I killed the Fear Dubh,” he answered.

“The what dove?”

“I’m starting to feel like a translation service,” The Doctor sighed. “Ok, one more time. An Fear Dubh literally means The Black Man, but not the way you’re thinking, Susan. It’s not about skin colour. It refers to a man of a black disposition. A bad tempered or dour sort. A nasty piece of work.”

“And he killed him.”

“Yessss.” The Doctor drawled slowly as he looked that their uninvited guest. “Susan, come over here. You stay right where you are.”

“What are you doing?” Susan asked him.

“Taking him right back where we found him,” The Doctor replied. “This is nothing to do with us, and I don’t harbour criminals in my TARDIS.”

“I’m not a criminal,” he replied. “He was the criminal, the Big Lord’s agent, strutting around the townlands with the police as his lackeys, evicting decent people from their homes.”

“So you shot him?” Susan said. “Sounds like he deserved it.”

“No,” The Doctor said firmly. “This is not a case of black and white. He’s not Robin Hood fighting the sheriff of Nottingham. And assassination in the dark isn’t the way to solve political problems. This isn’t what my TARDIS is for. We’re going back.”

“You’re just going to hand him over to the police?” Susan asked. “They’ll hang him.”

“Not my problem,” The Doctor answered. “He got himself into that mess. He can’t expect us to sort it all out for him.”

“Don’t send me back. Please don’t,” he begged. “I can’t… they’ll kill me.”

“Still not my problem,” The Doctor said. Susan looked at him. His eyes were cold and hard. She was surprised. The one thing she thought he had in limitless volume was compassion for others. WHY was he so cold towards this man?

“Because I’m waiting for him to tell me the truth,” The Doctor told her.

“He hasn’t yet?”

“No,” The Doctor said. “Think about what he said earlier. There’s a clue there.”

Susan ran the conversation back in her head. At first she didn’t get it. When she did it seemed so obvious.

“This is a spaceship isn’t it?” she repeated. “THAT’s what he said. So… HOW did he know? If he’s an Irish peasant from the nineteenth century, how does he know about spaceships? I mean, ok, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells were around about now, I think. Or were they later? But wouldn’t they be read by middle class people, not the sort he’s dressed as. And anyway, that still wouldn’t make him think straight off of a spaceship.”

“Well done,” The Doctor told her. “I spotted it right away, of course.” He smiled a bit TOO smugly then.

“Yeah, right, I believe you,” Susan replied.

“I did, too.” He protested with mock indignation. “I KNEW right away he wasn’t a real, bone fide Irish peasant. His teeth are too white and his hair is too fine. And he doesn’t have bow legs from lack of calcium in his diet.”

“You’re just saying that,” Susan countered.

“EXCUSE ME!” O’Murchu interrupted.

“Oh, yes,” The Doctor turned a flashing smile on him. “Sorry about that. Susan and I love to while away the hours in the TARDIS with a good theoretical argument. “Was there something you wanted to add?”

“You’re right,” he said, in an accent that sounded far more educated than the brogue he had used until now. “I’m not local. I AM Irish originally, but I’m not from the nineteenth century.”

“Didn’t think so. Let me see…” He did that sort of reverse sigh in which he sucked in air through his teeth as he regarded O’Murchu. “48th, 50th, maybe?”

“51st,” he admitted. “I’m a time agent.”

“Of course you are,” The Doctor said. “Why else would you be wandering around here 3,000 years before your time. And the man you killed?”

“A rogue element I was sent to either capture or kill. HE already killed the REAL land agent and took his identity. He was an alien who had no business being on this planet. I did everyone a favour by ridding them of his evil.”

“Maybe so,” The Doctor told him. “I think I know where the rift in the continuum came in now, though.”

“Him shooting your man, the Fearesome Dove, isn’t it?” Susan suggested.

“No, it would be before then, when the alien took over the real man’s body. The continuum would have been disrupted when a Human was killed by an alien force that should not have been here. But… let me see… the jolt we got was quite a big one. There must be something else going on.” The Doctor turned to his computer database and became quite absorbed in it. Susan knew there was no point in expecting any further explanations from him. She turned to O’Murchu.

“So…” she said. “You’re a good guy after all, then?”

“Yes,” he assured her. “What about you?”

“We’re definitely the good guys. The Doctor is the best good guy in the universe. He’s brilliant.” Out of the corner of her eye she saw The Doctor smile. He had heard her even if he was pretending to be too busy. “So what IS a time agent?”

“We police the time corridors,” he said in what seemed a rather grandiose and pretentious way. “We deal with anomalies that may cause rifts in the continuum. We ensure that anachronisms aren’t introduced into history. We keep time flowing in the right direction.”

From the console there was a very sarcastic “Hah!” from The Doctor.

“You disagree?”

“You lot are AMATEURS, bumbling about in time and space CREATING more problems than you ever solve. You’re more trouble than you’re worth. I’ve only ever met one Time Agent I had time for. And he’d left your organisation and was causing LESS damage as a freelance time-travelling conman when I caught up with him.”

“Who was that?” Susan and O’Murchu both asked at the same time, but The Doctor wasn’t finished. “Come here, Mr Time Agent.”

“Marcas,” he said. “Please, call me Marcas.”

“I’ll call you what I choose to call you. Come here!”

It was only two words. “Come here!” But in them was all the force of a Time Lord with the emphasis on the aristocratic LORD. Marcas found himself drawn to The Doctor’s side as if by a magnet. He could not have refused the summons if he tried.

“Look at this,” he said. This time he spoke quietly, the tone of his voice less forceful, but still a command Marcas felt he could not disobey. Susan came to The Doctor’s other side and looked out of curiosity.

She was looking at two copies of a newspaper called the Tuam Herald dated about a month later than the date they had landed on. One had a story about a man called Marcas O’Murchu who was hanged for the murder of the land agent called Fearghal O'Dubhthaigh – known locally as The Fear Dubh.

The other newspaper had the same date, but it had a story about a man called Coilin O'Niadh who was hanged, still professing his innocence to the last, for the same murder.

“What…” Susan began to ask.

“The first story, in which HE gets hanged, is the TRUE continuum. THIS, where the innocent Coilin O’Niadh is hanged in his place is where it went wrong. And the longer we let this continuum continue the more wrong it will get. I can already feel it. Just like the TARDIS did before. I can feel it in the core of my body. Like there is a gap in the universe spreading and widening.”

“I don’t understand,” Susan told him.

“HE does, DON’T you, Murky Marcas?”

“O'Dubhthaigh WAS a bad lot,” Marcas said, ignoring The Doctor’s gibe at his name. “And he WAS killed… assassinated, murdered, whatever word you choose, by a local ‘rebel’. I don’t know who. O’Niadh himself, for all I know. Then the fugitive went back to before it happened, killed him instead, and took over his identity. And that was the rift you must have detected first. The fugitive wasn’t stupid enough to get ambushed. The one who was MEANT to kill the REAL Fear Dubh was probably hot-footing it over the fields while the police were chasing me. He got past the original ambush and would have been alive and well if I hadn’t intercepted him. But now….”

“Are you following all this, Susan?” The Doctor asked.

“Just ABOUT. The fugitive he was after caused a rift first of all. Then HE put it right by killing him when he was MEANT to die. But now that other man has been arrested and he’s going to be hung… hanged whichever the word is. And that somehow makes a BIGGER problem than if the first man was alive. It’s more dangerous to have somebody DEAD who should be alive than have somebody alive who should be dead?”

“They’re BOTH dangerous,” The Doctor said. “Remind me to tell you some stories one of these days. But when somebody is taken out of a timeline, it causes a hole. But that hole doesn’t just sit there in that place. It continues through history, like a ladder in a pair of tights. Except that pair of tights is millions of light years long and the ladder keeps unravelling all the time. And….”

He stopped talking. He looked very pale suddenly. He gripped the console and breathed deeply as if composing himself.

“All right,” he said after a moment. He smiled brightly as if nothing was unusual. “Susan, see what the wardrobe has in late 19th century ladies fashion and then we’ll go and find out just how bad the hole is, and how we can plug it up.”

“Incidentally,” The Doctor said as they walked along the narrow lane between bare fields of dark soil where the years crops had not yet started to grow. “How did you get here? Where’s your ship?”

“I travelled using this,” Marcas answered. He held up his arm to reveal what The Doctor recognised as a Time Ring, a form of personal time and space travel that he didn’t personally like although he had used it on occasion, in an absolute emergency. He reached and slipped it from Marcas’s wrist and looked closely. “This is Gallifreyan,” he said. “Where did you get it?”

“I bought it at the antique market on Ara Tertius,” he replied. “And I’d like it back, please.”

“Consider it confiscated,” The Doctor said. “It’s bad enough you Time Agents are clogging up the time vortex in your one man capsules. I’m not having you using Time Lord technology.”

Marcas started to protest, but there was something about The Doctor that made him think twice about arguing. They walked on again quietly. The Doctor held Susan by the arm and complimented her on her choice of a very nice dress of dark green linen with a little cape.

“You look like a school mistress,” he told her. “Very suitable.”

“A school mistress. Ok. I can live with that.”

“Well, not if you use words like OK. A bit of precision in your diction, my dear.”

“Yes, Doctor,” she answered. “Is that the village? Doesn’t seem much to it. Just a huddle of houses.”

“There’s a pub,” he said. “Usually a good place to get to know people.”

“Since it is run by O’Niadh’s widowed mother, it is an excellent place to get to know people,” Marcas answered. “I have been working there as barman. A widow serving drinks is not considered appropriate.”

“Indeed not,” The Doctor agreed. “A young school mistress in a pub is not appropriate either. Susan, you can talk to the widow in her parlour. I will mingle with the locals.”

When she saw O’Niadh’s public bar she was glad to retreat to the ‘parlour’. It was filled with men dressed in the same rough, home-made clothes that Marcas was wearing. Their faces were as rough as their clothes, farm hands and labourers, hardened by gruelling outdoor work. And they all scared the living daylights out of her.

The widow O’Niadh wasn’t up to offering hospitality. Susan realised that right away as she stepped into the room. She was sitting in a chair by the fireplace, crying softly and murmuring incoherently.

“It’s all right,” Susan told her, pulling up a chair next to her and taking her hands in hers. They were rough hands, worn by work, and her face looked old before its time. She was no more than forty five, Susan reckoned, but she looked ten years more at least. “It’s all going to be all right. The Doctor is here. He’ll help. He always helps.”

“Doctor?” The widow looked at her. “What Doctor? I don’t need a doctor. I need… I need a miracle. My son… my darling boy. They’ve taken him to prison. They say he murdered the Fear Dubh.”

“Yes, I heard that,” Susan said. “But it’s not true. We know it isn’t. The Doctor will make it right. Your son will be home soon.”

“How can he be home?” the widow said, looking at her with eyes that seemed to be looking straight through her. “He was hanged this morning.”

“What?” Susan sat back and looked at her in shock. “But….”

“Look out the road, a mhuirnín,” she said. “Tell me if you see my son coming. He’s a comely man with fair hair. You’d know him at once. He was away in Uachtar Ard this day, but he should be home soon.”

“I don’t think…” Susan began. Then the woman began to cry even harder, mourning her dead son. Susan looked up as The Doctor appeared at the door.

“Come on,” he said. “We have to get back to the TARDIS.”

“We’re too late,” Susan told him. “Coilin O’Niadh is dead already.

“I know,” The Doctor answered her. “When we were in temporal orbit the TARDIS wasn’t holding its position. I think the console was damaged by some of those ricochet bullets flying about. We were moving forward in time very slowly. It’s a year since the sentence was carried out.”

“The widow… she was talking as if it was still to come. And then for a little while she was on the day it happened. And then she was right back before it happened.”

“Yes,” The Doctor sighed. “The men in the bar were telling me. She lost it the day her son was hanged. Sometimes she remembers. Most of the time she thinks he’s still coming back from the market in the town.”


“So we….” The Doctor faltered in his steps. Again he looked pale and his skin looked clammy with cold sweat.


“It’s the rift in time, still unravelling. I’m a Time Lord, Susan.”

“Yes, I know you are. What does.…”

“Time is a part of the fabric of my being. When it’s damaged, I FEEL it, like a wound. Worse than being shot. My physical body can mend. But this.… It hurts deep inside.”

“Doctor!” Susan reached for him as he slid to his knees.

“Come closer, both of you,” he said. Marcas bent beside him. He struggled in his pocket for the time ring. He made an adjustment to it and told them both to hold onto it.

“What the hell was that?” Susan demanded as she picked herself up from the mesh floor of the TARDIS.

“Time Ring. I set it to take us back to the TARDIS,” The Doctor said as he stood up and went to the console. I never would have made it on foot. The rift was hurting too much.”

“You’re all right now?”

“It passed. For now. But it will get worse. My body is simply reflecting the damage to the time continuum. The further it unravels, the worse its going to be.”

“Its my fault,” Marcas admitted.

“No,” Susan protested. “It’s not. You weren’t to know.”

“No,” The Doctor contradicted. “It IS his fault. The question is, what is he prepared to do to put it right?”

“What CAN I do to put it right?”

“You have to be arrested for the murder of the Fear Dubh,” The Doctor told him. “You have to face trial and execution.”

“NO!” Susan cried out. “Oh, no. Doctor. You CAN’T ask him to…”

“I’m not asking him. I’m just telling him what he has to do to make it right. Temporal anomalies are the one exception to the rule that usually prevents me from going back and changing things. I’m allowed to go back to the point where the hole forms and plug it. But there’s nothing I can do unless this time agent has the courage of his convictions – or shall we say, the courage to BE convicted.”

Marcas looked at him for a long moment. He looked at Susan. Then he sighed.

“Actually, if you think about it, it’s YOUR fault this all went wrong. If I hadn’t stumbled into here when they were shooting at me, I’d either be dead or captured anyway.”

“I’ll admit to that,” The Doctor admitted. “Although I was only here because your fugitive caused the first anomaly. It was pure chance that brought us all together.”

“But you are RIGHT,” Marcas continued. “I have to make it right. Even if…”

“NO!” Susan cried out again. “Doctor. There’s another way, surely? There HAS to be.”

“No,” The Doctor told her. “This is the only way. But I won’t force him. He has to do it of his own….” His last words were strangled by a cry of pain and he slumped against the console until the fit passed once more.

“It’s getting worse, isn’t it,” Marcas said. “If I don’t.… You’re going to die. And… And the universe.…”

“Will die with me,” The Doctor added.

“So what choice do I have? Take me back.”

“Good man,” The Doctor told him.

“But, you’re going to take him to be arrested and hanged,” Susan protested as The Doctor turned to the console and began calculating a very careful, precise materialisation. If he got this wrong by a second, their own personal universe would be obliterated when the TARDIS tried to materialise in the same place it already was.

“But me being hanged for killing the Fear Dubh is what is MEANT to have happened,” Marcas explained. “It’s the right thing to do.”

“It’s not fair,” she said.

“The universe isn’t fair,” The Doctor said to her, but she wasn’t listening. She went to Marcas and hugged him tightly.

“That’s not a bad way to spend my last moments of freedom,” he told her, tipping her head back with one hand and kissing her on the lips. “You’re a nice girl, Susan. I’m glad I met you.” He looked around at The Doctor, who grinned as if he had just remembered a very funny joke.

“I’m just thinking about 51st century Time Agents,” he said cryptically. “Try to confine yourself to a manly handshake before you go, please.”

“We’re there?” Susan asked.

In answer to her question, there was the sound of bullets hitting the door and then a voice demanding that Marcas should come out of the hut with his hands up.

“Goodbye, Doctor,” Marcas said with a manly handshake. “I wish we’d met under better circumstances.”

“I wish we’d never met at all,” The Doctor answered. “You time agents are a bloody nuisance.” But he smiled as he said it. “I’ve extended the TARDIS’s protective field a few feet,” he added. “In case any of them are trigger happy and feel like executing you on the spot.”

“Thanks for that at least,” he said. To The Doctor’s disconcertion he hugged him tight and kissed his cheek before turning away. The ramp to the door seemed to be a long walk, and yet a short one, too. Susan couldn’t help, despite The Doctor’s promise, feeling as if it was the walk to his death.

“The 51st century!” The Doctor murmured. “Remind me to tell you about it sometime.”

“Never mind the 51st century,” Susan said as the door closed behind Marcas. On the viewscreen she saw him raise his hands and two policemen stepped forward and took him into custody with rough hands and a few kicks, but alive, at least.

For now.

“Doctor,” she said. “Can’t we.…” But The Doctor’s cry of pain cut off her words. He was only standing because he was gripping the console. She ran to him and held him tightly. This time the fit of agony lasted even longer than before.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “We changed the timeline back. Marcas is going to trial for the death of the Furry Dove.”

“No!” Susan glanced at the newspaper that was still displayed on the computer screen. “Oh, Doctor. Look…”

He looked. He groaned, not with agony this time but exasperation.

The story this time was of the double execution of the two conspirators in the death of the land agent, Fearghal O'Dubhthaigh – known locally as The Fear Dubh.

“Marcas O’Murchu and Coilin O'Niadh were hanged at Tuam gaol. O’Niadh protested his innocence to the last. O’Murchu seemed resigned to his fate.”


“Put your coat on,” he said. “We’re going prison visiting.”

Tuam gaol was a dark, miserable place, where nobody expected anything but punishment. The idea of prisons as places for the rehabilitation of offenders was unheard of yet.

Then again, The Doctor thought, a prison is a prison.

For an honest man, he had seen the inside of enough of them, he reflected. Even visiting was an experience he dreaded. Heavy doors slamming behind him made his hearts quail even when he knew he only had to shout and they would be opened again.”

“Marcas,” The Doctor said as he sat one side of the plain wooden table and the prisoner at the other. “As your duly appointed lawyer, and having tipped the warder handsomely, I’ve got five minutes with nobody listening.”

“What do you need to know?” Marcas asked.

The Doctor told him what he needed to know. Marcas nodded and filled in the blanks for him.

“Ok,” he said. “Hang on in there. I’ll do my best.”

“Don’t say HANG,” Marcas answered. The Doctor grinned and apologised.

It was as he suspected.

“In the first version of events, when the REAL Fear Dubh was killed, the ordinary Human one,” The Doctor explained to Susan as they waited to be allowed to see The Doctor’s other ‘client’. “There was only a two man police escort for him. The original assassin got clean away while they were trying to work out which direction the shots came from. But the alien fugitive who took over his body knew what was coming. He arranged extra police. They got Marcas. But they also got O’Niadh, wandering the road with no good reason for being there.”

“And assumed he was an accomplice?”

“It doesn’t help that he DOESN’T have a good reason for being there,” The Doctor said as the warder came, with hand outstretched, to tell him he could have five minutes with the prisoner.

“Coilin,” The Doctor said as he stepped into the cell. “I’m The Doctor. I’m your lawyer.”

“You’re a doctor and you’re my lawyer?” Coilin looked at him with a confused expression. “Who’s she?”

“She’s my friend, Susan. I told her this was an unsuitable place for a lady, but she insisted on coming.”

“Your mother sends her love to you,” Susan told him, reaching out her hand to the young man. She had heard so much about Coilin O’Niadh, and wondered what he was like, and why he was so important. He was only about eighteen, a fair haired, pale-skinned boy who looked as if he would faint any moment. He had a nasty cough. The cell was cold and had a damp feel to it, but he wouldn’t be in it long enough to die of the cold, Susan remembered with a shudder.

“Just tell me one thing, Coilin,” The Doctor said to him. “Please give me an absolutely honest answer. The answer you would give if your parish priest asked you it in Confession.”

“Yes, sir,” Coilin said as he looked into The Doctor’s deep brown eyes and saw in them, as well as a lot of kindness and understanding, an authority far higher than the Parish Priest.

“WHAT were you doing out there that night when you were arrested?”

“I was waiting to kill the Fear Dubh,” he answered. “He evicted twelve families last week. O’Greelis’s wife is heavy with child and they’re living in a ditch now. Anyone who would give them shelter or comfort would be evicted themselves.”

“So you took it upon yourself to deal justice?”

“Yes,” he said. “I had a gun. It belonged to my uncle. He was a Fenian. He’s in America now. He had to escape after….”

“There’s no time now for stories of Fenians,” The Doctor told him. “Suffice to say there’s a bit of rebel blood in you. And you wanted to strike a blow for O’Greelis and others like him?”

“Aye,” Coilin said.

“How old are you?”

“Sixteen,” he answered.

“Sixteen.” The Doctor smiled grimly. “Coilin, your poor widowed mother is breaking her heart over you.”

“O’Greelis’s wife.…”

“Yes, I know. Coilin, rebellion is no bad thing when there is injustice to be fought. But how does killing one land agent make it right? Another one will only take his place, and meanwhile you get your neck broken by the hangman’s noose and your poor mother goes mad with grief.”

“I should sit back and do nothing?”

The Doctor smiled faintly. Coilin wanted to put an unjust system to rights. He knew that feeling. He had once set out to put the universe to rights. Five hundred years later he had barely scratched the surface of the seething pot of corruption. But if somebody had told him how impossible it was at the start, he wouldn’t have listened. There was nothing he could say now that would make Coilin O’Niadh’s soul burn any less with indignation and anger about the injustices happening around him.

But he had to find a way to stop him throwing his life away on a foolish, pointless gesture that would change nothing for the likes of O’Greelis’s wife giving birth in a ditch.

“Coilin,” he said with a sigh. “The night the Fear Dubh was murdered you should have been in your bed, sleeping the sleep of the just while your mother worked by candlelight to finish the new suit of clothes she was making for you to wear to Mass on a Sunday.” The suit of clothes she was finishing now for him to wear to the trial, he reflected. “You need to grow up to be a man before you do men’s work. And rebellion is the work of men, not boys.”

He reached and took Coilin’s hands in his. They were trembling. No surprise there. The Doctor had faced being executed more than once in his life. He trembled, too. Even when he had a couple of tricks up his sleeve to get out of it, it still made him shake with fear.

“So he WAS guilty?” Susan asked. “He was the one who REALLY shot the REAL guy before the alien arrived?”


“Even so,” Susan said. “It doesn’t seem right.”

“It’s not right,” The Doctor said. “The first time, Coilin got away with it. He went home to his mother, and he was all right. Except for the fact that, at sixteen years of age, he had killed a man. And that’s not a thing I’d wish on anyone’s conscience.”

Which was why he didn’t do the one obvious thing that would sort all this out once and for all.

He didn’t plan to go back and prevent Marcas’s fugitive from killing the original Fear Dubh and taking over his body.

“I have to stop Coilin being executed, or even going to prison. That cough didn’t sound good. He won’t last a year in gaol. The hole will still be there. And….” He stopped speaking for a moment as he suppressed another sharp pain from within his soul. He could still feel the hollowness inside. Until it went away he had work to do still.

“So what are you going to do? Represent him in court? Are you really a lawyer?”

“Yes, I am, actually. I’m a fully qualified member of the Gallifreyan Bar,” he said. “But I don’t think my credentials would count in nineteenth century Galway. And as clever as I am, it would still come down to a judge and jury believing me.”

“You could MAKE them believe you. You could hypnotise the whole court.”

“Yes, I could. But even if Coilin was acquitted, he would still have spent weeks in that horrible place. His mother would still have grieved all that time. And both of them would be scarred by it. I think I can make things happen a better way.”

He had to plug the hole in the time continuum. And he had to do it in such a way that Coilin O’Niadh didn’t murder anyone and wasn’t traumatised by a stretch in gaol.

And he had to do it soon, he thought as he programmed yet another trip back in time that broke at least five of the major Laws of Time. Repairing the time continuum WAS the exception.

He was glad of it.

The TARDIS materialised in a different place two miles further away from where it first arrived in the townland. The Doctor stepped out into the dark lane. It didn’t take long. He spotted Coilin from several yards away. He had obviously no notion of concealment. He was at least wearing dark clothes, but he was walking straight down the road, and as he drew closer, it was obvious he had a gun in his pocket.

The Doctor did know about concealment. Coilin didn’t even see him step out of the shadows. He didn’t even cry out before The Doctor applied a well judged pinch to the neck that rendered him unconscious. He caught him in his arms, noting what a slightly built boy he was.

“Another gun to drop in the trash compactor,” The Doctor said, taking the bullets out of Coilin’s pistol and leaving it on the console while he set the destination for just outside O’Niadh’s pub, two hours earlier.

Coilin was just waking up as The Doctor steered him in through the door of the public bar. His mother was at the counter, serving whiskey to the village schoolmaster and an off-duty member of the local constabulary.

Excellent, The Doctor thought. Impeccable witnesses if there ever were any. As long as neither of them were such heavy drinkers that they would forget everything the next morning.

“Blessings be upon this house,” The Doctor said as he entered. “Don’t you worry Mrs O’Niadh. Coilin is going to be just fine. He had a fall that left him with a bit of a bang on the head. A nice cup of tea will put all to rights. You just sit down there Coilin. I’ll take over serving there while you and Susan here put the kettle on.”

The Widow O’Niadh hardly had time for the question “who are you?” to form on her lips before Susan, in her respectable school mistress dress, swept her into the back room. In the same movement The Doctor took over tending the bar.

It was Susan who brought a cup of tea out to Coilin who drank it at the same table he sat at throughout the evening, playing a harmless game of cards with the constable and the school teacher.

Susan kept the widow company and The Doctor tended bar and was a general bon vivant with the regulars. Nobody even thought to wonder where the usual man behind the bar was until just before it was time to close up. One of the constable’s on duty colleagues ran in to inform him that the land agent known as the Fear Dubh had been killed and the barman from O’Niadh’s, Marcas O’Murchu, had been arrested for it.

“Coilin,” The Doctor said as the news sank in. “Why don’t you join your mother in the parlour now. I’ll see these gentleman out and lock up for the night.”

“Yes, sir,” Coilin said. “But… Is it true what they’re saying? Did Marcas really….”

“Whatever he did, it’s nothing to do with you or your mother,” The Doctor assured him. “Go on, now. Look after your old mum and everything will be just fine.”

Coilin did as he was told. The Doctor cleared out the people and cleared up the bar before locking and bolting the door. He stepped into the parlour where Susan was clearing away the remnants of an evening drinking tea and gossiping while Mrs O’Niadh worked on the new suit of clothes for her son to wear to Mass on Sunday.

“They’re going to be ok,” Susan told him as they slipped quietly out through the back door.

“Everyone will be all right,” The Doctor said. He knew it in his soul, where the painful hole no longer burdened him.

“Except arcas? Have you forgotten about him? Are you just going to let him die?”

The Doctor felt a small twinge of guilt. He HADN’T completely forgotten about him, but his role in these events had been sidelined.

“I mean, the time line is all straight now, isn’t it?” Susan continued. “We saved Coilin. But Marcas.… Doctor, we CAN’T, not really. We CAN’T.”

“Of course we can’t,” The Doctor answered. “I’ve got a plan.”

Marcas O’Murchu was facing his last night. The prison guards told him the priest would be coming soon to hear his Confession. He almost told them not to bother. He came from the 51st century. He didn’t know anyone who went to church.

When the priest came into the cell, Marcas didn’t even look up. He looked down at the shoes that poked out from under the cassock and his state of mind was such that it didn’t even occur to him to wonder why the priest was wearing white canvas lace up plimsolls.

“So are you ready to atone for your sins, my son?” he asked.

“I was ready a month ago,” Marcas replied as he looked up to see The Doctor grinning at him and holding out his arm. Under the cassock sleeve he had the time ring on his wrist. “Why did you have to cut it so fine?”

“Narrative causality,” The Doctor answered, but not until after the time ring had deposited them back in the TARDIS. “You’ll go down in local history. The hero who killed the big bad land agent and escaped the prison on the night of his execution. There’ll be songs about you banned from the radio a century from now. But you don’t have to actually die to restore the time continuum. I just have to get you away from here before you cause any more trouble.” He grinned and went to the console. “Time Agency HQ, 51st century. We’ll just drop you off and then Susan and I can pop back to Ireland in 2008 and see her mum.”