Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

Marie Reynolds reformed the crocodile of students as they left the reptile house at Dublin Zoo. She was starting to wish she could have left them in there. She was tired and foot sore and her head was ringing with voices calling out "Miss, Miss…..” and “Can we....." and the squabbles that she had to settle every few minutes.

Two questions were forming in her mind. One was asking why she thought teaching was a good career.

The other was why she agreed to take her class on a day trip! Outings were the worst nightmare for a teacher. Classroom rules went out of the window, the children took liberties even the worst of them wouldn’t dream of in the playground. The whole thing was a disaster waiting to happen.

But these kids came from one of the poorest and most culturally deficient parts of the city and even though it was only a bus ride up town to the zoo most of them had never been there. They knew what a gorilla or a meerkat or a lion were, but they had never seen one in the flesh, and she thought that was so very wrong.

But it was just such hard work coping with them for a whole day outside of the four walls of the classroom that she was almost regretting the idea.

“Here’s the Family Farm,” she said, barely disguising the note of relief in her voice. “You can have twenty minutes in there on your own with the cuddly animals.”

“Cuddly?” There were a couple of jeers of contempt for non-man-eaters, but the prospect of being allowed to wander freely without their teacher appealed to most of the class.

One boy held back.

“I need the toilet, again, miss,” he said.

Phelim Driscoll! Having found that the three litre supermarket bottle of lemonade he brought with his packed lunch was too heavy to carry around he had drunk the whole lot in the coach park. Ever since, he had been burping, complaining of stomach ache, and needing the toilet every half hour.

“It’s over there,” she said pointing wearily towards the facilities. Phelim headed that way with a slightly peculiar gait.

It wasn't their fault, she told herself charitably as she sank down onto a bench. They were excited. They wanted to see everything in their one brief day in the sunshine. They didn’t know when something like this might happen again and they wanted to pack as much into it as possible.

The trouble was they were so busy thinking about what to see next they hardly appreciated the wonders right in front of their eyes. They didn't know how to live in the present moment.

"Everyone forgets to do that," said a gaunt faced man in clothes that didn't quite look like they belonged in this decade. "Birthdays, Christmas, days out, nights in... we all spend the now thinking about the tomorrow. "

"Yes, we do," Marie answered before she realised that she hadn't spoken aloud. How had he known what she was thinking?

He smiled a not exactly reassuring smile.

'I've really got to stop doing that," he said. "You must be a teacher.”

“Yes, I am,” Marie admitted. “Those are my lot in there. East Tallaght Community School’s latest batch of eleven year olds… one school term away from ascending into the hell that is secondary education and lacking the smallest mental tool to cope with such a thing.”

The stranger nodded as if he understood exactly what she meant about how ill-prepared they were for the next step in their education.

“I had a friend... until recently... who was a teacher," he said in a curiously detached way.

"Had?"Marie was aware that she shouldn't be talking to strange men any more than the children should be, but she wondered why he spoke of his friend as if she was permanently gone from his life. Was she dead? Had she moved house, emigrated without leaving him a forwarding address?

Why did it matter to her? Why WAS she talking to this man?

She looked around carefully. Her class, including Phelim Driscoll, were wandering around the family farm sharing their packed lunches with the goats and petting baby lambs. She could risk turning her back on them for a few minutes without anything dangerous, embarrassing or messy happening.

"She found it too difficult to carry on being my friend," the strange but surprisingly compulsive man replied.


Why did she need to know? It wasn't at all like her to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger - especially not such an intimate one.

He hadn't answered the question, anyway. Perhaps it was too personal. But he was the one who brought it up, though. Why did he do that?

He wasn't even paying attention anymore. He had taken some kind of device like a thick pen from his pocket and was squinting at it while frowning and murmuring to himself.

"I really did just want a quiet afternoon talking to the elephants," he was saying. "I didn't want any trouble. Just one afternoon. Why didn't I pick Chester Zoo or the lions at Longleat?"

"What are you on about?" Marie asked.

“Dangerous resonances. Marie, you really ought to gather your troupe and get them out of here. I ought to get everyone out of the area. I wonder if they would let me make an announcement of some sort?”

It occurred to her at once that she hadn’t told him her name, but the rest of his words were so alarming she let that pass.

“Announcement? I hardly think so. Besides, what do you mean? What’s dangerous? What’s going on?”

Some deep instinct that had nothing to do with the two post-graduate years spent in teacher training made her turn and look around again at the Family Farm. At the very same moment a woman near one of the many food stands dotted about the zoo complex began screaming.

Her child was gone.

Marie looked again and she screamed as well.

"The kids... where are they?" She rounded on the stranger who had distracted her attention. "Is this you? Are you some kind of decoy while somebody else grabs the kids? Are you some sort of pervert gang member?"

"Of course I'm not," he answered. "I'm The Doctor. I really did come for a nice afternoon out. I didn't expect anything like this to happen."

“Anything like what?”

Marie turned and turned about in a panic, her heart thumping in her chest as she pictured the fallout from the school and parents if she lost their children at the zoo.

Then she forced herself to be calm and look and listen more carefully. She and the woman at the hot dog stand were not the only zoo visitors who were missing their children. Shouts and screams of various levels of panic and hysteria echoed around the whole place. Zoo staff were running to help then wondering who should have their attention, first. Almost every adult in the zoo was searching for a missing child.

She was missing twenty of them. All of the children had disappeared from the Family Farm in the few minutes she had turned her back on them.

The strange man who called himself The Doctor held up his strange tool. A curious blue light emerged from the expanding tip and spread rapidly in a circle around him. Marie realised that the screams and shouts were silenced by the light. All around her, people were frozen in mid scream, in mid run, mid-flapping their arms uselessly in their distress.

"What have you done?" she demanded.

"Never mind what I've done," The Doctor replied accusingly. "Why are you still talking? What planet are you from?"

"What do you mean, 'what planet'? Earth, obviously. I'm Human. "

"You can't be. I just sent out a triform wave that would affect any human within range. You must be an alien - or closely related to one. Are your parents alien?"

"My parents are from Wicklow," Marie insisted. "And what does any of that have to do with missing children?"

"Quite right. Priorities. Since you're here you might as well be useful. Come on."

He started to run. It took Marie a few seconds to decide to run after him. Those seconds meant he had a considerable lead already and she had to sprint to catch up.

"What's going on?" she demanded as she caught up with him at the Kazaringa Forest Trail, home of the zoo’s family of rare Asian elephants. It had taken her an hour to get from there to the Family Farm with her class, but only a minute and a half chasing The Doctor back that way. "What's the hurry? Or are you just running blindly without knowing where you’re going?"

The Doctor stopped running and there was a brief guilty expression as if she might have been right about the running. Then he put on an inscrutable look and recovered the upper hand in the conversation.

"If I'm right, the children are in grave danger and I am in a hurry partly because the time-freeze will run out in an hour and we'll be inundated with hysterical parents again and partly because that's roughly the time the children have before the transformation is permanent."

"What transformation?"

"Look at the Elephants. How many should there be?"

Marie consulted the information panel near the Dublin city mock up of the sort of terrain Asian elephants would encounter in the wild.

“Five," she answered. “The bull, Upali, Bernahdine the matriarch, her sister Yasmin, and Bernahdine’s two year old calves, Asha and Anak.”

The personal information seemed surplus to requirements, but she felt compelled to give it, anyway.

"And how many can you see?" The Doctor asked her.

"Eight," Marie answered, quickly counting the elephants gathered at the artificial watering hole. A gazelle sprinted past as she double-checked. "What...."

The Doctor looked around pointedly at a man and woman frozen in mid-panic. They were both very large people – ruder terms might have been applied. It was possible to imagine that their children were also oversized.

Marie looked back at the suddenly expanded elephant clan.

“No,” she told herself. “No, that’s just too horrible to contemplate.”

"Somebody has used a transmogrification beam within the zoo complex,” The Doctor explained. “The beam was aimed at any juvenile Human within range, and it converted them to...."

"Elephants?" Marie stared at The Doctor. The phrase 'that's not possible ' floated into her mind, but since there was at least circumstantial evidence in front of her eyes she didn't waste her breath saying it. She had a strong feeling that The Doctor wouldn't respond well to it, anyway.

She dismissed the question 'how ' for the same reason. The Doctor had already mentioned a transmogrification beam. She didn't know what that was, but for now she accepted it as the modus operandi.

"Quite right," he said to her. "No time to waste on pointless nattering. The sensible question is on the tip of your tongue, though."

"Who did it?" she asked. "And why, for that matter? Apart from causing a lot of grief to parents why would anyone do a thing like that?"

"The second question is all yours to ask when I find out the answer to the first."

"When WE find out. I'm here, ready and willing to help. I'm not frozen in time and I'm missing more children than any parent.”

For a moment she couldn’t help envisioning what sort of animals her class had become. Fat, pink, noisy piglets, or a gaggle of geese. Whatever he was, Phelim Driscoll was probably still wetting himself all over the farmyard.

Then the full horror behind the comical image overwhelmed her.

“I have a vested interest in this," she managed to say. “You have to let me help.”

"We," The Doctor conceded. He glanced around, his hand on his brow. "I hoped there would be a way to pinpoint the origin of the beam, but it seems to be coming from multiple sources."

"Seems is a weasel word," Marie said. "It is used to express uncertain and woolly facts. I don't allow it in essays. Repeat what you just said as a hard fact and then think about it."

"The beam IS coming from multiple sources."

"So how could that be, then?" The didactic frame of mind helped Marie keep calm on the face of the frightening situation, and if grammar criticism in turn helped The Doctor focus on the problem, then that was her best contribution towards saving the children for the moment.

"There are public address speakers all over the zoo," he said looking at one such object mounted above the webcam focussing on the elephants. "They are being used to carry the beam."

"In that case," Marie continued. "We need to get to the admin building where the public information is broadcast from."


Marie opened the multi coloured map of the zoo that she was given at the entry kiosk. The answer didn’t immediately present itself. The map mostly pointed to the different animals and to toilets, baby changing facilities and first aid posts. It didn’t indicate areas off limits to the public. But the buildings were marked even if they weren’t labelled.

“These must be the security offices down by the main entrance,” she suggested. “This long building running at an angle to the Meerkat restaurant.”

“I concur,” The Doctor agreed. He looked around at an electric cart with Dublin Zoo’s logo on the side. The driver was frozen in his seat. The Doctor lifted him down and placed him on a bench. He looked almost comical, his hands still reaching for the steering wheel.

But there was nothing funny about anything going on around here.

“Jump aboard.” Marie didn’t need a second invitation. Her feet had been sore from touring the zoo even before all this madness began. The chance of a ride, even an illicit one, was welcome. She sat beside The Doctor as he steered the cart through the frozen zoo visitors, heading past a herd of Brazilian tapirs who were foraging among the fruit and vegetables left for them by the keepers. The tapir young were easily distinguished by their dark and light stripes that made them look like elongated watermelons on legs. The zoo proudly announced the arrival of one new baby in the summer. One tapir calf at a time born in captivity was considered an achievement.

There were at least twelve striped adolescent tapirs in the habitat!

“Doctor, what if they eat something that isn’t good for them?” Marie asked. “I mean, fruit and veg isn’t so bad, but there are animals here that eat live insects and tree bark, and the carnivores are fed raw meat….”

“While they’re in animal form their bodies will accept animal food,” The Doctor answered. “When we get them back to normal… hopefully they’ll evacuate anything unsuitable quickly.”

“Evacuate?” Marie considered what that meant. “Oh dear. I’m not looking forward to that. But I like that you said ‘when’, not ‘if’. You’re a positive sort of person, aren’t you?”

“I try to be.”

“So do I. But I’ve never been in a situation like this, before. I’m well outside my field of experience. Do you do this a lot?”

“Reverse transmogrification beams that have turned children into animals, no,” The Doctor admitted. “But the category of dangerous mischief this falls into comes up all the time. I really DID just want a quiet day at the zoo. At best I wanted to test out this ring I found in a Zalerian flea market. It was labelled as the Ring of Solomon, the mysterious lost artefact that enabled men to talk to animals.”

She wasn’t going to ask. She really wasn’t.

She asked.

“Did it work?”

“No,” The Doctor admitted. “It was a fake. Mind you, I paid for it with a fake Zalerian gold coin, so fairs fair.”

She hadn’t asked where in the universe Zaleria was. The tale was tall enough already. She wondered if she really ought to take it seriously, along with many other things he had said, like the bit about her being part alien.

All of that would have to wait for later. He stopped the cart outside the security offices and strode to the ‘authorised staff only’ door. It was locked, of course, but his adjustable tool could open locks. Marie followed The Doctor inside.

There were only two people inside the building. In the narrow entrance one man in zoo security uniform was frozen in the act of putting on his coat to go on duty. Through an inner door they found the control centre for the public address system. The operator was slumped across the table. The Doctor examined him carefully.

“He didn’t get like this because of my time freeze beam,” he concluded. “This man has been unconscious for about an hour before. He’s not the one responsible for all this.”

“So the transmogrification beam isn’t coming from here.”

“No.” The Doctor turned to examine the digital transmitter that sent out the audio announcements around the zoo. “Somebody is intercepting the signal and piggybacking the beam on it from somewhere else.”

“Then it could be anywhere. From… I don’t know, an invisible spaceship hovering over the zoo….” Nothing seemed impossible at this point.

“Invisible spaceships are perfectly possible,” The Doctor admitted. “But I think the source is much closer than that. I still think it might be within the zoo complex. We have to hurry, though. We don’t have time to get it wrong again. Let me have a look at that map of yours.”

Marie handed it over. The Doctor immediately realised how useless it was in terms of scale and precise location of anything, but it was detailed enough to give him a vital clue.

“Haughton House… what’s that?” he asked.

“It’s not really a house. More like a pavilion, built in the late Victorian era. I don’t know what they did there back then, but these days it can be hired for weddings and birthday parties. I think there might be a wedding on this afternoon. I saw a lot of people in nice clothes heading in there earlier… when the world still made sense in the ordinary way.”

“If we’re wrong….”

“I can’t think of any better place. I mean, there are huts for the keepers, lost children centres, all that class of thing all over the zoo. It could be one of those…. But….”

The Doctor looked at her steadily. She had everything to lose if it was the wrong call. It was for her to choose their next move.

“Yes, the House. Let’s go for it.”

“I’d have done the same,” he told her, in case they were both wrong and she felt guilty for making the decision. They hurried back to the cart. The Doctor adjusted his gadget one more time and applied it to the electric motor of the vehicle. When it started this time it far exceeded the five miles per hour limit normally set. The Doctor skilfully avoided knocking over frozen people and reached Haughton House far more quickly than expected.

It was a curious building in a city noted for its solidly elegant Georgian architecture. It looked more like something from colonial India or a very exclusive cricket club. The white plaster walls caught the sun while shade was provided by a wooden balcony with carved balustrades.

There was no need for alien technology this time. Double doors opened onto a cloister formed by the pillars supporting the balcony. Eighties pop music and the fractured light from a glitter ball spilled out from a dance floor full of frozen people. The Doctor and Marie threaded their way through the crowd to a staff door leading to a kitchen area.

Again there were a lot of frozen people. Marie grabbed a towel and shifted a pan of very dried out potatoes off a cooker and switched off all of the power points while The Doctor headed for a staircase to the upper floor.

There was a second dining room here with access to that balcony that looked out over the zoo and would have been like a villa on an African savannah in the evening with the sun going down and the animal noises hanging on the air.

But the sole occupant of the dining space wasn’t interested in romantic ambience. He was leaning over a glowing cube, roughly the size of a pop up toaster. The glow was accompanied by a peculiar noise, very low, almost on the edge of hearing, but creating odd sensations in Marie’s head as she obeyed The Doctor’s hand signals and hunkered down on the stairs where she might just not be seen until he was ready to spring his trap.

“Why am I craving bananas?” she wondered.

“Marie, fight it,” The Doctor whispered. “This close to the transmogrifier even adults could be affected. Your Human DNA is in danger of being rewritten. Fight it with that part of you that comes from somewhere else.”

“I still don’t believe that,” she said in her head, not in words. The Doctor winked at her and smiled wryly before leaping like a gazelle or any other long-legged and nimble animal in the zoo, covering the distance between the stairs and the transmogrifier in four steps. He swept the cube off the table in one quick arm movement and tackled its operator to the ground.

Sitting there, hunched up at the table, he had looked like a Human being. As he sprawled on the ground, trying to get away from The Doctor, Marie saw that he was only part-Human.

“Like me?” she queried in her mind. But she looked Human on the outside – assuming that The Doctor wasn’t having her on about that. This man/beast was at least half gorilla. His arms were long and hairy though his hands were still Human – albeit with very black, gorilla fingernails. His face was still the pinkish flesh of a Human, though the features were distinctly simian at close quarters. With a hat he might have been able to move around in public without arousing too much comment, but it was certainly a face only a mother could love.

The long arms and gorilla feet that he shook out of his slip-on shoes gave him an advantage even over the fighting skills of The Doctor – for a man of his age he could certainly hold his own, Marie noted. The gorilla man managed to slip from his grasp and moved across the floor on all fours, heading towards the balcony.

If he got outside he could escape easily. If he had the speed and tree-climbing skills of a gorilla he could quickly get beyond the zoo complex and into the huge expanse of the Phoenix Park and then it would take a massive man-hunt with nets and tranquiliser guns to bring him down.

All that went through Marie’s mind as she reached for a round silver platter used for serving champagne to wedding guests. She felt the weight of it and then threw it like a discus. She hadn’t done that since she was at school and enjoyed field sports, but it came back to her in a flash.

The platter hit the back of the gorilla-man’s head in the same flash. He stood still for a second and then fell forward like a felled tree.

“Ohhhh, tell me I didn’t kill him!” Marie exclaimed. “I didn’t think it actually would do that. I just thought it might stall him a bit.”

“You didn’t kill him,” The Doctor assured her as he bent and cursorily examined the unconscious villain before fastening his hairy arms behind his back with a piece of twine he pulled from his pocket. Marie wondered if it was strong enough to restrain a man with the strength and dexterity of a gorilla. “It’s Tarrian string. It has the tensile strength of inch thick steel cable.”

Again he had read her thoughts before she spoke, but there wasn’t time to worry about that right now.

“The cube… smash it,” The Doctor ordered her. “There are minutes left before the transmogrification is permanent.”

Marie grabbed the glowing alien artefact. As she did so she had to fight the banana cravings and the conviction that she had the hands of a chimpanzee, but something – maybe it was a portion of her DNA that wasn’t Human – resisted the illusion. She raised the cube above her head and brought it down hard on the floor.

It shattered as even alien glass ought to do. She jumped back from the shards and shielded her eyes from the blinding flash of actinic white light. If she had been able to avoid shielding them she might have seen the light spreading out, melting through the walls and continuing to spread across the zoo.

When she looked again the light was gone and so was the sound that she had almost begun to take for granted. Outside, another noise resumed – one she had forgotten to expect. It was the sound of people making a lot of fuss.

She went to the balcony and looked down on the sight of parents trying to take care of children who were being sick – dozens of them, only a few of which had managed to grab a bucket or carrier bag to do it in.

“Doctor… the children are all back and they’re…. ill. The food….”

“Yes… as I thought,” The Doctor replied.

“I’d better find my class,” she added. “Some of them had been overeating even before they were animals. I dread to think what Phelim Driscoll is going to be like. Can you deal with your man – or whatever he is - on your own?”

“Yes, I can,” The Doctor assured her. “You go do what you have to do. I’ll….”

He paused and looked at her steadily.

“I owe you my thanks, and an explanation. I promise I will do both very soon.”

Trying to make twenty very ill children look presentable enough and smell decent enough to put back onto a hired coach took up all her attention after that. She barely had time to think about his promise. Later, she did wonder what he intended to do with the gorilla man. She couldn’t imagine there was any authority in Dublin that could take charge of him – except, possibly, the Zoo.

A few days later, when she was just beginning to take ordinary life for granted again, when she was tidying up the classroom at the end of another long day trying to prepare her students for the unforgiving world beyond primary school, a sudden wind blew the essays about the class trip to the zoo off her desk and a sound that wouldn’t have been out of place in the elephant enclosure grew louder. She turned to see a blue cabinet appear out of thin air. It had a light on top, small windows, and the words ‘Police Public Call Box’ around the top of its four walls. At least they were around the three she could see. She assumed the one at the back was the same.

When the door opened, she was not entirely surprised to see The Doctor.

“I’ve come to keep my promise,” he said. “I want to take you to dinner and answer all the questions I know you want answering.”

“Is that an English police box?” Marie asked. It was not by any stretch the most important question she wanted to ask, but it was the one she felt compelled to ask.

“No, it’s just the outer disguise for my trans-dimensional time and space ship,” The Doctor replied.

“That’s all right then,” Marie said without a single sign of being surprised by that answer. “We ARE in Dublin. If you know anything about Irish history you will realise that symbols of English authority are not very popular.”

“Come inside,” The Doctor told her, and against her better judgement, she did.

A surprisingly short time later she was enjoying a steak dinner on a space station called The Intergalactic Bar and Grill with a view through the sealed window of an amazing alien planet millions of light years from Earth.

“So, to recap,” she said as The Doctor finished talking. “YOU are a Time Lord from a planet called Gallifrey that is currently lost in another dimension. You travel in time and space inside that box called a TARDIS.”

“That’s it in a nutshell.”

“And you really did go to the zoo for the fun of it.”


“What DID you do with the gorilla man?”

“I took him to a multi-species penal planet in the Gannymede sector. Incidentally, you never did get a chance to ask him what it was all about.”

“It really didn’t seem to matter in the end.”

“I asked on your behalf. He was actually Human once. He experimented with genetic alteration – resulting in his own mutation, which unsurprisingly drove him mad. He became convinced that humans were overpopulating the Earth and that turning most of them into animals would be good for the planet. His downfall was deciding to test his transmogrification beam on the children at the zoo on the very day that you and I happened to be there. The odds on two people with non-terrestrial DNA being there, let alone being in conversation at the time, are astronomical.”

“I’m sure they are,” Marie acknowledged. “So are you going to explain that bit – about me being part alien? How can that be? My parents DO come from Wicklow, you know.”

“Yes, but one of THEIR parents came from a planet called Irgenall Nert. It’s rather a fascinating place. You’d like it.”

“I like Wicklow,” Marie told him. “I thought I came from there.”

“It’s nothing to be frightened of. Earth has always been a place where humanoid people have found sanctuary and a safe home for a long time. Your ancestor was one of those people. That’s all.”

“I see.”

“Would you like to see Irgenall Nert some time?”

That question threw her. She was utterly unable to answer. The Doctor filled the silence of her indecision with talk.

“My friend… the teacher… she went to other planets with me. She had days off on Wednesday and I showed her amazing things – on Wednesdays. Would you like… to come and see amazing things on Wednesdays or, Mondays, Saturdays… whatever day works for you?”

“Wow… that’s an offer I shouldn’t be able to refuse.”


“I don’t have a lot of spare time. I’m a teacher. There’s marking… and at the weekend I’m in a drama group and there’s church on a Sunday and….” She paused. “You said space and time. So… if I spent a day somewhere amazing, you could bring me back to the same day… as if I’d never been anywhere.”

“I can, but it’s not a good idea in the long run. The accumulated days… you might end up being a year older than you ought to be.”

“Yes, but what a year!” Marie answered, glancing out of the window at the alien world that the restaurant orbited. “Friday afternoon, then, after school. I might have to bring the marking, mind you.”

“Nothing new there,” The Doctor told her with a wry grin.