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

It was gone eleven o’clock on the thirteenth of April in what was called, in those days, with no sense of irony, the ‘Year of Our Lord’ Seventeen Hundred and Forty-Two. The premiere performance of Handel’s oratorio Messiah at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin, had just finished to rapturous approval and now the concert patrons spilled out into the streets talking about the musical spectacle they had just witnessed. Few of them, for as much as they had enjoyed the experience, realised that the date was one that would go down in history.

Two people knew, because they had access to the history books where it was recorded. Marie Reynolds, dressed in a wine-red velvet dress that had screamed ‘wear me’ when she saw it in the TARDIS wardrobe walked beside The Doctor as they left the crowd behind and wandered through unfamiliar streets.

“THAT was one of the best ideas you’ve had,” she enthused. “I’ve always loved the fact that the first performance of Messiah was in Dublin, not Paris or Milan or London where people expect that kind of thing to happen."

"And the first one-way street system on your planet was put in place to handle the carriage traffic for the event," The Doctor added. "That's two firsts for your home city in one night."

"I wish we had a carriage," Marie admitted. "Or we'd parked the TARDIS a bit closer."

She was feeling a little nervous as they left the bustle around Fishamble street. There wasn't much in the way of street lighting. This time pre-dated even gas lamps, and some of the noises coming from the ale houses and gambling dens were disturbing. She and The Doctor were dressed a little too richly in their concert going attire. They were being noticed by the inhabitants of the shadows.

"Aren't we taking a lot longer getting back?"

The Doctor made a vague sound in his throat.

"Oh no," Marie groaned. "We're lost."

"Not exactly. The TARDIS is lost. This IS where we left it. But it isn't here."

"How could that be? How could the TARDIS be missing? It can't be stolen like a car or... or even a horse and carriage."

"Don't stop walking." The Doctor said with a warning note in his voice and a tighter hold on Marie’s arm. "Don't look nervous. Try to look as if you know where you're going."

"Easier said than done. I am nervous and I have no idea where I'm going. I'm not even sure where I am. This is Seventeen-Forty-Two. Most of the city I know was built AFTER this time. All that Georgian splendour the tourist brochures go on about - the Four Courts, the Customs House, just about everything on the south side... everything I recognise… doesn't exist, yet. This area... I think it's part of what will be called the Temple Bar in my time, but I don't know any of it."

"That's what I mean. Try to look like you DO know where you are."

Usually The Doctor managed that very well. He had told her once that one of the romantic ‘tags’ that his race had acquired, even before the rock song of the same name, was ‘Princes of the Universe’. It usually fitted him well. He had a way of looking as if every part of that universe belonged to him and answered to him.

But right now, it wasn’t working. He actually looked positively worried. His long face seemed stretched even further and his expression was tense.

Was it the loss of his TARDIS that worked such a dramatic change in him?

Of course, that was serious. Marie knew she didn’t want to be stranded in mid-seventeenth century Dublin any more than he did. As interesting as it was to experience that unique, once in a millennia concert, she didn’t belong here. This was NOT her city. It was as alien to her as any planet The Doctor had taken her to.

What was that phrase somebody coined – ‘the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.’

Right now she was realising it all too well.

“Something is wrong,” The Doctor murmured so that only she could hear. “The TARDIS CAN’T just be stolen. Somebody must have had knowledge….”

“Isn’t it JUST possible that you got the street wrong?” Marie clung to one last desperate straw. “These buildings DO look pretty much alike.”

“No…. there’s something else,” The Doctor insisted. “Something is WRONG.”

“Wait a minute,” Marie said. “I think I DO know THAT place. It’s….”

“Good. Stay there until I get back.” She was surprised when The Doctor grabbed her by the arm and thrust her through the wicket gate into the coaching yard of the public house and hotel that she thought she recognised.

“I will BE back,” she heard him shout. “I promise you, Marie Reynolds. I WILL… BE… BACK.”

She turned on her heels and stepped back out through the gate. For a brief moment – a micro-moment, even – she thought the street outside had been as bright as the artificial day of a floodlit football pitch. Then the darkness of a time before electricity enveloped her again.

There was no sign of The Doctor.

She stepped back into the coach yard. An old man came out from the stable and looked at her curiously.

"I think...." she began. "I'm going to need a room for the night."

“A temporal portal!” The Doctor murmured as his eyes became accustomed to the dark. At least, now, he understood the reason for the sense of dread that had assailed him in the noisome thoroughfare known as Lower Bridge Street – on account of it being the southern end of the first bridge over the river Liffey.

There had been a disturbance in the temporal fabric.

Somebody was messing about with time – and as he had pointed out on more than one occasion, time was his business.

The fact that she was wearing a velvet dress and produced a silver coin to pay for supper and bed prompted the landlord of the oldest pub in Ireland to provide both of those commodities. Even so, being a woman with no man accompanying her still made her rather vulnerable.

She wasn't entirely sure why the said twelfth century coaching inn had been named The Brazen Head. She was aware that the term was something to do with fanciful brass heads that were possessed by spirits. In her experience, though, the word 'brazen' had most often been used by her grandmother who called any woman who wore skirts above the knee or necklines below an equally arbitrary level 'brazen hussies'. She was aware that several women in this establishment might qualify for her grandmother's favourite put down and that a lot of the men liked them that way.

She was not among reputable company.

In consequence of this fact, she took certain precautions after she had been conducted to the small private room with a bed and other basic furniture in it. She bolted the door from the inside and pushed a heavy linen box up against it. She then checked that there were no other doors into the room and that the window had no access by steps, ivy or overhanging trees. Of course, there was also no emergency exit in case of fire, but this WAS a building that existed in her own time in some shape or form so she trusted it not to burn down in the short time she was there.

Her other precaution was to transfer the small linen bag she had in the dress pocket to the inside of the foundation garment she was wearing beneath the dress and which she intended to wear as night attire. The bag contained coins of gold, silver and common copper as well as a few small diamonds. The Doctor always provided a package of that sort whenever they were anywhere in time and space that a universal credit card couldn't be used 'just in case they were separated' or, as he put it, 'in case she did something pudding headed and got herself lost'.

This was definitely the former contingency. She laid herself down on the bed in her 'shift' and listened to the sounds of the street outside and the muffled but unmistakable sounds of the 'brazen women' and their male friends inside. She wondered if she would ever get any sleep in such a place.

Not exactly a temporal portal, The Doctor amended as he walked through dark passages with old stone walls and the dryness of a place few people had been in for a long time.

A temporal portal implied passage from one time to another. Instead he had passed from the normal flow of time to a place where it didn't flow at all - a null time bubble. He felt the lack of time's interminable flow like the nagging dullness of a tooth cavity. It was unnatural, a perversion of the most fundamental law of physical existence.

And it had no business being in eighteenth century Ireland. The technology to produce such a bubble belonged in the hypothetical laboratories of Artura Minor in the fifty-second century.

"Time Lord!" The ominous voice echoed around the ancient walls. The Doctor studiously pretended not to be surprised that someone - or something - knew what he was. Then again, why not? Anything capable of setting up a null time bubble had to have some understanding of the race who set themselves against interference with time even in such limited fashion as this.

It was even more likely that he would know who or what was behind it all once he came into his presence.

He wasn't going to be rushed, though. There was too much of the peremptory summons in that voice. He WAS a Time Lord, after all. He was not accustomed to being ordered by anyone.

So he took his time moving through the stone walled passageway, stopping occasionally to examine one stone that appeared, if only to himself, more worthy of close inspection than any other or to remove a sample of the mortar from between the stones, analysing it by the simple method of tasting the ancient substance.

Well, at least he knew WHERE he was, even if WHEN had been made redundant by the null time bubble.

Marie did get to sleep eventually. She woke in the morning to a new sort of noisiness outside as a steady stream of street traders with their wares carried on overloaded carts and barrows headed towards the mid-eighteenth century incarnation of 'Dublin Bridge'. The version she knew was built in the nineteenth century as Whitworth Bridge after the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and by the late twentieth renamed Father Mathew Bridge. Simply being called Dublin Bridge was no use once there were several more bridges crossing the Liffey within the city boundaries.

Having exhausted her interest in the names of bridges she lay back and listened to the noises for a while. At least they were less threatening than the sounds of the night. It almost felt like the background ambience of a period drama. The musical 'Oliver' jumped to mind, but she was quite sure nobody on Bridge Street was selling roses or asking her to 'consider herself one of the family'.

It didn't look quite so bleak in the morning light but she was far from home and dry. Those sounds predating the invention of the internal combustion engine also served to remind her of how far away from home she was even if she was still in the city of her birth.

She wondered about The Doctor's promise to come back for her.

Of course, she fully believed that he would come back if he could. But his terms were vague. How LONG should she wait, and did it have to be here, exactly, in this none too reputable hostelry?

While she was pondering those problems she noticed the door handle turning slowly as if somebody was trying to test of it was locked or not.

"Yeah," she thought as the would-be intruder gave up and she heard quickly retreating footsteps on the floorboards outside. “I wasn't born yesterday!"

No, she remembered. She wasn't. The absurdity of it made her laugh out loud for a long time during which she couldn't even think about rising from the bed. Then she stopped laughing and got up. There was a pitcher of water and a bowl on a dressing table. The water was cold but she washed her hands and face in it and put on the dress that had been airing overnight. She wasn't sure if it was the right fashion for day wear, but she had no other choice. She tidied her hair and slipped on the shoes that matched the dress and went in search of breakfast.

The Doctor thoroughly explored every passageway and checked every dark, musty and mostly empty room before he finally ambled casually toward the voice that knew he was a Time Lord.

It was as he approached the room containing the voice that he knew he was dealing with somebody who cared little for human life. In the ante-room he examined the paper dry mummies still clad in the clothes they had died in. They came from different periods of history from as early as the mid twelfth century when the Normans invaded Ireland and brought their clothes, manners and language to the Dublin Pale as well as their need for defensive structures to control the native masses.

A once young, virile man wearing chain mail with a silk tabard over it to identify him on the field of battle dated from those early days. A later corpse still bore a white beard and wore a gold brooch representing some important office in the government of Ireland under Henry VIII. A woman with an Elizabethan ruff decorated in imitation pearls also told of courtly position. The most recent had worn a long powdered wig, highly embroidered shirt under a velvet coat and knee length breeches with smooth stockings and heeled shoes. He was every inch the civil servant of the mid reign of the first Hanoverian George.

Roughly one death had occurred once every fifty years for around six centuries. The bodies had been dried out but they had not decayed any further, locked as they were within the null-time bubble.

What it signified, he wasn’t yet sure.

The Brazen Head was primarily a coaching inn. Most of its paying guests had stayed overnight before continuing their journeys. The long tables in the main room downstairs were full and noisy with people eating breakfast quickly lest they get left behind. Some of the brazen women were eating, too. So were their former customers who regarded the arrival of Marie in her velvet dress with leering glances and frankly disgustingly suggestive sniggers.

She was about to flee back upstairs away from this melee when a woman in an apron and mob cap took her by the arm into a quiet alcove by the kitchen and provided her with a large bowl of something like porridge but made with boiled wheat rather than oats. There was honey to sweeten it and it was nourishing enough. She took her time eating it because it gave her time to think.

The landlady, Mrs Delaney, as she introduced herself, had been thinking, too.

"A velvet gown but no other clothes to your name," she said. "All is not as it seems with you, is it?"

Marie wondered how to respond, but Mrs Delaney wasn't done.

"Did you come up to the city hoping to find work? Wearing a dress your mistress was done with, hoping it would make you look higher placed than you are?"

Marie still had no words to say, but she thought Mrs Delaney was concocting a better background story than she could have managed for herself.

“No, that’s not it,” the landlady continued. “White hands that have never done hard work… never been immersed in lye soap or chapped to the bone taking down linen that freeze-dried in the dead of winter. More like you’ve run away from some country manor – following a man your father disapproved of, I’ll be bound.”

“I… am looking for work,” Marie admitted without giving away any details to add to either romance.

"Respectable work, that would be?"

'Well, of course." Marie thought of the 'brazen hussies' and certainly didn't want to be lumped in with them.

"Are you handy with a sewing needle?"

"I... can be."

"Mrs Playfair is housekeeper for the Dean of Christchurch. Heretics though they are, they're decent people and she was telling me the other day that she needs a seamstress to help her keep the vestments and what not in good order. If you tell her I sent you she'll see you right. It’ll be clean work, and not skivvying. But if she sees you in that fancy velvet she'll think you're a fallen woman and won't let you over the threshold. Wait while that lot are off out of here and I've a minute to spare and I'll find you something clean and decent and more suitable to your station."

"Thank you," Marie said. It was the best she could manage. She had hardly expected kindness of that sort in this rough, frightening place where she felt so dangerously out of her depth.

The Doctor stepped into a large room lit, so it seemed, from within the stone walls themselves. This was very unlikely. He had visited, on more than one occasion, caves with natural phosphorescence that lit them though they were thousands of feet deep and had never seen daylight. But this was not such a place. This was some unnatural thing going on.

In the middle of the room, a figure sat upon an elaborately carved wooden chair that just fell short of being a throne because it wasn’t QUITE grand enough. The body was that of a slender man dressed very much in the fashions of the day that had been shown off at the Handel performance only a few hours ago.

The head was something entirely different. The Doctor studied it carefully, keeping a safe distance for the moment. It was made of brass, but it had a kind of living aspect to it. The eyes in the brass sockets glowed a deep red-orange and moved as quickly as a nervous man in a crowd. The nostrils in the over-sized nose flared as if it was scenting something. The mouth moved with the slow deliberation of a ruminating cow. Around the wide face was a mass of brass hair that flared like an archaic rendition of the sun.

It was, The Doctor noted ironically, a Brazen Head. Such things had been mentioned in Human literature and folklore since there was knowledge enough to write such things down. They were usually thought to be mechanical contraptions given ‘life’ by practitioners of magic. Several accounts of the life of Roger Bacon, the thirteenth century monk, philosopher and sorcerer tell of his having some such thing under his control.

But this one looked more like it was controlling the man whose body it was sitting upon. He began to understand the significance of those bodies in the ante-room. Every so often, it seemed, it chose a ‘victim’ by some power or other and possessed it, draining the body of all vitality before discarding it like the husk of a fruit that had been squeezed dry. If his guess of a fifty-year interval was correct the chosen vessel lived without ordinary sustenance for an unnatural time before he or she was completely used up – if ‘lived’ was the right word for it. ‘Existed’ was probably closer to the mark.

“I know you are there, Time Lord!” said the sonorous, metallic voice that came from a mouth as the brass lips contracted and stretched to enunciate the words. “Come closer.”

“I think I’ll stay here, if it’s all the same,” The Doctor casually replied. “Who are you and what are you doing in this place with technology beyond this time.”

“I am Chermach Molonuhn of the Sabxeuzach,” the voice responded. The Doctor watched the cheek and jowl movements in fascination. The simulacrum of life was near perfect. One could almost imagine there was a bone structure beneath the brass ‘flesh’.

“That’s quite a mouthful. I came across a being once that called itself the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. It also went by ‘Max’. I could call you Cher. I don’t think she’ll mind. I can make it up to her next time I see her, anyway.”

“Your loquaciousness is no more than a façade to disguise your fear of me and my power,” the creature henceforth known – to The Doctor, at least – as Cher, growled.

“That would only be the case if I feared you,” The Doctor answered. “Look at me – do I look scared?”

The eyes swivelled around to the sound of his voice, but The Doctor had the strongest feeling that they couldn’t actually see. They were, he thought, weapons, nasty ones at that, but they were blind.

“I know your name, now, but WHAT are you, and why are you here? And WHY did you summon me? Did YOU steal my TARDIS?”

“Your time machine….”

Cher gave a rasping sound that was possibly meant to be a laugh but came out more like a throaty cough – if it HAD a throat, that is. The glow from the walls intensified in the farthest corner, illuminating an enclave just big enough for the familiar blue police box to sit. The Doctor disguised his relief with some more of the ‘loquaciousness’ that irritated Cher so much.

“Impressive, that. The only other beings I’ve known who can move the TARDIS by remote telekinesis are the Sisterhood of Karn, and they’re quite close genetically to Time Lords. I suppose you must have detected the artron emissions given off during materialisation. That puts you into a certain bracket of telepathic beings, but don’t get too superior about it. That bracket includes a species of blind sea slug from the Andromeda sector that homes in on the artron energy, mistaking it for their favourite flavour of kelp. Landing in the Andromedan seas can be really annoying.”

Marie found that the mention of Mrs Delaney opened doors in the presbytery of Christchurch Cathedral, which, ironically, had a corner on Fishamble Street where she had started out last night. Mrs Playfair, the housekeeper for the Dean and other clergymen who resided there thought her counterpart at the Brazen Head an honest woman for all that she was a Papist and immediately accepted her recommendation for seamstress. Marie found herself employed, with room and board and one afternoon off a week as well as Sunday. Within ten minutes she was sitting in a light and airy room with thread, needles and thimble and a basket of vestments as well as stockings, shirts and shifts that needed attention. She sat by the window overlooking the cathedral garden and set to work. She was still a little concerned about The Doctor. How long would it take him to make good his promise? Would she be reclaimed today, tomorrow, next week?

If it did take some time, at least she had a safe place to be, where nobody would try to get into her room to rifle through her few possessions, where she would be fed and had clean work – not skivvying, and certainly not the occupation of ‘fallen women’ to do while she waited.

It was hard work. After an hour her neck and back ached from the work. For encouragement in her tasks she found herself being read to for long periods of time by assorted curates. They all took her to be a ‘papist’ and regarded her as a case for conversion. In the course of the morning she heard a number of long-winded tracts from men such as William Moreton, the predecessor to the current dean, and on one occasion, from the famous Jonathon Swift, who currently held the Deanship of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the ‘second’ Cathedral of Protestant Dublin. She resisted the urge to praise his more popular works like Gulliver’s Travels, and certainly not to mention having seen more than one film of the story.

Still, if being subjected to a little proselytising was the worst she might suffer, she wasn’t doing so bad, all considered. The Doctor had thought there was something far more dangerous going on when he left her at the Brazen Head. When the morning’s labours came to an end and she was sent to the servant’s dining room, she offered up a Papist prayer for his safety along with the Protestant ‘grace’ before their meal.

Brazen Heads in mythology were famed for their ability to speak. The Doctor was famed in certain circles for the same, but in his case the remarkable thing wasn't that he COULD speak but rather that very few beings in the universe could STOP him speaking. The being presently being addressed as Cher had endured thirty-five minutes of The Doctor not only talking but moving around the room, forcing the eyes, sighted or otherwise, to swivel around to follow him. Finally, the patience of the Brazen Head snapped and the eyes fired a beam that left two scorch marks on the wall a few inches from where The Doctor was standing.

"Enough!" It pronounced. "I want only I've thing from you, Time Lord."

"And that would be?" The Doctor asked guilelessly - or at least with the innocent tone of being without guile.

"You and your machine."

"That's two things."

"I have been a prisoner here for a thousand Sabxeuzach eons ... Six centuries by the solar orbits of this cursed planet. You will take me away from here. You will return me to my home world where I will exact my revenge on those who betrayed me."

"You know, I just KNEW that was going to be your plan," The Doctor said nonchalantly. "As soon as I saw you I thought 'Here's somebody who needs to return to his home world to exact revenge.' Well, hard cheese, Sonny. The TARDIS isn't a taxi."

"You will do this or die," Cher demanded.

"Well, obviously that's not true," The Doctor responded. "You can't kill me or you won't escape. You need a TARDIS pilot."

"I will kill innocents in the city above us."

"Oh, I am sure you can do that," The Doctor conceded. "I've seen the bodies out there. You can kill anyone, just like that. But let me tell you... if one more human is hurt thanks to your machinations, I will destroy you utterly. You think you are immortal. You think you are powerful. Can you keep talking in the heart of a volcano or the fiery surface of a newly forming planet? Or perhaps if I dropped you off on the permanent night side of a frozen outer planet… you might struggle to keep your miraculously elastic properties when you're stuck in a glacier."

"You cannot!" Cher cried out in unrighteous indignation. “Six centuries I have been trapped here. I must be free. You WILL free me."

"No, I won't," The Doctor insisted. "Not even if you had said 'please' - which you haven't done."

Marie's first day as a seamstress was followed by a second, a third, a week, two weeks. She stopped counting the days and after a month, stopped waiting for The Doctor to turn up. She never quite stopped believing he would, but she stopped EXPECTING him to come.

She had more clothes, now. Mrs Playfair had directed her to a cloth market on her day off and she had bought serviceable dress lengths that she made up in the evening after her work was over. On Sunday afternoons after service in the Cathedral she got used to walking in company with one or other or the young curates whose expectations ran to a 'living' as vicar of a country church with a quiet, respectable wife. Marie fitted the purpose in their eyes. They seemed to have forgotten that she was a papist in their enthusiasm.

Marie kept them at bay with polite acceptance of their solicitations that stopped short of actual betrothal.

The Doctor WOULD be back... some day.

He had promised.

Cher was angry. The Doctor's persistent refusal to assist in its escape from Earth was extremely aggravating, as was his constant movement back and forwards and around the room. He was not permitted to approach the TARDIS, of course, or the door to the ante room full of discarded bodies. Any time he came close to either of those possible means of escape the eyes fired a few inches to his right or left. Even so, he managed to keep Cher constantly swivelling around to follow him.

"I won't help you," The Doctor insisted. "I won't unleash you upon the unfortunate world that spawned you. But nor will I let you harm one more human being. If it means I have to share your prison for a millennium to stop you taking more victims to drain, then so be it. I AM a Time Lord and I can be patient."

That was a lie. He was the most impatient man in Creation. It was his chief fault. Besides, he couldn't live indefinitely without food, drink and, though less often than humans, the use of a lavatory. He couldn't keep up the game of brinkmanship anywhere near as long as the centuries old mechanical life form could.

The threat disturbed Cher, though, and he only had to play it out for a little while longer to spring the trap.

It all hung on the fact that Cher couldn't see him, only follow his voice, and the fact that The Doctor had learnt to 'throw' his voice long ago.

And the fact that those little windows in the top panels of the TARDIS exterior were something stronger than ordinary glass.

The Doctor stood several feet from his beloved police box but the final straw that drove Cher into a murderous rage despite the futility of killing his ‘taxi driver’ sounded as if it came from there. The eyes blazed and death beamed from them, hitting two of those little windows and bouncing back. Intense heat engulfed the Chermach Molonuhn of the Sabxeuzach. It screamed just once as its mouth was seared wide open. The human body being drained of its life force crumbled to merciful dust as the head glowed white hot and fell to the floor with a metallic clang, the enraged expression fixed for eternity.

As soon as it was 'dead' in every possible sense of the word, the null time bubble collapsed. Time swept through the passages like a scouring wind, breaking up the rest of the mummified bodies and rendering them to dust that not even the most dedicated forensic anthropologist would recognise as formerly human. As time caught up and then swept onwards, all trace of the horror was obliterated apart from the grotesque mask that would eventually be classified as a medieval oddity and put at the back of an exhibition of bronze work in the Dublin Castle Museum.

The Doctor braced himself against the sudden passage of time the way a lighthouse braces itself against a winter storm. When it was over he looked at the same old walls now illuminated by subtle up lighting that attempted to preserve the historical atmosphere.

As he calculated in his head how many centuries he had been swept by the temporal implosion he heard voices nearby. One, louder than the others and with the unmistakeable tone of a tour guide, was explaining how the medieval undercroft of Dublin Castle had only been discovered in the late nineteen-eighties when foundations were being dug for an extension to the Civil Service offices. Now it formed an exciting extension to the tour of the eighteenth and nineteenth century Castle complex.

His TARDIS was gone, but The Doctor wasn't worried. Since the Court of Elizabeth Tudor, there had been a standing order in any part of the British Empire that, should a blue box be found without its owner, it should be looked after until he came to claim it - sometimes after paying hefty fines and making sincere apologies. He had no doubt that the Irish Free State Government when they took back this corner of the Empire for themselves continued the tradition. He just had to find out where to pay the fine and where to get enough Euros.

Then he could keep his promise to Marie.

It was mid-afternoon on a Wednesday when Marie was told that a gentleman wished to see her. She was surprised. It was not one of her free afternoons as even the most persistent of the young curates knew. What sort of gentleman would be asking for her during her hours of work and how was it that she was given leave to put down her needlework and attend such a caller?

She was NOT expecting The Doctor. For a moment as she stepped into the quiet hallway of the presbytery she was startled by his presence. He was dressed in the clothes of a respectable mid-eighteenth century gentleman, right down to the silk knee stockings on surprisingly well turned legs. He smiled and bowed to her as she approached.

“I came as soon as I could,” he said in apologetic tones. I had some trouble with null-time-bubbles and being imploded into the twenty-first century. Getting the TARDIS back was a bit of bother, too. Nobody could remember which extension of the National Museum had it in their archives. I eventually located it in Howth, at an expedition of Post and Telecommunications equipment from the industrial revolution to present day – the present day of 2017, that is – not THIS present day, of course.”

Marie said nothing. Her expression said it all.

“I know I might be out by a week or so,” he admitted. “I went to the Brazen Head to find you. A woman called Mrs Delaney had to be actually hypnotised before she would tell me where you were, and one called Mrs Playfair RESISTED hypnotic suggestion for twenty minutes before I finally got it from her that you were the seamstress."

"I have been for the past six months," she finally replied, measuring the note of censure in her voice carefully. "Did you notice it was spring when we went to the Messiah. Its October, now. I watched the blossom on that apple tree out there in the cathedral garden bloom and then fall away. I watched the apples growing. I picked the apples with help from a young curate called George Joyce. The apple pies have been eaten. George has asked me to marry him, TWICE."

The Doctor was concerned.

"You haven't accepted him, have you?"

"No, but I was running out of reasons to say no."

"So you're ready to come with me?"

"Not just like that. I need to tell Mrs Playfair something - you're my uncle come to make me heiress to your clock-making business in Waterford or something. Some good reason to leave a secure position in a respectable household. And I will have to leave George a note to say I really CAN'T marry him. I might send that velvet dress and the rest of the gold coins to Mrs Delaney. She's the one who set me up here, away from the brazen hussies at the Brazen Head. She deserves a reward for her kindness."

"Speaking of Brazen Heads... wait till I tell you about the one I tangled with."

"You can tell me about it over coffee and sandwiches at O’Brien’s in The Square," she replied. "In MY time, of course. Coffee is considered too strong for respectable women in this time and the sandwich hasn't been invented, yet."

"You’re only twenty years short. The Earl of Sandwich got peckish in the middle of a Card game in 1762. The prototype wasn’t brilliant, actually. They cut the bread too thick and it needed a bit of mustard. I told him...."

Marie stopped his anecdote with a thoroughly withering look.

"Just... go and sit down in the Dean’s drawing room quietly while I get sorted." She sighed as she remembered something. "There's a gentleman called Swift in there, already. He's a friend of Reverend Cobbe’s. Under no circumstances are you to launch into any long winded critiques of his published works."

The Doctor grinned widely.

"That's all right. Johnny Swift and I go back years. Take all the time you need letting George down gently. We'll be just fine."

Marie groaned aloud at the insanity of it all and went to put away her thimbles.