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

“You’ll like this,” The Doctor told Marie as he set the course to a new world – new to her, anyway. The Doctor obviously knew where it was and so, presumably, did its inhabitants. “I’m taking you to the happiest planet in the galaxy. Happy people guaranteed, not like you moaney, mopey Earth pudding heads.”

“That is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle,” Marie responded. “YOU hold the universal patent on moaning AND moping.

The Doctor went conveniently deaf. Marie watched the vortex swirl in its kaleidoscope way for a few quiet minutes.

“HOW is it the happiest planet in the galaxy? Is there a competition, like tidiest town? Besides, people CAN’T always be happy, all of the time. Everyone has the dumps sometimes.”

“The Marfannans don’t,” The Doctor insisted. “No dumps, no blues, except as a popular form of music, no brown studies.”

Marie thought about it some more.

“My mum is pretty cheerful most of the time, but when my gran died she cried for a month, and got upset for ages afterwards when she saw anyone wearing the same kind of coat gran used to wear.”

The Doctor gave that a lot of consideration and then conceded that she had a point.

“I’ve never seen a Marfannan funeral,” he admitted. “But I understand that they believe in a thoroughly benevolent and undemanding deity who looks after the departed. Possibly that keeps them from inordinate levels of grief. I understand they are a healthy lot who get plenty of fresh air, so death may not occur as often as you are accustomed to experiencing.”

“Ok, but seeing is believing, all the same. It DOES seem a little too good to be true.”

“Most times I’d agree with you. I once visited a planet where happiness was enforced by law and even Blues music was banned. It was the most miserable place in the cosmos and rotten ripe for revolution.”

“Sounds like it,” Marie agreed. “But Marfannan isn’t like that?”

“Not at all. It’s just… against all odds… HAPPY.”

Marie left it at that and turned her attention to the screen. The vortex had given way to a view of the planet in question. Although she had no point of reference, she thought it was a bit smaller than Earth. It had two big continents separated by an ocean and was the shades of blue-green sea and variously-coloured land that her species thought of as ‘normal’. The two poles were suitably white.

“It is early summer in the western hemisphere,” The Doctor told her. “Although it would be instructive to see how Marfannans remain as cheerful as Gene Kelly Singing in the Rain during their wet season I really feel like a bit of sunshine.”

“Sunshine is good,” Marie agreed and watched the view screen dissolve again as The Doctor initiated the landing protocol.

They stepped out presently into a pleasant plaza with flower beds, sculptures, fountains and benches for people to sit under the summer sun. The TARDIS looked incongruous as ever, but nobody seemed worried about it. They carried on enjoying their day.

Beyond the plaza were meadowlands on which children played ball games and people exercised pastel coloured heaps of deep fur that were the equivalent of dogs on this world. A lake with ornamental bridges crossing it provided endless fun for people who liked pleasure boats of all sorts.

Beyond the bounds of this large park that might have other attractions still to present itself, there was a glittering city with soaring spires and slender bridges in the sky that could only be on an alien world. Human architects hadn’t yet dreamt of such gravity defying magnificence.

The sun was pleasantly warm. It was a yellow sun, the best kind for warm afternoons. Marie had dressed for nice weather and she looked up at a cloudless sky and wondered why it was that so many worlds had blue skies, when science fiction had so many varieties of colour. The Doctor gave her a short science lesson about light filters and a slightly longer one disparaging science fiction – with particular reference to Star Trek. Marie listened to both cheerfully, enjoying their stroll through the park. Just as The Doctor trailed off on the science fiction topic he spotted a group of people sitting at tables playing a game that looked something like triple-level chess. The Doctor smiled happily and found a seat at an unoccupied table. A competitor immediately sat opposite. They began to play ferociously but happily.

Marie waved to The Doctor and announced that she was going to take a walk by herself. He waved back and said they would have tea later. She strolled off – happily.

The park was nice, but parks often were. Marie headed towards the gates and out into the city. Was everyone there happy? What about road rage and all the other things that irritated people in cities.

There was no road rage. Public transport was a sleek, near silent monorail that ran on a suspended rail about twenty feet above ground. The platforms were accessed by glass sided lifts at regular intervals. Personal travel was by something like an open topped carriage with a silvery solar sail that was near noiseless and appeared to be so much fun to drive that commuting was a joy.

The silence of the transport meant that the streets were filled with music. Buskers were clearly encouraged. There were special gold-coloured raised sections of the pavement where they could perform. Every time one musician went out of earshot the strains of another could be heard.

Marie stopped for a long time to watch a small street group who attracted an audience of their own. A man playing a cross between a banjo and a violin and another with a huge accordion-like instrument were accompanied by a girl in a flowing purple silk dress who sang and danced.

The song they were performing was one to lift the most flagging spirit. Marie found herself tapping her feet and humming the chorus even though she had never heard the song before. It was a bit like ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’ except with a much more exquisite tune and far more sophisticated lyrics. The effect was about the same. It was a song that engendered happiness.

It was a happy song.

This was the busy shopping district, where cheerful people enjoyed bustling in and out of brightly inviting stores. A short walk from there brought her to a ‘business’ quarter where most of those glittering spires she had seen from the park were to be seen from the ground up. Lots of gleaming glass was held together by a metal that really did shimmer iridescently in the sunlight so that its base colour was hard to make out. These were the offices of the merchant banks, stockbrokers and insurance companies.

One building puzzled Marie. It was, as far as she could tell, the tallest and most streamlined of all the glass and metal towers. Its spire disappeared into the good weather clouds high in the sky.

It was called Noetic House. The word puzzled her first of all ¬– mainly because she was sure it was a real word. By real word, what she really meant was that it was a word that was used on Earth, that she could look up in a dictionary.

But what it meant, she had no idea, and why a huge building in the middle of an alien city was called that was even more puzzling.

There was music here, too. At a road junction just beyond Noetic House, there was a triangular traffic island. A choir of eight young men in saffron robes were singing something a little like Beethoven’s Ode to Joy – except that Beethoven would have given his right arm to have written this piece of music. It was possibly the most wonderful and uplifting song Marie had ever heard.

The happiest song she had ever heard. How wonderful, she thought, to be working in one of these offices with this music drifting in through the windows.

Again she felt she had to wait and listen for a while. But it was while she was listening, so very happily, that something happened to make her question the universal happiness around her. A woman came out of one of the glittering towers – the headquarters of the Marfannan postal service. She walked a little way past the choir and then stopped walking. She looked at the singers and then inexplicably burst into tears.

“Are you all right?” Marie asked kindly, reaching out a comforting hand to the woman’s shoulder.

“It’s all a lie,” the woman sobbed. “All just a lie.”

“What is?”

“All of it,” the woman insisted.

Marie looked around almost as if expecting to see the ‘all of it’ referred to. She noticed that nobody else was paying attention to the uncharacteristically sad woman. The other park-goers carried on with their pleasant activities just as if nothing was happening. At least they did at first. As the woman’s distress continued unabated and unexplained it became impossible to ignore. People stopped and looked at her curiously, as if they had never seen anything like it. Marie noticed that none of them went near her, watching from a distance as if her grief might be catching. She scowled at the crowd for their lack of compassion. They didn’t seem to notice her disapprobation.

Two people in silvery uniforms, riding something like segways, arrived at the scene. They approached the woman with kind and reassuring words.

“Go away!” she screamed, tears coming in even faster floods and she backed away from them, still insisting that it was all a lie.

Two more uniformed people turned up on foot. They, too, talked kindly to the woman and they were gentle as they administered some sort of medicine by hypodermic pen. She quietened immediately, and they led her away between them.

Marie noticed two things that really puzzled her. First, where the ‘paramedics’ - for want of a better word – took the distressed woman, and second, what one of the Segway riders said to his colleague just loud enough for her to hear.

“I should tell The Doctor,” Marie told herself and headed back to the park. She found him just finishing up his game of multi-level chess. He shook hands with his opponent and came to greet Marie.

“Did you win?” she asked.

“It’s not about winning,” he answered. “The satisfaction is in the challenge.”

Marie wondered if that meant he had lost. But he grinned and suggested high tea at the excellent café next to the boating lake. They walked around the edge of the water waving at boats and their occupants. Marie felt cheerful again after the little upset, and it wasn’t until they were sitting at a table in the café garden enjoying a cream tea that she approached the subject – and then at a tangent.

“What does the word ‘Noetic’ mean?” she asked The Doctor. He paused in the action of buttering a scone and looked at her quizzically. “I’m not thick,” she added. “But whatever it means, it isn’t a word I would expect to be in any conversation with the eleven year olds I teach. It doesn’t sound like a word I’d come across in the staff room either. I thought of looking for a dictionary later, but….”

“It derives from the Greek, noéo, meaning ‘understanding’. In modern parlance. ‘nous’. Noetic is essentially the study of sentient thought.”

“So… nothing medical, then?” Marie concluded. Then she told The Doctor about the woman and the people a bit like paramedics who so gently led her away – to Noetic House.

She also told him what one of the Segway riders had said to his colleague.

“Fifth one, today.”

The Doctor shook his head, slowly and sadly.

“The axiom ‘too good to be true’ is one I have often lived by,” he said. “Scratch the surface of shiny or glittery things and like as not there’s something dull underneath. But I really thought this was the one exception to the rule. I thought people really were happy here. I thought it was natural.”

He looked around the café garden. So did Marie. It LOOKED real. The cheerful conversations of customers, the sing-song voice of the waitress calling out table numbers and delivering plates of food seemed genuine. She still had the j‘if you’re happy and you know it’ song running around her head and she liked it.

She WANTED this to be a genuinely happy planet.

“What are we going to do?” she asked.

The Doctor smiled.

“You think we should be doing something… apart from getting in the TARDIS and going home?”

"Yes," Marie answered. "And so do you."

"Yes, I do," The Doctor agreed. "I have an idea. It might not be the best idea, and your role in it is worrying, but it’s an idea."

He explained. He was right. Her role in it was rather crucial.

“I’ll do it,” she told him. “When?”

“Tomorrow,” The Doctor decided. “I’ve got to sort out a detail or two. It won’t take long. Meanwhile we can take in some Marfannan theatre. No unhappy endings to their plays, of course. No unhappy beginnings, for that matter. Needless to say they have never done Les Miserables.”

Marie laughed at the corny joke, and the cheerful ambience of the café garden enveloped her again. Whatever the problem was, she told herself optimistically, The Doctor would sort it out. Everyone would be all right.


They put the plan into action the next day. It started with a stroll in the park. In the quiet morning it was even nicer than the afternoon with only a few joggers and dog walkers and a clean breeze scented with essences of unfamiliar but very welcome flowers.

At a pre-determined point Marie walked on while The Doctor sat down on a bench. She heard him begin what was a BAFTA winning performance of a man who had reached the end of his tether and had to cry or burst. As Marie watched from a distance she wondered if The Doctor was a method actor. What tragedy in his past had he conjured up to let him convincingly play such grief.

Two paramedics on Segway turned up swiftly. They looked after The Doctor until a near-silent solar car arrived. He was sedated and helped into a seat before the vehicle moved off again at speed. Marie watched it go. Moments later the Segway riders sped past her. Whether they had another emergency or just a coffee going cold she wasn’t sure, but they waved cheerfully to her as they passed.

One thing provided food for thought before she got on with her part of the mission. The scene of The Doctor’s command performance had been deserted. Even the joggers were out of earshot.

So WHO called the paramedics?

She looked around, but unless they were really tiny there were no cameras. Big Brother was not watching.

She filed it under things to investigate as she set off towards the business district and whatever was happening inside Noetic House.

The Doctor wasn’t really affected by the sedative. He just let them think he was. It was a thoroughly good performance. Even when he was transferred to a bed and attached to a machine monitoring his vital signs, it was impossible to tell that he was wide awake.

By exercising every inch of Power of Suggestion, he managed to stop the medics from noticing that he wasn’t a Marfannan. They missed his two hearts among other clues.

“They said he was a bad case,” one of the medics said after concluding that The Doctor’s pulse was a little fast but otherwise no cause for concern. “He was crying alone in the park.”

“It’s becoming an epidemic,” another answered. “I don’t know how long we can keep it from spreading.”

“Only what we do for them all – keep them isolated and give them all the best care we can until they’re well again.”

“I only wish it was more.” One of the medics, The Doctor wasn’t sure which one, sighed deeply after making that regretful remark.

“Don’t let yourself be affected,” said the other. “I know its tough looking after the serious cases, but you mustn’t let it get you down. Make sure you spend some time in one of the immersion rooms before you go home.”

They left, closing the door to the room firmly.

But it wasn’t locked. He was a patient not a prisoner. He was being cared for, not tortured.

It was a very comfortable bed, and he felt curiously content. He felt as if all his worries and concerns were being smoothed away by some invisible, undetectable and utterly benign force. It was a good sensation and it took a good deal of effort to remind himself that he was supposed to be on an undercover mission.

It was a VERY comfortable bed.

Somehow, The Doctor had manufactured a biometric identity card which introduced Marie as a health and safety inspector. She presented herself at the reception inside the gleaming doors of Noetic House. She was expecting to be escorted around the premises, perhaps contriving away to evade her escort and search areas that were deemed off limits.

She was amazed to be given a plan of the building and told she was welcome to look anywhere she felt she needed to look. She was surprised. Surely even genuine health and safety inspectors weren’t usually given that much freedom. But it seemed as if the people who worked in Noetic House didn’t think they had anything to hide.

So she wandered around the building, occasionally interviewing members of staff and writing things on a clipboard that she had found while inspecting a stationery cupboard.

The first twenty floors were mostly offices where people did clerical work. Twenty-first floor was a huge in-house restaurant with the biggest ice cream counter Marie had ever seen. After that things got more interesting. She started to get a picture of what the building was really all about.

Floor thirty was especially interesting.

On floor thirty-five she found The Doctor.

He was in a private room off the main ward, a pleasant room with a big picture window and flowers in vases. He was asleep, snoring quite noisily, but not so noisily as to cover up the soft music like a lullaby for grown-ups that even made her feel a little drowsy until she reminded herself they she was on an undercover mission.

She shook herself mentally, then actually shook The Doctor awake. He sat up abruptly when he saw her.

“Are you all right?” she asked. “They didn’t… I mean…. The reason you took on being the patient was in case they had – in you words – any bad ideas about trepanning and lobotomies. You thought I’d be safer infiltrating as an official inspector, even though you weren’t sure I could pull it off. That’s why you didn’t lend me the psychic paper. You thought I wouldn’t be able to convince the paper that I was an inspector and it might try to present me as the King of the Belgians….”

“Yes, of course,” The Doctor replied. “I said that, obviously. I remember being there when I said it.”

“So if you haven’t actually had brain surgery, you must have just dozed off.”

“It really is a comfortable bed,” The Doctor said in excuse. “As for brain surgery…. Are my clothes there?”

Marie found a tidy pile of clothing on a chair by the bed. The Doctor pulled them on while she gurned her back and looked out of the window at the city thirty-five floors below and tried to explain what she had discovered.

“Well,” The Doctor concluded when he was dressed and she was done with her explanation. “Lets work our way down to floor thirty. I’m rather intrigued about that.”

Before floor thirty were more wards where people of different ages and both genders were tucked up in comfortable beds. Some were sleeping, most were sitting calmly listening to the pleasant music that could be heard everywhere. Those who were awake waved at The Doctor and Marie as they went past.

A lot of them were eating ice cream.

In what must have been the immersion rooms that the medic had mentioned, the patients were surrounded with pleasantries for all the senses. There was music, of course, video screens showing pretty scenery and images of happy children of cute, pastel-coloured animals gambolling in meadows, and flower scents so heady they might have been the lotuses of mythology.

“There are worse ways to treat the sick, I suppose,” Marie observed. “Except they’re not exactly sick in the way we understand it, are the, Doctor?”

“But they are to Marfannan understanding,” The Doctor replied. “Let’s look at that floor thirty.”

At first glance, floor thirty might have been more extreme sensory therapy, but the beds here were different. They looked more like the reclining seats in the club class lounge on the Holyhead ferry. Some of the people used the little pillows, some used the soft blanket. All of them – up to four or five hundred in concentric three quarter circles like a really laid back version of the European Parliament – were quietly meditating.

“Meditating?” Marie queried.

“Yes,” The Doctor confirmed after gently touching one of them on the forehead. “A form of meditation, in fact, that on Earth, in the original Sanskrit, is called Savikalpa Samadhi – and if properly achieved leads to all sorts of quite healthily pleasant sensations. In this case, ‘bliss’ is being attained in huge quantities.”


“As in… really happy?”


“Well,” The Doctor mused. “I think… it is the secret to why everyone on Marfannan is so happy. It also explains why this building is called Noetic House.”

Marie didn’t see why this strange scene explained either puzzle and said so.

“In the rather dubious field of Noetic Science it is suggested that a significant number of people concentrating their minds on one single subject can affect the physical world. The proponents of such theories point to huge disasters where a whole nation might be grief-stricken at once and lo and behold the Stock Exchange takes a downward plunge.”

“That’s nonsense,” Marie said. “In the case of really huge disasters the Stock Exchange is usually suspended. It tends to be a Presidential prerogative to do that. I think in Britain the Prime Minister asks the Queen to instruct him to do it, but the point stands.”

“Sensible answer,” The Doctor told her. “If a little rambling. But you ARE Irish, after all. You lot always use three words where one will do.”

Marie tried to be offended but she was surrounded by five hundred people experiencing bliss and it must have been catching.

“Then again… if lots of people are having a positive experience….. My dad always talks about the summer of Italia ’90. It was the first time Ireland ever qualified for the World Cup… the football one. The team did really well for a while and dad said the whole of Ireland had a grin on its face. I don’t remember. I was two. But… my brother was born nine months later, and so were nearly all of the kids in his school year. So… maybe there’s a grain of truth in it.”

The Doctor laughed. Marie wondered if she was talking complete rubbish.

“Completely wrong, but completely right at the same time. Noetic thought doesn’t work with Humans. Your brains are wired wrong. There’s far too much trivia in them getting in the way. You might have evolved the ability if Saturday night television hadn’t been invented, but it’s too late now. Anyway, the point is that it doesn’t work on Earth. Those who think they understand it are never going to make it work. But Marfannan brains are completely receptive. These meditators are producing happiness the way a power station produces electricity. It is broadcast by the spire at the top of the building like a WiFi mast. The people absorb happiness.”

“But that’s….” Marie was speechless for a few minutes. “It’s horrible.”

“No,” The Doctor assured her. “It’s not. I was worried until I saw this, but now I know it’s all right.”

“But these people….”

Marie still couldn’t find words to describe her horror about the blissfully meditating people.

“No,” The Doctor said again, reading her unspoken feelings without words. “I don’t think that’s quite….”

The Doctor stopped talking. He turned around to see a Marfannan in a silver suit standing behind them.

“Oh,” he said, reaching for his psychic paper. “I… we… that is….”

The Marfannan smiled and reached to shake hands with them both. “I am Sennac Poole,” she said. “I am director of this facility. Please call me Sennac.”

The Doctor shook hands with her wholeheartedly and introduced them both. Marie was less certain how she felt about a handshake with somebody who was proud to be involved in such exploitation of members of her own species.

“You must be newcomers go our world,” Sennac continued. “You used subterfuge to visit the facility. Our own people know they only have to ask. Most citizens visit the meditation room at least once in their lives. I mean as spectators. They all, of course, come here to take part in the Bliss.”

“People are forced to come here?” Marie was indignant. “To be used like this… like batteries or something.”

“Forced?” Sennac was extremely puzzled – as if the word had no translation in her language. “They are volunteers… and there is a three year waiting list. That’s why they are only allowed to participate once in their lifetimes.”

Marie still didn’t get it.

“Think of it like jury service, but they REALLY want to do it,” The Doctor suggested.

That helped. Marie looked again and this time saw people who were enjoying a unique experience instead of exploited slaves.

“And that’s why everyone is happy?”

“It is.”

“But what about the woman who was crying. They came and grabbed her and stuffed her upstairs where nobody could see her, as if she was embarrassing to the government or something.”

But when she thought about it, nobody was grabbed. The stricken woman was treated with kindness. The wards she had seen were pleasant places where the patients could recover.

The beds were comfortable.

No lobotomies, no torture. Just music and flowers and bed rest.

And ice cream.

“You take them to hospital, to make them happy again…. But you isolate them so that they don’t make other people sad along with them.”

The penny dropped.

“Sadness is considered a disease, here. An infectious one.”

And it was, in a way, Marie thought. At least among kind, considerate people, one person’s grief could affect others. She had once coped with a class full of tearful girls because one of them, Noreen Ryan, had lost her dog.

“But WHY do you think you have an epidemic of sadness?” The Doctor asked Sennac. “Your staff are worried.”

Sennac briefly frowned. She looked at The Doctor for a few seconds, and though his expression never changed by a muscle, something must have convinced her that he could be trusted, as if his next words would be ‘let me help.’

“Come this way,” she told him.

Two floors down, past the ice cream which was free to all staff, and given liberally to patients, Sennac demonstrated what many of the clerical workers at their computer screens were doing. It gurned out that ‘Big Brother WAS watching in a curiously beneficial way.

“You can transmit happiness, and RECEIVE feedback from every soul on the planet?”

Marie stared at the big screen view of one of the sectors being monitored in the way air traffic controllers monitored planes in their airspace. This was the park she had come to know so well. The hundreds of people using it showed as orange blips moving randomly.

“Everyone there is happy,” Sennec confirmed and selected another sector. Here, she zoomed in at the stroke of her hand over a small corner and a stationary blip was showing up blue.

The blues, Marie suddenly thought.

Touching the blip showed that medics were en¬-route to help.

The Doctor nodded and took over the screen. Sennec and Marie both looked away as he scanned through so many images of sectors that it was painful to watch.

Then he stopped and looked at Sennec with a smile.

“You have an excellent system, here. The sad people are in very good hands. But you’re lacking one thing. There are no census statistics at all. Nobody is counting the people.”

“What does that have to do with people being sad?” Marie asked.

“Nothing at all,” The Doctor replied. “But it had everything to do with ratios. You don’t have an epidemic of sad. What you have is population growth. No surprise, really. Happy people make more happy people – like Marie’s little brother.”

He didn’t explain that reference to Sennec because she didn’t ask.

“But a bigger population means a bigger likelihood that SOME of them will be sad. No epidemic, just distorted samples. Get your stats sorted and you’ll see.”

“Oh… well, that’s a relief,” Sennec answered him. “Thank you.”

The population growth isn’t a problem, yet, by the way. But your government might want to start planning for the future. Build some new towns, open up new territories. Maybe even some colonisation of new planets. The galaxy might be proportionally a bit happier with more of you lot in it.”

Sennec listened to The Doctor and promised his suggestions would be carefully considered.

“I wish I knew why they get sad, though,” she added. “Is there something we could do – more meditations, a higher concentration of bliss…..”

“You’re doing fine,” The Doctor answered. “People get sad because even on a planet with few illnesses and a benevolent god who takes all souls to her bosom, people DO still suffer losses from time to time. I dare say there are some who are unlucky in love or feel a bit out of sorts for no apparent reason, too. But a comfy bed and all the ice cream you can eat are not the worst ways to get over those sort of troubles. Just keep an eye on those population statistics. If you find you have a waiting list for the comfy beds then you WILL have a problem.”

Sennec, again, took on The Doctor’s advice. He nodded happily.

His work was done.

Later in the park The Doctor and Marie ate ice creams and listened to a brass band playing uplifting tunes. Some people danced to the music on a specially built floor of glittery marble flagstones. Marie didn’t dance but the fact that she could if she wanted to was a cheerful thought.

“I am always so ready to see the tarnish under the shine,” The Doctor mused. “I was SURE there was something sinister going on. Just this once, I was wrong. This really IS the happiest planet in the universe.”

“It’s nice to be wrong, just this once,” Marie agreed.

“JUST the once,” The Doctor insisted. “Anywhere else, I’ll be paying very close attention to the cracks in the façade. Another ice cream?”