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

Marie dropped her bag full of essays to mark beside the comfy sofa in the TARDIS console. It was Friday and half term, and The Doctor had promised something ‘a bit special’.

“Anything but cities,” she said. “I need to get out of the city.”

“You practically are,” The Doctor pointed out. “There are mountains right next door to where you work.”

“And a housing estate, retail park and industrial centre. Get me out of the city.”

“As it happens I have the very place in mind. A place where your Irish descendants took themselves when humans started colonising other worlds. The lovely, unspoilt planet of Inisfree.”

Marie laughed.

“Really, Inisfree?”

The Doctor had a knowing look, but she carried on anyway. It was her turn to tell him something he already knew.

“I will arise and go now, and go to Inisfree….”

Again, The Doctor smiled.

“Of course, the original Inisfree is a tiny little overgrown mound in the middle of a middling size lake in rural Sligo, possibly the least edifying spot in the western world. Only W.B. Yeats could get excited about it.”

“Nevertheless, the colony was founded by a dozen Irish families who bought a space ship and set off for a new life on a world that was fertile and unspoilt.”

“A new Ireland without the yoke of British Imperialism etc. etc.?”

“Something like that.”

“They bought a space ship? Do people do that in the future?”

“Oh, yes. I’ve come across that sort of thing before. It was quite common in the twenty seventh century when Earth was becoming over-populated. Getting a licence to colonise and buying a second-hand ship, setting off with the tools and resources to make a start….”

“Like the wagon trains going across America?”

The Doctor nodded again. She fully understood.

“Now I am really going to want to visit this place.”

“I thought you might. There you are.”

He flicked on the big viewscreen on the wall and realising that they had travelled goodness knew how many light years while they were talking she looked at a view that seemed both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

It looked like the view of rural Ireland that appeared on every Saint Patrick’s Day card, on tea towels, in Hollywood films that had never set a foot in Ireland. It was the hyper-coloured, hyper-real, idealised Ireland that, between wars and famines, emigration, land wars, rebellions, civil unrest, recessions, more emigration, unemployment and austerity, could barely have existed in reality, but which everyone seemed to remember fondly.

It’s very pretty,” she conceded. She moved around the console and looked at the environmental console. She noted the chemical make up of the air outside the TARDIS. Then she pressed a few keys and saw the chemical make up of the air in Tallaght when she had stepped into the TARDIS a mere half hour ago.

“It’s very clean. No pollution. Is that what people came here for?”

“Pretty much. Shall we take a stroll? I believe the settlement down there at the edge of the sea is called baile caorach.”

“Sheep town,” Marie translated. “Could be worse. I did a language summer school in Rosmuc. That basically means ‘pig strand’. Stroll it is.”

The air really did feel and smell fresh. They started off from halfway up a hill that ran at a gentle incline down towards the coast. A river widened into the sea beside the village of single storey thatched houses with whitewashed gables. As well as the grazing sheep that populated the upland meadows, there were swathes of corn turning golden in the sunlight and what, even from a distance, Marie recognised as potato fields.

They came, presently, to a well used dirt track that passed for a road. As they followed it downhill they were overtaken by a cart pulled by a pony. It was loaded with root vegetables, but the driver stopped and offered the two travellers a lift.

“Thank you, sir,” The Doctor replied.

“You’re strangers here? Are you just arrived?”

“We are,” Marie answered, then wondered if that was all right. Maybe there were vagrancy laws or something that they might have accidentally transgressed.

“We were hoping the village below would have lodgings,” The Doctor added.

“There’s nothing of that sort,” the carter replied. “We don’t get many visitors. Tell you what, I’ll take you to my house. The women will be glad to meet you.”

Marie felt a little second hand pride in her Human ancestry. This was an Irishman extending a hand of friendship and hospitality to a pair of total strangers light years from Earth.

Again, The Doctor thanked him kindly and the two of them clambered up onto a couple of sacks of carrots, facing backwards with their feet dangling as the cart resumed its steady progress.

“Horses and carts?” Marie queried the one thing that puzzled her about this situation. “Didn’t you say this was the twenty seventh century?”

“Twenty eighth, by now,” The Doctor corrected her. “The original colonisation was several generations back.”

“Then shouldn’t they be driving solar powered hover cars or something?”

“Many of these colonies chose a ‘simpler’ way of life, eschewing modern technology.”

“Oh God!” Marie groaned. “That means there’s going to be a woman in a shawl sitting with a spinning wheel outside his house. I just know it.”

In fact, there were two women with spinning wheels and a girl sitting on the grass carding the wool for them. They were all wearing what Marie mentally branded as ‘Maureen O’Hara cosplay’ – ankle length skirts and high necked blouses with shawls around their shoulders.

The cart driver called out to the women as he halted the cart. The Doctor jumped down breezily. By the time Marie followed him he was introducing himself and being invited to sit and take a cup of tea. The younger of the women, daughter of the house, Sarah Devaney, scurried away to fetch refreshments as the elder, Eileen, made room for the two guests on the wooden bench beside the spinning wheel. Her husband busied himself storing the vegetables in an out building.

The girl, who looked about twelve or so, approached shyly. The Doctor found a packet of sweets in his pocket and gÁined instant favour. Marie found her machine-made dress touched by curious fingers. Everyone was wearing what was usually called ‘homespun’ fabrics. She stood out as a stranger in her shop bought clothes.

“Your accent....” Sarah said as she returned to the garden with tea and home-made oat biscuits on a tray. “You’re from the old country?”

“And how is dear old Ireland and how does she stand?” Marie thought, the words of an old emigration song slipping into her mind unbidden.

“I am,” she said.

“I haven’t met anyone newly come from there since I was Áine’s age,” Sarah went on. “The last I heard there was almost no oxygen left and people were wearing masks all the time.”

Marie looked curiously at The Doctor. He gave her a smile he probably thought was encouraging.

“No, it wasn’t as bad as all that,” she said, hoping that it was true.

“Still, with God’s help you’re away from that terrible experience, now,” Eileen said kindly. “You’ll thrive well enough in Inisfree.”

“I… hope so,” Marie responded. “It… is nice here.”

Despite the feeling of being in a deliberately idealised world, she had to admit that it WAS pleasant enough. She was struck by how very quiet it was. Somewhere she could hear children’s voices at play. There was the occasional sheep ‘baa’ and birds calling overhead, but no traffic on a dual carriageway just out of view, no aeroplanes leaving their contrails in the sky, not even farm machinery disturbing the air. This ‘getting back to a simpler life’ maybe had something to be said for it.

“You’ll soon be thriving, here,” Eileen went on. “A few weeks of proper food, not those energy tablets folk live on back on Earth, and you’ll not be so thin and pinched looking, and you’ll have some colour in your face. It must be bad not being able to walk outside of the living units.”

Marie didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know she WAS thin and pinched. She thought she was fashionably slim. The bit about the living unit was obviously something from the future century these colonists lived in. Not being able to walk outside did sound unpleasant.

The carter, Ryan, husband of Eileen and father of Sarah and Áine, finished his work of unloading vegetables and approached The Doctor in the conspiratorial way of men.

“Will ye join me for a drink at the Realt Na Maidne – that’s the inn down the way by the harbour.”

The Doctor looked as if he had considered the question deeply for all of three seconds before stretching himself up from the bench.

“The women will have the dinner made by the time we’re back,” Ryan Devaney added.

“Oh, will we, indeed,” Eileen retorted, but she was smiling as she said it and Marie knew that they would soon all be in a well-scrubbed kitchen peeling vegetables and gossiping as if the Women’s Movement had never happened.

Indeed, Marie even found herself wearing an apron over her ‘best visiting clothes’ as her very ordinary summer dress was classified as. She talked a little about being a teacher, but the pitying looks from them as they imagined her teaching in a school with windows tight shut against noxious air was off putting. Instead she let them talk about living in a fertile paradise where food was plentiful and life fulfilling.

The general philosophy of the people of Inisfree was that anything you want should take hard work. The food was grown in the good ground, the plates and bowls and cutlery all hand made with a potter’s wheel or a metal press, the clothes starting with the wool of a sheep, carded, spun and woven by hand, the furniture carved from wood cut in the forest, woven rugs on the floor, sewn quilts on the beds. Even luxuries like ornaments on the shelves or scatter cushions on the chairs were the result of some personal effort rather than shopping in the home décor department of a store.

Which meant that nothing was taken for granted. Possessions were valued and cared for. Nothing was thrown away if it could be reused.

And there didn’t seem to be much wrong with that. Marie knew people who would be fretting without their daily dose of soap operas on TV and others who couldn’t live without Facebook. But none of those people knew how to spin thread as soft and fine as silk from raw sheep’s wool. She was starting to think the art of spinning was a loss to Ireland rather than a tourist cliché that modern, educated, liberated women should reject.

In short, she found the life here, as much as she had seen so far, to have its merits.

The Doctor and Ryan got home just before the meal of roast mutton, potatoes and vegetables was ready to serve. Neither had drunk very much more than a refreshing pint after their day’s work. The time had mostly been spent in the male version of the women’s chatter and a game something like dominos but with three dimensional pieces. They washed and presented themselves at the table dutifully.

Ryan led the family in ‘Grace’ before they set to the food. That surprised Marie for two reasons. First, because it was said at all. In what she was now mentally calling ‘Real Ireland, she only knew two families that did that, and then only at their one fully sit down dinner on a Sunday.

The other reason for surprise was the nature of the prayer. There was a line that especially caught her attention.

“May the Lord who delivered us from the Tribulation continue to bless and keep those of His children who reject the darkness of unholy technology.”

But though the prayer seemed to be more sinister than the child’s bedtime prayer that went ‘If I should die before I wake….’ there was still a sense of a good humoured, warm family dinner that had an extra dimension to it for having guests to stay.

The meal was good. The potatoes had been boiled whole until their skins split and placed in a large bowl. The skins were peeled with the dinner knife and placed on a side plate. It was the Irish way. Marie had eaten potatoes that way many times before. The Doctor looked as if he had, too, or if he hadn’t he was a fast learner and copied the manner.

After dinner was the time for recreation and leisure. Of course, there was no television or computers for diversion. It really was a case of ‘making their own entertainment’. Áine played a flute delightfully and Ryan an accordion. Eileen and Sarah were both experts at the style of unaccompanied but melodic singing called ‘Sean-nós’. The Doctor surprised everyone by taking up a bodhrán and beating out a rhythm for the women to dance a fast reel to. He also proved handy with a banjo, from which he coaxed several old folk songs of the sort every gathering of Irish expatriates would know by heart.

Marie, in her turn, decided against any of the pop songs she knew and recited the poem that had entered her head when she first heard the name of this planet.

“I will arise and go now, and go to Inisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

It had been in her mind all afternoon, anyway. She recalled that the poem was inspired by an Irish emigrant in London whom Yeats had overheard talking about how he would lead a simple life back in Ireland if he could do so. It had come home to her clearly that these people were living that exile’s dream except that they had found it on another planet instead of ‘back home’.

Her recitation was warmly applauded, and she dug some other poems from her memory for when her turn came again.

Although there were no clocks, that being technology of a sort, and rejected as unholy, Áine’s bedtime came around at what seemed a regular hour, drawing the noisier elements of the evening to a close. Before the girl departed there was something else Marie hadn’t seen since visiting cousins in Wicklow as a child – a family prayer. Again, amidst the blessings upon the roof that kept them safe through the night there was a mention of deliverance from the ‘Tribulation’.

Afterwards, Áine made a surprising request.

“May I take my book to bed?” she asked. “And can Marie sit and read with me?”

Both parts of the request were acceded to. Áine brought a large book from a shelf that contained only one other tome – a big family bible. She carried it with her to her bedroom and by the candlelight, while the girl undressed and washed, Marie looked through it carefully. It was a history book, essentially, carefully and patiently printed using a woodcut technique that fulfilled the requirement of needing effort. Moveable type and a rolling press would have been ‘easy’ and ‘technology’ - both taboo. There were engraved pictures and some hand coloured paintings of more dramatic scenes, but no photographs. That was another rejected technology.

There were some other curiosities about the book that Marie made a mental note of, but she sat with Áine and read parts of it to her. The girl herself read her favourite parts of what had been a prize for being the best at catechism class. She had obviously read it from front to back many times, though so carefully there wasn’t a single dog eared page and it looked as good as new.

“Sleep well, now,” Marie told Áine when she snuggled down to sleep afterwards. “Oíche mhaith.”

She returned to the living room to find The Doctor missing. He had gone, Eileen told her, for a short walk before bedtime. Marie said she would join him and, donning a warm woollen shawl that Sarah offered her, she went outside.

The Doctor was walking nonchalantly in the crisp light of two silvery moons. There was, of course, no street lighting here. Only lamplit windows of other homesteads could be seen and the riding lights of fishing boats far off in the bay. Above were more stars than Marie had ever seen, in unfamiliar constellations.

“Can Earth be seen from here?” she asked. “Or… our sun, at least.”

“Over there, to the west, quite low on the horizon,” The Doctor answered after a short glance up and around. He could have been lying, just to please her, but Marie didn’t think so. He gave the impression of having star charts filed in his head.

“Glad to hear it,” she answered. “The way they talk about ‘Tribulation’ I was almost wondering. I mean… Earth will go one day, you know, the sun going supernova…. But not yet?”

“Not for several billion years. It’s not the most desirable planet to live on at this time. It is very over populated. Those who can afford it live in high rise blocks. Those who can’t live in a sort of reverse of high rise… basement floors going down under ground with ‘scenic screens’ instead of windows. The air is not as polluted as you might think. They have clean, renewable energy, but there are a lot of people breathing it.”

“So how did these people get the idea of some kind of ‘tribulation’? I mean… I was looking through Áine’s book. It’s a history of Ireland, or supposed to be. But everything is all confused. There’s a picture I recognised, of an emaciated mother and child, from An Gorta Mór… the Great Famine. That was the eighteen forties, but the way it’s written in the book you’d think it was one of the reasons why people came here to this planet. In another chapter, it reads as if they were driven from Earth by Strongbow’s army joining up with the Vikings and the Black and Tans. It also seems as if there’s no difference between Irish history and the history of the whole planet.”

“They have mainly oral history. It’s bound to become a little corrupted. Putting it into a book shows up the anomalies. The simple reasons for the colonisation have become enlarged and exaggerated. But I don’t think there is any harm in it. They seem to be happy enough in this life they lead.”

“Yes, they do,” Marie agreed. She paused for a moment looking at the stars. “Doctor… I have often wondered… if you’re not allowed to tell me… but… do we ever get… you know… the thirty-two county united Irish Republic that is meant to be our national aspiration?”

“Thirty-four,” The Doctor replied.


“The Isle of Man and the Hebrides joined Ireland,” he continued. “Cumbria, Lancashire and Northumbria joined Scotland, so it all evened out in the end.”

Marie thought about this information.

“You’re winding me up.”

He grinned. She wasn’t sure if that meant he WAS winding her up or not.

“Come on, early to bed, early to rise is the way of life here. They’re making up beds for us under the thatch.”

“Lovely,” Marie retorted. “Mice rustling all night and spiders dropping in my hair.”

But she really didn’t mind. She was really starting to like this ‘simple’ lifestyle. ã

The next day, though, she saw something that reminded her that even ‘paradise’ planets with idealised societies had their darker sides.

She has not yet seen the village, since The Doctor went to the inn without her. She jumped at the chance to walk down there with Sarah to buy some nails at the forge. The walk was pleasant and Sarah talked cheerfully, glad to have somebody new to share the gossip with.

Not that there was a shortage of company. As they came within the cluster of buildings that made up the village there were others to share the news with. Marie WAS the main news, of course, as a rare stranger to these parts and she fielded any number of questions about how dreadful it was on Earth these days.

The village had shops, but not the sort she would expect. There was no newsagent or tobacconist or a post office. Paper and print were too precious to waste on gossip and smoking was obviously not a habit here. Nor were sweets except for home-made ones. There was no grocery or greengrocers. People ate the food they produced for themselves.

Or that they could barter. A pound of nails at the forge cost a dozen eggs and a quart of cream. Sean Houlihan, the young man dressed in an old leather apron, paused in his work of beating a piece of tin into a shovel in order to take a long time about the trade for the nails. Marie quickly guessed there was more to it than ironmongery and wandered to the far end of the workshop while the couple planned a walk out together after Sunday Mass, the local version of a hot date.

The quiet conversation was suddenly cut off when Marie accidentally set off a strange metal gadget on a shelf. It looked like a model of a water-powered bellows, something that might keep the forge fire hot automatically.

Sean gave a cry of horror and rushed to turn off the little engine. Sarah stared at him in horror.

“You told me you’d given up on those contraptions,” she admonished. “When you were called out about it by Father Dermot you promised it was the end of it. You KNOW they are blasphemies.”

“It’s just a toy of a thing,” he protested. “I’d never try to make a working one. You have my oath on that, a chuisle.”

“Be sure of it. My father would not hear of us walking out if you have a censure against you. Any more and you’ll be sent from the Parish altogether.”

“If I was… would you come with me?”

“I would not. I belong here. My family….”

“I’ve heard there are places where they allow steam powered forges and mechanical bellows. They don’t make the work less arduous, just faster….”

“It’s backsliding and sinful and you know it, Sean. And for goodness sake…. If you must do such things, fancy leaving them where they could be found? What if Marie was a quisitor for the Bishop?”

“She’s not,” Sean argued. “Look at her clothes. They weren’t made on a home loom. She comes from where they have machines and don’t think it an offence against the Lord.”

“She comes from Earth where machines brought the Tribulation,” Sarah pointed out. “Where the air turned to poison and the sky was blackened in the middle of the day.”

“Um….” Marie began then gave up. “Look, I’m not going to tell anyone, but Sarah is right. If this sort of thing will get you in trouble, you probably shouldn’t leave it out where it can be found. Hide it away.”

Sean nodded and quietly put the mechanical toy behind a stack of hand shovels. It didn’t quite seem enough concealment to Marie’s way of thinking. A secret door to a hidden room would be about right.

The mood was spoiled, but the Sunday tryst was arranged all the same. Sarah took her nails and they set off back to the farmstead. Marie’s thoughts were on some cultural references that had lingered in her mind through the day’s outing. First, all the talk of machines causing Tribulation made her instantly think of the Terminator. The literature teacher in her also mulled over John Wyndham’s Chrysalids, a story set in a post-apocalyptic world where anything that deviated from a set standard of ‘normal’, even a bigger kind of wheat planed in a field, was a sin. Though she still found Inisfree to be a charming place that she hoped she and The Doctor might stay a while in, she kept those warnings from fiction in the back of her mind.

The Doctor seemed happy for them to stay a few more days. He was enjoying getting his hands dirty, literally, helping with the root vegetables and the potato digging. Marie learnt to spin a strong even thread from the carded wool though she didn’t want to risk wasting it in the loom if she should mess that up. She got to like rising with the first light of day and working around the house until near dusk when it was time to eat and enjoy leisure time. The tiredness she felt after a day’s chores was different to the mental weariness after a day of teaching. It felt a more honest tiredness in its way.

But on the Sunday, when they all, including The Doctor who was very definitely not religious in the way people here understood it, went to the little white church, the warning bells rang as loudly as the ones in the steeple. Sarah was distressed to see that Sean Houlihan’s forge was not shut up for the Sabbath, but the doors wide open, the fire cold and most of the tools stripped from it. On the doorpost a very small piece of paper had been spared for a notice proclaiming Sean as a blasphemer as well as a fugitive from censure.

“Bear yourself without tears and protest,” said Eileen gently. “You must not profane the Lord’s Day with noise and fuss.”

Sarah did so, and bravely, too. Before the Mass there was no time to talk to anyone, and she still didn’t know the full story even as the parish priest, Father Dermot, delivered a sermon full of fire and brimstone and a condemnation of all forms of technology which was the road to perdition and sin and the source of Tribulation.

Afterwards, just like in any churchyard, anywhere, groups of parishioners gathered to share news. It was then that Sarah found out the full story. Four days ago, the very evening after the purchase of nails, the forge had been visited by Father Dermot and the verger. They were too late to find Sean. He had packed a few belongings into the saddlebags and rode away on his horse. A search was made in his absence and proof that he was making contraptions to replace manual labour was uncovered. He was censured in his absence and banished from the Parish.

Sarah bit back tears as she walked home. She hardly ate any of the cold lunch prepared the day before because cooking on the Sabbath was ungodly work. In the afternoon, when her father read from the Bible, the only permitted leisure pursuit on the day of rest, she sat alone and didn’t seem to be listening. She didn’t cry, but it was obvious that there were tears behind her eyes.

“Father,” she said eventually. “How did the machines cause the Tribulation?”

“That’s a blasphemous question,” Eileen admonished her.

“Any question is blasphemous,” Sarah protested. “It’s as if we are meant to be kept in ignorance. I only want to know why. After all, our forebears came to this new world by a space ship. That was a machine, but it was the instrument of our freedom. And why is it so wrong for a clever man like Sean to build a machine that makes his forge stay hotter for longer so that he can work harder at making the tools you and others use in your work?”

Those were two different questions though touching on the same matter. Ryan Devaney looked at his daughter and realised he had no answer to either question.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, sitting down dejectedly. “Maybe it is blasphemy even to have these doubts, but I can’t find any answers. I thought I had them, but I was wrong. I thought Sean Houlihan was a hard-working, honest man and a fitting husband for you, my girl. I thought Father Dermot a fair-minded judge of men’s characters. But today, when I heard the news… that was when my doubts began. I found myself wondering if Sean really was an ungodly maker of abominations. I wondered if Father Dermot was right to condemn him. And I honestly don’t know what is right and what is wrong.”

“Father….” Sarah began. Then the tears she would have held back if he had berated her and called her a blasphemer poured out instead when she saw his distress and confusion. She cried as she looked at her father, himself only moments away from tears, at her mother and sister and the two visitors to their home.

Then she ran from the house looking for a place under the honest sun where she could be alone with her grief. Marie watched her from the window before turning pleadingly to The Doctor.

“I’m sorry,” he said to her. “This isn’t something I can do anything about. There’s no enemy to fight. No, not even Father Dermot. He was only doing what the custom of this time and place demands.”

“I thought it was such a good life, here,” Marie sighed. “But it isn’t. Not if people can be made miserable by rules that make no sense.”

The Doctor shook his head. He knew well the impotency that Ryan Devaney was feeling now. He had been a bitter rebel against the stifling rules of his own society. Eventually, his protest had shaken the foundations of his society, but Ryan’s doubts and misgivings were still too new. He was still conflicted by his long adherence to the norms of Inisfree.

Suddenly, Sarah rushed back into the house. Her grief was overridden by a new and fearful development. She managed to stammer a few words, urging them all to come outside before rushing away again.

Marie had expected to see Sean Houlihan taken in chains made at his own forge, arrested for daring to breach the banishment. What they saw was much worse.

It was the TARDIS, turned over on its side and tied to a cart. Father Dermot was walking beside the slow load and a crowd was swelling into a procession behind him. He was alternately reciting psalms and calling down calumny on the sinners who make machines.

“What is it?” Eileen asked, grasping Áine close and stopping her from going close to the cart that looked all too much like a tumbril heading towards the guillotine.

“It’s mine,” The Doctor answered her in barely suppressed anger. Then he forgot to suppress it as he rushed forward, yelling at the top of his voice.

“That is MINE!” he repeated. “Put it down right now.”

It didn’t have the desired effect. Instead, Father Dermot ordered The Doctor taken in hand by a group of burly young farmers with pitchforks. They found one old man harder to capture than they expected but eventually their superior numbers prevailed.

“No!” Marie cried out, but Eileen restrained her the way she had restrained Sarah earlier, with a soft word. This was not the time, she told her, to make herself known as an accomplice.

Marie knew she was right. As it was, dressed in the ‘Maureen O’Hara’ style of homespun clothes she looked no different to any other woman of the townland. Eileen put a shawl over her hair to give her even more anonymity before the whole family followed the crowd.

The idea that the Lord’s Day shouldn’t be profaned by unseemly noise was well and truly forgotten by the time they reached the village. The crowd was now officially a mob and the image of a ‘tumbril’ seemed even more chillingly appropriate. Above the hubbub, Father Dermot was shouting out imprecations against the demon technology.

He was in no doubt that the TARDIS was the most demonic and technological thing ever made by the hands of blasphemers. He invited doubters to touch it and feel the vibrations of its terrible engines. Nobody did. They took his word about the demonic purpose.

“It will be burnt,” he pronounced. “Set it here in the churchyard and bring kindling to build a cleansing pyre.”

The Doctor protested loudly, but nobody was listening to him.

The bonfire around the TARDIS was built faster than any bonfire Marie had seen constructed before. Burning brands were waved threateningly before applying them to the dry wood. The fire burned brightly very quickly. Within it, the TARDIS’s little windows glowed eerily.

“It can’t burn! It’s not really made of wood. It can’t….”

Marie clung to that hope as the fire took hold. She hardly dared to look at The Doctor for confirmation. She knew one look at his expression would be all she needed, but while everyone else was watching the bonfire turning to look elsewhere would be dangerous.

After a while even the least observant had to realise that the TARDIS was unscathed by the fire, but that brought Marie no relief because then a cry went up that reminded her of yet another literary work she had studied at university.

“Witchcraft!” was the gestalt shout in the mass hysteria manner exemplified by the townsfolk of Salem, Massachusetts. Then it turned really ugly for The Doctor. They began to drag him forward as if to throw him on the fire.

Marie screamed and turned her face away as he was thrust onto the burning debris. She didn’t see what happened to make the crowd gasp and renew their cry of ‘witchcraft’, but she guessed that The Doctor had opened the TARDIS door somehow… despite being bound with his hands behind his back… and shut himself in. The farm boys, those who had been the most vociferous followers of the priest, piled more dry wood onto the fire. Many of the onlookers encouraged them, but a few looked away in horror.

Then a voice rose above all the mayhem, startling most of the crowd into silence. Sarah cried out in astonishment as Sean Houlihan, mounted on a black horse, rode towards the fire. He beat at the flaming wood with his riding whip, scattering embers.

“Help me put this fire out,” he called to those who would have stopped him if they had not been stalled by the controlled anger in his voice. “Beat out the flames, now.”

A few of them did as he asked. Most stood in silence. Father Dermot was the only one who actually tried to stop them from extinguishing the fire either by pulling away the burning wood or by throwing water over the pyre.

“No, Father,” Ryan Devaney told him, putting a restraining arm on the priest. “No, this has gone too far. Let it be.”

The priest railed against abominations, but quieter now, as if he realised that the tide was turning against him. Sean’s intervention seemed to have woken the crowd to the fact that they had all been intent on murdering The Doctor. A sick realisation was coming over them all, and they looked fearfully at the TARDIS as the last of the burning material fell away.

Marie was the only one who dared go to the door. She knocked hard, calling out to The Doctor. When she heard the lock click and the door fall inwards beneath her hands she gasped with relief. The Doctor stepped out and she hugged him around the neck until he began to protest that even a Time Lord needed to breathe.

“The smouldering clothes are an effect too far,” she told him. “But I’m glad to see you.”

The Doctor grinned sheepishly and then turned as Sean, still mounted on his horse, spoke out again to the confused crowd.

“This is what you call Christian behaviour?” he demanded. “The only abomination here is in your hearts. Go home and think about what you almost did. Think about where the real sin is to be found.”

Nobody seemed to remember that Sean had been banished from the parish. They were too busy distancing themselves from the near tragedy, and from the priest who had encouraged their actions. Soon the churchyard was almost as empty. The Devaney family with The Doctor and Marie remained to bear witness as Sean turned to look at Father Dermot.

“Examine your own heart, sir,” he said. “And don’t be so quick to judge others.”

“First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye,” the priest answered, showing that he fully understood. Then Sean turned from him and went to Sarah, taking her hand.

“I meant to ride away and never come back,” he said. “I rode more than a hundred miles in two days. I found a town… bigger than this one… the people are good, honest, God-fearing and charitable. They… they remember our deliverance from the Tribulation just as we do. But the blacksmith uses steam driven bellows to keep his forge going. Another contraption brings water out of a well. They do not fear such invention, but nor do they work any less hard or value the sweat of a man’s brow.”

“Why didn’t you stay there?” Sarah asked.

“I came back for you. I won’t take any refusal. I mean to take you back there. We will live there and make a life by dint of hard work. We… we will NOT be exiles.” He looked at Ryan Devaney who said nothing, but returned his gaze steadily, as men who understood each other. Then he looked at the priest, who looked away from him.

“We will not be strangers,” he told Sarah. “A hundred miles is nothing. So few of us have ever travelled outside of the townland, it seems like another world, but it isn’t. We can come back to visit. Your parents can visit us. You don’t have to choose me or your family.”

“You are under banishment,” Father Dermot managed to say, but without much conviction in his tone.

“No, I don’t think I am,” Sean answered. “I think there has been a realisation today. People know, now, that they have nothing to fear except narrowness of the mind. I think there will be no more banishments.”

Father Dermot knew he was right. He turned and walked away towards the church.

“Sarah… will you come with me?” Sean repeated.

“I will,” she answered. “Tomorrow. Come home, now, and eat with us. Sleep the night. At dawn, I will come with you, along with the few possessions I need to bring.”

Her parents nodded in satisfaction. Áine, realising that her sister was going to leave, shed some tears, but mostly she was happy for her and hugged her future brother-in-law fondly.

“We should be leaving,” Marie said to them. “It was good to visit, here, but we have other places to go.”

“You will be missed,” Eileen told her. “But perhaps it will be for the best.”

“We’ll visit,” The Doctor added, his hand gently on Marie’s shoulder. “We’ll visit to see that you are all well.”

“You will have a welcome when you do,” he was assured.

Ryan and Eileen turned to walk away. Sean lifted Áine and Sarah both onto his horse and walked beside it. The Doctor and Marie waited until they were out of sight before going into the TARDIS and closing the door. As it dematerialised the last of the charred bonfire wood fell the ground. For a brief moment there was an ash coloured ghost, police box shaped, hanging in the air, then that dispersed, too.

“You meant that, about visiting?” Marie asked as the TARDIS flew through the multi-hued vortex of time and space. “You… always seemed like somebody who doesn’t go back to places.”

“I have been,” he admitted. “But that was my mistake, and I know I should make up for it.”

Marie got the feeling there was a long, old story in that remark, but she also knew he wasn’t likely go share it with her. But that was all right. It was his story.