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

Marie Reynolds came into the console room wearing a dress – a gown - that had taken her nearly an hour to put on. Ladies of the Court of Versailles would, of course, have had a couple of maids to help with the awkward bits. She was on her own. The result, all the same, was impressive, apart from the problem of getting through the interior doors of the TARDIS in a skirt held out either side of her actual hips by a pair of supermarket shopping baskets.

“Are these REAL pearls all over the bodice?” she asked The Doctor. He glanced up once and smiled his slightly vampiric smile.

“Of course they’re REAL,” he answered. “Virtual reality clothing is too much trouble. Move too far outside of the WiFi zone and you end up naked.”

Marie let her imagination take a short coffee break.

“I mean… real, made by accretion of calcium carbonate around a speck of dirt inside an oyster shell, as opposed to plastic or resin.”

“In that sense, they are real. They probably come from Mara Ganatis, a planet that is eighty per cent ocean and abundant in sea life. That being the case, of course, small calcareous concretions are of no special value. The Maran children use them for a game something like ‘marbles’.”

“But they’ll impress at Louis XIV’s Midwinter Ball?”

“Oh, certainly,” The Doctor assured her. “Just try not to catch his eye too much. You don’t want to be taken on as one of his mistresses. Here, come hold the fort while I go and change into something appropriate.”

The Doctor crossed the console room floor and was gone before Marie had time to point out that a) even under normal circumstances she didn’t know how to operate anything on the console other than the door control and b) in this dress she couldn’t even reach THAT.

When the communications console started blinking like chaser lights on a Christmas tree she knew she was in trouble.

“What happened?” The Doctor asked, rushing back into the room still dressed in his usual timeless costume but clutching a very elaborately embroidered frock coat.

“You had voicemail,” Marie managed to say. “It said something about ‘imperative’, ‘automatic recall engaged’. And then somebody with a bit more inflexion in their voice pleaded for you to help.”

The Doctor played back the message then dashed around the console to examine the drive control. He groaned a little theatrically.

“Sometimes I think I preferred this lot when I was the last of them,” he declared. “Automatic Recall! Damned imposition.”

Marie knew none of that was addressed to her. She thought about what he had said, though, and made a guess.

“Your people… the Time Lords… have a crisis and they have asked you to come home and help?”

“’Asked’ implies that I have some choice in the matter,” The Doctor replied with a hint of a ‘snarl’ in his voice. “They’ve redirected the TARDIS. We’ll be there in about thirty seconds.”

“There… being your planet… Gallifrey?”

“My planet… Gallifrey.”

“I hope they have wide doors,” Marie remarked as the hem of her French Renaissance skirt got caught on the edge of the console again.

The woman who stood waiting as the TARDIS materialised was dressed nearly as awkwardly, Marie noted as she looked at the view outside. Her gown strongly resembled something late Elizabethan with a high collar even more stiff and uncomfortable than a courtly ruff. The men who flanked her, meanwhile, would not have looked out of place in the Court of Ming the Merciless with their gold breastplates, rounded helmets and crimson capes. They had that fifties Sci Fi look to them.

“Yes, I know, the uniform of the Chancellery Guard makes the Greek Evzoni look the height of manliness. Come on, then, let’s face the music.”

The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS first. Marie had to turn sideways to follow him. By then he had made a perfunctory head bow to the ‘Elizabethan’ lady and addressed her as ‘Madam Acting President’. She in return bowed slightly lower and addressed him as Lord High President, but with a tone usually reserved for handing out detentions to recalcitrant students.

Marie guessed there was some history here but decided it could wait.

“This is my young friend, Marie Reynolds of Earth,” The Doctor said, formally introducing the Acting President as Madame Gallissa. “She was forcibly located here along with me, so I expect her to be accorded every courtesy and no nonsense about unregulated aliens.”

“You are most welcome to Gallifrey, Miss Reynolds,” Gallissa said with utmost courtesy. “I didn’t realise that Earth fashions were so elaborate. May I suggest some more practical garments?” She waved to a shorter member of the Chancellery Guard who turned out to be female. “Lieutenant Shania, take Miss Reynolds to the Robing Chamber before joining us in the Panopticon. Doctor… please come quickly. The matter is urgent.”

“Panopticon?” Marie queried as she followed the Lieutenant. “Wait a minute. That’s a kind of prison, isn’t it? The Doctor came here because he thought somebody needed help. You can’t put him in a prison.”

Lieutenant Shania didn’t offer any explanation. Perhaps explanations weren’t part of her duties. The niggling worry about what was happening to The Doctor spoilt what should have been quite a pleasant experience – picking clothes from a room full of outfits specifically made for wearing on another planet. Given time and peace of mind she could have enjoyed that experience. Instead she quickly chose a simple trouser suit combination and asked to be shown where The Doctor was.

Marie’s only experience of the architectural feature known as a ‘panopticon’ was, indeed, a prison. A trip to the historic Kilmainham Jail museum was pretty much an annual event for the top class at the school she taught in. The Victorian part of the complex, famous for being seen in the film ‘The Italian Job’, WAS a panopticon, meaning a large room where there was an all-round view from every part. The Victorians built a lot of prisons on that plan to make guarding the prisoners easy.

But the term could also be used to describe other kinds of buildings. In-the-round theatres, football stadiums and, most importantly, the debating chambers of most governments with any claim to democracy were built on the panopticon principle. The irony of a place for politicians to gather having the same architectural structure as a prison was easy to appreciate.

THIS panopticon was meant to be such a place – a seat of government. A wide, shiny floor made of something like coral coloured marble – if there was that much marble in the universe – was surrounded on all sides by tier upon tier of galleries supported by carved ‘possibly marble’ columns in something like the style of the graceful, slender ‘trees’ that held up the roof of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. High above, a domed roof made of frosted glass let diffused natural sunlight bathe the whole chamber.

Just now, though, this grand, imposing chamber was doubling as a makeshift hospital. The padded seats usually occupied by political backsides were moved aside and beds – maybe fifty or more – were lined up on the shiny floor. Men and women were eerily still and quiet in the beds while attendants moved between them giving what help they could. The term ‘palliative care’ drifted into Marie’s mind. Comfort for those beyond help.

She wondered if there had been a bomb attack or some natural disaster that had swamped ordinary hospitals. She asked Lieutenant Shania.

“No, Madam’,” the Lieutenant answered. “Gallifrey doesn’t have hospitals. We don’t get sick… usually.”

Gallifrey doesn’t have hospitals - We don’t get sick. For a moment those two phrases struck Marie as the very definition of utopia. But the ‘usually’ darkened the picture.

“People who don’t get sick are sick?” Marie turned to see The Doctor with Madame Gallissa. They were standing beside a bed placed on a hexagonal shaped raised section of the floor. This was probably, she guessed, where the President sat in full view of the whole assembly.

“How can I help?” she asked. The Doctor looked around as if surprised to see her. He had been deep in his examination of the patient, an-old fashioned stethoscope in his ears. Madame Gallissa’s reaction was less forgivable.

“With all due respect, I hardly think there is much you could do.”

The tone was patronising to a ‘lesser’ species.

“Respect? Hardly. But given that your people don’t get sick and you have no experience of looking after them, somebody from a species that does get sick is exactly who you ought to have helping you.”

Gallissa was surprised to be spoken to that way. She had the air of Queen Victoria being given some plain speaking by a below stairs servant.

But Marie was from a Republic that had thrown off imperialism and, in theory at least, cherished all of its children equally. She turned deliberately from the aristocratic woman and addressed The Doctor.

“What do you think happened here? Is it a virus or….”

“It… has all the hallmarks,” he said as he inspected a tiny readout on the side of his sonic screwdriver. “But it is a very selective one if it is. The only people who are ill are members of the government.”

“Some sort of food poisoning in the dining room?” Marie suggested. She looked at The Doctor’s grim, absolutely serious expression and knew this was not the time for a joke about big dinners killing off politicians. She kept those thoughts to herself.

“It could not be that, either,” Madame Gallissa argued. “None of the Councillors dined together on the day they took sick. Besides, two of those now desperately ill were not even in the Capitol on the day that they were all struck down. Lord Favilla was at his estate on the southern plain and Lord Gyes was working at the Observatory inside the northern polar circle. Neither of them could have been further from here without leaving the planet altogether.”

“Those two… were they brought here?” The Doctor asked, still puzzling over the symptoms he was finding in his patient.

“Lord Gyes was. Lord Favilla died on the way.”

“Died?” The Doctor’s face turned grey. “Favilla was barely a thousand years old and in his third regeneration. How….”

“Something about this illness not only kills but does so in such a final way that regeneration is inhibited. Four have died already… including my father.”

“Gallissa… I am….” The Doctor began. The word ‘sorry’ died on his lips. It struck Marie that condolences were not something The Doctor’s people readily understood. A thousand years old was the prime of life and they were unaccustomed to illness. Death was obviously a rare thing to the Time Lord race. They didn’t know how to react to it.

“That is why I am Acting President. And perhaps why I am not struck down myself. I resigned from the High Council before the Time War, but Father nominated me when he was in extremis.”

“Doctor….” Something had occurred to Marie as the two Time Lord’s talked. “If it isn’t a virus and not something accidental like food poisoning, then that only leaves….”

She was sure The Doctor would know exactly what she was going to say, but a sudden and urgent call sent him running across the floor. Madame Gallissa hitched up her skirt and followed. Marie sprinted after her.

In one of the beds a middle-aged man with hair only slightly peppered with grey was breathing raggedly and painfully. He struggled to sit up, throwing off the oxygen mask that was clearly not helping at all. His face was glossy with intense fever and his eyes sunken into their sockets. He trembled with what on Earth used to be called ‘ague’.

The veins in his neck and across the back of his hand were glowing, but apparently this wasn’t part of the disease. The Doctor reached out to touch the man on the shoulder and his own hand glowed briefly. It looked like a transfusion of the orange glow from the healthy man to the sick one, an attempt to save him.

“It’s no good,” Gallissa whispered sadly. “I would have given all the Artron energy in my body for my father. Nothing works.”

At first it seemed as if it would. The sick man rallied for a few minutes. But then he gave an agonised cry and convulsed painfully. Marie saw his body begin to change before her eyes. This was the regeneration The Doctor had spoken of many times before.

But before the body was fully transformed something went wrong. The limbs shrivelled, the spine twisted. The half-formed face was chalk white and fixed in an expression of sheer horror. Through a lipless, deformed mouth a stream of the orange energy escaped before the wretched man died. It was all over in minutes, but they must have been terrible minutes filled with acute suffering. The end would have been a relief.

“What about….” Filled with horror at what he had witnessed The Doctor began to ask a question but found himself choked by it. He took a deep breath and tried again. “What about the Elixir? Have you asked the Sisterhood for their help?”

“We have. Sister Ohica and two of her followers are here at our request. Our most humble request.” Gallissa’s emphasis suggested that humble wasn’t something Time Lordly did. “The Elixir couldn’t help us. They are working with our scientists to try to refine it, but it may already be too late….”

Gallissa stood back as attendants came to wrap the body and remove it to whatever place of repose and reflection Time Lords had.

“Doctor,” Marie said again. “This can’t be accidental. This is… it has to be… murder.”

That was a word Gallissa recognised. Dead Man’s Shoes was clearly a means of political advancement. She looked at Marie with rather less patronising eyes then turned to The Doctor with a pleading expression.

“That’s why you brought me here,” he said, a statement not a question. “You don’t need a ‘doctor’. If Ohica cannot find a cure I certainly can’t. What you really need is a policeman.”

“Policeman?” Gallissa looked confused for a moment. “The word has no meaning in our language or our culture, but… yes… I think it IS what we need of you, Doctor.”

“Very well. Detective Doctor Disco is on the case, along with the plucky young lady detective Marie with her fresh and incisive outlook on the scene of the crime.”

“You could start by actually identifying the scene of the crime,” Marie pointed out. “It doesn’t seem to be HERE.”

“Absolutely right,” The Doctor agreed. Now he had a task other than helplessly watching his fellow Time Lords die he became brisk. “The observatory where Gyes was struck down is the scene least likely to be disturbed. He is known to work there alone or with a single assistant. There may be a clue to how he got sick there. We need transport.”

“At once,” Gallissa responded. Again, Lieutenant Shania was deputised to go with Marie and The Doctor to something that had to be called a ‘turbo lift’. A mere few very silent moments later they emerged onto a wide, flat, hexagonal roof space. It was big enough to accommodate the daily parking requirements of any Dublin shopping centre and ringed the glass dome that rose above it – the same dome that covered the Panopticon, below. Even that was dwarfed by a tower beyond it that rose to a pinnacle several hundred metres above.

This was not the only impressive building in the city called ‘the Capitol’. Shards of steel and glass rose up all around like a post-modernist architect’s dream landscape.

Above it a yellow sky deepened to burnt orange at the horizons like an upturned fruit bowl. It wasn’t pollution. That was the colour of the sky on Gallifrey.

While Marie was taking this much in a car hovered to a halt in front of her. It definitely WAS a car, with the sleek lines of something made in Europe for really rich people to show off to other rich people. And it definitely hovered a foot from the ground like a Thunderbird coming to the rescue. Lieutenant Shania opened the back door and neatly saluted The Doctor as he climbed aboard followed by Marie.

“Did they not tell you about the saluting?” The Doctor asked as the vehicle, driven by another Guard, this one without a cape or helmet to interfere with his driving, hovered up and then accelerated rapidly over the glittering city.


“I don’t like it. Can’t be bothered with it. Don’t do it again.”

“Yes sir, sorry sir,” Shania answered.

“Not so sure about ‘sir’, either, but we’ll let that pass for now.”

Marie watched the city give way to a hot, arid, desert landscape that the car descended towards, levelling out around ten metres above the ground. Just looking at it made her thirsty and she was slightly surprised when The Doctor opened up a small cupboard in the spacious passenger compartment and retrieved a cold drink in a plastic bottle. She accepted it gratefully and drank for a minute while collecting her thoughts.

“Why did Gallissa call you Lord High President?” she asked, settling on the least immediate but most puzzling question.

“I was elected in my absence a millennia ago,” he answered. “Then deposed and reinstated a couple of times, all without telling me. It seems I’ve been elected again, but since they know I’m never going to come back and do all that boring stuff they have an Acting President to do all the boring presidenting.”

“If you won’t do it… and they know you won’t… why do they bother….”

“There is no-one who deserves the honour more than The Doctor,” Shania explained. “He is the greatest hero to all the people of Gallifrey. It was he who gave them a new life after the Time War. Nobody else COULD be Lord High President. The Acting President knows he or she is a lesser President.”

The Doctor did not confirm or deny any of that. He just opened a drink for himself. Raising his head to swallow the liquid avoided eye contact.

“If somebody is trying to kill off the government, then isn’t The Doctor at risk? Wouldn’t the person doing this target him?”

“That is why I am with you… to protect him,” Shania answered.

“You are not,” The Doctor snapped in response. “I’ve never needed a bodyguard and I’m not going to start now, and especially not with a….”

Marie looked at him sharply.

“You had better not be about to suggest that Lieutenant Shania couldn’t be your bodyguard because she is a woman,” she told him.

“I was not. I was going to say I wouldn’t trust my life to the Chancellery Guard. Complete nincompoops, incapable of making judgements for themselves, following the orders of career politicians blindly. I’ve only known two I could trust… Andred and Maxil… and both of them tried to shoot me before they decided what side they were on.”

Lieutenant Shania turned her face to hide a smile that somewhat betrayed the dignity of her rank. The gesture was not lost on The Doctor, though.

“What?” he demanded.

“Uncle Maxil always speaks highly of you, sir,” Shania said. “He never mentioned shooting you, though.”

“Hah!” The Doctor responded.

Sensing that there wasn’t going to be much more on this topic than monosyllables, Marie interjected with a remark about the change in the topography below. Desert had given way to icy tundra and glacier covered peaks like rows of needles lay beyond a rapidly approaching snow field.

“We’ve been less than twenty minutes and we’re in the polar zone. This is either a small planet or a fast car.”

“The latter,” The Doctor replied simply. “The observatory is at the Omega Peaks.”

“Named for the watches or the cat food?”

“Named for the greatest Astronomer Gallifrey ever had,” Shania said in reverential tones.

“You’re too young to remember he was also a genocidal criminal,” The Doctor told her. “But that’s a good thing. I always hoped Omega could be redeemed - even if it is only by selective history.”

As the mountains loomed closer Marie saw the observatory, a building much as she might have expected with a domed section housing a telescope. The surprising aspect was how the whole complex clung to the side of a sheer mountain face, surely lying in the path of the next avalanche.

“There are force fields that deflect anything like that,” The Doctor explained even though she hadn’t asked. The car drew up to a very narrow platform with a sheer drop to icy death for the incautious. They were obviously expected since the secure door into the observatory was opened by a slim woman of indeterminate age and strikingly attractive features. She was wearing a black, figure hugging all in one suit that would have made the designers of graphic novels drop their pens in tribute.

“Good afternoon, Doctor,” she said, ignoring both Marie and Shania in a somewhat elitist manner. “I am Kaumarya, Lord Gyes’ assistant. I am told you wish to see his study?”

“I wish to see every part of this facility that the late Lord Gyes frequented,” The Doctor replied with rather an icy tone. “And even those parts he frequented less frequently. In any case, I have been assured of complete freedom to conduct my investigation.”

“Of course,” Kaumarya answered in a tone that sounded, on the surface, like complete cooperation with the official inquiry, but which might have had an underlying hint of resentment.

The Doctor seemed a little at odds with her, too. His tone when he spoke to her was best described as ‘terse’. Perhaps he disliked being led by her on a sort of ‘guided tour’ of the observatory and its workshops and private areas instead of being allowed to go as he pleased.

Even under the watchful eye of Kaumarya, his investigation was thorough. Marie wasn’t completely sure what exactly he was looking for, but he looked intently, using the sonic screwdriver and his allegedly sonic shades to scan everything.

He didn’t seem to find any clues. The only room with anything out of the ordinary was the ill astronomer’s bedroom.

“Mmm….” He mused after scanning the neatly made up bed. Unusually, Kaumarya, who had dogged their heels until now, hung back outside this room.

“Mmm, what?” Marie asked.

“Two people have been sleeping in this bed,” he said in a low voice.

“Which means… that Time Lords are no better than anyone else in THAT respect?” Marie observed. Lieutenant Shania had been a little slow on the uptake, but having worked it out she looked suitably disgusted.

“I always thought we were,” The Doctor remarked. “Standards seem to be slipping.” He looked at his sonic and then waved it in an arc. “Sound filter engaged. We can talk freely without Miss Kaumarya overhearing. What are your Human instincts saying about all this?”

“She doesn’t seem too concerned about her lover… if he is her lover. She doesn’t even seem very worried about him as a colleague. I get the idea that you lot take stoicism to new levels, but you’re not Vulcan. You DO have emotions.”

“Mmm,” The Doctor remarked again. “Does anything else strike you as odd about her? I’m sure there’s something, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

“I wouldn’t know what counts as ‘odd’ with your lot. You are the only example I’ve had much time to thoroughly observe. But she does seem like somebody who carries a winter frost into every room she goes into… which must have made sleeping with her great fun.”

The Doctor half-smiled in agreement.

“The only other thing is her name… which probably isn’t important, anyway.”

“Her name?” Shania questioned. “How could that be meaningful?”

“As I said… not important. I suppose it must be some kind of linguistic coincidence. Not the first I’ve noticed. Omega means a lot of different things on Earth. Shania is a Canadian country singer. As for Kaumarya – that’s Sanskrit for princess.”

“You’re familiar with Sanskrit?” The Doctor asked.

“No. There is a student in my class by that name. She joined after Easter. Her family emigrated from India. She was very quiet and unengaged at first. She didn’t really understand the curriculum. But I did a lesson about name origins – sort of history meets social studies. We were a bit stuck around the fact that the ‘Fitz’ prefix indicates an illegitimate son of a Norman. Gerry Fitzgerald and Tony Fitzmaurice weren’t happy. Especially since Tony’s dad’s middle name is Norman. But then, out of the blue, young Kaumarya piped up and told us all about the origins of her name. It broke the ice… and now everyone in the class calls her ‘Princess’ instead of trying to pronounce her name and she’s doing great. They surprised me, actually. Kids can be nasty when they choose. I wouldn’t have put it past some of them to make ‘princess’ into a term of abuse, but they didn’t.”

She stopped talking. The Doctor was looking at her oddly.

“Ok, I know… long winded anecdotes are your territory. But….”

“No, it’s not that. It just came to me that there is another Gallifreyan name that, by total coincidence, means a ‘noble female’ in Sanskrit.”

He turned to see the woman calling herself Kaumarya standing at the door. He waved the sonic to dispel the sound filter and looked directly at her.

“Long time no see... Rani,” he said in a humourless tone. “Regeneration has been kinder to you than it has to me.”

Lieutenant Shania, to her credit, recognised instantly the change in the situation, but she was a fraction of a second late pulling her side arm from its holster. The woman identified by The Doctor as Rani gave an outraged cry and crossed the floor on two quick strides, grabbing Marie and swinging her around to use as a Human shield.

“Drop the weapon or this weak, feeble offworld specimen dies as easily as I have killed her sort in the past,” Rani spat malevolently. “You know I can and will, Doctor. And stop fiddling with that sonic device, too. I know your so-called pacifist tool has some lethal settings but don’t try them.”

“I know you are the most evil and unfeeling woman born on this planet,” The Doctor replied. “And the last I heard you were in cryo-prison on Shada.”

“Security was lax during the Time War,” she answered. That seemed to be enough explanation for The Doctor. Certainly, the brief interchange had told Marie all she needed to know about this woman, as well as her relationship with The Doctor. She would have enjoyed knowing that her own observances had identified the criminal if her neck wasn’t being pressurised painfully. She was in no doubt about the truth behind the lurid boast. This woman would kill her in an eyeblink when it suited her to do so.

“You are the one trying to murder the Councillors?” Shania queried as she obeyed The Doctor’s quiet hand gesture and dropped her gun. “Why?”

“Oh, pointless question, lieutenant,” The Doctor commented. “Rani hates the Government. They voted unanimously to sentence her to Shada. Not one dissenter. That’s almost unique in Gallifreyan politics. Even The Master has a couple of secret admirers. I’m not surprised this is her doing. I’m only curious about how she did it.”

Despite him setting her up neatly for it, Rani wasn’t about to give him the benefit of a villain’s triumphal exposition at this point. She was slowly backing away with Marie as her hostage. Once out the bedroom door she backed rapidly, moving along a straight corridor that led, as luck, and perhaps narrative causality, would have it, towards the outer door that led onto that narrow ledge with a perilous drop down the mountain.

The Doctor and Shania both followed as close as they dared, but with Marie’s life in danger it was a classic stand-off. Neither dared make a move.

Rani seemed to have been calculating that there was a car out there, waiting for The Doctor and his investigative team. She had calculated, too, that the driver, like all drivers waiting for passengers, was off his guard.

But not completely so. When he saw what was happening this one thwarted Rani’s hijack by the simple manoeuvre of moving the car forward a few yards.

Unfortunately, that meant that Rani, still holding Marie in a necklock, was unexpectedly standing on the edge of the precipice. Both women screamed as they fell. The Doctor rushed forward uttering a Scots Gaelic swear word he learnt from an old companion and which came to his lips at that moment.

As he looked over the edge several more curses from other cultures came to the forefront of his mind. An arms length down he saw Marie clinging to a meagre handhold in the underside of the platform. Even further down Rani was holding on to a supporting strut. Marie dared to stretch out a hand towards The Doctor, but he didn’t reach for her.

“Shania, you come and help Marie,” he called out. “I’ve got to rescue Rani. She doesn’t deserve it, but she is the only one who can tell me how to save the Councillors.”

Shania did as he said, reaching two slender but strong arms down to Marie while he began to climb down to where Rani was pinned, unable to climb up or down.

“Don’t come any closer,” she called out as he came within touching distance. “I’d rather stay here until the desert freezes over than be beholden to you.”

“Don’t be silly, take my hand,” The Doctor answered. “Even a Time Lord couldn’t survive a fall from here. You have to let me help you.”

“Even a Time Lord?” Rani laughed more icily than the mountain terrain around her. “I almost forgot. You were technically Lord High President when they sentenced me. I ought to have included you in my vengeance.”

“The Lord High President only votes if the secret ballot of councillors is tied,” The Doctor reminded her. “I was not called upon to take part in your sentencing.”

“But you would have,” she argued. “You hate me more than any of them.”

“It’s not about ‘hate’,” The Doctor began, but he had miscalculated Rani’s mood for a philosophical discussion. She grabbed at his legs, not to allow herself to be rescued, but to overbalance him. He struggled, but felt himself slipping. He looked past the woman who had often tried to kill him to the icy depths that would do the job for her at last.

Then he was falling. A doppler scream told him that Rani was, too. He reached out and grasped her hand briefly as she slipped past him.

He must have blacked out for a time. He certainly didn’t see the hover car move into position to break his fall. When he opened his eyes, he was lying awkwardly across the back seat. Marie and Shania were looking down at him anxiously.

“Rani?” he asked.

“She fell all the way,” Shania answered. “Umm… Marie says we were all ‘thick as planks’ not to think of using the car straight away. I… apologise for my lack of initiative.”

“If Rani is dead… we won’t know how she made the Councillors ill,” Marie added, skipping over the fact that The Doctor hadn’t thought of the car, either, instead climbing down the mountain, without any regard to his personal safety, to rescue his dire enemy.

“I touched her hand for a moment. She was too scared to shield her thoughts. I felt the whole plot inside my head in a microburst of telepathic energy. It’s probably what made me black out, actually. I’ve never had vertigo before.” He sat up and addressed the driver. “Get me back to the Citadel. I know what she did. We might be able to reverse it.”

The journey back was a speeding blur of mountains and desert giving way to glittering spires. The car landed on the roof of the Citadel and The Doctor raced for the turbo lift only just waiting for his companions to catch up before he closed the doors.

The lift stopped moments later, not at the Panopticon, but at a makeshift laboratory in what would normally be a committee room. He called out to the woman in elaborate red robes at the centre of the work going on there. She looked up at him in startled amazement.

“Madame Ohica,” he said in a breathless tone. “First of all, I regret to say that you have a traitor in your ranks. Somebody gave Rani a sample of your Elixir. She misused it not only to create a deadly poison that inhibits regeneration, but to make the real Elixir impotent against it.”

“Doctor… if this is true… the one responsible will be punished. But knowing the cause of the illness gives us a chance to synthesize a cure. You may tell Gallissa to have hope.”

“Thank you,” The Doctor answered bowing respectfully to the lady before turning and heading for the Panopticon floor.

“Gallissa?” He searched the vast room for the Acting President but did not see her at first. When he did, he groaned in horror to see her collapsing under a fever like the patients around her were suffering. “Get her robes off,” he ordered those who ran to her assistance. “The poison is in the robes. That’s how it was done.”

“Robes?” Marie queried as his orders were carried out.

“This city is on the edge of a hot desert. Nobody arrives at the Citadel wearing those heavy robes of office. They are kept here, laundered by the sort of women nobody ever notices, scurrying about their menial tasks. Nobody would have noticed one of them going through the robes, lacing them with poison. It would have been slow acting. It might not even have happened on the day they all got sick. That was why Favilla and Gyes were elsewhere when it began. But that was how she did it.”

“Gallissa put on the robes when she was appointed as Acting President. It took longer, but it got her, too?”

“We stand by ceremony so much. She wasn’t President without the robes.”

“You are,” Lieutenant Shania murmured quietly. The Doctor didn’t hear, or pretended not to. Marie did and not for the first time today wondered what it was that The Doctor had against accepting that role. Surely, he would make the best President his world had known?

“Maybe too good,” he answered cryptically even though she hadn’t asked the question that was fixed in her mind. “All we can do is hope that Ohica comes up with a cure before it is too late. If anyone can, it is her. She is the second-best chemist Gallifrey has ever known.”

“Who is the first?” Marie began before the penny dropped. “Oh, her.”

“If she had used her gifts for good….” The Doctor mused. But he knew long ago that there was no hope for that. Rani had long ago chosen the path of pure evil, guided by malice and spite as well as an ambition untempered by any moral compass.

Now there was nothing to be done but wait and hope that Rani’s last malicious action would not take any more victims.

It was a forlorn hope. Three more men died in agony as the diffused sky above the dome darkened. Another was beginning to fail near the midnight hour when Ohica and her assistants rushed into the Panopticon. They brought a container filled with glass vials of a serum ready to be injected into the patients.

“I think there is hope,” she said as she began the task of treating all of the affected. “For those with the strength left, at least.”

“Even Time Lords set great store by hope,” The Doctor replied, joining in the task for want of anything better to do. It was a waiting game, now, and he didn’t do that well. He had never had the patience.

As the long night dragged on, The Doctor had news he didn’t want, though he wasn’t entirely surprised.

“They haven’t found her body,” he told Marie.

“But she couldn’t have survived, surely? You said it yourself. Even your lot couldn’t….”

“They’re going to look again when it gets light. Perhaps….”

He didn’t need to finish the sentence. They had to find a body. It WAS impossible that Rani had survived that fall.

Yet a nagging doubt settled in the dark recesses of his mind. If anyone could cheat death, it would be her. One day their paths would cross again.

“If Shania hadn’t been on hand to help, if it was just you, and both of us dangling… would you still have tried to reach her first?”

“I needed to know what she had done to these people,” he said. “So many lives… against one. The pragmatic thing to do….”

He shook his head.

“No, I’d have saved you first. You might as well know it. I don’t do pragmatic. I never have. But try not to put me in that situation too often. I might just break the habit of a lifetime.”

“Duly noted,” Marie answered.

The dawn was lightening the sky above the Panopticon when the first patients showed signs of recovery. Gallissa, perhaps less severely affected by the others, woke first and looked around at the makeshift hospital before asking if The Doctor was still there. She was more worried about Gallifrey being left without a Constitutional Head of State than her own health.

Lord Gyes was the next to recover enough to eat a light meal and ask if he had been ill through an upcoming meteor shower he had been preparing to observe. It was agreed that somebody would have to tell him about Rani aka Kaumarya, but not just yet, and The Doctor emphatically refused to accept that responsibility.

By midday, almost all the Councillors were well enough to ask about lunch, their spouses or the state of the intergalactic stock market in no predictable order. The crisis was over. The Doctor announced that he and Marie had an important engagement in seventeenth century Europe.

“You don’t need me,” he told Gallissa when she protested. “You’re Acting President. The planet is all yours. Look after it. And… tell me if they DO find Rani’s body. Actually, tell me if they don’t. I think I need to be forewarned. Otherwise, I really don’t need to be here.”

He was adamant. Marie took time to get back into her Versailles court pannier gown and edged sideways into the TARDIS before turning to wave to Shania. She, in turn, saluted, incurring The Doctor’s mild displeasure before he closed the door and strode to the drive console. Moments later he had left his homeworld again, unsure when he might return to it.

And that was how he liked it.