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

“I’m afraid we’re a little off course,” The Doctor announced with no trace of regret in his tone at all. Marie looked at him suspiciously. He was SUPPOSED to be taking her home to Dublin after a blissfully peaceful weekend on the planet Innisfree. She was sure it had been TOO blissful for The Doctor. He wanted some action, adventure, a brain eating monster to vanquish.

Not that they ever had faced a brain eating monster. But he definitely wanted something to get his teeth into.

So she was not entirely sure they were accidentally off course.

“Where are we, then?” she asked. There was nothing else to say.

“Ikerah,” The Doctor answered, turning the big viewscreen onto an image of a pale blue planet. “Pronounced Eye..k..ee..eye..rah. It is a water world, no landmass at all. Even the poles are frozen caps over the ocean, like Earth’s Arctic. The sentient population are not indigenous. They came from a dying world a dozen generations ago and established cities on the ocean floor.”

“Wow, impressive,” Marie admitted. “Are they… like us... this sentient population? I mean… one head, two arms etcetera? Or are we talking fish people?”

“Does it matter?”

“Just curious. I suppose it really doesn’t matter. I’m not planning to make a sushi picnic to bring with us. That is if we are going to visit. We are, aren’t we? You can’t take us ‘a little off course’ and not visit the planet?”

“We’re going to visit. I’m just arranging our visitor’s permit. We’ll be allocated our quota of air and then we can go down to the capital city.”

“Quota of air?”

“They live on the ocean floor. Air is a very valuable commodity. They have to manufacture it by splitting water into its two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen and then mixing the latter with the various other components to create fresh air. Too many people breathing it puts pressure on the supply.”

There was a beep from the communications panel.

“There we go. We’ve been granted a two-week visitor’s quota. Don’t use it up all at once.”

“I won’t,” Marie promised, her mind still processing such an idea as she prepared to disembark from the TARDIS into a strange and unusual environment unlike anything she had seen before.

The hanger where the TARDIS parked itself wasn’t especially prepossessing. It was dimly lit and there was a constant noise of some kind of machinery coming through the walls. It reminded Marie of the car deck of the Holyhead ferry.

They passed from the hanger to a reception where their visas were checked, The Doctor obtained local currency and a badge with an LED panel was pinned to their clothes. These measured the amount of air they were using. That answered one of two questions Marie had wanted to ask about how anyone knew how much air anyone else was breathing.

Her other question was more worrying – what happened if the quota was used up too quickly? Once, before The Doctor had fixed her up with unlimited universal roaming, she had accidentally left her mobile phone running an online game all night and used up her monthly data allowance in one go. That had been an expensive mistake, but not so expensive, she suspected, as running out of air in an underwater city on Ikerah.

When they finally passed through the reception into the city itself she was finally as impressed as she had hoped to be.

The underwater city was bright and spacious. A huge geodesic dome rose above and around what must have been fifty square miles of glittering post-modernist architecture. Towers and spires, almost none of which were mere rectangles, rose up towards the roof while a swift monorail system zipped around the tops of the buildings. Citizens who didn’t want to travel so fast moved around the wide streets on foot or in sleek, silvery ‘space’ versions of rickshaws pulled by young men wearing metallic blue uniforms.

The people were humanoid in the sense Marie had suggested earlier - one head, two arms etcetera. The chief difference was that they were all very pale, their faces the colour known as ‘magnolia’ in paint catalogues and their eyes a turquoise like the shallows of a tropical lagoon. The texture of their skin was smooth and a little shiny, and their hair, long both for male and female, was deep green. Marie noticed as much while trying not to stare and to not mind being stared back at for not having green hair.

“Now that’s interesting,” The Doctor remarked. “The atmosphere within this dome actually doesn’t contain very much oxygen. These ‘quota badges’ don’t just monitor how much the customer uses like a gas meter, they’re actually a personal oxygen supply. Without them we’d be feeling very light headed. Or you would be, anyway. I can recycle my own oxygen for at least fifteen minutes.”

“I suppose people need to BUY the oxygen, just like gas,” Marie noted. “Seems like a sneaky way of making sure they pay their bills on time.”

“Yes….” The Doctor commented. He may have had more to say, but that one short word covered it.

“Where does the light come from?” Marie asked. “Is that fifty pence in the meter, too?” She looked up at the all-encompassing dome. Beyond the thousands of diamond shaped panes that may or may not have been glass, the sea was a deep, dark green with flashes of brighter colour that were shoals of fish.

It ought to have been dark inside the dome, but it wasn’t.

“The air is thin on oxygen, but filled with microscopic light emitting molecules,” The Doctor explained. “They dim every eight hours to give an impression of night time. Psychologists have found that living without a day-night routine causes mental distress.”

“What do they say about breathing in light molecules?” Marie asked, still working out the physics of that idea in her head.

“Don’t worry, they’re not dangerous. Your body expels them through the skin pores like perspiration. You might faintly glow in the dark for a few hours after you leave here.”

“Remind me not to go to the cinema until it wears off,” Marie answered him. She still wasn’t sure what to make of that idea, but what she saw with the microscopic light impressed her so far.

She wondered if they might have a trip on the monorail, but The Doctor summoned one of the rickshaws, instead.

“It will be evening soon. We should have dinner,” he said. “Driver, take us to the best sashimi restaurant in the city.” He handed the runner a large silver coin. The young man examined it carefully then slipped it into his pocket before lending Marie a solicitous hand to get up into the rickshaw.

“I’m not sure I’m altogether happy about being pulled along by another human,” she said as they moved at running pace through the clean, beautiful streets of what seemed to be a model city. “I mean… another person. It… smacks of exploitation.”

“I paid him well,” The Doctor assured her. “Including a good tip. Which is more than any of your species ever gave a horse.”

“That’s hardly the same,” Marie protested, then saw The Doctor’s expression and thought about it for a while. “All right, you have a point. What is sashimi?”

“The correct term for raw fish cuisine. Sushi, which you mentioned earlier, is any food prepared with vinegared rice. Western people of your world invariably make that mistake. As for the people here eating fish… what else do you suppose they have as a food source down here?”

“I don’t know. But they look so pale… like white fish. Are you sure they’re not evolved from them?”

“You’re a mammal, but you still eat meat.” Again, Marie had her assumptions challenged by The Doctor. She decided not to ask any more questions.

“Their pale complexions are a result of living without natural sunlight,” The Doctor added in the silence that followed her decision to keep quiet. “They get the essential vitamin d. in their food. Fish IS an excellent source of that, but they obviously don’t get suntans.”

That settled all of her immediate questions. Marie gave her attention to her surroundings. They were moving through wide streets in a retail and entertainment area of the city. Luxury clothing and jewellery shops predominated, as well as very high class restaurants and bars. It resembled something like Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles rather than any ordinary high street with chain stores and fast food outlets. Clearly many citizens enjoyed a measure of affluence.

But some of them made a living pulling rickshaws, and there had to be some who served customers in the shops and restaurants. Usually those people on the other side of the counter earned far less than those they were serving. It couldn’t all be diamonds and fur coats.

At the ‘best sashimi restaurant in town’ The Doctor and Marie were treated like people who could afford diamonds and furs. They were offered a good table on a mezzanine level balcony overlooking a plaza with fountains and sculpture to delight the eye. The air was warm and fragrant like Marie imagined a summer evening in Rome would be.

She admitted that her knowledge of sashimi was limited to smoked salmon slices and tuna rolls and let The Doctor choose from the menu. It occurred to her that he might be bluffing and know as little as she did, but when the dishes arrived they looked impressive. The centrepiece was a delicate chrysanthemum shape made with wafer thin opaque slivers of pink fish while an assortment of shapes, colours and textures were arranged on rectangular platters. Piquant dipping sauces came in fine dishes and a pair of delicately carved spiral shaped chopsticks were set before each of them. Marie copied The Doctor’s method of handling them with as much elegance as she could manage.

The food was full flavoured and though she was brought up in the kind of society where battered cod was as sophisticated as it got, Marie enjoyed her meal. As she ate, the light provided by the microscopic air molecules dimmed to an atmospheric twilight. The plaza became a place of deep shadows with pools of soft yellow provided by ornamental lamps. It was still clearly a popular place to socialise, if anything a little busier than in full light. Couples were gathering in the shadows to do what couples do in such places.

But other things happen in shadows even in the best of cities. As she drank a glass of wine and The Doctor perused the dessert menu Marie saw a young girl dart out of the shadows behind one of the sculptures. She stopped two people in their tracks and grabbed at something before darting away again. The effect on the two people was startling. Both collapsed as if they were struggling to breathe.

“Stay there,” The Doctor said. “Order two passion fruit sundaes for when I get back.” With that he jumped over the balcony rail and landed on the plaza below without any apparent harm to any of his bones. He sprinted towards the stricken couple and knelt beside them, pressing something in his hand against one chest then the other alternately.

He continued to do that for several minutes before an ambulance ‘copter landed and the victims of the rather odd assault were taken in hand by the professionals. The Doctor backed away through the crowd that had gathered, avoiding any attempts to congratulate him on his act of heroism. A few minutes later he was back on the mezzanine floor and sauntered out onto the balcony as if he had just popped to the men’s room between courses. He sat down and chastised Marie for not ordering the dessert.

“I was more concerned with you and what was happening down there.”

The ambulance had taken off and police were dispersing the crowd. The Doctor summoned a waiter and placed the dessert order.

“It was a mugging. They happen everywhere. Even on my world there is an element, though I personally think our politicians are the biggest crooks.”

“What was stolen? And how come they were so affected? It didn’t look like they were hit or stabbed or anything?”

The Doctor tapped his oxygen monitor. It was reading ‘full’. Her own was already showing a narrow yellow line from use.

“Their oxygen quotas were stolen. They were suffocating. I gave them some of mine. I think I mentioned I can recycle my own breath for fifteen minutes at a pinch. The paramedics refilled my quota as a reward for my efforts. Nice of them, don’t you think?

“Very nice. But who steals oxygen?”

“Heavy breathers?” The Doctor suggested.


“Seriously… I don’t know. Maybe somebody didn’t pay their bill.”


“This was an unscheduled trip. I didn’t plan to get into anything. I thought it would be nice to have a meal, take in a show… the sort of thing ordinary mortals do. I helped out with the aftermath of a mugging… that’s my good deed for the day. Let’s not worry about it any more.”

“I was hoping this was a nicer society than that… a place where there isn’t any crime. But I suppose that’s impossible. Somebody always wants to steal something.”

“That’s been my experience,” The Doctor admitted. He looked up as the dessert arrived and happened to catch the waiter’s eye. The young man turned his face away, as if to make such contact with a customer was forbidden.

“Enjoy your dessert, sir, madam,” he said. “And… if you want to know about the air stealers, watch where the street cleaners go.”

“Thank you very much,” The Doctor replied without the slightest sign that he had heard the strange instruction. “We’ll have two coffees in a few minutes, please.”

“What.…” Marie began as the waiter returned to his station. The Doctor blinked slightly and there was a twitch of his jaw that warned her not to react. She took the hint and remarked about the passion fruit sundae. The Doctor kept the light tone up until they had leisurely managed two coffees each and he settled the bill with a universal credit card.

“I don’t see any street cleaners,” Marie commented as they stepped out into the evening air.

“You wouldn’t, yet,” The Doctor explained. “They’ll come out after the bright, shiny people have gone home. We need to kill a few hours. How do you feel about light jazz?”

“I can live with it,” Marie answered as The Doctor steered her towards a club advertising live music. It wasn’t exactly jazz as she knew it. The instruments were completely different to Earth ones and she didn’t know any of the tunes. The music came from a very different culture to anything she was familiar with. But it was pleasant enough and passed a few hours on which she tried not to wonder what the cryptic message about street cleaners meant.

It still wasn’t the time when the jazz club closed. The Doctor and Marie waited in the shadowy plaza hoping it was far too late for oxygen thieves to be about.

It was still and quiet for at least an hour. Then they heard faint noises and spotted movement on the well lit streets. A small army of cleaners with wide brushes set to work making the public thoroughfares clean and tidy.

They worked for at least two hours, non-stop. Then, as the light molecules began to cast a faint morning glow about the place they picked up their brooms and their sacks of rubbish and headed in one direction, first along the wide main thoroughfare and then onto a narrower side street, and an even narrower one that looked like a dead end. Hanging back a little, Marie and The Doctor watched a door open on a dark void. The cleaners were swallowed by it as if they were small fish being eaten en masse by a large one. The simile was too obvious in an undersea city.

They slipped inside just before the doors closed and saw that there was a dim light source at the bottom of a steep stairwell filled with workers moving steadily down. They followed, unnoticed, until they reached a corridor with a low ceiling. Artificial lights were set at intervals providing some light.

“What’s that clinking noise up ahead?” Marie asked. “It sounds like milk bottle tops or something.”

The Doctor had no idea about the noise until they reached another doorway. Before they passed through the workers took off their oxygen quota badges and threw them into a large bin already full of discarded discs. It made a noise a little like milk bottle tops collected by enterprising children to buy lifeboats or wells for the Third World.

“Empty,” The Doctor observed, looking at the badges. “They must only have enough for their work shift.”

“So… how do they breathe down here?” Marie asked.

“Shallowly,” The Doctor replied. “There is the same very thin atmosphere in this ‘Undercroft’ as there is up above. Those without a quota have to make do.”

Through the door they emerged into an area at least as wide as the city above, but here there were no buildings. Around the bare stone floor there were small cubicles that Marie identified as ‘portaloos’. The Doctor called them hygiene units and said they could be used for private washing and dressing as well as the other basic function.

Everywhere else there were people either settling down to sleep after a night shift or waking up to begin a working day. They cooked food on camp stoves with water from plastic containers. They formed rough family groups with sparse belongings, a bag of clothes, a box of food supplies, forming the borders of their personal space.

Some of them looked at The Doctor and Marie as they walked through the – for want of a better word – settlement. Most didn’t bother. None of them spoke, either to welcome or to resent their presence.

“Doctor….” Marie nodded towards a place where a young woman sat next to the makeshift bed of a sick person with a wheezing, painful cough. The Doctor stepped closer, looked quickly, then pulled his oxygen quota badge off his coat. He put it on the sick woman who immediately breathed more easily.

“It’s only a visitor’s quota,” he said to the girl. “I suppose you’ll have to steal a fuller one when it runs out.”

“Can’t they buy more?” Marie asked, then wondered if she was saying something as idiotic as the ‘Let them eat cake’ attributed to her French namesake. “You mean…that’s what they have to do… if somebody is sick? Steal air for them?”

“The workers have an allocation,” the girl said. “But mama got sick. She couldn’t work, so she couldn’t get a badge. I would have stolen air, but she wouldn’t let me.”

“Darla….” The mother reached to touch her daughter’s hand. “I will be well again, soon. There is no need for you to risk prison for my sake.”

Marie opened her mouth, then closed it again. She closed her eyes, too, blocking, for a moment, the situation around her. A different one swam to the front of her mind. She shook her head sorrowfully.

“In Ireland… in the last few years… it’s been about water. The government allowed a private company to impose such huge charges for water…. Some people refused to pay on principle. Others, especially the unemployed, couldn’t pay. There were court cases, fines, bailiffs and evictions, some people went to prison….”

The Doctor said nothing. He helped the sick woman to drink some water. It was stale from being kept in containers but at least it seemed to be more readily available than the air.

“In Ireland, I’m just a teacher. I don’t have much power except one vote every four years for a politician a bit less corrupt than the other one. But… here… with you… a powerful Time Lord….”

“This is the internal affairs of a sovereign state just like your water charges,” The Doctor told her. “Time Lords are forbidden to interfere with such things.”

“Yes. But you don’t care about rules like that,” Marie insisted. “You can do something.”

“You can’t,” Darla said. “There’s nothing anyone can do. This is how it is for the underclass.”

“What if you went on strike?” Marie asked her. “Those people up there want their streets and houses cleaned, their food served. You could all refuse until you get a better deal.”

“They would block all the air from the undercroft. We would all die.”

“They would do that?” Marie was appalled. “Even Irish Water aren’t THAT nasty.”

“If they did that, there would be nobody to do those jobs,” The Doctor pointed out. “It is possible that is a bluff. But I don’t think you people ought to call it. Not as things are. Let me think about this for a little while.”

He stood and looked around at the wide expanse full of people living on the absolute edge of survival. His lips moved slightly as if he was counting the population. Then he moved among them, talking here and there to those willing to talk back to him.

Marie stayed with Darla and her mother. She asked them how they came to be in such desperate living conditions.

“It wasn’t always so bad,” the girl explained. “When I was young, when papa was alive, we had a house. We had food and air. I went to school. We rode the monorail. But when he died…. That’s when we had to live down here. At first, we managed to keep up the hope… that things would get better. But the thin air saps the strength of mind and body. After a while we knew it would never change…. Some people kill themselves. I think, one day, I’ll do the same.”

That was the pattern for all the people of the Undercroft, apparently. Those who fell into financial difficulty through illness or bereavement or unemployment, had no recourse but to live in the forgotten space beneath the glittering city and take whatever menial, part time, low paid work they could get in order to survive. If even that failed, they would struggle for breathable air let alone any other basic needs.

Marie was angry. Above was a beautiful city with prosperous citizens enjoying the best life possible. Below was a level of poverty that defied all imagining.

The Doctor came back from his ramble, accompanied by a group of young men and women, among them the waiter who had brought their desserts last night. He didn’t, in fact, live in the Undercroft, but he knew many people who did. He brought uneaten food from the restaurant for them.

“The idea of a strike appeals to the workers,” The Doctor said. “They reckon that food and water supplies could see them through about three weeks if they withdrew their labour and blockaded the entrances to the Undercroft. I suspect the government would have to listen to their demands by the end of the first week.”

“How come they have so much food and water?”

“Water is no problem. We’ve always tapped into the pipes that feed all the fancy fountains up in the city,” was the answer to one question.

“So many of the low paid jobs are in the service industries,” The Doctor explained about the other. “Marcus, here, never shuts up the restaurant at night without bringing a box of comestibles with him, and most of his compatriots do the same. Raw fish can’t be saved down here without refrigeration. That gets eaten straight away. But there are plenty of preserved foods available. Admittedly an awful lot of it is tinned anchovies, which are boring, but nutritious enough.”

“The problem is air,” Marcus pointed out. “They would certainly try to defeat us by cutting off our supply. We can’t stop them. The controls are out of our reach.”

“I’m going to deal with that,” The Doctor said. Marie and Darla went with him to the place where the used oxygen quota badges were discarded. At a dispenser beside the bin, new quotas were purchased using a disproportionate amount of workers’ salaries. The Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver and jammed it into the dispenser. There was a shrill noise and the screen lit up bright blue. The dispensing slot began spewing out new quota badges by the dozen.

“These have six weeks on them,” he said as Marcus and one of his friends tipped the old badges onto the floor and started gathering up the new ones to distribute. “That’s the minimum purchase for citizens above. It’ll do for our purposes.”

Food, water, air, and a new spirit of defiance were freely available. Being able to breathe deeply of their ‘quota’ was the main driving force for the defiance. The people of the Undercroft were ready to Strike.

Marie and The Doctor slipped out on the second day of the action to see how things looked in the City. They were impressed by the effect the withdrawal of labour was having.

All the shops were shut. So were the restaurants and bars. The chefs and managers lived in the glittering skyscrapers, but without cleaners, dish washers, they couldn’t function.

The monorail was silent. The drivers were striking. So, of course, were the rickshaw boys. People with white collar jobs had to walk to their untidy offices through streets with overflowing waste bins.

“When the Dublin tramworkers went on strike in 1912, the managers and owners pitched up to keep things running. Same in Britain in the 1926 General Strike. There were men in top hats and waistcoats operating buses. These people don’t seem to have that sort of initiative.”

“They’ve taken too much for granted for too long,” The Doctor surmised. “But that’s all to the good. Those strikes you mentioned were broken by ‘blackleg’ labour. If this lot are going to sit around wondering what’s happening to their city, then it will hasten the downfall of the unequal system.”

“We can only hope. The newspaper kiosk is shut so we don’t have any news.”

“I expect there are video broadcasts from the government. Let’s stroll to the hanger and see if the TARDIS can pick anything up.”

The man who checked visas wasn’t available. He wasn’t one of the people of the Undercroft, but he was probably having trouble getting his uniform dry cleaned. They reached the TARDIS unchallenged and tuned into the local news.

The Minister for Emergencies, a lady who was obviously missing the attentions of a personal hairdresser and make up artist was advising citizens without supplies to collect emergency food parcels from the Office of Public Works in Dolphinium Avenue. They would, of course, have to do that on foot, something few people did at length before the ‘Breakdown’ as the Strike was being called.

In the middle of a discussion about how long emergency food could last with no handlers at the hangar to receive supplies, the broadcast switched to a statement from the First Citizen, the elected leader of the City.

“I have ordered the City Police to storm the entrances to the Worker Zone,” he announced. “The workers will be forced to return to their allotted shifts. Resistance will be met with loss of air privileges.”

“That’s bad,” The Doctor said. “It smacks of the Miner’s Strike of 1985. I was going to leave the TARDIS out of the situation and keep my interference to the minimum, but I think I’d better get back as soon as possible and help man the barricades.”

In fact, he strengthened the barricades by deadlock sealing the doors at every entrance and making them impossible to break down from the outside. Then he ran cables out from the console room and set up a screen so that the strike leaders could see what was happening outside.

As it happened, the attempt to break into the Undercroft was abandoned mid-afternoon when representatives of the City Police decided that they weren’t paid enough to walk into work from the outskirts where they lived and then have to do manual labour. They signalled to the government their intention to strike for better conditions.

“Wow, I never expected that,” Marie commented. “Police brutality is the usual thing in these circumstances, not solidarity.”

That night the air supply to the Undercoat was cut off, but nobody was bothered. They had their personal quotas.

“All this proves one thing,” Marie said. “Somebody in authority knows exactly where the workers live and under what conditions.”

“Yes, though I’m not so sure the ordinary people do,” The Doctor said.

“May’ be they do but they don’t care.”

“I’m trying to be generous about them,” The Doctor admitted. “Anyway, let’s see how the spirit of the citizenry holds up after a couple more days.”

The spirit of the workers was holding up very well. Being relieved of back breaking work and having air to breathe did wonders for them. So, too, did the near party atmosphere in the Undercroft. There were any number of people who made their living in the live music clubs. Now they made their own music for each other - songs of protest and solidarity with lyrics soon taken up by whole groups of people in chorus.

“They’d make a fortune in Ireland,” Marie commented. “There’s always been a thriving market for ‘rebel’ songs.”

The Doctor agreed. He even joined in with the music for an evening, playing several different instruments skilfully.

A week went by and although the things that could be done to make tinned anchovies interesting were limited, nobody was hungry. A lot of the sick were actually recovering. Marie was especially pleased that Darla’s mother was looking better. So were many others who had been suffering, mostly, from lack of energy.

In fact, it was The Doctor’s opinion that what most of them had lacked was hope. The strike, even though it wasn’t certain what the outcome might be, gave them that hope. Marie recalled the examples she had quoted from Earth history and wondered if people had felt the same, then. But she also knew that neither example had ended well for the protesters. Would this brave attempt fail, too?

But so far the prospects were looking good for them. Above the spirit of the middle and upper classes was close to cracking. The complete absence of the people who actually got things done was a source of real distress. The presenters of the news bulletins were looking shabbier every day without laundry services. The politicians were nervous. The police were still on strike. There were crowds gathering outside the parliament building. Some of them seemed to have learnt the songs that were keeping the Undercroft population buoyant. The Doctor smiled and winked at Marcus. The waiters and musicians, people who were the most visible of the invisible classes, had been slipping out and mingling, finding out how the public really felt and subtly imparting some of their own philosophy.

“The government are still threatening harsh penalties for the strikers,” Marie pointed out.

“Yes, but they don’t actually HAVE any penalties to impose,” The Doctor explained. “They could, in theory, imprison people, or have then killed, but I don’t think that will happen. The ordinary people know, now, just how much they depend on the Undercroft workers. They are actually more visible now that they’re not around than they ever were. People ARE starting to ask questions like ‘Where do the street cleaners live? How much are they paid? What air quota do they have?’ Quite soon the government are going to have to answer those questions. Another week, I think.”

By the middle of the next week, in fact, the government had even more problems. With working conditions becoming increasingly difficult, most of the office workers and managers went on strike, too, demanding that rubbish was collected, toilets, cleaned, windows washed, vending machines filled….

The city was at a standstill. Even the news bulletins were affected. The last one to be broadcast was a very shaky image of the First Citizen apparently operating a ‘selfie’ camera.

“Did we hear right?” asked those of the strikers who were close enough to the screen to hear. “Did he really beg us to meet him... to negotiate?”

“He did,” The Doctor answered. “Ordinarily I’d be suspicious. Your strength so far has been your absolute absence from the city above. I would suspect a ploy to draw you out. But I don’t think this lot have a ploy left. They’re desperate. And we’re ready.”

He had intended to take a small contingent of the strike leaders to the City Palace, but word was getting around quickly and it was clear that EVERYONE wanted to be a part of the negotiation.

“They’ve been invisible for too long,” Marcus said. “It’s time to breathe the air of the city above in full view.”

“Quite right,” The Doctor agreed.

That was how Marie found herself in the front row of a protest march to outrival anything she knew of in the history of revolutionary politics. Behind her, the entire population of the Undercroft, men, women, children, elderly and sick, some of them carried on their pallet beds by their friends, walked along, singing protest songs that would make a crowd of Wolfetone fans weep.

And before they were halfway to the Palace the ranks had been swollen. The police who had been striking since the abortive attack on the Undercroft lined the streets. The office workers, the chefs, the shop managers and electrical technicians had joined the march.

By the time they came into the beautiful plaza in front of the gleaming building where the government sat, virtually everyone in the city who had a job was a part of the strike. Those who lived by independent means were alone in their luxury homes, without even the means to contact the government and complain about the situation – the videophone operators and electricians were on strike.

Now The Doctor took a small contingent into the building. They could still hear the singing as they walked up a grand flight of stairs and into the Cabinet Office.

“This is a representative group from the ITGWU,” The Doctor said, winking at Marie, who recognised historical irony when she heard it. “That’s the Ikerah Transport and General Workers’ Union. I always liked that name for a trade union. It really covers everybody, doesn’t it? And if you dare to look out of your window, you’ll see that EVERYBODY is here. They’re watching. They’re waiting. They’re singing. They’re paying attention to everything that happens in this room.”

“What are your demands?” the First Citizen asked nervously. He had no need to look out of the window even if he had the will to do so.

“An end to air quotas,” Marcus said. “Fair wages for all, decent homes.”

“These demands will be difficult to meet,” the First Citizen tried to say.

“They will NOT,” The Doctor told him. “The air quotas are, in fact, not necessary. I’ve been studying the process by which you produce that commodity. Your method is inefficient. I can improve it so that air can be made so quickly and in such volume it could be supplied to all your citizens for FREE.”

“Free?” the First Citizen looked as if the word was choking him.

“For free. I realise this will mean compensating shareholders in the air company… of which I understand you are a senior executive, but I think you can afford it. You have been overcharging for that commodity for a decade.”

“Really?” Marie was surprised. “You mean even those who could afford it were paying too much? You’re going to be popular when THAT gets around.”

The First Citizen was getting really worried.

“Fair wages shouldn’t be a problem when some of your unfair taxes are also examined,” The Doctor added. “Employers will be able to pay their workers more when they have more to spare. A little Minimum Wage Bill to enforce the change might help things along. As for the housing, it has come to my notice that there are two sparkling new towers of luxury apartments overlooking the plaza out there.”

“Those are grace and favour dwellings for retired government officials....”

“No, those are the first phase of the new social housing project for the essential workers of Ikerah.”

“But those buildings… they include swimming pools, a cinema, gym and spa… hydroponics garden….”

“Excellent,” Marie said on behalf of those who, it was almost certain, were going to be moving in soon.

There was a little more to be arranged, written agreements to be signed, assurances that no backsliding would occur. But essentially the victory was won.

“I will be checking up,” The Doctor warned as he left the fine details of the negotiations to the contingent of waiters, dish washers and street cleaners who made up the new committee of workers’ representatives. “If anyone tries to renege on the deal, they WILL incur my wrath.” He looked at Marcus. “That goes for your side, too. Keep your final sanction for real grievances. No calling a strike every time the tea trolley is late coming around.”

“Tea trolley?” Marcus queried.

“You know what I mean. Don’t let the power you have go to your head.”

One of the demands was achieved by the evening of the day the people of the Undercroft came up into the light. The difference was immediately obvious. The thin air had been replaced by a healthy mix of pure gases that filled the lungs in a single deep breath.

A sound like milk bottle tops clinking was heard all over the city as the people of all classes discarded their quota badges. The street cleaners cheerfully pushed them into heaps with their brooms. Somebody suggested that the Undercroft might be filled in with them. Somebody else suggested melting them down and casting a sculpture commemorating the Great Strike and the Workers’ Movement.

Whatever happened, life would be better for everyone from now on, and though he knew this was a serious breach of that rule about interfering with local politics The Doctor was thoroughly pleased with the part he had played.

“Now sort out Irish Water,” Marie told him as they headed back, this time, to Dublin.

“I’m only a Time Lord, not a miracle worker,” The Doctor replied with feeling.