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

Marie stepped out of the sleet of a grey twilight and into the warm TARDIS console room. It was always lit up like a Christmas tree with mysterious things that blinked all around, but The Doctor had gone all out to be festive and there were strings of lights all around the ceiling and the balcony that ran around the room while tinsel was spiralled around every railing. There was also a pink aluminium Christmas Tree in pride of place with its colour wheel light revolving slowly to create an ever-changing ambience.

“Pink aluminium trees went out in the nineteen-sixties,” Marie pointed out. “They became a by-word for kitsch. Funnily enough, recently, they also became must have collectibles, selling on eBay for silly money.”

“I know,” The Doctor answered with his toothy grin. “That’s why I got this one at Woolworths in 1963.”

“Of course, you did,” Marie conceded. “Nice job.”

“I thought you might like a Christmas themed trip.”

“Why not. It’s the end of term and my first social engagement is drinks with friends on Tuesday night. Most of my friends being teachers I just had mince pies and mulled wine with in the staff room. Until Christmas Eve with my parents there’s nothing much on around here.”

“So, what do you fancy?” The Doctor asked. “A genuine Dickensian experience? Twelve Days of feasting, quaffing and church going in a Tudor castle? A snow-bound cabin on a pioneer prairie, austere but grateful in December, 1945?”

“I suppose Year One in Bethlehem is out of the question?”

“Fixed Point In Time,” The Doctor answered, pronouncing the capital letters grimly. “Absolutely out of bounds. I wouldn’t dare.”

“Fair enough. A genuine Dickensian experience would be Christmas in the workhouses, and I’m not sure about the Tudor Christmas. I don’t think I’m up to all that non-stop feasting and quaffing. I’d be dieting for ten years after.”

“Fair point. Tell you what, there’s a planet I know with a lovely little town called Christmas. At least it used to be lovely. There was a very nasty and protracted war that eventually left the whole planet in ruins, but I’m thinking of the early days when the first human colonists built the town and started to carve out their existence, there. They thrived for a good three thousand years before the bad stuff.”

“A town called Christmas?” Marie smiled. “So, it really is Christmas every day, there?”

“Let’s get that joke out of the way before we set off,” The Doctor suggested. Marie agreed. It wasn’t MUCH of a joke, anyway. “Then go and see what the Wardrobe thinks you should wear.”

The Wardrobe was just a really big room full of clothes, like T.K. Maxx without price tags, but there had to be something a bit psychic about it. The appropriate clothes were always easy to find. She almost regretted not taking up the offer of Tudor feasting. The gowns would have been amazing.

High fashion in Christmas Town was apparently something like the Flemish school of art. Double layered skirts, buttoned up blouses and thick overjackets with fur hats, ankle boots and thick tights suggested it was going to be wintry. But the blouses and skirts were brightly embroidered and she quite liked the look.

The Doctor changed into a brightly embroidered waistcoat under his usual coat as a nod to the Christmas culture before setting the TARDIS down on the edge of a pine forest.

It was dark and it had obviously just stopped snowing. Stars were starting to peek out from thinning clouds.

Unfamiliar stars some hundred million light years from Earth.

The town was nestled in the valley below. Even from a distance it looked festive. The sloping roofs of twenty or so houses were snow-covered. Coloured lights were strung all around the streets and the windows of the houses, as they drew nearer, were lit by lanterns with multicoloured glass.

In the town square the tree was at least twenty five foot high and decorated until hardly a spare pine needle was available to hang a candy cane on.

Beside the tree a small brass band and a choir carrying lanterns on poles above their heads were leading the carols. The townspeople in bright but warm clothes, again, straight from the Flemish school, joined in merrily.

‘Too good to be true’, Marie thought. The Doctor accepted two carol sheets and gave one to her before taking up the tune with a deep baritone voice that held the tune well. Marie joined in as well.

In a break in singing, roast chestnuts and mulled wine were passed around. It was much nicer mulled wine than Marie had drunk in the staff room. Somebody had spent time on the spices and brought it to the boil carefully, not just dropped a prepared bag of spice into a jug and put it in the microwave.

Really, too good to be true, she still thought. It was like a Christmas card come to life. The choirmaster was even fat and ruddy cheeked like he ought to be according to the traditional concept of Christmas perfection.

But it was Christmas Carols in the town square, in the snow, with lanterns. What could be more perfect, more genuinely Christmassy? She sang along with familiar, heart-warming tunes that must have been many hundreds of years older, now, than in her own time. She hadn’t asked The Doctor what century this was, but she guessed it must be long after her own lifetime, when humans had ships that could carry them and all they needed to colonise new planets. The Irish communities on Inisfree had done that, so had the people of Christmas.

Humans had left Earth and travelled all across space to new worlds and then built little towns where they gathered to sing Christmas carols together.

While the music continued, a group of children came through the crowd, first with pieces of wood that fitted together to build a small, crude hut, open on one side, then three-quarter sized painted wooden animals that they set inside what Marie quickly realised was a ‘stable’. Familiar human figures were added, a mother and father and a baby laid in a manger, then visitors of both humble and exalted kind.

Marie looked up at those unfamiliar stars and again felt the wonder that human beings had reached so far into the heavens and remembered to bring with them the whole spirit of Christmas. It gave her a choked up feeling that made her miss a couple of notes of “Away in a Manger’, but she swallowed the feeling down before The Doctor noticed. He might think she was soft or something.

He seemed to be enjoying himself, too, singing carols he knew the words to without even looking at the sheet.

And, after all, he was an alien from a world millions of light years from Earth with a completely different culture.

The carols concluded with a little speech by a man in an old-fashioned frock coat who seemed to be mayor and religious leader of the community in one. He talked about how wonderfully they had all managed in the year since they landed on the planet, on Christmas Day. He pointed to the town hall with an illuminated clock and the houses all around. The homes they had built with their own efforts. He spoke of the great glasshouses beyond the town where food for the future was growing. despite the limitations of the planet, there would be food enough to sustain them all when the supplies they brought with them ran out. It had been hard, but they had reason to be proud of their efforts and to look forward to a future that was filled with hope.

He led the community in a prayer of thanks for all they had to be thankful for and then there was one last carol before the little gathering broke up. The Doctor and Marie began to walk back out of town but they were stopped by a little girl with pigtails sticking out of her knitted woollen hat.


Despite the lack of breaths between words the meaning was clear. Marie looked around to see the fat, ruddy faced choir master waving encouragingly at his daughter.

“MynameisMerkleanddaiscalledCavallandmaisoverthereandsheiscalledHanna,” the child with amazing lung capacity added.

“And this is Marie Reynolds,” The Doctor answered with the sort of smile he reserved for the young and innocent – slightly less shark-like than usual. “I’m Doctor Kilmore. We would be honoured to join your family for supper. Lead the way.”

The girl put a gloved hand in his. He seemed surprised to be thought of as somebody children would hold hands with instinctively, but allowed himself to be drawn towards a gaily festooned house on the southern edge of the town square. Cavall and Hannah followed with a lantern on a pole.

“Doctor Kilmore?” Marie queried. He had obviously got the name from a film. She even knew which film. He shrugged and grinned.

Doctor Kilmore it was for the duration of this visit.

Inside the little house looked, to nobody’s surprise, like the perfect Christmas card scene, complete with an open fire under a huge mantelpiece where a big red and green striped stocking was already hung. There was a smell of food cooking in a kitchen beyond the big living and dining room. Hannah took off her coat and went to get on with preparing the meal, refusing all offers of help. This was the main meal of the year and she was proud to shoulder the whole burden. Merkle sat on a rocking chair by the fire with a rag doll on her hands. Cavall set two more cushioned rockers in the warm zone for The Doctor and Marie before sitting by his daughter.

“We don’t often have visitors,” he admitted. “You have a space craft of your own?”

“We parked outside of town,” The Doctor answered. “We heard about a town called Christmas and had to come to see for ourselves.”

Cavall obviously wasn’t sure their town was worth the effort. To people for whom space travel had been a huge effort, financially and emotionally, the idea of space tourists just dropping in at their leisure was something of a puzzle, too, but he nonetheless welcomed them.

“It is a charming little community,” Marie said. “Hard to believe you’ve only been here a year.”

“Not even that by Earth standards,” Cavall expIained. The solar year is only two hundred days and a day only twenty hours, fifteen of which are night at this time of year. In the summer we had a bit more, but it is too short a growing season. Without the solar energy gatherers and the glasshouses growing food all year we couldn’t live here at all.”

“Why did you come here, then?” Marie asked. “I’m sorry if that seems a rude question, but… well, I’ve seen other colony planets that are less work.”

“We didn’t have enough money between us for one of the Class-M. planets. But any group of twenty families or more willing to move to a Class F. planet was given a secondary supply ship and technology like the solar collectors to help with the environmental shortcomings. It was a way for us to join the colony programme. At first, it did seem dismal. The winter darkness made people unhappy. But even the short days give us plenty of solar power. We have the coloured lights all year round. They cheer everyone up. And, of course, Christmas… the children were the first to realise that a two hundred day year means, eventually, we would have MORE Christmases than back on Earth.”

“I’m all for that,” Marie said. “More Christmas.”

“Me, too,” The Doctor agreed. “I’ve always been a fan of Christmas, one of the human race’s best ideas.”

Merkle laughed at The Doctor’s odd turn of phrase. Her father smiled politely, not quite getting the joke but too nice to say so. Marie asked if all the ‘old’ Christmas traditions from Earth were observed at Christmas in ‘Christmas’ town.

“All those worth bringing,” Cavall answered. “We were all glad to leave the selfishness and greed of Earth life behind. In the three years we spent on the interstellar ship our children learnt not to demand expensive toys and to appreciate the love of family and friends. That tradition is certainly going to continue. After all, we have no toy shops, and we have quite deliberately not established a space port or any kind of trade with other planets. Everything we have from now on will be made or grown here on this planet.”

“Very good,” Marie told him, thinking of the over the top commercialism of ‘Christmas Station’ where every whim was indulged. This seemed more like Christmas was supposed to be – about being thankful for what you had instead of yearning for things you don’t need.

The table was already set for the dinner, but Hannah laid two more places before calling everyone to sit. Cavall led them all in a short prayer of thanks for the bounty before them, then Hannah served a light onion soup that was heavy on paprika. That was the precursor of the main course – turkey and all the usual trimmings.

The turkey was pre-cooked and pressed meat from a large can. It was part of the ration packs the colonists had brought with them from Earth.

But it WAS turkey and it was received gratefully by all the family.

“I don’t know what we shall do next Christmas,” Hannah admitted. “We are getting on well with growing vegetables of all sorts, and we will have wheat for bread next year, but raising poultry or livestock for meat is a long way off. We may have to make do with sweet potato soup next Christmas.”

“And we shall do so gratefully,” Cavall insisted. “Besides, my dear Hannah, your sweet potato soup is sublime.”

Hannah smiled warmly at her husband. Of course, neither of them were complaining, and both were trying not to let the fact that they were desperately worried about the coming year known either to their daughter or their two guests.

Besides, it was Christmas Eve and one difficult year behind them and the difficult one ahead still… well, ahead. For now they enjoyed a festive meal complete with a tinned but nonetheless enjoyable Christmas pudding.

Afterwards, Cavall put up the family Christmas tree, a real one cut from the forest outside the town. Merkle decorated it with ornaments made from coloured ribbons and pieces of carved and painted wood. There were multicoloured lights in a string that wound around the tree. When Cavall switched them on Merkle laughed with joy. Her parents smiled because their daughter was happy.

Merkle went to bed late, because it was Christmas Eve, but well before midnight. The Doctor and Marie talked quietly with her parents, learning more about the solar collectors that made their colonisation possible as well as letting them have Christmas tree lights in their homes and the colourful street decorations that made the darkness bearable.

As midnight approached, The Doctor and Marie were given beds for the night made up in the drawing room. Hannah would not hear of them going out in the dark and cold. Marie was pleased. She wanted to see what Christmas Day in Christmas Town was like.

“At least they have some ‘day’ to speak of at this time,” The Doctor remarked. “When I visited about three thousand years after this the day was about twenty minutes long even in summer. Axial shifts, all that kind of thing. The people kept on going, though. They lit their lanterns and celebrated Christmas with all their hearts.”

“So they never lost the spirit? That’s good. I think I like these people. They remind me of the Innisfree lot but without the religious hang-ups. They still have faith, here, but they don’t seem so oppressed by it.”

“They’re good people,” The Doctor concluded. “I always thought so.”

Marie watched the log fire die down to warm embers as she drifted to sleep feeling as if she had discovered a Christmas joy that she really hadn’t felt for a long time. Not that she hadn’t enjoyed Christmas with family and friends, but she really hadn’t felt the ‘joy’. It was a good feeling. She liked it.

What she was really looking forward to was seeing young Merkle open the wrapped gifts that Hannah had placed under the tree after the little girl was asleep. None of them were a colour TV or a PlayStation or any of the extravagant things the children in her class wanted and which stretched their parents to financial breaking point. She was curious and excited to see what Hannah and Cavall had contrived for their daughter within the non-consumer society they had forged here on this planet.

The family roused themselves just after dawn on the short day. There was porridge for breakfast and hair ribbons fixed in hair before presents could be opened, rituals that served to heighten the hope and expectation. At last Merkle was able to open the packages, and very quickly she had reduced the wrapping to scraps of coloured paper and revealed a hand carved wooden rocking chair for her doll and a rocking horse, again hand-made, for herself. There was a knitted blanket for the toy horse and matching jumpers for Merkle and her doll.

Gifts her two parents had made with their own hands. Marie wondered what her students would think of those sort of offerings. They probably wouldn’t understand. They probably couldn’t imagine that in the far future things had turned full circle and home-made gifts made with love made a child more happier than expensive consumer goods that had been advertised to death on TV.

She wondered for a few minutes if she was being over-sentimental and over-simplifying. Didn’t the kids who got PlayStations appreciate them and their parents who bought them?

Maybe they did, but she was certain that Merkle was a hundred times more appreciative of her gifts and would treasure them for longer.

After presents, it was time to wrap up warm and venture out to the town square again. The people of Christmas gathered in the weak but welcome winter sunshine for a formal Christmas Day church service. There were more carols, of course, with prayers and a short sermon on the theme of thankfulness by the Revered Mayor Hanvik.

After the last carol there was something of a winter picnic lunch with contributions from each family and communal games and frivolity. Marie was astonished to see The Doctor winning a ‘dads and uncles egg and spoon race’, while she came second in a ‘ladies fifty metres dash’.

Games were followed by dancing once the band had got its second wind. The Doctor dancing a polka with Hannah was a sight to treasure. Marie herself was drawn into the dance by a young man and, though she really didn’t know the steps, enjoyed herself thoroughly.

It got dark again all too soon. That was when The Doctor and Marie parted company with the people of Christmas. They were both pleasantly surprised to be given gifts. They opened them in the TARDIS and wrapped hand knitted scarves around their necks.

“That was enjoyable,” Marie said. “I like Christmas town.”

“So do I,” The Doctor agreed. “And I would….”

He stopped midsentence and checked some information on the TARDIS database.

“I shouldn’t do this. It goes against all the rules, but I had to know….”

PKnow what?” Marie asked. “You said they had three thousand years of peace.”

Their second year IS going to be very hard,” he said. “The crops won’t yield as much as they hoped. The winter will be very frugal.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” Marie said. “Can we help?”

“No,” The Doctor answered. “At least, we could, obviously. But if we did, we’d be handing them charity, destroying the independence that brought them to Christmas town. It would change them. They will just have to get through the lean years by themselves.”

“That’s called laissez-faire politics and its what led to the worst effects of the Irish Famine,” Marie told him.

“Yes, it is, but the situation isn’t so bad as that in Christmas. They will have food, just not very exciting food and not as much of it as hopes. The crops WILL slowly improve with each successive year. They’ll raise livestock, too, and thrive despite the inevitable shortcomings of an F-Class planet. They will do it without charity and be proud and strong for enduring the hard times. I promise you, it will be all right in... maybe five years. Come back then and there will be turkey dinners for all.”

Marie wasn’t quite convinced.

“All right,” The Doctor told her. “Charity is out. But we CAN give them a present – in return for these lovely scarves. The question is, can you manage another big dinner so soon after the last one?”

“Why? What have you got in mind?” Marie asked.

The Doctor grinned and reached into his pocket. After a disconcerting length of time he found a store card registered to ‘The Doctor’.

“Epsilon Psi Intergalactic Cash and Carry?”

He grinned again and set the co-ordinates.

Two hundred Trenzalore days later, the people of Christmas Town were, once again, gathered on the town square for their Christmas Eve carols. The crib was dressed. Mayor Hanvik had given a little inspiring speech about how they would all, together, as a community, have strength in adversity. The faces that looked back at him were doing their best to be strong, and to enjoy the Christmas season despite their problems, but doubt was in too many eyes. Even some of the children looked worried.

They sang the last carol. But before the end of the third verse singers had begun to drop away. Even the choir came to a ragged end as they looked around, wondering where a warm, tantalising smell of cooked meat was coming from.

They were surprised to see a long trestle table set in front of a curious blue box. The Doctor and Marie were laying out cooked turkeys on the table. At least two dozen of them.

“Hello!” The Doctor called out. “Here’s your Christmas presents from us – a turkey for every household.”

“Cooking them all in one TARDIS kitchen was an effort,” Marie added but not so anyone could hear. The Doctor had used a stasis field to ensure every turkey stayed freshly cooked.

A few people might have suspected ‘charity’, but the smell of the hot meat was too much. Each family came to claim a turkey to crown the mostly vegetarian feast they had prepared for themselves.

“Doctor Kilmore,” Mayor Hanvik said as he claimed a plump bird for his own household. “You may have saved Christmas – the town and the season. Many people were talking of leaving, but your gift has given them reason to be optimistic. I believe we will make it after all.”

“My pleasure,” The Doctor assured him. Then he turned his smile on young Merkle, a year older and an inch taller, inviting them to dinner, this time with spaces between words.

Of course, they accepted. Of course, they stayed overnight and saw Merkle receive a hand made sled and more dolls’ furniture for Christmas presents. Later, The Doctor danced a Christmas polka again before they left for the stars once more

“We did good,” Marie confirmed. “Nobody really wants sweet potato soup for Christmas dinner, even a good sweet potato soup.”

“I’ve placed advanced orders,” The Doctor said. “There will be frozen turkeys delivered every Christmas for the next five years. By then, they will be a fully established community and they will be able to provide for themselves. After that. I’ll just send selection boxes for the kids.”

Marie wasn’t sure of the last part was a joke or not, but she was sure The Doctor meant the first part.

“You want to look after them. That planet is special to you.”

“That planet looked after me. Long story. I’ll tell you some time. Meanwhile, are you sure you don’t fancy the Tudor Twelve Days of Christmas? We can still do that. The gowns are waiting to be worn.”

“You talked me into it,” Marie answered. “I’ll diet in January.