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

“I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at planets from space,” Amy said as she stood at the open TARDIS door and looked down on an especially pretty one with oceans of pinkish-blue-green and landmasses of ochre streaked with pearl white and pale green. By her side, Rory nodded in agreement. He couldn’t think of words to describe what he was looking at.

“Don’t you want to come and look at it, Doctor?” he asked. “It really is something special.”

“I’m running some scans on the planet,” The Doctor answered. “Not to curb your enthusiasm, either of you, but sometimes what looks beautiful from this distance can be deadly close up.”

“From a distance, the world looks blue and green...” Amy sang. “I never got what that song meant until I looked at Earth from outside the atmosphere. Is there something wrong with this planet?”

“Not now,” The Doctor assured her. “It looks like its recovering very nicely, now. A thousand years before this, it was a different story. Solar flares boiled the oceans and scorched the continents. But I’m very pleased to see it, now. The polar ice caps are stabilised. The seas are teaming with life. That pinkish tinge is an abundance of a particular type of plankton that is the first link in a food chain. The bio-engineers of Opa II ensured it was fully established before introducing more sophisticated marine life back into the waters. They’ve almost finished re-establishing animal life on dry land, too.”

“Two by two?” Rory asked. “What did they do? Keep some kind of ark?”

“Yes,” The Doctor replied. “Only it wasn’t measured in cubits. Try three hundred miles long.”

The TARDIS slowly revolved away from the planet and Amy and Rory both gasped in surprise as they saw the space ships, or space stations, space something, anyway, that hung in orbit. They were shaped like three huge copper coloured footballs. They were constructed without any obvious joins. The surface was probably shiny once but had been brushed and scratched by millennia of space dust to a soft matt finish that interior decorators would die for.

“Two of them are de-activated now. They held all the plant and animal life for re-introduction to the planet. You can see that the third one is still operational.

They could see that by the fact that it was slowly revolving. The others hung motionless.

“That creates artificial gravity, I suppose,” Rory guessed. “Not so that the people get a change of scenery?”

“Since the people are in suspended animation, certainly not,” The Doctor replied. “Funny thing is, the planet is ready for repopulation, but they don’t seem to have made a start. I’m wondering what the problem is, and whether there is anything I can do to help.”

“He wants a good nosy round,” Amy translated. Rory laughed softly. But he was curious, himself and more than happy to see The Doctor reach for the door mechanism before dematerialising the TARDIS.

It re-materialised moments later aboard the space ark as they decided to call it. On the big round viewscreen a clean white corridor stretched. It looked all right. But The Doctor looked at the environmental scanner and frowned.

“I’m picking up thousands of organic lifesigns, hundreds of thousands, as I expected. All of them still in deep cryogenic sleep. But also a number of non-organic lifesigns. I think they must have robots in control while they’re asleep. The trouble is, that means there’s no air out there. Robots don’t need it, of course. But we do.”

“So... we’ll have to wear space suits to explore?” Rory asked.

“Not a fully pressurised suit,” The Doctor replied moving around to the section of the console he called ‘Fabrication.’ He pressed a large blue button and waited as strange noises something like a vending machine getting ready to dispense cold drinks emanated from it. He looked at Rory and grinned. “You can wear one if you REALLY want to, but there’s no need. The gravity and atmospheric pressure are fine. It’s just that the oxygen will have depleted over the centuries.”

A panel opened and The Doctor took out what looked like a toy space helmet with no glass in the visor panel at all. He passed it to Amy and took out a second one for Rory and one for himself. The two humans viewed them curiously.

“You’re probably wondering why there’s no glass,” The Doctor said.

“Never crossed my mind,” Rory lied.

“There’s a clever little membrane inside the helmet,” he said. “It reads the type of air the wearer needs to breathe and then creates the elements of it from whatever atmosphere there is around it. Or if the wearer is in space it draws in space dust, whatever there is, and breaks down the molecules to create new base elements. A containment field prevents the air from getting away before you breathe it.”

He put his own helmet on. Rory suppressed a giggle. Amy didn’t even try. She laughed out loud.

They put their own helmets on. The Doctor laughed at them. Then he bounded to the door. They turned and followed, grabbing their coats from the rack as they passed.

The coats were needed. The thin atmosphere meant very little warmth. The Doctor didn’t really notice. Amy and Rory buttoned up tightly and ran to catch up with The Doctor. He walked on for several hundred yards noting that the corridor curved slightly and surmising that this corridor was just inside the double hull of the Ark.

“And there’s one of the non-organic lifeforms,” The Doctor said. All three of them stood back against the outer wall as a blue-green box with tank-style tracks and robotic arms whirred along. It swerved slightly as it passed them as if a sensor told it there was a possible obstacle and then stopped a few yards further along the corridor. One of the robotic arms extended upwards. It opened a panel in the ceiling and removed something. A second arm put something in its place before it closed the panel again. The arms retracted and the robot whirred away. It disappeared around the curve of the corridor.

Rory and Amy looked up at the ceiling and noticed that the corridor was illuminated by soft lights behind a line of opaque panels.

“How many robots does it take to change a light bulb?” Rory asked.

“Very efficient,” The Doctor noted. “There must be a central control centre where any small fault like that is noted and a robot assigned to deal with it.”

“They must have brought a lot of spare light bulbs on board,” Amy pointed out. “If they’ve been doing that for centuries.”

“Those will be Genus III Ultra Long Life bulbs,” The Doctor explained. “Made by the Iorrans of Pan-Iorr in the Gamma Quadrant. If one of their lightbulbs fails before 500 years service they will give a full refund.”

“He makes this stuff up, I reckon,” Rory told Amy as they watched The Doctor stop by one of the bulkhead doors set into the inside wall of the corridor. He examined it for obvious things like doorknobs or handles then used the sonic screwdriver to open it. They stepped into another corridor much like the one they left. The door silently closed behind them and sealed.

“We parked in a section of utility corridor,” he said. “Notice the sensors along the walls about knee high. The service robots would trigger those and the doors would open for them. But our knees don’t have access codes so I have to open the doors manually.”

“Why so many of them?” Rory asked when The Doctor opened another door a few metres down the corridor and they passed into what was obviously a third circular corridor inside the other two – concentric rings around the core of the Ark.

“It’s like the Titanic,” Amy suggested. “I mean, I don’t mean it’s going to sink. But it was designed with watertight compartments. So if one was damaged...”

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “Spot on, Pond. This space station is a honeycomb of separate airtight sections so that a hull breach in one section doesn’t jeopardise the whole. Too much was at stake when they built this station. The future of the Opan race.”

“The people who lived on the planet?” Rory guessed.

“Did they put the whole population in here?” Amy asked. “Or did they just pick all the clever people or the rich ones and leave the rest to die? I’ve seen films... you know... like Deep Impact where the lucky ones got to go into these deep caves and everyone else...”

Amy looked at The Doctor. His expression was hard to gauge.

“Was that a stupid thing to say?” she asked.

“No, it was a very good question,” he assured her. “But you needn’t worry. The whole Opan people are here. All one and a half billion of them.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” Amy replied.

“So am I,” Rory added, not to be outdone. “But, in that case, how did they fit that many in here? I mean, this station is HUGE. But it’s not as big as the planet. How could they possibly...”

The Doctor smiled softly as he looked at a bigger door than the ones they had passed through before. He used the sonic screwdriver again and it opened without any trouble. They stepped forward into something that they would have described as taking their breaths away if they weren’t wearing The Doctor’s fantastic air supplying helmets.

It was like being on the inside of a football, if the inside of a football was lit with soft blue-white light and criss-crossed in every direction – left, right, up, down and sideways, with narrow walkways that seemed to be made of spun glass.

“Multi-gravity,” The Doctor said as he stepped onto a walkway that looked as if it was at a 60 degree angle from the floor and appeared to walk quite normally. Rory and Amy gripped hands nervously as they joined him and looked back to see that the floor they had been on was a wall.

Then they looked around at the glass oblongs that were stacked high on every side of the walkways. They seemed to be floating without any obvious support and they contained bodies.

The adult bodies were mostly about two foot long and they were deep green, hairless, with pointed ears, almond shaped eyes, and thin bodies dressed in a sort of all in one bodysuit. There seemed to be the usual distinction between male and female. In most of the oblongs there were what was obviously family groups, at least one male and female and smaller bodies of children.

“They’re... alive?” Rory ventured. “Doctor, you said suspended animation... that means they’re alive?”

“Their lives were preserved in a single moment, never aging, never changing,” The Doctor replied. “It’s amazing technology. Far better than cryogenic freezing where the body still ages very slowly. My people used to have a cryogenic prison. They put the absolute worst criminals of the universe in it, and when scientists pointed out that they could remember every minute of the thousands of years they spent as a frozen cube, nobody minded very much. But I wouldn’t wish that on innocent people.”

“I didn’t expect them to be so small,” Amy said.

“Same here,” Rory added. The Doctor said nothing.

“Ok, that was us making assumptions, wasn’t it?” Amy said. “We assumed that ‘people’ would be... well... Human... same shape and colour as us, that sort of thing. And the same size.”

The Doctor still said nothing.

“Oh... but... hang on.” Rory stopped and looked around thoughtfully. “The corridors we walked through... and the doors... they were all our size. This ship was built to the proportions we consider ‘normal’. If these little guys were walking around out there they’d be lost.”

“He’s not telling us something,” Amy said. “Doctor, you’re waiting for us to figure it out for ourselves, aren’t you?”

“Well, it’s not hard,” Rory insisted. “Look at the TARDIS. Bigger on the inside. I mean... when we’re in there... are we condensed down really small to fit inside it? I think something like that is going on in this chamber. When they wake up and come out of here they’ll be normal sized.”

The Doctor smiled and nodded.

“Well done, both of you. I do prefer it when people use their own brains about things like this instead of waiting for me to explain it to them. Yes, there’s a bit of relative dimensional technology here, as well. Don’t try to work out why we’re not affected by it. It’s extremely complicated. I did the theory of this stuff in my senior year at school and I wanted to just eat the text books. Seeing a practical application of it is much better. Especially one as fantastic as this.”

“But is there anything obviously wrong here?” Amy asked. “You said they ought to have been waking up by now.”

“Yes, I did,” The Doctor said. “Come on. There will be a control centre somewhere.”

They walked along the walkway until they came to a place where it met with one that was perpendicular to it. Rory and Amy waited for The Doctor to step forward onto it before they did. They still found that just a bit too unnerving.

They were getting used to it by the time they had walked something like a mile or more of the walkways. They were both starting to wonder if it was possible to get BORED with a place this amazing.

“Stop complaining,” The Doctor said even though neither of them HAD complained out loud. “You’ve only walked a mile but we’ve crossed fifteen miles of floor. The distances are relative, too.”

They had reached something that looked like a glass cube with an office inside. Again, the sonic screwdriver proved useful as a door handle. They stepped inside.

“You know, I’m surprised none of the robot things have tried to stop us by now, claiming we’re unauthorised personnel or something,” Rory said. “We’ve just walked right into the central control centre unchallenged.”

“I don’t think the Opans ever anticipated any hostile intent,” The Doctor replied. “I’m afraid that was a little naïve of them. There are a lot of things out there that would take pleasure in interfering with their plans. But they seem to have been lucky, so far. Sontarans haven’t commandeered their planet for a nursery-garrison. Cybermen haven’t tried to upgrade them. Their technology hasn’t been cherry picked by some passing bunch of space pirates. Being utterly inoffensive to any other species in the universe has its merits if they ignore you and pass you by. I wish they’d do that with Earth. The times I’ve had to send some alien menace on its way...”

He carried on talking about Zygons, Daleks, Slitheen, Ice Warriors and all sorts of odd things. Rory and Amy stopped paying attention to what he was saying and looked at what he was doing with the computers.

“Ah... interesting,” he said after a while. “Very interesting.”

“What is?” his two Human companions asked in unison.

“They ARE suspended in a single second of their lives. Every one of them. But there is a virtual reality programme running, here. It’s connected to all of the suspension cells. All one and a half billion souls are DREAMING about living in a virtual world.”

“Wow,” Rory and Amy said at once. “Hey... wow. You mean... like...”

“The Matrix,” Rory said. The Doctor frowned. “What... what did I say?”

“Oh, nothing,” The Doctor assured him. “Just a bit of a copyright infringement issue my people had with the makers of those films. But... essentially.... yes. There’s a whole world within these servers and the people out there are living in it, while their physical bodies remain unchanged for a millennia.”

“Is it a nice world?” Amy asked. “Are they having a good time?”

The Doctor flipped a switch and a viewscreen flickered into life. Amy and Rory stepped closer and watched an idyllic scene on a tropical beach at sunset. A group of Opans were enjoying a picnic around a camp fire. They waved to another family group in a yacht moored beyond the surf.

The Doctor turned a dial and the scene changed. This time there was a wide meadow with pink and blue flowers among tall grass. Two young Opans walked hand in hand. There was no doubt what was on their minds. Amy and Rory grasped hands and smiled at each other as they watched the two deep green people. There were some things that were universal.

“Let’s give them a little privacy,” The Doctor said. “They may have more than just hand holding on their minds.” He turned the dial again and they watched a whole group of Opan families enjoying a wide open park. There were kites flying and a barbecue for anyone who was hungry. A barrel of something golden and frothy was available to those who were thirsty. There might have been music from a band playing on a bandstand, but there was no sound. Amy felt as if there ought to have been. It looked nice there. She longed to be a part of that festival of outdoor fun.

“You could have a go,” The Doctor told her. She was never surprised any more when it seemed as if he knew what she was thinking. It was just one of those things about The Doctor that made him so amazing to be with.


“Both of you, if you like. Fancy a walk hand in hand in a summer meadow like those two young lovers?”

“I fancy the beach,” Rory said. “That looked really nice.”

Amy looked at Rory. Obviously there was a choice to be made. The party in the park or sunset on a tropical beach.

“The beach,” she decided, even though she had liked the idea of kite flying and barbecues.

“Come over here,” The Doctor told them both. He pressed a large button and an oblong glass case slid out of a panel. It was large enough for two people to lie together.

“We won’t get shrunk and put into suspended animation, will we?” Amy asked. Rory looked worried about that, too.

“No,” The Doctor assured her. I’ve taken both those functions offline. Just lie down inside the cell. You’ll go to sleep and wake in the virtual world.”

They looked at each other and clasped hands nervously before climbing into the glass case. The Doctor took off their helmets and closed the lid on them. They saw him through the glass give them a thumbs up and a wide grin.

“Do you ever think that we trust him too much?” Rory asked as he heard a soft hiss and smelt an anaesthetic gas.

“We’d trust him to the end of the universe,” Amy replied. “After all, we have done.”

“Yeah,” Rory agreed before they both fell asleep.

They were still holding hands when they woke. They were lying on a tropical beach and it was just past dawn. The sun was casting warm, slanted light through the trees that lined the high water mark. The sky was a perfect blue-pink.

They sat up and then stood. They looked at each other.

“Wow!” they both said together.

“We’re Opans.”

“It’s not The Matrix, it’s Avatar!” Amy exclaimed as she looked at Rory with a deep green face, almond shaped eyes that had no whites, only an even deeper shade of green and pointed ears. She looked down at their hands and knew she was the same. “So... I’m not ginger for the first time in my entire life!”

“You’re still the most gorgeous girl I know,” Rory told her.

“I love you, Rory Williams,” she answered. “Do you think we can eat around here? It looks like it’s breakfast time.”

“Let’s take a walk. Maybe there’s a beach café?”

They were barefoot and the sand beneath their feet felt soft and comfortable. It was pleasant walking along. They were just hungry enough to anticipate a meal without the need for food spoiling the walk. And they weren’t walking long enough to get that way before they found the very place they wanted.

“I don’t think it’s open,” Amy said as she viewed the tables and chairs under the shade of potted palm trees. There was a bar with a striped canopy over it but nobody serving.

“I don’t think it needs to be,” Rory answered. The tables were all laid out with an outdoor breakfast of bread rolls and butter, fruit and coconut shaped mugs full of a cool, milky drink. “This is our dream world. We can just help ourselves.

They picked a table and began to eat while the sun rose higher and the tide rolled slowly our revealing more of the white sand.

“I’d like to share it with somebody, though,” Amy said. “Some of those Opans. Can we have a group dream, do you think?”

That question was answered not long after when two families of Opans and a young couple like themselves came along and sat to eat at the other tables. The couple introduced themselves as Zari and Harri. The families were Gelli and Luci with their daughter, Mari and Lali and Beri with their son and daughter, Dixi and Anni.

“We have not seen you here before, Rori and Ami,” said Gelli. “But you are most welcome, of course. It is always good to spend the perfect day with new friends.”

“The perfect day?” Rory queried, smiling at the way the ‘i’ had replaced the ‘y’ in their two names even when they were spoken.

“Of course. We’ve visited this perfect day hundreds of times. Mari loves the beach options. This one is particularly pleasant.”

“It is, very pleasant,” Rory agreed. “So... what happens after breakfast?”

“Parasailing,” Mari told them. She was a slender girl of about sixteen if Human measurements counted in any way, and she said that with enthusiasm. The boy, Dixi, from the other family unit, shared her eagerness.

When Amy saw them getting into the harnesses and setting out in boats she was ready to share it, too. She watched as they began to rise up into the air, buoyed by their parachutes and held firmly by ropes that were attached to the boats. She kissed Rory on the cheek and ran to a waiting boat.

“You know,” Rory called out to her. “This might be virtual reality, but you can still get hurt. Remember, if you die in The Matrix you die in the real world.”

“Die?” said the young Opan operating the boat. “Nobody dies here. Nobody ever dies.”

Of course, they don’t, Rory thought as he watched Amy set off in the boat. She had never done parasailing in her life, but she looked like an expert as she rose up into the air, legs dangling but perfectly controlled. He was full sure he would be squirming about and panicking.

At least the Human Rory would be. But he wasn’t that Rory right now. He was Rori, an Opan. He looked about and saw the tools of another seaside hobby. He waved to Ami and then ran to grab a surfboard and dive into the water.

He had never surfed in his life. It wasn’t a hobby he had ever hankered after before. The closest he had ever come to it, apart from on TV, was when he went with his dad to watch the Severn Bore one early morning a few years ago. He thought the wet-suited people who lay on boards waiting for the wave to reach them were slightly mad.

But for a whole morning he rode the waves like an extra from a Baywatch episode, enjoying himself immensely. Amy stayed up at the maximum parasailing height for nearly as long. Both only came back to the sands when it was lunchtime.

“That was fantastic,” Amy enthused as she and Rory found their table under the palm trees. Lunch was already served. It was fresh lobster salad with a whole basket of exotic fruit for afters. They drank long drinks with umbrellas in them with their food. Nobody served them. They were just there when they wanted them.

“Well, whose dream would it be to wait tables?” Rory pointed out. “It’s meant to be a perfect day for everyone. So everything we want is here.”

“I want to sunbathe without being covered in an inch of sunblock because I’ve got celtic skin and turn into that lobster if I’m exposed for two seconds,” Amy said.

“You’re already deep blue, I expect that’s not a problem, here. And I’m sure the drinks with umbrellas won’t run out.”

“What about you?” Amy asked him.

“I’m going to try water skiing,” he answered with a grin. “I always fancied that.”

Amy brought a bright orange and pink drink full of chunks of fruit to a patch of dry sand where a big towel was already laid out. She lay down and sipped her drink and watched the various beach pursuits the other Opans were enjoying. Mari and Dixi seemed to be enjoying each other’s company in the way sixteen year olds so often did. Their parents didn’t seem to mind too much. Amy thought back to when she and Rory were sixteen and had just graduated from being friends who happened to be a boy and girl to boyfriend and girlfriend. It was a nice time. If she ever picked a perfect day from her life, it would be one day in that summer when school was over and their lives were ahead of them and they spent hours in and around the old Leadworth Castle, and it was just the two of them, no matter how many other people happened to be there at the time. Some people might think it was unimaginative of them, that they both should have had higher ambitions than getting married and carrying on living in Leadworth, but some people ought to mind their own business.

It was a pleasant afternoon with unlimited supply of fruit drinks. Rory returned from his water skiing about five o’clock when the sun was starting to dip towards the horizon. A bonfire of brushwood from the trees was built on the sands. In other words, one appeared conveniently just when it was reaching the point where a bonfire would be a lovely idea. The bar now had a working barbecue with a delicious smell of spiced and garnished meat coming from it. Music was playing, too. As the sun dropped even lower and the sky turned beautiful shades of red, orange, brown and pink, everyone gathered to light the fire. There was hot food and cool salads, more drinks, some of them alcoholic, some just sweet and fruity. There was dancing on the sands, including a congo line that went around and around.

The sun went down and the sky darkened. Stars came out. A silver-pink moon rose. When people tired of dancing they sat in the firelight serenely. Rory and Amy sat together. Mari and Dixi did, too. The parents looked content. It was a nice way to end a fantastic day.

“Can we do this perfect day again tomorrow?” Mari asked her mother. “I want to do it again.”

“I suppose we can, once more, anyway,” Luci answered. “Though your father and I should get to choose sometimes, you know.”

Mari was happy to be granted one more day, anyway. She and Dixi grasped hands and went off for a walk in the surf. Amy thought that looked a nice thing to do, but she was too comfortable sitting snuggled up to Rory by the fire. She closed her eyes and sighed happily and a little sleepily.

“Hey, come on, sleepyhead, wake up,” The Doctor’s voice called. She felt him putting the strange space helmet back over her head. She opened her eyes and saw that Rory was already climbing out of the glass oblong with his headgear already in place.

“Wow, that was amazing,” she said. “I wish we could do it again. The others were all planning to. I wonder if they’ll miss us?”

“They won’t,” The Doctor told her. They’ll be too busy enjoying themselves all over again. Did either of you do classical literature at school?”

That seemed like such a non sequitor that they hardly knew how to reply to it.

“Most weary seem'd the sea, weary the oar, Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.

Then some one said, "We will return no more";

And all at once they sang, "Our island home

Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam.”

Rory and Amy still looked blank.

“It’s from Alfred Lord Tennyson, favourite poet of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. Ask me about her, some time. The poem is called The Lotus Eaters. It is based on one incident in Homer’s homeward journey from the Trojan Wars – ask me about that, sometime, too, by the way. The sailors, still with hundreds of miles to go land on an island where the people do nothing all day but eat the fruit of the lotus plant. When the sailors eat the lotus fruits, they, too, want to do nothing but laze around enjoying themselves and the prospect of months, years, of hard sailing in all weathers to reach their home doesn’t appeal to them.”

Rory and Amy waited for him to explain what any of that had to do with the Opans.

“Oh!” Amy exclaimed as the penny dropped. “Oh, that’s why they haven’t started colonising the planet down below. They’re too comfortable in their dream lives where everything is perfect.”

“Where everything is provided and nothing goes wrong,” Rory added. “All the food is delicious. Every wave is a good one. They didn’t even need life guards on the beach because nobody has accidents.”

“It wouldn’t be a perfect day if they did,” Amy pointed out.

“It can’t go on,” The Doctor said. “They’ve been living that way for a thousand years. But it’s time they all came back to reality.”

“Do they have to?” Rory asked. “They’re fine. They’re happy.”

“Yes,” Amy said. “Yes, they must. Because... Oh, don’t you see. Mari and Dixi... they’re obviously mad for each other. But they’ve been sixteen forever, living in days like that. They can never grow up, get married, have kids of their own. I mean... I remember loads of good days when we were like them, down by the castle. But I’m glad we moved on from that. Now I have my wedding day as another perfect day to remember. But Mari will never have one unless...”

“Well, what can you do about it?” Rory asked The Doctor.

“I have to be cruel to be kind,” he answered. “I have to make these perfect days less perfect. When they realise the party is over, they’ll start to wake up. Which reminds me... that panel behind you. That’s the environmental control. Rory, set it to restore the oxygen levels throughout the station, starting with the suspended animation chamber and this room.”

Rory was about to ask how he was supposed to do that, but when he looked at the controls, he felt it was obvious.

“You spent a day as an Opan,” The Doctor reminded him. “You’ve got some residual memories of their technological levels. They’re brilliant engineers and scientists when they’re not on permanent holiday. It won’t take them long to build new towns and cities, roads and air ports, communications systems. All the tools and materials for the new infrastructure are already down on the planet waiting for them.”

Rory set to work restoring the environment. Amy assisted The Doctor at the virtual reality controls. She saw the same families on the beach at dawn, ready to spend the day in leisurely pursuits.

Then she saw what The Doctor meant by being cruel to be kind. He changed the programme so that the perfect day became less than perfect. First, it rained. Then a wind whipped the gentle tide into a ferocious iron grey swell that crashed down onto the beach. The lotus-eating family ran for the cover of the palm trees and found it was nowhere near enough cover, and even worse, there was no food there. They ran for the treeline and sheltered there, instead, hugging each other and shivering unhappily, asking each other what was wrong. They watched as the leisure boats all came into shore and their crews all ran for the same cover. They cried as a thunderstorm darkened the skies and the rain came down harder and harder. Cold, wet, hungry, it was far from a perfect day.

“Oh, don’t do anything to hurt them, will you, Doctor,” Amy told him.

“I won’t,” he replied. “I promise. I just need them to wake up, literally and figuratively, to reality.”

A row of LED lights blinked on the panel in front of him.

“Ahaha!” he said. Then he turned and pointed. Outside, there was movement. Several of the glass oblongs containing sleeping Opans were rising out of the pack and drifting slowly towards the platform where the control room was. Amy noticed that they seemed to be growing as they came closer. By the time they stopped they were big enough to contain full grown Opans. Amy followed The Doctor out and recognised the two families they had been on the beach with, as well as the four men who had the boats. They shared an oblong and seemed to be brothers.

The Doctor opened the lids and smiled reassuringly at the Opans as they opened their eyes and looked up at him in astonishment.

“Hello, and welcome to the rest of your lives,” he said. “Sit still for a minute. You’re bound to feel a bit woozy. Then we’ll get on with it.”

“Get on with what?” asked the man called Harri. “How come we’re awake? Is it time?”

“It’s more than time,” The Doctor replied. “Come on, now. Get up slowly. Step through into the control room.”

He was gentle with them, helping them to stand up and walk into the glass room. He showed them where to stand on a sort of long platform. He told Rory and Amy to stand on it, too, then he programmed the computer beside it and jumped on as well.

“Everyone hug,” he said. “Never mind if you know each other or not. Transmats are vile. They can make your head ache for days. If you stay close to another living body it makes it easier.”

Rory and Amy hugged each other. Mari and Dixi hugged. Their parents hugged. The Doctor hugged Dixi’s little sister. The four brothers hugged each other, looking a little bit embarrassed about doing so.

There was a brief bright light and then everyone was standing on a long platform by the treeline above an idyllic beach. It looked just like the place where they had all spent that perfect day apart from the three huge metal freight containers that sat on the dry sand above high water mark.

“This is the paradise you all enjoyed so much,” The Doctor told him. “Except this time it’s real, and days follow one after the other, and for it to be idyllic you have to work. Day one, you need to get the materials out of those containers to start building shelter and boats. You need to think about food, too. There are no beach cafés here, at least not yet. Fruit has to be picked from the trees. Lobsters have to be caught. You can’t roast wild boars over a fire until you hunt down the boar and gather the firewood.”

The Opans looked at each other.

“But we could have stayed asleep and all of that would be there waiting for us,” said one of the brothers. “We wouldn’t have to work for it.”

“We want to go back,” said one of the others, stepping towards the transmat platform.

“You can do that, if you want,” The Doctor said. “But what is the use of living a thousand years in a dream?”

“We’ll never get old,” a third brother said. All four of them were young, strong, handsome as bald, green men with pointy ears went. That was an important point for them.

“That’s a reason to stay,” Mali and Dixi both said, holding hands firmly. Their four parents looked at them and nodded. They understood. The four brothers looked around again at the imperfect paradise and slowly they did, too.

They set to work, all of them, men, women and children, Rory and Amy and The Doctor, too. They opened up the containers and found the materials to construct very nice little houses with solar panels in the roofs to provide power. They built them in a clearing beyond the trees, but with an easy path to the beach. They built boats, too. Not for parasailing or water skiing, but for going out and laying lobster pots and casting lines to catch fish. By the time the sun went down on the first day, they cooked their own meal over a fire. Everyone was happy. They had worked hard. They were tired. They had another day’s hard work to look forward to tomorrow. And they were content.

“Look,” said one of the brothers to The Doctor as they drank coconut milk fresh from the husks picked from the trees. “I was a computer engineer before the sleep. I should go back and help wake the others. I can bring back the ones with the technological skills first, and speed up the process.”

“Take your time,” The Doctor said. “Spend a bit more time building houses and boats, fishing and hunting boar, having barbecues on your beach. When you’re ready you can go get the others and show them how to get started with their new lives.”

“We’re going to go now, aren’t we?” Amy said. She saw the look in The Doctor’s eyes. It was a look of somebody with the satisfaction of a job well done.

“We’ve no reason to stay,” he answered. “We’ll only become lotus eaters ourselves if we get used to this kind of life.”

He stood up. Rory and Amy stood, too. They walked to the platform. The Doctor pressed a button and then hugged both of them as the light enfolded them.

“Tell you what,” The Doctor said as he stepped off the platform and strode towards the door. “How about we do that trip to Rio I promised ages ago. They do great drinks with umbrellas in them down on Copa Cabana beach.”

“Fine by us,” Amy replied. “ But I’m not changing until I see Brazilian sunshine on the TARDIS scanner this time. And I’m holding you to those drinks with umbrellas.”

“I’d like to go water skiing,” Rory said.