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

Amy Pond woke up and cried, because it was another morning that she woke up to see a grey ceiling in a grey room with windows made of glass embedded with steel mesh that she couldn’t see through and couldn’t smash even if she wanted to.

Another day in Rookmoor Mental Institute.

She stopped crying after a while, because there was no point. Nobody paid any attention to tears, here. Or if they did they just put it down to depression and prescribed another pill to go with the cocktail she was already taking four times every day.

Soon, one of the nurses would bring breakfast, soft food that could be eaten with a plastic spoon. Then she would shower and put on a clean nightdress, gown and slippers and go to the recreation room until it was time for her session with Doctor Oakley.

The same routine every day for a year.

The same questions, probing her mind, seeking to get to the bottom of her delusions.

When they did, when she was well, she could go home. But she had almost forgotten what home was like.

Unless ‘home’ was the TARDIS.

No matter how many drugs they gave her, no matter how much Doctor Oakley talked about rejecting the delusions and facing reality, the delusion of the TARDIS seemed more real to her. Even though she had been a patient at the Institute for a year, the memories of being on the TARDIS were more fresh, more vibrant, more real, than the reality she lived in.

More real than her real life, living with her mum and dad in Leadworth, working as a kissogram, feeling as if there was still something missing from her life.

In the TARDIS she had Rory.

In real life, he had moved away, having got a better job offer from Gloucester Royal Infirmary. He had promised to keep in touch, and at first he did, but gradually he stopped visiting at the weekend, and stopped phoning or texting.

Doctor Oakley said that was why she had fallen into this delusion, because she couldn’t cope with being rejected.

That was why she had constructed such a fantasy life where she and Rory were married and they both travelled with The Doctor.

The Doctor.

He had been her fantasy friend when she was a little girl - The Raggedy Doctor in his magic police box who promised to take her away from it all. When she was very young, her parents had been amused. They thought the drawings and the models she made showed imagination and creativity. But after a while they started to worry, because having an imaginary friend was all very well when you’re eight, but when you’re fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, it starts to look odd. It starts to be embarrassing. It starts to ruin relationships, with friends, with boyfriends, with her parents.

It was when she woke up that morning in her bed at home and started screaming because she thought she should have been in her room on board the TARDIS, with Rory, that it all came to a head. She had insisted that she didn’t know how she got there, and wanted to go back to The Doctor. Her parents shook their heads and told her that she hadn’t been anywhere. They tried to convince her that she had gone to bed last night as usual, that there was no Doctor, no TARDIS, and that Rory was in Gloucester and hadn’t called for ages.

It made no sense. She remembered everything distinctly. They had visited a planet called Azinege which had the most charming and hospitable people. By people, she meant bipeds with blue scaled skin and four arms and six eyes, arranged so that they had near three hundred and sixty degree vision. They had been politely curious about the pink skinned strangers who called at their royal palace on a diplomatic mission. The really confusing thing was that they were a matriarchal society who practiced polygamy, so they assumed that she, Amy, was the diplomat from Earth and that The Doctor and Rory were her spouses. The Doctor did absolutely nothing to persuade them otherwise, and Rory had been decidedly ‘miffed’ about it. But the banquet the Azineges threw for their honoured guests soothed him quite a bit. The fact that nothing strange or unusual or downright dangerous happened while they were there pleased Amy. She enjoyed the visit thoroughly.

Then she woke up at home and her parents insisted that she was dreaming. Her GP insisted that she was mentally unstable and recommended yet another psychiatrist. The psychiatrist suggested to her parents that it was time for drastic measures. He recommended Rookmoor Institute, where they had people who specialised in delusional fantasies. Her parents talked it over between them and then signed the committal papers.

That was a year ago. They visited from time to time, for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. For those visits she was allowed to put on a dress and shoes and if it was good weather she could go out in the grounds with them.

Rory never visited. Her parents didn’t say anything, but she thought he might have got another girlfriend in Gloucester. One that wasn’t delusional.

It would be easy enough to tell them what they wanted to hear. If she just said that she knew The Doctor wasn’t real, if she told them she knew the difference between reality and fantasy, and that there was no such thing as the TARDIS, no such thing as time and space travel, Daleks, Silurians, Cybermen, Prisoner Zero or anything else of that nature, then they would judge her to be cured and she could go home.

It was as easy as that.

But she couldn’t do it. Because that would be a lie.

The Doctor WAS real. The TARDIS WAS real. Rory was her husband and they had done loads of mad things together on different planets and different places. They had seen vampires in Venice and Silurians in Wales. They had nearly crashed into a planet on their honeymoon and seen flying sharks....

Oh, it had been a mistake telling Doctor Oakley about the flying sharks, that was for sure. He had spent all afternoon telling her that it was impossible for any fish to live outside of water for more than a few minutes, and that sky fish, swimming around in fog, couldn’t happen.

She had been punished that day with confinement in her room with no books or television or other stimuli.

He was equally insistent that there were no tribes of reptilian people living under the planet’s crust. He accepted that there had once been pirate galleons on the high seas, but refuted her claim to have been on a square sailed frigate fighting pirates in the eighteenth century.

She was banned from watching the DVDs of Pirates of the Caribbean that were on the shelf in the recreation room. And Muppets Treasure Island and Captain Pugwash.

Time travel was impossible, Doctor Oakley insisted. Space travel beyond the orbit of Earth’s moon where the NASA space shuttles had gone was impossible.

Space and time travel in a phone box was so ridiculous it was beyond words.

Of course, she had been told that over and over again since she was a child. A whole series of child psychologists, experts in her kind of ‘problem’ had told her again and again that it was just a fantasy. Such things couldn’t possibly be real. They were an elaborate fiction invented because she was socially isolated and couldn’t make friends easily.

The only thing the psychologists did was date the origins of her ‘problem’. They said it was the trauma of moving from Scotland to Leadworth where she was teased for her ‘funny’ accent and her red hair by other children at the local school. Instead of learning to integrate with them, presumably by learning a new accent and dyeing her hair, she had withdrawn into the fantasy world where she was accepted, where she had friends, and where there was always the mystery man, The Doctor, to help her when she was lonely or afraid.

All the child psychologists encouraged her to come out of her fantasy world and live in reality. They suggested out of school activities where she would spend time with other – normal – children. Her parents had bought her tennis equipment and sent her to tennis club at Upper Leadworth Leisure Centre. They had enrolled her in the swimming club, the trampoline club. She once spent three weeks at an outward bound club learning to kayak on the River Severn. She got quite good at tennis, swimming, trampolining and kayaking, but the other children still teased her for being Scottish and having red hair and she never stopped believing in the Raggedy Doctor.

She was taken out of the arts and crafts club because she kept making models of blue phone boxes.

By the time she was fifteen, the child psychiatrists with their gentle persuasion had given way to fully fledged psychiatrists who weren’t gentle at all. She was prescribed drugs to control her psychosis. Her parents were advised to keep her out of school because she might be a danger to other students. Her parents didn’t take that advice, because a second psychiatrist said she SHOULD be in school where she would be exposed to ‘normal teenage experiences’. Another psychiatrist suggested a boarding school. It was in Wales. Her mother put her foot down against that.

When she was eighteen, and still insisting that The Doctor was real, it had been even more desperate. She had spent a week, once, as an in-patient at that same hospital in Gloucester where Rory now worked. She had been given ECT and the psychiatrist had questioned her for hours, taking copious notes, and concluded that she was bi-polar, borderline schizophrenic. He recommended institutionalised care, but that hadn’t happened because there was no place for her. NHS cutbacks made them re-assess her and decide that she WAS safe to be let out in public.

And she still insisted that The Doctor was real.

Then she had started to insist that, not only was he real, but that she had been away with him for more than a year, meeting strange alien creatures and travelling in time and space.

And that was the last straw. That was why she was here in the Rookmoor Institute in this grey room with a window that she couldn’t see through.

All she had to do... all she had to do was tell them that The Doctor wasn’t real. That was all.

But she couldn’t.

Because even after a year of this dreary room, this dull routine, hardly ever seeing the sunlight, missing her parents, her home, that thing that everyone told her was a delusion, her life with The Doctor, WAS still more real than the things they kept telling her were real life.

That trip to Asinege still felt as if it happened only yesterday. She could remember it in such detail. She remembered the flowers on the banquet table, blue flowers, all of them blue. They smelt like parma violets. She remembered the colour and the smell of those flowers. She remembered touching one of the flower arrangements and the blue pollen covered her hands, staining her fingernails and the creases and lines in her palms. Her hands were blue lined and smelt of parma violets all evening. The Asinegens had considered it an honour for her to be marked by their sacred plants, and she really didn’t mind. It was a nice smell. All the same, she had scrubbed her hands in the TARDIS bathroom until most of the blue had gone and the parma violet smell was replaced by the smell of white gardenia hand soap.

The door opened. The nurse in a pink and white dress and linen apron brought in the breakfast. It was porridge followed by scrambled eggs. There was a cup of milk – a plastic cup. She wasn’t trusted with crockery or with hot beverages.

“Eat your breakfast dear,” the nurse said. “Then you can have your shower and sit in the recreation room until Doctor Oakley is ready for you.”

Amy ate the breakfast. She was hungry and needed to eat. The nurse came back and collected the tray. Another nurse came with towels and soap and a clean nightdress. She wasn’t allowed to have that sort of thing in the room. She wondered why. She may have bitten a few psychiatrists when she was a child, but she never ate soap or used it as a weapon, and it wasn’t as if she was going to make a rope of knotted towels to escape through the meshed window.

She was escorted to the bathroom and carefully watched while she did all of the things she had been doing by herself since she was about five. She was past the point where that was embarrassing now. She just pretended the nurse wasn’t there. The shower was nice, anyway. She felt fresh afterwards, and putting on the clean clothes was pleasant, even though it was an identical hospital nightdress and dressing gown. She put on slippers and she was ready to follow the nurse to the recreation room.

That was the only place she ever saw the other patients. She never ate with them or any other activity. She was supposed to interact with them, but she rarely did. They were sick people whose minds had snapped for whatever reason. She felt sorry for them sitting around on the mismatched chairs having conversations with people who only existed in their heads or shuffling through the bookshelf for books they insisted were there yesterday and had been stolen by the FBI and all kind of odd ideas.

She had nothing in common with them. She didn’t have voices in her head. She wasn’t delusional.

The Doctor was real.

She hung onto that one certainty as she had done all her life. It was the only thing that kept her from giving in and being just like these people.

The windows here were mesh, too. She couldn’t see through them. A grey light filtered through proving that it was daytime. She sat in a chair near one of the windows and opened a book from the shelf. It was an Enid Blyton Famous Five story. After banning her from reading anything to do with space, time travel, Romans, pirates, doctors, whales, sharks, fish in general, vampires or angels, that was about all that was left that wasn’t on her proscribed list. She wasn’t especially interested in it. But if she was quietly reading nobody would bother her.

She managed to get through three of the Famous Five adventures by the time the nurse returned to take her to Doctor Oakley’s office. She wasn’t especially ambitious to finish the twenty-one book series, but she didn’t especially want to spend the rest of the time before lunch talking to Doctor Oakley, either. She didn’t like him and she didn’t trust him.

He was a thin man, with a thin face and hair slicked back with pomade. His lips were thin and he had a Rhett Butler style moustache. He reminded her of a silent film villain.

He always tried to sound nice to her. He told her to think of him as a friend she could talk to about anything she wanted to talk about.

She didn’t think of him as a friend. She didn’t think she could talk to him about anything important.

“Sit down, Amy,” he said. “We’re going to do things differently today. I want you to tell me everything about your life with The Doctor.”

“What?” she looked at him curiously. “I don’t understand. You keep telling me that The Doctor isn’t real. Now you want me to....”

“If we are ever to make any progress with your psychosis we must tackle these delusions head on. So I want you to talk about this Doctor fantasy as if it is real, until we find a story that doesn’t fit, something so illogical that you finally realise that it is all a fantasy – a very real, very vivid one, but a fantasy nonetheless.”

“I’ve already told you that The Doctor is a thousand year old Time Lord and that the TARDIS is shaped like a police box but it’s huge inside, with loads of rooms. Isn’t that illogical? But it’s all real, and you’ll never make me believe it isn’t.”

“Films and books like Harry Potter have introduced people to the idea of things that aren’t what they seem on the outside. It is easy to see how your mind could create something like the... T..A...”

“TARDIS. It stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space.”

“And the TARDIS travels in time and space...”

“I have told you that many times,” Amy told him. “Many, many times. I’ve told you about the places we’ve been... Venice, Stonehenge, Planet One, Sardicktown... that’s the one with the fish... Asinege... the place with the lovely blue people... that was where we went last of all... before I ended up back home. It was such a beautiful planet. Blue is a sacred colour to them. The TARDIS was put up on a pedestal in the banqueting hall and festooned with garlands of flowers... blue flowers...”

“Is blue your favourite colour?”

“I don’t have a favourite colour as such. But if I did... on Asinege, it would be blue. The flowers were lovely. I remember getting the pollen on my hands….”

She held out her hands as she spoke, showing the palms. As she did so, she froze in amazement. There was still a faint blueness to the lines on her palms. She turned her hands over and looked at the nails. It was subtle, but there was still a sheen of blue on them.

“If that was over a year ago... why do I still have the pollen stains on my hands?” she asked.

“That isn’t pollen. It’s ink. You must have got it on your hands from a biro.”

“I don’t use biros. I’m not allowed,” Amy pointed out. Then she lifted her hands and smelt them. There was the generic soap smell of the soap she was given when she took her shower. But behind that, there was the faint smell of white gardenia, and behind that, even fainter, almost gone by now, was a trace of parma violets.

“There was a time...” she said slowly. “Something happened... that wasn’t back in time or on another planet. It wasn’t really anywhere. We never left the TARDIS. But our minds were played with... the Dream Lord did it. He made me and Rory think we were back in Leadworth... and that we’d been married for five years. It felt real. I could remember five years of our life together. I could remember eight months of pregnancy. I felt pregnant. But it turned out it was all in our minds. We’d been manipulated.”

She spoke slowly. While she did, her hand reached out, even more slowly, towards Doctor Oakley’s desk. There was a heavy paperweight on it. Her hands were only inches away from it as she continued speaking. She kept her eyes on him. He was watching her face, not her hands.

“If the Dream Lord could make me think I had lived in Uppper Leadworth for five years, and that I was eight months pregnant, if it was that easy... then how easy would it be for you to put a year of memories in my head of being here?”

“Amy, that is quite ridiculous,” Doctor Oakley began.

“Is it?” she responded. “I’m not sure. In fact, the more I think about it, the more that explanation makes sense. Because my memories of being with The Doctor are STILL far more real than anything you tell me is real. I believe in him. But I don’t believe in YOU!”

She moved quickly, grasping the paperweight and gripping it in her palm as she slammed it against Doctor Oakley’s head. She was only slightly surprised when there was no crunch of solid glass against flesh and bone, but a softer sound as the paperweight sank into a rubbery, plastic substance. When she pulled her hand away there was a paperweight shaped indentation in Doctor Oakley’s head.

Then there was a click. She looked down and saw his hand drop away to reveal a gun hidden in his wrist. She hit him again, square in the middle of his forehead and then ducked in front of the desk. The gunshot missed her by millimetres. She heard Doctor Oakley stand up and lumber towards her. He was slower than he should be, and he looked less Human than before. His skin looked shiny and plastic, his features less distinct.

She reached out and grasped both of his legs, tugging them out from under him so that he toppled to the floor, landing with a crash on the floor. The gun fired widely again before she hit the wrist with the paperweight and broke the gun barrel off. She whacked his head four times more, leaving dents each time, until the plastic body stopped squirming and lay there as still and un-lifelike as a shop window dummy.

She stood up quickly and went to the office door. There was Doctor Oakley’s secretary outside as usual. Amy watched her for a moment then made a decision. If she was wrong, it would be a terrible thing that she contemplated, but if she was right...

“Help,” she said. “Come quickly. Doctor Oakley has collapsed. I think he’s ill.”

The secretary looked around at her then stood up and moved towards the door. Amy stood back as the woman stepped inside and looked at the plastic body on the floor. Amy hit her across the back of the skull, half dreading that there would be blood and skull fragments, half knowing that she was going to sink into plastic.

It took three whacks to the back of the head to fell the secretary. She quickly stripped the plastic body of the skirt and blouse and shoes it was wearing and put them on. There was a coat on a stand in the outer office. She put that on, too, and hid her red hair under a hat that went with it before she slipped out into the corridor.

She wasn’t sure which way to go. When she had visits she went down a set of stairs and along....

But none of that was true, anyway, she told herself as she reached the end of the corridor and came to a stairwell. She had never been visited by her parents. She had not been here a year. It was all a dream.

So were most of the memories of psychiatrists in her childhood. Yes, she had seen some. The Raggedy Doctor thing had worried her parents. But not as badly as that. And she wasn’t as socially isolated as that. When she was at secondary school she and Rory were inseparable, and they had mutual friends that met at the Scout Hall and on the village green, or up at Leadworth Castle. She was happy and well-adjusted apart from the fact that she still believed that The Doctor would come back one day.

And he HAD come back... twice. Once on the day before her wedding, when she went on all those adventures, and again on her wedding day, when he came to dance, and then to take her and Rory away with him to get into more amazing adventures, the last of which had been that amazing time on Asinege.

She wasn’t quite sure how she got from the TARDIS to here, but she knew now that it had only been a day at the most since it happened. Everything else was an implanted memory like the ones the Dream Lord gave her. The more she thought about it, the more unreal those memories became, and more real the ones about The Doctor and Rory.

She stepped through the door into what should have been the reception hall on the ground floor of Rookmoor Institute.

Of course, it was possible that she was deluded and had just killed two people to escape from the psychiatric hospital where she belonged.

She looked at the paperweight in her hand, expecting to see it covered in blood and brain tissue from her victims. Then she pushed open the door and stepped through into a corridor aboard what was very clearly a space ship. She felt the vibrations of warp-shunt engines and the view through the exo-glass window in front of her was of a starfield. She didn’t recognise the planet the ship was orbiting, but it definitely wasn’t Earth.

“Doctor,” she whispered. “Where am I? And where are you?”

Then one of those questions at least was answered. She heard the familiar sound of a TARDIS materialising and the space ship corridor dissolved around her while the console room she knew so well solidified. She saw The Doctor at the materialisation control and Rory coming to embrace her. She clung to him in relief and allowed him to kiss her over and over again. She only stopped kissing him because she was distracted by a fourth figure in the TARDIS. It stood upright near the console and looked something like her. It was wearing her clothes. It had red hair like her. But the face was indistinct as if the features were slowly melting and the arms and legs were fused to the trunk like a cheap plastic doll. There was a wire fixed to its forehead going to the navigation drive.

“What the hell is that doing here?” she asked. “It’s another one of them. I’ve decked two of them pretending to be doctors and nurses.”

“That one was pretending to be you,” Rory said. “But it kept having weird mood swings and forgetting my name. Then it tried to shoot us with a gun in its hand. The Doctor said something about poetic justice and zapped it with the sonic screwdriver.”

“Rory and I need to do some more zapping,” The Doctor told her as he disconnected the fake Amy from the console. “You make yourself comfortable with a cup of tea while we sort it all out.”

Making herself comfortable with a cup of tea sounded good, but Amy wanted to know what was going on, and zapping some more plastic people to do that sounded good to her. She made it plain that she was ready to come along with them and brooked no refusal.

“All right,” The Doctor told her. “But leave the zapping to us.”

Rory had a tool in his hand. It had a hand made look, with wires sticking out all over the place. He said it was a sonic lance, for zapping Autons.

And they needed it as they moved through the ship, passing through bulkhead doors and down narrow metal stairways to lower levels. The Doctor, with the fake Amy under his arm and his sonic screwdriver held out like a weapon, said that the Nestene knew they were there and it was sending the troops after them. The ‘troops’ consisted of the staff and patients of the fake Ravenmoor Institute. They were ALL Autons, of course. He and Rory ‘zapped’ all comers. Amy got in a couple of whacks with the paperweight that she still clutched in her hand as they fought their way to the ship’s Bridge.

The Bridge didn’t have any Autons on it. It was fully automated. What it did have, an unusual feature of any space ship, was a sunken ‘bath’ in the middle of the floor full of, not water, but something that looked to Amy like a huge pan of home made fudge nougat that swirled and stirred itself and hissed angrily as they approached.

“Time Lord!” The hiss formed into two words.

“That’s right,” The Doctor replied. He stepped close to the bath and threw the fake Amy into it. The plastic body sank into the ‘nougat’ mix that began to swirl even more animatedly while the hiss became a scream.

“He covered the fake you with something he called ‘anti-plastic’,” Rory told Amy. “That’s how he stopped it from rampaging through the TARDIS. Apparently it disagrees with the Nestene.”

“The only thing that kills it,” The Doctor confirmed. He watched the writhing entity for a few seconds more then glanced at the ship’s controls. “It’s dying, so it’s started a self-destruct sequence. Time to get back to the TARDIS.”

The ‘troops’ didn’t get in their way as they hurried back. They were too busy melting. The Doctor said the Nestene couldn’t maintain their forms and keep itself alive at the same time.

“Good job, too,” he added. “We don’t need any hold ups. That booming noise is the countdown. We’ve got twenty seconds.”

They made it into the TARDIS and shut the door behind them with two seconds to spare. The round viewscreen lit up with bright orange flame as the ship disintegrated around them. The TARDIS pitched and rolled for several minutes before the flames fell away around it and it hung in space, slowly revolving.

“Now will you explain what was going on?” Amy asked. “What’s with the plastic loony bin and my memories being messed up big time?”

“The Nestene wanted the secret of the Time Vortex,” The Doctor replied. “It knew it could never capture a Time Lord. So it took somebody who had travelled in the Vortex.”

“But I couldn’t tell it the secret of the Vortex,” Amy protested.

“Not consciously,” The Doctor explained. “But it is within your subconscious. All the times you have travelled in the Vortex have embedded it within you. That elaborate set up, making you think you were talking to a psychiatrist, concentrated your brain on the TARDIS and on me, and the Nestene could draw out the secret from your mind without you knowing it. The secret that would allow them to conquer the galaxy and bring down the Time Lords in one go. But for your own strong will and the inefficiency of the facsimile that they tried to fool us with, they might have succeeded. As it was, the copy at least provided a homing beacon to find you with. In that it was one hundred per cent successful.”

“The Vortex is inside me?” Amy frowned as she took in all that The Doctor was telling her and fixed on the most worrying aspect from her point of view.

“That’s why my people used to have strict rules about non-Gallifreyans travelling by TARDIS. You have no defences against such nefarious behaviour.”

“Then...” A cold fear gripped Amy. “Does that mean I can’t travel with you any more? All I could think of... when my mind was filled with those fake memories... all I could think of was how bright and amazing travelling in the TARDIS is and how I longed to get back to it. I thought I’d been gone for a year. I missed you like mad. BOTH of you. And I missed the TARDIS. So...!”

“I never took notice of Time Lord rules when they were around to enforce them,” The Doctor replied. “I’m not starting now. Besides, Nestene are solitary creatures. The chance of another one turning up anywhere near us are....”

“Pretty narrow, actually,” Rory said. “The way trouble follows you, Doctor. But we’ll trust you not to let this happen again.”

“Course you will,” The Doctor responded. “Ok, how about a trip to Lpus-Ghey Secundus, the Glass Planet. They have never invented plastic, there. Not even polystyrene cups.”

“Sounds good to me,” Amy agreed.