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

The TARDIS materialised on the wide promenade of Blackpool’s Golden Mile. As The Doctor and his companions stepped out, a double decker tram rattled past obscuring the view of a huge, gaudy building proclaiming itself to be a Fun Palace. Amy and Rory looked up appreciatively at the small yellow sun shining from a blue sky with a few wisps of ‘good weather clouds’ streaking it in places. The last three planets they had visited had skies of orange, purple and green respectively and the last had three large blood red suns and four moons in the sky day and night. It was a treat to see the Earth sky again for a while.

“So how come the TARDIS was able to find Blackpool first time,” Rory asked. “But it needed fifteen goes to find Rio?”

“It’s been to Blackpool before,” The Doctor replied. “Quite a few times. I remember when I was young… I sorted out that annoying clown at the Pleasure Beach. Then later I had a friend from here, Lucie… I spent a very eventful Christmas here with her family. But this is….” He licked his finger and held it up to the air. “It’s September the second, 2009. A vintage year. The Illuminations have begun. Later Humphrey can come out and join us in the dark. He’ll have the time of his life!”

“You couldn’t tell the date from the air,” Amy protested. “Not even YOU are that clever.”

He didn’t answer that. He turned and made a beeline for the kiosk in front of Central Pier where he bought huge fluffy beehives of candy floss for all three of them. There was a brief hiatus when he handed over the money and it turned out to be Alterian Ecus rather than sterling, but he sorted that out quickly. He didn’t even look embarrassed by his mistake.

They ate the candy floss while watching something peculiar going on around the TARDIS. They were all surprised to see two children standing by the door having their photograph taken by their father. Another child was being pulled along by a parent who had refused to stop for a picture. The child was protesting loudly and tearfully about the injustice of being forced to have ice cream instead.

A young man with glasses and acne was standing by the side of the TARDIS, stroking the woodwork lovingly.

“I thought people were supposed to ignore the TARDIS when it was parked,” Amy said. “Why is it getting so much attention?

“I honestly don’t know,” The Doctor answered her. “They shouldn’t. It’s… rather disturbing, I have to say.”

The father finished his snapshot and the children moved away. The young man with the acne was joined by a friend. They both inspected the front of the TARDIS carefully, noting the lettering on the call box sign and the Saint John’s Ambulance emblem on the door. They paid careful attention to the door handles and the key hole.

“It’s impressive,” the first man said. “A really authentic replica of a 1960s classic edition. The windows aren’t quite right or the light on top, but it’s the best I’ve seen since Earls Court.”

“What is he on about?” Rory asked.

“I suppose he must be an expert on old fashioned police boxes,” The Doctor answered. “There really were things like that on the streets of Britain in the 1950s and sixties. There are a few of them left, still, as street curios. One in Glasgow, I think. And another in Scarborough, and one outside a tube station in London – Earls Court. Which I suppose explains his last comment. And the bit about the 1960s classic edition.”

“What’s wrong with train spotting like ordinary geeks?” Amy complained. “That is a bit freaky.”

“This coming from the girl who spent her childhood making models of the TARDIS?” Rory pointed out. Amy glared at him. “No, actually, you’re right, that’s the ultimate definition of geekdom.”

They decided to leave the TARDIS where it was for now. The Doctor was quite satisfied that no harm could come to it even if a whole busload of phone box appreciators arrived on the Promenade. They walked on past Central Pier, resisting the temptation of the amusement arcade, the bingo caller’s amplified voice spilling out of the open doors and the smell of chips frying somewhere nearby. Walking along the wide public walkway between the tramlines and the beach was pleasure enough. Rory and Amy looked down over the old stone parapet and saw the sands already full of people sitting on towels and deckchairs, some of them with striped wind-breakers shielding them from the breeze off the Irish Sea. Then they noticed that The Doctor wasn’t watching the sunbathers. He wasn’t ambling along leisurely. He was standing stock still, his candy floss falling off the stick as he stared up at the first of a new Illuminations theme that began just outside the Louis Tussauds Wax Museum.

On the seaward side of the road, halfway up the tall lampstand, was a Dalek - an illumination made of coloured fibreglass, shaped like a Dalek. There was another one on the opposite side of the road, while on an illuminated triumphal archway above the road was a montage of Daleks, Cybermen and a TARDIS right on the highest point of the arch.

“Um…” Rory managed.

“Er…” Amy murmured.

The Doctor didn’t even manage a coherent non-word. He was stunned into silence. That in itself was unusual enough to worry his companions. They came either side of him and looked up at the strange display.

“What does it mean?” he asked. But he wasn’t asking either Rory or Amy. He was asking himself out loud.

“Well…” Rory tried for a possible explanation. “I mean… you’ve knocked around this planet for a while, doing stuff… saving the Human race from Daleks and Cybermen and…” He looked at the next lamppost along the Promenade where a fiberglass model of a huge green creature with strangely endearing eyes was hanging. “Whatever that is.”

“That is a Slitheen,” The Doctor answered. “From Raxacoricofallipatorius. They’re the reason Big Ben and most of Downing Street had to be reconstructed a couple of years ago. Actually… technically, Downing Street was my fault. But they definitely flew their ship into Big Ben.”

“Well, exactly,” Rory continued, glossing over the fact that The Doctor had just admitted to an act of terrorism. “You’ve been around a bit. So… maybe this… it’s a sort of celebration of everything you’ve done for the Human race. A sort of… tribute to you.”

“Yes, that makes sense,” Amy added. “It’s… not exactly a statue in your honour or a library named after you… but it’s nice, really.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” The Doctor conceded. “And yet….”

The Doctor wasn't sure what to say, and that really was a first for him. He walked slightly behind his two companions as they made their way along the promenade looking at the different aliens represented in the illuminations. He responded to their questions, explaining about Ood and Krillitane. But he was clearly uncomfortable about it all.

“I don’t know, Doctor,” Rory told him. “I should have thought getting a bit of recognition for your efforts would be a good thing. You should be proud.”

Again he felt at a loss to explain himself and said nothing.

Then, just past a big amusement arcade called Funland and before the Sea Life Centre with its huge, elaborate underwater cave themed entrance, they found another seafront attraction that left all three of them speechless for several minutes. Three trams passed by obscuring their view briefly, but when each one was gone they were faced with the evidence of their eyes again.

“Doctor Who Exhibition!” Rory read aloud the title on the blue and white façade. Around the huge words were images of a Dalek, a Cyberman, the TARDIS and a robotic dog. When questioned The Doctor sighed and said that it was called K9 and he had travelled with a robot dog for a while in a past life.

“My name is NOT Doctor Who,” he protested. “It’s just Doctor. What made them think of calling me that?”

“Be grateful there isn’t a question mark at the end,” Amy told him. She looked at Rory meaningfully, then he caught her hand and they crossed the tram tracks together. They paused for a break in the road traffic and then crossed that, too. When The Doctor reluctantly caught them up, they were looking at a small yellow vintage car with the unlikely registration plate WHO 1. It was roped off to prevent children from climbing into it, but several adults were happy to have themselves photographed next to it.

“We are not going in,” The Doctor said with all the authority of his Time Lord race.

“Yes we are,” Amy answered him.

“Yes, we ARE,” Rory added with a meaningful look at The Doctor. “I’ll pay. They probably don’t take alien money.”

He paid for three adults at the kiosk and bought a guide to the exhibits inside the museum. They stepped from the bright sunlight of a late summer day into the ambient darkness of the exhibition. As they did so, an employee wearing a t-shirt and baseball cap with Dalek logos reminded them to be sure to press the buttons on each of the exhibits, in order to enjoy the full ‘effects’.

Rory looked scathingly at the button at the base of a full length glass case containing a model of something called a Zygon.

“That button looks like it was wired up by Greg Atkins,” he said. “He got chucked off the electrician’s course at Upper Ledworth Tech after three days because he was colour blind and nearly fried his tutor.”

“I agree,” Amy said. “I’m not touching those buttons with a ten foot pole.”

The Doctor wasn’t interested in pressing buttons. He wandered down the aisle between the moodily lit display cases with a glazed look on his face.

When he emerged into a wide area with a TARDIS console in the middle, roped off from the children’s sticky fingers, he almost fainted in shock.

“This was my console,” he said. “Five generations back. It… changed over the years.”

“It’s not real,” Amy told him. “It’s just a model with light up bits.”

They passed through the console room and more cases displaying models of aliens The Doctor had defeated in his time.

“What is that music that they have playing continuously?” Amy asked. “It’s the same tune over and over and over.”

“I don’t know,” Rory answered her. “But it sounds kind of space age. Must be to set the ‘tone’.”

“It’s setting my teeth on edge,” Amy complained. “It must drive the staff up the wall by closing time.”

Presently they came to another wide room with a series of outlandish costumes on dummies. The Doctor looked even more downcast than ever.

“This… is The Doctor’s outfits from his former incarnations,” Rory said checking the brochure. “All ten of them.”

The Doctor looked at his feet and refused to make eye contact with either of his companions or look at any of the costumes.

“Number six is ridiculous,” Amy commented. “Doctor, did you have a taste transplant or something?”

“Five is a bit weird, too,” Rory considered. “The rest… I suppose… might work for an old guy or a middle aged nerd.”

The Doctor continued to pay close attention to the way his shoelaces were tied.

“You know, this exhibition is very popular, especially with the kids,” Amy noted. Almost all the adults in the quite crowded exhibition room had children with them. She spotted the two young police box aficionados from the promenade and a few other people who might fall into that geek niche, but mostly this seemed to be a family attraction. The children were all wide eyed with excitement at everything they saw. Daleks and Cybermen especially attracted them. So did the model of the robot dog.

“Yes,” Rory agreed. “The Doctor is a bit of a hero with them. That’s nice, isn’t it? So far, I’m not seeing anything wrong with this picture.”

“I can,” The Doctor said. “You haven’t seen it, yet, have you?”

“Seen what?”

“Come on,” he insisted. He turned towards the exit, which brought them out through a souvenir shop that included shelves full of five inch action figures of many of the aliens that had been exhibited in full size versions. There were also books and posters, and DVDs.

Amy looked at the DVDs and realised just what it was that was wrong with all of this.

“Oh,” she said.

“Ah!” Rory added as it all feel into place for him.

“Let’s get out of here,” The Doctor said. Amy followed him out onto the promenade. Rory was a little slower. He stopped to buy something. It was inside a plastic carrier bag with ‘Doctor Who Exhibition’ emblazoned across it in a space age looking font.

The Doctor crossed the road without looking either way. He did the same at the tram tracks. He managed to avoid being killed by the Bispham tram only by a small miracle. Rory and Amy were a little more cautious. When they caught him up, he was sitting halfway down the steps to the beach. He looked utterly traumatised. There was no other way to describe the expression on his face.

“So… it’s true?” Amy asked as she sat by his side. “Doctor Who is a television programme on Saturday nights… before Strictly Come Dancing.”

The Doctor nodded miserably.

“You’re the hero of a television programme?”

“It’s a very successful programme,” Rory pointed out. He opened the carrier bag and pulled out a glossy hardback book entitled ‘The History of Doctor Who.’ The front cover was a bright piece of artwork featuring a swirling vortex, Daleks and a TARDIS flying through it all. “Apparently it’s been going for nearly fifty years, and regularly pulls at least eight million viewers. It’s sold worldwide and between that and the merchandising…”

“Five inch action figures….” The Doctor murmured.

“Yeah… those… apparently they generate a huge profit for the BBC.” He opened the book and showed Amy some of the glossy images of the producers and stars of the very first episode. “It started in 1963. On Saturday, November 23rd, the day after Kennedy was shot.”

“Assuming he isn’t a fictional character, too,” The Doctor said mournfully. “I remember 1963. I was living in London with my granddaughter.”

“Yes, that was the plot of the first episode,” Rory pointed out. “An Unearthly Child… Schoolteachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton become intrigued by one of their pupils, Susan Foreman, and visit her home address - a junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane - where they meet her grandfather, the Doctor. The Doctor and Susan are aliens who travel through time and space in their ship, the TARDIS, which looks like an ordinary police box but actually houses a huge gleaming control room.…”

Rory stopped reading. The Doctor looked as if he was either going to get very angry or burst into tears. It could have gone either way.

“None of this makes sense,” Amy said. “The Doctor isn’t fictional. We know that. I mean… all those years when I was seeing psychiatrists because nobody believed a man could fly through time and space in a police box… if he was doing it every Saturday on TV… well, I really would have been nutty to believe a TV programme was real. But it wasn’t. It isn’t. The Doctor is real.”

“If he isn’t, where the heck have we been all these months?” Rory asked. “This doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“THAT doesn’t make sense,” The Doctor said jabbing a long finger at the book on Rory’s knee. It was open on the middle page where a double spread showed different variations of the TARDIS exterior over the years that the television programme had supposedly been broadcast. “What’s all that about… cancelled in 1989! I was CANCELLED?”

“Apparently the series went off the boil a bit in the eighties,” Rory said. “But it’s been a smash hit since it came back… winning BAFTAS and stuff.”

This slightly placated The Doctor. He didn’t mind being a TV programme if it was a BAFTA winning TV programme. But being cancelled was clearly humiliating.

“Well, what’s going on, anyway?” Amy asked. “Is it some kind of alternative universe that we slipped into or….”

“The Dreamlord!” Rory exclaimed. “It’s him, I bet it is.”

“No,” The Doctor insisted. “I don’t think it’s either of those things. It doesn’t feel like a dream or an alternative universe.”

“Well, it’s certainly not the real world,” Amy said. “Seriously, it couldn’t be. I mean… that Exhibition is completely unreal. No matter how long a TV programme has been around, who devotes an entire building to an exhibition about it? No TV programme gets that much attention. I mean, everyone I know watches Coronation Street, but do you see a Coronation Street Exhibition on the Golden Mile?”

“There might be one further up,” Rory pointed out. “It’s Blackpool, after all. Anything’s possible.”

“Even if there is,” Amy conceded. “I don’t think we’re going to find Ken Barlow sitting on the beach wondering why his house is part of a tourist attraction with Ken and Deirdre action figures in the souvenir shop.”

“I hope not,” Rory agreed. “Look, whatever it is that’s going on… I think the answer is in that exhibition. I think we’re going to have to go back in there again.”

“No!” The Doctor groaned. “It’s too strange. When I’m in there I feel as if….”

He paused and looked out across the Irish Sea to the hazy horizon and sought for a way to express what he wanted to say.

“Out here, I’m all right,” he said. “I know who I am and what I am. In there… I felt as if I was dwindling… as if I wasn't me any more… and that my life… my existence… my world… is just a fiction… as if I really am a character in a television programme.”

“You mean you felt as if you were the actor playing The Doctor?” Rory asked. He angled the book away from The Doctor’s view. He had found a chapter all about the actors who had portrayed The Doctor since 1963. Three of them had died of old age and there were gentle tributes to them by their friends in the television industry.

On the last page was a photograph of the actor who was going to become the Eleventh Doctor in the 2010 series. He looked an awful lot like The Doctor.

“No,” The Doctor answered. “I don’t feel like an actor. I don’t feel like anything. I feel as if I’m nothing at all.”

“Then that proves it,” Amy said. “There’s something odd going on in that building, and we should check it out.”

“We should go back to the TARDIS,” The Doctor said. “We’ll be safe in there.”

“Since when did you worry about being safe?” Amy asked.

“Since I became somebody who could be CANCELLED,” he answered.

“Um… Doctor… if you want to go back to the TARDIS… you’d better hurry.” Rory drew his attention to a curious commotion up on the Promenade. The Doctor jumped up from the steps and reached the top in time to see The TARDIS on the back of a small electric tractor-trailer. It stopped directly opposite the Exhibition and was manhandled across the tram tracks and the road watched avidly by parents and children as well as more of the spectacle wearing ‘expert’ types who talked enthusiastically about it being ‘the new series model’.

“That settles it,” Rory said as they watched the TARDIS disappear into the Exhibition building. “We’ve got to go back in there, now.”

The Doctor trailed behind Amy and Rory as they crossed the Golden Mile and entered the foyer of the Exhibition. He hung back as Amy used her credit card this time to pay for three tickets. He studiously ignored the man who checked the tickets at the entrance to the attraction even though he had watched them being purchased.

“Where do you think they took the TARDIS?” Amy asked as they moved through the maze of display cases with a very different purpose this time.

“Let’s try that central area where they had all the costumes,” Rory suggested. “The displays there were from the ‘newer’ episodes of the series. This is all ‘classic’ stuff.”

“Please, don’t do that,” The Doctor begged him in a weary voice. “Don’t talk about my life as if it was a TV series. It makes it worse. As if… as if you don’t believe in me.”

“If people don’t believe in you, will that kill you?” Amy asked. “Like… Tinkerbell in Peter Pan?” It seemed like an absurd comparison, but The Doctor was, she had to admit, looking decidedly peaky. His shoulders were slumped and he was dragging his feet as if he had a hard time lifting them.

“If you two don’t believe in me, it might,” he answered. “You’re the only proof that I’m real.”

“I believe in you, Doctor,” Amy told him, ignoring the odd look she got from the mother of three youngsters looking at the model of a ‘mummy robot’.

“Goes without saying. Doc,” Rory said in a quieter voice that attracted less attention.

They passed through the reconstructed ‘classic’ console room quickly and through more aisles of display cases, still avoiding the temptation to press any buttons. The Doctor was looking weaker by the moment. Amy hung onto his arm like a clingy girlfriend simply to keep him upright.

“There it is,” The Doctor said with a long sigh of relief. They stepped into the room with the costumes on display and the TARDIS – the REAL TARDIS – was parked right next to the dummies. A rope barrier had already been placed around it. “Rory, Amy, you have to do something very important for me now.”

“Of course, Doctor,” Amy answered. “What?”

“Believe in the TARDIS. With all your might, believe in what it is inside. Don’t for a single moment imagine this is a wooden prop that is the same size inside as it is outside.”

“Until you mentioned it, the thought never even contemplated the mere possibility of crossing my mind,” Rory answered. He thought about the bright, wide console room, the undercroft where The Doctor made repairs, the library, the swimming pool, the museum, the quiet, peaceful cloister room that The Doctor had once shown them, the wardrobe. He concentrated on the fact that all those things were inside the TARDIS and it was NOT in any way an empty wooden box.

The Doctor fumbled in his pocket for his key, then calmly stepped over the rope and inserted it in the lock. Rory and Amy kept close behind him. They ignored the shout from one of the staff in Dalek motif hats as The Doctor pushed the door open.

“No!” he cried out as he was faced with a dark space no bigger than it ought to be. That single syllable word was loaded with grief and loss.

Then two dark eyes and a slit of a mouth resolved themselves in the dark space. Humphrey trilled at The Doctor in a tone of concern.

“Believe in Humphrey,” he said and closed the door again. Three staff members were closing in, shouting at him to move back across the rope and stop interfering with the exhibit.

The Doctor opened the door again. He stepped into the console room, followed by Rory and Amy. The three staff members left outside had a brief glimpse of something beyond their wildest dreams before the door closed behind them.

Inside, Humphrey was harder to see in the console room, but they could all hear his trilling welcome. The Doctor began to reach for the dematerialisation switch with the clear idea of getting as far away from Earth in the year 2009 as he could get. Then he changed his mind. Something on the screen in front of him prompted the change of plans. The TARDIS made a very short trip in space but not time. On the round viewscreen there was a dimly lit room outside. The Doctor reached for the door control and bounded out.

Amy and Rory did their best to emulate his bound. But they were outdone by Humphrey who pinwheeled past them. There was a scream. It didn’t come from The Doctor. As their eyes became accustomed to the dim light of a single lamp in the far corner of the wide, empty room and the patch that spilled from the open door of the TARDIS, they noticed a man dressed in a dark hooded robe cowering away from Humphrey. The darkness creature was still smiling his slit-mouthed smile, but far from reassuring this man, it seemed to be scaring him.

Rory reached into his pocket for a small but powerful torch. Amy often teased him about carrying it. He said he felt lost without one since his time as a night guard at the museum. It proved useful now. The man cringed back into the pool of light it created, as if assured that Humphrey couldn’t get him there. The Doctor moved quickly, grabbing the man by his hood and pulling it down off his face.

“Wow!” Rory exclaimed. “He looks like you, Doctor.”

“Yes, he does,” The Doctor noted. “I don’t think he’s the actor who plans to portray me in the next series!”

“No, he’s in Cannes promoting a film he made last year,” Amy commented. “I saw something about it in the exhibition.”

“We’re under the building, aren’t we,” Rory noted, looking up at the bare ceiling. “You can just hear the theme music playing.”

“So what is this all about?” Amy asked. “Doctor, who is he?”

“I don’t know,” The Doctor answered. “I was hoping he was going to tell us.”

The duplicate in the robe looked at The Doctor and closed his mouth firmly as if he had no intention of saying anything. Humphrey trilled loudly and he quivered and shrank away from him.

“I’m… you in potentia,” the duplicate told The Doctor. “When… when you regenerated the last time there was too much artron energy. It created you… and it created me… sort of… I wasn’t as ‘finished’ as this. I was little more than intelligent energy. But I knew all about you… I knew I had to destroy you to exist.”

“So why the elaborate charade?” Rory asked. He could still hear the music from the exhibition above. It was a strangely penetrating sound, and it was starting to irritate him just a little. “Why do people up there think The Doctor is a character from a TV programme?”

“I made them think it,” the duplicate said. “Power of Suggestion. The stronger the belief in the fantasy… the more popular the programme is… the less he becomes real… he fades… and I grow strong in his place.”

“So it is like Tinkerbell… in reverse…” Amy pointed out. “If people believe in The Doctor as a fictional character, he can’t exist for real.”

“And you fill the void when he’s gone!” Rory glared at the duplicate. “It’s a horrible idea.”

“It takes a LOT of Power of Suggestion to make people believe in a television programme so much that they’d come to an exhibition all about it… buy DVDs, action figures.…” The Doctor said. “You’ve changed everyone’s perception of reality… and when I say everyone, I MEAN everyone on the whole planet. Even The Master would have to work hard to do that.”

“But at least he would try,” the duplicate told him. “You have never used your power to its full potential. You are a soft fool, Doctor. That’s why I did it. So that I would be what you COULD be. I could rule this planet… and any other planet I choose.”

“Oh, really?” Amy responded. “You’re so clever, so powerful… but you’re scared of the dark.” She grabbed the hardback souvenir book Rory was still holding in his torch-free hand and smashed it against the light the duplicate had been sitting beside. At the same time, Rory switched off his torch. Humphrey trilled again in the dark. The duplicate screamed and pushed past them all, heading to the only piece of light it could hope to find sanctuary in – the TARDIS door. The Doctor, Amy and Rory ran after it. Humphrey pinwheeled around, corralling the duplicate like a very well trained sheepdog. It tried not to step into the TARDIS itself, trying to stay in the pool of light by the door without crossing the threshold, but Amy and Rory pushed it forwards. It screamed again as it was forced inside. The Doctor slammed the TARDIS door shut behind them all.

“No!” the duplicate screamed. “No… I cannot survive in here. This… this is yours… it is… of you!”

“The TARDIS is very much of me,” The Doctor said. “When I was regenerating, she did, too. But more importantly, inside, with the door closed, she is separate from the world outside. The strength you gathered from your charade will fail in here. The make believe world out there, that weakened me and gave you strength, will unravel now that you are cut off from it.”

“You’re killing me,” the duplicate protested.

“Yes,” The Doctor replied. “And I’m a bit sorry about that. Because, being the softy I am, I always try to preserve life. But in your case, I can’t help it. You shouldn’t exist. We can’t both exist in the same universe. And you are the one who shouldn’t be here.”

The duplicate was fading fast. Its features were less distinct, now. It moved as if through treacle, trying to get back to the door. It might just have made it if it hadn’t been for a friendly trill from Humphrey, indistinct, but a shadowy presence between the duplicate and escape. It collapsed on the gangway, writhing and shrinking within the robe until the fabric flopped down, empty. A golden vapour rose up and streaked across the room before being sucked down into the time rotor.

“It’s gone?” Amy asked.

“The energy it was created from was absorbed by the TARDIS,” The Doctor replied. “It’s gone, for good. And so is the fantasy it created. Doctor Who is gone.”

Amy looked at the book she was still holding in her hands.

“Are you sure about that, Doctor?” she asked. She held it up. The glossy cover was just the same, complete with Dalek and TARDIS artwork. Inside were all the chapters Rory had looked at before.

“The TARDIS interior is separate from the outside universe,” The Doctor explained. “As long as you don’t take that book outside, it will remain in existence. But the false reality that the duplicate created will be gone, now. And it’s a good thing.”

“I don’t know,” Amy mused. “It seemed as if a lot of people got a lot of happiness out of Doctor Who as a television programme. It seems a shame to rob them of that. And… well, if your life was a make believe thing… then all those aliens we saw on display… doesn’t it mean that they were make believe, too? Daleks, Cybermen, Slitheen, Drashigs whatever the heck they were… and doesn’t that make the universe a safer place without them in it?”

“Yes,” The Doctor conceded. “But if they’re not real… and I’m not real… then neither are all my friends… Sarah Jane and Jo… Donna, Rose… Susan… Susan has to be real. And U.N.I.T…. The world needs them. Torchwood. If Jack Harkness wasn’t real, somebody would have to invent him. And what about you two? You wouldn’t be real, either. You’d be the inventions of a scriptwriter with a thing for Scottish girls with red hair.”

The Doctor paused a moment and looked at his friends as the implications set in.

“I’ll settle for a universe full of monsters if it’s got all my friends in it, too,” he said very simply. Then he made a very small adjustment to the navigation console and they made a very small journey in time and space. The TARDIS materialised at Starr Gate just after dusk on the same day. The Doctor, Amy and Rory, with Humphrey trilling at their side, boarded an open topped tram and sat right up front. The Doctor used just enough Power of Suggestion to stop the other passengers worrying about the excited ball of darkness with wide eyes and a slit mouth that sat beside him as the tram set off on an illuminations tour. That was enough abuse of that kind of power as far as he was concerned.

When the tram passed Central Pier, the illuminations lighting up the promenade were based on a theme of space travel, but they included an Apollo 11 rocket and the Space Shuttle Endeavour among the theme. On the other side of the road, Funland was brightly lit in the night. So was the Sea Life Centre. Between them was a closed down unit with its fascia covered with a temporary banner advertising the Tower Circus.

The Doctor was right, of course, Amy and Rory admitted to themselves as they sat back and enjoyed the illuminations and looked forward to fish and chips when they got back to Starr Gate. All the same, that book about the television phenomenon called Doctor Who was safely tucked away in their room aboard the TARDIS and they knew they would enjoy it as bedtime reading in the future.