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

Gordon Morris sighed dismally. The turbo lift was out of order again. Nothing worked properly in this damn place. He set off wearily up the stairs. At least in this micro-gravity it wasn’t particularly hard work walking upstairs. But it was time consuming, and Dahl would probably say he was slacking.

Slacking! Fat chance. They were understaffed. Getting anyone to take on deep space lighthouse keeping was impossible these days. Five men was the bare minimum and they all had too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Most of the non-essential maintenance was being put off indefinitely. Most of the essential jobs were either behind or not done properly. That was why the turbo lift wasn’t working. It was why the food synthesisers wouldn’t produce anything other than corned beef hash and black tea for every damn meal. It was why he was having to go up to the top of the lighthouse and manually check the signal. The computer that should do it from the main control room was on the blink.

He didn’t count the steps. There was something too damn depressing about that. But he knew he was about halfway. There were another five hundred of them to go more or less.

But it was starting to get harder. At first he thought he was just unfit, but after a while he was certain. The gravity was getting denser. It was becoming harder and harder to lift his feet.

He stopped to catch his breath. When he tried to take the next step, he couldn’t. He couldn’t move. He was pinned by the gravity. And it was starting to hurt. His chest was being squeezed. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t stand up any more. He felt his body being pressed down, all the way down. He felt his back break, his ribcage crush, piercing his heart and lungs. He felt an agonising pressure as his skull began to press in on his brain.

Then he didn’t feel anything else.

The TARDIS materialised in ordinary space. The Doctor turned on the big round viewscreen and regarded the view critically.

“See that, children,” he said to Rory and Amy, who glared at him for the ‘children’ bit. “This is the fifty-eighth century by the Earth calendar and this is one of the furthest edges of Human space colonisation, the Cassiopeian Sector. That’s a space lighthouse, warning any passing craft that there are solar currents to be wary of - the Cassiopeian Maelstrom. The TARDIS is safe, of course. She can cut through a solar current like a…a… really fast thing that cuts through solar currents. But ordinary sub-light craft can get a right old buffeting about. If they don’t watch their navigation they can be pulled apart.”

“It… really looks like a lighthouse… sort of,” Amy commented, fairly impressed by the thing they were looking at. There was a base that seemed to be made up of a flat surface of rock with a jagged, broken bit hanging underneath. The lighthouse was a tall, slender structure of grey metal built upon it. At the top of it was what looked a lot like the lamp room of a real lighthouse, and there was a light shining from it, but The Doctor pointed to a red flashing LED on his navigation console.

“The lamp is just for tradition. The important thing is the sub-sonic signal that it sends out, capable of being picked up by any and all craft likely to be this deep in deep space.”

“What’s that?” Rory asked, pointing to the screen. “The dinghy going to shore to pick up bread and milk?”

“Don’t be silly,” The Doctor replied. “’Shore’ is fifty thousand light years away. They get supplies once a month by robot-crewed shuttle.” Then he considered Rory’s comment further. “What do you mean what’s that? What’s what?”

“That,” Rory said, pointing to a small black tube that was free-floating in space. “It came out of the lighthouse.”

“Oh dear,” The Doctor responded. “Oh, that’s sad.” He bowed his head momentarily and then moved around the console to the environmental controls.

“Why?” Amy asked. “What is it?”

“It’s a coffin,” The Doctor explained. “The space equivalent of a burial at sea. Somebody aboard the lighthouse has died.”

“Sad,” Amy agreed. “But… I suppose… accidents must happen sometimes.”

“Mmm.” The Doctor was looking at a schematic of the torpedo shaped sealed pod. “They don’t exactly have a whole body,” he added. “Whatever happened to the poor fellow… it looks like they had to scrape most of him up to put into the coffin.”

“Urghhh,” Rory and Amy said at once. Then they noticed that The Doctor was initiating a materialisation. “We’re going there? Why?”

“Because I’m nosy and I want to know how come a man got turned into a pancake on a lighthouse in space. I think they’re due for a health and safety inspection, don’t you?”

“Er… no,” Amy replied.

“Not really,” Rory added. But they both knew they were going to be visiting the lighthouse.

“Don’t forget you promised us somewhere warm and sunny,” Amy told him. “We’re holding you to that.”

“Of course you are,” he answered with his usual grin.

Dan Crossley was the computer technician aboard Lighthouse 897QV, Cassiopeia Sector, but ironically he was starting to hate the very mention of computers, especially the central main frame computer that ran everything on the Lighthouse. He remembered the conversation in the recreation room a couple of days ago. Ewan Ross, the medic had mentioned the report he was writing up about the generally low morale of the crew after three months of the six they were expected to spend on the Lighthouse. He had ventured the opinion that putting five men on a rock in space for that long wasn’t natural and that the place ought to have been fully automated decades ago.

Norm Jessop, the communications officer had been the one who voiced the reason why automation had not been done.

“Nobody trusts computers to do the work of men,” he had said darkly, glaring at the terminal in the corner of the room that constantly fed statistics about the Maelstrom to whoever was on duty at the time. “They feel safer if the lighthouses have a Human crew. It was the same in ancient times, back on the Homeworld, when men sailed oceans in ships. They liked to know their lives were in the hands of other men keeping the light burning through the night to warn them of dangerous waters.”

Norm was a bit of an amateur historian. Nobody else among this group of men born on colony planets knew very much about Earth, let alone about the times of sailing ships on its oceans.

But Dan agreed with the sentiment. For all he knew about computers, he didn’t trust them to replace the minds, the instincts, of men.

And he didn’t trust the computer on this lighthouse as far as he could throw it.

The Doctor was puzzled. He was trying to get the TARDIS to materialise on the lighthouse, but it wouldn’t accept the co-ordinate. It was acting as if the lighthouse wasn’t even there.

“It’s as if the lighthouse wasn’t even there,” he complained. “Come on, old girl, what’s the problem?”

“The TARDIS has more sense than you,” Rory said. “It doesn’t want to land in a place where it could get squished like the guy in the pod.”

“The TARDIS can’t be squished,” The Doctor responded. “She’s not made of anything squishable.”

“We are,” Rory reminded him. “Maybe being nosy isn’t a good enough reason for going there.”

“I agree,” Amy pointed out. “Seriously, Doctor, we don’t have to get involved. There’s been some kind of nasty accident, but they’ve done a proper funeral and everything. We can just leave them to it and get on to that nice sunny place with fruity drinks in tall glasses with umbrellas in them.”

The Doctor looked at his companions and for a moment he actually seemed to be about to do what they suggested. He reached for the dematerialisation switch….

Norm Jessop was tired after a long shift as communications operator, which meant hours of listening to static and a few minutes once in a while speaking to the captain of some passing freighter. It was a dull job, and the dullness made it wearisome. He wanted to go to sleep. He wanted to close his eyes and dream about being somewhere other than a lighthouse in deep space.

It wasn’t easy when his room had a bloody big exo-glass window looking out on The Cassiopeian Maelstrom. It was worse than ordinary space. At least that was just stars. He used to see them through the skylight in his bedroom when he was a boy. But the Maelstrom wasn’t just stars. It was swirling light and shade, strange colours that weren’t in any known spectrum. It looked like the way into Hell itself.

He pulled the blind down over the window. He didn’t have to look at it if he didn’t want to. Then he pulled off his boots and slid into bed without bothering to undress. He could shove the clothes in the automatic laundromat when he had his ion shower tomorrow.

Not tomorrow, he reminded himself. There was no day or night here. The galactic standard date was measured by the computer and automatically entered into the log, but days and nights as they were understood by people who lived on planets were meaningless after a while. It wasn’t night time, it was the start of his regulation seven hour rest period.

He tried to sleep. But it wasn’t happening. He tossed and turned in the bed, trying to make the pillow feel comfortable under his head. That shouldn’t have been a problem. It was auto-foam. It was supposed to conform to the shape of his head as he slept, supporting his neck and shoulders.

But the thing just felt like a lump of wet concrete inside the hygienically sealed pillow slip. He punched it irritably and his hand sank into it. He tried to pull it back, but it was stuck.

Which was insane. It was just lightweight foam rubber, for Heaven’s sake. Maybe he had actually dropped off without realising it and this was a crazy dream about not being able to sleep.

Then the exo-glass window failed.

Exo-glass was the toughest see through material known to science. It was said to be even better than transparent steel. Nothing should be able to break it short of a direct hit from an asteroid. And there should have been back up shields that came into operation if that unlikely event occurred.

But the window had shattered just like ordinary glass. The shards flew away into the vacuum beyond. So did everything not firmly fastened down – the clock by his bedside that was useless in a place where time wasn’t measured that way, everything on his dresser, pictures from the wall, his coat from the peg behind the door….

Everything but Norm himself, because he was fastened to the bed by the pillow that was acting so very strangely. Not that he was safe. The air was being sucked out at extreme pressure. His eyes bulged, his tongue pulled out of his mouth even though he tried to keep his teeth clenched. The very air in his lungs was dragged from his body. He didn’t scream because sound required air passing over his larynx and he didn’t have any left.

He passed out from hypoxia a few minutes before he actually died. It was a merciful death in that sense.

Rory exclaimed loudly as yet another pod was expelled from the lighthouse. The Doctor turned from the navigation panel and looked at the same scanner he had used to examine the first coffin.

“Cause of death was asphyxiation,” The Doctor confirmed.

“How can you possibly know that without physically examining the body?” Rory asked. “The signs of asphyxiation include petechial haemorrhaging in the conjunctiva….”

Rory named several pathological signs of that cause of death. Amy smiled admiringly, although she did wonder if he knew that because he was a nurse or because he had watched a lot of episodes of CSI when he was working shifts.

“The poor man’s lungs exploded,” The Doctor said. “Indicating the sort of extreme asphyxiation that occurs when an air breathing organic body is suddenly exposed to the vacuum of space.”

Amy swallowed hard and looked around at the TARDIS door. How often had they left that open while in space, trusting an invisible shield to protect them?

“It wouldn’t happen in here,” The Doctor assured her. “Never in a million years. Nobody has ever died that way on board a TARDIS.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Quite sure,” The Doctor replied. “Grab hold of something, I’m going to try a forced materialisation. It could get bumpy.”

“So now we risk being squished or asphyxiated?” Amy said warily. “Seriously, Doctor, the more I hear about this place the less I want to be anywhere near to it. Can’t we just leave it alone?”

“To misquote my old friend Oscar, to lose one lighthouseman may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness,” The Doctor answered as if that settled the question of whether they were going to materialise on the lighthouse or head for sunshine and fruity drinks.

Hans Dahl woke from his designated rest period and rose from his narrow bed. He crossed his room and entered the ion shower. He sighed as he programmed the thing. He HATED ion showers. He always felt as if his flesh was being scoured off by them. In fact, that was exactly what did happen. The ion particles bombarded his body and took away the dead skin, dirt, sweat and grime. It was hygienic, and it was, after all, the only kind of regular washing facility that was available in deep space where water had to be carefully conserved.

But he still hated it. He longed for a real shower that left him feeling cool and refreshed afterwards, not par-boiled.

Was it his imagination or was it worse than usual this time? Maybe his skin was becoming over-sensitive to the ion bombardment. It really did feel painful.

He felt something trickling down his legs and looked down. He was shocked to see it was blood. His own blood. He was bleeding from several places on his torso where the ion particles had scoured too deeply.

He reached for the switch, but it wouldn’t stop. He turned and tried to get out of the cubicle, but the door was stuck. As more and more of his raw flesh was painfully exposed he screamed for help. He clawed at the door with bloody fingers that were rapidly becoming gory stumps. He caught a glimpse of his face in the smoked glass of the cubicle door. His nose and cheeks were raw meat. His eyelids were gone, and his lips. The ion particles bombarded the delicate tissue of his exposed eyeballs and he couldn’t see anything else. He fainted from shock moments later. The particles continued to dissolve the remaining skin and eat into the flesh and sinew beneath, then the internal organs.

When the ion shower finally stopped of its own accord, a pile of bones lay in a pool of congealing blood.

The forced materialisation didn’t work. Rory and Amy picked themselves up from the floor and checked for bruises rather theatrically. The Doctor appeared to be unscathed. He grinned at them. They glared back.

“Oh!” Amy groaned as the console bleeped and they turned to the viewscreen to see yet another pod emerge from the lighthouse.

“Three coffins,” Rory noted. “What did this one die of?”

“I honestly couldn’t say,” The Doctor replied looking at the scan. “There’s nothing left but bones. It looks as if the body was put into an acid bath after death… making it impossible to establish cause of death.”

“Are you sure he went into it AFTER death?” Rory asked.

“Oh, I hope so,” Amy responded quickly. The alternative was too gruesome to contemplate.

“Either way, I really don’t think we can procrastinate any longer. We HAVE to find out what’s happening on that Lighthouse, and help anyone else who might still be alive.”

“Or stop a murderer,” Rory suggested. “Has anyone considered that these could be murders?”

“Yes,” The Doctor replied. “I have. Which is why we really do have to….”

Doctor Ewan Ross completed his report on the morale of the lighthouse crew. It made for dismal reading, and he was far from confident that the authorities would take any notice of his recommendations. It was difficult enough to find one full crew to man these remote outposts. If they were required to change them over every three months instead of every six, then it would be even harder, to say nothing of costly – and the bottom line was always the prime consideration with those who sat in offices in the colony city.

He sat back and looked at the monitor on which he had finished typing the report and sighed. It really was a crying shame. These were good men, skilled men, but by the time they had finished a six month posting they were usually so emotionally wrung out they spent at least as long again getting accustomed to a sky above their heads and soil beneath their feet. They had trouble relating to friends or family. Many of them ended up estranged from both and far too often they developed serious psychological problems that required medical intervention.

He yawned. He was physically and mentally tired himself. It really was harder working in deep space than he had expected before he came on this assignment. Living in micro-gravity day after day, the fact that there WAS no day as such, just an endless night divided into work and rest periods, were the first things that had started to grate on his nerves. One was a physical problem, the other mental. Both were relatively minor, and there WERE plenty of studies that showed that there were no real long term effects of micro-gravity on a fit and healthy body.

Of course, he didn’t have a fit and healthy body. Being a medic it was easy enough to change his own records so that the company didn’t know about his health problems. He wrote his own prescriptions to control the early onset of Multiple Sclerosis. The micro-gravity was exacerbating the symptoms. Most shift cycles he was troubled by numbness in his hands and feet from the peripheral neuropathy. If anyone saw him hobbling from his bed to the bathroom, dropping the shaver because he couldn’t grip tightly enough, leaning against the wall of the ion shower because he couldn’t stand up on his feet, they would be calling for a replacement medic and sending him straight home. Luckily, the symptoms were easing by the time he went down to the mess room for breakfast, and a lot of his day was spent at his desk writing up reports. He was getting away with it so far.

He wasn’t affected by the loneliness or the separation from family. He didn’t have a family, and he wasn’t especially missing his friends. He knew they would all still be there when he got back to the colony world.

At least he hoped they would be. Six months was a long time. Things changed. People changed. Maybe the people he thought he could rely on would have moved on. Maybe he would go home just to be lonely in a crowd.

Of course, what really got to him was the way five men living in isolation could rub each other up the wrong way. There wasn’t a day – a shift cycle – that went by without some petty, trivial issue becoming a major row between one or more of them. It would blow over eventually, but even a space lighthouse with twenty-five floors wouldn’t seem big enough for them while it was going on. Sometimes he wished he could just bang their heads together.

It had been like that today when Crossley complained to Morris about the food replicators. Morris had retorted that it was a computer problem not technical, and that it was Crossley who ought to sort it out. Crossley had not taken the retort well and within moments he, as medic, had been the only man who wasn’t taking sides on the issue.

Before that, it had been complaints about the sub-space radio not working. Dahl had been angry that he hadn’t spoken to his wife in weeks. Jessop had protested that it was nothing to do with him. The Maelstrom interfered with the transmissions. Dahl knew perfectly well that it did that, but he was not being reasonable that day and he had given Jessop a hard time.

And the arguments were only one side of it all. Far worse were the long periods of sullen introversion that every member of the crew was prone to. Dahl had locked himself in his room for a nearly seventy hours last week. Nobody even knew what his problem was. They had even started to worry that the Station Captain might have killed himself in a fit of depression. As medical officer he had ordered the door forced. Dahl was lying on his bed asleep and was angry when he was roused.

It was difficult working in deep space, but he knew his recommendations would be ignored. Cutting the amount of time men stayed on the lighthouses would be expensive. Fully automating them would be even more expensive. That would never happen.

He sighed deeply and shut down the monitor. What was the point? Why did they ask him to come out here and make a report that was going to be dismissed because the company were too cheap to implement it? Six months of his life wasted.

He was depressed. He recognised the symptoms in himself. The mood swings, the anger, the desperation. He was a medic. He had a second degree in mental health as well as his general medicine qualification. He ought to be able to hold it together.

He stood and walked over to the pharmacy cupboard. He wouldn’t bother writing a prescription for the anti-depressants. He could change the stock numbers so that it didn’t look as if anything was missing.

He opened the bottle. It was nearly full. He took two pills with a mouthful of water.

Then he reached for another bottle. And another. He stopped looking at the labels. They were medicine. They would help. He took two and replaced the cap. The missing pills could be explained – they dropped on the floor, had to be disposed of….

Anyway, they would help him to get a bit of peace, a bit of mental and physical rest….

Another pod emerged from the lighthouse. Amy and Rory looked at The Doctor questioningly.

“This one isn’t quite so gruesome,” he said. “Although he must have had a bad time before he died. The chemicals in his body would have only stopped fighting each other in order to attack his kidneys, liver, intestines.”

“Chemicals?” Rory questioned. The Doctor read out a list of substances that the TARDIS scanner identified. He recognised a lot of them from the hospital pharmacy. “He overdosed on prescription drugs. Sounds like he sampled every bottle in the cupboard.”

“So this one was a suicide?” Amy questioned. “That’s… sad… but straightforward enough. Do you think he killed the others and then finished himself off?”

“Could be,” The Doctor answered. “I wish I knew why we can’t materialise in the lighthouse. Somebody really DOES need to find out what happened there, now. But it’s as if the building itself is fighting me.”

Dan Crossley wasn’t in a good mood as he headed to the main control room again an hour after his shift was supposed to have ended to deal with yet another server overload. He would have ignored this one, but it was in the secondary life support system, and the way things were going lately he didn’t want to risk any problems with that – in case the primary life support went down. Of course, the turbo lift was still out. He had to walk down those interminable stairs to the very bottom level of the lighthouse.

He stepped into the control room and glared at the central computer. The blue-white glow from its monitors glared back at him menacingly. At least that’s what it always seemed to be doing. He had never been fond of computers. He didn’t like the way people relied on them for everything. They were tools. They were supposed to make life easier, but they weren’t supposed to govern every aspect of life from stepping into the ion shower in the morning to putting your clothes in the automatic laundromat at night. They shouldn’t be relied on for every piece of information in the course of the day. People didn’t think any more. They let computers do it for them.

He switched on the hand held computer that ran diagnostic programmes, telling him what was wrong with the central processor. The screen lit up with a detailed schematic of where the errors were occurring and how to fix them.

That was exactly his point. Instead of testing the damn machine for himself, he was told what needed fixing. He was just an organic part of the computer.

He wasn’t even an important part of the damn thing. He wasn’t even the central processor. He was just the repair drone!

He glowered at the huge panel that enclosed the servers, as big as a walk in cupboard door, then he opened it up and started work, glancing at the diagnostic screen every few moments for reference.

He didn’t notice that the main computer’s monitors were displaying the same schematic, and that it was changing even as he worked.

That was the trouble. He hadn’t analysed anything. He was just doing what the computer told him to do. He didn’t think about any of it, and he didn’t see the danger until it was too late.

He screamed viscerally as the electric shock coursed through his body – not enough to kill him, or even render him unconscious, but enough to cause extreme pain and paralyse his muscles, leaving him unable to close his mouth when the scream came to an end. He tried to pull his hand away but it felt as if it was fused to the circuit. He stared at his hand. It was glowing with the same blue-white glow that the computer emitted.

Then the glow completely enveloped him and his paralysed body was pulled into the server cupboard against his will. He was pressed against the mass of circuits and motherboards, and he felt them start to take him over. Wires bored into his skull, attaching themselves to his brain, reading him like a hard drive. His eyes were the monitors, with data scrolling down them. But the data was inconsistent. There were errors. His organic memory wasn’t compatible with the computer memory. It had to be reformatted….

He couldn’t scream. He had lost that capacity long before. But the pain was excruciating – if brief – when his brain shut down for reboot.

“That’s very peculiar,” The Doctor said to no-one in particular as he scanned the latest pod to be ejected from the lighthouse.

“What is?” Amy asked, feeling that somebody had to say something.

“The cause of this man’s death. His brain… was literally fried. As if massive amounts of electricity were poured into it. He’s like a computer with a burnt out motherboard.”

“What?” Rory stared at The Doctor. “What made you say that? People aren’t computers. Why use that… that… what’s the word… like comparison but… more….”

“Analogy,” Amy suggested helpfully.

“Exactly,” The Doctor said. “And… I honestly don’t know. But for a second, while I was looking at the scan of the body… that’s what I thought.”

“That’s horrible, Doctor,” Rory told him. “As if a dead Human being had been reduced to the same status as a broken down computer.”

“Yes, I know,” he admitted. “I’m sorry for that. But….”

“Rory, Doctor….” Amy understood what they were talking about. It was important. It was about the fundamental nature of life. But there was something else she felt she had to draw their attention to. Both looked around at her. She looked at the temporal clock again just to be certain that she wasn’t imagining things. “How long have we been here, watching coffins come out of the lighthouse?”

“About an hour,” Rory estimated.

“Fifty-eight standard galactic minutes,” The Doctor said. He didn’t need to estimate. He was a Time Lord. He knew when time was passing instinctively.

“According to the temporal clock, it’s been more like twelve hours… and just to confuse matters the clock is running backwards,” Amy said.

“What?” The Doctor raced around the console as Rory and Amy both stood back out of the way. “No, that’s impossible. It can’t do that. Not even the Maelstrom can cause that kind of interruption to causality.”

“WHAT kind of interruption to causality?” Rory asked.

“A time swing,” The Doctor said. “The lighthouse is caught in a time swing, like a time loop, only it goes back and forward instead of cycling around….”

Needless to say that didn’t leave either of his companions any better informed. The Doctor took a deep breath and got ready to explain in laymen’s terms.

“The clock is going forward now,” Amy said before he had chance to speak. “It changed, just now. It started counting up the seconds again instead of down.”

“That means we’re within normal parameters again,” The Doctor said. “That means we might be able to get onto the lighthouse now. The TARDIS couldn’t before because time was running backwards against itself. But we should be all right, now.”

He reached for the dematerialisation switch. Rory and Amy grabbed on to the handholds. But they didn’t have to worry. This was a relatively smooth ride. They materialised moments later in what was obviously the computer control centre for the lighthouse.

“Seems ok, so far,” Amy commented looking at the image on the viewscreen. “Just a computer room.”

The Doctor glanced at the environmental scanner then ran to the door. Rory and Amy followed in time to see him wrench open the front panel of a huge server unit and support the body of a man that fell out of it.

“Wow, what happened to him?” Amy asked. The Doctor let the man gently down onto the floor. Rory tried to do all the things he was trained to do with an injured patient, but he didn’t know where to begin.

“His face… his veins… they’re….”

He looked as if his organic body had been partially turned into computer components. His face was covered in printed circuits. His veins were a network of wiring.

“This is the man whose brain was fried,” The Doctor explained. “The last pod we saw expelled from the lighthouse.”

“Time was running backwards,” Amy remembered. “So he was the FIRST to die, not the last. That means....”

“Help them,” the man whispered in a voice that was wracked with pain. “Help them… it’s too late for me, but you can save the others.”

“What from?” Rory asked him. “What happened here… I mean… what’s going to happen?”

“The computer…” Dan Crossley explained, still fighting the obvious pain he was in. “I hated it. I hated being here. But it hated me… hated all of us… It wants… rid of humans… wants to be left to run the lighthouse on its own… it took me… downloaded my mind… now it’s going… to… kill the others.”

“Brave man,” The Doctor said, putting his hand gently on his forehead. “You hung on as long as you could to try to tell somebody what happened, to give your comrades a chance. But it’s all right, now. We’re here. We’ll look after them. You can rest now.”

He spoke very soothingly, almost as if coaxing a baby to sleep. But he was doing something much more terrible than that. He was urging a man who had been clinging on to life by his fingertips to let go.

Crossley let go. He died with one last ragged, painful breath. The Doctor closed his eyes and placed his hands by his side.

“You understand, there was nothing I could do,” The Doctor said to Rory. “His body was in such a state, life was utterly unviable.”

“I understand, Doctor,” Rory told him. Then The Doctor leapt to his feet. He moved to the main computer control and pressed buttons quickly. He frowned at what he saw.

“It’s starting already. The computer is trying to kill everyone on board. The TARDIS doesn’t like short hops, but it’s the quickest way. Amy, back inside. Rory, help me bring this poor fellow. We’ll deal with him after we’ve rescued his friends.”

They lifted the body of Dan Crossley into the TARDIS and closed the door. Moments later it dematerialised. The sound when it re-materialised in the medical centre was distinctly more organic than usual as if it was protesting about the short trip between floors. It was certainly loud enough to distract Doctor Ewan Ross as his hand reached to open the pharmacy cupboard. He stared as the police box door opened and The Doctor stepped out.

“Doctor Ross, it’s all right,” he told him. “You’re not suicidal. You just need to get away from this lighthouse, right now. Come with me.”

Doctor Ross didn’t ask how a stranger knew his name. He didn’t ask how he was supposed to get away from a space lighthouse in a police box. There was something about the look on The Doctor’s face that made him want to do as he suggested. He stepped over the threshold into the console room and his eyes widened in surprise.

“What happened to me?” he asked. “I felt as if… I felt like… but now….”

“There were massive levels of norepinephrine in the air in the medical room,” The Doctor explained.

“No what?” Amy asked.

“Chemical used in treatment of depression.” Rory said automatically. “High levels of it are known to CAUSE the symptoms, including suicide.”

“The computer is killing everyone on the lighthouse by fatally altering the environment.” The Doctor glanced at the lifesigns showing on the TARDIS’s environmental control and set another short hop to Station Captain Hans Dahl’s room. The man was undressed ready to shower. Rory stepped out, handing him a large towel while The Doctor stood between Amy and the viewscreen.

“We have proper power showers in the TARDIS bathrooms,” Rory said. “Feel free to enjoy our facilities.”

The Doctor let Amy go out to get Norm Jessop. The man was surprised to see a pretty woman standing over his bed, and didn’t argue with her when she suggested that he should come with her. Whether he was awake or dreaming it seemed like an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The TARDIS’s last stop was halfway up the steps to the lightroom. Gordon Morris rounded the corner, panting slightly, and stared at the blue box blocking his way.

“It’s all right,” The Doctor said to him. “You can have a rest from here.”

That was the last. The Doctor dematerialised the TARDIS one more time and brought it back to its temporal orbit beside the lighthouse. As he and Doctor Ross between them prepared Dan Crossley’s body for a funeral in space he explained what had almost happened to all of them.

“You saw all our bodies in coffins….” Gordon Morris found a voice to express how disturbing it sounded to them all.

“In reverse order, starting with Crossley himself,” The Doctor explained. “Because the Lighthouse was caught in a freak time swing. If it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have been able to rescue any of you. If we’d arrived here in an ordinary timeline it would have been impossible. But the time swing…. I’m sorry we weren’t able to save this man, too. But he hung on long enough to tell me what was happening. That let me save you all. He deserves your thanks.”

“He has it,” Hans Dahl said. He and his comrades, with Amy and Rory standing respectfully with them, said a fifty-second century prayer for the dead as The Doctor laid the body of Dan Crossley beside the TARDIS door and opened it. He went to the console and cancelled the shield for two seconds, long enough for the body to be pulled out into deep space. He bowed his head until the prayer was over.

“All right,” he said briskly. “I’ve set our course for the colony world. You’ll all be home in an hour. Meanwhile I think a good hot cup of tea will do you all a power of good.” Amy glanced his way meaningfully. When it came to domestic duties aboard the TARDIS she had always made it clear that she was nobody’s ‘little woman’ and now there were four more men aboard. “I’ll make it. You find the jammie dodgers,” he told her.

Tea and biscuits seemed such an ordinary, mundane idea to the rescued men. Gordon Morris looked as if he was going to burst into tears. The others just looked bemused.

“What about the Lighthouse?” Hans Dahl asked. “What happens now?”

“It’s transmitting the sub-sonic signal, still,” The Doctor said. “That’s what the computer wanted to do… to run the lighthouse without people. I think you’d better just let it get on with it.”

“The company won’t be happy,” Dahl noted. “They’ll want to cut our bonuses for not finishing the six months.”

“Nuts to the bonuses,” Norm Jessop replied, and he seemed to speak for all of them.

“I always said it wasn’t natural having men out in space for months at a time,” Doctor Ross said. “Let’s go home.”