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

The Doctor smiled as he listened to his friends talking in the console room, forgetting as usual that he was down below attempting to fix the TARDIS’s stealth mode function that would allow them to materialise quietly – which had nothing whatsoever to do with leaving the parking brake on, regardless of what some people might have said.

They were talking about Christmas. According to their Earth calendars it was that time of year again and there was no point in trying to tell them that the rest of the universe didn’t run on Earth values of time. It was Christmas.

Which was ok, more or less. He liked Christmas. It was a good idea, generally speaking.

Rory and Amy were talking about Father Christmas, existence of or not – discuss!

“I used to believe in him when I was really little,” Rory said. “But obviously when I was five or six or so I figured out it was my mum and dad. Mostly because they left the price stickers on from Asda. Father Christmas wouldn’t shop at Asda.”

“I don’t know when I stopped believing,” Amy answered him. “But when I was eight I refused to have my presents from Father Christmas. I wanted The Doctor to bring them instead. My parents spent hours telling me stories, putting on all the old films like Santa Claus the Movie, Miracle on 34th Street, trying to get me to believe in the same fantasy every other kid believed in instead of The Doctor. I told one of the psychiatrists about it – about how they were doing my head in with insisting the bloke in the sleigh was real but the one in the blue box wasn’t, even though I’d SEEN The Doctor but I’ve never seen a REAL Father Christmas.”

“Makes you think though,” Rory said. “I mean, The Doctor IS real. We know that. So what about Father Christmas – I mean, millions of people believe in him. So maybe….”

“Yes, but The Doctor is an alien,” Amy said. “That makes sense. Where does Father Christmas come from? I mean, is he an alien too? If so, he must be even more powerful than The Doctor. There’s no way the TARDIS could get around every child in the world in one night. Besides, from what I’ve heard about his people, they’re not that generous.”

“Temporal schism,” The Doctor said as he stepped into the console room and took off the absurdly shaped goggles he used for repair work.

“You can get pills for that,” Rory answered him. The Doctor laughed.

“Temporal schism is a means by which time can be frozen in a nano-second while the being who caused the schism is able to not only move freely, but move in every moment at the same time.”

Rory and Amy didn’t understand. They looked at each other and silently repeated the words The Doctor had just said, but it made no sense, even though they had a feeling he had dumbed the explanation down as much as he could.

“Look,” he tried again. “If time is frozen, you can use all the time that isn’t being used… over and over again.”

No, that didn’t work either.

“I’m just going to have to show you,” he said reaching for the navigation control and selecting a new destination.

“Show us what?” Amy asked.

“How Father Christmas does it,” The Doctor replied.

If Amy and Rory had any expectation of where they were going, it might have been the North Pole or Lapland, the moon. They really didn’t think The Doctor was serious, in any case. And when they looked at the place they had landed, they figured he had got it wrong as usual.

“Where on Earth is this?” Rory asked as they stepped out of the TARDIS and looked up at low, dark grey clouds that promised ran. “It has to be on Earth. It’s the only place where the sky looks that miserable.”

“Not true at all,” The Doctor insisted. “Many planets have weather patterns like those on Earth. Human colonists in the future will deliberately seek out most of them so that they can feel at home on their new worlds.”

A train ran by beyond a wire fence.

“Only Earth has a TransPennine rail link,” Amy pointed out. She looked beyond the railway line at the red brick rows of terraced houses that stretched down into a valley and up again on the other side as far as the eye could see. “Looks like the opening credits of Coronation Street. We must be in Lancashire.”

They turned and looked at the tall red brick building behind them, which confirmed their judgement. It was the sort of building they had seen in their school history books when they did the Industrial Revolution - a cotton mill whose smoke stack would have billowed with smoke while inside hundreds of workers, some of them children, would sweat away amongst the noise and heat of industry for long hours.

This one was called Waterfall Mills according to the inscription in lighter coloured bricks near the top of the building. The year 1853 was inscribed beneath the name.

“Was there ever a waterfall here?” Amy wondered.

“They probably damned it up before they stuck this ugly old factory in its place.” Rory answered.

“Why are we here, Doctor?” Amy asked. “What does this dump have to do with Father Christmas.”

“This ‘dump’ is one of Father Christmas’s depots,” The Doctor answered. “The locals think it’s disused. They’ve walked past it for decades, ever since they stopped making cotton here in the 1920s. Nobody gives it a passing thought. It’s just a big old building that’s been there forever. All it does is get in the way of Freeview signals to television sets in the valley. Nobody works here….”

“Nobody ever goes in, and nobody ever comes out,” Rory said in a sinister voice that made Amy giggle.

“Quite so,” The Doctor responded. “Except on this occasion, we’re going in.”

He strode away towards a large door set into the red brick wall and knocked in a complicated rhythm that might have been a code. The Doctor stepped back, smiling as if he knew a secret nobody else knew. He probably did at that.

Then a small hatch opened in the door around The Doctor’s midriff and two eyes peered out.

“Hello,” The Doctor said. “Merry Christmas. I’m here with a couple of friends to see The Gaffer’s operation.”

“Come on in,” the owner of the pair of eyes replied. The door swung open with a creak that fully belonged to such an old wooden door.

Rory and Amy were ready for just about anything by now. What they fully expected was a dingy, miserable, dark room that hadn’t been painted since 1900.

What they walked into was something like the inside of a space ship – and they knew what space ships looked like inside and out by now. The ceiling high above their heads curved like a big upturned soup bowl and was made of opaque crystal that let in diffused sunlight.

“What sunlight?” Rory queried. “It was ready to chuck it down out there.”

“Yes, but that was December 2011,” said the very small man who had opened the door to them. He wasn’t a dwarf in the sense that word was understood, but a perfectly proportioned man who measured about three foot five. “As soon as you stepped over the threshold you entered a place where it is no date and no time. Long ago we chose a sunny afternoon in Mid-November 1963 for the sky over us. November 22nd, in point of fact. Your friend The Doctor always said that was an ironic choice, but he would never explain why.”

“I wouldn’t want to confuse you, Yoyo,” The Doctor said. “By the way, this is Rory and Amy. They want to know about Father Christmas.”

“Otherwise known as Santa Claus, Sinter Klaas, Saint Nicholas, Père Noôl, Viejo Pascuero, Kerstman, Joulupukki, Weihnachtsmann, Kanakaloka, Babbo Natale, Julenissen, Swiety Mikolaj, Jultomten, De Kerstman, Christkindl, Saint Nikolaus, Kalesu Senelis, Mikulás, Sion Corn, Karácsony Apó, Bozicek, Ziemmassve’tku Veci’tis, Kaleda Senis, Kris Kringle, Aghuis Vassilis, Deda Meraz, Diado Coleda, Mos Cracium….”

The little man called Yoyo stopped either because he had run out of alternative names for the man with the suit and sleigh or because he had run out of breath. In any case, Rory and Amy weren’t really listening. They were looking at the vast shelves, reaching up towards the ceiling and a good quarter of a mile long. Between each shelf was a conveyor belt that extended out onto what, for want of a better word, might be called the factory floor. Actually it was more like a big dispatch warehouse. Hundreds of small men and women like Yoyo were working busily. Some of them were moving up and down the shelves. Others were on tall ladders that slid along the shelves so that they could pick packages off them.

Yes, all of the shelves were filled with brightly wrapped parcels of various sizes. Closer inspection showed that the shelves had a code not unlike the Dewey-Decimal system of a library, except far more complex. The packages were passed down to the conveyor belt where they were swiftly labelled before going onto small fork lift trucks that delivered them to a selection of sacks in an area that resemble a mail sorting office – the sacks being arranged by their eventual destination. When the sacks were full, they were hung on a pulley system which raised them up to a platform near the roof. Rory and Amy gaped in surprise to see a full sized sleigh with reindeer on the platform and a hearty looking man in a red suit settling into the seat. He picked up the reins and there was a satisfying peal of bells before the sleigh took off under the glass ceiling and through a wide hatch that automatically slid open.

As if that wasn’t amazing enough, when they looked back at the platform there was another sleigh loading up and getting ready to take off.

“So… it’s sort of like DHL,” Rory said. “A distribution operation.”

“DHL?” Yoyo consulted a nearby computer terminal. “Daniel Harry Lee of Stockport, who wants a train set for Christmas?”

“No, I mean… DHL… they deliver parcels, in vans….”

“It’s a Human thing,” The Doctor explained to the very puzzled little man. “They have to find mundane things to compare the wonderful and extraordinary to or their brains can’t encompass it.”

“I understand,” Yoyo said in such a tone that Rory and Amy both felt they had been put down by a man who was only half their size.

“Don’t mistake size as a measure of intelligence,” The Doctor told them as they headed towards a spiral staircase made of the same kind of crystal glass as the ceiling. “The stupidest creature in the universe is said to be the Kragh of Oba II. His body is a mile wide, but his brain is smaller than a cat. Besides, Yoyo and his colleagues are hundreds of years old, and you know how smart we long-lived races are.”

“Yes, Doctor, but you don’t have to make out that we’re all just thicky humans.”

“You’re not. Some of you are very clever. And some of you would be if you tried a bit harder. But the Gaffer and his people have one thing in common with me. We like humans, despite their short-comings and spend a great deal of time and effort looking after you all. In their case all of their time and all of their effort.”

“All right, but I think my point still stands,” Rory pointed out. “This looks like a huge dispatch centre. And exactly how many Father Christmases are there. I’ve counted twenty-five arriving and leaving while we walked across this floor.” He looked up and saw the sleigh streak across the ceiling one more time. “Twenty-six now.”

“There is just the one,” Yoyo replied. “The Gaffer… as we know him. You have seen him go and return twenty-six times. He uses the same moment again and again in order to make the countless journeys necessary to ensure that every child in every place and every time gets their Christmas wish.”

“Ok, so that’s how it’s done,” Amy accepted. “But….”

They reached the staircase. It was not only a spiral, but an escalator, too. The steps moved up and up endlessly. Watching it was ever so slightly mind boggling, like one of those magic tricks where water poured into a pot that never filled up. Stepping onto it was an amazing sensation. A spiral escalator was much more fun than an ordinary one.

“When I was little I was scared of escalators,” Rory admitted. “I always thought they were going to drag me down at the end.”

“I know,” Yoyo said in that same voice of wisdom. “Your mother took you to see Father Christmas in the shopping centre in Gloucester. But he was on the top floor and she insisted on going up the escalator instead of the lift. By the time you got there, you were crying, and it spoilt your visit to Father Christmas. You wouldn’t sit on his knee and you didn’t tell him what you wanted for Christmas.”

“How did you know?” Rory asked. He wasn’t entirely surprised when Yoyo didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure how he felt about a stranger knowing all about something so personal and upsetting to him.

They stepped off the escalator at the top. Amy looked down over the railing and saw that they were above that opaque ceiling. From below it had been shaped like an upside down soup bowl. From above, of course, it was shaped like the outside of the bowl. It was completely see-through from this side. She could see all the way to the stacks below. Father Christmas – aka The Gaffer, among all those other names, whooshed by underneath on yet another of his apparently endless journeys.

She looked up and saw the inside of an ordinary tiled roof held up by old joists – the real roof of Waterfall Mills. She remembered for the first time since stepping over the threshold that they were really in a small, grim Lancashire town under a sky that was about to pour with rain. It was amazingly easy to forget that in this place.

She forgot all about the roof when Yoyo pressed a button on a control panel and the upturned soup bowl of the ceiling turned white and opaque and then colours began to swirl and form patterns. She recognised the shapes of Australia, New Zealand and part of Antarctica.

“We didn’t start getting requests from there until well into the twenty-third century when the enviro-dome communities were established,” Yoyo said. He touched Antarctica on what was obviously an interactive map on the control panel. The map swivelled around and then closed in on Antarctica and shimmered slightly. Rory and Amy didn’t ask, because they didn’t want to be patronised by either Yoyo or The Doctor. They guessed for themselves that the map had moved forwards in time.

“Antarctica is still there in the twenty-third century,” Rory commented. “All the doom merchants about global warming were wrong, then?”

“No, they were right,” The Doctor answered him. “And your world leaders realised they were just in time to reverse the damage. Only JUST, mind you. That was a close one for humanity.”

The map was still closing in, like a Google Earth page but in real three-dimensions. Soon they could make out the glass dome that covered a small village of long white buildings. They closed in even more until they were inside one of the buildings, in a child’s bedroom where a little girl was writing a letter.

“Dear Santa,” said the voice in her head as she spelled out the words. “I would like a doll and a radio so that I can talk to my grandma in Sydney every night before I go to bed. Yours Faithfully, Jessica Greenwood, Antarctic Base One.”

“Sweet,” Amy said. “So… will she get what she wants?”

“She will,” Yoyo assured her. “The radio is her hearts’ desire. She longs to be able to talk to the grandmother who she misses far more than her parents realise. The doll and lots of other toys are already wrapped and hidden in the utility shed. Her mother and father will put them around the tree on Christmas Eve. Later, The Gaffer will drop by and leave the radio. Her parents will assume it came from one of their friends or neighbours, of course. But Jessica will know where it really came from.”

“Yeah… but….” Rory began then gave up.

“Well... what about children whose parents are really poor and they don’t get anything?” Amy asked. “Or the sort of children we see on the NSPCC adverts at Christmas whose parents don’t CARE if they get presents or not?”

“Those are a problem, of course,” Yoyo admitted with a grave expression that was at odds with his name. “But we ensure that all children, every one of them, at least once in their lives, has a Christmas gift that will brighten their lives, something precious to them that will comfort them in times of trouble.”

“Every child?” Rory asked. “Really?”

“Look,” Yoyo said. He pressed a button on his control panel and the soup bowl turned into a big screen video playback. The scene was a child’s bedroom. It was a very poor room. There were two beds, one a double bedstead and the other a single. Both had very thin mattresses and even thinner blankets. There were three children in one bed and one older boy in the single bed. He was saying a sort of prayer that Amy found very familiar.

“Dear Father Christmas,” the boy said. “My brothers and I would like a football to play with. I want to be a proper footballer when I grow up, but we only have a rag ball.”

“They just want the one football, between them?” Rory asked. “That’s all?”

“It’s Christmas 1926, the year of the General Strike,” The Doctor said in explanation. “This is the home of one of the coal miners whose lives weren’t changed one iota for all the efforts that were made. These boys know that asking for anything else when food and fuel are hard to come by would be greedy.”

The image flickered. It was obviously another night, a much colder one in which all four boys were in the same bed huddled under a large overcoat as well as their blankets. It was dark, but presumably there was some form of night vision available to those watching on The Gaffer’s spycam. They clearly saw the big man with the white beard and red suit arrive in the bedroom, though they weren’t sure where from. They saw him place a brand new leather football at the bottom of the bed along with four lollipops.

“The Gaffer is a sentimental old man,” Yoyo commented. “The lollipops aren’t strictly according to the plan.”

The image flickered again to show a young man wearing a very old fashioned red and white football kit running out onto a pitch along with his teammates. The image struck Rory and Amy as odd at first until they realised they were used to seeing old football games in black and white. The Gaffer’s system had High Definition colour that would make a SKY executive weep in envy.

“Wigan Athletic on the opening game of their 1938 season,” The Doctor explained. “That’s the boy in the bed, all grown up now, and playing his first professional game for his team. Of course, like many young men of his generation his career was interrupted by the war, but he came back to continue playing into his thirties then he started a successful business. His eldest brother was his managing director. The two youngest boys got to go to university and become academics, and their parents retired to a comfortable bungalow in the countryside, all because he got a good football to practice with.”

“It doesn’t always work out so well though, does it?” Rory said. “There are kids whose fathers get drunk and break everything they got for Christmas and kids whose parents are druggies who would sell everything in the house for a fix. Even The Gaffer can’t make every child happy.”

Yoyo looked pained to be reminded of that undeniable fact.

“He tries,” he said. “He tries very hard. Sometimes it seems as if the world is so broken nobody can fix it. But he tries.”

The image before them changed again. It flickered several times with a red light. Yoyo paid very close attention.

“What’s up?” Amy asked. “Did the toy shop run out of Nintendo DS’s?”

“No,” Yoyo answered her. “This is a non-toy request.”

The image finally resolved into a view of London’s Oxford Street in the evening with the late shoppers bustling around under the bright Christmas lights that were so spectacularly switched on by the latest X-Factor winner a few weeks before. Everyone was busy, and a little anxious, trying to get the shopping done and go home. There really wasn’t an awful lot of joy being spread as people brushed past each other in the street without even a word, let alone a ‘Merry Christmas’.

And nobody was taking any notice of a thin, tired looking girl who was standing in a doorway looking up at the bright lights and crying.

“If there really was a Father Christmas….” She was thinking. “I wish he’d take me back to my mum. I know I shouldn’t have run away. I want to go home and tell her I’m sorry. That’s all I want for Christmas.”

“That’s one for you, Doctor,” Yoyo said. The Doctor didn’t answer. Rory and Amy both looked around and wondered where he was. Then Yoyo drew their attention to the view of Oxford Street. A blue police box had just appeared out of nowhere. A man who actually thought bow ties were cool stepped out and approached the girl. They didn’t hear what he said to her, but when he reached out his hand she reached back. She stepped into the TARDIS with him and it disappeared.

“You know, if it was anyone else but The Doctor, that wouldn’t look good,” Amy commented. “He’s taken her home?”

The scene changed as she spoke. An ordinary house in an ordinary street had Christmas lights in its window just like all the houses around it. A police box materialised outside the gate. The girl stepped out. She looked back once, but the door was closed and the light on top was flashing. By the time she walked up the path and knocked on the door it had gone. But she didn’t need it. The door opened, spilling out warmth and light. There was a tearful reunion.

Amy jumped as The Doctor touched her on the shoulder. She didn’t bother asking how he got back there so quickly.

“Do you often help Father Christmas out?” Rory asked.

“Quite often,” he replied. “When the requests aren’t toy related. You see, there ARE children out there who we can’t help. Because we don’t know where they are. Yoyo only picks them up on here if they send a message to Father Christmas – or Santa, Kris Kringle… whatever.”

“Oh!” Amy exclaimed. “You mean….”

The image changed. This time there were no flashing lights, because it was just a re-run, as it were. She saw herself as the eight year old Amelia Pond, in her pink nightdress and red cardigan, saying a prayer to Santa, asking for help with the crack in her bedroom wall.

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “Yoyo passed the message on to me. He knew it was one I could handle.”

“You didn’t handle it very well,” Amy told him. “At least, you took your time about it.”

“Well, you know, I was regenerating. It wasn’t the best time for me. Everyone has off days. Well, everyone except The Gaffer. He just gets rest breaks every so often.”

“There’s one coming up very soon,” Yoyo pointed out. “Would you like to say hello?”

“To the real Father Christmas?” Rory asked. “The actual, real man himself?”


“That’s a bit of a tough call,” Rory mused. “I mean… talk about meeting your heroes. I’m not going to be disappointed, am I? He won’t turn out to be a boosy, smoking, swearing slob in a string vest who really hates his job?”

“Human,” The Doctor reminded Yoyo, who was looking thoroughly scandalised by such a slur on the reputation of his boss. “They do have the strangest ideas sometimes.”

“Ah, I understand.” Yoyo’s face cleared. “I can assure you he has never worn a string vest in his life, and is a non-smoking tee-totaller whose strongest swear word is ‘blinking flip’.”

“Well, blinking flip, you didn’t tell me we had visitors, Yoyo!” said a large voice that had, at the same time, no accent at all, and every accent of English both ancient and modern. Amy and Rory were both too amazed at the sight of the bright eyes and the huge white beard, the red suit and shiny boots exactly like a Christmas card picture of Father Christmas to worry about his voice. “Doctor, it’s always good to see you here at Waterfall Mills. And Rory, do you still have the doctor and nurse set you got for your tenth Christmas?”

“Er… I’m a real nurse now,” he answered. “I’ve got a real stethoscope and thermometer. I don’t really need the toy ones.”

“Excellent,” Father Christmas told him. “I knew you’d do well. And Amy, dear child, you were always a difficult one. You didn’t really need me, or any of the gifts you got. All you wanted was your Doctor. I’m glad he found you again. You were quite right, of course. You kept believing in him, even though people kept on telling you that he didn’t exist, that there was no proof of his existence and that it was impossible for him to exist. You know the greatest secret of all. That sometimes faith is all anyone needs to believe.”

“Yes, sir,” Amy answered. “Thank you.” She felt as if she ought to curtsey or something.

“I’m Father Christmas,” he said to her. “A hug is allowed.”

Amy laughed and hugged him. She gasped in surprise. She felt all the excitement and joy she had ever felt on a Christmas morning with the tree twinkling away in the corner of the warm familiar living room and a collection of presents around her, her parents smiling gleefully to see their daughter open her new toys. He really was the spirit of Christmas. She felt it deep in her heart.

“Is that really what you look like?” Rory asked. “I mean… sort of… larger than life… like a cartoon….”

“He’s Human, sir,” Yoyo said apologetically. “You have to excuse his scepticism.”

“I fully understand,” Father Christmas answered. “It is a fair question, Rory. I am, of course, an Anthropomorphic Personification of the spirit of Christmas. I am what humans imagine I look like. I’ve changed over the centuries. I used to look more like an old European Bishop, very serious and saintly.” The image on the globe changed again to show some of the earliest engravings and icons of Saint Nicholas before changing again as he went on with his personal history. “Then for a while I wore a holly wreath on my head and rode a goat while carrying a bowl of mulled wine and a basket of mince pies. Then there was that poem in the 1830s, the one that went on about me having ‘a little round belly!’ That started it all off. A hundred years after that, a graphic artist called Haddon Sundblom imagined me as the jolly rotund figure with the red coat – drinking a bottle of a certain brand of soft drink. With posters and billboards, newspapers and magazines, films and then television, that picture was reproduced all over the world, and everyone started to think of me that way. I ought to be cross, really. It was pure commercialism and goodness knows there’s enough of that going around at Christmas, but I grew into the look. The Doctor knows what I mean. He’s changed so often he can’t remember his first face without looking in his photo albums.”

The Doctor nodded gravely. He knew exactly what it felt like to change without any control over the end result.

“So you’re not real?” Rory ventured. “Anthropomorphic Personification… you only exist because people believe in you?”

“What if they stopped believing?” Amy asked.

“The world would be a sadder, darker place,” Yoyo said. “Just as it would be without The Doctor. So you keep on believing in them both, Amy Pond.”

“I will,” Amy promised. “Oh, I will.”

“Me too,” Rory added.

“"Because you have seen me, you have believed,” Father Christmas said in a quiet tone. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Rory looked a little disconcerted as he recognised those words and remembered what he had said to Amy earlier about having faith in The Doctor. But then a deep, warm laugh filled his ears. “Come along, my friends. I’ve got a warm fireside, just like the Christmas card artists imagine, and mulled wine and mince pies. Let’s enjoy a respite before I return to my duties and the three of you return to yours.”

The room really was like a comfortable Christmas card. There was a big fireplace with a roaring fire and a squashy armchair beside it that Father Christmas sat in. There were more armchairs for his guests. The mulled wine was keeping warm by the fire and the mince pies were on a huge platter. Rory and Amy drank wine and ate mince pies and reminisced about Christmases past which the man himself knew as much about as they did. He talked with The Doctor about old friends of his, telling him about their happy Christmases since leaving his company. Rory and Amy felt warm and cosy in their armchairs, drowsy from the warmth of the fire and the inner heat of the mulled wine. Perhaps they had one too many glasses of it, because after a while they fell asleep.

When they woke up, they were on the sofa in the TARDIS. They were flying through the vortex. The Doctor was humming ‘Jingle Bells’ and it was possible to imagine that the time rotor in its glass bubble in the middle of the console was moving up and down in time to the music.

“Did we dream it all?” Amy asked. “About Waterfall Mills and Yoyo and… The Gaffer?”

The Doctor didn’t answer. He just smiled and suggested a really good Christmas party at Buckingham Palace in the year 2850 when Victoria the Second was queen and he had a standing invitation to visit.