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

On a warm July evening, the bistro called Maxie’s with its outdoor tables on the terrace above Victoria Street in the fashionable quarter of Edinburgh was even busier than it usually was. Those outdoor tables were all filled with people having drinks in the dying light of the day. Later, they had a table booked inside for a celebratory meal. The waiters attending to their orders thought it was some kind of reunion. Everyone seemed to have a subject in common that kept them talking as the sun went down and the terrace was lit with ambient lighting and warmed with outdoor heaters.

They were almost right. A reunion usually meant people who used to know each other at work or school or a military unit coming back together after a long time. In fact, most of these people didn’t know each other until this evening, but they did have one very special thing in common.

The Doctor.

Amy and Rory Williams were his most recent friends and companions. They had known him from just after his last regeneration, through to the end of the universe as they knew it, to the rebirth of the said universe. They had fought with him at Demon’s Run. In an alternative universe where everything was insane they had seen him get married to their own daughter, River Song. Back in what they hoped was the real world they had seen him die, and then invited him to Christmas dinner to explain how exactly he managed to cheat death this time.

Ordinary life was something of a relief after such a hectic whirlwind of adventures as The Doctor’s companions.

Martha Jones, who worked for U.N.I.T. as a medic, had also seen the end of the universe with The Doctor – and much that was worse. She was one of the first to share her story about the time she fought Daleks in 1930s New York. She was in Edinburgh with her husband, a man called Mickey Smith, who had been at what he called the Battle of Canary Wharf, when Daleks and Cybermen had fought each other for the right to dominate planet Earth and The Doctor had defeated both.

Captain Jack Harkness was sitting with Martha and Mickey. He was known to several of the others, but he had travelled to Scotland with them. He had told several stories about his adventures with The Doctor. Nobody was entirely sure if they were true because they all seemed so far-fetched even by The Doctor’s usual standards.

Sally Nightingale, formerly Sparrow, listened to their stories and admitted that she felt a bit like a fraud. She and her husband, Larry, had only met The Doctor once and they had only fought the Weeping Angels. The others assured her that ANY close encounter with The Doctor entitled her to be among this select group and decided they would look at statues in a whole new way after hearing her story.

“I only really met him once, too,” admitted Captain Erisa Magambo who was off-duty and wearing a civilian skirt suit, but nevertheless carried herself with a military bearing that was ingrained in her. “It was insane, but when I think about it, I know it was the most incredible time of my life. There was a hole in reality that was getting bigger by the minute, then these metal flying manta rays came through it, followed by a bloody great London bus – and it was flying, too.”

Even if they hadn’t seen the various clips of a flying bus taken on camera phones and stuck on You-Tube under headings like ‘seriously, it flies’ and ‘London Transport’s solution to congestion’ they would have believed her. A flying bus was tame compared to what some of them had been through.

“The Master,” said an attractive blonde woman in her mid-forties with a California accent who had introduced herself as Grace Holloway. “He nearly destroyed planet Earth – starting with San Francisco – on the Millennium Eve. That’s when I met The Doctor. That’s when my life changed in so many ways. I just have one regret… sometimes. When he asked me to come with him… and I said no.”

She gave a deep sigh, but she smiled, too. There was a general consensus that she did the right thing by saying no to The Doctor. Going with him didn’t just change your life it ripped it to shreds and re-assembled it in a completely different way. Besides, she was a cardiologist. She saved lives here on Earth.

“I was nobody before I met him,” admitted a woman who had introduced herself to the crowd as Ace, then conceded that her real name was Dorothy. The Doctor knew her as Ace and he had taken her on board the TARDIS when she was a sixteen year old runaway, a juvenile delinquent who didn’t really know what she wanted from life. “He taught me everything - absolutely everything. But there comes a time when you have to move on and stand on your own two feet.”

“Oh, I agree,” added a woman in her late middle age who spoke with an accent that veered from South London to Australian to somewhere even more exotic than that. Travelling the universe with The Doctor had awoken a spirit of adventure in Jo Grant-Jones and even back on Earth she had rarely put her feet down on the same soil for very long. “Still, when I look back on those days and think about what it was like, the excitement, the wonder, the absolute stone cold fear….” Several people murmured in sympathy with the ‘fear’. “Well, you know, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Everyone agreed about that. Tegan Jovanka who flew aeroplanes back in her native Queensland, but had been satisfied merely to be an air stewardess before she accidentally stumbled into the TARDIS, wholeheartedly endorsed the idea that knowing The Doctor was the best and the worst and the most magnificent part of her life.

“But where does that leave us all afterwards?” Rory asked. “If being with The Doctor was the best time of our lives, does that mean everything else is an anti-climax?”

“It’s what you make of it,” retired but universally famous journalist Sarah Jane Smith told him. “Life with The Doctor teaches us all to reach for the stars, to never be content with second best, and never to overlook something that is wrong that we know we can make right. What we do with ourselves when we’re back on Earth and out on our own is up to us. But if we don’t manage to make something spectacular out of ourselves, then we’ve not only let ourselves down but we’ve let him down, too. And none of us would think of doing that.”

“Hear, hear,” somebody said, and they all had another drink in toast to doing the best you can and not letting The Doctor down.

“Of course, it’s not always good,” a young man who had sat quietly until then, said. He told the crowd that his name was Elton Pope and he had belonged to a group called LInDA who had all come across The Doctor briefly and tried to find him again.

“I lost all of my friends because of The Doctor,” he continued. “I mean… it’s not his fault. They were killed by an alien who wanted to kill The Doctor. We were all just a means to an end. But all the same, if we had never heard of The Doctor or the TARDIS or any of it, then we’d all be alive, still. Of course, we would never have met, and we wouldn’t have had all the fun we had for a while before it all turned bad. But….”

He shook his head sadly then smiled.

“I would have liked to have taken a real trip in the TARDIS. You lot who’ve gone to other worlds with him are so lucky.”

Two young men who were sitting with Captain Magambo laughed ironically.

“I’m Nathan,” said one of the two. “This is Barclay.” The other man smiled brightly and nodded. “We went to another world with The Doctor. Not on his TARDIS, but on that bus. It was scary. There was all that desert, and these things in the air. And at first we didn’t know what to do. But then we all started working together and we got the bus going. I didn’t think I was any good at mechanics. On my apprenticeship I hardly got to do anything except what the boss told me to do, and he watched me over my shoulder all the time and criticised. But I got that engine going again and everyone pulled together and we got back to Earth, ok.”

“My girlfriend didn’t believe me when I told her about it,” Barclay added. “Tina… she reckoned I was on something. Even when the flying bus was on TV she didn’t believe it. Then I got taken on by U.N.I.T. I wasn’t just a useless, unemployed dude any more. I was somebody with a real job to do, responsibility. I’m a corporal now. Tina thinks I look dead good in my uniform and we’re getting married in September.”

There was a round of applause for that piece of good news. Barclay smiled widely at the people who had all been strangers to him when he got off the train in Edinburgh and headed to this rendezvous. Now he felt as if he was part of a very special club – people whose lives had been changed through knowing The Doctor, either briefly, as it had been for him, or for a long time as it was with some of them.

“You know, we’re not the only ones,” said a woman called Verity Newman, author of a book they had all read. It was the story of her grandmother’s love affair with an enigmatic man who turned out to be from another world. When she came to know him he was being pursued by a deadly group of aliens who caused death and devastation to many innocent people before he was able to defeat them.

This select group of people were the only ones who knew for certain that the best-selling novel The Journal of Impossible Things was not just fiction. They had recognised the man from another world as their Doctor, even those who knew him by another face than the one described in the book. They knew that Verity’s grandmother, Joan, was yet another Human being who had been touched by The Doctor’s presence. Yes, there had been violence and death, and yes, there had been heartbreak when she knew that the ordinary kind of relationship she wanted couldn’t happen with The Doctor. But there was happiness, too.

“She was another one who said no to him,” Grace Holloway noted. “She chose to carry on with her ordinary life rather than go away with him to extraordinary places.”

“It was the right decision for her,” Verity confirmed. “She never regretted that part of it. I saw him just once. He came to a book-signing. He asked if she had been happy. I told him she was. He seemed satisfied to know that. But I wish he’d stayed longer. I would have liked to have talked to him a bit more. It would have been nice to hear his side of things. I wish I knew if he really was in love with her. I think he was, but it would have been nice to hear him say it. I think he isn’t a man who loves easily. I don’t think he LETS people love him in THAT way. I think knowing her, letting himself have that brief interlude where he let himself fall in love, let somebody get close to him…. I think he deserved that and I’d like to tell him so.”

Grace Holloway nodded emphatically and agreed with that sentiment.

“I think I was one of those few people he let get close to him in that way. But he was in the first day of his regeneration. He had been through a massive trauma. I don’t know if that had a lot to do with it. I know what my patients are like in the immediate post-op stage. A lot of them are emotional. They are so glad to be alive, to have cheated death, that they’ll say a lot of things they wouldn’t say otherwise. I think it was like that for him. But I was glad to be there, all the same.”

“He has been in love, big time,” Martha Jones added. “Rose… her name was Rose. He wasn’t over her at all when I met him. He was like a guy on the rebound. I always felt like I was trying to measure up to her. I used to think she must have been some kind of superwoman that nobody could be as good as. But it wasn’t that. She was the same as the rest of us. But he’d lost her in a way that he could never have her back and it hurt him. He DOES hurt. Absolutely he does. He may not be Human, but where he comes from they feel pain, especially heartache, just as much as we do.”

“Twice as much,” Sarah Jane Smith agreed. “They have two hearts.”

Of course, anatomically that was nonsense. Two hearts had no bearing on emotions. Grace Holloway could certainly have confirmed that. But even she, the eminent cardiologist, agreed that The Doctor could be doubly hit by any emotion felt by mere humans.

“I’ve done a lot of research on him,” said a woman called Penny Carter who had told them all that she was a newspaper reporter, but promised that this reunion was not going to be a story. She was there like everyone else because The Doctor had touched her life, if only briefly. She admitted that he had saved her life, though in a rather abrupt way that had left her feeling bewildered at the time and convinced that she was the only sane person in a universe gone utterly mad.

“That can be dangerous,” Elton Pope reminded her.

“Yeah, I found that out,” Penny replied. “But you know, he really has been responsible for saving this planet a lot of times. Just about every weird thing that has happened in living memory… the spaceship crashing into Big Ben, the explosion at 10 Downing Street….”

“The spaceship was a hoax, and the explosion was gas,” Sarah Jane Smith pointed out. “Any other version of events is classified.” Captain Magambo was looking sternly at Penny, too.

“Oh, I know that. I mean, this isn’t going any further than here. We all KNOW the truth, after all. But it IS amazing how often this world has had to thank him. And it goes back decades – centuries. I found a reference to a disaster in East London in Victorian times. The destruction of buildings over a huge area of Wapping and the docklands was put down to gas explosions, but there are eye-witness reports of a metal giant – the word robot didn’t exist in Victorian times, of course – that was defeated by a Doctor. And there was a crisis in the 1960s when the London Underground was shut down because something was happening – and again in the 70s, inner London was completely evacuated and martial law imposed for days on end. The official story was what we now call a ‘dirty bomb’. But actually the real story was dinosaurs coming back to life in the middle of the city.”

“That really IS classified,” Sarah Jane reminded her. “You and I need to have a chat about your sources, later - before the Captain over there drags you in for an interrogation instead.”

“I’m off duty right now,” Captain Magambo pointed out. “But Sarah Jane is quite right. Do watch what you’re doing, Miss Carter.”

Penny looked a little perturbed, but even being given a semi-official warning couldn’t really affect the mood tonight. Everyone was enjoying the evening.

“It’s not just historical events he’s been involved in, of course,” Verity Newman added. “He’s affected literature, too. I suppose everyone here has read H.G. Wells’ Time Machine?”

They all had, and the same thought had crossed all their minds when they did. The Doctor and Herbert George had met at some time in the author’s life.

“Shakespeare,” Martha Jones added. “I was with him when he met him. The word Sycorax in The Tempest came from something The Doctor said to him in passing. And the fact that Loves Labours Lost has such a weird ending and no follow up – well, that’s a REALLY long story. I think he met Charles Dickens, too. And probably Agatha Christie. There are a couple of hints in her work that make me wonder.”

“Puccini,” Grace Holloway confirmed. “He was with him when he died. He told me. And he watched Leonardo da Vinci draw the Vetruvian Man.”

Everyone, now they thought about it, could name a book or a painting, a piece of music, that might have been influenced by a passing acquaintance with The Doctor. Holst’s Planet Suite was surely a result of a slow TARDIS trip to the edge of the solar system? Of course, he had to leave out Pluto because it hadn’t been discovered in his day.

And it was obvious to them all, even before Amy told of meeting Vincent Van Gogh in one of his more emotionally precarious times, that Starry Night was a painting inspired by a Time Lord.

“JK Rowling?” Sally Nightingale suggested. “She had a car that was bigger on the inside in one of the Harry Potter books.”

“Yes, and those portkeys are an awful lot like the time ring we used for a couple of trips when Harry and I were with him,” Sarah Jane added.

“No,” Verity Newman confirmed. “I asked her once, at the Booker Prize awards. She hasn’t met him.”

“In that case, The Doctor should see his lawyer about the portkeys,” Rory Williams suggested. Everyone laughed. While they were laughing, the waiters came out and asked if anyone wanted more drinks. Nearly everyone placed an order for soft drinks. They didn’t want to have too much alcohol before they sat down to dinner. One of the few who didn’t ordered a double whiskey. It was the fifth double-whiskey he had finished within an hour, and yet he didn’t look particularly drunk. He still spoke without any kind of obvious slur in his voice.

“The Doctor made an honest man of me,” Sabalom Glitz said. He looked strangely out of place among this crowd, dressed in a lot of leather and metallic fastenings like a cross between a Viking and a hairy biker. The woman by his side, dressed in a very feminine style with her long red hair held back from her face with pearl-coloured hair combs was such a contrast to him it was hard to believe they were a couple.

“I made an honest man of you,” Mel Bush responded with a laugh. “But The Doctor introduced us, sort of. He saved our lives at least once.”

“He saved everyone when I met him,” said a woman of Chinese descent who was sitting with Ace. They were old acquaintances, having shared an adventure when they were both teenagers. “He prevented a war between this reality and another one, and then stoppped a nuclear bomb going off into the bargain. And I REALLY wish he’d asked me to go with him. I would have LOVED to have seen the universe.” She smiled wistfully. “Still, I have no real regrets. And I am proud to have known him even briefly.”

That was the consensus of the many people at this gathering who had become acquainted with The Doctor through some brief but terrifying period of their lives when everything they thought was normal turned out not to be so. Those with a longer relationship with The Doctor didn’t look down on them in any way. They were all part of the same select group of people who had come together to get to know each other and to celebrate the man they all had in common.

“It really was a great idea of yours, Amy,” Martha Jones said. “Getting us all together like this.”

“It wasn’t my idea,” Amy admitted. “I wanted to do it, but I could only locate a few people. You and Sally and Larry, and Sarah Jane. The others - I didn’t know where to start. It wasn’t me who set this up. Rory and I got an invitation just like everyone else.”

“Really?” Martha was puzzled, then cautious. She looked around at the crowd, and then mouthed something to Captain Magambo, who was immediately alert.

“It was I who sent the invitations.” A small man with thinning hair who had not spoken much up until now stood and introduced himself to everyone as Bayldon Copper. A few people recognised the name and there were murmurs of conversation with those who didn’t. “Yes, I am the Mr Copper of the Mr Copper Foundation for Philanthropic and Scientific Research. I owe The Doctor my life, my freedom and my wealth, and the only way I could find to repay him was to keep a database of people whose lives he had touched, to make sure all of you were well and happy. I am glad to say that all of you are. If any of you were not, it was my intention to offer help through my Foundation. I am sure The Doctor would approve of that. But this little get together has so far been my only way of acknowledging each of you.”

“So it was your idea, sir?” Martha Jones asked. “That was nice of you. It really has been a great evening.”

“Actually, in truth, it WASN’T my idea. I only provided the means. It was this other gentleman who came to me and suggested this get together.”

The other man was even older than Mr Copper. He had thinning hair and his face was deeply lined. He wasn’t the only older person there, of course. There were people who The Doctor had interacted with as far back as the 1950 and 60s; a man called Tommy Connolly who met The Doctor on the eve of the Coronation in 1952, a retired teacher called Ian Chesterton, who remembered the fantastic exploits of his youth fondly, a woman called Samantha who recounted an adventure involving aliens at Gatwick Airport when she was a feisty young woman, a couple called Isobel and Jimmy Turner who had become engaged shortly after they were involved in a Cyberman invasion.

This gentleman was one of the oldest of them all. He had sat quietly through much of the discussion, listening but not taking any part in the proceedings. Everyone else, by now, had shared their story.

“I don’t have a lot to say, really,” he told the crowd who looked at him. “My name is Jamie Harte. I don’t remember much about The Doctor. I was only four years old when my mother met him in the London Blitz. He saved my life, I know that much. But I never really knew the whole story. I would really like to meet The Doctor again and ask him exactly what happened to me and the others who were involved in the incident nobody wanted to talk about. That is why I not only sent invitations to all of you, but to The Doctor himself.”

“You mean he’s coming… here… tonight?” The idea immediately excited everyone. “When? How?”

“Right now,” Mr Harte said. He turned and faced the one free space on the busy terrace as a familiar sound faded up like the sound on an old analogue radio. With it came a strong gust of displaced air that ruffled hair and clothes. Many of the crowd stood in expectation as the familiar police box materialised out of thin air. They all waited as the door opened to reveal The Doctor in his very latest incarnation which only a few of them had yet met.

But nobody expected what happened next. After all, this had been a friendly get together up until now. They never expected the old man called Jamie to have hands that dropped away to reveal deadly automatic pistols. They didn’t expect him to fire dozens of bullets into The Doctor’s body at almost point blank range.

Nobody heard The Doctor utter a sound. There were too many other people screaming in horror, including the woman who came to the TARDIS door with him, and who grasped his body as he fell back.

“No!” Amy Pond cried out. Horrified, but keeping a grip on her senses, she stepped forward, grasping the pendant around her neck. There was a little hourglass hanging from it. The Doctor had given it to her. It contained seventeen seconds of time that was owed to him. He told her she would know when it was needed.

It was needed now. She squeezed and felt the glass break beneath her fingers. The seventeen seconds of time escaped. They were silvery-white and they sparkled like starlight before they grew so big that they encompassed the whole of the terrace, then the whole of Victoria Street, before spreading out across Edinburgh.

The seventeen seconds of time enveloped the world and turned it to silver. When it returned to its ordinary colours again the TARDIS was just materialising on the Terrace. Some people were standing in expectation. The door was opening….

“Doctor, look out, he’s an Auton,” Amy yelled and tried to barge Jamie Harte away from the TARDIS door.

The Doctor didn’t say anything, but in an instant his sonic screwdriver was in his hand. As the Auton Jamie dropped its hands to reveal its deadly weapons he fried its artificial brain with a quick EMP burst. The Auton froze, immediately looking far less Human and more like a very elaborate plastic mannequin.

The seventeen seconds caught up to ordinary time as The Doctor looked around at friends he had known throughout the decades. He smiled warmly at them all and introduced his newest companion.

“This is Jean Ferguson,” he said. “Amy, why don’t you introduce her to everyone and tell the waiters to have our table ready for dinner. I will be back in five minutes.”

“Five minutes?” Amy Pond responded. “Really?”

“Really,” he answered. “This time I absolutely mean it.” With that he pushed the frozen Auton into the TARDIS and closed the door. Moments later the police box dematerialised noisily.

Exactly five minutes later – and several people had timed him, while others put bets on how much later he might be – the TARDIS re-materialised. The Doctor stepped out along with a man they all recognised as the one who had turned out to be an Auton.

“This is the REAL Jamie Harte,” he told his friends. “He’s been living happily in Alice Springs, Australia since 1961, at least until a couple of Autons kidnapped him a few weeks ago and kept him prisoner in order to maintain the copy you met earlier. I traced their lair using the Auton head and rescued him. He’s had time to recover from his ordeal and now he’s here to join us all for dinner.”

Jamie looked a little bemused, but the others welcomed him enthusiastically. Although they had heard his story from the Auton version of him they listened again as they sat down to dinner. The Doctor filled in the details he was too young to remember at the time. Over the three very excellent courses of good quality Scottish food – including a Haggis in whiskey-cream sauce – he answered all the unanswered questions all of his friends had longed to ask over the years.

Even the one about Portkeys.

“No, I didn’t give her permission,” he said. “One of these days there will be strong words between me and her.”