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

“Doctor! You got it right,” Jean said with a broad smile. “You actually got us to Bute – and in the right time period, too, not the mid-eighteenth century or during the war.”

“Of course I did,” The Doctor replied, feigning indignation. “I promised I would.”

“Yes, and then we arrived in Bute Park in Cardiff, Butan in Indonesia, and a very disreputable bar in a space port calle B-u’te.”

“Minor hiccups,” The Doctor insisted. “Anyway, you’re here now.”

“Yes.” Jean grabbed her jacket. The sun was shining, but Scottish weather was as dependable as the TARDIS navigation. It could be raining any moment.

The Doctor followed her out of the TARDIS and noted that it had materialised on the end of an old stone jetty opposite a pub called the Port Royal Hotel.

“You even got the right village,” Jean told him. “Port Bannatyne. We’re only ten minutes away from my home. Come on.”

There was a spring in her step as she walked along the jetty and turned onto the footpath. She looked around at familiar landmarks. She felt as if she had been away for much longer than the year it had been. Her job as a tour guide at Culloden was one thing, but travelling with The Doctor somehow made home feel even more like….

Well, home.

Some things weren’t QUITE the same, she noted. The hotel didn’t have its tables with umbrellas out on the front, and there were shutters fixed to the ground floor windows. They weren’t the pretty wooden shutters painted in colours to complement the shades of whitewash or the natural stone of most of the houses that might come into fashion for a while. These were the strong, metal sort, operated by an electronic switch inside the building. They were meant to shut something out.

She looked further along the Marine Road and noticed that a lot of the houses had their lower windows boarded up. Some of the houses looked occupied. Others had been abandoned.

The walls of the abandoned houses were covered in graffiti. The occupied ones showed signs of having been scrubbed clean. The whitewash on the pub was only a few days old. Even an island community wasn’t immune to vandalism, she noted with resignation.

But shutters and boarded up houses were a bit much for teenage trouble. Perhaps that was something to do with flood protection? The sea defences had always seemed strong enough, but there were regular articles in the local paper questioning whether a really high tide coupled with prevailing winds might expose weaknesses.

She turned and looked at the strait between the island and the Cowal Peninsula. It was calm enough now, but strangely empty. Usually the water was dotted with the white and blue sails of pleasure yachts, but there weren’t any now. She could see that the Marina a few hundred yards along the shoreline was crowded with masts. The fishing boats were all pulled up high on the shingle foreshore. Perhaps a big storm was expected.

There had been rain already today. The sunlight had that sparkling element to it that it did just after a rain shower. The greens and browns of the peninsula were bright and the purple of the hills further away on the Ayrshire mainland were starkly outlined against the sky.

All as she remembered – familiar, comforting.

On the other hand, some things weren’t right at all. She pursed her lips as she saw the damage that had been done to the little shelter by the jetty. The last time she was home it had been freshly whitewashed inside and out and the benches painted. The little fir trees planted around the side had been trimmed.

Somebody – probably the same vandals who graffitied the buildings had really had a go at it. The walls were covered in scrawl. The benches had been burnt, the little trees bent over until their trunks broke.

The phone box on the corner had been subjected to the same treatment, and the rubbish bin near the railings.

“Stupid, pointless vandalism,” Jean commented. “I bet it was tourists – the ones who come on the morning boat and are gone again by evening.”

“Mmm.” The Doctor was studying the graffiti carefully. He even took out a tape measure from his pocket and measured the width of one of the scrawls.

“Oh, come on,” Jean told him impatiently. “Let’s go home. Aunt Sheelagh will have the tea on.”

She strode off down Marine Road. The Doctor ran to catch up with her and was by her side when they reached the Y-junction where it split into High Road and Shore Road – the names succinctly explaining where they went. She stopped and stared angrily at another act of vandalism that couldn’t possibly have been done by local people.

“The war memorial!” she exclaimed. “Who would do THAT to it?”

The Celtic cross with the names of Port Bannatyne’s war dead carved into the plinth and on a wall behind was covered in the same meaningless scrawl she had seen at the jetty. Potted plants put around the base and a wreath left on Remembrance Sunday were kicked to pieces. Jean felt tears prick her eyes as she looked at it.

“My great-uncle is one of the people on that plaque,” she told The Doctor. “His boat sank in the Atlantic in 1942. It’s a horrible thing to do. Just horrible.”

The Doctor had his tape measure out again, but one look from Jean made him change his mind about going near the vandalised memorial for something so apparently pointless.

“Did you say something about tea?” he asked.

“Yes,” Jean answered. “Come on. It’s just up here.”

She continued along Shore Road until she was nearly opposite the forlorn remains of a wooden pier that had long since been abandoned to the elements. A pleasant looking gabled cottage with its walls painted a pale pink colour and old fashioned sash windows in the upstairs rooms was tucked behind a carefully pruned box hedge. There were shutters on the windows. These WERE the pretty sort in a pale blue that made the cottage look even more like a novelty iced birthday cake. They had always been there, but just for decoration. Now they looked as if they were in regular use.

She pushed open the gate and walked up the path. The Doctor followed her, preparing himself for the usual mix of suspicion and curiosity that he always got from the relatives of the people who travelled with him.

Just as long as Mrs Ferguson didn’t want to hit him, he thought grimly, recalling Jackie Tyler’s right hook and the stinging slap that he had from Martha’s mother.

Mrs Ferguson’s reaction when she opened the door was absolute shock. She stared at her niece as if she was a ghost.

“Hi,” Jean said. “It’s good to see you. I hope you don’t mind me coming without telling you, but I’ve been travelling and I didn’t know when I might get here.”

“But HOW did you get here?” Mrs Ferguson asked. “The ferry isn’t…. Oh, oh, come in, anyway. Of course it’s good to see you. And… your friend.”

They stepped into the hallway of the pristinely kept cottage before Jean introduced The Doctor to her Aunt.

“Doctor John McCrimmon,” he said with a wide smile as he shook the bewildered woman’s hand. “Delighted to meet you, Mrs Ferguson.”

“Likewise,” Mrs Ferguson answered. “A doctor? Of medicine?”

“Thermodynamics,” The Doctor responded. “And physics, metaphysics, temporal mechanics, astro-biology…..”

“Is the kettle on?” Jean asked. “We could use a cuppa.”

That was the signal for The Doctor to stop talking and for Mrs Ferguson to remember the first rule of Scottish hospitality – a good cup of tea.

“So, where did you two meet?” the woman of the house asked as she served tea and biscuits to her niece and her – male – friend, a doctor no less. “Are you just friends or….”

The question left hanging was the important one, of course. Jean assured her aunt that she and The Doctor were just friends, colleagues, working together.

“He’s a sort of historical investigator,” Jean added. “And I’ve been travelling with him. After the trouble at Culloden, there wasn’t much tour guiding to do, so I took up The Doctor’s offer of work. Do you remember in the papers a bit back, the stolen treasures from Olympia. It was The Doctor who traced them. And me, of course, helping him.”

“You’ve been all the way to Greece?” Mrs Ferguson looked relieved. “So you don’t know about the problems we’ve been having here. Even so, I don’t understand how you managed to get here with the ferry stopped and the quarantine in force.”

“Quarantine?” Jean was alarmed. The Doctor was alert, listening carefully. It was he who noticed that it had started to rain again. Mrs Ferguson jumped up in dismay and ran to the window, pulling up the sash and pulling in the shutters before closing the window again. She told Jean to run upstairs and do the bedrooms while she did the kitchen and dining room.

Jean did as she said, even though she didn’t understand why. The Doctor went to help Jean ‘do’ the upstairs windows. She was at the front bedroom window under the gable when she saw a Range Rover in military livery pull up quickly. A man in combats jumped out, not even bothering to lock the car, and raced to the door of the pink and blue house.

“Uncle Iain,” Jean said, leaving the window and running downstairs. The Doctor finished closing the shutter before following her in time to see her admit the man. He was tall and gaunt of face, in his late fifties, with iron grey hair that was thinning on top. He was as surprised to see Jean as her aunt had been. He looked at The Doctor curiously, but didn’t have time to ask him any questions before Mrs Ferguson ushered him into the now much darker drawing room and plied him with tea.

“You just made it before the rain,” she told her husband. “You ought to have stayed where you were rather than risking it.”

“I wanted to make sure you were all right. They came very close to you this morning. They attacked the war memorial, you know.”

“Oh, no!” Mrs Ferguson was visibly upset by that news. Uncle Iain put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

“As long as you take precautions, make sure all the shutters are closed, you should be all right.”

“Uncle Iain, what’s going on?” Jean asked. “Aunt Sheelagh said something about a quarantine. Why? Are people sick or….”

“How DID you get here?” Iain asked. “There have been no boats. I’d have known.”

“The Doctor brought me,” Jean answered. “He….”

“THE Doctor?” Iain turned and looked at The Doctor curiously. Then he took an Iphone from his pocket and tapped rather more keys than an ordinary phone number would take. He gave a security code to the person on the other end of the line and waited for an image to be sent to the phone. That seemed to satisfy him.

“You’re THE DOCTOR,” he repeated. “We sent a Code 9 out for you. We were hoping… I never expected you to turn up in my house, drinking tea.”

“It’s very good tea,” The Doctor confirmed. “You’re with U.N.I.T.?”

“With what?” Jean asked. Uncle Iain pulled out his beret that was folded into the pocket of his jacket. It was red with a crest depicting wings across a globe. He took two shoulder flashes from his pocket and fixed them in place with the Velcro tabs. His rank was that of Colonel.

“U.N.I.T., the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce,” The Doctor said. “Good people, though a bit too prone to shooting first and asking questions later for my liking.”

“In this instance, we have too many questions and nothing to shoot at,” Iain answered. “At least, nothing we WANT to shoot at.” He glanced at his wife who looked back at him with a grief-stricken expression.

“Uncle Iain,” Jean said in an exasperated tone. “WHAT is happening, here? Why is there a quarantine, and WHY do you need The Doctor?”

“All the questions I was going to ask,” The Doctor said. “I was also going to ask why people are afraid of the rain.”

“That’s when they come,” Mrs Ferguson said. “Everyone is afraid of them. But we can’t… we can’t just…. Jean, even your cousin Andrew is with them.”

“With who?” Jean asked. “Please, can somebody start at the beginning?”

“It started three weeks ago,” Iain said. “It was a magnificently sunny day. There was a school sports tournament on the green. You know Andrew is a great runner. He was competing in the sprint races. Then, out of nowhere it started raining. One moment there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the next, pouring down. And all the children… they started screaming as if the rain was burning them. Mr Halshall, the headmaster, tried to help some of them, but they knocked him over in their panic and he broke his leg. He was airlifted out of here to hospital. He was the last to leave the island before the quarantine was put into place. This is the focus of the phenomena. It hasn’t spread to the mainland, yet. We hope it stays that way, but….”

“The children?” The Doctor queried.

“The rain stopped after about twenty minutes – EXACTLY twenty minutes, in fact. We’ve monitored the rains ever since. It’s ALWAYS twenty minutes. But the periods between vary - sometimes a few hours, sometimes half an hour.”

“The children disappeared with the rain,” Mrs Ferguson said. “The rain stopped, and the children were gone. All of them. The adults were all too shocked to realise at first. Then there was panic. The police came. The army came. Then it rained again, and the children came back, but they weren’t like our children at all. They were mad, breaking windows, scrawling on the walls, causing all sorts of damage. Then the rain stopped and they were gone again.”

“Shoot first, ask questions later isn’t something we’re about to do when it’s children… the children of the island… our own children… who appear to be the enemy,” Iain admitted. “Which leaves us powerless. We don’t know what to do next.”

“It’s stopped raining,” The Doctor said. “Let’s go back to my TARDIS. You can drive.”

Mrs Ferguson really wanted Jean to stay with her. Jean wanted to go with The Doctor and her uncle. Mrs Ferguson decided to come with them. Aunt and niece sat in the back of the Land Rover while The Doctor sat in the passenger seat and fiddled with the non-standard fittings in the car, including a computer monitor and keyboard that folded out from the glove compartment.

“Very fancy,” he commented.

“Torchwood had those long before we did,” Iain said. “We had to beg for the budget for tech like that. Open file ‘weatherwatch’. I’m sure your U.N.I.T. personnel code will still be valid.”

The Doctor did so, and in the few minutes it took to get back to the old stone jetty he had digested the full report and supplementary information about the phenomena that was afflicting the Isle of Bute. U.N.I.T.’s best science officers had examined the weather patterns, noting that the sudden storms were not part of any normal rain front. They were, in short, not natural.

It wasn’t natural for two hundred and fifty children from Rothesay, Port Bannatyne and the other villages and settlements of the island to disappear with the rain and return only to cause senseless vandalism and bodily harm to anyone caught out in the storms.

“Hmmm,” The Doctor said unhelpfully. “That’s very unusual. I’ve never seen this sort of thing before.”

“You haven’t?” Iain responded. “I hoped you would have. We all did. U.N.I.T. were putting their faith in you turning up and telling us it was an invasion of rain elementals from the Alterian nebula or something, and that we could use bullets made of gold or silver or bazookas loaded with, I don’t know, dry ice or Stilton cheese to combat them.”

“Stilton Cheese only works on Fomosian Hog-Bears,” The Doctor responded with an absolutely straight face. “Besides, when I said I didn’t know what this was, I mean I know what the rain is about. It’s a simple H2O Scoop. Nothing I haven’t seen before. But I don’t understand why the children are involved.”

The others waited for him to explain what he meant, but he suddenly dived out of the car. It was slowing to a stop anyway because they had reached the jetty, but The Doctor couldn’t wait. As she watched him running along the jetty, Jean understood the reason for his anxiety.

The TARDIS was gone.

“There it is,” she said, looking down into the water. The TARDIS was on its side, lying on the shingle seabed under the incoming tide.

There was little doubt that it got there by accident. The paint scrawls all over the blue box were obvious.

“They did it,” Mrs Ferguson said as she and Iain came to view the sorry sight with The Doctor and Jean. “The children that come out of the rain. They destroy everything. There’s no sense in it at all.”

“I need to get my TARDIS back,” The Doctor said. “I can’t help anyone without it.”

“There’s not much to do about it right now,” Iain told him. “The tide is still coming in. Another hour and you’ll be able to wade out to it. But you can’t wait around out here. We’re due another rain shower.”

“So soon?” Jean asked. She noticed that the pub had its shutters open. It must have closed them when it was raining. But it was open for business now.

“Coffee with a dram in it,” Iain suggested, turning towards the pub. His wife and niece followed straight away. The Doctor looked down mournfully at his stricken TARDIS one more time before following reluctantly.

They drank their coffees with the shot of single malt in it by the window looking out over the jetty. The Doctor studiously didn’t look out. It was a reminder of his loss. Instead he looked around the bar and listened to people talking. There was a forced cheerfulness about them. They said things like ‘nice out when it’s not raining’ and other meaningless things. Nobody talked about the huge problem they were facing.

That was Humans all over, The Doctor thought. They were the most emotional race in the twelve galaxies – with the possible exception of the Riux of Andromeda who had twelve eyes and cried at almost anything. Read one of them a sad story by a river and they could change the salinity of the water.

Humans were emotional, but they also had a stoicism that rivalled that of his own race. In the face of insurmountable problems like The Blitz, economic downturns, or mysterious alien rain that stole their children they put on a brave face and chatted about the weather.

Behind the brave face was another matter. The Doctor could feel their grief and anxiety. When so many people shared the same grief it was impossible to miss it. He was glad he wasn’t from an empathic race like the Elertians, who in contrast to the Riux had no emotions of their own, but picked up on those of other species around them.

Not that he was indifferent to their grief. But maintaining an objective view when everyone else around him was emotionally involved in the crisis was the sensible thing to do.

Then again The Doctor had never been one to do the sensible thing. Which was why when the cry went up that it was raining again he ran outside. The landlord and customers of the Port Royal Inn pleaded with him to come back in where he was safe, but he ignored them. He was busy using the sonic screwdriver to examine the height above sea level, the thickness and the chemical composition of the black cloud that covered three-quarters of the sky, blotting out the sun and casting an unnatural dusk over Port Ballantyne.

“Doctor….” Jean came to his side with a huge umbrella just before the door was slammed shut. They were both locked out. The last thing they both heard was Uncle Iain protesting as two of the customers held him back from joining them.

“You should have stayed inside,” he told her. “This might not be safe.”

“I know. But… my cousin is one of the kids involved. And… and besides, that jacket of yours doesn’t have a hood. You’ll get soaked.”

Human. Irrational, emotional, but so brave. The Doctor half smiled and let her stand close to him, holding the umbrella over them both.

They were both witnesses to what happened next, what the people of the island had not seen since the first time it happened because they had hidden behind shutters.

The rain came down even harder. It slid off the umbrella in sheets. Through it all they saw the children appear. It wasn’t like a transmat or a transporter, or even like the TARDIS’s gradual materialisation. They simply stepped out of the rain as if walking through an invisible door. They glanced around and then began to attack the walls of the buildings, using thick black pens to cover them with their scrawling graffiti.

They hadn’t noticed The Doctor and Jean. That was because the sonic screwdriver was creating a perception filter that covered them both and the umbrella.

But a perception filter depended on the people within it not drawing attention to themselves. Jean gave a sudden cry of horror and let go of the umbrella. She ran from The Doctor’s side and grabbed one of the children. He was a boy of fourteen or fifteen, taller than her already, but with that gangly look of one whose body still hadn’t fully caught up with itself. She hugged him emotionally and called him by his name. The boy looked at her obliviously and fought to free himself from her hug. She held onto him all the more desperately as the others started to close in on her. The Doctor ran to her side and extended the cloak to cover the three of them, but again the problem was a perception filter depended on not drawing attention to oneself, and they had already done that. The children knew they were there, somewhere. They would find them eventually by blind luck.

Then the rain slackened. The children stopped their search and turned. They walked back into that invisible door and were gone.

All but Andrew. He tried to follow them but Jean held onto him determinedly. As the rain dried up and the sun came out again he fought less and she was able to hold him without risk of injury.

“Andrew!” As soon as the pub door opened Mrs Ferguson ran out followed by Uncle Iain. She enveloped the boy in her embrace, kissing his cheeks in a way that a normal fifteen year old would never tolerate.

Which was the strongest clue yet that all was not right with him. The Doctor gently prised Mrs Ferguson away and ran the sonic screwdriver in medical analysis mode over him.

“This isn’t Andrew,” he said in a calm tone, knowing this was not news that the poor woman wanted to hear. “It looks like him, but it isn’t.”

“Of course it’s Andrew,” Mrs Ferguson argued. “Don’t you think I’d know my own son? There’s something wrong with him. He’s drugged or something. But it’s Andrew.”

“Aunt Sheelagh, The Doctor’s right,” Jean said. “I don’t think it is Andrew. Even drugged, he would know us. Look at his eyes. They’re blank. Completely blank. He doesn’t know me, or you.”

Mrs Ferguson looked. The boy’s eyes were glassy. He stared without understanding of anything around him.

“But… if it isn’t….”

“Andrew’s form has been copied, but not his mind or his personality. It is a basic simulacrum with one simple purpose that I can’t quite figure out, yet.”

“Doctor, do you mean that none of the children are real?” Iain Ferguson asked. “You mean… we could… shoot them….”

“NO!” The Doctor was emphatic in his response. His eyes glittered with meaning. “No. You can’t. I’ll not have any soldier fire bullets at what even LOOKS like children. For their own consciences let alone any other reason. Besides, I don’t know for sure… there might be some psychic connection. You might hurt your real children if you kill the copies.”

“Then what do we do, now, Doctor?” the U.N.I.T. Colonel asked, feeling all of the helplessness that his predecessors had felt in situations like this when for all their military might and authority all they could do was ask The Doctor what to do.

“Get my TARDIS out of the sea,” he answered. He looked around and saw the customers spilling out of the pub door, staring at the strange tableaux on the street. “You men, you’re big enough. Haul it up here.”

The four strong men, crew of a fishing boat that was high and dry during this crisis, obeyed The Doctor’s order just as they would their captain. They didn’t even question why until much later. He just seemed like a person you should obey. They crossed the wet shingle and waded out into the shallows to retrieve the strange blue box that The Doctor needed so badly. He watched as it was set upright on the pavement and then ran to examine it. He traced his hand across the scrawl that covered it then nodded as if satisfied. He reached into his pocket and found money – it was actually the right currency for this planet and this time – and rewarded the four men. They went back to the pub. The Doctor waved to Jean and told her to bring the simulacrum of her cousin into the TARDIS.

Uncle Iain and Aunt Sheelagh followed. He began to tell them they couldn’t come, but gave up as they stepped through the door and stared around at the interior.

“Don’t go back outside to see if it really is just a box,” The Doctor said. “Or you’ll get left behind. Yes, it is bigger on the inside. Yes, it is an alien space ship. But I’m one of the good aliens.”

“I gave an alien tea and biscuits?” Mrs Ferguson queried. “Jean… you didn’t tell me he was….”

“The Doctor is the best friend this planet has,” Iain told his wife. “There are files at U.N.I.T. Headquarters…. I can’t tell you about them because they’re all classified, but trust me - we’re in safe hands right now.”

“What about Andrew?” Mrs Ferguson asked. She was alarmed by what The Doctor was doing to her son. He had sat him on a chair near the console and was attaching sensors to his head. ‘Andrew’ didn’t protest. He was silent and pliable, like a living doll.

“Yes, that’s basically what he is,” The Doctor said, even though Mrs Ferguson hadn’t voiced that thought aloud. “Just a doll. We’ll get your son back, I promise. This isn’t him, and it would be better for you not to think of it that way.”

“The Doctor’s right, Auntie,” Jean told her. “Let him do what he has to do.”

“He said there might be a connection,” Mrs Ferguson said. “So… if I hold his hand… if I talk to him… maybe Andrew will know I’m here.”

“It can’t do any harm, surely?” Iain suggested.

“All right,” The Doctor conceded. “But try to understand, I am just using the copy to get a bearing on the ship where the real Andrew is being held captive.”

Mrs Ferguson wasn’t interested in technicalities. She just wanted to sit next to what looked so much like her son and comfort him. The Doctor let her do that. He assured her that the probes he was attaching to the copy’s head would cause neither it not her real son any pain. It was just reading the subliminal pathways between the two.

“Got it,” he said. “Here we go, people.”

He pulled the dematerialisation lever and held onto the console. The TARDIS lurched upwards rapidly, quite unlike its usual movement.

“We’re caught up in the H2O scoop,” The Doctor explained, though nobody had asked. Mrs Ferguson held onto the copy of her son tightly. Jean and her uncle both grabbed parts of the console, taking care not to touch anything with flashing lights near it.

The movement stopped suddenly. Jean looked at the round viewscreen and gasped in surprise. The place outside was…..


“Good gracious,” Uncle Iain commented.

“Is it real?” Mrs Ferguson asked.

“It’s real,” The Doctor said. “Come on. Bring him. This is where he belongs.”

Mrs Ferguson and Jean flanked the ‘copy’ of Andrew and led him out of the TARDIS. Iain was beside them, The Doctor striding ahead to be the first to step out into the very strange environment.

It wasn’t a spaceship. If anything, it looked like the inside of a cloud. The edges of the wide, oval space couldn’t be called walls. They were rolling, stirring, heavy mist. The floor they were walking on was mist, too. The Doctor looked down at his feet once, then decided he wasn’t going to question what he was walking on. He walked towards the three figures who stood like sentinels blocking the way to the far end of the space. They were formless at first, like melted snowmen, but as he approached they took on a more Human-looking form. They were made of the same mist – droplets of water held together by some force even The Doctor couldn’t fathom.

“I am here for the Human children,” he said. “Under the Shaddow Proclamation the forcible removal of any immature species from its natural habitat is forbidden. I demand that you return them at once.”

The water people replied in their own language. It sounded like the tide coming in over a shingle beach. The Doctor listened for a minute with a puzzled expression, then his face cleared.

“Ah, yes. I understand you now. I haven’t heard the language of the hydro for centuries. Even the TARDIS was confused. The scrawl… it was a message. But it was mis-translated. Start again, please. Tell me what you said just now.”

He listened again, and nodded sagely. He turned and beckoned to Iain. He was the most senior Human there, with some authority on the afflicted island. Of course, he, The Doctor, was the ultimate authority anywhere, but it helped to bring local people into negotiations like this.

“They say that they took the children because it was the only way to make you realise their own pain, when you imprisoned THEIR children,” he told Iain.

“But… we haven’t. How could we possibly? We don’t….” Iain answered, not quite expressing himself with clarity. “We have not imprisoned any children. The suggestion is outrageous.”

The water people spoke again.

“You imprisoned them underground, where water cannot flow freely. They were playing in the free water – I think they mean one of the lochs. They’re made of fresh water, not salt. The sea would be inimical to them. The children were caught up in a tide that pulled them underground. They’re trapped there, now. All attempts to communicate failed. They took the children and sent the copies of them with messages. The scrawl… it was their demand for negotiation – your children for theirs. As I said, lost in translation. It’s possible the copies of the children, with Human fingers and thumbs, weren’t able to form the letters of the Hydro alphabet properly. I thought when I first saw it that the loops were too wide. It made it all just gibberish. Otherwise, I would have known sooner.”

“Yes, granted, Doctor,” Iain said with a note of impatience. “But the fact remains. We have NOT taken any of their children.”

“Maybe we have.” Jean moved towards The Doctor and her uncle. “The new water project at Loch Fad. It wasn’t finished when I was here last. But didn’t it involve an underground holding reservoir, to ensure fresh water supplies all year round on the island.”

Jean and her uncle looked at each other. Of course, fresh water was a problem on a small island with a proportionally large population and a summer influx of tourists as well. The open reservoirs were often stretched. The Loch Fad project promised a solution.

But had it caused this more desperate crisis?

The Doctor certainly thought so. He was apologising to the water people on behalf of the Human inhabitants of the island.

“I will free your children,” he promised. “But you must free the Human children first.”

The water-people would not agree to that. The Doctor tried again.

“All right, then, as a gesture, as proof of your goodwill – free this one at least.” He pointed at the copy of Andrew. “This is his mother, standing before you. Will you spare her any further grief? Let her have her son back and I will bring your children to you.”

The water-people discussed the compromise. The Doctor turned and gave a wide grin and a thumbs up to Mrs Ferguson. One of the water-people turned to the misty wall and waved an amorphous limb. The mist thinned. The Doctor could see the children standing like waxwork statues in the space beyond. Icy mist swirled around them. They had to be in some kind of cryogenic suspension. In any other circumstances the technology would have intrigued The Doctor. But now he was more interested in keeping his side of the bargain. He wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to do it but he didn’t want the water-people or the humans to know that.

The copy of Andrew walked forward, despite Mrs Ferguson’s cry of despair. At the same time, there was a stirring within the cryo-store. The real Andrew walked out. The Doctor used the sonic screwdriver to make sure it WAS the real Andrew. He was in a semi-trance and his body temperature wasn’t quite up to normal yet, but he was unharmed. The copy passed him by. Mrs Ferguson ran to embrace him. She exclaimed at how cold he was and tried to put her own coat around him. Jean stood with him protectively. Neither of them saw the copy dissolve into the misty wall. Iain did, and The Doctor heard his surprised gasp.

“Come on,” he said. “We’ll take Andrew home. Then I’ll get the hydro children.”

He still wasn’t sure how to do that, but he definitely didn’t want anyone to know. He spoke again to the Water-people then turned and ushered his passengers back into the TARDIS. Andrew was slowly coming out of his trance as his temperature rose. His mother and cousin were holding him so tightly that there was a danger he might not be getting enough oxygen. Iain had put his beret and lapel flashes on and was looking very much a U.N.I.T. officer.

“I hope you don’t think you’re going to pull rank on me,” The Doctor said to him. “If you’ve read any of the files on me, then you know I don’t answer to the military.”

“I know that. But with the quarantine in force, U.N.I.T. are in charge of the island right now, which makes me the Human authority in this matter. So whatever it is you’re going to do, I’m doing it with you. If it goes wrong….” The Doctor gave him a disparaging look. “Yes, I know. I never met Lethbridge-Stewart… my predecessor. Our paths never crossed. But I know from the files that he had absolute faith in you. Even so… if you fail… I am prepared to accept the consequences.”

“You won’t have to,” The Doctor told him. “I know what I have to do.”

“And I THINK I know how to do it,” he added to himself. What Colonel Ferguson had said about the faith Lethbridge-Stewart had in him was reassuring. But it was also a reminder that he had a standard to live up to. It was another reason, as well as doing right by the children of two communities, why the pressure was on him now.

He brought Andrew home to the pink and blue cottage along with his mother and cousin then he was ready to go again. Iain was clearly not going to let him go alone. Jean was torn between concern for her couisin and staying by The Doctor’s side.

“Your aunt needs you,” The Doctor said to her. “It’s been hard for her, you know, stressful. Humans… she’ll probably do a lot of crying now even though I rescued her son. Daft, but really, really Human.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “You be careful, whatever it is you plan to do. Both of you come back safe.”

“What DO you plan to do?” Iain asked The Doctor when he closed the TARDIS door and went to the console.

“I’m going into the reservoir,” he answered. “To find the children.”

“INTO the reservoir?” Iain was puzzled. But he remembered that the Brigadier had faith in The Doctor and if this sounded like a mad idea it probably was, but it was an idea that would save the day.

The TARDIS materialised in mid-air first. The Doctor looked down at the artificial hump between the south end of Loch Fad – literally the long lake - and the north end of Loch Quien. This was the outward sign of the new underground water containment project. It was so new that the grass and heather hadn’t fully returned to the mound. It was browner than the rest of the landscape.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, it can be done. Colonel Ferguson, you can assist me. When I tell you to, hold down that lever over there. The one with the brass handle. Yes, that one. Not yet. When I’m ready.”

The TARDIS dematerialised. It almost immediately re-materialised in a pitch dark place where the sun never shone – at least not since the concrete roof of the containment tank was finished and the earth piled back on top. The environmental monitor registered the pressure of the water all around. The Doctor gave a nod and Iain pulled the brass handle. The Doctor opened the TARDIS door.

“Why isn’t the water coming in?” Iain asked.

“Because you’re holding that lever,” The Doctor replied. “Keep holding it. The usual force field won’t stand up to the pressure, otherwise. Now….”

He went to the door and put out his hand into the water. Iain watched in surprise as he drew it back and the water remained outside the door.

Then something came out of the dark water - an amorphous figure made of liquid. It formed a vaguely Humanoid shape as it saw the two occupants of the TARDIS.

“Go that way,” The Doctor said, pointing to the inner door. “There’s a swimming pool. You’ll like it there.”

The Hydro child did as he said. So did two, three, a dozen more who slid out of the wall of water. Another dozen followed. And more. Iain tried to count them, but it was impossible. What he did get from them was a feeling of happiness and relief.

“They were scared,” he said. “Trapped down here.”

“Yes. But now they know I’m taking them home.” A last few stragglers came in. The Doctor put his hand into the water again and retracted it. “That’s the lot. I can close the door now. You can let go of the lever.”

He bounded back to the console and set the destination for the cloud-ship. He materialised the TARDIS exactly where he had left it before and stepped out onto the misty surface that was probably just water vapour disobeying the laws of physics on a big scale. The Hydro children followed him out as if he was the Pied Piper. Iain stepped out behind them, looking every inch a Colonel and ready to be defensive if the water-people reneged on their promise.

There was no need. As soon as they saw their own children returned they opened up the mist wall and the Human children of Bute walked out, still in a trance, still cold to the touch, but unharmed. Iain guided them into the TARDIS and sat them all down around the console room, in the space underneath the see-through floor and on the steps that apparently led up to nowhere. When The Doctor came back in again it was to a crowded TARDIS.

“I suggest we take them to the community centre,” Iain said. “I’ll get my people over there and they can take names and addresses, contact the parents.”

“Excellent idea,” The Doctor agreed and set the co-ordinate. As soon as Colonel Ferguson’s ‘people’ had the matter in hand, though, he headed back to the pink and blue house. U.N.I.T. were perfectly capable of handling lost children, even on such a large scale. They didn’t need him.

Andrew was warm and comfortable now, and feeling no ill effects from his ordeal. Indeed, he could remember very little about it. He was naturally excited to meet the ‘alien’ who had rescued him, and who his cousin was travelling with. The Doctor took a cup of tea from Mrs Ferguson and let Jean tell stories about travelling in the TARDIS.

“I think I ought to stay here a few days,” she said to The Doctor later. “I think they need me around while they get back to normal.”

“Of course,” he agreed. “Humans need to do that sort of thing. I can… go and see how things are at the Eye of Orion – come back for you when you’re ready.”

“Don’t be daft,” Jean told him. “Do you think Aunt Sheelagh’s going to let you just slip away. She thinks you’re too thin. She intends to feed you up while you’re here. It’s her way of thanking you for what you did. So… park the TARDIS up for a bit, prepare yourself for some hearty Scots cooking and I’ll show you around the island in between meals.”

The Doctor glanced at Mrs Ferguson, who had produced another pot of tea and a large fruit cake as a down-payment on her thanks, and decided it was definitely an improvement on women who wanted to slap him.