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

The Doctor edged himself slowly down the wall on a rope made of sixteenth century linen bedsheets. He would never have attempted such a thing with twentieth century nylon ones. They were sure to break. But the linen made on handlooms in this time made excellent escape ropes when a Time Lord was locked in the Tower of London and his TARDIS confined below in the courtyard.

He reached the bottom safely and pressed himself into a shadowy nook just before a guard came around the corner. Of course, he spotted the white linen rope immediately, but before he could raise the alarm The Doctor sent him to sleep with a pinch to a pressure point near the carotid artery that was, unknown to Hollywood, the real secret behind the Vulcan Death Grip.

He had to apply the same pinch twice more before he reached the safety of his blue box. All three men would recover, though if the king was in the same mood he was earlier, it might be better if they considered a career in the navy.

He put the TARDIS in hover mode and rose up to the other window at the top of the tower – the women’s cell. Clara and Jean were both ready and waiting. Jean climbed through first and stepped over the inch or two of empty air to reach the TARDIS doorstep. Clara was urging the third woman in the room to come with them.

“You know he’s going to execute you, Catherine,” she pleaded. “You really ought to take your chance.”

“I can’t,” the gracious but troubled lady responded. “He may have rejected me, but he is still my lord and king and my husband. I obey him to the last.”

“Clara, quickly,” Jean urged her. “Or we’ll be caught again.”

“I’m sorry,” Clara said to the condemned queen, the fifth wife of Henry the Eighth, the second to be sent to the Tower in disgrace.

“There really was nothing you could do,” The Doctor told her when she was safely aboard the TARDIS. “It’s a fixed point in time. it’s like… that old rhyme – divorced, beheaded…. It wouldn’t work if it went divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, escaped in a mysterious blue box, survived, would it?”

Clara glared at The Doctor. That was just a bit too flippant. HE hadn’t spent the past six hours with the condemned queen.

Jean looked at her sympathetically. She was used to The Doctor’s ways by now.

“Hal wasn’t so bad in his younger days,” The Doctor went on. “We had some fun – the Field of the Cloth of Gold, all that sword-play and jousting, and the parties at night. He got bad-tempered in his old age.”

“Trust a man to take the other man’s side,” Jean murmured. “Doctor, I really think you need to explore your feminine side more often.”

“I might do that one of these regenerations,” he promised. He set the TARDIS co-ordinates and then looked up at the two women. They did look distressed. “I really am sorry for Catherine. It wasn’t at all fair. The charges were all manufactured by jealous courtiers. But there isn’t anything to be done.”

The two women accepted the fact reluctantly.

“Cheer up. I’m taking you somewhere utterly magnificent, next.”

“That’s what you said about Hampton Court Palace,” Jean pointed out cuttingly. Clara didn’t say anything. She just gave him ‘the look’. That was how it was when he brought the two of them out in the TARDIS together. They were a female tag team of disapproval, one voicing the joint opinion, the other enforcing it with ‘the look’.

“This is truly magnificent,” he assured them. “I might even go so far as to say that it’s AWESOME – a word I only use on special occasions, unlike the teen population of Earth who wear it out on the everyday and mundane.”

“Go on, then, awe us,” they answered.

The place where the TARDIS materialised didn’t look very awesome. Clara and Jean giggled conspiratorially and made bets that they were on the wrong planet entirely.

“We’re not,” The Doctor insisted confidently. “We’re on Aurica II, and it is completely awesome. It just hasn’t got going for the night, yet.”

They were standing on a wide grey plain with a purple-beige sky overhead and some smudges that might have been mountains on the horizon. There were a lot of other people gathered there – using the term ‘people’ more loosely than Jean and Clara normally used it. Various skin colours and textures, numbers of heads and limbs, eyes and some appendages that could best be described as ‘feelers’ were to be seen among the crowd that was assembled.

“What’s happening?” Jean asked. “Some kind of off-road rally?”

It was the only thing she could think of that could draw so many people in the collection of space shuttles and personal craft that were parked up in a separate area.

“It’s an opera,” The Doctor answered. “Aurican opera.”

“Where’s the opera house?” Clara asked.

“It’s not here, yet,” The Doctor replied. “Come on. Let’s get a seat.”

He headed towards a small temporary kiosk where they were given three velvet covered cushions. The assorted people were gathering in rows, all facing in the same direction. The Doctor sat on his cushion on one of the rows. Clara and Jean did the same.

“You’re in the aisle seat,” The Doctor told Jean. “Your job to get the refreshments at the interval.”

“What refreshments?” Jean asked. It was true that a gap just like an aisle at a theatre or cinema had been left, but there was nothing else here. There wasn’t even a stage.

“Perhaps an ice cream van comes round,” Clara suggested. It was surprisingly warm sitting on a cushion in the middle of that empty plain, and the sunset promised to be quite dramatic. There were worse ways to spend a little time.

“When the performance begins, it is important not to talk at all,” The Doctor warned his companions. “I know that’s difficult for two women together, but it is vital.”

Jean and Clara took advantage of the fact that the performance had not yet begun to have their say about that comment. Then they turned to look at the empty area at the front of this minimalist auditorium. A performer had taken to the stage. He was humanoid, with two arms and two legs, one head and the usual number of features making up the face, but he was a shade of purple that neither of the Human women would have ever chosen for cushion covers or curtains. It was a colour that would clash with EVERYTHING.

The performer stood facing his audience for a moment, Then he began to sing. There were no obvious words in any language. It just seemed to be strings of vocalised notes, but the sound WAS entrancing.

“Ho, ho ho, hooooo,” he sang in a deep bass voice that plunged the very depths of vocal sound. “Hooo, hooo, hooo, ha, lal, hooo, hooo, hooo.”

As he sang something startling began to happen. At least it was startling to Clara and Jean, and to maybe a quarter of the audience who had never been to Aurica II before. It was possible to pick them out by the way they sat up on their cushions and strained their necks to see how it was done.

The singer was being lifted up from the plain as a stage formed under his feet and rose to the usual height of a proscenium stage – around head height of the audience in the front seats.

This was problematic since everyone was sitting on the ground at the same level, but then a second performer, another male whose purple colour was deeper, joined the first. As the song continued the bass voice was complimented by a lyric baritone.

“Daoh, raahoo, ahhh,” he sang, his voice starting almost as deep as the bass and rising higher with a sweet clarity. “Ahh, Ohhh, ehh, ahh.”

As he did so, the ground beneath the audience started to change into wide steps that rose up until those at the back were looking down at the stage.

A third male voice added a tenor top to the sound, and as he did so, the very back rows reached their highest. The aisle between the left and right parts of the audience was now stairs.

Then the song changed slightly and the section of the audience The Doctor and his friends were in felt themselves moving again. They were going up and forward to become the upper circle, above the stalls. Higher again, a second balcony was forming.

Now there was a chorus on stage making a sound that resonated deep in the soul of the listener. What it did to the surroundings was even more incredible. The empty stage turned into a proscenium arch with gilded cherubs all around it. A high, vaulted roof formed over the auditorium and that, too, was decorated as a quartet of soprano ladies sang notes like silver and gold melting together. A mural worthy of Michelangelo himself painted itself across the ceiling, depicting mythological dragons being slain by heroic knights.

The audience weren’t sitting on cushions any more. Comfortable velvet covered seats with arm-rests had grown up beneath them. The circle and balcony both had ornate balustrades and the stalls were flanked by gilded walls and deep velvet curtains with a forty-foot drop.

It was fantastic. It was magnificent.

It was awesome.

In the interval Jean and Clara both said so.

The elegant bar where they got their refreshments had been created along with a velvet and gilt foyer with a plush carpet.

“How does it work?” Jean asked. “What’s the secret?”

“Auricans use their voices as a construction tool,” The Doctor explained. “The resonances manipulate atoms and turn them into the fabrics – stone, wood, glass, plaster, metal, that go into a building. The paint, the gilding, everything, it comes together as they sing. Different notes, different pitches, length of note, all determine what the finished building will be like.”

“What do they do in the second half?” Clara asked.

“The other public buildings – the City Hall, the public library, schools, hospital….”

“Of course,” Jean noted. “Anywhere else, any other community, building the schools and hospital would be first priority.”

“But a people who begin by singing would need an opera house, first.” Clara finished the explanation that Jean had begun.

“Exactly.” The Doctor smiled warmly at his companions. “Ordinary buildings, of course, houses, grocery shops, bus stations, are built by the ordinary Auricans. They all have the gift, of course. But the centre of the city with all the important buildings, is done by the opera company.”

“Nice,” Jean commented. “Imagine a row of houses each designed and built by the householder to his own specifications, no two the same.”

Both women easily imagined that luxury, planning for a little while how their dream home would look if an Aurican could build it for them.

“What’s the catch?” Clara asked. “There HAS to be a downside to this somewhere.”

“The buildings only last a short while – a month at the most, then they start to lose their consistency. The atoms want to return to their original state.”

“Ah. That’s definitely a downside.”

“So… they pack up and find a new bit of empty space and rebuild?” Jean suggested. “Do they build exactly the same or do they experiment a bit?”

“Oh, very much experimental,” The Doctor told her. “The last time I visited everything was all neo-space art deco with triangular seats levitating above the floor. I’m partial to a bit of Beaux-Arts myself. But this isn’t bad, a nice Romanesque style.”

“I like it,” Clara agreed. They finished their drinks and went back for the second half of the opera. There were more people on stage, now, male and female chorus and six each of the voice registers. Above them was a huge screen with a graphic view of the opera house and the surrounding area of grey plain. As the singers performed their beautiful music all of the buildings any community needed in one place sprang up - a beautiful school and college with playing fields, a city hall, hospital, art galleries and museums, a huge three storey market with every food and everyday commodity under one Romanesque roof, a space port as beautiful as the Gare d’Lyon in Paris, and hundreds of houses in semi-circular streets and avenues, each to their owner’s specifications.

The sopranos sang an aria consisting of lots of very high ‘la’s’, and statues and fountains appeared in a huge plaza outside the opera house. The same happened for a park in the middle of the main residential area.

The final masterpiece, the last act of the opera of city-building, was a huge cathedral with a magnificent dome. Clara and Jean both wondered, without realising they had done so at the same time, whether it was because religion was the least or the most important thing to the people that they built it last, after all the other facilities of their lives.

“Oh, extremely important,” The Doctor assured them when they walked out of the opera house into that brand new, elegant plaza softly uplit to allow the fountains to be seen in all their glory. “They worship a god of music. No, not Andrew Lloyd Webber. But their equivalent of a church service would be four hours of choral music. It’s well worth seeing. As they sing, the murals on the walls of the cathedral change, telling the story of how the Auricans were given the gift of song by their god and learnt to use it.”

Jean and Clara both looked hopeful.

“Yes, we’ll go to the dawn choral. They built a hotel somewhere near here. It will do nicely for the night.”

The hotel was better than anything the Ritz Carlton or Raddison Blu could do with all of their best efforts. Clara and Jean slept in absolute luxury that night, dreaming of music that built cities.

But when they went down to breakfast in the early hours of the morning, ready to be there in the cathedral as the sun came up, there was disturbing news.

“All of the best singers have been kidnapped,” The Doctor reported after going to find out what the fuss was about. “Two hundred of them are missing from their homes, and their families, too.”

“How could that happen?” Jean asked. It was one of those questions that The Doctor’s companions felt compelled to ask, even though an answer was quite obvious.

“Transmat beams, turning them to atoms and transporting them to a space ship,” Clara suggested.

“That’s my guess, too,” The Doctor agreed. “We’ll take breakfast to go. The TARDIS will be able to trace the ion trails. Nobody does that much transmatting without leaving evidence.”

The Aurican equivalent of bacon sandwiches and coffee were put into a brown paper bag. Jean and Clara ate as they watched The Doctor, a sandwich jammed in his mouth, coffee in one hand and the other tapping rapidly at keys on the environmental console. They had both offered to help, but he said it was far too much of a precision operation. He had to do it himself. They left him to it and ate their breakfast without risking indigestion or crumbs on the console.

“Yes,” The Doctor announced triumphantly. “Yes, I’ve traced the ion beams. They go to two different locations, both on the other side of the planet.”

“Why two?” Jean asked. “What’s that all about?”

“I don’t know. We’ll find out when we get to one of the locations, I expect. Pick a number, one or two.”

“Two,” both Jean and Clara said together.

“One it is,” The Doctor decided with typical contrariness. He pulled the dematerialisation switch and their course was set.

They re-materialised inside a huge white dome with no obvious exits. The dome was filled with unhappy purple Auricans in nightwear - men, women and children all huddled together in family groups for the little comfort they might contrive.

The arrival of the TARDIS frightened them. They backed away from the blue box and the alien humanoids who stepped out of it.

“Don’t be afraid,” The Doctor told the nearest of them. “I’m here to help. Are you the families of the singers?”

“Yes,” said a thin woman who clung to three youngsters at once. “My husband is chief baritone in the opera company.”

“They’ve all been taken somewhere else,” a young man added. “We…. We were made to sing… to create our own prison. We were told we couldn’t attempt to escape or they would be killed.”

“Who told you?” Jean asked, reaching to hold the hand of a sad looking girl child of five or six who had been crying for her mother. “What sort of aliens did this to you?”

“It wasn’t aliens,” she was told, to her surprise. “At least, the men with guns were. They were ugly brutes with huge heads and leather clothes. They grunted when they spoke.”

“Sounds like Ogrons,” The Doctor murmured. “The mercenary scum of the twelve galaxies. But they were being ordered by one of your own?”

“He didn’t look quite right. He was pale-skinned, like the fruit of a nabol tree, and as round as the fruit, too. But he was Aurican, certainly. I don’t know what his purpose is, but it is a sinister one.”

“All right,” The Doctor decided. “As long as this dome stands, they’ll think you’re all still in here, right?”

“There are guards outside. We saw their torches through the walls when it was dark. We hear their footsteps. But they don’t attempt to breach the walls and come in to us. Some food and water was left – enough for a single day. After that….”

“Never mind that. All of you… into my box. I’m taking you all out of here without your captors knowing. Then we’re going to get your loved ones. There won’t be time for any retribution.”

The Aurican prisoners looked at the blue box sceptically. Clara and Jean took the hands of some of the children and led them towards the TARDIS. The mothers followed. Slowly the rest got the idea.

Inside, it would have become crowded very quickly if Clara and Jean hadn’t shown them the way to a large room full of squashy sofas near the kitchen. They had never known, before, what this room was for, or why it had a drinks machine that didn’t need any money in it and never seemed to need refilling with cans. Now the Aurican families discovered how refreshing a coke could be and they began to feel as if their nightmare might be over.

The Doctor knew there was still danger and it was all far from over. He suspected strongly that the opera singers, the best in Aurica, had been taken in order to build something by force, with the lives of their families as insurance against rebellion.

The families were safe, but their captors didn’t know that. Even if they did find out, they wouldn’t harm the people they NEEDED for their plan. They would lie to them for as long as it was necessary.

That bought everybody some time. The Doctor could put his plans into action – in so far as he had a plan.

The first part of the plan was to get to the other location where the transmat had brought the kidnapped people. He let the TARDIS hover over the area in stealth mode and took stock of the situation. He wasn’t entirely surprised to find another dome with – as he guessed – Ogrons patrolling outside. Inside, the lifesigns monitor detected the missing Auricans and also something with a disturbing energy signature.

He materialised the TARDIS on a small dais that sat in the middle of the dome. It already contained something much like a throne on which a very fat, very pale Aurican lounged. He was in the midst of issuing some orders in a harsh, uneven voice quite unlike the pleasant speaking voices of the ordinary people. It rose above the singing of the prisoners as they created something that looked suspiciously like a huge guided missile on a launch pad.

He stopped mid-sentence and turned to stare at the TARDIS as The Doctor stepped out, flanked by Clara and Jean.

“Good news,” The Doctor called out to the startled prisoners. “Your families are safe inside my space ship, here. You don’t need to do what you’re doing any more.”

The Auricans said nothing in reply, but they resumed their song, this time in a different tone. The missile shimmered as it started to dissolve. The throne the pale Aurican was lounging on dissolved, too. He fell to the floor with an undignified bump. The Doctor moved forward and stepped on his hands preventing him from getting up again.

“It’s exposition time, sunshine,” he said. “Do you want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Do you know what it is like to be an Aurican who cannot sing?” the wretched would-be dictator demanded. “I am Bracca the Twelfth. Eleven great tenors went before me, but I could not hold a single note. I was ridiculed from childhood. Ridiculed or pitied. Both seared my heart. I vowed revenge on the very people who reviled me.”

“That’s not true, Bracca,” said a baritone who left the song and came to The Doctor’s side. “You were loved by our parents despite your handicap. Nobody blamed you for what could not be helped.”

“Away with you Barrani,” Bracca growled. “I have no brother. I have no family. I would have destroyed them all. The weapon, built by the very people I despise, would have laid waste to the latest city. After that, they would build only what I tell them, where I tell them. I would be master of them all, emperor of the Aurica.”

“You would have murdered thousands, millions, because you couldn’t sing?” Clara looked at him in horror. Jean matched her expression, saying with a look what had been said already in words.

“Your plan has failed. The weapon is dust,” The Doctor told him. “It is over.”

The missile had, indeed, been reduced to atoms. There was an empty place where nobody wanted to stand. The Auricans turned to a different song, now. For a while The Doctor and his companions weren’t sure what it was for. Then the walls of the dome began to clear. They saw a second dome over it, trapping the Ogron guards. The glass must have been polarised one way, only, because the guards didn’t seem to know that they weren’t guarding anything any more.

Or at least they didn’t have as many prisoners, now.

“We’ll leave him here until we decide his ultimate fate,” decided Barrani as the rest of the singers stepped into the TARDIS and were shown the way to the room with the squashy sofas and everlasting refreshments. “There is food and water to last one man for many days. He will not come to harm.”

“Good thinking,” The Doctor said approvingly. “I will contact the Shaddow Proclamation. They will send Judoon police to round up the Ogrons. They will have a ship in orbit, too. That would be the source of the transmat. When they are gone, you may decide what to do with your prisoner.”

With that assurance, Barrani went into the TARDIS and found his own wife and children waiting for a joyful reunion. The Doctor closed the door and set a course for the new Aurican city. Bracca the Twelfth was left to consider his folly in solitude. Perhaps, by the time his fellow Auricans decided what to do with him, he might be repentant and receptive to mercy. If not, there was no doubt that a people who could build anything certainly could build a prison if it was needed.

“It’s rather sad, really,” Clara mused as they sat in the front row of the crowded cathedral for a concert of thanksgiving. “Even within a gentle people like this, jealousy and cruelty festered.”

“Is there anywhere it doesn’t?” Jean asked.

“I don’t know,” The Doctor answered. “I haven’t found the place, yet. But so long as the gentle people outnumber the bitter ones, there will always be songs of joy to be sung and they’ll always drown out the envious songs.”

“Philosophy isn’t really your thing, Doctor,” Jean told him. “But it was a nice try. Here, have a chocolate. But don’t make a noise with the wrapper. They’re about to sing.”

The Doctor unwrapped his chocolate quietly and let it melt in his mouth as the song of the Auricans did the same to the murals on the walls and ceiling of the cathedral. When the new images took shape, it was no surprise to anyone that a blue box with a flashing light on top was incorporated into what would be a new legend of the Aurican people.