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

The console room was fuller than usual. The Doctor looked up from the navigation panel at Jean and Clara sitting on the old sofa, drinking coffee and chatting as women do. On the steps leading to the upper gallery the Maitland children, Angie and Artie were both on their iPhones – facebooking.

Andrew Ferguson, Jean’s cousin, was the newest member of the junior Team TARDIS. This was his treat to celebrate his o’level results.

He was standing near the console watching everything The Doctor was doing as if he was trying to learn how to pilot a TARDIS for himself.

The Doctor smiled at him warmly.

“It takes years of practice, I’m afraid,” he said. “But come over here and do what I tell you. You’ll be helping me out a bit. TARDIS consoles were designed for a much bigger crew than just one. Some of the controls are just too far apart.”

“Don’t you ever think of getting a proper crew?” Andrew asked. “I mean… out in space, aren’t there people… pilots, navigators. You could hire people.”

The Doctor considered the question as he demonstrated which switches and levers he wanted him to take charge of.

“I’ve never really thought about it,” he admitted. “In the past… when my people were around… it wasn’t allowed. The secrets of TARDIS travel were closely guarded. Now… I don’t know. I like having friends around… but a crew I was in charge of… like the Starship Enterprise or… what’s that one in the other films….”

“Millennium Falcon,” Andrew answered with a grin. “No, maybe you’re right. I don’t think you’d want somebody like Han Solo trying to take charge.”

“Or a Wookie clogging up the bathroom sink with his fur,” The Doctor added, making light of the idea. In truth, he could have done what Andrew suggested long ago, trained up a professional crew, a small group of adventurers to go along with him. But there was more than just a reluctance to pit his personality against some would-be TARDIS captain that put him off the idea. The reasons were deep-rooted in his own personality, his own ego. They were to do with the reasons he had set out long ago with just his granddaughter for company, free to make his own choices about where he went and what he did when he got there.

And yet, as he coached the teenage boy he couldn’t help a small twinge of regret. If things were as they ought to have been – if the Time War and his rift with his own people had never occurred, he would have had apprentices to train in TARDIS mechanics, in the crafts of a Time Lord. That was the way it should have been.

And this was how it was now, taking three youngsters on a bank holiday trip to ‘somewhere fun’.

“You’re going to love Floriana,” he said. “The air is like wine. The sea is like a warm spa bath and you can never sink – unless you want to actually go scuba diving.”

“That’s what you told both of us on two different occasions,” Jean pointed out. “I ended up on Arcturus, a planet with a permanently grey sky, and Clara got to see the dark side of the tidally locked Alpha Centauri.”

“Temporal hiccups,” The Doctor replied. “This time we’ll get there. That’s my promise as a Time Lord.”

“It doesn’t seem like that kind of promise is worth much to the girls,” Andrew commented. “Do you often get lost like that?”

“Yes, he does,” Artie and Angie said in unison.

The Doctor didn’t answer any of them. He looked at the navigation console and willed it, just once, to bring him to the right place. He didn’t want to look stupid in front of five humans, all at once.

Which was why he really didn’t need the helmic regulator breaking down right at that moment.

When everyone picked themselves up from the floor the TARDIS had materialised somewhere other than Floriana.

Exactly where, he wasn’t at all sure. The navigation console was blank and the universal database wasn’t making any sense at all.

For one thing, it insisted that the universe was only about fifty miles wide and ten miles high.

“Something’s gone wrong, hasn’t it!” Jean and Clara looked at him accusingly. Angie and Artie were curious, wondering just where they HAD ended up - if not the wonderful world they had been promised.

“Was it my fault?” Andrew asked in worried tones.

“Not at all, The Doctor assured him. “Something broke inside the TARDIS. Something mechanical. I just need to mend it.”

There were derisory laughs from the two women and from the Maitland children but Andrew stood firm against them.

“Mechanical faults can happen to anything,” he said. “It’s not The Doctor’s fault. Anyway, why don’t we find out exactly where we ARE. We could go and explore while he fixes the problem.”

The Doctor was surprised to have such an ally. In all his travels with humans he had been used to derision when he got it wrong and no thanks whatsoever when things went perfectly fine.

“The environmental controls are working. They’re reading a breathable atmosphere outside. In fact, the atmosphere is clean and clear, better than most parts of Earth in your time. There are no large animals or birds anywhere in the immediate area and no tectonic instability. You should be fine for a bit of a stroll. The sun is shining, but take a pacamac, just in case.”

“Ok, then.” Andrew grinned happily as he prepared to take his first steps on a planet other than Earth. It was an important experience for him. Angie and Artie had made their first alien footprint already and were ready to enjoy this mystery tour. Despite teasing The Doctor for not reaching Floriana they had secretly thought the place sounded a bit too tame. This unknown territory was more exciting.

Jean and Clara prepared to follow them in loco parentis. Clara paused at the door to ask The Doctor if he needed any help. He was already crawling on his back underneath the console. His reply was muffled by the sonic screwdriver in his mouth but he was quite adamant that he could manage on his own. He waggled a foot to wave them all off on their adventure without him.

Jean and Clara stepped out into a formal garden that would have made Capability Brown weep for joy. A fountain of crystal clear water tinkled constantly into a pool shaped like a four leafed clover that was the centre-piece of an octagonal space bounded by high box hedges topped with topiary sculpted into the shapes of chess pieces. Formal beds of brightly coloured and sweet-scented roses and other summer flowers were surrounded by well-trimmed grass. Marble sculptures of athletic men and beautiful women - all wearing nothing but judiciously placed fig leaves - were dotted around the scene.

On a wide piece of lawn a pure white peacock with a tail like a delicate lace fan cooed at the peahen, also white, but lacking the fantastic tail feathers. Other birds caught the attention of the two visitors. Tiny hummingbirds vied with bumble bees to drink the nectar from the flowers and every so often there was a flash of vibrant colour in the air – blue and green with a red crown around the head.

“A Bird of Paradise,” Clara declared. “I’m sure it is. There’s another one. Look at the colours. They SHINE like satin.”

“But this looks like an English country estate,” Jean pointed out. “Birds of Paradise are tropical.”

“We’re not in England,” Clara reminded her companion. “This isn’t even Earth. It’s somewhere fantastic. Have you noticed there are two suns in the sky. Look at this sundial. It has two gnomons to tell the time by both suns.”

The sundial was made of bronze inlaid with black marble on top of an elaborately carved sandstone pillar. Clara and Jean both studied it carefully for a while, but they didn’t know how to tell the time on a sundial for two suns. Their position in the sky didn’t help. One was a little past the zenith and the other dropping low behind a stand of trees behind the topiary-topped hedge.

From the sundial they passed through a tunnel of rose trellises that, for some reason, both of them knew as a pergola, despite never being interested in landscape gardening. At the other end they found a delightful setting – a lawn surrounded by purple and white flowers. In the centre was an octagonal summer house with a maple wood roof and open latticework panels around three sides. The open side revealed a table set for afternoon tea.

“Is that for us?” Clara asked as they approached. “Cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches and cream cakes. Nice.”

“I don’t see anyone else around,” Jean noted. “I think we’re meant to be here, and we’re meant to enjoy ourselves.”

“Yes,” Clara agreed. “I don’t know why. It makes no sense at all to step out of the TARDIS into such a perfect garden and find tea waiting for us, but it feels RIGHT.”

They sat down opposite each other and Clara reached out to pour the tea from a china pot with daisies around the rim. As she did, she noticed that she and Jean were dressed differently now. They were both wearing lace-adorned sundresses from a period that was either late Victorian or early Edwardian – some time after crinolines and hoop skirts were abandoned but when bustles were still a must – she could feel the bulk of it behind her lower back. Tight waists were in, too. She was aware of the corset giving her the hour glass figure that this dress required.

“I wouldn’t want to get into all this EVERY day,” she said to Jean. “But it’s nice to pretend for a while.”

“Yes,” Jean agreed. “Actually, the most uncomfortable dress I ever wore was from the twenty-eighth century. A sort of spray on plastic dress was in vogue and they obviously never heard of letting the skin breathe in that century. I was perspiring like mad underneath.”

“For me, the worst was the second century A.D.,” Clara admitted. “It was all wool, and as itchy as anything, not only because it was wool, but because there were still fleas in it from when the sheep was still wearing it!”

“This is positively civilised in comparison,” they both agreed and sipped their tea between ladylike bites of the delicious sandwiches. They risked their hourglass waists on a cream cake each and lingered over a second cup of tea after they had eaten their fill.

They were a little alarmed when a butler turned up to collect the tray. They wondered if they were going to be in trouble for eating somebody else’s tea.

“Good afternoon, Madam Clara and Madam Jean,” the butler said in the clipped tones of a very well-trained upstairs servant. “I hope everything was satisfactory?”

“Perfectly satisfactory,” Clara managed. Jean was struck dumb by the idea that a perfect stranger knew her name in this strangely comfortable world. “Very nice, thank you, err….”

“Greaves, madam,” the butler reminded her. “His lordship asked me to remind you that the masked ball begins at eight o’clock and you might wish to rest for an hour before getting into your costumes.”

“Er… yes, thank you, Greaves,” Jean found her voice at last. “Costumes?” She mouthed the word at Clara, who shook her head imperceptibly and waited until the butler had taken the remains of the tea away out of earshot. Somehow it seemed to matter that they didn’t say anything in front of him.

“I’ve been thinking while we were sitting here… about what this all is. And I think it’s because of me. I did it… kind of.” Clara paused thoughtfully. “It’s a sort of daydream – a daft one, really, because I’m usually much more practical and down to Earth about things – even when Earth is ten billion light years away. But I always had this fantasy about a big house with a lovely garden with fountains and statues and little summer houses where afternoon tea could be served. And going to a masked ball in a huge dress where I dance with somebody who looks like an amalgamation of every actor who ever played Mr D’Arcy since film was invented.”

Jean laughed at her description of a fantasy dance partner, but why not, after all.

“So we’re kind of living your fantasy. If we move on from this table we’re going to find your big house and all the preparations for a ball going on – servants hurrying about with urns full of flowers, polishing the floor, trimming the candles in the chandeliers – or whatever you do with chandeliers. They might be gas operated by the era of bustles and butlers.”

“Yes,” Clara said. “I think it might. Except I don’t think that side of things matters much to us. We’re just expected to rest for a bit, and then get dressed up like princesses.”

“I can live with that for a while,” Jean admitted.

“I wonder if the kids are having as much fun,” Clara remarked. Jean looked at her curiously. Neither of them had thought about the youngsters since they stepped out of the TARDIS. They hadn’t really thought about the TARDIS except in passing.

And why should they? Of course the children would be having fun. They were all fine. There was nothing to worry about.

The three young TARDIS travellers had stepped out into a very different environment to the one Clara and Jean had found a few minutes later. For a while they couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing at all.

“What is this?” Artie asked. “Is it real? Is that tree really made of peppermint sticks?”

“Never mind the tree. I’m pretty sure there’s a chocolate squirrel sitting in it,” Angie answered. “I mean, a real, live squirrel. It’s eating a nut. The nut is made of… nut.”

Andrew reached out to the pale pink bush near him and tore off a handful of sticky fibres. He tasted them before it occurred to him not to.

“Candy floss,” he said. “This bush is pink candy floss.”

“The grass tastes of apple,” Artie confirmed after tasting a handful of that. “And I actually think that river over there is LEMONADE!”

“If it is, there are fish made of pink and white bubble gum swimming in it,” Angie said. “This is… incredible, even for The Doctor’s standards. I mean… it looks like this whole place is made of sweets and chocolate. It’s like….”

“Like Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory,” Andrew suggested. “Everything is edible.”

“Well, even if it is, I vote we DON’T eat the squirrel, or the fish, or those little birds made of spun sugar, or the caramel frogs.” Angie was clear on that.

“Or the huge ladybirds made of red and black liquorice,” her brother added.

“But anything growing on the trees or the flowers, or that post-modernist gingerbread sculpture by the icing sugar bridge is fair game,” Andrew confirmed. Angie and Artie looked at him as if they neither knew nor cared what post-modernist sculpture was. The operative word there was ‘gingerbread’.

Anyway, the matter was settled. They split up and made for the confectionary that most made their respective mouths water. Angie snapped a twig of peppermint off the tree and sucked it leisurely while Artie filled his pockets with caramels from a bush where they hung like fruits. The leaves of the bush tasted of chocolate-lime so he ate some of those straight away and then let one of the caramels melt in his mouth.

Andrew ate his fill of candied cherries and chocolate covered hazelnuts growing from a tree whose bark peeled away in slabs of hazelnut nougat, then went down to the river and filled three cups made out of rice-paper daffodils with lemonade. They lasted just long enough to drink before they turned soggy and could be eaten.

“There is no way that a planet evolved in the ordinary way to have everything made of confectionary,” Angie said. For a long time she had tried not to analyse the unlikely existence of this child’s wonderland, but it just kept coming back to her how impossible it was.

“Maybe somebody built it – maybe there really is somebody like Willie Wonka in the universe.”

“I really wish Roald Dahl had thought more carefully about that name,” Angie commented, remembering a very rude variation that the first years in her school sang in the playground until the headmaster had strong words with everyone at assembly. “But if ANYONE was like him, like a magical, amazing person who didn’t go by any of the rules ordinary grown-ups go by, it would be The Doctor. He’s the one who usually has these sort of surprises up his sleeve.”

“Maybe it is him,” Andrew suggested.

“No, I don’t know why, but it just doesn’t feel as if it is, this time,” Angie replied. “It’s… different, somehow. I mean… rivers of lemonade are right up his street. There’s the tap in the TARDIS kitchen that does four different flavours of pop, after all. But chocolate squirrels? That’s not him.”

Actually it was totally him, but they all agreed with Angie – somehow deep down they knew The Doctor hadn’t planned this.

Then they decided not to worry about The Doctor or the TARDIS, or about being watched over by either Clara or Jean and just enjoyed the fact that they were in a world that resembled every good dream they ever had from a very early age.

After an hour or more or stuffing their faces with every kind of chocolate or sweet they could imagine, they sat on the apple-flavoured grass by the lemonade river and discussed another rather vital point.

“We all ought to be sick by now – or hyperactive from the sugar rush – or developing a third type of diabetes just from LOOKING at all this sweet stuff,” Angie said, putting into words what they all thought. “But we’re not. I feel as if….”

“As if I’ve eaten a well-balanced, satisfying meal that covers all the healthy food groups,” Andrew suggested. “I did nutrition as an option on my sports theory O’Level,” he added since most sixteen year olds didn’t talk about healthy food groups.

“Exactly,” Artie replied. “And I’ve still got room for pudding. I’m going to have LOADS more of that candy floss. NOBODY can have too much candy floss. It’s just dream stuff.”

“The white spots on those giant toadstools are whipped cream,” Angie said. “It tastes gorgeous with the coffee liquor chocolates. It’s like after dinner coffee.”

“There are liquor chocolates here?” Andrew queried. “Alcoholic chocolates?”

“I don’t think it’s really liquor. It’s just the taste, like rum essence, that sort of thing.”

“That’s ok, then.” Andrew relaxed. He didn’t have to be the ‘grown up’ and ban the younger ones from anything. He tried some of the after dinner coffee and cream and liked it, but what he really wanted was lolly pops – flat round ones nearly as big as his face, in swirling rainbow colours. He picked one growing among the grass and ate it greedily, then another that he licked until it was thin. He took another and wandered further away from. The Maitland children. He didn’t want them to see him eating a third giant lollipop. He was sixteen, not six. Eating sweets like there was no tomorrow just wasn’t what a responsible sixteen year old was meant to do.

The guests were arriving in their colourful costumes. Huge powdered wigs adorned dozens of heads in the hall below. Wide skirts and tight bodices in the style of the Elizabethan court, Georgian Bath, or the heady days of Versailles swirled around colourfully while men came as Admiral Nelson or Sir Francis Drake, as pirate captains or highwaymen.

Clara was dressed for a ball straight from the colourful cover of a paperback Jane Austen, Jean as a lady going to supper at Stirling Castle after Bruce had sent the English packing at Bannockburn and was safely installed as King of Scotland. A sash of the Ferguson tartan completed her costume lest anyone imagine she was a sasanach in any way.

They both paused at the top of the wide stairs and looked down at the colourful assembly. At the same moment a number of unattached men chanced to look up. This was just as they had planned. By the time they reached the third step from the bottom a Regency courtier in embroidered waistcoat and impossibly tight trousers bowed to Clara and took her hand while a Highlander in full plaid, his tartan that of the Clan Stewart, asked Jean to accompany him to the ballroom.

Both men fulfilled the promise of being a combination of every handsome man who had ever played Mr D’Arcy since the dawn of cinema. If that made for a slightly bland handsomeness that might be hard to remember clearly in the morning, perhaps it didn’t matter. Neither women were looking for lifelong commitment from a man tonight. They just wanted to have that moment of pure romance that the front cover picture of a romance novel promised.

In a ballroom lit by eight crystal chandeliers, their glow reflected back by mirrors that might have been intended for the Parisian Court of Louis the Sun King, they got that moment over and over, dancing with their beaus for the evening, stopping to eat daintily from the buffet of finely made food or drink a little champagne before being swept off again into the swirl of dancers.

Once in a pause while the musicians ended one set and began another, Clara looked around and wondered about several things. First and foremost she wondered how she and Jean had got from the summer house in the garden in the afternoon to dressed for the ball at night. She couldn’t remember anything in between. It was as if a film had cut from the ‘exterior day’ to ‘interior night’ and all the intervening time of resting, bathing, hair and make-up and dressing for the ball was just assumed to have happened.

Then her Regency beau swept her off into a slow dance with his one hand on her waist and the other firmly holding her gloved hand in his and she forgot to wonder why she seemed to be living in a film.

Once in the midst of the gaiety, Jean noticed a portrait of a fine Victorian family on the wall and it reminded her that she and Clara were supposed to be in loco parentis for three youngsters. It was hours since they left the TARDIS and they hadn’t seen any of the children. They certainly weren’t at the ball. Andrew would never pass up the chance to sample a free buffet. Artie was probably the same with this many exciting desserts on offer. As for Angie, she would love to be dressed in a grown-up gown, dancing the night away with a young captain of Nelson’s fleet or a passing member of Robin Hood’s merry men.

Or perhaps all of this was just too boring for them all and they had found other amusements. Anyway, she was sure they were all right. Nothing to worry about – kids these days are too cosseted - a bit of time all to themselves would do them no harm at all.

The Doctor slid his gangly form out from under the console and sprang to his feet with the sort of wide arm gesture that should have had a ‘ta-da’ fanfare.

There wasn’t even a Windows 98 opening screen midi from the TARDIS console and the gesture was lost on the empty room.

“Oh, yes, they went out to explore,” he remembered.

He slipped his coat on before opening the door. He looked out and frowned. He was quite sure none of his companions were there.

He closed the door again and crossed to the console. He touched one of the curved pieces that held the whole thing together almost like a caress and whispered softly.

“Where are they, old girl?”

There was no reply, of course. Only on one very unusual and special occasion had he ever had a two way conversation with his TARDIS and that had been far too traumatic to even think about repeating.

Even so, he felt as if there had been a reply. The time rotor glowed for a mere moment and he knew something subtle had changed in the matrix of the TARDIS.

He returned to the main door, but this time instead of opening into the multi-coloured smoke and light display of the inside of a nebula, he saw a ballroom full of dancers in fancy dress.

“Well, well,” he said with a smile as he stepped forward, glad that the TARDIS was capable of rearranging itself so that he stepped into a room with gravity and atmosphere instead of the airless wasteland of the nebula.

Clever old TARDIS.

Clara was more than a little surprised when another dancer asked her courtier to step aside. The surprise was that he had come as an Apollo spaceman from the 1960s.

“This is a Victorian country house – in the Victorian era,” she told The Doctor. “Look – gas-lit chandeliers.”

“That actually makes them gasoliers,” The Doctor pointed out. “And if it’s good enough for Leonardo di Caprio, it’s good enough for me.”

“Fair enough.”

“One last dance, then time to get back to reality,” he told her as his thick gloved hand rested surprisingly lightly on her waist and he whirled her around the room expertly. She couldn’t help noticing that the other dancers were getting further and further away from them – as if the room was expanding and there was more floor to dance upon.

Then the ballroom was gone. She was standing in an empty room with a strange, echoing feel to it. The Doctor was in his usual shirt and braces with a slightly wonky bow tie. She was wearing her favourite red, knee length dress.

He kissed her on the cheek gently.

“Nice dance,” he said. “Go on through to the console room while I find Jean. She was at the same party?”

“Yes, she was,” Clara explained. “I’ll get some coffee on, shall I? There was quite a bit of champagne flowing.”

“Good idea.”

Clara went through a door and found herself in the console room. Strangely enough, it was the front door that should lead outside. She opened it again and saw the inside of the nebula. She closed it quickly and went to make the coffee, assuming that The Doctor knew what he was doing.

Jean was rather surprised when her Highlander allowed a World War One flying ace, complete with goggles over his eyes, to cut in on the Viennese Waltz.

“Your costume is completely incongruous,” she said. “The War is in the future.”

“That war is a long time in the past from where we are,” The Doctor replied. “Are you ready to go back to the TARDIS?”

“One more dance,” Jean answered him. “Do you like my dress?”

“You look magnificent,” The Doctor replied. “Robert the Bruce would be bowled over by you. We should visit him at Stirling some time. I really want to ask him about that business with the spider.”

Jean laughed at The Doctor’s silly ramblings and let him dance with her until the end of the set. She noticed that the ballroom wasn’t really a ballroom any more. It was more like a huge bubble with the dancers all floating inside instead of dancing. She and The Doctor were the only ones actually standing on solid ground and she didn’t dare look down to find out WHAT the solid ground was. If she did, she might find out there was nothing there, after all.

Then in an eyeblink she was back aboard the TARDIS. The room was empty, the music and the people just a distant memory. The door was open and she could see Clara in the console room, setting down a tray with coffee and sandwiches. Everything else seemed like a very pleasant dream.

“Go and get a cuppa while I find the kids,” The Doctor told her.

The Maitland children were sitting by the lemonade river eating strawberry jelly and cream from bowls made of daffodil trumpets. They looked up as The Doctor’s shadow fell across them and laughed at his outfit. It was EXACTLY how the great chocolate maker with the unfortunate name had been depicted in the original versions of Roald Dahl’s children’s book - nothing at all like either of the film versions.

“I told you,” Angie said to her brother.

“Where’s Andrew?” The Doctor asked them.

“Andrew?” For a moment they couldn’t quite remember who he was, let alone the fact that he should have been with them.

“I think he went upriver,” Artie recalled. “He was eating a lollipop.”

The Doctor looked upriver. It was possible to see a long way. Beyond the bridge it snaked through the confectionary landscape all the way to a tumbling waterfall coming down from the peppermint hills in the distance.

“You two take these two bags and pick what you’d like to take home with you,” he said producing a pair of strong carrier bags with ‘a present from Blackpool’ on the sides. “I’ll go get Andrew.”

“Should we get him some sweets, too?” Artie asked.

“Yes, why not.” The Doctor produced another carrier bag then he headed off along the river, disturbing a pair of icing sugar swans on their nest of colourful Easter eggs. Angie and Artie were not entirely surprised when he appeared, very quickly, as a very small figure near the waterfall. It was that sort of a place, after all.

Andrew was sitting under a tree by the waterfall. The tree produced as its fruit large sweets already wrapped in coloured gel wrappers. Many of them were littering the grass all around the boy.

He wasn’t eating sweets, though. He was crying. Not the attention seeking cry of a younger child, but the sort a teenager with something to worry about might do when he was sure he was alone.

The Doctor sat down in front of him. Andrew looked up and wiped his eyes hurriedly. He tried to speak normally, but it didn’t quite come off.

“I know exactly what’s wrong with you right now,” The Doctor said to him.

“How can you know?” Andrew asked.

“Any grown-up knows. They went through it themselves some time. It’s the youngsters like Angie and Artie who don’t know, yet. They’ve still got a year or two. But I definitely know. You think it’s hard being sixteen? Try being a hundred and sixty. That’s a teenager on my planet. I had been at school since I was twenty, and by then I was on the verge of my senior two decades, when I had to take all those exams that determined what sort of Time Lord I might be – a great one with the universe at my fingertips or one of those dull ones they consigned to the Gallifreyan Civil Service! Or worse… I could have ended up as a journalist.”

“Journalist is a good job,” Andrew said.

“It is on your world where interesting things happen,” The Doctor replied. “But on Gallifrey nothing happens and journalism is the last refuge of the academically inept. You don’t want to be a journalist, do you?”

“No,” Andrew answered. “I want to be a Navy diver. I need to get A’Levels in physics and geography before I can even apply for basic training. And my physics isn’t as strong as it ought to be. I scraped through the O’Level, but I’m not sure I can cope with the higher standards at college. And every time I think about the future it all seems….”

“As if you’re diving without a scuba tank and you don’t know which way is up or down.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“Leaving school and going out into the grown up world is like jumping off a cliff for everyone. For you, as an islander, it’s even harder. Just going to do those A’Levels means leaving home and staying in a boarding house on the mainland to go to the college. You have to be independent and responsible even sooner than your friends.”


“If I tell you that you’re going to do fine in physics… that you’re going to get it right despite your doubts… does that make it a little easier?”

Andrew looked at The Doctor uncertainly at first. Could he tell things like that about the future?”

“I’m not supposed to,” he admitted. “But just this once, I’m promising you it will be fine. The rest is up to you. Jump off the cliff and trust your own instincts about the future.”

Andrew looked around at the confectionary world and nodded slowly. A flock of spun sugar birds flew away in a hurry.

“This world was created entirely by you, by the way. The other two enjoyed it because what child wouldn’t like a world of sweets. But it was you – trying to resist being a grown-up – who created a world where a child could hide from the future.”

“I didn’t know I had this much imagination,” Andrew admitted.

“Everyone has this much imagination if they don’t suppress it with silly ideas about keeping it real and keeping the feet firmly on the ground, and all that nonsense. Even when you ARE a grown up you can have all the imagination you want. That doesn’t have to go away. But you might find you can’t eat quite this many sweets without feeling a little bit sick.”

Andrew laughed and stood up. He walked with The Doctor back down river, reaching the place where the Maitland children were much faster than he expected. They were waiting with carrier bags stuffed full of sweets and chocolate, long candy canes and sticks of rock poking out of the top. They gave one to Andrew who reckoned there was enough to last at least three weeks in the real world where you COULD have enough sweets very quickly.

Then they found themselves back in the TARDIS. Clara and Jean waved from the console room.

“Coffee,” Andrew said. “I could really enjoy a cup of coffee right now.”

He sounded surprisingly adult when he said that. That was as it ought to be, of course. He was right on that line between one state and the other. He could enjoy being a boy one minute and rise to the occasion as a man the next, and it was still his choice for just a little while longer.

“So where WERE we, actually?” Angie asked when everyone shared their stories over coffee and sandwiches in the console room and The Doctor set them back on course for Floriana.

“You were actually inside the TARDIS, still,” The Doctor explained. “It was broken. We never actually materialised properly. There was nothing but a nebula out there. But the old girl re-arranged her rooms so that you stepped out into a world created from your dreams – the strongest dreams, at least. You two both had some ideas about paperback fiction romance and it created it for you. Andrew, clinging to his childhood dreams, got the world of sweets. I really think we need to make a better name for that – Sweetworld, Choco-moon… you lot think it over. Anyway, you all had a good time while I was hard at work fixing the TARDIS.”

“I wonder what dream world the TARDIS would create for you, Doctor,” Clara thought out loud.

“I wonder, indeed,” The Doctor answered.