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

“Oh nuts,” The Doctor said as the TARDIS materialised in the old familiar place by the bins at the back of the Powell Estate flats. “I’ve miscalculated the date. It’s not August, it's December.”

“You wouldn’t know from the weather,” Rose commented as she looked at the outside temperature on the environmental console. “Did we get the year right at least?”

“Oh yeah, I got that right. It’s 2016. Christmas Eve, 2016.”

“It is?” Jackie looked up as he turned on the viewscreen to show what was outside. The usually dismal looking yard was looking rather pretty. Outdoor Christmas lighting had become cheap enough in recent years for the people of the flats to club together and put up a few strings and they had a tree in the middle of the yard. And all of the windows overlooking the yard had lights and tinsel around them.

All except one.

“My flat’s been empty since July,” she said as they went up to her floor in the lift. “I was only meant to be away a couple of weeks. I told everyone I was going to Marbella.” She giggled. “They all thought I was going for a dirty weekend with my new bloke.”

Christopher laughed and squeezed her hand. She turned and let him kiss her. Dirty weekends in Marbella seemed a world away from the reality of the man whose engagement ring she wore. And she wasn’t sorry. She’d had that sort of relationship enough. She was ready for the different kind of love he offered her.

“I’ve never met any of your friends,” Christopher said. “I’ve always just popped over in the TARDIS to pick you up from the flat and back to our house.”

And this trip hadn’t been to do very much more. She had wanted to pick up a few personal things, photo albums and mementos, and then she really meant to live permanently with Rose and The Doctor and plan her wedding. She didn’t intend to speak to anyone apart from Maureen who had the keys and was watching the place for her.

She was reluctant to introduce Christopher to her friends. And she knew why. It was because they might think him wrong for her. Because he was so obviously from a different class. Christopher was such a well-educated, well-spoken man. He always dressed in smart clothes, like the suit he was wearing now, with a crisp white shirt and tie. He looked like a politician or a businessman. A real businessman, not like Pete, the hopeful planner and schemer who never quite got there.

She couldn’t imagine what her friends would make of him. The Doctor was ok. He had a way of fitting in. The way he dressed, the way he spoke, he was able to look like he was an ordinary bloke when he was around the Estate. And he knew most of the people of the estate by name. But Christopher was still very much a Gallifreyan aristocrat. If she walked into the Lamb and Flag with him…

No. He was her fiancé. If her friends couldn’t accept that, then that was their problem, she decided.

“There’s a ton of mail for you,” Rose said pointing to the pile of letters on the table. Jackie looked through them absently. She dropped all the bills and junk mail in the bin and kept the very few personal letters and Christmas cards. She put them with the things she was taking with her.

“Lamb and Flag Christmas do,” she said looking at a card that was on top of the pile. She smiled and made a decision. “There’ll be karaoke! Christopher, you don’t know your dad at all till you’ve seen him do karaoke.”

The Doctor grinned.


Christopher was frankly astonished to see his father doing karaoke, but refused flatly to take part himself, claiming not to know any of the songs in the list. Jackie didn’t mind. She liked having him sitting next to her and she was proud to introduce him to her friends and neighbours as her fiancé. His educated accent and impeccable manners surprised them, but the general consensus seemed to be that Jackie Tyler had fallen on her feet this time and hit the jackpot.

“And I HAVE,” she said as they walked back to the TARDIS after midnight on Christmas morning. “My Time Lord!” His arm was around her shoulders and she snuggled close to him. She sighed though as she looked up at the one dark window in the flats. “Doesn’t seem like home any more.”

“Have you lived there for long?” Christopher asked her.

“Feels like all my life,” she said. “Pete and I moved in there a week before Christmas 1985. A few months after we were married. We were living with his mum at first, but we were allocated a council flat because I was expecting Rose.”

Back in the TARDIS, which felt warm and cosy and almost homelike as they stepped in out of the cold night, Rose went to make hot cocoa for all while The Doctor programmed their journey home. Christopher sat with Jackie on the sofa. She seemed oddly quiet. Even Rose thought so when she brought the cocoa.

“I’m just being DAFT,” she said. “Seeing the old place, seeing old friends. I’ve been living like lady muck at Lœngbærrow manor for ages. Coming back… it WAS nice. It was terrific talking to everyone. But it's not home any more.”

“Well, that’s ok,” Christopher told her. “You have a new home with Rose and my father and the children… and with me.”

“Yes,” she said. Then she sighed again. “I am being silly, aren’t I. It's just…. I thought I could go back there and it could be the same. I didn’t realise how much I had changed.”

“Christmas was a bad time to come back,” The Doctor said. “Humans get so nostalgic at Christmas. Always looking back on the good old days. That’s what it is. A little bit of Christmas Past coming back to haunt you.”

“It did for me,” Rose said. “I was looking at everyone in the pub – Shireen and Linda and Mickey and everyone and I was thinking about when we were all kids and some of the great Christmases we had.” She saw The Doctor’s expression and laughed. “Yes, we’ve had some GREAT Christmases at Mount Lœng House. Remember Vicki when she was only a baby, and her face when we lit up the Christmas tree. But Christmas is easy when we’re rich. If there was a BEST Christmas… honestly, I think it would be when I was six and I got a dolls house and… mum worked double shifts cleaning in the bingo hall to pay for it. I didn’t know that until years later. But I loved that dolls house. And I remember how happy mum looked that morning when I unwrapped it. She was so pleased…. I think you can really only appreciate Christmas properly if it's been a bit of a struggle to get there.”

“She’s right,” Jackie said. “You know, the best Christmas I ever had was….” she paused and glanced at Rose. “It was that Christmas before you were born, love. I was six months gone… and like I said before, we were just moved into the flat. We had hardly any furniture and not a lot of money. We got an emergency giro from the DSS to buy baby things and instead we spent the money on a Christmas tree and a turkey and pudding and stuff, and a bottle of wine. It was Australian wine. I remember that. Somebody on telly said Australian wine was really good and we thought we were really sophisticated for it. I didn’t know how to cook turkey. I was on the phone to Pete’s mum every five minutes asking her if I was doing it right. The roast potatoes got a bit overdone, and we didn’t have a corkscrew. Pete opened the wine with a penknife. But when we sat down to eat that dinner together… I was so proud to have cooked it. So much in love with your dad and he was so full of plans and telling me that next Christmas we’d eat Christmas dinner at the Ritz in posh gear because he’d be rich by then… God love him…”

“Oh mum…” Rose put her hand on her shoulder. She knew what was coming next. She almost wished her mum would stop talking there and leave it. But she had to exorcise the memory.

“The next Christmas… was the WORST one ever. It was only just over a month since Pete died, and the DSS hadn’t sorted my widows allowance out properly. I was living on emergency payments. Pete, the daft sod, never even thought of life insurance or anything. Well that’s not his fault really. I never did either. We didn’t think about dying. But he did. And there I was, a single mum, no money. And I felt SO alone that Christmas.”

She had tears in her eyes. Rose and The Doctor both looked at her but it was Christopher who took a handkerchief from his pocket and dried her tears.

“You’ll never be alone again,” he promised her. “You’re mine now.”

“Yeah,” she said with a smile. Christopher hugged her tightly. Rose and The Doctor watched quietly. They didn’t need to say anything. Rose just felt very happy that at last, there was somebody who could make her mum feel better when she was like she was now, a little bit drunk and thinking back on things like that.

“You know,” Jackie said after a while. “It wouldn’t have been so bad… that Christmas… if it hadn’t been for Brian Gill.”

“Who’s Brian Gill?” Rose asked. “Never heard of him.”

“You wouldn’t,” Jackie said. “He emigrated to Spain when you were about two – avoiding the VAT man. And I heard later that he died out there. Drowned. He was a good mate of your dads. A couple of months before he died Pete gave Brian a thousand pounds… It was all our savings. Money he’d made from actually selling some of that Vitex stuff. Brian ran a sportswear shop. He was expanding into football shirts – you know, Arsenal, Chelsea, United… and printing the names on the back… that was just getting to be the in-thing back then. Of course, the shirts were knock off…. But he DID make tons of money from it. Only he never paid back what Pete gave him. He was sitting on about twice that and it rightly belonged to your dad – to me really. If he’d paid over that money, it would have made such a difference. I’d still have been alone of course, but at least I wouldn’t have been worried sick about how I was going to pay the bills, sitting there on Christmas day sharing a tin of beans and toast with Rose and hoping the electric meter would last until after Boxing day.”

“The man stole money from you?” Christopher was appalled.

“Not exactly STOLE,” she answered. “Just… you know... When I asked he went on about overheads and re-investment and this that and the other. I didn’t believe it. He was just a right scrooge, squeezing every penny out of us.”

“Scrooge, eh!” The Doctor grinned brightly. If he was a cartoon he would have had a light bulb flashing over his head.

“What?” Jackie looked at him. She smiled because his smile was so infectious. “What are you thinking?”

“Dickens,” he grinned. “One of our favourite Victorians, isn’t he, Rose!”

“Lovely bloke,” Rose agreed.

“Did you ever read A Christmas Carol, Jackie?”

“Seen the Muppets version,” she admitted.

“Good enough,” The Doctor said. “Did you ever wonder if it would work, in real life.”

“No,” Jackie said. “Nobody changes from being such a mean, miserable so and so to life and soul of the party overnight no matter how much a bunch of ghosts scare the living daylights out of him. I reckon he’d be back to his old ways by New Year.”

“Yes,” Rose protested “Yes, I believe it. Because he knew his soul was in danger if he didn’t. He had to mend his ways.”

“I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about,” Christopher added. “I was never as fond of Earth literature as you, father.”

“Let’s test the theory,” The Doctor said. “Jackie, where did Brian live?”


The differences were subtle. The phone box on the corner by the old sub-post office was still red. There still WAS a sub-post office in the row of shops that served the high rise community. There were still shops. Most of them were shut down by the time The Doctor first materialised the TARDIS in the yard. Clothes and hairstyles were just different enough for them to realise this WAS more than twenty years ago.

“Oh my God!” Jackie whispered aloud. She looked as a young woman wheeled a baby in a pram across the yard, heading towards the stairwell door. She had a carrier bag of shopping and she looked weary.

“Mum… is that…”

“That’s us,” she said. “Me and you…”

“You two stay well away,” The Doctor said. “Rose, you know how dangerous it is to have two of the same person in one place.”

“Somebody should help her…” Jackie answered him. “The bloody lift was out again.” Then she felt Christopher leave her side. He dashed across the yard and was at the door before the younger Jackie was. He held the door open for her and they could see through the windows onto the stairwell that he had picked up the pram and was carrying it up the stairs easily, the young Jackie following behind with her bag of shopping.

“But… it didn’t…” Then she gave a soft gasp. “Oh my…. It’s like… my memory just changed. I remember a stranger picked up the pram and helped me. I remember worrying that he would get mud on his nice suit from the pram wheels. But before… I struggled up all the way by myself like most days.”

“That’s not a problem,” The Doctor said. “Subtle little changes in reality like this, like I’ve got in mind, don’t do any harm. As long as we don’t change anything significant.”

Christopher emerged from the flats, wiping pram wheel mud from the side of his trousers with a handkerchief. He smiled as he returned to Jackie’s side and she slipped her hand into his.

“You called me a nice bloke,” he said. “And then added that even if I was from the DSS, I was still a nice bloke.”

“DSS are the only people who wear suits around here,” Jackie laughed. “And you ARE a nice bloke. See I DID always have taste.”

“Course you did, Jackie,” The Doctor assured her. “Come on, let’s go find Brian Gill.”


Brian Gill lived in one of the low-rise maisonettes behind the shops. The second worst idea in low-cost housing after the high rise blocks. Rose, Jackie and Christopher stood back and watched as The Doctor pressed the door bell at number 15b. He grimaced as the tinny sound of “Jingle Bells” played somewhere inside the house.

The door opened presently and The Doctor looked with not too much surprise at a man who looked as if he had got out of bed to answer the door. He was dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts. His hair was tousled and he had the look of having made himself just barely decent.

“If you’re here for the brandy, I said midday,” he growled.

“Brandy?” The Doctor turned to Christopher and grinned. “Make a note of that will you, Sergeant.” He pulled out his psychic paper and with a perfectly straight face introduced himself as Detective Chief Inspector Robert Lewis of the Fraud Squad. Gill tried to shut the door, but unsurprisingly The Doctor was quicker than he was. He pushed the door fully open and stepped into the hallway, grasping Brian Gill firmly by the shoulder and propelling him towards the living room. Christopher, Jackie and Rose followed out of interest more than anything.

The living room immediately reminded Rose of the time when they visited her dad in this year. It was the living room of somebody who was into doing business anywhere he could find a customer. There were stacks of football shirts in cellophane wrappings on the dresser, boxes of designer trainers piled high behind the door, several cases of French brandy beside the TV along with half a dozen boxed up Spectrum computer consoles – the must have Christmas gift of 1986!

Rose had guessed that her dad’s early plans for Vitex might not have involved registering his business for VAT. She was not that naïve about things. But when she looked around at the hub of Brian’s business empire she realised that The Doctor had hit the mark when he said he was from the fraud squad.

Brian was muttering about having receipts for everything somewhere when a woman came down the stairs with a man’s dressing gown wrapped around her.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, Glenda Hodson,” Jackie said, turning to her. “Who’s looking after your two little kiddies while you’re messing about here. Go and get your clothes on and get out of here before I call social services on you.”

Glenda stared for a moment at Jackie as if she was trying to work out why this older woman seemed to remind her of somebody she knew and then turned and ran back upstairs. Brian was still trying to prove the legitimacy of the merchandise around him when she ran back down the stairs again noisily and the door slammed shut. As the sound of her high heels on the walkway faded Jackie was still muttering words that The Doctor and Christopher would usually pronounce in low Gallifreyan.

“Well,” she added. “I know I’ve had my moments, but I never left Rose on her own while I was out with a bloke.”

Meanwhile The Doctor decided Brian had given himself enough mental torture for now.

“Relax,” he said to him. “I’m not fraud squad. Although I do have some connections I could call on if you don’t do as I say.”

“Who are you then?” he demanded. “If you’re not police… what are you doing in my house?”

“I’m here to teach you to mend your ways, Brian. I’m the spirit of Christmas. You know, just like in A Christmas Carol.”

Brian looked blank. Jackie giggled.

“They didn’t make the Muppets version yet.”

“Ah well, Christopher hasn’t read the book either, so fair do’s,” The Doctor said. “Come on, Brian, we’re going to take you on a trip of a lifetime – YOUR lifetime.”


“Why is he doing it without arguing?” Jackie asked as she and Rose and Christopher followed The Doctor and Brian back to the TARDIS. “What’s he done to him?”

“It’s called Power of Suggestion,” Rose said. “It's like hypnotism but people don’t know they’re being hypnotised. They just think that what they’re seeing and doing is perfectly reasonable and nothing to be worried about. He does it all the time. It's how he gets into posh restaurants wearing that jacket.”

“Doesn’t work on me,” Jackie said. “I still think he looks a scruffy article.”

“Yeah, but he’s a fantastic scruffy article,” Rose countered.

“Yes, he is,” Jackie admitted. “And it is just a sort of ‘front’ with him, isn’t it. The real him somewhere inside is just as grand as Christopher is. A Gallifreyan Lord.”

“I don’t care which is the real him,” Rose admitted. “I love him. Just like you love Christopher.”

“Yeah,” Jackie smiled. “We’re the two luckiest women on Earth.”


Brian’s power of suggestion stopped him from fighting The Doctor, but it didn’t stop him looking very puzzled when they got to the TARDIS. Nor did it stop him panicking when he stepped inside and looked at the distinctly alien interior of the ship.

“Oh my God!” he cried in a shrill voice that belied the image he thought he had of a cool, together sort of guy. “Oh my God! What are you people? Are you… do you have green stuff under your skin?”

“He’s never seen a Slitheen has he?” Rose asked.

“No,” The Doctor assured her. “He’s a victim of American science fiction. That one about the aliens with reptile bodies inside Human skin was big on TV this year. Relax, Brian. Yes, I’m an alien, but I’m not a reptile. I told you, I’m your salvation. First, the ghost of Christmas Past… that’s how it goes. Are you ready for it, Brian?”

“Ready… for what?” he asked.

The Doctor said nothing else but he indicated to Brian that he should sit down on the sofa. He did so. Jackie and Christopher sat on the other sofa as The Doctor and Rose went to the console and initiated the flight into Brian’s past.

“Why does this sofa have the seal of the US president on it?” he asked.

“None of your business,” Jackie told him. “You just sit there till The Doctor gets us where we’re going.”

The Doctor was grinning mischievously. Rose caught his mood as she watched the dates roll back on the navigation panel. She glanced at Brian as he stared at the swirling vortex in the main viewscreen. He was shaking with terror. She would have felt sorry for him if she didn’t know what her mum had told them about him. It wasn’t so much that they had eaten beans on toast for Christmas dinner. She wasn’t old enough to remember that Christmas anyway, and her mum had managed to make most of the ones she COULD remember really great. But the thought that this man had taken advantage of her mum at a time when she was so vulnerable sickened her. She wanted to kick him where it hurts.

But she trusted The Doctor to give him a lesson he might remember for longer.

“What… what just happened?” Brian asked fearfully as the time rotor came to a standstill again and the unearthly sound of the TARDIS materialising faded away. “What happened?”

“Look…” Jackie said as the viewscreen resolved into a view of the terraced streets that used to stand where the flats now were.

“Wow. When is this then?” Rose asked.

“1962,” The Doctor told her. “The flats won’t be built until 1966.”

“This must be Powell Street then,” Jackie guessed. “Yes, I’ve seen some old pictures of it. Pete lived here when he was a kid. His parents were moved out into the new houses by the council when they demolished it.”

“And there he is, if I’m not mistaken,” The Doctor added. He pointed and Jackie gasped as she saw a boy of about eight years old sauntering down the road. At the corner of the street he met up with another boy of about the same age. But while the young Pete was neatly dressed, hair combed, socks pulled up and shoes clean, the other boy looked like he had been wearing the same clothes for a week. His shoes were tied in a tangled knot instead of a bow, and there were tears making pink streaks through the dirt on his face.

“Who is that?” Jackie looked as she watched Pete share a bag of sweets with the boy as he gradually stopped crying.

“You know who it is, don’t you, Brian,” The Doctor said, turning to their extra passenger as he stood dumbfounded, looking at the scene.

“It’s….” He turned around and looked at the TARDIS console. “It’s not possible. What is this? Some kind of mind-reading device…”

“No, it’s a time machine,” Jackie told him. “We went back in time.” She looked at Brian then back at the grimy little boy who her Pete was being so generous to. “It’s you, isn’t it?”

“My dad was probably thumping me and mum because there was no money for drink,” he said. “I never knew which was worse. When he was drunk and hit me because he was drunk or when he was sober and hit me because he couldn’t get drunk.” Brian stared at the scene for a long moment. Then he shook himself. “No, it’s not real. It can’t be.”

“It’s real,” The Doctor said. “This was your life, Brian. A sad, lonely, beaten up kid who had only the one real friend, young Pete Tyler. That’s right isn’t it, Brian?”

“It’s not real,” he insisted. “If it is, let me out… let me go out there and see…”

“That’s not part of the plan,” The Doctor said. “You out there, in the same place as your younger self. Can’t trust you. You’d cause a paradox.”

“Please…” he said. “I just want to…”

“You can’t touch him,” Rose told him. “If you touch him you can cause the end of the universe. I mean it. I nearly did it once. If The Doctor hadn’t stopped it, we’d all be sucked into oblivion.”

“All right, I won’t touch… but…”

The Doctor looked at Brian for a long moment then he reached and opened the door. Brian moved towards it then looked around nervously. “If I go outside… will your machine disappear and leave me here?”

“Don’t be daft,” The Doctor told him and moved to go outside with him. Jackie followed them. Rose and Christopher stayed in the TARDIS and watched events unfold on the viewscreen.

Pete had gone on now. Young Brian was a solitary child standing around the cold street again. Brian and The Doctor walked towards him. He looked up nervously at them. They saw him exchange some words with them. Then the older Brian reached into his pocket as if trying to find some loose change. The Doctor stayed his hand and instead reached in his own pocket and threw a coin to the child before they turned and came back to the TARDIS.

“British currency has changed at least half a dozen times since 1962,” The Doctor told Brian as they stepped over the threshold.

“I can remember that…” he said. “Two strange men who knew my name and gave me money to go and buy sweets to share with Pete…” He looked puzzled. “But… that’s not how it was before…. Pete always gave me sweets but I was NEVER was able to buy any.”

“Nice bloke, Pete,” The Doctor said. “He never cared about you paying him back, did he? Never asked for any payback for all he did for you. Whether it was sweets or…”

“Christmas dinner,” Brian said. The Doctor looked at him for a long moment then programmed the TARDIS. When they stopped again a few minutes later they were in the same street, though clearly later. Most of one side of it had been demolished and on the other some of the houses were empty and boarded up ready for the redevelopment of the area.

At the end house there was some excitement drawing out what was left of the neighbourhood to watch. A police Black Maria and an ambulance waited. The police emerged from the house with a handcuffed man and the ambulance men brought a woman lying on a stretcher. Behind them came another woman and two boys they all recognised as Brian and Pete looking a little older.

“Christmas 1966, Brian?” The Doctor said.

“I remember it,” he said with a long sigh. “Dad was drinking ALL night and in the morning… I can’t even remember what the row was about. But he went too far. Knocked mum down the stairs. Broke both her legs. It was Mrs Tyler… Pete’s mum… who called the police and the ambulance. And she took me to her house. Her husband died that year. She was living on the police widow’s pension… He was…”

“He was a good, honest beat copper,” The Doctor finished. He’d said that before about Pete’s father. “But the pension wouldn’t have been that great. Enough to keep body and soul alive but not a lot left over for frills.”

“But even so, she took me in. She fed me. Christmas dinner… dinner all week. I stayed there with them until my mum was home from hospital. It was a good Christmas, even though I was worried about mum, and what would happen to my dad.”

“What did happen to your dad?” Jackie asked. She’d known Brian fairly well back when she and Pete were dating, but she never knew anything about his family.

“No idea,” he shrugged. “He was bound over to keep the peace, but he never came home. Mum and me got on without him.”

“Just like me and my mum,” Rose whispered. “But…”

“Do I need to go on?” The Doctor asked. “I can show you a half or dozen other occasions when Pete or his mum were there for you. He was your mate all the years you were growing up. When Pete got married…” He reached over and took hold of Jackie’s handbag. She looked puzzled but didn’t protest as he looked inside and found one of the mementos she always carried with her. “Remind me now, which one is you in Pete and Jackie’s wedding photo?”

“The one next to Pete. I was his best man.”

“Of course he was,” Jackie said. “Pete and Brian were inseparable. Who else would he have picked?”

“Who are you?” he asked turning to Jackie. “How do you know so much about me?” He stared at her and his eyes widened as he recognised in the 40 something woman the eighteen year old bride in the wedding photo. “No… it can’t be…”

“We have a time machine, Brian. What’s so difficult to believe?”

“Jackie… you…” He turned and looked at Rose properly for the first time. “Then you must be….”

Rose stood with her mother. She understood Brian a little better now. He had obviously had a rough life. But that did not make her like him any more. All that her dad and her gran had done for him, and in the end, when her mum really needed it, he reneged on the one chance he had to do some good in return.

Jackie must have been of the same mind. She and Rose both turned away and looked at The Doctor.

“Has he learnt his lesson yet?” Rose asked.

“Has he?” The Doctor asked Jackie. “Has your memory of that Christmas changed?”

“No,” she answered. “Beans on toast and crying myself to sleep snuggled up to my baby.”

“Then he needs a couple more shocks yet. I think it's time the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come took over.”

“What happened to Christmas Present?” Rose asked.

“I think Brian had enough of that when he got turfed out of bed by us,” The Doctor answered.


“Where’s this then?” Christopher was the one who looked surprised when they came out of the vortex and the viewscreen resolved, this time, into a promenade above a golden beach. The sun was setting and it looked very inviting if it were not for the police closing the beach off and herding onlookers away.

“This is the resort city of Almeria in the Spanish province of Andalucia,” The Doctor said as he opened the doors. He stayed close to Brian as they joined with the crowd who were watching the Policia coming up the steps from the beach carrying between them a body bag from which seawater was dripping still.

“That’s me?” Brian was not slow to work things out. And though The Doctor could not say he liked the man he put his hand on his shoulder gently.

“Come on,” he said and turned away, guiding the slightly stunned man back to the TARDIS.

“What happened to me?” Brian demanded as The Doctor programmed the next destination. “What happened…. How did… how DO I die?”

The Doctor hesitated, wondering if he should know so much. But Jackie spoke up before he had made the decision.

“You drowned,” she said. “It was… It was murder. We heard… you got into some trouble with some local Spanish crooks and they took you out in a boat and pushed you overboard… the papers said your body was weighted down with rocks….”

“Jackie…” The Doctor said cutting her off. “That’s… Oh damn. Brian… I’m sorry. I didn’t know that much about it. I only knew you’d died. I didn’t know it was murder. I should have checked.” He still didn’t like the man, but his face as he took in this much information about his future fortunes was terrible to behold. He was not cruel by nature and he was starting to feel that what had started out as a rather elaborate prank was going too far now.

The TARDIS arrived at the last destination in Brian Gill’s story while The Doctor was still contemplating taking him home right away and forgetting the whole thing. Brian gasped out loud at the view of a rainswept cemetery where a rather pathetic funeral was going on. There was only one mourner by the graveside. Jackie, too, gasped as she remembered.

“I felt I owed it to Pete,” she said, as she watched a younger version of herself in the same black dress she had worn at her husband’s funeral. After the coffin was lowered and the priest had said the required words she dropped a bunch of flowers in on top of it and then turned away hugging her arms around her against the cold. They couldn’t tell if she was crying or not.

“I was,” she said. “Because it seemed… Pete gone, his friend gone… even though I’d hated him for what he did. Yes, I cried.”

She was crying now. So was Brian. He looked at Jackie. He looked back at The Doctor.

“Can I do anything to change my future?”

“I don’t know. Your future contains so many variables. And it's not the reason I brought you to see these things. Your soul is not my responsibility. But you hurt Jackie. You know how. Jackie, the widow of your lifelong best friend, who was the only person who even bothered to come to your funeral. I don’t know if you can change your future, Brian. Even if I did, I couldn’t tell you. It would be against the Laws of Time and I’ve bent enough of those already trying to teach you the error of your ways. But there is one thing you can do. And I think you know what it is.”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, just… take me back home… please….”

“Doing it now,” The Doctor assured him. Nobody said much. There was nothing they could say. The Doctor was worried he had emotionally damaged the man rather than reformed him. Christopher was comforting Jackie as she cried quietly at long buried memories. Rose looked nearly as upset as her mum.

“Ok, Brian,” he said. “You’re home.” He opened the door one last time. Brian looked out at the row of maisonettes where he lived. It looked normal enough.

“It’s only about five minute after you left. It’s still only just after ten o’clock on Christmas Eve. You’ve got plenty of time to do the right thing.”

“Ok.” Brian looked around at the inside of the TARDIS as if he was determined to remember it. He looked at Jackie one more time. “Jackie… I’m sorry for hurting you,” he said. Then he stepped out. He walked forwards and turned and looked once. He walked away again. When he looked back the TARDIS was gone.

“So…” The Doctor looked at Jackie. He knew she was the only one who could tell him if Brian had learnt from his experience.

“Oh… my….” She looked back at him and smiled. “Doctor… can you take the TARDIS back to the yard… and at about four o’clock in the afternoon.”

“These short hops in time are going to give her hiccups,” he said. Nobody was sure if he was serious or not. “But I think I can do it.”

He did it. The TARDIS materialised at a little before four o’clock. The lights were on around the yard and the sky overhead was dark and dismal and promising not a white Christmas but a wet one. But it wasn’t raining yet and they stepped out and waited. Jackie seemed to know what they were waiting for, but she didn’t say anything.

A taxi drove into the courtyard. It stopped by the stairwell door and Jackie struggled out of the back seat with Rose in her arms. The taxi driver opened the car boot and took out the fold up pram as well as what looked like a dozen carrier bags from a toy shop, clothes store and supermarket. The Doctor and Christopher looked at each other and they both crossed the yard and offered to help her with her shopping. Jackie smiled broadly as she watched her younger self follow the two men up to her flat.

“About eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve morning…. There was a knock on the door. It was Brian. All he said was…. Happy Christmas. And he gave me a big envelope and left again. Three thousand pounds… all the money he owed Pete. I just grabbed my coat and put you in your pram and I went out and bought loads of food and toys for you and some nice clothes for myself… I spent about five hundred pounds in a couple of hours. It was…. it was fun. It was great not to worry for a little while. I had a… well, no, not a great Christmas… because I missed Pete like hell. But… but I got to see you open all your toys and we had a lovely dinner and… and I knew after it was all over I’d be able to pay the bills and we’d be ok.”

“He did the right thing.”

“Apparently we’re both nice blokes,” The Doctor said with a smile as he and Christopher got back from their shopping carrying duty. “Which is not what you thought when you NEXT saw me,” he added to Jackie.

“Well, I was wrong,” she admitted.

“What about Brian?” Rose asked as The Doctor set the co-ordinate to take them back home to 2216 at last. “He still dies horribly. Doesn’t seem fair.”

“I can’t do anything about that,” The Doctor told her.

“Wait a minute.” Jackie looked at the pile of mail she had brought with her from the flat. The top one had a Spanish stamp on it. She ripped it open and pulled out the Christmas card.

“All the best wishes to you, Brian,” she read. “Oh…”

“How?” Rose asked. “You said you couldn’t do anything…”

“I can’t,” The Doctor told her. “Brian CAN. He must have kept to the straight and narrow after he went to Spain and didn’t get involved with the sort of men who liked to take him swimming with pockets full of stones.”

“It’s not a paradox if he makes his own decision to change things?”

“No,” The Doctor said. “It’s a man taking charge of his own life and changing his destiny. And good for him. I’m glad it worked out for him.”

“Me too,” Jackie said. “I’m glad we helped him. Even if we didn’t set out to do that. But… Does this mean I’m wrong about A Christmas Carol? Do you think Scrooge did stay good after all?”

“I think there’s hope for the Human race,” The Doctor said. “I always thought so. That’s why I give you all so many chances to get it right.”