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

Davie felt a little nervous as he put the Chinese TARDIS into temporal orbit. This was the first time, apart from a remote control dry run, that he had taken the ship into space since the ‘incident’ which had resulted in major repairs to every section of the console. And he wasn’t at all sure he ought to be risking anyone else’s life in this test run.

He looked up and smiled nervously at his brother as he stood over the life support system. He could feel HIS confidence in him. Chris never doubted him for a moment. He looked across to where The Doctor and Rose sat on the sofa trying to look nonchalant and unconcerned as they drank coffee and took it in turns to hold Peter. Sukie and Vicki were lying on a rug on the floor side by side reading a book together. Lord of the Rings, he noted. Both girls were creating amazingly detailed images in the air in front of them to illustrate the story as they read.

No wonder Sukie was bored at school, he thought. He and Chris expended a lot of mental energy every day communicating with her, teaching her things that weren’t on the curriculum for nine year olds while she pretended to be participating in her classes.

Their mother had always insisted on them all going to an ordinary school, doing ordinary things, a pretence of normal Human life. And curiously, it always seemed to him, The Doctor agreed with that idea. He said they needed to fit in, needed ordinary friends, needed to be able to socialise with children their own age.

Although he didn’t know why since it had never really worked for him and Chris. They mostly had each other for company. And Sukie had Vicki. Even more so now. They really did look like twins. They thought alike and shared a world not unlike the one he and his brother had shared when they were children. He knew Vicki had suffered badly when she was hit by the temporal accelerator that forced her from a four year old to a nine year old body in a few minutes, but he actually thought she was doing ok since. Her mind was already ahead of her body. It had caught up just a bit.

Though nobody could tell that to Rose. She was still very upset about it. She still felt nervous about letting the children play in the garden of the house she used to love. It had all become so horribly tainted by the bad memory of all that happened.

That was the second reason for this trip, to help her over the trauma of a gun battle with aliens in her own home.

It was also a distraction for Sukie while their parents saw to the repairs to their home following the destruction by the Corelites.

They’d all been affected one way or another by that attack. And they couldn’t just shrug it off and pretend nothing had happened.

Yes, they needed a holiday. Just as long as he didn’t blow them all up in space. He turned his attention to the console again. But everything seemed just fine. He was relieved.

“Where are we going?” he asked his great-grandfather as he jumped up from the sofa and came to the console. He didn’t need to be standing there, of course. He could have given him the co-ordinate telepathically from his comfy seat, but Davie knew he’d have to TIE him to the sofa to keep him away. It was all he could do just to stand and watch a TARDIS piloted by somebody else.

“Where is that?” Davie asked as he keyed in the co-ordinate. “Somewhere exciting?”

“Somewhere quiet,” The Doctor said. “Tibora.”

“Former Gallifreyan dominion,” Chris noted. He moved around to the computer databank and found the entry for the planet. “Technologically aware people with well organised culture and civilisation. Most have fully developed telepathic skills from adolescence. They are highly intelligent, but otherwise closer to Human than Gallifreyan physiology. They only have one heart, red blood, rich in iron, although their lifespan is considerably longer than the average Earth-descendents. Oh, and they worship the Time Lords as their deity.” He smiled wryly. “We’re their gods!”

“That’s not the reason we’re going there,” The Doctor insisted. “I don’t really like the way they constantly bow and scrape to me wherever I go. They’re fantastic people and they ought to have more dignity than that. One day I might finally TEACH them that, perhaps.”

It certainly didn’t seem as if he would this trip, Davie thought when they arrived on Tibora. He landed the TARDIS beside a big crystal clear lake in a beautiful but isolated spot a good eighty kilometres from the great central city of Tibora, but within walking distance of a small rural town.

“Nothing wrong with the city, of course,” The Doctor said. “Wonderful place. Very cultural. Lots of theatres and opera houses and the like. But I thought it would be nice to visit an old friend.”

“Brenda and her family,” Rose said happily as she let The Doctor take Peter and strap him into his baby carrier. She took hold of Sukie and Vicki’s hands as they stepped out of the TARDIS. Davie was last out, behind his brother. He locked the door which immediately melded into the marble wall of its disguise for today, the plinth of a large statue with a big ying-yang symbol engraved in it. He backed away from it and looked up. He laughed as he saw that the statue was of a Time Lord in full ceremonial regalia.

And it looked like The Doctor.

“Wow,” Chris said with a big grin. Rose laughed. The two girls giggled. The Doctor looked embarrassed about it.

“I’m just glad there is nobody about to see us arrive,” he said. “I don’t fancy being bowed down to right now. Come on, Brenda’s house is this way.” He turned and headed towards a very lovely looking house, a sprawling log-built bungalow on the side of a great mountain whose reflection was cast in the lake.

“That mountain looks funny,” Sukie commented. And as they all looked up at it, they could not fault her judgement. It was a graceful cone shape with snow on its peak and a thick pine forest down its steep sides.


“Mountains shouldn’t smoke,” Vicki added. And nobody could argue with her line of logic, either.

“Looks to me like they’ve got a slightly stroppy volcano,” The Doctor said. “Wasn’t like that last time we were here. Might take a closer look tomorrow.”

“Is it going to erupt?” Rose asked warily as she looked up at it.

“Most likely not,” The Doctor assured her. “Probably rumbles like that every so often and then settles down. But you know how nosy I am. Definitely going to have a look at it.”

“Count us in,” Davie said. “We could take the TARDIS down into the caldera and inspect it.”

“Yeah,” The Doctor agreed. “Sounds good to me. Meanwhile, I hope Brenda’s folks have the kettle on.”

At first, Brenda’s mother was too stunned when one of the Great Lords and his family arrived at their home to even think of putting a kettle on. When he stepped into the kitchen to ask her to warm a bottle of baby milk for Peter it was all he could do to stop her from going down on her knees with her head bowed. Even Brenda seemed to have forgotten that he taught her NOT to do that. After a while, though, he managed to get the whole family to act relatively normally – assuming that Mrs Freeman NORMALLY ran around like a whirlwind making tea and preparing food enough for twenty visitors when she only had six and a baby to cater for. Meanwhile The Doctor managed to get Brenda to calm down enough to talk to her.

“You’ve grown, my dear,” he said to the girl. “How old are you now?”

“Seventeen,” she told him. “Oh, but my Lord…” Whatever she had been taught about the Great Lords of Gallifrey, nobody had ever prepared her for the sight of one of them with a baby carrier strapped to his chest. She was enchanted by Peter and The Doctor gladly unfastened him from his carrier and let her hold him. “He’s a beautiful baby,” she said. “A young Lord to bless your life.”

“Hang on,” Rose said as she cautiously watched Brenda with her baby. “It’s about nine years since we first saw you, on Earth, when the creepy Edgar guy in your head tried to set The Doctor on fire. And you were fourteen then. You should be older than 17 now.”

“A year is about twice as long here as on Earth,” The Doctor told her. “And as Chris noted earlier, Tiborans age differently to Earth Humans. By Earth measurements, Brenda would be in her twenties now, but here she is seventeen.”

“Right.” Rose looked at the girl and smiled. She seemed to handle Peter very well, in fact, and he seemed happy with her, cooing and smiling at her petting of him. She noticed that Davie was taking a lot of interest in Brenda, too. As Mrs Freeman brought in a fresh spread of food to honour the guests of her house with, he moved his seat closer and began to engage her in conversation by talking about Earth, asking her about when she lived there. It didn’t take long for the conversation to go from Brenda’s time as a visitor to Earth to how The Doctor had saved her life and sanity.

Funny how anyone who had ever had contact with The Doctor would end up talking about him in the end. As if the biggest ego in the universe needed any more boosting, she thought.

The Doctor, meanwhile, was in conversation with Brenda’s father about the mountain that so dominated their lives here.

“It is called the Mountain of the Gods,” Mr. Freeman said as he used a computer terminal to bring up pictures of the mountain from all angles on the big viewscreen on the wall. “It was classified as an active volcano, but it was never a problem. As you can see, the forest has been undisturbed by any eruption for centuries. Though occasionally, as now, there is a little smoke and ash. Sometimes it is severe enough to kill off the trees nearest the snowline. But then it settles down again and the forest recovers. We don’t worry too much.”

“Still,” The Doctor wondered as he looked at the pictures. “It is monitored, of course? Seismic measurements, acidity levels in the air, and in the lake?”

“Why yes,” Mr Freeman said. “There is an automatic monitoring station. It sends data to a centre in the capital. But that’s nothing to do with my work. I’m Steward of the Mountain. I am responsible for the maintenance of the forest and the lake below. If you want to see the crater, I would be glad to show you, tomorrow, my Lord - If you would do me the honour of being my guest tonight.”

“Fantastic,” The Doctor said, doing his best to ignore the formality of the man’s way of speaking to him. There was a sort of half-acceptance among the family that he was not a god, and that the only ‘offering’ he wanted was tea with two sugars in a cup and saucer handed to him in the usual way. But when they spoke to him it was still with an uncomfortable deference. He felt like a king visiting the home of a commoner who was doing his best to impress him. When her husband suggested they stay the night Mrs Freeman nearly went into catatonic shock at the thought of a Great Lord of Time sleeping under her roof.

Chris and Davie elected to spend the night in their own TARDIS bedroom. As they walked down to the lakeside, they looked up at the mountain and noticed that at night the glow around the cone was even more eerie.

“You know,” Chris said. “I really wouldn’t want to live this close to that. I’m not sure it isn’t going to blow its top.”

“Brenda likes 20th century Earth music,” Davie answered. “Isn’t that something? I said I’d lend her my micro-disc of the White Album.”

Chris looked at his brother curiously. Their roles seemed to have reversed somehow. Davie was the one who had a dreamy glint in his eye. He was the one talking about volcanoes. He smiled and kept his own counsel on the matter.

But Davie still had the same glint in his eye when he woke up the next morning. He dressed himself quietly, leaving his brother to sleep on and went outside. He walked by the lakeside, looking at the perfect reflection of the mountain in the mirror-still water. He smiled as he noticed movement in the reflection. For a little while he watched the reflection, then he turned and watched the girl herself, in a leotard and skirt, barefoot and her hair tied back in a pony tail nearly as good as Chris’s. She was performing callisthenic exercises that perfectly illustrated why nobody had ever decided if that form of movement of the body was a sport or an artistic expression.

Davie slipped off his own shoes and jacket and stepped onto the cool, dew-heavy lawn beside her, performing Tai Chi movements that complimented the callisthenics. She looked startled when she realised he was there, and faltered in her routine, but he just smiled at her and she found her rhythm again and matched his moves with her own.

“That was fun,” Davie said when they were done.

“Yes, it was,” she stammered as she found a shawl to put over herself now she was finished and was cooling down. “Yes, it was.”

“I don’t think anyone else is up yet,” he said as he retrieved his jacket. “Will you… would you like to walk with me down by the lake?”

“I am your servant, my Lord,” she said with her eyes cast down as she folded the shawl over her head and shoulders. She seemed to have slipped back into the subservient mode, maybe because she was shy and didn’t quite know how to say yes to his suggestion.

“You don’t have to talk like that,” he told her. “And please don’t come with me because I’m a Lord and I command it. Come because you want to.” He took her hand. She trembled. “Brenda… I am not a God. I’m not a Lord. I’m just like you, the same age as you, more or less.”

“You are blood kin to the Great Lord,” she said.

“Granddad…. Yes, he’s the greatest. But he doesn’t like this sort of thing, either. Come on, let’s just walk. It’s a lovely morning.”

Davie let go of her hand, although he kept wanting to hold onto it to stop her suddenly running away in fear of him. She walked beside him a good way without doing so. He thought he would happily walk right around the lake if he could keep her talking enough not to notice that she was chatting with the kin of the Great Lord. Whenever she remembered that fact she stammered and got self-conscious about it, but for long periods she talked to him just like any girl of near enough his own age ought to talk to him.

“What do you think you will do once you’ve left school?” he asked her. Her father had mentioned the day before that she had one more year to go.

“I want to be a nanny,” she said. “I am hoping to be accepted to the training school. Or a nursery nurse. I love babies. Your little brother is adorable. It was kind of Rose to let me look after him last night.”

“Peter isn’t my brother,” Davie corrected her. “He’s… The Doctor is my great-grandfather. Peter is my grand-uncle.” He laughed as he worked out the complicated relationship. He wished he hadn’t, though. That just reminded her that he was DIFFERENT and made her nervous again. “It’s really beautiful here,” he said to try to open the conversation up again. “But doesn’t the volcano make you nervous?”

“It's always been there. I never really think about it. I’ve seen it get red and smoky once before when I was really little. My father told me it was the gods of the mountain building chariots in their foundry so that they could race each other across the sky. But of course that is only a story. The Lords of Time are our gods… and they don’t race chariots.”

“We race plasma storms in the TARDIS. That’s totally fantastic. Granddad taught us to do it. I’d love to show you. I think you’d really enjoy it.”

“You have your OWN time travelling machine?” she asked, awed by the idea. “You are a Lord of Time.” She looked ready to bolt again.

“Not yet,” he said. “Not until I am eighteen. Still a couple of months to go.”

“But even so… I am… It is an honour for me that you keep me company this way.”

“I like to keep you company,” he said. “You’re a nice girl. And one I don’t have to hide anything from. The girls on Earth don’t even KNOW what a Time Lord is and I’m not allowed to tell them.”

“I know what that is like,” she sighed. “I was at school on Earth and I couldn’t tell anyone I was from Tibora.” She sighed as she remembered. “I liked Earth. But I had to leave…. Because of the trouble…. The…. Your grandfather was so kind to me. I hardly deserved his help.”

“I don’t believe that for one minute,” Davie said. “Granddad cares about everybody. The only people I don’t think he ever helped are the Daleks. But…” He stopped speaking abruptly. He had seen something that drove ordinary conversations out of his head. “What…”

“It’s a little dwarf bear,” Brenda said as she ran towards the pathetic bundle of matted and muddy fur lying on the edge of the lake. It was a golden colour beneath the mess and about the size of a small dog. “Oh... Oh, what happened to it? Who would kill one of them? They’re such sweet things. I used to have a tame one as a pet when I was little….” She was crying softly. Davie bent beside her and looked at the creature, then he looked around. He took his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and began to examine the water. The reading was just for accuracy though. The dead fish already confirmed what he had started to guess.

“Brenda, step away. Don’t touch the bear’s fur,” he said. But as he turned to her she moaned in pain and held out her blistered hands. “It’s ok,” he said adjusting his sonic screwdriver to another setting. He held her hands carefully and applied the soothing blue beam that eased minor injuries. The blisters and redness disappeared but she was still distressed.

“We’d better get back to your house,” he said, pulling off his jacket and wrapping the bear in it. He picked up the dead creature carefully. “Granddad should hear about this.”

“Dead fish?” The Doctor listened carefully as Davie explained what he had found. Brenda’s father was listening, too. Both looked serious.

“Acidity levels way too high in the water. And the little bear… its mouth was full of blisters. It must have eaten the fish… and…” Brenda sobbed again as she thought of it. Davie reached out and took her hand gently. The gesture was not lost on any of the adults around the room, but they had more important things to worry about just now.

“You’ve got a problem, Mr. Freeman,” The Doctor said. “And I don’t think it takes a genius to make a connection with the mountain. That lake was formed millennia ago by the collapsed caldera of a sister volcano to your Mountain of the Gods. I expect there are vents that run under the lake. Slight seismic movements nobody would consider out of the ordinary could have opened them up underwater. That’s what turned the lake acidic. And it did so VERY quickly, because there didn’t look to be any problem yesterday.”

“I’ll have to call some people,” Mr Freeman said. “We need to close the lake to bathers, anglers, water sports. This won’t do the local people any good,” he added. “Tourism is the lifeblood of the community.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” The Doctor assured Mr. Freeman. “Afterwards, we should think about taking that closer look at the volcano. See what it’s up to.”

“I’m going to go and bury that poor little bear,” Brenda announced. Davie stood up and said he would help. She seemed grateful to him.

“The other animals know,” she said as she stood up and looked around the forest edge where Davie had dug a hole and buried the bear, still wrapped in his jacket. The acidic water in the bear’s fur had ruined it anyway. “There’s no birds, do you notice.”

“Yes, I noticed. And… you know, if the whole lake has been messed up, it's surprising there was only the one dead animal from eating the fish. I wonder… have most of them already run away?” He stepped back and looked up at the mountain. It looked much the same as it ever did, but he was almost sure there was more smoke now.

“If they have, that’s good. There won’t be any more dying horribly like that,” Brenda sighed. She still looked very tearful.

“Hey,” Davie said, reaching out and touching her on the shoulder. She flinched at his touch and tried to step back, but he drew her close instead. “I know this is a lousy sort of a date, but…” Gently he put his hand under her chin and lifted her face towards his as he kissed her.

The effect on her was alarming. She pulled from his embrace and ran. Davie ran after her and caught her in his arms again. He held her firmly, though not with intent to hurt her.

“Hey,” he said. “Come on! I haven’t kissed THAT many girls. A reaction like that could really do damage to my self-esteem.”

“I mustn’t,” she cried. “I cannot.”

“Can’t kiss?” He was surprised. “Brenda… do you mean… it’s against your culture or something.” He started to be worried. “Have I done something wrong to you? I didn’t know… Where I come from kissing is a beautiful thing that people share when they like each other.”

“Here, too,” she said. “But… but… you are…”

“Oh, Brenda, not that again. YES, I am a Time Lord Elect. But does that mean I am not allowed to like you? That you can’t like me?”

“My Lord…” she said again. “It is… it is a great honour that you favour me so. But I am afraid.”

“Afraid of what?” he asked. “Of me?”

“Of… of….” She couldn’t say. She broke from him again. He couldn’t hold her any tighter without hurting her. He sighed as she fled from him. This had not gone as he thought it would. True, it wasn’t the most romantic moment - standing under a volcano burying a dead bear. For preference he would have taken her down by the lake under a full moon…

He shook himself. He was sounding like Chris, waxing lyrical. But he HAD wanted it to be a perfect moment. Yes, he had kissed a few girls before. Mostly it was kissing them goodnight at their front door after dates. Once or twice there had been a more passionate kiss and cuddle. But it had tended to be the girl who instigated it. And though they were nice girls, and he had natural warm feelings about kissing them, he never felt as much for them as they did for him.

None of them had made him feel like Brenda did when she smiled at him. It made the sort of crazy patterns in his head that Chris had all the time, and he didn’t mind it.

He thought it would be nice. And kissing her WAS nice. But her reaction wasn’t. He felt sick in his hearts at having frightened her so much.

And he didn’t know what to do.

“Hey!” He turned as Chris came up to him. “What’s going on? Why did you shut me out of your thoughts?”

“Because I was…” Davie looked at his brother. They had agreed when they were fourteen or so, and first began to think of girls in THAT way, that their symbiotic connection really would be inappropriate at those times, and they closed themselves off from each other when they wanted to be ‘alone’ with a girl.

“So… did you kiss her? Was it nice?”

“Yes, I kissed her,” he said. “But…” He couldn’t put it into words, but he replayed what had occurred in his head and Chris understood.

“Granddad did say they were a bit too much into the ‘Great Lord’ thing. Didn’t think it applied to us. I mean HE is a hero all over the universe. I can understand why people would want to worship him. But we’re…”

“We’re his blood kin. Literally. You know what he always said about our DNA. But I don’t want to be a god if it means I can’t get to know a nice girl without scaring her.”

“Are you serious about her?” Chris asked. “I mean, you’ve only been here a couple of days.”

“Yes,” he said. “I really like her. I don’t mean I want to rush off and get married to her. We’re both of us too young for that. But… I’d like her to be my girlfriend. You know… long term…”

“Like granddad when he met his first wife. Our real great grandmother… He waited ages until she was old enough to marry. He used to visit her planet and take her on trips and buy her presents and stuff.”

“Yes,” Davie said. “That’s what I’d like to do. And after all, we have the TARDIS. Would you mind if I used it to dash across to Tibora once in a week to take Brenda out to dinner?”

“No problem from me,” Chris said. “But I think you ought to talk to her mum and dad before you let things go too far. They do arranged marriages in the culture here, you know. She might already be spoken for.”

“Oh, hell.” Davie bit his lip then. Chris could feel his thoughts well enough now. He DID like Brenda, a lot. And if she was promised to somebody else….

“NO, you’re not going to challenge her other suitors to any kind of death match,” Chris warned him. “Anyway, come on. Granddad wants us. We’re going to check out that volcano with him.”

“He’s worried about it, isn’t he? He’s playing it cool so as not to upset Rose and the girls. But he IS worried.”

“He thinks it’s going to blow. So do I.”

“Mr. Freeman works in the woods. He knows the mountain. He doesn’t think there’s a problem.”

“But he’s not as smart as granddad. HE knows things. He FEELS things instinctively. I do, too. It feels wrong around here. As if the atmosphere is tensing up for something.”

“I thought that was just me trying to figure out how to get Brenda to chill out with me.”

Davie had expected to take his TARDIS to the volcano, but Mr Freeman had organised their transport. It looked something like a helicopter but it had no external blades that would be compromised flying through the thick ash cloud. He buckled himself in next to his brother. The Doctor sat next to the pilot, watching the environmental controls. Mr Freeman was in the seat across the aisle from the boys. As the VTOL craft began to climb steadily Davie cleared his throat and addressed him.

“I hope you don’t think I am being forward,” he said. “But… I wanted to ask… if any arrangement of betrothal has been made for Brenda.” He blushed when he said it. The pilot was the only one who didn’t turn and look straight at him. The Doctor looked as if he was on the point of speaking. His brow was furrowed and his lips slightly apart, but he kept quiet for the moment.

“No,” Mr Freeman answered. “You must understand… Brenda, when she was younger, had many emotional problems. I think you know the cause of them. And… and that has gone against her.”

“Well… in that case…” Davie said. “I…. I would like to make an offer…. I would like to make a Bond of Betrothal.”

The Doctor again opened his mouth as if to speak, and again decided against it. Mr Freeman was lost for words. He cleared his throatte several times before finding something to say in reply.

“The… the kin of the Great Lord asks for my daughter’s hand… that is….”

“That is a very interesting idea,” The Doctor said at last. “But Davie, it is something that needs some thinking about.” Davie turned to him and started to protest but The Doctor cut him off. “For a start, you are NOT eighteen yet, and this is something you ought to talk to your parents about. You are not yet old enough to make a Bond of Betrothal without their permission. And no, I can’t and won’t give permission in loco parentis. Your mother would eat me alive. Then bear in mind that the age of consent here on Tibora is 21. And in Earth terms that means you would be nearer twenty-six by the time she is ready to marry you. Which is no bad thing. It’s a good age. By then you should have a career, an independent means to support her. But it means that you are making a long term commitment few young men your age on Earth make. And for a girl you only met yesterday. Are you sure about this, son?”

“I’m sure,” he said. “I… I love her. And I think she feels something for me, if she were not so afraid of me. If… Mr. Freeman, if you would give her leave to… you know…” He blushed again and was sure even the pilot that time glanced his way. Though that might have been his imagination.

“You believe in love at first sight, granddad,” Chris said to The Doctor telepathically. “Don’t stand in his way. He means it.”

“I know he does,” The Doctor answered. “Davie, I’m NOT standing in your way. Brenda is a lovely girl. And she is…. In practical terms… she’s a Tiboran… they live much longer than Humans, she is telepathic like you are. She IS a good match for you in that way. But just don’t rush into anything.” Then he turned to Mr. Freeman and spoke to him out loud. “Davie CAN’T make a bond of betrothal for another few months. And I really think Brenda should have some say in the matter. But I would be prepared to countersign a Bond of Intent, which signifies his interest in her and allows him to court her freely.”

“If Brenda is happy with that,” Mr Freeman agreed. “Then nothing would make her mother and I happier than to see such a courtship progress.”

“That’s one problem out of the way then,” The Doctor said. “Davie, when we get back, you need to let Brenda know we’ve been planning out her life behind her back, and see if she IS actually happy with the idea. And YOU can break the news to YOUR parents. I’m not taking the rap for this.”

Davie smiled a little nervously. He DID still have to get Brenda to stop panicking and running away every time he talked to her. That worried him more than his mum and dad. He didn’t think they WOULD object to his plans.

“Meanwhile, we have a stroppy volcano to worry about,” Chris said, echoing The Doctor’s words of the day before.

“I think it’s gone beyond strop now,” The Doctor noted as he looked at the data on the screen in front of him. “It’s building up to a full on temper tantrum.”

“I think you’re right,” Mr Freeman said as he looked at the same data on the portable data console that Davie had brought along.

“Never mind computer screens,” Chris exclaimed as he looked out of the window. “Look at THAT.”

They were over the crater, looking down into what even a less colourful imagination than his own would describe as the pits of hell. As the craft began to descend into the crater they could see the great pool of boiling magma in more detail. It was bright orange-red with blackened lumps of partially cooled pumice floating on top. Every so often an air bubble was forced up through the skin and collapsed.

“Basalt magma, low viscosity…. 1000 Pascal-seconds,” The Doctor said. “We’re looking at an effusive eruption, a massive flow of pahoehoe lava. But no pyroclastic explosion. That’s the good news. The bad news… We’re talking about the fastest moving form of lava. It spreads very fast. It destroys everything in its path, and it will do so in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours.”

“You’re certain?” Mr. Freeman asked, before remembering who he was questioning. “My Lord… I…. I do not doubt your wisdom. Forgive me. But… there are experts….” He stopped and looked at The Doctor. “No,” he said. “I have no reason to doubt you. It is… It is anathema to me to doubt you, the greatest of the great lords. If you say it is so…. Then it is so.”

“For a whole half hour you forgot I was one of the Lords of Time,” The Doctor said to him with a gentle smile. “Call your experts if you wish. You are entitled to a second opinion.”

“There is no need…” he began. Then his words were lost. Afterwards they were able to work out what had happened. A particularly large super-heated air bubble broke through the skin of the magma pool and the resulting hot air current caught one wing of the craft, tipping it sideways and slamming it against the side of the shaft. The crunch and the sound of tortured metal was followed by an eerie silence as the engines cut out. Chris was closest to the side that had borne the brunt of the impact and he confirmed that they were wedged precariously on an outcrop of rock just ten feet or so above the boiling magma.

“Ok,” the pilot said. “Nobody move or we’ll be in big trouble.”

“I thought we already WERE in big trouble,” Davie retorted. “The next step is a really nasty death.”

They all tried not to think about that. They tried not to think about the way the thin skin of metal that lay between them and that nasty death was creaking and straining.

“Davie,” The Doctor said very quietly and calmly. “When you repaired your TARDIS, did you fix the remote pilot?”

“YES!” he cried and reached for his TARDIS key. He pressed it and hoped. There was a lot of rock and worse between him and his ship. Would it be able….

He sighed with relief as he heard the sound of the TARDIS materialising. It disguised itself quite simply as a bulkhead door. But they still had to move carefully. Davie unfastened his seatbelt slowly and moved towards the door. Chris followed. The Doctor told Mr. Freeman to follow them. As he reached the TARDIS door they felt the ship creak and shift slightly downwards.

“You now,” The Doctor told the pilot.

“What’s inside that door?” the pilot asked as he did as he was told. He was Tiboran, too. He was aware that he was being given an order by one of his ancestral masters. But he had to ask, all the same.

“Safety,” The Doctor told him. “Go on, steady.”

The pilot reached the door. The craft tilted even more precariously as The Doctor folded time and bought himself enough of it to reach the TARDIS. He jumped and rolled across the floor as Chris ran to close the door. In the same moment they all heard the terminal creak as the craft began to fall. The TARDIS tilted with it momentarily before Davie hit the fast return switch to take them to the last co-ordinate. Moments later when the VTOL craft disintegrated in the super-heated lava they were looking at a view across the placid, if dangerously acidic, lake.

“That was close,” The Doctor said as he stepped out of the TARDIS. “Ok, no time for chin-wagging. We have to move fast. We’re up against nature and time is on her side. Mr. Freeman….”

“I’ll call the environment agency in the city. They can send people… the experts.”

“Too late for them,” The Doctor told him. “You don’t need more people here. You need less. You need to evacuate the area. Your home… the town, any farms, homes in about a ten mile area, more even, to be on the safe side.”

“It’s going to be difficult,” Mr Freeman said. “Not… not just logistically difficult, but… I’ve lived here all my life. So have most people I know. We’re just to abandon everything?”

“I’m sorry. I understand. Really I do… I’ve lost as much… More… It’s hard. But… your lives are more important than possessions.”

“We’ll take you and your family out in the TARDIS,” Davie said to Mr. Freeman. “We can take whatever possessions you want to take with you.”

“That’s kind of you,” Mr. Freeman told him. “How many people can you carry? The Doctor is right. Possessions don’t matter. But people…. There are about a dozen houses I can think of… families living remotely as we do…”

“Contact them,” Davie decided. “Tell them we’ll be with them within the hour.”

The Doctor smiled as he watched his great–grandson take command of the situation.

“Chip off the old block,” he murmured.

At the Freeman house they were ready to be evacuated. Sukie and Vicki had read enough of what had been going on through their mental connection with Chris and Davie. They managed to impress upon the adults of the household how urgent the situation was. The Doctor was rather surprised that, in addition to his wife and children and Mrs Freeman and Brenda the evacuation included two dwarf bear cubs.

“Sukie and Vickie found them,” Rose explained. “Brenda went out with them for a walk… and they found the cubs. Practically the only animals left in the area. We think they were the babies of the one that died.”

The Doctor watched the three girls cuddling the cubs on the sofa as Davie set the co-ordinate for the next house. He saw the way Vicki and Sukie looked at him. The pleading look on their faces needed no words, spoken or telepathic.

“No,” he said firmly. “You can’t keep them. I’m sorry. They’re wild animals. They belong here on Tibora, not on Earth. When we’ve sorted this all out and the people are safe, we’ll find a good home for Yogi and Boo-boo, an animal sanctuary or…” He stopped and looked at his daughter and great-granddaughter. He groaned. He knew he’d just lost the argument without them saying a word. And on top of that he’d just gone and blown the first principle of Emotional Detachment!

NEVER put a name to a nameless victim.

“Last time we took a family trip I brought back 200 Gallifreyans,” he sighed. “Next time we go anywhere we don’t collect ANY souvenir that doesn’t fit in the pocket.”

At most of the farms they reached they evacuated the women and children. The men were busy getting livestock onto lorries and driving them to safety. The pilot who had brought them to the mountain saw his wife and son and the family dog safely aboard the TARDIS and then went to take another VTOL craft to help co-ordinate the effort.

Evacuation of the town was a lot harder. The Doctor watched live TV broadcasts from traffic co-ordinating copters on the viewscreen. He noted the stream of vehicles on the main trunk routes and on all the minor roadways, too, and the inevitable jams and snarl ups. He wondered if they would make it. Volcanoes could be predicted to within maybe forty-eight hours at best. Nobody had ever been able to predict the exact hour they would blow. These people might have a day, they might have a few minutes.

At least they had a chance to plan their escape, he thought. His own people had been caught up in an inferno in a matter of minutes.

At least THEY never knew what hit them. They had no chance to be afraid. He could feel the fear around him here like a solid entity.

Which was the better way to die, he wondered. He couldn’t answer the question, for all his wisdom and experience.

“Granddad,” Chris said, breaking him from his sad reverie. “Do we have to just run? Is there nothing we can do?”

“I agree,” Davie told him as he set his TARDIS to the next homestead where a family waited to be evacuated by what they assumed was going to be some sort of airlift. When they found out they were being rescued in a TARDIS by the Lords of Time there were some interesting reactions. Gratitude and relief added to the usual awe until it began to be a hindrance to the evacuation. The Doctor was glad of Rose’s down to earth practicality, bringing them all into the inner rooms of the TARDIS and plying them with tea. Brenda and Mrs Freeman helped in that operation. Somewhere deep down he was sure it was wrong that the women were making tea while the men were doing the heroic rescuing. But at the moment he couldn’t figure out how to organise this situation in a less chauvinistic way.

“I’ve fought a lot of things,” The Doctor said as he considered the question the twins had put to him. “But a volcano….” He shook his head. He didn’t see how it could be done.

“I can,” Chris told him. “If we had some explosives and a lot of luck.” And he explained his idea.

“That’s going to take more than ‘some explosives’,” Davie said as he looked at the computer model Chris illustrated his plan with. “It needs very high explosives in what they call a shaped charge to send the force the right way. And it needs somebody who knows how to prepare those sort of charges.”

“The explosives are no problem,” The Doctor said as he reached for the communications console. “I’m the Great Lord of this planet. I say the word they’ll have what we need waiting when we reach the evacuation centre. As for making the charges – didn’t Rose ever tell you how she and I first met?” He grinned. The boys looked at him and grinned too. The problem before them was a relatively simple matter of physics. That, and luck, and Gallifreyan technology.

Luck wasn’t the word, The Doctor thought. What was that old Earth expression? Fortune favours the brave? Or was it the foolish? They would find out which.

They weren’t even going to TRY it with a dozen refugee families aboard, women children, dogs and dwarf bears et al. They landed at a shopping and leisure complex just on the outskirts of the city, a place that had already been designated as the emergency shelter for the people who lived in the shadow of the Mountain of the Gods.

The Doctor signed for the consignment of plastic explosives and detonators that was waiting for him. Nobody thought to question why a Lord of Time needed such things.

“Is there any point in explaining what you intend to do?” Rose asked him as she hugged him tight, feeling like a female lead in some movie where the hero had to go off and leave her behind while he ‘did what a man had to do’. “I know it’s dangerous. If you don’t come back….”

“Don’t even think about that,” The Doctor told her. “We WILL be back.” He held her close and kissed her lovingly. He remembered that all too often in those sort of films the hero DIDN’T come back. He was going to buck the trend, he decided. But it didn’t make it any less frightening.

He turned to the boys. He started to tell them to get ready. He watched as Brenda clung to Davie and let him kiss her lingeringly. He had noticed her father talking to her in the TARDIS while they picked up their neighbours. With his blessing on the courtship she seemed to have overcome her nervousness. Now, with the prospect of never seeing her young Time Lord Elect again she was making the most of it.

“Whatever you do,” he told Chris telepathically. “Don’t tease him about this. It would be too cruel.”

“Course not,” Chris assured him. And he smiled as Vicki and Sukie, still clutching their new pets, both came and hugged him. “My favourite two girls,” he said as he bent and kissed them. And then there were no excuses not to get on with it. They all three turned and stepped into the TARDIS without a backward glance at the women who loved them.

Davie watched The Doctor constructing the small but powerful explosive devices with a skill that both surprised him and didn’t surprise him. It surprised him because The Doctor at least CLAIMED to be a pacifist and bomb-making didn’t seem to go with that image. And it didn’t surprise him because he knew The Doctor could turn his hand to just about any skill.

“You know, if you hadn’t made us get rid of the thermic torpedoes it would have been a lot easier,” Davie told him. The Doctor looked up at him with a glare of disapproval that melted into a grin.

“Ok,” he said to Davie presently. “Mid-air materialisation with rising thermals to counter – Do you need any help? It’s a tricky manoeuvre.”

“I can do it,” Davie said confidently.

“He CAN,” Chris confirmed. He looked at his great-grandfather. He could, of course, take over the TARDIS. His skill and experience outstripped theirs. And he knew there was a tiny piece of Davie’s subconscious that really WANTED to relinquish the responsibility and let him have the controls. The part of him that wanted to be eight years old again, learning all of this at their Granddad’s side.

“Go for it,” The Doctor told him. He stood off from the console. The piloting was up to Davie. The plan was Chris’s. His contribution had been his knowledge of how to construct small but effective explosive devices.

Nobody had ever asked him how he knew how to do that sort of thing. He’d never told anybody that his father had taught him when he was a youngster. As an exercise in practical physics and manual dexterity, he had been told as he constructed and de-constructed dummy bombs without setting off timers and alarms and triggers that gave him mild electric shocks. He’d got very good at it.

He never thought to ask at the time how his father, the ambassador of peace, knew about that kind of thing.

His own son never asked HIM how he knew about these things when, in his turn, he taught him the same skills.

Neither of them had grown up to be bomb-makers.

Davie manoeuvred his TARDIS into position, a mid-air materialisation over the seething volcano. The TARDIS’s own gravitational field countered the thermals rising from the caldera. He flicked on the viewscreen and they looked, once again, at a view of fiery hell, this time even more clearly about to rise up from the depths to devastate the surrounding countryside. There was nothing they could do to stop it. Nothing they SHOULD do. The pressure building up inside the magma chamber HAD to find release.

“That’s the large blocked vent on the north side of the volcano,” Chris said as he replaced the live view with his schematic of the mountain. He worked at a keyboard with the sort of speed and skill he had learnt from his great-grandfather, and several key points in the vent were highlighted. “The explosives detonated in these positions SHOULD be enough to open the vent, and if we’re lucky, take out a large section of the mountain. The lava will escape that way, to the uninhabited prairie lands on that side, eventually flowing into a wide gorge that cuts across the land about a mile beyond the mountain. Nature will literally take its course, but without damaging any of the homes or farms on the other side.”

“Good plan,” The Doctor agreed. “Should work. The only question is whether we can get out of the way fast enough after we detonate the explosives.”

Davie said nothing. He knew that was down to him. And he knew what he was capable of with his hands at the drive controls.

“Transmatting the devices now,” Chris said.

They watched the bombs disappear one by one from where he had laid them on the TARDIS floor to reappear at the strategic points around the vent. The Doctor had always maintained he didn’t need a transmat on board his TARDIS. But he recognised now that this job would have been much harder with his own ship. He would have had to materialise inside the vent and plant the devices manually. And he wasn’t sure it would have been possible to do it. The heat coming up from the caldera as it came ever closer to eruption was already beyond Human endurance and approaching the limit even for a Time Lord. Quite soon it would be beyond the endurance of a Time Lord’s TARDIS.

The New Lords of Time had some new ideas. And that was as it should be.

“Detonating in twenty seconds,” Chris said next. “Davie, take us up. We’re a bit too close.”

They didn’t notice the movement as Davie piloted his TARDIS up higher above the smoking mouth of the volcano. They DID notice the pressure wave as the charges all went off at once and blew a huge section of the north side of the mountain clean away. When they all picked themselves up from the floor and Davie brought the TARDIS under control again they looked at the viewscreen. The live picture showed nothing but dust and debris but the schematic showed a mountain that was still a beautifully symmetrical cone on one side, but on the other was jagged and broken.

Davie nodded in satisfaction and brought the TARDIS to land on the northern prairie beyond the gorge they had mentioned. They stepped out and looked at their own handiwork as the volcano erupted in a pyrotechnic display of fire and smoke. The lava spilled over the now much lower northern side, forming a burning red-orange tide flowing down the mountain in great, fast-flowing rivers, setting everything in their path alight very briefly before it was consumed, and moving inexorably towards a fiery cascade into the gorge that was a natural barrier across its path.

“We did it,” Davie said with a big grin.

“We did it,” The Doctor agreed. “Come on, let’s get back to the hero’s welcome we definitely deserve this time.”

A hero’s welcome they got. The Doctor was forced to admit that he would NEVER persuade the people of Tibora that they didn’t have to bow in his presence. And now the twins shared his glory. They, too, had to come to terms with being lauded and honoured by everyone they met. They were both rather surprised to find several fathers of daughters tentatively suggesting marriage arrangements. Davie disappointed them all by telling them he was already spoken for. Chris just politely refused.

“You still have some problems,” The Doctor told Mr. Freeman when they came to say goodbye to him and his family. “There’s still a lot of smoke and ash in the air. The farmers may have to write off their harvest for this year. And you’ll have to monitor the lake for a long time to come. When the PH balance is restored, it will have to be restocked with fish. Hopefully the birds and animals will find their own way home….”

“We’ve got all of those matters in hand,” Mr Freeman assured him. “But, My Lord, our debt to you…. We cannot begin to repay.”

“I’ve never asked for payment,” he said. “There is no debt. And it really is time YOU at least STOPPED calling me Lord. In a few years time we’re going to be related by marriage, after all.” He grinned and glanced at the one Tiboran who definitely WASN’T awestruck any more. She was lovestruck instead.

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” Brenda said as she pressed close to Davie and let him kiss her once again.

“I’ll be back next week,” he promised. “I’m coming to take you on a proper date. The way it's supposed to be. And the week after that, too. And in two months time, you’ll be my number one guest at my eighteenth birthday party. Your parents, too. Because that day I WILL make the Bond of Betrothal. I will be old enough on that day to make it for myself, as an adult by Earth measure. And then nothing will keep us apart, Brenda. Not even thousands of light years of space.”

“I’m glad,” she said. “I… This is for you. From me.” She gave him a loosely wrapped package. He smiled as he slipped on the leather jacket that looked almost like the one his great-grandfather habitually wore. “To replace the one that was ruined at the lake,” she added.

“Thanks,” he told her. “And… I want you to have this… as a token….” He slipped a chain from around his neck and placed it around hers. It was the old TARDIS key that had once belonged to his mother. She had lost it the day his father asked her to marry him. It seemed appropriate that he should give it to Brenda as a token of his intent towards her.

Brenda’s reaction to the simple token could not have been more enthusiastic if it was solid platinum and diamond encrusted.

“Remember when we were that young and innocent,” Rose whispered to The Doctor as they watched and waited for Davie to be ready. Everyone else, including the bears, was safely aboard the TARDIS.

“You, maybe,” The Doctor said with a smile. “But I was NEVER that young.”