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

“You’re late,” Vicki complained to Sukie as she connected to her telepathically. Her soul-mate who, for the sake of simplicity she called her cousin was still cycling up the slight rise before the turn in the road. It wasn’t until she got around that bend that Vicki would be able to see her from where she stood waiting inside the main gate of Mount Lœng House. “I’ve already cleaned out the bear cage and fed Yogi and Boo Boo,” she added. “So you have to do it by yourself tomorrow night before we play.”

“I had choir practice,” Sukie replied.

“When did you join the choir?” Vicki asked her.

“Today,” she answered. “I like singing. It’s the one bit of school that isn’t boring.”

“I wish I went to school,” Vicki said. “Instead of daddy teaching me.”

“I wish I didn’t go to school,” Sukie answered. “I wish granddad would let me be in your class with you. But mum says I should go to an ordinary school.”

“I can’t, because I’m not old enough,” Vicki said with a laugh. Then her laughter faded as she heard Sukie squeal. “What’s the matter?”

“There’s a van,” Sukie said “Behind me. There’s a man in it… I don’t like him….”

“Sukie, pedal faster,” Vicki screamed. “Pedal faster. Get to the gate. DADDY, HELP!”

Sukie pedalled as hard as she could. She was part Gallifreyan and she had the muscular strength of that race, but she only had one heart and her blood was Human. And she was only nine years old. There was a limit on how much oxygen she could pump through her body, how fast her legs could push the bicycle. And the van was close behind her. It was moving slowly, keeping pace with her as she cycled. And she could FEEL the malevolent intentions of the driver. She knew he wanted to grab her from her bicycle and put her in the van. She was ahead of it, but no matter how fast she pedalled she couldn’t get away from it. It was pacing her. It was following her. And she was still too far from her granddad’s gate.

As she rounded the bend she could see it. The wrought iron gate set into the old-fashioned stone wall with trees overhanging it. It was about three hundred yards away now. Safety. Vicki was waiting there and once she was inside the gate could be sealed tight and no van could come in there. If she could just keep pedalling.

She risked a glance. It was still behind her. She could see the driver. He had blonde hair and a pale face. He was very thin. And he was the most evil looking man she had ever seen. She knew that if he got hold of her he could do her harm she didn’t even know the words for.

She tried to pedal faster but she couldn’t. It was all she could do not to stop altogether.

The van accelerated slightly. It was alongside her now and she saw the trap that would be sprung even within sight of safety. It was cutting her off. She was on the left side of the road and the gate, ahead, was on the right. She couldn’t turn and get across the road to it because the van was there stopping her. She didn’t dare stop. She couldn’t turn around. She couldn’t get away from it.

There was a noise and a wind and suddenly, in front of her, was a blue police public call box. Long ago, in the 1950s, a person in distress like she was could call for help on the telephone and a policeman would come.

The phone didn’t work on this police public call box. It was just for show. But the door was opening and somebody better than a policeman came out of it. He stood aside and Sukie pedalled her bicycle straight through the door, to the safest place she knew in the whole universe.

The Doctor looked at the van. He noted its black bodywork, he noted the face of the driver. He noted that it was NOT a van of this era. Its registration plate told him that it was registered in London in 1976.

And then it vanished.

The squeal of brakes had made him turn and look. But Sukie was fine. She had freewheeled straight up the pushchair friendly ramps he had installed and stopped just by the console, her hand reaching to steady herself against one of the handholds as Vicki ran to her side.

When he turned back, the van was gone. He looked up and down the road but there was no sign of the sinister vehicle.

And somehow that was less peculiar than the van being there in the first place.

“Daddy!” Vicki came to the door. “Daddy, come inside. We’re scared.”

“It’s all right,” he said as he turned to his daughter. “It’s gone now. Sukie…” He called to his great granddaughter as he stepped inside. Sukie ran to him, leaving her bicycle leaning against the life support console. He closed the door and hugged both children tightly before he set the TARDIS to return to the basement of his house.


The police had been and gone and taken a statement from Sukie about the van that had stalked her. Vicki and The Doctor had given a variation of the actual truth whereby they had been standing at the gate waiting for Sukie and he had run out into the road to her as the black van went by. He gave the registration number and saw the puzzled look on the policeman’s face which was not made any less puzzled when The Doctor explained that registration numbers were written that way two hundred years ago.

Now, as a sort of calm came upon the house, Sukie and Vicki sat in the drawing room sharing a bag of jelly babies and enjoying the attention from all the adults and the extra sweet treats that had come their way. Sukie’s parents were there, so were her two brothers and her grandfather and Jackie as well as The Doctor and Rose. Everyone she had ever depended on to look after her was there in a family meeting to decide what to do to make sure nothing like that happened again.

“I like Sukie coming to play with me,” Vicki said after a long silence in which all the adult eyes had been on the two of them.

And that was the key point. Every day after school and all day every weekend, Sukie cycled to her house to take care of their pets, to do their homework projects together and to play. The mile and a half between their homes was an easy cycle along a relatively quiet road.

“I thought it was okay now,” Rose said, speaking for the adults. “We dealt with the Corelite threat… alien abductors. We forgot about the ordinary Human monsters.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” David said with a sad tone in his voice. “This is a nice, quiet area. I didn’t even worry about her cycling on the road. There’s never very much traffic…”

“We could set up a static transmat,” Davie suggested. “One end here and the other at our house. Sukie and Vicki could zip back and forwards all they like.”

“No!” Susan cried. “No, for heaven sake. I want Sukie to live a NORMAL life. Cycling up here is NORMAL. It’s what girls her age do. Zipping up here by transmat isn’t. Besides, is that even safe?”

“Compared to what?” Davie argued. “Yes, sometimes there are problems with transmats. But at least there are no perverts in black vans following little girls.”

“No,” Susan insisted. “No. Give us a little normality.”

“I agree,” The Doctor said. “We can’t live in a neat little self-contained loop between your house and mine. Sukie riding her bicycle up here is how it ought to be. Besides, it's not just Sukie and Vicki who have to feel safe out there on the road. It's every other child in the area. I can’t hide behind my gate while any child is in danger out there.”

“Do you mean you intend to do something about it?” Christopher asked, looking at his father.

“This is an ordinary police matter,” David said. “As much as I want to do something about this man who threatened my own little girl, it’s a police matter. Doctor… this is not your kind of thing. We should look after our children and leave it to them – the experts.”

“No,” Susan contradicted her husband fiercely. “Get involved.”

Rose said the same.

So did Jackie.

The Doctor looked at the three women. They looked at him. And a force he recognised very well hit him.


The state of being that made wild animals fight to their last dying breath for their young, that gave ordinary women the impetus to run into burning buildings even at cost of their own lives to save their children.

A force that was as strong, if not stronger, than the one driving him right now.


“Grandfather,” Susan continued. “It’s my little girl who was threatened And…. And it could as easily have been Vicki. I put my trust in you before a policeman any day. They’re good people. They mean well. But they’re not you.”

“I agree,” Rose added. “Doctor… Do what you can. It doesn’t matter it's not Slitheen or Daleks or Gelth. It’s a monster still. A Human monster. And you ARE the one I trust to stop him.”

David looked at his wife, and his daughter, and then he looked at The Doctor. He looked as if he didn’t know what to do. And that was a startling enough thought.

“Daddy,” Vicki asked in the lengthening silence. “Can we go and play now?”

“Of course you can,” The Doctor said. He looked at Susan and David. They seemed to anticipate what he was going to say next and knew there was no point in saying no. “Since you’ve missed out so much playtime this evening, Sukie can sleep over with you, if you want.”

Both girls hugged him and skipped off to the playroom. The Doctor watched them go with something like relief. They had both had a tremendous fright but they were able to put it behind them and go to play happily. He could feel their telepathic conversations as they went upstairs. They were making up a play to perform with the puppet theatre and it had nothing to do with sinister black vans.

“Nothing else any of us can do right now,” he decided. “Let’s try to enjoy what’s left of the evening. Susan, David, boys, since you’re here, might as well stay for supper. I’ll order out, give Michael and Mrs Grahams a break.”

He was trying not to let what had happened prey on anyone’s mind. They were only just over the trauma of the Corelite attack. Rose had only just got to the point where she didn’t stand watching every time the girls were in the garden. Now there was another threat to their happiness. And what could he do to make it right?

Nothing, except try to do what Susan did every day. Try to live a normal life without fear.


The next morning, The Doctor was feeding Peter his breakfast oatmeal and the two girls were eating toast and marmalade when Michael told him a policeman had arrived and wanted a word with him. Rose took over feeding Peter as he wiped the oatmeal from his jacket and went to the study to receive the officer.

“Sir,” the Detective Sergeant began. “We were wondering if you could give us any more information about the van you saw yesterday. Your description of it was very accurate and very helpful, but we hoped something else might have come to mind overnight.”

“Not really,” he answered, disappointed that their investigation seemed not to have gone much further since yesterday. “I gave as full a description as I could. Even the full registration number.”

“Yes, sir,” the Sergeant went on. “The trouble is, that registration is impossible. It…”

“It’s more than 200 years old,” he said. “I know. So is the make of van. Ford Transit, Mk. I. That one is from 1976.” The sergeant opened his mouth to ask him how he knew. “I’m a historian,” he explained before the question was asked. “I’ve studied the 20th century.”

“Our database only goes back 40 years,” the Sergeant admitted. “We cannot trace that vehicle’s owner. And….” The sergeant’s face was tense. The Doctor looked at him.

He read the officer’s face accurately. He didn’t even need to probe his mind.

“Another child has been taken?”


“Why didn’t you say so to begin with instead of worrying about antique vans?”

“Well…. er….”

“Never mind. Just tell me what’s going on.” The Doctor spoke forcefully and as he made eye contact the sergeant found himself forgetting that it was his job to ask questions and started to tell The Doctor everything.

“This morning,” he said. “An hour ago. The girl was seen cycling to school by a neighbour walking his dog. A van went past…. And when the neighbour looked again the bicycle was lying by the side of the road and the child was gone. The description matched the one you gave…”

“A girl? The same age as Sukie and Vicki?” The Doctor didn’t even try to mask his feelings. It showed in his face. His anger was simmering close to boiling point. He was barely holding in the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that he got whenever he heard of such things happening.

“Nine years old,” the sergeant said.

“A monster that preys on little girls.” The Doctor sighed and put his head in his hands. He had saved his own child yesterday but someone else’s little girl had been taken in her place.

“Monster is the accurate word,” the Sergeant agreed. “If anything else comes to mind, sir, please contact us. You can see how vital it is.”

He saw the policemen to the door then he went back to the dining room. Rose had managed to put more oatmeal inside Peter than on his outside, a trick he had never quite mastered even by this, his fourth go at parenthood. The girls had managed to put slightly more of the toast and marmalade on THEIR insides than on their faces, fingers and tablecloth.

He looked at them and thought about Susan’s insistence on Sukie living a normal Human life. That meant she had to go to school by bicycle, not by TARDIS, not even by car.

Not today. For once he was overruling Susan.

“Sukie, how do you feel about having lessons with Vicki today?” he asked. He knew what the answer to that would be. He sent them to get washed and after a few minutes he headed up to the room next to the playroom where Vicki did her lessons. They were waiting for him to begin teaching them. And he began the lesson with them, but once they were settled down to the tasks he left them to get on with it. He could keep in contact with them telepathically anyway. And there was something he needed to do in the TARDIS.

“Good girls,” he said as he descended the steps, listening with one part of his mind to their recitation of the periodic table. “Now draw the table and fill it in with the full names and the shorthand letters that represent each element. Then you can colour in those elements that are known on Earth in blue and the ones that we know of that Humans have yet to discover in red. I’ll be testing you later.”

That would keep them busy for a few minutes he thought as he opened the TARDIS door and stepped inside. He could give his undivided attention to these other matters for a while.

A 1976 registration, he mused as he keyed it into the databank. 1976. It seemed a long time ago even for him. He’d spent a bit of time on Earth around then in several of his incarnations. In his teenage years he had liked some of the music of that era. In later years that had been the decade his third incarnation had been exiled to. He had stopped the usual gamut of alien nastiness from distracting Humans from the mistakes and problems they were fully capable of making for themselves.

It was the era when Humans were just starting to understand about computer records. And that meant that his TARDIS could get the information. The police in 2216 couldn’t get much further back than forty years. But the TARDIS could. It could get into databanks that no longer existed and trace the history of that dark and sinister van.

And it did. And when he found the name of the only owner it had ever had he had another search reference.

He stared at the police file that his TARDIS databank retrieved.

“Granddad,” Sukie called to him in her head. “That’s the man I saw.”

“Yes, I know.” The Doctor was still too busy processing the consequences of what they were both looking at to admonish her for watching his thoughts instead of doing her school work.

“It’s him,” she repeated “And I’ve finished the table. So has Vicki. We’re waiting for our next lesson.”

“Gallifreyan history,” he said. “Close your eyes and get ready. I’m sending you the information in a concentrated burst. And then I want you to summarise the key events of the years 30.21 to 54l.8 R.E. Do you remember what R.E. stands for in Gallifreyan time?”

“Rassilon Era,” they chorused.

“Good girls,” he praised them. He focussed his mind and delivered the burst of information – the equivalent of a month’s work at Sukie’s ordinary Human school - all planted in their minds directly.

“Carry on, now,” The Doctor told them. “And please, no looking into my thoughts for a little while. What I have to do now is not something you girls ought to see.”

“All right, daddy,” Vicki promised and Sukie gave him a similar assurance. He felt them slip away from him and it felt a little lonelier and a little less colourful in his own head without them, but he knew he was going to deal with some very ugly events now and he didn’t want them exposed to the danger.


Nobody had ever put it together before. It didn’t help that almost all computer records for anything, be it the DVLA, birth records, or police case files, only dated back about forty years.

Everyone had started again from scratch back then, after the Dalek invasion. Picking up the pieces had been the work of Susan and David’s generation. And they had done so. They had got back the world that had existed before. The younger generations were able to take it for granted again. And most of the time even those who knew, who remembered, could forget there was ever a time when even life itself couldn’t be taken for granted.

But in so many ways, so often, it was possible to run into reminders that a relatively short time ago something cut right across every aspect of Human life, leaving a chasm across history that few people bridged. This was one such example.

A reasonably smart police detective who looked back over those forty years MIGHT put two and two together and think there was a link between the disappearances of young girls aged 8 or 9 years old every ten years, give or take, where witnesses reported seeing a black transit van in the vicinity. The same smart detective might pull the files and look at the similarities between the cases and think that he was looking for a quite old man who began his horrible activities when he was a young man. And if he had used that information to start looking at the newest disappearance a different way he would still be on the wrong track, but it would not be his fault.

If the same detective had been able to see the records from BEFORE then…

He would have abandoned the theory as impossible.

Because his suspect would have had to be a VERY old man to have been responsible for the series of similar disappearances of girls aged 8 or 9 years old which had occurred every ten years or so…

….since 1976.

Two hundred and forty years.

He would have to be a VERY old man.

The Doctor shivered and tried to push away the horrible thought that came into his mind.

If anyone knew what he really was, he’d be the chief suspect.

He was the only person living who had been around Earth in 1976.

Actually, he hadn’t spent a LOT of time that year on Earth. He’d been on other planets quite a lot more. But he would have a hard time providing reliable alibis to prove it.

He remembered once before when he had been accused of what he – in common with every parent of every sentient species in the universe - regarded as the most horrendous and unforgivable of crimes. Even though he was proved innocent very quickly he still felt frozen inside when he thought about it.

But nobody else was accusing him now.

He accused himself…. of not acting sooner.

Was there anything he could have done yesterday? After he had made sure Sukie and Vicki were both safe, could he have done anything that would have prevented this sinister van from appearing in another place and stalking another little girl in almost identical circumstances? Should he have left it alone last night in order to give a pretence of normality to his family?

That was the point where Rose usually told him to stop beating himself up for things he couldn’t change. Last night he had no reason to believe any other child was in immediate danger. Yes, he had known that there was something out of the ordinary about what had happened. 240 year old vans stalking children and then disappearing was not normal.

But what could he have done about it last night? Looking after his family was his first priority then.

Wouldn’t have been once, he argued with himself. Once you’d have dropped everything to solve a mystery like that.

I’m a father now, he answered. And yes, that HAS changed me. It was SUPPOSED to change me. I WANTED it to change me. My family DO come first. But I’m on it now. I’m going to sort it out. I’m going to make it right.

And he knew where and when to start.

Eight-thirty in the morning, while he was peacefully having breakfast with his children, a few miles away a little girl had been cycling to school. He knew from the police report exactly where her bicycle would be found. He knew where the man with the dog would be. He knew where the van would be.

He knew exactly where HE intended to be at that moment.

The little girl was just two or three yards ahead of the van as it kept pace with her. She was frightened. She saw the man with the dog on the other side of the road. She knew if she could cross the road and get to him he would help her. But she couldn’t cross the road because the van was starting to come up beside her, cutting her off.

Suddenly there was a strange noise and a wind that blew in her face, and something strange happened. A rectangular blue box with the words ‘police public call box’ and a flashing blue light on top appeared right in front of the black van. The girl put on her brake and stopped her bicycle as she waited for the van to crash into the strange box. She wondered whether the van or the box would be most damaged. She wondered if there was anyone in the box and would they be hurt.

Then the van disappeared. It never crashed into the police box. It vanished as it drew up to the door. It was as if it went through an invisible door, a whole van becoming three quarters, half, a quarter of a van, then nothing.

The Doctor opened the door of the TARDIS and ran outside. He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and examined the patch of empty space in front of him and he laughed.

“So that’s how it was done!” he shouted cryptically, apparently at the thin air. “Fantastic! Absolutely fantastic.” Then he turned and saw the little girl, standing with one foot on the pedal of her bicycle. She was blonde, with blue eyes, totally different from Vicki and Sukie with their brown eyes and black hair. But even so he couldn’t help feeling that she was like them in so many ways. The same age, same height, wearing the same school uniform Sukie wore to school, her hair tied back in the same colour of ribbons. The same wide eyed wonder at what had just happened.

“Louise, are you all right?” he asked. She looked at him and frowned. She was sure she didn’t know him. But he knew her name, so she didn’t back away from him when he approached her. He looked around and saw the neighbour with the dog crossing the road. “Mr. Parkinson,” he called.

Mr. Parkinson was also puzzled. He was sure he didn’t know this stranger, either. But his mind was still processing the fact of the mysteriously appearing blue box and the mysteriously disappearing black van and not recognising somebody who clearly knew him was not troubling him as much as it ought to do.

“Mr Parkinson,” The Doctor said again. “I have to go now. But I wonder if you would be so good as to walk with Louise to the school gate. She’s had a bit of a fright and I don’t think she ought to carry on alone.”

“Yes, of course,” he said. “Come along, Louise. Don’t want to be late for assembly.” She sat up on the bicycle again and cycled slowly as Mr Parkinson and his dog walked beside her. The Doctor watched them for a half a minute before stepping back into the TARDIS. He noted with satisfaction that the police report from this morning had disappeared from the record. The abduction of Louise Marshall never happened.

But what about the rest of them? Could he do the same for twenty four girls kidnapped at ten year intervals for two hundred and forty years? If they were restored to the timeline then he would be causing a major paradox. The dead had to stay dead. How often had he said so?

But twenty-four little girls like Sukie and Vicki. Twenty-four sets of parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters all grieving for their lost child, never knowing what had happened to them. The records showed that no bodies were ever recovered. These people never knew. They had to live their whole lives not knowing if their little girl was alive or dead, if she had been tortured or molested, if she had suffered. They never had a funeral and a chance to say goodbye.

Susan had often berated him for doing that to her. For leaving her with the promise he would return and not doing so for over forty years. She had made her feelings known in every way about the hurt he had caused her simply by not letting her know he was still alive.

And that was the hurt that twenty-four families ought to be spared.

He set the TARDIS control for 1976. That was where this began – or ended, depending on how you looked at it.

In the 23rd century he probably wouldn’t have got away with this, he reflected as he walked along the corridor to the police cell where the man he sought was being held. The authorities in the future knew how to recognise psychic paper and he’d have been seen as an impostor. In 1976 he could pass as a DCI, even if he was a DCI with a button hanging off his shabby leather jacket. The psychic paper told them he was from Scotland Yard and wanted a word with their prisoner about related offences that had been flagged on the central computer.

The cell door was unlocked by the duty sergeant who gave a cry of fright when he saw the prisoner hanging by a noose made from strips of his shirt. The Doctor ran past him and lifted the apparently dead body down. The sergeant said something about fetching medical help.

“No, don’t bother,” he said. He turned to the sergeant and looked at him intently. “There is nothing amiss here,” he said calmly. “I’m going to have some private words with the prisoner here. You be a good chap and fetch me a hot cup of tea, milk, two sugars.”

“It’s not really regulation for you to be alone in the cells with the prisoner,” the sergeant replied, apparently forgetting that the prisoner was lying dead on the floor.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” The Doctor said. “I won’t tell anyone if you won’t. Run along now. Two sugars.”

The sergeant went. With luck he would spend long enough getting the tea for him to find out what he needed. Even if he didn’t the power of suggestion should hold a little longer.

According to the police report the medical officer had declared the prisoner dead. To Human understanding he WAS dead. The body would be removed to a mortuary later and according to the historical record it would be lost there. An investigation would conclude that overworked staff mixed up the bodies and sent the prisoner for cremation as an unknown vagrant who died of natural causes. There would be a junior staff member disciplined and a review of procedure. The matter would be forgotten about.

“Come on, Sonny Jim,” he said, slapping the pale-fleshed face hard. “Wake up. I’ve got questions to ask you.” He slapped him again several times. He wasn’t gentle, though he wasn’t as hard as he ought to be to such a man. He was holding in what he would really like to do to him for two reasons.

Firstly, because he needed answers from him.

And secondly, because he considered himself to be a civilised being who didn’t do things like that.

“But don’t push your luck,” he growled as he pressed his hand down hard on the prisoner’s chest. He felt the heart start up again as he expected, and a moment later the prisoner opened his eyes.

“My wife said something last night,” The Doctor said. “She said she had forgotten that sometimes the monsters can be Human. She’s a clever woman, my wife. But she hasn’t been with me out in the field for a while. She’s forgotten that quite a lot of the time the monsters AREN’T Human. And I forgot something, too. I forgot that the Human race doesn’t have the patent on sick perversion. It happens all over the universe, among all sorts of species. Even mine, very rarely, has bred filth like you.” He lifted the man’s arm and examined the pallid flesh and the veins just visible beneath that seemed to have a paler blood running through them than even his own. He ran through his brain’s card index list of species and their characteristics.

“Caltrasian,” he said at last. “That’s you. Neat trick you people have. This ability to play dead for up to twenty-four hours. It’s not unique, mind you. My species have something similar. But I’ve never come across one of your lot using it for anything but dishonest purposes. Pretending to kill yourself in police custody. What a way to escape justice. Especially with the charges they have on you. And the awful thing is, I can’t stop you. I have to let you go and carry on with your vile perversions. I have to let you murder twenty-four children because they are already a part of causality. If I stop you, if I save their lives, it will cause a paradox that could unravel the universe. I have to let you carry on with your evil. But I want to know where their bodies will be. The one thing I can do for their families is give them closure on the tragedy your sick activities will bring to their lives.”

“Who ARE you?” the Caltrasian asked. “Why should I tell you anything?”

“I’m a father and a grandfather,” he answered. “That’s all you need to know. Now WHERE do you hide the bodies of the children you take?”

“Bodies?” he answered scornfully. “What use are bodies? No profit in that.”


“I’m not the one who wants these Human children. I am just the dealer. They will be sold to a very discerning collector on Caltrasia.”

“What for?” he asked. But he didn’t have to. He felt sick again.

“This was a big order. Very big. Couldn’t risk taking that many subjects from the same time period. That’s why….”

“That’s why you converted the van to something capable of simple time travel. So you can scour the decades to find suitable children, one here, one there, picking them off in such a way that nobody puts two and two together.”


“I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to let you do it. If you’re not going to kill them, then it’s NOT a paradox if I stop you.”

“What are you going to do? Kill me?”

“Killing you would be very satisfactory to me. But it’s not punishment enough for you. I am going to pull a few strings to see that you’ll be moved to a mental hospital where you’ll be on suicide watch. If you try that playing dead trick again I’ll be waiting at the mortuary with a set of autopsy knives. I’ll cut your heart out before you get a chance to switch it back on. You’re going to go to trial and be declared guilty but insane of the several deplorable acts they arrested you for. You’ll spend your miserable life in a padded cell and have your parole refused every time you get a hearing because of a damning report from an independent expert witness. That will be me, in case you’re not up to speed.”

“And what about the children you’re so concerned about?” the Caltrasian asked. “They’ll die unless I get back to them.”


“You don’t get it. Collecting the girls…. That isn’t something I am going to do. It is something I have done. My job was almost complete. I was waiting to meet my client and deliver the goods when I was arrested for my ‘indiscretions’ in this period.”

“So where are the girls?”

“In the van, of course.”

“And that’s where?”

The Caltrasian laughed.

“That would be my bargaining chip. You can pull strings and get me out of here and I MIGHT just tell you. Otherwise they die. The engine wasn’t the only thing that was altered. The rear section is airtight and sound-proof. And they’ll be dead in a couple of hours unless I get to them.”

“You will tell me where they ARE.” The Doctor’s face hardened as few people had ever seen it harden. His one hand pressed on the Caltrasian’s chest. “I could punch a hole through your ribcage and pluck your heart out,” he told him. “I don’t really WANT to do it. I want to look my daughter and great-granddaughter in the eye again. I want to hold my son in my arms and not feel I am contaminating him by doing so. But maybe I can learn to live with myself. Maybe I can convince myself that killing your sort is a service to the community. Maybe when my children are old enough to understand they’ll tell me I did the right thing.”

He increased the pressure just a little. Enough to hurt without doing any real damage. Enough to frighten the Caltrasian into thinking he WOULD do it.

Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t do it.

The uncertainty gave veracity to his threat.

The Caltrasian told him.

“That’s the truth is it?” he asked, again increasing the pressure with one hand, while at the same time pressing his other hand against the perspiring forehead of the prisoner. “Yes, unless you’re very good at putting up mental walls it's the truth. That’s what I needed to know.” He shifted his hold and carefully chose the pressure point on a Caltrasian that would render him unconscious. On a Human it was a vein in the neck. On a Caltrasian it was in another part of the body entirely, but the effect was the same.

He stood up and turned around just as the duty sergeant arrived with a paper cup full of hot, strong tea. He took it from him and tasted it. It wasn’t bad. He finished it more quickly than the sergeant imagined it was possible for anyone to drink something that hot.

“Your man there is sleeping things off. He’ll be no trouble for a while. I’ll be back later to sort out the paperwork to get him moved where he’ll be no trouble to anyone ever again. But right now I’ve somewhere to be urgently. Thanks for the tea. Much appreciated.” He handed the empty cup back and went on his way before the sergeant started to think about how irregular the whole of the last half hour had been but didn’t quite get to the point where informing his superiors came into it.

The Doctor stepped out of the police station and walked a short way down the road to where a blue phone box was standing, an ‘out of use’ sign hanging on the door. In 1976, although police boxes were more or less discontinued, he knew from experience that some people still remembered what they were for and tried to use the phone. He hung the sign on the railing inside the door before he went to the console and programmed a short hop to the location the man had given him.

He hoped he WAS in time. Twenty four children locked in a transit van. He wasn’t even sure it was possible. They were roomy vehicles. The manufacturers prided themselves on that. It was a feature of their advertising campaign. But even so, if he was telling the truth about it being airtight…

As he applied his sonic screwdriver to the lock he prepared for the worst. He prepared to find nothing inside but pathetic suffocated bodies. He took a deep breath as he turned the handle.

For a moment he thought the worst. As he wrenched the door open a child’s body fell against him. He grabbed her in his arms and was relieved to see that she had only fallen because she was sitting with her back to the door. She was alive and unharmed, if frightened. So were the rest of them. Tired, scared, uncomfortably crouched on the floor of the van, but alive. Some of them were stiff from sitting and needed help to climb out, but that was the worst they had suffered.

They were still scared. They had been taken prisoner by a man. He was another man. They had no reason to trust that he was there to help. And when he told them to go into the blue box that was even smaller than the van that they had escaped from they were understandably hesitant.

“It’s all right,” he assured them. “It’s all over now. I promise you. I’m going to take you all home. Will you trust me?”

“I want to go home,” one of them said in a plaintive voice. “Please.” She stepped towards him and reached for his hand. He looked down at her and his hearts flipped. Long dark hair and brown eyes. She looked so much like Vicki. They all did, even the blondes and the red-headed girl with curls and the two brown skinned girls. They all looked like his own child right now.

“Yes, my love,” he said. “Come with me. All of you.” He grasped her hand and took her with him into the TARDIS. The others followed, still hesitant. “Come on in,” he told them. “I’m afraid I don’t have enough seats for you all. But grab a space on the floor.” They did as he said. Wonder at the console room’s strange décor was replacing their hesitation but not yet taking away their fear.

“This is my space ship,” he told them as he closed the door and did a quick headcount before putting the TARDIS into temporal orbit. He put on the viewscreen and showed them the view of Earth from space. Some of those who came from the twenty-second and twenty-third century may have been into space. Most of those taken from earlier periods hadn’t. But they all took the fact that they were in space philosophically. “It’s going to take you ALL home. First stop, July 4th, 1976 for Karen Roper. Which one of you is Karen?” A girl with pig tails tied with blue ribbons stepped towards him and identified herself. “Ok, Karen. When I open the door again you’ll be at the end of your street. Run home to your mum. Give her a big hug and tell her you love her. I’ve brought you back just a few minutes after you went missing. Your mum won’t even have known you were gone. So no need to worry her about any of this. And….” He knelt by the girl and touched her on the forehead. He gently read her memories of what was, in fact, just a few hours of her own personal time, though traumatic hours. He concentrated on that memory and modified it just a little. He didn’t erase the memory. But he took away the trauma. She would remember a man she didn’t like. She would remember being with some other girls in a strange and frightening place. She would remember a man who she DID like, who was kind to her and brought her to a less frightening though still strange place. “And Karen, you won’t worry about this, either. You won’t have any bad dreams and you won’t let it make you unhappy or scared to be out in the street alone.”

“Ok,” she said in reply. He hugged her and to his surprise she kissed him on the cheek. Then he took her hand and opened the door. She looked at the street she lived in and ran, as he told her to run, all the way home. She didn’t even look back to see the blue box disappear.

“Helen Parks,” he said as he went to the console and set the next destination. A blonde girl stood and came to his side. He smiled at her and did the same, taking away the trauma and leaving the memory of a strange adventure that she might think about now and again but without it ever affecting her in any adverse way.

By the time the last half dozen were left they were a much less scared, almost happy group of girls. They were passing the time by sitting in a ring playing clapping games. When each one came to go, they were almost sorry to leave. When he looked into their minds the traumatic part of their adventure was already fading and they were remembering the other part of it much more. That was good, he thought. Memory modification didn’t do any harm, but the less of it he had to do to them the better.

At last, he opened the door for the last girl, Margery Dooley who was nine years old in the year 2206 and lived on the outskirts of Richmond upon Thames. Before she ran home to her mother and father and two brothers she hugged him and thanked him for a fun trip in his spaceship. She had almost completely forgotten the other journey that had been so much less fun. He watched her until she ran in through her garden gate and then he closed the door one last time and set the TARDIS to take him home.

As it did so he checked the police records he had accessed earlier. Every one of them was gone from the database. The kidnappings had never happened. He checked another record and noted with satisfaction that his plan for the Caltrasian worked just as he had predicted. The man died – for real this time – at the age of sixty, having never left the secure mental hospital he was sent to by the justice system of 1976.

Later, he reminded himself, he had to go back to the police station and sort out the paperwork or THAT would be a paradox. He’d have to do something with the transit van, too. A car crusher was his first thought, but that might not be a final enough end for the technology that made it into a time machine as well as a transit van. And Ebay was invented only about thirty years later. There was a tried and trusted way of dealing with time travel junk though. Set it on autopilot for the year five billion, the day the Earth was engulfed in the supernova of its sun and burnt to a cinder. That was a VERY good way of dealing with those sort of loose ends.

But first he wanted to go home. He wanted to kiss his wife, hug his daughter and great granddaughter and hold his son in his arms, knowing that he had done nothing that he would be ashamed to tell them about.