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

Christopher climbed up through the skylight onto the flat part of the south wing roof. A cold but dry winter’s night greeted him. He shivered a little after being in the warm house before his Gallifreyan blood adjusted to his environment. Above him was a clear sky with the constellations of the northern hemisphere of Earth easy to recognise. He had only become familiar with them in recent years. He thought of the stars above his home on the southern continent of Gallifrey. He had started to learn about them with his father when he was quite young. He in turn had learnt about them from his grandfather who had been a learned and respected astronomer.

He wondered if his father was star-gazing now. He could think of no other reason why he would be up here on the roof of the house in the early hours of the morning, sending out such deeply emotional mental signals that it had woken his son.

Christopher found The Doctor leaning against one of the old chimney breasts. It served as a conduit from the bank of solar panels Davie had fitted on the roof to the generator in the attic. He was quiet and still, staring out across the southern suburbs of London. He wondered at first if he was in a deep meditation, but he blinked as he approached.

“What are you looking at, father?”

“Home,” The Doctor answered. “It’s not easy. We’ve got light pollution and the constellation is very low on the horizon, but look….”

Christopher looked. His eyes, like his father’s, were the most Human part of him, but they still had the extra components in them from his Gallifreyan DNA that allowed him to see further and better than most humanoid species. The hexagons along with the rods and cones in his retinas allowed him to process even the tiniest and furthest source of light. He could make out the constellation of Sagittarius on that hazy southern horizon tinted red-yellow by the lights of the city.

“Home,” he echoed, fixing his eyes on the star that formed the centre of the bowstring. He and his father were among only a handful of people who knew that star was called Pazithi. It was the sun that once warmed Gallifrey.

It was only possible to see it because it was two hundred and fifty million light years away and the cataclysm that destroyed the whole system wouldn’t be seen on Earth for a very long time.

“Two thousand odd years in the past,” The Doctor said. “Gallifrey was no ordinary world. The cataclysm will be seen here in the past, not the future.”

“No matter how often you explain that, I don’t understand. Astrophysics was never my strong subject, even when things went by the rules.”

“It’s not about astrophysics. It’s about miracles. Our dying world is the Christmas star of Human legend.”

“I’ve never found that to be a particularly comforting thought,” Christopher admitted. “I don’t have your romantic imagination.”

“You were always much more practical. A born politician. And that’s ok. It’s a good thing to be. You knocked them into the ha-penny place in the Panopticon.”

“I’m not even sure what that expression means, father,” Christopher answered. “But I assume it is meant to be a compliment.”

“It is. I was always proud of you.”

“I’m glad. But why all this past tense? Why are you up here in the cold at half-past five on Christmas morning, thinking about Gallifrey? I thought you were happy here on Earth. You’ve done so much. The exiles have a good life here. You’ve done your very best for everyone.”

“I am happy. Rose and the children… every time I look at them I can’t believe how lucky I am. We’ve got so much going for us. But… Christmas….”

“Christmas isn’t supposed to be a time for looking back on what can’t be changed, either.”

“I know. I’m just… I wanted to have all of the family with me this year…. All of them. And look what’s happened. Susan, David and Robert have gone to Tibora with Davie and Brenda and the children. Chris and Carya are celebrating mid-winter on SangC'lune with their son. Even Vicki… she and Jimmy went to the twenty-sixth century with Sukie to have Christmas with Earl’s family. My own little girl doesn’t want to spend Christmas at home with me.”

“You could have said no to that,” Christopher pointed out.

“I’ve never said no to Vicki from the first moment she was born,” The Doctor replied. “My little girl… only she’s not my little girl any more. She’s grown up too fast and I’m losing her by inches.”

“That’s the way of it, especially here on Earth where childhood is so short. Susan says the same. She looks at her children… her sons… princes of the universe… both of them doing incredible things in their separate ways… her baby daughter all grown up and making her mark in ways that make me dizzy to think about. But you’ve still got four youngsters at home. You ARE still a family.”

“Peter is becoming a little man before my eyes,” The Doctor added. “He and your Garrick make such plans together. If they had access to a TARDIS, I think they’d be off on their own missions in time and space by now. Only the little ones really need me. Even Jack… the older Jack I mean… not your little brother... he and Helena are nearly ready to fly the nest. She’s had her last operation. She’s as well as she can hope to get. They’ve been talking about rejoining the Space Corps.”

“They’ve been living with us since the Liberation. But it was only ever going to be a temporary thing. Of course they will want to go back to their own life. You certainly can’t stop that happening.”

“I know. But… too many things are changing at once. I wish….”

“Father, you just have a bad case of the sulks, because people have plans that don’t include you.”

“Sulks?” The Doctor looked indignant.

“Yes, sulks. You’re up here sulking.”

“I don’t sulk!”

“Yes, you do. And you shouldn’t. You used to scold me for it when I was a boy. And you’re over a thousand years old. Well time to get out of such a habit.”

The Doctor laughed. He reached out and hugged his first born son. He felt the DNA connection between them, and it was a warm, comforting feeling.

“Just so long as you never leave me again,” he whispered. “That I couldn’t bear after it took so long to find you.”

“I have no plans to go anywhere,” Christopher assured him. “I’m satisfied with my work here on Earth. Besides, even if I did consider travelling any further than the Psi Omicron revolving restaurant for a romantic evening meal for two, Jackie would squash the idea in two minutes flat. She’ll never leave Rose and her grandchildren.”

“That’s all right, then,” The Doctor said. He breathed in deeply and felt how cold the air was.

“What are we doing up here freezing our extremities when we could both be sleeping in warm beds beside women we love?” Christopher asked.

“I was thinking of waiting for sunrise. It is going to be a spectacular one with the sky as clear as this.”

“Not on Christmas morning,” Christopher told him. “The sun doesn’t come up properly till five minutes past eight. The children will be awake long before then rifling through their Christmas stockings.”

“Good point,” The Doctor conceded. “Come on then, let’s get back downstairs.”

It was a little after six o’clock by now, still two hours away from dawn. Even so, as they passed the nursery where The Doctor’s youngest three children slept they heard the unmistakeable sounds of rustling wrapping paper and suppressed giggles. The Doctor grinned widely and reached for the door handle. He opened the door slowly, reaching around with one hand for the light switch.

In the few seconds grace before the bedroom was flooded with light there was a sound of little feet scurrying to jump back into bed and pretend innocence. But the signs that Christmas stockings had already been attacked were unmistakeable. Christopher picked up a foil wrapper that had once contained chocolate money and looked around for the tainted lips of the guilty party.

“Caught you, Juju,” he said, reaching to tickle his little sister under the chin where he knew it would make her laugh out loud. The Doctor pulled the duvet cover down off little Jack’s face. The boy immediately gave up the pretence of being fast asleep. The duvet on the third bed was wobbling as Sarah Jane got into a fit of giggles that she was powerless to control.

The Doctor sat down on the wide window seat and held out his arms. Jack and Sarah Jane came to sit on his knee. Julia was huddled in Christopher’s embrace as he sat cross-legged on the floor.

“You didn’t really expect to get to sleep again tonight, did you?” he said to his father with a laugh. “So what did Father Christmas bring you, Juju?”

“Lots of chocolate,” she answered. “And jelly babies and candy canes and a bag of popcorn and a music box and a doll and a teddy bear and a tea set and a dress for the doll and a lot of farm animals and a whistle.”

“A whistle?” While Julia took a deep breath after her recitation of the contents of her stocking The Doctor looked around at his other two children. “Did you both get whistles, too?”

They nodded. Their mouths were full of chocolate money. Jack had tried to eat one of his with the gold foil still on. The Doctor extracted the chewed up mess from his mouth and dropped it in the bin.

“Let’s not test the whistles until much later,” he said. “We’re Time Lords, and we’re noted throughout the universe for not suffering from hangovers, but even so, the grown-ups party went on until after midnight last night and we’re not quite ready for whistles, yet.”

He looked at his eldest son who was laughing.

“Jackie bought the toys for the Christmas stockings in a shop in Peckham in the twentieth century,” he said telepathically, behind a careful mental wall that the little ones couldn’t possibly break through. “She said it was the sort of thing she used to put in Rose’s little stocking when she was a child. Cheap, bright things that would keep her interested until it was time to go and see the more expensive presents under the tree.”

“Not a bad idea, except rather too much chocolate for three four year olds to digest before breakfast and she should have known better about the whistles.”

But he was laughing, all the same.

The door opened again and Garrick and Peter came into the nursery, dressed in identical blue and white pyjamas and clutching some of the gifts that had come from their own Christmas stockings.

“Do you two know what time it is?” The Doctor asked, putting on a very faint pretence of being cross.

“Eight o’clock?” Peter ventured, knowing it was an obvious lie. Garrick sat on the floor beside his father and started to assemble a jigsaw depicting Brad Friedal saving a goal. Peter joined him enthusiastically.

“Spurs?” The Doctor remarked disparagingly. “That has to be another of Jackie’s ideas. But you can’t tell me that you two boys don’t have perfectly functioning body clocks. Let’s revise that time!”

Peter looked up from the puzzle and grinned at his father.

“Sarah Jane’s been worried all night,” he said, deftly changing the subject. “She thought Father Christmas wouldn’t know where to bring her presents because when we went to see him it was in the twentieth century in New York, and we live in London in the twenty-third century.”

“Why did you visit Father Christmas in New York?”

“My mum wanted to go there,” Garrick replied, looking up from the puzzle. “She saw it on a film.”

“Miracle on 34th Street,” Christopher explained. “The one with the big parade and the Father Christmas in the department store. Or Santa Claus as they say in America. Jackie got the idea it would be great to take the little ones, so Vicki and Sukie dropped them off there and went to some concert or other in Madison Square Gardens.”

“Ah. Jackie’s idea again. Well, Father Christmas always knows where to find good girls,” The Doctor assured his youngest daughter. “I believe you asked for a pink doll’s pram?”

Sarah Jane nodded hopefully.

“That would be what’s taking up so much space beside the Christmas tree in the drawing room.”

“And me,” Julia added. “I asked Father Christmas for a pink pram, too.”

“And me,” Jack echoed. “But mummy said they were just for girls. So I asked for a red scooter.”

Christopher laughed at his father’s expression.

“Don’t worry. He didn’t really want a pram. He has two female siblings who take after Rose and Jackie when it comes to colour schemes. He just didn’t want to be left out.”

“I think there’s a scooter shaped parcel by the tree, too,” The Doctor assured his youngest son. “But it’s a bit early to go look for those yet. Your mummy is still asleep. She won’t be pleased if she misses out on watching you unwrap your presents.”

“Do you remember the Christmas when I was four and a half and I went looking for my presents?” Christopher asked. “I had everything unwrapped by the light of a torch before sunrise.”

“I remember it well. I woke your mother and we both crept downstairs after you. We watched you in secret. That was the first time you ever saw a tricycle. You sat and looked at it for a long time, trying to figure out what it was. Then you turned it upside down and pushed the pedals with your hands, fascinated to see how the wheel turned. Then you abandoned it altogether, climbed into the box it came in, curled up and fell asleep.”

Peter and Garrick laughed first, followed by the three toddlers. The Doctor smiled as he remembered that morning so long ago with his first born son and heir. His wife had been disappointed that Christopher was so indifferent to his new toys, but he had assured her that he would appreciate them better when he had slept a little more.

“I think I pretended that the box was my own TARDIS,” Christopher said. “I went somewhere amazing in my dreams. When I woke up again it was daylight and I ate Cúl nuts and moon fruits for breakfast. Then mama put me in my outdoor coat and you taught me how to ride a tricycle on the patio outside the drawing room. Mama wore a silver-grey fur coat and watched me pedal around and around.”

“You were doing fine until you got up too much speed and rode straight into a snow bank,” The Doctor remembered. “The patio had been cleared especially for your tricycle lessons but the rest of the southern plain was under six foot of snow. And so were you for a few seconds until your mama reached you.”

Christopher grimaced. It was a Time Lord lifetime away since he was four years old, but the terrifying sensation of being buried in that cold mound of snow came back to him sharply, followed by the warm feeling of being wrapped in silver grey lapin fur as his mother comforted him.

Minutes later he was back on the tricycle again. He remembered not wanting to try it again, but his father had persuaded him that he couldn’t just give up because of one little spill. He thought there might have been some tears, a flash of four year old tantrum, but his father’s will prevailed and he recovered his enthusiasm for pedal power. There was something of an epiphany for him in that incident. He had learnt that his father was always right and that it was important not to give up on something that had been hard at first.

“Does that mean that Father Christmas could even bring presents to Gallifrey?” Sarah Jane asked, clearly fixed on that issue, still.

“For Christopher, he did,” The Doctor answered. “He was the only half-Human little boy on the planet, living in the only house on the Southern Plain with a Christmas tree in the drawing room.”

The idea that Father Christmas made such a supreme effort for the sake of one child clearly impressed the three toddlers. Garrick and Peter looked less easily swayed. At seven and six years of age they were FAR too mature to believe in Father Christmas!

“Was that your first Christmas on Gallifrey, daddy?” Garrick asked his father.

“It’s the first one I can really remember,” he answered. “Before then, I can recall colours and shapes, my mother holding me up to look at the Christmas tree, twinkling lights, being given a candy cane to eat. It must have been the biggest sweet anyone had ever allowed me to have up until then. I held onto it all day while it got smaller and stickier and I wouldn’t let anyone take it out of my hand. But the Christmas when I got the tricycle was the first one I properly remember, the first time I understood the concept of Christmas and why it was a special day.”

“Lots of presents!” Peter suggested, looking up from the now nearly completed jigsaw puzzle.

“Yes, when I was four I think that was the main attraction. Not that I wanted for toys any other time of year, of course. I was everyone’s favourite child.”

“You were our only child,” The Doctor reminded him. Christopher grinned. He wasn’t his father’s only child, now. He had two younger brothers and three sisters. His far younger siblings didn’t worry about who was the favourite, though. They all got their father’s love in equal measure. His own son was a soul mate to Peter and hardly even thought of himself as an only child. They all had each other.

“I never shared Christmas with other children on Gallifrey,” Christopher said. “It was something we did, but nobody else did. When I was older… when I was a tyro at the Prydonian Academy… I was careful to talk about the Mid-Winter holiday, not the Christmas holiday. I didn’t let anyone else know about what happened in our home.”

“Why not?” Garrick asked. “Wouldn’t they have liked Christmas?”

“I don’t think they would,” Christopher answered. “It was too much of a Human idea. Don’t get me wrong. I have always been proud of what I am. I loved both my parents. My mother was a beautiful and accomplished Lady of Gallifrey. Where she came from didn’t matter to anyone who ever met her. But most of the other students at the Academy hadn’t met her. Nor had the Masters. I didn’t talk about the winter tradition we kept in my family.”

“Just like we don’t tell people what happens at the Winter Solstice?” Peter asked.

“Not quite for the same reason. We are not yet fully accepted as alien residents on Earth. It is prudent to keep our more exotic rites secret. For me, Christmas was something that felt utterly alien and un-Gallifreyan, and if I was ever to make friends among my peers it was necessary to appear to be one hundred per cent Gallifreyan. Christmas was the only time I ever truly embraced the Human side of my existence, and then only within our own home.”

“I remember some very big parties,” The Doctor pointed out. “Grand affairs with ten foot high Christmas trees either end of the ballroom. I’m sure some of our family friends had more than a clue what it was all about.”

“Yes, but I never invited any of my school friends to those parties, father,” Christopher pointed out. “It remained my secret as far as they were concerned. But it’s all right. I still loved Christmas. I was glad we celebrated it every year. I looked forward to it all – the trees and the decorations, the gifts, the parties, and even the part when mama gently reminded us that the reason for all that sumptuous feasting was a child born in abject poverty with more enemies than he could count even before he was an hour old and a great but terrible destiny to fulfil.”

The little ones had fallen asleep again, lulled by the quiet voices of people they loved and trusted. They didn’t hear the bit about great but terrible destiny. They probably didn’t hear Christopher talk about his secret Christmases. For them it was all about pink prams and red scooters.

And that was how it ought to be when they were four years old and fully believed in Father Christmas, a man whose duties in one short night would tax the most enthusiastic Time Lord and the best calibrated of TARDISes.

The Doctor and his eldest son both wondered how they had let Peter and Garrick become such worldly wise boys. Couldn’t they have kept on believing in impossible feats of time travel for a few more years?

Peter and Garrick looked up from putting the last few pieces into their jigsaw. It was a thousand pieces, but they had completed it in a little less than an hour. That was the answer to The Doctor’s question. They were already so far advanced in matters of logical progression. They had been taught the rudiments of history and philosophy, astronomy, temporal physics and mathematics already. They had plenty of imagination, but it was coloured differently to ordinary Human children of their age. They had already thought out all the logistics of one man delivering presents to every Human child in the galaxy in one night, using a reindeer drawn sleigh as his mode of transport. They had abandoned the idea as an impractical fairy tale.

The Doctor and Christopher put the three little ones back in their beds, tucking new dolls and teddy bears up with them. Jack’s favourite toy from the stocking had been a rubik cube that he had solved twice while he sat on the window seat cuddled up to his father. He kept hold of it as he curled up in his bed and slept soundly.

“What about you two?” Christopher asked as he turned from settling Julia into her bed with a whole selection of teddy bears. “Shall we tuck you both up again?”

The boys made indignant faces. They didn’t want to be put back to bed like the toddlers.

“Go put warm clothes and coats and on and come on up to the roof,” The Doctor said. “Come and look at our Christmas star and see the sun come up.”

That was more like it. The promise of adventure with their fathers in the last hours of this night spurred the boys to dress quickly. They climbed the narrow back stairs up to the skylight and followed The Doctor out onto the roof. Christopher brought up the rear and watched the boys cautiously as they scrambled across the flat section to the sheltered chimney breast where it was still warm even though the night air was a good two degrees colder than earlier.

“There it is,” The Doctor said, pointing to the horizon. The boys looked. Their eyes were mostly Gallifreyan, too, and they had already learnt enough about the history of that world so far away to appreciate how special it was to be looking at that faint pinprick of light on the horizon.

“Gallifrey,” Peter whispered. “Home.”

The Doctor looked at his son and wondered about the way he had echoed his own words earlier. If he had seen it in his thoughts then Peter was already a very powerful psychic-empathic. That was something he would need to train in the coming years.

“Not for you, my boy,” he said. “Earth is your birthplace, your home. It always will be. You and Garrick both have firm roots here. But it is our ancestral home. It will take many generations of Earth-born Time Lords before that much is forgotten – if ever.”

Garrick said nothing. He looked from the southern horizon to the eastern sky where there was a very faint lightening. Dawn was less than an hour away now. He watched as the glow widened and a sliver of gold slowly appeared. The Thames reflected the glow, appearing for a magic minute or two to be made of liquid gold.

Garrick looked from the sunrise on the eastern horizon to the still blue-black zenith of the starlit sky above him, picking out constellations that he had already learnt to recognise. Then he pointed excitedly.

“A Christmas Star!” he cried out. His father and grandfather looked up. So did Peter. While the boys were excited by the bright light that had appeared suddenly in the constellation of Orion, the adults were immediately wary.

“It’s all right,” The Doctor said with a deep breath of relief after a tense minute. “It’s a TARDIS – producing a localised atmospheric excitation.”

Peter and Garrick both looked at him with puzzled faces. Then they felt soft flakes landing on their faces from out of a still cloudless sky.

“It’s snowing!” They laughed as the meadow below quickly became covered in white. The Doctor and Christopher kept their eyes fixed on the TARDIS as it came to land on the roof of the house. It was police box shaped.

“Daddy!” Vicki was the first to step out and she ran to hug The Doctor. Sukie was next. She claimed a hug from both her grandfather and great-grandfather. Their respective boyfriends closed the TARDIS door and waited until they were acknowledged.

“I thought you were all spending Christmas in the twenty-sixth century,” The Doctor said.

“We did,” Sukie answered. “But we have a TARDIS!”

“I knew you really wanted me to be home for Christmas Day,” Vicki added. “So we all came back.”

“That’s not fair,” Garrick told her. “You get two Christmases.”

“We brought presents,” Sukie pointed out, settling the matter as far as the boys were concerned.

“And fellow travellers,” Vicki added. She pointed to the sky where three more new stars had appeared in the sky. The Doctor watched as the TARDISes landed on the meadow below. Chris and Carya, with baby Tilo, came out of the Gothic TARDIS. Davie and Brenda with the twins, Brenda’s parents and brother and Susan, David and Robert emerged from the Chinese TARDIS. Tristie and Trudi came out of the third TARDIS along with Spenser and Stuart and their two children.

The Doctor looked around at Vicki, who was smiling widely.

“I told them all to come. And they’ve ALL brought presents.”

“Well, Mr and Mrs Grahams have today off,” Christopher pointed out. “So if everyone wants breakfast, there will have to be some volunteers to make it.”

The Doctor was quite ready to volunteer to make breakfast single-handedly if it meant that he had his whole extended family with him on this Christmas Day. He glanced towards the sun that had risen on the eastern horizon casting its cold winter light on a mostly still sleeping London.

“Happy Christmas, everyone,” he said happily.