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

Christopher was at the controls of his father's TARDIS. He was piloting it back to Earth after a dinner date on the Psi Omicron Orbital Restaurant. It was one of Jackie's favourite offworld restaurants. He liked it, too. He liked going there with his wife.

Jackie was relaxing on the sofa with her shoes off and a cup of tea. That was her usual way. After so many hours dressed up and playing her part as a lady of substance in satin and pearls she easily fell back into her comfort zone as plain Jackie Tyler of the Powell Estate who liked to throw off her designer shoes in order to wiggle her toes and dilute the effects of fine champagne with a cup of milky tea.

"We'll be home in a few minutes," he told her reassuringly.

"Don't make promises like that when we're travelling in this old tub," she answered, half jokingly but with a fatalistic mood based on past experience. "Until we actually step out into our own hallway, anything could happen to knock us off course or delay us."

Christopher was ready to defend his father's TARDIS against charges of being 'an old tub' when narrative causality stepped in with an incident that proved Jackie's point perfectly.

The TARDIS suddenly stopped. Christopher exclaimed in astonishment and annoyance. He was sure there was nothing wrong with the TARDIS. There was nothing wrong with the home coordinates or his piloting skills. There should have been no interruption to their journey.

But there they were, stalled in mid-vortex.

Then the doors opened inwards. There was a shield that prevented air escaping out of the console room or dangerous vortex particles getting in. Even so, it was alarming. Christopher put himself between the door and Jackie, protecting her to his last breath if necessary. Jackie rose from the sofa in her stockinged feet and took a step towards him.

"Jackie!" Christopher called out urgently. "Get down!"

The reason why he called out the warning was the object that was streaking towards the open door. He got ready to dive out of the way himself, but the cigar shaped casket decelerated as it came closer and was almost sedate as it passed through the doors and came to a halt by the console.

"What is that?" Jackie asked as she stepped close to her husband. She looked up as the TARDIS doors closed again and then back at the curious object as it gave a hiss of compressed air and began to open.

“It looks like… a coffin,” Christopher answered. “I’ve seen space burials in caskets like that.”

“You mean there’s a dead body….” Jackie began, taking a step back. “Oh, my Gawd!" As the casket fully opened she exclaimed in pure South London style. "It's just a kid!"

It was a boy, about eight or nine years of age - the same as her own son, Garrick. He was dressed in a long white robe with gold ornaments around the neckline. His hair was jet black and might have been quite long if it was not sculpted into a peak on the very top of his head and held in place by a very thick gel containing what might well be actual gold dust. His eye brows were plucked to a narrow line with gold thread woven into them and his lashes looked as if they had flecks of gold on them, too. He had gold ear studs and his finger and toe nails were gilded to complete the theme.

"He's like King Tut," Jackie remarked when the shock had subsided. "He must have been some kind of royalty when he was alive."

"He’s not dead," Christopher contradicted her. "He's breathing."

Suddenly the child's eyes snapped open. Jackie noted that they were deep brown like her husband and son, but they seemed a hard kind of brown, not the chocolate soft of the people she loved.

He sat up and looked at Jackie and Christopher with a cold expression then he climbed out of the travel tube or casket, whatever it was called. Christopher reached as if to help him, but the boy shrugged away from him.

"I do not need assistance," he said in perfect English with no obvious accent. "I am the Ninth Child. You are my designated guardian protector until the Day of Return."

"We are?" Jackie queried. "When was that arrangement made?"

"Not you," the child replied. He turned to Christopher. "You undertook the duty in the reign of the Seventh Child."

"I did no such thing," Christopher told him. "I expect this is something my father arranged and then forgot about. But since you are here, you had better come home with us. Do you need anything? Food, drink? Are you tired? How long have you been travelling?"

Christopher spoke kindly to the boy. He, like Jackie, saw the comparison with their own son. He felt sympathy with a boy who - for whatever reason - was separated from his parents and far from his home.

"I desire sustenance," he answered. "Send the woman to fetch it."

"Nobody sends me to fetch anything," Jackie pointed out. "I will go and get a glass of milk and whatever happens to be in the fridge, but only because my husband has to pilot the TARDIS."

"Please do that," Christopher said, glad that she had taken the boy's haughty manner without too much indignation. He knew she wouldn’t put up with too much of that for long, though. He hoped they would get home before a battle of wills broke out.

While Jackie was bringing food for their guest, Christopher reset their course for Earth. It would take a bit longer now. They had been halted in the vortex and that changed the vector between point of origin and destination.

It was time enough for him to try to find out something about the 'Ninth Child' and why exactly he needed a guardian.

He was reading the very sparse notes on the TARDIS database when the sound of crockery hitting the metal floor disturbed his research. He turned to see milk draining through the mesh floor onto the crystal coils beneath.

"That is vile," the boy declared. "It is the drink of peasants. Bring me royal nectar."

"We're all out," Jackie replied. "It's milk or plain water. Or you can sit there and shut up until we get home."

The boy looked at Jackie imperiously as the battle of wills threatened to break out after all. She looked back with all the strength of an independent woman who had raised a daughter on her own and wasn't going to be talked down to by anyone, let alone a child - even one with gold woven into his eyebrows.

The boy sat, but with a disgusted scowl on his face - as if he was determined to have Jackie thrown into the first dungeon he came across.

After a little more than an hour of that sort of uneasy ‘truce’ the TARDIS materialised in the hallway of Mount Loeng House. As Christopher and Jackie stepped out accompanied by their strange charge they witnessed Garrick and Peter playing a game of mind control tennis. The ball travelled back and forth from boy to boy across an antique sideboard that they had set in the middle of the floor.

“Very good," Christopher told them as they brought the game to an end. "Don't forget to put the table back before bedtime. Did you move it with mind control?"

"My father showed us how," Peter explained. The two boys stood together and concentrated. The heavy furniture lifted an inch from the floor and moved effortlessly back into place.

"Excellent," Christopher said to them. "You are learning fast."

"Who is that?" Garrick asked about the strange boy.

"I really don't know his name," Christopher admitted. "He is staying with us for a little while."

"My name is Josah," the boy replied. "I am the Ninth Child."

He clearly expected everyone to know why the 'Ninth Child' was important. Peter and Garrick just looked at his exotic clothes and shrugged.

“You should bow before me,” Josah added, looking pointedly at the two boys.

“You don’t have to do any such thing,” Jackie said to them as they looked at Josah in bewilderment. “This is your home and you don’t have to bow to anyone.”

"I thought we might put another bed into your room for him," Christopher continued. "You two will be company for him."

"I will not share a room with these boys of common birth," Josah announced. "I sleep alone. My night servant is permitted to lie upon a mat when not attending to me, but if he should sleep in my presence he would be whipped."

"Charming!" Peter remarked.

“I’d like to see Mr Grahams putting up with that,” Garrick added.

"There's only one person around here in any danger of being whipped," Jackie concluded. "He's going to get the back of my hand at least before bedtime."

"It is a heresy to strike me," Josah commented. "The appendage used to commit such heritage is struck off with a sword."

"I'll take my chances," Jackie responded. "So just you mind your manners, you snooty little brat."

The Ninth Child was incandescent with rage. He railed angrily against the 'common' woman who had spoken so rudely to him. The tirade went on for several minutes. It was still going on when Mr Grahams, the butler, crossed the hall and opened the front door to Christopher and Peter's father, the man known and held in awe throughout the universe as The Doctor. He and his wife, Rose, were eating chips. The fragrance of fried food rose from the open packet they were sharing as well as the carrier bag containing fish suppers for all the family.

"Who wants a chip?" The Doctor asked, apparently taking no notice of the imperious rage of the young visitor.

"Me, please," Jackie replied. "That fancy food is tasty, but the portions are so stingy."

She helped herself to a chip. The two boys did likewise. Christopher declined.

"So who is this and what's his problem?" The Doctor asked after letting his son and grandson share the chips between them.

"And why are we all standing around in the hall listening to him when cod, chips and mushy peas are going cold?" Rose added.

With a wave of the carrier bag she took the lead, along with her mum, into the main drawing room. The two boys followed, anxious for a share of the supper treat. The Doctor and Christopher came after them. The former looked back at Josah, who stood silent, aware that he had been ignored by everyone.

"You can stand out there if you like, but you'll get bored. The family are all in here."

With that, he closed the door. Rose was already distributing the packets of fish and chips. The Doctor accepted his share and sat, long legs stretched out, on the floor with his younger children, Julia, Jack and Sarah-Jane. The two boys ate at the occasional table by the window. Jackie and Rose had their feet up on the sofa as they ate. Christopher was the only member of the family to transfer his food to a plate and eat with a knife and fork. Christopher had never quite got the idea of a fish supper out of the wrapper even if he had managed to acquire a taste for battered cod.

It was a cosy family time. They almost forgot about the strange boy in the hall until they were nearly finished with the food. Mrs Grahams came into the room with Josah walking behind her.

"This boy wants to know when his bath will be drawn and who will attend him. He looks far too old to have other people do either for him, but seeing as he was standing out there waiting for somebody else to turn a doorknob and let him into the room I really don't know what else he might need doing for him."

"None of the staff will do anything more than you already do for our own children," The Doctor told the housekeeper. He will not, as far as possible, cause you any extra duties. As he is newly arrived you may fill the bath for him, but he can wash himself. Meanwhile, if your husband will assist, I'll put an extra bed into the boys' room. If you would be so kind as to make it up with clean linen, that will conclude your duties for tonight. If the boy demands anything else, you have my leave to refuse firmly. Let me know if he actually threatens any strange reprisals upon you."

"I don’t mind making up the bed," Mrs Grahams conceded. "But I'm nobody's.... whatever it was he called me just now."

"Indeed, you are not," Christopher assured her. "I apologise for any offence he has caused."

"No need for you to apologise, sir," Mrs Grahams answered. She glared at the Ninth Child who looked away as if eye contact with servants was anathema to him.

"Go with my housekeeper and mind your manners in front of her," The Doctor commanded. "I am master of this house and what I say goes."

He could have mentioned that he was a Lord of Time, Prince of the Universe, Guardian of Causality and many other grand titles, but he thought the authority of a father and grandfather - not to mention great-grandfather - was enough.

It was. Josah followed Mrs Grahams as meekly as his haughty nature allowed. The Doctor himself went to arrange a bed for him.

"I hope he falls down the plug hole," Garrick commented. "I could bath myself when I was six."

"We have twenty bedrooms in this house," Peter added. "Why is he sharing with us?"

"Because it will do him good," Christopher answered. "Don't pick on him meanly, either of you. But any more of that superior manner can be squashed.”

"What is all this Ninth Child stuff anyway?" Jackie asked. "Since when did being ninth make anyone special?"

Everyone wanted to know that. Christopher put aside his chips and leaned back in his chair.

"He comes from a planet called Genexi III," he explained. "It has a rather peculiar system of monarchy. Rather than having a line of succession from father to son or mother to daughter they choose their king or queen from the children born of four or five high ranking families closest to the death of the previous incumbent. The selected child is taken from his or her parents at birth and is raised in palaces with every luxury imaginable, every whim indulged. He doesn't actually have any executive power, but he is the symbolic head of state, representing the pride and the prosperity of the people. They see him clothed in gold and they know that all is right in their society. "

"There are better ways of measuring the wellbeing of a society," Peter remarked. Rose nodded in agreement. She had been thinking the same thing, but her ten year old son was already streets ahead of her educationally and he was able to name three models of economic and social measurement from memory.

"I fully agree," Christopher told his much younger brother. "But the Genexians have lived this way for nearly ten thousand years. Average life expectancy for them is about a hundred and thirty and most of their monarchs since they began have lived far beyond the average. The Eighth Child lived to a hundred and seventy before the Ninth succeeded him."

"That all explains why he's such a spoilt brat," Jackie remarked. "But why is he here?"

"Their planet broke up a year ago," Christopher continued. "Some form of tectonic instability. The whole population left in huge ships, along with animals and plants to colonise a new world. But rather than have their precious symbol travel with them in what must be crowded and difficult conditions, they decided to send him to a suitable guardian until the new world is ready."

"You mean when the hard work is done and they've built him a new palace?" Rose asked.

"I think they might well mean that," Christopher agreed.

"So we are stuck with him until then?" Jackie queried.

"Let’s try not to think of this as 'putting up’ with him," Christopher suggested diplomatically. "We are doing him a kindness."

"A good spanking is what he deserves," Jackie commented. "The last time I had milk thrown at me Garrick was teething."

Garrick looked embarrassed about that reminder of his babyhood in front of Peter who he looked up to. The boys were both satisfied, though, when their manners were compared favourably to the young monarch in exile by all of the adults in their family.

In the midst of the conversation The Doctor returned to report that Josah was bathed and in bed.

"Can we stay up another hour until he's asleep, then," Peter asked. "Then we don't have to talk to him until tomorrow."

The Doctor and Christopher both assented to that request from their sons. They fully understood their reluctance to make friends with the aloof child. The younger children were taken to bed by Rose and Jackie while Peter and Garrick played multidimensional chess by the window until they were tired enough to take themselves to bed.

“Who is so pampered they don’t know how to use a door handle?” Peter said telepathically to Garrick as the two boys got undressed and into bed by nightlight, ignoring the regular breathing of the sleeping Josah who looked much more human with all the gold washed away and his hair loose.

“Who is so high up that they think living in THIS house is ‘slumming it’?” Garrick responded, glancing up at the moulded plaster ceiling of their eighteenth century mansion bedroom. “I’ve seen the place where mum lived when Grandma Rose was a little girl. He’d REALLY hate that.”

“Who is going to get a slap if he tries any more of the snobby stuff tomorrow?” Peter added. “I think the best thing we can do for this boy while he’s here is bring him down a peg or two.”

Garrick agreed. As they lay in bed waiting for sleep to wash over them gently they formulated their plan.

The next morning they woke to the sound of the Ninth Child angrily demanding to know when his breakfast would be served and where his clothes were.

“Breakfast is downstairs AFTER you dress,” Peter told him. “The clothes you are wearing today are at the end of your bed.”

“Where is my dresser?” Josah asked.

“You don’t have one. Dress yourself.”

Peter and Garrick were already halfway through getting dressed. Josah watched them and, realising nobody was going to help him, began trying to put on the clothes. They were easy enough – slacks and a sweatshirt and a pair of trainers with Velcro fastenings, but even so, he made a mess of it. Garrick and Peter got bored of watching him struggle to put the sweatshirt on the right way and went down to breakfast.

Josah followed them several minutes later, his hairs messed up by the effort to sort out headholes and armholes. The shoes were not fastened and he shuffled into the breakfast room forlornly. After waiting for somebody to hold out a chair for him he eventually sat at the place Peter pointed to and stared at the bowl of cereal in front of him. He tried eating a spoonful of it and spat it out in disgust.

“This is revolting,” he declared. “Where are the braised kidneys and grilled fish?”

“You’re eating it dry,” Garrick told him. “Put some sugar and milk on it and it is perfectly tasty. It’s Saturday and nobody else is up. Its cereal and toast and then we’re going out.”

He spread butter and marmalade on his own toast and ate it while watching Josah spill most of the milk down his front before getting some of it in the bowl.

“Even if you are some kind of chosen one, I don’t get how you can be so pathetic,” Peter remarked. “Do you really wait for other people to dress you and feed you, like a baby?”

“I am worshipped and adored,” Josah answered, though with a slight sense of uncertainty. The disdain he was getting from two boys his own age was slowly sinking through his veneer of arrogance and superiority.

“Not here, you’re not,” Garrick told him. “Here, you’re just an overgrown baby who can’t eat cornflakes without making a mess. Hurry up and eat, then go and change your top. We’re going out and you’re coming with us.”

“Coming where?” Josah demanded.

“We thought about leaving you, but you’d just be a nuisance around the house all day,” Peter explained. “You’ll be less trouble with us, and if we’re really fed up of you we can push you under a car.”

“Outrageous!” Josah exclaimed. “My personage is being threatened. Where are my guards?”

“EVERYONE who pampered you is a long way off,” Peter continued. “I’m starting to wonder if they sent you away so they could be free of you. Maybe they won’t come back for you at all after a bit of time without a spoilt kid as their monarch. Meanwhile, you can stop moaning and come with us. We’re going to Brands Hatch to watch Team Campbell racing in the One Day Winter Championship.”

None of that meant anything to Josah except that ‘Team Campbell’ was written across the sweatshirt he was wearing in gold lettering. His protest that gold was his own exclusive colour and that the shirt was apostasy had already been dismissed by the two boys who were in matching colours.

The trip to the race track was another eye opener for Josah. Instead of a stretch limousine to himself he was sandwiched between Peter and Garrick on the back seat of Davie Campbell’s people carrier. His wife and sister and the twins in their toddler seats were also along for the ride. All of them adopted the policy of ignoring the complaints and having a separate conversation without the Ninth Child. As they parked in the member’s car park at Brands Hatch Davie Campbell only had one thing to say to him.

“I’ve met the Sultan of Brunei at Silverstone many times. The one from the erly twenty-first century. He was the richest man in the world by the standards of his time. He complained less than you, golden boy.”

Josah was about to reply disdainfully when Davie slapped a Team Campbell baseball cap on his head.

“Your long hair will get laughed at in the grandstand. Wear this and you’ll look nearly normal.”

With that, he and Sukie headed for the driver’s registration while Brenda headed for the hospitality suite. Garrick and Peter presented their season passes at the main grandstand and purchased a day ticket for Josah.

The grandstands in the twenty-fourth century all had thermal heating around the seats. Even in December it was comfortable. But Josah complained about having to sit in the open, having to sit among the ordinary people. He complained about the recyclable cardboard cup of coffee he was handed instead of his usual gold goblets of royal nectar. He looked with utter horror at the hot dog he was given to eat.

The only thing that did seem to interest him was the racing. He watched the cars on the straight in front of him and on the big screens showing the action all around the circuit with something like rapture.

At lunchtime, though, he was back to his obstreperous self. He didn’t like the self-service restaurant where the ordinary race fans queued for food.

“Surely there is a suite where important visitors may be served in comfort?” he suggested as he looked at his pizza and chips doubtfully.

“There is,” Peter answered. “Davie, Brenda and Sukie will be having their lunch there. Davie is a race champion, and a major shareholder in the track. He’s entitled to eat there with his guests.”

“Doesn’t he know who I am?” Josah demanded.

“He does,” Garrick replied. “But he doesn’t care. Peter’s father, and mine, and Davie and his brother themselves are all Time Lords. They are the greatest race in the universe. They are greater than your people. When we are grown up, Peter and I will be Time Lords, too, so we don’t really care very much about your one little planet with its really strange way of choosing a monarch.”

“If your family are such princes, then why do you accept such lowly accommodations?”

“Because it isn’t cool to brag,” Peter answered. “Eat your food and we’ll get back to the action.”

Josah watched Peter and Garrick picking up slices of pizza with their fingers and wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“I cannot eat like this. Common people have prepared this food. I cannot put my fingers upon it. I require cutlery.”

“Then go and get cutlery,” Garrick told him. “There’s a tray over there. But it’s a stupid way to eat pizza. The fun is in eating it point first with your fingers.”

Josah looked around at the self service cutlery and glanced at Garrick meaningfully. But the boy wouldn’t go and fetch for him. He either had to eat with his fingers or go and get a knife and fork for himself.

After complaining that too many people had touched the cutlery in the trays, he ate with his fingers. Whether he enjoyed the taste of pizza was uncertain. He was too busy complaining about being treated so commonly. Peter brought ice cream in cardboard pots and cola in bottles with straws. Josah fussed about the disposable spoon in the ice cream and had to be told how to use a drinking straw. He was indignant when his straw made a gurgling noise at the end and the two boys laughed at him.

“It is apostasy to laugh in my presence without permission,” he protested.

“Oh shut up,” Peter responded. “We’re bored with your complaints. If you don’t stop it we’ll hand you in to the lost children centre and pretend we don’t know you. We want to watch the afternoon part of the race to see if Davie and Sukie win their categories. We don’t want to listen to a spoilt baby.”

He again began to protest about apostasy. Peter again told him to shut up. Since nobody arrived to clap Peter in irons or remove parts of his body Josah found that he had no option but to be quiet. He followed behind the two boys as they went back to the grandstand and make the best of his situation.

He managed to complain frequently, but his nuisance value was wearing off as the boys concentrated on the race and the fortunes of their two relatives who were taking part. Garrick and Peter cheered wildly as Davie Campbell won the race outright and Sukie came second in her class. Josah watched with interest, but he didn’t cheer. He wasn’t accustomed to giving praise to others.

He again followed the boys to parc fermé and watched the family celebrate together, but he wasn’t a part of it. He was left out of all the conversations that went on as the group headed back to the people carrier after all the excitement of the day was over.

“I will not sit in the back of this vehicle again,” Josah announced when they reached the car park. “I will have the comfortable seat at the front.”

“You will not,” Sukie told him. “I sit there on race days.” She waved her trophy at him in a non-threatening way, though Josah stepped back in alarm and looked about to call for his protectors before he realised he didn’t have any.

Then I will have the next seat,” he conceded.

“I sit there with the twins,” Brenda told him. “I’m not letting them listen to you griping all the way home.”

“I feel nauseous,” he announced. “I shall sit by the window.”

“If you make a mess, you clean it up,” Davie told him, ignoring the imperious way in which he demanded that much of a privilege after conceding all else. Garrick moved over and let him have the open window to be sick out of – if he really had to be.

He wasn’t, and the conversation on the way home continued to have nothing to do with him. Sukie’s analysis of how she lost out on the first prize for her class was the main topic. He had nothing to add to the discussion and contented himself with looking out of the window and occasionally complaining about the draught.

They were less than a mile from home when the car was run off the road by a van with blacked out windows. If Davie Campbell was an ordinary driver with ordinary skills, it might have been a fatal accident. As it was, his Time Lord reactions and his racing instincts combined to make for a bumpy but safe landing in some scrubby trees beside the road.

Everyone was shocked. Brenda had yelled out in fear and the twins were crying in their child seats, but even they were not making as much noise as Josah who was screaming out loud in outrage at the attempt on his life.

“They want to kill me!” he insisted. “It is an assassination plot.”

“I’m not surprised,” Brenda replied. “A lot of people must want to kill somebody as annoying as you.” She turned to see Davie getting out of the car and running back to the road.

Three men had climbed out of the van, but it didn’t look as if they wanted to exchange insurance details. They approached Davie in a threatening manner and he adopted a defensive pose in the Sun Ko Du discipline. He also had his sonic screwdriver in his hand, apparently set to some kind of stun mode that knocked the first two men off their feet while he dealt with the third.

The fight was quickly over. The three men retreated to their van and it accelerated away. Davie came back to his family.

“Will you shut up before I use the stun mode on you at close range,” he said to Josah. “I’ve called Chris. He’s coming with my TARDIS to pick us up, car and all. We just have to wait a few minutes.”

“What is this all about?” Sukie asked. “Did they want to assassinate the noisy brat? Is he right?”

“It’s possible,” Davie conceded. “But it’s not the only possibility. Garrick’s father is a Cabinet Minister. The two of us are celebrity racing drivers. Peter has a future destiny as a maker of peace between worlds. Any one of us could have been the intended target. Or we might have accidentally tangled with a bunch of bank robbers with the loot in the back who didn’t want us as witnesses.”

Josah wasn’t convinced. He insisted he had been pursued by kidnappers or assassins because he was the Ninth Child, and far more important than anyone else in the car. He complained as they transferred from car to TARDIS and the people carrier was transmatted into the garage that Davie had beneath the console room.

He protested loudly to The Doctor, who was clearly the most senior person to lodge his complaint with, when he got back to Mount Lœng House.

The Doctor sent him away to change for supper and looked calmly at Davie.

“They WERE after him,” the young Time Lord said to the older one. “When I was fighting them I could tell that they weren’t Human. They’re from among his people.”

“Well, that raises at least one interesting question,” The Doctor said. He didn’t waste any time questioning Davie’s theory. They were enough alike in so many ways to trust each other thoroughly.

“Why do people from a perfectly happy society want to kill or kidnap their chosen monarch?” Davie responded straight away. “And how did they find him here on Earth… specifically in my car on that road at that time?”

“The very questions,” The Doctor agreed. “And one more. How are we going to protect him from danger while finding a way to eliminate the cause of that danger?”

“And without wringing his miserable, ungrateful neck ourselves before then,” Davie added. The Doctor laughed softly before he and his great-grandson put their minds to the serious issue in front of them.