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

Long before she married a Time Lord, Jackie Tyler had dreamt of lying on a silk-strewn bed eating grapes from a huge bunch and drinking wine from a golden goblet while servants painted her nails and made up her face.

Now that it was actually happening, she found it very difficult to do those things at the same time. The grapes were difficult to manoeuvre while the manicure and facial were being done. In the end she sent the girl with the wine and fruit away and concentrated on the cosmetics.

Frankly, though the result wasn’t quite what she expected. She had envisaged herself looking like Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra.

She didn’t even look like Elizabeth Taylor as Fred Flintstone’s mother-in-law.

“You look fine,” Christopher assured her. “You would grace the Panopticon had a Presidential inauguration.”

Jackie smiled at her husband. HE absolutely looked the part. He looked any part – even Mark Anthony. The complicated robe and sash of the Iniguar Sirona elite suited him right down to his sandaled feet.

“You’re biased.”

“Of course I am.” He kissed her gently, trying not to dislodge the elaborate and artistic cosmetics. “For the record, I understand the Cleopatra reference. I watched the full twelve-hour version of that film with my father, once. He said it would be good for me to understand Earth culture. He kept pointing out historical inaccuracies and referred to the queen as ‘Cleo’ in a manner which Rose would have been very annoyed about. I assume the romance was with the actual queen of Egypt, not the actress portraying her.”

Jackie sympathised with her long suffering husband.

“But who in Creation is Fred Flintstone?”

“Ask the kids,” Jackie replied. “Where are they, anyway?”

“They went to the bathing pool. A solid gold water slide is something not to be missed, apparently.”

“Why would anyone build a gold water slide?” Jackie asked. She sat up from her recumbent position and then stood a little clumsily, trying to recall how Liz Taylor got from a low silk covered bed to upright without wobbling. "We'd better go and get them before they grow webbed feet or something."

It was a reason to leave the private drawing room and explore the fantastic Iniguar Sirona Diplomatic Palace together. Outside the room was a balcony that ran all the way around a magnificent atrium. Marble columns and plinths supporting golden statues lined the way. Golden chandeliers with real diamonds amongst the crystal fractured the light into fantastic patterns on the gilded ceiling. The floor below, bathed in diffused light from one of the three Sironan suns was pure white marble. The roof was rock crystal cut in opaque sheets and more gold holding it together.

After three or four days of luxury living within its walls, Jackie was coming to the conclusion that there was too much gold in this place. She liked gold as the setting for a nice pair of diamond earrings or a ruby necklace. She had plenty of those things of her own since she married Christopher. But she was glad to live in a house that wasn't practically made from it.

“At least the boys are getting exercise," Christopher remarked as they descended a set of wide marble steps with gilded bannister rails and passed a group salon where men and women were enjoying the ‘lying down with grapes and wine passed to them by servants’ lifestyle.

"That's true," Jackie agreed. "All anyone does around here is lie on silk-covered beds talking and eating fruit. I thought it would be relaxing, but I'm actually a bit bored. The people I've been talking to these past days are all so...."

She was staying at the Diplomatic Palace of Iniguar Sirona because Christopher was representing both Gallifrey and Earth at a trade conference hosted by the Sironans. Her credentials as a diplomatic wife were as good as any, and she had long since stopped feeling inferior to any of the other wives, but that didn't mean that she enjoyed their conversation, which was mostly about diplomatic parties and the gowns they would wear to them.

"Even the Alpha Centauran spouse yaks on about clothes and she... or it... or whatever... never wears anything other than a sort of curtain. But even she… he… it... was going on about brocades and paisleys and whatsits.”

The appropriate pronouns for hermaphrodite races still eluded Jackie. Christopher sympathised.

"An Alpha Centauran in paisley!" He laughed despite his diplomatic training in accepting the lifestyles of other cultures. "That is a terrible vision."

"It'll be worse if she... it... takes notice of me. I suggested a tartan."

Christopher's laugh deepened. Jackie smiled to see him enjoying the joke with her.

"At least that would make a change," she added. "It really just seems as if I've seen the same people at the same diplomatic balls over and over and over. And for all their talk, I think they've been wearing the same gowns."

"I felt the same this afternoon in conference when we were talking about mining rights in the outer satellites of Dianius VI. I was certain that we had talked that through already."

"And had you?"

"Probably not. I expect if I checked the agenda it was probably the INNER satellites that we talked about yesterday. Some of the fine detail of this conference would make a Jagren Civil Servant weep."

Jagrens, as Jackie had learnt in the course of her life as a diplomat's wife, were a race of people obsessed with itemising every tiny aspect of life. Not only did they count paper clips, but they counted the grains of cereal in their breakfast bowls before work and entered the sum into their personal intake ledger. Jackie stopped listening when it was mentioned that toilet visits went into a separate column.

"Maybe when we're done here we could do something we could all enjoy as a family," she suggested. "Something different."

"Something different than visiting one of the richest planets in the galaxy and experiencing the last word in luxury?"


"Well, if that’s what you want, no problem. We have the whole universe to find something different in. The conference will be another week. If you can just put up with the lap of luxury that long...."

Well, of course she could put up with it. What niggled was how pointless a lot of it was. For example, her hair was beautifully done, but she could have got the same hairdo at a lovely place in Richmond where they brought you a cup of coffee while you were under the dryer. The cup of coffee was the luxury touch, not the fact that the dryer was made of gold. There was no point in a gold hairdryer.

There was no point in a gold waterslide, either. In fact, Jackie found herself wondering if it was even safe. Weren't those things usually made of some kind of shock absorbent plastic so that a kid wouldn't get brain damage if he slipped and hit his head.

Granted all the gold and marble in the bathing pool looked pretty, but did it really make it a better pool than the council run one she had learnt to swim in that had ordinary ceramic tiles lining it?

Neither of the boys were using the slide. Perhaps they, too, realised it was an overrated experience. Peter, her grandson, was practising underwater swimming, holding his breath for ten minutes at a time and completing several lengths of the pool before coming up for air.

As for Garrick....


Jackie yelled out in panic as she spotted her son on the high diving board - if a solid gold object could be called a 'board'. Semantics weren't her immediate concern. It was the fact that he was eight years old and had only just learnt to dive from the poolside. The high board was at least twenty feet above the pool.

Christopher caught her around the shoulders as he, too, looked on in horror. Garrick jumped once on the surprisingly springy platform and dived. Jackie had a vague recollection from watching the Olympics that what she was seeing was called a 'pike' with twist. What took her breath away was the fact that her son was the one performing it so beautifully.

"Good grief!" She exclaimed once her power of speech retuned.

"Magnificent," Christopher commented. He went to the water's edge and reached to help Garrick climb out. Peter got out of the pool, too, wrapping himself in a thick, wide towel and handing one to Garrick. "When did you learn to do that, son? It was very good."

"I've been practising for ages," he answered.

"But the pool you go to at home doesn't have a high board," Jackie pointed out. "And anyway, you're too young for that sort of thing."

He wasn't, really. The young men who won Olympic medals started as young as he was. Jackie, of course. tended to see him in her mind's eye at least two years younger than he really was. As the boys stood there before her, though, she couldn't help thinking that they both looked older than she thought they were.

"Just warn me, next time you do that," she told her son. "I nearly fainted in shock."

And perhaps out of delayed shock or possibly narrative causality she actually did faint. Only Christopher's quick reflexes stopped her from finding out first-hand how painful marble swimming pool sides could be.

When she woke, nursing the sort of headache that made opening her eyes painful, she was in the bedroom of their diplomatic suite, lying on the luxurious emperor-sized bed with gilded posts and silk brocade drapes. The softest pillows and the most comfortable mattress made it the one luxury that wasn't surplus to requirements and she felt quite relieved to be there.

Christopher was at her side, of course. She reached out her hand to him and he took it gently.

"Strange," she said. "I don't usually faint. Where are the boys?"

"I sent them off to the refectory to get something to eat. I told them you were fine and they shouldn’t worry. As for the fainting, the last time you did that was when you were pregnant with Garrick."

"Yes... But I'm not pregnant now," Jackie began before catching a look in her husband's eyes. "What?"

"The diplomatic physician came to look at you. Sweetheart, you ARE pregnant - twelve weeks give or take a day."

"What!" Jackie went pale and might have fainted again if she was standing up. As it was she made do with some deep breaths. "Well... how did that happen? When did that happen?"

"Well, twelve weeks ago, I assume," Christopher replied. "If I'd known, I wouldn't have brought you on this trip."

"But I WASN'T pregnant before we came on this trip," Jackie protested. "I had an annual check-up two days before - the usual stuff, blood pressure, cholesterol. I think if I was pregnant it would have come up in the conversation."

"It must have been overlooked. But... well, it wasn't planned, but it is good news, isn't it?"

"It’s wonderful," Jackie agreed.

“Do you want to know if it is a boy or a girl?”

“No. You can keep that a secret. You Time Lords with your psychic stuff really spoil that kind of thing. I suppose it means the trip 'somewhere different' is off?"

"No reason why it should be. We might need to narrow the options. White water rafting or mountain climbing might not be such good ideas."

Jackie laughed and hugged her husband fondly. It was still a bit puzzling. She hadn’t even felt pregnant before this. But it was good news. In the ordinary way of these things she wouldn’t even have expected to be pregnant again at her age – ‘forty-ish’. The Time Lord genes that had been mixed with hers some time back allowed her body clock to slow right down and make such things possible.

"Come on, let's join the boys in the refectory. Plenty of protein for you, but no shellfish."

Three things in all made that day stand out from other, more mundane days. Seeing Garrick’s skill at high diving was the first, then the revelation that Jackie was pregnant. Finally, the sight of the Alpha Centauran spouse appearing that evening’s ball in a red and blue tartan put a cap on it all.

But after that things fell into a routine again. Christopher was engaged in the long, tedious trade negotiations, Jackie played her part socialising with the spouses. The boys spent their days swimming or playing badminton in the marble walled sports hall. In the evenings there were receptions and balls where the most interesting thing to see was the latest colour scheme worn by the Alpha Centauran Spouse.

The days were all so very much the same that it became hard to tell one from the other – or how many there had been.

“When did you start growing a beard?” Jackie asked her husband one afternoon. He turned from looking out over the city square below the Diplomatic palace and came to her side. She was looking very pregnant, now, and lying on a silk palette with servants to bring the sweetmeats that took her fancy was not so tedious as it had been when she did it to emulate a character in a non-too realistic film.

“A few days ago,” he answered vaguely. “Do you like it?”

“I’m not sure,” Jackie answered. “Maybe it will grow on me… or on you. I don’t want a beard as well as swollen ankles.”

Christopher laughed.

“Anyway, I’d better get going. Mining rights on the outer satellites of Dianius VI await me in the conference chamber.”

He kissed his wife and turned away. She lay down and counted the gilded cherubs in the moulded ceiling of the opulent room. The same number as yesterday!

She rang the little bell that summoned a serving girl and asked for anchovy and brie on garlic bread.

Christopher had no intention of going to the conference chamber. He had been there too often already.

The beard clinched it. He probably should have realised it with Jackie's pregnancy, especially when it only seemed a few days since she was twelve weeks, and now she was nearly six months gone. Somehow it had proved difficult to keep a count of his wife’s progress. He needed something more personal to remind him of the passage of days.

Now he knew. His mind felt clear for the first time in... too long.

Jackie and the boys were all right for now. They were still unaware that there was a problem, and that kept them safe.

The diplomats and their families had access to most of the palace, but here and there were locked doors with 'staff only' signs on them. The signs were engraved gold plaques and the doors aged mahogany, but they were clearly out of bounds to guests.

Unlike his father, Christopher was a man who usually obeyed rules like that, but somebody had broken the rules already and he felt no compunction about crossing the line this time.

His sonic screwdriver made short work of the electronic lock and he stepped inside the much narrower corridor. The walls were still marble and the floor thickly carpeted, but there was much less gold around.

The first few rooms he came to were innocuous enough. There were a series of kitchens where a la carte menus for luncheon and tea as well as evening banquet fare was being prepared as well as all day snacks to order. He noticed anchovy and Brie on garlic bread being prepared and knew that was Jackie's order. An elaborate ice cream dessert might well have been requested by the boys.

Laundries and drying rooms where the silk sheets from a hundred luxury beds were given loving attention were also behind the scenes in this area. So, too, were common rooms for the staff between their duties.

He moved on, avoiding the serving girls and personal assistants who frequented the corridor by ducking into storerooms and pantries. As he expected the service corridors led to the administrative wing, which was what he really wanted to see.

He wasn't sure what he expected to find there – secretaries and office managers, some kind of computer array with technicians monitoring the security system, perhaps.

There WERE computers of a sort, but they had no technicians. The system was fully automated. The only organic being was in the centre of the room, connected to the computer system by a collection of glowing conduits.

It was no native of Iniguar Sirona. He wasn't sure what planet spawned something so peculiar. It looked something like a giant rafflesia plant with a huge eye in the centre of the fleshy petals. The conduits to the computer array were organic parts of the creature.

It was a creature, not a plant, despite appearances. As soon as he stepped into the room he felt the organic sentience of the being.

He felt its diabolical plan without any mental effort of his own. The creature exuded telepathic energy like an athlete exuded sweat.

And greed. Greed not for food or treasure or power in the usual sense, but for something it was harvesting from the people here in the palace - not just the diplomats involved in those endless, and as it turned out, pointless, discussions, but the servants who tended to them. They were trapped just as much and being used in the same way.

"Not anymore," Christopher whispered loudly, then grasped one of the living conduits. He felt the creature's attention upon him and the assault on his mind was painful, but he yanked the conduit or tendril, feeding tube, whatever it was, loose from the computer array. He grasped another and pulled. This time the mental assault was accompanied by an electric shock, but he didn't let it stop him. He knew that detaching the creature from the machines would put a stop to its depredations.

The creature fought back mentally and physically. Christopher found himself yanked off his feet by the loose conduits whipping around his ankles and pulling so tight his feet felt numb. He found his sonic screwdriver and flicked it to laser mode. It cut through the conduits and he felt the creature scream in pain. He was sorry about that. He was a man of peace who didn't like to hurt anything. But he was also a father. He thought, not only of his son, Garrick, but of Peter, who he looked after like a son on these trips, and his unborn child, too. For their sake he could not be kind to this parasitical creature. He got to his feet and used his sonic screwdriver as well as his bare hands to finish the job. He started to feel the creature's mental attack slackening. He was beating it.

He pulled the last conduit away. He felt the creature's now feeble effort just to stay alive. Even that was a losing battle. Christopher turned and ran from the room as the creature collapsed in on itself, turning rapidly into a pool of foul smelling ichor.

In the service area there was disconcertion as the creature's influence was lifted from minds that had been under its power the longest.

"I'm sorry, I can't help you," Christopher told the people he moved past them in a hurry. "You will have to sort this out for yourselves. I need to find my family.”

That was easier than expected. The boys met him on the balcony over the atrium. They were wearing gym kits and training shoes and were hot from running, but they were much more concerned by the revelation that had come to them in the midst of their badminton game.

"Dad.... Do you know how long we've been here?" Garrick asked.

"I do now," he answered. "But we're not staying a moment more than we have to. We're getting your mum and leaving right now.”

Jackie had worked things out as well. She was relieved to see Christopher and the boys and perfectly happy to leave there and then.

"There's clothes and jewellery and stuff we're leaving in the room," she said. "But I don't care. They're just things. You three are all that matter to me."

Christopher agreed. He held Jackie's hand tightly and kept the two boys close as he brought them down the marble stairs. They met many people they knew, including the Alpha Centauran ambassador and spouse who were protesting stridently.

"Our embassy reported us missing six months ago," said the spouse. "It is quite outrageous. We have been effectively kidnapped."

"Complain to the Iniguar Sirona authorities," Christopher told them. "They authorised the conference. They can explain how it got hijacked by a Mira-Congugal Mind Leech. Personally, I'm going home."

He said the same to several more of his fellow diplomats. He sympathised with their plight, but they would have to sort it out for themselves.

The TARDIS was parked in the luxury shuttle craft hanger in the basement of the palace. Nobody challenged them. The staff had all deserted their posts trying to sort out their own problems. Christopher opened the door of the incongruous blue police box he borrowed from his father and ushered his family inside.

"Dad... We've been there for a YEAR," Garrick said as the peace and safety of the console room enveloped them and the last vestiges of doubt and confusion lifted from his mind.

"A year?" Jackie's voice hung on the air. "I knew it was a long time ... But A YEAR!"

"We were all under the influence of that creature. It interfered with our minds so that we didn't notice time passing. We repeated activities each day - the boys in the swimming pool, me in the conference room, thinking we had only been doing those things for a few weeks. We were all deceived... we were in a sort of waking dream the whole time. The creature fed on our unused brain waves while we sleep-walked through the most boring year any of us have ever known."

"REALLY boring," Jackie commented. “But that’s not the point.”

"We've missed our birthdays," Peter commented.

"But Garrick got really good at diving and you can swim under water for twenty minutes,” Christopher pointed out. “Your time wasn't wasted."

"That's still not the point," Jackie insisted. "We've been away for a year. Rose went off with your father for a year... the worst year of my life." She reached out and drew Peter close to her. "I can't put her through that. Christopher, take us home two weeks after we left, the time we were meant to be away for."

"You'll have to explain going away for two weeks and coming back six months pregnant.”

"That's better than making my daughter miserable like that. Just take us home, please."

"Get rid of the beard, first, dad," Garrick said. "It makes you look older than granddad.”

“We definitely weren’t gone THAT long,” Christopher assured his son. He set their course home and then went to the bathroom to find a shaving kit. Jackie sighed with relief.

She didn’t like the beard, either.