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

Trudi paused in her work and leaned back on the soft bed of dried ferns covered with a knitted woollen blanket. She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds all around her. Not far away Serena was teaching the children in the crèche another of her anti-war anthems. More educational than ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’ or ‘London Bridges’, Serena insisted. Trudi agreed as long as Tristie Junior had no more nightmares about ‘The Bomb’.

Further away she could hear the sounds of the small ‘farm’ the community had brought with them. Fifteen goats and twenty-five sheep gave up wool and milk in return for grazing the tough, straggly grass. A pen full of chickens laid eggs. These were the only ‘uses’ of domestic animals the mostly vegetarian community allowed. They had grown a few vegetables, though they didn’t get a huge harvest in this first season. Their staple protein was the new hybrid fungus developed by the Nobel Prize winning biologist and agronomist Clifford Jones. Red Ashley, a ‘disciple’ of Professor Jones’ self-sufficiency philosophy had brought trays full of spores to the island and started propagating them from Day One. Eight months on there didn’t seem to be much that couldn’t be made with the wrinkled little mushrooms that everyone had taken turns picking. Soup, a meat free ‘roast’ that tasted a lot like beef, even a fruit flavoured pudding had the dried fungi as its basic ingredient.

Every possible use of the foodstuffs they grew was employed. The strangest was just within her hearing. Sally-Anne, another Jones ‘disciple’ was making wine out of the left over pea pods. The popping and bubbling of fermentation was an odd accompaniment to children’s voices and the indigenous sounds of the birds – a Frigate high in the sky, the chatter of the tiny, flightless, black plumed Rails nesting in the bogfern. Further away, on the rock-strewn ribbon of ‘beach’ the Rockhopper Penguins had been the first inhabitants of Inaccessible to greet their arrival.

Inaccessible Island! Tristie had laughed when she mentioned it and said it sounded like a challenge.

“It is,” she had responded, showing him the data entry on his own TARDIS computer about one of the remotest islands on Earth, a long extinct volcano poking up through the Atlantic just south of the Equator in the vicinity of the better known Ascension and Tristan de Cunha islands. It had been declared ‘inaccessible’ by the seventeenth century captain of a Dutch exploratory ship and nobody had disagreed with him in the centuries that followed. Submerged reefs of jagged rocks created navigation hazards while mere yards of rubble strewn ‘beach’ skirting thousand-foot high cliffs defeated all but a few temporary visitors.

Tristie had grinned. He owned a TARDIS. Problem solved.

But Trudi had pointed out a newspaper advertisement from 1975, her own time before she met a Time Lord who promised her adventure. Eccentric young millionaire, Peter Friel, was looking for volunteers to join his four-year expedition to live a minimalist, self-sufficient and cruelty free life on the most ‘Inaccessible’ place on Earth.

“It would be a marvellous opportunity for Tristie Junior,” she had pointed out. “He could learn so much.”

“Like how to fly when he falls off a cliff?” Tristie Senior touched a sequence of keys and produced a hologram image of the island that brought its sheer cliff faces into sharp relief – pun absolutely intended.

“Friel WANTS people with young families to join the expedition,” Trudi said. “I’m sure there will be safety measures. But the point is, we’d ALL be doing it the hard way. No TARDIS. We can leave it in storage in Liverpool and rent out the flat there for the whole five and three quarter years, so we’ll be doing this in real time, too.”

“Why five and three quarter years?” Tristie had asked in all innocence, strongly suspecting he was going to find out. He could see Trudi wanted to do this. It sounded interesting, for that matter. He came from the twenty-eighth century, when technology had entered every aspect of Human life, but there was a streak of tofu eating, caftan wearing, nineteen-seventies hippie in him and he was ready to sign up if they could meet the criteria.

The reason it was going to be such a long trip turned out to be that the expedition was travelling to the South Atlantic aboard a reproduction of an eighteenth century tea clipper. Peter’s wealth, inherited from a father who manufactured canned food, ran to employing a crew and stocking the ship for a fifteen-week voyage. It was time for everyone to get to know each other in something of a holiday mood, with iced cocktails and mattresses on their cabin beds that would be a thing of the past once they reached Inaccessible.

At Tristan de Cunha, two men and a woman disembarked, having changed their mind about the whole thing and the sheep, goats and chickens came aboard for the relatively easy day’s sailing to Inaccessible.

Then the tough job began. The MOST accessible part of Inaccessible, with a wide apron of scrubby land above the high water mark but below the thousand feet of cliff face just happened to be sheltered behind the reef of viciously jagged submerged rocks. The crew carefully edged the yacht around that obstacle and into what was far from a safe harbour. Livestock and equipment followed by the complement of forty-seven self-sufficiency experimenters were ferried ashore in lifeboats. Remarkably, nothing fell overboard and nobody drowned, though the chickens were quite vocal about their handling and were unlikely to lay eggs for a few days.

The chickens were not likely to enjoy the next stage, either. A temporary camp was established and the yacht anchored off shore for a week while experienced climbers scaled the cliff first and set up a kind of pulley system with something like a window washer’s cradle attached. Equipment, people and livestock were winched up to the plateau.

The chickens didn’t like it at all, but it was the goats who made the most fuss and nearly kicked the cradle to pieces. The sheep were surprisingly passive about the whole thing, merely leaving a collection of droppings to add to the bird guano up the side of the cliff.

Last to be brought up was a case of champagne and a buffet of vegetarian treats to celebrate the first day of the next four years of their lives.

Now, eight marvellously exciting months on, they had gathered their first harvest and done much more. They had all learnt new skills like turning raw wool into serviceable cloth. Trudi looked at the three feet of fabric she had worked so far and sighed. She was getting good at creating quite fine, soft fabric that didn’t unravel when it came off the loom, but there was no denying that it took a lot of effort to make even a small blanket for Tristie Junior’s bed.

The four-year old came running to her with a big smile on his face. His older namesake was grinning, too. It came naturally to both of them.

“I did a picture of Rocky,” the boy said, presenting the fruits of his afternoon in the communal crèche. It was made with natural dye paints on a piece of ‘papyrus’ made from ferns and a lot of creative effort by Izzy, the artist of the group. It was a typical four-year old’s rendition of a penguin, with oval body and head and stick appendages and absolute attention to details like the yellow, straw-like plumage on the Rockhopper penguin’s head.

There were a dozen or more paintings of Rockhoppers in their tent. Some were done in private where a half Gallifreyan four-year old drew something closer to a post-impressionist penguin. Most, like this one, showed healthy Human development of hand-eye co-ordination, colour and shape perception and creative thought.

So said Andy Salisbury who used to be a child psychologist in the outside world.

Trudi thought it was a lovely picture of her baby’s favourite bird.

“You know, they’re not all called ‘Rocky’,” she said to him, but to Tristie Junior they were. Make something psychological of that, Andy!

“Keith is doing well after his appendectomy, and Mandy is five weeks pregnant,” Tristie Senior announced. He was talking about two of the Human community, not individual Rockhoppers not called ‘Rocky’. Tristie had prepared for life in the Inaccessible Commune by going away for the weekend in his TARDIS and returning with a medical degree and a licence to practice holistic medicine, presenting himself as somebody the expedition very definitely needed. The appendectomy had been the most serious emergency so far. He was justifiably satisfied with his handling of it and it meant that they didn’t have to contact Tristan de Cunha for a medical airlift. Their self-sufficiency was preserved.

“Who is Mandy with?” Trudi asked.

“You mean who was she ‘with’ five weeks ago?” Tristie replied with a hint of disapproval. “Mandy has taken the idea of shared resources a bit too literally.”

“Free love,” Trudi countered. “The Flower Power ideal.”

“Mmm.” Tristie remarked.

“I thought you believed in those ideals.”

“I do… in so far as I want to get rid of nuclear bombs and pointless wars and I’d rather eat ‘chicken’ fashioned from the Clifford Jones fungus than slaughter Rocky and his mates. But my species are naturally monogamous and I think Humans are, too, really. Free love is all very well in theory, but I know I’M not the father of Mandy’s baby, and I expect you’re glad of that.”

“Yes, I am,” Trudi admitted. “But a lot of the community came here to get away from society’s ‘rules’. So don’t be mean to Mandy.”

“I’m not. I just want her to boil the goat’s milk before drinking it while she’s in her first trimester,” Tristie insisted. “There are some dangers associated with listeria bacteria.”

“Ok,” Trudi conceded. “But be careful in case people start to think you’re a square.”

Tristie laughed and kissed her.

“If I was a square, I wouldn’t have been in that record shop where I met you,” he pointed out. “That was a seriously unsquare venue.”

“That’s true,” Trudi conceded and kissed him back. Tristie Junior laughed playfully as his parents cuddled. Then another sound filled the air.

“Hey, Dillon got his radio working again.” Trudi abandoned the weaving for now and ran to join a group of young women who were dancing barefoot in the soft dry moss that passed for grass within the camp ground. Tristie sat down with his son cuddled on his lap and they both watched happily.

Trudi still looked good in hot pants and a crop top even after having a baby, Tristie noted with some unjustified satisfaction. There was something contrary to the Flower Power ideals of equality and liberation about being pleased that his wife was the prettiest woman in the camp, but he was a man, above all, and if anyone asked him, he would have to admit that the strict chastity of his monogamous Time Lord heritage was far from his mind when he saw her in that record shop in the Birmingham Bullring in 1972.

The music was coming from the one bit of technology the community brought with them. Dillon was an amateur radio enthusiast and every night he was making contact with people all over the world who wanted to add his unique call sign to their notebooks. He could also tune into the shipping forecast and the BBC World Service to check for impending hurricanes or signs that the ‘Bomb’ might prevail after all, leaving them to repopulate the planet. Between those important duties the music from the commercial station on Tristan de Cunha was just the sort they wanted to dance to.

All powered by a pollution free wind turbine. That was the sort of thing he REALLY approved of. He was born in the century after the ozone layer was finally repaired following the damage the twentieth century population had caused. He was glad a few of them were making the effort.

The turbine only allowed a short time for either sending or receiving radio, so the dance party only lasted an hour. But by then most of the community had finished their work and gathered together. The fire pit was lit and fungus burgers were grilled along with a sort of unleavened bread made from their first attempts at growing a grain crop. The community ate their fill of the food and never once longed for English fish and chips.

The sun was dropping towards the horizon beyond the features of the island named ‘Boulder Hill’ and ‘West Point’ during a nadir of imagination on the part of some earlier surveyors of the island. With their elevated position so far above sea level, they enjoyed every last moment of sunlight in the camp. On quiet evenings, Trudi loved to watch for the very moment when the final sliver of the sun dropped below the horizon and there was a sense of a light being turned off on the world. Tristie Junior often watched with her, enjoying the illusion as well as fully understanding in his young Gallifreyan mind all about the turn of the Earth on its axis that brought darkness to this hemisphere.

Tonight the magic moment was missed as the music resumed by way of two guitars, a violin and a flute brought by four musical members of the community. Serena’s anti-war songs made up part of the programme along with other peace loving ideas like teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony, one about a starry, starry night that was saved until the sky was darker and there really were stars in the sky and a dozen or more other songs that yearned for innocent joy in what was a rather frightened and uncertain time in Human history.

They had just sung one of Trudi’s favourite songs, in which a hippie youth is contacted by an alien waiting in the sky when everyone became aware of a discordant sound. The guitar intro to “I Gave My Love a Cherry’ tailed off as everyone looked around for the source of the fizzing, popping sound like feedback on an amplifier that wasn’t plugged into an instrument.

“You left the radio on,” Serena told Dillon. But he was already checking the equipment and it was all switched off. Still the sounds filled the air. Mothers grasped their children nervously. The men, pacifists as they were, stretched out their hands towards tools that might be used as weapons to protect their families if they needed to.

“It’s the Bomb!” shrieked a girl called Annette who had often talked about her fear of atomic war. “It’s the fallout. We’re going to be radiated.”

“Irradiated,” somebody corrected her. “But we’re not. There’s no heat, no firestorm. It’s not that.”

“No, it’s not.” A usually quiet girl called Bliss stepped from the shadows into the light from the fire pit. “It’s nothing bad. It’s a Starman. He’s calling to us.”

“Starman? Like in the song?”

“Yes,” Bliss insisted despite the sceptic looks and the murmurs around her. “Yes. Listen. He’s speaking to us.”

“How come she can hear him?” Trudi whispered to her husband. “I hear because of the TARDIS’s translation circuit thingie. But how can she?”

“She does Indian meditation,” Tristie answered. “Her mind is open. She’s not the only one. She’s just the first to admit it. Look at the faces....”

Around the fire pit the faces of those who could understand were clearly different to those still puzzled. There was an amazed thrill in their eyes.

“I hear him, too,” said a young man called Ellis.

“No, you don’t,” Trudi challenged him. “You just WANT to hear him. You can if you clear your mind and really listen. Everyone, do that. Do it now.”

They all tried. Some of them managed it quickly. Others struggled to begin with, but perhaps there was something a little psychic going on, because now even more of them managed to understand something of the message coming from somewhere high above their heads.

“That’s where he is,” Tristie said quietly, pointing to a small part of the sky just a little south of Orion. “See the slight blurring of the stars. He has a cloak, but it’s not quite exact.”

“I see it,” Trudi answered him. “How far away is it, do you think? Is it a small ship quite close or a big one that’s still far out? Not that it isn’t TOTALLY far out as an experience.”

Tristie smiled proudly. Trudi had fully grasped one of the fundamentals of relative dimensions and managed a Flower Power pun at the same time.

“It’s a small craft hovering about a hundred metres above Boulder Hill,” he confirmed. “I can sense it now that I know where it is. A one man ¬– one being – craft.”

“He wants to come down among us,” Trudi noted. “That really IS far out.”

“You’re married to a half alien. You’ve visited dozens of other worlds. You danced with a Draconian Prince – and that was amazing by itself. Those guys are so stiff. Why is an alien coming here so remarkable?”

“Because he’s asking. He’s not invading or doing anything suspicious. He’s asking to come down to see us.”

There was something of an argument going on among the community. Although it was Peter Friel’s money that had funded the expedition he had always made it clear that he was not ‘the boss’. Decisions were made by consensus of the whole community and that had worked so far.

But there was a sharp division about whether to allow the alien to visit. Most of the women favoured letting him, but mainly, it had to be said, because they thought he had a ‘dreamy’ voice, which was not the best basis for such an important decision.

Among the men there were those who were excited about making contact with a being from outer space as the ultimate vindication of their pacifist, vegetarian, Earth loving lifestyle. Others were less easily assured. They saw the alien visitor as a threat equal to the atom bombs they all feared.

“Come down among us,” called out Bliss as the argument deepened. “Come down to us in friendship.”

The others who favoured meeting the alien joined in the call. The minority who were against tried in vain to stop them.

Suddenly a bright beam of light shone down into the middle of the camp. There was silence and an electric sensation of expectation, fear and excitement as a figure began to coalesce within the light.

“Interesting,” Tristie remarked, but only to himself. Trudi was among the women who moved closer. He grasped his child’s hand tightly and waited to see what would happen next.

Very slowly the light faded and the alien turned to look at the audience around him – or perhaps allowing them to get a good look at him. He was humanoid, at least six foot three, slender but not emaciated. He was dressed in an all in one bodysuit of purple fabric glittering with silver specks. The collar was large and stiff, standing up all around his head and framing his face. The cuffs of the suit were stiff and over-large, too. Tristie’s first thought was that the outfit was showy and impractical. His second thought was that it fitted far too closely to the alien’s body. It was no wonder that the men were looking directly into his startlingly blue eyes while the women were looking everywhere else.

Because there was no definite leader of the group there was a long moment of uncertainty about who should first greet the alien. Tristie had a vague feeling it should have been him, as the only experienced space-travelling half-alien among them, but as he had been careful not to let anyone know he was anything but Human, he couldn’t really assert himself in that way now.

Before the indecision got embarrassing, Peter Friel stepped forward to formally greet the alien. It might has well be him as any other of them, they all thought.

“I am Peter,” he said. “I welcome you to Earth… at least our little part of it.”

“I am Zadrazin,” he replied. “I am from the Phylodia in the Phylocyon system.”

“I am not sure where that is,” Peter replied hesitantly.

“It will not be on the star charts of your astronomers. It is many millions of light years away. You may be assured that we are a peaceful people.”

“As are we, for the most part,” Peter assured him. “Please, come and sit with us by the campfire and have some of our food. We can all talk at leisure.”

Zadrazin accepted the invitation gladly. Several women hurried to bring him food and were happy to sit close to him.

“Curious,” he remarked. “On Phylodia women do not serve the men. We have equality between genders.”

“Our community is the same,” he was assured by a bright eyed and eager woman who brought him wine made from the ubiquitous Jones fungus. “But you are our guest.”

“But your community here is not typical of the Human race,” Zadrazin pointed out. “I have observed your world for some time. I have seen the wars being fought even now. I have seen the terrible weapons your people have built. Your history is one of escalating violence.”

“Not all of us,” Peter was at pains to assure him. “Some of us… many of us… want to stop the wars, destroy the bombs. We dream of a better world.”

“That is what I have found. Your world is puzzling. You are one race, even though there is a great diversity of skin colour, of size and shape. You divide yourself not only according to those minor differences, but by arbitrary and artificial divisions according to location.”

“You mean nationalities? I suppose… we all do cling to pride in our birthplaces.”

“I have never seen a world so divided as yours. Until you overcome that division I think it will hold you back from achieving your fullest potential.”

“The hard part is convincing the leaders of our different nations,” explained Peter. “I hope we will get it right one day.”

“Your songs aspire to that end,” Zadrazin noted. “I heard some of them before I made myself known to you. Will you sing them again? The one about the melting pot is particularly apt.”

“You mean you came down to us just to hear us sing?” There was a ripple of amazement throughout the community as well as the consensus that it was the coolest thing they could imagine. The musical instruments were taken up and the requested song was performed. That was followed by a rendition of ‘All You Need is Love’ and a whole medley of songs promoting universal harmony.

After a while parents took sleepy children and tucked them up in bed, but they came back to the fireside afterwards and joined in the singing and the talking. Zadrazin shared with them some songs from his world. They were beautiful and ethereal and while he was singing them everyone understood the words and the sublime sentiment within them, but afterwards they drifted from the mind leaving only a sense of perfect peace deep in the heart of every listener.

Sometime after midnight the music was slower and some of the women had fallen asleep on their hand woven blankets under the stars. Those that stayed awake were mesmerized by the voice of Zadrazin as he told them of other worlds he had visited – some of them blighted by war, others where peace had prevailed. He spoke of his own world where war was unknown and few of the vices of other worlds – greed, envy, the desires to possess what belonged to others – were even heard of, let alone experienced. The members of the community who remained awake spoke of their aspirations for the same kind of society and the many reasons it was difficult to achieve on Earth. Zadrazin listened and sympathised.

Tristie, with Trudi asleep across his lap, listened and said nothing. He knew, after all, that the aspirations of the Flower Power generation were never going to happen. Even by his own century, even though there were no wars between nations and they had eradicated famine and poverty, there were still social divisions, some of them as deeply entrenched as ever with an economy still based on accumulation of wealth. It was a dream, that was all.

He watched Zadrazin carefully, too. He was fully satisfied with his story, mainly because he had heard of Phylodia. It was everything its strange ambassador said it was. He trusted that Zadrazin had come to them in peaceful friendship, not to garner advanced information that might be useful to an invading fleet. None of his questions had touched on Earth’s defences or the strengths of its military forces and if they had, there probably wasn’t much these young drop outs and dreamers could tell him. The closest most of them had got to such things was a ‘ban the bomb’ protest outside Whitehall.

Yes, Zadrazin was all he said he was, except in one respect. Tristie smiled wryly and wondered if his Human friends, especially the women, would have been so enthusiastic if they had seen what he saw within the beam of light. It had been mostly show, that light, of course. No transmat beam needed so much drama around it. If it served any purpose other than impressing the audience, it gave Zadrazin a few seconds to look into the collective thoughts of the group and gauge their expectations.

“You are very clever,” said a voice in his head. Tristie looked directly at Zadrazin and saw him looking directly back.

“Yes, I am. And I saw what you looked like before you shape-shifted. The ladies definitely wouldn’t have been so enamoured by a body of jet black chitin and a bulbous head with compound eyes. Your species are evolved from an insect something like the housefly of this world. No wonder you’re channelling Ziggy Stardust, instead.”

“It was the image in the minds of most of them.”

“Yes, I figured as much. Don’t worry, I won’t give you away. My wife would call me a spoilsport of something much ruder.”

“My thanks,” Zadrazin told him. “I shall leave, soon. It has been an interesting visit.”

“Don’t think you’ll be able to slip away unnoticed,” Tristie told him. “The ladies will want to give you a send-off.”

He was right. An hour before dawn as the sky was just starting to lighten over the prosaically named East Point, those who had slept part of the night roused themselves, aware that something was happening. The quickest thinkers found gifts for their visitor – a bottle of fungus wine, a papyrus painting of the community children, a necklace made of seashells and Rockhopper feathers. Zadrazin received the gifts as if they were gold and silver.

“My gift to you is more intangible, but precious, nonetheless,” he said, raising his left arm and waving in a wide arc. There was a shimmer in the air followed by a gestalt sigh of absolute joy as he touched all of their souls at once. Then the bright, showy light shone down through the sky again and enveloped Zadrazin. For a moment or two he twinkled like a humanoid diamond, then he was gone. Tristie smiled as he saw, for a microsecond, the true form of the Phylodian again.

“Come on,” he whispered to Trudi when it was over. “Let’s go and watch the sun come up over Salt Beach and the Waterfall.”

They slipped away from the crowd hand in hand, walking carefully over the uneven ground near the cliff edge. The waterfall was at the abrupt end of the little freshwater brook that crossed the island, permanently fed by the waterlogged heartland. The sound of the water racing over the precipice was an early warning of the cliff edge. They stopped at a safe distance slightly at an angle to the waterfall so they could watch the changing light glittering off the water as the sun rose.

“Fantastic,” Trudi breathed. “It really is. I mean, meeting Zadrazin was amazing, but even without visits from aliens just seeing our Earth sun come up on a place like this is fantastic.”

“His gift wasn’t just a brief feeling of euphoria, you know,” Tristie told her. “I can feel a lot of excitement around the camp. He left them all with ideas… better ways of growing our food, an improved wind turbine, some ideas that will be useful to people like Dillon and Peter after we all go back to the ‘real’ world, some new songs to sing in the meantime.”

“He really was a good guy. I’m glad he came. But… well, after all, I don’t need a Starman. I’ve got you, already.”

Tristie grinned. As far as he was concerned that was a result.

Always Channelling Ziggy Stardust - RIP David.