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

“Is this right, sir?” Marton asked as he looked up from his calibration of the TARDIS’s long-range scanner. The Doctor moved around the console to look. He was pleasantly surprised.

“More than all right. You’ve increased the scanner’s effective range by fifteen per cent. You have a knack for this sort of thing. Are you in Davie’s temporal mechanics class?”

“No, sir,” Marton answered. “He had already begun teaching that class when you decided I should be your apprentice. He said it would not be fair to expect me to catch up.”

“Mmm. I’ll see if we can’t get you caught up before much longer. The TARDIS likes you. Usually it only behaves for women. So you’re honoured.”

“Sir?” Marton laughed. “You are joking with me? The TARDIS is not sentient, surely?”

“There’s much you don’t know, yet. But you can start by remembering that the TARDIS is a lady. Treat her that way.”

Marton smiled.


“Just wondered why you keep a rubber mallet for hitting bits of the console, then? Hardly the way to treat a lady.”

The Doctor grinned. Marton knew he wasn’t going to get an answer. In any case, they seemed to be approaching their destination.

“You bring us in to land, Marton,” The Doctor said. “While I get Peter’s coat and hat on.”

“Me? Land?” Marton was astonished. He had gone through the materialisation process with the other students. But flying solo was another matter. He swallowed hard and tried not to look scared.

“Nothing to worry about,” The Doctor assured him, as he unfastened his two year old son from his child seat on the console and brought him to the hatstand by the gangway where his outdoor coat and a woollen hat knitted by Mrs Grahams in her spare time were hung ready. The boy smiled as his father dressed him for a visit to another planet and chattered to him telepathically.

“In words,” he told him gently. All his children were late talkers. They learnt to communicate telepathically much easier and quickly. Christopher, his first born son, had been the same. And Vicki. He had to remind them to use their voices, to stretch their vocal chords and expand their spoken vocabulary.

Telepathically Peter spoke quickly and confidently. Out loud he had the sort of childish lisp and stilted language of any Human of the same age.

“Door?” Peter asked, looking at his father expectantly once he was dressed and ready.

“In a minute,” The Doctor answered. “When Marton has landed the TARDIS. We don’t want to step out into space, do we?”

“Marton, hurry,” Peter demanded. The Doctor laughed and lifted the boy into her arms.

“In your own time, Marton,” he assured him. “Peter takes after me for lacking patience. But don’t rush on our account.”

He had programmed the co-ordinates into the navigation drive, anyway. It was flying by numbers. As long as Marton remembered which order to do everything in and kept a steady hand on the temporal brake they couldn’t go wrong. The steady hand was merely a matter of self-confidence. Marton was prone to nervousness about new experiences, but given a chance he didn’t lack belief in himself.

And the landing wasn’t bad at all. They all remained on their feet, and the TARDIS was exactly where it was supposed to be.

“Lock off the temporal manifold,” The Doctor reminded him. “We don’t want the TARDIS wandering off in time without us. Then grab your coat and the rucksack with the picnic and we’ll be off.”

Marton did as he was asked. The Doctor opened the door at last, to Peter’s delight, and they stepped outside.

“Oh,” Marton sighed as he walked a few paces from the TARDIS. “Oh, the place feels so..”

The Doctor waited for the expected response - the one he got from everyone he brought to this planet.

“It’s invigorating. Like a walk in the park after a summer rain storm. The air feels…” He paused, and gave the scientific explanation for it. The boy had been a student of The Doctor’s for a while now, after all. “Positively charged ions in the atmosphere. That’s it, isn’t it. Like on Anchoriss”

“That’ right,” The Doctor said. “The Eye of Orion is another of those blessed planets. The difference is that this one has never been colonised and very few people visit. It remains utterly unspoiled.”

Peter expressed his desire to walk, and The Doctor let him. He scampered away on small, but strong legs, down the gently sloping meadow that dropped into a wide valley with a river wending through it. The Doctor and Marton strolled at Peter’s baby speed. They were in no hurry. The plan was to walk for a little while, then stop for a picnic and spend the afternoon in educational pursuits in this pleasant spot.

And the plan worked perfectly well. Neither The Doctor nor Marton talked much as they walked, though Peter chattered on to himself, naming the wild flowers amongst the meadow grass, That is to say that he gave each a name, regardless of whether any botanist had named them before. Blue Sky Flower was one, Yellow cup another. He knelt to look closer at a reddish purple one which had two petals and large stamen before calling it ‘Dancing Lady”. A white one with yellow spots was immediately named “Vicki’s Party Dress” for reasons The Doctor thought were perfectly obvious as he recalled his daughter’s favourite frock.

“I’ve got a little book about the plant life of the Eye of Orion,” he said. “I could read it to him in an afternoon and he would know all their proper botanical names.”

“But that would just be knowledge,” Marton answered him. “I like Peter’s names for the flowers better. He gets them from his own imagination.”

“I agree. Botanical names can wait until he is older. Let him do it his way for now. Perhaps he will rewrite the book with his own names for the plants. I like ‘Vicki’s Party Dress’. That’s a good one.”

They found a spot to eat their picnic where there were plenty of new flowers to be named as they enjoyed their meal. The Doctor sighed, not entirely unhappily, as he looked around. His thoughts wandered to the Red Valley on the Southern Continent, a place of outstanding beauty on his own home world. It was quite like this valley, except that here the grass was green and the sky blue, and on Gallifrey the grass was red and the sky yellow-orange.

“It looks beautiful, sir,” Marton said, and The Doctor realised his daydream had been read by the boy. “I wish I could have seen it for real.”

“I wish my children could have seen it,” The Doctor answered. “The land of their heritage. Yours, too, Marton… as a child of our Dominions. You should have had a chance to visit, at least.” He stopped that line of thought. There was no need to dwell on the past in such painful ways. “Still, we might make that the first lesson for today. I can teach you both, together. The flora and fauna and topography of Gallifrey.”

It was the first real lesson he had taught Vicki when she was old enough to learn from him. Now it was Peter’s turn, and Marton, too. Not his own child, but, through a scientific process that he didn’t entirely approve of, the child of his distant kin and one time friend. He fixed on those facts about the Time Lord who called himself, in later years, The Master, and made it his duty to teach his kinsman’s child about their lost world.

So, they pushed away the remains of their picnic and sat in a triangle, The Doctor and Marton both sitting in a formal way, straight backed and legs crossed that The Doctor learnt many centuries ago from the monks of Mount Lœng. Peter tried to copy them, but with less precision and the effect slightly spoiled by his refusal to put down the carton of orange juice he was drinking from through a straw. The Doctor reached out and touched both young minds and began to teach them facts enough to last a Human student a month of geography lessons. He could have given the information to them both in a ten minute burst, but he wanted them to enjoy the experience of learning and he did it a little slower. He took as much as two hours to show them the natural wonders of Gallifrey, deserts, plains, red valleys, purple snow-capped mountains, a cascade that had been frozen for millennia though the climate around it was temperate, and much more besides. He felt both of his students absorbing the knowledge joyfully. Both Marton and Peter were travelling with him in their minds just as, centuries ago, he had travelled for real with Christopher, and both got as much out of the journey, even though this one was only in their minds.

Peter finished his orange juice and curled up on the grass, dozing as he took in the learning experience. It didn’t matter. The important information was going into his brain even if he slept through it. When the lesson was over, The Doctor folded up his leather jacket and put it under Peter’s head as he continued to sleep.

“There’s more I need to teach him later, but for now, I shall concentrate on your temporal physics lessons, Marton. Are you ready?”

Marton nodded and prepared himself to receive the knowledge base telepathically. Again, it could have been done in a ten minute burst, but instead The Doctor took his time, making sure he appreciated the subject fully, and didn’t just absorb facts. Even so, the hour he spent teaching him was the equivalent of a whole semester’s learning at an ordinary school, even if an ordinary school on Earth in the 23rd century included temporal physics in their curriculum.

The lesson was satisfying for teacher and student and they both sighed happily as they stretched their limbs afterwards.

Then Marton gave a horrified shout.

“Where’s Peter?”

The Doctor turned and looked. His jacket was there, where he had made it into a pillow, so was the empty orange carton, but the boy was gone.

“No!” The Doctor’s voice took on an edge as he turned around and around, trying to see Peter. There was no sign of him.

“He couldn’t have walked that far on his own,” Marton reasoned. “He’s only a baby. He should be in sight of us.”

“Unless somebody else was here? Somebody took him? Oh, &@#£$! Rose will kill me. Peter…. My child… How could I be so…”

“Doctor, sir…” Marton grabbed his arm. “You’re not thinking straight. Peter is your son. The two of you can reach each other telepathically. Reach out to him.”

The Doctor blinked as if the idea hadn’t even entered his head. “Reach out…”

He did as Marton suggested. It was easy. There were no other minds out there to confuse him. In London, it would have been difficult to find his own baby son’s mind in a crowd. But here, he easily found him. He was relieved to find that the boy wasn’t even scared. He was laughing.

“Peter, where are you?” The Doctor asked him. “Where did you go? I was worried.”

“Daddy,” Peter responded. “I’m with the nice ladies.”

“What ladies? There’s nobody else here on the planet. Only me and Marton. Where are you?”

“With the ladies,” he answered. “We are playing.”

Playing WHAT? Peter, tell me where you are.”

But his answer was the same. He was with the nice ladies. He couldn’t tell him which direction he was in. He hadn’t learnt those sort of concepts, yet.

“Tell me what you can see… apart from ladies,” The Doctor said. “Peter, it’s important. I need to find you. I miss you.”

He managed to do that, at least. The Doctor saw his child’s view of his surroundings clearly. So did Marton, who looked around the real landscape as The Doctor concentrated on Peter’s image of it.

“That way,” Marton told him. “Further down the hill. Closer to the river. But I still don’t see how he could have got there. And there’s something else. The sun looks wrong.”

“What do you mean wrong?” The Doctor asked as he picked up his jacket and began to stride quickly down the hill.

“In a different position. Closer to sunset. But it’s only mid afternoon.”

“Days are shorter here on this planet than you’re used to on Earth. But, even so, that doesn’t make sense unless…”

He picked up his pace, running now. Marton ran after him, youth keeping up with experience.

Then they both stopped in surprise. The sun had changed position completely, jumping at least four hours, so that the light was slanted and losing its power as it neared sunset.

“A temporal shift?” The Doctor wondered aloud. But he forgot to wonder much further because he saw the tents and the women camped around a fire, and Peter with them. Everything else went clean out of his mind.

“Peter!” He ran to his son and grabbed him from the woman who was holding him. “Are you all right, my boy? I was worried. You mustn’t wander off. You could have been lost.”

Ordinary relief after what was the worst nightmare of any parent consumed him for a long time as he hugged his child and was assured that he was not traumatised in any way. Peter was unaware that there was even a problem. He had not yet been taught to be wary of strangers. Something it was maybe time to do. He had been happy with his new friends and hadn’t even thought of his father.

The Doctor put his hand against the boy’s face and gently probed his immediate memories. He saw from Peter’s point of view waking from his nap and finding his father and Marton busy in their lesson. He had found a biscuit from the picnic and eaten it as he strolled away, looking for more flowers to name. He had wandered further than The Doctor would have expected him to be capable of wandering all by himself, far down the meadow. And that was a lesson to him. The boy was, of course, half Gallifreyan. He could walk far without tiring.

He had walked through the same temporal rift and found the camp. The women had brought him to the fireside.

“Thank you for taking care of him,” he said. “I shouldn’t have been so careless.”

“He is your child?” One of the women stood and approached him. She was tall and slender, dressed in a long cream robe of some kind of flowing silk. She had long ash-blonde hair and a very pale, alabaster complexion. She was humanoid, but not Human in the sense of being a person whose ancestry was from planet Earth.

She had a gold star on the centre of her forehead. It seemed to be tattooed on, but it looked as if the ink used in the process was made of real gold. All the women had the same stars.

A religious symbol? A status symbol?

“Yes,” The Doctor answered her question. “Yes, Peter is my son.”

“I am Zurana,” she said. “I bid you welcome. Come sit with us.”

“We should be getting back,” The Doctor answered. “It’s much later than I thought…” But all the women were standing up, now, and they seemed insistent that they stay. The Doctor could think of no good reason to refuse their hospitality.

“Thank you,” he said as he took a seat on a silk cushion by the fire. He noted that it seemed to be an artificial flame of some kind, giving out heat and light, but not burning away. Since there were no trees of any kind around, that didn’t surprise him. He took in more detail as he settled himself with Peter on his knee. The tents were far from standard issue. They were made of fine fabrics, in cream, white and gold. The entrances were tied open and inside there were beds of soft cushions and more silk fabrics. This was camping in luxury.

But why were they camping here and who were they?

“You are all males?” said one of the other women, a young one who brought bowls of some kind of milky liquid and gave them to The Doctor and Marton. They looked at the drink warily. “It is flavoured with spices and honey,” she said.

“Yes, we’re… males…” Marton said as he surreptitiously put the tip of his finger into the liquid to analyse its contents. There seemed nothing harmful. “And you are… all females.”

“How do you have offspring then?” the young woman asked. “The child...”

“His mother is not travelling with us on this trip,” The Doctor replied. “We are visiting this place, then we shall return home.”

“Home?” the young woman repeated the word with the same kind of sadness that it used to invoke in The Doctor before he learnt to call Earth by that epithet.

“Where are you from?” Marton asked. “Our home is called Earth. What is your planet?”

“Talla, bring fruit and cheese for our visitors,” said the older woman, Zuranna. Talla immediately went to do as she was told. She didn’t answer Marton’s question.

“Tricky that,” The Doctor said to Marton telepathically. “It might have been wiser not to mention where we’re from first.”

“I thought it would have helped her to feel she could trust me,” he answered. “The older woman didn’t want her talking to us. What is your feeling about them, sir?”

“I feel… as if I’m being deceived,” he answered. “It’s as if… remember Chris teaching you to put up a mental wall to keep your own thoughts behind… when you want to be private. It’s as if… I feel like there is one big wall between us and them. And that just makes me want to break it down and get to the truth. Except… I need to think of Peter. I can’t go probing into dangerous places with him to look after. Rose made it perfectly clear to me when I brought him with me. No trouble. A peaceful afternoon on the Eye of Orion, a planet where nothing happens.”

“So far, nothing IS happening, except they’ve given us something to drink. By the way, Peter wants a share of yours.”

The Doctor looked down and saw his son’s hand stretched towards the bowl he hadn’t bothered to drink from yet. He took a sip to confirm Marton’s analysis that it was some kind of milk, from what animal he couldn’t identify, with delicate flavoured spices and honey. He let Peter drink it.

“Where is your ship?” The Doctor asked Zuranna.


“You’re not natives of this planet, any more than we are. How did you get here? Are you visiting?”

“We are the Vestia,” she told him. That seemed to be the answer to the previous question. It was a piece of information, anyway. It told him nothing much. On Earth, Vestia was a genus of flowering shrub, but words very often had different meanings in different parts of the universe.

He couldn’t think of any species by that name, though. Vestia might be a tribal name, perhaps.

“Doctor, have you tried reading their minds?” Marton asked.

“No,” he answered.

“I did, when Talla gave me the drink, I touched her arm and tried to make contact. But I couldn’t feel anything. That’s unusual. Mostly I only need to make a slight physical contact with somebody to be able to read them.”

“Me, too,” The Doctor answered. “But I have got into the habit of not doing that.”

“Why?” Marton looked surprised. “You have such power, sir. Why don’t you use it?”

“That’s the secret of great power,” The Doctor answered. “Knowing when not to use it. I would rather not know if somebody is lying to me. If their faces don’t betray them then they’re entitled to their secrets. And, besides, it’s not just their thoughts I see. I can see their timelines, too. Knowing how long a span of life is given to someone, knowing when and how they will die… that’s a power I stopped using long ago. It’s too painful.”

Marton didn’t understand what he meant. For him, these were great gifts. He would have to learn those lessons the hard way.

“I think we should try to read these women, all the same.” Marton said. “Something is not right here. We should use the power we have to our advantage.”

“I agree,” The Doctor told him. “But how? We can’t just start grabbing them, and they do seem rather aloof at the moment.”

But Talla, the one charged with bringing food to them, made that easy. She bent close to Marton and he clasped both her hands.

“There is a custom where we come from,” he said. “We take the hands of those who bring us food. A symbol of acceptance.” He held her for a good half minute, then he released her hands. She looked nearly as disturbed as he was by the experience.

“Nothing,” he told The Doctor. “It’s as if she has no mind to read.”

“Odd. Wait, let me…” As the girl bent to give food to him and Peter, he reached, using the same excuse. He was similarly perplexed.

“I couldn’t see into her mind. I couldn’t read her timeline, either. It’s as if she has no time – no future. She doesn’t exist except in the present.”

Something about what he said then made Marton look towards the setting sun.

“Doctor, how long have we been here with these women?”

“About half an hour,” he answered, referring to his own internal body clock, another gift of the Time Lords, rather than his wristwatch.

“The sun hasn’t moved. It should be much lower by now.”

The Doctor chided himself for missing that. Marton had spotted it. He was a bright boy. Quick thinking, too, his Time Lord DNA exerting itself, perhaps?

“There is something unnatural here,” Marton added. “If time stands still here, these women… how long have they been here?”

“Good question,” The Doctor answered. “Very good question. How long have we been here for that matter?”

“About half an hour, you said.”

“Yes, but how much time has passed on the outside of this temporal anomaly? An hour? Two, a day, a year…”

“Could that happen?”

“Yes, you’ve heard legends, stories? Earth is full of them. Brigadoon, Shangri La, Tir na Óg, Rip Van Winkle, even. All regional variations of the same idea – a place where time passes slowly or not at all.”

“But… if so… what happens when we leave?”

“Let’s find out.” The Doctor stood and stretched his long limbs. Peter, with the juice of a peach over his face, having helped himself to the offered food, clambered to his feet and reached out his hand to his father. Marton stood, too.

“We thank you for your hospitality, but we really must go now. It is nearly time for Peter’s afternoon nap.”

There was no obvious movement among the women, but it seemed as if they were all, suddenly, on their guard. Zuranna moved closer. So did the young woman, Talla. Their expressions seemed colder.

“You took none of our food or drink,” Zuranna told The Doctor. “You may go. But the young one and the child can never leave our camp, now. They belong to us.”

“What?” Marton exclaimed. “No, I will leave. You can’t stop me.”

“I’m taking my child away from this place,” The Doctor insisted, lifting Peter in his arms and walking around the two women. He looked at the sun, still set in the same place. They had been walking towards it when they arrived. So the way out, logically, was the opposite way.

Marton followed him, watching the women warily. They didn’t try to stop them.

They didn’t have to. They started walking out of the camp to the north, but as soon as they passed its boundary they found themselves walking into it from the south. The women turned to look at them.

The Doctor said nothing. He just turned around and walked south….

Only to find himself at the northern boundary again.

“I suppose any other point of the compass would be the same,” he conceded. “It’s hardly worth the effort to repeat the process.”

“We can’t get out.”

“You can go,” Zuranna repeated to The Doctor. “Leave the youth and the child.”

“I won’t leave my son,” The Doctor answered. “I demand that you release us. You have no right to keep any of us.”

“We take what is ours. They ate and drank at our fireside. They belong to us, now.”

“My son ate because I told him it was safe to eat the food. He does what I tell him. You can’t hold him responsible for his actions. He is a baby.”

“He is ours. We have no children. We have no mates. The youth will please Talla. She has never had the pleasure of a man before. The child, will delight all our eyes. Forever.”

“Forever?” Marton queried the word. “How long HAVE you been here?”

“We have been here for a moment, only,” Zuranna answered. “But that moment lasts forever.”

“It must feel like forever,” The Doctor commented. “You’re lacking amusements around here. But you still cannot keep us.”

“But we can,” Zuranna told him. “We can keep those who belong to us. You may go or stay. But if you eat or drink here, you will belong to us, too. So if you wish to go, you must go before starvation and thirst consume you.”

“I have a strong constitution,” The Doctor said. But not that strong, he added to himself. He couldn’t live without food and water very much longer than any other humanoid species. He would die eventually. And then what would happen to Peter and Marton?

He picked Peter up in his arms and hugged him close. The very thought of letting him go pained him. But he knew he had to, to save him.

“Peter,” he said telepathically. “I love you. I will always love you. Never forget that, my son.”

“Love you, daddy,” Peter answered in words and wrapped his baby arms around his neck. The Doctor kissed the boy’s cheek and tried not to sob.

“Marton, take him,” The Doctor said, putting Peter into his arms. “Hold him tight. Don’t let go of him until I get back. Don’t let THEM so much as touch him.”

“He is not yours, never will be,” The Doctor said to the women. “Peter is my son. And I will be back for him.”

At that he turned and ran. He was surprised when he stepped past the tents and into the same mid afternoon sunshine they had left behind half an hour ago. He really expected a lot more time to have passed by.

Or had it? He looked around at the scene. The Eye of Orion didn’t change very much anyway. That was the joy of it. He had visited it centuries ago and it was the same as it was now. But did the trees on the horizon look thicker than they did before? Had they grown?

Trees took a long time to grow enough to notice the difference. Decades.

He looked again and decided it was his imagination. They hadn’t changed at all.

He turned and looked uphill and sighed with relief. The TARDIS was still there. Of course it was. How could it be anywhere else?

He ran uphill, without stopping, without breathing, without blinking. Reaching the TARDIS was his only thought. He deliberately didn’t think about his baby in the hands of those strange women, or the problem of getting him out. He trusted Marton to look after him, protect him, until he could get back to him.

What would Rose say?

“You left our son in the hands of a bunch of weird women and the offspring of your worst enemy?”

She would know I did what I have to do, he told his doubting self. As I always do.

He took a breath as he reached the TARDIS. Then he found his key in his jacket pocket and opened the door. That breath got him as far as the console. He grasped the handholds as if they were a comfort to him. They were. The console was real and solid, the most real thing in his life.

He checked the temporal clock. He was relieved. The trees HADN’T changed at all. It was his imagination. All that talk about Brigadoon and the like had made him think something even more sinister was happening.

An incoming communication signal distracted him. He noted that it was from Rose. He could have ignored it. She knew they were going to be out of the TARDIS most of the time.

But it was his wife. His pregnant wife. It could be important.

It wasn’t. She just called to tell him she was missing him.

“I miss you, Rose,” he answered. “But I’ll be back by bedtime. We’re had a great day. Peter’s just having a nap at the moment. He’s been a very active and busy little boy.”

“That’s all right. I’ll hug him when you get home. And you, too. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Rose,” he said. He smiled warmly at her as she said goodbye. A completely frivolous call, but she did miss him when he was away. She was having a dreary time with this pregnancy and he gave her as much time as he could when he wasn’t busy with his students in his new calling as a teacher. And he never resented these calls. He just wished he hadn’t had to lie to her.

He turned to the environmental console and studied the valley below carefully. The anomaly was not particularly easy to spot. It showed up only on an infra red overlay as a part of the topography that was a different temperature to the rest. There was no other indication that it was there. Neither he, nor Marton, had anything to reproach themselves about. They could not have known there was a problem when they set out.

He took some other readings, too. And found out several more interesting facts about the anomaly.

But why was it here? Who were the Vestia?

The computer database, to his surprise, had the answer. He read the file quickly, but taking in all the detail. Then he made a video phone call. The person he contacted thanked him for the information and promised to be there within the hour.

That was good enough. He looked at the anomaly. He knew he would never be able to get the TARDIS to accept that as a co-ordinate. He tried anyway, and was not surprised when the navigation drive rejected it as impossible. But there were other ways to fly the TARDIS that didn’t need a time and space co-ordinate. He reached for the manual drive and piloted the TARDIS in hover mode, down the hill towards the anomaly. The engines protested slightly as the TARDIS slipped from one time dimension to another, but it did it. He noted the surprised look on the faces of the Vestia as he set the TARDIS down between two of the tents.

“Easy to get in, not so easy to get out,” he noted as he looked at the environmental scanner. He knew just by looking at it that he couldn’t just pick up Marton and Peter and hover back out. The peculiar trap that the Vestia had sprung on them, like Persephone in Hades, couldn’t be broken that way.

“He returns,” Zuranna cried triumphantly as he stepped out of the TARDIS. “He is ours. Two mates for our pleasure.”

“I think not,” The Doctor answered. He walked calmly to where Marton was sitting, holding Peter tightly and looking coldly at the women. “Thank you, Marton,” he said as he held out his arms and his son came to him. “I told you I would be back.” He sat down and looked at the platter of food left for them. He picked up a piece of cheese and tasted it. “Very nice. Zenusian Stilton, I believe. Haven’t had any of that for years. Maybe we’ll take a detour to the Zenusian delicatessen satellite on our way home. Rose would love some of this.”

“But we’re trapped, Doctor,” Marton reminded him. “So are you, now. You ate the food. Unless the TARDIS…”

“No, the TARDIS can’t get us out once we’ve eaten the food. At least I don’t think so. I don’t really want to strain her engines trying. I don’t fancy spending tomorrow afternoon in Cardiff refuelling. Anyway, it’s good food, and we did all that telepathic learning after lunch. It saps the energy. I could go for a bit of a picnic here. Zuranna, Talla, join us. I’ve got a bit of a story to tell. It’s not really one for my son’s ears, so I’m going to tell him something a bit more pleasant telepathically. A bit of Narnia, I think. He likes that.”

That was an exercise in concentration! He ate some more of the cheese and bread and drank some of the spiced milk, gearing himself up to the task. Then he let Peter eat a piece of one of the milder cheeses and cuddled him close as he told him a story of talking animals in a fantastic world telepathically. At the same time, he looked around at the camp, at the women in their silk robes with their gold stars on their foreheads.

A religious symbol? A symbol of status? He had assumed that a gold star was something to be proud of. It never occurred to him that it might be a badge of shame.

“That’s what it is. A brand, marking them out as convicts,” The Doctor explained. “The Vestia are sisters… literally sisters. Their mother was – the nearest word to it in any language I know is ‘witch’. But it’s not exactly that. She taught her daughters dark arts. They used them for wicked deeds on their home planet – a place called Ar Vee. It’s not very far from here, actually. In the same constellation, anyway…” He was deliberately rambling, making sure he had the attention of the women. Telepathically he was describing the palace of Cair Paravel to his son. He lingered over that for a moment before continuing his exposition.

“Yes, when I say ‘wicked deeds’ I mean it. We’re talking kidnapping, torture, murder. They’ve all had at least a dozen husbands. Their honeymoon nights have a lot in common with those of the black widow spider. So being their mates for eternity was never on the cards, Marton.”

“I didn’t really fancy that, anyway,” he replied. He, too, glanced at the women, who said nothing, but their faces were distinctly less hospitable than before.

“Eventually, of course, like all villains, they were caught. They were sentenced to death. But on the point of execution, the mother cast a powerful spell. It took all her energy to do it. She sacrificed herself. But she opened a rift in time and space and sent her daughters away through it. Nobody knew where they went. But it was always believed that the Vestia had cheated death. They almost did.”

“What do you mean, almost?” Marton asked.

“The method of execution on their planet,” The Doctor answered him. “Is an especially nasty one. The condemned are aged to death. They are placed in a temporal bubble, separate to the time outside of it. And time is accelerated. I should point out that my own people didn’t like the idea. The only reason this story is even in the TARDIS database is because a Time Lord recommended to the High Council that they step in and stop the use of time bubbles for these purposes. But the thing is, their mother sent them through the rift inside the time bubble, frozen in the moment before the acceleration would begin.”

“So that’s why the sky stays the same,” Marton noted. “Time doesn’t pass for them.”

“Exactly. They’ve been trapped here for about two thousand years of their own time. And I think the time passes very slowly for them. It’s a wonder they weren’t driven mad – although they weren’t exactly sane, either. Funny thing is, though, Marton, they’ve been two thousand years trapped here, with the sun never setting, but actually, they only got here yesterday. The TARDIS tracked the anomaly retrospectively. Clever old thing that she is.”

“How can two thousand years have passed while it looks like no time has passed?”

“Their mother’s ‘spell’ bent time in one way, passing through a time rift bent it another. That’s WHY the Time Lords like to keep a lid on this sort of thing. Because it causes such mind boggling problems.”

“So, you are clever, ‘Doctor’ man,” said Zuranna. “You have knowledge of the world. But still, you are trapped here. You are at our mercy. You will be mate to us all before we consume you. It has been so long. My sisters and I yearn for consummation.”

“Yes, I’m sure you do. But my wife would have something to say about that. She’s a sweet soul, but she can do a really good impression of her mum when she’s annoyed about anything. And her mum, bless her heart, would give yours a run for her money, witch or no witch.”

“Doctor, what are you doing?” Marton asked him. “All this talk… it’s just wasting time. We ought to be trying to get out of here.”

“We’re ok,” he assured him. “I’m still telling Peter a story. And I’ll have another bowl of that spiced milk, Talla, if you please. Shame about the sunset. They are really spectacular on the Eye of Orion. Imagine being here for two thousand years and not getting to see one single beautiful sunset. That would drive me nuts. Speaking of nuts, is there any more of that cheese with the Mume nuts and Tu Berries? That’s fantastic. I definitely have to pick some of that up as well as the Stilton.”

Talla looked at Zuranna who nodded to her. She went to fetch the food. The Doctor tested it, just in case. Now he knew what these women were capable of he was even more wary. Then he gave Peter the milky drink and shared the cheese with Marton. He ate deliberately slowly, commenting on the taste and talking about the planet where Mume nuts and Tu Berries grow and contemplating a family holiday there after Rose had given birth to the twins and felt up to recreational TARDIS travel again. He was talking for the sake of it. And he could keep it up for ages. An hour was no problem.

“We could play the ‘yes, no’ game,” he suggested with a wide grin. “You have to answer as many questions as possible without saying yes or no. I wonder if these ladies would be any good at it?”

“Doctor….” Marton tried again to get The Doctor to make sense. He grinned at him and launched into a story about something called Zygons and the secret of the Loch Ness Monster.

“Thing about being a Time Lord,” he said. “Time really is mine to play with. Killing time, is more of a Human thing. I usually have plenty of other things to do. But I am, after all, part Human. But, it’s nearly time, now. I think we’ll get into the TARDIS. We can’t go anywhere in it, but it’s a bit warmer. And Peter is ready for a proper afternoon nap, I think. Rose will be cross if I take him home tired and cranky.”

He stood up, lifting Peter into his arms. He reached with one hand for his sonic screwdriver, in case any of the women tried to stop him. But they seemed pre-occupied. He knew why. Marton was starting to guess.

“Doctor… you…”

“Inside the TARDIS,” he said. “It’s going to get unhealthy out here.”

Marton did as he said. The Doctor closed the door behind him and went to put Peter in his day cot by the sofa, where he sighed and snuggled up to his favourite soft toy and went to sleep quickly. Then he turned to the console. He switched on the viewscreen. The Vestia were doing what the Earth Bible called ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’. The expression ‘running around like headless chickens’ also came to mind.

“This isn’t pleasant,” he said. “But they have evaded justice for far too long. The Ar Veean police still have a death warrant outstanding. By the way, just to confuse matters, two thousand years for them, ten years on Ar Vee itself. See what I mean about messing things up. They really should leave it to the experts. That’s us, the Time Lords. You, when you’ve learnt to understand everything I’m talking about.”

“Yes, Doctor,” Marton said. “But… do you mean… you contacted Ar Vee?”

“And they sent an execution squad to complete the process. Any moment now.”

Marton watched as the sun that had not moved for so long began to set and darkness fell. Then it rose again, and set, and rose and set again and again, faster and faster, until nothing but a flickering greyness could be seen. The Vestia screamed at first, in pain and agony, as their bodies were aged rapidly. The Doctor turned away. He didn’t need to see it. He’d witnessed similar things more than once before. He especially remembered a woman called Sara Kingdom who suffered the same fate when a weapon designed by the Daleks was discharged. Her anguished face was one of the many memories that sat on his soul. He didn’t need to watch the Vestia die, their bodies crumble as those two thousand years were released at once inside the time bubble.

He was not sorry for them. Nor did he take any pleasure or satisfaction in their deaths. It was something that was long overdue. Something that had to be done. He was glad it was not by his own hand. He hated killing anything. Executioner was not a job he would ever have chosen, and he didn’t speculate about what made the Ar Veean man he spoke to an hour ago choose such a profession. But he knew that it was a job somebody had to do sometimes.

“Doctor!” Marton turned from the screen, his face ashen, trembling with shock. The Doctor was surprised at first that he was so emotional, then reminded himself that he was only a boy, barely eighteen, and with none of the experiences Chris and Davie had by that age. He reached out and hugged him as he would hug his own children.

“I’m sorry,” he told him. “I shouldn’t have made you watch that. There’s time enough for those sort of learning experiences.”

“I’m…” he gasped and clung to The Doctor for a long time before he felt able to speak. “I’m… all right. It was horrible, but… They deserved it. They were… beautiful. But beauty can hide evil, can’t it?”

“That’s an important lesson to learn,” The Doctor told him. He wondered why he had made him watch. Did he really need to? Was it a test to see how he would respond to such horror? To see how much of his biological father there WAS in him?

If so, then he had to stop that. Marton was not The Master. He was not The Master’s son. Only biology connected them. Everything that he was came from that wonderful couple who had loved and cared for him from conception. And there was no need to watch him and test him to see if there was any danger of him becoming a psychopath. He never would.

“Is it over?” Marton asked as his emotions rallied and he turned to look at the viewscreen. There was nothing to be seen now but green grass in a meadow. The bones had turned to dust and the breeze blown them away long ago. Their tents had likewise rotted away and were gone. All trace of them was obliterated in the two thousand years that passed by in a few minutes.

“Not quite,” The Doctor answered. “We’re still inside the temporal bubble. Wait…”

They both watched as the sky cracked like a shattered windscreen, and then dissolved, to be replaced by the mid-afternoon sky of the same day their adventure had begun, the only difference being a cigar shaped spaceship hovering over the TARDIS.

“Ar Veean execution squad,” The Doctor said. He turned to the communications console and sent a formal greeting to the ship. He received one back, and then the ship ascended rapidly into the sky and was gone. Just to be certain everything was normal again, The Doctor glanced at the environmental scanner. The anomaly had vanished. They were in normal Eye of Orion time again.

“We left some picnic things up the hill,” he added. “We should go and pick those up before we take that detour to the Zenusian delicatessen satellite.”