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

Jack Harkness was a contented man. He practically hummed as he calibrated the Kers Lock on the navigation drive under The Doctor’s watchful but uncritical supervision.

Jack had a natural affinity with the TARDIS, he noted. No. That wasn’t entirely true. It wasn’t natural at all. It was completely unnatural, as was Jack’s existence as anything other than a ghost. He was alive because the soul of the TARDIS had once escaped from the machinery into Rose and from her into Jack. He had absorbed some of its essence. It had brought him back from the dead and made him a different man than he had been before he faced the Daleks virtually single handed. The Doctor was the only other living soul in the universe who knew just how different Jack was, and by mutual consent he never spoke about it, not even to Jack.

But this affinity with the TARDIS was one effect of his experience. The semi-sentient machine recognised him as a kind of biological extension of itself in the same way it recognised The Doctor. And he understood it and its functions just as well.

The reasons for his happiness were nothing to do with his ability to fine tune the TARDIS navigation drive, of course. He was content because he had just spent a good day with his mother.

“We went out of the hospital,” he told The Doctor happily. “I took her to a nice restaurant for lunch and then to the park. There was a band playing, children having fun. The sky was blue, the moons big and white. She loved it. We talked for ages.”

“About the past?” The Doctor asked knowing how painful and bitter that all was for Jack.

“Not about the war, losing each other. Neither of us wanted to talk about that. She asked me what I’d been doing with my life. I told her all about being in the Time Agency, and then meeting you and Rose, travelling together. Then meeting Hellina… being with her. She wants to meet her, when she’s well enough to travel. The woman I want to spend my life with. That’s somebody my mom really wants to meet.”

“And so she will, Jack,” The Doctor assured him. “So she will. You just hang on in there. It’ll happen.”

Jack smiled happily. The Doctor was glad to see it. Jack hadn’t had a lot of good reasons to smile in his life. Mostly it had been hard and rough. Even the Time Agency was no picnic. Then the years when he was a rogue agent living by his own cunning. Becoming an honest man again had cost him his life. Only Rose’s intervention gave him that second chance. And then just when it was going well for him the Dominator war almost killed the woman he had fallen in love with.

Jack deserved some moments of contentment.

The only trouble with moments like that, The Doctor added to himself, is that something was sure to come along and ruin them.

An alarm sounded on the communications array and he felt a strange kind of tingle in his hip pocket. As Jack slid around the console to attend to the alarm The Doctor reached for his psychic paper – source of the tingle. He held it up so Jack could see it, too.

“SOS?” Jack questioned. That distress signal could have come from any time from 1912, when it was used by the radio operator on the Titanic, to the end of the universe. Humans had used it everywhere they went to mean the same thing.

And nobody used it unless they really needed to.

“It wouldn’t come up on the psychic paper unless the situation was REALLY desperate,” The Doctor pointed out. “Somebody is sinking fast and the TARDIS is the only ship on the horizon.”

“Then, let’s not hang around,” Jack said. “Get the SS Carpathia running full steam ahead. We’ve got to help.”

“I’VE got to help,” The Doctor told him. “You don’t have to. You’re only along for the ride. I can get you home first if you…”

Jack gave him a reproachful look. After all these years, as if he was going to let The Doctor get into some kind of danger without him at his side.

“Glad to have your assistance, Captain,” he amended.

“These co-ordinates are funny,” Jack said as he turned back to the communications array. “There are at least four digits more than usual, even for travelling in space and time.”

“We’re going somewhere that’s outside of time,” The Doctor replied with only a flicker of surprise on his chiselled features. “Something very sinister is going on.”

“When is it not?” Jack asked as he watched The Doctor set the co-ordinate and initiate the drive control. “Things you and I have seen and done. But who would be sending you an SOS from a place beyond time?”

“Not sure,” The Doctor answered. “We’ll find out when we get there. Funny thing… when I looked at the SOS… I had the oddest feeling… as if the message was from somebody familiar. I actually thought it came from you.” Jack looked at him in alarm. The Doctor shook his head. “It was just a fleeting feeling. Nothing to worry about. Slightly psychic paper does weird things sometimes.”

“Glad to hear it,” Jack told him. “Don’t think I want to have to rescue myself.”

“Not now you’re a married man,” The Doctor answered. “A few years ago it might have been your wildest dream – having you that grateful to yourself.”

Jack looked at The Doctor and saw the laugh in his eyes. He met the laugh halfway and neither noticed that the TARDIS had landed until the time rotor gave a last rattle and stopped. The Doctor looked at the environmental control and frowned.

“It says there is solid land and an oxygen atmosphere out there. But we’re not actually on any real planet. We’re in the middle of a space dust cloud, the Geminus Nebula. It used to be a planetary system a very, very long time ago.”

“So… is the console wrong or… Do we open the door and get sucked into a dust cloud…”

“We open the door and a force field kicks in if there’s nothing out there,” The Doctor assured him. “But if there is something, I want to know what it is. Besides, it would be rather boring if we just stayed inside the TARDIS, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, seeing as you have reminded me that I’m a married man, I suppose it would.” Jack slipped his long greatcoat on and stood by the door. The Doctor joined him. His leather jacket did for any weather and any place. Jack stood back deferentially and let him open his own door and step out a pace in front of him.

Jack yelled in horror as a burst of machine gun fire ripped across the front of the TARDIS. The Doctor gave a sharp cry and fell backwards. Jack caught him in one arm and with the other slammed the door shut. He manhandled The Doctor up the gangway and laid him on the floor.

“Doc… Doctor,” he cried as he pulled off his jumper and looked at the bullet holes that pierced his chest and abdomen. “Doc… don’t… don’t you die on me.”

He put his hands over The Doctor’s two hearts and groaned in dismay. Neither was beating, not even slowly. He began heart massage with both hands on both hearts, counting compressions. He leaned over and tried to give mouth to mouth resuscitation. He tasted bitterness on his tongue and leaned back quickly as the pale orange-red blood foamed from The Doctor’s lips.

“You can’t be dead,” Jack cried. “No, Doctor. No.”

“I’m not dead,” a voice told him. “But I’m not far off. I need your help, Jack.”

“What…” He looked at The Doctor’s face. He hadn’t spoken. He couldn’t speak.

“I’m inside your head, Jack,” The Doctor’s voice explained. “I was almost gone when you kissed me…”

“That wasn’t a kiss. It was mouth to mouth…”

“It was enough. I was able to put my consciousness into you. All that I am… my mind, my knowledge… my life is in you right now, Jack. My body – it’s in suspended animation. I need you to bring it to the Cloister Room. It will be safe there. Then… you need to…”

“Are you ok?” Jack asked as the voice trailed away. “Doctor, come back to me.”

“I’m all right. Just getting used to being in your brain. Human-sized… shouldn’t be a problem, though. Come on, we don’t have time to stand around chin-wagging. My body needs to be safely stored.”

Jack lifted The Doctor’s still form over his shoulder. It had stopped bleeding.

It? The Doctor had said that about his own body. Jack had automatically done the same.

“I’m in here, with you,” The Doctor said. “What you’re carrying is just a shell. Take care of it. It’s an important shell. I’m going to need it back later. But there’s no point in worrying about pronouns.”

“If you say so, Doc,” Jack answered.

“That’s Doctor,” The Doctor replied. “And don’t you forget it.”

Jack laughed, despite the desperate state of things. At least, whatever was happening, whatever was going to happen in the near future, The Doctor was with him.

He reached the Cloister Room. The Doctor told him to bring his body into the centre of the great Seal of Rassilon that covered most of the floor.

“This room is different, isn’t it?” Jack said. “I can feel… I think it might be you doing it. But I can feel as if time is different here.”

“The Cloister Room is in a state of grace. Time does pass, but it does so differently. My body will be safe here for a few hours. The wounds will repair. Later, I can return to it. You won’t be stuck with me forever.”

“Ok, but what now. Where are we, Doctor? And how come we got attacked as soon as we stepped out of the TARDIS?”

“I don’t exactly know,” The Doctor answered. “But that’s what we’re going to find out next.”

Jack walked back to the console room. He expected walking to be a problem with two minds occupying his head, but his motor functions were still under his own control.

“I could have taken over those as well,” The Doctor pointed out. “But that wouldn’t really be fair. You carry on doing the walking and breathing for us both for now.”

“It’s weird knowing that you can read my thoughts. I mean… you always could, I suppose. But now, there’s nothing private. You know everything.”

“You know everything about me, too,” The Doctor replied. “That’s quite a quid pro-quo when all’s said and done.”

“Yeah, but you haven’t had as much fun in your life, Doctor.” Jack paused momentarily. If he concentrated, he really could feel all of The Doctor’s memories all at once. It was like a burst transmission, all of it there at once.

“There has been fun,” The Doctor said. “If it wasn’t fun now and again it would be too much to bear. I think it’s the same for you, Jack. I know… I can see you as well as you can see me right now. It’s been hard for you, too. Even the fun parts… sometimes you told yourself you were having fun, but you weren’t, really. It was just hedonism for the sake of it.”

“Now you know too much about me, Doctor,” Jack replied. “Nobody is supposed to know that my wild years weren’t fantastic fun.”

“I’ll never tell a soul, Jack. Your secrets are as safe with me as mine are with you.”

He reached the console room. The time rotor was still stopped. The environmental console was telling them that they were, at one and the same time, nowhere and somewhere.

“Jack, turn the gris lever two clicks to the left and then turn on the viewscreen,” The Doctor told him. He followed the instruction. He was surprised when the viewscreen stopped showing the inside of a dust cloud in space and resolved into a beach at some time after dawn.

A beach full of dead soldiers, their ragged and torn uniforms pulled about by the breeze.

“Bloody hell,” Jack swore, though a much darker phrase went through his mind. “It’s… Omaha Beach… the American section of the D-Day Landings. I was there… once… a long time back. Before I knew you.”

“Jack!” The Doctor’s inner voice was slightly scathing. “Please tell me this wasn’t one of your volcano days?”

“No,” he answered. “I was off course. Landed there by mistake. You’d have been proud of me, actually. I pulled two injured GI’s off the beach, got them to a medic. Saved a couple of lives – at some personal risk to my own, I might add.”

“Well done,” The Doctor replied. “Of course, my people probably had to mend the timeline after you messed it up by helping two people to live who would have died if you hadn’t dropped in.”

“That’s not fair,” he complained. “I did what anyone would have done. Surely… if you were there, if you heard them crying for help… you wouldn’t have walked away and let them die because it would mess up the timeline?”

There was a long pause. Jack knew The Doctor was thinking about the moral issue.

“I’d have done the same as you,” he admitted. “But I’d have found a way not to damage the space time continuum while I was doing it.”

“I think it’s safe to go out now, anyway,” Jack said, ignoring the rebuke. “That’s if you think that’s what we ought to be doing?”

“It is,” The Doctor replied. “We’ve got to get to the centre of this anomaly. That’s where the SOS came from.”

“I’d almost forgotten about the SOS. I was more worried about you. So we’re still going to find out where that came from, and who sent it?”

“Yes. I can’t do anything about me for the time being. So let’s find out why we were summoned in the first place.”

“Ok, then.” Jack reached for the door control. This time he took precautions before stepping outside onto what was a very good recreation of Omaha Beach in the D-Day landings of 1944. He looked around at the dead and shivered. He’d fought in a couple of wars. More than a couple. He was used to death on this sort of scale. But he had never learnt to view it dispassionately.

“Neither did I,” The Doctor said. “Head inland. That’s the way we need to go.”

“You think?”

“Yes, I do. None of this is real. You realised that, of course. We’re still in the middle of the dust cloud. This is a psychic projection, possibly by the same being that called us here. We need to get to the centre of the projection, which is inland.”

“How do you know?” Jack asked.

“I can sense it. So should you. The Artron energy in your body should be a magnet for any kind of psychic being.”

“I’ve never really understood about all that,” Jack admitted. “I know it’s the reason I’m alive. I should have been exterminated by the Daleks. I was. I felt myself die. Then I woke again, surrounded by dust… and I never really knew what happened. Rose couldn’t remember. And you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“I should have,” The Doctor admitted. “I should have explained it all to you.”

“About not being able to die?” Jack asked.

“Yes. I wasn’t sure if you actually knew about that, to be honest.”

“Found out a couple of times when the Scorpius went to war. Got myself fried more often than I would have liked. Never told Hellina. I’ll probably have to one of these days. I don’t think I age like I should, either. Even you’ve acquired a couple of grey hairs since I’ve known you, but I haven’t aged at all.”

“Time Lords age differently,” The Doctor explained. “It depends a lot on our mental state. Surrounded by family, I feel like a granddad – a great granddad, even. The grey hair kind of reflects that. You… still think of yourself as a young invincible. There may come a time… perhaps when you’ve outlived everyone you love, when you’ll start to feel old and it will catch you up. It did for me. You’ve seen the pictures that Susan has. I felt old and tired and ready to give up. Except Time Lords don’t get so much choice in the matter. You… you’re not a Time Lord. But you did acquire some Time Lord qualities. You don’t regenerate into another body. But that one renews itself continuously. How you look will be down to how you feel.”

“So if I think young, I’ll stay young?”


“The past year, I’ve felt the burden a bit. Seeing Hellina through all those operations. But I do still feel young.”

“Then you’re ok,” The Doctor assured him. “Just… we’re in a dangerous situation here. This might be an illusion, but we can die. And if you do… I’m not sure I would come back to life with you. I think I’d be lost. So… if you’re inclined to do anything reckless, please don’t.”

“I’ll try not to. Hey… have you noticed… the scenery has changed.”

They had left the beach behind. Now they were walking towards what looked like an ancient Roman town. Jack stopped in his tracks. He looked around. Behind him was a brooding mountain with smoke rising from it.

A volcano.

“Vesuvius!” Jack and The Doctor both spoke at once. The word echoed in his mind as he started to run. Of course, he knew that there wasn’t enough smoke yet. It wouldn’t actually erupt while they were near it. But he wanted to get out of there.

He reached the top of a rise above the town and looked back briefly. There it was, stretched in front of him. He remembered pulling a brilliant scam there back in his intergalactic conman days. Then he felt ashamed of himself.

“Hey,” he complained. “It WAS a brilliant scam. All anyone lost was money. Stop trying to be my conscience.”

“I wasn’t,” The Doctor told him. “That’s how you really feel about that, now. You’ve grown up a bit since your hedonistic days. Now, you feel guilty for making money while people died.”

“Do I?”


“Ok. If you say so.”

“I do say so,” The Doctor insisted. “Come on, let’s try to get out of this zone. It’s not going to be very healthy in a little while.”

“I wish I had been able to help, you know,” Jack mentioned as he climbed another rise in the topography and started down a green valley. “They died horribly in that place. I would have helped if I could.”

“You couldn’t,” The Doctor told him. “Pompeii is a fixed point in time. It can’t be interfered with. It would have taken the Time Lords decades to repair the damage to the continuum if you’d tried. So, in fact, there is no need for you to feel guilty, apart from the shame of playing such shabby tricks on people for money.”

“Are you going to harp on about that all day? I haven’t pulled a money scam since the day we met. You made me see the error of my ways. I became a better man… for you.”

“I know you did, Jack,” The Doctor replied. “And I’m glad. It made it easier to like you. But there’s no getting away from it. You’ve had a shady past.”

“So have you. I remember you castigating me for having a stolen Chula ship. And you stole the TARDIS.”

“I didn’t steal the TARDIS. It was mine. Always had been. I just took it offworld without permission. Didn’t have all my visas stamped, as it were. I defected. Political asylum seeker.”

“All the same…”

Jack stopped. He gave a soft groan.

“No,” he said. “Why are we here? Why is this recreated in a dust cloud in the middle of nowhere?”

“What is it, Jack?” The Doctor asked. “Where is this?”

“It’s a place called Cex-Law. Have you heard of it?”

The Doctor didn’t answer in words. But the churning in Jack’s stomach took on a new intensity. The Doctor had heard of it.

“You were here?”

“I was… with the Earth Federation Space Corps. I was twenty-one. I took a leave of absence from the Time Agency, because… because…”

“It was your chance to strike a blow against the creatures who destroyed Boeshane. Revenge.”

“Yes.” Even Jack’s inner voice cracked with grief as the memories came back to him.

“The Earth Federation won, in the end,” The Doctor said, in a dispassionate tone, as if he was a teacher reading the facts of an historical event to a class who didn’t really want to learn history. “But at a cost of eighteen hundred million souls. The battle of Cex-Law was the single worst day in the entire conflict…”

“I survived… I was one of the few who did… who crawled back through the mud to the extraction point. I made it. But I never stopped wondering why… why I was lucky and… and so many better men and women weren’t.”

“Tell me about it!” The Doctor said with a soft sigh and Jack had a sudden brief flash behind his eyes of a planet burning and a grief that far exceeded his own when he lay recovering in the hospital ship in orbit over Cex-Law.

Why did he live and others die?

The Doctor had asked himself the very same question.

Neither had a satisfactory answer.

“Self-destructive question, that,” The Doctor said presently. “Best not dwell on it, Jack.”

“Hard not to, here,” Jack replied. “Just past this ridge… that’s where it all happened. The worst of it.”

“Jack…” The Doctor’s voice was gentle, soothing. Jack felt as if his mind was being tenderly caressed. “Jack, you don’t have to see it again. You can sleep. Let me handle things from here.”

“You mean… you’ll take over my mind… my body….” Jack’s reaction was to be wary, defensive. The Doctor again soothed his mind.

“You’ll get it back. I promise.”

“I believe you. Do what you will, Doctor. I trust you.”

Jack felt as if he was being gently lulled to sleep. His fears and anxieties eased and he embraced the soft cushion of oblivion gladly.

“Sleep well, my friend,” The Doctor whispered. It took him thirty seconds to get used to controlling Jack’s body. Then he set off towards the ridge.

He was glad Jack was asleep. Nobody ought to witness a sight like this more than once in their life, no matter how long that life was. He did his best not to stand on any of the scattered body parts, but it was difficult. There was barely an inch of the churned up mud that wasn’t covered in organic remains that had once been men and women.

Some of them, of course, barely were men and women - it had been one of those wars where those strictly called boys and girls thought it would be a glorious thing to go and fight. Humans seemed particularly susceptible to the kind of rhetoric that made war seem glorious. They weren’t the only ones. His own people had fallen victim to the same mentality a few times in their history. So had many others. The Thal/Kaled war that had led to the creation of the Dalek menace began with the same kind of patriotic fervour.

And the end result of it tended to be a muddy field full of broken remnants of life. The Doctor held his breath as he stepped over a charred jawbone and avoided squashing an eyeball into the mud. He reminded himself that this wasn’t real. It was some kind of illusion. But it felt real enough, all the same.

Why was it here? With Jack’s consciousness at rest he was able to apply his mind to the question. His first thought had been something like Rassilon’s Death Zone. Or the sadistic world of the War Chiefs. His mind cast back even further and he remembered the pocket universe created by the Master Brain, where he and his companions had been plagued by toy soldiers and strange white robots and characters from fantasy fiction.

A pocket universe was the most likely thing. But this one was far less charming than the one ruled over by the Master Brain. The scenes they had encountered were all potentially lethal. It was probably just bad luck that he tried to step out of the TARDIS just as the beach was the most deadly. Vesuvius was still benign when they arrived, and the battle of Cex-Law was over. But they were all dangerous places.

He climbed the hill from the blood-stained valley and was taken aback by what he saw next. The fact that he walked into darkness didn’t bother him. But he was surprised by where he found himself.

“Jack,” he whispered, gently stirring the sleeping mind of Jack Harkness. “Jack, come on back to me, now.”

“I’m here,” Jack responded. “Doctor… I dreamt… I felt something. The being that sent the SOS is calling to us. It’s close.”

“Good,” The Doctor replied. “Because I think we’re near to the centre now. Look around you, Jack. Do you remember this place?”

“Oh my….” Jack looked around at the deserted railway siding in Limehouse. There was an air raid on. Searchlights lit the underside of barrage balloons and the air was full of the noise of bombs falling and planes screaming overhead. “It’s...”

The Doctor said nothing.

“Doctor… this is too much coincidence, don’t you think? Every single scene we’ve come across here… it’s a place that either you or I have been before.”

“No,” The Doctor corrected him. “They’re places you’ve been. Cex-Law and Omaha Beach… I am fully aware of their terrible history, but I’ve never been to either of them. Pompeii I visited once, but after the event. They’re places from your life, Jack. The central one being here, at Limehouse. The place where you and I first crossed paths.”

“Do you mean… that this is all something to do with me?”

“Remember what I said about the SOS?” The Doctor reminded him. “That for a brief moment I felt as if it had come from you.”

“Yeah… you did say that. Then you got shot down in a hail of bullets and I kind of forgot all about that. But… Doctor… what does it mean? What is going on here?”

“The answer… is in the place we found the answers the first time around,” The Doctor answered. “In the Albion Hospital.”

“Lead on,” Jack said.

“You lead. You’re in charge of your body again.”

Jack walked across the bridge and across the railway yard. There was nobody about. It was what the area must have been like an hour or so after The Doctor had sent the working nanogenes to repair everyone and save the day, when the army and all the former victims of the gas mask plague had gone.

Jack’s footsteps echoed as he crossed the railway yard and headed up towards the hospital. He shivered involuntarily.

“This is very weird,” he admitted. “I feel like…”

“Like you did when you were on your way to Cex-Law,” The Doctor ventured.

“Not quite. Then… I was young, stupid, sure of myself. Sure we were going to give those murdering fiends what was coming to them… I’m not that certain about anything any more. But right now I feel as if I’m heading towards something monumental and life-changing.”

“Hmmm.” The Doctor said nothing. And when Jack tried to see what he was thinking he found him curiously closed about it. He turned his feet towards the gates in front of the dark bulk of the Albion hospital. He kept walking, quietly, cautiously. There didn’t seem to be anyone around. They hadn’t actually seen anyone alive in any of the strange scenarios they had walked through. Apart from the volley of gunfire at the beginning of the journey, nothing had challenged them.

Would anything challenge them, now? They were both thinking the same thing. They were both ready for just about anything.

What they weren’t ready for was nothing.

“Where’s the hospital?” Jack asked as they stepped inside the building and found themselves surrounded by white mist. The hospital was gone. Everything was gone. They looked behind and saw nothing but mist.

“The hospital was never there. Nothing was. This was all illusion from the start.”

“Well, yes… I realised that,” Jack told him. “But… why is there no illusion, now?”

“We’re near the centre. We’re near the mind that created all of it.”

“So… that means…”

“It means…”

In the mist, he could see something. At least he thought he could.

“Jack, when we’re back in the twenty-third century, you need to book an appointment with an optician. I think you need laser correction surgery. I can usually see much better than this.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight,” Jack responded. “There’s something wrong with this place. The mist is getting thicker.”

“But there’s something in the mist. Jack, run towards it. Quickly.”

Jack’s instinct would be to run FROM a nameless, formless something in the mist. But ever since he met The Doctor, he had been running towards trouble. He ran now. The formless something began to take on a form as he drew closer.

But what a form. He stopped and stared at the huge, wrinkled face with big, solemn eyes that looked back at him from behind the curved glass of what looked like a huge, complicated fish tank.

“What the heck is that?” he asked.

“That’s the Face of Boe,” The Doctor replied. “You’d better let me do the talking. But don’t worry. He’s on our side.”

The Doctor urged Jack to step a little closer. He reached out and touched the glass. Inside the tank, the Face blinked and nodded.

“I knew you would come,” he said. “I knew I could count on you.”

“Of course,” The Doctor acknowledged. “But how did you get like this? Who put you here? Why?”

“My ship was attacked by a squadron of Rutan fighters,” The Face replied. “It was badly damaged. I ordered the Human crew to take to the lifepods. The ship, without power or life support, plunged into the Geminus Nebula, where it slowly disintegrated, leaving me behind.”

“Slowly disintegrated?” Jack Harkness was still having trouble believing his eyes, but the question had to be asked.

“I have been trapped here for five hundred years,” The Face answered. “But I knew, sooner or later, The Doctor would come. I knew he would find me.”

“I found you,” The Doctor confirmed. “But what now? My TARDIS… it’s back at the beginning of the psychic field you projected. We’ve walked for a long time to reach you.”

“Your TARDIS…” The Face blinked twice. The Doctor and Jack both yelped in unison as they felt the solid ground beneath them disappear. Jack grabbed onto the edge of The Face’s tank as the last vestige of the psychic reality disappeared and they were floating in the Geminus Nebula.

“But we can’t breathe!” he protested. “Doctor… what’s happening?”

“We don’t have to,” The Doctor replied. “Just hold on tight.”

“Oh, no!” Jack groaned before the nauseating sensation hit him and he passed out. “A bloody transmat.”

He woke up lying on a cool but reassuringly solid floor and looking up at a huge, cathedral like ceiling. He blinked and breathed in deeply as he recognised the Cloister Room of the TARDIS.

Then he noticed that he was alone in his own head again.

“It’s all right, Jack,” The Doctor said gently and a hand touched his forehead. “Funny that somebody from the fifty-first century has such extreme reactions to transmats. You ought to be used to them.”

“Hate the bloody things,” he replied as he let The Doctor lift him to his feet. He looked around and saw The Face of Boe in his huge portable life support system. He seemed to be sleeping, or meditating. “So… we rescued him?”

“We did.”

“Couldn’t we have done that without wandering around in remnants of my memory?”

“Five hundred years suspended in a dust cloud, his mind had created a virtual world around him. It was like a psychic shell. The TARDIS couldn’t penetrate it. Once we reached him, he was able to let it collapse and use his own inbuilt transmat to bring us right back here.”

“And you jumped back into your own head?”

“Yes. All mended. Remind me to change my jumper before we get home, so Rose doesn’t see the bullet holes. We’ll drop The Face off first. He was on his way to the year five billion – He’s the host of an A-List celebrity bash watching planet Earth burning up in the death of the sun.”

“Sounds like one hell of a party.” Jack grinned hopefully.

“Sorry, can’t take you. That was my first date with Rose. If I turn up a second time, not only is it a paradox but a serious social faux pas.”

“Ah, well.” Jack followed The Doctor back to the console room. He helped him programme the course to the doomed Earth in the year five billion. Neither said very much until after they had dropped off their hitchhiker. The Doctor stood the TARDIS off from Platform One and the two of them watched the death of Planet Earth on the viewscreen.

“I missed it the first time,” The Doctor admitted. “I was too busy saving everyone on Platform One from frying in the inferno.”

Jack couldn’t think of any reply to a comment like that. But there was something he had to ask.

“Doctor… WHY did The Face of Boe create a psychic world that used my memories?”

The Doctor answered the question quickly. He had anticipated it and prepared his reply.

“The Face of Boe is billions of years old and extremely telepathic. He read your thoughts as soon as we got here. He created the reality from it.”

Jack nodded. That made sense. The Doctor was relieved. He didn’t want Jack to think about it too much.

He didn’t want Jack to realise that one day the immortality that was unwittingly thrust upon him would be such a burden. He didn’t need to realise that he would one day be so old and tired that his body would rebel against itself and evolve into the unique, wonderful, but admittedly bizarre entity known as The Face of Boe.

“Let’s go home to our wives now,” he said.