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

“It’s all right, Millie,” Jenny Flint called out as the maid scurried towards the front door in answer to the bell. “I shall greet our guests. You go and finish bringing the trays up to the dining room.”

The girl scurried off. Jenny opened the door to the distinguished visitor who had signalled his intention to drop by a few hour ago by means of a telegram posted on a planet many light years away. Just how Her Majesty’s British Post Office came into possession of it for the final leg of the journey was a mystery Jenny intended to solve some day.

Meanwhile it had just meant increased activity in the kitchen to provide breakfast for the early arriving visitors.

“Doctor!” she exclaimed brightly. “You’re looking yourself, still.”

“There’s life in this old body, yet,” he answered. “May I introduce my two travelling companions, Miss Bill Potts of twenty-first century Bristol and Nardole, possibly of Mendorax Dellora, though even he isn’t quite sure.”

Both of them were dressed in contemporary Victorian clothes, the round faced Nardole in a frock coat and bowler hat, Miss Potts in a red satin dress with a wide brimmed hat and matching parasol closed up and carried in her gloved hand.

Jenny noticed that Miss Potts was coloured. She wondered if that was the proper word to describe her complexion. There were some other words, but they weren’t ones Jenny would use. She settled for that as descriptive without being pejorative.

“Nice to meet you, both, come on in. Madame is waiting to receive you, as always.”

She brought the three guests through to the elegantly appointed dining room with antique sideboards supporting breakfast accoutrements as well as exotic and esoteric treasures acquired over many years. Madame Vastra was waiting there in front of the window, her face and form cast into silhouette by the bright sunlight streaming in. She stepped forward and her reptilian features were revealed. Unusually for receiving visitors she had not worn her veil.

Nardole didn’t seem concerned. Bill’s eyes flickered for a moment, but clearly The Doctor had prepared her for Madame’s non-human appearance. She reached out a hand to shake. Madame responded in kind. That was unusual, too. Madame had a tendency to avoid handshakes - not because of her cold hands but because the gesture implied equality. Madame tended to consider herself socially, intellectually and genetically superior to almost everyone.

But these were friends of The Doctor. That counted for a great deal.

“Come and sit at the Indian table,” she invited, indicating a fine round table of deep mahogany inlaid with an intricate pattern of exotic origins. As everyone found places around the egalitarian table Millie brought a tray of food including eggs, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes ripened in the hothouse at the rear of the house. She scuttled off while the guests began to fill their plates and returned presently accompanied by Joe who brought a rack of toast. Millie herself brought tea in a large bone china pot with sugar and cream set. Madame poured five matching cups and one large pewter mug to accommodate Strax who came into the room and sat on a reinforced chair next to Nardole. The much smaller man glanced at him nervously before deciding there was nothing to worry about – for the moment.

“It has been a year since we saw you, Doctor, in our strictly linear time.” Madame said as Jenny passed around the toast. Strax took two slices and stuck a slab of butter between them. He lifted the whole sandwich in his thick fingers and managed to pass it to his mouth without crushing it to crumbs.

“It’s been a lot longer for me,” The Doctor answered and something in his tone suggested that it wouldn’t be wise to ask how much longer it had been or what he had done in the intervening time.

“What do you do in Bristol, Miss Potts?” Jenny asked as a way of moving the conversation onto safer ground. “Are you employed or… of independent means….”

“I’m a student,” she answered. “At Saint Luke’s University… in Bristol... when I’m not hanging with The Doctor in his TARDIS, that is. I’m studying… well, it is meant to be English Literature, but some of the essays his nibs has given me go off on a heck of a tangent.”

“Student… but….” Jenny began, then stopped and considered several factors. In this time, very few women went to university, and not with the sort of working class accents she and Bill had in common.

And coloured people were even less likely to get that sort of educational opportunity.

Bristol in the future must be a very different kind of place than she imagined.

“I know, I don’t look like an intellectual, do I,” Bill said. “Truth be told, I wouldn’t have had a chance without The Doctor. He sponsored me… got my fees paid and all. He sets my essay assignments.”

“And I remind her when the essays are due,” The Doctor added sternly.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bill responded cheekily. Jenny smiled. She decided that she liked Bill Potts. Bill reciprocated. She liked Jenny.

“Do you work, Miss Flint?” Bill asked, returning to the line of questioning Jenny had begun.

“Not... exactly. I am housekeeper here, but I don’t get paid for that, as such. I am… I’m Madame’s… companion.”

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. Usually Jenny had no problem with the word ‘wife’ and all that such a word meant in Victorian England. Neither of them were above talking about their marriage where it would cause confusion or – more often - disconcertion.

In any case her discretion was hardly needed. The penny dropped very quickly.

“Wait a minute… you two are like….” Bill’s eyes widened along with her smile. “Oh my god…. Like… Wi…cked.”

“In Bill’s era, the word ‘like’ is a form of punctuation,” The Doctor explained apologetically. “And ‘wicked’ means the exact opposite.”

“I understand perfectly, Doctor,” Madame assured him. “No need to apologise. Have some more tea.”

“Delighted,” The Doctor answered, allowing Jenny to pour the special blend into his cup. “But perhaps we ought to talk about why you asked me to drop by so early in the morning… the deaths at the Natural History Museum and their ‘specimens’?”

“What deaths? What specimens?” Madame asked. “I am afraid I don’t understand, Doctor. I didn’t ask you to come… you announced that you were coming. We got your telegram just after the milkman came by.”

“Ah….” The Doctor reached into his pocket and produced a telegram. He looked at it closely and then checked his watch. “Ahh…. We appear to have arrived a few hours early. You haven’t sent this telegram, yet. My reply crossed it in the space-time continuum.”

“Don’t forget to do it later,” Nardole said to Madame. “It upsets the fabric of space time when paradoxes like that happen, and he gets a migraine.”

“Which makes him Mr Grumpy in tutorials,” Bill added.

“Getting back to the point….” The Doctor said with all the authority of his autocratic race. He reached into his pocket again and produced a rolled up newspaper that shouldn’t have fit in that space. Unfolded it proved to be an edition of the London Standard that wouldn’t even be out on the streets for another eight hours. The headline item was the mysterious deaths of two people - a caretaker and a senior curator - at the Natural History Museum some time before it opened for the day. Both men had injuries that baffled police.

Underneath the main story the reporter had filled a column inch by reminding readers of an article from two days ago about the arrival at the museum of artefacts found during the building of the Clifton Rocks Railway. Archaeologists in Bristol and Cardiff had examined these artefacts and had confessed themselves baffled. They had been sent to London for further examination.

“How bloody typical,” Bill said. “Bristol and Cardiff are too provincial to solve their problem, but the clever profs in London will sort it out - I don’t think.”

“Perhaps not,” Madame Vastra responded. “One at least of them is dead. What is this Clifton Rocks Railway….”

“Oh… that is totally cool,” Bill answered her before anyone else had a chance. “It’s a funicular… you know, a train that goes up and down a cliffside, only this one is in a tunnel inside the cliff. There are a bunch of railway nerds trying to get it opened up again after being closed for absolute donkeys. Some of us went up there last year. We walked the tunnel… well, Brian Hinkle was crawling by the time we got to the top. He shouldn’t have come with his asthma. It’s steep as anything and pitch dark with the torches off. But it was great.”

“Last year….”

“Last year for me... Twenty-Sixteen. What year are we in now?”

“Eighteen-Ninety-Four,” Jenny told her. “And I think I remember something in the papers about a funicular near Bristol that opened last summer… Eighteen-Ninety-Three.”

“Ohhh.” Madame Vastra looked disconcerted, which was an unusual look for her, as well as a difficult one for her to achieve with her facial muscles. “Oh…. But surely the construction of such a thing wouldn’t go deep enough….”

“I wouldn’t have thought so,” The Doctor answered her. “But when I came across the article I felt I ought to see you before investigating further.”

“Thank you for that courtesy, Doctor.” Madame regained her poise, mentally and physically. She stood from the table and went to a mahogany chest of drawers supporting the breakfast kedgeree and a canteen of silver cutlery. She brought a chart from the top drawer and moved her breakfast plates aside to unfold it. The silver cruet set held the top two corners as everyone moved around to see what it revealed.

“This is what the counties you know as Avon and Somerset looked like when all of the dry land on Earth was a supercontinent called Pangea. There was no Severn cutting through the land, nor the river Avon joining it. Everything you know as England and Wales was a wide fertile plain where my people thrived and the creatures you call dinosaurs roamed.”

“That would be South Wales,” The Doctor said, placing his index finger over an area slightly to the north of where Bristol would be in so many million years. “I had an encounter with some of your race in their hibernation caverns there. Would there be another tribe so relatively close?”

“There… could be,” Madame conceded. “Doctor… is this why you came to me? Do you think it is one of my people who killed the men at the Natural History Museum?”

“The possibility occurred to me, yes.”

“I see.” Madame’s tone was icy. She folded the map quietly, her face turned away from The Doctor.

“What’s up?” Bill asked in the uncomfortable silence.

“Good question,” Jenny answered. She looked at her lover silently.

“The Doctor came here to placate me, to restrain me if you will. He thinks I will be angry at the apes in their museum for harming my kind.”

“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” Nardole said, glancing at Strax to see if he was going to do anything. “But if any of your sort are involved it looks like they’re the ones harming humans… seeing as two of them are dead.”

“It may be nothing to do with them at all,” The Doctor reminded everyone. “We don’t know what these ‘artefacts’ are at all. As for placating anyone… I wouldn’t dare. But IF your people are involved, Vastra, it would be better if YOU found them before the human authorities. THAT is why I am here. And that is why we ALL need to go to the museum and sort things out.”

“I shall get the carriage ready,” Strax announced. He looked at Nardole who tried not to cringe. “You may assist me, boy.”

Nardole gave a very forced smile and followed Strax out of the room. Madame found her outdoor veil while Jenny summoned Millie to clear the table. In a short while they were ready to leave.

The carriage comfortably sat four – Madame, Jenny, The Doctor and Bill. Nardole sat next to Strax in the driver’s seat, partially swamped by one of Strax’s second best carriage driving coats. Strax appeared to have taken him on as a temporary apprentice. Nardole was doing his best to look comfortable with the arrangement.

Madame was unusually quiet as the carriage wound its way through mid-morning London traffic. Jenny watched her carefully, but said nothing.

There was another story she knew well. It happened in 1863 when the construction of the Metropolitan Railway, London’s first underground line, accidentally broke into a Silurian hibernation cave. Only one young female had survived, taking deadly revenge on the construction workers until The Doctor had reasoned with her and persuaded her to become a defender of the human race instead of an architect of its destruction.

The Doctor didn’t seek to embarrass Madame by mentioning her adolescent mistakes and Jenny was probably the only Human who knew the full story.

If history was repeating itself then it was small wonder Madame was worried. But perhaps she was also a little excited. How long had it been since she had met one of her own kind?

Another thought struck Jenny and caused her a little disconcertion. What if Madame found the company of her own kind preferable to human companionship? Where would that leave their marriage?

With so much to worry about, Bill was the only passenger in the carriage who really enjoyed the journey from Paternoster Row to Cromwell Road, where the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the younger third sibling, the Natural History Museum, fulfilled the late nineteenth century desire for mass education and enlightenment.

She was the only one especially excited about the Cathedral-like façade to an architectural gem of Victorian London.

“I’ve been here before,” she told everyone. “School trip in my first year at the Comprehensive. It was well cool.”

There were no school trips today. The police in the form of three constables were keeping back a crowd of onlookers while a horse drawn ambulance was parked by the iconic entrance.

The arrival of Madame’s party caused a raised level of murmurings. Many of the onlookers recognised the ‘Veiled Lady Detective’ who often helped out the Metropolitan Police. The Doctor was identified – wrongly, of course – as a very senior man from Scotland Yard. Strax was correctly identified as somebody you stood back from when he turned his full glare on you.

For all three of those reasons the party were not held up in any way. The constables all saluted as they passed along a clear path into the museum.

“Wow, it looks different now,” Bill remarked as they entered the central hallway with its high arched roof and sweeping staircases. “There was a huge diplodocus skeleton in the middle when I was here before. Though I did hear that Dippy was going on tour around the country and a blue whale from Ireland was getting his spot.”

“That’s a sperm whale, nationality uncertain,” The Doctor said about the giant skeleton that took pride of place in the eighteen-nineties. “And that’s our first body lying there in front of him.”

There was a policeman and two ambulance men standing over the body. Bill might have called them a police officer and paramedics, but in this era there was no gender neutrality about those jobs.

Both stood aside as The Doctor and Madame examined the body. Bill stood back a little and tried not to look too revolted by the congealed pool of blood. Since meeting The Doctor she had encountered death far more often than she cared to count, but not usually involving blood.

Jenny was more stoical about it. She had seen blood plenty of times, not all of it as red as this.

“What killed him?” she asked. “And how?”

“Having his throat ripped out,” Madame answered. “But I’m puzzled how his body ended up here in the middle of the central hall. I don’t think this is where he died. The severing of the jugular would have caused blood to spurt everywhere. This blood has collected around the corpse as it lay but there is no spray on the whale bones or the floor beyond where he is lying.”

“That’s right,” Bill confirmed. “It’s like they do on CSI….”

The Doctor gave her a withering eye roll for that non-contemporaneous reference.

“I was chatting to the curator in charge of the big fish,” Nardole interjected.

“Actually whales are mammals, not fish,” The Doctor pointed out. “But do carry on.”

“He said the body fell from above.”

Everyone looked up at the magnificent vaulted ceiling where one hundred and sixty-two panels in gilded frames illustrated plants of the world. Sunlight streamed in though lantern windows on either side creating a glorious golden glow.

All the windows were intact. There was no blood on any of the panels. The Doctor put his anachronistic shades on and adjusted them to binocular mode to check.

Then, as one, heads turned towards the balcony that ran all around the mezzanine level. Various degrees of mathematical skill calculated the force needed to throw a body from there to the middle of the central hall.

They all concluded that it was not something an ordinary human could do.

Madame was sure even one of her kind, stronger in every way than the apekind, would have trouble throwing a body that far.

“I don’t know,” Nardole shrugged. “But there was the curator and a couple of cleaners in here. And the girl who runs the souvenir kiosk. They all saw him land, but they didn’t see where from. None of them were looking up at the time.”

“What a shame. They missed such a lovely ceiling,” Bill commented, though she looked apologetic about it, as if realising that the architectural details weren’t of primary importance.

“This is the caretaker,” Madame said, looking again at the body and noting his workmanlike clothing. “Does anyone know his name, by the way? He may just be another ape in the grand scale of things, but you humans set a lot of store by names.”

“Harry Stokes,” Nardole supplied. “He didn’t do much general caretaking, apparently. He was doing some special work helping out a Professor Arnold in one of the workshops.”

“Arnold is the other dead man, and for the record, the one working on the artefacts from Clifton,” The Doctor pointed out. “I suggest we let these gentlemen over here get on with taking this body to the morgue while we look at the workshop.”

Strax nodded to the ambulance men who stepped forward to do their unenviable job. The joint party of Madame and The Doctor with their respective companions headed up the wide, sweeping steps, past the seated figure of Charles Darwin carved in creamy white marble that was still watching over the patrons when Bill and her school group visited.

“Here is where the man died,” Madame said. “The blood spatter I spoke of is here. Do you see the void along the balustrade where there is no blood. He was standing there when his attacker ripped into his body. I think he ran from the workshop, pursued by the killer and turned to try to defend himself here.”

The Doctor nodded. That fitted his own conclusion. Bill opened her mouth to say something, but since it involved the forensic skills employed on American detective television programmes she decided not to bother.

It was Jenny who saw drops of blood in a ragged line from the door into the private research area beyond this public gallery.

The blood was not red.

Nor was it the green of Madame’s species.

The Doctor examined the purple stains using the sonic screwdriver to obtain DNA analysis from the samples.

“I don’t recognise the species,” he said. “It might be in the TARDIS database, but I Ieft it in Cheapside.”

“The important point is that the dead man managed to injure his murderer,” Jenny noted.

“The courage of the Human is to be commended,” Strax said. “He fought a clearly superior enemy to the death.”

Nardole said nothing. He was wondering where the injured alien had gone.

“Look… don’t give me any more grief about watching the telly,” Bill said. “But on CSI they talk about the direction of blood trails. You can tell which way the injured person… alien… whatever... was walking by the teardrop shape of the blood. The rounded end is the direction they’re going. Or… is it the pointed end….” She trailed off uncertainly.

“It went THAT way,” The Doctor confirmed. “Mr Stokes injured it here before he was killed and then it went off, dripping blood. I doubt the injury was incapacitating.”

‘So now we’re following the blood trail of a murderous alien that is injured enough to be really angry, but not enough to stop it fighting us,” Nardole pointed out as they set off through the doorway into the private section of the museum. “Not that I’m complaining, mind. This is just in the way of the DVD commentary, as it were.”

“A Sontaran is never afraid of superior odds,” Strax announced.

“Yeah… well, lucky Sontarans,” Nardole replied. “Personally, the thought makes me want to wee a little.”

“TMI,” Bill told him.

Nobody was entirely surprised when the blood trail led to the workshop of Professor Arnold, the man reported dead in the newspaper that had not yet gone to print. The glass window in the door was smashed and the hinges broken.

“I shall go first and corner the creature,” Strax offered. Nobody disputed him. The Doctor opened the door slowly and the former commander of Sontaran shock troops entered as covertly as his instincts allowed.

“There appears to be nobody alive in here,” he called back after a few moments. The rest of the party followed him in.

Any combination of CSI investigators would have found the workshop a veritable feast of forensic clues. The body of Professor Arnold and his head some few feet away from the body was the main course. Something had been sharp enough to sever his neck altogether.

A side dish was discovered in the form of a length of sinewy tissue that might be described as a limb. It was tangled in the cord that opened and closed the window blinds. The Doctor examined it carefully.

“I believe this creature is capable of discarding a wounded limb and growing a new one,” he said. “Not only does that make it more formidable even than anything Strax can imagine fighting, but there’s no more blood trail to follow.”

That bombshell had less impact than expected because Madame Vastra gave a horrified shriek. Everyone drew closer to the examination table and the specimen lying on it.

It was obviously a Silurian – a broad shouldered male. But he had, just as obviously, been dead for a long time. The body was mummified just like the bronze age humans occasionally found in Irish peat bogs.

“He must have died outside the hibernation cave,” The Doctor said calmly. “An accident, possibly. Hard to say without a full autopsy. Arnold may have been planning something of the sort. But it is patently clear that he is not responsible for the two dead humans.”

That was a relief in part for Madame Vastra. Her chief dread had been finding one of her own kind as a murderous fugitive. The sight of this dead one was distressing, all the same, especially with the gaping wound in his chest.

“The alien creature attacked the dead body?” Jenny queried.

“No,” Bill answered quickly. “No... Doctor… you’re the only one here who’ll get this… But…. ALIEN!”

The Doctor glanced at the way the ribcage had been broken and readily agreed.

“A parasitical creature lay dormant inside the Silurian body,” he said. “Perhaps for centuries. It might have begun to grow, like an insect inside a chrysalis, from when it was found in the Clifton rocks. Professor Arnold and Mr Stokes were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when it ‘hatched’.”

“Ugggh,” Jenny remarked.

“I second that,” Bill added.

A shrill squeal pierced the air. The two young women looked at each other in puzzlement. Neither of them were making the noise. Slowly they turned towards the only other member of the team likely to make such a high-pitched sound of distress. He had been trying to pull down the blinds to shade the workshop from the strong morning sunlight, but the murderous creature had other ideas. It had, they all realised, been hiding in plain sight all along, flattened against the top of the window and turned transparent in chameleon fashion. Now it reverted to its default colour and shape as it peeled itself away from the glass and dropped onto Nardole.

It was the oddest creature any of the party had encountered, including The Doctor and Madame who had more experience of the ‘oddest’ things in the universe than anyone else. It was mostly a squashy kind of head with a bulging and pulsating brain visible under semi-transparent purple flesh. The rest of it was a collection of limbs and appendages, some of them sturdy enough to support it as legs, or dextrous enough to hold Nardole around the neck and exert an uncomfortable pressure on his larynx. Most of the other appendages fulfilled the term ‘feelers’, quivering like thin tree branches or the fronds of a sea fern as it sensed movement in the air and changes in the light intensity around it.

These feelers were all up to several metres long at full stretch, but the body was no more than a metre wide. Jenny and Bill again moved in concert, turning to look at the hole in the Silurian’s chest.

“Even allowing for some really neat folding, there’s no way it would fit back in there,” Bill pointed out.

“So it must have grown since it came out.” Jenny finished the thought for both of them.

“Rapid growth spurt,” The Doctor confirmed.

“How much bigger can it get?” Madame asked.

“Will you all stop yacking and get it off me,” Nardole squealed as the creature adjusted its hold and he gasped for air.

Strax was the first to launch an offensive, grabbing two sharp knives from a tray beside the examination table. He slashed at the appendages with a dexterity unexpected in such a cumbersome body as his. He succeeded in cutting off the ‘arm’ that was holding Nardole, who ducked and rolled out of reach, but as The Doctor had noted earlier, the creature could regrow limbs and did so faster than Strax could cut them. He was soon tangled in the feelers and unable to cut them efficiently. Since none of them had yet obstructed his probic vent he was in no danger, but he bellowed with outrage at the dishonourable tactics of his foe.

Madame grabbed two more knives and ran to assist him. Jenny and Bill surveyed the tray to see if there was anything left for them to use, but The Doctor had other ideas.

“It feeds on sunlight. That’s what it was doing when we came in here – it wasn’t hiding, it was sunbathing. Get all the blinds down. Nardole, Jenny, Bill….”

Nardole was cowering under the examination table, nursing his abused throat, but at The Doctor’s command he emerged to join in the work. It needed his assistance. The workshop was at the top of the museum building and had been designed to maximise natural light. There were long windows all along one side and skylights in the roof, too. Fortunately, all the glass was fitted with thick black fabric blinds, presumably so that the Professor could develop photographs or run a magic lantern slide show. As Strax and Madame fought the creature and stopped it interfering with them, Bill, Jenny and Nardole ran to the windows and started pulling on ropes. The Doctor grabbed a long hooked pole and reached for the skylight blinds. Very quickly sections of the room were cast into shadow. Finally only the window directly behind the creature was left uncovered. Jenny looked at it then nodded to Bill who cupped her hands in front of her. Jenny used them as a step up and leapt into the air, grabbing the edge of the blind and pulling it down as she landed back on the floor.

The Doctor reached for the switch that turned on a single Swann electric bulb in the ceiling, an unnatural light that was useless to the creature. The lack of sunlight was already having an effect. Strax was free now and the regrowth of limbs was slower. He and Madame were beginning to overcome it. Within a few minutes they had sliced the creature into a pile of what looked very much like calamari that had gone well past its use-by date.

“I should take a sample for analysis, later,” The Doctor said, grabbing a jar and a spoon from Professor Arnold’s supply shelf and scooping some of the flesh up. “If the TARDIS database doesn’t have a record already I can make a full report. This is obviously a creature to avoid at all costs.”

That done he stood back and adjusted his sonic screwdriver. He used its laser mode to incinerate the remains.

“You couldn’t have done that earlier and saved us all a lot of trouble?” Nardole asked, rubbing his neck theatrically and admiring the indelible burn mark on the floor.

“No. While it was alive its regenerative functions would have resisted the laser. It needed to be reduced to chub before I could destroy the cells completely.”

“Doctor... can you do the same for… for my fellow on the table?” Madame asked. “I don’t want his body probed any further by humans.”

“That might make too much mess,” The Doctor answered. “But I think between us we should be able to override the authorities and get him to a crematorium in a closed coffin with no questions asked.”

“An acceptable compromise,” Madam agreed. “What of the dead humans? Should we fall back on the usual patently false story of a wolf escaped from London Zoo?”

“It was good enough for Bram Stoker,” The Doctor agreed. “Though the Museum is ridiculously far from Regent’s Park. Still, humans are good at overlooking the obvious and it will stop them worrying.”

“Then once those matters are settled we may return to Paternoster Row for a little light lunch before you depart in your TARDIS.”

“Excellent idea,” The Doctor agreed. “It’ll give Nardole and Strax more time to get acquainted. I think the two of them are on the way to becoming firm friends.”

Nardole grimaced. He wasn’t quite sure ‘friends’ was the word for it.