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

Lincoln’s Inn Fields was frosted over in late November of 1895. It looked pretty with the grass, the trees, the roof of the bandstand all glittering white, though Jenny Flint knew what it was like to be cold in winter without warm boots and a good quality coat and she had no romantic notions about it.

Young Millie and the even younger Joe knew about the cold, too, but in the good shoes and warm clothes provided by the munificence of the cold-blooded but surprisingly good-hearted Madame Vastra they could enjoy the feel of the frozen grass crunching under their feet.

“Get three penny bags of hot chestnuts,” Jenny said to the kitchen boy who looked longingly at the brazier with its hot, fragrant smell. She handed over the pennies from her purse recalling that she had only ever been able to afford the smaller farthing bag when she was Joe’s age. “Then we’ll get along to the exhibition.”

A temporary structure had been raised over what, in summer, was the tennis courts. At a glance, it appeared to be a smaller version of the great Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill. Only on closer inspection was it obvious that the ‘panes’ between the iron framework were made of ice.

Professor Anders Sorenson’s Ice Palace was the winter’s most popular exhibition, so Jenny had heard. She personally thought it was cold enough outside without making palaces of ice. For preference she would have happily spent the afternoon in the snug warmth of a music hall. She was quite sure that Joe and Millie would have been better off there, too, but Madame wanted to encourage the youngsters to explore all things cultural and the ice palace had been ‘intriguing’.

Madame had planned to come, too, but an emergency in the City had taken precedence. Strax drove her in the carriage. Jenny had brought the youngsters to Lincolns Inn Fields by hansom, another treat for people more accustomed to walking.

As she expected, it was even colder inside the Ice Palace than it was outside. For tuppence on top of the entry fee of a shilling each for herself and Millie and half price for Joe, jenny got a leaflet that explained the Professor’s ‘amazing, modern refrigeration process using the new electricity’.

Electricity didn’t impress Jenny as much as it did other people in 1895. She had been to the future more than once and seen it taken for granted. Even so, she was happy to stay away from the area behind a partition from where a dull vibration of an electrical generator could be heard.

It was an impressive exhibition, she had to admit. Just how many hours did it take to create the fifty or more life-size ice sculptures of people and animals? Jenny looked long and hard at a tableau of young men in togas and laurel leaf crowns posed in various ways to represent the ancient Olympic games.

Of course, the ancient Olympians competed naked, but that would be a bit much for the late Victorian mind set.

That apart, the sculptures were remarkable. The features of the faces, the curls of the hair, the folds of the fabric on those unhistoric togas were so very detailed. They were almost lifelike – except they were made of ice.

The next tableau was a row of soldiers, guardsmen such as those on duty outside of Buckingham Palace. Even the buttons on the uniforms were precisely sculpted. The different guards regiments were distinguished by the arrangements of buttons – in twos or threes or an unbroken line – on the tunic. Jenny had never been interested in soldiers as a sub-section of the human species, but Millie was fascinated.

“I’ll take you to see the Changing of the Guards when it’s a bit warmer,” Jenny promised her. Millie was pleased with the idea.

“The statue of the Queen looks real,” the kitchen girl commented as they moved on from the soldiers. Jenny, who had met Victoria more than once, agreed. The likeness was less than flattering. The Queen was elderly, very overweight, and had long since abandoned any interest in fashion. The figure looked like a hen sitting on a nest of eggs, topped off by a very good replica of the small crown Her Majesty wore when the larger ones designed for men’s heads were not necessary.

“The features are very good,” Jenny admitted. “I wonder if she sat for the sculpture. Of course, he may have used pictures. There are plenty of those around.”

“Her Majesty graciously attended upon me,” said a deep voice from several inches above Jenny’s ear. She looked up at the long, thin face of a tall, thin man whose smile made her shiver. “I am Professor Anders Sorenson. Are you enjoying my exhibition?”

“It… is different,” Jenny answered.

“It is unique. It is also unfinished. There are many more exhibits I wish to add. To that end… you would make a very suitable subject. I could see you as Joan of Arc.”

“How odd. An ice sculpture of a woman who was burnt at the stake.”

The cold smile deepened.

“Come along after the exhibit closes and we shall discuss the possibility of you posing as the sainted Joan.”

He handed her a card with his name printed in bold letters. There was nothing else, no address, no telephone number. She looked at both sides to assure herself of that, then looked around.

Sorenson was gone. She turned to see his tall, thin figure melting into the crowd.

“Are you going to have a statue, Miss Jenny?” Millie asked.

“No,” Jenny replied at once in very decisive tones. “I have no desire to be Joan of Arc.”

She moved on to the next tableau, keeping one eye out for the return of the Professor. There was something about him that she had instantly disliked. If she had to put a word to it, it was ‘cold’.

Of course, she knew about ‘cold’. She was the human lover of a sentient reptile woman.

But this was another level of definition, and one with no charms of any kind.

Her examination of an ice facsimile of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo was disturbed by Joe, in a rather agitated state, urging her to come and look at another exhibit. She let the boy lead her past a tableaux of Nelson aboard HMS Victory and the famous music hall performers Marie Lloyd, Dan Leno and Vesta Tilley. He stopped by a scene depicting characters from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

“It’s… very good,” Jenny remarked. “But….”

“That’s Charlie Unsworth,” Joe said, pointing to the figure of the Artful Dodger. “And that’s Billie Rawlings… Harry Dunne, George Brooke….”

He named half a dozen boys who lived in the slum streets around Cheapside. He also recognised a young woman called Alice Moyes whose likeness represented Nancy, the kind-hearted prostitute and love of Bill Sykes.

Bill, according to Joe, was the spitting image of Barney Barnes, a small-time thief who had grown up on the streets and branched out into house breaking and street brawling in his adulthood - much like the Dickens character himself.

“How come I know all of them?” Joe demanded.

“I don’t know,” Jenny admitted. “I suppose it is possible that the Professor gave them money to pose for the sculptures. Artists do that, sometimes. He just asked me to be Joan of Arc. He didn’t mention money, but that might have come up later.”

“Yes… but Charlie hasn’t been around for two weeks… nor Billy and Harry… or Alice. Barney could be in jail. He often is… but the others….”

“Maybe the Professor paid them all VERY well, and they’ve gone on holiday,” Jenny suggested.

Joe considered that as a possibility, but he wasn’t wholly convinced.

“Maybe the Professor is a magician and he’s turned them all into ice,” he suggested.

“I don’t think so,” Jenny answered quickly, although the idea wouldn’t have surprised him. “After all, there is a statue of Queen Victoria, and she hasn’t gone missing. We would all know if she had.”

That settled the matter.

“Tell you what,” Jenny added. “It really is perishing in here. Let’s find the nearest ABC tea room and warm ourselves up with tea and muffins.”

Millie smiled widely at the idea and straightened the collar of her best going out coat. The Aerated Bread Company’s tea rooms were ‘going up market’ for a kitchen girl like her. They were the sort of place where she might even be seen by a young man – somebody with prospects.

For Joe it was almost too much. He had only just learnt the sort of ‘table manners’ required for such an establishment. He was ready to put on a show of respectability.

The hot muffins and even hotter tea restored all their spirits and they returned to Paternoster Row feeling cheerful. Jenny left the youngsters in the kitchen and went to the drawing room to see if Madame was home, yet.

She was, and she was worried.

“What’s happened?” Jenny asked.

“This is secret,” Madame answered. “Absolutely top secret. You must not discuss it with anyone.”

“Of course.”

“Queen Victoria is missing.”

“What?” The news was startling, to say the least. “But… how?”

“Nobody knows. She did not take supper yesterday evening. The palace was searched, but there was no sign of her. Today… well, a story has been put out that she has a severe head cold and has cancelled all appointments for the next week, but unless she is found….”

“It’s unthinkable,” Jenny agreed.

“I have been asked to make discreet inquiries,” Madame added. “Though I wonder where I should possibly begin. Scotland Yard are, of course, conducting their own investigation, but the need to keep the matter secret hinders the proceedings.”

“We live in strange times,” Jenny noted. She sat down by the fire. Her extremities were still remembering how cold the Ice Palace had been. Strax came into the drawing room with a tea tray and the early edition of the evening paper. Jenny picked it up idly, wondering what the headline would have been if the Queen’s disappearance had become public knowledge.

A great many of the more trivial stories would not have had column inches, that was for certain. She idly scanned through reports from the police courts of drunk and disorderly men, lewd women, a girl saved from grievous harm because a rock thrown at her head bounced off her thick, elaborate hairstyle, a burglar who had been severely bitten by the family dog in a Bayswater household….

On the third page was a small article about another missing person. Miss Vesta Tilley, the acclaimed male impersonator famous for songs such as Champagne Charlie and Burlington Bertie, had not performed last night at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, where she was booked for a full month. After mentioning that her star turn had been filled at the last minute by her namesake, Vesta Victoria, the Cockney songstress, the article also mentioned that the Palace Theatre, proprietor Henry Jago, had been let down by its leading artiste ten years previously when the Chinese magician Li h'Sen Chang disappeared in mysterious circumstances and was never heard of again.

“Vesta Tilley?” Jenny murmured, her mind going back to Professor Anders Sorenson’s Ice Palace and its display of contemporary music hall stars. She turned the newspaper pages and found the theatrical listings.

The excellent comedian Mr Dan Leno was due to appear at the Surrey Theatre, Southwark tonight, the start of a two week engagement.

Jenny stood and walked into the hall. She lifted the telephone receiver off the tilting switch and listened for the voice of the operator. Presently she gave the number for the Surrey Theatre box office. Her inquiry took only a few minutes more. She put the receiver down again, completing the call.

She went back into the drawing room.

“Mr Dan Leno is missing. The landlady at his Southwark boarding house has not seen him since breakfast yesterday. The Surrey Theatre are desperately seeking a star of his calibre to replace him.”

Madame Vastra looked at her curiously. She didn’t explain right away, but called Strax and asked him to bring Joe to the drawing room.

“I mean, bring him, not drag him by his ears,” she added. “He’s not in trouble.”

Joe looked worried all the same when he presented himself in the drawing room. He was still worried when he was invited to sit down by the fire. He wasn’t entirely sure what Madame Vastra was, but he knew she was several rungs up the class ladder than himself and he took a while to pluck up the courage to talk.

When he did, prompted by Jenny, Madame listened carefully, asking a question or two for clarification.

“Thank you, Joe,” she said when he had told his story. “You may return to the kitchen. I will look into the matter of your missing friends.”

“Barney Barnes ain’t exactly a friend, ma’am,” he ventured. “But it’s a bit funny him not being around as well as the others.”

“Isn’t, not ‘ain’t’,” Madame corrected. “Run along, now.”

Joe ran along. Madame glanced meaningfully at Jenny.

“It hardly seems credible. A few ragamuffins from the street may not be missed… or if they are, nobody would exert themselves in a search. But these two music hall celebrities.…”

“Maybe three,” Jenny pointed out. “Marie Lloyd was meant to be going to Europe this week. It was in the papers. Maybe she didn’t get there. And… the Queen, herself?”

“The audacity.”

“But… they were statues. Really good statues… made of ice. They weren’t people. None of them were. Besides, he couldn’t… it isn’t possible to turn people into ice… is it?”

“I wouldn’t have thought so,” Madame agreed. “My own people had cryogenic technology that this age of human development couldn’t begin to dream of, but we couldn’t change the fabric of a body to ice.”

“But he must be involved. All those people… the Ice Palace is the only thing that connects them.”

“I agree. Dear me, I really wanted a quiet evening. Besides, I’m not sure how my body and mind will be affected by this Ice Palace. I am… as you know… cold-blooded.”

“Not so as I’ve ever noticed,” Jenny replied archly and received a smile from her lover in response. But there was no time for flirting. There were innocent victims of something sinister, even if they weren’t sure what – as well as a constitutional crisis.

Madame put on a warm coat while Strax prepared the carriage. Jenny gave Millie instructions for a light supper, later, before they set off.

Madame shivered even under a warm rug in the carriage. She looked out at the now dark winter evening dismally.

“In my childhood this was a tropical paradise. The continents shifted dramatically while our people hibernated. We are now so close to the pole, it is almost unbearable in what passes for summer, let alone the London winter. I really don’t know why I stay here. I should go to the south of France for the winter.”

“Why not?” Jenny replied. “I wouldn’t mind a bit of sunshine, too.”

Madame smiled briefly. But again, there was a serious matter to think of. Jenny looked out at the cold streets and shivered in anticipation of something even darker and colder than a London winter ahead of them.

The last visitors were leaving the Ice Palace as Jenny made her way inside. There was still an hour to the advertised closing time, but the intense cold inside combined with dark outside was not at all appealing.

“Hello?” she called out in what sounded like a shy and hesitant voice of a young, vulnerable woman who was visiting a strange man after dark.

She was young, of course, but she was by no means vulnerable and she had never been shy or hesitant. It was a careful act.

She let the way her voice echoed in the emptiness add to the effect.

“Good evening, my Joan of Arc,” said the Professor, appearing from behind the Waterloo exhibit. “I am so very glad that you returned. Come this way, my dear.”

Jenny didn’t much like being called ‘my dear’ by strange men, but she put on an act of being flattered. She even managed not to flinch when his cold hand closed around her upper arm as he guided her towards the private part of the Ice Palace.

She accepted the offer of a comfortable seat inside the genteel-appointed but very cold drawing room-cum-artist’s studio, but she made only a pretence of drinking the brandy he pressed into her hand. The warming liquor would have been pleasant if she hadn’t suspected it of being drugged.

She carefully looked around the room as he carefully watched her for signs of falling into a stupor. The ‘Joan of Arc’ scenario was already set up with a thick oblong of ice set on top of a log pyre made, incongruously enough, of finely carved and textured ice. Jenny - along with most late-Victorian Londoners, for that matter - wasn’t especially knowledgeable about mid-nineteenth century German art. She didn’t know that the half-finished tableau was a recreation of the ‘burning’ scene from Herman Stilke’s triptych ‘The Life of Joan of Arc’.

It probably wouldn’t have changed her thoughts about the Professor’s intentions even if she had known that fact.

“The setting is easy,” he said. “But the figures… to make them truly lifelike… takes something special… very special.”

“This… brandy… tastes funny,” Jenny replied, pretending to swoon. She heard a cold laugh and felt even colder hands grasping her. As she feigned semi-consciousness she hoped Madame and Strax would not be long carrying out their part of the plan.

Madame and Strax had walked around the outside of the Ice Palace until they found a part where the ice panes were black and opaque. There was a locked door here. Strax was ready to barge it open, but Madame stayed him.

“We need to be subtle.”

Strax looked at her as if ‘subtle’ wasn’t in his vocabulary. It probably wasn’t.

“I have Jenny’s set of picklocks,” Madame continued, producing the jingling collection of metal from inside her coat. It was a curious fact that the thoroughly honest Jenny owned such things and was adept at their use. Madame didn’t inquire. Everyone was entitled to their secrets.

Her own hands were usually nimble enough for that sort of work. In the cold, they felt stiff and clumsy. Even so, she managed to open the door in a matter of minutes. She signalled Strax to come quietly behind her.

Quiet wasn’t something Strax did well, but he tried.

“Madame, there are soldiers, here,” he said as they moved through what seemed to be a large, dark storage area filled with unused statues.

“They’re not real,” Vastra answered. “Look at them… no movement, and cold as ice.”

Strax adjusted the life signs scanner that had been part of his Sontaran field medic’s equipment. In the blue light it produced Madame looked at the face of an appropriately named Coldstream Guard in full parade uniform. He was deathly pale, with frost forming on his eyelashes, but he was no statue.

Nor was the slender woman dressed in men’s clothes for a gender-defying stage act that Madame thoroughly approved of.

Nor was the plump, tea cosy shape of her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria.

They weren’t ice sculptures. They weren’t statues. They weren’t wax models such as were seen at the Tussauds museum on Marylebone Road.

They were human beings in a state of suspended animation similar to the cryogenics Madame Vastra’s people had used eons ago to wait out the global disaster their scientists had predicted.

“We have found the Queen,” she said. “And the many humans of lower castes who were missing. But…”

Strax stepped backwards from his examination of the guardsmen and bumped into a large, vibrating machine with three ominous buttons on the side. His body depressed one of the buttons which increased the vibration tenfold and caused a lot of little lights to blink. He pushed at them with his thick fingers and, almost certainly by chance, the vibration settled down again.

“Interesting,” Madame commented as she examined the machine carefully. “This is no contemporary Human technology. I believe the Professor may be alien to this world. Let me see…”

Her hands were very cold, now, and it was painful and difficult to touch anything, but her mind was still alert. She understood that one part of the machine controlled the temperature in the air around her. The other did something much more sinister. She set the thermostat to begin warming the room and then gave her attention to the more complicated function.

It was a LOT like the cryogenics her people used, though with a rather different purpose. She was not a technician, of course. That was a job for the males of her species. She had been a commander of the mostly female military section. Even so, she thought she understood what was necessary to reverse the Professor’s sinister work better than any Human of this time.

The temperature rise was subtle, as it had to be to prevent irreparable harm to the Human victims, but she felt it in her cold blood. The job became easier every second.

“Madame…” Strax called out urgently. A voice had been raised in the space beyond this storeroom.

It was Jenny.

“Yes, I heard it, too,” Madame answered. “That inner door… I think we need no subtlety this time.”

Strax barged the door. It opened inwards normally, but the force of his dense body reversed that, leaving splintered hinges and bent bolts.

Madame followed him through the place where the door used to hang. She looked appreciatively at Jenny as she pushed the toe of her ankle length boot into the back of the possibly alien Professor, pressing him closer to the ground. Behind her a vaguely Jenny shaped sculpture fastened to an ice stake on an ice pyre was starting to melt.

“He… tried to turn me into an ice statue,” she said as Strax extricated the Professor from beneath her feet and locked his arms and legs behind him so that he resembled an immobilised spider. “He did something… and the ice started to look like me, while I felt as if my body was freezing from the inside out.”

“Cryogenic transmogrification,” Madame Vastra said. “Freezing the humans while transferring their outer form to the ice.”

“Can that be done?” Jenny asked. “I mean… obviously it can. He was doing it to me. He did it to all those people in the exhibition. But… how?”

“Cryogenics was never my field,” Madame admitted. “But assuming he has such capabilities, the bigger question is WHY?”

“I… am an artist,” the possibly alien being calling himself Professor Anders Sorenson replied even though the question was not directed at him. “I make beautiful art out of ice… but the human form is so subtle. Each face is so unique. To achieve the perfection I desired, I had to use cryo-transference.”

“You froze the Queen to make a perfect sculpture of her?” Jenny asked, incredulously. “And all those other people… Vesta Tilley, Dan Leno… all Joe’s friends…. You thought the sculptures were more important than their lives?”

“I am an artist,” the Professor said again, as if that both explained and justified his actions.

“You are a criminal,” said a voice at once very familiar to all. Even Strax stepped aside as Queen Victoria stepped forward, her dress still crackling with ice, her complexion pinched with cold, but alive and seething with indignation. She was flanked by defrosted guardsmen and followed by a whole collection of her subjects, from music hall stars to the lowly street urchin, the street girl, Alice, and the burly Barney Barnes. “You are a criminal and a traitor. You will be punished severely.”

The next morning, before breakfast, Jenny sat by a roaring fire in the drawing room, appreciating it thoroughly. There was frost on the windows, but she was warm inside the house in Paternoster Row.

Millie brought in a pot of tea and the morning paper on a tray and departed quietly. Jenny poured a cup and glanced at the news.

Two things were of note. First the news that a breakdown in the electricity that powered the refrigerators had devastated Professor Anders Sorenson’s Ice Palace exhibition overnight. All that remained, this morning, was the metal frame and a lot of cold, muddy water.

She laughed as she turned her attention to a small but important note that her Majesty’s head cold was much better and she would be returning to her duties later today.

An even smaller note reported that Miss Vesta Tilley turned up at the Palace Theatre in time for her evening performance last night. No explanation was given for her absence the night before.

There was, of course, no public acknowledgment of the arrest of Professor Sorenson. He had been taken to the organisation called Torchwood on the orders of the Queen. If he was, as Madame suggested, an alien, they knew what to do with those. If he was Human, they had ways of finding out how he had such advanced technology.

Jenny didn’t care what those ways were. She was just glad, right now, to be warm.