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

It was very early on Christmas morning, still dark outside on Paternoster Row. Jenny deliberately didn’t look out of the window at the cold roofs covered in a fresh overnight fall of snow as she sat by the resurrected fire and set her tea tray on a low table.

She had made the tea herself. There was nobody else to make it. Millie had been given the day off to visit her family. She had taken Joe with her bright and early, making the most of her holiday.

The house was quiet. The street outside was quiet. For a little while Jenny had perfect peace and tranquillity. She sipped her tea and relaxed in the comfortable armchair, letting the firelight dazzle her eyes.

It was good to feel that peace on Christmas morning. It was a close thing, after all. Right up to last night it looked as if nothing would ever be peaceful again.

It all began two nights ago when….

Well, it DID begin two nights ago, but the first anyone at Paternoster Row knew about it was just after midday yesterday, Christmas Eve. Jenny was taking a light lunch with Madame, having left Joe and Millie beginning the preparations for the Christmas dinner, when they heard hysterical screams coming from the direction of the kitchen. Jenny and Madame both came hurrying to find Millie in the passageway to the kitchen, gasping for breath between screams and Joe standing at the door with a small knife clutched in one hand while the other gripped the onion he had been peeling for the gravy.

“There’s a man in there,” Millie managed between gulps of air. “A big man with an ‘orrible face. He came stumbling in from the stable.”

“He’s in there, still?” Jenny asked. Millie nodded. Madame moved swiftly, Jenny close behind her. Both were like tigresses ready to pounce on an unsuspecting prey.

And pounce they did. The stranger was quickly laid out on the kitchen flags, despite his significant bulk and muscles like an all-in wrestler from the sort of entertainment venues neither Madame nor Jenny frequented.

“Madame, please,” the stranger begged. “Boy… please do not sit on me in that way. I know I have been lax in my duties, this day. I fell asleep in the stable and have only just woken up.”

Jenny stood up in some considerable surprise and looked at the stranger closely. He was human. There was no doubt about that. The flesh on his face and hands was pliable. He had overnight stubble on the wide jaw and thick neck, and a huge purple bruise over one eye that gave him the alarming appearance that had startled Millie.

But he was wearing the crumpled and stained but familiar extra-large size best going out suit belonging to…

“Strax?” Jenny called out his name in disbelief. “No… it can’t be.”

“It shouldn’t be,” Madame agreed. “But I do believe….”

She moved closer and bent to examine the face of the stranger. It was human, all right. Human eyes, nose, mouth, a bald head with one small tattoo over his human ear.

“The Sontaran Military symbol,” she observed. “Identifying his battalion and batch induction date.”

He had always had that tattoo, of course. It was put on him shortly after birth, but on his grey skin it was less noticeable.

“It IS Strax!” Jenny went to the hallway and called Millie who was breathing deeply and trying to get over her fright. “Come on in, it’s all right. It’s just Strax.”

Funnily enough, Millie always USED to run away every time Strax entered the kitchen. Now it was the sight of him, as unlikely as that was, in human form, that had scared her. She edged into the room nervously and looked at the transformed being with extreme trepidation. Joe followed, still clutching the onion knife, just in case.

“Strax, what has happened to you?” Madame asked as he clambered upright. He was still short and wide, but in a Human way. His big hands had four thick fingers and a stubby thumb instead of the three fat digits of a Sontaran.

Strax himself did not yet seem to have noticed anything amiss.

“I partook of a great deal of alcohol, last night,” he said in a voice that was the one part of him that hadn’t changed. “Usually my constitution is capable of assimilating the vile stuff, but most of the drinks were ‘doubles’ and I fear I may have what is known as… a hangover.”

“I think there is more amiss than a ‘hangover’,” Madame told him. “Strax, have you looked in a mirror this morning?”

“I NEVER look into mirrors, Madame,” Strax answered. “A Sontaran does not need objects of vanity.”

“That’s true, ma’am,” Millie piped up. “There’s no mirror in his room.”

“You go in his room?” Jenny queried. She had never done so, herself.

“On laundry day, Miss,” the girl explained. “For the bed linen.”

“Strax… please look at your reflection on the bottom of the big copper steaming pot,” Madame invited. Strax turned and stepped towards that item of kitchen equipment with its thoroughly scrubbed and shiny surface. He stared at his own image for thirty seconds then fainted in shock.

Fainted. Yes, he actually fainted. It was more like a tree falling than a delicate action of a genteel lady more commonly expected to pass out in that way¸ but it was a faint caused by shock temporarily lowering the blood pressure.

Jenny and Madame considered hauling him onto a chair, but even as a human, he was still very heavy. They decided it would be better to leave him where he was until he recovered. Millie, meanwhile, was instructed to prepare tea for all, not forgetting Strax’s large, pewter mug with a handle he could grip with his thick Sontaran fingers.

Then they sat and waited for the inevitable.

“Welcome back to the realm of the awake,” Madame said when Strax finally groaned loudly and sat up. “You may sit at the table and take a cup of tea – the way you like it – six sugars and a dash of milk.”

Strax clambered upright. As he did, he caught another glance of his reflection in the bottom of the copper pot and exclaimed in horror, but this time he kept upright and conscious and was persuaded to sit down and drink the mug of tea.

Madame sipped her tea from gold-rimmed bone china in the most refined and delicate manner. Jenny copied her way conscientiously. They both waited for Strax to offer some explanation of what had happened to him overnight.

He had no explanation. He was perplexed and horrified in equal measure, staring at his human fingers in disbelief and struggling to make them work properly in the act of lifting his tea mug to his mouth.

The mouth was another puzzle to him. The lips, teeth and tongue all felt wrong. Jenny passed him a napkin to wipe the spilled tea from his chin… another feature he wasn’t used to having.

“None of us saw you come in last night,” Madame noted. “It must have been well after midnight. But I am assuming you were still… you… at that point?”

“I… really do not recall,” Strax was forced to admit. “As I indicated, much alcohol was consumed. Memory... is somewhat fragmented. However, I believe I WAS, as you say, ME, when I returned to these premises.”

“Then the transformation took place in your sleep. It must have been painless as nobody heard you cry out.”

“A Sontaran does not make cries of distress over mere physical pain,” Strax insisted.

“But Humans, do,” Madame answered. She went out of the kitchen and returned presently with a small medical kit. She took a syringe from it and fitted a fresh needle into it before inserting it into the back of Strax’s hand, drawing a measure of blood. He didn’t cry out, but he didn’t quite disguise the wince of momentary discomfort. An unusual experience for him.

“Human blood, at first glance,” Madame noted. “Human colour, certainly. I shall have to look closer, of course.”

“It is clearly not the green of Sontaran,” Strax admitted dolefully. “What has happened to me? I am… an abomination… a freak.”

“We shall endeavour to find out,” Madame assured him. “Joe, you may continue with the vegetable preparations. Millie, you, too. Pretend we are not here.”

That was easier said than done. Both kept glancing at Strax, the new, strange, unnerving Strax. But Madame continued with her interrogation despite their eavesdropping.

“Let us go over what you did last night, Strax. It was, of course, your night off. Did you go to your usual ballroom dancing class?”

The very thought of Strax as a dancer was absurd, but he assured everyone that strong but short men were in demand to partner height-challenged ladies. He was often partnered with a spinster lady called Eleanor Darby who had an apartment in the Blackfriars area of London.

Last night, he had not, in fact, gone dancing, but had accompanied Miss Darby to the theatre.

“What theatre?” Madame asked.

“The Palace,” he answered. “The pantomime, Aladdin, starring that famous boy called Vesta Tilley. I didn’t understand it, entirely. Humans are not usually so stupid. They KNOW when somebody is standing behind them without being told by an entire audience.”

Jenny smiled wryly. That was Strax all right. He had once sat in a box with them for a performance of one of the funniest plays ever written, Charley’s Aunt, which had the whole audience in stitches, and never so much as cracked a smile in his muddy old head.

“We proceeded from there to supper at a place called Sweetings, on New Street. I was rather clumsy with the lobster bisque, spilling the bowl down my shirt. There was also a bit of a fuss when the bill was presented and Miss Darby indicated that she was paying. The manager seemed to think it improper and asked us to leave quietly. Miss Darby did not leave a tip.”

“What nonsense,” Madame growled. “I always pay for dinner. Utter misogynistic rubbish.”

“Miss Darby then invited me to go to her apartment in order to clean the lobster bisque from my shirt. I know she gave me several glasses of whiskey – the doubles I mentioned. I accidentally broke one of them by squeezing too hard. I know that you have tried to teach me not to do that, but the alcohol must have been having more than the usual effects. I… really don’t recall much after that. I think, after I left the apartment, I may have gone to a public house. Yes, a place called The Cockpit, not far from Miss Darby’s home. I remember having several more drinks. I was… out of sorts…. I….”

Strax stopped talking and looked into the empty air in front of him in horror.

“I was challenged to a fight. Bruiser Hensley… the street fighter… was there. It is his ‘local’. It… there were bets laid. I…”

Strax shook his head. It felt strange. He wasn’t used to having a neck.

“I LOST the fight.”

“You LOST?” Jenny gasped aloud at the unheard of notion. Madame was shocked, too.

“The change must have started already, without you realising,” she said. “That is why you were so affected by drink, and a why you… LOST a fight.”

None of them could say the words without the stark emphasis that hung in the air stubbornly. It was unthinkable.

But it was true.

Strax hung his huge but human head in shame.

“I have disgraced my battalion and your house,” he said dolefully.

“Many men lose fights,” Jenny pointed out. “It’s the point of the sport. There is always a winner and a loser.”

But until last night, Strax wasn’t one of those men – mainly because he wasn’t a man.

“We need to retrace your movements,” Madame decided. “We need to find out what happened and where.”

“Not yet,” Jenny said. “It’s Christmas Eve. I have to finish dressing the turkey and get a pudding into the boiler. Millie can handle the rest, but she and Joe couldn’t even lift the turkey into the oven on their own. I’ve got to sort that out.”

Madame looked at her with a curious expression. Jenny knew exactly what it was for. Christmas dinner in a household where only she and the two servants even celebrated Christmas – where two of the household weren’t even human and one preferred raw meat in all honesty. It was an indulgence, mainly for her.

“Complete those preparations,” Madame said, her expression turning to as warm a smile as a cold-blooded species could manage. “We shall have that Christmas dinner on time. While you are busy, I am going to analyse this blood sample. There may be clues in it.”

“I shall prepare the carriage,” Strax said dutifully. He looked unhappy, still, but at least he knew that they were doing what they could to help him.

Jenny wasn’t absolutely sure how to get clues from blood, but she did know what she was doing in the kitchen. She instructed Millie as she worked, on how to make a gravy using the turkey giblets with chopped sage and the onions Joe had cut up. She told her how to baste the bird every half hour to prevent it going dry.

“It needs a full five hours in the oven,” she said. “But if you keep an eye on it, it will be ready in good time for the evening meal. As for the pudding, if I am not back by three o’clock put it into the boiler wrapped up in a cheesecloth.”

“I know how to do that,” Millie promised. “My mum did it every year. I’ll manage. But… Mr Strax… he’ll be all right, won’t he?”

“I hope so. Madame and I are going to find out what happened, and how to make it right.”

“If you can’t… maybe it could be a good thing… if he’s more… normal.”

Jenny had thought about that, too. After all, it seemed unlikely that Strax would ever go back to his own world and his battalions. Perhaps he would be better off as a human among humans.


“No, I don’t think it would be a good thing for Strax. He is proud of what he is, and taking that away from him…. No, it would hurt him as nothing has ever hurt him before. We MUST make it right.”

“Well, in that case, I hope you manage it, Miss. And don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything here in the kitchen.”

She meant it, too. Jenny was confident the kitchen would be in safe hands until she got back from – whatever they were going to face out there on this Christmas Eve.

The journey to the West End and Shaftesbury Avenue was uneventful. Jenny looked out at the drifts of muddy snow, at the people with money buying last minute Christmas treats and the people with no money trudging through the slush with wet feet and resigned expressions. She had felt excited about Christmas until this crisis with Strax. Now it all felt a little flat and she felt like one of those people - except for the wet feet.

The Palace Theatre was certainly living up to the season. The posters for its pantomime were the most colourful Jenny had ever seen. Of course, there were at least four other theatres within a short walk also presenting pantomimes for the season. They needed to advertise as boldly as possible.

“I remember this distinctly enough,” Strax admitted. “It was dark, of course. And there were more people about. But I don’t think anything unusual happened here.”

Just in case, Madame spoke to the doorman at the stage entrance, who summoned the manager. He was excited beyond words to be interviewed by the ‘lady detective’ who helped Scotland Yard so often, but confirmed that there had been nothing untoward at the performance last night.

They resumed the journey to the well known restaurant, Sweetings, in New Lane. Again, it was quiet on the morning of Christmas Eve. On questioning, though, the head waiter did remember an ‘odd-looking geezer with a big head who made a mess with the lobster bisque’. He also recalled the fuss about the payment for the meal.

“There are names for women who pay for a man to eat,” he said. “And none of them complimentary.”

“Be that as it may,” Madame said, keeping her opinion of men who used such words about a woman to herself. “Could you glance out of the window and tell me if the man you see upon the driver’s seat of that carriage is the man in question?”

The head waiter looked carefully.

“No, it weren’t him. The geezer last night was less ugly… though that’s not saying much.”

“Thank you for your time,” Madame said and left the restaurant.

Their journey took them past the Cockpit. It had two broken windows and was locked up, still. There was nobody around to talk to about the events of last night. Perhaps that was just as well. Nobody really wanted to hear Bruiser Hensley’s version of events.

The home of Miss Eleanor Darby was a very short drive from the pub, in a genteel neighbourhood called Saint Andrew’s Hill. Her apartment was in a Georgian House in an enclave called Wardrobe Place. The curious name came from the fact that Charles the Second’s clothes were kept in a warehouse near there until the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed it. That information was very little help to them.

They were admitted to the building by an elderly concierge and trod two flights of stairs before Madame knocked smartly on the door of the third-floor apartment.

It was opened presently by a short, plump, middle aged lady wearing a dress that would have looked fine on a woman ten years younger and several inches thinner around the middle. She just looked ‘squeezed’.

“I am Madame Vastra,” Madame announced. “This is my wife, Jenny… and I believe you know my butler, Strax.”

Miss Darby looked at Strax and gave a cry of delight.

“Oh, you brought him back to me. Oh, come in. Do come in. Oh, this is marvellous. It has worked far better than I hoped.”

The suddenly enthused woman ushered them all into her home, bringing them to a warmly furnished drawing room before asking if they would take tea.

Jenny noted that she was heading for the kitchen herself. She had no maid to bring the tea. She belonged to one of those almost hidden members of the complicated social strata of London – genteel spinsters of limited budget living alone in small apartments with no ‘help’.

“We are not here for tea,” Madame said tersely. Jenny was surprised. Usually Madame would at least try to play along with polite customs like accepting tea.

“We’re here to find out what happened to Strax,” Jenny ventured. If Madame was cutting through all pretence of gentility, then she certainly could.

“What happened is a Christmas Miracle,” Miss Darby enthused. “And it worked perfectly. I could not be happier.”

Jenny glanced at Strax. His expression could best be described as ‘perplexed’. It was possible that he hadn’t yet mastered expressions.

He certainly wasn’t happy.

“Are you saying that YOU did this to Strax?” Madame asked.

“Of course. It was my Christmas wish.”

“Your… Christmas… WISH?”

Jenny, Madame and Strax all looked at each other in bewilderment. Miss Darby smiled widely at them all.

“Why, of course. If we are to be betrothed, it was necessary to… make him more… socially acceptable. The result is still… somewhat rough… but nothing some attention to detail couldn’t mend… a closer shave, a manicure. He will make a fine fiancé.”

“Fiancé?” All three echoed the word, none more loudly or with more outrage than Strax himself.

“Are you engaged to this lady?” Madame asked him.

“I most certainly am not,” Strax answered. “I am not… I have never… the idea is preposterous. I am a Commander of the Ninth Sontaran Battle fleet. I have no interest in… in…. There isn’t even a word for this kind of liaison in Sontar. It is impossible.”

“But….” Miss Darby’s enthusiasm dimmed somewhat. “But… my dear Strax… I thought… you were always such a gentleman to me. You dance so beautifully. I thought… I really thought that it could be. That is why I purchased the charm….”

“What charm?” Madame asked quickly.

“This charm,” Miss Darby responded, producing a pale yellow crystal from inside a large locket nestled in her bosom. “I bought it from a gipsy in Covent Garden. She told me I should make the wish while holding the crystal in one hand and my beloved’s hand in the other. When we were having dinner… just before the soup was spilled… I enacted the charm.”

“That soup again,” Jenny remarked.

“It was the unwarranted hand contact that made me tip over the bowl,” Strax remembered. “Sontarans do not… hold hands… during meals.”

Of all the things Sontarans didn’t do, it was easy to understand that one.

“But… you never actually ASKED Strax to be your….” Jenny turned to Miss Darby again. “And he never… asked you?”

“I thought it was understood….”

“I think nothing could be more misunderstood,” Madame said. “Let me see that crystal again.”

Miss Darby held it out. Madame took it before she could snatch it away and examined it closely.

“This looks like little more than a discoloured piece of quartz. I can’t imagine what gives it any sort of transformation properties, but in any case….”

She dropped it on the floor and crushed it beneath her heel. The fragments looked even less likely to make anything remarkable happen.

And Strax was still Human. He had not changed back.

“The transformation is temporary,” Miss Darby sighed. “Unless it is sealed by a lover’s kiss before sundown on the next day after the charm is enacted.”

Jenny glanced at the window. It was gone three o’clock. Millie should be following the instruction to put the Christmas pudding in the boiler and, more importantly, it would be dark in about half an hour.

Miss Darby obviously realised that, too. She suddenly lunged towards Strax as if intending to kiss him. He, realising what was about to happen, leapt from the chair and ran towards the door. Miss Darby cried out in exasperation and pursued him relentlessly.

Jenny and Madame caught up with Miss Darby on the second-floor landing and restrained her firmly.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Madame told her. “Firstly, it is quite unbecoming a lady to chase a man. And secondly, even with a gipsy love charm, you cannot force any man into ‘love’, let alone a man like Strax. Believe me, he is not fiancé material.”

They made her come back to the apartment and sat her down on her reproduction chaise longue. Jenny quietly went to the kitchen and made tea in a Royal Dolton pot. She made sure Miss Darby drank from the matching cup slowly and calmly.

“You really can’t do that,” Jenny told her. “It’s not fair to Strax… or to yourself.”

“I’m forty,” Miss Darby admitted. “And no man has ever even looked at me in that way. Strax… was kind.”

Madame and Jenny exchanged glances once again. What cruel men had Miss Darby known if she thought a Sontaran was ‘kind’? It was surely another word that was not in their vocabulary.

“Kindness is not the same as romantic interest,” Madame remarked, accepting for the moment that Strax might exhibit such characteristics. “I am sure he only went dancing for amusement. He never meant….”

“Yes, I suppose you are right,” Miss Darby admitted. She burst into rather dramatic tears that made her nose red and cheeks puffy before she was done. It was not an especially flattering look.

“I have made a fool of myself,” she finally conceded.

“Yes, you have,” Madame told her. “But I believe there has been no lasting harm. Go and wash your face and change into a dress more suitable for the occasion, and come along with us. You clearly have no Christmas preparations other than that ill-thought ‘wish’.”

“I hoped that Strax and I would celebrate together in some nice restaurant... probably not Sweetings. The manager there was….”

“Yes, we know all about him,” Madame said. “You will eat with us… as our guest. Later, you can talk about this whole misunderstanding with Strax. I will advise him to be forgiving. Perhaps you might still be dance partners – strictly as friends.”

Miss Darby looked about to burst into tears again at the unexpected kindness of the Veiled Lady. Jenny forestalled the waterworks by offering to help her dress for the proposed evening and taking her off to the bedroom. Madame nodded in satisfaction and poured herself another cup of tea.

Only one thing was in doubt. All three women were a little anxious about it as they went down the stairs and out into Wardrobe Place. When they found no sign of Strax in the street they were concerned. They had all assumed he would be around the carriage.

Then Jenny spotted him returning to the scene with a broad smile on the slit of a mouth in his muddy-coloured Sontaran face.

“You’re back to normal!” she cried. “Thank goodness for that. But where did you go?”

“The Cockpit,” he answered. “I had, as you know, unfinished business with Bruiser Hensley. It is… no longer unfinished. My honour as a Sontaran is restored.”

“I really don’t approve of your bare knuckle brawling, Strax,” Madame said. “I think I prefer your ballroom dancing. But never mind, now. Let us return to Paternoster Row… and let a little peace and goodwill ensue.”

Millie had put the pudding on to steam, and basted the turkey beautifully. A few more preparations were needed before she and Joe were sent to put on their Sunday best clothes. On this Christmas Eve, everyone under the roof of the house was ‘family’. Madame and Jenny, Strax and the repentant Miss Darby, Millie and Joe all sat down to a delicious meal in the dining room and a convivial Christmas spirit was much in evidence.

Yes, Jenny thought as she sipped her morning tea and reflected on that madcap Christmas Eve afternoon. It had been worrying for a while, but all was well, now. Strax even drove Miss Darby home in the early hours of Christmas Day after she had come along with the Human members of the household to the midnight carol service at St. Pauls. They had apparently parted on good terms and with promises to meet at the next dance.

Which, all considered was a bit of a Christmas miracle in itself.

A movement in the room made Jenny look up. Madame came towards her with a smile and a good morning kiss. She sat next to her and took tea.

“I was wondering,” she said. “If you would like me transformed into a Human?”

Jenny didn’t need to think about it. Her answer was an emphatic ‘no’.

“I love you just as you are,” she added.

“Glad to hear it,” Madame said with a sly flick of her reptilian tongue. “Merry Christmas, my dear Jenny.”