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

The pyramid glowed from within. A near silent click was barely heard and the second door opened. He stepped through, glancing back just to make sure both doors behind him remained open and he could still see the TARDIS. If anything looked more like a trap than this he wasn’t sure what it was.

Another crystal globe awaited him. He held it in his hands carefully and saw images of his third incarnation, the time of his exile on Earth, and the friends he knew in that time – Liz, Jo and Sarah Jane who had been his official and unofficial assistants, The Brigadier, Rassilon rest him, Yates and Benton when they were young and hopeful members of U.N.I.T.’s hard-pressed forces of resistance against alien invasion of Earth.

He saw a shadow, too, that was less welcome. This was the era when The Master, his most dangerous and calculating foe, came back into his life.

Far from a friend. But love and hate were two ends of the same spectrum and The Master’s schemes had shaped his experiences and solidified some of those friendships of the time. He couldn’t be discounted.

There was another puzzle of a sort in a glass case. The Doctor looked at it carefully. It was a circuit of a kind, made up of crystals that were capable of transmitting energy through their matrixes.

Blue Metebelis Crystals. He recognised them at once.

There was a crystal missing. The circuit was incomplete.

“So that’s where I have to go this time?” he whispered. The prospect was not a pleasant one. At any time in its history, Metebelis was a dangerous place. But at least he thought he knew all of its caprices.

It was old Metebelis, before colonisation, before the Great One and her minions controlling the people, before the cataclysm that ended all of that and irradiated him so badly that it forced his third regeneration.

This was a wild place. The Doctor looked at the big viewscreen where semi-sentient vines were already winding themselves around the TARDIS, attempting to strangle it to death.

The TARDIS couldn’t be strangled. But The Doctor could be. He frowned at the rapidly darkening screen and then carefully adjusted two dials on the environmental panel of the hexagonal console. At first it made no difference, but as he fine-tuned the frequency of the sound being emitted by the TARDIS the vines drew back until there was a sizeable clearing outside.

He adjusted his sonic screwdriver until that was emitting the same noise at a frequency that only semi-sentient plantlife and small reptiles could hear. He stepped out of the TARDIS wearing a small backpack of food and water supplies, rope and other essentials for a ramble in unknown territory. He looked a bit like somebody the FBI might be suspicious of if he turned up outside the White House, but he wasn’t too worried since he was nowhere near that location.

“Ok, I’m coming through this jungle,” he called out. “So just back off.”

The vines couldn’t actually hear him. They reacted to sound or vibrations. The TARDIS was irresistible on both counts, but they weren’t capable of recognising it as technology or him as sentient animal life.

He just talked as he walked through the jungle to keep from noticing the continuous rustling as the vines closed in behind him, cutting off his retreat while maintaining a distance from the noise that distressed them.

Yes, every step he took put an increasingly impenetrable barrier between him and the TARDIS. It was not a good thought and he needed to keep telling himself there was a good reason for this trip to a planet he had vowed never to set foot on again after the last trip.

The reason why he was doing this didn’t exactly put him in a good mood. He was in a thoroughly blue funk by the time he saw his first pygmy standing on the path in front of him with a spear pointed directly at his midriff.

“Er… hello,” he said, putting his sonic screwdriver into his inside pocket in case it looked too much like a weapon and studying the three foot high figure carefully. It was naked apart from a strategically placed grass skirt arrangement and the pale skin was almost entirely covered with indigo tattoos. Blue-black irises dilated and nostrils flared as the pygmy hunter smelled the unusual scent of a man who showered regularly.

“Ugaam babam uram poam,” the pygmy replied. The language was too primitive for TARDIS translation, and even though the languages The Doctor had learnt without its aid included ‘cat’ and ‘baby’, they didn’t include primitive Metebelis pygmy.

The Doctor didn’t even know there WERE primitive pygmies living on Metebelis at any time in its history. The only people he had ever met on the cursed planet were colonists with Human ancestry.

While he was contemplating this he was aware of a very faint rustling above and around him. It wasn’t the sentient vines. They seemed to have backed off now. It was the sound of hunters moving through the trees nearly silently. He didn’t dare look around because a spear was still aimed at his liver, but he guessed at least six more of the pygmy’s mates were closing in on him.

He was expecting multiple spears in his back and calculating his chances of doing a deal with the Guardian after regenerating from THAT death. Instead, he felt the much less painful but still worrying pricks of tiny blowpipe darts in the back of his neck and then the cold sensation of the poison rushing through his veins.

When he came around he was in a dark place – literally and figuratively. Whatever was in that stuff, it made him unusually nauseous and disorientated. It was several minutes before his eyes managed to process enough light from the faint glow beyond the walls that surrounded him to make out where he was.

It was a small hut made of mud and sticks. The walls were thick. The glow came from the doorway where a flimsier arrangement of woven reeds hung. He could see the outlines of two pygmy guards outside with their spears crossed between them. There was no escaping that way without a fight. Besides, by the noise beyond the door the whole tribe was up to some kind of ritual dance around the bonfire that was creating that glow.

He was tightly bound by his feet and his hands with what felt something like the strangling vines, though these were cut and therefore lifeless. He could make out the dark bulk of his backpack thrown into the corner, but he couldn’t reach it like this.

Ah he cd cynah” He heard a voice speaking in Formali, the language of the humanoid people of Forma, a planetary system in the Andromeda galaxy. The language was similar to Serbian. The Formalian whose face he made out in the gloom was pale skinned with heavy eyebrows and deep set eyes characteristic of his race as well as the fused index and middle fingers on each hand. He remembered visiting that planet once and teaching all the children he met how to do a Vulcan salute. They were charming people and quick learners. Before he left even the adults were saying ‘Live Long and Prosper’ to him.

“Yes, I’m awake,” he answered the question put to him. “You’re a prisoner, too? What is your name?”

“I am Ketch,” the Formalian answered. “Prisoner?” He laughed hollowly. “If that was all, it would not be so bad. Can you smell it… The bonfire… the smell of meat roasting….”

Yes, he could smell it, and a horrible realisation came with it about the nature of the feast.

“They’re cannibals?”

“Not exactly,” Ketch explained. “I don’t think they eat each other.”

“No,” The Doctor commented. “They’re rather skinny. I suppose there wouldn’t be enough meat on them to satisfy the whole tribe.”

“I don’t think it’s that,” Ketch continued. “They just don’t seem to recognise us as the same as them… as sentient. We’re just like wild boar as far as they’re concerned. Three days ago when our scout ship landed here, I had three colleagues. We were all overcome by the mouli agadg.” The Doctor knew what the phrase was in Formali. It wasn’t entirely polite and definitely sizeist, but it described his feelings about the Metebelis pygmies quite accurately. “Every night now….”

Ketch didn’t need to go on. The situation was clear.

“They… keep their meat alive….”

“We’re even well fed. They bring fruit and some kind of milky drink every so often. Keeping us fattened for roasting. One of us two will be tomorrow night’s feast. When we’re eaten I suppose they’ll have to go back to wild boar.”

“How come the vines don’t overwhelm this camp?” The Doctor asked. The question seemed trivial compared to the prospect of being butchered and roasted in the near future, but it was a part of The Doctor’s plans to get out of the situation he was in.

“Are your ears ringing?” Ketch asked.

“Yes, come to think of it, but….”

His ears had been ringing since he left the TARDIS. It was his sonic screwdriver producing the noise that kept the vines at bay. But his sonic screwdriver was in his blazer pocket. He could feel it there. It had gone into sleep mode while he was unconscious. It wasn’t producing the signal.

“We had sonic devices,” Ketch told him. “But we lost them in the jungle when we were attacked. “The nhtmeh have some kind of primitive tool that does the same. It’s like a windmill that spins around and produces the sound. Without it, I suppose they’d be cjehodo.”

“Impressive,” The Doctor admitted. “For such a pre-industrial tribe. Then again, the didgeridoo was originally developed by the Australian aborigines for defensive purposes, warding off wild animals, and South Africans use the vuvuzela to ward off the rest of the population of planet Earth. It’s not unheard of.”

Ketch had no idea what The Doctor was talking about, or why he was talking about these things at all when they were facing the prospect of being barbecued.

“Can you shuffle a bit closer to me and reach into my pocket?” he asked. “I can’t reach the way I’m tied up.”

Ketch shuffled and manoeuvred himself so that his hands, painfully and firmly tied behind his back, were against The Doctor’s chest. He felt his way into the inside pocket of The Doctor’s blazer and found the sonic screwdriver. Pulling it out was an awkward manoeuvre, too, but he managed it.

“Well done,” The Doctor said. “Now, let me shuffle around until I can take it off you. Don’t press anything. I don’t want to get welded by mistake.”

Again it was an awkward manoeuvre. The Doctor got into position, though, and took the sonic from Ketch’s fingers. He felt carefully and found the small button that repeated the last programmed function. That was the one that made the vines retreat. The ones used to bind them were old and dry, and didn’t respond to the signal coming from the pygmy noise maker outside, but at such close quarters the more carefully refined sound from the sonic screwdriver might do the trick.

It did. The feeling of the vines untying themselves and slithering off his hands and feet was one that made him shudder. It felt like snakes coiling around him. But slowly the dry vines fell away from him and from Ketch. They were free.

Well, they were free of their bonds, anyway. They were still inside the guarded hut.

“I could cut a back way out easily enough,” he said. “But they’ll give chase. I’ve got another idea, first. It’s not a nice one. It really goes against my pacifist principles. But these little guys have overstepped the mark already.”

He went to the front wall and used the laser mode to cut a small peephole in the wall, enough to see what was going on. He saw the gruesome sight of the ‘meat’ on the spit. It was already far too late for Ketch’s colleague before they were free. Even more gruesome was the fact that the chief pygmy was wearing the finger and toe bones of his previous supper meat as a necklace and was drinking out of a skull.

He looked at the totem that stood in the middle of the clearing. It was taller than the tallest trees in the jungle, pieced together from carvings stacked on top of each other using some kind of clever joinery. The ‘windmill’ Ketch had mentioned was at the top, spinning madly in the breeze that blew across the treetops.

He adjusted the range of the laser mode and aimed it at the base of the windmill. It cut through the hardened, lacquered wood like the proverbial hot knife through butter. The windmill wobbled momentarily and then fell.

The pygmies were too busy feasting to notice what had happened. The Doctor and Ketch were aware of their ears popping as the high frequency sound stopped. The Doctor quickly re-adjusted the sonic. The old vines that had bound them were animating themselves again. He made them back off into the corner before keeping a close watch on what was happening outside.

It happened amazingly fast. The vines crept into the village, snaking around and over the mud huts. They slithered across the ground towards the crowd of pygmies at their feast. There was a howl as the two guarding the door were dragged away, their legs entangled, strangling vines curling around their necks while they tried to stab at them with their spears.

“Now,” The Doctor said, watching the pygmy tribesmen and women fight for their lives against their plant enemies. He had caused this to happen. Their deaths were on his conscience, but he would have to live with that.

He and Ketch pushed aside the woven doorway and slipped out through the door. Their escape was observed but the pygmies were in no position to give chase.

“Hurry,” The Doctor told his Formali friend as the vines drew back from the sound the sonic screwdriver made and created a path through the jungle. “This way, back to my TARDIS.

Ketch didn’t argue. How The Doctor knew the way through the tangled, impenetrable and all too mobile greenery he didn’t ask. Somehow he did, and that was all that mattered.

The Doctor knew the way because he and his TARDIS were symbiotically linked, of course. Besides, the closer he got the more he could hear the sound it was emitting to keep itself free of the vines.

At last they emerged into the clearing the TARDIS had made for itself. Ketch expressed surprise at the shape of The Doctor’s craft but followed him inside, making the usual comment about it being bigger on the inside.

“Safe, at last,” he gasped. “I never thought I had a chance after I saw the last of my friends taken away. I owe you much, Doctor.”

“Not at all,” The Doctor replied. “I’d be cjehodo, too, if you hadn’t been adept at shuffling. It was a team effort.“

“I will need to get back to my own shuttle,” Ketch added. “Can your ship lock onto its location?”

“I should think so,” The Doctor answered. “But I can give you a lift to anywhere.”

“We came here for valuable minerals,” Ketch said. “I need to retrieve the samples we had already collected.”

“Samples?” The Doctor queried the word. “You’re not seriously thinking of mining operations on this planet? Between cannibal pygmies and strangling vines, and all the other strange things that go on here under the blue sun… and the unreliability of the crystals as an energy source….”

Ketch was suddenly very wary of The Doctor.

“What do you know about the crystals?”

“I know far more about the crystals than you can begin to imagine,” The Doctor answered. “I’m telling you now, they are DANGEROUS. You should tell whoever sent you on this expedition to forget it. They really can’t be used to fuel ships or as the core of power stations, and certainly not as weapons, unless your government thinks weapons that blow up in their faces are desirable.”

“Who are you?” Ketch asked. “I thought… when we were both trapped… we worked together. But I never asked how you got here, or why?”

“I’m not on the same mission as you. I’m not a spy trying to get in the way of progress on your world. Believe me, Ketch, I’m a friend, an ally, of Formalia, and I don’t want to see any more of your people die in a fruitless task here on this planet.”

His eyes bore into Ketch’s as he spoke. He wasn’t hypnotising him. He wasn’t even using Power of Suggestion which was a gentler form of the same thing. He was just radiating trust and friendship as hard as he could. He hoped Ketch would understand.

“You may be right,” he admitted. “But I must go back to my own ship. I must report all that has happened, including your part in my escape. If you are lying to me….”

“I’m not, I promise. To prove it, I’ll take you back to your ship, now. Give me the approximate co-ordinate and I’ll find it.”

Ketch gave him the information. The Doctor put the TARDIS in hover mode. It flew over the jungle canopy to the place where Ketch and his unfortunate colleagues had landed their shuttle. It was covered in vines, of course. The Doctor materialised the TARDIS within it before setting off the sound that repelled the vines.

“This is only an orbital shuttle,” he noted as they waited for the exo-glass windscreen in the cockpit to clear. “You have a mothership outside the atmosphere?”

There was no point in denying that, even though it meant giving The Doctor more information that a spy could use. Ketch nodded.

“If you take my advice, you’ll all leave orbit while you still can. This is a bad place.”

“I’ll make my report,” Ketch insisted. “It will be up to others what happens next. All I can do is tell the truth about Metebelis.”

“Yes, that’s all anyone can do, tell the truth,” The Doctor conceded. “Your shuttle is free, now. Take off quickly as soon as I’ve separated my ship from it. Good luck, Ketch.”

The Doctor returned to the TARDIS. Ketch watched it dematerialise before he launched his vertical take-off shuttle.

As soon as it was gone, The Doctor re-materialised the TARDIS. It had detected something in the area where the Formali shuttle had been. He stepped outside and looked at the ground where the engines of the orbital craft had burnt away the blue Metebelis grass.

The bare soil glittered with facets of blue reflected light. Crystals were growing within the ground. He crouched and selected one that was the right size and shape. The need to bring back a crystal had almost been forgotten in the effort just to stay alive.

The crystals were a living energy source by themselves. Animal, vegetable and mineral, Metebelis was alive. Trying to exploit these crystals was going to be a bane on the Formalian government. He KNEW they would ignore anything Ketch reported, including his warning. They would try to use the blue crystal energy. It would be disastrous. But he could do nothing to stop it happening.

He took the single crystal and kept it in a lead-lined box with a deadlock seal until his TARDIS returned to the non-place and the twelve doors representing his twelve labours to regain his Eleventh life. He only unsealed the box again when he reached the third door. He placed the crystal in the place where it completed the circuit. Actinic blue light coursed through the matrix of crystals. He stepped back, his hands clasped over his ears, eyes tightly closed, his mind forming protective barriers against the telepathic energy the crystals were capable of forming.

When he opened his eyes and looked again the door was open. He looked at the matrix of crystals and saw that they were still faintly glowing. Then they disappeared in a shimmer of blue light.

He felt in his mind that they had gone home – to Metebelis – using the same kind of power the Great One had once exploited to form a connection between that planet and Earth.

He was relieved. They were gone back where they belonged, where they could only be a problem to anyone foolish enough to think they COULD be controlled.

He stepped through the third doorway, wondering what awaited him there.