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

The globe was a collection of memories from his Fifth incarnation, of course. He saw images of his friends from that time, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, later Turlough and Peri, floating in the smoke. He saw some of his cruellest enemies coming back to trouble him – Davros and his Daleks yet again, the Cybermen - and The Master, a lifelong foe who had figured so heavily in some of the darkest moment of that life.

“Not him,” The Doctor whispered. “Let some ghosts rest. Him, at least!

He looked at the case where the mechanism to open this next door was contained. There was a book there. He recognised it at once.

The Black Orchid by George Cranleigh. He still had a copy of it among his personal possessions in the TARDIS. This seemed to be a deluxe edition with a very fine leather cover inlaid with gold titling on the front and the spine.

There was something missing. Where the black orchid itself should be there was merely an impression in the leather.

So that was what he was meant to find. Did that mean a return to Cranleigh Hall where he had encountered the insane George Cranleigh and his family trapped by the web of lies and deceits surrounding him?

It seemed like it did. The TARDIS materialised in almost the same place it had when it came here that first time. There were a few differences. The Doctor looked around Cranleigh Halt and noted that it was now under the ownership of British Railways, the nationalised company that had not yet been renamed and modernised as British rail. Steam was still the power source for the trains. A goods train thundered past, vibrating the platform where adverts for seaside holidays featured images of locomotives that would make a steam enthusiast weap.

The door to the waiting room was embellished with a logo of a rampant lion standing on a crown and holding a wheel. That suggested it was something like the second half of the 1950s.

More than twenty-five years since his last visit. A world war had taken place in those years. That must have wrought some real changes on the people if not the landscape.

He stepped out through the gate and set off walking down the country road towards Cranleigh Hall. He was passed by several cars of the sort that confirmed his guess that this was the 1950s – a powder blue Ford Consul, two Austen Healeys, a grey Morris Isis.

It was an early 1950s Lloyd 650 Roadster that pulled up beside him. A young man with sandy hair and freckles raised his driving goggles to reveal bright blue eyes that twinkled as he grinned.

“Do you need a lift, old boy?” he asked. “Where are you heading?”

“Cranleigh Hall,” The Doctor answered. “Do you know it?”

“I should say so,” the driver answered, leaning to open the passenger door. “Jump in there. I’m Charlie Cranleigh – CC to my friends at Cambridge. Heading home for the Easter hols. Can’t recall seeing you around the old place before. Are you a friend of my mother’s?”

The Doctor did a quick calculation – twenty-five years since Ann Talbot and Charles Cranleigh were engaged to be married.

“If your mother is Lady Ann, then yes,” he answered. “I met her and Charles before the war. His father, Sir George, was still alive, then.”

Of course, his personal appearance very often had no bearing on what people actually saw. He had been here in his fifth incarnation when he looked like a man in his early thirties. It was possible that young Charlie, named after his father, saw somebody about the same age as his parents – in his fifties, now.

“Grandfather passed away the same week as King George V,” Charlie explained. “Father was shot down over France in his Spitfire in 1941. I was away at school, then. Mother was splendid by all accounts. She poured herself into war work, taking in evacuees, turning the tennis courts into vegetable gardens, all that. She’s still going now, organising charity events left, right and centre. This evening it’s the costume ball, in aid of destitute children.”

“Ah, the costume ball!” The Doctor said with a nostalgic smile. “Anything but the Pierrot costume.”

Charlie wasn’t listening. He was talking about his car with a not too popular German look but British engineering, made in Grimsby, with front drive, double-backbone frame, rack-and-pinion steering, and all-coil independent suspension….

Talk about engines kept Charlie occupied until they turned in through the gates and approached the driveway in front of the imposing seventeenth century Cranleigh Hall with its curiously tall Victorian chimneys not quite matching the red-tiled roof. From this view, nothing had changed. Only when they reached the hallway and saw the reception desk and opening times for guided tours did it become obvious that the Cranleigh family had been forced to open their home to the tourist trade to make ends meet.

Lady Cranleigh, formerly Ann Talbot, was a still attractive middle aged woman with a strength in her face that had taken over from the fragility of the girl The Doctor had met those years ago. She held court in her private drawing room away from the tourists.

“Doctor, how wonderful to see you again,” she said in a bright voice. “Charlie, how clever of you to bring him along with you.”

Charlie grinned at his mother and silently took credit for a complete coincidence. He poured a whiskey for himself and asked The Doctor if he wanted one.

“Iced lemonade, please,” he replied.

“The same as you asked for the last time you were here,” Lady Ann remarked. “You are not a drinking man, Doctor.”

“Only for the purpose of quenching my thirst,” he answered. He sat in a chair facing Lady Ann and wondered how to explain his purpose here today.

Then his eye was drawn to her bosom – not because such things interested him in a salacious way, but because she was wearing a brooch there. It was in the shape of the Black Orchid for which the family was so famous.

It was the exact shape of the piece that fitted on the front of the book.

“I’m sorry for staring,” he said when Lady Ann gave him a quizzical look. “That brooch….”

“You would think I’d have had enough of the Black Orchid after the trouble we had that time. But Charles gave me this on our first wedding anniversary. It is actually a copy. The original went missing. We always assumed poor George took it. But we never found it anywhere, and only he really knew all of the passageways within the walls.”

“I’ve always fancied looking for it,” Charlie commented. “But mother was afraid I might get lost and never be seen again.”

“It’s not THAT,” Ann insisted. “I just…. Oh, it’s just silliness, really. I DID think it might be dangerous for Charlie to go looking on his own. I wouldn’t even let him play in the priest hole on the third floor when he was a little boy. I felt as if it would be tempting fate.”

“Mother, that truly IS silly,” Charlie told her. “I’m not a little boy, now.”

“Of course, you’re not. But some things ARE best left alone in this house.”

Lady Ann looked so earnest about the matter that Charlie gave in and changed the subject. The Doctor was thoughtful about it, though. He needed to find the original brooch. It was almost certainly hidden somewhere in the house.

He had to search. But not just now. Not with Lady Ann so upset.

The party officially began at three o’clock, outside on the terrace where cocktails and a sumptuous buffet were already being prepared. Lady Ann and her son, as well as her unexpected guest, went to change into their costumes.

The Doctor wasn’t allocated the Pierrot costume this time. Instead he was Lord Nelson in a magnificent naval uniform complete with hat and fake empty sleeve fastened to the front while his two good arms were free for eating and drinking as well as shaking hands with other guests.

Lady Ann was dressed in a fine empire gown and bonnet as Lady Nelson, while Charlie was the odd one out wearing a harlequin clown costume even more outlandish than the Pierrot The Doctor had worn the last time. Charlie took his mother’s arm as they stepped out onto the terrace to meet the collection of local gentry, MPs, magistrates and mayors dressed as various colourful characters. As the music and dancing got underway quite a few more guests turned up, announced by the butler wearing a costume from the Court of King Louis VI and Marie Antoinette. Quite a lot of them were Charlie’s friends who formed a noisy clique on the edge of his mother’s older social group.

It was some time later with the roast meats reduced to bones and the second crate of champagne opened that Lady Ann remarked to The Doctor that Charlie and some of his friends had disappeared from the terrace.

“How long have they been gone?” he asked. But it was hard to say, of course. Everyone was moving around, dancing, eating and drinking, wandering from one conversation to another.

“Oh dear,” Lady Ann added. “I am sure I know where they are. They’ve gone to the priesthole, looking for the black orchid. I knew Charlie wouldn’t let it go after talking about it this afternoon.”

“My fault, I’m afraid. I pressed the question too much. I was bound to excite his curiosity.”

“It takes very little to excite Charlie when his friends are egging him on, Doctor. Don’t blame yourself.”

“Nevertheless, I think perhaps I ought to go after them and send them back to the party with a mild rebuke?”

“That would be a very good idea,” Lady Ann agreed. “My thanks to you, Doctor. I’ll come with you to the priest hole. I don’t know if you recall where it is from last time?”

Off the top of his head he was a little uncertain. He was glad to have her ladyship show him the landing where the secret entrance was.

“There are simply miles of passages and hidden rooms going down beneath the cellars,” Lady Ann told him. “Some of them have been marked on the plans of the house, but there are many more. I am sure some tunnels may run beyond the house itself to goodness knows where.”

“Don’t worry, Lady Ann,” The Doctor promised. “I’ll find the miscreants and bring them back. Who knows, we may even find your brooch while we’re at it.”

“It’s not my brooch. I never owned the original. If you find it, Doctor, you may have it. The treasure hunter’s reward. I shall be glad to have Charlie back safe and sound without him breaking a leg falling down a dark stairway to nowhere.”

“Of course, Ladyship. A mother’s concern for her son is far above mere trinkets of gold.”

He took off the hat and jacket from the costume. The shirt and waistcoat beneath were no hindrance to him. Lady Ann pressed the panel that opened up the priest hole and the entrance to the larger labyrinth of secret passages.

It was dark, but the sonic screwdriver’s penlight mode was better than any contemporary battery torch. He made his way down the first flight of narrow stone steps easily. There was neither sight nor sound of Charlie and his cohorts at this level, and certainly no place where the Black Orchid might be hidden.

Finding either was going to use some senses only a Time Lord could call upon. He could, if he concentrated, sense where other sentient beings were. He didn’t use that ability often. It was tiring and left him with a thumping headache into the bargain. Still worse for the headaches was sensing precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, lutanium. Gold and silver were the easiest. They were abundant in the soil of Gallifrey. Earth gold was harder, but he would still know of its presence.

He kept going down the stairs until he was beneath the basement, the wine cellar and storerooms of a house like this. A group like Charlie’s, with champagne and adrenaline fuelling them, would not be quiet about their quest. He would hear their voices echoing if they were in the passages around the house itself.

Exactly WHY were there so many passages and rooms below the house like this? The answer to that became obvious as he moved around them. Cranleigh Hall dated from the late Tudor era, but there had been something here before then – most likely a monastery emptied by Henry VIII’s Dissolution and later forgotten. The walls of the deeply hidden rooms were of very old stone – much older than those used to build the Hall which were cut new and fresh from a nearby quarry. The tunnels connected different parts of a complex that may have spread much further than Cranleigh Hall did. There would have been an infirmary kept a long way from the main building where it might be quarantined in times of epidemic, kitchens that were always separate from the refectory when chimney fires were common, vaccaries and breweries, storerooms. It was possible that all of those and their basement rooms were connected by tunnels so that monks could move about unseen by the peasants beyond their walls.

And the Cranleigh generations knew nothing about it until George Cranleigh, himself hidden and forgotten, found the hidden and forgotten places to walk in his loneliness.

Traces of George were to be seen on some of the walls, where he had drawn intricate images of exotic plants that he had found on his south American travels. These were whole books that the poor man had never been able to write after his run-in with the superstitious natives who tortured and mutilated him.

The Doctor was sympathetic with George’s plight. He had travelled to places even more inhospitable than South America. He had narrowly escaped worse fates more than once. He was sorry, too, that on returning to the bosom of his family the poor man had been rejected and hidden away, his lovely fiancée, Ann, persuaded instead to marry his younger brother while believing he was dead.

All that was in the past since George’s suicide, and yet, it wasn’t. Despite Ann’s charming presence as Lady of the Manor, returning true gaiety to the social occasions, the ghost perhaps wasn’t completely laid to rest. It would take another generation at least to put it all behind them.

Such thoughts occupied The Doctor’s mind as he wandered through these low passages built for men who didn’t mind bowing their heads since they did that for God, anyway. As yet he had sensed no trace of the costumed miscreants or the treasure they were seeking.

Then his senses provided a clue. It wasn’t any of his extra-senses, merely his ears. The sound of a man calling for help was echoing down one tunnel. He headed to where the sound was loudest and was surprised to find no way through.

“Charlie, is that you?” he called out.

“Yes, yes, It’s me. Is that you, Clarence?”

“No, it’s The Doctor. Where are you?”

“I’m in a room – with no door.”

“How did you get into a room with no door?” The Doctor asked him.

“There WAS a door until I stepped inside, then it slid shut. My friends couldn’t find any way to open it.”

“Where ARE your friends?”

“They went to try to find a way out and get help. You didn’t see any of them?”

“No. They must have carried on down the other passage.”

“It’s dark and creepy in here. There’s a skeleton… a really old one… just separate bones… not joined together like in the museum.”

“Yes, bones do that after a century or so,” The Doctor replied. “The ones in museums have had some patient work with wires. Just hope I can find the mechanism or you might end up the same way.”

“Why is there a skeleton down here?” Charlie asked.

“It’s probably an Anchorite, poor chap. They were very devout men or women who agreed to live in solitude with their food and drink provided through small apertures but otherwise no contact with their fellow men, only prayer and communion with God.”

“I say, what an odd way to live,” Charlie replied. “I don’t think I fancy that at all. Do try to get me out, Doctor.”

The Doctor was looking. It was an odd set up for an Anchorite, in fact. Usually their original entrances to their cells were just closed up with bricks and mortar. The idea of a door that opens by some means of fulcrum lever, which was what he was looking for, was a bit more unusual.

“It’s possible this wasn’t an Anchoroid,” The Doctor added. “It might have been a punishment cell for monks who confessed to impure thoughts. Perhaps they were put in here with bread and water to repent their sins. They could be let out when they were repented.”

“This one must have been a very grave sinner, then,” Charlie pointed out. “They forgot him.”

“Yes….” The Doctor pressed gently against the wall, looking for any sign of a false piece that might slide back and reveal with mechanism. At last he found something. It would have been easy enough to miss being nothing more than three indentations that matched the three middle fingers of a man’s left hand. The Doctor pushed and a small rectangle of wall slid away.

He examined the space behind carefully with his sonic screwdriver before he put his hand in there. When he did, he yelped softly as he touched something soft. He withdrew a small chamois leather pouch that was nowhere near as old as the hiding place. It had the name and address of a Hatton Garden jeweller still printed on it. The Doctor smiled as his senses told him there was gold inside.

“Yes,” he whispered triumphantly as he looked at the original Black Orchid, a finely tooled piece of gold jewellery made for Lady Ann by her sweetheart, but never given to her because he embarked on one last journey to the Amazon before their wedding.

“Doctor?” Charlie called out from within the cell. The Doctor pushed the brooch back into its pouch and stuffed it into his pocket before reaching into the aperture again and finding a metal lever.

He pulled and there was a sound of grinding gears within the wall. A door slid slowly back. Charlie lost no time running out of his accidental prison, but The Doctor used his sonic screwdriver to jam the ancient mechanics so that it stayed open for good.

“You ought to arrange for a priest to come down here and say a prayer or two over the skeleton before it’s taken away for a proper burial,” The Doctor said. “It’s the correct thing to do.”

“Yes,” Charlie agreed, though he was so relieved he would probably have agreed to build the unknown prisoner a tomb in the Cathedral out of his own pocket. “Can we get out of here, now?”

“Good idea,” The Doctor told him. They headed along the corridor leading further away from the house. Presently, The Doctor heard voices, and shortly after that he detected light ahead.

“Well, I never!” Charlie exclaimed as they emerged from the tunnel into late afternoon sunshine. They had come out beside a very old wall in a barley field that belonged to the Cranleigh Estate. The other young men, dressed as a highwayman, an Elizabethan lord in hose and doublet and the Phantom of the Opera were all standing there, looking lost and confused.

“We’re not so far from where you gave me a lift earlier,” The Doctor pointed out. “About a mile by road, isn’t it?”

“We’re going to look dashed silly walking along the road like this,” one of Charlie’s friends pointed out.

“Then dashed silly it is,” The Doctor answered him. “Come on, chaps. England Expects….”

It was an embarrassing time for Charlie and his friends, with jeers and horns honked by everyone who passed along the road, but eventually they reached Cranleigh Hall. The party was still going on but Lady Ann gave Charlie no opportunity to slip back into the dancing along with his friends. She scolded him and hugged him at the same time as a mother always would no matter how old her son was.

“Go on, now,” she told him at last. “Go and dance with Lord Snetterton’s daughter.”

“She has crooked teeth and a lazy eye,” Charlie protested.

“Then let that be a lesson to you,” Lady Ann replied. Charlie went off, suitable chastened. His mother turned to The Doctor and thanked him. He gave a short account of what had happened, sparing just how much danger her son and heir had been in if the cell had not been found again by his wayward friends.

The presence of the long abandoned prisoner was a source of distress to Lady Ann, but she was comforted by the suggestion The Doctor had already made.

“I shall do that first thing tomorrow,” she promised. “And then we’d better get that other entrance sealed up before word gets around and we’re knee deep in explorers!”

“A capital idea, Ladyship,” The Doctor assured her. Then he brought the treasure out of his pocket. She admired it, but insisted that it WAS his, as promised.

“Skeletons in the cellars as well as in our family cupboards, too much blackness. Perhaps it is time even black orchids were banished from this place.”

The Doctor stayed a few days more. Lady Ann appreciated his visit, and besides, neither Charlie nor his friends could remember their way back to the cell. The Doctor brought the priest and a coroner who confirmed they were ancient remains and not proof of a recent murder. He escorted Lady Ann to the churchyard where they were the only people at the small grave where the unknown monk was laid properly to rest.

“It would be nice to see you when there wasn’t a funeral to come to,” Lady Ann said as they walked back to the car. “Do visit again, Doctor. You are a welcome friend to Cranleigh. You bring light to its darkest places.”

“I will try,” he promised. “Meanwhile, you don’t let any darkness into your house. Enjoy your years as you deserve to do.”

Finally, he left with the good wishes of Lady Ann and a cheery goodbye from Charlie who had decided he quite liked crooked teeth and was going to see the Honourable Miss Annabel Snetterton again before the holidays were over.

He stepped into his TARDIS on Cranleigh Halt station and initiated his journey back to the strange nowhere that his quest returned him to each time. He stepped out and walked through those already open doors until he reached the fifth one. He put the Black Orchid brooch in the indentation on the front of the book and pressed gently.

There was a familiar click and the door opened in front of him. He stepped forward wondering what there was ahead of him this time.