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

The Doctor picked up the globe that represented his eleventh life. He watched the images of friends come and go. There was Amy, as a little girl waiting for him, as a young woman, and ten years on as a steady, married woman with a career of her own that he had interrupted far too often before she and Rory were trapped in 1930s Manhattan, forever separated from him.

River Song… this was the life that included her. She had been more to him than any other companion for a very long time. She was his friend, his lover, his wife, but also his fiercest critic, spurring him on to do things right just by the look in her eyes if he didn’t.

Clara – bless her – she had been the part time companion, coming away with him on her Wednesday’s off from being a full time nanny. That was possibly the most unusual set up he had ever had. Most of his companions were ‘stuck’ with him in the TARDIS, but Clara had the absolute choice. The fact that she was always eager to see the ‘awesomeness’ of time and space humbled him in ways he would never admit.

Then there was his ‘back up team’ in Victorian London. The sight of Strax’s puzzled face in the smoke made him smile. So did Jenny and Madam Vastra holding hands, partners in crime, in battle, in love.

“New friends,” Jack commented as he looked over The Doctor’s shoulder. “You’re always moving on, Doc.”

“Yes,” he admitted. “But so are the friends. I can’t keep them with me forever.”

“You could keep me forever,” Jack pointed out.

“Yes, I could. But you know it wouldn’t work for either of us. You have your life to make what you want of it.”

“Yeah,” Jack conceded. “So where does the Guardian want us to go next?”

“Us?” The Doctor didn’t say anything, but he was glad that Jack had made it ‘us’ for the last couple of tests. It had been lonely much of the time. There had been Lucie, of course, and Peri, and Jabin, even Princess Pet. But mostly he had been alone and on some of the quests the sound of his own thoughts had been the only thing he heard for long stretches of time.

He looked at the glass case. Inside was far less than the intricate model from his last task – just a pale coral coloured surface with an imprint in it. At first he thought it was a face, then he realised it was the shape of a mask – a full face with smooth cheekbones and a well defined nose, eye sockets and a full mouth fixed in a half-smile.

“Starship UK,” he said. “We need to see the queen.”

“Wow!” Jack looked at the massive structure known as Starship UK on the TARDIS viewscreen. The city-kingdom was fixed upon the back of a space whale, allegedly one of the largest creatures in the known universe. Jack had never seen one before, and he had never believed that one could carry the population of a country on its back.

“I thought it was a fairy tale,” he said. “I heard about it as a kid, as something magical and not quite real.”

“It’s real. The whole population of Earth evacuated to avoid the solar flares. Starship UK was the last to leave and the first to return to recolonise the planet. Your distant ancestors might be aboard.”

“Who knows,” Jack conceded. “I don’t know who my ancestors are. Nobody even knows why the local accent on Boeshane was middle-American. My genetic profile is a complete mystery.”

The Doctor wondered if it had been a bad idea talking about such things to a man whose past was so uncertain, but Jack quickly switched from melancholy to enthusiasm for the adventure to come. He urged The Doctor to bring them in to land on Starship UK.

“I intend to,” he replied. “I just wanted to look at it in space, first, just to get the perspective, to see just HOW incredible a thing it is.”

“It’s awesome,” Jack agreed.

Even Jack had to admit that it looked rather less awesome when they landed in a stairwell that had not been maintained for a very long time. It was all clean enough. The very faint smell of disinfectant proved that a janitor drone had been around recently, but the flaking paint on the walls and the rusting handrail were testament to a general shabbiness. That was no surprise, really, since the ship had been travelling for several hundred years at this stage and materials for making repairs must have been limited.

“Doctor, what’s wrong with this place?” Jack asked. “It’s too quiet.”

“It’s always quiet,” The Doctor answered. “There are no engines, just the space whale swimming through the vacuum.”

“No… but…. Doctor… there’s nothing… no sounds, no voices, no music, nothing.”

The Doctor listened, and then he wondered why he hadn’t noticed straight away. He stepped through the archway from the stairway into one of the communal plazas where people ate and drank, shopped and played aboard the ship that had been their home for several generations now.

They were doing none of those things now. They were sitting at tables in the open café or bar areas, browsing the shops, taking a run up to the lane in the bowling alley, but they could have been doing those things for ten minutes or ten years. They were all frozen in the middle of their activities.

“Weird,” Jack commented.

“Very weird,” The Doctor agreed. He stepped up to a waitress frozen in the act of carrying a tray of egg and chips and glasses of coke. He picked up a chip and tasted it. He dipped one in the egg yolk and then took a sip of the coke.

“The food is fresh. It’s been preserved along with the people. That’s a pity, really. If it had gone off I could have worked out how long this has gone on for.”

“Can you make a guess?”

The Doctor went to one of the café tables and examined a watch on a customer’s wrist, then he looked at the date and time display over the arched exit to ‘Hampshire’.

“Three hundred and fifty years, five months, two days, four hours and sixteen minutes,” he answered.

“Good job the food is preserved, then,” Jack commented. “Those would be REALLY bad chips, otherwise.”

“Yes,” The Doctor agreed. “Come on. Let’s look around a bit more. This is worrying.”

They left the plaza and explored the other social places of ‘London’. They found ‘Hyde park’ with artificial grass and a scaled down version of the Albert Memorial where people had been frozen in the middle of picnics, cricket games, cycling, walking their dogs, all the things people used to do in the real park and had been continuing to do in the facsimile for countless generations.

The school they came to in another section was distressing to look at. Every age range from the nursery up to the o’level history class were frozen in the middle of their lessons. Plasticene models of the space whale were half-finished. A choir learning the national anthem were frozen mid-chorus. In the gym everyone was doing floor exercises. Jack wondered what he would have seen if anyone was on the high bars or coming off the vault as the freeze had occurred. He didn’t like to think of it.

It was the same everywhere. A cinema audience were frozen in the middle of a film called Back to the Future Yet Again. A circus was suspended just before the clown with the baggy trousers got water tipped down both legs. Again, Jack was glad nobody was doing anything in mid-air. He didn’t want to see a couple of frozen trapeze artistes.

Everywhere they went, people and animals were frozen. The only things that moved were cleaning droids keeping the corridors scrupulously clean.

“This is wrong, isn’t it,” Jack said to The Doctor. “Completely wrong.”

“Yes,” he answered. “Come on. We need to find the queen.”

The Doctor headed for one of the ‘Vators and pressed the button to summon it. He waited with an impatient tap of his foot even though it took less than ten second for it to arrive. When the doors opened with a very slight squeal of bearings needing a little oil he stepped inside. Jack followed him just a little nervously, wondering when a Human technician last checked out the emergency brakes.

“Tower of London,” The Doctor said to the grinning face of the Smiler robot operating the ‘Vator.

“Certainly, sir,” the mechanical voice answered. The lift doors closed and it moved down, then sideways, up, left, down, right and then up again at a speed that surprised Jack although The Doctor took it quite nonchalantly.

“The queen is real, too?” Jack asked. “I never QUITE believed it, even though I’ve seen artefacts – you know, the stamps, the coins….”

“Oh she’s real,” The Doctor assured him. “A wonderful lady. You and her will get on like a house on fire.”

Jack grinned. The Doctor wasn’t sure what to make of that grin.

“You are NOT to flirt with Queen Elizabeth the Tenth,” The Doctor told his companion. “There IS a dungeon in the Tower, and she is quite happy to put troublemakers in it.”

Jack still grinned. The Doctor shrugged. He had been warned.

The lift stopped with a thoroughly unnecessary ‘ping’. The doors opened.

The Doctor and Jack looked into a pair of pistol muzzles.

“Well, hello, gorgeous,” Jack said to the pretty young woman holding both guns steadily. She was dressed in a long red dress that clung to the right parts of her body and her lipstick matched the colour exactly. “A gun-toting lady in red. That’s what I call a challenge. How would you like me to clean your barrels for you?”

“I’m sorry, your Majesty,” The Doctor said. “There is just no excuse for him. He’s from the fifty-first century.”

“Doctor, my old china!” Queen Elizabeth the Tenth, known to some as Liz 10, lowered her guns. “I knew you’d turn up – like the old bad penny. You didn’t half take your time, though.”

Jack was, for once, speechless. He had just done exactly what he was told not to do – flirted with the Queen. He was non-plussed by the complete lack of reaction from her. He was also puzzled by the idea of a monarch who spoke with a Cockney accent and toted guns.

“I’m sorry to be so late,” The Doctor said. “But I’m here now. Tell me what’s happened to your subjects.”

Liz brought The Doctor and Jack to her throne room. This was essentially a huge room with a highly polished floor. There was an elaborately gilded throne in the middle of the floor and very little else. Liz ignored it and sat on a silk cushion on a piece of satin fabric spread out on the floor. The Doctor and Jack sat down with her.

“You’re the only one not frozen,” Jack remarked. “You’ve been here all the time… the whole three hundred and….”

“Three hundred and fifty years, five months, two days,” Liz answered, not bothering with the hours and minutes. “Yes, my metabolism is slowed down. I’ve been queen for getting on for seven hundred years, now.”

“Long may she reign,” The Doctor said, recalling the words to the anthem on the blackboard in front of the frozen school choir.

“You bet she will,” Liz answered. “And I just know what your friend wants to say, so we’d better let him say it.”

“Just… you look good for your age ma’am,” Jack said, but he didn’t enjoy saying it as much as he expected to.

“Funnily enough, he doesn’t have much room to talk on that subject,” The Doctor added. “Nor do I, for that matter. Let’s get back to the point. What happened here?”

“It was the Budget,” Liz explained. “My government presented its annual Budget which concluded that we were desperately short of resources after travelling for nearly a hundred generations. The population has more than doubled since we set off from Earth, after all. People do what comes naturally no matter where they are. The Treasury Ministers decided that measures had to be taken.”

The Doctor nodded. If there was one thing he understood it was politics.

“Their first two proposals had to be rejected,” Liz continued. “First, they suggested a cull of the population – anyone over fifty-five to be abandoned on the Isle of Wight to starve to death. Well, seeing as I’m the oldest old person in the UK there was no way I was going to give Royal Assent to that idea.”

“Absolutely not,” The Doctor and Jack agreed seeing as they were both well over fifty-five, too.

“Then they came up with the idea of banning anyone with an average or below average IQ from having children. It was a BIT kinder, but I’ve never liked elitism. I really couldn’t go with it.”

“Quite right,” The Doctor agreed, though he had never been considered average at anything.

“Then they came up with their third solution – freezing all our assets.”

The Doctor grimaced. He had already seen what that had meant in the public sections of Starship UK he and Jack had visited. He could imagine easily enough all the private places, the living quarters where families had been frozen in an instant, no longer needing food or heat, clothing, leisure facilities… never getting any older, caught in a moment of time.

“They’re not in any pain,” Liz confirmed. “But the longer it went on, the more I wondered if it was the right thing to do. Of course, I was exempt. So were the government. They reserved a small retinue of servants to attend to their needs, too. They spent most of the time in the Whitehall banqueting room eating and drinking. They’re still there – or their skeletons at least. One night they all got food poisoning. A bad batch of oysters, I think it was. The staff had eaten the same food in the kitchen.”

Jack and The Doctor said nothing. Their minds filled in the image of skeletons in rags of once splendid ermine sitting around a table that the cleaning droids had continuously cleaned and polished and set for a new banquet never to be eaten. It was a macabre idea. They certainly had no wish to see the evidence for themselves.

“After that, it was just me and the cleaning droids,” Liz admitted. “I didn’t know how to stop what was done. I didn’t dare try in case I got it wrong and killed everyone. You can imagine how awful it would be if the years suddenly caught up on every soul aboard.”

Jack nodded. He could imagine it all too well.

The Doctor understood her reticence, too. He had seen, more than once, what happened when time was messed around with by the incautious. He recalled the sad fate of Sara Kingdom, a brave young woman he had known long ago even in his own timeline. Then there were the experiments The Master had carried out under the pseudonym of Professor Thascalos, resulting in a twenty-six year old Human suddenly aging more than sixty years.

“You did the right thing,” he assured the queen.

“But every day I’ve woken up alone, wondering if I ought to try, and every day I convince myself not to risk it. I don’t know if I’m a coward or a procrastinator. I didn’t think I was either….”

There was a question in her eyes as she spoke. She didn’t have to ask it. The Doctor was ready to do what he could to help, but he knew she would ask it.

“Can you help, Doctor? Will you help?”

“Of course I will,” he answered. “Just show me where to start.”

“Battersea,” Liz answered. “We’ll take my private ‘vator’. It’s got velvet seats.”

The private ‘vator was a little touch of luxury amongst the general shabbiness of Starship UK. The velvet seats, the gilded mirrors and the damask drapes made it look like a small boudoir rather than a means of transport. Jack flicked his hair into a more dashing style as he looked into the mirror. The Doctor sat quietly, wondering what he was going to be faced with in the way of technology humans shouldn’t have been let loose with.

The room they stepped out into really did look like the huge turbine room of Battersea Power Station. The Doctor had been there several times – once in an alternative universe where it was the Cyber conversion plant turning humans into inhuman metal beings by the hundreds.

This facsimile of the original building was an empty shell apart from a complex array of machinery in the middle of the floor. The Doctor looked at it carefully, his eyes following the conduits that reached up to near the ceiling, and the curious bowl shaped installation hanging there.

The machine was humming quite softly, though the sound bounced back off the walls and ceiling of the otherwise empty room making it seem louder.

“Is this what did it?” Jack asked.

“Yes,” The Doctor answered. “Though goodness knows who thought of it. This really isn’t something a Human brain ought to have conceived. Time should be your master, not the other way around. Only Time Lords should dare to imagine they have control over it – and even we know our limitations.”

“When you’re done with the superior being thing, Doctor, can you do anything to help these people?” Jack asked him.

“Yes,” he answered. “But I have to be careful. There is a very grave danger of killing everybody in exactly the way Liz envisaged.”

“Then be careful.”

“Lend a hand, both of you,” The Doctor said. “Jack, take control of that panel, there. Your Majesty, shout out the figures on that monitor. We can’t let them go over 100 until I’ve stabilised the temporal flow.”

Neither Jack nor the Queen knew what any of it was about, but they took their lead from The Doctor and obeyed the instructions he called out from time to time. For Jack it was a lot like old times, controlling the TARDIS together. He felt a wave of sweet nostalgia wash over him before The Doctor chastised him for letting his mind wander.

For Queen Elizabeth the Tenth, it was a rare thing to be accepting orders from somebody else. Of course, for three long centuries there had been nobody to speak to her at all, but even before then she was rarely ordered to do anything. It was a unique experience, and one she might have appreciated if the circumstances were less urgent.

“Doctor, ninety-six,” she called out. “Ninety-seven, ninety-eight….”

“Jack, hold down that lever on your right until I tell you to let go,” The Doctor ordered. Jack did as he said. Liz confirmed that the figures were steady at ninety-eight.

“Ok, let it go,” The Doctor added. Jack did so. Liz counted up again.

“Ninety-Nine, One Hundred. Doctor, it’s at One Hundred.”

“That’s all right. Now both of you grab my hands. A huge temporal flow is going to wash through here. luckily we’re all immune to it one way or another, but a physical connection to each other will make it less nauseating.

“You’re… not… kidding,” Jack groaned as he felt time restart and flow right through him. He looked at his hands, expecting to see them age before his eyes, but they didn’t. He was still a fortyish, impossibly handsome man. The queen was still thirtyish and hot. The Doctor was – The Doctor.

“Has it worked?” he asked as they let go of each other’s hands and looked around the silent turbine room.

“Only one way to find out,” Liz Ten said. “Let’s go and see my subjects.”

They walked slowly, almost dreading what they might find outside the facsimile of the redundant power station. The worst would be everyone dead of extreme old age, the attempt to revive them a terrible failure. The second worst would be no change.

They were prepared for either.

As they stepped out of the executive ‘Vator in London Central, they were almost run down by two boys on scooters racing along the corridor. They stopped and turned to mumble apologies, then one bowed and the other curtseyed, forgetting in their panic the correct way to behave in front of the queen.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Liz Ten said. “Come here, both of you.”

She held out her arms and hugged the two boys joyfully. A single tear ran down her perfect cheek, making no track at all on the stay-fast foundation and highlighters that she wore.

“Go on home to your parents, now,” she said. “And give them my greetings.”

The boys tried to do the right etiquette again and both attempted to curtsey, unsuccessfully, then they grabbed their scooters and raced away.

“Come on,” Liz said. She grasped her cloak around her and started to run. Jack and The Doctor ran with her. They all composed themselves before entering the Primrose Hill zone.

“Oh!” Liz managed to say as she looked around the wide room made to look something like the highest hill in London, a public park for countless generations, recreated for the same reason on Starship UK. She looked up at the painted sky and watched a kite floating on an artificial air current, then down at the child who was running with it and the smaller child at his side begging to hold the reel of string. A mother sitting on a picnic rug called out to them to be careful. Elsewhere they heard the dull thwack of a cricket ball against a bat. The bowler had made his run up more than three hundred years ago and finally the batter had his chance to defend his wicket.

Liz slipped away before anybody recognised her and abandoned their leisure pursuits to pay obeisance to her. She pulled the hood of her cloak up over her head as they walked through several other zones, finally stopping at a traditional London pub where a ‘knees up’ was happening around the piano. Liz sat, incognito, and enjoyed a quiet drink with her two gentlemen friends while the lives of the people she loved dearly went on around her.

“I owe you so much, Doctor,” she said. “How can I repay you?”

Jack smiled the smile of one who knew the value of the Crown Jewels in any century. Liz laughed and promised he could have his pick, with her thanks, but The Doctor’s reward came first.

“There is just one thing,” he said. “If you don’t mind letting me have it.”

Back in the TARDIS, Jack tested the weight of a jewelled orb in his hands. It was solid gold and would fetch a small fortune at any auction, but he had the feeling he never would sell it. Perhaps when he re-opened the Torchwood office he could use it as a paperweight on his desk and people would come to take it for granted as a clever replica, never knowing….

That’s if he re-opened the office….

For no other reason than having somewhere to put his priceless paperweight he suddenly felt as if it was time he DID re-open the office and continue the good work that The Doctor thoroughly approved of in his own way.

“Back to the doorways?” he asked The Doctor, glancing at the bone china face mask that was his reward from the Queen.

“Yes,” he answered. “The last one… the Twelfth.”

“After that, you win your bet with the Guardian?”

“I didn’t exactly call it a bet,” he answered. “But… yes.”

“You get back your Eleventh life.”


Jack picked up one of the globes and looked at the faces that floated in and out of the mist.

“I liked this one best – the one where we first met. I don’t suppose you could go RIGHT back to that one?”

“It wouldn’t feel right,” The Doctor answered. “Not without….”

He didn’t have to finish the sentence. Jack understood.

“Yeah, I know.”

“Besides, that is too much to ask for. I just feel that the life I had – the last one – still had some more to give – some issues to resolve. There’s one bit of old business I really do need to settle very soon, or it will haunt me forever.”

Jack looked at him with questioning eyes, but The Doctor was keeping that to himself. The facts he was forced to face at Trenzalore belonged to the time before Jack came into his life. Before any of the relationships that had shaped his life in these recent incarnations.

“It may be that I don’t have very much time anyway,” he added. “Maybe my Twelfth regeneration isn’t far off, and I’ll accept it when the time is right. But this wasn’t it. That’s why….”

He broke off. He felt it was impossible to explain fully, even to Jack, who was as close a soul mate as he had ever found among the Human race.

“It’s ok, Doc, I understand,” Jack told him, and The Doctor thought he probably did.

“Thanks,” he said with real feeling. “For everything.”

“Thanks to you,” Jack answered. “Especially for that time in the bar… you know… Alonzo. He was nice. I needed somebody nice right then.”

He smiled widely. The Doctor returned his smile and pressed the re-materialisation switch that brought them back to the nowhere place in no time with those interminable doors.