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

The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS and looked up at the sky. He noticed the small yellow sun in a blue sky with a few wisps of white cloud.

“Earth,” he thought. “I’m on Earth. But which part of it, and when?”

He looked around at carefully cultivated plants of different colours and textures arranged along a neat yellow path that led up to a red lacquered wooden tower. He turned the other way and saw the path reach a stream where an elaborate wooden bridge crossed.

“Japanese,” he murmured. “I’m in Japan.”

Then two people walked past him. They were a plump, middle-aged man and woman dressed in white shorts and yellow t-shirts with baseball caps. They were talking loudly. They weren’t Japanese.a

“Doctor!” A voice called his name and it wasn’t speaking Japanese, either. He turned to see a blonde haired woman who stirred his memory in bittersweet ways. “Oh my God. Doctor, it’s you... it really is. Doctor... as large as life. And your TARDIS, too.”

“I’m in San Francisco,” he said. “This must be the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park.”

“Yes... yes, it is,” she replied. “But... Doctor...”

“That means there’s a tea house near here,” he added. “Grace, my dear... Grace Holloway, my dear old friend... Let’s go and have a cup of Japanese tea.”

He smiled widely at her and she let him take her by the arm. He set off along the path for several paces before turning and heading the other way. He stopped and looked around in a puzzled way.

“The teahouse is this way,” she said, grasping his hand firmly. “And I think you’re right. We both need a cup of tea.”

The Tea House was arguably the least authentic part of the Tea Garden which had been lovingly designed by Japanese immigrants in the late 19th century. The kimono-wearing waitresses were of Korean and Chinese ethnicity rather than Japanese, and the serving counter had adverts for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream among other purely American commercial food products. But the tea was genuine Japanese green tea served in the correct way. For a little while The Doctor savoured the taste and let it calm his agitated mind.

“What year is this?” he asked. He looked at Grace, carefully. She was still a very attractive woman, but there were some subtle signs of the natural Human aging process.

“How come you don’t know?” Grace asked.

“The TARDIS took a bit of a knocking about in my last location. The temporal manifest went haywire. I’m slightly surprised... and relieved... to have arrived somewhere I know.”

Maybe it wasn’t coincidence,” he reflected. He had been thinking about Grace just before he dematerialised the TARDIS. And he had also been thinking something else that the semi-sentient machine must have picked up on.

He needed a holiday.

“It’s July, 2011,” Grace said. “Eleven and a half years since we...”

She smiled and blushed slightly as she remembered the strange events of late December 1999. In two heady days she lost her job, her boyfriend, and very nearly her life. In the middle of that, she helped save the universe and had what she always remembered as a whirlwind romance with a very remarkable man.

“You haven’t changed a bit,” The Doctor said with a charming smile that suggested that he, too, had enjoyed the whirlwind romance bit.

“You don’t lie easily, Doctor,” Grace replied. “Eleven years is eleven years. At least...” She looked at him carefully. It WAS eleven years and she had packed it with plenty of other experiences, including a few romances. But the way she remembered him...

“You REALLY haven’t changed at all. You’re even wearing the same outfit. The one you stole from the locker room at the hospital.”

“It’s not the same one,” he admitted. “That wore out long ago. It’s a duplicate. I’m... a man of habit. When I find something that suits me, I stick to it. Eleven years...” He paused and looked at her. She was a level headed woman. She could probably handle it, he figured. “It’s been rather longer for me. I don’t live my days one after the other like humans do. It’s more like...”

He didn’t need a calendar or a diary. He was a Time Lord. He could feel time as part of the very fibre of his being. It was one hundred and fifty five years, twenty three days and three hours since his regeneration within the cadaver drawer in the mortuary of San Francisco Memorial Hospital.

He told her. Her eyes widened in surprise, then she shook her head and smiled as he went on to explain that he was using Earth time to make that calculation. Since his own planet had twenty-six hours in a standard day, and three hundred and eighty days in a year, it would be a different figure if he was at home. And different again in other parts of the galaxy where time was measured in other ways.

“Doctor... you’re babbling,” Grace told him after five minutes of his monologue on intergalactic measurement of time. “Are you all right? You look a bit... I mean... I don’t know what you should look like when you’re one hundred percent well. After all when I met you, you’d just been dead.” She giggled nervously. “I don’t get to say that to many of my patients. But... right now, if I was asked to make a diagnosis, I’d say you were walking wounded from a train wreck, in need of treatment for shock.”

“That’s... not a bad assessment,” The Doctor replied. “I have had a bit of a traumatic time lately. Not exactly a train wreck. More like a planet wreck... It took a lot out of me, anyway.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Grace asked. “I’ll order some more tea... and something to eat. They do a really nice rice soup here.”

The Doctor hesitated. Talking about his triumphs was not something he ordinarily indulged. And he definitely didn’t talk about his failures. Not that Aseti 5 was a failure as such. But he wouldn’t count it as a triumph, either...

Now he was babbling to himself. He stopped and looked at Grace. He remembered their first meeting. When she had no reason to trust him at all, she took him into her home and cared for his immediate needs. When he told her what he was, she hadn’t completely believe him, but eventually she had gone with her instincts and trusted him.

If there was anyone in the universe he could talk to, then it was Grace Holloway.

“I got the intergalactic mayday when the TARDIS came out of the vortex in the Gannymede quadrant,” he said. “The TARDIS is calibrated to pick up any kind of distress signal. The intergalactic mayday is paramount. It means multiple lives are in immediate risk.”

“Aseti 5!” He read the name of the planet and the TARDIS database entry about it. Strictly speaking it wasn’t a planet at all, but a large moon that orbited a planet too inhospitable to support life. Aseti 5 only did so because it had been enclosed in an artificial force field that screened out all the dangerous gamma, ultra-violet, infra-red and other kinds of rays that an ozone layer did for healthier planets. It also held in the atmosphere along with an artificially manufactured weather system.

It was a terraformed paradise for the amusement of the wealthier of the Human colonists of the three inner planets of the Aseti system, a planetary amusement park that could have as many as half a million visitors at any one time with another quarter of a million people working in the hospitality and ancillary industries.

And a glance at the environmental console told him that things were not looking good for those three quarter of a million souls.

He looked at the communications console and noted that the mayday was becoming increasingly intermittent. There was a major paradox at work on the planet and it was causing time to fluctuate. The temporal point where the mayday was sent from kept phasing in and out.

That was a serious problem for a TARDIS to contend with. The time circuits assumed that the planet it wanted to land on was fixed in linear time. Aseti 5 wasn’t even wholly in the same moment in time for more than a few minutes before fluctuating wildly. The temporal strain was critical.

The place where the mayday was coming from was obviously Ground Zero of the problem. The temporal anomalies were happening every few minutes. But he had to try to get a fix on it and land the TARDIS there.

“Come on, old girl,” he whispered. “You can do it. Lives are at stake, here. You must do it.”

If he had been out even by a few seconds in his calculations, the TARDIS could have arrived in two temporal points at once. The Eye of Harmony would have imploded and it would have been instant death for everyone in the Aseti system.

He breathed a deep sigh of relief as the TARDIS materialised in a definite point in both space and time. And now that he was fully materialised the temporal manifold would help stabilise the immediate area for a few minutes longer. Time enough, he hoped, to find out what was going on.

He stepped out into a room that looked like a cross between a very sophisticated computerised control room and an untidy bedroom. The Doctor left the banks of softly bleeping consoles and flickering VDUs for the moment and turned to the figure lying on the dishevelled bed. He looked like a skinny teenager of about seventeen, but he was dressed in a tweed suit tailored for a man who was much bigger about the chest and almost certainly older. The suit and the white lab coat that went over it hung loose on him. His hair was long and straggly and an indeterminate colour something like muddy straw.

The Doctor reached out gently and touched his shoulder. His eyes opened wide and he stared up in shock.

“Calm down,” The Doctor told him. “We don’t have time for you to panic. Just tell me what happened, exactly, and how I can stop it.”

“It was my fault,” the teenager replied. “I’m... I’m Professor Marcus Halligan. Aseti V is mine. I designed it... I set up the temporal dams. But something went wrong. Now the planet is...”

“Yes, I know. Time is running amok all over the planet. It’s affected you. You should be at least fifty years old, but your body has been hit by a wave of time running back. If my TARDIS wasn’t stabilising time in this locality I’d be changing your nappy right now. Or worse.”

“I’m dying,” Halligan said. “I’ve aged and renewed fifteen times in as many hours. My body can’t take much more. But I have to... I’ve got to... eight sectors... eight temporal dams... the controls have... have to be reset locally. If they don’t... the planet is...”

“Where are the local controls?” The Doctor asked. “Give me the co-ordinates. I can...”

Halligan waved towards the central computer console. The Doctor went to it. He examined the datafiles quickly – more quickly than any ordinary humanoid possibly could. The information scrolled rapidly down the screen and his eyes flickered disturbingly as he assimilated the information. When he was done, he turned back to the young man on the bed.

He wasn’t a man any more. A child of three or four looked at him with pleading eyes. The Doctor stepped towards him, but it was already too late. The TARDIS was struggling to hold back the time anomaly now. By the time he reached the bed, no more than three paces, the child had become a baby. The Doctor barely had time to put a hand on his forehead and ease the pain caused by such rapid rejuvenation before he was a newborn, and then a foetus that was unviable outside of the womb. The Doctor didn’t wait to see the pitiful sight of it shrinking back to a mass of cells and then ceasing to exist at all. Marcus Halligan wasn’t just dead. His whole existence had been wiped away.

And that was what would happen to at least half of the people trapped on Aseti V if he failed in the task that he had inherited from Halligan. The other half would die of rapid old age. Both were terrible ways to die.

He turned and ran back to the TARDIS. As he crossed the threshold he felt the pressure on his own body relieved. All the time he was outside in the temporal chaos his body had been fighting its own battle to prevent time affecting him in the same way it had affected Halligan. Of course, he was a Time Lord. It would take much longer to reduce him to a teenager, or to age him beyond his years. But it would get to him eventually.

He turned to close the door and noticed that the temporal anomaly had reversed. He saw the control room age rapidly. The computers blew fuses from neglect. Clean, shining surfaces rusted. The bed and the linen on it rotted away.

He closed the door and ran to the console. He knew what he had to do, and he knew where to do it. He just wasn’t sure he had enough time.

“He died?” Grace questioned.

“There was nothing I could do. If I could... I would have. But he was already doomed before I got to him. He told me what I had to do, at least. The information was in his computer. Everything he had done. Eight sections of the planet were being held by time dams... forcing the same events to repeat over and over again for the entertainment of visitors.”

“Why?” Grace asked. “What’s the point of that?”

“The ultimate perfect holiday, every time,” The Doctor explained. “That was the idea. It’s like... I don’t know... the best holiday you ever had... perfect weather, good food, walking on the beach in the sunset with the perfect somebody...”

“Yes... I’ve had that sort of holiday,” Grace admitted. “Have you? I didn’t think walking on a beach with a perfect somebody was the sort of thing Time Lords did.”

“I like a good romantic sunset like anyone else. But... have you ever booked the same hotel, the same week of the summer, everything exactly the same, and been able to recreate the mood of that perfect holiday?”

“No,” Grace replied. “The hotel had changed hands and the service had gone downhill, the weather wasn’t as good, and the perfect someone was starting to be a drag.”

The Doctor smiled and decided that he wasn’t going to ask anything else about that.

“Halligan didn’t think of it that way. He made sure the food was the same, the weather, the sunset, by making sure the same day repeated over and over and over.”

“What about the perfect someone?” Grace argued. “He’s wrong. No matter what else is the same, I know I’m different every time I go on holiday. And even if I wasn’t... I’m not sure I’d want to just repeat things exactly. It would be boring.”

“I am sure you are right. But it was working for Halligan. He was making a fortune. Except he was playing a dangerous game. Time isn’t something you can play with. It can’t be bent and twisted and held in place against its will. Even we Time Lords can’t do that. Nature was fighting back with a vengeance.”

He looked at the eight co-ordinates on the TARDIS computer, and then made a decision, and that was to get his own time machine out of the way of the chaos altogether. He reached for the dematerialisation switch and brought the TARDIS back into orbit outside the artificial atmosphere and beyond the influence of the time anomalies. Then he searched under the floor panel by the navigation console for something he hadn’t used for several regenerations. A time ring was a nauseating way to travel, but it was safer than getting the TARDIS involved any further. It had helped to stabilise the locality around Halligan for a little while, but things were getting worse down there, and it was just possible that the presence of a time dimensional capsule in the maelstrom of temporal anomalies might cause a temporal implosion.

A temporal implosion was something he really wanted to avoid. He didn’t know anyone with experience of one, because they tended to be very terminal. No Time Lord had witnessed one and lived to share his findings with anyone else.

He slipped the time ring on his wrist and programmed the very basic functions to take him to the first of the temporal dams.

He groaned sickly as he materialised and waited for the world to stop rocking and pitching. It didn’t. He opened his eyes and noticed that he was on a ship. Specifically a rather beautiful square rigged sailing ship of the sort that travelled the oceans of planet Earth in its 18th century when much of the planet was ‘discovered’, colonised and traded with. He spared a moment to be impressed by the attention to detail in what was obviously a faithful replica. This was the forty-eighth century, after all, and it was more than three hundred light years from Earth.

The ship was still beautiful, still intact, but it was full of bodies. They were dressed in the uniforms of the British Navy of the latter end of the 18th century, but every one of them had died of old age, hit by a temporal wave that thrust their bodies forward to the limit of their endurance.

And as he watched, the bodies began to wither and decay. The bright uniforms faded and turned to rags. Around him, the pristine ship began to decay, too. The sails turned to rags, the rigging fell to pieces, the scrubbed wooden floors turned rotten.

He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and held it like a divining rod, seeking out the power source he knew would be around somewhere.

He had to move fast. The ship wasn’t going to last much longer. It didn’t need the waves battering against its hull to do the damage. Time was doing a much faster job. He had to find the control for the time dam before it ended up at the bottom of this ocean. He knew it had to be on this ship somewhere. The time ring should have brought him to the correct co-ordinate spatially even if the temporal fix was difficult.

Or not. He sighed dismally and looked out across the expanse of sea that lay between this ship and another one that had once been equally beautiful, but flew a skull and crossbones rather than a union flag. The pirate galleon was coming closer, but only by the action of the wind and tide, not because any living hand was at the helm.

And the time dam control was aboard THAT ship.

He watched it coming ever closer. As it did, he was aware of the time anomaly reversing again. Both ships were coming back from the dead. They were reverting to their former glory, and around him he saw dry skeletons take on flesh, and that flesh become viable again. Men picked themselves up from where they had fallen. Their bewilderment was short lived as they spotted the pirate ship and the call to arms was raised.

It was a game, of course. The Doctor realised that straight away. It was role play. Clients paid to be either pirates or Navy men and fought a sea battle with cannons and pistols that fired nothing but smoke and with blunted cutlasses that wouldn’t cut butter. It was going on all over the ocean. Duplicate ships playing the same games over and over.

And all in the same danger if he didn’t get over to the pirate ship right now.

Which wasn’t a problem now that it was coming alongside ready for the hand to hand battle. He looked up at the rigging and then grabbed onto a rope. He cursed the necessity for anything so melodramatic and then swung out over the narrowing stretch of water and leapt onto the deck of the pirate ship. He landed awkwardly but rolled and stood up and began to run towards the helm, ignoring the yells of protest from the pirates. The sonic screwdriver told him that the control was there. It was part of the big wooden ships wheel.

“Avast there, you scurvy dog!” yelled a man dressed in pirate costume who leapt in front of him when he was only feet away from his target.

“Oh, don’t be silly,” The Doctor replied. “Can’t you see this game has gone too far? I need to get to that wheel right now, before the anomaly starts up again.”

There had been a relatively stable time, but he knew it wouldn’t last. He had seconds before time started to swing one way or another.

“Just get out of my way,” he added, shoulder barging the pirate and running to the wheel. The man turned and ran at him, trying to fight him.

“You’ll not take the Black Albatross from me,” he shouted as he jumped on The Doctor’s back and thrust a cutlass against his neck. “I’ll gut you like a fish... I’ll...”

The man screamed in agony and dropped the cutlass. The Doctor knew what was happening. He was feeling the effects of rapid aging again.

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you,” The Doctor said. He shrugged the man from him and lunged for the incongruous red button in the middle of the wheel. He pressed it and felt time stabilise around him. He had switched off the dam and normal time rushed back into this sector.

But it was too late for the pirates. They had already been subjected to something like a hundred years of time in a matter of minutes. They were dead or dying of extreme old age. He grabbed up a telescope that lay on a ledge beside the wheel and turned it on the Navy ship. It was the same there. A ghost ship was full of corpses.

It would be repeated all across the ocean on all the duplicate ships. Thousands of people were dead.

The man he had pushed away from him groaned unhappily. The Doctor reached and lifted him to his feet, surprised to see that he was alive. He looked about forty years old, with dark hair going grey at the temples, but he was alive and well.

“You were next to me,” The Doctor said. “My body absorbed the worst effects of the anomaly. You’re alive.”

“But I’m....” He stared at his reflection in the burnished bronze ships bell. “I’m old... I’m...”

“You’re alive,” The Doctor told him. “I think you may be the only one, but you’re alive. And that’s what matters.”

The man looked at the corpses strewn around the deck below and gave a choked sob. The Doctor reached out and touched him on the arm gently. As he did, he activated the time ring. The familiar nauseating feeling engulfed him.

He re-materialised in the TARDIS. The lone survivor from the seafaring sector was with him. He stared around at his new location and then dropped to his knees, crying in grief at all that had happened to him.

“You’re alive,” The Doctor reminded him. “I know you’re hurting, right now. But that will pass.”

“What’s the use, when everyone I know is dead. And I’m....” Again he looked around and found a reflective surface to view his own face in. “You don’t understand. I’m... I should be twenty-two years old. I’m getting married tomorrow. I’m... this is my stag party. My... friends... my dad... my brother...”

“I truly am sorry,” The Doctor told him. “But if I don’t shut off the rest of the dams many more people will die. I have to try. I’m going to let you sleep. It’s the safest thing for you. I can’t take you into another anomaly, and I can’t risk you getting curious and touching anything here.”

“I don’t want to sleep. I want... Oh... Oh my God. You mean this is happening everywhere on that damned planet?”


“My fiancée.... Janille... she’s having her hen party. I don’t even know which section she’s in.”

“Even if you did, I can’t pick and choose who I can save,” The Doctor told him. “It was only by sheer chance that you survived. You were next to me when the temporal wave hit and my body absorbed enough of it to slow down the effect on you.”

“It might as well have killed me. My life is over.”

“That’s why you need to sleep,” The Doctor said, reaching out and touching him on the forehead. “I can’t risk leaving you alone with ideas like that.” He reached into the unfortunate man’s mind and gently soothed him until he fell into an exhausted sleep. The Doctor wrapped a blanket around him and left him for a few minutes while he found something that he thought might be a little help to him. Once, the TARDIS had contained a whole room disconnected to time or space of any kind - the Zero Room. Now all it had was a coffin-like cabinet. He hauled it out of the lumber cupboard and dragged it back to the console room. He laid the sleeping man inside and closed the lid. Cut off from the passage of time, it was like a less dramatic form of suspended animation. His body, subjected as it had been to the stresses of time going backwards and forward, would feel at ease at last.

“Sleep well, Terran,” he whispered kindly, speaking the name he had seen in the man’s tortured mind. Then he touched the time ring and prepared to switch off the next time dam.

A half hour later by the real time clock on the TARDIS console he arrived back with a mere handful of survivors of a reverse temporal anomaly. They were all dressed in Roman togas, but they were adult costumes that hung loosely on the bodies of children and teenagers. Adult minds protested about what had happened to them, talking about suing Marcus Halligan for negligence.

“Halligan is already dead,” The Doctor told them. “Just shut up and sit down. I’ve got six more dams to stop. I don’t have time to babysit any of you.”

He didn’t have time to send them to sleep individually, either. He gave them food and drink and told them not to touch anything. The console wouldn’t respond to anything they might do, anyway. It was primed only to obey his hand at the controls. But resetting panels that had been randomly interfered with was the last thing he needed to do if the time dams went critical and he had to flee a planetary wide temporal implosion.

Another twenty minutes later he returned encumbered with a baby wrapped in a piece of silk cloth and an elderly man wearing Tudor style doublet and hose. The man was bewildered and hurt not only by being aged something like fifty years in a few minutes, but also from seeing his wife reduced to a baby in the same time.

“It’s getting more complicated,” The Doctor said to the collection of refugees as he distributed more food and drink between them. “The anomalies are going both ways at once. So don’t anyone waste my time with questions. I just can’t wait. Stay here, rest. Don’t do anything stupid. It goes without saying that trying to open that door over there would constitute something very stupid.”

He knew he must be coming across as a cold and unsympathetic angel of mercy. But it really was just because he had too much to do, yet.

On his next three excursions to a 1920s flapper party, a wild west town of the 1880s and a 1970s discothèque nobody got in his way. They were all dead before he reached the dam and switched it off. The sight of so many people needlessly dead sickened him as well as his own impotency in the face of the disaster. He was a Time Lord, but here time didn’t obey him and he didn’t dare attempt to make it do so. His own body was lashed by the temporal anomalies every time he materialised in another zone.

“That console is making noises,” said one of the teenagers in Roman costume when he got back from the penultimate zone with four toddlers who were crying and talking incoherently. They had been young men in a zone where the best days of motorsports on Earth were recreated. One of them clung to a racing helmet that no longer fitted his head. He left them in the care of the elderly man, who gave them orange juice and biscuits and turned to the console.

It was the communications console. There was an incoming transmission. He opened the channel and was relieved to see the logo of the intergalactic medical services. They had a hospital ship on standby to treat the survivors.

“We daren’t try, yet,” the director of the operation told him. “The fluctuations are less acute now, but we daren’t risk sending down shuttles and using the transmat would be highly dangerous.”

“I know. That’s my last mission, shutting down the final time dam. I’ll contact you again when I’ve completed that task.”

He closed the transmission and got ready to transmat down to the last time dam. The only thing he could be grateful for right now was that this was the last one. After this it would be over. The SS Marie Curie would be able to deal with the casualties of this disaster as she dealt with those caught up in major earthquakes and asteroid collisions and other planet-wide crises. His own work would be done.

The last time dam was in a recreation of a French country villa in the 1740s, two generations before the revolution, when fine clothes and sumptuous amusements were the raison d’être of the aristocrats. When the dam was fully functioning the costume party in the grand garden would have been a dazzling sight. But now it was a scene of devastation. Bodies lay everywhere. Fine costumes and elaborate masks lay where the victims of reverse time had been regressed to unviable embryos. Skeletons dressed in lace and satin crumpled pitifully.

The dam was hidden in a fountain near the middle of the garden. The Doctor headed straight for it. He was surprised to see a young woman in an elegant gown crouching by it. She seemed unaffected except that she was sobbing miserably.

“The eye of the storm,” The Doctor noted as he examined her carefully. “This is the last dam left, and its effects are nullified right up against it. That’s why you’re ok. What’s your name?”

“Janelle,” she answered. “This was... Oh, God, they’re all dead. My friends... my sisters. This was my hen party. I’m supposed to be getting married. But... Terran... He must be...”

The Doctor didn’t say anything. It was a million to one chance that she had survived and there was a shock in store when she was reunited with her ‘young’ man. He would have to break that to her gently. But first things first. He could see the button right underneath the sheet of falling water. He would have to get into the pool of water and wade under the cascade. But getting wet was the least of his problems, today. He didn’t even worry about kicking off his shoes before he climbed in. The water was cold and he suspected there were some nasty bacteria in it, but he pressed forward and hit the last dam reset button. He climbed out of the fountain dripping wet and grasped Janelle firmly before activating the time ring.

He must have absorbed the worst of the nauseating effects into his own body, or Janelle was an experienced transmat traveller, because she recovered from it faster than he did. As his head cleared he heard her cry out loud and run to embrace a young man who kissed her intently.

“What?” The Doctor looked at Terran. It was definitely him. He was wearing the same pirate costume. But he looked more like a twenty-two year old again.

“I know you said don’t touch,” one of the teenagers who used to be middle aged told him. “But that guy woke up in the crate and wanted to be let out. He said being in there had made him right again. So... the old guy got into it. And he’s ok now. So he put his wife in it... the one who was turned into a baby. And...”

The Doctor didn’t wait to listen to the rest. He bounded across the console room floor to where he left the Zero cabinet. A man in his early thirties was kneeling by it, pressing his hands against the lid. The Doctor gently moved him aside and opened the cabinet.

“Valerie!” the man gasped. The woman within was wrapped in a blanket. Her clothes were left behind on the planet. She looked tired and worried, but the sight of her husband helped relieve some of that.

“That box makes people right,” said the teenager. “It could put us all right.”

“The inside of it is outside of all time,” The Doctor said. “It neutralises the effects of the time waves you’ve all suffered. Yes, it could put you all right. But form an orderly queue and no fighting over it.”

“What about the others?” somebody asked. “Down on the planet. Those that aren’t dead.”

The Doctor glanced at the lifesigns monitor on the console. There were pockets of survivors everywhere, those furthest from the time dam controls in each of the sectors, where the wave was weakening by the time it got there. The computer estimate was about three hundred thousand. That was tragically few, and they would all be suffering from either rapid rejuvenation or rapid aging.

“You can’t do this for them all,” said Terran. “Unless you have loads more of those boxes.”

“No, I don’t,” The Doctor replied. “But... Oh... Yes. I think I have an idea. I think it might be possible. I have to go back down to the planet. But it’s safe to take the TARDIS, now. If I’m clever... more clever than even I think I am... I might be able.”

First he opened a communication to the hospital ship and told them to wait a little longer before transmatting casualties aboard. The director was reluctant to obey. He had a lifesigns monitor, too, and he knew that every second was precious for those left alive on the planet. But The Doctor pleaded with him to give him half an hour. He got that much of an agreement from him then turned to the drive console. The time rotor wheezed into life and then stopped again. He dashed to the door. Janelle and Tarran saw him dive into the fountain in the renaissance zone again and do something complicated to the time dam switch.

He repeated what he did there seven times in the other zones. Then he returned to the TARDIS and returned it to its orbit outside the artificial atmosphere. He noted that there were only three more of those he had rescued still waiting to be restored by the zero cabinet.

“It will take longer,” he said. “For the zero time wave to cover the whole of Aseti V. It wouldn’t work at all if it wasn’t for the artificial forcefield around the planet. But I think... in about forty hours... everyone left down there will be back to normal. Zero time will restore them.”

“What about the ones who...” Terran began.

“No, I’m sorry,” The Doctor told him. “It won’t restore those who were dead already, or who had been regressed so far they ceased to exist. This... this is a tragedy. Tens of thousands of lives have been wiped out. I’m sorry. I can’t do more than I have already. Nobody can. All you can do is mourn those you’ve lost... and then carry on. That’s all anyone can do.”

Terran and Janelle hugged each other and cried for the people they had lost. Around the console room the others did the same. The Doctor contacted the hospital ship and told them that they didn’t have a medical emergency any more, just a major evacuation to organise and an inquiry into what had happened.

He dropped off his own group of survivors on the hospital ship. They thanked him as they left the TARDIS. He accepted their thanks. But it didn’t feel like something he ought to be thanked for. He knew there was nothing more he could have done. There wasn’t a single life more he could have saved. But he had a hard time convincing himself of that.

Alone again in the console room he looked at the SS Marie Curie and her sister ship that was coming into orbit alongside to aid in the rescue mission. He looked at the name of that other ship and a memory stirred. He was not noted for his female conquests, but these ships were named after two women who he had shared a brief romance with.

He looked at Grace Holloway across the Japanese tea room table and decided against telling her that a huge space borne hospital ship was named after her in the far future.

“I saved some of them,” he said, going back to the core of the tale. “But so many of them died terrible, horrible deaths. And I still can’t stop wondering if there was something more I could have done. Could I have found another way? Could I have saved more lives?”

“That sort of thinking is self-destructive,” Grace told him. “Believe me, I know. Been there. Every time I lose a patient despite everything I know, despite every advance in medical science... the night you came into my cardio theatre... I did it all by the book, and you still flatlined. I lay awake for hours that night wondering how it happened, if I made a mistake or...” She grasped his hand tightly, her thumb pressing against his wrist so that she could feel his syncopated pulse. “And there have been too many other times when the patient didn’t break out of the mortuary. I DO know what you’re going through, Doctor. And I’m telling you, don’t dwell on it. You did what you could, more than most people could possibly do. There are all those millions who are alive because of you. So chalk the rest up to bitter experience and move on.”

The Doctor looked at her solemnly for a long moment then a smile widened, changing his face, completely.

“I thought this was a random materialisation,” he said. “But my TARDIS knew. She knew I needed a friend, right now. I needed somebody who would understand. And she brought me to you.”

Grace smiled warmly and clasped his hands in hers.

“The TARDIS is a smart old girl. It sounds like you need a proper holiday, Doctor - from being The Doctor. I’ve got a couple of quiet days. I think it’s time I showed you round San Francisco properly, without any end of the world scenarios to worry about.”

“Sounds good to me,” The Doctor replied, feeling as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.