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

The Doctor looked at the TARDIS and knew there was something not quite right about it. No, it wasn’t the paintwork. That was just aesthetics. It was the fact that it was having trouble materialising. It kept phasing in and out and making a very disagreeable sound rather than the clean whoosh of a dimensional engine coming to a stop.

He reached into his pocket for his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the blue flashing light on the top of the police box. The engine sound began to normalise and he felt the rush of displaced air as a solid object settled into a physical space.

That wasn’t the half of it, though. As soon as it was safe to do so he grabbed his key from his pocket and opened the door. He stepped inside and closed it behind him. Until things were completely stabilised he wasn’t going to risk the world outside and the dimensional space inside the TARDIS clashing.

The clean white walls and bright overhead light of this version of the time and space capsule surprised him for a moment. He had become used to the Victorian gothic of his own version. It seemed smaller than he remembered, too.

But that wasn’t important, now. He looked at the frantic young woman pressing buttons desperately while his younger incarnation shouted out instructions that she was barely keeping up with. He had always been tough with Peri. She was a nice young woman, but she had been too used to getting her own way before she accidentally joined the TARDIS crew. She had needed to learn that life wasn’t handed out on a plate, and that sometimes you had to struggle for the things you wanted.

At least, that was how he had always rationalised it. Looking back, remembering how they were parted, how he never had a chance to say goodbye, or to tell her how he valued her company, he wished he could have been a little gentler, a little kinder to her.

“No,” he called out. “Not the bi-dimensional catalyser. It’s been thrown out of synch. It will toss us all back into space again. Hit the Phase Regulator three times. That button, there. That’s it. Doctor... now the dimensional lock before the temporary hold I put on the TARDIS exterior breaks down and the inside ends up wrapped around the outside.”

Neither Peri nor his sixth incarnation had noticed him until then. They were both too busy struggling with the damaged console. Peri had been startled by his presence, but did as he said with the Phase Regulator. The younger version of himself likewise took his advice.

The TARDIS fully materialised. The time rotor wheezed to a stop and the control panels all signalled a ‘normal’ landing - if anything was ever normal within the TARDIS.

“I... suppose I should thank you for that,” The Doctor said. “But I won’t... until you tell me who you are and how you got into my TARDIS and how you knew what to do just now.”

“You know who I am, Doctor,” he replied with a soft laugh. “The TARDIS knows who I am, anyway. That’s how I got in. And I know the TARDIS. I could hear the problem as soon as I stepped aboard. Of course, you didn’t recognise the signs. It’s like stepping into a hot bath compared to already being in it and adding more hot water. It was all down to the bi-dimensional catalyser. It will take ten seconds to fix. But if Peri had pulled that switch we’d have been thrown into the void between worlds.”

“Don’t fancy that,” Peri said. “But like he said... who are...” She looked at him carefully. He could feel her eyes taking in the old fashioned look of the velvet frock coat, the embroidered waistcoat, the silk cravat.

She smiled.

“It’s not what I’d have chosen, but it’s an improvement on THAT!” She nodded towards the ‘technicolour dreamcoat’ hanging on the coatstand by the door and smiled prettily. He remembered not seeing her smile quite often enough and that was the greatest shame about their time together. “I am right, aren’t I? It’s you... him... changed again. Like the last time when you became him. You’re him in a future version?”

The Doctor smiled. Peri was a bright girl when she tried.

“Are you allowed to have two of you together?”

“It can happen in special circumstances,” The Doctor replied. “This is one of those circumstances. I was sent to bring you to a meeting. An important meeting. Both of you. We have to go in MY TARDIS. This one will be safe enough here.”

“I haven’t even worked out where HERE is,” the Sixth Doctor told him. “And what do you mean, a MEETING? What sort of meeting?”

“Please, trust me,” The Doctor told him. “We need to get on.”

“I trust him,” Peri said. “Come on, Doctor. It’ll be all right.”

She stepped towards the door, grabbing her coat as she passed the coatstand. The Sixth Doctor picked up his crazily coloured coat and slipped it on over the yellow pinstriped waistcoat. He followed her out and noted that the TARDIS was standing in the secure car park section of a self storage warehouse. It had to be planet Earth. No other planet in the cosmos had invented self storage.

What really surprised him was the two other TARDISes parked there. Two people stood outside one of them holding something wrapped in white paper. One was a middle aged man in a white hat and brown duffel coat, open at the front to reveal a jumper with question marks all over it that matched the umbrella with a question mark shaped handle hooked over his arm. Beside him was a young woman with a mass of curly red hair tied back in a blue Alice band that went with a striking blue and white polka dot blouse and white slacks.

“Don’t tell me,” The Doctor groaned. “He’s me as well? And the girl?”

“Doctor,” the Eighth Doctor said. “Let me introduce you to The Doctor and Mel. Mel, you know this Doctor, of course, but he hasn’t yet met you in his timeline. And this is Peri, who was with me when I became that version of me, just as you were there when he became him.”

That introduction would have been utter nonsense to anyone other than multiple versions of a Time Lord and his friends from different times in his life. Peri and Mel sorted it out surprisingly quickly.

“Would you like a chip?” Mel asked Peri, offering her the white package. “We were in Blackpool, on the promenade. In NOVEMBER, two weeks after the illuminations finished, no less. Because HE decided that what we both needed was a good old fashioned fish and chip tea by the seaside. Then that one turned up, and brought us here. Wherever here is.”

Peri helped herself to a bit of the battered fish and some of the chips and studied the traffic on the unremarkable road outside the steel fence of the storage yard.

“I’ve seen worse,” she admitted. “Last week we parked in an old scrapyard in London!”

“Don’t knock that scrapyard,” the Eighth Doctor told her. “I used to call it home, once. Anyway, we’re not stopping here. Come on, you can finish the chips in comfort.”

He brought the two versions of himself and the two former companions into his own TARDIS. They all stared at the wide room with the console housed within the steel girder framework in the centre and all the comforts of home around the subtly lit sides. He invited his former selves and the two young women to sit in the section furnished as a Victorian sitting room with comfortable armchairs. Tea was already prepared. He left them to it as he went to the console and programmed the next destination.

He had thought about this one, carefully. So had those who gave him this mission to track down all of his earlier incarnations and as many friends as possible. When was the best time to interact with his fifth life? He had decided to make it just after that disastrous encounter with the Silurians and Sea Devils on the Sea Base. He couldn’t remember a time when he had felt quite so defeated and depressed. His companions were unhappy, too. The death toll on the Base was distressingly large and it had affected them all, especially Tegan. Behind all her brash confidence there was a sensitive soul who counted the cost of all their adventures. She could do with this interlude from the mayhem as much as he could. And Turlough. He had proved his courage and his loyalty to him in the course of those terrible events. It would do him good, too.

He intercepted the earlier version of his TARDIS in the Vortex. It was a tricky manoeuvre, but TARDISes were actually designed so that they could do that. In this case the fact that it was the SAME TARDIS made it easier in one way, because all of the parts were compatible, and also slightly harder because the logic circuits in both versions kept telling it that it couldn’t couple with itself.

But he did it. There was a very slight buffeting very much like when two train carriages are joined together. Six and seven both protested about their tea spilling.

“Sorry, but there’s plenty more where that came from. Hang on a tick.”

He ran to the TARDIS door and opened it, then ducked as a coatstand wielded like a slightly clumsy katana narrowly missed his head.

“It’s all right,” he called out. “Tegan, you can put that down. Turlough... it’s good to see you. Doctor, tell them it’s just me.”

“Just who?” Tegan Jovanka demanded, taking a tentative step forwards over the threshold between the two TARDISes. “Doctor... this is weird. It’s like a darker version of your TARDIS in here.”

The fifth incarnation of himself stepped between his two companions. He smiled warmly at his older self. The face was unfamiliar, but the psychic identity all Time Lords had was unmistakeable. He knew himself right away.

“What number are you?” the Fifth Doctor asked.

“You really don’t need to know right now,” Eight replied. “But come and have a cup of tea and cake with your two immediate successors and two of their friends. Tegan, I think you will get on like a house on fire with Mel and Peri.”

He introduced them all and then turned back to his console. He arranged first to leave the Fifth Doctor’s TARDIS in the same secure long term parking as the other two TARDISes then set a course for Paris in 1980.

That had been a busy day, The Doctor remembered. He and Romana had stopped the last of the Jagaroth from retrospectively destroying the Human race before it had begun, restored the stolen Mona Lisa to the Louvre, well, A Mona Lisa anyway, and still managed to get in some sightseeing.

The TARDIS had done a bit of sightseeing of its own. Having spent much of the time as an accidental exhibit in a Parisian art gallery it was now parked on the Champs de Mars, in sight of the Eiffel Tower.

In fact, the Fourth Doctor’s TARDIS was now parked inside the Eighth Doctor’s one. He materialised around it and waited until his younger self and Romana stepped inside and looked around in astonishment at the vastly different décor.

“What’s going on?” the Fourth Doctor demanded. “Who are you and how did...”

Then he recognised his own psychic ident.

“I see...”

“It’s nothing to worry about,” the Eighth Doctor assured him. “I’m just the taxi service at the moment. Come and have a cup of tea.”

“I love what you’ve done with the place,” Romana said. “Very... early Rassilonian.”

“I don’t like it at all,” the Fourth Doctor contradicted her. “When did I stop having good taste?”

“Around about our sixth incarnation, I’d say,” Eight replied. “Go and sit down and relax.”

It was a large group occupying the soft chairs in the sitting room, now. Four Doctors and five companions. The TARDIS responded to the needs of its occupants and the soft armchairs had automatically increased along with the size of the teapot and the number of cups on the tray.

Clever TARDIS.

He deposited another earlier version of the TARDIS in the secure parking and then headed further back in his own history. There was no particular reason for going back in chronological order according to his regenerations. It just seemed to work out that way.

He materialised in the old familiar laboratory at U.N.I.T headquarters where his Third incarnation had found a certain satisfaction in solving problems for the Brigadier, at least when the Brigadier wasn’t the problem himself. He got it just right. His TARDIS was right beside the old version of itself and he had done so when all of his old friends, The Brigadier himself, Captain Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton, as well as Jo Grant, bless her heart, were all there along with The Doctor. They had all turned in astonishment at the materialisation sound.

“Doctor!” the Brigadier turned to his scientific adviser. “What’s going on? How can there be more than one of those?”

“There can’t,” he replied. “This could be one of The Master’s tricks.”

At the mention of that name, the three military men became fully alert. When the Eighth Doctor stepped out of his TARDIS he had his hands in the air because three service pistols were trained on him.

“It’s all right,” he assured them. “I’m NOT The Master. I’m The Doctor. Well, one of him. You remember our trouble with Omega, Brigadier. When there were three of us? There’s a few more, now....”

The Brigadier clearly understood the concept of multiple doctors. But he wasn’t ready to believe him, yet. The Doctor stood, warning Jo to stay back, and he stepped between the three soldiers. He looked steadily at his older self.

“It’s all right, Brigadier,” he said at last. “This chap is telling the truth. He is me... will be me. Jo...” He turned and reached out his hand to his young assistant. She came to his side. “Jo, this is me... from the future.”

“Pleased to meet you, Doctor,” Jo said, accepting the fact with surprising aplomb.

“I’m here to bring you to an important meeting,” Eight told his Third incarnation, just as he had told the others. “All of you. Jo, my dear, of course. Brigadier, Yates, Benton, you are invited, too. Delighted to have your company.”

“A meeting?” The Third Doctor was not won over quite that easily. “What sort of meeting? And where? If this is anything to do with the Time Lords, they can think again. I am not going back to our home planet unless they promise me full immunity from any charges they might cook up.”

“We’re not going home,” Eight assured him. “Please come. It will be worth your while, I assure you.”

“A trip in the TARDIS?” Benton was trying not to look TOO eager. “A TARDIS at least. A proper trip, not being flung into the world of anti-matter.”

“A proper trip, Sergeant Benton. No charge. And I promise to have you all back here ten minutes after you left. You won’t be neglecting your duty to Queen and Country for any longer than that.”

Benton was like a puppy straining at the leash. Mike Yates was clearly tempted. And so was the Brigadier. Jo looked at her own Doctor then to his older self.

“It can’t do any harm,” she said. “And if the Time Lords have given him permission...”

“Well...” The Third Doctor looked at his other incarnation steadily. Of course, he was carefully blocking the reason why he was on this mission to gather together all of his former lives. “All right. But I hope you’re right about the ten minutes.”

“Absolutely, Doctor. No problem, at all.”

Well, he hoped there wouldn’t be. The TARDIS was slightly more reliable now than it used to be in those days. But pin point accuracy wasn’t something it was noted for. The Type 40s never were.

Jo quickly made friends with The Doctor’s later companions, even Romana, who could be disdainful of merely Human intellect. There could hardly be more of a contrast between the product of nearly two hundred years of Gallifreyan education and scatterbrained Jo Grant who failed Chemistry A’Level and then chose the intelligence service as a career purely on a whim. Thank goodness for her uncle in high places who sent her to U.N.I.T instead of MI5.

The Brigadier and his subordinates were greeted warmly by the older versions of The Doctor. Benton and Yates quickly found themselves enjoying an unexpected tea break. Benton got on well with both Peri and Tegan. Yates struck up a conversation with Turlough.

“What is this all about?” the Third Doctor insisted. He followed Eight to the console and studied it curiously. “Strange layout you have here. Where’s the Helmic Regulator?”

“It’s that lever, there,” Eight replied. “Don’t worry. You’ll know soon enough. We’ve only got to collect two more of ourselves before we head to the rendzvous.”

“Our first and second incarnations?” The Third Doctor smiled enigmatically. “Did you bring nets? Can you see either of those two just stepping in here? We were a bit more suspicious in our younger days.”

“We had reason to be,” Eight admitted. “When we were on the run from Gallifrey.”

The Third Doctor’s smile widened a little. Eight wondered why.

“Gallifrey... I don’t think I have spoken that name since Susan and I left. I sometimes spoke of ‘home’ but never by name. It....”

“It was too painful, yes. But once we faced the music... accepted their judgement... the wound healed a little.”

Eight didn’t say anything else. Actually, it WAS still painful. Those wounds cut deep. But he had learned to live with the hurt and be a little less bitter about it all.

He concentrated on the job in hand and put away those thoughts. After all, the object of this exercise hadn’t been to wallow in self pity or to think about the past.

Though how anyone expected them not to do that, he wasn’t sure. He looked at his other incarnations in the now much enlarged sitting room area. They were talking about the past, each and every one of them. What else would they talk about? The future was too uncertain even for a Time Lord.

The TARDIS materialised again. It was in orbit on the dark side of the moon. It hung there like a jewel against the vastness of space, waiting.

It wasn’t long before the earlier version of the TARDIS materialised in geo-stationary orbit. His second incarnation and his friends of the time had just had a difficult struggle to save Earth from a cyberman invasion. Before travelling on to another adventure they had stopped to look at Earth, peaceful now, free from danger for a little while.

And that was his chance to override the somewhat cranky circuits of the old TARDIS that was well overdue for a service and slave it to his. Entering the time vortex with two TARDISes, one resisting for all that it was worth, wasn’t easy, but it saved him the trouble of arguing with his second incarnation.

He brought the two TARDISes out of the time vortex on the Cornish coast in the year 1686, not far away from the last efforts of a group of pirates and smugglers to get away with their treasure. This was merely local politics, and his elderly first incarnation and his two young companions had taken the opportunity to slip away while the forces of law and order were routing the smugglers. They headed for what they thought was their own TARDIS.

Polly actually spotted that something was wrong just before they all stepped inside.

“Doctor, the TARDIS... what happened to the St. John’s Ambulance badge?” she asked.

“What happened to the inside?” Ben added. They turned to get out, but the door was already closed.

“I got rid of it,” the Eighth Doctor told them. “The symbol means something quite rude in fourteen languages of the Gemini sector and I got fed up of apologising to them for it. “It’s all right Ben, Polly... Doctor. You’re safe. Your own TARDIS is right there, as you can see. I materialised around it.”

“Who does the other one belong to?” Ben asked, noting that there were two TARDISes side by side.

“It belongs to The Doctor, too. Doctor... oh, it seems so long ago, now. Please... don’t be alarmed. You know who I am. It’s a bit harder for you than the others. It hasn’t happened or you, yet. You’re not used to it. Believe me, I am. But... would you step this way while I open up this other TARDIS. I’m sure they’ll be ready for a cup of tea, too.”

The First Doctor began to protest, but even though he had not yet regenerated for the first time, he knew what his future held. He stood beside his older, yet younger looking, self as he unlocked the door of the second TARDIS. A wild-eyed and angry young Highlander charged out, his dirk in his hand. He was followed by a pretty, dark haired girl and the Second Doctor. The Eighth Doctor calmly disarmed the young Scotsman.

“It’s quite all right, Jamie,” he said. “We’re all friends here.”

“I’m no friend of yours,” Jamie McCrimmon replied. “I’ve never met you before... and you dress like a Sasanach fop...”

“That I do, but I’m still your friend, Jamie. And I hope I always will be.” He looked at him steadily, exerting a measure of Power of Suggestion over him. It wasn’t easy to do that with Jamie. He had few subtleties. His mind thought in simple, straightforward terms. And it was hard to deflect such thoughts.

But he managed to persuade him that there was nothing to worry about and that he was among friends.

“Good gracious, what a wild young man,” the First Doctor commented. “Is he really travelling in the TARDIS with you?”

“He is,” the Second Doctor replied. “Jamie is a loyal friend. As loyal as they come. As you will know when the time comes.”

The subject apparently closed, he turned to the Eighth Doctor.

“What’s going on here?” he asked. “We can’t do this. It’s impossible. It’s completely contrary to the Laws of Time.”

“We’ve done it,” Eight responded. “Come and sit down with your friends. We’re all together now. Time to head to our destination for this afternoon.”

Both of his earlier incarnations grumbled a little at the impertinence and lack of manners he had developed in later years. The Third Doctor laughed to hear them.

“You got off lightly, I think,” he said. “Pity... you picked up my first incarnation at so late a period. I would have liked... I’m surprised you didn’t think about finding me when Susan was still... It would have been nice to see her. The one real regret of my exile... it meant I couldn’t make good on my promise to go back to see how she was getting on.”

“I never did even when the Time Lords gave me my freedom again,” Eight answered. “Somehow... the time never seemed right. And before I knew it... centuries had passed. You’re right... the one regret. Maybe that’s why I didn’t...”

The two versions of the same man, sharing the same heartaches and self-recriminations, looked at each other for a long moment. Then the Third Doctor reached for the helmic regulator. The Eighth took control of navigation. In only a few minutes the TARDIS came to a wheezing halt once more.

“We’re here,” the Eighth Doctor said at last. “End of the line, everyone.”

“Where precisely IS here?” asked Brigadier Alasdair Lethbridge Stewart cautiously as he stepped out of the TARDIS and was surprised to see a phalanx of impeccably dressed but curiously short bright blue people forming what he could only describe as an honour guard. He saluted them. So did Yates and Benton as they stepped out of the TARDIS behind them.

It took a while for everyone to file out in twos and threes. They found themselves in a large room with a high roof and huge, cathedral like windows – except these looked out into space. Below, planet Earth and its moon shone in the reflected light of the distant sun and the vastness of the galaxy spread beyond it. The Brigadier was especially taken by the sight. Despite his adventures with The Doctor, this was the first time he had seen his home world from such a vantage point. He stood at the window and watched happily for a little while.

Then a tall, thin version of the blue faced people called their attention. Everyone turned towards the big doors that led from this ante room to the rest of the ship. Three men came in. One was tall and slim but appeared broad shouldered because of the black leather jacket he wore. Beside him was a man who was just as tall and dressed in a blue suit and beside him, another who was also tall, and equally thin, but who looked as if he was still growing into his long limbs. He wore a tweed jacket with a red bow tie and matching braces.

The Eighth Doctor had already met these three. He introduced them to his younger incarnations as his immediate successors.

“There are eleven of us here?” asked the First Doctor. “Goodness me, I seem to have been careless with my future lives.”

“We have always lived life to the full,” Eight pointed out.

“Danger is our middle name,” the Sixth Doctor added.

“It’s not, you know,” the Seventh replied. “Personally, all I really wanted was a quiet time.”

Then another man entered the room. He was middle aged and had a quiet dignity to him. He brought with him a group of people that were known to those already there. The Third and Fourth doctors were overjoyed to see Sarah Jane Smith among the crowd. The Fifth embraced Nyssa joyfully. Eight smiled and went to hug Grace Holloway and Ace, who was his Seventh incarnation’s later companion. When he turned from them, he found himself inexplicably kissed on the cheek by a man with matinee idol looks and RAF blue clothes who went to talk to his ninth and tenth incarnations.

Then all of the Doctors turned as another man for whom quiet dignity was a good description entered the room. They had all guessed that the one who had brought some of their absent friends was their Twelfth incarnation. And now they looked at the thirteenth. He was dressed in what all of them recognised as the formal gown and robe of an alumni of the Prydonian Chapter, red and gold with a high headdress that made him look taller and more broad-shouldered than he already was.

Beside him was a dark haired woman dressed in a simpler gown but in the same red and gold. The various female companions of the Doctors over the years all wondered who she was. The male companions all came to the conclusion that, despite being in her mid-forties she was a very attractive woman.

The Doctors all knew who she was straight away. There was something of a collective gasp from them.

“Twelve lifetimes ago,” said the man who was the Thirteenth Doctor. “I did what I still believe was the right thing to do. I let my granddaughter go off to make her own way in life. It’s what parents do when their children grow. My mistake, was in never keeping my promise to return. I made up for that mistake a little while ago. And though I didn’t deserve it, I was forgiven. Then Susan had an idea that I thought couldn’t possibly work. But I was wrong about that, too, because here you all are… every one of my past incarnations and as many of our friends as we could find. There are some who couldn’t be here, and later we shall remember absent friends. But for the next few hours I want you to do one thing – forget about regenerations. Don’t ask each other how or when. It doesn’t matter. We are one, but we are also thirteen individuals with our own stories to tell, our own friends we have made those stories with. And tonight, on behalf of our granddaughter, Susan, who is the one person who links us all, I invite you to enjoy a Christmas reunion dinner. The staff of Platform One have worked hard on our behalf and I am told the Manchester Suite is now ready for us to dine. So… my friends… Time Lord, Human and other, please join me for an Earth custom that stands for joy and friendship and…” He reached out and held Susan’s hand and smiled joyfully. “And family.”

“So that’s what it’s all about,” said the Fourth Doctor as they made their way through the great doors to the magnificently decorated Manchester Suite and a long table set for all the guests. They found their seats and the waiters poured wine and served the first course. The atmosphere was one of joy and friendship, because, after all, everyone there was a friend of somebody else, and all were friends of The Doctor – one of them, anyway. Everyone joined in the unexpected but very welcome celebration. The toast to absent friends brought a solemn moment. Even though the Twelfth Doctor had done his best, there were a few people who weren’t there. Some of them could never be there. But their memories were recalled with fondness and with thankfulness.

Then the Brigadier rose. He drew himself up tall and dignified and raised his glass. Benton and Yates and the handsome man in the RAF blue stood and saluted neatly. Everyone else simply stood for the most simple and heartfelt toast of all.

“Happy Christmas, doctors,” he said. “Wonderful chaps, all of you.”