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

Perpugilliam Brown, known to her friends as Peri, was having a surprisingly pleasant day. The weather was quite warm, not as warm as it was back home in California, but warm enough to take off her jacket and bask in the sunshine as she drank take away coffee on a bench next to The Doctor. He, too, had taken off his coat. The colourful waistcoat underneath didn’t look quite so out of place here. He almost fitted in. He, too, actually looked relaxed. He was smiling as he watched a group of children in colourful costumes of their own letting off steam in the play area after taking part in the festivities that had finished only an hour ago.

“I enjoyed watching the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” she said to The Doctor. “Nice to see one actually in Ireland. I’ve been to the one in New York a few times.” She looked around at Eyre Square in Galway City, where ordinary traffic was starting to circulate again after the roads had been closed for the parade. A number 20 bus let off its air brakes noisily as it stopped not far from their seat. “Actually, this parade was a lot smaller than the American one.”

“Well, that’s only to be expected,” The Doctor replied. “The tug of the exile’s heartstrings. You have to leave a place to really appreciate it properly.”

Peri looked at him closely. There was something in the way he said that which struck a chord.

“Do you appreciate your home properly when you’re away from it?”

His expression was hard to gauge. She wondered if she’d said the wrong thing.

“I’m never really away from Gallifrey. It’s right here in my hearts. Besides, I couldn’t get away from it if I wanted to. And believe me I’ve wanted to.”

Peri decided to change the subject. She looked around the urban park in the middle of the Square. It was actually called Kennedy Memorial Garden, after the famous son of one of those exiles The Doctor had mentioned. Close to their seat was a huge sculpture made of iron but managing to capture the movement of the canvas sails on a Galway Hooker, which she was assured was a kind of fishing boat.

Another talking point in the Square was the Browne Doorway, which literally was a big old fashioned stone linteled doorway with an oriel window above it, set into a rectangular piece of wall. The wall was free standing. Through the door she could see that number 20 bus pass by as it got on its way to wherever it went. The Doctor had teased her gently about the ‘Browne’ name, which had prompted her to go and read the information plaque next to it and discover that it wasn’t another eclectic piece of modern art. It really was the entrance door to the home of a 17th century merchant called Browne, and had been moved from the demolished house to this spot in the square in 1904. There was no explanation of why it was done. It wasn’t a bequest to the city. It didn’t commemorate any significant event that happened on the site, or at the original house. Somebody in 1904 just seemed to have decided that what the centre of Galway needed was a door to nowhere.

Which only proved to Peri that her own species were about the maddest, unpredictable, infuriating people she had come across in all her travels with The Doctor. Nowhere else in the universe would somebody put a door where there was no reason for a door to be.

She felt a little proud of the Human race.

The Doctor agreed with her. He thought the universe needed a lot more doors where there didn’t need to be a door.

“I think there must be a bit of Irish in you,” Peri told him. “You seem to belong here, somehow.”

“Irish? Me, not a bit,” The Doctor replied. “Though in one of my former lives I did play the tin whistle quite well. Would you like some more coffee?” He took her empty cardboard cup and disposed of it carefully. The shop where they purchased it was just across the road next to a traditional Irish pub that they had decided against visiting since it had filled up quite quickly after the parade with traditional Irish drinkers. There was a restaurant further along that might do nicely later, but sitting in the sunshine taking in the sounds of children playing and a busker somewhere nearby playing an old Irish song on an accordion was good enough for now.

“Yes, please,” she said. “Could you get me a bag of crisps, too. Or a sandwich, maybe. Doing nothing in the park is hungry work.”

The Doctor grinned and shuffled in his pocket. He pulled a handful of coins out and separated the alien currency from the Irish Euro coins. He put the rest back and jogged away across the road, taking care to avoid the traffic that was building up. Peri relaxed again, closing her eyes and drinking in the sounds of Galway contentedly.

“Would ye like yer fortune tellin’?” A voice close by disturbed her pleasant reverie. She opened her eyes to see a woman dressed in a multicoloured peasant blouse and long skirt and a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She had a wicker basket over her arm containing sprigs of heather bound up with pieces of ribbon, and an assortment of small trinkets.

“I don’t really...” Peri began. “I mean I don’t... think...” The instinct of a careful tourist kicked in. This could be an attempt to scam her out of some cash.

The woman grasped her left hand and stared at it in a rather theatrical way. Her eyes widened as if she was surprised by what she saw there.

“Ye’ve travelled a long way,” the woman said. “A very long way.”

“Yeah... like... anyone who heard my accent would know that,” Peri replied. “You’ll have to do better than that.”

“You’ve travelled a VERY long way,” the woman insisted. Then she took Peri’s other hand. “You’re going to travel much further and for much longer. You will never travel home.”

“That’s not funny,” Peri said, pulling her hand away. “Stop it. You’re not fooling me. And I’m not going to pay you for that nonsense.”

“I ask no payment. I wish only to warn you... warn you that some doors do not go both ways. Beware you are not lost.”

The woman grasped her hand one more time and Peri felt her press something into it. Then she hurried away. A few moments later, The Doctor returned with the coffee.

“What’s up?” he asked her. “I wasn’t gone that long.”

She told him. He looked around first to see if the woman was still there, then he took Peri’s hand and examined the trinket that had been pressed into her palm.

“It’s a Saint Christopher medal,” he said. “The patron saint of travellers. I don’t really go for superstitions myself, but there’s no harm in it. She gave it to you without asking for payment?”

“Yes. She said some stuff about not getting lost, and gave me this, and hurried off.”

The Doctor’s eyes took on a distant look, as if he was thinking very, very deeply.

“Your accent certainly could have been a giveaway. But... on the other hand it’s just possible the woman did have some rudimentary psychic power. Many Humans do, you know. In fact, it is latent in almost all of you. And if she was a genuine Romany... the latent power is stronger in some sub-sections of humanity than others. It’s quite possible that was a genuine psychic reading.”

“In that case...” Peri sat down on the bench, hugging the fresh cup of coffee and clutching the Saint Christopher medal so tightly it was leaving an imprint in her palm. “Well... in that case... the things she said... I’m going to travel much further than I ever have before... and... and... I will never travel home...”

“She said that?” The Doctor asked. “’You WILL never travel home’? Not ‘you MAY never travel home’? There was no doubt about it?”

Peri shook her head.

“Well, that’s unusual for a fortune teller. Usually they leave an element of chance in their prediction, in case they’re totally off target.”

“So it’s true?”

“No,” The Doctor replied in a firm and assuring tone. “You see, as strong a psychic as that lady might be, she doesn’t know about the TARDIS. You’ve travelled in the time vortex for quite a long time. Time is not constant for time travellers. Your future is not a straight line and it cannot be read that easily. I think she saw a glimpse of your future, but out of context.”

“So it isn’t true? I WILL go home... eventually... when... when I’m ready to... go...”

“Home is where the heart is,” The Doctor told her. “Don’t you worry about that.”

“All right. But what about the other thing she said. About doors.... some doors do not go both ways.”

“Well, literally speaking, many doors are one way. Fire doors, revolving doors. I must admit I don’t quite know how that remark applies to you. Again, it might just be a glimpse of something in your future that is just completely out of context.”

“So I don’t need to worry?”

“Not at all, especially not on a lovely, quiet, uneventful day like today.”

“Thanks, Doctor,” she said. He was maddening, insufferable, completely insane, but all the same she trusted him more than anyone else she had ever met, and if he said there was nothing to worry about, she believed him. She drank her coffee and ate the cheese and onion crisps that he brought from the shop and carried on enjoying the atmosphere of Eyre Square as she had happily done before that strange interruption.

The Doctor gave the impression of a man utterly content with his universe who was dozing off in the sunshine. But from underneath his half closed eyes he was watching Peri carefully, assuring himself that she really wasn’t worried about the odd prophecy from the strange woman.

One of them worrying about that was enough.

Of course, a lot of his companions over the years hadn’t returned to their exact home place when he parted with them. His own granddaughter had settled for Earth in the twenty-second century, having followed her heart. Vicki who had come aboard the TARDIS after her chose to become a noblewoman of ancient Greece for the same reason. Jo had never returned to MI5. Instead she had married a Nobel prize winning ecologist and gone off up the Amazon. Leela of the Sevateem had surprised him by becoming a lady of Gallifrey, of all places. Nyssa of Trakken had left her world far behind. Many others had made choices that took them from the home they started from to futures beyond their imagining. Their time with him had changed their expectations and led them to make those decisions.

If Peri found a life more satisfying than she had before she joined him, was that so surprising? Was it something to be concerned about? It shouldn’t be. He told himself so to put down the strange foreboding about Peri’s future that rose as he thought about her in that way. He would see her right. He always did. He looked after his travelling companions.

Except for Katarina, who died to save him and his friends, and Adric who died to save planet Earth itself. The traitorous thought pressed in on his mind. Was Peri destined to leave him in that way? Was that why she wasn’t going to return to her home?

He pushed the thought away. He had no reason to think it would happen that way. Peri could just as easily meet a nice young man in Galway and never set foot in the USA again. That fulfilled a vague prophecy like that.

Peri was reassured by The Doctor’s relaxed appearance. She was certain he would not be snoozing in such a laid back way if he really did think there was any immediate danger. She let herself relax and enjoy the sunshine and the birds in the trees, the children playing, the sounds of impatient traffic around the periphery of the Square.

She was watching a group of youngsters, two girls and three boys, who were playing some variation of tag around the fountain with the red metal sails. It involved splashing each other with the water and Peri fully expected the game to end with somebody falling in or a parent turning up and giving them all hell for their mischief, especially since they were all dressed in their Irish dancing costumes from the parade. The girls dresses were elaborate velvet affairs with embroidery all over them. The boys were in long trousers and white cotton shirts with embroidered waistcoats. They all had medals pinned to their clothes for their dancing achievements.

Instead, it ended with the children gravitating towards Browne’s Doorway. One of them ran through the door and encouraged his friends to do the same. There was nothing to say going through was against the rules. Peri had assumed it was perfectly all right to do so. Why else put a doorway to nowhere in the public open space. It was interactive art. But to the children it was a huge dare. One by one they stepped through the doorway.

“If you go through three times three times, you go to the fairies,” one of the children said.

“You go to Tir na Óg,” another suggested.

“You go to Salthill,” a third said and that was apparently a really funny joke among them. But it was obvious what was going to happen next. They would test the theory. Who wouldn’t? Certainly not a group of children. They ran around the side of the doorway and stepped through it a second time. They ran around again a third time...

After eight times one of the boys changed his mind.

“I don’t want to go to Tir na Óg,” he protested. “I want to go home.”

The others called him names for his cowardice, but he wouldn’t be persuaded. He turned and sat on the edge of the fountain, crying softly because he had been laughed at. The rest turned and stepped through the doorway.

And disappeared.

Peri stood up and stared at the doorway. She could see traffic through it. Both sides were very definitely here in this place, and this time.

She stood up and drew closer. She fully expected to find the children hiding behind the section of wall that framed the doorway.

“Don’t go through!” screamed the boy who had stayed back. “Don’t go through, miss. It’ll take you, as well.”

The boy kept on screaming, drawing the attention of passers by to the fact that four of his friends had disappeared. Very quickly a crowd was forming, and even more quickly the mothers of the missing children arrived.

Soon after that the Gardai Siochana arrived and tried to make sense of what was being claimed.

“I’m telling you,” Peri, now the centre of attention for the police, the near hysterical parents and the steadily growing crowd of onlookers. “The kids went through the doorway and vanished.”

The boy who stayed back confirmed her story, but the Garda trying to take statements wasn’t having it. Nor were some of the onlookers who started jumping through the doorway and running back to prove they were still there.

“Yes,” Peri said in exasperation. “The kids went through three times three times – nine times. THEN they vanished.”

“Are you sure you didn’t shove them into a van?” somebody asked.

“What van?” the Garda asked. He looked around. There was clearly no van anywhere around. Somebody in the crowd suggested that she must have an accomplice who drove the van away.

“If there was a van, it will be on CCTV,” Peri pointed out. “But there wasn’t one. There were just four kids and this doorway. And I was sitting over there with The Doctor and I saw... I saw what I saw, and that’s all there is to it. Look at the CCTV and see for yourself. There was no van. The kids were not kidnapped. They just vanished.”

“Doctor?” the Garda looked around. The Doctor hadn’t actually moved before now. He looked like he had slept through the whole thing. He was strolling towards them as if only just aware of the drama. “What sort of Doctor?”

“Why do you need a Doctor?” The mother of one of the missing children turned to Peri accusingly. “Are you some kind of nutter, one who grabs kids? Is that what you are?”

“You’re foreign,” somebody else pointed out. That surprised Peri. Her American accent was distinctly different to any around her, but she had long ago stopped thinking of herself as an American, and thought of herself as a Human, a native of planet Earth. Out there with The Doctor, on other worlds, this divided world’s concepts of nationality had ceased to matter to her.

Now, in a park dedicated to a man born on the same continent as she was, her foreignness became proof among the crowd that she was somehow connected to the missing children. Peri wondered how her fellow species could be so paranoid. She protested her innocence with a sinking heart, knowing that anything she said would be seized upon in all the wrong ways. Then The Doctor parted the crowds by the simple method of saying ‘excuse me, please’ in a very calm, quiet voice that seemed to infect the noisy onlookers until they all became very quiet and The Doctor was standing there in the centre of a silent, listening crowd who were ready to attend to his every word.

“There really is nothing to see here,” he said, equally calmly. “Move along now.”

And strangely, they did, all but the Garda and the parents of the missing children.

“That’s better,” The Doctor continued. “Now, it is quite obvious that an accident involving a reality shift has occurred here. The old stone of the doorway became the focus of the shift. Gates, doorways, arches under bridges are notorious for them. But don’t worry. Leave it to me. I’ll sort it out. Officer, you look after these unfortunate parents. Take their names and addresses and all of that, and send them home for now. I’m going to take Miss Brown to that restaurant over there and buy her a bowl of home made soup.”

And that was exactly what he did, much to Peri’s surprise. Again, The Doctor’s calm demeanour silenced any possible criticism of his plan. He put his arm around her shoulder and guided her across the road to the restaurant where he ordered freshly made soup of the day and a cheese salad half baguette for them both.

“I don’t think I can just calmly eat knowing there are children missing and I’m the only one who knows what happened to them,” Peri said.

“Yes, you can,” The Doctor insisted, taking a bite from his half-baguette and a spoonful of his carrot and corriander soup. “First, because you need to eat. Second, because there is nothing else to do for a few hours. The reality shift depleted its energy when the children slipped through. When it’s had time to regenerate, I can put my plan into action.”

“You have a plan?”

“Of course, I do.”

“That’s ok, then,” Peri told him. She ate her soup and calmed down a little.

“So... what is a reality shift?” she asked.

“It’s exactly what it says on the tin - a weak point in reality where unreality is able to find a way through. As I said, doors, gates, bridges, that sort of thing, tend to attract them. Any kind of portal from one place to another. I suppose I ought to have realised – a door that doesn’t lead to anywhere is asking for trouble. The chances of the Browne Doorway not being the focus of a reality shift are miniscule.”

“So... where did the children go?” Peri asked. “They said to the fairies or... something called Tear na...”

“Tir na Óg,” The Doctor said in perfectly enunciated Connaught Irish. “The land of the young, where nobody grows old. Perfectly possible. Might even be where the legend comes from. But what it’s really like... I couldn’t say. With any luck, the children will be back home in a few hours, and no worse for their experience.”

“With any luck?” Peri studied The Doctor’s face carefully. Did he really mean that, or was he hiding the possibility that the children were in grave danger wherever it was they had gone?

There was no way of knowing. She sighed and turned her face away. She looked out of the window. The area around the Doorway had been taped off by the Garda, but they had seen no reason to leave anyone there. There was nobody near the spot except a man walking a dog. Peri watched the dog pull away from the man, who dropped the lead. It bounded away under the police tape and through the Doorway...

And disappeared.

“Doctor!” Peri exclaimed. “It’s happening again.” She jumped up from her seat and ran out of the restaurant. She narrowly missed colliding with a bus and a taxi as she crossed the road. She actually did bump into the confused dog owner and got tangled briefly with the police incident tape. Then she ran right through the Doorway....

And stopped herself before she stepped off the pavement into oncoming traffic.

“No!” she insisted. “The dog went through.”

She went around the wall and stepped through again.

And again.

And again. She was starting to feel a little silly. The dog owner had forgotten to call for his pet and was looking at her instead. She saw The Doctor strolling across the road towards her. But she kept on circling around and going through the doorway.

“You must have something from the soil of Earth to find your way back!”

“What?” Peri looked around to see who had said that to her. She saw a female in a long skirt and a shawl hurrying away. It might have been the same woman who told her fortune before.

Then she stepped through the Doorway again.

And stared at nothing and nowhere.

It was as close to nothing as she could imagine. She was sure she was standing on something, but when she looked down at her feet the surface they were on could have been pure white marble or white liquid swirling around, or white mist that somehow defied physics and was able to bear her weight.

Or it could have been absolutely nothing. Whatever it was, it went on for miles, and there was no obvious horizon, so the sky of exactly the same white nothingness merged with it. She stopped looking into the distance because it was too frightening. It was like looking into infinity and she felt horribly, terribly small and vulnerable.

Then a dog bounded towards her. She grabbed its lead and reached to pat it on the head and to examine the metal name tag on its collar.

“Cú,” she read aloud. For some reason she couldn’t explain, she knew that meant ‘hound’ in Irish. “Your owner must have been short of ideas when he named you!”

The dog gave her a friendly lick. She appreciated that more than she realised. The sense of being utterly alone was overwhelming.

Then she turned around and saw the children.

“Are you all right?” she asked. They were two boys and two girls, aged about ten or eleven, the age when holding hands, whether with the same or the opposite gender wasn’t done, but they were clinging tightly to each other as if afraid to let go. “You’re the kids I saw go through the door, in Galway.”

“Yes,” said one of the boys. “Did you come through as well? And the dog?”

“Yes, we did,” Peri replied. She looked around. There was no obvious place where she came in. That didn’t surprise her. Nor did it worry her too much. The Doctor said he had a plan. He would be able to get them home in a little while.

“There are others,” one of the girls said.

“What others?” Peri asked.

“Loads of them,” a boy added. “Kids like us, and grown ups, too. Some of them are dressed weird.”

Peri looked around. All she could see was the white nothingness for miles around – or was it just a small area that looked big, an optical illusion. She wasn’t sure. The lack of any sort of horizon made it impossible to judge.

Then it was like one of those ‘magic’ pictures with a jumble of dots that resolve into a picture of a rabbit. Her eyes felt as if they were crossing as the figures stepped out of the nothing around her. They were both children and adults. Some of them were dressed in very old-fashioned clothes.

But the clothes, the people, had no colour in them. They were all as white as the strange landscape. That was why they were so hard to see. They blended in with their surroundings.

“Who are they?” Peri asked. It was a rhetorical question. She didn’t expect any of the children to know.

“We are the lost,” replied one of the figures, a woman dressed in the sort of dress that was worn at the turn of the twentieth century. “We came here from the world and we can’t get back.”

“We couldn’t find the way,” added another woman, this time wearing a mini-dress of the sort that was fashionable in the mid-1960s, complete with go-go boots. Both of them, Peri noted, had Irish accents. The world they belonged to was the one she and the children, and the dog had all been in.

“We had nothing of the soil to pull us back,” said a boy in rough clothes that could be from just about any decade within living memory.

“Nothing of the soil? What do you mean?” Peri asked.

“My brother was with me,” the boy said. “He got back. He was wearing the boots that day. The nails in them... metal that was dug from the soil of the world... But I...”

Peri looked down and noted that the boy was barefoot. She had about twenty pairs of shoes in her wardrobe at home. She couldn’t imagine a level of poverty where two boys shared one pair of boots. She looked at the woman in the period dress. Her shoes were soft chamois leather pumps, delicately sewn together. She was wearing a string of pearls around her neck, but no other jewellery. The 1960s woman’s boots were made in a factory where the uppers were fixed to the sole with lots of strong glue. Her jewellery was home made wooden beads on bits of string.

None of the three had anything metal on them, anything dug from the earth. Pearls didn’t come from the earth. They were from the sea.

“That’s actually kind of silly,” Peri said. “I mean why...”

But it seemed as if that was the rule. And in that case....

She wasn’t wearing any jewellery herself. She had stopped doing so because every time she was kidnapped by a slime monster or arrested by a guard on some weird totalitarian planet necklaces got yanked off painfully or ‘confiscated’ and never returned. She didn’t even bother with a watch any more. The time it told and the local time on any given world never corresponded.

She looked in her pockets. She did have some coins on her. They were made of metal dug from the soil, but not of planet Earth. They were Varosian ecus.

Then her fingers found the Saint Christopher given to her by the fortune teller. It was cheap, thin metal, but it WAS metal. It had once been mined somewhere on Earth. She held it in her fingers and actually felt as if something was pulling at her. If the boy was right, she could return home.

So could Cú. He had his metal dog tag.

She looked at the four children. They had their dancing medals pinned to their clothes.

“I think we can get out,” she said. “If we all stick together.”

“What about them?” The youngest of the two girls pointed to the white, shadowy people. “Can’t they come, too? I’ve got five medals. They can share.”

The others fingered the multiple medals they proudly displayed. The idea of sharing with the other lost souls took hold.

“We can’t,” said the woman in the period dress. “It’s too late for us. Too much time has passed. We could not live in the world.”

“Oh! You mean this is... what is the word... Tir na Óg. Nobody ages. But if you went back...”

Peri mentally calculated how impossibly old the woman would be if she was, as she looked, about thirty in 1900. She guessed that the boy was twelve or thirteen in the mid-1930s. That would make him in his late eighties. The sixties woman would be in her sixties.

“Take me,” said the sixties woman. “I know. I worked it out long ago. I know my youth has gone, even middle age. I should be old. But I’ve been young for so long... I think it’s time.”

“Me, too,” the boy said. “I don’t know what kind of world it is, but I want to go back to it, even if I see it for only a moment.”

“I’ve outlived my time,” said the woman in the period dress. “I should be glad to... to go to my rest.”

Then Peri heard other voices. Other white figures stepped out of the shadows. Their clothes placed them in past decades. Some had not been in this strange place as long as the sixties woman. Some had been longer. Some were clearly asking to go back only to die of extreme old age.

The children gave Peri a handful of dance medals. They had kept one each. Fifteen spares were in her hand. She looked at the shadow people and tears pricked her eyes.

“Fifteen of you,” she said. “But don’t make me choose. I don’t know... I can’t decide... some of you would die. All of you would be old... I don’t know which is better... instant death or instant aging. But don’t ask me to decide.”

There seemed to be a consensus that the three who had spoken to her first should have the opportunity. They took a medal from Peri’s hand. The rest formed a ring. They recited a rhyme made up of nonsense words several times to randomly select the twelve who came to take a medal. Peri knew some of them were too old to survive. They were choosing death in the world they came from instead of this strange immortality.

“All right,” Peri said when the choices had been made. “All right... let’s... let’s do it.”

Do what? A moment of doubt crossed her mind. She thought she knew how they could escape. But what if it didn’t work? What if they were trapped here, anyway? She had promised to get the children home. She had told the others she could free them from their curious and endless exile.

But she wasn’t sure she could.

Then she felt the Saint Christopher clutched in her hand tingle as if charged with electricity. Cú gave a whimper. His name tag was glowing faintly blue. The children pressed fingers against their dance medals and murmured at the mild electric shock. The shadow people cried out hopefully.

Then Cú yelped more loudly and gave a growl as well. Peri understood exactly how he felt. She had experienced the mild electric shock all over her body. It made her dizzy and for a few seconds she hadn’t noticed that she wasn’t in a world of endless white any more. She was in the TARDIS. She looked around. The door was open. It was night outside on Eyre Square, but lit by the yellow glow of streetlamps, the red amber and green of traffic lights and the bright fascias of restaurants and pubs. A number 20 bus went by noisily. Peri realised she was watching it through Browne’s Doorway. The TARDIS was parked right in front of it. On the other side of the threshold The Doctor was collecting up a set of four pyramid shaped objects about the size of ordinary traffic cones. He stepped back into the TARDIS and smiled warmly at her.

“Gerstex Pyramids,” The Doctor said, storing them in the cupboard under the pyramid. “They are great for focussing natural energies. Opening the reality shift and bringing all of you back was easy. Unfortunately, I may have focussed too intensely. I think the reality shift under the Doorway has collapsed completely now.”

“Then what happens to us?” asked the woman in the mini dress and go-go boots. Peri turned and realised that she was not alone in the TARDIS. Everyone else was there, the children and the people who had wanted to come back. They weren’t white any more. The go-go boots and mini-dress was mint green and the woman had dark hair and brown eyes. The period dress worn by the lady with the pearls was blue.

Everyone was in colour. And they were still the same age they were.

“The TARDIS offers temporary protection from the real world out there,” The Doctor said to them. “It is preventing you from the rapid aging that would occur otherwise. But if I don’t shut the door soon you’ll be in trouble. So who’s getting off here? The children, I think... one, two, three, four. Peri, let the little boy there take the dog.”

Peri had almost forgotten she was still holding the lead. She gave Cú one last pat on the head and gave him to the boy.

“Cross the road carefully at the lights,” The Doctor said to the children. “And go on into that restaurant. Tell the manager who you are and the police will be there in a minute or two to take you home to your parents. They’ll probably want to know where you’ve been. It’s up to you what you decide to tell them. They probably won’t believe it anyway.”

The children stepped out of the TARDIS and walked across the road. The Doctor waited until they were inside before closing the door and going to the console. The TARDIS dematerialised and rematerialised a few minutes later in the same place, but with a very old fashioned bus passing by.

“Your stop, miss,” The Doctor said to the woman in the minidress. “Galway, circa 1965. Best of luck to you.”

“You mean you can send them all home?” Peri asked hopefully. “She won’t... when she steps out...”

The woman walked out of the TARDIS. She looked around at the world she had left behind a long time ago. She didn’t age rapidly. She looked back once at Peri standing at the TARDIS door, then she ran across the road to the bakery and grocer’s shop that was where the restaurant was in later times.

Seeing her safe and well in her own time reassured the others. They were happy and hopeful as The Doctor took them all back to their proper times. When the shoeless boy got back to Eyre Square in the mid 1930s, when horses and carts slightly outnumbered the motor cars, The Doctor stopped him and pressed a shiny coin into his hand.

“Get yourself a pair of boots,” he said. The boy looked at him in surprise and murmured a heartfelt thanks before he ran out of the TARDIS and off down the road.

An hour later everyone had been safely delivered back to where they came from. The Doctor waved the last one goodbye and then it the dematerialisation switch cheerfully.

“If the reality shift has collapsed, then no one will get lost through the Browne Doorway again,” Peri said to him. “But nobody will get out, either. There are lots more of them, lost from their world, turning white, forgotten...”

“There will be other ways in,” The Doctor answered. “And other ways out.”

“But without a TARDIS to get them home... those who come out will die. They were ready for that to happen. They chose it rather than eternity.”

“Then that is the choice others will make when they have the chance,” The Doctor told her. “We can’t help that. I can’t take the TARDIS into a place that doesn’t exist to rescue them. It was dangerous enough opening the gap to get you home. You do understand that, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do,” Peri admitted.

“You did well,” The Doctor added. “You got the children back, and the dog, and fifteen more lost souls. That was good work.”

Peri smiled. His praise meant a lot to her.

“And I proved that fortune teller wrong,” she reminded him. “I did travel a long way. But I came home. And the door DID go both ways.”

“Yes,” The Doctor agreed, out loud, at least. In his hearts, he knew that the prophecy might still be partly right. Peri hadn’t reached the end of her travels with him, yet. But he squashed the thought and consulted the TARDIS database for somewhere quiet and uneventful to take Peri for a rest after their quiet and uneventful trip to Ireland.