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

Mel Bush stepped out of the TARDIS into what looked at first glance like a rather nice park. The Doctor had promised a picnic breakfast, after all and that was what she had expected.

“Wait a minute!” she exclaimed as he followed behind her with a picnic basket. “This is a cemetery.” She turned and looked at him. He had left that dreadful multi-coloured coat behind today and was wearing a simple brown overcoat over his elaborately detailed waistcoat and yellow trousers. It was far more appropriate for this setting, at least. He had a striped cloth folded over one arm and a wicker picnic basket on a long strap slung over his shoulder. He looked up at the cloudless sky of an early summer morning and smiled before walking off. Mel hurried to catch up with him.

But why a cemetery?

“Keeping up an old tradition,” The Doctor told her. “Did you know that the Victorians used to picnic in cemeteries all the time? There were even special trains to the more popular destinations.”

“That’s no good reason to copy them,” Mel pointed out. She walked beside The Doctor along a well kept path between some very beautiful and elaborate graves, some of which dated back to the last century and even longer.

“This is Kensal Green cemetery in London,” The Doctor explained. “Not so very far from your home, but I bet you didn’t even know it was here. Cemeteries make up some of London’s finest green spaces and they are largely ignored.”

“There’s a reason for that, Doctor,” Mel pointed out. “They’re… cemeteries. People don’t like cemeteries. They’re places they come to because they have to, when sad things have happened, or once a year on anniversaries because they feel they have to come. Nobody thinks of cemeteries as places of entertainment… except vandals, maybe.”

“Exactly. The Victorians felt differently. They came to cemeteries to enjoy the graves of their relatives, and to contemplate their own eventual resting places.”

“You mean to be glad they’re not in it, yet?”

“Possibly,” The Doctor conceded.

They came to a flat piece of well-kept lawn without any graves and The Doctor spread the cloth and opened the picnic basket. Mel was surprised by its contents. She had seen him drag the basket out of the lumber room just before he announced they were having a picnic. She didn’t see him put any food in it.

But he took out fresh croissants with butter, crisp bacon, scrambled eggs and hash browns, perfectly toasted wholemeal bread, the sort she liked best, with more butter and finely cut English marmalade, and coffee that was freshly brewed and delicious. Mel usually ate a bowl of muesli and a banana for breakfast. A full breakfast like this was more calories than she could calculate, but the smell of the bacon and eggs and the coffee was just too tempting. She ate her fill and promised herself she would work it off on the exercise bike later.

“How?” she asked. “The basket was empty.”

“Don’t you think the people who invented the TARDIS could invent a bottomless picnic basket?” The Doctor replied.

“No,” Mel told him flatly. “I don’t think they did. From what I’ve seen of your people, I don’t think they’re the sort who go on picnics.”

“You’re right,” he answered. “I bought the basket at the space port on Alterius IV about three centuries ago. It’s been very useful over the years.”

Mel laughed then remembered she was in a cemetery and wondered if that was appropriate. But then again, she was tucking into breakfast and if that was appropriate then she needed her definition of the word redefining.

“Why are we here, then?” she asked. “Apart from breakfast. There must be some reason.”

“Catching up on a few old friends,” The Doctor replied. “Some of them are buried here.”


“Have some more coffee,” The Doctor offered. Mel took a steaming cup before remembering that the pot had been empty a minute ago.

Then she noticed a woman walking between the rows of gravestones, and wondered if she would be offended by their picnic. Was it even legal to do that sort of thing in a cemetery these days?

But the woman didn’t seem to be bothered. As she drew closer Mel noticed that she was dressed oddly for the time of morning - in a voluminous pink evening gown with a lot of flounces and frills. It wasn’t an outfit that particularly flattered her. She was a little too plump and a little too old for pink frills, but she seemed oblivious to her fashion disaster as she approached, smiling.

“Doctor, how absolutely lovely to see you,” she said in an accent that must have been trained by an elocution tutor, the vowels were so carefully rounded and precise. “I get so few visitors. It is so kind of you to spare your time.”

“Not at all, Lady Jane,” The Doctor answered. “Do join us for a while.”

The lady sat. Given her bulk and the width of the flowing skirt of the dress was an operation akin to berthing a ferry boat, but she seemed content when it was accomplished.

“Um... would you like some coffee?” Mel asked. She felt as if it was the polite thing to do.

“No, thank you, dear,” Lady Jane answered. “I never could stand the stuff when I was alive. I don’t think I should like it now.”

“Alive?” Mel stared, then realised it was rude to stare.

“Mel, may I introduce Lady Jane Francesca Agnes Wilde, Victorian socialite, writer of subversive poetry and mother of one of Dublin’s greatest playwrights,” The Doctor said. “Lady Jane, this is Mel Bush of Pease Pottage, my friend and companion on my travels.”

“Delighted to meet you, Mel,” said Lady Jane, extending a gloved hand. Mel reached out to shake and thought there WAS something there, but she wasn’t quite certain.

“You mean… you’re a ghost?” she asked in astonishment. “But… well… that is… I never really believed in ghosts.” She looked at The Doctor in an almost accusing way. “You never told me that there was such thing as ghosts, or that you knew any.”

“Didn’t I?” The Doctor looked surprised. “Well, yes, of course ghosts exist. That’s obvious. As for knowing them… well, I’ve been around the block a bit. I’m bound to have a few interesting acquaintances.”

“Yes, but….”

Mel gave up. She sipped her coffee while The Doctor and Lady Jane reminisced about the old days. The old days in question were in Dublin in the 1850s when it seemed he was a regular guest at drawing room parties which Lady Jane or others of her social group held. He was known as a witty raconteur and popular with all her friends.

“We used to have great fun trying to work out your secret, Doctor,” she said with a laugh that was a little too loud to be ladylike. “Some thought you were a Castle agent trying to infiltrate our pro-Nationalist gatherings. Some thought you were a Russian who had fallen foul of the Tsar and was hiding in Ireland. There was a theory among the more mystical element that you were the re-incarnation of Robert Emmet. Oh, there were all sorts of ideas. But none of us guessed the truth at the time – that you were a time traveller from another world entirely. Oh, the delight that would have been if we had only known. What parties you would have been invited to. You would have been the toast of Dublin society.”

The Doctor smiled indulgently.

“It was more fun to let you guess,” he said.

“The boys adored you, too. I remember Willie and Oscar sitting on your knee when they were young, and you telling them all sorts of fantastical stories. They were better, even, than my Irish folk tales. I think, sometimes, Oscar got his literary imagination from you, not me.”

“Well, I certainly gave him a few tips,” The Doctor replied with absolutely no trace of modesty. “I remember when he was working on Lady Windermere’s Fan and was struggling for a way to end Act One on a laugh….”

“Oh!” Mel exclaimed. “THAT Oscar. You mean to say you….”

“Oh, that’s no surprise,” Lady Jane commented. “He helped Dickens with all his earlier novels, and Shakespeare would have been lost for a rhyme without him.”

Mel laughed. What else could she do when a ghost was telling her something so absurd?

“Well, my dears, I must be off now. It was delightful to catch up on old times with you.” Lady Jane pulled herself upright with much rustling of satin and The Doctor’s gallant arm to ensure that her re-launch was dignified. She walked on down the path between the gravestones and turned once to wave. When she turned back Mel saw her slowly vanish into the morning air.

“Wow,” she said. “That was… amazing. She really was Oscar Wilde’s mum.”

“She was indeed. A marvellous lady.”

“And you actually helped him with his plays?”

“I was his inspiration for Dorian Grey. He couldn’t believe I could have so many adventures while remaining young. He put it down to something mystical and let his imagination go.”

Mel wasn’t sure whether to believe that or not. The Doctor offered her another slice of toast. She didn’t want any, but she was curious to discover that it was available, fresh and warm, from that amazing picnic basket.

“Do you have any other friends here?” she asked.

“Yes,” The Doctor answered. “Just wait a minute. I’m sure somebody will be along, soon.”

Mel looked around at the cemetery with its many large, elaborate gravestones shaped like angels and grand crosses, steeples, all kinds of funerary subjects. Some of them were well kept, others a little neglected.

Then she spotted another figure that was out of place in modern London approaching. This one was a slender man wearing an army uniform that had to be at least a hundred and fifty years out of date.

“Doctor!” the curious figure exclaimed. “How wonderful to meet you on this fine day.”

“You too, Doctor,” The Doctor replied. “Come and join us for a while.”

The uniformed gentleman sat. Mel looked at him carefully, while trying not to stare too obviously. He had sandy brown hair, cut short and curling across his forehead. His face was surprisingly delicate looking, pale of complexion and with soft eyes and a small mouth and nose. The soldier’s uniform seemed at odds with such fine features, somehow.

The Doctor introduced him to her as Doctor James Barry.

“As you can see by the uniform, James practiced his medicine within the British Army, serving in such inglorious but historical times as the Battle of Waterloo and the Crimean campaign, where he was noted as the only man who ever won an argument with Florence Nightingale.”

“While you, Doctor, are noted as the only man who won a kiss from that harridan of a woman,” Barry replied.

“Really?” Mel looked at The Doctor who became suddenly very interested in pouring more coffee. “Tell me more!”

“That is The Doctor’s story, not mine,” Barry said gallantly. “Besides, Madam Nightingale and her nursing corps aside, war is not a subject for discussion with young ladies. There are better adventures we can speak of, are there not, my Doctor friend?”

The Doctor nodded and smiled.

“The time in Cape Town when we climbed Table Mountain and were stranded there overnight by a sudden storm off the sea.”

“With two oranges and four army biscuits between us for rations,” Barry said. “A poor dinner, but the conversation more than made up for it. I was, and I suppose, still am, one of the few people on Earth who knows The Doctor’s secret, and in my lifetime he was practically the only one who knew mine.”

Mel was on the point of asking what that secret was, but felt it would be rude to ask.

“There was another storm,” Barry added. “When I was on my way to my next posting after Cape Town. The ship I was sailing in was caught in a tremendous tempest off the Mauritius islands. We all feared for our lives. The captain had ordered the lifeboats launched, but the sea swallowed them as soon as they were dropped into it. We had no resource left but prayer. And then, a miracle. The storm calmed. The sun broke from between the clouds and a fresh wind caught the sails and brought us to port safely. And my friend The Doctor was there to greet me, how I shall never know. We drank coffee and talked of my deliverance. I never knew until much later that it was he, not any power of God that had calmed the storm.”

Mel looked eagerly at The Doctor.

“It was no force of nature that caused that storm,” he said. “Otherwise I would not have been allowed to intervene. The ordinary fates of travellers are not for me to determine. But this particular storm was caused by an alien called a Babilid, known to sailors of old as a harpy – a demon of the winds. They break up ships and steal the lifeforce of drowning men on the point of death. They do it in space, too, attacking interstellar craft in much the same way and feeding on those suddenly exposed to the vacuum.”

“So you stopped them?”

“The TARDIS created a counter-storm that neutralised their tempest. Simple atmospheric excitation. It’s a little harder in space. I need to utilise the vortex itself and that’s a tricky operation. But a sea storm, no problem.”

“Isn’t he a wonder!” Barry said.

“He’s something,” Mel agreed. Listening to them talk it was clear that they had been good friends once. They had shared several adventures. Mel wondered just how even The Doctor with all of time and space at his fingertips could have found time to do all of the things he had apparently done.

“Well, I must be off, now,” Barry said at last. He stood and saluted The Doctor and bowed gallantly to Mel, who was not used to men doing things like that for her. She smiled as he turned and walked away, vanishing among the headstones.

“He was nice,” she said. “Sad to think that he’s dead. But of course, he would be anyway, if he lived through Waterloo and the Crimea. Doesn’t it bother you knowing people like that when they were alive and well and then seeing their graves in places like this?”

“I’m used to it,” The Doctor replied. “Besides, I can always catch up with them like this.”

“Do all of the people buried here come back as ghosts?”

“They can if they want to. Many are content to sleep in peace after a long life. Some have things they still want to say or do. Others just want to reminisce, like Barry there.” The Doctor smiled and winked at her. “Did you work out what his secret was, by the way?”

“No,” Mel answered. “I forgot all about it, actually. I was too busy listening to his stories about you.”

“All true, of course,” The Doctor admitted without any trace of modesty. “But James Barry was, in fact a lady called Margaret who kept her secret right through a long military career.”

“Wow!” Mel was impressed, and a little annoyed. “All that stuff about not talking about war in front of ladies! And he… she… was a lady him… herself.”

“Keeping up the front even in death,” The Doctor said with a laugh. “Don’t worry. An honourable chap, despite that one lie that had to be preserved for so very long.”

“Well, it has me beat. Especially sitting there with him… her… talking away like that. Whatever next.”

Next was a dignified Victorian gentleman in a waistcoat and frock coat who nevertheless sat with them on the grass and introduced himself as Hugh Falconer, botanist and palaeontologist who talked about his time in India when he had been responsible for the introduction of tea plantations to the sub-continent. He admitted he was going to veto the idea until The Doctor advised him otherwise. He had also studied the fossils of prehistoric animals found in the hills around his colonial home. He regretted the one uncatalogued and unverified find, what he believed to have been a fossilised ape skeleton, which would have fixed the earliest existence of the species.

“It wasn’t an ape,” The Doctor said with a sad smile as Falconer bid his leave of them.

“It wasn’t?” Mel asked, prompting him to tell the rest of the story.

“It was a gentleman called Malcolm Riding, who was attached to Falconer’s office. The poor man came into contact with a Sunarian transducer, a fiendish device used on Sunaria as a method of punishment. It strips a convicted felon of all his or her intelligence and leaves them in a childlike and manageable state. Quite how one became buried in the sedimentary rocks of India I cannot say, but it had been there since they formed. Falconer’s expedition uncovered what looked like a perfect globe of red stone. I picked up the energy from it in the TARDIS, but I was too late to stop Riding examining it. He triggered the transductive wave. The mechanism, having been buried in the rocks so long had developed a fault. Instead of merely reducing him to the childlike state it reverted him all the way back through the ancestry of his race to the form humans were in at the time when it first came to Earth – something only just beginning to evolve from an ape. Then it continued to revert him until he was merely bones, and then fossilised bones… as if he had been there all the time along with the device.”

“Poor man,” Mel commented.

“Indeed,” The Doctor agreed. “Falconer stumbled across the fossil remains while they were looking for Riding. He put a marker in place so he could find it again and examine it more thoroughly. It would have been the find of his career of course. But I had to hide the marker and destroy the remains. In Falconer’s time, of course, they had no means to identify it as anything other than an ape, but eventually forensic anthropology will have advanced to the stage when it will be possible to extract DNA even from fossils. Not yet, not in your time, Mel, but in another fifty or so years. And then it would be known that a modern Human, homo sapien, had been buried in pre-history. That’s the sort of paradox my people frown upon. Poor old Riding, it was assumed he wandered off and got lost in the hills, fell down a crevasse or something. He was, of course, never seen or heard of again, and Falconer never found his ape fossil, though he reported it to the Royal Society and cited it in papers that advanced Darwinian evolutionary theory.”

“Sad story all round,” Mel summarised.

“Very sad,” The Doctor agreed. “I did seem to spend a lot of time in that early Victorian era tidying up the consequences of alien interference in planet Earth. It was a time when men were learning to think for themselves, exploring and discovering, but it was important that they should do so at their own speed, not making huge leaps forward because of technology or ideas that didn’t belong there.”

“Says the man with a time and space ship and a brain the size of a planet who could have caused more problems than all the Sunarian Transducers in the universe.”

“Ah, but I know what I’m doing,” The Doctor said in mitigation of his own interference in the Human race along the centuries.

“I believe you, Doctor!” Mel responded with a wry smile.

“Ah, now here’s a chap I know you’ll enjoy meeting,” The Doctor said. “It was hard to resist the temptation to give him some clues about his work. But everything I just said was doubly important in his case.”

Mel looked at the elderly gentleman in a frock coat and crisp white shirt and cravat who walked towards them. He had a friendly smile and one that Mel actually recognised immediately. She did her best not to jiggle in excitement as The Doctor introduced her to Mr Charles Babbage, ‘father of the computer’.

“I’ve seen your Difference Engine No. 2 actually working in the London Science Museum,” she said enthusiastically. “It’s absolutely amazing.”

“I am so pleased to hear you say that, young woman,” Mr Babbage replied. “Sadly I never saw it completed in my own lifetime. I was distracted by the deaths of my father, wife and son all within a short time of each other and lost heart for it.”

Mel knew that was an understatement. Babbage had suffered a mental breakdown in the wake of those tragedies and was never the same man again. But before then his mind had been so focussed on the work of replacing the Human ‘computer’ - meaning a person employed to ‘compute’ figures - with a machine that did the job automatically, that he was considered a genius ahead of his time. When he died, his remarkable brain was actually preserved and part of it could still be seen in Mel’s own time in the same museum where modern enthusiasts had constructed his machines and proved that he really was the designer of the first working computer.

But she didn’t want to tell him that.

“It’s all right, my dear,” he said. “I’m a ghost. I know all about all that. I know what wonderful advances have been made in the field of computing. The very word has changed its meaning. Now a computer means the machine, not the person who uses it.”

“Yes, I know,” Mel said, bursting with excitement. “I’m a computer programmer. That’s my job. That’s why it’s so exciting to meet you, sir. Even… even here… as a ghost.”

“I never quite imagined it as a job for attractive young women,” Babbage admitted. “In my time it was believed that anything more than the mathematics involved in household accounts was unsuitable for the female brain. It would have been unthinkable. But perhaps that just proves we didn’t know everything.”

Mel noted the ‘attractive young women’ comment and forgave him for the assumptions about the female brain. She would have forgiven him anything. He was one of her heroes, after The Doctor, of course.

“I always suspected my friend The Doctor knew much more about the field of mechanical computing than he let on,” Babbage added. “Oh, if he had only allowed me a moment in his amazing machine that travels in time. I should have liked to have seen the future of my ideas… the computers in every home, in every aspect of Human life….”

“No, my dear fellow,” The Doctor told him. “It would have been quite wrong of me to let you into that secret during your lifetime. But you may rest content knowing that your work was good, and that it has been used for the betterment of mankind.”

The Doctor sat back and said very little else. He let Mel enjoy this time with somebody she so wholeheartedly admired, whose life and work she knew intimately. It was a treat for her and for Babbage, too, who never really heard enough how much his early work had paid off for Humankind.

Mel was sorry when he had to go. She watched him as he strolled along the path and faded away as the others had done.

“He is pleased to hear about the good computers do in the world. But I wonder if I should have told him the whole truth. Computers do bad things, too, like guidance systems for missiles and that kind of thing.”

“He devised a computing machine for Humankind to use for their own ends. Those ends are not his doing. There is no need to trouble him with them.”

“He really was a nice man,” Mel said with a pleased smile. “I am glad. Sometimes you can have such an idea about people and they turn out quite different. But he was nice.”

“A true gentleman,” The Doctor agreed. He looked around and his eyes lit with joy. “And here is a true lady, though some would disagree.”

An elegant woman in a deep blue velvet gown came to join them now. The Doctor introduced her as Sophie Dawes, Baronne de Feuchères. Mel listened in fascination to a tale worthy of a bodice-ripping costume drama about the daughter of a fisherman from the Isle of Wight who grew up in a workhouse but went on to become the mistress of a French aristocrat, Louis Henri, Prince of Condé, who arranged a marriage of convenience for her to the Baron de Feuchères in order to get her into the French Court and continue their affair. Later, she was renounced by her husband and Condé died in suspicious circumstances. She herself was suspected of murdering him, which was apparently when The Doctor got in on the story. He had assisted Sophie in her withdrawal from France where she was so unpopular to England where she lived out the rest of her life quietly.

“You keep some very odd company, Doctor,” Mel told him when the baroness bid farewell to them. “Do you think she did kill him… the Prince of Condé?”

“She didn’t, and nor was she a conspirator with King Louise-Phillipe as some others said. His death was at the hands of a fatal attraction he formed for a succubus in Human form who strangled him and took his soul. The creature took on the form of Sophie when she was a young woman, when he first met her, and he fell for the trap. Servants who had seen a figure resembling Sophie from a distance pointed the finger of blame, but the poor woman was quite innocent.”

“And a succubus is another alien preying on humans is it?” Mel asked.

“No, it is a supernatural thing of Earth itself. There is much about this planet that humans know nothing of. Most of the creatures of folklore, Mara, Vandella, Lamia, vampires and such, really do exist in the shadows and the dark. Romantic stories like Dracula help Humans to pretend they’re not real, but the truth is….”

“They are?”

“They are.”

“And yet you feel quite happy about us picnicking in a cemetery. None of those things hang about here, then?”

“Certainly not. The creatures of the darkness stay away from consecrated ground. There is nothing to fear among the shades who inhabit a place like this.”

“I’ll take your word for it, Doctor. I think another of your friends is coming, by the way.”

“Ah, another Lady Jane,” The Doctor said with a wide smile. He stood to greet the elderly but still graceful lady in an elegant taffeta dress and her curling hair around her delicately defined face. She smiled warmly at The Doctor who held her hand as she seated herself with him and Mel.

“Lady Jane Franklin,” he said in introduction, “Wife of John Franklin, the explorer. Jane was a bit of a traveller herself, going from England to Tasmania with her husband when he was appointed governor, and then seeing a good deal of the continent of Australia for herself.”

“That must have been exciting,” Mel commented. Of course, she had travelled a long way with The Doctor, further than anyone else on planet Earth, but the thought of exploring Australia in the age when it was still a new settlement coloured her imagination and Lady Franklin was happy to tell her of some of those adventures.

“It all came to an end after my John was lost, though,” she ended with a sigh. “I lost all heart for travel and dedicated my time to persuading the government to send expeditions after him.”

“Where was he lost?” Mel asked, then wondered if it was a tactless question to ask.

“Searching for the North-West Passage, the route from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic circle,” The Doctor explained to her.

“They said such terrible things,” Lady Jane added. “That the members of the expedition had frozen to death, that they had turned to cannibalism first, eating those who had succumbed to the cold. I would not believe that of John or any of the fine men he sailed with. I refused to let them sully his name with such an accusation.”

She said that with such fiery conviction that Mel wondered just what had been said about her husband, and whether it might possibly be true. She looked at The Doctor. He was saying nothing, and his expression was positively inscrutable, which made her think he knew something he wouldn’t say in front of Lady Franklin.

“I fought the lies all of my life. Even when it seemed certain John and his comrades were dead, I never gave up the search for the truth. Even now, in death, I still believe he died an honourable death and I will not have anyone say otherwise.”

“Quite right,” The Doctor said. “That’s why it is time to settle the matter once and for all. Jane, my dear, I think you deserve to take a trip with me. Mel, can you get the picnic things?”

Mel was so intrigued by the idea of a ghost joining them in the TARDIS that she didn’t mind hurriedly shoving all the remains of the picnic into the basket and bringing it along with her. It wasn’t heavy, anyway. The Doctor held Jane’s arm as they walked along the path to where the incongruous police box stood, a bright splash of colour among the grey stone memorials. She stepped inside and looked around in wonder at the console room. Mel closed the door before The Doctor programmed their destination and dematerialised the TARDIS.

When it materialised again it was sitting even more incongruously on an ice sheet within the Arctic circle. Mel pulled the hood of a fur-lined coat up around her face as she stepped outside. The Doctor didn’t seem to notice the cold. Lady Franklin wasn’t affected by it anyway.

“So desolate,” she said. “Poor John, lost in such a place.”

Then she gave a cry of surprise. Across the ice a man walked. He was dressed in a long, fur-lined coat and had thick boots. He had gloves and a scarf around his face. As he came nearer he took off the scarf and pushed back the hood. Lady Franklin ran to him.

“John, I never gave up hope,” she said as they embraced. “I always knew I would see you again.”

Mel watched the elderly woman become young and pretty and her husband become a strong, broad-shouldered man in his prime before they slowly faded away.

“Wow,” she said.

“I was hoping she would drop by to see us,” The Doctor said. “So I could finally reunite her with her lost husband.”

“That was so sweet of you,” Mel told him. “All that stuff about the cannibalism… was it true?”

“I’m afraid it was. An expedition in the 1980s found remains that showed signs of being cut with a blade. Not Franklin himself. His grave has never been found. But she will be at peace now. She will never be troubled by the truth.”

“I’m glad,” Mel admitted. “Well, what now? Have we had enough picnicking for one day? Will we go find an exciting planet to explore now?”

“I think we very well might,” The Doctor said. “That’s if Earth isn’t exciting enough for you with such people as you have met today.”

“Exciting planet, please, Doctor,” she insisted.