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

Mel came into the console room wearing a new outfit she had found in the huge room The Doctor referred to as The Wardrobe. Like him,and The TARDIS that room deserved the definitive article and the capitals because it was so much more than it appeared to be from the outside. It always had the perfect outfit to suit both her mood and the occasion and it was never hard to find. It was as if The Wardrobe anticipated her every whim and provided.

The Doctor used the Wardrobe too, but he never chose anything different to wear. Today he was in another of those v-necked jumpers with the question mark motif. His duffel coat and umbrella with matching question mark handle were on the coatstand. The Doctor was a man of habit. Still, at least this incarnation’s choice of clothes made him look like a college professor with a bit of a sense of humour rather than a reject from the circus.

She might have chosen to wear a bin bag for as much notice The Doctor took right now. He was leaning over the communications array and frowning.

“What’s the matter?” she asked him.

“I’m picking up an emergency beacon at the Beta Lambda Space Station.”

“Emergency beacon I understand. But you say ‘the’ Beta Lambda Space Station as if I would know where and what it is!”

“Beta Lambda is one of the Human colony systems,” The Doctor answered. “First settled in the twenty-fourth century. This is the twenty-sixth century. The Space Station is a space station, on the outer edge of the system, home and workplace to several hundred people. Scientists, sociologists, anthropologists. It’s a big scientific colony, essentially.”

“And it’s got an emergency?”

“Yes. Though it is a little strange. It’s not the main emergency signal that would summon help from the colony planets themselves. It’s a sub-space signal, not a very strong one, and it’s wavering as if it hasn’t got very much power. It’s as if somebody is sending out a home-made signal.”

“But it’s definitely an emergency signal? There’s no mistake about that?”

“None at all. It’s an old fashioned SOS, as first used on the SS Titanic in 1912.”

“Well, we’d better get right onto it.”

“I’m getting onto it,” The Doctor replied. “I’m having a bit of trouble locking onto the co-ordinate, though.”

“Oh, what’s new with this old TARDIS. Come on, Doctor. They need help. Don’t be like those ships that took so long to reach the Titanic it had already sunk. Get there first, please.”

“I’m trying,” The Doctor insisted. “Ah. Here we are.”

The time rotor glowed and moved rapidly up and down and there was the familiar groaning noise as the TARDIS materialised.

“Doctor!” Mel looked at the viewscreen on the wall and laughed. “I think you’ve messed up the co-ordinates big time. This isn’t a space station in Beta Lambda or anywhere else. It looks like England.”

“The viewscreen is playing up,” The Doctor replied. “The TARDIS landed on the space station. It says so right here.”

Mel went to the door and stepped out. She looked around at an empty car park next to a lake with mountains rising up beyond it. The buildings around about were all constructed from local stone with slate roofs even though some of them were new enough to be made of modern materials like glass and concrete. It was an area where buildings had to conform to strict conservation rules.

“Doctor, this is the English Lake District,” Mel told him when he stepped out into the landscape with her. “You’ve completely messed up this time.”

“I haven’t,” The Doctor insisted. “We’re on the Beta Lambda Space Station.”

Mel looked at The Doctor and wondered if he had completely taken leave of his senses.

“It’s Keswick,” she insisted. “Look, that’s a tourist information office for Keswick and Derwentwater – the big lake there, right in front of us. Nothing at all like a space station.”

The Doctor smiled and bent down to examine the tarmac beneath his feet and the grass of the lawn that led down to the lake.

“You’ve been to Keswick, have you?” he asked Mel.

“Once, on a school trip, ages ago,” she answered.

“And does anything strike you as different about this scene?”

“Well, there are no cars. When I was here last, this car park was absolutely chocka. The whole town was. There wasn’t a parking space to be had. It’s really popular with tourists.”

“So where are they?”

Mel looked around again and had to admit that The Doctor had a point. There were no cars, no buses, no ice cream vendor, no fish and chip van. The position of the sun indicated that it was mid-afternoon, and the trees were in full leaf. It was summer, the height of the tourist season.

“I… don’t know,” she concluded. She went up to the tourist office and looked inside. There were lights on, and an open sign. She went in and looked around. There was everything you would expect in such a pace, from hardback editions of Walking With Wainwright to blocks of Kendal Mint Cake and lots of souvenir pencils from the capital of pencil making in Britain, but there was nobody there. She stepped out again.

“Doctor, this is scary. Where are all the people? I don’t understand.”

Then she heard a sound that seemed to make it all right. It was a dog barking, not in a threatening way, more a greeting to them. She turned and saw a full grown golden Labrador bounding towards her. She patted the dog joyfully and looked at the medallion on its collar.

“Molly,” she read. “Hello, Molly. I see it says here that you’re a guide dog. Who are you meant to be guiding and where is he or she?”

“Hello?” A woman’s voice called out. Mel looked at the slender blonde haired woman who walked along the lakeside path. She was confident in her steps, as if she knew the route she was on very well, but it was obvious by her mannerisms that she was blind. Molly woofed again and she followed the sound, reaching down for the dog lead she had let go of. “Hello, who are you?”

“I’m Mel,” Mel replied. “And this is The Doctor. We’re lost. The Doctor thinks we’re somewhere completely different.”

“How do you do,” The Doctor added, reaching to shake hands with the young woman. “I’m The Doctor, as my friend has already explained.”

“I’m Jeannie,” she answered. “And this is Molly.”

“Pleased to meet you both,” The Doctor said. “This scenario must be yours, I take it? Keswick by Derwentwater?”

“It’s where I was born and raised,” she answered. “A familiar place, where I can walk in certainty. It’s a place I feel safe, and I need that just now because….”

“What do you mean?” Mel asked. “Scenario… this is….”

The Doctor smiled again and snapped his fingers. Mel gasped in astonishment as the lake and the car park, the tourist office, everything vanished leaving them standing in a large room with plain metallic grey walls and the faint hum of a space station’s artificial gravity at work.

“What happened? Where are we?”

“Exactly where I said we were, the Beta Lambda Space Station.”

He snapped his fingers again and Keswick by Derwentwater appeared once more. Mel rubbed her eyes and looked around with new awareness of her surroundings.

“It’s a virtual real world simulator,” Jeannie explained. “We use it for recreation when we’re tired of looking at deep space. Some people choose tropical beaches or their favourite pub. For me, there’s no question. My home town.”

“So this is all for you? But… you can’t even see it. I mean… sorry, that’s rude of me, but, I mean… it looks so detailed, so real, as if you could walk for miles and miles all around the lake.”

“I could, if I wanted,” Jeannie said. “Or into the town, right up to my own house or the school I went to, the shops I know. It’s all faithfully recreated. Except for people. I left out the people because they get in my way when I’m walking. I’m starting to regret that now. Even a few virtual reality people I can trust would be good right now.”

“You can trust us,” Mel assured her.

“Yes, I know I can. Molly sensed that you were safe, right away. I’m so glad.”

“You sent the emergency beacon,” The Doctor said. “There’s something wrong here?”

“Yes,” Jeannie told him. She snapped her fingers and Keswick disappeared again. She gripped the dog lead and turned towards a sliding door in the wall. It opened to her voice command and she stepped through followed by The Doctor and Mel.

They emerged into a long corridor that curved slightly. On the inside was a long grey wall broken by sliding doors every so often. On the outside was another grey wall with exo-glass windows that looked out onto the Beta Lambda sector of space.

“Ok, I believe you,” Mel said. “We’re on a space station. Unless this is the virtual reality and Keswick is real.”

“This is real,” The Doctor assured her. “The difference is there are people.”

Molly growled softly. Jeannie grasped The Doctor’s arm and pulled him back towards the wall. She held Molly by a very short lead as three people appeared around the curve of the corridor. They were walking in a line even though there was width enough to walk side by side. They were carrying metal boxes very carefully, as if the contents were delicate.

Molly kept growling until they were gone. Jeannie gave a deep, sad sigh.

“The woman was Elaine Mathews, my supervisor. I recognise her perfume. The two men could have been Michael Jarvis and Graeme Mitchel. Graeme is slightly asthmatic. I could hear his breathing. Michael is his companion. They would be together even when they’ve been taken over by alien influences.”

“Is… that what you think’s happened?” Mel asked. “To everyone? They’ve been taken over by something?”

“Everyone,” Jeannie answered. “Except me. I don’t know why I haven’t been taken, too, except that Molly always growls when there’s anything bad around, and maybe that’s what saved me.”

“Clever Molly,” The Doctor said, patting the dog on the head. “Come on, let’s follow those three and find out what’s happening around here.”

“They’ll be going to the auditorium,” she said. “I’ve followed them before – only as far as the door, though. There’s something in there… something I don’t want to get near. Molly won’t go in… and that’s enough for me.”

“Just show us where the auditorium is,” The Doctor said. “You don’t have to go in.”

Jeannie led the way. She walked very ably, occasionally touching panels on the wall. Mel noticed that they were reference points, with the information in ordinary words and braille. The outer corridor of the space station was featureless enough even for those who could see. For her it must have been an endless walk without the panels to help.

“Here,” she said, pressing a button to summon a turbo lift. When it stopped, Molly growled again. They all pressed back away from the two people who stepped out of the lift. The man and woman both ignored them. They seemed utterly oblivious to their presence. The Doctor followed them quickly, standing in their path and looking at their eyes carefully. The woman bumped into him and simply side stepped and carried on walking.

“Gillian Franklyn,” Jeannie said. “I recognise the sound of those silly high heels she always wears. She used to be a friend. We have rooms on the same dormitory level. She used to give Molly dog treats.”

“What’s happened to them all?” Mel asked. “Is it hypnotism?”

“Could be,” The Doctor answered. “They’re certainly oblivious to anything but the task they’ve been given. The question is, by who, or what?”

They stepped into the lift and Jeannie felt carefully at the control panel before pressing the button for floor 50. The lift descended swiftly, giving them all a slight lurching sensation in the stomach.

“That lift is slightly out of synch,” The Doctor commented. “This generation of turbo lifts should be a smooth ride. We shouldn’t get that roller coaster feeling at all.”

“All of the maintenance crew have been taken over,” Jeannie explained. “They still do essential work. It seems to be important for the station to be functional, but lift comfort isn’t essential, as long as it works.”

“Somebody or something has a use for the Station and its personnel,” The Doctor observed. “Both seem relatively unharmed so far. That’s the good news.”

“And the bad news?” Mel prompted him.

“Whoever or whatever it is doesn’t have any compunction about using people against their will. I don’t think the motives behind this invasion are benign.”

“I can’t think of any possible situation where hypnotising people and making them fetch and carry whatever those boxes are could be for any good purpose,” Mel noted as they stepped out of the turbo lift and saw another group of people carrying the same metal boxes waiting to go up. “Have you any idea what it is that’s inside? Why are they so careful with them?”

“I don’t know,” Jeannie said. “I only know they’re carrying anything at all because I bumped into one of them yesterday and I felt the box in his hands. But I think… I felt… as if it was alive. I know that’s silly, after all it was a sealed metal box. But I felt as if it was.”

“Something alive inside a sealed box?” Mel’s voice had a worried tone. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“I agree,” The Doctor said. “It doesn’t bode well at all. But I have never seen anything quite like this before. I have no idea what it’s all about. I’ve seen hypnotism used as a way of controlling people many times, but I don’t know what the boxes are for. I think, when I do, I shall have some idea what to do about this situation.”

“You intend to do something?” Jeannie asked with a hopeful tone.

“Of course.”

“I had hoped… at least I hoped that somebody might come and get me and Holly away from the Space Station. But I really also hoped there might be some way of saving everyone else. They’re all my friends, after all. Doctor, if you can do anything, anything at all….”

“You have no reason to trust me at all,” he answered. “And yet you do.”

“Molly came to you. She wouldn’t have done that if you weren’t the one we have both been waiting for. Besides, you have a trustworthy voice.”

Mel smiled at The Doctor’s expression. But it was true. She had been in so many places with him, so many situations, where just the sound of his voice was enough to quieten a mob and make people listen calmly to his words. Why shouldn’t a blind woman and her dog trust him implicitly from the first moment?

“This is the auditorium,” Jeannie said. “Molly won’t go in. She knows there’s something very wrong in there.”

“You don’t have to go in,” The Doctor assured her. “Nor do you, Mel. Stay here and keep each other company while I go and have a look.”

When The Doctor opened the door, they were glad not to go any further. The smell that was coming from the auditorium was nauseating. The Doctor held his breath in the way only a Time Lord could – recycling his oxygen for at least fifteen minutes without having to take in air.

The smell was rotting meat – Human meat. There were dead bodies in here. The Doctor stood at the top of the steps leading down from the back of the auditorium and stared at the gruesome sight.

There were at least four dead people lying on the auditorium floor. They had been dead for several days, and this was a very warm room. They would have been in an advanced state of decomposition even if that was all.

But it wasn’t all. They were being fed upon by huge insects, something like wood lice with a sectioned carapace on the upper body and hundreds of legs on the softer underbelly. The sound of the foot long creatures feeding was ghastly, especially the way it echoed around the room.

Even more ghastly was the queen that was laying eggs on the corpses, a new batch of half a dozen every few minutes to hatch out and feed. The Doctor almost idly wondered how many more bodies would be needed if she kept producing eggs at that rate.

“No more,” he vowed. Then he gave his attention to what the people were doing. They entered through the door and went down the steps to the disgusting mass of corruption. They brought the metal boxes with them and selected some of the creatures from the bodies. These ones were not feeding. The hard carapace had formed all around them like pupae. They were in some kind of hibernation stage, probably ready for a growth spurt. The slave people put at least four of the pupating creatures into each box, then they carried them up the steps again.

The Doctor went down the steps behind one of the arriving groups. He watched closely as one of the metal boxes was filled with the requisite number of creatures, then he snatched the box away. The woman reached out with her hypnotic eyes blank and turned as if she was actually carrying a box. She didn’t seem to realise there was nothing there. This hypnotism was deep.

He joined the line of people climbing the stairs, and it was while he was doing so that he noticed something about the woman in front of him. He tucked the box of insects under one arm and used his umbrella to very gently pull down the zip that fastened her dress at the back. It was a very ungallant and ungentlemanly thing to do, but so was attaching a foot long wood louse to the top of a Human being’s spinal column. That was how it was done, he realised. The creatures were obviously able to tap into the brain through the central nervous system and bend the people to their will.

His senses reeled. He couldn’t think of a nastier fate for a living, thinking being than having the ability to think taken away. That wasn’t life, it was just existence. And in this case it was existence for the benefit of a parasite species whose full motive he didn’t yet understand.

He reached the top of the steps and passed out of the auditorium in time to see Mel and Jeannie backing away from something and Molly growling loudly and threateningly. He looked down and saw two of the wood louse creatures slithering along the floor towards them. Molly’s growl seemed to be holding them off, but they kept rearing up and trying to move forward.

The Doctor changed his grip on his umbrella and used it like a rapier, stabbing at the carapace of the nearest creature. There was a cracking sound and a sickening squelch as the metal point of the umbrella went right through the off-white flesh and a yellow-green bile-like substance poured out of the dead creature. The Doctor stabbed at the second one with the first still skewered on his umbrella, then used the sole of his left shoe to prise them off again. Mel’s face was screwed up in an expression of disgust as he hooked the umbrella handle over his arm again.

“We need to get back to the TARDIS,” he said. “No, we’re not leaving, yet. But you and Jeannie will be safe inside and I can examine these creatures.”

“You’ve got more of them in there?” Mel asked. “That’s what’s inside the boxes… those slimy, yukky insect things?”


“Why? What are the people carrying them around for?”

“I’ll find that out later,” The Doctor replied. “After I find out exactly what this creature is. All I need is a laboratory.”

“I’ve got one of those, in Keswick,” Jeannie offered. “I’m not here to tune the pianos, you know. I’m a scientist… a micro-biologist, studying space borne micro organisms. I’ve got everything you could ask for in the way of equipment.”

The Doctor had everything he needed in the way of equipment aboard the TARDIS, plus there weren’t likely to be any of those creatures around. But it was rude to refuse a friendly offer.

The TARDIS was by the lakeside tourist office when they entered the virtual reality room programmed for Jeannie’s home town. Even so, they walked past it and along the empty road from the lake and onto the main street. As their footsteps echoed on the pavement Mel wondered if she would like to spend any length of time in such a familiar place without any people at all in it. She imagined a simulation of Pease Pottage where she came from, silent and empty like this. She thought it would drive her nuts. But Jeannie seemed to find it comforting.

Perhaps it was after being on as space station full of possessed people and ghastly creatures.

“The pencil museum is my laboratory,” Jeannie explained as they turned off the road just before a stone bridge over a placid river. “Well, when you’ve felt one pencil, you’ve felt them all.”

She laughed at her own joke, feeble as it was. Mel thought she probably hadn’t laughed at anything for a very long time. It was good for her.

The laboratory was fully equipped as Jeannie promised. The Doctor was impressed. Naturally, since it was Jeannie’s own laboratory, created in the virtual reality world for her own use, the equipment was all adapted for a blind person to use, which meant the microscopes gave verbal reports as well as enabling a sighted person to view the tissue under examination.

“Obviously I have an assistant for some of this work, usually,” she pointed out. “But the project is all mine. Or was… I suppose I shall have to start again. The Space Station is never going to be the same, even if….”

“Don’t give up hope,” Mel told her as she took over the computer system and accessed the main servers for the station where all the other scientists kept their research. “The Doctor will think of something.”

“You’re always this optimistic?” Jeannie asked her.

“Oh, yes,” Mel replied. “With good cause. The Doctor always sorts things out. He’s good at that.” Then her bright voice failed. She turned to look at The Doctor. The computerised voice from the microscope had just said something startling and utterly horrible. “Did that… did it….”

“Yes, it did,” The Doctor replied. “These creatures… have Human DNA.”

“Whose DNA?” Jeannie asked with a note of dread, as if she didn’t really want to know the answer.

It took only a few minutes to get the answer from the central memory banks where the biodata of all the staff working aboard the Station were kept. Jeannie groaned unhappily.

“Professor Maureen Gates!” she repeated. “She… was working on a similar project to mine. Only I was looking at pollen grains found floating in space. She was looking at a form of microscopic animal life that was found in the Danasian Nebula.”

“Oh dear,” Mel said as she accessed a voice recording from the Professor’s own files, having overridden her password protection skilfully. The recording was the last one the professor made. She reported that she had been infected by the microbes and that her body was changing. An alien creature was taking her over. She could feel it attacking her mind, trying to make her do terrible things.

“There’s a huge creature in the auditorium,” The Doctor said in a voice that was deliberately steady. “A queen, laying eggs… producing those creatures.”

“You think that’s the professor?” Mel asked.

“Oh no,” Jeannie protested. “It can’t be possible.”

“It’s not possible, is it Doctor?”

“I’m afraid it is,” The Doctor replied. “The right catalyst can mutate Human tissue into just about anything. I’ve seen some of the most terrible things in my time….” He thought about the two Human victims of the Krinoids that he had been forced to destroy several lives back, and the brave man infected by the Wyrrm who killed himself to save his comrades. He thought of Human tissue used to create Dalek mutants in Davros’s various insane plots. Yes, it was possible.

“Professor Gates is dead. The creature has taken her over completely. Several other people are also dead, used as food for her progeny. But it’s not too late for the others. First, let’s find out where they’re taking those things. Jeannie, do you and Molly want to stay here, where you’re safe?”

“No, Doctor,” she answered firmly. “I might not be able to do much, but these are my friends. If there is ANYTHING I can do to help them… then count me in.”

“All right, come on.”

They stepped out of the pencil museum before The Doctor snapped his fingers and turned off the virtual reality world. That saved a bit of walking, because the room where it was created was considerably smaller than the illusion. The TARDIS stood incongruously in the middle of the floor, but there was no point in going in there, yet. They headed for the sliding door out into the long, curving corridor that linked every part of this level of the station.

“What else is on this floor?” The Doctor asked as they followed a group of insect-possessed scientists carrying their boxes of Professor Gates’ ghastly progeny. “Is it all virtual reality rooms?”

“No, there are only four of those,” Jeannie answered. “There’s a gym and a restaurant, and storage. And on the other side, there’s the transport dock.”

“Ah,” The Doctor mused. “Now that sounds likely, doesn’t it?”

“Does it?” Mel responded.

“The way these creatures are being produced, dozens a minute… feeding for a while, gaining strength… then they’re brought up here in sealed boxes… for transport.”

“Transport where?”

“How many humans live on the three inhabitable planets in the Beta Lambda system?” The Doctor asked, answering a question with a question.

“Something like twenty billion in total,” Jeannie answered. “Not counting the mining camps on the inner planet… that’s not a permanent settlement. They have to abandon it in the summer season because metal melts at noon temperatures.”

“There’s your answer,” The Doctor continued. “They’ll be transported to the colony planets…. Thousands upon thousands of them… Humans will be taken over. They’ll carry on living for a while, controlled by the creatures attached to their spines, but eventually, as they grow, they’ll just be a convenient food source.”

“Uggh,” Mel commented. Jeannie didn’t say anything. She just swallowed hard.

“Don’t worry, I won’t let that happen.”

“You have a plan?” Mel asked optimistically.

“Not yet, but I will by the time we reach the transport dock.”

“This is the transport dock,” Jeannie said, pressing her fingers against the information panel beside a wide double door. It opened as she spoke and four people walked while three walked in carrying boxes. The Doctor stepped in behind them and looked around the dock carefully for several minutes. Then he stepped out again.

“Jeannie, where is the climate control for the Station?”

“That’s on the fifteenth floor,” she answered. “But you wouldn’t need to go there. It can be accessed by any computer… even the one in the pencil museum. It might be virtual reality, but you saw how it linked to the real servers. If you tell me what you want, I can do it for you, Doctor.”

“Good,” he said. “Because as much as I trust her computer skills, there’s something else I need Mel to do for me.”

He explained their tasks as they walked back to the virtual reality room. The two women listened carefully.

“What if somebody is in the climate control centre?” Mel asked. “They might countermand the instructions.”

“If we do it quickly, they won’t be able to,” The Doctor assured her before he left the two girls and the faithful dog and headed to the turbo lift.

It was starting to happen by the time he reached the fiftieth floor where the former Professor Gates was still laying eggs in the auditorium. A stream of people were coming and going, but some of them were faltering in their steps. As he guessed, the creatures were intolerant to cold. Jeannie had followed his instructions to the letter and brought the temperature in almost every part of the Station to freezing. The Human body could cope with such temperatures for a short time at least, but the creatures on their backs were becoming torpid with cold. They let go of the spines and dropped away, falling to the ground in curled up grey balls.

“What’s happening?” people started to ask as their senses returned to them. “Have I been sleep walking? What are those things?”

“Everyone, go to the number two virtual reality room,” The Doctor said. “Pass the message on to anyone you meet on the way. Go quickly. You’ll be safe in there.”

The Doctor was a stranger to them, dressed in an eclectic jumper and duffel coat and carrying an umbrella that still had traces of yellowish wood louse innards on it. Even so, those who heard his reassuring voice or looked into his eyes obeyed at once. They trusted him.

The Doctor stepped into the auditorium. The temperature had been brought down in there, too. The only two places that weren’t freezing now were the virtual Keswick which was still in a pleasant summer setting and the transport dock which was currently reaching boiling point. Simply freezing those creatures wasn’t enough. They were hibernating already. Instead, he had ensured that they would cook inside the metal boxes that were supposed to protect them.

“Professor Gates?” he asked, his voice sounding a little hoarse since he was recycling his breathing and trying not to actually step in Human remains as he approached the creature. “Is there anything of the Professor left in there, I wonder?”

“Nooooo,” hissed the creature. “The unit called Gates is dead. I am The Shraaakkk.”

“Shrrrraaaakkkk?” The Doctor replied, extending the name even further. “I expect you mean Shraak, but you clearly have some kind of speech impediment. No wonder. You’re a microbe with ideas above your station. THE Shraak! The definitive article! Really, that’s grandiose for a bug.”

“Whooo arrreee youuu whooo chhhalllleeee….”

“Challenge?” The Doctor said helpfully. “You’re getting cold. Your body only fully functions in warm damp places. You’re a thing of dank and decay. But this room is turning into an ice rink. You’re going to have to get out of here.”

He turned and ran. He could hear a slithering noise behind him. The queen ‘Shrak’ wasn’t as easily affected by the cold as her larva. She could still move, and surprisingly fast. The Doctor ran for the turbo lift. As it rose he heard the sound of the door below being forced open. The Shrak was crawling up the lift shaft after him. He wondered if he could kill it by simply sending the lift back down to the bottom of the hundred floor shaft, but that would be too lucky. There were bound to be gaps where it could squeeze in while the cage passed it by. His original plan would have to do.

He could still hear the Shrak slithering up the shaft when he emerged from the turbo lift into a frosty corridor littered with the hibernating bodies of the creatures that had fallen off the humans. Some of the Station crew were still in the corridor, still confused by what was happening and wondering why they felt so drained and ill. The Doctor repeated his instructions to them and added that they should get inside the buildings within the virtual reality world. He didn’t want anyone else at risk but himself.

He waited until the Shrak crawled out of the lift shaft before he ran again, not quite slow enough to be caught, but not fast enough to lose it. He wanted it to follow him into the virtual town.

It was a warm relief to step into the summer scene by Derwentwater after the freezing corridors of the Station. The Doctor glanced at the frightened people hiding in the tourist information office and the foyer of the Theatre by the Lake as he ran down to the shore, followed by the Shrak. He smiled as he saw the TARDIS waiting there, bobbing slightly on the water. The door opened as he approached and he leapt over the threshold before turning to look at the Shrak.

“Mel, tell Jeannie to change the weather, now,” he called out. Mel relayed the message and instantly the summer scene became a winter one. Keswick was a snow covered landscape. The lake was partially frozen. The TARDIS slid moved back several yards across the ice, almost as if it was on skis, though in fact it was hovering a fraction of an inch above the surface. The Shrak tried to follow. It slithered on the ice, a substance it was unaccustomed to and very uncomfortable upon. Even so it was getting closer to the TARDIS when The Doctor called out again, this time asking for spring. Moments later the trees around the banks of the Derwent were covered in blossom and the ice had melted. The Shrak sank into the deep water of a glacial lake.

The Doctor smiled in satisfaction and took control of the TARDIS. He landed it on the shore beside the tourist office and waved to the people inside. They came out slowly and sat on the cool spring grass. Other people came gradually to join them, including Jeannie and Molly who walked confidently from the Pencil Museum along familiar roads to the lakeside. The Doctor explained what had happened. They mourned those who had died in the course of the horrific events and contemplated the necessary clean up work. All the torpid Shrak larvae would have to be cleared from the corridors and destroyed in the incinerators. The pupating creatures that had boiled alive in their boxes would have to be disposed of, too, as well as the body of the Shrak queen. It was decided after a short discussion that they would treat it as the body of Professor Gates and a dignified cremation with the proper rites would be performed. The Doctor thought that was a suitable idea.

“It will take time for everyone to recover from the shock,” The Doctor said as he programmed the TARDIS for a new destination. “But humans are surprisingly good at doing that. They’ll be fine.” He looked around the console room. Jeannie was sitting on a chair with Molly lying by her side. She was aware of the vibration the TARDIS made as it travelled in the time vortex. It was different to the feel of the Space Station, a new experience for her.

They materialised a little later in a scene almost exactly like the one in Jeannie’s virtual world scenario, except that the car park by the lake was full of cars, coaches and mini-buses. There were yachts and motor boats on the water and an ice cream van doing a brisk trade. The Doctor bought ice creams for everyone and they sat down on the grass to enjoy them.

“I thought you might like to spend a bit of time in the real Keswick,” he said to Jeannie. “This is the late twentieth century, so nobody you know will be home, but we can visit the pencil museum, later, if you like.”

“No thanks, Doctor,” Jeannie laughed. “When you’ve felt one pencil, you’ve felt them all.”