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

“Where are you taking us, Doctor?” Steven Taylor asked as he watched the swirling Rorschach patterns being produced on the viewscreen as they travelled in the time vortex. “And when?”

“I’m taking you young people to Earth in December 1968,” The Doctor replied. “For an old-fashioned Human Christmas. You were both born on colony worlds far from your species’ home world and Christmas had thoroughly lost its meaning by your century. I thought you might enjoy experiencing how it used to be celebrated. 1968 is as good a year as any. The festivities hadn’t become too thoroughly commercialised and the world economy was as good as it was expected to be. People could afford to enjoy themselves.”

“Ian and Barbara will be home on Earth by then, won’t they?” Vicki said. “We could visit them for Christmas.”

“An excellent idea, Susan,” The Doctor replied.

“Vicki,” she reminded him gently. The Doctor looked at her with slightly puzzled eyes for a second then he nodded.

“Vicki, yes, Vicki. You’ll enjoy an old-fashioned Earth Christmas, I’m sure.”

“I expect I will,” she said. “I’d like to see real Christmas trees – the ones made of fir. We used to have holographic ones because wood was too precious to use for ornamental purposes.”

“I would like to taste a real turkey dinner for once,” Steven added. “Real potatoes and vegetables, and real meat and gravy, stuffing, pudding, actual food, cooked in a kitchen, not out of a replicator.”

“Well, I think you’ll both be pleasantly surprised,” The Doctor told them. He smiled merrily. Vicki smiled back. It was good to see The Doctor looking happy. So often he was distant and yearning, as if his true happiness lay with people and places so far away it grieved him sorely. But for now he was happy.

Yes, he was. The Doctor looked at Vicki, the girl who had slipped into his life just when he was missing his granddaughter so very much and trying hard to live up to his own injunction to her not to have any regrets. Yes, sometimes when his mind wandered he called her Susan by mistake. When he did, it was as if he had stabbed himself in the heart. It hurt so grievously. But Vicki was a sweet child and a comfort to him at a time when he could so easily have fallen into bitterness.

“Here we are,” he said as the TARDIS materialised noisily. “London, England, Earth, in 1968.”

“Um… are you sure?” Steven asked as the picture on the viewscreen cleared. “I thought London had more buildings in it. And where are all those vehicles going.”

“Oh dear,” The Doctor sighed.

“Oh, Doctor!” Vicki laughed softly. “It’s all right. I expect we’re only a little bit off course. It certainly looks like Earth, anyway.”

“Yes, it’s Earth,” Steven confirmed. “But it’s not London, and it’s not 1968. According to the navigation monitor we’re a hundred and twenty metres above the River Severn in 2014.”

“It…” Vicki began to say. Then her face paled in shock. “Oh no. Oh, no. That’s terrible. He mustn’t.”

She wrenched the door control and ran out of the TARDIS. The Doctor and Steven were a few moments behind her once they realised what the crisis was. They found themselves on the pedestrian walkway of a long suspension bridge, lit up in the dark by thousands of lights along its cables as well as stronger lights focussed on the roadway where cars, trucks and passenger coaches were moving in a steady stream just a few feet away from them.

They didn’t worry about the traffic. Steven ran to help the slightly built Vicki pull back a man who was in the act of climbing over the parapet to jump into the dark river far below. She was clinging to the would-be suicide by one slender hand. Steven put his own strength into pulling the man back. While he restrained him for his own good, The Doctor stretched out his hand over the dark drop the man had been saved from. The large ring on his finger glowed eerily and though there was a lot of noise from traffic Steven thought he could hear it humming. He was surprised when a very tiny object, almost invisible in the dark, came to The Doctor’s hand as if by some powerful force of magnetism.

The Doctor closed his fingers around the object and turned to see a police car that had stopped by the walkway. Two uniformed officers were approaching.

“It’s quite all right, officers,” he said in a calm, quiet and thoroughly hypnotic tone. “This young man was taken ill, but we’re looking after him now. He’ll be all right as soon as we take him into my police box there and get him a nice cup of tea.”

“That’s quite all right, sir,” said the senior of the two policemen. “Merry Christmas to you.”

“And to you,” The Doctor replied. While he was talking Steven had manhandled the young man into the TARDIS. Vicki was waiting anxiously at the door. The Doctor turned and walked towards her with a careful, measured step. He was at the door by the time his Power of Suggestion wore off and the officers called out urgently. But it was too late by then. He closed the door and moments later the TARDIS dematerialised. The policemen looked at the empty place where it had been, then at each other, then walked back to their car, deciding they weren’t going to make any kind of report about this in case they were suspected of having a Christmas drink too many before going on duty.

Vicki made tea for everyone, including the young stranger who Steven had put into the magna-chair, again for his own safety. He was quiet now, startled by his surroundings and by the fact that he was still alive and being given a cup of tea when he had expected to have drowned in the wintery cold waters of the silt-laden River Severn.

“Suicide is a very foolish thing to do,” The Doctor told him as he sipped the tea despite himself. “Death has only one outcome. Life has endless possibilities.”

“I… didn’t want to live. I’ve made a fool of myself….”

“Is that all?” The Doctor asked, glancing at the small object he still held in his hand.

“I thought she loved me as much as… as I love her.”

“Uohoh,” Steven murmured. Vicki exchanged glances with him. She was young. She had never had any sort of love affair, let alone a broken one, but she could see where this story was going.

Again The Doctor glanced at the object in his hand. He nodded with the understanding of one who wasn’t Human but had lived among humans and before then had lived in the universe for longer than his companions could guess. He, too, understood about unrequited love, even if he didn’t talk about such things with his much younger friends.

“You’re name is Geoff, isn’t it?” he said. Geoff’s eyes opened in surprise, but he was already too overwhelmed to wonder how the old man with the sympathetic eyes knew that.

“We met in the office where I work,” he said passing over that and returning to the issue of the woman who had broken his heart. “Bell and Gillingworth of Bristol – the accountants. She was a senior partner, I was brought in as a consultant. She was above me, but even so… I thought… I really did think she was interested in me. We never went on a date as such – but we had so many business lunches and we went to a whole series of seminars and weekend conferences in the summer and enjoyed the hospitality evenings together. It really felt as if we….”

He paused before speaking.

“Lorraine… she is beautiful, poised, self-assured. She’s perfect and… I thought she could be mine. I planned it all in my head. I asked her out to dinner – tonight – Christmas Eve. It was going to be magnificent. I arranged for flowers – red roses – and candles. And a violinist playing by the table….”

“That might have been a bit too much romance for one dinner date,” Steven noted. “Ladies enjoy being treated, but sometimes you can overwhelm them.”

“It wasn’t the violinist that was the problem,” Geoff admitted. “It was… me. I read all of the signals wrong. She arrived late, and said she couldn’t stay long – just a drink – because she was meeting somebody else afterwards. And then… when I proposed….”

“You still proposed even though she had another date?” Even Vicki was starting to guess where this was going wrong.

“Yes. Not exactly how I imagined it. I rushed the whole thing. And… she laughed. She asked if I was serious. She said she had never imagined me as… as even a casual friend outside of work. She thought I was… stupid. Actually, the words she used were ‘gormless daydreamer’. And then she said it was entirely inappropriate for me to make such a proposition to her and that she would have to report it to the managing director as a disciplinary matter. And then….”

He gulped for air and tears dripped down his cheeks.

“I’ve been a complete fool and I’ve ruined my life, my career…. I wish I’d never been born. I wish the ground would swallow me up. And… since neither of those things are going to happen… then at least I would like to… end my miserable useless life before it goes any further.”

“Foolish indeed,” The Doctor told him. “But as I said before, death has only one outcome.”

“I don’t care. I want to die.”

“Very well, go on,” The Doctor replied. “Vicki, open the door. Steven, cancel the magna-force and let him go.”

Vicki and Steven were puzzled by The Doctor’s actions. Surely he didn’t mean to let Geoff commit suicide right in front of them all, after they had gone to so much trouble to save him.

Geoff walked a little unsteadily towards the door. He clearly expected that the TARDIS was still standing on the Severn Bridge in the rush hour of Christmas Eve. He stopped on the threshold and looked out into space. The TARDIS was in orbit over Earth. It shone brightly and beautifully against the silver speckled inky black of infinity falling away below it. Geoff clung to the door frame and looked down fearfully.

“A shield stops the air from escaping, but if you want to die just step over the threshold. It will be much quicker and less painless than jumping into the river. Beyond death, I cannot tell you what there is. That is one journey I have never made. But if you wish to find out, go ahead, young man. We will not stop you.”

“Doctor, you can’t,” Steven protested. Vicki just cried out wordlessly and turned away. Steven comforted her. The Doctor stood near the door, just out of arms reach of Geoff as he took a half step closer to oblivion.

“I… can’t do it,” he whimpered. “Not now. If… if you hadn’t stopped me the first time… But now….”

“Now you know better,” The Doctor said moving closer and taking him by the arm. “Vicki, close the door please, my dear. You come and sit down. No, not on the magna-chair. Come and sit on the comfortable sofa and let’s look further into your story. Steven, can you switch on the Time/Space Visualizer?”

“We want to play around with that again?” Steven asked, glancing at the huge, ugly piece of alien technology that had got them into so much trouble already.

“I want to use it to show Geoff the worth of his life,” The Doctor answered. He opened a cupboard and took out a clumsy looking device that neither Vicki nor Steven had seen before. He told Geoff to hold it.

“The psyche-transmitter focusses your thoughts onto the Time/Space Visualizer,” The Doctor explained to him. “It will show us all a picture of what’s going on in your mind.”

The image on the round screen of the Time/Space Visualizer was disjointed and flickering like a badly tuned television, but The Doctor’s companions recognised that it must be his failed attempt to propose to Lorraine. He had tried to go down on one knee in the middle of the restaurant bar. Lorraine, elegant and poised, had looked down at him as if he was something nasty stuck to her shoe.

“I really do look like an idiot, don’t I?” Geoff said. “No wonder she thought I was an idiot. I AM an idiot for thinking she might actually feel that way about me! I mean, look at her. Look at me!”

“Never mind that for now,” The Doctor told him gently. “I want you to think back into the past. Think of happier times, when you were a boy.”

He didn’t specifically say ‘Christmas times’, just happier ones. But the Time/Space Visualizer image shimmered and changed to show a little boy of about seven ripping the paper off what was very obviously a bicycle. It was blue. It had a bell on the handlebars and a leather carrier at the back.

“I want to show Maggie,” the seven year old Geoff said. His mother made him eat some breakfast first and then put on a coat, hat and gloves before he was allowed to take the bicycle out, his first one that didn’t come with training wheels. He clung to the handlebars as he wheeled it down the path to the front gate. At the same time a girl came out of the house next door and wheeled her bicycle to the gate. They met on the pavement outside the two houses, neutral territory.

Maggie’s bicycle was red. It had a bell and a carrier on the back.

“Uncle Mark got me this. Everyone else bought me DOLLS,” she said in abject disgust. She was wearing hard wearing dungarees over what was clearly a dress tucked in to keep it clean. Her hair was in two bunches tied up with ribbons, but before she mounted the bicycle she took the ribbons out and put them in her pocket. She fastened the bunches with elastic bands before she and Geoff rode side by side along the pavement as far as the end of their street. They turned a corner and disappeared from view. A few minutes later they re-appeared at the opposite end of the street. They had gone all the way around the block and returned. Maggie was slightly in the lead and it was clear she was racing to a finish line long ago chalked on the pavement between their two gates. She beat Geoff by a front wheel’s length before they both braked and stopped.

“Again,” Geoff suggested. “Two times around this time.”

Maggie was out of breath, but she laughed and agreed to the second race. This time Geoff was very slightly in the lead, but it was clear the two children were more or less evenly matched and every circuit of the neighbourhood only reinforced that point.

“So,” The Doctor said, as they watched both children being called in for their Christmas dinners. “Tell me about Maggie.”

“Maggie Dent. She lived next door for as long as I could remember. My dad and hers both worked at Mackeson’s Builders. My dad was a plasterer, hers was a joiner. We were always friends. Maggie didn’t really have any other friends. She didn’t play with other girls. She hated dolls, teddies, Wendy houses, tea parties for dolls. She liked bicycles, Meccano, football. Her mum bought her dresses, but she tore them. It was easier to let her wear the dungarees.”

“Susan was the same at a certain age,” The Doctor noted, though in a voice so low that nobody heard.

“Everyone said she would grow out of it,” Geoff added. “But she never really did. She got into make-up and clothes and pop stars like other girls. But she was just as happy in jeans and a t-shirt going dirt biking with me.”

The images changed as he talked about growing up next door to his young soul mate. Maggie grew into a teenager who The Doctor thought looked more natural in her jeans and t-shirt and no make-up than his Susan did when she reached that same age and adopted the heavily made up style that was current in the early 1960s Earth era they were living in. Her real prettiness stood out even when her face was streaked in mud and oil from an emergency dirt bike tyre change.

“Even when we left school she was always around,” Geoff said. “I went to college, she went to work at Mackesons – as an apprentice joiner. When the firm closed, due to the credit crunch, her dad used his savings to start up his own small business and she went in with him. They’re doing all right. A couple of weeks ago, I met them at the Chamber of Commerce Dinner. Mr Dent won an award for local enterprise. Maggie looked nice. She was wearing a dress – one of the few times she did - and make-up. I didn’t get a lot of time to talk to her, though. I was with the firm. Lorraine….”

The images of the Chamber of Commerce Dinner in one of Bristol’s prestigious hotels, was broken up by distressing flashes of Lorraine laughing at his proposal again.

“Never mind her,” Steven said to him. “She’s obviously a….” He stopped. The word he was going to use was one that a well brought up young man of his century didn’t use lightly about a woman. “She’s not right for you. What about Maggie?”

“Maggie?” Geoff was surprised. “Maggie is my best friend. But….”

“Is she dating anyone?” Vicki asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Has she ever dated anyone?” Steven added.

“Only me. When we were younger… we went to clubs and stuff. But just as friends. We’re not…. Lorraine was the one I….”

Images of Geoff and Maggie having good times together… as friends… were broken up by images of Lorraine. Vicki and Steven looked at each other and smiled conspiratorially. They had figured it out, even if Geoff hadn’t.

The Doctor looked at the screen with a fixed gaze. The images of Lorraine faded away as if he had filtered them out.

“Well,” he said. “What about Maggie?”

“I….” Geoff looked uncertain.

“Have you ever kissed her?” Vicki asked. Steven nodded. He wanted to ask that question, but it sounded better coming from an innocent young girl’s lips.

“Just once,” Geoff admitted. “It was… a year ago today. We went out Christmas carol singing with the children from the local youth club. It was a fun evening. We walked home together afterwards. At the door I… just the once… It was nice. It felt good. She was a little surprised, but she didn’t say it was wrong. It was just a kiss between friends, though. It didn’t mean anything. And anyway, Lorraine….”

“Nuts to Lorraine!” Steven said. “I wouldn’t give her the time of day. What about Maggie? How did she feel about kissing you?”

“I don’t know. I never asked. She never mentioned it afterwards.”

“Could she get a word in edgeways while you were going on about the perfect Lorraine?” Steven added. The Doctor wasn’t saying anything, now. But he was listening carefully.

“She was great,” Geoff answered. “A real friend. I told her all of my feelings, and she understood perfectly. I could always depend on her to listen. When I told her I was going to ask Lorraine to marry me, she couldn’t have been happier for me. She hugged me and said… she said I deserved the best.”

“And Lorraine was the best?”

“Yes. At least I thought she was. Now I don’t know what to think.”

“Then stop thinking, young man, and watch the screen,” The Doctor said to him. Geoff looked at the Time/Space Visualizer in surprise. It wasn’t showing his memories any more. It seemed to be showing Maggie’s, instead.

“How?” Vicki asked.

“I managed to get him to concentrate on her enough, instead of the other woman,” The Doctor explained. “The psyche-transmitter has picked up enough of her to give us at least a few mental snapshots.”

They began last Christmas Eve when she had dressed up warm to go out in the dark streets of Bristol with Geoff and the group of a dozen girls and boys they were in charge of. She had thoroughly enjoyed the carol singing. It felt like Christmas was supposed to feel, not just going clubbing and getting drunk like most people did. She especially enjoyed being with Geoff. She had been friends with him for as long as she could remember. They did everything together as children.

Now they were adults, and they still did a lot of things together, and there was nothing Maggie would have liked better than to carry on doing that.

After the carols, when they had taken the youngsters home, they walked together. They had held hands, without really thinking about it. At the door, Geoff had kissed her. It was the first time he had ever done that. She liked it. She really hoped he would do it again.

But then Lorraine came along. Geoff was smitten by her. Maggie hid her disappointment. She cried alone in her room.

“She cried?” Geoff was startled. “I don’t… understand.”

“You really are thick!” Steven told him. “Don’t you get it? Maggie liked you as more than a friend. She wanted to be your girl. But every time you were together, you had nothing in your head except Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine. It’s a wonder she put up with it.”

The final straw had been that Chamber of Commerce dinner, the first and only time Maggie saw Lorraine. That evening she had dressed up because it was a special time for her father, and also because she knew Geoff would be there.

But when she saw Lorraine, with the perfect hair and make-up, the designer dress that fitted her like a glove, the shoes, everything, she felt so inadequate. No wonder Geoff didn’t notice her when that was his ideal woman!

As always, she hid her feelings. She smiled at him and wished him well.

But secretly her heart was breaking.

“You big dumbo,” Vicki said. “All this time, you didn’t know?”

“I never… I didn’t….” Geoff protested. “Maggie is special to me. Of course she is. But I never…. I didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t know.”

“Like I said, dumbo,” Vicki told him.

Geoff looked at Vicki, at Steven, at The Doctor. He looked back at the screen where an image of Maggie in her best dress for that dinner had frozen in place. He saw how beautiful she really was, even without a designer outfit and hair and make-up that had taken two hours at the salon.

“I really have been stupid, haven’t I? All these years, I never saw what was staring me in the face.”


“What can I do?”

“Come to the door again and look,” The Doctor said gently, taking him by the hand. “Look at your world from above. You’re still one of only a handful of men and women who have done that in your century.”

Geoff looked. He caught his breath.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. “I’ve seen the TV…. Satellites images. But I never knew how big it was. The colours… the blue….”

There were tears in his eyes again, but this time they were tears of joy and awe.

“See that landmass directly below us,” The Doctor added. “You call it the Middle East. That’s where it all began, this festival called Christmas that so many humans set such store by.”

“Yes,” he said.

“I’m not a great student of Human religions,” The Doctor continued. “But I believe what it was all about was a new beginning for the Human race. Perhaps there still might be one for you. It’s not too late.”

“Can you take me back?” he asked. “Back to Earth… to Christmas Eve… To Maggie.”

Vicki and Steven exchanged glances. The Doctor and the TARDIS were both so unpredictable. They wondered if their next destination would be Pluto in the 90th century with Geoff as a frustrated passenger longing to go home.

But for once, just this once, it all worked perfectly. They arrived outside the restaurant where Geoff had just made a fool of himself with Lorraine. They watched on the viewscreen as the elegant, poised young woman left, still poised, still elegant, but with a disdainful expression on her face, followed not long after by Geoff with tears in his eyes and desperation in his whole body language. He hurried away in the opposite direction. They knew only too well where he was going to end up.

Moments later the young woman they all knew now as Maggie arrived outside the restaurant looking very pretty in a new dress. She looked around as if expecting to see somebody.

“You sent a Christmas card to her three days ago, with a message to meet you here on Christmas Eve.”

“I did?” he asked in surprise.

“You will, just as soon as I sort that out retrospectively,” The Doctor answered him with a nod and a smile. He held out his hand, palm open. A diamond engagement ring shone brightly despite having been thrown into the River Severn ahead of the would-be suicide. “You still have a table reservation, after all. Go and get it right this time.”

Geoff took the ring and rushed to the door. He turned once and smiled. He thanked The Doctor and his companions then ran outside to greet Maggie with a hug that thoroughly surprised and pleased her. They stepped into the restaurant.

“A good night’s work,” Steven observed.

“One more thing to do,” The Doctor noted. He moved the TARDIS control very slightly. It relocated a mere hundred yards down the road where Lorraine was trying to hail a taxi. The Doctor stepped out and walked up to her. Vicki and Steven watched on the screen. He was asking her for directions, playing the confused old man to a ‘t’. He copied her hand gestures as she pointed down the road, getting them a little wrong so that she repeated herself. They noticed that the ring on his hand caught the light and reflected back into her eyes several times. It must have been hypnotic. She stopped giving directions and listened to The Doctor instead. When he was done she moved away slowly, a rather vague look in her eyes. The Doctor came back to the TARDIS smiling smugly.

“What did you do?” Steven asked as he went to the console and dematerialised the TARDIS. “To Lorraine?”

“Just a little Power of Suggestion,” The Doctor replied. “I suggested to her that she should forget all about drinks with Geoff and go straight to her other date. She won’t be complaining about his ‘improper behaviour’ towards her. His job is safe.”

“Clever Doctor,” Vicki said, hugging him.

“Very clever,” Steven agreed. “Now can you get us to London in 1968 for that traditional Christmas with your friends that we all wanted?”

Vicki hoped they could. But even if they didn’t, she felt they had experienced something of the true meaning of Christmas already when they brought the gifts of love and generosity to a man who needed both so very badly.