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

The Doctor looked at the viewscreen and sighed. He watched the perky young woman called Mel Bush walk up her garden path to the front door of her home in Pease Pottage. Halfway up she had turned and waved. But by the time she put the key in the lock she would have forgotten doing that. She would have forgotten that she had just been taken out of her timeline and brought to the Time Lord High Court as a witness for his defence in that ridiculous, utterly bogus trial that had almost destroyed the very fabric of Gallifreyan society.

He knew it wasn’t the end. He would meet her again in the course of time. But in the meantime he was alone.

That was the reason why he had sighed. The people who had travelled with him over the centuries exasperated and infuriated him, but they were also his reason to go on. Without somebody to share the wonders of the universe, it all felt a lot less wondrous.

Without somebody to share it all, he might as well just go home to Gallifrey and be bored.

He sighed again and dematerialised the TARDIS. He left it hanging in orbit over Earth while he skimmed through a list of possible destinations in time and space that he might explore.

There were amazing worlds out there. The floating garden of Eraxtu was one of the seven million wonders of the universe. It was a foot thick and eighty mile wide sliver of a long destroyed planet that had fallen into the gravitational field of its neighbour, Tuxor. By a billion trillion to one chance it had actually established a stable orbit within the stratosphere, going around the planet three times to one Tuxorian day, and exotic vegetation had grown naturally upon it. The Tuxorians had made it a protected nature reserve and only those with special passes were allowed to set foot upon it. The vast majority of the people had only ever seen it from hoverplanes that didn’t disturb the impossible ecosystem.

The Doctor had one of the special passes. The Doctor plus one, it said on it.

But he didn’t have a plus one to enjoy it with.

The same was true of the Dilexorian triple aurora and the five synchronised moons of Ol.

The Doctor swore a very rude swear word in Low Gallifreyan that would make other Time Lords blush. But there were no other Time Lords for two hundred and fifty million light years, so none of them did.

He was starting to get a major case of the doldrums – the sort that could last a century if it went unchecked – when the communication console beeped insistently.

“What now?” he grumbled. He saw the Seal of Rassilon on the incoming visual link and scowled. “What NOW?”

The Seal dissolved into the live image of the last person The Doctor really wanted to see again.

Well, maybe not the absolute last. She was certainly more amenable than a lot of Time Lords he knew. But really, he could do without her checking up on him.

“Madam Inquisitor,” he said, remembering his best manners and putting on an inscrutable expression.

“That would be Madam President, now,” she answered in a sweet tone that belied a strength of character that would make a Dalek weep. “President Elect, at least. I took your advice and put myself forward for election. The inauguration is scheduled for tomorrow.”

“My congratulations,” The Doctor said, bowing politely to her. “It has obviously been some time since our last meeting, then?”

“Two Gallifreyan months. Of course, it may have been rather less for you. There is always a certain time dilation effect with videophone conversations. Especially when the transmission is encoded for security purposes.”

The President Elect of the High Council was calling him on an encoded transmission?

The Doctor had a feeling he wouldn’t need to worry about being bored now.

“Considerably less,” he replied tersely. He didn’t mention that it had only been twenty-six hours since he was acquitted of the false charges of genocide. “Might I ask the purpose of your call?”

“The Coronet of Rassilon has been stolen,” Madam President Elect answered.

“I hope you don’t think I had anything to do with that. I made it clear I had no interest in standing for the presidency again. The Coronet is of no interest to me.”

“That is precisely why I contacted you – the only Time Lord with no ambition to thwart the will of the people. This WAS our first Presidential election on the basis of universal suffrage. I am the first truly democratically elected President of our world….”

She said the words ‘universal suffrage’ and ‘democratically elected’ very much as if they were new concepts on Gallifrey. And they were. The Doctor understood fully what her really problem was, though.

Without the Coronet of Rassilon she couldn’t, in fact, be President. Or if she was, she could not have the full powers of President, access to the Matrix and all the knowledge of all Time Lords past, present and future that the Matrix made available to the undisputed Successor of Rassilon.

“You need me to find it, then?” The Doctor guessed.

“Yes. But I’m afraid it is not as simple as it sounds. We have reason to believe that the Coronet has been taken to Ancient Gallifrey – to the time of Rassilon.”

“That is impossible,” The Doctor responded. “There are protocols that prevent any Time Lord from travelling back in time within the Transduction Barrier. No Time Lord would dare try. Not even The Master would be so audacious. Even he….” The Doctor paused. “Oh no, he didn’t? Tell me it isn’t him?”

“It’s not him. He is safely incarcerated on Shada after his part in the recent debacle. We do not know who is responsible for this act of High Treason. But some Time Lord, one with even lower morals than The Master, has found a way to broach the protocols. And that is why we must allow the breach to occur again, so that you may pursue him and bring him to justice – while, of course, retrieving the Coronet and bringing it safely back in time for the Inauguration.”

“A tall order, Madam Elect,” The Doctor pointed out.

“It is, indeed. That is why we have arranged for a companion to work with you. She will be with you as soon as you accept the mission.”

“She….” The Doctor didn’t know whether to be pleased or not. Of course another male Time Lord in the TARDIS would be a disaster. The two of them would surely rub each other up the wrong way. But unless a lot more than the electoral process had changed on Gallifrey since he was last there, very few female Time Lords had been trained for external missions.

“Do you accept?” The President Elect repeated.

“I do, madam,” The Doctor answered.

Of course he did.

“Take the Orb of Rassilon. It is your authority to break the protocols. It is LOANED to you, only, Doctor. When you return with the Coronet, the Orb, too, must be returned.”

“I understand, madam.” He bowed again. She bowed in return. Then the transmission ended. He looked up and saw the Orb of Rassilon perched on top of the time rotor.

It wasn’t what anyone from a monarchial society would expect an ‘orb’ to be. It wasn’t any kind of ornately jewelled treasure.

It was a glass eye – the orb of the mind as poets might refer to it.

He picked up the eye gingerly, hoping it WAS glass, and not, perish the thought, Rassilon’s actual body part. He looked at it carefully. It was as very well made glass eye, heavier than it ought to have been, as if the glass was denser than it looked. The iris was deep brown with flecks of green.

It was the most realistic glass eye The Doctor had ever seen. He could almost imagine it was looking back at him, sizing him up.

He felt, suddenly, as if he didn’t quite measure up to expectations. He thrust the Orb into his pocket hurriedly.

“Oh!” a voice exclaimed. “I didn’t quite expect….”

The woman who had spoken looked at him with undisguised curiosity and not quite approval. He noted that she was not very tall, slim of build, aged about forty by Human standards with dark brown hair and eyes.

She reminded him of somebody so familiar his hearts-strings tugged.

“Is it really you?” she asked. “Grandfather….”

“Susan!” The Doctor gasped in surprise. “My Susan… my grandaughter…. I haven’t seen you for…” He tried to do the maths. It had been centuries in his own peculiar lifetime where tomorrow almost never followed today.

“Twenty-three years,” she said. “That’s how long it’s been for me. I’m not going to say anything else. I was brought here for a reason. We have to find the Coronet of Rassilon. When we do, I can go home. My memory of this mission will be erased and no time will have passed while I was gone. The President Elect said that you should put the Orb into the receptacle next to the Drive console and then hold on tight.”

“The President Elect spoke to you? But you don’t have videophones on Earth in the twenty-third century.”

“She appeared as a hologram, in my kitchen, while I was making tea for my family. She seems a nice lady, but rather abrupt. I suppose it was an emergency, but it was very inconvenient and she didn’t even give me time to switch off the oven.”

The Doctor took in several important facts from that little speech, but there wasn’t time to ask her about any of it right now. He retrieved the Orb from his pocket and put it into the receptacle, noting that there WASN’T a glass-eye shaped receptacle in the console until that moment.

He had no time to reflect on the impertinence of putting extra receptacles onto his console. Susan’s advice about holding tight was well given. As soon as the Orb slotted into place the time rotor lit up bright green, yellow, orange and fiery red in turn and he felt as if time itself had been turned inside out. The TARDIS tipped sideways, frontways, lengthways and widthways and shook so violently he thought his teeth would disintegrate. Susan looked terrified as she clung to the console. The Doctor wondered what possessed the President Elect when she decided to send his granddaughter to help him. She was the least qualified of all the Gallifreyan women he had ever met.

He wasn’t sure how long the TARDIS was in the vortex. It might have been minutes, it might have been hours. When it materialised, his head was still spinning for several minutes.


“Yes….” How easy it was to reply to that nomenclature. “Yes, Susan.”

“We’ve landed. Is it… where we should be? Is it really Gallifrey in the old days?”

“Yes, it is,” The Doctor answered. “I remember seeing pictures. This is the old Citadel on the shores of Cadenflood.”

He opened a walk in cupboard disguised as part of the console room wall and found two long hooded cloaks. Susan took one and covered her twenty-third century Earth dress. The Doctor covered his garish outfit that belonged to no time or place that ever held its head up in the fashion stakes. Suitably clad he headed to the door. Susan followed. She was surprisingly nervous, as well as a little excited. She had been a child when she last set foot on Gallifrey. Her dreams as an adult woman, living on Earth, still sometimes included a burnt orange sky with a copper moon, red grass beneath her feet and the leaves of the silvertrees reflecting the first light of the dawn like a million looking glasses.

There was no grass here, and no trees. This was a tundra of red sand locked in permafrost in which nothing grew but a red lichen that gave the ground a mottled pattern.

She looked up at the sky. It was the colour she fully expected, but she didn’t recognise any of the constellations.

“We are so very far back in time that the constellations you know were different, The Doctor told her. “Besides, our home was on the southern continent. Here we are within the northern circle. The old Citadel, remember, was situated over the magnetic north pole. ”

“Yes,” Susan did remember. It WAS a long time ago and her education had only just begun when they left home, but she did know that.

The Doctor stepped forward and looked down the deep chasm to the Cadenflood, a river wide enough to be mistaken for a lake if it were not for the strong current driving it eastwards towards the northern sea. Susan looked just once. The water was so cold it was almost frozen, with huge chunks of ice floating on top.

Anyone who fell down there would be dead in seconds. She turned away and looked at the citadel. It was red like the frozen ground, built from stone quarried nearby. It was a thing of elaborate beauty with domes and pinnacles, high walkways between the soaring towers and spires. One of the most prominent buildings had a huge telescope on top.

“Only a chosen few of our people have travelled beyond our solar system, yet,” The Doctor pointed out. “The rest looked out among the stars from here.”

“Are we going into the Citadel?” Susan asked.

“I… suppose we are meant to,” The Doctor answered uncertainly. Gallifrey was a small planet compared to some, and its population was never huge, but he didn’t expect to search the whole of it to find the Coronet. He assumed these co-ordinates were in the general area where it was believed the thief took it, and it seemed a safe bet that he had hidden himself within the population of what was, in this time, the ONLY city on the planet.

Then he felt a vibration in his pocket. He reached in and found the Orb of Rassilon. It was spinning around like a top.

“I don’t remember picking that up again,” he said. He held it on the palm of his hand and it span and then steadied itself like a compass needle. The eye was looking eastwards, along the path of the river, away from the Citadel.

“I strongly suspect we are going that way,” he added. He strode off. Susan ran to catch up.

“It used to be me trying to keep up with you,” The Doctor noted, slowing to match her step. “Times change.”

“Yes, they do.”

There was obviously more to be said, but neither was ready to open the conversation up. They walked in silence for nearly a mile under the permanent half dark of the northern pole. The southern pole, thousands of miles away, was also half dark, but it was a sweltering desert where a man could die of thirst in an hour if he wasn’t well supplied with water. Susan had often compared Gallifrey’s poles to those she knew on other worlds, especially Earth, and knew there was something distinctly odd about them, but Gallifrey was an odd planet, altogether.

“I prefer to think of it as uniquely eccentric,” The Doctor said, even though she had not said anything out loud.

“I’ve lived on Earth longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, including Gallifrey. It seems normal to me, and everything else alien.”

“That’s all right,” The Doctor assured her. “As long as you’re happy there.”

“Yes, I am.” Susan paused awkwardly. The Doctor wondered if she was going to tell him about her home and family on Earth. He would have liked to hear her talk about her life.

“I… often thought of you,” she said. “I wondered if you had regenerated.”

“Several times,” he answered. “And… you… I have often thought about you.”

“Have you?”

There was a ring to her voice.

“You never came back. You said you would….”


The Doctor was stuck for an answer to that. It was true, he had never, in nearly four hundred years since they parted, got around to returning to see how she was. There was no reason he could give that wouldn’t sound like a really poor excuse.

“I’m… sorry,” he told her. “I really am.”

“That’s not good enough, grandfather,” she replied.

“I know. I….”

He was saved from further explanations, at least for now, by the Orb. It was vibrating again. He held it on his palm and watched it turn north-north-east.

There was a rocky outcrop in that direction. He had not really been aware of it until he looked directly towards it. The red rock was indistinguishable from the red tundra they were walking on. As they changed direction and headed towards the outcrop, though, they realised that it was actually quite high with a number of cave entrances at ground level.

“Are we supposed to go inside?” Susan asked. She shivered, not from the cold, but the claustrophobic appearance of the caves.

“I think so. You know, these rocks are magnetic. An ordinary compass would never work. A much greater power is at work in the Orb.”

“If it really is anything to do with Rassilon, that’s no surprise. Does that mean that the Coronet might be hidden down in the caves? Is it drawing us towards another of his artefacts?”

“If it is simply hidden down there, this might be an easier mission than I expected,” The Doctor said. “But I shouldn’t be at all surprised if there are a few nasty tricks ahead of us.”

“Well, we’ll never know if we don’t try,” Susan conceded. “I thought my days of wandering around caves were over long ago. But, here we go.”

At least it was a cave. The water that formed them must have disappeared long ago. The walls were cold and sandy. Susan preferred that to slimy and oozing.

The outer cave went a long way back and then narrowed into a tunnel with a floor that dropped steeply. The Doctor found a torch in his pocket that illuminated a few feet ahead of them.

It flattened out but twisted and turned constantly. They frequently came to junctions with other tunnels and consulted the Orb for their correct path. They had been going for at least an hour like that when Susan started to wonder if the Orb would lead them out again just as easily.

“Oh, not to worry about that,” The Doctor told her. Again, she hadn’t spoken aloud. He just knew what was pre-occupying her mind. “I have an excellent sense of direction.”

“That’s news to me,” Susan replied. “I remember you getting us lost in the Maze of Argennium. And there was that time in the Palace of Versailles. I mean, it’s full of windows. You could have worked out east and west from the position of the sun.”

She said that in a light-hearted way, but it pained The Doctor to think that she didn’t trust him implicitly. His other companions would have done.

“You know,” he added after a while. “I think we’re under the Citadel now. My excellent sense of direction tells me that we’ve doubled back far enough. These tunnels must run all the way under the very seat of Rassilon’s power.”

“Rassilon… the man himself? This is actually the time when he was alive?”

“Yes, the very beginning of the Time Lords as an elite part of the Gallifreyan people. Of course, back then, there were only a few of them. Rassilon himself, and his legendary twelve sons were the first.”

“He really DID have twelve sons? I always thought that was a myth.”

“You always wondered if he had twelve wives or just one very worn out one,” The Doctor answered his granddaughter. “If you were not just a child when you said it, I would have had to be cross with you for such a heresy. Then again, the thought crossed my mind now and again.”

He was rambling on a bit. Susan hushed him suddenly, but not because she was tired of listening to him.

“I can hear something ahead,” she whispered. “Voices….”

The Doctor started to say that he couldn’t hear anything then changed his mind. Susan always used to have very good instincts. If she had heard voices, then it was well to be cautious.

Besides, she was right. There were voices, multiple voices, coming from somewhere ahead. The tunnels made natural echo chambers and it was hard to judge just how far away it was, but it sounded like a Time Lord ritual involving many dozens of people chanting at once.

Except they all sounded like female voices, and that was startling. Most Time Lord rituals involved gatherings of men. After all, they were called Time LORDS. There was always a strongly misogynistic streak in Gallifreyan society. All the more so back in these times when only a few of the most promising young men of physical strength and mental agility were chosen.

Then again, The Doctor was well aware that women could be as much trouble as men. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that he had a run in with his cousin, The Rani.

“Oh no!” he thought. “It couldn’t be her, could it?”

They moved closer and closer. The chanting sounded as if it was coming from a very big place. Very soon they could see flickering light ahead, too. It was obvious that something secret, something menacing, was going on.

Something that involved the Coronet of Rassilon. That much was obvious by the way the Orb was spinning in all directions while levitating an inch above The Doctor’s hand and glowing. The glow had been faint at first, but now he could switch off the torch and the Orb provided enough light to see by.

“That’s enough,” he whispered, grabbing it out of the air and stuffing it in his pocket. They were close to the flickering light and the chanting voices now. They crept quietly into the huge cavern and concealed themselves behind naturally formed pillars of red rock either side of the entrance.

The cavern was a surprising place. The roof was as high as the great Panopticon of the High Council in the new Capitol, and almost certainly naturally formed originally, though some Time Lord engineering might have gone into it, too, since the roof and the cavern itself was a perfect hexagonal that was unlikely to have occurred in nature even on a planet like Gallifrey.

There was a hexagon of the same red rock at ground level, too. But there was a large expanse where there WAS no ground. The central hexagon was suspended above a deep chasm with a sinister red-orange glow from its depths that suggested it went down to the caldera of a long dormant volcano – or perhaps to the molten core of the planet itself.

It was what illuminated the cavern, anyway. Spars of rock no more than two feet wide and a foot deep connected the hexagon to a gallery all the way around the sides where most of the chanting people were standing.

They WERE women. Feminine faces could be glimpsed beneath the hoods of the ceremonial robes worn by at least forty of these acolytes, disciples, worshippers, whatever word might be used for them. The robes were black with a silver Seal of Rassilon on the front – with a dagger through it. The hexagon in the centre of the room also had a Seal of Rassilon upon it, with a great sword thrust into the centre. The Doctor wondered at the force it must have needed to push it into the rock and dismissed a frivolous thought from his head about needing a young King Arthur to pull it out again.

There was a woman standing on the Seal next to the sword. She, too, was dressed in a black robe with the same decoration, but her hood was down. She had a strong but pale face with dark eyes and glossy black hair that fell to her feet. It was hard to pin an age on her. She looked both a girl in the prime of youth and a handsome middle aged woman at the same time.

She looked strong-willed and determined.

She looked malevolent. Her mouth twisted in a grimace of pure hatred as she turned and watched the chanting women and then raised her hand for silence.

She got it. The cavern felt bigger than ever as the women stopped chanting and stood so still there wasn’t even of rustle of their clothing.

“Hear, my sisters, the good news. Our sister from the far future has sent the thing I need to seize power from my father. Here is the Coronet of Rassilon, the source of all knowledge, past, present and future, the source of all of my father’s wisdom. With it, I can defeat him and no more will patriarchs rule Gallifrey. We shall be dominant over the men. WE shall have the power over time and space that is denied to us by our fathers and brothers.”

The women around the gallery raised their hands and chanted what The Doctor assumed to be the name of the woman who commanded their strange loyalty.

“Asha, Asha, Asha!”

Asha held up the coronet over her head. The Orb in The Doctor’s pocket vibrated intensely. In the silence he was almost sure it was going to be heard. He had a bad feeling about what these women might do to a male interloper in their midst.

He looked around at Susan and resisted the urge to scream out to her. She was moving from behind the pillar, slipping among the dark clad women, quietly insinuating herself into the group. It was a good idea. Her cloak was similar enough at a glance for her to go unnoticed. But it was dangerous. She shouldn’t have taken the risk.

Asha turned around, displaying the stolen Coronet to all of the women, then she brought it down towards her own head. The Doctor was torn between watching her and watching Susan, ready to call out a warning if she was likely to be caught. He was wondering what would happen when the coronet touched her head. It was worn, usually, only by the inaugurated Lord High President. It was a powerful and dangerous gift given only to the strongest mind, capable of withstanding its full power.

Surely this woman’s unprepared mind would burn on contact with the conduit to the Matrix?

At first it looked as if The Doctor was right. When the Coronet sat upon her brow she winced and gasped as if she had felt a suddenly debilitating pain and collapsed to her knees. For a minute she looked as if she had been defeated by her own ambition, but then she rose up again and cried out in triumph.

“I know everything,” she said. “I know everything that my father knows - everything that was ever known and ever will be known. It is all here in my head. I am equal to any man. I am triumphant.”

The women chanted her name again, raising their hands in praise. Susan joined in with the chant, playing her part to the full.

The Orb in The Doctor’s pocket was vibrating loudly now. He took it out and tried to hold it in his hand, but it was too powerful. It rose up into the air, glowing brightly, then flew away towards Asha and the Coronet of Rassilon. The Doctor saw it connect with the Coronet which began to glow with the same brightness. Asha cried out in surprise and indignation.

“No! What is this? Father, I defy you. I defy you.”

She screamed as if she was in extreme pain, but she kept to her feet. She fought against the mental pressure being put upon her.

But the power of Rassilon was not confined to the mental battle inside her head. Below her feet the hexagon wobbled. A deep and ominous rumble silenced the chanting of the women around her. The red-orange light from the caldera was brighter and closer.

“Get out!” The Doctor called out. It was too late now for covert surveillance. He had to show himself. “Get out now. All of you, if you value your lives.”

The women hardly needed to be told. They were already starting to run towards the tunnel, knocking each other over in their panic. There was a terrible scream as one of them fell into the chasm. The sound went on for a long time, but was ultimately cut off with terrible abruptness.

“Susan, stay there,” The Doctor called out, pushing against the tide to reach her. But Susan was already acting on her own initiative. She had mounted one of the spars and was moving quickly towards the central hexagon. Asha was struggling now, her head bowed as if the weight of the Coronet was increasing. She grasped the pommel of the great sword for support.

“Get back!” she cried out as Susan approached her. “Get back, or I will kill you.”

“It looks as if you’re the one who is dying,” Susan answered. “It’s the Coronet. You can’t control it. Take it off.”

The caldera of magma beneath them rumbled again. There was a tremor, a strong one, and a cracking noise as the spar Susan had crossed broke in two. A large chunk fell into the chasm.

“I will never bow down to my father’s will,” Asha said. “I will have him bow down to me.”

Another spar cracked and held for a few seconds before falling. The Hexagon wobbled alarmingly. Susan grabbed onto the sword, too.

“Both of you keep very still!” The Doctor called out. “I’m coming to help you.”

There were still four spars holding the hexagon. The Doctor ran across one quickly, feeling it creak beneath his feet. They were all going to fall eventually. When they did, the hexagon would fall, too. He had to get both women to safety, as well as the Coronet. If that fell, the consequences for the future of Gallifrey were too terrible to think of.

But Coronets were less important to him than flesh and blood, his own especially, but he didn’t want Asha to fall to such a terrible death, either. She was obviously misguided and angry, and she had done something utterly Treasonous, but he would save her if he could.

Except the spar he had crossed collapsed as he reached the relative safety of the hexagon. Only three remained, all on the same side. The hexagon listed several degrees. The Doctor reached out his hand. Susan grabbed it, but Asha stubbornly refused to let go of the sword.

“You’ll die if you don’t let me help you,” The Doctor told her. Behind him another spar cracked. It held, but he knew he wouldn’t trust any weight on it.

“I would rather die than be dependent on a man,” she replied. “Get back, or I will kill you. I have the Coronet. I have the power.”

“No, you don’t,” The Doctor replied. He heard that fourth spar break and the Hexagon wobbled and listed further. “You can’t control it. You don’t have any power at all. The Coronet is not working with you. It is working against you. You’re in pain… and for some reason the immediate environment is reacting to your pain. This place is tearing itself apart. You have to listen. Whatever your father has done to you… whatever any man has done… I mean you no harm. I just want to get you out of here before it’s too late.”

“I would rather DIE!” she exclaimed and let go of the sword. For a moment The Doctor thought her body had fallen into the chasm, then he looked again and saw Susan holding onto her by one hand while grasping the sword with the other.

“Susan, don’t move. Just hold onto her,” The Doctor told her. “And trust me.”

“I always do,” she replied. “Even when you make me so mad I could hit you, I always trust you.”

“Good girl.” The Doctor reached down carefully, as if he was going to pull Asha up, but he didn’t. Instead he reached for the Coronet on her head.

“What! Is that a man’s idea of what matters?” she cried out. “You want to save THAT while you let both of us fall?”

“Nobody is going to fall,” Susan responded. “If you stop struggling and trust my Grandfather.”

“It takes much more than a stubborn streak and a bad case of Women’s Lib to wear the Coronet of Rassilon,” The Doctor said. Then he placed it on his own head. “Of course, I’ve always been told I have a stubborn streak, too. But I am much more than that. I AM a Time Lord.”

The Coronet and the Orb still attached to the front of it glowed even more brightly than ever. The Doctor was enveloped in the glow. So were Susan and Asha as the glow spread. They felt the Hexagon flatten itself again. Neither dared look to see what, if anything, was holding it up. The last spars had broken. They should have all plunged to their deaths. But they didn’t.

“The magma is rising,” Asha screamed. “It’s going to fill the cavern.”

“No, it won’t,” The Doctor assured her. “Hush now, girl. You’ve done a lot of damage to the psychic aura within this cavern, but I think I can repair it.”

“What’s happening, Grandfather?” Susan asked. “What is the Coronet doing?”

“It’s protecting us all,” he answered. “Wait.”

There was an indescribably terrible noise as the magma rose. Asha and Susan both screamed in fear. But it didn’t engulf them. It didn’t fill the cavern. It levelled out beneath them. Then, to their utter surprise, it cooled almost instantly – at least the surface did. There may have been viscous lava beneath the skin, but after a few minutes there was a solid black surface all around the stranded hexagon. The Doctor put a foot on it to test, then told the two women to follow him.

“How did that happen?” Asha demanded as they walked through the tunnels, not so much trusting The Doctor’s sense of direction, but that of the Orb of Rassilon that rolled every time they came to a junction and indicated the correct way to turn. “The lava… it couldn’t have cooled that fast.”

“She’s right, grandfather,” Susan added. “It couldn’t. It shouldn’t….”

“It didn’t,” The Doctor answered. “The Coronet was in control – tens of thousands of years of Time Lord power distilled into it. First the lava flow was controlled, making it safe for us. Then the time it took to cool was contracted within the cavern. “Months passed in a few minutes. By the way, when we get out of here, those months will have gone by in real time, which will make for some interesting explanations when you get back to the citadel, Asha.”

“My father will be angry,” Asha said. “He will… he will lock me in the great tower and never let me out again.”

“Well, if this is what you do when you’re free, then you deserve it,” Susan told her. “You could have killed yourself and everyone with you. Who is your father, anyway? Why did you go to such lengths to defy him?”

Asha looked at Susan curiously. The Doctor looked away innocently. He had worked it out already.

But Asha didn’t have time to answer the question just then. They had reached the tunnel entrance and it was full of uniformed men with edged weapons who arrested all three of them in the name of Rassilon and marched them all back to the citadel.

Several hours later The Doctor and Susan were let out of the cells they were put into and brought before Asha’s father. He was a tall, grave looking man in a gown of black with a golden cloak who wore the Coronet of Rassilon as if it were made for him.

Susan realised that it WAS made for him and bowed deeply alongside The Doctor who was already paying obeisance to the legendary Creator of Time Lords.

“Rise, Doctor,” Rassilon said. “And take what belongs to you.” He nodded and an acolyte stepped forward with a second Coronet on a satin cushion. It was distinguishable from the one he was wearing because it was still faintly glowing and the Orb hovered beside it like a small humming bird.

“It… does not, in truth, belong to me,” The Doctor answered, taking the Coronet but making no attempt to put it on. “But I hold it in trust for those who are worthy.”

“Good answer, Doctor,” Rassilon told him. “I regret that you received such poor hospitality here in the Citadel. I would make amends for that, but I think it better that you and your granddaughter leave as soon as possible. Your presence here in this place and time is a paradox that we cannot stand for long.”

“I quite agree,” The Doctor said. “May I ask… what you will do with Asha? Her punishment….”

He was aware of Susan’s thoughts on the matter. They owed a lot to her living much of her life on a planet where sexual equality was taken for granted. She very much sympathised with Asha even though she had spoken sharply to her in the tunnel.

“She committed high Treason against me and against Gallifrey,” Rassilon pointed out. “The consequences of her actions might have been catastrophic if she had not been thwarted.”

“Indeed, my Lord,” The Doctor agreed. “Yet… I have been a father. I know that children can be wayward. Perhaps her punishment might be tempered with a parent’s love?”

“Perhaps it might,” Rassilon answered. “Let that suffice. Your time machine is here. My men brought it to the citadel many months ago when Asha’s acolytes were found wandering by the Cadenflood. We thought at the time that it was part of the conspiracy. But of course, I return it to you, now.”

The TARDIS was brought into the great Hall of Rassilon by six men who put it down very gently on the ornate marble floor.

“My thanks,” The Doctor said. “We will depart forthwith. One thing, before we go. Asha spoke of a ‘sister from the future’. I assume she has been questioned. Did she give a name to this ‘sister’?”

“She did.” Rassilon told him the name. The Doctor was unsurprised.

“The Castellan will deal with her when I pass the information to him. That ends the affair as far as the future is concerned.”

He bowed low. So did Susan. Then they turned and stepped into the TARDIS. The Doctor put the cushion bearing the Coronet of Rassilon on the console and placed the Orb in the receptacle.

The journey back to their own time was smoother, but rather longer. At least it gave The Doctor and Susan some time to talk now that the mission was over.

“I wasn’t really very much help to you,” Susan admitted. “I wonder why the President Elect thought I would be?”

“You were a help to Asha. You reminded me to remind the President that sometimes children can be troublesome, but we still love them.”

“That’s… hardly worth disrupting my life for,” Susan pointed out.

“I am glad to see you,” The Doctor added. “Please, don’t ask me why I have never kept my promise. I know I should. But this has been worth it just to see you again. I’m glad you ARE happy in your life on Earth, with David and your children.”

“It must have crossed your mind…On Gallifrey I would be a lady… an aristocrat… perhaps I would hold a position of power one day. The life I chose… I was peeling vegetables in the kitchen…. Gallifreyan ladies don’t peel vegetables.”

“No, that is certainly true.”

“And I AM in favour of women’s equality. Because I CHOSE to be a wife and mother, doesn’t mean others, even the daughter of Rassilon, shouldn’t choose what they want to do.”


“I’m happy. I want you to know that. And… and I hope you are, too.”

“Yes, I am.”

“The President Elect said I wouldn’t remember any of this when I get back. In a lot of ways, I am sorry for that.”

“So am I. Susan, I WILL keep that promise, eventually. When the time is right, I will come back.”

“When you do, I would like to know why I have heard so much about twelve sons of Rassilon, but there was never any history about him having a daughter.”

“I’d quite like to know about that, too,” The Doctor agreed. “In the meantime, let’s get the Coronet back where it belongs. I think we should get front row seats to the Inauguration as a reward, don’t you?”

“We’d better,” Susan agreed.