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

“Is this Earth?” Mel asked as she looked at the viewscreen critically. “If it is, I hope it’s in my time. I was hoping to do a bit of shopping. I’d like to get some clothes….”

“Surely the Wardrobe has a selection for every possible taste?” The Doctor answered. “I’ve never had any complaints about it before. And that outfit you’re wearing is very fetching.”

Mel was wearing a pair of trousers of the style that were known as pedal-pushers and a striped jersey. She thought they looked very 1960s inspired. The Doctor remembered that Susan had bought the outfit in a little shop near Portobello Road when they lived in the East End of London. Mel had a similarly slight figure. She had tamed her curly red hair into a pony tail that kept it back from her face. He thought she looked very pretty, and different enough to Susan’s dark-eyed elfin face not to make it difficult to look at her in those clothes.

“I need a few OTHER items of clothing,” she answered him. “The sort of thing I’d rather buy for myself.”

The Doctor looked puzzled as he locked off the console and reached for the door release.

“Things I’d rather keep in my own room.”

He still looked blank

“KNICKERS!” she exclaimed. The Doctor still looked blank for a few moments, then the penny dropped - as well as his gaze, from Mel, back to the controls of the TARDIS.

“I love messing about in that jumble sale you call the Wardrobe,” she explained. “It’s full of great stuff. But the only underwear I’ve ever been able to find look like they come from the Victorian era. I just need to nip into a Marks and Spencer for a bit.”

“I don’t think they HAVE a Marks and Spencer in the sixty-seventh century,” The Doctor told her. “I’ll take you somewhere suitable after we’re done here. That’s a promise. But I do have to stop here for a while. I’m picking up some very strange signals. I think there is a crisis in London.”

“What sort of crisis?” Mel asked. The Doctor was slipping on his multi-coloured coat over his excessively coloured waistcoat. Mel wondered why she was having a discussion about any sort of clothing with somebody with such little fashion sense. She grabbed her own jacket and got ready to follow him outside.

“Something more important than a dearth of foundation garments,” The Doctor replied. “Look.”

They were certainly in London. Mel recognised some of the landmarks in it – the Post Office Tower in the far distance was a clincher. But it certainly was very far into the future. Overhead was a huge dome, tinted a rather peculiar purple shade, with virtual clouds floating across the surface. Rain fell from them onto selected areas of the city. Mel guessed that it was some kind of climate programme ensuring that everywhere got its fair share of moistening.

Every so often messages flashed across this artificial sky. They weren’t the sort of commercials for consumer goods Mel might have expected. Instead they were very dire warnings to the public.

“Do not attempt to escape the quarantine. London Citizens found outside the dome will be arrested.”

“Social interaction is dangerous. Non-essential workers must not leave their homes.”

“Alert the authorities of anyone presenting symptoms. They will be collected at once.”

“Looters will be shot on sight.”

“Curfew Breakers will be arrested.”

The warnings went on. Mel stopped looking at them. They made her neck ache.

“Doctor, what’s wrong here?” she asked.

“It looks as if there is a plague of some kind,” he answered. “The city of London is under quarantine. Citizens are confined to their homes and the authorities are taking every measure to prevent the spread of the disease to other parts of the country.”

“Doctor… if citizens are not meant to be outside….” She became aware of a siren noise above her. Reluctantly she craned her neck up again and saw the police car… police hovercraft… police helicopter – well, whatever it was, it very definitely a police vehicle and it was rapidly descending towards them.

“We’re going to be arrested for breaking the curfew,” she groaned.

The Doctor didn’t answer. He simply raised a hand and waved cheerily to the authorities who were calling through a public address system for them to stay where they were and raise their hands.

“It’s quite all right,” he said. “I’m The Doctor. I’m here to help.”

The police who jumped out of the flying car were dressed in the sort of uniforms Mel associated with very melodramatic American films in which somebody had called for a SWAT team. The colour scheme was all black and their upper bodies were bulked out with body armour. Their faces were hidden by helmets with visors and plastic masks over their noses and mouths. They all carried rifles and had side arms in holsters at their hips.

The days of the English ‘bobby’ with nothing but a truncheon for protection were long gone, Mel thought with a hint of nostalgia for her own century.

“You are trespassing in a depopulated zone,” said the sergeant in charge of the group of policemen in a voice that was slightly unnatural from being filtered through the mask. “You are a contamination risk. Put up your hands and walk slowly towards the back of the hovercar. Do not attempt to run. Do not try to touch any officer. Deliberate contact will be construed as attempted murder. Get into the isolation capsule.”

“Doctor!” Mel pleaded. “What are we going to do?”

“There’s nothing we can do here, Mel,” The Doctor told her. “We’ll go with these good men and explain our situation to their superiors when we get to the station.”

“I hope you’re right, Doctor.” Mel walked towards the back of the hovercar as instructed. Climbing in with her hands still in the air was a tricky manoeuvre, but touching the door of the vehicle was apparently against the law, too. The Doctor sat down beside her. The door was closed. They were in a section of the hovercar that was separated from the rest of it by wired glass. The policemen piled back into the car and it took off vertically before heading in a south-easterly direction.

Mel looked out of the window at London. Yes, most of the landmarks of the City were there. She recognised Westminster and Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, modern buildings like One Canada Square in the part of the docklands that was being rejuvenated in her day. There was much more, though, that she didn’t recognise. London in the sixty-seventh century had a skyline that much more closely resembled Manhattan in her day with skyscrapers pushing up towards that strange dome that covered it all.

She wasn’t sure she liked it very much. She felt a little homesick for her own century.

“Very few people live in rural areas in this time,” The Doctor told her. “The population of Earth, those that haven’t moved to colony planets throughout the galaxy, mostly live in a few big cities. London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow. The country areas inbetween are nature reserves. The wild sheep in the Welsh hills are a sight to behold. The Midlands are protected breeding areas for Staffordshire pigs. The cattle herds of the Scots Highlands are a great success.”

“Those aren’t wild animals, Doctor,” Mel pointed out. “At least not in my time. Things have really changed.”

“Yes, it’s amazing.”

“I don’t think I mean they’ve changed for the better, Doctor. I really wish we were in MY London, and not just so that I can buy underwear. This place is so… wrong, even without all those messages about quarantines and what have you.”

“Yes, I am a little concerned about that,” The Doctor admitted. “I wonder if it is possible we HAVE been contaminated in the short time we’ve been here. If we have, then we’re going to the right place. We can be checked out.”

“Doctor, you’re not making me feel any better about this situation. Are you saying we might have CAUGHT the plague?”

“No, I very much doubt it,” The Doctor assured her. “We only left the TARDIS a few minutes before the officers arrived, and we had no physical contact with anyone. Even an airborne virus could not have affected us that quickly. I don’t believe we are in any danger.”

Mel was satisfied with The Doctor’s response. That was one less thing to worry about. But they were still under a sort of medical arrest, and they didn’t know what might happen when they reached their destination.

They didn’t even know where their destination was until the hovercar began to descend vertically once more. Then Mel recognised the green space it was heading towards, at least.

“Kensington Gardens,” she said. “It used to be so nice. The flower beds, the Peter Pan statue, all the people picnicking on sunny days, children playing, joggers, dog walkers, kite flying.”

None of those things were happening now. The once popular parkland was the centre of operations for the medics who were trying to control the plague gripping the city. Long, low concrete buildings had been erected with words like ‘triage’, ‘contaminated’ and ‘non-contaminated’ painted in large letters on the side. More of the armed police directed a group of people who were being unloaded from a transporter. The Doctor and Mel were pushed towards the line that formed outside ‘triage’. Everyone was issued a paper face mask and ordered to wear it.

“Some of these people DO look sick,” Mel admitted. “They shouldn’t be standing in a queue.”

“I agree,” The Doctor said. “But if the situation is as critical as it looks, perhaps there isn’t a choice. Resources must be stretched to the limit.”

The queue moved along slowly. The guards watched them all carefully. Nobody had any opportunity to leave the line. Queue jumping was very much discouraged.

Near the front, just before the line of people disappeared through the doorway, a squabble broke out. A man carrying a young child demanded that she be seen first. A woman disputed his right. Another man argued that his wife needed to be seen at once.

The guards broke ranks to sort out the quarrel. When Mel took her eyes off them she noticed that The Doctor was gone. She looked around and caught a sight of his insanely coloured coat hanging up on a conveniently placed nail in the wall of a smaller building marked ‘Doctors only’. A few moments later a man emerged dressed in white gown and wearing a face mask. The mop of blonde curls and the blue eyes were unmistakable.

“Doctors only!” Mel laughed softly. “Trust him.”

The Doctor went along the line of people and stopped near the man carrying the sick child. He pulled a stethoscope from his pocket and examined her, then lifted her into his arms. He told the man to follow him. There were stirrings and grumblings from the queue but one of the policemen rattled his rifle meaningfully. They went quiet again.

It was nearly a half hour before Mel reached the doorway and another fifteen minutes before she was at the desk where a man in a surgical mask, flanked by another armed policeman, asked her for her details. These were brief enough. They just needed her name, age and postcode. In return a card with a long index number printed on it was stapled to her blouse. Then she was sent to a line where nurses were taking blood samples. She hated blood samples, and the chances were that she didn’t even need this one, but she had very little choice.

After the blood sample she was told to sit on a long bench. The man who had the sick child was there, along with dozens of other people. There were a half a dozen cubicles closed off by curtains, but they were obviously for the more extreme cases.

“Is your little girl being seen to?” Mel asked the man.

“She’s in there,” he said. “With that doctor who took her.”

“He’ll look after her,” Mel promised him. “The Doctor is wonderful. He’ll make her better.”

“I don’t know about that,” the man answered. “There doesn’t seem to be any hope. Those that get sick only ever go to one place.”

“Where’s that?” Mel asked, then regretted what might have been a bad question.

“Primrose Hill,” he answered. “That’s where they’ll take her. And I’ll never see her again. Chances are, I’ll be infected, too. But I might hang on another day or two before I’m too far gone and they cart me off, too.”

“Don’t give up hope,” Mel told him. “Really don’t. The Doctor will do his very best.”

A nurse in a mask approached Mel and told her that she was clear of infection, and that she should therefore report to the ‘Non-Contaminated’ block.

“But if I’m not sick, why can’t I just go?” she asked.

“if you were picked up by the police and you’re not sick you will have to give an account of yourself,” she was told. “You broke the curfew.”

“I was with The Doctor,” she protested.

“The Doctor?” The nurse looked puzzled. “Which doctor?”

“The one in there,” Mel answered.

The nurse turned and peeped inside the cubicle. Then she looked at Mel with an even more deeply puzzled expression and strode away. Moments later she returned accompanied by a doctor and two policemen. They ordered The Doctor to come out of the cubicle.

“I am busy,” he said in an impatient tone. “I am trying to help a small child who is falling into a deep coma. Every second counts.”

“Who are you?” the medical doctor demanded. “What are you doing here?”

“I am The Doctor,” The Doctor answered. “And I just explained what I’m doing.”

“You’re a Doctor?”

“I said I’m THE Doctor,” The Doctor insisted. “But A Doctor is good enough.”

“Are you one of the reinforcements being brought in from outside the city, sir?” asked one of the policemen.

The Doctor considered how to answer the question. He didn’t lie if he could help it, but he didn’t think this lot were ready for the truth.

“Yes, we’re both from outside London,” he answered. “That young lady there is from Pease Pottage, but she’s been away for some time.”

“You should have contacted us right away, sir,” the policeman continued. “We didn’t know you were here.”

“I thought it more important to get on with the job,” The Doctor answered. “Really, I AM very busy. Mel, I really could do with your assistance.”

Mel stood up. The medical doctor and the nurse both looked at her for a long moment.

“Is she a qualified nurse?” the medical doctor asked.

“She is my assistant,” The Doctor insisted. “Mel, come along. This little girl needs my attention. Doctor, I am sure you have patients to look after. Nurse, you need to carry on your important work, too. Officer, you have a role to play in ensuring our safety.”

That settled things. Mel joined The Doctor inside the cubicle. The others returned to their duties.

The cubicle was very basic. There were no life support monitors there. there weren’t even simple instruments like a thermometer or blood pressure gauge. All the instruments The Doctor used to examine the child came from his own pockets. Mel didn’t bother to ask how.

“Is she dying, Doctor?” she asked about the little girl. “Her father is outside. He doesn’t think there’s any hope. I told him you would do your best.”

“I’m afraid my best isn’t good enough,” The Doctor answered. “She’s fading fast. It’s a bacterial infection of some sort, one that spreads rapidly, causing high fever, these blotches on the skin, and coma within a few hours.”

“What sort of infection?” Mel asked.

“It LOOKS like scarlet fever,” The Doctor said. “But it couldn’t possibly be that. It’s a Victorian disease. Twentieth century antibiotics virtually eradicated it. The doctors in this time are baffled. None of the medicines they have available are effective against it and it is spreading through the City like wildfire.”

“Oh, Doctor, how horrible.”


The Doctor looked very serious. Mel couldn’t remember EVER seeing him THAT serious before. He had met even the darkest enemy, the most deadly adventure with a wicked smile and a sardonic joke. But now he looked positively grim.

The curtain was pushed aside and a trolley wheeled in. Two orderlies started to put the child onto it.

“Wait,” The Doctor interjected. “I’m not finished with her. There’s another procedure I can try.”

“She’s comatose already. There’s no point in wasting time on her. She’s for Primrose Hill.”

“What’s at Primrose Hill?” Mel asked, but nobody answered. The girl was pushed out of the cubicle. Her father cried out in anguish and tried to snatch her off the trolley, but he was pushed away by the police who patrolled the triage centre.

“Doctor, WHAT is at Primrose Hill?” she repeated. “And why don’t people come back from it?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t like the sound of that at all,” he answered. “Come on.”

He started to follow the trolley with the child on. Mel followed. Nobody stopped them. Simply wearing a white coat gave The Doctor an authority over everyone else. Nobody questioned when he got into the waiting transporter followed by Mel.

There were a dozen or more comatose patients in the transporter. They were laid end to end, strapped down to stretchers not because they might move of their own volition, but in case they were jolted around on the journey. The Doctor grabbed the last two passenger seats and he and Mel strapped themselves in. Again nobody questioned his right to be there, which meant that they didn’t question her right, either.

“They must have some sort of facility for the extreme cases,” The Doctor said. “An intensive care facility.”

“That’s good, I suppose,” Mel conceded. “If they’re bringing them somewhere to give them special treatment. But the little girl’s father was frightened of her going there. He seemed to think people didn’t come back from it.”

“There are probably a lot of rumours going around about the illness, about how the infected are treated. People are worried and fearing the worst.”

Mel thought The Doctor was probably right. But her feelings about this century were very little improved. They had wonderful technology like that dome over the city and flying cars. But in that medical centre they had less equipment than she had seen in documentaries about the Red Cross treating famine victims in Ethiopia in her own time. The doctors and nurses were stretched to their limit doing very little more than testing people for the illness and separating the worst cases from those who weren’t that bad, yet.

And nothing was being done to stop those people from becoming comatose and helpless. Those who were starting to show symptoms had the gloomy expectation that they would end up at Primrose Hill along with their loved ones who had already gone there.

“Oh my, what is THAT?” Mel asked as the transporter approached what, in her time, was another beautiful public park where families enjoyed themselves in the sunshine on one of the highest hills in London, above the car exhausts and the stuffiness of the streets where only the sight of familiar landmarks in the distance reminded them that they were still in the capital city of England.

Now those same concrete buildings they had seen in Kensington Gardens had been erected beside a huge, amazing building that caught her attention at once. It was at the very top of the hill, but it was at least another hundred metres high from base to pinnacle.

“Wilson’s Pyramid!” The Doctor exclaimed. “They built it, millennia after his plan was put forward. Remarkable.”

“Wilson’s Pyramid?” Mel echoed. The transporter was coming into land beside the huge structure made of what looked like white frosted glass that glinted in the sunlight.

“Wilson was a Victorian architect and engineer,” The Doctor explained. “He submitted plans for a great pyramid to be built right here on Primrose Hill, as a mausoleum, a place for laying the dead to rest in tier upon tier of sealed crypts that would take up far less space than an ordinary cemetery and provide for the burial needs of Londoners for a century.”

“Uggh,” Mel shivered. “You mean it’s….”

Well, of course, that was what pyramids were for,” she realised. The Egyptians buried their dead kings in them. The idea of one for ordinary people in London wasn’t quite so terrible as it first sounded.

Except that it WAS a place for putting the dead.

“Oh, Doctor!” They both stepped out of the transporter as orderlies wearing face masks, accompanied by more armed police, started to collect the stretchers on which the comatose patients lay.

They were taking them to the pyramid.

“Oh no, Doctor. They can’t. They’re not DEAD. Don’t let them.”

The Doctor’s eyes betrayed that he was as distressed as she was, but he kept a calmer tone to his voice as he told her to come with him. They followed the stretcher bearers in through the wide, square entrance to the pyramid.

Inside it was cool and bright. Sunlight coming through clear glass in the pinnacle filtered down a central well and was reflected off the white crystalline walls inside. In the foyer there was a long desk behind which four busy clerks sat taking the coded cards from each patient and registering them on the computer before they were taken into one of the dozen lifts on either side. There were stairs, too, crystal white and decorated, Mel noted, with names of people who were interred in the mausoleum. The dates of their deaths went back over a hundred years. Primrose Hill had been a last resting place for a long time.

But the patients brought in here weren’t dead. Were they being buried alive? What was happening?

“Come on,” The Doctor said, following the stretcher on which the little girl was being carried into a lift. The orderlies looked surprised to see a doctor and a civilian joining them, but it clearly wasn’t their place to comment. They kept silent as they travelled to the thirtieth floor of the pyramid - halfway up the structure - there were another thirty more buttons on the panel.

They emerged onto a landing with a smaller reception desk where one clerk took the code numbers for patients and verified them on the computer before allocating ‘bays’. The Doctor and Mel followed the stretcher bearers along a crystal white corridor with numbered panels in the walls like a really big filing cabinet. Mel realised with a shock that they were the ‘bays’ where the patients were being placed. She watched in horror as a woman in pale blue ‘scrubs’ and yet another face mask opened one of the panels and slid out a pallet. The little girl was placed on it and it slid closed again.

“It’s HORRIBLE!” she cried out.

“I’m… not so sure,” The Doctor answered her. The stretcher bearers went back to the lift with their empty stretcher. The woman in the scrubs pressed a set of small buttons at the top of the panel which lit up red, yellow and then pale blue. “Is this a cryo-store?” he asked her.

“Of course,” she answered. “What do you imagine goes on here? The Pyramid has been cryo-freezing the terminally ill for over a century, now. When a cure is found, they will be revived and treated. In this crisis there is nothing else to be done. There is no known cure for this disease. All extremis patients are being cryo-frozen until our scientists find a way of treating it.”

“But what if it takes a hundred years?” Mel asked. “What happens to the people?”

The woman didn’t answer that question. She suddenly became curious about who Mel and The Doctor were. The Doctor convinced her that he was a legitimate member of the medical staff, but she would not believe that Mel had a right to be in the pyramid.

“No, quite right, we ought to be going now,” The Doctor said in a conciliatory tone. “Mel, come along.”

There was another stretcher coming. The woman in the scrubs had work to do. She didn’t have time to speculate further about the two visitors. The Doctor and Mel quickly took the lift back down to the ground floor.

“So that’s ALL that they’re doing?” Mel expressed her feelings once they were back out in the open air. “Just putting the patients into cold storage.”

“In one sense it is practical. In cryo-freeze they don’t need food or medication. The medical condition doesn’t get any worse while the scientists work on a cure. There is room for hope.”

“That man back at Kensington Gardens didn’t look hopeful. He was SCARED of his

daughter being brought here.”

“Perhaps he didn’t understand,” The Doctor answered. “Rumours of what this facility does with the patients….”

“How many people can they freeze in here?” Mel asked.

“I really don’t know,” The Doctor replied. He started to do a calculation in his head based on the volume of a pyramid, dividing the width of the base by the height of the walls and so on. Mel walked up to the desk and asked one of the clerks.

“Just over one and a half million,” The Doctor said.

“Correct,” Mel told him. “About eight million people lived in London in my time. How many people live here now?

“About forty million.”

“Seeing as there is nothing to stop this plague spreading and everyone ends up comatose, what are they going to do when they run out of room in here?” Mel asked.

The Doctor didn’t answer, but it was obvious that his mind was ticking over several unpleasant possibilities. He glanced towards the concrete buildings in front of the pyramid. At least none of them had chimney stacks. There were no cremations going on. But somewhere, in the mind of a civil servant adding up the numbers, the idea of disposing of the not yet dead to make room for the next wave of casualties must be fomenting already.

“Doctor, that building is a laboratory,” Mel said. “Maybe it’s where they’re working on the cure.”

“How do you know it’s a laboratory?” The Doctor asked.

“It says LABORATORY in big white letters,” Mel pointed out. She knew The Doctor’s mind was pre-occupied. He hadn’t seen details like that. “Come on, let’s check it out.”

Again the fact that The Doctor was wearing a white coat kept questions to a minimum. It also helped that those working flat out were expecting relief to come from outside London and took him to be the first wave. With Mel at his side The Doctor walked around the laboratory examining the work being done by worried men and women. He noted that there WAS, at least, some technology being applied here. The microscopes were advanced electronic ones with flat screen monitors on the concrete walls that showed the bacteria on the slide in the fullest detail.

“That looks familiar,” The Doctor said. “Very familiar.”

“Only from the history books,” replied the technician who was studying the image. “This is Streptococcus pyogenes.”

“Scarlet fever!” The Doctor quelled the note of triumph that might have come into his voice. He had identified the disease from the first moment he looked at the little girl who was now in the pyramid cryo-store.

“Exactly. A Victorian disease that hasn’t been seen on this planet for millennia. How do we begin to treat it?”

“Scarlet fever?” Mel looked at the technician scathingly. “With antibiotics, of course, just as it was treated back then.”

“Antibiotics are ancient history. They haven’t been used since the fortieth century, when nano-biotics superseded their use. Nobody even knows how to make such things now.”

“So you just pile up the sick until that pyramid is bursting at the seams!” Mel looked at The Doctor’s eyes and saw something she rarely saw in them – anger. “Nano-biotics! No wonder everyone is sick. They’ve lost all their natural immunity to old diseases.”

“What can we do?” the technician responded. “The knowledge is long lost to us.”

“We’re going to have to re-invent antibiotics,” The Doctor replied. “Mel, I need some mouldy bread.”

“Where am I supposed to find mouldy bread?” she responded. “They’ve probably done away with things like bread in this century. I expect they eat protein pills or three-course dinner chewing gum or something.”

“Of course we have bread,” the technician said. “There is food going to waste in the stores because people cannot go out of their homes to buy produce.”

“Good,” The Doctor said. He turned and attracted the attention of one of the police officers. He came dutifully. “My assistant needs transport. Please arrange it, as well as an escort to make sure she isn’t hindered. Her mission may save the lives of millions.”

“You really want me to find mouldy food?” Mel asked.

“Yes,” he answered. “As quickly as possible. Bring as much as you can. Bread, cheese, anything with a blue mould on it.”

Mel felt useful for the first time all day as she ran with the police officer to the nearest transporter. It took off vertically and flew over London’s skyscrapers, coming to land again in a place that she did actually recognise. Covent Garden market was almost the same as it was in her own time except that the open streets were covered over with a glass roof and the delivery lorries that brought fresh produce were flying ones.

Several of those lorries were on the launch pad outside the market. They had been left there since the emergency set in, partially unloaded. The smell of rotting food was unmistakeable. The police officer who accompanied her pulled open the back of one of them and moulding bread fell out. Mel picked up one of the loaves and examined it carefully. The blue growth on it had an almost medicinal smell.

“That’s EXACTLY what The Doctor needs,” she said. “Come on. We need to get as much of it back to him as possible.”

The police officer sniffed at the decayed load and decided against transferring it to his clean police transporter. Instead he ordered his co-pilot to follow in the lorry. The co-pilot was less than enthusiastic about the task, but Mel insisted, telling him that the bread mould was the cure for all the sick people.

Neither of the police officers quite believed her when she said that. To them medicine was in small, tasteless pills dispensed from a clinically clean pharmacy. This bad food needed to be incinerated. But their orders were to facilitate the doctors, and this particular doctor had demanded mouldy bread. They obeyed their orders implicitly.

When she got back to the laboratory on Primrose Hill Mel was surprised to see that the little girl The Doctor had tried to look after was lying on an examination table. She had been taken out of cryo-freeze at his instructions.

“I need a test subject,” he said as he set to work with a blood sample from the girl and some of the mould that was delivered to him by a pair of very puzzled orderlies. “They demanded a patient code to release one of them. I gave them hers.”

“What if you get it wrong and she dies?”

“I won’t get it wrong,” he answered. “This is exactly how Alexander Fleming invented penicillin. He tested a piece of mouldy bread from behind a market stall and identified the very substance that attacked bacteria in the bloodstream of his patients. Of course, it wasn’t REALLY new. Women had been making mouldy bread poultices for wounds since the dawn of time, but they tended to get burned as witches for their pains. Fleming had letters after his name so he was allowed to get away with introducing his mould directly into the blood stream of a Human being.”

The Doctor talked like that as he identified the penicillum strain in the mould and extracted it to make a serum that could be injected into his test subject. It took three hours. Mel suspected it might have taken Alexander Fleming rather longer before he was ready to treat a patient with his new medicine. But Fleming had more time to experiment. The Doctor had to get results quickly. He had to show a sceptical body of scientists that he wasn’t mad, and that his Victorian remedy for a Victorian disease would actually work in the sixty-seventh century.

“Here goes,” he said at last as he brought a syringe containing a stabilised penicillin and injected it into the girl’s arm. There was no instant improvement, of course. This was no miracle cure. But he monitored her condition while he carefully produced more of the antibiotic ready to administer to more of the unfortunate patients.

“She’s improving,” Mel told him after another three hours. “Her temperature is coming down.”

“Yes, and there is increased brain activity,” The Doctor concluded looking at the monitor that was constantly checking the girl’s lifesigns. “She should come out of the coma soon. It works.”

The news ran around the laboratory quickly. Frustrated and exhausted scientists and technicians clamoured to know what the cure was and were amazed when they heard the answer.

“That’s the trouble, you see,” The Doctor told them. “Your society has lost its natural immunity to diseases. But at the same time you’ve crammed into big cities under artificial skies, breathing the same recycled air. No wonder you’re all sick. But now we can start to treat it. We should have everyone on the road to recovery in a couple of weeks. Those treated will acquire their own immunity. We can start a vaccination programme for the rest. And then the quarantine can be lifted.”

It sounded fine. But then news came to them that dismayed everyone.

“They’re going to burn all the patients in the pyramid!” Mel exclaimed. “Doctor, the Government has ordered it. They say that the disease is incurable and the only answer is mass cremations. There are transporters out there to take them all to Brompton crematorium. They’re going to burn them alive.”

“Over my dead body,” The Doctor responded. He gathered the little girl into his arms and strode away with her. Mel followed. So did almost everyone in the laboratory.

Outside there was uproar. Most of the medical staff and the people in blue scrubs who looked after the cryo-units in the pyramid were arguing with the men who had brought the transporters. Meanwhile, stretcher bearers were bringing patients out of the pyramid. These were the latest to be delivered. They had not yet been processed and taken to the cryo-stores, but the staff were being ordered to start unfreezing patients and getting them ready.

“Stop!” The Doctor ordered. His voice carried over the noise of orders and protests against those orders. Even Mel, who knew just how impressive The Doctor could be, was surprised when silence fell and the crowds parted to allow him to step into a clear space.

“Are you civilised Human beings or barbarians?” he demanded. “Murdering the sick just because you think there is no other option? There is ALWAYS another option. You don’t stop looking until you find one. Look at this child. She was like these people. But look at her now.”

There was a collective gasp. The child in his arms had opened her eyes. She was frightened by the sight of so many people around her but The Doctor spoke in a soothing tone very different to the one he had used on the people. She reached out her arms around his neck and put her head on his shoulder.

But it was quite obvious that she was getting well. The code card pinned to her clothes proved that she had been one of the extremis patients, but now she was awake.

“Yes, child, we’ll find your father in a little while, I promise,” The Doctor said to her. Then his voice rang out once more. “Get those people into the laboratory. There is enough medicine already to begin treating them. You lot get inside and start reviving your charges a dozen at a time. We’ll have enough serum for them, too, very soon. After that we can start sending batches to the triage stations. No more people need to be brought here and nobody needs to be incinerated.”

The news relieved even those who had orders to do that dirty work. But there was another warning, yet.

“They’re sending people directly to the crematorium,” The Doctor was told. “By-passing this facility.”

“Then get over there and stop them at once,” he answered. “Go on, move. Send the patients back where they came from. Tell the doctors to stand by. Somebody get the Prime Minister on a videophone while I give him a piece of my mind.”

The Prime Minister was actually a ‘her’ not a ‘him’ but she still got a very sizeable chunk of The Doctor’s mind and before he was finished she had halted the emergency euthanasia programme that the Cabinet had approved. News came back from Brompton that the furnace had been switched off and the patients returned to triage. The Doctor nodded in satisfaction and got back to work showing the scientists how to produce all of the penicillin that was needed to treat all of the patients. It was going to be hard work. There were more than a million sick people and more to come before they finally conquered the disease. But they could do it.

And with the next transporter that came from Kensington Gardens there was a happy reunion between the little girl who had been The Doctor’s first successful patient and her father. Mel watched them and smiled joyfully. The Doctor had done it. Of course, she knew he would.

Two months later, the quarantine was lifted. The purple dome opened up and the real sky revealed. It was grey and promising rain, but the people who gathered on Primrose Hill and every other green space of London, greeted it joyfully, breathing ordinary air for the first time in their lives.

“I still need to shop for underwear,” Mel told The Doctor. “Can we please get back to my time for some shopping?”

“They want to give me a medal,” The Doctor said. “The Prime Minister wants to have a grand ceremony for it.”

“I suppose we’ll have to stay a bit longer, then,” Mel sighed.

“Not at all,” The Doctor answered. “I hate medal ceremonies.” He turned to the TARDIS, looking very small next to the Pyramid that was once again reserved for people with truly incurable diseases who wanted to wait for science to catch up with them. “Next stop, Marks and Spencer in the late twentieth century.”