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

The TARDIS had materialised in a shadowy alleyway with high brick walls on either side. It was early morning and the sun had yet to rise high enough to bring light and warmth to that narrow defile. Vislor Turlough stepped around a muddy puddle where the cobbles were worn through and sighed deeply.

“Doctor, what is the obsession the TARDIS has with planet Earth? And why does it always bring us to such insalubrious parts of it?”

“Insalubrious?” The Doctor closed the TARDIS door and hung an ‘out of order’ sign on it. This was Earth in an era when people knew what a police box was.

Turlough thought The Doctor was being ingenuous. Earth people would have to be extraordinarily stupid to think this was a working police box parked in a narrow cobbled alleyway.

“Seedy, unhealthy, grotty, if you like,” he added. “I mean, smell the air around here. Look at these walls, black with accumulated soot.”

High above the wall where the TARDIS was parked a tall, red brick chimney rose. It was probably the source of the carcinogenic taint to the air as well as the blackness of the wall.

The chimney wasn’t spewing soot-laden smoke just now. The taint in the air was old.

“May, 1926,” The Doctor said.

“What?” Turlough responded.

“May, 1926,” The Doctor repeated. “The only time when the chimneys were allowed to go cold like that – the General Strike. You must have covered it in school history.”

“I was at a public school,” Turlough pointed out. “The history syllabus covered The Trojan Wars up to Waterloo. Strikes were the work of unwashed socialists in the opinion of Professor Haffley, the history Master.”

“Yes,” The Doctor drawled. “My school was a bit like that, too. But looking at it another way, those nine days in May were a brave attempt to gain job security and dignity for the coal-miners of Britain.”

Turlough didn’t fancy a lecture about any era of history. He had left that sort of thing behind at the Brendan School. He asked The Doctor exactly where they were.

“Darwen, in east Lancashire,” The Doctor answered. “A good cricketing county, I’ll have you know.”

Turlough wasn’t terribly interested in cricket, either, which made him the worst possible companion for a man who looked ready for an innings at any moment. He started to ask another question, but a man suddenly dropped down from the wall, landing between them.

“Oh, lor!” the man exclaimed. He looked at Turlough and The Doctor and then past them at the police public call box sign around the top of the TARDIS. “Look, Sergeant, Inspector… Ummm… Er…. Look, I wasn’t stealing anything, honest. I had to go over the wall. The picketers are on the front and back gates, and I didn’t want them to think I was a scab. But I had to look after Princess.”

“Princess?” The Doctor queried. In a few seconds he had taken in the salient details about the man. He was in his mid-fifties, with thinning hair and a care-worn face that nevertheless looked as if a smile could easily break across it. He was wearing an old but well-pressed suit with a shirt, neatly knotted necktie and worn but serviceable overcoat. He patted an odd bulge in the coat and a small furry face peeped out, blinking and meowing plaintively.

“She’s the factory cat,” he explained. “She catches mice in the storerooms of the Mill. I’m the foreman, you see – George Holden. I always feed Princess, but I’ve not been able to get in for three days. I was worried about her. So I went over the wall. Only… on my life, I’ll never set foot in there again on my own. I’ve never been so scared. It was like….”

He stopped speaking. The Doctor and Turlough were both looking at him with puzzled expressions.

“You ARE police, aren’t you?” he asked. “That box… it’s a portable station for during the strike? There was something on the wireless about emergency provisions. It’s in a funny old place to put it, but….”

“Turlough, why don’t you see Mr Holden safely home with Princess,” The Doctor said. “I’ll have a quick look around here and then join you. Is there a Mrs Holden?”

“Yes,” George answered. “Yes, there is. My Gracey. We’ve been married fifteen years this August.”

“Tell her to have the kettle on,” he said. “No need to get out the best company china, but I’ll be glad of a nice cup of tea.”

“I’m sure she’ll be honoured, sir,” George said. “It’s this way.”

George led Turlough away along the alley. The Doctor studied the wall he had climbed over and then shinned over it nimbly.

“How is he going to join us for a cup of tea?” George asked. “He doesn’t know where I live.”

“The Doctor will find us,” Turlough answered. “You just lead the way, George.”

They had come out of the alley and were making their way along a cobbled street with small terraced houses either side. The street was quite narrow, only barely wide enough for a motor vehicle to drive down the middle. The houses, too, were narrow. They had doors that opened onto the pavement and a single window next to each door. Above was a smaller window and then a slice of a long roof that extended across some fifteen such homes, the chimneys marking the edges of each individual property. They were poor homes, but they were neat and clean with scrubbed steps in front of the doors and flowers growing in pots on the window sills. People with pride in the little that was theirs lived in these houses.

George led him past those houses and across a wider road where a chapel, a chip shop and a pub rubbed shoulders with each other and up another narrow street, this one on a steep incline. Near the top, the houses were slightly different. They had very small front gardens – maybe two metres wide, with low walls and a gate separating the house from the pavement. The people who lived in these houses would still be considered ‘poor’ but there was a subtle class distinction between them and the people whose doors led straight out onto the street. These were the homes of men like George, foremen and supervisors, earning a pound or two more than the ordinary workers.

“There she is,” George said proudly as he opened his gate and a woman in a clean flowered apron opened the door to him. “Gracey, love, we’ve got a guest. Is the tea made?”

“The tea is always made,” she answered in a slightly indignant tone as if it was a foolish question for her husband to ask and a slight upon her housekeeping to suggest that tea wouldn’t be available to any visitor.

The Doctor dropped down into the yard on the other side of the wall. A pair of heavy duty four wheeled drays were parked up. The horses that pulled them must have been taken elsewhere while the strike was on and the factory silent. Their stalls were empty.

The Doctor looked up at the tall chimney. It was an impressive sight, even to one so widely travelled as he was, built in a highly ornate Italianate style and standing over three hundred feet high. It scarcely seemed possible that its only purpose was to pour pollutants out into the atmosphere. It ought to have had a more noble calling.

The Doctor shuddered. From somewhere a feeling of absolute dread and horror had enveloped him. He felt as if everyone and everything he ever cared about had been destroyed and nothing was left but a black despair.

He ran without even considering which way he was running. The dread had gripped his mind and his soul. Both of his hearts pounded in his chest. All he could think of was running as far away from that horror as he could.

“Oi, you!” He skidded to a stop behind a tall, wide, wrought iron gate. On the other side was a large group of men in working clothes and flat caps. They were the picket preventing anyone from entering the Mill, and he had entered it. The reason for their anger was obvious.

“So what the bleeding hell are you doing?” asked the tallest and broadest of the men. “There’s no cricket match on, and there’s no working, neither. How did you get in there?”

“I’m The Doctor,” The Doctor answered, though with far less conviction in his voice than usual. The inexplicable fear had died down now but he was still feeling strangely out of sorts. “I’m… er… that is to say…. I’m….”

“He’s a posh ‘un come in to do our jobs,” said one of the picketers. “Like the buses driven by bloody lords in their chauffer’s ‘ats.”

“He’s a scab!” The cry went up around the whole crowd of picketers. Their mood turned even uglier than before. A small, wiry man started to climb the gate.

“Get down from there, Ainsworth,” the large man said to him. “That’s crossing the picket, that is.”

The small man got down, but then two more ran at the gate and clambered over. Crossing the picket was forgotten as the other men pressed against the wrought iron and urged them to ‘get the scab’. Even the large man with the shop steward attitude to the gate was encouraging ‘Ducky’ and ‘Longy’ to “get ‘im good.”

The Doctor turned and ran. He could fight if he had to, but there was a time and a place, and this wasn’t it. Those men were angry enough to beat him to a pulp.

He didn’t even think about the fact that he was running back towards the chimney and the yard where he got into the compound until he felt that icy grip of horror again. He stopped running, overwhelmed by the nameless, formless dread. Even the thought of being ripped to shreds by two angry strikers couldn’t impel him to move another step.

Then the two men, Ducky and Longy, screamed in terror. The Doctor turned, though his every instinct told him not to, in case the horror was behind him. The men were cowering back, their hands over their faces, crying actual tears in their utter dismay.

He walked back to them. They had apparently forgotten they were meant to be beating him up. They took one more look at him and ran away.

The Doctor looked around and chose a piece of wall to climb. It backed onto the yard behind a row of terraced houses. The yard was divided by rows of washing and individual outside toilets for each house. The Doctor looked left and right and noted that the yard was closed either end. He had no choice but to head for the open back door into a small, steamy kitchen where washing was being boiled alongside porridge for the children who were gathered around a well-scrubbed table. They all stared at the stranger in a cricket themed outfit who ran past them.

“Excuse me,” The Doctor said politely. “Just passing through.”

He passed through into a front room where an elderly man was smoking a pipe beside an unlit fireplace.

“Good morning,” he said before the man had time to take the pipe out of his mouth and say anything in protest. “I think the porridge is ready.”

He pulled open the inner door to a tiny vestibule then a front door that led right out into a long, narrow terraced street. He looked up at the strip of sky above and orientated himself, then headed towards George Holden’s home in the slightly more up-market neighbourhood not so far away.

The tea was sweetened and coloured with condensed milk and tasted strange to Turlough’s palate. The Doctor thoroughly enjoyed his and said so to Mrs Holden, which impelled her to refill his cup.

They were in the front parlour, a separate room from the noisier, messier living room where the three Holden children were playing. This room had a chair and sofa with antimacassars on the arms and backs and a store bought rug in front of the fire rather than the home made rag rugs everywhere else. There was a clock on the wall, a mirror, and various ornaments on the sideboard. This was the room where everything Mrs Holden considered precious was put, including guests who were clearly several rungs up the social ladder from herself and her husband.

“I’ve given the last of the fresh milk to the cat,” she said in explanation of the tinned milk. “The poor thing is famished. You were right to go and find her, George.”

“Aye,” George agreed. “But it was an experience I never want to go through again. I’ve never been so scared in my life. It was like the Ghost Train at Blackpool only… really frightening.”

“You don’t get frightened, George,” Mrs Holden said.

“I was frightened today,” he admitted.

“So was I,” The Doctor confirmed. “And I REALLY don’t scare easily. So were the men who chased me, Ducky and Longy, and I don’t think they’re easily spooked, either.”

“That’s Ben Duckworth and Gideon Longworth,” George explained. “And the big chap giving out the orders is Samuel Shaw. He’s the union man who brought all the men out on strike. There were some of us who didn’t want to. It’s not that we don’t feel sympathy for the miners, but we have families to feed, rent to pay. Nobody wants to fall foul of the bailiffs. Heaven knows what’ll come of us all if this goes on for more than a week or two.”

Mrs Holden’s face tightened. She touched her husband on the shoulder and said they would manage before she went off to make a fresh pot of tea.

“You’re worried about running out of food and we’re drinking your tea,” Turlough said. “We ought to… is there any way we could… I don’t know… pay for....”

“Now then,” George said. “I can see by your clothes and your manners that you’re not without a bob or two, but don’t you go talking that way, especially not in front of Gracey. She’d be so ashamed to think you thought we couldn’t make ends meet. There’s been no milk delivered because of the strike, that’s why we’re using the tinned stuff. It comes from a Christmas box we had from the church, along with the packet of tea we’re on now. We can manage. So don’t either of you worry about it.”

“Quite right, George,” The Doctor agreed. “Turlough, remember your manners.”

Turlough murmured an apology and the matter was forgotten.

“Doctor,” George said, getting to the point of their gathering in the best parlour drinking the Christmas tea. “What is it that’s in the Mill? What frazzled my spine like that and sent those two men running like a pair of scared women?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “But I intend to find out. Where would I find those two if I wanted a quiet word with them?”

“They’ll be on the picket until dinner time,” George answered. “They’re manning the gates in shifts. After that, they’ll be at the Methodist Chapel on Bolton Road.”

The Doctor and Turlough both expressed a brief surprise at that. George smiled knowingly.

“Reverend Appleby set up a soup kitchen there, to make sure the men and their families get a hot dinner while the strike’s on. For a free bowl of hot pot they’ll put up with a bit of psalm reading and a hymn or two. Later, mind, they’ll be three doors down at the Mill Gap, using the coppers they saved on dinner to buy a pint.”

The Doctor considered the pragmatic attitude to charity, religion and pub hours among the striking mill workers of Darwen for a moment and declared that he would pop along to the chapel and lend a hand with the hot pot making.

“Have you ever made a hot pot in your life, Doctor?” Turlough asked.

“No, but how hard can it be?”

Turlough laughed.

“Punishment for incomplete prep in The Brigadier’s maths class was ‘spud-bashing’ in the scullery. I’m quite skilled at peeling. I’ll come with you.”

The Doctor put down his empty cup and stood up. Before he left the Holden house he went into the back room where the children were playing and pulled a paper bag of sherbet lemons out of his pocket. Three pairs of eyes shone with delight and three hurried ‘thank you, misters’ followed as he passed the bag to them. At the kitchen door Gracey Holden watched.

“Just a little treat for the children,” he said to her, his tone conveying as the subtext ‘Not charity at all, Mrs Holden. I wouldn’t dare insult you with such a thing.”

“The school’s closed, because there’s no coal to heat the classrooms. They’re restless and under my feet while I’m trying to get my work done. Us women ought to go on strike. Everyone’d soon sort themselves out if we did.”

“Quite so,” The Doctor agreed. “We’re off now. But I’ll pop back later, if I may.”

“Come around four o’clock,” the lady of the house answered. “Tea time. There’s a big tin of salmon in the Christmas box. I’ve never eaten tinned salmon in my born days, and I doubt the young ‘uns would like it - there’s a couple of tins of sardines that would do for them. But for a company tea for the grown-ups the salmon’ll do nicely.”

“That’s a kind invitation, Mrs Holden,” The Doctor replied. “Turlough and I shall be here promptly.”

“How come everyone accepts us so readily?” Turlough asked as they settled down to peeling vegetables for the pots of stew being prepared by the Reverend’s wife and a gaggle of middle class women in pastel blouses covered by aprons. “Mr and Mrs Holden invited us into their home. The Reverend had never set eyes on us before but he welcomed us as old friends.”

“An open smile and politeness goes a long way,” The Doctor answered, but Turlough was far from convinced. He had concluded that The Doctor had some kind of benign secret power over people that made them overlook his daft choice of outfit and lack of any real identity.

The Reverend himself came back into the kitchen. He discarded his coat and rolled up his sleeves before sitting with them and helping with the peeling.

“It’s the least we can do, of course,” he said. “I’m not sure I hold with the idea of this strike. Socialism running amok – we’ll end up like Russia, Godless place that it is. But providing food for those who aren’t getting a proper wage while the strike goes on is a Christian duty.”

“Yes, indeed,” The Doctor agreed. “All the factories in the area are shut down, I suppose?”

“All of them. And the trains, so even if anyone was making anything it couldn’t be sent out. I hear there’s food spoiling on the docksides at Liverpool. That’s a crying shame. Thanks be to God we have meat and vegetables. There’s a sack of flour, donated by a good man. We’ve no yeast, but my wife is doing very well making unleavened bread. Appropriate in its own way.”

“People are pulling together,” The Doctor noted. “Helping each other. That’s good.”

“Indeed,” Reverend Appleby said. “Though if the strike goes on much longer, I don’t know what will happen. There has already been trouble in Preston and Blackburn. Strike-breakers have tried to cross the picket lines and it has ended in fist-fights. I dread the thought of blood being spilt here. When children are hungry men will want to go back to work for their sakes, and those still holding out will be angry at them. It will be civil war in all but name, brother against brother, fathers and sons on opposite sides. Then the Lord help us all. This country will be undone.”

“But it surely won’t come to that?” Turlough commented. “It will be over soon.”

He caught The Doctor’s eye and realised something about time travel that had never occurred to him before now.

He and The Doctor were the only people who knew, right now, on the Wednesday of this week, a day into the strike, that it would be over by the end of next week. Nine days and the General Strike would fizzle out. The very concerns that the Reverend, as well as George Holden and his wife had expressed – buying food, paying the rent – would drive most of the men back to work. Caring for their families came before caring for coal miners in Wigan and Leeds, unpronounceable places in Wales and other places they had scarcely heard of, people they didn’t know.

Turlough didn’t know much more than that, since it hadn’t been on his history syllabus. The Doctor could have told him about the coal miners carrying on alone until winter, then being driven back to work by poverty only to accept terms that were worse than they had before the strike. The whole thing was a terrible failure. The reasons why Britain never became a socialist republic like Russia in the 1920s would fill many a book on political economy and the miners would have to wait until war broke out in 1939 to be able to demand better terms for their labour.

But right now, on Wednesday, May 5th, 1926, all of that was in the future and nobody knew it was going to be like that. They all fully expected it to go on and on. Those counting their shillings and making ends meet dreaded being dragged into penury. Those on the picket lines full of vim and enthusiasm for the ‘cause’ welcomed the new Britain where the working man had power to shape his own destiny.

A little before midday people started queuing outside the chapel while Mrs Appleby and her ladies set out the stewpots and the platter of unleavened bread as well as a huge, steaming tea urn on a trestle table. Chairs were set around more tables in the church hall. The Reverend and some of his more pious parishioners read psalms and sang hymns in the chapel itself and some of the people who came in to eat sat for a little while and prayed. Others just wanted a hot meal and a cup of tea.

Many of them were women and children. They looked sorry to be there. The pride that kept those tiny slices of homes in those long terraced streets so neat and tidy was pricked by the inability to feed their children while their men weren’t working.

Mrs Holden and her children weren’t there. The Christmas box with its saved collection of tinned goods staved off the necessity to accept charity for a little while. With good housekeeping they might manage until it was over.

But for others there was no choice. The Doctor watched them with all the empathy in his alien soul. He had seen hunger and deprivation on more planets than he cared to count. He regretted that it was happening on a planet with fertile land and plentiful food. He regretted that it was happening because rich men wanted to get richer while denying the most reasonable terms to poor men. The Reverend would probably think that was Socialist thinking and remind him of what happened in Russia only a few years ago. His own people would shake their heads and tell him to stay detached from matters that were none of his concern.

Besides, what could he do? This was happening all over a country with something like fifty million people in it right now. If he took the TARDIS to the planet of Fertilia where food grew so fast they gave it away by the freight load and bought up all the flour, potatoes, and everything else that had gone into the meal that was being served here - if he delivered it to every soup kitchen in Britain - it would only be a temporary measure, alleviating the problem for a few days. Hungry children and mothers with defeat in their eyes because they had to accept free food from a charitable churchman were beyond the powers of a Time Lord.

And besides, that wasn’t why he was here. He reminded himself firmly of that fact as Ducky and Longy shuffled to the front of the line and accepted their fair share of the food. He watched the two men sit down to eat their hotpot and drink their tea and found an empty chair opposite them.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said. Ducky and Longy looked surprised to see the stranger whose odd clothes were thoroughly conspicuous among the sea of grey, endlessly washed shirts and workmen’s coats and caps. They paused with their spoons halfway to their mouths. “You’ve both got money in your pockets,” he added. “You don’t really need this food, do you? And you’ll be stopping off for a drink at the Mill Gap on your way home to your wives, later.”

“That’s our business, mister,” Longy pointed out.

“Indeed, it is. Far be it that I should criticise any man for minding his own business. But I really think you ought to stick to the one drink and give the rest of the money to your wives to pay the rent for this week and make sure there’s food to last. Save them the embarrassment of queuing up here for their dinner.”

His words would have been laughed off if they weren’t accompanied by a powerful dose of subliminal power of suggestion. Some things a Time Lord COULD do to alleviate suffering on a small scale.

“I want to know what it was you sensed in the Mill yard,” he said. “Can you describe it?”

They were not men given to descriptive prose, but they did their best to describe the feeling of utter horror and dark despair that they had experienced when they chased The Doctor back towards the India Mill chimney.

“It happened all of a sudden,” Longy added. “One moment I were full of anger an’ ready to….” He paused and shrugged. “Ready to batter hell out of a scab worker, saving yer presence, mister. The next, I were running away as if Old Nick himself had marked me out for his ovens.”

“There was a distinct geographical demarcation,” The Doctor said.

“Come again?”

The Doctor searched in his pocket for a piece of paper and a pencil. He drew a rough outline of the India Mill factory complex. By rough, of course, he meant that it wasn’t quite to scale, since he had drawn it without a ruler, compass or set square. But the two men instantly recognised the place where they had worked every day since the Monday after their last day of compulsory education.

“Show me where you were when you felt that sensation.”

“Right there,” Longy answered, stabbing at the plan with the spoon he had been eating his hotpot with and leaving a blob of gravy as a marker. “Right by the corner of the stables.”

“Same here,” Ducky confirmed, keeping his spoon to himself.

“The affected area is growing,” The Doctor said. “When I felt it I was at the other corner of the stables, much closer to the base of the chimney. Whatever it is, it’s expanding outwards. The question is, how fast.”

It was a rhetorical question. The Doctor didn’t expect anyone to answer him. Nobody did.

“I need to go back to India Mill,” he said. “If you two men could accompany me, and explain to your friends on the picket line that it has nothing to do with scab labour, it will save scaling any walls.”

Longy and Ducky looked at each other doubtfully. Whether it was fear of their fellow trade unionists or fear of the nameless horror inside the gates, he wasn’t sure.

“I’ll stand you a pint in the Mill Gap, later,” he promised.

Their apprehensions about approaching the factory gate melted away at that. They were still doubtful about what lay beyond, but they agreed to come with him when they had finished their dinner.

Turlough came with them, too. He was bored with peeling potatoes. He walked beside The Doctor through the warren of narrow cobbled streets where children with stomachs filled with hotpot were now playing games like hopscotch and marbles and the women in aprons gathered in small groups and talked among themselves. The party of four who passed by were watched curiously. The Doctor and Turlough in company with two of the striking workmen were an unusual sight and a new subject for conversation.

The picket was manned by a new group of men. Some of them had been filling up on hotpot at the chapel before coming out to do their duty for worker solidarity. Samuel Shaw was still at his post. He didn’t need the Reverend’s food. Fervour for the cause was fuelling his body and soul.

“What’s all this?” he demanded when he saw The Doctor and Turlough. He ignored them and addressed his comrades. Ducky and Longy tried to explain but lacked the Power of Suggestion.

“It’s a scientific matter,” The Doctor told the burly shop steward. “I need to measure the rate of expansion of an invisible but very real phenomena occurring within the Mill premises.”

Sam Shaw looked at him as if he was speaking a foreign language.

“Nobody crosses this ‘ere picket line,” he said. “Nobody. What do you two think you’re doing bringing the likes of them here?”

“Ben, there really is something in there,” Longy attempted to say. “This ‘ere gentleman knows what to do about it….”

“Well, actually, I’m not sure about that. But if I can at least find out what I’m dealing with….”

Sam Shaw wasn’t listening. His hand was tightening on a pole with a TUC flag attached to it. Flag or no flag it was a weapon. By his side, the men on the picket were closing their hands around other makeshift cudgels or simply closing their fists. Nobody was going through that gate.

Then Sam Shaw turned pale and dropped his flag. The men with him shook and shuddered and cried out in fear. Longy and Ducky backed away. They recognised the signs.

“It’s reached the gate,” The Doctor said as the picket line dispersed, men running away, screaming in terror. “In the few hours since we were here it’s reached the gate.”

Then he, too, was running from the icy horror that gripped his hearts and froze his soul. Beside him, Turlough was keeping pace as they ran after the men whose hob-nailed shoes clattered on the cobble stones of yet another long, narrow street.

The people came out of their houses to see what was going on, and then they, too, began to run. Women grabbed small children in their arms. Older ones clutched at their skirts as they ran. Men, old and young, ran. An elderly woman hobbled as fast as she could. A man with a leg amputated at the knee, veteran of the war that ended only eight years ago, stumbled on his crutches. Nobody helped him. They were all too scared, too desperate to get away.

They came to Bolton Road. The queue outside the Methodist chapel was gone. The people already inside were pouring out, running across the road and away up the long, inclined streets on the other side. The men in the Mill Gap ran, one or two still hugging glasses of beer, but otherwise too terrified to stop. The reverend and his wife were among the last to come out of the Chapel. He was clinging to a bible and reciting prayers from memory, but he, too, was terrified beyond anything his faith could hold back. He followed his parishioners in their flight from fear.

“Where are they going?” Turlough asked. “What’s in that direction?”

“Higher ground,” The Doctor answered. “Those streets all go uphill. Come on, we’d better go, too.”

“Aren’t we going to do anything?”

“Do what? Whatever it is… it’s more terrifying than anything I have ever known… more than Daleks or Cybermen, anything…. Anything….”

Turlough looked at The Doctor. There were tears in his eyes. He had seen The Doctor cry before – but in sorrow, in empathy for the suffering of others. He had shed tears over the fate of the Silurians and Sea Devils when they fought them on the Seabase, bitterly regretting the need to destroy those two armies even though they had been his enemies.

He had never seen him cry for his own sake, out of fear for his own life.

“Doctor!” Turlough grasped the sleeve of that ridiculous cricket jacket tightly. “Doctor, if you fail, what hope is there for the rest of us. I feel as if… as if… my whole universe is shutting down around me. I feel so alone. I’m… I’m not that brave at the best of times… but right now….”

“Keep running,” The Doctor said. “Keep moving. If we get above it, we’ll be all right.”

That was exactly what everyone else seemed to believe. People were leaving their homes and heading for the high moor that rose above the town. What had started as a trickle and become a crowd was now a throng of men, women and children toiling up the slopes, along the narrow streets to where the town quite abruptly stopped and the countryside began. They kept on moving uphill, through the cultivated fields near the lower part of the moor and on over rougher ground until they gathered at the top of Darwen Moor, around the monument known as Jubilee Tower.

As the last stragglers reached the moor, it began to look like something biblical. Indeed, the thought must have occurred to the religious leaders of the community. Reverend Appleby, as well as the priest and curate from the Catholic church of St. Joseph’s, just down the road from his chapel, the vicar of the Anglican St. Peter’s Church and the Elders of Darwen Unitarians all did their best to reassure their combined flock. Many of the people were praying on the moor. It seemed the thing to do now they were beyond the range of that strange and terrible thing that had come upon them all.

“George!” Turlough spotted Mr Holden and his family sitting on the grass. The children were huddled close to their parents who were as bewildered as anyone else. Mrs Holden was giving the children biscuits from a packet she must have grabbed from that Christmas box as they fled their home. Around them, those people who weren’t praying or crying were doing the same. Whatever food they had remembered to bring with them was being shared around. Another biblical image was being created.

“We’re safe here, at least,” George answered. “Leastways, I hope we are. We’re higher than the chimney. That’ll help, surely?”

“Yes,” The Doctor agreed. He looked down at the pattern of grey roofs that was Darwen town. There were dozens of factory chimneys poking up towards the sky. They had strangely romantic names like Oak Mill, Radford Mill, Carr’s Mill, Springfield Mill, Holme Mill, New Bridge Mill, Belgrave Mills. All were hot, crowded, noisy places on other days when there wasn’t a General Strike going on.

None were quite as imposing as the chimney of India Mill, the biggest of all of Darwen’s factories. It dwarfed everything else, even the spires and steeples of the churches. Even on an ordinary day there was something deeply and darkly symbolic about that triumph of industry over religion but today it seemed even more fateful.

“It IS the chimney,” he murmured. “There’s something about the chimney. That’s where it comes from.”

“How?” Turlough asked. “What is it?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” The Doctor conceded. “But it’s up to me to deal with it. I have to go back down there.”

“But it scares you as much as any of us,” Turlough pointed out.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear,” The Doctor said. “Mark Twain, interesting man. I’ll introduce you some time.”

“Some have been thought brave because they were afraid to run away - Thomas Fuller, seventeenth century English churchman, as quoted by Captain Edgeworth, the OTC Commander at The Brendan School,” Turlough countered. “I think he might have been describing me. I’m pretty much a coward most the time, but I haven’t had the courage to run away.”

“I don’t believe that for one minute, Turlough,” The Doctor told him. “I didn’t when I first met you, and I certainly didn’t after you stood beside me on the Seabase. But I won’t think any less of you if you want to stay here.”

“I’m scared,” Turlough admitted. “I dread going back down there. But there’s no way I’ll let you down. I’m not sure which of those quotes really applies to me, but I know which one applies to you, Doctor, and I won’t let you down.”

“Thank you,” The Doctor said with sincere feeling in his voice.

They didn’t make any announcements. They told nobody that they were going. They just set off downhill again.

The horror overwhelmed them again as they stepped from the meadowland onto the first cobbled street. They faltered in their steps, paralysed by fear. Behind them was the green moorland where they had been safe. It would have been easy to turn back.

“Maybe I’M the coward who’s too scared to run away,” The Doctor said.

“No, that’s definitely me,” Turlough argued.

“Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale, Yet will I fear no ill, For thou art with me, and thy rod, And staff me comfort still….”

Turlough and The Doctor both turned to see who was singing the traditional hymn based on the twenty-third psalm. George Holden paused nervously and waved a closely printed booklet.

“We all scarpered with barely time to grab a few essentials,” he said. “My Gracey brought biscuits. Old Harry from the Mill Gap brought a bottle of brandy. Reverend Appleby brought a stack of pamphlets. He’s been giving them out to folk, to help keep their spirits up.”

“That’s what made you follow us?” Turlough asked.

“No, it was Gracey. She saw you set off, and she said to me it’d be a shame if two strangers to our town did what none of us had the courage to do. Those old words were a help, mind. ‘Death’s Dark Vale’… I’ve heard that a thousand times in chapel. I never imagined our own little streets would look like it.”

“You’re over the line,” The Doctor pointed out. “Does singing it keep you from feeling the horror?”

“No, it’s still there, but I’m coping – ‘yet I will fear no ill’.”

“At Brendan School it was always ‘Ye who would valiant be, ‘Gainst all disaster,” Turlough said. “Though few of us had ever had anything to be valiant against apart from Latin prep.”

“I never cared for the next line of that one,” The Doctor answered him. “Following the Master never brought anything but trouble in my experience. But give it a try if you think it will help.”

Turlough gave it a try, in a halting, rather flat way, but picking up the tune as he remembered the lyrics. George restarted ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’ at the same time.

The Doctor never dismissed religious belief. He had seen too many strange things in his life to dismiss anything. But he had no such belief in his own culture. He had never been taught to believe in anything other than himself and the supremacy of the High Council of Gallifrey.

There was a song about Rassilon that he learnt in his early years at the Prydonian Academy. It was full of patriotic fire and promises to be faithful to the Founder of Time Lord society. It had much the same effect on The Doctor’s morale as the hymns were having on his companions. They walked on down the echoing, empty terraces, devoid of the life that usually warmed them, children playing, mothers scrubbing their doorsteps or chatting among themselves. The soul-destroying horror still penetrated their hearts and minds, but they held it at bay enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other to bring themselves closer to the Mill chimney that was constantly in their forward view.

“This is the quickest way to the factory,” George said when they crossed Bolton Road near the Mill Gap.

“Not yet,” The Doctor told him. “We need to go back to the alley where we met you. I need my police box.”

“This way, then,” George amended, taking a left turn into a side alley then a right and another twist. The next alleyway ended in a wall with the chimney rising above it and the TARDIS parked up against it.

Those last few paces to the TARDIS door were the hardest of all. Even the exhortations to be a pilgrim in the shadow of death couldn’t hold back the overwhelming, oppressive horror that felt almost like a solid wall before them.

“Come on,” Turlough said. “We’ll be safe inside. Doctor, come on. George, let’s run for it, one last effort.”

They ran forwards. The Doctor fumbled in his pocket for his key and had it ready. With shaking hands he opened the door and stepped across the threshold. Turlough grasped George by the arm and propelled him forwards ahead of him before slamming the door shut.

The difference was instant. All three of them felt the oppressive weight lifted. It was almost possible to forget there was anything at all outside, that it had all been in their heads.

“Are we sure it wasn’t?” Turlough asked. “I mean… nothing actually did harm us. Maybe it’s just some kind of mass hallucination.”

“It has to be,” The Doctor answered. “But it doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. People can’t live in terror whether it’s real or perceived. We have to stop it. Besides, the thing creating this fear is real. Look.”

George was still staring around at the interior of the TARDIS in amazement.

“George,” The Doctor called to him. “Come and look at this. Don’t be scared. Turlough and I are much more strangers to Darwen than you think. We come from another time and another place. This is the ship we travel in. But don’t let it bother you. We’re friends. What we have to deal with is something that isn’t friendly, and I can see it here on this screen.”

George came towards the console.

“I’m not scared of all this,” he said. “I don’t understand it, but I feel less scared in here than I have for a long time. I was worried for weeks about the strike coming, then I was worried about when it would end. Right now I don’t feel scared of ANYTHING. But I’d appreciate an explanation when we’re done.”

He looked at the monitor The Doctor indicated. It was a schematic of the India Mill chimney, showing the flue that went right up through the ornate brickwork.

Something was in the flue – something that writhed like a snake – only it had to be a snake three hundred feet long and three inches wide.

“It’s a Balusian Salamander Worm,” The Doctor explained. “Balusia is a planet millions of light years from Earth, so far away its star is barely visible on a clear night. I’m not sure how it came to enter the atmosphere, but when it did, it sought out heat. Towns and cities are hot places. Darwen, perched on a high moor, with all those home fires burning, all those factories pumping out hot smoke, attracted it. The India Mill chimney, rising above everything else, was like a beacon. It incubated in the hot flue, grew exponentially. It was probably tiny when it arrived, but the furnaces were always burning. It fed on the heat – until the strike, until the fires were put out and the chimney went cold. Then it lashed out with the only power it has – fear. It made everyone within reach frightened, made them run away.”

“Why?” George asked.

“Because it was cold and it resented the warmth that humans have within their own bodies. Perhaps it was frightened itself, that’s why it provoked that emotion in the lifeforms around it.”

“What are we going to do about it?” Turlough asked.

“It can’t stay,” The Doctor answered. “It doesn’t belong on Earth and it can’t be allowed to hurt Humans. It’s frightened a whole town already. If it carries on the whole of Lancashire will be overwhelmed – the whole country – who knows, perhaps the whole planet will fall under a blanket of utter horror. I have to stop it.”

“You’re not going to do anything desperate, like blowing up the chimney?” George asked.

“Not in a million years,” The Doctor answered. “It’s a living creature. I’ll try to help it if I can. If we can get close enough, and open the TARDIS door, there’s warmth enough in the engine room to attract it. Artron energy is the hottest thing in the universe short of an actual star.”

George hadn’t a clue what The Doctor meant about artron energy, but he more or less understood the plan.

“What can I do?” he asked.

“Sing a few more of those rousing hymns,” The Doctor told him. “When the TARDIS materialises at the bottom of the flue we’ll be at ground zero of the creature’s attack on our senses. We’ll need all the morale boosting we can get. Sing out loud, George. Turlough, you, too, if you like.”

It took only a short time to materialise a mere yards away in the base of the chimney. Turlough and George had to take The Doctor’s word for it that it WAS the right place. It was pitch dark outside. When he opened the door, though, they could make out the soot covered brickwork as well as the tail of the worm hanging down like the trembling end of a bell rope in a church tower. It glowed slightly as if it had a very small vestige of inner heat left.

“It’s using itself up,” The Doctor confirmed. “If it doesn’t get a source of heat it will die – and no, that’s not an option. Sitting back and letting any creature die is not my way, and it’s not the Human way, either, given a chance to do better. So sing up, George, keep the fear at bay, and we’ll save more than just the town this afternoon.”

George sang. Turlough joined in. Most of the hymns George knew from the Methodist chapel on Sunday were the same ones sung in assembly at his English Public School. Exhortations to stand strong in the face of evil was a common theme, and an appropriate one, though The Doctor could have argued that the worm was not evil in the sense Reverend Appleby understood. It was a lost creature that had hit out from fear and misunderstanding.

“It’s not working,” Turlough said after longer than he hoped to have to stand there singing. “Doctor, what do we do now?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Perhaps….”

He paused and reached for a button on the communications panel.

“What’s that?” Turlough asked as a confused sound came through the speakers on the console.

“Singing,” The Doctor answered. “A lot of people singing a lot of different songs at the same time. Wait a minute.”

He moved several dials and levers at once, looking for all the world like a music producer mixing sound levels. The effect was very much the same. One set of voices, male and female, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” was picked out of the mix first, then as he pushed another dial it was a choir of children with ‘Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus’, a song with a similar theme to the first one. Another notch on the lever brought up the voices of what had to be Ducky and Longy and their trade union friends with a rendition of ‘The Red Flag’. Then a lusty, all male group of voices were singing a slightly bawdy song about why a rugby ball is the shape it is and a lone voice with an accent heavily influenced by strong drink sang an Irish patriotic anthem called ‘A Nation Once Again.’

“What in creation is going on?” Turlough asked.

“I think a few other people have had the same idea Mrs Holden had,” The Doctor answered. “They’ve come back down off the moor to prove that Darwenian folk aren’t cowards. They’re singing whatever songs give them a boost of courage.”

“The rugby one will be the constables from Police Street,” George said. “And I recognise that drunken old rogue at the end, too - Joe O’Reilly from Hibbert Street. When he’s had a few he claims to have been in the IRA and sings those old rebel songs until somebody clobbers him for it.”

“I hope nobody clobbers him this time,” The Doctor said. “It’s working. The people out there aren’t scared any more. They’re fighting back, and the creature… it’s…. Look….”

The Balusian Salamander Worm was slithering across the threshold into the TARDIS. Turlough and George both stepped back away from it, repulsed and yet fascinated at the same time. The Doctor strode across the console room and opened the inner door. He watched as the worm stretched across the whole floor and one end disappeared into the bowels of the TARDIS. The other end was a long way off. It was still slithering down the chimney, bringing mounds of loosened soot with it that left a black track on the console room floor. The Doctor watched on his internal monitor as the front end of the worm reached the engine room and wound itself around the super-tesla coils, soaking up the heat from them.

It took many more choruses of the Red Flag-Christian Soldiers-God Save Ireland and a local ditty about rhubarb before the other end of the worm finally slithered across the floor and into the corridor beyond. The Doctor waited until the whole of it reached the engine room then operated a remote switch to close the door into that section. The worm was secure inside the warmest part of the TARDIS, happily soaking up surplus artron energy.

He closed the outer door and made a very slight adjustment to the TARDIS’s position. When he opened it again he stepped out, followed by George and Turlough, into a crowded Mill yard. Two groups of church-goers, headed by Reverend Appleby and his Anglican counterpart finished their hymns. The trade union contingent cheered. So did the police rugby choir. The drunken Irishman raised his whiskey bottle in salute and shouted ‘Erin go Brath’ before one of the constables told him to behave himself.

Gracey Holden with her three children ran to hug George as if he was the hero of the hour.

“It’s all over,” The Doctor said to the waiting crowd. “You can go back to your homes. Reverend, you and your people can start up the hotpot again. I’m sure there are plenty of folk who need it after this afternoon. Sam Shaw, once everyone has left the yard, you can man your picket line again. Joe O’Reilly, go home and sober up and don’t be giving your countrymen a bad name. Well done, everyone. You’ve done yourselves proud.”

Slowly the people went away, none of them quite knowing what had happened, or why, but that their efforts had overcome the thing that had caused them so much distress. Soon the only people left were George Holden and his family and Sam Shaw and his picket crowd.

“Go on, George,” The Doctor said. “Take your family home, now. It’s nearly tea time. Turlough and I will join you before the tea is brewed.”

“You’ll be welcome, Doctor,” George answered on behalf of his family. They went on their way, the last to step out through the factory gates before the picket was resumed. The Doctor and Turlough stepped back into the TARDIS.

“Later, I’m going to take our worm friend to Astrastia,” The Doctor said, setting the TARDIS controls. “It’s an uninhabited planet of volcanoes and hot geysers, a perfect habitat for it. Before that, tea with the Holden family of Darwen – but before that….”

The TARDIS, which could be so difficult at times when The Doctor wanted to go somewhere in particular, worked perfectly on this occasion. It brought him to Bolton Road exactly a week before, when the strike wasn’t in force and there was fresh food in the shops. At a grocery store he purchased a pound of tea, a loaf of fresh bread, a pint of milk, a half pound of butter, a jar of plum jam and a whole bag of sherbet lemons – and two tins of cat food.

“Not charity,” he said as he reset the time co-ordinates for Wednesday, May 5th, 1926, at a quarter to four in the afternoon. “Just our contribution to the meal. Mrs Holden is providing the tinned salmon, after all – that’s a bit of luxury for a midweek teatime. We ought to do our bit.”

“Quite right, Doctor,” Turlough agreed.