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

“Elysium III,” Mel read from the TARDIS database. “One of eleven planets chosen for colonisation by a specially selected team of humans in the year 2478. What was special about them?”

“They had passed a series of very stringent tests of mental and physical agility, intelligence, observation, resourcefulness and stamina,” The Doctor answered.

“You mean… like the Krypton Factor?” Mel asked with a grin.

“Actually, pretty close,” The Doctor admitted. “I’m not a great fan of eugenics experiments, as a rule, but I’m interested in seeing how this one went on. We’re heading for the year 2552. At least two generations of Elysians will be grown up by now, born and raised on the planet.”

“So they should be settled in nicely, then? What sort of planet is it?”

“A paradise world,” The Doctor replied. “Fertile, ambient temperatures, benign flora and fauna - just as humans would imagine the Garden of Eden – or the Fields of Elysian where Greek heroes enjoyed the afterlife in the Underworld.”

“Sounds perfect,” Mel commented.

“It sounds too perfect,” The Doctor noted. “Humans looking for paradise… it never ended good in the classics, let alone real life.”

That sounds awfully cynical, Doctor,” Mel commented. “I always had you down as an optimist.”

“When I first left Gallifrey with Susan, I thought I’d find a perfect society, one we could live amongst in peace. The closest we ever found was Earth in the 1960s – in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. What does that tell you about the state of the rest of the universe?”

“Point taken, Doctor,” Mel conceded. “Still… from these pictures, Elysium III IS everything a garden of Eden ought to be. Look at those trees, the waterfall – the river running through a meadow full of wild flowers. It’s beautiful.”

“That’s an archive picture,” The Doctor reminded her. “From fifty years ago. What it looks like now is another matter.”

He turned the main viewscreen on to show the planet from space. It looked reassuring. The continents were green and verdant except where purple snow-capped mountains rose up. The oceans were green-blue. The scanners showed abundant lifeforms in the water and on the land and the tectonics were stable.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating, though,” he murmured as he set the co-ordinates for a materialisation on the planet’s surface.

It was comfortably warm outside. The Doctor left off his coat, which meant he didn’t look quite so silly as usual. In the waistcoat and shirt he was almost normal. Mel was in a cotton sundress and sandals with her mass of curly hair tied back in a pony tail.

The TARDIS had materialised on a meadow of grass and wild flowers beside a swiftly flowing river. The meadow gently sloped up to a copse of deciduous trees that looked as if they were fruit bearing. Mel turned around and looked beyond where the TARDIS was parked to a brook that fed into the wider river. It had cascaded down a rocky edifice as a waterfall before tumbling noisily over pebbles and small rocks.

“It looks lovely,” Mel commented. “I’m going to take a closer peep at those trees. I think they might actually be PEACH trees. How gorgeous is that?”

The Doctor was closely examining the grass beneath his feet, counting the number and variety of flowers within a square metre. Mel strode off up the slope to look at the trees. She was right about the luscious green-leafed ones on the edge of the copse. Ripe peaches hung from the branches. She picked three, one to eat now, one for later, and one for The Doctor. Then she wandered deeper into the woods where she found big, deep purple plums and apples and pears. The apples and pears were actually growing on the same trees and they were ripe, too.

Did all those fruits ripen at the same time on Earth, she wondered. She couldn’t quite remember. Were peaches even grown in England along with plums, apples and pears? She was quite sure that they didn’t.

But this wasn’t England. It wasn’t Earth. It was Elysium III. This was a paradise planet. Fruit grew on trees and they weren’t behind walls in an orchard belonging to somebody else.

She picked an apple and a pear and ate them, then three plums. She considered picking more, but she might get stomach ache, and she was sure there wasn’t a tree that grew Settlers.

The Doctor was walking aimlessly along the river side noticing the occasional fish something like a salmon leaping out of the water and splashing back again. He contemplated an hour or so with his rods and lines. This seemed like a perfect place for a hobby of that sort.

Which made him wonder why nobody was doing just that. Why, indeed, was there nobody enjoying this lovely spot? The point of the place was to enjoy the unspoilt pastoral life that Humans loved so much.

Then he heard voices. A dozen people approached along the riverside. There were men and women and children, too. The women had baskets, presumably to collect the fruit growing on the trees that Mel had gone to look at. The men had fishing tackle. The children had smaller baskets and began searching by the riverside for a fungus that grew there – presumably edible.

When they saw The Doctor they were far more startled than he expected. Surely his appearance wasn’t so strange to them?

“Who are you?” demanded a tall, dark haired man stepping forward and telling the woman to keep back. “What is your designation?”

“I’m The Doctor, and I don’t have a designation,” he answered. “I’m just here to see how things are going on this planet.”

“You must have a designation. You cannot be here without one.” The man held out his hand, as if he wanted The Doctor to take it and kiss it. In the middle of hand was a disc, actually embedded in the flesh. It was glowing green. The others had the same discs.

“I don’t know anything about designations,” The Doctor said. “As I said, I’m just visiting.”

“He’s a renegade,” one of the women cried.

“I most certainly am not,” The Doctor replied indignantly. “And I have the pardon papers to prove it.”

“He’s a renegade. He must have evaded the designators. Cabus, drive him away. He’ll bring trouble to us all.”

The man called Cabus picked up a stone from the riverside and threw it towards The Doctor. He easily dodged it, but the others took their cue from him. Soon they were all throwing stones and some of them connected painfully. The Doctor backed away, but he didn’t know there was another man who had crept behind him with a large rock that he brought down onto his head.

The Doctor yelped once and fell unconscious onto the pleasantly scented meadow grass.

Mel went deeper into the woods, curious about the mix of trees. Beyond the fruit trees were tall redwoods. Some had been felled. They must have been grown for timber. How wonderful, she thought, to be so totally self-sufficient as the people on this planet, building their homes, growing their food.

She was so busy looking at trees that she forgot to take note of where she was walking. by the time she thought about it she literally could not see the woods for the trees.

She was lost.

Oh dear, she thought. That won’t do. The Doctor will be worried.

The Doctor woke very slowly, aware of an aching head and the fact that his hands and feet were tied. He was lying on a very hard surface – probably a wooden floor. Above him was a wooden roof with a rough, unfinished look. It was a big roof – a barn, perhaps.

“Is there anyone there?” he asked. “Why am I your prisoner? Perhaps you’d be kind enough to explain.”

“You are undesignated,” said a man who stepped into his view. He noticed the disc on his hand was yellow. “Undesignates cannot be supported by the community. There are not sufficient resources.”

“Resources?” The Doctor questioned. “But I don’t want any of your resources.”

“Food,” the man continued. “There is only enough food for the community as it is. We cannot afford any extra mouths to feed. An undesignated can only join the community if an elder is ready to give up his or her place. That is how it was decided.”

“But I’m not an undesignate,” The Doctor insisted. “I’m just a visitor. I came to see if you had made this planet into the paradise your forebears dreamt of. I can see already that something went wrong.”

“Without food or water you will die soon enough. It will not be pleasant, but the end will be a mercy, to you, and to those whose lives you threaten by your undesignated presence.”

Mel was starting to worry. She was sure she was wandering in circles. She tried using the sun as a guide, but she had taken so many detours around impenetrable bushes in what now seemed to be old, wild woodlands rather than the managed part from earlier that it no longer seemed to be any help. She couldn’t tell which direction the sun was coming from. Besides, it seemed to be setting, wherever it was. It was getting dark.

That was a scary prospect. How cold would it get at night in the woods? She didn’t even have a coat.

Then something fell on her.

It was a boy – eight, maybe nine years old. He was dressed roughly and his face was grubby. He was eating some kind of unusual looking fruit. She risked a look up to the branches above and saw long green-grey husks as if coconut shells were growing around bananas. That explained the fruit, but he seemed to be the only boy that the tree was going to yield.

“Hello, I’m Mel,” she said with a wide, friendly smile. “Who are you?”

“Chi,” he answered. Mel assumed that was his name.

“Pleased to meet you, Chi,” she said. “What’s that fruit called?”

“Bic,” he answered. He offered her a husk. She peeled it away and took a bite. It had the consistency of banana, but tasted more like a malted milk biscuit. It was very nice, anyway, complementing the sharper tastes of the other fruit.

“I’m lost,” she said. “Can you help me get out of the woods?”

“I live in the woods,” he replied, his longest sentence yet. “Come….”

He offered a grubby hand. Mel took it. He led her through the woods until he reached a very old tree with a wide trunk. There was a hole that barely looked big enough for the boy to fit into it. He disappeared down and then came back up, urging Mel to follow him. She looked at the hole doubtfully, then at her nice fresh, clean frock. She didn’t want to end up as grubby as the boy.

“Come on,” he said. “Down here.”

“All right, I’m coming.” She decided to sacrifice the dress to find out where he wanted to take her. Obviously the hole was far more than met the eye.

She wriggled feet first into the hole and found herself at the top of a slope. She tried to stand up but there wasn’t room. All she could do was slide down bringing dry, crumbling soil with her.

She dropped, finally, into a low room. She was surprised to see that it was rectangular and made of concrete. It looked like very old concrete, grey and rough.

This room was empty, but there was a door. Chi was waiting by it. She followed him into a corridor and then to another room that completely surprised her.

It was a kitchen. Two women were cooking on an electric stove. One of them turned as Chi came in and chastised him for being so dirty. She told him to go and shower.

“But mum, I HATE the ion shower,” he answered. “Can’t I just wait until it rains?”

“No,” she answered. “Go and get clean.” Chi’s mother saw Mel then for the first time and her face froze in shock. “Who is that?”

“Her name is Mel,” Chi answered. “She’s not a Designate.”

The other woman approached Mel cautiously. She took hold of her hands and examined them carefully. Mel noticed that the woman’s own left hand had a strange circular scar on it, as if a bottle cap had been pressed into it for a long time before being removed.

“She has no Designate marker,” the woman announced. “No sign that she ever had one.”

“I don’t even know what a Designate marker is,” Mel told them with all honesty. “I really don’t know where I am, or what any of this is about. I just got lost in the woods.”

“This is where the Renegades live,” said Chi’s mother. “Some of us, at least. If you’re not a Designate and you’re not one of us….”

“I just got here, with The Doctor. We came to visit the planet and see how things are going. It… doesn’t seem as if they’re going well if people have to live underground. I thought this was a paradise planet. We landed in a beautiful place. Why aren’t you enjoying it?”

The two women exchanged glances. Chi took advantage of their distraction to steal a hunk of bread from the table.

“You really don’t know anything about how we live here?”

“I don’t know anything,” Mel admitted. “Not even how to get back to The Doctor. I hope he isn’t worrying about me.”

The Doctor was too busy worrying about himself to consider Mel’s situation. He wasn’t in any danger of dying, not for a long time. A Human being would be desperately close to death after twenty-four hours – less if they were left outside exposed to the sun. He could probably last a week, but it wouldn’t be a very nice week.

This was a very strange situation – not his own – being tied up and threatened with death was nothing new – but all this stuff about ‘Designates’. Those discs in the hands had something to do with it.

But the idea that there wasn’t enough food was rubbish. This planet was teaming with life. There was food in abundance. Why were they acting like they were in extreme famine conditions?

“An undesignated can only join the community if an elder is ready to give up his or her place.”

That was what the man had said.

Did that mean….

A horrible thought.

In order to maintain numbers, an older person had to volunteer to die if somebody new came to them or a new child was born?

“That’s why we left,” Chi’s mother, Alana, explained to Mel. “I was pregnant, and there was no elder ready to leave us. So I was ordered to….”

She shook her head. She didn’t want to talk about it, but Mel guessed the rest.

She looked around the kitchen. It didn’t look as if the people here in this strange underground place were short. The other woman, Nisdha, was just taking a roasting tin out of the oven. She reached down to take a second one. Both contained the roasted carcass of something about the size of a rabbit but with far more flesh on it. The smell was delicious. There were vegetables and roast potatoes and fruit flans taken from a second oven.

There was a good dinner for everyone, here.

“How many ‘Renegades’ live here, and what is this place?” Mel asked, feeling that she was accepted enough to ask questions like that, now. At first they had been suspicious that she might be a spy. The lack of any scar on her hand from what they called a ‘designator’ – whatever that was – apparently proved her story that she was a new visitor to the planet.

“There are twenty of us here, five families. My husband, Cheff and I, with Chi, Nisdha and her husband, with her two little ones - Anghi and Hall who have a grown up son and two youngsters….”

“Nobody is allowed more than two children in total,” Nisdha pointed out as Alana named the rest of the company. “So Anghi and Hall had to leave or face punishment. The others were the same.”

“Punishment from who?” Mel asked. “And is this the same people who think they have to restrict the population? I don’t understand that. There is plenty of food. The trees are full of fruit, fish in the river…. It must be possible to cultivate fields of crops. The weather is perfect. Everyone should have more food than they need.”

“The Guardians,” Alana answered her.

The Doctor heard a door creak open a little way and then close again quickly before quiet footsteps approached. He was surprised to feel a knife cutting at his bonds.

“Come on,” he was told by the young man who freed him. “Before they notice.”

The Doctor followed him to the door. The young man looked carefully around outside.

“It’s safe. They’re all in the Education Hall listening to the Guardian. Even so, we should move fast.”

They ran across the wide compound at the centre of the collection of wooden houses and communal buildings that formed a substantial settlement of several hundred people. The only building with lights was a large one with a wide roof. That had to be the Education Hall. The Doctor wondered what sort of education was going on in there, but his rescuer wanted him to avoid that building at all costs.

“We should go. These people are all obedient to the Guardian. If they spot us, we’ll be right back in the punishment barn again.”

“Punishment barn?” The Doctor queried. “It’s not just for executions?”

“No. People are punished for disobeying the Guardian in any respect – picking more than the quota of fruit, asking for extra rations for the children…. If they make any mistake, they will be left in the barn for a punishment hour.”

“This Guardian seem very harsh,” The Doctor commented. “Who elected him, exactly?”

The young man was about to answer, but then he heard a sound. He froze against the shadowy side of one of the homes. Another man stepped into the shadow and called a name.

“Father! Thank heavens, it’s you. This man was left to die in the barn. I freed him. We should take him with us.”

“Are you sure it’s not a trap?” the older man asked.

“I heard Mariba telling him he was to die.”

“All right, come on. We must go now. There’s no use in staying here any longer. Anyi won’t see reason. If I push him further he might report our incursion to the Guardian.”

“I thought he might come with us. His wife is with child. The quota….”

“His father is prepared to make the sacrifice for them. The quota will be maintained.”

He said that bitterly. The Doctor was starting to see just how desperate things were here. He followed the father and son through the woods that started just beyond the village. This was the wider, deeper part of the mere rump that Mel had gone looking at from the meadow.


The Doctor hadn’t exactly forgotten her, but he had been literally too tied up to think about what she was doing. She hadn’t been captured by the ‘Designated’. Surely she would have gone back to the TARDIS.

He ought to do the same. Whatever was happening on this planet, the humans created the situation for themselves. They weren’t the slaves of some alien invader. This wasn’t the paradise it was meant to be, but it was a hell of their own making and it wasn’t his job to sort it out.

“I should go to the meadow,” he said. “I have a friend… she’ll be waiting for me there….”

“Our habitat is closer,” the man said. “You should come with us.”

It was a suggestion, a request, not a demand, but it could easily become the latter, The Doctor concluded. These men were some kind of rebel cell who rejected the regime. They had accepted that he was not a ‘Designate’, but if he insisted on wandering off on his own they might consider him a danger of another sort.

Co-operating with them was the judicious thing to do for the time being.

Mel could give him hell for staying out all night in the morning.

The way into their habitat was clearly meant to be secret. It was concealed behind a large rock that almost closed off the entrance to a cave in a rocky outcrop within the woods. It was a bit of a squeeze for The Doctor. His companions looked at each other and agreed that he definitely wasn’t a Designate. On their rations, they didn’t get fat.

“I’m not fat, I’m just… big boned,” The Doctor protested as he followed them down a rough-cut set of steps that lead to a concrete bunker of surprising sophistication. “What is this?”

“The terraformers who prepared the planet for colonisation lived here while they were working. It was pre-fabricated and sunk into the ground so that it didn’t spoil the environment. It has its own power source – bio-thermal, and all the fixtures and fittings were left behind when they signed the planet off for colonisation. Perfect for hiding a gang of dissenters like us.”

As they passed closed doors that may have been bedrooms a warm, homely smell of food filled the air. They came finally into a wider room where a group of people who made up several families living together were seated around two long tables. A meal was being served.

“Wash before you eat,” said Nishda, looking up from putting mashed potatoes onto plates. “All three of you.”

“Doctor!” Mel turned from putting bread rolls on each diner’s side plate and acknowledged his arrival. “You found us. I’m glad. Come and have supper. It’s roast baffle.”

Roast baffle was very tasty, rather like pork. The supper was a convivial meal. A much cleaner Chi sat next to Mel and chatted with her. The Doctor had a more grown up conversation with Hall and Benos, the father and son who had brought him here. He found out a little more about the Guardian and its control over the people.

“A computer?” he queried. “Just a computer.”

“Advanced computer,” Hall explained. “They were the very latest in artificial intelligence. Each group of colonists brought one to the planet. They were meant to help guide them in the early years – advising on which crops to grow, checking the weather patterns, surveying the land for grounds water.”

“I remember when I was just a boy….” Said one of the older members of the Renegade group, a man called Saul who had brought his whole family from the Designate village when he was told to volunteer for euthanasia so that his daughter might have a baby. “That’s when our parents, the first generation born here, started to rely too much on the computers, asking them about EVERYTHING from the chance of rain to what to call their newborns. Very soon the computers were telling us those things without being asked. They started making rules. They started giving out punishments to anyone who broke the rules… and soon those rules were about how many of us were allowed to live in the village, how much food we could eat, how many babies were allowed to be born.”

“All of which could have been ignored if some people hadn’t obeyed the Guardian implicitly and forced the others into submission,” Hall pointed out. “That’s when it became oppressive.”

“But all the people chosen to be colonists were clever, resourceful people,” Mel pointed out. ”How did they let themselves be controlled so easily?”

“Even intelligent people find it hard not to run with the herd,” The Doctor told her. “Look at any university. All the bright sparks listening to the same music, eating organic food, going on the same protest marches for the same causes. It was the same at the Prydonian Academy, apart from the protests, the organic food and the music….”

Mel laughed. The others didn’t because they didn’t quite understand what The Doctor was saying.

“Look,” she added. “Surely the problem is the computer. And as clever as it thinks it is, it’s JUST a computer. Why didn’t somebody just reprogram it?”

These WERE all highly intelligent people, the ones who had not run with the herd and had instead done their best to be independent thinkers. But every one of them looked around at Mel as if she had just said something incredibly surprising and new.

“Well… why not?”

“It’s not just one computer,” Nishda pointed out. “There are Guardian computers in every settlement that was established on the planet. They’re all connected to each other.”

“Even better,” Mel pointed out. “That means you just have to reprogram one of them and start a cascade through their intranet.”

The colonists looked at each other. Her words rang bells in their minds, but only the very vaguest of them.

“Don’t tell me, none of you KNOW how to program computers. The first colonisers, must have known all about that kind of thing. Top people in all sorts of skills. IT had to be one of them. But I bet that was against the rules, too. None of you KNOW anything about that?”

Heads shook numbly.

Well, it’s a good job I’m one of the best there is. And what I don’t know, The Doctor certainly does. Do they have anyone guarding the Guardian at night?”

“I don’t think so,” Hall told her. “They never used to. Do you mean….”

“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go.”

Mel stood up. So did The Doctor. Benos stood, despite Nishda’s worried protest. Saul, the elder of the group volunteered. His daughter expressed her concern, but he patted her on the shoulder.

“We’ve hidden too long. This young lady puts us to shame with her ideas. We should fight back the only way we can without hurting people we care about back in the village.

In the end a half dozen of them came with The Doctor and Mel. Hall and Benos lead the way. Saul brought up the rear. They were familiar with the woods and the path was far more direct than the one they had used when they brought The Doctor to them. He realised that they had gone a long way around in case he DID turn out to be a spy. Now they trusted him.

The Education Hall was quiet, now. The village was quiet. There were rules about bedtime. People didn’t stay up late.

“The door is locked,” Benos noted. “It always is.”

“Not a problem,” The Doctor replied. “Mel, a hair slide, if you please?”

Mel pulled a slide out of her hair and passed it to him, pushing back a stray length of curls out of her face. The group of infiltrators breathed quietly and watched in the dark until The Doctor picked the lock and pushed the door open. Mel and some of the group followed him in. The others kept a watch outside.

“It’s nothing special to look at,” Mel noted as she examined the server unit. It had an impressive looking screen in low power mode but the computer itself was just memory chips and micro-processors, wires and lots of casing for all of it.

There was a keyboard that slid out of the top of the casing. It looked as if it hadn’t been touched for a long time. Mel flexed her fingers and started to type, accessing the main list of programmes. She found the one that interested her the most.


“Unauthorised access,” the computer said in a mechanical voice that came through two speakers.

“Shush,” Mel replied, turning down the volume with a button that obviously hadn’t been used for a generation. “You don’t want to wake up the whole village.”

“Unauthorised access,” it insisted in a quieter tone.

“Rubbish,” Mel responded. “You don’t even have a basic firewall. Nobody ever expected this computer to be reprogrammed. I don’t even need a password. Be quiet, there’s a good artificial lifeform while I scramble about in your artificial brain.”

The Doctor laughed at her response to the computer.

“You seem to have everything under control,” he said. “I’m going to go back and get the TARDIS. It’s only a bit of a walk upriver. Closer than I thought going the long way through the woods.”

“Ok,” Mel answered. “I’m all right here.”

He slipped out of the Hall and away into the shadows of darkness. He walked quickly. The situation back there might not stay under control for long. But he had an idea that might help matters.

The Doctor was right about one thing. Things didn’t stay quiet for long. The torchlights inside the hall had been spotted. Men were approaching. Those outside got ready to stop them.

“Stand away, Marib,” Hall told the first of the villagers to reach the wooden veranda outside the Education Hall. “It is time to put an end to this madness. Don’t try to stop us.”

“What are you doing?” Marib responded. “Are you mad, Hall? Why are you here? You shouldn’t even be alive. Non-Designates should not survive. There isn’t enough food even to go around.”

“Did the computer tell you that? Actually we live better than you. What did you have for dinner tonight? Fruit and wild mushrooms, a bit of fish? We had a three course meal with roast meat. There was more than enough for everyone. Some of the children even had seconds. Spending all day romping in the woods, climbing trees, playing games, gives them an appetite. You’re being deceived, Marib. There is no shortage of food on this planet. There is no need to restrict the population or ration anything. Just listen to me.”

“You’re wrong,” Marib argued. “The Guardian told us…the food is scarce. The land won’t support us all. You are risking all of our lives by your renegade ways. You are taking the food we need to survive.”

“There is plenty of food,” Hall insisted. “Have you looked at the trees? They’re bursting with fruit. In the climate this planet has, they yield every five months. The river is full of fish but you take only a few – barely enough to go around because of false quota limits. You haven’t planted grain in the fields or even a few potatoes for years because the Guardian said every time that there would be a blight. But there hasn’t been a BLIGHT. Don’t you understand? The Guardian lied. The Guardian has kept you all in misery.”

He kept trying to reason with them, but the crowd was growing, and it was growing ugly. The renegades backed up towards the door, aiming to keep the villagers out until Mel was finished her work. But quite soon the only way they were going to do that was by fighting against their brothers and friends, and that was a prospect that disheartened them all.

Mel was working feverishly inside the Hall. The corrupt programming that had sent the artificial intelligence so very wrong was deeply imbedded in the base code and it was extensive. Removing it all, setting the computer back to its factory settings, was not easy. But she was getting there little by little.

The voices at the door were getting angrier, though. She hoped she could finish the job before the villagers broke in and stopped her. She had to clear ALL of the corruption before she could risk running the programme again.

The men were fighting. The renegades, though fewer in number, were having a better time of it. They ate better food, and like the children who played in the woods, they had more exercise hunting for meat than the villagers. They fought hard and held back the gathering mob.

Then an unfamiliar sound was heard above the shouts and an unexpected breeze blew. The TARDIS materialised outside the Education Hall. The Doctor opened the door and electric light spilled out. He stepped forward and emptied the contents of a sack on the ground.

“Food,” he said. “Fruit from the trees, vegetables from the ground, meat and fish. Come and get what you want. I’ve got more back here. Enough for everyone. When was the last time any of you had milk? Here’s a whole flagon of it, cool and fresh and creamy.”

At first the men who were fighting didn’t hear him but there were women looking on fearfully, and children. A pregnant woman came to The Doctor and took the milk. She drank straight from the flagon and then passed it to a boy who reached for it. The other women came and collected the food. The men began to see what they were doing and left the fight to protest about the quotas.

“It’s food, Marib,” said the wife of the chief objector. “Food such as we have not seen for many years. Look… cheese. When was the last time we ate cheese?”

“Where did any of it come from?” Marib demanded.

“It came from this planet you live on,” The Doctor answered. “There are animals a lot like sheep that yield milk to make cheese and butter, as well as meat. There is everything else you need growing on the land. Your forebears planted market gardens. You let them grow wild. They still produce food. The trees that grow in the woods were all chosen for their potential food crops. Here, try this – maple syrup, boiled from the sap of the maple tree.

Nobody thought to ask how The Doctor had made maple syrup, to say nothing of butter and cheese or cured bacon, made sausages and potted brawn, inside the blue box where these delights were coming from. He wasn’t about to tell them that most of the stuff came from a market garden centre on the planet Quithel, where food was so abundant it was given away free. This planet had the potential to match it, as long as people stopped listening to a demented computer.

“What about the Guardian?” asked the man who had thrown the first stone that afternoon. “The Guardian will punish us.”

A few people paused to think about that, then carried on dividing the good food between them. Then Mel came to the door of the now forgotten Education Hall and called out to them.

“Marib, Hall, some of you other men, come in here.”

They came, villagers and renegades alike. They stood and stared at the big screen where the orders and restrictions placed upon them had come for so long.

“What is it doing?” Hall asked as he watched a tiny cursor in the corner of an otherwise black screen.

“Rebooting,” Mel answered. “Just wait a minute.”

Then the screen resolved into a colourful menu with numerous choices. The mechanical voice spoke.

“Guardian programme rebooted. How can I help?

“Long term agri-weather forecast,” Mel answered it. She waited until the programme loaded with a slightly showy flash screen before getting down to business. “What are the prospects for a corn harvest if the fields are ploughed and planted within the next two weeks?”

“The weather forecast for the next five months is good. Sunshine eighty-five percent. Rain fifteen percent. Corn harvest will be abundant if planted by the end of sixteen day period from today.”

“Ask it about tomatoes,” Mel said to Marib. “Go on. It’s voice activated, though you can use the keyboard and mouse, too.”

Marib did so and discovered the best ways to grow and tend to tomatoes.

“End programme,” Mel said. “Eco-programme.” Again there was a showy screen before settling down. “Calculate quotas and varieties of fish that can be caught in the river at different times of year without unduly affecting the numbers spawning next season.”

The computer responded with the calculations. The men and women who gathered in the Hall by their dozens now were astonished.

“That is a hundred times higher than the permitted quota,” said one of them. “We could feed our families and be able to salt the rest for winter.”

“End Programme,” Mel said again. “Long term demographics. How many people can the land support over the next four generations?”

Those figures astonished everyone. Some people burst into tears. Others were angry that the information they had been given before was so inaccurate.

“It’s JUST a computer,” Mel told them. “It’s as good as the information that goes into it. Somehow the wrong information got into it. That won’t happen again. I’ve put in a checksum programme that will report any errors, and before The Doctor and I leave Elysium I’m going to train some of you as programmers. You’ll be in charge of the Guardian, not it in charge of you. By the way, when was the last time any of you had contact with other settlements?”

Nobody had any answer to that.

“Open Coms,” Mel said. The computer opened a programme that would send a live videophone link to the other computers in the settlements around the planet. Everyone was surprised when it connected. A very surprised man asked what had happened to the Guardian in his village.

“It’s rebooted,” Mel answered. “It’s working for you now, not the other way round. I’ll be talking to all of you about it soon. Meanwhile you’ll have to start thinking for yourselves for a bit, instead of taking orders from a computer.”

It was going to be a long job, Mel thought.

And it was. she and The Doctor stayed on Elysium long enough to see the corn planted in a long neglected but now newly ploughed field. It was pushing up shoots as they travelled to each of the settlements and showed people how to use the Guardian computer rather than letting it use them. She also showed them how to shut it down and use their own judgement if they preferred.

There was work to be done. But there was also time to relax and play after the work was done. The Doctor got some angling done. Mel taught the youngsters from both the village and the Renegade habitat – now reunited – how to make garlands of the wild flowers that grew in the meadows. Picnics in the open air, barbecues with the smell of roast meat hanging on the evening air, were an almost daily occurrence. Everyone was enjoying the bounty of their paradise world at last.

“We really ought to come back,” Mel said to The Doctor when they prepared to leave. “I’m not sure they might not slip back into their daft ways again. Most intelligent and resourceful they might be, but common sense was completely lacking.”

“Yes,” The Doctor agreed. “I think we should. But for now, I’m thinking of taking you to see the Crab Nebula Aurora. There’s a fabulous space hotel with a revolving restaurant affording fantastic views while we eat.”

“As long as there’s a vegetarian option,” Mel replied. “You have had too many barbecues. I’m getting you back on the healthy eating programme.”