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

The TARDIS was travelling smoothly through the time vortex on autopilot programme. The Doctor and Grace were relaxing on the armchairs. The Doctor was making notes in a book. It had the heady title of “Dreams of a Final Theory: The Search for the Fundamental Laws of Nature”, and he was making comments under his breath such as ‘wrong, totally wrong’ and ‘yes, he has something there, but he’s starting from the wrong premise….’

Grace smiled indulgently, glad that she wasn’t a theoretical physicist.

“You’ve got to give the Human race a break,” she said. “We’re only a few hundred years out of the Dark Ages.”

“Yes, and you’ve gone a long way in such a short time. But there’s so much more to learn. This Weinberg chap could do well. I could give him some pointers if it wasn’t against the Laws of Time to influence the technological and philosophical advance of lesser civilisations.”

“Lesser civilisations!” As one of the best educated of that civilisation, Grace could have been offended by that, but she was used to The Doctor and his ways. She let it all wash over her.

She was used to all of this – taking it for granted that her off-duty hours would be spent in the TARDIS, going to dinner on a space station somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy or visiting a haven of peace like the Eye of Orion. She took for granted, too, this cosy domesticity within the extraordinary setting of the TARDIS console room.

Then the cosiness was disturbed by a sudden pitching and rolling and a piercing alarm from the console. Grace pulled herself up from the rug where she had fallen and surveyed the broken tea set and the spilt milk all over The Doctor’s copy of ‘Dreams of a Final Theory’.

He, of course, had immediately sprung to his feet and rushed to the console. He switched off the alarm and studied the data on the pull down screen quickly.

“We’ve been caught in some kind of violent disruption in the vortex,” he said as the deep toll of the cloister bell sounded from within the TARDIS. “I have to initiate an emergency materialisation before she’s ripped to pieces and us with her.”

Grace fought her way to the console and gripped on tight, but there was nothing useful she could do.

“Could that really happen to the TARDIS? I thought she was more or less invulnerable.”

“If the forces pulling against her were strong enough,” The Doctor admitted. He was working frenetically, pulling levers and pushing buttons, typing at the keyboard on the navigation panel. “I’m trying to bring us back to Earth, but I can’t guarantee where or when.”

“Knowing our usual luck it’ll be right in the middle of the Jurassic era with a T-Rex bearing down on us.”

“Or the French Revolution,” The Doctor added, grinning as if either chance would be a glorious adventure.

“Maybe this is a good time to remind you that I only have ONE life,” Grace said to him.

“I know that, sweetheart,” The Doctor said quietly. “I know.”

He was bringing the TARDIS under control now, and the time rotor glowed brighter as it always did when they materialised. Grace found herself sighing with relief.

Then something violent happened outside the TARDIS and it pitched over on its side before it tumbled and rolled alarmingly as if it was falling down a hill.

“I thought we’d materialised,” Grace protested as she picked herself up from the slanted floor, testing bruises in several places on her body.

“We had,” The Doctor replied. “Something happened after we landed… an explosion of some kind.”

He went back to the console and checked the temporal and spatial co-ordinates.

“Oh!” he murmured.

“Oh?” Grace queried.

“It’s May the fifteenth, nineteen-fifteen,” The Doctor announced. “And we appear to have materialised on Cape Helles.”

The place meant nothing to Grace, but she knew the date was in the middle of the conflict called The Great War until another one relegated it to World War One.

“The Gallipoli peninsula,” The Doctor added. “A month into the British Expeditionary Force’s landing.”

“You mean we were caught up in a bombardment?” Grace looked at The Doctor in horror then she turned and headed for the door.

“Come back,” The Doctor called out. “It’s dangerous out there.”

“It’s a war zone,” she answered. “People will need my help. I’m a DOCTOR.”

There was no disputing that. The Doctor was also a DOCTOR when he needed to be. He followed her.

The TARDIS had been almost completely buried in a sand dune on the wide foreshore of a beach that could have been beautiful if it wasn’t broken up by barbed wire and covered in impact craters from near-constant shelling. When The Doctor closed the door more loose sand fell, almost entirely camouflaging the blue police box.

The Doctor followed Grace as she scrambled up the nearly vertical side of the dune. He was surprised when a strong pair of hands reached to pull her up and others reached for him.

He was not at ALL surprised when the same men who had helped them up the dune immediately became suspicious of their appearance and guns were levelled at them.

“It’s all right,” The Doctor said calmly. “We’re on your side. I’m British. My companion is an American – a neutral.”

“So where did you come from then?” asked a man with an Irish accent and the uniform of a corporal. “Dressed in civvies in the middle of Hell.”

“It’s a long story,” Grace answered. “But we ARE the good guys. Honestly.”

Grace’s accent was unusual to those around her. Even if she was a ‘neutral’ at this stage in the war, it wasn’t especially reassuring.

The Doctor spoke again, softly and hypnotically. Grace knew he could mesmerise one person at a time, just as his enemy, The Master, could, but she had never seen him hold a dozen people in his thrall at once, convincing the soldiers that they were on their side and had every right to be here.

As the guns were lowered and the soldiers relaxed Grace looked around at the collection of tents and makeshift shelters nestled against a cliff side that looked as if it was about to collapse down onto the camp at any moment. There were men hunkered down in these shelters, sleeping, awake, writing letters, reading, praying, polishing shoes or cleaning rifles, playing cards, or just sitting with far-off expressions in their eyes. Their uniforms looked rough, as if they had been worn for a while and there were no facilities for laundry.

The accents of the men were a mixture of Irish and northern English - a rougher, more common variation on The Doctor’s own accent in this incarnation.

“I thought Gallipoli was the Australians and New Zealanders,” Grace commented as she listened to their voices.

“They’re further down the coast,” The Doctor explained. The Corporal glanced at him momentarily. The Power of Suggestion was strong, but his knowledge of allied positions almost raised a suspicion that could override it.

“Come along,” the soldier told him as the moment past. “I’d best take you two to the Colonel. You can tell your long story to him.”

“No,” Grace argued. “Take me to your hospital tent. That’s why I’m here. I’m a doctor.”

“So am I,” The Doctor added. “Yes, that’s where we ought to be.”

“I’ll tell the Colonel where you are,” the Corporal answered her. “We lost our doctor a couple of days ago. He was shot in the neck by a sniper trying to reach a wounded man. We’ve been desperate for help.”

“Good job we’re here, then,” Grace said. “Let’s not waste any time.”

She picked up her pace as she headed towards a large tent with the familiar red cross on the side. Before they entered, though, The Doctor pulled her aside and spoke quietly and seriously.

“We became part of events here the moment we stepped out of the TARDIS. What will be, will be. But, Grace, remember… we cannot do any more than the medical knowledge of this time allows, with whatever tools are at our disposal. We can do no miracles in there.”

Grace looked at him for a few seconds as she absorbed fully the truth he was telling her, then she nodded and turned back to the tent. The canvas walls only slightly muffled the sound of somebody screaming and her first instinct was to relieve pain and save lives.

The Doctor felt the same compulsion in such situations. He hurried after her. Inside two men acting as orderlies were trying to restrain a patient with an arm missing and ghastly burns on his face.

“Don’t let me die!” the patient cried out. “I don’t want to become like them. Please don’t let me die.”

The Doctor gently moved the men aside as Grace took over examining the patient. The wounds were several days old and despite every effort at hygiene and infection had set in. The young soldier’s cries were a product of feverish delirium.

“Hush, now,” The Doctor said to him. He put his hand on the stricken man’s forehead and almost at once he became calm. Relieving distress and calming a fevered mind didn’t qualify as a paradox. It was one of his telepathic gifts that he could always use for good.

“Please, don’t let me die,” the soldier begged in a calmer voice. But there was little anyone could do. He was too far gone. Only a deep determination to cling to life had kept him going this far. The best that Grace could do was administer a morphine injection that numbed the pain. The best The Doctor could do was take away the fear.

“Rest, now,” he whispered gently. “Rest in the sunshine after the hay has been stacked. Sleep under the blue sky in the freshly cut fields of Ormskirk.”

“Home,” the soldier whispered calmly. Then the delirium came back and he cried out once more, raising his head and torso from the table with the last ounce of his strength.

“Don’t let me become one of them!”

Then he was quiet again. The Doctor whispered another gentle reminder of better and gentler times and he died more easily than he might.

“There was nothing more to do,” Grace admitted sadly as the orderlies covered the body and lifted it away from the operating table. “His injuries….”

She shuddered. This was a long way from the clean, well-equipped cardio-theatre where she usually worked, and that man’s death had been crueller than most of the deaths she had witnessed in her career.

“It’s all right, we’re here now,” The Doctor assured her. He had felt the soldier’s last hours in his final minutes. He had been dying from the moment he was hit by a mortar explosion several days ago, and the contemporary medicine had been unable to make it easy for him.

Grace shook her head sadly. Even a field hospital in her own time would have had a hard time saving a man as badly injured as that. Perhaps if a helicopter evacuation had been available and he could have been brought to a proper hospital more could have been done.

There were others to be tended to, men who might yet die, others who were going to live, but only if they got the care they needed. Grace and The Doctor went to each of the pallet beds where the wounded men lay to see what – if anything - they might do for them. The worst of the wounds were the result of mortar bombardment. Limbs had been ripped off or huge chunks of shrapnel embedded in flesh. There were burns and bullet wounds, too. Some of the more seriously wounded had been there since the Eighty-Sixth Brigade landed on what was termed W Beach three weeks ago. The men of the Lancashire, the Royal Munster and Royal Dublin Fusiliers suffered terrible casualties before and after they reached the dunes. Less than a quarter of the Brigade had crossed the beach without injury. The rest were here in the hospital.

The Doctor knew all about the landing partly because he had read about the campaign in the TARDIS database when he confirmed the date and location and partly because he saw it in the memories of the men he tended to. The account in the database was accurate, but calm and dispassionate. The memories were full of fire and noise and fear that no written account could ever demonstrate.

“Three weeks and they’ve barely got off the beach,” Grace said with another despondent shake of her head. “This was a messed up military operation.”

“Yes, it was.” The Doctor was startled by a hauntingly familiar voice and saw the Colonel the NCO had reported to. He looked hauntingly familiar, too, right down to the dashing Hollywood leading man moustache.

“Colonel…. Colonel… Lethbridge-Stewart.”

“Yes, that’s correct,” the Colonel replied. He was in a neatly tailored uniform and was wearing a peaked cap bearing the distinctive badge of his regiment.

“I thought the Scots Guards were operating further down the coast, with the eighty-eighth Brigade,” The Doctor queried.

“The chap in charge of the Irish laddies slipped and broke his leg aboard ship. I was detailed to take his place. They’re good men. We lost far too many in the landing. The rest are doing their best in damned difficult circumstances. I’m proud of them, even if I hardly know them and they don’t know me.”

“I understand,” The Doctor told him. Memories were flooding into the forefront of his mind, stirred by that clipped public school accent with its underlying Scots burr. Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart was the grandfather of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, his friend and comrade from his days as U.N.I.T.’s special scientific advisor. They had never met before. He knew of him only from a few occasions when The Brigadier had shared stories of his proud Scots lineage – usually over a single malt which loosened his usually firmly set stoicism.

But blood was blood. The Doctor reached out to shake hands with Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart and as he did so he was able to make a connection deep within the soldier’s sub-consciousness. All of the deep friendship he shared with that future grandson was transferred. The Colonel smiled broadly and grasped his hand tightly.

“It’s good to see you, Doctor. You’re the very man we need in these circumstances.”

All of the absolute trust between them was transferred, too. The Colonel might not have fully understood that The Doctor was an alien who could travel in time and space, but he understood that he was somebody who could solve problems nobody else could.

“Let me introduce my colleague, Doctor Grace Holloway,” The Doctor said to him. Grace was listening to the heart of a double amputee in one of the beds. She looked up long enough to shake hands with the officer then returned to her work.

“A lady doctor,” Lethbridge-Stewart commented. “Doing field surgery in a war zone. This is a world turned upside down altogether, even without the trouble we’ve got here.”

“What trouble?” The Doctor asked. He had gathered from the previous comment that something more than bombardment from the Ottoman army was troubling the Colonel, if not the whole Eighty-Sixth battalion, but he had hoped to hear more without prompting.

Clearly some was needed.

But before the Colonel could explain in words there was a desperate and graphic example of the problem. Outside a man screamed in horror and then the tent door was pushed aside.

A man came in.

It was the soldier from Ormskirk who had died a short time ago. He was moving stiffly and unnaturally. His one arm swung as if he was marching in step. His eyes were open, though they were glazed over and unseeing. There was sandy soil covering the burns on the side of his face.

The man who had screamed ran after him. His tunic had the same sandy soil on it. He was obviously part of a burial detail who was trying to lay the dead soldier to rest.

“Don’t let me die! I don’t want to become like them.” Those were the words the soldier had cried out in his delirium. They were odd words, suggesting far more than a fear of dying.

A fear of dying yet not being at rest.

The Doctor stepped close and reached out to him, placing a restraining hand gently on his shoulder. The dead soldier stopped walking. His sightless eyes turned towards The Doctor. His mouth opened as if to speak, but no words, no sound came out.

“They never speak, even though they seem to be trying to say something,” The Colonel explained.

“They don’t have any breath in their bodies,” The Doctor pointed out. “Speech requires air passing across the larynx. Let me see….”

He pressed his palm gently across the soldier’s forehead and closed his own eyes. He looked for brain activity.

There was some, a very bare minimum needed for the central nervous system to function – for limbs to move, for the mouth to open, even silently.

There were memories, fleeting, random - memories of pasture lands in the flat countryside around his west Lancashire home, memories of being a soldier, of landing at Cape Helles, of being hit by the mortar blast and the world of pain that came after it.

But they were just fragments, splinters like the shards of a broken sheet of glass, retaining a few pieces of memory. The images of home were probably those conjured when The Doctor talked to him just before his death.

He really WAS dead, but something was giving the impression of life, using his body like a puppet.

“He’s saying ‘help me’,” Grace said. “Help me, I’m lost.”

“How do you know?” Lethbridge-Stewart asked.

“I can read lips,” she answered. “I learnt when I was training as a doctor, so that I could communicate with deaf patients. I can do sign language, too, but that’s not going to help much here.”

“Help me?” The Doctor gently guided the dead soldier to the examination table where he had died not so long ago. He got him to lie down quietly. He examined him manually, first, noting that there was no pulse, no blood circulation. He looked around and then decided that they were already beyond the point where things seemed strange and wonderful. He took out his sonic screwdriver and used it to scan the body from head to toe.

Except for that very slight brain activity he was dead in every way.

“There have been more of these?” The Doctor asked.

“The first day,” the Colonel said in disturbed tones. “We lost hundreds of men. Those whose bodies we recovered from the sea were buried with all decency, but that night… the dead rose. They came from the ground. Their comrades watched in horror as they climbed over the dunes and marched towards the Ottoman gun emplacements. The Turks, of course, shot at them relentlessly, but it didn’t stop them. When some of them reached the enemy lines we heard the screams. The Turks ran, terrified. I sometimes think we ought to have pressed the advantage. We could have overrun their trenches. I’m ashamed to say we were ALL too petrified to do anything. We just waited for the dead to come back.”

“And they did?”

“Those capable of doing so. There were bodies left in No Man’s Land that… weren’t bodies any more. Turning them to lumps of meat, smashing the skull to pulp, is the only way to stop them. That and burning them. We made a funeral pyre on the beach while the Turks were still running away. We pushed them into the flames.”

He shuddered as he remembered. This was a seasoned career soldier who had seen many terrible sights in more than one military campaign, but this rated as the very worst.

“It didn’t seem right. Burning dead men is one thing… but when they were moving about….”

“They ARE dead,” The Doctor assured the Colonel. “You did the right thing, for them and for the still living men under your command.”

“What about him?” Grace asked quietly, aware that the patients in the beds were uneasy. They were all too aware that the same fate awaited them if they didn’t survive their injuries.

The Doctor looked around and then made a desperate decision.

“I need this area sectioned off,” he said very quietly. “The patients don’t need to see this.”

“See what?” Lethbridge-Stewart asked.

“I need to do an autopsy. I want to see inside his brain. It is the only part of him that is ‘alive’ in any sense, and I need to know why.”

The Colonel looked worried about the idea, but he, too, needed to know why these terrible things were happening to men under his command.

“What can I do to help?”

“The orderlies ran when he came in. You can assist Grace and myself. Put on a rubber apron over your uniform. This will be messy.”

It was messy, and it was unpleasant. The tools The Doctor used to open up the skull and expose the brain were primitive by his standards. He hated the sound of the saw cutting through the bone. Slicing into the brain matter was an ugly job in every way.

What he found when he cut through the frontal lobe and exposed the cingulate gyrus, the part of the brain that regulates pain and emotional responses to it, made him nauseous – and it takes a lot to make an experienced Time Lord nauseous. Grace gasped softly. Lethbridge-Stewart backed away in horror.

“What ARE those things?” he demanded, staring at the squirming, worm-like creatures that had hollowed out a nest for themselves in the brain tissue.

“Something that doesn’t belong in the middle of your war,” The Doctor replied. “In fact it doesn’t even belong on Earth.”

Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again and accepted that he had just been told that his soldiers were being manipulated by something extra-terrestrial.

It took his grandson far longer. Perhaps the Power of Suggestion The Doctor had used in their first introduction had overridden both his natural Human scepticism and his Scots common sense.

“They’re called Manikandan larva,” The Doctor explained. “They are the young of a creature that lives on the planet Manika. I don’t know what it’s doing here. It isn’t a sentient creature. It can have no malevolent intent. But a combination of the Earth atmosphere and the enzymes the young produce when they nest….”

“Doctor!” The Colonel was starting to have the same glazed look his future grandson had when these kind of conversations were going on. “Accepting that some kind of alien creatures are getting into the heads of our dead men, what are we supposed to do about it?”

“These ones… they’re easy enough.” The Doctor adjusted the sonic screwdriver and aimed at the exposed brain. The creatures immediately curled up on themselves and died. “They’re vulnerable to certain sonic frequencies. This man can be decently buried again, now. He’s really dead.”

Grace took over making the body ready for interment. It was a simple, if unpleasant job.

“But there must be others,” the Colonel pointed out. “We’ve had so many of these walking dead.”

“Yes, I know. There must be a parent creature on the beach somewhere. It is spawning. Human brain matter… dead brain matter… is the nest the larvae need.”

He saw the Colonel’s face. This was all very distasteful to him. The brain matter was in the heads of men he had led into battle.

“Sorry. Anyway, it’s my job to sort this out. You have a war to fight, Colonel. Grace, you stay here….”

The Colonel and Grace both protested. Grace insisted that she could help him. The Colonel pointed out that the war against the Ottomans on the other side of No Man’s Land was less important just now than the war against something worse right there on W Beach.

The Colonel’s appeal won the day.

“All right, you come with me,” The Doctor said. “But Grace, I really think you DO need to hold the fort here. These men need you more than any of us. You’re a doctor and… sorry, I know it’s patronising… but you’re a sweet, smiling Florence Nightingale as well. That’s the best comfort you can give them.”

Grace scowled at him, but he had a point. The patients had all witnessed the horror of the dead man walking back into the hospital. Anything she could do to help them, even a feminine smile in this men’s war, fulfilled her oath to help the sick and injured.

“Come on then, Brigadier,” The Doctor said, settling the matter.

“Colonel,” the Colonel answered him.

“Sorry, Colonel, of course.” He led him towards the dune where he and Grace had climbed up. The Irish Corporal called out a warning.

“There’s a sniper over that way. If you’re going down to the beach, keep to the left. That’s his blind spot.”

“Duly noted,” the Colonel answered. He knew he was going to mess up his neat uniform climbing down the crumbling, loose sand, but that only put him in the same position as the men who hadn’t landed with a batman to do their ironing. He slithered down the slope and joined The Doctor where he was pushing sand and soil away from something half buried by the last mortar bombardment.

“What is it?” the Colonel asked. “It can’t be the alien creature. It’s… blue.”

“It’s my ship… my space ship. I’m alien, too. You must have guessed that much.”

“Err….” In the back of his mind, the suspicion had lodged that The Doctor was something extraordinary, but having it made plain in such a way was unnerving.

“That looks like a police box,” he pointed out, settling for something easier to deal with. “Are you a BRITISH alien.”

“Yes, I suppose I am,” The Doctor admitted. “But that really doesn’t matter. Nor does the way my ship looks inside. Don’t worry about it at all. Just come on in.”

Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart followed The Doctor into the TARDIS. His expression was one of utter surprise and bewilderment. The Doctor remembered the same expression from The Brigadier in his turn, but having been warned the Colonel kept his thoughts about the console room’s dimensions to himself.

“Come this side of the console and take hold of these two levers,” The Doctor said. “It’ll save me having to run around like a spare part trying to manage the sonic resonator as well as the kinetic gear.”

“I presume the fact that I have no idea what those things are won’t affect my ability to help you?” The Colonel asked.

“None whatsoever. Many people have pressed buttons on this console without having a clue what they are. You’re one of the few doing so with my permission. Push the left lever down fully and the right one halfway, then when I say ‘go’ pull them both up smartly.”

The Colonel nodded. It sounded relatively easy. It was certainly much simpler than commanding troops in a possibly futile military campaign.

He wasn’t exactly sure what it would do to prevent alien larva taking over the brains of dead soldiers.

“Watch,” The Doctor said, opening up a wide video screen. The Colonel was surprised. He was from an era long before television, when even a cinema screen made by a sheet on the wall of a mess tent was something exciting. The images of his immediate environment – the beach and the dunes of Helles Cape from some twenty feet above was remarkable. He looked at the sharp colour picture as he held the two levers and The Doctor murmured figures and adjusted something on the other side of the console.

“Now!” he called out and the Colonel’s attention was turned immediately to the task he had been given. He pulled the two levers sharply upwards as far as they would go. Immediately a shrill sound came from the console. The Doctor reached for another lever and the sound stopped.

“Ooops,” he said. “That’s meant to be outside. Absolutely no use in here. Manikandan’s can’t survive in such close proximity to Artron energy.”

“It’s the same sound you used when you killed the creature in that poor devil’s brain?”

“Yes, but over a much wider area. Look at the screen again.”

The Colonel looked. The TARDIS was a good thirty feet high now and the beach and dunes spread out below. He saw the dark sand covered with a silvery-grey film.

“The larva coming to the surface. And look, there!”

Lethbridge-Stewart saw a large, wide patch of much darker silver-grey, something solid, something like a huge amorphous fish. It thrashed about on the sand for a few minutes, waving slender tentacles before it finally went still.

“It’s dead and so are the larva,” The Doctor said. He didn’t sound at all triumphant about it. This was no cause for celebration. The Colonel had seen enough war by now to understand that.

“You said it was just an animal… not sentient,” he reminded The Doctor. “Not an enemy in the usual sense.”

“And almost certainly here by accident. But this isn’t where it belongs. It had to be destroyed. I had no choice.”

Again the Colonel understood. He had done plenty of unpleasant things because it was his duty and he had no choice.


He began to say something else but he was knocked off his feet by a sudden external explosion and the TARDIS’s attempt to compensate which actually had the opposite effect.

“We’re being attacked,” he declared.

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” The Doctor answered. “It’s coming from the Turkish gun emplacements. They obviously think we’re some kind of new weapon.”

“I can understand their confusion,” the Colonel admitted. “Can we just land? Aren’t we finished?”

The larva can burrow for miles. I have to make sure they haven’t reached the Turkish lines.”

The Colonel was about to ask why, but then he remembered his own horror when he saw the ranks of dead men walking with empty eyes. He didn’t hate the enemy enough to wish that upon them.

“As you were,” The Doctor told him, indicating the levers. The TARDIS rose higher to evade the mortar fire, but they repeated the procedure over several miles of the Gallipoli peninsula. Some places were clear, but others were already infected by the alien larva. The Doctor explained that the adult Manikandan could spawn several times a night, releasing millions of young into the soil or sand around them. They could travel great distances looking for dead flesh to burrow into and make their nests. The creatures knew nothing about Human conflicts and Human battle lines. Their infestation could affect the Turks as much as the British forces.

“They won’t thank us,” the Colonel noted as they hovered over the Turkish lines and saw men firing up at them.

“I never ask for thanks,” The Doctor replied. “I think we’ve done all we need to do. Let’s get back to Grace.”

They were approaching the camp when the TARDIS suffered a direct hit from a mortar shell. When he picked himself up from the floor the Colonel swore in a Highland Scots dialect.

“I used to know a young Phiobaire from Culloden who used words like that,” The Doctor said with a nostalgic smile.

“That came from OUR gun emplacement,” the Colonel complained.

“Friendly fire!” The Doctor laughed. “There’s no damage. The TARDIS is a tough old girl. It takes more than Human warfare to damage her. Stand by for materialisation.”

The Colonel didn’t know what he meant, but he saw the view of the Eighty-Sixth battalion’s camp dissolve into a view inside the hospital tent. Grace looked up from her work and stepped towards the TARDIS as The Doctor reached for the door release.

“Did you do it?” she asked.

“We did,” The Doctor replied. “The dead will stay dead now.”

“Good,” Grace said with a deep sigh. “Another one just died in his sleep. He was so young… his face so pale he looked like a little boy. The thought of him walking around like that is too horrible.”

The Doctor reached out and embraced her. For a brief moment she allowed herself to be emotional about what she had experienced in the past hours before she drew herself up professionally and returned to her duties.

“I reckon you and I could use a drink, Doctor,” the Colonel said to him. “If aliens drink single malt?”

“I have been known to take a glass,” The Doctor answered. He left Grace in charge of what was very much ‘her’ hospital for a while and followed the Colonel to his tent. It was considerably more spacious than those the men were sleeping in, but that was a privilege of rank. He did, indeed, have a bottle of good Scots whiskey that he poured two small glasses from.

“A parting gift from my lady wife,” he explained. “I don’t know when I might get a chance of another… or of seeing her.”

“I understand,” The Doctor said. “Colonel… you do realise you mustn’t talk about what happened here today. None of it can go into any official report.”

“I guessed as much,” he answered. “Don’t worry, we Lethbridge-Stewarts have served King and Country.”

“I don’t, you understand,” The Doctor pointed out. “Although I have worked with the British military in my time. Fine men, all of them.”

“It amounts to the same thing. This is strictly hush-hush. I dare say there will be a few stories from the men – ghost stories and accounts of flying boxes. But there are plenty of those around. The Angel of Mons, that type of thing. This will just be one more.”

“I expect so,” The Doctor agreed. “We ought to leave as quickly as possible, to prevent any more stories getting about. But I think Grace will want to stay until you get a relief medic, and I usually give in to her about things like that.”

“A lady doctor in a war zone,” Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart commented with the same tone of mild disbelief he had expressed once before. “This world is turned upside down. Next they’ll be wanting the vote. Still, maybe that’s not such a bad idea. Maybe we won’t have wars like this if they have a say in it.”

“Maybe,” The Doctor replied with a smile. Now he knew where his old friend, Alistair Gordon got his misogynistic streak from as well as his dyed in the wool military bearing.

And he wouldn't have a Lethbridge-Stewart any other way!