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

Pauline Entwhistle lay awake in the dark of her bedroom – a darkness broken by one silver beam of moonlight let in through the low window. It was something to look at, at least, something to think about until sleep came to her.

Pauline was a good girl, or at least she tried to be. Wayward was one of the words people had applied to her, as well as wild and unladylike. Others had been less complimentary, words that really hurt.

She just wanted to be herself, that was all, not moulded by school, by church, by her father, by the fact that she WAS a girl, by the fact that she lived in a small village in the lake district in the first decade of the twentieth century. She wanted to be herself regardless of any of those things, and every time somebody tried to make her something she wasn’t the hurt deepened.

She concentrated on the sliver of moonlight instead of how much she hated some people in Ambleside. Hate was a bad thing, a sinful thing. She didn’t want to be a sinner. She wanted to be a good girl and grow to be a good woman.

She just wanted to be good in her own way, not the way she was expected to be.

As she watched the moonlight she noticed it getting brighter. That was strange. Moonlight didn’t usually do that. It moved as the moon travelled across the sky, but its intensity was either constant, or on cloudy nights it might get dimmer for a while, coming back gradually as the cloud passed.

But it never got so bright that her room was filled with it.

Pauline got up from her bed, her calico nightdress falling to her ankles as she walked, barefoot, to the window. The brightness enveloped her, giving her an angelic silhouette – or so anyone might have thought if they could see her. But she was alone and the image was quite lost by those who thought her anything but an angel.

“Yes,” she said to the voice that whispered to her in the brightness. “Yes, I can hear you. I understand.”

She listened more. What the voice was telling her was at once terrible and wonderful. The promise it made to her was terrible and wonderful. But it had come to her, almost as if in answer to her prayers. To refuse it was to refuse a miracle.

The Doctor strode purposefully – but that was the way he always walked whether he had a purpose or not. His natural gait was a stride.

Romana, head and shoulders shorter than him, had trouble maintaining a dignified pace and keep at his side at the same time. She barely had a chance to look around at the picturesque village nestled in a glacial valley between mountains that rose sharp against the blue sky.

It was Earth, of course. The blue sky was a big clue. There were many planets with blue skies, due to the natural filtration of the colour spectrum through the atmosphere, but a blue sky and this kind of settled architecture of a people who had always lived on this world, made it distinctly Earth.

“Are we going somewhere in particular?” she asked The Doctor. He seemed to be looking at the cottages within their neatly kept gardens and checking the names each one had. They were names that suggested finality and an end to travel – Roamer’s Rest, Traveller’s End, Sweet Idyll, Arcadia House, Eden’s Corner. It was something Romana didn’t really identify with at this early stage of her Time Lord life. She expected to have many centuries of travelling among the stars before returning to Gallifrey to a settled career as a High Councillor or a teacher in the Academy.

“An old friend of mine retired to the Lakes,” The Doctor replied. “I was hoping to drop in on him for a cup of tea and a muffin and a chance to talk about old times.”

“A Human?” Romana queried.

“Of course.”

“They live such short lives. I’m surprised they have any time to ‘retire’. How do they achieve anything?”

“By living every day to the full,” The Doctor answered. “You’d be surprised. Humans have overcome most of their disadvantages one way or another, and for some a quiet retirement after a life spent in activity is a just reward.”

He walked on and then stopped by one cottage with roses around the porch and ivy growing up the gable end and studied it carefully.

“Lake View,” he read. “Very prosaic, yet also appropriate, for there is Lake Windermere in all its glory.”

Much of Gallifrey was desert and dry plains. A watered place like this was unusual, so Romana was impressed by the body of inland water that proved so attractive to retired gentlefolk from the great cities of England. She watched a small paddle steamer setting out from a nearby jetty, leaving its wake in the otherwise still grey water.

While she was watching, The Doctor had opened the small white gate and entered the garden of Lake View. He knocked firmly on the door and waited.

Presently an old man with bright, intelligent eyes opened the door and looked curiously at his visitor for a long moment.

“Good gracious,” he said after the pause had lengthened. “It’s you… The Doctor. It really is you.” He peered at the young woman who came to his friend’s side, but he didn’t recognise her. “This cannot be Leela, who was with you all those years ago?”

“Romana, this is Professor George Litefoot, retired doctor. Professor, this is my friend and travelling companion, Romana Dvoratre Lundar.”

“Delighted to meet you, my dear lady,” the Professor said, reaching to shake her hand. “Delighted. Do come in. Mrs Garvey will have a pot of tea ready. She always does. The woman is quite remarkable in that way. The tea is always ready – not almost ready or the kettle just put on, or gone cold, but always perfectly brewed.”

“It’s a special kind of temporal physics known only to housekeepers,” The Doctor answered as he and Romana followed Professor Litefoot into the small and busily furnished drawing room. The low-ceilinged room was too small for the big cabinets and sideboards that were a legacy of the Professor’s much bigger London house, but the idea of swapping them for something more in proportion was unthinkable.

On cue the housekeeper, Mrs Garvey, appeared with a pot of tea and a plate of sandwiches. She set them down and scurried away to bring a plate of violet macaroons to accompany the tea.

“I’m making shepherd’s pie for your supper, Professor,” she said. “There will be plenty for your guests. I just need to prepare more vegetables.”

“You needn’t go to any trouble on our account,” The Doctor assured her. “I’m certain there’s an inn nearby where we can get a cheese and pickle sandwich.”

Mrs Garvey sniffed airily.

“A cheese sandwich at the Red Lion – the landlord’s wife buys yesterday’s bread and uses margarine instead of butter. You’re better off staying here.”

“Well, we can’t possibly refuse when you put it that way,” The Doctor replied. “Shepherd’s pie it is, then.”

Romana didn’t say anything. She was slightly puzzled about what a shepherd’s pie was. She understood both words separately but in combination they didn’t make sense unless humans in this part of Earth indulged in cannibalism.

Before she found out about shepherd’s pie, she sat and listened to The Doctor and George Litefoot talk about the adventure they had shared some twenty-five years ago in the Professor’s simple, linear timeline and perhaps a century before in The Doctor’s more complicated one. It had been a curious adventure involving giant rats in a sewer, a sinister Chinaman and a criminal from Earth’s future using time travel to escape justice. Professor Litefoot had taken a significant part in the adventure, helping The Doctor to bring the criminal to ground and save innocent lives into the bargain.

“It was all terribly exciting,” George concluded. “But at the same time, a reminder of my own mortality. That’s why I took the chance to retire on my Home Office pension and my savings and come up here for a quieter life. Not spending my days among the dead has been quite refreshing.”

“I’m glad you’re happy, Professor,” The Doctor told him. “I shall remember you to Leela when I see her again.”

“Yes, indeed. A fine young woman she was. Quite the match for any man.”

“Her husband certainly thought so.”

Romana didn’t have much to say in the course of this conversation. She contented herself with the enjoyment of English tea and an English landscape outside the cottage window. As the evening drew in the pub Mrs Garvey had dismissed so readily grew busy. Its lights were the brightest and merriest in the town. She watched a policeman amble quietly through the streets, watching the pub with practiced suspicion then walking on. A man in vicar’s bands knocked at a cottage door and was admitted to perform his pastoral services.

All the time, the light turned to a reddish glow above the mountain that cut off the view and the lake became a dark, shadowy place before a full moon rose and cast a silvery path across its waters.

Shepherds’ pie turned out to be a thoroughly tasty meal with no cannibalism involved. A treacle tart followed. Mrs Garvey split her attentions between the Professor and his guests and tidying the kitchen. She had a pot with a substantial ‘left over’ portion of the meal and a smaller tart that she was taking home to her husband. The Professor explained that his housekeeper had his permission to take any leftovers he wasn’t going to need, and if she made rather too much food for one man – or one man and two guests – in order to ensure there WERE leftovers he had no objection.

She was just about to head home with her husband’s supper when a knock at the door disturbed the peace. It proved to be the police sergeant urgently requesting Professor Litefoot’s professional services at a sudden and suspicious death.

“But I’m retired, Sergeant Holden,” he pointed out. “Surely Doctor Gordon ought to be the man for you.”

“Doctor Gordon is the man what’s dead,” the Sergeant explained. “Horrible he looks – as if he’d seen the devil himself in his last hour.”

“I see,” George replied. “Well, I’d better put my pathologist hat back on for the time being. Doctor, would you care to accompany me?”

The Doctor’s natural curiosity was already roused. Of course he would. Romana hadn’t been asked, but she stood as if to go with them.

“Oh, my dear, that’s not a sight for you, I’m sure,” Mrs Garvey said. “Let me just take this pot over to my Henry and see that he’s eating, then I’ll pop back and make some more tea. I’ll keep you company until the men have done what must be done.”

She really couldn’t refuse that offer. She sat back down again in the comfortable armchair by the window as The Doctor and Professor Litefoot went to do their unpleasant but necessary duty.

“We brought him into his own consulting room,” said the constable, leading The Doctor and his estimable friend into the medical room where the body was lying on the examination table underneath a linen cloth.

“Who found him, and where?” The Doctor asked as Litefoot reached to pull back the cloth.

“Mrs Henderson, his housekeeper, in the drawing room,” the sergeant answered, sounding like a player in a game of Cluedo. “She’s in the kitchen, now. She’s a bit upset. I’ll go and see how she’s faring if you gentlemen will excuse me.”

The sergeant left the room, leaving them to their examination of the dead man.

Doctor Gordon was a man in his late fifties, a little stout from eating well and not getting as much exercise as the beautiful region afforded. His face was reddish-purple, his eyes wide and staring, mouth open in a scream that was silenced by death.

Professor Litefoot sighed deeply as he picked up a scalpel and prepared to make his first incision.

“By the look of him, I’d say a sudden heart attack. The autopsy should confirm that.”

The Doctor looked at the body and nodded. He couldn’t argue with that initial diagnosis. He left Litefoot to get on with the autopsy and examined the room where the death had occurred – the drawing room of the house-cum-surgery.

There was no sign of a struggle, no hint that foul play was involved. There was no sign that anything had occurred except for a spilt cup of tea and an overturned footstool. The scenario was easy to imagine. The heart attack began suddenly as he was drinking his tea. He tried to stand and summon help, but fell over the footstool and was unable to rise.

He went from the drawing room to the kitchen where Sergeant Holden was having a cup of tea with Mrs Henderson, who was much the same age and type as Mrs Garvey, married, children grown up, plenty of time to cook and clean her own house and that of a professional bachelor. She was alternatively wiping her tear-filled eyes and sipping tea while the sergeant took notes in his little pocket-book.

The Doctor stood at the door and listened to her description of finding Doctor Gordon dead on the drawing room floor. Nothing seemed unusual except for one small detail.

“When I first touched him, I felt a peculiar tingle,” she said. “A really nasty feeling that went right up my arm. It was like….”

“Electricity,” The Doctor remarked almost nonchalantly. “An electric shock.”

Mrs Henderson looked up at the Professor’s friend in surprise. She probably hadn’t even noticed him standing there quietly.

“It could be,” she answered. “I’ve read of such things in the papers – people dying of electrical shock in their homes. But how could that have happened here? There’s no electricity in the house. It’s all gas fitted.”

“Indeed,” The Doctor remarked, noting the Pitner gas lamps. Electricity was available in the town, but not everyone had taken up the new source of heat and light. Doctor Gordon was one of those who hadn’t caught up with the trend.

He wandered back to the examination room where Litefoot was engaged in his gory work, ever the expert pathologist.

“Have you found any evidence of electric shock causing the heart failure?” he asked.

“No,” Litefoot answered. “But it would explain why a strong heart should fail so suddenly. Except…..”

He, too, looked at the Pitner gas lamps that illuminated the room and wondered how a man could be electrocuted in a house with no electricity.

“We have a mystery to solve, my old friend,” The Doctor said. It might not be his sort of mystery, involving alien intrigues, but it was a mystery, nonetheless, and he was ready to unravel it.

Pauline was sitting in the back pew of the church. The evening service had just finished. Her father was busy in the sacristy. He hadn’t noticed her still waiting there. She bowed her head low in prayer and was almost unnoticeable in the gloom of the half-lit nave.

Then there was a brightness far beyond anything usually illuminating the gas and candle-lit church. She looked up at the vaulted ceiling and saw cracks in the old plaster that nobody else could have ever noticed, then she turned to the Angel who hovered at her side. She heard its voice whispering to her and felt the warmth of love that it offered along with the promise to make sure nobody ever hurt her again.

“I know you will,” she answered. “I trust you. Thank you.”

Sitting by the window, lulled by Mrs Garvey’s mostly aimless gossip about people in Ambleside and its environs, Romana sat up very suddenly, aware of something that wasn’t quite right.

“That’s strange,” she commented.

“What is, dear?” asked her companion.

“I saw a very bright light… far brighter than any of the street lamps or at any window.”

“Lightning?” Mrs Garvey suggested. “We’ve had some bad electrical storms in the past weeks.”

“No, I don’t think so,” Romana answered. “I’m sure it was inside that big building over there…. Is it a….” She searched her memory for the correct English-Human word for a place of worship, dismissing temple and mosque and several other words first. “A church?”

“St. Mary’s,” Mrs Garvey confirmed. “The service should be over by now, though.”

“The light’s gone, now,” Romana said.

“There you go, then. Nothing to worry about.”

Romana wasn’t so sure, but she couldn’t explain her concern to Mrs Garvey. It would have to wait until The Doctor got back.

The brightness in the church vanished as the Angel departed. Pauline’s eyes were dazzled and the nave seemed darker than ever. She clutched her hymn book and scrambled out of the pew blindly, tripping over one of the kneelers and banging her arm on the wooden frame. The noise seemed loud in the empty church but she made it to the side door before her father came to investigate the sounds. He didn’t see her. She ran back to the presbytery and was in the kitchen setting the table for the evening meal when he returned.

“Were you playing about in the church after the service?” he asked her shortly.

“No, father,” she answered. It was true. She wasn’t playing. She was praying – for the redemption of her sinful soul that she had been told of so often.

“Don’t lie to me, girl,” Reverend Leonard Entwhistle retorted with an angry tone in his voice. “Lying is a sin, and to lie to your father, and to a man of the cloth is even more so.”

“I wasn’t lying, father,” she insisted, feeling that it was just a bit unfair that her father was her father as well as the man of the cloth. She tried to explain what she had been doing in the church but he simply didn’t believe that a girl as wayward as Pauline would pray without being made to do so.

There was no way to appease him. She went to bed with a crust of bread and a cup of water instead of the wholesome stew the housekeeper had left. There was also a red patch on the side of her face where her father had hit her as punishment for her lies.

She cried softly until she slept, not knowing if the Angel had come to her room this night or not - or if it was fulfilling the promise to make everything right for her.