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

Pauline Entwhistle had cried herself to sleep even though it was still only a little after half-past nine in the evening and many other girls of her age were still awake and enjoying quiet pastimes. The darkness of her room was briefly banished by an unnaturally bright light and the angel touched her unhappy dreams before going on with its work.

Romana was looking anxiously out of the window now, hardly hearing Mrs Garvey when she asked if she would like more tea.

“Oh, yes, please,” she answered on the second time of asking. In truth, she was getting a bit fed up of tea, but it occupied the housekeeper. She let her get on with the complicated process of transferring boiled water from kettle to carefully warmed pot while she continued her vigil, hoping that The Doctor and Professor Litefoot would be back soon.

Because she was perfectly sure that the light she had seen in the church windows was not normal or natural and she needed the wisdom of the older and far more travelled Time Lord on the matter.

A man walked by in the lamplight, a small dog at his heels. He was well dressed and swung a cane as he walked confidently.

He was close to the lakeside when the scene was strangely lit, brighter than daylight. She saw the man fall down and when the light was gone he didn’t get up again.

“Mrs Garvey!” she called out urgently. “Something has happened. I think….”

She ran out of the cottage and down the cobbled street leading to the lakeside. The man was still lying there. The little dog was crouched next to him, shivering with fear and whining pitifully. Romana reached to stroke it comfortingly at the same time as she touched the body. She yelped in shock and so did the dog as an electrical charge passed through her and into him. The dog was unharmed. The worst of the power had dissipated within Romana’s body, but he had certainly felt it.

“Sorry, old boy,” she whispered, lifting the dog into her arms and stroking it without mishap this time. “I’m afraid you master is dead.”

She turned at the sound of running steps. It was the police Sergeant.

“Get The Doctor, quickly,” she told him with all the authority of her Gallifreyan blood. “My friend, The Doctor, I mean, not your dead doctor. This man is….”

“It’s Mr Talbot, the schoolmaster,” the Constable confirmed. “Lord, what could have come upon him like that?”

“It looked like lightning,” Romana said. “But I don’t think it was. That’s why we need The Doctor.”

“I’m here,” said The Doctor, stepping up to the scene. Romana wondered if he had picked up her emotions telepathically or if it was just a coincidence. Either way he bent and cursorily examined the body, confirming that it was just like Doctor Gordon.

“Have him brought up to the surgery,” he said to the Sergeant. “Professor Litefoot will want to look at the body more closely. There’s not much else to be done.”

“I’ll have to make a report,” the Sergeant reminded him.

“Romana will talk to you in the Professor’s cottage once we have the body decently taken care of.”

“I’d better take the dog back with me,” Romana said. She actually DID feel like a cup of tea now, and the chance to go back to the warm, safe drawing room of Lake View was more than welcome.

“Two dead men in one evening!” Mrs Garvey was astonished as she listened to the story Romana told the Sergeant. “This isn’t natural at all. Some evil is at work here.”

“Lightning isn’t unnatural, begging your pardon, Mrs Garvey,” the Sergeant answered her. “It’s all very natural. Mr Talbot suffered an unfortunate misfortune.”

Romana smiled faintly at the Sergeant’s odd turn of phrase, but didn’t contradict him. He had to put something in his notebook. A lightning strike was something he could understand. She left him to that conclusion.

But The Doctor had said it already – Mr Talbot’s death was the same as Doctor Gordon – who died in his own home, not outside in the open.

Besides, it was a clear night. She had found the body by the light of a clear, silvery half-moon and a myriad of stars.

Lightning didn’t come from clear skies on any planet she knew of.

Besides - and this was too many besides, but she kept on thinking things through that way – what she saw was NOT lightning. It was too bright, it lasted too long, and the more she thought about it, the more she was sure it was concentrated on the place where the schoolmaster was standing.

The Doctor came back to the Litefoot cottage just as the Sergeant was leaving. He accepted a cup of tea from Mrs Garvey and listened to Romana’s expanded version of events.

“And you got an electric shock from the body?” he confirmed.

“Me and poor little Jakes,” she replied. The terrier was sleeping by the fire next to a bowl of water and an empty plate that had contained some of Mrs Garvey’s best lunch tongue cut into small pieces. Where his new home would be now that his master was dead still remained to be seen, but for now he was taken care of.

“Mrs Henderson got a shock when she touched Doctor Gordon’s body,” The Doctor said. “There is no coincidence. The same thing killed them both.”

“But what WAS it?” Romana asked.

“That I don’t know. Helix energy burns bodies to a crisp. Dalek guns cook them from the inside. Ordinary, natural electric shock whether by lightning or by incautious use of domestic appliances leaves tell tale signs on the body – burning at the point of contact, for example. The two bodies don’t match any of those causes of sudden death. This may be an alien I have never encountered before.”

He looked just a little bit too excited about that. Romana gave him a hard stare and he remembered that he was among emotional humans who got sentimental about death.

“If you don’t know what caused it, how do we know where to start looking?” Romana asked.

“The church,” The Doctor answered. “You saw the light there, but nobody has been reported dead at the church. Perhaps it has sought sanctuary there.”

“Sanctuary?” They had both forgotten that Mrs Garvey was still bustling around with tea pots and plates of biscuits. She heard that last part and was outraged. “There’s no place for heathen murderers in a church.”

“According to the ancient law of sanctuary there is a place for anyone and anything within holy ground,” The Doctor answered. “But I used the word very loosely. I really meant that the creature has gone to ground within the old stones of St. Mary’s. I think we should certainly look there.”

“And if we find it, what do we do to stop it?” Romana asked. She pulled on her coat again, anyway. If The Doctor was going out to face something so deadly she wasn’t going to leave him behind. “We have no more immunity to electrical energy of that intensity than any Human in this village.”

“Perhaps I can reason with it,” The Doctor replied with a characteristically reckless grin. He went out of the door and Romana took three steps to his one long stride until she caught up with him.

“Do you have ANY ideas?” she asked as they headed towards the dark outline of the church beyond the street lamps. It looked quiet enough. The vicar would be in his presbytery by now. One lit window in the sturdy two storey house beside the church seemed to confirm that. No doubt HIS version of Mrs Garvey and Mrs Henderson had left him his supper to eat while composing his next sermon, oblivious of the terror stalking his parish.

“Doctor!” Romana called out in shock as their two shadows were starkly outlined on the church wall. The ‘lightning’ had struck again somewhere behind them. They both turned in time to see somebody fall to the ground and began running.

“It’s the Sergeant,” Professor Litefoot said, hurrying from the other direction. “He had just left the surgery after getting what he could from me for his report. I saw it from the window – the light enveloping him - a light brighter than day, brighter than anything on this Earth.”

“Then you witnessed the means by which three men have died this day,” The Doctor replied. “The Sergeant’s body will reveal the same pathology.”

He held his sonic screwdriver out a few inches from the body and the electric charge left in it arced and spat before being drawn into the mysterious alien tool. The Doctor examined it carefully and frowned.

“Ectic particles,” he said, almost to himself. “Unusual. What sort of being leaves Ectic particles in its wake?”

“It is invisible,” Romana pointed out. “Before and after it strikes it is invisible. How can we protect ourselves from it? Anyone could be attacked at any moment.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” The Doctor answered. “There are several hundred people living in this area, yet only three have died in this way. All men… men of some authority in the town – the doctor, the schoolmaster, the police sergeant. I have an idea these were targeted.”

“Why would that be?” Professor Litefoot asked. “Why should an alien creature come to village like this and pick out these men? Their authority is small enough. Why not the government in London or the commanders of our Army?”

“Because its mission is not that large,” The Doctor answered. “For some reason it is the men with authority in this small place that the alien creature has a fixation upon.”

“Then we ought to get to the church, quickly,” Romana told him. “The doctor, the schoolmaster, the police officer. Who else is left but the spiritual leader of the people?”

The Doctor looked at Romana with such an expression that for one moment she wondered if what she had said was utter rubbish. Then he turned and ran towards the church, forgetting that he had two companions who could not hope to match his speed. The elderly professor and the young but short of stature Gallifreyan lady chased after him at their own pace.

When they reached the church he had already gained entry, using the sonic screwdriver on the outer lock of the sacristy. They found him at the electrical cupboard putting on all of the lights in the main part of the church.

“Who is that?” demanded an angry voice before the inner door between the church and presbytery was flung open. “Who are you, sir, and what do you think you are doing?”

The Doctor turned to face Reverend Entwhistle with his most disarming smile. At least, The Doctor thought it was disarming. Romana had her own private opinion, and even Professor Litefoot wasn’t sure it was exactly appropriate for this moment.

“Reverend,” he began, hoping to smooth things over with his neighbour. “I know this looks unorthodox, but there have been disturbing goings on tonight. The Doctor here thinks a murderer is hiding in the church.”

“Preposterous,” the Vicar insisted. “Put off those lights, man. Every minute you burn electricity you are costing the parish money that could best be spent elsewhere.”

The Doctor began to obey.

“I said put them off, not make it brighter,” Reverend Entwhistle insisted.

“I HAVE put them off,” The Doctor replied. He turned slowly from the cupboard. Romana and the Professor were already backing away nervously. They could see as well as he could the actinic white light spreading around the vicar. This close to it they could all make out the shape within the light and were astonished by the form it had chosen. It seemed all the more ironic as it engulfed the vicar.

He screamed briefly, but there was no saving him. He fell as the others had, stone dead, his clothes crackling with the mysterious energy.

“What are you?” The Doctor demanded, stepping closer. “Why are you doing this?”

The creature in the light didn’t answer him, but it seemed to meet his eyes before it faded away. He was astonished by what he felt in that brief contact.

“It isn’t evil,” he said. “It THINKS it is doing good.”

“How can that be?” Professor Litefoot asked. “It has killed four men… four good men who served this community.”

“We should move the body,” Romana said, practically.

“Yes, yes, we must,” Litefoot replied, realising the urgency. “I don’t want to carry another body to the surgery. Let’s bring him into the church and lay him out decently there. Then we have to consider….”

He paused and shook his head sadly.

“There’s a child… a girl… she must be in her bed already.”

“I’ll go,” Romana suggested. “I’ll get her dressed and bring her over to your cottage. Mrs Garvey will look after her, I’m sure.”

“Yes,” Professor Litefoot agreed. “You do that, my dear.”

It wasn’t an easy task. Romana had a kind, gentle manner, but she was a stranger to the town and when she woke the girl it took a lot of Power of Suggestion to calm her.

“There’s been an accident,” Romana told her as she helped her into her clothes and shoes. “We’re taking you to Professor Litefoot’s house by the lakeside. Mrs Garvey will have hot milk and biscuits there and we’ll make you comfortable for the night.”

“An accident?” Pauline was still sleepy and confused but a sense of dread filled her heart. “What sort of accident? Where is my father?”

Romana knew it wasn’t her place to tell the girl that her father was dead, but she couldn’t think of an answer to the question that wasn’t a lie. It was easier not to answer it at all, yet.

“Come on. Let’s get your coat on. It’s quite cold, now.”

It wasn’t very cold, really, but Pauline shivered as she walked the short way between the church and the cottage. The sense of dread was deepening with every step and she looked around fearfully, as if she knew there was something out there in the dark. Romana held her close around the shoulders and brought her into the warm drawing room of Professor Litefoot’s cottage where Mrs Garvey took charge of comforting the girl with warm drinks and sweet biscuits just as Romana had promised.

But comfort wasn’t easy to give to a child who had such a huge secret. When The Doctor and Professor Litefoot came back from the church, having laid out the Vicar decently by the altar and locked the doors securely she began to shiver and shake again. The Doctor tried to say something kind to her, but she burst into hysterical tears.

She thought the tall, broad-shouldered stranger with the strange manner was a policeman. That much was obvious from the words that were possible to make out. She thought he was there to lock her away for the terrible things she had done.

“What terrible things?” Romana asked, glaring at The Doctor and making him retreat all the way to the window seat, away from the girl. Professor Litefoot stepped back, too, and left it to Romana and Mrs Garvey. “Pauline, what could you possibly have done that would make a policeman want to take you away?”

“Father is… dead….” She hiccupped. It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. Somehow she knew.

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Romana answered her. “I’m very sorry.”

“It’s my fault. I wished it. I told my angel that I hated him and wanted him to be punished for shouting and hitting me.”

“Oh!” Mrs Garvey reached out and touched Pauline’s cheek. A new bruise was becoming visible, and there was an old one on her shoulder, visible beneath the collar of the dress that had been hurriedly put on and not properly buttoned up. “And I always thought it was from climbing trees. I never thought a man like that would….”

“But what do you mean about your angel?” Romana asked. “What angel?”

“He came to me. He told me he would punish everyone who had hurt me. But I thought he would just hurt them. I didn’t know… I didn’t mean….”

She burst into tears again. When they were done, Romana had another question for her, a question in the eyes of the two men who were watching and listening carefully.

“Apart from your father, who else has hurt you? Who else did your angel promise to punish?”

“Sergeant Holden,” she managed to say. “He frightened me every day. He said I was too wild and he was going to have me sent to a school for wayward girls where I’d be locked in a cupboard if I misbehaved, and beaten for giving cheek to the wardens.”

Romana again glanced towards The Doctor. He was taking it all in.

“And who else?”

“Mr Talbot. Even though I work hard at school, he smacks my hands with his big metal ruler and he says that he won’t give me a school certificate so that I can go to the grammar school. He says that girls don’t need that sort of education and I should be learning household skills not maths and history. But I want to learn those things, and I don’t want to leave school when I’m fourteen and clean the house for father. I just want….”

She cried again as she realised how much her life was unravelling just now.

“What about Doctor Gordon?” Romana asked. “How did he hurt you?”

“He killed mama,” Pauline answered. There were no details from her, but Professor Litefoot had something to say.

“Mrs Entwhistle died three years ago. Septicaemia from a burst appendix. Doctor Gordon tried to operate, but she died before he could complete the procedure. There was an inquest in Kendal. Doctor Gordon was exonerated, of course. Nothing he could do in the circumstances. I didn’t think anyone held it against him. Pauline, my dear, what made you think it was the doctor’s fault?”

“Papa said it,” Pauline answered. “Sometimes he would be sad, and he would cry… he would say bad words about the doctor. It would make me cry, too. But I only cried in my room on my own. If papa knew I had seen him crying he would be angry about it.”

“Poor child,” Mrs Garvey said, hugging her. “Poor man, bearing that grief - and taking it out on his own daughter in harsh words and beatings. What terrible things were going on behind the presbytery walls.”

“Pauline…” The Doctor spoke from where he sat, in a quiet tone, but one that commanded attention. “Did you ASK your angel to punish these men or did your Angel tell you it would punish them?”

“It told me, sir,” she replied. “It said they wouldn’t hurt me any more. But… I didn’t know. I didn’t want anyone killed… especially not… not….”

Nobody had told her, but she knew that all four men were dead, and that it was, somehow, as a result of her interaction with this ‘Angel’. She was pale with shock and shivering again, afraid of the consequences of her actions.

“You did nothing wrong, Pauline,” The Doctor assured her. “You didn’t even WISH anyone dead. Put the idea from your mind at once. You’re not at fault.”

He glanced at Romana and she knew what she would have to do later. Pauline’s memory of these events needed to be gently touched and modified so that she didn’t feel any guilt or responsibility for the deaths – anything that would haunt the rest of her childhood and blight her adulthood.

She could do that. Memory modification was something all Time Lords knew how to do. They rarely did. It was something that could lead to all sorts of bad consequences. But in this case it would be the best thing for the girl.

“Now, Pauline,” The Doctor continued. “Can you describe your Angel to me?”

“Yes, sir,” she answered dutifully. She began to describe the beautiful being surrounded by light brighter than the sun, who came to her bedside and promised to make her happy.

Before she was finished the description The Doctor was gone from the room. Professor Litefoot said that he was heading towards the church.

“He told me not to let anyone follow him,” the Professor added. Romana looked about to disobey his orders but Pauline didn’t want her to move from her side.

“He’s going to find the ‘Angel’,” Romana said. “He thinks he can fight it.”

“God be with him,” Mrs Garvey murmured. The Professor nodded. Romana agreed with the sentiment at least, if not the theology. The Doctor needed all the help he could get.

He knew there was no help he could call upon. He was on his own. That meant nobody else’s life was at risk. If he failed in his task, then Romana could report his death to the High Council and perhaps request the aid of the Celestial Intervention Agency in dealing with this alien menace on Earth. Much would depend on the mood of the High Council in that case. If they were open enough to realise that what menaced a planet like Earth menaced every sentient race in the galaxy they might come. If they were being obstinate and isolationist, then Earth would be on its own.

Better, perhaps, if he could avoid being killed.

He unlocked the same sacristy door and went into the church. This time he didn’t put on the lights, but found his way between the pews by the moonlight shining through the windows. He stopped by the table where he and Litefoot had laid the vicar’s body and covered it with an altar cloth. He glanced at the body then raised his head and looked around the church. There was an angel statue in the alcove beside the altar, but it was a perfectly ordinary thing carved out of a chunk of local granite. He could tell when he touched the cold stone that it had never travelled more than a few miles from the place where the rock had formed millions of years ago to the stonemason’s yard and then to the church where it had stood ever since.

The angel’s face was suddenly illuminated, and The Doctor’s shadow stood out starkly against the white light behind him. He turned and looked directly at the other angel – the one that had made the promise to Pauline.

“You could kill me in an instant, but you have no reason to,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “I’m no threat to you. I’m no threat to the child you made contact with. I can promise you she will be safe, and when she gets over the shock and grief of what happened here she will be happy. But you have to go.”

There was a whisper, an almost imperceptible sound, almost words. Even so, The Doctor understood what the creature was saying. It was resisting him, insisting that it had to watch over Pauline and protect her.

“You can’t protect her. Not by killing anyone who upsets her. That’s no use. Humans don’t work that way. Sometimes they are upset. They think terrible things. But they don’t mean them. Pauline didn’t want anyone to die. You’ve hurt her far more than any of those men. She’s grieving more now than she ever did, and it is all your fault.”

There was another whisper. The Doctor understood it fully.

“No. Let her go, now. Leave this planet, peacefully. Or I will destroy you. I WILL do it. Make no mistake about that. I CAN and I WILL destroy you. Look into my mind, the way you looked into the child’s mind. Look at what I have done to others who tried to hurt people I care about.”

There was a long pause, then he felt the creature reach into his mind. He carefully brought from deep in his memory store the time when he put those two wires together and destroyed the embryo Daleks in their nursery, the time when he had the Brigadier blow up the Wenley Moor caves burying the Silurian tribe who lived beneath them. He recalled the many times he had thwarted cyberman attempts to invade Earth by means of deadly force, the Sontaran, and others.

“Have you seen enough?” he asked after a while. He closed his mind to the invader’ touch and forced it out. He had made his point with those very slightly modified memories of events in his past.

The Angel whispered to him again.

“You’ve made the right decision,” The Doctor told it. “Now go.”

The light in the church dimmed as the angel diminished to the size of a doll, then to a thimble. The Doctor watched the small light as it hovered and then tore away at a speed almost too fast to see.

Then he realised where it was going. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him, hoping desperately that he hadn’t misjudged the creature.

He reached Litefoot’s cottage in time to see the lights in the drawing room eclipsed by a far brighter light. He burst through the door, dreading what revenge the ‘angel’ might have taken.

Everyone was alive. That much he saw right away. Romana and Mrs Garvey were standing by the fireplace. Professor Litefoot was by the window. All looked on in amazement as the creature whose touch had killed four men gently kissed Pauline on the cheek.

“Goodbye,” she said to her angel. “I hope you find your way home, now.”

The light dimmed as it had in the church, and the thimble-sized angel flew away. The Doctor reached the front door in time to see it soar up into the sky. He lost sight of it above the church steeple, but he knew it was leaving Earth now, searching for its own home world or at least one where it caused less devastation.

He went back into the drawing room. Mrs Garvey was hugging Pauline, who was crying again, but not quite so terribly as before.

“I didn’t have to do anything,” Romana told him quietly. “The angel did. It took away the guilt she was feeling about the whole thing. She knows a tragedy has happened, but she doesn’t blame herself for it.”

“I don’t know if she has any relatives,” Professor Litefoot said. “But until we find out, she can stay here. Mrs Garvey wouldn’t have it any other way. A chance for her to do a bit of mothering… baking cakes and what have you. I dare say the little dog could stay, too. It’ll be dashed funny having a busy household after all these years as a bachelor, but I think I could get used to it.”

“An excellent idea, Professor,” The Doctor replied.

“That one I DID have a hand in,” Romana whispered proudly. “I put the idea in the Professor’s mind. I think they’ll do all right together.”

The Doctor nodded his approval – just this once – of a profound use of Power of Suggestion.

“In the morning, some kind of story… Doctor Gordon, the Reverend and Mr Talbot doing a spot of late night fishing, boat in difficulties, Sergeant Holden trying to help but drowned in the attempt. A terrible tragedy but nothing unusual in a lakeside community. I expect they’ll want to put up some sort of memorial in time, perhaps raise a fund for a lifeboat….”

He would have to have a quiet word – laced with Power of Suggestion - with Mrs Henderson who found the first body, and make sure the Sergeant’s notebook got dropped in the lake, but that version of events, with no alien creature wreaking vengeance on the adults who made Pauline unhappy would be better for all concerned.

“Well,” Mrs Garvey said. “I think everyone here could use some hot cocoa.”

“Capital idea, Mrs Garvey,” The Doctor replied.