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

The TARDIS materialised noisily. The Doctor looked pleased with himself, humming a jaunty tune that he would no doubt claim to be a Venusian sea shanty or some such thing.

Sarah Jane Smith was less enchanted.

“Are we on Earth this time?” she asked.

“Oh, certainly,” The Doctor answered.

“In England, in the twentieth century?”



“Would North America in the early twenty-first century do?”

“We’re lost again,” Sarah Jane pronounced. “It’s no use congratulating yourself on getting the right planet when you can’t get the continent and the century right. We may as well be in the Cassiopeia sector or… or…. I don’t know… back on Peladon.”

The Doctor looked more than a little hurt. He thought this was quite a good bit of navigation.

“It does look rather nice out there,” Sarah Jane admitted, studying the view on the screen and liking the glint of Earth sunshine through trees. “I might regret saying this, but a bit of a stroll in the fresh air could be good after being cooped up in the TARDIS for nearly seven hours.”

“I don’t know how anyone can feel ‘cooped up’ in something as infinitely big as the TARDIS,” The Doctor responded. “But a walk would be an excellent idea. I think this is the Northern Cascades, a marvellous spot.” He viewed Sarah Jane’s clothing. She was in jeans and a jumper and flat shoes. “Just the right kind of outfit for it, too. Pop a waterproof jacket on, just in case.

The Doctor wore exactly the sort of clothes he always wore – a flamboyantly frilled shirt and a satin-lined cape setting him apart in any era and any place except for an Edwardian night at the opera. External temperature, hot or cold, never seemed to bother him. His only concession to the wilderness terrain was an old walking stick he found in the lumber room which he said would do nicely for the steep bits.

Where the TARDIS had materialised the view was obscured by pine trees and a sheer rock face, but only a very short walk in what felt like spring sunshine brought them to a more open vista of a deep valley. In the middle distance the treeline ended halfway up the steep sides of a glacial mountain with a distinctly conical peak.

“I was right,” The Doctor said triumphantly. “That’s Mount Baker in the Cascade mountain range of North Washington State. In their Lummi dialect the Native Americans of this area – the Nooksack – call it Kw’eq Smaenit, meaning White Sentinel. The Spanish explorers of the late eighteenth century called it La Gran Montana del Carmelo because it was reminiscent of the white-hooded robes of the Carmelite Order. Mount Baker, of course, comes from later British explorers who reached this area.”

Sarah Jane took most of that in, imagining the mountain as the natives saw it – as a sentinel keeping watch over them – and those Spanish travellers seeing it as a hooded monk. Like the later British expedition she looked at it without comparing it to anything Human, but she appreciated its beauty just as much.

“Of course, the last time I was here the cone looked much different,” The Doctor added.

“How come?”

“It was before the last major eruption. The cone was completely blown apart and a new one built up by ash and debris.”

“Eruption? That’s a volcano? So when WAS this eruption?”

“Oh, about a hundred and fifty thousand years ago,” The Doctor replied with his usual nonchalance about impossible periods of time.

“Oh… right. So… it isn’t likely to erupt right now? Or is it due to blow its top after all that time?”

“Not at all. The only mountain in the Cascades that has erupted in your lifetimes was Mount St. Helens in May, 1980.”

“WAS?” Sarah Jane contradicted. “1980 is in my future, still.”

“Yes, it is.” The Doctor smiled warmly. “When you return to your own time, you’ve got advanced warning of something that will make a great story for a smart young journalist. Several articles if you do some research into the aftermath of the eruption – the environmental factors, the Human cost….”

“Yes,” Sarah Jane considered. “That would be interesting. As long as I don’t have to get too close to the actual volcano.”

The Doctor laughed and told her a tall story about fire dragons that lived in the magma of a volcano on the planet Ferrosi in the Argo quadrant. Sarah Jane half listened as they walked, sometimes in the cool dappled light beneath the tall evergreens, sometimes in sunny clearings where they had glorious views of the mountain with its permanent snow cap and great slab of glacier slowly moving down into the valley.

“So what were you doing here all those thousands of years ago?” Sarah Jane asked after a while. “There couldn’t have been much going on here, after all?”

“There was a lot going on here, in point of fact,” The Doctor replied. But he never got to tell her just what because they rounded a large rocky outcrop and found a badly injured man lying on the ground. The Doctor immediately examined him, noting that he had several ragged gashes on his arms and legs and down his left side, all of them bleeding badly. He was seriously concussed – most likely from falling from the top of the outcrop, but the other wounds were clearly some kind of animal attack.

“What’s big enough to do that to a man?” Sarah Jane looked around nervously at the dark forest, half expecting something with fearsome claws and teeth to come roaring towards them.

“Probably a cougar,” The Doctor said as he dressed the wounds with torn strips of the injured man’s already ripped shirt. “ They are indigenous to these parts. Or possibly a bear. Though why either should have attacked with such ferociousness….”

“His clothes look like a sort of uniform,” Sarah Jane commented. “I think he works for some kind of ranger service or forestry commission.”

“Yes, of course,” The Doctor acknowledged. “That would explain his presence in the wilderness on his own.”

While The Doctor continued his basic first aid, Sarah Jane reached and plucked a two way radio from the injured man’s jacket. “It’s still working. We can call for help.”

The Doctor took the radio and switched it on. He spoke clearly, repeating the need for medical assistance and giving the GPS co-ordinate that the radio’s very sophisticated display indicated.

“They’re coming,” he said presently. “We just have to wait here with him.”

“He’ll be all right then? He looks very bad. There’s a lot of blood.”

“They’re sending a fully equipped air ambulance helicopter with trained paramedics. They can start blood transfusions on the way to the hospital. It’s only thirty miles away, in the city of Bellingham. He’ll get all the help he needs.”

As if to prove that he was a survivor, the man began to come round. He groaned in pain and reached out, grasping Sarah Jane’s jacket with a bloodied hand. His eyes were wide with fear and he called out a word that surprised both of his rescuers.


“What?” Sarah Jane queried.

“What!” The Doctor exclaimed. He looked at the ranger again. “Say that again, man. Tell me what it was that attacked you.”

It was no good. He was slipping back into unconsciousness. The Doctor pressed his hand against the ranger’s forehead, mentally drawing off some of the pain and at the same time reaching into his most immediate memories. What he saw there worried him very much.

“It shouldn’t be possible,” he whispered. “It shouldn’t have happened that way.”

“Doctor?” Sarah Jane couldn’t help wondering what was upsetting The Doctor, and he didn’t seem ready to explain. He looked up at the mountain, his eyes as distant as the summit. He only broke out of his strange reverie when the sound of the air ambulance racing to the scene broke the silence.

There was no question of landing in such a difficult area, of course, but the rescue crew were prepared for that. As the helicopter hovered above a cradle was lowered along with two paramedics. They made the patient comfortable and secure and he was carefully and slowly raised up to the safety of the helicopter. The paramedics were pulled up after him. The Doctor waved them off, perhaps a little regretful that he wasn’t at the controls of the powerful flying machine.

“Back to the TARDIS?” Sarah Jane asked as the sound of the helicopter engines grew faint.

“Yes,” The Doctor answered. “But we’re only going as far as the nearest town. I’m worried about all of this. I think we need to investigate.”

“Oh dear,” Sarah Jane sighed. “I should have known. After all…. Bigfoot.”

“Yes, exactly. You’ve heard of the legend, of course?”

“The giant criptid ape of the Pacific North-West of America? Yes. I’ve seen a couple of documentaries. Most people seem to agree that it’s a hoax.”

“Most of the sightings in the late twentieth century certainly are,” The Doctor agreed. “There is a chap called Wallace – he died in 2002 – but for years he had left fake prints all over northern California, sparking off Bigfoot panics.”

“People do the oddest things,” Sarah Jane commented.

“Yes, they do,” The Doctor agreed. “But the truth is, the last of the Bigfoot were driven out of these mountains by the gold prospectors of the late nineteenth century.”

“You mean they WERE real?” Sarah Jane shook her head. “No. This is one of your jokes. You’ll be telling me next that you’ve seen Yeti – and the Loch Ness Monster.”

“Yeti, indeed, yes,” The Doctor answered. “Ask the Brigadier about those some time. The Loch Ness Monster, no, though I have no reason to doubt her existence. I really must go up there one day and see what her story is.”

“And Bigfoot….”

“Bigfoot is an evolutionary cul-de-sac. While homo sapiens developed from one branch of the ape family, a bigger, stronger but more cumbersome species also developed intelligence. Sadly, their intellectual development never advanced as far as Humans and they died out in most parts of the planet long before European explorers reached this continent. By the time of the American Revolution only a few pockets remained in the places where Humans had not made much of an imprint. But, of course, by the beginning of your century there were few places Humans HADN’T established settlements. These mountains ranges, further south among the Rockies, and north into British Columbia were their last refuges.”

“That makes me feel sort of guilty on behalf of the Human race,” Sarah Jane responded. “I know we did some bad things – the Dodo, that sort of thing. But I didn’t know we’d driven a species so like us to extinction.”

The Doctor shook his head wryly. Humans didn’t really have a clue about the impact their so very successful species had wrought upon the balance of nature on their planet. Even when they still lived in mud and straw huts they were hunting animals like the great Elk and the mammoth, the sabre toothed tiger and others that were never even named by the fossil hunters of later times. Most of it was accidental, but some could have been prevented. The Doctor tried not to be angry at the dominant species for their foolishness and told himself that they could learn.

But he certainly knew what the first reaction of a Human to something unusual was. He remembered bitterly the reactions of humans, even his friend, The Brigadier, to the Silurians.

He knew how people in this lovely American wilderness would react to a sighting in the area.

“When we get to the town,” he said to Sarah Jane. “No matter how much the journalist in you wants to ask questions, promise me you will not even breathe the word ‘Bigfoot’ to anyone.”

“If you say so, Doctor,” Sarah Jane answered him. Actually, until he said so she hadn’t even PLANNED to talk about it. Her main concern had been the man himself. She had fully intended to telephone the hospital in Bellingham once they reached ‘civilisation’ and see how he was, but that was all.

“I do say so,” The Doctor said in a much firmer and authoritative tone. “Sarah, this is hunting and shooting country. One word about a ‘Bigfoot’ and every bit of ammunition in the town will be bought up. Fools with shotguns and rifles will be tramping all over the mountain, shooting anything that moves. Even if they don’t find a giant man-ape, they’ll kill all sorts of innocent creatures.”

“You really think it would be that bad?”

“I know it. Humans… they just can’t help themselves. It will be exactly that way.”

“They won’t hear it from me, I promise,” Sarah Jane told him sincerely. “I’ll curb my journalist instincts AND my feminine curiosity. You have my word – as a HUMAN.”

“Thank you, my dear Sarah,” The Doctor answered. “On behalf of every living thing on this mountain.”

The Doctor re-materialised the TARDIS a few miles down the mountain, just outside a town called Glacier, appropriately enough since it was in a glacial valley and overshadowed by Mount Baker. It was, in truth, something of a ‘one horse town’, but it did have some respectable hotels frequented in season by skiers and other snow sports participants. The Doctor and Sarah Jane checked in to the Glacier Creek Motel and after freshening up in their rooms, sought out its restaurant.

There, to their surprise, they were greeted warmly by staff and customers who seemed to already know them.

“You are the two Brits who saved Greg Thornton,” said the Maitre-D.

“Yes… that would be us,” The Doctor replied. “Though, to be honest, all we did was a bit of first aid and a phone call.”

“You did enough. Greg’s sister is the manager, here. She and her late husband, James, opened this place ten years ago. His brother, Joe, is the town sheriff, so a lot of people are grateful to the two of you. The meal and drinks are on the house. Least we can do to say thanks.”

“Well, that’s very kind of you,” The Doctor said. “Come along, Sarah Jane.”

The meal was very nice. Sarah Jane had never had eaten veal before, and tried not to think about wild deer on the mountainside as she enjoyed her food. She couldn’t help notice that the story of their ‘heroic rescue’ was going round the bar area all the time. People were looking at them all through their three courses and the coffee.

“Oh, dear,” she said as she caught a word being mentioned. “Doctor, it definitely wasn’t me – but somebody in the bar said the ‘b’ word.”

The Doctor looked around carefully, trying to identify the offender, but it was too late. Like Chinese Whispers going out of control the word was being repeated all around the bar. In minutes everyone was convinced that a Bigfoot had attacked Greg Thornton.

Five minutes after that, plans were being made to hunt the killer creature down.

“It’s just as I feared,” The Doctor groaned. “The reaction from the locals. But they’re so wrong. Even Greg was wrong. He thought it was a Bigfoot that attacked him, but it is preposterous, quite utterly preposterous.”

“Of course it is,” Sarah Jane agreed. “Because Bigfoot are extinct, like you said.”

“No,” The Doctor answered her. “Because Bigfoot are gentle vegetarians that would never hurt a fly. If there’s one up there on the mountain it is innocent, and we have to do something to protect it.”