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

“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.”

Sarah Jane stared at The Doctor in astonishment. She began to speak, but he didn’t answer her. He rose from his chair at the restaurant table and made his way into the bar area on the other side of the long counter. Sarah Jane sighed deeply and followed him.

He wasn’t saying anything, just listening, but his expression was stony, and no wonder. At least three hunting parties were forming up, ready to go out early the next morning and track down a killer Bigfoot.

“Killer!” he murmured angrily. “Ridiculous. Nobody is dead, and even if they were, the very idea that a Bigfoot did it…. The fools, the stupid, hot-headed fools. There WILL be deaths if they carry on this way.”

The Doctor stepped forward and called for attention. Usually that would silence a room, but this crowd were so fired up and baying for blood that he couldn’t make himself heard.

He tried again.

Then a gunshot split the air. In the immediate silence the tinkle of glass as a bottle of whiskey behind the bar shattered could clearly be heard.

“Sorry Annie,” said the ruggedly handsome man holding up his sheriff’s badge in one hand and putting the handgun back in his holster with the other. The woman behind the bar nodded in acknowledgement of his apology. “I’ll pay for that, later. But everybody be quiet and listen to me. Most of you know me well enough. For those of you who may be new in town, I’m Joe Reynolds, and I’m the law here. I’m telling you all right now there will be NO parties of mavericks with guns wandering around up that mountain. That’s a wildlife preserve and hunting is restricted. First light tomorrow I’m taking a small posse of volunteers up to find the rogue cougar or bear or whatever it was that attacked Greg. We’ll shoot it and bring it back for all to see. But anyone coming with me had better meet me at the station with their gun licence. Anyone else I catch up there with a weapon will be under arrest. You all got that?”

There were some murmurings of dissent, but Joe Reynolds stood his ground and slowly the murmurings ceased.

“And another thing,” he continued. “All this nonsense about Bigfoot. Are you all out of your minds? Do you WANT a whole lot of cameras and news reporters down here, making up stories about what a bunch of stupid yokels we all are? You know what it’ll be – inbred mountain folk with funny ideas about imaginary ape-men. Do you want people up in Seattle laughing at us? Let’s just get some proportion here.”

“Yeah… but Joe… it’s what Greg said attacked him.”

“How would you know that, Sam?” Joe answered the man who had spoken up. “Greg was airlifted to Bellingham, and he hasn’t spoken to anyone except the medics who treated him for his wounds. It’s all Chinese whispers and tall tales. So just put it out of your mind or I’m going to start assuming you’ve all had way too much liquor and start arresting folk for being drunk and incapable.”

That seemed to finish off any opposition. A lot of the noisiest people left the bar. Joe Reynolds followed them out quietly and watched for a while before returning to the bar where his sister in law, Annie, was cleaning up the broken glass.

“They went home separately,” he confirmed. “No conspiratorial groups gathering by the gas pumps.”

“Very well handled, sir,” The Doctor said, offering his hand politely. “I’m The Doctor. This is my friend, Sarah Jane Smith. We’re from England.”

“Yes, I’ve heard about the two of you from Annie. We all owe you a debt of gratitude.”

“We had dinner on the house. I think that’s payment enough,” Sarah Jane said. “Look, you should know that I AM a journalist, but my magazine over in London isn’t going to be interested in laughing at country folk in America, I assure you.”

“That’s good to know,” Joe said. “But look, seeing as you ARE the only folks here who’ve spoken to Greg, you don’t know how this dumb story about Bigfoot got about, do you?”

“My good man, I have absolutely NO idea where the story came from,” The Doctor replied sincerely. “Miss Smith and I have certainly not mentioned any such thing to anyone. You and I are on the same side as far as that is concerned.”

“Good,” Joe said, then he drew The Doctor closer to the bar where only he and Sarah Jane and possible Annie behind the counter, could possibly here. “In that case, could you tell me if it is true? Did Greg tell you that a Bigfoot attacked him?”

“No,” The Doctor answered. “And I can assure you that it was NOT a Bigfoot that injured him. The wounds are not consistent with either the teeth or claws of that creature even if such a thing was likely.”

Joe’s eyes betrayed a flicker of surprise, but then he looked closely at The Doctor’s face. Something almost telepathic passed between them, as if they were sharing a great secret.

“Thank you for telling me that, sir,” Joe answered. “Please enjoy your stay in Glacier. You may find it a little dull compared to London, but the air is bracing and we have some marvellous views. Best keep away from the mountain tomorrow morning, though, until I get back from checking the area over.”

“We’ll have a stroll around town,” Sarah Jane told him. “I’ll get some souvenirs for friends back in old Blighty.”

Sarah Jane was only partly paying attention to Joe. She was keeping a closer eye on Annie, whose body language was that of a worried woman who really wanted to close up the bar and get on with something much more urgent.

She didn’t get the opportunity to do that much more urgent thing until gone midnight. Sarah Jane was in her motel room getting ready for bed. She was sitting by the window with the curtains open, enjoying the bright moon above the glacial mountain – a spectacular view that really couldn’t be beaten by anything on the many planets The Doctor had shown her. Earth had all its own beauty as far as she was concerned.

She was distracted by the sound of footsteps. It was Annie Reynolds dressed for the mountain in a hooded coat and jeans and strong hiking boots. She was carrying something very odd indeed which she put into the back of an off-road vehicle before driving away.

“Well, well,” Sarah Jane thought. “I wonder what The Doctor will make of that.”

But it was gone midnight and she was ready for her bed, after all. She would tell The Doctor about it in the morning.

At breakfast the next morning Sarah Jane and The Doctor were again treated as honoured guests by the staff at the motel. Their cooked breakfast plates were piled high and their coffee pots kept full. Inbetween these attentions, though, Sarah Jane managed to tell The Doctor about Annie’s late night excursion.

“You’ll never guess what she put in the boot of the car – or what do they call it here – the trunk.”

She was rather startled when The Doctor told her exactly what Annie put into the luggage space in the back of her car.

“How did you know?” Sarah Jane asked, the wind thoroughly knocked out of her sails. “Were you looking, too?”

“No, but it’s an absolute certainty that some of those idiots from last night will go off looking for a Bigfoot, and if I wanted to make absolutely sure they wouldn’t find one, that’s just what I’d do to ensure that they went entirely in the wrong direction. Joe’s official posse can go looking for cougars or bears in peace and everybody will be satisfied by the time they get back to town this evening.”

“Yes… but….” Sarah Jane frowned and tried to frame her words carefully. “But… this mean that there IS a Bigfoot out there, and that Annie knows where it is… and Joe, too. The way he talked to you last night….”

The Doctor nodded.

“Yes, there IS a Bigfoot. Doug saw it just before he was attacked. It was the last thing he saw before he passed out.”

“Then… it must have attacked him?”

“No, quite the opposite,” The Doctor assured her. “Come on. Everyone who might cause a problem will have set off by now, following the false trails. Let’s go and talk to Annie in peace.”

He didn’t go to the office where Annie was doing the motel accounts, though. Instead he went to the walk-in cupboard where brooms and vacuum cleaners were kept. He used his sonic screwdriver on the lock and opened it easily. Inside was the very thing he expected to find – something NOT usually kept with the cleaning equipment.

He brought the odd pair of objects with him to the office and held them up in front of Annie. She looked up from her desk at the two stilts with Bigfoot feet on the end.

“How did you get into that cupboard?” she asked accusingly. “It was locked.”

“The Doctor has a way with locks,” Sarah Jane told her. “He has this sort of universal door handle.”

“It’s all right, Annie,” The Doctor said. “I fully understand what’s been going on around here. I know you went up last night and planted the false trail. It must have been hard work walking around such rough terrain on stilts. You’re lucky you didn’t fall. Am I right in thinking that your late husband invented the prop to send people off in the wrong direction?”

“It… was for the tourists… people who wanted to find evidence of a Bigfoot.”

“No it wasn’t,” Sarah Jane told her gently. “Joe summed it up last night. None of you want that sort of tourism. You don’t want to be a joke to everyone. When the craze wears off and the Bigfoot hunters go home, the serious skiers and mountain climbers you depend on for your living will have gone elsewhere. It’s the last thing you need.”

“And besides, tourists tramping around up there might actually find the real Bigfoot by accident and then the game would be up.”

“They’d never find them, they’re too well hidden,” Annie said without thinking. She looked at both The Doctor and Sarah Jane in horror at her own stupidity.

“You DO know where,” The Doctor said. It was a statement, not a question. “You need to take me there. I can help them. Believe me, they NEED help right now, and I’m the man for the job.”

Annie’s dilemma was clear on her face. She struggled to decide between refusal in the face of the plain facts or acceptance that The Doctor knew almost everything anyway and could be let in on the last part of the secret.

“Put those things away while I change my shoes and get the car keys,” she told him. The Doctor smiled a secretive smile and returned the bigfoot stilts to the cleaning cupboard.

He and Sarah Jane met Annie outside the motel and climbed into the back of her SUV. She drove through the small town and up along unapproved tracks into the forest at the foot of the mountain.

“Greg and I first found them when we were teenagers,” she explained. “Joe and James were my brother’s friends before James became my boyfriend. We ALL shared the secret and did all we could to keep anyone else from finding out. The stilts… if any rumours started up we would drive to the other side of Mount Shuksan and plant the tracks so that all the silly conspiracy theorists would go there instead. We kept Glacier free of Bigfoot stories. But….”

She paused. The Doctor guessed what she was thinking.

“Greg was NOT attacked by one of them. There is an animal in the forest that has gone rogue. Perhaps it is injured or in pain for some reason and Greg happened to cross its path and suffered from its anger. He would have been killed if a Bigfoot hadn’t chased the animal off. THAT is what he was trying to say to me. Even I misunderstood that bit at first. He might have given something away to the paramedics in the air ambulance in his delirium. One of them gossiped and it got back to Glacier faster than we could get down the mountain.”

“And we came the quick way,” Sarah Jane pointed out.

“But the Bigfoot might be injured then,” Annie said. “It could be….”

“Exactly why we have to find him and make sure he’s all right,” The Doctor told her.

Annie didn’t say anything else until she pulled the SUV up outside a ranger’s station in the forest. It had a radio antennae on the roof and inside there would be blankets, food rations and medical provisions for anyone in need of help. She gave Sarah Jane the key and told her to bring a portable first aid kit and flashlight. Meanwhile, she took The Doctor around the back of the station where there was some transport that delighted him but was something of a shock to Sarah Jane.

“We’re using THOSE?” She stared at the two quad bikes with thick off-road tyres and useful equipment like coils of ropes and water containers already in place.

“Much quicker than walking,” The Doctor declared happily as he handed her a crash helmet and fixed one over his own shock of white hair. “I’ll take one and you ladies share the other.”

Sarah Jane was thankful she hadn’t chosen to wear a skirt this morning, or anything that mud wouldn’t wash out of easily and mounted the bike behind Annie. She was expecting to come out of all this pretty grimy.

Almost as soon as they set off, Annie driving the sturdy machine expertly, she was splattered with cold, sticky mud and leaf litter. There came a point where there was no use worrying. She was already as dirty as she could possibly get.

The Doctor, of course, was having a wonderful time with a new motorised vehicle to play with. He simply bounced the quad over rocks and tree roots and flew across narrow creeks that crossed their path.

He might have had some kind of innate sense of direction, but Sarah Jane was thoroughly lost when they stopped near a tall rocky outcrop. There was a dark hole near the foot, not quite big enough to be called a cave. It was partially obscured by the roots of a fallen tree and would have been missed by anyone who didn’t know it was there.

“Now we need the flashlights,” Annie said. “Bring the water and medical kit, too. The ropes aren’t necessary. It isn’t a very difficult terrain.”

The Doctor’s usual instinct on entering a cave system would be to go first, exploring at his leisure. But there was some urgency here, and besides, Annie knew the way. She had clearly been in these caves and strange mixture of natural and man-made passages before.

“It’s a disused gold mine, of course,” The Doctor said, noting the stratification of the rocks in the lamplight. “It was gold prospecting that first opened up these regions to Human settlement some two hundred years ago.”

“Yes,” Annie told her. “This one is called Glacier Creek mine. It runs right under Mount Baker with lots of small openings here and there, most of them unmapped. The main entrance and the known emergency escape routes were sealed at least sixty years ago when the gold was played out and mining transferred elsewhere.”

“And was that when the Bigfoot family moved in?” The Doctor asked.

“I don’t know for sure. Perhaps they moved out when the mining began and reclaimed the passages when it was safe to do so.”

“That’s a good sign for them, isn’t it?” Sarah Jane asked. “Reclaiming old territory. It must mean that the species is thriving. It’s like urban foxes in the parks, red squirrels, peregrine falcons all in places they haven’t been since the industrial revolution.”

“Either that or they were forced to move from an area where people have encroached too much,” The Doctor suggested. “But I quite like your theory. It would be nice to think that Bigfoot are thriving.”

“Except it would mean more sightings and more rumours and it will be harder for them to stay secret,” Annie pointed out. “It’s better if they remain few – for their own safety.”

“What if people DID know about them and the government passed a law protecting them, banning hunting and other stupidity, restricting access to their habitat,” Sarah Jane suggested.

“But there would still be Bigfoot in zoos, in research centres being tested to see how intelligent they are. Somebody, somewhere would end up using Bigfoot as a slave labour force, taking advantage of their strength….” Annie listed at least a dozen worst case scenarios if the existence of the Bigfoot became commonly known.

The Doctor agreed with her.

“Mankind needs to get used to the idea of sharing Earth with others,” he said. “His record so far on that is not good enough. Maybe in a few centuries when he has learnt that this planet is not the only one supporting intelligent life and that he is not, in fact, made in the image of his God… perhaps he will be ready to respect his fellow Earth dwellers like Bigfoot, the Yeti, Silurians….”

The Doctor stopped talking. Annie was looking at him very curiously.

“Silurians?” she queried.

“Never mind, my dear. That’s another story. Are we close to your Bigfoot tribe, yet?”

“Not far, now,” she answered. “We really should stop talking now, and approach quietly.”

It soon became obvious that there was SOME kind of life in the caves. There was a smell that came from organic bodies that didn’t shower regularly or use underarm deodorants. Sarah Jane did her best not to mind. The Doctor didn’t look as if he had noticed. Annie was clearly used to it.

They emerged from a low tunnel into a cavern the size of a small church hall, and there was the Bigfoot tribe. In the beams of their flashlights it was possible to count a dozen of them, all different ages and sizes from a grizzled old ‘man’ with long grey fur to children who shied away from the strangers and babies carried by the females with care and maternal love.

A tall, strong male – and since they were half-ape, half-man and didn’t wear clothing it was obvious which ones were the males – came towards the three visitors. It bent its head and sniffed at Annie, obviously recognising her, then did the same to Sarah Jane and The Doctor. It drew back from them suspiciously, but Annie put her hand on its forearm reassuringly.

“These are friends, Clark,” she said. “New friends.”

“Clark?” Sarah Jane queried. “He has a name?”

“We named them all when we were children,” Annie answered. “Mostly after characters in our comics. This is Clark Kent. Don’t laugh. There’s a group of X-men and the Fantastic Four, as well.”

Sarah Jane wasn’t laughing. She was standing very still as Clark Kent ran a huge hand through her hair. He seemed to accept her, anyway and turned to The Doctor. While Sarah Jane was regarded as another gentle female like Annie, a tall male was another matter. Clark Kent stood in front of The Doctor in a challenging manner, as if making it clear who was boss.

“That’s all right, old man,” The Doctor said very quietly and calmly. “I’m not here to harm anyone.” Then to the astonishment of both women he made a series of strange, guttural sounds in the back of his throat. Even more astonishing, Clark replied. They were having a conversation.

“You can….” Annie began, but The Doctor held up his hand to quieten her. She just watched and listened in amazement as a stranger to her world did what she had never been able to do in a lifetime of sharing the secret of the Bigfoot – he was talking to them.

“Yes,” The Doctor said at last. “Yes, I think I’d better see that poor chap. Lead the way.”

Clark Kent turned and ambled away. The Doctor followed him. Sarah Jane and Annie followed The Doctor since he didn’t say they couldn’t.

They were brought to a sort of alcove in the side of the main cavern where a slightly smaller Bigfoot, perhaps a teenager, was lying on a bed of dry leaves and grass, with what looked like a very old picnic blanket on top, perhaps left on the mountain by an incautious day-tripper.

This Bigfoot was injured. His fur was matted with dried blood and he was clearly in pain. The sorrowful noise he made was distressing to all who heard it.

“It’s all right, I can help,” The Doctor assured him. He spoke again in that guttural tone and incomprehensible half-words before asking Sarah Jane for the bottle of water she was carrying and a clean handkerchief.

It took everyone’s clean handkerchiefs and the entire pack of sterile wipes from the medical kit to treat the deep animal bite on the shoulder of the Bigfoot that Annie had named Steve Austin. The Doctor told her that he had a name in his own language, but it wasn’t something her tongue could get around, yet, so Steve would do nicely.

“You can thank Steve for your brother’s life,” he added. “He fought off the animal that attacked Greg and chased it back into the forest. He remained with him until he heard us coming and then ran away back to his own people. Of course, they sustain injuries all the time. Animal bites, falls, and so on. But they have no real way to treat them by themselves. On his own, Steve would have gone into a fever and either survived by his own will or succumbed to it and died. That is the harsh reality for them in such circumstances.”

“But he will be all right, now?” Sarah Jane asked.

“I’ve cleaned and dressed the wound and given him a broad spectrum antibiotic against infection. That will work for him just as it does for any Human. He’ll be just fine.”

He stood up and stepped away from the now quietly resting Bigfoot. He looked around. His two Human companions could really only see as far as the flashlights reached. His Time Lord eyes saw much further. He saw the alcoves all around the cavern, three levels of them, accessed by climbing up the walls. He knew there were Bigfoot family groups living in each of the alcoves. He calculated that some two hundred individuals of all ages were here in this cavern.

Bigfoot WAS thriving under Mount Baker.

“We should leave them be, now,” he said. “I’ll come back in a few days’ time just to make sure Steve Austin is recovering fully, but after that I’ll leave it in your hands, Annie. You know them best.”

The Bigfoot named Clark Kent walked part of the way through the tunnels with them as they left. The Doctor talked to him the whole time. Annie and Sarah Jane both wondered what they were talking about, but he didn’t explain until they were back at the motel, having a quiet cup of coffee in the empty restaurant.

“You, Greg and Joe are trusted by the Bigfoot tribe. They want to get to know you better. Clark wants to help you understand his language. He knows, now, how to teach you. And you can teach him some English so that you have full communication.”

“That’s possible? They have THAT much intelligence?” Annie was surprised. “I always wondered whether they could learn to speak. I never realised they already did, but that I had to learn to understand them.”

She smiled wryly as she realised how much she had to learn, still.

“I’ll do my best.”

“I know you will, my dear,” The Doctor told her. “And with you to protect them, they will be safe for this generation at least. In time, perhaps others could be brought in on the secret to continue understanding and listening to them.”

“Yes, Doctor,” Annie answered, though the thought of the next generation of Bigfoot friends was too much just yet. The possibility of speaking with them and understanding their way of life fully was enough to be going on with.

Annie was still considering the exciting possibilities when Joe came into the bar along with most of his posse of responsible gun owners who had set off up the mountain. Annie served them all coffee before Joe came to join The Doctor and Sarah Jane and report on his morning.

“We shot a bear,” he said with a mournful tone. “It wasn’t one of the wild ones that live on the mountain. It had the remains of a chain still shackled to its leg. Somebody must have been using it for illegal fighting or something equally disgusting. It had old scars all over its body. They turned it loose on the mountain, but it didn’t know how to feed itself. It was starving and in pain, angry and lost…. Greg just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“You killed it?” Sarah Jane asked sadly.

“I had to,” Joe confirmed. “Besides, its misery is over, now. I’ll try to find out who was responsible. I’ll make them pay. But the crisis is over. Nobody is out there looking for Bigfoot, now, except for a few idiots following an obviously fake trail of footprints that we can put down to a prank.”

Joe winked at his sister-in-law conspiratorially, and she promised him there was lots to talk about later, in private. Joe finished his coffee and went on his way to attend to his other duties as town sheriff. Annie went to her own work.

“I almost had some kind of notion about aliens controlling the wild animals and making them attack,” Sarah Jane admitted. “In the end it was something perfectly ordinary and down to Human stupidity.”

“Yes,” The Doctor agreed. “Yes, Mankind in general ISN’T ready for Bigfoot as long as he does things like that. But some of you are much closer to getting there. There’s hope for you, yet.”

Sarah Jane nodded humbly on behalf of her species. Then The Doctor’s smile widened.

“Come on, then. Let’s go and look at the local shops to see if there are any good souvenirs we can bring back for The Brigadier and Sergeant Benton!”