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

How the Doctor changed my life.

He destroyed it.

Everything I believed in, everything I thought true and sacred.

And I bless him for it.

Because I had been living a lie my whole life.

Vol is Good, Vol is Righteous.

To be a high priest of Vol had been my ambition for as long as I could remember. I went to the temple of learning and learnt that Vol was Great.

And learnt to spot heretics.

I remember the day when they took my friend, Grieg. He sat next to me in Catechism classes. He always had trouble remembering his invocations but I never before imagined his family were heretics.

My father had been even more vigilant after that, ensuring I never veered from the Righteous Path, and his efforts were rewarded when I was accepted as an acolyte of Vol. I had worked my way up to Temple Bodyguard before that fateful day when it all changed.

It was blasphemy even to enter the Temple Garden without first spending a day in supplication. Thus, when I heard an unholy noise and felt a sudden wind that blew the petals off the moon flowers, I was angry. I raised my staff and faced the strange blue box with its ungodly glowing symbols that appeared out of nowhere. When the door opened and the outlandishly dressed stranger stepped out, I was ready to arrest him, as well as the woman in even more peculiar garb who accompanied him.

The man just smiled and touched the sharp point of my staff with his finger.

“Hello,” he said. “I am The Doctor. This is my friend, Sarah Jane. Do you know where we can get a good cup of tea on this planet?”

Only that it would be a sin to spill blood within the Temple Garden I would have struck him down for such words. But I controlled my anger and took them both prisoner. I summoned my fellow Bodyguards, and we brought the blasphemers before the High Priest.

Even then, the one called The Doctor showed only the slightest deference. He made a brief bow and then directly addressed the High Priest, actually making eye contact. He claimed to be an emissary from beyond the sky, from a world that belonged to one of the stars in the heavens of night.

Blasphemy! Madness!

And then Vol had spoken. I almost fainted in shock. It was the first time that I had actually heard the Voice of Vol. I felt so privileged to be there on that great day.

“These lies subvert the will of Vol,” the great voice had declaimed. “These Blasphemers and Heretics must be extinguished by the light of Vol.”

“Now, hold on a moment,” The Doctor replied. “That’s hardly what I’d call a fair trial. Besides, it was I who parked the TARDIS in your garden. If you insist on extinguishing me, at least let my companion go. She is innocent.”

“Doctor, no!” she cried out and clung to his arm. “I won’t let you… I’m the one who was fed up of being stuck in the TARDIS and wanted to find somewhere to have a nice quiet cup of tea. I can’t let you…”

I was struck by her loyalty to him, and his gentle and reassuring reply to her. He was a blasphemer, to be sure. His strange box was defiling the garden and nobody could move it without crushing the holy grass. But he didn’t seem like the sort that we usually executed by exposing them to the great orb of Vol.

He was quietly spoken even as he squared his shoulders and told the High Priest that there was no such God as Vol. I had heard such heresies before, but not in such a self-assured tone. It was as if he truly believed, as if he KNEW, that Vol was a false god. And that there were worlds beyond the sky such as the one he said he came from.

Even so, I would have dismissed him if he had not looked at me. His eyes fixed on me and I felt entranced. It was not witchcraft. I did not feel myself under a demonic spell. There was just something in his eyes. A wisdom as great as that we were TOLD Vol had.

A wisdom as great as Vol. And there he was, a man, standing in front of me.

A man I was escorting to the place of execution.

The girl cried and he put his arm around her shoulder. Again he assured her everything was going to be all right.

“How is it going to be all right?” she asked. “What part of this is all right? We’re going to be EXECUTED. Extinguished. And… and we still haven’t got a cup of tea.”

“Yes, that’s the disappointing part of it,” The Doctor answered her. “Really, you treat your prisoners most appallingly. Tea is an intergalactic right, you know. Not making sure we have tea is a terrible abuse.”

“What IS tea?” I asked.

“You don’t have TEA on this planet? Bad enough you serve a false god and are prevented from knowing that there are other planets in the galaxy. But no tea! What sort of place is this?”

“Bell’hra is a paradise for those who obey the will of Vol,” I replied. But somehow it felt different when I said it this time. “I serve Vol.”

“You’re a bright boy,” The Doctor told me, and again those eyes turned on me. Again as I looked into their depths I felt there was more truth in them than all the catechisms I knew.

“I am loyal to Vol,” I repeated.

“Of course you are,” he said. “You’re also a good boy. You do as you are told. But you know there is something wrong here, don’t you? You may not have thought about it before. You’ve been taught not to question. But in the back of your mind the questions are there. You’ve asked them many times subconsciously.”

“What questions?”

“WHY is Vol so upset because somebody stepped on his grass? Why is Vol afraid of people NOT worshipping him? Where does the voice of Vol come from?”

“It comes from Vol, our great God!”

“Yes, all right. You keep on believing that,” The Doctor replied with a smile.

I brought them to the place of extinguishing. It was a wide yard with no shade or shelter. In the centre were poles, with ropes to tie the heretics. Such preparations were made at night while the stars hung on the velvet blanket of the sky. They were left, then, to await the rising of Vol’s light. Without shade, without food, without water, many were extinguished even before Vol’s light hid itself again on the first day. A few lasted until the second night. Once in a while, one might last until the third day, but no longer.

Vol was kindest to those who died quickly. Those who lasted longest were those he wished to punish the most.

“I will pray for Vol’s mercy,” I said as I tied them. “I will ask him to let me kill you before the morning. It is not permitted to spill blood here, but I know of a way to break the neck…”

“Touch me and I’ll…” the girl answered defiantly. “I’ll….”

The Doctor said nothing, but even in the dark I thought I could feel his eyes on me and I was oddly disturbed by that feeling.

I left them there and I went to the temple. It was my turn to keep vigil before the great image of Vol. It was an honour to kneel and chant the invocations, alone but for the Presence of Vol. I was always happy to do my night-duty.

But this night felt different. The words seemed to ring untruly. Before they were great and holy truth that enriched my lips when I spoke them aloud. Now they seemed meaningless rubbish.

The face of The Doctor kept coming back to me. Even in my thoughts his eyes seemed to look straight into my soul.

And they found me wanting.

I stood up from the accustomed place of Invocation. I walked up to the great image of Vol behind the altar. Of course, I knew this was just an icon, not Vol himself, who was everywhere and every time and saw everything. But even so I was nervous about approaching it.

I had never noticed before that there was a space behind the icon. A space just big enough for a slender man to get into. I stepped into the gap.

It was the top of a staircase. I went down carefully. I didn’t know what I expected to find.

Whatever my expectations WERE, what I found confounded them.

I ran away. I did not know what to do. But I knew there was one person who would.

“Please come with me,” I said to The Doctor as I unfastened his bonds. “It is two hours until the rising of Vol’s great orb, yet. Nobody will know you are missing. I can get you into the garden where your machine is when the Bodyguards are furthest from it. But first will you come with me? There is something you must see.”

“Lead the way,” The Doctor answered. He and the girl walked silently behind me as I brought them to the Temple. When I showed him the entrance into the hidden place, The Doctor smiled and told me I really WAS a clever boy. He squeezed himself into the gap, then the girl. I brought up the rear as we descended the steps.

We emerged into a room that was lit by something that was neither rush-light nor oil lamp and was nearly as bright as Vol’s light at midday. There was a machine there, with lots of small lights on it. The Doctor told me it was called a computer. In another corner, a man lay sleeping on a bed. He was dressed in a fabric even stranger than those worn by The Doctor and his companion.

“Wake him,” The Doctor told me. “He owes you an explanation.”

I poked him awake with my staff. He was startled and frightened. I kept my staff pointed at his neck and my foot on his chest.

“Who ARE you?” I demanded. “What is all of this?”

At first he would not speak. The Doctor leaned over him and SMILED. Something in that smile seemed to scare him more than my staff. He gulped and began to speak.

“My name is Rousse Delibran,” he answered. “I am a Verusian anthropologist. I study the behaviour patterns of primitive peoples. I am conducting a long term study of the people of this planet to find out how far and for how long they will obey an oppressive god figure.”

The Doctor did not raise his voice, for after all we would be in terrible trouble if we were discovered. But he was angry and the anger was expressed in the power of his words as he told the man how wrong it was to use people. He asked how long the experiment had been going on. The man said he installed the equipment two hundred years ago.

“Verusians don’t live that long,” The Doctor answered him. “You must be using time dilation to revisit this place every few years to check on the progress – or shall we say non-progress – of the people. Because that’s what happens when people live in fear of an angry god. They don’t progress. All thought, all inquiry and invention is stifled by fear. They go on for centuries never changing. And that, no doubt, is what you have concluded from your study.”

“Yes,” the man answered. “The threat of Vol’s wrath prevented even the High Priest from looking behind the statue. He never found the relay where I would speak as Vol. I knew you would be dangerous. Strangers… intelligent strangers. That is why I had you sentenced to death.”

“To protect your experiment?” The Doctor’s companion was appalled by the idea.

“To protect them, too. If you expose me, it will destroy their whole society overnight. There will be anarchy, bloodshed.”

“There is bloodshed anyway,” The Doctor answered. “They are sacrificing unbelievers because YOU tell them to. And that stops.” He turned, pulling a strange looking wand from a pocket of his clothes. He pointed it at the ‘computer’. It made a sound like the crackle of lightning in the sky and then all of its lights went out. The Doctor took hold of the man and pushed him towards the steps before he turned and pointed his wand at the roof lights and made them go out, too. “Up the stairs, now, carefully. I don’t want you breaking your neck.”

I brought them to the garden. The Bodyguards were the other side of the Temple, yet. We had a few minutes of safety.

“Come with us,” The Doctor said to me. “It isn’t going to be safe for you here.”

“No,” I answered. “This is my home. It is an imperfect home, but perhaps I can make it better.”

“Good man,” The Doctor told me, his hand on my shoulder firmly and his smile turned on me again, one last time, before he closed the door of his strange machine. I didn’t wait to watch it go. I sprinted away under the cover of darkness and I was at my place on the steps, praying to Vol, before the Bodyguards passed the empty garden.

When I was asked if I knew anything, I said that I had left the prisoners tied up in the yard awaiting Extinguishment. I was believed. After all I was a loyal servant of Vol.

At first I carried on working as a Bodyguard of Vol. I said the words. I made a pretence of piety. But I knew better now. Cautiously, I began to seek out those who also knew. I found small pockets of heretics and once I had their confidence I told them what I knew. They took courage from my news. They passed it around. The movement grew.

There were reprisals as the High Priest began to fear the growth of the movement. Eventually I ran away from the Temple and went to a safe house. Later we all had to leave the city and find a place in the hills where we could hide. We are in hiding now. But our movement grows. Unrest is increasing. The High Priest’s power is nearly broken. Soon we will come out of hiding and we will return to the city to tear down the temple where the followers of a false god lie to the people and keep them in fear.

Before I met The Doctor I was comfortable. I had a good home, food, I was trusted and respected. I had hopes of rising to priest, to High Priest even. I had the favour of my superiors. My life was assured.

The Doctor destroyed all that.

And I bless him for it.