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


“Oh, Doctor!” Sarah-Jane Smith groaned in exasperation. “Honestly, how long have you been flying the TARDIS?”

“Oh, three or four centuries, give or take,” he answered.

“And you STILL miss Earth by miles, by light years. By…. Are we even in the same GALAXY?”

“No,” he admitted as he looked at the co-ordinates. “You have to understand, Sarah. The TARDIS is old. She gets a little muddled sometimes.”

“I think YOU get a little muddled sometimes,” she retorted. “Do Time Lords go senile in their old age?”

“Yes, sometimes,” he answered. “But I’m not old enough for that. Seven hundred and thirty-seven. Not even middle aged.”

“Seven hundred…” she sighed and shook her head. “It was easier when you LOOKED old. I didn’t keep forgetting that you’re an alien. Ok, never mind. Where ARE we?” She flicked the viewscreen switch herself and looked out at the darkness. She made a disappointed sound. The Doctor leaned forward and pressed another button and the view changed to night vision. She looked at the garden with keen interest.

“Beautiful,” she told him. “Absolutely lovely. Are you sure it isn’t Earth? It looks like it could be a garden of one of the stately homes. All those statues and flower beds and the fountain.”

“It’s not Earth,” The Doctor answered. “It darn well better not be,” he added to himself. He had deliberately transposed the co-ordinates so that they WOULD land anywhere but Earth. He didn’t want to go back there. He knew if he went back to Earth she would leave him. If they went back to U.N.I.T., Harry would be there. And it wouldn’t take much for them to pick up where they left off after the Zygon problem. So he had kept away from Earth, kept her with him, pretending that the navigation was playing up or there was something important to do, first.

And yes, it was selfish of him, since he and Sarah Jane were never going to have THAT sort of relationship. But he just couldn’t bear to be parted from her just yet.

“It really does look lovely,” Sarah sighed out loud, breaking into his revere. “Oh, come on, Doctor. Let’s go take a walk in the moonlight.”

“The air is breathable. FAR less toxins in it than Earth. Non-industrial society. We seem to be in a large population centre. Yes, a walk, stretch the legs, good idea. I wonder if they have tea on this planet?”

“Nuts to tea,” Sarah answered as she slipped on her coat and hat and waited for him to wrap his daft long scarf around his neck a couple of times and put his hat on before joining her at the TARDIS door.

“Oooh,” she said as they stepped out. “It IS lovely. Look at the moon up there. Twice the size of ours. And what a fantastic smell. All the flowers. Roses. This planet has roses. Can’t you smell them?”

“The universe is made up of the same matter, the same base metals and minerals. On any planet where the atmosphere is oxygen and nitrogen rich and there’s enough sunlight and non-acidic rain you will find roses or something like them,” The Doctor explained.

“I don’t care about the scientific reason.” She answered him. “I just think they’re beautiful.” She put her hand on a full blown bloom, brushing the soft petals and drinking in the scent that reminded her of home even if they were a very long way from it.

“Halt!” a voice cried out. The Doctor looked around and spotted the young man as he stepped out of the shadows. He was dressed in what in India was called a Salwar Kameez - lightweight trousers and a long overshirt. It was in a rich fabric of red and gold and he wore a gold medallion around his neck.

He was holding a long staff, carved and gilded and clearly ceremonial, but also a stout length of wood with a surprisingly sharp end that could be an effective weapon. He held it as a weapon now as he came towards them shouting angrily about blasphemy and defilement of Vol’s sacred ground.

“Hello,” The Doctor said with his most disarming smile. “Do you know where we can get a good cup of tea on this planet?”

“Blasphemer!” the young man cried again.

“Blasphemy?” The Doctor replied. “Oh, surely not. Nothing blasphemous about tea.”

“It is blasphemy to speak of trivial matters in the Sacred Temple Garden of Vol. It is sacrilege to walk in the garden without going through the purification rites. And THAT…” He shook his staff at the TARDIS. “That abomination offends Vol’s dignity.”

“Doctor!” Sarah caught his arm urgently. “Don’t make another joke, please. It’s not nice to make fun of other people’s religions. And if this IS a sacred place…”

“Yes, quite right, Sarah, quite right,” he answered her. “I apologise for any offence caused. We are strangers here and…”

“You are blasphemers,” the young man cried out again. “You must face the wrath of Vol in the temple.”

The Doctor looked ready to make another clever and witty comment but Sarah again squeezed his arm and he looked at her. She was frightened. He put his arm around her shoulders reassuringly.

“It will be all right,” he whispered to her. “There will be some kind of high priest type we can explain things too.” He looked at the young man. “Take us to the Temple then. Lead on.”

“You walk ahead,” he answered. “You will not escape Vol’s judgement.”

“I don’t like the SOUND of this Vol character,” Sarah whispered as they walked, under guard. At the entrance to the garden, by the pool for ritual washing of feet, two more guards stepped into place, flanking them as they were brought to the impressive looking temple that rose up beside the garden.

It was impressive inside, too. And the most impressive thing of all was the huge statue of what The Doctor presumed to be Vol that stood behind the altar. It was fifteen feet if it was an inch and either solid gold or certainly gold-plated. Vol was apparently a fifteen foot man with a vulture’s head and an eagle’s wings.

The high priest of the temple was impressive in his great cloak made of golden feathers and a headdress shaped like a vulture’s beak.

“Lord Droill,” said the young man – hardly more than a boy, as the Doctor noticed in the better light of the temple. “These blasphemers have defiled the sacred Temple Garden. They brought a strange box there which is so heavy none of us can lift it without bruising the sacred grass.”

“Look,” The Doctor said. “This IS just a misunderstanding. The TARDIS took a wrong turn at Orion’s Belt and accidentally materialised in your garden. I apologise for the inconvenience and promise to move it right away if you’ll just…”

“Silence,” the High Priest responded. “You will speak only to answer the charges put to you by Vol’s chosen Priest. Vol will judge your heresy. Gel, bring them forward.”

Gel was the young man. He prodded The Doctor with his staff and he stepped closer to the High Priest. Sarah shivered with fear beside him.

“What are these words you speak?” the High Priest demanded. “What is a… a TARDIS?”

“It is my spaceship,” The Doctor answered. “My friend and I are travellers in space. Out there among the stars. We explore and meet interesting species like yourselves. But we would never knowingly blaspheme against any religious belief system.”

“You say you come from the stars?” Droill answered, his rage and anger boiling over. “Blasphemy. There is no life among the stars. They are but the lights Vol placed in the blackness of light as a sign of his promise to rise in the day.”

“The stars are the distant suns that warm other worlds,” The Doctor replied. “My own planet orbits one of them. This girl’s world orbits another. Really, mythology is all very well, but an intelligent man like you should know that.”

“Blasphemy! Madness! Impossible. Such heresy has never been spoken in the temple!”

“Oh, come now,” The Doctor began. But then there was a sound. He and Sarah both looked at each other with puzzled glances. Sarah opened her mouth to say something, but then a voice boomed out, drowning her words.

“I am Vol, the great God.”

The effect that had on those around him was of interest to The Doctor. Droill, the High Priest looked triumphant. The guards looked terrified. The young one who had arrested them, Gel, looked as if he was about to faint with shock and awe. He was the last to remember himself and fall to his knees.

The Doctor remained standing defiantly and he held Sarah upright beside him.

“Lord Vol,” Droill intoned piously. “For the first time since I became your High Priest, you speak. I am humbled and honoured. What is your command, Oh Great Vol?”

“The lies of these two blasphemers subvert the will of Vol,” the great voice declaimed. “They talk of heresy. I, your Lord, and God made the stars as my covenant with the night. There are no worlds among them. These Blasphemers and Heretics must be extinguished by the light of Vol to prevent such false witness being disseminated among the people.”

“Vol has spoken,” said Droill, rising to his feet. “The heretics will be extinguished.”

“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!” Sarah cried out, clinging 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…”

Tears welled up in her eyes. The Doctor touched her cheek gently.

“Do as I say, Sarah,” he whispered. “For your own good.”

“No, Doctor,” she insisted. “If we’re going to die, we die together.”

“Take them both away,” Droill said. “They both sullied the sacred ground with their unclean feet. They shall both be extinguished by the light of Vol.”

The Doctor squared his broad shoulders and looked into Droill’s eyes. He didn’t shout. He spoke quite softly, in fact.

“There is no such god as Vol. Your god is a fake. You are either being deceived yourself or you are part of the deception. Either way you are a fool. Vol is a fraud, a cheep illusion. You are High Priest of The Wizard of Oz.”

Droill stepped towards him. He raised his hand and struck The Doctor on the cheek. The Doctor reeled back slightly but recovered and smiled enigmatically.

“That does not make Vol any more real. Nor will our deaths.”

“Take them away,” Droill ordered loudly. “Take them away at once where their foul lies cannot defile the Holy Temple of Vol.”

Despite her brave insistence that they should be together, Sarah whimpered slightly as they were taken roughly by the Temple guards and dragged away. The one called Gel was in charge and he walked beside them to the place of extinguishing. The Doctor watched him carefully. There was nothing in his body language that suggested any change in his outlook, but his eyes when he looked at him were different. Of course he had heard The Doctor denounce his god as a fraud. But that was probably nothing new. A religion that had a death penalty for non-believers was bound to attract non-believers, questioning the received wisdom. Nothing bred rebellion faster than oppression of free thought. It was a universal truth.

“It’s all right, Sarah,” The Doctor told her. “It’s all going to be all right.”

“HOW is it going to be all right?” she demanded, her grief now tinged with anger at what seemed to be a platitude from him. “What part of this is all right? We’re going to be EXECUTED. Extinguished. And…. And… And we still haven’t got a cup of tea.”

“Yes, that’s the disappointing part of it,” The Doctor answered her. He turned to Gel. “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?” Gel asked. Doubtless he had been taught not to be drawn into conversation with heretic and blasphemers. But The Doctor knew there was only so long anyone could ignore him for. Gel cracked in average time.

“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,” Gel replied, but The Doctor had the feeling he was repeating words he had been taught to say by rote rather than it coming from the heart. “I serve Vol.”

“You’re a bright boy,” The Doctor told him.

“I am loyal to Vol,” he repeated.

“Of course you are,” The Doctor 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.

They were brought to the place of extinguishing. It was a wide yard with no shade or shelter. In the centre were poles, with strong ropes to tie the heretics to them. Such preparations were made at night under cover of darkness.

“What happens next?” The Doctor asked as his hands were tightly bound behind his back. Extremely tightly, he noted. He wasn’t bad at getting out of situations like this. He had learnt a few things from Houdini a few centuries ago and had improved on his techniques over the years. But this one was going to be tricky.

“You will await the rising of Vol’s light,” Gel replied. “Without shade, without food, without water. Many such as you are extinguished even before Vol’s light has hid itself at the end of the first day. A few last until the second night. Once in a while, one might last until the third day, but no longer. Vol is kindest to those who die quickly. Those who last longest are those he wishes to punish the most.”

“Really?” The Doctor answered.

“I will pray for Vol’s mercy,” Gel said to him in a low voice that was not heard by his fellow guards. “I will ask him to let me kill you before the morning. It is not permitted to spill blood here, but I know a way to break the neck…”

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

The Doctor said nothing. But Gel shivered as his eyes turned on him. He seemed about to speak once more, but changed his mind. He turned and walked away with the other guards. The yard fell silent.

“Ok,” Sarah said to him. “What now?”

“We wait,” he answered.

“To be extinguished,” she asked. “It’s a horrible way to die.”

“It is,” The Doctor said in a matter of fact tone that hid what he was really thinking. Sarah was a tough girl. She had proved herself in many a difficult situation alongside him. But he knew she would probably be one of those who succumbed before the end of the first day. The yard was completely exposed. The sun would begin to beat down on them not long after dawn. The walls he could just make out with his superior Gallifreyan eyesight were made of a white stone that would reflect the light. So were the flagstones. It would be like an oven by midday. She would suffer horribly.

So would he. His Gallifreyan blood could regulate its own temperature for a limited time. He could last the three days Gel spoke of. He could doubtless set a new record for longevity in the extinguishing yard. And when this body gave up the ghost and he regenerated they would probably decide that was an abomination before Vol and find another way to finish him off.

Except he knew it wouldn’t go that far. If there was one thing he had learnt in his many centuries of exploration it was how to read people. And he was fairly sure, at least 90% sure, that he had read Gel right.

An hour passed. Two. It was after midnight. Another three or four hours, The Doctor judged, until dawn. Sarah was tired. Her arms ached from being pinned in position. Her legs hurt from standing upright. She drifted in and out of sleep, waking with a shock each time to find herself still tied up in the place of extinguishing.

There was a noise. Only a slight one, a soft footfall in the dark. Then The Doctor saw a shadow creeping closer.

“Gel?” he whispered.

“Yes,” he replied. “I… I returned to my duties at the temple. It was my turn tonight to keep vigil before the great image of Vol. It is 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. But tonight they seemed meaningless. I doubted the words. I doubted Vol. I…”

“I’m listening,” The Doctor said encouragingly. “Carry on.”

“I kept thinking, not of Vol’s great wisdom, but of you, Doctor, of your courage in the face of death, and your words that questioned all I have ever believed. I thought of your eyes that seemed to look straight into my soul as Vol alone should have been able to do. And…”


“And you found me wanting. I knew it then. So 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. Nobody is allowed to touch it, not even Droill. Only deaf mute slaves who polish and clean the place once a month, and they are put to death when their work is done.”

“That’s horrible,” Sarah exclaimed. “How can…”

“Vol ordered it to be so many eons ago. Vol’s word is not questioned.”

“But you questioned it. And you found what?”

“Something I never noticed before. I don’t think Lord Droill could have noticed it either. But…”

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “Continue. What DID you find?”

But Gel was confounded. Whatever he had found was beyond his comprehension. He said nothing more but The Doctor felt the coldness of a knife slide against his hands as it sliced through the ropes that bound him.

“Free Sarah, too,” he said. He held her upright as Gel did so, supporting her as her legs gave way. “Courage, Sarah. A little exercise and your limbs will be right as rain. Whatever that means.”

“A little exercise WHERE? Back to the TARDIS?”

“Please,” Gel said. “It is two hours to dawn yet. Nobody will know you are missing until then. I can get you into the garden where your strange box is when the Bodyguards are furthest from it. But first will you come with me?”

“Lead the way,” The Doctor answered. He held Sarah by the arm as he followed Gel back to the Temple. It was silent and empty but fully lit by rushlights. The Doctor didn’t hesitate as he stepped around the altar.

“Ahah!” he said as he studied the icon of Vol. “Did you notice, Sarah, just before the voice of Vol spoke, there was a sort of static, like you get when an intercom system is live or a radio is switched on but not tuned to a channel.”

“I noticed,” she answered. “I was about to mention it when Vol started demanding extinguishings.”

“The speakers are in the statue, of course. And there’s something else, too. A bit clever. It depended on people being too scared of his wrath to get too close. Except for those poor expendable slaves! Do you see it, Sarah?”

“No,” she answered.

“Come closer,” he suggested and she stepped around the altar, too. She gave a gasp of astonishment and stepped forward again.

“It’s a variation of trompe l’oeil,” The Doctor said. “The traditional form is a two dimensional painting that gives the illusion of three dimensions. Here we have three dimensions that look like two. What appeared to be an icon on a wall is actually set forward from the wall, with a gap behind that a slender man could get into. And you got into it, didn’t you, Gel?”

“Yes,” he said. “And…”

“You two stay behind me,” he said as he slipped behind the icon. It was a tight squeeze for him, with his broad-shouldered frame, easier for Gel and Sarah.

There was a staircase behind, leading down.

“VERY clever boy, Gel,” The Doctor said as he began to descend the steps.

He emerged into a room that was lit by something that was not rushlights or oil lamps. Gel held back nervously.

“It is as bright as Vol’s light at midday,” he said. “But it’s still night outside.”

“It’s called electricity,” Sarah told him. “It’s nothing to be afraid of. At least not unless you stick your fingers in the plug.”

“What is THAT?” he exclaimed as he looked at the machine with small lights blinking all over it.

“That is a computer,” The Doctor told him. “Also perfectly safe unless you stick your fingers in the wrong place. Don’t worry about it. I’m more interested in chummy here.”

They all turned from the computer to see a man sleeping on a bed in the corner. He was dressed in an all in one body suit of deep red fabric. He was humanoid, bald headed and with pale flesh the colour of creamed rice pudding.

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

Gel poked him awake with the sharp end of his staff. He was startled and frightened. Gel kept his staff pointed at him.

“Who ARE you?” he demanded. “What are you doing in here? It is sacrilege to approach the icon of Vol. You will burn for this.”

“Who are YOU?” Gel responded. “You’re not Vol.”

“He’s the Wizard of Oz,” The Doctor said. He had said it before but Sarah had not understood the reference. This time she did.

The Doctor stepped forward and looked down at the man. He SMILED. And there was something in that smile that frightened the man even more than Gel’s staff pricking his neck.

“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. But he was clearly angry and the anger was expressed in the power of his words.

“You used these people. You made them fear your wrath. You made them execute those who disobeyed you. You had slaves put to death on a regular basis because they saw the secret behind the icon. I have seen a lot of things in my time, but nothing so barbaric as THAT. It is so obscene. And for what reason? For an EXPERIMENT. A theoretical study. You are a disgrace to the name of science. You are…”

The word he used must have been a very bad word in his own language. None of them knew exactly what it meant, but they could all make an educated guess.

“How LONG has this vile experiment been going on?” The Doctor demanded.

“Eight hundred years,” he replied. “Before that, Vol was just a local deity. One of many. I established monotheism and demanded absolute loyalty…”

“Eight hundred years…” Gel gasped. “Then all my life… all my father’s life… for ever… for as long as the records in our great library have been written… it was all a lie?”

“Your faith wasn’t a lie,” The Doctor assured him. “Only the object of your worship.” But Gel wasn’t comforted by that. His whole world was crumbling. He shook and shivered with the awful knowledge that his society was founded on quicksand.

“Verusians don’t live that long,” The Doctor said, turning his attention back to Delibran. “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 and 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. He never questioned my instructions, my judgements. None of them ever did. High Priest after High Priest obeyed without question and the people followed his lead.”

“So why did you tell them to kill us?” Sarah demanded.

“I knew you would be dangerous. Strangers… intelligent strangers. I had to shut you up.”

“To protect your experiment?” The Doctor’s voice was scathing.

“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 his sonic screwdriver from his pocket. He pointed it at the computer and it crackled and sparked and then failed. The Doctor took hold of the man and pushed him towards the steps before he turned and pointed the screwdriver at the roof lights and made them go out, too. “Up the stairs, now, carefully. I don’t want you breaking your neck. Gel, lead the way to the garden now.”

Gel did so. The Bodyguards were the other side of the Temple yet, giving them a few minutes to get away safely.

“Where are you taking me?” Delibran asked as The Doctor opened the door of the TARDIS. He was pushed inside. Sarah and Gel followed behind The Doctor. Gel stared in wonder at the TARDIS interior but his world was still spinning and one more wonder could not confound him much more.”

“To Verusia, to hand you over to the authorities there. Your experiment was unethical and illegal by any standard. You’ll be dealt with appropriately.”

“He will be extinguished?” Gel asked.

“No, just expelled, expunged, and a few other exes,” The Doctor answered. He looked at Gel seriously.

“Come with us,” he said. “Delibran was right about one thing. Things are going to be bad here once the truth comes out.”

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

“Good man,” The Doctor told him. He put his hand on Gel’s shoulder and smiled warmly at him. “Good luck.”

He walked with Gel to the door. There, he shook hands with him warmly before he shut the door. He waited until the young man had stepped out of the garden before he dematerialised the TARDIS. He didn’t want to scare him any further. He had enough on his mind without disappearing boxes.

Many years later in The Doctor’s own time, when Sarah Jane was back on Earth, renewing her relationship with Harry Sullivan and Leela was on Gallifrey where she married Andred, The Doctor paid a return visit to Bell’hra. He was curious to know if anything had changed since he had left his footprint upon that sacred grass.

It had, though it took time. He discovered that brave young Gel had joined with an underground movement that was working against the power of Vol. The movement grew. Eventually he was exposed and had to run from the Temple and hide out. But by then the revolution was inevitable. It WAS bloody. Many people were hurt. But in the end the power of the false god was overturned. There were no more extinguishings, no more teaching of false religion based on fear. Instead a good, fair society was established and it prospered. Gel became a great, wise leader of his people.

The Doctor didn’t stay long. He didn’t need to. He saw enough to know that he had been well and truly guilty of the charge so often laid against him by his Time Lord enemies – of interference in the affairs of other worlds.

And he was proud of it.