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

The Doctor was feeling content and in harmony with the universe. He had spent a pleasant weekend in San Francisco. He felt ready for anything that fate was about to throw at him.

Everything except a summons from Gallifrey.

“You have no choice,” he was told by the High Councillor for justice. “The prisoner has asked for YOU to act as defence counsel.”

“I should have resigned from the bar centuries ago,” he grumbled. “I hate legal work.”

He especially hated legal work within the Gallifreyan justice system. It was one among several reasons that he left his home-world so long ago.

But it was true that a prisoner could choose their defence lawyer and he could not in all conscience refuse.

“Is the trial on Gallifrey?” he asked.

“No. The Omega X station.”

That told him a lot. A Gallifreyan had committed offworld crimes. The Omega X station was called into use when witnesses were brought from other planets, to preserve the cultural purity of Gallifrey itself.

It was probably that old chestnut - interference in the destiny of another planet. That would be why he was chosen. The defendant knew he was the only time lord to 'beat that rap' as they would say in San Francisco.

Well that might be a challenge - getting some hapless Time Lord off a charge under the most ridiculous and the most unbending of all the Laws of Time.

Ok. He would do it.

He moved around to the navigation console to set the destination and was annoyed to find it was already programmed in.

“Press Ganged!” he fumed. But he had agreed to represent the prisoner and he couldn't back down just because of the offhand way he had been recruited.

He engaged the drive control then sat back on the soft chair in his library corner with a volume of Gallifreyan law to brush up on the precedents.

He had absorbed the contents of nearly a hundred of the thick volumes when the proximity alarm warned him that he was approaching a maximum security zone.

He reluctantly left the soft armchair and went to the communication console. He keyed in the unique code known only to the legitimate pilot of a TARDIS and one that identified himself and his business on the Space Station Omega.

He looked at the viewscreen and admired the space architecture of the station. It looked like a steel flower with its petals full open and a huge stamen in the middle. There were a lot of jokes about what else the central control tower looked like but only from other races. Time Lords didn’t have that sort of sense of humour – at least not those who worked in the Gallifreyan Judiciary.

He was granted access and directed to a secure parking hanger. The final manoeuvre took only a few seconds, barely long enough for him to recall with rather bitter irony the last time he had been to this station – as the defendant in a trumped up trial.

This time, at least, he had a friendlier welcome in the form of the court bailiff who bowed his head in greeting and offered to escort him to the defence counsel’s chambers where he could speak with his client and prepare the case.

“How long before the case is called?” he asked.

“Two hours,” he was told.

In any justice system anywhere else in the galaxy the idea of allowing only two hours for a counsel to prepare a defence would be unthinkable. Only Gallifreyans believed that it was enough time to allow a fair trial for the prisoner.

He was reasonably confident that it WOULD suffice. After all, he had no time at all to prepare his own defence against the accusations of the Valeyard and he managed all right.

Well, actually, he had almost set himself up for a capital crime of genocide, and was only acquitted when it finally emerged that the whole thing had been a set up as part of a plot to bring down the High Council - but that was beside the point.

The Chamber was comfortable. He had a nice leather chair behind a wide mahogany desk and a machine that produced any hot drink he desired close to hand. He tested the ‘any hot drink’ promise by requesting a double-macchiato with whipped cream and sprinkles, even though he would just as soon have had a nice cup of tea.

It gave him a nice cup of tea. He sipped it while he read the prosecution case against his client.

He NEEDED the calming effects of the tea when he saw the name of the client.

He almost threw down the file and walked out at once. He had undoubtedly been tricked into taking on this case. That the defendant had chosen him to be her defence counsel was almost certainly a sick joke on her part, and the judiciary had gone along with it.

He didn’t walk out because he, at least, was an honourable Time Lord. He had accepted his duty to defend a prisoner in the Gallifreyan High Court. He was bound by his oath of allegiance to give that client the best defence.

Even though she was almost certainly guilty of the crimes detailed in the file.

He read those details three times over, then thought deeply about the crimes, the various infringements of the Laws of Time that they came under, and the penalties for those crimes.

And he knew just how he could defend his client.

And since he was an honourable Time Lord he would DO just that, even though it went against his every personal principle.

He finished his tea and reached for the intercom that summoned a court official.

“Is it possible to SEE the defendant before the case begins?” he asked. “I mean, SEE her, not actually TALK to her. I have nothing to say. But I just want to look at her.”

“It is an unusual request, but I will see what can be done,” the official replied. The Doctor ordered another cup of tea while he waited.

He had finished the second cup when the official returned and told him to come with him. He followed the man along a corridor and down a turbo lift to the clean but unprepossessing custody suite. He was led along a row of cells, mostly empty, to the one where his client was incarcerated. The glass front, he was told, was polarised. He could see in, but the prisoner could not see out. There was also an anti-telepathy field that prevented her knowing anyone was out there.

Which made the cell a very lonely place, The Doctor couldn’t help thinking that as he looked at his client. She had regenerated since he last saw her. She looked younger, very physically attractive – though she always was, of course. He didn’t allow himself to be swayed by such physical attributes. After all, female Time Lords always seemed to have more control over that sort of thing than the men. They could make themselves beautiful.

And, he also reminded himself, beauty, especially for Time Lords, was only skin deep. Beneath the clear skin and pleasing features lay hearts of stone and a mind so twisted it defied belief.

No sympathy, no understanding, he told himself. But a fair trial and a just verdict. That was what she was entitled to. That was what he would provide for her.

“How kind, Doctor,” a voice echoed in his head. He stared through the polarised glass at the woman who had reached out to him even though she was not even supposed to know he was there. Her head was turned away from the window. She gave no indication that she had sensed his presence.

But somehow she had.

“Why isn’t she wearing suppressant cuffs?” he asked. “This woman has unparalleled psychic abilities. When she was at the Prydonian Academy she attempted to influence her teachers with her mind games. As an adult, she is treacherous. She must be cuffed in order to ensure she does not bamboozle the judges with her tricks. I won’t defend her unless I am sure it is a fair trial on all sides.”

The court official was puzzled. The defence counsel asking for his own client to be restrained was certainly unprecedented. But it was a request that could not be ignored.

The central courtroom was quiet. The public gallery was occupied only by a few interested parties who had been granted access. The press balcony was occupied only by the public service broadcaster from Gallifrey. The news media of the galaxy was not invited. The Doctor was not even remotely surprised. Time Lords did not advertise the recidivist tendencies of their Renegades.

The prosecution counsel’s desk was taken by a man The Doctor recognised as Salava Gath, a weasel of a man and of a lawyer and one of many reasons why he had chosen not to pursue law as a career. Meeting people like Gath on a daily basis did not appeal one little bit.

He was only surprised Gath wasn’t the defence counsel. He and the prisoner would have made a better match.

The silence of the court was disturbed by the arrival of the prisoner in the dock, followed almost immediately by the Bailiff calling for everyone to stand as the judges came from their chambers and took their places. The chief of the three was Lady Thaela, a fair but strict judge. She was assisted by Lord Gomer and Lord Adlo, two elderly men who brought the wisdom of ages to the proceedings.

Lady Thaela nodded and everyone sat. Then the defendant was told to rise.

“The prisoner known as The Rani is charged with meddling in the destiny of the planet known as Geomade III, in contravention of the fifth amendment to the Laws of Time which makes it a capital crime to do so,” announced the bailiff.

“So noted,” answered Lady Thaela. “How does the defendant plead?”

The Doctor stood and bowed his head in deference to the honourable and venerable judges.

“The defendant has refused to plead, therefore I am bound to enter a plea of not guilty on her behalf under section five hundred and twenty-five, paragraph six, clause ix of the Common Law of Gallifrey.”

“So noted,” Lady Thaela observed. “The prosecution may proceed.”

The prosecution was obliged to spend some time explaining to the judges exactly where Geomade III was and exactly what sort of planet it was. They used holograms to demonstrate that, up until fifty galactic years ago it was a lifeless rock with barely any topsoil, a thin atmosphere that would hardly sustain life and no water.

“The sort of planet usually selected for terraforming by those races who have such technology and the need to build new colonies?” Lady Thaela queried.

“Just such a world, madam,” Gath conceded. “But Gallifrey, despite having the ability, has never sought to colonise planets beyond the Cruciform. We have no such ambitions. Terraforming itself has always been considered a dubious activity which comes close to contravening the law banning interference in the destiny of other worlds.”

“But terraforming lifeless worlds is an acceptable practice among many of our galactic allies,” Lord Gomer pointed out. “Those races, such as the Humans and Draconians who have problems with population expansion find terraforming more conducive than colonising planets that may already support indigenous races.”

The Doctor nodded in agreement. He had witnessed all too many situations where a colonising race and an indigenous one had found living together amicably impossible. Terraforming was a solution to that problem that he agreed with.

So did the judges. The fact that The Rani had arranged for Geomade III to be terraformed, creating a viable atmosphere, a weather system that included precipitation of water, and an environment capable of sustaining life could not be considered a crime in itself. The Doctor was satisfied when that part of the prosecution case was struck down.

Gath was not satisfied, but he had been on thin ground there, anyway.

The rest of his case was much stronger. Again using holograms to illustrate his tale he went on to show how The Rani had not terraformed the planet in order to open it to colonisation, but had used it to conduct a series of experiments all of which were banned by several galactic treaties.

First of all, she had used a temporal accelerator to induce the creation of simple single-celled bacteria and archaea from the basic amino acids that were the start of life on any planet. The same process accelerated the development of complex single cells – eukaryotes, and then the advance from mitosis to sexual reproduction in these single cells. All this taking place within a single year rather than the billions it ought to have taken.

“Let nobody here in this court for one moment admire this monstrous work,” Gath said in a stern tone. “This is interference with the very origins of life. It is an outrage against Creation.”

“Objection,” The Doctor felt compelled to call out. “This is mere rhetoric. Let the judges decide what is or is not an outrage against Creation. The Prosecution should deal with facts.”

“Objection sustained,” Lady Thaela said. “Lord Gath, please let us continue with the evidence without any moral judgements being made for now.”

“My lady, this whole case IS a moral judgement,” Gath protested. “If there were not a moral question, there would have been no arrest and no prosecution to make.”

“Nevertheless, as the great legal mind of the ancients said, ‘Law is reason free from passion.’ Let us stick to facts for the time being. You may wax lyrical in your summing up.”

Gath was duly chastised. But he still had a strong case without continuously stating the patently obvious. Using technology to accelerate the creation of life was morally and legally wrong. There was absolutely no grey area there.

The Rani was guilty of a crime against life itself.

And there was far more, far worse. From those single celled lifeforms to multicellular, and to simple animals should have taken another two billion years, give or take. The Rani’s patience extended to three months.

And from there to a full eco-system including fish and amphibians, insects, reptiles birds and mammals took only another half a year. If it were not such a monstrous crime, watching the record of the bio-diversity emerging on the planet would have been magical.

And if it had ended there the crime would not have been so terrible. There might have been some claim for mitigation.

But The Rani went even further. She interfered with the natural evolution of the mammalian life forms by splicing new chromosomes into the fabric of their being.

Within a mere year these artificially enhanced mammals had developed straight spines and learnt to walk on two legs. They began to use tools, to communicate with simple language - and they discovered fire.

In short, they had become sentient – if primitive – beings.

The murmurs around the court were silenced by the bailiff.

“My Lady, My Lords,” Gath said obsequiously once he had the quiet he needed. “There is yet worse. Having created these sentients, the prisoner went on to set herself up as a kind of living goddess, a presence in the midst of the tribe she created, guiding their further evolution. She taught them to make weapons with which to hunt for meat, and to prevent the development of any rivals among the other mammals. They were, of course, still evolving at an accelerated rate. The possibility of naturally occurring sentience threatened the spread of her artificially enhanced species.”

The images seen next were horrific. Even those who had read the reports were sickened by the viciousness of the massacres of defenceless creatures by The Rani’s tribe. They were even more horrified by the battle that eventually took place between her tribe and the one that had evolved beyond the reach of their genocidal tactics who eventually challenged them. The death toll on both sides was terrible, but the capture of the ‘goddess’ was the decisive point. Under threat of dismemberment by the rebel tribe The Rani had sent a distress call to Gallifrey, accepting arrest and trial by order of the High Council rather than death at the hands of her own creations.

The case is clear,” Gath said, finally. “The Rani stands guilty of divers acts of cruelty in addition to the crimes against all Creation which led to the evolution of these misguided creatures who murdered at her order.”

“Objection,” The Doctor protested. “The Rani certainly bred her tribe to be stronger and more intelligent, even more warlike, but this kind of deadly rivalry is natural to almost all primitive cultures. The fact that the unenhanced tribe succeeded in conquering her advanced ones proves that very point. It also proves that the evolution of these sentients is now unstoppable.”

“I’m not sure I understand your point, Doctor,” Lady Thaela told him. “And as Lord Gath is drawing to the end of his evidence for the prosecution I think it wise to allow him to continue without interruption.”

The Doctor conceded the point. There wasn’t much more to the evidence, anyway, only a recap of the various sections of the Laws of non-interference that had been broken by The Rani.

Then The Doctor had his chance to rebut the accusations. He stood up and looked slowly around the court. His eyes fixed on The Rani. She was looking away at first, but then her gaze met his. Because of the suppressant cuffs she could not do more than look, and he was not foolish enough to be taken in by the attractiveness of her eyes or the pleading expression on her face.

“The Rani is, and always has been a Renegade with dangerous ideas. Her ambitions ought to have been curbed centuries ago when we were students and even her term papers at the Prydonian Academy made disturbing reading. I would submit, in the first place, that the blame for her many abuses of the Laws of Time lie with those who failed to recognise the danger at the start.”

This was not what any of the judges wanted to hear. Lord Gomer and Lord Adlo murmured angrily and Lady Thaela warned him about his contempt for authority.

“As for the case of Geomade III, there is, as the court has already noted, no offence in the act of terraforming a dead world without even pre-animate lifeforms existing upon it. At that point no crime had been committed. Where The Rani began to cross the line was in using technology to create life, and to accelerate its evolutionary development. At that point she apparently had committed a severe offence against interference in the destinies of other races.”

Gath smiled like a lizard. The Doctor had just admitted his client’s guilt. The case was over.

“The law against interference in the destiny of races is, of course, important. But as everyone here knows there ARE sometimes extenuating circumstances. Rassilon himself changed the DNA of our own race to allow us to become Time Lords. Should he have been restrained by ancient dogma that failed to take in the possibilities of technological advances not dreamt of at the time when the laws were set down?”

“That is hardly the same thing,” Gath protested.

“Isn’t it?” The Doctor responded. “What about when our ancestors destroyed a whole planet in the Mutter Spiral in order to prevent the spread of the dreadful Fendahl, a parasite race that destroyed all other lifeforms it encountered. Even further back in our history, almost forgotten in our modern age, we created the bowships to defeat the Great Vampires. That, too, was interference in the destiny of other races – indeed, it was genocide, since our forefathers destroyed all but one of the Great Vampires.”

“That was WAR,” Gath pointed out. “The Fendahl and the Great Vampires – assuming they were not myths – posed a threat to Gallifrey itself.”

“So even genocide is permitted if it is in the interests of Gallifrey,” The Doctor proposed. “This explains why I was once asked to use time travel to destroy the Daleks before they had even gone beyond their prototypes – interfere, in other words, with the known destiny of a race. And that was in recent times, not in ancient history, in recorded fact, not possible myth.”

Again the judges conferred before Lady Thaela asked The Doctor what his point was in bringing up these past incidents.

“I am pointing out precedents of Time Lords interfering in very drastic ways with the destinies of sentient life forms. I am demonstrating a Human axiom that people in glass houses should not throw stones. What, I ask you, is the difference between those cases and The Rani’s actions on Geomade III?”

“The difference is that she deliberately created a race in order to experiment with it and interfere with its destiny,” Gath responded testily. “Surely it is obvious?”

“It is obvious to me,” The Doctor replied. “It is obvious that the Law preventing interference in the destinies of sentient races does not apply here. The Rani created a species in order to experiment with it. This race HAD no destiny until she gave it one. Therefore, the court MUST find my client Not Guilty of the specific charge set against her.”

Gath looked at him in horror. He had found an inescapable loophole in the Laws of Time and used it to almost certainly gain an acquittal for one of the most evil women ever to be born of the Gallifreyan people.

The three judges talked quietly among themselves for a long time. The Doctor and Gath both waited. The Rani waited, her eyes flickering from her defence counsel to the judges and back again. Quite what she was thinking nobody could know.

“Madam!” Gath protested. “Your Sagacity… Loophole or not, you cannot let this woman go free. She has committed terrible acts….”

“But The Doctor is quite right,” Lady Thaela replied. “Her acts are not actually against the laws of Gallifrey. My fellow justice and I intend to recommend to the High Council that they are MADE against our laws as soon as legislation can be enacted, but here and now, in this court, the prisoner is acquitted of breaking the Laws of Time. She IS guilty of lesser crimes of cruel use of lesser beings, and I am sentencing her to no less than five hundred years’ probation. During that time she will live under close supervision within the confines of the Capitol. She will continue to wear the suppressant cuffs at all times and will be allowed no opportunity to carry out her misguided experiments. Any infraction of even the smallest traffic regulation will result in the probation being revoked and a custodial sentence imposed.”

With that Lady Thaela banged her gavel on the desk to signify that this was her last word on the subject. The Rani was taken from the dock by a court official. The Bailiff called for all to rise. The three judges stood and turned to leave the court. The Doctor gathered his case notes and turned to leave. Gath stopped him.

“That must be a satisfactory result for you,” he said.

“Not really,” The Doctor answered. “The Rani deserves to spend eternity in Shada. She is evil in the form of a woman. But the loophole is glaringly obvious. She could have appealed against her sentence and got off scot free. Probation is a mild punishment, but it is a punishment, and it inconveniences her for a long time. Meanwhile the loophole will be closed. She won’t ever be allowed to do that again.”

“That… is an interesting point of view,” Gath reluctantly conceded. “And yet….” He paused. “Doctor… did you think to ask what happened to the sentients left on the planet after she was arrested?”

“I fully intended to make inquiries,” he answered.

“I can save you the trouble. Our scientists have carried out observations using perception filter technology. They conclude that the accelerated development should slow within a dozen or so generations to what is considered normal. The planet has been placed within an invisibility envelope. No advanced race will know of the existence of Geomade III. The people will not be visited again by Gallifreyans even for observational purposes. They will be allowed to develop into whatever kind of society they choose for themselves.”

“Good,” The Doctor said. “That is the best any planet could hope for. Thank you for telling me that. Now, I shall be on my way. There is a universe out there that I still have to see properly.”

“One of these days, Doctor, you will fall foul of the law, and there may not be a loophole for you to take advantage of.”

“I know,” The Doctor replied. “But until then….”

He smiled and walked away, back to his TARDIS and the freedom he treasured above all else.