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

A security camera panned and zoomed around under the roof of the arcade. The few players at the machines in video alley automatically turned their faces away as if trying to avoid being identified.

"Have fun, everyone," said a distorted voice through the intercom that broadcast all over the pleasure complex. "Fun, fun, endless fun for children of all ages at the Fun House."

Then something unusual happened, something that the camera missed because it was panning the other way – though it might not have been noticed even if the occurrence had been recorded.

Since the camera had no microphone, it wouldn’t have picked up the first signs of something unusual - a noise that got louder every moment - but it could have born witness to the strange blue box that faded into view between the Alien Attack game and Donkey Kong.

The players looked at the strange new contraption, but there was no video screen and no joystick control so they turned away, their minds refusing to accept that the blue box was there or at least that it had anything to do with them.

They didn't pay any attention, either, when two figures stepped out of the box.

One looked as if this might have been his normal environment. His outlandish multi-coloured, multi-patterned coat, striped pants and bright waistcoat looked like a costume for one of the executive entertainment managers - if there still were any of those working in the Fun House.

The other was dressed for any casual occasion in shorts and a blouse tied so that a few inches of trim stomach were revealed. She looked around the games zone in something like despair.

"Yuck," she proclaimed as if that was her final word on the subject. “What happened to this place?"

She looked up at the one magnificent glass and iron roof. All but a few panes were gone. Most that remained were broken.

"I am just wondering about that, myself," The Doctor answered. They both looked around at the curious arcade. It was filled with rows of old game machines, some of them damaged beyond repair, but a surprising number of them still working. The blips and baps and triumphal jingles from them filled the air.

But every machine with its peeling paintwork and scratched screens was almost engulfed in weeds and vines that had grown up through the cracked surface of a once beautiful tiled floor. Nature and machine vied for space. Where nature had won one particular battle a sapling was growing up through the broken inner workings of a game that had once invited people to shoot ducks that flew across a screen. The harmless 'laser gun' was disappearing in a twisted tangle of thin branches.

"If rain is getting in to water the plants why haven’t the games blown their fuses?" Peri asked quite logically. She moved close to the young man playing Donkey Kong. He looked about twenty. His clothes were dirty and torn and he had a straggly beard. It was almost possible to think that he had been standing there at the game machine all the time the sapling had been growing through the broken machine.

"’There were games like this on the boardwalk near our beach house," she said, trying not to sound too much like an heiress with a choice of addresses according to the season. "Some people played for hours. They racked up huge scores. Never got the hang of it myself."

The player didn’t answer. His hands gripped the levers that controlled the bright blocks of colour on the screen. His eyes bore an expression of extreme concentration.

She talked on regardless. Few people ever succeeded in shutting her up when she talked and a man who had nothing to say had very little chance.

While she talked, The Doctor carefully examined the young man, pressing his hand against his neck to test for a pulse and then gently feeling his skull. He did the same with the other player on the alien attack game.

There were others scattered around the peculiarly organic room, but he suspected they would all be much the same.

“I didn’t think you were into phrenology,” Peri commented about The Doctor’s close attention to the skulls. “You know… fortune telling through the bumps on the head.”

“I know what phrenology is,” The Doctor replied. “A flawed concept. I was examining their brain activity.”

“By feeling their heads?”

“It is a Time Lord skill,” The Doctor said as if that was patently obvious. “These men are barely alive – running on minimum brain activity, responding to instincts and continuing a pattern of living that they understand at a very basic level.”

“Racking up points on a video game?” Peri queried.

“It only takes a small amount of hand eye co-ordination to play such games – a miniscule amount of brain activity.”

Peri laughed.

“Well, I never took the sort that hang around arcades as Brains Trust material, but that’s a BIT hard." Then she became serious. "Why are they like that? What's wrong with them? What's wrong with this place?"

“I'm afraid I don’t know on both counts," The Doctor replied. "Let’s look a bit further. This appears to be a very large complex."

"Yeah, ok," Peri conceded. She patted the Donkey Kong player on the shoulder. "See you around." Unsurprisingly, he didn't respond.

As they walked through the arcade The Doctor and Peri both began to realise how big it was and just how many of the zombies there were.

"It looks like a huge collection of arcade games from different times," Peri noted as they passed a row of people feeding coins into the one armed bandit style of machine that preceded the video games. One unkempt woman had a win as they passed. She reached out instinctively to collect the coins and some spilt. This had obviously happened many times. The floor around these machine was was littered with coins.

Peri bent and picked one up. It was a 'token' rather than a coin of any realm, not legal tender outside of this complex. On one side was a diagram of an ornate building - on the other were the initials 'FH' in a swirling, interlocked script.


"Welcome, welcome, fun, fun, fun for all the family," declared the voice on the speakers very suddenly. “Fun for all at the Fun House."

"FH... Fun House, of course."

"That doesn’t help very much, does it?" The Doctor commented.

"Are we on Earth?" Peri asked. "These people are... human... sort of, and these game machines all look familiar. I kind of thought it was. But if we’re in the future... after my time, I mean... it doesn’t have to be. It could be a planet humans have gone to, couldn't it?"

"Yes, it could," The Doctor agreed. He stopped to look at a group of pinball machines with their zombie players. "Original mechanical devices from the nineteen fifties up through the sixties and seventies, and then computerized simulated pinball from later decades."

"Yes, I see that. The place is a sort of hands-on arcade game museum. A clever idea from somebody, and it must have been expensive to set up. But something went sadly wrong."

The Doctor was moving again. The idea of a games museum seemed confirmed when they came across a whole collection of machines made of wrought iron and glass with very simple controls. The Doctor said one of them was a mutoscope, an early experiment with moving images. Another machine was a mechanical arm wrestler with a model of a Victorian strong man inviting people to try their arm against him.

Pride of place in this section was a glass case in which a wax faced figure dressed as a genie or an Arabian wizard sat with its turbaned head set forward in a slight bow. Every so often it sat up straight and the mouth opened and closed while letters lit up above him declaring that he told fortunes.

The wax wizard worked by clockwork but Peri thought he still managed to be more animated than the people wandering from game to game with their blank expressions.

There was a coin slot on the front of the wizard's case. Peri slotted in the coin she had picked up. The wizard moved jerkily and dropped a small card into a receptacle.

Peri picked it up and looked at the words printed in an elaborately swirling font.

"You will have to visit the manager," it said.

"Weird," Peri remarked. "And for a fortune, a bit boring."

"Or remarkably astute," The Doctor suggested. "I wonder if there is some sort of manager?"

"If there is, he needs to buck his ideas up," Peri answered. “This place is long due an overhaul."

They passed from the arcade into a corridor with shop units either side. These sold toys and souvenirs, but not for a long time. The soft toys and dolls in one unit were battered and torn. A carousel of postcards were so faded it was impossible to tell what their pictures were.

The candy shop was almost depleted of stock. Only a single box of nougat remained on shelves that must have once groaned under the weight of confectionary delights.

Peri had no intention of trying the sweets even if she liked nougat, which she didn't. She examined the unfaded underside of the box carefully.

"Product of Isthmia," she read. "Sell by 11/4467. If we knew what the date is now, that would tell us how long things have been like this.”

"Unfortunately we do not have that information," The Doctor opined.

Peri put the box of nougat back on the shelf and followed The Doctor to where the corridor opened into another wide plaza with a glass roof. This one was intact, though so grimy very little light came through.

The ceiling was crossed by rails for a miniature scenic railway ride. The train had crashed a long time ago. The carriages hung precariously from where the rails had buckled. The skeletons of at least three passengers were still buckled into their safety seats.

What made that all the more macabre was that this was the food court and people were still eating around the scene of the accident.

Eating what? That was Peri's first thought. She looked around carefully. Once a variety of food outlets had ringed the central seating area. The logos of three different pizza establishments could still be identified as well as the most famous brand of deep fried chicken, two burger franchises, noodles-to-go and a vegetarian food bar. All had closed down long ago.

The only place still serving was a little hot dog stand. Peri drew closer wondering how it was doing so.

The hot dog seller was a robot. It scooped sausages from the stainless steel cooker into buns and added onions and sauce smoothly. Behind the counter catering tins of frankfurters in brine were stacked along with packets of bread rolls and strings of onions. Row upon row of sauce bottles with squeezing nozzles were lined up like soldiers.

"How?" she asked.

"Automatic stock ordering, drone delivery systems," The Doctor replied. "Nobody cancelled the orders. Nobody told the robot to stop making hot dogs. Just as well, really. I think this is what keeps the zombie people alive. Sooner or later your Donkey Kong chum will be along for a hot dog."

"Can this place get less bizzare?" Peri asked. "It is horrible. Can we get away from the sight of skeletons and the smell of onions, at least? I feel like I'm going to associate those two things forever.

"This way," The Doctor told her, heading towards one of the near identical exits from the food court. Again the avenue was lined with shops. Again the stock was depleted. Balloons were deflated. T. shirts with fun logos were moth eaten. Ice cream had long since melted.

One shop had hired out cycles of various sorts - bicycles, tricycles, quads with plastic seats and multicoloured pinwheels on the handle bars for added fun. The Doctor found a tricycle with a wide double seat and two pairs of pedals that looked as if it might still be working.

"It gets us around faster and its good aerobic exercise," he said.

"Why not," Peri agreed. She took her place next to him and after a couple of tustles with the steering they managed to co-ordinate their efforts and move forward together at an easy pace.

They came into what was obviously a play area for young children. There were ball pools and safe slides, a colourful train going round and round in endless circles, clown figures and animal shaped seesaws.

There were people playing there who were far too old for the facilities.

"At least ten years too old," Peri noted thoughtfully. “The arcade geeks... if they were twelve or thirteen when whatever happened... happened... then these were about five or six. Ten years later…."

A chubby boy of about seventeen fell off the toadstool slide and started crying. A girl of the same age uncurled herself from inside a teapot shaped play house and smacked him over the head with a one-armed rag doll until he stopped.

"Their bodies growing but their minds stuck," The Doctor confirmed.

"WHAT happened here?" Peri asked again. “Why hasn’t anyone DONE anything to help them?”

“I don’t know,” The Doctor answered with the frustration of one who was tired of saying ‘I don’t know’. They passed out of the children’s zone into another arcade where a man was playing at a crane machine. Despite his zombie mind, he had obviously been successful every so often. He had four wristwatches on his arm and the floor around him was littered with various other trinkets that had been dropped down the chute.

A wide archway beyond the crane machine opened into what was obviously the crowning glory of the Fun House. Here, beneath a once magnificent glass roof worthy of Joseph Paxton himself were all the big rides. Here was an old fashioned carousel of dancing horses, here was the Wurlitzer, the Ferris wheel, the ghost train, the Big Dipper.

A section of the Big Dipper had collapsed long ago. As with the train ride in the food court, the bodies had lain undisturbed while the uncooked grains at the bottom of popcorn buckets had germinated and grown around them.

The tunnel of love ride was out of order, too. The water had long since stopped flowing and the boats sat among the vegetation that had filled the artificial canals. Lack of movement didn’t stop some of the zombified people sitting in the ride waiting for it to move.

The carousel was turning every few minutes. Most of the bulbs that made it bright were blown and the paint was peeling off the hand carved wooden horses. The steam calliope was badly out of tune. Even so customers got on and off the ride, waiting patiently for their turn.

The same was true of the all the other rides. Peri looked up as the colour and movement of a balloon ride caught her eye. Many of the baskets were perished, but of the four that remained, three had living passengers while the fourth carried a skeleton in a battered straw hat. How long ago that passenger got on and then forgot to get off again it was impossible to tell.

"This is horrible," she said again. "Doctor, can’t we get back to the TARDIS and get out of here?"

She wasn't being callous or unfeeling. The tragedy here touched her deeply, perhaps too deeply.

"We should find the manager, first," The Doctor replied. "I think any chance of making this better lies with him."

"I guess you're right," Peri conceded. "We can't just leave it like this. But where do we start? There obviously aren't any staff here. The closest we've come to anyone working here was the hot dog vendor robot."

"Good point," The Doctor admitted. He looked around at the gruesome fair. Robots may well have been in charge of the whole thing. Doubtless maintenance droids came out at night to do what repairs they could on slowly deteriating machines, but there was no need for ride operators or security robots with the reduced customer numbers.

Reduced to zero, The Doctor noted grimly. With nobody coming in through the turnstile, nobody buying all day ride tickets, the robot staff would have been 'rested.'

“Maybe up there,” Peri suggested. She looked beyond the distraction of the balloon ride to a door set in the upper level of the Fun House building, above where the corridor had opened out into the fairground. The door was accessed by a metal stairway. Both door and stairs had an official look to them compared to the multi-coloured world of misplaced fun and long lost innocence.

The Doctor bounded towards the stairs and took them two at a time. Peri followed a little more slowly, glancing around from that higher level at the tragic place. Since it brought her a closer look at the skeletons trapped on the balloon ride it wasn't a view that gladdened her heart.

The door was locked. It looked like it had been locked for a very long time. The Doctor fished in the pockets of his clownish coat and found a length of wire. He twisted it into a lockpick and set to work.

After a few minutes during which Peri wondered what part of Time Lord training included breaking and entering he cried out in triumph. The door was unlocked. The Doctor pushed it open and stepped behind the scenes of the Fun House.

It had been impressive, once, a fully automated theme park that didn't need any human operatives. Everything was computer controlled. The banks of video screens were mostly dark or showing nothing but snow. One displayed the cctv images from all of the seperate zones, including the go kart track and the Four-D cinema experience that they had missed.

The cinema full of skeletons watching the same film over and over was probably missable, Peri decided.

One wall was filled by out of use robots dressed in outfits even The Doctor might have rejected as too loud. They waited soundlessly, lifelessly.

But one wasn't redundant. It sat on a wide chair in front of the computer controls, occasionally adjusting a knob in response to a change in ambient temperature in the food court or more light needed in the scenic railway zone.

Not that there was any light. The bulbs all blew long ago.

Another button controlled the recorded messages exhorting people to have fun.

"The manager?" Peri queried. "He looks a bit like the wizard with the fortune cards."

"Yes," The Doctor acknowledged. He leaned over the figure and tapped at the main keyboard. In a matter of seconds information scrolled onto the screen. Seconds later The Doctor had read everything he needed to read in order to understand what had happened at the Fun House.

"I see," he murmured. "How very tragic. The poor souls."

Peri, with her great capacity for compassion would have agreed with him if she hadn't been pre-occupied.

"Doctor," she whispered. "The robots... are moving."

“It’s just your imagination,” The Doctor replied. "This has been a trying experience, I understand. But the robots are....”

Then an alarm sounded and the message 'Intruder Alert' flashed up on all the screens. The robots all stood up to attention with a metallic clash of rusty but still working joints. Even though they were all dressed for a Doctor lookalike party the menace was clear.

"Back out, slowly, Peri," The Doctor said in a deliberately calm voice. “When you reach the door, run."

She needed no further instructions. She backed carefully to the door, then turned. The sound of her shoes on the metal stairs provided a counterpoint to the sound of the marching feet behind her.

They were robots. They didn't look fast, but there had to be twenty of them and they would be relentless in their pursuit.

There was just one chance. She jumped onto the tricycle. The Doctor, following behind shouted something like "smart thinking, Peri” and jumped on beside her. They both pedalled madly, but The Doctor was doing the steering.

"Where are we going?" Peri asked breathlessly as the robots picked up speed in pursuit.

"Outside," The Doctor answered. "Brace yourself."

"No!" Straight ahead Peri saw what must have been the main door once. There was a crazy clown arch all around which was probably meant to be welcoming, but the huge glass doors were shut.

"Doctor! You can’t. We'll be cut to ribbons” Peri stopped pedalling and covered her head with her hands as the tricycle hit the glass.

There was a tremendous crash and lethal shards went everywhere, but nothing touched them. Peri expressed her surprise and relief.

"Ultra safety glass. If broken it refracts away from organic matter. A place like that, full of children, refracting glass is mandatory.”

But Peri had lost interest in the window or even the fact that the clown guard robots were still in pursuit. She was staring at the huge yellow machine bearing down on them. A roller bigger than a double decker bus was crushing the rubble of a demolition site before it – and they were close to becoming a greasy smear on the landscape.

"Yikes," The Doctor remarked and swung the tricycle left. They both pedalled rapidly and narrowly escaped the roller.

The robots were not so lucky. Most of them fell beneath the inexorable crush before the foreman of the site realised there was a problem and signalled to the driver.

Peri looked around once again now that it was safe to do so. The Fun House was a huge building seen from the outside. All around it was the rubble of a flattened city. In the far distance the glass and steel fingers of a new city of magnificent skyscrapers glinted in the sunshine while the yellow machines crushed the old one to dust.

"What were you doing in there?" demanded the foreman. "We're just about to demolish that building."

"No! What! " Peri exclaimed. "You can't. There are people in there."


"Lots of people. They're zombies, but still people."

The foreman looked at Peri curiously, then decided he needed a decision from higher up his chain of command.

Peri and The Doctor repeated their story several times over the next few hours. Eventually they explained to people in enough authority to do something. A SWAT team went in to neutralise the remaining security robots then ambulance craft evacuated the zombie players and collected the bodies of those who didn't make it.

"Ten years ago a plague hit this planet," The Doctor explained to Peri over coffee in the hospitality lounge of the re-colonising authority’s orbiting mother ship. "It was swift ... In a matter of minutes the infected people lost all but basic brain functions. Lots of them died... driving cars, operating machinery... in fires and other accidents. The rest wandered aimlessly until containment units arrived. They were evacuated to a hospital ship where a cure was eventually identified. Most recovered, but the planet was quarantined. Nobody has been allowed near it for these ten years."

"But... the Fun House..."

"The Fun House had all sorts of automatic safety features. When the plague hit it, a lockdown protocol kicked in, holding everybody inside. They were missed in the evacuation. Everyone simply forgot they were there. But for that error that allowed the hot dog seller to keep going they would have starved to death. As it is... they can be cured. They will need a lot of help. Ten missing years of their lives... especially for the ones who were children then....."

He sighed grimly. Peri nodded in understanding.

"We saved them. It could have been terrible. If the demolition had started they would all have been killed. We were just in time. Thank goodness. I just wonder...."

She held up the ticket with the 'fortune' on it.

"How did it know?"

“That," The Doctor replied. "Is one of the little mysteries that make the universe so interesting." He smiled enigmatically – well, a little lopsided and strange, but he thought it was enigmatic. "We can get along as soon as the search team retrieve the TARDIS from the Fun House. Where would you like to go, next? Disneyland, Barry Island, Blackpool Pleasure Beach...."

Peri's disgusted look spoke volumes.

"Why don't you try again for that Eye of Orion place. It sounds suitably dull and boring. At least it has no hot dog vendors."