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

"This is the only way to really experience the Nile," The Doctor announced as he strode along the bustling Cairo quayside with all the authority of a shipping magnate who owned every vessel being loaded and unloaded in a port that received trade goods from all over the world and dispatched the mercantile treasures of the East to every destination imaginable. "The only way and the only time to really appreciate it."

"I'm appreciating the smell," Romana answered with a grimace. It was a mixture of exotic spices, fetid rubbish and stagnant water with a soupcon of sweat and toil. "Besides, that 's not exactly true, is it, Doctor. The Nile can be appreciated in the times of the great Pharaohs, or of Cleopatra and Caesar, or at any time before or since."

“But this is the Belle Époque, when the great and the good travelled to see the wonders of Egypt by the most stylish transport of all. There she is – the SS Sudan.”

Romana very much looked the part, dressed in an ankle length sundress and a light scarf loosely covering her head and neck. She fitted easily with the other ladies waiting at the Thomas Cook embarkation point, a short distance away from the uncouth sounds and unpleasant smells of commerce. The Doctor had abandoned his woollen scarf and heavy topcoat for a light waistcoat and linen trousers, but the floppy hat still prevailed.

“Why do men, of any species, call vehicles, of any sort, ‘she’?” Romana asked as she viewed the passenger steamer without any particular emotion. “Even the TARDIS is an ‘old girl’ according to you.”

“She is,” The Doctor replied. “And the Sudan is a grand old girl. She was built in 1885 and belonged to King Fouad, King of All Egypt and Sudan, until it was sold to the Thomas Cook company for use on their Nile Cruises. She is a queen of the river.”

Romana looked with renewed interest at the ship. This was nineteen-thirty-three, so that made it nearly fifty years old, which seemed almost antique by Human standards. Yet the two long passenger decks with the luxury cabins and suites leading off from it were like new, varnished a warm mahogany colour. The sun deck sparkled in the sunshine and the windows of the Bridge right at the top reflected the azure sky. The covered section where the huge paddle turned towered above the quay and the fact that it had been turning for so long impressed Romana. Humans were surprisingly clever, though she was never going to admit that to The Doctor.

"It's a boat,” she said begrudgingly. “A steam boat, a very inefficient method of producing energy which will soon be outmoded by oil - which creates even worse pollution."

"Our ancestors created a supernova to power TARDIS travel," The Doctor pointed out. “We can’t take the moral high ground about environmental damage. But steam travel is marvellous and travelling up the Nile is a marvellous use of steam.”

“Essentially, you think it is marvellous,” she agreed.

“Come on, Romana, you will love it."

Romana still wasn’t too sure about that, but there was one redeeming feature of this trip. She glanced around at the other women waiting to board the SS Sudan. She saw some of the highest fashions of this era and felt she was equal to them all. Her luggage waited on a trolley, attended by a steward wearing a long white robe tied at the waist by a deep red cummerbund that matched the strange hat on his head – The Doctor said it was a fez, which she had to believe was a real word. She had brought several cases and four hatboxes which the steward was responsible for and knew that her wardrobe would allow her to compete favourably with the other passengers.

With that confidence she walked up the gangway alongside The Doctor. Their luggage was taken ahead to their cabins on the upper deck while they were directed to the sun deck where cocktails were available.

This was her chance to get to know her fashion rivals. Romana was fully trained in social etiquette and mingling was easy enough. As the SS Sudan steamed away from the quay and into the mid-stream of the Nile she quickly found herself accepted in a small group that included a vivacious young woman called Lady Annabel Lucas and her two friends, the Honourable Diana Marchmount and Sarah Downing-Parker.

Romana was aware of a social pecking order among the women. A Lady outranked an Honourable and both were higher than a mere double-barrel.

She introduced herself as Lady Romana Dvoratre Lundar. After all, she was an aristocrat of Gallifrey. Why shouldn’t her human acquaintances know that?

“I haven’t seen you at any of the London salons,” Lady Annabel remarked. “Or any of the good country house parties. Have you been living in some terrible, uncivilised place like Lancashire, my dear?”

“Something like that,” she admitted. The women sympathised. But she realised that English aristocrats had things like ‘social pages’ to keep them in touch with the movements even of people they didn’t know. There was also a difficult question about her debutante ball. There was a Gallifreyan equivalent of such a social rite of passage for young time ladies, but explaining about it was not an option. She used some Power of Suggestion to make them think that, apart from living somewhere horribly provincial and far from the London set, she was a perfectly ordinary English aristocrat.

“Well, you’re being brought into the proper circles now, at least,” Lady Annabel told her. “There’s still hope for you. I suppose this is your first trip to Egypt?”

"Yes, it is," she answered. "I'm here with The Doctor. He's my... uncle."

"Yes, of course. That makes sense. You'll need to be introduced to some of the eligible men in this trip," Honourable Diana remarked. Lady Annabel agreed, but Double-barrelled Sarah laughed at them.

"This is the nineteen-thirties. A woman doesn't need to pursue a husband to be fulfilled. Romana might have her own ambitions."

Romana had many ambitions, but not ones she could share with anyone on this boat.

"I'm just here for a little holiday," she explained before a debate ensued. "But I would like to meet people. The Doctor said I should expand my social circle."

"I should introduce you to George Anthony," Lady Annabel said. "That's him explaining the proper way to mix a daiquiri to the steward. He'll be Lord Mountchapel when his father passes away - one of the wealthiest landowners in England. That's his sister, Ellen. She's engaged to a third cousin of the King, though it nearly didn't happen. Last year she was all for eloping with the gamekeeper. His Lordship paid the fellow to emigrate to Australia and after locking herself in her room and crying for two days she decided to be sensible."

The three women identified several wealthy and well connected people whom Romana ought to get to know and shared scraps of gossip about them.

"That chap with the beard is Angus McMurray," Annabel said, pointing to a thin, sallow faced man who was drinking a long glass of what looked like iced water. "He owns a lot of land in Scotland, but it is in rather a grim place – positively the middle of nowhere. Nobody would want to live there, so his chances of getting a wife are slim. The man he's talking to is Peter Alne. He's engaged to Lady Alicia Bearsted. That's her over there by the rail, looking ill. I hope it doesn’t last. Usually she's a wonderfully witty woman. I'll introduce you properly when she's feeling better."

"Who is that?" Romana asked as a figure walked among the cocktail drinking smart set who didn’t seem to belong there for a number of reasons. Her clothing was unusual. Among the bright, gay colours of fashionable sundresses the black of her dress stood out. The style - floor length skirt and long sleeves, bodice tightly buttoned to the neck - was at least thirty years out of date. Added to that, black gloves and, finally, a thick veil that hid her face from view completed a figure of mystery.

"I dont know," Lady Annabel admitted, something that she didn’t often say when among the social elite at cocktail hour.

"Those clothes look uncomfortable for this climate," Honourable Diana added.

"She must be in mourning," Sarah Double-Barrel pointed put. "But then, why come on a pleasure cruise? Surely being surrounded by all our gaiety and frivolity would make her grief all the worse?"

Romana agreed with that sentiment. She also agreed that the clothes looked quite unsuitable for the hot dry climate of this desert country. That wasn’t merely a fashion statement, but a truism. Even on the river the heat rising off the land in the shimmering late afternoon haze could be felt keenly. Not for nothing had they all brought full wardrobes. Several changes of clothes were essential every day.

"Of course it is entirely her business," Sarah added. “We ought not to speculate.”

“But that is quite impossible,” Annabel countered. "Everyone aboard must be wondering about who she is. Speculation is impossible to avoid. We have very little else to do, after all."

"For most of us being that much the centre of attention would be an achievement," Diana pointed out. "We all crave the eyes of the room upon us. But not like that. It's really rather tragic."

"Whoever she is, your uncle is the only person who has spoken to her," Sarah pointed out. Romana looked to see The Doctor approach the veiled lady and offer her his assistance as she faced the steep steps down to the promenade deck. She allowed him to take her arm as she descended. He returned a few minutes later and resumed his conversation with a man Lady Annabel identified as one Captain James Arthur who was recently invalided out of the army after an accident in the line of duty that left him with only one eye. The patch over the right side and a small scar down the same cheek only slightly detracted from a rugged handsomeness.

"He's only thirty-two, and has his own money, so still a catch even without a military career," Annabel had pronounced, even though Romana had made it clear that she wasn't looking for a well to do husband. The subject of the mystery woman was forgotten as the social assets of the Captain were discussed. Romana made the right comments at the right time while wondering what The Doctor knew about the lady and determining to ask him as soon as she had a chance to talk to him privately.

That opportunity did not arise. After the cocktail hour in which the Sudan gracefully steamed past the outskirts of Cairo and afforded the passengers a distant view of the Pyramids of Giza it was time to dress for dinner. Romana took very special care about that operation. She was not sure she liked being ‘provincial’ aristocracy and was determined to measure up in her wardrobe if not in her acquaintance with the ‘right people’.

There was no opportunity to talk to The Doctor in confidence in the dining room, either. They were seated at a table with George Anthony, the future Lord Mountchapel, and his sister, Ellen, as well as the eligible Captain Arthur. The two Englishmen talked rather unsurprisingly about stocks and shares and whether such things were likely to stabilize now that certain political changes were happening in America and across Europe. The Doctor joined in with resarks that were dangerously close to breaking certain time traveller’s rules about revealing details of the future, suggesting that a Democrat would soon be in the White House and that nothing good would come out of the emerging political situation in Germany.

Women were not expected to know anything about these subjects. Ellen and Romana had no choice but to hold their own conversation which steered well away from either politics or economics.

"The veiled lady hasn’t come to dinner," Ellen noted when their appraisal of the fashions displayed in the dining room flagged as a subject.

“Unless, of course, she is here but dressed differently, now,” Romana added, though she didn’t think that was the case. The lady who had hidden so much of her body earlier would have to have gone for a totally different look to blend in with all of the off the shoulder, backless and halter-neck gowns revealing so much well-moisturised flesh.

When their steward came to take away the plates from their main course, Romana chanced a question that would settle the matter.

“What did the lady dining in her cabin order?” she asked.

“The steak tartare,” the steward answered immediately. “The chef’s speciality, though she is the only passenger to ask for it.”

“She isn’t ill, then,” Ellen commented when the steward left their table. “Nobody suffering from mal-de-mer would order a dish like that. I mean, look at poor Alicia.”

Lady Alicia was still looking ill and while everyone else was enjoying a choice of rack of lamb, Madras chicken or poached salmon, she was trying to swallow some dry toast. The idea of her ordering steak tartare was impossible.

“Can it be called ‘mal-de-mer’ when on a river cruise?” Romana asked, choosing a trivial point to discuss while thinking carefully about the more vital matter that the lady had chosen to dine alone in her cabin when even ‘poor’ Lady Alicia had dressed and come to the restaurant. She was keeping herself secluded in more than just her form of dress. She clearly didn’t come on this tour in order to widen her social circle.

She was still wondering, and reaching no definite conclusions when Lady Annabel approached the table.

"Captain Arthur," she said effusively. "Romana has never seen the sunset on the Nile before. She shouldn't miss her first."

"Indeed, not," Arthur agreed. "Romana, may I escort you to the promenade deck?"

"Yes, of course," she answered. The Captain stood and came around the table to hold her chair. He took her arm and walked with her out of the restaurant.

The promenade deck – the upper of the two decks, which allowed a walk all the way around the ship while the lower one was cut off port and starboard by the paddle wheel housing - was already busy. Most of the young couples were enjoying the romantic backdrop of the sun setting over the desert lands of Egypt as the SS Sudan steamed up the Nile. Even for a Gallifreyan it was a spectacular sight. The warmth of the slanting rays lit the desert and turned the great river to the colour of wine.

"Quite magnificent," Romana breathed.

"Indeed," Captain Arthur agreed. "Though sadly my handicap spoils it a little. I have no depth perception to truly appreciate the spectacle."

"Oh... I am sorry," Romana told him. "I hope my enthusiasm hasn't seemed insensitive."

“Not at all. You have every right to enjoy your first Nile sunset - and many more besides. I should not have burdened you with my troubles. Besides, I am fortunate. I still have perfect sight in my good eye and my general health is fine. When I was recuperating from the injury I saw far too many men still with health or wits wrecked in the Great War."

Romana had to think quickly about which of the human wars was considered the 'great' one at this time in their history before agreeing that it was a tragedy. Arthur did not let their conversation dwell on such things, though. He turned back to the loveliness of the scene now that the sun was fully set. The sky was a perfect hemisphere of stars above a land with few artificial lights. On the west bank they watched the moving ribbon of a train on the line that followed the course of the river for several hundred miles. The sound of its whistle drifted across the water.

It was a sound that sent a shiver up Romana’s spine, though she didn’t quite understand why. Steam trains held no nostalgic hold for her and she was not overcome by the romance of the situation. She was a Time Lord. They didn’t do romance. They did logic and rationality.

But something about standing there on the steam ship on the river Nile with the clear night sky and the whistle of the distant train defied logic or rationality. Instead, it just felt very nice.

But one thing she was sure about, and even if it spoiled the moment she had to say something.

“Captain, you ought to know that I am not interested in finding a husband on this voyage. Lady Annabel and her friends are setting me up for it, but really, it is the last thing on my mind.”

Captain Arthur smiled warmly.

“I’m not looking for a wife, so let’s agree to be friends and take a stroll around the deck with no expectations of each other.”

Much relieved, Romana let him take her arm and they walked along the port side – facing the west bank of the Nile, and around to the starboard side and the east bank.

They talked about Egypt and the Nile. Captain Arthur had travelled along the great river many times and told Romana what to expect of the ancient ruins they would be visiting the day after tomorrow when they reached Luxor.

"Of course it depends how enthusiastic one is about ancient Egypt," he admitted. "If the minutiae of detail about cartouches and inscriptions, names of unpronounceable pharaohs etc don't excite, then I suppose there comes a point where every ruin looks the same as the last.”

“I… will try not to feel that way,” Romana assured him. “Though I am not sure how much minutiae my head could contain, either.”

Arthur smiled kindly at her and then glanced around at the couples finding niches in the dark to indulge in romantic trysts under the Nile sky.

“I’m afraid there are few dedicated Egyptologists aboard this vessel. Most will think only of having their photographs taken in exotic locations.”

It was a barely veiled criticism of the Nile tourist trade. Romana was wondering what made him say such a thing to her when her train of thought was derailed by the sight of one couple who were not cuddling in the shadows.

“I say,” Arthur murmured. “Is that….”

“The Doctor… and….”

The Doctor was walking with the veiled lady. The two silhouettes were unmistakeable. They looked like an older version of the young courting couples on the promenade deck. Not that they were courting in any obvious way. The Doctor had his arm linked with the lady’s but that was just out of courtesy.

Even so, Romana couldn’t help thinking that they knew each other much better than two people who had only met this afternoon.

They walked towards port side and were soon out of sight. Romana stopped walking and Captain Arthur stopped with her. She felt she wanted to give them some distance. She didn’t want them to think she was following them.

“It… is kind of him to pay her attention,” Captain Arthur said, obviously trying to say something polite about the matter.

“He is a kind person,” Romana admitted. “But….”

Again the train of thought was shunted into a side junction. There was a feminine shriek and a man ran past, roughly bumping into Captain Arthur. The next moment The Doctor ran after him. Arthur gave chase as well while Romana quietly joined the veiled lady who was waiting by the companionway to the sundeck.

“What happened?” she asked.

“That ruffian was attempting to break into a portside cabin,” the lady answered in an accent impossible to fully identify. “We surprised him… The Doctor gave chase. If I were thirty years younger I would have stopped him myself. As it is….”

They were both surprised by a splash and multiple shouts. The man had jumped over the side!

It took several minutes for the calls of ‘man overboard’ to be conveyed to the bridge. It took several more to stop the Sudan and drop anchor. A lifeboat was lowered and a search made, but there was no trace of the man who had jumped.

“A stowaway, a sneak thief, a scoundrel who got his just desserts,” was the general consensus of those who found their way to the smoking room and ordered drinks to get over the shock. The Doctor and the veiled lady were not among that crowd. Romana stayed long enough to drink a small brandy and confirm Captain Arthur’s account of the ruffian going past before she made her excuses and headed back to her cabin. Arthur and several other men offered to escort her – in case there were any other troublemakers around, but she assured them all that she would be fine.

And she was. It was only a short walk from the lounge to her port side upper deck cabin and there was nobody around.

Before she reached the door, she was distracted by something unusual and she knocked at The Doctor's cabin door instead.

"What do you make of those?" she asked. He looked where she was pointing and became very interested. He followed the strange tracks that were clearly not wet human footprints back to the place where something had climbed aboard leaving a lump of soggy river weed caught on the railing. He turned and followed the tracks until they dried out further along the portside deck.

"What does it mean?" Romana asked.

'It means that there is a shapeshifter aboard this ship - one capable of turning into an amphibious creature and swimming underwater. The webbed hands and feet are probably an interim stage, useful for climbing back aboard in almost but not quite human form."

"You mean...."

"The theory that I chased a scoundrel who shouldn't have been aboard this ship will hold in the morning when nobody is reported missing. But the truth is that you and I are not the only aliens on the SS Sudan."

"And... why is a shapeshifting alien aboard?" Romana asked.

"That I shall start to investigate tomorrow. For now, he thinks himself safe. We will all sleep soundly."

"If you think so, doctor," Romana conceded. "By the way, what is going on with the veiled lady? You and her...."

"Goodnight, Romana," The Doctor replied with a wide smile. With that he returned to his cabin leaving her to return to her own full of curious thoughts about veiled ladies and amphibious aliens with malicious intent.

The next morning, with the ship still sailing up the magnificent river flanked on either side by remarkable countryside and a cool breeze not quite burned away by the sun, it was hard to believe any such strangeness had occured. Romana dressed for a day aboard the ship, in sandals and sundress and a wide -brimmed hat. She went to breakfast with The Doctor, but after that meal she found herself in female company with Lady Annabel leading the way up to the sundeck where, under a canopy that kept the burning equatorial sun from delicate English skin they lay on sun-loungers reading books and magazines and talking about clothes, cosmetics, film stars and men generally. They lunched on the same deck, served a choice of fresh dishes by the fez-wearing stewards and continuing their leisurely pursuits.

Inevitably the subject of Captain Arthur came up. Annabel asked how he and Romana had got on last night.

"We had a pleasant walk," she replied to the inquiry. “At least until it was spoiled by that strange man."

"Do you suppose he drowned?" Ellen asked. "He must have. The men who looked found no trace of him."

"I suppose if he was local, and knew the river well enough...." Sarah speculated. "But there are alligators, aren't there?"

"If he died, then it was his own fault for trying to rob us," Annabel decided. "Luckily he was unsuccessful. At least, I haven't heard of anyone reporting anything missing.”

"And they certainly would have done so," Romana agreed. That was the odd part, whether it was a ruffian who drowned or an alien who climbed back aboard. He had been unsuccessful.

"It was the veiled lady's cabin he was trying to rob, you know," Sarah mentioned.

"What?" Romana was surprised. "Really? No. It wasn’t. She just happened to be passing with... with The Doctor."

"Not how I heard it," Diana told her. “She was saying goodnight to him... she might even have been kissing him... when the thief surprised them."

"That can’t be right, Romana insisted. "The Doctor has never kissed a woman... and certainly not a mysterious veiled one. People are telling tales."

"I think Romana is right. People are making more of this than necessary. But nothing malicious is intended. This speculation about her uncle and our mysterious lady is just a delightful amusement."

"It is rather deliciously romantic. An eccentric lord and a mystery woman."

"Eccentric?" Romana wondered how The Doctor would feel about such a term and decided it actually suited him. Yes, eccentric. Even on Gallifrey he was that. On Earth, even more so.

She wondered how The Doctor was spending his day. Was he trying to find out who the amphibian alien thief might be, or was he with her again?

Why did it worry her that he was spending time with the veiled lady? It was entirely his business.

Perhaps what really bothered her was that he wouldn't tell her what he was doing. He had shut her out of the secret.

And why? Because he didn’t trust her? Because he resented her knowing about this unusually private relationship?

Or was it because her reason for knowing was nothing more than prurience. She wanted to know the answer to the question that her human friends were so interested in, just for the pleasure of knowing what they didn't know.

Small wonder he didn't tell her.

“All right, Doctor, you keep your secret,” she decided.

But she couldn’t just lie on a sun-lounger all day talking with the other women. She had been bore with that even before lunch provided a distraction. She had even tried reading some of the books that were lying around. Nobody had really noticed when she flicked through the pages that she had consumed the whole novel in one go. The stories were completely unfulfilling, just romances involving handsome but flawed men and determined women who wouldn’t be put off by the rebuffs. She began to understand why the women all thought the object of a Nile cruise was to find a husband. Their literature conditioned them to think that was how their lives ought to be.

That was why there were no novels like that on Gallifrey. Romana put the book aside and stood up. She announced that she was going for a walk.

"Don’t get lost," somebody told her, followed by laughter that seemed disproportionate to the humour of the remark. She waved good-naturedly at her female friends and went in search of either The Doctor or the veiled lady or some sign of an alien shape-shifter.

Instead she found Captain Arthur. He greeted her with a friendly smile.

"You're bored with sunloungers and gossip, aren't you?" he said. "I thought you might be. You're far brighter and much more ambitious than most of that set. Besides...."

He paused and looked at her keenly with his good eye. Romana felt as if he was sizing her up with the other eye, too. She felt a little unnerved. For a moment she entertained the possibility that he was the alien shape-shifter before she remembered that he was at her side when the man rushed past them pursued by The Doctor.

"Besides...." she prompted him.

"I know you're not from the sort of society that Annabel and her set would understand – the sort where clothes and cosmetics and being seen with the right people matter."

"They matter to those who want to advance themselves in that way," Romana admitted. "And I like beautiful clothes as much as the next woman. But ten minutes is as long as I think anyone needs to talk about them, and my ambitions are in far different directions."

"A diplomatic answer," Arthur said. "And one that gives away nothing about where that society is.”

“I… don’t understand,” Romana stammered, though she suspected that she did.

“I need to show you something.” Arthur gently pulled her into an alcove beside a crew door. “Don’t be scared….”

Romana wasn’t sure what to expect. She definitely didn’t expect him to briefly lift his eye patch and she didn’t expect what she saw beneath it.

“That’s….” she began. “It’s…. Is it painful?”

“I really was wounded in battle,” he said as he replaced the patch over the electronic eye. Romana noticed for the first time the tiny hole in the patch that would act much like the iris in a pinhole camera. “The war really was called the ‘Great War’ – the only one we ever had on our world. The implant was done under induced coma. It gives me certain enhanced abilities. I can see in nine different light spectrums, night vision, telescopic sight. It is a distinct advantage for an agent of the Haloden Security Service.”

She had heard of Haloden. The battle he spoke of was almost certainly the one in which the planet defended itself against invasion from the twin planet of Gallovess. They had won, but not without terrible casualties.

“You’re a secret agent?”

“I’m a protection agent, covert surveillance of the Haloden Princess Royal who has chosen to live here as an earth citizen… purely as a way of gaining experience of another culture before it is time for her to return home and take up her duties."

“She’s a passenger?” Romana asked. “Who? Not… the veiled lady?”

“No, though she has me puzzled. My unique eyesight also lets me detect species. It’s how I knew you and The Doctor were not Human. The lady… is something I can’t quite identify, but she is not the Princess.”

“It’s not Annabel?”

Arthur smiled.

“I had better tell you before you name every woman aboard the Sudan. But you must be discreet. Nobody must know.”

“Discretion is my middle name,” Romana assured him. “Well, not really, but I can be trusted.”

He told her. She was slightly surprised, but accepted the news philosophically.

“The shape-shifter…” she began.

“Is a problem. He is a mercenary in the pay of our enemies. They were defeated, but assassinating the princess would be a bitter retribution against our society.”

“You don’t know who it is?”

“I CAN’T detect him when he is disguised as a Human. Last night was the closest I came to recognising him when he was fleeing. His DNA was in flux. You and The Doctor realised that he had come aboard again and is now disguised… as one of the crew or passengers. Most likely a passenger since that would allow him to get near the princess.”

“He doesn’t know who she is?” Romana guessed.


“Could he have thought it was the veiled lady? Rumour is that he was trying to get into her cabin.”

“That is very possible. Her aloofness has certainly made her an object of curiosity. It would seem logical to him. But now she has The Doctor’s protection. He will not be able to harm her, and the princess is safe under my observation.”

“Except when you are walking around the promenade deck with me,” Romana pointed out.

“But she is safe in a crowd as she was last night in the dining room,” Arthur said.

“Perhaps I should go back to the sundeck and stay in her company while you try to find out who the shape-shifter is.”

“That is a good idea. But I thought you were tired of gossip.”

“I can put up with it if it’s for a good cause.”

“Thank you,” Arthur answered sincerely. He drew her close and kissed her on the cheek in a friendly way before she turned and hurried back up to the sun deck.

"Where is Sarah?" she asked, noticing an absence from the group she had spent the morning with.

"She went somewhere with Lady Alicia," Ellen answered.

"Alicia - the one who was sick, yesterday?"

"She still looks a bit green today," Diana remarked. "But she asked Sarah to come with her to look at something - a wild bird or something. You know how Sarah is interested in ornithology."

Romana didn’t know that, and it didn’t sound very likely to her. It did sound like a very good excuse to separate Sarah from her friends. But why would Lady Alicia be involved in anything so sinister?

"Which way did they go?" she asked with a note of urgency which surprised her friends.

"Down to the lower deck, portside, I think," Annabel answered. "But why...."

"If The Doctor or Captain Arthur comes up here, tell them," Romana said as she turned hurriedly.

"Tell them what?"

"That the princess is in danger," she replied to the utter bewilderment of all before she rushed down the steps from the sundeck. Her sandals made the going difficult on the metal steps on a moving ship, but she made it unscathed down both companionways and ran portside.

Diana and Alicia were there, roughly halfway along the deck, beside the polished mahogany steps that went back to the upper deck avoiding the housing for the great, noisy steam paddle.

Romana approached the two women carefully. She was half sure that this was all a mistake. She couldn't understand what Lady Alicia had to do with any of this, but it just fitted. She had lured Sarah, otherwise known as the Princess Royal of Haledon away from the safety of her friends.

"Sarah," she called out. "Sarah, you need to come back with me. This is all wrong. You must...."

Sarah and Alicia both looked at her in surprise. Romana half-turned and saw Alicia's fiancé, Peter Alne, coming up behind her. Then she saw him reach out an arm that was impossibly long for a human. Cold, fleshly fingers grabbed around Romana's neck.

Alicia screamed as her fiancé continued to transform into something with a agiely human shape but grey, rubbery flesh, a head with no hair, ears or nose, just sunken eye sockets, basal holes and a slit of a mouth.

"I don’t want this woman," he hissed. "Or you, Alicia, so shut up. It's you, princess, that I need. Come to me and I will let her live."

"Stay back, Sarah," Romana called out. Don’t give yourself up for me."

“What’s happening?" Alicia asked, having stopped screaming and had managed not to faint from shock – though that remained a possibility.

"Your fiancé is an alien mercenary. Sarah is a princess from an alien world who he wants to kill," Romana explained despite the tightening grip on her neck. "And I'm trying to stop him from getting away with it."

"You dont seem to be doing it very well," Sarah pointed out.

"I... know...." Romana managed. She was recycling her breathing which bought her a little more time before she was asphyxiated, but that was the last of her exposition.

"Come here, now, or she dies," the alien repeated.

"Let her go, or YOU die," called out Captain Arthur as he ran down the stairs behind the two women. The alien looked up at the Haledon protection agent who was aiming a small, slender weapon not made on Earth in the 1930s. With Romana as hostage and bodyshield there was no clear shot. Arthur was forced into a stand off.

"Sarah, Alicia, get behind me," he said. "Don’t be scared. Run. Go and get help."

But Alicia was beyond scared, and she couldn’t move. Sarah hugged her tightly and begged her to be brave, but it was no use. The alien still had Romana in his power and could easily reach either of the two women without Arthur having a clear shot.

Then suddenly there was another player in the strange tableaux. The Doctor leapt down from the sundeck using the rope from a lifebelt and displaying surprising agility for a man of his build.

He landed behind the shake shifter and punched him in the back of the head. It was enough of a distraction for Romana to pull free of his grasp while The Doctor grappled the assassin.

The fight was over quickly. The Doctor pushed the shape shifter towards the rail and tipped him backwards. For a moment it looked as if both of them were going over the side, but Romana and Arthur both rushed to grab The Doctor. The shape-shifter clung to The Doctor's legs for a moment before losing his grip and plunging into the water.

"But he can change into a water breather," Sarah pointed out as she and Alicia ran to look. "He will get away, like before.”

"No... look...." Romana called out. The grey-skinned alien was trying to change shape, but he was caught in the wash created by that huge paddle as it pulled the water in.

Arthur holstered his gun and grabbed the lifebelt that The Doctor had brought with him on his Tarzanesque entrance.

"No use,” The Doctor said, shaking his head. “He's in the race, already. Sarah, take Alicia and find a steward. Get the ship stopped as quickly as possible.”

Romana realised why he had sent them away. She turned her back on the sight of the half human, half amphibian body caught in the powerful machinery. The scream was brief. The squeal of the paddles slicing through the obstacle was a little longer. She visualised the blood staining the white wake of water.

"It's over," The Doctor told her quietly as the paddles began to move more slowly and the ship started to come to a halt. By the time it did, the remains of the body were tasty morsels for the Nile alligators nearly a half mile back. The captain inspected the stationary paddle and some scraps of clothing were recovered, but everyone agreed that the fragments of flesh and bone that still clung to the blades would be best left to wash away in due course.

Alicia needed two brandies to settle her nerves. Strangely she looked healthier now than she had done all the time she had been aboard the Sudan.

“I believe she has been under some sort of hypnotic influence,” The Doctor suggested as he and Romana, with Arthur and Sarah sat with her in the lounge, which was barred to the other passengers until the Captain obtained instructions from his superiors about the incident.

“That was why she looked so odd, and why she helped to lure Sarah into danger?” Romana asked.


The ship’s Captain came into the lounge. He spoke to Alicia privately and she went away for several minutes under his care. By the time she returned, the ship’s engines had started up again. They were heading again towards Luxor as scheduled for breakfast time tomorrow.

“Peter is alive,” Alicia said in a dazed but relieved tone. “He has been in Cairo all the time. He was drugged and hidden in a warehouse in the industrial quarter. When he escaped the police didn’t believe him at first, but eventually the British consul sorted things out. He was as relieved to hear that I was safe as I was to hear his voice on the wireless.”

“The shape-shifter impersonated Peter… hypnotised Alicia so that she didn’t question any changes in his personality,” The Doctor explained.

“He’s going to Luxor by train. He’s meeting me there.”

“Good. Then people will forget that anyone died other than the thief who was known to be lurking around the ship. We will all go on with our tour of the Nile.”

“Really? People will just forget that Peter was an imposter?”

“They will,” The Doctor assured them all. And he was right. By dinner time that night the main topic of conversation was their arrival in Luxor in the morning and whether they might be a little late due to the two unscheduled engine stops. Nobody really worried about WHY the engines had been stopped.

Alicia ate in her cabin that night. She didn’t feel like facing the others until her fiancé was at her side tomorrow. She had braised lamb. The veiled lady also ate in her room. She had steak tartare again.

The next day the Sudan docked at Luxor, the second great city of the Nile. Here was where the more active part of the adventure began. After lunch everyone was taken by open-topped charabanc to the magnificent ruin of Karnak which lay beside the modern city. They admired the great construction that dated from 3200 BC and was the brainchild of Pharaoh Senusret I.

Over the next three days they visited the Temple of Isis at Philae which they reached by a motor launch and which dated from 380-362 BC and was commissioned by Pharaoh Nectanebo I. There were other ruins in other places, with less famous names, but Arthur was right about them all starting to sound and look the same. Romana was not the only passenger from the Sudan who was starting to lose track of all those Pharoahs and their attempts to be immortalised in stone.

The fifth day after Luxor the motor launch took them to somewhere a little different. This was Kitchener’s Island, an oasis of trees and exotic plants given to the eponymous Lord Horatio Kitchener – famously remembered for his Great War poster. He made the island, given to him as a reward for his efforts to bring peace to the Sudan into a magnificent botanical garden.

“Wonderful,” Romana enthused as she walked among the trees with Arthur and Sarah. She still used their Earth names even though she had learnt their real ones. “Quite wonderful, and a change from all those sun-baked ruins.”

“We agree,” said The Doctor, emerging from a path in front of them. The veiled lady was with him. She was carrying a small silver casket as if it was precious to her. “May I steal Romana from your company for a while, Captain, Princess?”

He waited until the Haloden bodyguard and his protectee had moved on and they were quite alone except for the chattering birds in the luxurious treetops.

“Romana, I want you to meet a very old friend of mine whom I was re-acquainted with on this voyage,” he said.

“So you DO know each other…” she began, then she gasped as the lady lifted her veil to reveal a face that was utterly non-Human. “I….”

“This is Madam Vastra,” The Doctor said. “She is NOT an alien. She is of a race of sentient beings descended from a reptilian rather than mammalian ancestor. Her people hibernated not long before the great dinosaurs were wiped out on this planet. She is one of only a handful who have woken. She has lived in London since the mid-nineteenth century when I first met her.”

Madame Vastra bowed her head and smiled as if the story of how they met was a story that might need longer to tell.

“I… am pleased to meet you,” Romana said. What else could she say?

“For many of those years, I had a companion,” Madam said. “Jenny, a Human woman. She died of old age two months ago.”

“I am sorry,” Romana said. Again it was the only thing she could say.

“Grief of that kind is something we all have in common, mammal and reptilian alike,” she replied. “But before she died, Jenny asked something of me. She asked that I should bring her remains to the place we visited when she was young – where we honeymooned, in fact.”

“Honeymooned?” Romana let that apparent anomaly pass as Madam went on to say that they had both loved this beautiful island. Jenny asked for her ashes to be scattered here.

“Oh.” Romana’s eyes fixed upon the casket. “So….”

“So this is the reason why I came on the Sudan. I am still in mourning and I have no desire to share the gaiety of the young people, even if I could show my face to them, but here I am, at last, and though it was meant to be a private moment I am happy to share it with my old Time Lord friend and his companion.”

They found a pleasant spot where fragrant flowers grew among dark green leaveas and Madam opened the casket. She scattered the grey ashes around the roots of the shrub and then closed the casket. She stood for a few minutes in silence. Romana and The Doctor kept the vigil with her. Then she replaced her veil and The Doctor took her arm.

“We will walk quietly until it is time to return to the launch,” The Doctor said. “But you should find your young friends, again, Romana.”

“I don’t mind staying with you,” she answered. “If you don’t mind my company. Perhaps you can tell me HOW you met each other.”

“It’s a long story,” The Doctor admitted. “But we DO have a whole afternoon.”

“We have several more days continuing down the Nile,” Romana reminded him. “Plenty of time for long stories.”

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “Abu Simbel is the day after tomorrow. Now there is a story I think you’ll both enjoy.”

He smiled his wide, almost carnivorous smile that was tempered by the twinkle in his eyes. Under her veil Romana was sure Madam Vastra was smiling too, now that her solemn duty was done.

She smiled with them and looked forward to the rest of her Nile adventure.