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

The TARDIS was falling through space like a seed from a sycamore tree tumbling and spinning through the air. Its three occupants clung to whatever handholds they could find and hoped it would stop soon.

“Doctor, canna ye no do something?” asked Jamie McCrimmon as he slid across the floor and jarred his body painfully against the wall.

“Why is this happening?” Victoria asked mournfully. “This was just meant to be a simple trip to Earth… to visit Professor Travers and Anne. You said we were only a few minutes away.”

In readiness for the visit to their friends in 1960s London she was dressed in a neat skirt suit that would not be out of place, the skirt below the knee – nothing would impel her to wear a mini-skirt - but shorter than her late Victorian dresses.

“It’s been more than a few minutes, Doctor, and no’ verra good minutes, either.”

“I’m trying,” The Doctor assured them. “I really don’t understand it, at all. We WERE on course to arrive at the Travers house in London. We literally WERE moments away from materialising – then everything went wrong.”

“Oh, please make it stop,” Victoria begged as the TARDIS lurched once more and she fell over altogether, banging her head painfully on the communications console.

“I’m terribly sorry,” The Doctor apologised. “It is all completely beyond my control. It’s almost as if the TARDIS is being pulled by a force outside of itself.”

“You mean….” But Jamie wasn’t sure what The Doctor meant. What was capable of pulling the TARDIS through space and time?

“I feel terribly ill,” Victoria complained. She had not yet managed to stand up again after her fall. Now she closed her eyes and sighed deeply. The Doctor tried to reach out to her as she slipped into unconsciousness. He looked around to see that Jamie was slumped in the corner, too.

“Oh dear,” he said with uncharacteristic understatement.

Then he, too, succumbed to the outside force that was having such a distressing effect on the TARDIS and its crew.

When he regained consciousness, everything was still. The time rotor was at rest and even the most persistently blinking console lights were either off or steady indicating that they had nothing to monitor, no data to process. The console room was quiet, with only the very faintest vibration beneath the floor as a reminder that this was a very sophisticated space and time capsule.

The overhead lights were dimmed as they always were when the crew were at rest or the TARDIS was empty. At least, The Doctor believed the empty TARDIS went into that mode. He had, obviously, never seen it since the lights automatically came on when the key was inserted in the lock. It was like checking to see of the fridge light was on when the door was closed, an activity too trivial even for The Doctor's often playful mind.

The lights brightened as he stood up and stretched aching muscles. Victoria and Jamie were still asleep, but as he reached for his young female friend she stirred and groaned.

“Doctor… what happened?” she asked.

“I’m not at all sure,” he answered. “But it doesn’t look as if any real harm was done.”

Jamie was stirring, too, rubbing his neck and head at the same time. He looked around, puzzled.

“I dreamt I was in a box,” he said.

“You are,” Victoria answered him. The TARDIS is a box.”

“I mean a small one,” Jamie insisted. “Or… not a box… a jar… or a bottle…. Made of glass that ye canna see through.”

“Well, that’s a very odd dream, altogether,” Victoria concluded. “Glass is meant to be see through.”

But that wasn’t strictly true. Glass of certain thickness or colour could be thoroughly opaque. Even so, it was just a detail about a dream that Jamie had while unconscious.

She would have dismissed it entirely from her mind if she hadn’t realised that what Jamie had described seemed very familiar to her.

She had dreamt the very same thing.

“Doctor, what is happening?” she asked. “Where are we?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “We seem to have landed, but I don’t know where.” The Doctor looked at the navigation drive and frowned deeply, his usually humorous face wrinkling in entirely the wrong way. “That’s very odd, very peculiar… and very worrying.”

“What’s wrong, Doctor?” Jamie asked, moving to his side to examine the readout on the screen even though it meant absolutely nothing to a highland Phíobaire who’s only reading matter growing up was a psalter in the village kirk.

“According to these readings, the entire universe outside the TARDIS is only a few feet bigger than the exterior of the TARDIS – its police box disguise.”

“It must be a mistake,” Victoria told him. “The computer is faulty. How can the universe be the size of the TARDIS?”

“It can’t,” The Doctor insisted. “This is quite wrong. It’s impossible. But… oh dear, I just don’t know.”

“Can’t we dematerialise and go somewhere else?”

The Doctor tried. The TARDIS groaned and heaved in its usual way and remained just where it was. He stopped the dematerialisation to reduce pressure on the engines.

“The navigation computer doesn’t’ think there is anywhere for the TARDIS to go – in a universe only a little bigger than its own external dimensions.”

Victoria bit her lip in a worried way. Jamie was a little less despondent. Despite his travels with The Doctor he had no real concept of the size of the universe to begin with.

“Why dinnae we just look outside?” he suggested.

“Well… I don’t know,” The Doctor demurred. “We don’t know what we might find.”

“That’s sort of the point,” Victoria reminded him. “Look, it can’t do any harm, can it? I mean, even if it is something nasty out there, the TARDIS has shields to protect us as long as we don’t go over the threshold.”

“Yes, that’s true.” The Doctor conceded. “Oh dear, I suppose it is the only thing to do.”

It worried him more than either of his companions could fully understand. They couldn’t begin to know what it would mean for him if the TARDIS had truly broken down, unable to move from this one no-place, then he would be utterly defeated. His whole raison d’être was to travel, to be free of the barriers, real and psychological, that his own people placed upon life.

For a moment he wondered if that was what had happened. Had the Time Lords caught up with him at last and pulled his TARDIS into a sinister new prison of their devising?

If so, then it was quite unfair of them to trap his two friends, as well. He knew that he would be punished mercilessly for breaking the Laws of Time, but they didn’t deserve to share his fate.

Of course, one of those laws stated that non-Time Lords were not permitted to travel by TARDIS. They might just hold Jamie and Victoria prisoner for that, even though it was entirely his fault that they were travelling with him.

They were perverse in that sort of way.

“Doctor….” Jamie roused him from his glum reverie. “Are ye going tae open the door or nae?”

“Oh… yes, yes, of course.” He quickly reached for the door control. The lock juddered once, reminding him that the mechanism needed some maintenance and then the big doors folded in on themselves.

Victoria was the first to reach the doorway. She stared at the strange blue wall that blocked her way, then she reached out and touched it.

“Victoria!” The Doctor called out in alarm. “That was terribly dangerous. You have no idea what that substance is.

“It’s glass,” she told him. “A glass wall… one so thick that I can’t see through it.”

“Like my dream,” Jamie commented. “My dream of being trapped in a bottle that I couldnae see through.”

“Yes, mine too,” Victoria confirmed. “At least….”

Before The Doctor or Jamie could say anything more, she stepped out of the TARDIS. There was a glass floor, too, like polished blue marble, extending just a few feet from the threshold and forming a very narrow corridor between TARDIS and wall. She looked either way then walked to the right. Jamie ran to the doorway and leaned out to look, but she had turned the corner already. He waited, listening to the very faintest sound of her footsteps – patent leather on glass making a peculiar tapping noise that first got more distant, and then drew closer as she walked right around the TARDIS and came back from the left side.

“Oh, it’s horrible,” she said, tears pricking her eyes as she grasped Jamie’s hand, letting him draw her back inside the TARDIS. “It’s horrible. The TARDIS is surrounded by that glass wall – top and bottom, too. We’re trapped.”

“A pocket universe, perhaps,” The Doctor remarked absently. “But how… and why?” He turned to the console again and examined a graphic showing the TARDIS within its impossible prison. “Ship in a bottle,” he said after a while. “We’re a ship in a bottle.”

“We’ll suffocate!” Victoria cried out loud.

“No, we won’t,” The Doctor assured her. “The TARDIS has virtually unlimited power. The life support systems will provide us with oxygen forever – or as near to forever as matters.”

“All right, but then we’ll starve or die of thirst,” Victoria added.

“Again, the TARDIS’s automatic systems can synthesise food and drink indefinitely.” The Doctor pointed to a small machine in the corner of the console room. Anyone from an age a little later than Victoria’s might think it was an automatic coffee machine, and they would be nearly right. In fact, it could produce nutritious food and drink of any flavour. The drink always came out like clear water, but tasted something like the beverage ordered. The food came out in small white bars that could be chewed to enjoy something like the taste of any meal imaginable though the texture and appearance of the food was far from reassuring.

“That stuff is droch,” Jamie declared. “I’d rather starve than live on that.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” The Doctor told him. “As inadequate as the automatic food dispensers are, if there is no alternative….”

“You can’t mean that, Doctor,” Victoria asked balefully. “You don’t mean that we have no choice but to live out our lives here inside the TARDIS, trapped in this way? I don’t think I could bear that.”

“Nor could I,” The Doctor admitted. “But just now I don’t know what else we can do. The TARDIS will not dematerialise. It does not recognise anything beyond those curious walls to materialise into.”

“How can that be?” Jamie asked. “Even a really big bottle has to be somewhere. It has to be standing on a shelf or…..”

Jamie had put his finger on the problem in his own way. Nobody, not even Time Lords, could be entirely sure what was outside of the universe. Even a TARDIS could not go beyond its limits without doing something incredibly hazardous like entering a black hole – and that tended to be the last time that TARDIS and its crew were ever seen.

The TARDIS was built by Time Lords. It obeyed the physical laws they programmed into it. And when it was presented with a universe only a little bigger than itself, it could not judge what was beyond that universe.

“We have to break the glass,” Jamie said, and as soon as he did it seemed quite obvious to everyone. Of course that was the answer.

“But how?” Victoria asked. She shuddered at the idea of going out there again, but she did so, just to assure herself that it was very hard glass, not easily broken. Just how thick it was, she could not even guess. Even when she knocked on it the sound was all too solid.

“Let me have a go,” Jamie said. He ran at the wall with his dirk held in front of him and a terrible Gaelic war cry. His strong steel dagger hit the glass wall and the tip broke off it along with a very tiny chip of glass.

Jamie was thoroughly dismayed. Not only had he broken his dirk, but he had a cut on his face from the chip flying off and the wall was as solid as it ever was. It must have been several inches thick.

“Give me that chip,” The Doctor said while Victoria applied witch hazel and a sticking plaster to Jamie’s face. “I might be able to analyse it.”

He took the fragment of glass carefully, using tweezers and inserted it into a receptacle on the console. Lights flashed and a low buzzing noise just reached the point of being very annoying but not quite insufferably irritating before it stopped.

He was a long time reading the data produced on the analysis screen. His two young companions watched his face as he murmured quietly about ‘how interesting’ the data was.

“What’s interesting, Doctor?” Victoria asked, unable to contain herself any longer.

“This glass… it’s ordinary glass made from silica quarried near Milan, Italy. It is stained with oxide of cobalt, hence the term ‘cobalt blue’ for this type of glass manufacture. It was popular in decorative ware, storage jars and bottles and tableware from the eighteen-thirties to nineteen thirties. This example is from around eighteen-fifty and is about a hundred and fifteen years old judging by the atomic reading of the cobalt.”

“And that means….” Jamie prompted him.

“It means that, in all likelihood, this bottle is on Earth in the nineteen sixties, before humans had space travel.”


“So if the bottle is on Earth, then so are we,” The Doctor concluded with a triumphant tone. “We ARE in the right time and place.”

“But how can we be?” Victoria asked. “We were meant to be in London visiting Anne and the Professor?” Victoria surmised. “There are no giant glass bottles in London in their time.”

“The bottle isn’t giant,” The Doctor explained patiently. “We, being dimensionally transcendental, are inside an ordinary-sized bottle. It appears to be giant relative to our own perspective.”

“I know what some of those words mean, but not in those sentences,” Victoria admitted.

“I’m no sure I understand any of the words,” Jamie admitted. “Explain a bit simpler, please, Doctor.”

“Oh, dear,” The Doctor sighed. “It’s… it’s like this….” He held up his thumb. “See how I can use my thumb to block the whole of the viewscreen if I hold it like this – relative dimension. Do you see what I mean?”

“No, that doesnae help at all,” Jamie told him.

“Not much,” Victoria added. “Doctor, are you saying that we’re not in a tiny universe bound by a mysterious glass wall, but on Earth, somehow miniaturised and trapped in a bottle?”

“Miniaturised?” Jamie was alarmed by the idea.

“We’re not miniaturised,” The Doctor explained. “It is simply a matter of relative dimensions.”

“Dinnae start with all that again. I’m not going to understand any better the second time around.”

“If we’re inside an ordinary bottle, then we’re miniaturised,” Victoria insisted. “That’s the plain truth of the matter, and I don’t like it at all. Doctor, please, there must be something you can do to get us back to the right size.”

“We ARE the right size,” The Doctor explained again. “Relatively.”

“Yes, but….” Victoria sighed and gave up. She just couldn’t find the words to explain why their predicament distressed her and why dimensional relativity didn’t make her feel better about it.

The Doctor tried again using the example of a small box held in his hand and a large one by the far wall.

“Doctor, that’s not helping,” Jamie intervened. “Whether we’re miniaturised or no’, we can’t stay trapped forever. Is nae there nae thing you can do?”

“I don’t know, I just don’t know,” The Doctor answered him. “Unless…. Oh, yes. Of course. Why didn’t I think of it before?”

“Think of what?” Victoria asked. The Doctor was suddenly very animated, moving around the console, pressing buttons and pulling levers with gusto.

“Relative dimensions,” he answered. “That’s the answer. Quick, close the door. The glass could go all over.”


Victoria closed the door while The Doctor pulled one last lever and the time rotor whirred into action. The TARDIS shuddered and shook as if it was trying to free itself from a tight spot. Victoria looked up at the viewscreen on the wall and saw the blue wall suddenly shatter, the pieces flying out in all directions.

Moments after that, the view changed to that of a comfortable drawing room in an ordinary house. The funny thing was that it seemed, at first, as if the view was from very low down on the floor, then very quickly the perspective changed to normal.

As she watched, a young woman came into the drawing room. Victoria gave a cry of delight. As soon as The Doctor released the lock and opened the door she rushed out of the TARDIS.

“Anne!” she cried, hugging her friend gratefully. “Oh, Anne, it’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you, too,” Anne Travers replied happily, if a little bemused by Victoria’s . “And you, too, Doctor, and you, Jamie.” She smiled at her friends as they emerged from the TARDIS, but the sight of the old police box itself was worrying. “I didn’t expect you to materialise the TARDIS right here. And… oh… look at the broken glass on the floor. That was a lovely old cobalt blue bottle with fruit vine design. It was meant to be a present for you, Doctor. The vibrations from the TARDIS arriving must have jolted it off the mantlepiece.”

“Oh!” The Doctor was surprised, concerned and disconsolate at the same time. He picked up one of the largest pieces of the broken bottle and looked at it carefully.

“Just an ordinary bottle,” he confirmed. “Nothing sinister. It wasn’t designed to trap us. There’s nothing sinister at all. I was worried it was some trap by the Great Intelligence or some other agent….”

“Well, of course not,” Anne replied, wondering if she ought to be indignant at such a suggestion. “Why would I have bought something that would trap you?”

“It’s a long story,” Victoria said to her. “One best told over tea, I think. You put the kettle on and I’ll clean up the glass. The Doctor and Jamie can move the TARDIS into the hallway where it will be out of our way, and then we can start this visit over again in a civilised manner.”

“Good idea, Victoria,” The Doctor said, clapping his hands together. “Come along, Jamie. Let’s set to work. Soonest started, soonest done.”

“Aye, Doctor,” Jamie agreed, getting ready to shoulder the load. As long as they were back to their proper dimensions, now, and in a proper, recognisable universe, he didn’t mind a bit of manual labour.