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

The TARDIS had materialised in the middle of a great storm. The viewscreen was dark and all that could be seen was a high cliff and crashing waves that surrounded the time ship and sometimes threatened to overwhelm her altogether.

“Oh, Doctor!” Barbara exclaimed unhappily. “This is terrible. We should leave straight away.”

“Oh, don’t worry, my dear,” The Doctor replied. “This is just an ordinary sea storm. When it is over, I am sure everything will look much better. In the meantime, we are safe in the TARDIS.

“It’s exciting,” Susan remarked. “Like being at sea on a ship – at least I think it would be. I’ve never actually been on a ship of that sort.”

“I went to the Isle of Wight once,” Ian answered her. “Sea travel is an over-rated experience. Can we turn the sound down, at least? I feel cold just listening to it.”

The Doctor adjusted the settings and the dark image on the view-screen played out in silence. The wind continued to blow and the waves broke over the TARDIS, but silently. Ian sat back in an easy chair with a book and Barbara took up some needlework. The Doctor fussed around the console as always. Only Susan watched enraptured for more than an hour as the storm reached its peak and then slowly abated.

“I don’t know how you can find wind and rain so fascinating,” Barbara commented once. But that was one of the things that had made her realise how different Susan was. The fall of a raindrop down the classroom window entranced her while things that were important to the other girls of her age – boys, clothes, music, films, seemed unimportant.

It got progressively lighter outside as the storm died away. At the same time the tide receded leaving the TARDIS on a beach of shingles – not exactly high and dry, yet, but with an inch or so of the tide lapping around it and falling back each time. Above, grey skies began to break up with the promise of a period of calm weather though the clouds were still dark enough to herald a further onslaught in the near future.

Susan turned the sound up again and listened to the hiss of the tide running back up the beach and the wind whipping it into a foam. She imagined the feel of that wind blowing around her face. The TARDIS console room somehow felt too small and the recycled air too sterile.

“Let’s go for a walk,” she announced. “It looks like the tide is going out and the sun might even break through the clouds.”

“Don’t be so hasty, Susan,” Ian warned her. “Remember how glorious the beach on Marinus looked, but even the water in a rock pool was acid enough to destroy your shoe.”

“Yes, I know. But this doesn’t look like that at all. It looks like it could be somewhere on Earth. Look at the blue sky coming out through the clouds.”

“Susan is quite right,” The Doctor confirmed. “It is Earth. We seem to be somewhere in northern Scotland.”

“Well, that makes a change,” Barbara remarked. “But what year are we in?”

“That’s a little more difficult,” The Doctor reluctantly admitted. “The temporal locator is giving me some trouble. I have been trying to fix it since we landed.”

“As per usual,” Ian commented with a sarcastic laugh. “Still, Scotland is harmless enough. I agree with Susan. Let’s wrap up and go for a walk.”

Barbara was as glad to leave the claustrophobic confines of the TARDIS as Susan, but she was less certain that Scotland was ‘harmless’.

“I wish we DID know when this is as well as where. After all Scotland hasn't always been a safe place for English people to be. We might be around the time of the Battle of Culloden or something."

"That's a very good point,” Ian admitted. “Still even if we are the exact time of that conflict we are obviously a long way from the battlefield. This looks like it could be an island. One of a group of islands. There are more of them out there beyond the bay."

Now that the storm clouds were clearing it was possible to see the jagged grey-green outlines on the horizon.

“It could be Bute or Kintyre,” Barbara suggested. “I went to a Girl Guide camp near Kintyre when I was at school.”

“I think its further north than that,” Ian suggested. “It could be the Hebrides or the Orkneys."

“The Orkneys,” The Doctor insisted. “I can sense the latitude.”

Susan looked at her grandfather curiously. It was true the people of her race could detect latitude and longitude using their unique senses but she didn't think her grandfather could still do it. He seemed to have lost so many of his telepathic skills as his body aged and weakened. She hoped it was a good sign. Perhaps the cool wind and the clean air was healthy for his mind as well as his body.

She smiled warmly at him and her two companions as they walked along the beach, walking boots crunching in the shingle.

“Look,” said Barbara. “Are those sheep up on that cliff? Doesn't that mean that there is some kind of human settlement around here? Sheep just don't graze naturally, do they?”

Barbara was the history teacher, of course, but Susan didn't think this was really her field of interest so she didn't feel out of place correcting her.

“Sheep were the first animals that early humans domesticated when they turned from hunter-gatherers and nomads to settled farmers,” she explained. “Many thousands of years before your time.”

“Makes sense,” Ian agreed. “After all, it was shepherds that the Angel came to in Bethlehem.”

“Yes,” Susan confirmed. “So the story goes, anyway. The point is, we could be any time from about three thousand years before the New Testament to any time after we left Earth so long as people were still tending sheep.”

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near either of those extremes,” The Doctor pointed out. “Those sheep are much further evolved than the wild mouflon that the early men domesticated but not nearly so advanced as your modern sheep crossbred to maximise wool production. I should say we are in the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age.”

“That's very far back,” Barbara noted. “Though not so far as the Tribe of Gumm. At least the people will have proper language.”

“I wonder if he has anything to say,” Ian remarked, pointing to a man wearing sheepskins and homespun cloth who appeared at the top of the cliff. He shielded his eyes as he looked down at the group on the beach, then turned and ran, scattering sheep before him.

“I hope we didn’t scare him,” Susan mused. “Our clothes must be strange.”

“I forget about that, sometimes,” Barbara admitted. “Perhaps we ought to go back to the TARDIS.”

"Too late," Ian warned. He pointed to where a small group of men, similarly dressed in woollen garments were picking their way down a path to the beach. “They look like a welcoming committee…. Or a hunting party to capture us. Either way we have no chance of reaching the TARDIS before they catch up with us.”

The men approached slowly. They had no weapons in their hands, but flint blades were fixed in their belts. These were probably tools rather than weapons as such, but they could certainly be used that way if necessary.

The TARDIS crew had no weapons. Ian and The Doctor both faced the oncoming locals with their arms outstretched, palms up, to prove that. Susan and Barbara stood behind them and also showed that they were unarmed. Not that it seemed to matter. When the men were only a few yards away they stopped and bowed their heads.

“My lords from the sea,” said one of the men. He was clearly the eldest, perhaps thirty-five or forty. He wore a band of braided fabric around his forehead, possibly to denote leadership. “I am Lann, elder of my people. I bid you welcome.”

“We are pleased to accept your hospitality,” The Doctor replied on behalf of them all. “Susan, Barbara, don’t be shy. These men don’t mean us any harm.”

Indeed, the men seemed quite in awe of the four new arrivals as they led them off the beach and across a sheep-covered meadow. There didn’t seem to be any settlement at all, which puzzled them until they were guided down a narrow path that gradually became more of a passageway with earth walls either side. After a while this widened out into a mud-floored communal space surrounded by small stone houses half-buried in the ground.

“Earth sheltering,” Barbara remarked. “I’ve heard of such things. It’s a primitive way of keeping a house warm. They found evidence of earth sheltering at Skara Brae when…..”

She stared around at the primitive little homes and the men, women and children who came out of them with curiosity on their faces. Even the tallest and strongest of the men were no taller than she was. Ian stood head and shoulders over them. Even The Doctor, for all of the stiffness of old age, stood with a straighter back than they did. None of them looked older than forty-five. They looked at The Doctor with awe. One as old as he appeared to be was momentous to them.

This WAS Skara Brae, the Neolithic settlement in the Orkneys which was lost to history until the 1850s when a storm uncovered the remarkably well preserved remains of the houses. The century of archaeology that followed the uncovering was the basis of almost everything anyone of Barbara’s generation knew about early Human settlements and civilisation.

And now she was standing here, in that Neolithic village, surrounded those people she had read about in historical journals in the school staff room.

She spent so much time worrying about where the TARDIS was taking them that she rarely stopped to marvel at how amazing it was. It had brought her somewhere she hardly expected to see even in her own time as an archaeological wonder, and here she was standing within its walls, surrounded by the people who lived there.

“Marvellous,” she whispered. “Simply marvellous.”

“Are you here to bring us blessings?” asked a woman who stepped forward timorously and reached out her hand towards Susan. She pulled it away again quickly, then reached again, touching Susan’s machine made winter coat as if she had never imagined anything so soft could exist. “The men said that you came from the sea…. You must be kin of the great god… of Manannán mac Lir himself.”

“I…..” Susan began. She looked at the woman and noticed two things at once. First, that she was probably a little younger than she was – barely fifteen at the most. Second, that she was heavily pregnant. Childhood was very short for these people. For that matter, if Lann was one of the elders, life generally was short.

“Aine,” Lann spoke softly to her. “Gods or no, the storm may come again, soon. We must bring them under our dry roof as our guests. We must offer them food and rest.”

Lann brought them into one of the houses. If he was leader of the tribe he clearly didn’t have any special privilege from it. This house was just the same size as the others. It was one dark, windowless room lit only by the glow of a central fire with a small aperture above to let the smoke out – some of the smoke, at least. Accustomed as they all were to London smog, they all blinked hard and tried to ignore the burning sensation in their throats as they sat down on the reed mats covered in sheepskins that Lann provided for their comfort. They tried to ignore the fleas in the wool and the general smell of unwashed bodies that the smoke didn’t quite disguise.

The house was sparsely furnished by the standards of living that Ian and Barbara were accustomed to. Piles of sheepskin on top of rush mats were obviously a bed. There was a stone shelf with compartments where pots of various sizes were stored. The pots were all decorated with repeated patterns etched into the wet clay before firing and in the back of her mind Barbara thought she had read something about it being called grooved ware. It was cited as an example of the relative sophistication of these later stone age people compared to those a few hundred years before.

The food was roasted mutton – that is to say it was charred black on the outside and still quite rare by the bone. The drink was fermented sheep’s milk. Nobody could possibly claim it was the best meal they had ever eaten – except possibly the shaggy dog of indeterminate breed that was surreptitiously fed a lot of the inedible meat. They all knew, though, that it was very impolite to refuse food when it was offered – especially when their hosts thought they had been sent by the gods. Neither Ian nor Barbara, nor Susan, for that matter, knew anything about the gods worshipped by these primitive people. They could not even have pronounced the name that Aine had given to their sea god. They weren’t sure if The Doctor knew anything, either, or if he was just humouring them, but he knew it exactly.

“Thank you for the meal,” The Doctor said for them all. “But… please, tell me why you think we were sent from Manannán mac Lir.”

“You are testing us, Lord,” Aine replied. “You came from the sea in the midst of the storm. My brother, Ank, saw you as he was tending the sheep. And what else could you have come for, but to see that we honour the gods as we should.”

“Ah, yes, of course. Of course,” The Doctor replied as if it all made sense to him.

“You cannot be other than a god,” Lann added. “One with such age and wisdom upon your face cannot be a mortal.”

Susan supressed a giggle at the thought of her grandfather as a god, but Barbara and Ian were both worried. They had not so easily forgotten the problems being mistaken for a god had caused in their Aztec adventure.

The Doctor didn’t confirm or deny his god-status. He took Aine’s hand in his and closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them again he kept hold of her hand while her reached and caressed her cheek with his other hand.

“Your child is going to grow into a strong young man, a leader of his tribe.”

Again, Susan was surprised. The Time Lord ability to read people’s futures was another thing her grandfather had not been able to do for a long time. This primitive place seemed to be having a good effect on him.

She was the only one who noticed him frown as if he had read something that disturbed him. It was only a brief moment, then he smiled again and promised the young woman that her own life was going to be blessed with good fortune.

“You are a seer,” Aine whispered in awe. “I am so glad. I was afraid… the baby… I was so afraid I would die in the birth. My friend, Selie, died last winter, and her baby, too. It has preyed on my mind."

"Do not think of it again, my dear," The Doctor assured her. Aine smiled in a way she had not smiled before. Even when she had greeted the visitors with genuine welcome and enthusiasm there had been, Susan now realised, an underlying anxiety that she was desperately trying to mask.

The Doctor's prediction had given her confidence in the future - confidence that she had a future.

"That was kind of you," she whispered to her grandfather.

"It is the truth," he answered. "If it was going to be any other way there would be no sense in lying to her."

Just like Grandfather, Susan thought. He would never admit to doing something kind. She began to say something else, but he was not listening. Instead his head was turned as if trying to catch a sound that was still far away.

"The storm is returning," he said. "We will not be able to return to the beach."

"But the T ..." Barbara began as the howling wind driving torrential rain before it swept across the top of the village sheltered in the soil itself. "I mean... Our ship...."

"You cannot go, now," Lann concurred. "This storm will not be over until after dawn tomorrow now. You must stay here. You will be safe."

"I don't know if we should do that,” Ian began, glancing doubtfully around the minimally furnished room.

"Nonsense, Chesterton," The Doctor contradicted him. "We shall all make the best of it."

The storm brought a darkness that closed over the settlement. With no natural light at all from the door the room was very gloomy, lit only by the fire and by some foul smelling misshapen lumps of tallow that Aine brought from the stone built cupboard. While she was doing that, Lann prepared a section of floor roughly the size of a double bed with clean hay covered over with sheepskins. The visitors slowly realised this was the Neolithic householder's concept of a guest bed for all four of them.

"Perfect," The Doctor concluded. "Shared body heat. The best way to keep warm in a storm like the one going on over our heads."

Nobody was sure if he really believed that or if he was being polite about the arrangement. None of them were in any way happy about the prospect, but they clearly had no other option. When night and storms fell the hard working people of Skara Brae slept, close up to each other, in the clothes they wore by day.

Ian and The Doctor lay with their backs to the colder edges of the bed with the women cocooned by them in the middle. Barbara accepted Ian's protective arm around her shoulders in the warmer middle part. Susan curled into The Doctor's arms as she did when she was a little girl with no one else to turn to for comfort. The two school teachers reflected once as they lay close on how shocked the board of governors at Coal Hill School might be to see them like this, but mostly they talked about the fleas in the sheepskins and how getting to live in historical times had its disadvantages.

"Are you comfortable, my child?" The Doctor asked Susan in a voice so quiet only she could have heard.

"I am fine as long as we are together, grandfather," Susan answered. “I could not bear to be apart from you."

The Doctor said nothing. He did not trust his emotions. No parent, with or without powers of extrasensory foresight, could bear to hear a child say that. They knew that, sooner no later it would not be true. Every child would one day find another pair of arms to hold them. Susan was not so far from the age when that would happen, and for a traveller in time and space such a parting would be sad for them both.

“Grandfather, what was the bad thing you saw in Aine's future?" Susan asked. "I saw your face. there was something. It isn't TOO terrible, is it?"

"Not the way you think," he assured her. "Nobody is going to die before their natural time. Some few years from now, when Aine's baby is still a child, there will be worse storms than tonight. They will all have to leave Skara Brae and find new homes wherever others will allow them to stay."

"Oh, how terrible," Susan murmured, all too well aware of the pain of the exile.

"It is historical fact that this settlement was lost to the sand for centuries. There is nothing I can or should do, except perhaps tell Lann not to miss the signs and to make the decision to evacuate before it is too late. He will take the advice if a wise old messenger of the sea god, I hope. "

"It will be his decision as leader of the village," Susan noted.

"Such difficult moments come to all of us who lead others. Lann will do as he must when the time comes."

Susan understood that her grandfather would do his best to advise Lann without revealing too much about the future. She hoped it would be enough as she snuggled close against his chest and let his two hearts beating in syncopation lull her to sleep despite the sounds of a bitter storm above them all.

She woke in the pitch dark of the earth-sheltered house to the continued sound of the storm above, but something else, too. Aine was crying in distress. She heard Lann call out to her and her frightened reply.

“She is in labour,” Barbara whispered in the dark. “Her baby is coming tonight.”

There was a sound of flint being struck repeatedly as Lann tried, unsuccessfully, to light one of the tallow candles. Susan felt her grandfather move from her side and there was a familiar sound of a match against the box followed by a small flare of light before the tallow caught and a steadier though not quite adequate light began to push back the shadows. The Doctor used the first candle to light others while Lann put fuel on the smouldering fire, then he went to look at Aine with the professional eye of one whose title covered many branches of science, some of them at least touching on the anatomy of the Human body.

“Fetch your wise woman,” he said to Lann. “Aine needs her help.”

“I cannot,” Lann replied, looking towards the roughly split sheet of rock that served as a door. It shuddered as the wind and rain beat against it.

“I know its windy out there,” Ian told him. “But your village isn’t that big and it won’t take long even in the weather.”

“It’s not that,” Lann admitted. “We have no wise woman, here. Before the winter she was driven out of the village for casting spells that caused sickness among the children and the very old. My father died through her wickedness. So did three children. We found teeth that she was using in the spell-casting buried within her dwelling. It was fortunate for her that she was merely cast out. In my grief, then, I might have killed her. But now… now I thank the gods that they sent their messengers to us. With your wisdom, my wife may be safely delivered.”

“Ah!” The Doctor gave a wry smile. “Yes… well…. Very well, I will do what needs to be done.” It was far from his first choice. Allowing people to use the medical knowledge of their own time and place was the general rule for all time travellers and a particular one for Time Lords. But if there was no other help to be had, he would not let anyone suffer for the sake of rules. “Barbara, come and help me.”

Barbara was on the point of telling him that she was a history teacher, not a nurse. But, of course, he was recognising that she was a capable and resourceful woman who would rise to any occasion. She could not complain about that, even if she wasn’t certain how good her midwife skills were.

“Let me help, too, grandfather,” Susan asked.

“It’s hardly work for you, child,” he replied.

“Aine is younger than I am,” Susan immediately responded. “Perhaps it is time you stopped calling me ‘child’.”

“Very well,” The Doctor conceded. “Both of you can start by boiling a pot of water and finding clean cloths of some description.”

“What about me?” Ian asked. “Surely I can be of some use?”

“Take Lann to the other side of the room and keep him calm,” The Doctor told him after a moment’s pause.

“So, my role is mainly anxious expectant father?” Ian laughed softly. “All right, but if you really need me, give me a yell.”

Lann, in all other respects a capable man, was worried and near panic with his child on the way in the midst of a winter storm and without a wise woman with herbs to ease the pains and understanding of how to bring the baby to birth without harm to it or the own he treasured. Ian found keeping him calm a job in its own right as the women played nurse and The Doctor took on the chief midwife role.

“Don’t worry,” he told the anxious man. “Your wife is in the best hands. After all, The Doctor is a messenger from the… from the sea god.”

“Manannán mac Lir is a generous god,” Lann conceded. “But in the matter of childbirth....”

He shook his head doubtfully.

“You’ve got to have faith,” Ian told him. “If not in the gods, then in The Doctor. Look at him. You KNOW he is the wisest man you have ever met. If anyone can bring your wife and child through this night, it is him.”

Lann tried to believe him. He clearly was a man who honoured his gods. But he was also a worried father to be and the knowledge that women often died in childbirth and his love for his wife overrode his faith.

“What’s the story about your wise woman?” he asked just to take the Lann’s mind off the present. “Why did she betray you all in such a way?”

“Her son drowned at sea. She blamed the other men for not reaching him, but truly there was nothing to be done. He was swept away by the waves. She secretly schemed to make other mothers weep as she wept, and before her treachery was known the deed had been done.”

Ian wanted to ask about the teeth and the spell-casting which all seemed rather far-fetched, but he thought it might be a stupid question for a messenger of the gods to ask so he left it for now. In any case, Lann was distracted. He could not speak for long about anything, even a matter as important as the tragedy that had come upon the village before the winter while his ears were filled by the distressed cries of his wife. The hours that passed as Barbara and Susan carried hot water and clean rags and The Doctor did his best to soothe the frightened young woman were difficult for him.

For Aine it was agonising but at least she wasn’t worried. She had The Doctor’s own word that her baby would be born healthy and that she would live to see him grow. She clung to that certainty through the pain that engulfed her with increasing frequency as the birth drew closer.

“Not long now, my dear,” he told her as the fifth hour of her labour slowly and painfully passed. “You’re doing well for your first time.”

“First time?” Aine gasped. “I could not go through this again.”

“Every woman says that,” The Doctor told her with a chuckle. “Yet a few hours after it is all over, with their child in their arms, the pain and suffering is forgotten.”

Barbara looked at The Doctor curiously and couldn’t help asking the question that had been in her mind for some time.

“How many times have you brought babies into the world before? And… when? You always said that you’re not THAT sort of doctor.”

He didn’t answer in words, just an enigmatic smile and a look in his eyes as if he was seeing a long way back in his own past.

“I don’t know, either,” Susan told Barbara. “Only that, long before I was born, grandfather had a lot of adventures in many times and places.”

That was an explanation of sorts. Anyway, it was clear to anyone watching him at work that, not only did he know perfectly how to guide a woman through childbirth, but that he did so in a kind, gentle, reassuring way. He seemed almost a different man to the unwelcoming, quite violent character they had first met when she and Ian tried to investigate Susan’s home life and found themselves kidnapped in a space and time machine that launched them into fantastically dangerous adventures of their own.

They had all changed since that day. They were braver, tougher, more resourceful than they ever dreamt they could be. But the change in The Doctor was much more pronounced. He had become more… Human.

“I don’t think I can do it,” Aine sobbed as her courage wavered. Susan took hold of her hand, squeezing it reassuringly while Barbara pressed a cool, damp cloth against her forehead, but nothing could distract from the fact that she was going through the very worst pain without any kind of drug to give relief. Susan and Barbara both wondered how they would cope in her place. Both expected they would have children one day, but they fully expected to give birth in a modern hospital with every possible comfort available. Neither could imagine going through it all on a bed of rushes and grubby sheepskin in a smoky, noisome hut.

"Let me help," The Doctor said gently. He put his hands on Aine's forehead and closed his eyes as he had done when he was reading her mind.

"What is he doing?" Barbara asked.

"He's drawing out some of her pain into his own body," Susan answered. "It is something we can do.... But grandfather hasn't tried it for a very long time."

It was clearly working. Aims was much quieter and calmer and was able to follow The Doctor's instructions to her as she went into the last part of her labour. In a shorter time than seemed possible her baby boy was born. Aine cried with joy instead of pain as The Doctor passed the child, wrapped in clean sheepskin. Into her arms. He stepped back and let Barbara and Susan do the kind if fussing women like to do at these times before Ian made them both make way for the father of the baby.

"I have a son," Lann declared, lifting the bundle high above his head. "A son to live after me and carry my name."

"The storm is over and the dawn is breaking," The Doctor told him. "Ian, open up the door and go with Lann to show his boy to the newly risen sun."

Ian frowned at The Doctor. Taking a new-born baby out into the cold morning air didn't strike him as sensible, but he just nodded as if it was the obvious thing to do next. In any case, Lann seemed to think it was the right thing to do and so did Aine, even though she clearly rued every moment the child was not in her arms.

when the two men were gone, The Doctor sagged down onto the nearest pile of sheepskins wearily. Susan ran to him anxiously and for once he did not dismiss her concern.

"Yes, the mental effort at the end took it out of me," he admitted. "I was a younger man when I last gave so much of myself for somebody else's well-being. I am afraid it probably undid all the good the fresh, clean air of this young world was doing. I shall be just a crotchety old man again, now."

"You are always far more than that, grandfather," Susan assured him. "I am so proud of you."

She hugged hum fondly and he smiled despite his exhaustion. He drew himself up again at the sound of the men returning and watched as Aine reached out at last to take back her son and hold him jealously.

"Lann did a sort of baptism with the child's face bathed in sunlight," Ian told the women. "It was quite moving in its own way, though not exactly what I'd call a Christening… not the sort the Church of England recognises, at any rate."

"That's because nobody calls it ‘christening’, yet," Barbara reminded him. "We are about three hundred years before those shepherds in Bethlehem, let alone the Church of England."

"Yes," Ian conceded with a laugh. “The other men of the village are busy making a big bonfire on the clifftop. Apparently it is a festival called Imbolc, to do with the halfway point between winter solstice and the spring equinox."

"Yes, yes, Chesterton," The Doctor said. "One of the important pre-Christian festivals. Your Church of England calls it Candlemas, and in Scotland and Ireland it is Saint Brigid 's day, but it all began with a bonfire to encourage the sun to cone up earlier each day and shine warmer and brighter again after winter. But that reminds me…."

He drew Lann aside and spoke to him quietly. Ian and Barbara wondered what was so important.

"He's telling Lann to make sure the afterbirth and umbilicus, and all the soiled rags used in the birth are put into the Imbolc fire and burnt up. It’s partly hygiene. The usual thing in this time is to bury it all in a corner if the house, which isn’t really very nice. But also, there is a thing even we, on our world, with our technology and wisdom know about, something more like magic than science that is as old as life in the universe. Blood or hair, teeth or fingernail clippings, anything taken from a person, can be used by those with the knowledge, to control them."

"You mean like voodoo or witchcraft?" Ian asked in surprise. "I didn't think the old boy was superstitious about that sort of thing."

"Don't mock," Susan retorted. "Grandfather doesn't call it science any more than you do, but he knows it is real, and you’ve forgotten what Lann said last night – about why the wise woman was cast out of the village – and the teeth buried in her house. He knows there may be others like her who might seek to harm them by such means. He is making sure Lann and the people of this village who look to him as leader are never victims of that kind of evil."

Ian considered himself rebuked on that matter. It all seemed a bit strange to him, still. But then again, was it any stranger than a box that was bigger on the inside and which travelled through time and space in spite of all he thought he knew about science. Was control of a person’s mind through control of his teeth any less peculiar than the way The Doctor lit a match and ‘magically’ created instant fire? Perhaps it was all magic and all science just depending on when it happened and amongst what people.

The people of Skara Brae lit their Imbolc fire just before sunset of that day. As they made their way along the low tide beach the time travellers saw the flames burn higher and hotter.

"Did Lann do as you advised him?" Barbara asked. "About burning the afterbirth and cloths?"

"He did," The Doctor replied. "He listened to some other pieces of advice I had for him, too."

"Isn’t all that the sort of interference we're not supposed to do?" Ian asked.

"Time travellers must be very careful," The Doctor agreed." But messengers from the God of the Sea can impart some wisdom that will help his worshippers live happily."

The Doctor's companions all thought that was a very sly way of excusing his deliberate breaking of the rule about interference, but they refrained from comment. As they reached the TARDIS and Susan opened the door for her two human companions who were taking longingly of showers, camomile lotion for their flea bites and clean clothes The Doctor paused and looked back at the glow of the bonfire against the darkening sky.

“May your gods continue to bless you, dear children,” he whispered.

“We don’t believe in gods,” Susan reminded him.

“But they do, and that’s what matters,” The Doctor replied, reaching out his arm around her shoulder.

“Grandfather… I was wondering….”


“When you predicted that Aine would have a healthy baby and a long life… did you know then that you would be the one to be there for her at the birth. And… is it possible that she or the baby COULD have died if you weren’t there… and so… your prophecy was only true because you were there to make it true? And is THAT interference in the timeline?”

“Multiple questions. A habit you have picked up from living among humans.”


“When I looked into the future I only saw a happy future. But it IS possible that – one we arrived and became part of events in this timeline – it was inevitable that her future was dependent on my being there with the skills to bring her through the birth safely. To suggest that I deliberately….”

“Oh, I don’t care if you did or not,” Susan told her grandfather, hugging him around the neck. “I’m just glad you did. I don’t care what the Laws of Time say. I WANT you to interfere in THOSE kind of ways.”

“I shall endeavour to do as you wish,” The Doctor told her. “Come, let us be on our way, now… before somebody discovers that we’re NOT the messengers of Manannán mac Lir.”

He went inside the TARDIS. Susan followed. A moment later it dematerialised and their adventures continued in other places and other times.