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

Ray hadn’t visited London very often in her own time, so it was hard for her to judge what was different about it in the early twenty-second century. There were some strangely shaped buildings on the other side of the Thames, one resembling a crystal gherkin and another that looked as if part of it had been sheared off by a huge knife, but The Doctor said those were built a hundred years before this, within her own future time.

The most obvious new thing was the use of the Thames as a major route through the city. Vehicles that were part boat and part road vehicle entered the water at specially designed ramps. The most sophisticated hovered a few inches above either water or road, but some had wheels that folded under when on water and old-fashioned outboard engines.

On a warm late April afternoon that was slowly turning to evening, watching this amphibious traffic would have been amusement enough, but The Doctor had brought her to Bankside, the TARDIS parked just outside the Tate Modern, for another reason.

“This is great, Doctor,” she enthused. “April 23rd, 2126 - the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. I suppose I will be around to see the four hundredth in 2016, but I’ll be….”

She started to do the math, then smiled wryly. “Well, I might not want to do as much walking as all this. Putting on all of Shakespeare’s plays on big screens over three miles of the Thames is a fine idea, but how did they expect people to choose which ones to see. What if you wanted to see all thirty-seven?”

“Then you would need either the whole week of the festival and a pacamac for the rainy spells or a friend with a TARDIS. Do you WANT to see all thirty-seven?”

“I think I could live without Titus Andronicus,” Ray admitted. “That one is just a bit too gruesome. If I had to choose just one, I’d like to see Cymbeline. It’s mostly set in Wales, you know. And it’s not one of the big ones. Nobody made it into a film. It’s always Hamlet and Henry V and all that.”

“They made it into a film in 2013,” The Doctor said. “But I believe this is a new production. We’ll take the TARDIS, otherwise we’re half an hour late for the latest screening.”

Ray was impressed. In her youth, big cinema screens had been all the rage, but they were usually indoors in Britain, at least. She had never seen an American Drive-in cinema except in pictures. There had been attempts at three-D films, too, but the glasses everyone had to wear were a huge drawback and it never really caught on.

In twenty-one sixteen, high-definition screens that would have made the inventors of Cinemascope and Vistavision cry into their popcorn buckets were the industry standard. The screens showing the works of Shakespeare along the Thames were twice as wide as any cinema screen Ray had ever seen.

They had 3-D without any need for special glasses. In the tree-lined plaza between Southwark Cathedral and the river, Ray sat on a seat that reclined automatically while the cushions moulded to her body’s contours. She watched her favourite Shakespeare play in rapt fascination. The colour was as sharp as real life and the figures looked as if they might step right out of the screen.

Then one of them did just that.

For a moment nobody realised that something untoward had happened. Perhaps they thought it was all part of the performance when one of the central characters walked right out of the film and stalked towards them.

Then the man wearing purple hose, oxblood red jerkin and a yellow blouse, all entirely unsuitable for trekking through the wild Welsh hills of the fourth century AD, and even less suitable for twenty-second century London, stared around at the audience of some fifty Shakespeare fans who were just starting to realise something wasn’t quite right.

The unsuitable dressed character screamed viscerally and raised his sword, swinging it at the man in a reflective yellow event security tabard who was approaching him. The steward’s head might have been shorn clean off if the sword had not been parried by an umbrella with a handle shaped like a question mark. Ray was surprised by that. She had not even seen The Doctor leave the seat beside her. She jumped up and ran to his side.

“Hold, my good man,” The Doctor said as the confused Shakespearean character prepared to duel with him, broad Celtic sword against surprisingly resilient brolly. “Put up your sword. You are in no danger, here and I am not your enemy.”

“Where IS this place?” demanded the corporeal form of Posthumus Leonatus, described in the list of characters as ‘husband of Imogene, daughter of Cymbeline, King of the Britons.’ “What sorcery brought me here?”

He turned to look at the Welsh forest still filling the larger than life screen, then quickly turned back to look again at the crowd who were now rising from their seats in consternation, some screaming, some fainting, most of them running despite stewards calling to them to keep calm and evacuate the area in an orderly manner.

“You’re in London,” The Doctor told him. “You would know it as Londinium, the Roman name for it. I’m afraid I don’t know what caused this little problem, though I mean to find out. But first you must sheathe your sword.” He noticed two police officers approaching at the behest of the steward who had fled from potential decapitation. He could anticipate several problems, the least worrying of which would be the arrest of Posthumus for possession of an offensive weapon. “Those men in the blue tunics are the city guard. Show yourself a friend to them and it will be for the better.”

The idea of ‘guards’ approaching disturbed Posthumus, but The Doctor’s softly persuasive voice worked upon him and he put his sword back in the scabbard hanging from his belt.

“Its’s all right,” Ray said to the two policemen. “He’s not going to harm anyone. He’s just as confused as the rest of us.”

“Yes, miss,” one of the officers said. “But he’s going to have to come with us.”

“No,” Ray insisted. “You can’t.”

“It’s all right, Ray,” The Doctor told her. “We’re all coming with him.” He turned to the officer and tipped his hat with the tip of his brolly. “Would you be so kind as to inform your superior that The Doctor is taking charge of this matter. I’m The Doctor, in case you were wondering. You might want to tell him to check with Downing Street. They know who I am there. They always know who I am.”

It was a sort of hypnotism and it worked perfectly on policemen who were out of their depth already and happy for somebody else to take responsibility. They brought The Doctor, Ray and the still puzzled Posthumus to a police hover boat moored on the river.

Ray was surprised when the boat brought them to the Tower of London. She was even more surprised when they were met by a Yeoman of the Guard in full costume and a clipboard.

“Who’s this one, then?” the Yeoman asked in a wary tone.

“He is Posthumus Laertes, husband of Imogene, daughter of Cymbeline, King of the Britons,” Ray announced. “That’s The Doctor. He’s going to sort all this out. I am Rachel Dedwydd. I’m a holiday camp director. I’m not important in the grand scale of things, but I’m not leaving either of them without a good reason.”

“Carry on down to sub-level three,” the Yeoman said. “There’s a bunch of them there already,”

“A bunch of what?” Ray asked but The Doctor urged her on before the answer was forthcoming.

It sounded as if they were being told to carry on by themselves, but as they entered the Tower two soldiers with U.N.I.T. insignia on their uniforms fell in beside them. They escorted the odd party to a lift which went down far below the historic dungeons.

“It’s quite all right,” The Doctor assured Ray. “We’re in U.N.I.T’s London headquarters. Best possible place. Safe as a castle….”

“It is a castle. They know about you, here?”

They clearly did. It was all the men on duty could do to avoid saluting as they were brought through the sub-level corridor to a large room usually used for briefing the soldiers. Ray gasped in amazement to see more than three dozen people in various period costumes sitting uncomfortably or pacing anxiously.

Somebody had provided a buffet of sandwiches and various finger food and steaming urns of coffee and tea. One character wearing a gold circlet crown held up a triangle cut sandwich disdainfully.

“Is this food for a king? Where are the roast hogs, the stuffed peacocks, where are the carafes of Rhenish, cool flagons of mead….”

The sandwich flopped limply in his hand as if to emphasise his point.

“Your Majesty,” The Doctor said, drawing close. “Forgive these paltry offerings. Your arrival was unexpected. But do not eschew the wonders of a hot cup of tea. Let me show you.”

Ray watched in wonder as The Doctor carefully poured tea into a cup and added milk and sugar before handing it to Henry V. The victor of Agincourt looked into the cup dubiously and then took a gulp. For a moment as the heat of it travelled down his oesophagus The Doctor might have been in danger of instant beheading. Then Henry took a smaller sip and tasted it carefully in his mouth. He nodded his approval.

“Yes, this tea is good,” he decided.

“Try an egg and cress sandwich with it,” The Doctor suggested. “Who else wants tea?”

Again, Ray watched in wonder as Hamlet’s friend Horatio accepted a cup of tea and a paper plate containing a sausage roll and a slice of ham and egg pie. MacDuff had a mug of coffee and a plate of chicken wings. Brabantio, senator of Venice, father of Desdemona, polished off half a quiche.

They were all characters from the plays that had been showing on those huge three-D screens along the Thames. Some of them were central characters like Timon of Athens, who appeared to enjoy tuna and mayonnaise sandwiches. Others were more obscure. Ray only knew Ventidius, friend of Antony – who had four lines in the whole of Antony and Cleopatra - because somebody had hastily written name tags for them all. Henry V and Troilus both disdained the tags, holding that they were famous enough to be known by all.

Henry V certainly was. Even without the crown Ray had recognised him. They must have chosen to show a ‘classic’ version of that play.

But this was not Laurence Olivier transported from the nineteen-forties when he made the definitive film adaptation. This was Henry V with Olivier’s face and mannerisms. Ray looked around at the others, including Posthumus who had accepted a cup of tea and a selection from the buffet and was sitting on a chair amidst the bustle, his scabbard trailing on the floor.

She didn’t recognise any of the others. Their films must have been made later than the nineteen-seventies. But they must all, while being who they thought they were – Romans, Greeks, citizens of Venice or Verona, courtiers to English kings - also, in some small part, be the actors who portrayed them.

Did they realise that?

“Posthumus,” she said, sitting beside the much misled husband of the beautiful Imogene. “What do you remember before you turned up here

“I was exiled to Rome for marrying my beloved in secret. There, I met Iachimo, who went to Britain to seduce my Imogene. When he brought proof of the deed I vowed to kill my unfaithful bride and was travelling to Milford Haven to fulfil that terrible quest.”

“And before then? Before you married Imogene….”

“I….” Posthumus looked confused. “I don’t know what you mean. My earliest recollection is of parting with my bride in the castle gardens. We exchanged tokens of fidelity to each other. Here is the ring that belonged to her mother. I gave her a bracelet, but she gave it to Iachimo when he seduced her.”

“Oh… but….”

“Even though I was exiled and we had only a few minutes together before we were parted, that was a blissful time because I knew she was my true love. Now… I am miserable because she has betrayed me.”

Ray wondered if it was permitted to give away the plot.

“Maybe it isn’t how it seems. This Iachimo sounds a rotten sort. Maybe he stole the bracelet and lied about it all.”

“I would that it were so. But he knew so much about her, he must have been intimate. I fear it is all too late. Besides, will I ever get back to Wales? This strange place with its terrifying machines and… tea….”

“The Doctor will do something,” Ray promised. “He’s clever. He’ll find out what happened and set things right.”

“Dear lady, I hope your faith is not misplaced,” Posthumus told her. “For myself I am disillusioned with all men.”

Ray pressed her hand over his reassuringly, then left him to speak to The Doctor. The tea rush had died down. Only one man, identified as Gonzalo, the honest old counsellor of The Tempest, was filling his plate for a second time from the buffet. The Doctor passed Ray a cup of tea and she drank it thankfully as she explained her theory.

“Yes,” The Doctor agreed. “It’s the same with all of them. Henry V doesn’t remember anything earlier than that rambling Court nonsense about Salique land, the scene that opens the play. They all only exist within the limits of their script.”

“But Henry was a real historical person. You would think he, at least….”

“This is Shakespeare’s Henry, not the real man. That’s what makes it difficult. If a bunch of historical people had slipped through holes in time it would just be a matter of popping a sedative in their tea and dropping them back in the TARDIS before they wake up and think it was all a dream.”

“But you can’t do that with these?”

“They don’t have a time to go back to. They are fictional characters who stepped out of cinema screens.”

“I told Posthumus that you’re clever and you’ll think of something for them,” Ray told The Doctor. “He’s been let down and lied to by just about everyone. He even thinks the woman he loves has done him wrong. You have to prove to him that you’re all I promised.”

The Doctor smiled wryly. Ray had not exactly made his job harder with such promises, but it made him all the more aware of why he had to succeed.

“I need to investigate further,” he told her. “Will you hold the fort here? I think this lot need a holiday camp director. U.N.I.T. will provide refreshments – within reason. Henry isn’t getting roast peacock and Rhennish no matter what it says in the laws Salique.”

“Do what you have to do, Doctor,” Ray assured him. “I’ve had tougher crowds than this. Swansea Rugby Wives Weekend is preparation for anything.”

“Menyw ddewr,” The Doctor said to her and left her by the tea urn. She turned to look at the crowd of mismatched characters, kings and commoners, heroes and innocent by-standers and knew exactly what to do with them.

The Doctor’s reputation went before him as far as U.N.I.T. were concerned. When he demanded transport he got it immediately. It was another boat, which was just what he needed to examine the thirty-seven big screens set up along Bankside. Purely out of historical irony he chose the one set up closest to the late twentieth century replica of the Globe Theatre.

The event had been shut down pending the investigation into the sudden appearance of angry men with swords, lances and other sharp instruments of war and the police had cordoned off the area, but the films were all still playing on the screens. Presumably those in charge of turning them off had been evacuated with everyone else.

This screen was showing Henry V on a repeating loop. Henry was doing his famous incognito wander through the camp on the eve of battle.

But the Henry on screen was not Laurence Olivier. He had been replaced by another actor, a man with jet black hair and striking blue eyes. The Doctor watched for a while and noted that he wasn’t trying to emulate Olivier. He was doing his own Henry.

And he wasn’t bad. The Doctor watched right up to the Crispin Day speech before turning away. He walked a short way down Bankside towards the Tate Modern. The screen there was showing another classic by the twenty-second century viewpoint, the 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Benedick.

At least, it used to star Kenneth Branagh. The Doctor had noticed a Ken lookalike among the group in the briefing room having tea and tuna-mayonnaise sandwiches. Now, up on screen was that dark haired, blue-eyed understudy again.

He visited three more screens and confirmed that the understudy was playing the roles of Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, the eponymous Coriolanus and Sebastian from Twelfth Night. He went back to the boat and confirmed with help from U.N.I.T. that the understudy appeared in all thirty-seven plays, not always in the starring role, but certainly somewhere in the film.

WHY was the first question in The Doctor’s head, although HOW came a close second.

He strolled along Bankside thoughtfully and came, by complete coincidence, back to the plaza in front of Southwark Cathedral. On the screen, the Understudy, fully earning the capitalization, was in the midst of his only solo scene. Act Five, Scene One saw Posthumus Leonates, clutching a bloody handkerchief that was ‘evidence’ of his bride’s death, wandering alone in the no-man’s land between the camps of the British led by Cymbeline and the Romans, about to go to war over the refusal of tribute. The Understudy was making the most of the pathos of his situation as a Briton who had returned to his native soil in company with its conquerors.

“I am brought hither

Among the Italian gentry, and to fight

Against my lady's kingdom: 'tis enough

That, Britain, I have kill'd thy mistress; peace!

I'll give no wound to thee. Therefore, good heavens,

Hear patiently my purpose: I'll disrobe me

Of these Italian weeds and suit myself

As does a Briton peasant: so I'll fight

Against the part I come with; so I'll die….”

The Doctor stepped forward and reached out to the screen. He closed his eyes and concentrated. In his mind’s eye he could see the fine interstice, membrane, skin, call it what you will, between reality and the unreal world of the play. He knew he, alone, a Time Lord, could cross between those two existences.

He wasn’t so sure if he could cross back again.

“Screw your courage to the sticking place, Doctor,” he said out loud, quoting Shakespeare, of course.

He kept his eyes closed and stepped forward into what might truly be an undiscovered country – the Bard again!

“For thee, O Imogen, even for whom my life

Is every breath a death; and thus, unknown,

Pitied nor hated, to the face of peril….”

The Understudy stopped speaking as The Doctor appeared in front of him, his clothes utterly out of countenance with the scene.

“Here our play has ending,” The Doctor said to him, the last lines, if anyone didn’t know, of Shakespeare’s Pericles. “Time to take your curtain call.”

The Understudy looked at The Doctor uncertainly then continued with his soliloquy.

“Myself I'll dedicate. Let me make men know….”

“Enough,” The Doctor repeated. “Who are you? And don’t tell me you’re Posthumus Leonates. Who are you REALLY?”

The Understudy stammered the first two words of the next line, then dropped his sword in defeat.

“I am Solomon Arden,” he answered. “I am an actor.”

“Have I seen you in anything?” The Doctor responded.

“I’ve been in EVERYTHING,” Solomon rejoined angrily, eying the sword at his feet and clearly contemplating making a grab for it. The Doctor pushed it away with the point of his umbrella, and though that was, in no way, a weapon, Solomon seemed to regard it as such. He backed away nervously. “I have been a Roman soldier. I have been a Lord of Verona, a Gentleman of Venice, a Courtier to the English Court. I have been on stage in every play Shakespeare wrote as well as Marlowe, Oscar Wilde, Ibsen, Chekov, Harold Pinter….”

“Very impressive,” The Doctor remarked.

But my name is never in the programme. I never had more than a single line… most often no lines at all. I never had a substantial part.”


“And I knew… I knew I was a great actor. I knew I could be the greatest actor who ever lived if I only had a chance – but I never got one. At least, until….”

He pulled back the loose sleeve of his blouse to show a curious contraption that might have shared some slight ancestry with a wristwatch. The Doctor looked at it suspiciously, and then angrily.

“Where did you get that?” he demanded.

“At a technology fair,” Solomon answered. “I thought it was a wrist-held computer. I only found out by accident what it did. I accidentally found myself as an extra in a television soap opera.”

The Doctor was only half listening to the excuse. He was thinking of only one thing.

“That does not belong on Earth.”

It belonged in a matter shredder, broken up into its constituent atoms. The contraption was called ‘Veil’ and was invented three Time Lord generations before The Doctor was born by a distressed Gallifreyan scientist who wanted to bring back his dead brother. Its intention was obvious – to break through the ‘veil’ between realities. Except it didn’t quite work as the unhappy inventor had intended. It brought his brother back to the living world but he was left in the dead world in his place. Although his fellow scientists were eventually able to restore the natural order the implications for the use of the device were too terrible to contemplate. The High Council had banned its use. The ‘Veil’ was ordered to be destroyed.

HOW did it end up on Earth to be picked up accidentally by a frustrated actor who used it to replace the actors in a film with himself? The Doctor decided that question could be answered later. First, things had to be set right.

“You know you have to stop this, don’t you,” he said. “I’ve got a roomful of Shakespearean characters with nowhere to go. You’ve got to give them back the only lives they know – as part of these films.”

At first Solomon was defiant. Again he glanced at his sword, but he knew he couldn’t reach it before The Doctor did something painful with the umbrella. Besides, he WAS an actor, not Posthumus Leonatus, who was born and raised a gentleman of court and knew how to properly use a sword in cold blood.

He sighed deeply and surrendered to The Doctor’s mercy.

“Give me that thing,” he said. Solomon handed over the device. “Good man. Now come on with me.”

He held him by the shoulder and operated the simple switch that did something far from simple to anyone’s concept of reality. In the midst of a field in Wales where the film had been made, the air shimmered. The Doctor stepped through the interstice, dragging the reluctant Solomon along with him.

They stepped out onto the plaza in front of Southwark Cathedral. The Doctor and Solomon looked around at the screen.

“It’s frozen,” the Ultimate Understudy commented.

“It’s on pause,” The Doctor explained. “No point in going on without Posthumus. He IS the pivotal character, despite the play being called Cymbeline after the King of the Britons. It’ll be all right when we get the real man back in his proper place. Now, you come along with me.”

He summoned the boat and headed back to the Tower of London with Solomon Arden as a willing hostage, too stunned at being caught to argue.

When he reached the briefing room where he had left Ray and the Shakespearean characters, he was not at all surprised to hear the whole crowd singing ‘Men of Harlech’ in the mode of a Welsh rugby fan tour. For a little while he stood at the back of the room and watched Ray leading the ad hoc choir. He waited until the song was over before coming forward and facing the group.

“I think I can get you all home,” he said. “I’ve arranged a bus. Gather up your swords and halberds and form an orderly queue.”

He left Solomon Arden in the custody of a U.N.I.T officer who gave him tea and a plate of leftovers from the buffet. Ray organised her choir for a field trip, now. They did everything she said, having accepted her as somebody they could trust.

A water bus with hover capability brought the group to each of the screens along the Thames. Ray came with each of her charges, reassuring them that all would be well. She watched as The Doctor operated a strange device and stepped into the screen with the characters. The first time he arrived back with a man who was the exact twin of the one he had left un U.N.I.T custody she was surprised. She watched as he confiscated a duplicate of the device and left the twin in the bus under the watchful eyes of the U.N.I.T men who had accompanied the group and under the baleful gaze of the remaining characters who had realised he had something to do with their predicament.

After the next repatriation of a character brought back another duplicate, Ray began to be even more puzzled, but she said nothing. The Doctor would surely explain later.

Thirty-six such repatriations later, there was only her first charge, Posthumus Leonatus, left.

“Don’t take anything at face value,” Ray told him. “And don’t believe every devious Italian you meet. Things won’t always be as black as they seem.”

The Doctor looked at her cautiously. She wasn’t EXACTLY telling him that Imogene was neither dead nor an adulteress, and that he WAS going to have a happy ending, but she was coming close. She finished her advice to him with a gentle peck on the cheek. Posthumus blushed.

“My lady, it is possible you are as fair and honest as I would wish a woman to be,” he said. “Even if my own love is false, I have faith in truth, once more.”

“That’s something, at least. Go on, now. The Doctor will look after you.”

“Take this,” The Doctor said, handing him the bloody handkerchief. “But don’t worry too much about it. It’s just a stage prop.”

Posthumus didn’t understand, but he stepped into the scene with The Doctor. Presently The Doctor stepped back out again and the play continued with the final words of the soliloquy and the next stage of the honest and noble man’s strife. It WOULD be a happy ending, but he had to languish in jail for a bit and then sort out a typically Shakespearean set of misunderstandings first.

“Thirty-seven doppelgangers?” she queried as they headed back to the Tower of London. “And all with those wrist thingies.”

“Thirty-seven of these devices are thirty-seven more than there ought to be in the Universe,” The Doctor said. “I’ll deal with those, first.”

And that was just what he did. While he let Ray take the multiple Solomon Ardens to the place where tea was available, he headed for the twenty-second century U.N.I.T headquarters kitchen. As he hoped, there was a powerful garbage compacter for disposing of everything that a hungry military organisation didn’t eat. He put the thirty-seven copies of the Veil device into it and heard them being crunched to small pieces. They weren’t quite the atoms he would have preferred, but nobody was going to put them back together again from the cubes of recyclable materials that would eventually emerge.

He returned to the briefing room. Ray had issued tea, but there was no singing, this time.

“They’re ALL the same man,” she said. “Split thirty-seven times.”

“He wanted to be in ALL the plays at once. I don’t think he expected this to happen, though.”

“Can they be… I don’t know… put back?”

“No.” The Doctor was very certain of that. Solomon Arden had, whether he wanted to or not, reaped what he had sowed.

The question was, what to do with the thirty-seven duplicates, clones, or whatever term was used for them.

“What if….” Ray had an idea. She put it to The Doctor. He laughed at first, but then he thought about it.

“It could work,” he said. “Assuming U.N.I.T don’t want to press charges. He… or they… DID cause a lot of trouble.”

“I bet there’s no actual law against any of it,” Ray pointed out.

And there wasn’t, though the head of U.N.I.T was in favour of some form of punishment. The thought of dealing it out thirty-seven times was the deciding factor. He let The Doctor put Ray’s plan to them.

The crisis over, Ray demanded the chance to watch Cymbeline without interruption this time, and then the other thirty-five plays – not counting Titus Andronicus – using the TARDIS to make sure they got to the screenings on time. Only then did she allow The Doctor to take her forward in time to 2125, nine years after the five hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, but with his work still as popular on Bankside, home of the Globe Theatre.

The Doctor procured good balcony seats for himself and Ray as the Arden Shakespearean Company performed the only one of the Bard’s plays partially set in Wales – Cymbeline. She watched entranced by the story and with fond memories of her own Posthumus Leonatus, as she had come to think of him.

“So these are the thirty-seven versions of Solomon Arden working together, like I suggested” she queried during scene changes. “They all look different. I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Cosmetic surgery is very quick and simple these days,” The Doctor answered. “They all took on new names and a different look. Two of them even became women. That’s a relatively straightforward operation in this time. They have their queens and duchesses, everything they need for a Shakespearean repertory company. And one way or the other, Solomon gets to play ALL the roles, which was what he wanted.”

“All’s Well That Ends Well, then,” Ray suggested. The Doctor grimaced.

So call the field to rest, and let's away to part the glories of this happy day,” he replied, just to be sure of absolutely having the last word.