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

Marie opened her eyes and wondered where she was. The room was big but it was lit only by a couple of torches. There were people there. She could hear quiet murmurs of nervous conversations. People around her were scared.

“Doctor?” she sat up from the thin mattress she was lying on and looked around. The Doctor MUST be around somewhere. She had been with him, visiting a place called the Intergalactic Bar and Grill which turned out to be exactly what it said on the tin – a restaurant on a space station with amazing views from the windows – views that changed all the time as the station revolved to maintain artificial gravity.

That had been fantastic, great food, fine wine and nothing trying to enslave or eat them. Afterwards The Doctor had suggested an ‘excursion’ to the planet the Grill maintained an orbit around. They had queued for the shuttle craft with a dozen or so other tourists. They had taken seats inside what looked pretty much like a small jet plane. The steward had offered them a choice of drinks.

And she couldn’t remember anything at all after that.

“Doctor?” she repeated a little more anxiously. “Where are you?”

A penlight briefly blinded her before it was turned aside. The Doctor bent his lanky body to sit beside her. He put a first aid kit on the floor which Marie noticed was covered in the sort of durable waterproof surface found in commercial kitchens. As her eyes became accustomed to the dim light she made out around two dozen people, men, women and children. They were in a kitchen, though nothing was being cooked and everyone was clinging to bags and personal possessions as if they might be suddenly snatched from the

“Sorry to abandon you,” The Doctor said. “You were asleep and some people needed doctoring. Nothing serious. A couple of headaches, a bruised knee and a nose bleed.”

Marie looked closely at the first aid kit. The words ‘Hotel de La Mar, kitchen’ were written in indelible marker pen.

“Sea Hotel?”

“Unimaginative, indeed,” The Doctor agreed. “Also a little unfortunate.”

“Unfortunate, how?” Marie asked with a strong feeling that she was not going to enjoy the answer.

“The people hunkered down here were accidentally left behind when the hotel was evacuated.”

“Evacuated? Why?”

“That’s what I like about you,” The Doctor said with one of his ‘reassuring’ smiles that were ever so slightly reminiscent of Christopher Lee’s Dracula. “You always get straight to the point.”

“And the answer to my question is….”

“The hotel is beside a beach on an island directly in the path of a hurricane that will hit in less than half an hour.”

“And we’re in the kitchen, because?”

“It is the lowest part of the building and the strongest and there is a slim chance of survival.”

“Slim chance?”


“I love how you’re sugaring the pill, here.”

“The chances of that ceiling holding up when the four storey hotel with a swimming pool on the roof collapses on top of it are about ninety-nine million to one. And even if some of us survive in air pockets within the debris there is no chance of a rescue attempt for days.”

“Ok. And… why are we here? The last thing I remember we had no plans to visit a hurricane zone. We were on a shuttle to a planet called Aabessia.”

“I’m not sure,” The Doctor admitted. “What I do know… is that these people were brought here with us. Look at them closely. Don’t they seem familiar?”

Marie looked. There were two good looking men who were very clearly a couple. They were holding hands and looking at each other intently, as if making the most of every second left to them. There was a family of a mum, dad and two children. They were huddled together. The children were being kept calm with lollipops but the parents looked understandably anxious. There was a young couple, honeymooners, clinging to each other desperately, and an old man with the bearing of a military veteran who was stoically maintaining his dignity in the face of imminent death.

Yes, they did seem familiar.

But from where?

“They’re the same people who were on the shuttle to Aabessia with us,” The Doctor explained. “Only they don’t remember that. They all have memories of being holiday makers on this island. Holiday makers? Isn’t that an odd word? After all, they PAID for the holiday. What’s to make?”

Marie ignored the eccentric tangent and focussed on what mattered.

“There’s something fake about all this. We were all put here deliberately. I suppose the reason we – you and me - remember who we are has something to do with the TARDIS’s background radiation or something?”

“I expect so,” The Doctor replied lugubriously.

“The TARDIS is back on the Intergalactic Bar and Grill, of course,” Marie added. “Because it would be too easy to take everyone inside and get the hell out of here?”

“Far too easy,” The Doctor agreed.

“So what do we do? Are we really going to die here? And… why? It’s not as if we did sign up for this sort of peril. Is there anything we can do to get us… get everyone… out of here?”

“I’m thinking about it,” The Doctor promised. “I…”

A loud crash and the sound of glass shattering sounded above. The father of the family group said something about the plate glass windows in the ballroom.

“Not the main event,” The Doctor said. “By the sound of it, there was an underlying weakness in that glass. Any high wind would have busted it in. Somebody ought to have checked that out long ago.”

The effect on the stranded guests was predictable, though. The children sobbed despite the lollipops. The honeymoon bride burst into tears.

“Oh, I wish she hadn’t done that,” Marie sighed. “There’s a song… called Waiting for the Hurricane. It has a line – ‘and the honeymoon bride began to cry’. As if being in a seventies disaster movie wasn’t bad enough. Now we’re in an eighties concept album.”

“I wonder….” The Doctor mused. But he never completed the sentence. Whatever he was wondering went unspoken. A sullen quiet came across the dimly lit room, punctuated by sobs from the children and loud sniffles from the bride. Despite every instinct to fight to the bitter end, Marie found herself sitting quietly, resigned to the inevitable fate. The Doctor, too, seemed ready to accept that there was nothing he could do.

That was the startling thing, really. The Doctor, of all the people in the universe, wasn’t a quitter.

The silence was shattered abruptly by a gun shot. The Doctor was on his feet at once, racing towards the male couple. One of them had shot his partner and was turning the gun on himself. Marie ran to help the mother shelter the children from the sight as The Doctor tried

to stop the second shot being fired.

He was too late. The bride cried even louder. The mother broke down despite her best efforts to be strong for the children. Marie felt the tears roll down her own cheeks.

And then the ‘main event’ came. The noise was louder than the gun shot and went on so much longer. The hotel was collapsing in on itself. The ceiling creaked and bulged and there was a sharp crack as the main supporting beams broke.

“On the floor!” The Doctor ordered. Marie swept the mother and children in front of her. The father followed, pressing his arms across them all in a last ditch effort to protect them. The Doctor threw the petrified honeymoon couple down. The war veteran crouched against a huge built in fridge and put his head in his hands.

The ceiling collapsed. Choking dust was followed by tons of limb crushing concrete and steel. Reinforced concrete, but perhaps not reinforced enough. The last thing Marie heard before the end was a remark from The Doctor about building codes and making a complaint to his holiday rep.

“Holiday Rep!” Marie coughed as if she could still remember the taste of the concrete dust in her mouth. Funnily enough, she couldn’t. Instead there was a smell of something burning.

“Here, miss, drink this,” said a man who pressed a glass of iced water in her hand. “We still have ice, at least, if nothing else.”

She drank the water before looking at the man and recognising him as the one who had shot his partner then himself.

He was alive.

Everyone was alive, and they weren’t in a kitchen any more. Instead they were….

“I know exactly what you’re thinking,” The Doctor told her. She looked at him. He was missing his coat and his face was grimy with dirt and sweat. He looked as if he had been doing something stupidly courageous to help somebody else.

Marie walked across what was meant to be a rather plush reception area. The remains of a buffet were scattered across a long table and there were discarded champagne bottles.

She went to the floor length window and looked out. The view confirmed what she was already thinking.

“We’re at the top of a tall building with a fire several floors below,” she said as The Doctor joined her to look down at the flashing lights of emergency vehicles and up to the hovering lights of a helicopter that was obviously unable to do anything to effect a rescue.

“Well done,” he said. “For not saying what I know you want to say.”

“Ok, but why are we here? How come those two are alive? How come any of us are alive and transported to what looks suspiciously like the set of another nineteen-seventies disaster movie?”

“I don’t know, times three,” The Doctor answered her. “What I do know is that none of the other players know anything about the hurricane scenario, or about being aboard the Aabessian shuttle. Their memories are of being at this reception when the fire broke out and somehow or other being stuck here when everyone else was evacuated. They all have plausible back stories. Those two are bar keeping. Mr and Mrs Shaw and their children, Robert and Lucie are related to the architect who built this magnificent edifice. Nancy and Alan Taylor, the honeymoon couple, won the invitation to the party in a raffle. Major Bennett’s son is head of security….”

The Doctor had clearly made use of his time getting to know everyone. Marie was impressed.

“There’s something seriously wrong with the fire drill if those kids got left behind,” Marie noted. “But, what now? Last time… I thought it was the end. I was suffocating under the debris. I thought I was dying. And now….”

She shuddered.

“How long till the flames reach this floor?”

The Doctor shook his head.

“I have many talents, but structural engineer isn’t one of them. Educated guess, an hour, tops.”

“Then we all burn to death?”

“I rather think the smoke will get all of you, first. I might burn to death. I can recycle my breathing and survive longer without air.”

“Really?” Marie looked at his utterly inscrutable expression. “If it came to that, wouldn’t you rather NOT recycle your breathing and die the easier way with the rest of us?”

“Yes, but my natural instinct to fight against no win situations might overrule what I want,” he admitted.

“It’s going to be the same, isn’t it? Different scenario, but the same inevitable end. Nothing any of us, even you, can do.”

Again The Doctor nodded. Words seemed superfluous when he had no answers.

He took her by the hand in a surprisingly tender way. Marie knew The Doctor was a good man, a kind man, who always stood up for the innocent and the vulnerable. But tenderness was not a natural trait in him. He was trying hard for her sake.

“You’re in this because of me,” he said. “I’m sorry for that.”

“Wouldn’t it be a pity to miss this and catch a cold running for the tram,” she answered. It was a quote from the turbulent history of her country and it seemed to fit her decision to travel with The Doctor and get into trouble rather than live a quiet, safe life. The Doctor smiled as if he fully understood the cultural reference.

“I’m going to talk to those two guys,” she said. “If history is likely to repeat itself… maybe I can stop them choosing the murder-suicide option.”

“I’m going to chat with the Major,” The Doctor decided. “Just because he maintain the stiff upper lip doesn’t mean he couldn’t use somebody to talk to.”

That made sense. Marie crossed the floor and sat at the remnants of the free bar next to the two barmen. She found out that one of them was called Romaine. The other was a more prosaic Dave. There were still a couple of bottles of champagne left, but everyone had eschewed those in favour of bottled water. Marie accepted a bottle. The power was off, of course, but the bottles were in an insulated tub of crushed ice that hadn’t yet succumbed to the increasingly warm ambient temperature.

“Catering this ‘do’ seemed like a nice little earner at the time,” Dave admitted with an ironic smile. “Just when the bank balance was tipping towards the red side, too. It would have come in handy. Still, that’s one consolation. No need to worry about the bills, now.”

Romaine smiled wryly in agreement with that sentiment and reached out to hold his partner’s hand. Marie was relieved. This time around they didn’t seem to be as desperate. She was sure neither of them had a gun, anyway.

Perhaps history wouldn’t repeat itself quite so exactly.

Then a crash and splintering of glass startled everyone. Alan, the young honeymoon groom, had taken up a chair and thrown it through the window. Marie saw The Doctor lunge towards them but he was too late to stop the couple from hugging each other as they hurled themselves out.

“No!” Marie cried. “Oh, no.”

The Doctor actually caught hold of her and hugged her. That was something else quite out of character for him. He didn’t do tactile affection.

Halfway through the hug she wondered if he needed it as much as she did. The suicide pact of the honeymoon couple was as terrible as the murder-suicide last time.

Then Mr Shaw gave a terrified cry and grasped his wife’s hand desperately. Despite the gaping hole in the window – or perhaps because of it creating an airflow – smoke was billowing in through the air conditioning vents and between the lift doors. Already the children were coughing and choking. It was thick, acrid smoke loaded with toxins from goodness knows what sort of plastics and oils burning on the floors below.

As she crawled on the floor where the last breath of clear air was – because smoke rises and getting low was the golden rule in these situations – Marie saw The Doctor breathe the smoke deeply into those alien lungs of his that could have bought him a few minutes. She was sure there were even tears in his eyes before he was affected.

Again when she struggled to open her eyes somebody was encouraging her to drink water, but this time it was tepid and stale and there was barely a mouthful. She opened her eyes to blazing sun beating down on what she realised was a lifeboat containing the same group of mismatched people. Dave and Romaine - who had been caterers last time - were in grubby and torn sailor’s clothes and were doing their best to navigate in some way.

Lifeboats, Marie thought, weren’t meant to be navigated. They were temporary solutions to an emergency. Bigger boats were meant to turn up to collect them, bringing first aid and drinks and those tin foil sheets to wrap around the rescuees.

Everyone looked as if they had been in this lifeboat for days. It was floating on an ocean that stretched in every direction to be met on the horizon by the unrelentingly cloud free sky.

There was one container of water and a very small packet of food rations. Everyone looked tired, hungry and thirsty. The two children huddled miserably together next to their mother. Nobody talked. Their mouths were too dry for that much effort.

“Shipwrecked, now?” Marie managed to say. “I don’t even remember the ‘abandon ship’.”

It was another unreal reality. The pain and suffering were very real. Her face, like everyone else’s, was stinging from the sea salt blown around and then dried onto the skin. She was red with sun burn. Her pale Celtic skin went lobster coloured from an afternoon on Killiney beach. She felt as if she had been roasting for days. She briefly wondered about skin cancer, but since this was another extremis situation that probably didn’t come into it.

She heard The Doctor murmur something about the Titanic.


“Waiting for rescue in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic… much quicker death,” he repeated.

“You have personal experience of that, do you?”

“As it happens, yes.” He wouldn’t be drawn further. Marie looked about and saw a lifebelt with the words ‘SS Bernice’ printed on it.

“Never heard of it,” she remarked.

“I have, but it means nothing. Just a rather pointless reference to a stray memory. Just like Towering Inferno came from your long term memory and, doubtless, one of our other friends has some recollection of a Hotel de la Mar with very poor building codes and really short sighted thinking as far as location was concerned. Our brains are being picked for scenarios.”

“It’s not some kind of dream thing, is it? You know, lucid dreaming, not able to tell it isn’t real life.”

“No,” The Doctor confirmed. “I’ve already done all of the tests for that. We’re really here, even if where we are isn’t entirely real.”

“That makes as much sense as anything else,” Marie admitted. “Not that ANYTHING really makes sense.”

The Doctor might have been about to launch into one of his mad monologues about existentialism, but Major Bennett suddenly sat up very straight and clutched the side of the boat.

“I’ve had a full life,” he said. “A very full life. Nothing I regret. The supplies… one less mouth….”

While even The Doctor was still realising what he meant, he jumped overboard.

“No!” Marie screamed as The Doctor dived after him. She scrambled to the side and looked down but she could see nothing of either of them.

“Undercurrents,” said Romaine with a sad shake of the head. “There’s no chance for either of them.”

Marie started to say all the usual ‘denial’ things like ‘No, it’s not possible. He can’t be dead.’ Then she realised that something else was happening in the lifeboat. She turned to look at Mrs Shaw. She was crying softly and looking at her husband. He was shaking with grief. She looked at the two children and her heart sank.

They were dead. Their mother had smothered them with her hand over their mouths.

“It was easier on them,” Mrs Shaw said. “We’re all going to die, anyway.”

“No.” Marie carefully kept herself from screaming in horror at what had happened and frustration at the utter futility of it all. “Oh no, don’t you see… there’s no need. It will all change, soon, anyway.”

They didn’t understand, of course. How could they? Marie hunched down in the prow of the boat and buried her face in her heads. She didn’t want to look at the people around her. She wanted it to be over – again.


A familiar voice called to her. She opened her eyes. When did she fall asleep?

Where was she now?

“Doctor… you’re here?”

“Yes, I am. That last one was bad.”

She looked around. They seemed to be on the space shuttle, the one they started out on. The Walsh children were drinking juice through a straw and everyone was alive and well.

“Is it over?”

“No. This shuttle is damaged. Life support is failing. The CO scrubbers are offline. Everyone is going to suffocate in a very short time.”

“You know, that thing about sugaring the pill… it actually does help.”

“No, it doesn’t. It softens the blow. But it’s still a blow. But come on. I’ve had just about enough of it.”

He grasped her by the hand before striding towards what Marie was quite certain was an emergency airlock for evacuating the shuttle into a rescue ship.

There WAS no rescue ship. The airlock would open out into the vacuum of space.

“Doctor… NO!” she cried out as he reached for the door release and propelled her through.

“Of course not,” he replied. “Do you think I’m THAT stupid?”

“What?” She looked around – or tried to. Wherever she was, it was pitch dark.

But she clearly was SOMEWHERE. It had a floor. There was a very slight vibration through the floor, but further away than the engines of the shuttle craft.

A bigger ship.

“We’re aboard a large space ship,” The Doctor said.

“How come?”

“Good question.” He turned the Sonic Screwdriver to penlight mode and Marie saw that they were in a long corridor with the sort of metal floor and grey walls she had come to associate with spaceships.

There were doors every few metres with peepholes. Marie checked one and saw a group of people trapped in a cable car suspended over a perilous drop. Some of them were angrily debating the morality of throwing some of the party overboard to lighten the load.

“Well, at least none of our lot suggested anything like that,” Marie commented. “What an awful thing to even contemplate.”

“This one is a bunch of people in a bus stranded in the path of a volcanic eruption,” The Doctor replied as he checked a door.

“This is the hurricane scenario we went through, but different victims,” Marie added. She turned from the door and did a rough count. “I make it fifty doors. Fifty groups of innocent people being subjected to psychological torture in the form of desperate, life threatening situations.”

“Let’s look at THAT door,” The Doctor suggested. He headed towards a wide, double door at the end of the corridor. It was the sort of door that might have a ‘crew only’ sign on it, but Marie couldn’t imagine The Doctor obeying that sort of sign, anyway. And if he was going in there, so was she.

The door led to a control room. Four people were monitoring a bank of screens on which those terrible scenarios were being recorded. They were too intent on their work to notice when The Doctor stalked across the floor and stuck his Sonic Screwdriver into a socket. Only when all of the screens went blank at once did they pay attention to their visitors. One of them, a tall male, stood up and approached The Doctor.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing in here? This is a restricted area.”

“I’m The Doctor, and nobody restricts me.” Marie smiled in admiration. If the young man thought he had authority of any kind he was quickly disabused. He shrank back from the steely gaze and the tightly pressed lips. “Who are YOU, sonny, and what are you up to?”

“I’m Grego Malf,” he answered. “I’m a graduate student at the university of Aabessia.”

“A student?” Again Marie could only admire the amount of revulsion The Doctor put into that word, as if a ‘student’ was the lowest form of life in the universe. “So what is all this? Your psychology thesis?”

Grego started to open his mouth and then changed his mind.

“Oh, my God!” Marie groaned. “It IS his project. That’s what it was all about. A student project. Don’t tell me… something about how people respond to impending death.”

“Nobody is harmed,” said a female who swung her chair away from the blank screens. “The subjects… they don’t really get hurt. The deaths are all simulated, and afterwards… when we send them back to where they were taken from, they don’t remember.”

“I don’t care,” The Doctor responded. “You kidnapped them… against their will.”

“Well, not exactly,” argued another of the students. “They know nothing about it, so ‘will’ doesn’t come into it.”

For a moment when The Doctor swung around to face this new speaker Marie thought he was going to resort to actual violence. His face really was thunderous.

The speaker shrank from him. The Doctor checked his emotions, but only just.

“This ship is a university facility?” he asked. One of the students replied in the affirmative. “Then the university can shut it down and get your victims back where they belong. But you lot are going to jail.”

If Grego Malf or one of his more talkative colleagues had kept their wits about them, they might have tried challenging The Doctor’s authority to do that to them, but just trying to look him in the eye sapped their resistance. The female student turned to Marie, perhaps hoping for sympathy, for a sense of fellowship from her, but all she could think of was a mother desperate enough to smother her own children to save them from a worse fate. Her own expression must have been withering.

“It was all his idea,” the female blurted out, pointing an accusing finger at Malf. “He said it was no different from using lab animals, that even the ethics committee would see that he was right when his paper was published….”

With his colleagues ready to make such statements against Malf it was all over, now. It didn’t take The Doctor long to summon the university officials and the Aabessian police.

Back on the shuttle craft, heading towards Aabessia, a planet of wonder even to the most casual tourist, Marie watched the Shaw children carry lemonade back from the vending machine in the corner while The Doctor advised the honeymoon couple about the most romantic places on Aabessia. Dave and Romaine smiled indulgently as The Major told them about the military history of the sector and reminded them not to miss the Changing of the Guard parade at the Aabessian Presidential Complex if they had any interest at all in such things.

Marie watched out of the window as the huge university research ship was taken under police escort to a secure orbit and wondered if it didn’t seem like a long trip for everyone.